Life Goes On, Variously
Jack sat by his son’s bed, others trailed in and out, Lee slept, waking briefly from time to time.
Late Friday afternoon, father and son were finally alone.
Jack was ready to let his child go.
He didn’t climb onto the bed and whisper in Lee’s ear. He spoke softly, but he knew Lee heard him. What he said is private, but it said all that needed to be said, and they let each other go.
A few minutes later, Lee sighed, and passed. All unfinished business complete.
Jack came into the family room where we waited, and quietly said, “He’s gone.”
There was a flurry of activity in Lee’s room, overseen by Kristy—he was an organ donor—but we gathered up our things from the family room and left it as we had found it. There was nothing left to do but go home. Feeling empty, shocked, depleted, sad beyond tears.
We walked into our home seven days after we had left it in a hurry, and were hit with the smell of garbage that should have been taken out a week earlier, a musty smell beneath the reek, plants all dead or drooping. Uncle Jim and Aunt Chris, and Marion and her family followed us in their cars.
Kristy’s sister-in-law called and asked us to come and pick up the girls, Kristy just couldn’t deal with them, but she wanted her son to stay with her. We drove over and picked them up: Kirsta, running up and down the stairs weeping because she couldn’t find her shoes, her hair wild and uncombed. Keelie, grim-faced and steely calm. Birgitta, barely two years old, chattering happily and glad to be going to Grandma and Grandpa’s.
While we were gone Chris had ordered pizza and picked up cold beer and soft drinks. The pizza was hot. As exhausted as we were, we all ate. The pizza tasted good, but didn’t begin to fill the dark cavernous emptiness that had opened up in each of us.
After Jim and Chris went home and Larry went to bed, Jack sat up all night holding Keelie, six years old, in the rocking chair, while she protested, “I’m not going to sleep! I’m not closing my eyes! Don’t try to make me!” He didn’t try. Steely Keelie, I thought. No one tried to talk her out of her unspoken fear that closing her eyes would mean she would die. She finally dropped off in the wee hours, while Jack rocked.
Kirsta, four years old, fell asleep on the couch, worn out with weeping over things lost. I sat with her, all night.
Marion crawled into a sleeping bag on the living room floor, between Jack and me, and pulled little Birgitta in with her. They whispered and giggled a bit, then fell asleep, Marion’s arm around Birgitta, keeping her close.
The girls stayed with us and played with their cousin Lael for several days. It was the beginning, of one phase of our new life. Another phase had also begun.
* * *
The following Wednesday, Tim’s surgery. Jack came with me to the waiting room and talked with Tim, his best friend and companion boat builder, before the nurses took him to the O.R. Then he sat with me and said, “I have to go home. I just can’t do this again. Not now. Not another vigil.”
“Of course you can’t. You probably shouldn’t even have come.”
“I needed to come, but I can’t stay. Tim understands. Call me when you want me to pick you up.”
“Okay, unless I can catch a ride with Irene.”
“Whatever.” He kissed me and walked away, his eyes dull and weary. I hadn’t seen him cry since Hawaii.
* * *
Months earlier, we had finally found the house we wanted to buy, in Sellwood. We could stall no longer, we had to close on the house or lose it. The day after Lee’s large memorial service, we took possession and picked up the keys. It happened to be Memorial Day weekend when we unlocked the back door for the first time.
Immediately, a burglar alarm sent piercing peals of panic into our new, quiet neighborhood. While I stepped out to wave an “OK” signal to our new neighbors on their porches, Jack, who can fix anything, opened the control box and examined it. He pushed buttons and yanked wires. Nothing changed, the alarm wailed on. He found a screwdriver and disconnected the whole thing from the wall. The alarm wailed on. It would not be stopped. We copied the phone number of the installer from the panel, and called him. No answer. It was a holiday weekend. The alarm wailed on. In the end, we found someone who would come and permanently remove the burglar alarm from our new home. For time and a half.
By the time the noise had stopped we were both exhausted. We sank to the empty floor in the living room, leaned back against the wall, and looked around at the bare space of our new home.
“Jack,” I said. “You know what that was about, don’t you?” I liked to interpret the events of my life as I did dream symbols.
“Yeah, it was about some people being too damn security-crazy.” The former owners had kept all their blinds closed and locked in place, all the time, day and night. The front door was permanently locked, no key available.
“The alarm wailed for you,” I said. “That sound came from you, and it couldn’t be disconnected. It was your cry of pain. A surrogate.”
He let his head drop to his knees. When he spoke, he said only, “I’m so tired.”
We went home. We could move in later.
* * *
By 1993, we had seven granddaughters, all close in age, and they were often together at our house. Or we’d pick up Kristy’s four kids and bring them over when she needed a break, or when something came up that needed her attention. She worked part-time as a nurse, the girls were in preschool or school, the life insurance and Social Security benefits for widows and children were being paid, and life for her was becoming more manageable, much of the time. When it wasn’t, we had her back. So did her friends and neighbors.
* * *
Jack needed a big project. We bought an older two-story North Portland fixer-upper, thinking we would turn it into a rental. Jack moved his power tools into the living room. Every day he left our home and went to work in the big house with its picture windows, double lot and large covered porch. Alone in that quiet house for several months, shaded by huge elm trees, he knocked down walls, built a new kitchen and bathroom, and grieved. It was difficult work, sacred work, and he had to do it alone.
* * *
In Sellwood, I was now a ten-minute walk from Mom’s Center for A Course in Miracles. Leading study groups had brought to my attention that many people (including me, at first) struggled with the “Christian” language of the Course.
“Couldn’t these principles be just as helpful without that ‘God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit’ language?” one student asked me.
“Yes. But they’re all redefined in the book, and you’re free to find your own definition, whatever makes you comfortable,” I said.
“But I have such issues, from early Sunday School training, that I can hardly stop the knee-jerk reaction.”
She had a point. I had become acquainted with, and fascinated by, the Center for Attitudinal Healing that had been established by a psychiatrist, Dr. Jerry Jampolsky, in Tiburon California. An early student of the Course, he had done just what my student had suggested: he had de-Christianized the language of the Course by selecting 12 universal principles, and established his Center in 1975 to work with children facing life-threatening illnesses, and their families, using those principles. Before long, he and his staff were working with a wider expanse of people facing serious illness, or giving care and support to someone who was. Attitudinal Healing Centers had sprung up across the country and on five continents.
The twelve principles were simple restatements of Course concepts (from Attitudinal Healing International at http://www.ahhealing.org, and in Jerry’s book Teach Only Love. A child’s version is also available):
- The essence of our being is love.
- Health is inner peace. Healing is letting go of fear.
- Giving and receiving are the same.
- We can let go of the past and of the future.
- Now is the only time there is and each instant is for giving.
- We can learn to love ourselves and others by forgiving rather than judging.
- We can become love finders rather than fault finders.
- We can choose and direct ourselves to be peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside.
- We are students and teachers to each other.
- We can focus on the whole of life rather than the fragments.
- Since love is eternal, change need not be viewed as fearful.
- We can always perceive ourselves and others as extending love or giving a call for help.
“Attitudinal Healing affirms that we are responsible for our thoughts and whatever feelings we experience. Attitudinal Healing encourages us to reexamine our relationships, bringing them into the present by releasing past judgments and grievances. Attitudinal Healing is based on the belief that all communication is for joining and not separation.”
Helping my mother was no longer enough. I needed a deeper understanding of how these principles applied to healing. With plenty of input and guidance from my Inner Voice, I decided to open a Portland Center for Attitudinal Healing. I took a week of training at the Center in Sacramento, and invited three counselors from the Dougy Center (Portland Center for Grieving Children) to join me on my Board. We named it The Healing Place. We would offer low-tuition classes, counseling, and free support groups. Our focus would be adults rather than children, because support groups for children and their caregivers were already well in place through several hospitals.
Donations were welcome. My son, Michael had made a donation, matched by Microsoft, that allowed us to rent space and get started.
I spent fruitless weeks checking the classifieds for space for the Center, and visiting potential sites. If the inside space worked, there was not enough parking for groups. If there was parking, the inside space was too small. Or too expensive. Or on a busy, noisy street.
One hot day after looking at two or three hopelessly inadequate digs, I drove to North Portland and dropped in on Jack with a couple of icy chocolate malts. We stood in the dining nook he had finished remodeling, admiring his built-in sideboard for coffeemaker and supplies, and his custom-built maple cabinets in the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I sighed. “I can’t find a decent space for The Healing Place. They’re all too big, too small, or too expensive, and hardly any have adequate parking.”
“Well, exactly what are you looking for?”
“For starters, a space large enough for a group of up to 30 people in a circle.”
We wandered into the living room, where he had removed an old wood-burning stove to make more space, and refinished the walls and ceiling. “Like this?” he asked.
“Yeah, about this size. But it would be nice to have an adjoining room for overflow, or to break up into smaller groups.”
He waved his arm through the wide arch into the old dining room, where a bank of windows looked out on the fruit trees in the side yard. “Sort of like this?”
“That would be about perfect. But I’d need a separate office too, with a door for privacy.”
We walked on through the dining room to the small sunroom, and he opened the double glass doors. “About this size?”
I looked around. There was an adjoining bathroom. “About this size.”
The light was beginning to dawn. Jack’s smile, the mischievous one, I hadn’t seen in awhile.
“And I suppose you need a couple of rooms and a bath upstairs,” he said, “for overnight guest speakers or trainers.”
I shook my head, laughing. We walked upstairs, and looked at the two newly-carpeted bedrooms, and the bathroom updated with new fixtures and shower stall. The bedroom facing the street was in lovely, cool afternoon shade from the ancient elm in the front.
Jack put his arms around me. “I’ll rent it to you,” he said. “We can negotiate terms…” He leaned his head back and grinned, brown eyes twinkling. “I’ll even pave over part of the double lot at the end of the driveway, so you could get four or five cars up there.”
“Deal,” I said. I was sure his terms would be in both of our best interests.
* * *
Early in his three years of struggle with melanoma, Tim asked me to teach him how to heal.
“You’ve had a miracle, I want one too,” he said.
“But…everyone has to find their own way. I don’t think I could teach you how.”
“I read your book, so I know how you did it. Maybe you could just sort of…coach me along?”
“I’ll do whatever will help, you know that, but…the main job of healing has to be yours.”
I had learned that with Lee. Minds joined in common purpose for healing are very powerful—Jack and I had demonstrated that principle in my own healing. But I wasn’t sure Lee had ever wholeheartedly joined with Jack and me in believing with us that it was possible to have such a miracle. And I wasn’t sure about Tim, either. How can one person ever know the heart of another? Did he want to live, as passionately as I had? Did he really believe in miracles, especially for himself? He did seem to want healing, but at times I got hints that he was tired of the fight, and resigned to his fate.
Tim was in and out of treatment, had more surgeries, more evidence of spread. He had cancer-ridden bones removed and replaced with steel, organs removed and replaced with drugs. I spent a lot of time with him, during surgeries and often taking him to chemo or radiation treatments or doctor appointments while Irene was teaching school. We had always been close, but we became even closer.
I signed up for training in Reiki, an energy healing practice, and was certified at Level Two.
* * *
One night, Tim called me very late. He wanted to play a guessing game.