Hope Reaches The Date

Today is the day I have been dreading, yet looking forward to its arrival. July 16. One year since my friend Deb stepped into eternity.

Deb - RJT under book arch

Deb and I in Santa Fe, under the book arch 

I have dreaded this date because of the following:

  • Memories will unavoidably reoccur—scenes from the ICU, holding her hand even as it grew colder, wishing and praying she could wake up, family loving her as she journeyed Home
  • A repeat of what her loss has meant and how deeply this awful emptiness has changed my life
  • Empathy grief for her children and family—how they must be feeling on this day

But how could I possibly anticipate July 16 and actually be grateful it has arrived?

The one year mark of the grieving process carries with it a certain relief. I have lived through this year and reached its pinnacle. Now perhaps an extra acceptance will somehow lessen the grief, help me move into the next year with a bit of hope.

In every circumstance of life, I have sought to learn something from the experience. Can’t help it. Life-long learning is one of my core values.

So what have I learned from this horrible event and the past year of ultimate sadness?

  • The grieving process is impossible to describe—even for a writer.
  • My grief is not your grief, so I must be true to my heart’s feelings and its necessary outpouring.
  • One day may be totally different than the next with no clue as to what may trigger a grief attack.
  • The importance of women friends who seem to know exactly what I need before I can express it.
  • The need for gifted counselors who listen and express sympathy without letting me wallow in my pain.
  • The vitality of my faith. Without the absolute knowing I will see Deb again, I would be totally devastated.
  • The blanket covering of prayers. They carry us through each day, even when we’re not aware of their presence.
  • The importance of treasured friendships and how to focus on my current relationships.
  • The need for staying in hope—for looking forward instead of remaining trapped in the loss.

For months, I have thought about my plans for this day. I could isolate myself and disappear into a gallon of comforting ice cream. Lots of chocolate. Extra chocolate.

But instead, I forced myself to ask the question: How can I honor Deb most on this day?

After multiple ideas, I have decided on the following plan:

A visit to the cemetery, some flowers on her grave, a few words of closure, “I miss you. I’m glad you’re safe with Jesus.”

Lunch with the remaining Saturday sisters, this group of women who miss Deb as much as I.

Then a pilgrimage to the Humane Society where I’ll leave a donation to help care for abandoned cats. In honor of Deb and her Sweet Pea and Jasper. Force myself not to look in the cages, not even to consider adopting another cat.

Then return home and go to sleep, eager for the next day—for moving forward past this year of grieving and into a more positive 12 months ahead.

I still miss her—dreadfully—but I can now think of her residing in that place of peaceful joy. I can be more grateful now for the friendship we had and the eternity we will share.

Hope steps forward, certain that grief may visit again, but without the sharp rawness of total loss.

At least—that’s what I’m hanging on to.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

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How to Celebrate a Character’s Life

Because characters are so essential to novels, writers spend hours developing character sketches, running personality assessments on pretend people and recording the information in a workbook or on a vision board.

Since 2010, I have developed the character of Reverend G. I have lived with the voice of this gutsy little minister inside my head and written from her viewpoint what it feels like to experience dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. Now that the final book is scheduled for release on August 21, I feel a sense of loss. Rev G 3 Cover

Reverend G fought Alzheimer’s with faith and hope, but she no longer wakes me up at four o’clock in the morning or reminds me that she wants to wear her long white braid draped over her left shoulder. She no longer scolds me when I am too tired to write down a piece of dialogue on the notepad beside my bed. She no longer challenges me to find just the right word that will describe how Zim – her word for Alzheimer’s – is stealing her away piece by piece.

Reverend G’s voice has gone silent.

So to acknowledge the loss and help me move on, my Saturday Sisters decided to initiate a memorial service.

Sat sisters - mem serviceThese sisters and I have done life together for over 20 years. We have prayed together, shared parenting tips and cheered for our Jayhawks. Except for me, they all live in Lawrence, Kansas.

A few weeks ago, I drove to meet them at our usual gathering place, to celebrate together the life and legacy of Reverend G. We began with an introduction and the Lord’s Prayer because this prayer provided an important plot twist at the beginning of Reverend G’s dementia symptoms.

Then I gave a summary of the character sketch, recalling how Reverend G has grown and changed since the first book and how readers told me they appreciated her strength, her faith and the way she honestly cries out to God with, “I can’t stand it!”

Each of the Saturday Sisters shared their favorite stories from the two previous books, then we read Reverend G’s favorite verses: Psalm 46:10, Psalm 43:5 and Psalm 91:1-2.

A sweet warmth permeated the room as we sang two of Reverend G’s favorite songs: “Let It Be” by the Beatles and the wonderful old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” To round out the musical selections, we harmonized through a few verses of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Then we prayed for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as the caregivers who patiently listen to the same stories repeated over and over and watch their loved ones regress into childhood.

We prayed for my mom and for the other moms represented around the table, sad that we can no longer “just call Mom” when we have a problem, grateful for the years we shared yet grieving for the fading away of relationships as our mothers now sometimes forget us.

After our prayer, it was time for the luncheon. Don’t we always follow the sorrow of memorial services with the sustenance and fellowship of food?

The menu included tuna balls (in honor of Gabriel, Reverend G’s cat), cowboy caviar, gluten free blueberry muffins, Reverend G’s blueberry salad, the choice of raspberry or plain lemonade and for dessert – of course – Chunky Monkey ice cream.rev g memorial lunch

My precious Saturday Sisters spent a day encouraging me, believing that the character God and I created had made an impact on the lives of my readers.

When we hugged goodbye – it was with joy and hope that someday Alzheimer’s will be defeated and no one will ever forget their loved ones again.

Although Alzheimer’s still destroys pieces of my mother’s brain and my family still walks through this journey of forgetting – I can now – as a writer – move on.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Christmas with Reverend G

Christmas-CrossSome of my readers have wondered what Reverend G does for Christmas. So I asked her, and she said:

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays, and even with my Alzheimer’s I remember so many past memories. My beloved Jacob in his Lone Ranger pajamas, tearing into his presents and so excited to find a toy replica of Silver. He ran all over the house shouting, “Hi- ho, Silver…Away.” The neighbors probably wondered how a minister raised such a wild kid.

The orange slices I piled into Jacob’s stocking, knowing that in a couple of months we would visit Mort, the town dentist and hear him say, “Reverend G, I’ll bet this boy of yours has been eatin’ more of them orange slices. Worst dang things for teeth.”

Of course, as a minister, my first priority was to make sure my parishioners understood the beauty and meaning behind Christmas. I worked for weeks on those sermons, and always surprised my congregation with a message about some of the more unknown characters. One year, I preached about the shepherds.

“Did you know, folks, that these same shepherds watched over the flock of sheep that were used in the temple sacrifices? Imagine that! These men and probably some of their sons heard the angels in heaven proclaim the news about Jesus. These shepherds, who guarded the sacrificial lambs, were the first to come and worship the Lamb of God.”

But as sweet as those memories, the present Christmas with my loved ones may prove to be one of the best. I still know all their faces and names as we sit in my living room, exchanging gifts and listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” once again.

In the years to come, this stupid Alzheimer’s will steal my loved ones away from me. Christmas will be just another day on the calendar as I wait to die.

Oh God, oh God. Help me enjoy my loved ones now. Cache every memory of their faces, their smells, their voices into the deepest caverns of my soul. My brain might fail me, but my heart will always carry love for Jacob, Jessie, Chris and my blessed grandchild.

We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Chris and I danced around the living room while George and Mary did the Charleston on TV in the high school gym. Jessie cried when George Bailey found his way home and embraced his children after that infernal newel post came loose again.

Jacob sat on the sofa and petted Gabriel. Jacob is more into “The Grinch Stole Christmas.” He doesn’t like sentimental movies, although I’ve seen his eyes mist over when Cindy Lou Who peeks around the corner at the Santa Grinch.

Thankfully, Gabriel stayed in my apartment during Christmas week. Nobody transferred to heaven, so he didn’t have to work. You know, of course, about Gabriel and his special gift if you’ve read the book.

Jacob and Jessie gave me a new angel ornament to hang on my tree, the little tree that Chris and I decorated one afternoon. Then Chris and I put the nativity characters together while Jacob set up the little hand-made stable. I think one of my parishioners made that for me years ago. Can’t remember which one, but that doesn’t matter now. God knows who it was, and someday He’ll make sure that person receives a special thank you.

The funniest thing, though. Gabriel really loves the ceramic Baby Jesus. He leaves all the other characters alone, but he keeps carting off Baby Jesus. I walked into the living room and there were the shepherds, the wise men, Mary and Joseph – all staring into an empty manger. Gabriel scarfed the baby again.

So I searched under the sofa, under my bed, even in the litter box (gross!). Usually I find Baby Jesus in some of Gabriel’s favorite places – in a corner of the sofa, on the window seat where the sun is warmest, even next to Gabriel’s water dish. I guess he wants Baby Jesus to stay close to him and share his favorite parts of life.

Maybe that’s what we all need to do at Christmas and throughout the year. Let Jesus share in the favorite parts of our lives. We seem to always invite Him to share our sorrows, because it makes us feel better to have Him with us.

But I think He likes to laugh with us, enjoy a warm beam of sunshine or a soft corner on the sofa. I think Jesus just wants to hang out with us.

©2014 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Reverend G Strikes Again

With the release of “Intermission for Reverend G” and the signed contract for the third book in the series, I thought the petite minister with Alzheimer’s might slip out of my subconscious. I’m already ten chapters into another novel, a completely different type of book where nobody struggles with Alzheimer’s – yet.

Intermission 3D Cover-1You never know what a character might do.

So the other night, I was minding my own business and just finished reading a Psalm before I laid down. I fluffed my pillows, petted the cat and checked to make sure the alarm clock was set.

Then I started my prayers, but there she was – interrupting my prayers no less. This sweet little woman minister as clear as a bell in my head, visited me again and demanded to be heard.

So I listened. Reverend G stood somewhere in that place in the brain where characters live – her long white braid slung over her shoulder and Gabriel in her arms. In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, I wondered what she could possibly tell me.

Maybe another phrase I could use in the rewrite of the third book in the series? Maybe a clue about one of the other characters – somebody she wanted to converse with? Or maybe she had some wonderful spiritual nugget she wanted to share, something that might help a reader and also might add value to my soul.

I listened carefully to my beloved main character and could hardly believe what happened. Maybe it was the Alzheimer’s pulling a trick on both of us. I don’t know.

But as clear as a bell, Reverend G sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run….”

The rest of Kenny Rogers’ hit song faded in the background as Reverend G turned around and carried Gabriel to – wherever characters go to wait until they visit the subconscious of the writer again.

Really. You just never know what a character is going to do.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo