Good tidings of comfort (and joy)

Happy Christmas Eve from the beach. The husband, the man child and I decided to make the 1100 mile trek from Vermilion, Ohio to Cocoa Beach Florida for Christmas for the second year in a row. For them, it was merely a chance to catch some sunshine and play in the sand. For me, it was personal. I had an important visit to make.

Last year, the loss of my mother was very fresh. I spent more time in tears than enjoying the sunshine. I couldn’t bear to allow myself a peek of happiness. It just didn’t seem right. I got up before the sun every morning and sipped my coffee and watched the waves lap at the sand and wept.

I walked the beach and picked up seashells – but only the broken ones. I told myself that they were more interesting, but I think there was a part of me that believed at that moment that I didn’t deserve the perfect beautiful ones.

On our last morning at the beach, I found a spot just above the high tide line. I sat in the sand and imagined my mom beside me there, sitting in a low sand chair in her homemade red bathing dress with the white jacket with a beach blanket pulled up over her legs and her feet buried in the sand. I don’t think she was ever here at Cocoa Beach in her life, but I imagined her here in death – sitting in her chair and watching the waves, the gulls – the children with pails and shovels. Contented smile on her face. I went back at sunrise day after day and talked to her here on the the beach. I said all of the things that I couldn’t say in the last weeks of her illness when the very sight of me, for reasons I will never know, would make her angry. The angry old woman was gone, and Mom was back, sitting there beside me.

On our last morning, I had to say goodbye. I drew a heart in the sand and burned the location into my memory so that I could find it again, and there I set up her chair, in my mind, for the last time. She wanted the chair close enough to the water that the waves would wash over her feet sometimes. As I turned to walk back to our campsite, I saw her give me a little wave. “Go have fun,” she called. “I’ll be right here waiting. I’ll be just fine.” As I made my way up the stairs over the dunes, the hot tears spilled down my cheeks.

It’s been a year, today, since I left Mom’s memory there on the beach. I’ve pictured here there in the sun many times over the past year. The memory of that imaginary scene has given me great comfort. When it came time to plan this year’s vacation, I knew that I must return.

We arrived Saturday evening after dark. I woke up the following morning, planning to watch the sun came up, but I burrowed deeper into the covers instead. When I finally made it down to Mom’s spot later that morning, there was a family there, catching tiny crabs in the rocks. I didn’t talk to Mom. Instead I joined the hunt for tiny crabs, and then I walked along the beach and picked up the most beautiful sea shells I could find. Some were broken, but mostly they were intact – whole and beautiful – a far cry from my ‘haul” last year.

This morning I finally made it to the beach before the sun rose. It was magical. I ran 4 miles. I ran along the tide line. A wake surprised me and got my shoes soaking wet and I didn’t even care. I was having a wonderful time. I kept running in my squishy shoes, singing along to my music and telling every passerby “Good morning,” or “Merry Christmas.”

My favorite song came on my playlist and I danced a little. I made it back to “Mom’s spot.” I took a reed that I found in the rocks and drew a picture in the sand and took a photograph. I told myself that my year of grieving was over. I sat in “our” spot, ready to talk to Mom and tell her that I was okay and then, like the wave that had soaked my running shoes, a rogue wave of grief hit me. It was the knock you on your butt, throat-punch kind of grief that hits out of nowhere and it left me a little breathless for a moment. I sat on the big rock and just let the tears flow. I felt a tingling on my right hand, and I heard my mom tell me, “I told you I would be just fine.” I smiled through hot tears.

Just as the wave that soaked my running shoes receded back into the sea, the rogue wave of emotion slipped away. It ebbed and flowed as I sat there, listening to Mom. She told me, “I’m still Mary Christmas, and now Franny Claus is here too,” referencing nicknames that she and her sister, who just joined her in Heaven last month used during the holidays.

I know that Mom’s not on the beach in her chair anymore. This next year I imagine that I will think of her trying to roller skate on streets of gold and fishing in a beautiful lake in Heaven’s version of the Swiss Alps that she always wanted to visit and never had the chance.

I made my way back to the campground where husband and man child were waking up. Husband saw me and asked if I was okay. The answer was “I’m fine. I’m happy sad.” He knew what I meant.”

When I drew “Joy” in the sand, I set an intention to live more joyfully. I had no way to know that seconds later I would be weeping. I read somewhere that grief is a gift. In order to grieve, we must first have loved. Oh, how I loved.

Although I’ve cried intermittently since that episode this morning, my heart is not sad. I’m smiling through the tears. I got the distinct feeling that when I go back to the beach tomorrow, it’s going to be just me and the seagulls and the other “morning people.” I don’t have to drive 1100 miles next Christmas to talk to my mom.

To my friends who are hurting this Christmas, “you are not alone.” Honor your loved ones in the way that gives you the most comfort. There’s no right way to grieve or wrong way to grieve. Grief has no timeline.

I’m still intending to live the next year joyfully. Joy and grief can co-exist. They play together quite nicely. I still love Christmas at the beach. Maybe by next year, I’ll learn to do a cartwheel in the sand.

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12/5/2018 – A Christmas Card from Home by Way of Heaven

This morning began with a series of text messages.  Texting is not my preferred mode of communication, and I don’t use it often, so when a series of “dings” occurred in rapid succession, it was a sure sign that something was amiss.  Indeed, My Aunt Fran went to heaven this morning.

I sent a short message of condolence to my cousin and read the same from other cousins as they came across my screen.  I brewed a cup of coffee and sat in the quiet living room, not quite sure how to feel.

I grew up with many loving aunts and uncles, but Aunt Fran was a favorite. She taught Sunday School and Children’s Church.  She had a room in her basement full of little toys that she would give out as rewards for good behavior. For many years, she regularly cut my hair while I sat on a chair in her basement and she even allowed us to roller skate on the concrete floor.  Sometimes Fran would “kidnap” me for a day. Friendly’s Ice Cream Parlor was a short walk from her home, and we would go together and she would buy me a sundae that was so big that I couldn’t finish it.  Aunt Fran bought me my very first tea set, long gone now, but I remember it well.

Aunt Fran was a talented story teller.  Whether the story was from the Bible or from her youth, Fran had a rare talent for making even the ordinary exciting.  I particularly remember her re-telling of the story of David and Goliath.  She played each role, picking up smooth stones and putting them into a pouch for her imaginary slingshot, and then carefully fitting each one into the pouch to slay the giant.  A day with Aunt Fran was magical.

Mom and Fran were constant companions during the years that they shared at the Apostolic Christian Rest Home in Mansfield.  Each had her own small apartment just across the street the other.  Fran couldn’t see, and Mom had a hard time walking.  Mom was Fran’s eyes, and Fran was Mom’s legs.  They were a good team.  They complemented each other; they needed each other.  Even when Mom’s illness had progressed to the point where she could no longer truly care for herself, she wouldn’t leave Fran.

When cooking a big meal became too much for Mom several years ago, I began cooking Christmas dinner and transporting it to Mansfield, where we would serve up a feast in Mom’s small apartment.  We always invited Aunt Fran, and she always came down the hall, usually bearing gifts, which were often treasures from her own apartment that she no longer used for herself.  I use one such gift – a cast iron skillet – daily, and the lamp made of pink Himalayan salt glows in my study.

In the final year or so that Mom and Fran spent together, Fran’s hearing was failing, and her mind wasn’t working as before.  Last Fall, I was staying a few days with Mom prior to bringing her home with me because Mom had grown too weak to get herself in and out of bed.  She became very sick the night before we were to leave for my home, and I had to call an ambulance.  I called Fran’s apartment, too, but there was no answer.  Although I asked other family to let Fran know what had happened, she was convinced that I had stolen Mom away in the middle of the night without even letting them say goodbye.  No amount of persuasion by myself or others involved could ever convince Fran that I had, in fact, wanted her to know what was happening and even had tried to reach her.  As far as I know, Fran never forgave me.  I had never known Fran to be angry, but angry she was.  That night, I not only knew I was going to lose Mom, I lost my Franny, too.

Forgiveness is a lesson that took me more than 50 years to understand.  I’m doing much better with it, but I still struggle with forgiveness regularly.  It’s easier to understand it than to master it.

I struggle often to let go of the hurt that I cause myself with other people’s words and deeds so that I can just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they apologize or even feel bad for their “wrongdoing.”

I struggle to forgive myself for the times that I fail – whether it’s the dumb thing I did in second grade, or one of the times that I failed so completely that people I love won’t forgive me even though I’ve apologized.  I struggle to let go of that pain, too, and just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they return that love or even acknowledge my existence.

When I am having those particular struggles -the ones where I struggle to forgive myself – I slip into a mindset where nothing I do is good enough.  I don’t write because “who else would ever want to see it.”  I don’t post pictures of my knitting or of my teacups because “people will just think I’m looking for attention.”  I don’t play the piano because I’m rusty and I make a lot of mistakes, and I struggle to get on the treadmill because I’m slower than I was in 2016.  Forgiveness is the key to happiness, if you ask me, because letting go of pain frees up so much energy to just enjoy life and to just enjoy living.

This morning I forgave Fran for being angry with me, and I forgave myself for not foreseeing that my failure to reach her myself would cause hurt so deep that it would destroy a 50-year bond.  I allowed myself to weep, and to imagine Fran and Mom, reunited.  I believe that Fran, moments after her death, was restored to perfect health with perfect hearing and a sharp mind, and that she understood perfectly when Mom told her that I had, in fact, tried to phone her.

I made it to the office this morning a little late, but pretty much on time.  All day, my memories have kept spilling out my eyes and down my cheeks.  I’m not one given to loud crying generally, but my eyes have grown very leaky since I reached “a particular age.” It’s one of many reasons why I don’t bother with makeup.

When I arrived at the office, my mail was piled on my desk.  On the top of the pile was an envelope with a handwritten address.  A bright red cardinal appeared on the postage stamp in the upper right corner – a lone pop of color on a black and white document.  It’s said that the sighting of a cardinal is a message from a loved one in Heaven.  I saw a post to that effect on Facebook yesterday, so it must be true!

I looked at the return address and saw Dalton, Ohio 44618.  Home!  No matter how long I am in Vermilion, which I love, my heart screams “home” when I think of Wayne County.  In the envelope was a beautiful letter from a beautiful lady who has always been special.  We haven’t seen or talked in more than 30 years, but today, just when I needed a lift, her letter landed on my desk on a morning when I was down, not only because my aunt died, but because the stubborn needle on the scale just won’t budge no matter how strictly I diet or how many miles I run right now.

She shared some of her memories of my parents which I had forgotten about, but which flooded back.  She told me how much she’s enjoyed reading the little blog posts that I share.    She talked about my writing about struggles and transparency and told me that I make a difference.  She put a smile on my face.

I keep coming back to that cardinal on the stamp, and the idea of a message from a loved one in Heaven. The letter left Dalton, Ohio, a mere 50 or so miles away, on November 28th and arrived here on December 4, a day when I wasn’t in the office.  I didn’t personally receive the letter until I got to my desk on December 5- six days after the letter left “home.”.  The pony express would have been faster!  That dear lady closed her letter with “God’s grace and blessing on [my] journey.”  In God’s perfect time, a letter landed on my desk at least 4 days late, carrying with it a message of love and hope and friendship.  I feel like it also carried with it a message of forgiveness from Fran, and perhaps a “hi, I miss you,” from Mom, stuck to the letter with the glue on the cardinal stamp.

My friend from back home had no idea what I would be struggling with on THIS day on the day that she mailed the pretty Christmas card with the beautiful letter inside.  She simply listened to the call she felt to reconnect.  In doing so, she made a difference.  In this day of instant messages and texts and emails, it is such a thrill to open a card or letter and read a message meant just for *ME*.  Had she emailed, instead, I never would have received the message with the red cardinal at just the moment that I needed it.

It is possible to smile through tears.  I know, because I’m doing it right now.

Love,

Be

five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  That’s one year.  I buried my mom a year ago today – right about now.  I have known a lot of loss and pain in my life.  I’ve lost pregnancies, been divorced, buried a husband and my father.  I’ve been through plenty of tough times.  I thought I had a pretty good handle on grief.

I had the bright idea to start blogging my journey through grief on a day by day basis – I thought that I could somehow write a primer that might help others through coming to terms with the loss of their parent.  I was so arrogant as to sit down and write out a timeline of topics that I would write about – the lessons that I would teach myself about grief on my timetable.  I can laugh at the audacity now.

I didn’t write all of those blogs.  I didn’t write many of them.  I found the list not so long ago and threw it away.

When you are grieving, sometimes the minutes creep by so slowly that you think morning will never arrive.  Sometimes you open your eyes and realize it’s Friday and you haven’t finished the Monday to-do list.

The only way out is through.  I made it through five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.   I made it through a year.   I’ll make it through the next one, too, and the one after that.  Such powerful lessons of love I have learned.

I didn’t write those blogs, but I filled journal after journal.  One day, perhaps soon, I’ll read them through.  Perhaps there will be something of value to share. Perhaps they’ll make good kindling for next summer’s campfires.  Only time will tell.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, for me at least, has been  a time to process the changes.  I’ve let go of so many ideas that no longer served me.  When something irritates or annoys me, I ask myself if it would matter in a year.  If not, I do my best to let it go and use my energy for something more productive than worry.

I’m back to singing silly songs at inappropriate times (but not in court).  My smile isn’t a mask hiding sadness or depression – it’s real these days.  I no longer have to stalk joy like it’s a rare animal in a dark jungle.  Joy sits on my shoulder and sings again.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – measure in love.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
It’s time now to sing out
Tho’ the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love
Remember the love
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Songwriters: Jonathan D. Larson
Seasons of Love lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

Embracing the Dark

My “brand,” for want of a better term, has been “comfort and joy,” but the truth is that I have been doing my best to load heavy on the “joy” part.  I find joy in colors – in wild, bright, nearly-neon shades of pink, orange and green.  I have teacups in every color of the rainbow.  I wear eyeglasses that are splashed with many colors.  I love color.

I’m currently listening to “Learning to walk in the Dark:  Because Sometimes God Shows up at Night“, by Barbara Brown Taylor.   The author’s soothing voice is a reminder that life isn’t always colorful.  We have spent generations filling our world with light – chasing away the darkness.  We’ve lost the ability to take comfort in dark things – dark places. Her voice came at me through several podcasts in a short time.  On an impulse, I turned in an Audible credit and downloaded the recording.  I’m so glad that I did.

I’m the first one up in the house most mornings.  I flip on every light switch I pass, filling the house with the artificial sunlight emitted from all of those high-efficiency LED light bulbs.  The author asked questions, and I pondered, “When was the last time that I truly sat in the dark?  When did I last watch the night sky and watch for the stars to appear?”

It seems that August and September each lasted about 10 minutes. Here I sit, already part way through the month of October. My beautiful summer garden has begun to turn brown around the edges.  The petunias are bearing their last blooms; the herbs are going to seed.  Winter is Coming (sorry).  With Winter comes long nights.  With my windowless office, it is far too easy to arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark.  I must be intentional, some days, to glimpse the sunlight at all.  The vibrant orange roses I purchased a week and a half ago have finally turned brown.  I rinsed the apple-green vase and stored it away.

Emotions can be dark, too.   We can confront dark emotions without being consumed by them.  I’m amazed by the videos of dangerous creatures – night creatures – like wolves and bears and foxes that make their way into backyards and play in the pool or on the trampoline.   I find delight in watching their apparent joy.  Had those homeowners been frightened by the beasts and turned on the security light, flooding the yard with artificial sun, the animals may have scurried away into the forest.  Instead, they sat back and allowed something magical to happen, and those videos have brought happiness to thousands, like me, who will never experience the sight.

In the wake of my mother’s death last year, I pursued joy like a drug.  I purchased yarn in bright colors, hoarded away in quantities it will take many months to deplete.  I asked for (and received – thank you, darling) a room painted a yellow (called “joyful,” no less) in which I could sit and do happy things while looking out the window at happy colors.  Honestly, the room hasn’t received much use.

No, I’m not currently depressed.  I’m just coming down off of an artificial high.  I’ve never used recreational drugs, but I’m told that some so completely deplete serotin – the happiness hormone – that it’s difficult to feel happy after coming down from the high. Those same substances, administered by a professional, can be used to combat serious issues like PTSD. Like those drugs, “Joy,” I think, is best in small doses.  It’s much more special that way.  Seeking out joy is hard work.  An item is only novel a time or two, then unless it is connected to a special memory, it begins to lose its magic.  It becomes another pretty thing to sit on a shelf and dust.

Instead of running from garden to lake seeking perfect sunrises and sunsets (filled with fuschia and orange), I’m going to take a look around at all of the perfect,ordinary, taken-for-granted blessings.  There is beauty in ritual – in the mundane.

I’m not swearing off of joy – I’m just trying to find a rhythm – to get back to appreciating the ordinary.  To enjoy comfort while at the same time allowing darkness  – sadness, melancholy and longing – to creep in where I can watch them from a safe distance.

My dear aunt and uncle in Arkansas recently sent me a gift – a video of my mother and her siblings in 2009.  One sister had already taken up residence in heaven – but the rest of them sat and told stories about growing up – about Christmas and toys and the poor family who stole milk from the cows because their children were hungry.

That DVD sat on the table in the foyer for more than a week.  I was afraid of it.  I don’t know if I was afraid of seeing my mother’s face and hearing her voice.  I don’t know if I was afraid that she might say something about me and my failures as a daughter.  I can’t truly describe the nature of my fear.  I just know that I felt it.

After moving the disc from one room to another, I finally popped it into the computer, sat back with a pot of tea, and watched it end to end.  I allowed the tears to come.  I allowed the grief to come into the yard and bounce on the trampoline.  I allowed myself to laugh at the funny parts, too.

Like the wild animals playing on the swingset, though, dark emotion is a wild creature that for those of us who have found our way back from depression must be respected for the wild thing that it is.  Like the woman filming the black bears, I can watch sadness from the safety of the kitchen window, but it would be foolish to invite it into the house and give it a place at the table.

I would never go out into the yard if a bear was there, but I might brave the night to see how close I could get to a fox or a raccoon.  I would face fear of the dark for the potential experience of seeing something special up close.

If you never go out into the dark, how will you ever see the stars?

 

 

 

 

 

This Magic Moment

One in a rare while, something completely magical happens.  This weekend contained one of those moments.  My husband I bought an old beat-up camper a few years ago.  We’ve enjoyed many adventures over the past several summers as we have towed the camper from site to site and state to state.  Our youngest son is 18 now, and assures us that he can be trusted at home to tend the dogs and make sure the house doesn’t burn down.

This weekend my husband and I took the rig to a state park campground close to home.  Unlike the park we have favored over the past two summers, this park has little in the way of amenities.  Our campsite had no power, water or sewer hookups.  There is no swimming pool or fancy tile and marble bathhouse.  There is, however, an abundance of forest, trees and a beautiful lake for kayaking or canoeing (an adventure we have yet to begin).

We arrived Friday afternoon.  Our site was level, but “boring.”  Two porta potties and a dumpster were across the street instead of the beautiful river across from our “usual” favorite spot away from home.  We set up the trailer and pulled out the chairs, rug and table for our patio.

While I was in the rear of the camper, I saw a tiny weathered path leading into the trees, and I followed it.  Inside the cluster of evergreens was a clearing.  The opening was a domed sanctuary like no other, and wherever I looked inside the evergreen aviary, there were birds.  There were bright yellow goldfinches and black and white woodpeckers.  There were red feathers and blue feathers.  The sun shone in bright beams through the timbers, and as I moved through the clearing, seemingly dozens of little birds flitted about around me, filling the air with colors.  It was a scene straight out of a Disney movie.  I took a seat on a fallen log and nearly started singing songs from Cinderella.

Some time later, I reluctantly returned to the campsite, certain that I would never experience anything like this again in my lifetime.  I went for a run/hike later that evening with more magical encounters (for another blog, perhaps) and slept soundly.

The next morning I awoke early and set off for a pre-breakfast walk in the early morning quiet.  Dots of brilliant yellow dotted the ground outside of the camper.  An entire flock of goldfinches were enjoying the morning light alongside me.  As I moved along the road, so did they, lighting on the ground a few feet away and then flying ahead again.

I tried to photograph my walking companions, but the images were grainy and blurred. The image exists only in my memory.  I moved from one row of campsites to another and the birds stayed behind.  I found trees with dozens of holes drilled by an industrious woodpecker.  I climbed a staircase formed by the roots of a benevolent tree.  I wandered through an expanse of forest that I immediately deemed “the tree graveyard,” as dozens of fallen trees littered the forest floor while health trees reached up all around.

I frequently run through the woods.  Why, then, I asked myself, do I not experience this magic on a regular basis?  The answer was at my fingertips – or perhaps my earlobes.  I was walking for the sole purpose of being in nature.  I wasn’t looking at my pace on my watch.  I wasn’t listening to a podcast or a running coach through wireless earbuds.  I was exploring a new landscape.  New trails and terrain required my constant attention to avoid a nasty fall.

How often are we so absorbed in the artificial world that our technology creates around us that we fail to see the flock of birds, or to hear the crickets at nightfall? Do I miss seeing the doe and her two babies crashing through the woods just ahead of me because I am concentrating on my stride and cadence?

I pay attention to these statistics because I want to be faster.  I don’t want to finish dead last in my next race – but at what cost does the potential improvement come?  What would happen if most days I simply ran for the joy of running instead of trying to beat my personal record around the trail loop?

When we fill our ears with music and look at the device on our wrist that vibrates every 30 seconds to remind us to MOVE FASTER, what magic do we miss?  I’ve reserved the same campsite for next weekend.  Do you think the birds will remember me?

 

 

My Life as a Plant

I just returned from a weekend camping in a place with absolutely no internet connectivity.  My cell phone did not work.  Zero bars.  Nada.  No Facebook.  No weather.  No checking my calendar or sharing pics on Instagram.  The only purposes my handy dandy pocket computer served were alarm clock, music player and e-reader.

Our 18-year-old son is old enough, now, to spend a weekend without Mom and Dad here to manage him.  He wasn’t alone, though.  It was closing weekend of the musical theater show he has been rehearsing for all summer long.  He’s a busy guy.

I had intended to ask my son to water my plants while I was gone, but I forgot, and by the time I arrived  home, a few were just beginning to droop.  I don’t generally keep indoor plants because I have a tendency to kill them, but for a few brief months every year, my back deck becomes a tropical paradise filled with a riot of colors.  I “visit” the plants nearly every day.  I pinch this one back here to encourage more blooms and I move that one a little to the left so that it gets more sunlight. Sometimes, though, I get busy and I forget a day of watering.  Earlier this summer, a combination of a badly-planned container and failure of a drip-watering system led to a “dead” planter.  I had my husband drill a bunch of holes in the bottom of an old aluminum tea kettle that was my mother’s, and I filled it with vines and flowers.  It was lovely.

I went out to the deck one night to commune with my flowering friends and found the kettle plants wilted and dead-looking.  The soil was crispy.  The leaves were crinkly.  The situation looked pretty hopeless.  I cried a little.  I had “built” that container as a tribute to Mom, who I lost in November, and in that moment, my irrational mind felt that I had let her down (again).

My husband said, “just throw the plants out and buy new ones.”  It was tempting.  Instead, though, I soaked the container thoroughly.  I used my garden shears to cut back the completely brown parts and I moved the kettle from the hook where it hung “crooked,” as if pouring a cup of tea to a shelf where it could sit flat (and was much easier to water).

I began watching the kettle planter each day.  On Day 2, it looked a little better.  The leaves that had still been green, but were wrinkled instead of full and lush had filled back out. The extremities on the vines though, continued to wilt and grow brown.  I pulled out the shears once again and cut back a little more.

By Day 3, the “core” of the planter was beginning to look healthy.  There were no flowers anywhere, but the greenery was looking healthier.

By Day 7, new runners were beginning to appear from the vining plants.  By Day 10, a few buds had appeared on the the plant with the tiny white flowers.

Now, two full weeks after the disaster, three of the four plants have made a brilliant recovery.  They almost look as if they had never been nearly killed. I say “almost,” because if you look closely, you can see the scarring on some leaves.  There are some brown parts, too – but if you view the kettle from a distance, you would never know that it was nearly a lost cause.  The fourth plant, with it’s delicate leaves and tiny fuschia blossoms, though, isn’t faring as well as its neighbors.  Perhaps it is the diminutive size of the leaves.  Perhaps this plant wouldn’t have thrived in the same container as the other three even without my unintentionally-caused drought.  It’s surviving, but it isn’t thriving.

While running on a narrow trail through the forest this weekend (without music), I began thinking about the plants in Mom’s kettle.  When you neglect a plant, or when it goes through a crisis, it begins to shut down.  It conserves precious resources for its core.  It keeps its center alive for as long as possible.  Humans do this, too.

It was just about a year ago when Mom told me that her cancer was “alive” again, and that she would need radiation treatments to knock it back down.  In the weeks leading up to that day, I had celebrated my 50th birthday.  I was joyful.  I was celebrating life.  If I were a plant, I would have been “blooming all over the place.”

As the illness progressed, it took her mind.   My own soul began to wilt a little.  My extremities began to wither – I stopped seeking out people and conversations.  A leaf began to die here and there.  She became sicker and died.  People soon stopped sending cards and notes.  The flowers people sent died. The houseplants that people sent to the funeral died, too.  I suppose the fact that I hadn’t watered them had something to do with it.  We entered the longest winter ever, and I had my own “dark night of the soul.”

With Spring came hope.  I waited impatiently for the last chance of frost to pass so that I could plant new life in the containers that still held the wilted remains of last year’s flower garden.  The trails called me, too.  I began running again on paths through woods and meadows.  I began smiling more.  As the pots and kettles and gutters filled with living, blooming things began to fill my life with color, my mood lifted.  I began reaching out.  I even invited people long gone from my life for coffee and conversation.  I, too, began to bloom again.

I recognize my plant-like nature.  When there is a “trauma” in my environment, the “extremities” are the first to go.  I stop doing the extra things that bring me into contact with others.  I stop “vining” – reaching out for new places to connect and grow.  I stop blooming – whether my blossoms are written words or photographs of pretty teacups.

My grief is not over.  Most days I am happy, but once in a while I will forget for a moment that Mom is dead.  I reach for the phone to call her, or spot something I would love to send her.  Those moments are no longer enough to ruin me for the day.

By late Winter, if I were a plant, I would have looked pretty sad.  I imagine I was there, with my long, flowing fronds, once lush and green, now hanging sad and brown.  Someone would come along and offer a word or encouragement and my “core” plant would lap it up.  At work, I would have an opportunity to help someone, and they showed their appreciation through kind words or referrals that brought me more and more to life.  Each act of kindness – each “touch,” whether physical or through the magic of the internet – was like a drop of rain to my parched soul.

Running through the Mohican State Forest this weekend, I was in awe of the resilience of plants – especially the trees.  In some spots, I was forced to climb tree roots as if they were a staircase.  In other places, I saw trees that had been blown over completely and started to grow again in a new direction.  Trees don’t give up and stop growing because there is a storm.

I don’t picture myself as a tree.  I’m far too fickle.  I’m more like a vining plant with long colorful fronds that blooms brightly once in a while.  As I heal, my fronds are filling out and buds forming.  as I hit “publish,” I will have put out my first blossom in a long while.

So, today I will be like a plant.  I will bloom where I’m planted while sending out vines, seeking new places to experience and erupting in an occasional flower that, when wilted, sends seeds out to land in someone else’s waiting, fertile soil of their imagination.

All the pretty string

I’m pretty much an introvert. Don’t get me wrong – I love people.  I love to hang out with people [once I get there] and I love to talk with people and to get to know people.  I love to get up in front of a crowd and talk.  I love to go where people are and smile at them for no reason at all.  Sometimes they think they know me and stop to chat.  Despite my love of people, though, I must say that actually interacting with people exhausts me. After a day in court or a day consulting with existing or potential clients, I need some alone time to recover.

That’s where all the pretty string comes into the picture.  I didn’t have many friends when I was a little girl.  Truthfully, I’ve never learned the skill of cultivating friendships.  While my brother roamed the neighborhood playing with the other little boys, I sat in the house and got underfoot.

I think I was about 8 years old when my mother handed me a ball of yarn (hot pink!) and a crochet hook.  She taught me to make a slip knot, and then she wrapped the yarn around my left pinky and through my fingers and then held my little hands in hers and guided me through the first stitches.  Once I had the hang of “chaining,” she let go.  She told me to keep going until I got to the end of the ball of scratchy pink acrylic yarn.

Periodically the yarn would tangle between my fingers, or I would let go to scratch my nose or go to the bathroom, and I would take my chain back to Mom and ask her to wrap the yarn around my fingers again.  She did, and each time she would admire my ever-growing chain.

Honestly, I don’t remember how long it took me to finish that long, long chain, but I think it was long enough to allow her to get some housework done – or perhaps some time alone for a cup of tea.

As the summer progressed, we tore that ball of yarn apart time and time again.  She taught me single crochet, then double crochet and half-double crochet.  Before the summer was over, I had turned that same ball of hot pink fiber into a ruffled rhumba-style ball gown for my Barbie doll.  She looked fabulous.

Like many other hobbies, crochet has come and gone and come again in my life.  It was something that I had in common with Mom. Mom loved people too, but they wore her out, and so when I went for a visit, I would frequently take my latest work in progress along. She would work on her doily or her baby sweater, and I would work on my hat, scarf or shawl.  When we were stitching, we could talk, or we could be silent – bonding over our mutual love of turning thread to treasures.

I recently purchased A Stash of One’s Own:  Knitters on Loving, Loiving with, and Letting to of Yarn, by Clara Parkes.  It is a book full of essays by other people who love yarn. It’s not a long book, and I am enjoying it so much that I’ve been “rationing” it – reading just one essay at a time, then surfing Ravelry for patterns designed by the writers.

This morning I read an essay by Franklin Habit and his relationship with needlework and his mother.  His mother’s “stash” became an embodiment of her for him, and he spoke of the emotions that surfaced after her death when it came time to process her death – and her stash.

As a child, his mother’s “pretty string” was forbidden.  Later in life, their mutual love of “pretty string” brought them together in new ways.  It’s a beautiful essay, and well worth a read.

Late last year, in Mom’s final illness, she asked me to bring yarn and a hook to the nursing home where she lay all day.  Her occupational therapist encouraged the idea, and I scoured my stash for yarn that was brightly colored and very soft.  I grabbed an assortment of crochet hooks from my collection and delivered the package as proudly as a little girl clutching a handful of dandelions from the lawn on Mother’s Day.

Although Mom admired the yarn, it was clear that crocheting together was something we would not be able to do any more.  I haven’t finished a crochet project since.  The scarf I worked on at the nursing home sits unfinished in my bedroom.  Instead, I did something that Mom never really tried.  I learned to knit.

My love of pretty string leads to me knitting in public when I am waiting for an appointment or enjoying the sunshine in the park.  The yarn attracts people.  They want to watch.  They want to touch.  They want someone to teach them to use the pretty string.

My home is full of pretty balls of string.  To be perfectly honest, wrapping yarn around a pair of knitting needles and watching it turn into solid fabric or lace feels like alchemy or magic.  I can lose myself in knitting – and frequently do, surrounded by balls of pretty string, losing myself in memories, or making new ones.