Friday, October 2, 2015

The Road Ahead

I revisited my blog tonight for the first time in quite awhile and realized it's been five months since I've written anything. I know for a lot of people this will sound strange and may be hard to understand, but I've missed writing. Believe it or not, it's something I actually enjoy. For so long after Eddie's death writing was my therapy. I can honestly say without any doubt that it literally saved my life. Putting my thoughts and feelings into written words was better than any medication I could have taken. I had every intention of continuing my writing, but with the exception of an occasional entry during my mother's illness, as often happens "life" got in the way.

I realized today though, with the beginning of the month of October, that I need to be writing again... maybe not every day, but definitely more often than I have been. I've written before that for years the month of October has been difficult for me. I won't repeat the reasons here, but a lot of things happened during this month seven years ago that I later realized were indicators of what was to come a few months later. And now October brings an added painful memory - the anniversary of my mother's death. Writing helped me get through these difficult times before, so I'm hoping it will do so again.

It's not like I'm sitting home feeling sorry for myself - I know I have a great deal to be thankful for. I am grateful that I was able to retire after 30 years of teaching and then find a part time job in the education field that allows me the freedom to do the things I enjoy. I know I am blessed to have many friends, both old and new, that I can talk to and share special times with. I appreciate having the luxury of going places and doing things when the opportunity arises. And of course I am blessed to have Trey and Emily in my life. I was reminded just last night of how much they bring to my life - after Emily's softball game she and Trey came back to my house to spend the night, she slept with me, had breakfast here, and then I had the pleasure of taking her to school. Trust me, there isn't time to think about anything else when she's around - she talked nonstop from the time her feet hit the floor this morning until she got out of the car at school!

I know as we approach the first anniversary of Mama's death there will be some difficult days this month though. I still haven't completely accepted that she's gone - I keep thinking she's away on a trip and will be back any day now. I still don't understand why someone who was such an inspiration, so loving, caring, unselfish, and helpful to others had to be taken away. I still have questions (just as with Eddie's death) that I know will remain unanswered. I know she's in a better place and free of pain now, but that doesn't stop me from wishing she was still here with us.

Despite the pain, loneliness, and questions though, I know from experience life will go on. We'll make it through this month with all of it's memories. We'll remember and honor Mama and do our best to get through the first anniversary of her death. We'll continue to grow and experience new things. We'll move forward, because we know that's what those who are gone from our lives would want us to do.

"Even in the winter, even in the midst of the storm, the sun is still there. Somewhere, up above the clouds, it still shines and warms and pulls at the life buried deep inside the brown branches and frozen earth. The sun is there! Spring will come." ~Gloria Gaither









Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Mother's Day Tribute

I've experienced many "firsts" following the death of a loved one during the past six years...the first Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, anniversary, Valentine's, and birthday after Eddie's death as well as the first birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas since Mama died. I know the first is always the hardest, so I've tried to prepare myself for this first Mother's Day without my mother. But as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, no matter how hard you try there's really nothing you can do to prepare yourself for how hard certain days are going to be. There's no point in trying to ignore the day or in pretending like there's nothing significant about it. The day is going to come, it's going to be difficult, and all we can do is survive it. As much as I've dreaded spending this day without my mother for the first time in 53 years, I know there's no way to avoid it. So I decided the best way to get through it is to remember and pay tribute to her - to the wonderful person, daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, and friend that she was.

My mother was the most selfless person I have ever known. In my entire life I cannot remember one time that she put herself first. She was always more concerned with other's feelings, needs, and wants than she was with her own. Even when she was sick she still wanted to take care of others instead of herself. She picked Emily up from school, kept her in the afternoons, did things for Trey, checked on my dad, and had her mother live with her until she was no longer physically able. When the time came that she couldn't do these things any more she cried, not for herself but for everyone else, because she felt like she was letting them down. Everyone who was at her funeral heard me give just a few examples of her selfless acts - taking Emily's tennis shoes to her at school when she forgot them on PE day, going to lunch at Emily's school even when she was wearing her chemo pump bag, calling my dad every single day to make sure he was ok, getting someone to help him walk on the beach and into the ocean on our last vacation, bringing her mother to live with her even when she wasn't feeling up to taking care of her, and the indescribable support she gave to me after Eddie died.

I never gave any thought to my mother's unselfish way of life when I was growing up. Just like everyone else, especially during my teenage years, I was absorbed in myself...my school, my friends, my activities. But looking back now, I see just how much my mother must have sacrificed for me. I can't remember ever doing without anything I wanted, especially during my high school years. My mother was a single mom working as a secretary in a very small town at that time. I was involved in a lot of activities...cheerleading, student council, Beta Club, Y-Club...that required money for dues, uniforms, trips, camps, etc. Though she probably made just enough for us to live on, I was always able to do everything I wanted. And it wasn't just the money - she gave of her time as well. She was the mother who chaperoned, supervised, transported, and volunteered whenever and wherever she was needed. I have no idea how she did what she did, and I am sorry to say I don't think I ever adequately thanked her for it.

Of course I don't have to tell anyone who knew my mother about her faith. She didn't just read the Bible and go to church on Sunday - she lived her faith every day of her life. She didn't "preach" to others yet her faith was evident in everything she said and did. She believed in the power of prayer and encouraged everyone around her to do the same. There were many times I wanted her to get mad at someone or something, but she wouldn't. Instead she always remained calm and prayed for the person or the thing that was causing her difficulty. Right up to the day she died, she believed she was going to be healed...and in the end she was...her healing just took place in heaven instead of here on Earth.

But more than anything, I will remember my mother for all she did for me after Eddie's death. She was here for whatever I needed or wanted. She held me when I cried, listened when I wanted to talk, sat with me in silence when I didn't, encouraged me when I didn't think I could keep going, and left me alone when I told her to. Though she certainly didn't deserve it, she took the brunt of my anger more than once during this time. She told me things I needed to hear as well as things I didn't want to. She encouraged me and supported me unconditionally, and I know I would not have survived without her.

Though my mother's life was cut short by cancer, she made the most of the time she was given. She was a positive influence and role model, not only for me, but for everyone who knew her. She was a true blessing to all of us...to her parents as their youngest daughter (although from the stories I've heard she was a bit of a rebel growing up); to her siblings as their baby sister (even if she drove them crazy at times); to Trey as the grandmother with whom he shared a special bond for 30 years (even though he didn't always like it when she told him exactly what she thought); to Emily as the great grandmother many children don't ever have the chance to know (I pray she will remember the time she spent with her "meme"); to all of her friends who had the opportunity to be a part of her life either through school, church, work, or as a neighbor; and finally to me as the wonderful mother who is responsible for the person I am today. I think it's safe to say my mother made a lasting impression on everyone she met. I miss her terribly and would give anything to be able to talk to her again. And while I may not understand why someone so good had to suffer and be taken away from all who needed her here, I will always be thankful for the time we had and truly grateful that God chose her to be my mother.

"A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie." ~Tenneva Jordan


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Friday, April 3, 2015

Change is the Only Constant

Anyone who has read my blog knows I am always completely open and honest about the events in my life - how I feel about them, how I deal with them, and how they affect my life both present and future. My posts up to this point have focused on the losses in my life, Eddie's death and the death of my mother, and the changes I had to make as a result of those losses. The upcoming change in my life may not be on the same level as losing my husband and my mother, but it is going to be significant just the same. I have been thinking about and planning my retirement for some time now. I know it is the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I'm not reconsidering my decision or having second thoughts of any kind. But as the time inches closer I will admit having some feelings of apprehension and uncertainty. A way of life that I have known and depended on for 30 years is about to disappear and that will mean another change for me. Other than part-time jobs while going to college, teaching is the only thing I have ever done. I have held the same job in the same school system for 30 years. The only changes that took place were when my original school was joined with another and rebuilt, when I switched from teaching special education to teaching fourth grade, and when I moved from one room to another farther down the hall. Most people experience many more changes during their professional careers than I have (the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports people hold an average of 11 jobs during their adult working years)!

While Eddie and I were married we talked about and even planned what we would do when we both retired. He was from South Georgia where his family owned property in the country as well as along the water on the east coast. He was a big hunter and fisherman and I loved the beach, so it was a given that when the time came we would move to one of those two places and live out our remaining years. It never entered my mind that I would have to come up with a different plan, one for just me, until Eddie died suddenly. Everything changed for me after that...I had to adjust to a new life on my own; I had to make new plans for the present as well as for the future; I had to accept that sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. One major constant during that time was my job, and I soon came to rely very heavily on the schedule and routine it provided for me. That may sound dreary and boring to some people, but knowing I had to be somewhere and do a certain thing at a certain time kept me going and in turn kept me sane. I learned very quickly that I didn't do well with a lot of down time and nothing specific to do. To this day, six years later, I still need to stay busy and focused on something. Too much unstructured time on my hands leads to thinking which leads to asking questions and wondering why again - in other words backsliding. And I do not want my retirement to lead to that!

So now the time has come for me to rethink what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. I've talked about moving back to my hometown, and that's still an option, but it's not something I'm going to do right away. I'll give more serious thought to that down the road. I've joked about buying a condo and moving to the beach, but that's only going to happen if I win the lottery! (I do however intend to visit there more often.) I want to do more to promote my book (something I promised my mother), and I would like to find groups to speak to about my experiences. I know there are options for part-time work in my field, and I intend to pursue some of those. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to not having to go to bed at 9:30, get up at 5:30, work 9-10 hours a day, grade papers on the weekend, and still never be caught up! I will be relieved to not have such a strict schedule, but I'm not ready to be without any schedule at all. I'm sure in time I'll find a happy medium between the two extremes - it will just be one more adjustment in my life - proving once again that "Life Goes On".

"Retirement may be an ending, a closing, but it is also a new beginning."
~Catherine Pulsifier












 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dreams

Dreams are strange, mysterious, and confusing things. They can be happy, comforting, funny, sad, scary, and upsetting. They can be recalled in great detail or remembered only in bits and pieces. There are a lot of different theories about them based on studies by famous psychologists. Many believe dreams have meaning, that they reveal our hidden fears and desires. Others think they are just a reflection of our daily experiences and serve no real purpose. I've never been one to give a lot of thought to my dreams either way. I don't spend time trying to remember them much less trying to determine what if anything they mean (I'm sure this is surprising since I've always had a tendency to overanalyze most things!). Every now and then though, I have a dream that I do think has some meaning...last night was one of those times.

I dreamed I was cleaning out my room at school - deciding what to leave, what to keep, and what to give away. That in itself wasn't strange since I'll have to tackle that job VERY soon. What was unusual were the things in my classroom...my mother's microwave, stereo, and television; my grandmother's rocking chair and piano; Eddie's recliner and the deer head that used to hang over the fireplace. It sounds like I was cleaning out my house or storage building, but I wasn't...I was in the school, there were student desks, books, and papers there, and I could see the bulletin boards and cabinets that are in my classroom. I have no doubt this dream was mostly about change...the changes I've had to make in the past and the ones that are coming in my near future. And though I may be reading too much into it, I'm wondering if there's a deeper meaning there - could it also be about choosing what I need to keep and what I need to get rid of in my life?

Most of the changes I've been through during the past six years were forced on me - I had no say or control over when, how, or why they occurred. Even though I know I've adjusted fairly well and have moved on with my life, there are still some things I need to let go of - like the lingering questions and occasional feelings of anger and resentment. While I know in my head there was nothing I could have done to prevent Eddie's death, there's still a small place in my heart that feels there had to have been something more I could've done, and I wonder why things had to happen the way they did. And though I don't deal with it every day there are still times when I get angry at him for the choice he made and resent him for what he put us through and for what he took away from us. There are things from the past I need to keep and hold close in my mind and my heart...the pleasant memories of happy times and good things we shared...but there are things I need to get rid of as well.

Thankfully the next big change in my life (retirement) is completely within my control. I decide the when, how, and why this time, and though it may be a bit scary, I know it's something I'm ready for! I'm sure there will be more dreams in the next few months about this upcoming change, but I feel sure they will be pleasant ones.


"A dream is a work of art which requires of the dreamer no particular talent, special training, or technical competence. Dreaming is a creative enterprise in which all may and most do participate."
~Clark S. Hall

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

You Can't Go Back

During this time each year most people do the same thing to some degree - think about the past and look ahead to the future. We revisit the last year and reflect on the things we did, what happened to us, what went wrong, what went right, and the choices we made. Then we decide what we want to do differently in the new year, the changes we want to make, and the things we want to accomplish - we make our New Year's resolutions. Many people have the same resolutions year after year...lose weight, make more money, quit smoking, exercise, spend more time with family. I said many of the same things over the years, but after Eddie's death my resolutions changed drastically. My first goal was to simply survive from one day to the next (which is basically all I did during the first year); the next was to get my life back on track (although I'm not sure what "back on track" actually is); then I wanted to make my house and my life mine rather than ours (I did that by redecorating and getting involved with new groups of friends); with a lot of prodding I then promised to turn my blog into a book and get it published (which I did); and last year I resolved to let go of anger and regrets (I'm still working on that one).

I don't feel the need to make any of the same resolutions now after my mother's death that I did after Eddie's. I miss her and wish she were still here, but I'm doing more than just surviving this time, and I don't have any anger or regrets. So when anyone has asked I've simply said all I want this year is to be happy. Achieving that happiness though is going to involve making decisions (not resolutions). While I don't have to make those decisions today - I don't officially retire until the end of May - it's not too soon to start thinking about them. No one is forcing me to retire at the end of this school year, but that's one decision that has already been made. A friend told me I would know when  the time was right, and even though I have loved what I've done for 30 years, I know without any doubt it's time to move on to something else. There are plenty of options for what to do after I retire...private tutoring, a part-time job, work at the college level teaching a class or supervising student teachers, going back to school to become a counselor, continuing my writing, possibly speaking to groups about my experiences...I don't intend to sit around doing nothing and being bored! My biggest decision isn't what I'm going to do but rather where I want to be when I do it.

I've thought and talked a lot about moving back "home" after I retire. Kenny Chesney's song I Go Back describes how I feel about certain reminders of growing up in Hazlehurst..."I go back to the feel of a fifty yard line...I go back to the smell of an old gym floor...I go back to a pew, preacher, and a choir and the smell of Sunday chicken after church...I go back to watching summer fade to fall, growin up too fast and I do recall wishin time would stop right in its tracks..." These are all very old memories though. I know I can't literally "go back" to the life I had there before. Of course some of the same people and places are still there - I have dear friends I love to visit and places I enjoy going back to. I know life there now would be very different...but can't different can also mean better? Who knows!

I talked with someone recently about this decision, and their advice was simply "just follow your heart." If only it were that easy! It's hard to follow your heart when part of it wants one thing and part of it wants something else. Right now I don't know how to choose between the two, and thankfully I don't have to yet. I still have time to weigh my options before making a choice, and even then no decision is carved in stone. Unlike the past which cannot be erased the future is always a clean slate.

"It doesn't matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions." ~Jim Rohn

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Peace That Comes From Knowing

The first Christmas without my mother has passed, and of course she was on my mind constantly. Everything I did, everywhere I went, everything I saw or heard in some way reminded me of her. My mother loved Christmas - the decorations, presents, movies, songs, friends, family time. She didn't care about getting anything herself, she just wanted to give to others (which was how she lived her entire life). As I decorated my tree this year I looked at the many ornaments she had given me and remembered something special about each one. I missed her more and more with every ornament I hung, but while I shed a few tears I didn't have any major meltdowns. And though I felt a sense of sadness at times, I wasn't overwhelmed by it - at least not the way I was after Eddie died. I started to think about the difference in my reactions to these two losses and to wonder why I wasn't feeling or acting the same this time. As I continued to decorate my tree and listen to the words of some of my mother's favorite Christmas songs, it finally occcurred to me - while I miss my mother (and always will) I am at peace with her death. But now, nearly six years later, I still do not have any peace about Eddie's death - and THAT is the difference.

My mother had the strongest faith of anyone I have ever known. Even with everything she endured that faith never waivered. She talked about it openly and freely to others. She read her bible and prayed daily. As I cleaned out her house and went through her belongings I found evidence of her faith everywhere - bible verses written on little pieces of paper and stuck inside things, book after book of inspirational stories and quotes, even her usernames, passwords, and email address contained scripture references! She believed until the very end that she could be healed of her disease, but at the same time she was willing to accept if that healing didn't come. There was never a doubt in my mind about where my mother was going when she left this earth. I didn't need any proof - but I got it anyway.

On her last day Mama's house was filled with friends and family, some who drove several hours just to be there for the afternoon (which only confirmed how much she meant to others). We had food, two Christmas trees, Thanksgiving arrangements, Halloween decorations, a fourth of July sign and flag, and birthday flowers and balloons...as many celebrations as we could have all rolled into one. People were talking, laughing, reminiscing, singing, and praying. There were of course tears flowing as we were all aware her time with us was almost over. The day eventually came to an end and most of the company left as it began to get dark. I knew this would be my last night with my mother. I wanted to pretend like it was any other night though, so I turned on the television - Saturday night football of course - and we cheered against Auburn!

Not long after the game ended, it was obvious that Mama's time here was ending as well. Those of us who were there gathered around her bed - her sisters Marie and Vangie, her niece Debbie, her friend Jean, her hospice nurse Joy (an angel on earth), the home health caregiver, her preacher John (who arrived just moments before she passed), and myself. I was holding Mama's left hand and Marie was holding her right as she and Vangie took turns reading some of Mama's favorite passages from the Bible. Joy was talking to her and telling her it was okay to let go when her right arm started to rise. At first I thought Marie was raising her arm, but Marie let go of her hand and her arm continued to rise toward the ceiling. Her eyes looked up to a point in the distance, she stretched out her fingers, and took one last quiet breath...leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that there was someone there reaching out to take her hand. I spent my mother's last moments with her, I told her goodbye and that I loved her, and most importantly I witnessed her entrance into heaven...and THAT is why I am at peace!

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  
John 14:27




Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Missing Piece

A couple of months ago I decided to resume my blog to share my feelings about my mother's battle with cancer. At that time her cancer had worsened and she was feeling sick and experiencing a great deal of pain most of the time. I made one entry in my blog about how unfair I thought it was that someone so good had to suffer so much, but I haven't written about anything since then. I've had plenty of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and especially questions, but I either didn't have the time or the energy to write about them until now. After fighting with everything she had and never for one second giving up her faith or her belief in a miracle my mother left this world on October 25, 2014. Normally in a case like this people would say that the person "lost the battle" with their disease. I'm not going to use those words, though, because my mother didn't LOSE anything...she WON and her reward was a new, healthy, pain and disease-free life in a place where she will forever be surrounded by loved ones and happiness.

I know I am not the first person to ever lose a parent. Many people have experienced the death of one or both of their parents long before me. My own son lost his father after only 24 years. I was lucky enough to have my mother as a part of my life for 53 years. My mother wasn't just my mother though - she was also my best friend and my confidant. During my entire life we never lived very far apart, and even when we didn't live close enough for daily visits we still talked on the phone (or more recently texted) every day. We talked about everything, and she always helped me through the difficult times. As close as we were though, we were polar opposites in almost every way. If she said something was yellow, I said it was green. If she said it was cold, I said it was hot. We didn't see eye to eye on politics, religion, how Trey should live his life, or how Emily should be raised. She was content, even happy, with the simple things, but I always wanted more. When I told her about the last car I purchased her response was simply to ask "why"! She told me what she thought I should and shouldn't do, and I usually ended up doing the opposite. She never hid what she thought or how she felt about what I did (I guess in that way we are alike). When I showed her my tattoo at the beach a couple of summers ago her only comment was "If you're waiting for me to say I like it, I don't"! I think that's what made our relationship so special though...we could voice our opinions, disagree, even have some pretty serious arguments, then five minutes later act as if nothing had happened.

Although I know my mother is in a "better place" now, that doesn't stop me from asking why she couldn't have been healed here; why she was taken away from the people who needed her; and why she had to suffer so much during her last few months. I realize I won't get an answer to these questions, but just as I did after Eddie's death I'm still asking them. I will miss my mother terribly for the rest of my life. Not a day has gone by during the past two weeks that I haven't picked up the phone to call or text her, expected to see her when I walked into her house, or thought of something I just had to tell her about right away! I have been truly blessed with the love and support I've received from family and friends during this time, and I will be forever thankful to those who have been here helping me along the way. But I have also been truly hurt by some I thought would be here and weren't. That is definitely the kind of thing I would have talked to my mother about, and I can hear her now telling me..."Honey, focus on the positive, the people you know you can depend on. Those who are supposed to be in your life will be there for you when you need them the most. If they're not, then you don't really need them."

As my mother would want, I will try to focus on the positive and on all of the good things I have in my life. I am thankful that I still have my dad, Trey, Emily, an extended family, a home, a job I can retire from in just a few months, and the best friends anyone could ever ask for. Most people would probably be content, satisfied, and maybe even happy with what I have. But of course (just as my mother knew) I'm never satisfied and am always looking for something more...there's an important piece missing from my life, and I think it's time to start working on finding it.

"Love is the seed of all hope. It is the enticement to trust, to risk, to try, and to go on." ~Gloria Gaither