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Multiple Facets of Mother’s Day

I have been blessed with the best mother anyone could ask for. She was tough and smart and matter-of-fact. I watched as she sacrificed and understood early what it meant to be a good mother. Watching her succumb to cancer was a different lesson all-together, and one unfortunately, many children have witnessed. My strong-willed mother became weak as she fought with everything she had to give. It would take years before I could handle Mother’s Day. I remember my first one without her and it was beyond painful. I was 20 years old, away from home in the Air Force and devastated. It had only been 8 months and coming to terms with her being gone was more than I could bear. Somehow, in some way, we find the ‘thing’ that pulls us forward in life. I think for me it was becoming a mother myself. I still cried for many Mother’s Days and birthdays that followed, but I was on my way to healing the wound that losing my mother left behind.

I am now a grandmother. I have been blessed with years that my mother never got to experience. I am reminded with every call, text, email and FB message how lucky I am. My sister, Rosie, passed away almost 7 years ago, and my sister, BJ, just last year. We talked almost every day when they were alive and in many ways, they were my mothers as well as my sisters. I know the heartache and the healing that lies ahead for their children and grandchildren, and I only pray they realize how fortunate they are to have had them for their mothers.

For the next generation of mothers in our family, I hope you learn things that it sometimes took me too long to master. The things like unconditional love for your children are easy. But I also hope you learn to step back when you should and step up even when you haven’t been asked. I hope you look hard in the mirror and understand your responsibility to try and heal what is broken. We all play a part in family and loving and forgiving are the fibers that weave motherhood together. I hope you always laugh hard at the things that could normally stress you out. I hope you learn to wipe the tears that you yourself have cried. I hope you lean on someone’s shoulder when you need to and lean in when your child loses their way. Most of all, remember you do not need to be superwoman. Rather, it’s much more important to be there. If you’re ‘too busy’ or ‘too stressed’ or ‘too tired’ your children will look elsewhere for what they do not get from you. I hope you are always, always proud of every accomplishment and of every lesson that losing teaches. We don’t always win and we don’t always lose. Mom always told me to look around – there is always someone who has more and there is always someone that has less than we do. When we feel that we are on the top or on the bottom, trouble lurks just around the corner.

My family is so beautifully diverse and blended. I am SO PROUD of each and every person in my family. We all come from different places with different experiences but we blend together beautifully. I hope it is always that way. Acceptance and understanding are huge parts of being a family. Maybe some of the most important parts.

I also hope you remember and honor from whence you came. Our family made sacrifices for generations just to get us all to this place. There were long hard lives and battles fought and tribulations overcome. But time is fleeting. What is today will not be tomorrow. Enjoy every moment and talk about where you come from. Give your children and your grandchildren the foundation of knowing where they come from. We all only live on if we are remembered. I hope I am remembered with kindness and forgiveness for the things I did not know and the mistakes I made. One thing I promise you, is that through it all, I loved you with everything I had to give. I hope you can do the same.

For those suffering loss today, I hope you find comfort in your memories. I hope you find the path to healing and reach out when it becomes too much to bear. We were never intended to walk through this life alone – and I guarantee that no mother in our family ever wanted to see their children sad or in pain.

On this Mother’s Day I am filled with joy. I come from strong examples of motherhood and mothering. I know those that came before me are honored to see their legacy in action. I do not worry about any of my grandchildren and granddaughter-on-the-way – for they have the BEST mothers. For my nieces and nephews who lost their moms, I know we never have enough time. Your moms want you immersed in JOY and loving your children fully just as they loved you. For my great-nieces and great-nephews, I love you to the moon and back again. For we are all one. One family, one heritage, one blood.

I AM SO PROUD OF ALL OF YOU!

Happy Mother’s Day.

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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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Thanksgiving 2015

File Nov 25, 3 45 40 PMTomorrow is Thanksgiving. My husband and I will be together this year without any other family. We are both recovering from a cold and plan to have a scaled back meal instead of the annual production that normally accompanies this holiday. So instead of baking pies and making my grandmother’s cranberry salad, I am texting with my daughter who is making it for the first time ever and wants it to be perfect. Perfection on Thanksgiving is not something I ever aspired to. I am sure it will be perfectly delicious!

Someone asked me if I was sad to spend the holiday alone. Well, that’s funny, because I am not alone. I am with the man who has loved me for the past 20 years. No, we won’t have our parents or children or grandchildren or siblings with us, but we are not alone.

I imagine it must be similar to couples who get married and talk about their dreams for a future family over their first Thanksgiving meal together. For us, we will sit and talk about all the wonderful memories we have shared over these 20 years together. For me there is no sadness in knowing the people I love have other people who also love them. And as for my husband and I, well, we still have dreams for our future, too and they will be part of our conversations tomorrow I’m sure.

The memories have been flooding my mind all day. So many Thanksgivings, so many memories and so many blessings. The bottom line is I am SO thankful. Just having a few quiet days to reflect on the life we’ve shared is good for us – especially as we move into the next phase of our life together. Doesn’t mean we do not miss everyone – oh, goodness, how we miss them, but their happiness and their joy is everything to us.

This Thanksgiving the world is in such chaos and it is hard not to get overwhelmed. So many staunch ideas and opinions it is hard to just stay steadfast in your own beliefs sometimes. In a time when our country should be coming together as this crazy-quilt of different ethnicities, we are letting the world tear us apart. The hatred of Americans is all-encompassing – we all fall into that same bucket like it or not. Seems we would be better served to pull together rather than fueling the flames of hatred within our own people. I do not understand it all, but I think I would be insane if I did. How can you understand what is unfolding in front of us?

So, tomorrow, we will start our day with coffee and the traditional Thanksgiving breakfast of sausage balls. It will be a quiet but joyful day. We know we are blessed and we know that even with our own problems, we enjoy so much that so many people only dream of. Remembering that helps keep us balanced in an unbalanced world. And we will give thanks.

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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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NaNoWriMo and a Cast of Characters

IMG951291November 1st is fast approaching. That crazy time every year when I try to architect 50,000 words toward writing a novel. I can honestly say that I am 100% successful in starting the process. I can also say the completion of my goal is a bit more on the dismal side. I could moan and groan about that, but the truth is, I’m okay with the results. As I look over the challenges our family has faced over the last 10 years, I am amazed any of us are still able to speak in complete sentences.

My focus today is a little preparation before the writing starts. I don’t do character development, nor do I create plot lines. I fly by the seat of my pants. That works for me. The characters live fully within my head and I take them everywhere I go. They have coffee with me, sometimes they take my side in arguments and sometimes they laugh at me in my most clumsy moments. That’s how I know they are real and relatable.

I will say I need to get into the mindset of writing. I don’t use a lot of flourish, but I call on memories to remind me of the feeling of a moment. It’s hard to explain so I decided today I would write a little about some of those memories and get the creative juices flowing.

I have a memory that has been in my mind for weeks now of my grandmother. She was a strong woman and when I close my eyes, I see her vividly. I remember long ago I was on a plane and I stared constantly at the woman sitting on the aisle one row in front of me. She looked just like Granny, just a little younger. I found myself wanting to talk to her, to tap her on the shoulder, to have a moment with her. She was quiet and reserved, but her face, her stature, her smile. It was crippling.

My memory:

She sat in a rocking chair crafted by my grandfather, but it wasn’t rocking. It was pulled forward, rockers mid-air, balanced by her bare feet in front of the old heating register by the window. Wisps of gray hair escaped the bun and framed her face. Her glasses magnified the intensity in her eyes. I watched her grimace and blink as she read which made me realize some sort of conflict must be at hand. I had seen the same trait in my own mother so many times as she immersed herself in stories that kept the world at bay. These were the women who worked hard to make a small space in this world for me and for my life to come. I felt a great sense of admiration balanced with a healthy dose of caution because in some ways I slightly feared the woman I loved so much. I guess it was strength she exhibited for I had never seen her cry. She came close once when she told she had been accused of killing her own mother by controlling the dosage of morphine required to ease her pain. We never spoke of it again, but as I looked at her now I knew I saw her differently than most people. And for that, I was glad.

My writing calls upon those strong tactile memories. The small details that invoke a mood or a smell or a memory. Close your eyes. See someone. Now bring them into focus. All of your experiences with that person create what you see – often years of experiences that craft a very simple, fleeting moment.

In 4 days I will sit at a keyboard and attempt to write. I do not know what story will have formed in my mind by then, but I will sit and write and create something magical. Even if the only person who ever reads it is me.

For all my fellow writers – good luck. Drink lots of coffee and live fully with your characters. They will talk to you and may even try to distract your muse. Play along and remember, they aren’t in control – you are.

See you on the flip side.

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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 

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The Lies Women Tell

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but felt it was important to have my niece and nephew read it before I put it online. I love them both for they are extensions of my sister. I dedicate this blog to them and the love I hold in my heart for them. Thank you for letting me express these thoughts of your Mom. You mean the world to me.

dandelionIt has been such a long time since I have written here. I guess it’s because I write for a living now and it makes writing for pleasure a little more difficult. Finding the right time and the right temperament and a smidge of creativity is a concoction I have not been able to muster for a while. I am inspired to write to tonight because of a movie we watched last night. I had it earmarked knowing it would remind me of my sister, Rosie, but I had no idea just how much it would impact me.

A little history is in order – my sister passed away several years ago.  I want the world to know I am not telling tales out of school. Rosie was the most honest and upfront person about her life as anyone I have ever known. The subject that follows is one we discussed many times and one that she discussed with her children.

When I was in high school, my parents told me my sister was pregnant. She was not married and in 1970 you would think having a child out-of-wedlock would not have the gravity that it did in the 1940’s and 1950’s and even into the 1960’s. Perhaps in my family it did.

I was not privy to the conversations between my sister and my parents; all I know is that my sister ‘went away’ to have her baby. She was fortunate I guess in that she lived with our sister, but I know the emotions took a toll on both of them. This blog is not about the details of that time, but more the outcome. Rosie gave her baby up for adoption. I would not know until years later just how that decision impacted her life.

Fast forward many years. We had all married, had children and even grandchildren. We were a long way from those years as very young women.

I went to a summer photography conference at Duke University. One evening they had a reading by a woman who had written a book: Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. Ann was an adoptee who did not meet her biological mother until she was 56 years old. The room was packed with people who came to listen. On the small stage sat Ann and three women whose stories were in Ann’s book. They would read their own stories from the book that night. There was not a dry eye in the house. After the readings, the session was opened to questions from the audience.

It was not until that moment that I realized the audience was filled with young people in search of their birth parents. In search of their history and looking for answers. Were they not good enough? Were they unlovable? Why did my mother give me away? Most had loving adoptive parents who supported their desire to look for their birth mother. There were also women in the audience who were forced to give their children away and were searching for their child. Were they hated? Would they understand? Did they know they had no choice? There were tears and anger and hurt. Barbs were thrown and hugs were given. It was a difficult night for everyone.

I left that session with an understanding I never had before. These young women had their civil rights violated. They were forced to sign legal documents without representation or without any knowledge of what they were signing. It is a sad statement of our society. They felt shame and all were told to just ‘put it behind you and move on’. They would be forever changed. The young fathers were rarely, if ever, involved or held accountable. For boys, sex was a right of passage. For many women, that first sexual encounter would change their very being.

Rosie’s situation was different in some ways. I know she had an attorney, but I am not sure she understood fully what it would mean to give this child up for adoption. Regardless of the circumstances or her age or the year or the surroundings, my sister could have been on that stage. So much of her story was similar and it hurt to realize how hard it must have been for her.

For the children, many never found their biological mother because so many records were closed. Such was the case for my sister. Rosie had a baby boy. He was born in Charleston, SC. From all the stories we were told, he was adopted by a minister and his wife – or someone to do with the church.

After the reading, I called Rosie and we talked. I am ashamed to say it was the first time she and I had ever sat and talked about what happened to her. This is part of the fallout from secrets. Everyone is expected to keep them. You don’t talk about it. You just move on. Did any of us realize what we were asking of her? I don’t think any of us had any idea. Rosie read the book and told me it was the first time she had realized just how many young women went through similar circumstances.

Rosie reached out several times to try to find her son to no avail. The doctor was long retired, the judge could not be found. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she wanted to put her information on a registry should her son ever need to find out anything about his medical history. Through the years I think she did come to terms with the fact that she would never know her son and yes, she died without ever meeting him. I can only imagine the questions and heartache she felt over the years wondering if she had indeed given him a better life. She would never get those answers and he would never get to know his biological mother.

Last night we watched Philomena. If you do not know anything about the movie, it is about an elderly woman in Ireland who kept the secret of her pregnancy and the forced adoption of her son for over 50 years. I will not discuss the movie or the outcome, because it is a movie everyone should see. For me, it just made me think of Rosie and it made me sad all over again.

I think it is time for women to stop keeping secrets. Sexual or physical abuse, violation of civil rights, rape, pregnancy, abortion, divorce, multiple marriages – no matter the issue, secrets are unhealthy. I once read that secrets are just little lies. We need to stop lying to ourselves, to our families, to society. As a woman, I hope that I can always be there for anyone who has a secret that is a burden on their heart.

Rosie, I miss you so much. Each day you cross my mind and each day I wish you were here. I miss our talks and your laughter and your edge. I miss our trips to the cabin and all that we learned about each other.

Today I am wondering if I should reach out and try to find my nephew. I wonder what you would say? Would you ask me to try or would you ask me to let him be? I wish I knew.