Ripples Through the Generations

            It is now seventy-two years after the accident in the whale boat, three times the span of Lester’s short life. What happened to the folks during those ensuing decades?

            Shortly after World War II had ended, the family received medals Lester had been awarded posthumously for his dedicated service. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore a decade had passed, Frances and Gloyd were blessed with a boy and a girl. the first children of the next generation. Born just three years after Lester’s death, Frances named her son David Lester in honor of her brother.

            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn that first decade, Lester’s father Charley died of heart disease. “He took Lester’s death hard,” Wallace told us, “and never got over it.” Wallace was convinced the accident in Narragansett Bay was a contributing factor in his father’s death.

            Sometime in that first decade, Josephine met and eventually married another man. The home wedding was attended by well-wishing members of Lester’s family, and officiated by his aunt Mabel, the first woman in Kansas to be an ordained pastor of the Methodist Church. Though Lester’s mother kept in touch with Josephine for many years, they eventually lost contact.

Josephine's wedding. Lester's aunt Mabel officiated.
Josephine’s wedding. Lester’s aunt Mabel officiated.

            Before ten years had passed, Wallace, a high school senior in 1942, had gone to college, met and married the woman who would be his faithful partner for fifty-three years, Helen Peterson.

The wedding of Wallace and Helen. The two youngest children belong to Frances and Gloyd.
The wedding of Wallace and Helen. The two youngest children belong to Frances and Gloyd.

            In the second decade beyond Lester’s death, Wallace and Helen welcomed three daughters to the family.

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            In that second decade, Lester’s sister Frances met him at the pearly gates, a victim of cancer. She left her school-age children in Gloyd’s care. Her son David, Lester’s only nephew, enlisted in the US Navy upon his graduation. He began an involvement with the navy that continued through the rest of his life, with active duty and the naval reserves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA            Lester’s mother Georgia persevered with a broken heart. Though she had lost much in a few short years, she devoted herself to her remaining children, and then her grandchildren. She was a trusted and beloved friend to many people. After Charley’s death, she managed the farm with astute business sense. She rarely spoke of Lester, but he was never far from her thoughts. His portrait hung on her living room wall for decades after she moved the farm house to town. She guarded her memories, stored the photos and other memorabilia in the attic, and mourned privately.

            Still there were times when she mentioned her son, and alluded to his sunny personality, always with a tenderness in her voice, and a reverence that spoke volumes about the depth of her love and her loss. I recall waking in the middle of the night during a visit to her house to hear her sobbing alone in the darkness of her own bedroom. She died fifty years after Lester, in her 99th year, to finally join those who had preceded her.

            Perhaps young Paul suffered as much as anyone from his brother’s tragic death. Only seven years old at the time, Paul grew up in a house shadowed by grief. His father was never the same. His mother carried on the best she could. But her heart was wounded. Maybe Paul never even remembered, in the end, what life had been like before Lester’s death. He grew up, left home, attended college for a while, and spent most of his life alone, bouncing between jobs in the kitchens of various Kansas City restaurants. He died alone and nearly penniless at the age of seventy.

            Lester became a legend in the family. Life moved on. He was gone, but not forgotten.

            That brings me to the point of this whole project with the letters from 1942. Lester Franklin Harris was a good man. Through his twenty-four years of life, and his sudden, unexpected death, he impacted the world around him. Like pebbles tossed into a still pond, the ripples started during his life continue to spread outward, undulating through generations of people who weren’t even alive when Lester left this world.

            If he were still alive today, my uncle Lester would be 96. My cousins, sisters and I would have grown up to know the good-natured generous soul others loved, but we never had that opportunity. We knew him only through the occasional story, a fond remembrance or gifts shared once in a while.

            When I was establishing my piano repair shop, my father  (Lester’s brother Wallace) gave me a portable shop vise. In a voice filled with reverence and love, he explained, “This belonged to Lester. I want you to have it.” Lester’s vise has assisted me with numerous projects over the years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            In the late summer of 2013, my cousin David Lester Pickett passed away at the age of 68. At the family dinner following his service, his widow handed me a small new testament, covered in a zippered canvas case. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt had been a gift to Lester when he enlisted in the US Navy. In my imagination, I saw our grandmother passing this booklet to David when he entered the navy, with the same sense of reverence and honor that my father displayed with he passed the vise to me.

            Over the years, the fresh wounds that jolted the hearts of my family in 1942 had two effects. Either they contributed to a sad life and an early grave, or the wounds healed. Scars would never disappear, for Lester would never be forgotten. His mother and his siblings had to learn how to carry those scars like badges earned in the storms of life.

Lester's flag.
Lester’s flag.

My grandmother learned how to laugh again. My favorite memory of her is her belly-busting, whole-hearted laughter. But she never forgot Lester. She kept his letters, the flag which accompanied him home, a box full of cards and notes, two memory books from the funerals, the medals, a photo album and a few personal items. Upon her death, the memory box passed to Wallace. Upon his death, it passed to me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUntil 2010 I had no idea the letters existed. But when I read the words written in his own polished penmanship, Lester has come alive for me after seven decades.

            None of her grandchildren knew our beloved Grandma Georgia before her heart was scarred with grief. I wonder what we missed. What was she like before? Who would she have been if Lester had lived?

            The love my family felt for him and their grief at his loss crossed generations to impact those of us who never knew him. That experience in 1942 led them to support me with compassion and empathy when I struggled with a series of losses four decades later. That, in the end, is the greatest honor we can give to those whom we have loved and lost: to use the pain, and the healing, to assist others when they face their own storms in life. None are immune to grief. When you love somebody, you risk the pain of loss. If we can honor those memories with compassion to others, then the world will be better for it.

            Ripples from Lester’s life continue to spread towards the horizon in every direction. He was a good man, and the world is a better place because he lived.

Lester Franklin Harris
Lester Franklin Harris

(Lester’s World War II memorabilia will be displayed in the Dunlap, Kansas historical museum housed in the former Dunlap Methodist Church.)

Western Union Telegrams, December 1942

The day was drawing to a close on December 4. Chores were nearly done when a lone vehicle approached the farm home of Lester’s family. The driver bore a telegram for CF Harris from Arlington, Va.

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The Navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Lester Frank Harris fireman first class US Naval reserve is missing following the capsizing of a motor whale boat in Narragansett Bay on December second. If remains are recovered you will be notified and every effort will be made to conform to your wishes regarding disposition. Further details probably will be communicated to you by his commanding officer. Sincere sympathy extended to you in your great sorrow.             

     Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel

Even without today’s social media, news of the family’s unfolding sorrow spread like wildfire in the close-knit farming community. Hardly a soul remained who hadn’t heard the news when a second telegram arrived on December 10, the birthday of Lester’s sister Frances.

330 pm 10

Supplementing our dispatch of Dec 4 1942 The bureau of Naval personnel  has been informed that your son Lester Frank Harris fireman first class USNR previously reported as missing lost his life in line of duty as result of submersion when a motor whale boat capsized December second. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecovery of remains is not probable. Further details will be sent you by his commanding officer. Sincere sympathy extended to you in your great loss

                 Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel

Refusing to believe the news could possibly be true, the folks carried on, rising each day with the hope that Lester would contact them and all would be well. Lester’s brother Wallace, then seventeen years old, recalled decades later, “When we were notified of the accident and his probable death I could not believe that it had really happened. I kept thinking, ‘This is not real. I must be dreaming. When I awaken I’ll find it’s a dream and that Lester is really alive.’ Eventually, I came to accept the fact that it was no dream; that we had been separated, completely and irrevocably by death.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an effort to learn what had actually happened, Lester’s mother carried on a furious correspondence with his buddies Harry Haring and Joseph Feingold. Haring dissuaded her from trekking to Newport, assuring her there was little she could do that wasn’t already being done. He wrote, “No, Mrs. Harris, I’m sure that there is nothing to be gained in coming to Newport. It’s cruel I know but it’s hopeless. A body will rise after the third day and then if not recovered it again sinks. I’m afraid the sea will not give up her bodies until the final day. For a man of the sea, Mrs. Harris, there is no finer resting place than the sea when the man sails.”

By the end of December, Lester’s personal effects had been shipped home. Included in the shipment were several sets of his navy uniforms both white and blue; bedding; towels; a sewing kit; a shaving kit; a shoe kit; two bundles of books; a slide rule; a gauge; miscellaneous letters and stationery; and “one unopened package addressed to Mr. Harris.” He had never opened the Christmas package sent by his sister.

That Christmas surely was a difficult time for the family. On January 3, 1943, one month after the ill-fated accident, Lester’s family and friends gathered for a memorial service. It was to be the first of two funerals for him. Over the weeks and months after the accident, several of the sailors’ bodies were discovered and identified. In July 1943, seven months later, a body was found and determined to be that of Lester. The presence of Lester’s personal billfold with a water-stained photo of Josephine aided the final identification of his remains.

Another set of telegrams brought the final news, this time to Mr. and Mrs. C F Harris.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA959 am July 17 1943

Supplementing our dispatch of December tenth 1942 the bureau of personnel has been informed that the remains of your son Lester Franklin Harris fireman first class US Naval reserve have been recovered. Please telegram collect to the Bureau of Medicine and surgery Navy Department Washington DC whether or not you desire to have remains sent home or interred in any National or Naval Cemetery you may select without cost to you. If sent home all expenses of preparation encasement and transportation will be prepaid to destination and reasonable necessary expenses not to exceed fifty dollars will be allowed towards funeral expenses subject to reimbursement by the bureau of medicine and surgery navy department. If the body is sent home please advise whether or not you desire an escort to accompany the body. The department extends its sincerest sympathy to you in your great sorrow.

                     Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs Chief of Naval Personnel

His parents must have responded immediately, as requested. Of course they wanted him to come home. Another telegram arrived the following day.

1943 Jul 18 P M 4 39OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

=URTEL SEVENTEENTH NAVAL HOSPITAL NEWPORT RHODE ISLAND DIRECTED FORWARD REMAINS YOUR SON LESTER FRANKLIN HARRIS CONSIGNED TO YOU AT DUNLAP ACCOMPANIED BY NAVAL ESCORT WITH TELEGRAPHIC NOTIFICATION GIVING DATE ROUTE AND SCHEDULED TIME ARRIVAL HOSPITAL ALSO REQUESTED HAVE JOSEPH FEINGOLD ACT AS ESCORT IF PRACTICABLE LETTER FOLLOWS.

=BUREAU OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY NAVY DEPARTMENT.

                                                                 

Though no confirmation of Joseph Feingold’s attendance is among the existing memorabilia, it’s nice to think that Lester’s last journey was accompanied by his good friend. He had come home at last.

This photo is labeled "Lester's Navy Friend." He is not identified by name, but this is likely to be either Haring or Feingold.
This photo is labeled “Lester’s Navy Friend.” He is not identified by name, but perhaps this is Joseph Feingold who may have escorted Lester home in 1943.

The family and friends gathered again for a second funeral on July 24. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis one completed the solemnity, for there was no hope remaining that Lester might one day return to favor all with his friendly smile and warm hugs. He was gone.

I wonder if anyone read from his high school salutatorian address during the service. He spoke these words before his classmates at their graduation ceremony:

“When a ship starts on a voyage, it is loaded with fuel. If the ship is large or the voyage long, stops may be made at several fueling stations. . . .Ships are always in danger of being veered from their course by storms, of running onto hidden reefs or rocks. . . .However a ship does not by any means sail blindly. It has a pilot, lighthouses, and buoys to guide it and mark the dangerous spots.”

Nobody knew better than Lester how dangerous the sea could be.

Gherardi at sea

As time passed, Lester’s story was told to a new generation. Thus, his nephew and niece (Frances and Gloyd’s children) and three nieces (daughters of Wallace and his wife Helen) learned the story of their uncle’s World War II service. The pain still showed in the somber faces and the irony persisted. The most poignant detail ended the tale. “And he wasn’t even supposed to be on that boat.”

But he was.

Lester Franklin Harris, 1918 - 1942
Lester Franklin Harris, 1918 – 1942

 

Though evidently Lester was one of the last of those fifteen sailors to be found, there was one more body discovered in August 1943. It was damaged beyond recognition and unidentifiable. According to a Wikipedia article (referenced under USS Gherardi), the final body was identified conclusively through DNA analysis in 2006, more than sixty years after the accident. Those remains were determined to belong to Raymond Johnson, the coxswain of that whaleboat. Two other sailors have never been found.

The Wikipedia article described a 2006 plaque commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of the fifteen sailors, commissioned for the US Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. Names of all fifteen sailors are listed on the plaque. The USS Gherardi received five battle stars for World War II service. In 2004 the USS Gherardi Association dedicated a plaque to her service from 1942 through 1955, claiming “She safely returned all those who served in combat.”

Sadly, she didn’t have the same good fortune in protecting her sons from a storm off the coast of the homeland.

choose thankfulness

This is a beautiful piece that shows the depths of a mother’s love, even through unspeakable heartache. I admire this young mother very much, for daring to choose thankfulness even when her heart is breaking and for the courage to share these words with others. She is right when she says thankfulness is a choice. In the end, it is our choices which will define our character. I am thankful Lexi found my blog. My heart goes out to her, and I send wishes for a happy birthday. Blessing to you and your family, Lexi.

Ten Reasons to Write a Book

moon cover

Formatting complete, In the Shadow of the Wind is now available wherever electronic books are sold. I take a few moments to reflect on the many and varied rewards gleaned through the process of writing the book. If you’ve been tinkering with a story of your own, not quite sure you are ready to dedicate the time required to finish it, I assure you it’s well worth your efforts. Here are ten of the unexpected joys I’ve discovered in my own journey which you may enjoy as well.

ONE

You will find great satisfaction. If you spend time polishing your words, seek and listen to honest critiques, and complete all the steps required in the countless revisions, you’ll find you’ve created a quality product to present to readers. It is a good feeling.

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TWO

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom across the country, your family may reconnect with a celebration of your work. Your older sister may depart with a hearty hug and the words, “I am really proud of you.”

Your younger sister may call, laughing, to say, “I want to set the record straight. We do indeed wear underwear!”

Your sister-in-law may write, “I have read the whole book and it is wonderful.”

You may hear from cousins. “I enjoyed it very much. You did a wonderful job telling your story. I cried and I laughed.”

 

 

THREE

The book may open new conversations with your grown children. One daughter may brag about you on Facebook. “My mom is a published writer!! So proud of her.” Another daughter may announce, “I learned something, Mom. Now I understand.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

FOUR

Friends from your other career may endorse your book. From Missouri, “I’m at school tuning but I really want to be home reading your book! It’s good.”

From Illinois, “I enjoy every page. This is a real story and you tell it marvelously. What a gift.”

From Texas, “Your diversity is amazing. When a writer can move her readers to laughter, then tears, she has written a worthy story. It was a great read!”Colorado mining cabin

 

FIVE

Your collection of endorsements grows with each reader.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“It didn’t suck!  In fact, your book is excellent. I want another copy to give a friend.”

“I loved it! It was like you were here talking to me. Is there another book coming?”

“It’s a page-turner.”

“I began reading your book and could not put it down.”

“Buy Ann’s book. It’s well worth it.”

“I just finished reading In the Shadow of the Wind; thanks for sharing your life, heart and soul with readers.”

And perhaps my favorite, “Smiles. . .tears. . .and peace. Thank you, Ann.”

SIX
Readers begin to share their own stories, prompted by a scene in your book.

One friend may share how she is nursing two juvenile black squirrels right now.

Another friend may share how a dream of her deceased father woke her from a sound sleep to discover her infant son in respiratory distress.

Another friend may share how her departed mother sent a message of love through a random card sent by a friend in a correctional facility.

You may be invited to lead a discussion of spiritual experiences and healing stories at your church.Colorado suinset

SEVEN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatching your book bloom with a life of its own is as thrilling as it is terrifying. With a bit of awe, you ponder how its appeal spans generations with praise from readers your parents age, through your own generation, to young adults your children’s age.

EIGHT

Your community of friends expands exponentially.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You re-connect with lost friends and make many new friends through your writing adventure. Each person in your list becomes a cherished gem in your life story.

NINE

Completing the book is an adventure in building confidence. It may open doors to a whole new world and a whole new you. You may ponder the unforeseen influence each of us has on others. The personality your friends perceive in you may have elements opposite the way you view yourself. Ultimately, you realize your impact on the world is a complex blending of both perceptions.

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TEN

With a project completed, you can turn to a new project, renewed and ready to tackle another story. Yes, there is another book coming.sun cover

It’s here!

Yesterday, the arrival of my copies of In the Shadow of the Wind signaled a rite of passage for me. My book, a glossy paperback with my name on the front and my photo on the back, is finally done. But my journey is far from complete. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Will anybody want to read it? And if they do, will they treat it with favor? Perhaps I’ll never know, but the story is there, offered for anyone who might be struggling, who has experienced the tragic loss of a loved one far too soon in life. I feel a little arrogant to think that anyone would want to read a memoir of my life. After all, who am I? I’m just Ann, plain and ordinary.

Perhaps this describes the vast majority of us. Within our small circles of life, each of us makes our mark. We live. We love. And we die. Some of us complete the circle sooner than others. Some of us travel parts of the circle more than once. Most of us, sooner or later, will feel the pain of a loved one’s death and question what purpose remains in our empty lives. And we must find a way forward. Pup on the prairie Anticipating questions from friends who read the story, I offer answers in advance.

Q:        How long does it take to write a book?

A:        This one? Thirty years. In the Shadow of the Wind was a project begun decades ago, in another place and another time in my life. When events of life intervened, and my new life started, I put this project away and literally forgot about it. Without the detailed journals I wrote at the time the events occurred, it would have been impossible to write this memoir.

Q:        Why did you decide to write it now?

A:        In 2010, my father died suddenly after a heart attack. He had supported me during my earlier losses with unconditional love and encouragement. At his memorial service, I mentioned how much it meant to me when he endorsed my forty day retreat into the wilderness. Afterward, people wanted to know more about the retreat. It was like somebody from beyond tapped me on the shoulder to say, “It’s time. Write.” Perhaps it was a last gift from my father. Perhaps Craig himself had something to do with it. But at that moment, I knew my life had just changed. I would write again.

Q:        A lot of the chapters in your memoir are very personal. How can you put such personal, private details out there for strangers to read?

A:        I think a story like this has to be personal, or it will be very dull. Readers need to feel the emotions, to laugh and cry with the writer, in order for the writing to ring true. Yes, it’s personal. Some of it is so personal that I didn’t tell a soul about it when it happened. But I did tell my journal. And the story is about a different me, the young woman of three decades ago. As I worked with these words, I could feel what she felt, and think her thoughts, but it was almost like they belonged to somebody else. Perhaps the insulation of time, the passage of these decades, was necessary. I couldn’t have written it when the emotions were fresh. It was too painful.

Q:        How do you know you’ve been called to write?

A:        Just a feeling, I think. How does a pastor know he or she has been called to preach? There is a notion from within, a driving force you can’t ignore. And then there are some signs along the way.

I like to think the Great Spirit still speaks to us. The timing of events at two places in my life led me to believe that someone somewhere was sending me a message. When Craig and I lived through repeated crises, the arrival of Phoebe Dawn was a miracle. Timing was critical. She was born on March 2, 1984. We met her and brought her home on March 5, three days later. Before the end of March, Craig was in the hospital. Had she been an April baby, we’d never have met the precious child who gave Craig the inspiration and drive to fight for his life and gave me purpose to carry on after he was gone. I thought, and still do, she was a gift from God. 4 Phoebe Dawn, a ray of sunshine

Q:        And the second place when you felt a supernatural nudge?

A:        That has to do with my efforts to record the story over the last four years. During the year following my father’s death, the very same pastor who had been with us through the loss of our babies, who had preached at their graveside services, came back into my life. He was sent to my current church. I felt it was a sign.

Additionally the year 2012 was the year I was pulling the story from my journals. Much of the tale takes place in 1984, a leap year. The year 2012 also was a leap year, the seventh leap year since 1984, and the very first year since then when the calendar days exactly meshed with the days of the week all year long. As I wrote, it was almost as if I was reliving that time twenty-eight years ago. Every event became vivid in my mind. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if so, a strange one I could never have foreseen.

Q:        Where do you go from here?

A:        I’m not sure. The books are printed. Once again, my shy nature balks at putting them out for strangers to read. But if someone wants a copy, they are available. Someday, there may be an e-version. That will be another adventure for me, a new learning experience.

Q:        You’d just let the books sit in your closet?

A:        I still find it a little bit hard to believe anyone would actually want to read it. I have been operating for the last four years under the premise that I was supposed to write the book. I was directed—ordered—to do it. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Somebody somewhere needed my story or would need it. When it was ready, they would be led to it somehow.

As I get older, I find fewer and fewer things that I am certain of. There are so many differences among us, so many opinions, so many arguments. But one thing I still firmly believe is that we are here to help each other. Whether neighbors in our home towns need assistance, or people in Bangladesh and the Maldives who are watching their homes disappear under a rising sea, we are called to help.

Other creatures might need help too. Perhaps a wild kitten has fallen between bales in a haystack, Monarch butterflies can’t find the milkweed they need to feed new generations, the birds on Midway Island strangle in human trash, or the arctic ice of the polar bears recedes further every summer. These fellow passengers on spaceship Earth also beg for assistance.

Or maybe it’s a mother, grieving for a lost child, or a young widow facing an uncertain future. If we’re not here to help, what are we doing here anyway? The needs are there. The opportunities to get involved are endless.

5 Silhouette for wedding invitation

Q:        Do you have any parting words?

A:        My wish for each of you is that you will be able to meet the winds of your life head-on, and learn how to soar through troubled times.

For myself, I feel most satisfied when my days include time spent writing. I’ve already started a novel about a piano tuner who solves a mystery by uncovering clues hidden in various pianos she tunes. It’s received hearty endorsements from instructors at two writing workshops I attended this summer, and I’m excited to continue writing. I’ll have to step up my time table, however. I may not be around for another three decades—and I have more ideas hatching all the time.

Q:        What about your memoir? What’s it really about?

A:        A short summary of In the Shadow of the Wind: A Story of Love, Loss and Finding Life Again:

Following a series of tragic losses, thirty-year old Ann Darr struggles alone in a strange and frightening world.  The young widow and bereaved mother retreats to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, she sets up a solitary camp on the river bank of her family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood waters after only a few days, she faces her own mortality.

There is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells how one ordinary woman learns to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in her inner resources to conquer adversity.

Part 3 Forty Days in the Wilderness

Q:          Where can I find a copy of this book?

A:          Right now, they are in my closet. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, either reply to this post or send me a private message on Facebook (Ann Fell, FHSU) to let me know how to reach you.

A Bucket of Sand

Sometimes clawing, creeping fingers of ice threaten to douse the sparkle of the season.
Sometimes clawing, creeping fingers of ice threaten to douse the sparkle of the season.

A few years ago, in the aftermath of my father’s death, I was called to tune the piano in the home of a man who had lost his wife within the previous few months. She had always been the person to arrange the tunings. In his attempts to heal, he was following her habits, taking over tasks that had always been hers. So he called me to tune the piano, even though the main piano player was no longer around.DSC01717

Given my fresh loss, and his, we fell into conversation about our experiences. There is healing to be found by talking with someone who walks the same path you walk. When I headed to my next appointment,  my spirit had been lifted by  sharing our separate and individual grief.

Dan Deener is the man who grieved for his beloved wife Lin. Before I left his home, he gave me a link to find a special analogy he wanted to share. Over the past few years, I have shared his story with others who faced a new loss. I am always amazed at the healing power to be found by simply sharing a personal story with others who hurt.

This is  Dan’s story:

Many years ago when I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly I came up with this metaphor for the grief I was dealing with. I was struggling and it hurt so much. It was as if God handed you a bucket of grief and it was soooo heavy. You had to get up every morning and carry it with you. You didn’t know how you could carry it but you did.

Bucket in the sand
Bucket in the sand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But, every morning when you could swing your feet over the edge of the bed and get up you were entitled to take a scoop of sand from the bucket. Every time you cried, every time you smiled with a pleasant memory, every time some one said how much your loved one meant to them, every time you told some one a story about your loved one, every holiday you must endure without them, every anniversary, every birthday, every night when you go to bed……………….you get to take another scoop of sand from your bucket. You get the idea.
The bucket gets lighter but there is always more sand in the bucket and you will have to carry it the rest of your life. Such is the cost of loving some one.
As I sit in front of the computer and tears run down my cheeks, guess what. I get to take another scoop of sand from my bucket. I hope we can help each other make our load lighter.

Many thanks to Dan Deener for permission to share his story here today. And with compassion, I think of all my friends who are nursing pain and loss of their own. I think of those who face this holiday season for the first time in their lives without a special loved one. I think of Cheryl, of Madeline, Kelley, Travis, Scott, Linda and Michael, Maureen, Derek, Barbara, Ann, Helena, Daniel, and Vickie. I also think of Jim, and Mary, Sheryl, Marcel, Travis, Ralph, Mildred, Derek, Kay, Chaz, Gary, Donte, Mike, Jan, Ashley, Wayne, Phoebe, Allison, Juanita, Betty, Jeff, Roxy, and Joyce who continue to feel the void of beloved family members through the passing years. I think of Grizzly, and Barbara, and others who struggle with health issues of their own or in their families.

And I want to say, “You are not alone.”

With each passing day of this holiday season, we can all take another scoop of sand from our buckets of grief. By connecting with others who know what it’s like, we can all help each other make our loads lighter.

Wishing you many blessings for Christmas!PICT0608

Holiday Blues

It happened again last night. I tossed in bed, unable to sleep, trying to still the voices in my head. They pointed out every flaw I’ve ever had, identified my weaknesses, my insufficiencies. Whispers in my mind invited me to retire from civilization, to crawl into my cozy hole and give up on the crazy madhouse of insanity the world has become.

The landscape outside is painted in drab colors. Temperatures plunge into single digits. Winter has arrived, and with it, the holiday blues. I wonder how many others struggle to step through each day, as if dragging buckets of sand with each foot. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe joyfulness of the season is forced into shadows of a heart that weeps silently with unforgotten pain and memories of Christmases long ago when excitement was real.

Those who brace themselves for another season without the presence of a dear one must number in the millions. There are new widows and widowers every year, as well as newly bereft parents, and children who will never share another holiday with a parent. There are friends who miss best friends forever, treasured aunts or uncles or grandparents now living only in memories. There are beloved pets who now wait for their owners at the rainbow bridge, not to mention people who have lost other treasures. Marriages, relationships, and friendships have gone sour. Some people have lost their robust health. Some are disfigured with scars of character in a culture that worships a narrow definition of beauty. Some have lost the vitality of youth and grieve for days that will never return. Some mourn the loss of dreams, of visions they once harbored about the way life should be and never was. Do they all struggle to remain cheerful like I do?

The things to mourn mount in number as we age until they could easily overwhelm us with grief, especially at the holidays. Given the vast array of personal loss, I wonder sometimes if anyone can escape the cold, clawing fingers of holiday blues that spread around the heart and threaten to snuff out the season’s joy. Are we all simply seduced by the advertisers to make ourselves feel better in the stores? Shop until we drop. Buy. Buy. Buy. I have yet to see the frenzy of Christmas shopping make anyone truly feel better. Are we all simply  just going through the motions, with no regard for the long-range consequences?

And yet—and yet—the actions involved in going through the motions can bring healing. Getting up and dragging myself through the day’s routine can be a salve for those forever-wounds. Taking steps to bring a moment of cheer to someone else can lighten my  load and brighten the day’s drab landscape. Choices made in honor of missing loved ones ease the pain of their absence.

So, I smile. Even when I have to make myself smile. I stand a little taller. I pull my shoulders back and put a spring into my gait. When I reach out to others, the gesture warms my own heart. Perhaps it warms them too. Somehow, in some mystifying way, the joy and the peace inherent in the season finds its way into a small crevice in my armor. I am one step closer to feeling whole again.PICT0862

Some things I have tried at various times in the past to help vanquish the blues include (but are not limited to):

1.    Take a box of my homemade cookies to someone who wouldn’t expect them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2.    Focus on the music of the season. Play it every chance I get, in every way possible, on every instrument I have. Piano arrangements, dulcimer music, handbell choirs or small ensembles, even recordings–all can bring joy through beautiful melodies.

3.    Contribute whatever pocket change I have every single time I encounter a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.

Parlor at the Cattle Baron Inn.
Parlor at the Cattle Baron Inn.
Cattle Baron Inn Bed and Breakfast, Howard, Kansas
Cattle Baron Inn Bed and Breakfast, Howard, Kansas

4.   Expand my horizons. Do something I’ve never done before, like booking an overnight stay at a nearby bed-and-breakfast.

5.    Take a long walk in a natural setting. Walk until I see something new, or think of a totally new thought.

6.   Renew an old friendship or make a new friend.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To all who struggle to find cheer during the holiday season, may you feel a moment of peace now and then to comfort your heart.

Setting Sail

Lester F. Harris
Lester F. Harris

When I think of family and losses, my thoughts turn first to an uncle whom I never met. Lester Franklin Harris was the older brother to my father. Born the 21st day of February in 1918, Uncle Lester came of age during the depression era. He helped run the family farm for a few years after graduation from high school. In 1941, with conflicts escalating all over the world, he joined the US Navy and headed to the Great Lakes for training.

Lester did not make it home from World War II. His loss came years before any of my generation arrived, so none of us had the chance to know Uncle Lester. But we heard about him. My cousin, the son of Lester’s older sister, was named after him with a middle name of Lester. Additionally, David Lester’s life was so impacted by his mother’s love for her brother that he later joined the US Navy himself and remained active in the Navy reserves for many years beyond his active duty.

When the telegraph bearing news of Lester’s presumed death arrived at his home, the family–my family–bore a tragic shock. His parents had lost a son. His sister and younger brothers had lost their brother. His fiance had lost her soul mate. And those of us who came later not only lost an uncle, we lost the aunt he would have brought into the family, and any cousins who might arrived. Growing up, we didn’t know we had lost anything in particular. We’d never known the world with Lester in it. So how could we miss him?

Decades later, after the deaths of his younger brothers, I have found a box of Lester’s letters. And I understand. My grandmother saved everything. She filled a scrapbook with postcards he sent, photos, and other memories. Through his own words, I am now learning who my uncle was, what he meant to the family, and the scope of his tragic and untimely death. Over the next few months, I will post those letters, on the anniversaries of their origin, and share a few of the memories from over seventy years ago.

Today’s post is a speech he gave at his high school graduation. As salutatorian of his class, he was expected to address those in attendance. Surprisingly enough, or maybe without surprise, he spoke of a ship setting sail as a metaphor for graduates launching into their lives after school days are over. I post it today, for it was possibly on this date in the year 1941 when Lester left home for his basic training.

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Setting Sail
This week will see members of senior classes from all parts of the United States receiving their diplomas and setting sail on their life vocations.
 
When a ship starts on a voyage it is loaded with fuel. If the ship is large or the voyage long, stops may be made at several fueling stations. So it is in our life. Our fuel is knowledge, gleaned from our school life. Our first fueling station is the eight years of grade school. Our second, high school, and for those doing larger things in life, a third, college.
 
Ships are always in danger of being veered from their course by storms, of running onto hidden reefs or rocks. Our storms are discouragements, financial reverses or perhaps choosing the wrong vocation. The sunken reefs and rocks are perhaps the association with the wrong kind of friends.
 
However a ship does not by any means sail blindly. It has a pilot, lighthouses, and buoys to guide it and mark the dangerous spots. A young graduate’s pilot can be a number of persons—his parents, his teachers, or his friends. Usually each has a large part in determining what route the graduate will take. The lighthouses and buoys are perhaps business partners or others who can help to mark the best course for the graduate who is “Setting Sail” on new seas.
 
Lester F. Harris, Salutatorian
Senior Class of Dunlap Rural High School
Dunlap, Morris County, Kansas
May 13, 1936OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA