Tag Archives: writing

Sometimes You’re Here

Dear Mom,

Sorry for being away so long. But as I’m sure you know, it hasn’t been completely for lack of writing. I’ve been cautiously trying on my freelance training wheels and taking them for little spins. It is a small step towards getting my head back in the “write” place.

I plan to continue “your story through my eyes” here soon, but what I wanted to share in this visit is just how much you’ve been with me in the last few weeks. I’m always feeling your presence in beautifully unexpected ways, but I think my recent “sightings” have been my favorites.

You see, it is always obvious to me how much of you lives on in different ways in Jamie and Jordyn. But recently I’ve been realizing you are here in ME, too. That’s probably because we’ve had such bitter cold weather, along with quite a few snowy and icy days – the kind of days I end up spending stuck inside with myself. Those kinds of days are built for introspection.

I remember our winters together well. Our hangouts at Hawley’s would usually go from weekly to monthly in January and February. You HATED the cold. You went into hibernation mode in much the same way I do (well, as much as I can around work, anyhow) when the temps soar into the 90’s.

We’ve always been self-entertaining units, you and I. We could lose ourselves for days in books and movies and the internet. We lived in our heads enough that unlike some, we could go long periods without leaving our homes beyond venturing out to our yards for a little fresh air and nature. In that way, even though you hated the cold, you (and I) were built for snow days.

I have a love/hate relationship with that aspect of myself. I love that I can figure out a way to be not just content but happy and entertained wherever I am. I love not needing a lot of money to enjoy myself. I love that when plans I’ve looked forward to fall through, I may be disappointed but can quickly figure out other ways to occupy myself. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I miss out on a lot of fun because it takes REALLY wanting to go somewhere and do something to get me out of my own head and into the world. When you can entertain yourself easily, the stresses of making plans and getting out and about compared to the ease of just “doing your thing” mean you have to push yourself to go live sometimes.

So that part? It kind of sucks. But I have been ever so grateful for it this winter. As I’ve spent cold icy weekends and snow days away from work reading and writing and enjoying my own company, I’ve been highly aware that my ability to do so comes from the introverted, reflective side of my personality that I inherited from you. I smile when I think about how you’d call or text to tell me that a Harry Potter marathon was coming on, or about some unknown author you’d found on your Kindle. I feel your guidance in my mental meanderings almost as if you were here to talk with me.

We had a really nice day last Saturday – sunshine and highs in the 40s. I went to visit Mommom and saw two of the fattest robins I’ve ever seen pecking around in the one patch of her yard that wasn’t still snow-covered. I realized spring is not far away at all, and that too made me think of you.

You blossomed like one of your flowers when the weather got warmer. You couldn’t wait to start gardening, to have your morning coffee on the deck, to have our family grown-up Easter egg hunt.

I felt just a hint of that blossoming when I saw those robins. Because although I love watching the snow fall, and am like a kid when it comes to getting a day off or work-at-home day because there’s white stuff on the ground, even I am starting to get a little cabin fevery. If the itch to get out and are bout it hitting an introvert like me, I imagine the extraverts are going absolutely bugshit.

They are calling for temps in the 40s and 50s this week, with no more snow in sight (well, other than the shit-ton currently on the ground).

I feel you in that weather forecast, watching and waiting for your flowers – and your family – to begin coming out of hibernation after a brutal winter.

You are waiting for us to bloom.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.

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.

 

 

 

I Saw A Ghost

Dear Mom,

I have a confession to make.

You know that book I wrote? The one that consumed all my time and attention for a year? The one that I scribbled scenes for in committee meetings and babbled nonstop about over drinks at the bar every weekend? The one that filled me such inexplicable pride when I wrote “The End” the Christmas before you got sick? The one that actually had me teaching myself how to query agents and going to writer’s conferences and learning about self-publishing?

Mom, I’ve done absolute jack shit with it since you went away. If I’m being completely honest – long before that. I barely touched it the entire time you were sick.

I could give you a million excuses.

Time. But time was always a struggle with the demands of my job, and it didn’t stop me back then.

Heartsickness. I miss you, and some days just doing what I need to do to be a functioning adult with a day job exhausts me. But let’s face it – we both know writing is a healing tool for me, so that one doesn’t fly.

I’m at the hard part. Writing my story was FUN. So freaking much fun. Editing is not. Editing is more like doing math, and I always hated using that part of my brain. But every writer has to suck that up at some point if they ever want their work to be more than something that takes up space on their hard drive.

I’m afraid of rejection. Publishing is scary. As long as I don’t get to the point where the book is truly ready to publish, I don’t have to face the possibility that I suck. But I knew that going in too.

To each and every one of those points, you’d tell me to stick it up my ass. You were always good at pointing out when someone was making excuses rather than diving in and taking a challenge.

The truth is, I think my biggest block at the moment is not having you. I wrote this book, but you were almost as much a part of the process as I was. I shared bits and pieces with many friends, but you were the one and only person who knew just about everything. You read the most excerpts. You knew when I had a good writing day and when I was in a slump. You fell in love with my main character just like I did. Your thoughts helped me keep him and many of the other characters real … or as real as they were going to be given my topic.

You made me believe I could do it. You cheered me on and were so happy for me when I was in that place that writers go when a story has grabbed them by the imaginary balls and won’t let go. You were with me through the manic joy of the storytelling process. You laughed with me and commiserated with me when I was struggling.

You were a reader your entire life. I owe you my love of the written word. We always fell in love with the same books. So when I tackled writing my own, my guiding principle was  “if Mom had this book in her hand, would it be so good she couldn’t put it down?”

I so wanted you and I to go through it going out into the world together. I needed you there if it failed, but more importantly, I WANTED you there if it succeeded. In my wildest dreams, it paid off all our debts and our entire family lived happily ever after. Maybe reality would have been more along the lines of all our friends bought a copy and we made enough money for a nice dinner somewhere. That would have been OK too.

But the idea that you wouldn’t be here when the book went out into the world? That never crossed my mind when I was writing it. It was unimaginable. And now it just doesn’t seem right.

The truth is, there is a part of me I try not to acknowledge that is beating the shit out of myself for that. I started too late. I didn’t write fast enough. If only. If only. If only.

All those what ifs have squashed my determination. The urge to work on the book comes now and then, in tiny spurts that fizzle out as soon as I remember something I need to do for work or notice that the kitchen could use a good cleaning.

The part of me that says that since I didn’t “get er done” in time for you to see the doing I shouldn’t let myself experience publishing and succeeding or failing without you has been winning. I don’t want to fail without you here to hold my hand. I don’t want to succeed without you here to say “that’s my daughter. Now take your Momma to a tropical island.”

I’m not writing this just to whine to you. I really do need one of your “suck it up” tirades more than ever, but since you can’t give me one I wouldn’t put you through just listening to me bitch and moan.

See, I have a friend who started writing a book.

He’s had this great story idea stewing in his brain for a while. It is the kind of story that you and I always loved to read. He’s got quirky characters and a unique plot line and let’s just say this shit could be really, really good.

The thing is, unlike me, he is not someone who always dreamed of being a writer. He mulled the possibility over as a potential retirement hobby down the road, but he’s not there yet. He was never one of those people who felt compelled to write or go crazy, like I am. But he got bit by a damn good story bug, and it has him totally infected.

I have a lot of writer friends, but most of them are far away and we just communicate electronically. We sought each other out because we were looking to connect with other writers. Otherwise, we’d never have known one another.

There is just something different about seeing a friend you met for completely different reasons (in this case, work) catch the writing bug and dive in headfirst.

He comes to me with the fledgling first chapters. We talk about story lines and plot twists. We discuss what is enough description and what is too much. We envision what his characters look like.  He can’t wait to go home and start writing again.

And the whole time, he freakin’ GLOWS. I’ve always heard that pregnant women glow. Perhaps they do. But a writer in the throes of a good story coming to life? Those crazy bastards are bright purple neon, baby.

I know, because I used to be one. I used to blind myself in the mirror with that shit.

And when I see the way he looks when I’m reading a chapter or when we’re talking about his book, I see a ghost. The ghost of that girl.

In a way, it feels a bit like how we were when I was writing my book. Only he’s me, and I’m in your role.  Nothing I’ve tried since you left has made that part of me want to wake up until now. But over the last few days, I’ve felt her coming back to life. She’s yawning and stretching and has a long way to go to get her energy back. She probably has a bit of amnesia. But she’s still there.

I still don’t want to do it without you. But somehow, I think this experience is helping me get the strength to do that. Not the strength to finish the editing and go through the crazy train of publication. I know I’ve got the balls for that, when I’m ready. I’m talking about the strength to forgive myself for not doing it while you were here, so that I can.

A year ago in October, I was watching you start a horrible journey that we would all walk with you, until you had to turn onto a path that was only wide enough for you to go alone. This October, I am watching a friend start a wonderful, amazing journey that I took myself a few years back, and it is bringing me joy and a desire to fuel my own tank and at least start taking a few day trips.

I have to believe you have a hand in that.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.

 

 

 

Haunted By A Manwhore

I am haunted by a dead manwhore.

Don’t call the men in the white coats. I am perfectly aware that my manwhore ghost isn’t real.  He’s just the main character in a novel I have been slowly editing … or not editing … for a year now.

Any fiction writer knows that while writing, your characters come to life in your brain.  You have conversations with them. As you command them to do your bidding in your pages, they sometimes rebel and do their own things. If you follow them instead of yanking on their leash, those things often become the twists that take your story from good to great.

Writing fiction is strange. We breathe life into people who previously existed only in our heads. We’re like Doc Frankenstein. One wrong move and we’ve created a monster. No wonder our characters haunt us.

My book’s main character Jay gets whacked in the first chapter. In death, he haunts one of the few women who met him and didn’t fall for his lines. He bounces around naked, wagging his no longer functional man-bits until she agrees to help figure out who killed him.

Being haunted by such a character was hilarious. I’d be sitting in a painfully boring meeting or poring over some 20-page report-writing manifesto, and he would pop into my head. He’d bounce around butt-naked, mooning my brain until I jotted down that bit of dialogue he was determined to say so I wouldn’t forget about it when my writing time rolled around.

He still haunts me. But these days, his taunts are less amusing. I can hear the irritation in his voice. I have been avoiding him, and he’s getting pissed. The thing about a Manwhore is that they really like attention. Ignore them and they’re sure to be assholes.

This avoidance happens to many writers during the editing process. Let’s face it – editing our stories is nowhere near as much fun as creating them. Editing is grueling work. But my avoidance is more than that.

When I wrote Jay’s story, I was pretty high on life. I was getting back into writing seriously again after putting my dreams on the back-burner. I was inspired and determined. I was in a funny frame of mind. Although Manwhore’s story is one of murder and life after death, it is written with a whimsically humorous overtone.

That is “the hook” that I believe will make this book successful. It gives my supernatural mystery a unique feel, as if horror and mystery met South Park or Shameless and they had a baby.

I lost that whimsy when Mom got diagnosed with cancer. We all lost so much that October day. There wasn’t even time to think about my book. There is time now – sometime almost too much of it. I should be red-penning my manuscript at this moment instead of writing this.

But I’m not, because I’m not ready to read my book with the laughing eyes and funnybone friendly spirit in which I wrote it. I am better than I was. My whimsy returns for a few moments. But it is struggling for air, fighting through a mire of other thoughts and feelings.

The Manwhore character in my head gets pissed about this blog sometimes. He’s glad I’m writing again, but sometimes he sulks and says, “hey, bitch? Over here … what about me?”  I’ve got a real good idea about how my female lead character feels when he won’t quit jabbing at her.

This post is my way of telling him that he hasn’t been forgotten. It may seem like I’m writing here to avoid him, but I’m not. I’m doing it to heal. I’m writing to pour myself back into a place where I can edit him in the same spirit that I wrote him.

I don’t expect to be the writer who created him ever again. She had known heartache and hardship but never gut-wrenching grief and pain. She was blessed. I am a different woman. Still blessed, but sadder and less idealistic and maybe more real. But none of that means I can’t find my whimsy again.

We will be back, Manwhore. You’re get your moment in the sun. You’ll be wagging your willie  soon enough. Until then, keep haunting me. Those out-of-context smiles that sometimes steal across my face in the middle of a snoozefest meeting do still make my day.

 

My New Dysfunctional Relationship With Ed

If your name is Edward, Eddie, or just plain Ed, please don’t take this personally. I don’t mean you. Chances are I don’t even know you.

I’m talking about past tense Ed. As in watched. Walked. Talked. Hugged. Laughed.

That sounds weird coming from a storyteller. As a writer, even the stuff I make up comes at least subconsciously from personal experiences.  Past tense should be one of my BFFs.

In many ways, it has been. I try to live in the moment. But when going somewhere new, trying something different, or meeting a new quirky person, a part of my brain is already writing about the moment. I enjoy writing about life as much as I enjoy living it. When I go back and read this paragraph, I realize just how lame that sounds. Lame or not, I think many writers can relate. For us, writing is a huge part of living .

So it disturbs me that my relationship with Ed has grown complex. It still brings me joy, but I must now sludge my way through some super-sized puddles of sadness too. I have recorded some moments that I would gladly leave in past tense forever. But more often, I recall writing happy Ed moments secure in the knowledge that while the particular one I was describing was over, there would be more like it in the future. I watched a great show. I talked with an old friend. I walked an amazing trail on a crisp fall day. I laughed until I damn near peed myself. I wrote about those times knowing full well I would be walking, talking, watching, laughing and even nearly peeing myself again.

There is a huge piece of my life about which this is no longer true. When it comes to making memories with my mother, what is now Ed will never be Ing again.

This hits me hard in what look like harmless, innocent moments. I go grab some afternoon java fuel at the coffee shop at work, and run into one of my football buddies. It might be the janitor in our building, who like me is a Steelers fan living in Baltimore. Or it maybe it is director of another office, who is a die-hard Ravens fan and jokes that I must be confused about where I live. These surface relationships built on empathy or rivalry bring some fun to our long workdays, even in the off-season.

In June, we are all going through a bit of football withdrawal. We chat about the rituals we look forward to in the fall as we pour creamer into our coffees or stir in frightening amounts of sugar. Someone jokes that I must get locked in a room by myself when the arch-rival Ravens and Steelers meet. Surely not even my nearest and dearest would want to break up their sea of purple people with my black-and-gold-clad ass.

“Actually, I’ve got a group of Steelers girls here,” I reply. “And even when we can’t all get together, I always watch …”

I stop, stare into my coffee as if it can help me, and fumble over the word. “Watched with my mom,” I finish lamely. Those game days where we’d sit in our pub and gulp beers with one hand while we covered our eyes with the other, peeking nervously through our fingers because Big Ben was looking a little Forrest Gumpy on third down, are now Ed moments with no hope of future Ings.  Even the less happy memories, like when we watched a Ravens/Steelers game in the hospital last year and I brought a Steelers blanket to drape over Mom since she couldn’t wear her fan gear, are in the past.

I loved my football seasons with Mom. I loved being different together. I will still love football season, but being different without her is going to hurt. footballtime Then again, every day without her hurts at some point.

Everyone who loses a loved one goes through these moments of painful Ed-and-Ing insight when they are talking about a shared tradition and realize that memory making with that person is over. There will be more memories made, but they will have a huge hole in them where someone amazing should have been.

As a writer, there is an added strange component to this part of grief. It doesn’t just  happen when you are living those moments or talking about them. It hits when you are writing them, too. That is a blessing and a curse. I’ll make an effort to focus on the blessing side of it.

My relationship with Ed may be dysfunctional, but I’ll never let it go. Being able to write about Mom allows me to relive those precious memories, and while I am tapping away at the keyboard they are happening all over again. Stealing a bit of Ing where there might otherwise only be Ed is a gift.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting it Out

There are a million remedies for stress, anxiety, grief, etc.  Counseling. Medication. Meditation. Excercise. A few shots of tuaca at Hawley’s (Insert your own favorite pub here if you don’t live close. If you are nearby, no inserting. Go to Hawley’s).

With the exception of medication, I have tried them all at various points in my life, and have good things to say about each of them. But for me, there is nothing in this world that beats creating when it comes to healing.

During my Mom’s illness, I wrote nothing. I was in the middle of editing my first novel, which was written when my silly and somewhat twisted sense of humor was in high gear. Watching a loved one suffer squished the whimsy required to improve on my dialogue and scenes, so I left it alone. That was the right choice. My mistake was in not writing ANYTHING.

For me, stress dissolves when I write, even if what I’m writing has nothing to do with the stress. When I don’t write, I become a freak. The traffic noises of workday morning commutes make me want to babble in tongues. If the system I manage at work does something quirky, I want to hide under my desk with my Steelers gnome (he’s my version of a binky). And if, by some horrific twist of fate, I have to go to Walmart and get trapped in an aisle full of big carts and bigger butts, I fight the urge to shout obscenities, cry and laugh like Jack Nicholson all at once.

I can’t explain why writing minimizes those urges. I just know it does. Maybe it releases some of the pressure so I’m not like a warm soda bottle that has been dropped on the kitchen floor, ready to explode if my top is even slightly twisted.

But I think it is more than that. I think the act of pulling something good out of my head and putting it out into the world takes away a little of the power everything I see as “bad” is holding over me. It is funny that I, who am sometimes guilty of thinking I know everything, stopped writing when I needed it most. I had been telling Mom she should journal for years. She never listened, until last fall, when she began journaling through her cancer journey.

She always was smarter than me, even though she couldn’t get me to admit it.

Creating may not put therapists, doctors, yoga instructors and bartenders out of business (a world without bartenders would just SUCK), but it sure as hell helps us all along.

Notice I said creating, not writing. For me, what I create is (hopefully) coherent thoughts and stories out of words on a page. For you, it might be something entirely different.

My partner Lee takes raw stretches of nature and turns them into beautifully landscaped gardens and yards, and can rise to the challenge whether he’s doing it for someone on a Mercedes budget or a ramen noodle one. QUALITY COMPLETE 011

My Momma always created a beautiful home and delicious family meals that could taste like childhood or a trip to Italy, depending on the goal. My sister has followed in her footsteps. I am amazed at the way she kept up the family home and traditions when Mom got ill. I’m the first to admit that if it had been me living there instead of her, their beautiful home would probably look like a bachelor pad by now.

My niece Jordyn can take her camera and ANYTHING and turn it into a photograph that will make you wonder at just how beautiful the world is, laugh, think, or all of the above. Most girls her age take nothing but selfies. She captures everything through her own eyes and shares it with the rest of us so we can experience her youthful, inspired vision. jordynhorse

One of the bartenders at Hawley’s, Kitty, creates beautiful paintings. Her seascapes have brought my brand of peace into my home.

My friend Shannon creates in her kitchen.

I could go on and on. But the point is, each one of these acts of creation makes the world a better place. They don’t take away grief or frustration, but they help balance the scales. So get creating, and don’t worry if you suck. Just have fun. At a staff retreat the other day, we did one of those “icebreaker” exercises. We had to get into groups, and each group was given an index card with a decade on it. We had to draw a picture of an image that represented that decade to us, and then see if the others could guess it. We got the 70’s and decided to draw a dude in a leisure suit with bad hair and a hairy chest. A few people in my group know that I write, so they nominated me as the “creative one” who would draw our picture.

Being able to make pictures with words does not mean you can draw them. I doodle a lot, but I’m not an artist. Still, I took our pack of markers, had someone Google a picture of a skeezy dude in a leisure suit, and went to town.

My end result was raw and cartoonish, but everyone guessed our decade correctly. More importantly, everyone laughed. I’d been feeling gloomy that morning, but looking at my goofy-ass leisure suit guy made me grin. I wish I’d kept him so I could take a picture.

Create. Have fun. Laugh. Put beauty or comfort or peace or humor out there. Your choice. Do anything but nothing. Get it out.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.