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!”

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Birthday Celebration

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My birthday weekend is coming to an end today.  I was so worried throughout this entire month about how I might react on the actual day.  Typically, I spend time prior to the day planning out what I’d like to do.  I have always gone to the spa for at least one of the days.  As well, I tend to have a large group of people over for a home cooked meal with champagne and cupcakes.  On big birthdays I plan elaborate celebrations.  But this year felt different.  I was dreading it.  I really did not know how I was going to react to the silence of Mom’s birthday wish.  I was so used to her calling up and doing that typical thing that Mom’s do by reliving the day you came into the world.  It just didn’t feel right.  My friends kept asking me in the kindest of ways, “So what are we going to do?”  I just kept stalling.  I felt like I wanted to just sit on the couch the entire day in complete silence; but, that didn’t seem right either in light of how I typically enjoy my birthday.  So I finally decided on keeping it small with friends I felt certain would follow my lead.  I knew that this group of friends would either live it up with a bang…or just as easily lie down in the grass, eyes lifted to the sky, and cry with me.

I waited until the day before my actual birthday to spring the plan on my friends.  I decided on an early breakfast with a leisurely drive through the vineyards and some wine tasting.  The day would end with a visit to the Solvang Brewing Company for one of their infamous Viking Corn Dogs.  As can be expected with this group, they leaped at the chance to join in on the day.  Their support was expected, but their exuberance was intoxicating.  I began to become excited about the day rather than pensive.  These amazing women that I choose to live my life around took their most envied personality traits and simultaneously filled my little wounded heart with hope.  They were enthusiastic, encouraging, supportive, flexible and leaping feet first into this uncertain day with me.  I love them for that.  I love that they pushed their lives aside to fill the hours of my day with a quiet reassurance that all would be okay.

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Seeing as the majority of my day was planned out, I knew that I needed to save a piece of it for Mama.  So in the wee hours of the morning, I headed out the door with my loyal companion, Marcello, for a much needed walk of remembrance, release of sadness, and recognition of why I even have a birthday.  I made sure Mom’s playlist was set and I started my Birthday Walk!  I cried through most of it, Marcello glancing up at me now and then to make sure I was okay.  I began so early in the morning that I doubted anyone would even pass our path and if they had, I wouldn’t have even noticed or cared.  This walk was for my own peace of mind and to fill a little hole in my heart with birthday memories.

I won’t go into detail about what exactly ran through my mind during that time, but my biggest hope is that Mama somehow heard me and knows how much I miss hearing her voice and long to hug her one more time. I wanted to thank her for giving me a reason to even need to celebrate my birthday.  The only way I could imagine these celebrations filled with laughter and love is if somewhere along the path of my life someone else had shown me how important I was to even justify such observance.  I thanked her for so many things that early morning and as I entered my home at the finality of my walk, the phone rang and Dad’s voice filled the air. The two people who brought me into this world unknowingly shared the exact same space and time on my birthday and this brought the greatest sense of tranquility to my day.  It filled my day with the love I needed to move forward without guilt or sadness….and that is exactly what I did….I celebrated life that day!!

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Popcorn, Orange Slices, and Jerry

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Ahhhh…the ease of a beautiful Saturday!  I don’t think there is anything better than a relaxed, carefree, sunny Saturday.  As a kid we lived for this day.  This day represented freedom, family, friends and Jerry Lewis.  Yep, you heard me right….Lewis….Jerry Lewis!

In our household, bribery was often incorporated into the daily workings of our homestead corporation.  To give you an example, we could enjoy television at free will, daily, as long as none of us kiddos received a “C” on our report card.  As luck would have it, I could typically be counted on to ensure that we never saw the glimmer of the illustrious, illuminated box; therefore, consistently guaranteeing no television for eight more weeks.  Not sure if this brilliant notion was swiped from the whole Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog phenomenon, but it sure felt that way.  So starting Friday nights we had a pretty packed viewing schedule; but Saturdays, oh glorious Saturdays, now those were the day’s dreams were built on.

Pajamas, popcorn, orange slices and a good Jerry Lewis flick.  That’s what Saturdays were made of in our home.  I can’t rightly recall if it was Mom or Dad that loved Jerry Lewis.  My guess leans towards Dad though. It seems to be a little more in his wheelhouse.  Regardless, we all began to love Saturdays with Jerry.  It represented laughter and popcorn tossing competitions.

As you know, my life on the child labor market started pretty early on and popcorn vending sure seemed to fit right nicely into that realm.  Dad initially was the master of popping, but he more than willingly seemed to pass that torch onto us as soon as feasible.  Unlike laundry duty though, no hard feelings were harbored when popcorn vending came into play.  We all seemed to love that job.  We had a pot that appeared to have fallen off the back of a chuck-wagon traveling along the Trail of Tears that we used to pop corn in.  It was a dull metal, dented and charred from excessive use.  I really have no idea what might have come out of that pot prior to our popcorn days, but it was surely seasoned well and produced popcorn the likes of which you can’t find today.

The popcorn was delicious, but it was Mama’s fine palate that decided to marry the taste of buttery popped corn with juicy orange slices and that, my friends, is beyond compare.  There was nothing fancy to it, oil popped corn with melted butter and perfectly cut orange slices used as chasers for each buttery bite of puffed corn.  I don’t know why, but those two scents and tastes, ’til this day, cause my mouth to water, eyes to sparkle, and a certain feel of home to enter my heart.

Now back to Jerry Lewis.  If you’ve never experienced an afternoon of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films, you must.  At first, you might question why you are even watching them.  They can be a bit over the top at times….okay…most of the time.  But as time progresses, you start to realize this is truly depicting what life is all about.  We live daily adventures, accepting life’s ups and downs as they come, developing the ability to laugh at ourselves and bring a smile to the face of others all along the way.  It’s about lasting relationships that provide support and love, whatever form they come in.  Jerry Lewis may play this type of loving, loyal character in his movies…but he very much encompasses this belief in his own life as well.  We saw ourselves in his fictional character and wanted to emulate his overwhelming compassion in real life.

I can’t help but compare his bright personality and abundant empathy with Mama.  Maybe that’s why his films resonate so profoundly with me even today.  Long after our popcorn and orange slice Saturdays have since ceased, each one of us still embodies the desire to contribute to charitable foundations through activism.  We learned this from both our parents and I can’t help but think that Jerry, popcorn, and orange slices had a little to do with it too.

 

 

Betsy’s Luminary

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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.

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The Time Has Come

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Lately, I have been coming home so weary that I find it quite difficult to even enjoy my evenings.  I know that the stress of losing a loved one has a lot to do with this.  The constant wave of emotions that sneak up on me, cloaking me in sadness one moment and then swinging to joyous revelations of just how lucky I have been in life to have known a person so marvelous are extremely draining and leave me feeling depleted of all energy.  I also realize that, like many of you, my job is more than demanding, oftentimes, by the completion of the day, having sucked all vitality from my being.  So as the days roll on and I am made more aware of just how expended my spirit becomes by the end of the day, I understand clearly there needs to be change.  Something has got to give.  I love my job.  I love the people I am surrounded by every day.  I must embrace the fact that taking care of myself more right now does not mean loving them any less.

This weekend as I sat pondering just how to do this, a clear vision of what I want for myself developed.  I love what I do and take great pride in the impact that I have on the future of our society.  It is a most important contribution and I realize the responsibility that comes with it is great. So as I sat in a reflective state, beginning to fully understand the goal forming in my mind, I struggled with how to balance the two worlds of their needs vs. mine.

I began to really analyze what I felt was happening and I believed I discovered how things might be altered.  I noticed that my day, like most, begins with the responsibilities of my job and then eases into my personal time just at the point in the day when my body just wants to give out.  I know I must alter my thinking and behaviors in order to achieve a greater balance.  My job is not my life.  As it stands now though, it does take the most invigorated, prestigious time of my day, if only because it holds the coveted spots of morning and afternoon.  I became increasingly cognoscente of the fact that I was losing my own time to pure exhaustion.

I’ve now decided to approach my day a little more differently.  I need to embrace the fact that my job is a job and should not demand the coveted position of center of my mind and spirit.  It will have to shift to something just outside of that coveted spot.  That spot is now being perfectly balanced for the “my best interests” moments of my day.  These moments are what must be made the central point of my life.  I think as we age, we begin to truly realize this.  I guess the fact that I am on the cusp of turning one year older has me reevaluating my priorities.  I’m finding I’m okay with that.  I may even be….possibly…..totally…..excited about changing my belief that morning is not necessarily the beginning of a “my” new day…..but…..afternoon might just have to take that title…..effective…..immediately!

 

Feeding a Little Hope and Peace

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I have to admit, I have the best friends ever!!  They always know how to lift up my spirits and make me smile.  Most of the time, a good cup of tea, coffee, or champagne with idle chit chat and a little relaxation time is all we really need to rejuvenate our energy levels. I like to refer to them as my “just breath” moments.

Some of the time though, I’m lucky enough to be given the best little Happy Day Treats.  As an Easter gift, one of my sweet friends gave me this beautiful bird feeder, mentioning that it reminded her of me.  I have to admit, she’s was pretty spot on.  I even believe this bird feeder was specifically meant to find its way to me.

Now I’ve never owned a bird feeder before and this particular friend has never been to my parents’ house or been made privy to the fact that my mom loved bird feeders and had several of them placed throughout the absolutely gorgeous garden at their home.

So again I ask you….just coincidence?  By now, I think you know my answer to that.

Nostalgic Jubilation

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I knew that Easter might be a bit rough this year, and it was.  Luckily, my most difficult moments were in solitude and I allowed my tears to flow freely without an ounce of self-consciousness.  Sometimes, a good cry is really all that can help with the sadness.  I needed a few days to get my thoughts together enough to relay my memories of the holiday.  I had wanted to do it on Easter day, but found that when I sat to write, my emotions were still a bit too raw to think clearly.  So I waited, until it felt right.

Thank goodness for loved ones because, although there was an absolute absence within my heart, I was definitely well taken care of and included in the true essence of Easter in its most traditional sense.  I adore Easter and all aspects of it, including the commercial aspect.  I think it’s one of those holidays where there is a nice balance between recognizing one’s faith and enjoying the simplicity of family fun.

As a child, Easter was always a pretty big deal.  Mom was a seamstress and for years made us new, crisp, white dresses.  To add to that were hats adorned with pastel ribbons and shiny shoes squeaky enough to demand all the attention one might need when dressed in their finest.  In preparation for the big day, I can remember all the fittings and adjustments needed, which just added to the anticipation.  Mom was really good about allowing us some say in which dress patterns we liked so that on the actual day, we were always pretty excited about our new outfits.

I don’t know how she did it.  She managed to always find time to do it all.  We dyed eggs until our fingers were little multicolored shriveled up prunes.  The image of aprons and wire scoops balancing delicate, wobbling eggs with pink, blue, green, and yellow cups of brilliant liquid to plop them into is such a vivid picture in my mind.  It was always so exciting.

Easter morning we would quietly sneak to the living room to see what kinds of goodies the Easter Bunny had blessed us with, knowing full well our bellies would be ever so delighted with the delicacies we would soon be engulfing.  We were never disappointed.  Whether it was hollow chocolate bunnies, old school jelly beans, or the creamy smoothness of specialty chocolates, we were in complete heaven.  Also hidden in our baskets, at least for us girls, would be a fun little piece of jewelry and a book that we might have been longing for.  The sweet simplicity of it all was what makes it so endearing to me now.  I often wonder just how some of our holidays have lost that nostalgic feel and are now so much more grandiose and pretentious.

For some reason, on this special day, our lovely little church always seemed so much brighter and more full of light than on any other day.  It was always buzzing with laughter and happiness on Easter day.  Right in the middle of the aisle stood a big white cross with holes all over it specifically meant for freshly picked flowers from the garden.  The simple act of finding the perfect hole so that my flower stood out among all the rest was part of the fun.  The sermon was uplifting and the hymns always joyful.  Having an exceptional voice, Mom was certain to sing in the choir.  Even today, if I close my eyes and make still everything else….I can hear her singing.  She sang without reservation and enough jubilation to fill an entire room.  I believe it will always be something I can hear.  I don’t imagine it will ever go away.

So this weekend, as I sat in an unfamiliar church listening to a service a bit foreign to me and mostly hymns I had never heard before, I was comforted by the fact that I was with amazing people, experiencing what Easter has always meant to them through the years and it warmed my heart to know that we are all different and yet so much alike in so many ways.  Although Mom was not with me in person, I felt that she was there.  Of all the hymns sung that day, I only knew of two of them, both being hymns that Mama used to love to sing.  Luckily for me, they were the processional hymn and the recessional hymn….they guided me into the service and lead me back out into the sunshine.  I think she knew I needed something to get me there and then a little nudge to get me back out to enjoy the rest of the day and the company of those with especially big hearts and open arms.