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A Year Changes Everything

imageToday is my sister’s birthday. It still takes my breath away knowing she is no longer with us. She was all about living, loving and just being. Last year was the first time since our move to the Carolinas that we were able to spend her birthday together. Our brother and his wife joined us for a simple day of just hanging out, talking and sitting in the rocking chairs on her porch. None of us had any idea it would be the last birthday we would spend with her.

This year, we are celebrating her birthday by spending it with her granddaughter, Joelle. We started the day with pancakes and blueberries and now we are watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is just the kind of morning she would love. Later we will make chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles and have an Angel Birthday party to celebrate her grandmother….my sister. We will laugh and have tiny adventures in the mountains – just the kind of birthday my sister would enjoy – loving and laughing and staying in the moment.

Life really is precious and fleeting. There are no promises of time so it is so important to enjoy every tiny spectacular moment. the tiniest moments really are the biggest gifts.

Happy Birthday, Sis. I miss you every day. I guess I will always feel like there were not enough days, not enough hugs, not enough ‘I love you’s’. But today, I will stay in the moment, enjoy the little miracles and you will be with me in every thought, every smile and every little miracle.

 I love and miss you SO much.

 

 

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Kicking 2016 to the Curb

To say 2016 was a difficult year is not giving enough credence to all that transpired. I have felt in upheaval almost all year. So many things have happened I can scarcely recall them all. Of course, life has a way of allowing sparkling moments in the midst of heartache and I must acknowledge there have also been some truly sparkling moments!

The year started with a dramatic change in lifestyle. It was a chosen change, but dramatic nonetheless. I was so excited to be near my sister after being so far away for so long. She had been fighting cancer for years and just being close meant the world.

img_2740Unfortunately, five months after I relocated, my sister lost her battle with cancer. Losing her was devastating. Her passing came at the end of a difficult hospital stay and all the family was lost. For me, this was the second sister we lost to cancer, so every sad memory from before resurfaced again. I still have not grieved the loss of my sister even after all these months. I have built a very big and ugly wall that keeps me isolated from my feelings. I know when the moment comes it will be extremely difficult. The funny thing when you lose a sister and there are ‘closer’ family members, I think some people may not realize the depth of the loss. I do not want to diminish the impact her passing had on each and every member of our family – it was SO hard for everyone. Maybe it is my wall, but I felt isolated and alone in my grief – I still do.

A few months prior to my sister’s passing, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was in treatment but did come to see her in the hospital. I know this loss has had a tremendous impact on him as well. Again, as siblings, I don’t think people understand the impact. We all lost our mother to cancer when we were young adults, and that witnessing and experience never leaves you. My brother and I talk almost every day and his wife is taking such good care of him. I am witness to yet another fighter – strong and defiant – but I know it has not been easy on him.

We also had another cancer diagnosis in my husband’s family so it has been a pretty tough year where family health has been concerned. We are steadfast in our love and support – the fight goes on.

img_7433We were fortunate enough to find a place we loved near the mountains. It has been glorious but even this had it’s challenge. This year we had a long drought and the mountains near us were burning. We had smoke, but thankfully we were never really at risk – others were not so fortunate. The good people of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, suffered tremendous losses. It makes you realize just what’s important.

My sparkling moments were spectacular – all my children and grandchildren together for the VERY FIRST TIME to help me celebrate my birthday. It was more than I could have dared ask for.  I watched them talk and play and just be here and that was all I needed. It was truly beautiful.

Another sparkling moment occurred when I met four beautiful souls I had never met in person. You would not believe the amazing connections we all shared. It was beautiful. SARK brought us together ages ago and the relationships were built over many years. Such long-lasting connections were not unusual in our group of online friends. Luscious and succulent and even more so in person! It was a beautiful blessing.

I was able to attend a family reunion this year and see cousins I have not seen in – oh – say 40 years or so. My brother was there, too, which made it extra special for me. I’ve learned so much about our family as I have taken the plunge into genealogy, so seeing everyone again and remembering our parents and grandparents was so rewarding. Looking forward to seeing everyone again in 2017.

Then there was the election. No political discussion on my blog other than to say my wildly beautiful and culturally rich family and friendship circles are worried about what lies ahead. If you are in my circle and love me, I expect you to stand beside me and fight for the rights of those I love if the need arises. Enough said. I have faith – for without it I would be lost.

And let’s not even talk about all the amazing musicians and entertainers we lost this year.

But back to the sparkle – I still get the sparkle.  Some of my most sparkling moments are very personal and very private – those protected moments are blindingly beautiful. They involve my heart and soul.

So, I prepare to say goodbye to 2016. It is with a heart that is both heavy and overjoyed at the promise of what the future holds, that I say goodbye to this year of my life. I look forward to 2017 with hope, love and unfailing faith in the inherent good in people. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I just know that I need to focus on the promise of a better 2017. Bring on the JOY!

Cleanse is my word for 2017.

“I dismiss _________ in favor of _________” is my phrase. (There will be a LOT of those phrases!)

theothersideOut with the bad – in with the good. Here’s to crumbling my emotional fortress and allowing myself to feel and grow. And in saying goodbye to this difficult year, I say goodbye to my sister. I really miss you, Sis. More than I think you ever could have imagined I would. My life is forever changed.

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The Birthday Mother’s Day Mix

Today was a mixed bag of worries and blessings. People I love are sick and facing hospital stays and tests and unknowns and it is hard to be on the sidelines watching helplessly as the clock ticks by.

In the midst of the craziness that made up my day, my husband told me to check my phone. We were on our way out to run errands and I didn’t give his words a second thought. As I walked to where my phone was, I saw two boxes. One was a long box and a separate box, square and nondescript. It took a minute, but it hit me that this weekend is Mother’s Day.

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I opened the boxes and found beautiful long-stemmed roses from my daughter and daughter-in-law. They were gorgeous. In the other box was an ice-pack and a box of truffle cookies.  Each were packaged with lovely notes straight from the heart. I immediately took a couple of pictures and sent a text thanking them for the thoughtful gifts. I am so blessed to be loved and remembered. The gifts are nice, but it’s really the love that means everything.

 

 

DaddyLater in the day, as I checked my phone for messages, I noticed the date. Tomorrow would be my father’s birthday. He would be turning 89 tomorrow if he were still here. 89. Wow. That seems so hard to fathom. Time has gone by so quickly and I miss him so much it guts me. I had a special connection with my Dad – one that I never apologize for even though some people make me feel I should. Dad wasn’t perfect, but to me, he was everything. He loved me – he loved all of us – and that is what I miss. The talks, his deep bass voice, the way he said my name – the advice I never wanted to hear but repeat to myself over and over now. He was my Dad and I miss him.

IMAG4468-1Re-enter Mother’s Day. My mom would also be 89 this year. She was so young when she passed away that 89 doesn’t even seem possible. She will always be young and vibrant to me. She had a smart-assed way of saying what was on her mind and she was SO strong. My sisters got her strength and her wit. I think I got her way of turning inward to process thoughts and feelings. I rarely feel strong. I remember my first Mother’s Day without her. I was living away from home and at the time, long distance calls were quite expensive. I was walking through the mall and passed a group of short wave radio people who had come together to help people make calls home for Mother’s Day. One of the young women asked me if I wanted to call my mom. I just said “No thanks” and walked on. Then her words – “Why, don’t you love your mother?” I wanted to lunge at her and take all my anger out on her, but I didn’t. I just walked away – hurt and feeling lost in this world. It would take many years before I could get through a Mother’s Day without feeling broken.

Now I have the blessing of children and grandchildren and extended family. I am not sad – I am blessed. The timing this year is unusual – Dad’s birthday and Mother’s Day together. So, today I process and just put aside the little girl and remember that I am now the mom and the grandmother and the JOY comes right back.

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Tonight I shared my truffles with my husband with a glass of wine. I sent a Snap Chat to thank my girls for the gift. SO MUCH JOY!

I will stay up until midnight, and wish my Dad a Happy Birthday and wish my Mom a Happy Mother’s Day.

Saturday we are meeting my son and his wife and two of my beautiful grandchildren for a sweet Mother’s Day dinner. We will laugh and celebrate this holiday together for the first time in 20 years. It will be perfect.
Today was a day of reflection mixed with JOY and a little worry, but it brought me to a place of gratitude for all I have been blessed with in this life. We are who we surround ourselves with and by those standards, I’m pretty perfect.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Mom, Happy Mother’s day a little early.

Thank you for everything but most of all thanks for the love and the memories. I miss you both and only hope I can somehow in some small way fill those giant shoes for my family.

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Happy Birthday, Mom

Mom’s birthday blog. Take four.

The words are not enough. I do not want to describe my mother to people and tell them how strong she was and how hard she fought for her life. I feel like I should tell the world how wonderful she was and how much I miss her but there are no words to convey the emptiness and the void that have filled my heart for the 42 years she has been gone. It took years for the anger and the loss to subside and for me to be able to forgive myself for the anger I felt at her, at cancer and at God. Our family lost our normal when mom died and losing someone as special as my mother is not something you recover from easily or quickly.

MomMom would be 88 years old today.  88!  Wow, that is so hard to fathom. You see, my mom was in her 40’s when she died so she is always young to me. She will never be an old woman in my eyes and my heart. I close my eyes and see her jet black hair and that spark of mischief she had in her eyes. I see her smile and her laugh as everyone around her fell into her spell. Everyone loved her and growing up, all were welcome in our house. My friends came and went and she loved them all. There was always room at our table and no one was ever turned away.

This is not to say there were not ups and downs – of course there were. But those times are easy to set aside in favor of the love and joy in the every day moments of our lives.

As kids, we played records and danced to Chubby Checker in the living room with our parents. I can see Mom doing the twist and the jitterbug just like it was yesterday. I see her resting her chin across Dad’s shoulder and telling us that was how beatniks danced. We sang songs and played games on all our road trips. She always carried round pink mints in her purse on those long trips between Ohio and Virginia. What I took for granted I now know is something that many people never had. We were loved and we learned to love in return.

After Mom was diagnosed with cancer, money was tight. One year, I was invited to a Valentine Sweetheart dance. I was so excited to go and chatted about it nonstop for weeks. One Saturday, Mom asked me to run an errand with her. We got in the car and drove to a discount store (similar to K-Mart) where Mom told me to pick out a dress for the dance. I found a red and white peasant topped dress. It was simple and made of inexpensive fabric, but it was pretty and it was new and Mom made sure I got it. I think back and believe the dress cost $10 but it might as well have cost $200. It meant the world to me.

When I was in high school, Mom made sure I took drivers training although I did not get my license until years later. I was the kid that was terrified of driving and she had to force me to drive when I finally got my learner’s permit. I think she knew how important independence was and that was something she wanted for all her children.

While in the Air Force, I came home to fly to Virginia with Mom. She paid to upgrade my flight to first class (my first first-class trip ever – back then it didn’t cost that much). It made her feel so good that we could have a special moment together and relax and talk. I don’t remember much of anything about the flight but I remember being with Mom and how happy she was and that was all that mattered.

MomUniformMy biggest regret is that I did not have time with my mother as an adult woman. I missed the chance to talk to her about adult problems and just have every day conversations between a mother and her daughter. We did have a lot of conversations when I was in high school about some very deep and meaningful things, but she was busy fighting for her life and I was trying to just get by knowing my mother would not be there much longer. So many times I wanted to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ To have her with me when my children were born or to hear her read them the same poems she read to us would have been so amazing. And then to imagine her holding her great-grandchildren is more than I ever dreamed of.

Mom would be proud of the way her children stayed close. Even with distance and marriages and life problems we each experienced, we were always family. We came from a woman who taught us how to love and the importance of always being there.

Mom, a lot has changed since you were here with us but one thing has not. You are loved and you are missed more than you may have ever realized possible. Sometimes it’s a song or a memory or an ornament placed on the Christmas tree that brings me to my knees. But I get up. I remember how you fought and I remember how much you loved us all. For that, I am forever grateful.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love and I miss you SO very much.

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My Sister’s Birthday

IMAG1677-1It started ten or fifteen days ago. I walked through the grocery store, looked up and saw the card display. Rosie’s birthday was approaching.

I’m not sure I will ever fully come to terms with losing her. I still reach for the phone to call her before it hits me that she is gone.

I struggle to remember every little thing about our life together but try as I might, I cannot remember everything. Of course, none of us remember everything. We don’t realize it until it’s too late – too late to capture the memories in some tactile way. I have a message from her on my answering machine. Every time I play it, I cry. I have a few cards and letters, but not near all the letters and cards she ever sent me. As I sit here today, I wish I had kept them all. This electronic world we live in is great, but nothing can replace the handwriting or the slow tenor of a voice you hear when you read a letter from someone you love.

IMAG1699-1After Rosie passed away, I wrote a simple blog entry entitled Rosie’s Rose. The blog was about a rose that suddenly bloomed after years of lying dormant. Today when I glanced out the back door, I saw a flash of red. There, as bright as it could be, was a rose. Rosie’s rose. I walked outside with my phone and snapped a picture. There are two roses blooming and seven buds. Never has there ever been more than one rose on this bush at one time. I guess some might say it a coincidence that this rose appeared today. Perhaps. But I believe in a spirit that lives beyond the confines of this world and I think this rose appears when I need to know my sister is with me.

Rosie, tomorrow, is your birthday. It feels strange not to pick out the perfect card to send you. Tomorrow I will feel a certain sadness when I cannot pick up the phone and call you. Even so, I am blessed to have you as my sister and I know you remain with me still.

Happy Birthday, Sissy.  I love you to the moon and back again.

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Happy Birthday Mam-Maw

Today would have been my Grandmother’s birthday.  She passed away so long ago you would think she could not influence my life now, but she does.  My grandmother was a very strict and rigid woman.  I cannot imagine how hard her life must have been.  The family story tells us that her father was ridden out of town on a rail.  Now, for those of you who have no idea what that means, it isn’t pleasant.  There are many connotations from back in Pilgrim times, to tarring and feathering.  What I think it meant in my Great Grandfather’s time was that he was physically taken out of town in a very un-pleasant way and threatened not to come back.  So, my Great-Grandmother raised a large family by herself.   As a result, my Grandmother and her siblings were very close – as you can well understand – all they had was each other.

My grandmother was very religious and raised in a very strict household.  I believe she almost persecuted herself in her life and if I were to dwell on that it might really drive me crazy and make me extremely sad.  Today, I don’t want to dwell on that.  I want to think about and celebrate the positive influence she was in my life.

My grandmother sang as she went about her household chores.  I can always remember her singing ‘Peace in the Valley’ as she cleaned and cooked.  She was a great cook and today I will still get extremely excited if ‘hotcakes’ are served with warm syrup.  Just the way Mam-Maw made them.  She raised her 4 grandchildren for a time.  Being the age I am now, I understand all too well how hard that was.  To cook, clean, and try to get us to behave, bathe, and do as we were told must have really been hard.  And those of you that know us, we could possibly have been a bit of a handful.

Mam-Maw – forgive me for sharing this, but it really is a great memory for me.  Mam-Maw used to bleach the hair on her upper lip.  You see, there were times that I imagined doing that myself!  It was the ultimate in being all grown up.  Now that I have dark hair growing in odd places, it doesn’t seem so romantic!  She had beautiful shoes and beautiful hats that she wore to church – and she had lots of pop-beads that we sometimes got to wear to church, too.

I also remember us sitting around the red recliner as she peeled apples (one long strip of peel with a paring knife – remarkable) into a pie-pan.  We sat and ate piece after piece of  fresh slices of apples.  I remember her playing the ukulele and singing “Little Mohee”.  I remember her sweeping away the snow under the forsythia bushes in the winter so she could feed the birds.  I can also remember sitting at the dining room table with her staring outside at fresh fallen snow unscathed by human footprints – amazed when the cardinals were ablaze against a field of white.

Today I honor this woman of grace and faith and determination.  I forgive the human side of her that struggled.  I remember that Daddy always sent her roses on her birthday and had the florist type each of our names on a piece of paper and staple it to a rose (her name was Rose) – so she knew they were from each of us.  I remember that she passed away on her birthday….

Mam-Maw – I love you.  I did as a child and I do now.  I respect you for the difficult life you had and for all the good things you taught me.  I think of you at Christmas and every time I see a cardinal.   I was about 8 or 10 when you passed away.  I remember how heartbroken Daddy was and how hard he tried to get home to see you before you were gone.  He didn’t make it.  I smile to know that he sees you now and that you are together again.  I remember the story about how you tried to get Ollie to let you ‘adopt’ Mary so ‘Little Jim’ would have a playmate – especially funny knowing that they eventually married each other later in their lives.

Today I am thankful for the life I led.  For the memories and the difficult times.  For the beauty of the place you settled and called home,  for I got to grow up a little girl there.  The Valley will always be home to me in so many ways, even though I have no physical home there any more.  If you had not been the strong woman you were, faced with the challenges you had, I may not be here experiencing the joy that life has shed upon me.  Happy Birthday Mam-Maw.  Some 48 years later, I haven’t forgotten you.  You still make me smile.