Remembrances of Holidays Past

Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t an easy thing, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. Oh, I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But unfortunately, they are, as I said, fuzzy. Faces blur with time, as do my memories of who was really there at those early family holiday meals when my grandparents were still alive.

But the years have a way of fast-forwarding. Children grow up, adults grow older, and loved ones are gradually no longer with us. Holidays become increasingly difficult because our most special loved ones are living only in our memories, and our memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past are sometimes remembered as being a lot more “perfect” than they ever actually were.

And we’re bombarded with holiday commercials where we see families joyously sitting down together, a perfect meal on the perfectly set table, adults and children alike beautifully dressed up, everyone laughing and smiling, clinking glasses together in holiday toasts, Christmas carols playing in the background, and perfectly wrapped presents under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree.

Those are my real holiday memories. They were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family. And yes, I miss those days.

I totally understand now why my mom and her sisters used to talk about “the old days” when we were younger. Because now those “old days” I just described, that to me are just memories from what seems just a few years ago, are now “the old days” in the eyes of my daughter and her friends. How I wish I knew what “the old days” had really been like for my mother when she and her sisters and brothers were younger.

As the holiday season is ready to culminate this week with our Christmas Day celebration, I still long to look back and relive the memories of those family Christmases so long ago. But those special times, as I’ve said, still live on in the memories in my mind, shared by just a few who are still with us. We’re all scattered now, and yes, we’ve all made our own new traditions now, just as our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris and their two daughters will be doing again this year.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many of my friends are going through similar feelings, for various reasons. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy at this most festive season of the year, a season that celebrates love and family. But many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we force ourselves to wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. We’re afraid to let anyone else know; but chances are, many of those we meet while wearing that smile, are wearing that same forced smile, because they’re hurting, too.

The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think you’re alone. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way, because there’s a loss there that is still all too real, whether the loss is recent, or months or even years ago.

You may be bombarded right now with all kinds of reminders of the holiday season that trigger your emotions. Scents of spicy pumpkin, pine and spruce trees, or fresh-baked Christmas cookies. Colored lights on a tree, or glowing candles. A child’s laughter, or the sounds of Christmas carols. Though these reminders evoke memories of happier times that are now in the past, let them also be a reminder that there ARE better times coming, new memories to be made, and new delights in the smile of new friends who are yet to come into your world. While it may be difficult now, the hope and joy that is Christmas, and always has been Christmas, is just around the corner, waiting to be found. Find one thing that makes you the happiest right now, and share it with someone else as your gift to them. It’ll make you feel a bit better that you were able to share with someone, and it just may very well do the same thing for that person, too. They may end up doing the same for someone else.

We never know how we’ll impact someone else with just a small gesture, especially during this very special season. Make it your gift to someone else, even if you don’t know them. Isn’t that part of what the Christmas spirit is all about? You may be surprised at how much better it makes you feel that you’ve been able to bless someone else.

I know I’m going to try it.

How Thanksgiving Really Is

A lot of times after a big holiday we have a letdown, a time when we sit back and reflect on all the preparations and hurrying and worrying to make sure everything is perfect, and wonder, after all we did for a few hours of family time and food, was it worth it? All the work, that is.

The turkey’s been eaten, and leftovers put away. Casseroles are covered and refrigerated for tomorrow. Leftover pumpkin pie sits on the counter in case someone wants another piece.

All the work and preparation and it’s over in an hour or so. And everyone is exhausted.

Yes, we gave thanks for time together, and yes it was wonderful, although it certainly wasn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting. It never is. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, please look up Norman Rockwell and his work. Then you’ll understand.

.

At our house, it was a small gathering. Our daughter and her family, and her dad and me. And that was fine.

Now the Thanksgiving crafts Ashley brought for the kids to do didn’t quite turn out too well. Grandpa complained his crayons weren’t coloring right. Little Ryleigh lost interest quickly. Probably because she didn’t feel good. So Rachel and her mom got to have all the fun, including making a Thanksgiving hat for Daddy. Even one of our dogs decided to join in the fun and try to eat a couple of the kids’ crayons. Didn’t know yorkies liked crayons….

The food was good, even though it wasn’t all necessarily homemade. There’s nothing wrong with stovetop stuffing, turkey gravy in a jar, ready made mashed potatoes, and a frozen pumpkin pie. But I did make two casseroles myself. And Ashley and the girls made cinnamon buns from my mother’s recipe, which is our tradition.

We didn’t carve the turkey at the table; that’s just not practical. Good thing, though, because the electric knife decided to die on us when my husband started to cut it, and our son-in-law had to use his deer knife to carve the bird. He did tell us he’d cleaned it after he last used it out in the woods!

We didn’t dress up in our best clothes, like we did as kids at our grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. But we did eat in the dining room. We didn’t use our best china, but we didn’t use paper plates either. Good thing we used unbreakable dinnerware, though! You can imagine why with two little girls….

The grandkids had fun, even though they didn’t eat much. One ate three helpings (kid-sized) of corn pudding and one ate mostly cinnamon buns! Our daughter put ketchup on her turkey while her husband used hot sauce. Who else does that? And why?

The grandkids were actually more interested in running into the living room to try to play my piano and in the next minute go look out the window for Santa Claus. Rachel even said she thought she saw him on the roof and made her Daddy go look! But I guess he’d already left because they didn’t find him.

I wonder if he was starting to make his list early!

The dogs were unhappy because they weren’t allowed to be in the dining room with us, half because they wanted to be with us, and half because they knew the kids were dropping food on the floor and they wanted to help with the cleanup!

But don’t worry about their holiday dinner! They discovered the cloth napkins and tablecloth I’d thrown on the steps to take upstairs to the laundry room, and they were more than happy to grab those and run around the house with them.

Guess they wanted their Thanksgiving treats as well!

Family Thanksgiving pictures? The closest we got to that were pictures of the grandkids helping their mommy make the cinnamon buns and taking pictures of the kids modeling the Thanksgiving paper hats they’d colored.

Now tell me the truth…was your Thanksgiving more like ours or more like the picture perfect scenes you see on tv commercials and magazine ads?

I think I know the answer already. And I really wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, it’s our family, and that’s just how it is!

And if you’re wondering how my husband was able to handle all this after his heart procedure two days ago, well, that’s another story, for another time. While we wait for it to be rescheduled now that the insurance company has FINALLY sent the doctors their approval! Things do work out for the best after all. Because Thanksgiving day would have totally worn him out.

And now it’s on to getting ready for Christmas. And there’ll surely be more stories and memories to cherish.

Being Thankful 2021

(Be sure to read through it all for a surprise at the end.)

It’s almost Thanksgiving again. We’re all trying to plan our meals, figure out who will join us at our feast, as well as what everyone can bring. 

We’re trying to figure out how to prevent arguments at these family and friends dinners because, well, some of you don’t get along with each other that well, and have such uncompromising ideas that you’re afraid dinner will turn into a battleground.

People are already complaining that the cost of our traditional Thanksgiving meal is too high. We can’t get this or that and we just can’t have our dinner without it.

People are complaining that many retailers who traditionally opened after dinnertime for an early start on Christmas shopping won’t be doing it this year. They’re actually letting their employees have off to spend time with THEIR families instead of trying to deal with pushy shoppers who complain that what they stood in line to buy is gone already! 

It just isn’t fair! 

Who said life is fair? Who said we have to have certain things for dinner because it’s tradition? Is Thanksgiving going to be ruined if we have to eat chicken instead of turkey? Not, it’s not quite the same, but you do have food on the table.

You don’t want to have certain family members there because you don’t agree with them on certain things? Maybe they don’t agree with you either. Maybe you can agree to disagree for one day and leave that conversation out of your day?! Or maybe you can just forget about them this year. But do you really want to do that?

Maybe things will be different next year and you can see them then. Or maybe they won’t be around any more and you’ll never get the chance to be with them again.

Tomorrow is not promised. Next week is not promised. And next year is not promised.

When we start making holidays, say Thanksgiving for a start, only about the food and who’s cooking it, and what we can or can’t have, there’s a problem.

When we make Thanksgiving about who we don’t want as our guests instead of welcoming family members to join us for a time of fellowship, gratitude, and thankfulness, there’s a problem. When we refuse to go to our family Thanksgiving dinner because some one or two people we don’t want to see will be there, and give up going and being with others we love, there’s a problem.

When your traditional after Thanksgiving dinner early Christmas shopping can’t happen because retailers decided to give their employees off to enjoy their own families, there’s a problem.

I think we’re forgetting what Thanksgiving means. It’s not about the food. It’s not about shopping. It’s not about refusing an invitation because you don’t like someone who’s also invited, so you’d rather complain that you have nowhere to go. Because you do; you just choose not to.

And yes, I find myself starting to do that as well. I forget, too. But then I was prompted to start writing this, and as I wrote, I saw too many things inside myself that I was doing wrong.

I found myself pushing to make sure I had all the good items we “always” have for our dinner. Yes, we did get the turkey early, but we didn’t pay a fortune for it because we found a sale rather than just complaining about prices. Complaining has become the new thing to do, hasn’t it?

And if we have to change up the menu slightly from what we traditionally have, well, maybe we’ll like the changes so much we’ll keep them for next Thanksgiving. And cranberry sauce? Yeah, it’s tradition but no one really eats much of it.

As long as we can have my mother’s recipe cinnamon buns we’re good. And I ordered the hot roll mix she always used so all we need is for our daughter to make them!

And the dinner guests? Since my family lives several hours away, and my husband’s family lives halfway across the country, our dinner guests are our daughter and son-in-law and their two daughters. Over the last several years we’ve usually had several friends in the same situation; family out of town and they couldn’t get there. Or they’re newly separated or divorced and well, we won’t go there. Or some of our daughter’s friends who couldn’t get to their family celebration that year.

There’s always room at our table for one more, and many times it’s someone who’s invited at the last minute because we didn’t know they had nowhere to go.

The shopping after dinner? I can truthfully say I’ve never done that. Not even wanted to. After a big dinner and cleaning up afterwards, the last thing I want to do is go fight the crowds fighting over bargains on things they don’t really need or gifts that the recipients might not even want.

What’s wrong with stores actually letting their employees have a holiday off? Is the almighty dollar so important that the retailers should be open no matter what? Personally I’m glad a lot of them made that decision. Let families have a full day together, and that means those of you who used to take off shopping as soon as dinner was over. Spend time with the ones who are important to you while you can. The stores will be open the next day. And there will be merchandise to buy.

Now, to make our Thanksgiving even more interesting, a few days ago, a new complication was added to our Thanksgiving plans. But it’s added at the top of our “Being Thankful” list. 

My husband who’s had a history of heart issues (read his story in the Matters of the Heart series on this blog) was unexpectedly notified that after a year and a half of waiting and delays (Covid and insurance, among other things) he finally had an opening for a very important but hopefully minor heart surgery, if any heart procedure can be called minor. Two days before Thanksgiving. We took the appointment.

After a rushed several days of preparation for surgery, final meal planning and some prep for the actual dinner, and yes, finishing up the majority of our Christmas decorations, notifying our family and friends, I think we’re ready. 

Tomorrow morning he will be having a device called the Watchman inserted laparoscopically into his heart. The device is designed to prevent blood clots from breaking off and possibly causing a stroke. Which means he will finally be able to go off blood thinners at the beginning of the new year. And he should be home the next morning.

So you see, our Thanksgiving won’t be the same as other years, either. But with the help of our daughter and other friends, as well as a great surgeon and his team, we’re going to have a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day.

It may not be traditional, but it’s going to be blessed. And full of heartfelt gratitude.

So I ask you now…what are you going to be thankful for this Thanksgiving? Are you going to be grateful for what you have or complain about what you think you’re missing?

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Lost Grandmother

About a month ago a very close friend of mine lost her mother. Theirs had not always been the best of relationships, and she always told me she’d envied the relationship I’d had with my mother. Last week I received this letter from my friend in an email, and she has given me permission to share it to show that even a badly broken relationship can be healed, as long as both parties are willing to work towards it.

This is an excerpt from her story that has been included in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart,”  due to be published by the end of November.

“Dear Children, I wanted to write a little bit about your grandmother who passed away.

As you know she was my true mother, and the mother of Ken, Craig, and Elaine. She was blessed with four children. She lost custody of my brothers and me when I was five years old, and Elaine had short terms in foster care.

Through the years, and with Grandpa’s multiple marriages and long term relationships, you met a few “mom’s” who were actually stepmothers. You called them “grandma.”

My real mother loved her children; however she had multiple emotional problems that made mothering too challenging and overwhelming for her. She suffered, among other things, from mental illness, narcolepsy, and manic depression which actually required shock therapy several times in her life.

Back in the 1950’s, mental illness was not fully understood, and most people were not equipped to deal with a young mother who was so depressed she was unable to properly care for her babies and young children. We went hungry; our diapers were often unchanged; and the house was usually completely unkempt or not cleaned.

Unfortunately my dad did not have the patience or understanding to help my mother or cope with her problems. She became addicted to prescription medications, specifically amphetamines and barbiturates. When our dog had puppies, they were named after the drugs. Isn’t it weird that I remember that?

My father was not easy to be married to; he had a very harsh side, and was cruel to my mother. He must have taken her to a doctor for her to have gotten those medications, and tried to get her help, but she needed much more than that.

My brother Ken, being the oldest, remembers the most of it, and the traumatic childhood experience left scars on all of us as well as a sense of fragmentation.

My parents divorced when I was about 5 years old, right after my kindergarten year. My dad was awarded custody of us. At first we were able to see my mother, but not very often. After one of our visits to see her, something bad must have transpired, because after that visit I did not see my mother for 9 years until I turned 15.

My mother did finally marry again to a nice man named Tom, and they had my sister Elaine.

Through either my dad’s own doing, or whether on advice from an attorney or psychiatrist, he stopped allowing visitations with my mother. To my knowledge this was not done through any legal channels or court order.

I sneaked around to try and communicate with her, and when I was in high school, I had her send her letters to a friend’s address.

Growing up, I never heard a good word ever spoken about my real mother. I grew up afraid I would be like this person who was spoken about so negatively. I tried to overcome it all and prove my stepmother wrong.

grandmotherWhen I turned 18, I could openly begin communication and establish a relationship with my mother, and finally get to know my sister.

Many years went by where we only talked by phone or through letters, but not many personal visits, as I didn’t have finances for such travel. Though we didn’t see each other often, we became better and better acquainted; while we didn’t have the “normal” mother-daughter relationship, but we had a love for each other.

When my father died seven years ago, I had to sort through all of his papers. My dad had saved everything. Among those papers were letters from my mother to us; beautiful, eloquently written letters that were never given to us. If we had been given our letters, we would have known our mother loved us; that we weren’t abandoned, like we’d been told. I truly believe it would have made a big difference in our growing up to have had that security and knowledge. Why he kept them, I do not know.

There was even a letter from my mother’s mother to my father begging him to not take the children away from her. In that time period, that was how people handled these situations, and they believed it was best to sever all ties.

Yes, my mother was flawed, and did not have the easiest personality to live with. She could be difficult and self-centered; she certainly had had a hard life, and had to do many things to survive and sometimes made the wrong choices.

When Elaine called me and told me the medical team that had been caring for her had said nothing more could be done, and were recommending palliative care for her; I was compelled to go there to be with her. My mother and I had come a long way in building our relationship, and I wanted to say goodbye to her, and be there for Elaine, too. Your dad encouraged me to go. So I went. And I’m so glad I did.

Alone in my mom’s room holding vigil, I had a compelling moment; I needed to forgive my mother. I laid my hands on her forehead, and said, “Mother, I forgive you, and I love you.”

My mother passed away the next morning; I will always believe she was waiting for me, and waiting to hear those words.

I called Ken and let him know that our mother had passed away. Regardless of their broken relationship, I wanted him to know. The next day he called me and said, “I’m not a praying man, but I said a prayer for her that, “I hope she is in a better place, and I forgive her.”

The power of speaking those words of forgiveness cannot be adequately expressed with my words.

I am sorry you could not have known her as your grandmother, and become more acquainted. My mother always asked about all of you; she was interested in your lives’ and cared very much about you. All of your pictures were in her room. She was proud of each of you.

I fortunately learned to embrace the good things about my mother these last few years, and learned not to dwell on her shortcomings. After all, we all have them. I am so thankful I was able to do that and finally enjoy a good relationship with her in these last years. We had so many fun, memorable days together, and I wouldn’t have traded any of them.

My beautiful children, there is always something good, and very much to be thankful for.”

Nothing more needs to be said after this, except, “It’s never too late.” Thank you my dear friend, for writing this to your children, and thank you for sharing it so that perhaps someone else may be able to salvage such a relationship before it’s too late.

In a Little Country Church

There’s just something about those little country churches. Small. Intimate. Simply decorated. No fancy sound systems. No orchestra; not even an electronic keyboard or guitar. And certainly no PowerPoint presentation to display the words to the songs.

This one had just a simple spinet piano, with no microphones to project the music or the preacher’s message; the church was too small to need them. There were about ten rows of old wooden carved pews seating only 6-7 people per row. With hymnals and Bibles nestled in a shelf in front of us. Obviously everyone knows everyone else. Because they’ve been worshipping there for decades. And have probably worshipped there through several different preachers.

This is the type of church I grew up in, as did many of my friends.

The other day we once again visited this quaint little country church to celebrate the life of the 90 year old mother of one of our dear friends, who had advanced to her heavenly reward and joined her beloved husband, who had been called home four years previously.

Sarah Lee and her husband had been married for 67 years when he passed into eternity. Now she is with him once again. Although I’d only met her personally less than five times, I knew her through her daughter, and wished I’d had the opportunity to really have gotten to know her.

She and her husband were blessed with four children, six grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren, and most of them were in attendance to bid her farewell. She had lived her entire life in this little farming community, raising her family, working alongside her husband on their dairy farm, enjoying being a homemaker, doing her share of volunteer activities, and faithfully serving this little church as a teacher, pianist, and eventually as the first female elder in the church.

As we sat there waiting for the service to begin, listening to the pianist playing some of Sarah Lee’s favorite hymns on that old, but well-tuned piano, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia for these beautiful country churches with their small congregations. Everyone, including those of us who didn’t know hardly anyone at the service, were made to feel like part of the family, and felt like we had known them all for many years by the time we left.

Sarah Lee’s service reflected her life and the family she had adored. Held in the same church where she and her late husband had been married seventy years previously, it was obviously planned by loving family members who will always remember and honor the matriarch of the family.

A number of flower arrangements were placed around the casket, and one in particular caught my eye. It contained a stuffed Dalmatian and two toy fire trucks, sent from the county fire auxiliary of which Sarah Lee had been a charter member. I couldn’t help but remember a similar arrangement that had graced the floral remembrances for her husband a few years earlier…an
arrangement of flowers in the shape of a tractor, as a symbol of the farm life her husband had loved and been devoted to.
2016-10-20-12-06-22
Her son-in-law spoke about the woman he had obviously loved dearly, and recounted the story of how he’d once asked her who her favorite child was, and she’d told him a mother has no favorites. “I love them all equally!” Then he asked her who her favorite son-in-law was. He said she had to think about it for a few seconds before she answered, so as not to leave out anyone, “why, it’s you!” Of course, it was, since he was the only one at the time.

Nine of Sarah Lee’s relatives had formed a family choir for the service, beautifully singing three of her favorite hymns, including one of my favorites, “Amazing Grace”. And how fitting it was to have her three great-great-grandchildren “sing” along at various times; I could just imagine her watching from heaven, and smiling in approval, her beloved husband by her side once again.

As we took the short ride to the cemetery I couldn’t help but remember the last time we’d been on this drive, when her husband had been in that same hearse, which had been led to the cemetery by a huge John Deere tractor, and followed a few vehicles back by another tractor pulling a wagon with a model of a cow on it, each symbolizing the dairy farm he and his wife had worked and loved so much.

It was a small cemetery. Just as I’d remembered from the last time, the headstone already in place and marking the location of Sarah Lee’s husband, the ground already prepared to receive Sarah Lee. No amount of camouflage could disguise the preparations that had been made for the casket to be placed in the ground and covered over, after the graveside prayers had been said.

Watching the pallbearers bringing their precious responsibility to the site, I was reminded of a scene in my own life ten years ago, when my own precious mother was laid to rest. It’s a surreal feeling. You’re there, but you’re really NOT there. Unless you’ve sat in one of those graveside family chairs, you can’t comprehend.

Prayers were said, more tears were shed, for a well-loved mother, aunt, grandmother, great- grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. One by one, each of the pallbearers took off their boutonnieres, kissed them, and laid them on top of the casket; their final duties completed.

It was then time to begin to heal, and continue family traditions with those who were left behind, remembering, and never forgetting this very special woman.

Whether we attend a small rustic country church, a modern lavish cathedral, or something in between, it doesn’t matter where we worship, but Who we worship. Because God is God. He knows our hearts. He knows we love Him. And when one of our loved ones leaves this earth for their next, and final, everlasting life, He knows our pain. He knows our sorrow.

But He also knows how the story ends.

Why did this service at this little country church make such an impression?

Because of its simple, yet poignant, reminders that when our loved ones leave us, we must remember not only the essence of who they were and how much they were loved and will be missed, but, as Sarah Lee’s preacher said during the service, “Death tries to have the last word, but it does not. We belong to God in this life, and in the life to come.” We say goodbye for now, but in reality, it’s “See you later.”

Sarah Lee, we’ll see you later!

I Didn’t Get to Say Goodbye

“Everyone hug your parents and tell them you love them. My heart was shattered into a million pieces tonight. Not sure how I’ll ever be whole again! I just want to wake up from this horrible nightmare.”

Words from another daughter who lost her mother totally unexpectedly. Without warning.

It’s never easy. Even when we’re expecting it, it’s terribly hard.

When it’s unexpected, it’s even harder. And when it’s your last surviving parent, that’s far worse. Because you’ve joined the adult orphan society, and you hadn’t even requested membership.

In the past eight months I’ve had two friends who lost their mothers unexpectedly. One actually found her mother dead when she went to pick her up for church. The other received the news just yesterday from one of her mom’s friends who’d found her at home on the floor, after not being able to reach her for a day or so.

The unexpected death of a parent, especially a mother, is traumatic. A thousand thoughts go thru your mind at the same time. What you should’ve done, how you should’ve been there and stopped it (which you couldn’t have), wondering how you’ll get thru the next hour, the next few days. The rest of your life….

You want to call her and talk to her, hear her voice again. You want to hug her again, and feel her hugging you back. And you want to wake up tomorrow morning and find out it was all a horrible dream. In fact, when you wake up the next morning, for just a few seconds you’ve forgotten, and everything’s fine.

Then you remember it isn’t fine. And won’t be again for quite a long time. The darkness comes over you, overwhelms you, and there’s no relief. You don’t know where to turn to make it better, because you can’t.

But you need your time to grieve. Time to be inconsolably sad. Time to take out all of the memories in your heart and your head and replay them. Because they’re suddenly all you have left of her. There’s an empty feeling of despair you can’t stop, and don’t think will ever go away.

But it will.

You will gradually, slowly, recover. Everyone recovers in their own time. In their own way. There’s no formula for it. There’s no way to stop the pain, because with loving someone that deeply, there comes that deep pain of loss.

We daughters experience it so strongly when our mothers leave us, whether expected or not. We were part of them, living inside of them, for nine months. And when they leave us, a part of us goes with them.

To my friend, I can only offer my heartfelt sorrow as I hear your sobs, your cries, your heartache. I can offer you a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen to your grief. I can offer my own stories of survival after that first devastating news sinks in.

I can offer my prayers and I can assure you that you will survive. Even though you don’t think you will right now.

“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

But my friend, the night is long, and the morning seems to take forever to get here. The night in this case lasts far longer than the 8-10 hours we’re used to. It can last for months.

But when that morning finally starts to appear, with that first hint of pinkish light, you slowly begin to heal. Your tears have all been caught and saved, and the Lord begins to pour then back over you as a refreshing shower of his grace and love. A renewal you need so badly.

My friend, I can’t make it better, or easier. But I can assure you that one day you will once again be ok. It just doesn’t seem like it right now.

When Families Feud

It’s not a game like on TV. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And certainly no one would want to watch it.

Because when families feud in real life, there’s no prizes; nobody wins anything. Because everyone is too busy making other family members choose who to believe in an often senseless argument, taking sides, spreading rumors and often lies about this person or that, and causing unnecessary strife and dissension.

All because someone, or several someones, think they’re right and everyone else is wrong. And they set out to prove it to the rest of the world.

And by the time it’s all said and done, no one can even remember what started it. Or when. Or why. But they sure remember WHO started it…not them. Someone else. The funny thing is, there are usually at least two or three people saying two or three other people started whatever it was.

Sadly, everyone is usually too busy accusing others than to bother to try to end the feud. Because it’s more important to be right. And to be right at any cost. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt; or how many innocent bystanders are dragged into a family situation that should be kept private, and be resolved privately.

It doesn’t matter that family members become estranged, and remain that way for years, even decades, and sometimes only a family tragedy will get everyone back together again. At least for a time.

Usually there’s no one specific reason the feud started. It usually starts with a seemingly innocuous comment that someone takes the wrong way, and before you know it, it’s a forest fire raging out of control. And putting it out requires a lot more time, energy, and manpower than most families are willing to give.

Family feuds have been going on for centuries. They’re nothing new. Sometimes people are killed because of them. Wars have even started and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, because of family strife.

I think it’s time to look at each of our families and see if there’s a feud brewing. And stop it before it starts.

If there is a feud going on, whether you think you started it, or someone else did, do your part to end it. Cutting family members out of your life does nothing but destroy the family itself, and in the end, when it’s no longer a possibility to ever make things right again, you’ll regret it.

I know a number of families going through this very thing right now. No families are perfect. But this message is for everyone who reads it. There are no accusations, and no taking sides. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just time for families to band together and love each other the way families are intended to do.

Before it’s too late.

One Day, A Cure

I have lost family members to Alzheimer’s. I have several friends who have lost family members to Alzheimer’s. We are losing a friend of 35+ years to Alzheimer’s, and he is in our age group.

Recently I wrote a three part blog about our friend, called “Remembering Chuck”, detailing some of the challenges he and his family have been going through. The other day his oldest daughter Katy shared my blog post on her Facebook, with the following message:

“I’m not usually one for sharing super personal things online, but this is a struggle I know many have gone through and may yet have to.

I saw my dad this past Christmas for the first time in several years. Living so far away, I had heard from my sisters and mom how quickly his Alzheimer’s had progressed, and I thought because I understood it logically that I would be able to handle seeing him in person. That was…not the case. I had to turn away to hide my tears because it was just so clear how far gone he is. It was painful to hear him ask me if I was dating anyone (when he was at my wedding several years ago) and to describe living with his parents, who have been dead now for 51 years. And then to turn around and call me Katybug, as he always did when I was a kid. Some things are there and some aren’t.

I’ll be honest – going through this with my dad has been a drawn-out mourning process. I catch myself referring to him in past tense as if he were already gone, and honestly…in a lot of ways, he is. The difference is that he’s technically still around, and my grief over his loss has been extended over a decade rather than hitting all at once if he had died. Part of me feels like when he finally passes away, it will be easier because I’ve had time to process it (and because I know the happiness that awaits him on the other side). But if my experience this Christmas is any indication, it may not be after all.

Alzheimer’s sucks, especially of the early-onset variety, and I live in fear that it’s my future, too. I can only hope that I have more time to prepare than he did.”

Sobering thoughts from a young lady in her mid-twenties. She has two younger sisters, who are probably feeling and thinking the same things.

I was twenty-five years older than Katy when my uncles and my aunt started experiencing the effects of this disease. It was terrible to watch. Seeing a loved one you’ve known all your life as vibrant, active, full of life, turn into someone who sometimes doesn’t know who you are or anything about you is heart-wrenching.

I watched my mother’s oldest sister as she went through the stages of this disease, and although, like Katy, I wasn’t there all the time to see her descent into the valley of Alzheimer’s, along with hearing almost daily reports from my mother, I also saw Aunt Mary every couple of months, and the change I saw in her each time was terribly upsetting. She progressed to where she didn’t know where she was or what she was doing, or even who she was.

Many of you thankfully haven’t yet been touched by this disease. Oh, you may think you have because you’ve heard of a favorite celebrity who’s affected by it and think, “Oh, how horrible this is. They’re so great, so talented, what a shame. I feel so bad for them.” And then you forget about them.

You have no idea. Until it’s personal. Then it hits you. Then you understand.

What about my uncle who rose from being a minimum wage office boy to the comptroller of an international corporation? He developed Alzheimer’s and died not knowing who any of us were, or who he was, not knowing how to even eat or button a button.

What about my friend’s mother who not only raised five beautiful children, but had been a popular teacher, a successful realtor, and a deacon in her church for years? Who at the end of her life couldn’t speak, or focus her eyes on anything, or even pray to the Lord she had served most of her life.

What about another friend’s mother whose savings were depleted because of her illness and had to be placed in a state-sponsored facility because her children couldn’t afford anywhere else? Her mind would still function briefly but in her times of lucidity would cry out for her own parents who’d been dead for fifty years or more, because she thought she was a teenager and still living with them.

There are as many different stories of Alzheimer’s patients as there are people who suffer with it. Yes, it greatly affects the person who has it, but we cannot forget that person’s loved ones who are living it day to day in a different way. The patient doesn’t know he or she isn’t remembering things; to them, everything is just the way it should be in their own private world.

But for those of us whose loved ones are going through this, it’s a nightmarish reality that never ends. We try to rationalize their behavior and deny anything is wrong until we are finally forced to admit what’s happening. We cannot bring back our loved one’s memory; we cannot rationalize the “new normal” our loved one has become. They may still look like that person, but there’s a vacancy in their eyes and a look on their face that tells us everything is forever changed. We desperately want them back, but it can’t happen.

And yes, we mourn. As Katy, said we mourn while they are still alive because the person we knew them as is no longer there. We mourn our own loss of the last few years with them. We mourn because there are grandchildren missing out on knowing their grandparents. And we mourn because our loved ones are missing out on even more. Fortunately they don’t realize it.

But we do. And, like Katy, I cannot help but wonder if I will be on that road as well. And if that time comes, I may not even know I’m on that road, but my daughter and grandchildren would, and I cannot bear that thought.

One day, please, let there be a cure, as well as a prevention, for this awful disease. Before it grabs any more of us.

But I’ve Been So Busy…

“Yes, Dad. I know. I want to come see you, too, but I’ve got a lot to do right now. How’re you feeling? Oh, I’m sorry. What did the doctor say? Ok. Well, be sure to take those pills. I’ll try to get by on Sunday after church. It may be late afternoon, though, because we have to go to a committee meeting after service, and we always go to lunch with the group afterwards. Tomorrow? Well, I’d like to, but the grandkids have a soccer game and then we told them we’d take them all out for pizza. We don’t want to disappoint them.”

Glenn’s dad lived twenty minutes away from him. In fact, his dad’s house was actually on the way to and from Glenn’s job. His dad had dementia, and heart problems, and hadn’t been getting along too well recently. Glenn loved his dad, but it seemed he could never make the time to go see him like he said he wanted to. Other things always seemed to intrude, and then he’d forget he’d promised to do something for him.

In fact, his dad usually had to call him to see how HE was, rather than Glenn calling him. Plus, he really didn’t enjoy going to see his dad, because of the memory issues, and it seemed his dad always wanted him to stay with him longer than Glenn had the time to do.

Then one day a few weeks after that conversation, Glenn got a call from the hospital. His dad had been rushed there by ambulance with severe chest pains and difficulty breathing. He suddenly realized he’d promised to go see him, but never made it over there. Something came up…and he hadn’t even called to tell his dad he wasn’t coming.

Glenn headed to the hospital, swearing to himself if his dad made it, things would change. He’d go see him more, do things for him. Take him to dinner with the grandkids even.

But Glenn was too late. He’d put off doing what he should do one too many times. He didn’t even make it to the hospital in time to even say, “I love you, Dad.” He’d gotten this really important phone call as he was leaving, and in that fifteen minutes he was on the phone, his father went home to be with the Lord.

Glenn was filled with guilt. He started thinking back on how many times he’d visited his dad over the past six months. It didn’t even add up to once a month. If only he’d taken the time when he could…what difference would an hour or so have made in his important busy schedule, which didn’t seem so important right now. Last week it would’ve been a hassle. Now he’d give anything to have to rearrange that schedule to see his dad alive just one more time.

Too often we put other things in front of our loved ones. We think we have all the time in the world to see them, do something with them. We don’t want to interrupt our own lives, our own priorities, to make time for someone we really care about. After all, they’ll certainly understand. They know we care about them, but they certainly know how busy we are.

Hindsight is always 20/20, as I’ve written many times. If only we knew THEN what we know NOW, we certainly would have done things a lot different. But life doesn’t work like that. We all have choices to make in our lives; priorities to determine. Sometimes we make the right choices, and sometimes we don’t.

I will be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this at times. I think we all are. But to what degree do we allow ourselves to continually put ourselves and our own desires over those of our friends and family? Particularly our elderly family members? How often do we think, oh, everything is probably ok with them. I’ll check on them later; they know how much I care about them. I’m really busy with……right now.

Do they really know you care? Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes. How would you feel if the situation were reversed? Would you feel deserted? Abandoned? Would you be upset that people you thought cared about you didn’t care enough to check on you when you were having problems?

It’s easy to let the busy-ness of our lives take over and rearrange our priorities, until our lives become so self-centered we don’t even realize what we’re doing. Then it’s often too late to make amends.

Are you too busy? If you think you are, stop and figure out what you can cut out of that busy-ness of your life so you can make time for some things that really count. Call a friend who’s going through a tough time and see how they’re doing. Go visit an elderly relative who’s alone. Call some friends you haven’t connected with in a while and get together and catch up.
Tomorrow is not promised. Today is only what we make it, and I am going to put aside some of my own busy-ness for someone else I care about.

How about you?

Remembrances from Thanksgiving

This year I find myself having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. Maybe it’s because of the stress of the past several months which have taken a toll on our family, particularly me. Or maybe it’s just more realization that as we get older, there are so many changes in our lives that we have no control over. People, both family and friends, have passed out of our lives for various reasons, and many times we either cannot, or do not, get them back.

To compound these feelings of the holiday blues, this year there have been a number of serious illnesses and deaths of friends’ family members that have added to the remembrances of loss I’ve been feeling. This is also the first year our daughter is living in her own home with her new husband, and although we’re very happy for them, it’s still a bittersweet feeling having our only child married and starting her own family. And hosting the Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in her new home!

Thanksgiving was always a fun-filled time when we were all growing up. At least that’s how I remember it. There was always tons of food, and so many people crowded around the table. Everyone was happy, and getting along, making jokes with each other, as well as talking about plans for Christmas and visits to Santa Claus. It was definitely a simpler time, at least through my eyes as a youngster. As far as I knew, there were no worries about money, jobs, health issues, or any other number of problems that affect our families.

Or maybe as a child, we just didn’t notice those problems.

Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t easy, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But they’re that…fuzzy.

I have much better memories of those later family holiday dinners at my mother’s house. The food was wonderful, but it wasn’t picture perfect, nor served in all matching china. And we weren’t all dressed up in our best clothes. We were comfortable, in our casual clothes, and my mom and my aunts were all still wearing their aprons when we sat down to eat. We “toasted” with iced tea and soda, while my two uncles grabbed food from the plates that were passed around, with Uncle Jay dropping almost as much on the floor as went on his plate (and since he was usually the only one wearing a tie, you can imagine food went on that, too!)! The television was on in the next room, and everyone was talking at the same time. And as soon as we kids finished eating, we got up and either played games, argued good-naturedly with each other, or watched a movie on tv.serving dinner

Those days were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family.

As the years went by, things changed, as they always do. Children grew up and had children of their own, and holiday dinners weren’t the same, because my aunts and uncles now spent holidays with their grown children and THEIR children. The big family dinners continued for a while, just not at holidays. My husband and I continued Thanksgiving traditions at my mother’s as long as possible, and usually with my aunt and her grown children.

As the years fast forward, holidays become increasingly difficult because our special loved ones are living now only in our memories, and not seated at the table with us. Those memories of Thanksgivings past can sometimes hurt more than they can make us smile. In my dreams I imagine the ones who are already there getting together in heaven to still share a very special Thanksgiving dinner, probably in my mother’s heavenly mansion. With Uncle Jay still spilling food on his tie! And waiting for us to join them.
turkey-560
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many friends going through similar feelings. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy because it’s the start of the holiday season. Many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we make ourselves wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. But there are more out there than you know.

The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way. Call a close friend and talk about it. If you know someone who’s hurting, call them and welcome them into your home. You never know how significant a small gesture can be to someone this time of year. Nor do you know what new memories will be made.

An Empty Chair

For nine years there has been an empty chair at our holiday table. Although the actual chairs that are pulled up to the table may be filled with family and friends, there is still an emptiness at our table that will never be completely filled again.

Even though it’s now been nine years, it still feels empty…like my mother should be sitting there with us, talking and smiling, and eating her small portions of food like she did for so many years. (She never was a big eater, and I can honestly say I cannot ever remember her having seconds of anything, at any meal!)

Unfortunately in our family, like many others, these empty chairs have multiplied over the years. My father’s chair was the first to be empty in my family, 56 years ago. And it was followed over the years with both sets of my grandparents, numerous aunts and uncles, and close friends of our family.
image
Although we know that this is an inevitable part of life, part of what happens as we and our children grow older, it still doesn’t make it easier.

The first Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other special holiday dinner following the passing of our loved one is the most difficult, and many books, stories, poems, and even songs have been written about it. We’re advised to do something to honor their memory that year, to make it less painful. Sometimes is helps; sometimes it doesn’t.

But what about the subsequent years? Does the missing automatically stop? Of course not, but somehow the pain eases a bit with each year. The memories are there, the empty chair(s) is still a memory at the table; eventually there are enough empty chairs in our memory to fill an entire separate table.

If you look closely in your memories, you can still see each and every one of your missing loved ones, just as they used to be, happy and healthy and alive…all sitting at the table in the room with you. Joining you in your celebration in spirit, and especially in your heart.

Yes, there may be a chair, or several chairs, that are physically empty, but in our hearts those chairs will always be full.

Be Thankful

Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away. A day that families traditionally get together to enjoy a huge meal and each other’s company. It seems we take so long to prepare all the food, put out our best dishes and silverware, and then in just a quick 20-30 minutes, it’s all over with, the table is cleared, food put away, and then everyone goes their separate ways until the next time. Is that your day?

But what if you don’t have family nearby? What if you can’t get home to be with them? Do you have friends to visit and enjoy the traditional meal with?

For many people, Thanksgiving is a stressful holiday. I said that myself just the other day. We’re bombarded with ads about family meals, showing families getting together for joyous times and fellowship, everyone laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Is that really how it is at your Thanksgiving celebration?

Many people at this time of year don’t have the luxury of these traditional family meals anymore, because their families are too spread out, or no longer with them. Many people don’t even have good friends they can go and eat their Thanksgiving meal with. It becomes not only stressful, but lonesome, and a very sad and depressing time.
SEA_TG_GP0392

So this Thanksgiving day, why not take the time to remember your friends and neighbors who may not have somewhere to go and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. If you’re having a big dinner, set the table for one or two more people and invite them over. If you’re going somewhere, call your host and ask if you could bring someone with you. After all, this holiday is about being thankful and grateful for what you have. And one of the best ways to do that is to think of others who may be less fortunate than you.

Yes, it’s something we’ve heard a lot, but this year, why not stop and do more than think about it. Do something about it. The year my mother passed away (a month before Thanksgiving) was particularly hard for my remaining small family. I didn’t know what we were going to do, and how I was going to get through the holiday. All the memories of those past Thanksgivings were filling my mind, and making me so nostalgic and sad I didn’t even want to have a holiday! Then some very good friends asked us to come share their Thanksgiving meal with them, and it was a gesture I’ll never forget. It meant so much to us at a very difficult time. Good deeds are always rewarded, and this is the time to step out.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be blessed!