Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Meanwhile, back in Norway…

I promised a few photos of the churches we visited so let me do that before I get even further behind! The first church we visited was in Vance, a town not too far from where we were staying. It’s beautiful and sits in the center of town.

A family member is the caretaker for this church and he gave us a personal tour of the building…

…including taking us up into the bell tower.

This is the church where my husband’s grandfather is buried so it holds a lot of family history.

It’s history also includes a tiny little door over on the side which is where the women, back in the day, were required to enter.

I’m glad those days are gone!

And then we were able to attend an outdoor Sunday service at the church where my husband’s grandmother was baptized when she was a baby.

It happened that there was a baby being christened that morning, and I couldn’t help but think the ceremony might have been similar all those years ago.

In fact, the baptismal used in the ceremony we witnessed was the same one used back then.

We were given a tour of this church too, by a town historian who said his English wasn’t very good, but we found it to be perfect.

It’s a smaller church than the one back in Vance, but just as beautiful.

Our Norwegian family went out of their way to help us understand family history. We met with several people over the two weeks that knew something of the history of the area or of the family.

It really made our time there special; everyone was so friendly and helpful. We know we only saw a tiny bit of what was there, but hopefully we’ll be back some day to explore even more!


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Never stop

Day one of our Sorrow to Strength conference was a success, but oh so emotional as the 30+ families each shared the reasons they were attending. Survivors relived their crashes, tears often streaking down their faces. Families of those lost did the same. No one was judgemental. No one was impatient as we let those emotions flow.

And at the end, when our large, sad and somewhat soggy family was all talked out, one of the volunteers passed out bracelets she had made. One for each person, placed into hands still holding damp tissue.

She chose the hummingbird, she said, because they never stop.

Just like us.


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A taste of Norway

We’re still away, and there is little time to blog, but I’ve been working on editing several hundred photos and I thought maybe you’d like to peek.

Our home away from home.

We are exploring southern Norway, following my husband’s family history. It’s beautiful country.

Near the site of my husband’s great grandfather’s home. What a view he had in the early 1900s!

It’s hard not to fall in love.

Small communities dot the coast. I wonder what it would be like to live here.

We will be home soon. I’ll write at least one post about our experiences. I don’t know how I’ll pick the photos.

Following the coast looking for sweet images. They were everywhere.

There’s just so much to see.

This looks like a peaceful spot.

I’ll catch up on your blogs when I get home. I fall asleep every night before I can make much of a dent in my email.

But it’s a good sleep.


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Fifteen years without you

Father’s Day has rolled around again, the fifteenth one without you.

I don’t have any new photos of you to share. I wish I did. I wish I could just snap a few the next time I’m down in Alabama. Photos of you laughing like you used to. Or reading the paper. Or sound asleep on the sofa after a day out on the lake.

Photos of you building something, or fixing something. You used to build stuff for us all the time and you could fix anything.

I wish I could take a picture of you sitting in the back of the church during Mom’s evening organ practice, timing the pieces she planned to play at the next Sunday’s service, letting her know when you thought it would be cool if she played a bit louder.

And I’d love to snap another memory of all of us out in the boat, you driving while one of us skied behind, you grinning. Us too.

Or climbing Smith Mountain and then the fire tour. You were seventy-five and still raring to go all the time. No mountain was too tall for you, no fire tower had too many steps.

I wish I could spend another holiday with you, the family favorites on the dinner table, us all sitting around the table talking and laughing long after the meal was over.

I wish.

But all the wishing in the world won’t make any of that happen, so I have to be satisfied with the memories I have, the snapshots I’ve already collected. But darn, I wish I had some new pictures to share.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven Dad. We all miss you every single day.


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Florida ramble

Stormy weather.


How do you picture Florida? Sun, swaying palms, white sands, blue water, attractions filled with laughing crowds and roller coasters, poolside drinks, pulsating bars, sunscreen and colorful umbrellas?

Sounds good.

But if that’s what you’re focused on then you’re missing an awful lot of authentic Florida.

Early morning light makes the moss glow.

My husband and I are visiting relatives in a quieter part of the state. We have been staying at a fishing camp on a beautiful lake north of Tampa.

A good place to spend a few days.

Each of the past three mornings I’ve gone outside early in the morning to see what the sunrise had to offer. This morning’s was the most colorful, but Monday and Tuesday morning were softly pretty too.

Good morning world!

Yesterday we walked the neighborhood and enjoyed the moody skies just before a thunderstorm rolled in.

What this lake probably looked like in the 1940s. And today.

This place has the feel of old Florida, when times were simpler and small things got noticed. A time before Disney World and all inclusive resorts.

Lots of open land with cattle grazing. Taken with my phone from the back seat of a moving car.

As my husband and I enjoyed the company of an extended family we let the crazy world go on by, kept the TV off, didn’t read the news, and sat into the evening telling old family stories and enjoying good food.

Not a bad way to begin a vacation.

Tuesday’s sunrise.

Tomorrow we’re going to see a baseball game at the Tiger spring training camp and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do next.

Contemplating deep thoughts. And bubbles.

Not to say we’re entirely ignoring those white sand beaches and blue skies. No, I think at least a peek at the Gulf is on the list.

After all, we are in Florida.

This is Herman. He likes to steal fish from fishermen’s buckets.


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Release

Contemplating this past week.


It’s been a long and reflective week, beginning Saturday morning when I woke to hear the news that former President Bush had died. My first response was a deep sadness for his family, particularly for his children. My second thought was joy that he was reunited with his beloved Barbara and daughter Robin.

I guess that’s typical, the intertwining of sadness with joy during times like this, the emotions washing up and even overlapping as you maneuver your way through the tasks that must be done to celebrate a life.

Being retired I was able to watch the last journey of the President’s body from lying in state at our Capital to the beautiful ceremony at the National Cathedral and then his flight to Texas and the train ride to his library and final resting place in Houston.

A bit of joyful color in the bleak winter landscape.

And I watched his children and their spouses as they stood time after time watching the transfer of the coffin, on and off planes and the train, into and out of buildings, up and down stairs, all the while being watched by an entire world. Showing their grief or holding it in. Probably exhausted and moving on adrenaline. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, to have such a prolonged and public goodbye.

I’m glad they had a private time together when they said their last goodbye at the library. And I hope today, the day after all the ceremony is done, I hope today they are spending time with each other quietly remembering, laughingly remembering, wistfully remembering.

Looking for simple beauty.

This holiday season will be the first without their parents. To lose booth of them within the same year is so hard. So much change in such a short time, celebrations will never be the same. This year, for sure, will have sad undertones.

But there’s that sneaky joy that will infiltrate too. At times when they least expect it they’ll hear Barbara or George’s voice, telling a story, singing a silly song, laughing at an old joke. They’ll see them in the food they prepare, family favorites or maybe not, if broccoli is on the menu.

But I like broccoli mama!

And little by little, over the months and years there will be more joy and less sad. And best of all, while the sadness recedes, their parents, grandparents, great grandparents will never be far away.

Today as I watch a gentle snow fall and listen to Christmas music I realize that it’s the same for all of us during the holidays. The losses are always there, but the love is always there too.

Let the light shine on you.

My wish for the Bush family is that they spend these precious days together in privacy and peace, certain of the gratefulness of their nation and of the love they will always share within their family. I wish for them a release from the tension and pressure of such a long and public goodbye.

Let your joy show through.

And I wish, for all of you, peaceful holidays too.

Live in the moment.


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So they aren’t forgotten

Something horrible happened in this beautiful place.


We’ve all seen them, those markers of loss by the side of the road. Do you wonder about the person they represent? When a new one appears do you feel a sudden stab of emotion?

I do.

Sometimes these memorials act as reminders to drive safely.

I think I’ve always unconsciously noticed the markers, but ever since my dad was killed on a Georgia freeway I’ve been more aware.

And more curious.

I don’t know who this was, or what it symbolizes, but I nod hello when I go by.

Because I know we as a family wanted the spot that dad died be marked. A life changing event happened there and it seemed wrong that the road returned to normal almost immediately after. That thousands of people passed by and no one knew what an extraordinary place it was.

Somehow you want people to know.

Sadly, turned left in front of a truck.

So for a few years I’ve stopped at roadside memorials, wherever it was safe to do so, and taken a picture to document the name and dates.

The driver lost control, she was ejected from the vehicle.

And back at home I’d try to find something out about that person. Sometimes I’d find a report of the crash, or the obituary.

See the gash at the bottom of the tree? I think she became an angel right here.

And then, each time I passed the memorial I’d remember that person, sort of an acknowledgement of their existence, a bit of sorrow at the way they left.

State trooper hit by vehicle pulling a trailer, dragged to his death.

I think that’s what the families want, to keep their loved one alive in the minds or hearts of people.

It’s not always a religious symbol.

I feel sad for all of them, but none so much as the young ones. The young drivers, the children who happened to be in the vehicles.

A young driver, he crossed the center line on a curve.

There seem to be so many of them.

Nothing permanent, just left the flowers from the funeral. Motorcycle hit a deer, then a car hit him.

So what, are you asking, did we do at the site of the crash that killed dad? It’s on a very busy piece of freeway, about an hour west of Atlanta, right at a truck weigh station. We knew we couldn’t safely stop there for much more than a moment.

Some crashes happened so long ago, but family never forgets.

So we concocted a plan.

We bought three bags of daffodil bulbs, loaded up into the car with a pic and a shovel and drove there one rainy afternoon. We pulled over as far as we could, piled out of the car, hacked a hole in the soil, tossed the bulbs in and covered them up as fast as we could while cars and trucks streamed by.

Some are so recent.

In the fourteen years since, I’ve rarely been in the South at the right time of year, and never have I taken the more than hour drive from the lake over to the crash site to see if they’ve survived.

The loss of small children breaks my heart.

But last spring I went.

And the road was still as busy, several lanes of trucks and cars flying by. Lots and lots of trucks on all sides of me. I couldn’t really take a long look. But out of the corner of my eye, as I passed the site I saw something.

Waiting in the dying light to offer solace.

Just a simple flash of yellow, there below the guardrail.

I’m not sure how many daffodils were in bloom, I think more than one. To be honest it could have been a yellow solo cup, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for a brief moment, driving down that freeway, my heart sang and I smiled.

So many stories lost.

So if the daffodils really bloom, there along the highway every spring, then I have to think a few other people have noticed them as they speed past. And maybe they smiled too, and wondered at their meaning.

And I think dad would have enjoyed the beauty and mystery of that.

Hope.


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The comfort of Mahler more than 100 years after his death

Saturday evening found my husband and I in Ann Arbor with my Aunt listening to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D major performed by the Ann Arbor Symphony.

I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of listening to the long symphony, over an hour and twenty minutes, with no intermission and no chance to change gears if it wasn’t something I enjoyed. I thought longingly of the concert last month filled with Dvorak and Gershwin. But I figured this one would be good for me.

And it was – in an unexpected way.

You see Saturday morning was the horrific mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Throughout the day I watched updates and wondered, again, how such things continue to happen in our country.

By Saturday evening I was overwhelmingly sad.

Music Director Arie Lipsky gave his typical lecture prior the the concert, explaining bits and pieces of the four movements, giving us a better understanding of the composer’s life and this particular piece. It’s thought to be Mahler’s goodbye, perhaps a foreshadowing of his fatal heart ailment, but, Maestro Lipsky said, the final interpretation of the meaning behind the music would be up to the performers, and ultimately us, the listening audience.

And there he paused, stared down at his score, then looked up with pain in his eyes and quietly dedicated the evening’s performance to the murdered members of the Squirrel Hill Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

My own eyes filled with tears. And as we settled into our seats to hear the music I wondered what my interpretation would be. What would I hear in this long piece on this, such a sad day?

And, it turns out, for me the music was intertwined in the events of the day.

As someone who has experienced the unexpected news about a violent death of a family member, all I could hear in this music was the raw emotion of the families left behind on this horrible Saturday morning. It was as if the music was describing the road each of them will be traveling as they move through their grief in the days and years ahead.

The first movement, Andante comodo, started out innocently, peacefully, much like the lives of the parishioners themselves as they settled into the service, like those people still in traffic on their way to meet friends and family as they probably did every weekend. But about two minutes into the piece there came a foreboding feeling.

Something was wrong.

At 5:45 into the music I could hear the news being spread, tension built, shock, disbelief and confusion were all being felt. The rest of the movement took me through the roller coaster of those first moments, hours and days after the event, the music filled with layers of rage and grief followed by bits of sweet memories and longing, always overcome with the deep swells of pain and sorrow.

The second movement, Im Tempo eines, represented, for me, a time in the future when family members have given themselves permission to be happy again. It started out with a lighthearted, though clumsy, dance. The family was, rightly so, a bit rusty in their happiness. But soon enough the music began to change tempo, to speed up and become a bit manic, as the nightmare of reality interrupts even the simple joy of dance.

The third movement, Rondo-Burleske, is all about the chaos, rage, and disbelief inherent in grief with an almost nightmarish circus motif. It was loud and fast from the very first notes, allowing for no contemplation, only emotion. And the interweaving themes kept pounding at our emotions until the abrupt end which forced a collective gasp from wide-eyed audience members.

There was a longer pause, then, between the third and fourth movement, Adagio, as the musicians seemed to collect themselves, to adjust their mindset from the frenetic third to the quiet resolution of this last movement.

And here, in the fourth, was where my tears fell again. For it was here that I felt the resignation and acceptance, the finality of the loss. The soft tones were contemplative, but there was a hint of joy too, hidden between the layers of deep pain, in the pools of grief.

The joy came from finally realizing that our loved ones, lost to violence, are safe now. And though it’s hard, so very hard, not to have them here with us, it became clear, as the last distant notes faded into the night air, that they are truly and forever home.

I felt a bit silly as I surreptitiously wiped the tears from my cheeks, but I noticed a few others doing the same. And then I stood, along with the rest of the house, to applaud my appreciation

So that’s my interpretation of Mahler’s ninth, heard on this particular difficult day in the history of our country.

If you would like to hear some of this Mahler piece, but don’t have over an hour to devote, I recommend listening to a few minutes of each of the first three movements and then to the entire fourth movement.

I trust Mahler will bring you a similar feeling of hope and peace.