I am an early riser, have been since high school. Morning is the best part of the day for me. Each one is fresh with promise. You never know what you will see – deer sauntering by, owls roosting for the day or coyotes out with their pups.
Today was one of those days. I went out to check the irrigation system and stood amazed at the sight before me. There must have been a dozen or more hummingbirds playing in the water spray. Darting in and out of the water, they would flutter near a leaf sipping droplets. I was standing in their circular flight path and could hear the helicopter buzz from their wings. It was magical!
I ran into the house to get my camera. An amateur at photography, I was trying to find the correct setting for hummingbirds flying at the speed of an F-35 fighter jet. Not the best images but wanted to
share the magic with you, enjoy!
Darkness is deepening
In the quiet of night
As life rests
Yet mind will not.
Weaving words together in a tapestry
Between the blankets
Of messages urgent and true.
The coyote’s lone cry
Threads thru the woods
Into my window
Coming closer, longing,
Searching for safety
In the dark uncertainty
Of the moonless night.
The monarchs have left. Just yesterday they were fluttering around the garden. Only the yellow grass butterflies remain.
On the beach I noticed the sea oats turning brown as goldenrod sways with the ocean breeze. Plants have turned a deeper green. In the summer they are pale to reflect the sun rays and retain moisture. An amazing survival tactic on the harsh dunes.
Growth is slowing in tempo with the sunlight as the season turns.
Recently I was called in to work unexpectedly. Grumbling, I began making a mental list of how this would inconvenience my weekend plans. It was hot and humid with bumper to bumper traffic none of which helped to improve my mood.
The morning was uneventful until a lady walked in. I noticed a glistening in her eyes and a heaviness in her shoulders. She saw the memorial sign for my daughter and asked, “How do you do it?”
“Do what?” I replied.
“Keep on going” she said.
Looking deep into her tear filled eyes I guessed the connection we shared. We had both lost a child. She a son and I a daughter.
It is not how it is supposed to be that our children go before us. There is not even a name for it. Wives who lose husbands are widows. Husbands who lose wives are widowers. Children who lose parents are orphans. No names for parents losing a child. If I was in charge of such labels I would call it devastation.
Taking a deep breath I answered her question. Some days I simply put one foot in front of the other. Grief is not something you process, or get over. Grief is something you live with.
Three years into the loss of my daughter I am reading, “Finding Meaning, The Sixth Stage of Grief “ written by David Kessler.
In his book Kessler challenges those grieving to find meaning. To honor the loss they are experiencing by meaningful actions. He suggests finding meaning even in the smallest way can help a person suffering from grief climb out of the sadness pit.
Not sure why I had put this book in my bag that day but I got it out and gave it to her. She cried on my shoulder and thanked me.
I knew that I was meant to be at work on that day, at that time.
May has always been a favorite month to me. Winter is over, everything is awakening and color once again paints the earth. May was my Mother’s birthday month and of course the celebration of Mother’s Day.
I am not sure when I first heard the annual discussion about Mother’s Day. I must have been eight or nine years old. Seemed silly to me. My Mother would send out hints about the upcoming special Sunday and how she thought she should be honored. My Dad would respond with a sly smile and say, “You are not my Mother.” To which Mom replied, “I am the mother of your children!”
Dad did take us shopping to get something for Mom. Her day was always made special. But it just bugged her that she couldn’t get Dad to budge and give her something, from him, on Mother’s Day.
I remember asking my Dad if it wouldn’t be easier to just get her a Mother’s Day card. He replied the back and forth banter was more fun.
My parents were married for 65 years. In 2006 my Father had a series of health issues that ended his life. He died on Mother’s Day morning. My brother called me with the sad news as I was going to breakfast with my son.
I was devastated. My Dad was the rock in my life. Always there and never wavering in his love and support for me regardless of my poor choices.
There was a wonderful celebration of his life in the church they had attended for many years. We gathered in Mom’s apartment afterwards and went thru their desk. My Mother was nearly blind from macular degeneration and could not do this on her own.
In the back of the desk we found two cards. Both envelopes had an “H” on them meaning they were for my Mother. One was a birthday card for her May birthday. The other was a shocker – a Mother’s Day card. Inside in my Dad’s shaky hand writing was a short note: ‘Surprised? Love, B.’
Somehow I have made it through the last year. Just like the first ride on a roller coaster, I had no idea when the dips, curves and drops were coming. I just hung on for dear life day after day.
It was the first full year without my daughter who died at the end of 2018. She was a part of me for 37 years, from pregnancy to her final hours. She cracked me up as a toddler, cried on my shoulder thru the middle school years, argued with me during high school and sobbed when I left her at college.
After college, there was this wonderful turning point in our relationship. It is where the lines between “my child” and “adult daughter” intersect. That ‘Ah ha’ time when your kid realizes you knew a lot more than they gave you credit for knowing and a sense of appreciation is realized.
Planning her wedding and sharing in the beautiful weekend event was magical. Even though we planned it long distance there was always humor and laughter to ward off any stress. We tried to outdo each other sending pictures of crazy looking dresses and shoes back and forth. The wedding house where our family, the bridal party and out of town friends stayed was on the beach. I pass it several times per week now. It has been painted green since her wedding twelve years ago.
Next came the babies. What a unique time for a mother and daughter sharing all that comes with pregnancy and infant care. Again, the bond between us deepened as she experienced the same which had brought her into the world.
I miss her positive attitude and humor the most. She was my regulator putting day to day events into perspective with a joke or ‘let it go’ comment. Her smile could melt the frown off the most disgruntled customer. Stories of her willingness to help anyone who needed help are still being shared with her brother and me.
Was she a perfect person? Not at all, she had her moods, flash points and challenges like all of us. To this Mother’s eyes though, she was close to perfect.
I am now part of a unique club of parents who have lost a child. It is not the way it should be, for our kids to leave the earth before us. It does not matter if the life thief was cancer, an accident, drug overdose, combat, disease or suicide – the loss is the same.
As another ‘year without’ begins the roller coaster ride is somewhat familiar however still unpredictable.
The pain still deep as I expect it will be forever.
Survival stories always intrigue me. How do people dig deep and find the inner strength, faith and determination to get thru seemingly impossible situations? An avalanche, adrift at sea, buried in rubble or being held hostage. If my life depended on it, could I amputate my arm with a pocket knife like mountaineer Aron Ralston did in 2003?
I have a few friends who are passionate about fitness and mental responsiveness. By that I mean they have trained their minds to assess, decide and act fast. They can do all this while I would still be saying,
“Wait, what’s going on?”
Lots of folks seem to be fascinated with survival situations. Just look at the popular reality shows where people are dumped in the middle of nowhere with a knife and no clothes. (The no clothes part would do me in – there are places where bugs should never crawl.) I imagine there is a nice paycheck once they do their time in the wilderness, but it would not be enough to tempt me.
Ingredients to survival probably include a positive attitude, will power and the ability to take emotion out of the equation. Does the caveman mentality take over; eat or be eaten? Do prayer and faith influence the outcome? What makes it a miracle when someone is found alive in the wilderness and a tragedy when someone is found too late?
Would my ordinary become extraordinary in a life or death situation? I sure hope I never have to find out. In the meantime, I continue to admire and respect those that summon every ounce of courage they have & survive the unimaginable.
We have survived another winter – welcome spring.
There are not many rich poets; at least living poets.I feel pretty wealthy though, I just got paid for an original Valentine poem!
Through the years I have been asked to write special poems. Those that commission them want messages that are personal and meaningful. I enjoy writing these since it puts a nice spin on a commercial holiday.
This year, I had a special client. He wanted a poem for his love. I asked him how he heard of me and he said one of my poems was on their refrigerator. He looked me up on the internet and emailed me thru my website.
So, I gave him a list of questions to start the process. He sent back his answers the next day and I got to work. This was a guy who knew his heart. His love was ‘…beautiful, kind, helpful, always there for him’. He said she knew when he was down and encouraged him. The accolades for this special person continued giving me lots of good material.
I sent him a first draft for approval and he thought it was great. Quickly becoming one of my favorite clients (since there were no rewrites), he asked me how much he owed me. I knew his funds were limited, so I just said, “Why don’t you give me what you are able?”
Here is the note that came with my pay:
“Dear Ms. Judy, Thank you for writing this poem for me. I am sending you $15.00. I have $40.00 but I want to take my Mom to dinner for Valentine’s Day and that will cost about $25.00. I know she is going to love this poem. Hope you have a happy valentine’s day!”
I certainly will
A chilly January day is a great day to pack up Christmas ornaments. It is not really a task, more of a ritual, maybe even a joy.
As I handle each ornament, I remember how it happened to become a part of our collection. Those that were bought usually told a story of a vacation or special event. There are the ‘First Christmas’ ornaments, the school picture ornaments, college logos, Alaskan bears, Niagara Falls, Outer Banks lighthouses, turtles, shiny fish and Disney ornaments. They are timestamps of our life.
Those received as gifts were stories of friendship, new homes and shared experiences. My son’s snowboarding Santa, my daughter’s miniature doll house, the dog and cat ornaments all represent a year and a special person who thought to give it to us.
Then there are hand-made ornaments (sometimes filling out the back of the tree). Macaroni angels, bread dough figures and hand prints covered with glitter and lots & lots of stars. Stars are big in elementary school and Sunday school. We have egg ornaments that were made by three different generations with tiny scenes inside. Each one opens a special memory.
More nostalgia comes once the ornaments are dusted and ready to be stored for next year. They will get packed into decades old gift boxes from stores that have long since closed or merged such as Marshall Field’s or Carson Pirie Scott & Company. My Mother’s hand writing is on top of some of these boxes, showing the year and the contents.
One of my friends asked, “How long is it going to take you to get all those ornaments down?” I replied, “As long as it takes. I am on a memory journey that just can’t be rushed.”
Enjoy your January
Music is our only international language. It transcends all cultures and speaks to the hearts of each of us. It stirs our deepest emotions. When you think of a memory, is there one you remember without music?
There is the joy in a hallelujah chorus. The warm comfort in a favorite Christmas carol. Fear and terror are evoked in the minor, deep chords which chill our souls. If you pay attention to the soundtrack in a movie, the music will often provide clues of what is to come. Key change and increased volume – look out!
I was listening to ‘Nights in White Satin’ by the Moody Blues one day when someone knocked on my door. My Labrador retriever sprang into action, jumped over the back of the couch, knocked over my Lladro sculpture which broke into a hundred pieces and looked happily at me from the front door. Etched in my mind whenever I hear ‘Nights in White Satin’, is the death of that figurine…..
Being a music addict, I was surprised when I realized that I had stopped singing and playing music about a month ago. Was it shock from the loss of my daughter? Was it guilt to be enjoying something at such a sad time? Why did the radio station in my head go off the air?
Not sure if I know the answer to these questions. Grief is a whirlwind of emotions and like our weather here in the Outer Banks, it is constantly changing. About the time you think you have a phase figured out, wham-o, a key change. Maybe that is the reason my music stopped. You can only play one song at a time. Trying to pick the right one for the state of my head and my heart is tricky these days.
I hope those 12 notes will reconfigure in my brain soon. The New Year brings a freshness, another chance, a clean score to write new music, all while valuing and learning from the one ending. As Robert Burns penned over 200 years ago, in “Auld Lang Syne”, (interpreted)
“And there's a hand, my trusty friend! And give us a hand of yours!
And we'll take a deep draught of good-will for auld lang syne…”
Wishing you music, Happy New Year!
I am an early riser, 4 am early. My internal alarm just goes off at that time and my brain clicks into gear. You may be rolling your eyes when I say this, but I think it is the best time of the day! The world is quiet; no man-made noise going on and the night sky is absolutely brilliant.
One such early morning I was star gazing on my front porch. I watched the stars battle to be seen as the sun began to rise. One by one they became invisible with only the largest and brightest planets still shining at dawn. Finally, the sunlight spread to the west and they too disappeared.
But were they gone? Not really, just out of human sight. How do we know for sure if we can’t see them? We don’t even think about it – we just know the stars are still there. No matter how difficult the day is, the stars will be there to soften the night. Regardless of how dark our night is, we have hope that the sun will rise giving us another fresh day. Isn’t this what faith is like? You don’t see it, can’t really touch it but it is there. It is there if you believe that God is in your life.
Isn’t this also true with love? When you know you are loved you believe it even when there is nothing visible. It is deep, it is strong and unwavering. You don’t need greeting cards or social media announcements to affirm the feeling. Love is the gas in our human tank, it is what makes everything else worthwhile.
1 Corinthians 13:13 …Faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love.
I hope you enjoy some star gazing this fall!
In the West the sun is turning the trees and sky golden. It sinks in grand style as the rays dance across the sound waters. This sunset beauty is a last glimpse of color before the world rests in darkness. Another day is done. The days go by fast, especially in November.
One of my favorite 8 year olds talked with me about gold. He thought some of my gold looking artifacts were real gold. His eyes sparkled thinking how this “gold” might translate into dollars.’ You must be rich,’ he told me. I asked what he would do with lots of money and got great 8 year old answers that included cars with names I could not pronounce.
Then we talked about what money can’t buy, again in third grade terms. I asked him if money could have saved our cat that died. Could tons of money keep a hurricane from flooding our neighbors? Of course I got an answer like, ‘Yes, you could buy a spaceship and put all your stuff in the spaceship and fly way above the hurricane.’ Love his imagination!
Then we talked about a friend of his who had been very sick and died. She was also eight years old. It didn’t matter how much money her family had, money could not save her from the disease that took her life. My little friend was silent.
If you have good health, you have everything. If you have good health you can do almost anything. If you have good health, you will have many golden sunrises and sunsets to fill your soul. If you have good health you are richly blessed.
My young friend tossed the fool’s gold rock I had given him up in the air a few times and said, “ I hear what you are saying, but it would be soooo cool if this rock was REAL gold!” Maybe…..
Living near the coast gives you a sense of constant movement. While the lifestyle is laid back, the landscape is constantly changing.
The Outer Banks itself is a moving island. Decades ago, the sand blew over the banks from the ocean and built up on the sound side until a western churning hurricane blew it back over the coastal desert to the Atlantic side. Man has changed that natural cycle with buildings that disrupt the wind driven sand.
Recent storms and heavy rainfall created challenges for building owners and the authorities that engineer the inner workings of civilization here. Ponds and lakes left by five days of torrential rain formed where stands of pine and live oaks once stood. Hacked down in the name of progress, the missing vegetation and ecosystem associated with those fields of trees, could no longer process and filter the rain.
I live near the woods. Most of the deer, owls, coyotes and fox living near me I recognize by sight or sound. Now there are new kids on the block as birds and mammals displaced by the scalped acres, wander my way. This has created an uneasy dynamic in the territorial nature of the local wildlife. Battles over turf can be heard at night and even during the day.
‘Never mess with Mother Nature’ comes to mind as I think about this recent change up. We love to gaze at the stars but flood the night sky with artificial light that dims their glow. We love the beach but are witnesses to those who litter and damage the dunes. We love the water but pump our man- made pollutants into the ocean. We love the animals as long as they don’t eat our flowers or mistake our small pets for food.
We need to do better to protect and preserve this beautiful and unique place. I need to do better in my little corner of sand to replenish what I take away. The only constant in life is change, let’s try and make changes for the better.
When I was a child, before kids had electronic devices for entertainment, we would lay on our backs in the grass during the summer and watch the clouds drift by. Our imaginations would take over and the cloud forms would come alive as animals or birds or whatever they resembled.
It was a laid back activity on sweet summer days after we tired of our ball game or kick the can. More than that, I think it was an imagination and creativity exercise. I am wondering if kids today play those simple but important imagination games. Do kids or even adults for that matter even look up anymore?
I penned this rap ( I know, try not to laugh and just hear me out) to address what I see as commonplace in our culture today:
Everybody’s lookin’ down
Eyes are pointed at the ground
E-lec-tron-ics have replaced
Lookin’ someone in the face.
Hello? I said hello! Can you hear me talking to you now, hello?
There is more but I will save it for my rapping debut!
Back to clouds; some are billowing, beautiful cumulus formations, others are forbidding, frightening storm banks. We experience both in our lives. One thing I know for sure is they all pass by and the sky is ever changing.
Hope you will look up and enjoy some cloud gazing.
Maybe turn your phone off first……
I am sitting on a plane next to my daughter headed to NYC. We should be going to a Broadway play or on a girls shopping trip but that is not the case. Instead, we are headed back to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for yet another chapter in her three year fight against Cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct liver cancer.
It is a beautiful morning in New York. The sky is clear, temperature in the 70’s with low humidity. Great day for walking around the city. I wish we could but the nerves in my sweet girls feet are dead from chemotherapy. When the nerves are no longer functioning, nothing else works right and her bones are moving out of place in her feet. This leaves her in pain most days. Walking, such a simple thing that we all take for granted.
Everything about this situation is contra to a parent’s protective instinct. Helpless is a terrible feeling when it involves your child. I would trade places with her in a second if that were an option. The only thing I have found to do is research and read everything I can get my hands on about this insidious disease. To the annoyance of most doctors I ask a million questions until I understand something completely.
You can go crazy quickly by following the “Why is this happening to my daughter” thought process. I went down that road and most others a parent would travel. Fact is, none of these routes provide any comfort. There is some relief in knowing she is taking part in trials that will advance the science for her and others in the future.
I do not believe God has caused this disease to invade his beautiful creation, nor do I think this is a part of his plan. I do believe reaching out to God is the only way I will make it through this nightmare. I pray for strength, for self-control so my tears fall at the right time, in the right place. I pray for breakthroughs in research, for determination and clarity to the researchers. I pray with the faith of a child for the life of my child. I pray as a parent prays and then I go do what I have to do.