What We Never Leave Behind

IMG_2262This past weekend, we did the final cleanout of my parents’ house – my childhood home – and while I knew it would be emotional, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be. What was toughest to deal with was seeing my dad’s garage empty, devoid of personal items. Funny, it’s been 16 years that he’s been gone, but I still think of the garage as his – and for a man of few words, someone rather hard to know actually, that garage provided a glimpse into who he was and what mattered to him. And as my eldest son dismantled that world, bit by bit, ever-so-careful about what would be kept and what would be discarded or donated, it was if I was losing my dad all over again and what felt like, finally, for good. I know he’s in my heart, and always will be, but the last tangible evidence is now gone and it hurt.

FullSizeRender-8At first glance, my father’s garage was a hodge-podge of things. In a home meticulous throughout, the garage had a bit more clutter than anywhere else, although neatly placed with purpose and order. There was just a lot of stuff in tiny containers, in covered glass jars, on shelves and in cabinets, and finally, atop the handmade workbench with its handcrafted drawers filled with a lifetime of collected tools. Most of the garage contents were of a practical nature; outdoor tools, household tools, nuts and bolts, screws and nails, cleansers and auto care products, so many of the things that kept the rest of the house and property maintained and in such incredible shape.

There was his radio, of course, still there attached to a small speaker. Whenever my father was in the garage, he had music on or talk radio — perhaps the game; and when he went up to shave each evening, his radio came, too.

fullsizerender-10.jpgIt was the walls, however, that told the tale of my father and what he held dear. There was a series of license plates, one from 1928, which he found somewhere and kept because it was the year of my mother’s birth. He kept a small assortment of plates, including two from my brother’s motorcycle and miniature bicycle license plates bearing my name and my brother’s. A hand-lettered sign was affixed to a wall – in fact, we couldn’t even remove it because it had been so solidly placed. My dad had made that, proudly, when my mother ran for office as a town meeting member in our town. When I say hand-lettered, it’s important to note how perfect each letter was, as it spelled out Eileen Cotter for Town Meeting Member. My father was an engineer and he was precise in every thing he did.

There was a hand-hooked rug bearing a likeness of the Old Salt. My parents loved nautical things – and my father was always so proud of anything my mother created. He had a paint-by-number picture she did on another wall, side-by-side with a painting I had done freehand of a barn on a country lane. Across on another wall was an amateurish effort I had painted of a sailboat at sunset, lots of vivid orange, yellow and red hues in the most rudimentary of styles. There were various handmade wooden pieces, each of which he made, along with a variety of patriotic things, including a simple decoupage of George Washington mounted on a square of wood.

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All the light-color spots on the walls are where things were removed.

Then there was the once-white metal cabinet, home to countless little jars, containers and tubes of products. Against all of his better judgment, I’m sure, he allowed me to paint it in neon colors, all in crazy free-spirited shapes abutting each other. I did this as a young teen, sitting cross-legged on a much smaller workbench before the garage was built and he moved the cabinet later from our laundry room/work space to the new garage where the paint eventually chipped over the past 40 years, although brightly colored remnants still remain.

IMG_2261There were quirky items, like a little sailboat made from Pepsi cans, the sails covered with vinyl contact paper – and wooden items he made with his jigsaw, from doorstops to an elephant, a birdhouse and more. A sign bearing the name “The Cotters” hung for many years at their camp in Henniker, N.H. This was a place where they created countless memories after my brother and I moved away, and the sign was been taken by niece, who had many memories of time at the camp. In the weeks prior, we each made claim to some small items, from practical things like gardening tools to precious keepsakes, and yet on that last evening so much still remained.

As my son asked me about some of the final pieces, I struggled not to take everything that held memories. The old lawn cart, metal, chipping away paint from many, many layers of different colors and so many years of constant use, seemed silly to take – I had a brand new one of my own. I thought of the role that lawn cart played throughout the years – rides in it as a kid, using it for outdoor chores that I hated; more than that, this cart was a fixture throughout my entire life – and in the end, I couldn’t take it or throw it away. We left it for the new owners, hoping even in spite of its age, they’ll find it useful and if they don’t, I’ll never know.

IMG_2260In the midst of this, as I packed up remaining outerwear, I picked up one of my father’s jackets. We hadn’t kept his clothes after his death, but this jacket had been special. A proud patriot, and former Navy sailor, he delighted in wearing his royal blue VFW jacket with his name on the sleeve. As I held it in my arms, looking around at what little was left in the house, of a lifetime – my childhood – spent in that home, I clutched that jacket tight and sunk to the staircase in tears. These past few months, especially, were fraught with so much. Hard things were experienced, hard decisions were made, and throughout it, I kept thinking that my father would want me to do all that I could to ensure my mother was safe and taken care of as best as could be done.

And now, those decisions had been made, and all we had to do was finish packing. Everything I had held in started to let go. My son walked in and together, we sat on the dining room stairs, his arm around my shoulders, sitting quietly for a while before getting back to the business at hand.

Last night, we celebrated my mother’s 89th birthday, which is actually today, this year on Father’s Day. She is in better spirits, better physical shape and in a better place overall than she’s been in quite some time. The woman she was prior to the past six months becomes more evident with each day. We hadn’t seen her in some time.

So today is her birthday – and Father’s Day, too. There seems like some strange correlation this year. Her life has greatly changed, and we’ve closed an important chapter. Over the past month our family has gone through my parents’ life together in ways we had never done before. We remembered things almost long forgotten and took possession of precious memories and special mementos and perhaps most of all, realized the powerful past we shared.

We keep moving forward, from one cog to the next in this ever-moving circle of life. We may fall off the wheel at any time, unexpectedly, and the rest of us have no choice but to continue onward. It’s just the way things are.

On Father’s Day and my mother’s birthday, I am cognizant of what’s gone and what we still have and appreciative of the value of each.

What We Didn’t Know

We always knew this would end badly; there were no good solutions and never the promise of a cure.

What we didn’t know was how it would come about or when the end might be.

Death is tricky, and even in days of waning health and absolute signs of what was to come, strength can arrive from seemingly nowhere and final days sometimes become final months.

We knew it would be hard, knew it would be painful, knew it would release feelings that had been buried for years, and recognized that we didn’t know what else might erupt.

What we didn’t know was just how much it really would hurt.

We knew it was for the best. There were too many years filled with too much suffering, too many tears – his and, of course, ours – the pain of his illness and our collective loss, of seeing a life taken away from all that he loved. We wanted to ease his pain, perhaps to ease our own.

We just didn’t know how hard it would be to say goodbye to someone who left us so long ago.

What we really didn’t know, didn’t even suspect, was that with his death, John would suddenly become himself again – the person we knew so well, missed so much and hadn’t seen in so many years.

When someone is sick, like he was, for such a long time, life becomes reactive, a series of phone calls, medical and managed care facilities, emails, solving problems, taking care of needs, dealing with issues and never feeling like you can ever possibly do enough. Mostly because you can’t. So you do what you can and take care of what’s in front of you and all the best parts of a life you once lived become background noise, seldom listened to, examined even less, because it hurts too much and there is too much in the present to attend to.

What we didn’t know is that in the end, there was nothing else to focus on, except the life we once lived – together – and the memories, and the pictures; so many pictures, bringing back sensations and smiles and the recognition of a life once lived with joy, with a lot of love, lots of laughter and the chaos of many kids and too little time. Yet we didn’t know then how little time we really had, but even if we did, I don’t think we could have cherished it any more than we once did.

We knew once John was gone, we could finally begin to grieve, but we didn’t know what form that grief might take. So tonight, out of nowhere, I wept in earnest, the first time with no restraint, for the husband that’s gone, the life we led, the family we had together and the father and grandfather that would have loved it all so. I miss him so much and have for so long.

What we didn’t know, although we thought we did, was that somewhere inside of us, we clung to the hope that someday he’d be back, be part of our family again, even if we had to have known it would never be. Illness can delude you, give you a glimpse now and then of the person still there. It’s brief and it’s painful because it offers hope where none should really be.

We knew we had lots of love surrounding us – from family, friends that feel like family and even people we barely know well. We could feel it, even before this, and it magnified as the days blended into one.

And as that last day began to come and we finally knew that this was really it, not an illusion or one more close call, what we didn’t know was that almost 20 years would somehow melt away and the worst of it all didn’t matter anymore. Here we were all these years later, remembering decades ago as if they were yesterday.

In death, John became ours again. In life, we’ll miss him every day.

My Family is My Home

heart-homeOver the past decade, I’ve become increasingly detached from my home, particularly more so in recent years. I’ve found this curious, given that I’ve lived there for 30 years now. When I moved in, as a young woman in her mid-20s, with a three-year-old son and ready to give birth to my second child, a daughter, in the month ahead, I saw this home as nothing more than space for us all – albeit temporary. We had the makings of a beautiful yard, in a great neighborhood in a small town we loved. The house itself though was an end to a means. We needed more space for our soon-to-born child, and this fit the bill. Never did I imagine two more children would follow and be raised in this same house – nor did I ever think 30 years into the future it would still be my home.

With six of us for so many years in this not-so-big house, along with an ever-changing menagerie of pets, lots of toys, sports equipment, personal memorabilia and all the fundamental elements of a well-lived family life, we pushed the boundaries of our limited space to the max. I had been sure our family wouldn’t live in this house for more than a few years before moving on to something larger. As circumstances in our personal lives unfolded, it wasn’t meant to be.

So in time, the house that was rather snug became one that I was grateful to afford, especially on my own. Our family dynamic changed and I became engulfed in a new reality I hadn’t imagined as a single parent. Anything larger would have become a tremendous burden, economically and bandwidth wise to maintain.

Kids changed bedrooms, redecorating as they went, as ages and interests transitioned forward. Every parent knows, as children grow, rooms begin to feel smaller and hallways are suddenly shrinking when six-foot children make their way through the house. At times it felt as though the house might simply burst. Boyfriends and girlfriends joined the mix and quite often stayed at our house, and there was activity everywhere throughout our home. We often joked at any given moment someone in our family would be up and doing something, regardless of the time of day or night. It still proves true. We’re just not all in the same place.

Then suddenly, my oldest was off to college, and the house seemed a bit emptier. I remember sitting on his bed, in a half-empty bedroom, after dropping him off freshman year at college and suddenly sobbing, as I realized nothing would ever be the same again. The years spiraled forward at breakneck speed. Each of my four children became increasingly independent, off to explore new adventures and the family ebbed and flowed with who was at home still and who wasn’t. There were far fewer pets as the household size decreased, too. What had once been a house bursting at the seams was now a home with a lot of empty rooms – devoid of people, at least, much of the household items shifted there, not used.

I once said – and I still feel it’s true – that for many years our house was this giant, rollicking party, not all fun and games, but lots of energy and activity. The house began to feel as if I was living in the aftermath of that party, treasuring what had gone before, but left with the remnants of many years of hard family living – and an aging house to deal with just the same. I don’t spend as much time there as I once did. Life is pretty busy, and when I am home, it seems I’m rushing around to complete as much as I can in a finite time – or just not interested in accomplishing much at all. I’ve certainly learned the value of unwinding and enjoy my time on my own.

As the last of my children explores his next adventure, which will take him out on his own, it hit me last night exactly why my detachment has grown. It was never about this house. I didn’t move into it as my dream home or a place I coveted for any reason other than it was for my family. Our home sheltered the people I love most and wherever they go, wherever we all are together, is what matters most to me. I always wondered why I didn’t feel more of a sense of connectedness to my home, but at long last, I’ve realized that I’ve always seen it exactly as it has been. When it was filled with family, it had a lot of meaning, but without them, it’s merely walls, floors and rooms. I could be anywhere, but when I’m anywhere with my family, that place quickly becomes home.

On the Precipice

DSC_0011This has been a difficult week.

In most ways, it’s been no different than any other. Each of us in the family went to work, took care of personal responsibilities and even had a bit of social time together. We made plans for a family dinner over the weekend, and perhaps even an afternoon at a N.H. fair.

But in between, there have been tears – and a few adult beverages. There have been hugs that felt tighter, laughter that seemed a bit too necessary and memories shared and sometimes quickly swept away. It hurts less if we don’t think too much.

Yet, we can’t stop thinking about what’s going on. Can’t stop thinking about what’s been – and most of all, we think about how much longer this all will be and how it will end.

Here’s the thing – when someone in your family is gravely ill, the kind of sickness that’s gotten significantly worse over the last decade, when you witness what life has done to him and wish there was a way to make it all stop, even when that person is in hospice care, there is no guarantee that person you love will soon have any peace.

In early June my children’s father entered into hospice care, a bit surprisingly, at least to us, even though we had been watching his agonizing decline for such a long time. This past winter brought a fairly severe injury and surgery, and he’s been increasingly less active since. What we see now is barely a glimmer of who and what he once had been – and with each day, there’s a bit of improvement, a bit of decline, a bit more decline, then perhaps a better day, although at this point, what really can be considered better?

We’ve been in a holding pattern for so many years. No one but our immediate family can even imagine it all – and we share it with each other in ways that run deep and run strong.

The greatest tragedy of our collective lives has not been just losing this person, but losing him incrementally over the course of so many, many years. He’s been gone for us for so long, yet his physical presence, while just barely, is still here.

Earlier this week, we met again with hospice care providers, who offered kind words, spoke of discontinuing medications, procured funeral home information and yet, none of us have a window into the length of this journey. This man is stubborn, but he may finally be ready to let go in the months ahead.

As a family, we may soon face that final loss, the acknowledgment perhaps of what we’ve felt for so long. We’ve never truly had a chance to grieve as we experienced one thing after another over the past 20 years, focusing instead on holding things together, finding solutions and pushing emotions as much as we could to the side. That’s not to say emotions haven’t run strong; that we haven’t had our own mini-breakdowns and crises of the heart. To feel anything at all sometimes is to begin to feel it all – and to get through it has almost pushed us to the point of desensitization.

That seems melodramatic, but it’s been 20 years of appointments, of medical tests, of more and more medication, psych evaluations, cognitive testing, of medicine mismanagement and misusage, of supportive devices and therapies, hospitalizations and adult daycare, of increasingly difficult behaviors, of safety issues, of car accidents, of impairment, of anxiety and physical harm, of managed care facilities, of brain surgery, of a family pushed to the very limits of love and acceptance and a man who was loved dearly who never accepted his illness or realized that no matter what happened to him he was someone of great value to this world with so much still to contribute. The list could go on and on, and the heartache could match it along the way.

There have been countless discussions around long tables, with caregivers and caretakers, with medical and mental health professionals, with good people often doing the best they can, with little to offer that could ever change a thing – and we’ve told his story, told our stories, offered medical history, becoming a bit more jaded and disheartened each time.

This past week has been a difficult one – one more table, one more discussion, some tears, another emotional visit and time together as a family. We’re on the precipice now, holding our breaths not sure when the ledge will break. We know all too well how painful the plummet will be.

Savoring the Waves

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 11.32.19 PMAs I sat at the beach today, watching people anticipating incoming waves, scoping out the size and potential for each, the eagerness in their faces resonated with me. I remember so well, as a child, staying in the ocean for hours on end, excited by the waves, strategizing how to best handle the really big ones – and enjoying the thrill of that perfect ride.

Even when a giant wave took hold, wrestling me into its powerful presence, leaving me a bit scared, a bit discombobulated, I never quit. I kept going back for more.

That’s what struck me today too. That combined challenge and thrill, no matter how big the wave and the kids especially kept going back for more, again and again.

That’s not true for everyone I saw today – and it wouldn’t be at any other time.

Some of us are content to sit on the shore, to build carefully planned-out sand castles. To bring the ocean to us instead via pails to fill dug-out holes and elaborate waterways, safely on the sand.

In time, we learned the tide could come up and swiftly swallow our handiwork whole. For those who feared the ocean’s power, to begin with, this had to be a terrifying reality of the destruction only imagined before.

If you were one of the kids who sat on the sand, maybe you watched the others on their boogie boards or those simply body surfing in the spray. Did you envy them their carefree behavior or think they were crazy to exhibit such a lack of caution with the waves?

As someone most often chest-deep in the ocean, always past the desired up-to-your-waist-only-please put forth by my parents, I remember the icy plunge diving headfirst into oversized Humarock Beach waves, over and over again. I recall the feeling of coasting smoothly astride the softer tall waves, generally found in the aftermath of a behemoth monster that, just prior, crashed violently over our heads.

Do you remember being tossed and turned, like some errant piece of seaweed with nothing to cling to or be clasped on by? Water rushing up your nose, taking away your breath and bringing a sting to your sinuses, throat, and eyes?

Did you then head to shore, to the comfort of your towel, perhaps even your mother’s arms? Or did you shake it off; sure you wouldn’t let another catch you off guard?

Yet no matter how well-thought out your plan was for the next big one, in spite of the best preparation, you learned that we don’t have much control when and where that wave will break. Sometimes it’s timed perfectly, gently washing over us giving us a bit of a chill at worst – and other times, we’re too close to do anything but brace ourselves for what’s to come and do our best to stand firmly on our feet or at least stay afloat as the wave rushes over us.

But still, for many of us, we stay in the water, sensing potential challenges. We’re almost disappointed when the wave is suddenly small and far too easy to manage.

I’m reminded today, that while the smaller challenges can indeed provide a smooth, satisfying outcome and experience, it’s the bigger ones, the waves that can go a million different ways, that can provide us with the greatest thrill of all – and more satisfaction than an easy ride ever could.

That’s always the one that makes me feel most alive, and in realizing that simple truth, it certainly explains a lot for me.

Lessons sure present themselves at the most interesting times, even during a peaceful afternoon at the beach.

We’re All Someone’s Child

IMG_3840I awoke late this morning, having enjoyed some much-needed sleep. It’s been a particularly busy last few weeks, few months actually, with many, many good things to enjoy but less time for rest. So that combined with what has seemed like a never-ending litany of atrocities globally and domestically has worn me down a quite a bit – and left me awake in the dark hours of the night wondering how we’ve gotten to this place and what we, what I actually, can do to change the path.

After rising finally at 11 am, after a few earlier awakenings, I decided to turn on the TV as I ate a bowl of Honey Nut Chex. It had been preset to a movie channel and one of my favorite movies, “Philadelphia,” was on, but in its last few scenes. They’re some of the most beautiful in the film. Of course I had to watch.

I remember well when this movie debuted in the early 90s and how it addressed so much that was not part of the everyday experience for many families. For me, it humanized what many viewed in fear in so many positive, caring ways, while still exposing the far uglier side of fear and the manner in which that we fear is often treated. I think now about how 23 years later, how much has changed, yet how little in terms of how we view and treat each other. I would have thought a movie like this, just as one about racism to be footnotes in our lives at this point in time; valuable lessons to be learned from, but the fears, prejudices, abuse and violence to be a distant image our rearview mirrors.

Sadly, that’s not so.

What struck me this morning, but even more so back then, was the powerful love within the main character’s family and the acceptance that came within the structure of that love. That didn’t mean there weren’t fears, or misunderstandings, but the love and care they had for each other overcame that. I remember thinking back in 1993, with four children, one an infant, that no matter what came our way, I fervently hoped as a mother I would always have the unrelenting, all-encompassing love I saw in that film – and if I did, my family could conquer anything that came our way. I still believe that to be true – not just for myself, but for everyone too. If love is the foundation, and acceptance and support for each other is the goal, we can see whatever happens through together. It doesn’t make it easy, or any less painful at times, but we do it together and it’s unconditional.

In putting this in greater context to what we see around us, I have to wonder, how much do we truly want to see this life through together, as a community, as a society, as a country and as the world? We are all global citizens and our best interests aren’t just centered on what suits our lives most, but what suits all of our lives.

I keep thinking back to the days after 9/11 and how our country pulled together, yet as we pulled together, we also hunkered down in safety, insulating our lives with many of the things that we hadn’t been as drawn to prior. We felt safer in our own homes, opting for larger and larger screen televisions rather than going to the cinema. We brought home-prepared meals instead of dining out for quite a while. While friends and family were part of that world – in many ways we lived more and more virtually, spending more time online and engaging in social media rather than authentic experiences. We did our best to insulate our lives against the potential dangers that outside world brought – and never really considering that it showed up at our doorsteps nevertheless. And now the 24/7 media firestorm, along with social media, infiltrates our every waking moment, if we let it. It speaks to our insecurities, feeds our fears and fires up volatility in ways I’ve seldom seen before.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that few matters are black and white. There are subtle shades of gray that always must be considered, and those are the parts of the conversations we somehow don’t want to address. Some matters particularly bring up a strident sense of right and wrong, black and white, my way or the highway and anyone with a differing opinion or who simply questions an issue is seen in this black/white view. You’re with me or you’re not seems to be the mindset, and if you question it at all, you’re vehemently opposed. That’s not the way to find answers, nor is it the way toward a path of resolution.

When our backs are to the wall, with no room for other thoughts, there’s no avenue for compromise, no true desire for resolution – it’s more about being right. I’m not naïve. We operate under fear; under the desire to make decisions that we feel are right not only for ourselves, but also those we love. We often think what’s right for us is the best for everyone. That’s a shortsighted viewpoint, but it’s one many hold.

I go back once again to “Philadelphia,” and the very last scenes, when the main character passes away and family friends gather for a memorial. This is so skillfully filmed, with multi-generations together, so many different people providing support and love. There are new babies gathered close, small children with no idea why they’re even there that day – they just know they’re together with family. Candles are lit, photos displayed. Tears are shed, hugs and consolation given. On a television, a video plays. We see the man, who just died, as a young child, with his siblings, with his parents, with the family pet – a beautiful child, like every beautiful child we all once were. When you look at that child, you can’t help but smile and want the very best for him. He’s precious.

We often hear when someone is the victim of violence, whether it is murder, rape, assault, whatever it was – that was someone’s child. We’re asked to consider how we’d feel if it was our sister, our mother, our child that this happened to; would our feelings be different in how the situation was handled? The problem is this: It’s always someone’s sister, mother, brother, father – it’s always someone’s child that has been treated in this way, always. While the question is meant to make us really see the victim through the lens of our own life, I have to hope it’s meant to bring empathy to others who we aren’t personally connected with.

And here’s what else I hope: that we can start looking at what’s happening around us with a broader view – to realize that there’s more to each situation than how it personally affects us. Let’s share that and be open to starting new conversations. If we don’t, we can only expect more of the same and perhaps worse. This is in our hands. We’re better than this.

To Mikey, on His Wedding Day

228976_10151803707951959_1649734612_nFrom the moment you were born, you became our Mikey.

While it took a bit of convincing for your father to agree if we had a second son, we’d name him Michael, he finally acquiesced. We kicked around nicknames during the decision process, and when I said Mikey, he said no way; he’d never call you that, maybe Mike, but never Mikey.

And then you arrived and quickly wrapped your tiny fist around his finger. He looked with such love into your hazy newborn eyes and said, “Hi, Mikey.”

I remember rolling my eyes thinking, “Well, that changed rather quickly,” but smiling to myself all the same. You were my Mikey the minute I saw you, too.

It took your three-year-old sister a few days to warm up to you, this quiet, big-eyed baby that entered her life, but your older brother, a little over six at the time, was smitten immediately with you. He held you whenever he could and was always trying to catch your attention. “Hey Mikey,” he’d say and do something to make you smile and laugh. He read you stories and was patient when you crawled into the middle of whatever he was doing.

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In time, you became your sister’s shadow and probably, her biggest fan – and it was mutual. “C’mon, Mikey,” she’d call out and you’d be after her in a flash, no matter what she wanted to do. You shared such a love of animals with her, spending countless hours grooming and playing with our dog Tasha – and with the never-ending parade of kittens, bunnies and lops, and hamsters. You name it, we had it and the two of you had such fun together.

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By the time your youngest brother came along, he shortened your name to Mike, and tried his best to keep up with whatever you were doing. You somehow decided it was your responsibility to look out for your baby brother – a matter, which proved equally as frustrating for you both; you because he didn’t particularly want to listen – and him because, well…he didn’t particularly want to listen. But you looked out for him nevertheless.

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In fact, you looked out for all of us and you still do, but over the years you’ve widened the circle of those you care about – your heart is so big – and now your heart has grown that much more preparing you to share your life with a woman you truly love.

She’s no doubt discovered what we’ve known all along. You are a special individual. You are the friend that can be called in the dead of night when no one else is there to help – and you’ll leave a warm bed and go out in a storm to lend a hand, lend an ear, to let people know you’re there for them and you always will be.

When she’s feeling down, you’ll show up with flowers, with a Friendly’s watermelon roll, with her favorite movie or something else that only you’ve noticed that she loves.

If she’s stressed, you’ll be there, not making a sound, but taking care of all the little details that will somehow make the day a bit easier.

If there’s something she wants to achieve, you’ll have her back and ensure she knows how proud you are of her – especially when she’s not sure she’ll be able to see it through. And you’ll be the first to celebrate her success and let others know as well.

I know this because you’ve done it so many times for all of us.

When you were a little boy, you viewed the world with a smile at every turn – and a bit of stubbornness as well. You knew exactly what you wanted and were determined to do it your own way, even when I knew better.

As a man, you’ve grown to embrace the world – and everyone you meet – with a positive spirit, a willingness to be of service and with empathy for others. Stubbornness developed into tenacity, and if there’s something you truly want, you’ll put your shoulder to the wheel to make it happen. You’ve never been afraid of hard work.

As your mother, I’m so incredibly proud of the person you have become – and the life and goals you have created and pursued.

And now – you’re taking this next big step, which I have no doubt is exactly where you should be. I’ve seen the love your soon-to-be wife has for you – and the life you’ve already built together. I’m excited for what’s to come and for the vision and love you both share.

I was just a bit younger than you are now when you were born – and while life didn’t necessarily unfold in the manner that I thought it might, it brought us to who we are now and the family I cherish so very much. I remember looking into your beautiful blue-grey baby eyes and wishing so much for you then, and have so many wishes still for you now.

May your life bring you the many joys that you have brought to me these past twenty-eight years.

May your marriage offer adventure, laughter and love, the kind that creates incredible memories and anchors solid relationships.

May you always remember who you are – and where you came from – and remain true to yourself as an individual, especially as you move forward as a couple.

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Most of all, I wish you both every happiness that life can offer together. The spirit in which you’ve begun this next chapter in your lives has demonstrated the love and care you have for each other and your willingness to work hard and work together. May it continue throughout all of your marriage – I hope you always see each other in the same light and with the same love as you do now so early in your relationship.

Happy wedding day, Mikey and Hannah! Here’s to all the good things to come!

Love,
Mom

Indisputable Proof

20160123122211_01I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning and reorganizing lately, some of it because I have a little bit of extra time on my hands and even more, because it’s way overdue. It’s easy to get in a rut maintaining a household, not making too many changes and yet as time goes by, there’s so much less that I need. What’s most amazing is no matter how much I clean and discard, there is still so much more to deal with – it’s incredible how much one accumulates over 30+ years with a family.

As part of the process, I’ve been cleaning out old photos, and coming across lots of slides. Early on, long before digital cameras, we took a ton of photos with a Minolta camera and generally shot slides since processing was so pricey. The best ones we made prints from and put them in albums, but all these years later, even the marginal shots are precious and worth saving. So, I’ve been scanning slides, saving them digitally and even introduced my mom to the effort to help. Sadly, there were many slides that haven’t withstood the years, which makes it even more important to capture what I have while I can.
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Just as I accumulated a ton of material items over the years, I have even more in the way of memories. Some have lain dormant until the visual reminder sparked those memories. Like many of the objects in the house, filed and boxed away for safekeeping or convenience, I did the same with many of the things that came my way – putting them in boxes to unwrap later, I guess, for when I had the detachment of time to take them all in.

I’ve grown so used to life as it now is that I sometimes forget what my life once was – and as I scanned slides and viewed many of the images with my mom this past weekend, so many memories came alive again.

I often tell myself that while my life had been pretty special when my kids were young, I also know that the distance from those years often lends a rosier vantage point than maybe it really was. But as I looked at pictures from my late teen years, from the early days when I was dating my one-day husband and the earliest years of our marriage, the proof is indisputable. It wasn’t just pretty special – it was extraordinary in so many ways.

20160113223300_01A truth I can’t dismiss is this: I had a genuine love story. So many happy times and so much love. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for us. And out of that love, our story grew to encompass four kids that brought such joy to us – and we had so many adventures together for so many years.

I think I pushed some of this away for a while; it doesn’t hurt as much if you lessen the magnitude of the loss. I made up scenarios in my head that told me that had some of the heartbreaking stuff – illness, issues related to that, separation and more – not happened, it still didn’t mean that our lives would have continued to be as good as they once were. But it’s hard to know that, hard to guess what two people might have been like in the future based on whom they were once upon a time. So it was easier to second-guess who we had been, what we once had.

But there we were, once upon a time, in full color across my laptop screen. Pictures don’t always show the truth, but these have back-stories to corroborate what had been hidden away in boxes, in a dark closet at the end of the hall.

And as I remember it all, I can now smile as I do. Life seldom unfolds as we planned, but I am blessed to have all that I had and still do.

Sleeping My Way to Wisdom

file0002022534203I sleep a lot lately.

Far more than I have in years and years. Maybe I’m just getting old. Or finally catching up on all the sleep I hadn’t gotten for years – or maybe I just really appreciate the luxuriousness of a long sleep or stolen nap. It simply feels decadent to curl up on the couch mid-afternoon or stay in bed until quite late.

I have a great bed. It’s more than 30 years old, as is the mattress, and at a time when it’s more than far overdue for replacement it instead becomes more comfortable by the year. Go figure. With two mattress pads, wonderful 1,200-thread count sheets and cozy blankets, is it any wonder that I don’t want to leave it?

For many years, I felt like I could never find the right pillow. Now that I have not just one, but two, that I absolutely love, I find myself taking one along when I travel and a favorite blanket, too. No matter where I am, I have the feel of home and the comfort I’ve grown to love. It still leaves room to enjoy whatever I encounter, but I’ve got a backup plan just in case.

And because I’m sleeping more, I’m dreaming more; or at least remembering my dreams in ways I don’t necessarily a good deal of the time. Usually the ones I remember in more recent years have been stress-related dreams, and I can identify those readily by the subject matter. You know the ones, in which you wake up and wonder if it really happened and what precipitated such a tense dream? It’s usually not hard to tell – and those sorts of dreams are great ways to identify the stress in our lives and hopefully do what we can to resolve it.

I’ve had a rather interesting occurrence in a couple of dreams lately, which once upon a time might have indicated major stress and yet this time around it’s certainly not. It’s an odd one, but twice within the last month I’ve had a dream in which I’ve been naked in everyday circumstances in public (not anything, truly, I’d ever want to do or subject others to, mind you).

Most dream interpretations would see this as a vulnerable position, something triggering embarrassment, shamefulness or allowing others to see faults in some capacity. Yet, in both of these dreams, there was nothing like that. It wasn’t like I was somehow showcasing myself, but rather that I was just going about life as if this was totally cool and nothing to give a second thought.

The first dream didn’t really hit home at all. I remember just thinking, “Hmmm…that’s odd.” I didn’t really give it a second thought. After the second – and different – dream happened this past week, it gave me pause. What message was this conveying to me? I came to this: Perhaps it’s acceptance of myself and who I am, that I’m not afraid to be vulnerable, to allow people to see me – flaws and all – and see that’s just who I am. And it’s enough, which is why I feel such ease both in the dream and when I wake up.

So I guess all this sleep is a pretty good thing – in fact, it may even be naptime once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Luxurious Effect of Just Being

IMG_3085This past weekend was one of self-indulgence, from stopping at the liquor store for favorite wines to doing a bit of shopping to watching movies in a fabulously appointed bed in a lovely antique-laden room.

I had a delicious meal at a restaurant I’ve driven by for at least 20 years and always wondered what the food might be like – and woke up to seeing the snowfall outside my window and had nothing else to do but saunter downstairs to a beautifully set table with homemade scones and coffee and two gourmet breakfast choices.

I never go anywhere without one of my cell phones, which I happily left upstairs that morning and settled in to the warmth of the lovely dining room, sipping coffee and nibbling on a cranberry almond scone while Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga offered standards from a stereo.

I could hear the sounds of breakfast being prepared – handmade carrot cake French toast with warm lemon sauce and citrus crème fraiche, seeing the snowfall continue outside as a mischievous black cat kept making his way back to the dining room, wrapping himself around my legs. The owner would shoo him away every now and again, but I think the cat knew I was an ally that didn’t mind.

I thought to myself, “So this is what it’s like just to be for a while.” And how seldom I do that; how seldom most of us do that. I tend to eat while I’m reading, while I’m taking in a video or something on TV – or talking to others, not really focused on just enjoying every sensation, every visual or taste. So that morning, I did. From the tasty scones and delicious coffee, to the cranberry juice and fresh fruit medley alongside the amazing French toast (so very, very good).

Every facet of the bed and breakfast is uniquely and thoughtfully arranged. It would take hours, perhaps even days, to absorb it all. The care in which was taken to create this inner world was immense and I’m certain it’s continuing to evolve. As I took in my surroundings, there was a sense of peace and relaxation that made it hard to do anything than just be.

I hated to leave yesterday, knowing it would somehow break this magical spell, and started plotting what I could do next to extend what I was feeling as I headed south. I know, I know…one would think I’d be satisfied with three days away.

A visit to a favorite Concord, N.H., shop and a then, an excellent movie, before heading home was just what I needed, followed by a relaxing evening at home with a furry friend or two and some wine.

I may not have awoken any earlier this Monday morning, but it was the first time in longer than I can remember that I felt completely refreshed as I began my week – and that’s a luxury in itself.

Feeding Our Souls

IMG_3063While staying at a charming bed and breakfast this weekend, the owner and I got to talking about the work-work-work mentality so prevalent in the U.S. Originally from the U.K., she went from working tolerable hours, with five weeks vacation, to typical 70-hour work weeks when she transferred to the U.S. – and just two weeks vacation.

She said in Europe, people work hard, but they understand the value of time off and recharging one’s batteries. Working in the software industry, she was surprised by the differences she encountered here – and while away from it now for nearly 15 years, upon recently chatting with a friend from the U.K. who works with American companies, she saw that nothing had really changed.

Yet her life did…and now she owns a beautiful bed and breakfast that is extraordinarily busy in the summer and fall. So much so that some of the things she and her husband love best to do, hiking and enjoying the gorgeous outdoors of New Hampshire, often fall to the wayside during the busier tourist season.

And even if they had more time away from the business, the area itself is extremely full with those coming up to the area to take in its beauty and outdoor activities, so it’s not necessarily conducive for those who live here all year round. She remarked on how comical it is that they don’t necessarily get to do what they enjoy most during some of the busier times of year – but yet have come to love when the tourist season abates to have that lovely stretch of time to truly enjoy the seasonal splendors and the less-crowded trails throughout the area.

That led me to think about all the things we love best and how little many of us get to immerse ourselves in them. For instance, writing is one of the things I most enjoy, particularly writing of a more personal nature and a good deal of the time, professional and personal responsibilities leave me a bit drained and not in the head space to just sit and write on my own time.

For many of us, we love something and we give so much of ourselves to other things that we often don’t make the time to focus on what feeds our souls. For me, I need the time to sit and think, to dedicate myself to a task or to simply write, and it’s not something I can squeeze in easily between other activities. So it becomes a luxury when I do, which is very much what this weekend I am in the midst of feels like. I am immersed in an environment in which there’s nothing to focus on but relaxation, thinking, reading and even some writing.

Over the holiday break, a time when I’m usually still engaged in a lot of activity, all good and quite enjoyable, I made a conscious effort just to be this year. To block off a few days in which I was home and focused on seeing a few things through. And I tackled a couple of things that I had wanted to get done, some that had been on the back burner for more than a decade. It wasn’t that they were monumental; it was just making the time and space to allow them to happen. The pleasure I got out of accomplishing these simple things made such a difference to me.

We all have busy lives and for me, I’ve been juggling a lot more than perhaps I easily can at times. But I made that decision and the benefits have been worth it, although I have missed more leisure time. I know that my life is about to get pretty busy again in early March. So I’m coveting this special time, but vowing to make time as regularly as possible to truly enjoy what I love most.

Isn’t that what makes our lives worth living?

The Best-laid Plans

KeysI had a planned vacation day today, one which initially I thought would be a beach day. Seeing how the weather was not supposed to be favorable, rain off and on throughout the day, I decided to do something I seldom do: plan a day at home to actually accomplish some well-overdue household tasks. It was a practical sort of day – one that would leave me feeling just as great as a day at the beach and with far more of a sense of accomplishment. Man, the things I was going to get done…

I got a letter in the mail last Friday, from my doctor’s office, saying it was time to schedule an annual blood test, one that I’d need to fast for. Great, I’ll schedule it first thing Wednesday and then go out to breakfast after. I’d start the day accomplishing something immediately.

Last night, I had a meeting after work, and grabbed a yogurt parfait for a quick snack prior, thinking I’d pick up some dinner on the way home. I already had a chicken satay from a particularly favorite restaurant in mind. The meeting ran long, and I lingered after. It was past 9 pm and I was on my way home, talking on the phone to my mom, when I realized, shoot, I have to fast for 12 hours and I’m already at the 12-hour mark. UGH, and I was starving. I considered rescheduling the appointment  and then kept thinking, no, I really need to get this out of the way. I had a very small snack when I got home thinking the world wouldn’t end if I fasted for eleven-and-a-half hours instead of 12. I’d go to bed early and not think about being hungry.

Except one of my dogs decided he’d stay out longer at his last call for the evening outdoor trip and I ended up trying to doze on the couch so I’d hear his front-door bark to come back in. And that lasted a while. And then he decided to wake up and need to go out a couple of times during the night, and as I kept trying to fall back to sleep in the muggy, muggy night air enveloping me, the well-rested night turned into a very drowsy awakening. I set my alarm early and had a back-up alarm an hour later – which apparently I shut off and went back to sleep. Until 9:03 am. As I gazed, glassy-eyed, at my phone, the time quickly registered and I jumped up and immediately called the doctor’s office to see if I could still come. Turns out that although I was given an appointment, I didn’t really need one. Fabulous.

I got ready quickly, ran out the door, and went back to ensure I locked it. Well, locked it I did and with my car keys on the table next to the front door. I reached for my phone to call my son, who had slept elsewhere the night before, and saw that I was dangerously low on battery power, nearly ready for complete power loss. My car doors were locked and I had no spare key on me. Fortunately, my son answered on the first couple of rings, but had to find a ride to get to the house. And he did, finding my situation kind of comical (although I’m sure not when I woke him up).

I got to the doctor, signed in at the lab, only to find I had to actually go upstairs and someone would take care of me there, not the usual procedure, but at least I was finally back on track. By this point, I was unbelievably hungry – and the sun was shining. It was pretty darn near a beach day for a while. Nevertheless, I persevered. I was ready for breakfast and then a day filled with tasks crossed off the list.

I ordered a delicious breakfast, and took real pleasure in every bite, applying apple jelly to every crumb of the toast and savoring each home fry with my omelet. As I finished up, the server brought my check, saying to take my time. Not me, I was on a mission today, and quickly reached into my purse for my wallet – except, it wasn’t there. My bag is deep yellow, as is my wallet. I was sure I missed it. I looked again, digging deep this time, and suddenly flashing on my wallet sitting on my kitchen table. I had laid it there as I pulled my phone charger out of my bag before leaving the house. For a minute, I wondered if my debit card was still with sunglasses in the case in my bag – and remembered that after having it there all weekend during beach days, I thought it prudent to return it to my wallet yesterday. What to do?

Fortunately, I was familiar with the owner, a former classmate of one of my kids, and asked if I could speak with him for a minute. I told him how embarrassed I was, but I didn’t have my wallet, and would gladly write a check if he wanted or could return to pay the check. He agreed to the latter, telling me if not, he had plenty of dishes to wash. When I got in the car, I again called my son, who was nearby and asked if he had cash on him. He didn’t, but was planning to go to the same restaurant in a short while and would take care of the check, which I now had in my purse. I told him I’d drop it off and would text him when I got to where he was.

As I approached the house, he walked from the backyard, smiling. He said, “It’s like you and I have changed places today.” And I had to agree. I handed off the check and said that I was pretty sure that my wallet was on the kitchen table and he looked very amused and told me that maybe I needed to be a bit more responsible with my things – a statement said many times by me to him over the years. Once again, I couldn’t help but agree.

When I got home, I decided to read Rolling Stone for a bit, which had arrived earlier in the mail while I waited to get back in the house to get my keys. I settled in to a big leather chair that I bought months ago and seldom just relax in. I thought, you know, it’s a day off, relax for a while, actually take the time to read more than one quick feature and run off to do something else. Take the time. You’ve got the whole day (well, another half a day at least).

At one point, still feeling hungry, I got up to grab a bag of crunchy veggie sticks, and as I set myself back down in the chair, I realized the pillow that I had behind my head in the recliner had slipped. I reached up with the hand with the bag of veggie sticks to straighten it, and as I did, I saw the contents were dropping out across the floor. Why this didn’t dawn on me immediately to use the other hand is beyond me, but it was pretty much typical of the day thus far and I burst out laughing very loud.

And I thought about all I planned to accomplish, staining woodwork, perhaps painting something, thinking about the muggy weather and the amount of time it would need to truly dry in this weather – and I wondered about whether I should touch anything today that might prove to be really messy. And I did some housework instead. I tidied up, did some laundry, cleaned the bathroom, sorted out mail and generally kept away from anything I could get into trouble with. I didn’t accomplish a lot, but I did accomplish some things, and I got in some time to relax, watched a movie, read a magazine, got a jump on two new courses I start next week and caught up on a lot of email correspondence. They might not be huge things, but I got them done just the same. So much for the best-laid plans.