Melancholy

Grief knows no calendar.

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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.

 

Ambushed

Voting proved to be an unexpected challenge this year.

A few weeks ago, I voted early in the Super Tuesday election.  Over the decades, I’ve learned the benefit of voting early to avoid long lines on election day, as long as I’m prepared to do so in the early timeframe.  If not, I will wait until election day when I’m as prepared and informed as I can be on my decisions because I take this responsibility seriously.  Voting early was a great decision, as the voting lines this year were very, very long on election day, due to both the presidential primary and an open seat in our congressional district for the first time in many years.

As I entered the voting area at a nearby grocery store and dug my driver’s license out of my purse, I suddenly felt ill at ease and tried to figure out why I felt this way as I also talked with the election volunteer.  It didn’t take long for me to realize what was wrong.  For over fifteen years, I have seldom, if ever, gone to vote by myself.  I always took my elderly mother with me.  Now, for the first time in many years, I was all alone while voting.

Voted

I kept my composure fairly well during the initial process, but the tears started to flow in earnest while I was selecting my candidates at the voting machine.  Thankfully, I had my *long* written list with me, so the process went fairly quickly, and after pushing the big red “Cast Ballot” button, I headed to the restroom nearby to grab a tissue and wipe the tears streaming down my face.  A sweet older lady walked in and even asked if I was ok, and I assured her that I was fine.  I briefly shared why I was teary so that she wouldn’t worry, and to my surprise, she gave me a little hug, which made me want to cry even more.  I somehow kept it together at that moment, thanking her for her kindness, and I made it through the balance of the day with no issues for the most part.

Hubby was out-of-town on business that night, so I took the opportunity to sit outside on the back porch with the dogs and a book before bedtime, thanks to the warmth of our new propane table heater which provided just the right amount of heat to keep me comfortable in the late evening cool.  After about fifteen minutes, though, the tears started flowing again.  Sometimes I just need to let them flow, and this was a time to just have a good ol’ cry with only the dogs as witnesses.

As I sat there, I remembered the many times Mom and I went to vote together and the call I nearly always got from her on the first day of early voting to remind me that we needed to go vote soon.  I also remembered one particular election.  A few years ago, Mom was very sick on the day that the voting machines were brought to the assisted living place where she lived.  I had already told her that I would come to her room and escort her through the initial process, while also voting early there myself.  Due to her illness that day, it was very hard for her to even get out of bed, but she insisted on voting anyway.  I helped her get dressed and pushed her in a wheelchair to the lobby to go vote, and I will never forget her insistence on voting that particular day.  There was a certain gentleman running for office for the first time, and she was determined to throw her support behind him.  I missed Mom terribly that night as I sat there all alone with only my sweet pups and years worth of memories to keep me company, and it was time to just succumb to another round of grief for a few minutes.

My parents instilled me in the importance of this precious opportunity we have to select our leaders.  Perhaps their passion for voting was reinforced by the fact that my father’s younger brother died in a prison camp in Europe in WWII, paying the ultimate price for his country at a young age.  My father and brother also served in the military in wartime, so the very least our family could always do was to vote after doing our due diligence as far as candidate research.

I’m so grateful for the influence of my older family members in this regard, especially my late brother’s influence in more recent years when he challenged me to learn even more about candidates before voting.  He died in 2007, but I still “hear” his admonitions to be more diligent in gaining knowledge, even though it is not an easy process.  My views were forever impacted by his own passion in this regard, for sure.

Still, voting without Mom hit me very hard because I was not emotionally prepared.  I shared my experience on my Facebook page with a trusted group of friends, and one of my best friends shared that such an experience is referred to in grief counseling circles as being “ambushed.”  She and her mother have been attending a grief group for the past few months, and I appreciated her sharing this terminology that gave some clarity and justification for what I had experienced.

Here is the definition of “ambush,” courtesy of Oxford Dictionary.

am·bush

[ˈambo͝oSH]

VERB

  1. make a surprise attack on (someone) from a concealed position:

    “they were ambushed and taken prisoner by the enemy”

    synonyms: attack by surprise · surprise · pounce on · fall upon ·

    [more]
    lay a trap for · set an ambush for · lie in wait for ·

I certainly felt ambushed by both memories and emotions that day.  Mom’s absence loomed very large, and for a brief moment, I even thought about just walking out to avoid making a scene while voting, but I’m grateful that I didn’t have to leave before casting my ballot.  Who would have ever dreamed that voting could bring back such vivid memories and strong emotions.  Obviously, I certainly did not.

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the less I worry about tears and just try to “let them be.”  If the tears come, let them come.  I think it’s just memories paying a little visit to keep my heart tender and keep me grateful for what was, as well as grateful for what is today.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been “ambushed” like this after the death of a loved one, and I seriously doubt it will be the last time.  Hopefully, I can just experience these moments for what they have to offer, then move on with a nugget of gratitude for it all, even if it is hard.  Life never promised to be an easy affair.

“Sometimes we need the salt of tears to remind us how to savor the sweetness of life.” — Lysa TerKeurst

Amen, Lysa.  Such wise words.

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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.

Mother ribbon sm

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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My New Ring

My first time to have a custom ring designed and made for me – truly a “one of a kind” mother’s ring!

In my long, overdue update yesterday, I failed to share one more notable thing that I want to have “on the record” here.  One of the last duties I had to take care of as the executor of my mother’s estate was the final distribution of her jewelry that had not been distributed while she was still alive.  On the advice of the lawyer, I held off making this final distribution until everything else was settled, and that was good advice.

I split the remaining jewelry with my sister, with the approval of my sister-in-law.  This was the right thing to do, since there really was not much jewelry to split anyway, and I had everything appraised early on so that I could start thinking about the best way to split it between us.  After closing the rent house purchase in May, I then took all of the jewelry to a good jeweler here and had him check everything out to see if anything needed to be repaired before distributing it, as I planned to give my sister our mother’s wedding ring with the one larger diamond.  Fortunately, all of the prongs were in good shape, and I then gave my sister her share of mom’s jewelry in early June about the time that mom would have celebrated her 94th birthday.

With the bulk of the estate matters now done, I took my mother’s diamond ring guard and my own 20th anniversary ring back to the jeweler to see if he could design a custom ring for me.  I never had a mother’s ring, and even though I’m really not a big jewelry gal, this was a ring that I always wanted.  I cannot say enough nice things about this jeweler and the entire process of designing a custom ring, too.

While it was still a little hard to even take the step to do the ring, the jeweler and his associate both worked with me over two separate visits to come up with a ring design that I absolutely adore.

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My new mother’s ring – click to see it larger (please)

If this is not a real mother’s ring, I don’t know what is.  One row of diamonds is from my mother’s wedding ring guard, which actually belong to my father’s mother, and the other row of diamonds is from my own 20th anniversary ring and had several diamonds that needed to be repronged anyway.  The ruby is my daughter’s birthstone, and the garnet is my son’s birthstone.  While I think this is actually a pretty good photo of the ring, taken with my new 50mm prime lens, I think it is even prettier in person.  I also had four little diamonds left over, too.  If I lose any diamonds from the ring at some point, I will have some genuine replacements ready to go.

I picked the ring up a few days ago, and I bawled like a baby when they showed it to me.  It bordered on being one of those “ugly” cries, but fortunately, I was the only customer in the store at the time.  Once again, they were just so nice and understanding about the whole process, and it is a true pleasure to do business with great folks such as these.  This will not be a ring that I will wear every day, for sure, but I will certainly love wearing it when I decide to do so.

The jeweler also gave a me a free appraisal of the ring for insurance purposes.  I traded-in the gold from the two existing rings and purchased the birthstones new.  The gold trade-in also helped to defray the cost of the ring just a bit.  I asked him about using the existing gold in the new ring, but he said that he much preferred to use new gold instead.  I’m glad that he talked me into that, as I just truly love the look of this ring, and even the design of it is special to me, as if my mother and I “have our arms” around both of the kids.

So, there you have it – my special ring at long last.  I just wish my mother could see it, too.

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Welcome to Seattle, Ya’ll!

Enjoying the unseasonal cloudy and cool weather and an update on the wonderful rains!

We enjoyed a glorious, relaxing and fun week in Maui.  But more on that later when I get the pictures done.

 You may recall that it started raining in Texas well before we left on our trip and a series of thunderstorms *quickly* filled up the reservoir that supplies some of our water.  It hasn’t stopped raining since then except for a few periods lasting no more than about three days at a time.  While we were in Maui, I kept getting severe weather alerts on my phone for our home area, and several friends shared about the downpours we were receiving.

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As I’m typing this post this morning after my first cup of coffee, it is 47 degrees with 90% humidity, and the high today will struggle to reach 60.  Normally, the average high for late May should be around 85 degrees, but it’s not uncommon for the temperature to go well above that, too.  So, I decided to check the average weather in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, and it seems we are right on track with Seattle’s weather in May!

So, if I never visit Seattle, at least I now what it feels like to be there in May.  And it is “loverly!” 

With more severe storms in our forecast for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, we have decided to scrap some tentative plans to go out in the RV for a little getaway, hopefully with our son coming along.  I’m not into camping during super-cell storms at all, and we are having an epic load of them these days.  Some friends of ours went to Copper Breaks State Park two weekends ago with their trailer in tow, and not long after they arrived that evening and set up, they found themselves running to the bathroom/shower building nearby to dodge an oncoming tornado.  Apparently, it absolutely rained buckets of water during that storm, along with some small hail.  We were flying out to Hawaii that day and receiving regular text updates about what “dogs” we were while they were trying to not die at Copper Breaks!  It is funny now…  😉  Glad they, along with their trailer and truck, are fine most of all.

You have to be tough to camp in Texas in May and June at times, and there are lots of tough people out there.  I’m just not sure I’m one of them, but kudos to them for being brave souls!

More lakes are rising dramatically, and it’s an amazing thing to witness.  “All droughts end with a flood” seems completely spot-on at this time.  Just check out a few of the lakes that have seen a dramatic increase over the past few days and weeks, especially the first one.

Lake Alan Henry

Lake Arrowhead

Lake Brownwood

It’s amazing what the rain has done for the spirits of the people in our area.  It’s like hope has finally returned and the doom and gloom of the drought may actually be behind us, at least for a while.  And right along with the lifting of spirits with the return of rain, it seems my own spirit is finally on the rise after several long, depressing months following my mother’s death.  I swear she is up there levying God to make some good things happen for me and for this area that was her home for 93 years because everything just seems to be making a 180 degree turn right now in so many ways.  It would be so like her to do that.  Always thinking of others.

I enjoyed several hours alone at a lovely spa in Hawaii while Hubby played golf, and it was a great time of reflection and peace for me.  God felt so very close as I had the unique opportunity to spend time with him in this gorgeous place.  The various health treatments must have helped the blood start flowing to my brain again, literally, and I have felt so much better physically since that day, and walking quite a bit while we were gone certainly helped, too.  The quiet time with God helped me to realize that it’s time to start moving on while remembering Mom and our good times together.  I had one teary time as I sat alone amid the beauty, but I have not cried a single tear since then.

There is too much of life left to live, and it’s time to quit wasting it on being sad.  I’m not sure what all that will mean for me going forward, but I’m ready to see what life has to bring my way.

One thing that became clear was that it is time to pursue my photography hobby once again.  I’ve put it away for too long, and the passion that God has given me for photography is going to waste in some way.  This happened *before* I even mentioned this small revelation to my Hubby.  When he told me on my birthday, the day we flew home from Hawaii, that he wanted to upgrade my camera equipment when we got home, it confirmed my earlier revelation.  God works in mysterious and glorious ways, and the blessings are flowing all around right now, for sure.  The new camera and lenses are already in hand, and I’m looking forward to new photographic experiences with them and hopefully improving my skills significantly.

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The drought is finally over.  Spring has returned in so many ways, and my heart is grateful for the sustaining power that saw me through it all once again. ❤

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Running Away For Mother’s Day

May always brings Mother’s Day and my birthday about a week later, and May also seems to be a good time for Hubby to take off from work, and we’ve definitely learned that it is advantageous to visit popular summer destinations in May before vacation crowds hit.  Taking a long trip in May, then again around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, works well for us these days, and we use our remaining vacation days with weekends and holidays in the RV the rest of the year.  Combining days off with weekends and holidays has helped us to really maximize our travel opportunities and keep Hubby from losing so many vacation days each year.

As we discussed where to go and what to do for our week of vacation in May this year, I told Hubby that all I wanted to do was be gone on Mother’s Day weekend and hopefully the following week, if possible.  I didn’t care where we went, as long as I didn’t have to spend that weekend at home for my first Mother’s Day without my mom.  I suspected that this would be a hard time, and I was correct in that assumption.  I probably even underestimated how hard it is right now leading up to this first Mother’s Day without Mom.  The closer we get to Mother’s Day, the harder it is for me.  I swear that Mother’s Day ads are everywhere!  Mom’s marker was finally updated with her date of death last week, and that only seemed to really drive home the point that she is truly gone in my mind.  It was really hard to drive out to the cemetery to take the updated photos, and I bawled like a baby while I was there.  Fortunately, no one else was around to watch.

As we discussed travel options for our May trip a few weeks ago, we were looking forward to possibly finding yet another new RV destination to explore.  We started discussing some options to visit a new Texas state park or two in the RV or even fly back to Denver and see Rocky Mountain National Park again, as well as more of the Denver area.  We even talked about booking a cruise.  There were pros and cons of each option.  Then, out of the blue, Hubby suggested a Hawaii do-over.

I first thought Hubby was kidding, and I reminded him that we just went to Kauai last year.  After my mom fell early last year and fractured her hip, we completely cancelled our initial plans for a 35th anniversary trip consisting of a week in Kauai, followed by a weekend in the bay area to see the kids.  A few months later, though, after she healed faster and better than expected, we re-booked a trip fairly last-minute in May, but we were only able to spend two days in Kauai before heading to the San Francisco area for the weekend and touring Big Sur with the kids.  It was a great trip, especially our weekend with the kids when I felt much better, but we were both a little disappointed to not have spent more time in Hawaii as we originally planned.  In addition to only having two days there, I was sick at my stomach for the entire five-hour flight from Los Angeles, that first night in Kauai, and part of our first day on the island.

Still, despite everything, we truly enjoyed our brief time in Kauai and even dined at one of our favorite little restaurants on our last night on the island after my stomach settled down for good.

Welcome to Kauai

Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge 3
Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge, Kauai
Kalalau Lookout at Kokee State Park
Famous Kalalau Lookout at Kokee State Park

Even though we adore Kauai, we decided to look at another island destination this time, since we visited Kauai last year, as brief as it was.  Our second favorite island is Maui, so we looked at some lodging options and found what we believe will be a great one-bedroom condo for us for the week.  We prefer condos when visiting Hawaii, and this should be a nice resort experience, suitable for the anniversary trip we really wanted last year.  We have not visited Maui in about twenty years, when we took the kids on an island-hopping trip and saw Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii.  What a fun trip that was, too.

We’ve both had a pretty rough year so far, and it will be good to just get away and hopefully decompress.  I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as far as estate matters are concerned and closed my part on the rent house on Tuesday afternoon.  After some out-of-town family members sign their documents and return them to the title company, the house will finally be mine.  Hubby is nearing the completion of some extra job duties he temporarily inherited last year when another manager quit unexpectedly.  The timing for that development was just terrible for him, but he made the most of it and did a great job, cleaning up a huge mess that the manager left behind, all while we dealt with Mom’s illness and passing.

I think I’ve underestimated what Mom’s passing has been like for my hubby, too.  His mother passed away over a decade ago, so my Mom was our Mom for all that time.  She spent all of her holidays with us, not just me, and I think he wants to just run away somewhere for the week like I do.  We know what the first year is like after losing a parent, since we’ve done it three times before this year.  It is just hard, so hard.  I have also learned that after the first year, it does seem to get better, or at least be more tolerable, since all of the “first times without the parent” are finally over.  New routines will have time to start developing, estate matters will be done, and life can go on.  I know it’s going to be much different this year, though, since we no longer have any living parents.  It is very different so far, to be perfectly honest, and it may take both of us longer to adapt this time.  We’ll see.

Anyway, we are going to disappear for a week to paradise, leaving on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.  I am so grateful that we can go back to Hawaii, especially right now.  I have much to be thankful for these days, especially my hubby and my little family that I love with all my heart.  While I wish we could all be together this week, just like we did a few years ago in Kauai in this same week, but perhaps we will find a way to make it happen sometime in the future.  Our goal for this trip is to just relax and have some fun.

Leaving Kauai

I never expected to return to Hawaii this year.  Hawaii is a trip we only make every five years or so, if not longer.  Hubby outdid himself this year by suggesting we go back, and I’m looking forward to a special week with him, for sure.  Kauai (and Hawaii in general) is one of my all-time favorite “happy” places, and Hubby loves it there, too.  It’s pretty much impossible to not be happy while in Hawaii, and I hope that proves to be true once again on this trip.

I have scheduled one post for next week about our most recent RV trip to Lake Colorado City State Park, but I will most likely be offline until we return to moderate comments and read posts by others.  See you in a week, and Happy Mother’s Day!

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