Tag Archives: Grief

Oh, hello June.

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My youngest daughter is 18, and she has been enlisted in the U.S. Army since last fall. So, we’ve known since that time that she’s headed off to basic training this month to get fine-tuned according to the military code and training schedule. She’s been having mini-panic attacks in the last month or so – homesickness is making a pre-emptive strike it seems. I assured her she’ll be fine, and that once she gets there and gets busy she’ll feel better. And of course, she’ll be home next November.

Last month, my sister was offered an amazing career opportunity in Portland, Oregon. She’s been looking for a new job for a year or so, so I’ve known she was going to go somewhere for quite a while. But Portland… well, it’s not a long weekend’s drive away.

Today, my oldest daughter (and mother of the Grand-Cuteness) found out there is an apartment available at a transitional housing program for single parents called Havenwood. She and her daughter have been living with us, and she’s been on their waiting list for a little while. They’ve called before, but she wasn’t making a steady income… and simply wasn’t ready to make the leap. This time, she’s ready to go. She’s understandably nervous about the idea. She’s afraid of losing her job, and the instability that would cause. But of course, that’s what all “grown-ups” worry about, right? I assured her that life is unpredictable, and that this experience will help her gain confidence and be ready to be truly independent when she leaves there. And a healthy pocketful of fear is not a bad thing.

Daughter & Grand-cuteness

The oldest and the Grand-Cuteness.

So, suddenly, June’s theme is going to be about leaving.

It’s odd, this piling on of things. It reminds me of August 2009… that month my youngest daughter decided to go live with her father and my mother died. It was fairly devastating – dealing with those two loses at the same time. I think I shoved the grief of losing my daughter deep down and haven’t really dealt with it. The grief of losing mom was more than enough. But with my daughter it was not a loss as much as a feeling of rejection and failure. Strange how things come along in rushes like this.

This month will be different… since I know that I’m not losing anyone permanently, but I’m sure there will be some tough times here and there. And of course, I’m also looking forward to some of the changes. Cleaner bathrooms, spending time with my oldest that don’t involve lecturing and griping… cleaner bathrooms…

I don’t have anything wise or witty to finish with. I simply needed to put down the words. Sometimes that’s all I can do, I suppose.

The gold kind of friend…

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As I was on my way to Little Rock a few weeks ago, on a one-day trip for a work meeting, I sent a quick text near Russellville to a friend who lives there. (No, I wasn’t driving.) I hadn’t heard from him in a while. It was just a quick note: “Hey stranger! I’m driving by Russellville, so I’m waving in your direction!” It went unanswered, and I went about my day not thinking about it again.

John and I met on Match.com almost 12 years ago. I thought he Imagewas cute, and his profile was hysterical. He may have even included some Monty Python references, which sealed the deal – I had to meet him. We chatted by email quite a bit, and finally decided to meet at the Little Rock zoo with our daughters for a Saturday afternoon. It was fun, and he was still cute, but it was obvious there wasn’t a lot of romantic spark there. He was a bachelor who pretended to be looking for a relationship, but was really just happy to keep looking. We became great friends, and he even stood up with me at my wedding to the Hubster.

We didn’t speak to each other often, but we’d send an occasional email back and forth. Hecommented on my Facebook posts, and I would on his… it was one of those friendships that would have faded away completely were it not for the advent of social media.

Then early last week while I was on Facebook, I thought of him again. He’d been in NWA for the Bentonville ½ marathon in March, and he met my husband and I for lunch. We had a great time catching up and parted ways with big hugs. But I hadn’t seen him out there online for a while, and when I remembered that I hadn’t heard back after my text, I wondered. I sent him a message: “hey, where are you man?”

Then I felt that knot in my stomach as I looked at his Facebook timeline and saw that there had been no activity for a while… and I did what any friend would do. I Googled him.

“John Russell Baskin age 44 of Russellville died Sunday, July 8, 2012. He was born December 7, 1967 at Chula Vista, CA…”

I hate that I don’t know what happened. I hate that I don’t know how to find out. I hate that I wasn’t at his memorial service because I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know one of my friends had died. I hate that I didn’t know.

John was a great dad, a terrific softball coach, and a good friend. He was a listener, an encourager, and a caller of “bullshit” when he needed to be. He was funny, a smart-ass, loved his Cubs, and could quote Monty Python episodes by heart. He was a former member of the United States Army, and was proud to have served his country.

Even though I didn’t talk to him often, I’m so terribly sad that he’s gone. I will miss him dearly. And my husband reminded me the other day of something that kind of exemplifies our relationship. When we decided we were not really made for each other romantically, we made a pact that if we both turned 60 and were still single, we’d just shack up together. So, if I’m single at 60 with no one to shack up with, I’m gonna be pissed, John!!!

Rest in peace, my friend.

The After Times

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The After Times

When my mother died I was devastated for myself. I lost a business partner, a confidant, and the biggest cheerleader for me… for everything I did in my life… that I would ever have. I lost the person I went to with any frustration or life-question. I lost my best “girlfriend”… the person I went to when my spouse drove me nuts, when my children left me speechless, when I had a life-decision to make and wasn’t sure which road to take.

I have a wonderful husband who has picked up the slack in some areas. I have had to learn to go to him when I am frustrated or confused, and he does a great job, but he doesn’t fill the entire void. My sister covers a lot of ground in other areas, because she has become my road-trip partner and let me rant to her when I am going nuts at home and just need to feel sorry for myself.

But the biggest source of sadness I have is actually not about me. It’s about her. My sister. She was, in many ways, an only child from late elementary school through college. Even though my mom remarried, they were kind of a dynamic duo. Mom was able to share many experiences with my sister that she couldn’t with her older kids. When mom died, one of my first feelings of sadness was for the many, many experiences that my sister was still going to have that our mom wouldn’t share with her. My brothers and I had had weddings, children, career successes, and hobby successes that my sister had only started to set goals for when she died… I hated that my sister would not have our mother here to share these things as I and my brothers did.

Last week, my sister lost one of her close childhood friends to an untimely death. Mom knew the young man’s family (I say “young man”… he was 31, so I guess he was actually a Man) so her number should have been the first my sister called. They could have shared a common history as they discussed the news. They would have been able to remember some great moments together. Mom would have offered to go with my sister to Dallas for the funeral. Instead, I got the phone call. I am sympathetic, of course. I even cried as my sister told me what she knew about what happened. I remember her friend, and met him once or twice, but it’s not the same. Not even close.

I knew when mom died that I would be taking mom’s place for my sister in many ways. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy when it has to happen. I am happy to do it, of course! But I hate with every cell of my body that I have to.

Some things get easier with time, but I don’t think this will. Ever.

The end of an era.

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In 1966 my grandfather built a house on some property that my grandmother inherited. My mother had already married and moved away, but my siblings and I spent most Christmases and weeks every summer there.  We explored the woods, climbed on limestone bluffs full of fossils, picked blackberries, helped plant the vegetable garden, harvested the produce, learned to paint with my grandmother, rode in the back of grandpa’s pick up to feed the cattle, gathered eggs, fished in the river, roasted marshmallows in the fireplace… so many of our favorite, formative memories and experiences were created there.

On the eve of the property being sold on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder, I thought I’d put down a few of my favorite memories…

My grandmother was an artist. She took lessons from one of the leading tole-paint artists in the 1970s and sold her beautiful items at craft fairs throughout the Ozarks for years.  She had a room in the house dedicated to her painting. It was a delightful room full of paint, brushes, bookshelves full of books, and had a large bay window. I loved to watch grandma paint, and have a few things that she let me paint alongside her. One day she invited my brother and I to gather flat river rocks from the gravel driveway and let us paint little faces on them. I was impressed and a little jealous that my brother’s rock faces had better eyes than mine did. No wonder he went on to be a brilliant illustrator.

Walking through the woods in the spring looking for fern fiddleheads and wild violets.

During the summers before central air was installed it was seriously warm at night upstairs where the bedrooms were located. A box fan was placed at each end of the hallway outside the bedroom doors and the windows were opened to allow air to circulate through the house. The fans created a hum that harmonized perfectly with the raucous noise of the cicadas that started up at sundown each evening.  I will always enjoy the sound of tree frogs and cicadas at night – it’s not just a memory but a sensory feeling of peace and security that settles within me when I hear those noises. It’s a sign, to me, that all is right with the world.

Christmases at the farm, when we were there before the 25th, involved scouting out the perfect tree. Very often, grandpa had already located a contender and we would trek with him through the woods or ride in the back of his pick up to the bottom pastures to offer our approval and beg him to let us help with the sawing (the answer was always – appropriately – no). Cedar trees often grow along fence lines on farms in the south, and the aroma of fresh-cut cedar will always be a favorite of mine.

Fresh tomatoes, still warm from the vine, sprinkled with sugar. Mmmmmm….

Another scent that stays with me is a combination: fresh sawdust and cigarette smoke. My grandpa was a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II. Along with all the other GIs, he was provided with free cigarettes on a regular basis. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind that was, but the result was that he started smoking. I don’t actually remember seeing him smoking often, but I know he did while worked in his woodworking shop on the farm. When I went to see him in the shop there was always a specific smell that permeated the air. It was also in his shirt when I hugged him goodnight. It doesn’t sound like a smell that would be pleasant, but I love it.

Helping grandma hang clothes on the line outside the pump house/laundry room.

My grandmother made fantastic home-cooked meals that included a huge selection of vegetables from the garden, canned tomatoes, and beef that was probably raised on the farm. Whenever she made pie crust she cut the scraps of pastry into little strips and sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon. The pies were wonderful, but the little strips of baked pasty were perfect.

Grandma used to put on rubber boots at dusk and beat the bushes around the patio with a hoe to chase out the copperhead snakes so she could mangle them.

Helping grandma hang clothes on the line outside the pump house/laundry room.

It’s ironic, I think, that on the day that the property will leave our family the trees are bright green from the recent rain, the iris are blooming and the woods smell fresh and musky. It’s one of my favorite times of year there, and every spring I’ll wish I could go back.

Hard, but not impossible.

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Having now celebrated two Christmases without my mother I am convinced that, contrary to what well-intentioned people have told me, it will never get any easier. 2009 was very difficult because I spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas that year away from home and my family and the traditions that are comfortable for me, but this most recent holiday season I got to spend both of those days with my siblings and it was still hard. Not sobbing-in-bed-for-hours hard… there was no crying or reminiscing aside from a comment at Thanksgiving about the day also being her birthday… the difficulty was less intrusive, but just as painful.

One particularly tough moment came at a craft fair my sister and I were selling at in October. As I was browsing the other booths I discovered something that would have been a perfect gift for my Mom and was hit by the stunning realization that I would never buy her another gift. My mother was a joy to buy for. She and I had similar taste in many things – decor, clothing, hobbies. Perhaps that’s why I now have so much of her stuff in my garage? I felt I knew her so well that when I found The Perfect Gift it was a thrill just to anticipate her opening it, let alone seeing her reaction post-reveal.

Another wrinkle this year was the grand-baby in our house. She looks so much like my mother did as a baby – she has her chin and her smile and her red hair!! – and I know Mom would have loved to have a new baby to buy for. I hope I can measure up to Mom’s stellar Nana talents as I learn to be a Nonnie for my little one.

But being with my brothers at Thanksgiving and my sister for Christmas helped somewhat as we move forward “sans mere”. I’m confident we will make new traditions as we learn to share our own homes with each other instead of relying on mom to always be the hub of our family wheel.

Losing a parent in 2009, and gaining a grandchild in 2010 kind of trumped any list of goals I made those years. I’ll give 2011 some thought and get back to you on that.

Until then – I’ll share my mantra for the new year:

Do or do not… there is no try.   — Yoda

Seven

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How can it be seven months already since my mother died? This is so hard for me to believe I can’t tell you. Of course, as everyone says when time has gone by quickly, it also feels as though it’s been years and years. I talked to my mother almost every day, either on the phone or by email. And since she lived here near me, we saw each other frequently as well.

There has been so much going on in the last seven months that I haven’t been able to talk to her about, and it hurts so much to realize that there will be many, many years’ worth of things coming that I won’t be able to share with her, rant about, celebrate… the loss is almost unbearable. I didn’t lose a mere parent, I lost my friend, advisor, business partner, and biggest cheerleader.

In the last six months, mom has missed:

  • The snowiest winter we’ve had in years – she loved snow, and would have taken countless pictures of it in her yard.
  • Her youngest son’s 40th birthday, the news that he’s been accepted into the U.S. Diplomat program, and his marriage.
  • My son’s first visit from the tooth fairy.
  • My oldest daughter’s 18th birthday.
  • Anticipation of my son’s first baseball and soccer games.
  • My 15 year old’s tales of learning to drive with her learner’s permit, and her first school dance with an actual date.

In addition, of course, there are so many things I would like to talk to her about… my belly dance class, my kids’ school work, plans for summer vacations, plans for my vegetable garden, my efforts to get published this year… I do talk to friends and others about these things, but I miss hearing her comments. Mom always had something to say, and the silence from her these last six months has been so difficult to bear. I have noticed that I am becoming very forgetful – more so than is typical – and wonder if I’m wiping my brain like an Etch-a-Sketch to keep from thinking about her absence, and at the same time wiping a lot of stuff I need to remember.

I know people mean well when they say “She knows even though she’s not here.” Or, “She’s here in spirit.” Thanks for that – I appreciate your attempts, but that’s really not comforting. If she IS here, then yay for her – I’m still suffering, and I still can’t talk to her and laugh with her and hear her sage advice (it matters not whether I would have taken it).

Obligatory Holiday Post

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Obviously, the holiday season is going to be different this year. We won’t spend any time at mom’s house. Mom won’t making the candies she called Martha Washingtons like she did every year (like it or not!). But somehow, I didn’t really think things would be unbearably different. Naively, I didn’t think that this year would be that bad since we will be in Kansas City.

But of course it will be different. The whole thing will be different. My brothers aren’t coming to Arkansas, I’ll be away from home for the week of the 25th, and when I get home, mom still won’t be here. And thanks to the brilliant minds who program the holiday movie schedules, it seems that fact will be driven home on a regular basis this week.

I watched The Family Stone last night. I’d seen previews for it, so when I saw it was on television I settled in on the couch to watch. I was totally invested in the movie about a guy and a girl and the guy’s family who doesn’t like the girl much… and the family dynamics of the siblings during the holidays… when, in the last 15 minutes of the damn thing, the storyline reveals that the mom is dying of cancer. Of course I sat and sobbed as the fiance character, Sarah Jessica Parker, gave the family each a portrait of their mother that she had made from a snapshot that sat on her boyfriend’s desk. Then I sobbed more when, in the final scene, everyone gathered for Christmas the next year and the mother wasn’t there. What kind of happy holiday movie is that, exactly??? It sucked. They could have done the same exact movie, with the same exact lessons taught, without losing the mom.

Then tonight, when I saw that Big Fish was on – a movie I have wanted to see – I thought, oh great! But when, ten minutes in, we visit the main character’s dad as he convalesced at home with cancer, I decided that I wouldn’t put myself through it.The mom explains that the dad isn’t eating well, and is getting weaker due to his lack of appetite, then she gives the son a can of Ensure to see if the son can convince him to drink it. Serious flashback time. And when the son goes into the bedroom to see the dad, the dad wants a drink of water, and the cup has a bendy straw in it. More serious flashback. If the man had brown eyes and had been wearing a knit cap on a bald head, it would have been my mother. It was way too much.

So, hey all you television execs out there (I’m sure you’re all reading my blog…) Let’s find some happy stories to air during the holidays, how about? How about nothing with dead or dying parents. No sick or missing children. No soldiers who won’t come home. Those of us who have had these things happen to us recently REALLY don’t need to see the Hollywood version. I promise.