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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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Going Home and Looking Back

I grew up in the mountains of Virginia. There is a magic there unlike any other place in the world. I still call it home although that is a bit of a misnomer. Home, to me, has always been more people than place, but sometimes a place is so intertwined with your heart, soul and mind that it becomes part of you. I no longer belong in these mountains, but the mountains will always be a part of me. These mountains are much like the wedding dress that once fit me perfectly but I know will never fit me again. I hold on to the memories more than the dress.

IMAG1596A few weeks ago I drove up I77 from Charlotte heading to Virginia to see my sister. When I crossed the state line into Virginia I was thrust back to a different time and place. It was a foggy morning (I had forgotten how quickly the fog can overtake you on these roads) and when the fog broke, it was as if someone pulled the curtain back and I was suddenly a young girl growing up simply and beautifully in these rich and fertile mountains. It took my breath away to see how the sun and the clouds played with shadow and light on the hills.  It is not something I see often – it made me feel good. I saw the caterpillar nests in the trees on the side of the road and suddenly I was in Taylors Valley, watching my grandfather put kerosene on these nests and carefully burn them out of the trees. It was surreal. I was overtaken with the knowledge so much in my life had changed – people and places that could never ever be again. But I wasn’t sad. Maybe wishful, maybe reminiscent. Maybe a state of being that cannot adequately be described. It just felt right.

As I turned onto I81, I did feel sad. As I drove past Marion, I was reminded of some difficult times in my life – a time of loss and sadness. A time no one else will ever really understand. As I continued, I thought about my sister, Rosie. Knowing I was headed to my sister, BJ’s house, it made me sad that we could not all three sit down together. Rosie is still so present in my mind – I still have such a hard time believing she is gone. It is so much harder when it is sister time and she is not here with us.

The trip was becoming rather cathartic. As I passed familiar exits on the highway, the memory floodgates opened and things I haven’t thought about in years surfaced. Little simple things – the individual building blocks of life. I wondered where I had kept them packed away and why it took this hills to bring them to mind. I tried to call my brother as I approached the exits for the Valley. He didn’t answer so I drove on.

When I reached Bristol, I made the decision to go by my Grandparent’s old farm. I could feel my throat closing up. The last few times I was there, I sat in my car and cried. This was the first time I didn’t cry. Instead I drove through this subdivision of cookie cutter houses and remembered riding in the back of GrandDaddy’s truck rounding up cows to be milked. I remembered opening the gate and walking into the pastures. I remembered exactly where the electric fences had been and where the barn stood. I remembered climbing into the hayloft, smelling the damp hay. I remembered how fascinating it was to watch my grandmother sit on that tiny stool and milk cows with her hands. I can still remember the sound of the milk hitting the side of the metal bucket. My hands ached just thinking about it. I remembered the amazement I felt when they brought in the milking machines. Granny must have been glad! I thought about my mom and how she must have felt growing up there. I remembered all the stories about her and the animals she loved. I remembered pumping water from the well from the old pump beside the house. All good memories. All precious. All a time that will never be again.

BJ and I had a great visit. We talked a lot. We laughed a lot and cried a little. We talked about growing old and how fast the time has passed. It makes me happy to see her so at home in the mountains. For her, it is still her present and maybe that keeps her precious memories more available and closer to the surface. The visit went too fast – it always does. We had a lot to celebrate because her last surgery, even though very invasive, revealed no cancer. It was a time of jubilation!

When I left BJ’s I drove back to South Carolina through Asheville. The mountains are so beautiful – they really are breathtaking. I don’t mourn not having them in my life every day. Maybe I appreciate them more because they taught me so much. I’m a grandmother now. It is the role I think I was destined to fulfill. If I had never left these mountains, who knows if things would have worked out as they did. It’s good to know that I have roots and I am secure in knowing who I am and I will always honor where I come from. There may be days I miss it so much it hurts, but it is not my home anymore. It is where I come from.

I miss my sister and my brother, all my nieces and nephews and all the family I still hold close to my heart. But I have a job to do – It started with my children, then my marriage to the most wonderful man! Then a little boy stole my heart 11 years ago. He taught me about being a Grandma. Then two more perfect little girls came along with a title I especially love – sisters.  I got to play Barbie’s again! Then a beautiful angel with curly hair and most recently her baby brother.  Yes, this is where I need to be.

When I look at all God has blessed me with, I cannot be sad or question the path I took. I am thankful he has given me the ability to remember and taught me to let go and live in the present. The past no longer needs my attention, but there are lots of adventures ahead that do need me!

Never fear – I will never lose sight of where I came from. It is in every breath I take.