Just One More Day

All of us who’ve lost a loved one have said this, and said it many times.

“If I could have just one more day with you…a special day we’ve already had that we could relive…how wonderful that would be! I remember the day we……”

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago who had recently lost her mother, and we were discussing particular times and events we particularly remembered with our moms, and reminisced how wonderful it would be if we could just live a few of those special times over again.

Which, of course, got me thinking about a very special time with my mother. I remember it so well, down to so many details….

What day do you remember that you’d like to relive one more time with your loved one?

For me, the answer is simple: my mother’s 92nd birthday. Why that particular day? Because it was one of the last times her memory was actually clear. One of the last times she allowed herself to enjoy having a birthday. She never wanted anyone to know it was her birthday, let alone make a big deal of it; she always said it was just another day. But this day was one of the very last times my mom, my daughter Ashley, my aunt (Mom’s sister), and I were together and able to have fun and laugh together like schoolgirls.

My mother’s memory had been slowly fading for a few years, and I had no idea how much longer we would be able to leave her by herself. Ashley and I had come to visit her for a few days so we could be with her on her birthday.

The day didn’t start well. Mom saw me putting presents in the car and thought it was her sister’s birthday, and was upset she didn’t have anything for her. I had to explain that it was HER birthday, and the gifts were for her, not her sister. She ignored that statement, or else didn’t really understand what I’d said.

We got to the restaurant and went to our table. At first Mom was really depressed and quiet, and it was hard to carry on a conversation with her. My aunt and I talked, while Ashley tried to get her grandmother interested in something. She told her about her own 16th birthday she’d just celebrated, even though she’d already told her several times, so they decided to celebrate Ashley’s birthday!

Suddenly the mom I’d always known was back! The mom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. She started talking, and even eating her lunch (which she didn’t ever enjoy doing), and by the time the waitress brought out her birthday cake, she was laughing and even smiling! Something she hadn’t done in so very long….. I took so many pictures of her that day, and she didn’t mind, like she usually did. She even blew out the candles on her cake and helped serve it! Usually she’d sit there and let someone else do it because she didn’t want anyone to know what was going on.

At one point my aunt spilled her coke, and some of it went in the cake, and my mom laughed more than I’d seen her do in years! We stayed at the restaurant for so long, I was beginning to think they’d try to kick us out. One of the presents I’d bought her was a book called “A Mother’s Legacy”. It was full of questions for her to answer so we could always remember things about her and her childhood. She and her sister had a wonderful time with it, reading and answering almost every question in it, and laughing like teenagers, having a wonderful time, just like we all used to all do. Mom had more energy than I’d seen in ages.

It was a wonderful day. And for that time, as brief it was, I had my mother back, the way she used to be before the aging process started stealing her memories. It was truly a gift from the Lord, and I have thanked Him so many times for this special day. I’d gladly relive it as many times as possible.

We never know when the time will come that our loved ones will no longer be here with us. Each day with them is a gift to treasure. Because those days are numbered, and one day we will all be wishing for that one special day to be repeated.

What day would you relive with your loved one if you could? Please feel free to share in the comments below. We’d love to share your memories.

A Promise Kept

Almost two years ago I had to make a tough decision, like many of you have had to do as well. And it wasn’t easy. It was a decision we’ve had to make several times before, and each time it’s awful.

For those of you who are pet lovers, you’ll understand what I’m talking about very quickly. Because our fur babies are part of our family, from the first moment we bring them home. They jump into our hearts and make their nest, and we quickly wonder what we ever did without them.

And all too soon, we end up saying a tearful good bye. Because their lifespans are much shorter than people’s, and even though we know that from the beginning, we still pour our hearts and our love into each one of our special pets.

And they do the same for us.

Over the years I’ve had both dogs and cats. I’ve loved each and every one of them, and cried buckets of tears when it was time to say goodbye.

It was really bad when just two weeks after our daughter’s wedding, we had to say goodbye to Angel dog, my mother’s Pekingese that we had cared for since my mom’s death ten years before. I felt like I was losing the last part of my mother I still had left.

As I was crying and sobbing, my dear husband told me he could just picture little Angel running on her now arthritis-free legs, right up to the door of my mom’s heavenly mansion and barking to be let in, and happily joining my mom’s other dogs she’d had over the years that had been waiting for her at the Rainbow Bridge. I can only imagine what a wonderful furry reunion that must have been!

But I was still heartbroken….

Then a year later I had to say a very teary goodbye to my very favorite cat, Princess, a beautiful black tortoiseshell Persian with curly whiskers and the most wonderful purr I’d ever heard. I put off the decision as long as I could, but sadly I finally had no choice but to let her go to the Rainbow Bridge.

Again, I was heartbroken, but before she left, Princess gave me a promise that she’d send me a new kitty that looked just like her. And she told me all about the Rainbow Bridge where pets go when they pass on to their next life, waiting for us to join them, or going to meet their owners who have already left them for their heavenly home.

And I held on to her promise.

I didn’t realize how it would turn out, though. And certainly it wasn’t like I’d thought.

You see, Princess had promised to send me a kitty just like her. I tried and tried, with no success, to find the one she’d promised me. She was nowhere to be found.

But what I didn’t know, was that all along Princess Kitty had had something better in mind, and she just didn’t want to spoil the surprise she had for me. And she knew I wouldn’t mind if she changed things around a bit.

About a year ago I was involved in an auto accident. It was a bad one, and it threw me into a depression I hadn’t expected. It affected me in ways I never expected. And I needed something to bring me out of my funk. But nothing seemed to be able to help.

And then, out of the blue, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that she needed a new home for her Yorkie, because she just couldn’t keep him any more. He needed a home where he could run outside and play, where he would have people who’d love him as much as she did, but could give him the attention he deserved.

Now I’ve always had a thing for Yorkies; I’ve always wanted one. For about 40 years, but who’s counting? What an opportunity! Of course I immediately contacted her!

Obviously Princess Kitty had planned a surprise for me I’d never expected. As much as I love our kitties, I also love Yorkies, and this was my chance!

And two days later, Benji joined our family. I don’t know who was happier, my husband or me. Because Benji’s an awesome dog, perfect for us, sweet and loving and loyal. Plus he’s willing to put up with my dressing him in doggie t shirts and bandanas, and taking his picture with Santa and the Easter Bunny!

I knew Princess had sent him to us. She knew how much I’d always wanted a Yorkie, and she took care of it. And maybe she just didn’t want us to have another kitty who looked like her. Because she really was one of a kind.

As much as we adore our Benji we felt guilty leaving him all by himself while we went to work. He needed a friend. So a few months ago the search began for a sister for Benji.

And it wasn’t easy. It had to be the right doggie, younger, but not too young. A little girl dog who needed a new home, and a big brother to show her around, to protect her. Someone to play with, and to go squirrel hunting with. A doggie who needed to be rescued.

That wasn’t easy either.

But suddenly after three months of searching, we had the opportunity to get Benji a sister. Someone had turned in a 4 month old little girl Yorkie-Shih tzu mix to a local animal shelter. She’d been spayed, and would be up for adoption the next day. As soon as we saw her picture I knew she was perfect! And that Benji would be really happy with her.

We just had to make it happen. Come on Princess Kitty, help us out here! You promised!

The shelter opened the next day at noon. My husband Ben was there by 11:45 and there were already 14 people ahead of him in line. Most of them wanting this particular dog. But one by one people started dropping out of line. Some didn’t want to wait until noon to go in, and some didn’t want to pay the $100 adoption fee!

And then there were only two people ahead of him. Both wanting the dog WE wanted…

When the shelter opened everyone went in and had an opportunity to look at the dog they wanted from a distance, and then fill out an application for adoption.

Afterwards everyone went in one on one to play with the dog for a few minutes. The first people came out a few minutes later and said they’d decided on a bigger dog.

So then there were two.

While Ben and the other lady were waiting for their turns they had been talking, and he’d told her he wanted to get the dog for his wife’s birthday gift, and how our other dog needed a playmate!

When the lady went in to play with the doggie, it seemed like she was in there forever. All this time I was waiting to hear from Ben, and…nothing. I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was a nervous wreck…and I’d not even seen this little one in person!

Then all of a sudden he texted me and said, “she’s ours!” Princess Kitty came through! The lady had come out after seeing the doggie and playing with her, walked up to Ben, and said, “I’ve decided to bless you and let you have her for your wife’s birthday present.”

An hour and a half later I finally met little Chloe in person. She was sitting in the front seat of Ben’s car, wagging her tail at us, and smiling like only a newly rescued puppy can smile! She knew she finally had her fur-ever home!

And now Benji has a little sister, who’s already following him everywhere, sleeping beside him, and yes, irritating him on occasion. Because that’s what little sisters do.

Princess Kitty kept her promise to me, and although she didn’t send me another kitty that looked like her, she sent us two wonderful furry friends that have already taken over our house, filling it with more love, assorted dog toys mixed among our granddaughter’s toys, and a jar of dog treats sitting on the counter beside the (human) cookie jar.

Princess Kitty kept her promise in her own way. After all, cats do their own thing, and make their own rules. They keep their promises, but sometimes in their own way. And I have to say. I’m thrilled at the way she kept her promise.

Benji and Chloe are the perfect pair of dogs for us. We couldn’t be happier at the way Princess worked things out!

And one day when we see Princess again, we’ll be able to thank her in person!

Note: If you’re looking for a fur-ever friend, whether it’s a dog or cat, please consider your local animal shelter, SPCA, or rescue organization. They have many animals looking for a loving, fur-ever home. You won’t be disappointed.

Artwork by Stella Violano…Fine Art America

Want to read the other stories in this series?
Meet Me at the Rainbow Bridge
The Bridge is Calling

Missing Thanksgiving

No I don’t mean we’re not doing Thanksgiving this year. We are. Our daughter and son-in-law are hosting it at their house, and I’m sure our granddaughter will “help” in her own special 18 month old way.

We’ll have basically the same menu as we’ve had for the last 10-15 years…some traditions do continue. But the cooks will be different. The setting will be different. And the table will be missing a lot of people who are no longer around or in our lives.

That’s what I’m missing. And this year for some reason I’m particularly missing it.

I miss the days of packing the car and driving a little over two hours to my mom’s house the night before, unpacking the car, and then starting on the food prep while my husband and daughter watched movies and played with the dog.

The next morning we’d get up early and start making pumpkin pies, cinnamon buns (with our daughter helping when she got older), putting the turkey in the oven, and then setting the table for a huge family get together, using My mom’s best china and silver. It wasn’t unusual to have ten people or more. We had a large extended family then, and Thanksgiving in particular was a special time!

I have wonderful memories of the holidays from my high school years celebrating with so many aunts and uncles. And later years as our family members dwindled and changed, we still had our special holiday celebrations, just with fewer participants.

That’s all changed now, though. My mom is gone. I don’t see my aunt and her family since they live several hours away. So it’s now my husband and me, and our daughter and son in law and our granddaughter. And we’ll have a wonderful day. That I’m sure of.

But there will be a lot that I’ll miss.

I miss having my mom with us. We never missed a Thanksgiving together. It was just a given that we’d all be together. There’s always an empty spot at the table now, even though I know she’s smiling down on us from heaven, adoring her family from afar, and especially enjoying watching her great-granddaughter Rachel as she grows.

I miss my uncles who were always such a fun part of Thanksgiving. Uncle Jay who always seemed to be ready for seconds even before most of us had finished filling our plates. How he ate so fast we never could figure out, but he always wore a little of it on his tie, and always seemed to spill just a bit on the floor for the dog who happened to be under the table waiting.

My uncle Fowler who always teased us all about something, who was always ready with a joke, and who expertly carved the turkey every year (I actually think he taught my husband a thing of two about it), wearing my aunt’s apron, and happily sampling as he went, just to be sure it was cooked properly!

My Aunt Mary made wonderful pies, and of course we had pumpkin, but she also treated us once in a while to her special mince pie which was amazing! And some years, for a really special treat, and usually at the request of my Uncle Fowler, she’d bring her “famous” angel pie, with its meringue crust, creamy lemony filling, and topped with real whipped cream and shaved bitter chocolate on top. I have her recipe, and so does the rest of the family, but none of us have ever been able to make it like she did! And we’ve certainly tried.

My Aunt Pauline would always bring the scalloped oysters, and she’d carefully put the dish together, layering the oysters just right, and the waiting to pour the milk in just before it was time to bake them. She always complained that she couldn’t get the milk amount right, but they were always delicious. Even if you didn’t particularly like oysters!

And then there were my mother’s cinnamon buns. Oh my, were they the hit of every meal! And not just on Thanksgiving! Sometimes she made two pans of them, because we all wanted leftovers, and they were so good you couldn’t stop at just one! Uncle Jay usually had at least three, because he had to save room for dessert!

We always had appetizers before, dinner. My aunt’s homemade pepper jelly over softened cream cheese (yummy!) which was later joined by her “fake” crab dip (chopped artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese). One year she told one of our guests it was crab dip, and that guest actually pulled out what she thought was a small piece of crab shell! We never did tell her what it really was, but oh did we enjoy that laugh!

Yes, I miss those days. I wouldn’t trade our family we have now for anything, but it would be so nice if we could go back in time, and take our grown up Ashley and Chris and little Rachel with us, and enjoy a Thanksgiving like we used to have, as the saying goes, “back in the day!”

But now all I have are those memories tucked in my heart, that I pull out every year at this time, and remember all the fun and wonderful times we had together. I can’t recreate them, but I can make new ones, with our growing family here, as well as friends we’ve come to call our family as well.

Yes, I’m missing Thanksgiving, but I’m missing what once was. And appreciating what is now, because the past is the past, and the future is now. We’re making new memories that our children and grandchildren will one day look back on and nostalgically remember like I just did.

To everyone reading this, may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving. May your childhood holiday memories be a comfort to you if your family is no longer around. And may you all enjoy making new memories as you travel through this newest season of your life.

Be thankful. And be blessed.

To My Mother on Mother’s Day

I want to wish you the very happiest Mother’s Day ever.

Except you’re not here to celebrate with us any more. And each Mother’s Day I continue to miss you and wish so very much you were still here. Even if it were just for this one special day.

Especially this year.

Because this would have been the year you’d celebrate Mother’s Day as a great-grandmother. Not that you weren’t a GREAT grandmother to Ashley, because you were the best! But this year you’d actually have that title. Great-grandmother. That beautiful little baby in the photo above…that’s your great-granddaughter in her first few hours of life. The little girl named after you. Almost a year ago.

She made you a great-grandmother.

And I know you’d wear that title proudly. You wouldn’t mind a bit if anyone knew your age then, because you’d wear it as a badge of honor. Because that granddaughter you’d waited so long for had given you her daughter to bestow that title on you.

So many, many times I’ve wished you could see your namesake. Baby Rachel is beautiful. A wonderful, happy, smiling little girl. We’d be four generations of strong and loving women….that would have been so wonderful.

So many times I’ve wanted to be able to call and tell you about our granddaughter, about that funny little thing she just did, or how especially cute she was that day, or how much fun all of us had taking her shopping, like you used to do with her mother.

But there are no phones in heaven. No mail delivery. No photo albums. No Skype. I can’t reach you except in my mind and in my dreams.

So many times I’ve wished we’d had smartphones when Ashley was a baby so we could’ve sent you daily pictures and videos of her like we get every day of Rachel. So many times I’ve looked at our granddaughter and seen a glimpse of your smile, your look, and suddenly felt like a part of you was still with us, laughing with us, and just loving that precious baby.

But I’m hoping that somehow you know. I’m hoping somehow you’ve seen her, seen your beloved granddaughter with her own beautiful daughter. I’m hoping you and Daddy both have had that privilege to be able to share in all our happiness.

I remember so many years ago my Aunt Ruth telling us she believed the Lord let those in heaven see the happy family occasions that were happening with their loved ones back here on earth. Because heaven is a place of total joy, and seeing their loved ones rejoicing over special occasions would only make them happier. Somehow, in some way, I still believe that to this day.

So Mom, I’m wishing you a very special Happy Mother’s Day this year. Yes, I still miss you more than words can express. I still cry on occasion because you’re not here. I still talk to you in my mind, and I hope you can hear me. And I can still hear your voice in my head saying my name.

And when our granddaughter is old enough to understand, I’m going to tell her all about you. All about the things you used to do with her mother. And I’m hopefully going to get to do those same things with Rachel. Not that my cooking skills will be anything like yours, nor will I ever be able to play “school” like you did, but I’m going to try. You were a one-of-a-kind grandmother.

Just like you were a one-of-a-kind mother. And I still will cherish this picture of our three generations on our last Mother’s Day with all three of us.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Grandmom. And Great-Grandmom. I’ll love you always.

Birthday Reflections

Funny how certain days cause us to look back and reflect on those same certain days throughout the past years. How things and circumstances around us have changed; how people have changed. And yes, how we’ve changed, and how our outlook on life has changed as well.

Birthdays when we were children were certainly different than they are for us as adults today. It’s funny, but I don’t remember having birthday parties when I was growing up. Sure we celebrated, but it was always with our family members. I don’t even have a lot of pictures from those celebrations.

In fact, the only birthday party for myself that I remember was my Sweet Sixteen. Most of us girls had them, of course. It was a rite of passage. But sadly I don’t remember finding any party pictures when I cleaned out my mom’s house. I guess since the cameras all used film that had to be developed, it was a bit expensive, so photos weren’t taken all that much.

I do remember my 21st birthday, and yes, that was a big deal for all of us that year. I was in school in North Carolina, and in a “dry” county, so we had to go to Charlotte to celebrate so I could have the traditional first legal drink of alcohol. Of course, restaurants there weren’t allowed to serve cocktails, so we had to “brown bag” it. We sure felt like real adults then!

Yes, times have changed!

I remember the year I turned 25, and said something about it to the receptionist at the TV station where I was working at the time. She had just turned 18, and I remember her comment as if it were today. “Twenty-five!?? That’s OLD!” And she meant it quite seriously. Let’s see? She’d be turning 60 this year. Wonder how she’s feeling…?

I do remember my thirtieth birthday and how old I felt. No longer in my twenties, and at the time, feeling life was passing me by, and quickly. Divorced, no one in my life, and wondering if I’d ever get where I wanted to be. And I wasn’t sure where that even was!

Ten years later, what a difference! A loving husband, a two year old daughter, and my life was finally where it should be. But the idea of turning the big 4-0 hit me differently than I expected. My husband took me away for a weekend, and surprised me with 40 balloons when we got to our hotel room. Yes, I do have a picture somewhere, but it’s not getting posted. He treated me to a great dinner, and we had a wonderful weekend, but still…I was FORTY!!! That just sounded old. And for a while I FELT old.

Fast forward ten years later…my husband and I both turned fifty, him a month earlier than me. For months he’d been dreading turning “half a century” old. Every time I mentioned his birthday, he didn’t want to hear about it. So being the nice person I am, I woke him up at one minute after his birthday started and wished him a happy birthday, and reminded him he was half a century old. I had decorated his office with all the traditional “over the hill” decorations, and even gave him a surprise party two weeks later, complete with a “This is Your Life” book I had worked on for months.

Turning fifty didn’t bother me though. I guess I’d finally gotten to the point that we can’t stop time, and really, would we WANT to? The older we get, the more mellow I think we become. And no, he didn’t do a party and such for my 50th. But he made up for it on my 51st with a limo ride and a dinner cruise with four of my girl friends!

Another ten years and we turned 60. That actually didn’t bother me either, although once again, it seemed to bother Ben just a bit. A friend gave me the idea of giving him sixty gifts, each with items relating to 60, like 60 pennies, 60 watt light bulbs (for when he had a bright idea), 60 keys (for when he lost his), etc. and each gift with a reason for giving them. Took him almost two hours to open them all! For my 60th, it was once again low key, nice dinner with friends and family. And I actually was happy being 60. After all, I’d reached the point of “what you see is what you get”, and if you didn’t like it, too bad. I am who I am.

Yes, you may have figured out by now today is my birthday. I’m 67. Sounds like an odd number to me. But you know, it’s not a bad age. I’m still in the mindset of “I am who I am” and I’m not changing for anyone. Most people say I don’t look my age, and that makes me feel good. In fact, I actually think I’m going to like being 67.

But please allow me to say I’m also somewhat nostalgic at the differences in birthday celebrations then and now. I look at the various people who have been in and out of my life over the years, and I miss them. Some have passed away, while others have just dropped out of our life, many for reasons unknown. Others have taken their place, and I welcome them for the next part of my journey.

To my loving husband Ben, our wonderful daughter and son-in-law, and our most precious granddaughter, thank you for loving me, and for being a part of many more birthdays to come. And to my dear friends who are once again joining me for another year’s celebration, thank you! And even the flamingos joined the celebration and got me a cake!

Each birthday is another treasure to be opened. It brings another year of joys and promises, surprises and delights. And I can’t wait to see what treasures will be opened today for the future.

And yes, I’m only three years away from that milestone 70th birthday! That may take on a whole new meaning…..

The Good Doctor

I recently returned to my home town again, this time not for myself, but to help my town honor one of their own with a special display about community medicine at the Julia A. Purnell museum in Snow Hill, Maryland. A display honoring a man who adopted the community from the first time he and his wife arrived there in the mid 1940’s when they were assigned there after medical school. They never left.

A man who quickly acclimated to life in our quaint small town, and quickly established a practice which lasted 60 years until he finally retired. In his eighties. And yes, he worked every one of those years, taking a few vacations here and there, but seldom straying far from his adopted town and the people he adored.

And the people adored him. He was a family doctor; an obstetrician; an eye doctor; an ear, nose and throat doctor, and of course a pediatrician. Whatever he needed to be at the time. Except for surgery; there he drew the line. And it was probably a good thing!

He worked tirelessly, never turning anyone away who needed help, whether they could pay or not. In those days, there wasn’t the same health insurance we have today. If someone had no money, they gave what they could, and it wasn’t unusual for him to bring home chickens (cleaned and ready to cook, of course), squirrel, rabbit, deer, and even the occasional quail, as payment for services rendered. As one of his sons put it so well, “our freezer was always well stocked with chicken!”

It wasn’t unusual for the family to hear a knock on the door at night, and find someone there with an emergency, and of course, they were tended to immediately, whether dinner was over or not. And there were a few cases of gunshot wounds, stabbings, and other similar situations.

For many years the good doctor had his practice in the basement of his home, with his one nurse to help out. (His wife was not a nurse; she stayed home and cared for their children. Upstairs in the living quarters.) I remember going there many times for colds, sinus infections, and various other childhood illnesses, as well as to play with his daughter and other friends, who were some of my classmates. Today, a doctor having his practice in the basement of his home would be unthinkable! No handicap access for one thing, let alone all the medical privacy regulations.

After about 15-20 years in that basement office, he finally had a separate office built, which was connected to his home by a carport, and he also put in a dirt parking lot in the back for his patients. He also added another nurse/office manager. I remember that office well, with its formica and plastic chairs in the paneled waiting room, and his old well-used wooden desk in his wood paneled office. We thought nothing of it; it looked fine to us. He was our town doctor. Everyone loved him.

He made house calls as well. For years. It was a natural sight to see him come to the house, always wearing one of his signature bow ties (I can only imagine the collection his family had by the time he passed away!), and carrying his well-used black leather medical bag full of all manner of medical instruments, some we didn’t want to know about. Many of which are now on display at the museum through October.

We all particularly remember the shots he gave. Back then they didn’t dispense all the liquids and pills of today. It was a shot of something, given by the good doctor himself. With glass hypodermics, and reusable needles. Sterilized, of course. And did we ever dread those needles…..! But we got well!

The good doctor delivered over 2,000 babies during his 60 years of practice. Many were home deliveries, preferred by any number of his patients, rather than driving the half hour trip to the nearest hospital. There were many nights he was called out in the early morning hours to bring another new life into the world. And he never complained. He loved what he did.

I was one of those 2,000+ babies. My mother had a lot of trouble carrying a child and had endured a series of miscarriages, which in those days were called spontaneous abortions. When she became pregnant with me, the good doctor put her on bed rest, where she remained for the majority of her pregnancy. Her doctor visited her probably once a week, carrying that old black bag, and making sure he did everything possible for her to be successful in bringing me into the world. His wife was also pregnant at the time, and due a couple of weeks later. I don’t know for sure but I can imagine my mom and his wife, who were friends, having lots of conversations about their pregnancies and upcoming deliveries. His wife already had three children so I’m sure she told my mom all about what to expect.

And my mother was scared, I’m sure. She’d lost other babies and didn’t want to lose another. And I was a breech birth. Whether she knew in advance or not, I don’t know. For some reason I never asked. But I’m pretty sure the good doctor knew, because when it came time for me to born, after coming out to the house, he quickly examined my mother, and told my dad, in his slow, quiet drawl, “Go ahead and get her to the hospital. Don’t speed, but don’t waste any time, either!”

I was born about 4 hours later, naturally, without a C-section. My mother said the good doctor kept watching the clock when I started arriving, because he knew he only had a certain amount of time to safely deliver me. He told her it was a girl before anything else. My mom asked if I was ok, and once again he answered in that same drawl,  “well, she has five fingers on each hand, and five toes on each foot….” And she often told the story of how he kept singing and humming as he sewed her up after the delivery. Clearly, he was as delighted as the new parents were, that their daughter had arrived safely!

I don’t think there are any doctors today who would deliver a breech birth without a C-section. And I probably wasn’t the first one he’d delivered like that.

The good doctor also came out to our home in the middle of the night thirteen years later to attend to my grandmother as she lay dying from heart failure. And he was so upset to lose his patient….

He kept up with as much of the latest medical advances as possible, reading medical journals in bed the way most people read novels. He couldn’t get enough of the world of medicine. He loved his family, but he also loved his profession.

He only retired for medical reasons, when he sadly knew he just couldn’t do it any more. And he passed away seven months later. The entire town mourned his passing.

And now, twelve years later, his beloved town of Snow Hill is honoring his memory and his devotion to his patients, by presenting a six month long exhibit on Community Medicine: the Art and Science of Healing,” highlighting the life and career of Dr. Robert Charles LaMar. The exhibit features many of the items from his practice, including his exam table, original overhead light, his “famous” diathermy machine, and many of his other instruments, as well as his cherished medical school diploma.

Dr. LaMar was one of a kind. There will never be another like him. He is greatly missed by all. We who knew him, and/or were brought into the world by him, and were treated by him, owe him a huge debt of thanks for his service and his compassion. Many of us would not be here were it not for him.

Thank you, Dr. LaMar. You were one of a kind. And you are greatly missed.

Click here for more information on the Julia A. Purnell Museum in Snow Hill.

Mom, I Wish I Could Tell You…

I have so much to tell you. Especially about last weekend. Do you know how many times I caught myself thinking…I have to remember to tell Mom that! Or, wait til I tell my mother about… Or, Mom will be so excited when I tell her who I saw…

But I can’t do that. Because you’re gone.

Even though it’s been ten years, I still have moments…lots of them…that I start to pick up my phone to punch in your number. I still remember it, you know. And probably will for many more years. That’s not something you forget when it’s been such a big part of your life.

But last weekend after my book signing, I really, REALLY have so much I want to tell you. So much I know you’d be happy to hear. So much I want to share with you.

Like my first visitors…a couple I’ve known for years. Now in their early eighties, but hardly looking even seventy. I remember when Emma and Joe were married. You and Daddy dressed up and left me to stay with my aunt and uncle while you went to the wedding. Before you left, Uncle Fowler took a picture of the two of you, and you can see me reflected in the mirror behind you, giggling like the little girl I was at the time. This couple had stories about you, and even more precious memories of my father, who had been a loyal customer at their family car dealership for many years. (Joe sold us my first car – a 1968 gold Camaro with a black vinyl top!) Mom, you would’ve loved to have seen them.

A lady who’d known you for years came by. She told me how as a young nurse she used to go to our house and give insulin shots to my grandmother when she’d lived with us. And as soon as she said that, I remembered her! I’m sure you would, too!

And Mom, a couple of ladies from your church came by as well, and told me how much they still missed you. One of them reminded me how you sat behind her every Sunday! (You all did make sure you sat in the same pew every week!) And did you know the church actually put the word out about my book signing in their bulletin? I couldn’t believe it!

Several of your former students also came by or called. They told me how much they loved you, and how you’d been their favorite teacher. How you gave them snacks every day, and taught them colors and numbers, and always made sure their day was fun!

One of your assistant teachers even came by and said you were the best teacher she’d ever taught with! And I’m sure you were!

I even got a personal note and book order when we got home from your former reading supervisor from your teaching days. She said the most wonderful things about you, including how honored she’d been to have worked with you!

And did you know some of my friends from high school had a reception for me afterwards? As you remember, a lot of them still live there, but several of them came back to town just to be there for us! Us. You and me.

Only you weren’t there. Except in our memories.

And my friends had wonderful memories of you, too.

Carol and Molly told me how you’d taught their daughters, and how one of those little girls had obviously never had to pick up her toys before. Until Mrs. Chapman taught her that’s what was expected!

Diane reminded me about the dining room set you’d given her when she and her husband were married almost 50 years ago! And she wanted me to know that same dining room set is now being used by their son and his wife. They just couldn’t bear to get rid of it. (And she bought three books! One for her and one for each of her sisters!)

I know you remember my high school best friend Laura. Of course you do. After all, her mom joined you in heaven about 6 months after you got there. She and I had a great time getting reacquainted after all these years. And I so hope we can continue to rekindle that relationship.

And my friend Jenny’s brother told us how his mom would let him walk across the field from their house to yours, watching him every second, of course, so he could go visit you. You’d give him milk and cookies and talk for a while, and then you’d walk him across the street and watch him cross the field to go back home. I’d never heard that story, but I can picture you doing it.

Everyone there remembered the parties you let us have in our basement rec room. We’d eat sandwiches and potato chips, listen to music, dance, and shoot pool for hours. Many of them remember going upstairs during the parties, just to talk to you for a few minutes, because, well, they just enjoyed your company.

Everybody loved you, Mom. I don’t think you had any idea how much.

I just wish I could tell you all about how wonderful it was to see so many people I grew up with, and how touched I was with their remembrances of you.

Many of them have already emailed me about how much they’re enjoying our story. And I’m so happy…I just wish you were here to enjoy it with me.

I miss you so much. But what an impression you made on so many people.

It was all worth it.


Note: Names of my high school friends have been changed. But you know who you are.

Going Home Again

It’s nostalgic feeling. Like nothing I can describe.

Sure, you can move away, but somehow you just never seem to totally lose contact with the people you were close to when you were growing up. Especially the ones who still live in that same area.

In my case, miles and time have separated us, but the memories and the friendships have not. The ties may have loosened for a while, but they are still there, and still intact.

The memories keep us together.

When my first book was published a few months ago, I wanted to have my first book signing in my hometown. Since the book is about my mother and the last years of her life, as well as dealing with the heartache and grief that accompanied that tragic event, it was only fitting to return to the town where I had grown up, and where my mother had been a beloved kindergarten teacher for many years. Where several of her friends still lived, and so did many of my school friends.

And I’m so glad I did.

You see, you can go home again. I did.

It may not be exactly the same as you remember, but it’s still home. There are the same streets, the same houses, the same churches. The “downtown” area is still there, only with new businesses, several owned by friends I went to school with. My old high school is there, in the same location, but with an entirely new facade and totally modern interior. But it’s still there, and as we drove past it, so many memories flooded back I was just suddenly overwhelmed. Especially when I realized I was going to see so many of those high school friends again soon.

My old house, or should I say my mother’s old house, is still there, looking almost the same, and for a brief instant I felt like we should turn the car into that U-shaped driveway and pick her up to go with us to my book signing. And every time I ride past it, my heart overflows and the memories leak out of my eyes.

But then I realized…the book was about her, and about my losing her. How I felt; how I dealt with it. How other daughters can deal with the same tragedy and survive. If she were still here, which I still wish, none of this would be happening.

This was the time I was going home to honor my mother’s memory by introducing the book I’d written about her.

I didn’t know what to expect at all. A good friend from high school was hosting my event in her gallery. Like almost all of my classmates, she’d known my mother, like probably over half the town had.

But after her being gone for ten years, would they still remember her?

Did they ever! I cannot tell you how many people came by or called, or even emailed me to tell me they remembered her; they loved and missed her; how she taught their children, or their grandchildren. Several people came by just to tell me she’d taught them, and how they still remembered her after over forty years, and what an impression she’d made on their life. My heart was so touched from the outpouring of love I experienced. Many of the visitors told me stories from her teaching days that I’d never heard. And they all told me how much she’d been loved. Not only her friends, but my friends who still live there, or who, like me, came back to their hometown for the event. To honor my mother.

There was a reception after the book signing at one of my friends’ homes, and I had the opportunity to not only reconnect with a lot more of my high school friends, but to exchange stories of our parents, since our parents all knew each other as well as we did. That’s the beauty of a small town.

You can go home again.

It won’t be the same as it was when you were growing up. Because you’re older; you’re now an adult; not the teenager growing up and ready to spread those wings and fly away. Even though, like me, when you return to your roots, to your home town, you suddenly feel you’re back in those earlier days when we were still young, when our entire life was ahead of us. When we just knew we were going to make a difference in the world.

But guess what. You and I did make a difference. We all did. In our own various ways. I learned that this weekend. We touched other people’s lives in ways we didn’t even realize, and in ways we’ll never know. Just by being who we were; who we still are.

And for a little while that weekend I wished in a way I could be living back there again, as well as in my current city. We even made a few new friends, friends we will definitely keep.

Funny how that works. I still miss my hometown.

One thing I do know, though, I can continue going home. Because my heart will always be there.

As will my memories. My memories in this daughter’s heart.

The Longest 60 Seconds

Sixty seconds isn’t really a very long time. Not in the entire scheme of things. Sure, it may feel like a long time when you’re on hold on a phone conversation, or you’re waiting for traffic light to change, or if you’re waiting for a loved one at the airport who you haven’t seen in a long time.

Or if you’re sitting in an emergency room cubicle with your husband who’s just been rushed there by ambulance because he passed out at home three times within ten minutes. Fortunately the ambulance drivers had called ahead and the ER staff had a cubicle set up for him with every monitoring device imaginable, as well as IV’s, meds, and a portable defibrillator. And we watched as they wasted no time hooking him up to all of it.

One minute you’re talking to him, and the next you’re watching him as his eyes roll back in his head, and he’s gagging for breath. While his heart monitor suddenly registers nothing. And the ER staff is so busy trying to save him they don’t even have time to ask you to step out of the cubicle into the hall. All you can do is sit there with your daughter, frozen to your chair. Not believing what you’re seeing.

Those sixty seconds become forever. And even longer. All you can do is pray that he’ll survive and be okay. There’s absolutely no time to think; no time to cry; and no time to scream. Time totally stands still as your life with your loved one flashes before your eyes, and you don’t know whether the movie playing in your mind of your life together will have any more scenes in it.

We lived that scenario a little over three years ago. And I would never ever wish that on anyone else. Ever. It’s a time when you have nothing at all to go on except your faith.

It wasn’t the first time I’d gone through heart problems with my husband, but it was definitely the worst; the most serious; the one that was life-threatening…and life changing.

Not even a year after we were married, my husband started experimenting chest pains. Typical of a young man, he ignored them and never mentioned it until one night after returning home from a concert he casually told me what had been going on. Let me just say we were quickly in the local hospital emergency room!

The next day we discovered his aortic heart valve was leaking, which necessitated open heart surgery to replace the valve. I was terrified that I’d be a widow before my first wedding anniversary, and was never so relieved when he came through the surgery with no problems. Bear in mind, this was 32 years ago, and heart surgery was not nearly as common as it is now. And although it’s still a scary prospect, it’s a procedure that’s dramatically advanced since that first surgery.

Natural replacement heart valves don’t last forever, though, and 16 years later the procedure was performed again, replacing the pig valve with a bovine (cow) valve. It was still a bit unnerving, but nothing like that first time. His recovery, fortunately, was much quicker as well.

But that moment in the ER almost ten years later when he literally was dying in front of me and our newly engaged daughter was the worst moment, and the longest 60 seconds, of my life.

There are bits and pieces from that long minute we both remember, although they’re much more vivid to me. But the most memorable, at least to him, was the young doctor who looked straight at him during the ordeal and said, “Mr. Newell, you aren’t going to die on my watch!”

And he didn’t, thank you, Lord!

Although he does joke about it now, and says he should’ve asked her how long her watch was for! But right then, at that moment, no one was laughing.

We came very close to losing him that morning. Closer than I ever want to think about. The ambulance personnel had left their EKG strips in there with him, and when a friend of ours who had been on the rescue squad for many years saw them and read them, she told us how close it had really been.

Another 60 seconds and it could’ve been a different story.

The very next day we walked out of the hospital, Ben with a newly implanted pacemaker, and me with a very grateful heart and a huge answered prayer. Thankfully God still had plans for my husband. Plans for him to be able to walk our daughter down the aisle at her wedding the following year. Plans for him to meet his first granddaughter who arrived a year after that wedding.

And I am convinced there are many more plans we don’t even know about.

Sixty seconds can be just a short stretch of time, but it can also be the longest day of your life.

Sixty seconds can be a life-changing experience. You just don’t know when it will happen.

Saying Goodbye to Herbie

I grew up an only child. Not by my parents’ choice, but it’s just how it was. We lived just outside the town limits of my little hometown, with not a lot of neighbors, especially ones with children my age, nearby.

I had the opportunity to play with other kids, at church, or when my mom would have lunch with some of her friends who had children close to my age, but a lot of the first years of my life was spent doing things with my mother. She was a stay at home mom, like most of the mothers were then, so we spent a lot of time together, playing, reading, and of course her letting me “help” her in the kitchen. Which is a whole other story, for another day!

And like many children who grew up without brothers or sisters, I missed out on having that special person close to my age to play with, to share stories with, and of course to blame when something went wrong!

So along came Herbie. Now I have no idea where Herbie came from, or even where the name came from. But Herbie quickly became my very best friend in the world. And obviously Herbie moved in with us at some point.

We’d play dolls together, and have tea parties. We’d build things with blocks, and sometimes Herbie would knock them over, and then my friend would really get scolded by me. Which meant Herbie would have to pick them up and rebuild our creation as I directed where every block was to be put!

My mother had to set a place at the table for Herbie as well. In fact, one time my dad accidentally sat on Herbie when we all sat down to eat, and poor Herbie was quite upset! Now Herbie didn’t eat what we ate, but there was certainly imaginary food for Herbie on those plates, because I’d have to fuss at my friend to make sure that plate was cleaned, or else no dessert! And I meant it, too!

Of course Herbie went almost everywhere I did, and several times when we went shopping, Herbie would almost get stepped on by one of the salespeople in the department store, and I’d have to set them straight, so it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Herbie could’ve gotten hurt.

Herbie even slept with me, and when I had to have a stuffed toy to sleep with, well, you guessed it…so did Herbie! Of course, when my mother read me a story, Herbie had to have one too, and of course Mom had to sing each of us a different lullaby every night before we could go to sleep.

Herbie didn’t stay around forever though. Once I started school my friend just sort of faded away, replaced by school friends and cousins. Gradually the memory of Herbie was sort of lost, at least to me.

But my mother remembered it all, and told me stories about Herbie and me on many different occasions. She even wondered if my daughter Ashley, also an only child, would have a friend like Herbie. (She didn’t; Herbie was one of a kind.)

Because, you see, Herbie was my imaginary friend, who lived for several years in my child’s very active imagination. I don’t know what my friend looked like. I don’t even know if Herbie was a boy or a girl. I guess I never even told my mother, or else it really wasn’t important to me, because at that age, a friend is a friend, and it really didn’t matter.

Children are quite imaginative. They can create the most wonderful stories, because children aren’t limited by conventional adult thought processes. To them, unicorns really do exist. Animals can talk, and we can carry on conversations with them. Birds can swim, and fish can fly. You really can catch a falling star and put it in your pocket. And dreams really do come true.
As I got older, the imaginative side of me faded, and went dormant. The animals stopped talking, the stars stayed in the sky. And my dreams were but a distant memory.

Like I had done many years before, I had said goodbye to Herbie.

But I know Herbie is still around. The Herbies of the world don’t ever really go away. We just stop paying attention to them, stop talking to them. We ignore them until they go away and find someone else who’ll appreciate them, who’ll nourish them and keep them alive.

Although I said goodbye to Herbie years ago, I’m sure my friend is still around, and most likely still living somewhere in my hometown, probably still in the attic at my mother’s former house, and hopefully Herbie has already befriended the kids who live there now.

And one day, I hope my friend is able to find me once again and come back for a visit. We’ll have a tea party, and talk to the animals, and catch a falling star or two.

I’ll enjoy saying hello to Herbie again.

The Sounds of Christmas

I don’t know about you, but I love the music of Christmas. (Just not played 24 hours a day on so many radio stations starting on Thanksgiving Day! That’s a bit much.)

It seems every musician has their own versions of popular Christmas songs, as ell as some that have been composed over recent years and quickly became well-loved classics. Each year it seems as if I collect a new favorite.

manger-sceneMy mother’s favorite carol was “Silent Night.” To this day I cannot hear that song, or sing it at church, without thinking about her. How she’d often explain how it made her picture the shepherds at the manger that night, seeing baby Jesus for the first time, and the wonder and amazement they felt knowing that tiny child was the savior of the world. She said she could almost feel the quiet of that night, no sound at all, until a tiny baby began to softly cry, then close His eyes to sleep in that heavenly peace.

“Away in a Manger” was also a favorite of hers, and even to this day I can’t help but think about my mom every time I hear those songs. In fact, I can almost still see that old record player we had with her favorite Bing Crosby record spinning around on it at 33 1/3 rpm. We played that record so much it got really scratchy, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying it. (I actually still have that album in storage, but of course nothing to play it on now.)

Mom also loved “The Little Drummer Boy” and taught it to every one of her kindergarten classes. That was when teachers could still talk about Christmas, have class Christmas parties the last day before school was out for the holiday, kids could give their teachers Christmas gifts, and even have Christmas pageants with the children dressed up to recreate that first Christmas.

In those early years I always enjoyed hearing “Silver Bells,” perhaps because I liked the images it created in my mind. People rushing around, dressed in heavy coats, walking past festively decorated store windows, carrying stuffed shopping bags, and walking past Salvation Army bell ringers with their silver bells tinkling away in the chilled frosty air.

snowy-christmasAnd then there’s “White Christmas.” That song was really special to a lot of us kids, because after all, who didn’t love snow back then?! Especially at Christmas time. We’d dream of waking up Christmas Eve or Christmas Day morning and finding the ground covered in snow, and it still coming down. I think we only had that happen a couple of times at Christmas while we were kids, but I have to admit, there’s still enough kid left in me that I’d really like to see it happen this year! But I’m probably still dreaming.

The old songs are wonderful classics that will never go out of style. But there have also been some other Christmas songs that have come out over the past years that have been quickly added to my list of favorites.

Although “Mary Did You Know?” came out years ago, it feels like it’s new every time I hear it. The poignant words, when you really listen to them, and digest them, so clearly detail all of the myriad of emotions Mary must have felt when she was holding her new baby. Joy, mixed with the sorrow of knowing what His future entailed. How she wanted to protect him from all of that! Yet she knew in her heart that God’s plan was so much better than hers….

“The Christmas Shoes” was recorded by the Christian vocal group Newsong in 2000. I still remember hearing it for the first time, the feelings of sadness and hope combined into one huge emotional mess, but at the same time evoking feelings of what true love really is. Christmas and faith…through the eyes of a child. And because so many of my friends have lost loved ones at this holiday season, that song will forever have a special place in my heart.

santa-reading-listThen there’s another song I keep hearing in my heart and in my mind every Christmas season. I’ve written about it before, and how I felt the first time I heard “Grown-up Christmas List” recorded by Amy Grant. That list is still in the forefront of my heart today. If only we could have just a few of the items on that list….

Yes, certain songs, certain Christmas carols, will always bring to mind memories that are beautiful, comforting, and nostalgic, making me wish I could relive certain special Christmases just one more time. But those memories will have to continue to live only in my mind, because I wouldn’t want to miss the joys of Christmas today with the ones I now have around me to love.

In our memories, past Christmases were always happy and joyful, whether they really were or not. Because the very meaning of Christmas is just that. A time of unconditional joy because of the gift of love we were given on that night so long ago.

The musical sounds of this season are special, and unlike any other. They can create emotions and memories inside of us that we didn’t even know were there.

What memories do your favorite Christmas songs bring to mind?

What Do You Do With the Gifts?

The gifts were all beautifully and lovingly wrapped, and placed carefully under the tree, name tags reading “To Mom” with love. You’d had so much fun shopping this year. It seemed like you had no trouble finding gifts for anyone, especially for her. And you couldn’t wait until Christmas morning to see her face when she opened those special gifts you’d gotten for her. It was going to be the best Christmas ever!

But then, the phone call came; or the knock on the door. And all of your Christmas plans were suddenly and irreversibly changed.

Because your world was turned upside down. And instead of merry and joyful, you were sad beyond belief, and plunged into a sea of grief and sorrow that you didn’t know existed. Unfortunately, it did. And now you were living in it, drowning in it.

And all those gifts suddenly became awful reminders that your world would never be the same, and for the next several years, Christmas would no longer be your favorite holiday, but a reminder of the deepest hurt you’ve ever felt.

Instead of having a huge family dinner, with lighted candles and your best china, you’re planning a funeral. Instead of selecting your best holiday attire, you’re searching through your closet for your most somber outfit, and selecting the final outfit that she’ll ever wear.

Christmas? It’s the furthest thing from your mind.

Until you look under the tree and those gifts are staring you in the face. You’d interspersed hers with everyone else’s as you usually did, so it would be more fun handing them out. Now you see each and every one of them as if they were all placed together in one pile. A painful reminder staring you in the face that she’s not going to be opening them. Ever.

So what do you do with the gifts?

That may sound trivial in the overall scheme of events. Some may say it’s a selfish question. Or it may sound like a simple question, one easily answered, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth of that question.

The gifts were bought for her. Wrapped with your love in brightly colored paper; tied with holiday ribbon by your own hands. To be given with love. Now they’re a painful reminder; a stab to the heart when you see them. The act of opening them when they aren’t supposed to be yours, when they were bought as gifts for your loved one, is something you can’t bring yourself to do.

If you haven’t experienced it, you cannot imagine the pain. It’s one thing to not be able to buy gifts for her that first Christmas she’s gone; it’s entirely another to have to do something with gifts already wrapped and tagged.

A friend of mine unfortunately found herself in this situation many years ago. Fortunately her husband stepped in one morning and took the gifts and put them somewhere so she didn’t have to deal with that, as well as everything else. To this day she has no idea what he did with them. Which is probably just as well.

The best advice I can give? Do what feels right for you. Have someone else handle it if you just don’t think you can. There’s no shame in that, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed over.

After all, you have enough on your mind. It’s not about the money, the cost of the gifts. It’s about your emotional well-being, and how you can best begin to heal after a traumatic loss. But it’s unfortunately something that comes up when a loved one passes away this time of year. And I’ve seen nothing written about it; no suggestions of ways to best deal with the situation and the emotions it brings.

There are a few suggestions I can offer that I’ve heard from others who’ve gone through this, instead of returning the gifts, either before or after the holiday.

One family donated the gifts to a local shelter, still wrapped, with the name tag changed to simply read “from [their loved one’s name]”. That way they knew the gifts would be put to good use and brighten someone else’s Christmas, as well as allow their loved one to make a final contribution to a charitable cause.

Another family decided to give each family member one of their loved one’s gifts to open in her memory, and then decide whether to keep it as a memento of her, or give it to someone else who would enjoy or need it. As each person opened the gift, they told a story about what their loved one would have probably said about the gift; and of course that also came with a lot of tears.

One other family said they changed the tags to “from [loved one’s name] all the way from heaven” and hid the non-personal gifts around the house to be found throughout the year. Clothing gifts were donated to charity.

It’s not easy losing a loved one at any time, but during the holiday season that loss is magnified, and any reminders of what has been lost can bring on the sadness and depression at any point. It’s natural. And expected. Leaving their Christmas gifts around can make it worse, but so can the decisions of what to do with them.

Bear in mind what your loved one would want you to do as well, if you can. Sometimes it’s hard to see further than the next few hours, let alone the next few days.

The best advice I can give…do what’s right for you. And don’t let anyone’s criticisms change your actions. Unfortunately one day they may go through this as well, if they haven’t already.

Hang in there. It does get easier over time. Next Christmas will be better. The memories will linger, and although you don’t think so now, they will gradually get easier to remember.