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.