May 13, 2005

Donel Gage McClellan, October 22, 1937 -May 13, 2005

The Pastor's Last Sermon

Breakfasting at IHOP
The man in the next booth
finished talking to his wife
on his walkie-talkie.
He said:

God bless!
I love you.
I'm gone!

I swiped the words
thinking they were the ideal

God Bless!
What more can be
said about life?
Every morning is an
undeserved gift. Each
evening a blessing.
If not blessed, then
life is something less
than was promised.

I love you
sums up the prophets
and the law. To love
and be loved is life's
greatest promise
and our finest achievement.
Love trumps dislike,
finess anger and spite,
defeats ennui.
In the end there is faith
hope and love.
You know
which is the greatest.

I'm gone.
I suspect this is a finality
only from the perspective
of the living.
Who is to say to where
I have gone when I depart
this breathing
physical body?
I'm gone suffices--
and contains within its finality
the hope of another meeting,
as when the man in IHOP
returns home to love's arms.

Posted by Donel at 01:58 PM

May 12, 2005

The Sound In My Life

Jeni and I are sitting with dad, who is sleeping soundly, the sun just having set over the bay, red gradient over the sky. Dani is upstairs going to bed, after pulling the night shift last night. Mom is catching up on email and correspondence in her office. It's been a long day for all of us in many ways, but we know we're in the right place doing this thing the right way.

Some of you may wonder what music we're playing. When dealing with Donel McClellan, this is no trivial issue. This is the man who once lived in a converted garage and decorated the large hinged door to the outside with empty record covers.

Dad loves Brad Mehldau, the previously mentioned Madeleine Peyroux, a brisk and stirring rendition of Bach's Goldberg Variations by Murray Perahia, we've played Brahm's exquisite Ein Deutsches Requiem, Mussorgsky's lilting Pictures at an Exhibition, whose inspirational trumpets should be clinically tested next to Prozac for the way they make me feel. Afternoons, when we catch it, are dedicated to the broadly programmed DiscDrive, with the dry and exceptional Jurgen Gothe, who makes me pine for CBC reception in Seattle.

To quote the British artist Tom Phillips, whom Dad discovered and passed on to me, "The sound in my life enlarges my prison." Indeed.

Since poetry has been the balm of choice here, I'll leave you with a haiku I wrote about Dad, relating to a sound of his that will be familiar to many of you:

His laugh is engine
turning twice again, catching
as the joke broke through

Posted by Martin at 10:43 PM | Comments (12)

May 11, 2005

The next step

We want to let everyone who reads this blog know that dad's illness has progressed fairly rapidly this week and his body is starting the process of shutting down. I flew in from Singapore yesterday and the three of us kids are here with mom and dad.

Dad is comfortable and spends most of the day sleeping or dozing. When he is awake, he occasionally takes part in conversation and has made it clear that he wants to be in the midst of activity. We keep music playing and this morning we read him poetry which he enjoyed.

We will keep you up to date as we move along this journey together.

Posted by Dani at 01:39 PM | Comments (53)

Wild Geese

Martin, Jeni and I are reading poetry to dad this morning and thought you might enjoy this favorite of of all of ours.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Posted by Dani at 11:16 AM | Comments (6)

May 08, 2005

Letting Go

Last week Donel sent me Peggy's question: How do you help your partner walk the dance with you knowing that she will have to let you go? He wondered if I would like to answer the question. I've been avoiding it because I don't know what to say.

I am so grateful for the time we have had. I don't think that there is anything undone either between us or within our family. We have laughed and cried together. And, even now, when I feel weepy I don't try to protect Donel from my emotions. Perhaps that is unkind. But, I think that it was a gift from my family of origin. No one in my immediate family ever questions how I feel about something! So, perhaps rule number one is to attempt to be authentic and open together. But, then, I've never had anything to fear because Donel has always been gentle with my feelings. It was one of the best gifts of our marriage. Honesty and gentleness.

And, we have been separate individuals. Most of you will understand when I say that "Minister's Wife" has never completely defined me. Donel always encouraged me to be myself, to invent new Marilyns, and he has been my cheering section when I have, even when he was inconvenienced. I have been more hesitant over his endeavors. He is uniquely creative and visionary. The civil rights movement, the earliest computers, all the arts, poetry, printing - I've been several steps behind him. But, I still appreciate his creativity and his ability to be defined by his inner voice instead of what others might want him to be.

One gift from Donel's ministry is our utterly amazing church community as well as former friends and parishoners from Woodland Hills and Santa Barbara. The night before he went to the hospital, I thought our family was absurd. Five of them sat in the living room with their laptop computers -- creating and refining the blog. Since Donel was responsible for the earliest online chat rooms in the ecclesiastical world, he was perfectly at ease. They are all weird, was my thought. But, as usual, I was wrong.

What a gift the blog has been. I thought it might be invasive. Instead it has been inclusive. I can't tell you how very moving it is to hear from so many old and loved friends all over the world. I feel like I'm on a journey with a company of close companions. And, I know people have felt included in a way they could never have been without the blog. Again, I get carried along with my creative and forward thinking family. Chips off the old block, for sure.

I don't really know how to do this, Peggy. I get up in the morning and go through each day -- knowing that we walk towards the end of our lives together as we knew it. I miss our life and mourn the loss of it. I feel like I'm in limbo. But, I am so very grateful of the wonderful years we have shared. I'm so very grateful for our children who are my anchors through all the grief. I cannot adequately thank them. They have put aside their own lives to walk by our side every step of the way.

I give thanks for everything we have been fortunate enough to have -- our health, educations, wealth by most world standards, our wonderful and loving families. We have been graced by God over and over and over again. How could I possibly not be grateful for such a life together? So, it ends earlier than I would choose. But, then, I never have been able to call all the shots. And, that is ok. Sad, but basically ok.

Posted by Marilyn at 09:02 PM | Comments (41)

Walking With Papa

Each of the grandkids have had an opportunity to "interview" Papa on tape, something that they can cherish down the road. Because Allie had a bad cough when Nicole & James did their taping, she had to wait to do hers. Today was her turn. Because Dad is more tired, she decided to limit the questions and read him a poem. This is a poem she found on the internet and changed a bit to make just right. (Apologies to the poet, we looked but couldn't find a source to credit.)

Walking with Papa

I like to walk with Papa,
his steps are short like mine.
He doesn't say "Now hurry up,"
He always takes his time.
I like to walk with Papa,
his eyes see things like mine

~ Wee pebbles bright,
a funny cloud,
half hidden drops of dew.
Most people have to hurry,
they do not stop and see

~ I'm glad that God made Papa.
Unrushed , and young like me.

Posted by Jeni at 08:46 PM | Comments (2)

May 07, 2005

Another step in the dance

This is the first day that Dad has had pain. His stomach is bothering him, but it is blessedly relieved by medication that allows him to rest. The nurse will be visiting today to check in and see what the best options are for comfort. The hospital bed has been ordered. It's just too hard to get up and down stairs for bed. I think it will be a relief to wheel into the next room, or even stay in bed all day if that's what's comfortable. Time spent with Dad the last couple of days has been quiet just enjoying his presence and letting him know that we are here if he needs us.

Matzo ball soup arrived in perfect time for a light, soul-full lunch for dad. Blessings continue to pour in from friends and you are all appreciated!

It's a hard step to take. Every step seems to be another challenge and adjustment, but we've been thankful for the time to get used to each stage of progress (or I guess I should say regression). Dad seems to move to a new state, one step removed from his physical life here and one step closer to his spiritual being. We all re-learn and adjust to this new level of relationship and being. It's tough to see, and yet, what a blessing to be able to learn to accept Dad's death one step at a time, giving up what we know and love in pieces rather than suddenly and all at once. The message that we really have no control over this process is loud and clear, and continually reminds us that we must cherish, literally, every moment.

Posted by Jeni at 12:19 PM | Comments (8)

May 06, 2005

Wiped Out

Today was a very full day! We awoke to a front yard full of pink flamingos. Bright & festive, we enjoyed watching cars drive by very, very slowly.


After a bath, family breakfast celebrating Christine's birthday (sans Christine), a wonderful healing touch session, and a visit from Bobbi everyone was pretty wiped out.


This afternoon we had a visit from 9 month old Sam who kept Mom, Aunt Pat, Cousin Mary & me in stitches with his newly gained crawling skills, clapping, waving and peels of laughter.

After dinner, the Tetricks dropped in with breakfast for tomorrow plus a surprise visit by Jill, (here from LA), Kathering Blair and Hazel! We're feeling well tended to and are happy with a double baby fix!

Dad's been pretty tired the last couple of days. We're finding it's taking a little longer after visits to recover so we're looking forward to a couple of quiet days with just family.

Posted by Jeni at 09:21 PM | Comments (4)

May 04, 2005

Flower in the crannied wall

FLOWER in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;-
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

I was a philosophy major at Occidental College in Los Angeles. It was one of the popular majors or pre-theological students and suited me well since it encouraged questioning. My major professor, Dr. Cyril Gloyn was enamored with Tennyson's poem Flower in a Crannied Wall. He saw it as a compact illustration of the belief that if we could understand any tiny portion of nature completely, we would gain a glimpse of the meaning of it all.


Soon after arriving in Bellingham we saw this serigraph by Katherine Liu at Hammond's Gallery and simply had to have it. It is titled Flower in a Crannied Wall and has given a visual image for Tennyson's poem to me. It also reminds me that there is a connectedness between every part of nature, and an unseen harmony in which all is one.

William Blake captured the same idea in these lines.

To see the world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.

I wonder about this unity as I consider passing beyond this life. Will I be immersed in the oneness? Will there be a greater understanding of life after death? These are topics for reflection and meditation. I am happy to wonder about them, even as I feel secure in God's unassailable grace.

Posted by Donel at 08:56 PM | Comments (5)

Fortunate Son

Two fathers, both consummate storytellers in their own rights. One says "draw a picture, tell a story" and in doing so, replaces fear with wonder in the minds of those to whom mathematics has always been a struggle. One stands at the pulpit with tales of humor and insight, depth and meaning. One sits around a campfire, hikes up a trail, lies in a sleeping bag — all the while weaving fanciful tales of knights and monsters, forest creatures and intrepid children. The words of both stay with me, shape me, guide me.

One is a doer, constantly carving, knitting, out in the garden, creating beauty with everything he does. One is a philosopher, a poet, spending his life building wonderful pictures of a God that even I can understand and embrace. Gentle and kind, each wise in his own way.

Very different, yet drawn together by a deeper understanding. Each one has found a true expression of God. Each one "gets it." Each one has been able to share what he's found with me, with his family, with all those around him in ways that will last far beyond a single life.

Everything I am and try to be, I have learned from watching and listening to these two amazing men. Childlike curiosity, a gentle grace, a resilient faith. I truly am a fortunate son.

Posted by Ron at 07:31 PM | Comments (7)

May 03, 2005


COME lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love-but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come,
come unfalteringly.

Walt Whitman

Whitman's celebration of death brings the end of life into the very vibrancy and dance of creation. It also reminds me of a transition I am slowly making.

My attention is moving inward and excluding most of the extended relationships I have known over the years. I find that I have a vital interest in those who are part of my family, my current church community, and close friends who participate via the blog, email, and visits. I no longer concern myself with old relationships in the past, or with stories of people I don't know who may be dancing with cancer.

On the one hand, I don't mean to be uncaring or insensitive to the stories brought by visitors. It is more a question of triage. I do not have time for every story, and I am focusing more and more narrowly on the specific path before me.

I see this as a time of centering, of waiting upon the Lord. Silence is full of beauty for me these days. The world speaks to me of its vibrant renewal even as I prepare to leave it.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee.

Posted by Donel at 12:06 PM | Comments (13)

May 02, 2005

Monday Update

Donel in blogging mode with oxygen.


This morning my bathing aide, Michelle, came by so I am clean and Keri lotioned. The advantage of having Michelle Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is the simple savings of breath and energy. I get pretty winded when I do the bath/shower myself. It also gives us a rapport which will be useful when bed baths become necessary.

Later, Hospice nurse Nancy assessed my condition. My current medication seems to be working well and we won't change anything at the moment. My feet are gathering more fluid and I'll be wearing adjustable sandals when I go out in the future since shoes no longer fit. I had expected this so it is nothing surprising. I can help a little bit by cutting down on salt and keeping my feet elevated, which I already do most of the time in my recliner.

I am accumulating more abdominal fluid which further restricts lung capacity. This is a product of the tumors and probably won't be drained because it would be replaced fairly soon. Otherwise there isn't much change.

I am using oxygen for part of the day to make breathing a little easier. It becomes harder to climb the stairs at night for bed. Nancy suggests that 20 minutes before I go up the stairs I take oral morphine. This is to increase oxygen flow to the blood rather than pain relief, although it can be used for that as well.

Nancy seems surprised that my enlarged liver isn't painful. I take that as another blessing. Appetite remains good.

Nancy also suggested that we keep an emergency kit available at all times — oxygen and morphine. That is in case there is an episode of some sort which requires quick response. Having the appropriate medication will relieve anxiety. Nancy will be back Thursday to check on me.

All in all I am feeling well, but am aware of less energy because of decreased lung capacity. Life is good and friends abound. Thanks be to God.

Posted by Donel at 06:26 PM | Comments (10)

May 01, 2005

The Worship of God

WE do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Romans 14:7-9

In seminary, my professor of preaching insisted that worship was rightly and only called The Worship of God. To add anything to that description he felt would be superfluous. Whenever I have worked on liturgy that definition has been in my mind. While I was functioning as a pastor, I was meticulous about the words, hymns, and the design of worship. Little things caught my attention, perhaps too much at times.

Now that I am Pastor Emeritus, I find myself removed from such concerns and am able to appreciate and enjoy worship in a far more complete way. Our family attended church today. I have less breath and energy than last week so I used my new four footed cane which gives me security and sat through the whole service rather than standing for hymns and prayers. I don't have breath to sing hymns and responses so I mouth the words and feel included in the liturgy that way.

Scott Opshal preached a fine sermon on story and accompanied it with old and new hymns. When leading worship, one is always cognizant of the process and can't leave oneself open to become absorbed and moved by Word and song. Now I have that privilege to allow myself to enter fully into the liturgy and find worship to be joyful and often very moving.

I am reminded that, In Paul's words WE do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. We, who have chosen the Christian path live in the Lord and therefore live in community. It is the community which gathers Sunday by Sunday that validates the Worship of God. I am grateful for each Sunday I am able to be in worship, and to the community which gathers to be the church.

Perhaps I don't need to clarify this, but I do not see Christians as special in any way in God's eyes. Every person is precious and loved by God. Christianity is the lens, or to be faithful to Scott's sermon, the source of the stories which connect me to God. Everyone is going to be welcome at God's Table.

Posted by Donel at 07:10 PM | Comments (9)