BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

The road

Death is such an odd phenomenon.  One minute there is breath, life, a heart beat; the next, there isn’t.  If you have witnessed that moment of death – you know this is true.  Everything slows and then with one last exhale, life is expelled.

I have never personally witnessed that moment – I saw my father and my mother a short time after they had passed and it struck me at those times how odd that they were JUST here….

My brother passed in the wee hours of the morning yesterday.  It doesn’t seem real to me and I have not cried yet.  I will cry when I see his wife – now a widow – when I see her strength and realize she no longer has her life partner.  I will cry when I see his children and grandchildren.  They will miss him everyday.  I will cry at his funeral when everyone speaks of his kindness, his humor, his work ethic, his love for his family.  I will cry when I walk on “our” road because I will always be reminded of seeing him walking down the same road.   I will cry at Christmas – because he won’t be at our annual family gatherings.

I am so very sad for his wonderful family.  They were very close and did a lot together.  They have lost their mainstay, their quiet but loving father.  He was such a blessing and they will remember that – his legacy is their love for each other.

Even though we lived a quarter of a mile from each other, we didn’t really see each other much.  We were both busy with our own lives, our own children and grandchildren.  We didn’t chat on the phone or text each other – we just stopped to talk as we passed each other on the road.  It will take time for me to realize that he is really gone; that I won’t see him on that road again.

 

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Crying ugly

I would have made a great (emotional) offensive lineman.  I could block every single emotion trying to make its way through. Got to stay calm, reserved.  Remain on an even keel, must feel good, happy, okay.  Check on everyone else, make sure they are okay.  Turn the focus to the needs and feelings of someone else.  Block it out, push it down….above all, no crying.

I always think that I’ve completely blocked everything, but then I begin to feel the symptoms of some seepage.  Heaviness in the chest, fogginess of the mind, edginess, a need to move, can’t sit still, the need to run or hide.

My brother is at home.  He is in a hospital bed with a picture window.  His wife sleeps in a bed right next to him every night.  All of his children surround him and his grandchildren come through periodically to check on him.  He is on no medication (other than an occasional anti-anxiety med) and has no pain (other than in knowing that these are his final days).  The will to live is an amazing thing and he JUST wants to live.

Visiting him is really hard.  The cancer is taking over and he is fighting a losing battle.  He has lost the use of his right side, he can no longer speak or swallow because he has suffered a stroke.  When you walk into the room, he sees you.  He recognizes you.  He puts up his one good hand for you to hold and he cries.  So many things he wants to say and can’t.  Devastating.

I have always found it difficult to express myself in moments like these.  I always cry that horribly ugly cry with the crumpled face, gushing tears and snot; in a voice that alternates between a mewl and a sob.  Not pretty and certainly not easily understood.  Consequently, when I need to say something that is highly emotional – I write a note, letter, email or text.  Then I can write freely (and cry at my computer in the comfort and privacy of my own home) and say what I need to say with poise and grace.  The receiver will then know my feelings and neither of us has had to witness any hysteria.

Unfortunately, that won’t work in this situation.  If I want to tell my brother anything, I have to do it face to face.

He knows how much I love him and how important he is to me (I just wrote to him about it three weeks ago).  He knows that I share in his wish that he could just live.  He knows he will be missed.  He needs to share his grief – to hold out his hand and to ugly cry together over the injustice, the loss, the fear.  No words required.

The slideshow

It is funny – the things you think about and remember when someone you love is in the throes of passing from this world.  All those little snippets of memory that are tucked away in the pockets of your mind spring forward one by one…then fade back into their file box.  As your heart aches and your mind tries to sort and respond to all the queries of why and demands for answers, there is a running slideshow on the side.  I think it is your minds way of trying to calm you.  To show you that there has been plenty of life,  who are we to judge whether it has been long enough?  In life, we have a plethora of choices – this just isn’t one of them.  We don’t get a say in this particular option.

Each of us grieves in our own way.  Some of us tend to talk about how it feels, what we miss, what we have lost.  Some of us tend to keep to ourselves, take long quiet walks or drives in our car; cry buckets of tears and rail against our loss in the privacy of our hearts.  Some of us tend to throw ourselves into service, we need to be active and to “do”; we work through the loss with movement;  giving our time and effort.  Sometimes, it is a mixture of those things in small portions at a time.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve – it is of a personal nature – and the only necessity is time and space.

Losing a loved one is a life-changer.  (Thank you Dr. Obvious).  There is so much pain and emotion swirling around each one of us.  That loss can pull people together or tear them apart.  Another reason for the running slideshow on the side in your mind – a nudge telling you to REMEMBER.  Remember what it means to have loved and received love, to have laughed or cried or camped or hiked or traveled or eaten or walked or sat or talked or listened.  Remember to be kind – everyone is feeling this loss.  Remember to give a pass, if necessary.  Pain can manifest itself in anger and tempers will flare.  Remember to let yourself and others grieve.  Remember your loved one with honor.

How lucky am I?

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For my 60th birthday, my family (with my daughter’s at the helm) planned a surprise party for me.  When asked weeks before my birthday, I said I just wanted to celebrate with my kids.  I got that in spades.

Of course, I am very observant and I knew something was up – I figured they would all circle the wagons at my house and we would have a dinner.  They actually went the extra mile and rented a cabin in the woods.  It was rustic but clean with only one bathroom (but with all the boys in the family, it wasn’t a big deal — they can pee anywhere!); plenty of beds (if you don’t mind sleeping on the same floor with paper thin walls…or in a dark add-on room with a few spiders).  It was like the old days when we used to camp every weekend of summer!

The biggest difficulty was the matter of getting me to the cabin. Let me just say, my husband is a terrible liar.  (That’s a good thing!) He did his best but I knew that all the kids would be at the mystery cabin…and I was very gratified to see them unloading their cars as we arrived.  ALL of my kids were there and ALL of my grandsons.  Wish granted.

We had a great weekend.  I didn’t lift a finger to do anything but play, talk, eat, drink and sleep.  We had good meals together, played a crazy game of “Cards against Humanity”; played a dice game I didn’t understand; and dominoes (which I was also a little foggy about); built a fort for the boys to play in; played hide and seek in broad daylight; went for a walk up the dusty, rocky road – and just being together.  It was a throwback to our camping days except it was like watching a Lifetime movie with a very happy ending — seeing my kids with their kids and spouses, laughing and playing together.  It was my best birthday ever.

I have always felt very lucky.  My husband and I are true friends and soul mates.  We have always known that we were meant to be together.  Though our family is “blended” we have worked very hard to make everyone feel it as a “whole”.  My kids were born healthy and with loving, caring personalities.  Again, such luck.  We’ve had our struggles along the way and I know I’ve made mistakes (for which I wish I could have a do-over) but all in all – the kids have grown into great human beings, good citizens and loving parents and partners.  I attribute their successes to their own abilities and strengths.

All of us were lucky, we jumped in the water together early in life and floated down the river. Sometimes, joining and making a train – sometimes, just floating along alone but never much farther ahead than the others.  Always at the ready to pull someone out of an eddy or to walk along in the shallow waters together.

Freedom

Imagine a world with no confines.   Waking up each day, just to live that day – no matter the weather, the season, the itinerary.  What if you were not a slave to the mirror, or the daily agenda/toil, or the usual fears of judgment and rejection.  Life would be, could be, amazing.

I’ve thought about this many times, I may have even written about it before, but learning to live this way is more difficult than you might think.  Our life path is laid out like a mosaic pattern, to try to change it midlife is difficult at best.  The grout is already set and hard and the shards, once broken apart, don’t go back together very easily.  It takes time to re-group the colors and set a new pattern.  Not only will the pieces not fit back together, you lose a piece or two along the way, the surface is bumpy and the pattern is muddled.

Best to start over fresh.  Clear the pallet and set aside the best pieces, the pieces worth salvaging and discard the rest.  This won’t be easy – discarding the old pieces.  They have been part of the pattern for a long time and their colors and shapes are familiar.  So much so, that you may find yourself trying to re-create their array just for the sake of comfort in what you KNOW.

Of course, I am talking about the pattern of our being.  In every life, there are good pieces and not-so-good pieces.  Try as we might, all of those pieces remain in our wagon.  Maybe no one ever told you how smart you were, or kind or capable.  Maybe you were led to believe that you should be seen and not heard.  Maybe you were never given the leg up that you needed.  Maybe every time you stepped up on the tight rope, you were told you wouldn’t make it – better not to try.  The wagon gets loaded down, more and more difficult to pull.

Truth is, you can’t just break apart the mosaic and you can’t just dump your wagon.  BUT you can polish the good pieces and redistribute your load.  It just takes focus.  Waking up to live this day, just to live this day.  When the darker pieces of the mosaic spring forward, seek out the brighter pieces.  Pause.  Breath.  Talk to yourself, tell yourself to hold steady.  Give yourself the freedom you need and tomorrow when you wake up, do it again.

My big brother

If I had to guess, I would say his favorite thing to do is to tease and then laugh at your reaction.  He has been that way ever since I can remember.  When we were younger, he would always take it too far until he made me cry and then he would feel bad and try to make amends.  Now that he is an adult, he has honed his teasing skills and it is part of his personality, who he is, what he does.  Everyone who knows him, knows this about him and appreciates this particular trait.

He is four years my senior and has always been larger than life – literally.  Always big for his age, he was at least twice my size.  He could easily toss me around like a rag doll, though he never did.  He was the kind of big brother that you just love, despite the teasing and annoyance.

As youngsters, we spent a lot of time together.  My sister (who is right in the middle between us in age), my brother and I spent our days finding something fun to do which usually involved some kind of mischief – him getting us muddy, pushing us into the ditch or putting us up on the roof somewhere;  just in time to get caught by our mother, of course.  During this phase, his teasing bordered on bullying but, as I said before, he was honing those skills and we were his minions – through no choice of our own.

As we entered our teen years, all three of us were in high school together.  We grew into a different type of relationship.  Being the youngest of our trio, I was the tag-along but I was honing my humor skills – slowly working my way into “member of the gang” status.  I knew I could never be as cool as they were but I could ride on their coat tails and that was good enough for me.

By this time, my brother’s teasing usually involved a motorized vehicle — he would give me a ride on his motorcycle and pop wheelies to scare me.  As I begged him to stop or let me get off, he would laugh and laugh.  He would also get into his truck but neglect to unlock my door OR pull away as I got to the door to get in.  I think his favorite move (and this was classic); we would stop at a store and as I went in to make my purchase, he would move the truck so I couldn’t find him in the parking lot when I came out.  He always got a great chuckle out of that one.

As each of us graduated and moved into our next phases, down different paths, we remained close – either through correspondence or by spending time together.  My brother was in the air force stationed at a base three hours from home.  My sister went away to business school, returning home after graduation and working full time but living in a neighboring town.  My senior year, my brother came home a lot and would attend my high school games and functions.

The summer after my high school graduation, my brother was shipping out to Incirlik, Turkey.  This was devastating news for all of us.  He would spend the final year of his enlistment on foreign land.  His “job” was working as security for the missile silos — he guarded the sites.  It was frightening to think of him living so far away – being in harms way, at least to our way of thinking, farther from the security of home.

Knowing that he was leaving, we spent every free moment on some adventure.  We went to every rodeo that was within driving distance.  We visited our cousin who was working in Glacier park multiple times.  We jumped off of high bridges into cold river water, swam in icy mountain lakes.  Our breakfast was always cold packaged doughnuts and milk directly from the carton.  Other meals were from drive-in burger joints.  Road trips meant snacks of red licorice, sunflower seeds and pepsi.  Sometimes my sister and her friends would join us – other times we would take a cousin along.  It was a summer of warm sun and lots of laughter.

The day he left for Incirlik was difficult for all of us.  Each of us was very close to him but in different ways. We corresponded regularly either by letter or sending cassette tapes back and forth to each other.  (This was well before the time of email, instant messaging and facetime.)  He wrote his letters on yellow legal paper, covered both sides and wrote multiple pages.  We cherished those letters.  And if you closed your eyes, hearing his voice on cassette was like having him home again even though his voice sounded a little “tinny”.

He left me his Ford truck to drive while he was gone.  That fall, I drove it to my first year of college.  As I began the transition into a life of my own, he was struggling with his.  It was difficult to be so far from home and the culture and lifestyle at the base in Turkey was objectionable, at best.  He was miserable.  By winter quarter, he surprised me by arriving in person at one of my college basketball games.  Able to arrange an “early out”, he was home for good.  He secured a job with the Tribal Police and began working at the jail.

During this time, he visited my sister and I at college, dated a couple of home town girls and finally met the love of his life.  A year later, they married.  Everyone was thrilled for him, their marriage was such a good match.  We spent a lot of time together, she fit well into our family and we became fast friends.

Then, as each of us married and had children, we spent less and less time together – holidays, special events, an occasional birthday.  As time moved on, our lives were occupied with work, raising kids and other interests.  At one time, I had believed we would remain close and do everything together — we would always be best friends and spend any free time together with our families. It just doesn’t work that way.

Two years ago, my brother was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma.  Since then, he has had a couple of surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy.  Through it all, he has remained amazingly positive.  Always very fit, he continued to work out and walk every day until he could no longer do so.  Because he loves his job, he continues to work even though he can no longer drive.  He has taken each obstacle in stride; new treatments, new side effects, scans, good and bad news.  He just wants to live as long as he can and he enjoys Every. Single. Moment.

Something I have always loved about him was that no matter how much time passes, when he sees me, he greets me as if we are just as close as we once were.  He is always genuinely happy to see me.  In doing so, he shows me that he feels like I do — like the bond is as strong as it ever was no matter how much time has passed and what events have occurred.  We live a quarter of a mile from each other and still don’t see each other very often, but when we do it is as though time has stood still from the last time, and the time before that.  Right back to the days when we were together laughing, eating red licorice and driving to some unknown destination – him teasing me about something and then laughing at my reaction.

 

The wedding

It was a hot summer day, smoke was floating in on the balmy breeze creating a haze over the beautiful backdrop.  The tents were up, the tablecloths were flapping in the wind – flowers were gorgeous, you could smell the barbecue roasting.  Just before the ceremony began, the wind settled – the smoke cleared just a bit and the sun beamed down through the haze.

My youngest son’s wedding day.  It was a lovely day – a romantic ceremony, great food and drink, lots of good friends and family, and some fun dancing.  Absolute success.

My daughter wrote and performed the ceremony – it was a good combination of romance, charm and fun.  The couple gave their promises with tears of sincerity and it was very touching.  Both families participated in the ceremony – with small children stealing the show, of course.  The bride was beautiful and the groom handsome – a stunning couple.  I was so very proud of my brood.

Everything came off without a hitch – as far as I know.  Music was great, speeches were heartfelt and fun, had a great dance-off (well-done Gabe!) and I think it was a day Ethan and Adelle will remember as perfect.

I’m anxious to see the photos since I neglected to take a single one myself!  There was too much going on, too many people and it wasn’t my focus of the moment.

Today, I will clean all the remnants of the day.  Luckily, the brides family helped clean up all of the outside wedding area, I just have to house to put back into order.  It will take the better part of the day but I may have previously mentioned that cleaning is therapy for me (sick, I know).

Months of prep for one special day.  It was worth it.

Getting “wedding ready”

Another quiet summer morning.  The hummingbirds are having breakfast.   It is early, the sun is not up yet.  My favorite time of the morning.  So peaceful.

July is almost over.  It is my favorite month of the year – usually very hot with clear skies almost every day.  I love it.

In 13 days, my youngest son will be getting married on our front lawn.  My husband has spent his summer weed-whacking, mowing, irrigating, repeat.  The yard looks great.  I have cleaned the porches, will be doing a very deep clean in the house in the coming days and we’ve been doing touch up maintenance around the outside of the house.  (Nothing like a little motivation to get these things done!)

I was on the hunt for the perfect “mother of the groom” dress.  Thought I found one but then I put it on to model for my husband and his comment was, “Going to a funeral?”  On to dress #2.  But I found one that is a wee bit more cheerful.  I’ll save the first dress for a funeral (could be his)…  Ha ha

We have had two weddings here – both of our daughters.  They were lovely affairs and my girls are both very organized.  They planned everything, I just had to help implement things.  This time, it will be different because the bride and her family are planning the actual decorations and the event so even though I will be helping implement things, I am not as familiar with the “plan”.  What better way to get to know our new “in-laws”, right?

We are hoping for good, clear, warm (but not too hot) weather.  Also hoping that we won’t have any forest fires — smoke can really put the kabosh on these beautiful views.  See below, the top photo was last summer during the fire season, the other photo is from a couple of weeks ago.

So we are hoping for a quiet fire season, at least until after August 11!

I am beginning to feel the anxiety and pressure of wedding week; making sure everything looks good and wanting the day to be a raving success.  In the end, they’ll be married no matter the weather, the ceremony, the music, the dancing, my dress, my hair.  All will be well.

 

Aging – we all do it

Sixty.  I will be 60 years old next month.  It is so strange because in my mind I’m still in my 20’s.  How is that possible?  One quick glance in the mirror will remind me that I’m NOT in my 20’s — and watching my age spotted hands on the keyboard is another grim reminder.  Still, being young in my mind helps me to not really feel old.  I still like to “play” and laugh.  That’s the best part of having grandkids, you get to play with them and be silly.  My husband hasn’t been prone to silliness since 1965.

Of course, when I try to do things a 20 year old might, it results in sore muscles and a possible injury or two.  I spent this weekend cleaning windows and floors on my back porch.  It was exhausting work.  As a 20 year old, I could have done the whole thing in a day AND vacuumed the house afterward but as an almost 60 year old, it took me two days with a multitude of rest breaks.  As an aging generation, these are the things we can accept.  We can’t do EVERYTHING that we used to do but we can slow down, take breaks and continue to roll.

For the most part, I feel pretty good about aging.  I am in fair shape, although I know I could do more walking, stretching and SHOULD be eating more vegetables (yecch).  I have pockets of fat in new places — but they can be covered with a flouncy shirt.   My breasts went south for the winter and stayed — so an extra supportive bra was in order.  Let’s just “pretend” they are perky.  I have the “turkey neck” skin and LOTS of wrinkles on my face.  Lots of new skin blemishes throughout.  I won’t even go into the more intimate aging markers — suffice it to say there is plenty of positive proof that I am no longer in my 20’s!

As part of aging, my husband and I are participating in the usual old-age indicators.  Reading obituaries and announcing who has passed.  (“Oh geez, I thought he was already dead?”)!  My husband is falling into the “old codger” role quite comfortably.  I have to remind him it is NOT a necessity — but he fades in an out.  He complains about the government, other drivers, the weather.  (Again, with the WEATHER!  What is the obsession?).  I obsess over having to look my age – should I continue to dye my hair?  What makeup can I use to cover the wrinkles and LOOK like I’m only 50?  (Answer? NONE – putting make-up over an older face just makes you look like you have a lot of make-up on an older face…)  I can still fit skinny jeans but should I wear them?  Every time I go shopping for clothes I resist shopping in my own department – “women”, it just sounds so prehistoric.  For my “age” group there are the sequins, lots of bold decorative stitching and elastic waist bands!

Even more than the physical losses and changes are the mental changes.  Sure, we are getting forgetful.  We walk into a room and forget why we came.  We go to bed early and get up well before the sun.  We can be content to sit on the porch with a summer drink – for hours.  And we are fading into the background, slowly but surely.  It happens.  In the beginning, we are the center, the parents – we make things happen.  As everyone matures into their own lives, we become the outer circle and, eventually, the afterthought.  No wonder old people get cranky!

My husband and I made a pact when our kids started to leave the nest.  We would live our lives, learn to do things together and try to keep growing, learning, having fun even as we got old.  The hardest lesson was in knowing that FUN at 60 is different than fun at 20, 30 or even 40 — and that’s okay.  To each their own.  (And try not to become cranky…)

Rewinding

I dreamed about my mother again last night.  It is like my subconscious is on rewind – from her death, back through the grief of dementia and back to her younger years.   By younger, I mean in her 50’s.  As time passes, the guilt and anguish seem to be releasing their grip.  We lost her over the course of several years, little by little.  So much time for regret.

It has been so long since she drove up my drive in her white Taurus but I’m starting to remember those times again.   And she LOVED driving and gallivanting.  It was her favorite thing in this world, her only hobby.  She was a “drop-in” visitor – she would come to see what was going on and then leave.  It was rare for her to stay much longer than 15 or 20 minutes.  But then she didn’t ever have much to say – she would share a little gossip and be off to her next stop.

Even though she died two months ago, we have felt the loss a lot longer.  Her passing was just a formality and we can finally grieve properly.  As I sit and remember her, there is a mix of sadness, regret and resentment.  Not unusual, given our relationship when she was living.  Eventually, I hope to feel less resentment and regret.

Grieving is a strange process.  There are a lot of flashback memories.  You begin to forgive the transgressions, real and perceived.  I have begun to acquire a better understanding of my mother – of her personality and her character.  I’m grateful for her sacrifice.  While I will always regret never truly knowing her, I can finally accept that it just wasn’t meant to be.  She wasn’t built that way.  I will continue to strive to do things differently in my own life and remember that she was the best mom she could be.