Denise Day Spencer

June 24, 2011

An open letter to Charlie

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 9:11 pm

Dear Charlie,

It was good to see you and your family Sunday. I’m so glad you could all come for Silas’ baptism. It was a wonderful, joyous day. And yet the tears that sprang to my eyes when the water was being poured over Silas’ small head were tears of sorrow. We stood there — you, Rose, me, all the rest. But where was Michael?

Michael would have so loved to have been there. He would have talked about it, written about it, recorded a podcast about it. He would have been beaming. He’d have sung the hymns especially loudly, his eyes turned upward as they did when he sang. We would have been proud of Silas together.

Michael’s missing out on a lot of things lately, isn’t he? The evening Silas was born tears stung my eyes then, too, as Ryan carried our brand, new grandson into the hospital nursery. It was such a moment of joy mingled with pain. When Noel told her dad she was pregnant the first time, he was days away from death. I ached as I watched him clap his hands for the grandchild he knew he would never see. “I wish you could be here,” I said. He answered with confidence, “Oh, I’ll be right there.” I suppose I had hoped that when Silas was born I might feel Michael’s presence in some way, if just for a fleeting moment. But I was only aware of his glaring absence as you and Rose put your arms around each other at the nursery window. (more…)

April 4, 2011

One-year anniversary

Filed under: Personal reflections,poetry — denisedayspencer @ 8:26 pm

Michael, you always said you thought that when we died we’d be amazed at how close heaven and earth had been all along, and we just didn’t realize it.
No, we don’t realize it. How can we?

Dark Side

I hold your shirt to my face and breathe in your scent.
Where was it that you went
that day?
You forgot to pack before you went away.

I take your books from off the shelf, the pages worn.
You loved the words, the lore
of each.
But now your story takes you beyond my reach.

I gaze at the nearest foothills, past muddy fields.
A search beyond would yield
‘Tis not in woods or earth your spirit takes wing.

I wonder at the brightness of the burning sun.
If I could to it run
or fly,
not in its heat would you see His majesty.

Where are you? Is it as they say, or do shadows
fall around you high, low,
black hues
stilling your voice and now keeping Him from view?

I stand with face upturned, survey the midnight stars.
The answer comes with tears,
and soon.
I am the one on the dark side of the moon.

February 1, 2011

Just moments

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 6:48 pm

I am in our school’s dining hall. A faculty member asks another teacher if he can borrow a plastic tub to take some sweet potatoes home to his wife. “She really loves sweet potatoes,” he says. Such a simple act of lovingkindness. I recall how often we’d be traveling and Michael would come out of the convenience store with something for me that I hadn’t asked for — a candy bar, an oatmeal cake — just because he knew I liked it.

A friend sits down to eat supper with her husband. I overhear her telling him all about her doctor’s appointment that day. I realize that now if I have health problems or concerns, there’s no one who will care quite like a spouse cares.

I learn that a friend has lost his mother. My very first thought is, “I’ve got to tell Michael right away. He’ll want to know about this.” He’s been gone nine and a half months and a part of me is still in denial.

I’m talking with a student. She asks, “When you were my age, did you ever wonder sometimes if you’d ever get married?” I began to make some reference to before I began dating Mr. Spencer and it suddenly hits me: “Mr. Spencer” is just a name to her. She’s never known him. All around me this school year are students who’ve never known him. The kids loved him so; how can they not know him now?

I see a younger couple quarreling. I want to grab them by the shoulders and yell, “Every minute of your marriage is precious! Don’t waste even one!”

A Facebook friend posts a photo of himself with his wife. Middle age is being kind to them; they make a handsome couple. I can’t resist. I comment, “Enjoy these years.”

Another Facebook friend enters a thread in which folks are wishing her husband well on his birthday. She adds a mere four words that capture her heart: “Happy birthday, my love.” I wonder if they will have a special dinner at home that evening or if they will go out. What flavor cake did she bake for him? Will her card be funny or romantic? When the dishes are cleared away will they make love?

Such are the moments that make up my life.



January 10, 2011

53 and holding

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 4:53 pm

When someone doesn’t want to acknowledge aging with another birthday, she often picks an age and claims to be holding there. Generally it’s a number ending in “9.” But for me the number is 53.

Maybe I’ve always been inexplicably drawn to the number 53. As a child, I was always making cards for people. Actually, I still do that. Anyway, it started in childhood. For some reason I still remember the card I made for my grandmother on her 53rd birthday. I put “53! 53! 53!” all over the front of the card. Inside I printed an original poem that began, “Bet you’ve always wanted to be the just-right age of 53!” It never dawned on me that a grownup might not be as excited as I was about growing older — and may not appreciate having her new age plastered all across the card. I didn’t truly believe 53 was a just-right age; it was her age and that’s what made it great to me. (I confess I was not so enamored with 53 when that was my birthday last year.)

This past year 53 has come to be a special age for me once more, because Michael was 53 when he died. Now to me he will be forever 53. And today I turned 54.


January 2, 2011

The year the magic died

Filed under: Home Front,Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 11:05 am

It’s time for reflection on Christmas 2010–my first Christmas without Michael.

Christmas is such a time for memories, and 31 years of marriage left me with memories galore. Like our very first Christmas, when we bought a real tree and Michael had to trim off the lowest twigs to make it fit in the stand and he chopped his thumb to the bone with the carving knife. We never forgot my taking him to the ER for those seasonal stitches. And like that same year when Michael wanted to do stockings but he bought everything except the stocking so he crammed the stuff into a brown paper bag he labeled “Christmas Bag” with a ballpoint pen. I saved that precious little bag for years, and would give anything to have it now. (more…)

October 15, 2010

A good ninety minutes

Filed under: Home Front,Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 5:53 pm

Last night we made a social worker smile–“we” being my grief support group and the social worker being Barb, our group leader. She asked us to share about changes that have taken place in us, in our homes and in our personal worlds since we lost our loved ones.

Not all of the changes were good. Some were neutral, while others, truth be told, were probably not so great. One member has noticed a lot more gray hair since she buried her husband. Several of us said we’re not at home as much as we used to be. Are we keeping productively busy? Yes. Avoiding the loneliness of the empty house? Probably that, too.

The good stuff, though, it was pretty darn good. I shared how I recently made a five-hour trek to my hometown all by myself, and did several things on my mini-vacation that I simply wouldn’t have done if Michael had been with me. Not that I couldn’t have; I just wouldn’t have. And everyone smiled as I told of going with Noel to the doctor just the day before and hearing my grandchild’s heartbeat for the very first time. Meanwhile, Dave has started on a home improvement project. He’s slowly moving from room to room, painting and laying new carpet. This is the first time he’s shown a real interest in anything since his wife died a year ago. Susan surprised us all by saying that she’d been on a road trip since our last meeting. Though she admitted she couldn’t wait to get back home, this was still a big step for her. The biggest news, however, came from Dorothy. She was positively glowing as she told us that she’s getting ready to go on a mission trip in the near future. And she’s already planning to enjoy it so much that she’ll want to go again.

Barb was absolutely elated. “When I was here last month,” she recalled, “you were the most depressed bunch of people I’d seen in a long time. I went to work the next day and said, ‘Hey, gals. We’ve got to pray for my support group!'” And they did. Barb went on to caution us that at the next meeting, “You may all be depressed again. It comes and it goes.” Yes, if we’ve learned anything so far, we’ve learned that. But for one lovely evening we shared more collective healing and joy than we had ever before known as a group.

And so we trudge on with our tiny steps. Sometimes it seems like three backward for every one in the right direction. Tonight I’m smiling, but a week ago I was sobbing over the six-month anniversary of Michael’s passing. Tomorrow I may be a basket case. But right now I’m glad to have a social worker who cares and prays. I’m thankful for God’s moment-by-moment grace. And I’m grateful for last evening’s ninety minutes of happiness and hope.

July 8, 2010

We never said the words

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 11:32 am

Today would be our 32nd wedding anniversary…if we weren’t now permanently stuck at 31. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you just a bit about our wedding.

We got married in 1978. Michael was fresh out of college; I still had one year to go. We thought it would be cool to buck tradition and write our own wedding vows. (Will anyone else out there admit to doing that?) I would tell you what they were if I could remember them. I do recall that the ring vows included words from the Song of Solomon —  “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm,” and went on from there with some trendy stuff we made up. Michael’s poor minister uncle was as traditional as they come, but somehow he calmly endured our shenanigans and pronounced us man and wife anyway. (more…)

June 12, 2010

Sometimes it’s just plain hard

Filed under: Devotional Life,Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 7:36 pm

Warning: This post contains graphic content. Still with me? Then let’s proceed.

I’ve been reading and hearing lots of death stories since Michael passed away. I’ll share a few anonymous examples.

First, one that I heard long ago but will never forget. “Jim” was dying of cancer at home and had been in a coma for days. One evening he regained consciousness. His wife was thrilled. She called the two adult daughters, who arrived with their young families. Wife, daughters and grandkids all piled up together on Jim’s bed. For a couple of hours they enjoyed a joyous time of holding one another, saying “I love you” and sharing their goodbyes. Finally Jim’s eyes closed. He sank back into a coma and died later that night. But the family will be forever grateful for that gift of precious time they were given. (more…)

May 28, 2010

It’s never too early to start

Filed under: Home Front,Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 6:53 pm

Noel has been notorious for posting notes on our refrigerator through the years well in advance of December. The note will be her Christmas wish list along with the admonition, “It’s never too early to start!” Shopping for her, that is.

With that as my theme I’d like to discuss something much less cheery than Christmas. In fact it’s not cheery, but positively dreary. It’s death. This post is basically a public service announcement, but one from my own experience. From Michael’s experience. And it’s very important, so listen up. (more…)

May 14, 2010

“He is my teacher”

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 6:55 pm

Tomorrow is graduation day at our school. My first graduation without Michael; it will be difficult, to say the least. To me graduation was always much more of a special day for Michael than for me. He was the one who worked directly with the kids. I watched them embrace him and thank him for all he had done for them. I saw them proudly introduce him to their families. I heard them describe what he had meant to them in their graduation essays. I was always so proud of him on graduation day.

So as a tribute to Michael, this time I’d like to let a couple of students speak for themselves. (more…)

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