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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I always say every memorial service or funeral needs a few babies in attendance. Sure babies are capricious and possibly noisy, but so is life. And what shouts “Life!” more than the young? When do we most need to see that life continues but following death?

As family and friends settled into Mom’s service, I delighted in listening to my nephew’s son’s loud sleep-heavy breaths as he snuggled into his mother’s chest. My mom was gone, but the family still grows. I felt the same joy at Uncle Carrell’s funeral when Avery Grace, my oldest cousin’s granddaughter, took advantage of the quiet to add in a little of her own noise.

Our larger families came together to say goodbye to not one, but two, of our elders in the same week. I can truly say it was the best of times for the worst of times. (Galatians 6:2: Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. NRSV)

On two days in March, we cousins and some of our spouses and children gathered into our informal choir, soon made formal by the direction of our cousin Brad and the keyboard work of our cousin Karla—both Mom’s heirs apparent. When there are no words, we take those penned by others and sing. We left the spoken words to another cousin, otherwise known as Reverend Bill these days.

Two bright sunny days—no given in March—to return those whom we have loved to the Nebraska prairie they had loved. Two very soggy cemetery grounds thawing from winter’s deep freeze—still it might have been easy to miss the hints of spring without seeing the children held in arms and those who had grown tall but who were still firmly in the spring-times of their lives.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

At no time was that more apparent than at my mother’s graveside service—as our cousin Bill laid his hand upon the urn containing Mom’s ashes, my brother’s not quite two-year-old grandson Ki broke away to lay his own small hand upon the urn. And then he just looked up at Bill as if to say, “I’ll take over now.”

That made it seem especially fitting that we held orange balloons to release in Mom’s honor. But first we listened to “Taps,” sounded out by Brad and followed by Bill in antiphon, for her (and our) grown-up side. The balloons, twisting in the gale-force March winds, anxious to leave our hands, were for that childlike spirit that made her a favorite with the younger generations throughout her life.

After watching the balloons almost shoot across the air—or some catching in trees, only to be blown outward—and then upward toward the East, we walked across the spongy turf toward the stone which already marked where my father rested.

The Fort McPherson National Cemetery, burial grounds established in the late 19th century, lies close to the South Platte River and not so very far from the confluence of that river and the North Platte. The areas in that section of the Platte River valley often have a water table close to the surface. Apparently, the newer burial section is closer to the water table than expected. On our travels across this land, we noted that the water was battling to re-stake its claim.

What we saw seemed shocking—moving water flowing from an established grave site. I had to remind myself that all in that hallowed place are gone—were in fact gone before arriving there.

May they have reached the place of eternal hope, but hope also springs in the living, especially through the newly living.


(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

Here’s a reason I need a puppy soon—to keep my blood pressure down. Short of getting a puppy in the next few minutes, I guess I’ll just have to write out my anger.

If you think government and the government workers are the enemy, then don’t read this. Why I bothered even to glance at Mike Rosen’s column in the Denver Post (“Should government workers be considered taxpayers?”) I do not know.

Perhaps it’s because I’m tired of hearing from all these people who think public employees are leaches upon society. How can you even begin to reason that because the private sector employees provide the funds for public workers, then any taxes paid by such workers are not taxes? Oh, he goes on to try to explain the logic, but even with my MBA degree, I just don’t get it.

Hey, I get the logic that if there is no money in the coffers, there is no money. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of this column, even though Rosen tries to explain that we need the services of some of these government workers. His word choice is often inflammatory—in his conclusion he says if there were money in the coffers, then the government could spread the wealth with generous rewards for government workers.

Just the use of the word generous implies he thinks the money is a gift. Reward? Reward implies something extra someone gets and negates Rosen’s earlier mention that certain public-sector employees earn their pay.

Of course, I am prejudiced—my family has a long history of being “rewarded” for being foolish enough to think that working for the public is somewhat noble. Sadly, many of the members of the public seem to think a government job is nothing short of a government aid program with the recipient of the program doing little more than draining revenues earned by hard-working private sector employees.

My mother was “rewarded” by helping unemployed people get their due during the extreme layoffs in the 1980s—she was also “rewarded” by working extra hours for no extra pay. That’s what she did because she thought those particular members of the public mattered.

Recently, my brother came to sit with me at our mother’s deathbed and to mourn her passing in the days following. While we watched for her to take her last breath, his Smartphone kept him connected to his all-important government job. The morning following her death, as we attempted to make arrangements, he continued to be asked to handle work matters, never mind that he was on bereavement leave. Did he perhaps earn his pay that day?

Just as people such as Rosen refuse to see that government workers’ pay contributes to the stabilization of the economy, I refuse to see how he can say the taxes contributed by our family are really just a pass-through of taxes contributed by private sector employees such as he.

Can we afford the government employees we have right now? Maybe not, but it’s not because they provide no services or because their compensation is some sort of skim off the top only acceptable during good economic times.

If we must cut many of these employees, be prepared not only to do without the services they provide, but also with the reduction in their tax dollar contributions. As their former employer, the public will also pay the increased unemployment premiums for the lay-offs and deal with the consequences of commercial real estate being left empty.

Go ahead and propose the reduction of government workers as a fiscally responsible suggestion, but explain to me why there is so much hostility in the rhetoric.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m going back to looking at pictures of puppies on the Internet. (I regret to inform you, but a very small portion of my husband’s salary—your tax contributions at work—does go toward supporting my puppy addiction by paying for our home Internet connection—which he uses from time-to-time to do work from home.)

(c) 2000 Trina Lambert

At least that’s what Charlie Brown said. Makes a lot of sense to me, especially now.

Sherman and I are doing OK, despite our losses, but I’ve got to tell you we’ve been through a long season of loss. What we think we need is a distraction that will last for years—something that is a sign of growth, of life in full expansion, not decline. Thank goodness it is spring, but we’d like a more specific sign and that’s why we feel we’re ready for a puppy in our home.

OK, you can never be ready for a puppy, but we think our lives are open again to all the activity associated with puppyhood.

After losing Mom and our dog Fordham, we want to live with some tangible proof that life goes on. As others lose parents and we hold our collective breaths as Sherman’s parents change, we just want to be mixed up in the joy of youth.

The thing is this time we’d rather not start out batting clean-up after someone else has broken a pup’s heart. We’ve helped work through the damage in our last two dogs, as well as in our foster dog that appears to be our forever dog, but we got them when we hadn’t spent so much energy taking care of our own emotional damage.

Now maybe it’s our own hearts that need bandages.

Though Fordham hasn’t been gone long and he can’t be replaced, I can tell it’s going to take another English Springer Spaniel to move us forward.

Abel, no matter how sweet he is, is the breed Christiana wanted. Without Fordham here, it’s so easy to figure out why Springers and not dachshunds are my breed—even with the neater home I now enjoy. You see, Abel gets and gives his love, then walks away.

Just last week this concept really hit me when a waterbed leak forced us to spend three nights sleeping on the office futon. Although we moved Abel’s bedding, he couldn’t be cajoled into spending the night in the room with us—he’s attached to his space more than he is to us. I am convinced that none of our Springers would have cared more for the specific room. Heck, Fordham pretty much went to sleep at 8:00 p.m. for years, but he wasn’t about to go to bed until the last person did—whether that bed was in our room or downstairs with Christiana.

How many times did I mutter about having dogs under my feet over the years? These days we still have a dog, but he’s rarely under our feet unless someone is in the kitchen with food—then he can’t follow us enough.

Even Chelsea, who was our most food-oriented Springer, would follow us around outside of the kitchen. In fact, one of her favorite routines (she was the kind of dog that had to circle three times before entering a door or lying down—her routines bordered on compulsions) was coming out to the living room and curling up on the rug for story time with our young twins.

Just last week I thought we’d found a way to resolve both our desire to start out as a pup’s forever family and our consciences. I wasn’t expecting it, but discovered there were available rescue pups almost ready to leave their mother. However, we are not the only people who made that discovery, it seems, and, alas, although we have gone through the phone interview and veterinarian recommendation, we still await the home inspection.

The impatient child in me wants to stamp my feet and say, “It’s not fair!” I didn’t request a puppy now because I knew there were puppies—I requested a puppy only after making it through the last three years and then losing my dog just as I had more time to give him again. If we were the kind of people who would abandon a dog, specifically an energetic English Springer Spaniel, we would have done so already because both Chelsea and Fordham were not for Springer-lite people. Trust me, we also had to learn (and erect!) a few tricks in order to keep them safely in the yard.

The adult in me reminds that child we just need to take our turn and be patient with the process—the right pup is or will be out there. The dog we get will be the one that is meant to join our family.

So for now, we continue making the property pup-friendly again and figuring out how to puppy-proof our possessions. We have to look beyond our mostly easy current set-up with the elderly dachshund (however, even “nervous” spaniel bladder habits are no match for many a dachshund’s attitude bladder habits—that clean-up could be a lot easier, even with a puppy!) and prepare for the future.

In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer (Albert Camus), but I’m sure that summer would feel warmer with a puppy playing beside my feet.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

In honor of Fordham “McKook” Lambert (aka Whiskey, Kane, and Frisco) December 23, 1999 – March 6, 2011

I can tell the difference already—the house is cleaner. The floors aren’t all covered in hair, dirt, and pine needles just minutes after having been swept. And it’s quiet here—way too quiet. Turns out I must like chaos after all.

No, chaos wasn’t Fordham’s name, but it very well could have been.

When I met Sherman, I didn’t know anything about English Springer Spaniels—I’d grown up with a Pekingese dog—and, ironically, I still loved dogs!

Yet the first time I came to visit Sherman at his house, I couldn’t take my eyes off his dog, Duncan, who barely took his eyes off Sherman. That dog thought Sherman was God. I can promise you that you receive no such adoration from a Pekingese.

Sherman will tell you I married him for his dog, but that’s not quite true. Still . . . if Duncan thought so highly of him, how could I not? Soon after we got married I convinced Sherman that Duncan was lonely and needed another similar friend.

Youth is rash and soon we came home with Chelsea, an English Springer Spaniel, we had found through a listing on a grocery store bulletin board. She and Duncan were not alike at all. Chelsea came with a lot of baggage from being chained up to her doghouse. She was not properly socialized, that is for sure. Still we trained her and she learned to trust and we to love.

Add a couple babies to the mix and our house became even more chaotic.

(c) 2000 Trina Lambert

The children grew and first Duncan died and then Chelsea four years later. Despite the easier lifestyle without indoor/outdoor dogs, we headed straight back into chaos when we agreed to adopt a seven-month-old English Springer puppy.

What we didn’t know was that he was as big then as our other dogs had been as adults. However, we were aware that he had already worn-out the welcome mat at three homes and had three names, none of which he claimed.

If we thought we had known chaos before, we were sadly mistaken. When we announced his new name to our long-time neighbor, she asked if the name meant, “As in you can’t afford him?” Wasn’t that the truth! Fordham hated to be bored and so we had a variety of textures and types of toys for him. We went to a behaviorist for advice. We kept a crate on each level of the house for sanity’s sake.

When the rescue group said he needed someone in the home during the day, they weren’t kidding. Since I was a writer, I thought we were a perfect match. What I underestimated was the amount of trouble one pup could get into as soon as I slipped into one of those writing reveries where time disappears. Really, it only took him a couple of minutes to go from actively chewing on a toy to ripping the couch ruffle or nibbling on the piano leg.

School started a few weeks after Fordham arrived. Every morning he and I would take the kids to school, but if I even thought about hitting the keyboard for a few minutes before our training walk, the guy would come in and throw a big paw across the keys. Yes, I was starting to understand why the behaviorist told me I shouldn’t do anything for him without making him do something for me first—this dog thought he was born to be the Alpha of our household.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Refuting that concept would have been easier to do without the actions of our eight-year-old twins—or the “Great Undoers” as we called them. Despite our visit with the behaviorist, they just wanted to play with him and he with them.

To say we were exhausted in those first months is an understatement. I couldn’t believe I had gotten to a calmer parenting point in my life only to take in a much more destructive baby. And yet, there is no way I was going to be one more person who failed him. For several months, if we put him in the car at a non-routine time, he would cringe as if we were taking him away for good—we were his forever family—it was just going to take some time.

Just like your own children, puppies know how to endear themselves to you just when you think you cannot take their behavior any longer. Those first weeks he would cry a little when we sent him to bed in his crate. He’d look at me with those should-have-been-illegal-puppy-dog-eyes and I would sing to him. Lullabies I knew, but also things like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” and “Amazing Grace.” Grace he definitely needed.

I don’t know when it happened, but we all got used to one another—even though we had to maintain constant vigilance to stay ahead of his hijinks. No invisible fencing for him—who cares about a little pain when there’s a squirrel involved? He had clever ways of leaving the yard and we had to devise even more clever ways of keeping him in.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

This guy was a character—one we dubbed as president of the Kooks of America club. The only people who didn’t love him were neat freaks (so what if he was a championship slobber-flinger?) and people who didn’t appreciate a klutzy dog accidentally running into their knees.

Age and joint problems caused him to slow down, but never to lose his personality. When we introduced Abel, an older foster (supposed—he’s still here) dachshund, into our house two years ago, Fordham was somewhat offended. And, until his last days, he did his best to flop down on the guy or push him out of his little doggie bed while leaving his own larger cushion vacant. Abel liked him anyway and, I suspect, he liked Abel back, but just didn’t want to share anyone or anything with him.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I’ll tell you for selfish reasons I expected to have Fordham around to comfort me after my mom passed. He has always been my confidante—in fact, he was our only dog who seemed to come to me when I was upset and who was willing to remain with me the whole time. He was also our best dog when any of us was sick—he was content to stay with whomever was stuck on the couch or in bed. As much as he took in upkeep, he gave more back.

I’ve learned that no two dogs are alike regardless of the similarities within a breed. Despite the chaos, I couldn’t have afforded not saying “yes” to taking in Fordham.

I couldn’t help falling in love with him . . .

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Here’s a warning: I’m not going to respect the metaphor today. My friend Dawn always said to be careful about mixing metaphors and yet here I am talking about walking and sailing in the same blog post. But in the earliest days of Spring and during the windy month of March, wind is associated with both land and sea in my mind. No respect at all, I tell you.

Yesterday I stepped onto the labyrinth at our church, Bethany Lutheran, prepared to stick with one word in my mind and to let God guide that path. Calling or vocare or however you want to define being called to a profession. What is to be the next turn on my journey now that I am no longer a caregiver?

Of course, my mind being mine, I couldn’t stick with one word—just as I can’t seem to stick with one metaphor. Maybe it’s because I have taken so little time to be contemplative over the last few months.

Oh, it would appear that the busyness of the past few years is over and that I could take time to just be. To sit and listen for what comes next.

But so far that hasn’t happened—I don’t know if that is about to change or if I keep myself from slowing down. There have been so many tasks in these past two months since Mom has been gone. True I have the time I used to spend visiting or doing paperwork—plus I sleep better. My nights have become more restful now that I am no longer being asked to make multiple decisions for someone else or waiting for a call that will tell me things are worse or that the worst has happened.

Nonetheless, I have had tasks associated with the before and after of her services, such as the planning for the services and handling memorial donations and our expressions of gratitude. And a look around our house will tell you that I am still dealing with additional physical items that are not my own, be they for donation, preservation, or disposal. Despite my having given several large bags of clothing to ARC last month, more donations remain. Then there are the photos and papers—to stay or to go—either to someone else or in the trash.

I won’t even discuss the storage unit.

See, I could make up a boatload of excuses for not getting on with my own life, but why do I want to stay in this harbor of uncertainty? I was called to provide care over the last several years, but I feel certain God didn’t put me on this earth to be a full-time caregiver. I just wonder how and when he’s going to give me more directions on how to pull away from the dock in order to go toward other horizons.

(Here’s where I must take care with this metaphor, as I am no sailor though Sherman is. What little I know comes from movies like Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean and a few sails across reservoirs in Nebraska where I was so not in charge—not being in charge is the part of sailing I truly understand! And, that’s how I’m going to “respect the metaphor” in this writing.)

In the meantime I start uncoiling the ropes: I work on a financial plan, search for a puppy, and train for instructing Zumba® fitness. My cleared desk leaves room to focus on the writing work I accepted with the caveat that first I leave home to bid farewell to my mother.

And, so I wonder, can I be a dancing writer who works at home enough to raise a new canine-friend by her feet?

Not knowing, yesterday I took those feet on the path, walking and talking, despite not being still—in the end, my stillness is best achieved while moving.

Today this harbor is calm, but I am at the ready for the wind to pick up, fill the sails on my ship, and guide me out to sea.

My captain (my captain!)—unlike the one in Walt Whitman’s poem—still breathes: Come, Holy Spirit, come.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) Christiana Lambert 2009

I am still here and craving getting back to the keyboard. So often I’m reminded of the conundrum I couldn’t figure out how to get around in my creative writing class back in a decade long, long ago (here’s a hint: there was lots of big hair and shoulder pads, but first came the understated preppy styles.) Kent, as we called the professor, was always telling us we had to get out to live life to write about it. I was always wondering how I would have time to write if kept myself so busy.

Still don’t have the answer for that, which explains a lot of my recent silence. The lack of words is not at all surprising when I look back at the last few weeks—in fact, when any of us in our personal family explains the past week alone, we mostly receive stunned silence from others.

You see, the kids came home for Spring Break—which makes life busier anyway—but there wasn’t a lot of time for goofing around. In our lighter moments we call last week “Spring Break 2011: The Funeral Tour.”

We planned Mom’s North Platte, Nebraska service for Spring Break because the kids’ college is so far away from both here and there, but we didn’t plan for the other events that transpired. When we set up the time back in January, Christiana wasn’t 100% convinced we should wait. Her argument? Death isn’t supposed to be convenient.

That statement came back to haunt us since even when death is conveniently timed it is always inconvenient—which is a major understatement, by the way. Disruptive, earth-shattering, heart-breaking are a few more words and expressions that apply.

Each of the events that transpired deserves its own reflection, but first I must summarize, if only to break out of my own stunned silence.

Fordham, our dog who had cancer, was getting harder to move around, but with nice weather the first week in March, we were able to take him out in the morning and let him move himself all day. It was amazing how a dog so crippled by a leg three times its normal size could visit all the sides of the yard during the day in search of new sleeping positions. Then we would bring him inside as it got dark and he would ask for a little help to follow us around and finally he would ask to go to bed—where he would still harass our little dachshund by moving onto him and his tiny bed.

By the time the kids came home, though, he had his first really bad night, when we had to be outside in our pajamas straining to get him back in. That Saturday we all knew we couldn’t wait, but we gave him another night—which was thankfully peaceful. Two days in a row he got his ride in the Radio Flyer around the block—and then into his final moments where his unexplained exuberance left the staff in tears.

We couldn’t distract ourselves enough—we got out of town and went skiing for two days to pretend this was a normal spring break. We had a lovely time except for when we remembered—but it had been time to let him go. (Still working on that . . .)

Next came packing—we weren’t on our way to Mom’s memorial service only but also to Uncle Carrell’s funeral. (If you knew Carrell, you know it’s really possible that he wanted his service to be convenient to my mother’s service—he was our family planner.)

But first stop: Ash Wednesday service. And that’s when I really realized my mother and Fordham were ashes—and Carrell, too, in his own way. Like I needed the smudge on my forehead to remind me. But I did need the pastors’ words to remind me that it is the way of the living to end—and it’s never going to be convenient—except for the resurrection factor.

In many ways, having the two services on back-to-back days was a blessing. Our extended families came together to sing individually and corporately. Bill, our family’s ordained minister, personalized the words of comfort in a way only someone who has known the people since birth can do. We were conveniently together to support one another—at very inconvenient times.

So here I sit at my keyboard, many of the hard tasks behind me, ready to write my way into whatever comes next. I know my grief will return to me in waves, likely in inconvenient times, but I will just keep writing my way through it.

That’s pretty convenient in its own way, if you think about it.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

This is not a hilltop time in my life. No, this is a time when I am walking through the valley, despite my understanding that the circle remains unbroken.

When my daughter came home for her grandmother’s first service and discovered her dog was dying, too, she did what many of us do these days—she sent out a primal cry to her online connections on Facebook in the words, “I am surrounded by loss.”

I understood. Despite the positive happenings in our lives, when we lose people and pets we love, the magnitude of their absence can overwhelm whatever is going right. You can’t just say, “Sure I lost Mom and I’m losing my dog, but the sun is shining so it is OK.” Well, you can say it, but it won’t be true.

You have to keep moving through that valley to find the better days—and even when you have reached the next hilltop, you know that your losses remain losses. You just get a little better at accepting that those you have loved are gone from your life.

Suffice it to say I am ready to limit my current losses to Mom and Fordham—most days that is more than enough. Sure, Fordham is still with us, but each day I see the changes and know his time here is short.

My cell phone rang early this morning—surely it could not be good news.

No, our extended family has suffered another loss: Mom’s brother Carrell lost his battle with leukemia yesterday—we were not ready to lose another of our elders. No matter that he fought back death three times from lymphoma. Where there were once five siblings, only two remain. And to lose half of those living in a six week period . . . it is too much.

Yet, it is what it is. It’s official, I’m singing the blues. Sure hate to see them all go . . .

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