Watercolor Journal: And the Tree Was Happy

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This tree drifted onto Moonstone Beach at some point.  As I tried to get to know it, I wondered what it’s story was.  If driftwood could talk…  Where did it come from?  Did kids climb in it’s branches?  What animals lived in it?  Was it near the edge of a bluff, hanging on until a big storm finally eroded it’s grip?  Where was that?   Not even sure, what kind of tree it is, but now it is nicely wedged in the sand, and makes a nice place to sit.  Someone has carved initials and a heart on it. 

My name was carved alongside my husband’s on the trunk of our Buckeye tree, by Gary long ago.  It shaded our house and front yard for many years.  It held the special “mist heads” which kept the ferns cool during the hot summers.  Of course, someday that tree will die, or be cut down to make room for something else.  Then it will be useful for firewood, mulch, or a stump to sit on.

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I relate to the driftwood in my painting.  I used to be Gary’s wife for a long time.  There were a million things to do in that role, and I loved it.  Now I have new things to do, and I enjoy them too.  Maybe you’ve read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Sometimes I see myself as the “tree,” wanting to be useful in new ways, and sometimes I’m the “boy,” looking for a comfortable place to sit, and enjoy the view. 

From "The Giving Tree"

"I wish that I could give you something... but I have nothing left. I am an old stump. I am sorry..."
"I don't need very much now," said the boy, "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could,
"well, an old stump is a good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.”

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“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”  Philippians 4:4

Hollow Air

The air was hollow today.

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Gary used to announce hollow air at some point every fall when the dry air came.  I’m not sure why he called it hollow, except that it had something to do with how sound travels, like in a tunnel, or through a tube.  In the fall, when there’s less humidity, sound carries better too.  Over the years, when the air was “hollow” it was a fun little thing between Gary and I that was stirred up every year as the hot, muggy, smoggy days were replaced with October’s Santa Ana winds.  I loved his yearly proclamation, “The air is hollow today!”

In our previous home, on hollow-air-days, we could hear the Verdugo Hills High School marching band practice from over two miles away.  In my current home, on a day like today, the distant train does not sound so distant. 

I don’t know about you, but along with autumn's clear air, comes a season for clearer thinking, more structure in my schedule, and renewed energy as I settle into the fall activities.  But in spite of the busyness, I hope to be listening intently for the Lord’s promptings like the less hindered sound waves on a dry day. 

It seems impossible, but this is my third October without Gary.  I miss him so, but today was one of many good days.   Feeling the warm, dry wind today, brought his voice right back to me when I noticed the hollow air. 

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven…A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance…He has made everything appropriate in its time.”  Ecclesiastes 3
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My Grief Diary - Gary's Joy

Today is the nine month anniversary of Gary’s exit from planet earth after nine years of suffering with dementia.  (Read more HERE.) May 13, 2015 marks the end of his silence, weakness, and loss, in this life, and the beginning of his perfect life in heaven.  There is a special memory from that day that I am ready to share.  Recalling this event, from the very end of his life, turns sorrow into joy for me.  It is my gift of love and encouragement to you, dear friends.  In order to explain, context is needed.

 Gary’s body had been shutting down for several days, and on Wednesday morning, there were signs that the end was approaching soon.  Thankfully, Gary had no pain or agitation, and therefore, needed no morphine or other medications.  His hospice nurses concurred that he was resting comfortably.  Our family had been with us all week, and that morning, we had been reading favorite bible passages to him, singing hymns, telling him we loved him, and praying at his bedside, in between repositioning him and swabbing his mouth with water.  He was extremely weak, but restful this day, as he had been for months really.  If you recall, he had been sleeping/dozing for 20-22 hours a day for many months.  

As far as other forms of communication, Gary hadn’t spoken in sentences since 2013.  In 2014 he said “Hi” or “Ok” every few weeks.  Moments of eye contact were few and far between for all of 2014 as well, mostly because he so rarely opened his eyes.  I believe he was still somewhat aware of things, right until the end, because when Pastor MacArthur had visited us a few days before his death, Gary squeezed his hand while Pastor John was praying for him, but his facial expressions had been “flat” for several years. 

Looking back through photos, I think the last true smile from Gary was at the end of 2013, in response to something Becky said, and even so, it was not his typical “Gary” grin.   

 

So, that morning,  as the signs of impending death increased, we were all gathered around.  We didn’t know exactly when he would take his last breath, but we all wanted to be there.  Sarah had explained to the children that it is not a sad or fearful to see a Christian die because they will go straight into heaven to be with their Savior.  We would know this to be true very soon. 

At a little before 11:00 Gary surprised us.  He was laying on his side, and his eyes popped open, he craned his neck, and his frail, thin face broke into a huge smile.  We hadn’t seen him smile like this in literally years.  Silly me, I tried to engage him by asking him, “What do you see Gary?”  I was hoping he’d talk to me, or look at me, but it was obvious that he was looking right past me, still grinning from ear to ear.  I was shocked because I didn’t know his face was capable of smiling anymore.  It was an excited look…truly happy with eyes wide open.  I stepped back, so as to get out of his line of sight, and let him fully experience whatever it is that he was seeing.  We all saw him looking so happy, and later surmised that he continued in this joyful state for about 20-30 seconds.  It was long enough for the whole family to get around on our side of the bed to see him.  Then he closed his eyes, and took a couple more breaths, about 30 seconds apart, and breathed his last. 

I do not know what Gary saw while his body was dying.  He could have seen Jesus welcoming him into heaven and saying what we all long to hear…”well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master.”  (Matt 25:23)  Maybe he saw God sitting on his throne in indescribable glory.  (Revelation 4 & 5)  For sure, he was leaving his body, and going into the presence of the Lord.  (2 Corinthians 5:8)  I will never know what Gary saw, until it’s my turn.  We are sure, however, that while he was dying, he saw something amazing that made him happier than I have ever seen him. 

 “You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” 

Psalm 16:11

Not everyone is conscious, and unmedicated when they die so those standing around may not see an outward expression when a soul passes from earthly to eternal life.  No one is exempt from dying, however, so perhaps you will use this little account of Gary’s happy face, to pause and think.  Will your first view of the afterlife be as joyful as Gary’s was?  Gary placed his entire life in Jesus’ hands because he knew he was a sinner in need of salvation.  It is impossible to be good enough to get into heaven on our own. The bible speaks to this.  I wrote more about it in this older post HERE.  

 

 “His glory is great through Your salvation

Splendor and majesty You place upon him.

For You make him most blessed forever;

You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence.”

Psalm 21:5-6

 

NOTE:  Our Pastor, John MacArthur has written a great book, called “The Glory of Heaven.”  It addresses the BIBLICAL description of heaven and the UNBIBLICAL accounts of near-death and other “heaven and back” experiences.  You can get it on Amazon HERE.

More from God’s word...

 “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:17-18

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Ps. 73:25-26

“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for you loved Me before the foundation of the world.”  John 17:24

 

 

My Grief Diary - Sorrow Into Joy

A few days ago, I was holding a pair of Gary's shoes, and tearing up.  I was getting ready to put them into a box of his special clothes that I can't bear to part with right now...maybe never.  Most of his clothes have been given away over the last few years as he became more and more immobile, and eventually bed bound, but there were still a few things in the closet, and so I went through them again.  Clothes are personal.  The memories of our loved ones in their "favorites" are etched in our minds.  Shoes are just shoes, but my husband wore THOSE shoes.  The shoes touched Gary and I can touch them.  My sorrow over Gary's absence is never far away.  It is real.  It is fresh and it doesn't take much to pull it up to the surface. 

"...you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy." 

Jesus said this to His sad disciples when He spoke of leaving them.  (John 16)  They had given up their lives to be with Him and now He was going to be departing.   They were confused, and very soon would be devastated as they would see him tortured and executed.  But, their grief would be short-lived because He was going to be raised from the dead and come back again.  Jesus was going to take the VERY EVENT that caused their greatest sorrow, His death on the cross, and use THAT SAME EVENT to cause their greatest joy, their eternal salvation.  (Great sermon on this HERE.

I want to do grief right.  I'm a Christian.  That means Jesus lives inside my soul.  Here's a cool thought.  When I am praying to the Lord, Gary while right now in the presence of the Lord, may very well be talking to Him too.  At the same time.  God has both of us in His hands.  He's in between us and the Center of us.  That is what we always wanted and what we promised when we vowed our vows.  God is my only real-time connection to Gary now.  I can't talk to Gary anymore in this life and would not even try to.  Gary is having his very best possible life, present with the Lord.  Someday I will be there too,  but I just think it's so neat that even though our marriage is over, and we are no longer one flesh, we are each absorbed with our Savior.  Jesus will be our main focal point for eternity.  That's not always easy for me, but it IS easy for Gary now, without the distractions of this life.  It's hard to describe, but in a tiny way it's similar to this:  Do you know how exciting it is to share a great experience with someone?  Taking in the scope of the Grand Canyon, watching your favorite team win, enjoying a wonderful concert together.  It's a bonding that occurs over a shared experience.  Gary and I are both loving God at the same time.  He in the eternal presence of the Lord, and me from the limits of this life. 

Standing there in my room holding Gary's shoes, God turned my sorrow into joy.   He didn't REPLACE my grief over missing Gary with something "happy."  Instead he reminded me that just as God was our Savior and the center of our marriage, He still is the One who receives our worship, gratitude and love.  Because He loved us first, we love Him and we loved each other.  God has repeatedly TRANSFORMED my SADNESS into JOY in the last three months without Gary.  It's not a one time thing.  Therefore, I'm committed to keep on looking to Him for joy and comfort in the midst of the unavoidable grief when it shows up.

By the way, there are still a few shirts hanging in the closet so I can touch them when I want, and remember including the orange shirt he's wearing in the photo.

"Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever." 

Psalm 30:10-12

Gary's Memorial Service can be viewed HERE.