For a long time after my mom passed away, I lost my voice and my creative juices. It wasn’t just the losing her, although I had never experienced the death of someone so close to me before, but it was also the many months that led up to that day. It was her long illness and the heartbreak and helplessness of watching her disappear before my eyes as she slowly lost her breath to COPD, and finally her life. There were other losses during that time, many other reluctant goodbyes, and it all simply emptied me out. So I set my writing life aside and tried to figure out how to process the layers of grief and regret, how to regain my emotional footing after a yearlong free-fall. Eight months ago, words started to bubble up in my head, little teases and glimpses of ideas and improvements for the book I was working on before my mom got sick. At first I ignored them. I just wasn’t interested. But eventually, I couldn’t ignore them anymore and I reread the book and began to work on it again.
And now it’s finished, and although I thought it would be published early in September, it somehow happened that September 30th was the day it was finally ready to go, which I think is pretty cool. Because it was three years ago on 9/30/08 that my mom died and it suddenly felt like I had been given the opportunity to take that date back and fill it with something joyful to honor my mom and my own creative spirit. By the end of the day on the 30th however, it didn’t look like I’d get the okay from CreateSpace in time to publish and I was pretty depressed as I got ready for bed that night. Just before midnight, I went downstairs to check my e-mail one last time and the notification was there! It felt like my own moment of ordinary magic as I sat in the dark in front of a glowing computer screen and hit the “publish” button just minutes before September 30th ended.
A blogging friend wrote this recently in a comment, “I still miss my Mom, and she died a long, long time ago. Luckily, her spirit still inspires me.” Now, every year when September 30th rolls around, I will still think of my mom. I’ll think how lucky am I to have had her in my life for as long as I did, to have grown up in a house full of books and love, to have so many wonderful memories of my mom to inspire me as I go forward. How lucky am I? Damn lucky indeed.
If you think you’d like to take a chance on a newly minted author and read my book, the paperback is available now on Amazon and it will be coming soon to Barnes & Noble, Kindle, Nook, and iBooks:)
Hanging with family all this week and hosting Thanksgiving at our house. We have two birds in the oven, a spiral sliced ham, and lots of gluten-free casseroles and several yummy desserts all ready to go! One year ago today we were reeling and missing my mom, now we are just missing her. Have a wonderful day, and no matter how much your family is annoying you, take a moment to be grateful for them:)
Teaser Tuesday asks you to : Grab your current read, Open to a random page, Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. I’m reading The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer. I don’t read a lot of mysteries or thrillers but sometimes I think it’s good to step out of your reading comfort zone and shake things up a bit. I’m really enjoying the read and when I went to his website I also enjoyed his snarky sense of humor! He has fake movie trailers and in one video he’s got family members reading some crummy reviews of the book. It’s totally hilarious, you gotta love a guy who can laugh at the critics! And if those are real reviews I certainly don’t agree with them. I plan to read more of his books, he’s an interesting guy and a good writer.
My teaser sentences are from page 44 where he writes, It’s so damn easy to judge. But Paulo knows from his niece, no matter how much you want someone back in your life, sometimes it’s the letting-them-back-in part that hurts the most. I reread that second sentence several times. It struck me how true it was, and not just about letting people back in, but about letting anything back into your life that you associate with heartache. Years ago, I had to stop painting because I was very ill. When I finally regained my health I didn’t go back into the spare bedroom where my easel was set up for many months. I thought it was because I was afraid I wouldn’t remember how to paint, that I may have lost the ability to be creative after going through so much physical and emotional hurt.
One afternoon, I finally got up the nerve to venture into my little studio. I opened a can of turpentine and squeezed a selection of oil colors onto my palette. Facing a blank white canvas, I breathed in the scent of my paints, dipped my paintbrush into a swirl of cadmium red, and promptly burst into gut wrenching sobs. It was at that moment that I realized it wasn’t the fear of not being able to paint that had kept me away from my art, it was the fear of losing it all over again if my health problems returned. I had grieved long and hard after first losing that part of me, did I really want to let it back in? So I agree with Mr. Meltzer, that simple little sentence says a whole lot about human nature and I imagine most of us can relate to in one way or another.
I asked my dad a couple of times before the one year anniversary of my mother’s death if he wanted to do anything on that day. The first time I asked him he simply shook his head. A week later when I brought it up he said, “No, it isn’t something to celebrate.” I wanted to say I wasn’t thinking we’d go out to the bar or anything, but I let it go, knowing we each need to grieve in our own way. When the date arrived I went to the store and bought one white balloon like the ones we released at her memorial service. I drove to the park where the service was held and I walked up the hill to the clearing where we all had gathered. I held the balloon under my arm, cradling it close to my body so the brisk fall breeze wouldn’t take it from me until I was ready to let it go.
I’m not sure if I went to the park to honor my mother, remember that sad day, or if it wasn’t really for more selfish reasons. Because the prayer I murmured out loud to myself that afternoon was for me, not my mom. I prayed that the anger I had been feeling since her death would go away once and for all, and I asked that my nighttime dreams be about my healthy mom and not my sick mom – the mom who’s suffering broke my heart over and over again, day after day during the last months of her life.
As the autumn wind swallowed my words I let the balloon go. It sailed almost straight up into the blue September sky. I stood squinting in the bright sunlight and watched as it rose higher and higher, determined not to take my eyes off it until it was lost from sight. Several minutes passed, and then, at the exact moment the balloon left my view for good, a hawk swooped in just over the treeline and flew directly over my head. It was the only bird within sight, the only bird I saw the entire time I stood on that lonely hillside. The hawk soared and dipped on an invisible current of air and I turned and watched as it flew in the opposite direction of the white balloon.
The year of first’s is over. First Christmas without mom, her first birthday coming and going without her here to celebrate it, the first baby born in our family without mom around to fuss over her, and now the first anniversary of her death. Last year at this time I was in a small emergency room watching my mother gasp for each breath, looking a doctor in the eye and saying yes, I understood what it meant if they didn’t put her on a respirator and instead gave her meds to help her go to sleep. Of course I only knew what it meant in the moment, which was that it would end my mother’s many months of suffering, but for those of us who loved her it was the beginning of the grieving process which is really just one long bumpy road of goodbyes. At the end of one of my books I write: Some eight years later, when the earthly lives of my daddy and brother had safely made that transformation from flesh and blood to mist and memory, when the grief had finally settled itself comfortably into the undercurrent of my days and nights, my voice came back to me and I picked up a notebook, opened it to the first page, and I began to write. I’m not quite there yet…but I’m getting there.
See other (nearly) Wordless Wednesday participants here.
As I write this post, I am thankful that September has arrived in Michigan and gifted us with a lovely late summer day. I’ve planted mums in the flower garden by the mailbox, planned a barbecue for the holiday weekend, and yet I can’t help but think about the fragility of life this afternoon. My daughter texted me last night that her and her partner have to put one of their beloved cats to sleep this week. A friend called to tell me one of the week old baby twins born to the son of another close friend is gravely ill, a blogging buddy has been asking for prayers for neighbors who lost their five year old daughter in a backyard swimming pool accident, and this month is bittersweet for me and my family as we will mark the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing. On Sunday, when I asked my father if he wanted to do anything on the 30th to commemorate the day, he silently shook his head and I suddenly felt how alone he has been for the past twelve months. My sister and I have made an effort to see my dad every week, and we talk about my mother often, but still, after fifty-one years of marriage I know there aren’t enough dinners or walks down memory lane that can change the fact that his wife is no longer sitting on the couch across from him reading her books with her little dog Ellie curled up on her lap.
Several weeks ago my dad woke up at dawn. When he looked toward the foot of his bed he saw the misty outline of a woman standing there, just looking at him. She was wearing a long white dress and he couldn’t make out her face. All at once, his two dogs who sleep in the bed with him, woke up and began barking in the direction of the ethereal figure. After a minute or two, my dad got up and took the dogs outside to try and settle them down. When he went back into his bedroom the woman was gone but the dogs were still nervous and it took them quite some time to go back to sleep. My dad said he would have thought it was a dream if the dogs hadn’t apparently seen the woman too. He said he assumed the figure was my mother.
So I don’t know, maybe my father isn’t alone. Maybe all the tender moments shared, all the joy filled beginnings and the sad goodbyes, all the threads of love and longing and regret that join each life to another, maybe all these things really do survive long after we are gone. And just maybe, if you are very lucky like my father, when you feel most alone they will gather together in the haze of the early morning light and give you peace. That is my wish for my friends and family on this bright September day, peace in knowing that it doesn’t matter if a life is measured in days or in years, in good health or in trial, each life is worthy and perfect just as it is – beginning and ending with one small breath.
Last Sunday while on our butterfly hunt, my husband and I came across these handsome fellows grazing in a nearby field. They are African Watusi, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they have adapted to our harsh Michigan winters coming from such a warm, dry climate. The lazy days of August are coming to a close here but they are feeling much more like the cool crisp days of October and I’ve caught myself saying at least it’s not snowing several times already! I do believe that my life would be much easier, happiness much closer at hand, if I could adapt to change like the beautiful horned cattle in the photo above apparently have. I want to learn to embrace not only the crazy weather patterns here in Michigan, but also the roller-coaster ups and downs of this thing called life. In two weeks I’m turning fifty and the one year anniversary of my mother’s death is coming up at the end of September. I can’t believe I’m that old and that my mom has been gone for a year already. I’ve never been very good at accepting change, at “going with the flow” as they say, but I’m making a real effort to improve on that skill. I have to of course, because change is inevitable in every life and as we grow older the ride only speeds up and those peaks and valleys only grow taller and much deeper. My birthday gift to myself is going to be to learn to let go, to put my hands up in the air, feel the wind on my face, and enjoy the rest of the ride for as long as it lasts:)
It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear . . . . It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to. ~Marilyn Ferguson
See more PhotoHunt Saturday: Surpriseentrants here and Camera Critter Meme players here!
Teaser Tuesday asks you to : Grab your current read, Open to a random page, Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. Do you ever fall into a non-reading rut? I’ve been having a hard time getting into any books for quite awhile. I pick up a novel and start it but nothing really grabs and holds my attention. I know it’s not the fault of the books, my brain just feels “burned out”, if that makes any sense. When I thought about participating in Teaser Tuesday I looked around and saw my Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming tour book sitting next to my computer so that’s where I got my teaser from today. We’re thinking about going somewhere for my 50th birthday and I’ve decided that we need a vacation that is more about nature and renewal than a big city adventure like the one in Paris I was trying to plan. We’ve never been to Europe, and while we still plan to go someday, neither one of us feels like we have the energy (or the cash) to take that kind of trip right now so we may grab our cameras and head for the wide open spaces of America’s west instead!
Here’s my teaser: Grand Teton brags of its soaring mountain scenery; Arizona’s Grand Canyon flaunts its imposing expanses. But Yellowstone enchants with a more subtle beauty, hinting through its very diversity the changes undergone during a volatile, explosive past. As I was typing those two sentences it struck me that maybe I’m a little like Yellowstone. Maybe we all are. Life can be very challenging at times. Nobody gets through it without “stuff”, and some of that stuff is volatile and explosive and it changes us along with the simple passage of time itself. Our bodies get older, they sag a little here, ache a little there and as our past grows longer our list of sorrows grows too. Of course, so does our list of joys. The diversity of our experiences, the ups as well as the downs, truly are the stuff of life that make our lives both bountiful and beautiful.