Dearest Dr. Mackey

imageI wanted to thank you for caring for Legolas in his final days.  You fought with all the tools at your disposal.  We were fortunate to have a dear friend help make those treatments possible.  His cascading failures were too many, he was finishing, and you did not hesitate to call us back to the hospital.  Thank you.

More than the days, I wanted to thank you for his final minutes as we ended his struggles.  I saw your tears at his passing, and was so sorry you had just gone through the same thing with your dog of so many years just last week.

I want most of all to say thanks for standing back as I lingered, insuring that as life and light faded from his eyes, I was the last thing  he would see in this world with Jill peering over.

I have thought for years that as other pets faded in the seconds after a vet said the heart had stopped, that the eyes were still too clear, too focused for all of the passing to be done.  I sensed that as death came and all that it brings to an animal, it had an anchor, a last comfort if it could see Jill or me.

The newest research says that the short term memory, cognitive functions, and even motor functions shut down — before the senses when the thalamus can no longer relay information to the cerebral cortex — all in minutes.

But Legolas could not close his eyes, and all the rest was passing from his ability to see and process or understand me.  I had a sense years ago to hold the gaze until the eyes lost the clarity, lost the lucidity.  And only then to move away.

Somehow the science seems to bear it true.  So the last thing he saw was our tears, yours, Jill’s and mine.  The last thing he felt was my petting and stroking his fur, and the last thing he heard was our voices.

As a child, my father taught me that part of God assigning dominion to us over these animals was that when their sojourn ends, we who have enjoyed them should be the last ones they see.

Thank you for affording us that.

Nursing Your Emotions

I was so impressed that you decided to go to a counselor, friend.  To realize that you are “the happy medium” in emotions, but that you have placed guards against too much of either the highs or the lows is tricky.

It took courage to go see a counselor or therapist and find why you guard against too much emotion.  I have yearned for you to see, feel, immerse yourself in some experiences for years.

I never told you that when I was eleven or so, I would crank dad’s media system down in the library to blast the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.  I would close my eyes and slip  into the sound stream to direct the orchestra — and be overcome.  I might barely be able to concentrate on the different pieces’ entrance in the restatement as tears welled up from deep inside.

I held to times from camps when God seemed to infuse the moments and something in the music or sermon or a quiet time with sealed orders up on a cliff overlooking the lake would sweep me away.

When Anna Cavalier died after our first date at 16, within an hour of having seen her, that pain swallowed me.  But that pain taught me a lesson I have used with grieving people all of my life.  I tell them how rich they are to have loved so deeply that they feel torn, bereft, shattered at the absence of the deceased.  I have spent that pain at her loss over a hundred times into others’ tears and bereavement, and there again, the courage to walk into another’s deep emotion draws on skills to keep the leather over your heart, but once in a great while, I have had no finer gift to another brother or sister than to share tears.  I find wisdom and eloquence cheaper, but wading and sharing the grief has a more profound impact for Christ or their sanity or whatever is important at the moment.

So let the God who stirred David to write the Psalms that grip us, Isaiah who wrote the stunning grief at what was coming and unshakable hope of what would follow restore the emotions, restore their ability to teach you life, and life more abundantly to you, my dearest friend.



We held a reunion yesterday.  Follow Highway 33 east, four miles east of Drumright, turn south on Street 486 South (don’t feel bad if you don’t know where it is, Google Maps didn’t either.)

Follow the almost asphalt road past the grazing buffalo down in the valley and ignore the right turn in the road to drive into the Country View.  Park on the newly mown grass, and follow the sea of grass up into the long, low metal building and inside.  Look back over the valley as angry clouds threaten downpours, and barns and outbuildings dot the manicured valley.  Entering you find Terry and Tina, he in uniform, she in wedding gown, are in the middle of a hail of photos, and around them swirl family and friends setting tables, lighting electronic candles, caterers beginning to burden an elegant buffet combining Lebanese cooking with American barbecue.  A string quartet and a 30 piece brass ensemble start setting up as soon as the photographers yield the floor.

Outside life is simple.  Get seated early and get a chair.  Come later and enjoy a long, low, split rail bench.  Terry’s predicted 8 mph winds have amped up to 20.  The quartet has commandeered a van as a windbreak, but still need wind covers for the mics.  They are quite good.

And people have gathered here, in the middle of nowhere.  Okay, this may not be precisely the middle of nowhere.  That would seem easier to find.  This is more to the left of middle, past the tired cow on the left and the Hurlbaugh’s old place, you know the one he sublets to the niece, and up the hill a ways from Ms. Golds goat ranch she had back during the war.  World War 2.  It is all mowed grass now.

Caleb and Lydia are in from Turkey.  He will finish the last chapter in the book this week.

Neena has a daughter I have never seen, who is as tall as mom and 13, all elbows and knees and will be beautiful in that Medditerannean way.

And Balthazar married her and came back after all that education to find no jobs in engineering and runs a landscaping and mowing business in Edmond.  And Brian and Stacey moved to Arizona last year, out by Phoenix and she looks great.  Josh and Crystal have their four kids here and he will make another pass at the specialty rices and coffees in Myanmar and Laos this summer.  Mindi still administrates Eagle Heights church.  Rhonda will play in the band.  Steve is down from Kansas where he works for Cessna.  Jimmy and the doctor have their two little ones.  He quit the band when the first one was born, and will contract their home this summer.  And he still wears wonderfully “out there” colors and bow ties and now sells for Berkshire-Hathaway real estate.  And she and her Hubbie are up from Edmond and a dozen more.

We watch all the kids jump and cavort with the band’s loud and proud melodies from the big band era.  We catch up on each other and conjecture about another fifty people.

And the band is suddenly playing what feels like a soundtrack for a movie.  The sun’s light from under the clouds casts faces in a rosate glow, conversations slow down to inaudible, and people look genuinely happy to be here.  They laugh together at their children dancing together, they hug again as if the first was automatic and I want you to know this second one is heartfelt.

And I am struck by how wealthy we are.  To have invested spiritually and in time in so many, many lives and see where their worlds are expanding and their influence is growing; that is an elixir whispering that my life has had an influence, that my wife and I were right to let so many pass through our home, wear out the furniture, deplete the cabinets in the kitchen, and linger in the night discussing life and things that matter.

And it gives me another name for Heaven: reunion.  But this one outside of time has the great grandfather I never knew whose mules were Paul and Silas as he covered a circuit of churches preaching in each once a month or so.  This one outside of time enables me to take a turn at a table with Teddy Roosevelt, Sunday School teacher and President, and Teresa of Avila as part of my family.  Yes, mom and dad again, Mammaw and Pappaw and possibly the little one we never named, who would have been born between the two boys.  All at the reunion for each other, as it is in Heaven.

And when I sit with Nana at THAT reunion, she and I will have all the time she would have taken, and I won’t be in as big a hurry to let her introduce me to people from Alcester, and her mom the Sunday School missionary in downtown Minneapolis on scary streets.

The service was surprisingly funny and poignant.  The food was fantastic.  The music stopped people in mid-sentence it was that wonderful.  We were repeatedly surprised at how good it was, how beautiful the setting sun was over the valley, and how much fun we had.

So some weddings and receptions transcend the genre and become: Reunion.  Something to hold on to and enjoy.