Thursday, March 22, 2012

Time for the Eyeroll

I was driving home from work a couple days ago, and the van in front of me had this license plate.

Used to be I'd have made fun of this in some fashion, but not any more. I don't need any more lessons in the various and sundry ways people have to find or create comfort for their soul when they grieve, and I find myself unable to criticize whatever method works for them.


I saw this and I just knew beyond a shadow of any doubt that if Mama had been in the car with me, she'd have been rollin' her eyes with a side of raised eyebrow at the sight.

So I did it and smiled.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It is not a true thing that there have been no little landmines since my last post here. The true thing is that life around here is a little different than it used to be, and I find myself only infrequently with time, energy, and inspiration enough to write anything.

The near daily landmine I have is when I receive a call placed from my father's house. Of course, we only started calling it that once Mama died -- it had always been "Granny's house" before -- so this is the picture that still comes up when a call comes from there:

Some days I get teary when I see it; other times I smile remembering the day I shot that picture. The afghan was a gift to my granddaughter when she was born, from a dearest friend. Mama really hammed it up for this picture, which is something she did pretty frequently. She'd insist she didn't want her picture taken, and then she'd pull something like this out of her artillery, and, well, it's a sweet memory.

Yesterday I attended a monthly luncheon for the club to which Mama and I belonged. We had a splendid speaker, and a really lovely lunch, and as I was heading out of the place one of Mama's best friends (with whom I've had numerous conversations since Mama's death) stopped me and said she had something she needed to tell me.

Let me backtrack here for a second: the day before Mama went to the hospital, we knew our "system" would be activated that night to call 9-1-1. Her difficulties happened in the middle of the night but she, not wishing to bother anybody, would wait until the next day to inform us she'd had trouble.  Her cardiologist told her that Friday to call the emergency service when it happened again, because the best chance of getting to the bottom of it would be in the ER as it was happening. None of us had any particular reason to believe that this was anything terribly serious. We just knew Mama had something going on that was causing her discomfort, messing with her sleep, and leaving her flat tired every day.

So - we had a system in place for phone tree, and who'd stay where and who would go, and I suspect we all went to bed that Friday night knowing the phone would ring. It did, and by dawn on Saturday Mama was in ICU.

Once she was there, she asked me to call two of her closest friends to tell them where she was. I didn't think a thing of it -- they were in the best position to inform all the other friends quickly.

I hadn't thought about any of that since then, until Lois pulled me aside yesterday. She said that she'd been trying to figure out when the right time was to tell me what she was fixing to tell me, and that something nudged her that that moment was the right time.

And here's what she told me.

On Friday, the day before she was hospitalized, while we were all fine-tuning our preparations for the call we knew would come, Mama called these friends -- Lois and Hallie. She told them what was going on. And she told them something else.

She told them goodbye.

She told them she knew she would never come home again.

When Lois told me this, I could hardly breathe. I have struggled for more than 24 hours now to figure out what to make of this revelation.

I'm still not entirely sure, but at least one thing it cements in my mind is this: every word my mother spoke, every note she wrote when she could no longer speak, every squeeze of the hand, every raised eyebrow and thumbs up was intentional.

And even more perplexing, I'm trying to figure out why yesterday suddenly seemed like the right time for me to know. 

Written to us on 10/6/11, actually. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


Little landmines have not only served as occasions for deep sadness for me. Sometimes -- more and more often, in fact -- they bring a funny memory with them, or a reason to celebrate that Mama's life so informs my own that there are days when her presence is just all around me. They serve not so much as shocks to the systems as nudges from deep in my heart where the goodest stuff dwells, from which I am prompted to remember.

Two recent cases in point. 

On December 17, 2011 I said to my brother, as if in automatic mode, "Today is Grandmama's birthday."  You should understand here that the Keeper of All Family Dates On Her Tongue was our Mama. If you ran across her on one of these days, you'd get your reminder. Anyway, as soon as the words were out of my mouth, my brother responded over his shoulder, "I wondered who would be in charge of reminding us of these things every year."  

It was a good little landmine. It spoke of continuity, and family jokes that will live on  long after all of those of us who know the whole story are gone.

And then this: today was my first time back to the 20th Century Club meeting after my rather spectacular loss of form in November there. We met, as we do nearly every month, at the Blue Willow (which we refer to as "Our Clubhouse"). I'm happy to report that while there was a good crowd today, and I arrived a little late, that the little table at the back of the room where Mama and I always sat with the Moody Women had a couple spaces open.  Mrs. Moody and her daughter and daughter-in-law were there together, and there was another old friend, and that left one empty place after I sat down -- not in my usual chair, though. I never even thought about it -- the table conversation was great, and at one point Mrs. Moody's daughter moved the vase of roses so we could see each other across the table.

I took a picture of the roses on my iPhone to upload to The Path, a social media site I enjoy because it serves as a photojournal for me.  I "checked in" on The Path with this, and it was only later that I fully realized that of all the beautiful settings in that place I could have photographed today, I chose to snap the least remarkable view in the place -- which was right in front of Mama's usual chair. I didn't tear up when I saw this and realized it. I smiled.

Her empty chair held a little bit of understated beauty today -- just like it did when she sat there. 

So I remembered, and I smiled. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Unmarked Grave

In the late 1960's my parents bought the two plots at Greenwood Cemetery next to Mama's mother and father, and they also went on and ordered a monument for themselves, which has stood on those plots ever since, awaiting the time when a death date inscription would need to be added. Like many other couples, it's one monument with both their names, of course.

The company who handles this removed the monument shortly after Mama's burial for inscription, but we learned this week that there had been an error made that could not be fixed -- they inscribed the date of death on Daddy's side. The monument company is going to make this right: they acted honorably, and aside from the fact that we would rather it not have happened, we can't and won't complain about how they handled the situation.

We all heard this news and were pretty philosophical about it, but still.... it became the latest little landmine for me.

I have not returned to the cemetery since Mama was buried there. Some families are Visitors to Cemeteries, but that hasn't been part of our tradition so I just had in my mind that when the monument was back in place it would feel like things had been put to paid and I'd feel right being there for a visit.

So now we have this delay, which may well be 3 months or more, and I just got emotionally blindsided hearing this. I couldn't really sort out why until I talked it out with a good friend. She is so wise, and here's what she said in response to my saying that I wasn't sure why I was so upset, given that it is "just a hunk of stone."

"No, it's not just a hunk of stone. It's the hunk of stone your Mom and Dad purchased over 45 years ago and planned for you to come visit after they were gone. It's a huge deal."

Here's the thing about friends, and pouring out your heart, and listening when they respond with grace and wisdom:  As soon as she put into words what I was having trouble articulating and thereby honored my sadness, it was largely dispelled.

This is why it is so important, I think, to share the hard things, and it helps if you have wise friends.

My sister and I have marked our calendars for April. It will be pretty there in the spring.

"Do not protect yourself from grief by a fence, but rather by your friends."-- Czech Proverb

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Third Floor

I'm writing this shortly after a visit to Baptist Hospital South to see my sister, who had surgery to repair a broken femur this afternoon. She's going to be just fine.

The orthopedic ward is on the 3rd floor. You go up by elevator, you exit them and go through the doors to your right, and at the end of a little hallway -- at the first "intersection" just next to a private sitting room where boxes of tissue rest on every available surface -- you take a right....

No. That's not it.

If you take a right you will wind up at the doors of the MICU. You walked that way so many times for so many days that muscle memory just came into play, and although you realize you meant to take a left at that intersection, your feet keep walking toward those closed automatic doors, your hands begin to reach for the disinfectant pump containers mounted on the walls, and it is only when you allow yourself to face the fact that her room now holds some other mother, maybe, some other person whose family you had a hard time making eye contact with when you got off the elevator and saw all the MICU families hovering there waiting for their own limited visiting hours because they looked like wounded animals just like you and yours did when you sat there, waiting...   well it's then that you remember to turn around and head the other way.

The way that leads to the room where your sister is, where she will spend a few days recuperating, and taking some measure of rehab, and leaving from there to go home not much the worse for wear ultimately. The way that reminds you with each step that life is going on, that for every heartbreaking story those hallways could tell, including your own, stories of healing, and joy, and medical miracles great and small are being told there, too.  Right now. And your sister will be one of them, and this time, a woman you love deeply will come home from that 3rd floor.

And you are grateful to have felt, and moved through, another little landmine.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


It's been a bit since I shared a landmine. Do not take that to mean that I've ceased to run across them; the busyness of the last few weeks has meant less time to feel the weight of them, to allow myself to fall fully into the gift they inevitably bring, and certainly, to write about them when they happen.

But here I am on a quiet Sunday morning. We will be getting our granddaughter in a little bit for the day, something we've not had an opportunity to do for too long, and we've an afternoon of just soaking her up planned. We aren't even heading to church today -- she has a mild viral infection to which we don't wish to expose other people's children.

So, I'm here at my computer. I opened Spotify, that wonderful, eclectic music sharing site, and typed in the keyword "strings," and just let it find music for me as I continued to work away at the computer here on the things I've not been able to find time for during the rest of an overscheduled week.

I was hardly listening to any of it, at least up to the moment I heard the opening strains of Barber's "Adagio for Strings, Opus 11."  Surely this is one of the loveliest, most evocative pieces of music ever written.

And in my heart, I heard Mama say -- as she always did, when something particularly lovely fell on her ear and we weren't paying due attention -- SHHHHH -- listen to this!  Her face would light up, and she would close her eyes or just get this dreamy look on her face, and nothing would annoy her more than for you not to listen with her just as intently.

Since Mama died, a hundred things have caused me to think "Mama would love this," and then have felt tremendous emptiness because there really isn't anyone else in my life with whom sharing those things would mean anything. This morning, though, it was almost as if she wanted to share something with me.

So, when the first strains of this magnificent piece fell on my ear, I listened to the urging that is so impressed on my psyche that it found a voice I could hear. I stopped everything I was doing, closed my eyes, shhhh'ed, and listened.  The gift of stopping, just for a few moments, and then allowing myself to weep just for missing her, and to weep for the beauty of that -- and for the beauty of the music -- was another precious landmine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lost in the landmine

January 18, 2008

This picture was taken at a centennial celebration of the 20th Century Literary Club to which Mama and I both belonged for a number of years. At the end of last year (we meet from October - May) Mama tendered her resignation, citing my father's health and her fear that he might have even greater need of her tender care when meetings resumed this year.

The first meeting of the new year was on October 21, on what would have been her 84th birthday, just three days after her death. I am the recording secretary for the club this year, and a thoughtful fellow member came by to pick up the recording book. She had called me to offer her condolences, and I remembered that this task needed to be done, and she obliged. 

Today was our second meeting of the year, on the one-month anniversary of her death. I tried not to think about it too much, because I was also the scheduled speaker for the month, giving essentially the same program I gave last week to another literary club without so much as a sniffle.

I don't know that it was -- I suspect it was sitting at the little round table in the back where she and I always huddled, usually with Joyce and her daughter Emelie, or Bonnie and her daughter Linda, or Jule and her daughter Carol, or Frances and her daughter Virginia -- that made something shift on its axis, but as I launched into leading the club in our collect, I was overcome and unable to recover sufficiently to continue.  As it happens, I was sitting with Virginia and her Mama, and Virginia moved over, placed her arm around my shoulder, and finished this beautiful prayer for me, the one we hear read every month at our meetings: 

"Keep us, oh God, from pettiness;
Let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.
Let us be done with fault-finding, and leave off self-seeking.
May we put away all pretense
And meet each other face to face -- without self-pity and without prejudice.
May we always be generous and never hasty in judgment.
Let us take time for all things.
Make us grow calm, serene, gentle.
Teach us to put into action our better impulses,
straightforwardly and unafraid.
Grant that we may realize it is the little things that create differences;
that in the big things of life we are as one.
And may we strive to touch and to know the great common woman's heart of us all.
And, oh Lord God,
Let us not forget to be kind."
~ Mary Stewart~ 1904

I was able to pull myself together finally, and presented the program, enjoyed a lovely lunch with the ladies, and went straight back to work. 

I do very well at keeping my vulnerability under wraps, of holding things together in order to reassure others that I am, if not fine, at least all right.  It was a very hard thing to cope with that wall falling away so unexpectedly today. It was bound to happen somewhere, sometime, and I am grateful that it happened in the company of others whom I know miss her, too.