Monthly Archives: January 2015

Sharing Your Story

Dear Mom,

For Christmas, Jamie got me, Jordyn and herself each a copy of a book called “Healing After Loss.” It is a daily meditation tool of sorts – a different thought on grief and moving forward for each day of the year, written by a woman named Martha Whitmore Hickman, who suffered the loss of a child.

Today’s page was about “sharing your story.” It talked about how in sharing the story of  your grief process, you may unknowingly help someone else who is or will be going through their own loss. It also talked about how sharing the story of your loved one – their life and your special moments with them – helps keep them alive and soothes both you and others who loved them through fond memories.

I think I have done a pretty good job in this blog of the former. I’ve written several pieces on losing you and the roller-coaster that has been the aftermath.

But I haven’t done nearly as much on the latter. I haven’t shared your story, or painted much of a picture of who you were in life other than our last year here together.

Perhaps that makes sense. I had to get those grief-thoughts out there before I could dig deeper.  That grief has been like wearing a heavy winter coat on a 90-degree day. It smothered the stuff underneath. Only by shedding it can I let those other things out to breathe in the cool fresh air.

I am slowly coming to the point where I can once again feel that air on my face. So I plan to spend the next several entries on your story.

To so many, you were James’s wife, Pam and Jamie’s mother, and Jordyn’s grandmother. Mom. Momma. Mommy. Nee. Granny Bean.

But before you were any of that, you were Sabina. We so often see our mothers only through our “post-me” lenses.  I was the first to come along and turn you into “Mom,” but you were so many things before me or even Daddy were on your radar.

So this is a little of what I know of you before me – before any of us.

– You were born in Pittsburgh, and although your family relocated to Baltimore when you were still a very little girl, you carried the town and The Steelers in your heart your whole life.

– You had three sisters – Natalie, Dorothy and Cindy. You loved them all, but while Natalie was much older and Cindy much younger, you and Dorothy were so close in age that I think of you as “almost twins.” Knowing that my aunts carry you in their hearts and that their landscape of memories includes all these pre-me moments I could never carry on for you in any way that does them justice has been a huge comfort to me.

– You lost your dad before you came to Baltimore – you were so young that perhaps you didn’t know him nearly as well as you would have liked. He was mostly pictures and stories and other people’s memories, but I always sensed that in your heart he was still somehow your hero.

– Your childhood was not an easy one.  That is not for this blog. But the person it made you is. You were fiercely determined that your daughters and granddaughters would experience a different kind of childhood, and we did.

– You saw yourself as an awkward kid. I never saw you that way, but you told me you felt like all your features were too big for your frame. “Big eyes, big ears, big nose in a skinny little face on a skinny little body,” you’d laugh. And then you grew into them and you were stunning. Not just stereotypically pretty, but soulfully beautiful. Especially those “big eyes,” with those never-ending eyelashes. When I was a kid, the way you said you felt about your looks as a girl gave me hope. I’d look at my beautiful mother and realize that one day all my parts that I didn’t think fit quite right would click into place and work together instead of against each other too.

– As a teenager, you went after what you wanted. You were smart and serious and you wanted to go to a Catholic girl’s school instead of a public school, so you worked and rode public transportation to make it happen. How many teenage girls would put so much extra responsibility on themselves to go to a school where there were NO BOYS? Surely not me!

– Many of the happier childhood memories you shared with me included trips to visit your Aunt Annie and Aunt Genny. I also remember stories of your mom working at a book factory, and of Aunt Nat, your oldest sister, getting married and having her first daughter Kim when Aunt Cin, your youngest sister, was pretty much a toddler herself. Aunt Cin wasn’t crazy about the idea of a new baby and tried to throw Kim in the trash (sorry Aunt Cin!).

– Your first boyfriend was named Milton Dodo. I have no clue if I’m spelling that right. I always pictured him as looking like Crispin Glover as young George McFly in Back to the Future, and once you told me I was kind of right.

– You wanted to be either a nun or a brain surgeon. I came along and you became “Mom” instead. When I’d whine to you about how much farther along I’d be with my writing if I didn’t have to work full-time, you’d remind me that if it weren’t for me you’d be wearing a habit or carrying a scalpel and say “that’s just life.”

I told you I wasn’t sorry I’d kept you from becoming a nun, because again – NO BOYS, but that I was sorry about the brain surgeon thing. Then one night when we’d had a few you gave me a laundry list of all the changes you’d make to our brains (mine, Dad’s, Jay’s) if you had become one, and I told you I was no longer sorry about that either. I so love that we could always talk and laugh about some of these things so many mothers and daughters I know would consider off-limits and maybe even hurtful. We shared a warped sense of humor and had a foundation of love and understanding that allowed us to be real.

– You met Dad because a close girlfriend of yours who went to school with him fixed you up. He was “that guy,” the one running around having fun and getting in trouble and doing what he wanted, while you were preparing for the nunnery or medical school. You fell in love with him and his parents too – one of my most powerful memories from our talks about your pre-me world is how Mommom and Grandad treated you like a daughter almost from day one.  I’m really glad you chose Dad over the nunnery. Even if we do have souls and mine would have ended up popping out somewhere else in that situation, I can’t imagine any other family that would have put up with me.

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. The story of a beautiful life is best told in chapters.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

 

Ordinary Worlding

Dear Mom,

I can’t believe how much time I have let get away from me since my last posting.  Take work, add a healthy dose of holidays and a great run of AFC football craziness, and time flies.

You have been with me every day, of course, so you already know the reasons behind the empty echo chamber that has been my writing lately. And you also know they aren’t all bad, or even mostly bad.

One of the themes in our conversations over the years was how to live a good life. Because you were my mother, you were proud of my ambitions. But they frustrated you, too. I have always been one of those “all or nothing” people. If I was chasing after a goal, it became an obsession. Every waking moment not being spent on that goal felt like a waste of time.

When my goal became to write and publish a book, and to do a butt-ton of other writing besides, that mindset became a little overwhelming. Those are long and arduous endeavors even when they are labors of love. And when you have a full-time-plus job in the kind of field where your work doesn’t always – or even usually – end at the moment the clock says the office is closed, tackling such a big project can completely fill the rest of your remaining hours.

While I was going full-speed ahead on the book, I felt happy. More than happy. I felt drive and purpose and determination. For some, those are the definition of happiness.

But in that way that only a mother can do, you saw something missing in me even when I was on top of the world. You saw that I resented anything and everything that took me away from my writing world. Working. Cleaning. Eating. Sleeping. Taking care of other obligations. Hell, sometimes even doing fun things that weren’t related to writing felt “off.”

I wasn’t capable of being fully in a moment that wasn’t spent wordsmithing. Even if my body and some of my heart was there, my mind was far away.

You saw that, and you called me on it. And we’d talk about how I didn’t mean to be that way, it was just that I felt like my life wouldn’t be complete until I was where I wanted to be. It wasn’t good enough – I wasn’t good enough – unless writing enabled me to quit my job and become a full-time author. I was trying so hard to free myself from my existing obligations so I’d have more time for the things I loved that I forgot how to enjoy the limited free time I DID have.

You liked that I wanted something more. You hated that I couldn’t appreciate all I had until I got it.

“You have to learn to be ordinary in an extraordinary world.” You told me that over and over again.

At first, I didn’t like that advice at all. I didn’t want to be ordinary. I thought it was your way of trying to nicely say that maybe I didn’t have what it took be a writer, and I’d be a happier person if I pulled my head out of my butt and got on with other things.

Then you got sick.

It was over that time – those awful and wonderful and beautiful and ugly moments that we had left – that I started to understand what you really meant. During that time period, I didn’t think about my book or any other type of writing much at all. How could something as inconsequential as finishing my book or writing a blog matter when we were all fighting for your life?

It couldn’t.

And so in those months, freed of all thoughts of what I wanted for my OWN future and focused completely on yours, I truly learned to live in the moment.

The obligations that annoyed me, like going to work or the grocery store or cleaning? Those became precious moments of normal living. My office was no longer a prison that kept me from writing. It was a place where a band of kind coworkers looked out for me and supported me. It was a place where I could solve problems and get little bits of something done – how good that felt when everything else was spinning out of control!

And the times we had together? When you felt good, they were beautiful and I wanted them to go on forever. I didn’t care if I never typed another sentence as long as we could talk and watch some football and eat some wings in your living room, and you were laughing and truly enjoying the game and the food was tasty to you instead of making you feel sick. Even the bad times – the doctor visits and procedures and days you felt like shit, mattered in a way that nothing ever had before.

I spent the first few months after you went away in a zombie state. I worked and ate and slept and cleaned and did things with friends and family, but most of the time I was hazy. I was functioning, and that was enough. If I crawled out of the protective mental bubble that was allowing me to do that much, I was afraid I crumble into a lost little ball of freakitude. I didn’t think about writing, and I didn’t care that I wasn’t thinking about it.

Gradually, with your spiritual guidance, that has changed. I am present in my life again. My laughter is real more often than not, and so are my tears.  I feel true frustration at work when I have a problem to solve, because I care about getting things done again. I feel true satisfaction when I get them done. I feel love and appreciation for family and friends and animals in a deeper sense than ever before, although I always did value them above all else.

I am feeling the urge to write again, in bits and snippets. I took a leap of faith and shared the first part of my book with a group of readers. I began playing with the unfinished bits in short spurts and stretches, when the mood struck. I began thinking of other things I’d like to write and jotting down notes.

But this time, those goals have a different priority in my life. They are not all-consuming. I spent most of my holiday break cleaning and reorganizing my home, because it needed to be done and I wanted to. The old me would have resented the hell out of that – it was supposed to be WRITING TIME, damn it! The person I am today enjoyed the act of doing it as well as the end result.

Everything matters now. Life isn’t something that takes me away from my writing. Writing is just one important component of my life.

It is struggling to find its place again, but I feel like that is so much better than when it was shoving everything else that mattered aside.

I am learning how to be more like you – “ordinary in an extraordinary world.” Your life was cut short, but you embraced every moment you had with grace and acceptance and love and enjoyment – and sometimes frustration and annoyance and pissed-offitude too.

You lived seeing the importance in everything around you, and seeing every moment and task as where you were supposed to be and what you were supposed to be doing. You tried to love them all.

That sounds ordinary, but it made you …. and your life … extraordinary.

That’s what you were trying to tell me. That’s how you were pushing me to be. Not because you didn’t believe I could do anything else, but because you knew that only those who live that way can truly have a life.

Writing is finding its place in my new outlook. That feels good too, but no better than the way every other puzzle piece is fitting.

And I’m OK with that.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.