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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web

It’s the end of another summer. Yes, I know that summer doesn’t technically end until September 22, but for me, as a teacher, summer is effectively over. And before anyone says anything about teachers having the whole summer off, blah, blah, blah, let me remind you that we’re working our tails off for ten months out of the year including our “own time”  during evenings, weekends, and holidays, PLUS we attend meetings , college classes, and professional development during the summer, so bugger off about that particular point. There, enough said about it.

I’m not a huge summer fan in terms of weather. I hate hot and humid and I’m an autumn girl through and through, but I enjoy the recovery time from my job.

This summer was incredibly busy, despite being the first summer that I haven’t worked a second job in several years. I think I tried to cram in everything that I’m not able to do during the school year and wore myself out in the process. Here is a sampling of Summer 2018.

  • I was able to let my natural body clock have its way again. I’m naturally a night owl and it felt SO GOOD to just sleep and wake up naturally. If only school started at 10:00.
  • I painted the living room. It really needed it, having been more than ten years since I had painted it last. While I love the finished product, I forgot how draining painting a room can be. At least I don’t have to do it for another ten years and I bought new curtains to boot.
  • Marty and I attended a lot of funeral home visitations and funerals summer, some expected, some not. Either way, it’s a reminder that we only get one shot at this life and I intend to fit in everything I can while I can. That also means staying active and being healthy in both mind and body so that I can do all of the things I want to do before it’s my turn. We said goodbye to some very special people this year. It makes you appreciate loved ones, and your time, all the more. We’re not promised tomorrow.
  • I did some spiritual insight seeking, learning to meditate and to spend time looking within, to be spiritually in tune with myself and with God. I believe we are given spiritual gifts, we just don’t use them like we should. I’d like to get better at that.
  • We went on vacation. See the July post for details about the “Ocean and Dead People Tour”, which was awesome. Anytime I’m near the ocean, I’m happy.
  • Speaking of our vacation, we did a lot more family history research. We’re kind of obsessed, although Marty would argue that I may have an addiction to Ancestry-crack.
  • I published my book, Traveler, as a paperback through Amazon.com and donated a copy to my local library. It was kind of a big deal for me. Check it out.
  • I read books that were not related to school or schoolwork. Heavenly.
  • I wrote. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did write.
  • I took Youngest Child to rehearsals and did hair for his show. High school kids are awesome, and I sincerely mean that.
  • I auditioned for a show and then I went to rehearsals.
  • I made two new adorable kitty friends. They live across the street and come to visit us pretty much every night for pets and treats. I love them.
  • We spent family time together, precious these days. The boys are starting to go off in their own directions and the time when they will only come home to visit is approaching quickly. I treasure our family dinners, the boys’ impromtu baseball and football games in front of the house, the flying Nerf darts, even the insults. I hope their memories of these days will be happy, too.
  • Marty and I went on lots of dates, including finally going to the Detroit Riverwalk for the first time. This is a good married-person thing to do. Often. I highly recommend it.
  • We started watching The Crown. I’m addicted. And Prince Philip is a jerky-jerk.
  • I rode my bike, Lulu, a lot. We didn’t get the theatre bike group going again, I was too busy to commit to a night this summer, but whenever I had to go to the library or somewhere within 3ish miles, I walked or rode Lulu. Good times.
  • Last, but not least, we took Oldest Child back to school today for his last year of college. Middle Child goes back next weekend. The days of us all together are finished until Thanksgiving. (I’m going to make them take a Christmas card picture while they’re home. Shhhhhhh…)

The crickets are singing, the bats are clicking.

Goodbye, Summer, goodbye. See you next June.

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I attended a funeral this past week. A friend of my mother’s from her childhood had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind two not-quite-grown children and a devastated husband.

Dee Dee was a quiet force of nature. I remember her from the very beginning of my memories, from those fuzzy edges when I was very small up until the more clear thoughts of today. I loved her. She had a pet skunk for a time, I remember, named Mandy. I wanted a skunk for the longest time after that and didn’t understand why my mother didn’t think that was a good idea. She always had animals, which made me an instant fan.

Her mother was my godmother, my Nina. I still have the cross necklace with a diamond chip in the middle that she gave me on my baptism day when I was just a few weeks old. They lived just down the street from us and it was there where I got to know Dee Dee’s three sisters, who fussed over me, and where I got my first delicious taste of lobster dipped in melted butter. (There is dispute over that. I remember them saying it was lobster, my mother said it was crab. Either way, the experience is etched in my memory.) Her family had been a refuge for my mother when she was pregnant with me as a teenager, loving her as their own, and they have always been in contact.

As I mentioned, she died rather suddenly, without warning, at only sixty years old. Sixty is young these days and although she did have some health issues, no one expected her to be gone so soon.

I met my mother at the service, held at a local funeral home. It was already quite full of people when I arrived, about an hour before the service began, but as the time drew nearer, more and more people poured in, leaving the staff to hurry and add many more rows of chairs. If I had to estimate, I would say that there were around 150 people crammed into that small room.

The priest began the service by welcoming everyone and asking Dee Dee’s son, and then her husband to speak. My heart broke for this strapping young man, set to graduate from college soon, as he choked back tears and referred to his mother as his best friend. Her husband, the shock still evident in his voice, told the room how there was not one single bad thing about her in the many years that they had been together.

The floor was opened to other people who wanted to share their memories of Dee Dee. It was touching and beautiful to hear from so many people, at least twenty, who got up and had a story to tell. Some were poignant, some were funny (the Sam’s Club Cheetos story had everyone laughing), and some were sad. For most of her adult life, Dee Dee had worked for a company that helps people who have disabilities and many of her current and former coworkers filled the room. I was moved by the stories of her selflessness, her patience, and her apparent love for her vocation, a calling she had always had. It didn’t surprise me at all. I remember when she had adopted a young boy with severe disabilities back when she was in her twenties, before she was married or had her biological children. Meeting him was my first experience with someone disabled to that degree and I remembered how patient she was with him. She taught me through her actions to not be afraid of people with disabilities, that they want to be loved and accepted like everyone does. I’ll always be grateful to her for that lesson.

The service lasted for more that an hour and a half as people shared their love for Dee Dee. In her short sixty years, she had touched so many lives, probably more than she ever thought. I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all of the outpouring of emotion, she wasn’t one to toot her own horn, always working quietly in the background for the good of others. After the priest made sure that everyone was finished sharing, her daughter read from Ecclesiastes and her husband thanked everyone for coming. In closing, we all held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer together, then listened to one of her favorite songs.

When the service was over, my heart was full. The world is a scary place and these days, watching the news often makes me feel as if nothing will ever be right again, that hate, discrimination, and willful ignorance have taken over the world. Just read the comment section of any article to see some scary people. (Or don’t. Really, it’s horrifying to see what some people post online.) It’s hard for me to understand how people can be so awful to each other, or how terrible things are condoned or ignored because of money, religion, or politics. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes. Hearing all of the wonderful things said about Dee Dee. though, reminded me that there are good people in this world, that things like love, patience, and understanding still do exist, even if they are hard to see through the haze right now.

Yes, I’m sure that Dee Dee would have been embarrassed about all of the fuss made over her, but what a legacy she has left behind! Think about it. We’re all going to die someday, whether our lives are short or long, whether we know it’s coming or, like Dee Dee, it takes us by surprise. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, though we try to put it off as long as possible. What we can do, though, is choose to live so that we leave some good in the world when we’re gone and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same. We can stand up for what is right, we can help in a million ways, we can love. Yes, indeed, we can love.

We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to mess up sometimes. It’s human nature that prevents us from being perfect, that lets our masks slip now and again. But I firmly believe that the more we do the right thing, especially when it’s difficult, the easier it becomes. I also believe that when we own up to our mistakes and admit that we made a bad choice rather then blaming it on someone else or circumstances, we earn the respect of others and we grow as people. It’s not the easy way of doing things and it’s hard to bite that bullet sometimes, but it’s so necessary.

We need more Dee Dees in the world. We need more of that patience and understanding that she lived every single day. We need to accept people as they are, the way she did, and to protect those who don’t have a voice. We need to be good people.

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to open your mind, to open your heart, and to deliberately do something different today that will benefit those around you. It doesn’t have to be huge, it can be as simple as opening the door for someone when you normally wouldn’t. It can be letting someone go ahead of you in line. Instead of getting angry at another driver, take a deep breath and let it go. (I especially need to practice this one. I say a lot of bad words in my car.) The point is, the world isn’t going to get better if we sit back and wait for other people to do it. It begins with us. It begins with you.

I’m closing with part of Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech from the 2016 Tony Awards. I feel that it is appropriate here.

“We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

Dee Dee loved, with her whole heart. It’s a goal to work toward.

 

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Dear Boyos of Mine,

It’s time to think of the future. One day, I will be old. My plan is that I’ll live to be a feisty old lady with no serious illnesses and will die peacefully in my sleep, many years from now. In London. I can then just be quietly cremated with no fuss, because I will have lived a good long life. It’s a good plan, I like it.

There is a chance, though, as with all older folks, that I may not be able to take care of myself, for whatever reason. Your dad will handle it if he is able to, but the job may fall to the three of you.

I figure that I have at least a 50/50 chance of keeping my wits about me as a senior. Both of my grandmothers had forms of dementia/memory loss and had to have full-time nursing home care while my grandfathers stayed mentally sharp and passed away from physical ailments. Meanwhile, I am following every piece of advice that I can to stave off any future mental and physical issues including eating (mostly) right, daily physical exercise, music, mental workouts, and my absolute favorite, drinking (at least) a glass of red wine a night. (Don’t tell me that grape juice has the same effect. It’s not nearly as nice.)  I am truly trying to be a future trouble-free old person and lessen the burden on the three of you. But just in case you do have to put me somewhere, here are a few of my requests in advance.

  1. Don’t let the nursing home staff put little bows in my hair. I am not a poodle.
  2. Please, please, enforce my DNR. One thing that terrifies me is not being able to take care of myself and being totally dependent on others to live. Just let me go.
  3. If I say bad words, it’s okay to laugh. I went to visit one of my grandmothers at lunchtime in her nursing home a couple of months before she died. There was a lady sitting across from her being fed by an attendant who would smile wickedly, look at her attendant, and say, “Puta” (Spanish for “prostitute”) to her instead of eating her tapioca, or whatever pudding it was. The attendant would gently tell her that that it wasn’t nice to say that, whereupon the lady would smile and giggle like a naughty child and say it again: “Puta”. The attendant was struggling to keep a straight face, as was I. It was very much like listening to a toddler swear. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She knew exactly what she was doing, she was trying to get a reaction, and she knew that she nailed it. Please allow me moments like that if I’m stuck in a care facility. Humor is vital, especially in that kind of situation.
  4. Don’t talk to me like a baby. Give me my dignity. I gave birth to all of you, for God’s sake, after many hours of pain. I might be a little mentally compromised, but I’m still your mother. Try to have a normal conversation with me.
  5. Don’t let them dress me in stupid clothes. No sweatshirts with kitties or unicorns on them. I don’t wear them now and I won’t want to wear them then. I’m not five.
  6. Make sure I get a little red wine everyday. It will make me happy. Our neighbor’s mother, who is going on 102, still gets her little bit of happiness every day. Make it happen.
  7. Bring my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see me once in a while. Enough said.
  8. Don’t feel guilty for having to put me there. I can’t say how I will take it when and if the actual decision is made, but know that now, consciously, I understand that you will do what you need to do. Hopefully, I’ll make it easy on you. Dealing with the various debilitating mental issues of the elderly, or of anyone for that matter, takes a huge toll and can be more than a full time job. I don’t want you to exhaust yourself making sure that I don’t go wandering in the middle of the night. As long as I’m receiving good care, ease your mind about the whole thing.

I know, and pray, that this is probably far in the future, but I don’t want to put this off until then because if I wait, I may not be able to articulate this to you all. After watching my grandmas go through it, it terrifies me to think that it could very possibly happen to me one day, but I need to face that fear and have an outline in place.

Getting older is scary, it’s different for everyone, and I’m a control freak, as you well know. If all goes well, you won’t have to deal with any of it, but if not, just print out a copy of this and all will be fine.

Love you all,

Mama

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I was cleaning our bedroom yesterday, not just the weekly maintenance of taking water glasses downstairs or popping stray socks in to the hamper, but get-out-the-Pledge-and-dustrags-and-Swiffer type cleaning. True confession: I’m not a fastidious housekeeper. I really hate taking time out to clean, although I like a clean house and am a bit of a germaphobe, so I compromise with myself. I keep the kitchen, living room, and the main bathroom consistently clean, but the bedroom, while everything has its place, does not get the dusting and floor attention it deserves. Every couple of months or so, it finally gets to me enough that I dive in and do it, but there is a healthy accumulation of dust in the meantime. I really am okay with it, though. Life’s too short, although my husband and our kids would tell you that I always worry about cleaning. It’s all about perspective, right?

Anyway, I also usually do a purge of clothes, shoes, and costume jewelry at this time of year which involves going through all of the drawers, the closet, and such. I also go through the little drawers on top of my dresser where I keep treasured letters and cards that I have received over the years, including a letter that my father wrote to his father in March of 1973. I know that it’s there, but every time I go through that drawer, I pull it out to read. It makes me feel close to him and every time I read it, I gain new insight into his thoughts.

The letter was written at a time when my dad was trying to find himself. From other writings of his that I’ve read, I knew he felt like he didn’t quite fit, that he struggled with what was expected of him, and what his feelings were. To me, he sounds a lot like me.

The letter comes from California. He was nineteen at the time and had left home to go and live with his oldest sister, my aunt, in the land of peace and love. He had dropped out of high school, despite having a high IQ, had been honorably discharged from the Navy after only a few weeks, and really didn’t seem to have a direction in life. He and my mom had been dating on again, off again and things weren’t certain. He tempered his emotions and discontent with other substances, especially weed. He wasn’t getting along with his dad and wanted a fresh start out on the west coast.

The letter is dutiful in the beginning, telling his father all about what they have been doing in California and what the weather was like. Then, a tone of regret as he tells his father that when he gets home, he would like to talk to him, really talk to him, even though they had had their differences in the past. An attempt at reconciliation. He goes on to say that things were much better between him and my mother (A good thing, or I probably wouldn’t be writing this) and then delves into the environmental requirements of cars and lawn mowers in California, a much more comfortable subject for him.

It’s all very cool to read and sentimental, but the thing about this particular letter that floors me every time is that at the time he wrote it, he had just over a year to live. That’s it. On March 22, 1974, one week and three weeks later, he would lose his young life in an impaired car accident. Did he know that? Of course not. And that’s what brings me back to that letter again and again, forcing me to think about things that I would rather push to the side.

We don’t know when our last day will be. We have no clue. When my father wrote that letter, he had no idea that he wouldn’t live to essentially grow up, that he would never see his only child born, that he would never be able to fully repair that relationship with his father, that he wouldn’t marry my mother as he had planned to do. Those plans would never happen and it was terribly tragic, leaving so many people with holes in their hearts, including me, who never got to meet him.

My point is this: we all have plans, every single one of us. I don’t mean plans like redoing the kitchen or taking books back to the library, I mean real plans, like telling someone that they’re loved, or forgiving an old hurt, Plans like making a wrong right, or at least taking responsibility for it. Plans like letting someone know that you were wrong, asking for forgiveness, or maybe letting someone know that they touched your life in some way.  Maybe you need to make a life choice that involves taking a risk in order to be happy. You know, the important things, the things that you would deeply regret if you didn’t do them.

I don’t mean to imply that we should try to repair bridges with everyone who hurt us. There are definitely people who are toxic, who are the sources of trauma, who would hurt us again and again, physically or emotionally, and we should stay far away. I would never reconcile with my abuser or let him into my life in any way. That kind of situation is better left to trying to internally forgive and move on to bring closure rather than to make sense of what happened or connect with those involved. But there are other situations that can be fixed or at least improved.

New Year’s Day is coming up in two more days, a day of resolutions and new beginnings. Maybe, instead of halfheartedly resolving to quit smoking or to lose weight, we can resolve to try and heal an area of our lives. What have you been putting off that keeps whispering in your ear every now and again?

Many of us, myself included, don’t like making the first move on anything. My anxiety issues make me prone to obsessing over the worst possible outcomes until that seems worse than what I had originally intended to do, so I usually don’t. But what if we knew that we only had a year left, unlike my father? Would that spur us on to reach out, to make that connection to say what needs to be said? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. The thing is, we just don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We’re not promised tomorrow, whether we like thinking about it or not. What would be your biggest regret if you died tomorrow?

I haven’t put the letter away just yet because it’s been sitting on my mind this whole time and I knew I needed to write about what was inside. It’s sitting on my dresser, my father’s handwriting, the paper he touched and folded into a makeshift envelope staring at me. As I’m getting ready to click “Publish” on this post, I feel that urgency draining away and I’ll be able to return it to its accustomed spot in the little drawer, but I know that my mind will wander back when I think about him and out it will come. Even though he’s gone, my father is still teaching me life lessons.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy and Blessed New Year. Peace to you in 2018.

 

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