... a voice for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A New Resolution … Each Day a New Beginning

As the Holidays wind to a close, the real world begins to reassert itself. Sparkling lights come off the houses leaving them just houses rather than magical palaces. The shopping frenzy is behind us, but the credit card bills are not. Trash bins are filled with sad remnants of gift wrap and the Christmas decorations are returned to their year-round home, sometimes with regret, often with relief.

This year, for me, relief wins. 2017 has been one of the most difficult years of my life. A year that started with a focus on growth and positive changes quickly gave way to a focus on cancer treatments, worry about my children’s health and then a funeral and settling an estate. Sorrow and worry seemed to dominate this entire year. I am deeply grateful it is over and do not ever want a repeat.

Our Christmas was a sad, diminished affair. Dale was gone from us forever. Dennie was still fragile from her cancer treatments. And a third of our family stayed home with the flu. Our annual gift exchange game lacked the joy and fun of previous years. Sometimes, I felt as though I was on autopilot, simply going through the motions of a mom doing Christmas. Is this what happens when grief takes hold of a family? I suspect the answer is yes.

I started 2017 with the same optimism I always bring to a new year, serving gallons of blackeyed peas to family and friends for good luck and making unofficial resolutions in hopes of improving my life. But in hindsight, I don’t think the peas worked and I am not sure making resolutions for 2018 is such a great idea. They didn’t work out all that well in this nightmare of a year. All I want is to not repeat what we experienced in the last 12 months. My wishes are far more basic than in years before. I want good health for all those I love. I want peace on earth and barring that unlikely event, I want peace in my own heart. And most of all, I want my son back. The last, sadly, cannot be and so I must content myself with finding ways to heal the grief his loss has left behind.

Every year, the world celebrates the birth of a new year with fireworks, libations, parties, and global celebration. The very term is rife with hope for a fresh beginning. We make resolutions in hopes we can change whatever did not go well in the year just passed. This year, we say, I WILL … lose weight … exercise … stop smoking … get a new job … go back to school … and so on and on. By February, most of us have started to slip back into old habits and the resolutions become a thing of the past.

I am hoping for a different type of new year. First of all, I had thought to eliminate my blackeyed peas open house in 2018. But old habits die hard and I found that everyone was just expecting to be here tomorrow. I guess we will try one more time to create good luck via a bowl of humble peas. Maybe this time, the Universe will hear our prayers and they will work.

And I have resolved to make no resolutions. Rather, I plan to change my focus on the year. I think I will, instead, try to see every day of 2018 as a new opportunity to get life right, the start of another new year if you will. Do you think that might fool the fates? Just as a new year spurs us to start anew, perhaps seeing each day as a fresh start will do one major thing for me.  It will allow me to live in the present, viewing every new morning as time I can release regrets of what I can no longer control and instead focus on gratitude for the things large and small that enrich my life. Perhaps that is a path to healed grief and the inner peace I so desperately crave.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Happy holidays - or not


The holidays are hard for those of us who are mourning the loss of loved ones.
My advice for you is to honor that feeling. Allow yourself the space to do what you need to do for yourself.
It is all right to do so. In fact, it is necessary.
Almost two weeks ago, I lost my beautiful Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was my mother's sister, my aunt, my Godmother, my second mother - and in some respects, my true mother. She was always there for me, showering me with unconditional love.
The loss I feel at losing her is rivaled only by the pain of losing John, my soul mate.
So, Christmas is going to be very understated this year.
And that's okay. People will understand. And if they don't, it's not my problem.
I have made plans to do essentially nothing this holiday time. I will go to Church, rent some movies, and surround myself with my furbabies.
My soul needs TLC and that is what it will get.
If you are mourning and the holidays feel like just too much for you, I urge you to do the same - whatever that means for you.
Go out when you want to.
If you are around people, feel free to honor your loved one - share memories, say their name, don't feel guilty if you want to laugh - or cry.
Or stay home when that feels right.
Eat ice cream in front of the TV.
Curl up with a good book.
Watch cheesy holiday movies on TV.
Cry.
Laugh.
Remember.
Repeat.
The holidays are only days. You will get through them.
We all will.
Soon it will be a new year and we will march forward, carrying our loved ones in our hearts and helping those who also mourn.
That's my plan.
I will most likely be on Facebook over this time - who am I kidding? Of course, I will. :)
Reach out to me if you feel so inclined.
But most of all, know that you are not alone.
Your loved ones are with you.
Those who care about you are with you.
You can do this.
Namaste.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

New Traditions

I can think of no time more steeped in tradition than Christmas. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the season and I learned to celebrate it with the Macy’s parade. Seeing Santa Claus come down the street on his sleigh meant it was time to kick into high gear preparing for that one big day. I still tend to tear up when I see this year’s Santa waving to the crowd. It is tradition.

Immediately after Thanksgiving, we started with cookies. My step sister and I would pull favorite recipes out of their year-long storage and then ransack Woman’s Day and Family Circle magazines for new ones. With our list close at hand we would spend the first couple of weeks making and freezing cookie dough. The week before Christmas meant baking dozens of delicious and creative cookies. It was tradition.

The tree always had to be large and fresh and generously strung with carefully placed strands of silver tinsel that seemed to find its way around the house. In those days, we did not have the option of artificial trees but I’m not sure we would have ever gone that route in any case. After all, it was tradition.

Shopping meant lots of presents under the tree, most of them very inexpensive and some, like underwear and neckties, necessities. But, wrapping those simple gifts in on-so-creative ways (ideas culled again from Woman’s Day and Family Circle) transformed each one into something very special. That was tradition too and I spent hours at it.

At some point, the family would pile into the car and my dad would drive us around to see all the lovely Christmas lights. This was a carry-over tradition from my earliest days in Texas when the highlight of the season was walking around downtown Dallas to see the exciting displays in all the store windows, especially the animated ones at Penney’s and Neiman Marcus. Yet another important tradition.

Is it any wonder that when I married, I brought those traditions with me? The tree always had to be large, fresh and smothered in that insane silver tinsel. I drove myself crazy trying to bake cookies while holding down a full-time job. Shopping in December became my second full-time job. After all, I needed, really needed to let my new family know I could make Christmas something truly special. I so was exhausted from all the preparation that I forgot the important part of Christmas when it finally arrived – family.

Well, as I have gotten older and our family has changed, I have started allowing some old traditions to fade away and some new ones to creep in. Some of the old ones are easier to release than others.
The cookies and tinsel went first. That was easy. I realized I did not need the extra calories contained in too many Christmas cookies and my family did not seem to care one way or the other. And frankly, the tinsel went because it not only took forever to put on the tree, one strand at a time, but was also most unwelcome when it kept appearing in the house – in August!

The drive to see lights never caught on. After all, when you live in the country as we did for many years, it takes forever to find anyone who has decorated outside.

As our family scattered and grew with new spouses, grandchildren and then great-grandchildren, I eventually learned to curb the obsession over too many gifts and creative wrapping. Quality, I found, matters more than quantity. Instead of having a gift-opening frenzy, we introduced a new tradition. Rather than buying gifts, the adults now have a spirited gift exchange game that we all love. And, rather than ship gifts out of state, our far-flung families now make donations to favorite charities in the name of the family.

Eventually, the tree, that centerpiece of the holiday, changed too. It was the hardest tradition to change. The year we left on December 26 for a cruise, I was reluctant to leave a fire trap unattended in our house and so bought our first artificial tree. But at 7 ½ feet, it was still massive! Several years ago, I threatened to have no tree at all as that heavy tree (the second one I had bought) was just too much to drag out of storage and set up. A new tradition started that year. Our kids insisted we had to have the tree with all the very special ornaments I had collected over the years. That was the year Dale and Dennie started coming over early in December to assemble the tree for us.

This year was to be no different. Until cancer took our Dale in June and our Dennie spent most of the year fighting her own cancer. As we approached this holiday, celebrating in any way just did not seem to matter. I think we are all still grieving too deeply. I was torn. Do I soldier on, keeping to all the old traditions as though nothing has changed when in fact, everything has? Or can I get away with doing nothing, which is what would be easiest? Please, can’t we just ignore Christmas this once? Traditions be damned!

Still, tradition is a powerful beastie. Too many others are invested in continuing as we have before. One by one, they have let me know they plan to be here as always. And so, in honor of the son we have lost, we are keeping most of the old traditions alive. We will come together for Christmas Eve. We will have the same foods, the same drinks. We will have the gift exchange and it will be raucous. Christmas lights already adorn Dale’s house. His widow and son made sure of that because he always loved them so. It is, after all, tradition.

This year there is something new, however, driven by necessity. For the first time in my life, the tree is not only artificial, it is also a mere 5 ½ feet tall. It is lightweight and easy for us to handle without help. I have it decorated now, but my most special ornaments will remain in storage. The ones on the tree are lovely, just not the oldest or most meaningful. Perhaps this new, smaller tree will become tradition in time.

And in the gift exchange, there will be an extra gift, a ball cap, to be given to someone who would not otherwise get anything for Christmas. That will be in honor of Dale.

Changing the way things have always been done is never easy but it is inevitable, and we must somehow find a way to adapt. I think there can be comfort in the old ways, but sometimes, as it is with grief, they can be painful reminders of what has been lost, what will never be again. For me, a smaller Christmas tree and a simple ball cap are new traditions and adaptations to the changes this year has brought. They are small ones to be sure, but still they are changes I will have to get used to. It is one small way I have found to keep moving forward when all I want to do is stop.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Memories

Remember that song made famous by Barbra Streisand about memories?  The Way We Were?
Or the song about memories in the play Cats?
Both of those songs reminisce about times gone by and how precious those times are now - living on, if only in our mind.
Which begs the question - if we don't remember them - did they happen?
Would it matter?
What happens when there is no one left to remember?
Why am I waxing so philosophically?
I suppose it could be because of the holiday season that is now upon us but I suspect it's more than that.
This past week my Christmas present from John arrived. No, I know he didn't buy it. But every year I buy something special for myself that I know he would have purchased for me if he were here. This year it was an Amazon Echo Show. I'm a sucker for gadgets and John knows that so yes, he would have succumbed to all my hints and bought me this.
One of the things that this particular device does is play songs with lyrics and videos which is something the Echo Dot [yes, I have those too] does not do.
So as soon as I had it all set up and functioning I told my device whom I named "Computer" [I am also a Star Trekkie] to play songs from the 80's - the time that John and I were in our early years. I wanted to go down that memory lane.
Computer did not disappoint. The first song she played was Randy Travis' "I'm Gonna Love You Forever" which I also took as a sign from John [my post about that].
I have been listening to that station a lot this week since then. And, yes, the memories have been flooding, as you can imagine.
But there is more to this post than that.
As I sit here now, widowed, all I have now are my memories. And when I forget them, then what?
Already there are things that I fear I am forgetting or not remembering correctly and I don't have John to ask.
My aunt and my mother are both suffering from advanced Alzheimer's. They no longer remember us - my cousins and my siblings - their children. Our family memories are now entrusted to us kids. And we too do not know everything or may remember things differently from each other and we have no one to ask.
After my mother-in-law became ill and subsequently passed away, it was up to me to clean out her house and decide what to keep, what to discard. There were boxes of old photos as you can imagine. Some people I knew. Most I didn't. I kept all the ones I knew and a good portion of the ones I had no clue what or who they were about. There was something about them that just compelled me to keep them. These were people who were important to other people at one time. It felt sacrilegious to toss them away. Consequently, I now have a box of photographs of strangers that I am safeguarding and I don't know why. Somebody after me will most likely toss them out.
But memories are important.
They evoke feelings, emotions, tears, smiles, heartbreak, laughter...
When all is said and done, they are the last of our personal histories that we cherish, even more than things. Photos disintegrate, things break but memories live on as long as we do.
So, I cherish my memories, even if sometimes they bring a tear.
Because they also bring a smile and feelings of love.
And I will cherish that until my last breath.
Namaste.