Thursday, December 31, 2009

Baby Steps into 2010

So, after two days of fireside ponderings in my p.j.s, I decided it was time to make myself get dressed and get out of the house. And the funniest thing happened: I ran into two fellow teachers who had made themselves get dressed and get out. It was a relief to find out that staying inside post-Christmas is not just for the momentarily grief-stricken-slash-paralyzed; it is also for the normal who need a change of scenery after all the hustle and bustle of the holidays. (Can I get a witness from all the moms of students in my class who are ready for a break come next Tuesday when my first grade classroom is open for business again?)

But today, it was time to tackle some paperwork in D's office. There are still some important papers I cannot locate. And I have a new resolve to get  things done by myself and not just rely on help from others.  (Well-meaning others who often run out of  good will before the task is completed.)

 I sorted and cleaned, disposed of and filed. I was relieved to learn that many of the same items that brought tears five months ago brought laughter today. Happy and reflective laughter. The sting of memories really does mellow with time.

So many of my bloggy friends are writing recaps of the last year. I found a 2-inch thick notebook of doctor's notes and medications that recapped my year. As I skimmed through page after page of  surgeries, procedures and diagnoses, I gave myself a little more credit for the exhaustion I often feel. I couldn't bear to dispose of that medical diary yet, so I put it in the nightstand drawer on D's side of the bed for now. I know that the day will come when it will be time to throw it away, and that thought brings me hope.

I hung up my new Mary Engelbreit calendar today, and was pleased to see pages unmarred by multiple doctors' appointments and testing dates. A virtual clean slate for a year that can be filled with health and happiness.

The Happiest of New Years to each of you. Looking forward to the updates of December 31, 2010 to see where the faithfulness of God has lead each one of us this year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miles to go before I sleep...

This was my view on my first day home. All day.

I drank good coffee, lit the Anthropologie candle Young Son's girl friend gave me for Christmas, and cuddled under an afghan made by Married Daughter. I caught up with a week's worth of newspapers and mail and never got out of my jammies. Food? I ordered pizza delivered. And I did little more than try to revive houseplants which hadn't been tended during the week I was in Missouri.

The good part of my trip: Time spent with my children and special friends. A white Christmas for the first time in my life. Laughter on a daily basis. No schedule; no make-up. (Should have rethought that decision after seeing pictures posted on Facebook.) No pressure; no reminders that this was my first Christmas without D.

The bad: Icy roads on the way home. A two-day drive that left my neck needing the massage gift certificate I received. Little signage on the Oklahoma roads that allow you to go a loooooooong way before you know you're headed in the wrong direction. 

The ugly: Return to reality. The holiday is over. I am again alone with my thoughts. 

I got an email from a friend asking how I was. She said that she always experiences some post-holiday let-down. Those words were a gift: a ticket back to normalcy, if you will. Even "normal" people have some readjustment after December 25. Because I feel like I am standing at the shore of an ocean of sadness, with the waves lapping at my feet. 

No two travels through grief can be the same. I guess I thought I'd skip through it all because I've always been a take-charge, A-type listmaker and multi-tasker. Surely I could whip this grief process into shape! 

Instead? It has  whipped me. I'm almost six months into the journey, and the person I was is no more. I don't want to talk or see friends right now. I don't care what the house looks like. And I can't imagine that there will really be true happiness down the road.

God: if you are trying to teach me to be more empathetic to others, You have my complete and undivided attention. Because I may just put another log on the fire and spend another day in my jammies. (Don't have to order pizza because yesterday's large should hold me for a few more days.) And I may just contemplate all of this a few more days.

And you know what? That is perfectly OK. I have decided to lay down all my plans,  agendas, and resolution making that put me in control of my healing and 2010. Because my efforts seem to be turning to sand between my fingers.

And I put myself into the hands of Someone Who has a better plan for me.  Plans that are for good, and promise me a future and a hope. 

Are you familiar with the verse that says, "Be still and know that I am God"? The word "know" translates from "know it by seeing it happen". My new vision of this verse is "Be still and watch Me do it".

I'm going to find a comfortable place to lean back, heal, and watch God put my life back together in 2010.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Taking the Road Less Traveled By

Today I went back to my church for the first time since losing D. To give you the short version: I was a mess. I sat in the back row with a sweet lady who is the mother/grandmother of friends. As I continued to pull out and use up my Kleenex, she patted and hugged on me and reminded me it was OK to cry.  She told me the lady sitting in front of us had just lost her husband. She invited me to her family's Christmas buffet that afternoon.  Nothing seemed to help: I was just a one woman waterwork.

I looked around the auditorium of the church I've attended for 14 years this month. The people there have been amazing to me and my family through our highs and lows. Our pastor encourages our congregation regularly to be "Jesus in skin" to those around us. To "see the need and meet the need" of the people in our lives.  His words this morning were encouraging and uplifting, as usual, but it was all I could do to not take my pile of damp Kleenex and exit the building. Quickly.  Certainly, it has nothing to do with this church or the precious people who attend it, but it is almost too hard to be there without D. I've wondered if I should just visit somewhere else, but I'm reminded of my promise to D to not make any major changes for a  year.

When I left after the service, I ran into a lady I've known as long as I've been at my church. She hugged me and asked how I was. I decided to be honest and told her I was sad. She inexplicably (how often do you get to use that word?) asked me why. I realized she did not know I'd lost D, and I was not going to be the one to tell her. Not now, not no how. I mumbled something about the season and hurried to my getaway car.

Good lesson in remembering that the world does not revolve around me, and my life is not on the forefront of everyone's mind. I have a sweet friend who gently reminded me recently that I have not been very plugged into my church in the seven years that D has battled cancer. We attended as much as we could, but have not been regulars in Bible Study or Family Groups (the two places that people in our church connect.) She told me this to help me understand that when people don't call or come by it is not because they don't care: it is because I have "fallen off the radar" through my prolonged absence.

I have a term I use when my six-year old students want to blame another student for their own actions: "You are the boss of your body." For example, when someone wants to tell me, "Well, Johnny made me do that", I always remind them that no one can make them do anything wrong, they made the choice to do the offending thing. (Which I find is much more effective then the old chestnut, "Well, if Johnny jumped off the roof, would you jump, too?") So, guess what? I am the boss of my body. If I want to reconnect with  the people around me, it is my responsibility to initiate it. Not to blame others for not being aware of every hairpin turn in my emotions and circumstances. Good to know.

And then a sweet thing happened tonight: the lady who had been sitting in front of me at church this morning called. She told me she'd heard this was my first Christmas alone, and that maybe we could get together later. She lost her husband just a few months before I lost D, so she is not much further down the road than I am. But she was reaching out to me. Because she is the boss of her body. And she apparently chooses to extend a hand (and not point a finger) if she is feeling low. 

And when Christmas is finally over? I'm taking that hand. And, hopefully, extending mine to someone  else. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Deck the Halls...and the Teachers

There always has to be a Last Day of School, before the holidays free us from a classroom filled with more excitement than it can contain. My classroom had a book exchange, I gave my students books and "Snowman Soup".
We watched The Charlie Brown Christmas DVD,  undecorated the room, and exploded out of our portable building the moment the final bell rang. 18 days of freedom for all!

Including teachers, who are known to wear some pretty extreme  Ho Ho Holiday ensembles. Here is one of my esteemed colleagues with Extreme Teacher Makeover: Christmas Edition.

I am so very glad she did not wear the matching earrings. Her earlobes would have never recovered.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Talking it Out

One of my favorite things in life has always been having long and satisfying talks with friends. We'd visit and I'd always feel like my heart was full and my life was sorted out. I figured out long ago that words fill me up. 

I realize part of the reason I occasionally feel so empty   is that I don't spend as much time with people as I used to. I remember being on the phone with a friend soon after D died, when I burst into tears. "Why are you crying?" she asked very gently. "I can't think of anything to say!" I told her honestly. For me, that was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

That self-confession has stayed with me. There  have been many times recently when I am with people and I can think of absolutely nothing to talk about. I have found it helps to go out with more then one friend at a time. That way if all my words dry up, I have a backup friend to fill in the conversational gaps.

This week I made a date to meet  a dear friend at Starbucks after school. I taught her children for a total of four years and we are interconnected in countless ways. The closer I got to my next Pumpkin Spice Latte, the more I worried about having enough words to carry a conversation.

Well, kill the fatted calf: the prodigal tongue has returned. We sat down at 4:30 pm for a short chat and an exchange of Christmas gifts, and the next time we looked at our watches it was 9:30 pm. In  between, we talked about our kids, our jobs, loss, and life. She showed me different ways to tie the darling scarf she gave me, and I laughed at how often her girls and husband were texting her to see when she would be home. 

D used to be amazed when my friends and I would shut down restaurants with our long talks. "What can you possibly talk about for that long?" he'd ask me. I couldn't always fill in all the details for him, but even the short version left him reeling. Some people feel depleted by long conversations. Imagine that.

So, perhaps another piece has been fit into this puzzle of healing. Talking fills me up, and I seem to be able to carry on long conversations again with friends. Thanks, C, for just being your normal, wonderful self. Full of compassion and laughter, you light up any room you are in. Married Daughter has long said of C, "Mom, she is not just a friend: she is a quality friend." 

And a quantity friend as well: lots of words to share, lots of words to listen to. 

 Starbucks and friends? I'm baaaaaack.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Many More Days?

For no apparent reason, I had the Ugly Cry on the way to school today. About half way there, I began reminding myself of joyful things like the Class Holiday Party this afternoon. Thinking happy thoughts so the puffiness would go down before the six year olds entered the building. (My back up plan was a story about my allergies making my eyes red.)

I honestly don't think it is the holidays that are making me sad. I have so disengaged from the December calendar, I was shocked to hear a man in Macy's yesterday declaring, "Only 10 more days until Christmas!" There is certainly nothing assembled, hung or wrapped in my house that would remind me of the impending holiday deadline.

I think it is just finally hitting me that D is really gone, will remain gone, and life as I knew it will not return. Why it takes five months to get to this destination known as Reality, I do not know. I think that shock must wear off, and processing the situation must begin. The December calendar page facing me is only an ironic coincidence.

One of the main things I am coming to terms with is if I want to do something with someone, I must seek a person out. D is no longer nearby in his lift chair as a continual partner for my outings. My problem is I really don't want to do anything with anyone at this point. I think I am still recovering from seven years of D's cancer, and the emotional roller coaster ride that accompanied it. Being alone and quiet is a good thing for me right now. I think I was like that famed rat in the hot water pot on the stove: he kept swimming around as the water got hotter and hotter. He got used to it until he eventually met his untimely end at the water's boiling point. I think I have probably been at "boiling point" for a long time without realizing it. And the letting go and letting down is difficult, but necessary for healing.

In the meantime? Let the celebration begin with the class party. Sugar cookies are pouring in by the dozen, boxed drinks are chilling on the portable's porch, and there is a bag of popcorn that may have my name on it.

2010 will surely be better.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Keeping It Simple

The first year I had my own classroom, I was all about The Celebrating at Christmas . We counted down the days until Christmas with little Oscar the Grouches glued on wreaths, removing one a day for the month before the Big Day. We made Christmas gifts for the parents, leaving glitter on every conceivable surface, where I am sure it remains to this day. If there had been an open fire, we would have roasted chestnuts on it. Did I mention that I had 35 fifth graders that year? In an Air Force Base community that had a rotating door on every classroom.  I ended the year with only a small percentage of my original litter of students. And I must ask myself, with you as my witness, WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Well, apparently I wasn't thinking. I was still young enough in 1981 that I'm not sure my frontal lobe was fully developed. My processing skills were severely hampered, and I was missing the gray matter that should have signaled to me: "Danger, Will Robinson. Avoid extra stimulation in the classroom during the pre-holiday season at all cost." Because there is plenty of excitement oozing from the childrens' pores without a teacher feeding the flame with an afternoon of sugar cookie decorating, popcorn stringing, and tree trimming. And placing the desks in a circle around the tree for a week, so we could admire its flashing and blinking lights synched to Christmas music. I wish I could say I was kidding or even exaggerating. What I can say is: if you were a 5th grader in the early 80s in a school district northwest of Fort Worth, I apologize with all my heart for the month of learning you missed out on. I hope you  went on to the college of your choice, not hampered by a huge black hole created in your brain while we made green and red paper chains instead of working on long division.

Fast forward to December 2009. I am in a portable classroom with 19 six-year olds who are sure that Santa is on his way. Their brains quit translating the noises coming out of my mouth weeks ago, and they can only decipher a steady stream of "blah, blah, blahs" floating around my head. Not unlike visions of sugar plums. At any moment I can look down and see at least one child spinning on the carpet for no apparent reason except it is there. I can shake my head "no" in any direction and five children will immediately stop what they are doing. Holiday Decorating in my room is at a minimum. These last weeks of December have been designated by the State as Time To Test in all subject areas, and then Enter the Data Online. There is no time for holly being jolly, or the fire being delightful while the weather outside is frightful. This is Testing Time, by golly! Except I'm pretty sure the kids did not get the memo.

So what is a teacher to do when her room is engulfed in the great shadow that is the looming Holiday Season? Exactly what we should all be doing: Sitting on the floor with the children. Singing holiday songs. Reading silly holiday books that make us all laugh and roll on the carpet even  more. And looking straight into those bright little eyes, because that is the best part of all. They are excited because everything is new to them at age six; everything contains possibilities and promise.

Loyal Sister bought this sweet minimal tree for my classroom. Don't you love it? Charlie Brown originally got his tree to "set the mood" for the holiday that had been taken over by commercialism.  I don't see that among my  classroom crowd. When asked what they wanted for Christmas, the majority wanted a machine that would make them fly, not a Zhu Zhu pet. I hope there is a collective "ahhhhhhhh!" going up from the audience. They are just simple in their wants and needs. Extraordinarily loud, but still simple.

I end with a quote  from one of my favorite bloggers, a mom of triplets, "My hands are full, but so is my heart." May it always be for all of us during this precious season of wonder.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fruit Does Not Fall Far From the Tree

Since I've started this blog, I've had several people tell me that my writing moved them in a very special way. While I was flattered, I never really understood exactly what they were saying.

Until yesterday. When I opened my Christmas card from Married Daughter and saw her picture and Christmas letter. And now I understand what being moved to the point of tears by words is all about. I've asked her if I can share some of her words here:

"What a roller coaster of a year...change has been the theme of our year for sure!

"My dad, Dave O'Brien, went to be with Jesus on July 13th after battling his various cancers for over seven years. I don't like to say that he lost his battle--I know he would have fought as long as it took to make sure everyone was taken care of and all the loose ends were tied up. Always the planner, I like to think that Dave finally gave himself permission to go with dignity, knowing that he had done everything in his power he could for all of us, and now he could finally rest and go home. Even now, my mom will call and say that she has found another thing that he hid away for her to find-money for a trip to Italy he wanted her to take, her name on the bottom of a table that she loved, a Bible he bought for her before he got so sick...little I-love-you's left behind for rainy days. He was such a wonderful man. You know , all he really had to do when he married my mom was be a good husband to her, but instead, he took it upon himself to be a father to my brother and me and show us what love really looked like. He changed my whole outlook on men and proved there are still good ones out there who are faithful to their word and take care of their families. We all loved him dearly and still feel the void in our hearts, but it is comforting to know that he is once again whole, happy, in no pain and home with the Jesus that he loved so much. One day we will see him again...knowing Dave, he will have some witty thing to say to us that he's been planning up there for years! My sweet mom, who I admire so much for her strength and faith in the Lord, is doing well, taking it day by day. I hope that she will begin to write and use her gift to publish books (maybe then we can all retire early and just go on tropical vacations together!) I can't even begin to imagine what she has been through in this year, but she trusts that God is in control and He will meet her in the middle of her pain and heal her heart, as He will for all of us with time. Mom, you are so brave and Dave would be extremely proud of how well you have dealt with everything this year. He loved you and if anyone deserved to be loved that much, it is definitely you!"

Well, (back to me, the blogwriter), pass out the Kleenex for Mom. Thank you, sweet Daughter! Can't wait to see you next week for a special Christmas.

I truly understand the power of words.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Maybe we SHOULD be decking the halls with holly...

Poinsettias.

Have you ever been able to keep one alive past the month of December? I have a friend who buys a dozen each year for a band concert. He swears he can hear them whispering "Assassin" when he enters the store.

I'm not even sure they are a flower. I think they are leaves that are photosynthesisically altered. (I did make that word up, but it seems to work.) Starved for light, they protest in bright red. 

Someone gives me at least one poinsettia plant per year. I always shake my head in sympathy at the plant, knowing it has a shelf life in my house. Expiration date: December 26. It is very difficult for me to want to nurture a plant that involves keeping it alive for 12 more months (and two of those months must be spent in and out of a regimented dark closet schedule). I know that Lowe's will have them for $5 again next year, so what is the point? It is hard to have simpatico for a plant that requires spell check each time it is mentioned.

With all my spare time in the evening, I read a website by the University of Illinois about this plant. This hallowed institution claims that, contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous. They reference a study by their friends at Ohio State University who state that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts (the modified leaves in the center of the "flower") might only suffer a "slight tummy ache".  I wasn't aware that laboratory rats had been replaced by small children for research involving supposedly poisonous substances. ("Here little Johnny, why don't you try a bushel barrel full of these yummy  bracts...")

More reasons to love this plant? It gives off a milky sap that can cause skin irritation. (But no stomach ache, apparently.) Fresh poinsettias have little pollen; a plant that sheds pollen is about to lose its leaves. (Useful information akin to thumping a watermelon for ripeness.) 74% of people prefer red poinsettias, and Disneyworld/land will only display the crimson ones for the viewing pleasure of their holiday crowds.

A last sobering factoid: 80% of these plants are purchased by women who are aged 40 or above. I happen to know that is a snapshot of my blog-reading demographic. (Except for Patty Raines' girls who are so kind to stop by and read the rants and raves of their mother's old friend.) In a six week period, you all will help purchase 61 million plants, of which 27 will still be alive in February. Spreading the love with a shedding poinsettia on Valentine's Day.

In writing this blog entry, I found out that today is National Poinsettia Day, and I am so glad to do my part in helping you recognize and celebrate this fact. This day was instituted by an Act of Congress with lobbying efforts by the Paul Ecke Ranch, which raises 80% of the plants in the US and gave the start to 90% of poinsettias in the world.  If you've purchased a plant, you are a small cog in the wheel of the Christmas Machine that will be unplugged in a few weeks.

So, Happy National Poinsettia Day. And join me later this week when we will be discussing all things tinsel, fruitcake and inflatable front yard Christmas decorations. Because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a 9 foot Santa on a Harley.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Balancing Acts

Long time, no blog. Yet my view numbers  continue to climb. Thanks for coming back to check on me, blog world. 

Here's the deal: holidays this year are just hard. I'm sad if I decide not to do something because it will bring back memories. I'm sad if I do something because it brings back memories. Can't seem to win. 

There is nary a light or decoration up in my home, and yet there is still that low  cloud hanging around. Where are there happy holiday memories?

Well, let's look to the first grade classroom for The Happy. Yesterday I read a book to my class about a little girl who knew Santa's address: Santa, North Pole. There was a veritable stampede to the writing center to write another wish letter. Just in case. If six year olds who Still Believe don't put a smile on your face, nothing will. 

We continue to have school in December and pretend that we are learning something. Reading tests are  administered and report card grades are  entered online, but the students' minds   have exited the building and no one is home.  It's all those sugarplums dancing in their heads, and  checking to see if reindeer really know how to fly. 

And it does not help that there is a new assembly announced each day, followed by a Book Fair, Art Walk, Holiday Program rehearsal/performance, and Lock Down drill (since we are a few behind for the semester).

Yes, primo learning going on: your tax dollars at work. But Oh, the Joy! among the first graders. Wouldn't you love to be that age again, with nary a care in the world? And only 6 more school days (that include a class party WHERE WE CAN EAT SUGARY FOODS) until 18 days off. Time to anticipate Santa, then celebrate the bounty. And plan what to bring in for show and tell. Can't wait.

So, in the scale of life? Some things are very sad right now. But some are happy. I can't say that the bubble is plumb, but I think eventually it will be. Hopefully sooner than later. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter Wonderland...Texas Style

If you are from the central Texas area, you may want to move along. Not much new for you here today.

The weatherman starting predicting snow earlier this week for Friday afternoon. How he can know these things in an area that only sees a slight flurry once every three years, I have no idea. But guess what? Six year olds listen to the weather, apparently. And there was a secret underground of drums pounding out the message. (Much the same way that at any moment you can ask any child, "What is the present Happy Meal toy at McDonalds?" And they always know.)

Every mother's child arrived at my classroom Friday morning fully expecting to be re-creating Frosty at recess. This did wonders for all academic endeavors all morning. After lunch, we bundled up and headed out to recess. It was cold, but no white stuff falling from the sky.

I took my unfulfilled snowbunnies-in-waiting back into the room when recess was over, and the disappointment was palatable. I promised them that if we saw snow out the window everyone could quickly get a coat on, line up and we'd go outside immediately...if they could just try to, you know, do a little WORK until that happened. (Quality of all papers was severely compromised by continual glances out the window.) Well, seems we'd begun to settle into our language arts period when the first report rang out: "IT IS SNOWING!" A mad scramble for coats and the door. I have never zipped and buttoned so many in so little time. 

We were able to make it outside for the 15 minute Central Texas Snow Show of 2009. There were actually flakes swirling. Not sticking, but they could be caught on clothes and tongues. The entire school poured out on the playground. (Thank you fellow teachers, for realizing this may be the only snow, pitiful as it was, the children may see for years in central Texas. It was definitely more important than any Friday afternoon work that we had planned.) And then an amazing thing happened: the sun came out and the flakes still continued to fall. I've lived a while on this earth and I've never seen that. We were quite impressed.

I keep a blog for my classroom, and if you want to see the cutest kids known to man enjoying the Texas version of snow (look closely for a few flakes), click here.

Somehow, I do not think the school children of Alberta, Canada could possibly enjoy the snow as much as we did yesterday. And we'll be looking for it again in 2014.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

I opened my new front door Sunday evening, and look what I saw:

A whole lot of happy, that's what!

Some of the youth from my church stopped by to carol. I stood there and laughed with them when they kept mangling the verses of the song. They gave me candy canes and a lot of smiles, hugs and love.  And they were much appreciated.

For the most part, I am just skipping Christmas this year. (Do not panic, adult children o'mine: I've already wrapped your gifts.) But the decorating? It is just not going to happen.  You  want to know something interesting? I didn't put the decorations up until December 22 last year as evidenced by this blog from a year ago.  Back then, I had walking pneumonia and  missed a special friend's brunch and D's office party. The tree went up with hours to spare before our Christmas guests arrived in 2008. This year my reason for not pulling the red and green containers out is just a tad different.

One Christmas tradition that has left me in a quandary is ye olde annual Christmas letter and picture. I've never missed a year. I trooped on over to Sam's Club last Sunday to see which picture I should copy in multiples and mail to the masses. I scanned in pictures of all the kids and knew at forty cents a copy I may not be inserting a photo in every card. A sales lady came over and said, "If you get 100 photo cards, you get a special price of $15." Hmmm. Yes, please.

The next hurdle was composing the letter. I have found it is best to assume that people know about D. We decided we'd do our little "what happened during the last year" blurbs, and then we'd add a special memory of D as a little memorial.

I love the memories the kids chose:

K: My favorite memory of Dave was at our wedding. He was unable to walk me down the aisle, but he met me at the front and led us all in a family prayer. Except he was too choked up to pray. But that was OK. He always made me feel so supported.

H: When I was a little girl, Dad used to cut my hair. Unfortunately, I was a wiggly child and he could never get it even. Once I kept spinning on his work stool while he cut it, and it turned out really short. It looked even shorter after he rolled it in foam curlers!

C: On our first Christmas together, Dave dressed up like Cousin Eddie from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" movie with a thin white v-necked sweater and a black dickey. He kept a straight face the entire time, so we weren't sure if he was serious or not. He kept us laughing with his dry sense of humor.

E:I loved the time Dad took me to the AnimeFest in Dallas. We did so many fun things since Dad was so into making sure we go t the most out of it. I never have to think hard to find a good memory of Dad, but that was one of the greatest experiences of all with him.

And my contribution: Dave left behind many ways to let me know that I was loved and cared for: I found a playlist created for me on his Ipod, an envelope with money for a trip to Italy and special inscriptions written on the bottom of several pieces of furniture he built for me. He is never far from my heart or my thoughts.

We are still walking this journey toward healing from  tremendous loss, but we are so blessed to have family and friends who walk alongside us. Certainly there is no better time of year to remember the hope and great joy that is ours:

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign unto you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on who his favor rests." (Luke 2:11-14)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings...

I think I may be waking up a bit. This is evidenced by the fact that I am actually feeling deeper emotions than just "I don't care, it doesn't matter" when things happen to me.

This showed up as, what is it called again? Slight anger. I felt it at IKEA this morning at 10 am. I arrived to find a sign taped to the door that says, "We are sorry! The ad was wrong! We will be opening an hour later at 11:00 am! Happy Holidays!" I was there to get a piece of furniture that is a "Door Buster" marked 75% off for a family member who shall remain unnamed in case (s)he is reading this. Except the doors are not busting open for another hour. I grab a cart and start a line at the door. And begin the wait. Along with many others. Apparently, breakfast was offered for free! in this incorrect ad, so now many hungry children are joining the crowd. Hungry children waiting in line for an hour as a cold front blows in. Good times.

At ten minutes to 11:00, an employee comes out with a bullhorn which is quite close to my first-in-line face. He instructs us all to make a line along the wall! (My relocation makes me last in line.) He instructs not to run or push! He instructs us there are plenty of Door Busters available! (These IKEA employees are just full of exclamation points!)

The door opens and I complete my rapid journey through the mouse maze that is IKEA, and find the Door Busters at the end by the check- out counters. There are some left, and they are packed flat in  very heavy boxes. There are five employees standing nearby trading stories from last night's glories. I go to ask an employee for help in getting a box into my cart and she lifts a finger at me. You know, the finger that says, "Wait a minute: I'm talking to someone. I'll get to you in a minute or ten." And then she finishes listening to the cute male employee's story, laughs gleefully and turns toward me with a huff. And maybe an eyeroll.  But I want this Door Buster, so I zip my lips until it is safely in my basket. And I marvel that this is hitting my emotional radar. This, as Martha says when she is not dissing Rachel Ray, is  a good thing: I am feeling emotions again.

This holiday break was so full of good friends and sweet family; interesting activities and good conversation. But in the pit of my heart and stomach was this constant ache just lurking under the surface. Unwanted but not unexpected. I am, as my grief class suggests, learning to lean into the pain.

When I hear the radio playing the song sung at D's service? I let myself cry instead of getting busy and ignoring it. When I go through D's closet deciding which shirts to save to make a lap quilt out of? I allow a sadness to settle over me that seems to have no bottom at the moment. When I can't get the Door Buster out of the car because it is still too heavy (and there are no eye-rolling employees or husband to help),  I go inside the house for the ugly cry knowing that I can call someone for help later. 

I was thinking yesterday that what if, theoretically, there was a certain amount of tears that had to fall before the pain was gone?  If I bottle them up or hold them back, the final tally is a long time coming. If I allow those tears to come every time they are close to the surface and threatening to spill over the lids onto my newly purchased waterproof mascara? Well, maybe I'll meet that mythical quota sooner.

Leaning into the pain. Allowing the tears to come. Feeling the emotions. Those are good things.

And Martha? Leave our girl Rachel alone. I'm feeling for her, too.




Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Holidays

It's been a very full and busy few days around here. We had Wednesday off from school, and people from my church showed up to paint my house! The weather was beautiful, and it was wonderful just to be outside in the cool and sunshine. We are a long way from the record breaking heat of  a Texas summer, and for that we are all very thankful.

This family is dear to my heart. I taught their son/grandson in kindergarten and third grade. He is now a high school junior and was also a painter that day. Three generations showed up to paint and bless my heart.

This guy painted diligently for hours. I had his sister in second grade and he is one of the hardest workers you will ever see.
And this? It's my new front door! Not red yet, but getting there. 
Thank you friends for your love and hard work. I am very thankful for you all!
On Thursday, we had lunch at Loyal Sister's house. Our tribe has dwindled, but a good time was had by all. Young Son came home with me to help me figure out how to unplug and reconfigure all the electronics in D's office that are no longer in use. We got to have a good long talk about his present plans (graduate in May from college), his future plans (teach abroad in South Korea, Thailand or South Africa) and our dream to go on an Alaska cruise. At the same time I headed for bed, he headed for a party with friends. Ahhh, youth.

And what is this? Friday's alarm going off!
Obviously it is AM not PM. A friend from High School (whose son married my daughter...if you've read this blog long, you know how much I love repeating that phrase as often as possible...) and her daughters came to pick me up for predawn shopping. It was not for the faint of heart.

HEB Plus (if you are not from Texas: it is a grocery store on steroids) opened at 5:00 am. When we arrived, the line snaked around the building and around the entire complex. It began moving quickly. We reached the front door at 5:03 am and a man was already emerging with a discounted big screen TV. We have a winner!

The scene below was amazing for the sheer amount of people who are willing to be squeezed into a small space for all manner of deeply discounted electronics. To their credit, the store set up quasi-town criers to announce when the department was out of Wii's or flat screen specials, so you could move onto the $5 board games or $3 DVDs.
The end of the trail was the outlet mall a few miles from my house. I never think to shop there, but this sweet family was determined to find the sales. It was very helpful that one of the daughters is a fashion merchandising major who will graduate in a few weeks. It was kind of like having my own personal fashion consultant who knew her way around a Coach store. (Well, really any apparel-related store.)

And did I mention Coach? I found a bargain too good to pass up and I am now the proud owner of a bag that that was just what I wanted! And it was half off of half off plus 50% off and an additional 20% off for being there before 7 am. (Could I make that up?) I think they may have given me money to take it. If you know me at all, you are aware that I am not a shopper and rarely splurge on myself. This was evidenced by the replying text from my Married Daughter, "A Chi, red luggage and now a Coach bag? Who are you and what have you done with my mother!"
"Strings of street lights, even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures..."

Today holds a trip to the metropolis of Waco to meet another daughter for lunch (accompanied by Loyal Sister) and catch up on her life. And there may be  a few stops on the interstate to peruse some great antique stores on the way... 

So thankful for family and friends who bless me continually.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

E.O.B. (Equal Opportunity Blog)

Yesterday's blog was on Young Son; today we'll share the blogspot with Married Daughter. Motherhood has taught me many things about keeping things fair and equal. I may just have to do a word count comparison when I'm done to be sure the scales of life balance on this page.

In a quick synopsis, my oldest daughter married the son of one of my best friends from high school days two years ago. A marriage made in Mother Heaven. The bad news is they left the church, amidst bubbles and kisses, to move to Clinton, Missouri. (Which is 597 miles, or 961 kilometers, away from home. But who is counting?)

I've consoled myself over the years by keeping a running list of all the times we have seen each other since. So far, the tally is 15 visits: some for fun reasons, but many included sad occasions. The good news is that we've learned to bridge this distance gap and see each other as often as we can.

I may have mentioned a time or twenty how much I admire this young couple. They both make good salaries, but have determined their first priority is to pay off college student loans and debt of any sort. They've made steady progress, but as a result they've had to put off things like new furniture and fancy vacations. (They've also sacrificed all their vacation time to come help me during D's past surgeries, recoveries and finally, funeral services.)

They've found their place in their newly adopted small town. They've made "couple" friends, found a strong church home and have given to their neighborhood and community. And just when life began to have an even keel? Young son-in-law was offered a promotion that required a move to Pennsylvania. (That is 1321 miles or 2125 kilometers from here. We seem to be moving in the wrong direction.)

My daughter's take on this move when she (gently) broke the news to me? "Well, we learned how to move in, make friends and find a church pretty quickly. I think we can do that anyplace we move."

WOW. All I have ever wanted is to stay in one place forever. And that hasn't happened. What God spoke to my heart years ago was that life is not about stability: it is about having the ability to change. Because you better believe change is around every corner. Seems at half my age, my daughter has already learned that lesson.

My hat is off to them both for their good attitudes, because the job her husband is in will probably involve  more moves in the future. Right now they are in a mad rush to finish projects that will leave their home ready to sell before the first of the year. But they are willing to stop and welcome me and Young Son for Christmas amidst their packing-up and painting. And I know we will have a wonderful visit.

So, here is to the young couple: may your move go smoothly, your house sell for  a profit and your future hometown contain many good friends and  a church that feels like home. Can't wait to visit you in Pennsylvania in 2010. (And wondering if you know the company has a branch in Texas 132 miles or 212 kilometers from home? Just saying.)

God speed to my favorite couple. Your attitude inspires me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

Hope I didn't completely traumatize you with my last little tirade on grief stages, bad movies and Black Friday shopping.

Today, let's talk about The Happy.

Yesterday, I got to meet the parents of Young Son's girlfriend. This is the first time this has ever happened, and I believe he was very nervous. Or, as my grandmother used to say, as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I asked what to wear for this Sunday brunch meeting. He began by saying it didn't matter, and then launched into, "Not too dressy, but dressier than if we were eating at Magnolia Cafe." (OK: that told me nothing since I've never eaten there and we would not be eating there for this meal.) Information 2.0: "Well, I'll be wearing my shirt with snaps." (OK: he always wears those retro shirts with pearl snaps. Foreshadowing: said shirt was IRONED when I arrived. I didn't even know he owned an iron.) He later texted and it said, "Wear what ever you want. Probably what you wore to church would be good." Hmmmm. Think this may be a little more important than first anticipated.

Young Son's girlfriend has the same name as Married Daughter's husband, so we usually call her Jo2. This makes Young Son a little nervous (see above grandmother endearment), so I refrained from that at brunch. We had a wonderful time Meeting the Parents, and the youngsters were very relieved that we all behaved. Her parents are from out of town, so we did a little driving around and showed them where Young Son is working during HIS FINAL SEMESTER OF COLLEGE SINCE ALL SYSTEMS ARE GO FOR MAY GRADUATION. (Uh, I may be a little excited about that fact.) Anyhoo, he just began a job working at one of the two restaurants owned by Sandra Bullock (yes, the one you are thinking of) and her sister. So, we toured by it. On our drive we passed a very large and very old miniature golf place. "Let's play miniature golf!" enthused Young Son and his girlfriend. Ahhhh. Youth. But now they were on a roll, "No, I know: let's play Frisbee Golf!!!!!!"

(Let me remind my readers my last clothing instructions included wearing "church clothes". And now I am on my way to play Frisbee Golf!!!! with my new friends.)

And guess what? We had a wonderful time playing nine holes on a perfect autumn afternoon. After about hole 5, I stopped pretending I could flip a frisbee and enjoyed the walking and the watching. Young Son, however, is something of a pro at the wrist flick, and I asked him if he ever really, I don't know: went to class? Or did he play the Frisbee Golf!!! circuit during all waking hours? Perhaps this is why he chose Frisbee Golf!!! for our afternoon's activity. Showing the parents what he is made of. Wise choice, Young Son, wise choice.

And? A good time was had by all. I think I passed the test in his eyes. I can behave, get along with others and dress appropriately when coached correctly. I can't play Frisbee Golf!!!, but I can teach six-year olds how to read. And behave so as not to elicit the dreaded, "MOM! You're embarrassing me!" that was such a staple of the teenaged years.

In an equal opportunity announcement: next post will be about Married Daughter. Because they keep score. And both bring me much equal amounts of happiness. Now that those teenaged years are over for us all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Grieving, Bad Movies and Shopping

A headline in a magazine caught my attention this weekend. It said "Good News on Grieving". It reviews a new book  called "The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss". It is about how we process loss, and psychology professor/author George A. Bonanno says the conventional wisdom is wrong.

To quote:

Q: Aren't there five stages of grief? 
A: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) were for people facing their own deaths. No research extended those to bereavement. (Italics mine.)

Q: What does your research show?
A: There are three grieving patterns: 10-15% of people have chronic difficulties, 15-20% struggle for months and then recover, and well over 50% show resilience.

Q: What do you mean by resilience? 
A: People are deeply pained, but from the beginning they can function.
They oscillate between turning inward, to face the fact that the loved one is gone, and turning outward.

Q: Why are so many people resilient?
A: Any nomadic creature who spent time grieving would have been left behind. We seem to have the equipment to deal with very difficult things.

These few words have stopped me in my tracks this weekend. How often have you thought of the stages of grieving or even quoted them to a hurting person? I know I have used this little taxonomy many times. It has invaded the grieving process. If it is indeed erroneous, many (including moi), will need a new lens to look at grieving through.

I am not saying I am through the grieving process. (Evidenced by being asked to return to my grief class next semester. First class I ever "failed"!) But this certainly affirms that maybe, just maybe, I'm further along then I thought. I've had that sneaking suspicion on some occasions, but people continue to tell me that I am in "denial" or "bargaining", and I duck my head and think, "DRAT! I still have many stages to go! I thought I was doing better and I haven't even gone through stage 4: depression."

And maybe I won't have to go through depression. Certainly I don't want to, and that has never been part of my personality makeup. So why would it be now? Just saying.

I'm not through thinking through the repercussions of this study, but it has made me how aware of many things we are exposed to through the written word and marketing that may not be totally true if taken at face value.

For example, the new movie "A Christmas Carol". It was purposely released early with the express marketing wish that families would return to see it again as the holiday drew nearer. Double dipping the audience, as it were. The advertisement says, "Share the magic of the holidays with your family!" Loyal Sister and I bit, and went to see if we could gather a little of that holiday magic yesterday.

SPOILER ALERT:  There was no magic or laughter anywhere in the movie. It is dark and scary and depressing (maybe I did work through a little of that grief stage watching this movie!). I cannot imagine taking a child to this movie. The only reason I think we stayed until the end is we were at a theater that serves food and we had some pretty good pizzas sitting before us. We also believed that there would be a stomping good ending that would make up for all the gloom, doom and disaster. How wrong we were. If my bloggy opinion counts for anything, do not attend this movie for holiday cheer. And do not take  a small child to this movie for any reason.

Just how, you are wondering, did I get from the five supposed-stages of grief to a movie review? Marketing: it is all about marketing. What the conventional wisdom tries to tell us we need. I want a world view that is based on The Truth, not the opinion or who can advertise the most successfully.

Because the 10-pound paper is landing on your lawn on Thursday before the turkey is cooked. And it will be full of enough adds to cover your living room floor when they are scattered about.  They are selling the image of What Will Make Your Christmas Merry. (And truth be told? I will be out at predawn sales with some dear friends just for the time together. I always finish with my holiday shopping before the insanity starts.) 

You know the drill:  don't get sucked under by the promises of lots of presents=lots of happiness. Remember last year? Well, to quote Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results."

Focus on the family and friends. Focus on what you are already blessed with. May there be a blessing of peace on you and yours during this media-crazed season that started before Halloween this year. And might inch its way back to July 4th eventually.

Keeping the Real Reason for the Season before us all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Faded Photographs

Tonight was my final GriefShare class, and we had a little extra homework: we were to bring a picture of our late loved ones to class. I pondered which one I should take for a long time. I have a little portrait gallery going on the side of the sink where D's shaving supplies used to reside, so I have a lot to pick from.

I decided to get up early this morning to choose my shot. As one who had always sprung from the bed before the alarm clock sounded, my new and not-improved later bedtime causes me to hear the annoying beeping go off at times. That is one angry little machine, isn't it? My sympathy to you who have had to listen to that droning sound for lo, those many years.

Anyhoo, I narrowed my choices down to a few:

The shot of us on our honeymoon in Hawaii. We are standing under a banyon tree and looking like the two happiest people on earth. Because we were. Those were ten of the most wonderful days of my life, and we actually discussed staying there and sending for the kids.

One picture from our annual New Year's Eve celebration at San Francisco Steakhouse. That particular year, the two older girls were at a lock-in with the youth group at church. The two younger kids went with us in their fanciest duds. And ordered hot dogs.  Everyone is wearing big grins above their satisfied tummies. (Another loss? That restaurant is now a Chinese Buffet. That is just wrong on so many levels..)

The Facebook-style photograph we took of ourselves at H's graduation from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. We were thrilled about this first college graduation among the kids and glad to be doing the tourist thing in D.C. (Except that the Smithsonian, featuring Kermit the Frog and Dorothy's ruby red slippers, was closed for repairs.)

But my final choice? The portrait from daughter K's wedding. Due to complication of the cancer, D had his leg amputated six weeks before the ceremony. We had hoped that we could put the surgery off so that he could walk her down the aisle. That didn't happen, so he met her at the front with his walker to lead the family in prayer. Not a dry eye in the house. He was a brave man, and his eyes were shining with joy in the picture. It is my very favorite one of the two of us together. I've thanked the photographer many times for what those shots have meant to me. Her profession seems like a ministry  as she preserves memories through her work.

I discovered one interesting thing while going through the stack of pictures today. Where I had spent an inordinate amount of time remembering D's death in the past four months, I realized that I had started to think of the happy memories of our time together. Surely that is proof of progress in this journey.

We shared our pictures with each other in grief class tonight, and told what our loved ones meant to us. It was a very warm and  uplifting time. We've walked  many  miles together since we began this class 14 weeks ago. A lot of tears have fallen into countless boxes of Kleenexes. But a lot of smiles have begun emerging.

I think I will probably  "re-up" for the next class session, which begins in early January. I'm sure I'll hear things differently as the fog continues to lift. 

Trying to count it all joy, and believe that all I am learning from this experience will help someone else down the road. And glad for pictures that captured tangible memories of a precious one that I don't want to forget.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Newness of Life

Well, life goes on and calendar pages continue to turn. It's been four months since this unexpected journey through grief began. In many ways I feel I've just begun the healing. I'm only now starting to understand that D is really, truly not coming back. And our favorite saying to each other? "Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be".  Not going to happen. There is just this gaping hole where the future begins now. I believe it will be filled in eventually. Just not anytime soon.

You know what else goes on? Home improvement projects. I'm determined to fix up D's office first. It was originally a bonus room at the back of the garage, and he remade it with wonderful wood trim and a hardwood floor. Very much  a picture of the Craftsman era when things were handmade with excellence. My goal was to find an antique trunk to use as a coffee table in front of his couch.

I started searching Craigslist with a price, style and stain color in mind. After about three weeks of daily searching: BINGO! The seller's address was located only a few miles from my home. I thought of taking a friend with me, but decided I could do it "all by my bigself" as my kids used to say when they were toddlers.

When I went to view the chest, I was amazed at how perfect it was for me. I asked why they were selling it. Talk about picking at a fresh scab! Apparently, the young wife had bought new furniture that looked great in the showroom. In the reality of their small den? There wasn't the extra room for a dog to walk through, let alone for a coffee table. It was a very nice set of furniture. It was just very big.  Buyer's remorse hung like a cloud over the house, and I decided to seal the deal quickly.

This was my first Craigslist rodeo, and I thought I should  see if they'd take any less. The wife would go down a little, but no one had change.  Including me: the pitiful haggler. I paid the original price, and the husband sadly loaded the chest in my van. He patted the top a few times like he would miss it. And he returned to the house and his newly crowded den with a big sigh.

Score! I now had the perfect coffee table for D's office. But no way to get it in the house. I kept watching for neighbors to be out in the yard this weekend, but no sightings. A friend from church stopped by to see why my garage door opener's lights did not work, and he carried in the chest for me. (Ummm, the lights didn't work because there were no lightbulbs in it. I have a lot to learn in the home maintenance area.)

I didn't like the little ball feet on the chest, so I removed them. I can learn new tricks, apparently.  The table is just right in every way and gives me hope that the office will be a fitting tribute to D's work. I'm so proud of my Craigslist plunder that I go into the room often just to flip on the light and admire it anew.

Another thing I'm admiring? MY NEW FRONT DOOR! It is not red (yet), but painting will commence next week. The front hall way is dark, and the new door has a window that lets light spill in through beveled glass. Just the way D said it would when he picked the door out in May, before we knew he wouldn't be there to see it installed. 

 Sometimes I feel like I cared for him through his sickness, but he is continuing to care for me on this side of it. He left things in order, and had made many plans that make things so much easier for me. The biggest piece of advice he gave me, that I'm sticking with, is to not make any major plans for a year. So, I make minor plans like coffee tables and front doors.  And I continue to press on, one day at a time. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Took the Road Less Traveled By...

My grief class has been advertising a Saturday soiree titled  "How to Survive the Holidays"for several months. It happened to fall on my Las Vegas/Barry Manilow Saturday. Until Barry cancelled his show, and Loyal Sister and I cancelled his town in retaliation. So, suddenly this weekend was open. And it appeared I'd be attending Survival Skills 101.

When I drove into the church parking lot, I had to laugh out loud. There were literally two back-to-back signs: The one pointing left said "Church Christmas Craft Show"; the one pointing right said "Surviving the Holidays." Now honestly: which one would YOU choose?

So, I took a quick left (Kidding: I totally just ran over the sign.)

I went to the right and found the Survival classroom. Grabbed some coffee, fresh fruit and pumpkin bread on the way to my table. And then loaded up on Kleenex because my eyes started leaking even before the session began.

To my surprise, all the tables were full. It was a big crowd and it was apparent that we all were in the right room and not looking for Christmas Crafts. The format was to watch a DVD and then break into group discussions. Everyone at my table agreed that they would not be putting up any Christmas decorations or trees, and almost everyone is leaving town. 

Honestly? I had never understood people who dreaded the holidays after a loss. I thought I'd still be the hostess who throws the door open and announces each Christmas, "Let the celebration begin!" The closer the holidays get, the more I agree with the woman who stated she would like to just go to sleep the day before Thanksgiving and wake up on January 2. Sounds like a plan. Just not a realistic one.

But, as the advice continued: a plan was needed. I'm conferring with Married Daughter and Young Son. The plan is he will drive with me to Missouri and spend Christmas with Married Daughter and her sweet husband. We'll stay about a week and I'll drop him off for New Year's at his girl friend's parents' house near Dallas on the way back, so they can welcome the New Year together. (The best news? Since Married Daughter's husband has taken a promotion which will move them to Pennsylvania after the first of the year, her last day at work will be a few days before we arrive at her home. We'll have her all to ourselves, and will not have to share her with her employer.) We are still fleshing out the details, but the KNOWING seems to help the DREADING die down a bit.

Thanksgiving will be at Loyal Sister's house and I'm in charge of some side dishes. I can do that, I think.

 Hoping that this year will be "survive"and next year's holidays can be "thrive".


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Splitting Hairs

My latest hair crisis began when I walked into my salon, and realized that S no longer worked there. I learned her name eight years ago because it was tattooed around her neck in large Gothic letters. We bonded because I am a teacher, and her six young children are into continual shenanigans during school. The entire herd was in elementary school and included a set of twins. With that many little ones, you have to pick your battles. "If the teacher hadn't let him take his shoe off at nap time, he wouldn't have had that shoe to throw at her," was her pragmatic take on the latest situation. These kids were the modern day Herdman's and I often longed for a pad and paper to take notes under my drape. I know S and I could have produced the next Great American Children's Novel. Albeit a dysfunctional version.

And that is when I made my critical mistake. I took The New Girl because I was in a hurry. (SPOILER ALERT: the six months it will take to grow out the Haircut Disaster of 2009 were not worth the minutes saved. I should have chosen Option B: Hold the salon in lock-down until S's new location was revealed.)

Deep sigh. New Girl managed to make my bang area look like each individual hair had been singed by burning matches. Seriously: every hair in that area of my head just raised its frayed end above my scalp in effigy of what a hair should not look like. I slunk home, resigned to even more bad hair days then normal.

My hair is a definition of Big Texas Hair Gone Wrong. My hair shafts are in open welcome to any drop of humidity in the air. Do you remember the episode of Friends when Monica went on her honeymoon? There was a running sight gag about the humidity around the island they were vacationing on. In each scene, her hair morphed into a bigger and bigger puffball of frizz. If I'd have darkened my hair, it could have been her hair's stand in.

Goodness knows I've tried to tame the mane over the years. You know the drill: it looks so beautiful in the chair after they've added multiple layers of product to it, along with ideal weather conditions within the salon. Married Daughter laughs every time I buy the dream by purchasing the recommended products. Because the reality? The salon door opens and there is a giant "BOING" as my hair is exposed the humidity that is Texas. And it does whatever it wants to. And laughs at me and my newly emptied pocketbook.

I remember becoming aware of a heated discussion among my fourth grade class, lo those many years ago. I tuned in to hear a boy asserting,"Well I think it looks like a donut!" to his opponent's,"No it doesn't: it looks like a bowl of Cheerios!"

They were commenting on my hair. "I'm standing right here you know!" Didn't matter. The debate raged. Must have been a very high humidity day.

Moving right along, (PLEASE, you are saying), after the Women of Faith conference a few weeks ago, my friends decided they should try and CHI my hair. (Is that a verb?) Somehow, 5 women and 4 teenagers materialized in front of A's upstairs bathroom to make this phenomenon of hair straightening begin. It was like a slumber party with a 350 degree torture element. But as E worked the hair, a slight miracle occurred: it began to obey, behave, lay down and actually take on the appearance of 'straight'. For the first time in my life I realized I might be able to have normal hair. Brought a tear to my eye.

The acid test occurred an hour later when we went out of the controlled environment of the house into the harsh elements of the world. Results: nothing. Hair remained straight.

Two days later the hair was still straight and I had done nothing to it. Usually I wash/blowdry around a brush/put in hot curlers for the satisfaction of a sixty second look in the mirror before the hair morphing frizz begins. But to do nothing and have good hair? The angels sang, and all was right with the world.

Next step: buy my own CHI. Slight panic attack as I realize they retail for about the cost of a car payment and there are at least 20 different varieties. Tried to call young daughter and anyone else I know who straightens their hair. Drat: no answers. Call sixteen year old sales girl over. She is helpful, chipper and all about straight hair care.

I'll have to admit my results at home are not as stellar as E's performance in Oklahoma (a style that lasted 3 days, may I add.) I decide to call in the big guns: my default stylist, P. When my inked friend S was unavailable in the past, I'd trust my hair to P and he did a good job. (He also saw me coming and sold me copious amounts of hair product to fuel my future Good Hair dreams.) I took the CHI in, and paid P to show me how to use it. WOW! he kept marveling over my CHI and its price. (Apparently innocent young sales girl had sold me the Top Of The Line, and I was none the wiser.)

Anyhoo, he cut and styled and CHIed, and I have a new hair look that does not include big. I will admit I'm not the pro that I'd like to be with the process. As if punishing my hair with 350 degree heat is not enough, sometimes I still add hot rollers to give the hair a slight flip. (Yes, I know that you can flip it with the CHI. The operative work in that last sentence is "you"; I am unable to do it yet without making my hair stand out at right angles.)

E has emailed me CHI tips: Always keep aloe vera lotion close by in case you burn your ear. If you drop the CHI, step back fast and never try to catch it. (She had a friend who tried to catch it: it hit her foot and she couldn't wear shoes for weeks.) It is a harmful tool. Treat it like a lady's chainsaw. Respect the CHI.

Thanks, E, for the head up. Or foots up in this instance. You've made my morning routine much easier, and my anger toward humidity-predicting weathermen seems to have died down. A bit.

To quote a friend, who is always trying to mix it up a little, "When is the last time you tried something for the first time?" Just saying.

(Edited to add: Did you know the man who owns CHI (and Biosilk) has just announced his intentions to run for governor of Texas, and will throw in his own $10 million war chest?

With this hair miracle? He has my vote.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One More Time

So, I only have two more sessions of my Thursday night Grief Class left. It is a 13 week curriculum that will take a break for the holidays, rewind, and start all over in January. You can join again and again and again. And depending on the amount of fog surrounding your grief, multiple repeats may be necessary.

When I first joined, I was handed the standard  paperback book that contains 12 weeks of lessons. The lesson calls for notes on the class DVD, and five homework lessons per week. It is the same format for your typical Beth Moore Bible Study, so I was a little intimidated. Her daily lessons can take 30 minutes each, and I found my brain power had  disappeared around July 13 along with D. I laughed when I opened the grief version of this format: they ask about 2 gentle questions a day and practically give you the answers. That, I could handle.

I have enjoyed getting to know the members of my class. Our stories are all very different in detail, but our endings are obviously the same. Something interesting that has come out of the class is a discussion about what is the "easiest" way to lose a loved one. Some seem to feel that since D had a terminal diagnosis that must have been much easier then an unexpected phone call in the middle of the night. In some ways, I agree. But that would kind of be like comparing Dante's nine levels of hell. No matter which way you look at it, you are still in a bad place.  

I replay the doctor's words far too often in my mind. We went from a 6-12 month life expectancy to a 1-3 month timeline within a week as the cancer ramped up. And in the end? It was only about 3 weeks. Most of that time was spent in denial and a cloud of morphine to ease the pain. But still it was 3 weeks longer then an unexpected phone call announcing the unthinkable.

I recently read an article by a doctor who said that many people think a terminal diagnosis allows the  left behind spouse to do most of the grieving ahead of time. He said that would be like being certified to parachute from an airplane, but you had never actually taken the first jump. It is simply not the same. There is no way to prepare for the "real" thing.

I'm not sure if I will "re-up" for the Grief Class or not. I'd love to think I'm making progress on my own and don't need the training wheels. But then I have the flashes of reality that make me realize this journey is going to be much longer than I bargained for. And maybe I do need those companions along for the ride.

Still focusing on the miracle of hope which provides the only pinprick of light in this darkness. Like Camus, I hope that "in the depth of winter I can find within me an invincible summer".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You Might As Well Laugh

Do you ever wonder where post ideas come from in the blogosphere? Sometimes, they are just a choice. For example, today  I could write about the eye doctor who dilated my eyes this afternoon and then asked if I could call my husband to come give me a ride home. (Ummm. That would be: No.)

 Or, I could write about a few wonderful moments in my classroom today. Let's go together on a journey to the Happy Place of first grade. Bet you can almost smell the crayons.

The most sought after books in my classroom are in a basket labeled "Riddles and Jokes". First graders are just tuning into the subtlety of humor, and they like to share a good joke or fifty. I have a rule of "one joke per day per student" told to the teacher, or we would never get anything done. Today's favorite joke? "Why did the turkey lay down in the vegetables? He wanted to rest in peas!!! Get it, Mrs. O'Brien!!! PEAS! You know PEAS but they really mean PEACE because it is a joke like 'Rest in Peace'!!! Get it???" Yes, I got it and it is a real knee slapper even after the 45th time. The best part? Looking in their eyes as they tell it. The unbridled joy of discovery in a six year old. Oh, that we could bottle it and share it with the world.

A favorite pass time in our classroom? Singing. My 19 six year old best friends actually think I can carry a tune. (Adult children of mine: do not shatter the image with the truth.) What is not to love about today's rendition of "You're My Turkey, Albuquerque" sung with a Texas twang, followed by laughter that causes them to roll on the floor. Literally. I think first graders are part pillbug with their ability to roll without ceasing. Makes me smile every time.

I may sound like a discipline pushover with my love of joking, singing, rolling and laughing. Au contraire. As evidenced by walking the path at recess today. If a student's name is in The Book, said student has to walk 3 laps of the playscape, all the while remembering what action landed them in the playground version of the Bataan Death March. (Only it is more of a happy skip.) They also have to come up with a strategy for what they will do differently next time. We high five, I thank them for listening to correction with respect and they go stand in line for the slide secure that the deed is forgiven and forgotten. The Middle East could learn a lot from first graders.

But my favorite moment today? Show and Tell. I actually do not even schedule this activity. Students just show up with Stuff and I give them a few minutes during Morning Meeting to show it off. Today, the mound of Stuff was so large we did not have time to finish our Trial Test in Spelling before we left for Art class. There was a box covered in shells. An unbelievable Lego structure. A prehistoric shark's tooth. 

And then a very quiet boy came forward. He had a ziplock bag full of washable markers with tips at both ends, and looseleaf sheets of detailed pictures he'd drawn that included numbers. Seems my young friend has decided to go into the tattoo business with his washable markers, and these sheets showed the artwork available along with pricing. Everyone was totally silent and leaning forward with interest, including the teacher. I asked him if he had any examples of his work. With a big grin he pushed up the sleeves on his sweat shirt. Let me tell you, that boy is a talented artist on his canvas of skin! He had tattoo sleeves that rivaled bikers I've seen. It was all I could do to not be first in line for a washable monster truck markered on my bicep for a dollar. (I am fairly certain his parents had no idea this little entrepreneur was launching his new business plan in first grade today.)

And you wonder how I'm doing? Well, I'm guaranteed joy and laughter from 7:35 am-2:45 pm each weekday. There is so much healing in that. Thanks to the parents for lending them to me daily.

I'll end with my favorite all time first grade joke:
Q: Why didn't the skeleton cross the road?
A: Because he didn't have any guts hanging out! Get it, Mrs. O'Brien? His GUTS weren't hanging out because he didn't have any guts because he was a chicken, bawk, bawk. Get it?

Got it. Laughter is the best medicine. 

Even for overcoming clueless eye doctors.






Sunday, November 8, 2009

Women of Faith: Part 2

MA, my new red luggage, and I flew to Tulsa to carpool with our  two high school friends to the Women of Faith Conference in Oklahoma City last weekend. May I add, there is nothing like long-term friendships? We've supported each other through the good and bad times for almost 40 years now, and I know that these relationships are among the most precious possessions God has granted me. (We missed you, Jennifer!) We joined 10,000 new friends for two days of praise and thought-provoking speakers.
Would it surprise you to know that we never run out of things to talk about? I think we could be happy sitting on blankets in a field just chatting away, but the nice hotels and restaurants that accompany these conferences are also appreciated.

One of the most meaningful speakers was Steven Curtis Chapman. You may know that he lost his young daughter in a tragic accident about 18 months ago. She was one of the inspirations for the song, "Cinderella" . The family is still working through the grief, but continue to move forward with hope for a reunion the other side of Heaven. 
We were so glad to have met two new friends on this trip. Linda and Deb were in our old friends' church Life Group. They were responsible for getting our tickets and hotel rooms and they had never even met the Texas part of the group! Thanks ladies: we look forward to seeing you again over chips and salsa.
And the most wonderful surprise of all? Married Daughter surprised me and drove the four hours from her home to Tulsa so we could hug and talk and laugh for a few hours. We had a Sunday brunch that included all available children and husbands. And a good time was had by all.
We took the time to swing by Adrienne's daughter Elizabeth's second grade classroom and were blessed by all the innovative ideas we saw. Here she is showing us the interactive smart board in her classroom. I took lots of pictures and got many ideas for my first grade classroom. We're fortunate to have dedicated teachers like E raising up the next generation with academic excellence.
And last, but of course not least, Son-in-law with Married Daughter on a beautiful autumn Sunday morning in Oklahoma. (I provided the Texas t-shirt: he had come to attend the OSU-Texas game with his sister. Native Texans, they secretly cheer for the Longhorns and future Heismann Trophy quarterback Colt McCoy.)

Young Couple celebrated their second wedding anniversary a few days later with some Big News: They will be moving to Pennsylvania due to Son-in-law's  promotion within his company. 

Pennsylvania? A long way from my Texas home. But I  fly to Missouri to see them, anyway. It may be a little longer flight, but still manageable. I keep a list of my visits with them, to help me remember I do see them as often as possible. We've been able to get together 13 times since the wedding, and I'm hoping to make it 14 at Christmas. Another plus to Pennsylvania? Their new home will be about an hour from D's brother and sister so I can keep up contact with them. (It is also near DC and NYC. Hey, high school friends: ROAD TRIP!)

And what did God speak to me during this conference? Most of all, I was able to pour out my heart to my friends, and have them hand me some of the missing pieces in this puzzle of grief. I know that it is time to be more gracious to myself: I'm doing the best I can with what I have in this journey. There is no perfect method for walking this path. But there is a perfect One who walks beside me and holds me near. 

I think I caught the fringe of His garment.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Women of Faith: Part I

In preparing to go to the Women of Faith Conference in  Oklahoma a few weeks ago, I began asking God for a fresh touch to my spirit. I have found I have bad days, good days and some really bad days, but never anything  that even approaches my formerly happy life before July 13.

I shared this concern with a friend who was going to the Conference with me, and the promise she was claiming for us all was from Matthew 9. It is the story of a woman with a 12 year hemorrhage. This woman felt if she could just touch the fringe of Jesus' garment, she would get well. I love Jesus' comment from The Message in the twenty-second verse: "Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith and now you're well." I am ready to take any risk of faith to achieve some forward motion in this healing process.

Interestingly enough, the verses that captured my attention as I pondered a renewal of faith were from the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Do you ever really think through these stories and how they'd play out in real life? Jesus is in the temple when this woman is hauled in front of everyone, front and center.  Caught red-handed. So great was the Pharisees' desire to expose her sin to Jesus, she may have just had time to throw a blanket around herself. Now she stands before God and everyone (literally) half-naked in church. I don't know about you, but I've had nightmares like that.

The snarky religion scholars and the Pharisees want Jesus to Do Something Now about this situation they've hauled his way. By law, this woman should be stoned.  (And sidenote: where is the man she was with? Just saying.) It is a trap. If Jesus misjudges, they can bring charges against him. This scenario is quite a distance from the "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine" theology we teach to our children in Sunday School.

And what does Jesus do? He bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. He said nothing. And for some reason, that made the religious torch-and-pitchfork crowd furious. They kept at him, pestering and badgering him. Jesus finally stood up and said, "Whoever is sinless: you throw the first stone", and he bent down and wrote in the dirt some more.

Apparently, this made everyone shutteth up. And they began to slip out one, by one. The oldest going first. Oh, that we may continue to gain that wisdom as we grow older. There but for the grace of God go every one of us.

I've often wondered what the last young, loudmouthed buck must have been like. He had the courage of his convictions, but no one to cover his back. I think his knowledge was probably wide, but about an inch deep. When we are young, sometimes we don't know what we don't know. Eventually, he, too, slunk out. Probably mumbling "Drat! Foiled again!" and plotting the next conflict. Lesson not learned.

This is where it gets really interesting. Jesus turns to the woman, now left quite alone. Don't you know that her eyes were popping out of her head with amazement? Moments ago she had a death sentence hanging over her head, and now she is alone with the Son of God who is continuing his dirt floor art.

Does he lecture her on her sin? No. He simply says,"Where are the people who condemned and accused you?" Well, they are obviously gone. I'm sure her eyes never left his face, and her body is still clinched and waiting for the hammer she is expecting to fall on her.

Jesus' words? "I don't condemn you either. Go. Don't sin anymore."

I am sure that an hour lecture would not have been half as effective as that simple message. 

I know in my classroom that when I begin to correct students with lo, so many words, that their eyes roll back in their heads and I suddenly sound like the parents in the Charlie Brown shows to them. Bwah, bwah. Bwah bwah bwah.

But if I correct with this "few words" philosophy? Looking them straight in the eyes and softly saying, "Stop", will end almost any action. Quickly.

By now you are probably wondering what in the Sam Hill does this story have to do with anything, but you're too far into the blog to give up the five minutes you've lost. Stay with me as I transition to The Point.

"Go and sin no more." Five very powerful words. Sin is an archer's word. It means "missing the mark" or missing the bullseye.  Missing the point of what we should be doing. In my grief class, our lessons have taught us that people can fall into serious addiction to mask the pain. Alcohol, drugs and promiscuity are common responses to the loss of a loved one. My response has been to torment myself with the would've,could've, should've: how I could have handled Dave's seven year journey with cancer and the eventual terminal diagnosis differently.

And God's words to me? "Go and sin no more." Just stop it. Stop rolling in it. Time to move on. Nothing can be changed. Lift up your head for what is ahead. Go and don't miss the mark anymore.

I can do that? That is an option? You bet it is. No more renting room to those thoughts in my head. What will I do with all my new "head room"? 

How about use it for some more healing.

"I waited for the Lord on high.
I waited and He heard my cry."