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A Baby for Valentine’s Day

We’re going to be grandparents again!

revealWhat a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Of course we have known for quite some time, but there is something magical in the day you see it announced to the world. We are so happy and cannot wait to hold that new life in our arms and see the universe in her eyes.

Life is so magical – so ethereal. As we follow along in our granddaughter’s development, the miracle of life is demonstrated in every tiny moment. We are blessed to be close to our daughter and her wife so that we get to share in all the microscopic changes as they occur.

This granddaughter comes to us by the miracle of IVF – another miracle! Being a believer in the balance between God and science, I believe nothing much happens without the other. We are so blessed and have witnessed God’s hand in this process. The love surrounding our children as they have fought for the miracle of this child is nothing short of miraculous in itself.

I am so touched with the love my daughter and her wife have for each other. This journey has been a long roller-coaster of a ride for them, but they never lost their sense of humor or their determination to share the love they have for each other with a child. They are a strong couple and have what it takes to be in a life-long marriage which makes me so happy and so proud. Our little girl will be loved and cared for beyond belief – and that makes me an even prouder mama!

Last night I spoke with my brother and he was beside himself with joy – just like we are. He is all too familiar with miracles and let’s just say this one was a ‘top of the heap’ kind of miracle – one that we all live for. I am so grateful he was there for me to gush over the news of a new child coming into our lives.

I thought a lot about my sisters today and the conversations we would have had about how exciting this time will be. We would have planned and schemed and just shared the joy with each other. I know they are aware and in some ways have already blessed us, but I still miss them at times like this.

Our co-grandparents are our good friends and we just could not ask for better people to share in our Village. It feels amazing to have a family so filled with joy and love. If only the world could see what we have found by just loving each other.

I do not want to look too far ahead, though – too much to enjoy in these next six months. This will be our sixth grandchild but as it has been with every grandchild – she feels like the first! We are ecstatic and cannot wait to hold her, but I do not want to miss anything in-between. So, I am exercising patience and just staying in the moment.

Hubby and I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day other than maybe sharing some wine, having a good home-cooked meal and just spending time together. That’s the way we like it. But today? Today we both got the best Valentine’s gift ever – Mia!

I love you, my girls!  All ‘three’ of you!

I hope your Valentine’s Day was just as spectacular.

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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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My Heart is Breaking

As the rest of the world struggled with what to have for dinner or what clothes to wear or what movie to see, you struggled to do something much more basic. You struggled to open your eyes, to form a word, to lift your arm.

You, my beloved sister, have always been my strength and it is beyond difficult to be so helpless knowing how much you must yearn for someone to help you say what you want to say and do the things you want to do. It is hard to see the tears roll down your cheeks and to sit with your children and not be able to comfort them because you are their mom. Their hearts shatter into tinier pieces each and every day.

We are all witness to the journey of this life and the road is so difficult at times. But every time I think about how difficult it feels, I think about how damned hard it is for you. That is the only place I find any strength.

I cannot talk about this – the words choke me. It seems so unfair to me after all you have already been through. This morning an indigo bunting came to our feeder. It brought me to tears because I wanted to call you and share this simple little joy with you. I cannot call you and that one simple pleasure gone is tearing me apart. I don’t know how many years we have talked almost every day without fail. Today I could not call you.

Today I feel weak, but tomorrow I will be better and try to give you what you need from me. I do not want to fail you now when you need me most. I love you with all my heart and soul. You are the best sister anyone could ever ask for – 62 years of undying friendship. We have seen each other through a lifetime of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, joys and celebrations. We have always been there for each other every step of the way.

I know God has you in His care. I hope He is keeping watch over all of us, too, because we are feeling lost right now. I am not giving up – I know you too well for that. I have witnessed your strength fighting for your very life for over 10 years and I know that if anyone can get through this, it will be you.

God, I hope this isn’t the angel you are looking for right now. I am not ready. None of us are ready.

I love you, BJ.

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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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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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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.