1

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.

3

I Will Not Always Be Here

 photo of roses and candyToday I sit between Mother’s Day and my birthday.  I suppose it could be the resting place between two pinnacles on the roller coaster of life. One day filled with love and acknowledgement from your children and the other coming face to face with how fast life is passing. 

Age is a funny thing. You go along and your mind’s eye still sees you as the same core being. Mentally you are the same. Spiritually, you may have grown within your core values, but essentially the same. Still young at heart – you are, after all, the same person you have always been. Then you catch your reflection in the mirror and wonder about the face that returns your stare.

I tease my daughter that I have ‘chicken neck’. It is true, though, and thus the slow adjustment to the new you begins. How do I ease into the new me?

So many things have changed inside me since I started my genealogy work. I have become more aware of how precious life is and more aware of how much easier our life is than it was for our ancestors. Still, we find so much to complain about. 

I started this blog by saying I will not always be here. It is the truth we do not face when we are young, but it is the truth that motivates us to lead a simpler life as we age. Things become less important and people become the most important. We are able to feel the effects of anxiety much faster and self-correct our path.

  As I write this I am sitting in the auto mechanic’s waiting room. The news has been on the TV for two and a half hours. I notice the rhythm of my breathing change as I am being incited to into an environment of fear. It is ok to turn off technology. There is no requirement to watch the negative news stream constantly. Anxiety comes when we are overwhelmed with situations out of our control. I will not always be here, so how do I want to spend my life?

I want the people I love to know it!  I want to laugh and talk and reminisce and experience joy. I want to breathe easily, hold babies and experience endless sunsets. I want to support causes that make a difference. 

Age is such a state of mind. The lady sitting beside me the waiting room is having her oil changed before she leaves on a trip. She easily talks about being 87 and evaluating whether it was time to buy a new car. Perspective.

“I may not always be here.” So what? It is the truth that keeps us on an equal life-playing field with everyone else. We are promised nothing, yet have EVERYTHING available to us. 

I will not always be here, but while I am here, I get to choose. And I choose happiness. I hope you do, too.

 happiness photo 

9

Hanging Out With Dead Relatives

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, so buckle up – it’s going to be a long one! Grab yourself a cup of tea – go ahead, I’ll wait.

Ready?

For the last six weeks or so, I have been doing some research on our family history. This effort requires a little background. I come from a family of story tellers. Our stories have been told and re-told and passed down through generations. Even with such a rich oral history, some stories are never told and some are meaningful to some and less meaningful to others. My sister, Rosie, was an avid family researcher. There was no stone left unturned when trying to uncover the history of some of our lost family members. She ALWAYS wanted to talk about this, and at the time, stupidly – I just was not interested. When Rosie passed away, it left a big hole in my heart and all the work she had TRIED to share with me, I had casually dismissed.

MomandDad

Mom and Dad on Their Wedding Day

Let’s get this straight. I could care less if I am related to anyone important. It’s cool because they made an amazing contribution – often to the very foundation of our country. What I have come to appreciate more are the generations upon generations of people who came before them. People who were hardworking, tired but dedicated individuals who made this ‘important’ life possible. Those are the people who really interest me.

My great-grandfather on my paternal grandmother’s side disappeared. We know our great-grandmother raised her children alone after her husband was ‘run out of town on a rail’….a horrible thing, if true. Google it and you will see the references. Finding him was the bane of Rosie’s existence. She died without finding him so I have taken on her quest. I do not have her reference material so I started from the ground up. Now let me say this is the way to do it. You learn about your family and where you come from and how much they sacrificed. It is not always easy – there are ‘brickwalls’ as they are known in genealogy circles. Frustrating places where your history just seems to STOP. That’s when the footwork begins.

My Step-daughter and I have been working together to try to find something out about her paternal great-grandmother, Hattie. We know from the oral history in the family that she died during or around childbirth. Records were not kept on births, deaths or marriages in South Carolina until 1915 which was after she passed away. Hattie just disappeared and her son (my husband’s father) was given up for adoption and the records to this day are sealed. Luckily, the oral history has been rich enough that we know the names of the birth parents and siblings as well as the adoptive parents. But there are several ‘brickwalls’ here, as well.

You will discover how difficult it is to trace women in your background as names changed and when you discover older records did not include the names of spouses or children. I am a mother-in-law and a step-mother and a step-grandmother – all labels I dislike but I understand the need for them. I am never about usurping someone else’s name, title or position. I am only about loving who I love and they are all dear to me. The truth about our history is that when you fill this position, you will often drop off of family records because you are really not part of the family per se. I understand this logically, because I’ve done it myself. It’s about having a manageable family tree. I can only hope that the people I love in this life will remember that I loved them and the titles will be meaningless.

My journey has taken me to places I never imagined and I have learned so much about the difficult lives our ancestors lived. Hattie, for example, worked in the cotton mills as a child. I have read through wills and seen the horror of men, women and children who were slaves in this country passed down as property. This makes me so overwhelmingly sad. There are registries of forced sterilization in this country. People were sterilized because of eugenics, therapeutics, or criminality. It is but a small piece of the horrible history in our country. Mental patients, unmarried women who became pregnant, certain ethnic groups, and people who were incarcerated were sterilized to control the norm.

Granny and Granddaddy Swift

Granny and Granddaddy Swift

There are also wonderful benefits of research – you will discover a wealth of information and history. You have the opportunity to read old original documents, even transcribing them so they will be available to others digitally. You will learn things about your family and yourself that you did not know. You will refresh your knowledge on history as you travel down little rabbit holes that really have nothing to do with your research. That is the joy of genealogy. You may discover where a family name comes from or may understand why you seem to have an inherent interest in something. Most of all, you will learn how inter-connected we all are – and that’s a valuable lesson.

The overwhelming thing for me is coming to an understanding of just how many people have traveled before us and how relatively new our country and our history is. It can awaken your own sense of mortality when you read death certificates and see how many people have come and gone. This is why a sense of family and belonging is so important. You live through the stories that will hopefully live long after you do. I was startled one day when my cousin Garry, who is planning our family reunion, posted a quote that made me stop dead in my tracks:

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
― Banksy

Mam-Maw and Grand-Paw Short

Mam-Maw and Grand-Paw Short

I can honestly say I am now speaking names of people in our respective families that I never knew before I started down this path. In some small way, their name is still being spoken so they are still very much alive. I found a photograph of my great-grandfather that I had never seen. I found the Grindstaffs – Granny always told me the moles and freckles I had were from the Grindstaff in me. Never understood it fully until now.

I have a fuzzy memory of my grandfather eluding to some horse thieves in our family and I would love to see that documented. All the things and all the places and all the people who came before me created this life I enjoy today. Our family – from my grandparents to my grandchildren – is who we are because they were.

I hope you will be inspired to document something about your life. Record your names and your faces and your voices. Sometime, somewhere someone may be looking for you and discovering exactly who you were will give them insight to their life that they could never have achieved otherwise. I want my family to know their history and speak the family names. In this way, those who worked so hard to make this life possible will not be forgotten.

I’ve hung out with my dead relatives so much I sometimes dream about them. Maybe they are trying to tell me something.