Very early on Tuesday morning, I am going to have my right knee replaced. I'm as surprised as anybody. I've had trouble walking for a while now, but a total knee replacement? Really?
(I can hear Linda's brain ticking through the list of surprises she didn't realize she was saying "I do" to on November 1, 1991. And here's the miracle of growing old(er) with someone ~ "the hits just keep coming...love you, honey.)
13 years ago I was playing on a women's softball team (what was the name of it, Bets? All you ever remind me is that I talked you into playing for "sister time," and I went on the D.L. during the first game). Don't remember the score, but do remember there were two outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd. "Just drive it to right field and outrun the ball to first base and two runs ought to cross the plate." And sure enough (memory has it that) a pitch came on the outside part of the place and I shifted my feet just a bit to punch it into right. To do that I brought my right leg back and shifted my front leg forward. And wham! [To this day, not sure if it was the ball sailing out to right EXACTLY where'd I'd planned, and the meniscus in my right knee popping.] I limped on down to first - "safe" and then limped on over to the dug-out. And with that my softball days were done.
We didn't know until the surgery that my meniscus had popped and taken a bit of my kneecap with it (I remember in the recovery room, the doc holding what looked like the state of Iowa in my face...turned out it wasn't Iowa, it was a part of me...). "You'll have some arthritis in that knee and eventually it'll probably need to be replaced, but for now you're good to go."
Fast forward: over the past 5 years I've had some trouble with my lungs and infections (someday, I'll tell you about the damn hospice rabbit, but that's another story) and I've been on steroids off and on most of that time. It turns out steroids are the magic bullet for my lungs AND my right knee. After the sinus surgery in March (thank you, God and Dr. Chin) I've been healthier (read: less steroids). And with that came more walking, and now (wait for it) my right knee is killing me. Trip to the knee folks (thank you Peachtree Orthaepedic Clinic) and it brings me to this tender good-bye.
Very early on Tuesday morning, I am going to have my right knee replaced. [7:30 am EST for all who would offer a prayer or two with my deep thanks]. Hospital for 3 or 4 or 5 days, home health for a week or so and then rehab for 2-8 weeks.
All these days of wondering and wandering in my head as I play this out, has made me very nostalgic and thankful.
From my first steps until this day, I've led with my right. This knee has walked on hikes at Girl Scout camps in Indiana, California, and Arkansas. It's walked the dogs with Dad and our boys. It's walked beaches from coast to coast and then some. It's rambled Granddaddy's orange groves playing hide and seek with Claud and Bets. It's played some pretty good tennis, and guided me toward my lifeguarding certification. It's squatted more times than I want to remember as I caught softball and motored around the bases with a grand slam or two. It's walked me down the aisle with Linda. It walked the floors with each of our baby boys on those early mornings when they would have rather cried than slept. It's walked many a Saturday morning to sit at Booth 25 and on weekend afternoons walking around the neighborhood listening to the Braves on the radio. It's knelt with me for my ordination and at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It's brought me from there to here.
I want to say something profound and meaningful. It's served me well, even when / especially when it hurt to do so. And so, old friend I am mindful today and into tomorrow that we are fearfully and wonderfully part. As Mom said so beautifully, "The fearfully part (about the surgery and recovery and rehab) ~ I got. I'm interested," she said, "in the wonderfully part."
So thank you, and here's to all that's waiting ~ just around the bend.
From the first time we met Emma, it was all about her tail.
On the day we adopted her from the Humane Society, we actually went looking for someone else. Brogan had his heart set on growing up with a particular kind of canine, “I want a golden retriever puppy, so she can sleep at the foot of my bed and we can grow up together.” There wasn’t a golden available on the day the family went, and 7 year old Brogan’s heart seemed about to break. He walked just about every dog in the place and none of them captured his heart. After a while he joined me on a bench in the courtyard with head hung low.
Right about then a van pulled up having been at an Adoption Day at a Pet Smart or someplace and the three dogs who weren’t chosen exited. I nudged Brogan and tried to say something encouraging. When I looked back at the dogs, one dog sat with her back to us. It was her tail I saw first. It was the most beautiful tail I had ever seen. It was as long as the dog was tall. The tail was woven blond and red and copper. I’d never seen anything like it. I nudged Brogan again, he looked at her and agreed, it was a beautiful tail. When I asked the volunteer walking her back into the kennel about the dog, she said, “Her name is Emma. She’s a red-boned coonhound, pit bull. She’s our smartest dog.” Brogan went over to her and she became his dog.
As she grew up her tail changed colors and Emma merged into a body of blondish, copperish, brown. It happened slowly and we never really noticed.
It was her tail that became her identifier, it was her most effective communication tool. That tail let us know where she was in the room whenever one of her people entered. Thump. Thump. Thump. That tail let us know when she agreed with a suggestion, “Wanna go for a walk?” “Wanna go for a ride?” Her tail told us when we made her heart happy. Her tail was stronger than anything I’d ever known – it could wipe out whatever was on the coffee table and whack, whack, whack you on the leg, immediately getting your full attention.
We gathered round her one last time this afternoon. She had developed a tumor on her back leg and treatment was not possible. Sarge (Emma's favorite person after us) was with us. Our vet, Dr. J. who has long-known Emma, came to the house to put her to sleep. She did not go quietly into the good night, and although it wasn't how we'd hoped, she was strong. She had a big, big heart. And she fiercely loved her family. She truly didn't want to leave us. Her spirit was just not enough, and we tenderly let it go.
We thank you Emma for
- being fiercely loyal, especially to Brogan and Sam
- growing up with Brogan and being his most enthusiastic fan
- teaching Sam how to pace himself in long-distance running (Sam was usually the first one out the back door, following after her when she was busting loose down the driveway and beyond)
- loving Linda more than your natural instincts of eating the chickens in the backyard
- taking (read: pulling) me on hundreds walks
- teaching K'bu to love and trust us
- all the rides through the neighborhood in the car
- being such a great watchdog. Even when Dr J came this afternoon to help you pass over, you hobbled, barking to the door to let us know someone was here
- teaching us not to judge a book by its cover ("pit bull" used to be an intimidating image until we met you)
Grace upon grace to you, sweet girl. You companioned us lovingly and left way too soon. Please pass along our love to Maddie and Buzz when you see them. You will always be in our hearts, sweet girl.
[thanks Linda and Susie for collecting the pictures]
Psalm 119: 105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (NIV)
There are days like this…days that just go wrong and I end up getting in my own way. Maybe it’s because I’m tired or anxious; maybe I’m angry or resentful. These snags catch me and I get tangled up and feel as though going back to bed might be the best possible solution…but the reality is ~ going back to bed isn’t always possible.
Grief is a part of life. Losing loved ones is one of the many kinds of grief we experience. Losing hopes and dreams is another. Losing our sense of self and feeling like there is no longer a “true north” guiding us home is another kind of grief. These feelings of being lost in the world can sneak up on us, can overpower us, can snag our spirits.
What can help us get un-snagged? What can bring us balance?
This verse from Psalm 119 gives me an image for finding my way back…a lamp, a light. Breath prayers are helpful ways for me to un-snag. Breathing in and breathing out while focusing on a few words or a phrase, un-sag my wandering spirit more often than not and I find that these words companion me back.
When I feel this snagging happening, it is helpful for me to stop….put both feet on the floor….roll my shoulders….and then try to find words that connect me with something greater than myself. When I have done this preparing thing, then I begin to breath in and out, speaking connecting-words, centering-words. Slowly, gently I am brought back to a place of balance. What has snagged me becomes secondary to what is guiding and leading me.
Snags are emotional distractions. They drag me along so that I find myself reacting to things that come my may. Snags waste focus and energy. Give us a word, loving God. Send us a light, Gracious Healer so that we might come back to who we are and begin again to make our way toward healing.
Breath prayer: “a light” “on my path”
Holy and loving God, your grace is greater than our fear. We give thanks for these words that serve as a lighthouse for generations of your children. Your words are lamps for us, leading us toward healing and hope, reminding us of faith and of focus. Guide us and in those times when we lose our way. May there be mercy and grace enough for holding on and letting go. Amen.
One of the chapters I'm working on for my book: Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the moon for 29 Days
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.