Wednesday, October 15, 2008

UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN - October 15, 2008

October 15, 2008

It is difficult to believe that Jack has been home with the Lord for three months as of last week. Tomorrow is Jack’s birthday. He would have been 71. I decided that this final chapter would be a very good birthday present in his memory and good time to close this book on our breathtaking experience that began August 22, 2007.

I will begin by thanking everyone who has faithfully followed us through this experience via emails, letters, cards, visits, or helping us with the thousands of details and the seemingly endless things of all parts of this journey. I want to especially thank our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors for the amazing embrace of your love, care, and help throughout but especially for the memorial services in Boston and Kentucky. Words cannot adequately express our gratitude and blessings that all of you have been to us at every rough path, hard turn, and in the quiet of the moment. We praise our Lord for all of you as you poured out your hearts to us. What an amazing gift you have been.

Jack’s memorial service was in Boston on July 16, 2008 with a few hundred people in attendance. Many wonderful people came to honor him and we were honored by their presence. We had a beautiful summer day to celebrate a life well lived. Jack would have enjoyed the message that pointed to our need of our Lord. He would likely have been embarrassed by all of the amazing words of so many that loved him. We had another service in Kentucky on September 12, 2008 in the First Baptist Church where Jack and I first interacted on the weekend of his sister, Myra’s wedding. Many people that attended were related to Jack, had grown up with Jack, been college roommates with Jack or who had known the family for generations. Jack’s high school principal and his wife attended. People came from far and wide again with many people to celebrate Jack’s life. The Kentucky people gathered KY wild flowers and fruits for table decorations that were very beautiful. Many made all of their special recipes that only Southern folk know about. We were very touched by so much done for us by so many.

Jack’s resting place is at Skaggs Creek Cemetery about ¼ mile from the farm where he was born and grew up. There are sweeping views of rolling hills and fields of green – a very Kentucky landscape. On his tombstone below his name is written “A loving and loved man”. At the very bottom, we wrote, “The Lord is My Shepherd” from Psalm 23 which Jack quoted in its entirety when he prayed before dinner. Between our names is written a LL which Jack always wrote in a special way with the L’s interlocking. Jack called me LL meaning “little luv”. He called me this almost from the very beginning inspired from an E. E. Cumming’s poem “My Luv is Like a Red, Red Rose”. So many shared things over a life time which seems so short now.

Following the KY service, we had a wonderful Branstetter reunion at Branstetter Park the next day. Jack’s Mother is a Branstetter. There were nine children in that family – three are still living. Jack had 54 first cousins between the two parents with most of them being on his Mother’s side giving much reason to even have a Park named after this family. It is a wonderful gathering every other year with family represented from all nine children. There were probably about 100 people at the reunion - another amazing group of people that fed us well from the many Southern family recipes. These people had closely followed the blog. It was a time of renewal of many friends and family.

Jonathan and Megan left at the end of August to return to Los Angeles. They are currently getting settled into a new apartment and for Jonathan, a new job. We are grateful that we had several months with them to support us and help us during this experience. I never could have adequately explained this journey. Their lives are about to change dramatically as they expect Baby Howard to arrive December 19. You must stay in touch to know the details. We do not know whether it is boy or girl. Jack would have loved this little one.

Courtenay and I are back to work but life is not the same. Each day is surprise. I had truly never anticipated the amount of energy that the grieving process consumes. I have many days where I have no energy at all. I have other days where all I want to do is cry and I do. I have had some flickers of light that make me think there is a better day ahead. I never know from one day to the next what the day will bring. I am continuing, by the grace of God, to trust in His care for me and the children. My sister ,Suzanne, thought it might be helpful to create a blog about my journey with grief. So far, I have not been able to do that since what I feel is truly not describable in words. Sometimes, the pain is so deep that I feel that my heart cannot contain it and that I am surely not going to survive this new challenge. Quickly, the Lord comes to my aid and lifts me up out of my mire. The Lord is completely carrying me on this road as He does all roads. I have had many wonderful consoling things said to me by many people. One of them was, “Carolyn, you are going to spend eternity with Jack, so be sure to enjoy today.” That thought was a real blessing to me because spending eternity with Jack is eclipsed by spending eternity with the Almighty God and our King Christ and to ponder doing it together. Another comment that brought me joy was “I am so warmed by how much you miss Jack – that must mean that you have many wonderful memories of him”. I do have many wonderful memories of him. We were truly blessed to have each other for 39 years of marriage. My grandfather would have said that would make our marriage “an endangered species”.

My Grandmother gave me a wonderful lesson in 1989 after my Grandfather had died. I stayed with her and even slept with her the night after she had buried him. I remember being so taken by observing her. The next morning, she got up at her usual time. She went into the kitchen and began to make bread. I have thought about that event so many times. Little did I realize that she was giving me one more of her many lessons. The lesson is that I must get up and make bread. I have been doing that through my work, my connecting with friends, my giving a picnic for Jack’s company employees, and resting my body and soul one day at time. Many days it is difficult to put one foot in front of another.

I am not the same person as I was months ago. I pray that by God’s grace, that I am kinder, more patient, more compassionate, more caring and loving, but most of all that I can proclaim even more the mercy of our Lord and share His wonderful hope as He has shared Himself with us. I can proclaim with the Psalmist David from Psalm 121:1-2 the following:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”
I came across these verses on a card that Jack gave me a few years ago. At the top of the card was my name, “Carolyn”. Underneath my name was “Song of Joy” followed by those verses. I want my song to be one of joy – joy in the years we had and the joy in the Lord we shared.

I would not wish this trial of Jack’s illness and death on anyone. It was so hard but at the same time, I would not replace this experience with anything. It was a time of close communion with each other as well as our family and so many friends that I could not begin to name them all. It was a wonderful time of gracious and tender mercy and care from our Lord. Jack is in a better place, much more perfect than this one. I hold him close in my heart and mind – he is always with me. My hope is that I can use this experience to help others in whatever ways I can to bring honor and glory to our Lord. It brings to mind Micah 6:8 –
“He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God”.

We will continue to remember all of you. We will post a blog in the beginning of the year announcing Jonathan and Megan's little one that is due on December 19. All of you, please stay in touch with us as our life’s journey and “bread making” continue to be breathtaking, by His grace.

Blessings to each of you,
Carolyn and family

1 comment:

Bernard Jackson said...

When I heard that Prof. Howard was the guest speaker at the So. Calif. MIT society a couple years ago, I just had to be there, despite the fact that I hadn't seen him since graduating from MIT in 1971 and had never attended a local MIT society meeting. I am so glad I went. You see, I was one of five Black freshman in a class of 1000 entrants in 1967 - from Georgia, to boot - and it wasn't always easy finding a sympatico professor to relate to. I could relate to Prof. Howard to the degree that it brought tears to my eyes to hear of his transition. I always felt that there was something special about him, but didn't know until now that he (and you) were committed to that Higher Essence. In my darkest hour as a student, a comforter was sent, but it took all these years to receive the confirmation.
At one point, Prof. Howard invited a few of us students to your home. Upon hearing of my passion for fishing, Prof. Howard gave me his cherished rod & reel, which I used, brought to Calif. and kept in my garage until a couple years ago, when I donated it to charity.
Having always felt that science and spirituality were not at odds, I have studied and taught courses on same in New Agey-type churches in So. Calif. I'm glad through chance the Chem. Eng. dept magazine found it's way to me and I found out about Prof. Howard's completion of his earthly mission. Thank you both for opening your hearts, reaching out and touching so many of our lives along your journey. I am humbled.