Birthday

January 3rd is when Mom celebrated her birthday. According to her birth certificate that’s the day she was born, but she actually came into the world February 3rd. I’m sure she was proud of the error on her birth certificate when she was a teenager. She turned 16 before she really was 16.

IMG_6128Mom never made much of birthdays, especially hers. Whatever it was….the winding down after the holidays or the fact that she never mentioned it, many times her birthday passed right by until one of us remembered to wish her a happy one. She always said, “Well thank you.”

As we grew up and out of the house, she usually sent a card or called on our birthdays. One of the most special gifts I got from Mom on my birthday was a card that recounted the details of the day of my birth. I’d turned 20 something when she gave it to me and that was better than any other thing I could’ve received.

Her last birthday was a great party. IMG_0837My niece gave her a “birthday girl” pin to wear and cooked a wonderful meal. We had cake, balloons, and lots of us gathered to celebrate her. I bet it was one of her best birthdays ever.

I wrote a post two years ago called Mama. The post is about Mom and the song that makes me remember a specific time I was with her and my younger sister. I wrote it just because I was thinking about her.

I heard the song this morning on my way to work, thought about Mom and remembered it was her birthday – her birth certificate birthday. The one she always said was her date of birth and the one we celebrated with her three years ago.

I miss her.

IMG_6130

 

 

They Won

This is the kind of story that never gets old.

Daddy knew he needed to make a change.

To get better.

To save his life and ours.

He moved all of us to a whole new life in another state. Far away from the drinking binges and the fighting and the rehab centers that didn’t work. Far away from what happened and what was……..to something good and better.

The convoy to our fresh start rolled out one early summer morning in 1982. As a preteen I was probably less annoyed than most kids my age would have been. I knew I’d miss my friends but I was ready for something better. The hope of a calmer life, a different house, and a new school filled my heart. Moving day was a good day.

My sisters and I weren’t the only ones at a new school. Part of Dad’s new life included seminary and he began the night courses eagerly. He took careful notes in class and squeezed study time in when he could.

I can’t remember the day or the month or the season, but before the end of the first year Dad started drinking again.

Mom was devastated. She never told me that, but I know. Dad was too. When you’re a kid you have no idea what your parents are going through. Then you grow up and endure your own heartaches and one day, without meaning to, you feel the pain of your mom’s fear or the torment of your dad’s struggle with alcohol.

For the next decade Daddy lost the battle with alcohol over and over and over again.

Ten years.

Ten more years of the chaos and violence. Ten more years of tears and sorrow. Regretting the move, resenting the losses. Ten more years of emergency room visits and halfway houses. Ten more years of job changes and the financial strain and moving from house to house.

I’m sure Daddy remembered the day he took his last drink. He may have counted the days but he never told us. After about a year of him not drinking……we realized he wasn’t drinking. Then it was two years, then five. Ten years sober, then 20 years.

Daddy was sober for almost 23 years when he passed away in 2014.

Twenty three years of healing and restored relationships. Twenty three years of good memories. Twenty three years of the sweetest grace.

They won. Daddy and Mom pressed through and marched on. They fought the good fight and fought with each other. They messed up but moved forward. There were days they wanted to but they didn’t give up.

The long view is what got them through. The good days helped them see beyond the bad ones. When everything was falling apart they believed it could all come together. Love does that. It sees longer and deeper and wider. So my parents kept going. One day at a time. And they won.

The last time Daddy and Mom were face to face and held each others’ hands they weren’t thinking of the hard years. They were thankful for the moment and all the years that got them there.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Restart

She Was Seventeen

I was at the funeral home last night, gathered with extended family I don’t see often. A lot of us together in one place. There were moms and dads, and brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins…..lots and lots of cousins. We’re happy to see each other, even under the circumstances, and we say so.

We smile and hug each other, ask about our families and can’t believe he’s driving already or she’s graduated college. We wonder at the children growing up and getting married and having children of their own. We ask “where did the time go” or say “how time flies.” Funeral homes make us more aware of time. More thankful for it, too.

After we catch up with each other, we remember. We think of the ones who aren’t with us. We think of the good times, maybe the hard ones too. We laugh and share stories. My cousin shared long ago stories about his brothers and sister, of growing up with lots of cousins and playing on Sharrott Hill. Then he recalled something about Mom and told me the story.

IMG_5522He was in 2nd grade and she was 17. She took him and a bunch of her other nephews to see a movie called The Blob. He remembers having nightmares that night. He told me Aunt Jan was always so much fun.

My cousin told me a story about Mom I’d never heard.

I’m glad I was there to hear it.

Sunscreen

I watch the moms on the beach slather their kids with sunscreen. Some moms use a gentle, nurturing touch when rubbing the lotion on the kids’ backs, little arms, faces and even tops of the ears. Other moms do it like they’re covering a piece of brisket with a special rub recipe. As thoroughly and efficiently as possible.

If Mom had used sunscreen she’d been one of the brisket moms. I never knew sunscreen existed when I was a kid. Maybe Mom didn’t either. On beach vacations we swam and played all day in the scorching Florida sun until our energy ran out and our baked bodies needed food. My face and shoulders always burned the worst. My face hurt but not like my shoulders. Every movement meant my shirt rubbed against my tender, red skin and this made trying to sleep miserable. My sisters and I lay there, legs wide apart, arms spread away from our bodies because we didn’t want any part of our bodies touching any other part of our bodies.

But the burn wasn’t enough to keep us out of the sun the next day. We wanted to be back in the water so Mom slipped a large t-shirt over our bathing suits. This provided no protection for our faces but at least our shoulders and chest didn’t re-burn.

By the time I was wise enough and old enough to rub my own body down with sunscreen I opted for baby oil instead. This fair skinned, freckled, strawberry-blond haired chick was going to be as tan as the rest of the girls in high school. Only I wasn’t and never would or could be. But I tried. As a young adult I paid to lie in a hot bed of tanning bulbs that turned my skin only slightly golden.

Thankfully at some point, I accepted my fair skin. I appreciate it and and care for it now.

Mostly.

I’m more efficient than I am thorough and I lose track of when to reapply sometimes.

After my beach trip last year, a friend asked me, “I thought you were going to the beach?” After I told him we were there for a week, he said, “Oh, you don’t look like you got much sun.”

I guess I’m more thorough than I think.

 

See it Through

In the mid 90s I watched my dad learn a total new way of doing his work. The company he worked for did what most companies did at that time and upgraded the way of doing things to computers and software and transmitting data through the Internet. He’d always used his mechanical pencils, triangular ruler, other items I never knew the names of and his calculator to get the numbers. And he was good at it too. Dad was just fine with his old school ways of estimating.  img_4352

But the bulky computer came anyway. It sat on a hand-built shelf atop Dad’s drafting table. He built the shelf after he accepted the new way.

But it took a while. A long while.

This computer stuff and the email and the downloading files and working out the glitches frustrated my dad. A lot. He thought he was too old to learn the new ways. He thought about quitting. He wanted to give up.

But he didn’t. He stuck with it even when he couldn’t see how it would ever work. And he had that job until the day he died. That job enabled him to work from his home office for years while he cared for Mom. The frustrating technology and new way of doing things that Dad resisted so much at first was the exact blessing he needed later.

Dad stayed the course. He persevered. He stuck it out.

My parents were “see it through” kind of people.

My dad beat his addiction to alcohol. That doesn’t happen if you give up.

Mom stayed with Dad through a lot of painful years of marriage. Fifty-one years don’t happen unless you see it through.

Thank God I have some of that grit too.

Have you hit hard times? Don’t know how you’re going to make it through another day?

Want to give up, give in or quit the whole thing?

See it through my weary friend!  See it through!

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”      Hebrews 10:39  NIV 

Memory

I’ve been sorting through moments. The kind caught with a camera. And we all know what happens when you sort through photographs. You look and you remember. Memories flood your heart and mind and you keep looking through the photos and you keep remembering and you smile and laugh and want others to look at them with you.

Then there are the photos that you’ve never seen before of people you loved and that loved you. You see these moments and you wonder then you learn something about the people in the photos.

Another feeling comes when you look, really look, at these moments gone long ago. It’s a strange strong feeling. And it’s a new one to me. It has some yearning in it, mixed with a little sadness and some happiness……..restlessness too.

But it’s good to remember because as Frederick Buechner wrote, “…even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”

My favorite photos are the ones I’ve never seen. The photos of people and places and happenings before I was born.image

Like this school picture of my dad from 1956. He was 14. His dad died when he was 14. I don’t know if this picture was taken before or after his father died.

Or this picture of my mom with two of her five sisters. She is the tallest one. Mom had two brothers also. She was the baby of her family and she was a daddy’s girl.

Or the one of Mom and Dad on a beach somewhere. That’s Mom in a green bikini! I never knew Mom wore a bikini but Dad always wore a hat.

They’d lived a lot of life before I was here. They had the same experiences common to all of us. Joy and pain. Sorrow and regret. Infatuation, rejection, hope and despair. Friendship and betrayal. Fear and love and faith.image

Then I became part of their story and they lived more life and we had more joy and pain. Regret, fear and sorrow. Faith, hope and love.

Now they are part of my story.

“Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things”.    Frederick Buechner

A Discover Challenge post:The Things We Leave Behind.

Traditional

The Dark

Seven months after Daddy died, so did Mom.

Dad’s sickness then death was sudden but Mom had been ready for a while. Mom was tired of fighting for breath and she wanted to die. She wasn’t scared of dying, only of suffocating.

We surrounded her as she lay on her bed at home when she ran out of breath. And that’s what it was like. No gasping. No struggling. No fear. Her breathing slowed…..a gradual peaceful stilling of her chest……….then her breath was no more.

Mom was gone. Mom and Dad were gone.

We sat in the same room at the same funeral home with the same young funeral director as we had 7 months earlier and I thought about how nothing was how I thought it would be.

Nothing.

But I thought about it as if I was looking on, separated from all of it somehow. Everything was muted……..kind of dulled………what I heard, what I said, what I saw, what I felt.

In between the deaths of my parents my marriage took another hit. We had been struggling for a while. It was already so fragile and I was really scared this time. A real kind of scared.

Maybe that was the last time I’d felt anything full-strength. Maybe a part of my heart shut down. Maybe the Zoloft was doing what it was supposed to do.

As I sat there with my sisters around that table choosing the hymns to be played at Mom’s funeral service I remembered comments Mom and Dad made. Some of them to me. Some to others about me.image

Mom and Dad had noticed my fading. My distance. I wasn’t myself and they were worried. I told them over and over that I was fine. I think I thought I was fine. I think I thought everything would be fine. But they saw what I couldn’t see.

The thing about fading is that it happens slowly. So slowly you don’t feel it or see it. It goes unnoticed at first. Then the heaviness gets heavier. The darkness gets a little darker. And you get used to walking around in the dark.

And I kept doing what I knew to do. What I had to do. Because the world doesn’t stop when your marriage is crumbling or when your Dad gets sick and when you just need time to think about things and feel things and mourn things. The world doesn’t stop.

Then it was heavier and darker and I was tired. The kind of tired that goes into my bones. I woke up ready for each day to be over.

As we reviewed the order of the funeral service, the words of one of the hymns came to mind:

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great thou art, How great thou art
Then sings my soul, My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

 

And I wanted my soul to sing again. I wanted to wonder again at all that God has made.

I’d not lost all hope. There was still some in there.

Because I knew……I know that abundant life is truly possible even in the darkest of places.

How great you are God, my Savior God to Thee, How great you are!

 

In response to the Daily Post’s Faded.

 

 

 

 

 

Groundwork

imageWe have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we have to know it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.                          Wendell Berry

The beauty that surrounds my home today is the result of my parents’ hard work.

When I was a little girl we had a plain yard. Grass to mow. An apple tree and lots of pine trees in the back. We had a vegetable garden too. But no landscaping. No mulch or fancy stones or yard ornaments. My parents didn’t have the money or time for landscaping until all of us moved out of the house.

Then that’s where they spent most of their time and a lot of their money. A new yard project was underway constantly. Dad was the do-it-yourself master at anything and the yard was no exception. They planted flowers and trees and mulched and sprayed and laid sod and added stepping stones and edgers. They were proud of their yard but mostly enjoyed sharing it with others.

imageA Fourth of July barbecue, an Easter egg hunt, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and Labor Day too. Anytime was a good time to get together and sit in the yard.

My daughter told me last week, “I love how Grandpa planted so many flowers.”

Me too.

We get to experience the bounty of their hard work in the dirt. Their groundwork makes the beauty possible.

Not only in the yard around the house. But in my heart and my memories. In my personality and my character. In who I am.

They did the hard work of teaching us, correcting us and showing us and loving us. They laid the foundation. And it wasn’t easy. And they didn’t do it well sometimes.

They were fighting some tough battles while trying to raise a family. Some we know about. Others we never will. Hardships and addictions and anger and fighting and lying and job losses and lots of bad things happened.

But good things did too. Really good things. Like working together in the yard. Christmases. Playing cards at the dining room table. Sitting on the porch watching thunderstorms.

And apologies and forgiveness and perseverance and love. And all the other good things that come with those.

All of it is groundwork. The good they did, the mistakes they made, the life they lived in front of us.

And we get to experience the bounty of their hard work in the dirt. Their groundwork makes the beauty possible.

 
Story

Gone 

I was exhausted after the funeral. We all were. But family and friends were bringing dinner to the homeplace for all of us. And far away friends were in town. I wanted to go home, sit alone in the dark, and cry. But I couldn’t. There were more people to visit with. Talk with. And the house needed to be cleaned after everyone left.

And Mom. We had to make sure Mom was alright. We had to take care of her now.

The months prior to Dad’s death were some of the most exhausting days of my life. My husband and I were going through what seemed to be a never ending rough season in our marriage. I’d just started a new job, while consulting at my previous one. Finding time for much needed one on one discussions was nearly impossible with our jobs, three kids, my sick parents, and other normal life happenings. So we didn’t.

Most of my days consisted of work, a long ride to the hospital after work to be with Dad, a longer ride home after the hospital, sometimes a quick stop to check on Mom, a call to one of my sisters to check what they knew from the doctors, and then it all gets blurry. At home in the evenings, I’m sure I did laundry, cooked sometimes, helped with homework, and all the other things I’m supposed to do. I don’t remember. I was barely getting through the days. I’d fall into bed but only sleep sporadically then do it all over again the next day.

I remember trying really hard to stay strong during that time. Zoloft helped me put on the good face some days. I was coping the best I could but on the verge of tears constantly. My heart was breaking over and over every day.

Because of the growing distance between me and my husband. Because my kids needed me a lot and I couldn’t be there. Because my parents, who were strong and capable and always there, needed me to be strong and capable and always there. Because all Dad wanted was to get well so he could keep caring for Mom but he was getting weaker and weaker. Because the new job I thought I always wanted wasn’t what I wanted.

Nothing was like it should be.

Then Dad was gone. And then you do the things you’re supposed to after someone dies. The phone calls and funeral arrangements. The telling of what happened over and over again because he was fine a few months ago. And then we had to figure out what to do next. Because Mom shouldn’t be by herself.

And Mom had good days and bad ones but the bad ones were coming more often. When she couldn’t breathe she wanted us there. All of us. By her side. Just there.

Everything hurt my heart.

I felt raw.

It hurt to be around people and the better I knew them….the more difficult it was.

I wanted to take pain pills. But I didn’t have any.

I wanted to get drunk every night. But I’m too responsible for thatimage. I stuck to one glass of wine a few days a week. Sometimes two glasses. Sometimes more than a few days a week.

And I kept trying to be strong but there was nothing left.

Dad was gone. But I was too.