It is that season. When the sky darkens early. Berries shrivel. Leaves redden and release their petiolar hold. I open the kitchen window and watch them skitter across the street, hear them scrape across the asphalt.
Some of them rain like gold, floating down from Bette's canopy, sunlight filtering through branches. In time they will scroll into themselves, fade. And by winter's end they will be changed into new soil, new life.
The symbolism of all this dying and living sobers me. It is different this year. So much sorrow mingled with light.
My mother has stopped chemotherapy. Her tumor has grown from grade 2 to grade 3. She has been suffering from increased seizures, has lost the progress she made and is stumbling around the house, unable to use her left arm, sitting on the edge of her bed, close to tears. I sit next to her. "It is a mountain climb," she says to me. And I don't know what to say. We speak of submissiveness and my eyes brim with water.
CT scans show another bleed in her brain, so they admit her to the neurosurgery wing of the hospital to monitor her for a couple days, hoping the bleeding will decrease enough she can try radiation in November.
There is still fight inside her. But she can't trust her body. She is unsure of what lies ahead. "This is hard," she admits. And a farm girl like her doesn't just say things are hard. I nod, "Yes. It is." And after we hug goodbye, I get into the car with my boys, and cry.
My Dad clips the pumpkins he grew for the grandchildren and I see him this morning, pulling into our driveway, delivering a pumpkin for each of my children. He is strong. He is happy. He is positive. I stand in my pajamas in the cold October morning and hug him on our porch. Wordless at the love he shows me, my siblings, and our mother.
We speak of the funeral this coming Friday. Services for our dear friend, Mark. Who passed away last Wednesday evening due to complications from his lung disorder, PCD (Primary Ciliary Dyskinesa). I can barely handle the sorrow I feel for his wife and their two children, his parents and family. I am heartbroken for them.
I first caught a glimpse of Mark's remarkable spirit while waiting for an interview as a young single adult in the foyer of an LDS chapel. A young man was reporting on his mission to Hawaii and I couldn't help but listen in. It was Mark. He had a way of conveying truth that was powerful and stirring.
Months later we ended up in Israel at the same time, on a study abroad. We hiked the high places of Petra, En Gedi, and Wadi Qelt. After Israel, we spent hours studying with other close friends for pre-med weeder classes at the University. We taught gospel doctrine together for a few years in our singles ward. We would talk often about our lessons and how to get at the heart of scripture. One of our friends called Mark "The Oracle" - someone God spoke through. And the nickname stuck.
Mark was a trusted friend. We had many deep and meaningful conversations. He was one of the wisest individuals I've been privileged to know. I learned so much from him during those years. He always wanted to know God's mind, understand His ways. And I admired that about him.
This summer, Mark and I, and our friend Stacey, organized our 20 year Israel reunion. Mark hadn't been feeling well. He told me he weighed less than he did in high school, but to our delight, he made it to the reunion. It was so good to reconnect, to visit with him and his wife, Elissa.
It was a truly joyful evening.
Mark with our friend Amy.
So much is shared when you live for six months in a foreign country together. Long bus rides, hotel stays, classes in the auditorium, adventures around the city. Feelings, beliefs, life.
These are friends that prayed and fasted for my mother when she was diagnosed with her first brain tumor. We were all together then, and I was upheld by their love and concern.
Now, they have resumed prayers for her and I am humbled by their goodness.
20 years is long enough for the unexpected to happen. Kelly (above left) fought her own brain tumor. Some have divorced, some have lost children, some have adopted, some have never married. Yet we share a common place of knowing. And now we have lost one of our own.
Oh, these are people I will love all my days.
Each face holds a handful of memories for me. And I'm grateful so many of these friendships have continued strong over the years.
Yes, I love these people.
We have been praying for Mark's wife and children, for his parents and siblings. This is such a hard loss. And I feel an emptiness for them, for all who knew Mark.
October has been full of worry and heartache.
Two weeks ago, Kara's precious little Caleb (age 2) was run over by an SUV. This horrible accident left Caleb with a broken leg and lacerations all over his body, but miraculously, no internal bleeding or brain damage.
My heart was heavy for Kara's family, as they lived between home and hospital. Kara and Dave were traumatized, exhausted, and okay because Caleb was okay. But Kara was still nursing her year-old twins while trying to manage Caleb's care in the neurotrauma unit.
She showed me the tire marks on the road, the points of impact. It is unreal, unbelievable that Caleb will be fine. I thought of his twin brother Isaac, of Kara's grandfather, of others living in the come-and-go between earth and spirit, and it was obvious, God intervened. Angels came rushing.
When I visited Caleb in the hospital, I brought him a soft little owl and love from all of our family. My children were so worried about this sweet boy who gives them hugs every time they stop by. His gift to me was this smile. As he whispered each of my children's names, said hello, and I videoed.
To cheer him up, sweet Israel friends, Saydi and Amy, arranged for Caleb to receive this rainbow bouquet of happy. I think it did the trick.
Wonderful kindness. Light amid sorrow.
And one last dose of light and love.
This quilt. Made for my mom by her neighborhood friends.
I was so touched when I saw it. The hours. The compassion. The gorgeous hand-stitchery.
Needle after needle into cut cloth, with Ronda in mind. I especially loved this square. With a "b" for Bob (my Dad) and their six children, K for Keddington, and my angel Mom hovering over her garden, beneath the stars.
These women thoughtfully pieced together a gift of tenderness and strength.
With a soft, minky side, so she can be warm while sitting on her favorite couch.
I can't stop thinking about this quote.
Thank you to all the angel women who created this gift of love.
Kara and Dave walked down to our home the evening of my birthday, Caleb bundled into a stroller. And Kara gave me this print of Jesus' tomb, by Walter Raine. It is titled He is Not Here.
She wrote the following,
This year I remember my son. I mourn a friend. And the friend of a friend. And I feel burned by the vision of my boy, broken on the road. When even in loss, life was saved. The blood and silky hair washes away in the rain, but his limpid form lies cradled in my arms and he turns his face to the stars and astounds us all with the poignant truth, "God loves me."
And so God sent His Son. And the tomb emptied of its prize, and there is redemption for the world, and for my son, and my friend, and my friend's friend. And life again on this beautiful earth.
Angels will rush to a car and a child. They will cradle him in their protective arms. Leaving me breathless with awareness.
Those robes lying there. Fallen on cold stone. The moment of moments. Then He bends over, lifts them up, folds them so carefully, and steps out into the light.
I could hardly breathe at that last phrase, at the thought of Christ stepping out into the light, of Mark stepping out of this place of light and into another. Of Caleb pointing to those glow-in-the-dark stars in the dim of his hospital room. Of my Mom, as I tucked her into bed and we laughed at the same fluorescent stars, glimmering on her bedroom ceiling, as I sang to her, like she did to me, when that corner bedroom was mine:
"Yes, I know Heavenly Father loves me."
While looking at Raine's painting, Kara said, "It is this, and only this, that makes everything okay. Mark, your Mom, Isaac. This one thing makes it all okay."
And she is right.
So, I will place this image of draped cloth on our mantle at the first sign of Autumn, not Spring. "The season of death. Of descent. When the sun draws away from us."
So I can remember, as Kara said, not all is an ending. Life is so much more than here and now. And like the trees thinning beneath the sky, our sorrow and brokenness leave us open to the light.