Melancholy

Grief knows no calendar.

I guess I will always feel a little melancholy in January.

I lost my mom two years ago this month, and I continue to be surprised at just how much harder it is to move on from her death than what I’ve experienced after losing our other parents.  I don’t know if it was the fact that she was our last living parent, if it is because I was closer to her than any of our other parents, or if it’s something else.  Without a doubt, though, grief is taking it’s sweet time with me, it seems.

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I think most people tend to give a lot of leeway to family members and friends in the first year after the loss of a close loved one.  Tackling all those “firsts” can be so, so hard, and I certainly found that to be true after losing my mother, just as it was after we lost our other parents.  I had quite a bit of support, especially from my closest friends, and I’m grateful for the love shown that truly helped me through that first year.

Grief didn’t care about that calendar, though.  Not one bit.

Last year was my second full year without Mom, and I swear it was just as hard on many occasions as it was in year one.  Understandably, most people assume that after that first year, all is fine… or at least better, so I started to just keep my feelings to myself and not burden others with my continuing feelings.  Friends have other interests in their lives and suffer their own heartaches.

Life moves on for all of us.

But, as Shelby’s mom said in Steel Magnolias after the graveside service for her sweet Shelby…

“I’ll tell you what I wish. … That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.”  (Steel Magnolias… 1989)

Oh, how very true that statement is.  So, so true.  (I’m not sure a movie ever truly captured such a true manifestation of grief as this particular scene at the cemetery.)

I have no sage wisdom to share today, except to simply acknowledge that grief doesn’t stick to a one-year calendar, despite that conventional viewpoint these days.  Acknowledging the ongoing grief helps a bit, and that’s why I’m writing today.  Simple acknowledgement.

I hope this lesson sticks with me and reminds me to have a tender heart toward others in the future, perhaps by simply marking my calendar and letting them know that I’m thinking of them and offering a heart-felt, sympathetic prayer for them on their own hard anniversaries.

I want to make it count, this often hard path I continue to find myself on without my Mom in my life.  (The article linked is absolutely fabulous.)

During this anniversary month of Mom’s passing, I’m reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and so far, it is quietly speaking to my broken heart.  Ann’s writings are best savored slowly and deliberately, and every day, I’m slowly “getting it.”  Perhaps if you find yourself with a broken heart right now, this book might offer some insight to you, too.  If not right now, perhaps make a note of this great book for a time you might need it in the future?

Ann is “explaining it to my heart,” and I am grateful.

 

Inspiration in Tough Times

It’s tough right now.

Tough seems to be the operative word right now, but I’m still finding some great inspiration during these tough times.

I.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch many of the Olympic competitions in Rio over the past week, many of them live as they happened which is always a special thrill.  Watching these highly disciplined athletes from all over the world strive for excellence is always an honor, and once again, I’ve been moved to tears at times and have also cheered a few of them on from our living room, including athletes from other countries, too.

I also saw “Phelps Face” live on the evening it aired.  I was cracking up watching it and was not at all surprised when it went viral and produced some absolutely hysterical memes afterward.

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Olympic athletes are definitely tough people, including and especially the Paralympic and Special Olympics athletes, and their personal stories are incredibly inspiring.  So many of them have overcome very tough circumstances to be where they are and do what they do.

If only our politicians were as inspirational as our Olympic athletes are.  Sigh.  I guess we can dream…

No doubt the Olympics tend to bring out the best in people during the games, even we spectators that are simply watching on our televisions thousands of miles away.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  1 Corinthians 9:24

II.  The weather here at home has been tough over the past five weeks, with no rain and typically hot weather for this time of year.  Despite the hot weather, the yard work has not gone away, and I’ve had to be more diligent in working in the yard to get those chores done and still try to avoid the worst of the heat each day.

I would much rather enjoy the cool(er) mornings with a good cup of coffee, but I also don’t want to work in the heat later.  The plants, grass and trees still need water to keep them from dying in this heat, and I’m their water source right now until the weather cooperates once again.

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Without a doubt, caring for the yard in recent weeks has been pretty tough.

My little reward for all this hard work is enjoying our little outdoor paradise and the wonderful beauty of nature just outside our doors each day, something we haven’t always had here at home in years gone by when we didn’t have the time to tend the yard as we do now.  Right now, though, we just enjoy it in the cooler part of the day, but hopefully soon, the weather will moderate, and we can enjoy it much more.

All ten of our Red Rocket crape myrtles are in full bloom, and they are absolutely gorgeous, despite the very tough hot and dry weather.  This is something I’ve come to look forward to each summer in early July, and once again, they did not disappoint, having grown even more since last year.

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Birds have to be tough survivalists in the weather we’ve been having lately, but sometimes it doesn’t work out for them.  For the second year, a little nest in the tree in our backyard failed.  A dove built the nest and seemed to be thriving before we went on our trip over the 4th of July weekend, but when we returned, it had failed.  Once again I am very sad, too.  Nature isn’t always kind, by any stretch.

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Doves are visiting in abundance, as well as robins, cardinals, house finches and blue jays, thanks to our beautiful trees and bird feeders, and I love to hear the doves cooing in the early mornings to greet a new day.

 “Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season for singing has come. The cooing of doves is heard in our land.”  Song of Solomon 2:12

III.  One of our local sportscasters is once again doing something fun as the high school football season will be underway soon.  He interviews a different coach each day about their players and their upcoming opponents, and he actually tracks the number of times each coach says the word tough in the interview.

This sportscaster has found a creative way to keep viewers interested in all the interviews, not just the ones that concern their home team, and it’s fun to watch each evening.  One coach recently uttered the word tough 28 times during the interview, too.

Hats off once again this year to a very creative sportscaster!  Who knew tough could actually be quite funny!

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. ” Proverbs 17:22

IV.  A dear friend and her elderly mother are both going through a very tough time right now.  Her mother became seriously ill about three weeks ago and is not expected to live.  She moved her mother to a private nursing home with Hospice care a few days ago, and I’ve been on call for her each day to help as needed.

It seems that I’m now the “go-to” person when friends need advice to care for their parents toward the end of life, since I’ve already “been there and done that” several times.  I’m so happy when I can help others with the knowledge I gained and resources we used and/or learned about as our own parents all fought their own terminal illnesses.

Without a doubt, this is how God uses so many of us… by simply sharing our personal experiences and testimonies with others in this way to help them in their own struggles, and I always give thanks when I’m able to help someone else during a tough time… because I *have* been there and done that and know how I desperately needed help myself.

If there is any good that can come from enduring tough times ourselves, it’s being able to grow in our own faith and also help someone else lessen the effect of their own tough times by loving and helping them through it.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

V.  Our country is in a tough spot these days, for sure.  It’s sad when there just seems to be nothing good on the horizon for our nation on a macro level, but the good I’ve seen manifest on a micro level lately has truly been uplifting.  This is where we can actually make a difference anyway.  Spewing hate and division on a macro level accomplishes nothing good but does afford a few loud voices some attention, unfortunately, as well as a lot of misinformation… and I do mean a *lot* of it.  In times when it’s just so tough to find out what is true and what is not, we have to dig deep to look for it.

Perhaps we should just show what we’re made of each day on a micro level, and maybe, just maybe, some day things will improve on a macro level, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Bible and Cross

I need to remind myself every single day that God is still in charge, too,… “our refuge and our strength” in times of trouble. — Ps. 46:1

And to my sweet friend in Louisiana who sometimes reads my posts here, I continue to pray for you daily as you and your family an pets endure the horrific flooding and possible loss of your home/cars/etc. Our tough times pretty much pale in comparison to your tough times right now.  I am once again reminded to never take anything in this life for granted and to ever be thankful for even the smallest of blessings each and every day.

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Have a blessed week, friends, and look for blessings, joy and inspiration all around you, no matter where you are!  😀

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27

A Piano in Heaven

We’ve lost a true treasure.

The water has been flowing freely in Texas over the past few days from the rain clouds, but today, the water is coming from the tears of many fellow West Texans over the loss of one of our true treasures, pianist and composer Doug Smith, who died in his sleep this week(A complete list of Doug’s albums can be found at the end of the linked article.)

My family heard Doug play in person on several occasions, usually at church, and I also heard him in concert on another occasion, too.  I’m not sure if any music has ever moved me so much as Doug’s music did over the years, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, especially today.

The news of his death also hit me yesterday as I remembered what a fan my mother was of Doug and his music.  I remember taking her to buy some of his CDs at a local store here a few years ago and remember how thrilled she was to have them and listened to them so often.  People young and old alike loved Doug and his music, it seems.

As an avid lover of both music and photography, I found his artistic collaboration with Texas State Photographer, Wyman Meinzer, to be a truly rare work of art that I probably won’t see again in my lifetime, and I think it will go down as one of the best representations of my West Texas home that will ever be created.  Any visitor to our area can benefit from first watching this magnificent video to try to first understand the soul of the area and its people that these two gentlemen managed to capture so beautifully.

Often, when we go camping, we listen to Doug’s music.  It is such a perfect fit when out in our beautiful Texas State Parks.  Many scenes in the “West Texas” video are from those state parks that we visit so often, too.  Today, I broke down in tears watching the video again and knowing that half of the artistic duo that created it is now gone from us.  That speaks to the impact Doug and his music had on so many of us.

Please take a few minutes today or sometime soon to watch the two videos below.  One is the video I spoke of above, the famous “West Texas” video, and the other is an eight minute documentary by Doug himself following his tragic car wreck in 2007 that paralyzed him and took away his ability to play the piano… temporarily.  It is an epic story of overcoming adversity and is one that I think you will remember going forward, too.

You will see the West Texas video in its best quality by watching it in full screen mode.

Wyman Meinzer’s West Texas from Wyman Meinzer on Vimeo.

I’m going to listen to Doug’s music this week as I go about my daily chores, and I will pray for his family and all that loved him.  They are legion, and some of us feel that we’ve lost part of ourselves in his passing.  We mourn both the man and his music today.

Today, it gives me comfort to know that the hands that Doug said he missed a few years ago are once again restored and that there is a piano in Heaven that is once again singing the tunes of the soul of West Texas at the hands of a master with a true gift from God who learned to play the piano by ear.  And for all the many, many hours of enjoyment Doug’s music has brought to me, and will continue to do in years to come, I wanted to offer my own little tribute today in gratitude.

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46 Years Ago Today

Remembering “Tornado Day”

46 years ago tonight, we survived this monster with only minor damage at my parents’ house.  Twenty-six fellow citizens lost their lives, though, and I knew one woman that died.  I was in the sixth grade, and she made regular visits to my school as a volunteer.

My mother, father and I tried to get to a neighbor’s storm cellar across the street as the storm hit, but the fierce wind actually blew my father back into the house when he attempted to walk out the front door to the south.  We took shelter in an interior closet and heard the trademark “train” sound outside as the storm roared over us and blew over our massive maple tree in the back yard, narrowly missing hitting our house.  The wooden fence didn’t stand a chance either.

To this day, I have never been as scared as I was that night.

We had no advance warning until the local news folks broke into the Carol Burnett Show right before the storm hit, showing the simple black/white radar with a “hook echo” on it.  Shortly afterward, the electricity went off, and we listened to a local radio station for news updates on our battery-powered radio from that point and over the next couple of days.  We had no city services until later the next day, a first for me, and it was my first experience in living amid a truly chaotic situation for the first time.

I will never, ever, ever forget that night.  Ever.

It’s still hard to think back on it and talk about it even today, and, like my mother, it’s why I am a fierce “weather bird” just about any time during severe weather season.  I still miss her calls to make sure we are aware of impending weather, too.

If you do not own a NOAA weather radio, please get one and keep it on over the coming weeks. We nearly always have a weather radio on in our RV when camping, and we generally avoid camping during the months of May and June unless we feel that the weather forecast will work for us just prior to our departure day.  That includes forecasted winds, since driving an RV in high winds is not a good plan.  We have good friends that encountered  high winds on their drive home from their RV trip last week, and it certainly played havoc with their plans, not to mention their nerves.

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The massive storm that spawned the deadly El Reno tornado in 2013, as seen behind us after we left the OKC area early, thanks to the early warning from the NWS in Norman.

 

I’ve also found that following the NWS offices directly on Twitter is a fabulous idea, too.  Following the NWS Norman Twitter feed may have saved my life, as well as my nephew’s life, a few years ago on a trip to Oklahoma City when we heeded a early predictive warning about what was likely to come just prior to the tragic El Reno tornado that struck the area where we were a short time later.  We saw that massive storm in our rear view mirror after we departed the area earlier than planned, missing it my about an hour.

What are the chances that I would be in two separate locations where massive tornadoes struck in my lifetime anyway?  I truly hope there are no more, but living in “Tornado Alley” means the chance is always there.

Please remain “weather aware” during storm season.  I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to be informed so much more today than in years gone by.

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Another Loss

We just lost yet another loved one in our life, this time very suddenly and definitely unexpected.

Late last October, we spent a very quick weekend camping with some friends.  We all needed a little break from our everyday lives, and I really needed a couple of nights away to refresh a bit as we were dealing with the hard situation of slowly losing my sweet cousin.  These long-time friends gladly joined us, as they had just purchased a brand new fifth wheel, and we shared their happiness as they took their new trailer on an inaugural trip with us.

Hubby worked with this man for thirty years, and they were good friends.  Sadly, we just lost this dear friend to a tragic accident.  One day, this friend was at work with Hubby, and the next day, he was gone.  He did not survive but a few brief minutes after the horrible crash.

Over three decades, this friend and Hubby grew very close.  They had a lot in common and helped and supported each other in ways other friends could not at times.  He and his wife were looking forward to their retirement years very soon, and they were especially looking forward to camping regularly with family and friends and even meeting new people on the road.  We were looking forward to being a part of that with them in coming years, too.

My heart is truly breaking following this tragic news that we received while on a drive around sunset with the dogs in the car.  Hubby completely broke down in tears, and it was all I could do to keep some composure myself to try to comfort him.   I drove us home as he wept and called other friends to share the sad news, and I remember seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in some time as I drove.

We memorialized and buried our friend, along with many others who loved him.  He ended his life well, after many years of heartache, and for that healing, I am very grateful today.  He will most definitely be missed.  So many times in situations like this, I struggle to see how his family will go on without him, but I also know that in every situation I’ve known in the past, they always find a way, even though it is seldom easy for them.

I’m sure I will remember our friend every time we revisit the places we camped with him and his wife and enjoyed their company in some beautiful scenic spots, and I hope that over time, I can remember in gratitude and not in sadness.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
– Marcel Proust

The photos shared in today’s post are from our last trip with our friends back in October, a trip that I remember so fondly.  We had a great time acquainting them with this particular park a little more, and these photos represent some memorable moments we shared together.  It was a lovely time enjoying good friends, beautiful scenery and more than a few much needed laughs.  We also loaned him an extra HDMI cable to use, since he forgot to buy one, and Hubby had great fun teasing him about it.

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Memorable sunsets
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Hidden lake that few people know about
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Beautiful fall colors

 

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Seeing lots of bison and their young up close
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Hiking around the lake

I am feeling fairly guilty right now as I mourn the fact that this is the fifth loved one we have lost in the past fifteen months.  We lost three family members and a good friend last year, and now we’ve lost another friend.  The more I think about being a little resentful of this fact, the more guilty I feel.  Perhaps it is time to quit looking at death in this way and start being more grateful for the blessing of having these people in my life for the time they were here.  As we grow older, we will no doubt continue to lose loved ones like this, and I don’t want the pity party to only grow within me.

This is a very hard loss for many of us, and if you are a praying person, please say a prayer for his family and friends.

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The Last First Anniversary

My first year without Mom and without any living parents

After losing three parents in previous years, I always came to dread the first anniversaries of their deaths each year.  Without fail, every first anniversary was a hard day emotionally for me, especially the first parent, Hubby’s father, who died on Christmas Eve just a few days before our son was born.  Each of our four parents endured a fairly long and hard illness prior to their death, and each illness was brutal on them in the process and excruciating for all of us to watch.

Each year when those first anniversaries of losing our first three parents came around, the day always seemed to bring back the emotional pain of those terrible illnesses, as well as a reminder of the gaping hole left in our lives.  We learned over subsequent years that this pain begins to subside as time goes on, but that first anniversary is always hard.

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Following Mom’s death a year ago, the next four months were the hardest times for me as I tried to grieve while also having to deal with immediate estate matters amid sometimes tense family issues and moving her things out of two separate living facilities.  For these reasons, I don’t think that I truly grieved until the estate business was finally settled in May.  Tears flowed numerous times during those first months, but I’m not sure I grieved as I needed to do.

Finally, in early May, the last estate matters were settled.  Hubby and I took a postponed anniversary trip to Maui, and our first full day on the island was Mother’s Day.  We opted to take the trip over Mother’s Day so that we could change our routine for that day that would be hard no matter where we were, but would be especially hard if we stayed home.

I woke up a couple of hours before my husband and just sat on the lanai with a cup of coffee, overlooking the ocean and the sunrise, and that is when my grief really came to the surface rather unexpectedly.

It was my first Mother’s Day with no mother.

I’m glad that Hubby slept in upstairs in as I sobbed to the point that I got a terrible headache, but somehow felt joy and some relief at the same time, a truly remarkable feeling.  It felt like grief and closure all at once, and I even took a few photos and a video of the stunning beauty around me afterward with my phone to try to capture this memorable moment when God felt so close.  There is really no good way to describe that time, except that a tremendous burden felt like it had finally been lifted from my shoulders for the first time in many years.

Ever since that special sunrise experience on Mother’s Day morning, I’ve felt much better in how I’ve handled Mom’s death.  We still had two more deaths to go with other close family members last year, and while those were also very hard, I remained at peace with Mom’s passing for the most part.  Still, I dreaded the first anniversary of her death, based on past experiences.

This last first anniversary came and went on Wednesday, and just like all of those other first anniversaries, it was pretty hard, with some of those same old feelings I felt when she suffered so much for an entire month and passed away making an appearance once again.  I felt more prepared this time, though.  I deliberately kept that day free from appointments and times with friends, and I’m glad I did.

Sometimes we need to simply recognize that at times like this, we need to be gentle with ourselves as we can and give ourselves a pass on some things without feeling guilty. We can’t help our feelings, but we can have a say-so in how we deal with them.

Wednesday was an uneventful day of simple household chores, reading and jotting down a few thoughts privately and on Facebook to commemorate the day and honor her life, and a few tears once again found their way back to my eyes again while Hubby was at work.  My best friend sent a simple text to just say she loved me and was thinking about me, which meant so much, as she also lost her father early last year.  Hubby and I just opted for take-out from Chick-Fil-A, dining at home with the pups keeping us company as they always do in the evenings, and this was exactly how I needed to spend the day.

There is truly a beautiful blessing in the normal.

This last first anniversary also brought home once again the significant difference in our lives now that we have no living parents.  Even after a full year, we are both still learning to adjust to this reality.  Once again, we took some sage advice to change our routine during the holidays, which was interesting and actually helped us get through Thanksgiving and Christmas pretty well, even though Christmas morning still brought a few tears.

Lastly, I have found myself quite unprepared in some ways to now being one of the elders of the family, even though we are only in our 50’s, which is not the norm for most people our age.  All of our friends still have one or more living parents, and perhaps this would be a good topic for another post sometime.

If there is any consolation right now, it is this simple fact…

No more first anniversaries for us. Ever again. (At least for our parents.)  It should get a little easier from here.

Note:  In my previous Wordless Wednesday post, I shared a simple photo of a CD.  “Stained Glass” by Doug Smith has some of the most beautiful Christian piano music I’ve ever heard.  I took that photo just a few hours before Mom passed away as I sat with her, both of us listening to this beautiful music in her peaceful, private bedroom.  It was such a beautiful, yet emotionally hard, time.  I will never forget our priceless time together as she transitioned from one life to the next.  God’s presence was so real and strong in a truly remarkable way that day, and I continued to feel that strong presence throughout the coming days as we dealt with her arrangements.

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Wordless Wednesday – One Year Ago Today

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