Much is taken, much abides

The photo is a bit blurry, ut the love comes through. With Betty Jo and Tuffy, December 2016

The photo is a bit blurry, but the love comes through.
With Betty Jo and Tuffy, December 2016

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I knew this Christmas would have to be different, so I didn’t even try to capture any of the old magic. Instead, I tried to find reasons to rejoice in what remains of the abundant blessings that have colored my life. Earlier in the year, Jeff and I had talked about possibly going to visit my “other Mama and Daddy” this Christmas season, if he was able. This is the family with whom my parents, siblings and I spent pretty much every Christmas (and a lot of Thanksgivings and New Years and other times too) during our childhood. I didn’t want to give up on the idea of the visit, so a few weeks ago I called my sister Carla and asked her to meet me near their home atop Lookout Mountain. We went to see them on the day before Christmas Eve.

I have always felt lucky to have this wonderful second set of parents in our lives. They were close friends of my parents before I was born– in fact, “Tuffy” and my Daddy grew up together, and remained lifelong friends. How exciting to be seeing them again, enjoying a delicious meal and home-baked cookies Betty Jo made for us, just as she had done countless times when we were kids. We were able to visit with two of their children whom we hadn’t seen in many years, along with two of their grandchildren and one of their great-grandchildren.

We marveled at the view from their deck on a sunny day in late December, feeling happy we had come and already planning to come back again sometime. We all are older now, having each endured much loss and sorrow, but the heartfelt bonds that drew us together for years remain strong and vibrant.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you have lived enough years to identify with the mixed emotions one experiences when much has been taken, yet much still abides. I wish for you, at the close of this year and into the dawn of the new one, many opportunities to rejoice in what remains; to connect with all that has made you the person you are, with deep appreciation to mingle with whatever grief you may be enduring. This blending of time and joy and sorrow creates a powerful alloy. May it fill you with renewed strength to face whatever lies ahead.


  1. tpeastin

    Touching, Julia…touching. A tear rolls down my cheek as I write this comment- and I am NOT the ‘sappy’ kind! Blessings to both you and Matt. Love, Pat

    • Thank you, Pat. Hope you and your family are enjoying a wonderful season!

  2. Julia, I’m so happy to see you among dear, dear friends. In times of sorrow, gathering with life long friends can be a wonderful respite. Not many of us can say we had two sets of parents to love us. What a gift.

    • Thank you Alys. It really is a gift, one I treasure more and more the older I grow. Thanks for being here to share with us.

  3. Janet Sawyer

    Ah, Julia, this one is beautiful. A keeper to refer back to.

    • Thank you, Janet. You and C.W. hold the “first runner-up” title for “non-biological family I have spent the most Christmas Eves with.” 😀

  4. Mike

    Nice post Julia. We had kind of a blue Christmas in Seattle away from friends and relatives.Last night my wife said,”Thank God it’s over.”Sad.
    I like your line,”the blending of joy and sorrow creates a powerful alloy.” You should patent that one.
    As far as aging goes, was it not Margaret Mead who said,” My husband is an anthropologist and loves old things. The older I get the more interested he is in me.”
    I am reading Chris Brady’s ” 30 days in Italy.” Excellent read- except he has no appreciation for foods.

    • No appreciation for food??? IN ITALY? That must mean he knows about some really fabulous other areas in which they excel, which wouldn’t be hard to find.

      Your comment about your Christmas was sad. That’s what Jeff and I said on New Year’s Eve, 2010 — Jeff’s exact words were “good riddance” because we, too felt very lonely that year, and were dealing with an upsetting family situation. But now that remark haunts me. How happy we should have been not to be aware of death hanging over us. I guess it’s all relative, which is why I keep searching for things to be thankful for. They too may disappear sooner than I expect.

      • There are a couple of lines from Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, when Emily, who has died asks “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?”
        The Stage Manager responds, “No. Saints and poets, maybe–they do some.”
        I think we can’t realize and appreciate life every, every minute. But there are sometimes fleeting instants when heaven touches earth, I think, and it seems that time stands still. And just for that brief, split-second eternity, we get a glimmer of what is real.
        I had that most peculiar sensation the other night, as I walked up the hill and under the trellis after dropping mail into the mailbox.
        Why then? I don’t know. But I’m still grateful, because it reminded me of something, like an old snapshot or a dream, or maybe it was just a nudge to wake up and appreciate the dark, damp and drizzly moment.
        I’m praying for you, Julia.

        • Thank you, Susan. I think many if not all of us have these strange moments — of clarity, or awareness, or whatever it might be called — but typically the distractions of “normal” life drown out our ability to be tuned in to such sensations. I’m glad you were able to take a mental snapshot of your recent glimpse through a different window. Thanks so much for your prayers…I really do need them.

  5. Amy

    Very beautiful my friend. I am so glad you and Carla made the trip and I will be waiting to hear about the next.

    • Thank you, Amy. It was definitely the right timing for me.

  6. MaryAnn Clontz

    What a beautiful post! I feel your strength amid sorrow, love shining through. I love you. Thanks for sharing this precious visit.

    • Thank you for being here, Mary Ann. Matt sends his love, along with mine. ❤

  7. Judy from Pennsylvania

    The Tennyson poem and your warm, perceptive words about friendship, joy and sorrow have given me a long pause for reflection this morning. They’ve helped me define a vague feeling I often have around certain holidays — a mixture of sadness and joy. Sadness for the loss of what was (or for what could have been but never was), and joy for the very real delights that are lovingly given to and by family and friends. Yes, Tennyson has pulled our human experience together with this poem. Such wisdom and giftedness with words. Thank you for sharing his writing and for sharing your own story of finding renewed joy in the journey. This was a sweetly inspiring way to begin my day. God bless you as you walk forward one day at a time, gaining strength and giving love.

    • Thank you, Judy. I agree with you that the holidays are a mixture, and I cannot remember a time when it was not so. Even as a child I was aware of how quickly the magic would pass, and that lent a sort of somber quality to the appreciation. I’m so glad you are here with us to read Tennyson and other writers who have walked this path long before we did. I hope 2017 is filled with blessings for you and your loved ones!

  8. I’m sure your other parents really appreciated your visit too. You are right that we who have lived long can understand those mixed feelings. Loss is the hard part of life and so chronic. I love the poem. It feels right.

    • Thanks Marlene, I agree. I suppose that if there was no loss in life, it might get very routine and boring– almost like that Ground Hog Day movie– but some of the losses are very hard to take. I appreciate you being here with us.

  9. Julia, I, too, have a second mom. She and my mom were close friends. And her sons and I grew up and stayed close. Our families often did social events together; whether bowling or amusement parks, etc. Your post has prompted me to make a call to her now rather than later. Thanks.

    • Alan, I’m so happy to hear this! Aren’t we fortunate to have these “extra parents” in our lives? Rearing children — or supporting adults, for that matter — really does take a village, and the very luckiest among us have more than one or two adults who give us that special mixture of love, appreciation, honest exhortation and high expectations. I’m glad you are calling your “other Mom.” 🙂

  10. Carolyn

    Hi my sweet friend. Your post was great. Having a second family is wonderful and it is great that you could visit with them. My mom had a friend like that and she was a great second mom to me. I spend a lot of time with her after I graduated from high school. Now she is gone. We had a nice Christmas with Jennifer and family in North Carolina. I’m ready for 2016 to be over, we have lost so many friends this year, still hard to believe that Jeff is gone. Praying for a good 2017, you know that will be five years for me. Anytime you can come our way, my porch is ready for tea. We had it screened in and can’t wait to enjoy it. Love you all please give Matt a hug for me, also enjoy Grady and Owen they grow up so fast. Will let you know about March later. Love to you and the family.

    • Hi Carolyn, I love reading about your screened porch and dreaming of having tea there with you. I too am praying for a good 2017. It is hard for me to imagine right now how it can possibly be good, but “things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Yes, Grady and Owen are growing up fast. I’ll try to post some photos soon. Love to you and Terry, and keep me posted about your spring plans.

  11. Sheila

    Julia, I’m sorry that I’ve been away from any correspondence for several days. All is well, but overwhelming at times. Bill is doing much better now, and has graduated from walker to cane. Enough about us! I’m so happy that you were able to get through the holidays and give so much happiness to others! You’re the “representative” and I know Jeff and Mr. Carlyle are smiling! I put your note about Jeff (that you included in your package) on our Christmas tree. It seemed to complete it! 🎄 Thank you for your kindness, your southern sweetness and your friendship. When I count my blessings, I count you twice! 💛 Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I love thinking about my note hanging on a Christmas tree; how sweet! Visiting with Tuffy and Betty Jo is the second best thing to visiting with Daddy again. They knew him much longer than I did, and have so many memories and stories to share. It’s harder to even think about Jeff without feeling waves of sadness and sometimes actual pain, especially wishing he could see how the grandsons are growing (but perhaps he can 😀 ) and wanting to talk things over with him.

      “Overwhelmed” is a word that I feel more and more often lately. I think everyone in today’s world experiences it, but no one more than those of us who can remember when rotary dial Princess phones were cutting edge technology. I’m glad Bill is making steady progress. Surgery is tough and scary. My holidays have been mostly OK, but those “fits” of deep sorrow continue unabated. I just hang on and wait for them to pass, telling myself they will eventually become less frequent. Matt seems to be doing better, and that helps. Plus, as I tell myself each day, the spring is coming and each day brings us one more minute of daylight. Regardless of what is going on in my life, the world keeps turning and life goes on, and that is a comfort. Sending you love and thanks and wishes for a marvelous year in 2017.

      • Sheila

        Julia, here we are! Home and enjoying it so much more than those boisterous times we used to require and even enjoy! I wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you, not sure what your emotions must be tonight. I hold you, Matt, Drew, Megan, Grady and Owen so close in my heart tonight! There’s just never enough time to love….we need more. It comes now in different forms. I’m just speaking from personal losses! We’ll meet on new 2017 Verandahs and enjoy our friendship. I really hope that we can be there in March! Love to all! 💛 It’s a New Year!

        • Sheila, this comment is perfect for today. Matt and I are enjoying a quiet day at home with WHRO giving us a great musical background for our activity. We did not celebrate New Year’s in any way, but I was grateful to Amy for spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with us. Yes, as we grow older– if we are lucky enough to do so– our joys and sorrows take many different forms and wear different faces, but friendship is a strong bulwark against despair. We haven’t gotten our held mail yet, but I am wondering what this month’s Verandah holds in store…I’ll have the tea ready! Love and Happy New Year!

  12. Mike

    The good news we head to Oahu on the 9th for a vacay/conference at Queens Hospital.
    Hopefully get some decent weather. Tired of the 35 degree stuff here.

    • Wow, Mike, that sounds great. It’s a perfect time to head for the islands. Aloha and have a great time!

  13. Harry Sims

    Sending you love and thanks and wishes for a marvelous year in 2017.
    Thank you and back at’cha!

    • Thank you, Harry. I am so happy you are here. Have a great 2017!

  14. LB

    Oh Julia, you are such an inspiration to me.
    Yes, I will make sure to remember opportunities to enjoy what remains, to be grateful for what remains.
    I’m so glad to see your smiling face in that photo with Betty Jo and Tuffy.
    Many blessings to you in this new year.

    • Thank you, Laurie. I hope 2017 is full of adventure, good health and abundance for you and your loved ones. Thanks for being with us.

  15. Glad you got to visit dear ones. Well said.

    • Thank you. The visit was a blessing.

  16. Although this is April, I just read this post for the first time. I think we are given an extra, sudden awareness of blessings at certain times, maybe to prepare us for future losses. I remember when I was a young adult, getting ready to fall asleep in my room. I thought of my parents down the hall in their bedroom and all three of my brothers in their bedrooms. I suddenly had an appreciation and deep sense of gratitude for all of them, our home, and the pure goodness associated with all of that. It was less than a year later that my father died of lymphoma. We did not know he would be getting sick. Our family fell apart, in a way, and life was never the same again. We blundered on, each of us struggling in a different way from one another. But I will never forget that moment in time when I had the extra awareness and deep appreciation. It is always with me,

    • I love that story! I remember the last night I ever spent in Mama and Daddy’s home. I was telling my brother that even at my age, there was something very special about knowing I was sleeping under the same roof as my parents. I told him I never knew when it would be my last chance to do that, and it turned out that WAS the last chance. as Daddy died less than a month later. So, as with you, I am extra-happy I paid attention and cherished the moment.

      It’s strange how families fall apart after a death. Sometimes, one ends up grieving not only the parent or spouse who died, but the friends and family who showed us a side of themselves that we never knew, or at least hoped we would not see. My relationships with several people have changed completely since Daddy’s death, and also since Jeff died. It becomes obvious who cares, and about what. I suppose it’s inevitable, but sad nonetheless.


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