2

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.

4

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.

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.

 

0

DOMA and Proposition 8

Landmark Supreme Court rulings today as sections of DOMA were ruled unconstitutional and California’s Proposition 8 was struck down:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

For many of my family members, my friends and so many people I do not even know, this is a landmark decision. I know the arguments will continue and I know that people will continue to take sides.

I do not care to discuss the ‘sides of this argument’ with anyone. Today I only want to tell a story of love.

In 1975, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We have been through so much together – good and bad I guess, but falling on the GOOD side of the scale. We have always loved each other and supported each other in this life. She reached a point in her life that she trusted our relationship enough to tell me she was gay. She wept with worry about so many things, but I knew in my heart she felt free to be herself for the first time in her life. My love for her would never change — how could it? I do not understand how you love a child one day, and withdraw that love the next. Nothing had changed. She was the same person I had spent my entire life loving, and I was the same person she had spent her life loving.

This year, we were proud to attend her wedding to a beautiful woman who is now my second daughter. I love her as my own. Their marriage is not legal in this state, but it is every bit a marriage in terms of love and commitment to each other. If anything ever happened to either of them, we would be steadfast in our love for the other – because as in any marriage – they are now one spirit in two bodies.

This morning before the ruling, I again watched this video hoping change would be forthcoming. For some people in this fight, the rulings are too late, but these individuals are just as much a part of my fight as my own children.

For my niece and her wife and their baby girl, I celebrate. For my daughter and her wife, I celebrate. Their love has taught us all a little bit more about love – the kind you REALLY have to fight for.

I came back to edit this post and add a link to another long-ago post entry that is so relevant in my heart and my mind, that I felt I needed to connect the two:

In Memory and Honor of Michael

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.

6

Things I Cannot Tell You

Seventeen or eighteen.  That’s about how many times I have started this entry.  And also the number of times I deleted it.  Somehow, the words and the emotion do not match.  The reality and the impossibility are in constant conflict.  I cannot pick up the phone and call you, but I find myself talking to you all day long.

It’s been almost a week since I lost you, my sister.  This week has been one of the longest of my life.  I cannot imagine what a month or a year will feel like.  I cannot imagine never hearing your voice again, or your laughter, or your direct criticism or your unearned praise.  You were definitely a bouquet of so many different qualities.  I feel like I’m standing in the middle of New York City and all the lights have gone out and the city has gone silent.  How will I make it with the thunderous quiet your passing left me with?

So many funny little things have happened and I know they are signs from you.  I know some will scoff at the notion of such a thing, but it doesn’t matter.  I know it to be true and that’s really all I need.   The night you passed away the sky opened up and cried for you.  I was in Colorado, lost knowing I would never see you again.  Then the biggest rainbow I’ve ever seen stretched across a dark and dampened sky.  Rosie’s rainbow.

There were signs before.  The whisper in my ear two weeks before.  I knew you were in someone else’s care that night.  I think I quit listening because I did not want to face what I knew was coming.  I was steadfast in my denial.  I will never forget when you told me you were tired of being tired.  I knew then, too.  But I still did not want to listen.

After your funeral, I don’t think I felt much.  Until we walked into the bookstore.  There on the table was a book of Appalachian History.  Of course I picked it up and thumbed through it.

When we lived in Ohio, you had that white and whiskey colored cat.  T-Solly (or so I thought.  To be honest, I never really gave it much thought).  As I picked up the book, it opened to a page that talked about ‘The Trail of Tears’.  Knowing how much Native American History and Native American Rights meant to you, I started to read.  There it was – the story of Tsali and his family.  That was the cat’s name and all these years I never knew where the name came from.  It was so obvious.  Then I read on to see that General Winfield Scott had ordered that Tsali and his family be shot.  The twist?  Of course, General Winfield Scott is part of our family tree.  No wonder you felt so conflicted.  And the translation of Tsali?  Charlie, of course.  Your best friend’s name all these years in Cherokee was Charlie.

As our plane took off out of Knoxville, I was overcome with sadness.  I felt I was leaving you behind.  I felt like I was somehow abandoning you and I just wept.  I could not help but remember that you are now at rest beside Mom and Dad, Mam-Maw and Grandpa and Great Grandma as well.  So much of my family gone and I was simply overwhelmed.

Grief is such a strange creature.  I move around in my life like everything is going to be okay.  Then a fleeting thought whirls me around and I fall into a puddle.  I am overwhelmed with sadness and I know that for months and years to come, I will be pulled in and out of this sadness.  I won’t get to come home and hear your familiar message on my answering machine, ‘Hey MagCindy, it’s Rosie.  You don’t need to call me back.  I just wanted to say hi.’  I find myself wanting to scream, “CALL ME BACK!”

A friend called me today to see how I was doing.  As I talked to her I felt myself spiraling in disbelief.  I think it hit me when I realized that you have been in my life longer than either of our parents.  56 years is a long time to love someone, but it still isn’t long enough when that person is you.

On the plane home, this song came on.  It brought me to tears again, because I always thought of you as this friend:

Let It Be Me
There may come a time, a time in everyones life
where nothin seems to go your way
where nothing seems to turn out right
there may come a time, you just can’t seem to find your way
for every door you walk on to, seems like they get slammed in your face
thats when you need someone, someone that you can call.
and when all your faith is gone
feels like you cant go on
let it be me
let it be me
if it’s a friend that you need
let it be me
let it be me
feels like your always commin on home
pockets full of nothin and you got no cash
no matter where you turn you ain’t got no place to stand
reach out for something and they slap your hand
now i remember all to well
just how it feels to be all alone
you feel like you’d give anything
for just a little place you can call your own
that’s when you need someone, someone that you can call
and when all your faith is gone
feels like you can’t go on
let it be me
let it be me
if it’s a friend you need
let it be me
let it be me

Rosie, I know you knew I loved you.  I knew the last time I saw you it would be the last.  I didn’t stop hoping and praying, but sometimes you just know.  I hope tonight you have a pillow filled with stars.  I’m on my way outside to see the Perseid meteor shower.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it happens tonight.  I want to look up into the heavens for I know you are up there.  I’m still down here, a little girl, missing her big sister in a very big way.

2

Missing my Dad

Today would have been my Dad’s birthday.  I miss him so much sometimes it hurts just to think about it.  I think about how lucky I was to have him for my father.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he was perfect or anything like that.  He had a temper like a son-of-a-gun and often spoke before he thought, but regardless, he was my Dad and it hurts to know I will never see his face, or hear his laugh, or feel his hugs again. 

Last night he would have stayed up until midnight.  I can close my eyes and imagine him sitting on the edge of the bed and singing “Happy Birthday to Me” at midnight.  In some ways, he never grew up – a kid at heart.  Sometimes maybe too much so, sometimes maybe not enough.

Dad finds us parking places close to the entrance to the stores or the mall.  Trust me, he does.  It’s not every time.  Just when we are in too much of a hurry.  Or when it’s pouring rain.  Sometimes he makes us walk, because, well, no since in being greedy or lazy.  But when we desperately need a close space, he finds us one.

Dad, I’m so proud of my children.  They make me proud like you always told us we made you proud.  I never understood it until now.  I know that I put them through things I shouldn’t have – and funny – they forgave me and even still love me.  How fortunate am I?  Of course, this is an old tune I’m sure you recognize.  It’s never too late to start over.  It’s never too late to be happy.  It’s never too late to say I’m sorry.  And laughter really is the best medicine.  On top of it all, I have new children through wonderful marriages and so many beautiful grandchildren.  Four!  Can you imagine?

I know you are with us, even though the absence of you physically is so hard.  You cannot imagine how many times I’ve wished I could pick up the phone and call you, or just hop in the car and go homeI want you to know how very happy I am.  I have a wonderful husband (he’s the guy you find parking spaces for sometimes, too).  There isn’t a day that I do not thank the good Lord for all I have been blessed with. 

So, Daddy, Happy Birthday.  I hope somewhere you have a huge cake with candy icing that you can peel off whenever you get the urge.

And just in case you were wondering.  All your children are close.  We are holding onto each other.  But we still miss you so much.  So very, very much.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU………..

P.S.  Ed hugs just like you did.  You cannot imagine how good that makes me feel.  I love you.