My Mother’s Day Perspective

Today is a difficult day. That’s precisely why I want to write what’s on my mind. The emotions are raw and close to the surface and I want these thoughts preserved when I’m less likely to censor, edit and soften them.

Nine years ago today my 9 day old daughter Samantha “Sami” Renae died. On a gorgeous clear, blue sky spring day, just like today. And I remember thinking as I made the walk down that wide, long corridor connecting our room to the hospital, ‘not today. It couldn’t happen on a day like today.’ But it did. The story of those months and days are best told in other posts on other days. I want to talk about another difficult day rapidly approaching and I can’t address it without telling this much of the story.

Mother’s Day. A wonderful day to celebrate moms, moms-in-law, moms-to-be and all of those who have been like a mom in our lives. I want to tell you not all of us feel like celebrating. It is painful, it hurts and I for one just want the day over. I know I’m not alone. A vast, gaping hole in my heart and in my world prevents me from feeling complete joy on this day. For so many this is an emotionally charged day.  Be aware, be kind.

I married into a large family that gets together regularly for celebrations, including Mother’s Day. In a way it helps me. I focus on my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law, enjoy my nieces, nephews and for a good part of the day I can shove off the heavy feelings of loss. A year ago my mother died, adding another dimension of pain to the day. My daughter lives out of the area so I don’t get to share the day with her. Missing her is an ache that never eases.

On Mother’s Day my heart aches and breaks for two very important people in my life. My bonus kids. Me being here means their mother is not. I’m not consumed by that thought, but there are certain times when it is blunt and clear that I am not who should be here. Certainly, it’s a contradiction. I love them with a heart that doesn’t recognize ‘step children’. (How I hate that word ‘stepmom’. A blog post topic of its very own.) As much as I love being in their lives, I have to acknowledge the great loss that brought us all here. I have often told them, “I am not your mom, but I am A MOM.” It is that mom’s heart that can not fathom, nor take away the shattering pain they both have endured. I have no idea what I can do, if anything, to bridge the gap on this day.

Mother’s Day is for me,  a complicated day. My goal was not to throw myself a pity party.  I am fully aware of the incredible blessings I enjoy. I have so many kids to love and I hope I do it in a way that they never doubt their place in my heart. Because while that hole remains, I have learned that a heart can also expand to include more than you ever imagined. A heart shatters, but I have also learned that a heart mends. It is never the same, it takes on a new shape….the shape of hope.

That’s what I know….for today.

 

 

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A Life Remembered…..

Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. As a tribute to him I’m posting the eulogy I gave at his service in 2003. For my family and friends that knew him, I hope it brings a smile of fond remembrance. For those of you who never knew him, perhaps this will give you a glimpse of the man we loved so much. And Dad, I hope somehow, some way you know that the sun is shining on me now. Love you more with every passing day.

Thank you all for being here today to say goodbye to the man I had the privilege to call “Dad”. To you he was “brother”, “uncle”, “great-uncle” and to many of you he was ‘friend’.

Earlier this summer I had to say goodbye to a cousin I had grown up with. His sister spoke eloquently and lovingly at his service. I thought it was one of the bravest acts I’d ever seen. I pray for the courage today that I might honor my dad in the same way.

When I told my uncle I would like to speak today a million thoughts swirled in my head. Where to start? There seemed so much that needed to be said. But first and foremost my dad was a simple, direct man. He probably wouldn’t be happy with what he would call “the fuss” we’re making today. With that in mind, I’ll try to be simple and direct to honor the type of man he was.

I think it might surprise my dad to know what a great teacher he was. He taught me and probably many of you valuable lessons with his own unique sayings – and by example. Any of you that knew my dad had to have at one time been on the receiving end of one of his quotes to live by. My friends came to look forward to hearing me say “My dad always says…” They knew that what was coming next would be funny as well as wise. I wish I knew how many times in the last five years as I struggled to raise a daughter and make ends meet dad would tell me: “The sun don’t shine on the same dog every day.” Now you all know I edited that a bit from how he really said it. What on earth does it mean? It means my day is coming, every day is another chance and I have to believe that things won’t always be this way.

That’s another big lesson my dad taught me: NEVER, and I mean NEVER give up. Dad could be a hard man and he probably was hardest on those who didn’t try. He would never fault you for trying and not succeeding – you just had to try. “Can’t never did anything” was another one of his favorite sayings. How many times did we hear him say, “Don’t let me hear you say you can’t!”

My dad was an honest man and tolerated no lies. My brother and I both knew that was probably the worst thing we could do – lie to him. He taught us to tell the truth and we better tell him first before he found out elsewhere. He instilled in us a sense of honor and responsibility. If you mess up or make a mistake, apologize, do what you can to fix it and learn from that mistake. Dad gave us by example, the best work ethics. He worked hard for his family and taught us that was the right way. He didn’t believe in a free ride and didn’t have much use for those who accepted or expected one.

But if you needed help, wanted to learn something he could teach you, he was thrilled to do it. He loved helping those that wanted to help themselves. I think my dad was touched and humbled by the outpouring  of love, support and encouragement he received these last months. I’m not. You know another one of his sayings was, “what goes around, comes around.” Lots of people look at the negative side of that. I see and believe Dad finally saw the positive. The good that you do will come back to you. The hard part – and I know this is for a fact because I’m like him in this way – is accepting that help gracefully.

I’m proud of my dad’s commitment to education. That may seem odd to some of you. Dad didn’t finish high school, but earned his GED and went on to serve the country he loved in the U.S. Navy. But he never stopped learning or encouraging others to pursue an education. I’m a college graduate because of my dad and even at my advanced age, I’ll pursue a graduate degree because of what he instilled in me.

My dad taught himself many things over the years. He built houses and could fix anything. No one was more surprised or thrilled when he brought himself into the computer age!! You can too teach an old dog new tricks!

His interest in history and love of his family brought him to his passion for genealogy. He was so excited at every new discovery and piece of the puzzle he found. He could talk for hours about family history and I was amazed at his capacity for remembering all those branches of the family tree.

My dad was courageous, a brave man. Life knocked him about a couple of times and he picked himself up and rebuilt his life. When this illness came and he was told the only real option for a longer life was a lung transplant, he said “let’s go for it.” He never quit – this illness forced him to quit.

But that was just the end of his earthly adventure. It comforts me to picture him in Heaven sitting on the porch swing with Grandma Watkins, swinging and talking like I saw them so many times at the house on Williams Street.

Loss forces us to examine things. We want to make sense of it all. I don’t think we are truly supposed to figure it all out down here. I believe God wants us to have surprises and things to talk over with Him when we get there.

But I do believe this: There are ways we can honor and remember the man my brother and I called Dad, you called Papa, Bud, Uncle Bud and Buddy. And that is to remember and live the truths he taught us. Tell the truth, fix what’s broke if you can, learn from your mistakes, continue to educate yourself, find you passion, have hope, courage and commitment to lead the life you want to lead. My dad did. We can continue the genealogy research and attend the family reunions to preserve what he loved so much.

Most of all, and here’s the hardest part – we have to go on without his physical presence in our lives. I can’t really tell   you how to do that – that’s our individual journey. But I know we have to because it’s what he would want most of all. He wasn’t really a demonstrative man. So as he would say, ‘we need to stop all this crying and carrying on.’ Because he would expect us to greet each day with enthusiasm and anticipation of what might be and accept and rejoice in the gift that is life.

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What no one tells you about parenthood…..

Our new job requires a lifetime commitment, involves long hours, messy details and pays nothing. But, we believe it is the most important and rewarding job we’ll ever have.

This is from the homemade birth announcements sent when my daughter was born. We, as first time parents, didn’t have a clue! But I have to say, I think our definition of parenthood was pretty accurate.

What we didn’t know far outweighed what we did know, but other parents were quick to fill in the blanks.

Why is it when you are pregnant, most notably for the first time, everyone is vying to tell you their delivery and birth experience? Especially if it is 20 plus hours of agony, only to culminate in a C-section. They report every gory, terrifying detail, no matter if the mom-to-be’s face is white and her eyes are rolling back in her head. These bearers of gloom & doom are oblivious to the effect their horror stories are having on the first time mom.

And then, flush with their newly earned experience, they can’t wait to relate those first months with a newborn. The mind-numbing fatigue brought on by endless nights of interrupted or no sleep. Walking around with dirty hair wearing puke stained clothes, mumbling nonsense because they have ‘mommy brain.’ Those that breast-fed reveal details I’m not about to share here.

We move on to reports of the reign of terror brought on by the toddler years, right on up to the trauma of living with and raising teenagers.

I feel qualified to write on this topic now that my baby is a 22-year-old married nurse. Because I want to alert you to something no one told me and I feel cheated, left out of the big secret. And here it is: No one tells you how much it will hurt to let them go.

It had been just the two of us for years. Our mother-daughter relationship was not without its struggles. I still assert that infancy, toddler time and teens were a fairy tale compared to the middle school years. That was our reality at any rate.

Her senior year of high school seemed to move lightning fast and with each passing day I dreaded the inevitable….moving her into that college dorm. I did my best to only let her see the happy, supportive mom. Meanwhile, I cried in secret and battled the growing anxiety. Don’t misunderstand – I was SO incredibly proud of her – the choices she had made, the way she pursued the college and the degree that was right for her. I wanted her to have every amazing moment that was before her.

I just wasn’t sure how I would forge a life for myself that didn’t include seeing her, hugging her and loving her every day.

When the day arrived, after we had set up her dorm room and made the requisite trips to Wal-Mart, feelings overwhelmed me. But remarkably, not the ones I had expected. I was certainly tearful, but more than that I felt proud. After all, this was what we both had been working toward for years and we were here! WE did it! Driving away from campus I felt very little of the apprehension I was so certain would paralyze me. I felt excited for her….excited for the life-long friendships she would make, for the adventures she would have and even for the struggles, because they would refine and define who she was to become.

We both realize that those college years cemented our bond. I was always there to offer advice if she asked for it and encouragement when she needed it. I watched her bloom and mature and I respected her ability to make her own decisions regarding her life’s direction.

One of those decisions took me by surprise, even though I saw it coming.

My baby was getting married! How did this happen already?!?! Where did the time go? She is so  young. Is she ready for this life-altering, life-long commitment? Turns out she was far more ready for it than I was.

My now son-in-law was everything a mom would pray and hope for her daughter. So what was my problem?

Well, I was losing her – at least that’s what I thought. I knew college was temporary, but this was for life. Someone else would be the priority in her life, and he should. Again, I didn’t begrudge her any of her dreams, but I wondered what they would mean to our relationship.

The answer is simple and painful. I miss her. I miss her like I never dreamed possible. I miss her with an ache that never quite abates. We talk, we text and if I ever get a grown up phone, we can talk AND see each other. But that doesn’t replace shopping with her, sharing a meal with her at our favorite restaurants, watching our favorite tv shows and movies or cooking together. Her life now is 8 1/2 hours away from mine, so any time we get these moments they are treasured. They also are often rushed and shared with others. I miss the moments that were ours alone. I miss my daughter.

So that is the part of the parenting story no one told me. It is our job as parents to nurture them, guide them and prepare them as best we can for the life they will claim as their own. I just had no idea how difficult that would be in actual practice.

Now you can’t say no one ever told you.

This is what I know…today.

 

 

 

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Go or no?

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – e.e. cummings

My beautiful smart daughter gave me a plaque and bracelet emblazoned with this quote. I was chasing a dream and she wanted me to know how proud she was.

At age 51 I had been accepted to grad school to pursue a Master’s of Social Work degree. It took me quite a lot of living and struggling, but I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I specifically wanted to work with people who were grieving. There’s a reason for that, but that’s a story for another day.

So I sent emails, plastered it on Facebook…..”I got in! I’ve been accepted. Expected graduation August 2016!”

And then doubts and uncertainties began to creep in….insidious, sly, devil on my shoulder kind of doubts. I kept yelling at them to “Shut the hell up! I CAN do this!”

But even a PollyAnna has to acknowledge some realistic truths to be able to survive in an Eyeore, cynic centered world. Those truths?

*I work full-time at a job I love. The job I love also means some evenings and weekends to be able to accommodate my volunteer’s schedules.
*After 12+ years of singledom, I married the most incredible man on April 14, 2012. That union brought be two more children to love and fuss over and a whole new extended family that I adore. I love my life. For the first time in perhaps, ever, my life has balance.

So I shared my doubts and concerns with my ever-supportive husband. He encouraged me, said we can work it out and he didn’t want me to quit before I start. I HATE that word: QUITTER! (Thanks, Dad – again a story for another day) My husband knew what buttons to push.

I ignored that deep down in my gut, knowing, and moved forward attending orientation and the first week of classes.

I had to face what I knew to be deep down true….I didn’t want this bad enough. I have struggled for years, fighting, clawing to support myself and my daughter. There wasn’t a moment to think about what I ‘wanted’ only time to do what must be done.

For reasons I can’t begin to understand, God has blessed me at this time in my life with the luxury of thinking about what I want. And what I want…..is exactly what I already have. I certainly thought the advanced degree and  potential path to a different career was what I wanted. But not enough to sacrifice what I have in my life now.

I am so grateful I had the opportunity to pursue my education. I readily acknowledge many do not. Probably many will consider me a coward and a quitter. That’s ok. Not pursuing this dream, just means I will identify and pursue others.  This blog is one of them 🙂

My concern: Would my daughter still be proud of me? Would she repo my plaque and bracelet? Thankfully no, she just wants me to be happy. Ironically, the same wish we have for our kids.

If it takes courage to grow up and be who you really are, then I have to say for today, I am exactly who I am supposed to be.

And that’s what I know….today.

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September 8, 2012 · 2:37 pm