Saint Dorothy

I scattered some of my mother’s ashes in my backyard on All-Saints Day.  My mother hated funerals. She didn’t get the whole “closure” and “gathering together” thing.  She thought of them as rather tacky and unnecessarily burdensome to the family.  

When my father died, we took the ashes out to an Indian casino after the requiem mass.  We left my mother on a seat at a slot machine because watching us scatter my father’s ashes was the last thing in the world she wanted to do.  My brother and a couple of cousins and I drove out into the desert a ways to scatter the ashes.  My father loved the desert.  He also maintained, throughout his life, that he was part Native American despite the complete absence of any confirming evidence.  It was a nice idea, but we were clearly inept at scattering ashes.  It is harder than you think.  It is windy in the desert.  There are kind of a lot of ashes.  As I tried to release my father, body and soul, to the Great Spirit, my brother kept yelling that I was getting dad all over me.  None of the attendees was sure how I was going to go back and face my mother at the casino with a thin veneer of my father’s cremains all over me.  Let’s just say that event did nothing to change my mom’s opinion of funerals.   

Even though she didn’t like funerals, I knew my mother would have had no objection to her family having a service for her if we felt it would be helpful for us.  I always thought I didn’t care whether we had a service or not.  My brother didn’t want a service.  I figured that I would take her ashes back to California and we could scatter them near where we scattered my father’s ashes.  Still, after she died, I did ask the cremation services company to divide her ashes into several smaller quantities on the off chance that I decided to do something different.  A few weeks later, it suddenly, for no discernable reason, seemed important to me to scatter a portion of her ashes behind my house.  Theologically and symbolically, I believe my mother is a saint in Heaven now, so I decided to do it on the evening of All Saints Day. 

I picked out a passage from The Book of Wisdom in the Bible.  If you have never heard of The Book of Wisdom and can’t find it in your Bible, please don’t think I made it up.  It is one of those books that appear in Catholic and Episcopal Bibles, but is not part of the canon in many Protestant churches.  It struck me as strange that, as I am exploring a change in church, I found the very words I wanted in a version of the Bible that a lot of Christians don’t even include.  Still, I found comfort in Wisdom:3, which refers to everlasting life.  The passage I picked reminded me that it is foolish to think my mother is really dead.  She lives in joy in Heaven and I will see her again one day.  As I walked up and down the back yard scattering the ashes, I sang the Irish Blessing.  I sang that song to her every day for the last two weeks of her life.  It sort of became “our song” during that last season of good-bye.  When I got to the last line of the song, “And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand,” I began sobbing.  It was the first time I have really broken down since before her death. I feel like I’ve been remarkably calm and composed, especially for me. 

I think I know why the blessing song triggered this outpouring of emotion.  The song works both ways. The song told my mother that I knew God was holding her in the hollow of His hand in Heaven now. The song also was also telling me that my mother is waiting for me.  She is trusting in God to hold me in the hollow of His hand until the day we are reunited forever.   

I feel kind of empty since my impromptu funeral.  I think some of the grief that poured out of me with the tears left a space inside me that isn’t quite filled up with acceptance and contentment yet.  I don’t really feel like me, but I can’t say what I do feel.  What is kind of weird is that, maybe for the first time in my whole life, I feel okay living in whatever is.  As odd and uncharacteristic as it seems, I am content to float along and experience the life that I am living without feeling a mad compulsion to make that life what I think it should be.   

Maybe Saint Dorothy is pushing me into the hollow of God’s hand.

Different people have different thoughts and traditions around death and funerals.  Have you ever experienced a ritual that brought you a little “good grief,” as my song to my mother brought me?  Please tell us about it.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

May God hold YOU in the hollow of His hand today!

Terri

 

Happy Birthday To Me

A few weeks after my mother died, I had a birthday.  Birthdays have always been special to me.  My birthday is the only day in the whole year that I allow everything to be all about me.  Long ago, I stopped looking at my birthday as a commemoration of another year passing. Instead,  I look at it as a kind of holiday. It’s  Terri Day- the day the world (or at least any portion of the world that so desires) celebrates the unique wonder that is me!  That may sound conceited, but it isn’t really. I don’t limit my birthday philosophy to myself.  I think everybody’s birthday should be about celebrating that person’s individual, special awesomeness. What difference does it really make if you are another year older, when all is said and done?  On the other hand, what a wonderful difference it truly does make that the world is filled with awesome people who are amazing for so many different reasons!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel celebratory when, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t sharing my birthday with the woman who birthed me. I say that my birthday has always been “all about me.”  That isn’t entirely accurate.  Part of that “all” has been all about my mother and me.  That very first birthday was the beginning of the very special bond we’ve shared over the past 58 years. I’ve always bought my mother a present on my birthday. After all, my mother was the one who did all the work the day I was born.  All I did was show up.

I almost felt like skipping my birthday this year, but my current obsession with busy-ness and distraction forced me to find something special to do that day.  Max and I returned from a trip to Las Vegas on September 28 and we visited Disney Springs to celebrate my birthday on September 30.   Now, normally, I would not visit Disney Springs on a Saturday when hordes of people walk the earth, but I was pretty committed to celebrating on the actual anniversary of my birth.  Max made a few half-hearted attempts to convince me to juggle my birthday celebration to another, non-weekend day.  He soon realized that idea was a total non-starter.  He ultimately embraced the idea and set out to ensure I enjoyed a special birthday- different from all previous birthdays because my mother wasn’t with us, but special in a new way.

For several days before, during, and after my birthday, Max walked around calling me the “birt-day girl.”  He greeted me every morning by calling out, “Happy Birthday.” He sang to me on the gondola at the Venetian Casino during our vacation, which was amazing.  Max doesn’t really sing and lives in terror of standing out of the crowd in public. Yet, there he was, singing to me.  Without benefit of alcohol, even. The fact that he was singing to me in front of a gondolier and a couple of strangers and anyone who happened to be able to hear him in the fake Piazza San Marco truly demonstrated the extent of his effort to delight me.  It touched me deeply and I think I found a way, after knowing him for almost 22 years, to fall even more in love with him.

A few months ago, part of me realized that my mother was likely not going to be alive when my birthday came.  I purchased a necklace and paid for it from one of her accounts.  I gave it to Max to save so I’d have one last birthday present from my mother.  The morning of my birthday, he brought it out and fastened it around my neck.  The necklace is a diamond and silver butterfly.  The body of the butterfly consists of two interwoven open-heart designs.  I chose the butterfly motif because it reminds me that my mother, like a butterfly, is reborn to live in beauty and joy in Heaven. I chose the double open heart design because my mother is the one who taught me to live my life striving to love and to be loved. 

When we got to Disney Springs, we went to Starbucks and had a beverage accompanied by a pumpkin scone.  As we walked around the shops, I found a pair of earrings that fascinated me. Max surprised me by buying them for me.  We had a late lunch at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. My mother used to keep a stash of what she called her “hidey hole” money- about $400 in cash that she kept at home in case of emergency.  I took some of that money to pay for my birthday meal and the Sprinkles cupcake I bought to take home.  Later that evening at home, I put a candle in the cupcake and Max sang “Happy Birthday” to me. 

I also received beautiful cards, texts, and gifts from my brother and from friends all around the world.  It was as if the Universe knew that this was going to be a tough birthday for me and wanted to provide a little additional emotional padding against the buffeting my heart was likely to take.

You can see I ended up having a lovely birthday, even though I was kind of dreading it.  It was a special day, even if my mother wasn’t there to share it with me.  Then again, maybe she was.  And maybe she always will be.

How do you like to celebrate your birthday?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have an extra special day, whether it happens to be your birthday or not!

Terri 🙂

 

 

 

Busy-ness

Reader Neki commented that it sounded like my last year with my mother was extra special. When I read Neki’s comment, it caused me to reflect. While I was living that last year, I don’t know that I would have described it so. Living that year at my mom’s side was the most painful and most arduous thing I’ve done in my entire life. There were many times when I felt like the pressure of the grief and the stress were unbearable. In reality, though, Neki was absolutely right. That time with my mother was extra special.

As difficult as this past year has been, I would not have had it any other way. If my mother’s fate was to suffer a stroke and decline so heartbreakingly towards the end of her life, I wanted to travel that path with her. Whatever support I could give, I wanted to give. Whatever comfort I could provide, I wanted to provide. Whatever shared joy we could find, I wanted to find with her. The time and effort I spent with her in the past year was my gift to her, but it truly was also a gift to me.

Now that my mother is gone, I am a bit disoriented. The time I used to spend with her and taking care of her needs is now empty. I have a new-found and somewhat unwelcome freedom.

I’m not quite sure how to navigate this new life condition. I feel a bit tender and tentative, as if I am dipping my toe into the water of the part of my life that is all about me. In the days since my mother death, I grasp wildly for activity. I’ve started the processes to finalize my mom’s administrative matters. I’ve gone through most of her possessions. I’ve sent thank you notes to people who sent cards and flowers. My house is cleaner than it has ever been. I plunged myself into a new life filled with new events, new people, and new thoughts. I initiated outings with friends. I began accepting every invitation offered me. I signed up to join a women’s group at the church. I began preparations to survive Hurricane Irma in a manic frenzy, despite my absolute certainty that I would die in the storm. Max and I took a trip to Las Vegas. I’ve been planning a trip to New England to see the fall foliage next autumn. I seem to flit from one activity to another without ever stopping to let my feet touch the ground… or to take a breath.

I do want to try new things now that I have some more free time, but I think this busy-ness is more about not wanting to sit still and feel than it is about expanding my horizons.

The truth is that the hole my mother left in my life is so huge that I am afraid of falling into it. If I stop and stare at that hole, I am sure that it will suck me into its emptiness and I will never recover. My mother was all about light and happiness. Her absence leaves darkness and grief. If I am to honor her memory, it is important that I look beyond this present darkness and grief to find the love she left behind. I can use that love to live in a way that would bring her joy. I can and will be her legacy of light.

The thing is… I’m not quite ready to do that yet. I am still too vulnerable to the darkness to risk getting too close to that empty hole. After so much sadness for so long, my strength is depleted and needs rest to be replenished. So I keep moving and doing, propelling myself far away from the emptiness. I’m sure I will eventually be able to find a better balance between activity and introspection. When that happens, I know I’ll find a way to live more beautifully and meaningfully than I ever have because my mother showed me how. I’ll know my mom will be smiling down on me from Heaven.

In the meantime, I think I’ve earned a little distraction!

What do you think?  Does a whirlwind of activity help us heal after losing someone?  Or is it just a whirlwind of activity?  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 🙂

In Praise Of Chocolate Ice Cream

My mother always said that chocolate ice cream can solve pretty much any problem.  Or, if it doesn’t solve the problem, consuming chocolate ice cream will at least make you feel better about failing.  I have an abundance of ample curves in places that should be less curvy and more flat because I have spent a lifetime harkening to this advice. 

My mother was not too proud to offer her children chocolate ice cream to do her bidding. In fact, I first learned the meaning of the word “bribe” in conjunction with chocolate ice cream.  One day, my mother asked if she could bribe me with a fudgsicle to take out the trash.  I asked her what “bribe” meant.  After she explained, I told her I didn’t really want a fudgsicle, but would take the trash out anyway.  I’m sure my refusal of the fudgsicle left her wondering if we did, in fact, share the same DNA or if she had just found me under a cabbage leaf. When we were sick and refusing to eat, she would coax back our appetites by pulling a half-gallon carton of chilly chocolate out of the freezer.  Jimmy Buffett might have had his margaritas, but, in our house, the frozen concoction that helped us hang on was chocolate ice cream.   

Calories and curves aside, it is hard to argue with her position.  Chocolate ice cream is just awesome.  It is creamy and sumptuous and decadent.  It goes down softly and smoothly and with a sultriness that is almost tangible.  I can go up and down the counter at an ice cream parlor touting thirty-one flavors of ice cream, savoring the idea of each of the flashy flavors. Inevitably, I end up ordering chocolate.  I would live on chocolate ice cream if I could. 

Maybe it is possible to live on chocolate ice cream.  When I was a child, we always had waffles with chocolate ice cream for our birthday breakfasts. Don’t they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? 

At any rate, my mother’s chocolate ice cream cure ran into an ironic snag at the end of her life.  I guess she was testing the hypothesis that one can live on chocolate ice cream alone. During her last ten months, all she consumed was food based on chocolate ice cream.  She ate virtually nothing except Wendy’s chocolate frosties and McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes.  Sometimes, just to mix things up, I brought a thermal bag of ingredients and made her chocolate ice cream sodas.  I pulled out a small bottle of club soda, a jigger of half-and-half, a container of chocolate ice cream, a bottle of chocolate syrup and made the ice cream soda at her bedside.   I was the Benihana’s of the ice cream world. Her ice cream soda was dinner and a show.   

It is hard to imagine how it is possible to survive on chocolate ice cream alone, no matter how enamored with it you are. Day after day, I helped her drink her milkshake or ice cream soda.  It was really the only pleasure she could still enjoy. She continued to lose weight and to weaken.  She became more confused and restless.  She often punctuated short periods of wakefulness and connectedness with napping and detachment.   As I watched her fading away, little by little, I realized that it was not possible for her to survive on chocolate ice cream alone. 

I wonder if I will ever think of chocolate ice cream the same way again. 

What is your “guilty pleasure” in food?  What food would you live on if you could? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂