Passing On


 

 

They say life’s a journey and time moves on

And lives end and and now you are gone.

When someone goes, it’s never on my schedule

And I can mourn, I can scream, and

I can cry.

But our lives move on, and my friend has passed.

 

They say your time had come, your work was done

You were letting go, and moving on.

You let me know in many ways that this was goodbye,

And that was fine, this was what would be—

And life goes on, so the well-wishers say.

 

I’m not done with you, I scream in my head

In the darkest of my thoughts, not wanting to know

You are gone, that you have passed, before I was willing

To say good-bye.

 

You are right, I’ll hear you say,

Seeing a spark of light in the darkest of the night —-

The ache remains, the emptiness unrelieved,

Your absence is what I resent.

 

The path you made through life still guides my steps

Your smile, now just a memory—

Your voice still whispers in my ear

When the path gets rough.

You letting me know it will work out,

That I’ll know the way, the path will clear,

You still by my side, you still lighting my way.

 

—Neal Lemery 1/9/2019

The Morning You Died


 

 

The morning you died

The glorious light in the east

Just before sunrise pulled me to the

Side of the road, so I could stop in the silence

Before the dawn, and take the new light

Into my heart, pausing to simply breathe in the new day.

 

Just breathe. Just take it in,

And be in the quiet beauty of the summer morning.

“Each day, each moment is precious,” you’d tell me, again

reminding me that life is to be lived, with everything we have.

 

The morning you died

I shared coffee with an old friend,

Our laughter filling the café with good times,

Our friendship old and alive, rich with promise

For this special day.

 

The morning you died, I watered my garden, so the

Flowers would bloom again, and the seeds I had planted

Would give us food when summer ran into fall,

When the leaves would turn to gold and fly away in the wind,

Promising to come again next spring.

 

Next year, spring will come again, yet you are gone.

I will hear your laughter, and your delicious humor,

And your love of being with everyone in the garden of our lives.

You, teaching us, once again, that life is to be enjoyed,

And every moment is part of the dance we call

Life, and you will remind us, once again,

That we don’t really die, that life is just

Part of the dance, part of the circle, and we are all

One.

 

–Neal Lemery

Grieving For My Sister In Law


Last week, my sister in law died. I have found abundant tears, yet fewer words, to sort that news out, to find my way through the wilderness of grief and loss. I am lost in my loss.

Pancreatic cancer is an evil thing. It has moved swiftly into my life, at many times, taking good people, long before I would even begin to contemplate that their time had come to leave us. Pancreatic cancer is on my short list of things to loathe.

When I heard the sad news, weeks, yes months before I expected it, a Christmas letter from a good friend had just arrived. The letter started off with a quote:

“What is the sum total of a man’s life? I knew the answer, and it wasn’t complicated. At the bottom of the ninth, you count up the people you love, both friends and family, and you add their names to the fine places you’ve been and the good things you’ve done, and you have it.”
—-James Lee Burke, Light of the World.

Each day is a gift, and each moment is precious. We need to make the most of our lives, and to do what is right, and to bring joy into the world, for ourselves and for others. And, I am too often rudely reminded that life is short, and should be cherished, in every moment.

My sister in law’s life was rich in family and friends. She sought joy every day, joy in the simple things, the quiet moments. I suspect she treasured the sunrise, and the moments with my brother, doing simple things, ordinary. Yet, in their simplicity and plainness, there was sacred beauty and peace.

She enjoyed rich, strong coffee. She baked miraculous biscotti to go along with it, as well as a variety of homemade pastas and bread.

I have been blessed to have her in my life. We were buddies, friends. We laughed, we shared jokes and stories.

One summer’s day, we conspired against my brother to wash his pickup. We tricked him into driving it onto the lawn, and we scampered like mischevious children, armed with hoses and sponges, even getting into a water fight with my brother. He resisted, but ended up laughing, soaking wet. His pickup was clean.

She retired last summer, and they took a long trip to Italy, her parents’ homeland. I trust they found long warm afternoons to drink wine and sample great food. They bought a new house, and were settling in to a new, relaxing life when she fell ill. And, all too quickly, she left us.

My life is poorer now, with her gone. But, in many ways, she is still here, in my heart. She has enriched my life and brought joy to me. For all of that, I am grateful for the all too brief time we had together.

Again, I am reminded of the shortness of life, and the sweetness of life. All we really have is this moment, and we should enjoy it.

—Neal Lemery 12/9/2014

Precious and Painful


Life is precious and wonderful.

I learned that lesson again this week, a week of turmoil, grief, and new beginnings.

A good friend, suffering from a deadly, debilitating disease, moved on out of this world, taking charge of his life, and saying his good byes, and teaching us about life, its joys, and the wonderment of each day. His final days offered new lessons to me about courage, and what one person can achieve in their life, about relationships, and the sacredness of a simple act of kindness.

I never got to express everything I feel about him, but then, we never do. Life is like that, never having enough time to really fully communicate what another person means to us, how precious is our relationship with someone. Too often, we live in the moment, and dance around the profound, the universal truth of the gifts others bring into our lives.

A family member ended their life, leaving us with deep questions, and the pain of sudden grief, paradoxes, and the reopening of old wounds, and old questions about life. Pain wracked my heart, bringing me closer to family, and reminding me of the importance of how we all need to care for and parent the survivors. Two young children now don’t have a mother, but they do have our family, and we have a deeper appreciation of the time that we have with each other.

I helped a young man being released from prison. I walked with him out of the prison gate, having him hear that metal slam behind him, and I drove him into the rest of his life. Five years behind bars, ten years of foster care, two failed adoptions, the emptiness of no one visiting him these last five years.

We loaded up all of his worldly possessions into my car, and drove off into the early morning gloam, the heavy rain attempting to drown our joy of that moment, and the prospects of a bright life ahead for this young man.

We greeted the dawn at the beach, his first view of the ocean in five years, his first hour of only the sound of the wind and the waves, not sharing the dawn with twenty five other inmates in a prison dorm.

There was ice cream with breakfast, and buying a new book by his favorite author, and a long drive through the forest, where each turn in the road offered yet another view of the world, without bars and fences.

We dealt with bureaucracy, mind-numbing forms and questionnaires, more waiting, and more interviews. Yet, in all that, I witnessed his courage, his determination to move ahead, and begin his new life. He knew where he was going, and he was prepared to forge ahead, on his own at last.

Through his eyes, I saw the world anew, and got a glimpse of what opportunity and hope can mean for one’s soul. When all things are possible, and when you now have freedom to move ahead, and to take your first steps into a new world, to create your life, and move towards your dreams, then life is sweet and amazing.

I walked with him, sitting in the dank waiting rooms of the probation office, transitional housing, the world of food stamps and public assistance. I felt the cold stares of the security guards and the bureaucrats, their unfeeling hands as they searched me, judging me as a suspicious troublemaker, labeling me without knowing me. This was just another day of institutional life for my young friend, and he flashed me a grin, letting me know that you can endure the labeling, the indifferent bureaucrats, and mind-numbing waiting, because today was his first day of freedom.

At dinner, we toasted his freedom, and the future that he now held in his hand. He chatted with the waitress about looking for work, about being young and moving to the big city. He laughed and grinned at the idea of a menu, and a linen table cloth, and a candle on the table, real silverware and real plates. And, when the giant piece of chocolate cake was too much for him to eat, he laughed at the idea of taking the rest home to his new room, a midnight snack just for him, to eat it all by himself, his first night sleeping alone in five long years.

This week offered me many lessons, and many voices on how life is precious, and wonderful, and not to be taken for granted. In all of this, I played many roles, and was called upon to be the best of friends, the best of uncles, and the best of the driver and companion of a young man whose world was opening up, his life ready to fully bloom in the glories of the coming spring.

Neal Lemery 3/30/2014

This New Emptiness, Filled


Go, and create, you said
with your eyes, a few words spoken into my soul—
You have something to say, something to offer,
and the world needs to hear it.

Impatient, almost,
you always checking on my progress
to move, to contribute, to change this world,
your words pushing my procrastination.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

“When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver

You left us too soon, yet,
and yet, your words
to live fully, with passion,
echo throughout my being
in the silence
left in your passing
into the beautiful, the mysterious
next.

—Neal Lemery, June 2013

In memory of and tribute to my friend, Judy Allen

Crossing


You, and you, and you
slipped away from me, before
my defining of your time,
yet you were ready,
crossing the veil, and moving into the
new world.
its mysteries awaiting me
still.

And, you, still close to me, still here,
still able to speak wisdom to my heart,
your eyes looking deep into me,
calling me to dig deeper, inside
and share more of me with all,
to grow, and even bloom,
me, the reluctant flower.

And I look deep into you,
knowing now
that your time is coming,
soon you will cross over
to become the harvest in the garden
you have been planting
all these glorious years.

Watching that journey of yours,
and how you prepare, and how you make
each day
its own wonder, its own birth,
you again give me wisdom
on how I walk my path
and plan my own
crossing, my own
garden of love.

Neal Lemery
May, 2013

Outside the Church Yard: Suicide and Me


We have a complicated relationship, and we go way back.

Suicide and the way to early death of young men and women have hit me hard in my life, and I still haven’t found a way to work through it very well, or to make much sense of it, either.

I’ve sat with a young man who was a son to me, when he was suicidal, spending the night holding him, and talking to him, and working through his pain and his hopelessness. When dawn finally came, he was better, and decided he wanted to live. That night took everything out of me, as I used every bit of love and compassion and reason and faith and hope to get him to decide to live, and to tell him that he mattered, that he was important and that life was sacred and good.

I’ve had long talks with a close friend in high school, as he raged about his father beating him, and neglecting him, and not loving him, and how angry he was about all that, and how he just wanted to end it all. Long talks by the camp fire, where truth was spoken and the meaning of life was discussed, and I thought we’d really gotten to the core of it all.

But, we didn’t. And, years later, he came out to me, telling me he was gay and that his sexuality was at the core of his rage with his father, and feeling unloved by his father just made life all the more unbearable.

I learned you never know how deep the wound is that people have to deal with, and struggle with, what the real reasons are that people finally decide that life may not be worth living.

I like to think that if I had known all of the worries, and all of the doubts, we’d been able to figure it all out and “fix” it, around that campfire when we were seventeen. But, probably not. I can’t seem to do that at sixty, and hopefully I’m a bit wiser and smarter now. I’m left with wondering, and not knowing. A lot of the not knowing.

Maybe if we’d been able to say “I don’t know, but walk with me a bit,” that would have been enough.

People ending their lives is not all that rare, but there is a code of silence. We have rarely honestly talked about this part of life, these holes that suddenly open up in our social fabric. Yet, we dance around it, not really speaking truth, not dealing with this subject. Perhaps there are no words to say. That silence is part of the craziness.

In our culture and not too long in the past, a person who ended their own life couldn’t be buried in the church cemetery, which was inside of the fenced in church yard. Their grave was outside of the fence, their lives literally rejected and separated from their spiritual community, and from God.

The code of silence, and shame, and guilt was there for all to see, those feelings literally fenced out of where we were supposed to experience God in our lives, where our pain and our humanity were respected, where we could be embraced by unconditional love.

That rule, that law of our culture is still there for all to see, the graves of the “saved” souls, the children of God, and then, outside of the fence, there are the graves of the suicides, the “eternally damned”.

Oh, we aren’t so explicit now, using the fence around the church yard to make our judgements. Yet, we do judge, and we express our adjudications of shame and guilt.

We follow this rule, this law in so many other ways. We stigmatize and shame, and often ignore depression, other mental illness, and addiction, and the impact of violence and not loving our kids enough, or soldiers trying to come back from war. We make sure people can self medicate with booze, and dope, and lots of prescription meds, and we judge those “solutions” as OK, but when people can’t seem to “get it together”, we put them outside of the fence, and get quiet about it all.

And, when a pop star or other public figure commits suicide, we are quick to pounce, looking for flaws and defects. We are quick to find the defining reason: drugs, love, or the microscope of public infatuation with their lives. We like the simple, quick, and not so very truthful answers. Real life is messier than that, but it doesn’t sell tabloids and it doesn’t draw a television audience. We also don”t have to look at our own doubts, our own actions, and how we as a culture still use that fence.

I held a teenager in my arms one morning, in his bedroom, as he told me about shooting himself in the head, as his father held him, trying to talk him out of it. He showed me the scar on his cheek, and the three missing teeth, and the place on his skull where the bullet came out.

It was a miracle he lived, and it was a miracle we could talk about it in his bedroom, sitting on the bed where his dad had begged him not to do it, and couldn’t pry the rifle out of his hands, until he had pulled the trigger.

We gave voice to all those feelings, and all that pain that morning, dealt with the poison, and did some healing. We moved on, not forgetting, but dealing with the feelings he had; we had some honesty, and dealt with his pain and doubts. We went deep, talking about life and love and who we really are, and what really goes on when we are at the bottom and can’t see the light above us, or the hand reaching out to us.

A teenager close to me died, choosing a gun to deal with his worries, and his doubts. People close to him had a lot of theories and there were a lot of stories, a lot of explanations, and a bit of blaming others. There were the usual suspects: drugs, love, anger, rage of not being loved, not having a safe, respected place to be in, not getting enough love.

Those popular stories might be true, or several of them, or maybe there was something else, too. I’ll never know. He is gone and didn’t tell us why he left us. Perhaps it all hurt too much to talk about and to stay around and muck through it all.
We will never know his truth, and where he was at when he pulled the trigger.

Suicide takes away the answers and the conversations and just dealing with stuff, with family and with friends, and people who love you. We are left with just the questions, and the guilt and the wondering, the “coulda, woulda, shouldas”.

Two other teenaged boys, boys I was close to, and they so very close to their buddy who shot himself, lived in the same town. It came my job to be with them in the next week, and maybe keep them away from the guns and the drug dealers and killing themselves. I took them to the funeral home to see the body and to pray and say goodbyes. I held them and sat with them at night in the park, the park they’d played in with their buddy, where we shivered on a snowy bench talking about life and crying.

Some folks thought it was part of making sense of it all, but there was no sense to be made of any of it.

And, as some families do, no one talks about him anymore. It is like he disappeared forever, and wasn’t part of our lives. But he was and he is. A lot of people put him in the ground outside of the church yard.

I will always miss him and I will always think of the insanity of a sixteen year old boy kicked out of his house on a snowy night, and finding a gun and blowing his brains out, all alone and cold and feeling unloved.

I’ve stood on that same street corner, where he died, in the cold and the night, and the answers don’t come. Even after nearly thirty years, they don’t come, and the wind still blows cold, cold and lonely.

Crazy.

“His death was a single moment for him, but an endless, unforgiving moment for me, for us, for every encounter from then forward with others — and every encounter with myself.” (Kim Stafford, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, p 165).

I know of that loneliness, that pain, that unanswerable, unconsolable ache that fills one’s chest. And, all the questions and the not so good answers that people say. Suicide is craziness, about the biggest kind of craziness there is.

Suicide is just craziness, without any real answers and without any magic wand that makes all the crap of that go away.

I think I know, and yet I don’t. Not really.

We still bury people outside of the fence, at least mentally, separate and distant from the “rest of us”, away from community. Perhaps, in that distance, there is safety, there is the sense of not having to confront those painful, ugly questions about despair, and hopelessness, and death.

If we ignore it, it will go away.

But, it doesn’t. Life isn’t that simple, and when depression and suicide slam down on us, in its ugly suddenness, we don’t have good answers.

When I lose a friend, a relative, or anyone who has been a part of of my life, I need to grieve, too, for they have been in my life and then then they are gone. A person’s death and the grief I feel when someone near to me dies is part of the hole that I have in my heart. We all have holes, you know. We all struggle in life to figure out our holes, and to try to fill them up with goodness and love, and to find some sort of peace and meaning in our lives. Life is messy and awkward, and the work with our holes is sweaty, hard work.

We all have holes, we all have hard, dirty work we are doing to sort through things, to move ahead, and live our lives.

And we need to keep everyone we love inside of the church yard, so we can remember them and hold them close. And, they need to hold us close, too.

3/26/2013