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{December 16, 2011}   Remembrance

The one-year anniversary of my father’s death is fast approaching.  Everyone I’ve met who has ever lost a loved one has warned me this is a difficult time.  I want to do something, but nothing feels good enough.

My father’s gravesite marker is flat to the ground. We are not allowed to plant anything around it, and although his marker is accompanied by a vase, there are only so many fake flowers we can put in it. My mother bought a “remembrance blanket”; she pictured a blanket of greens with white flowers interspersed (looking for something similar to that which she had bought years ago when my grandmother passed away), but was disappointed. What seemed like a lot of money to her, bought her very little.

My brothers put a memorial in the newspaper.  Again, a lot of money.  It is a lovely thought, emotionally, but no one in my family has over $100 to spend on a few lines in the newspaper.  My husband has been investigating more permanent things like a “brick” at the local senior center…definitely on the right track, but we don’t have the money right now…the anniversary of his death comes at a tough time.  The tough lesson of Christmas that we have all had to learn since we were children is to “delay gratification.”  Sometimes we have to plan and wait.

A few weeks ago one of my brothers found a rock on my father’s marker.  We wondered who had left it.  Some research indicated it was someone of the Jewish faith.  Our family is Christian, but to me, it was a touching gesture.  I liked the idea of something more permanent than flowers, and knowing that someone other than family had visited his grave felt very comforting.

At Thanksgiving my nephew told me he had recently gone to the local gym.  It happened to be the same one my father had attended.  When he signed in at the desk, the attendant asked if he was related to my father.  When he answered “yes,” the person proceeded to tell him about my father being such a pleasure and how he cheered her up with his cartoons whenever he would come in to the gym.  It touched him.  This has happened at banks, restaurants, anywhere my father went regularly.

I think the best thing of all is knowing that he made a difference to people outside our family and that he is missed by a lot of people.



{October 1, 2011}   Finding Comfort

The hospice association is having a memorial service this weekend for relatives of their deceased patients.  My father will be one of the people honored.  It is creeping on to almost one year since we lost him and we are all finding comfort in our own ways.

My father left me his artwork.  There were 5 pieces that he had framed for an art show when he was young and had very little money. Their plain document frames were chipped, and their glass dirty and, in one case, broken.  I wanted to put them on the wall, but they would need some reclamation.

Dad's Artwork before Reclamation

I began the project by removing all the frames and wiping them down. When I took them apart I found that the paper used for the artwork was thin, and the ones with mats were taped; I didn’t want to take the chance of trying to remove the mats and damaging the drawings, so I left the ones with mats as is.  I scanned the artwork for my siblings. I laid out all the frames in the garage and spray painted them with flat black paint.  I cleaned all the pieces of glass and stole a piece of glass from an unused frame I had in the house to replace the broken one.

After the paint dried I put them all back together and my husband arranged and hung them on the wall at the bottom of the stairs.  Now I see them every morning when I get up and go to the kitchen.  It makes me smile; I know my father would be pleased to have them displayed, and it makes me feel he is still close and watching over me.



{April 25, 2011}   Learning about Antiques

Since my father died in December, my family has been busy going through boxes and boxes of old and smelly stuff (in reality, storage units and sheds full). Much of the stuff was still kicking around from when my great aunt, grandfather, and grandmother died (going back to the 1960s). No one had ever taken the time to go through the stuff, they just kept moving it from place to place. The process has been excruciating, especially for my younger brother who has been handling most of it, but it has also been interesting and informative.

Most of the stuff was immediately tossed in endless (expensive) dumpsters without a second thought. Scrap metal was separated. Anything really old looking was put aside to show an auctioneer. Unfortunately, none of us knew much about antiques and nobody had the time or inclination to do the required research to sell stuff off slowly and painfully. (The auction turned out to be a bad experience that I will discuss in another blog.) Bits and pieces were pulled out and kept by some of us, depending on our interests or memories.

Knowing that I tend to be interested in family history and old photographs, my brother gave me some old photos. I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures of my grandmother and great aunt as children, and the ones from my own childhood.

 But there were many photos on thick cardboard that were clearly quite old and unlabeled except for the names of photographers in the mid-west. I showed them to my neighbor who loves antiques. She told me they are called cabinet cards, and from my research I learned that they date from the 1860s and were popular through the 1890s. I have different colors (some sepia-toned and some black and white), which indicate different time periods. I have babies, and dour-looking adults. There were also some daguerreotypes (tin types), which I knew were from around civil war time. By the time I finished my research, I decided that it is likely that someone collected them and they are not all necessarily relatives. But, it sure will be fun finding out. They don’t take up much space and I can take my time trying to delve into their background. Hmmm…maybe someone else had the same idea… that’s why they are still kicking around.



{March 9, 2011}   A Simple Encounter

I have a soft spot for the elderly (probably because I’m getting closer to being that every day).  I wanted to share this story because it moved me and made me think about how we all need to treat the elderly with more patience, consideration, and caring.

I was cashiering the other day when an older gentleman showed me his id to get the military discount.  I smiled at him as I considered that he must be a WWII vet, like my father, and I asked him how he was.

“My wife is sick…very sick,” he said.

I said, “I’m sorry; I hope she will be feeling better soon.”  He shook his head, “It will only be a few days.”  I felt my stomach drop.

I told him, “I just lost my father before Christmas.  He and my mother had been married for almost 65 years.”

He asked me, “Does she live alone?”

I replied, “Yes, but she has a lot of people to stop by and see her.”

He nodded, looked down and murmured, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”  I wanted to cry for him.

Again, I said, “I’m sorry, sir.”  He murmured again, “I don’t know what I’m going to do…” and grabbed my hand.  I squeezed his hand and he shuffled away.  I hope it made him feel that someone cared and maybe he felt a little less alone.

I waited on the next customer with watery eyes.  I wished could do something about the loneliness, the sadness that doesn’t seem to have any cure.



{January 24, 2011}   The Wonder of Mass Cards

I wasn’t brought up in the Catholic religion (I was baptized and confirmed in the Methodist church), but I’ve always believed in God and the power of prayer.  I do have many Catholic friends, however, who sent me lovely Mass cards on the occasion of my father’s death.  Many other members of my family received them as well.

I had never received one before, and I was initially struck by their gold-tinged artwork and the lovely prayers that were printed on the cards.  But as more cards came in, I was pleasantly surprised at how much comfort they provided to me; I felt sure my father was in the best hands possible.  Although my dad was not a religious man, he was a spiritual man, and we found notes indicating that he was praying often in his last years.  Prayer is the perfect gift.

I supposed that the Mass cards are for those left behind, rather than him.  And if that’s true, they worked.  I visualized my father moving to the front of the line to see the Lord, so to speak, and he was smiling and grateful, without pain.  Somehow I could feel it — the warmth and light created from all those prayers — and I knew he was being taken care of and at peace.

I remain thankful and grateful to all who sent them and for all the prayers being said in his honor.



{January 10, 2011}   Lists, Lists, and More Lists

I’ve spent a lot of time since New Year’s day writing lists or thinking about writing lists — daily lists, weekly lists, and monthly lists; lists of things my husband wants me to do, lists of things we need to get done as a couple, and lists of things I want to do.  I’ve tried to mind dump approach, but it seems endless.  I’m trying to figure out what I have to do and what I can cut out, but there’s too many important things (well, they are important to somebody in my life, whether it is my husband, me, or my mother…).  Is it making me feel like I can make a plan and set goals?  Is it making me feel like I get organized?  No, so far it is making me panic more — I don’t think that’s how it is supposed to work.

I know that I have to do something.  Right now my days off seem to disappear in a fog of small everyday tasks such as making meals, doing dishes, emptying wastebaskets, reading emails, scooping the cat box, folding laundry…on and on and on.  And all the things I SHOULD be doing to combat the panic and anxiety — meditation, prayer, exercise — I don’t fit in because all they do is eat up more time!  (Although, exercising gives my brain a jumpstart, but that ends in my adding more to my lists.)

As I have been helping my mother go through the piles of paperwork my father accumulated, guess what we’ve found a lot of?  Lists.  I’m sure it did help him get some stuff done.  I also think that he would often misplace his list and have to make a new one.  But the bottom line was, bless him, he didn’t have the energy or the time to accomplish everything on his lists; I know he wanted to, desperately, but he knew his time was limited.  Unfortunately he didn’t do some of the practical things he should have done.  (You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their “to do” lists.  Like me, some of his lists were just random thoughts or ideas about creative projects; he was imaginative and needed escapes from reality.)

I DO understand you can’t get caught up on years of being behind in a few days, so I’m making progress with some small steps.  I’ve cut back on my groups on LinkedIn and I’ve “unfriended” some people on Facebook, in an effort to cut back on emails and distractions that are simply unproductive.  (I wasn’t really “there” for those people or things anyway.)  And I continue to make lists — eventually the lists will force me to see what I don’t want to face: that I HAVE to narrow my focus and lower my expectations of myself, despite the initial pain I will feel about giving up some things.  Life really is short and the phrase, “No pain, No gain” (as has been said about working out or dieting) applies here as well.

There is no “Superwoman” and there’s a reason they haven’t made a “Wonder Woman” movie yet.



{January 3, 2011}   The Worst is Over…Now What?

The title of this blog refers to a lot of different things for me.  It initially came to me in the context of dealing with my father’s death and burial just before Christmas.  It was mentioned over and over at the wake, funeral service and burial what a bad time of year it was to deal with such a thing, but when is it a better time?  A year was coming to an end; a decade was coming to an end; a special person’s life had come to an end.

That unforgettable week was a whirlwind of activity and emotions, and brought me more-than-I-could-have-hoped-for support and sympathy from a lot of people.  But now that the most obvious emotional part is over, there is still so much to be done and worked through — for my mother most of all, but also for my family and myself.

Talking with my husband about our plans and goals moving forward (as we all must), I realized the title could mean so many things: economists and the media have said the recession is over, now what?  Now that one of the reasons I was working part-time has resolved itself (my father’s deteriorating health), now what?  Now that my wonderful father’s life has been summed up, what does that mean to me?

At my father’s wake, we set out a notebook containing a fraction of his extensive artwork and cartoons—it was something he wanted.  There were constant lines at the notebook; so many people had never seen his work—even I have never seen it all (but that’s another blog).  A couple of people he knew from the senior center were talking to me about how every time my father would show them one of his cartoons they would ask why he didn’t send it out to a newspaper and he would just shrug.  Family always came first for my father; he was long past having the required time and energy to publish his material.

Initially, my father’s death left me feeling no desire to move on; I felt lost and empty. But a strange thing happened as I watched people looking at his cartoons and artwork.  I felt like…I’ve got to DO something about that. I’m not sure what, but I’ve got some ideas, and somehow I feel like he is giving me a new strength, and new determination.

I also said to myself, “That’s not going to happen to me.”  At one point, I tried to do with my poems what my father did with his cartoons: I tried to put most of the poems I have written in a notebook in chronological order.  I didn’t realize what a daunting task it was —I am a disorganized writer; most of the poems had no dates and there were too many versions of the same thing.  I was never finished, always tweaking, and sometimes the initial off-the-cuff version was the best.  I realized it’s impossible to sum up a life in one notebook.

I’ve got some projects in front of me that are important to me emotionally, and I am looking forward to working on them.  It won’t happen overnight; I need to plan.  It could take me the next decade, but I feel ready to go.  Thanks, Dad.



{December 29, 2009}   A New Year’s Wish

A New Year’s Wish
The year 2009 brought dark days for my husband and I, as it did for so many others. My husband was laid off from his job in the automotive industry and wasn’t able to find another job for almost the entire year; we didn’t know how or when we would be able to pay our bills. There were days we felt so defeated, we wondered if it was worth the struggle.
During that time we had a twenty-year-old kitty who was a stable center of our lives. We were watching her get old and knew we were watching her final months. Yet, each time we thought she must be in her last days, she rebounded over and over. She taught us about persistence and not giving up. Our bedroom was on a separate floor from her bed and food. Yet every night when we went to bed, she would descend the stairs with us to go through the bedtime ritual she had performed for her whole life.
We had set up a ramp to help her get up on the hope chest at the end of our bed, which then enabled her to get up on the bed. She would climb up and rub the tv remote and wait for the evening petting. When we were ready to go to sleep and turn off the tv, she would slowly make the difficult ascent up the stairs to her own bed. I watched her climb the stairs, each time afraid she might not make it. She would drag her back left leg; she would pull herself up with her front paws, one step at a time. Yet, she still didn’t decide it wasn’t worth it. Sometimes she came down several times a night to walk on my head or crawl under the blankets. And of course, to let me know it was breakfast time.
She lived in six places and three states in the course of her long life. She never minded the moving as long as we were all together. My husband was her caretaker during his unemployment, bathing her and cleaning up after her when she got sick. When she finally lost the strength to get out of her bed, and her eyes grew cloudy, we didn’t look at it as now we could live a little cheaper…we had lost our inspiration, and I knew my husband’s isolation would be devastating. Despite our financial situation, I told my husband that a pet was a necessity, and we had to adopt a new kitty.
We immediately adopted two unrelated kittens. They perked us up and became our joy. My husband laughed at their leaps and sprints. We took picture after picture and allowed their antics to take us away from our worries. I was glad we didn’t always put money first. When Christmas came, we bought some toys for our kitties and nothing for ourselves; Christmas morning we played with our girls, felt blessed, and felt hope for the times ahead.
Pets are a blessing no matter how tough the economy; whether it is stray dog for a soldier in Iraq or a homeless person, or a pet for an older person in a nursing home. Despite what the new year may bring to the economy, I hope all the pets left behind because of foreclosures or financial ruin find homes in 2010, bringing love and joy to those who have lost hope or faith that things will get better.



et cetera
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