A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
As I was trying to keep busy enough to dampen the loneliness I felt this Thanksgiving morning in my empty and lonely house, my thoughts turned to the beautiful hymn my grandchildren sang so wonderfully at Velna's funeral: "Come thou fount of every blessing." And I asked myself, "Where is this fount?" After reflection, I decided that our individual founts of all of our blessings lie within us, within our hearts, within our minds, within the very fiber of our beings. And just as a fountain rises and spreads its watery plumes, so must our blessings emerge from our personal founts and spread forth into words and deeds of gratitude and love. Only then can we give life and meaning to our most personal, our most sacred and treasured thoughts and memories that have guided us through the labyrinth of life's never ending events.
The website "Artifact Uprising" shared these beautiful words this morning about Thanksgiving: (I ask their forgiveness if I am breaking a copyright rule)
There's that moment every year. We sit down to a much awaited table--the sum of the attention of to-do lists across town. Not a detail missed. Yet no matter how perfect the setting--it is something else for which we are grateful: the simple pause that comes from the gathering.
That's it: The reflection invited in looking around at all the faces that brought you to this place: The year behind and the year before. And the stories you have lived, be they light or heavy, that have made of you something beautiful.
Here is to the gratitude for that place of pause today. Find it in the company you keep. The hug to be had. The glass to clink. The quiet of its close.
We are--each of us--the sum of all of life's tables around which we have sat. Today, we are grateful for the table we share with you.--quoted from Artifact Uprising with gratitude for their inspiring words.
When we think back over our lives, we can all remember pivotal moments, often unanticipated and perhaps not even apparent at the time they occurred, that changed our lives forever. I am grateful today for two such moments in my life.
The first moment came in late December 1949. I had graduated from Powell High School (WY) in the spring of 1949 at age 16 and turned 17 on September 17. I enrolled at Powell's new fledgling junior college housed in a rebuilt white frame building next to the gym and took classes that fall. I worked for a local weekly newspaper during the fall selling advertising and doing chores. Unfortunately, the paper closed, but I received my last paycheck for $75. I desperately wanted to go to the University of Wyoming, over 400 miles to the south, but had no money or resources to go. I met my classmate from Powell High School at a basketball game that December evening. My classmate asked me if I wanted to bunk with him at the University Stock Farm, where bunking meant staying in a student room in the hayloft of the sheep barn. The room would be cheap, he said, and I could put in a few hours a week helping to milk cows. I had hoped that when I said goodby to Blackie and Blondie at home that I had seen my last cow, but apparently that was not to be the case. In three days, I packed up my worldly possessions into one box and my suitcase, including two or three pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, and my life time treasures, and left my home in Penrose, a farming community twelve miles from Powell where I attended school, on a cold January day just after New Year's. I had $75, a cheap place to stay, and a possibility of earning a few dollars which, I later discovered, were helpful in financing our diet of Van Camp's pork and beans. I never received a penny from home, not because my parents were stingy, but because they simply did not have the extra money to send me. But my new life direction was firmly charted as I never doubted for a moment that I could figure out how to eke out an existence so I could attend the University of Wyoming. And so I did, from one part time job to another, from long nights of janitor work with short sleep and tired eyes at my eight o'clock classes, but I stayed with it, cleaning the empty and lonely buildings on the University campus and several businesses down town.
The second pivotal moment came as my friend and I were driving from Penrose to Laramie. I remember sharply and clearly that we were 17 miles north of Laramie, just past the Wheatland cutoff, when my friend told me that his girl friend had a cute girlfriend that I should get a date with and go to a square dance soon after we got to Laramie. I was a bit skeptical since my romantic accomplishments in high school were nil since I was only 16 when I graduated and one or two years younger than the girl I thought I had been in love with all through high school who clearly was not interested in me. So why would anyone else go out with me? I would soon find out as I rang the doorbell at 615 Flint St. on a cold Laramie January day and met, for the first time, a girl named Velna Black. And so began, at that moment 17 miles north of Laramie, three years of dating and nearly 63 years of marriage.
Two pivotal moments in time. Two random events that occurred without previous thought or plan. The first event launched me on eight years of college study and nearly 45 years of college teaching. The second random event led to the greatest blessing in my life, one that forever left me astonished and grateful that a cute little 16 year old blonde girl would actually go to a square dance with me on a cold January day in Laramie Wyoming in January 1950. And how grateful I am on this lonely Thanksgiving morning for these two events that altered my life and charted the greatest blessings I would ever receive.
You may get tired of photos of Lone Peak and Mt. Timpanogos before the winter is out but I don't have the flowers of St. George to photograph any longer. Anyway, the mountains assume a different pose every day throughout the day as the light changes, the snow level changes, and as the atmosphere changes. So get used to it.
The craggy outcroppings and snow fields at the top of Lone Peak
Carolyn Nielson wrote: (This post originally appeared on Facebook but is reproduced here for a more permanent record)
I've been thinking about all the things I'm thankful for and wanted to share the experience that our family had with Hearts for Hospice and Home Health. We were able to bring my Mom home for her last two days where she could be in familiar surroundings with family. We could not have done it without the care and compassion of these amazing professionals who care every day just like my Mom who are at the end of life. They showed us how to care for Mom when they weren't there and allowed us the privilege of attending to Mom in her last hours. Every one of these people deserve our sincere gratitude. . . from the driver who brought her from the hospital (who routinely works 12-14 hour days and says he does it as a way to serve and help others) to the amazing music therapist who came and played the guitar and sang to Mom for 45 minutes. She had the most sweet and calming voice that truly spoke peace to all who were there! When I expressed our appreciation to the hospice nurse and told her how grateful we are to people like her who do this difficult job, she replied that she feels blessed to get up every day and go to a job that she loves. Clearly, this is much more than a job to these people who care for those at the end of life (and their families) with such Christ-like love and compassion. So, thank you, you have blessed our lives.
As Velna's husband, I add my tearful appreciation of Carolyn's beautiful words. To you wonderful and saintly people at Hearts for Hospice, our family sends our love and our forever appreciation for giving us the peace and light we needed as Velna ended her time on earth.
I want to thank all of my loyal blog readers for following my posts and especially for sending reassuring and comforting comments. Your concern and affectionate support have been so appreciated as I begin my journey to a new and lonely life. I know that I am not alone when I can reach out and have others hold my hand and share my loss and share my tears. I also thank blog readers from all over the world who have read my posts. You are welcome to send comments and share in the universal heartache that accompanies loss and the difficult task of rebuilding one's life and finding new ways to discover hope and gain the strength to move ahead. The acts of kindness, love, and help that I have received in the past month will forever be a bright light in my path as I seek to find my way. Thank you all and bless you all. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
After a lapse of several days, I sat down at my computer and turned it on, not knowing whether I would try to write anything else or not. The main reason for the lapse is that my son Jim and daughter in law Sharman took me to St. George so that I could sort through a 20 year accumulation of household items and furniture so that we can sell our St. George condo. We signed with a realtor. I went through everything in the house and decided what to bring north and what to toss. We bought our St. George condo on a whim in 1995 on an August day when the temperature was about 115 degrees and it has been our safe haven ever since. For five years while I was still teaching, we went only on occasional weekends. Beginning in 2000, we spent five or six months out of every year in St. George. We loved our condo area, our neighbors, the red bluff scenery, and the peaceful and happy feelings that we enjoyed for 20 years. Once we signed with a realtor and began boxing up the belongings we wanted to save, I realized that St. George is no longer my home and I was anxious to leave before I felt any more pain and disappointment. I couldn't have been more blessed than to have Jim and Sharman work so hard to take care of Velna's things and to box up everything else we want to save. Jim will rent a truck a little later on and bring up whatever furniture anyone wants to have.
Yesterday was Saturday so I took a shower, put on my BYU tee shirt, popped some popcorn and got ready to watch the BYU game. At five o'clock, the only visitor for the day came when a lady knocked on the door canvassing to see who was coming to the neighborhood Christmas party. At least she noticed my BYU shirt so I guess that made it worthwhile that I had worn it all day. Today is Sunday. I can't quite get to where I want to watch the string of BBC programs saved on my TV set. I keep the TV on part of the time just so there is some motion on the screen but I can't focus on what is happening. I can't focus long enough to begin reading again.
I will miss the opportunity of taking pictures of flowers most of the winter in St. George since the only thing I have to take photos of in the south Salt Lake Valley is Lone Peak and Mt. Timpanogos and I already have a couple of thousand pictures of every crag and rock and valley on these mountains.
I know there are many people who live by themselves. But not too many people dated their spouse for three years and then were married nearly 63 additional years. Maybe some day I can tune out some of the most painful memories and start looking for new ways and new thoughts and be grateful for new days. Neighbors, family, and friends have been unbelievably compassionate and supportive. One of our St. George neighbors brought me a gift of an angelic figurine as a gift from the neighborhood. I still don't quite know why I am still here when I have had so many health issues over so many years. But here I am. I hope I can find my way and pick myself up to be of help to my family and as many other people as possible despite my mobility restrictions. Thank you all for your faithful support of my writings and my blog. I just wish I could hear from more of my family members so that I can feel more connected despite my lonely existence.
Velna as a teenager in the middle, sister Evetta on left, sister Joyce on the right
Velna's family was the most important, the most lasting, the clearest focus of her greatest concern, love, and attention. One of her last pleas to me was "Who will send out the cards?" For many years, Velna made sure that each member of our family received a birthday card in the mail with a hand written message. Grand children and great grandchildren received a dollar bill for each year of their age until they reached 10. She always thought the children would feel richer if they had a handful of dollar bills rather than a five or a ten. Some months were a struggle for her as she kept up her birthday vigil. Until lately, she would go in the store, no matter how painful or how sick she felt, and look for just the right cards for the children. And, of course, every one else got one of her photo cards with my pictures and our handwritten messages. She often felt sad that she never received a response from most of those for whom she labored so hard to make sure they got a birthday card. She looked forward to hearing from everyone and she some times lamented that she wasn't sure why she kept making such an effort to keep her birthday watch. I told her that maybe she was doing it for herself and that perhaps some time the reward would be forthcoming, however belatedly.
When our family was young and we had only a few small children, Velna inaugurated the first of many family reunions which were held in places like Afton, Wyoming; San Diego, Park City UT, Heber UT, up the Poudre River near Fort Collins CO; Sedona AZ, Marble Falls TX, and Lake Tahoe. Velna did all of the work and planning and food ordering for the early reunion and others took over and did the work for many of the other get togethers. These annual reunions were often the only opportunity that cousins had to get acquainted with each other as our family decided they needed to disperse from California to Texas to Utah. Velna treasured these biennial gatherings as among the most important events in her life.
Velna lined up nineteen individual photos of her grandchildren on one wall, and nineteen high school graduation pictures on the opposite wall. She made sure that she had large family group photos to post on the wall. She left about 30 or more photo albums she laboriously compiled, a legacy that we need to work on as a family project to make sure the family history and family photos in these photo books are preserved for all of our family.
I strongly feel that what Velna would want most as her family legacy is for each of us to do everything possible to strengthen our family, to support one another, to pay more attention to each other. Velna was always so grateful, so very thankful, for phone calls, for those who took time to come by and see her, to check on her and lift her spirits.
I was touched by various comments that were made during and after Velna's funeral. The Hospice coordinator told me that he sensed a feeling of great peace the moment he stepped inside our door, and he told me, surprisingly, that this feeling was rare in his work because of the turmoil so obvious in so many families. Our wonderful LDS bishop has told me many times how impressed he is with our family, with our strength and the obvious love and support we give one another. My sister Judy used my Curmudgeonly Professor blog and our family blogs during a lesson she gave on how to use blogs to strengthen the family.
I still don't know why my life was spared and why I am still here. As long as I am here, I want to honor Velna's family legacy and her unconditional love she had for every family member by doing all I can to continue to strengthen our family. We need to let the past slide into history and go forth from this day with a commitment and promise from each family member to live up to the example that Velna left as an eternal gift of love for each one of us. May I make a few humble and heartfelt suggestions?
First, several of you commented voluntarily to me that we need to pay more attention to each other. We let too many days, too many weeks, too many years go by, content with our own busy schedules, our own immediate households, without realizing the great good, comfort, and support that we need to extend to everyone in our family. One of Velna's last and most heart-tugging comments was, "Why is everyone paying so much attention to me?" We need to pay more attention to each other through good times, as a matter of continual concern, and not wait until a crisis emerges in someone's life before we realize that we need to pay attention to them. We may wait too long. We need to send more hand written notes and cards. I have been grateful in my loneliness and sadness for a two word text message. We need to share unconditional love as we work to strengthen our family.
I want to express my unconditional commitment and love for each member of our family, for the children, grand children, and great grandchildren. You are my greatest legacy, my unbounded treasures of life. I value each and every one of you, not only for the good lives you have already lived, for your substantial accomplishments, for the unselfish service so many of you have spent so much time giving to others, but for what each of you will still accomplish as you continue to channel your lives, energies, and thoughts away from your own special interests and toward lifting, helping, and inspiring others to achieve the highest goals they can reach. I know I am far from perfect, and that I have many things I need to work on as long as I am still here. But if I can ever offer a word of support, an expression of love, some harmless advice, you know where to find me.
Everyone I see asks me "How are you doing?" I'd like to say, "I'm doing better, thank you", and I try to say something even a little bit positive. Actually, I'm not doing as well as I hoped I would be doing by now. I still have a dark cloud of malaise hanging over my head. I feel like Joe Btfsplk from the comic strip Li'l Abner which anyone my age remembers reading for 40 years. Joe was the harbinger of gloom and doom, going around with a black hat and a dark cloud hovering over his head. The events of the past several weeks are still too new, too raw, too close to wellsprings of tears and painful heartache. I wake up from a nap in my chair and I still reflexively glance over at your chair and I am still stunned at times when I realize you are not there. I see even little things, your nail file, your nail clippers, the lap desk I bought you several years ago that you used daily for your crossword puzzles, and memories flash before my eyes. I probably am doing a bit better. I don't feel quite as rotten for quite as many hours each day.
The second question I get asked frequently is, "How do you spend your day?" I say in response "I try to keep busy", but actually I spend my days only remotely connected to reality. I try to watch television at night and watch the Utah Jazz and BYU and a few other teams, but I really don't concentrate on the games. The TV just gives some awareness of something else in the room. I even have to admit I watch some of the Hallmark soap operas. Of course, so many of them are about losing spouses and then getting life back together again. But at least these sagas are safe and clean. I have tried to read but I still can't focus long enough to get past two or three pages. I throw the garbage out of the morning papers and get them ready for you, but you are not there to do your morning crosswords. I try to read a few items in the papers, but I don't really care that much about what I read. Even the comics we loved like Pickles don't even seem funny any more because we can't share anything. I try to cook a few things but I just finished my fourth night of Sharman's quiche last night and now I have to find something else. I can see why single people dread cooking and improvise in any way possible to get something to eat. I am still not very hungry and I have to force myself to eat. But the good news is that my weight is down to 245 today. Imagine. I haven't weighed 245 since we left Fort Collins Colorado for Provo in 1980 or was it 1981? You're not here to correct my wrong dates any more. I wanted to be as healthy as possible so I could care for you as long as possible.
There are still so many complications from your leaving. Russell and I spent several hours yesterday at Zion's Bank and then at home getting your bank accounts and credit cards canceled and getting everything, including bill paying, transferred over to my name. Why didn't you take a few minutes and explain how you paid the bills before you left? You took over the bill paying decades ago and never gave me any money, maybe an occasional twenty dollar bill, and I had no idea how to do it. Now I am finding out. You never had an overdue bill in your life but I had to settle two of them this morning. Our bank accounts were temporarily frozen once the bank got wind of your passing. You can thank Russell when you next see him for saving me from so many problems with so much patience and consideration.
I wake up in the night and the memories start churning, churning. I never know what is going to come up. I stay awake for an hour or two, usually, before I can get back to sleep. I can't get used to the feeling of loneliness that comes from the sharp awareness that no one else is in the house. Even when you were napping, I was still comforted by your presence, by simply knowing you were there, that you would read my daily blog posts and tell me how well they were written but would I please use fewer words and make them shorter, that you would admire my flower photos and tell me how beautiful they were, that you would tell me that whatever I cooked for supper was delicious even though I knew I had partially scorched something or cooked something the wrong time, or left something out. Now I am reduced to memories of years and events both close and far away, and I marvel that you and I were able to accomplish so much together despite the many problems we had to conquer along the way.
Ironically, I derived so much strength from you despite your chronic pain. You never failed to encourage me. You objected when I asked you "Where are you going?" when you got up from your chair, but I thought I needed to know. You also didn't like my other hypochondriac question when I had a new symptom, "Do you think it's something serious?". I tried to pattern my life more after you and your example as the years went by. I tried to worry less, to be kinder, to feel that I had some purpose and that I should keep going. Now I have the echoes of your supporting words to guide me for the rest of my life.
Above all, I don't want to fail your expectations and the unconditional love that you shared with me for nearly 63 years.