I’m sitting on the patio wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. It’s such a lovely evening that I decided to take my laptop outside to write. The sun is setting, and I’ve lit a couple of candles on the patio table. The locusts are buzzing in the trees. Near and far they’re calling out to each other. The sounds are in layers coming loudly from the trees overhead but a softer, lower pitch from the trees out by the field. The breeze is cool on my bare legs, and although I know that the heat of summer is not gone, I can feel the season beginning the transition into fall. Continue Reading »
I read an interesting article today. I just happened upon it, but something in the title caught my eye. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something about determining when to keep pushing yourself and when there a need to allow yourself to rest. Those of us who are driven individuals have most likely trained ourselves to keep pushing, don’t give up, be relentless in the pursuit of….whatever, you can fill in the blank on this one. That’s certainly the story of my life. I’m not a quitter. Giving up is a foreign concept to me. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t feel good, and it certainly doesn’t feel natural. Continue Reading »
I have discovered lately (as if I didn’t know this already !) that I get deeply, and I mean DEEPLY, attached to things, places, and people. I get so attached that when the time comes to let go, I resist it with all of my might. The past few weeks have made me even more aware that the time has come for me to address this attachment issue with myself. I need to teach myself HOW to LET GO when it is necessary. Continue Reading »
Life has changed in unanticipated ways these past two years. Apparently, I don’t do well with change. Wait…I take that back. I welcome change, if that change is for the best. Bring on something good. Bring on something challenging even, and as long as there is a positive goal at the end of hard work, I’m all for it. I am not stuck in my ways. I am not afraid of new things or new experiences. Unfortunately, though, the past two years have been full of changes that have brought loss and pain. The past two years have been, without a doubt, the worst years of my life.
As Thanksgiving approached, I felt myself become happily excited by the thought of having all of the kids home and under one roof for the first time in months. Something strange happened, though. Each time I happily anticipated the days of togetherness, I found myself undermining my happiness. I began to mentally “warn” myself to not expect too much. When I began to picture Hallmark moments, my mind quickly turned those moments into a Lifetime drama. I pictured conflict and moments full of tension. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of having my family gathered together all in one place. I had come to expect loss, pain, failure, and dashed hopes.
To top it all off, and add to my endless stress, I was hosting the Thanksgiving feast for the first time in probably a decade. We were expecting over 20 people for dinner, and somehow in the midst of preparing the food, I had to make arrangements for someone to pick up my mother and bring her to our home. Between cooking, cleaning, and desperately wanting to redecorate the entire house, I worried that something was going to go terrible wrong and ruin the boys’ visit. I wanted so much to have this be an enjoyable, special time for them.
I had taken several days of vacation so that I could be as relaxed as possible in getting everything ready for the boys’ homecoming and Thanksgiving dinner. For the first time in years, I spent time alone in my own house. I puttered around, organized, and cleaned. It was a lovely feeling to get to know my own home again one on one. While I enjoyed my quiet time at home, I also realized once again how lucky I am to have a job that I love so much. I missed the hustle and bustle of the office. I missed the purpose I feel in my workday.
The boys both had midterm exams early on Thanksgiving week. They would both be taking the train home, but would not be coming in at the same time. Andrew’s train was coming in late on Wednesday afternoon. Luke was disappointed that he had a late afternoon exam. He wouldn’t be arriving until 10:00 p.m. That was OK, because his girlfriend was travelling home, too, and her parents were going to pick them both up at the station.
On Tuesday evening, the girls were in bed, and T and I had finally settled down in the living room to relax for a few moments before going to bed. We both perked up when a car pulled into the driveway. We looked out the front window, but didn’t know who it was. T walked to the back door to welcome our guest, but no one came. We rushed back to the front window. Who was it? By now, the girls had come downstairs. All four of us stood looking out the window like a bunch of hillbillies! We saw people milling about the car. It was two men. Finally, the suspense won over, and we opened up the front door (which no one ever uses) and stepped out onto the porch. I’m not sure what we were thinking or assuming, but we just stood there….looking, not making a move toward the driveway. T, the girls, and I just stood there looking out into the darkness. Then, Lola bolted past all of us. “It’s Luke!” she yelled. Hallmark moment number one was watching her fling herself at her big brother. We all ran out. He ran towards us. It was noisy, happy, and full of laughter. Luke had surprised us. He had come home a day early. I called Andrew to tell him, and he said that he could hardly wait to get home. By the next evening, Andrew was home, and my family was all gathered around the table together once again. Happiness. It was real. Even after the past two years of hell, I was feeling crystal clear, pure joy.
Those days when all of the kids were back home were like none other I have experienced as a mother. This visit was different. We all seemed aware that these moments of family togetherness were now a rarity. What was once a common, everyday part of our lives, was no more. Luke lives in Milwaukee. Andrew lives in Chicago. They don’t just go to school in those places. It is where they live. They have signed leases. They won’t be coming back next summer. Home is now a place where they visit. Of course, it is still their “home,” but it is no longer where their lives take place. It’s where their memories are kept. It’s where we gather as a family. Although these facts were not spoken aloud, we all felt the change. A new season, new dynamics, more changes had occurred in our family.
Thanksgiving day was wonderful. I loved cooking, and T was a huge help. I loved having the house full of family. My mother was on good behavior. The kids’ significant others joined for the day, too. Emily’s boyfriend, who is absolutely wonderful, was also home from college. It was his first time meeting the extended family, and as expected, they all loved him, too.
The biggest pleasure of all was the day after Thanksgiving. While many people were hitting the Black Friday sales, we all headed out to the country. Ever since I was a little girl, I have attended “Julmarknad” (Christmas Market) in a tiny village near my town. I was shocked and filled with pleasure when boys both asked if we would still be going this year. We headed out the next day, Christmas music blasting. We feasted on Swedish rye bread and bought candy sticks in the general store. On the way home, we pulled over to the side of the narrow country road to give Emily’s boyfriend, who grew up in a city, a chance to pet a cow. It was a wonderful, wonderful day. Many times that day, I held tight to moments I knew were perfect.
I had not planned any of the kids’ time beyond Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t expect the boys to hang out at home during their visit. I had expected the usual comings and goings as they visited friends or invited people over. That was fine with me. I knew I would be happy just to visit with them during the times in between. That didn’t happen, though. They didn’t run around very much with friends. They didn’t invite their buddies over. For the most part, they were happy and content to be at home. It was a wonderful surprise. We sat up late and talked. We watched movies. We ate, and we napped. It was truly a wonderful visit. No, it wasn’t a Hallmark movie, but thankfully, it wasn’t a Lifetime drama, either. It was my life, and it was wonderful.
Today is one of those horrible anniversaries of a BAD November day, a day that was most likely the worst day of my life. I have been thinking a lot about that fact this past week in anticipation of this hated date. It truly was the worst day of my life, and that makes me feel bad. It makes me feel guilty. I have lost loved ones through death, but not on this date. On this date, my horrible experience was something worse than that of losing someone through death. That makes me feel bad and guilty, so I have been trying to examine what happened and what went wrong. Unfortunately, all the fingers point to me. I have no one to blame but myself for getting to a point in my life where I was truly alone in my pain and grief.
While the experience of losing a child, or my dad, or when Andrew had his terrible accident were all gut-wrenchingly horrible to live through, I didn’t blame myself. Those things were “just life” or bad luck. During those terrible times, I felt surrounded by love. I had a safety net. I had people there to catch me when I fell and to soften the blow. On this WORST November day, I was utterly alone. I was crushed by ugliness, lies, and betrayal, but no one knew. No one cared. I had destroyed my safety net. Those good people who had once been there for me where no longer around. My dad was gone. My friends had long since washed their hands of my troubles. My family was clueless. I had taught them through my actions to simply “leave me alone,” so they did.
I had made a mess of my life, but I thought I could handle it. I thought everything would be OK. That was not the case, though, not on that dark November night. On that night, the very flimsy ground that was my foundation crumbled out from under me. No one cared. I had misplaced my trust. Those I thought cared, did not. Those who did care, had no clue. I was truly alone for the first time in my life. I wanted to die. Truly, literally, I wanted to end my own life. It scares me now to remember that BAD November day. It scares me that those whom I thought would care, did not. It scares me that those who did care, had no clue. It has been a long struggle back from that dark place. Many times, I have wished for a quick magical cure, but there is no magical cure to the pain life sometimes brings.
Last night, I thought about the times in my life that have been seasons of grief. I thought about those other, more rational times of grief, and I realized how things have changed in my life in the past several years. My Dad, my friend and father, he TALKED to me. He and I talked about anything and everything. During some of the most horrible times in my life, I could always count on Dad’s daily phone call. On days when all I wanted was to pull the covers over my head, Dad would call, and I always answered. We would talk about politics, religion, local news, or current events. He always had a story. He always made me smile. He pulled me through some of the toughest times in my life. He has been gone now for almost two years. Without a doubt, those two years have been the worst years of my life, not because my dad has been gone, but because my life was a mess (and only got worse) at the time of his death. Oh, how different these past two years would have been if my dad had been there as a steady, loving part of my life.
These past two years have been terrible. I have learned some valuable lessons the hard way. We are all responsible for our own actions. I will repeat that one, because it is important. WE ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR OWN ACTIONS. No I didn’t deserve to go through such a hellish experience, but as I said, when I look back at the circumstances, all fingers point at me. If my trust was misplaced, who placed it wrongly? Me. If I went through a terrible experience, and no one was around for me to lean on, whose fault was that? Mine. I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN ACTIONS.
Slowly, I am rebuilding the foundation of my life. Many of the people who were once part of my support system are gone, but I am learning to reach out again to the good people in my life. More importantly, I am trying my best to be good to others and to be there for those good people in my life.
I have to reiterate how very much I hate the month of November. The time change has made it even more dark and depressing. It’s cold and damp. The fields, whose beauty I have admired all spring, summer, and fall are now bare. The land looks harsh and unforgiving. The world seems tired and used up. I hate November.
As I drove to work the other morning, I thought about Grace. All of these years later, I still feel her presence in my life. I imagine what she would look like at this age (or any other age over the years.) I imagine her much like Emily, and it makes me miss her even more. I picture her making a life of her own, much like Luke and Andrew are doing now. I wonder where she would be or what she would have become. While those thoughts make me sad, they don’t overwhelm me. After this many years, those thoughts bring a sense of melancholy.
I realized that Grace would now be the same age I was when she was born. The thought was stunning. I was just a child when she was born. The idea of any of my children having to face such a challenge, such a loss, at the tender age of 23 made me shudder. They don’t seem ready for marriage or parenting, let alone being faced with the loss of a child. My own 23-year-old is just now taking those first steps into adulthood. He is energized and excited as he embarks on following his dream, experiencing new things, learning new things, meeting people, living alone for the first time.
The difference in my life with T and the lives of our own children are stunning. We were 20 and 22 when we got married. From that moment forward, there was no further guidance or support from our parents. I don’t mean that they didn’t care about us, but that was it. Their job was done. There was no checking on us or offers of assistance. We made our own decisions, good or bad. We struggled financially. We worked. We attended school. We paid our own way, often scraping the bottom of the barrel. By the time T and I were expecting our first child three years later, both of our fathers were deeply into their alcoholism.
I remembered the 17 days of Grace’s life. Our parents did nothing to make that time easier for us. In fact, their problems added to our stress. Both of our fathers were often drunk on their visits to the hospital, and it hurt to see that during such a terrible time. Classic enablers, our mothers turned a blind eye to their husbands’ behavior. Confrontation was useless. It only made matters worse.
There are many bad memories related to our parents from those 17 days, but that’s not what this post is about. It was in remembering those terrible days and our parents’ dysfunction that made me see something else entirely. I was 23 years old back then. Now things are flip-flopped. I’m no longer the child. I am the parent of a 23-year-old, and I was suddenly, profoundly aware of the difference between my relationship with my children and the relationship I had with my own parents at 23.
I called T as I was driving, because I wanted to share these thoughts with him. I said, “Do you realize that Grace would now be the same age I was when I had her?” He said, “Wow. I guess I hadn’t realized that.” We talked for a while and I asked him if he remembered how our parents had behaved back then. “Oh, yeah….of course.” We talked for a while about particular incidents. We marveled that we were able to get through that hellish time and keep moving forward with our lives. Looking back from the perspective of time, distance, and as parents now, it is stunning to see the drastic differences in our style of parenting compared to our own parents’.
While I am using our oldest son as an example in this blog post, certainly the same principles could apply to each of our children. Andrew may be an adult, but we still support him emotionally as parents. This past year has been a challenge for him. He was struggling to find his way. He lost his long-time girlfriend. His grandpa died. He didn’t know where he was headed or what he wanted to do with his life. Many times, there were conflicts. We saw him struggling, and we intervened even as he attempted to push us away. We offered him support and encouragement as he worked to find his path in life. We spent HOURS discussing options with him. Truly, it has NOT been a good year.
As T and I talked yesterday, we compared this past year and our son’s difficulty to the challenges he and I faced at the same age. They were completely different issues, but there was one similarity. Young adults are still on shaky legs when it comes to facing the big things life can dish out. T and I faced our challenges without the wisdom, advice, and support of our parents. They were so mired in their own dysfunction. Our problems were a burden to them. It is stunning to look back on that time from the perspective of a parent and realize such a thing.
This is not about anger at our parents during that long ago time. This is about something much more significant. Years later, these memories and thoughts have allowed me to be so thankful for the wonderful relationships we have with our own children. Through the pain and the loss, lessons were learned.
T and I discussed our experiences this past year with Andrew. It’s amazing to see how far he has come. The unhappy, struggling, and confused young man from last year has embarked on a new life. His excitement and energy have returned. Could he have done this without our support? Maybe, maybe not, but I like to think that we tipped the scales in his favor.
Last night Andrew called T to tell him that he had just finished writing a 10-page analytical paper. I came in the room just as they were ending their call. I sat down, and T told me about their conversation. I was so proud. I was happy to see T’s pride in our son, and happy that Andrew is taking things so seriously. (He had skipped free tickets to a private movie premiere to stay home and write.)
After T updated me on their conversation, I called Andrew. “I am so proud of you!” I said. I was beaming, and I could feel his happiness as he began to tell me about the assignment. When he was done talking, I reminded him once again of how proud I am of him. Oh, how I wanted to remind him of the mixed-up young man he was a year ago. I wanted to tell him that I was proud of how far he had come, but I didn’t. Those bad times will remain in the past unless he brings them up. My job is not to remind him of his failures, stumbles, or faults. My job is to be there if is falls. My job is to congratulate him on his successes. My job is to love him and to be proud.
I haven’t written in this blog for about a week. I’ve been writing, but just not here. As summer ends and cooler weather settles in, I find myself recalling many moments from my past. I have been concentrating on remembering and gauging my progress from season to season. I suppose you could call it a “self-inventory.” Am I better off this year than I was last year? Am I happier? What lies ahead? What do I keep? What do I throw away? What do I change? What are my goals? What am I striving to achieve? Where do I want to be in my life next year at this time?
These past two years have not been happy. Yet in the midst of all of the sadness, moments of joy continue to shine brightly enough to make their way through the murk and lighten my life. Life has a way of doing that. There is so much beauty and joy to be had in this life and in this world. It’s contagious. It’s almost impossible to ignore.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but it seems that way too often I experience mixed emotions. Some things are really good in my life, while other things really kind of suck. There doesn’t ever seem to be a happy medium. Maybe it’s because I am in the middle of so many other lives. I have four kids who rely on me. I am responsible for my mother. Then there is work. I manage volunteers. I have to deal with committees and a board. I am the person responsible for getting the volunteers excited, thanking them, guiding them in the right direction. I feel like so much of my time is spent being ON. Performing. After certain committee meetings, it takes me literally hours to unwind. That was the case last night. I had a board meeting, and it had gone wonderfully well. I was dead-on. I was well-prepared, and the initiatives I introduced were well-received. My adrenaline was flowing. It was great, but I was revved up for hours even after I went home. I couldn’t stop. I burned off my excess energy by cleaning like a madwoman. I vacuumed three flights of stairs. I made dinner. I ironed. Yet, I was still full of energy. I told T that it felt like I had testosterone flowing through my veins, and he better watch out or I would kick his ass. Of course, I am exhausted today.
Obviously, I love my job. It’s been one of the greatest surprises and greatest joys of my life. I certainly didn’t set out to do what I do. A decade ago, I didn’t even know such things existed. If I had heard myself speaking as I do now on a daily basis, it would have seemed like a foreign language created from acronyms. While I love what I do, I seem to be lacking balance. One look at my calendar, and it’s obvious that there will be no let up in my schedule until the holidays.
As well-prepared as I was for the meeting yesterday, I was not prepared for receiving a phone call as I was walking down the hall, arms full and coffee in hand, to the meeting room. It was a number that I didn’t recognize, so I answered the call. “Pam, this is the Kidney Center. Your mom is fine, but we need you to pick up a kit for a test we would like to perform on your mother’s stools.” (Yuck!) It was 4:00 p.m. I asked when they needed me to pick this test kit up. “Now.” I told them that I was just about to walk into a meeting and asked if I could call back around 5:30. “We won’t be here then. We close at 5:00.” My gosh! Pretty decent of them to call me at work and expect me to drive over there, at least a 20 minute drive, within the next hour. I asked them if this was an emergency or could it wait until the morning. Yes, it could wait.
Today I called the Kidney Center while I was driving to work. Their answering machine informed me that their hours were 9:00-2:30 today. Just great. I was tied up in meetings until 4:00. I had hoped to leave at that time and take care of whatever it was that I needed to do. I still really had no idea other than that they wanted to test my mother’s stools. Truthfully, I feel that it is more a matter of racking up as many charges as possible on their well-insured patient’s account. I called and left a message, but my call was never returned. It is these little out of the blue things that drive me nuts. Just when I think I have a handle on all of my responsibilities, something else always surfaces.
As I drove home from work, I looked out across the fields. They are all bare now, and they’ll look like this for many months. Another season has passed. Have I used this season well? I don’t think so. I seem too often to be stuck in a place of sadness and loss. As much as I try to recognize the beauty and joy around me, I am pulled back into remembering.
When I walked into the house, Emily was waiting for me in the kitchen. She had been working on a Senior Memory Book writing assignment for school, and she wanted me to proofread what she had written. She was on her way out the door, but wanted me make sure to talk to me before she left. Ugh…. I was tired, and I had just gotten home. I had to make dinner, do laundry, help Lola with her homework, now this. I told Em that I would be happy to help her out, and she was gone.
Here is a portion of what she wrote. The subject was “What person has had the most significant influence in your life?”
My mom is my best friend. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for her guidance along the way. She holds me up, and I hold her up. Thinking about my life without her isn’t even feasible to me. If I have a problem that I need help dealing with, she’s there no matter what. Even though it seems like she has a million things on her plate at one time, she would drop it all to help me. She helps me deal with my mistakes, whether it’s by telling me that she once made the same mistake, or just sitting there talking it out with me. When she is going through a hard time and is in pain, I feel it along side her. She and I are exactly alike in just about every way that I can think of. She looks like me, talks like me, walks like me, thinks like me, and makes the same mistakes as me. We even have the same favorite foods. I can open my mouth and say one word, and I’ll have my mom rolling on the floor laughing. Sometimes we get into fights that last a while, but we get over it and finally end up laughing. I love my mom more than anyone on the planet, and I will never let our relationship fail.
I was honored. I was happy, yet sad, all at the same time. She does know me. She knows how she has propped me up these past years. Yes, she has been my best friend. She has held my hand, laughed with me, and understood those moments when all I have needed was to have her quietly by my side. I am so proud of the loyal, compassionate young woman she has become. I am so very thankful that she feels that I have been there for her and that I will always be there for her. Even while I am proud of her, I am ashamed that she has not had a better, happier, more perfect mother.
That is life, though, isn’t it? While we strive or wish for a “perfect,” happy existence, that isn’t the real world. Life is full of challenges and disappointments. As hard as we try, sometimes things just don’t go our way. I am sad that my sweet daughter has had to learn those lessons already at her tender age. Sad, yes, but proud that she has continued to love through the pain of loss and mistakes and has learned that laughter often follows tears.
There is so much that I no longer understand about the world. I’m not sure what happened. It seems that most of my life, I had certain things in place. For years and years, the pillars of my foundation surrounded me, grounded me, protected and guided me. For many years, my life was very much based on the examples of my past and the people who held great influence over me. My great-grandparents and my grandparents were sturdy, sensible people. They cared for their land, their families, their church, and their God. The did nothing to excess. I would not think that I am not wrong in assuming that when their heads hit the pillows each night, they did not begin to wrestle with their personal demons, but instead, they drifted off to sleep imagining the chores of farm-life that would await them the next day.
My great-grandparents raised three fine children in the big stone farmhouse. There was a well pump in the kitchen with a tin cup for all to drink from the cold icy water. You could see the little hen house from the kitchen window, and Grandma would take her towel-lined basket out each morning to collect the eggs. Look a little to the left, and you would see the horses standing by the barnyard fence waiting from Great Grandpa to come feed them. Beyond that was the hog lot, a field for the cows, and rows and rows of sparkling cornfields. More often than not, there would be a tall chocolate cake waiting under a glass dome on the sideboard.
On the day of Great Grandma’s funeral, I walked the path from the church back to the big stone house holding Great Grandpa’s hand. He had sought me out. He asked me to leave with him. I wasn’t much older than Lola at the time. It was after the funeral, and everyone had gathered in the church parlor for the funeral luncheon. Great Grandpa told me that he couldn’t stand to see them all visiting as if it were just any old day. He had lost the love of his life. He wanted to mourn, not pretend that everything would be OK. It was then that I realized that it was sometimes OK for everything NOT to be OK.
We walked silently along until we reached the edge of the fields. There was a fence with a large swinging wooden gate. Most times it was closed and would have to be swung open to let the tractor and wagons into the field. Sometimes the cows were in this field. On this day, however, the gate stood open. Bright spots of green were just beginning to poke through the early spring soil. He took me through the gate to where a lush patch of clover was growing. We stopped and he stood looking down at the cushion of clover while he told me how much Great Grandma had loved this particular spot on the farm. He said she would come down here and sit like a girl among the clover looking for a lucky four-leafed clover. His blue eyes twinkled and his face crinkled into a smile as he remembered. She had found many lucky clovers on her years here on the farm. He took me back to the house and showed me a bible where hundreds of lucky clovers had been pressed between the pages.
Great Grandpa and I wandered all over the farm that afternoon. He had not told anyone that he was leaving the church or that he was taking me with him. My dad and my grandpa spent some time looking for us, and I will always remember the look of relief mixed with curiosity when my dad finally found us. He didn’t say much, didn’t ask questions, he simply joined Great Grandpa and I on our walk around the family farm. I can still remember the warmth I felt standing between those two men.
The memory of that day is one of the happiest, saddest, and strongest memories of my life. Great Grandpa passed something down to me that day. I felt the strength of his love and the importance of remembering those we have lost. We may lose the person who dwelled by our side on this earth, but we never lose the memories of the love we shared. Now these people are all gone from my life. Great Grandpa lays by his wife’s side. My Grandparents are on the hill below their feet. Dad lies next to them all. The strength of their guiding influence still resonates strongly through my life, but all too often, I feel that I have let them down. The family potion of strength, courage, and integrity seems to have been watered down in me. While my great grandparents were a hardy stout, most times, I feel more like a tepid weak lemonade. That is what I am working on. I need to become a better me not only to honor the memory and strength of those who have come before me, but so that someday, I will be able to pass this along to those who follow in my footsteps.
I’m not sure why I am remembering all of this today. Maybe it’s because I am watching my own children as they begin to take steps down their own paths, paths that they have chosen for themselves. I feel a sense of pride and wonder as I watch them forging their own lives. I look at T and I marvel at all we have faced, and conquered, together. I see the age in his face and wonder where the boy I once knew has gone. I look in the mirror, and I know he must see the same thing. I feel old, and proud, and sad, and elated all mixed together. I feel the baton being passed, and it feels heavy in my hand. This is no longer Great Grandpa’s family, or Grandpa’s, or Dad’s, it is now mine. It all happened in the blink of an eye. Once here, and now they are gone. Once young, and now I am getting old. Once children, and now adults.
Inside, I don’t feel much different now than I did as that little girl in the pink dress and black patent leather shoes holding her Great Grandpa’s hand. I trusted where he led. He was the guide, and I followed. Now it is up to me. There is no guide for this part of my life – only the lessons I’ve been taught and the love I have been so generously given.