Posts in Category: Death

In Loving Memory of Gwen Jansma

How Can Anyone Ever Tell You You Were Anything Less Than Beautiful

This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age.  But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.

I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.

Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass.  Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.

A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves.  With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me. 

Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another.  In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process.  Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).

I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.

Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.

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Please consider viewing Gail’s photography at:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Birthday Dad

Dad

Dad

It is my father’s birthday, and I am lost in thoughts of the magic, mischief, and mystery that made up this man. He was a good man: honest to a fault, a hard worker, a great provider for his family, a great dad, a teacher, and a good friend to many. His joy was solitude, nature, food, and his family. His love for me, and mine for him, was as close to unconditional as I will likely ever know. He would tell me, “You are my sun, my moon, and all the stars above.” And though I never told him, he was mine.

My father was also a man of opposites. His needs were simple, yet his mind complex. He was deeply tenderhearted, yet he could spew words that would cut to the quick, leaving one feeling small and broken. In the out of doors, he was comfortable with silence, yet inside, awake or asleep, he was a living, walking, breathing, noise machine. He could condemn the church, yet quote scripture, and live by the Word better than many theologians.

My father loved winter. He always said everything made more sense in black and white. When all the distraction of foliage and colors were removed, the truth about a thing was much clearer. I always knew he was talking about more than the forest in winter. How appropriate, though, that he was born and died during the coldest of the winter months.

My father loved and respected nature. He saw not only the beauty of nature, but also its cruelty. In his own life, he did not turn away from the ugly or difficult parts. He embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly as a whole; not as separate items that could be compartmentalized, or ignored, just because it was not pretty, or convenient. He was a true realist.

My father loved food. He enjoyed cooking wild game and making soup. He believed that soup should always include carrots, and that any dish could be improved with salt, butter, tabasco sauce, onions, and perhaps a little more butter. He was famous for slum gum. Slum gum starts with eggs, butter, onions, and leftovers. I am pretty sure that in the beginning he was attempting to make an omelette. However, due to lack of patience or too many ingredients, it just became eggs and leftovers fried together in one pan. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was awful! But then again, those were the days we would just add a bit more butter, or salt, or tabasco.

I could tell you so much more about my father, but I believe I will stop for now. Today is his birthday, and if he were here, there would not have been much fuss. I would have given him a card that he would read once, then mindlessly, place upon the counter for my mother to put away. Mom would have baked him a cake, spice, carrot, or yellow, frosted in white. He would have eaten too many pieces, and she would object. But all he would have to say is, “What? It is my birthday!” And, what could she really say on his special day!

I love you and miss you, Dad. Though I cannot see, hear, or touch you, I know you are not too far away. You always said that heaven is here on Earth, and maybe you were right. See, since you left, I have come to believe that heaven exists only a short distance away, beyond a curtain that I am unable to see. l feel your presence every day, and I know that you are near.  I hope that there is cake in heaven, Dad, and that today your favorite kind is served.  Happy 87th Birthday!  

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Thanks to Carmel Steffen for proofreading and fixing my commas. I swear there were never this many commas needed when I was in high school or college.

For more of Gail’s photos consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s A Dad Thing

Today, I did a Dad thing.  It was not just a little Dad thing, but a classic.  It was one of those goofy things that you think you would never do in a million years.  I was so tickled with myself afterward, I wanted to call him and say; Dad, guess what I just did!  But of course, I cannot.  Though I often feel him with me, and even talk to him from time to time, it is not the same.  On this day though, if he could have replied, I know he would have grinned ear to ear and said; “Well now!  That’s my girl!”

So what did I do?  I fried my cereal.  That’s right!  I made little patties out of the slimy stuff, threw them into a frying pan with butter, and sprinkled them with cinnamon.  When the edges were crisp, I put them onto a plate, added a little more butter, and drizzled them with raw honey.  It was by far, the best thing I have eaten all week.

My father used to make something called cornmeal mush.  Just the word “mush,” was enough to keep me from ever eating it.  For those of you who may not know, cornmeal mush is cornmeal cooked in water or milk until it thickens.  Then, it is poured into a small cake pan to harden.  Once hardened, it is sliced and fried.

My father’s oil of choice was always bacon grease, but any cooking oil would do.  The key, for him, was that it had to be a lot of oil.  Enough, in fact, that it would, not only, generously splatter the stove top, but also, the wall behind, and the floor below.  After the mush was crisp, or perhaps, when it could saturate no more oil, he would put it on a plate, add an inordinate amount butter, and smother it all in maple syrup.  This left the end of the kitchen table both sticky and greasy.

My fried cereal did not resemble my father’s.  None-the-less, it was inspired by him.  First, it was Bob’s Red Mill Mighty Tasty Gluten Free Hot Cereal, not cornmeal.  After eating it in the form it was intended, I decided “Mighty Tasty” must have come from the marketing team, and not the taste testers.  Next, there was only a little butter in the frying pan.  Not even enough to splatter the stove top,  wall, or floor.  And lastly, raw honey was used sparingly, leaving no sticky residue on the table.

How many more “Dad things” will I remember and embrace as the years pass?  Too many to count, I hope.  No, I doubt I will take up hunting or trapping, or master cussing as he did.  But I am sure there are other softer gentler parts of him that I will rediscover.  I can hardly wait!

 If you enjoy the photo in this blog please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Mother’s Garden

 

Today I raked my mother’s garden.  It was not my intention to rake the entire garden, but the task was one of overwhelming and unexpected joy.  In February of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and the garden had been sadly neglected ever since.  As I tended to the garden, a flood of memories came to mind.  The clearest though, was that spring of 2010.

That year I bought flat after flat of blooming annuals.  The colors were bold and bright, and I chose varieties that would last all summer.  I wanted to provide my mother with the most stunning garden of her life.  I wanted the beauty to counter the pain and discomfort of her disease.  I wanted to give back something in return for all she had done for me.

As the spring progressed, mom grew tired quickly.  Though I had planned the most stunning garden ever, I was only able to plant about one flat of flowers before my time needed to be spent doing other things for Mom.  The garden was not beautiful.  In fact, it was less than beautiful.  It was not raked, and the flowers that were normally thinned were overcrowded, and, some even died.  I gave away the flats of flowers and let go of the dream of giving mom the perfect garden.  Mom did not seem to mind.  But, I did.

Mom passed away in February of 2011.  That year came and went without a thought of the garden.  Then, spring of 2012 arrived and I was determined to dismantle Mom’s garden.  I even promised any interested friends, co-workers, and neighbors that I would dig and deliver Mother’s beloved perennials.   But I could not.

Again in 2013 I have offered flowers to friends and family.  So today, I began to make Mother’s garden beautiful one last time.  As I raked I thought of how much she loved this garden, and how much I did not.  It is not particularly organized, nor does it follow any of the rules for creating the perfect flower garden.  It is truly a hodge podge of perennials that were added as she received them, with the edges of the garden moving outward into the yard farther and farther.

I was suddenly struck by the whimsy of this haphazardly planted flower garden.  Without a doubt what my mother did best was to control, organize, and manage people, places, and things.  This garden with no clear boundaries had no rules, nor need to be perfect.  Finally I got it!   This was the one place my mother had that did not have to be perfect, as it was beautiful of its own accord, just by being.  All she needed to do was to love it, tend to it a bit, and enjoy the gift of colors and scents, and the birds and butterflies that were attracted to it.

My mother’s garden is beautiful again.  Three years of leaves and branches removed.  Three years of blackberry bushes and small trees that threatened to take over removed.  The soil relieved of its heavy burden can breathe, feel the sun, the rain, heat. and cold.  And like the garden, I too have begun to shed the heaviness, the sadness, and despair.  I, too, can once again feel the sun, the rain, heat, and cold.   I am but one of my mother’s flowers, frequently difficult to control, organize, or manage.  My boundaries are often fluid, and I am not perfect.  But I am a beautiful flower that she loved, tended to, and mostly enjoyed, and I am forever grateful.

My Mother's Garden

Mom and two of the creatures she loved most.

If you enjoy the photos in this blog please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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