What I Learned in 2018

Every year, I’m glad to see the old year go and ring in a new one. This one is no exception. There are lots of great things that happened in 2018, but there were some not-so-great things too. No matter what happened, I learned a few things along the way (these are things I’m trying to apply to my own life…not preaching to you, per se):

  • Celebrate every year. I don’t mean blow horns and throw confetti at midnight tonight. I mean celebrate every year. Sure, we’re all getting older, but turning 50 or 60 or 70 is a gift. Celebrate your life by living it! As my parents would say, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” It’s not, folks. Is work important? Yes! But should your entire life be about work? No. Do the things you have always wanted to do. Want to go skydiving? Do it! Want to write a novel? Do it! Want to drive cross-country? Do it! And for the record…only one of those things is something I want to do.
  • Spend money on experiences instead of things. I actually learned this a long time ago, but I stop and think about it regularly. Do you remember most of the things you’ve purchased this year? Probably not. But you likely remember most of the experiences you’ve had. I bought a lot of things this year, and I remember some of them, but I have memories from every experience.
  • Don’t sleep your life away. This is one of those things my parents used to say. This year, I slept through the month of January, after my mother died at the end of December, because that was how I grieved. At the end of that month, though, I knew my mother would be disappointed if I didn’t “pull myself up by my bootstraps.” Sleep used to be one of my hobbies, but every minute you sleep is a minute of your life ticking away. You can’t get it back. Live it, people. Sure, we need sleep, but too much of it is just laziness, unless you have some health issues. And if your napping or frequent sleeping is affecting others by delaying get-togethers or slowing folks down, rethink it. Do you really need that rest? Or it is just laziness? Or selfishness? Don’t be a Lazy Daisy.
  • Be coachable. Nobody knows everything about anything. I certainly have a lot to learn about life, in general. This is one of those things I heard retired Alabama football coach, Gene Stallings, say…be coachable. Listen to others, and actually hear what they say. He talked about how the best players had good attitudes and were good listeners…the ones who did what he, as the coach, wanted them to do, instead of what they wanted to do. Were they always the best ones on the team? Not necessarily, but sometimes, they got to ride the travel bus just because they were coachable. He also said that, as a coach at a high level, he needed to be coachable too. Sometimes, he had to listen to others to learn…and he certainly had to be “coachable” at home. Be coachable in life. Stay in your airplane seat when the seatbelt sign is on. Don’t pass on the double yellow line. All of those “rules” (or laws) are in place for a reason. Someone before us knew we would need to know. Be coachable.
  • Give grieving people a break. If you haven’t lost a loved one, you don’t understand what grieving people are experiencing. Even if you have lost a loved one, you don’t know what someone else is feeling. We all grieve differently. In grief, I lost my mind. Generally speaking, I have a good memory, but not in 2018, after losing my mother in December 2017. And I lost a dear friend six months later. As scary as it sounds, many times I didn’t even know what month it was. I have been angry. I have been sad. I have been hateful. Maybe someone was complaining about something I considered trivial. In grief, I would think, “Really? Who gives a flying fig! My mother just died!” Every emotion I’ve had this year has been amplified tenfold. And I have been forgetful. I have thought on several occasions I might have dementia, but then I realize it is grief. I have been crazy. I have tried to fake it till I make it. I have tried to hold it together for family. But I’m still grieving, and I know that, because when my brother calls to tell me he loves me, I cry. If I forgot something important to you, or if I was unkind, some of it (not all of it) might have been grief. If you have never lost a parent, I hope that if you do, I can help. I will remind you grief makes you crazy. In fact, I’ve wanted to go back and apologize to people I know who experienced it before me…because I didn’t get it. You can laugh or say I’m making excuses if you want, but we all grieve differently, and obviously, mine manifests itself in crazy. A friend texted me yesterday, “Grief sucks.” And she’s right. I like to think I acquired some coping skills after Daddy died, but I’m not sure. You can read all the self-help books about grief, and you still don’t know about another person’s grief, so don’t throw that mumbo jumbo out there. It’s insulting. You might have some understanding, but every person is different. I have a friend who lost both parents a month apart earlier this year, and even though I lost both parents twelve years apart, I cannot even imagine what she must feel. Cut your grieving friends a break, because you do not understand. Grieving people keep putting one foot in front of the other, because we have to, and sometimes, we think we are OK, but then something happens, and we know we are not. Maybe we’re putting on a brave face. And if you think grief ends after one month or six months, you need to know now it does not. I have been more sad the month of December than I was any other month of the past year. I don’t need people to understand that, and frankly, you don’t have to cut me a break, but I will forever cut grieving people a break. 
  • Fake it till you make it. I mentioned this above in my rant about grief. I still believe “fake it till you make it” is good. I still believe you start to feel happier if you act happier. I still believe you might be able to do something if you convince yourself you can. Just trust me on this one. Fake it till you make it.
  • Let it go. The new year is the perfect time to let go of excess baggage. I’m not one of those people who carries anger and resentment, but a lot of folks do. Get over it. It’s hurting you. Someone was snarky to you? Who gives a damn?!?! Move on. That doesn’t even begin to compare to real problems…like losing a loved one. Let it go!

And with that, I bid you a Happy 2019. My daughter and I are meeting friends in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day to celebrate new beginnings. We hope to have fun and laugh and celebrate, because that’s what I want to do this year. I’m kicking 2018 to the curb. I wish I could say I’m kicking grief to the curb too, but only time will help with that.

 

 

 

 

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One Year

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. One year. And I have felt it at all the times I would expect to feel it, and I have felt it when I least expected it.

I didn’t sleep at all last night, staring at the clock, thinking of Mother.

I lost my daddy 12 years ago, so I gained some coping skills from that, but grief is grief. It’s going to happen, one way or another. I have been able to keep moving forward more than I did when Daddy died, but I’ve had moments.

I miss her all the time. She gave good advice. She had a calming demeanor. She wasn’t perfect, and she would be the first to admit that, but she was the perfect mama for me and my brother. I never knew exactly how much she loved me till I had my own child.

When do I miss her most?

I stayed in bed most of January. Friends brought meals, and I gave myself permission to give in to the grief for one month. After that, I rejoined the living. Here’s when I’ve missed her most:

  • Every time I’ve gotten in the car. I used to call her and talk (Bluetooth) every time I drove somewhere. Living 400 miles away, I didn’t get to see her all the time, but I called her all the time. I’ve almost called her a thousand times since.
  • When the Alabama Crimson Tide won the National Championship in January, she would have been thrilled. I missed her then…even cried that she missed it.
  • In February, my parents’ wedding anniversary rolled around on the 18th. They married in 1961 on my maternal grandfather’s birthday. Every year, on their anniversary, we would talk about their small wedding and how her Aunt Ola came through to pull it all together. And we talked about her daddy…truly one of the most patient, God-loving men who ever lived.
  • I missed her when my cousin, Patti, was searching for the perfect home for Mother’s dog. In the end, everything worked out, and Sam, the dog, went back home. It worked out the way it was supposed to, but I missed Mother, because I knew she loved Sam, and Sam loved her. I’m sure Sam still wonders about Mother, but she is living a happy life with my nephew in Mother’s home.
  • In March, we vacationed with my brother and his family.  Mother would have loved how much we laughed. She loved when we were all together. We missed her.
  • During our daughter’s eighth grade basketball and lacrosse seasons in winter and spring, she would have wanted regular updates. When something exciting happened, I always wanted to call her.
  • My birthday is in May. She always laughed at how excited I get about my birthday. Nobody loves a birthday like I do, and she would start singing to me days in advance. Missed out on that this year.
  • In the summer, our daughter traveled to Iceland for two weeks. It was not easy for me, but she needed to do it. Mother would have suffered along with me during those two weeks. She would have called me every day, asking about updates from the trip leaders. She also would have been happy my husband and I took our own vacation during that time…visiting South Florida with my brother and sister-in-law. And Mother would have been as excited as I was when our daughter was back on US soil.
  • I also had an eclectic garden in the summer…growing tomatoes, corn, and sunflowers, all favorites of my parents. She would have been amazed at the success I had. I wanted to call her daily and tell her about it.
  • As summer came to an end and school sports teams tryouts came around, she would have suffered through that with me too. Our daughter, a freshman in high school, tried out for varsity field hockey on August 1. I sat in my car, waiting for my daughter to come out after the tryout… to find out if she made the team or not. I wanted to call Mother, but since I couldn’t, I called my friend, Jane, who said all the things she knew my mother would have said. Our daughter made the team, and they won the state championship! I wish Mother could have seen her play.
  • When one of my brother’s sons visited us in Charlotte, I would have loved to share photos with Mother. And when the other one started a new job, a job that can lead to something real for his future, I know she would have been thrilled.
  • When I met Dominique Wilkins, former NBA superstar, in a restaurant several weeks ago, I got in the car and dialed Mother’s number before I realized it. She loved sports and would have loved my photo with Dominique.
  • Any time anyone in the family has gotten sick, I’ve missed Mother, a nurse. Two weeks ago, after an allergic reaction to a manicure (who knew?!?!), my hands broke out, and I sneezed for two days. A couple of days later, I woke up to find an enlarged lymph node in my neck. Fortunately, my pharmacist sister-in-law calmed me down. The next day, I went to the doctor, just like Mother would have advised. She would have called checked on me a few times a day. The node was enlarged because of an infection…viral or bacterial…and yes, it went back to normal after a few days.
  • And the holidays. She would have loved our family gathering at my brother and sis-in-law’s lake house. We all laughed, played games, told funny stories, and ate too much. Mother would have loved it.

I miss that tiny little firecracker of a woman. Occasionally, people who knew her will tell me something I said or did brought back memories of her. If only I had her gift of calm listening.

Now…if you still have your Mother, call her or give her a big hug right now.

 

 

 

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If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

Why Write Now?

 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

–Anne Frank

Yesterday, it occurred to me that it has been two months since my mother died. I remember when Daddy died, when things would happen, I would think, “And Daddy’s missing this.” Now I’m doing the same thing, “Mother’s missing this.”

I started my website/blog about a month ago…a month after Mother died. I find myself wondering what she would think. She loved to read blogs on Facebook…especially Sean of The South by Sean Deitrich. If you haven’t read his blog, you should. You can find it on facebook here.

Looking back at my posts, I know which ones she would have enjoyed. She’d have loved the one about Sunflowers, for sure, but she would be especially happy about My Favorite Rescue. Of course, that story could not have happened if she were still with us. I like to think she is smiling in Heaven about her dog’s homecoming. I know Sam (the dog) misses Mother, but she sure is happy to be home, and she loves living with my nephew. Thank goodness my brother agreed to bring her home.

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Mother loved stories, and she loved to laugh, so she would love any of my blog entries that made her laugh. Pee in my shoes during the kindergarten play? She would have remembered it, and she would have laughed out loud about it.

The story about the cute waiter in Boone would have made her smile. She always rooted for the underdog. We would have discussed that one a hundred times by now, as each of us made up different stories about what might have happened to Ricky. Did his day get better? Did he marry the out-of-his-league girl? Is he traveling the world, leaving great tips for servers everywhere he goes? The possibilities are endless.

What I find myself wondering, though, is WHY did I start my blog after Mother died?! WHY didn’t I start it sooner? She would have given me honest feedback, so why did I wait?! I had wanted to do a blog for a long time, but I was hesitant. Why now?

Maybe I was afraid of her honest feedback. Maybe that’s why I waited.

Well, here’s what I think: I used to talk to Mother every day…mostly in the car, because that was the only time I was alone and could actually converse without interruption
(except my husband has some sort of phone radar and ALWAYS calls when I’m on the phone…Mother and I used to laugh about it). I can’t talk with her anymore. I think this blog started as a coping mechanism. Writing, for whatever reason, helps me deal with grief. That’s what I think. I just realized that yesterday as I sat down in front of my laptop again. I’m channeling some of the conversations I would have had with Mother into this blog.

When Daddy died in 2006, I didn’t cope well at all. I was younger, of course, and while I’d lost grandparents, losing Daddy was huge. Oh, I struggled. Thank God I had good friends and family around who helped me. My daughter was almost three when Daddy died, and I was 39. Fortunately for me, I had some great friends and family, near and far, and we had the very best playgroup ever. They were the people with whom I had daily interaction after coming home from Daddy’s funeral.

Our playgroup was full of kids about my daughter’s age, and all the moms were in their late 30s. We were a hodgepodge group from all over the country. Lots of states were represented: Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland…we were all different, but  we rallied around each other. In talking with my friend, Jenn, recently, we laughed about our playgroup, because it was really for the moms. The kids got to have REAL unstructured playtime, because for the most part, they were free ranging wherever we were. People talk about how kids don’t get to have unstructured playtime anymore; well, ours did. My daughter is an only child, so I feel like those friends in the early years of playgroup felt like siblings to her, so she experienced that to some extent.

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Most of the time, we were at Wendy’s house, because it was most kid-friendly, and frankly, Wendy can cook. Jenn can cook really well too, but back then, Wendy always had something on the stove or in the oven. Her mother is Italian…from the North End in Boston…real Italian…she can cook. So while our kids played, the moms gathered in the kitchen and talked and sampled dinner. Recently, Jenn and I laughed about just how unstructured the kids’ play was. Usually, they were in a playroom, while the moms were gathered in another room. If anything happened, one of the kids would come get us.

I think the loss of my daddy was one of the first big crises we had experienced together as a group of friends. My coping skills were less than great, but my friends rallied and got me through it. I remember being at Wendy’s house one day soon after he died. Jenn was there too. I’d had a headache for DAYS. They talked to me about the stress I was dealing with and sent me upstairs to bed…in Wendy’s house…before noon. They fed me and my family, and they helped ME.

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Playgroup moms, children, and a couple of aunts and grandparents gathered for Halloween Birthday Party for Wendy’s dad. I dressed as Hester Prynne.

We’ve been through a lot together. One mom suffered a late miscarriage before Daddy died. Several members of our group moved away. A few have survived divorces. One lost her mother to ALS. Some of their husbands lost their jobs during the financial crisis in 2008/2009. One almost died from an allergic reaction at lunch with me in California Pizza Kitchen. My husband had two brain surgeries. One studied for and passed the NC State Bar Exam. We got all our kids enrolled in school…some at public, some at private. Broken bones. Surgeries for children. Sleep issues. And one friend from our group has battled cancer for years, but she is one tough chick. She moved away years ago, but we wish she were in Charlotte, so we could help her. Fortunately, she has a very supportive family in Boston, but we miss all of them in Charlotte. We are all still friends, and those of us who remain in Charlotte still try to get together with the kids a few times a year, and every time, the kids are thrilled to be together.

I’m fortunate to have great friends in Charlotte and elsewhere…lots of friends who recently sent me cards, letters, and food when Mother died, and friends who called or visited. I have friends who have listened to me cry and tell story after story. I have friends who came to the hospital and sat with me and held my hand, and I have friends who honored Mother’s memory by placing her cup of Bailey’s and coffee on the bar when a group of us gathered. I have friends who know when to stop by for a cup of coffee. People are kind. Every single person and every single gesture has been a part of learning to face life without my Mother.

So maybe I’m writing to cope. I have a degree in journalism, and I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I haven’t been doing a lot of writing in the past few years. I know Mother would be proud that I’m doing something related to that degree she and Daddy financed.

If you enjoy the blog/website, please invite friends to read it. So far, I’ve loved sharing ideas for different things, and I’ve laughed (and cried!) while telling stories. Grief after Mother’s death led me here.

Mother would be proud that I’m writing and proud that I’m coping.

Thank you for helping me cope.

Kelly

NEXT POST, WEDNESDAY: Fun provisions for a stay-in weekend with a friend or friends.