Friday, December 31, 2010

Beautiful sunset

This evening I sit in my favorite chair gazing out of the window of the family room onto my snow covered yard.  I am filled with peace as I admire the soft orange, purple and bluish gray hues of the sunset.  It is early, not even 5:00 p.m., but the sun is setting for the last time on 2010.  I am truly blessed by the beauty outside my window.  The rose bushes are wearing their fluffy white winter coats.  The undisturbed snow blanketed yard is a reminder that Buster is gone.  I  miss my dear golden retriever friend.

We've had many losses this year.  Christmas was much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. Many times,  I found myself sensing that something was really wrong with the day because it seemed incomplete.  I was surrounded by my children and grandchildren.  For that I am so grateful.  We had such a great time, but this mother of five kept counting heads and kept coming up short.  I don't know if I will ever get over the counting and being shocked anew that one is no longer with us.

The great hole in my heart and in my family will never be filled, yet in the waning light of this day, as the sun sets on 2010, I am grateful for much.  I have known more love than I ever thought possible.  I have experienced grace that has expanded my soul and deepened my faith.  Many loyal friends have been there for me.  My family has kept me sane as they laughed and cried along with me on this journey as we try to adjust to our great loss. I look forward to the dawn of a new day and of a new year.

Happy New Year!  May the new year bring each of you hope, joy, and many blessings.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

O Holy Night

While I think Susan Boyle has a wonderful voice, and I am touched by her rendering of my favorite Christmas song, I  only wish that I had a video recording of my mother singing "O Holy Night" for a Christmas Eve service at the church in Colorado Springs where she had married my father, and where we attended services faithfully every Sunday.  My mother's rendering of this hymn back in 1958 remains my favorite Christmas memory.

Though this event occurred over 52 years ago,  the memory of it is still crisp, clear, and much treasured.  My mother's solo opened the service.  I still see her dressed in a 50's style dress made of green raw silk.  She'd made the dress herself.  At her ears crystal earrings sparkled against her wavy black hair.  Her beautiful, clear soprano voice sweetly filled the church.  It was evident that the song came from her heart.  It was not just a performance.

From afar, dressed as an angel, I watched her as I stood at the back of the church waiting to make my entrance with a host of other pre-teen angels to light the candles that were placed throughout the church.  I was nearly overcome with pride and love as I watched her with amazement and listened to her sing.  I thought I had never seen a more beautiful woman with a more beautiful voice.  

She is now 94 years old.  Whenever I get the chance to stand next to her in church and listen to her sing, I am still amazed at her beauty and at the beauty of her voice.  I find myself trying to make a mental recording of her voice.  I never want to forget how beautiful it is.

Merry Christmas, Mother.  I love you.  Thank you for all the Christmas memories that you made for us, for all of the beautiful clothes that you made us to wear, and, most of all,  for teaching us the true meaning of Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Straight from the North Pole

My son, his wife, and my grandson came home from Bangladesh this past week.  They have been living half way across the world for the past 18 months.   They had boarded a plane in Dhaka over thirty hours before they finally touched down in Denver on December 16.  I had a copy of the itinerary and knew they were flying from Dhaka, to Dubai, to L.A., to Denver, but I wasn't sure exactly what the flying route would be.

When they finally reached my daughter-in-law's sister's house,  I was one very happy lady to see them again!

Soon after they arrived to the Denver area, where we had gone to greet them home, I asked my seven year old grandson what route their flight had taken.  "Over the North Pole," was his reply.  "Yes, we flew over the North Pole," he said again with a look of amazement on his face.  "The North Pole, really?" I asked.  At his age I would not have even been able to fathom such an experience.  I felt almost foolish asking my next question, "Did you see Santa Claus?"  I mean, really, do you ask a seven year old if he saw Santa when he himself just flew over the North Pole?  "No," he said with all seriousness, he had not seen Santa, Mrs. Santa, or any of the elves.  "It was really dark outside.  It was dark.  We couldn't see anything."  He then went on to recount that they had also flown over Russia after they had flown over India.  After flying over Russia, they found themselves flying over the North Pole.

I am amazed at the experiences that this little family has had.  Atticus has seen more of this world in his first seven years than I can hope to see.  He lived in an exotic, difficult, interesting place where he was delivered daily by rickshaw to an international French bilingual school where he learned to read in French and in English.  He has traveled around to the other side of the globe four different times now.  He understands geography in ways most of us never will.

 Soon after his grueling journey, I glimpsed  my grandson as sat on the couch seemingly trying to adjust to the cold Colorado weather he had just encountered after boarding a plane in a tropical country.  He was the very picture of jet lag.  Before long, my world traveler was asleep with his beloved Oso, the teddy bear that I gave him for his very first Christmas, tucked under his arm.

Sometimes, you give or get the perfect gift.  I think that dear old bear was the perfect Christmas gift for my little grandson back in 2002.  In 2010, he was the perfect gift for this grandma.  He came special delivery via the North Pole.

Welcome home, Jon, Sam, and Atticus!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm in your corner...

I'm learning that dealing with grief is like being in a boxing ring.  I must confess that I've never been in a boxing ring, but I'm sure that there are many comparisons that can be made between boxing and dealing with grief.  Let me give you a few examples of why I have been thinking how dealing with grief and boxing are similar.

A boxer enters the ring expecting to take some blows.  I'm sure that after the first few powerful punches, the boxer learns that he must have the courage, the fortitude and the self-confidence to get up again each time he or she is knocked to the ground. Grief, like boxing, delivers some pretty powerful punches.  Unlike the boxer in the ring, the person who is dealing with overwhelming grief and bereavement, does not always expect the next punch.

I sometimes forget I am in a fight, one that I hope will lead to healing and acceptance of that which I cannot change. I get busy with living life and dealing with the day to day demands of being a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend and teacher.  I think I am carrying on quite well.  The house is cleaned, the Christmas decorations are mostly up, and I am busy with my social and professional life.
Then, out of nowhere, I am knocked to the ground by thoughtless, seemingly uncaring, remarks or by unrealistic demands.  I get up and keep going forward.  I remember that not everyone knows that when a  person is dealing with grief, each day is struggle.  Not everyone understands that the first year in the journey of grief can be a very rough trip.  When I get knocked down by someone else, I try to forgive, get up, and press forward.  I am determined that no one will steal my joy during the holiday season.

Then, the next punch comes.  This type of punch is the hardest to bear.  It is the punch that memory delivers.  I just happened to come across a photo, one I didn't remember seeing before.  It was a photo taken of Julie last Christmas in Utah.  Last year, she wanted to be with the Utah branch of the family for Christmas, so I had given her an airline ticket as her Christmas gift.  In the photo, there she was, very much alive, stunningly beautiful, and, as always, smiling at the camera.  She is surrounded by two of her siblings, her sister-in-law, four of her nieces and nephews and her father.  She is happy.  She looks like she is at peace.  She looks as if she doesn't have a care in the world and is only enjoying being surrounded by family.

The fam at Snow Basin, Utah

Then, I study the photo of Julie with my oldest son, Ryan, my oldest daughter, Keicha, and her father, and my former husband, Barry.  It just looks like a typical family photo.  No one knew it would be the last time that the four would gather for an informal recording of a family gathering.

Keicha, Barry, Julie, & Ryan
Julie and Sheridan

Julie had many friends.  She kept in touch with most of them on a fairly regular basis.  While she was in Utah, she met up with Sheridan, her dear friend and roommate from her University of Utah days.  There's that dazzling smile and those sparkling blue eyes again.  That smile, those eyes, they never fail to deliver a punch theses days.

But, I digress, I was writing about how dealing with grief and boxing are alike.  One would never step into a boxing ring without training and conditioning for a fight.  Unfortunately, when death visits a family unexpectedly,  there has been no warning that one should have been training for the fight of one's life.  I've learned that's where faith comes in.  After many years of building a solid foundation of faith in God, I can say with assurance that I have believed totally and utterly in the absolute sovereignty of God.   Because of that foundational belief,  I have been able to keep the fight of faith going as I struggle with the pain of loss, regret, and sorrow.  After the loss of a child, especially to suicide, I believe it is safe to say that one's faith is either lost, found or strengthened.  My faith has been strengthened.  The fight of faith continues to go on.  Truly, "morning by morning, new mercies I see."

There is no doubt that, just as the boxer needs people to coach him, to help him in his training exercises, to encourage him when he is down, I have also needed people in my corner.  I have had many.  My husband is my mainstay.  When one enters the ring to fight, it becomes very clear where your friends are.  You know who is really pulling for you.  So many of my friends and family members have been there for me before I even asked for their help.  Julie's friends have also been there for all of us.  Team 8:08 has been the best!

I heard a story that Dan Rather told about being in the boxing ring.  He said that when he was knocked to the ground and did not think he could get up, he heard a voice in his corner and it kept calling his name.  He said that was how he was able to get up again.  I've heard your voices, those of you who are in my corner.  I hear you calling my name.  Thank you for being there.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Go Often To The House of a Friend

About two weeks ago, my good friend Jeanie sent me a message on Facebook offering to come over and help me decorate my Christmas tree.  Jeanie and I met about 16 or 17 years ago in a syntax class.  We were both 'non-traditional' students who were going back to school to get a degree.  She was working on a degree in Spanish while I was working on a degree in English.  Syntax, a required course for both degrees, brought us together.  I think Jeanie was the one who reached out to me first, but soon, we were study buddies.  That was the beginning a very long standing and dear friendship.

When I first met Jeanie, she was not planning on teaching.  Then, after getting her degree,  she decided to go back to school to get endorsed to teach Spanish.  Once she was in the classroom teaching, I kept after her to get her ESL endorsement.  Now, she teaches ESL, has her masters in ESL and is working on a second masters in History.  I am very proud of Jeanie.  She has quite a story to tell about her life.  As a young child, she worked in the fields in California.  Now she is a teacher who is working on her second masters degree.  Jeanie is a great role model for me.

Jeanie and I have kept our friendship strong over the years by going to dinner on a regular basis or by getting together whenever there was a teaching conference we were both attending.  About four or five years ago, she came over and spent the day helping me decorate for Christmas just because she missed doing that for an old friend of hers who had passed away.

The day Jeanie came to decorate, my calendar had this quote, "Go often to the house of a friend.  For weeds soon cover the path."  Unfortunately, the path from her house to mine had become a bit overgrown.  It had been much longer since our last meeting than either of us would have liked.

After taking a while to catch up on news and other developments in our lives and in the lives of our children, we got down to business.  Since I have an artificial tree that needed some fluffing up, Jeanie suggested that we wear gardening gloves.  Great idea!

Once the tree was all fluffed out, we started hauling up boxes from the basement.  My goal was just to get the tree decorated.

Jeanie thought I should decorate the windows in the family room as well as the mantle.  So, once we got the tree done, she went to work on her next project.

After about three hours of chatting, decorating, laughing, and crying a bit, our job for the day was done.  My tree was up and decorated.  The family room had a garland over the window and a garland on the fireplace mantle.  I was famished, so once we had posed in front of the newly decorated tree for a photo to record our day together, we were off for pizza.

Holidays are rough when one has lost a loved one.  Jeanie lost her brother this year, and I lost my daughter.  Being with friends who care and understand, is very healing.  Decorating for the holidays can be a bit daunting after a loss of major significance.  Thanks Jeanie for being my friend, for helping me get started with decorating, and for being there for so many.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Keeping Up

Since I've gone back to work, I've had a very hard time keeping up with life.  I only work four hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.  You would not think that would cause a problem for me and my schedule.  Of course, because I am teaching, I always seem to have to an an hour or two to add on to those four hours in order to get the grading and planning done.  I love being back to work, but I wonder how I ever was able to even sort of manage getting everything done when I worked full-time.

If you are retired, do you ever wonder how you managed to keep up the other demands of living while you were working?  When I reflect on the schedule that my husband and I kept when I worked full-time teaching high school English while he worked a sixty plus hour a week job as a high school principal,  I truly wonder what super powers we once possessed to maintain our lives and sanity during those busy years.  And yet, when we reminisce about those bygone days, we only remember that life was good - very good.

During the 12 years that my husband was principal, we never went fishing.  We did not own a lawn mower.  We always went to bed right after the 10:00 news.  We seldom ate lunch or dinner at home.  We went out to eat nearly every night.  The house was faithfully vacuumed by my husband once a week, and I usually moped the kitchen floor once a week.  I dusted the furniture when we had guests, or when I really was ashamed of how much dust had collected on every surface. Since our children and grandchildren lived in other states and towns, we seldom even saw them.   Mostly, our lives were consumed by high school events and activities.

Last school year, was the first year that both of us did not work at all.  We were fully retired.  For the three years previous to that year, we both took semester jobs one time or another.  One semester after I retired, I taught elementary ESL in Colorado Springs.  This meant that I had two 40 minute commutes each day.  It also meant that I was was teaching in an area where I had never taught before:  elementary school.  I loved the job and hated to see it end, but I really did not want to continue the commute.  It had been a good experience.  I learned new things and met new people.  I also kept my insurance premiums from hitting my own personal pocket by working those six more months.

The next year, my husband was asked to return to work for a semester gig as a middle school principal.  An unplanned change was made in administration at a local middle school at Thanksgiving of that year.  My husband was asked to come in and get things back in line.  He stepped out of his comfort zone in this job, just as I did when I taught elementary school.  He had not worked at the middle school level since the late '60's.  Right away, he was working at least 10 hours again, and seemed to love every minute of it.

That same school year, I was asked to teach reading at an elementary school from February until the end of May.  Since I had lost my retirement partner, I decided to help the school out by taking the job.

Then, we learned to say, "no."  For one entire school year, neither of us worked.  A little over a month ago,  I was called and asked to come and teach English to international students as the University near our house.  I started working only three weeks ago.  I had one week off for Thanksgiving Vacation.  I worked this week.  I have one more week to go before the end of the semester.  Already, I am saying, "I can't wait to be done with school."  I have so much to do.  I am behind on laundry.  I am behind on cleaning the house.  I need to go grocery shopping.  I have not been exercising.  I can't keep up with my blog...

Christmas is just around the corner.  I have the house to decorate.  I have shopping to do.  I have cards to write.  I would like to do some baking (I think!).  All of this seems to be too much when I think of the housework that is piling up.

Now, I remember why I retired.  I loved my profession when I left it.  I still do.  I love working, but I really like not having the stress that comes from having to keep up with the other matters of life while one is working.

The semester is nearly over.  My short venture back into the working world of the classroom has benefited me in many ways, but I have not enjoyed feeling like I can not keep up.  One blogger friend calls her blog "A Slower Pace."  That is where I am in life.  I like keeping a slower pace, or perhaps I just like being the one who sets the pace rather than being restricted by a work schedule.  Self knowledge is always a good thing to have.

One last thing - Please check out my son's blog.  He has a very interesting post recounting his experience as a rickshaw drive for a day in Bangladesh.   When I think of how others in the world must make a living, I am quite ashamed of complaining about not being able to keep up with my life that is filled with so many luxuries.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Between a Rock and A Hard Place

I grew up enjoying many family picnics, hikes, and Sunday afternoon drives in the Garden of Gods.  It remains one of my favorite spots on earth.  It has always been a favorite family destination.  Thankfully, back in 1908, the area was deeded to the City of Colorado Springs "where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park."

In the early 80's, after living in Utah for many years, I returned to Colorado Springs as a newly divorced single mom.  It was not an easy time in my life for many reasons.  I did not have an education and could not find a job that would pay a wage I could live on.  I had been through a devastating custody battle that split my family of five children down the middle.  The two older children remained with their father in Utah, while the three younger children and I lived in Colorado Springs.  

I was surrounded by many loving family members and friends who supported me emotionally, and spiritually during this difficult time.  Money was very tight, but there were a few things that the children and I could do that always seemed to make the time we had together special.  One of those things that always was hit was visiting the Garden of the Gods on a Sunday afternoon.  The kids loved scampering around on the paths through the rocks.  

On one of our visits, I recall that I was feeling especially down.  I felt helpless, and I seriously wondered if life was ever going to get a little bit easier.  In need of some time of solitude, I walked through a part of the park that I could recall from childhood.  I remembered walking down this same path on a Girl Scout outing many years before.  Lost in thought about happier times in the park, I happened to look at these beautiful red sandstone outcroppings jutting heavenward.

I was alone as I stood in front of this interesting formation.  I thought to myself, "I feel like I am between those two rocks.  Yes, I really feel like I am between a rock and a hard place."  

My eyes did not seem to be able to remain on the enclosed area.  Instead, I found myself looking heavenward where the formation seemed to be pointing.  Suddenly, the words to a hymn filled my mind and soul.  "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me."  Yes, here it was: the cleft in the rock.  A visual representation of that place of protection, providence, and safely replaced the old image of being trapped with no way out.  I was filled with comfort, hope and much peace.  

My life did get better - much better.  I was able to get not just one college degree; I ended up earning three.  I married a prince of guy who treats me like a queen.  I worked in a rewarding and fulfilling profession.  My children have made wonderful lives for themselves.  I have seven wonderful grandchildren.  

This past year, as a family, we have been through more trials than we ever hope to see again.  I lost my beloved daughter.  All of us are learning to live without Julie's beautiful smile and great personality.  We are going  through much pain due the breakup of a marriage.  I know that at times, I have felt like I was revisiting that metaphoric place of being between two hard places, but truthfully, I have been reminded over and over that the "cleft in the rock" is the safest place to be.  Many times all I can say is, "helpless, I look to thee for grace."  I hide myself in Him.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Over The River and Through The Woods - New Version

Brother and Sister
Together in Dhaka
Tonight I am praying for my oldest daughter who is flying somewhere between Dhaka and Abu Dhabi.  When she arrives in Abu Dhabi, she will board a plane to fly to Chicago.  Hopefully, she will be back on U.S. soil sometime tomorrow around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon.  She will then fly to Denver.  Since she lives in Utah, she will not really be home until Thursday morning. She plans on spending Wednesday night in the Denver area.

Her journey gives a whole new meaning to the song we used to sing in school, "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go."  When I first learned that song so many years ago, I never imagined that my children would be so spread out across the nation, and this year across the globe, when the holidays hit.  The new reality is that many of us have our families very far away.

Keicha has been in Dhaka visiting my youngest son and his family.  I am so grateful they have had a wonderful time together making new memories.  We have kept up on a bit of what has been going on through Facebook.  It seems it was a very sad farewell when Keicha, Jason, and Keicha's friend, Amy left Jon, Sam and Atticus today. Before the visitors left for home, they all got  dressed up and went out on the town.

Jason, Keicha, Amy, Samantha, Jonathan
Going out on the town

Thankfully, Jon and his family will be coming back to the USA for good around the middle of December.  Another long journey will be made to connect family for the Christmas holiday.

My husband and I had originally planned on going to Utah this week to spend Thanksgiving with my oldest son and his family.  When I decided to go back to work, we changed our minds and stayed home. That might have been a good decision.  A terrible storm is set to his Utah tonight.  My oldest son's wife who works for the Red Cross in Utah said they are already identifying possible shelters along I15 because a terrible blizzard is being forecast.

If this blizzard hits, my former husband, who has been in Colorado for the past few days with my daughter in the Boulder area, could be driving right into it.  Keicha will arrive in Denver from Bangladesh and could fly into the storm in Salt Lake.

I am praying that this storm does not hit as it has been predicted.  In the meantime, I think of those simple days when going home for the holidays meant that folks only went "over the river and through the woods."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ten Days of Emotional Roller Coaster Rides

During this time of grief for the loss of my daughter Julie, we have also been going through a time of grief over the break-up of a marriage and family in our immediate family.  Since I respect the privacy of family members, I will say little about the grief that we have been going through because of the loss that is associated with divorce.  I only will say that we have experienced great turmoil, pain and sorrow.  Sometimes it seems almost too much to bear.  And yet, in the midst of upheaval, good things continue to happen.

On the 11th of November, my husband and I traveled to the northern part of our state support my daughter Amy during the difficult time she is going through in the break-up of her marriage.  That evening, we had a bon voyage dinner.  My oldest daughter Keicha, Julie's former significant other Jason, and Keicha's good friend Amy were departing the next day for Bangladesh.

My youngest son, his wife, and my grandson have been in Bangladesh for the past year and a half.  It has been difficult to have them so far away from home, and yet it has also been exciting and our lives have all been enriched because of the experiences this young family has had on the other side of this planet.  During the time they have been gone, they have kept us up to date on their lives through their the wonderful blog: .  We are able to keep in touch via the many forms of technology now at our fingertips.  For that I am thankful, but miss them, we do.

Thankfully, we were able to bring this family home for Julie's services in early June.  After a week of much family togetherness, a time when all four of my remaining children, all of my seven grandchildren, and Jason, Julie's former significant other, all seemed to move as one tight-knit pack, I wondered how all of us would survive another goodbye as we moved on to our separate lives.  Jonathan, Samantha and Atticus would journey back to the other side of the world.  Ryan and his family, Keicha and her daughter, my former husband and his wife would all return to Utah.  My husband and I would return to Southern Colorado, and Amy and her family would remain in the Boulder area, as would Jason.

It was then that I had the idea that Jason should plan a trip.  It would be something he could look forward to.  Bangladesh seemed to be a great destination.  Not only would Jason have an exciting trip to plan, but Jonathan and Samantha and Atticus could look forward to a visit from home.  Before long, Keicha also decided that a trip to Bangladesh would also be something wonderful to look forward to.  Her friend decided to join Jason and Keicha on the adventure.

And so, roughly five months after the first conversations about thinking about a journey to help with the healing from a terrible loss, the trip became a reality.  It seems the trip has been a great success.  That is what I read on Facebook.  I've seen the first photos.  I read a few status updates.  I've rejoiced that they have all been together and made happy memories.  

At the same time, our hearts have been breaking over the break up of a marriage that has been a major part of our family for a decade and half.  Life does not seem fair at times.  It seems much too painful.  And then, life seems exciting and hopeful and joyful.  It definitely has it peaks and valleys.  The most accurate description of my life over the past ten days would be to describe it as one big emotional roller coaster ride.  Thankfully, I have a husband who holds my hand through the entire ride.  For that I am extremely grateful.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's the little things that get you: shower caps, iceberg lettuce, and cottage cheese.

This morning, after leisurely reading the paper, making a nice breakfast for my husband, and quickly checking email, facebook and etc., I realized I was going to have to step on it to make it to church on time.  Glancing in the mirror before jumping in the shower, I decided I could get by without washing my hair.  Thinking that it might be a good idea to assure my hairdo would survive the shower, I remembered I had a shower cap somewhere.  Yes, indeed, I did have a shower cap.  I had a lot of shower caps as a matter of fact.  Then, the tears started.

Julie had very curly hair.  She hated washing her hair at my house because we use a water softener.  She maintained that the soft water made her hair impossible to work with.  She was right.  Soft water does not work well with curly hair.  The last time she was here, she searched for a shower cap so she wouldn't have to deal with frizzy hair if she showered without washing her hair.  Finally, after a search through drawers, and her sister's bags, a shower cap was produced.

A few weeks later, my husband and I went to Europe for a month.  It seemed that every hotel had a free shower cap next to the bathroom sink.  The river boat that we went on also provided shower caps.  I began to collect them all.  I thought it would be a fun souvenir from the trip.  I planned on surprising Julie with a new shower cap from somewhere in Europe every time she came home.

Of course, Julie never came home again.  Her last trip home was on Easter weekend of this year.  We left for Europe about two weeks later.  I had forgotten about the shower caps until today.  I had stowed them away in a bathroom drawer when we returned home, and there they remained.  Who knew a shower cap could make one cry?

Iceberg lettuce has the same effect.  When I encounter it in a salad, I either get teary eyed, or I have to smile to myself about how much Julie hated iceberg lettuce.  She called it white trash lettuce, or wt lettuce for short.  My girls and I can't eat it without thinking of Julie.  Who knew that lettuce could bring out these powerful emotions?

Today at church, I ran into a friend who lost her daughter 14 years ago.  She recalled how the little things can trigger a memory or a reminder.  She said for her it is cottage cheese.  Her daughter was the only one in the house to eat cottage cheese.  I understand how cottage cheese can make one be struck with the terrible reality of what has been lost.  I get that.  I know that something as simple as cottage cheese can make a mother cry like she just lost her baby because, you see, she did.  She lost her beautiful daughter to cancer, and now she no longer buys cottage cheese.   She and I belong to a club neither of us wanted to join.  We know how it hurts to lose a child.  She understands, really understands, why I cried over that shower cap before I went to church this morning.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back in the Saddle

One of my Facebook friends, a friend from high school days, commented on my return to work by saying, "While being back in the saddle might still be enjoyable, getting back into it is sometimes more difficult!"  That statement is very true.  

I began my new job of teaching English to international students at the CSU-Pueblo on Monday.  Thankfully, Monday morning's alarm did not totally jar me because awaking early and to an alarm occurred on only the second day of our return to standard time.  My body thought that it was 7:00 a.m. rather than 6:00 a.m.  I actually got out of bed as soon as the alarm rang.  I then immediately took a shower.  This act alone signaled a big change.  I had showered, dressed, put on make-up and done my hair by 6:45.  Normally, if I had even gotten up before 7:00 a.m.,  I would still be in my p.j.'s, and would be just sipping my coffee, reading the newspaper, and watching the news on the Today Show.  

Proud of myself for remembering the routine for getting myself out of the door no later than 7:30 a.m., I proudly left the house on time after having eaten breakfast and reading a newspaper.  The campus where I am working is literally a five minute drive from my house.  I found that I was actually one of the few on campus at my early arrival time.  Ah, yes, I remembered, college students and retirees have something in common: they both get a late start in the morning.

By 8:00 a.m., I had arranged my teaching area, written my name and contact information on a large tablet on an easel located at the front of the room, and was greeting my new students as they arrived in the classroom.  I could tell they were as nervous and anxious as I about seeing how this new situation would fit.  They had just told one teacher good-bye, and now they had to break in a new one at the end of the semester.  They wanted me to introduce myself first.  I guess they wanted to see if my credentials were up to snuff.

I have five students who are in the beginning stages of learning academic English.  I have not yet asked if I can photograph them or write about them on my blog, so I will just say that I have three students from Asia, one from Africa, and one from South America.  The class is a wonderful mix of ages, abilities and personalities.  All are warm and welcoming.  Some are confident, others rather tenuous about using a language that still seems difficult to speak.  They have formed a rather tight knit bond of support, encouragement, and friendship.  Their respect and love for each other was much evident.  Their respect and support for me was refreshing and uplifting.  I had forgotten what it feels like to have a student make a slight bow when they greet me or speak to me.  I again felt humbled and honored to be shown the respect that foreign students give to a teacher.  I could not stop smiling.  I was so happy.  

It has been a rough five months.  After losing my 34 year old daughter to suicide in late May, I have gone through a long, hard journey of grief that I hoped would lead to healing.  I lost a large part of myself with her death.  Returning to my profession is helping me rediscover another part of myself that I treasure.  

 I have learned that grief can a times be a solitary journey.  I have striven toward finding an equal balance between spending time in solitude and in fellowship.  I think I have been mostly successful in not isolating myself, but I worried that winter would present a challenge when it came to keeping myself busy.  At just the right time, I was called and offered this job.  The timing was perfect.  I needed something to do, something to get me dressed and out the door everyday without putting a lot of pressure or stress on me.

Being back in the saddle felt just right.  I have not forgotten how to ride.  I can still teach gerunds, and vocabulary, and I can still understand early, fearful attempts at using a language that seems very scary to use when it is not your native language.  I am excited about the enrichment that teaching people from other cultures, languages, religions and belief systems always brings into my life.  I am meeting new friends, experiencing new adventures, and using the gift of teaching that God gave me.  I am continuing to heal.  I am moving on into the future.  I know Julie would be very proud of me.  I can almost feel her arm around my shoulder.  I am smiling a lot again.

Julie and Sally - Walk for The Cure 2008

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Retired English teacher is going back to work.

Last Sunday, my husband confessed that he reads the "help wanted" ads every Sunday.  I asked, "Are you looking for a job?"  He answered with, "No, just an income."  We've both been retired for about three and half  years now if you don't count the times we've come out of retirement.  If you count those times, we've has been retired for about a year and a half.  He always says, "If they ask me to come back again, the answer is 'no'."  I, on the other hand, am always fantasizing about going back to work.  That is until I think about getting up every morning, getting myself fed, dressed, and out the door any sooner than 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning.  I also get real about my thinking of working again when I remember discipline at the high school level.  Then, there are all of those papers to grade.  That is enough to shock me into being very satisfied with retirement.

Substitute teaching has never been anything I really considered doing.  I did a lot of subbing when I was a stay at home mom.  I would take a sub job when someone at the neighborhood schools had an emergency. Now, after being out of the classroom for six or seven years, I just did not want to fill in on a temporary basis no matter how much I missed teaching, the kids, and the other teachers.

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call asking me if I would consider teaching ESL students in the international program at Colorado State University-Pueblo.  Since the job was quite temporary, just until the end of the semester, and since I would be helping out a friend who needed me to fill in after an unexpected vacancy, I said I would be glad to help out.  Two days later, I was again called and told that the teacher was not leaving after all.  I was ok with that.  Especially when I didn't have to get up early on Monday morning.

I was then asked by a former teacher friend to come and speak with one of her international students who was having some difficulties with his English class.  That was enough to hook me.  I went up on campus, visited with the student, and realized just how much I missed teaching ESL.

Me with some of my former students...
Yesterday, I decided to call the international program to see if they needed me to do anything for just a few days a week.  Before the director of the program could even call me back, the professor over the language institute called and asked me again if I could come and teach for them.  I jumped at the chance.

So, this retired English teacher is going back to work.  I will be teaching five students who, according to TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores, are at the intermediate level.  I will work half days, 8:00 to 12:00, Monday through Friday, starting next week.  The job ends at the end of the semester.  That is only three and a half weeks of school.  I can handle that.

Today, as I drove the few blocks to campus, parked the car, got out and walked to the offices of the international program, I found myself feeling very excited about and quite grateful for this new opportunity.  I love teaching ESL to students who are high school and college age.  I will be meeting some new students from different parts of the world.  I will be kept busy planning and teaching.  I will again be on the campus that I love for many reason.  And, I will get paid.  That seems like a bonus when I am really being able to resume my relationship with a passion that keeps me interested and inspired.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back Fence Neighbors and Conversations

The backyard of my childhood home is enshrined in a special place of my memory.  Mostly, I have happy memories of that place.  I visit it often when I think of simple times and happy, carefree activities.  After all, it is in this place where I formed my fundamental beliefs about life.  It was there where I established how I thought the world should look, and how it should function.  It was not a dull place, nor was it unexciting.  I think I mostly had an underlying feeling of curious expectancy each time I went into the backyard to play or to observe life.

Life was pretty much self-contained  within the neighborhood of my childhood.  The city block where our home was built was just one block from my grandmother's home, the place where my father and his siblings had grown up.  Across the street from my grandmother's home was the church that we all attended.  Next door to the church was the elementary school where we went to school.  Across the street from the school, at the end of the block where my grandparent's lived, was a small neighborhood grocery where we bought a loaf of bread for our mother and couple of pieces of penny candy for ourselves.  As I said, as children, we seldom ventured far beyond the fun filled few blocks where we lived.

Our neighborhood block was configured in such a way, that sections of the block were more conducive for particular types neighborhood interaction.  The block must have contained about 19 homes that had all been constructed between the years of 1900 and 1924.  Some homes were small bungalow types, while others were large Victorian types.  Some had small lots with no garages or sheds in the back. Other homes were built on large lots.  All of the lots on the block could be accessed by an alley.  In fact, the block had a total of four alleys.  As children, we named each alley in order to have a frame of reference for where to meet if were going hide from the younger kids.  

I noticed that while the kids loved playing in the alleys and observing life from the alley, our parents rarely ventured across the alley to see what was going on in another quadrant of the block.  My mother mostly connected with the neighbor who was her closest confidant on the block.  She was her "back fence" neighbor.  

In my memory, Gordon, that is what we called my mother's "back fence neighbor," forever looms in my mind as the model of what a neighbor should be.  When I was very young, she lived in the house on the west side of our home with her son and daughter, who were twins, while they were in high school.  Her husband passed away when I was an infant or young child.  After her children left home for college, she moved into the small cottage behind the large Victorian house on the east side of our home.  She spent her days teaching home economics at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.  I still remember her coming home after work, driving her car into the garage, entering her little cottage.  Not long afterward, she would emerge from the house into the yard with her hose (the type of stockings her wore!) rolled down around her ankles laced up shoes.  (I'm sure she must have removed her garter belt as soon as she walked in the door!)  She was ready for some backyard fence talk.  

Or, I remember Saturday mornings when my mom and Gordon were each in their own backyard hanging out the laundry.  Before long, laundry time also became a time for sharing some back fence talk.  They talked about everything.  I know this because I used to try and listen in.  Mostly, I was just shooed off out of earshot distance because it was grown-up talk time.  

I love those memories of a time when life seemed so much more simple.  I know there were problems in the world.  World War II was just over.  Money was tight.  Gordon was a widow trying to make it alone.  My mother, an only child, whose parents had died before I was born, must have really appreciated this older woman in her life.  For me, as a child, I saw the importance of having a friend who was a neighbor and neighbor who was a friend.

Now, we live life so differently.  Few of us have backyards, and if we do, the fences are six feet tall!  We no longer hang our clothes out on the line, thank God! Times have definitely changed.  With all of the progress that we have made in the last forty or fifty years, I can't help but think about how much we have lost from those days when we spent time in the back chatting over the fence, or on the porch chatting with the neighbor from next door who stopped by by lemonade on a hot summer afternoon.  I think mostly the art of knowing how to connect to one another in a real live conversation is being lost.  I worry that our grandchildren could start to believe that being shut in the house connected to technology is a good substitute for having a real conversation.  

I love technology and the way it allows me to connect to so many people in a myriad of ways.  I would be lost without my BlackBerry.  I check FaceBook several times a day.  I love my blogging friends.  I love reading their news.  I love learning new things from them.  I delight in their stories.  I laugh at their humorous rendition of what is going on in their sphere of existence.  I am grateful for Skype when I visit with my son in Bangladesh.  I love communication in any form.  Having said all of that, I must say that I am most grateful that I learned the importance of community connections and conversations while I was still a child growing up in my beloved neighborhood in the Shook's Run area of Colorado Springs, Colorado during the '50's.  Those were the days...

Image from

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Life As An Educator

In this post, I'm sharing an article that I wrote for the Fall 2010 issue of  "The Colorado Communicator," a newsletter for the Colorado Council International Reading Associate.  Serving as co-editor for this newsletter is one of my "retirement jobs."

My Life As An Educator

A photo from The Herald Democrat recorded my work with Head Start in 1965

During the summer of1965, just before I was beginning  upper level courses that I hoped would lead to a degree in elementary education at what was then Colorado State College, The Office of Economic Opportunity began an eight-week summer program that would launch Project Head Start.  Across the country, there was a rush to hire tutors and teachers to serve the over 560,000 children who would enter this newly created program.  It was my good fortune to be hired as a tutor to work along side of other  early workers in Head Start in beginning a “comprehensible program for preschool children that would meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs."
I wish I had kept a journal of those days because now, nearly 44 years later, my mind is a bit fuzzy about it all. Young and idealistic, I had great dreams about the kind of educator I would become.   Coming of age during the 60's,  I embraced the Civil Rights Movement and the "new" ideas about education, but I also respected and looked up to those who had been in education for a long time.  
My mentor for the summer of 1965 was Idelia B. Riggs.   As I reflect back on her now, I consider this consummate educator as one the best with whom I have had the privilege to know throughout my entire lifetime.  She must have been in her sixties when I was a young college student.  She had already taught everything from kindergarten to college.  She had even been the principal of a one-room schoolhouse at one point in her career.  
Mrs. Riggs knew what children needed to grow and to prosper educationally, emotionally and socially.  She embraced the ideals behind Project Head Start and imparted them to me as she spoke of all of the reasons why she believed the program could be successful.  
She said that the children of poverty in the our local area were beginning school without the skills that other children brought to school.  Sometimes, they didn't even know how to use indoor plumbing.  Yes, in 1965, in our program in Leadville, Colorado, some of the children did not have indoor plumbing.  We had to teach them how to use the bathroom facilities.  Many did not receive proper nutrition at home and were undernourished.  They lagged behind their peers in knowing how to grasp a pencil or how to turn the pages of a book. Many did not know the alphabet.    Many did not know colors or shapes.  They did not have group or personal social skills. 
Project Head Start’s comprehensive program was based on a belief that  school readiness was achieved by giving the children equal portions of playtime, story time, art activities, and basic academic preparation such as learning how to recognize and form letters through reading and writing.  
Our lead teacher, Mrs. Riggs was a very practical woman who put up with no nonsense from anyone.  Her character was stellar.  She saw her role as an educator as one as a public servant.  She was not interested in feathering her own nest or building her career.  She was there for the children she taught and for the families she served.  
In my mind's eye, I see her now.  She is wearing an apron with pockets so she would have "a place for those tissues to wipe a child's nose or tears," or as a place to keep stray crayons, pencils or rubber bands that she might need while she was teaching.  Patient, kind and loving, she was also demanding when it came to giving something your best efforts.  We ALL learned from her.   

Now that I have retired as a classroom teacher, it is nice to reminisce about those days of both my own personal and the national idealism that abounded  60's.   Mrs. Riggs, and the ideals of Head Start, greatly influenced my philosophy of my own role as an educator. I am grateful that I came of age as a person and as educator when programs like Head Start were new and fresh and perhaps idealistic.  Those early lessons and philosophies, rooted deep in my heart,  are still driving my passion today as I serve CCIRA in supporting teachers as they strive to make sure that all children are on The Road to Literacy. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bittersweet Summer

Summer 2010 won't be over for a few days.  Officially, Fall 2010 begins on September 22.  Ever since Labor Day, my family and I have been expressing to each other how happy we will be to put this past summer behind us.  Certainly, our individual lives and the collective life of our family was changed in ways we never could have imagined on Memorial Day Weekend when my fourth child took her life at the age of 34.

As a family, we love to be together.  Each personality of each of my five children is unique.  Taught never to be afraid of individualism, it seems that my children have always majored in expressing that individualism in unique ways.  A well defined sense of self has always been articulated in intelligent, funny and sometimes overpowering ways whenever the family is together.  Let's put it this way, Thanksgivings are not boring at my house if everyone is home.  Political and religious views many times are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and my kids love a good argument.  I've often pitied the poor soul that had enough courage to marry into this family because it can't be easy to run with this tribe if one is faint of heart.

None of my children or grandchildren live near me.  The closest family lives about 120 miles from me.  We don't get together often enough.  In fact, in the past ten years, it takes a pretty major event to get everyone home at the same time.

When Julie passed away, the first thing on everyone's mind was getting the youngest member of the family home.  Jonathan and his wife and young son were all half way around the world away in Bangladesh.  It would be three long days before they were able to arrive in the Boulder, Colorado after making the long, sad journey home.  Our hearts were full of grief and happiness at the same time when we were finally able to all gather together safely at the home of my third child.  Her home officially became the headquarters for all events that followed and the hotel that housed the surviving siblings, their spouses and all seven of the grandchildren.
Looking Over the Back Fence
(I think there was a blind kitten who lived there)

Breakfast on The Back Deck

My grandchildren give me great hope for the future and fill my heart with gratitude and pride.  I hope that they will remember the time that they had together as a time of healing as well as a time of sorrow.

I know that for me, because I was surrounded by the strength of my children and the youth and beauty of my grandchildren, I will look back on the Summer of 2010 not just with grief and sorrow, but with a sense of bittersweet memories of time we all spent together loving each other, crying together, and trying to make sense of the tragic event which had just occurred to us and to our loved one who left us way too young and way too early.
My Beautiful Granddaughters
My Handsome Grandsons

This photograph has become a very special one to me as it captures the grandchildren gathered together playing a board game next to a table that is coved with the bright, colorful daisies that were the family flowers for Julie's services.  Life does go on for those who remain.  Families come together and celebrate just being together even in wake of unspeakable loss.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Heartache - Living the Definition

Julie looking out over a great divide
Until the death of my daughter in May, I had never really experienced grief.  Yes, I've had my losses.  Who can reach the seventh decade of life without experiencing loss?  Those losses, some of them quite significant, pale in comparison to the death of a child.  

A few months ago on an especially painful afternoon, the acute sorrow that I felt gave me new meaning to the word heartache.  Heartache was no longer just a word to me.  Heartache, a noun, a thing, could have become a proper noun and been capitalized as it applied its meaning to my life.  

I felt as if I were actually experiencing the origin of the word.  In fact, I said to my husband, "My heart hurts."  The pain I felt during those first few weeks after my daughter's death was visceral in nature, constant, and debilitating.  Many times I felt terribly alone in my pain, not because I did not have support or love surrounding me, but rather because the external love and support around me could not break through to touch the deep heartache in the core of my being.  

Heartache is a condition that is experienced internally.  Even as I went through the external motions of life, the internal reality of loss, shock, pain, anger, and sorrow never seemed far from the surface.  Thankfully, during that time, and now, I have been able to accomplish the external motions of living.  

A dark black line was drawn down the timeline of my life on a Saturday morning in May.  That line marked life before Julie's suicide and after her suicide.  At times, the divide seemed too wide and too deep to ever cross.  The divide that seemed too wide and deep to ever cross will always be there, but the depth is not as deep as it once was, nor is it as wide.  Somehow, carrying on traditions from the past link the two periods of my life together.  

Gardening, walking, reading, writing, journaling, those activities which have been a part of the daily and weekly fabric of my life, have helped me transition into the resumption of life before I walked through life with great heartache.   Lunching with friends gave me a feeling of normalcy.  

Last week as my husband and I attended the first football game of the season for the high school where he served as principal, I was aware of how important it is to continue many long established traditions while one is on a grief journey that involves great heartache.  Sitting on the 17th row of the football stadium, surrounded by a sea of black and white, listening to the high school band play, felt normal.  

Heartache's intensity has decreased as I have gone about the business of living and grieving.  I believe I am somehow melding the those two opposites into the whole of my life.  I was once told that one must integrate all the events of one's life to truly heal.  Perhaps, I am integrating the ability to live each day the best that I can with the process of grieving.  By doing this, I realize that I am becoming a the person who will be forever heartbroken, but I will also be one who strives to live a rich and productive future.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Loss and Grief in The Technological Age

Over the past few years, I have loved how technology has kept my family connected.    When cell phones first became the norm in our family, many of us soon decided to stay connected more economically by either making sure we were all using the same provider, or by  having a family plan that allowed us to call each other out of a "free bucket of minutes."  Even though my children were all grown and had left home when we first became connected by cell phone use, suddenly, Mom was always available, even when she was away from home.  I was ok with this new phenomena.  I love being connected to my kids.

When texting came into vogue, my daughters reacted quite strongly to my first few texts.  They said it  was "just wrong" for a mom to be texting.  That didn't last long.  We were soon texting each other regularly.

Then, along came facebook.  My oldest daughter got me started on that social networking system.  Before long, it seemed the entire extended family was connected.  Cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, even my 94 year old mother, were all sharing memories, experiences and daily status updates with each other via facebook.  It was great.

Then, my youngest daughter died in May.  The unthinkable happened.  She ended her life.  By doing this, all communication with her stopped suddenly, and without warning.  I never got to say good-bye.  Even worse, she did not call me, text me, or try to talk to me before her fateful last action.  In a time when I thought we could all communicate so readily and easily, communication with my fourth child stopped.  No matter how amazing technology has become,  I will never hear from her again.

Not long after Julie's death, my oldest daughter set up a "Memorial Page" on my youngest daughter's facebook page.  She writes to her sister often.  She expresses some of her sorrow, her grief, and even her anger, on this memorial page.  Sometimes, my daughter's friends will post to her memorial page.  When I read these posts, I sometimes cry as if my heart will break.  Even though these public expressions of grief often greatly upset me, I also find that they are also very comforting and healing.  Julie's friends and I are now all connected in a new way:  we are connected via the internet in our experience and expression of grief.

I never write to my now deceased daughter on her memorial page.  I may make comments to other postings.  I seldom mention my grief on my facebook status update.  I have not devoted much blog space to my loss.  Instead, I have mostly expressed my grief and loss through a more private modality.  I have not felt comfortable expressing the depth of my emotions in the public arena.  

After the death of my daughter, I turned to my handwritten journal to express all that I was experiencing and thinking.  My journal has always been where I have recorded my private thoughts, fears, dreams, disappointment, frustrations, deepest longings and most wonderful joys.  Writing seemed to be the most logical action to take when I found myself stripped of everything that made sense.  

I have filled nearly an entire journal with pages and pages of writing since my daughter's death.  This writing has been for me, and me alone.  It is through writing, with pen and paper, that I have been able to pour out my heart.  I have not wanted my expressions of grief to be in the public eye.  I may change how I feel about this someday, but for now, I find my private, hand-written journal to be my source of comfort and healing.

I do believe I am on the road to healing, whatever that means.  At least, I know that I am not as overwhelmed with grief, shock and unbelief as I was in the early days of summer.  I am grateful for that.  I must also acknowledge that technology has been an important part of my healing.  Through technology, I am able to connect with my daughter's many wonderful friends.  They have been a source of comfort to me.  I laugh at their posts about daily life.  I admire the pictures of their children.  I cry over their expressions of grief.  I am amazed at how compassionate and supportive they have been to me and my entire family.  We are connected because of technology.

I am able to chat and text my other children.  We cry with each other and express our sorrow via cell phones and texts.  We try to support each other as much as we can since miles separate us.  Through technology, I am able to Skype my youngest son in Bangladesh.  When a mom has a son and his family so far away, I often find myself thinking, "Thank God for Skype and instant messaging." Technology keeps my family connected in wonderful ways as we deal with our incredible loss.  The other night, I was texting with a daughter, while she texted with her sister, and I was at the very same time instant messaging with my son in Bangladesh.  Technology is really very amazing. It certainly plays an important role in the way I am dealing with my own personal loss and grief.