Sunday, January 30, 2011

Anatomy of a Care Package

Look what I found on my front porch: a care package from Married Daughter in Pennsylvania (who will soon be relocating to Wisconsin, home of all things cheese.) I can't count how many packages I've sent like this over the years, and it is so nice to be on the receiving end. Married Daughter: you have officially become your mother! (Check the comments later when she sees that one.)
First item: Peeps. This has been a family joke for YEARS. My grandmother/Married Daughter's great grandmother would give us Peeps every Easter. No one ever ate them: we just smiled politely and hid them all over our house for weeks and weeks after Easter. When MD was in college, my sister sent her a HUGE care package of heavily discounted after-Easter Peeps. They stayed in that box for years, until I happened to run across them. They had shrunk up, but even bugs will not eat them apparently...
And an olive branch (albeit a chocolate one) for that Peep humor. (A funny website on cooking Peeps--and there is a plethora of them--can be found here.)
Hmmm. Does this mean my former college roommate is cute and sassy and I am not?

Guess who is getting the Peeps back?

(PS: I wrote a post last week about always calling my (now) adult children at concerts and "sharing" songs with them. I loved the comment Married Daughter left on my post:
yes, i got the phone call from the Mercy Me concert. I was listening to my voicemails on speaker phone while i was cooking and Joe said "what IS that loud noise?" TO which I replied, "oh, mom must have gone to another concert!" :) Hope it was great fun! love you momma)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Changing From the Inside Out

"I can stay in my box and judge...or I can extend grace and get outside my box - and realize that my box was too small to begin with." (A. Stanley)

Friday, January 21, 2011

There's an App for That...

I have a little tradition when I go to a concert or musical. I call my (now) adult children when a great song is being performed. I don't talk; I simply hold the phone up until I'm sure they've enjoyed it enough. Or they hang up. Which ever comes first.

I've shared Broadway's "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", "Mama Mia" and the theme song from "The Lion King". Dialed in Elton John's "Crocodile Rock", Tim McGraw's "Don't Take the Girl" and Faith Hill's "Breathe". I think with the exception of Air Supply's "All Out of Love", they were mostly received with a good attitude. (And may I add here: at a certain age, grown men should stop wearing spandex and leather on stage.)

Well, on Thursday evening I went with several fellow teachers to see "MercyMe" in concert. Their "I Can Only Imagine" has been a best selling Christian song for over a decade. That's a lifetime in musical years. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening, and I couldn't help sharing the song with Married Daughter via cell phone. I am sure she will call to thank me soon. Or not.

Concerts of 2011 are a wee bit difference from my teenaged experiences. Remember holding Bic and Zippo lighters for mood? No longer necessary. The Iphone has it covered for you.

My phone, alas, is from prehistoric days and does not download apps. But I can still share music from remote locations.

Young Son and Married Daughter: I'm sure you will be thrilled to hear that Barry Manilow may be in my neck of the woods soon. Stay by your phone. Love, Mom

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why do the call them SLUMBER parties and SLEEP overs when the eyelids never close...

What could all these decorations possibly mean?
It's M's Second Annual Slumber Party held at my house. (M was in my second grade class 6 years ago, and her mother was fellow teacher/best of friend.)
This met me when I woke up the Morning After for some strong coffee.
This was the scene in the family room. (I learned that teenaged girls are very into Vera Bradley items.)
Never fear: cell phones were kept in a nice safe place and neat row. (And I want a Coach cover for my iPhone. Except I have to get an iPhone first. And some Vera Bradley accessories...)

I had to leave earlier than the sleeping party girls (and M's mom) to get to my duties with Children's Church. But look what I found when I returned:
WOW! It was cleaner than when they got there. I'm looking forward to next year's party when M turns 14 on January 17. Can't wait!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Married Daughter!

1985: This is one of my favorite pictures with you. You were about six months old and your usual happy self. (I apologize for the matching dresses and my bad 80s perm. Hopefully your cuteness detracts from those small details.)

2011: You've become a beautiful young woman and I'm so proud of the life you have created with your precious husband. You have always been a joy to my heart, and now you are more like a best friend than a daughter.

I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be.

Happy 26th Birthday, sweet girl! You've been a wonderful companion on this road of life. YBBM

Thursday, January 13, 2011

...but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

Today marks 18 months since I lost D. I stare at that number with disbelief, because in some ways it seems like 18 years. And in some ways like 18 seconds.

I used to always wonder about people who marked occasions like that, or who were sad about various anniversaries." Why would they do that?" I wondered. Well, surprise to me: I didn't go looking for the dates; the dates came looking for me. And depending on the amount of time that has passed, those calendar notations can either cut you to your knees or give you the happy memories.

I think I have passed the breaking point where I lean more toward The Happy. I have decided to devote this post to what people can do to help those who are mourning a loved one. Some examples are my own; some were gleaned from my time with fellow pilgrims in our journey through grief class.

When a loved one dies food, cards and good wishes pour into your life. I think the occasion of the funeral brings you together with a group similar to the one you've last seem at your wedding. Except it is not the time of cake cutting and bouquet tossing. Seriously: you have the family, friends from high school, friends from college, friends from past jobs, friends from present jobs, friends from groups and churches you've get the picture. It is a room full of people who have populated all eras of your life and their attention is laser-beamed on you. It is comforting, but deceptive. They have to go back to their own lives very quickly. (As they should). You have to live with the reality mostly alone. (As you eventually discover you should.)

So, what were the things most helpful in the long and winding road of grief?

  • Friends who still bring up D in conversation. I think people don't want to make me sad, so they do not mention him. It makes me very happy (even though it may make my eyes leak a little) to know that he is still remembered.
  • People who mark their calendars to remember the anniversaries with me. My fellow teachers made sure I had a wonderful night out on my first birthday alone, the parents in my classroom gave me beautiful flowers on Valentine's Day and on what would have been D's and my wedding anniversary, and on the one year anniversary of D's death I got about 10 cards acknowledging him, me, and the past year. I loved that, and was touched that July 13th was deemed important by friends.
  • In the early days, don't say, "Call me if you need something." That would involve having enough brain power to find the phone, your phone number and identifying the need through a fog of grief. Just go do what you know must be needed. I had people checking to see if my outside pipes were covered at the first freeze, offers to cut the lawn until I could find a lawn service, leaves raked while I was away and a case of bottled water left on the front porch. Those may seem small or even trivial. They helped me feel like I was not alone in this world.
  • One of my friends was going to be alone on the first Thanksgiving after losing her husband. Her neighbor (who would be out of town) brought over a soft, fluffy robe for her. "I want you to wrap yourself up in this robe today and remember that there are people who want to wrap you in love. Every 30 minutes on Thanksgiving, I want you to reach in the pocket and pull out one piece of folded paper and read it out loud." The papers contained encouraging thoughts--all 48 of them.
  • Ask a grieving person to go anywhere you are going, no matter how piddling it may seem to you. I had a friend say she was passing by on her way to Barnes: would I like to go? (YES!) Another friend ended a meal out together by hesitantly telling me she had to go check on a house out in the country and would I like to ride along? (YES x 2!) We may not have much to say, but there is no journey with company that is not appreciated. Especially when you compare it to staying at home in an empty house.
  • Ask, ask and keep asking. Mood swings are swift and continual. I may not want to go somewhere with you today or tomorrow, but the next day a field trip with a friend may be just the ticket. Just because your grieving friend turns you down 99 times, that 100th time may be the magic number.
  • My friends and I often write emails with the subject line: Mundane Musings. We share just mundane moments from the week and find it fascinating reading. There is no factoid too small to share by email, snailmail or Facebook that a grieving friend will not welcome as a touch from the outside world.
  • I loved magazines that were passed along, devotional books that were purchased for me and helpful articles sent through the mail. The common denominator here? Short. Brief reading for a brief attention span.
And to my real life and bloggy friends: Thank you just for the continuity of your friendship and contact. You kept me tethered to a world that seemed to be spinning out of control at times. Life is manageable now, and I hope to find more and more joy in this journey.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lightening the Load

I am at a very interesting juncture in my life. I have spent the past 18 months going through and cleaning out every drawer, closet and corner of my home. Most of it was necessitated because I needed to sort through D's things; most because I was still deciding if I was going to sell the house or stay put.

During this time, I've had the entire interior and exterior of my home redone. Every window and door is new. Every wall and baseboard is newly repainted. Out-of-date bathrooms are remodeled, and "popcorn" ceilings have been scraped and refinished. Fans and light fixtures are updated. I've installed seemingly new "everythings" down to the light switch plates and doorknobs.

My closets, drawers and shelves are mostly empty. There is really not one square inch of the house that has not been updated or organized. How often can we come to that place in life? I have two things to say about that:

1. I cannot believe that I had the emotional energy to complete or contract out these jobs in my initial stages of grief.
2. I am loving the freedom of not having all the "stuff", and I do not intend to go back to my old cluttery ways.

Seriously. On my antique field trip last week, I determined that I would not buy anything that would need to be refinished, repainted or reupholstered. I am done with all of the Some Day Projects. DONE!

I want to luxuriate a the totally project-free life. I hear my inner voice tell me on shopping trips, "If you take that home, you have to find a place for it and you have to care for it." And then I return it to the store's shelf.

People: I am a woman who had a Mary Englebreit collection with assorted items that numbered in the thousands. I am not making that number up. And I am hoping they earned Goodwill a lot of money after I donated them.

I feel free to do things I want to do, because I am no longer held prisoner by items that need to be taken care of. Yesterday on the way home from school I stopped for a movie at a theater that serves great pizza without a lick of guilt. Because I was all caught up with chores at home. On a Tuesday.

I'm kind of heady with the freedom of it all. And I can't wait to see what God would have me do with the free time and energy.

Just call me Mary. Because Martha has left the building.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On the Road Again

The new session of Grief Class started Thursday night. This time I am not a member (as I had been for two sessions) or a facilitator (as I was for the last session). I was only a "Sign these new people in and get them started on their healing... Stat!" helper.

But an interesting thing happened as I worked the registration table. A man who had been in my original class walked up and handed me a slightly late (yet very welcome) Christmas card. "Turn it over!" he prompted with a lot of enthusiasm. And when I did, I saw these words: "Merry Christmas and Save the Date!" Seems grief friend is getting married in a few months. I congratulated him and asked him if his adult-children were on board with this idea. "They are getting used to it," he answered honestly, "because they want me to be happy."

Of course, everyone wants us to be happy after the loss of our loved ones. They've walked us through the valley of the shadow, and they'd love for this chapter of our lives to be closed.

I followed a wildly popular blog for a while, as seemingly the entire northern hemisphere was praying for, supporting and encouraging a mom through her child's illness. Child was miraculously healed, but a startling thing happened: mom could not seem to let go of her platform and return to normal life. I eventually quit reading the posts as her now-healthy child was pushed aside for newly manufactured dramas.

I assure you: I want to be totally healed, whole and moved on as soon as possible. And God is in the business of hearing and answering those kinds of prayers.

The bit I am working through right now does have to do with companionship. I have lots of friends, but they have families and responsibilities. I get that. So the days of spontaneity and spur of the moment ideas have their limitations.

That and some of the wildly random things that I want to do occasionally. If I would have told D I wanted to go to a Bach harpsichord concert, followed by author Fannie Flagg's book signing, and then lunch at a new pancake restaurant? He'd have been starting the car. Because, he would have known when he said one day that he wanted to go to a lecture on the use of quartersawn oak held at a furniture museum, followed by lunch at a vegetarian diner, then a quirky movie at the university's indie theater, I'd have been his enthusiastic partner. (And yes, these are real examples.) Those little field trips are a little much to ask of a friend, no?

Today, I just decided to jump in the car and pursue some things I've been wanting to do that would probably not interest anyone else in a three county area. I wanted to drive through a series of very small towns and explore their antique shops (ending at one that has heavily advertised its beautiful mission furniture on Craigslist) and find some good barbeque.

And guess what? I had a wonderful time. All by myself. I've always enjoyed long drives alone, aimless wandering through small towns and looking at antiques. Somewhere today in the quietness of a "praying without ceasing" afternoon, I realized it is okay to embrace this adult singleness/childlessness that gives me freedom I have not experienced before. And that I can do it without feeling sad or guilty.

This is what my life is now. I didn't cause it, I can't change it, but I can certainly learn to enjoy it to the fullest.

As evidenced by the beautiful oak bed table and barbeque chicken I brought home tonight.

"Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He will do it."
Psalm 137:3-5

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Get Thee Behind Me, Cipro

I promise this will be my last post on the thrilling subject of my antibiotic, because I know you are sick to death of hearing about it. Sick. To. Death. And I feel the same way on writing about it. But since my last post? I've been sleeping about 20 hours out of 24 each day, and even missed New Year's Eve with Loyal Sister because I was, well, asleep.

The only problem I had when I originally went to the doctor was a reoccurring sinus headache. After medication, I seemed to have the problem of chronic sleep. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Last night I simply quit taking the twice-a-day antibiotic. And guess what? Today I am full of life, energy and have had no desire for repeated four-hour naps. Cipro: you are not my friend, and you are no longer welcome in my home or bloodstream.

I was able to stay awake long enough yesterday to finish my classroom's library and grab materials to make lesson plans for this week. (And just how thrilled are my seven year old friends going to be to find out that we will be introducing multiplication and division first rattle out of the bag on Tuesday? THRILLED!)

Today? A new year; a new journey. I've taken a part-time position to help lead a children's ministry in a nearby church. I said good-bye to my former church of 15 years. Those precious people have walked a LOT of miles with me. But I know in my heart and spirit that this was the right move. Going to my new church today just felt like entering another door. I was amazed at how many people I knew in the congregation already (and how many of the now adults I'd taught as children over the years!) Sometimes we can over analyze and over agonize new decisions. And sometimes? We can just step into a new role totally sure it is the right decision. And not only be at peace with it, but be filled with joy at the wonder and potential.

2011, I welcome you and all the new that you have to offer me. Amen.