If Wishes Were Horses…

There are times when grief feels selfish. Today for instance, on the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing. It feels like an act of selfishness to even admit that I associate the holidays with her death, and that such an association leaves me feeling conflicted. Or off-kilter.

Sleep escapes me, as does heavy-hearted sorrow. After seven years, there is more of a numbness, or worse, an emptiness in that space that she occupied. I keep her last voicemails on my phone and listen to them from time to time. It makes me smile when she says, “This is your mom” as if somehow I wouldn’t know that already.

Last week I taught my own grandson one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “If wishes were horses frogs wouldn’t bump their bums on the ground all the time.” (Mama actually said “asses” but I cleaned it up before passing it along). Sawyer thought that was a pretty funny thing to say. He kept repeating it throughout the day, although, I am pretty sure he is too young to even understand what it all means.

My husband’s father died a few months ago. We keep a favorite photo of him by the front door, along with one of Tim, one of my Dad and several of  former president Barack Obama. These photos serve as reminders of what it means to be a dignified people who act out of kindness and compassion and service to others.

People wear grief differently. Some flaunt it. Others use it to wrap themselves in it. Some are discreet about it, wearing it like a common lapel pin. My husband doesn’t mention missing his dad, although I know he does. This is one of the parts of Christianity that I find most baffling, the part where everyone is supposed to be happy that their loved one is out of pain and with Jesus. Healed. Whole. I never have been able to grasp that concept. I like having those I love here with me, healed and whole.

Dying seems like a pretty awful way to become healed.

My nephew’s boy woke up Christmas morning in terrible pain. He’s six, so you can imagine how terrifying it was to see this unusually active and happy boy in such pain. He was transported by ambulance to a regional Children’s hospital, where it was discovered he had a twisted intestine. This is not how anyone wants to spend their Christmas, and certainly not any child.

We got a text asking us to pray that the procedures to fix him would work – they inflate the bowel, hoping that it will untangle itself – otherwise he would need surgery. His own father has been dealing with a bout of pneumonia, so it’s not like this sweet family hasn’t had their share of health issues as of late. Thankfully, after two attempts the procedure worked. They were able to check out of the hospital before midnight.

My friend Joe isn’t so fortunate. His young grandson was diagnosed with a virulent brain cancer this weekend. He’s had surgery and doctors are hopeful they got all of the tumor but not all is healed yet.

My friend Don lost his mother two days ago. My friend Allison lost her dad a week ago, and her husband is facing health challenges. One friend lost her son a couple of months ago. My friend Bob passed away. His wife is lost without him.  Another friend is tending daily to her dying husband. Another beautiful friend died of flu complications. On and on it has gone in 2019. The loss. The pain. The grief.

Meanwhile the US has separated and imprisoned more migrant children in 2019 than ever before.

It’s difficult to grieve my own mother when babies and toddlers have been taken from nursing mothers and shipped off far far away. It is difficult to allow myself to miss my mother when I never, not one day in my life, was forcibly removed from her. Not until her death, a forcible separation I could not prevent.

There’s a guilt that shadows my grief this season. A guilt that tells me I should just be happy about all the years we had together, rather than grieve those that we don’t. There’s also a guilt because I am selfish enough that I would rather have my mother and my father-in-law here and healed than way over Jordan walking with Jesus.

Judge me if you like. That’s your call.

My friend Connie died of breast cancer in 2009. I think of her most everyday, usually while remembering some wise thing she said. Lately the thing that sticks with me most is when she said she couldn’t stand to see anyone she loved in pain, then abruptly correcting herself, Connie remarked that she couldn’t stand to see even those she didn’t know in pain.

I laughed when she told that to me. It was so her. Such an honest statement of empathy – this ability to carry the cross of another, to shoulder their pain as if it were our own. Connie lived her life shouldering the hurts of others, putting aside her own pains in the process.  Her husband sent photos of the grandkids in his Christmas card. I feel guilt that this friend I grieve so much never got to be with her grandbabies. I don’t care how much a person loves Jesus – and Connie did – missing out on being with your grandchildren is a sorrow I imagine even the dead know.

When my in-laws left for the mission field in Ecuador all those years ago, their own children were very young. It had upset my husband’s grandfather so much that his son was taking his grandchildren to a foreign land that the old farmer seriously considered hiring a lawyer to stop his son and daughter-in-law from taking his grandchildren so far away.

I think of Grandpa Z whenever I hear stories of the Border children. I can only imagine how much the grandparents of migrant children grieve. When their sons and daughters return to Guatemala or Ecuador empty-handed, their children in the custody of the US Federal Government, I wonder how these grandparents sleep. If they sleep at all.

And I think about the guilt these grieving parents must shoulder. How they must blame themselves for trying to seek a better life in America.

Guilt and grief can get all twisted up like an intestine, causing us to fall to our knees and holler out in deep pain.

The question that remains is what is the fix for this?

How do we heal the hurting?

Karen Spears Zacharias is an author and thinker who will Vote Blue in 2020, no matter who.







Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


AF Roger

about 3 years ago

What is the fix for this? I don't know and have stopped looking for one. Instead, I now ask a different question: How do I respond? That's a question we, all of us, get to answer 24/7. One of the ways I get to respond is by bleeding. It started in the Air Force. During the year of training that followed basic, one of the ways we could get out of monthly parade drills was to donate blood at the Red Cross. Stationed overseas for more than 2-1/2 years, I bled another way. "Bleeding" was what we called the constant sleep deprivation that stalked us as we worked an endlessly rotating shift cycle that advanced by 8 hours every four days. Four swings, 24 off, four mids, 24 off, four days, 96 off, start all over again. Those bloody mid-shifts were the worst, attempting to stay awake and alert in a comm center filled with electronics and miles of wire as we watched for threats to us and our allies from the Soviet bloc. Up here in Oregon now for going on 42 years, I took up bleeding again, the whole red stuff for years. About a decade ago, I switched to apheresis, the process of extracting blood platelets and fluid that look like weak tea in a bag. Tomorrow AM will be donation number 159. Ask any cancer chemo patient what a difference they make, and what it's like to have to wait because platelets are always in short supply. It's a 24/7 emergency.... On the morning of Christmas Eve, I emailed my still living college fraternity brothers several photos I came across from evening study break during finals week in late May 1966. We were Freshmen, age 19. What is frozen on the photo taken "back then" was the "now" of 53 years ago. Our hearts were beating and our lungs were breathing, each event the "now" of life, which is all we ever have. The apheresis process takes 3 hours from start to finish, a bit over two of it on the machine. Most donors watch a movie. I don't. I read. I think. I meditate and pray for the recipients I will never meet whose entire extended families have been invaded by the trauma of cancer. I chat with the very kind and marvelous staff who work in this center that also runs 7 days a week. Just like that comm center I once worked in when I was young. Whatever else hurts, and plenty does these days in heart and mind, I still get to bleed. I can still do this. What a privilege and a blessing. Someday, there's a very good chance that I, too, will transition from donor to recipient. Then, too, I will have an opportunity to respond. I will be able to pray for the donors, and potential donors whose names and stories I will never know. That's how I will live in that now, if and when it comes. For now, I know how I will live in the now that begins at 7:15 AM tomorrow morning. I get to bleed. It just may crack open the door of healing for two recipients. If that's not grace, I don't know what is. Peace!


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 3 years ago

And now, it looks as though the demand for blood will increase, both from our government, and from the Red Cross. Same drum of war, different verse.


AF Roger

about 3 years ago

Agreed. Over the holidays since they also brought me yet another birthday and the two of us our 49th wedding anniversary, I dug out the Kodak Carousel slide projector and boxes and boxes of slides. We began our married life together in a tiny third floor apartment in a seaside town in the Republic of Turkey in 1971. Except when I was on duty, most of our time was spent off base. For most of our 2-1/2 years there, we were the only Americans living in our building. I look back at those photos with some nostalgia, of course. Our town had everything we needed to live, albeit to a bit different standard than what most Americans were accustomed to (the food, fruit and produce were MUCH better!). But there were other things in this town where there was no TV and no one had phones. We saw neighbors who knew neighbors and talked to each other daily from one apartment balcony to another or through kitchen windows that opened into the inside stairwell. On buses, minibuses and ferries, we saw people busily chatting or reading the newspaper, not in self-imposed exile of a glowing screen. On summer evenings, whole families--mom, dad, kids and babies in strollers--would be out on the streets for a stroll or gathered together in outdoor cafes to chat and play dominoes. All were dressed nicely, no logos or in-your-face statements on their garments. Each April, the whole town would turn out for National Children's Day when school kids would parade in new suits and dresses or traditional costumes of Turkey's past. No one carried firearms. No one had to be afraid. Unlike so many places in the world where large numbers of American military personnel were stationed, our town had not been corrupted by rows of seedy bars and brothels. Not a one. Our Muslim neighbors and hosts were quite the tutorial on "values". Our town and the culture probably came closer to "the American Dream"--whatever that is--than anything we have ever seen in this country since then. Here's what troubles me most today. If I were to ask 500 Americans what history altering event took place in Iran in 1953, I'd be surprised if even 3 could say what that was. Likewise, if I were to ask what role the U.S. was playing in the fate of Iran and Iraq in the 1980's, I wonder if anyone would know. How much of the tragically muddled mess that the Middle East is today has our misguided fingerprints all over it? How much of our doings there have made things worse, not better? How can we offer anything to the word if a truth and reconciliation process for us is impossible and such a thing as repentance is categorically unthinkable--especially at the highest levels of our government? I've been struggling with where to fix the date that America ceased to think. On this particular morning 1965 seems as good as anywhere. And to paraphrase British economic historian R. H. Tawney's observation of the church in the 17th century, "The nation that ceases to think ceases to count." Except in the worst way. We could have and should have been making such vastly different choices in the world for decades. Father, forgive us, for we know not what the heck we are doing.


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