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Laugh Everlasting

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My friend Jeanette would have turned 54 today.

Professionally, Jeanette devoted her life to being a Catholic Educator. When she died suddenly in May, she was finishing her 32nd year with the Diocese.

She was a Teacher, Coach, and Principal. Her commitment to her students extended beyond the school bell. I don’t think she missed a School or Parish function.  If students were at risk for missing school, she’d been known to pick them up on her way to work.

While she was serious about education,  I have no doubt she made learning fun. Jeanette was all about fun. She was born the third of five children in a close family that truly enjoys each other and life. She adored her nieces and nephew, and loved making things fun for them.

She loved road trips, the Purdue Boilermakers, Jimmy Buffett, tanning poolside, and theme parties. She was game for anything, and celebrating everything.

As I looked through the photo boards on display at the funeral home, I was amazed at all the good times I had forgotten about over the last four decades. Thanks to her (and her family’s) consistent picture taking, her joy and love of  life was well documented.

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30th Birthdays in Vegas

One thing was obvious:  She made everything an event.

Jeanette also loved a good laugh, and she certainly had the most memorable and distinctive one.

Her laugh began with a deep and throaty “oh-ho-ho-my-hy-gosh” and ended with a high pitched “hee-hee-hee” covering the entire range of the vocal scale in between. It was loud, musical, joyful and infectious.

When necessary, Jeanette had a good poker face. She could initiate and carry out harmless, but hilarious practical jokes, and no one laughed harder than she did at the result.

I enjoyed the sound of her laugh for 40 years. Usually she was laughing with me, but frequently she was laughing at me.

If something awful or embarrassing happened, Jeanette was the perfect person to tell. While she always had a sympathetic ear, she often had no control over that laugh. She’d easily find the humor in every blunder, fumble and stumble.

She was able to do this because life is a mixture of emotions. Happy and sad, tragic and ridiculous are not always mutually exclusive. I experienced this phenomenon the day of Jeanette’s funeral.

Her beautiful Funeral Mass was held at the parish where she was Principal. It was an area of town I wasn’t familiar with – especially since I hadn’t lived there for most of my adult life.

Funeral processions are treated with a special kind of reverence in my hometown. Cars, (including those traveling in the opposite direction) pull to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass. I’ve seen men stand with a hand over their heart, folks bow their heads in prayer, and Catholic school children kneel on the playground.

As I tearfully departed the church parking lot, my friend Nancy was following in the car behind me. Nancy’s 50-year friendship with Jeanette began at the age of 3, when her family moved into a house three doors from Jeanette’s family.

Under the direction of the funeral home personnel and with police escorts, our cars with headlights on and hazard lights flashing, moved slowly but steadily along. Nancy and I were on the phone, talking safely, hands-free as we drove. Nothing look familiar to either of us.

As we passed through an intersection, the gentleman in the SUV in front of me suddenly turned off his hazard lights, and then quickly sped off. I looked ahead at an empty street.  Wait, where is Jeanette’s hearse? The limo? The family cars? 

I realized the front of the funeral procession must have turned right and for some reason the gentleman in the SUV in front of me had bailed out of the procession and gone straight.  Did he have to get back to the office? Did he have diarrhea? What happened?

I didn’t have time to ponder this.

“OH NO!!” I screamed to Nancy, as I realized I was now the lead car in a runaway funeral procession…and I didn’t know the way to the Catholic Cemetery.

Nancy began to laugh.

“It’s not funny!” I yelled.

“Where are the police escorts?” I continued.

Anxiety set in. “Nancy, I can’t be the lead car, I don’t know where we are!”

I was so rattled I couldn’t Google Map it.

Nancy,  had suddenly turned into Jeanette. She was laughing so hard she could barely speak. She managed to utter “They turned right. Just turn right as soon as you can.”

I was beyond horrified. I looked in my rearview mirror at the long line of headlights and flashing hazards behind me. I was sweating.

I took the next right.

After two more turns, and by the Grace of God, we made it to the cemetery.

Unfortunately, we arrived before the front of the funeral procession, causing a bit of a traffic jam, and additional challenge for the police.

Unbeknownst to me, the police were managing two funeral processions arriving simultaneously at the cemetery, and my runaway procession created an unexpected third group, on a street partially closed due to road construction.

Thankfully, despite the entire debacle we were there to lay Jeanette to rest.

Later that afternoon, we considered that maybe the funeral fiasco was heaven sent from Jeanette, for one last laugh. Whether she was responsible or not, I had no doubt she was laughing.

The thought of not hearing her laugh again made me sad.

But now I don’t think there was a last laugh.

Because somehow, I still hear her laugh so clearly.

While Jeanette is so dearly missed by so many today, I hope she is being remembered with all sorts of proper celebrations.

Her laugh is now eternal, and oh, how full of joy and fun Heaven must be today.

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Bean!

xo

 

 

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Words With Friends

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Warning:  This post is contains words I find annoying, disturbing and/or disgusting.  If you are offended by language, this post is not for you!

 

 

 

 

It began with the constant use of the F word during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Once I tuned into it, I heard it everywhere and bristled each time.

Female.”

Hearing “female candidate” I envisioned a cartoon uterus in a pantsuit and sensible heels, a stylish scarf fashioned out of her fallopian tubes, and her ovaries tucked safely in her pockets.

Ridiculous, I know. But,  “male candidate” wasn’t used with the same frequency, if at all.

“Female” is clinical.

Unless you’re employed in the field of animal husbandry, issuing an A.P.B. for an alleged perpetrator, transporting a patient, or working in the coroner’s office – skip the word female. It refers to genitalia.

I prefer “woman” as it encompasses the entirety of a human being.

While I was busy cringing at the F word, the tape of Trump using the P word surfaced.

Ick. Ick. Ick.

For the love of hoo-hoo’s, vajayjays and vajeens everywhere, wasn’t that word left back in the junior high boys’ locker room?

Guess not.

The misogynistic and absurd bragging (among other things) spurred a protest of the new U.S. President. On January 21, 2017,  200,000 women gathered in D.C.  sporting their functional, yet cleverly named pink Pussy hats.

Meow. I get it –  giving the word a different kind of power. Even with those darling little ears on top – I preferred kitty cat hats.

The cringe factor of these words brought to mind a recent girls’ trip where our mutual dislike of “moist” resulted in a conversation about all sorts of awful words.

Just the mere reference to something unappealing like “pustule,” “seeping,” “oozing,” and “ointment” causes cringey feelings. No visual aid necessary.

One friend hates the word “pimple,” and her husband hates the word, “fester.” It’s no wonder these perfectly suited soul mates have enjoyed nearly 30 years of wedded bliss!

Another friend confessed that any labia reference, either major or minor – made her uncomfortable.

We all agreed “scrotum” hits the ears wrong every time.

Coincidentally, one friend was on a run of making her own almond milk and almond hummus. She shared how her teenagers groaned in protest every time she referenced the necessary tool which is key to the process: a “nut bag.”

35 years ago, this same friend was a horrified teenager when her mother signaled the end of a day of shopping by announcing in a department store, “Well, it’s time to go, I’ve shot my wad!” 

Another friend mentioned the word “grundle.” I admit, I had to Google it. It sounded like something out of a Harry Potter novel. Nope. Lemme just say….T’aint what it is.

Of course “smegma” (just for you Madge), “girth” and “lube” are all included on the the repeat offender list. I apologize for typing those.

Some words sound worse than their actual definition, like “chickpea,” “uranus” and “penal” for instance. “Clematis” clearly sounds like a lady part and not a lovely flowering vine.

Personally, I hate the terrible imagery that comes to mind when I hear “blow-out,” and “brain-fart.

While we’re on the subject – I propose we nix the crass “anal-retentive” or “anal” in favor of the more genteel “particular.

It isn’t only anatomical terms and descriptors of unpleasant things that are bothersome.

Mothers can all agree on a mutual disdain for “not me” and “sucks.”

Men are bugged by a words of a different sort.

They seem to have a strong dislike for the apathetic “whatever” and the snippish “fine.” They also lose patience with the incorrect use of “literally,” the often used, but nonexistent “irregardless,” and the redundant “very unique.”

Just mention corporate conference call speak and watch the eyes roll:

We don’t need to think outside the boxregroup, or tag up later. Please, just table it ALL. At the end of the day, we’ve had enough of moving forward. We have fully penetrated and are saturated with equitable outcomessolutions-based everything, and win-win situations.

Yep, there definitely seems to be a “disconnect” here

Words can be so terribly overused that they lose their meaning. Have you noticed practically everything is described as “amazing” on a daily basis. Hey, I realize my generation did the same thing to “awesome,” but we used it more comically, and less earnestly.

The moment I heard a lovely wedding gown described as “badass,” I knew the word had lost its impact. Remember when that only applied to bikers, rockers, and the military?

I realize decorum and manners have waned in favor of an air of familiarity in our increasingly casual society.

This is never more evident than when a server or clerk addresses a group of women as “you guys” or even in Southern California as “dudes.”

Look, I’m not expecting to hear “Madames.”

“Ladies” or at the very least, “folks” would be a refreshing return to the service standards I was taught.

Do you think I’m too easily offended, or being a ball buster?

OUCH!

I don’t even have a pair, and that really makes me wince!

 

 

Tidings Of Comfort and Joy

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This the final post in a 3-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Two family members will be missing from our family Christmas gatherings this year.

My mother died in April after a ten-year journey with dementia. She hadn’t been well enough to participate in our family Christmas celebrations for the past few years. Instead, we had established different traditions with her at the Healthcare Facility in which she lived.

My sister’s husband died in August as a result of Lymphoma, just one year after being diagnosed with what was believed to be a treatable cancer. We didn’t know last Christmas would be his final Christmas.

Many extended family members and friends are also facing their first Christmas after the loss of a loved one. The anticipation of seeing that empty chair can seem overwhelming. Recalling once-happy Christmas memories leaves you in tears.

I love Christmas music, despite the physical reaction I have to “O’ Holy Night” and “Silent Night.” Both cause my eyes to instantly fill with tearsThe first was one of my Dad’s favorite songs. It brings to mind the Christmas Eve Masses we attended. The second reminds me of my paternal Grandmother and her annual family party held on December 23rd.

At one point during the evening she would remind us to sing carols to invite Santa Claus’s arrival. Grandma would begin singing “Silent Night.” Looking back, maybe this was her clever crowd control:  Gather her 24 grandchildren and quiet them with the lullaby effect of a hymn! When I hear the song, I hear her voice.

A few weeks ago I was in the car with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” playing on the radio. The song suddenly had a different meaning as I listened to the lyrics.

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and joy? Wow! We were definitely in need of both this Holiday season. Where would we find them?

Then I unpacked some Christmas decorations. I was struck by the notes indicating the contents of some the boxes. It has been several years since my Mother and her Mother have written anything to me, but their handwriting is instantly recognizable.

Seeing the notes didn’t make me sad. It wasn’t even bittersweet. They made me smile. The notes are a connection to Christmases past, and a connection to my Mom and Grandma. I felt they were with me, giving me a decorating assist with their organized labeling. Funny, I didn’t know one day the real treasures in a box of Radko ornaments would be labels and crumpled sticky notes.

I think comfort can be found in our family traditions. As difficult it might be to carry on traditions without our loved ones, the familiar might be just what we need. They can at least get us in the groove, and provide a bit of a roadmap.

Traditions can be just as comforting when a new generation assumes them. My niece misses playing elf on her annual shopping day with her Dad, during which they would purchase a gift for her Mom. I imagine my niece’s  little elf-in-training will be shopping with her Daddy, very soon. How heartwarming is that?

I’m a fan of Christmas trees with eclectic decorations. Family heirloom ornaments that have hung on the tree for decades are some of my favorites. Whether they are legitimate antiques, a grade school craft, full of mid century kitsch or the coveted pickle, they tell the comforting history of family Holidays.

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Holiday menu fare includes family recipes that have become tradition. Grandma’s Jewish Coffee Cake, Mom’s Sugar Cookies, and Dad’s favorite cookies. We try to perfect those heirloom recipes in hope they will turn out exactly as they did when Mom or Grandma was cooking. After all, I think tradition is most comforting when it involves comfort food!

This Christmas, we’ll celebrate the birth of our Savior, be visited by Santa, and exchange gifts, but how can we possibly get in the mood for actual merriment when we are sad, missing our loved one and face an empty chair?

The empty chair has become a symbol for the absence of loved ones at family gatherings. There is a Facebook page dedicated to it. It is both literal and figurative, because the reality is, our missing loved ones took up more than a chair. This is especially true of my brother-in-law. His presence filled an entire room.

He lived his life in the spirit of the two main men of Christmas. He never had to ask himself, “What would Jesus do?” He just always did the right thing. He was a counselor in personal matters and a mentor in the business world.  Like Santa, he loved Christmas and gift giving. His quiet, usually anonymous generosity continued year round, and was life-changing for individuals and organizations.

With such a huge presence missing, how will we find joy?

My brother-in-law’s family gathered at my sister’s home to celebrate Christmas last weekend. His six siblings and their children and grandchildren numbering 60+ strong embraced the spirit of their  brother/uncle. They “adopted” an in-need family and purchased every item on the family’s wish list.

What an absolute abundance of joy, and an abundance of love. My sister shared with them, her family of 40+ years, that the gift of their presence was what she and her children most appreciated. She assured them that they needn’t to be afraid to talk about her husband or say his name. In fact, hearing stories helps her and her children feel close to him, and in a way – keeps him alive.

So, our biggest source of joy, will come from simply being together.  The delight of our smallest family members will keep us entertained. We’ll savor our culinary accomplishments. We’ll talk about our missing loved ones. We’ll say their names. There may be a few tears, but there will definitely be alot of laughs.

If you are grieving and facing the first Christmas since the loss of a loved one, I hope you are able to find true comfort and joy.

Go ahead. Hang the ornaments. Sing the carols. Cry the tears. Fill the chair. Share the stories. Laugh.

And eat the cookies.

 

 

 

On Grief And Gifts

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On Grief And Gifts

This is the 2nd post in a 3-part series. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 3 here.

The past year has been one of tremendous loss for my family.

A surprising number of friends and extended family have also recently experienced the loss of parents, siblings, spouses and even relationships. Perhaps this is due to terrible coincidences, or maybe simply our stage of life.

There is a plethora of articles and memes about grief, sometimes poetic, often cliché. We hear it is a process, it’s not a process, it is different for each person, and the price you pay for loving someone. It’s all merely a concept until you are walking through it, as so many family and friends are doing right now.

My mother died in April after a ten-year journey with dementia. While we were at peace with her passing from the indignities and pain of that disease, I was unprepared for how much I would miss her…even the version of her that dementia had left with us in her final years.

Then, there was my sister’s husband.

His sore back from too much puttering didn’t really worry us. It didn’t put a damper on an RV trip to Iowa, with his six siblings and their spouses for a long-anticipated family reunion. It was sort of a last hurrah for him before undergoing a stem cell transplant in August.

Then a stomach ache cut the trip short. An appointment with his oncologist turned into a hospital stay. Instead of answers, there were only questions and a steady stream of specialists. Our optimism that had been ever-present for exactly one year, began to fade.

Late on a hot July afternoon, after three days of diagnostics and procedures we had an answer. The trusted oncologist, a lovely man, gently delivered the news:

After just a few weeks, the insidious cancer had returned…the stem cell treatment scheduled for next month would not be an option…there were no clinical trials available…there was nothing more to be done…three months to live.

He accepted the news graciously and bravely. For everyone else, it was crushing. It felt unbearable. Later that evening, we tenderly talked about how we would fill our days in the next three months. Characteristically, he started his practical to-do list and even managed a bit of morbid humor.

Things quickly took a downturn. Three months became two weeks. There would be no time for alternative or holistic treatments. Nothing was checked off the bucket list. Meaningful, final conversations were not to be.

The family control freaks, the doers, and the problem solvers were helpless. The earth seemed to be spinning off its axis.  This isn’t supposed to be happening.

In the end, we had him for just one more week. We soaked up very minute of those days and nights, in the warm cocoon of their master bedroom. We communicated with him mainly in the form of his signature hand squeeze of the last 40+ years. The hand squeeze translation:  I love you.  Looking back -really, what more needed to be said?

While our Faith leads us to the belief in eternal life, grief and being human led to despair over unanswered prayers.

There was so much to be mourned, and so many layers of sadness.

Each time grief appears, it’s a Band-Aid® ripper, tearing open the wounds of previous losses. The circle of one life linked to the circle of another life in an ever-growing chain.

Grief is tangible in the early days surrounding a loss, and it is shared.

Eventually, life resumes and things return to “normal”. Grief becomes subtle and sneaky. It’s a thief, stealing the rhythm of daily routine, as one tries to put one foot in front of the other.

The quiet, stillness of the night vanishes after a stealthy heist by grief and its accomplice, insomnia. Restful slumber is replaced with anxiety. Decisions that were made with complete conviction are now doubted.

Nagging thoughts of coulda… woulda…shoulda creep in.

The hope that previously dawned with each morning disappears, as consciousness brings about the reality of the day. You don’t want to get sucked into the sadness. It propels you to get up and get moving, even if you only do so robotically.

But, grief is a prowler creeping in and out through the day.

It hijacks your solo drive time behind the wheel. Once productive time alone with your thoughts, it becomes a minefield of memories. Forget the radio. It’s suddenly melancholic. The best option is to use a lifeline, and phone a friend.

Grief occasionally makes off with your rational thinking.

At the end of that last perfect weekend, I created a calendar for August and September. It included stem cell transplant appointments and procedures, and fun events to look forward to. Looking back, I felt I counted our chickens before they hatched. My obsessive organizing had compelled me to publish that calendar. Clearly, I had jinxed my brother-in-law’s treatment and recovery! My delusion of controlling the universe was momentary!

Like a prankster, grief pops out from hiding when you least expect it. During a recent trip to Target, I automatically reached for a display of Christmas socks. In my Mom’s final years, she had grown fond of those goofy, printed socks. They were already in my hand when it hit me…no need for socks to warm Mom’s tootsies. Ever. Oh no, did I have dementia? How could I forget  Mom had died? Was grief stealing my sanity, too?

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

The human spirit is a life-force, and we optimists and faithful are always on the lookout for silver linings.

We soon realize grief is not all takin’ and no givin’.

Loss and grief give you a new perspective and enlightenment. You now distinguish real problems from minor inconveniences that warrant nothing more than a shoulder shrug.

While you may be filled with disbelief, and thoughts of  I can’t believe this happened are still running through your head, grief eventually leads you to a place of thankfulness. With time and reflection, you are even able to see the blessings that surrounded the unbearable loss.

Every expression of sympathy is appreciated. Especially months after a loss, each phone call, text, and thoughtful note is a Godsend.

The extraordinary kindnesses of acquaintances is especially meaningful. The people whom cross your path and without prompting, share news of their recent loss are a serendipitous comfort. You know it wasn’t accidental that they sat next to you in a waiting room, or rang up your purchases in a store.

You have immense appreciation for the people who are really there for you – the people who go out of their way and make time to walk through the particularly shitty times with you.

Then there are the folks, not necessarily those closest to you, whose support is profound. Their gestures of sympathy are different.  It’s not that they have the “right” words, they just have real words. These are the folks who have walked the same path, and as a result, possess true empathy.

We lose so much with the death of a loved one, but one of the greatest gifts we receive as a result of the loss is empathy.

We just have to be willing to receive it, open it, and use it.

Because empathy is a gift meant to be shared. It links us together in another circle of life.

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When Life Was Peachy

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Part 1 of  a 3-part series.

You can find Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

 

 

No matter how many times we are reminded how quickly life can change, we are still caught off guard when it does.

When tragedy strikes, we often wish we could hit the rewind button. Logically, we know we couldn’t have altered the course of events, but we wish we could relive those precious last days, weeks, and months. We imagine how we would savor every moment.

I wanted  a complete do-over of  Summer 2016 when I came across this forgotten photo on my phone:img_1135I snapped this shot from the patio of my brother and sister-in-law’s lake cottage, during their granddaughter’s 10th birthday party. I vaguely remember taking the photo. I wasn’t focused on anything in particular, but I think Old Glory waving in the wind must have caught my attention. The weather on that mid-July day was delightfully perfect, but this photo barely captures that.

It’s a beautiful shot, but also a painful reminder of one of the last days that summer seemed sunny and peachy. One of the final days before a cascade of events changed life for my family. I wanted to go back in time. Back to before a stomach ache began.

Of course, there are no mulligans in life. The only place life can rewind is in the mind.

Summer began on a happy note. May and June were lovely, fun-filled, blessedly ordinary months. We didn’t know that for our family, Summer 2016 would eventually become “the summer that wasn’t.”

What occurred each day during the month of July is crystal clear in my memory. The bitter and the sweet. The sweetness of early July is easy to remember…

How my 50 pounds of Georgia Peaches had ripened to perfection for canning, inconveniently on July 1st. Early that morning, to the dismay of my sister I set up my canning operation in the kitchen of her lake cottage…amid the July 4th weekend chaos. “This won’t take long!” I assured her. One quart in, and and my sister was headed to the E.R. for stitches. The perils of peach pitting, or conveniently dodging doing dishes for the entire holiday weekend?

I became a sloppy one woman operation. The sweet mess that covered every surface of the kitchen at the end of the day, was a metaphor for those first six weeks of summer. It was a deliciously golden time.

It was a cottage bustling with three generations, and kids at three stages: A toddler working on his first steps. Preschoolers in some unsactioned competition: seeing who could tear through the house at the highest speed, while simultaneously yelling gibberish at the highest decibel level. Teens enjoying quality family time devoted to social media.

There was a July 4th shrimp boil. A joint 70th birthday party for dear cousins. A work trip to San Antonio for me.

Tinkerbell landing in Nana’s Fairy Garden. Golf cart shopping.  Donut runs at dawn by boat.

Coffee talk. Bloody Mary mornings. Margarita afternoons.

Trips for ice cream in the evening. Lazy pontoon rides. Hours playing on Lily Pads.

Fishing. Fireworks.

Endless and hilarious rounds of Little Sally Walker walkin’ down the street.

I’ve heard it said,  “You never realize you’re having the time of your life, until that time has passed.” It’s true. We were blissfully unaware of just how good life was.

In a way, it seems cruel that we didn’t know the fate that awaited.

Sure, a stem cell transplant was scheduled, but we believed it would be a success. Optimism, hope and faith gave us that belief.

Disbelief, disappointment and devastation loomed ahead, but we didn’t know it.

Optimism, hope, faith and love would sustain us through that, too…

 

 

 

The Sweet Life

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2 scoops vanillaTen years ago my mother moved into a retirement community.

For six years she lived in a lovely apartment in the assisted living section, while her dementia continued to worsen. She has spent the last four years in a slow decline, in a secured area of that same retirement community.

As her dementia has progressed, I’ve done my best to embrace each version of her.

 

My 85-year old Mother is now in the end stage of dementia.

It may have been a stroke that caused her to turn this last corner, or just the natural progression of the disease. There is no need for diagnostic tests. They would only serve to satisfy our curiosity. The end result is the same.

As they say in memory care, “there has been a significant change.”

She is completely immobile except for her left foot which she wiggles in response to touch or in time to the music of Frank Sinatra, and her left arm which she occasionally raises while sleeping, bearing a strong resemblance to Rosie The Riveter.

She is no longer verbal.

Her ability to swallow is compromised. Her liquids must be thickened and her solid food must be pureed.

Four times a day she rides a Hoyer lift, as she is moved back and forth between her bed and a reclining wheelchair.  It’s as if she has a Disneyland E ticket for an amusement park ride no one ever wants to board. She endures it all gracefully.

At the onset of this final decline, I was sad. For a few days I occasionally boo-hooed at her bedside, grieving the decade and a half that we have lived without the original version of Mom.

Once I quit feeling sorry for myself, I realized there is a certain sweetness to this stage.

There are no more repeated sentences. The questions composed of jumbled words which seemed impossible to answer appropriately, have ceased. The gibberish is gone.

At times, she has a flat expression or is just too sleepy to open her eyes. But, some days she awakens from a nap in her bed with a sweet, contented smile – much like an infant.

Other times she is bright-eyed and able to follow a conversation with her eyes. There have been silent giggles that turn into giant, yet still silent, belly laughs. These are so delightful  I don’t miss the sound of her original laugh.

Occasionally, it seems that the pathways in her brain have been magically reconnected.

When she refused to eat, we realized she was simply refusing to eat foods with a texture she didn’t like. I mean, really – not every food works in a pureed form.

She knew exactly what was going on. Her hunger strike at breakfast ended when oatmeal was taken off the menu. My sister clued the nurses in that Mom is a cream of wheat girl!

Her daily menus are now heavy on mashed potatoes, pudding, malts, and double scoops of ice cream. When she won’t eat anything…she will eat ice cream. Even when she is too tired to open her eyes, she opens her mouth awaiting the next spoonful.

These days, she really does eat dessert first.

Sure, there have been peaks and valleys as she slows down and then rallies. Any pain or discomfort is quickly soothed by the warm embrace of a morphine haze.

Always a college hoops fan, she is here for one more season of March Madness. The games serve as energetic, happy background music.

As we head into the Sweet Sixteen,  I am not entirely certain she will be here for the Final Four.

Instead, she is on the road to a long awaited heavenly reunion with her  Sweetie Pie.

Until then, we will savor the time we have left with her.

Mom will savor the ice cream. Two scoops at a time, with Hershey’s syrup.

Because, in more ways than one, life is sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Jewels

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Where it all began

Where it all began

I received some disappointing news last week.

In a few short months, a family-owned jewelry store in my hometown is scheduled to close after nearly seven decades in business. With roots in the “old neighborhood,” five generations of my family, from my grandparents to my great nieces, have worn sparkly things and watches purchased at Freeman Jewelers.

First Holy Communion crosses, add-a-bead necklaces, charm bracelets, rings from Dad, Christmas gifts hidden in tree branches, engagement rings, and custom designs and settings have marked Sacraments, life milestones and special occasions.

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My Mother is no longer able to wear the jewelry she once enjoyed so much. As her dementia progressed, she began throwing her jewelry in the trash. Someday it will be worn and enjoyed again by another generation, but for now, it is safely tucked away.

Her jewelry was purchased from this family owned store. The value of this jewelry is not in the precious metals and stones, it is in the memories. The memory of helping Dad select just the right gift. A tiny, wrapped box hidden on a Christmas tree branch. The memory of Mom’s face when she found it, and the delight when she unwrapped it.

For our family, there has never been another place to purchase jewelry. Or get a new watch battery. The Freeman family has been a constant. They are genuine, friendly and ethical. Their merchandise is beautiful and unique. They catered to every budget. While I am happy for the 2nd generation, sibling owners who will now enjoy some well-deserved retirement relaxation and fun; selfishly, I am sad to see them go.

I feel like we have a shared history, and I will miss them and their store.

Where will we shop now?

I’m not interested in Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Collection, and I definitely won’t ever say  “I went to Jared’s.”

Buying and receiving jewelry will never be the same.

Another family owned business, a lovely home furnishings and decor store also recently closed its doors after 30+ years in my hometown. Apparently,  the trend towards online purchasing, and folks furnishing their homes with cheaper decor, rather than investment pieces, had resulted in declining sales.

How sad.

I hate that this keeps happening, but I understand how it does.

In our pursuit of paying less, we have moved away from buying from the “little guys.”

We’ve been seduced by perceived savings at national chains, big box stores, and on-line retailers.

The falling prices at Walmart are enticing. Personally, I’ve never felt good walking into a Walmart. I find it rather depressing and avoid it. Now Target on the other hand….

We head to Target for household items. Instead of sticking to our list, we suddenly find $150 in “must-have” purchases.  Come on, who hasn’t looked at their bank statement or credit card bill and thought, What the heck did I buy at Target last month?

A 20% store coupon makes us antsy.  We must to get to the mall before our coupon expires.  We can’t miss the chance to  “save.”

I confess, I recently took a spin on the Old Navy merry-go-round.

They were having a sale.  I went shopping. I earned super cash. I spent the super cash. The next day, everything was 30% off. I shopped again. I earned rewards.

Yippee!!!  I was saving SO MUCH MONEY that my Gap Visa bill was……$500. Wait, What? How did THIS happen? I finally got off that ride.

We sit on the couch, shop online,  and with one click enjoy almost instant gratification. They tell us: folks who bought this, also bought….this. So, we toss that in our virtual shopping cart, too.  Amazon Prime. Free shipping. Brown boxes on the porch.

But, are we really saving anything?

Of course not. We’ve been tricked into buying way too much stuff.

Shame on us.

With all these big box bargains and online deals, we are losing more than just our own cash.

Locally owned businesses are the heart and soul of city. Community means people. These business people are more vested in their community than any big chain could ever be.

Losing the family owned businesses in our communities is also leading to the retail homogenization of America.

Every city and town has shopping centers with Kohls, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Staples, Home Depot, etc. It  is revolving scenery, with only changes in landscape.

We can buy the same stuff in every city.

This is especially evident in department stores.

Macy’s and Bloomingdales INC line will soon have us all looking like these guys:

Some folks thought Star Trek..I think they all bought the INC line.

Some folks thought Star Trek..I think they all bought the INC line.

We are at risk of losing our individual style.

Even worse, communities are losing their individual personality.

What do we often love to stumble upon while traveling?

A charming downtown area. A walkable shopping district. Drinks or dinner followed by checking out the area, on foot. Whether it is a nostalgic or modern vibe, these areas give a destination its personality.

If we purchase a trinket, gadget, Christmas ornament, or article of clothing, it automatically has the memory of the shop where it was purchased and the trip we took, attached to it.

The same can’t be said for items randomly purchased at the mall, or a national chain. It’s just bland stuff.

I’ve had enough bland stuff. I’m hungry for local flavor. I want locally owned businesses to come back…STRONG.

Make a plan to celebrate Small Business Saturday on November 29th.

Stay away from the mall madness and the big chains.

Plot out some locally-owned shops to check out.

Support a hometown artisan and enjoy the added benefit of buying American made.

I bet you’ll find some unexpected treasures.

If shopping isn’t on your agenda, you can still participate.

Start your weekend by grabbing breakfast at a Mom & Pop coffee shop.

Visit your local hardware or paint store while working through your “honey-do” list.

Instead of watching the game at a chain sports bar, grab a beer at a locally-owned joint.

If dining out isn’t in the budget, hit the butcher shop and dine in.

Shop small on November 29th.

And then, make a habit of it.

Locally owned businesses are the precious gems in our community settings.

Let’s do what we can to make sure they continue to SHINE.

shop small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween Hotness

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When did Halloween become so……..s-e-x-y?

I mean sooooo sexy that in comparison, the vixen Elvira seems a bit buttoned-up.

Elvira Pic

Sure we’ve had naughty school girls, girl scouts, French maids, Playboy bunnies, cat women and lady devils in red body suits, but this year, the sexy costume selection is out of control.

Last month, I visited a Halloween store with my favorite 15-year old. It was during spirit week at her high school. As we browsed through the store, we accidentally found ourselves in the “ADULT” section.  Believe me, it was most definitely frightening.

We made a hasty retreat, quickly found our two cans of “Ariel Red” hair spray paint for Disney day, and got the heck OUTTA THERE!!

After leaving the store, we discussed costume ideas. I was curious what was popular with the high school crowd this year. I enjoyed hearing the fun/scary/cute ideas my favorite 15-year old and her friends were considering.

There was not one sexy thing on the list. Whew!

We discussed that overtly sexy halloween costumes were tacky,  and had even become sort of cliche.

Apparently, not everyone agrees.

Last week, I stumbled upon Yandy.com. There were pages and pages of sexy costumes. Even though I wasn’t in the market for one of these silly get-ups, I couldn’t bring myself to quit looking.

Oh, I get the sexy costume phenomenon – an excuse to unleash your alter ego in the spirit of  Halloween. I realize this is a trend, but I still don’t fully understand it.

Then I discovered that costume manufacturers are now making sexy costume versions of things that shouldn’t be the least bit sexy. This hit me as just plain weird. I couldn’t quit laughing.

I’ve done the footwork for you. For your enlightenment, Here is just a sampling of the weirdness:

Socks. Monkees. Sock Monkeys...None of which are sexy.

Socks. Monkeys. Sock Monkeys…None started out sexy.. unless you are a plushy (but that’s another story)

 

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Is nothing sacred? O'Toodles.....If you sex up Mickey, you are a big Mouskatool.

Is nothing sacred? O’Toodles…..If you dare to sex up Mickey, lemme be the first to say…. You are a giant  Mouskatool.

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Imagine if Ronald had worn HIS  pants this tight. Scary Clown, indeed.

Imagine if Ronald had worn HIS pants this tight. His name would have been on a registered offender list, for sure, Scary Clown, indeed.

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Oh Dear...I can just see the Seven Dwarves blowin' up social media with up skirt photos.

Oh Dear… those seven rascally dwarves will be blowin’ up social media with up-skirt photos.

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If you touch her tentacles, do you have to pee on your foot?

If you touch her tentacles, do you have to pee on your foot?

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Stay away from her...she'll take your quarters and run.

Stay away from her…she’ll take your quarters and run.

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Hijacking the kiddie characters and making them sexy is disturbing to me. I shudder to think of the trampy turn that Anna, Elsa, Sofia, Amber and Doc McStuffins could take. And poor Tinkerbell. Wait, Tink is already a bit sassy, isn’t she?

The oddest trend is food costumes that have taken a sexy turn.

Forget the traditionally sexy food, like chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, oysters and sushi.

Apparently fast food is what is really HOT!

Who knew? Greasy burgers don’t make you fat. They make you P.H.A.T.

 

Ummm....sorry, but I must ask..Where's the beef?

Ummm….sorry, but I feel compelled to ask..Where’s the beef?

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There it is, but frankly I prefer a bigger, juicier patty.

Oh, there’s the beef, but frankly I prefer a bigger, juicier patty. Wait, maybe I’m just used to looking at own my beef patty.

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Oh....and here's your side of fries with that.

Oh….and here’s your side of fries with that. Shouldn’t she see a doctor if she has steam arising from that region?

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Naturally, there is a marked difference between costumes for men and women.

Tacos for the ladies...

Tacos for the the senoritas….

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vs. Crunchy tacos for the señor!

vs. Crunchy tacos for the señores! You know when he farts, he’ll say it was the beans, right?

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Pizza by the slice...

Pizza by the slice….

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Double crust or double standard?

Double pepperoni or double standard?

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Perhaps my favorite…the ultimate in Midwestern sexy…

Corn on the cob...wonder if she is GMO free?

Definitely sweet corn…sure she looks good, but  is she certified GMO free?

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If you got a chuckle out of this, you’re welcome.

If I’ve helped you find the perfect costume, shame on you.

 

 

Music & Memory

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I’ve witnessed the power of music with my Mom, who has advanced dementia.

On days when making conversation is difficult for her, she may ride quietly in the passenger seat of the car, or read a few signs we pass, or maybe whisper both sides of a conversation with someone I can’t see.

However, if the radio is set between a 40’s station and a light 70’s station, she’ll sing along. She’ll check the display to read the artist and song.

The songs trigger memories and conversation.

“Gosh, if I had a nickel for every time my girlfriends and I danced to this song.”

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name….I always thought their sound was just so pleasing to the ears.”

I know even this small bit of stimulation is good for her, and it is enjoyable to see.

A few months ago, I joined her for a Sunday afternoon of Christmas Carols at the care facility where she lives.

We sat amid a crowd of residents – many with dementia, and sea of walkers and wheelchairs,

Maybe I’ve watched too many Fa-la-la-la-Lifetime and Hallmark movies, but I swear Mike the piano player looked exactly like Kris Kringle in street clothes.

His repertoire included all the classics. He was delightful!

Occasionally, he stopped singing and let the group finish a line of a song.

The residents knew all the lyrics to every song.

I smiled as I looked around the room, and saw the heads bopping back and forth and the toes tapping in rhythm with the music.

No one was restless, agitated, or sitting in a dull, detached state.

The residents were relaxed and engaged with Mike and his performance.

It was fascinating to watch.

Somehow, the music magically melted through the fog of dementia.

I was so moved by what I was witnessing that I got a little teary.

Instead of looking sort of stone-faced as she had the previous day, Mom was animated.

She happily smiled at my phone so I could snap a pic.

Christmas Caroling Lois Anne loves a selfie

Christmas Caroling
Even Lois Anne loves a selfie!

The memory of that afternoon is a treasure.

A few days ago, my friend Terri, emailed me about a news story she had seen featuring Music & Memory – Muncie

This new program was started by a group of freshman at Ball State University. It is affiliated with Music & Memory, a national non-profit 501c3 organization, but the BSU students believe they are the first college-based group.

The mission of Music & Memory – Muncie is to bring iPods with personalized playlists to the elderly, especially those suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

They recognize that personalized music can enhance the quality of life for these nursing home residents with cognitive disorders.

This is a brilliant and beautiful program. I remember the soundtrack of my college years. These college freshman are just beginning to compile theirs. I love their awareness that these older folks had a soundtrack to their lives, too.

By speaking to a resident’s family, they learn what genre and artists the resident likes.

With this simple idea they’re delivering more than just music.

They’re sparking happy memories.

1901280_1463103680572985_1899575397_n

They share friendship, love and compassion.

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With the use of splitters, the students listen to the music through their own set of headphones.

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Because music sounds best when shared, doesn’t it?

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What an amazing way to enrich and humanize an isolated, nursing home existence.

M&M 2

 

M&M 1

 

When I read about their work and looked at the heartwarming photos, I was again moved to tears.

I was also filled with some Hoosier pride.

These college freshman are a great example of making the world a better place, by beginning in your own “backyard.”

They’re using their time and talents, employing a little bit of technology, but more importantly – a whole lotta heart.

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If this “strikes a chord” with you, like it did with me, and you are interested in supporting this wonderful program, there are a few ways you can help:

  1. Visit their gofundme page and make a quick donation. Super easy and every little bit helps!
  2. Have you or your kids upgraded to a new iPod? Do you have a gently-used iPod (preferably an iPod shuffle) sitting around the house? They’ll take it!
  3. Grab an iTunes gift card the next time you’re at the grocery store. They’re always right there in the checkout area. Then instead of buying Candy Crush lives – boost some more interesting and real lives.

iTunes cards or gently used iPods can be mailed to:

Music and Memory – Muncie
c/o TCOM Dept.
Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306 

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I hope you’ll consider helping these remarkable BSU students with their inspirational program.

Visit their website or Facebook page to learn more about their work.

In an email to me, Tyler Sparkman, President of Music & Memory – Muncie wrote:

It has become an absolute joy and life changing experience working with these residents. Not only have we gone in and helped change the lives of the elderly by sharing these personal iPod mixes, but the elderly have also changed our lives! 

Well, that is music to my ears.

Clearly, no matter what genre of music they load on those iPods, these students ROCK!

 

 

The Biggest Aftershock

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Swatting fliesThis is embarrassing to admit: I’ve had flies.

We are usually pretty free of flying insects in this area. We don’t have screen doors, and we leave our doors open most of the time.

It was raining the day the flies arrived. Our doors and windows were closed.

It started out looking like an episode of Hoarders:  Gigantic flies clinging to the ceiling, walls, and patio doors.

Did I mention these flies were HUGE? The insect version of an old, military transport plane:  Low flying, lumbering through the air with a loud hum.

These suckers were so slow, you could kill ’em with one swat.

I got my Google on, and discovered we had house-of-horror-flies.

They were coming from SOMETHING DEAD, either very near the house, or INSIDE THE HOUSE.

Oh dear Lord.

Hoarders was now a Stephen King movie.

The flies were in the living room, and the master bedroom directly above it.

Clearly not fans of my cooking, they steered clear of the kitchen.

In an effort to recover the body, we checked the attic, closets, and cabinets. We pressed our ears against the walls and heard nothing.

John, the exterminator paid me a visit.

He walked around the exterior of the house. No signs of any “rodent activity.”

Together, we sniffed through the interior of the house.

Despite being cursed with a sensitive nose, I wasn’t getting even a whiff of anything “off.”

It was unsettling to think something was rotting somewhere in the house.

I wanted to employ chemical warfare, or detonate a bug-bomb in the house.

John said it was futile.

To get rid of the flies, we had to find the body, or once the “food source” was exhausted, the flies would disappear as quickly as they had appeared.

I was disgusted, and on a mission.

The flies arose with the sun, deployed in squadrons of 6-12.

I skipped my Grandmother’s antique gold fly swatter,

The "Gucci" fly swatter retired from active duty.

The “Gucci” fly swatter retired from active duty.

 

and chose a small Aerosoles catalog as my weapon of choice.

My weapon of choice. Casualties were all shoe flies.

My battle-worn weapon. Casualties were all shoe flies.

It had a comfortable grip, adequate range, and didn’t leave any collateral damage.

Each day, I quickly made my morning kill, and then got ready for work.

By late afternoon, I was on the hunt again.

In the evening, just as I climbed into bed, they buzzed around the lamp on my bedside table.

I was going out of my mind.

“That’s it!” I yelled as I threw off the covers, and again armed myself.

After my final round of daily serial killing, I could turn in for the evening.

This became my routine.

I decided it was time to call a varmint hunter, like Elmer Fudd; but effective.

Then on Friday night, a 5.1 earthquake hit.

I heard the quake coming, and then our house shook for a very long 20 seconds.

We swayed for a few more minutes. The commentary from the neighbors echoed the TV news anchors:

 It’s still going.

We’re still moving.

Outside, in the dark, the house appeared fine. The pool water was eerily sloshing about.

There wasn’t much else to see.

I forgot about the flies. I was bracing for aftershocks.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny.

The previous night’s excitement had given way to a quiet morning.

Suddenly, there it was:  A horror in the grass.

This sight rattled me more than the subsequent 4.1 and 3.2 tremors that afternoon.

A mere 10 feet outside the living room doors, lay a medium-sized, grey, furry carcass.

Dental records would have been required to identify the deceased.

Obviously, the body had been moved, and I suspect Mother Nature was an accessory.

Her seismic shift had shaken it loose from somewhere.

But from where?

I don’t need answers. I’m just grateful for my second chance at life.

I realize I narrowly escaped death on Friday night.

Oh, do you think I am being overly dramatic?

Trust me, If I had walked outside during the shaking and been hit with that thing, or stepped on it…

I would have expired on the spot.