Some thoughts on tragedy and grief

Tragedy strikes us all. As an individual or as a family…even as a nation.

1997

There was a drought in the Texas Hill Country, the lake was low, and winter was ending. Every day people would walk past our pier and look out across the cove and pray for water to fill it up.
Pray for rain, our respite from the drought, our savior from the brutal heat of the summer to come.
Water to irrigate gardens and fill wells, water to quench the thirst of our neighborhoods that depended on the health of the lake.
Eventually the water came. It rained for days, storms to usher in the bloom of spring. There is nothing like the Texas Hill Country in the spring. Should you ever get the opportunity you should visit in mid-April. It is just gorgeous.
The lake was regaining its vigor and the drought was ending.
Eventually the clouds parted. The water appealed to two fishermen that I loved more than anything.
They trolled out in a fishing boat on a bright, sunny afternoon, off to catch a few fish for dinner or maybe to add to the freezer. They kept our fridges stocked with fresh fish, and were just going to play.
Before the end of my day at school a storm blew through and made everything glisten as the sun came back out. I stayed for choir practice and went home a little later than usual with a friend.
I knew something was wrong when there was a police car outside our house when we got home, but no one knew anything. They just knew the storm had blown through and the men hadn’t returned home.
Surely they were just on the wrong side of the lake waiting it out on a beach.
One hour past, then four, then it was morning, and then it was 10 am.
We heard nothing except the boats going back and forth on the lake and the occasional shutter of helicopters overhead.
They never came home.

2009
My sister had finally agreed to go to a rock in roll bar with me that I sort of adored to see a band that I had loved since I was a kid. We had friends who were going to meet us and plans for dinner and drinks.
A night of fun.
As the hour drew nearer to our fun evening people cancelled.
I hate when people cancel last minute, but they did, so it was just going to be my sister and me.
We were determined to have a good time. We went to the restaurant upstairs and ordered some food. We watch people tottering in 5 inch stilettos. We laughed at how we were the only two out of I don’t even remember how many that made it to the show.
I don’t even remember who was playing.
We had never had a sisters night out, so we hung out and talked for a while.
Our drinks arrived and so did our food. We talked about our kids and jobs and life.
Then the phones started ringing.
Her husband had been trying to get ahold of her, but she didn’t answer, so he called my phone and I picked up right away.
“Where are you?”
“Scout. Why?”
“Dennis was in an accident. You need to go to Austin.”
“Okay, we will be there as fast as we can.”
We left our food uneaten and rushed from the building. We didn’t know what we were going to see when we got to the hospital, but we knew we had to go.
My sister’s neighbor kept the kids while we were gone.
We drove. A drive that normally took 4 to 5 hours took 3.
Again we waited for a man we loved; only this time his body was with us. It was his soul that was missing.
The life force that made him our father even though we were grown when our parents met.
We waited the night and a day. We waited until the tests were run that said he was coming back to us. We prayed for his soul to find its way home. We held hands and rested our heads on the cold tile of a hospital waiting room floor.
My mother waited in his room. Talked to him. Tried to coax him back. Tried to feel the warmth of his hand in hers for as long as she could.
He never found his way back.

2013
The last two days have brought great grief to the cities of Boston and West. Gut wrenching losses for families who had been having nice normal days. They were out for a run. Home watching TV. Sitting watching the world. They were participating in life.
Some of them were accomplishing dreams. Others were at work.
I was at work Tuesday. I followed the story all afternoon and late into the night. Pausing only while at home and holding my kids just a little tighter. I let them fall asleep in the living room snuggled up that night. There was nothing I wanted more than to hold them and make them safe.
Last night after I put the boys in bed I logged into Facebook and immediately I saw photos of a fire at a plant in Waco. Then I turned on the news and it had exploded.
Not just exploded but ripped a town apart. It will take years for them to come back from that.

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I only have a few words of wisdom when it comes to loss of those you love and rebuilding the life that you know. I don’t know if anyone who has lost in these tragedies will read it, but maybe the people who are reading need to hear it as well.
It takes time to cry. It takes time to feel the loss. It takes time to really understand that they’re gone and never coming back. It takes years, sometimes decades, to move on.
I don’t think we move on really.
I know that in my life the losses just became dull aches that resonate with how I try to appreciate each breath I take.
The losses have taught me to see the effects of my life on others. How one decision can cause a ripple effect that goes on and on and on.
It is easy to get mad and take your grief out on the world, but don’t. I got mad when I was so young and my grandfather got taken from me. I got so mad that I eventually rebelled to the point where nothing mattered but how I felt. I took my grief out on everyone, but no one ever understood that or forced me to deal with it. Don’t do that.
Don’t bottle it up and bury it thinking that everything is okay. You’re here, you’re safe, you’re moving along. You will crumble from the inside and become immobile.
Grieve. Heal. Cry. Get angry, but don’t get mad.
Most importantly love. Love is the most healing of emotions. It creates strength were there may have been none and warmth that lasts through the cold.
I pray that love surround you and that God bless your life with many years of happiness that far overshadow this dark time.

Thinking about a book

As I am preparing to change my stars I chose to take this morning and revisit some of my past. I drove out of my apartment complex aiming for the nearest Starbucks, instead I turned right and followed the street to the bay. Turning up Boulevard I saw it, this place that I called home for so many years. From the outside it looks the same…from the inside there are only minor changes. They no longer use old beer boxes to hold the condiments, they have added a side bar. There are all kinds of little changes…but the biggest change are the people. Most of them haven’t changed which is perhaps why I love it so much. (And I say it is the biggest change because turn over is so high in most restaurants and offices these days.)

Just for the record my mother thinks I am crazy for loving this place, but I do.

Driving down 646 I thought of a book I should write…not saying it would sell, but for the right audience it would be a hilarious endeavor.

“The Tales of an Aging Partier”

I can’t say that I was a partier, although I have done my fair share in this life, but I could write my stories and the stories of some of my favorite people. I would be a shocking read for some and the Southern Baptist Convention would surely protest. Because the first line would be…

“I’m a Baptist. A closet drinking, Bible thumping, Southern Baptist, who happened to fall in love with a place called Noah’s Ark.”

Then I would go on to tell you tales of the cook from Southern Louisianna who I could only half understand when he got good and drunk. His girlfriend we called Goldie, who isn’t so Goldie since his over dose. The other cook who exuded danger, only to find out that he was a convicted felon. Convicted for manslaughter, but it should have been self defense…if I am to believe the tale. He was amazing and troubled and kind. Unbelievably kind, until he drank Jack Daniels…then he wasn’t very nice and I was never there for that. I only witnessed the aftermath.

Then there were the B’s. We each had a name Baby, Queen, Baby Girl, Princess, Mama, etc…all different kinds of B names. B standing for ehem…a female dog…Not that I have been opposed to cussing on this blog, but I don’t agree with the term for these women.

These just happen to be very strong, independant women who have been hurt. They chose husbands badly, are defending what they have…sometimes by the skin of their teeth. It is an unforgiving existence. Always on your feet, always smiling, always seeming to be carefree…all the while wondering am I going to make enough to cover rent this month? Are the kids fed? Will the new babysitter walk out and leave my kids like the last one? Will my crazy ex show up and start something?! (None of this was ever expereinced by me while I was here…but I was a witness in the lives of many.)

Sitting here I remember the parties, the alcohol, the poker runs, and I think of the smiles mine and everyone elses. When you think of a bar you think of fun. I think mostly about the misery. This is not a life that 99% of the people reading this post have ever experienced. I hope you never do.

To imagine briefly what it is like listen to songs like “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer,” “Highway to hell,” and “I love this bar.”  See you didn’t know you would get a play list today. 🙂 Oh a film you could watch is Patrick Swayze’s “Road House.” Okay, so not quite as violent, but just as lively.

It’s a biker bar, for lack of other terms…for some it was featured in films, and for others…it is hell.

Still I love it here. I love the dysfunction, although I don’t ever want to be part of it again. I love the smoke, the atmosphere, the wild banter between barmaid and patron. In my day we kept riding crops behind the bar.

Now that you have read all of that…imagine being an extremely innocent 20 year old girl just moved in from a land where there were no bars and working here. I had worked for elegant bed and breakfasts to that point, quiet time between guests consisted of cleaning up and making the inn’s shiny so that other people could fullfill their dreams. I witnessed fantasy weddings, elegant buffets, learned practical tricks for preparing breakfast for a 100 guests with just a staff of three. I learned how to fold the impossible fitted sheet!

What I should have done when my mother said take this job at $9 an hour and stay in our hometown, I should have taken her offer. She was the head of HR for her company…I could have learned to budget. At the time I didn’t think it was enough to live on…oh what I learned…

We move down to what I have (over the years) refered to as the armpit of America and then found this job, working in this bar. “Coyote Ugly” had just been released and I admit I had this romantic perception of what it would be like. For the record, that movie only released the romantic parts.

Wow – my experience here opened my eyes to the fringe.

I learned too much about life here. I learned that people can be cruel and heartless, but that those same people will fight to the death if someone outside the circle tries to injure their circle. I learned a bit about bikers, a bit about rebels, a bit about gangs, and way too much to tell you on a blog post. I was an outsider from a world they hadn’t known and I got my education from the School of Noah’s.

Coming here I feel like I am at my Alma Mater. We talk about the old days. We lament the friends who have passed through over doses and accidents. We have seen many tragedies through drug use and even more because our friends ride Harley’s and refuse to wear helmets.

I would love to go to junior highs and high schools and teach the kids tell them….you see this path? I know this path looks like fun. I know this path looks exciting and charming and like something you would like to do…but don’t. Even if you don’t go on to be a doctor or a lawyer or wildly successful you owe it to yourself to be more.

I learned that…eventually. I quit here about three years later. Scarred and scared and hindered by a husband…not aware of the potential that existed. Still trying to work through all the experiences.

I think a book that tells the stories good or bad would be something many would read. I couldn’t add pictures. I would probably have to give someone here a cut of my percentage, but it would entertain.

Phenominal Female Friday – Pearl

In a little town in south Texas, there is a little white house with brown shudders and trim. Within the little house there was always a warm cup of coffee and a place to sit. Peeking out through the front window, always mindful of the world sat Nanny. She would read, watch TV, sew, or chat on the phone, but always from her little recliner by the front window.

She has been a constant in the lives of many for the last 88 years. Several dozen spent in that house, looking out that window, the color of the recliner and the ages of the people being the only things that changed. Nanny loved people. She loved visitors. She loved to meet the new and visit with the old. Any morning of the year you would find her at home, waiting on visitors.

There is something about a pattern to life that is appealing to me. The same routine day in and day out. I found it fascinating to witness the monotony.

Nanny was up at 6:30 every morning. Coffee was on by 7. Biscuits and sausage on weekends was ready by 7:30. The friends and family that she loved so much would start popping in about that time too. The aunts came every day. Some of the uncles did too. Her grandkids all stopped in at least once a week and those that didn’t heard all about it the next. She sat in her chair, occasionally getting up to fill up her cup, and she talked to everyone that came by. She would have something for lunch ready about 11 am and it was always something hearty. Always enough to feed an army.

My son will tell you about the Honey Buns. She always had boxes of Honey Buns. She would dole them out to every grandchild and great-grandchild and great-great-grandchild. Watching their eyes light up when they tasted the yummy sweetness was ever satisfying to her. Then he would tell you about her toy cabinet and the giant legos. He has spent many a morning creating and playing and listening to the grown ups.

Wow could we talk. We talked about every thing. We talked about every one. We got filled in on who was getting married, who was getting divorced, who was having a baby or breaking up. I don’t consider it gossip if it’s all true and about family. I shared my hopes. I listened with rapt attention. I have a fondness for the older generation. There is so much to learn from them. So much history they played witness to, and I can’t help but want to hear anything they want to tell me. I loved listening to Nanny’s stories. I loved the story she wrote about her life.

She was a small town Texas girl, born a stones throw from where I grew up. She was married young and had her first child at 16. She went on to have 6 children total, 3 boys and 3 girls. She never drove a day in her life. She was a survivor. She was loving. She could teach us all a lesson in forgiveness and a few lessons on life. She was generous. She loved.

Above all Nanny loved. That was her gift. That is what made her so amazing. She loved unconditionally. She loved whether you deserved it or not. She loved through good times and bad. She loved through life and through death. It didn’t matter what was going on within her own body she still loved you and made that known in simple words and in wanting to stay involved.

There is something so simple in her love that is must surely be the lesson we are meant to learn from her. Keep your heart open, your front door unlocked, your smiles warm, your words caring and maybe, just maybe you will be a force in a life yet to be lived.

Even in death Nanny will live because she loved so many.

Life and Loss…

Okay – so I was never able to go finish my last post…the day is now kind of a blur. But I had intended to…this week has been a blur.

We could call this post a lesson in coping.

Really.

Life has had a sinking feeling this week. Try as I might to not let it, it does. You see…the part of last Friday that was some how deleted from my post was the part where we said our good byes to Nanny.

Last week I randomly posted about my husband’s grandmother discovering she had cancer.

Well…over the course of that week she made a life ending decision. She didn’t want to suffer, and she didn’t want to be a burden on her family. She began refusing food and water. Although she had always said she would do this if she ever found out she had but a short while to live. I for one never thought she would actually have the force of will to follow through. Nanny was stubborn when she made her mind up about something, so it really doesn’t surprise me.

After work Friday, after my morning spent making decorations for my office, I was walking out to the car when my ex husband called and gave me the news that she was refusing sustenance. ‘Huh?’ Shock filled my belly and the realization that Friday I would have to say goodbye hit me.

How do you say goodbye? This is the thought that went through my  head on the way to pick up my youngest from the babysitter.

I am 31 years old, you would think that I have some experience telling people goodbye, but I don’t. The loss in my life has been the sudden, tragic kind. We have never gotten to say our goodbyes to find closure in a few whispered words. We have to work it out over time. We have to come to terms with our grief after the fact. We haven’t had the opportunity to receive closure in the relationships unless we found it with in ourselves. That is a process. That in some cases (as with my grandfather’s accident) takes years.

I was thinking this would be different. I was thinking that I would get to say good bye.

As last week had gone on I had considered the fact that we were going to lose Nanny, but the doctors had said three months. I guess I clung to the idea of three months. When my sister in law called and told me that it could be as soon as with in two weeks, that was still not enough time.

Is there a length of time long enough to satisfy love when you will never be able to speak to them in person again?     No.

As it happens in life I never got to have that final conversation. I went to Nanny’s house and sat with the family for a while Friday afternoon, she never woke up. We would hear her breath, we would listen for movement, but nothing happened. She never stirred.

I had made a commitment to my great-uncle to pick him up from his group home Friday evening. If I had not been there to pick up my uncle he would have thought I hated him and didn’t care about his feelings and would have questioned me about it every time that I see him from now until forever. He is mentally handicapped and some things he just doesn’t understand. He is an 8 year old in a 75 year old’s body and though he has the longest memory of anyone I have ever met, he doesn’t process things properly. He wouldn’t have understood having to wait because my ex husband’s grandmother was dying. I am not sure he understands the extension of life outside of our own family. It wasn’t until 2002 that he had ever lived outside the home of one of his own family members. Even then his group home is owned by very old friends of our family. He is well protected and cared for, bumps in his plan don’t work well.

Anyway, I didn’t get to say good bye. I was there, but I hold the opinion that she was already gone. I looked in on her in her bed and what I saw was not the person that I knew. What I saw was the pallid veil of death that was slowly taking her body as her soul must surely have already been in heaven. There was breath left in her body, but there was no emotion on her face. She lay a shadow of her self in the bed she had shared with her husband for so many years in a house that had seen so many holidays and childhoods.

Turns out that my goodbye was said a month ago as I was leaving her house after our Saturday morning coffee and honey buns. “Good bye Nanny, love you, see you again soon.” I did…she just didn’t get to see me.

There is much to learn from her life. My sporadic series Phenomenal Female Friday’s will be about what I learned from her life.

What dreams may come?

Life is funny. No one really knows what they are doing. You can’t practice and you don’t get real do overs. You can’t rewind time and take back words or hurts.

All we can try to do is do the best with what we’ve got and hope it’s enough.

I am prompted today by the quote of the day from Real Simple magazine.

“Living is more a question of what one spends than what one makes.” -Marcel Duchamp

It is also prompted by my post from yesterday, my friend who died. He was very materialistic, he was a workaholic until he was an alcoholic, and the spent more time on the things in life that didn’t matter, instead of the ones that did.

Is that how I want to be remembered? No.

Certainly not! And after all we want to be remembered for the love we have shown, rather than the lies we have shared.

This is what I want by the time my end comes. I want my children to miss me. I want them to know that I beyond the sadness that I am with God and will never struggle again.

I want them to know that they should have a party, not a funeral.

I don’t want some solemn event that has nothing to do with who I am as a person. I think shots of Jack Daniels should be consumed. I think that it should contain lots of people having a great time. I will sit over in the corner like I always do just smiling. Then as far as a place to spread my ashes, toss me into the wind over Enchanted Rock and let me be.

I know it’s morbid to think about, but at some point we have to.

I hope that I have enough friends who want to be there and support my family. I hope that I am a good enough person to deserve their friendship.

HOWEVER

I have lots of dreams that need to be fulfilled in the next 70 years – yep I am planning on making it to 101. There is so much to see and do that I am sure I won’t accomplish it all, but I damn well am sure going to try.

We must dream. We must seek our future.

Living each moment as though it is your last.

We can easily become bitter and angry, holding on to the things and people who have injured us.

What’s the freaking point!?

That’s what I don’t understand!

Why allow something so small in terms of life consume you in terms of living?

Addiction, abuse, anger, and so much more take our minds and control them, and we lose sight of the things we need. We need to get over those things. We need to find a path to enlighten our joy.

To heighten our awareness of ourselves.

We need to let go and move on.

We need to talk to each other and we need to listen.

Listening is so important to finding that path to fulfillment.

Have down time. At lunch today the whole department was chatting and the dean told us that he read an article that people no longer have down time.

How can you think and create if you are always plugged in?! Unplug! Unwind.

Relax!

If we are going to create this magnificent future for ourselves we need a place to create the vision and we need to be free of ourselves long enough to see it through.

Love, blessings, and magic birthday hugs from me!

Live and Love now

No one wants to look back at their life and say I should have fallen in love more. Or that I could have helped this person more or done this differently. No one wants regrets or their good memories to fade. No one wants to feel pain and the utter agony of losing someone they love.

The problem is that all of these things happen. They happen all too often.

A few years ago while I was at work a man sat down in my office and started talking. We took brief breaks from the conversation, but always picked right back up where we left off. We talked about everything from the weather to the kids anything, no subject was forbidden.

We spent hours talking everyday into the wee hours of the morning when we would finally fall asleep. We were friends, then best friends, then something more.

When I finally found out about all of his problems I did everything in my power to try to help him. It was in one of a hundred or so evenings spent talking late into the night that I found out he was an alcoholic. He had a temper. He had an abusive past. That he had dated a friend of mine, but they didn’t get along at all. (Chel I spoke of her death a few weeks ago.) He could be trusted to a point, but he could barely trust himself, so I couldn’t put complete faith in him either.

I learned just as much about myself from this relationship. Mostly that I didn’t want to live with an alcoholic ever again. I thought he was different from my husband whom I had been separated from for months, but he wasn’t. They were the same. He just came with a giant house, flashy car, he was gainfully employed (for a time) and he was doting. Anything I needed he just gave it to me.

I learned here that material items don’t matter. I learned that no matter what it looks like from the outside it can be a train wreck on the inside. I found out that I would rather live in the dumpiest apartment that contains honesty and love, than the biggest house built on distrust and disillusionment.

After an afternoon invasion by his ex-wife I learned some terrifying information and began to try to get him to commit to a rehab facility. He said he didn’t need to go. So instead he had a breathalyzer installed in his car. So that he could prove to me he wasn’t drinking. Well…he just stopped going anywhere. He stopped showing up at work and left major projects to the help. He was troubled and I felt stuck.

About a month and some very persuasive phone calls from his daughters I was finally able to check him into a facility. He was committed to a 30 day program and had high hopes. Imagine my surprise when four days later his ex girlfriend drives up with him and he says “he’s all better.”

I left two weeks later. I cut myself out of his life, disappeared off the radar, threw the cell phone he had given me into a trash can in Milford, CT. He had been calling every day telling me that he had made a mistake, and that he loved me and wanted me back. I wanted him to get run over by a car and die. He hurt me, he hurt people I care about.

But I loved him. I guess that’s really how abuse plays out. We love them in spite of the things that they do to us. I didn’t throw the phone away because I was angry with him. I threw the phone away because I would have broken down and let him come get me. Eminem’s song, “Love the way you Lie” that was us.

Gasoline and fire.  It was intense and crazy. I don’t recommend it.

Fast forward to Sept. 22, 2011, I get a random invitation to friend him on a social networking website. I replied telling him he should kiss my tuckus, but we have been emailing ever since. Until about a week ago.

Yesterday I found out why.

My heart is a little fragile lately and now it’s a little broken. He was actually hit by a car trying to cross a street. I don’t know if he had tried mixing alcohol with his medications, all I know is that he was taken by life flight to the medical center. He was on life support until Friday and then he was removed from the machines that were allowing him to continue to live.

I think if I had heard this news before Sept 22, it wouldn’t have hurt so much. I was still angry. I was still caught in the past pains we had caused each other. He had apologies and explained everything that had happened since I left. I had explained a few things to him as well and now…now none of it matters.

I implore you to tell the people you care about what you are thinking. Don’t waste a minute on feeling bad for yourself and your thoughts and your fears. We all have them wouldn’t you rather be afraid and with someone who can relate, than detached and with someone who simply wants to use you?

Live now. Love now.

Don’t waste a second because you never know which second is your last.