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

 

 

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Mama’s Smile

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It was exactly one year ago today that I boarded a plane back to my sweet Mama to hug her, full of certainty that all would be okay.  Truth be told, somewhere beneath the conscious state of life there lied a hazy cloud of fear and a true clarity that if hope could be suffocated I would have certainly accomplished that with how tightly I was holding onto it.  That was the longest three hours of my life.  It’s strange how the body is what is oftentimes associated with restlessness when confined to a small space; but, the mind can be just as restless when equally as limited.  What I discovered that day is that it is also possible for the heart to take up so much room in your chest that it becomes fitful as well.

In all honesty, my memory of the day is much more like a snapshot of events displayed in a photo album.  I often wonder if in order for the mind to hold onto important experiences during stressful times, it must reduce the impact of information to snapshots instead because the full documentary would be way too much to relive.  I liken the day to a viewing with the old View Master from my childhood.  I’m able to peer through the eye piece, clicking through each picture, but not recalling all of the little information in between each slide…..wiping a tear from behind the sunglasses shading my swollen eyes….hugging my sister at the airport….walking into the hospital….seeing my aunt and cousin approach in the hallway…the look of concern on my twin’s face…my brother holding hands with his lovely fiance…my Dad’s comforting embrace…my aunt’s beautiful blue eyes filled with worry…….Mama’s smile………Mama’s laugh………Mama’s strength…….Mama……..

The whole day is sealed in my memory this way, which is so out of the ordinary for me.  My mind typically runs a reel of recollection, not simple snapshots.  I can only guess that my mind, heart, and body have decided to work together to ensure I’m still standing throughout the constant highs and lows of reliving these days.

It does stand that some information is too close to the heart to even place down on paper.  It’s as if it’s secured in a special spot that is only allowed access by those that experienced it together.  I know the struggles my family is having during this time and find comfort in the notion that they truly understand every single snapshot that invades each of our hearts and minds during this recurrence of emotions and feelings of such great sadness.  I also know that Mama is with me.  I can feel the warmth of her presence and see her smile at the forefront of my mind.  I will make it through this day….and tomorrow as well…and so on.  My promise to myself is to let the tears flow when they come and the laughter bubble up as each snapshot clicks into clear view reminding me of the amazing mother that I was so very lucky to call my Mama.

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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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The Sound

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The events of a year ago are flooding back in as if they’ve been out to sea for a while and have decided to return for a visit.  I remember very vividly hanging up the phone with Mom and being profoundly affected by the change in her voice.  The effects of her last radiation treatment had left her with slurred speech and this hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was the beginning of a loss so great it shatters one’s soul.  I remember crying at the thought of never again hearing the sound of my mother as I’d known it all of my life.  It devastated me and fueled me into an all out search for anything that had Mama’s voice on it.  I can remember replaying messages in hopes of rediscovering it.  One night, as I sat idle in my car under a blanket of foggy night sky, I called my brother and confessed my concern of never hearing my sweet Mama’s voice again and how selfish I felt for even wishing to.  I knew I should be focused on comforting and supporting her as opposed to fulfilling my own self-centered wishes.  I couldn’t help it though.  Just once I longed to hear the sound of her unaltered tone.

Somewhere in all the sadness and longing, I realized what the alternative would be and soon embraced a new hope that all would be okay and her eloquent dialogue would return.  My aunt reassured me that there was a good chance that the effects would lessen as time marched on.  The exhilaration of knowing this was almost too much to contain.  I called Mama at various times in the day to listen to the differences.  It was evident that morning was always a bit better and as fatigue set in; the evenings were more of a strain.  One morning in particular she was very clear and glimpses of her former quick witted tongue were evident.  I look back on that phone conversation in particular and realize it was just a few days later that I boarded the plane to return to her.  We are approaching that day now.  I know this is why I am faced with sleepless nights and an increasingly aching heart.

It’s always in hindsight that you realize you should embraced each moment as they come; because now, I wish I could hear anything associated with her, her laughter, her tears, her humor, and yes, even her slurred speech.  I would welcome any sound from her and hold tight to it with every ounce of my being knowing full well how precious each utterance is.

The most amazing thing is, right now in this very instance………I can hear my wind chimes ringing…..and you better believe I’m going to embrace it wholeheartedly!

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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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

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.

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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.

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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.