Thursday, July 7, 2011

Abi Ponders the Circle of Life....

Quite a lot has happened since last I posted....

I am a great-aunt for the 10th time -- and little Wesley Carter Ahlberg and his parents are doing great.  It was good to see them in their fun home in San Diego.  Before long Jeff will have a harness made for Nukie, their enormous white Alaskan Malamut, and baby Wesley will be ready to learn mushing (on wheels, of course -- no snow in SD).   :^)   Even though it was technically "against the 2 weeks of rest" rule, they braved the trip to Fullerton what was a very eventful weekend.

I have a new niece-in-law!  Steve and Merrilee Sandy's wedding was lovely ... even if we didn't get that their little ring bearer was dressed up as Frodo with Steve's ring on a chain around his neck -- and walked down the aisle to the Hobbit's melody from LOTR....  The rehearsal dinner and reception was lots of fun and Alexander had a grand time soaking up as much hang time with his cousins as possible.

But the most ... well, I don't have the proper word to describe it ... profound will have to work ... the most profound experience of this past month has been experiencing the passing of my father, Gene S. Carter, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
All the family was already planning to be in town for the wedding on Saturday, June 25th, so it made sense to plan for his memorial service for Sunday afternoon, June 26th.  On the one hand it was the right thing to do so quickly and efficiently.  On the other hand, it was a whirlwind of a weekend!  I know that there were those who would have wanted to attend but just didn't get the word in time.  That's just the way it goes, eh?

The experience was much like a wedding, in fact -- you are aware of lots of people around, but you don't seem to be able to get to talk with everyone and the memories are a little fuzzy.  But the service itself was just about perfect.  My sister, Becky, had apparently been working on it for about 5 weeks.  It showed.

Dad loved to sing ... and we did a lot of singing.  But the best singing was the Men's Ensemble -- two of Dad's favorites directed by Becky and sung by his only son, two of his many "honorary sons", three sons-in-law and five grandsons.  Dad would have said "that was just marvelous" ... and he would have been right.  My firstborn doesn't do a lot of singing, but he has a lovely bass and it was a very moving experience for him to be able to participate.

* * * * * * *

The mystery of blending loss and gain, grief and joy, tears and laughter, holding on and letting go is beyond profound.  The slowly spreading awareness of the loss of Dad's presence is deeply profound for me.  I can only imagine how it is for my Mom -- his beloved wife and companion and partner in ministry for 64 years.

For each of us who loved Gene Carter there is a deep sense of gratitude to God -- for Dad's life, his ministry, his generosity, his servant-leadership, his wonderful preaching, his effective way of teaching in so many different venues (church, college, Lions, camp, business, community, relationally).  He was a fiercely loyal man -- a trusted and valued friend and ally who seemed to be able to move heaven and earth with a phone call ... and a force to be reckoned with for those who harmed or hampered those he loved.  Sometimes he could have used a little tempering of that ferociousness....

Dad had a few "wishes" about his death:  to precede his wife and children, to not linger -- especially not to prolong his death with heroic measures (he was ready to meet Jesus), and to be clear-minded and "present" until the end.  Well, he got two out of three ... because the Parkinson's disease that impaired the use of his muscles took his ability to be "present" with those he loved long before his strong, healthy body wore out.

When I saw him last summer, communication was so challenging for him.  Some good moments in the midst of significant disorientation.  It was frustrating beyond measure for this dynamic communicator to be excluded from life in such a cruel way.  In one of those few clear moments, we had a great talk.  We shared our gratitude for having been able to work together at University Christian Church, Long Beach First Christian Church, but especially in the Degree Completion Program at the college; for sharing the joy of preaching and teaching -- and especially of interim ministry at the Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana on Maui; and most of all for the blessing of working together on his book -- and finishing it just in time to distribute it to his children and grandchildren at the family reunion honoring their 60th Anniversary. 

He had a blast with his book -- sending it to all his siblings and nieces and nephews and friends from churches and work places and Lions.  He took one last trip to his hometown of Springfield, IL for the Carter Thanksgiving Reunion and had a great time.  His last time of speaking in public came during a luncheon in his honor in December of 2007.  As a result of reading his book, the president at HIU realized that Dad's influence at the college/university over the previous 35 years had been profound -- and he resolved that Dad would be honored at the mid-year commencement with the Founder's Award -- HIU's highest honor.  While he declined to say anything upon receiving the award, he did say a few words of thanks to those at the luncheon.  He rose to the occasion and left us laughing and wiping our eyes.  He was diagnosed with Parkinson's the following spring...but he had already tied up all the loose ends of his life. 

The mystery of the Severe Mercy (what C. S. Lewis called the death of the wife of a friend:  as severe as death; as merciful as love) engulfed my Dad -- and those who loved him -- in the four years that followed his diagnosis.  As severe as the decline into isolation (unable to converse freely) but as merciful as the love of Mom and family and friends -- as his Savior -- surrounding him all the way to the end.

He looked at me on one "good" day last July -- what turned out to be the last time I saw him -- and said: "I'm ready to go."  I said: "I know you are, Dad."  It would be 11 more months before his name was called....  It was a great encouragement when Mom told me that Dad frequently browsed through his book this last year.

I believe that Dad was "present" down the stretch at the end of his Race.  He came out of the fog of disorientation and realized it was time to go on to the next stage in his journey.  In those last two weeks, as he closed his eyes and seemed oblivious to his surroundings (seemed is an important word here) and his family, I felt like his spirit was growing stronger as his body grew weaker.  He was completely calm -- no agitation or restlessness.  He was moving deeper into the mystery of the Dance -- the interpenetrating reality of Life In God.  He was living less and less in Chronos and more and more in Kairos time.

I do not understand the mysteries of loss and grief ... but I am beginning to sense -- at least for me -- that it contains a wee bit of "green" longing ... for Dad has moved from faith to sight.  For those of us who are already in Christ but not yet present with Christ, our lives are profoundly changed by Dad's absence.  After a while I know my mourning will be turned into dancing ... because I know I will meet Dad in the great Dance -- in a very already-but-not-yet way.

I am confident that I will be pondering this for some time to come ... and that I will be forever grateful to be The Youngest of the Youngest.

Be blessed.


Jim said...

My sympathies for the loss of your Dad. Profound is indeed the word when a dear loved one moves on. Having lost my wife six months ago...I'm still trying to navigate through life with my, now inadequate, mental maps of what I took to be reality.

I can also identify with the "green" longing...I'm a bit envious, in a good way of course, of what she (and your Dad) must be experiencing right now...absent from the body, present with the Lord. Our time will indeed come :)

I'm not sure how I made it to your site (of course, I really do), but Thanks for introducing me to the Northumbria Community...I'm very intrigued. Blessings to you!

Janet Woodlock said...

Such a powerful reflection and tribute Peggy... brings tears to my eyes.

There is something about a life lived well in God that changes the world... your dad was one of those world-changers.

Recently, around the time a lady from our church died of cancer, our minister said something like this: "there are worse things than death... like being lost. There are better things than being alive... like being found".

It may have been a quote, but it is so true... death clarifies that which is really important... living faithfully and well and finding our home in God.

Makes us a little more homesick for heaven when someone we love leaves here for there.

May the Spirit of love surround you as you grieve your dad's passing and celebrate his life.

Love in Jesus, Janet

AbiSomeone said...

Welcome, Jim ... the virtual community the Spirit collects has been a great encouragement to me. I am glad to have been able to introduce you to Northumbria. Listening to their sung versions of the Daily Office has been a source of great encouragement and strength leading up to and in the wake of my Dad's death....

Janet ... thank you for your love, sister. I may have to send you something from the service that you might enjoy. Stay tuned....

Blessings, both of you!