September 30th

I had an aunt who was born on New Year’s Day. One day, my mother and I were talking about her birthday and my mother commented that she thought it was sad that my aunt’s birthday always got a bit lost in all the holiday hoopla.  I replied that I thought it would be neat to be a New Year’s baby.  My mother looked at me strangely and said, “You kind of were.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” I asked.

“Do the math,” she replied.

I was born on September 30, 1959.  Apparently, my conception was the result of my parents’ private party to ring in the new year.  Knowing this seems like too much information.

My birthday is pretty special to me.  It is the one day of the year that I give myself license to let things be all about me.  For people who see birthdays as a reminder that they are aging, I can see how it can be tempting to forget the whole thing.  I psyche myself out of the birthday/aging correlation by scrambling my thinking.  I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary of turning 29 this year. Anyway, I don’t really think birthdays are about marking the number of years in my life.  They are about celebrating the unique (all right, weird) conglomeration of attributes, accomplishments, and activities that makes up the wonder that is me.  After all, when we celebrate George Washington’s birthday, we aren’t celebrating how old he is.  We are celebrating his existence and contribution.  I may not be the founder of a nation, but I am the founder of my life.  I’m pretty proud of that life.

Last year, my birthday was marked by disorientation and distraction.  Coming a few short weeks after my mother’s death, I was still oversaturated with emotion.  I was just starting to learn to live in a new world without my mother.  I had not really even begun to craft a life that did not include being with her, caring for her, and being mothered by her.  I was definitely living gingerly on the fringes of a life, trying to avoid the cracks in the landscape that fractured my old existence during her long illness.  I had not begun to repair those cracks.  I had not yet patched over the cracks so I could transverse them in the journey of my own life.  I was just trying to stay away from the edges so I did not fall into them.

For the first time in my life, I dreaded my birthday last year.  I was sure it was going to be a difficult reminder of the other person who was around when I was born 58 years earlier.  Instead, it turned out to be a pretty good day.  Max made it his mission to indulge me.  Even though he always does what he can to make me happy, he made a concerted effort to kick it up a notch on my first birthday after my mother died.  He took me to Disney Springs.  We shopped and walked and enjoyed a beautiful day.  As we wandered around, a beautiful pair of earrings caught my eye in a store window. Max bought them for me, as a spontaneous birthday surprise.  “Spontaneous” and “surprise” are not words that typically describe Max, but he was trying everything he could think of to delight me.  We had dinner at one of the restaurants specializing in comfort food.  We didn’t forget my mother, certainly, but I have to say that the plan for the day was to distract myself from my grief.  The plan was pretty successful, all in all.

My strategy of distraction didn’t end with my birthday.  For months after my mother’s death, I seemed to be engaging in an endless stream of activity.  I joined clubs, volunteered, published a book, began seeing friends regularly, and kept myself busy, busy, busy.  Part of my busy-ness stemmed from a genuine desire to expand my life, but I’m sure that a lot of my motivation came from my need to fill the space in my heart that my mother left when she passed.  It wasn’t necessarily intentional, but I know I was trying to not feel the ugly disorder of my grief.

My super-sized activity schedule was not necessarily satisfying at first.  I was happy to fill my time with something other than sadness, but I didn’t feel particularly connected to the activities.  I went through the motions and ticked off the time without grief.  I felt pretty triumphant that I kept functioning and wasn’t falling apart.  Some of the new endeavors felt successful and others did not.  I purposely tried not to make any commitments beyond a few weeks because I felt so alien to everything I was doing and nothing felt momentum-producing.  Everything was just something to do to occupy my brain for the moment.

At some point in the months that followed, I noticed that all the activities began to feel more cohesive.  They were starting to feel like a part of my life, rather than some life I was just visiting to escape from reality.  At some point, activity matured into meaning.  I had built a bigger life without even realizing I was doing it. I was still sad, of course, but I could allow myself to feel sad without worrying that I was going to sink into a dark place from which I would not be able to recover.  I felt less bereft of a mother and much more aware that I still had a mother living in me and encouraging me from Heaven to grow towards my joy.

I don’t know how it happened.  I can’t describe the process or technique of learning to live with grief and joy simultaneously.  I am pretty certain I have not yet mastered the skill completely, but I know that I feel calmer and more peaceful. My busyness did turn out to be an instrument of healing, although I was not the one using the instrument.  God used my distraction to lead me to where I needed to be. It seems that the distractions I employed to deal with my disorientation primed some part of my personal mechanics to ignite my brain, open my heart, and send my soul searching for a more sumptuous sense of spirituality.  All that disconnection and hollowness in my busyness of last year has ripened into a richer, fuller, life.

If my birthday last year was marked by distraction, I think the watchword this year is engagement.  I’m reveling in all the new activities and situations I’ve experienced over the past year.  I’m celebrating the journey of life instead of being afraid of it.  I’m also doing something I’ve always wanted to do for my birthday this year.  Max and I are going on a bus tour to New England.  I’ve always wanted to go see that part of the country and peep at the autumn leaves.

So I think I’ve turned a corner in my grief.  Well, maybe not anything as sharp and definitive as a corner…. But I have definitely made a “slight right turn,” as the GPS calls it when you are approaching a gentle fork in the road and need to veer one way or another.  I do believe I am veering right.  And I think my mother is happy about it.

What will you be celebrating on your next birthday?  What life achievements, personal progress, or happy events will you remember with joy?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

She Who Sings Prays Twice

Music and I have always been trapped in an abusive relationship. The thing is, I never know which of us is the abuser and which is the victim.

I used to say my singing prowess, or lack thereof, was God’s joke. I love to sing, but am not very good at it. In fact, it is fair to say that I am bad at it. The last time I can remember singing in public (before going Christmas caroling in the community last year) was when I was about seven. The choir director at church was putting together a children’s choir to entertain at the annual St. Joseph’s Day Table festivities. The presentation included making hand motions to accompany our rousing rendition of “Do, Re, Mi.” I wasn’t particularly good at the actual singing part, but I could wiggle my fingers on the sides of my head to make “doe, a deer” ears with great gusto.

A few years later, upon entering the fourth grade, I wanted to join the elementary school glee club. They wouldn’t take me. Let that sink in for a moment. I failed the audition for the public elementary school glee club. I mean, it wasn’t like I was trying out for American Idol or anything. All I wanted was to sing with the other, adequately voiced, 9-11-olds in the Jonas E. Salk Elementary School choir. How bad must I have been? And don’t you think that it was kind of cruel to reject such an enthusiastic child? The experience scarred me for life. I am always secretly wanting to sing, but I’m fearful that the sound of my voice will cause permanent trauma, or at least permanent hearing damage, to anyone who can hear me.

I’ve been tempted to join church choirs a few times in the past. St. Augustine is attributed with saying that “he who sings prays twice” and I think that is true. Singing adds another dimension to prayer for me. I don’t know whether it is because more of my body is engaged when I am singing rather than when I am simply speaking. I do know that my mind and heart and soul are usually more engaged. I seem to focus more on the experience of praying when I sing.

I enjoy singing at church. After years of repetition, I was familiar enough with most of the regular hymns I heard in the Catholic church to follow the melody without drawing pained looks from my neighbors. Sometimes, I’ll visit my current church on a weekday. There is a sign on the door that says, “Come in, rest, and pray.” That’s exactly what I do. I pray and, alone where I cannot endanger anyone’s ears, I sing. God never seems to mind.

In keeping with my resolve to try things I always wanted to do, I finally decided to try singing with the choir at my new church. During the choir’s “off season” in the summer, an informal group of folks would meet with the choir director right before the service to learn a song to sing during the liturgy. I enjoyed that. The problem, if there was one, was that everyone was too nice. I may not be able to sing very well, but I can hear and I know I was bad. I was fine as long as the melody was familiar and I could follow along with the tune. When it came to harmonizing, I reverted to that fourth grader who couldn’t make the glee club. I could not follow either the soprano or alto part consistently. I tended to wander all over the staff, hitting whichever notes my voice tripped over. I didn’t sing melody. I didn’t sing harmony. I sung cacophony. Still, the choir members were all way too nice to allow my lack of singing talent get in the way of my joining the choir. They were so warm and welcoming and encouraging, I decided to give it a try.

I loved the people in the choir and I loved the culture of the choir. It did feel very prayerful. I am sure we were “praying twice.” On the other hand, I was still not good. After a few practices, I was slightly better, but still bad. Basically, I advanced from very bad to just bad. Every time I mentioned it, the choir director and other members told me I was getting better and I was doing fine and I was loved and wanted. It made it kind of hard to disentangle myself from the choir. There is a lot of incentive in acceptance.

On the other hand, I realized that I would not be able to attend Sunday school if I continued with the choir. Our rector leads a Sunday school session between the two services every week and I’ve been attending fairly regularly. I get a lot out of that class and I think I contribute something to it, as well. I feel like God is calling me more to participate in the Sunday school class rather than the choir, so I am going to part ways with the choir for now.

In reality, the gifts God gave me are truly more suited to participating in Sunday school discussions. I’ve always loved discussing spiritual ideas. I think I can use the perspectives we explore in the class to help me with my blog posts and with church programs I might present. I read once that the best ministry is that activity where the thing that brings a person joy intersects with the needs of the people of God. I enjoy the singing, but I don’t think it brings me the kind of joy that drives the passion of ministry. As for intersecting with the needs of the people of God…. well, nobody needs to hear me sing!

One of the roles of a church choir is to lead the musical worship of the congregation. Leaders need followers. I can be a follower. Followers also pray twice!

One of the best things about retirement is having the time and energy to explore new activities.  What new pursuits did you embrace (or want to embrace) in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Bopworthy

As I agonize over whether or not I should do the “character couture” experience at Disney World, my friends have been egging me on. As I mentioned in my prior post, “Bippity Bop or Not”, they are downright giddy over having a designated dufus to play dress-up at our happy place. They are looking forward to seeing a real-life pixie duster magically transform me into Tinker Bell before their very eyes. If I do it, I will provide them with all the entertainment of the experience without the strange looks from the passersby on Main Street, USA.

In an effort to push me over the top and persuade me to commit to the activity, a friend sent me a video published by an internationally-known sophisticated magazine that is named after a cocktail (I’m looking at you, Helen Gurley Brown.) The video described the “Bippity Boppity Boutique for adults” available at some Disney World resort salons. The video showed several “everyday” (if you live in The Valley Of The Dolls) twenty-somethings morphing into princesses at a highly improbable rate of speed.

I responded to my friend that it did look life fun, but asked if she noticed that none of the adult princesses-in-the-making appeared to need their gray roots touched up as part of the makeover. I knew I was getting perilously close to cresting the summit of my indecision and was about to succumb to the magic of the pixie dust. I told my friend that, to push myself over the top of the mountain of my angst, I needed reassurance that I haven’t completely lost touch with reality. Clearly, I don’t mind living in Fantasyland, but I like to at least keep one foot in the real world.

My friend responded by pointing out that one almost never sees a 3X-sized model. I agreed and also pointed out that the magazine in question is especially keen to showcase the beautiful people of the world. I pointed out that the Cocktail Magazine target audience probably thinks every woman self-destructs on her thirty-fifth birthday, if she has the bad manners to live that long. There are some exceptions, of course. Jennifer Aniston and Hallie Berry probably get a pass. Then there is Meryl Streep. She might be granted a 35-and-older dispensation. After all, everyone wants to be her…. granddaughter.

My friend is right that far too few businesses use people remotely resembling an average person to display their wares. Most models need the XS size altered to prevent the garment from slipping off their hipbones. I am always excited and impressed when I see a company, like television shopping channel QVC, use models of all shapes, sizes, and ages. It is an interesting turn of events to be able to visualize what an article of clothing might look like on MY body, not the body of a woman in dire need of a cheeseburger. It is also incredibly heartening to see these multi-dimensional models portrayed as beautiful, desirable, and successful. The shorter…older… plumper… whatever… models seem to be comfortable and happy. They don’t apologize for breathing air or occupying space. They don’t try to hide themselves, hoping nobody notices them. They engage boldly with the world. Their lives seem more than, not less than. They are excellent models.

My friend asserted that everyone is in Fantasyland in their heads and everyone wants to look like a model. She is probably right, but I hope we are beginning to create a culture where the word “model” has a broader (pun intended) connotation than it has traditionally held. The truth is, we are all beautiful. We become even more beautiful when we live in the world believing that we are all beautiful and worthy of creating something wonderful in our lives.

So, despite my age and despite my pudge and despite my short stature, I think I am Bopworthy. It doesn’t even have to be Fantasyland.

I just scheduled my date to be pixie dusted. I’ll let you know how I make out!

What attributes do you think a good “model” should have?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a model day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Good Grief

It has now been a year since my mother died. I’ve tried to be healthy in my mourning.  I’ve seen a bereavement counselor a few times.  I’ve tried to focus on the wonderful gift that my mother was. In general, I’ve done very well.  I’ve been sad, but functional.  I’ve been mournful, but also hopeful.  I feel that I honor and celebrate my mother every day by the way I live my life.  Still, there is a facet of my grief has been stubborn and uncooperative.  It holds on relentlessly.  On the other hand, the grief isn’t nearly as sharp or as devastating as I thought it would be.

During the months of my mother’s illness, part of my daily terror had to do with how I could possibly withstand the shattering blow that I would doubtlessly experience when she died.  I was so sad and in so much pain while she was still alive, I couldn’t see how I would be able to handle her death.  I read the hospice information about anticipatory grief.  I think I might have been the poster child for the condition.  The research said that many people traveling with a loved one during a long illness do experience the grief of loss long before the final ending.  They may experience the exact same grief cycle as most people do when a loved one actually dies.  I absolutely understood that and I knew I was experiencing it.  The bitch of the matter, though, is that experiencing anticipatory grief in no way guarantees that the mourner will be any less shattered when the death does occur. I dreaded and resented having to experience the rawness of grief in duplicate.

When it finally happened, I found that my grief, though profound and prominent, did not feel as raw and septic as I feared it would. I think there are many reasons for that.

At first, I thought the reason that my mom’s death did not devastate me more was because of the long road we traveled together during her illness.  I started grieving long before she left me alone in this world.  After her stroke, her decline was so treacherous and unforgiving, I lost her step by step and piece by piece. As her brain gradually crumbled in the last year of her life, my heart crumbled along with it.  By the time she died, my heart wasn’t shattered because there was nothing left of it to shatter.

It was also hard not to feel some relief that my mother was finally whole and healthy and happy again in God’s dwelling place.  The foundation of my life is a belief system that encourages me to rejoice that my mother is living more abundantly in Heaven and is waiting there for me to join her.  I do find some joy in that notion.  That belief does take some of the pain out of the grief now, but it still does not prevent me from missing my mom every day in this life.

I think I also came to understand, in my mother’s last days, that I wasn’t losing everything I thought I was losing.  A blog reader once left a comment that said, during the end of life, everything burns away except love.  This was absolutely my experience.  In my mother’s illness, there were many times when she would look past me or away from me as if I wasn’t there. There were also occasions, though, when she would look into my eyes with such intensity and meaning that I could feel her loving me to my very soul.  That love, maybe the biggest and best part of her, will never die.  She loved me with a love that I can never lose.

I am sure that all of these reasons played a part in my milder mourning experience.  There is something else, though.  I had a model for grieving.  My mother gave me that.

When my father died, everyone worried about my mother.  She was always an emotional person who loved extravagantly.  She felt with the people she loved.  She rejoiced easily and cried easily.  People sometimes took that heart on her sleeve as a mark of fragility.  Not so.  When my father died, she did everything she could to mourn in a healthy way.  She cherished her memories of my father. She continued doing activities they enjoyed together.  She helped herself and her children heal by loving us and letting us love her.   She joined an online support group for widows and widowers.  She kept working at a job she enjoyed with people who uplifted her.  She mourned him deeply and permanently. I don’t think there was a Thanksgiving after his death when my mother didn’t cry when we gave thanks for the people we loved who were no longer with us. Still, in the midst of that mourning, there was a renaissance.  My mother moved towards a life of her own crafting. She set her own priorities.  She pursued her own interests. She indulged her gift for happiness. She set out on a path of continual learning and grew in every way.  She reveled in her independence.   She turned her grief into something good.

In my mourning for my mother, I think I have been experiencing my own renaissance- almost without even realizing it.  Without thinking too much about it, I find that my experience with my mother’s end of life journey has prompted me to nurture my own life.  I’ve identified several attributes in my own personality that may be holding me back from experiencing as much joy as possible in life.  Almost unconsciously, I’ve been examining those personal barriers and experimenting with strategies for knocking them out of my way.

Good grief may be the last gift my mom gave me.

What have you learned through the process of grieving a loved one?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a blessed day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

 

Bippity-Bop Or Not?

At Disneyland and Disney World, there are magical shops called Bippity-Boppity Boutiques (BBB).  These are enchanted places where parents can spend several hundreds of dollars for a Fairy-Godmother-In-Training (FGMIT) to transform their little girls into Disney princesses.  The service includes wardrobe, hair, make-up, accessories, and photo shoots.

You can see the results all over the various Disney parks.  You can tell when a little girl has been bippity-boppetied.  She has the costume, of course.  However, many little girls roam the parks in princess regalia purchased from Walmart so you can’t know for sure that a costumed child has visited the BBB. Sometimes the newly-fashioned princess has a pink sash draped across her torso, proudly proclaiming her patronage of the boutique.  You don’t need the sash to identify the bippity-boppees, though.  It is the hair that usually tells the tale.  A fresh bippity-boppety hairdo usually involves an improbably intricate contraption of the child’s hair, wiglets, tiaras, barrettes, and hairspray.  Oh, and glitter…lots and lots of glitter.

The glitter doesn’t stop with the hair.  Usually the bippity-boppee has glittery pink or purple eye shadow and may have cheeks that glisten with pixie dust.

I always swore that, if I had a daughter or granddaughter, she would be bippiy-boppetied whether she liked it or not.  I mean, how could I not?  I even checked one time to see if I could book my own session with a FGMIT, but the age limit for such enchantment is twelve.  Since I was several multiples past twelve by that time, I was out of luck.

Not anymore. Several spas located in Disney resorts are now offering “character couture” sessions. These sessions are very much like Bippity-Boppity Boutiques for adults.

Oh, there are a few differences.  For one thing, the character couture sessions do not include costumes.  That isn’t a problem for me, since I have a Disney wardrobe that is the envy of four-year-old girls everywhere.  Also, the character couture sessions are a little less expensive than BBB, but don’t include photo shoots.  The FGMITs in BBB are not licensed cosmetologists.  Their magic involves rocking a costume, wielding a wand, and being good with children.  In the character couture experience, the stylists are real cosmetologists.  They are hair and make-up experts who are there to customize a unique hair and make-up design for each client. The character inspiration can be any of Disney’s creations- princess or pirate, Minnie or Daisy, Ariel or Ursula, pixie or Pooh- whatever sparkles the client’s fantasy fireworks. The idea is to create a look “inspired” by the client’s favorite character, but to complement the client’s own natural beauty.

When I read about this service, my immediate thought was, “I have to do this!” Then, I started wondering if I really wanted to spend about $100 for a Tinker Bell makeover.  After all, I am a grown-up and it does seem a bit extravagant for a few hours fun.  I know the service is actually intended for adults, but I’m thinking that, at nearly 59 years old, I am even pushing the boundaries of “adult.”  I also can’t imagine even my most Disney-obsessed friends joining me in the transformation and I’m not sure how much fun it would be by myself.  Still, I can’t get the idea out of my head.

There is NO WAY I would schedule a character couture until the weather cools down.  I don’t expect the makeover to last forever, but I would like to give my transformation a fighting chance of staying pixie-lated beyond the front door of the salon.  With the current weather, make-up will melt immediately upon contact with the great outdoors.  Pixie-dusted hair and humidity are also kind of mutually exclusive.  While the weather is so not “happily ever after,” I have some time to contemplate whether or not I should really do this.

I started polling my friends to get their opinions.  Most of my friends were puzzled that I would even ask since they figured an opportunity to channel the Pixie Princess has me written all over it.  As I kind of suspected, they were all gung ho for me to do it, but none of them wanted to get in on a makeover of their own. They apparently want me to be the entertainment on a girl’s trip to Disney World.  They all want to watch me get Tinkified and then go over to Magic Kingdom to visit the “real” Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow.

I guess they want me to be the designated doofus to play dress up.  I can live with that.  What are friends for?

What do you think?  Bop or not?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a glitterific day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Note the Tinker Bell green!  All it takes is faith, trust, and pixie dust!

 

I Miss My Momma

My mother was born on August 22, 1931.  She was my beautiful, love-illuminating mother for almost 58 years until her death last year.  She spent her life loving and laughing and playing and working and bringing joy to everyone who knew her.  As many of you know, she spent the last year of her life stumbling around in the rubble of her collapsing brain before she found her way home to our great God.

The time I spent walking with my mother towards the end of her life was the most difficult time of my life.  When she died, I was sad to my essence. Every cell in my body mourned her. I was also relieved that she had finally escaped that half-world where everything she knew was disintegrating around her.

When she died, I had to look for a new way to live.  Learning how to grow towards my joy after keeping vigil at the edge of her darkness for over a year has been difficult.  For the most part, I’ve done pretty well.  I think that is largely due to the huge amount of anticipatory grief I processed during my mother’s illness.  Still, there is so much I am missing in this world without my mother.

The hardest part of mourning for me has been my fear that I would never remember my happy times with my mother when she was as she was in what I refer to as her “real life.”  Yes, my brain could remember those warm, loving, joyful, funny memories.  I could even point towards times during her illness that brought me deep peace, love, and happiness.  The scary part was that it was only my brain that could remember.  My heart couldn’t seem to connect with those times anymore.  I could tell those memories to someone else, but it always felt like I was talking about something I read or about someone else’s memories.  I couldn’t feel those happy moments anymore.  Before my mother’s illness, I could deftly enter my brain’s library and find a richly beautifully shelved memory.  I could re-live that moment and actually feel all the same feelings again.  After my mom’s stroke, all the happy memories seemed to be cloaked with the heavy, uncomfortable, dark sadness.  I couldn’t struggle my way out from under that cloak and refeel the happiness.

The hospice grief counselor assured me that the time would come when I would be able to connect with those jewels of joy again.  I was skeptical, but it turns out she was correct.  It happened for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  I was in my car backing out of the garage.  Max was waving good-bye to me.  He made some funny, exaggerated motions with his hands and, immediately, I was brought back to a time when I was a teenager.  My mother came into my bedroom to wake me. She began singing:

The Lord told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y.

The Lord told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y.

He made it of hickory barky, barky… children of the Lord.

So, rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.  Children of the Lord!”

She sang at the top of her lungs and her performance came complete with jazz hands, which is why Max’s motion triggered the memory.  I physically felt my mood soar.  I began to giggle.  I know my whole face beamed.

That wasn’t my last “re-feeling” moment. They are coming back to me spontaneously, like beautiful little surprises. I think my mother is sending them from Heaven.

I was thinking about how much I enjoyed teaching leadership classes when I was working.  I remembered the year I won my employer’s highest award for training.  I was going to Washington DC to accept the award and participate in a videoconference about teaching techniques.  I asked my mother if she wanted to go, even though I knew she probably wasn’t physically up to the trip.  She asked if all the other award winners would have guests with them because she “would crawl there on her knees before she would let me be the only one there alone.”   She had my back, every day in every way.

I saw something the other day that mentioned how many weekends were left before Christmas and remembered my mother’s intense adoration of all things holiday. I could feel her contagious excitement in the pit of my stomach.  I was watching “Countdown to Christmas” on QVC the other day and I kept wanting to text her when I saw something cute.

That’s the thing, though.  I am thrilled to find these joy jewels coming back to me.  I love being able to relive the emotions.  I feel love. I feel pride. I feel fulfillment.  I feel silliness.  I feel nurtured.  I feel mothered.  On the other hand, just as suddenly as these waves of warm, joyful, happy feelings crest, they crash down on the reality that there will be no new moments like those to remember.

I am happy that my mother is living a new, joyful, eternal life in Heaven.  I am happy that she is waiting there to share it with me when my turn comes.  I am also happy that my heart is now receiving glimpses of all the good she lavished on me in our life together.  I know she is no longer with me in my world, but she will always be with me in my life.

Yes, these heart memories and the wistfulness that follows them remind me that I have a hole in my heart that will always be empty.  Still, I’d rather feel that hole in my heart than not feel my heart at all.

What are some of your favorite memories of a lost loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Jumpin’ Jaguarundi!

Have you ever heard of a jaguarundi? Neither had I… until one appeared in our backyard. His name is Whispurr.

How do I know his name is Whispurr? For that matter, how do I know he is a he? I know his name is Whispurr by decree. In other words, since he didn’t seem to be carrying any identification, I just decided on a name that seemed to fit him. Strictly speaking, I am not completely sure he is a he, but he was pretty big as jaguarundis (jaguarundice? jaguarundium?) go. Since the males are supposed to be significantly larger than the females, it seemed logical to assume our guest was a he.

This brings us to the $64,000 questions. What is a jaguarundi and how do I know that one is lurking on the outskirts of the wetland behind our house?

At around 10:30 this morning, Max called to me from the Florida room. We often see squirrels and rabbits in our backyard in the mornings, so I figured he’d spotted one of our regular furry friends. Instead, he yelled that he could see a bobcat. We have never seen a bobcat in our development, but other people have. I grabbed my phone as I came running, hoping to get a picture. Unfortunately, the “bobcat” had slinked back into the brushy wetland behind the house by the time I got to the Florida room.

I listened, disappointed, as Max described what he had seen. He said that he was looking out the Florida room window and saw a big black cat, with an incredibly long tail walking around the corner of our house.

Wait… what? My vision of bobcats is that they are a tawny-taupey color AND that they have short tails. I think they are called “bobcats” because they have “bobbed” tails, not because they are all named Robert. I asked him about the black and he said the animal wasn’t jet black like a panther, but it was definitely dark-colored. I asked if it couldn’t have been a feral house cat, but he was sure this cat was much larger than any house cat. It was long and thin and kind of bullet-shaped. Oh, and the creature’s head! From what Max described, it sounded like God tried to force a round head into a rectangular hole.

I googled “dark-colored wild cat in Florida” and came up with the jaguarundi. The jaguarundi is a small wild cat, about double the size of a house cat. It can be dark grey or black. It has a long tail and is slender and thin. They are sometimes called “otter cats” because their heads are flattened and they are shaped like an otter… or a bullet, if one is more violently minded. They are typically more active during the day. In fact, Wikipedia even specified that they are most often seen at around 11:00am!

I found out that jaguarundis eat snakes and lizards, which is good. Unfortunately, they also eat squirrels and rabbits. We are hoping Skitter and Skatter (our regular squirrel visitors) and Honey Bunny, Thumper, and Wascal (our regular rabbit friends) will make sure to visit only when Whispurr has a full belly.

There are some people who vigorously assert that there is no proof jaguarundis exist in Florida. These people were clearly not in my backyard this morning. The consensus of scientific opinion is that there is, indeed, a jaguarundi population in Florida. The population is probably not indigenous, however. The jaguarundis seen slinking around the southeast United States are probably descended from captive jaguarundis released into the wild by humans at some point. There have been sightings in central Florida since the early 1900s. Cat species can interbreed, so it is also possible that Whispurr is a hybrid of some feline genetic cocktail. Even if Whispurr is a Heinz 57 of a cat, it seems certain to me that he has a goodly amount of jaguarundi blood coursing through his veins.

Why am I so sure that the fine furry feline in our backyard is a jaguarundi? For one thing, the Wikipedia description matches exactly to what Max observed, down to his smushed, flattened head and preferred time of day to prowl about town. I showed Max a picture of a jaguarundi on the internet and he immediately identified it as the spitting image of Whispurr. Also, a few days ago, I thought I saw some sort of dark creature down by the wetland. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I had seen anything because it was gone in a flash. I just caught it out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was just a shadow slanting off the neighbor’s Florida room. Now, I think it must have been Whispurr.

There is one more bit of evidence that supports our own personal jaguarundi sighting. For the last couple of months, we have noticed some weird animal poop in the ornamental rock area surrounding our house. We wondered what was leaving it. Given our latest development and a little subsequent research, I am now willing to bet money that it is jaguarundi poop.

There truly is no end to what you can find out on the internet… just try googling “jaguarundi scat” and see what I mean!

What is the weirdest or most exotic animal you have seen in the wild?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a purr-fect day!!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Flying Creatures Of The World, Unite!

And that seems to be exactly what they are doing. Uniting. In mid-air.

It seems like something has gotten into the birds, butterflies, moths, and dragonflies in central Florida. Something frisky, to be precise. For the past couple of weeks, I look out my window to see birds in brilliant shades of red and blue and yellow engaged in elaborate mating rituals. I see parades of butterflies, soaring around trying to impress each other. I see moths displaying their most spectacular colors and patterns. The other day, I was driving and could see two copulating dragonfly couples spinning through the air. At least, I think they were copulating. Maybe they were just cuddling.

I suppose it is just a natural phenomenon that I am experiencing. I would have thought this frenzy of animal attraction would have happened earlier in the spring, so I did some googling and found out that butterflies and moths tend to emerge from their cocoons in the late spring or early summer. As soon as they emerge from the cocoons, there is apparently a free-for-all designed to keep their genetic material going. Dragonflies supposedly mate during the hottest and wettest time of the year. It is feakin’ Florida. I wonder how they know when it isn’t time to mate? As for the beautiful bird ballets, I had a harder time accounting for those. Googling confirmed that mating usually takes place in the spring. Maybe my fine featherer friends were just feeling left out.

Whatever the timing of this explosion of color and life, it is amazing to behold. Whatever it is, it is perfect. I don’t know why I’ve never noticed it in past years. The grace and peace and inaudible music of the whole panorama is too lovely to describe. It is heart-breaking and heart-healing all at the same time. When one of these vignettes catches my eye outside my dining room window, my brain seems to suspend all activity. I don’t think about what I am seeing… or about anything else, for that matter. My mind and my heart and my soul just live in the beauty of what I am experiencing. My senses overlap- I seem to be able to see sounds, hear sights, taste scents, and touch God.

Maybe that is why I’ve never noticed this phenomenon before now. I’ve not been able to let my senses override my brain enough to fully live in the moment and appreciate this exquisite miracle around me.

I hope it isn’t too weird that I am noticing this. Being so fascinated by free flying creature procreation makes me feel just a little voyeuristic and obscene. On the other hand, the United States Supreme Court decided that one criteria for obscenity was that it didn’t have any “artistic value.” I think my flying friends might be the very essence of “artistic value.”

What miracles have you encountered when you observe nature?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a miraculous day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Fresh Starts

Recently, I published a post called Graceful, about my spectacular clumsiness. Several of my friends who have known me for some time commented that I was too hard on myself and that they didn’t consider me particularly klutzy. They may have reopened Pandora’s box.

After considering this feedback, I thought it might be time to rethink my position (especially if that position is inclined to be unstable…. I am much better off on firm ground!). In keeping with my quest to open myself up to new experiences and bolstered by my friends’ confidence in my ability to remain upright, I decided to buy a new pair of flip flops.

I didn’t completely throw caution (and several years of painful experience) to the wind. I did some research and discovered Vionic sandals. Vionic shoes are supposed to be great for your feet, ankles, legs, hips, back, neck, shoulders, and maybe even your spleen. They make flip flops in all kinds of cute colors and patterns. Online reviewers rave about their comfort and orthopedic splendor. They are expensive, but people swear they are worth every penny. Surely, I reasoned, if this company is all about health and foot safety, their designs must be less perilous to the dexterity-challenged than the $12 Old Navy variety of flip flops.

I plunked down my credit card at the local department store and bought a pair of these cloudwalkers. I took them home and began to wear them the next day. Time will judge the wisdom of this decision. I am hopeful, however.

Retirement really is about making fresh starts. It is the perfect time to try activities for the first time. It is also the perfect time for trying a second take if something didn’t work out so well the first time. In retirement, the stakes for experimenting are both higher and lower than they were when I was working. The stakes are higher because, as I age, it becomes clearer to me that my time in this world is limited. If I don’t try things I want to explore now, there might not be another chance. On the other hand, the stakes are lower because I am the only one who defines success and failure now. There are no bosses to disappoint. There is no annual review to make me feel inadequate. It is up to me to decide what success looks and feels like. For me, the success is in the trying and allowing myself to delight in the attempt. It is pretty cool to do something that you’ve always wanted to do. It is pretty cool to do something that has always scared you in the past. It is pretty cool to consider yourself a winner, even when the product resulting from your effort is a bit of a loser.

I’ve done a lot of new things in the past several years. I’ve moved across the country. I’ve learned to be part of a community. I’ve spent days swimming with dolphins. I’ve started a blog. I’ve published a book. I’ve painted a picture. I’ve given a party. I’ve gone Christmas caroling. I’ve started doing water aerobics. I’ve changed religious affiliation. Some of these endeavors have yielded beautiful results; others not so much. I can say, though, that every single one of them has brought me pleasure and delight. I consider all of them to be unmitigated and absolute successes!

We’ll see how Take Two with the flip flops goes. So far, all is well with my experiment into foot fresh starts. However, if you hear of any freak flip flop related fatality, you will know why Terri LaBonte is no longer publishing weekly blog posts.

Have you had an experience with a “fresh start?” Have you tried something again that you had previously abandoned?  What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a flip floppy kind of day, without actually flopping!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

The Harbinger Of Doom

It seems that, as we age, we are called to deal with bad news more often than when we are younger. Maybe it is because all the people we love are also aging and experiencing more health problems. Maybe it is because the elders that often protected us and buffered us from the brunt of bad news are now gone.

Somewhere along the way, I have become the designated driver of bad news. I’m not sure how it happened or why, but I seem to be the person that gets the rotten task of telling someone that something bad has happened.
I first noticed it when my aunt died. My brother, who lived about five miles from my mother, called me to drive out and tell my mother the sad news that her sister had passed. I drove 150 miles roundtrip to be the bearer of bad news.

I had three employees die during my career and I was the one who got to share that news with the staff. I had to fire several people during my tenure in management, which was very difficult.

It isn’t that I’m especially good at breaking bad news. I never know what to say, no matter how hard I try to come up with the right words. I can’t say I have ever noticed that anyone’s grief was lessened because I was the one who told them. I think the only skill that I have learned to bring to these unpleasant conversations is that people get to feel however they feel. Perhaps, if there is a way to manage another person’s grief, that way is to NOT manage it. Maybe I’m a good person to break bad news because I understand that. I am willing to listen and sit silently in the wake of the other person’s grief, trying to absorb as much of it as I can.

I’m not sure when I started developing this skill, if it is indeed any skill. I’m not sure it is. I can’t explain it or tell you what steps it entails.
Maybe it was when my father died and I found myself comforted by selecting the music and readings for his funeral mass. I was going to read the responsorial psalm and I was nervous about it because I wasn’t sure I could get through it without crying. I found that, as I spoke the words of the psalm, my voice actually got stronger and my soul felt lighter. I am sure that was the intention of the psalmist. I volunteered to do these tasks because I saw it as the last service I could do for my father- to see that he was blessed on his way to Heaven and that the people he left behind were comforted.

Maybe it was when an employee died in a train accident, only a few years after surviving an earlier crash on the same train line. I did not think of the “right” things to do. Someone else had the presence of mind to call in the grief counselor and informed the union president, who called me to suggest truly sensible, practical things we might do to help the family. I was the one who made the grieving about my other employees- sitting with them, as a group and individually, and assuring them that their grief was important. I went to the funeral, even though the service was many miles away from my home. This happened soon after I took the position in this new office. Oddly, I noticed a shift in attitude towards me after these events. I could feel a subtle change towards their desire to let me lead them. I didn’t behave in any particular way during this time in order to curry favor with the employees, yet it happened.

Maybe it was even earlier. I remember, as a very small child, the day my maternal grandmother died. I was in first grade and, when I came home from school, my mother told me that Nana had gone to Heaven. She was crying and shaky and seemed almost like a stranger to me. I climbed into her lap and cried with her, as she rocked me in the rocking chair and held me. Yes, that is probably when I first learned to give bad news and try to bear some of the pain.

It is hard to be the town crier of catastrophe. It feels like desperation to me when I know I am going into a situation that will require me to tell another person something that will cause them great sadness. In a way, I think that feeling of desperation and confusion is almost the beginning of me trying to absorb some of the grief. It is either self-pity or empathy. I choose to believe it is empathy.

Despite the fact that being the bearer or bad tidings is such a difficult task and takes so much of my inner reserves, I am glad that I have been able to experience these situations. Being with people in these moments of grief has taught me a lot about how to live and how to die. While I pour out my emotional reserves, I often find I am repaid with a wide spectrum of wisdom after the experience. There is a richness in these experiences that I am privileged to share.

A cousin of mine had a massive stroke about a month before my mother suffered her stroke. He died eleven days later. He was my mother’s godson. In my extended family, there are many cousins. Since my family moved far away from most of the siblings and relations over fifty years ago, there are only a few with whom we have kept a continual bond and relationship over the years of separation. The cousin who just died was one of the few. He bought me my first typewriter for Christmas one year when I was a little girl. It was bright orange. He airmailed it to me, likely spending more money on the shipping than on the typewriter itself. He used to send me holiday greeting cards decorated with sheet music that I could actually play on my flute when I was in the school band in junior high. He took me gallivanting through Manhattan, even to see Broadway plays, when I made trips to New York as an adult.

His sister called me when it happened and asked me to tell my mother, of course. She called my mother a few times after the original news, giving updates while we were waiting for the tests to come back that would suggest a prognosis. She tried to make these updates sound cheery and hopeful, even though they really weren’t. The news finally came that the stroke was devastating and any rehabilitation was unlikely. The hospital was moving my cousin to Hospice where a breathing apparatus was going to be removed. The doctors did not expect my cousin to survive long after the transfer. Of course, at that point, my cousin called me, the harbinger of doom, to give my mother the bad news. A day or so later, when my cousin died, I was again called upon to tell my mother the sad ending to the story.

Telling an 85-year-old disabled woman who has always cried over even slightly sentimental events (like my first communion) that her godson was dying and, then, that he succumbed to his illness, was difficult. I could say I didn’t want to upset her, which is, of course, the truth. However, such a desire was completely unrealistic. Of course I was going to upset her. I just didn’t want her to be upset to the point of making herself ill and compromising her own life. I told her and she was upset, of course. But that is okay. She was allowed to be upset and, if she wanted to cry, she was allowed to cry. She kept apologizing and I kept assuring her that it was okay…. That she gets to feel however she feels. It soon became clear that, despite the tears, she was actually strong and wise and faithful enough to know that the best thing that could have happened for my cousin had happened. She found it sad and confounding that he should be gone and she should still continue in this life, but she knew that his life was often complicated and fraught with darkness. She also knew that, given the effects of the stroke, any life he had in this world would be painful and compromised.

I have learned that a death often brings a life into focus. When I was still working, I used to think that wasting time was a luxury that I could indulge once I retired. Being the harbinger of doom has taught me that wasting time is not a luxury. It is simply a waste. When I leave this life, I want the life I leave to be emanating light and love and courage. Until that day comes, I will not waste time. I will spend time. I will use time. I will invest time. I will percolate in time. I will do all these things with time in a different way and for different reasons than I did while I was working, but I will remember that time is precious. Using it wisely, whatever wisely means, is the most important thing we can do in our lives.

How do you relay bad news?  Have you found that you have to do so now more than you did when you were younger?  What have you learned from the experience?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a doom-free day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076