Today I am aware of lessons that are to be learned.  Some I am learning today, even as I write.  Some have been saved deep in my bran.  Others are on the cusp of my awareness.

It’s been just over five weeks since my mother passed away, and one thing I have learned from this is that awareness is cracked wide open. Pages of my life have flashed before me from when I was a young child to today, when I am so much older.  Some days I feel as old as my mother was when she died, and that would be 95 ½.

But today I feel only my real age, and the constant mirage of photos and vivid scenes from my life that have been cascading through my mind for weeks has finally come to an end.  Now I occasionally see photos of my mother when she was young, vibrant and beautiful, a sweet young mom to the six year old myself at the time.  I thought there was no woman  more beautiful in the world.  I remember sitting on the sofa listening to my mother play Silent Night on the piano and singing in the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard,  all the time marveling at the talent she possessed by keeping a small vine alive in a glass vase on the coffee table in front of me.  I would have never done anything to spill the water out of that vase.  If you asked me at the time I am sure I would have told you without blinking an eye that the water in that vase was sacred because my mother had put it there.

My struggle as my mother became older, then older yet, and then older still, is that she never really knew how much I loved her. But I know now, without a doubt, that I did the best that I could  People tell me often how amazed they are at the care I gave to my mother, but I always thought I could do more, should do more.  And even then my efforts were often rejected.  It hurt to know how little my mother was willing to accept from me, or anyone else for that matter.  An independent spirit, friends told me.  Stubborn, I thought.  A martyr, said others.  And what’s the real truth?  We’ll never know.

What I do know, and what I have learned from this grief process is that we all grieve differently, just as we all love differently.  I loved 100%. I am grieving 100%. When friends ask, “How are you doing?” I can only say, “I’m doing the best I can,” and it’s true.  What I am doing for myself now is listening.  I am listening to friends, to grief counselors, to family, and I am listening to the rain.  It’s soothing in a way that words often fail. I look outside on this cold March day and know the rain is bringing forth new life in the yard, new plants for me to transplant and putter with this summer, and hopefully glorious sunshine will follow.

I am learning from this period of grief that sunshine will prevail in my memory as well, very soon, but the tears will always be welcomed, just as the rain is always welcomed by the plants in my back yard.  Day in and day out, I am learning lessons I never even knew existed, and certainly never knew I still had so many to learn.  As these lessons become a part of my new awareness now, I realize they are all blessings, and I will never forget how they have come to me. These lessons come from the heart, and for that I am thankful.

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My Mother, Myself

Mother and Me

I see my mother in myself when I least expect to see her.  I see her in my hands, my wrists and elbows, and I see her in the tops of my feet.  I see her in myself when I reach for certain things, like a glass or a cup, and silverware. I handle bowls the same way she did, and I catch myself at odd times with the same look on my face.

My mother passed away just two weeks ago tomorrow, on February 5th, at 3:10 p.m.  I was holding one of her hands and my close friend, Laurie, was holding her other hand as she took her last breath. I could not do that alone. She died a peaceful death, with Hospice in attendance, and there was no struggle.

I thought since she died so peacefully it would be easy for me to let go. After all, she was 95.  I had to ask myself just how long I expected her to live so I could get used to not having her here anymore. And the answer, I see now, is forever. No matter when she would have died, I would not have been ready. I am slowly learning how to live without my mother. I had no idea how hard this would be. It feels like a kick in the stomach.

So now I find myself looking for her.  The way I turn a magazine page, or chop up an onion, or brown meat in a skillet.  I see her in my hands and arms as I hold the steering wheel of the car. Today at the grocery store I pulled into a parking space and there was an open space ahead of me, and I could hear her tell me, “You can pull ahead and park there, and you wouldn’t have to back up when you leave.” And of course I pulled ahead.  I smiled and told her, “Thank you,” before going into the store.

With every grocery list I write, or every thank you note, every card I read, I know she’s right there with me, and possibly this is the way it’s supposed to be.  I really don’t know, having not been this close to death in many years.  I’ve soldiered through the condolence cards, & had her obituary written and to the proper places right away, in time for Sunday papers in two different cities. I’ve made plans to carry my mother’s ashes home to Pensacola, Florida in June with family attending a burial there at the beautiful Bayview Memorial Park on the Scenic Highway, and am trying to decide what to send along with her.  They tell me we can put anything we want into the grave with her urn.  I am thinking of tying up several cards and one letter that she saved for the last year ~ cards & a letter from family members she loved.  And I want to include the Valentine I gave her last year when I wrote on the card, “I will love you beyond forever.”  And I know now that those words were truer than even I knew at the time. I think I will use a soft pink ribbon to tie up these cards and notes.

My daughter tells me she and her little boy, my mother’s great grandson, will collect some rocks to send along with Mama Parks.  She’d like that, I know.  She’ll love that we are there with her. And for a family living miles apart, this is the last best thing we can do for her. I do wonder, though, if I will see myself later, standing at this grave.  I can’t imagine this being something I will soon forget.

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January ~ again

January 2014
Today I saw a robin with a bright red breast, sitting in the top of a tree as I drove by coming home from my Pilates class. But wait, I thought, that bird’s crazy. It’s only January. And besides, it snowed all day yesterday here in the PNW and there’s snow piled up on top of the birds’ nests in these trees. Yet the robin sat there ~ bright, beautiful and fearless. It made me want to do more with my life. Just like that. My goodness, if this little bird can hang around Spokane, WA in one of the coldest months of the winter, and sit in a tree with no leaves for protection from the wind, I should be able to do more with my little life as well.

It always amazes me the things I find to think about when I am outside. Walt Whitman said once that huge and melodious thoughts descended upon him while walking under certain trees. I would never try to quote that, but this was the gist of the message. I’ve often thought perhaps I inherited a tiny bit of this poet’s DNA, because the same thing happens to me. I’ll see a bird like the one I saw today and will wonder who his friends are, his family, where was he born? Is he far from home now? I want to ask the little critter the same sorts of questions, really, that anyone would think to ask of someone they’ve just met. But of course we are unable to talk with birds, or butterflies or earth worms … all of those creatures that roam our yards in the summers.

Have you ever thought of which questions you’d like to ask a hummingbird? Well, I have. I usually want to know if they want something to drink besides sugar water, or aren’t they tired of having to flap their wings so often just to stay up in the air, or why they only enjoy pink flowers? With my wanting to ask such questions of the wild life in our back yard, you can imagine all of the questions I want to ask when I meet someone new. I like to think it’s a natural tendency of writers.

This, of course, makes me think that I should finally get busy and write the book I’ve been telling people I am writing, or the one I would like to write. It occurs to me that if I did write a book containing a bunch of different characters, I could ask them questions to my heart’s content, because I’d know the answers. I can name them, give them birth cities that I like, dream up relationships for them, make them lovers, or haters, or whatever I want. They can be tall, fat, slim, athletic, handsome or not. I can even make them do things that they don’t want to do. I can pattern someone after a particular dislikeable individual, and give him a horrible job, or give someone a horrible name … if I wanted to.

Real life or fantasy life? Which is it? I could even give a character a wild bird habitat of his very own, something he has to protect and care for. I could invent a fantasy town for this bird habitat, and a whole town full of wonderful and complex characters. And I could always have a robin in a tree. In fact, I think I just might do that. And that’s a thought worthy of serious consideration.

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A New Word Each Year

Closet 5 - pink corner

Some years ago I read a memoir titled One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber.  I adopted her idea of choosing One Perfect Word for myself each year, and have since shared this idea with friends. The idea, as I understand it, is to meditate on what might be of help to you during the coming year .. something you believe you might need to do, to try, to become in the next year. According to the book, the word is Heaven-sent. It will flow into your life as the word begins to manifest itself in your mind, and you’ll suddenly know that’s the word for you for the coming year.

I thought about this on a walk one day shortly after finishing the book.  The word flooded my mind. The word LESS. I wanted LESS of many things in my life. Less drama, less house work, less yard work, less food, less of everything. LESS. That was it.  So I wrote it down by my computer and during that year ~ 2011 ~ the word came more into focus. I cleaned out and organized file cabinets, dresser drawers, closets, kitchen cabinets and more. The results were soothing. I especially loved being able to hang a picture inside my closet.  It makes me breathe a little slower each day. I also learned that I needed less worry, less grief, less remorse. I needed to eat healthier and thought about the word LESS every time I opened a bag of chips. Before I knew it I lost eight pounds.

This one word worked so well for me during 2011 that I selected the word BALANCE for 2012.  I began to balance the time and effort of a project to the outcome.  Was it going to be worth all that energy? Or could I choose a less difficult project? Whether this was a fancy cake or a difficult knitting project, BALANCE was the key. If I spent less time and energy on a project, I’d have more time in my life for reading, walks and quiet times, all things I loved.

Eventually 2013 rolled around, and I knew I needed more GRACE in my life.  Grace for myself. Grace for others.  Even grace for the blender, the toaster, or the computer when they decided not to work on a particular day.  I’d think, well .. really, I’ve had this for how many years?  It’s been a good friend all this time.  I even found grace for the car and the washer & dryer, all needing repairs during last year.  Grace.  That was a wonderful word to have. I stopped blaming a lot of people for a lot of things, too.  I just needed to give them a little more grace, with a little left over for me, too.

And now we come to 2014. Time for a new word. For this year and I have selected NEED, as opposed to WANT. I already see this manifesting itself in my life, and it’s only Jan. 3rd. The other thing I know now  is that the focus of the former words does not go away. It stays, often in the way of compassion. I am concentrating on NEED this year, but LESS, BALANCE and GRACE are still rooted in my heart.

If you’d like to try this, just ask yourself, ‘What word could influence me this year? What do I really want to have in my life? Is it more of something? Or less? Do you want more order in your life? More compassion? More energy? Or less chaos? Less control? Less anger? Even less disappointment.

Three years ago the word ‘less’ set me on a path that I have decided to follow. Now I know that choosing one perfect word each year is a gift that keep on giving, year after year. It’s also a favorite book I like giving to friends, because it works.

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Sweetest Memories

Guava jelly vase 2

Sweetest Memories

Sometimes the sweetest memories are the simple things, especially time with our Best Mommy Friends when our babies are born, growing up, and even when they leave our nests and strike out on their own. Sometimes we need our Best Mommy Friends even more at those sad times.

One of my dearest Best Mommy Friends was a new AF bride as I was, back in 1963, at KI Sawyer AFB, Michigan. We’ve kept in touch through the years, no matter who lived where, beginning with our shared lives for several years at KI Sawyer, and then keeping in touch through Christmas letters for oh, so many years.

Now that the kids are grown and we’re both grandmothers, our paths crossed again over the past few years, as one of her daughters moved to the town where we live … and now my BMF and I visit back and forth in person once or twice a year.

I can truthfully say I’ve had the sweetest memories with this friend, Gail, as she has on a number of occasions gifted me with her much-beloved Guava Jelly, from Palmetto, Florida, near Bradenton, where she and hubby, Roger, are from. When we first met, the fact that I was also from Florida seemed to cement the relationship on those cold, snowed-in days in Upper Michigan so long ago. We Florida people had to stick together.

Just yesterday, thinking of my pending trip down to Riverside, CA in mid-December for a short visit with these dear friends, I found I could not throw out the last bottle of Guava Jelly from Gail.  It simply meant too much.  Off to Michael’s I went for ribbon and artificial flowers that would not wilt and die over the winter.  Nope.  I needed lasting flowers. Not some wimpy daisies that would fade.

And there it sits now on my kitchen counter, my squatty little jar, filled with bright, comfort-giving flowers ~  my Palmetto Guava Jelly jar with its pretty bow and colorful flowers.  Such a sweet memory of happy shared times.  I love it because it brings back so many memories ~ the sweetest of all!


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Changing Places

Heart Shaped Table

All week I’ve been moving pictures off walls and hauling things to Good will. Rainy days do this to me. But how can you give away your grandmother’s cut glass candy dish? Or your mother’s oval plate with the robin on it? What about the Girl Scout mug your daughter brought you from summer camp when she was ten? Or the Christmas plate given to you by your son? Some things are just treasures.

What I have decided to do is to keep only the things I’ll want to move to a small cottage or independent living apartment one day. Not any time soon, mind you, but I want to be ready when the time comes. I don’t ever want to stay too long at the fair, the way my mother did, never being able to part with anything. When she would decide to give something away it came to me, of course.

I’ve had to be firm with myself, realizing that because she passed things down to me that she could never leave behind does not mean I must love them the way she did. It’s OK to release them back into the universe. This morning I found myself dancing to some Gordon Lightfoot on the stereo in the living room, no longer burdened with things I don’t love enough to dust. It’s liberating.

I’ve also been changing furniture around. The 4-drawer file cabinet went, giving me the bright idea to exchange the tall table at the end of the sofa in my cozy office with the smaller heart-shaped table in the guest bedroom. It has a glass top that lifts up and underneath the glass I keep one of my mother’s first readers. It’s priceless to me. Next to this, under the glass, there’s a tiny book of Ladies Etiquette from the late 1800s that I bought at a museum sale. The pages are falling out but I can’t give it away.

A sweet picture in a white frame with rosebuds on it sits on top of the glass on this heart-shaped table. I call it my inner child photo. When I worked full time the photo sat on the corner of my desk to remind me to protect my inner child. Office bullies are everywhere. They don’t just exist in schools, and just because we grow up, the bullies don’t always go away. Sometimes we even live with them.

There’s a small lamp beside my photo, reminding me to look to the light, and a sweet Joan Walsh Anglund paperweight from my friend, Gail, in Riverside, CA. She gave this to me years ago. It pictures two little girls with bows in their hair, each holding a doll, & has ‘Friendship’ written at the top. Another treasure. It reminds me to keep friends close.

As I change pictures on the walls, move furniture around and de-clutter, I realize that I’m also changing places, from the younger self I remember from my youth, and even as a young mom with new babies in my arms, to the older person I will become. I don’t want it to be such a big surprise the way it has been for my mother. I want to be ready for it, and live through this phase with joy. Besides, I always was a good Girl Scout. It’s in my nature to be prepared.

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Grapevine, Sept 2013It rained today, after thunder and lightening put me to sleep last night. I love snuggling under the covers, hiding my head, when the thunder sounds like it’s just hit the house, when I know it hasn’t, of course. Went right to sleep. Woke up with renewed energy and decided to clean out a 4-drawer file cabinet, pared down to a 2-drawer file cabinet. That deed is done, thank to an amazing recycling bin we have in the garage that holds the many trips of papers, file folders and old notebooks carted outside, not to mention a table full of empty notebooks for a trip to Good Will tomorrow.

Cleaning out file cabinets necessarily leads to cleaning out the office storage closet, and years of notes of writing a novel I’ve yet to write. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have written this story in my head two different times, and hundreds of part-time stabs at various chapters, editing the whole thing, writing on NANOWRIMO (National Writing Month) in November any number of years, and tons of files I’ve kept on agents, publishers, book sellers, conferences, writing classes taken and not taken, web sites printed off and kept. And why? To make myself think I’m writing a book? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just been a hobby for the last 25 years. I don’t know. What’s gone before is gone before, and today in the midst of my great throw-away I actually picked up the huge 3-ring binder holding the latest printed several hundred pages of what I loosely call ‘my novel’ and pitched it without ceremony into the giant blue recycle bin in the garage.

Now I have a dining room table full of several large file folders, waiting to be sorted. I think I had become an information hoarder. We used to joke that my mother did the same thing, trying to track Pensacola, Florida hurricanes on paper, as if she might discover something the weather people with their computers and scientific means would somehow overlook. Maybe I’ve done the same thing collecting all of the paper notes and VIP .. very important papers, only to discover they really are not magic, not important, and not needed. Right this minute I swear I am breathing easier. I look outside my little writing office window and see the grapevine just outside the window, swollen heavy with rain and dark green leaves, with one vine reaching out towards my window, actually touching it. It feels to me like Life is reaching out to me once again.

After my last post, about our granddaughter’s car accident and being in the hospital here in Spokane for five weeks, she is now healing, rid of her ‘turtle shell’ torso brace, arm cast is gone, surgery scars are healing and she’s in a walker now and shedding the wheelchair quickly. Best of all, she did manage to walk down the aisle at her best friend’s wedding this past weekend; my little mom has turned 95 and enjoyed a pizza party the care givers at Sullivan Park provided for her, along with a nice sheet cake from me, and flowers, balloons and many card from friends. We all seem to be healing around here and personally I feel like a plant that is also reaching out to myself, all watered and healthy. I wonder if all of this culling and pruning was necessary for me to now write my novel?

At least I no longer feel worn down by 35 years of writing notes! Sitting here now I am making a list of stories I’ve been asked to write by editors of anthologies .. no promises of acceptance or publication, but ‘Get writing. Love the idea for your story,” and that kind of encouragement. In my organized state I tell myself I’ll hop right on this tomorrow .. and then get back to the novel, this time with space to think and a fresh new outlook.
At the very least I don’t have cumbersome notes to go back through. Those are all out in the recycle bin. It’s so heavy I won’t be able to budge it on recycle day. My hubby will have to push it to the curb. Am sure he’ll tell me it feels like a dead body inside. And you know what? He’ll be right! I always read about authors who say they wrote their first novel and had to throw it away after a few years. I always shuddered at the thought, yet marched out to the garage with my ‘novel’ this afternoon with a clear head. I guess it was just time!

Tomorrow I’ll get started on those anthology stories, get them submitted, and then think about … well, the novel.

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