Happy Birthday To Me

I don’t know if I have ever wished myself a happy birthday before. Today was that kind of day. I awoke to Mark wishing a happy birthday (and he had the day off). Then I went down stairs, packed my lunch and found the most beautiful card he has ever given me. It brought happy tears to my eyes. I started on my way to work and had to put my sunglasses on; it was sunny out. I think all the sunlight was supercharging my vitamin D. It seems everything was extra sweet. And the best part of all of it was I never spent one second thinking it had to be too good to be true.

When Emily was young the woman that watched her used to always say, “You make your own day.” Often, I can remember feeling really annoyed and irritated when she said it. Looking back it was because she was right and I was miserable.

Today I did it. I made my own day. I don’t think there was much that could have wrecked havoc. I wouldn’t have let it. And I think that is part of the secret. I need to wake up every day and choose to be happy. And if I can’t do that, I need to stop, remember today and think about why I would choose anything else. It’s OK to have a bad day but its not OK to have a bad week or month or year. That is so yesterday.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. I have always been drawn to that saying.  Now I plan to put it into action.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Forty-four years ago today my life changed and it would never be the same.  I remember it like I am there now. I was eight, my sister was 10 and my brother was 14.

I woke-up to my sister telling me she had to use the bathroom.  I rolled over and told her I didn’t want to go.  My sister and I had single beds but each night she would jump into my bed.  I was not a fan of the dark and she would sleep with me so I wasn’t scared.  Every morning one of us would wake up and then wake-up the other one and walk to the bathroom together.  For some reason, I didn’t want to get up that morning so my sister went without me. The next thing I remember is my sister crawling in bed with me and telling me, “Don’t tell anyone but I think Mom is dead.”  When I think about what she said and how a 10 year old today would react I can’t believe how innocent we were.

We stayed in bed and didn’t move until my father came in and laid across the bed.  He was crying and told us that Mom had died. I remember the uncomfortable feeling of seeing my father crying and wanting to get out of the bed. I was hanging off the side just waiting for him to get up. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I knew it wasn’t good.  After what seemed like forever, my father stood up and told us that two of his friends were going to come in and take us to our neighbor’s house.  Mr. Kilham picked me up he told me not to look as we walked through the living room. I wish he had never said that. Telling an eight year old not to look at something is like giving them permission. We walked through the living room and I looked. There was a figure on our brown vinyl coach with a yellow blanket over it. He stepped outside and carried me across the front lawn to our neighbor’s house with my sister right behind. We sat in the kitchen and talked with my friend and her brothers and sister. I don’t remember where my brother was. I don’t remember seeing him for most of the day. We ate breakfast at the table. I remember putting on my friend’s blue cotton bathrobe when I first got there and how scared and upset I was when I spilled grape jelly on it.  Her mom told me not to worry but I did anyway.

A little while later we were playing at their house and we wanted to use my friend’s toot-sweet machine.  It was a machine that took tootsie rolls and molded them into things.  We didn’t have any tootsie rolls so my friend’s mother sent her brother “down town.”  He was worried he might get in trouble for not going to school but his mother re-assured him it was OK.  Before you know it we were eating candy in the morning.  I remember thinking how cool that was.

We lived in a small town where my father was a Captain on the Fire Department and my mother was active in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Everyone seemed to know everyone. I had no idea how many people would quickly descend upon our house over the next few days. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day but my sister, the family memory, told me we went shopping later that day to get my brother some clothes for the wake. I didn’t know what a wake or a funeral was either. I think about how aware children are today and how sheltered from life we were in 1970.  It wasn’t a bad thing; in some ways I think it was a blessing.

My father sat with my brother, sister and me and told us that we could go to the funeral home to see my mom before all the people got there.  I didn’t want to go that night but he told me I could go the next day if I wanted.  I remember being on the front lawn playing when a car drove down the street and stopped.  The back passenger door flung open and out came my sister and brother crying. My sister ran across the lawn and into the house.  As my father got out of the car and walked to me and I clearly remember telling him I didn’t want to go see her the next day.  He told me I didn’t have to; he understood.  My sister and I were not allowed to attend the funeral; my father felt we were too young. Instead we went to our neighbor’s Aunt and Grandfather’s house so they could watch us.  I remember feeding  the chickens.  It was fun but I couldn’t wait to get home and be with my brother and father.

I have vacillated between whether or, not not going to my mom’s wake and not being allowed to attend the funeral was a good thing. I now believe it was a blessing. I can still remember seeing my mom lying on the couch under the yellow blanket as I was carried out of the house. I am so glad I don’t remember seeing her lying in a casket. I am not sure I could have handled that as a young child. I am glad I didn’t have that vision to fixate on over the years.

My mom’s funeral was on May 30,1970, two days after she died. When we left my friend’s Aunt’s and went back home there were a lot of people there. All my cousins, Aunts and Uncles and so many adult friends of my parents.  I remember people standing around eating, drinking, laughing and crying. And I also remember my birthday celebration. My birthday was May 29, the day after my mom died.  It was celebrated on May 30, 1970 at my house after her funeral. There are only two gifts that I remember receiving that year. One was a fringed pocket book that my cousin Kenny decided to pass around and everyone put money in it. I ended up collecting $50.  The other gift I remember is a one piece, green flowered. cotton jump suit. It had no sleeves and shorts. I remember it because my father handed it to me and I opened it. I wasn’t that excited over it but I remember a lot of people started to quietly cry as I opened it.  Later on I was told that my mom had purchased it for me as a birthday present.

Remembering this day today is different than it has been in the past.  Today, 44 years since the day my mom died, I am sad but it hasn’t consumed me. I am done grieving and mourning. I have moved on to celebrating my mom’s life. I am looking forward to tomorrow, and the next day and the one after that.

 

Both Ends of the Spectrum

When I started writing again 29 days ago I started with the intension of working through the pain of my mother’s death and to “finish mourning.”  I started down a long, narrow, rocky, unknown trial and now find myself on a winding, well-groomed path.  Neither trail or path had direction signs but I found my way. I don’t have a destination and I like that.

I have walked down dead-end trails and found myself walking in a loop.  I have become frustrated to the point of crying, fought with myself not to turn back and then adjusted my compass and kept going. I have spent a lot of time with my thoughts and putting them to the keyboard, sometimes typing as my fingers dodged teardrops. It has been an unbelievable experience to sort out my thoughts and feelings.

Death is a part of life. They are on the same spectrum; just at different ends. We hope the ends will be far apart but sometimes they aren’t. What I have learned is that even though the distance between life and death was short for my mom, I need to remember there was life. Her life, joined with my dad, made new lives. I have spent so many years focusing and obsessing on her death and what I had missed. I now choose to spend the rest of my days remembering her and loving her and her legacy. She lives everyday in my love of God, my love of laughing and in her grand-daughter Emily Eleanor.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 will be the 44th anniversary of her death. I know I will be sad and that’s OK. I still remember that morning so vividly it could have been yesterday. I will remember, let my myself be sad (maybe even cry) and then finish my day. And the next day, May 29, I will celebrate my 53rd birthday. I will laugh and I will give thanks for the gifts of Emily, my mother, Mark and all the wonderful people in my life.  I will also thank God for guiding me through this painful, yet necessary experience.  I can now spend the remainder of my spectrum with love instead of fear and anger. I can enjoy my days as I know my mother would want for me.

A Letter to YOU (My Advice On How to Prevent Breast Cancer)

Please read this post by a wonderful woman with a great blog. We can all learn from it.

AUTHENTICALLY BOLD: REBECCA

Dear Ladies (and Gents):

I am going to tell you how you can prevent breast cancer. Yes, I am going to spell it out so that you may possible avoid the dreaded words from your doctors, “You have breast cancer.”

Within the past two weeks, I have learned of yet two more local women in my circles that have been diagnosed with a form of breast cancer. For someone who lives in a “small” city of approximately 50,000 residents, it is rather alarming and disheartening to learn of two women I know or know of having just heard those words, “You have breast cancer.”

Something has to give! Millions are poured into the pink breast cancer vehicle year after year after year and still “in 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 64,640 new cases…

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Smile, Weep, Smile

Yesterday Mark and I did our annual cemetery pilgrimage. Every year we plant flowers on our families’ graves. My mother & father and grandmother and uncle and his mother, aunt & uncle, both sets of grandparents and a family friend.  It takes about 2 1/2 hours.

window boxes

window boxes

We bought the flowers on Saturday along with the flowers for our window boxes. We picked out the flowers in the rain and ended up needing to water them in the evening because the sun came out and it was a beautiful day.  I was really happy with the way the window boxes turned out.  We bought red geraniums for the house and pink ones for the graves.  I knew the window boxes were a sign of how the cemetery would look.

On the drive to the cemetery I drank my coffee and listened to the 70’s station.  (Mark and I had separate cars because we commuted from different places on Friday).  I wasn’t nervous or anxious or obsessed with what I was going to do. In fact I distinctly remember jamming to “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell.  Singing in the car is like singing in the shower; you can sing your heart out and not worry about anyone hearing you.  As I approached the exit for the cemetery I kept wondering what it would look like after the winter. I arrived to find Mark standing outside his car and Roxy sniffing every inch of available grass. I had all the flowers and garden tools with me so he couldn’t start without me.

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Mom and Dad Cemetery

Four of the perennials we planted last year didn’t take. They were green but had no flowers.  The other plants were doing fine. I removed the dead plants and began planting on my grandmother and uncle’s side. As I prepped the soil and placed the geraniums in their spots I wondered what my uncle Robby was like. He died before I was born. I have only heard stories about him. My grandmother lived a tough life. She lost her son, got divorced and then lost her daughter. My uncle died in his 20’s and my mother at 38. After my mom died she had a nervous breakdown. I remember when she “went away” to the hospital. It was kind of like when my mother went to heaven. They were both here one day and gone the next.

My grandmother had a smart mouth and I still smile when I remember her making comments about the people in the nursing home she lived in up to her death. I wouldn’t say she swore like a truck driver but she dropped the occasional bomb. I always laugh then I think of that. When I finished planting on her side, I stood up, stepped back and took a look. The geraniums looked nice with the coral bells that were planted in the middle. I was happy with the way it turned out.

I walked over to my mother and father’s side of the grave stone. I don’t talk much about my father’s death; that is a story for another time. I removed the dead plants, prepped the soil and began planting the flowers.  When I finished, Mark and I mulched the bed and I watered the plants. Mark put all the tools away as I stood looking at the stone. I looked down at her foot stone. It is a granite marker with the Blessed Mother carved in it and the inscription, “Mother”.  I felt my eyes well up and tears ran down my face. At that moment I really missed her. I missed having her there with me to plant flowers on her mother’s grave. I felt sad that her side of the headstone represented two of the most trying times I have experienced in my life. I stood there and wept without regard for anything around me; which I was unaware of anyway. After a few moments, I took a deep breath, exhaled, centered my thoughts and walked back to my car. Mark started his car and began to drive away. I started mine, shifted into drive and felt a sudden desire to drive to my father’s “other” grave.  I drove up next to it and noticed there were no flowers on it yet. I wished I had bought plants for his grave too, but I knew then, like I know now, that I couldn’t plant anything there. “She” wouldn’t like that; they might even be removed. I turned my car around and drove home.

I drove home listening to the 70’s and feeling happy. I knew my mother was with me. She is always with me.  She is in every smile.

 

There Is No Place Like Home

Mother’s Day is this weekend.  I have spent so much time thinking about my mother that I haven’t thought much about mother’s day as a mother.  I wonder what Mother’s Day would be like to have her here to spend the day with. What would it be like for Emily to have her grandmother here? I recently found a picture of my mother holding me as an infant. It is the only one I have. I didn’t know who she was holding until her best friend told me it was me. At that exact moment I knew I would cherish that picture for ever.  My first thought when I saw the picture were that she looked so happy and she is smiling at me.  What was she thinking?  Then I thought about the first time I saw Emily.

Mom and me

I remember every moment of her birth. I had to have a cesarian section after 12 hours of labor.  I was in the operating room, lying on an operating table with my arms out to each side and taped down. The doctor and the resident were operating when she said, “Now you are going to feel some pressure.” I didn’t really feel anything though. The next thing I heard was, “It’s a girl. Time, 5:03am.” I couldn’t see Emily because there was a drape blocking my view. For what seemed like minutes, I laid there, taped to the table, waiting to hear her cry. And then, I heard that beautiful, soft cry that was Emily’s proclamation that she had arrived.  I can still remember seeing her all swaddled in a white hospital blanket with pink and blue stripes and a small pink beanie hat. I couldn’t hold her yet because I was still taped down, so her dad placed her soft pudgy cheek against mine. It is as real now as it was then.

As I write this it occurs to me that I do know what my mom was thinking in the picture of her and me. It was probably the same thoughts I had when I looked at Emily as an infant; that she was a beautiful miracle.

Wow! Until now I can’t remember feeling my mother’s love. Being told by someone how much she loved me is not the same as feeling it. Feeling her love is that overwhelming cloak of joy that hugs you; that tear evoking feeling that fills your body until it almost overflows. Wow! I do believe the cardinal that stopped by the other night was a sign. It was a sign to remind me that she is always with me and that a mother’s love is eternal.

Thank you mom for sticking with me and helping me to overcome the obstacles I put in the way to protect myself from the pain of losing you. Thank you mom for instilling your faith in God in me.  I haven’t always been a great “church goer” but my faith in God has never waivered.  Thank you for my sense of humor.  And thank you most of all for nurturing and caring for me all the years you did. It is through that time my character, sense of right and wrong and how to be a good person was learned.  You were a great role model. I hope I have made you proud. You helped make me the mom I am today.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women that have mothered and nurtured me during my search. A search I had to complete on my own. A search for something that ended up being right in my own backyard.  It is like Dorothy’s journey to find the great and powerful Oz so she could go back to Kansas. In the end, she had what it took to get home all the time. I too, had to take a journey and grieve and mourn to realize what I thought I would never have was there all along; my mother’s love.  I am home now without the envy or anger or emptiness.  I am free to celebrate my mother’s life and be thankful for all the gifts she bestowed to me and brother and sister.

There really is no place like home.

 

 

Do We Always See The Signs?

Wednesday night as I was putting on Roxy’s collar to let her outside I heard a strange knock against the screen door. I looked out the door and saw a cardinal fluttering about. It seemed as though it was hurt and couldn’t take flight. I hesitated to open the door in fear Roxy would attack it but then it flew, wobbly, to a near by rhododendron bush. I stepped out the door, with Roxy in tow, and stood on the front lawn as she sniffed her way around the front lawn.

I heard another noise, turned around and saw the cardinal fly up toward the ceiling of our back porch. It looked like it was trying to find a place to land but there are no rafters there. It settled on sitting on the brick landing. It just sat there. I quickly turned around and took stock of Roxy’s whereabouts to ensure she didn’t pounce on the bird. Roxy was long gone in the neighbors yard.

It was a quiet night with a star filled sky. I stared at the stars and allowed my thoughts to wander for a few seconds. Then I called Roxy to go inside. I turned and the cardinal was no where in site. Roxy came bounding accross the lawn and headed to the porch. I stopped her because all of a sudden the cardinal was flying up toward the ceiling of the porch again. Roxy bolted up the stairs and started jumping up against the house in an attempt to catch the bird. I ran up, yelled at Roxy and opened the door. Surprisingly she listened to me and went right in. I closed the screen and back doors in hopes to drown the noise of the fluttering cardinal.

The photographer in me rushed to my camera to get a picture. I had my 100mm macro lens on. I was psyched! I walked to the door and saw the cardinal sitting on the brick landing again. I stared out the window, started to turn the door knob and then stopped. Roxy was staring at me and I didn’t want to arouse the bird again if she was hurt.

We walked back into the den and assumed our usual spots; Roxy on the couch and me in the recliner. We were both minding to ourselves when the bird body-slammed itself against the window screen a few times and was gone. I was freaked out and worried abou the bird’s safety. In the morning I mentioned to Mark what had happened last night. His reply was, “I think there is a nest inside the bush and she is protecting it.” I stood there dumb-founed. That aspect never occurred to me.

As mothers we are protective of our young.  We are willing to do anything to keep them from harm (even dive-bomb the enemy if necessary).  As Mother’s Day approaches I think of the fierce love I have for my daughter Emily and how I would do anything to protect her.  I had someone post that the bird appearing may have been a sign. It hasn’t appeared again.  Could that beautiful cardinal have been a sign to let me know that my mother still watches over me? I am choosing to think so.

 

Stream of Consciousness

Mother’s day is nearing and I have been thinking about the day and what it has meant to me in the past vs. how I may feel this year. My mourning process is only eight days old, yet, I am light-hearted.  I feel more connected to my mother than I ever remember being as an adult.  Why?

Since I have consciously, and unconsciously, started to celebrate her life, I have a few more memories. I have spent more time looking at the few pictures of our family, smiling and and being happy. I haven’t dwelled in the past when she wasn’t physically with me.  Instead I have tried to keep her memory alive in my head and my heart. (I don’t mean to sound sappy).

Ah ha! Just writing that last sentene made me see another difference.  I am keeping her alive in my heart. I am starting to breakthrough the pain and anger and envy by realizing that to keep her alive I need to keep her in my heart. It doesn’t mean I won’t have sadness and miss her, but, I will also experience joy and laughter.  Missing her doesn’t you mean I have to feel guilty being happy.

Marianne Williamson, author of, A Return To Love, says we approach life either by fear or by love. If I am feeling anger and envy, I can’t be feeling love. And if I fee anger and envy what do I fear?  Until just recently, I was afraid to feel anything but sad when thinking of my mom. If I tried to look at her with love, and did not feel loved back, what would happen? It was easier to be fearful and remain numb. But now I have experienced joy because I am looking at life with love. And I want more of it.

Loving is so much easier than fearing.

 

You Make Your Own Day

What a wonderful weekend  this was. I can’t remember a better weekend. There were no special events, just a couple days with Mark and Roxy.  As I reflect on the past few days, I don’t think I will be writing “just” meaning nothing very special anymore.  Days such as these are what miracles are made of.  The sun was shining and I was with someone I love…is there anything else? Yes, Roxy was with us too. At the beach, as we watched Roxy run into the water and then run out and then run in again and lay down in the water. I remembered our days at the beach when I was little. I don’t remember much but I do remember Coast Guard beach and running in and out of the water. I was with my parents, Stephen and Debbie (my brother and sister).  I remember being pushed over by the waves and running back in. We vacationed every summer for a week in Eastham, MA. We rented a cottage. I think it was pink but am not sure.  I found pictures of my brother, sister and me on the split rail fence, each of us wearing our sailer hats.  I also remember a nearby rooster and chickens that chased me.

Making new memories helped me to remember some of my past. Small, single memories of days with my family.  Memories of my past that make me happy for what I had; not sad for what I missed. I even stopped at the cemetery today to check on the my Grandmother’s and Mother/Father’s graves. Each year Mark and I clean up and plant flowers on my family and his family’s graves. It always reminds me of going to Brockton, MA each year to tend to my Grandma Meeche’s family’s grave. On today’s visit, however, I remembered a little more. I remembered my father placing the lawn mower into our station wagon, along with the clippers. The drive to Brockton that seemed like forever; it might as well been to Disney World. Once there my father cut the grass, trimmed the evergreens and we all helped plant flowers.  Afterward we would have a picnic right in the cemetery.  When I remembered that I actually called my brother and sister to make sure that it happened. I can’t imagine picnicking in a cemetery now.  My brother even remembered that our lawn mower was a golden color.  It’s odd the details we remember.

I am starting to think that remembering more of my time with my mother can help to counteract the memories I wasn’t able to make with her. Instead of painfully mourning, I am going to look forward to remembering. I am going to wake each morning and choose to be happy. My daughter’s daycare provider, Gayle, used to say, “You make your own day.”  Well she was right. I am going to make my days happy.

Here is one part of Saturday that made me smile.

photo-16

 

Today I Choose Joy

I was awakened this morning by my dog, Roxy. She just had to go outside and would not accept “No” for an answer. My husband always gets up early on the weekends so I decided to do dog duty today. Roxy was exited and running in circles as I put on my shoes and her collar.

I opened the door and she was off, smelling every inch of territory she covered. I just meandered along watching her in a zombie-like state. Suddenly she stopped. I looked in the same direction as Roxy and saw some robins on the ground pecking for morning breakfast. As soon as she moved the robins flew away. I kept looking in the direction of where the birds had been to keep watching the beautiful streams of sunlight. They were shining on the grass, the plants and through the tree branches. I just stood and stared. And then it happened; I felt myself smile. I was awake, alive and happy. But how could that be? It was only 25 days until the anniversary of my mother’s death. I was supposed to be mourning.

Roxy and I came back into the house. I was awake and couldn’t go back to sleep. I could still feel the smile on my face. I remembered Mark and I have plans to go to the beach with Roxy today. And then zoom! I remembered something else. One of the few pictures of my mother that I have is of her at the beach, sitting on a blanket. I smiled again. Without consciously knowing it, I was smiling. I had experienced joy in that moment and decided to choose joy for the rest of the day. I am going to celebrate my mom’s life while at the beach. My heart is already lighter.

Swan at W. Dennis Beach-2

To everyone that read’s this, I wish you a joy-filled day.