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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Letters

Villefranche-sur-Mer
France
24 March 1922

Dear Mother Combs,
(Half-way down page 2)
We have been very happy, too, both of us like to stay at home and play with the baby.
Honestly, without prejudice, I will say that Patricia Combs Aldrich is the sweetest and best baby I ever saw. We both love her almost too much. She is growing fast and is getting smarter every day.
...
Best of love to all,
Clarence

June 15, 2016

Dear Mom,
You sure have been on my mind a lot lately. John thinks Maizey has been waking up in the middle of the night because she sees a ghost. We always kidded that it was Mick Shrock up there. Jack and I are pretty sure there are spirits downstairs - usually wandering down the hall. I wish I knew if for sure if you and or Dad were hanging around. And if so, why? Is that what souls do?

Linda and I went up to Georgia in April to go through Aldrich family memorabilia. Perhaps if spirits are real, you went with us. We had such a good time. There was lots of laughing. Lots of story telling. Some crying and missing people who meant so much to us. Lots of speculating about relationships. Perhaps, for me, the best part of the whole trip was the box of letters I brought home. Reading them is like peeking through a window in time, getting a glimpse of the young Grammy and Grampy and Great Grammy and Great Grampy, when their futures were still dreamy. I feel sad that I wasn't able to know them as an adult. My kid's eye view was pretty narrow.

Linda is quite excited about getting all the Aldrich genealogy put into a computer. Lately I've been researching Aunt Letty's first marriage. I have the faintest memory of you wearing a royal blue dress. In a letter to his father, your Dad describes the wedding as quite an affair.

I haven't made too many quilts lately. My creative projects have slowed to a snail's pace. Mostly I make bears from the clothes of people who have died. I call them memory bears. Linda made each of the sisters one from Dad's well worn Haband shirts.  I made quilts for all of us from your shirts. I found the cutting wasn't so hard, but the sewing together was. Not the sewing per se, but the act of making something new from something old. I didn't want to let go of the old. I wanted you sitting on the stool watching TV than cutting up your clothes. That said, having the quilt to curl up under is very comforting.

That's the way the bears are. In making them, I've found that I can almost feel the person, I wonder if part of the soul resides in something so mundane as a shirt that's been washed and worn a million times. Recently a woman asked me to make 5 bears for her from her mother's clothes. It's only been a few months since her mother passed away. I could feel her raw emotions in her words. I always ask about the person because I want to tap into that spirit thing if it's there. I've actually done it. When this lady told me her mother was a quilter and she was going to learn to quilt so she could finish the projects her mom had started, I told her about how you would sneak up behind me in the dining room when I was sewing away on a quilt. Or how you'd stand over me when I was on the floor arranging squares. Aphasia took your voice, but not your eye for beauty or creativity. I'm not sure I ever told you how much I loved those times together. Remember the summer you taught me how to sew? What a gift you gave me without even realizing it. You probably didn't give it a second thought. That's what mother's did back then. Do you remember ironing on hot summer afternoons? It looked like a chore to me. I've found ironing can be very zen like. Maybe that's something else you knew that would take years for me to learn.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me if I knew how hospitals take care of a body after the person has died. With unexpected tears trickling down my cheeks, I admitted I didn't. I remember everything about the day you left us. Oh how I wish we'd known what was happening. I wish someone had told us so you could have died peacefully right here at home. I wish that we hadn't talked Dad into leaving the hospital. With good intentions we tried to spare him a long death vigil. I wish I'd known then how sacred this period of time can be. I wish I'd known then how touchingly beautiful the act of washing a person's body after death can be. I wish I'd known then to sit quietly with you, that your heart had stopped beating but your maybe your spirit continued to hover in the room. And, in answer to my friend's question, I wish I'd known then how a hospital cares for a body.  I am so sorry I left you. Yeh, I thought it was important to get home to dad. And probably I needed to runaway as fast as I could to the place I've always gone when I needed my mom most, under the covers. Oprah says "when you know better you do better." I knew better and did better when Daddy passed away.

Memories keep you close, still it's hard to be a girl without her mom.
Missing you,
Merry ME