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.

Old Memories…New Traditions

The song starts off with: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” For many of you it is…the joys of Christmas with family and friends. Buying presents for loved ones. Holiday dinners and toasting for a new year filled with excitement. We see ads with happy faces and smiling families around the Christmas table. Old and young alike. It’s picture perfect.

Not for everyone though.

For many it emphasizes loss. What used to be and what will never be again.

And it hurts. A lot. This first holiday with missing loved ones is extremely painful. Grief hurts. Especially now. It’s no longer that most wonderful time of the year.

But we are still expected to function even as we are bombarded with reminders of what should be a happy time. All we can remember is what was, and is no more. All we have left of them are memories, and they aren’t here to make any more with us.

But Christmas comes whether you want it to or not. Maybe you don’t want to face it, but others around you who can’t totally understand your feelings are still filled with anticipation of the season. As much as you don’t feel joyous, you don’t want to spoil their happiness. But your happiness is so long gone…

While I can’t make it better, and I can’t make the hurt stop, I can give you some ideas of things we did that helped, as well as ideas from other friends.

A few years after Ashley was born, my mother had a friend knit Christmas stockings for each of us, including one for her that said “Grandmom”. The first Christmas without her, I couldn’t not hang it up; it just didn’t feel right. So hers was, and still is, in the middle of our stocking display, with a spray of red silk roses in it, her favorite flower. The Willow tree angel holding the rose on our mantle was the last one I’d given her on Mother’s Day, and stands watch over our stockings. This is the ninth Christmas without her, and that stocking is filled every year with those roses. I’m sure she’d approve.

That first year we marked a gift for each of us “From Mom” or “From Grandmom.” The funny thing is, I did it for Ben and Ashley, and didn’t tell them in advance what I was doing. Ben also did it for me without letting on to Ashley. We even gave her dog a gift and told her it was from my mom! (No, I’m sure she didn’t understand, but it made us feel better, since she had always bought Angel a Christmas toy or two!)

When I was packing up her house I had found several Christmas cards she’d bought and probably forgot where she’d put them, so I signed her name and gave them to Ben and Ashley that first year; one read “For my wonderful Granddaughter…” I think Ashley still has it.

We had also brought the Christmas ornaments home she’d used on the little tree in front of her fireplace. Ashley and I divided them up and used them on our trees. This year she proudly hung the one we gave them for expecting their first baby beside the last ornament she had given my mother…that said “Best Grandmother”. Several of my friends use their mother’s ornaments on their trees as well, and one friend actually uses all her mom’s ornaments on a tree dedicated to her mother. Another friend has taken several small collectibles that belonged to her mother and used them for Christmas ornaments.

Some people put framed pictures of their loved ones on the holiday tMemory Photoable as a way of still having them join the family. I tried it for two minutes; it was too painful, but it may not be for others. In a similar fashion, others elect to display a picture of their loved one near their tree or other place of honor, with Christmas décor around it, and sometimes even a small wrapped box as a memorial gift.

Other families have also taken special items that belonged to their loved one, and given them as Christmas gifts to family members that first year, including a note about why the item was chosen for them. One friend gave a mixing bowl to her mother’s sister, with a note telling her how she remembered watching her mom make her sister’s favorite recipe in that bowl, and she wanted her to have it as a remembrance. What she hadn’t known, was that bowl had originally been given to her mother by that sister, as a birthday gift.

I have also talked to families who would write a brief letter to their loved one every year, tie it to a helium balloon, and release it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as their gift to them.

Another family I know, whose mother was dying of cancer, recorded her reading “The Night Before Christmas” before she passed away, so that she could still continue her tradition of reading it to her grandchildren every year.

I have also h51oDJOG76fLeard of families asking friends and relatives to write a handwritten note with a memory of their loved one at the holiday season, along with a picture if they have one, and bring it to the holiday dinner. The notes are collected and placed in a basket to be read privately during the evening, or they can be read aloud for all to hear; personally I would handle it privately, as my voice still sometimes chokes when I talk about my mother, and it’s been nine years. The notes can later be made into a scrapbook or other memory book, which can be displayed each year as another special remembrance.

Many people advise grieving families to start entirely new traditions that will help ease the sadness, rather than try to do what you would normally have done when your loved one was still here. But that decision is entirely yours; there is no right or wrong way to survive holiday grief. However you choose to handle it is the right way for you, and it should be your decision.

I know it’s hard. But one thing I kept telling myself that first year, is that my mother would not have wanted us to mourn her, or be sad in any way. She would not have wanted us to do anything different just because she wasn’t around. So we chose to remember her and honor her in ways that fit her unique personality and character. And I truly believe she would have been pleased…except for the times I cried for her privately.

This year, however, will be a bit different. Because this year we will have our first grandchild, our granddaughter Rachel, who is named after my mother, celebrating with us. I cannot help but wish my mother were still here with us to see her great granddaughter, her namesake. I know how excited, and how proud she would be of her. But I also know she is celebrating Christmas in a way I can never imagine, and I know she is also watching us from heaven during those special moments the Lord allows. I know she is smiling and excited, and so very happy to see that her beloved granddaughter Ashley now has a daughter of her own.

However, the joy of our granddaughter still does not take away all of the pain of missing my mother. Because the loss is still there.

I’m sorry, Mom, but I’ll always miss you….Missing Mom Christmas

When Grief Steals Your Merry from Your Christmas

No matter how long our loved ones have been gone it seems we especially miss them at Christmas time. There are triggers everywhere which bring back memories to us of happier times, brighter times. A part of us longs for those happier days when we had those special people with this. And, oh, how we would so love to have them back with us, even for just an hour, to celebrate part of Christmas with us.

But what about those who lose their loved ones during the season? A friend of mine, whose story is told in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart”, lost her mother to a drunk driver just two days before Christmas. My friend was a newly married young woman looking forward to the best Christmas of her life. Instead, it became the worst.

Just a year ago during this holiday season two friends of ours suddenly lost their mothers within a 24 hour period. One of these friends’ mothers had only been sick for a few weeks. It appeared she had a stroke, was briefly hospitalized, and sent home. She had appeared to be somewhat recovering, and then took a turn for the worst, not being able to walk, feed herself, or see out of one eye.

Her condition deteriorated, and she was sent back to the hospital, unable to eat or drink without aspirating food into her lungs. Our friend and his wife, along with his father, went through a grueling week of stress and concern for his mother. Because she was unable to eat or drink, and her heart was quickly weakening, the decision was made to take her back to her own home with hospice care. She had only been at home for two days when she went home to be with the Lord. This woman and her husband had been married for 63 years, and the entire time she was in the hospital, her husband would not leave her side.

Our other friend had spent a great Saturday with her mother. They went shopping and were most likely finalizing family Christmas plans, and probably making arrangements for baking Christmas cookies for the annual church cookie exchange. When my friend left her mother that night she was fine. I can imagine in my mind them telling each other good night, and saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

But when my friend went to pick up her mother to take her to church the next morning, her mother was already gone. She had left sometime during the night to be with the Lord and her beloved husband of many years who had passed away several months before.

I can not in any way imagine how my friend felt when she knocked on the door, got no answer, and let herself in, calling out “Mom? I’m here. Are you ready?” And then finding her. I’m sure it was a total and devastating shock; something she will never, ever be able to put out of her mind. I cannot imagine the despair and helplessness she felt. How do you confront something like that?

And just this year, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, another good friend very unexpectedly lost her mother. She had talked to her on the phone one night, planned their weekend together, said their normal “good night, I love you’s”, and two days later, after my friend, as well as her mother’s friends, had been unable to reach her mother, Catherine received that dreaded phone call…her mom had been found unresponsive in her bedroom. She’d most likely passed away a few hours after Catherine had last told her “I love you.” Her mom hadn’t been sick; she hadn’t complained of any strange pains or ailments. We have no idea what caused her sudden demise, which left Catherine, her brother, and their families to try and put together the pieces and recover from a loss almost more devastating than losing their father several years ago had been. Because his death had been anticipated; their mother’s had not. None of them had in any way been prepared for this sudden event. But then again, are we every truly, TRULY prepared?

All of these families are very strong in their faith. But in these circumstances, no matter how strong, our spirits are shaken to the very core of our being, and as strong as our faith is, we scream out “WHY??” to the Lord. And during this Christmas season…”Why now???”

I have no answers. No one here does. Platitudes and statements like “It was her time”, “God wanted another angel”, “She’s in a better place”, “She’s with her husband and happy again” just don’t do it. We know all of that in our heads. But our hearts are shattered and crushed. Our spirits are destroyed. We don’t know how we’re going to be able to go on, and especially how we can get through this Christmas season. Because we aren’t happy or joyous. We’re miserable, devastated, and just don’t know how we’re going to get through the next day, let alone Christmas.

At times it seems we hear of more tragedies, more unexpected deaths, during the Christmas season than at other times. Or perhaps we just notice it more, because during this special season of joy and love, we want to dwell on the happiness, the joy and magic of the season, and only see the beauty and goodness that is supposed to be all around us. But when you’re hurting, when someone you dearly love is no longer here to help celebrate this special time with you, the tragedy and the grief are magnified, and finding the Merry in Christmas is almost impossible. You just want it to be over.

I cannot give you answers to make it better, because, as I said previously, I have none.

I can tell you that you will all survive. You will mourn. You will cry more tears than you realized you had inside of you. You will question God. Scream at Him. Perhaps even tell Him you don’t believe He’s even there any more. And He’s not surprised at any of these reactions. I had many of those same reactions. But He’s heard them all before. From lots of us. And He will continue to hear these cries from others in similar circumstances until we all join Him in eternity. Where we will have answers to all of our questions before we even ask them.

For my friends, I can only offer our love, our prayers, our shoulders to cry on, our arms to hug them, and our ears and hearts to listen as they pour out their grief.

For anyone who has lost a loved one at Christmas, it’s a grief that’s magnified even more because of the season. Everyone is supposed to be happy. Butchristmas-candles you’re not, and with good reason. Let me tell you, it’s ok to be sad, and it’s ok to cry; you’re not the only one in this situation. You may think you will never enjoy another Christmas, but you will. Time is a great healer, and with the Lord’s help, you will get through this.

You will make new traditions, and remembrances to honor your loved one. There will be new memories. It will be different, and uncomfortable, for the first year especially, and for several years to come. But the reason for the Christmas season will always remain the same. And because of that, we will one day be re-united with our loved ones for all of eternity. And eternity is so much longer than our stay here on earth.

Finding An Angel

For anyone who’s gone through it already, you know the pain of going through that first Christmas without your loved one is unlike almost anything else. It was bad enough when you lost him or her. You didn’t think it could get any worse. Well, it really can’t….until you lose another loved one. But going through a holiday like Christmas for the first time without that special person, when so many memories are tied into that holiday, well, it can be one of the most emotional times of that first year.

For me, there were a lot of moments during that first December without my mother, which brought not only a rush of memories, but buckets of tears and a lot of streaked makeup running down my face. Even when you finally start to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit, those memories sneak in and hit you where it hurts the most.

But somehow the Lord always gives us certain “divine appointments” with others in similar situations who also need to know they’re not alone, and He sends them right into our path to make each of us feel a bit better.

He certainly did that for me that first Christmas without my mom. Shopping that year was extremely difficult. There were so many happy faces, heading out to buy gifts for loved ones. I was missing my mother terribly, and the last thing I felt was happy. Although I’d always had trouble deciding what to buy for my mother, there were certain items I could always get her that I knew she’d like. And of course, in every store I went in that first year, there was something I started to pick up, thinking I’d get it for her. Then I’d remember, she isn’t here anymore, and it stayed on the shelf.

One evening when I was trying to shop, I overheard a lady in a gift shop talking to a friend on her cell phone about some of the Willow Tree angels she was thinking about buying. (I also collect them and had given several to my mother.) She’d made a comment to the store’s manager about how she could find the gifts she needed for her friends, but she just couldn’t get into Christmas this year. The Lord prompted me to speak up, and I said, “Neither can I.” She asked why, and I told her about my mom.

Then she told me her husband had died two months ago, about the same time as my mother, and how much she was missing him. We talked about how we each felt for several minutes, and in that time, I knew I was ministering to someone who needed comfort more than I did. She tearfully made a comment about coming in the store to look for angels, and I told her we’d both found one. Both of us cried and ended up hugging each other, like old friends. I guess the people in the store thought we were a bit crazy, but I really didn’t care.

We’d never seen each other before in our lives. Obviously we both needed to share our grief with someone we didn’t know, because Christmas is meant to be shared with loved ones more than any other holiday. Why I didn’t exchange information with her I don’t know. But I pray she has found her peace as well.

Willow_Tree_Angel

How do we make it through one of the most difficult holidays during our first year of grief? Unfortunately there are no easy answers, no right or wrong ways to survive the season. Even now, after nine years, when I stand in the kitchen making cookies, or planning Christmas dinner, or writing out a Christmas shopping list my mother’s name isn’t on anymore, or hearing “Little Drummer Boy” or “Silent Night”, it still brings back bittersweet memories, as well as a few tears.

May I never reach the point of not remembering.

And may I always find someone new to share a bit of Christmas hope and love with, just at the moment they need it the most.

Birthing a Book

A mother usually only carries her baby for no longer than nine months.

I carried one for over five years.

Five long years of starts and stops. Reliving so many painful memories that I thought at times I couldn’t do it. At times I almost gave up, and almost pushed the “delete” button.

I wondered what in the world had ever made me think I could carry this baby to term. Because when I’d begun, I had no idea what was involved. No real idea of what it took to do this project

But I persisted. I wrote; scratched out words and paragraphs; added stories; rearranged chapters; changed names; and finally had it finished.

Or so I thought. Little did I know I’d just begun. Or that that first draft was just that. A first draft, and nothing like the now finished product.

Of course after I finished that first draft, I gave it to my husband and daughter to read, and of course they thought it was great! They had very few suggestions, and urged me to go ahead and publish it.

But I knew it wasn’t time; it wasn’t ready to be born yet, because it wasn’t fully formed. It couldn’t yet breathe on its own. It still needed work.

After letting it “rest” for a while, as I’d been told by other writers to do, I picked it back up, and decided it needed some help. So I re-wrote again, moved parts around, added more stories and more advice, and wondered if I was totally crazy to attempt such a project. Who’d want to read it, anyway?

So I finished it. Again. And once again I took advice from other writers and found a friend who volunteered to read it and edit it for me.

THAT was scary! Someone was going to read it that wasn’t a family member. Someone who’d be brutally honest and tell me if it was good or bad, and show me places I needed to change. Oh. My. Gosh! Was I ready to hear the criticism and negative comments I KNEW I’d get?

I held my breath when I got that first email with her comments. I almost didn’t open it, because I KNEW she’d been sitting at her desk, reading it, and shaking her head at how amateurish, how bad it was.

But surprise! She liked it, and even complimented me on many different passages I’d written. Sure, she also told me what I needed to fix, and why, and she was right. On every point.

So I bravely once again went chapter by chapter, rewriting, and reorganizing.
That, I have to tell you, was not easy. At times I felt like I couldn’t do it, but I was encouraged by my husband and other friends, so I did.

And finally, I was done. I ran it through several spell checking programs, grammar and punctuation programs, until I knew I had to stop before I messed things up.

It was time to give birth. I’d talked to several publishers over the last few months, and selected the one I wanted. Now, let me say this; sending off that manuscript, along with the photo I wanted to use for my cover, was difficult. Scary, in fact.

What was I doing????

Then, a few days later, I received an email with the initial draft of the cover. Already. I cannot tell you how I felt seeing the title and then my name on a book cover. I almost cried.

I only hope my mother would have been happy with it. And I so wish she could see it.

Then a few days later I received the actual book layout. Another “wow” moment. It’s one thing to write it, to see the proposed cover, but another to see the manuscript actually laid out for publication. And to suddenly realize “I did this!” This is actually what it’s going to look like.

That was nothing compared to how I felt when I saw the final cover design. Front AND back. The detail was amazing. The front cover background reminded me of my grandmother’s lace tablecloth I use on special occasions. And the back…you’ll have to buy the book to see the detail for yourself.

But the final and most amazing part of this process was getting the author’s proof copy in my hand and actually holding the finished product. A five year journey culminated in a real book…with my name on it as the author, and my picture on the back cover.

All I could say was, “That’s me. It’s really me. I did it. I wrote a book and it’s being published. I’m a real author.”

book-announcementAnd now, it’s finally available for purchase. You can buy my book and read my story and enjoy poignant moments from my mother’s life; encouragement for getting through the tough times of dealing with parental aging; and receive inspiration and yes, even hope, in the knowledge that even though we eventually lose our loved ones, we continue on, and we survive.

My book has been born. My five year dream realized. What an awesome gift!

You may purchase my book directly from my publisher, Easter Press, as well as on Amazon.

I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to contact me and share your thoughts and stories as well.

Thank you Mom, for being who you were, and for inspiring me to write about the things held deep in my heart.

December 10, 2016

The Mystery of Santa Claus

This was originally published in December, 2015, but I wanted to share it once again. Because the mystery of Santa Claus is still with us!

A big part of Christmas when I was growing up, like most of my friends in my hometown, was wondering what Santa Claus was going to bring us.

Sure, we all knew the real meaning of Christmas, because back then there were nativity scenes everywhere, not just at the churches, and no one complained at all. Almost of us went to church regularly with our families, and participated in Sunday School Christmas pageants as well, so we were quite familiar with the reason for the season.

But that didn’t stop us from believing in Santa Claus, and knowing that when we got up Christmas morning, he’d have been there and left presents for us under the tree! And we couldn’t wait to see what he’d brought!

I don’t remember the first time I saw Santa and told him what I wanted for Christmas, but I did find this photo several years ago, and that may well have been At Wannamakers 4 yr oldmy first visit to see the man in the red suit. It was taken at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia, most likely in 1954 or 1955. As you can see, I was all dressed up for this special visit, in a new hat and coat my mother had probably bought for me just for this important occasion! It wasn’t real commonplace back then to take pictures of kids with Santa Claus, so this picture is even more special, and the only one I’ve found of me with him.

And from the look on my face, I can’t tell if I was excited to give him my Christmas list, or just wondering who in the world this person in that furry red suit was, and why I was there!

Back in the 1950s Santa Claus was everywhere. We never questioned why. Because he was Santa, and he was, well, a bit magical. And we never questioned how he could be in two or even three places in town at one time; we never even thought about it. He just could. We never noticed that his beard didn’t look that real, and how it didn’t feel like our own hair, and how it didn’t even look like it was actually growing on his face.

Just like we never thought about how truly impossible it was for a sled to fly through the air pulled by reindeer, who certainly can’t fly, and even if they could, they could never pull a sled all across the world in just one night while their driver had them stop at each house, go down a chimney that he certainly wouldn’t fit in, and leave a bunch of toys under someone’s Christmas tree. All those toys would never even all fit in that sled! But we didn’t stop to think about any of that.

P1070253Of course we all left milk and cookies out for him. And we expectantly checked the next morning to see if they’d been eaten. Of course, all that was left were crumbs, and a few dregs of milk in the bottom of the glass. Reason tells us there’s no way someone can eat thousands of cookies and drink gallons and gallons of milk in one night and still function, let alone deliver toys! But that never occurred to us.

We never questioned. Because that was the mystery and the magic of Santa Claus. Eventually, though, we all figured out there wasn’t really a Santa Claus. Our parents had made it all up, just like their parents before us, and probably their parents’ parents as well. But it was a huge part of our Christmas tradition. And we never got upset that he didn’t really exist when our parents told us he did. We accepted it just as one of those rites of passage of childhood into adulthood. And we made sure we didn’t let on to our friends’ younger brothers and sisters and spoil it for them!

Today some of my friends don’t believe in telling their children about Santa Claus. They’re worried that if they tell them about Santa, when they discover later on it wasn’t true, they’re afraid they won’t believe other things they’ve told them. They don’t want them to miss the true meaning of Christmas. And that’s their choice; they have a right to believe that way if they wish. But personally, I can’t imagine not growing up without my dreams of Santa!

For all of us who grew up with him, the love and mystery of Santa Claus is always going to be alive and well in our hearts, whether we’re four years old, forty years old, or even eighty-four years old.

And do you know, to this day, I’ve never figured out where my mother hid those presents that were marked “From Santa”, and how she managed to get them all under the tree to surprise me without somehow waking me up!

I wonder…….??? Is it somehow possible……..???

I Am Thankful

This post was originally written and posted on Thanksgiving, 2015. I have updated it to add new items that we are thankful for, and to remind ourselves of all that we truly continue to be thankful for.

Psalm 118:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

Today is another Thanksgiving Day. A day we eat lots of turkey, and stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We watch football, enjoy being with friends and family, and when it’s all over, we wonder where the day went!

But do we really stop to give thanks, or do we just say the words?

Today I am definitely giving thanks, because I have a lot to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my loving husband Ben of 32 years, who loves me, supports me, and stands by me in good times and bad. He is my source of strength who cares for me unconditionally; who helps me more than I ever expected, fixing dinner, cleaning the house, doing the grocery shopping, and all manner of other things he doesn’t have to do. He has supported my dreams and goals of publishing my first book, and supported me all of the way. He does it because he loves me. He is a good man, and I love him dearly.

I am also extremely thankful that Ben has survived two very frightening cardiac incidents over the past two years, one in which he coded in front of our daughter Ashley and me. I am thankful for the Lord giving us the right doctors and nurses who pulled him through and implanted a pacemaker which saved his life. I am thankful for his recovery last summer from congestive heart failure. I know God has plans for him, and will use both of these incidents as a testimony of faith, hope, and answered prayers.

I am thankful for our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris. I am so proud of them and so thankful to have had the honor of planning a beautiful wedding for them a few years ago. I am thankful for being able to watch them take their vows and become husband and wife. Such a mixture of emotions we had that day as Ben and I officially became empty nesters; our former baby bird has grown up and flown from our nest into her own, and has a wonderful new life ahead of her.

I am thankful for wonderful and close friends who stand by us, love us, and pray for us. Friends who are always available when we need them, and are willing to drop what they’re doing when we need their help. And I am thankful we are able to do the same for them. The Lord has placed some very special people in our lives, and we wouldn’t trade any of them for anything in this world.

I am thankful for the ability the Lord has given me for writing, and the people He put in my life who encouraged me and guided me as I wrote my book about my mother’s life. I am thankful for a new friend who has made perfect editorial suggestions to make this book the best it can be. And I am thankful that I will finally be publishing this book in the next few weeks.

I am thankful for memories of my family…of my many loved ones who are now gone. I am thankful to have had them in my life, and although I miss them all terribly, I am also thankful for knowing that one day we will all be reunited for eternity.

I am thankful for a job I truly enjoy and good people to work with. I am thankful for a reliable car that’s paid for. I am thankful for our home that we are able to share with others. I am thankful for good health, even through the trials of recovering from a rear end collision a year ago.

And most of all, Ben and I are both especially thankful to be proud grandparents to our first grandchild, Rachel Marie, who turned 6 months old on November 23. She is a precious gift, and we would not trade her for anything in the world! Our daughter and son-in-law are amazing parents. Truly, we have so much to be thankful for!

No matter how hard your year may have been, there are always things to be thankful for. We should all make an effort to remind ourselves every day of all that we have to be thankful for, not just be “thankful” on only one day each year.

So what are you giving thanks for? Feel free to leave your comments, and prayer requests if necessary.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If I’d Only Known.

If we could only know for sure that final visits are really final visits, what would we do differently? What more would we say? How would we feel?

“I should’ve said this…..”

“I should’ve asked her more about my dad, about their life together before I was born, and how their lives changed after I was born, and how she really felt about finally being a mom.”

“I should’ve taken her a basket of flowers, or a tray of her favorite cookies.”

“I should’ve said I was sorry for what I said years ago that caused us not to speak for so long.”

“I should’ve been a better daughter/son…”

“I should’ve said ‘I love you’ one more time….”

For me, with my mother, I should’ve asked her how she was really feeling about what she could be facing. I wanted to know – but I really don’t think I could have handled it at the time. I thought it was a conversation that could have waited. I wanted it to be a conversation that could’ve waited. So we never had it.

Unfortunately we don’t usually know the exact day and time of that last, coherent visit. The last time we’ll be able to have a conversation with them. Only God truly knows, although we can certainly get a feeling in our spirit, that we know that we know. That we KNOW. In retrospect, it’s a good thing. Could we actually bear it at the time, knowing it was the last time we’d have a conversation with our loved ones? Sometimes we know. And sometimes we don’t.

Recently a good friend of ours lost her mother. Without any warning. She had their regular conversation with her mom on Tuesday night. On Thursday afternoon she received a call that her mother had been found dead. Fortunately their last words to each other with that last call had been “I love you.”

I was fortunate enough to have talked to my mother on the phone a few hours before she left us. I’d had a good conversation with her, and was quite hopeful that she was finally doing much better, and she was so looking forward to our visiting her the next day. My last words to her were “I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.” And two hours later she was gone.

Many people are fortunate enough to be with their loved ones when they leave and graduate to heaven. But so many more of us are not. The Lord has His reasons. Or perhaps our loved ones wanted it that way. Who are we to question, even though we do? Questioning doesn’t make us any less faithful. It doesn’t make us hurt any less. It just reminds us that we’re human.

And in our human-ness we can’t help but think of all those conversations we wish we’d had. We play them over in our minds and try to imagine what our loved ones would have said to us. We can almost hear their voices in our minds, answering our questions.

We just can’t make out their words anymore.

Ten Years Later

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. So much has happened since I got that phone call from my mother that Wednesday night ten years ago. Little did I know what that one phone call would mean; what events would be triggered. And how all our lives would be changing forever.

Sure, it was to be expected eventually, but to me eventually didn’t mean then. It meant a time somewhere in the future, or so I thought.

But the future comes at unexpected moments. Tomorrow is today’s future, just like today is yesterday’s future. And on it goes.

Sometimes it feels like just a few weeks ago. Sometimes I still feel like I can pick up the phone and call her. And sometimes I don’t think about it. That is, until I happen to see a photo that reminds me of that other part of our life, back in the past.

There will always be reminders, and moments I wish we could recapture. And I really wish I could tell Mom all about our lives now; the things she missed:

Our daughter Ashley’s college graduation.

The excitement of Ashley and Chris’ engagement, of planning their wedding and shopping for wedding gowns, and I believe Mom would have joined us on that shopping trip.

Sitting beside me, holding my hand, crying together, as Ben proudly walked our daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
The excitement of Ashley and Chris announcing their pregnancy to us; with my first reaction being, of course, “I have to call my mother!” But there are no telephones in Heaven.

The fun and excitement of Ashley’s baby shower, and how proud my mother would have been to be the expectant great-grandmother!
Words cannot express how much I wish she could’ve shared the wonder and amazement as Ben and I saw our beautiful granddaughter for the first time, and how I briefly imagined I saw my own mother’s eyes looking back at me as I looked at baby Rachel for the first time.

And I so wish I could share my feelings with my mother about being a grandmother, because she always told me one day I’d understand.

We still ride through my hometown on our way to my favorite beach, but unfortunately we don’t go there nearly as often as we used to.

I still look at the house on the left on that road going into town, the house where I used to live, and wish it were still ours, even though I know we did the right thing by selling it. It doesn’t look the same, of course, and I’m sure it’s been remodeled on the inside as well. I prefer to keep my memories of it as it was. It wouldn’t be right to go through it now; it would be too painful.

One thing I don’t do very often is visit the gravesite. I don’t feel the urgency to do so. My memories live on in photographs and other rooms in my heart; the cemetery is not a place where our memories will ever live. It is not the place where my parents are now.

I also don’t regularly put flowers or wreaths on the grave anymore. That first year after we lost her, we did that regularly. And we’d talk to her, tell her how much we missed her. But it didn’t feel right. She wasn’t there to enjoy the flowers or hear us talk to her. We’d given her flowers for lots of occasions over the years, and she’d always told us flowers died, and not to waste our money on them. And trust me, I heard her in my mind telling me that each time I brought flowers to that grave!

We still honor her memory at Christmas by hanging her “Grandmom” stocking filled with the red silk roses she loved so much. This year there will be another stocking beside that one, one with the name “Rachel” on it, and my mother’s legacy will continue.

Yes, it’s been ten years. A long ten years. But I can honestly tell you, even though you may think you will never recover from your loved one’s death, you will. You will not forget them, and your heart will heal.

But you will always miss them, and remember them.

Rooms of Memories

Late at night when I can’t sleep I wander through rooms of memories in my mind. Rooms from special homes from long ago that are, sadly, only available now in my memories. And in my heart.

I’ve walked around my mother’s huge front porch that I loved so much so very many times in my mind, I could have worn a hole in its faded red concrete floor. In my dreams, sometimes my mom is even sitting out there with me, talking with me as clearly as if she were still alive.

I’ve been a little girl again, playing in my little-girl room in my mother’s house with its pink walls and white ruffled curtains, and that special handmade canopy doll bed with its pink dotted Swiss canopy and white satin bedspread sitting in front of the window. The other furniture is long gone, but that beautiful doll bed, the last piece of furniture my father made before he died, is sitting in our storage room waiting for me to make new bedclothes for it when our granddaughter is old enough to play with it.

I’ve journeyed through my mother’s attic many times in my mind, exploring and discovering things that most likely never existed, but yet I always longed to find, such as love letters between her and my dad, and diaries she’d written as a young teenager. I could see them, feel them in my hand, even open the pages and see the words written in familiar handwriting, but couldn’t make it out before the dream ended.

I’ve also had the pleasure of once again walking through my grandparents’ old home which I last walked through some fifty+ years ago, when I was only about ten or eleven.

I’ve walked around her kitchen, with its big wood stove that produced so many wonderful baked treats, and sat once again at her red Formica table with its matching chairs with the plastic covered seats, eating a slice of wood-oven toasted bread drenched with fresh cream butter…a delight we always had to have when we visited.

I’ve explored my grandmother’s attic again as well, carefully walking up those dark and very narrow steep stairs to find a treasure of old antique toys and Christmas ornaments, carefully packed away in boxes so old they almost fell apart when we brought them downstairs. I’ve gently placed my grandmother’s doll in her old doll stroller and pushed it around the attic floor, avoiding other boxes that were just waiting for my curious little girl self to open.

I’ve wandered into one of my favorite rooms at my grandmother’s house, her sun porch, with its brown wicker chairs and her old treadle sewing machine. It overlooked her little flower garden of sweet peas and “pinks”, small pink flowers more commonly known as dianthus. I’ve sat in those chairs and admired the view in the late afternoon sun.

But those rooms only exist now in my heart. My grandmother’s house was destroyed in a fire some 20+ years ago. I remember hearing about it from my mom and aunt right after it happened, and even though it had been sold probably some 25 years before, they still thought of it as the “home place.”

And I sold my mother’s house almost ten years ago, and not without buckets of tears. That was my “home place” and I still look at it with a special longing when we visit the area and drive by. It looks somewhat different around the yard, but the house still sits there and calls me by name, evoking memories and a nostalgia that it’s hard to put into words.

Our memories remember things that sometimes never really were. Or never really were exactly the same way as we remembered them. But the memories we keep in our heart are the ones most special to us.

Unfortunately sometimes we twist our memories to become things that never really were. Homes become bigger and more beautiful than they were. Lost relationships become far more perfect than they ever could have been. We forget the cracks and imperfections, making everything perfect in our minds. And if we get the chance to actually relive those memories, like walking through your childhood home now that someone else lives there, or meeting up with an old boyfriend or girlfriend you thought at the time you’d marry and spend your entire life with, you discover that your memories are far, far better than the reality of today.

Our memories of today’s events will become that way as well. We tend to remember things as we wanted them to be, and not as they really were. It’s sometimes easier that way.

Because sometimes in our memories, we can change the outcomes and rewrite the pages as we wish they’d been. We may not even recognize them as they actually occurred.

What memories do you have that you cherish? Write them down, and share them with others. One day, those precious memories may only be living on the pages of your journal.

Crickets, Frogs, and Lightning Bugs

There’s just something calming and relaxing about sitting out in a screened-in porch on a warm summer night. If you’re from anywhere in the south, or like me and from the Eastern Shore of Maryland or Virginia where it’s quite rural, you know there’s something almost magical and totally peaceful about the stillness of a country summer night.

That’s one of the very special memories I cherish from my mom’s house. She had the most wonderful screened-in front porch that stretched across the front of the house and ended in an “L” that stopped at our dining room. That porch was the best place to be in the summer, especially since we didn’t have air conditioning (hardly anyone did in the 50’s and 60’s, at least where we lived). It was always cooler out there, with a slight breeze coming through the screens
while the mosquitos stayed outside.

I can still see the white-flowered bushes surrounding that porch, with the huge carpenter bees and hummingbirds dipping their tongues in the tiny trumpet shaped blooms to get a taste of sweet nectar. The rows of sweet corn in Mom’s field, their stalks slightly swaying in the gentle evening breeze. And those beautiful clear night skies, sprinkled with stars surrounding a sometimes huge full summer moon which lit up everything around us.

But one of the best parts of relaxing out on that porch in the summer was the symphony of sound and light we experienced on the warmest of those nights; a symphony you just don’t get when living in the city.

Even on the stillest of evenings, we’d be treated to the simple pleasures of chirping crickets and croaking frogs. They’d start off “singing” with just a few soloists at a time, and within a few minutes, the soloists would be joined by a larger chorus which would have made any musician proud. My mother used to say the frogs were croaking for rain, and she was usually right.

The funny thing is, though, I never really saw the entire chorus, just a few scattered participants here and there, and usually only after the performance was over. I still wonder where they all met to present their performance, and if they ever got together to practice before those performances!

And the light shows, although not the spectacular displays of colorful neon and video walls we see at concert venues today, were simple but elegant, choreographed by an unseen Master, just for our delight. It would start out with an occasional lightning bug or two, and as twilight deepened into night, the few would become hundreds, their little lights glowing and moving through the night sky as they silently flew around from place to place. It was almost as if they were dancing to an unheard melody, delighting us children, and silently calling us to join them, as we wondered why their lights never stopped blinking, and where they went after the show was over. That is, the ones we didn’t catch in jars and take inside with us.

And the sunsets were often amazing, with pink, red, and sometimes purple skies which didn’t last nearly long enough to fully appreciate. On the hottest of summer nights we could also be treated to a show of heat lightning, with the southern sky filled with occasional bolts of thin silent white lightning, or bursts of bright light which perfectly outlined the trees in the distance and lit up the occasional clouds. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate the beauty of it all then, like I do now. And now those lights can only be seen in my memories.

As children, and even young adults, we most often do not appreciate the simple beauty of nature around us. God has blessed us with spectacular and wonderful bits of creation, if we only take a good look around us.

I didn’t appreciate the beauty nearly enough when I was experiencing it. I didn’t realize what a marvelous show He was giving us for free; the Master artist and choreographer most certainly delights in displaying His handiwork, and presents it to us absolutely free of charge. All we need to do is watch.

Now another family is living in that house that was once my mother’s, and having the experience of enjoying that wonderful symphony and spectacular light show that I only see in my memories. Most likely the great grandchildren of those crickets and frogs are singing a similar melody from the past, while other descendants of those long ago lightning bugs still dart around the yard in similar patterns from their ancestors.

Sometimes when it’s quiet at night and I’m sitting out on our own back porch I can close my eyes and imagine I’m once again back on that wonderful porch at my mother’s. This year I’m even being treated to solos and sometimes duets or even small choruses of croaking frogs, led by a bullfrog we’ve affectionately named Jeremiah. It isn’t quite the same, but the Master conductor is still leading His chorus for all of us to enjoy, just in a different theatre with different scenery.

Go outside this evening and enjoy a special performance of nature orchestrated by the Master conductor. Most likely it’ll be different from the one we’re enjoying, but it’ll be one created just for your own personal enjoyment!

And then let us know what your special performance was like!

My Mother’s Jewelry Box

cropped pinMy mother always had one when I was little. In my first memory of it, it was filled with all kinds of bright colored baubles to pin on her blouses and coats. In fact, I don’t remember her or my grandmother ever not wearing a big sparkly pin in the lapel of their heavy winter coats. It must’ve been the style then. But to me, they were just pretty. One of her favorite pins reminded me of a fountain of diamonds, even though it was all rhinestones, of course. It always fascinated me for some reason.

When my father was still alive, her jewelry box was alive with bright colors, sparkling synthetic gemstones which reflected the happy times of her life. Although it was mostly costume jewelry, the vibrant pins and necklaces always looked beautiful on her, and made her whole face smile. She also had a few special necklaces that had been her mother’s, and had already been entrusted with them for safekeeping. I used to go in her jewelry box from time to time and play with the pieces, under close supervision of course, lest the pieces become lost or broken. They may not have had a lot of monetary value, but to her, each piece had a special meaning.

After my father died, and my mom started teaching kindergarten, all of those sparkly pins were gradually replaced with ones little children would like. Christmas trees, angels, and Santa Claus. Enameled birds and butterflies. Funny little kids’ faces, and a treasured collection of “#1 Teacher” pins she’d been given as gifts by her students. She usually wore one of them every day, and her students were always excited to see which one she had on when they got to school, in case she was wearing one they’d given her.

When her granddaughter Ashley came along, suddenly there were a dozen or more #1 grandmother pins, along with the enameled kids’ faces and other jewelry children would especially like.

You could actually see the stages of her life by going through that jewelry box.

But the box itself was quite plain. It wasn’t pretty at all. White simulated leather with faded gold embossing. And a lock that was never locked. (I don’t think she ever had the key.) Over the years pieces of jewelry broke and some of the parts were lost, and other worn out pieces were sadly discarded or given away. Favorite items remained, although sometimes shifted toward the back of the box to make room for newer pieces.

I never knew what special pieces of jewelry I’d find when I opened that box. The older pieces always had a distinctive charm about them, though, and usually a story to tell about who had given it to her, and why, or special events they’d been worn for. And the older the pieces, the more stories they had to tell.

Similarly, we are like precious jewels in the Lord’s very own jewelry box. The jewelry box itself, the earth we live in, may be getting old and a bit frayed around the edges, but within it still lies precious sparkling jewels, each one of us uniquely crafted, and created to fulfill a specific need, and a specific purpose. We were each designed by the Master jeweler who took His time creating each of us as a unique work of art to be treasured forever; each with a wonderful story to tell. A unique work of art which does nothing but become more valuable with age.

Although He created each of us in our own unique style and design, in our own unique colors and shapes, there are times some of us break, or become worn and tarnished. We lose our shine and luster because of the wear and tear we’ve gone through. We sometimes feel we’ve been relegated to the back of the jewelry box because we’re older and we’ve lost our sparkle, and it seems no one wants us anymore.

But like those older and treasured pieces of jewelry that found themselves living in the back of my mother’s jewelry box, we’re pulled out by the Lord’s hand, and placed back in the front of the box. We’re cleaned and polished and shining once again, ready to help make someone else’s life a bit more beautiful with our stories, advice, and encouragement.

And when our purpose here is complete, these earthly jewels will finally join the other majestic jewels in the gates of heaven, forever beautiful, and forever loved and cherished.

And shining like that sparkly rhinestone pin of my grandmother’s…..