Other Thoughts

Before I Knew Her Name, I Knew She Was Dying

This* happened years ago . . .

Before I knew her name, I called her the Tattoo Lady. And also, before knowing her name, I knew she was dying.

I will protect her identity, and since no longer thinking of her as the Tattoo Lady, let me give her an imagined name: Mary. Mary is good enough. It reminds me of why I met her, why I sat beside her bed, and talked about life and death and life.

For Christians, the name Mary likely recalls two different women in the Bible. The obvious first was Jesus’ mother. The obvious second was Mary Magdalene, a woman whose life changed, and kept changing, because of her relationship with Jesus. (According to Luke 8:1-3 she once had seven “demons.”)

So, for the Tattoo Lady, Mary represented a good pseudonym for a mother’s name. After all, the first time I heard about Mary was through her daughter. Maybe desperate and certainly determined, Mary’s daughter called to interview me. She claimed to be searching for, “A liberal pastor that won’t be bothered by my mother’s tattoos.”

Tattoos. Okay.

“And,” the daughter continued, “I am a lesbian and not a Christian.” But her mother was Christian, even though she hadn’t darkened the door of any church for years.

“Mom doesn’t need someone telling her that she is, or I am, headed for hell. You won’t say that, will you? She’s dying from cancer and doesn’t need fire and brimstone crap from anybody. But she’d like to see a pastor and I promised that I’d find one. So, are you liberal?”

Am I? Read More →

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Raise the Flag and Celebrate

Dad.UniformDad’s birthday is June 14, 1916.

My father* was born in the same year President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day**.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress had voted and declared the “stars and stripes” as the official flag of the emerging nation. Wilson’s gesture honored that bold, revolutionary action.

Dad enjoyed raising the flag on his birthday. I suspect he was 95% honoring the country he’d served in the Army Air Corps during World War II . . . and 5% saluting George Patten! He died in 2012, with an American flag raised every year that he blew out a cake’s candles.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 is Flag Day’s—and my father’s—100th birthday.

Born during Wilson’s presidency, Dad was thirteen when the stock market crashed in 1929. Though his birth was in rural Utah, he spent his youth in the Los Angeles area. My father’s father was a building contractor and led a nomadic life. Most of the moves were in southern California, so Dad was never far from the original Hollywoodland sign (erected in 1923).

HollywoodlandLike so many others in the Great Depression, Dad cobbled together various jobs. He delivered papers. He recycled metal for pennies. He sold used cars. All the while he helped with his father’s contracting business until a day in 1940 when he joined the Air Corps.

Not long after Pearl Harbor, one of his assignments took him to Castle Air Field in Merced, in the middle of California. As with most soldiers during those scary days, he headed over to a church on Sundays . . . and thus met his future wife, and the mother of his three future children. George and Fran Patten were married in July of 1942. Dad never went overseas during the war, but served at numerous stateside bases until leaving the military in 1946.

He was thirty years old. Read More →

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Happy Thanksgiving: Don’ts and Dos

IMG_3029When making bereavement phone calls around Thanksgiving to those who have had a loved one die, I often ask, “Is it okay for me to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving?”

I don’t want my “Happy Thanksgiving” to be an autopilot greeting or a token farewell. As I try to be supportive, I don’t want to assume anything. This year, this holiday, is different in the worst way for the family I’m contacting.

It’s the small things that are missed most after a death. Sharing coffee. Joking about the year the garbage disposal clogged on the potato peelings (though it wasn’t funny back then!) Taking the evening walk after the big meal. Complaining about the whacky, out-of-town uncle who always arrives late with a lame excuse and a cheap bottle of wine. Washing dishes together after everyone has left. Playing board games with the kids, even when the kids are now adults.

Aren’t Thanksgivings—and other holidays—a struggle under “normal” circumstances? The family get-togethers may be charming on television commercials, but can be alarming in reality. Old arguments and new tensions are avoided most of the year, but Christmas or New Year parties forces everyone into the same room. On that Thanksgiving where your kid spends the day with the family of his or her “special friend” . . . you say you understand (and you do, but you don’t). There’s the call that comes from the loved one stationed overseas. Or the phone that never rings. We fret over carving a turkey, but holidays have a way of carving our hearts. Read More →

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