Lessons Learned

It’s been five months now since my Dad passed away. I of course still miss him daily. I find myself unable to see elderly men out alone, it reminds me of his loneliness, and that is difficult for me. I recently had to leave the produce section at the grocery store because there was a man of a similar age shopping alone. It moved me to tears. I found myself wondering if he had family, or if he was alone in this world. In Sunday’s New York Times there was an extensive article about a man named George Bell. He had died alone at home, discovered only because of the odor that began to escape his apartment. The article told of the procedures involved when the police discover situations such as George’s, but it also shed a little light on George and his life. George may not have had anyone in his last moments, but his story will stay with me, and in that he won’t be forgotten.

When you lose both of your parents issues of your own mortality come to the surface. You become the oldest generation in your family. It’s an odd feeling. Many years ago someone (who shall remain nameless since she seems to go out of her way to say not nice things) told me I was a bad mother. Why? Because I was too close to my children, and that in the end that would hurt them. I hadn’t yet lost a parent at the time. I sort of get it now, but I don’t agree. When you’re a parent the hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurt or in pain. It’s intolerable. Knowing the pain that my Mom’s death caused, and the recent loss of my Dad (more about that below), what troubles me most isn’t that I’ll die, but its knowing that my own children will suffer at my loss. The one pain in their lives I cannot heal. When I saw Titanic I wasn’t moved by the love story of Rose and Jack (they quite frankly could have gone down with the ship and I wouldn’t have cared…no offense Leo and Kate), what did move me, and resonate with me, was the scene of the Irish woman in steerage putting her children to bed knowing that they were going to drown and that there was nothing she could do about it. I can’t imagine her pain. Where I disagree with what my anonymous critic said is that as much pain as I felt eight years ago (and still do) and am currently feeling about my Dad, I wouldn’t trade my relationships with them for anything. My Mom knew I loved her more than anything, My Dad knew I loved him, and worried about him, and I knew that they loved me. Were they perfect parents? No, none of us are. They were human, but they both had a tremendous capacity for love and gave it to their four daughters. Would my pain be less if they were absent parents, or abusive parents? I don’t necessarily think so. I think that it actually might be more painful to lose someone and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what you did that they treated you as such. I have spent nearly thirty-one years as a mom. I have spent all of those thirty-one years trying to show as much love to my daughter as possible, and twenty-five years with my son. I am not a perfect parent, and like all families we have had our moments, but I know without a single ounce of doubt that my children will always know how much I love them, and that means I’ve done my job.

When my mother died eight years ago it sent me into a tailspin of grief. It was like being at the bottom of a well without a ladder or rope to climb. Long periods of sobbing, and of questioning myself with all the “what ifs”. Eventually I sought counseling, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My Mom’s death served as a catalyst for much needed changes in me. I guess you could look at it as her final gift to me. I came out of that mourning as a stronger, more open, and determined woman.

My Dad’s final gift to me? I tend to be a loner. I always have been. I am not someone with a large circle of friends.  I mentioned here before how much I talked to him on the phone. I have come to realize that I wasn’t just filling his time so that he wasn’t lonely, but my own as well. I need to put myself out there in the world a little more. Twenty years from now I don’t want my children to feel the need to call me incessantly because they don’t want me to be lonely, or God forbid because they are lonely. I want them to learn from this and keep friends in their lives. I also hope they will learn from me to find the strength within them that my Mom’s death gave me, but to find it now when they are younger.

Finally, reading the story of George Bell on Sunday gave me pause for thought. Instead of running from the produce aisle in tears, I think next time I see what appears to be an elderly person alone, I will engage them in conversation. I’ve done it before, and maybe mentioned it before, but I had an elderly friend. Someone with family, but family that was disinterested at best. Her name was Hattie Klipp, she died at 104. My kids remember her from when they were much, much younger. Hattie was very dear to me, a substitute grandmother in many ways. I met her when I worked in a grocery store. Lesson three, this one comes from me. You never know what gift you will find when you reach out to someone else. I highly recommend it.

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Starting Over

I spent this morning thinking about my Dad. I still miss our phone calls, but I am grateful that there are no unsaid words between us. I think in many ways his passing was easier than our Mother’s. We had no idea just how bad her health was. She chose to keep that to herself. I suppose like so many mothers, myself included, she put herself last. Unexpected complications from unexpected surgery, and she was gone inside three weeks. It was like a blow to the stomach where you find yourself winded and unable to catch your breath. Dad had his first open heart surgery in 1986, and from that day forward he tried to prepare us all for the inevitable. He planned and paid for his own funeral, including asking the undertaker if he could get in the casket and try it on for size. (He had quite a sense of humor, along the lines of a thirteen year old boy) His health had been failing in the last few years. A bout of pneumonia on New Year’s Eve was the final trigger. His health both mentally and physically rapidly declined. Although there were moments where we thought we saw glimmers of hope, the reality was that he was tired, he was lonely, and he was ready to go. My sister Colleen put it best. She said, ” The selfish part of me wants him to still be here, but the other part of me is glad he isn’t in pain anymore.” I feel exactly the same. The strange thing these days is not having parents. It does feel a little like we are orphans. Not in an Oliver Twist kind of way, but more that no matter how old you are, you still look to your parents for comfort and advice. I think we all want our parents to be proud of us. It’s almost as if we never outgrow “show and tell” from kindergarten. We share new jobs, new relationships, our homes and accomplishments, all in hopes of garnering their approval, a smile, or a pat on the back. As I struggle to unpack and move in to my new home, (I know, still at it. That’s a post for another day!) it saddens me to think Dad will never step foot inside these walls. I even miss the idea of him checking my paint job, and believe me he did. I know that both of my parents will always be with me, I need only to see a soccer ball, a yellow rose, to look at my face, or on those of my children, and I see them both. I also know that they will live on in my heart, although right now that hurts. The anniversary of my Mom’s death is in three weeks. It’s been eight years, and for Dad it is not quite two months. Even as I write this a tear falls down my face. I think that my heart broke when my Mother died; a break that I don’t think will ever really heal. Now with Dad’s passing I think the crack has grown a little larger. Time helps, I know that, but I’m in no hurry for time to pass. I will instead continue to try to make them proud.

I titled this post “Starting Over”, and that’s what I need to do. Between the move, and my Dad’s illness, and funeral, I have been feeling a little lost and overwhelmed. I haven’t touched a paint brush in months, (other than the kind used to paint a house.) I have done a little sketching, but I have really nothing to show for it, so it’s time to begin again. I made mention of restarting another 365 day project, and I still like the idea of it, but unpacking takes precedence. My studio is about 80% completed, as for the rest of the house…Yikes! At best I believe I’m looking at another week or two before I can begin. Time to regain control a little, and do what I was meant to do…ART!  There’s a lot of emotion bubbling near the surface these days. I hope I can channel it into some really good work.

I mentioned Dad’s sense of humor. It often showed itself in merciless teasing of Mom. That’s how I want to remember them, the laughter, the good times, and the love they have for each other. I believe it still exists, I believe God has brought them back to each other, the way they are meant to be.Christmas

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Unanswerable Loss

DoubleTwo months. That’s how long it has been since I’ve sat before this computer and shared my thoughts, my life. One month. That’s how long it has been since I lost my Dad. I’ve been busy. We closed on our home the 7th of April, and made two trips to Chicago to see my Dad. Well, one to see him, and one to bury him. The truth is that I’ve been avoiding myself, avoiding this blog, because I wasn’t ready. Grief is a funny thing. It’s never the same for two people. I’ve written a lot about why people are who they are, and how experiences shape them. Grief has a way of pointing out the differences. Some take action and busy themselves to the tasks at hand, while others let grief surround them like a blanket held tight, waiting for comfort, but finding none. There are those who begin the desperate search to find answers, to question God, to layer the guilty “should haves”, “would haves”, and tear themselves apart. For me there is no anger. In our Dad’s final days we were all praying that he be released from his pain, and that he might be able to rejoin our Mother. Her loss was one he had never recovered from. Once those prayers were answered we were all left feeling the pain and emptiness that only death can deliver. For me there was additional sadness. Despite making two trips to Chicago in the weeks prior to his death, I had planned to go and be there for his final days. I had a flight scheduled for a Monday, he died the Friday before. The harsh reality of not living near family is that there are times when the distance causes one to feel like they aren’t quite part of things. Birthdays, graduations, the gradual growth of a child, are all things you witness from afar, and when someone you love falls ill it brings tremendous feelings of helplessness. With my Dad it was complicated further by our move. I wasn’t free to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. When our Mother died (forgive me if I have written of this before), Dad told me he couldn’t go to sleep. For more than fifty years the love of his life had been at his side, and now the bed was empty, there was no one to say goodnight to. My heart broke for him. He had always said that loneliness was the worst disease. I began to call him every night. I spoke about it at his funeral. In almost eight years I missed only a handful of nights, and when I knew in advance that I wouldn’t be able to make that call I asked someone else, usually my daughter, to make the call for me. Eventually those calls increased to every morning, and several throughout the day. I took every call he made. I wanted him to feel secure in knowing that someone would always be there. I would check the television schedule every day looking for his other great love, soccer. I would call with movies, history programs, anything to fill his empty days. There were times when we had great conversation. We would talk politics, religion, family history, and in particular movies. There were also difficult conversations. There were times when I sat here strangling the phone in frustration. Calls when he was angry at his loss, at his loneliness, and his bewilderment at God for taking “his Mary” first, and leaving him lost. Now I am the one feeling a little lost. For nearly eight years the first thing I did every morning was pick up the phone, and again every night, a call so he could hear the voice of someone he loved before he went to sleep. He isn’t lonely anymore, but I am. There is an emptiness in both the beginning and end of my day. I couldn’t call him in the final weeks before his death. I relied on my sisters to put the phone to his ear. On the morning that he died I told him I loved him and that it was time to let go. I told him it was time to go to Mommy and to his Big Mommy (his grandmother whom he adored). I had no way to know that would be our last call. He died about two hours later. Yesterday I called one of my sisters. I was the one feeling lost and lonely; I was the one who needed to hear the voice of someone I love. On the morning that my Dad passed away I was driving to the local mall. I’m sure everyone knows of the horrible drought here in Southern California, but that morning it was raining, raining hard. As I was driving my thoughts were on my Dad. I had only two hours before been telling him to let go. I thought to myself that the way it was raining reminded me of Ireland, and of course that reminded me of my Dad. I pulled into a parking space and said aloud, “These aren’t tears of sorrow; they are tears of joy, a good one is coming home.” I stepped out of my truck and my phone rang. It was my sister calling me to tell me that our father just died. Maybe in some way I knew. Maybe all of those phone calls gave us a connection that transcends this world. Dad if there was a direct line to Heaven I’d call you right now, but I know you are with Mom right where you need to be. I love you both, and I miss the sound of your voice.

Life Moves On

I have friend, she landed in Paris this morning. I have another who is burying her dad today. One friend facing probably one of the worst days of her life, and the other experiencing immense happiness. The world never stops. Sunday I went to a concert, but as we drove there I thought about the friend of mine who just that morning had lost her dad. I was reminded of when my mother died. I remember thinking about how in a single moment my life was changed forever, yet for the rest of the world outside my family life was continuing on as normal. I remember thinking, “How can this be? Shouldn’t everyone know that a beautiful person had just left this earth?”, but here I was on the way to a concert, my friend’s world changed forever, mine continuing on. It’s a strange place to be. You know your life will never be the same, but the people who see you on the street have no idea of the profound loss you’ve just experienced. For the friend that is burying her dad, actually her step-dad (you know those unsung heroes that step into a family and make all the difference in the world?), I am sure she is in a similar place to where I was. I think I have posted this poem before, or at the very least mentioned it. I heard it in the movie Four Weddings and A Funeral and it stuck with me since:

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It’s been seven years since I lost my mom. When my friend sent a text to let me know her dad had passed I cried. I cried for her loss, but also for my own. Reopening a wound a little. I still wonder about the world that continues on without my mom. I still ache to her voice, to wrap my arms around her, to give her one more kiss. Monday was a little cold here. I grabbed a scarf from my drawer, it was my mother’s. It still smelled of smoke, hairspray, and of her perfume. I haven’t washed it in all the time I’ve had it, and I never will. It carries traces of her and if that is all I can have I will treasure it forever.

To my friend in Paris. I love Paris, I hope you will love it as much as I did. Treasure that you are there with someone you love, I hope you have thousands of beautiful memories.

To my friend who is burying her dad. I think I’ve told you more than once, my mom knew how much I loved her. In some small way that helps. Your dad knew you loved him. He knows you are a fine and good woman. Dark skies ahead, but time truly helps, focus on the good stuff, the love, the laughter, even the stuff that annoyed the heck out of you. It’s life, it’s moving on, it will continue to move on, it will be a little emptier, but he will live on in your heart and mind. He has left this world with the gift of your love and the love of your family, and in return has left some love of his own. Prayers are with you all today.

 

Before I end this post a word about stepfathers. My husband is one, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. Like my friends dad he made sure that my daughter knew he loved her. Most stepfathers love all of their children, not just the ones that are “blood” relatives. Stepfathers usually end up in the movies as creepy guys who are up to no good, when in everyday life they are men made of something special. It isn’t easy to step into a family, and when your stepchild loves you immensely it means you have done something really right. When your stepchild refers to you as “Dad” it means you have crossed the boundary of blood lines and brought something wonderful into the life of someone else. I’m not forgetting the step-moms either. My daughter has a really terrific one named Valerie, who is one of the finest women I know, and my very dear friend. I couldn’t have asked for a better influence in Jessica’s life.

Life will move on. Stop breathe, appreciate, offer gratitude, and most of all love. I never want someone I know to leave this earth not knowing what they mean to me.

Borrowed Words

Dan and I were working on the house today. We are halfway through painting our kitchen/family room. We are “neutralizing” yet again. Amazingly as we work to turn our home into something that isn’t us, hoping to sell before time runs out, we laugh and joke, and talk. Sometimes we even talk about our unknown future. Without jobs, or without knowing where we will end up when we sell this house, we do it as one. We work well together. As in every other place in our life we are in sync. We stop what we are in the middle of to lend a hand to each other, we take turns making meals, we worry over the other working too hard. We also listen to music, his and hers. Usually Dan’s, only because for the most part I prefer quiet, and I like much of his, my taste is all over the map. Years ago I made a mix CD for my car. Guns and Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, right next to the Henry Mancini instrumental version of the theme to Franko Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. (All I can say is it works for me) Today we did a little singers and songwriters selection. Some Neil Young for Dan, and for me, Billy Joel. I’ve been a fan for more than thirty years. I’ve actually only missed two concerts since 1979. I love words, I love story telling, and I love good song lyrics. I love hearing a song and feeling something. I love relating to the emotions that are shared human experience, like love and heartbreak. I’ve been attempting to write something for a few days to express some of what I am feeling. I’m not giving up, it’s just that as much as I enjoy writing there are times when the words of another find a home in my heart. I am on the verge of losing these four walls and a roof, but when this particular song played I turned to Dan and said, “This is how I feel.” He said he feels the same. So thanks Billy, for putting my thoughts into words, I hope you don’t mind if I share them here. For Dan, who really is my home.Your My Home

Mission Accomplished!

Three days in and I’m finally finished with this project. As I said last night I will never be able to charge enough to cover the amount of time I’ve spent on this project, but I had a few mishaps along the way, as well as some areas where I rethought the way I was doing things. I’m pleased with the finished project. In all there are thirteen pages in this miniature accordion folded book. Each about the size of a business card. It has a velvet ribbon inside to keep the accordion in place, and the same ribbon to tie it shut. I’d really like to expand on this idea. The one I created for Dan has photos of us, and more personal notes and quotes. As I thought about the piece today I thought it would make the perfect vehicle for a romantic proposal. I may offer them with blank pages for personalization, places for photos, song lyrics, anything that someone might want to add to make it a really special gift.

I admittedly have still not really bitten the bullet and put any of my art up for sale. Dan and I talked about my artistic insecurities again this morning. I really don’t understand what’s fueling these feelings at this point. I’ve produced a lot of work I love including what I did tonight, but I can’t seem to shake the insecurity. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a good cook, actually a really good one. Last night we had dinner at the winery. My food was good, not great, but considering how fussy I can be it was really good. I got up this morning determined to recreate last nights meal, only better. I didn’t hesitate, it never once occurred to me that I couldn’t do it, I recreated that dish and it was better. I am completely fearless in the kitchen. I want that fearlessness when I pick up a brush as well as a spatula. I’m going to put at least five pieces up tomorrow. I need to force myself to get over the hump. I know that as I move forward there will be judgement and rejection, it’s part of the game. I just need to find that belief in myself so that what anyone else thinks won’t matter so much.1 26 (2)

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Labor Of Love

I am still in the midst of the project of last night. As so often happens to me, I have fallen in love…with this project. I am spending entirely too much time on it to ever see a profit, but I honestly don’t care. I love creating, I love drawing, I love painting, I even love sanding wood. When I find a project that really appeals to me I can very easily get lost in it. Dan often remarks to me that I need to consider my time when I am calculating a price on a piece that I’m going to sell, but it just doesn’t work that way. I never think of myself as an “hourly” employee when I work. As for price, well, every piece is priceless to me. I probably won’t ever get paid back for all of the time I’ve spent on art, but I earn so much more in pleasure and satisfaction. Some things are so invaluable that they can’t have a price. There is no cost to be placed on my thoughts, my visions, my inspiration, there is only in the end the work. My satisfaction comes from knowing that someone else buys the work, loves the work, and shares the work with the people that they care about. Somewhere out in the world something I created is possibly the thing that someone else in the world treasures, and that is payment enough. For this piece I can only hope that it speaks to some romantic soul who wants to express them-self but doesn’t have the words, or the creativity.

Speaking of romantic souls (me), I met my husband twenty-eight years ago today. It was like a bolt of lightning then, and the sparks are still flying now. I’m calling it quits for the night. A romantic dinner for two at one of the local wineries awaits me. It means my project won’t be finished for another day, but for now my priorities and expressions of love are elsewhere.

Photos of project in process, one finished card, and my beautiful flowers from Dan from this mornings Temecula Farmer’s Market.1 25 (1)

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A Flower For Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to anyone who might be a mom and reading this. It is as almost always the end of the day, and I only hope that if you are a mom you had as nice a day as I did.  I spent the afternoon sitting in the garden drawing with colored pencil. It is a photo I had taken at the Virginia Tech Arboretum. My husband made a beautiful breakfast, my son did the clean up. My daughter and new son in law came over in the afternoon, and then this evening my husband made a beautiful dinner.  I specifically asked that no one spend money that they didn’t have. I have too much in the way of “stuff” in my life, I would rather have something personal. I also requested that neither my daughter or son get flowers, I wanted basil for my garden.  Since I began this blog a month ago I have touched on from time to time not having the family support I needed as a kid to pursue my artistic dreams. That is not the case with my own family now. From my husband some always much needed paint brushes and a beautiful letter, My daughter and son in law gave me a new palette, some oils, a canvas roll for traveling with my brushes, and a small and really small canvas. My daughter also gave me a lipstick she knew I would like. My son gave me something really wonderful. He wrote me a poem based on this artistic journey I am on. It was so beautiful and personal that it made me cry. The people I love most in this world get it, they get me and what this is all about. They have all contributed to me feeling good enough about myself to even embark on this kind of project. It means everything to me. My daughter “likes” my work every day on her Facebook page and shares it with her friends. My husband “likes” it with his blog so that his readers see it too. My son sits by my side and helps me choose which shot of my project is the best one to use. I’m keeping it short tonight. No struggles over my work tonight. Just a deep appreciation for the people who love and support me, and who will be there to help me achieve my dreams. A thank you to all of them. I love you all.Image