Monday, August 21, 2017

Ireland, Day 2: Cliffs of Moher, Burren, and Limerick

Today, we went north of Limerick, first to the Cliffs of Moher and then on a walk in the Burren. The Cliffs are part of the Burren, a protected Arctic landscape. The views were astounding. The Cliffs are 700 feet high, rising out of the Atlantic Ocean and stretching on for 5 miles. We were absolutely gifted with gorgeous clear weather and a high of 75! Literally - once in a lifetime views!





Irish cows grazing RIGHT NEXT to the path, which was right on the edge of the Cliffs. (They were fenced in)

Cow selfie! (can you tell I work for an Animal Science department? I was SO excited to take a cow selfie)

The gorgeous stone fence along the path.

Irish cows are happy cows. How could you not be with this view - and that delicious lime-rich soil?




As we drove along western Ireland, I was really struck by how much the views reminded me of home (southwest Iowa). Rolling hills, rural landscape, the various shades of green and gold...beautiful.

This area of Ireland, County Clare, is home to traditional Irish music. I made a note in my journal that the little fishing village of Doolen has pubs that ALWAYS play traditional Irish music. That day, we were treated to our first Nigel serenade: a traditional Irish song (in Gaelic) about the county fair. (How appropriate as my family at home were gearing up for the fair!)

[Now an interjection for my deep thought of the day]

Why are the Irish [songs] so melancholy?
Such sadness in their music, but their countenance so jovial?
 They know.
"Suffer in this life, Pamela; so you won't have to suffer in the next!" (Pamela's Irish grandmother) 
They let themselves be pierced by life - but,
have found their God in that sorrow,
and that joy effuses out.
...and when they don't, they find solace in drink and song -
and when they do, they remember through song and drink.
Life is short. Enjoy what you can. Find joy where you can.

The Burren: geographical, geological, biological, agricultural, historical natural wonder. Our guide here, Tony, was phenomenal. He was a true Irishmen - poet, scholar, soulful, humorous, serious. To have spent more time with him exploring the land - and we still would just be scraping the surface. Nigel kept referring to this as a "cursed" landscape, which I thought meant very little could grow here. However, upon doing a little research, I discovered the word is karst. I hope you'll forgive me; with the brogue, it's very easy to see the confusion. :)

The limestone bedrock - no topsoil here.

Look! I found Michigan in Ireland!

Our group enraptured by Tony's tales

A side wall of a stone famine house in the Burren. Can you imagine trying to grow anything on that landscape?

The two side walls of the famine house. Can you picture an entire family living in a house that small?
 It was fascinating to listen to Tony speak of the famine. Many of us (Americans) are somewhat familiar with the story because we have familial ties to Ireland. But, there was so much more at work than just "the potato crop went bad 3 years in a row." These little famine houses held an entire family. They burned peat "logs" to keep warm; smoky, hazy fires - and they kept those fires burning through the night. The ventilation was poor; they were limited to the foods they could grow for themselves; they were charged outrageous rents and had to sell nearly everything they grew to stay on the land; their health was poor; they were poor. ...and yet, the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread.

[connection from the daily Mass readings of the Israelites in Egypt to our pilgrimage] It is fascinating to me - to think of the effect oppression has on the oppressed group: just in terms of numbers. The Israelites grew more numerous than could be counted while in Egypt. The Irish, while oppressed under British rule, numbered 8 million at the time of the famine.



That night, we were on our own in Limerick city. My new friends: Lisa, Clare and Sarah (the mother-daughter duo from IOWA), Emily & Kevin (and their exchange daughter from Spain) and Glen went out for dinner at a pub on the river. While there, we spotted Milton - a man pulled from the audience during our castle dinner. ...and like I would do, at one point later in the evening, happened to yell, "Milton!" and then we just waved. and laughed awkwardly...and then watched him walk outside to his friends and tell them that he was just spotted by people from last night's dinner.

So it is with Jessica.

Musicians - not Milton. I'm not that creepy.

Remember that adorable little half-pint picture from Day 1?

Well, my new friend Clare kept telling me ALL DAY that a half-pint is actually called a "Lady's Pint." Well, now of course I want to be thought of as a lady, and as culturally appropriate, so later in the evening, I went to the bar to order a "Lady's Pint" of Smithwicks Red.

No sooner had the words come out of my mouth then the bartender said, "That's sexist."

Beg pardon? Still trying to win some adorable points, I said, "No...that's sexy."

"NO, that's sexist - because in Ireland, women drink a real f---in' pint."



*hangs head in shame; places tail between legs*  "oh."

Then Clare told him that he hurt my feelings - and he said, "To be a real Irish woman, you're going to have to get thicker skin."

*knife turns. salt pours into wound.*


Now, for a Limerick:

On a Monday night in Limerick,
I encountered a bartender - a bit of prick.
"It's sexist," they say,
"to order a Lady's Pint." Touche.
To be Irish, my skin must grow thick.




Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pilgrimage Reflection, Day 1: Danny Boy

7/17/17:



I don't know why I am so hesitant to embrace my sadness - but I find that when I choose it...when I let it come, I am peaceful. Last night at the castle dinner, I felt so sad - so melancholy - so pitiable. I just...was sad, but didn't want to cry so soon in my journey with these people; and so, I was trying to resist and to be jovial like everyone else...but I couldn't.

They didn't sing Danny Boy last night, and I was so glad. I just would've lost it. BUT, I sang it this morning in the shower, and find that I am so comforted in the sadness, in the words, the tune. They are a love letter, and though they be sad - true. Such love.

Photo Credit: D.J. Unger
 Oh Danny Boy, the pipes - the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside,
The summer's gone and all the flowers are dying,
'Tis you, 'tis you must go, and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow;
I'll be here - in sunshine or shadow.
Oh Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy, I love you so.

But when ye come, and all the flow'rs are dying, 
and I am dead - as dead I well may be,
Then ye shall find the place where I am lying, 
Kneel and say an Ave there for me - 
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be - 
 And you shall bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

Oh Danny Boy,
 Oh Danny Boy,
I love you so.

My very favorite Celtic cross - which perfectly fits Dan's spirit and faith.














[Eventually, of course, Danny Boy was played. I think it was Day 3, as we headed around the Dingle Peninsula. Nigel played it, and as I knew, I began sobbing - like gasp-crying on the bus...but, then Nigel started talking right as they got to the "good" part (the italicized part above), so I never got a complete Danny Boy cry. =) 

When I came home from Ireland, the first place I visited was Dan's grave where I, indeed, knelt and said an Ave there for him.]

Oh Danny Boy, I love you so.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pilgrimage to Ireland, Day 1

Our pilgrimage to Ireland began with a "Delta flight to Shannon-town on a day it didn't rain."
[Reference to Reckless Kelly's "Seven Nights in Eire," for those of you unfamiliar]

As I started out on the journey here, I knew no one. We met a few of our group at JFK, and I had supper with two delightful ladies, Dee and Lori - and then proceeded to the gate where we met a few more. As the night went on, our flight was oversold. They were looking for 12 people to give up their seats - and...if we weren't on a GROUP pilgrimage, I could have been tempted - the offering price went as high as $2000. 

We made it safely to Shannon, where we joined with Mountain, our fearless leader and a few other members of the group who traveled separately. Our first 2 nights were spent in Limerick. 

First on our agenda was visiting Bunratty Castle. Our flight had been delayed at least an hour, so our time at the castle was shorter than originally planned (setting the tone for the trip, really). 









Castle Ruins on our way to Limerick

 After touring the castle and grounds, we checked into our hotel in Limerick - where I met my roommate for the week, Lisa. Then, we headed to the Holy Family Cathedral for our first pilgrimage Mass. I was fortunate to be one of the readers. How fitting the readings for the first day of pilgrimage: may the love of God fall on fertile soil and multiply into the lives and world around us!



Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 Isiah 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down
and do not return there till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.


Responsorial Psalm Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14

R. (Lk 8:8) The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God's watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
 

 

Reading 2 Romans 8:18-23

Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.
All who come to him will have life forever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.



Gospel Matthew 13:1-23
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
"A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear."

The disciples approached him and said,
"Why do you speak to them in parables?"
He said to them in reply,
"Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

"But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

"Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."






A pilgrimage is when you go someplace else to return someone else.     ~Father David Koonce

And so, it began.

We returned to Limerick for a time to rest (advised by Nigel), but Lisa and I ignored Nigel to explore a bit of the area around our hotel. We got some Euros at the ATM; grabbed a quick bite and flat white at a cute grocery store, and explored the blocks around us. We walked to the river, observed some swans...and decided to return to a pub we'd passed for a quick drink and a listen at some live, traditional Irish music.


My drink of choice: Smithwicks Red - in a half pint! (not be confused with a ladies' pint...)

A pint of COORS LIGHT! A reminder of Dan....

 After this, we were back on the coach to Bunratty Castle for dinner. We enjoyed a glass of mead (honeyed wine) and a traditional Irish castle feast - complete with no utensils. :) We had several courses - bread, soup, spare ribs, roasted root vegetables, dessert, and coffee. During dinner, we were educated about what life would have been like when the castle was in its prime in the 12th-14th centuries. Then, we were treated to delightful acapella music with beautiful harmonies.

The Master of the House greeting some of our group

D.J, Sarah, and Lisa - some of my fellow pilgrims
 

I'm sure I was in the minority, but I was relieved when they didn't sing, "Danny Boy." This song was special to me prior to meeting Dan, but took on another layer of meaning once I met my own Irish Danny-boy. Tired from the journey coupled with heightened emotions, I wasn't quite ready to lose it front of these nice, but complete strangers. However, the noticed absence of the song did allow for Lisa (my roommate) and I to jump into the "here's the reality" discussion that night...

and so, it began.


 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Pilgrimage to Ireland: Pre-game

Now that I've caught you up on what was going on in my life prior to taking off for Ireland, I should probably catch you up on the story of how Ireland came about.

I have always wanted to go to Ireland, but until now haven't really had the opportunity to go. I first traveled abroad when I was 16, a 10-day trip to Italy and Greece with my art teacher, her husband and about twelve others (mostly from our high school) including my cousin. Even though Italy was first, Ireland has always been first in my heart.

Like SO.MANY Americans, I have roots in Ireland. My maternal grandmother is 100% Irish. I know a little bit about my Irish family roots - my family came from County Fermanaugh in northern Ireland, quite possibly as a result of the oppression of Catholics. Was that the attraction to Ireland? Sure, part of it. But really, I've just always felt like Ireland is part of me. After this past year, the past two years of trauma and pain and loss, I felt like somehow if I went to Ireland, I would find me. Find. Recover. Discover. ...but reconnect with ME.

After Dan passed away, I thought, "I want to travel. I want to use this gift from Dan to see the world. To go on a pilgrimage."

In late April, as I felt emptied by grief...I stumbled across a post on Facebook from The Catholic Traveler: "We have 2 spots left for the pilgrimage to Ireland!" I clicked the link and saw "8 days/nights in Ireland," the dates, the price, and thought, "I could do this!" I didn't say yes. The next day I was talking with a friend/mentor and he said, "Jessica. You need to go. You should go. Do it. They'll find a way to cover the last week of orientation. You will love it. You need to go."

So, I came home that night, emailed Mountain and said, "I'm in!"

And that was it. I WAS GOING TO IRELAND.




That was all that mattered.

I didn't look at pictures. I didn't look at where we were going, where we were staying, or care who I was going with. I WAS GOING TO IRELAND.

At New Year's this year, I chose "healing" as my word. I wanted to find a way to heal. So, traveling to Ireland, this place I have always felt a deep connection to, which was grounded in the faith with other Catholics and Mass EVERY DAY: sounds like healing to me. Having to make ZERO decisions while visiting the place I've always wanted to be? Sounds like healing to me.

and away we went.





Yes, I did eventually read through the details again. No, I never did read my Rick Steves' Guide to Ireland. Yes, I did initiate the "get to know you" conversation on our Facebook page because well, I'm me, and because I needed to assure my in-laws that I knew at least a little about the 20ish people I'd be spending 8-9 days with.


Just me in some crazy Lularoe leggings, posing on a rock
Did I freak out about what to pack wondering if what I would pack would be "enough"? Yes. Did I realize that part of the reason I was freaking out about these clothes was because I was wondering if I was actually enough? Because I was afraid of not being accepted? Because I thought the "right" clothes might help me be more acceptable? Yes. Yes I did. ...and then, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of Matthew 6: the lilies of the field neither toil nor spin, yet they are clothed with more splendor than Solomon; God knows exactly what you need - seek first the kingdom of God, and everything you need will be given. 


Got it. Did I get everything packed into a carry-on? Yes. Did I have everything I needed? Yes. Did I receive FAR more than I ever expected? Oh yes. In the next few days, I'll catch you up on the details of the trip?

Panoramic view of The Burren


Friday, August 4, 2017

Embracing the W

A year ago at this time, I could not fathom referring to myself as a widow.

I hated the word.

I hated the thought that the word now defined me.

I wanted to resist this reality.



So, I did. :) Just like I continue to call Dan my husband because calling him "my late husband" seems like a lie - because I was the late one, he wasn't. :)


The week of my trip to Ireland, I had this dream. I had been singing worship songs with this (Irish) (younger) man, and we had a fantastic connection. After awhile, he said, "So, I see that you have a ring on your finger. Are you married, then?"



"Actually...I'm a widow."


The first time I used that phrase was in a dream and it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

It fits, now. It fits.

And, I used that response to quite a few inquiries while I got to know my group and others on the trip.

Just one of the small ways that God is guiding me, ever so gently, to embrace this new life. It does not happen at all at once. Everything takes time...and there are days where it feels like 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, but the key is that I am being led - and I am being led gently and lovingly. This is the path to healing - trusting our path and our healing to the One who created us.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

When the Waters of Grief Overtake You

7/11/17

10:11 am

A year ago at this time, I received the call that Dan's body was shutting down and there was nothing more to do. His kidneys had stopped filtering the poison in his body; his blood had stopped clotting; the cancer was raging - he was stopping.

...and the waters that had been swirling at my ankles, came up to my knees...

I wasn't ready. That morning I'd told my dad I didn't want to make any more decisions. And all that followed were decisions I never wanted to make. Certainly not then, at age 36.

We spent that drive to Ann Arbor in song, in prayer, pleading for Jesus to come - when most certainly, He was already in our midst.

I arrived at the hospital and was told that Dan had a moment where he was aware and nodded that he was ready to go...now, I had to do the impossible: let him.


...and the waters of grief began to surround me, coming to my waist, then my chest...

At 11, the priest came; then the doctors. 6:30 was chosen as the time we would have our little Mass for Dan, the Last Rites.


...and everything went into slow motion. Everything feels like you're underwater. Sounds are muffled. Faces of Dan's best friends and family are blurred. Time seems to be nonexistent, yet ever approaching. 

I wanted to spend as much time in the sun that day.

...and the waters came, overtaking me into grief - into darkness and sadness,
where everything feels surreal,
where time becomes irrelevant,
where you drift along,
further and further from shore....

I never thought of that day like this until now.

Recognizing that grief feels a lot like drowning...the waters of death coming for you, too. 

Cynthia Rasmussen says that a spouse dies, too, when theirs dies. I guess, but I didn't know it.


However, upon reflection, I think it's more like baptism. We were baptized into Christ's death - perhaps then, the same with our spouse. Their death can be a baptism for us - Jesus raises their spirits to new life, and breathes a new life into our souls.

I think of my Godson, Zander's, prayer for Dan that day:
"I know Dan is about to die...can you just clear all that water out? ...but in a few days, he will be raised to life!" Somehow, that 5 year old knew about the waters of death that sweep over us.

In light of all of this, it makes sense now, how I have felt "buoyed by Hope," this past year. I have been carried along by the waters of death and grief. Sometimes threatened to be taken under, sometimes your tears leave you gasping for air - as if through crying your heart can finally breathe.

More often than not, I have felt carried along - held and supported. I knew this was Jesus, for my Hope has a foundation and a name.

As a year circles around, I am realizing that I can do more than just ride the waves of grief, held captive by them.

Dan is not held captive by death. His death has freed him to be fully united in life with Jesus Christ. He is not just a body in the ground, but a being around us.

And so, I also do not have to be captive to grief because I know the One who walks on water. I can take his hand, and through the power of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, find life again. Through Jesus, there is life and there is life abundant - no matter the circumstance.

Jesus is not an idea. He is real. He is my real Hope. He is my real Way to Truth and Life. He is Life. "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fumbling Forward, Buoyed by Hope

7/9/17:

I tried to get through Mass today without crying, though I don't know why [probably that responsibility trait], which I did...though I choked back some tears during a few songs. I prayed for my father-in-law's heart to breathe, to find air, to find life.

I am now facing the rest of the day...and I am at a loss.

Tired with sorrow,
tired with grief,
tired with strength.

"Come to me,
all you who labor and are heavy burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
for my yoke is easy,
and my burden light."

Pierced.
My heart feels pierced while I try to work to pass the time.
And I thought,
"I thought I had moved on from this.
I though I was healing.
I thought I was moving forward.
I thought I was ready for life,
for what comes next.
But right now, I don't ever want to move forward."

That's not true.
It's not true that I don't want to "ever"
move forward;
it's just that I didn't think forward
would sting -
I didn't think possibility
would pierce -
forward seems like
leaving something behind,
or lugging it as baggage behind you.

I don't want that.
I want my burden to be light.
I want to carry light.
I want to carry Dan's light with me into the future,
pressing on further into God's light -
(finally) letting him show me the way,
leading.

Accepting Dan as light,
recognizing him as light
is when I feel most light,
most loved, most free.

He was so heavy.
When he would sleep,
I swear every part of his body
felt ten times heavier.
He was so grounded,
So "of the earth,"
So sensory.
For that reason, it was hard to imagine him in heaven.
[Not that I thought he'd gone to hell, but where? where could he be?]

Then God showed me Dan,
transformed by love,
through love,
for love,
receiving his crown for his love.

and this fit.
Transformed Dan: by love, through love - 
the corruptible replaced with the incorruptible - LIGHT,
fully formed, at rest, at peace, HOME.

He is not what he was.
He is what we will become -
should we choose the path of transformation and light, 
by way of the Cross.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What the path to Healing Looks Like: Redeeming Love, Redeeming Death

So, my friends and patient listeners, something happened during Mass the day before our anniversary, which has completely changed my outlook. But, first, I want to share my journal entry from Easter:

4/16/17

Here is the thing: Easter celebrated in the wake of experiencing the death of a loved one is a much more REAL experience.

It is a verifiable fact that Jesus of Nazareth died.
It is a verifiable fact that Jesus rose to life - an entire religion based upon a lie would not have survived 2000 years. It would be exposed as a lie. The followers martyred in the immediate years after Jesus' resurrection by the Romans, had the Resurrection been a lie, would have been the last (followers of JC). But, they weren't.

This strange sect of Judaism grew. It kept growing in the face of intense persecution and orders forbidding it to spread. If these were lies - it wouldn't have continued.

Jesus lived.
Jesus DIED.

Jesus died. Fully dead, he was entombed.

Then, he came back to life - and remains alive - fully alive in heaven - body and soul.

It's important that Jesus ascended into heaven - because we need to note that the body is part of our spiritual life - not just our soul.

Today, I visited Dan's tomb. His body is there. I believe his soul is somewhere else. Near me. Near Jesus. ...but not with his body. His body is buried. ...but someday there will be a resurrection of the dead.

5/28/17

Today at Mass, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, while singing the Agnus Dei [Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; grant us peace.], I was overcome with thankfulness.

I was "filled to all fullness" (today's reading from Ephesians 1) with Jesus - expectation and gratitude to be one with Jesus in the Eucharist - to receive Him and not a symbol - but the living God.

This thankfulness was a cementing of my commitment to Catholicism.

(I know some of you will be surprised by that statement; just bear with me.) there was a thought in my head as I was joining the church (6.5 years ago) that maybe I wouldn't always be Catholic - like if Dan died early - maybe I would go back to being a Protestant.

...and today, NO. Today, it was like I could never go back. I am Catholic and I love being Catholic. I love Jesus more today and know Him in a more profound, deeper way than I did as an Evangelical - and in a way I never could as an Evangelical - and it is ALL because of Dan.

I was just sitting there (in church), so thankful for Dan - so immensely, eternally thankful.

...and God suddenly filled my mind with this image of Dan receiving his crown of life, and there was a huge jewel in his crown - and that jewel represented me. My jewel - my commitment to Catholicism and to Jesus - that is Dan's jewel.

...and that is my first vision of Dan in heaven.

...and I was so happy for Dan...so filled with all the fullness: gratitude, joy, immense happiness.

Prior to this, I just couldn't picture Dan in heaven. He was a person who was just so "of the earth" - not ethereal, that I just had a hard time imagining. There's a belief that when your loved one enters heaven, you'll know. Since time doesn't exist out there, I don't know "when" Dan received his crown; I just know that he has.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Just get married already. Stop making excuses.

Announcement: I interrupt the string of heart-wrenching posts about sadness to get on a soapbox.

To the couple that's been dating for 2 years+ (and you are 24* or older): just get married already.
Or don't - and break up.

But, seriously, you should have that sh*t figured out already. If you don't, you are just wasting the other person's time - the person you claim to care about, but apparently aren't willing to make a lifetime commitment to - but are willing to tie up the line so that nobody else can have a chance. Figure it out already.

Having experience the Sacrament of Marriage and the graces that flow from it...marriage is the greatest gift. Our marriage because it was a Sacrament has allowed me to continue experiencing love and understanding God's love for me because of the way that Dan loved me in a much richer way. I KNOW love, even when my person has passed from this life. This is an amazing miracle, possible through marriage.

I get it, not everyone is Catholic and not everybody believes in God. Got it. Then at least go to the courthouse and get the legal documentation that will protect you in the event that one of your passes unexpectedly. You have ZERO control over the end of your life. Do you really want your assets to be tied up in probate? or to go to your parents? or to your next of kin - and that person isn't the person you've lived with and loved - because you failed to give them the legal protection as your spouse?

We had been married five years. We had just changed jobs (well a year prior), and filling out that beneficiary paperwork is time-consuming, so we hadn't. However, since I was Dan's legal spouse, we didn't need it.

If you're going to buy a piece of property with someone, why are you dragging your feet to marry them?

I don't get it.

Now you have my opinion on the matter.

Let's resume keeping Kleenex in business.

The path to healing: Sitting with what was lost

The last week of classes, I felt like "my bucket" - full of the scraps of paper that described who I was, the things that filled my heart and my life, which was already sitting precariously had been viciously knocked to the ground.

I told my spiritual director, Deacon Wayne, this on May 3. He said, "Jessica, I want you to sit. on the ground. with your empty bucket and all that was poured out from it - and pay it homage. Show it reverence. Honor what you had and what was lost. You can determine after that what you will pick up, what you will carry with you, what still fits."

My grandma was right. (of course she was. why I ever doubt my grandparents' wisdom is beyond me.) Eventually, we have to face what we lost. We have to sit with it. We have to recognize what we lost. ...and then, only then, can we begin to recognize who we have become and embrace ourselves in this newness.

Sitting with what was lost. This is what I need to do. This is my challenge. My summer. My anniversary. Sitting with what was lost - Dan - at the cemetery. 

In the weeks that followed this journal entry leading up to when I actually did sit with what was lost, I really felt my emptiness. I could start to feel the pull between life and death; between forward and past.

I spent Mother's Day with my mom and grandma in Iowa. (From the week of 5/17)
Now I'm home...and now I am finally feeling the loneliness when I return to the apartment (where I lived with Dan). I would rather be at my parents'; this place makes me sad. It doesn't fit anymore.
I feel that...and...what I really feel is an ache in my bones. Dan is gone.
Dan is gone.
Dan is gone and I have a house full of stuff for him...and he's not going to use it.
I have a house full of "us"...and no us. Stuff for our life together...and no life.
This sucks.

Being home (at my parents), in the presence of others, I feel like I can live again. Like I am inspired to take care of myself...but being here, I want to hole up.

I feel that resistance building up in my soul, which usually happens when I'm on the verge of a new thing.

I just miss Dan so effing much.

In an interview later that week, a candidate said "someone died," in response to a question about the needs of the department - so casually that it took my breath away.
I had to swallow it down, the tears at my door.
Someone.
anyone.

MY someone. MINE.
Dan Kiesling was his name. 


(From 5/25 - the day I finally sat)

God,

My heart is so sad. I am so sad. I feel like I am sadness itself. I feel far from everything I once was. I feel like a shell of sadness walking around.

I am just really struggling to see the good, the hope, the purpose. I don't feel like I have a place anymore. My place was beside Dan, with Dan - and all that was here. I was content to let him shine, and bask in his light.

and now, how can I go on?
How can I do this without someone? I need someone to live with, to live for...people keep me going and I feel so lonely.

It's like I was running on adrenaline for the first 6 months after Dan died - and now, it's like reality...and I don't like it.
I don't want it.
...but I don't get a choice.
It sucks.

I guess I have a choice in how I respond...that just feels like so much work.

I spent the day of May 25 reading through our old Marriage Encounter dialogues, recording the little ways that we recognized love in the other. For what fills our buckets other than love?
My Bucket:
  •  Working with Dan: spending time together in the morning, 
    • driving to work together,
    • listening to Dan Patrick, the daily readings, Our Daily Bread,
    • instant messaging about random stuff, 
    • walking down the hall at MSU to bounce ideas off each other,
    • lunches together,
    • barefoot walks around campus,
    • walking down the stairs (at the UA) and seeing him waiting for me, wearing his aviators - or his cowboy hat - or his Ray Bans - and hearing his huff (because I'd taken longer than I'd said)
    • waiting for Dan (at the UA) and seeing him walk down the sidewalk, illuminated by the setting sun
  • Feeling complete in his presence
  • Being told by his touch that I am loved, cared for, wanted, desired, chosen, secure and peaceful
  • Compliments
  • Becoming the power-couple of CALS and Animal Science
  • Laughing
  • The gift that Dan is
  • Someone being for me
  • Being loved, the object of someone's affection
  • Living the call to unity
  • Practicing our faith by living out our Sacramental call to be Jesus to/for each other
  • Feeling fully alive: the rush of purpose, being fulfilled, by living out that Sacramental call
  • Feeling wholeness, completion
  • Living out our call to practice the presence of love
  • Everything being tinged with positivity, with possibility
  • Dan pushing me to NOT focus on the negativity - or the fear - or the sorrow
  • Compliments on my cooking
  • DIALOGUE
  • Someone to rest on
  • Someone concerned about providing for my needs; someone actively pursuing that need
  • Being someone's someone
  • Being needed to make that someone's day - to help them feel their worth and importance
  • Having someone seek to understand your feelings and how "you tick"
  • Dan's way of always knowing how to make me laugh and smile when I was sad/upset/mad
  • KNOWING (and having) someone in your corner - fighting for you, having your back
  • Impressing Dan by looking good (having someone to be motivated to look good/fashionable for)
  • Being desired
  • Experiencing forgiveness, resentment, disappointment, and joy
  • Laughing together
  • TOUCH
  • An abundance of inside jokes
  • Receiving generous love
  • Conversations in the car
  • Singing together
  • Praying the Rosary together
  • Being Respected
  • Being Accepted
  • Date nights at Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Being together at Mass (especially holding hands during the Gospel reading and through the Eucharistic liturgy) 
  • Watching and talking sports together
  • Someone to go along with my ideas
  • Being the organizer,
    • catalyst,
    • Joy,
    • Light-heartedness
  • Being Dan's greatest supporter
  • Being Dan's cheerleader
  • Pursuing Dan's dream was my dream - because my dream was to be my husband's best helper
  • Feeling HOME (wherever I was) because I was with Dan
  • Settling down and developing roots
  • SACRAMENT
  • Being seen and appreciated through dialogue, "hearing it" on paper - 
    • "your compassion,"
    • "Your mercy - looking for the good in others,"
    • "You bring the fun - always smiling,"
    • "Your ability to get me to look at things with a different point of view,"
    • "Your value of family and friends"
  • Being grounded, supported, anchored, connected and purposeful
  • The hope of a family, of being parents


Honestly, I had wanted to avoid this day - a "grief day." But in recognizing what I lost, I finally gave our life a voice. Marriage is such a gift. The GREATEST gift. The best hardest thing I've ever done. The little things ARE the big things. The little things are what makes up the "us." They mattered. They happened. We have to give them the honor that they have blessed us with.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: feeling the void

[This is the start of an old post - started the first week of May and finished today]

Apparently today is "National Widows Day." ...and last week was National Infertility Awareness week. ...and last week was the last week of class. ...and April 29 was the day Dan and I met. ...and May 29 is our wedding anniversary.

Every day is a day.

But with grief...every day is effort.

And I don't think people outside of grief get that. I know I didn't. I didn't realize how much work it takes to just get through things. It's not something you think about it. I don't think about how much work each day is...or how empty I am ... until something brings my attention to it.

Two weeks ago, I realized that I have been "filling the void" rather than feeling it. Last week, that became very clear to me. The person who will be filling the position that was Dan's visited last week. I was really surprised at how hard the first day was for me. [point of clarification: I think the person hired is going to do a great job and I look forward to working with him, which makes it harder to explain...that's the sword of grief, I guess]

The people I work with are very quick to say that Dan isn't being replaced. It's very nice. But... it's not really accurate. I get it that Dan isn't being replaced...but, his place is. Very soon I will no longer say, when people ask about the livestock judging program, "Well, that person was my husband; he passed away in July." The place will be filled by someone else.

The last year for me has been a slow awareness to the reality that most of you grasped at the funeral. Dan died.

For me, the last year, has felt like I'm Katniss Everdeen from Mockingjay (the third book in the Hunger Games series):
"I am Katniss Everdeen.
I am 17 years old.
I am from District 12.
District 12 doesn't exist anymore...."

"I am Jessica Kiesling.
I am 38 (no!); I am 37 years old. [for some reason remembering that I am my age has been very hard]
I am married to Dan Kiesling.
Dan died.
Your husband, Dan Kiesling, died.
On July 11, 2016.
It was real."

Every day, I have to remind myself the facts of my life because they didn't feel real. They just can't be real!

Everyday, you feel a responsibility to be "okay" enough so that others can go on with their lives and not worry about you. It's a very hard burden to carry and seems impossible to let go. You MUST have someone outside the point of impact who can carry that with you. You MUST have someone outside the story who will  let you grieve.

It has to be someone outside of your story. Why? Because those people must grieve also - and you cannot deal with your own grief and someone else's. They are too big of burdens to carry. The person who helps you shoulder that burden must be willing and able to enter into your grief without adding to it.

My biggest challenge, and greatest gift has been finding those people and then allowing myself to grieve openly. I feel a need to understand my own feeling about them - because most people are NOT good listeners. Most people want to "figure out" your feelings instead of just letting you feel them.

This week (upon returning from Ireland), I am finally realizing what CS Lewis meant when he said, "I did not realize that grief felt so much like fear." Grief can paralyze you. Overwhelm you. Throw you into a full-on panic attack. It feels exactly like fear. And when those feelings come, you need someone to jump right into that pit with you, so that you realize that you're not drowning. There is a bottom, and you can stand up. Someone to look into your eyes, and say, "You. are. okay. because I have you."

Bear Ye One Another's Burdens -  St. Patrick Cathedral in Dublin

When you know someone who is grieving, I ask you to challenge yourself to be a listener. Don't try to solve. Don't ask questions. Don't advise. Just jump into the pit, and hold them. Look into their eyes, and just let them be.

If you are grieving, find someone outside that immediate circle of loss who can be your person. It's like when you're flying, "First secure the mask to your own face, and then you can help your loved ones." It's very natural for us to want to delay helping ourselves, to think we are doing something better by avoiding our grief to help another - but you aren't. Only by embracing yourself where you are and finding the HOPE Jesus has for you in the moment can you begin to offer anything to those also grieving in your circle.

Allow yourself to feel the void - that is the only route through which healing can come.
FEEL don't fill.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Life in the Midst of Grief: Savor the Pie

It's been a hard day. The days leading up to the 'monuments' (the days when a big thing happened) are - but, even moreso. I want to hold back tears, in order to hold on to the contentment and peace that I have felt the last few days/weeks. ...but, that doesn't lead to healing. So, for a good two hours, the tears came. They came quietly and built up into the sobbing gasp...and then, my heart breathes.

Once the tears subside, the exhaustion comes. At this point, I was hungry, so I sat down to eat my leftover cherry pie - handmade by our dear friend Jon. I planned to eat while reading...because sometimes, that's what you do when you're grieving. You try to do all the things to distract yourself.

So, while I sat to do this, I felt this urge: Savor the pie.

I was transported back to the conversation with Dan: I love that you live life because I can't.

Savor the pie.

Dan loved pie. He told me that raspberry pie was his favorite, but cherry pie was his go-to. He loved homemade cherry pies, of course - but he loved cherry pie so much that he would even eat the Hostess cherry pies. [I mean, I like pie - but I would never succumb to that. I guess I'm a pie snob. Dan was not.]

Savor the pie...because I can't.

Dan savored life, but especially food and drink. When I read through our year and a half worth of Marriage Encounter dialogues, there is a recurrent appreciation for my ...meal that I just cooked. [and, of course, I delighted in preparing those meals because it's joy to do things that are so appreciated]

Savor the pie.

So, I did. I savored the pie, enjoying the delicious interplay between tart and sweet. Each bite was appreciated and delighted in, not overlooked - not consumed as a distraction...delighted in.

Whatever your pie moment today, savor it - because you're here, right now, and this is your chance to live.



Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Entering my own Holy Week

Tuesday, which was the Fourth of July - a celebration for most of you, was the start of my holy week.

For Christendom, Catholics especially, Holy Week is the span from Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) through his death to Easter. ...and a year ago, July 4 marked our holy week. In one week, I'd gone from triumphant celebration of the Fourth (and a medal placing in a 5k) to becoming a widow. Upon reflecting, I realize this is my holy week. Dan's holy week. Our holy week.

July 4, 2016 - I woke up early to run the Corunna Firecracker 5K with Charles (my brother-in-law), Nate (nephew), and Karen (friend). Charles placed first in his age group, and I placed second. It was my best time of the year thus far. Dan chose not to come because he was in so much pain. Later in the day, he opted not to come to the Mason "tractor parade" either because of the pain.

July 5, 2016 - when I got home from work, Dan told me that he'd cried twice because of all the pain he was in

July 6, 2016 - after my run, when I got home, Dan grabbed my hand and told me that he loved me. When I sat down and asked him why, he said, "because you run. because you have dance parties in your office. because you live life, and you love life. because you can, and I can't."

July 7, 2016 - Dan invited his mom and dad over for supper. We had turkey loaf and some other things that Dan loved. We watched "Mom's Night Out" with his parents. Dan slept in our bed that night. Dan started to cough that night.

July 8, 2016 - We went to the U of M for our normal Friday doctor's visit and chemo. His oxygen levels were lower, and our doctor immediately moved to admit us. Dan found Deacon Wayne when he was getting some blood work done. For some reason, I couldn't stop crying that day. Deacon Wayne came to see us in the afternoon. He said, "Detachment, huh?" ...and I realized that I was so afraid that this was it. I told Dan that I was afraid this was the end. He said, "It's not the end," and we took a nap together.... and then, he got admitted.

...and all the days started to move in a weird slow motion, with every day getting worse. Of those 3 blurred days, my most vivid memories from Saturday and Sunday are praying with my sister-in-law and then with my best friend Pam...and through tears saying, "If this is your will to take him, I know it will be good. But, I don't want you to do it. But, I know you will make it good. But if there is any way, please not now."

I've realized that these were my Gethsemane moments. My moments in the Garden (literally - each time was outside in the sunshine) where I begged God to "let this cup pass from me," and finally resolving, "not as I will, but Yours be done." My last Gethsemane prayer was in the hour before Dan was administered Last Rites, and I prayed with Deacon Wayne. I had no idea how to let Dan go, and I will never "let him go" because he is mine and I am his. We're just holding onto God's hands now, in a much different fashion.

I know what that week was like for me. But, I have no idea what it was like for Dan. Before falling asleep on the 3rd, I talked to Dan about this time last year and told him that I have no idea what it was like for him.

I woke up to "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga. ...and when I sat down to read the lyrics and hear the song, it fits (for the most part).

Last year at this time, Dan was in so much pain. So much pain that he couldn't leave the house; so much pain that I felt helpless - I didn't know how to make any of this better, and it was so hard to stay in his presence because there was nothing I could do and just watching was excruciating. I did, though - I did stay, I was here - but I think my mind has blocked part of it.

I'm entering the last week. The last, unbearable, unfathomable week.

July 8 was the day I couldn't stop crying. The day Dan wanted his parents to come to the hospital, which he usually didn't because he didn't want to fuss...our last good day together. ...and every day after that just slowly spun out of control...like a helicopter going down in slow motion.

What was it like for Dan? I know that on July 5, he cried twice. He told me it was because the pain was so bad, and I believe that, but I also wonder if God didn't visit him and let him know what was about to happen...because then he told me about how much he loved that I lived life, and slept in our bed for the first time in weeks and held me, and we had dinner with his mom and dad for our last night at home.

"I bow down to pray
to try to make the worse feel better,
Lord show me the way to cut through all this worn out leather...
I have a hundred million reasons to walk way -
but, Baby, I just need one good to stay."

I know Dan held on so long, fought so hard - for me. He told me so. I know he didn't want to leave, to let go - but his body physically could not do it. It fell apart around him. It had given him a million reasons to let go - and he held on for a good one, good one, good one, good one, good one....until it was no longer possible.



You guys...death is real. It exists. It hurts more than anything I have experienced in my life, and the impact will be with me throughout my life. But Dan was right. It wasn't the end. Death does not have the final say: love does. Jesus conquered death - and though we must each endure it, it does not have to be the end. Jesus' resurrection redeemed death - meaning that those who believe in him, through our own death can enter into holiness through that gateway.

“We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead. God could not want that for the creatures to whom he has given the breath of life. We die in order to live.”
Elisabeth Elliot





Sunday, July 2, 2017

Redeeming Death, the prequel

I posted a weekish ago, how Dan's death has shaped...reshaped my understanding about death. Realizing that this past week, 7 years ago, my grandpa passed away caused me to recognize that his death was the precursor. 

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, states that grief causes you to really look at what you believe. His analogy is that anyone can state that a rope is sturdy, functioning, and trustworthy. But until that rope is the only thing keeping you from plunging to your death, you don't actually have faith in the rope. 

Until now, I didn't realize how Grandpa's death affected me. 

My Grandpa Joe is one of my heroes. I loved him. I idolized him. I viewed him as...untouchable, sainted, perfect. I tend toward the idealization - and that is definitely how I viewed him. My grandpa lived with failed kidneys for three years. 3 YEARS. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand how - why - God allowed him to suffer for three years, for his body to just slowly fail...for his (my grandpa's) desire to not be burden to anyone become dependent on everyone. 

It wasn't fair. 

And because it wasn't fair, it certainly didn't seem merciful...or in the very least, loving. 

...and I think that is where I started to question just how loving God really was. I just didn't get it. I couldn't reconcile it. 

...and because I didn't really trust the love of God, I just couldn't imagine how heaven could be better than earth. Maybe it was the start of me trusting what I could see more than faith, or maybe I was just now becoming aware of the rope, the invitation to swing out off the canyon, and how much more I preferred my feet on the ground, but with the rope tied around me, just in case.

Yes, that's it. I didn't doubt the existence of God. I just doubted his goodness. 


[and let me just say that when you doubt his goodness, it makes it really, really hard to love him. he becomes hard to approach because all you want to is his love, but you are so scared that his love is not good - that instead of mercy, you'll get chastisement and condemnation)


Who would think that through the trial of my husband's cancer diagnosis and his subsequent death that I would more firmly, more tangibly, more deeply experience, believe, and trust God's goodness? Yet, that is what has happened. 

This is why I share my story. Death effects each of us in unique ways. I had no idea that Grandpa's death resonated with me in that way until I thought about it this week. That was 7 years ago. If you read what I wrote/spoke at his funeral, what I continued to write after, I still said all the right things about faith and dying, our hope being Jesus. But, my heart had a barrier to trusting the rope-bridge Jesus. When the time came, I'd be ready - but I was not looking forward to that time, and I was secretly hoping that time would never come. I would rather trust in myself. 

Just as many people loved Grandpa Joe, many people loved Dan. When we love our people, and we like God, it can be very hard to comprehend death. Like so many themes in life, "He gives us more grace," and we are invited to continue standing on the cliff with a rope tied around our waist, but trusting the firm foundation beneath our feet - or we can grab hold of the rope, jump, swing out from cliff and swim in the deep waters of goodness and love. 

He gives us more grace.

He is faithful, always near - always providing the lesson, the teacher - always gently knocking.


He gives us more grace.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Redeeming Death, part 1

This weekend, I received a text from a beloved student reaching out to me. Her beloved passed away unexpectedly and she didn't know what to do. The next day she asked me if I'd ever wished that I had died with Dan.

I didn't.

Truthfully, I didn't wish for death because I was afraid of it. I have never wanted death - only life.
I started reading my journal from 2016, and in January/February 2016 - there it is. I state very plainly that I am afraid of death. At the point, even 6 months of living with Dan's cancer diagnosis, I was still even afraid of suffering.

And, honestly, I was afraid of love, too - because I was afraid of getting too close to God. I was afraid of letting him into my life more because I thought he might take what I love most.


There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear - because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Back in January/February 2016, God started to address my fear - first through my understanding...and now, through my heart. What I first understood using logic, my heart eventually has come to embrace as truth.

My journal excerpt from January 16, 2016:

On Sunday, Father Mark said, "When Jesus hit the waters for baptism, they became holy. So, then, when we are baptized, we can enter into this holiness, this transformation." When Jesus takes on a human experience, he transforms it. In this transformation, it becomes holy/sacred, and a path toward our sanctification/becoming holy.
 As I think of Jesus' suffering, I realize now that this act transformed the meaning and purpose of our suffering. Suffering is NOT punishment. For those sufferings of this life that we encounter (not as a consequence of sin), they can be a mode for our transformation. This suffering - it's a way that as we realize our smallness, our inability to save ourselves that we reach toward God - and find that he's been reaching toward us this whole time.
So, if Jesus made the waters holy when he entered them, then he made suffering holy when he endured them. No, suffering is a path for us to walk toward Jesus; it is not a sign of separation. It is a path for us to walk with Jesus, and a path we walk for him, as well - carrying the hope of his presence to those who may be enduring such pain without Him. 
And if Jesus made suffering holy, we need not fear it - for the worst that could come is death. And if Jesus entering into something sanctifies it, then through the cross, Jesus took away the reproach of death. Even death is holy because through it, we enter into Jesus' presence. All the Sacraments and suffering we endure here are designed for one thing: experiencing the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. 
Death is the final door through which we pass to experience His presence in its complete, perpetual fullness. 
So, let us ask ourselves this serious question: Am I encountering the presence of God more in my life - in my joys and sorrows, in practicing the Sacraments?  
This is what God wants for you.

In the first half of 2016, I began to encounter the presence of God more in the reception of and living out of the Sacraments. I practiced the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a more consistent basis as I began to embrace the truth that I am a sinner in need of saving - and my acceptance of my humanity and need for repentance, forgiveness and grace, led me to a closer walk with Jesus.

This was the beginning of reframing the purpose of suffering, and even, death for me. But, until Dan experienced death, this was still just "head knowledge." Most of us don't know what to do with death. We know it exists; we even know it will happen to us...but, we don't live like it. We can assent to the truth of the above statements, but until we experience it - it remains in our heads, our hearts awaiting full conversion.



Sunday, June 11, 2017

What Anniversaries Feel Like: More

Happy Feast of the Trinity!

The mystery of the Trinity: God existing in 3 distinct persons - Father, Son, Holy Spirit: each a manifestation of the essential identity of God: LOVE.

The priest today stated that this feast is the only feast that would have existed had the universe never been created, if man had never sinned - this feast alone would exist. It would exist because it is a celebration of God's eminent nature - not a celebration of action (miracle done for us); it is a celebration of existence. Wow. Since it is a celebration of God's existence, it is a celebration of the love - for God IS love.

Additionally, he explained that the beginning is divine love and the destination is divine love. Along the way, we are invited to experience, to share, to continue in, to progress toward divine love. This is the essence of our human existence. To know love, to be loved, to grow love, to be love. The challenge is to love like God does: loving the mere existence of the person and recognizing that they are good. [not for what they do, how they act, how they will elevate you, or who they can become: who they are in this very moment]

As I've been reflecting on this truth, I've come to this conclusion as well: if sin never entered the world, marriage is the only sacrament that would have existed. We would not have needed the sacraments of initiation (baptism, eucharist, confirmation) or reconciliation for we would always have perfect communion with God. We would not need the priesthood because we would have had full, direct communion with Jesus. I don't think we would have needed the sacrament of healing, for death had not entered the world. But marriage would have still existed...for it was in that Genesis account (prior to the fall) that God declared it was not good that man was alone, and so, a suitable helper was created.

All the Sacraments are expressions of Divine Love, but marriage is the most easily recognized as love. Today's feast of love happens to fall on a day of particular importance in my family: my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary.


On June 11, 1947, Joe and Ellen Kremer united their lives together in the sacrament of marriage. My grandpa passed away nearly 7 years ago. When I realized that today is 70 years, I started to cry.

Why? I asked myself. Rationally, we will say that they had a long and fulfilling marriage; 63 years together, 6 children, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren - there is so much to be thankful for. Indeed there is, and believe that I am quite thankful, but this is the truth that I realized with my own wedding anniversary two weeks ago: love will always want more.

My own experience arriving to this truth (and most likely, a continual progress toward living this and knowing it more and more) came on our anniversary, and I think, as both Dan's, and God's, gift to me.

Our 6th anniversary fell on Memorial Day. I determined that I wanted to spend it with Dan, so I went to the cemetery armed with journals, books, coffee and water - and a triangle donut (one of Dan's favorites, though not filled with maple cream so he would've been disappointed). It was a beautiful sunny day, and I sat on a blanket at Dan's graveside. The day reminded me of the afternoon we spent napping in the parking lot of a Catholic church (Christ the King) in Ann Arbor in the early days of diagnosis and tests.

In reading a year of our Marriage Encounter dialogues, and cards that I had written Dan last year, there is always an element in my writing of moving forward - of reaching higher - of accomplishing the work set out for us. Dan referenced it in some of his dialogues - it's as if I was willing him to get better.

and, I was. At least, I was trying. and, he was willing me to stay grounded; to be focused in this moment; to be right here, right now. I was willing him toward healing, and he was willing me toward hope. We were the embodiment of Winston Churchill's famous saying: "Never, never, never, never give up."

I think that's why this year has been so hard. Dan was everything to me - I gave all my effort to his care, well being, life...and I would gladly do it all again - and SOONER.

and I am convinced he would say the same. In his writing, there was always an element of wanting to be more for me; of not living up to his true potential or calling - of always feeling like he was falling short of the bar.

When I read our dialogues, I came to this realization: I just didn't get it! I knew that Dan loved me. I knew that he loved me very much. But, I didn't know how much Dan loved me, and I didn't REST in that love as a fact. There are times that I do, and you can tell because I write like it. In reading Dan's words, I realized that I needed to take more opportunities to build Dan up. He needed to hear words of encouragement and affirmation from me.

Recognizing this, I took some time to talk to Dan about it - and apologize for not realizing the depth, and not affirming more often how much I respected him. The day before our anniversary, I was sharing this insight/regret with my friend Andrea, and instantly, Bruno Mars' song, "When I Was Your Man" popped into my head.

"I shoulda brought you flowers,
shoulda held your hand,
sat around and talked for hours - when I had the chance,
taken you to every party - because I remember how much you love to dance,
those are the things I shoulda done, when I was your man."

Dan.

Popping into my head with a song, again. This time, to let me know that it's okay; he had regrets, too. He would go back and do things differently - better - too.

Of course.

Of course, we both wished for more. More of everything.
Of course, he wishes he had shown more romantically.
Of course - because he loved me - and when you love someone, you always want more.

When you are in love, you can simultaneously be beyond thankful for all that you have, and want more. You want the love to never stop, to never end. THIS is our example of God's love: we always want more of love! THIS is the beauty of God's infinite self, and Trinitarian unity: we will always be filled, and there will always be room for more. We will not be bored in heaven. There will always be more to explore in love: the heights, the depths, the width, the breadth of love continues on into everlasting.

Love doesn't end.
Love multiplies.
Love grows.

Love fills.