The Inscription

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Today, as my body was pulled from its heavy dose of slumber, I seemed to instantly wake with pancakes on my mind.  This is highly unusual for me.  I typically wake with thoughts about Mom.  I was saddened by the prospect that today may be the preface to that inevitable evolution in this process.  At any rate, pancakes were on my mind and I could tell it was going to be one of those cravings that just wasn’t going to evaporate into thin air.  Something concrete was required to help it dissipate.

Since I am not one to make pancakes very often, a cookbook was going to be necessary.  As I browsed through my treasured collection of recipe filled bibles, I found that I instantly went to my most recent additions in hopes of stumbling upon a new favorite concoction.  However, as I flipped through, peered at, and contemplated adjustments, it became clear that sometimes new isn’t best.  Sometimes, the old, tried and true is ultimately what one needs.  I finally reached in and carefully pulled out the very first cookbook I ever received.  It is not one that I go to often now, typically opting for the newer, more en vogue cookbooks, but I had high hopes and few other options to rely upon.

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As I laid it carefully on the counter, I found my fingers gently running over it and memories of Mama coming to me.  Although the color was fading and the pages browned, spotted, wrinkled and torn, I felt certain what I was seeking was hidden inside.  I took my time in savoring this moment as I knew exactly what I would see when I opened the cover page.  In our family for years we have included an inscription in those cookbooks that we are offering to one another as gifts of celebration.  I knew that I would find that and as my anticipation lingered just under my emotions, I opened the book and found myself staring at exactly what I feel was destined for me today, “Happy Cooking, Love Mom and Dad, Christmas 1986.”  As I looked at the signatures, I realized that Dad had filled out the inscription.  I’m not sure why this affected me so much, but I found myself absolutely loving the fact that both of them had touched this gift and left their own mark to linger.

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So as I collected ingredients and supplies, measured amounts and blended to combine, I thought about how long it had actually been since I made traditional pancakes.  I truly couldn’t even remember.  It felt like old times.  It felt like being home with Mom in the kitchen and it felt nostalgic; but most of all, it felt like the mending of a broken heart and it soon filled me with love and happy moments with Mama.

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A Good Cause

Shriner

After receiving a call from Dad asking me to join him on his upcoming trip to Minneapolis, MN for a Shriners Convention, I really didn’t know what to expect. This was typically Mom’s adventure to take with him and then I might join them later to take in some of the sights of our glorious country on an extended little road trip. I can’t remember a time when Dad wasn’t a Shriner.  I have to admit, I’ve been so impressed by how this organization works and what they stand for.  I’ve developed and even higher respect for their dedication in ensuring that the Shriners Hospitals for Children are funded to provide for children and burn victims all over our nation, and even in Canada and Mexico as well. Everyone involved is so motivated and eager to serve.  The camaraderie among the devoted members and their significant others is intoxicating. They only see each other once a year and yet it is very evident that the bond they share is strong and long lasting. So many words of comfort were extended and stories told of Mama’s impact on all of them. I could certainly feel the love they felt for her.

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend a dinner and share in their friendship. At one point, members of the group stood and spoke on various topics, mostly recognizing appreciation and hard work among the members. However, there is one man in particular that has stolen my heart. He has such a sweet demeanor and kind nature. This lovely man stood to speak the final words during this portion and focused solely on the absence of Mama and the sadness that lingered in the unspoken words floating within each of our hearts. I was taken aback and moved to say the least. His words expressed exactly how spirited, generous and loving Mama was and filled the empty air with her memory, bringing her back to us, if only just for a brief moment in time.

I’m so glad I decided to come along for the experience. To see Dad among people who truly respect his contributions and appreciate his friendship is heartwarming. I love knowing that he has such good friends. It’s been equally fulfilling to listen to words of kindness and comfort in regards to Mom. I feel like each time her name gets mentioned it’s like a little tap on the shoulder saying…”See…I’m still here.”

If you’d like to donate to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, I have included a direct link to their donation page.  Thank you for your contribution!

Shriners Hospital for Children Donation

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The Rest of the Story

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Floating Prayers

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There are certain days in our lives that conjure up a multitude of emotions, such as holidays, birthdays, the death of a loved one, and other monumental moments in our individual journeys.   For each person, they are different. The magnitude of how strongly they affect us is equally varied.

Memories of Mama and our holiday celebrations make me very nostalgic. Therefore, with the onset of Easter Day weekend, I knew the need to ease a little bit of the pain was essential.  It was, in fact, the opportune moment to send up a few “floating prayers.”  I was not the only one in need of a bit of support these days, so I asked my sweet friends to come along for the ride.  Remarkable enough, the stresses, losses, and uncertainties have been prevalent in all of our lives lately.  There remains one thing that is certain through all of this, the love, laughter, and unwavering support of our chosen family is a blessing beyond belief.

Floating Prayers

So yesterday, just as the sun was beginning to say farewell, we took a leisurely stroll by the lake.  We must have been a sight, each of us holding tight to a thin, curly ribbon linked to a bright purple balloon adorned with personal prayers for our families and friends, good health and an abundant of well wishes for those who have passed.  A day that predictably could have been lonely and fraught with tears was replaced with acknowledged grief, renewed wishes, and laughter among friends.

Floating Balloons

 

We used standard balloons and Sharpie acrylic paint pens in white and silver to write our prayers.