Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Life Goes On

I can't believe it's been over a week since I posted an entry onto this blog. I've felt guilty about it but but I've been so sick that writing was the last thing on my mind.

Unfortunately, I came down with the flu. It has not been a fun week, to say the least! Although I tried to prevent this miserable malady by obtaining a flu shot last October, an alternative strain invaded my body. How lucky for the virus; how unlucky for me! Thankfully, I have a wonderful, loving husband who gave me the best care I could have ever wished for, without a single complaint on his part. What would I have done without him? I'm so glad I don't have to know.

My body was probably vulnerable due to all of the stress I endured these past few months. As you all know, December was a particularly 'bad' month for me. Shortly after the first of the year, when all of the holiday hoopla was over, my immune system seemingly just gave out. My body and brain needed a rest. I admit it: if I hadn't felt so sick I might have even enjoyed staying in bed. As it was, I couldn't wait to feel well enough to get out of it!

Now, in only a few short days I leave for Arizona again. This Saturday, in fact. Although I'm looking forward to seeing my father and my other relatives who live there, I have a lot of anxiety about the trip. For one, it is gong to be very unsettling to walk into my 'parent's' house for the first time since my mother died there. I know everything will be just as I left it on December 5th. My eyes will likely focus on my mother's favorite chair the moment I walk in the wooden front door. The chair that she died in. I'm hoping I can somehow take comfort in it. Perhaps I'll be able to sit there late one night in the desert darkness to feel her presence: a good thing.

I doubt if my father has removed Mom's 'perfect' Christmas tree from the fireplace hearth. This will probably be one of the first things I must do. Perhaps I'll turn on the creamy, white lights one last time; hoping to see the perfectly shaped tree through my mother's former eyes. She enjoyed it for such a short time but I know it meant a great deal to her. I often wonder if she knew she'd never live to actually see it on Christmas day? I guess it doesn't matter. The fact that she did see it, and was able to submerge herself it all it's newness and grace is what matters to me now.

It will be difficult to 'remove' much of my mother's entity from the house that now belongs only to my father. After all, they shared this home for over twenty years. A lot of my mother remains there. Like most married couple's homes, it has the woman's 'touch' throughout each and every room. From the outside front door to the back yard gardens, much of my mother lingers there. Somehow God will give me the strength to do what needs to be done. God and my sister, Brenda. She will be there to help me as she was in the past. Together, we will get through it.

Life goes on.......

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unwanted Decisions

I haven't posted an entry since the first day of the year. Forgive me. I know I'm behind. I guess I've felt a little depressed lately. Actually, there's no 'guessing' involved. I have felt depressed lately! I've accepted my mother's death, but I still yearn to call her: to speak to her on the telephone like we were able to do only weeks ago.

Although I no longer physically reach for the telephone, there are many instances when I find myself wanting to call her. This may be instinct that comes from living so far apart during the last twenty years. Because of the physical distance between us, I didn't get to see my mother very often. The telephone was our stable means of communication. We'd often call each other at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes it was more frequent, depending on what was happening in our respective lives.

The first two days of January were the most difficult for me. My mind urged me to pick up the phone several times throughout the weekend. It was almost as if I had forgotten Mom was gone. Was it because it was a brand new year? Did my brain 'forget' the past? I can't even begin to count the number of times I thought of telephoning her. I wanted to 'just talk.' I wanted to tell her how well Jayson was doing after his trials of the previous week. I wanted to talk to her about Justin coming down with the flu. I wanted to tell her how much I missed her and loved her. There were so many things I wanted to talk to her about. This yearning went on for about two or three days before my mind was suddenly snapped back to reality.

My father called and briefly mentioned cleaning out my mother's closet again. I didn't know what to say to him. Would I make him cry if I told him of my feelings? Not wanting to take the chance, I changed the subject. I'm not really sure what I ended up talking to him about but it wasn't my mother's closet. Perhaps I'm the one whose not ready to discuss this most delicate of subjects? My mother's closet holds the very last 'essence' of her. The clean scent of her soap and sweet smell of her face cream have long been embedded within Mom's clothing. Her assortment of dresses, sweaters, blouses and slacks hang from their rods untouched and alone now.

Together with Mother's closet, I know there are many other jobs waiting for me to take care of when I return to Arizona. I'm glad my sister, Brenda will be there to help me: physically and emotionally. My mother's 'side' of the bathroom needs to be cleaned out too. Her personal items are waiting to be sorted through and removed. I can picture Mom's combs still grasping precious strands of her wavy, brown hair between their silver metal teeth. Visions of her make-up brushes all dusted with rosy blush and loose finishing powders are resting in a vinyl case nearby. Tubes of Mom's favorite coral lipsticks and pink sponge rollers share drawer space together with daily personal items and soft delicate wash cloths. And under Mom's sink: a standing assortment of body lotions, cans of hair spray, bottles of shampoo, and cleaning products. Everything must be sorted and removed.

Unwanted decisions for me to make.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy 2011!

It's a New Year. Thank God!

Yesterday, since it was New Year's Eve we stayed at home to relax and watch some television. Suddenly, emergency weather warnings appeared on television sets all across Missouri.

St. Louis seemed to be right in the path of numerous tornadoes!

Ironically, our oldest son, Jayson was recently hired by The National Weather Service. It is his dream job, and has been his most reverent goal since he was barely six years old. Jayson literally knew almost from his first day of kindergarten that he wanted to be a 'weatherman.' He never changed his mind.

Unfortunately, Jayson hadn't started his new job yet. Instead, he was working at a temporary position where he sold custom suits from a store within a retail strip-mall. Upon watching the path of storms and possible tornadoes, we called Jayson on his cell phone. We needed to warn him of the impending danger. If he had been home, he would have been glued to his computer, taking delight in studying the various graphs and weather patterns.

"Jay, you'd better take cover. Tornadoes may be headed right for you!" Gary shouted into the phone. "Our lights just went out," Jayson replied. "I can't see anything."

Gary told him to grab his dog, Nimbus, together with his food and head for the safest place in his building: a metal desk near the center of the store. We kept contact with him by phone and soon heard noisy whooshes of wind gusts, debris cashing to the floor, and the proverbial sound of an approaching 'freight train.'

"It's coming Dad," Jayson said. Not surprisingly, his voice was filled more with concerned excitement, rather than worry. He was not afraid. Soon his phone line went dead. We could do nothing but wait. In the interim, we called our youngest son, Justin to take cover. The dreadful weather was headed his way too.

About ten minutes later Jayson was able to call us back. He was fine, but shocked by what surrounded him. He described the strong smell of gas, and his storefront windows that had seemingly exploded. Shards of broken glass littered the outside pavement. Scattered directly across the street (mere yards from where he stood) were mounds of heaping wood and numerous piles of debris. Homes that stately stood erect only a few minutes earlier, were now gone. Jayson described families who literally rose from their respective basement stairways only to discover a home that no longer existed.

"It looks like a war zone," Jayson told us.

Jayson's own parking lot was now full of downed fir, oak and maple trees; overturned cars and trucks; twisted metal signs and shattered glass. His 2010 rental car (newly acquired since his accident only ten days earlier) sat upright, but was profoundly damaged. Incredulously, nature's random path of the tornado spared him. If his store had been on the other side of the street, I shudder to think of what might have happened to him. His dwelling had no basement. Instead, my son, the newly graduated meteorologist had just survived the devastation of an F-3 (on a scale of 0-5) tornado with estimated 170 mile per hour winds. Ironically, Jayson was directly in the heart of it!

As I look back on 2010, it seems it was one of the worst I can ever remember living through. I am glad for the new year to finally be here! Great hope for the future in 2011 is not wasted upon me. Last year is one I don't ever wish to repeat in quite the same way.

For example, last January I endured painful shoulder surgery. In February my younger son's fiancee broke off their engagement (hurting him and worrying me). I learned in May (near Mother's Day), the devastating news of my mother's lung cancer diagnosis. In late July I fell off a horse named 'Monster.' From his given name I should have known better before I saddled up! I fell seven feet to the ground, flat on my back: breaking a rib and compressing two discs in my spine.

In the middle of November I became Mom's caretaker until she sadly passed away a few days before Thanksgiving. Just before Christmas, on December 21st, Jayson was in a terrible car accident. And, finally, (yesterday) the very last day of the year, Jayson lived through the midst of a devastating tornado! Later, I learned that Justin had a horrible asthma attack. His asthma has been in remission for a few years, so he hasn't filled his inhaler prescriptions in quite some time. By the grace of God he found an old 'rescue' inhaler while frantically rummaging through his drawers. The use of it allowed him to breathe again: our most precious commodity.

The above seems more like the trappings of an impossible novel than that of my real life! Still, when all is said and done I am grateful. Grateful for the glimpses of goodness I find veiled throughout 2010. Although I lost my dear mother during this last year, I know in my heart and soul that she is forever with me. I see her throughout the many facets of my life: good and bad.

One can always look at the glass half-empty or half-full. I prefer to think of the 'many glasses' I have lived through during 2010 as half-full. To that end, I did survive all of last year's adversity. Together with my husband and my two sons, we are all happy and alive. Is there anything more important? I think not.

Not so long ago, upon my mother's passing, I prayed for her to watch over my two boys. I asked God to hold Mom lovingly in His arms and allow her to be their guardian angel. I have no doubt that He has answered my prayers. My mother is watching over both of them: perhaps sitting upon their shoulders with a smile. I am sure of it.

Happy 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sign

My dad looked much better when I Skyped him yesterday. His color was back and his eyes were not puffy or swollen. The product of "A good night's sleep," he told me. He went swimming again too: good for the brain and the body.

In his own way I believe my dad said "Goodbye" to my mother on Christmas Day. He wasn't able to do it beforehand. Although it may seem silly, my dad needed some kind of 'sign' from my mother telling him that she was at peace in the afterlife. Until the 'sign' appeared, he wouldn't feel she was at rest. Soon after Mother died, he told me as much.

During the exact moment that my mother passed away we were gathered around my parent's dining table. We sat listening to the lyrics of the song, 'Remember When' by Alan Jackson. The music played softly from their CD player, nearby. This was my parent's special song. Their favorite song. The meaning of the words were both personal and intimate to them.

On Christmas Eve, the day before my father's 78th birthday, he went to my Aunt Mary Ann's (my mother's closest sister) for dinner before attending church. She gave him a birthday card in a plain blue envelope; asking him not to open it until the next day. In honor of her wishes my father waited until the the next morning. He was of course, all alone in the house thinking of my mother. This was his first Christmas and birthday without her. She had only been gone a little over a month. A CD played the melody, 'Remember When.'

The birthday card from my aunt sat on the kitchen counter. Dad picked it up and opened it. It was a sentimental card. Printed inside were several lines carrying messages and memories of long ago. The front of the card however, began with only two words: 'Remember When.'

My aunt knew nothing of the song that played the moment of my mother's passing. She did not know it held a personal meaning to my parents. She didn't know the music or the lyrics. She simply liked the sentiments of the card, and purchased it on a whim a few days before.

Finally, my father received the 'sign' he had been waiting for.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Mask

I telephoned my father this morning to ask how his Christmas and birthday went last Saturday.

Together with my brother Dave, my dad went to spend the holiday with my youngest brother Dan, who lives about thirty miles north in the heart of old-town Phoenix. I am so glad Dad got out of his house during his birthday and Christmas. His home is far too full of my mother's memories which would have been particularily hard on him so soon after her passing.

The perfect Christmas tree that I put up for my mother is still sitting on the hearth of my parent's fireplace. Hanging from two separate 'snowy' pine branches are the personalized ornaments sent by my sister Brenda: the heart with all of our names on it and the silver angel engraved with 'Mom'.

For the first time in over fifty years my father didn't see any brightly wrapped presents underneath the 'perfect' tree. No wrappings of colored foil paper; no bows in assorted Christmas hues; no needlepoint stockings hung from his fireplace mantle; no enticing aromas of roasted turkey or lemon meringue pie wafted from his kitchen. My mother, his partner in life was not there to do it for him this year. She is gone, forever. I doubt if her passing had ever felt so 'real' to him as it did last Saturday, Chistmas Day.

I Skyped Dad later this afternoon. He answered, but for the first time in weeks he didn't look very well to me. The holiday season has taken quite a toll on him. More than I expected to see. His hair looked a bit grayer, his bright blue eyes a little more dull, and his face appeared puffy and tired. Of course, he did his best to act like everything was fine, but even that attempt was not up to par. There were long, uncomfortable pauses during much of our conversation. Very unusual for the two of us. Our chatting typically flows very easily.

Perhaps my dad simply needs to recuperate from all of last week's festivities. Having to celebrate such a big holiday as Christmas, on the very same day as his birthday is often weary for him in a 'good' year. Having to do it for the first time with my mother no longer alive must have been immensely trying.

Everyone else it seems, has a bright and happy face at Christmastime. I'm sure my dad did his best to put on the same for everyone around him that day. But inside, deep within his heart and soul, he must have felt very alone. Inside, he was not smiling. My dear father mearly wore a temperary mask deemed necessary for the sake of all others.

Of course my father's heart is still broken. What do I expect?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Material Gifts of Christmas

Today I couldn't help but think of the material gifts I received for Christmas. I hadn't asked for anything. Who does at my age??!! Because of my mother's death I never seemed to capture much of the holiday spirit until the very week of Christmas. Receiving gits never crossed my mind. For days I was thankful to just get through the pain and loss of losing Mom. Even today, I'm not sure if I ever really will. But, for much of that I am glad. I believe that my mother is always with me in some, small way. Never-the-less, my family together with a kind neighbor and a long-time dear friend brought me a few fabulous surprises.

From my husband, Gary I received warm and fuzzy (but very stylish) pajamas, fluffy slipper boots (I'm perpetually cold), a new Christmas CD (I love music), and a signed, First-Edition copy of a novel written by my favorite author, Dominick Dunne. I am thrilled!

In addition to the above, my son, Jayson and his wife, Nichole purchased a gift-card for me and my husband to a new movie theatre here in town. It is quite unique, with the seating arrangement reminding me of the 'first class' section found in airplanes. The theatre itself is very intimate (reservations only), and has room for only about twenty people. The rugged leather chairs recline and are heated to keep the patron toasty warm throughout the show. Best of all, a small table is placed at each 'couples seating,' allowing for food and drink. A waiter quietly waits on each person throughout the movie, whispering 'Today's Special,' in addition to serving other 'real food' such as burgers, fries, ribs, chicken, salads, and the like. Movie treats including candy, popcorn, and various drinks are also included. We can't wait to go for this one-of-a-kind movie experience! I'm sure it will be great fun, especially since we're total movie aficionados.

My youngest son, Justin gave me the most beautiful card (which would have been more than enough). In it he wrote a touching note telling me how much he loved me and thanking me for being such a great mom to him throughout the years. I cried tears of joy while reading it. Who could ask for more? He also added a Macy's gift card and two tickets to a great play next month at our local professional Repertory Theatre. A wonderful 'date night' to look forward to next month!

A sweet neighbor surprised us on Christmas night with a darling 'Santa' box filled with chocolate covered pretzels and marshmallows dipped in white chocolate trimmed with red and green sprinkles. A separate bag of treats was provided for our dog, Doodles. He's already half way through them. I'm trying to hold off (as long as I can) on the pretzels and marshmallows. I have a real sweet tooth so I know I won't last long!

Finally, a very dear friend from Junior High School sent me a new, prized possession. My friend, Rose, lives in St. Charles, Michigan. Coincidentally this is the same little town where my mother was born and raised during her early years. This special friend surprised me with a box containing numerous and orderly typed pages depicting my genealogy. My eyes absorbed this fascinating history of my past, which details the lives of my ancestors born in Whales, all the way back to the 1700's. I couldn't put it down and read much of it on the spot!

The above gift means more than I can say. My friend took her own valuable time to trudge through knee-high, crunchy snow banks in piercing cold weather to locate the graves of my past relatives who are now resting in various local cemeteries. I can picture Rose now: all bundled up in a fur-trimmed, hooded parka in the hopes of shielding herself from winter's chill. She's driving down treacherous two-lane, icy-covered roads in order to stop to wipe frosted snowflakes off ancient tombstones; trying to find the correct names that will fulfill her mission. Somehow, someway, she did it. Thank you Rose. I will treasure this gift always.

Of course, I can't possibly leave out the package I received earlier this morning. It actually arrived last Friday: Christmas Eve. But, because our mailman won't drive to our house to deliver anything, the package went directly to our local post office. I wasn't able to retrieve it until today. As soon as I returned home I eagerly ripped away the brown outer paper only to discover a generously sized bag of home-made caramel corn. What a delicious and thoughtful surprise!

The above gift came from Rose, the same dear friend who did my genealogy history. During an e-mail not long ago, she mentioned that she was about to make home-made caramel corn in preparation for the holidays. The mere mention of this delectable confection made my mouth water! Through a message back to her I relayed a true story of my one and only attempt at making the same. After what seemed like hours of manual labor and many dollars of ingredients, my caramel corn ended up all sticky and gooey: unable for human consumption. How thoughtful of her to send me her own; a true gift from her heart (and hands). I'm munching on it now and it is absolutely delicious!

It's true that material gifts are not the true meaning of Christmas, nor should they ever be. As I said before, Christmas is about the the birth of Jesus, the love of family, being together, and sometimes even miracles such as the ones I experienced for myself, last week. But together with the true meaning of Christmas sometimes comes a few material surprises.

I'm not complaining. I appreciate each and every one of them!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Memories of Mother

Christmas morning! I awoke to the sun peeking out above the snow-covered hill in our back yard. A single doe was stood very stately and looked back at me as I gazed out into the first morning light. What a beautiful and appropriate first site of Christmas morning. Pure nature: God's work. It all seemed so right.

After letting Doodles outside, I put on a pot of coffee and pre-heated the oven for my Christmas breakfast dish: a french-toast casserole recipe from my good friend, Patti. I warmed the various syrups (regular and sugar-free), and sliced the fruit. The dining table had been pre-set for Christmas brunch last night. Every thing this morning was pretty easy. After letting Doodles inside, I wiped his paws with a kitchen towel. They were full of clumps of snow from him playing in the yard. He jumped on the sofa with me while I drank my morning coffee: a brief respite before the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day began.

Soon, the kids were all up, my Grand-dog was let outside, and stockings were pulled from their hooks on the fireplace mantel. One-by-one, we emptied them of their tiny treasures; a Christmas tradition from long ago. It was fun to see what 'Santa' had brought each of us. Brightly-colored hair bands and hand lotion for Nichole, a new CD for Jayson, Justin's favorite cologne, mini-puzzles for Gary, and pretty earrings for me.

Next, I called my Dad to wish him a 'Happy Birthday.' Although Christmas is all about celebrating Jesus' birthday, it is my father's birthday too. I never forget to telephone him during the first part of the morning, before any presents are opened or breakfast is served. "Happy Birthday, Dad," I yelled into the phone. "Kim, is that you," he teased. "Thanks, Honey. How's everything going over there?" I told him all about our rare 'white Christmas' in St. Louis: the first in eight years. "It's so pretty outside, Dad. I wish you could see it."

My father went on to tell me how much he enjoyed dinner at my Aunt's house last night and how lovely his church service had been. He said he missed all of us, and went on to tell me that he put on Mom's Christmas tree lights earlier this morning, while it was still dark in the desert sky. He hadn't lit her tree since I left Arizona, and today it was appropriate. He placed his favorite picture of her next to the newly lit tree, told her 'Merry Christmas' and sat down in her favorite chair; covering his bare legs with her prayer shawl. Of course in telling me this he started to cry. My heart broke for him and I too, began to tear up. I reminded him of how much she loved him...of how much she knew he loved her. "It's okay to cry, Dad," I told him. "We all miss her, especially today."

Our breakfast brunch was delicious. Patti's recipe will be repeated next year. Every one has agreed! After clearing the Christmas china from the table, we put on holiday tunes and sat by the fire. Nichole was the designated 'Santa' this year: doling out presets one at a time to each member of the family. Not many to go around this year, but no one seemed to notice. Or, if they did they didn't mind. Every one received gifts they liked or had wished for, and all were happy in the end. Being together was extra special this Christmas. I'm not sure if it was due to the loss of my mother (my children's grandmother) just a few weeks before. Or maybe it was the possible loss of Jayson earlier in the week. Whatever the reason, we all feel truly blessed this year. Blessed to be alive, blessed to have each other, blessed to be able to celebrate the season together.

All too soon breakfast was eaten; the gifts were unwrapped; crinkled paper was thrown away; foil bows and cardboard boxes were saved for next year; time came for the kids to leave for their next round of celebration. Jayson, Nichole and my Grand-dog were on their way to her parents farm in western Missouri for a weekend of sledding, cross-country skiing, and eating more turkey. Justin was expected for an afternoon of watching football with his friends. We helped them load up their cars with gifts, clothing, and dishes of leftover food. Justin reaped the benefit of most of the food. He was the single one. After today he has enough leftovers to feed his roommates for at least a day or two. My Christmas gift to all of them!

We shut the door behind us; the sudden quietness of the house seemed deafening to our ears. Doodles looked up at us with sad eyes, already missing his play-mate. I felt sad too, as I always do whenever the kids drive away. Ever since they left the nest, it's never been the same. An occasional visit is all I get now, but for that I am thankful. I have raised them to be independent. They have their own lives to live and I wouldn't have it any other way. Gary went downstairs to watch football while I grabbed my new book to begin reading.

My mind wandered to Christmases past when I was a child. How my mother loved Christmas!!! No one ever did Christmas like Mom did. My childhood home was decorated from room to room in all it's seasonal splendor. A tall, live blue spruce tree traditionally sat in the front window for all to see. Shiny ornaments sparkled and danced on each branch with rainbow-colored lights placed perfectly between them. Miniature dolls played house on faux snow covered window sills, and Dad's boy-hood train chugged on HO tracks placed around the tree; it's whistle blowing puffs of black smoke.

My mother was very poor as a child. I think Christmas was her time to 'make-up' for what she never had, herself. Stacks and stacks of pristine wrapped presents mingled beneath our tree: too many to count. Yet, my mother always knew how many gifts she purchased. There were five of children in our family and she made sure that each and every one of us had exactly the same number of gifts. No one ever had one less or one more. She even had a specific way of displaying the presents around the tree. She presented them in such a way so that there was never a bundle of presents for one child sitting in one place. Instead, each child had gifts evenly dispersed all around (and beyond) the bottom of the tree skirt. This way, 'Santa' never had the unfortunate opportunity to give two gifts in a row to the same child. Mother made sure that everything was always equal: right down to the number of trinkets in our Christmas stockings.

Speaking of stockings, ours were gifts in and among themselves. They were always filled beyond their brim; overflowing with delightful treasures. Some inside were wrapped and some were not. Before long I learned that the 'extra-special' stocking gifts were wrapped in colored foil paper and tied with curling ribbon. How I loved to rip open the the tiny foiled boxes! To my delight, I usually found a shiny new piece of jewelry embedded with colored gemstones hidden under a square of soft protective cotton. Real or not, each and every piece was a newly cherished possession.

Oh, and there was Christmas dinner! No one ever cooked or baked like my mother. Days and days before the holiday she began to roll out dough with her red handled, wooden rolling pin. Before long, creamy colored dough rolled in white flour covered every inch of our kitchen counter tops. Dough for pie crusts, cookie dough, bread dough, and dough for noodles. My mother baked pies from scratch (freshly squeezed lemon was her speciality) and roasted range- free turkey butchered from the farm in the next little town. No one ever left the table hungry and if they did it was their own fault. Mom always had enough food for at least twenty people (usually more), and leftovers were gobbled up with delight.

I find it only fitting that this Christmas evening I'm thinking of my mother. The first Christmas I must celebrate without her. The first Christmas where I didn't call her with exciting news of presents just received. The first Christmas that I couldn't brag to her of how well her recipes turned out for me. The first Christmas I am truly missing her. The first Christmas I know she is gone; never to share the holiday with me again.

This is the first Christmas filled of memories from my childhood spent with Mother, not so very long ago. Blessings from the past. Miracles from the present. Hopefulness for the future.

Merry Christmas Mother. I love you.