Decorating a Christmas tree is a tradition I have always loved. When I was a kid, everyone in the family helped hang the many ornaments, some home-made and others store-bought, on the real pine tree that had a place of honor in the living room. Back in those days, people embellished their trees with strands of tinsel, which my mother insisted had to be placed individually on our tree. No throwing handfuls of tinsel at the tree and hoping it would magically spread out for us!
(Of course, we all did “cheated” as soon as Mom wasn’t looking.)
When Dan and I established ourselves as a family, we continued this tradition that was cherished by both of our families. Again, decorating the tree was a family endeavor. How I loved our Christmas trees! I would play the song “O Christmas Tree” in its honor while I admired the ornaments and the twinkling lights. Christmas without a tree was unthinkable!
Then my husband died four months before Christmas in 2012. Celebrating Christmas became a chore, and decorating a tree lost its allure. My daughter came one year and put the tree and other decorations up—and I did appreciate having the holiday cheer around. But I never felt like dragging all of the boxes out of the garage and going through the effort doing the job by myself. I settled for a two foot tree that I could decorate with a few small ornaments. It wasn’t the same—but at least it was a tree.
About a week ago, I decided to put up the tree and decorate it like we used to.
Removing each ornament from its storage box brought back many memories. Seeing ornaments that were gifts from students, or that I made reminded me of when and where I acquired it. Some of them date back many years. For instance, I have two decorations that I bought when I went to Toronto many, many years ago with a good friend. There are ornaments I made, including a stuffed Santa and several ceramic pieces. A strawberry that a dear friend made for me twenty years ago has a place of honor on the tree as does a heart shaped ornament inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’ that I received from my Aunt Noel and Uncle Jack when I turned forty. Another beloved aunt, Virginia, gave me one of the original “Elf on a Shelf” figures back in the 1970’s—and it, too, occupies a space on the tree. Needless to say, a few of the decorations were made by my now-adult daughter when she was in preschool. Hanging those ornaments on the tree brings back memories of the delightful, curly haired child she was. I love the idea of Santa, so quite a few of my decorations are Santa-themed.
It seemed that each ornament held some memory that reminded me of someone I love—many of whom are no longer with us. Two very special ornaments were made by my Mom many years ago. She cut ovals out of red velveteen fabric and then she embroidered our names on them. Originally they were embellished with paper bells which disappeared long ago. Whenever I touch these ornaments, I feel closer to my Mom.
When I was finished with the tree, I was delighted! Not only was it beautiful, but it reminded me of all of the people and happy times who were part of my life.
After my recent shoulder surgery , I went to a rehabilitation facility to hasten my recovery. It was an unusually pleasant place—attractive, clean, with attentive staff.
During the ten days I stayed there, I experienced something that shook me to the core of my being.
I was much younger and healthier than the typical resident at the facility. It was like being a teenager at your grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary party.
Like most facilities of this nature, the staff provided stimulating experiences: entertainment by local people, bingo games, and movies. I attended several of these functions because the days often felt incredibly long. I soon realized that most of the people who attended these functions were “long-term residents”—a euphemism for people whose memories and personalities had been ravaged by aging.
I went to a community birthday party one afternoon. (The draw for me was the cake and ice cream!) I chose to sit at a table with a man and his wife—people I saw every day. They appeared to be in my age range so I thought that we might be able to visit with one another. The woman resembled me somewhat—she was obviously of Irish descent, with dark, wavy hair, dark eyes and fair skin.
But when I attempted to chat with the couple, it soon became obvious that the woman had dementia. I watched as the husband tenderly attended to her, spooning ice cream into her mouth, and wiping her lips and encouraging her to take sips from a cup of punch.
At one point, I looked at him and smiled. A tear trickle down his cheek. I wondered if I reminded him of his wife in better days; and that my presence was a reminder of all that had been swallowed up by his wife’s illness. It felt like entering into his private hell.
Looking around, I realized that the staff who took care of the long-term residents could have been me at the height of my teaching career. And the long term-residents could be my future.
It was chilling to see my past and (possibly) my future.
I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.
But consider this: my life took a drastic left turn on August 25, 2012 at 10 p.m.
My husband died.
I thought I was ready—six months of watching him die in bits and pieces should have prepared me. But it didn’t.
I went through the motions, appearing to be in control for several weeks.
Then I laid down on the couch and stayed there for months.
What dragged me out of my monumental funk?
Family and friends.
First it was my sister and sister-in-law who made me accomplish the important tasks necessary when someone dies.
I joined two key groups—a Widows Club and the Singles Club. These were the people who got it; the people who understood my pain and let me talk. I continued to participate in my Writing Group: a gathering of intelligent, vital, and interesting women who shared my passion for writing. Through that group I had opportunities to express my creative self.
The next three years brought challenges I couldn’t imagine: three surgeries, two bouts with MRSA, and then cancer, the deaths of my beloved brother and sister, in addition to several friends and other relatives.
My life raft through all this turmoil was family (of course) and the friends who stepped in and became a safety net.
Yes, I feel blessed.
It’s not a club I clamored to join. In fact, none of the members wanted to join it.
We were recruited in the harshest of all possible ways.
The initiation was almost as difficult as any street gang’s—we had to experience the death of the person most of us would call “our best friend, lover and life partner”—our husbands.
My inaugural date is coming on its third anniversary this August—the day Dan died.
I now know that joining this club has helped me to make sense of all that happened in the eight months preceding my husband’s death. I’ve had many opportunities to share stories and memories, and I’ve received empathy and sympathy, but never pity, from the other women. Knowing these women who have experienced what I did, and have continued to thrive, encourages me.
I see the common threads that are woven through all of our experiences: the feelings of loss, of being adrift, the anger, the sadness, and the confusion that follows the death of a spouse or partner.
Through the sharing, I’ve felt a lot less alone than I did before.
And on a more upbeat note, I’ve had some fun with my widow friends. We socialize, enjoy one another’s company, and have bonded individually and as a group. I’ve even learned to laugh again.
Losing my husband was a trauma. But I am grateful that the Widow’s Club was here, so when I went into my
Picture courtesy of Pixabay
There are certain dates that are more meaningful than others. One of those dates is April 10,1983. That was the date my Mom passed away after almost two years of coping with lung cancer.
I remember that day with crystal clarity.
It was a Sunday—a week after Easter. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny. I had attended noon Mass and then rushed to my parents’ home to see my Mom. It was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. When I got there, it was obvious that Mom was dying. I helped my Dad change her nightgown and then kept vigil with him as she left this world.
The priest came and gave her the Last Rites. At one point, shortly after she died, I was aware of her soul—her anima—leaving the room.
My brother Michael was there with his wife and boys and I remember my sister Susan being there, too.
Eventually, the rest of my brothers and sisters (except for my youngest sister who was in Honduras doing research for her doctorate) assembled at the house.
As the daylight waned, we sat on our parents’ bed and talked about our Mom and our loss. It was both sacred and comforting to be able to be together in that way.
Now, all these years later, all that’s left is memories. I wish I could hear Mom’s voice one more time, or sit and talk with her again.
So much has happened since then. Our Dad died only a year and half later, babies were born, my sister and another brother got married, one of my mother’s children died too soon, my husband died, the grandchildren grew up and great-grandchildren were born. The family faced many crises and survived.
While time has tempered the grief, I still mourn for my Mom. She was only 60 years old when she died. We never got to see either of our parents grow to be old. They are preserved at a certain age and time in our memories.
Yet, I still yearn to spend one more minute, hour or day with my mother.
Tears. Crying. Sobbing.
Some people can’t stand the sight of tears. They feel uncomfortable when someone in their midst starts to cry. They furnish the tearful one with tissues. They tell you that you don’t need to cry. And some even demand that you stop. Then they’ll offer platitudes to “comfort” you.
“He’s in a better place.”
“She doesn’t want you to be sad.”
“Crying won’t change things.”
Sometimes, guilt is used.
“Everyone’s looking at you.”
“Stop acting like a baby.”
“Real men don’t cry.”
“C’mon, it’s been months.”
To me, tears are cathartic. I’ve had a lot to cry about the past several years: the death of my husband and brother and several friends.
I’ve hidden my tears, and shown a seemingly competent, albeit subdued front.
Time does, indeed, mute the pain. Notice I said mute, not erase. Nothing erases the pain. It’s there and it will be there for the rest of my life, I am sure. As I start to move on, and to participate more fully in my life, behind the smiles and the laughter is a deep well of loss and grief.
So, if tears should flow, I will let them. I will let them cleanse me and help me to cope. And then, once again, I will be ready to face a new day—alone.
If you’re like me, you have a cupboard full of “good” china and crystal. You probably save it for special occasions—a dinner party or a holiday. But have you ever asked yourself why you are saving this china and crystal? Is it to pass along to your children? After all, they probably acquired their version of “good” china and glassware when they set up a household. Or they really don’t care about stuff like that. And most likely, their taste is a lot different from yours.
So, why not use that china that takes up space in your cupboard? Why not enjoy it now while you can? After all, we don’t pack up our treasures to take with us to the next life like the ancient Egyptians did. And your kids just might sell your treasured objects along with all the other stuff from your house in the estate sale they have after you pass on.
Recently, I decided that I was worthy of the “good” china. I resolved to use it every day. And I am enjoying eating my morning toast off the Franciscanware Desert Rose patterned china and drinking my iced tea from the crystal stemware.
As the saying goes, “you only live once.” So go ahead and enjoy it!
Get the prized china out of the cupboard and eat your ham and cheese sandwich from it. You’ll be surprised at how much better it tastes!
Today would have been my Mom’s birthday. She would have been ninety two years old—which, no matter how you figure it, is old.
I often wonder what she would have been like as a really old lady. I’m pretty sure she would have been as feisty and sarcastic as she was in her younger years—and under it all, still a big softie.
I’m sure she would have been delighted with her grandchildren and now, great grandchildren. She would have taken pride in the accomplishments of the grandchildren and her own children.
I am sure she would have been exasperated with the political gridlock in Washington and I can imagine her expressing her opinions quite readily.
I am six years older than Mom was when she died from cancer. That thought is sobering for me. By the time she died, the disease had taken a terrible toll and her death was sad and painful, but the comfort was that her earthly suffering was over. Now that I am older than Mom was when she died, I understand better how awful it was to lose her then. ( The picture with this post was taken two weeks before she died.)
Like everyone who has lost a loved one, I have many memories of my Mom.
One memory that I cherish is of her reading to me all by myself when I was around 4 or 5 years old. I can still picture the book and hear her voice as she read from a beautifully illustrated Nursery Rhyme book while I cuddled next to her. What was most remarkable to me was that she read this book to only me—even though, by that point, there were 4 children in the family and another one on the way.
My Mom encouraged all of us to explore our talents and interests. She was an intelligent and intellectually curious woman.
And even all these years after her death, I still miss her and love her.
Living in an “active adult” community has many perks. For example, you can wear a granny bathing suit and no one will giggle and point, you can play Mah Johng everyday if you like, you can ride an adult three -wheeled trike and your neighbor will ask you where you got your slick wheels. And, best of all, you can drive around in a golf cart.
Ah, the golf cart. Personally, I love mine. It’s so convenient and versatile, to say nothing of how ecofriendly it is.
Golf carts provide convenient transportation all around our community. Because they don’t use gas as fuel, they run clean without any fumes.
In some active adult communities, golf carts are almost a fetish. They can be tricked out to look like Hummers, Cadillacs, trucks, and just about anything you can imagine. We don’t see that much here—but there are a few distinctive golf carts tooling around.
I’ve even seen golf carts used as mini trucks by handy men, with ladders where other guys carry golf clubs. One man even tows a small trailer behind his golf cart.
Driving golf carts makes a lot of sense for short-hop errands—you can get to where you’re going economically and easily, and as an added bonus, they cut down on air pollution. I think it would be nice if we could drive our golf carts to the supermarket and to local restaurants. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible here.
I was thinking that if we used golf carts to get around even in cities, we could cut down on smog and emissions, and maybe even eliminate a lot of accidents.
Perhaps cities of the future should be built with neighborhoods that provide essential services like grocery stores, farmers’ markets, banks, retail outlets, schools, parks, and restaurants that are easily accessed by golf cart. Cars could be used only for longer trips or in inclement weather.
Would you live in a neighborhood like that?
I’ve decided that I need to try to focus on the blessings in my life as a counter balance to the losses and problems that I’ve encountered over the last few years. What woke me up was the reaction of friends to a post I placed on Face Book a few days ago. I don’t want people to feel that they have to constantly lift my spirits up—I think that I have to take some responsibility for that myself.
Yes, I am in mourning over the loss of my husband and brother. I’ve had a few medical problems. But in reality there is much happiness and joy in my life.
I have a wonderful and loving family who care about me. My talented and beautiful daughter is a mature and accomplished woman. I have great friends, people I mean something to. I live in a beautiful place with everything from restaurants to clubs to shows to a state-of-the-art fitness center. It really is a retiree’s dream comes true. I belong to a great women’s writing group and am active in several clubs. There is Widows’ group and a Singles group—both of which have helped me to re-invent my life.
The day I posted on Face Book that I missed my husband, a terrific thing also happened. I am the president of a club. Our planned speaker couldn’t make it, so I devised a Trivia game that was a big hit. Everyone enjoyed it, and there was a feeling of fun and camaraderie as a result of the game.
I felt really good about that and went home smiling. So when I went to post on Face Book, why didn’t I mention that? I realized later that I missed being able to share my accomplishment with Dan—but that didn’t diminish the success of the evening. After I wrote that post and read the comments that followed, I realized that I had portrayed myself as a victim, not as a functioning person who is healing.
I think it is in my best interest to try to be a little more positive.
I know that Dan would want me to enjoy my life—he loved his life and I need to honor that by living my life the best way I can.
Ultimately it’s about the balance between challenges and the positive aspects of life.