Wednesday, September 12, 2012


It's been over ten months since I last went to New York for the injections that let my vocal cords work. The best part is that I've been able to sing during most of that time.  I'm going back in a couple of weeks because the spasms are slowly starting to return, but amazingly, I can still sing some harmony.  I think this would be a good time to repost what I wrote almost two years ago:  
When I asked my voice doctor in Atlanta if I would ever sing again, he guaranteed with the treatments I would be speaking almost normally again.  And he was right.  A few weeks after the muscles on either side of my vocal cords were injected with botox, I was speaking again.  If someone didn't know that I have spasmodic dysphonia, they wouldn't have realized that I have a voice disorder.  But he offered me no hope where my singing was concerned.  The vocal cords work harder to sing than to talk, and it was highly unlikely that I would ever sing again.  And as grateful as I was to finally speak without forcing almost every word, I missed the singing terribly.

I remember reading the story of Dave Dravecky, a professional baseball player who lost his pitching arm to cancer.  He wrote in his autobiography about the deep grief he experienced during that time.  And though this thing in my brain that makes my vocal cords go spastic is not life threatening, the grief was just as real as if I had lost a limb.  I used to wonder what it would be like if I could no longer play the piano or hear music.  But to think hypothetically of losing my voice, the thought was just never there.  So when it happened, I was completely unprepared.

I imagine there are times when Dave dreams that he's playing ball again, throwing the fast ones.  I know, because I have the occasional dream where I am singing again.  I used to dream as a kid about flying down the deep, narrow staircase of our home.  Even in my sleep I could feel the freedom of no longer being restricted by gravity.  I was always a bit disappointed to awaken and find that I couldn't fly after all.  When I dream now, the words I speak and sing come out flawlessly with no catch in my throat.  It's liberating.  Then I awaken to reality, always vaguely disappointed.

It took me almost two years to work through the grieving process.  It was during that period of time I lost my dad and brother, moved from Alabama and said goodbye to many dear friends.  I also left the wonderful preschool where I had served as music director for 11 years, as well as three of my four children who were now living independent lives.  I arrived at our new home, emotionally exhausted and with my voice at its worst.  I was vulnerable, and grief washed over me like a tsunami.

A number of factors working together brought me through that difficult time.  A friend sent me the right book dealing with grief, someone else recommended an excellent doctor trained in the treatment I needed, I found some part-time work, and I was beginning to use some of my talents again.  In group settings I was no longer tearing up as those around me sang.  Life was getting good again.

When people ask about my voice, especially after the spasms have returned and I need another treatment, I can tell them with confidence that I'll soon be speaking somewhat normally again.  But the injections will not give me the ability to sing.  That only comes from God.

Today I sang as in my dreams.  Only I wasn't dreaming, and for an afternoon I sang to the One who stilled the tremors long enough  that I might praise Him.  I don't know how tomorrow will be.  I have no guarantees that what I had today will be a part of any of my tomorrows.  But I know that today He gave me what only He could give. He let me sing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Letter

Mom and Dad visiting us in Costa Rica,  1986 

Dear Mom,

You would have turned 90 last week.  What a great time it would have been to have a big celebration, an ideal time to get all the family together.  We would have had a picnic with a store-bought cake and a huge dessert table in honor of you,  that being your favorite part of the meal after all. Then, after we finished eating, we would have said lots of nice things about you, some to make us laugh and perhaps a few to make us cry.

But we all know it's pointless to plan a big party when the guest of honor has no intention of showing up.  After all, even if you could come, nothing would ever entice you back here, even for just a few short hours and a promise of the most delectable sweets imaginable.  Even so, I think it would be a good time to mention some of those things I might say if you were here.  And if by some chance there is but a thin curtain between your world and mine, you just might hear what I have to say.  So here goes.

Even though you've been gone a long time, I still think about you a lot.  It's hard not to as there are reminders of you everywhere.  This parsonage has a nice patch of rhubarb out behind the garage, and I can't make up a batch of sauce or a strawberry-rhubarb pie without thoughts of you.  I took a couple of pies made with your homemade crust to the Marvin reunion last month.  They were a hit.  In fact, I use several of your favorite recipes.  Larry's family especially loves your carrot cake.  In fact, I just made one this past weekend to take to his sister Paulette's for a picnic.

Do you remember after Beth started kindergarten and you went to work,  how you'd start dinner in the morning and have me finish it up when I'd get home from school?  I'd complain sometimes, like when I had to help with the canning and freezing during the summer.  But when Larry and I took our first church in Bradford Country,  I couldn't begin to count all the corn we froze or the applesauce we canned.  Our big chest freezer was always packed with vegetables and meat that came from farmer friends,  and the shelves in the basement were covered with mason jars filled with tomatoes, peaches and jams among other things.  I never lacked, and that allowed me to invite people into our home week after week. You prepared me for that.

I wish I had expressed so much more how grateful I was for all you had done for me. One day I went into  Stroehman's Bread Store here in Elmira and told the lady at the register how my mom had put me through four years of college working in a bread store just like theirs.  I don't know if I ever thanked you for that, the sacrifices you made so that I could not only attend school but come out debt free.  And on top of all that, you managed to find time to write me once or twice every week, long hand-written letters with five-dollar bills often tucked between the pages.  I looked forward to those letters more than you can imagine,  I was so lonely for home.

I still have most of your letters, hundreds of them.  Besides my college stash, there's quite a few you mailed to Costa Rica that year we were in language school and an entire suitcase packed full of those addressed to Honduras.  When we returned stateside, you kept writing. There's a smaller stack from when we were in Colorado Springs trying to work in a very difficult church and a few that you even sent to our place in Alabama, even though you were so sick at the time. And then they stopped coming altogether and I knew. 

But it wasn't just the letters.  You were sending us stuff all the time, especially while we were in Central America.  No matter what we asked for, you took care of it.  If we needed clothes, you found the right sizes.  If we sent film home, you had it processed.  If a work team was coming down,  you'd always get a package to them before they flew out.  You even sent a basketball hoop to Larry that he requested after building that small basketball court in our back yard.  And you never fussed at us, never complained.  You always gave so willingly.

Always giving!  Here she is with Fawn, Joel and Angela in Costa Rica
I know we always said thank you.  I don't think we took you for granted, but if I had to do it again, I would have written you a letter just like this one.  You loved words, especially when they were written down.  You would have read it over again, maybe several times.  You might have even put it in your Bible. That's where I keep one that you wrote to me right before we left for Language School.  Most of your letters were filled up with the details of your days, the happenings of my siblings and what you'd eaten for supper that week.  But this particular letter was full of your heart,  sadness at our going, pride that we were, and gratitude that we were serving the God whom you had loved for most of your life.  I wish I had written a letter like that to you.

There are a few things more I would have said.  I have some regrets, especially about the times I was particularly selfish and difficult.  But when I apologized to you towards the end of your life for the times I'd disappointed you, you acted as though they had never happened.  Grace.

There was never any doubt that your love for others was the directive of your life.  Even in those last days,  you didn't want to talk about yourself.  You would always turn the conversation towards others.  And that caring was genuine.  Your entire life had been a reflection of God's love invested into others.

And finally, one last thing.  Do you remember when we were traveling to Guatemala and stopped by the roadside to eat our lunch and all the children gathered around our vehicle?  You looked in the lunch bag to see how many sandwiches were left, and when you saw there weren't enough to feed them all, you began to cry.  "There aren't enough," you said.  "There aren't enough."  That scene never left me, your visibly broken heart.

I mentioned all those letters I have in my attic, I hope someday to have some extra time when I can go through them.  I know there are some wonderful stories and memories to be relived.  But there's a passage in the Bible that talks about us being living letters.  That's what you were to me.  That's what you were to so many others.  You were the greatest letter of all.

I have only a few pictures of just the two of us--1986 in Costa Rica