Through the rain

I photographed this rainbow on the evening of April 4, 2016.

I photographed this rainbow on the evening of April 4, 2016.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
George Matheson

Sometimes a poem, song, quote or Bible verse stored in my memory will become more relevant, and therefore more appreciated, many years after I first encounter it. The quote above is from a hymn I learned in childhood and have sung many times since, but I don’t remember it having been a favorite. Lately, though, I have come to love it. The words have played in my head often since Jeff died, and the lyrics bring true consolation.

The photo above was taken on what should have been a wonderful evening for me, but I was beset by worries. Jeff and I had an unprecedented three-week vacation planned, to celebrate his retirement and continued survival. We had never, ever had that long a break before. All was ready and our dream trip was less than two weeks away. But Jeff had been having problems with his balance, and I wondered whether it was wise to leave on a transatlantic cruise if there were any risks we might not anticipate.

That evening, as I was finishing up my walk following an earlier rainstorm, I was startled to see a bright rainbow at the very end of our street. We rarely have rainbows here, and certainly not one arching over the entrance to our neighborhood. I ran inside to get my camera, and called Jeff to walk out and look at it with me. He agreed it was unusual and beautiful. “Maybe that’s meant to be a sign for us,” I said.

But that night, he could not walk upstairs easily. I convinced him to go to the Walter Reed ER the next day, and when I pulled up to let him out at the entrance, he got out of the car and immediately collapsed to the ground. I screamed for help, and staffers inside who had seen Jeff fall were already running out with a wheelchair. “I’m afraid he’s had a stroke,” I told them.

Of course, as most who read this blog already know, it was a metastatic brain tumor. The surgery to remove it went quite well, and Jeff recuperated with his usual astounding strength. In fact, the surgeons and I had to laugh when Jeff first said he did not intend to cancel our trip, but wanted to go on despite having just had neurosurgery. For once, I was on the doctors’ side when they told Jeff this would really, really not be possible. But they expressed great optimism that we would get to go later.

To his doctors’ amazement, Jeff was even able to ride the metro alone to Bethesda for radiation during the weeks that followed, as his post-op visual disturbance gradually healed. Taking the metro involved a significant uphill climb to the hospital, but Jeff was accustomed to such challenges, literally and figuratively. His resilience and stamina were such a blessing that I almost forgot about the crushing disappointment we both felt at not being able to take our long-planned celebratory trip.

We didn’t yet know that during the weeks following his surgery and radiation, when he was unable to take chemotherapy, the cancer so long held at bay would come back with a vengeance. The next set of scans showed a worse spread than ever. Jeff started to lose weight and could not seem to keep it on. Still, he went about life as usual despite his waning strength, and was able to see and hold our newborn second grandson when Drew’s family came to visit us in July. Jeff even took them to see the Independence Day fireworks over DC.  He worked with me on various home improvement projects, and a month before he died, made a trip to Atlanta to see his grandsons again, and to see Mama one last time. Given her recent stage IV cancer diagnosis, we had no idea she would survive him.

Since then, I have thought often about that rainbow. What had seemed a promising delight at the time had taken on a cruel irony the following day in the face of Jeff’s brain tumor diagnosis. I suppose I am glad that, once he survived the surgery, we never dreamed he would not live to see even another November.

Still, I do have a happy memory of two of us standing outside in the warm sunset of a springtime evening, enjoying a beautiful and unexpected gift, just as we had enjoyed countless natural wonders over our 38 years together.  Perhaps the rainbow’s meaning (if there was one at all) was different than what I first thought it was, but in any case, it was a joy that I captured with my camera. I can now look at the photo with mixed emotions, and somewhere amid the resentment and anger and sadness and grief there are traces of gratitude and hope.

If you are in the midst of sorrow or stress, I hope you can believe with me in the beautiful rainbow that often comes after a storm. We may not see it, or even if we do see it, we may not recognize its timeless meaning. But it’s there, and as it was from the beginning, it’s the symbol of a promise.


  1. Cherie

    Julia, so happy to see your blog this morning. I love the picture of the rainbow. I keep you and Matt in my prayers.

    Love and Light

    • Thank you Cherie! Sorry I am SO late replying to these comments. I have been reading them daily and they have been a true encouragement, so I appreciate your loving thoughts and prayers. Hope you and Ron have a wonderful holiday! ❤

  2. Judy from Pennsylvania

    As I gaze at this lovely photograph, I’m taken as much by the tree as by the rainbow. Together they speak of God’s promise of resurrection, of the renewal of life. We see that the tree reaches upward and gives tender birth to new leaves, and we behold the rainbow reminding us of Christ’s promise that we will be given new life in a heavenly realm. Your camera captured a loving message about resurrection.

    What a beautiful photograph and touching companion meditation you have given us. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Judy. I too liked the tree in the photo, though I had not made the connections you mention. I appreciate your helping me to see more in the photo. I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday! I picture your part of the country as being quite a perfect place for such a celebration. I’m so glad Jeff and I had that wonderful 2-day anniversary visit there last year. It’s an especially cherished memory.

  3. Veronica Brown

    What a beautiful message. You are such an inspiration even in the midst of your own sorrow. God bless you.

    • Thank you, Veronica. I’m so happy you are here with us. Hope you have a wonderful holiday.

  4. Beautiful rainbow and warm memories. You’ve had your storm, now it’s time for another rainbow.Giant squishy hugs.

    • Marlene, happy Thanksgiving week, and giant grateful hugs to you! The storms are not over yet, but we’re holding on.

  5. JillBortell

    Blessing of comfort for you and your, Sweetest One. I am praying for the day you can feel joy in the morning again. Love to you, Mama Jill

    • Thank you Mama Jill! We so need and appreciate your prayers. Hope you and all your family have a wonderful holiday. Give everyone at your home and at church our greetings and love!

  6. Linda Blackford

    I’ve always loved rainbows as a symbol of hope. A day or so after my daughter was born, a true Gemini baby, I saw a double rainbow in the sky. She had a few problems with jaundice, which took a week or so to get past, and the double rainbow of hope kept me calm. Years later, I wrote a song called “Unexpected Blessings,” a line or two echoed that hope for me: Lord, I thank you for the rainbow through the rain, for spring’s first bud when winter’s been so long. These reassuring whispers that You are in control, for in your care is just where I belong.” I’m praying for continuous rainbows for you, Julia.

    • Linda, what a lovely song! Thank you for sharing those words with me. I’m going to learn them by heart so I can repeat them to myself. Drew (our older son) also had jaundice briefly – the doctor said it was because he was such a big newborn – but I still remember how heartbroken I was to have to leave the hospital without him. I’m glad you were able to hold onto hope during that time. Thanks for the prayers — I’ll be watching for those rainbows! ❤

  7. Madrene Talley

    This was really a beautiful post. Madrene Talley

    • Thank you, Madrene — our best to everyone at CRF for a wonderful holiday!

  8. Amy

    I wish you rainbows friend. Praying for you and Matt.

    • Thank you Amy. When I read your comment here I remembered a saying I heard long, long ago– “I journeyed to the rainbow’s end, and found not gold, but you, my friend.” ❤

  9. Janet

    Julia, you are still in my prayers.

    • Thank you, Janet. We need them now more than ever. Love to you and CW for a wonderful holiday!

  10. Janice Brown

    The most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen was seen by Jeff, Mama, and me in Hawaii. I will always treasure that memory. So thankful God gives us rainbows after the storms. Keep seeing the beauty in life. I love you.

    • Thank you, Janice. I am so glad you have that memory! Your kind cards and emails have been comforting. I hope all of you have as good a Thanksgiving as you can, under the circumstances. Even when we can’t feel the joy, we always have reasons to be thankful. Our love to everyone there.

  11. This is such a beautiful post, Julia. Jeff really embraced life and lived all of it to its fullest. It seems cruel that the two of you had to miss out on the amazing trip together. I’m glad you could share that rainbow and I’m happy, too, for all the years you had together. Grief is a long, bumpy and ultimately personal process, but it is a process. The light returns, days get easier, and though you will always love and miss Jeff, the heaviness will gradually lift and each day will seem just a little bit easier. It’s so hard. A friend who works in hospice recently shared this quote: “Grief I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corner of your eyes, the lump in your throat and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

    Arms around you.

    • Alys, you have been such a steadfast source of love and comfort for such a long time now. Your generosity is an overwhelming reminder that we are not alone, even on days when we feel that way. I look forward to the time I can sit down and put the long letter to you that I’ve been writing in my head on paper so I can mail it. Till then, please accept our heartfelt thanks for your understanding and compassion. Please give our very best to your family for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! We are thankful for you!!! ❤

      • Thank you, Julia. I hope you’ve had a pleasant time with family. I know too well how difficult the first holidays are after the death of a dear one. I’ve been thinking of you. I look forward to your letter when the timing is right.

        • Thank you Alys. It’s a tremendous comfort to be writing to you in my head, knowing you are there and will (eventually) hear in detail what you cannot already intuit over the miles. It helps so much that you understand. ❤

  12. MaryAnn Clontz

    What touchingly beautiful words! God’s rainbows do indeed signal His Promises! I love you & pray everyday for you & Matt. You have your own special place in my heart!

    • Thank you Mary Ann. We really need your prayers and love, so we’ll “camp out” in your heart for quite awhile!! 🙂 Love to all our NorCal family and wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  13. Good morning, Julia!
    That’s long been my favorite verse from that song, the hope that “that morn shall tearless be.”
    Such a beautiful rainbow and such unique hues; yes, I have to agree that it was a promise of hope for you, or greater even than hope – the promise of the Love that will not let you go.
    And I’m sure that you know the later verse that ends with another promise:
    “And from the ground there blossoms red
    Life that shall endless be.”
    From where we stand, and from what we see, it sure looks like an end. But it’s not really the end, it’s a transition. (I know most of us don’t like change, but I hold that we are all persons in transition, whether we know it or not. And life looks a whole lot better if we can accept that, and learn to work with it. IMHO)
    One fine day, we will understand, and on that morn shall tearless be!
    Love to you, Julia, and may there be rainbows of promise and hope everywhere you look, to keep reminding you – His love WILL NOT let you go!

    • Thank you Susan! I totally, totally agree with you That endless life has already begun for each of us, and we are all in transition. From the sound of Romans 8 (especially verse 18 onward) Paul knew just what you are talking about. Thanks for being here with your fellowship, friendship and encouragement! Hope to see you again before too long.

  14. HarryS

    If you know something about suffering in your own heart, and if you know something about judgmentalism – about your having a critical spirit – then you have almost all the grace of compassion. Because compassion, at its core, is about suffering, suffering with another, com-passio, and that comes out of the conversion of our judgmentalism.

    -Br. Curtis Almquist —

    From another great old hymn: “Further along we will understand why”.

    My heart aches for you!


    • Thanks Harry, for being here with us and for caring. Also for the encouraging quotes and links (you keep very good online company 😀 ). Hope you have a wonderful, wonder-filled holiday!

  15. Amy

    Found this poem and thought of you sweet friend. I love you.

    One or the Other (author unknown)

    One or the other must leave.
    One or the other must stay.
    One or the other must grieve,
    That is forever the way.
    That is the vow that was sworn,
    Faithful ’til death do us part.
    Braving what had to borne,
    Hiding the ache in the heart.
    One, howsoever adored,
    First must be summoned away.
    That is the will of the Lord,
    One or the other must stay.

    • Thank you, Amy. Of all the riddles in this world, this is one of the most troubling. Still, I am grateful we have had someone to love so much for so long. Never long enough, but still, quite a long time. Thank you for making absolutely certain that not one day has passed that we have felt all alone. Where would we be without you? I am so grateful for you this Thanksgiving Day. Love you!

  16. HarryS

    November 9
    We Are All Part of the Great Work
    A comment on Spiritual Exercises 362:
    “We should be more ready to approve and praise the orders, recommendations, and way of acting of our superiors than to find fault with them.”
    In today’s world, this inclination to praise rather than blame and always assume the person is operating out of sincere motives, is sorely needed. We seem to have forgotten that we are all part of the Great Work, that all persons are an expression of God’s loving presence— even those whose opinions are totally different than ours. They are still expressing some truth. And we need to look for the truth and build together on that foundation rather than focus on differences and tear each other apart. —Pat Carter, “Ignatius of Loyola— Model for Lay Spirituality,”

    This principle sets a high standard; we don’t just avoid unpleasantness, but actually praise and approve others. It means recognizing that other people often have better ideas than we do. The next time your boss or teacher or pastor makes an important decision, praise them publicly.
    — Manney, Jim. An Ignatian Book of Days

    Remember that the 1st three letters in the word unity is UNI.
    In my part of the country that’s pronounced “You ‘n I”.

    Just as we recovering alcoholics need this concept, so does our beloved country.


    • Harry, you are so right about that. I know first hand that there are unanticipated rewards in being a gracious loser and keeping, as Secretary Clinton said, “an open mind.” It’s easier said than done, of course, but the alternative is even worse. It’s interesting how the American system seems to work in ways that hand victory back and forth to different segments of the electorate – it’s as if there is a built-in system that says “be nice and take turns,” and everyone, it seems, has to do that at one time or another. I hope we can all keep in mind that there are many among us who could rightly say that it has NEVER been their turn. That’s the real beauty and promise of unity; if we work together and take the focus off of ourselves and our own ideas, we might just notice the ones who have been disregarded far too long. Thanks for these helpful quotes.

  17. Sheila

    Julia, I’ve read and pondered this before replying, wanting to share my caring thoughts. I hope the rainbow from April 4th will be one of many in the days and years to come. The difference may be that you’re seeing it without Jeff, but you’ll always remember that special evening looking up together! Please give Matt a hug from us. Love and prayers, my friend. 💛

    • Thank you Sheila. Your love and friendship are a warmth in this chilly, sad autumn. I’m brewing another cup (black and green tea, mixed) and pretending we are enjoying it together! 🙂

  18. A beautiful photo to bring a spark of joy to the heart, even for just a happy moment. It was hard to read your post Julia, my eye’s are pinking back tears at the thought of you frantically calling for help and Jeff collapsed. How utterly horrifying for you and I think you must be shell shocked from the everything. Perhaps working through it with writing can be like mental physio, it must be excruciating for you though and I wish I could reach out and hug you. While your spirit will not be broken, your heart most certainly is. I think to myself, “how can any one person manage this much”? As you know, I’ve had times in my life where I engaged the help of professional counciling. For me, the PTSD was not manageable alone and I’m certain I would have continued to feel broken much longer without it. I felt alone and desperate at times, even though family and friends where there to help. It’s so hard to know what to do for ourselves when there’s so many other balls in the air, but that’s what helped me. I’m thinking of you with so much love xo k

    • Thank you K. You have described it quite well. Shell-shocked is pretty much how it felt and still feels. Also, yes, my heart is broken and sometimes it seems my spirit is too, but it rears its head now and then (sometimes only to be knocked down again, it seems, but then I’ve had lots of practice at climbing back up off the mat).

      Years ago following Matt’s first manic episode and shortly thereafter his third open heart surgery, I did get some counselling to deal with the persistent insomnia that was related to what the counselor called “situational depression” and sheer exhaustion from years of stress. My physician told me that my body had literally forgotten how to sleep. Counseling was beneficial to me but I think it has taught me pretty much all it can. Where it comes to counseling I always feel like Dorothy telling the Wizard, “I don’t think there’s anything in that bag for me.” Sadly, there is much more to my circumstances than a good attitude can fix, and going to appointments now would only add to the stress of having vastly more that I need to, must, or want to do than I have time for. Having said that, life goes on and some of us survive it longer than others. Thanks for being here with us through all this. I know it’s hard to remain present at such times when friends are suffering and there is little to be done for it, so most people choose to be elsewhere. Those who do stay beside us are golden. ❤

  19. I can see why the hymn holds special meaning for you at this time. It is a beautiful hymn. It may be cliche, but after reading this, I heard, “The sun will shine again.” Hugs.

    • Timi, not a cliche at all! I am so happy to have you visit me here. Hope that the sun is shining in your world. You have brought rays of cheer to mind. Hugs to you too!

  20. Carolyn

    Hi Julia, it has been awhile since I sent a meaasgae on your blog. Beautiful rain bow, sure wish we could get some much needed rain to have a rainbow. I had my hernia surgery 3 weeks ago and it was not as easy as before. I am doing ok, just doing a lot of resting. Our weather is a little cooler and very nice today. We are having our porch screened in, I know we will enjoy it more,wish you could come and enjoy it with me. I pray you and Matt are well. You are in my thoughts and prays always. Do I use your Yorktown address? Sending hugs and love to you.

    • Carolyn, I am so sorry I lost track of the dates. I had meant to write and find out how your surgery went. I’m sorry it was not as easy as before. Rest up and enjoy the excuse to not do much. Hope this finds you having some time to enjoy that screened porch. I have wished we had one many times. Maybe one of these days I’ll come out and enjoy it with you. I would dearly love to see Old Man River again; Jeff and I spent so many happy hours on its banks and nearby. It’s best not to use the Yorktown address as the Alexandria address has a locking mailbox and the mail there is more secure. But I was so happy to learn we have our wonderful former mail carrier back on our Yorktown route. He is a real throwback – the mailman who knows everyone (and their dogs) and really cares. We were all in mourning for him when he was transferred to another route, but hallelujah! he is now back. BUT it’s still best to send the mail to the Alexandria address for now. Hugs and love to you both!

  21. Carolyn

    Sending love and hugs . Always glad to see rainbows after the storm. Love you all.

    • Thank you Carolyn. Your love and friendship mean so much. I am so glad you and Terry got to come and see us not so long ago. We never dreamed it would be the last time for us but it is a very sweet memory now. ❤

  22. Mike

    That is a poem worth memorizing.

    • Thanks, I agree.

  23. Cheryl

    Julia, you and your family have been in my thoughts and prayers since I learned of Jeff’s death. He was such a gentle, kind spirit with a great smile! I will continue to pray for you and the boys often!

    • Thank you, Cheryl. We really do need those prayers. I appreciate your encouragement, and your presence here!

  24. Heba

    A beautiful poem and an astounding narration of an emotional part of your life. Thanks for sharing Julia. I feel for you.
    All I did when we unexpectedly lost my young brother to a car accident nine years ago, was to remember the moments we’ve had and didn’t have together. I went through pictures, videos and even chats. I had to think positively and that he was in a far better place in great hands. I prayed for him and I’ve always dreamed of him smiling :).

    Again, please accept my sincere condolences.

    • Thank you Heba. I am so sorry you lost your brother. I’ve thought many times over the last four years, how difficult it must be to lose a loved one so suddenly, especially one so young. Though living with the uncertainty of Jeff’s illness and treatments was difficult, the ability to plan and prepare — insofar as one can — was a great blessing. As you discovered, memories and healing images are vital to surviving such loss. Thanks for being here and sharing with us!

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