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."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"To Do" is Done

Long time, no blog.

I went to the "Women of Faith" in Oklahoma City with old friends (and met some new friends), and I'm still processing all that blessed me during that time. Hoping to spill it out into bloggyland over the weekend.

But today contains some good news: I think part of my brain function has returned. Seriously. For the past few months I've had difficulty reading, getting things done, watching TV: you name it and I was seriously challenged if it required careful attention. Or, really, any attention. Grief is such a thick fog.

Today I had a long "To Do" list during my 30 minute break at school. Loyal Sister is too ill to go on our planned trip next weekend, so we decided to cancel it and put it on the calendar for later. I needed to cancel reservations, cancel plane tickets, make an eye doctor appointment and a foot doctor appointment while my students were at P.E.....GO!

Even while being interrupted by the district maintenance men multiple times (two legs falling off tables, and a restroom door that sticks and will traumatize a six-year-old if locked in to that room), I was able to complete the above list AND I was able to get a drink of water before picking up my charges.

To my utter delight, I was not exhausted when I was finished. And it all got done! SCORE!

That faint light ahead? I think I'm seeing a glimpse of the end of this tunnel.