See You Tomorrow

Mama

Exactly one year ago today, I hugged my sweet Mama for the last time.  I still remember holding on tight to her and not wanting to let go, scared and uncertain of how exactly I was supposed to do that.  I soon came to realize that it’s not until the physical body is gone that you truly begin to hold onto the soul.  At that moment, when there is nothing left to grasp onto, the best part of a loved one’s soul holds tight to you instead and helps guide you through the most difficult moments of your life.  It is at that time that you begin to feel the magnitude of love that has ebbed and flowed between the two of you.

There is not a day that passes that I do not think of Mama all the time.  Her face is at the forefront of my mind as I rise and her words of wisdom comfort me at night as I try to wind down from the challenges of the day.  She is in the stories that I share with friends and the advice that I offer to my students.  Her words lift from my tongue without realization until the thought pops into my mind that it is exactly something she would say.  When I’m feeling sad, thoughts of her kindness comfort me.  When I’m feeling angry, memories of her strength and perseverance enter my mind.  When I’m feeling happy, recollection of her laughter envelopes my heart.

She is with me today just as much as she was all the years before.  I cannot hug her tightly in my arms; but, I can feel her arms wrapped around my heart.  I cannot share in conversation with her; but, I can sense her words of comfort daily.  I cannot taste her food, ask her a question, or comfort her when she cries.  But there is one thing for certain I can experience…..each time my chimes ring….which tends to be often these days….it sure feels like her voice rising just above all the other angels on high to sing a song of happiness and support.

One of the things that stands out so strongly in my memory of Mama in her final days is how positively she acknowledged her final visits with friends and family.  Instead of saying goodbye each time someone came to visit her during that final week, Mama tended to say, “See you tomorrow.”  It remains as one of my most cherished memories of her final days.  I love that goodbye was not an option for her, but instead a simple statement reminding us all that we will enjoy a loving reunion somewhere later on down the line, was.

Miss U!  Love U!  Mean it, my sweet Mama!!

 “See you tomorrow!!”

Mama and me

 

 

Advertisements

The Silver Box

IMG_3623 copy

Today, as I was looking through some paperwork in my study, my gaze fell upon a silver box holding several cards.  I have often glanced at it over the past year, but have hesitated in rereading any of the notes filling it.  I finally lifted one out and opened it again, knowing that what I would read inside was sure to bring tears.  No one tells you when you lose someone that through all of the hurt and pain you experience there is an additional emotional tide that waves over you each time you feel the support of those reaching out to you.  The love that is experienced in those moments is so bittersweet.  It is a pure mixture of sweet kindness and bitter reminders.  I don’t know how to ever truly thank those that have reached out to me in my lowest moments and carried me through my biggest struggles.  I know that I have expressed thanks in various ways, but there is a place deep down in my soul that fears I will leave someone without proper acknowledgement.  I hope they know how much all of their kind words, deeds, support, presence, and hugs mean to me.  I also hope that Mama feels it too.  I so wish that she could see how people love her and how much of an impact she made on all of our lives.

IMG_3602 copy

I read through each and every one of those cards today.  It felt good to re-experience the kindness of my friends and embrace the love that was included within them.  I have one friend in particular that gave me a statue of two figures in an embrace.  It was gifted as a reminder that Mom’s embrace is always with me.  I look at it every day and remember its message.  I draw a certain sense of strength from it and am very cognizant of the blessing of friendships that I have.  There are so many special things in my house now that seem to take on much more importance than others and only those closest to me realize the magnitude of significance they hold.  To some they might just appear to be objects, but for me, they are constant reminders of those that have supported me, loved me, guided me, and continue to help me regain my footing throughout this difficult year.  The cards are exactly that….a reminder that even when I feel I am all alone….someone is keeping me close to their heart and right in the center of their well wishes….and that brings a different sense of comfort.

IMG_3590 copy

The Rest of the Story

IMG_7292_edited-1 - Copy (2)

A while back, during my college years, a tad bit before the virtual world exploded into cyber space and super electronics became the norm, I used to love to listen to Paul Harvey‘s, “The Rest of the Story,” segment on a little thing called the car radio.  I loved how he took one story and delved deeper into it to provide a whole different aspect.  After publishing my post yesterday, I began to reflect more deeply on all the things that combined to make that day so special.  You’ve all now heard about why that one particular photo of Mama has such an impact on me personally.  But what you don’t know is some of the other factors that came to be that day, helping to make an unforgettable experience for us all.

To begin, I must say that every person in attendance contributed in some way.  Everyone had to alter plans and travel distances to be present.  You see, Mom was not in her hometown.  We had decided that placing her in a more central location to all who would be spending their days with her in the hospice facility was a more logical solution.  We were actually two hours away from where I grew up and my parents’ hometown.  We would have had it no other way.  We wanted Mama to be surrounded by those she loved as often as possible and for as long as possible.  We were all more than eager and strongly desired to contribute in any way possible to create a day to remember.

Patrick and Traci of course were the ultimate deciding factor in getting the wheels turning.  It was their kind spirits and abundance of love for Mama which guided their hearts.  It was also their generosity in allowing others to shower them with assistance and contributions as best we could. They took care of all the little details necessary for the wedding couple, including gathering up all their little kiddos, preparing them for the day and then finally themselves as well.

IMG_7577_edited-2 - Copy

My sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Adrian, housed several people in their home during this time.  Her children gave up their bedrooms without hesitation and were always eager to assist any of us.  Elizabeth was the ultimate hostess, providing food and transportation for many.  So many of her generous friends dropped by with dinners, snacks, treats, and even flowers to show their support and to ensure that their sweet friend would not be overwhelmed by so many guests.

IMG_7628_edited-1

My twin, Diane, spent long hours on the phone over several days dealing with schedule changes, flight arrangements, and car rentals to ensure that her husband, Scott, and three boys, who live several states away would be able to attend as well.

Mama’s sisters, Aunt Trish and Aunt Lou Lou, were by her side daily and rescheduled their days so as to be there to help beautify her for the ceremony and hold her hand during this whole process.  Aunt Trish provided something “old” by gifting Traci a broach to wear that was painted by Mama. They were more than a support; they were a shoulder to lean on and a hand to hold.

IMG_7267_edited-1 - Copy

As for Traci’s side of the family, her parents were taking care of their growing brood of grandchildren and helping to ease any stress for the happy couple in any way they could.  Patrick has twin girls and Traci has a son and daughter.  What a lovely group of people to combine into one loving household.

Traci’s sister, Rachel was a true expert in catering a last minute wedding.  It was absolutely fantastic and such a lovely addition to the day.  She also somehow magically created all of the bouquets and boutonnieres for the wedding party.  I am not sure I have ever seen more beautifully arranged flowers in my life.  I don’t know how she did it!  She definitely sprinkled a little fairy dust on the affair!

IMG_7299_edited-1 - Copy

I felt truly blessed and frankly, terrified when my brother and Traci asked if I would photograph the entire event.  I typically do all of my work outside and this was a bit out of my comfort zone. My hesitation was for a mere second and then I promised that I would do my best; but deep down inside felt emotions might just get the better of me, leaving me in a state of frenzy on the special day.  I have considered myself a solid photographer for years; but, this was somehow on a whole different level.  The ceremony was beyond emotional; but viewing this immensely intimate moment in time through my insanely timid photographer’s eye that day, was one of the most illuminating experiences I have ever had the joy of living in.

There remain two exceptionally sweet moments that can only be considered divine intervention.  Early on, there was much question in locating the perfect spot to hold the ceremony.  That was soon resolved by the nurses who strongly suggested that Mom’s bed should only be rolled out as far as the doorway to her room.  We looked around and sighed, having the beautiful image in our minds of just what the original venue would have provided, and yet knowing in our hearts what was truly important.

IMG_7009_edited-1 - Copy

Early on the morning of the wedding, two of Traci’s sweet friends, disguised as miracle workers, waltzed in with twinkle lights, paper bells, and flowers to spruce the place up.  As soon as the nurses caught sight of this, they rushed down to assist by providing sheets to hang from the ceiling and frantically began moving all medical equipment out of view.  I very vividly recall the tears that formed in my eyes at that moment.  What a sight to behold!  The love pouring forth from Traci’s friends and the most genuine desire to provide support by the nurses was more than evident.  It was felt by us all, deep down in those special spots reserved for exceptional moments in humanity.

Finally, as Dad prepared for the day, he realized he was lacking appropriate attire for the wedding.  He felt certain he could get away with the pants he had, but needed to stop by the mall to buy a shirt and tie.  As he wandered the unfamiliar grounds of the massive mall, gazing into the windows of unfamiliar stores, he came across a shop that appeared to have just what he needed.  There was only one problem.  The store didn’t open for another hour, which he did not have the luxury of.  So Dad did what any great man would do in his hour of need, he knocked on the door and flagged down the person inside.  The salesman came to the door and promptly said, “We don’t open for another hour.”  At that point, Dad took a deep breath and relayed his story to the young man.  I feel certain that at that very moment, this man looked into Dad’s eyes and felt the magnitude and importance of the day.  He then simply asked Dad to wait a second and on his return he opened the door to Banana Republic and welcomed Dad in for his very own individual shopping spree.  That wonderful salesman assisted Dad in locating a shirt and tie worthy of the man that was to officiate the ceremony of marriage for his only son.  And although the shirt was wrinkled and his pants worn, I have never seen my Dad look more distinguished than he did that day.

IMG_7133_edited-2 - Copy

The service was amazing!  There was not a dry eye in the room!  It was, by far, the most intimate, emotional, loving ceremony I have ever had the privilege of witnessing.  It represented what all weddings should be about, the love of two people and those who share in the best, most successful well wishes for their life together.

“And now you know….the rest of the story!”

The Challenge

Mama

Recently I was presented with the challenge of selecting my absolute favorite photograph ever taken.  Mind you, that is out of thousands.  However, I found it to be an easy choice.  For me the photo does not have to be perfectly composed, or even perfectly focused; but it absolutely must be from the heart.  By far the most cherished photo that I have ever taken is this one of Mama.  It was taken two days before Mom’s passing and during my brother’s wedding.

Originally, my brother and his sweet fiancee were to be married on my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary at our ranch house with both families present.  So many plans had been made, flights had been purchased, hotels reserved, and catering set.  However, things drastically changed when Mama’s health faltered and she was placed in hospice just days prior to that.  Knowing how much she wanted to witness the marriage ceremony and their desire to have her present, my brother and his fiancee decided to change the venue.  In less than two days, all family members altered their flights, plans, and prior arrangements to attend the wedding of this selfless and loving couple.  Amazingly enough, every family member was able to make arrangements to attend.  The hospice facility staff was beside themselves with assisting in the preparation since this was the first and only wedding they had ever had in their facility.  They were as excited as we all were.  They too, had grown to love Mom instantly, as so many did.

Wedding

During the days in hospice, Mama seemed to be fading with moments of her true spirit shining through, allowing times of true joy for all of us.  She slept a lot and couldn’t seem to focus very clearly; but we all knew she was alert enough to know that a wedding was going to take place.  On November 19th, with my father officiating and my mother looking on from her hospital bed, two of the most amazing people on this planet were joined in matrimony.  That day, the day of this photo, was Mama’s most coherent day.  It was as if the sickness had left her body to allow her complete delight.  She was laughing, hugging, talking, and blowing kisses to us all.  It was during this time that I turned the lens on her and captured the purest moment of clarity and happiness in Mama that day.  She passed away two days later and just two days shy of their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Wedding ~ Dad

It has now been exactly seven months to the date since her passing and posting this photo brings the same raw emotion as it did the day I peered through the eyepiece and captured her true essence.  For me personally, the photos which evoke the most emotion are the dearest in our hearts. This photo of Mama is by far my most emotionally charged and favored photograph ever.  It manages to grasp onto those ultimate moments of beautiful clarity and the memories of those final days spent with my dearest, sweet Mama.

Betsy’s Luminary

Luminaries

Friends come in all forms, past and present, young and old, same and different.  There is a song I remember vividly from my childhood that said, “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.”  We used to sing it at our Campfire Girls outings.  I’ve never forgotten it and have whole heartedly believed it to be true my entire life.

I love my friends and find such comfort in their presence within my life.  There is one particular group of girlfriends that I refer to as my “Forever Friends.”  These are the girls that have been with me throughout my entire life, most of us meeting somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8.  We know the best and worst in each other.  We share in life’s ups and downs.  We are the ears that listen, the voice that soothes, and the heart that hopes and prays for the best for each of us.  We don’t get to see each other very often, but I know they are there because when life feels a little hard, they are the ones that reach out across thousands of miles to say, “No matter how far away you are you are still on my mind and in my heart.  I am here and always will be.”

Last night, as I was relaxing at home, I received a text from one of these Forever Friends.  Robin had just come back from a Relay for Life walk in my hometown area.  She was sending me pictures of the luminaries that are prevalent at these walks for charity put on for the American Cancer Society.  A couple of weeks ago she had contacted me to ask if it would be okay to light a luminary in memory of Mama.  I was both happy and overwhelmed  by the love being expressed.  There is truly something special in having lifelong friends who not only can relate to what you are going through, but can also reminiscence about life with Mama; after all, she did consider them as her own as well.

As I read her texts relaying the evening’s events and marveled at the photos of the beautiful luminaries, I found a sense of peace wash over me.  There are so many people who loved Mama and the fact that she is not forgotten is truly a blessing beyond compare.

Luminary

Surprise Sighting

IMG_0201_edited-1

Don’t you love surprises?!  The kind that sneak up and take your breath away?  My heart swelled tonight when I happened to run into a dear friend that I haven’t seen in such a long time.  I truly could not hold back my excitement and flung my arms around him to hold tight to his hug.  You see, this friend is one of the select people I called when Mom went into the hospice facility, knowing the bond that the two of them had formed, stemming from a visit back home years before.  The thing I remember most about that visit was how appreciated Giovanni made Mom feel.  Which is why I called him during a time when we noticed how positively Mom was reacting to voices.  I knew that his jovial sound and laughter would make her smile.

We all loved G.  Every time I visited my parents, if Mom wasn’t askin’ about G, she was callin’ to play practical jokes on him.  They were two peas in a pod from the get go.  They had the same sense of humor, enjoyed the same things, could talk about anything and laughed until they managed to have everyone else laughing without any understanding as to why.  Being a chef, he and Mom were destined to have a Christmas throwdown on the bayou.  Then he’d just as easily shift gears and hunt with Dad, rock on the porch with Mom and go on photo shoots with me all over the ranch .  We hit New Orleans by storm, sipping hurricanes and singing until we lost our voices at Pat O’Briens.  It was one of the best vacations ever.  His thirst for adventure was what drew Mom to him.  She had a true appreciation for people who thrived on experiencing everything they possibly could because she was that way herself.  G had the ability to make us all laugh and that still remained true, even tonight.  This is the type of “good people” that we should all be lucky enough to submerge in our life and share our most treasured moments with.

IMG_0088_edited-2

There are certain people that you know alter the way you look at things.  My friends, like G, that brought out the best in Mom and know how unique she was, will always hold a special place in my heart.  Every time I see them I am overwhelmed with memories of our experiences shared with my parents and that warms my heart and brings a smile to my face to know that they too, called her Mom.  I love that Mama liked my friends so much she wanted to show them what true southern hospitality was all about.  I love even more that my friends made Mama feel appreciated and special.  She deserved that.  She deserved to feel the kind of genuine admiration these amazing people bestowed upon her.  That makes me so very proud to be her daughter and equally proud to call them my friends.

IMG_0216_edited-1

IMG_0040_edited-1

Pure Luck

Daisy ~ Seattle, Washington

Daisy ~ Seattle, Washington

Some days things just seem to go smoothly, while others….well….they deceptively appear to be running smoothly until you hit one of those speed bumps that knocks your alignment off.  This morning was not one of those smooth mornings…my alignment felt crooked from the get go.  It started off shaky.  I mean literally, it was shaking.  We had a 4.4 earthquake here in lovely SoCal and that threw me into one of my Mama memories.

Several years back, I took up residence in the local hospital for about a month due to complications from a minor surgery.  I remember telling Mom beforehand that she didn’t even need to come it was so minor, but she insisted she be there.  Luckily, for strong headed daughters like myself, moms do know best.  She came and all but moved into that hospital with me.  She was there when I woke up and the last visitor before I slept each night.  But Mom was never just a visitor anywhere she went.  By the time I was off morphine and cognoscente of the fact that a week of my life had already passed, Mom was fast friends with everyone on my wing.  She knew their life stories and hopes and dreams for their futures.  She knew each one by name and their children’s and grandchildren’s names.  Mama was a people person.  She took the time it takes to truly know someone, which simply put means….she listened to them.

Well, one of those nights during her stay, somewhere between midnight and a newspaper hitting the front door, the ground started shaking.  Now, Mom had never been in an earthquake before, but somewhere in time she had witnessed on TV or read in a magazine that people run out their front doors during earthquakes.  So there Mom stood, in the middle of the yard, in a neighborhood where she knew no one, alone.  No one to talk to.  No one to answer her questions.  No one to rehash what had happened.  That, for my mother, had to have been complete torture!!  Her first earthquake and no one to talk to about it.  So what does a southern lady from Texas do in that situation?  What else?She woke up the neighbors to talk with them about the earthquake they’d just slept through.  Although we all got a good laugh the next day over this, it left me wondering if my neighbors would ever talk to me again.

So the days rolled on and on and each day Mama showed up, arms full of goodies she’d made for the staff.  Of course, this was pure torture for me since I was on an ice diet.  I was licking ice while they were all devouring delicacies.  It didn’t matter though.  We were all laughing, sharing stories, photos, and gossip, just passing away the hours as if at a party instead of in the middle of illness, death, and uncertainty.  Mama gave all the details to my visitors about what had gone wrong and how long I was expected to be there.  She called our family to keep them abreast of my progress.  I had no worries.  I was left purely with the luxury of getting better.  I look back on that and realize just how significant that sacrifice was for my mother.

Time may pass, but I find myself continuing to thank her for that and how selfless her act of kindness was.  I know she was my mother and that we sometimes expect that they will do whatever we need, regardless of age or distance. However, it’s a totally different thing when they are put to the test and not only fulfill that hope, but far exceed it as well.  My mother put her entire life on hold as she basically moved into my empty home to visit me every day in the hospital, having no one to go home to for comfort or to confide in.  This was not my only hardship at that time.  I was also in the midst of an emotionally draining, turbulent, very sad separation from my husband.  She knew this and she stayed, knowing that she could provide the kind of peace that I needed at that time.  She did this knowing that her life would need to be placed on hold so that mine could thrive.

I remember the tears that fell when she had to leave.  I didn’t want her to go.  The bright light that had fueled me back to health faded and left me sitting in my own reality.  I know just how lucky I was that she stayed.  I know how lucky I was to have her in my life.  I know how lucky I am to have my memories of her.  So today, on St. Patrick’s Day, while the word luck was being tossed about freely, I stopped to thank my lucky stars for all that Mama did for me, gave up for me, and loved in me.