Saturday, October 23, 2010

Driving Through Memories

I drove through my memories yesterday, drove through them in my mind and in my car. My car passed the places, the towns, the shoreline, the exits that carried me as a child with my sister and parents to much loved places and times and above all, to the people I loved. These are the roads that carried me to Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jay, to Rick, Jeff and Marcia. Carried me to Frederick Street and the Seafood Festival, carried me to hot summer days under the horse chestnut tree, sleepless nights in the tiny upstairs bedroom and meals shared together in a kitchen that always felt like it should live in a farmhouse.

I followed the roads of my childhood and let the voices of my past ride with me, let them find me and hold me in the perfection of memory, that perfection that only exists in the after, that perfection that makes the past better than it could have been. I drove the roads of my childhood and believed the perfection, believed it an preferred it to the present.

I heard my mother, my father, my aunt and uncle, heard their voices, their laughter and felt their presence, felt them with me, felt the joy they shared with each other and the comfort I felt living in the midst of it. On those roads yesterday I had them with me, my parents, my aunt and uncle and my cousin. I had them with me and then they were gone.

I drove through my memories and let them hold me, let them carry away the burdens of adulthood, the responsibilities of my grown up life. If only for a moment I let go of today, loosened my grip on the demands of my job, my family, my life. It was only for a moment, a moment in time in a place I loved, a place where I was loved.

In this moment, this moment between my past and my present, I let my memories carry me, carry me down the roads of my childhood, through the towns, along the shoreline and back to the house on Frederick Street. I listened to my family, heard them share their joy, felt their comfort and then I drove, drove through my memories and came home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Power of One

This evening our daughter quietly announced that she was the only single parent in her daughter's pre-school class. There was accusation in her voice, in her posture as she said it, a posture that said I'm different, I'm less. I wish she could see what I see, not less, but more, so much more.

These beautiful children snuggled in their mother's lap are happy. That is not by chance, it doesn't happen by chance, it happens because they have a mother who works hard at their happiness. A mother who gives up what it is she wants in order to give to them, to make their lives full, to make their lives complete and whole and rich. This is what I see.

I see her in the morning when I go in to her room to shut off the alarm, the alarm that never seems to be loud enough to wake her on its first try. Doesn't wake her or her daughter who often curls into her mother's side because that is where she sleeps better, sleeps sounder, sleeps safer.

I see the clothes she lays out for each of them, clothes that she has bought, that she has chosen for them because she knows they like the style, the color or the way they feel against their skin. I see her frustration at how long it takes her son to find his shoes or her how long it takes her daughter to fasten the buckles on her car seat, by herself. I see her smile, the only smile she allows to reach her eyes, the smile she wears when she looks at her children, really looks at them.

I see the way she spreads her paycheck, counts it and spreads it thin on her and heavy on them. Heavy on what they need, what must be bought, what doesn't come cheap. I see her gratitude for her daycare provider, a woman who loves my daughter's children as her own.

I see her at dinner, when her plate is fixed last, the food a little cooler than she likes it but on her plate longer than anyone else's because of the time it takes to prepare two plates before hers, two drinks before hers, seconds before her firsts are finished.

I see her evenings, evenings spent at home, at home preparing for the next day, the next day that will start with her daughter climbing into her bed, her alarm going off too soon, her son looking for his shoes, her daughter buckling herself.

I see all of these things, all of these things that happen before her workday begins, her workday that brings with it the demands of a busy office, a busy practice, a busy day.

I do not see less, I see more. I see more for her to do. I see her do more. I see her give more, more to her children, more each day. I see her give more to them and take less for herself. I see her and wish she could see what I see.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Welcome Home

There are times in my life when I are grateful, truly grateful for the things I have, the life I live and the people around me. If you have read my blog, even one entry, you know that my family is everything to me. This wonderful growing group of people who populate my life with love, laughter, anger and wisdom mean everything to me and I know how fortunate I am to live in the midst of all of them. But today, this one day, I want so single one out, to focus on the acts and life and person of one of our family.

The man in this picture is our son-in-law. This morning he woke up on U.S. soil for the first time in a very long time. This morning he woke up one huge leap closer to the end of his deployment. This morning he woke up one step and a lot of miles closer to his wife. This morning our daughter woke up one day closer to being reunited with her husband. This morning I woke up and could breathe. For him and for her.

At some point prior to September 11, patriotism went out of fashion. Public display of pride in our country was minimal and yet for many brave Americans like our son-in-law, love of our country was anything but minimal. I know some of the reasons he made this unselfish choice, this choice that puts him in harms way (we tease him mercilessly that it's a good thing he wears a uniform because left on his own his color choices are a bit off), but to watch him, to see him and the men he serves with, to see their dedication, commitment and the ease with which he carries the burden of leadership fills me with admiration, love, pride and respect for the man he is, the person he is.

This morning I am grateful. Grateful for this man. Grateful for his choice to serve. Grateful for his life. Grateful for his leadership. Grateful for his sacrifice. Grateful for his love for my daughter.

Welcome home, Jay, welcome home

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Keep It Up

My sister asked me if I was going to continue this blog now that our mother has been gone for over a year and I started this to deal with the emotions that consumed us as we cared for her and grieved our loss of her. It's a good question and one I thought a lot about over the past week, this past week when I sat next to a friend at a meeting and she told me of her sadness as her father suffered another setback in his cancer treatment. I thought about it again as a woman who works in the office next to mine stopped in to tell me how helpful the blog was to her as she lost her mother last month. And then there was Friday evening as I sat with friends I haven't seen for a long time and heard about a friend's sorrow over first his father's then his mother's dementia. Or the article another friend wrote about her grief and how she has survived that year of 'firsts' following her mother's death. There are more, it surrounds me.

I will continue the blog, I will continue to write about my mother, my family, my friends and any number of topics that strike me. As you can see, those of you who have been following for a while, I changed the look of the blog, brightened it a bit, changed it. That's what this is all about, isn't it? Change?

The grief, the love, the caring doesn't stop simply because time has passed. I miss my mother and know that there are many who miss their mother or father or grandmother or grandfather or others they loved. Grief is not fast or simple, it is long and complex and unlike all the other experiences we have in our lives, no one teaches us how to do it. Because of this we are left to find our own way through it and that is what I have tried to do here, find my way. In doing this I hope I have helped a few of you find yours, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Greatest Generation

Today my sister and I stood in the morning sun and said farewell to a friend. Not just a friend of ours, a friend of our father. A friendship forged in childhoods shaped by the Great Depression. A friendship further solidified in the Navy during World War II and Korea. A friendship strengthened still through marriages to the women they loved. A friendship beyond children and jobs. A friendship beyond death. Today we buried Phil.

This generation of theirs, this Greatest Generation, evaporates before us and we are helpless against this, helpless as they leave us one by one and take with them the honor and integrity they carried so easily. Lives lived in constant thought and purpose for others. Lives lived in quiet service.

This friendship between our father and Phil lived in our childhood and lived so intently we are unable to separate from it, unable to think of our history without including it. We learned friendship from their example and theirs was a good one. At the funeral today people learned a piece of this history.

We buried Phil in the same cemetery as my parents, not just the same cemetery, the grave beside my father. This was not the original lot Phil bought, not where he planned to be. When our father died, we grieved not only for us and what we lost, but for Phil and what he lost. Without his childhood friend, without his "Bucky", Phil lived the pain of loss and it was this loss that drove him to move his grave.

And so today, in the warmth of the sun and the company of Phil's family, we laid him to rest beside our father. We stood together with Phil's wife, nieces and nephews and smiled at the thought that these men, these lifelong friends were again together. As the Navy Honor Guard played taps and held the flag, we said goodbye to another of the generation before us. That Greatest Generation.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

An Adventure

Tomorrow is Mothers' Day and while I am sad that my mother is not here to celebrate this day with us I look to celebrate this day as a mother. Part of my celebration is to know my daughter is with her husband, with him in person and not on Facebook or Skype from where he sits on the other side of the world, the side of the world that holds all our soldiers. They are together for a very short two weeks and as her mother this brings me joy. Joy for her and for him as they spend this time together.

As her mother I want her to be happy and being with this wonderful man is what makes that happen. For her and for him. They are on an adventure, my daughter and son-in-law, an adventure that attempts to put time together in the short time they have. Time for them to forget there is a war on, a war he must return to, a war that keeps them apart.

But for this short time they are not apart, and as her mother I am glad for that. They are together and on an adventure, an adventure of freedom. Freedom to go where they want, when they want and that is what they've done. From a BBQ restaurant in Syracuse, New York, to the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to Old Faithful in Yellowstone and back again, they are in all of these places together and I can't think of a better gift I could have received from them on this Mothers' Day.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Shared Life

It has been a year now, a full year since we lost Mom. It's hard for me to believe that the days have passed, events have come and gone and we survived. What is not hard for me to believe is that we have not only survived, we have thrived. Not because she's gone, but because she was here in the first place.

I told a good friend last week that I know people thought of my mother as weak. They couldn't have been more wrong. She may have been diminutive in size, but she more than made up for that in strength of spirit. I see that in our family every day, her strength runs through us.

It lives in our love for each other (and we do love each other...imagine that in a family these days!) and the way we live our lives. We live a shared life. My family doesn't simply keep in touch with each other, we live fully immersed in the daily activities of all of us. It may be too much for some, but it works for us.

We know work schedules and the stress that each job holds for whoever holds it. We know the wishes, goals and dreams of each member (yes....I truly do have only 369 weeks until retirement!) and we share it all.

My daughter didn't wait alone for her husband to come home on leave last week, we all waited with her. My nephew isn't waiting alone for tenure, we're waiting with him. My sister isn't praying alone for all of us, we're praying with her. It's just who we are and that is what makes us strong. Mom taught us that.

So it's been a full year. A year full of grief and events and sadness and joy. A year when we've missed Mom with tears and a year when we've missed her with laughter. But at the end of this year, at the end of the passage of this time without her, we've still got her with us.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Love You, Cuz

For my cousin's funeral (which I was unable to attend because of traveling for work), I wrote the following. My sister read it to the congregation, which may not seem like a big thing, but it is. Bigger than you can imagine. Huge.

There are losses we can incorporate into our lives as time passes and those that simply never settle themselves. Those that we just can't manage. My cousin's death is that kind for me. He would not be happy with me about this and would give me multiple philosophical quotes to try to persuade me otherwise, but in the end we'd laugh, he'd call me stubborn and end the conversation with his usual, "Love you, cuz."

Here are my words, I hear them now in my sister's voice:

To understand the relationship between the Thurston and Cash cousins you have to first understand that we easily could have spent our lives not only not knowing each other, but not knowing either family existed. Our mothers were sisters who were separated by adoption and in the 1920s it would have been easy for the records to be sealed and the sisters to live their lives unaware of the family they had. Instead, we were blessed with magical time spent together in childhood and we brought those memories and a love for each other into adulthood.

For my sister, Penny, and I, time spent in Rockland with Rick, Jeff and Marcia truly was magical. Having no brothers, Jeff and Rick easily filled that void and we adored them for it. As we have mourned together this past week we once again were blessed to relive our memories of Jeff and found ourselves laughing and crying at the same time as we pictured him with his crooked smile, so much like Uncle Jay's, as he rolled the eyes of a lobster across the kitchen table, mixed mustard into his mashed potatoes or encouraged a friend of his, a clown in the Lobster Festival parade to march up to us and plant a make-up laden kiss on our cheeks.

While it is the simple things we cherish about Jeff, it is at the same time more than that. Whether the boy he was or the man he grew to be, we loved him. Jeff was a man of good humor (often off color and raucous, but good humor nonetheless), a man of integrity, a man of courage and a man with a deep love of family and God. He was a boy who gladly added his girl cousins to whatever game he played and then a man who encouraged, supported and loved us and our families.

To say we loved our cousin Jeff doesn't quite cover it for us. Those words feel inadequate to truly capture the special place we have in our hearts for him, but they are the only words we have. We spent the past week very much like we spent a long night on Frederic Street in Rockland as we waited for his return from the Viet Nam war, holding our breath, waiting and living with our memories.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Farewell Dear Cousin

When you are prepared for a death it is difficult (you're never really just think you are), when death is unexpected it is physical, it lodges beneath your breastbone, rests there and pulsates. If this instant grief would simply rest there it would be one thing, but it doesn't, it prefers instead to lash out, particularly when it is fresh, new, raw.

When the news that someone you love, someone you have loved dearly through your life, is gone and those moments of disbelief fade and you know that the voice on the phone spoke the truth, simple tasks become burdens, normal thought becomes erratic and walking from room to room seems like a logical solution.

I did those things tonight. I answered the phone, I didn't believe, I roamed the house. I lost my cousin tonight. I loved him. I grew up with him. I prayed for him during VietNam and with him when he came home. I grieved with him when we lost our parents. I named my son after him.

Tomorrow when I tell people my cousin died they will say they are sorry. They may ask how old he was (59) or was he sick (just diagnosed with lung cancer) or did he live around here (yes), but they won't know, can't possibly know how much I loved him (tons) , how much I will miss him (more than I care to imagine at the moment), what a great guy he was (the best).

I guess what's important is that I know those things about him. I know who he was, what he meant to me. In the end that's all that matters anyway.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Controlled Grief

I now have periods of time, relatively long periods of hours or even days, when my grief is controlled. Controlled, or perhaps hidden is a better term, to the degree where I function in what would be classified as a normal way, an acceptable way. I go to work, I interact with people, I perform my job and, for the most part, simply live my life. It would appear that I am making progress, I am 'moving on' as they say. I'm not sure how I feel about those times.

My husband and I just returned from a vacation. Not just a simple vacation, this was a no-holes barred, all out real vacation. A few days on the beach in Florida followed by a week on a luxury cruise ship sailing the Caribbean and then another day in Florida. Days of leisure, exploration and entertainment accompanied by warm breezes, sunshine and the 'no problemo' feeling that seems to come so easily as you roam the islands of the Caribbean.

With thoughts of my mother nowhere in sight one evening we were joined at dinner by another couple. An older couple from the midwest, really older couple, like 80's older couple. It took no longer than a few seconds for me to realize my husband and brother-in-law were sorely disappointed in the hostess' choice of dining companions and it was their disappointment that opened the well where my grief was hidden.

He was an engineer, long retired. She never said what she had done or if she ever worked outside of their home, their home of 50 years. He designed nuclear power plants. Imagine, this man, now thin and stooped with a face I somehow knew was longer than it used to be, the lines in his cheeks accentuating the distance from his forehead to his chin, attended to the details of creating energy. He was a pioneer.

Our conversation over dinner was the benign conversation of strangers, strangers who happen to find themselves in a shared experience. My husband's annoyance more evident to me with each course served. Our "good-nights" and "so nice to have met yous" were falsely rushed under the pretense of wanting to get to the show before all the good seats were gone and that's when it happened. That moment when my grief erupted from deep within me with a force so physical I was disoriented and searched for a door that would lead me away from it, allow me to escape it. My husband and sister-in-law so shocked at my sudden loss of my way that he simply stood and stared while she came to me and hugged me, held me, anchored me.

I miss my parents. Dearly and truly miss them. My father lives in my memory at my husband's age now, having not lived to see his 60s, 70s or 80s. I miss my parents' friends, those people who populated my life, who lived their lives mingled with ours. Those people who shared our joys and our sorrows. I miss that generation that was before us. The ones who led the way, not as we lead with cynicism and an ever present insidious doubt and suspicion, but with wonder and pride. I miss their ability to believe that they make a difference, that their life and their work mattered, that there was a greater good and they owed it to themselves, their family and their country to pursue it, to dedicate themselves to it. I miss that.

Through the rest of our vacation my grief behaved and once again secured itself, rested itself in the recesses of me where it has made its home. It hid itself, allowed me to smile and laugh and dance and eat and walk the beach and sit by the pool. It let those with me relax and read and sleep and enjoy. But as it did this, as it hid inside of me, it didn't hide completely, didn't leave me, didn't let me forget it was there and every so often it would nudge me, move in the way a baby asleep in your arms moves but doesn't wake, moves and you hold your arms so still so you don't disturb their sleep, and when the baby settles you breathe again. And that is what I did. What I still do. I feel that nudge, wait for it to pass, then breathe again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Days

Some days are just too much, too much to handle when the grief gnaws at you and pulls at you and multiplies the problems, the needs, the pressures. Some days the energy, my energy, is depleted, depleted by the hurdles I must jump, the responsibilities I must carry and the seemingly unending line of people I must please or support or satisfy.

Some days are just too much and it is days like this that make me question everything.

Hopefully tomorrow won't be a 'some day'.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My father would have turned 85 today. I have trouble picturing him at that age (perhaps that could be the only benefit to an early death!). This Birthday is different, though, different for me anyway. Different because on this day my mother is with him. As ridiculous as it sounds, and I do mean ridiculous, I take great comfort in the thought that they will celebrate his birthday together. Together in heaven.

Those are the kind of thoughts I have now, now that my grief is softer....not gone, just bearable. I think intently on what it is like for them, really like to be in heaven, free from the confines of the universal qualities that shape our lives, the laws of the physical world. I picture them as the qualities of who they were as people, their kindness, their humor, their faith and draw comfort.

So on this day, my father's 85th Birthday, I celebrate. I celebrate the man who was my father, the love he had for me, for my sister and for our mother. The way he lived his life and the legacy of the family he left behind. I miss him, sometimes even more now than in those painfully intense weeks and months in 1983 when he died. But on this day, on his day, I remember all that was so good about him and am thankful that we had him at all.

Happy Birthday, Dad.