To Everything There Is A Season

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” Ecclesiastes 3

It is finally, officially Spring … and not a moment too soon. I’ve been living in a season of sadness lately … a season of funerals. Sometimes, it feels kind of Biblical, Jobian, like I’ve been “walking through the valley of death.” Just when it feels like it’s lifting, another crushing loss comes around.

Years ago, a friend of mine said to me, “I feel like you are always going to baby showers and funerals.” She’s right. The gifts — and challenges — of being part of a big, rambling family is that there is always a lot of a lot. Births, baptisms, First Communions, illness, hospitalizations, funerals, burials. Successes, failures, worries, joys. Like shark teeth, it all just keeps coming and coming and coming.

Living through these funerals recently, it struck me that planning a funeral is like planning a sad wedding in about three days. The flurry of funeral arrangements, preparing for imminent death, worrying about the widow, the widower, the grieving family, family dynamics at play, worries, fears, facing your own mortality, your siblings/parents/friends’ mortality. Feeding people, crying, laughing, gallows humor, crying some more. Keeping the vigil … “Love you … See you on the other side.” Trippy, strange dreams, sleepless nights. Raging against a church that feels cold, difficult. More trippy dreams, loving remembrances, weepy conversations, staring at the ceiling, staring out the window, talking to the dog, rolling this way and that in bed at night. Comfort food, more comfort food, finding sensible shoes for the marathon of an Irish wake, an Irish funeral, finding clothes that fit. And are clean. 

Buying control top pantyhose so that the dress does fit, after eating all that comfort food.

Worrying about the widow, the widower and the grieving family members, who are falling ill from stress and lack of sleep. Getting the antibiotics, calling the doctor, getting the widow to the doctor. “Is she confused from a UTI? Stress?” Keeping the welcome mat open for family members to come, hide, talk, cry, smoke, drink. Keeping the peace. Assembling family photos of the deceased, making sure all families are represented there, figuring out the technical aspects of sharing those photos with guests, making sure the story of the deceased is told well, appropriately, thoroughly, enough. Bringing family home from out of town, home from Europe, leaving time for the relatives from far and wide to come in, to pay respects, to say good bye … The rambling, out-of-body conversations with well-meaning folks. Meeting people that the deceased not only knew, but impacted profoundly. “How is that I’ve never met this person whose life was changed?” Consoling the folks who are there to console you, knowing it’s ok, you’re cried out anyway. For now. Until that one person shows up and starts up the water works again. Worrying that well-meaning folks are tiring at the wake, that we’re taking too long to chat, to greet, to move through the hundreds of people standing for hours. 

Finding the prayers. Sharing The Funeral File for inspiration and ideas from funerals you’ve liked, or planned, before. Organizing the reservations for dinner. Where do we go after the wake? How many people will come? So many out-of-towners. Trying to keep the crowd manageable. Worrying about … everyone. Choosing the casket. Choosing the days, the church, the priests. Tell the nuns, the friends, the neighbors. Write the obit, find the photo for it. Choose an outfit for the burial. Hating that chore, but realizing how important it is. 

Tears, anger, relief, various and different kinds of grief, crying, exasperation, inspiration. Miracles. Cardinals. Meals shared, dropped off, stories of support, love, tenderness, notes, flowers, letters, chocolates. More love. More support. More miracles. More food.

Worrying about robbers and bad guys who prey on houses emptied for funerals and wakes and hoping there is a special place in Hell for them. Worrying about scammers and predators who prey on grieving spouses and families, tricking them into giving donations, gifts, money. Hoping for good weather, knowing that is completely out of your control. Buying the boots, just in case.

Funeral day. Walking the center aisle. Cue the music. The dark suits, the clutched hands and tear stained cheeks, familiar faces in the congregation, the casket, the shroud over top, unfolded with care. The cross placed gently on top, facing the altar. Painstakingly chosen music, readings, readers, eulogies. Blessings, incense. Praying for those giving the eulogies … they nail it. Good job. It all triggers recall of previous funerals, previous tears, Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. The circle getting smaller, tighter, death getting closer. Of course there will be more. Always more funerals. Huddling under the tent at the grave site. Exhaustion.

Finally, the reception, more food. Hell yes, a Bloody Mary. And another. There is laughter, let down, heels kicked off, feet put up on cushioned chairs. It is finished.

And then, a baby toddles by, blissfully unaware of it all. New life. Hope. It will be okay. You will be okay. To everything there is a season.

Rest in peace. We are okay.


Amish Guys Got Swagger

I begrudgingly agreed to my husband’s farm fantasy. I don’t know how it happened, really. We stopped in to look at a farm one day, and as luck would have it, it was one of those magical autumn days in Ohio. As we drove through the gates, rather than seeing steaming piles of God-knows-what, I saw rolling, grassy, well-manicured hills, horses frolicking about. The air was crisp and cool. The sun shimmered on the yellow and orange leaves of the trees. It was breathtaking. It really was.

Ok,” I thought. “You’ve got my attention.”

A four wheeler tour of the property, a glass wine and an al fresco lunch of locally raised pork with salad greens right from the garden … some bids, and counter bids and … boom! We were farm owners. Well, weekend farm owners, really. Because we wanted to stay married and, like I've mentioned before, I'm not Amish, we kept our suburban house. This farm fantasy would only work because we invested in a self sufficient, well run business. We would visit the property on the weekends and such. Like posers, you know.

So, just as I was entering a crossroads in my life, ready to clean out junk drawers in my kitchen and maybe find my "Calling" in there, I found myself building a farm house. My husband, Farmer Brown and I are both from very large families. This adventure would only be fun if we had playmates, so we decided to make room for them by building a house that could hold a sizable group of folks for dinner. (And, ok, a lot of beds because our friends and family like wine and it’s kind of drive to get there.) We interviewed various builders of all stripes and in the end, we chose the Amish guy. Not because he was the cheapest, but quite frankly, because the guy had swagger. He didn’t have zippers or a belt, but he had swagger.

The Amish, guy was actually one of a dynamic duo of brothers. I’ll call them Levi and Uriah because all Amish men are named either Levi or Uriah*. I didn’t know much about the ins and outs of the Amish lifestyle before this, but I was expecting much more quaint, country bumpkin fellows. Not at all the case, as it turns out. Tall, lanky and bearded, Levi was the father of 9 boys. I’m one of 9, so we had some simpatico. Uriah, (“Uri”) was the office guy, very efficient at showing samples of beautiful wood, going over blueprints and roofing materials and closing the deal. Only his bowl haircut gave a hint that he was Amish. I was kind of like, “Are you putting me on? Are you really Amish or is there a Jag out back and scotch in your bottom drawer?” He was legit, though.

Levi was the day-to-day on site guy. He had his own driver, thank you very much, a fine “English” man who drove him anywhere he needed to go because the Amish don’t drive cars. When he would arrive for our weekly meetings he’d amble out of the truck like an underdressed rock star and saunter over to me, a toothpick in his mouth. He had a glint in his eye that said, “Yeah, I’m rocking these overalls and straw hat, lady.” And he did. A handsome devil, I have to say. Not exactly Harrison Ford in “Witness,” but kind of an Amish Michael Keaton, if that makes any sense.

So Levi doesn’t drive, but he and Uri do both use email and cell phones. When I discovered this, I got excited.

"Oh," I said, "Can I share my Pinterest account with you to give you an idea of what we're thinking about?" 

Silence. Farmer Brown looked at me askance, shaking his head.

"No? … Ok, I guess I just ... never mind." 

Hard to know the rules here. In fact, later on in the project when I visited the Amish cabinetmaker they referred me to in the remote back hills of Ohio (surely a cousin, because the Amish are like the Irish that way, keeping things in the family), the office was in a barn with a gaslight hanging from the ceiling, no air conditioning in 100-degree heat … and a desktop computer. What the? 

Anyway, I got comfortable with Levi after a few weeks. When things looked like they were slowing down, I’d playfully punch him in the shoulder … “We’re going to be in by Thanksgiving, right, Levi?”  

“Oh yeah, Miss Mary, we’ll be done by then” he would cockily reply.

I liked the guy so I hoped he wasn’t lying because Farmer Brown, an entrepreneur who doesn’t take BS from anyone, not even a handsome Amish building magnate, had a stopwatch going, and had pulled Levi aside at the beginning of the project, warning him, “I know that all contractors have larceny in their hearts.” Good one, right? “I want you to assure me that this house will be finished and we will be in by Thanksgiving.”  Game on, Levi. One bearded man against another. Farmer Brown was clearly not intimidated by that straw hat.

Uri and Levi were true to their word and, with a flurry of silent, hardworking, task-driven Amish craftsmen descending on the property, they had that darned house built in 8 month’s time.  We were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, right on schedule.

It was all set to be a picture perfect holiday in our new farmhouse … until I sent my daughters on a drug run from the dinner table. But that’s another story.

* I hope I’m not offending anyone here … but my Amish friends aren’t allowed on the Facebook and blogs are they? If you’re Amish and cheating  … tsk, tsk!

Photo by Anetlanda/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Anetlanda/iStock / Getty Images

Listen ... I'm not Amish

"I just want to stop and look at this farm while we're out" he said. "Oh for chrissakes," I thought. I had been down this road before.

Five years prior, my husband, brought me and my three daughters to a godforsaken, wouldn't-hit-a-dog-in-the-ass-with-it, muddy, lumpy farm in northern/mid-Ohio. At the time, he was wild for a goat farm...

"We should get ahead of this growing market. It's the fastest growing protein in the country. We could raise goats. Get a jump on the competition, corner the market, be the goat gods."

So, there we were, trudging through this desolate property, and the girls are going wild with the prospect of owning a farm. Here's the scene...

Daughter #1: "Dad, can I get puppy on the farm?!"

Him: "Sure!"

Daughter #2: "Can I get a pig, Dad?! I looove pigs. Omg, they're so cute! Like Babe...”

Him: "Sure, why not?!"

Daughter #3: "I want ducks ... ducklings! Ooooo. Ducklings, Dad!"

Him: "Ok, ok. Yeah."

Me: "Um .... wait. We are just looking everyone. No one is getting a pig ... or a duck, or a puppy. Or a goat, for that matter. Just slow down everyone. Slow. The heck down."

A farm? Really? A farm.

Later that night, after putting exuberant, ecstatic, delusional 4, 7 and 9 year old little girls to bed, visions of farm animals dancing in their heads, I sat down next to my husband, looked him straight in the eyes and spoke my truth:

"Sweetheart, I get it. It get it that you have long had farm dreams. I get that you want a connection to the land and that you want the girls to have that too." He nodded, his eyes dancing with excitement as he picked the dirt (or was that goat shit?) off his sneakers. Then I lowered the boom ... "But, when I look at that filthy, stinky farm, all that mud, that piece of crap house that feels like an Alice in Wonderland reject house ... when I think of, God help me, owning farm animals ... Pigs for chrissakes ... all I see is work for me. Me. Not you. "

I started to gather steam. "So, what's the plan? We are going to move from our suburban home to be ... what? Farmers? I don't know anything about farms or farming.  And frankly, neither do you. Maybe we should start with you pulling a weed or two here in the ‘burbs. You don't even cut the grass, for God's sake."

You see, my husband is an entrepreneur and he's an expert at delegating. He is the original Tom Sawyer. I could just see me slaving away, mucking stalls and wiping my brow like a Dust Bowl era heroine, while he would breeze in and out of "the farm" carefree and happy. Nope. That was definitely not happening.

"I get it," I continued. "I get it for you. But me? I am not that person, dude. Not me." He nodded, silent, the glimmer going out of his eyes. "Look, I get that YOU want this. If you’re going ahead with this, you and your Amish wife will be very happy together. Knock yourself out. You God bless you. I'm out."

Sorry, Babe, it is what it is. Dodged that bullet.

Fast forward ... 10 years later. We have a farm.