The Silver Box

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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The Yin and Yang of a Strong Woman

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Each morning I arise with a flood of Mama Memories.  It’s the strangest sensation.  No matter what is going on in my life that might otherwise take that momentous time slot, snapshots of Mama push their way to the forefront of my mind.  I think it must be because my body, just prior to that, is in its most relaxed state and allows for those things that should take precedence to come forth.  Sometimes they’re happy and sometimes they’re filled with sadness, regret, and loss; either way, they tend to bring tears.  So as the months have progressed, I have become accustomed to wet eyes at the beginning of each day, knowing that my body is most likely just trying to release a bit of stress.

Today, I’m remembering just how generous and strong Mama was.  I’m not sure if anyone outside of her family is truly aware of just how accurate these two words describe her.  I think people feel generosity in the moment that they are included within it, which I also believe to be completely normal.  But how wondrous would it be to have vision enough to witness the magnitude of which some people actually are.  Mom would be one of those that would be awe inspiring to witness.

I don’t know exactly when she started the practice of taking food to every single doctor’s appointment she went to.  My guess is it was around the time she started having her joints replaced due to Degenerative Arthritis or possibly after her month long stay in a hospital in Louisiana with her leg in traction; regardless of when, Mom was really good about acknowledging those that took care of her.  It was nothing out of the ordinary for her to whip up a batch of Ranch Crackers or sugar cookies as an offering of thanks to the office staff, nurses, and her beloved doctors.  I still marvel at her ability to sit in an appointment and come out with as much information about their lives as they did about her ailments.  Mom may have come in as a patient, but I guarantee, she left as an honorary family member. I also tend to believe that some of this showering of appreciation came from growing up with a father who was a doctor that exhibited the compassion, patience, and kindness of a saint.

Now, back to my initial thought; how amazing would it be to witness a timeline of those rare individuals that truly show generosity as second nature and not as a deliberate act in recognition of a specific moment or occasion?  Mom’s timeline would most definitely be far stretching, if not infinite.  If we could all see that much goodness in people, witnessing them at their finest, most delightful, and giving moments, would our impressions of them change?  Would we accept their flaws more willingly?  Would we aspire to know them more intimately and without reservation?  Mom was a master at this.  She could somehow recognize the best in those around her and become lifelong friends with them instantly.

Don’t get me wrong, she was also strong willed and if someone took advantage of her, that did not go unnoticed.  She did not waste time on sugar coating things.  She would simply express the obvious and then reevaluate her thinking in regards to that particular person or situation.  I loved this fire in her.  I respect the fact that she could be so soft and yet so solid as well.  I know that I carry this same fire within myself.  I know that when I feel wronged, I will allow my thoughts to be heard in a respectful and logical manner.  I’m not sure if Mom considered herself to be strong, but if I could say it to her today, I would!  I would thank her for showing me that a weak body causing weak moments in life does not equate a weak heart as so obviously and consistently she exhibited as the years of arthritis and cancer took over her strength of body.  She never let this fact overshadow her generosity and positive attitude towards life and its challenges.  If I could say it to her today, if I could tell her something I should have said years ago.  If I could have one more Mother’s Day with her, I would say, “I wanna’ be just like you when I grow up, Mom!”

 

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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Quote ~ Friendship

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Each friend represents a world in us,

a world possibly not born until they arrive,

and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.

~ Anaïs Nin