Tag Archives: berries

Blackberries, hospice, and being late.

gl IMG_2749 berriesI stopped and snacked on a few blackberries along my walking path this week, and that made me think about my dear late husband. And I wondered, how long does one use the descriptor “late” to refer to the deceased? So I read about that here. And after I read, I wanted to call him my “swete and late amyable husbonde.”

We are used to hearing that adjective attached to its noun, but I found it charming to read in Alexander McCall Smith’s novels of Botswana how people would simply state about someone who had died, “He is late.” You might think that the phrase refers to someone who has only recently died, but I can attest to the relative meaning of recently when we are talking about one’s lifelong partner.

A quote from this month’s New Yorker magazine, in the article about hospice worker Heather Meyerend, “The Threshold”, by Larissa MacFarquhar:

“People react differently to a death. Some cry, some are calm….Wives sometimes throw themselves on the body, weeping and grasping it, especially when the couple have been married forty, fifty, sixty years. ‘The Bible says, And two shall become one,’ Heather says. ‘It’s a wrenching that happens, a tearing, like a garment that’s being pulled apart.'”

Mr. Glad and I married when we were both 21, and soon moved from southern to northern California. Before we had even settled on what county we might live in, we were picking wild blackberries together, up in the redwood forests of Humboldt County. From then on it was a July tradition to search around the country roads or empty lots to gather enough for several pies and a few quarts of syrup as well. That’s how it happened that we formed the habit of his birthday pie.

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As I’ve thought so much about my husband and our life together over the last year, Sheldon Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy comes to mind, because it includes a lot about the death of his wife and his dealing with that. I didn’t like the book very much when I read it many years ago, because of the way the two of them seemed unswervingly self-absorbed as a couple; but one thing the grieving husband did tell about always stuck with me and made me ponder, long before I imagined myself in his position.

His wife’s nickname was “Davy,” and within days after her death he experienced the “flooding back to me of all the other Davys I had known. She had been in the year of her dying the Davy she had become — the Christian Davy of Oxford and since,” but he began to remember her at various times of their life together and even before, and to liken this process to what happens when you come to the end of a novel. You have been focused on each page and what the character is doing, who she is at that point in the story. Then you close the book and begin to grasp the meaning of it all from the first chapter on through.

When you are a hospice nurse, or the sole caregiver of a dying person, you have to focus on that day, that page of the life, to give all the love and attention you can. I hope it is possible for you to read the article I linked to above, about this particular nurse – if it becomes unavailable try googling her name – because the description of her work and ministrations is that of a saint. The author of the article follows her on her visits to several different homes and chronicles her interactions with the patients, and her wise assessments of the needs of the dying generally. The story of her own life shows how she was formed and guided by God into this realm that she seems imminently suited for.

When my husband was dying, our family didn’t need the hospice workers to help us with matters of the heart, but I appreciated Heather’s insight about such things as this:

When a patient was tormented and having a difficult time dying, or was hanging on despite no longer eating or drinking, Heather would ask, Is there someone you need to see? If a patient was preoccupied with someone he was resolved never to forgive, Heather might say that this unforgiveness was like bondage, and that if he forgave the person who had injured him that person would no longer be his jailer.

I thought that when I helped my goddaughter in her last days that the experience provided plenty of revisiting of the last months of my husband’s life, but reading about hospice care a year later is actually helpful. I’m less self-absorbed myself and can look back more calmly and see many reasons for thanksgiving in the last weeks and even hours.

One phenomenon that is mentioned in the article is how many people when they are in their last days seem to wait until they are alone before they let themselves “go.” One wife worried a lot about this when her husband was in hospice care, concerned that she might not be with him at that moment, and she was relieved when she was able to be by his side at the end.

I didn’t worry about it, but I would have preferred to be with my husband, and I was. Only from this vantage point does it occur to me that this was a gift from him to me and the daughters who were also there holding his hand, to let us accompany him all the way until the crossing over.

Whenever Heather entered a patient’s home for the first time, she knew that she was walking into a long, long, complicated story that she understood nothing about, a story that was just then reaching its final crisis.

Until today most of my own efforts to look back on my husband’s life have taken me far from last year’s final crisis, and by means of photos I’ve been helped to remember him at earlier stages in his life. But reading things he’s written is perhaps even more satisfying. I’ve just begun to sort through papers to find notes and creations that surprise me, that make me see the depth and complexity of the man whom I was mostly reading page-by-exciting-page all those years. We were living out our own novel, so to speak, and we were, as protagonists usually are, unknowing of what was going to be on the next page. But our Heavenly Father was the author, and He was making the ending very good, in spite of crazy things the characters might do or go through along the way.

gl tract coverI had forgotten about this gospel tract that he created — was it in his 30’s? Unfortunately he didn’t put a date on anything I have dug up so far. In those days he did like to have some “literature” to give people he met, something they could read later on, and I imagine he found most such material too reductionist to be called The Gospel, so he had to make his own. The content of it tells of his foundation in Christ, and also of what he died knowing.

gl tract inside 1

I miss my husband terribly. The grief ebbs and flows and is never the same, except for being always present. I’m glad I’ll be in this process for some time, of rereading my husband’s life and remembering more things to love him for, and be thankful. I’m loath to give up that berry pie tradition, so next week, on his birthday, I’ll be baking  one again — even though I already know he will be late for the party.

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Washington – Water and Other Themes

My dear husband conceived the idea of going to the state of Washington for a week, to visit the Olympic Peninsula as he had done with his parents as a boy, and also to see some friends and family who had moved there since our last visit. I’m always a bit overwhelmed by the water, water everywhere aspect of that area, and not because of the water itself.

It’s just that the many canals, sounds and straits around Seattle and northward to the Canadian border make me even more likely than is my usual disorientable self to lose track of where we are. I have studied the maps more than most people are accustomed to doing in this day of GPS and cell phones, but I still feel pretty hopeless about it. We are always looking across some body of water or other, and I never know what it is or what I am seeing on the other side.

It’s beautiful, all that water, and so refreshing, as long as I don’t let myself get discouraged when Mr. Glad wants me to know that those are the San Juan Islands, or that is the Hood Canal. But being overwhelmed by water might be a good thing, if one isn’t drowning.

I kept thinking of my church’s teaching that water is the substance representative of all Creation, so that when Christ was baptized in the Jordan he was actually baptizing the Creation and blessing it. In Bremerton the Harborside Fountain Park highlights the city’s maritime and shipbuilding history with a multitude of fountains, surrounded by constant views of waves, and boats sailing across…um, which canal is that?

Spray from fountains was blessing me, and the waves and moist air were full of the kindness of Him Who alone is holy and blessed in Himself. I can’t intellectually comprehend what my Father has done any more than I can find my way around Puget Sound, but I can receive the blessing anyway.

The forest is imposing wherever the water is not. Lush conifers for Christmas trees, tall, tall Douglas firs and spruces for telephone poles and lumber, lots of lumber for all our houses. This western part of the state is known for high and frequent precipitation to keep all these trees happy, though when the sun doesn’t shine for days, some humans get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) apparently for lack of sunlight, especially in winter when the days are also shorter.

Amazingly, we didn’t have to worry about that, because aside from some morning fog and clouds, and the slightest drizzle, the weather was favoring our touring of the area and taking pictures. I never pulled my rain jacket out of its pouch, even in the rain forest!

Spending days in this part of the country brought to my mind images from a National Geographic children’s book, Three Little Indians, which we read many, many times to our children in the 70’s and 80’s. One of the children featured in the stories of three Native American tribes was Center-of-the-Sky, a Nootka of past eras of the Northwest. The dark skies and high surf of the paintings, along with the idea of fish as a staple of the diet, came back to me on our trip, when two of our hosts served us salmon, which might be the quintessential food of the Northwest.

Years ago when I read a story of Lewis & Clark to the children I was saddened to hear that when the party of mostly Midwesterners got to the Pacific Ocean, hungry and weary, they found a plenitude of fish, but didn’t like it. [I later learned that this is not true.] They had to trade with the Indians for some kind of meat they were more accustomed to. I suppose they were o.k. with berries, those dear little fruits that abound here. Our cousin Anne told us that in her neighborhood in Shelton the women will go berry-picking together to make the time pass more quickly as they tediously fill their buckets with tiny huckleberries or blueberries for pies or the jam pot.

We enjoyed berry cobbler and berry crisp cooked by our hosts, and I took pictures of snow berries, but they are such a bright white they sabotage the photos. We encountered what was probably the Pacific Blackberry: “This is the only native blackberry in the Pacific Northwest, has excellent flavor, and is the ultimate source of several horticultural varieties, including marionberries, loganberries, and boysenberries.”

Mushrooms are prolific in Washington’s woodlands; they get nutrients from the tree roots. October is a good time for harvesting the ones called chanterelles, and one humble café where we ate was featuring wild chanterelles deep-fried. I didn’t want to miss the chance to try these exotic fungi, so we ordered a plate of appetizers. After downing the lot, we doubted that was the best way to present their subtle flavor.

Abundance would be the overarching theme here, where God has blessed so richly in nature and the natural products that we all depend on so much. Our friend C. asked how we liked their state, and I had to think a while before I said, “I’m afraid there are too many trees for me.”

Too many trees!? How could one find fault with that? Western Washington seems to be almost the opposite of the desert, the symbol of want and dryness. But creatures are provided for even in that arid place, and I might still prefer it, with its abundance of sky and sun shining out of it. For the remainder of our vacation, though, I found plenty in this wet and wild land to nourish my soul as well as body.

Berry Pies

It’s traditional for Mr. Glad to have homemade blackberry pie for his birthday, which arrives at the peak of the wild blackberry season here in Northern California. As a young couple we did our first picking up near the Eel River when we were just making hopeful forays northward, thinking about where to move to when our college days were done.

Later we had the bushes growing like weeds in our back yard and neighborhood, and the children could bring in plenty, so much that there were many more berries than I could bake into pies.  I developed a recipe for blackberry syrup to process in jars so that year by year we had it to pour on pancakes.

Twenty years ago we moved to a less rural part of the county and now have to make more of an effort to collect our pie ingredients. In the last few years it has twice happened that one or two of the children made heroic efforts against busy schedules and blazing heat to collect buckets full enough for me to bake the customary pie or two.

One year I carted one of these pies up the mountain for our Yosemite family camp experience, and forgot the birthday candle. Someone carved a sort of long matchstick from a twig to use instead, but it was pretty much a failure.

Just above is the time I baked a blackberry pie at the high mountain cabin where I like to go for solitary retreats or for family gatherings where cooking is appreciated.

This busy-busy summer, there was hardly time for a spark of thought about going berry-picking, so I picked up two bags of mixed frozen berries at Costco with plans to make four pies for the big party that the children would give.



I’d used this berry mix once before, to make my usual blackberry pie recipe, the result being a kind of gummy candy wrapped in pastry. As the berries are individually quick-frozen, I speculated that they lose a lot of moisture in the process and must need less thickening than what I’d automatically put in the bowl.

So this time around, I used less than half the amount of tapioca granules called for in the original Joy of Cooking recipe. A little runny would be better than globby. And the pies were a little runny, so if I do it again I’ll use exactly half the thickening.

Getting the edge of the crust to look nice is not the easiest part of pie-making. It took me quite a few failed attempts in my youth before someone showed me to hold the top and bottom layers of crust together as one, while you fold them under, against the edge of the plate. Now you are all ready to flute the edge, if you want. My pinching technique is shown at right in a photo I had Mr. Glad snap for me. Click on it if you want to see it large.

It seems hard to bake a berry pie without the blue showing through the top crust. Two of the pies I put an egg wash on, and two not. Two had a little less butter in the crust. But they all came out looking about the same.




What was really different was baking them in a convection oven. With the first two pies, I experimented and used the foil collar on one and not on the other, and they baked equally, beautifully brown. So I may not use foil collars ever again!


The flavor was excellent, a composite of blackberries (Marionberries, to be precise),  blueberries, and raspberries, with butter seeping in from the crust, and a bit of cinnamon with the fruit. I go lightly on the sugar so that the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds.


It was a wonderful party the children had for their beloved father, and he was very pleased not to have to go without his pie.