Nostalgia, Love, and Mystery

I sit in a recliner, feet up, listening to silence occasionally interrupted by the moist noise of a dog licking peanut butter from her Kong and the rhythmic whirring of a sewing machine. My friend is in the other room working on a project as I breathe and find space after an unusually difficult day.

This is my friend’s house, the door generously open to me for some time away from my own mess. I don’t notice a bit of hers. I relax into the kindness of her giving as I receive stillness.

Last week she made lunch and we caught up with each other after a month of being apart. She is a heart friend who knows me and gets me and sees me. We talked and laughed and cried over many things. Time flew.

This is your birthday lunch. What would you like?

She offered two options. I chose the one that kept us where we were, making salads as we continued talking. We walked from the living room to the kitchen. On the counter were two cake boxes.

Those are your birthday cakes. They are thawing. I wasn’t sure what you would want for your birthday. I stood in front of the freezer at the grocery store way overthinking it. Do I get key lime pie? Then I told myself just stop and listen, and these cakes called my name. I have never bought them before. They are not at all what I was looking for.

Waves of nostalgia washed over me as I snapped a picture to send to my sisters. Their replies rolled in quickly.

It was Mom guiding.

Are we surprised? This is sweet.

Can’t make it up.

I agree. Any white cake was Mom and a nice cup of cawfee. (Can you hear my accent?)

Love this! Though the cakes don’t scream Mom to me as much which is interesting. (This is from the youngest.)

The Pepperidge Farm days were definitely Maryland years, maybe Virginia. Pre-Florida. (Time before the youngest.)

Yes, coconut white cake was definitely a Mom memory.

These cakes are the ones Mom got for birthdays or celebrations when we were kids. She liked the coconut and got chocolate for us. Of course I had a slice of each and basked in the nostalgia, love, and mystery.

Happy Birthday, Barbara!

Barbara McClay’s birthday is today.

Facebook tells me this and asks if I want to write on her timeline. Of course I want to wish my mother-in-law a happy day, so I click to her page. Upon arrival, I am also told she is 82. This hits me in the gut with unexpected tears.

82.

Ten years I won’t get with my mom. She died shortly after 72. We are over.

And this is grief. Some days the memories are gentle and sweet. Others they sneak up beside you only to smack the side of your head bringing swift and copious tears.

This part of July still bears innocence when one year ago today memories pop up on my phone. There was no urgency to grab all of the normal time you can because this is all going to flip on its head in a few short weeks.

I didn’t know what was coming.

In fact, I didn’t blog at all last July. I checked. I didn’t write about the camping trip or kayak date or what Mom brought back for me from Michigan. I didn’t record the mundane work I did in my basement studio while Mom worked in her office above me.

I didn’t share that we had a coffee break together or laughed about something silly or that she helped me open a wallflower plugin that I couldn’t quite get by myself. It was all just regular, ordinary. Nothing special.

When you lose someone you love there’s disorientation, coming undone, reorientation, remembering.

In this space of reorientation I am trying to embrace and name honestly the reality of what just happened. I am trying to remember back so that I can look forward. What happened is my mom died. She left. Our time together expired.

And today there is still time with Barbara. So I text her and plan to see her after dinner when she brings over cake and we celebrate her 82 years of life and the gift that she is to the world.

Happy Birthday, Mom McClay! I love you! I’m glad you are here and that there is still time to spend together playing Pokemon-Go and eating all the cake we want. 😉

Ordering My Thoughts

Write.

Just do the thing for the time. Get the words from your head, through your fingers, and out there.

I’ve been awake for what feels like hours with all the thoughts. I’ve done the breaths and prayers and gotten out of bed to peer through the blinds at the street, checking that all cars are home and accounted for.

Lying in bed, words flood my head, press my chest, spill through my eyes. I know when I won’t return to sleep, and it’s now.

I ease out of bed and into my robe. Drinking the remaining water in my glass, I exit to the kitchen.

Last night’s late-night mess greets me, and I begin cleaning up. Only as long as it takes to heat water for my hot morning drink I tell myself, rejoicing when I open the dishwasher to dirty dishes that don’t need to be put away just yet.

I fill the empty spots with glassware, silverware, random plates. I add a detergent pack and set it to run.

I grind coffee beans, dumping used ones into the compost tub on the counter, and fill the coffeemaker with water. It’s ready to press start in a few hours.

Turning the burner under the kettle, I notice a grease-splattered surface and stovetop in need of cleaning. I resist my urge to fill the sink with soapy water, a mark of growth for my Enneagram 9 self who does all the right tasks at the wrong times.

Yes, it’s a job that needs to be done, but not now when I am supposed to be writing. I don’t have to do it early Sunday morning.

I spoon the citrus-ginger-honey mixture into a mug, adding lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and several shakes of cayenne pepper. The kettle rattles and begins to whistle. I lift the hot handle with a kitchen towel and carry it to pour over and stir everything together.

Walking upstairs, mug in hand, I make a final stop in the laundry room to start a load of laundry that has been soaking before settling on the small couch in my tiny home office to (finally) write.

Tomorrow marks 4 months since Mom died. July brings us to the final days of before.

I still feel fragmented. I begin looking for the pieces that shattered with the news, It’s not good, and were left for me to collect sometime later. Over the course of this descent into darkness, I took notes, telling myself I would order them later, but life keeps rolling on and doesn’t wait for you to do it perfectly.

This month I told myself, I will write. I will coax words and memories and try to wed them. Thank you for your patience with me on the journey of ordering my thoughts and finding my words.

Just Write

Grief takes your words.

At least it took mine.

As much as I desire to focus, to write, to engage with words in this space, it is difficult.

So much is complex, like looking up at the corkboard pieces above my desk and seeing the eyes of my siblings, small and silly except for the tall one (me), banded together in that first day of school (and daycare) photo back in 1981like little troopers, not knowing what life would bring.

Not knowing all of the heartache to come, and that we would officially be motherless in 2021. That the forty-year wilderness wander wouldn’t end well.

I stand and try to stay present, because that is where the writing is. In the now.

It’s not in the journals I dig up to try to find words to share or in the future I try to predict but in the now.

So what is now?

Now is a dishwasher emptied and a load of laundry cycled through again, because I let wet clothes sit in it too long. It is an empty sock drawer, because the new laundry system has glitches still being smoothed, and I am the one to blame. There is no one to blame. Blame seeks me out and tries to stick.

I am done taking the blame for all of the things.

It’s phone calls and coffee check-ins and a day reserved for me, mostly.

It’s a bird out of his cage flying around, daring me to leave the door to my office open just a second too long. He hides behind items on the top of the bookshelf, his cage freshly cleaned waiting for his return.

It’s a timer set to just write and publish and not analyze or reflect, because what is in my head is just write.

Have you written anything? two friends ask me separately today.

I have written a lot in my journal, just not for public consumption. And I don’t even know what to say. I answer honestly and make a mental note to self just write.

There are lots of words out there. Lots of people saying all of the things. Today I just write about where I am, and it is here.

Mother’s Day 2021

Last year Mother’s Day came during a pandemic when everything was upside down and turned around and shut down. Instead of my usual trip to a flower store or nursery or garden center I went to the Friendly City Food Co-Op. There I found a beautiful hanging basket with geraniums and trailing flowers and decided it would make a perfect shortcut to creating mom’s outdoor planter, my annual Mother’s Day gift.

Last year, as I extracted the plant contents from the hanging basket into the urn, mom noticed through the window. When she realized my planter-arranging hack, she decided she actually would prefer a hanging basket. I fished the discarded plastic hanging container from the trash can behind the house and returned the entire arrangement to the original pot. It hung on the porch and flowered beautifully all season and into the fall.

Mom during a fall photo shoot in September, 2020, with her Mother’s Day hanging basket in full bloom.

I returned the several perennials from years gone by (removed to accommodate the large arrangement) to the planter, and added red geraniums to make it pretty. These coordinated with the ones on the porch. It became a two-for-one deal, but that’s also my mom, always extra.

Each year when Mother’s Day rolled around, we kids asked what she wanted. Her response always the same, Happy Children!  Our reply equally the same, No really! What’s something we CAN give you?

Oh, Mama, we miss you.

This year is the first Mother’s Day without Mom. I am not a happy child. I am a grieving one. When I think back to last Mother’s Day, it feels surreal that we were laughing about replanting a hanging basket. She was so surprised and delighted with the change. We had no idea what loomed on the horizon.

The perennials returned again. Heavy-hearted, I wonder what to do. The planning and planting excitement of years past is not there. There’s no need to hide or surprise. I pick up a pot of lavender in bloom and bring it over one afternoon.

Perennials begin to grow in Mom’s planter each spring.
Lavender waiting to be planted.
Lavender planted in Mom’s planter.

Hastily shoving it into the pot, I wonder how it will do. Will it thrive or barely survive? I will eventually add something trailing but not today. For right now, this is enough.

My thoughts are scattered, words lost as I try to finish this. I have already cried copious tears and way over-thought the neglect of my blog these past months, even though my mind has so much to say. I really should write about that.

Silence.

Sometimes there are just no more words.

I just miss my mom on this first Mother’s Day without her.

Better Days Ahead

It has been 23 days since Mom passed, left us, died.

There is no way to say it that sounds acceptable or normal or kind. She is gone, and her absence is felt. Her big presence lasted all the way to the end.

I miss her.

It has been 15 days since we put Mom in the ground. That was harder for me than being with her when she breathed her last. So much remains to process about funeral weekend, about the past eight months. There is time.

That time is not today.

It’s good to have you here, my husband says to me last Saturday. I don’t notice it is the first weekend I have been around my own house for weeks, but he does.

My presence is missed when I am away.

It’s good to be home.

I look up at a sticker on one of the geometric cork shapes above my home office desk. It is wedged behind a succulent push-pin, carefully held up without peeling off the backing or making a hole in it.

It is the one I offered to my daughter when she asked if I had any stickers she could put on her new laptop. Mom! I gave you that!

She did. She gave it to me at Christmas, and I anchored it up onto my bulletin board, not really believing it and not ready to stick it anywhere.

Today I take it down and peel off the backing, ready to commit. I don’t know exactly what they look like, but I believe.

Strange, Surreal Space

It’s the weird in-between, the now and not-yet. It’s a familiar space, one inhabited daily over these past 32 weeks.

This journey of losing Mom started with the fateful text Can you come over? It’s not good. and ended with a sigh, because that is what life is. A breath.

So brief.

I sit in a strange, surreal space, waiting for the weekend events that will honor Mom’s life before laying her to rest. In a way it feels no different than the weeks and months before, except that there is not a need for me to be present with care.

I am back home in my own space. Caring, once again, for my people. I spent the afternoon working on a poetry project with my seventh grader. The dedication page read, To Grandma Kozel who loved birds and cats. It was followed by five poems of various styles written about our pets. It included pictures.

It felt normal to be helping a child with schoolwork.

Nothing has been normal since July 27.

I was away from home for 16 nights in February. It was The longest, shortest month, according to one of my siblings. When hospice gave Mom two weeks and said February was likely the month she would go, I imagine she thought, Wanna bet?

In a way she left us in February. Her mind slipped away, playfully, at first, then brutally. Her body fought to hang on. We just loved her and stayed close. I held loosely the idea of being with her at the end. Each day we wondered Is this it?

Life went on, yet it froze.

Days, again, rolled into weeks and into another month.

March came.

Out-of-town siblings returned home as a new week began. One sister had been here a month, another several weeks, my local and out-of town brothers also were here for weeks. My local brother, his wife, and I, resumed supportive care, taking shifts and days.

Thursday was my usual coffee day with Mom and Dad, and Dad and I sat with Mom in their room talking, remembering, drinking coffee. The day moved on, I stayed close reading and writing a little. I took a client call upstairs, as always, wondering if Mom would still be here when I returned downstairs.

She was still here.

Dad and I ate dinner together, and the evening hours began. My sister FaceTimed Mom and played and sang an hour’s worth of music, a set list from the many visits. There was always music, and Mom wanted to be sung home. My husband stopped in for a visit and sat with us.

I decided to spend the night. Ever-flexible, Steve agreed it was a good idea. He left to go home, and my brother and I fixed bowls of ice cream and sat in the living room watching tv.

Heading up to my room, I asked my brother to get me if he needed help or if Mom passed in the night. I went to bed.

When I woke it was 7:00. Medicine time. I went downstairs to help Dad with the morning routine. My brother was fast asleep on the couch. I was glad to be there to listen to morning prayers and watch Dad play a video from my aunt and just to sit and be close.

My youngest sister video-called with a new song she had written. She sang it for Mom and told her all about trying to learn how to go live on FaceBook. We hung up and my brother, his wife, Dad, and I sat around Mom’s bed watching and listening.

I picked up my phone at 9:10 and noticed that my sister had gone live at 9:00. Thinking she had sung her new song, I said, Mom, Stephanie went Live! Let’s see if she figured it out.

I played the video, holding the phone so Mom could see as Stephanie began to talk about her day and her season and one of the songs that marked this time. She played The Scientist by Coldplay, one of the songs on our set list that we enjoy singing together.

As she sang and played, I noticed Mom starting to leave us. Something shifted in her and in the room. When the video was over and I turned off my phone, Mom slipped away from us and was gone.

And I was with her, along with Dad, Nick, and Deanna. And Stephanie sang her home.

Becoming Grandma in the Time of Covid

I prepare to meet my granddaughter two weeks before she is born. That is when I say goodbye to my mom after a ten-day visit and return home to begin quarantining. I go to my daughter’s house the day before her scheduled c-section and stay for a week.

Early Monday morning, Martin Luther King Day, my son-in-law drives my girl to the hospital where together they will meet their precious daughter and learn to be a family in the time of Covid.

I take care of grandpets, Wren the dog and Bunga the cat. They are priorities until hospital discharge. I do not go anywhere except on walks with the dog. I avoid the hospital and will meet my precious grandbaby face to face when her parents bring her home.

Such is becoming Grandma in the time of Covid. There is much planning and preparing to keep fragile bodies safe, and it seems I am surrounded by fragility of life at both ends. Choosing to focus on becoming grandma means laying aside my daughter role and leaving the tending of Mom to capable siblings.

It means receiving and sending pictures of that precious new little one instead of visiting and holding her right away. It is FaceTiming to see that squishy little face and waiting for her parents to make public posts announcing her.

It is meeting her, finally, on her fourth day of life and snuggling and loving and rocking her. It is washing dishes and preparing food and tidying up. It is soaking up three days together before returning home, unsure of when I will see her next.

I return home with the understanding that I do not know when I will see sweet granddaughter in person again. My focus returns to Mom as my daughter learns to be Mom. She keeps little one safe and secure and isolated from the outside world, feeding, diapering, sleeping, and sending pictures.

Becoming Grandma in the time of Covid is my story. It is the feeling of joy and delight in seeing my daughter becoming a mom, and an amazing one at that. It is seeing my son-in-law as a wonderful daddy and seeing the best of them both in a tiny squish.

Making Room to Live

Siblings gather over the Christmas holiday. I stay at my parents’ house with sisters who have come from out-of-town, pretending that I, too, am an out-of-town sister. It is a sacred time of togetherness, one we will never get back in the same way, again.

Mom pulls each of her children aside to pass the jewelry she has selected for them. Her jewels and gems are thoughtfully divided. Costume jewelry is left to be sorted through, pieces that are meaningful selected by those who care to have them.

Daughters help sort through purses and drawers, clipping hair barrettes to their hair and stringing necklaces around their necks. Each day is a grand day to play dress-up. I wonder if Mom notices I am wearing something from her closet.

She notices.

I apologize for not asking first. It is understood that there is no need to apologize. We have Mom’s undivided attention, and she laughs and plays with us, and it is so bittersweet.

We bring papers and objects and articles of clothing to her, and she tells us what to do with them. The sorting, organizing, and purging is a collective effort. We notice and name how each of is both similar to and different from Mom and Dad. We bless and honor our unique blends of each.

It is mostly a giant Memory game ~ putting like with like, moving things around, asking questions. Remembering.

We write down pearls of wisdom Mom speaks and remind her it is not time for her to leave us until she has done the very last thing on the list. We laugh deeply and cry until no more tears come and love fiercely. This good woman, our mother, our human mother lives each day with us to the fullest.

We sing, voices blending as only sibling voices do, and Mom notes the depth, richness, and beauty of our sound. Your voices are growing stronger.

The week goes too fast, precious time never to return, and from the depths of my soul I am grateful for a mom who, even as she is dying, is making room to live.

Embody Joy

2021 is here, and the wall calendar in my home office still reads 2020. Written in dry-erase marker are events and intents that came to an abrupt halt on March 20. No day retreats, art journaling in-person events, or word of the year in-studio workshops happened. I did not travel to training or business events and instead logged many hours with Zoom.

Steady, my word-of-the-year for 2020, became a daily mantra. Like a child learning to ride a bike, I kept my eyes in front of me and hands on the handlebars. I wobbled a bit but I didn’t fall.

I sat in my studio New Year’s Eve with a few family members preparing to ring in the new year. Much different from years past was the subdued nature of the event. No raucous activities downtown, performances to attend, crowds to get lost in. Just me, two sisters, a niece, and three small nephews cutting and gluing and pondering our intentions for 2021.

I did not reveal my word at the stroke of midnight as in years past. I share it with you now as a reminder that it is never too late to sit down and set that intention.

I knew in October that embody was my word. By December I knew it was a phrase.

Embody Joy

This is the art journal page created New Year’s Eve. It hangs in a frame in my studio to remind me of my intention for 2021. Can you find the word Joy hidden in it?

Maybe the shock of all that happened last year makes setting an intention for this one feel daunting. I look at my planner, already a week behind, and wonder the point of everything. Not an encouraging mindset for someone inviting others to more of themselves!

May I encourage you to try? Take that next gentle step forward. Just as I opened my laptop today and spent 30 minutes writing to you, however imperfectly, spend 30 minutes considering where you might want to go in your story this year. Reach out to be seen and heard with kindness and intention.

Let’s step gently into 2021 ready to embrace all of the gifts and the griefs fully, as only humans can. Let’s do it together.

Happy New Year!