Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I never knew her husband, although she once had one.

Edith has been for all the years I recall, the older woman up the road, the one my Dad cared for. She read parking meters and wrote parking tickets before many moons ago retiring, finding part time work at our local vet.

My Dad met her when he was policing the same neighborhoods, and for as long as I can remember he's been showing up at her place to shovel her snow, fix her rickety steps, attach a wayward shutter. She'd return Dad's favors by dogsitting my parents' dogs, on the rare occasion they went away. She loved those dogs like they were her own kids, and she sat with my parents and cried, as they each passed away.

She has been an extension of our family for years, a piece of the puzzle that never quite fit by her own defining, but always invited, welcome. My mom still calls to invite her each year for Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday parties, dinner; she never shows. Instead, she sit at home with her dogs.

Her life: three little wiener dogs, and at one point a basset hound. Just her and her dogs. Alone and yet very much together.


Yesterday when I picked up T after school at my parents' house, my Mom told me that Edith called the night before and she has cancer, only a few months to live. She's refusing treatment, and before sharing with anyone the news, she went to make arrangements for her funeral, her final days.

Her wishes include that at her end, she will also end the lives of her three small dogs, embalming them to place in her casket, all of them, together. She is convinced no one could care for those dogs or love them like she can so she's made plans, is taking them along.

My Mom relays all this all to me in a corner of her kitchen and I stand there in horror, eyes bulging from my head. I turn around suddenly and find T standing there, soaking it all in.

Death visited our family only a week ago, this dying stuff lurks not unlike him standing there, raw, exposed, fresh.

T isn't supposed to hear any of this and he does and then we all three stand there; locked in this space of knowing Edith's secret, not quite sure what to say, what to do.

T is the first to speak, tears springing freely down his cheeks, breaking up this insurmountable mountain, this space. "She...she can't do this, can she?" he asks, tears falling to his lip and then dropping to the floor.

"She can," I reply softly, and I draw him if somehow presence, embrace can soften this blow.

My mom keeps talking nervously, looking over the top of him, as if her cascade of small talk might make this all go away. He clings to me, then pulls away crying softly and repeats twice without stopping, "This is just not right. Somebody has to stick up for those dogs."

"This is just not right. Somebody has to stick up for those dogs."

And then, as if something summoned him, he packs his things, walks to our car. Once there and buckled he says with conviction, "I think Grandpa needs to go find her now, tell her this is not okay."

We drive down the road towards our house in silence, ice crunching beneath new tires, each block an endless mile. We pull into the drive way, and suddenly anger envelops him, tears still sputtering through shock, disbelief.

"This is just selfish," he says now. "Those dogs cannot possibly deserve this. They're dogs, after all, probably would have five happy years left each! And she... she's wrong for thinking this way, even if she is very, very sad about dying herself."

Finally home, I get out and gather the mail, while T sits in the car for several minutes in silence, tears steadily falling, his hand extended to the backseat, our own dogs licking up salty tears.

He gathers his things and joins me and I fumble at the doorway, looking for the key. A cold breeze sweeps between us and we both shudder, the enormity of it lurking there.

He looks off down the street towards her house as I push open the door and he whispers:

"This is no different than if I was dying and told you on my last day...sorry, but I am going to take three of my favorite family members with me, Mom.... and no one, no person should get to decide that they are going rob the world of those dog's love."

We both stood there staring at each other, the cold air busting into our home now, nothing left to say.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On Children

By: Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ode to Grandma

The following is what I read at my Grandma's funeral service yesterday.

How really can one stand up here and adequately summarize a life? Especially this life? 80 years: child, student, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, friend, confidant?

And so much more.

I've sat, written, reflected, and tried to come up with an adequate starting point these past few days, a couple things come to mind:

First, if she were here, she would likely remind me that I've had YEARS to write this thing, as she signed me up for this gig, years ago. She reeled me in close that day at my Grandma Doyle's funeral and said, "Will you do that for me one day?" I remember laughing, telling her it was morbid and she looked at me without flinching and said, "I'm serious."

When Grandma meant business, you'd didn't mess around.

And Second...if I screw this thing up, like he has since we were kids, there is really no getting around Grandpa, some way, some day, some how....he will tell her how horrific I was. We ALL know, the buck stopped with her, always will.


On a more serious I struggled to tie this all together, a single line came to me, very early a few nights ago, and it is this: GOD IS IN THE SMALL THINGS.

I think that my Grandma lived this better than anyone I know. She did the small things exceptionally well. She found God in EVERYTHING, and she never, ever faltered in that: such conviction, quiet strength, independence, determination and nearly always, without words, living by perfect example. My best vision of her will always be sitting back, watching Grandpa crack a joke, and grinning from ear to ear. She created the space for him to be funny. She saw the God in his humor.

Then there's her toughness, her grit and sheer determination these past few years especially: and boy, for someone who prides herself on being tough, I am fairly certain that we could all probably just throw our collective books on toughness away and steal a page or two from Grandma's after watching the fight she just put up.

She continued to fight, I believe, because she was also very busy finding God in the small things.

So where? It's all of us of course, all these collective moments, but also, in doing whatever she did, no matter how mundane, exceptionally well.

It was little Claire at her prayer service last night, standing tippy toed at her coffin, peering to see her laying there, and you are reminded of the moments.

It was walking in to her room at Bethany Manor and watching her sleep, mouth wide open, laboriously sucking every last breath from the life she was given here on earth.

Heck, I am not sure how, but she even found God in ironing and laundry: J.D. recalled his daily trips to Grandma and Grandpa's house after school, and one day in particular sitting in the dining room watching her iron. Piece after piece she'd iron and then fold carefully, as they chatted about his day. Finally, after watching awhile, he asked:

"Um, what is that thing?"

"This, the iron?" she asked. "Don't you have one of those at your house?"
"Uhhh, no, I've never seen one of those."

And as you can probably imagine there was a subsequent conversation about
does your mom have one of those vacuum things next, which we can all be pretty sure Grandpa instigated. But wow, did she LOVE doing laundry. Several of us remember her moving here, and her frustration that now, someone would be DOING her laundry FOR HER: "If they just would give me access to the machines, I would do it myself," she said. She liked it a certain way, perfect.

She found God recording memories/taking pictures: Somewhere, the person who invented the Polaroid camera is living a good life right now for all the Polaroid pictures she took...and I should add, that she allowed us all to take.

She Found God in Beauty, by collecting bright and shiny things: In the Guinness Book of World Records there is an entry for the person that has amassed the greatest number of collections anywhere and I am fairly certain that next to that entry there is a photograph of my Grandma.

I am also fairly certain that in her little corner of heaven, there are display cases overflowing with Beanie Babies, Barbies, Holly Hobbies, Strawberry Shortcakes, Cabbage Patch Kids, Hallmark Ornaments, McDonalds Muppets Glasses and a few thousand other collections and they are all still in the box and all in mint condition. I hope, for my own sake, that she didn't take her first collection I recall with her...those owls, because as a kid the macrame one with the reflector eyes always scared me to death, but she was never one to leave anyone or anything behind so....

She Found God in Teaching us to love ourselves, to be fashionable: I can assure you that I do not have a fashionable bone in my body, but Lord, did that woman ever give it her all with me. For years she'd load us into the car and drag us over to Iowa Miss and Mrs, this huge clothing store, so we could pick out new clothes for school. And each time, we'd try on about 500 different things, and she'd help widdle it down, always buying us far more than we ever needed, but she would always justify it somehow. And then there's HER clothes that we would inherit, making all our friends jealous of our name brands, and then dropping on them that they were my Grandma's hand me downs. I thought of wearing an outfit today entirely crafted from her closet, but I decided it's probably time I stepped it up, figured this whole thing out on my own.

She took time, always for the little things...with her, there's was always room for a treat: Have any of us EVER visited this woman in this home or her home in Williams and not see, or be offered something from one of her stashes? There was ALWAYS a pack of cookies, a bowl of chocolates, a package of chocolate stars or my personal favorites: Rainier cherries and powered sugar donuts laying around. And they were always..."just about to go bad" you HAD to help her eat them. Or, perhaps ... ice cream is your gig? There's an entire freezer of Schwan's treats right out there on the porch, with a box of every person's favorites, to be sure.

She Found God in The Holidays...somewhere along the line determining that the holidays, they are a lot more fun if you DECORATE: She was never one to take situations in her life to extremes, but boy did Grandma make up for it decorating. I think it's a fair bet to say that never in my life will I know another person with such a festive holiday flair. And she really didn't discriminate between holidays, one Christmas I counted 600 some Santas on display; she loved the Fourth of July, Halloween, heck, she even loved to decorate herself!

She Found God in entertaining us, and at some point get togethers are a lot more fun with CRAFTS: Grandkids running all problem! We girls would be sitting in the kitchen painting on and then baking plastic shrinky dinks. We will probably all die from the fumes later in life, but boy they were pretty!

She Found God in Her Garden and fed everyone she could: Grandma and Grandpa's garden used to span the length of their machine shed and I remember spending what seemed like days out there, pulling carrots, and peas and beans brushing them off and then eating them. She taught us to pull the tops off the carrots and take the orange part with, but with the leftovers, we'd feed the donkeys. There were many mouths to be fed and she never forgot one.

She found God in Fairness and in turn might go down in history as the fairest Grandma that ever lived: It didn't matter what the holiday, event, or birthday, we all received the same. Bring an orphan friend to the Fourth of July and boy, she'd scramble, but they too, in an INSTANT were her Grandkid too, sent home with the same ziploc baggie of loot and dollar bills. Having an Easter egg hunt? There were and EQUAL number of eggs big and small with your name on them.. Every time.

She Found God in Her Work, and the idea that we should all make ourselves a bit of our "own" cash....and then promptly proceed to hide it in the kitchen ceiling tiles, so it's handy to hand out to those you love. She'd work hours and hours waitressing out at the truck stop, earning her keep and then stash it in a Kool Whip container and hide it in the kitchen ceiling tiles. The thing is, we all knew it was up there, and she'd climb up her stool from time to time, get it down, and hand over a few bucks for whatever cause struck her that day...usually a Grandchild.

I never really realized how hard earned this money was until Angela and I were waitresses ourselves and met Grandpa a few times for lunch while she worked. He'd throw down two quarters after buying our lunch...and we'd stare slack jawed at each other and implore: oh grandpa, we'll get the tip! He'd have nothing of it, of course, picking up our bills: 50 cents is a lot of money for an old lady, Grandpa told us. You keep yours!

She found God in the way she cared for each of us, individually and wholly, never discriminating by blood: my brother in law Chris has often said that she was the glue that made him feel the most welcome in this family, and the other night he remembered her and Grandpa's faithful visits when he was undergoing chemo and in the hospital, Grandpa by her side and one night declaring to his visiting co-workers: "He's our Grandson, but we didn't give him this!"

She found God in babies: each time learning she had a Great Grand baby on the way, getting anxious and excited to see them, watch them grow. She couldn't walk in the end and it frustrated her immensely, but she still found a way to share the same moments she shared with her Grand kids, with her Great Grand kids: popping popcorn Sundays in front of the TV, painting Caleigh's fingernails, and getting her room and treats ready for Bethany Manor Halloween.

And finally, last week, in all her holding on...I think we all came to realize that her tight grasp, in a lot of ways, it was really not about her holding on to us, it was about OUR letting go of her. She always knew where she was going, and surely, she knew her pain, suffering would all fall away. But still, she waited until WE were ready, hanging on tight, with conviction and strength like she always had, never mentioning the pain as it crept around her body, took her breath. She waited until each of us was ready to let go of her.

And today we celebrate in trepidation our finally finding the strength to do so, to let her go, her journey here on earth complete and yet still very much alive, in each of us.

In Grandma's corner of heaven right now I am sure of a few things: is a wooden playhouse there, where all the kids come to play. There are be multiple Big Wheels and bikes for racing and there might even be some chairs for the older folks to sit and watch. That bug zapper will be hanging from the trees, and the kids will all have jars for catching lightening bugs and it will be Garage Sale day every single day.

There will be scads of decorations, jewelry and clothes for trying on, and lots and lots of purple flowers and accessories, and of course collections of every kind.

When we all finally get there, I have no doubt she'll be ready for us: dinner will most definitely be on the table and will include "real" butter, fresh tomatoes and some kind of warm bread. We can also all be assured, when we finally do arrive, no matter how long our "drive" may be, immediately we'll all get that familiar feeling of being at Grandma's house that for the moment feels like a big giant gaping hole.

Until we get there I think she'd want us to look around....and Find God In the Small Things, and enjoy ourselves.

Orpha May Rigter ...Grandma, Great Grandma

My only remaining Grandma passed away Friday. It's been a long, exhausting week of celebrating and honoring her memory, saying goodbye and reflecting. I was honored to be asked to help with her obituary and the memorial service yesterday. My next two posts reflect that:


Orpha May Rigter, age 80, of Williams, Iowa passed away Friday, February 12, 2010 at Bethany Manor in Story City, Iowa where she has lived since August, 2006. Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, February 18 at the Bethany Manor Chapel, Story City followed by burial at the Williams Cemetery. Visitation will be Wednesday, February 17 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Williams. A prayer service will be held following the visitation.

Orpha May Rigter, daughter of George and Rickie (Barkema) Olson, was born May 4, 1929 in Webster City, Iowa. She graduated from Kamrar High School in 1947 and that summer attended Iowa Teachers College in Cedar Falls. She eventually became a country school teacher at the same school she previously attended.

Orpha married Raymond Rigter on November 24, 1948, in Jewell, Iowa. They farmed near Kamrar before moving to Williams in 1960 where they farmed east of town. Orpha was a homemaker, wife, mother, grandmother and a waitress at the I-35 Restaurant for many years. She was an active member of United Methodist Church and UMW in Williams. Family was always most important to Orpha. She was happiest entertaining in her home and spent many hours decorating for all the holiday and family celebrations enjoyed there.

She is survived by her husband Raymond of Williams, four children: Sandy (Larry) Swanson, of Manchester, Susan (Terry) Doyle, of Ames, John (Sandy) Rigter of Williams, and Sally (Randy) Greenfield of Kamrar, nine grandchildren: Amy Swanson, Jordan Swanson, Angela (Chris) Hewitt, Alison Doyle, Cale (Amber) Doyle, Joseph “J.D.” Rigter, Dan Greenfield, Ben Greenfield, and David Greenfield, five great grandchildren: Tyler Doyle, C.J., Carter, Caleigh and Claire Hewitt, four nieces and three nephews, her brother-in-law Joel (Joan) Rigter of South Carolina and sister-in-law Elaine (Alvin) VanLangen of Jewell. She was preceded in death by her parents George and Rickie (Barkema) Olson, her sisters Georgia (June)/(Elmer) Timm, and Mary Ann Olson and two nephews.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

T Says....

These past few weeks have been eventful ones for both T and me. I've noticed some major fissures as my boy slowly becomes 'tween: displaced anger, secrets, a random zit or two, even an offhand blush in a conversation about a girl.

I am not ready for this. I am not ready for this. I am not ready for this.

But then again, are you ever ready for the onslaught that is parenting? I think not. I know not.

I remember for weeks after T's birth, bubbling over with a certain rage. I read every parenting book available to me prior to birthing this child and no one, absolutely no one told me really, what it'd be like.

In retrospect, it may be that all the stages of parenting are like this. You only get admitted to the secret club of "oh, I've been there," after it's far too late and you've been stripped of your parental innocence yet again.

Perhaps it's this way by intricate design. Those experienced parents with older kids are still trying to get their bearings, wrap their minds around this next stage. And the next.

I picked T up from my parents Sunday. He'd been hanging with my dad for several hours and I could tell immediately that the two of them were up to something. They whispered to one another as I started wrangling up all his winter supplies: boots, socks, snow glove...two. He wore on his mug a look of sheer guilt, and the giggles erupted out of him in uncontrollable snorts and spurts.

He giggled the entire way home. He giggled off and on the remainder of the day. He'd look up from whatever he was doing, take a look at me and burst into a fit of the giggles, again.

He wouldn't tell me why. It was like a special form of torture, not being let in on the joke. But T was stalwart in the face of my prodding. Stubborn, even.

Several hours later as we scrambled to get out the door for a Super Bowl party he skips in to the bathroom, drops his pants, plops down on the toilet and declares:

"I'm here to drop the kids off at the pool, mom!"

And he completely lost it. He laughed, and laughed, the sweet release of a secret unleashed.

I've always sort of wondered what went on with my dad and T in their tender moments alone, and now I learn he's there teaching my kid this lovely euphemism about poop.

T's delight in the hilarity of the expression, and my subsequent relief that indeed he wasn't laughing at me, offered a rare glimmer that perhaps, T's youth, it's not yet wholly gone.

And then T had to remind me: poop is, for all practical purposes, ALWAYS funny.

So maybe not.