Archive for April 2016
April 29, 2016.
The date on the calendar was blank except for the small printed words to the side: “T & D – Taking care of business”
I picked up my mom and took her out for breakfast, a long-awaited trip to Cracker Barrel. The morning was gloomy and my heart was sad, knowing my brother-in-law’s nephew was being laid to rest just a few hours later. There was a tragic accident the weekend before, an accident that shocked our small community, and the aftermath was, and is, too raw to put into words. While I wanted to be there to support my brother-in-law and his family, I knew it was right to keep my promise with my mom.
Today was an important day.
I arrived at my mom’s house, her breathing heavy and labored, but she was ready to get the day started. The dreary weather matched my mood as the drizzling rain made our hair frizz around our faces.
My hair. My face. My mom lost her hair weeks ago.
We sat at the table and opened our menus, the elephant in the room peering over our shoulders as we placed our orders. Eggs over easy with a side of bacon. Sourdough bread, toasted.
The banter between us was light, the usual chit-chat you might find between a mother and daughter, talk of work and weather and kids. We both knew why we were having breakfast today, and how the day would unfold, but it wasn’t until the coffee arrived that we finally invited that elephant in the room to sit down and join our conversation.
Today was the day we planned my mother’s funeral.
We jokingly called it our “Girl’s Day Out,” knowing of course that it broke all the rules of conventionality. I asked her questions – lots of questions – and made notes on my iPad as we talked about details, decisions, and death.
We talked about services. We talked about songs. We spent a long time discussing hospice. We lamented about the exorbitant cost of funerals, then pondered the necessity for so many rituals. We discovered a need for an updated will.
We were making plans, much like a mother and daughter planning a wedding, but roles were now reversed. I was the mother. She was my child. I wanted to make sure her wishes were granted.
In the midst of our breakfast with the dishes cleared and coffee refilled we talked about flowers and photos. “I don’t need much,” she said, “Let’s keep it simple.”
We found a photo frame to memorialize her husky, Ivan, who suddenly passed away the week before after 10 years in her care. The circle of life never stops, whether pet or parent or child. It’s important to remember those things that bring us joy.
As we window shopped for this and that, we found humor in silly things. The baby boy frog shoes we would have bought in an instant, if my baby boy wasn’t almost seven. The sparkled shoes, the overpriced scarves, even the pajamas with sailboats gave us a giggle. She glanced at the chocolate bars by the register and I had her choose her favorite to add to the pile. “Never say no to chocolate,” I reminded, “You only live once.”
We took selfies at storefronts and shared stories from our past. We chose objects that would have special meaning once she is gone.
Were tears shed today as we planned for the future that would not include her vibrance? Of course. But today was a day filled with making memories and the laughter overcame the sorrow.
Whether you are healthy or sick, feeble or strong, I encourage you to take time for your loved ones. Open the door to those difficult conversations. Make plans for today and tomorrow, even if you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Allow yourself to be happy. Find joy in the mundane. Remind someone that they are loved and show them with actions and words. Take pictures and be silly, even if you know people are staring at you like you’re a fool.
Be you. Be free. Make memories. These are the days you will always remember, and the laughter will rise like the sun, warming your heart for years to come.
“How can any good come from such a tragedy?”
This question is asked a thousand times over when a tragic event happens in a community. There is shock. There is disbelief. Then comes the turbulence of emotions that either erupt like a volcano or slip out like a dripping faucet. Even when there is closure, there is never closure; the question still remains.
I’ve written about Meg Menzies several times which you can read here, here, and here. Her death was not only a shock for our small community but radiated across the globe through running communities and those who advocate against drunk driving. The Facebook group, Meg’s Miles Supporters has more than 16,700 members who keep her memory alive by sharing their running stories and dedicating their miles to Meg.
At the first Boston Marathon after Meg’s tragic death, there was an outpouring of love shown by a memorial created by Kel Kelly. To see the impact of Meg’s legacy through the vision of a stranger in another state was phenomenal. It reinforced the fact that even after death, your memory lives on in others, even through people you’ve never met.
Since that time, Kel Kelly has been pulled by a new mission as she helps refugees in Greece. She noticed that the refugees were arriving with their feet in horrible condition as many fled on foot or had long since worn away their shoes from miles of walking. It didn’t take long for this observation to turn into a Meg’s Miles mission with a request sent out through social media for a shoe drive.
The plan seemed rather simple. Advertise a local shoe drive. Encourage the community to donate. Provide a location and time for drop-off. Drive the shoes in a U-Haul to MA for Kel Kelly to then transport for her mission efforts in Greece.
Oh, the blessings we can provide when we work together.
I went through my shoes. My husband’s shoes. My kids’ shoes. I came up with 16 pairs of shoes we no longer needed, or were willing to sacrifice, and put them all in a bag. I could have easily dropped them off at Goodwill, or even taken them downtown to a homeless shelter, but these were shoes for Meg. For Kel. For someone else in need.
These shoes are priceless to someone I will never meet.
I dropped off my shoes Saturday morning and was immediately greeted by Keith Cartwright himself. We chatted a bit and he laughed at my excuse for not running marathons: “Well, someone has to take care of the kids.” (My husband has run countless marathons. I’ll do an occasional 5K or 10K, but I’d rather be dancing than running, lol.)
Meg’s mom, Pam, came over and gave me a tight hug, her smile radiating joy.
That’s right – JOY.
Wait. How can a mother who lost her precious daughter much too early, in such a tragic way, shine with joy just a few years later?
Because Pam knows the love of God.
She understands the power of forgiveness.
She realizes the never-ending impact of kindness.
I followed the progress of the shoe collection all day. From hundreds to thousands, the boxes were filled and stacked inside the U-Haul.
I had 16 pairs of shoes to give. Some people donated dozens, others only a few. Individually, our random acts of kindness were small and meager; together our contributions will have a direct impact on more than 6,000 lives.
All because of Meg.
“How can any good come from such a tragedy?”
Today was an absolutely gorgeous day! Bright blue skies, warm sunshine, a gentle breeze, with just a hint of summer smiling down on me. After a long, cold winter and weeks of dreary rain, this weather was a gift from above. These are days of joy!
I was reminded of the old adage to “stop and smell the roses.” I took my lunch outside and sat at the patio tables, listening to children laughing around me. I walked around campus the long way instead of rushing from class to class. When my day was done, I decided to pack up and leave the building instead of staying inside the four walls. This day was meant to be cherished in every possible way!
I wanted to do a random act of kindness in memory of a friend’s mom, who passed away a year ago today. Sandra was everything you could want in a mom – loving, kind, and generous. I wanted to do something special to reflect the love she had not only for her daughter, Holly, but for everyone she met.
I went to the store to pick out the most beautiful roses I could find, then had them arranged in a pretty vase to share. I wrote a note and attached it, my heart smiling as I wrote Sandra’s name. Then I drove to a local assisted living facility and asked that the staff give the flowers to someone who needed a little extra joy in their day, maybe someone who didn’t have an opportunity to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Perhaps these roses could bring sunshine to them instead.
Make sure you take some time today to stop and smell the roses. Each day is a beautiful gift to enjoy!
I started this post 8 days ago when the pain was still raw, the scab of grief was not quite hardened enough to remove the protective bandage covering my sorrow. I would start to type and the words remained garbled on the page. I couldn’t finish my sentences. My grammatical errors glared back at me in judgment, and I was so overcome by emotion that tears would blur my vision.
“It’s ok,” they said with sympathy-laden voices. “You don’t have to write.”
No. It’s not ok. I can’t not write. I simply can’t.
So here I sit in the dark, quiet space of sunrise. Reflecting. Remembering. Writing.
About a month ago, we sat by her bedside, the final stretch of her journey looming before us like the darkened clouds of an incoming storm. Her sister, Betty, and I were trying to keep the conversation light and lively; she opened her eyes and gave a weak smile. I can’t recall the exact story we were sharing, can’t quite remember what started my mother-in-law talking as well, but she was awake. Alert. Engaged. There was laughter with a thread of silliness as Betty and I talked about family, kids, and life, catching up on the recent events of the week. Then there was a break in the chatter. A pause. And mom spoke to me.
“Take some of my jewelry.”
She had already shared this invitation with her two daughters, her three granddaughters as well. Her beaded, costume jewelry still sits in a bag on my daughter’s desk, treasures too valuable to touch.
I was different. I was the daughter-in-law.
I did as she asked, reaching into the top drawer of her bureau, removing a wooden box engraved with a quote about Grandparents, my children’s small faces smiling back at me in the photo centered in the wood. I had given her this jewelry box years before and it made me smile to see it again. There were only a few pieces of jewelry remaining, small trinkets of tarnished metal and a couple of clip-on earrings. I politely took a pair of earrings, knowing her desire for me to have something from her, then carefully returned the box back to the top drawer.
“Go look beside it. There’s more.”
My eyes traveled to the left of the dresser to the small jewelry stand almost hidden from view. Opening the door, I saw simple chains of gold, a brooch, and then… the bracelet.
It’s funny what you remember when time stands still.
The bracelet was simple, nothing elaborate. Rectangular links of silver creating a perfect circle held in place by a flexible thread. Along the perimeter, there were four colored birthstones, representing each grandchild she had at the time.
Only three of those four babies were born.
This bracelet was a birthday gift, purchased by me to give to her as a surprise announcement of the fourth grandchild to come. My baby’s due date was March 3, 2003, a delightful triangulation of threes. We kept the secret for weeks, despite the fact that my growing belly now required elastic waistbands and maternity shirts. Living out-of-state away from family made this natural progression easier to hide.
We had already heard the heartbeat, marking days from one trimester to the next. There was no cause for worry, no need for concern, even the daily ritual of morning sickness was starting to abate.
The bracelet arrived in a beautiful box, surrounded by lush velvet. My in-laws would arrive the next weekend and we would celebrate Mom’s birthday a week early.
And then… everything just stopped.
No heartbeat. No movement. No change. My second child’s life was lost before it had barely begun.
My in-laws arrived and the bracelet was given, but the aquamarine gem had lost its luster. It now served as a reminder of things that would never be.
Now, thirteen years later, I stood with Mom once again, holding the bracelet that represented life and death, the parallel so vivid to Mom’s journey now. I turned to face her, my eyes brimming with tears and met her gaze with clarity.
“The bracelet! Mom, you still have the bracelet!”
My voice was filled with awe and wonder. The bracelet had survived more than a decade, with moves across state lines. It was left unselected by the other family members, its value and worth unknown like a hidden treasure at an auction sale.
It was waiting for me all along.
I put the bracelet on my wrist, the silver links still gleaming from immaculate care, as I retold the story to Betty, who was still sitting in the room. I faced Mom and saw her watching us. That’s when the impact of the bracelet hit me.
She would meet my angel baby before me.
I shared my realization with her and the corners of her mouth turned up slightly, the weak smile radiating across her face. “Yes, I will,” she said before her eyes closed again.
This was her act of kindness to me.
It’s been one week since the funeral visitation.
The days before and after blur like a watercolor painting left in a rainstorm. Habit alone reminds us of daily rituals: get up, take a shower, get ready for work. Take care of the kids. Feed the cat.
I went more than a week without doing any laundry. No grocery shopping. No nightly dinner preparation for my family of five. I’m not really sure what, if anything, got accomplished other than the status quo completion of required tasks, an unmanned plane gliding on autopilot.
Joy, my #oneword of 2016, stands along the outskirts of my week, handing me tissues and sharing in my tears.
The visitation was filled with friends, family, and flowers. The outpouring of kindness and love shown to our family in so many small ways reminds me again and again that there is good in this world.
I remember when my grandmother lost her battle with cancer sixteen years ago. The funeral home received so many flowers for her passing, they offered to open another room so people would have enough space to walk around. That was the way people showed their condolences back then – flowers. Lots and lots of flowers.
Times have changed dramatically in sixteen years, even with this rite of funeral flowers. Practicality and cost now govern decision-making and rightly so. Flowers are expensive, especially petals that are woven into wreaths or displayed on stands. Not everyone has hundreds of dollars to spend on objects that, while beautiful in the moment, have a limited luster and will quickly wither away.
In lieu of flowers, some send plants. While lacking in the vibrant colors and patterns of flowers, they can thrive beyond the period of mourning. They remind the living that there are things to care for and that they, too, are still alive. Plants are a lovely choice as well.Sometimes there are donations. We’ve seen an increase with weddings and funerals for people to add a tagline: “In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to…” listing a favorite charity or organization. What a beautiful legacy to pay-it-forward in memory of someone else.
Mom Letter asked for donations to be made to hospice. For five months, hospice helped to care for Mom and provided support for our family. Now Mom has a way to say “thank you” to the hospice nurses and caretakers through the kindness of those who loved her.
Today my husband received the list of names of those who had donated in Mom’s name. Family. Friends. Neighbors. But one name stood out among the others.
Dr. Scott Otto, Libertyville, IL.
See, Mom Letter’s journey from diagnosis to hospice spanned more than two years and two states. Dr. Otto was the specialist who first cared for her. Talked with her. Helped her make decisions. It was Dr. Otto who knew her more intimately than any of us ever could – he literally held her existence in his hands in the operating room and surgically saved her life more than once.
It’s because of Dr. Otto’s care that Mom lived years, not months. It’s because of his dedication that we were granted extra time with Mom, sharing holidays and celebrations. It’s because of his signature that Mom was granted permission to move back to Virginia, to be surrounded by family, so that her final days could be filled with love.
And now, because of Dr. Otto’s generosity and the kindness of others, more families will get to do the same through hospice.
It’s been a tough week to write, but I hope as the hours turn into days, I will regain my momentum again. Thank you for taking the time to be a part of our lives and share in our journey. There is kindness everywhere, even in death.