Monday, October 23, 2017

An Easter Miracle

How is it that after someone you love dies, time moves on even when it feel like its standing still?
Philosophers, poets and writers have tried to answer that question since time began. I don't have the answer. I just know that, by what I can only imagine is the Grace of God, it does. When you heart is broken into something resembling a 1000 piece jig saw puzzle and there are no directions on how to put it together, somehow it mends. When some else dies and it cracks again, God stitches the old wound and the new wound together into a patchwork of healed scars.

Fifteen years ago, when I watched my mother draw a breath then counted the seconds before she took another but none came, I sat by her bed and tried to imagine being a motherless child. Then I did what any kid would do, ran down the long hospital corridor sounding the alarm.

"My mother isn't breathing."
"My mother isn't breathing."

 Want to see doctors, nurses, CNAs, and cleaning ladies turn white then spring into action? Try shouting "my mother isn't breathing" in a cardiac ward and see what happens. Actually, I don't advise that.  In fact, it is the one thing I still regret about my mother's passing. That I didn't sit quietly with her and feel what was happening. I didn't stay long enough to wash her wrinkled body and tenderly hand her over to the men who would cart her away in a black zippered bag. Instead I slipped her wedding rings off her finger, listened as the doctor pronounced her deceased in a much more dignified way than I had, and went home to be with my father who had been talked into leaving the hospital by a gaggle of concerned daughters and grandchildren. We thought he needed to rest. I know now he was the one who needed to sit by his wife of 60+ years, not me. That's not to say it wasn't one of the most meaningful moments in my life.

The last line of the poem After A While (byVeronica A. Shoffstall) reads, "with every goodbye you learn." After my mother's passing fifteen years ago I did learn to say goodbye is a gentler, quieter way. I've said goodbye to my son-in-law, my father, my aunt, my uncle, and several friends. I now know there is no reason to rush. While dying is forever, life continues.  Taking how ever much time you need with a person is an important part of the eastering effect of grieving. Even if you are not religious, or believe in a Holy Resurrection watch how Mother Nature does it.  Orange and yellow leaves that once were green with life, wither and let go in Autumn. Winter is a time to rest and reflect on memories of things past. In the Spring, despite El Ninos and global warming, dogwoods blossom, tulips stick their pointy heads out from under the snow, and God repaints the earth with every shade of green you can imagine. Even when you think winter will never end, it does. So it is with grieving.

In the years since my mother died, I've moved through the proverbial stages of grief. I've read books, said prayers, cried like a baby, and shared joyful memories. Yes, joyful. I smile when I see a photo of mom in a black crepe dress serving up the first Thanksgiving dinner in her new home, or make nuts and bolts for a family reunion, or curl up under a quilt made from her favorite shirts, or make the bed (which I've never been able to do as well as she did), or catch a whiff of 4711 perfume (which is a very rare occurrence), or hear that the Jags won a game, or wear her gold beads, or hold her newest great grandson.  And it might sound weird, but every time I use a certain kitchen spatula with a burn mark on the handle worn smooth from use, to slather mayonnaise on a sandwhich, I remember my mother as she used to be, not as she was the last time I saw her.  In my book, that's an Easter miracle.

I miss you Mama,
Merry ME

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Holy Moly

I knew it had been quite some time since I'd posted anything here, but had no idea it had been since December. Where does the time go?

Is there anyone out there still reading this blog.  I don't know what happened, but the words just quit coming. And maybe I got lazy. One's muse leaving town and being lazy is a deadly combination, especially for a blogger.

Well if you're still here, I'd like to redirect you to a new blog. (I know that doesn't make any sense - not writing one place then starting in another. It's kind of like having 5 pairs of jeans, but knowing in your heart of hearts that you really need the ones that are sale staring you in the face.)

The new blog Crazy Maizey  chronicles the life of my son's dog, Maizey. She has been diagnosed with cancer. We all feel very sad.  Right now Maizey doesn't even appear to be sick. She limps now and then, but can plays, swims, and beats up her brother like always. For some reason, learning about dog cancer made me want to write again. I have no idea what the connection is.

I took the bait. Decide to run with it. I've even had a few of those nights where I can't fall asleep because the words seem to spill out on my pillow. I don't know how long it will last, but I'm going with it. If you are are interested, come follow the story of a man and his dog, and a mom who loves them both. As usual, I love your comments.

Thanks for your long-time support.
Merry ME

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life Stories

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
Marcus Tullius Cicero


It's happened again. Someone I know died. While Michael Phelps racked up an unprecedented number of medals and Simone Biles vaulted her way into gymnastic history books, my daughter's father-in-law drew his lasts breath.  I know, I know. People die every minute every day. People die in numbers too great to comprehend. Dying is part of the circle of life. It's when the circle narrows to include someone you know or love that death is no longer something that only happens to someone else.

A few weeks ago, my uncle went in for back surgery.  A man so full of life, it never occurred to him or any of us that something could go wrong - horribly wrong.  Complications that had nothing to do with his back sent him into another 4 hours of surgery from which he did not recover. And just like that, the once robust man, my mother's youngest brother, the end of a generation, died. No time for goodbyes. Final I love yous were whispered into the air as life support machines slowed to a stop. Another chapter in the book of life ended.

As the maker of memory bears I have listened to many heart-felt stories. One mother wants a bear, but can't yet part with the shirt her son was wearing before a hit and run driver ended his life. A few months before my uncle died I grabbed an old Vietnam era USMC shirt from the box of memorabilia we'd been searching through, never guessing I'd turn it  into a bear as a reminder of his years of service. I've made bears from quilts pieced together by a loving mother's hands; from the surfing shorts of a young man who couldn't kick his addiction to opiates; from a veteran's combat uniform with cigarette butts still in one of the many pockets; from a beloved grandfather's red and black buffalo plaid hunting jacket; from a souvenir concert T-shirt; from clothes cut from a mother's body in an emergency room. Over the past weekend, while making five bears, I've contemplated how a woman who wore bright, yellow and pink tie-dyed T's could be so ravaged by alcohol that she chose to end her life. The answer, I suppose, lies in the question. Alcohol, like cancer, knows no boundaries.

Having sat next to both my parents as they crossed from this life to the next, I am no stranger to death or its partner grief. I know that each passing is different and each person's experience is different. My goal is to comfort the living by remembering the life, not the death. Making bears helps me do that.

I believe some infinitesimal part of a person remains in the clothes I use to create  bears. I know it sounds weird. I can't explain it. Maybe it's like the butterfly effect. A person's vibrations keep dancing across time even after they are gone.  If I believe there are no coincidences, only God moments, then I have to believe the clothes I have been given are the ones that hold the most sentient pieces of that person. A never-ending trace of the Divine?

Or maybe it's the stories. I always ask for stories about the deceased before I start a bear.  At most any memorial service stories abound that will make you laugh and/or cry.  I wish there was a way to know, really know, a person before you are sitting in a church pew listening to an eulogy.  I've found by the time someone is ready for me to make a bear, they are ready to tell the stories - of life, death, joy, and sorrow. My job is to be present, to listen. Every storyteller, needs a good listener. It's an honor for me to do so.

In the time it's taken me to write this people have died. None of us knows when our turn will come. It behooves us all to make the best of the time we have. We don't have to win gold medals. We just need to be the best we can be. We need to be kind to one another. We need to tell our stories. And we need to listen to others'.


"To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, 
completely and freshly, to what is before us, 
not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. 
In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, 
with a willingness to be changed by what we hear."
Mark Nepo

What's your story?
Merry  ME




Monday, August 8, 2016

Book Review

Misadventures of a Happy Heart
A Memoir of Life Beyond Disabilities

by Amy Quincy

When E-books first came out, I was of the I'll-never-buy-one-because-I-like-the-feel-of-a-book-in-my-hand school of thought. Then I bought one. Then two. Then enough more to realize reading on a Nook was infinitely easier than holding a bound book and turning the pages, especially when reading in bed. Which is where I usually read. I also like the fact that I can make the font bigger to match my diminishing eye sight. I got a new pair of glasses last week and was amazed at how clear and bright the world looked through the new prescription. The saleswoman put a card with tee-tiny writing on it under my nose and I could read with no difficulty at all. Until I got home. Now I'm having to move my head either up or down depending on whether I'm looking far away or close up. Perhaps I should have saved the money I spent on new glasses and bought a larger Nook.

None of that made any difference when I picked up my friend Amy Quincy's newly published, signed with the author's shaky "A,"paperback Misadventures of a Happy Heart A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability. It had been a long time coming. As members of the same writers group, I've been a spectator and cheerleader as Misadventures gestated from wistful idea to finished product. Like an excited aunt, I wanted to hold the book in my hands, turn the crisp, white pages, inhale the words. Words that hadn't exactly been written in blood, but had been baptized by sweat, spilled wine and more than a few 4-letter words.

Misadventures of a Happy Heart is a memoir. It's the story of how Amy picked up the pieces of her life and moved forward when, at the age of 30-something, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in her brain's prime real estate - the brain stem. With a degree in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing, Amy had been published before the stroke. As with most writers, however, she had to fit writing in somewhere between work and everyday life. In an odd twist of fate, the stroke provided Amy with the time to do what she always wanted to do - write. For 6 years, Amy plugged away with one finger typing at the heart-racing speed of 9 words a minute. Her life as a massage therapist may have ended when the stroke robbed her of clear vision, the ability to walk, clear speech and control of most of her body. But it did not take away her ability or desire to tell stories.

Amy's post-stroke life included a lengthy hospital stay, rehabilitation training, physical therapy, adaptive therapy (horseback riding, soccer, tennis, skiing, and surfing to name a few) and the re-emergence of her once independent self. Amy eventually moved back into her own apartment with her cat, Bella and dog, Frankie. Today she can be seen driving her power chair around her neighborhood to buy groceries, get her hair cut, walk Frankie, or visit with friends at the local Starbucks. In the years that I've known Amy I've seen her maneuver in and out of handicapped vans and cars not much bigger than her wheelchair. I've helped her into hot tubs, mountain cabins, gas station bathrooms and tight shower stalls with no handicapped bars to grab onto. I've poured wine in her sippy cup on more than one occasion. With a determination she must have been born with, because how else could have come so far, Amy never gave up on her dream of writing a book.

"Three paramedics arrive. They're all good-looking. I mouth the word, "cute" to Lee Anne over their bent heads and raise my eyebrows suggestively. She catches it and smiles. I scan for wedding rings. There's just something about a take-charge, good-in-a-crisis man."

Amy's remarkable story begins when she notices some tingling in her lips. Upon examination, one doctor told her to have surgery, another told her "don't let anyone touch you." Before she could get a third opinion, the stoke happened and the decision was taken out of her hands. Amy writes with candor and humor about drug-induced conspiracies while in the rehab hospital. She writes honestly about "the unmentionables." Reading Misadventures of a Happy Heart is like being invited to Amy's house for Thanksgiving dinner and having a ringside seat to her sometimes difficult, sometimes dysfunctional, but always endearing family. Amy's style of writing is laugh-out-loud funny. It will bring you to tears. Try as you might you will be unable to feel sorry for Amy.

With uncompromising dignity, grace and humility Amy is miracle. She knows it and so will you when you've finished reading her book. Yet Amy has no desire to become a poster child for the disabled.  Instead, she's done the one thing she's always wanted to do. She told her story "with the increased urgency of someone who's been given another chance." If you're like me when you've finished Misadventures of a Happy Heart you'll go straight to Google to find everything Amy's ever written. If we're lucky, she's already working on her next book. Don't be surprised if it has something to do with a girl, a wheelchair and a trip to Mexico.

For more of Amy's writings check out her website at www.amyfquincy.wordpress.com; you can also follow her on Face book https://www.facebook.com/MisadventuresofAHappyHeart/home; you can even buy an e-book version of Misadventures of A Happy Heart at Amazon here.

Feeling really proud of a fellow writer,
Merry ME

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Letters


Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

John O'Donohue*

I attended a home going, celebration of life, memorial service, funeral yesterday. It matters not what a final farewell is called - it's still saying goodbye to someone you love. A sea of 300 people, most dressed in white (per family wishes) packed a church built to hold a crowd, but still bulged at the seams. Along with the weeping there was singing, praising, hugging, praying, and remembering.

I watched as the deceased's brother walked stoically in front of the gold draped casket. As the priest, it fell to him to dig deep to find the strength to say the words that would comfort the mourners. Her mother and twin sister needed the help of others to get to their seats. That's when I began to cry. I felt their pain. I felt my own.

I've been in their shoes. I've had to make that long slow walk with wobbly knees. I've endured the heartache. I understand how the loss of a loved one is about as individual a pain as anyone can ever feel, and a communal emotion known to all of us since Adam and Eve buried Abel.

It would seem that people of faith - any faith - would have it easy. We believe our loved one is "in a better place." We trust our loved one is the arms of the Divine. We pray that our loved one rests in peace. Yet no matter how much or how little faith one has, how many prayers are offered,  how many casseroles shared, the mourner's journey is one each of us must make in our own time and own way. I don't think there is a word to describe moving through the gut-wrenching brokenness, to somehow living through endless days and nights, to somehow remembering how to breathe again, to somehow seeing calendar years pass by. Hard doesn't come close.

The Japanese have a tradition/philosophy of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and powdered metals, such as gold or silver. In this way "Kintsugi art" transforms the broken piece into something beautiful. Resurrects it into a new, perhaps stronger, life. Perhaps this is what the mourner's path is all about - resurrection. Not just for the person who died. But for the ones left behind who must learn how to live without that person. If ordinary pieces of Oriental china can be "re-purposed" by making cracks and scars visible, it follows (doesn't it?) that grief can do the same thing for the mourner.  By traveling through grief's desert, those who mourn will, even if they don't think it can possible happen, one day bloom again. Is that why Jesus said "blessed are those who mourn"? Because He knew that their unbearable loss would one day be turned into undeniable strength?

Today I met with a family who lost their son in 2014. We talked about making bears from their son's clothes. Eighteen months after his death, they still held on to the shirts, as if holding on to their son. The thought of cutting up his clothes brought them heartache. My job is to turn their pieces of cloth into tangible, huggable bears.

_ _ _ _ 

Dear people who have lost someone they love,

I've been where you are. 
I've felt the sadness, cried the tears. 
I've had to remind myself to breathe. 
I've carried the thousand pound weight of grief on my shoulders for days, weeks, years. 
I've come out the other side. Shaken yet steadfast. Rent yet resilient. 
I'm no authority on the subject. I'm not saying it will be easy. I'm not saying you won't always miss your beloved, but I promise the day will come when you will:
Stop crying.
Want to see the sun again, or hear the ocean.
Find a reason to smile.
Remember your beloved in life, rather than death.
Forgive your beloved* for leaving.
Hear your beloved's favorite song in a grocery store and not run out leaving a basketful of cookies, chips and ice cream.
Want to know something and ask Google instead of calling your beloved.
Stop wearing your beloved's sweater and hang it in the back of the closet.
Use your mother's china/sterling silver/sewing machine. 
Make your beloved's favorite meal again.
Find yourself wanting to wear a brightly colored dress instead of black yoga pants and ratty T-shirts.
See lovers holding hands, making goo goo eyes at each other and not want to throw up.
Return to the places you and your beloved once frequented.
Gain/lose the grief weight.
Give up your stock in Kleenex, Tums and/or Visine.
Take a walk instead of a Valium.
Try something new.
Paint your walls a sunny shade of yellow.
Buy yourself some flowers.
Go on a date.
Take a trip by yourself,
Let go of what might have been to embrace what is.
Volunteer to help others.
Feel grateful to be alive.


Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all,
Merry ME

*Substitute any name for beloved
*From a beautiful blessing by John O'Donohue. Please read the whole thing here





Letters


Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

John O'Donohue*

I attended a home going, celebration of life, memorial service, funeral yesterday. It matters not what a final farewell is called - it's still saying goodbye to someone you love. A sea of 300 people, most dressed in white (per family wishes) packed a church built to hold a crowd, but still bulged at the seams. Along with the weeping there was singing, praising, hugging, praying, and remembering.

I watched as the deceased's brother walked stoically in front of the gold draped casket. As the priest, it fell to him to dig deep to find the strength to say the words that would comfort the mourners. Her mother and twin sister needed the help of others to get to their seats. That's when I began to cry. I felt their pain. I felt my own.

I've been in their shoes. I've had to make that long slow walk with wobbly knees. I've endured the heartache. I understand how the loss of a loved one is about as individual a pain as anyone can ever feel, and a communal emotion known to all of us since Adam and Eve buried Abel.

It would seem that people of faith - any faith - would have it easy. We believe our loved one is "in a better place." We trust our loved one is the arms of the Divine. We pray that our loved one rests in peace. Yet no matter how much or how little faith one has, how many prayers are offered,  how many casseroles shared, the mourner's journey is one each of us must make in our own time and own way. I don't think there is a word to describe moving through the gut-wrenching brokenness, to somehow living through endless days and nights, to somehow remembering how to breathe again, to somehow seeing calendar years pass by. Hard doesn't come close.

The Japanese have a tradition/philosophy of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and powdered metals, such as gold or silver. In this way "Kintsugi art" transforms the broken piece into something beautiful. Resurrects it into a new, perhaps stronger, life. Perhaps this is what the mourner's path is all about - resurrection. Not just for the person who died. But for the ones left behind who must learn how to live without that person. If ordinary pieces of Oriental china can be "re-purposed" by making cracks and scars visible, it follows (doesn't it?) that grief can do the same thing for the mourner.  By traveling through grief's desert, those who mourn will, even if they don't think it can possible happen, one day bloom again. Is that why Jesus said "blessed are those who mourn"? Because He knew that their unbearable loss would one day be turned into undeniable strength?

Today I met with a family who lost their son in 2014. We talked about making bears from their son's clothes. Eighteen months after his death, they still held on to the shirts, as if holding on to their son. The thought of cutting up his clothes brought them heartache. My job is to turn their pieces of cloth into tangible, huggable bears.

_ _ _ _ 

Dear people who have lost someone they love,

I've been where you are. 
I've felt the sadness, cried the tears. 
I've had to remind myself to breathe. 
I've carried the thousand pound weight of grief on my shoulders for days, weeks, years. 
I've come out the other side. Shaken yet steadfast. Rent yet resilient. 
I'm no authority on the subject. I'm not saying it will be easy. I'm not saying you won't always miss your beloved, but I promise the day will come when you will:
Stop crying.
Want to see the sun again, or hear the ocean.
Find a reason to smile.
Remember your beloved in life, rather than death.
Forgive your beloved* for leaving.
Hear your beloved's favorite song in a grocery store and not run out leaving a basketful of cookies, chips and ice cream.
Want to know something and ask Google instead of calling your beloved.
Stop wearing your beloved's sweater and hang it in the back of the closet.
Use your mother's china/sterling silver/sewing machine. 
Make your beloved's favorite meal again.
Find yourself wanting to wear a brightly colored dress instead of black yoga pants and ratty T-shirts.
See lovers holding hands, making goo goo eyes at each other and not want to throw up.
Return to the places you and your beloved once frequented.
Gain/lose the grief weight.
Give up your stock in Kleenex, Tums and/or Visine.
Take a walk instead of a Valium.
Try something new.
Paint your walls a sunny shade of yellow.
Buy yourself some flowers.
Go on a date.
Take a trip by yourself,
Let go of what might have been to embrace what is.
Volunteer to help others.
Feel grateful to be alive.


Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all,
Merry ME

*Substitute any name for beloved
*From a beautiful blessing by John O'Donohue. Please read the whole thing here





Thursday, June 16, 2016

Letters

"Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body."
Martha Graham


June 16, 2016

Dear Slightly Overweight Girl,

Let's be honest your size and shape are not that of the ordinary ballerina. Ashamedly that's what first caught my eye. In a group of small girls, your body type singled you out. But here's the thing, I found it impossible to take my eyes off you.  Not because of your size - that faded away after the first arabesque. What drew me in was your grace. Your smile. Your obvious love of what you were doing. 

You're being "you" in a field of "others" reminded me of the Hot Dog Princess I saw on FB last week. Invited to her dance class's princess party, this independent thinker, stepped into a room full of  satin and lace clad Elsas and Annas, wearing a hot dog costume. An article in inquisitor.com* said "Hot Dog Princess has become a symbol of hope for anyone hiding behind a mask of conformity."

I don't think your purpose for dancing was to stand out. I'm guessing your unadulterated motive was to dance. Your size had nothing to do with it. And that showed in every step you took. 


I wonder if you've already heard the naysayers. You're not thin enough. You have to have long legs. Remember this, they said the same things to Misty Copeland and look where she is now. Maybe being a ballerina is not your lifetime goal. That's ok. What you are developing now is probably more important than jetes and pas de deux's. You've learned discipline, poise, grace. You've stepped onto a stage where blending in is often more important than standing out and discovered the joy that comes from following your heart and being true to yourself. 


I don't know you. I may never see you again. Yet I am so proud of you. May all your dreams come true. May you continue to dance to the music of your own heart. 


Delighted in the beauty of you,

Merry Me