Monday, December 28, 2009

The Source

It was a picture-perfect autumn day. The sun shone brightly in a deep blue sky. Birds chirped as they flitted from branch to branch in the timber. You pulled the Bronco into a parking space near the trailhead that led to the lower dells. The three of us climbed out and prepared to hike into the coolness of the wooded bluff on our way to the tranquil banks of the Vermillion River meandering below. Erin was excited for the hike, as only a five-year-old can be. I put a polarizing filter on the camera lens and aimed toward the azure horizon. Lord, if you think a beautiful day is going to make anything better...

My mind was reeling. You reached for the camera bag and hoisted it over your shoulder. You always had a calm about you, seemingly taking things in stride. But I knew you were worried and struggling to regain your footing in yet another physical and emotional upheaval. The test results cast an ominous shadow over an otherwise perfect day. The cancer is back.

Suddenly a beautiful day became offensive to me. I resisted any inclination to take pleasure in the nature that surrounded us. We looked forward to hiking together each season, photographing our outings and the beautiful vistas. But this day simply wasn't enough to bring peace back into my troubled soul.

In the midst of emotional havoc, I thought God was using a nice day to somehow appease the malady that was occurring yet again. No matter how I tried, I couldn't reconcile the contradiction of a glorious day and the dreaded test results. How much more can you take? How long must you struggle with this illness and our lives be placed on hold before this disease finally yields to treatment? I hated knowing what was ahead for you - painful testing, chemotherapy, radiation. I despised it all. In this tranquil setting, a turmoil of doubt and fear broiled within each of us. Outwardly, we were going through the steps of another day. But inwardly we were struggling to digest the news and regain emotional balance.

And now, this day. This perfectly beautiful in every other way than the reality with which we were now confronted day became an object of contention. I wanted to embrace it, but if I did it would be like saying everything was fine when it so clearly was not. Then, an epiphany. The source of our strength is not in the day.

The revelation was so simple, yet so powerful in diverting my runaway thoughts. The weight lifted ever so slightly. The tension in my shoulders lessened. I could breathe again. We gathered our things and headed for the trail where we would spend the hours hiking and talking, offering assurance of our love and committment to one another, and allowing ourselves the smallest reprieve of a beautiful day spent together.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Bottle brush tree. Yep. That's what your pathetic little Christmas tree looked like; green bottle brushes pretending to be pine branches sprawling from a painted green wooden trunk. We forced the twisted coat-hanger like wire stems into drilled, angled holes that circled the trunk. Working from the bottom up, I can still feel the grimy, prickly, off-balance twigs as we struggled to get the staggered lengths into the correct rows.

And then you would bring out your prized 1950's glass ball ornaments to hang ever-so-proudly on those pitiful branches. How I teased you over your tree and ornaments. Move over garage sale pink, green, and navy blue. Here are some much nicer Hallmark ornaments. There. That looks better. Ha, not by much, really.

Remember when C.J. was just a toddler and twice he pulled the Christmas tree down, breaking several of your ornaments? At that time, he was afraid of the vacuum cleaner. Wouldn't go near it. So I positioned the vacuum on one side of the tree and snaked the hose around the front to the other side. It was the perfect barrier. He didn't go near the tree again that year.

We celebrated eight Christmases together, if you count the one in 1981 when we first started dating. I was working at the t-shirt shop at the mall. I looked up from pressing a transfer onto a shirt and there you were. You had a sheepish look on your face as you looked at a wall that was covered with transfer designs. I blushed. You caught my eye and smiled. You said you were at the mall to do some last minute Christmas shopping. We talked for a little bit and then you left.

A couple of days later you called and asked if I would like to go for a drive to look at Christmas decorations. It was dark out when you picked me up in your light blue Buick Century with white interior. The car was about ten years old, but was spotless and smelled new. You brought your camera along and we took pictures of decorated houses. It was really cold that night, but we had fun.

That Christmas I gave you some batteries for your camera. You bought a little something for me too, though I don't recall now what it was. It was unexpected that we each bought a gift for the other as we hadn't yet begun to date. Each having been through a divorce that year, we were feeling cautious. But it was becoming apparent that a mutual attraction was developing.

This year when I take out the holiday decorations, I will see your vintage ornaments nestled in their packing. I will think of you and the Christmases we spent together, and smile.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Love, look what you've done to me. Never thought I'd fall again so easily.
Whenever I hear Boz Skaggs, I'm walking in the door, stepping up into the kitchen, walking past the basement door, hearing the music fill the air, anticipating seeing you standing there waiting for me. Music was such an integral part of our lives.

You loved rock and roll, jazz, and big band. Some of the jazz used to drive me crazy when you had it cranked while working in the garage. Poor neighbors. Poor me. I could take it for so long then, sorry Bill, I had to walk over and turn it down. But I still have the jazz cassette tapes with your handwriting on them.

If I want to step into a time machine and be transported back 20 years and get all sentimental and melty and in touch with the pain I have felt since you've been gone, all I do is play Silk Degrees. And there you are, in my memory so strongly I could reach out and touch you. If only.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


didn't end
became one
Covenant now void

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Erin is 29 now, the age I was when you and I walked together down the aisle to take our marriage vows. Friday, November 5, 1982, the day was overcast and cool. A small gathering of family and friends joined us as we sealed our promise to love and honor each other for life.

The Hodgkin's Disease had come out of remission earlier that summer. You were having terrible back pain that soon became debilitating. A bone scan revealed a lesion on your spine that had resulted in a compression fracture. You could barely lift a gallon of milk. You needed help getting up from a prone position. The doctor ordered a course of radiation treatments to be followed up with 6 months of chemotherapy.

The four week course of radiation therapy ended on your 30th birthday, two days before we wed. Chemotherapy treatments were scheduled to begin the following Monday. Because of the intense back pain, you were unable to work. I was employed at the time as a dental lab technician. Thankfully, your uncle Hank was available to drive you the two hours to Peoria every two weeks for chemo.

For three days after treatment, you were extremely ill. The days were getting shorter and it was dark outside by dinner time. On those days you were in bed when I returned home from work. I would go to you and offer what little support I could. You often asked me to read to you from the bible. You said it comforted you to hear my voice as you sought solace in God's words.

Soon the combination of radiation and chemotherapy destroyed the tumor adhered to your spine. The terrible pain subsided and you were able to return to work at Carlson's Auto Body.

Over the course of our 6 1/2 year marriage, we were confronted with the ups and downs of living with a life-threatening disease. Each reoccurrence of the illness was a difficult and trying time, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Life for us was a roller coaster ride of hope and despair, encouragement and distress.

But there was an oasis of grace in the midst of all the turmoil. When you were down, I consoled you. When I was down, you comforted me. We were never in the depths of hopelessness together. One was always able to reach in and help the other along when we needed encouragement to keep going. It made all the difference.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Memoriam

Memories flow in bits and pieces. It was late in the evening. You had backed the boat and trailer into the garage so you could pack the wheel bearings. You were weak from the disease and the struggle to find a doctor and hospital that could help you. We were in litigation with Prudential at the time. The Hodgkin's Disease was as unwilling to yield to remission as the insurance company was unwilling to approve a bone marrow transplant that would hopefully extend your life. You were exhausted.

But still you tried to take care of the things you knew I wouldn't be able to do. So I watched as you sat on the stool and packed the bearings with grease. A feeling of sadness hovered over us in the night air. The glow from the garage light spilled onto the drive. I walked over and sat behind you on the stool, resting my cheek against your back, listening to your heartbeat. I wrapped my arm around your waist and felt your hand close over mine.

William (Bill) Craig Modesitt
November 3, 1952 - June 30, 1989