A Picture Tells a Story

A picture tells a story.

At the end of every year since I got an Instagram account, I go back through all the photos I posted for that year. Recently I went back through my Instagram photos for 2019, and I truly realized that some of the pictures really tell stories.

My first post for 2019 was a photo at the Charlotte airport…not much of a story except that we were starting vacation…meeting friends from Ohio in LA. But the next picture, a photo of me and my friend from Ohio, Jenn, tells a real story.

img_9558

Sure, looking at the photo above, all you see is two friends on a chilly day with the Pacific Ocean in the background. But what I see is love. Having just survived the first anniversary of my mother’s death (she died December 30, 2017), I was still reeling. I was feeling lost. And then we arrived in Los Angeles, and Jenn and her daughter arrived. After telling her what a terrible day that first anniversary on December 30 had been (there were additional factors at play)…and crying…Jenn made me feel better. Jenn, the perpetual ray of sunshine, hugged me, listened to me, and made me feel loved. So every time I come across that one single photo that looks completely nondescript and meaningless to everyone else in the world, I remember how much better she made me feel. I can look at my face in that picture and see the pain melting away. I see the relief in my eyes and in my face. That picture reminds me that good friends are hard to find. And that picture reminds me that when we find good friends like Jenn, we need to keep them.

There are other photos from 2019 that stand out for me. In fact, any photos I post on Instagram, I share for a reason…maybe I think they’re funny or cute…maybe I want to share something cool…or maybe there’s another meaning behind the picture. Of course, when I posted the picture of me and Jenn, I had no idea how powerful the picture was for me. It was only when I was looking through pictures a few months later that I saw it again, and the meaning behind it floored me. Instagram photos certainly tell stories…maybe not to the casual observer, but to the originator of the post. Most of my photos tell stories of family, friendship, and love. And then there are some that tell different stories…like this photo of me and my daughter in front of Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The story? In 2015, I took a crazy road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, and our kids. We spent a few nights in Chicago, and while we were there, I had hoped to get the kids up to Wisconsin…just so they could add another state to their list of “states visited.” There was a Six Flags amusement park we could have visited just over the line, but that would have taken too much time, so instead, I suggested Mars Cheese Castle, a giant cheese store shaped like…you guessed it…a castle. We never made it in 2015, and I regretted it. So in 2019, when I was in Chicago with my daughter and one of her friends, we made a quick trip up to Kenosha to visit Mars Cheese Castle. You can see how happy I was!

Those are just a couple of examples of how pictures tell stories, but I can look at every picture on my Instagram account and remember stories and conversations behind them. Right now, though, I keep going back to that picture of me and Jenn. I need to call her and thank her for being a good friend.

 

The Sad Season

The holidays are winding down. Lots of folks get depressed after the holidays…Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or just plain old sadness that the holidays are over. And then there are people like me who have experienced loss…and the unfortunate few of us who have actually experienced loss during the holidays.

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing…two years without my mother. She fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, and I received a phone call at 8:30 that night…she was in the hospital in Alabama. My little family rushed through opening gifts in Charlotte that night, and before the crack of dawn on Christmas Day, I left to go be with my mother. As I drove to Alabama, I was thinking of how I was going to tell my mother that she was coming back to Charlotte with me. I was thinking of how angry she would be that I wanted her to leave her house. But I never got to tell her she was coming home with me. The doctor made it clear to me on December 26 that she would not recover, and since both my grandmothers had died on December 26 in different years (eerie, right?) I needed Mother to make it past that day. I asked the doctor if she was likely to make it to the 27th, explaining why I was asking, and he assured me she would…but not much longer. I didn’t want her to die at all, but if she had died on the 26th, every year after that, I would have been waiting for something to happen to me on the 26th. We needed to break the cycle. She made it to the 30th.

Last year, the first anniversary, was a terrible day…terrible. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and it was just a terrible day. But this year, I am bound and determined to make it a happier day. Of course, I’m still sad my mother isn’t here, but instead of crying all day, I hope to be celebrating her life…drinking a toast to her memory.

In fact, as I type, I’m on a plane to Los Angeles…a vacation with my daughter, her friend, and my nephew and his friend. Mother would have loved knowing my nephew is vacationing with us. We have a lunch reservation tomorrow at a fabulous restaurant, where we will remember Mother. We might even order a Bailey’s and coffee, her favorite, after lunch.

And as hard as I will try to be happy, positive, and upbeat, I know a little sadness will creep in. I know that, because I just tried to read a piece by Sean Dietrich (see Sean of the South on Facebook here), and I couldn’t get past the first couple paragraphs about his dad, who he lost years ago.

So right now, for this second anniversary, I’ll take “mostly happy with a little sadness creeping in.”

All this is my way of reminding everyone that some people are sad right now. Some are suffering. Some are just trying to push through the season. And then some will be even more sad at the thought of starting a new year without a loved one. I hope I will show mercy and offer courteous goodwill to those who need it. I hope I will try to help my friends and family into 2020…with some love, patience, hope, and clarity. And I hope they will do the same for me.

Let’s make 2020 a good year.

 

Mother’s 80th Birthday

My mother’s 80th birthday is approaching…September 3. She was born in Alabama two days after World War II started in Poland. Sadly, she isn’t here to celebrate her 80th birthday. She died 20 months ago, on December 30, 2017. To say I miss her is an understatement. I’ve written about her before. She was nurturing…nurturing us as well as lots of neighborhood kids and our classmates. She liked for things to be done “the right way.” Yes, she was a rule follower…I got it honestly. But she also had a fantastic sense of humor…it’s necessary in dealing with my brother, for sure. And she had a great sense of adventure and encouraged us, her children, to have a sense of adventure, as well. My husband would tell you she did a good job of instilling a sense of adventure in me.

In November 1997, I decided I wanted to go to Mexico City for vacation. I didn’t have any friends who were interested in going, so I decided I would go alone. A few days before I was scheduled to go, Mother called me and offered to go with me. I knew she was going simply because she didn’t want me to go alone, but it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. She purchased her airline ticket, and a few days later, we were on our way to an adventure. I had visited Mexico City in 1982, but Mother had no idea what to expect. I tried to make sure she saw everything she could safely see while we were there. We visited El Zocalo, which she found fascinating. We spent a lot of time touring the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, a place she considered one of the most beautiful places she had ever seen. We had coffee in the Gran Hotel, an historic hotel facing El Zocalo, admiring the beautiful glass ceiling. We shopped in local markets. We toured El Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Museum of Anthropology. We ate street food. We ate in great restaurants and dined al fresco at different places in La Zona Rosa. She always ordered chicken in molé sauce. And she fell in love with the warm people of Mexico. We spent Sunday afternoon in Chapultepec Park (see info here), visiting the zoo (pandas!) and Chapultepec Castle atop the hill overlooking the park. She laughed for years at how much I made her walk while we were there. And she laughed that we ordered late night room service every night while we were there. In fact, when the hotel put a copy of our bill under the door, I was shocked at the total. Remember, I was single and thirty years old…working in the travel business. I took one look at the bill and said to Mother, “Ummm…this bill is $8000. My credit card won’t take that much!” We quickly remembered, of course, that it was 8000 pesos. At that time, that translated to just over $1000 USD. Since I worked in the travel industry, I had secured us a great rate on the hotel room…80 percent off the rack rate…and we were staying in a beautiful hotel in La Zona Rosa. And in the end, it didn’t matter about my credit card, because Mother picked up the tab, as my parents had done so many times. Good times, no doubt, and it’s an adventure I’m glad we shared. She knew I loved Mexico City, and I am thrilled we experienced it together. I hope to one day take my own daughter to Mexico City to show her the same sights.

I have lived in North Carolina for the past 19 years, and Mother lived in Alabama, so I didn’t see her all the time. Many times, after Daddy died in 2006, I tried to talk her into moving to Charlotte, but she didn’t want to move this far north. I saw her several times a year, but we spoke on the phone every day…and often, more than once a day. She loved to talk about current events. She loved hearing about my life. She loved hearing about my daughter. She loved hearing about our adventures. She loved to talk about football.

She and my daddy also loved sunflowers. I grew some in my garden last year, and this year, I’ve grown more. Some of them are blooming now, but I hope a few will hold out a little longer. I want to have some blooming on her birthday, and it would be great if a few would hold out till Daddy’s birthday on September 14. In fact, two of my Mammoth Sunflowers are side by side…one is about two feet taller than the other, and that height difference makes me think of Mother and Daddy too. Mother was under five feet tall, and Daddy was 6’3″…so it makes me smile every time I see those two mismatched sunflowers.

When she fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, I got up on Christmas morning and drove to Alabama, with the intention of bringing her back to Charlotte with me. On the long drive there, I thought of what I would say to make it clear she didn’t have a choice in the matter…she was coming home with me. But after arriving and speaking with the doctors, I realized she wouldn’t be coming home with me. She would be going home to the Lord. She would be laughing with Daddy soon. She died on December 30, 2017.

On her birthday, I will add a little Bailey’s Irish Cream to my coffee in memory of her. She would laugh if she knew that.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mother.

And They Said It Wouldn’t Last

On August 19, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We were married in 2000, when we were both rapidly approaching our mid-thirties. We had known each other for three years, having met through a mutual friend with whom I worked.

I was 33, and he was 34, and when we got married, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, and he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had met in Mobile in 1997, but he had moved to Charlotte soon thereafter, so we had a long-distance relationship, and I had no plans of moving unless I was married. I’m sure I could have found a job in Charlotte, but at 33, I wasn’t willing to make a partial commitment to a man; I needed a full-on commitment if I were going to move.

So we were married on August 19 in the historic First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. When we returned from our two-week Hawaiian honeymoon, we went to Mobile and loaded a truck with all my belongings and moved them to Charlotte. I had lived in different places, so moving was not a challenge for me. In fact, the longest I had ever lived anywhere at that point in my life was nine years…moving wasn’t a problem. Of course, my family was in Alabama, but I could visit whenever I wanted, and we talked every day.

Not gonna lie. The first year was challenging. Remember, we were 33 and 34. We had both been living alone for years, and I loved living alone….eating cereal for dinner in front of the TV; staying up as late as I wanted; being in charge of the remote control; not answering to anyone…you get the picture. We were two (and still are) two very different people. He likes to be home. I like to be on the go. In fact, home, for me, is just a place to change clothes. And I’m always planning my next trip. He’s quiet. I’m not. Seriously, he is very quiet and reserved. But we were married. Suddenly, I had to be more grown up. I had to cook and eat real meals at the table instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. My husband liked to go to bed earlier than I did, and he always held the remote control. Life was different, and when I was down, he didn’t understand. What did I not like about leaving a one-bedroom apartment? Well…that little one bedroom apartment was my space, and after getting married, it seemed I rarely had my space. I’m sure there were people who could sense the tension and thought, “They’ll never make it.”

But one year in, I was accustomed to married life. In fact, one year in, and I was flat out enjoying it. We got a dog…an Airedale Terrier I wanted to name Fannie after a college friend, but the husband wouldn’t go for “Fannie.” We opted for Annie instead. She has been gone for several years now, but I still wish we had named her Fannie.  And then, 2.5 years after we married, we were expecting a baby. We found out in May 2003 it was a girl, and we were thrilled. She was born in October of 2003, and no one ever loved a baby more than we love that girl. But again, there was added stress. We were sleep deprived. We were exhausted (mostly me). But after the first few months, we started to get more sleep. We started to have more fun, and the stress of having a baby in the house subsided. We were a happy little family of three.

It hasn’t been all fun and games. In 2005, my husband’s beloved grandmother passed away, and all of us were heartbroken. She was kind and caring, and she was a force of nature. At the same time, my mother was driving from Mobile to Birmingham (4-5 hours) all the time, trying to get my grandmother settled in to assisted living, and my daddy was having undiagnosed health issues. In February 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died that same year…eight months after his official diagnosis. My heart was broken. While I had lost grandparents, I had never experienced a loss as terrible as that one. It was the hardest time of my life, at that point. I was truly devastated. My heart ached in a way I didn’t know it could.

After that, my husband had not one, but two brain surgeries, and we survived that. I say “we,” because it was hard on both of us. Physically and mentally, it was difficult for him. It was emotionally and mentally hard on me. He came back from surgery a different person, but we got through that too. You can read about it here. And then, I lost my mother in December 2017. It took the wind out of my sails. I slept for a month afterward. I had learned some coping skills after the losing my daddy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my mother. I can still get upset at any moment, and it has been 20 months since she passed.

But my husband helped. He understood. He knew that when I stayed in bed in January of 2018, I needed to be there. He looked out for me. He supported me. And then, one of my dearest friends died in June 2018 after battling cancer for 30 years. My husband supported me through that too.

We’ve had our share of heartaches, but we are a team, and we deal with them together. We have had our share of disagreements, but we’ve moved past them. Sometimes he thinks I’m absolutely insane, and vice versa. I’m not going to lie and say it has been easy. It hasn’t always been easy. I don’t always understand him, and he doesn’t always understand me, but we try.

But married life hasn’t been all about loss. It hasn’t been all been difficult. We love raising our daughter together. We love sitting out on the patio together in the evening…sipping Prosecco and listening to jazz music. We have enjoyed going to lots of concerts together. At night, before we go to sleep, we watch an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, The Young and The Restless, or CSI: Miami. He helps me plant the garden every year, and I tend it. We both love to watch college and NFL football, so fall is a busy time for us. And we try to go to all our daughter’s field hockey and lacrosse games. He brings me coffee in bed every morning, because he learned that I’m a lot happier if I wake up with caffeine. I go to bed earlier, because he likes to get to bed earlier than I do. We laugh a lot…at each other and with each other. We have fun together. We are thankful we wake up every day. We appreciate the life we have together.

Our daughter is about to start her sophomore year of high school, and in three short years, she will be heading off to college somewhere. We will enter a new phase of life, God willing. And we will have to adapt to more changes. Right now, we aren’t always on the same page for our plans for the empty nest years. But I’m sure we will find ways to compromise. We will find ways to make sure we both get to “live the dream.” He wants the Gulf Coast, and I want to travel to different cities. We will find a way to make it all happen, and we will have fun along the way….God willing.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Cary! And they said it wouldn’t last…

Gone But Not Forgotten

Today is the anniversary of the death of a very dear friend. We became friends in 2004, right after my daughter turned one, and her son (her first child) was about six months old. Our lives were intertwined for years. Dynamics changed as our kids got older. My friend took a job. She moved to the west coast. She and her husband divorced. They moved again to the east coast…New England. But we always remained friends. Was our friendship always perfect? No. She was hurt when she took her job and our playgroup didn’t envelope her kids the way we should have. We didn’t always agree with each other’s decisions. But we were friends. We were the kind of friends who would have always been friends…and then she died.

And here’s what I always hear…”Life goes on.” But what exactly does that mean? Her life didn’t go on, but the lives of her children, family, and friends have gone on. Because she had moved away years ago and never answered her phone, she wasn’t a part of our daily lives in Charlotte anymore. But she was a part of my life…and she was a part of the lives of others. I’m not going to say all that sappy stuff like “she lit up a room”…or “she was always good.” People were drawn to her, and I was flattered that she picked me as her friend. But she wasn’t perfect, just like I’m not. But dang it…she was my friend. And she was the mother to two children…now aged 13 and 15. She was the daughter of two wonderful parents who loved her beyond measure, and her sister and brother….well, they adored her too. She loved her family more than anything, and they were always active in her life. But her life stopped on June 4, 2018. Gone too soon. She was just 46, even though the priest at her funeral kept saying she was 47…that actually made me chuckle during the service, thinking of what her response would have been, “Are you kidding me?! Don’t make me older than I am!”

She was active. She exercised all the time and ate really well most of the time…even though we did love eating Doritos together late at night when we vacationed in Maine. She loved red licorice, Zotz candy, and Spree candy. Those were her weaknesses…her guilty pleasures. She didn’t eat them all the time, but she sure enjoyed them when she had them! There was a candy store in Kennebunkport, Maine, that sold the perfect red licorice for her, and we were regulars there. Once, she was going to another store, so I went to stock up on candy. I had forgotten my wallet, so she gave me her credit card and her drivers license. I laughed, saying, “Ummm…if they ask for ID for the credit card, there is no way they are going to believe this!” She was tall, dark, and Irish/Italian. I’m short, fair, and Anglo. She said, “Just take it!” Luckily, they didn’t ask for ID, so I was able to stock up on licorice, Zotz, Spree, and good old-fashioned candy cigarettes for us. Go ahead. Grimace. We didn’t care. Candy cigarettes were old school, and we liked them.

My friend had suffered since she was a teenager with various types of cancer. Lymphoma, breast cancer, leukemia…life wasn’t easy for her, but she kept living it…till she didn’t. I think I always believed she would continue to beat cancer…till she didn’t.

Her children, a boy and a girl, are being raised by their very capable dad. He’s a good dad, exposing them to the world while also making sure their souls are nourished. They go to camp with other children who have lost parents to cancer. They have loving grandparents, and they have aunts and uncles who love them too. But they don’t have their mother. She’s not there every day to encourage them to finish homework. She’s not there to hug them when they need it. She’s not there to guide them, listen to them, help them, parent them.

So yes, life goes on…but it goes on without my friend. For her children, life goes on without their mother. For her parents…without their daughter.

Things happen all the time that make me think of her. Every time I go to Dunkin’ Donuts and order an iced coffee with extra cream, I think of her. Every time I drive past her old house in Charlotte…at least twice a week (I do it intentionally)…I think of her. Every time I think of summer on the beach in Maine…I think of her. Or summers at the pool…all our friends had memberships at different clubs, so we would alternate the pools we visited during the summer. Every time I eat Spree or Zotz, I think of her. I even saw a Santander Bank in Cancun and thought of her…she had worked for them at one time. I was talking with someone last week about Mike’s Pastries in Boston…thought of my friend; she introduced my daughter to cannolis at Mike’s Pastries. Every time someone mentions the Virginia Creeper bike trail, I think of her and the time we took our children…it turned into a comedy of errors, but we survived. Every time I pass the hospital, I think of her, because we actually spent quality time there together, when she was having chemo. Mention California Pizza Kitchen, and I think of the time she almost died from an anaphylactic reaction when we were having lunch there. When I think of my daddy’s cancer diagnosis, I think of her too, because I was on my way to dinner with her when I found out Daddy had pancreatic cancer. And every time I hear about a young person who has cancer, I think of her and how long she fought.

My friend hasn’t been forgotten. She is still a part of our lives and our regular conversations. She taught us a lot about friendship. Tonight, our playgroup friends will gather for dinner, sans kids, to drink a toast to our friend who is no longer with us…one year gone. Life goes on…but it goes on differently.

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day

To all you mothers out there…Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day has taken on a whole new meaning since my mother died in December 2017. I miss my mother, just like anyone who has lost their mom. Today, I will tell stories about her, and I will drink a toast to her at brunch, but I won’t be sad. I am happy, because I had a wonderful mother.

My little family will go to brunch, just like we always do on Mother’s Day. My husband sent me flowers yesterday, and I sent myself some Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes…any excuse for some Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes! If you’ve never tried them, you need to try them. You can see the website here. Mine arrived on Friday. I ordered 50 minis. My husband was with me when I opened the box, and he was waiting to see who sent them. When I looked at the card, it simply said, “Happy Mother’s Day.” He looked at me and asked, “Who do you think sent them?” I laughed and said, “I sent them to myself!” He wasn’t surprised; he just shook his head and walked out of the room. And when he did, I strategically hid mini cupcakes in the refrigerator, so I can have them all to myself! Here’s a picture to show you how quickly they are disappearing:

img_4004-e1557617132403.jpg

Of course, we don’t have to get gifts to make us feel special on Mother’s Day.All I want is to share a big hug with my daughter, and I’ll give her a little gift, just like Mama used to always do. She always said she should give us gifts on Mother’s Day, because she was so happy to be our mother. That’s exactly how I feel about my daughter. I absolutely love being her mother. Is it all fun and games? No. But it’s all love, for sure.

Recently, I found a necklace of Mother’s. Somehow, I didn’t even know I had it, but I found it last Sunday as I was getting ready to go hear my friend, Linda, singing in a concert. It’s a gold chain with a little blush-colored egg, and a tiny cardinal is peeking out of the egg. I’ll wear it to brunch today. So while Mama won’t be with me in person, but she’ll be with me in spirit.

One thing I know for sure is that my mama loved me. All my life, I thought I knew how much she loved me, but I didn’t really know till I was 36 years old. When I became a mother, I realized just how much my mother had loved me my whole life. I remember telling her then, “I always knew you loved me, and I always thought I understood how much, but now that I have my own child, I really know how much you love me.”

If you still have your mother on this Mother’s Day, give her a big hug, or at least a meaningful phone call if you’re far away, and tell her you love her. If you don’t have your mother, honor her memory by telling at least one memorable story about her. And if you are a mother, give your babies (no matter how big or old they are) a big hug.

Happy Mother’s Day, you mothers!

 

 

 

 

*

Decide To Be Happy

Sometimes, life hands us lemons. We’ve all heard it…we need to make lemonade. My mother used to always say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

Every single day since I lost my mother in December of 2017, I remind myself that I have to decide to be happy. It’s not that I haven’t experienced any happiness, but sometimes, when I get sad about having lost her, it’s hard to bring myself out of it. And every time, I hear her say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

I try not to write about death and loss very often, because I know people don’t want to hear about it. I know it’s a downer. I know that sometimes, I feel better if I think of something happy. But right now, it’s OK if no one wants to hear about it. It’s OK if everybody skips over this, because right now, I need to write about it.

I’m in the process of closing out Mother’s estate. No, there were no loose ends to tie up. She made it as easy as possible. She had a will. She listed survivors on bank accounts. She didn’t have any debt. She made it easy. Maybe if she had made it complicated, I could have gotten angry with her and been in a bigger hurry to close everything, but nope…she made the division of assets easy. Yet, I still haven’t closed out the estate, and it’s time for me to do it. I should have done it six months ago, but it’s downright depressing.

In fact, I feel more sad now than I did immediately after her passing. Weird, I know, but I guess I feel like closing out the estate is like closing the final chapter on her life. There have been days that I knew would be difficult…my parents’ anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas Eve (the anniversary of her hospitalization), Christmas Day, the anniversary of her death (December 30)…but I never expected this part to be so difficult. I thought it was completely transactional, and being a tough chick, I thought I’d be able to treat this as a transaction. But I can’t. I realize that now, because I’ve been delaying it…and I’ve been sad.

And I’ve been off my game. Sure, I’ve gone through the motions of regular life, but deep inside, I’ve been off my game since she took her last breath.

And now I’m faced with closing the book on the estate.

But something occurred to me today: Maybe…just maybe…it will be freeing. That’s all I can hope. Maybe I will feel a little sense of freedom, like a weight has been lifted, when I sign all the papers. Maybe closing the estate will actually make me feel better. We’ve all had times like that. We put something off because it’s scary, but once it happens, we feel a sense of relief or freedom. I have friends who put off signing divorce papers, because it was depressing, but once they did it, they felt like the albatross had been removed from their necks. Maybe the estate is my albatross? That sounds terrible. My mother would not like it that I referred to it that way, but she doesn’t get a vote in this.

After my daddy died, mother was talking with her doctor about anti-depressants, and she said, “My husband wouldn’t like it.” The doctor, very calmly, said, “Your husband’s not here anymore. He doesn’t get a vote in this.” And he was right! She knew it, and she actually laughed! For the record, she started taking the anti-depressant, and it made a big difference in her approach to life. Sure, she was still grieving Daddy, but the anti-depressant helped her decide to be happy.

As soon as I receive all the paperwork, I’ll sign off on closing the estate. In fact, I’m going to invite friends to a brunch at my house for that very day, so they can come over and drink some champagne with me to celebrate the closure…the freedom.

Mother would laugh about that, and she would be happy to know that it’s done.

I will decide to be happy…just in time for spring!