Thursday, February 28, 2013


I'm working this week with fifteen fifth graders, helping them prepare for their state writing test next week. It has been fun and exhausting. Sweet kids from a low income school with such limited life experiences.

Back to writing another day!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Journey: Empty Arms

There is a story in the old testament of a woman named Ruth. You are probably familiar with the lines from the story that are often read of sung at weddings: whither thou goest… Many people don’t know that these words in the context of the story had nothing to do with the romantic love assigned to them at weddings. Rather they are the cry of a grieving wife who does not want to lose what family she has left.

The story begins with Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, her husband, and two sons who were Israelites. There was famine in their homeland, so they moved to Moab. Naomi’s husband dies, her sons marry foreign women, then both sons die. Naomi, left with nothing but two foreign daughters-in-law, decides to go home. The girls think to go with her, but Naomi discourages them. Ruth refuses to leave. Here is the verse in a more modern translation, in context: But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

So the two women return to Israel—Naomi, a bitter old woman, and Ruth, a foreigner. Ruth goes out to glean grain in the fields, or pick up leftovers from the harvest, so they can eat. She happens to land in the field of Boaz, an older man and a kinsman. Naomi walks her through the traditions of claiming her right to be redeemed by her husband’s family. Boaz agrees and marries Ruth. When their first child is born, Ruth lays the baby boy on Naomi’s lap, inviting the older woman to be the child’s nurse.

In the story, Boaz was Ruth’s redeemer, but he was also Naomi’s, until she had what she needed, until the child was laid on her lap. Once she had the child to care for, she didn’t need Boaz to care for her any longer.

Boaz, in Christian theology, represents a type of Christ as redeemer, something I very much needed in my state of mind. Much of the anger that welled up in me was a result of having nothing to do with my hands, nothing that I should normally be attending to after nine months of pregnancy.

My sweet husband was wise enough to see my frustration and understand the root of that anger. He reminded me of Naomi’s story. Christ, he said, was the only one who could redeem the emptiness of my arms. My husband and my children could comfort me, but they could not replace what I had lost. Only God could do that. Could I somehow allow Christ to be something to me that he had not been before, to be a redeemer in a way I had never known? He understood the emptiness. Remember his cry on the cross, My God, why have you forsaken me?

What did all this mean? How did it work? Would it work? I didn’t have an answer for those questions, but I pondered it for a long time. When I was angry or frustrated or lonely, I tried to imagine myself like Naomi, sitting in Boaz’s house, waiting for the child to be laid on my lap. I have a pretty good imagination and I have no problems using it to place myself into the stories of the Bible, or into my picture of who and what God is to me. If God is supernatural and he created us, then he had to give us some way to intuit that supernatural presence in our natural world. I believe the imagination is His gift, a tool we can use for that purpose.

Boaz’s house was a good place for me to be.

[Lest you think I've totally lost my mind about using the imagination in this way, see these references:
Ignatian Contemplation
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Feb 10, Feb 11.
Interview with musician, Michael Card.
Leanne Payne writes extensively about the "true imagination" in her book, The Healing Presence.
Google "holy imagination." You'll get some crackpot stuff, but also some valuable information.]

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Journey: So Angry!

I didn’t think I would get angry. Whatever gave me the idea I was immune from the full gamut of human emotions, I don’t know. Maybe it was immaturity. Maybe it was pride. But the first time my broken frame filled with rage, I was shocked, almost as though I stood outside myself wondering who this woman was that wanted to beat someone to a bloody pulp.

I was sitting beside the fireplace that night, feet propped on the hearth, staring into the fire when I suddenly wanted to throw something. If I could just break something, anything, I would be alright. But throwing dishes and screaming at my family was not in my nature, not something I could allow myself to do. I knew if I screamed at them, even in my rage, I would only be making things worse by hurting the ones I loved that were left to me. And besides, if I broke my dishes, I’d just have to go buy new ones so we could eat.

Who was I mad at anyway? It wasn’t Cliff’s fault or the children’s. Myself? Was there something I could have done to stop it? What if I had just done something that day I realized my child had stopped moving? The doctor had assured me there was nothing I could have done. Even if I had known the exact moment that blood vessel in the cord burst, I would have had only two minutes at the most to save my sweet baby. Nothing. Nothing I could have done.

God was the only one left to blame.

Now I was raised in a good Southern Baptist home where blaspheming God was not something to be considered. Even though I had left that tradition of my childhood to find my own expression of faith, I still had a hard time with the idea. However, I’ve never had a problem with asking God hard questions.

My children had a whiffle ball set that stayed in a carton on the back patio. When the rage would build until I thought it would pour out my throat, I would storm outside, grab that whiffle bat and beat the hell out of whatever happened to be in reach—the kids’ wagon, the fence post, the thin-trunked maple tree—until the anger was spent.

Eventually I had to face it. I was mad at God. And just like being mad at Cliff, that unexpressed anger was building a wall between us. And as mad as I was at him, I didn’t like the distance. So I began doing what I do with my husband when I’m angry. I wrote down everything I felt, so that when I talked to him, I wouldn’t forget anything. Then I went outside and started my conversation. The words fired from me like an arrow shot at a blue-jay. I picked up rocks and threw them at the sky. I threw and threw them until I collapsed to the ground and cried, ”I don’t understand! Help me understand! Please.”

The heavens didn’t resound with a message from God, nor did lightning strike me dead. But the wall crumbled.

I didn’t have an answer. I still didn’t understand. But I knew I wasn’t alone.

This scene from Steel Magnolias still resonates with me. The movie came out four years after Allison died. I was totally unprepared for the movie’s ending, had no idea of what was coming. When M’Lynn (Sally Field) leaves her daughter's grave, rage bursts out of her. It’s so real, so truly portrayed. I sat in the theater and wept.

Laughter and love. So good for the grieving heart!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Poetry Friday: The Letter

 For more Poetry Friday, stop over with Sheri Doyle, our host this week.

During the month of January, my blog posts have been primarily recounting the grieving process I experienced after the loss of a child, a full-term stillbirth many years ago. The impetus for revisiting this period of my life was the expected death of my father. While writing these posts, I opened myself to the deep sadness that I knew was approaching. In a way, I began the grieving process before he was gone, and Allison's death was the tool for allowing me to go there.

Daddy died almost two weeks ago. These two weeks have been full of grace and peace. Yesterday I wrote my memorial to this dear man. I am working my way back to a normal routine that no longer includes a regular visit to his assisted living apartment. This poem is rich in the emotions that play through me as I think of him.

Next week, I hope to finish the story of Allison. Once started, I feel strongly that I need to complete this accounting. For myself and for anyone else who needs to hear this journey. Thanks for reading.

This was a Father's Day card I gave to my dad years ago. The inside message said: Dad, Next to your heart is still my favorite place to be!

He wrote a response on the facing page: I wish my heart was bigger, then I could be closer to you. H.

by: Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1906)

     HELD his letter in my hand,
    And even while I read
    The lightning flashed across the land
    The word that he was dead.
    How strange it seemed! His living voice
    Was speaking from the page
    Those courteous phrases, tersely choice,
    Light-hearted, witty, sage.
    I wondered what it was that died!
    The man himself was here,
    His modesty, his scholar's pride,
    His soul serene and clear.
    These neither death nor time shall dim,
    Still this sad thing must be--
    Henceforth I may not speak to him,
    Though he can speak to me!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Memory of My Daddy

Herman Davis Reynolds 1927-2013
Daddy loved taking pictures. Here in Vienna, Austria, while in the Army. A place he always wanted to go back and see again. 
My daddy died on February 10, Sunday in the wee hours of the morning, peacefully, in his sleep. My brother and I were with him, although somehow that sweet man, determined to protect his children to the very end,  waited until we had both drifted off to sleep before he took his final breath.

Somewhere just before midnight, I sat on his bed, held his hand, laid my head on his shoulder, and said my final goodbye. Although he had not opened his eyes for more than a few seconds at a time on Saturday, I'm sure he knew I was there.

My daddy's smile.
My daddy could fix most anything. He was a diesel bus mechanic on Fort Benning for 30 years. He could wire a house, plumb a bathroom, lay tile, hang sheet rock  and cover up any of his unmatched corners with "a little caulk and flashing." When I was in third grade, he built us a house  while he was still working full time. He even dug the well himself.

He knew cars and engines, and was always working on somebody's vehicle in our backyard. I can remember standing on the bumper or leaning against the fender of some car or truck while he worked, his coveralls stained, his hands black with grease. When necessary, he attached a "come along" tool to the top bar of an old swing set frame and pulled the engine. I was always fascinated by that word. To this day, I don't know if that tool has an official name, but I have fond memories of Daddy and his come along.

Most of my childhood is chronicled in some form of home movies. Here he is with my son Andrew and my brother, Gary. Daddy kept up with the changing technology from 8mm to Super 8 to Camcorder. In fact he was learning to use my iPad the week before he went to Hospice House.

He was still cutting grass for people on his riding lawn mower until he went into the hospital in November.
My daddy was never still for very long. Oh, he knew how to rest, he wasn't a workaholic, but he loved to be doing something, and usually that doing took some form of helping people.

He loved to laugh and could pull off an occasional practical joke. Once when all of my mother's family had gathered for dinner at my uncle's south Georgia home, my aunt from Atlanta fixed herself a plate of leftovers to carry back home with her. She piled up the fried catfish and down home vegetables and Aunt Alma's 8-layer chocolate cake. While she wasn't looking, my daddy scraped all the table scraps onto a paper plate, wrapped it in tin foil, and switched the plates. We still laugh at the thought of her nursing those table scraps in her lap all the way to Atlanta.

My younger daughter, Jeanetta, was here with me for the dying part through the funeral. 
My older daughter, Jen, was here with me for the funeral and the cleaning out the house part. 
Andrew came just for the funeral 
and we Skyped Stephen in from Nigeria for the service.

While going through all the stuff, we happened upon a stack of old cards--birthday cards and Father's Day cards that my brother and I and our children had sent him over the years. He had scrawled his response to each message somewhere on the card. What a treasure we found!
The inside of this one said: 
And so God bless you, Dad, 
for all you are...for all you do,
There can't be many fathers 
who are loved as much as you. 

And his response: I would like to have been more but you must know I have always loved you.

And I did. What greater legacy than that could a father leave to his children. I always knew I was loved. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Poetry Friday: Walt Whitman

 Our Poetry Friday host today is Tara at A Teaching Life.

A Clear Midnight
by Walt Whitman

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done, 
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best, 
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Journey: Jen's Thoughts

I appreciate my children adding their thoughts to this process. The timing this week has been good, too. I needed a break, and I have a magazine to get out at the Bugler. I have had interviews with the Chief of Infantry and the Commanding General at Fort Benning. Between transcribing and revising, I haven’t had much time for other writing.

Jenifer was almost six when Allison died.

Today she is thirty-three, the lead esthetician at Zama Massage in Portland, Oregon, and does small business accounting on the side.

From Jen: 

You have asked before if I thought Allison's death could be connected to some of my struggles as an adult today. I haven't really connected with that question. I didn't think it did. I don't feel sad. I don't feel grief. I don't really remember that much about what I felt at the time.
I remember wanting to go to the appointments with you because afterwards we would get a chocolate milkshake at that little milkshake stand around the corner from the hospital. At one of the appointments I remember going into the bathroom with you. You had to pee in a cup and pass it through a little sliding door where lab people worked on the other side. I remember you getting your finger pricked for a blood check. The doctor asked if I wanted to get my finger pricked too, but I chickened out. I remember dad picking us up and thinking that grandmother and granddaddy looked sad but I didn't suspect why.

Reading your blog post did stir some emotion at one point. It was the post where you said I ran into the living room and saw dad crying. I came up to him and said I knew why he was crying. It was because I reminded him of Allison. I told him that he had me and that I was going to take care of him. that triggered something. A memory. An emotion of feeling responsible and wanting to take care of things I wasn't supposed to have taken care of at six years old -- you, dad, the family, the house. It made me think for the first time that maybe you are right. Maybe there is some layer of my overly responsible attitude, my inability to let go and just have fun, the response I have to always see what needs to be taken care of...maybe it is more tied to Allison's death than I realized.

I pondered your post for a few days. I guess it made me a little sad. Then a little angry. I wondered what my personality would be like today if Allison hadn't died and her loss wasn't a part of my early childhood years. I wondered how much of her death formed me into who I am today, especially the part of my overly responsible personality that as an adult has caused me and others so much struggle, misunderstanding and even pain.

I don't feel angry at God or you or dad. I think I just feel sad. It's not all bad. I am a responsible person. That makes me a good employee. I am a successful business owner. I am a hard worker. People learn quickly that I am dependable. I can carry a lot and am quick to do so. I am very perceptive of other's feelings. I know what other people need and give it, often at the cost of my own needs.

As an adult I am serious. I am often uptight and focused. It is hard for me to just let go and have fun. Having fun and laughing doesn't come naturally to me. I have wrestled with that for years. I have even hated it in myself. I have had to learn how to laugh as an adult and it has not been an easy thing for me to learn. I am better, but I am still not as free as I wish I could be.

So perhaps you are right. Perhaps some of that is rooted in Allison's death. I responded to her death by stepping into responsibility mode. It is a mode that as an adult I still function out of a lot of the time.

Jen with her husband, Spirit.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Journey: From Stephen's Point of View

In talking with son Stephen this week, he agreed to be my guest blogger for this post.

Stephen, four at the time Allison died, is now thirty-one with a beautiful family of his own.


Here’s a little background to accompany Stephen’s thoughts. When Elizabeth was born, she had trouble breathing. Joy hemorrhaged just after the delivery and had to be rushed to surgery. They were in Minnesota and I was is Georgia. I had just hurt my shoulder and couldn’t pick up a jug of milk, much less two-year-old Aaron. It was a frightening time for all of us. Elizabeth was in the hospital several times that first year of her life, but she’s quite a little fighter. Today they are living in southern Nigeria as house parents at a school that began this year.

From Stephen:
I don't remember much. I remember being sad, but that's about it. When I was reading your posts it made me think about my kids' births, especially Elizabeth. Realizing how close I was to loosing her or Joy. I couldn't even imagine what that would have felt like.

When they took Elizabeth from me and rushed her off to a room and then kicked me out of the room where Joy was, sitting in the waiting room by myself, not knowing what my future was going to hold, wondering how I was going to tell Aaron, as I processed through several different emotions at one time - being mad at God, sad at the point that I might loose one or the other. The three hours that I sat in the waiting room seemed like an eternity.

Then the doctor finally came in and explained what happened to Joy and said that she was in recovery. The next question I had was how was my daughter. They said that she was fine too. They took me down to see Joy for a minute. I told her I loved her. And then went back to the room and they brought Elizabeth to me. I held her for hours and cried tears of joy that both of the women in my life were going to be ok. I don't think I put her down until the next morning. The nurses kept trying to come and take her and convince me to sleep, but I just needed to hold onto her.

The next morning Joy came in. Seeing her brought tears to my eyes again. Laying in the little hospital bed holding the two of them, continuing to thank God over and over again for not taking them.

One month later all the emotions and fears of loosing Elizabeth came back when we rushed her to the hospital. I remember crying to God, asking why He is putting me through this again. God spoke to me and said to trust Him. Everything was going to be ok. And then having to go through all those same emotions two more times was more than I thought I could bear.

Looking back now asking God again what was the purpose for that? At this point I don't have an answer, but I know and trust Him that it was for a good reason. I hope that what I went through can someday benefit somebody. As I'm lying here in my bed, holding Elizabeth in one hand and talking while I dictate to Joy I'm happy to have them in my life. I'm lying here trying to figure out how all this relates to Allison. The only thing I can think of is that hopefully someday my story will help somebody, like yours is helping other people.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Journey: How Do You Find Peace?

My husband is the kind of man who walks through Walmart singing his favorite Frank Sinatra songs without the slightest idea anyone notices. He processes things externally, and his prayers are straightforward conversations with God about whatever is on his mind at the moment. As he found his way through grief, one of the tools most helpful was worship. At any given moment of the day or night, he might be heard singing old hymns, contemporary praise choruses, or “Jesus Loves Me” with tears rolling down his cheeks.

After those first few days home as I regained the power to be alone, I found his tool one that calmed my desperately frayed nervous system. The song that I most often turned to goes like this:

I worship you, Almighty God.
There is none like you.
I worship you, O Prince of Peace.
That is what I want to do.

I give you praise
For you are my righteousness.
I worship you, Almighty God.
There is none like you.

There is none like you.
No one else can touch my heart like you do.
I could search throughout eternity long
And find there is none like you.

I seldom made it past the second line before choking on tears, but somehow the act of looking beyond myself, of acknowledging that I had no idea how to bear such pain, how to understand what had happened, brought peace. It was a choice. I didn’t always feel like it, but those moments of worship kept me afloat when the grief wrapped around my feet and threatened to pull me under like dead weight.

Eventually peace would return and I could go on.

I carried a picture in my mind of coming to an altar, like one an old testament priest might use to offer a lamb or a dove. And on it, I laid my pain, my grief, my tears.

Some might question this image. In fact it brings up questions for me even now. Had God required some almighty sacrifice from me? Had he taken Allison? Why was this thing required of me, of my family? And there are always those ready to hand out judgment, like Job’s friends, saying this was God’s punishment. They might not say it to your face, but the whispers get back to you.

I wish I had answers for all those questions. I can only tell you that, both then and now, I chose to believe God was good, that he loved me, that he cared about this pain, and that he understood, even though I didn’t.

It gave me a place for the pain. It honored the suffering. It ushered peace into my soul. And that was enough.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Poetry Friday: My Journey: Allison

Our Poetry Friday host today is April Halprin Wayland aTeaching Authors. Take the time to stop by and read some of the wonderful poetry that passes through the Kidslitosphere.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been telling the story of my journey through grief many years back when I lost a child to a full-term stillbirth. Writing the posts this week has been a little harder as I have allowed myself to remember the pain. Grief is cyclical. We grieve until we find peace, then we go on living until some random event opens the door to that tender spot, and we grieve again. Learning to grieve well means finding a way to place that pain in the arms of God and find the peace and the energy to choose life in the face of that loss.

I was invited to see “Steel Magnolias” last weekend at our community theater. I was hesitant to go. Allison died in 1985. “Steel Magnolias,” the movie came out in 1989. I was totally unprepared for the climax and sat sobbing my heart out in the middle of the theater. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go see it again while I was writing through this. But I went. As much out of curiosity as anything else. How would I respond?

There was some sadness. I wiped a tear that rolled down my cheek. The next day I sat down and wrote this week’s posts. Perhaps giving myself that opportunity to feel sad made it harder to write. Perhaps it made the writing better. I don’t know, she says laughing to herself. Somehow, it just had to be part of the process.

I wrote this poem over the period of a few months toward the end of 2008. I remember that same sense of opening myself to the remembered pain. Not really present pain any more, but remembered pain. Remembered with some sadness. Remembered with some joy, knowing how that journey changed me. Remembering the healing that finally came.

I’m not finished with the story yet, but I needed to remember those last things today. Maybe you do, too.


Skin, stretched membrane thin,
refuses an answer.  Where
is the bony heel?
Her fingers question,
restless across her belly.

Head pressed to the frozen pane,
she stares into the silent
night, pondering
the child.

Ten fingers and toes,
each tipped by a tiny nail,
she strokes them gently so
they lay curled across her thumb.
Wisps of brown hair stand on end,
lips curved in a half-smile,
lashes and brows rest on closed lids-
perfect, but for breath.

She flinches at the odor of ashes.
From the kitchen counter,
an open cookbook mocks her.
Someone moved the cradle.
She breathes a silent thank you,
a silent curse,
and avoids the yellow blanket.

The impulse to hurl a dish
grows with each plate, saucer, bowl,
until she reaches the cup.
The impact shatters
the fragile thing.
Coffee, half-drunk,
pools on the floor
where she crumples
amid the shards,
pulls the blanket to her chest,
and moans herself a lullaby.

Give the sculptor no tool
to free the stone-bound pieta.

Bind the singer.
Leave him gagged,

engorged in silent song.
Deny the painter his palette.

Cuff his hands while he mourns
the interrupted canvas, and images bleed,

ignored, on the floor.
Then watch him grieve,

like a childless mother
who cups her breasts,

hands taut against fevered glands
that run with milky tears.

Bare wood awaits
a ram, or a heifer.
Maybe a pigeon from the poorest -
those blessed ones who see God.
She is blind,
drawn to a bare altar
by the odor of burning myrrh
with nothing to offer
but questions
and pain.

Take off your shoes.
The ground here is holy.

A high place
demands she climb the face,
risk an uncertain step,
scale the crag,
shout her name to the wind,
reach out her hand,
spread her fingers,
grasp the ribbon of cloud,
claim the mountain.

Wind shimmers through falling leaves.
Oak and aspen raise
silent limbs
toward an indigo sky.
The clouds open.
She stands on tiptoe
and strains to reach the edge of night,
to see beyond the reach of sky
over the rim of here
into after.

© Doraine Bennett, 2009
Published in the Birmingham Arts Journal