The Poems on My Window

Poem window

the window above my clay wedging table

A Meeting

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.

Wendell Berry

This poem was sent to me by a college friend…April Leidig

In my studio, I have a window that I have collected some items to remember John by. After a while, I will probably take some of them down and move them. I don’t want it to begin to become a shrine. The voodoo doll, he bought the summer he worked at Zion National Park and went to California to see a cousin, who took him to Mexico. The photo of him is when we took him to Oregon, a year ago this week. There is a rock on the shelf that I dated 8-22-2013 Walking with John, Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Tomorrow is the 22nd of August and that rock will go into my jar to add to the 1000 pebbles that I am marking the 1000 days to Acceptance. Today is day 165. The poems that I have taped onto the window have given me words to read to help me through my days. They are positive thoughts. They may go away after a while and I find other positive thoughts to take their place. Some days, I don’t look at them, while other days, I read them all. Today, I thought I would share them with you and to also share some insights from a book that I have been reading. Trying to understand the differences in how I, and others are dealing with our new normal.

Right after John’s death, we received a little over a hundred cards and letters of condolences. Many of them had cliche’ messages, many people didn’t know what to write so they let the card be the message and simply signed their names. Some of the cards were very pointed and told stories that really helped us to feel supported and loved.  One letter we received complimented us on our parenting and that, while they didn’t know John, except to watch him play baseball in high school, they did know us and that if we were any indication, John must have been an incredible young man. Many remembered time spent with John.

1000 pebbles to acceptance

1000 pebbles to acceptance

I have also been reading a book by an Episcopal Bishop, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” by John Shelby Spong. As an atheist, I get really frustrated with comments surrounding my son’s death and am trying to find words that will be inspirational to me but will help me to be a critical thinker. This book, written in 1998, discusses all the frustrations that I have had with religion and the superficial aspects of it in terms of today’s society. After, the death of my son, I have struggled with how religion is playing a part in how others are dealing with their grief.  I am trying not to be judgmental about someone else’s grief. Each person has a right to their own belief systems but religion and god have nothing to do with how I am dealing with my grief.

Critical thinking is the basis of this book and Bishop Spong’s advice is to try to find new answers to many of the practices that are out of date from biblical times. He takes the scriptures apart and points out the histories behind them and how the world was very different than what it is today. One of the reviews on the back of the book says that …”he sounds a rousing call for a Christianity based on critical thought rather than blind faith, on love rather than judgement, and that focuses on life more than religion.” I want answers. I don’t want to just think that my son is floating about. With space travel, we now know that the earth is not flat, as what was thought, when the bible was written. Women certainly play a completely different role now than they did in biblical times. Embryology was not even known until the 1700s how a woman’s egg gets fertilized and that during biblical times, she was just property. Men had more than one wife, they had slaves, they were supposedly told by God to go in and kill people. These are just a few of the topics that Bishop Spong addresses.

Prayer is something that he says we need to take a hard look at. How can some prayers be answered while others seem to go unnoticed? Again, critical thinking is something that we need more of. We now have weather radar that can tell us that storms are not part of God sending us signs. We know that space is growing larger and larger with more and more new discoveries. We know that we evolved from a fish. Much of the world was not even know to exist when much of the bible was written. I would highly recommend this book to all christians. I need to point out that Bishop Spong is a believer but calls himself a believer in exile. As an atheist, I respect the christian views to love one another, have respect for all and to care for others who are less fortunate than ourselves, but I think, like Bishop Spong, we need to revisit many of the stories in the bible and add history and realistic science to the stories, putting them into a new perspective to see if they really are words that we want to live by and to understand just how insignificant we really are in the universe. I think that inspiration can come from the beauty in the world around us and from the words that we send and share with each other. I can’t get that inspiration from the Bible and I don’t believe in a supernatural being.  So, below is some of the simple inspirations that I am looking to each day to guide me through my day and to help me resolve my grief.

The 125 cards that we received were all very moving in each of their own ways. The sheer numbers of cards gave us the knowledge that we are loved and are being thought of at this difficult time. In addition to the cards, friends have made us aware that they are there for us, whenever we need them. Some people sent money, not knowing what else to do. That money has been used to put a memorial garden in our yard so we can remember the thoughtfulness of those kind offerings. Being private people, we have accepted some of these invitations and not others. That isn’t to say we don’t appreciate the offers, we just need to deal with small bits of our sadness, sometimes alone.

There is a scholarship fund that is being set up in John’s name through the Shenandoah Community Foundation and when it is complete, I will post about the details so that some other adventurous individual may have the opportunity to experience life fully the way that our son did.

Thank you to each and everyone that has reached out to us.


Inside a card from Walter Elliott: Walter was a friend of a friend who went kayaking several years in the early summer with John, Herb and several other guys. I never met him but I feel this really says that he knew John very well.


I share in the sadness from John’s death. He seemed to enjoy so much. The simple things that others discard or take for granted. Watching him eat leftover food or recycle it into a delicious snack was a pleasure. He made the task of building and tending a campfire into an expression of art. May your grief be lessened by the gifts he gave us in life.

Thinking of you,

Walter Elliott

A poem that my friend Claudia sent me: Claudia sent me this as a way to start my day.

We rise today with,

The light of sun

The radiants of moon

The splendor of fire

The speed of lightning

The swiftness of wind

The depth of ocean 

The stability of earth and the firmness of rock.

Several folks sent this poem but my friend Abbe Kennedy printed it onto a separate sheet of paper:

I don’t think John is in these things but the poem is lovely and the change that I would make to it is that I think John is now stardust rather than the starlight at night. With his ashes being scattered all over the country, I think that stardust is more fitting to his situation.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush, 

I am the swift, uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep. 

I am not there, I do not sleep. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry.

I am not there, I did not die!

My friend Mona, sent me a card with a wonderful Thomas Merton quote written inside:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves,

and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves

we find in them.     Thomas Merton

Mona also wrote…. what a great thing that John was his own man!

A poem that I found for myself and sent a copy of it to Erin:

After a While

After a while you learn

The subtle difference between

Holding a hand and chaining a soul

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn

That kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises

And you begin to accept your defeats

With you head up and your eyes ahead

With the grace of a woman

Not the grief of a child.

And you learn

To build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is

Too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way

Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much

So you plant your own garden

And decorate your own soul

Instead of waiting

For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn

That you really can endure

That you are really strong

And you really do have worth

And you learn and you learn

With every good-bye, you learn.

Veronica A. Shoffstall

My Valentine poem from Herb, my wonderful husband:

Valentine for Susie

They’ve got it wrong

It’s not an arrow through the heart,

a fire blazing bright

or even a red, red rose.

Once I thought it was a butterfly’s flight

a chance blessing shared,

Later a puzzle worked and fit seemed right.

But, now I think I know. 

Our love is a quilt, pieced and stitched 

by our life together.

Defying pattern, colors without caution, 

sewn together with thread from our souls.

And finally, something that I have had on my wall for a while that I find inspirational and try to follow it…. I don’t always do this, but can only strive to do these things.


The Four Agreements

Be Impeccable with your Word

  • Speak with integrity
  • Say only what you mean
  • Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others
  • Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love

Don’t Take Anything Personally

  • Nothing others do is because of you
  • What others say and do ias a projection of their own reality, their own dream
  • When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering

Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want
  • Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
  • With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best

  • Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick
  • Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.