She’s being followed by a moonshadow

“I’m dying.”

That’s what my dear friend Lynn said when she called me on the last Monday in February. She had just returned home from a visit with her oncologist who had given her the shattering news that her already grim prognosis of three to four months to live had abruptly changed to weeks and that she was being released into hospice care. Her doctor was on point – she died exactly three weeks later, two days before her 68th birthday. What happened in those 21 days in between was one of the most transcendent experiences of my life. Lynn took me to the thin place between this life and the next one and I hope I never get over it.

This is the story of how I got there.

Lynn, Joy and Kathy (Lynn’s wife) on our wedding day in May of 2014.

I became friends with Lynn through marriage – she and my wife Joy were best friends for almost 25 years, so, when I got Joy, I also got Lynn – a way better gift than monogrammed towels. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the spring of 2017 and underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy. She lost her hair and felt like shit. The past six years, she was on the fickle rollercoaster of good scans/bad scans and endured several more rounds of chemo. Fuck cancer. But cancer doesn’t get to steal Lynn’s story – I just needed to give you some context.

Lynn’s Facebook post after she got the dire news in January. She always was a straightshooter.

In January, Lynn’s oncologist told her that her tumors were aggressively growing – even while being blasted by chemo – and Lynn had only a few months to live. I picked her up from her appointment that day and she delivered the news to me straight – no chaser. That was Lynn’s style. I felt like I was in a movie – a bad one – as I grasped for something remotely lucid to utter. I’m sure my knuckles were white on the steering wheel when I heard her say, “I’ve started planning my funeral.” I know that my voice cracked when I replied, “Make it a damn good one.” She nodded her head slowly and said, “Yep. I deserve that.” And she got one on par with Queen Elizabeth, but more or that later.

Kathy and Lynn in happier times -ringing the bell after Lynn’s first round of chemo was completed on the day after Christmas in 2017.

We always assumed that Lynn would eventually die from her cancer and it was a faint undercurrent to our time together, but she kept making plans and we were on board for them. In the last year or so, her bad days far outnumbered her good ones and this past Christmas, Joy wondered out loud if it might be Lynn’s last. I didn’t have to say anything as my dear wife read my dark face. But that’s the thing about hope – it’s the last one to leave the party – and we made the most of our holiday time with her. Looking back on it now, fate was kind to us. Lynn and her wife Kathy spent several hours with us on Christmas Eve when their power went out during a wicked cold snap. Lynn sat bundled up in her puffy coat by the fireplace in our living room for three hours – talking, laughing and drinking hot chocolate. Thank you, Duke Energy.

Christmas seemed so far way when Lynn called Joy on a Saturday morning in mid-February and said she needed to go to the ER – her pain had reached an unbearable level. Kathy couldn’t take her because she had been up all night with a stomach virus. Can you say piling on? Joy was with Lynn for several hours until she was admitted. Tests and scans revealed that the gruesome pain was being caused by the tumors obstructing her kidneys. A few days later in the hospital, Lynn and Kathy were faced with a Sophie’s Choice – either die in a few days from kidney failure or have a nephrostomy – a surgical procedure to make an opening from the outside of the body to drain the urine into tubing attached to a bag. The doctors said this procedure would give Lynn a few more months.

I think Lynn had already made peace with dying, but she had some things she wanted to take care of before she checked out, so she opted for the surgery and returned home a few days later with her “pee purses” – her words – in tow. Lynn had a penchant for accessories and we were grateful, as always, for her indomitable sense of humor. She needed that in spades a few days later when her oncologist delivered the death knell – even with the nephrostomy, her time on earth was down to weeks, not months.

That’s when she called me and we boarded the L-Train to Parts Unknown. It was a group tour with our tribe – Lynn, our tour director, Kathy, our friends Lori and Sue, and our other Lynn. One of the many gifts of being gay, at least in my experience, is creating your own family. This unit doesn’t always preclude your biological family, but this is the family that doesn’t vote against you in every election, the family that loves you unconditionally, the family that knows and loves you for who you are – regardless of pronouns. And I know you don’t have to be gay to have this kind of family, but I do think that my people have perfected the concept. After all, we’ve had centuries of practice.

Lynn and me back in the day when we robbed banks together.

Lynn had one sibling, a sister, who we shall refer to as Cruella for simplicity’s sake, and they were estranged for some time before Lynn’s death. But Lynn’s other family, her heart family, was huge – in fact, about 40 folks formed the processional (Lynn’s idea) behind Kathy at her memorial service. I didn’t know all of my other family members, but I do know that we were all damn proud to be in that number.

When Joy finished work on that woeful Monday night, we went to Lynn’s house, not knowing what to expect. And there she was in her recliner in her sunroom looking like she was ready to host book group. She had a beatific look on her face as she announced, “I’ve decided that I want to die on the same day as Jimmy Carter, so we can hold hands and jump together.” We didn’t see that coming (understatement). And that was pretty much every day until she died – one astonishing conversation after another. Oh, and President Carter, she’s waiting for you.

There were joyful surprises along the way, too. Kathy’s niece Dani and her wife Cat flew in from Iowa the very next day to spend time with Lynn and help with 101 things. I had never met them but was immediately smitten when I picked them up at the airport. They are in their late 30’s – lovely, bright and brimming with possibilities. I soon nicknamed them “the kittens” because they were so cute, sweet, and far removed from sickness and death. We all just wanted to pet them. They stayed for ten days with the promise to return for Lynn’s memorial service. And they did.

The Kittens – Cat (yes, her real name) and Dani in front of Lynn’s favorite tree.

Lynn continued to lean into her death, giving us the glorious gift of celebrating her life while she was still with us. And boy, did we. The first Saturday in March, we held a surprise drive-by parade for Lynn. We had originally scheduled it for two weeks later – right before her birthday – but we were keenly aware that time was not on our side. We weren’t sure how many folks would be able to come on such short notice so we were gobsmacked when about 40 enthusiastic friends turned out with festive decorations and signs. There were even leprechauns! It was an unusually warm day for early March and a camp chair at the edge of her yard served as Lynn’s review stand.

No one was going to rain on Lynn Parsley’s parade.

Everyone blew their horns and cheered – Kathy had prepared the neighbors on their cul-de-sac for the shenanigans. Each car stopped when it reached Lynn and everyone got out and hugged her. Most of them cried, but Lynn never did. She held their hands as they stooped down to her level and she looked into their eyes, and said things like, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Later that evening, Kathy told us that Lynn had been reflecting on the day and said, “I’m already in heaven.”

Our tribe has a monthly supper club, only we call it Cabana Night. That was my idea because the first one actually took place in a cabana. It’s the highlight of every month and Lori and Sue host and give everyone an assignment. And there’s always a theme. Always. Sometimes, there are even costumes. We’ve had almost 60 by now and we knew we had to give Lynn a final one. Lori and Sue had been out of town for a week when I informed them that they would be hosting a dinner party on the evening after the parade. I’m just that kind of friend. I broke the news to them on the phone while driving and by the time I got to their house – about a 15-minute drive – Sue had already selected a theme – Campfire Girls – and the e-vites went out within the hour. Never doubt what a few committed lesbians can accomplish on short notice. I think Margaret Mead said that.

We didn’t have s’mores, but we went through three boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

See: Eating your feelings.

Parade day had been a lot for all of us – most especially Lynn. She was feeling nauseous from her pain meds when she arrived for dinner and sat in Kathy’s car for a long time with her eyes closed. None of us dared to say it out loud, but I’m fairly certain we were all thinking the same thing –  what an idyllic way that would be for Lynn to depart this earthly life after such a glorious day. She rallied and made it inside to the couch where she stayed for the duration. We took turns sitting with her during dinner and when it was my shift, she asked me if I would give the eulogy at her memorial service. Gulp. I told her it would be the honor of my life.

My dear wife had been terrified that Lynn was going to ask her to do it because she knew she would never have the composure to get through it. Lynn laughed when Joy confessed her fear and assured her that she would never put her best friend through that. A visibly relieved Joy told Lynn she thought she might ask Jack, her male best friend, and Lynn laughed again and said, “Are you kidding? He cries more than you.” I’ll tell you this – you may not choose Joy or Jack to give your eulogy, but you couldn’t make finer selections for best friends. Lynn knew that and I like to think she knew that I could deliver the eulogy she deserved.

Lynn in her happy place – smack dab in the middle of her tribe.
Photo: Back row – left to right: Lori, Joy, Kathy, Lynn and Sue. Front row – Cat, Dani and our other Lynn. Big head: Me.

She was only able to eat a deviled egg that night, but she smiled a lot. We all did, especially when we toasted her. We had decided prior to dinner that every toast that evening would be the same – Lynn Parsley Forever! And we were ridiculously pleased with ourselves when we added the Wakanda hand signal and crossed our arms over our chests each time we raised our glasses. That toast may be the only one we ever need.

Lynn Parsley Forever!
We gave Lynn the Wonder Woman accessories before her surgery in June of 2017.
I think she liked them.

Kathy and Lynn’s sunroom was busier than a Trailways bus station during Lynn’s last few weeks. She had visitors day and night – friends from third grade, sorority sisters, half of Ardmore – the beautiful neighborhood she lived in for 25 years. Kathy was the traffic cop and would gently try and steer folks out who were staying too long. Only one snag – Kathy is Norwegian, she’s terminally polite and gracious, and bouncer is just not a good fit for her. Keep in mind that Lynn was in great pain – in spite of heavy-duty narcotics – during a lot of this time. She somehow managed in-person goodbyes to her book club, her movie group and her not so small small group which she led for several years. Once again, she left most of them sobbing while she kept smiling.

Lynn selected this photo for her obituary. She was a very witty girl.

There were some lighthearted moments, too. Lynn was a bit of hoarder – not in a nasty way – she just had a lot of stuff and she was determined to give away a lot of it before she died. She was the Imelda Marcos of Skechers shoes – she had over 50 pairs. She liked matching her shoes to her outfit. I mean, who doesn’t? We wore the same size and she was delighted to give me first dibs. One problem – I am married to a minimalist and we live in a small condo with limited closet space. And honestly, I’ve never felt a need for pink shoes. I took a few pairs, but I know I’ll never fill her shoes.

The more smiles change, the more they stay the same. I’d know that sweet one anywhere.

And there was that magical Friday night when the universe conspired to give us one last perfect evening. Lori and Sue had dropped by for a brief visit with Lynn but found her sleeping, so they didn’t stay. Lynn was not at all happy that she had not been awakened to see them. “I’m not dead yet,” she barked to Kathy and the Kittens. Kathy called Lori and Sue – who had just arrived home – and sheepishly asked them to come back. And, of course, they did. Meanwhile, Joy and I had gone out for a bite to eat for the first time in weeks and as we were finishing dinner, we got a text from Lynn, which simply said, “Come over if you want to.” We practically ran to our car. And when we walked into the sunroom, there was Lynn holding court in her recliner – not looking at all like someone who was going to die in 10 days. Her pain was stable and she looked like, well, Lynn. And then she directed Kathy to open a special bottle of prosecco – her favorite – that was in the fridge. The party was on and we felt like a giddy pack of unchaperoned 8th graders.

Time stood still that Friday night – or at least we weren’t aware of it. Lynn didn’t feel sick and we didn’t feel sad. Cancer was just an astrological sign and not a serial killer. We were all kittens that night – playful in the moment – no aches, pains, or worries. It was our Make a Wish dream come true and Lynn’s sunroom was our Disneyworld. I took a photo of Lynn that night that I have looked at almost every day since she died. It reminds me to be present in the moment. We all stayed late that night and when I got home, I texted Lynn and thanked her for showing us that sacred and mysterious space between life and death. She texted back, “It’s been a great ride.” I didn’t want the night to be over, but when I finally drifted off to sleep, I knew I was still smiling.

Some people just know how to live.

We texted a lot during those last few weeks and it will be a very long time before I delete those messages. One of the best nights was “watching” the Oscars with her. My wife usually makes it through the first award and heads to bed, so it was so fun to share snarky comments with Lynn throughout the show. She had some good ones, like “Brendan Fraser looks like a young Rodney Dangerfield” and “Is Tilda Swinton a ghost?” but the one below literally made me laugh out loud.

Milk Duds will forever make me smile.
(Lynn’s texts are in the grey background.)

All of us who have had extensive dental work join Lynn in that prayer.

When Lynn had accomplished most of the things on her to do list – financial and legal matters that would make things easier on Kathy – she decided to have her nephrostomy reversed, knowing that would expedite her death. The tubes coming out of her back were terribly uncomfortable and her pain was getting harder to manage. She was ready. Unfortunately, our healthcare system was not and it took a lot of phone calls and navigation to get the greenlight to proceed. Finally, on Wednesday, March 15th, Lynn had the procedure to remove the tubes. I texted her that morning to tell her I was thinking of her. What she texted back has become a mantra for me in the days since her death.

She made us believe it.

Lynn returned home that morning for the beginning of the end. She had originally planned to enter our local hospice as her death drew near – she didn’t want Kathy to have to live with the memory of her dying in their home. Kathy thought she would be okay either way, but “I think that’s what Lynn would have wanted” was a phrase she spoke softly time and again in those last days – when Lynn was no longer conscious. It was such a sweet affirmation of their commitment to each other.

Her pain was increasing each day as her body was shutting down and under the supervision of her hospice in-home team, she was taking more drugs more frequently. The upside was no pain, the downside was fewer periods of clarity. Joy had arranged for a few days off from her work – thinking she would be giving Kathy a break at hospice during Lynn’s last days. We went to her house on a Thursday evening and could see that her descent was beginning. She had a hard time keeping her eyes open and her speech was weak and slurred. Our conversation was spotty when Joy, her voice cracking, asked Lynn if she could see into the next world. Lynn’s eyes grew wide open as she replied, “Oh, I’ve been seeing into it for a while now.” Joy asked her what it looked like. We both leaned in close to Lynn’s face as she answered, “The path is lit up waves.”

The moonglade as seen from Lynn’s condo balcony. “The path is lit up waves.”

Joy and I needed something stronger than prosecco after that revelation. I loved Lynn’s imagery and it seemed almost poetic for her. Her favorite place on earth was her beach condo in Garden City, SC. Her condo is on the fifth floor of a high rise and features a huge balcony that practically hangs over the ocean. You feel like you are on the deck of a grand cruise ship when you are standing on it. Many times, when we were there with her, we would marvel at the moonglade over the ocean and in the weeks since her death, it has comforted me to think of her on that familiar path.

That was the last conversation we had with Lynn. The next morning, Kathy was having difficulty getting Lynn adjusted in her recliner – Lynn was in a stupor from her medication and unable to help her. Lori and Sue happened to drop by at just the right time and it was starkly apparent that this was not a drill – Kathy needed help. Sue was calling me on her phone when Joy arrived at Lynn’s house. The next four days were like that – we were all on the same page, seamlessly working together with one purpose – keep Lynn as comfortable as possible as she made her exit. We never discussed who would spend the night – we all did – or who would do what – we just did it.

This crew is true blue and we were so grateful for all the friends who dropped off food and hugs.

Our vigil became a sacred sleepover of sorts and took on an almost tribal ritual feel. A hospital bed was delivered and placed in the middle of the sunroom – her favorite room in the house. And Lynn remained in that bed with us surrounding her until she died. Her priest came and administered the Last Rites and we all laid hands on her. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Death wants to make sure you’re paying attention.

Time management is an important skill for caregivers.

At night, we slept in increments of 55 minutes. Lynn could no longer swallow her pain meds, so we had to give them to her by dropper every hour. Kathy was the head nurse and Joy was her assistant. We became as proficient as a NASCAR pit crew. One of us would gently hold her head up and another would massage her throat to help the medicine go down. Kathy would set her phone alarm for an hour and the rest of us – sleeping on assorted couches, would pop up to help when it went off. Funny aside – Lynn was a world class napper and strongly believed that every room should have a couch – just in case she felt the need – the need for sleep. She was right – and we played musical couches each night.

The second night, I slept on the couch in the sunroom next to Lynn’s hospital bed. My head was just a few feet from hers and her deep labored breathing was the only sound in the entire house. It felt like being in the passenger seat when I was a kid – long before car seats – curious about where my dad might be taking me. Only this time Lynn was driving and I wondered what she might be thinking as I stared into the living room where Lori was sleeping. There is something deeply comforting about sleeping under the same roof with people you dearly love. I didn’t really sleep, but I floated in that space with no fear – just an overwhelming peace that wherever Lynn was going, she would be okay.

My view from the passenger seat. Lynn kept steering us out of the dark.

Early Sunday morning, Lynn began the death rattle – that eerie gurgling sound from the back of the throat that usually signals that death is very near. Or not. After a few hours during which we hung on her every breath, she returned to the deep breathing she had been doing the past few days. She wasn’t leaving just yet. The hospice nurse came that morning and encouraged us to talk to Lynn and tell her that it was okay to go. We all smiled knowingly and we told the nurse that Lynn had been telling us it was okay for her to go for weeks. We decided that Lynn was enjoying being the absolute center of our attention too much to leave just yet.

We were all a bit delirious from sleep deprivation, which can only explain why Joy and I sat down on the couch beside Lynn’s bed and decided to start singing hymns. You might be thinking that was a really lovely thing to do, but you’ve never heard my wife and me sing. It’s not pretty. We know how awful we are and we giggled and declared that if our dreadful crooning didn’t take Lynn out, nothing would. Mercifully, we ran out of hymns and everyone joined us in the sunroom and we began playing a two-hour mashup of Lynn’s Top 100 on our phones. Lynn loved music – all types – and we covered every genre – including songs from marching bands – she played the French horn in her high school band. We played everything from 25 or 6 to 4 to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and wait for it – Midnight at the Oasis. Lynn’s bucket list trip was Morocco – her planned trip in 2020 was scratched by COVID and she deeply regretted never getting there. We really belted out that one for her and at one point – just for a nanosecond, Lynn seemed to bob her head with the music – absolutely true story and I have fairly reliable witnesses.

DJ Joy in da House!

Send your camel to bed…

A hospice nurse – Nurse Cindy, our favorite – came on Monday morning and after taking Lynn’s vitals, told us that Lynn would probably go soon. Or not. Hospice nurses are awesome, but they’re not the betting type. Nurse Cindy told us what a good job we were doing caring for Lynn – and yes, I’m sure she tells everyone that, but it was a lovely lift to our weary souls that morning. Our other Lynn arrived with goodies and fresh energy and Lori and Sue went home to shower and change. When they returned, Joy and I left to do the same. And, of course, that’s when Lynn took her last breaths. Kathy was napping and Sue shouted at Lori to go wake her – STAT. A few minutes later, Lynn was gone. Death is like that – it keeps you waiting and then it makes an Irish exit.

Sunrise from the sunroom on the day Lynn died.

Lori had called me to tell us to hurry back, but we were too late. I was worried that Joy would be heartbroken that she was not with Lynn at the very end. Here’s the thing about my wife – she is the most grownup person I have ever known. I mean it. She is just so annoyingly mature. I told her I was so sorry we didn’t make it back in time and she said, through her tears, “It’s okay. I’m just so glad Lynn is finally out of pain.” See what I mean? Later, after she had spent some time alone with Lynn by her bed – holding her hand and stroking her hair softly – Joy told me that she thought Lynn had died while she was gone to make it easier on her. I love that thought and I want to be like Joy when I grow up.

We all left Kathy with Lynn in the sunroom while we did the things you have to do when someone dies. I called hospice to let them know and they told me that Nurse Cindy would be over shortly. Someone had the idea of cracking open a bottle of prosecco to toast Lynn off. And wouldn’t you know it, just as Sue was popping the cork and Joy was holding the flutes, in walks Nurse Cindy. She seemed a bit startled. I guess not everyone celebrates the end of a loved one’s life so festively. Well, Lynn Parsley wasn’t everyone, and she would have loved every minute of it. Joy even asked Nurse Cindy if she wanted a little sip. That’s my wife – ever gracious. Nurse Cindy politely declined and began all the paperwork she needed to do before the folks from the funeral home arrived. She was so tender with Lynn, even tearing up a few times. When it came time for her to leave, she said she hoped she had such a devoted group around her when it was her time. I think she really meant it. And then we all hugged her – genuine hugs of gratitude. I told her that I hoped I would never see her again – at least not on the job – and she laughed.

Then two very dapper men from the funeral home came to take Lynn away. They, too, were so very sensitive and kind. We followed them to the door and stood at the top of the steps as they prepared to place Lynn’s body in their Dodge van. What the hell? Lynn was a car fanatic – buying a new one every few years. She had a couple of Jags and sports cars and really nice rides over the years. A Dodge van would not have been her style at all, but I guess death has a sense of humor. And then one of the men slid the van door open and we saw that there was another body inside. Joy, who is usually the most reserved in our tribe blurted out cheerfully, “Oh, look! Lynn has a roommate.” I thought I might fall down the steps from laughing so hard and then Kathy sweetly said, “Lynn would love that.” That was our Lynnie – making new friends wherever she went.

We went back into the house, which felt deafeningly quiet and Sue decided to make dinner reservations for us that evening at one of the best restaurants in town. And so, a few hours later, we sat in a very private nook in a very fine restaurant and told story after story about Lynn and toasted her with almost every sip. Someone had tipped off our server to the circumstances of our celebration and he was wonderful. As we were leaving, he said, “I hope you all enjoyed your evening – and the one not here, too.” Even he knew that Lynn was still with us.

Lynn’s memorial service was held ten days later on the last day in March. There were over 300 people in attendance. I don’t even know 300 people. The service was magnificent – just as Lynn had planned it. The music was gorgeous – the prelude included a piano, viola, and trumpet – and a lyric soprano sang. I think I did okay with my eulogy. My sister, who lives in California, happened to be on the east coast for business and was able to attend and I decided to focus on her when I began to speak. I was about three words in when I saw her beautiful face crumble into a full-on ugly cry and that immediately relaxed me. She’s a tower of strength, that one. I kept it short and sweet and a little bit funny and told a few stories about Lynn that I hoped everyone could relate to.

I shared that Lynn and I had recently reminisced about one of our favorite movies – Starman. There’s a wonderful scene in that film where an alien, played by Jeff Bridges, is sharing his observations about humans with a scientist. The alien says, “You are a strange species. Not like any other. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.” That was Lynn Parsley. And when things went from bad to very worst in the last months of her life, Lynn was the one who made us feel better. She never gave up hope and she never stopped teaching.

I ended my eulogy with this excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem In Backwater Woods:

To live in this world,

you must be able to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your own bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to

let it go,

to let it go.

Lynn knew this and she gently helped us to know it, too. I think of her every day, especially when I run across something clever on social media that makes me laugh and I want to share it with her. I miss laughing with her. And I miss talking about deep things. Not many people like to go there, but Lynn did and we went there often – especially near the end. I read a fascinating article shortly after Lynn’s death (she probably sent it to me) – an excerpt from a book by Mimi Zhu – Be Not Afraid of Love: Lessons on Fear, Intimacy and Connection. Zhu writes that “grief is an ancestor who teaches us to exercise constant and immense gratitude.” She goes on, “To this day, grief has shown me that love does not die at the face of death; it is transformed. When you grieve deeply, you are shown your abounding capacity to love. Love does not die. Love sprouts from the ground we have nourished with our tears.”

That last sentence reads like a prayer to me,

Lynn loved Star Wars and well done sarcasm. I sent this to her in my head.

I had the most amazing dream about Lynn the other night. I was sitting outside at a picnic table with Joy and her on a beautiful day. Lynn was still dead but looked great – not sick at all. She said she had come to tell us that heaven looks like you’re wearing 3-D glasses all the time. How awesome is that? Lynn loved all the Marvel movies, so the heavenly 3-D effect is so on brand for her. She was terribly excited about it all and I kept touching her arm to see what it felt like. Spoiler alert – it felt like an arm. It was such a happy dream that I could hardly wait for it to be morning so I could tell Joy about it.

And now the image I can’t get out of my head, not that I would ever want to, is of Lynn and Jimmy Carter in heaven with their 3-D glasses on – blissfully chewing on Milk Duds – and watching the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie together. Somehow, Lynn knew it all along – every little thing is going to be all right.

Lynn and Kathy will always have Paris – September 2022.

The back of the bulletin for Lynn’s memorial service. Her idea, of course.
“No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers – what a way to go.

Rest well, dear friend. We’ll see you on the other side.

Postscript: In one of our last conversations together, I told Lynn that I would most certainly write about her death. She smiled and paused for a second before saying, “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”

And as of this posting, President Carter is still with us. No hurry, sir, but Lynn has saved you a great seat.

Eulogy for Lynn Parsley

Note: My dear friend Lynn Parsley died on March 20th, two days before her 68th birthday. Cancer sucks. Lynn gave me many gifts, particularly the last few months of her life, and I will most certainly write about them when the time is right. She also gave me the great honor of giving her eulogy at her memorial service last week. I think these things are meant to be spoken, not read, but I’m sharing it with you anyway. I think Lynn would like that.

Lynn Parsley, ten days before her death. Living, not dying.

I married into friendship with Lynn Parsley. Lynn and my wife Joy were best friends for almost 25 years. So, when I got Joy, I also got Lynn. Lucky me! And Joy? Well, she got my grumpy cat. Life is not fair, friends.

I loved Lynn Parsley – and so did all of you. Lynn made meaningful connections her entire life and perhaps more remarkable than that, she kept most of them. The parade of visitors through her sunroom the last month of her life was like an episode of This is Your Life on steroids– friends from 3rd grade, sorority sisters, most of Ardmore, dogs, on and on for days. Lynn was never careless with her relationships. She nurtured them and treasured them, but you know that. You may not know the person sitting to your left or right, but it would not take long to make a connection while playing Six Degrees of Lynn Parsley. It might be Book Group, Movie Group, GLADS, Sunday school, Cabana Night, Sherosa, Adam Foundation, therapy, or you just happened to stand in line with her one morning at the DMV and you had an amazing conversation about the multiverse and became friends. Lynn thrived on connection and being with her people, and if you were her friend, you were her people for life.

Lynn Parsley was an ever-amusing array of opposites. She was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known – she could quote Richard Rohr and Honey Boo Boo in the same sentence. Her cake was never baked. She was endlessly curious. She traveled all over the world, but perhaps her favorite journey was the drive to Garden City and her beach condo – with the mandatory stop at the Strawberry Patch – always two scoops. Lynn loved ice cream more than anyone I know over the age of 12.

She was famously frugal – have coupon, will shop – and in her honor, our local Kohl’s store is closed today.

And yet, she was abundantly generous to charities and anyone in need – usually in quite ways – never giving for recognition. And Lynn was one of those people who never had to be asked to give. She just did – over and over again.

She had a wicked sense of humor and it never deserted her. She could tell one of her goofy Delbert and Doreen jokes and then land the wittiest retort.

A few weeks ago, I texted her a picture of a bumper sticker I saw in the Harris Teeter parking lot. It proclaimed, Enthusiastically Episcopalian.

Lynn immediately texted back, “Well, that’s an oxymoron.”

One day she would be telling me about a fascinating Japanese documentary on Albert Einstein and a few days later she’d be raving about much she loved the latest Minions movie.

Lynn loved movies and she texted me during the Oscars and said she hoped there would be movies in heaven and Milk Duds that wouldn’t pull out her fillings. May it be so.

We reminisced about one of our favorite movies, Starman, a few weeks before she died. There’s a wonderful scene in that film where an alien, played by Jeff Bridges, is sharing his observations about humans with a scientist.

The alien says, “You are a strange species. not like any other. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.’’

That was Lynn Parsley.

And things certainly went from bad to worse in the past few months and Lynn was always the one that made us feel better. She never gave up hope – her faith sustained everyone who loved her. And, of course, no one loved her as much as Kathy and I cannot speak of Lynn today without speaking about Kathy. And Lord knows, she hates that. I’m sorry, Kathy.

Kathy Ausen was the love of Lynn’s life. Lynn always felt like she won the lottery with Kathy – her beautiful Norwegian, and if you’ve ever had Kathy’s chocolate chip cookies, you know that she did. Their relationship was filled with love and humor and all the things that good marriages are made of, but it was also brimming with integrity and respect. Their relationship was shiny in all the best ways – like a beautiful crystal prism reflecting the best of both of them.

Bearing witness to Kathy’s strength and grace these past several years has made me appreciate the vow “in sickness and in health” in a truly sacred way.

Thank you, Kathy, for always holding us up with your elegant mettle.

When Lynn’s prognosis suddenly changed from months to weeks, she leaned into her death – certainly not happy about it, but peacefully accepting. Joy and I went to the house that night not knowing what to expect. There was Lynn in her recliner with a beatific smile on her face. She said, “I’ve decided that I want to die on the same day as Jimmy Carter so that we can hold hands and jump together.” She’s waiting for you, President Carter.

Lynn’s serene acceptance of her death gave us the glorious gift of celebrating her life while she was still here with us, and boy, did we! We had a drive-by early birthday parade and she was able to sit outside on a beautiful sunny Saturday and say goodbye to so many old friends. Most of them cried, but Lynn didn’t. She smiled that winsome smile and held their hands and said things like, “I’ll see you on the other side.”

Kathy told us later that evening that Lynn was reflecting on the day and said, “I’m already in heaven.”

Lynn loved the poet Mary Oliver and a passage from her poem, In Backwater Woods, perfectly captures Lynn’s presence in her final weeks.

To live in this world, you must be able to do three things, to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it, and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

Our beloved Lynn has let go, but the good news is that we never have to let go of her.

Lynn Parsley Forever!

Deborah Lynn Parsley, March 22, 1955 – March 20, 2023

The myth of the ruby slippers

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors and a certified treasure to humanity, has some simple and direct advice when it comes to writing. It goes like this: “Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”

I’ve been writing – or pretending to write – this blog post for months and it’s high time I got my butt back in the chair, although it’s not always a bad thing to let a piece of writing sit for a bit. I’ve found it often marinates into something richer than it might have been. I guess it could also grow mold, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this post.

My original piece was going to be a reflection on my summer sabbatical in California and the importance of place in my life. For some reason I stopped working on it in early November and well, somehow the daffodils are now in bloom. To be honest, I know the some reason was that the holiday season is a roller coaster of emotions for me (and a bazillion other people).

Me as soon as I see the first Lexus Christmas commercial.

A typical day for me during that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas is not unlike a NC weather forecast – sunny skies early, thunderstorms in the afternoon, some containing hail and heavy winds, followed by partial clearing. In short, I’m all over the place – which is where this post originated – place.

When I returned from my summer (a civilized no humidity summer) in California, I began thinking a lot about Dorothy – yeah, that young girl from Kansas. Or was it Missouri? How was she so very certain that there’s no place like home? Maybe it was those ruby slippers that fortified her resolve. Me? I’m more of an Allbirds kind of girl and when I bump my rubber heels together, well, there’s no magic.

Don’t get me wrong – I was delighted to be back with my dear wife, but it hit me when my return flight approached PTI that my connection to North Carolina becomes more tenuous each time I leave this state. It was dark as we made our descent and I could see the lights of familiar places, but I didn’t feel much different than when I landed in Atlanta on my layover. I realized that Winston Salem is a destination for me, but it doesn’t feel like home. It never has.

Home is not always in plane view.

I envied those passengers I heard talking about how good it was to be home and I tried to remember when I last had that feeling. It made me sad that I really had to think about it. I suppose I would have to go back several years ago to when my parents were still alive.

The truth is that I’ve always felt like an accidental tourist in North Carolina. I moved here in 1995 when my partner at the time was recruited for a good job opportunity. I was a Virginian for the first 39 years of my life, and I had always thought of myself as a southerner – until I arrived in the Old North State. I’ll never forget my first trip to the post office and after a brief conversation with the clerk behind the counter, he looked at me a bit suspiciously and said, “You’re not from around here.” Not a question. I felt like I was in one of those old Westerns and waited for him to say, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” He wasn’t unfriendly, but his statement surprised me and before I could respond, he asked if was from up north. I said, “Yes. Northern Virginia.” He nodded slowly and told me he thought I was from New York City. That’s exactly how he said – true story.

My first trip to a NC post office. He didn’t make my day.

That memory is harmlessly amusing and oddly affirming to me today as I ponder the nuances of home. NC is never going to be home to me no matter how long I live here. And that’s okay, because I figured out this summer that for some of us, home is more abstract than an address. Most often for me, it’s a state of mind – and heart.

I talked to Kelly, my hairdresser/therapist/dear friend about this recently. She’s married and has two young children and moved to this area in her late teens. I asked her what popped into her head when she thinks of the word home. She took her time answering and said, “Home is the place I feel most filled.” I think I startled her when I responded, quite enthusiastically, “Yes, yes, that’s it.” I’m so lucky that my hair stylist completes me.

For some of us, home is not an address or a house. It’s a space where we feel in harmony with the world. Maybe it’s not even a space – it can be a sound or a smell. The Episcopal church I grew up in had a musty woody smell when you entered the front door. I left the church for several decades as an adult and when I made my way back to a small church in Greensboro on Easter Sunday in 2007, that same smell engulfed me like a hug. I was home.

The red door of just about any Episcopal church feels like home to me. This one is All Saint’s in Greensboro, NC. Watercolor by Mike Tiddy.

And I suppose that my church here in Winston Salem is one of the physical spaces that feels most like home to me these days. And that was certainly the case this holiday season. Church was a sanctuary for me in all manner of ways.

My mother died almost twenty years ago, but I’m still stopped in my tracks when I smell Chanel No. 5. That was her perfume. The morning after she died, I walked into her closet just to breathe in that scent still lingering on some of her clothing. I felt comforted. I was home.

Tastes can feel like home, too. My father always made oyster stew for breakfast on Christmas morning. Hey, don’t judge, I’m from Virginia and we didn’t have Moravian sugar cake. The first Christmas without him, I steeled myself over the stove to try and replicate his no-recipe recipe. It must have been divine intervention, because I came pretty darn close. I remember taking a deep breath before that first taste and there it was – that familiar briny tang.

I spent some time in Charlottesville over New Year’s – a place I lived for over a decade. Several times during my stay, my heart felt full – most especially when I shared time with my friend of over three decades, Chris. She and her husband Ed live on a farm in Crozet, just outside of Charlottesville. The farm has long been the backdrop for all sorts of celebrations – including a memorable 4th of July when we almost burned the front yard down. Our bad – Ed did warn us that the grass was too dry for sparklers.

Friends since the first Reagan administration. Hoping to live long enough to see a Democrat in the White House again.

Chris and Ed were both so dear to my parents – in life and death – and it is an abiding comfort to me to have such a rich history with them. Their house feels like home. And hugging Ed reminds me of being in my father’s arms – he’s a strong but kind man like my dad and he’s okay with me crying into his warm flannel shirt. And just like my dad, he is always so happy to see me. He greeted me this time with perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. “Addy, you know we just sort of set our watches until the next time we see you.” I mean, who says that? Ed does. And then I cry.

Me after hugging Ed.

I often feel at home in nature and what a glorious gift that is. I’ve always enjoyed walking, but after the apocalypse of November 8, 2016, walking became a spiritual practice for me. Yes, it’s good exercise, but it also gets me away from the turmoil of our BREAKING NEWS world. There are just so many screaming words flying back and forth, and I for one would much rather hear the tweet of a bird over one from a president.

Budding blooms > Breaking news.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that for me, home will probably always be a moving target, a fleeting yet often visceral moment. On my best days, there are several moments when I feel at home and as Kelly said, I am filled in glorious ways.

Mary Oliver, the beloved goddess of poetry who passed away last year, exquisitely captures the feeling of home in the poem below. I read it at my best friend’s wedding several years ago outside on a warm day in May while her dog barked. It was perfect.

Coming Home

by Mary Oliver

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown,
when we are weary,
when the buildings and the scrub pines lose their familiar look,
I imagine us rising from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing everything from another place–
the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea.
And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish.
And what we see is our life moving like that
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

I’m glad Dorothy made it back to Kansas, but I’m going to just keep trying to enjoy the ride home wherever it takes me. You see, for some of us, there’s no home like place.

Chris and Ed make my heart feel home.
When a familiar view feels like home. Holidays up on the farm.

Lost at the maul


I’ll date myself with this reference, but remember that time you couldn’t find your car in the mall parking lot a few days before Christmas? Yes, kids, there was a time in a suburb far, far away where humans drove to a large shopping complex to purchase things. Anyway, you older species know the feeling I’m talking about – wandering around helplessly certain that your car is in the next row. Only it’s not.

It’s maddening and frustrating and can even make you feel a bit panicky. You just want to find your damn car and go home. Well, that’s how I’ve felt since early Monday morning when I learned of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I want to stop rambling around lost.

My dear wife and I turned on the Today show at 7 AM as we most often do on weekdays to see the ominous crawl on the screen – BREAKING NEWS. That term has become so overused – especially in the age of Trump where almost every cockamamie tweet is considered BREAKING NEWS. But this BREAKING NEWS was so big that they had to give it a name like a movie title – DEADLY LAS VEGAS SHOOTING – and a dramatic background score – as if the horrific news of someone mowing down innocent folks with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons at an outdoor concert would not get our attention.

Today show

Matt and Savannah had their game faces on – it was all grim news with no amusing repartee with Al about the weather or Hoda with a feel-good story. This was grisly – the largest modern-day mass shooting in the United States – surpassing last year’s largest modern-day mass shooting in the United States in Orlando.

I watched the first twenty minutes or so of the broadcast and then looked at my phone to check Facebook and Twitter. Before the sun had come up on the dead in Las Vegas, people were already posting rants about stricter gun laws. People always post those types of things after a mass shooting but Monday’s posts seemed different to me – they were angrier and many contained the phrase – “save your thoughts and prayers.” And this was all before I had even brushed my teeth.

Throughout the day I continued to see this sentiment expressed on social media – bag your thoughts and prayers and work for stricter gun control laws. The wrath felt personal to me because I felt like that’s all I had to offer – my own thoughts and prayers – which I pretty much kept to myself all day.

Midmorning, my church sent out an email letting members know that the sanctuary would be open all day if we needed a place to sit and pray and that there would be a Liturgy for the Violence in Las Vegas offered later in the evening. It comforted me to know that there was a place to go to mourn communally. I strongly felt the need to be with others – to be with the living – but then I kept seeing the barrage of posts on social media decrying over and over that “prayer doesn’t change things.”

It made me sad, and honestly, a little mad.

Well, no, prayer can’t change 59 dead and almost 500 wounded. Prayer isn’t a do-over – or a naïve pass on the horrors of this world. Prayer alone doesn’t have the power to change things. God knows, if it did, we’d need a lot more churches. I only know that prayer changes me. For starters – it makes me shut the fuck up – which is no small thing. It makes me be quiet and consider the absurd possibility that I might not know everything. Prayer makes me be still and listen – to myself and the world around me. Sometimes prayer makes me feel better – other times it leaves me empty and confused. I just know that it rarely leaves me unexamined.

I get it – this backlash against the rote sentiments of “thoughts and prayers” – especially when they are offered by the same elected officials who bank roll their campaigns with blood money from the NRA. But for me, there has to be a place for prayers in all of this babel. What is the alternative? The purgatory of never finding my car?


Photo credit: Jayme Lemons

My friend Kevin is an Episcopal priest and I found a lot of comfort in his Facebook post on Monday. I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing it – I’ll ask for forgiveness if he does.

The moment we decry prayers and remembrances for the dead because those acts won’t change things is the moment the dead, wounded, and their families and friends stop being people and become political objects. Can we at least wait until tomorrow before we strip them of their humanity? Besides, sometimes, mourning and praying have to change us before we are ready to change the world.

Amen, Kevin. Amen.

I’ll no doubt soon return to ranting on Facebook – I find it to be therapeutic – like a cyber wailing wall. And I’ll work on changing the world, too, but today I’m tired and weary and feeling a little hopeless. And I think it’s okay to stay there for a bit.

I also think poetry can be a form of prayer and I often turn to it when I am grieving. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets and I ran across the poem below that says just about everything I wish I could say in a prayer. I offer it to you simply as nothing more than a map.


Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.








Last month I was in the Windy City for the Chicago Marathon. I probably don’t need to tell you that I was not a participant. I’m on record noting that if you ever see me running, I’m probably being chased by someone with an ax. No, I was there as part of the cheer squad for my dear friend Lori, who was running her eighth marathon at the age of 56. Yes, eighth. I’m not sure she’s actually human but more on that later.


Lori (far right) and her cheer posse as seen in reflection in Chicago’s iconic Bean.

I did recently complete a marathon of sorts – a figurative one – and I’m here to tell you that marathons are hard as hell. Mine began in January when I was fired from a job – scratch, calling – that I loved. Yeah, Happy New Year to me. My departure was manipulated by a toxic subordinate who didn’t like me being the boss of him. He was able to intimidate just enough people into believing his fiction was fact and that was that – 11 years obliterated without any opportunity to share my truth.

Some courses are harder than others.

My friend Lori knows this. She was a long distance runner in high school and in her 20’s she decided to run a marathon to try to qualify for the Olympic Trials. That plan was upended by a knee injury and surgery. But that was nothing compared to a colon cancer diagnosis at the age of 36. She had surgery and chemo and was back running about a week after she completed her treatments. And she’s never stopped.


Lori makes running look easy and fun. I still don’t want to do it.

I’m fascinated by the idea of someone choosing to do something so incredibly difficult so I recently “interviewed” Lori – peppering her with all of my questions about marathons in my search for understanding. Lori is a good sport in all manner of ways and I think she enjoyed the brief respite from her very big job as a controller at a local credit union. Oh yeah, Lori is really smart, too, in addition to being a very good runner.

Mostly, I just wanted to know why. As in why in the hell would you want to run a marathon? As much as I love sports, this is right up there with cricket and curling for one that I just do not get. The course is 26.2 miles – often including hills placed at truly sadistic locations – like really near the finish line. Sometimes you have to run in less than ideal conditions, too. Last year, Lori ran the Boston Marathon in a driving cold rain and 20 mph winds. Good times.

And let’s face it, humans really weren’t built to run that many miles and doing so can do some really nasty things to your body – cramping, bleeding and blisters to name a few – in places I never knew you could experience those things. Seriously, bleeding nipples is a thing for marathoners. I can’t even.


Just the stats, ma’am.

I certainly didn’t choose my marathon – most of us never do. I suppose if you live in this world long enough, you’re going to find yourself in at least a few major tests of endurance – divorce, illness and death to name a few. Having experienced all of the above, I can tell you that losing a job, while no walk in the park, is not in the same league as those beasts.

Lori told me it’s the challenge of pushing yourself, reaching your limit and then finding a way to go further that continues to inspire her to run. She explained that there’s a saying among marathoners that anyone can train to run the first 20 miles but it’s the last 6.2 that are really tough. I’ll have to take her word on that. She said that even on good days there are times when you don’t feel like you can make it and that’s when your mental toughness carries you. “Mentally you have to prepare yourself to run through the pain,” she said.

I get that. Several times in the past nine months, I felt like I had reached my limit. I couldn’t take “it” anymore – the anger, the disappointment, the unfairness of what happened to me. I felt overwhelmed with the idea of starting over. I wanted to just quit – again, not literally – but to wave the metaphorical white flag.

I can’t say that I ran through my pain. Some days I felt like a zombie just stumbling through my day. But eventually, I did start to breathe through my pain. I don’t meditate – I always mean to start – but I did make a conscious decision to not fight my pain anymore. I knew I needed to fully embrace it before I could move on.

I reread a lot of wisdom from the brilliant Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun, teacher and author.  Chodron is all about using what seems like poison as medicine to discover our inner strength and transform ourselves. Yes, it’s a more Zen version of the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”


Pema Chodron. I feel calmer just looking at her.

Here’s a snippet of the Gospel according to Pema:

We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Lori told me that she breaks a marathon into four six-mile sections so that it’s more manageable. That leaves 2.2 miles remaining to navigate and then she breaks that down in terms of time instead of distance – i.e. 15 minutes to go, 5 minutes to go and so on. She said that’s when you start having conversations in your head. You tell yourself things like “keep your head up” and “relax” with the key being to keep your thoughts positive and encouraging. I smiled when she said, “If you can’t tell, running a marathon can be as much of a mental challenge as a physical one.” Those runners with the bleeding nipples would probably disagree.

I was beginning to feel like I was listening to Yoda, Marathon Master. And I was wishing I had had this conversation with Lori several months ago but marathons are solitary journeys for the most part. This I know for certain. yoda

Lori is a classic introvert (understatement) so you won’t find her chatting during a race but I asked her if the spectators affect her at all. She explained that while you might not always be conscious of everything going on around you, you do become aware of people cheering and that can really give you a lift during rough patches. This happened to her a few years ago during the New York Marathon when she was coming off the bridge from Queens and entering Manhattan on 1st Avenue. She recalled, “There is no noise on the bridge but the sound of your feet hitting the pavement and then you come off the bridge and there are thousands of people cheering. It’s pretty amazing.”

I know I was lifted on some tough days by the kindness of many folks who reached out to me in surprising ways – a text, an email, a phone call or the best – an old school card and note. And sometimes these “cheers” came from delightfully unexpected sources – like Jeri, an editor at my local newspaper who hired me to write a monthly column several years ago.

He sent me a silly card of a beagle riding a bike with tassels dangling from the handlebars, blowing in the wind. He told me I was like the beagle in the photo – with some wondrous ways to go in this world. He made me laugh and got me over a hill or two.


I believe I can fly.

My course didn’t have a finite ending so I had to navigate it day by day. Unlike Lori’s marathons, the first part was the hardest for me. I was so angry and disappointed in some people who I had respected and even loved. Those were wounds that did not heal quickly. The middle of my journey was about acceptance and slowly beginning to look forward instead of the rear view mirror. And this last stretch has been about fully embracing a unique opportunity to truly seek the creative life that I have longed for.

Lori says that when she gets near the end of a marathon, she just tries to relax and “stop all the chatter that is going on in your brain.” She tries to go further into herself and push through to the finish line.

I hear less and less of that chatter in my brain every day and on my best days I can hear the lovely Mary Oliver poem that my pal Jeri reminded me of in his note way back in that dark month of March. It’s called Phillip’s Birthday.

I gave,

to a friend that I care for deeply,

something that I loved.

It was only a small

extremely shapely bone

that came from the ear

of a whale.

It hurt a little

to give it away.

The next morning

I went out, as usual,

at sunrise,

and there, in the harbor,

was a swan.

I don’t know

what he or she was doing there,

but the beauty of it

was a gift.

Do you see what I mean?

You give and you are given. 

I may never understand marathons but I get this equation down to my bone marrow.

You give and you are given.

And as my inspiring friend Lori knows so well, you just keep going.



26.2 miles later and still smiling.



Me, too.



It’s just a number. A big fat one.