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.

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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.

 

2

What’s Suicide Got to Do With It?

IMAG0553I have been wrestling with the idea of this blog post for some time now.  I cannot put my thoughts into words, so I just decided it was time to sit down and write and just let everything spew out onto the page and see how I feel about it.

My thoughts about this post started when I was contemplating the people I have known, lost to the world of suicide. There is a healing process for those left behind, Thank God! For some unknown reason, this year was the year I decided to get angry about it.

Suicide has personally touched my life five times. That averages out to one every 12 years. I’m not sure that 12 years is enough time to really heal from the loss of someone in this way. If you do start to heal a little, and someone else takes this step, all the emotion and feeling comes flooding back to you. Of these five suicides, at least four of them involved alcohol to some extent. How to get your head around that?

I imagine, but I do not know for sure, that there is some lead time when a person makes such a choice. Steps leading them to a precipice from which they fall. In some ways, those friends and loved ones left behind start the healing process at a similar precipice which they must carefully back away from. Walking backwards isn’t easy. You think of the person you knew and wonder what happened. You wonder what you could have done. You wonder if you should have seen signs. You wonder why – and you will always wonder no matter how capable you are of backing away from that edge he/she could not escape.

Social media has become a tool for us to celebrate and remember and reach out in all the occasions of our lives. I wanted to remember with love what preceded that decision, but this year was my anger year. Twice, I sat with my anger and watched other people as they seemed to have come to a place of peace that I have not yet found. I’m glad they could celebrate these two lives this year and not the act. I normally can, too. But not this year. I saw the pain.

I’m not angry at the person. I’m angry at the act – at the intense emotion. I remembered a training class that taught about anxiety. If people were only taught what we learned that day. Anxiety has a ceiling. We feel most desperate when we near that ceiling. It feels as if you really cannot breathe. If we had only been taught to get through the feeling – to cope just a little longer, the feeling of anxiety and desperation just might subside.

MAJMB – I wish you could have held on. I am sorry I had to get angry this year. It was my time. Each of you have reminded me of the other and if one suicide is too much, well, what about five?

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Grief Anniversaries

I knew this day was coming.  Every day I looked at the calendar and watched the date grow closer.  It would soon be two years since I lost my sister, Rosie.  The morning started out okay.  As each minute ticked off, I felt little pieces of me crumbling away.  When my daughter called, I could finally let go.

I say I’m sad, but that is such a small word for the intense grief I feel.  I feel pain for my loss, but even more, I feel pain for my niece and nephew and their beautiful children who are growing up without their  mom and their ‘Teedle’.

My beautiful daughter and her beautiful fiance gave me a locket for Christmas that has pictures of Rosie in it.  The front is engraved with a rose and the words ‘forever in my heart’.  Those four words tell the story.  For the last couple of weeks I have remembered childhood memories, thought about our ‘sister’ time we shared in the mountains of Georgia, and looked at old photos.  I want to remember every little thing about my sister.  I want her with me.  I still have a message on my answering machine but today I wasn’t brave enough to listen to it.  Maybe in a few days.

Family is a funny thing.  The people who know how to push your buttons.  The people who drive you crazy.  The people who come to your defense and stand by your side.  The people you will protect with all the strength you have.  I am blessed to come from an insanely passionate group of people.  I’m one of the ones that lives ‘away’ and that is so hard sometimes.  So hard.

Today I have gently remembered the little ripples that make up the waves in our lives.  The gentle moment.  The kind word and the passionate disagreement.  The look in the eye.  The honest revelation that brings you to your knees.  Without these things I would be just a shell of a person and I am so thankful that is not who we are.  I am so thankful we LOVE SO HARD!

Rosie, being without you was especially difficult today.  I know you are here, but I want ‘more’.  I read my friend Erica’s blog and it hit home.  She talked about her own grief and how the one thing we all wish for when we lose someone we love is ‘more’ of something.  Today I love my sister even more.  I miss her more than ever.

I love you Rosie.  And I miss you so much it hurts my heart.

1

In Memory and Honor of Michael

Michael was my brother-in-law in a prior marriage.  He was gay.  Once a long time ago, he stood by the river alone.  Who knows what he was thinking?  We just know he committed suicide.

I have such mixed reactions about suicide.  But today it seems appropriate to honor his memory when the world is wearing purple against homophobic bullying.  I’m not saying Michael was bullied.  I just know he took his own life and it makes me so sad to think that he must have felt helpless in that one moment.

There were lots of rumors – some factual – some I’m not sure.  I think that angers me even more to know that once he had taken his life, some people felt the need to label him.  I don’t want to talk about all that here.  I want to honor Michael and let him know that we think of him and miss him and wish he had held on.  The world has become gentler and a bit more understanding since you made that decision standing on the bank of the river.  I know he was loved by his family.  I won’t say everyone understood completely – Michael’s approach to approval or his ‘in your face’ way of fighting against disapproval was sometimes difficult.  That’s all I will say here for each of us have our own thoughts and memories – especially when we look retrospectively.

One of the last times I remember seeing Michael was at Christmas.  He went down in the field with the family to ride the snowmobiles.  I remember thinking how happy he was to be doing the thing that his family always loved together with them.  It is a beautiful memory that I will never forget.  Michael loved antiques.  He brought gifts for my children.  Beautiful porcelain faced dolls for Melissa and an antique chair for Ed.   He really stayed in touch.  Cards, letters, phone calls.  He tried so hard.

Now, this, Michael is for you:

I remember so many phone calls with you.  I sometimes got angry, but more because of the alcohol.  I know now you may have used it as a crutch.  Who knows really.  I just know it was hard sometimes to talk to you.   I know you felt like you could not talk about your life much because you often met with disapproval.  I know that sometimes people ‘used’ you because you would do ‘outrageous’ things to make them laugh or just to fit in.  Oh, I hope you see the world today.  It’s not perfect.  It’s a long way from perfect, but it is so much better.  I hope you can see that being HIV positive is not an ultimate death sentence now.  The research and drugs are helping.  I wish I had the opportunity as an adult woman who has cast off her own burdens to sit and talk to you about things of substance.   If I had any part in making you feel out-of-place, I hope that you will forgive me.   Your death affected us all in so many ways.  It’s hard to lose someone you love – especially knowing it was at their own hand.  Most of all, Michael, I hope today you are at peace.  I hope you look down and laugh at the struggles we all have and take comfort that your worldly problems are behind you.   Most of all, I want you to know you are not forgotten.  God bless you, Michael.  We love and miss you still.