Two and a half years ago, in this bar, I told my good friend Jack about how I was struggling to continue in a marriage that was emotionally abusive and psychologically destructive. He wasn’t the first person to tell me I needed to end it (not by a long shot), and in fact, he (and everyone else) had been telling me that for years, but this time he helped me to see what I needed to do in order to escape with as much of my dignity and integrity intact as possible, even though I couldn’t figure out exactly how to pull the trigger. Then I drank too much and went to sleep.
The next day, my wife told me she and her kids were moving and that we were going to file for divorce. Sometimes problems handle themselves.
While I still ended up having to do a lot of work to extricate myself from that relationship successfully, the more removed from it I become, the easier it is to look back on it with clarity and self compassion. And, like this empty, closed bar, my life has moved on to be something better than it once was.
My mom passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 27th, 2018, after nearly a decade of slowly fading from some form of progressive dementia.
When people have asked how I or members of my family are handling it, there’s a part of all of us, I think, that say something about how it is a blessing in some form, given how difficult simple activities of life had become for her. But even blessings are hard sometimes. Mom was only 68 years old, and started showing at least beginning signs of this in her 50’s, although we didn’t notice it at the time.
One of the cruelest parts of the decline process (and there are many) was the loss of verbal skill and understanding. Mom taught me many things. I often find myself repeating pieces of simple wisdom she imparted to me, such as “it’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” or “your problem, Pete, is that you think you have to understand everything.” Mom was a reference librarian, but even before that had been a voracious reader and thinker. Mom loved words. She enjoyed laughing at clever phrasing in books, smiling at Dad’s frequent puns, and nodding in quiet agreement as sermons were preached or scripture was read. And her love of the Word was something she passed on easily to those she interacted with, whether it was through praying with students or friends, or teaching her children to memorize the Scriptures for themselves. The verse I still remember her teaching me most vividly – one that has repeatedly served me well throughout life – is Proverbs 15:1, which reminds us (in the King James version) that “a soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” I remember this most vividly, I suppose, because it wasn’t just words for mom. Many teachers and professors have made me memorize facts, figures, history, and even Scripture throughout my life, but mom taught me to memorize Scripture because it was life – and she lived this passage, and so many others like it – in a way that was impossible to ignore, and impossible to not respect, regardless of one’s faith persuasion. And as I think back on her life, and on the many things she taught me from an early age, particularly about words, and the Word, my Christian faith tradition also reminds me that death, even death through slow decline, does not have the final word.
Thanks be to God.