Tag Archives: memories

Life and Loss



A friend and I enjoyed lunch together at Sweetish Hill.

It’s a bakery and restaurant that was located originally in East Austin where Swedish immigrants established residence many years ago. Now it’s on West 6th Street. We talked about all sorts of things just to get to know each other. Among the topics she brought up are the traumatic moments in most of our lives:

Birth (where am I? what’s going on here?); puberty; choosing a mate; mid-life crisis; and aging/dying.

In my culture, social and faith communities recognize some of these through ritual and community support.

There are baby namings and christenings for newborns and adoptees. There are coming of age ceremonies like bar and bat mitzvahs, confirmation, quinceañera, Eagle Scout honors for Boy Scouts, and Gold Awards for Girl Scouts. High school graduation marks the end of publicly supported education—the least expectation we have for basic employment, but not necessarily enough for graduates to support themselves. For that they need on-the-job training or years of college and even graduate school. Weddings celebrate true love and express the hope that couples will live happily ever after. In the U.S. we then slow down with adult celebrations other than occasional birthday galas among friends. Retirement parties include friends and colleagues.

But life is more than a series of celebrations.

Failure to get that degree? Unemployment? The loss of a child? Mental illness? Imprisonment? Medical crisis? Bankruptcy? Mid-life crisis? Aging? Not so much. Only rarely have I as a pastor been asked to create a ritual of loss other than a memorial service. Some churches I have served haveChalice.Beads offered support groups for specific groups of people. The secular world offers support groups, especially in big cities. Nowadays, technology allows people to connect across any number of miles if they have access to the Internet.

Social media has become one way people expose difficult situations that worry them or even generate a level of shame. There follows at least the electronic version of hugs and support.

These crises frequently become private matters. No one knows but the closest of friends and family. They try collectively to find online and/or local support groups and look for other resources that are hard to come by. A life crisis calls for a practical solutions and a spiritual response.

How shall we let go of dreams and find a new way forward? How can we build a new way?

We can acknowledge losses with ritual. Possibilities:

  • Throw stones into a river or shells into the sea.
  • Write down your lost dreams on flash paper and watch them go up in flame.
  • Place flowers in a place that is meaningful for you.
  • Give symbolic gifts to those who have shared the pain with you.
  • Have participants drape you with beautiful scarves and tell you what you mean to them.
  • Turn over your loss to the highest power you can name, from the Universe to God.
  • Pray for healing and wholeness.

Beyond the ritual, exercise good self care: solitude, companionship, a rugged workout or a healing walk. Eat well. Sleep. Find a therapist if you have trouble coping (and try more than one until you find someone who seems right to you).

Know this: You are not alone. So many of us have stumbled through life. If you share your loss you will find that someone else truly does have a similar story. Let their creativity and resourcefulness help you through.

Believe in yourself.

Remembering Stuart


Stuart Williamson

A distant friend died a few days ago. Stuart Williamson was somewhat distant in miles and through infrequent contact. When I moved to Texas in 1978 it could not have been long before I met Stuart and his wife Beth, who were married 33 years.

We were all members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, TX. We also participated in weekend meetings of the Southwestern Conference, often three times a year for many years. Beth served the Conference as President, but Stuart was there, too, with quiet support.

Northwoods Church held a weekend camping trip on the Williamson property in Bedias, TX . We pitched our tents, enjoyed a glorious campfire, and appreciated their warm hospitality. A funny story: Bob Nugen, my first husband, and I went to bed relatively early, while others were still at the campfire. Morning reports were that Bob started snoring so loudly from our tent that neighboring livestock answered his “call.” I slept through it all.

Stuart and Beth were founders of a new congregation in Huntsville: now called Thoreau Woods Unitarian Universalist Church. I continued to see them at conferences around Texas. Occasionally I would travel to Huntsville to join others in protesting the death penalty outside the death house. The Williamsons would be there. It was particularly poignant when I knew the father of a condemned man. Karo Riddle had been a member of the church I served in Waco. His son Granville, an artist, was executed following a bar fight that went horribly wrong when he was 19. I was grateful to share his story with Stuart and Beth.

The last time I saw Stuart was in Livingston, TX, where I officiated at the memorial service for one of his fellow congregants, whom I had visited several times in a Houston hospital. Stuart and Beth were there along with family, friends, and many other members of their church. Six months later Stuart was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that progressed rapidly. He died at home with Beth by his side as he took his last breath.

There is a lot more to know about Stuart (see his obituary). Seeing him every so often for decades impressed me with his steadfast dedication, his devotion to Beth, and their significant service to Unitarian Universalism in a small East Texas community.

Friendship does not require daily contact. In our case, encounters were infrequent but always welcome. Repetition added layers of connection.

Rest in peace, Stuart. Cherish the memories, Beth.

Love and blessings,


Rockbrook Camp Memories


Jon and I enjoyed a wonderful road trip to Brevard, North Carolina, to see our long-time friends Gayle and Gordon. Every day we stepped outside or drove a short distance and found beautiful places to walk and appreciate new trees and flowers.

Marco Trattoria, Brevard, NC

A long, long time ago I was a camp counselor at Rockbrook Camp for Girls, near Brevard. In fact, it is just 4 miles from Gordon and Gayle. When I browsed through Rockbrook’s website, I discovered that the 1921 founder Nancy Carrier was the great-granddaughter of the famous P.T. Barnum.

What a walk back in time!

I remember looking through job opportunities in a publication of some sort at Stephens College. It was near the end of my Freshman year. Since I had been a Girl Scout, a camper, and a counselor, it looked like a great way to spend a summer. Besides, I wouldn’t have to spend it at home! My parents drove me there

I was hired as a hiking counselor, so I took groups of girls on hikes every day and on 3-day or longer trips as well. One of the best destinations was Lake Toxaway, where we swam at the base of Toxaway Falls. So much fun!

Although there have been changes over the years, I could still remember various places–the dining hall, of course (we were there 3x/day) and the layout of the cabins.  It’s hard to believe that I still have the red sweater that was part of the uniform on Sundays and Spirit Nights (last night of camp). It was fun to rediscover lots of memories.

Rockbrook still offers crafts, horseback riding, archery, swimming, hiking, riflery, etc., on 200 acres. When I was there I got a sharpshooter certification during days off (in prone, kneeling, and standing positions). Girls under my supervision came for either 4 or 6 week sessions and a few of my campers stayed for multiple sessions. The girls are 6-16 years old, divided into Junior, Middler, and Senior Camps. They get to choose their activities and change them up every few days. A very rich experience.

I remember the time my boyfriend came for a visit on his motorcycle. I didn’t leave the camp, but I did persuade my hikers that they really wanted to do something else. (They were happy to cover for me.) Burton and I went hiking on our own and found a field of raspberries that were quite delicious. It was a wonderful afternoon–except that we were spotted on Castle Rock by the Camp Director. Oops! Not a huge amount of trouble, as I recall.

One girl named Denise gave me the honor of naming her donkey Trichel, my last name at the time. (“Trichel” rhymes with “Michelle”). She thought it was a pretty name and it was a way to remember each other. How many of YOU have had a donkey named for you?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Spiraling through Time and Space


It’s weird. I am “hurtling” north on Interstate 35 yet it seems as though I’m going back in time.

Memory triggers for me included Bruceville-Eddy, home of Greene Family Camp where I studied world religions with students from 4 different seminaries; Lorena, where a friend used to live and we studied together; Waco, where I lived and worked for 3 1/2 years and have gone back as a Board workshop facilitator and as a consultant; Elm Mott, where a pair of sisters grew up and each became UU; Lake Whitney, where I know someone who used to be UU in membership but is still UU in practice.

I approached Dallas where I attended Perkins School of Theology and taught classes at First Unitarian-Dallas, then veered off toward Ft. Worth and Arlington, where I was a student minister. These were all places where I taught and served and learned ever so much. Memories of those I married, those I buried, those I blessed, and those I left behind.

Back in time. All these thoughts were mixed with the knowledge of leave-taking from my current ministry and with the personal growth and setbacks and losses and gains I’ve experienced over these years. Oh, the places I’ve been!

So I was moving forward and backward in time and space, watching 20-25 years pass before my eyes–not in a flash as is told regarding near-death experiences, but in slow motion. Visions included spirals up and down through multiple experiences and lessons I’ve had to learn more than once.

Weird, but wonderful to drive alone in a car listening over and over to Terri Hendrix, who sings, “Moon on the water, help me to rise.” In so-called “ordinary time” (if we’re lucky) there sometimes comes an unusual confluence of ideas and insights, opportunities and options. Oh, the places I’ll go!

All this has contributed to who I am today, for good or ill. I have gifts as well as blind spots. There have been times of trauma, challenge, conflict, and betrayal. There have been dreams come true, successes, triumphs, and joy. I am reminded of Bruce Findlow’s lyrics in hymn #128, Singing the Living Tradition:

“For all that is our life we sing our thanks and praise; for all life is a gift which we are called to use to build the common good and make our own days glad.”