Tag Archives: death

New Beginnings and Happy Endings by Sherrie Hansen

The old joke goes that someone asked Mrs. Lincoln, “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” The twentieth century version would be, “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy your trip to Dallas?”

Today is the 360th day of the year. There are five days left in 2017. For me, much of the year passed in a fog because in 2017 my father was diagnosed with leukemia and eventually died. When something that life changing happens, everything else is inconsequential. But the year did have some bright points, and I’d like to think on a few of those things as well as what I am looking forward to in 2018.

az-purples

In January, Mark and I went to Arizona for a Spiritual Life Retreat. It was a good way to start out the year and helped ground me for what was to come. Seeing the beautiful red rocks and hiking in the desert was an eye-opening  experience for me. Having grown up amid Minnesota Northwood trees, lakes and streams, I’d rarely appreciated the beauty of the desert – until we discovered Sonoran Botanical Gardens. We even saw a rainbow. A promise was a good thing, because even then, we knew something was wrong with Dad.

Food - melting moments

The first week of February, I celebrated 25 years of being open for business at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, and my 60th birthday. We served Tomato Basil, Fresh Broccoli, Wonderful Wild Rice, and Potato Ham soups, egg salad and Monte Cristo sandwiches, Copenhagen Cream with Raspberries and my fancy homemade cookies. I hired a DJ and made up an eclectic set-list of favorite songs from 1957 on. It was a wonderful night and would be my Dad’s last time to come to an event at the Blue Belle.

baldners-dad

March brought a flurry of bad diagnosis and a roller coaster ride of hope and frustrations and searches for answers.

Zion - Sunset 2015 2

In April, Dad took his last “big trip” when he came down to Mark’s church in Hudson to listen to the M&MS and Zion’s worship team sing Life is Like a Mountain Railway, his favorite song. We practiced it several times for him because it made him so happy.

Ireland - flowers

In late May, Mark and I said goodbye to Dad at the ICU at Mayo. Dad had pneumonia. I hated leaving him, but we had tickets to Wales, Ireland and England. We compensated for our absence by calling him every night from whatever country we were in. We stayed at B & B’s, enjoyed taking photos of amazing castles, gardens, and beaches, as well as sampling delicious pub grub, smoked haddock, millionaire bars (caramel shortbread), meat pies, Battenberg cakes, and Irish stew. Our adventures on the Wild Atlantic Way along the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland inspired a new book, Seaside Daisy.

Ireland - daisy sea

Dad rallied and was still alive when we came home in mid-June. It seems like the whole summer went by in a blur. Dad had chemo and almost 70 blood transfusions. We almost lost him twice, once when he went into anaphylaxis shock and once when his platelets dropped to 1.7. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from all over the country to hug and cheer him on. Through it all, he kept his sense of humor and faith.

Dad - harvest

In the midst of the busyness, my new  release, Golden Rod, came out. I tried to promote it but my mind was on bigger things. In August, it became apparent that more chemo was not an option for Dad. The process of acceptance that we were going to lose him began. Dad said it was sure too bad he had to miss his funeral because he knew the music would be great (lively bluegrass) and he’d get to see everyone he knew. When he first mentioned having a funeral rehearsal, we thought he was kidding.

Dad - pick-up

Sept 7, we kids hosted Everett Hansen Day at the Farm. Nearly 250 friends and family came for a potluck, greeted by a joyous, smiling Dad. During the next two months Dad was able to stay at home, and as was his goal, watch the harvest come in. My brothers and sister and I took turns spending the night in the double recliner next to him and enjoying many late night conversations.

Dad - creek

October was spent doubling back to the Blue Belle to serve over a hundred Seasoned Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Pumpkins to lunch guests by day, planning and writing murder mysteries by night, spending Wed, Thurs and Fri evenings with Dad, and worrying about him the rest of the week when we were down in Hudson.

Dad - casket

Dad died on November 7th. The actual funeral was everything Dad envisioned, with great bluegrass music. I started writing again on the 22nd, but switched to working on Daybreak in Denmark, a sequel to my first book, Night and Day, because the father character reminded me of Dad.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

Gray December has been spent catching up on everything that didn’t get done this summer, trying to break out of the fog, and getting used to the “new normal” of not daily talking to Dad about what is going on in my life and hearing his jokes and advice. I’ve spent a lot of time crying. Comfort foods help for awhile and then make me feel worse. I am so thankful that I was able to spend so much time with Dad before he died, but the closeness has made it harder to adjust to him being gone.

bbinn-winter-2016

I think 2018 will bring more big changes in my life. I’m not sure what that means, but I sense it very strongly. I wonder where to go from here. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be, because I can’t tell Dad about it and hear his laughter or comments. Sometimes, I think I could just as well die too, but I have to finish Daybreak in Denmark first – as long as I’m half done already. We Hansens like to finish what we start, and like Dad, I find it very satisfying to watch the harvest come in.

Sunset 2014 Corn

I wish all of you happy endings in 2018. To those of you who have suffered losses in 2017, I pray you will find peace and joy in the New Year. Because it’s not the end, but a new beginning.

Daybreak in Denmark

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Why I’m Thankful that Writing is Good Therapy by Sherrie Hansen

Fine. I’ll admit it. Starting with my poetry writing days in the 1970s, I’ve worked through “issues” with old boyfriends, bosses, co-workers, ex-spouses, family members, random acquaintances and people I once considered friends by writing – most recently, using my imagination to transform them into hopefully unrecognizable characters in my books who can then be tortured, punished, rewarded, inappropriately loved and even killed.

Writing therapy is a wonderful by-product of being an author. With apologies to my brother, the psychologist, I believe it’s saved me thousands of dollars in counseling fees.

Dad - creek

Seriously, though – this Thanksgiving, I have many reasons for which to be thankful. I also have cause to grieve, having just lost my beloved father to leukemia on November 7th. My month has been filled with final foot rubs, long remembered conversations, and last words. My time has been taken up, not writing or trying to make a daily word count, but sleeping beside my Dad in the double recliner, rubbing his arm in the night when he didn’t feel well, and talking about “things” when one or the other of us couldn’t sleep.

Dad - daybreak

Days were filled with driving Dad around to his favorite farms so he could watch my brother bring the harvest in – for the first time, without him.

Dad - harvest

After Dad made the transition to his new home in heaven (which I truly believe is trimmed out in cherry wood, with crown moldings and one-of-a-kind solid wood doors that have a few knots, because while most people consider them a flaw, Dad thought they were “beauty-ful”), my days were spent rounding up a bluegrass band to play “Life is Like a Mountain Railway” at his funeral, making 18 dozen eggs into Hansen family sanctioned egg salad, and proofing Dad’s obituary and memorial flyers.

Dad - grandkids

I wouldn’t have missed a single moment that transpired or a single word that passed between us.

Earlier this fall, I fully intended to do NaNoWriMo, a writing challenge that asks you to commit to writing 1667 words a day for the month of November for a total of 50,000, or in my case, half of a book.

About the time my brothers and sister and I held a “Funeral Rehearsal” party for Dad that was attended by almost 250 people (at his request – he kept saying it was too bad he had to miss his funeral because the bluegrass music was going to be good, and he would like to see all his friends), I designed a mockup of a book cover and wrote a synopsis for Seaside Daisy.

Seaside Daisy

I’ve accomplished my NaNoWriMo goal for the last two years with Sweet William and Golden Rod and assumed I would do the same this year. But Seaside Daisy had nothing to do with Dad, and he’s all I can think about. Dad had never been to Ireland, where it’s set. He’s never lived by the sea, and to be honest, he probably would have thought Daisy was a flake.

Daybreak in Denmark

On November 22, I made a new cover file and wrote a new synopsis for Daybreak in Denmark, a long-planned but still unwritten sequel to my first novel, Night and Day. It’s the right book for a time such as this. Dad was half Danish and traveled to the island of Als almost 20 years ago to search for his extended family, who we’ lost touch with after World War II. If Dad was still alive, I could ask him about the farming bits, and reminisce about the interesting things we did in Denmark.

Dad - porch swing

The father figure in both Night and Day and Daybreak in Denmark is a dear man, a retired farmer with a fun sense of humor. It will be my honor to incorporate snippets of my Dad’s jokes and quirky Minnesota ways into this book.

Dad - combines

As an added bonus, Jensen has a cantankerous stepchild to contend with in this book. Why this will be therapeutic for me is a whole other story, and one I shouldn’t go into here. But trust me, this character is going to be a well-drawn, expertly crafted antagonist.

If you’ve lost a loved one recently or need to work through another sort of emotional issue over the holidays, I highly recommend writing. Get it out. Put it into words, or at least try. Journal, blog, or write a letter to the person you’re having troubles with and then tear it up or throw it in the fire. Whatever. Writing about it helps.

Dad - funeral spray

I’m thankful I got to spend as much time with my Dad as I did. I’m grateful for the hugs, loving words, and other expressions of sympathy shown to me, my husband and my family since his death. I’m grateful to have been raised and loved by a man who taught me so much – by word and example. My dad wasn’t a writer, or even a good reader, but he was a great storyteller. He was also an expert at repurposing rejected “stuff”, and a talented creator of beauty-ful things. I miss him so much, but I treasure my memories and the gifts that he gave me, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Dad - casket

 

Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-six years ago, with the help of her dad, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in Northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now spend their time in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Golden Rod” is Sherrie’s 10th book to be published by Indigo Sea Press, a mid-sized, independent press out of Winston Salem, NC.
You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor 

Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

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People and Things, by Carole Howard

My mother died in 1997 at the age of 80. She’d been losing weight and the docs neither found out why nor ended her slide, even after I insisted they admit her to a hospital and get some nutrition into her body.  Still, it had never occurred to me that she was gravely ill. So it was a shock when I got the phone call. Naivety, I guess. Or maybe denial.

My brother and I flew to Florida to pack up our mother’s things and help our dad decide where he’d live. (He couldn’t care for himself — that had been my mom’s job – because of Parkinson’s.) The packing-up process practically smacked me in the face with, “All this stuff we accumulate, in the end, it’s just….. stuff.”

But the hangers in the closet did me in.

After I took some pieces of her clothing that I wanted, I sorted the rest (which involved removal of my mother’s notes to herself, like “This blouse goes with the blue pants or the green skirt plus the paisley scarf), then donated it to the nearby synagogue. But they didn’t want the hangers. What was I to do with them? It felt wrong to just throw them out.

The hanger issue tormented me. I gathered them into bundles and used twist-ties to join them at the curvy ends. They were unwieldy. I unbundled them, then put them in cardboard boxes. It took a lot of boxes to accommodate those pieces of wood, plastic, and wire. And I was still left with the question of what to do with them. In the end, I put them back in the closet, neatly arranged according to type. Closure. Logic. Neatness.

I knew my reaction was crazy but, just like the time I went up to the apartment my husband and I were moving from, to get one last thing, and unexpectedly bawled, I knew there was something else involved.

Yet when a very good friend and member of my extended family recently died, I had a completely different reaction to her possessions. “Lily” knew she was dying, since she was the one who had declined chemotherapy. The process wasn’t a mystery, just the timing. In the last month or so of her life, she had friends come over, a few at a time, so she could give away her beautiful (she was an artist) clothing and jewelry. She had a LOT. Every piece had a story. What was unsettling to me was that she took enormous pleasure – glee, practically – in telling the stories and giving the pieces away. Really, glee. I wanted to be gleeful, for her sake, but glee was too much to ask.

Now that she’s gone, I have quite a collection of things that remind me of her: scarves, sweaters, earrings, earrings, and more earrings, and one pair of shoes. So does my daughter. She wears them frequently. I have another approach: I take out one thing and wear it a few times before I take another. Each one reminds me of Lily, one at a time, widely spaced.

I’m not sure what accounts for the difference between my reaction to my mother’s things and to Lily’s, nor the difference between my daughter’s approach and mine. Nineteen years older? Mother vs friend? Cleaning everything out vs accepting some gifts to give Lily pleasure?

I just don’t know. Did anything similar ever happen to you?

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone, set in West Africa.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

Today, I had an “IT’S All About Me” day with my hairdresser/nail tech/friend, Ashley. She’s actually younger than my son, but wiser than the Dalai-Whoever. When asked what was bothering me, I blurted, “I feel abandoned.” Ashley was juggling me and another lady who was getting hair color and needed time for her color to “cook.” I had come in for a hair trim and color and nail refill, so while the lady’s hair was baking, and my color was setting, Ashley was working on my nails. She looked me directly in the eyes and with her most tender attention asked me why I felt abandoned.

A tear leaked out of my right eye before I could stop it, but I bravely explained that only last month I had lost my next door neighbor, Nellie, and last week my very good friend, Natasha passed away. Before that, it was Bruce, my girlfriend’s husband; Marianne, my best friend and neighbor; Nate, my financial advisor/quasi brother; Michael, my ex-husband and good friend; Barry, my pal from Atlanta; Dawn, my artist friend. I took a deep breath to start on some more names when Ashley said, “You’ve had more than your share of troubles lately.”

The leaky right eye turned into floodwaters, as Ashley handed me a tissue, and my voice turned squeaky as I tried to tell her that I knew as I aged, I would expect that friends and family would die, after all I am a senior citizen, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.

I told her about endless years I’d nurtured others, all the while wondering if there would ever be someone there for me when the time came.

About that time, Ashley said she needed to check the other lady’s color and she would be right back and everything would resume being “All About Me.” That turned out to be good because it gave me a moment to recover. I’m not used to wallowing in self-pity. I’m usually the stiff-upper lip kind of gal.

When she returned I was already feeling better. She sat and said, “Okay, I’m back. Go on.” I said I was really feeling alone; I have a son, but he has his own problems. I don’t want to add to his burden, but I wish he’d share more of his life with me. I feel left out of it, which makes me feel alone. She told me I have her. That’s true, I agreed. We share each other’s problems. Is it because we’re female and gals do that? She even told me I could come to her house for Thanksgiving if I’m going to be alone this year, and we could be thankful together. How sweet.

Gee, I’m already thankful and I feel better. I have wise Dalai-Ashley. And I’ve decided, sometimes it’s okay to feel just a little sorry for ourselves, for our losses. Thank you, Ashley.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW , an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Accepting Submissions for an Upcoming Anthology

Second Wind Publishing is accepting short stories, essays and poetry for its upcoming anthology, Wind Through an Open Door. All submissions should deal with the question: what happens to us when we pass from this life? Remembrances of lost loved ones, personal experiences, profound recognitions of the afterlife (or its absence)—regardless of religious persuasion—are all welcome. There is no cost to submit an entry. There is a maximum of 7000 words for essays or short stories. All entries must be submitted no later than March 10, 2014. Those whose work is included in the anthology will receive two contributor copies. Additional copies will be available for purchase, with contributors receiving a 60% discount. Submissions and questions should be sent to mike@secondwindpublishing.com.

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Life, Death and Seasons by S.M. Senden

October has begun.

The leaves begin to color; there is a different feel to the air, as summer’s gentle warmth cools and fades with the leaves.  Winter waits impatiently in the wings to come into her own with a chill in the air bringing the fragrance of snow wafting about me, stinging and teasing my sense of smell.

It is not an easy transition.

The seasons seem to do battle for supremacy of the climate. Tempestuous storms rage across the land, hail and tornados threaten as cold and warm fronts collide. We had a string of storms pass through here last night.  More are predicted and a cold front will win the battle for a day plunging us into a fifty degree day before temperatures return to the seventies for a while longer.

It is a season of riotous, gaudy display.

Mother Nature paints her trees in a glorious riot of color. I recall the many falls in the past as a child, walking to the bus stop in the chilly rain of October through the litter of color on the ground. Once and a while picking up a particularly beautiful leaf washed in red, pink, burgundy, orange and yellow with a hint of green, so as not to forget the former lush glory of that leaf. Though we are no longer allowed to burn leaves, someone somewhere always manages to do so. The air is tinged with the fragrance of memories of my past, I am a child again, with my life before me, and I play in the piles of leaves. Do the leaves on the trees miss their fallen companions of summer?

It is also the season of harvest.

Long ago people would hurry to complete their harvest by the end of October, for after that the Pooka was said to come and ruin the crops.  The frosts of November would kill what remained un-harvested. Halloween marked the end of the Pagan year. The hearth would be swept and cleaned, a new fire kindled with the New Year.  The earth would lie as if asleep through the winter, only to awaken in the spring, new life emerging miraculously through the ground that had looked dead and lifeless through the cold winter.

It is a time of change within the cycles of life.

As I contemplate the change of seasons I think about the seasons and cycles, not just of nature, but of life.  I had my birthday last month, and added another year to the increasing number of years lived. I started another annual rotation toward another birthday, like walking a giant spiral staircase that I can not see where it leads, though I go forward with faith that life continues in its succession of days until they come at last to their end.  I wonder what lies on the other side of the veil.

Today, I think of the span of years I have been here on this planet, the places I have seen, the people I have known, the history I have lived through, and the changes yet to come.  I remember meeting a distant relation once, I was twenty she was in her nineties. She made the comment about how she came into the world with gas light, and she was leaving it with men on the moon. Will the changes in my life be as astounding?

It is a time when we come again full circle from where we began a year ago. It is where we will arrive again after another year passes. My wish for us all is that in the year ahead we all know great happiness, great joy, very little pain or sorrow. Just as we can not live without the season where all things die, we must endure the pains and sorrows of life. For, like the season of winter when the earth seems to be barren and dead, we must experience sorrow, so that, we may appreciate joy even more when it comes to us.

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Goodbye

Several months ago, a dear friend called to say goodbye. Like in… forever. I was shocked when she told me why she was calling. I was something else, too. Grateful.

I knew she wasn’t well and hadn’t been for quite some time. Congestive heart failure was one of the ailments on her long list along with others I couldn’t begin to pronounce. She said she was calling because she wanted me know how much our friendship meant to her and she wanted to thank me before she became too ill. Wow.

My mother battled with terminal cancer for many years before she died. During that time, she and I had the opportunity to set up the closure we both needed, but when my father died, it was sudden. He had a heart attack and was gone before I got to him. I remember the feelings of shock, disbelief, awareness of unanswered questions and great loss, that stayed with me. There was no closure and that still haunts me. But parents are different, aren’t they?

A couple years ago one of my best friends succumbed to prostate cancer. He had been treated successfully for several years and then the disease was back with a vengeance. We e-mailed back and forth occasionally, but I didn’t realize how quickly his illness had progressed and before I knew it, he was in the hospital and his brother wasn’t allowing any visitors or phone calls. He died and I never got to say, goodbye.

Another best friend was an artist and we shared our great love of art in many forms. We didn’t call or write often, but when we did contact one another, we just picked up where we had left off from the previous conversation.

I was working on a project and decided to run some ideas by her so I picked up the phone and dialed her number. Her husband answered. When I asked to speak with her, he told me she’d had a rapid-growing brain tumor and had passed away three months before. I couldn’t believe it! We were best friends. How could I not know she was ill, much less that she had died?

Again I was sick with shock and grief. As I sat stunned with sorrow, I recalled the news of another friend who had committed suicide. Each death was different, but my feelings about them were the same; profound sadness and the realization of the permanency of my sense of loss. I felt disappointment, even anger that I didn’t have the chance to say, goodbye. I didn’t have closure. Loss was loss. Whether it related to parents or friends, it was the same heart-wrenching pain.

In my first paragraph, I spoke of a friend who called to say, goodbye. She’s still living and she and I call each other every other week or so to reiterate our feelings of friendship and camaraderie. As time goes by, I can sense in her voice the progression of her disease and sometimes she hasn’t the strength to talk for long, but I appreciate her even more and I’m  grateful for this opportunity. If  her time is up before mine, I will have closure. I’ll be sad, of course, but I will also have the comfort of knowing we made the most of our friendship in the time we had left. I think she feels the same way.

This whole experience has changed how I relate to other friends and to my relatives. Since my stroke last summer, I realize my existence here on Earth could be shortened or ended at any second, so I’ve decided to be like my friend and let people know now how dear they are to me, and do it often. I’ve also decided not to fret over people who disappoint me or who don’t value me. I’ve decided to be influenced by more positive things than negative ones and to truly be grateful for and rejoice in each day.

As a result, I’ve found dealing with thoughts of end-of-life has given me a renewed lease-on-life replete with love and gratitude.

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Death On the Church Steps

English: Radford: St Peter

Death On the Church Steps is a novel I just started. Here is a little from the first chapter. Who knows, maybe it will be picked up by Second Wind Publishing.

 I have reduced the chapter to about half for this blog, but in it you will be introduced to all the characters who could be the killer. Or maybe it is someone I haven’t met yet. Who will the killer be?

As a writer I do not have everything outlined well in advance. I just sort of let my imagination run wild and let the story go wherever it will. All of the characters introduced are pastors at the church except Radford who is the church janitor. So, is one of them the killer, or someone not yet introduced? I don’t know. What do you think? Tell me who should be the killer and why.

You can make you suggestions either by comments to this blog, or by email to me at paul@paulsbooks.net

DEATH ON THE CHURCH STEPS
By Paul J. Stam

CHAPTER ONE

She was young, exceptionally beautiful, and except for her sheer lace panties, completely naked, and definitely dead. She lay on the top of the steps that led up to the front of the church. If you stood in just the right place you could see two of her, her real self and her reflection in the large, plate-glass, front doors to the church. Her head was turned to hang over the top step with her long, blond hair cascading down over the next two steps. Her right arm lay stretched out on the second step, and her left arm was thrown back over her head. She looked as though she had been arranged to have a picture taken for an art calendar, or some magazine. It was hard to believe that someone so young and beautiful was dead. But then it was also hard to imagine anyone alive would have been lying naked on the church steps.

Between the church and the office and classroom building, was a large mango tree. It always produced a great abundance of fruit, but the fruit was small, and stringy, and not worth bothering with. Consequently the fruit dropped to the ground staining the sidewalks, attracting flies, and creating a lumpy and slippery hazard for those trying to climb the steps.

Several of the mangoes had bounced and rolled to within a few feet of the dead woman’s left hand. If you had looked down from God’s vantage point it would have looked as though the woman had scattered the fallen fruit with the hand flung back over her head like a sower scattering seed.

Pastor Douglas Bautista discovered her at ten minutes after six when he arrived at the church. A few others, driving by in the morning traffic who glanced that direction at exactly the right moment had seen the body before he did. The glimpse was so fleeting that the only thing they could think of was that someone was playing a practical joke on the church by laying a mannequin on the church steps.

The church custodian, Radford Lee, had also seen the body. He had unlocked the side doors to the church at five-thirty for those who might stop in for prayer on their way to work. After unlocking the side doors he walked through the church to the foyer, and wondered why the foyer lights and the outdoor, front floodlights were not on. He distinctly remembered turning them on the night before. He was about to unlock the front door when looking through the glass doors he saw the woman.

He was startled at first, and stood for a while behind the glass doors, running a hand nervously through his wavy brown hair. He stood just staring at her and wondering what he should do. Under the circumstances he thought it best not to unlock the front door. He thought she was dead, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He didn’t quite know how to handle a naked woman on the church steps. If she was alive and drunk, he thought it best not to be seen handling her. From where he stood he couldn’t tell for certain if she was breathing or not. Maybe she was protesting something. His logical conclusion was that if she were dead there was nothing he could do for her, and if it was a publicity stunt he didn’t want to get involved.

Radford walked back through the church and left by the side door. He used the back entrance to the classroom building, and walked through to the church offices. He went about emptying the wastebaskets. From time to time he would set down the plastic bag full of waste paper and walk to the window. He would part the blinds a little, and look out at her. Each time he looked out at her he became more certain that she was dead and that became increasingly more frightening. It was very unlikely that anyone would get naked to go and die on church steps of natural causes. He was certain therefore that she had been murdered and that he had made the right decision in not discovering a murder victim.

Although Radford had actually seen the body first, Pastor Bautista would take credit for it. He approached from the parking lot behind the buildings. He walked with a swagger as he made his way through the yard glancing to the left and the right looking for something about which he could get righteously angry. He noted that the leaves and fallen fruit had not been raked up from under the mango tree in the schoolyard. Children attending the pre-school would start arriving in half an hour, and the leaves and fruit were supposed to be cleaned up by then. Radford was supposed to rake up the fallen fruit first thing in the morning and it pleased Bautista that it had not yet been done it. It would give him something about which to scold Radford.

Bautista was just about to start up the mango splattered steps to the office when he looked the other direction and saw the body. He went over to it, and walked completely around it once having to go down a few steps and then up again to get around it. From the way her open eyes stared out at the world he knew she was dead, but still he knelt down and put his fingers on her wrist feeling for a pulse.

He stood up, and swaggered up the steps, and into the office. He found Radford vacuuming the reception area. “Go get me a sheet, Radford.”

“What?” Radford asked turning off the vacuum.

“Get me a sheet.”

“A sheet? What kind of sheet? Do you mean a drop cloth?”

“A sheet, Radford. Any kind of sheet. A sheet to cover the body.”

“What body, Pastor Doug?” Radford said pretending complete ignorance.

Pastor Bautista looked at him for a moment and then said, “There is a body of a dead woman on our front steps. Get me a sheet to cover her.”

“There is? Oh, my goodness! Where did it come from?” he said hoping he had accurately conveyed shock and disbelief. “We don’t have any sheets that I know of.”

“Find something. Go to the baptismal room and get me one of the baptismal robes. One that isn’t assigned to anyone.”

“Yes, Sir,” Radford said leaving and Pastor Bautista sat down in the receptionist chair and dialed 911.

By the time Radford returned with the baptismal robe Pastor Doug had finished explain everything to the police. When they went back out to cover the body the news trucks from three television stations were already there taking pictures of the body. He roughly pushed the cameramen aside as he went over, and very piously laid the baptismal robe over the body. When he was through she was demurely covered with only her head, her feet and her arms exposed to the prying eyes of the cameras.

When he straightened up the cameras were on him, and three reporters held their microphones in front of him. “Did you discover the body,” one of them asked.

“Yes, I think so. At least no one reported it to the police before I did.”

In the distance they could hear the sirens of a police car trying to get through the morning traffic.

“Now I think, Gentlemen, that we should save any more questions you might have until the police get here.”

The reporters kept trying to ask him questions and he kept putting them off. It made him feel important to have them all trying to get a question answered, and it made him feel even more important to not answer their questions.

Three squad cars, with blue lights flashing, arrived almost simultaneously congesting the traffic even more than the TV trucks had. Soon after that there was an ambulance, and then two more police cars till the one-way traffic on the two-lane road in front of the church was reduced to one lane of traffic. The police moved in quickly stringing up yellow ribbons that said, CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS.

A detective started questioning Bautista. “Are you the one that covered the body?” The detective asked.

“Yes.”

“You shouldn’t have done that, you know. That was disturbing the evidence.”

“I couldn’t just leave her there for everyone to see. This is, after all, a church.”

The detective looked at him as if to say, ‘so what?’ and asked. “Did you touch the body at all?”

“Just to take her pulse.”

“Oh? And just where was that: at her wrist, her neck, her stomach? Just where did you touch her?” he asked sneering.

“I resent the implication of that question.”

“Just answer the question.”

“Her wrist.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I went into the office, and told the janitor to go get the robe, and then I called the police.”

Radford told the police that he had not seen the woman until he came out with Pastor Bautista to cover the body. He too did not remember ever having seen her at the church before. He was certain he had turned on the floodlights at the front of the church, and the lights in the foyer the night before. With the lights on it would have been hard for anyone to walk up the steps and not be seen. With them off the area of the steps would have been almost completely dark.

“Could anyone have turned them off after you turned them on?” the detective asked.

“Lots of people have keys. Anyone could have gone in and turned off the lights.”

“Who, for example has keys to the church?”

“Lots of People. All the pastors, all of the schoolteachers, all ministry leaders. They all have keys because they all have to get into the sanctuary. And there might be people who have keys that we don’t know about.”

“How’s that?”

Radford shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his wavy brown hair pushing it back from his face. “Someone loans a key out, and forgets who they loaned it to.”

“How many such missing keys do you think there are?”

“I don’t know. A half a dozen or more.”

“Is the sanctuary locked most of the time?”

“No. It’s always opened during the day. People come into pray and there is something scheduled in there almost every day.”

The staff was continuing to arrive. Each, in one way or another learned what had happened, and the detectives informed each that they would all be questioned. Pastor Bell arrived and very graciously, but firmly told the detectives that the staff morning devotions were at eight-thirty and everyone was required to be there. He invited the detectives to join them, but the detectives declined saying that they would be back after nine to talk to the staff. They assured everyone that it was just routine, but since the body had been found on the church steps they had to talk to everyone employed by the church.

“I understand,” Pastor Bell said, and went into his office until it was time for devotions.

Betty Clipper burst into the reception area at 8:25 screaming, “Is it true?… Was there really a dead girl on our steps?… Oh, My God. I can’t believe it… What are we going to do?… Was it anyone we knew?… Oh, Dear Jesus, this is terrible.”

She was a large woman, just over six feet tall, and weighing almost two hundred pounds. She had the title of Music Minister, and was in charge of all the musical groups in the church.

“I can’t believe it. I’m shaking so much I can hardly stand,” she said dropping her bulk into the closest chair.

“The reason you’re shaking, Betty, is because your legs are too spindly to hold up all the weight of your body,” Doug said looking down on her. His dark eyes gleamed with hatred because she was white, a woman, and when standing taller than he was.

She started to cry. “Can’t you see this is a hard enough time for me, Doug, without your picking on me. This thing really has me scared.”

“Oh, stop crying, Betty. You have nothing to be afraid of. No one would want to kill you, or do anything else to you for that matter,” Doug answered.

Pastor Bell walked in just after that and Doug suddenly became seriously pious.

“Betty. Betty. What’s wrong? Nobody’s going to hurt you. We all love you,” Pastor Bell said walking toward her.

Betty stood up, and cried that much louder going over to him like a child that needed to be comforted. He put an arm around her, and let her cry on his shoulder.

“It’s all right, Betty. You go ahead and cry if you want to. This thing has all of us a little upset.”

He comforted her until the sound portion of her crying was on mute, and then sent her back to her chair sniffling, and wiping at her tears with a soggy tissue.

Pastor Bell sat down then, and started the devotion by singing a chorus, and the others joined in. But the singing was not very sincere, and when it came time for the devotional, Don Bjork, who was to do the Scripture reading and bring the devotional message that morning, spoke about how the events of the morning should make them aware of just how uncertain life was, and they should all be living righteously.

The prayers were mostly that the family of the dead girl would know the comfort of the Holy Spirit. None of them knew who the girl was, or who her family was, but it was a safe thing to pray. No one prayed that the police would quickly find the killer of the woman, which surprised Jim Sloan, who although he was a pastor did not really believe in prayer.

By the time devotions were over the police were through with the front steps of the church, and the crowd of spectators separated as the coroner took the body away. The TV cameras tried to focus on the stretcher as it moved from the steps to the coroner’s van. The police started spreading out around the church, looking behind the shrubbery while the detectives went into the church office building to talk to the staff.

Copyright © 2012 by Paul J. Stam
All rights reserved

Visit me at Paul’s Books

Paul’s book The Telephone Killer published by Second Wind Publishing will be out in Oct. 2012.

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Grief: The Great Yearning by Pat Bertram

I never  set out to write a book about grief,  but I was so lost, so lonely, so sick with grief and bewildered by all I was experiencing, that the only way I could try to make sense of it was to put my feelings into words. Whether I was writing letters to my deceased life mate/soul mate or simply pouring out my feelings in a blog or a journal, writing helped me feel close to him, as if, once again, I was talking things over with him. The only problem was, I only heard my side of the story. He never told me how he felt about his dying and our separation. Did he feel as broken as I did? Did he feel amputated? Or was he simply glad to be shucked of his body, and perhaps even of me?

I wrote this letter to him exactly two years ago today. It shows some of the collateral effects of grief, such as the questioning, the yearning, the inability to make decisions. I did end up making a lot of decisions during that time. I decided to give up our home, get rid of about half of our things, donate his car to hospice. (I let them have him; it seemed only right to let them have his car.)

I still miss him, still hate that he’s dead, still question the meaning of life and death, still feel his absence like hole in the universe. I never expected to feel this sort of grief. Never knew it was possible.

Excerpt from Grief: The Great Yearning

Day 6, Letter

I started crying today and couldn’t stop. I had to go to town to break up the crying jag otherwise I might have cried all day. I’m glad you’ll never have to go through this. I cling to that thought—that your death spared you ever having to grieve for me. We did so much together, and now our paths have divided. I can’t yet follow you. Are you gone? Snuffed out forever? Or does something of you remain somewhere? Are you warm? Fed? Have plenty of cold liquids to drink? Thinking about what happened to you makes me sick to my stomach still. The days after your diagnosis went by too fast. I still can’t comprehend your suffering or your dying.

I sometimes hear noises out in the living room when I am in the bedroom, and my first thought is that it’s you. It comes as a shock when I realize . . . again . . . that you’re dead. I truly don’t know how to get along without you. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to get along without you. You were my life for so many years. I wonder what my future holds. Love? Success? Failure? Loneliness?

I still can’t decide if I want to get rid of almost everything we own or put it in storage. I know I’ll hate having reminders of everything I’ve lost, but perhaps there will come a time when our things bring me comfort?

I don’t know what to do about your car. Keep it? Sell it? Donate it?

I don’t suppose you want to hear about these indecisions, but they do loom in my thoughts. I talk to you all day, but when it comes time to write you, I can only think of such trivialities. Yet that’s what our life together ended up being. I wanted only the cosmically important things to be part of our shared life, yet it devolved into basic survival, errands, household chores. I’m keeping up with the chores. Sort of.

When I was at the grocery store, the clerk asked where you were, so I told her. She hugged me and cried with me. Not enough tears have been shed for you—no amount of tears will ever be enough—so those tears gave me comfort. Your life—and death—shouldn’t pass lightly.

Click here to find out more about Grief: The Great Yearning

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Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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Introduction to “Grief: The Great Yearning” by Pat Bertram

Grief: The Great Yearning, the book about my first year of grief has finally been published. I wrote this article during the summer following my life mate/soul mate’s death, long before I ever knew my writings about grief would be published, but with the addition of the last paragraph, it made the perfect introduction to the book. Grief: The Great Yearning is available from Amazon, Second Wind Publishing, and in various ebook formats from Smashwords.

Death came in the spring.

At the beginning of March, the doctors said that Jeff, my life mate—my soul mate—had inoperable kidney cancer and that he had six months to live. He had only three weeks. We’d spent thirty-four years together, and suddenly I was alone, unprepared, and totally devastated. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the wreckage of my life. It wasn’t just he who died but “we.” There was no more “us,” no more shared plans and dreams and private jokes. There was only me.

Other losses compounded the misery. I had to sort through the accumulation of decades, dismantle what was left of our life, move from our home. We bereft are counseled not to make major changes during the first year after a significant loss—one’s thinking processes become muddled, leaving one prey to faulty logic and rash decisions—but I needed to go stay with my father for a while. Although he was doing well by himself, he was 93 years old, and it wasn’t wise for him to continue living alone.

I relocated from cool mountain climes to the heat of a southwestern community. Lost, heartbroken, awash in tears, I walked for hours every day beneath the cloudless sky, finding what comfort I could in the simple activity. During one such walk, I turned down an unfamiliar city street, and followed it . . . into the desert.

I was stunned to find myself in a vast wilderness of rocky knolls, creosote bushes, cacti, rabbits, lizards, and snakes. I’d been to the area several times during my mother’s last few months, but I’d spent little time outside. I hated the heat, the constant glare of the sun, the harsh winds. After Jeff died, however, that bleak weather, that bleak terrain seemed to mirror my inner landscape. Wandering in the desert, crying in the wilderness, I tried to find meaning in all that had happened. I didn’t find it, of course. How can there be meaning in the painful, horrific death of a 63-year-old man? I didn’t find myself, either. It was too soon for me to move on, to abandon my grief. I felt as if I’d be negating him and the life we led.

What I did find was the peace of the moment.

Children, most of whom know little of death and the horrors of life, live in the moment because they can—it’s all they have. The bereft, who know too much about death and the horrors of life, live in the moment because they must—it’s the only way they can survive.

During the first year after Jeff’s death, I lived as a child—moment to moment, embracing my grief, trying not to think about the future because such thoughts brought panic about growing old alone, trying not to think about the past because such thoughts reminded me of all I had lost.

And so went the seasons of my soul. The spring of death gave way to the summer of grief, and grief flowed into the fall and winter of renewal.

Grief: The Great Yearning is not a how-to but a how-done, a compilation of letters, blog posts, and journal entries I wrote while struggling to survive my first year of grief. As you journey through grief, I hope you will find comfort in knowing you are not alone. Whatever you feel, others have felt. Whatever seemingly crazy thing you do to bring yourself comfort, others have done. And, as impossible as it is to imagine now, you will survive.

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Pat Bertram is also the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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