I See Dead People

The last two weeks might have made a good movie. I celebrated two graduations, a wedding, a funeral, a birthday party, and Memorial Day. You’d think a title like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL would have come to mind, but instead, I found myself stuck in THE SIXTH SENSE movie, brooding, “I see dead people.”

What gives?

I See Dead People - THE SIXTH SENSE

I guess I need to cut myself some slack.  I’d hit a physical brick wall, driving 2,670 miles in ten days through Minnesota rain, South Dakota hail, Wyoming wind, and Montana snow — then back again. That coupled with the emotional fatigue of saying “good-bye” (for now) to my sister made me see the world temporarily shadowed by the dark cloud of negativity inside me.  I was hypersensitive to:

  • flat-emotioned parents watching their kids at the motel swimming pool,
  • zombie-looking youth shuffling down the sidewalk,
  • cranky waitresses watching the clock.

I wanted to shake these dead people to say, “Wake up!”, but I didn’t have the strength.

Behind this urge, I really wanted to shake my sister.  I wanted her to wake up.

As I analyze this cloud, I can shoo it away and recognize the dead person in the mirror — nose out of joint from that brick wall — too fatigued to interact — too jet lagged or self-absorbed to really “be there”.  Without the despair and self-pity of my dark cloud, I have the wherewithal to look outside of myself.  When I move my gaze from self to others, I see how positive conversation, a smile, or a big tip can bring the dead to life – in the giver and the receiver.

I can also reflect upon and appreciate the hospitality, love, and humor of my family and others.  There were so many shining examples of life lived well during this adventure:

  • My niece, “the cheerleader”, shared grief, love,and loss with me and her siblings over the telephone. Then she urged us to move forward and celebrate each other. Ta-Wanda!
  • A graduate’s father’s blue eyes twinkled in response to a compliment. “Clean livin’ — that’s why I look so good. Clean livin’.” Liars can be so charming.
  • A mourning Coast Guard master chief stepped out of his comfort zone to memorialize his mother/my deceased sister with the bronze star of motherhood. Aww. How she must cherish the honor.

In the sunshine of hope, I can hold to the promise of life after death.  My sister doesn’t need to be shook out of that urn full of dust.  She’s awake and more alive and beautiful than ever.

FishingWhen I lower memory’s gaze I see life lived extravagantly — in the joy, abandon, love, curiosity, and hope of children.  They’ve mastered the present — in freely given smiles, all-out tackling welcomes, birthday candles, garden tractor rides, messy bowls of salsa, and red fishing poles.

WaterslideIn the shiny, tan walls of a fiberglass water slide my own life-filled reflection pleasantly startled me — urged up winding stairs by the exuberant, shorter reflection of my grandson.  He showed me I could love better with green chlorine hair. The pleasure of holding him  close through the twists and turns of each exhilarating  plunge far overshadowed my anxiety over racoon/mascara eyes.

This is why I find so much satisfaction in writing and reading children’s books. The characters teach us how to look outside of ourselves and live.

If you see dead people today; give them your smile, an all-out tackling welcome, or a big tip. If those methods don’t bring life to them and you — I know of an invigorating water slide…

To Barbara, With Love


Click either photo for Barbara’s tribute video.  (Change the tab from 720p to 360p for easier download.) Her family chose “Jackson” as her opening song because of her passionate love affair with her husband, Warren.  They did get married in a fever.  As you can see, Barbara was/is the beautiful sister. All four of us girls worked in the same restaurant, but not at the same time. Even though I waitressed almost 20 years after Barbara, people would always say, “Is Barbara your sister? She’s SO beautiful.”

I’m typing this from a motel room in Spearfish, SD, en route to the funeral of my sister, Barbara, in Missoula, MT.  She passed away on Thursday, May 16, 10 p.m.  My husband and I were packing the car for a trip to Spearfish for a family graduation and the wedding of a friend, when we received the news that she would not likely survive the week.  Over the years, her health had deteriorated to the point where we knew it would be only a matter of time.  The news allowed me to pack a few more clothes and today I’m ten hours closer to a new 20 hour destination. As usual, God’s timing was perfect.

As the youngest child of nine (eleven, if you count my siblings lost to miscarriage), I selfishly felt that I was given less than favorable odds of not having to watch my siblings leave earth — one-at-a-time. I’ve thought how much it will stink to be the last one standing — to struggle through life alone. Barbara is already the fourth (or sixth) to go.  I feel happy for Barbara and strangely peaceful.  After all, there are 101 Reasons to Celebrate.  This world isn’t the last stop of the journey.  It’s merely a training ground for the next adventure.

Lucky for the world, Barbara’s greatest accomplishments were the Barbarachildren, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren she left behind.  They are a living testament to her compassion, humor,  idiosyncrasies, curiosity, generosity, faith, hope, and love.  In light of that, I realize she hasn’t really left any of us alone.  The best of her remains — and will to the end of time.  We just need to appreciate what/who we have.

I’d better expand that Reasons to Celebrate list.

Thanks, Sis!  I love you!  See you tomorrow, in the faces of your progeny.

What if I stumble?

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Preface to “What if I Stumble” by DC Talk

Click image for "What If I Stumble" by DC Talk Youtube Video

Click image for “What If I Stumble” by DC Talk YouTube Video

So, I ask my friend, “When you’re driving and a car pulls in front of you, do you ever speed up to make them think they might not make it in time and then drive really close to their bumper just to scare them a little?”

“Oh, no, I’d never do that,” she says.

“Me, neither,” I say.

I  should probably remove the fish sticker from my car. It’s not effective advertising. My flawed character often does more harm than good toward promoting a patient and merciful God.

A pastor friend offered strange comfort.  He shared that being a fisher of men is sometimes a stinky job — that serving the church is often “more like working in a fish-cleaning shack than a seafood restaurant.”

He reminded me that it’s God’s job to clean the “catch”, but He doesn’t always clean us immediately — before things get smelly.  He said it’s easy to mistakenly assume that church is a refuge for perfect fillets, but you won’t find them there — or anywhere.  We’re all on the same journey where everyone needs continual cleaning — but we can’t clean ourselves.  He added that church provides the best scale removal opportunities through the supernatural grace that comes from the sacraments, prayer, worship, study, and fellowship.  And, the cleaning service is free.

My reverend friend was confronted by an angry man who said he never went to church because it was full of hypocrites. The pastor replied, “Oh no, it isn’t full.  We can always hold one more.”

Seems there’s room in the net for everyone–even for stinky, crazy, tailgating grandmas.

Meaty Girl

The cheery chiropractor chattered ceaselessly while kneading the muscles by my spine.  He rarely demanded a reply, so I serenely streamed in and out of consciousness — until I heard the words: “meaty girl.”

My head shot up like he’d dropped a popsicle on a backside crevice.  He gently pushed my head back into the breathing hole in the table. “My, but you got tense all of a sudden.  Relax.”

Too late.  There would be no more relaxing.  I rattled my brain to recall how he used the words in his sentence:

  • “You don’t sweat bad for a meaty girl.” ?
  • “Meaty girl, remind me to put ham and Pillsbury dough on my grocery list.” ?
  • “I need a meaty girl like you on my bowling/mud wrestling team.” ?

Here’s the problem: I’m the opposite of an anorexic.  Instead of being a skinny girl who thinks she’s meaty.  I’m a meaty girl who thinks I’m skinny.  No, I don’t have bigorexia, where I obsess about being small.  Instead, I buy sweaters that fit me twenty pounds ago; then when I see myself on a video, I say, “Hey, that meaty girl has a pink sweater just like mine!”

It’s a denial thing.

My illusion could be caused by the full length mirror in our bedroom.  It’s tipped back so I look two feet taller.  Also, whenever I sit, I strategically fold my arms or a place a child on my lap, to hide the blubber cascading over the waistband of my pants.

I try to work out three and a half minutes every day, but my husband rarely sees the evidence.  One day, between bites of Doritos, he said, “I bet you could run all of the way to the mailbox and back.”

I smiled, thinking, “You condescending so-and-so.  You must think I’m an out-of-shape meaty girl.”

So, the next day I ran to the mailbox.  I only walked part of the way back.  Then I paced around in the garage awhile to get my breathing under control.

I’m going to blame this extra padding on eleven months of Minnesota winter, then do what I do every year during my 30 days of get-in-shape weather.  For one whole Saturday morning I’ll morph into a Flashdance maniac, (the Chris Farley version), exercising every muscle known to womankind.

The remainder of the month, I’ll baby my shocked body parts and announce, “I’d lift weights, but they’re so heavy.”

Mother’s Day weekend brings the city-wide garage sales. My mission: Find a $2.50 undersized sweater — purple this time — for the all-beef, especially saucy,  girl with the cellulite buns — you know — the meaty girl in the video.