I was supposed to celebrate this Christmas with my daughter and her spouse in Oregon. That didn’t happen. I needed to have unexpected surgery on December 11th and came home from the hospital a few days later. Luckily, my daughter was able to travel here to be with me while I was hospitalized. But she had commitments back on the West Coast, and had to go back soon after I returned from the hospital.
The word disappointed hardly begins to explain how I felt when I realized that I would have to cancel all of my plans for Christmas. I was angry at my situation, and I wondered why me?
This is my second Christmas without my husband—and it hasn’t gotten much easier. The Ghosts of Christmases past haunted me: the party we gave and the ones we went to, the Gala, festive decorations, decorating cookies and visiting my daughter were memories from other Christmases— and would not be a part of this one. There was no reason to bake Christmas cookies, and I did all my shopping on Amazon.com.
You can imagine how I felt.
And there was no miraculous reprieve. I woke Christmas morning with just my dog Sparkle for company.
Luckily, several good friends came to the rescue. I was invited to a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner by one friend and to Christmas Day dinner by another. Several other people extended invitations to celebrate the holiday with them. And my family called every day to bolster my spirits.
Before she left, my daughter decorated the house, and together we put up my table-top Christmas tree. Having a festive house did lift my spirits and made the holiday feel a lot more cheerful.
Best of all, I went to a meaningful Mass with a dear friend who recently became a widow, too.
So even though the Ghosts of Christmases Past hovered in the wings, I did have a merry Christmas.
I hope you did, too.
Do you have Christmas decorations that are special to you?
Among my favorite decorations are a gift, a decoration that was my father-in-law’s and one that I made.
The Christmas Mop Doll was a gift from a good friend. She surprised me with it several years ago—and when I see it, I remember that visit vividly. When my daughter was helping me decorate this year, she got excited when she saw the doll, too.
I made the Noel wall hanging years ago—it took a long time, because I had to work on it in between teaching, shopping, preparing for the holidays and being a mother and wife. I was thrilled when it was finished. It has a place of honor every year.
The stained glass candle holder belonged to my beloved father-in-law. He even fixed the candle holder by screwing the candle cup onto the front! He loved to make stained glass lamps and other decorations—although he didn’t make this. I honor his memory by placing this candle holder in a special place.
Using these decorations every year honors friendship, the memory of loved ones and the energy I put into making the holiday special for my family.
Being a widow has changed my life in many ways—some I expected, others I didn’t. My husband’s death was not sudden, it happened after several months of illness, hope, despair , hospitalizations and finally, Hospice Care. I thought I was ready…but I learned that it’s impossible to prepare for one of the most traumatic events a person can ever experience.
This is my second Christmas as a widow. And I’m still stuck in grief mode ( which does not surprise me). Grief can, and does, color our lives for years. After all, how do you recover from the loss of your life-long companion? How do you celebrate holidays that were so meaningful in the past without him?
Do I really have to celebrate one of the most festive times of the year, when I just don’t feel like it? I know that joy is transient and that I must delight in those moments and hold them dear to my heart. I just can’t make myself do this on command. And in a way, that’s what is expected of those who grieve during the holidays.
I thought it might be cathartic to list why I miss Dan during the holidays:
There’s no one to drag the boxes of decorations out of the garage.
There’s no one else to admire the tree.
I don’t have anyone to go to the Christmas Gala with.
If I bake Christmas cookies, Dan won’t come into the kitchen and nab several.
If I buy a Christmas tie, no one will wear it.
It’s not a challenge to buy gifts for Brenda and Amy.
No one will get me a pile of Christmas gifts. ( Selfish—I know.)
And most importantly, I can’t hug Dan and wish him a Merry Christmas and tell him how much I love him.
I remember a bright November day in 1963 when my world changed. I was a junior at Victory Academy, a Catholic high school in Buffalo, New York. The first inkling that something had happened was the hushed buzz of conversation among my teachers.
The students were instructed to go back to their homerooms, even though it was not dismissal time. Then the announcement was made, President John F. Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Numb with disbelief, I recalled seeing President Kennedy only a week earlier at a Catholic Youth Organization convention in New York City. He stood high above the exuberant throng of thousands of Catholic teenagers and spoke to us in his distinctive Boston accent. We claimed him for our own, and he smiled, seeming to exude a golden aura. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember being overwhelmed by his very presence.
It was my first exposure to pure charisma, an experience that I would never forget.
Now he was dead. And with him, I felt that a dream had died, too.
How often have you heard someone described as a hero? It seems that almost every day, we hear of someone who did something that is called heroic. Often, those people insist that they are not heroes, and name someone else who is more heroic than they are.
The word hero is applied to the military, police officers, teachers, and even family pets or service animals.
But are they really heroes? Is it heroic to do what is expected of you—serving in combat zones if you’re in the military, running into a burning building if you’re a fire fighter, or arresting the bad guy if you’re a policeman?
Maybe what really happens is that ordinary people sometimes do heroic things.
There are many examples of this type of heroism, for instance, the teachers who shielded their students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last December and the fire fighters who ran into the crumbling Twin Towers when everyone else streamed out.
If you Google “everyday heroes”, you will get page after page of references. There are literally thousands of stories about everyday heroes. There are websites devoted to their stories.
I saw the movie, “Captain Phillips” lately, and the story captivated my imagination. I wondered how anyone could survive being held hostage in a stinking little life boat with four pirates who saw you as collateral—something to trade for a big payday. As almost everyone knows, this movie is based on a true story, the Somalian pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama and hostage taking of Captain Richard Phillips. Because the movie touched me so deeply, I decided to read the book he and Stephen Talty authored. It turned out that the movie version soft pedaled much of the terror and abuse that was heaped on Captain Phillips during his captivity. Because of his actions and those of several of his crew, the ship, its cargo (humanitarian aid) and rest of the crew were unhurt and escaped safely. Phillips was eventually saved by the US Navy and the Navy Seals after several days of captivity. Despite having used his intelligence and experience to thwart the pirate attack, and being subjected to psychological and physical abuse by his captors, Captain Phillips refuses to call himself a hero. Instead, he gives credit to his crew, the US Navy and the Navy Seals. He claims what he did –luring the pirates off the ship was simply his duty.
Here’s a strange footnote to the Captain Phillips story. Some of his crew are suing the Maersk Shipping Line because they claim they were exposed unnecessarily to the danger of pirate attacks—while serving on a shipping line that plied the waters off the Somalia coast line—a place known for piracy. They claim that Phillips was not a hero, even though they were safe in a hidden room on the ship while the Captain was negotiating with the pirates, getting them off the ship—and being taken hostage.
So once again, this begs the question—who is a hero? Is it someone who does what he/she is expected to do? Or is it someone who is inherently altruistic? And are heroes always heroes? Or are they folks like the rest of us who rise to an occasion?
The Beatles were the first wave of what was to become a virtual tsunami of British rock and roll bands to capture the imagination of American teenagers in the 1960’s.
Like most people of a “certain age,” I clearly remember their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show—the appearance that fanned the fires of the phenomena called Beatlemania.
The shaggy (by 1960’s standards) hair, the fitted, collarless suit jackets and the songs—“I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “I Saw Her Standing There,” all were different and exciting. Even then, I knew that something amazing was happening. Their music was energetic and artistic at the same time. It was fascinating watching girls in the TV audience swoon and faint because they were seeing The Beatles in person—and wishing I was there, too.
Full blown Beatlemania took over the lives of most teenage girls (and many boys) of the time.
I remember going to the Friday night dances at a local Catholic High School, which cost fifty cents to get in. Whenever a Beatles record would be played, the girls would scream and run onto the dance floor as if possessed. You would’ve thought the four lads from Liverpool were there at the Bishop Timon High School Auditorium by the way we acted!
Then there was the day one of my classmates brought a three foot long poster of John, Paul, George and Ringo into Latin class, and laid it on the floor like a red carpet. Luckily, I sat in the same row as she, so I got to gaze upon the adorable countenance of Paul McCartney during class—which was a lot more fun than declining Latin verbs.
Who can forget choosing their favorite Beatle? Mine was Paul, because he was so cute, played guitar left-handed, and looked like an extremely good-looking boy next door.
My parents, who were pretty laid back about most stuff, decided to ban us from listening to Beatles music in the living room. We had to go to either the basement or one of our bedrooms to play our newly acquired Beatles records. This ban lasted until my Mom began to sing along with the records…suddenly, the Beatles were, once again, welcome in the living room.
When their first movie, “A Hard Day’s Night” was released, my Dad loaded me, two of my sisters and a bunch of our friends into the station wagon and took us to the Drive –In to see it. I overheard him tell my Mom when we got home that, “The movie was pretty good, and the music wasn’t too bad.”
Beatlemania took on many forms—collecting Beatles cards in bubble gum, buying John Lennon’s book of poetry as well as all sorts of memorabilia, and of course, reading about The Fab Four in fan magazines. We poured over articles about their home lives, and how they got started.
The fact that John Lennon was married and had a child, and that Paul McCartney had a serious girlfriend was downplayed at first. I suspect that was in order to support fan’s fantasies about that chance meeting that would turn into a romantic encounter.
Perhaps the strangest Beatles fan at that time was my Grandfather, who lived with us.
When my parents got weird about us watching the Beatles in the living room, we would go to Grandpa’s room and watch The Ed Sullivan Show with him. Later, after the Beatle ban was lifted, Grandpa would call downstairs, “Hey Kids, them Beagles is on!” That was our cue to hurry up to his room to watch the Liverpool Four with him. The only problem with this scheme was that Grandpa thought that any rock and roll group that remotely resembled our heroes were “them Beagles.” So, we got to watch the Dave Clark 5, Gerry and the Pacemakers and many other British Invasion groups with Grandpa.
I have so many memories of The Beatles, ranging from loving their music, feeling saddened by their breakup (and knowing it Yoko Ono’s fault), the shock of John Lennon’s murder, the genuine grief when George Harrison died…
I still love hearing their music and remembering the happiness of those more innocent days.
When I was a kid, nothing created as much excitement as a visit from Aunt Alice.
My mother, who was Aunt Alice’s much younger sister, would announce her impending visit sometime in the afternoon.
And the countdown began.
Aunt Alice always visited late at night, never during the day.
One of the reasons for the flutter of excitement was that we could stay up late—way past our normal bedtime. I can remember sitting on the living room couch ready for bed, in my pajamas, waiting for the arrival of the fabled Aunt.
And soon she would arrive—in a taxi! Talk about drama and excitement! Virtually no one we knew, even our parents, ever rode in a taxi.
She would enter the room and I would be mesmerized by her exotic appearance. She was tiny, less than five feet tall, and wore a lot of makeup. Her hair was shoulder length and as black as a raven. She wore her hair in a 40’s vintage hair style, a modified pompadour in front and curled under in back, secured with tortoise shell combs. She had ruby red lips, and two dramatic “beauty marks,” one placed just so on her chin and the other under her eye. Her clothes looked like party clothes and she wore jangly earrings, bracelets, and high heels.
She didn’t look like anyone’s mother—although she was married and had two daughters, Marie and Barbara Ann. Barbara Ann, who was very quiet and not as exotic as her mother, usually accompanied her on these nocturnal visits. Barbara Ann was older than us—we were little kids, and she was a teenager. Like her mother, Barbara Ann was dark and seemed to have an aura of mystery. (Later when I became an adult, I got to know her better and found her to be a warm and loving woman who resembled my Mom.)
Aunt Alice was always happy to see us and would compliment Mom on our manners and looks.
After the hellos, we were allowed to have whatever treat Mom had baked for Aunt Alice’s visit—and then we went to bed.
I would lie awake wondering about this Aunt who was so unlike my other aunts.
Was she a Gypsy? Where was she when she wasn’t at our house? Who was her husband? (I actually didn’t meet him until I was much older.) Why did she wear so much makeup? Why did she have those beauty marks? Why was Barbara Ann so quiet? Did Barbara Ann go to school? Did she live with Aunt Alice? Why did they ride in taxis? Were they both Gypsies?
They often stayed until after midnight, when Dad would return from his shift at Bethlehem Steel Plant. Soon after that, he would drive Aunt Alice and Barbara Ann home.
And I would dream of the next visit from Aunt Alice.
That is the question…whether to unload the dishwasher…or to use the clean dishes as needed from the machine.
What is it about unloading a dishwasher that strikes terror into the hearts of even the most fastidious of housekeepers?
Is it the idea of sorting the silverware, or placing the plates in their size-appropriate stacks in the cupboard? Because, when you think about it, these are easy chores and certainly are not challenging mentally.
I know I am not the only person who avoids this task. An informal survey of my circle of friends leads me to conclude that leaving clean dishes in a dishwasher is as common as divorce.
On my worst days, I have stacked up to three days worth of rinsed dished in the sink, waiting for the perfect moment to unload and then reload the machine. Sometimes, I even opt to wash the dishes by hand, rather than to remove the plates from the dishwasher—which is strange, because I hated hand-washing dishes when I was a kid. But then again, my two or three dishes are nothing compared to the 11 dinner plates, 11 glasses or cups, 33 pieces of flatware, numerous serving bowls and cooking utensils that were a typical load of dishes when I was growing up. (My Mom never had a dishwasher until most of us were grown and out of the house.)
So the dishwasher and I have this dance that we do. I rinse and place dishes in it and it hides the mess. Then finally, it’s time to add the detergent and turn the machine on, listening to the comforting swishing and spraying that assures me that I will have clean cups, saucers and lunch plates the next day.
When I rise the next morning, the glowing green light on the front of the machine assures me that it has kept its part of the bargain.
Now it’s my turn.
Will I turn my back on the clean dishes and find the one last clean glass and one last clean plate in the cupboard—or remove only what I need from the interior of the machine? Or will I do the right thing, and relieve the dishwasher of its burden of shiny,clean cutlery and crockery?
If my past history is a predictor of the future…well, let’s just say that the answer to that is in my hands.
It’s been almost a year since my novel, Loving Christy was published. I worked night and day to make it a wonderfully readable novel—one that I hoped would fly off the shelves, and would be downloaded onto hundreds of Kindles and Nooks.
Lately, reality has set in. Loving Christy sits on Amazon.com, gathering dust, waiting for someone to take a chance on it. I have been able to promote the book, one at a time to people I know, and I have placed it in a few bookstores.
I’ve even received royalty checks—and was able to pay CASH for a Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast!
Promoting a novel is hard work and it takes hundreds of hours, a lot of energy—and it helps to have connections. I’ve had some success with my novel in my community and have received great feedback from people who have read it. Several book clubs have invited me to attend as a guest author. What a fantastic experience it is to meet with readers of my work.
All of that is rewarding.
Knowing that my target audience is enthused by Loving Christy is (to me) success. Now I am at a crossroads. I need to get people excited about my book again.
So here’s the deal. If you’ve read Loving Christy, I am asking you to write a review—it can be just a few sentences—and post it on Amazon. I know that many of you have already—my humble and grateful thanks.
My hopes and dreams are centered on my writing. Writing is what makes me feel most alive. It is my gift, and I’ve spent years nurturing it.
And now, I hope that you, too, will appreciate my gift.
As regular readers of this blog know, it’s been several weeks since I’ve posted anything new. I haven’t given up on the blog—it’s just that typing with the “hunt and peck method” using one hand is tiring. Why am I using such an inefficient method to type this blog entry? I had surgery on my left shoulder, basically immobilizing that arm and hand for an indefinite period of time.
So here I am, tediously typing this entry.
Like all of life’s experiences, I’ve learned from this one. I’d like to share some of my insights.
First, always ask your doctor if there will be much post-surgical pain. I didn’t and—well, let’s just say I was quite surprised—and not in a good way.
Second, ask your doctor how long your recovery will take. My doctor told me I’d need a few weeks of rehab (substitute months for weeks).
Third, under no circumstances should you mentally substitute easy for endoscopic. They are not synonyms.
Fourth, as difficult as it might seem, you can learn to bathe, dress, shampoo your hair, cook simple meals, and do laundry with one arm immobilized. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Fifth, if and when your friends offer to help, say “yes.” No matter how well you are coping, it is heavenly to have help.
Like all challenges, you can survive this kind of surgery with prayer, a little moxie, a lot of determination and especially, the help and support of family and friends.