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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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…