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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

37 Days: Intensity: Say Yes

In Patti Digh's book 37 Days, she encourages us to live life more aware, remember the little things, keep your heart open. The first step being Intensity - Say Yes. She writes, "It is Stuff that keeps us from participating fully, from saying yes." We get too bogged down in the details - the what ifs, the stuff that clutters our life to the point of suffocation sometimes.

She encourages us to live more freely - without judgement of ourselves or others. "We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." - Japanese Proverb We need to "practice being curious, not judgemental."

This got me thinking. I'm a pretty eclectic person. I don't find judging others to be a pleasant or enriching activity, so I don't do it often (and I don't want to do it at all - but sometimes it happens). I'm sure that alot of people, who don't know me, might judge me for wearing my pajamas (comfy pants and sometimes my ladybug slippers) to the grocery store. Some people might judge me because I don't feel the need to wear makeup 24/7 (if I wear it at all its usually for a special occasion - so watch for it :).)

For instance, I just recently bought the new New Kids on The Block CD. I loves it! My son and I have listened to it for the last few days, dancing in our car - dancing around the house. It makes me smile. When I told my youngest sister that I bought it and I was rocking out to it, her response was, "Haha, You would." For whatever reason, that response made me smile and laugh. It made me happy to know that my sillyness and quirks are recognized and appreciated and yes, even laughed at.

There is a saying, "You laugh because I'm different. I laugh because you are all the same." That pretty much sums up my thoughts about it. I take pride in being different. I take pride in the fact that I really don't care what other's think of my preferences and quirks. Take me or leave me; but I am who I am. Those that understand and appreciate that are rewarded with a caring, loving and compassionate friend.

Another part of saying yes is finding wonder and happiness in the oddest of places. Digh calls this "Carry a Small Grape". I have my own version of a small grape. January of this year I was finally able to meet, in person, a wonderful woman who I'd built an online friendship with for about a year and a half. I'll call her Eeyore :) (I would call her Grumpy, another one of her favorites, but deep down I know she is just a flower ready to bloom). Anyway, I met her at the hotel she was staying at in Richmond, VA. I was going to be her date for her office Holiday party.

Seeing her for the first time and that first hug, was like I'd known this woman all my life. It wasn't awkward at all. We got signed in and went up to our room. We had been exchanging gifts for each other and the kids for a while at this point, but she had some leftover gifts for me. She ended up giving me a few books, a ladybug bag (loved it!), and some trinkets.

One of those trinkets was a small round pewter-looking disc. On one side was a red heart. On the other side the words "Thinking of You". Of all the gifts she gave me - that one touched me the most. I still carry it with me everywhere. When I'm sad - I just look at it and know that at any given time, at least one person is thinking of me and it makes me feel better.

The night couldn't have ended any better - we came back to the room, got into our comfy jammies, glasses on and read in bed. We were like two women 3x our actual age; but it was comfortable. There weren't any need for words. We were doing what we'd always talked about doing all those months before that would make us happy. Just being near each other - reading our books. I couldn't have imagined a better end to the perfect first face-to-face meeting.

Another facet of saying yes is that life is too short to always be safe. After all "the death rate for people who play it safe and for the people who live boldly is the same: 100 percent." How true is that?! That one line said it all. We sometimes, as a culture, are so worried about the next thing, that we can't enjoy the here and now. We shouldn't just be living life - we should be making choices that make the journey memorable. We get so wrapped up in successes or the lack thereof, that we forget to celebrate the little things.

When my son was born, we used to have monthly birthday parties for him. I think at times my husband felt it was a bit excessive; but this was my first child (who knows maybe my only child). I wanted to celebrate the little achievements. As parents, sometimes I think we like to highlight a job well done only when its done to perfection. What about when your child is struggling. Can we not celebrate their tenacity to learn and master something that may not come as easy to them as others?

Saying yes also means that we take back control of our happiness. Many times we put our happiness in the hands of others - "we give up our power to the very people that took it from us in the first place." Why do we do this? I know this is more common then any of us care to admit, but why or rather how do we get to that point? Ghandi said, "Nobody can hurt you without your permission." If we stop giving away our power, if we stop giving others license to hurt us - it will stop happening and we will become more empowered. Who knows what we could achieve then!

As children, we don't have the knowledge of the world that makes us feel like we are limited. Children feel they can do anything - and they can. Why is this taken from us as adults? We somehow learn to downplay our strengths, even if they aren't perfected. What we have to realize is we are perfect, whether its by the world's standards or not, simply because we are individuals.

So far this book has given me a lot to think about. Its also prompted me to start a project I've wanted to start since my son was born, which has resulted in my other blog under my profile called "Letters to my Son". From here on out, any entry tagged "37 days" will address my thoughts on what I've read along with excerpts from the book itself.

My diary is called "Constantly Evolving" for a reason - I never want to be static or stagnant in my life. I always want to be learning and growing and evolving into the best person I can be. Life isn't a destination, after all - its a journey!

My first glimpse of Love

My father loved my mother. He had not had great relationships up to the point of meeting my mother, but my Elvis-look-alike father met my hot momma and they got married. They had my two sisters and I and I won't lie and say everyday was perfect - but I remember more of the good then the bad (though they both shaped who I am today). My father always thought of my mother first. If she was not feeling well - he would make sure that we knew so that we could let her rest. Sometimes he would make dinner (watered down spaghetti) so that mom didn't have to make dinner when she got home from work.

Sometimes, when he was feeling silly, he would smack her butt or hug and kiss her in the kitchen. One of my more humorous memories of my mom and dad is when we were living in the duplex in Columbia. My dad was tickling my mother on the bed and she was screaming and laughing. She begged him to stop and he didn't listen - so she scratched his hand - HARD! From that day on, he had about and inch and a half scar on his left hand. He would go on and on about how mom attacked him and that was his battle scar. They were able to be silly.

Sure they had their more unhappy moments - who doesn't, but even after getting through nearly 33 years of marriage - mom was still his first priority. He always made their anniversary special - even moreso, once most of us were out of the house. On their 30th anniversary I believe, they finally took out their cake topper - my dad even tasted the old thing. His marriage to my mom is what made him happy.

He taught me the importance of family. He taught me that if I only had one good friend, I was blessed. He made sure we had memories that we could share with our children. He held our hand, even as teenagers and we didn't want to be seen holding our dad's hand. When my father loved - he did so intensely. We are alike in that way.

I know that at times it can be extremely lonely without dad, but if we would only just take a minute to think back to the good times - the good lessons he taught us - I think our hearts would feel a little warmer and the ache wouldn't be as pronounced. Mom, dad loves you very much and even if he can't physically be here, I still feel him around us. He lives in each one of his daughters - and even moreso at times in his grandson.

Monday, October 27, 2008

View Dad's Memorial Page

One really unique and wonderful thing that the funeral home did for our family was create a video memory of our father for us. I watched it numerous times a day those first few months. Now I watch it every other day, and most times can get through it without crying. Let me know what you think.

End of Traditions?

I can't believe its been over a month since I posted here. I've felt like a chicken with its head cut off - not really sure what direction I'm going, or where I'm trying to get to. I've been concerned about my youngest sister and my mom. Sometimes I forget to think about me. A couple things have hit me the wrong way lately and I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with it.

I suggested to my Nana the other day, that we should go to one of our favorite resturaunts before her knee replacement surgery. I asked her if she would want to go to Cozy's. She said "No, it was too far to go now." Then my other sister whispered, "I don't think we've been there since dad passed away. Have we?" The whole thing just made me want to scream. Its as if the traditions we've had for the last 30 years have now been thrown out the window, or we now feel like we need to talk in hushed tones about dad and the things that remind us of him. Who cares if we haven't been since dad passed? Why should that stop us from going now? He wouldn't have wanted us to just stop everything that we've always done, since many of those traditions he helped create.

We also haven't set foot in Lancaster, PA in a few years - namely, Willow Valley. I asked last year if we could go as a family - no one seemed to be on board. We have spent every summer there for the last 25+ years. Why should that change because it would remind us of dad? Isn't that a good thing?! I guess I'm falling prey to the "oldest mentality" that my father and I both seemed to share. We want to keep things together - keep family close - create memories together - carry on traditions. Yet, no one seems ready or able to get on board with me. Its just frustrating and sad to me.

I know we all grieve our own ways. There is no time limit on grief; but I know for a fact that dad would NOT have wanted us to feel like we couldn't be happy anymore. He would want us to do the things we've always done as a family - and remember him! I feel like, sometimes, we are just supposed to forget. No one seems to want to share good times, good memories - everything is hush, hush. He wasn't part of the mob - he didn't die under mysterious or shameful circumstances. He had cancer. He fought hard; but this time we all lost.

I am so tired of feeling like my family feels like they are ashamed of their grief. My family, as a whole, are not big talkers; but I think that is exactly what we need in order to get through these awful times with our sanity somewhat intact. We are not all fragile pieces of china. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about things - for fear of someone not being able to handle it. If they can't handle it, they can voice it; but that doesn't mean that others can't discuss things. I feel like my mom is very sad, maybe even feeling alone and I don't really know how or if she would want me to help. Mom is a fairly private person, and I can appreciate that, but we are family. We should be able to call each other and say, "you know what, this really sucks! I'm pretty angry!" Or whatever he/she wants to say about it. There are no censors here! There shouldn't be anyway.

I don't know - it just hurts and it hits me at more odd times then others. The final straw was this afternoon. I looked inside the trunk of my car, that had been at my mom's for months. I was going to take some things to goodwill and thought I might have had some things in the trunk ready to take before. When I opened it, I saw bags, labeled - all dad's things. I wanted to scream. Not because I felt mom shouldn't have cleaned out her closet; but more because I didn't want to give away these things. I just shut the trunk - I will go through bags this week and pull out things I want to keep. I hope some of them still smell like him.

The feeling was similar to what I felt when mom finally was able to disconnect dad's cellphone. I had been calling my dad's phone nearly every other day, just to hear his voice. One day I called it and got a recording about the phone number being disconnected. I cursed, I screamed, I cried. I just wanted him back. In my memory, I can still hear the goofy message he left me on my birthday the year before he passed. He sang 'Happy Birthday' and told me he loved me and was proud of me. A couple years before that, on Valentine's Day, he came to my work and brought me a dozen red roses.

Why...I don't think I will ever understand why he isn't still here; but I will be damned if I stop talking about him. Remembering him. Loving him and wanting to keep the traditions going.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Music from The Last Year

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77ge-e-7P_I BarlowGirl "Never Alone"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTpLD6pzNGo Jodee Messina "You Were Just Here"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo2nJr7JHsI Casting Crowns "Praise You In This Storm"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Day Saved For Him

The day my father died was June 24, 2007. He died at 12:15am. It was a Sunday. I always thought it was fitting that he passed on Sunday, since he had spent over 20 years in the church in some capacity or the other.

That Saturday before was one of the mildest days of the summer. The sun was out, the birds were playing, and there was a slight breeze. Though he would never admit it, he was a sun-worshipper of a not-so-typical breed. He sunbathed with all of his clothes on.

Let me explain - he would go out to mow the grass, set up a lawn chair, and request some tea. He would mow the lawn, take a break to sit and drink his tea - and sometimes fall asleep in the sun. His hands, arms, and face ALWAYS looked tan, no matter what time of the year it was. The year I got married, he and my mom and sister went to our favorite family vacation spot, Willow Valley in Lancaster, PA. It was the first time in nearly 30 years that he wore shorts. He sat outside and ended up with 2nd degree burns on his legs, after them not seeing the sun for so long. We laughed about it, but he learned his lesson.

The day before he died, it was beautiful. He had been unable to speak and seemed peaceful for about a week and a half. We had asked the nurse if we could take his bed outside, since he loved to be in the sun. She didn't see a problem with it, so we moved him, his bed and his oxygen tank out into the Veranda. We sat out there for about and hour and a half just letting him enjoy the sun. The nurse came out to check on us and mentioned that, to her, this was the most peaceful she had seen him. She definately agreed that it was good for him.

Later that night, a nurse had gone into check his vitals and was in the room for a really long time. Mom and I went in and asked her what was going on. She said that his blood pressure was very low and just gave us a sad look. My heart broke. My sisters and brother-in-law, along with my mother and some family friends came in to surround his bed.

I held his hand and looked at everyone in the room. I didn't know what else to do. I'm the oldest and so was he. I was used to taking charge of situations and this was no different. It just ended up being one of the hardest things I've ever done. I heard the rhythmic sounds of the oxygen machine, the soft, muffled cries of those in the room and just started to talk.

I said, "Daddy, you don't have to hold on for us anymore. We will take care of Mom and Mimi and Pop. Over the years, you talked so much about how excited you were to see those in your family and life that have passed on before you. They are all waiting for you. I promise that we will never let Jeremy forget his Poppy. We love you so much and because of that, we can let you go." That was at 11:30pm.

After that, I got in the car and headed to my Nana's house. Ten minutes after I walked into the house, the phone rang and I just started to cry. He let go. My mother text messaged me about how thankful she was that I was able to say what others weren't able to say. My heart broke again. I didn't want my father to hurt anymore, but I thought it kind of comical that he would listen to me the ONE time I didn't really want him to.

My little boy was still up when we got the news and he came over to me and said, "Mommy, its ok. Poppy is in heaven now. He doesn't hurt anymore. He loved you." All I could do was pull him into a hug and just be in awe of the insightfulness that my little 4 year old had. My aunt ended up driving me back to the Hospice Center to be with my mom and sister's who had come back. I walked over to his bed. The room was just still now. I touched his hair and held his hand, kissing his forehead to tell him I loved him.

The man on that bed had the body of my father, but the part of him that made him my dad had gone. I tried to memorize his skin, his hands, his still intimidating presence. My first thought was, I've lost the only person who ever asked to hold my hand. I later realized that I haven't lost as much as I thought. My son, who looks so much like his Poppy, still holds my hand, even when I expect him to pull away. My dad still lives. I still feel him. Even if he's there in a 4 foot package.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Healing - A Dedication

Over the years, I've kept various blogs across the net, but this blog was sparked by my little sister, Julie (http://tncobrat.blogspot.com/). I think, in everyone's life, there comes a point where you just want to do better, be better, and heal. Healing is probably one of the hardest things you will ever do. Its never the same time-table for everyone - its a very private and personal thing. It takes guts to heal - because it would be far easier to just let the grief and depression just take over and swallow you whole.

It hasn't been an easy couple of years for my family; but with the help of good friends and a strong family unit, we are slowly making it through. We also have a lot to look forward to. Jeremy has started kindergarten and is doing extremely well, he is a pro on his soccer team already, and his mommy may finally get her degree after nearly 13 years. Who knows what the future holds for us, but with a support system like we have, how can we fail.

This journal is dedicated to my father, Jeremy's Poppy, and just one of my family's many angels.