Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


13 Comments

Trent’s World, the Weekly Smile

Looks like a front is going through.


The day before the midterm elections feels stressful. I feel like I can’t turn the TV on, can’t check social media. Too much conflict, too much negativity.

On my way home from an early morning run to the grocery I noticed dramatic clouds. And me with no camera.

Barns and cloudy skies make me smile.

I hurried home, but the drama was gone by the time I unloaded and put away the groceries.

Still, the sky was interesting. And I was restless.

The seasons are changing, the crops have been harvested.

So off I went, camera in my lap, to see what I might see. Sure it would never be the extraordinary sky I saw earlier. But you never know what you’ll find.

At first I was disappointed, mostly muddy grey skies, not the dramatic navy blue ribbons I’d seen before.

Time to hunker down for winter.

But when I got out of the car on a dirt road to grab a shot of a barn I saw the whole sky above me and actually said out loud – “Wow!”

This was my ‘wow’ moment.

And that inspired me to keep looking. And you know me…

Everywhere you looked was something wonderful.

…looking for barns amid wild skies makes me smile.

Couldn’t resist this one.

What made you smile lately?

Well yes, she makes me smile too.


10 Comments

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.


10 Comments

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.


17 Comments

We could all use a smile.

Reflecting on current events.


Trent, over at his blog trentsworldblog has decided that we could all use a smile, so he has resurrected his weekly smile post in which he invites us all to post each week about something that has made us smile, and then link back to him.

I think he’ll post a recap, but I need to go back and read the instructions (you’ll find those at his Weekly Smile blog).

There’s gold in the woods. And a bit of peace.

As I sit watching the horrific news out of Pittsburgh this morning I have to admit I was feeling guilty for feeling good after my short trip to northern Michigan.

Sometimes you just need to walk away.

For me going into the woods is like living on my own personal private island. No TV, no email, maybe a bit of blog producing, but that’s all about looking through images I’ve just taken and then letting the fingers do their thing.

No stress there. Usually no tears.

The logging museum shows life in a simpler time.

And yet the world carries on even while I’m not noticing. Pipe bombs get mailed. Mass shootings happen. Candidates snipe at each other. No one tells a complete truth.

Is there really only one way?

Who even knows what the truth is anymore.

Sometimes a person needs the welcoming woods.

As Carol says in her latest post, we’re all probably overloaded. By everything.

So I think Trent’s idea is wonderful. Let’s look for at least one thing that has made us smile this week.

No television out here.

For me, it was being in the north wandering among the last bit of fading color. I was only there for a little more than one day, and it was drizzling rain most of the time.

Still. In the last few minutes before I climbed back in the car to head home the sun burned through a layer of cloud and the woods glowed.

It was just for a moment.

Glowing in between the raindrops.

But it made me smile.

Follow the path for soul renewal.


14 Comments

2020 soup musings

I made soup yesterday, roasted tomato and basil.

The beginnings.

As I was opening a can of tomato paste I noticed the expiration date was in 2020.

March 2020 will probably be pretty interesting.

Given the political climate at the moment, I wonder what the world will look like in 2020.

Somehow I can’t quite imagine it.

The onions, pepper and potato work up a sweat while the tomatoes roast.

So I sighed and finished the soup.

Torn basil finishes it up.

It turned out really good.

I hope 2020 turns out really good too.

Yum. Soup and cheesy garlic bread.


12 Comments

Happy Birthday Aunt Vi!

Today is Aunt Vi’s 103rd birthday.

At age 95.

It’s her first up in heaven with all her sisters and most of her brothers, plus her mom and dad who she talked about regularly and missed every day.

96th birthday

I’ve heard about some of the parties the family had when they were all younger. I can almost imagine the fun they’re having up there today, dancing and hugging, playing cards and softball and telling stories while they enjoy a huge potluck.

On her 100th birthday.

I’m sure everyone there is glad to have her back in the fold, but we sort of miss her back here.

101st birthday.

Still, I know her 103rd birthday is infinitely better than her 102nd was.

102nd birthday.

Happy Birthday Aunt Vi, now you’re young again and will be forever.

The light shines on her now.


13 Comments

Grief gets all mixed together.

Today, in fact this entire week, has been filled with sad images on television.

Here in Detroit it’s been a week of celebrating the life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, who died two weeks ago. There’s been days of public viewing, with lines of people stretching for blocks, all waiting in heat indexes over 100 degrees to pay their respect. Her funeral is tomorrow. Local news stations seem to broadcast little else.

And Senator John McCain died last Saturday and the national news has been filed with his story, work and funeral arrangements. I watched his Arizona funeral today. One of the television pundits commented, as we watched the family file in, that she couldn’t imagine how his seven children were feeling at the loss of their father.

I silently noted that she must not have lost a parent yet. Because if she had she’d know how easy it is to imagine how they feel.

“You didn’t have your dad as long as you’d like, but you got everything you need from him.”*

Watching them during the service, and especially as they followed the casket back out after I was right back at my mother’s funeral, and at my dad’s a few months later.

I know the feeling of standing, knees weak, at the pulpit and staring out over a standing-room-only crowd wondering if I could get the words out. I remember how it felt to smile after, shaking hands, accepting hugs, while all the time feeling totally numb.

“This I promise you – you know you’re going to make it when one day you see an image of your dad and a smile touches your lips before a tear fills your eye.”*

I know the feeling of disbelief. I know that it feels like you’re walking through mud, how the days each last an eternity, yet fly by too quickly. How that final goodbye shreds your insides.

And then this afternoon, on a highway out in New Mexico, a semi truck had a tire malfunction and crossed the median, striking a Greyhound bus head on. There are multiple deaths. Even more injuries. Families are even now receiving that phone call.

The cycle of loss never ends.

Today I seem to be enveloped in grief. Old grief for my family, new grief at recent national losses. Stabbing grief at the knowledge that more families are, tonight, beginning their own personal trek through darkness.

But I know what Joe Biden knows. That tomorrow will be a new day and the sun will shine again. And those of us that feel the pain this deeply are the lucky ones. Because we knew true love.

And true love never dies.

*Quotes above are paraphrased from Vice President Biden’s eulogy for John McCain today. They touched something inside of me, because he was exactly right.


15 Comments

Goodbye Senator

Regardless of whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent or none of the above, tonight you have to feel some sadness at the passing of Senator John McCain. A decent man who tried to solve problems through bipartisan support, he repeatedly spoke up against the inertia that is Congress. He was frustrated, as many of us are, by today’s political wheel spinning, by the lack of progress, by the rhetoric.

Maybe now we should take a moment and think about the lessons he was trying to teach us. That regardless of our own beliefs it’s always important to listen, really listen, to an opposing viewpoint. That we need to remember the art of compromise. That we can’t solve anything without support from both sides of the aisle

That not everyone across the aisle is an enemy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in his memory, we all try to be more open, more accepting of differences, more willing to try to understand opposing viewpoints. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in his memory, members of Congress pull back on the rhetoric and work together to solve issues for the good of the country.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in his memory, we all stepped up our attempts to be decent human beings. Regardless of political leanings.

Seems to me that would be an appropriate thank you for a life well lived.


15 Comments

What does 90 look like?

Last Tuesday, on our way out of our polling place, I noticed a small woman walking away. Short grey hair, slightly stooped, stripped pullover shirt. I smiled and told my husband she reminded me of my mom.

Mom wore a lot of shirts with stripes.

Today, August 11th, is mom’s birthday. I think about her a lot and sometimes wonder what she’d be like now. But I haven’t done the math in a long time. I never really know how old she’d be, just that she’d be older now than she was when I last saw her at age 75.

Today I did the math.

She would have turned 90 today. Ninety. That actually gave me a physical jolt. It seems like a huge and impossible number for her, such an old age. I guess it is.

Being a mom.

I have no idea what she’d be like at 90. I’ve seen other people reach that age. My uncle, my husband’s aunt, an elderly friend. But none of that applies to my mom.

Ninety.

Unfathomable.

I suppose it’s beyond my imagination to see her much differently than the way she was in July of 2004. Which seems like yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time.

She loved her birds.

So I’ll shake off the sadness and remember the fun times and wish her a very very happy 90th birthday up there in heaven. I hope she didn’t have to make her own birthday cake. I’m sure they have angels up there for that.

Happy birthday mom. You look marvelous.

On their 50th wedding anniversary. I know they’re celebrating mom’s birthday together today.


29 Comments

The cricket in the drain

Saturday a bit of a pain in my back became worse and associated pains in my chest began to bother me. I couldn’t assume any longer that picking up the dog was the problem, so I headed for a local emergency room.

I didn’t really think it was much of anything, figured they’d run some tests, tell me it wasn’t a heart attack, that perhaps I had strained something. I thought they’d send me on my way after a few hours.

Instead they admitted me for observation.

The view wasn’t stellar.

Far from home and my own doctor, in a town near our lake house and with no family nearby, I began to stress. Katie was home alone and I was stuck in an ER, about to be wheeled upstairs to a hospital.

I called one of my neighbors who sprang into action, checking on Katie and arranging for her to have a sleep over with them and their dog Dixey. Katie enjoyed her sleep away from home with one of her best doggy friends.

Mama, on the other hand, got no sleep at all.

I’d had an EKG, a chest xray and blood drawn down in Emergency. They did more blood drawing upstairs, hooked me up to a heart monitor and left me alone for awhile with instructions not to get out of bed.

Eventually a doctor showed up and asked all the same questions they’d asked downstairs, but in more detail. She asked how my parents had died and I explained about my mom. She asked about dad and I told her the short version of dad’s truck crash death. She got quiet.

Then she said 4 years ago her daughter and her ex-husband and his girlfriend were in a bad crash. The girlfriend died, and her daughter sustained a traumatic brain injury. She showed me her 10 year old daughter’s picture, attached to the back of her hospital ID. We talked about the long road ahead of a brain injury patient. We looked each other in the eyes as we both spoke of our fear of being on the road these days. Then she said – “Do you hear that cricket?” I did. She investigated my bathroom, and said she thought it was in the shower drain. I said there could be worse things in a shower drain and we laughed and she left.

Around 10:30 I asked if the big light above my head could be turned off so that I could get some sleep. An aide came and turned off the light and I tried to settle down. Minutes later a LP showed up to take my vitals. Blood pressure, temp, heart rate. Did I need anything? No…just some sleep. She asked if I wanted her to take away the dinner tray which contained a pile of unknown shredded meat and a completely round scoop of white supposed to be mashed potatoes.

No thank you.

I said please do, adding that I ate the carrots. She said she’d note that and added that when she gave birth to her daughter at this hospital the food was so terrible that her mother-in-law brought her three meals a day from outside. We laughed

Someone came in for more blood. She said she was called the vampire ad said I had nice veins. We laughed. Then she asked if I had a cricket in the room? I said yes, she was keeping me company.

Sleep was elusive as I worried what all this meant.

Just after midnight the RN came in to check on me. We talked about shelties, her mom used to raise them. We talked about how smart they were. I said I was looking forward to sleeping past 4 a.m. because my sheltie was having a sleepover at the neighbors.

Twenty minutes later someone was in to do vitals again. My back continued to ache, the chest too. I couldn’t get comfortable in the narrow bed, wired to the heart monitor. I was worried about my dog. Feeling lonely.

I listened to the cricket singing in the bathroom and wished I was back at the lake.

12:30 a.m., maybe 1, a young man showed up for yet more blood. He turned on the bright light, but that was OK, I was still awake. He asked if I was from Alex City, I said no, I was from Michigan. He said, “Oh, you’re my mom’s age so I thought maybe you knew her.” He couldn’t get any blood the first two times he tried….he apologized for the bruise I was going to have. Then he tried my hand and got barely enough. I said that was the third blood draw, and I’d been told there would be three as they tested for enzymes indicating a heart attack. He said he was sorry, but he’d be back for more around 3:30 or 4.

Great.

I settled back to try to sleep. The cricket continued to sing. The RN came in to see how I was. Not so good. She went and got a nitro patch for my chest pain. A side effect, she said, was headache. Twenty minutes later my head was throbbing so bad that it hurt to touch the pillow.

I rang the bell for help.

The RN returned, listened to my complaint and said she’d see if she could give me a Tylenol for the headache. The night shift doctor showed up and asked me more questions, then prescribed an extra strength ibuprofen to be administered through my IV. The RN brought that in about 2 a.m.

Heaven.

I curled up and fell into a deep sleep which lasted until almost 3:30. I was so disappointed when I woke, the sleep had been so warm and good. I tried to will myself back to sleep. But the blood guy was taping on my door. So I gave him more blood and we discussed why they needed so much, and why there was a cricket singing in my bathroom. I said the cricket was now my friend, and we laughed. Ten minutes later he was done and I curled back up again, attempting sleep.

It wasn’t two more minutes when someone else was knocking on the door and wheeling in another cart. She was a perky lady, dressed in pink who sing-songed her “Good Morning!” brightly to me. I grunted and glared at her. She was here to do another EKG; this one would be my ticket out of the hospital if it was good, so I didn’t want to be rude and send her away. But seriously? Who thinks that 3:45 a.m. is a good time to do an EKG? She said she had 5 of them to do that morning and I was the first one.

Lucky me.

I asked her if she tag-teamed the blood guy and knew that I was already awake, and she said, “Oh no dear, I have to cover this whole hospital, I can’t be following him around.” And then she said “Hey…do you hear a cricket?”

Once she had her test done and had merrily danced away the young woman doing vitals, who hated the hospital food, arrived to take my blood pressure and temp again. Now near the end of her shift she was much less talkative, but she did mention that she heard a cricket.

Later the RN checked in on me asking how I was feeling. I said the back and chest pain were gone and the headache had been reduced to a more manageable pain. Mostly due to lack of sleep. She said she’d leave me alone. It was almost 5:00. Light was beginning to seep through the fog outside my window.

I gave up and turned on the TV to watch the news.

Looks like a good day to get some answers.

My friend the cricket wasn’t singing anymore. I guess her work keeping me company was done and she was settling in to get a good day’s sleep. I wished her well. Because I now knew something she probably already knew. There’s no sleeping if you’re spending the night at a hospital.

And what caused all that pain? We don’t know. I didn’t have a heart attack, but there are many questions left unanswered. There are probably questions I don’t even know to ask yet. But I will. I’m headed north to see my doctor, and I’m packing all those test results with me.

I hate leaving the lake, but it will be here for me when I return. And I’m grateful to wonderful neighbors on both sides of us that took care of me and my dog when I needed help. That’s the South for you. Even in the hospital people shared their lives and laughed with me. Every one of them cared about me and each was concerned that I was away from home.

I appreciate them all. Especially my best friend the singing cricket in the drain. I hope she’s comforting whoever is in that room tonight.

I bet she is.

I’ll be back.