Caring for a parent, conversations, Death & Dying

The Time is at Hand

In loving memory of Sandy Godsey.

“I don’t have time to sit down and read.” Those are the words I grew up hearing. Okay, maybe “grew up hearing” is an exaggeration, but I do remember them. I heard them when my two sisters and I and our father were in the living room reading the Sunday Seattle Times and called to Mommy to join us. “I don’t have time to read the paper,” she would call from the kitchen. Other times she would say, rather defensively in my memory, or maybe proudly, she had too much to do to sit and read a magazine.

My mind holds no image of her reading a book for pleasure. Interestingly, I don’t remember her reading to me as a child, either, other than a vague “Little Women” recollection with my sisters on the brown sofa. Maybe it isn’t unusual not to remember being read to. She says my father read to me. I sure don’t remember that!

I don’t remember her having hobbies that were just for her until long after her children left home, other than some gardening. She dabbled in several things then, but engaging in anything just for herself was not ingrained in her. It makes me sad that she has nothing now to sustain her when she can no longer be in service to others, which was what she feels we are put on this earth to do.

I just finished reading “Hand Wash Cold,” by Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller. She writes: “Life is a kitchen…. You are here for one purpose: to serve. Serving others will fulfill you as nothing else will.” This was my mother’s belief, and the kitchen was Command Central for her operations. I admire her heart for service and wonder why I did not pick up the mantle. There will be nothing to say in my obituary. (However, I do think I will have things to occupy myself when I can no longer hike and garden and drive. I will at least be a guiltless ace napper.)

Last week Rebecca reported going to visit Mama and found her sleeping in her recliner. She was disgusted that she was sleeping instead of doing what she should be doing. “What should you be doing?” Rebecca asked. “Walking and drinking fluids!” she exclaimed. Speechless. After a two hour nap, when she was living at home, she would insist she wasn’t asleep, as if sleeping in the afternoon—even at her advanced age—was a shameful weakness and wasted time.

We’ve all heard people, including ourselves, say “I don’t have time,” or ask of others who seem to do it all, “How do you find the time?” Here’s what Karen Maezen Miller says, and why I think I need to more fully embrace Buddhism:

Time isn’t something we find, but time is something we lose, all those times we fail to recognize that time is always at hand. … Time doesn’t even exist. You are what exists. Time is what you are doing at the time you are doing it. … It’s time to rake, it’s time to clean, it’s time to write, it’s time to drive, it’s time to rest, it’s time to pay attention to how we use our time.”

The sun shone on Sunday, warm sun, by which I mean in the 50s. I repaired the latches on the garden gates, pulled weeds from the raised beds and raked them, turning the soil. Ready for additional soil and seeds. I returned to the house and used some time to clean out the rest of the flower beds—a task begun the last time it wasn’t raining, five days earlier—and picked up all the piles. Then I went inside and took a nap. I even watched a little March Madness. I haven’t watched basketball in years. Carolina almost lost! Dang. (I root for the underdog unless I care about a team, which is never. Sorry UNC fan friends, I love you.) And I talked to my far away grandsons and their parents.

“I’m sure it can seem to some that all they have time to do is work, leaving all the other priorities to languish on the periphery…. But in those hours when the choice is truly yours, what do you choose to put in front of you? Where do you cast your enraptured eye? Where do you lose yourself? Where do you invest your time, your life, and your love, knowing that whatever you pay attention to thrives?”

—Karen Maezen Miller

The time we have been allotted on earth ends with death. Rebecca and I took Mama on Sunday to sit by the bedside of her neighbor of 50 years. It was probably goodbye. We are in shock. Mama told her she was the best neighbor anyone could have, and it was only because of her and her husband that she survived my father’s death and was able to stay on the hill. I think that is true. My mother held her friend’s hand in both of hers and wept. My mother doesn’t weep often. It wrenched my heart.

This is our fourth goodbye to a loved one in five months, but we still have today. Mama is walking the halls and drinking fluids and occasionally listening to a book on tape. I think she is doing other things too, but she doesn’t tell us. I am engaging with time by playing with grandchildren, gardening, writing, napping, reading for pleasure, walking in the woods, listening to rain on the roof, waiting for the sunrise, watching the hummingbirds, looking for spring, drinking fluids in hopes of getting over this dang cold…and working when I must. What are you paying attention to?

“Time is savored when you take it by the hand.” Karen Maezen Miller

Postscript: Our beautiful neighbor left us this morning as I wrote this post. She will be greatly missed by all of us and her many friends.

15 thoughts on “The Time is at Hand”

  1. Death and what happens around it occur to me right now to be holy times, holy time. I am stopped in my tracks to experience it with you. Warm hugs!


  2. Thank you Gretchen. I have been sitting quietly in retreat since you wrote this, or I would have responded earlier. As it is, your beautiful words reached me like an echo, reminding me of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All this hurrying soon will be over. Only when we tarry do we touch the holy.
    Rainer Maria Rilke
    This was the gratefulness quote today. You wrote a beautiful post! Love following your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so touched by this post. You have written such a beautiful narrative of an extraordinary moment. I feel honored even to have read it. So moving to me that your mother, in her 101st year, could carry the memory and friendship of the past and have it be suspended with the present in the only moment that we have. This one. The one we are in.

    I love the quotes you chose from the book. A beautiful read and I love your perspective. And Gretchen, that photo. That photo is lifetimes in the making and the reverence you gave it was brilliant.

    Thank you again for your amazing words.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So very lovely. Love the quotations: Karen Maezen Miller is an especially faithful and gifted contemplative. The contemplative life goes so much deeper than religious labels–her beautiful, insightful words could as well be written by a Christian contemplative, or a Hindu or a Sufi. Many ways lead to the Heart of all things.

    Liked by 2 people

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