Category Archives: memories

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.

Christmas Lights

We have exterior illumination adorning our Wolfe Street porch! After almost 29 years of intending and hoping and one years, the time is finally here. It is a reminder that there are still tree of life moments in the midst of looming death.

I love your lights! I can see them from my kitchen window while doing the dishes, and it’s so cozy!

Our little girl loves walking past your house and looking at the Christmas lights.

The comments come from neighbors and bring my heart joy. I laugh that we have a slow turn-around time with our house projects and intentions and tell them that to think of us on the days when discouragement sets in that things will never change. I want them to think of and remembers us in ten years when the days are hard and hope for change feels far-off.

One day the light will come.

This is the year of another phase of extensive electrical work in our big old house. External outlets made the list. Every year during the post-Christmas review we say next year we will hang outdoor lights. Time passes, other things take precedence, and it remains dark.

Steve and Roo hung the Christmas lights.

We hold on to hope in dark places. This year we see and celebrate the playful, colored light in the midst of it.

It is the last day of 2020, and I sit in the early-morning hours in my parents’ living room. Though I am the local daughter, I am here for the week like my sisters from out-of-town.

We spend time doing daily life together, living with both parents like we did so many years ago in so many houses in so many cities in so many states. Our uncle visits bringing with him a rush of childhood memories.

My young self is so close, the one who hung a strand of colored lights around the window in her tiny room on Nicholson Street. She has much to tell me, and her big feelings come in waves, in sobs.

She is comforted by sisters, mother, father, uncle in ways that are new. She sits as part of the pack when she can and wanders off to far-away corners of the house when she can no longer. She laughs and cries and feels all of her feelings and is neither a sick cow nor crazy person.

She is a human .being with permission to feel all of the things and to talk about whatever she wants to talk about and to be quiet when there are no words to say.

I ride with my parents and uncle to the family dinner at my brother’s, the other local sibling. Sitting in the back seat of the Odyssey, I help Mom with her seat belt, and we ride side-by-side like sisters. One sits behind her dad, the other behind her brother.

We ride, admiring the twilight and clouds and full moon. We realize that we almost have made it through 2020 and then sit quietly, enjoying just being together.

On the way home, Dad suggests a drive to look at Christmas lights. Mom loves to look at lights and has been hoping to do so. She wants to see my house at night, but the timing has been off.

Tonight is on. Her brother is in the car with us, and it is fun to show him her town and neighborhood.

Dad knows exactly where he will drive, mostly, and turns left onto Dogwood. Mom and I hold hands in the back seat.

This is where we used to go for walks when I could go for walks.

Dad turns down streets and side streets and crosses over to my side of town so Mom can admire my porch. She loves it and tells me so. We continue the drive around my block and back home, noticing the different types and colors and scenes and winter wonderlands and just enjoying being together. That is the theme of our days and times.

Just being together.

Winning Christmas

We won Christmas.

Waking early to stack presents under the tree, then rush back to bed for a few more minutes of sleep, it is the first year Steve and I are awake before our kids. Mom is still here and celebrating with Dad low-key across town, as we open presents at home. Snow falls. Her final Christmas is white.

I open thoughtful, fun gifts from my kids. We do not eat our traditional Christmas breakfast until after 10:30. I guess that makes it brunch. Everyone is growing up.

The day is relaxing and slow. We give Mom and Dad space together to exchange their gifts and time to visit with other family members. Family begins to gather to spend the week between Christmas and New Years. It is a time that works for us all, and we seize it.

I pretend to be an out of town kid and pack a bag to stay at my parents’ house for the week. I have a grandbaby coming in mid-January and need to quarantine soon in preparation. I savor every moment with mom and family as we embrace the bittersweet, sacred space.

We won Christmastide with mom. The days led to weeks and to over five months and here we are on the fifth day of Christmas. Still together. Still living and laughing and loving until the end.

Vintage Coffee Break

Lunch is over and it’s time to get back to work. It is a day of office tasks, morning and afternoon divided by a lunch date with a friend.

I walk to the kitchenette in my studio and turn the tea kettle on to boil. Desiring a treat, I reach for the small blue tin of Maxwell House International French Vanilla flavored cafe, recently purchased for an event.

Pulling the rubber lid back releases deep emotion from somewhere inside, and I am transported to college days. I feel young, and tears well in the corner of my eyes. Something in this simple action of self-care reminds me of another time and place.

I am eighteen and away from home for the first time. Coffee is one of my comforts, and in addition to a small French press I also bring tins of General Foods International Coffee. This feels rich and indulgent. The chocolaty warmth of Suisse Mocha offers late-night or early-morning soothing to my weary, anxious heart.

Recently I went looking for those red tins, held forever in time in my mind’s eye, only to find the blue Maxwell House brand instead. That is how I find myself opening this tin of flavored coffee beverage with tears in my eyes, curious and feeling very vintage.

Who else enjoyed these flavored coffees in the 80s?

I spoon powder into the bottom of a music mug and lift the whistling tea kettle from a hot cooktop. I pour boiling water and stir rapidly, giving the steamy beverage a foamy top. Lifting it from the counter, I carry it to my work space and settle in to write.

Static Christmas Tree

The tree stands in the living room, glowing with white and colored lights. Four ornament boxes brought up from the basement, one for each child still living at home, wait to be unpacked by their owners.

Each person puts their ornaments on as the spirit leads. There is no rhyme or reason and certainly no ceremony surrounding the process. In a few days I will carry the empty boxes back to the basement.

Checking in with my youngest, I ask about her decorating status.

Have you hung your ornaments on the tree, yet?

Yes! All except the stuffed animal ones. I am not hanging those up this year.

She has quite an assortment of Beanie Baby mini ornaments and other holiday stuffed animals that she hangs on the tree each year. I am surprised by this news.

What? But you always hang your stuffed ornaments on the tree! You play with them in the Christmas tree.

Not anymore.

And just like that, Friends, is the end of yet another era. There is no more playing in the Christmas tree.

But the Hello Kitty ornaments made the cut and still hang in their row.

Time marches on, Mamas! One day those ornaments will stay put and the tree will no longer be a working document. It will remain static for the season. That day came for me today.

Milestone in the Mail

The pile of mail on the front entryway table grows daily. Periodically, I shuffle through making mental note of the contents. It would be better to sort it out and write things down. I resist better ways.

It’s the holiday season with advertising in full swing. Coupons and circulars and free offers intersperse with bank statements and bills and the occasional letter. Fantasy me thinks of all of the deals I could score, while reality me counts the actual cost and discards some of the unnecessary.

Rifling through slick, thick papers, coupons, and lustrous catalogs, I stop suddenly. What is this?

For the first year ever, the American Girl catalog is lost in the growing stack. It is not being pored over and circled through and dreamed about. It is left alone, untouched, abandoned.

This is it. The year.

I have known it was coming and saw it foreshadowed here. There have been small clues along the way. The last catalog that arrived close to birthday time (those sneaky marketers!) still held interest with the gaming accessories circled. It was still looked through and desirable.

By Christmas, no more.

The final daughter has left elementary school behind and stepped up to middle school. Still in love with Rainbow Bear and some of her other precious childhood toys, she no longer lugs out bins and boxes of accessories to set up doll play circles.

This year I won’t set an alarm to wake with excitement at midnight on Cyber Monday to scope out great American Girl online deals and try to score some. I won’t use Christmas money from relatives to buy a doll or outfit or some other desired accessory.

It’s bittersweet, like every other final milestone.

In the past there was always another. Another baby, another toddler, another preschooler, another elementary age, another, another.

But this is it. The last little girl.

Memory lane takes me back to a hug from heaven and to Christmases gone by where doll beds were set up around the tree on Christmas Eve, dolls tucked inside, waiting for their humans’ discovery. I allow myself space and time to remember, following the Christmas trail on the blog.

Such goodness. Such grief. All the feels spurred on by a glossy catalog, the milestone in the mail.

Smarties

They are a taste of my childhood. Memories of a bag of Smarties candy rolls in a high cupboard ~ but not too high for me to reach them ~ are vivid, as is the sugary, slightly sour taste and chalky feel on the teeth as they dissolve.

I am sure I reached up often for a roll or two or a handful and ran upstairs to my room with a book. I am sure they were on hand as treats for younger siblings learning to use the toilet or behave in public.

It is a memory of Sunday church with small children and young motherhood, though not with me as the provider. I did not want or need to use candy bribes for my children. They must learn to obey just because.

That did not stop Grammy from slipping them from her purse and handing them out to fussy little ones or as a treat for an after service hug.

It’s amazing what you can do with that dumb candy! she would say.

I knew better. I was above carrying rolls of candy in my purse or diaper bag but tolerated an old lady’s handing them out, much to the delight of my young ones. I wish I had carried the candy.

I was reminded of Smarties several weekends ago with the visit of a dear childhood friend. We had not seen each other in person since fourth grade but had connected on social media several years ago. Finally a We really need to get together in person had worked out, and she made the three hour trek to visit.

It was a wonderful time of reconnecting and catching up, of remembering things together.

Until . . .

I have a memory of you giving me a roll of Smarties candy, but you crossed out the word Smarties and wrote Dummies on it, she said, laughing.

I was mortified and felt embarrassed by this memory. I did not recall it at all, though it made total sense due to the role (no pun intended) that particular candy played in my life at the time. We were also academic rivals (as much as could be in first through fourth grades) often coming in first and second with our grades.

She assured me that it was more playful than hurtful, though I still struggled that I could not remember the incident. What else have I done that I don’t remember in another person’s life? How do others remember me?

I allowed myself permission to have been a child that did silly, immature things. I am sure it was around the time of this incident.

One of my children immediately latched onto the story and commented, Here you are saying, “Oh I was so traumatized as a child” when really you were just a bully!

That’s the thing. We all have been harmed and harmed others, either inadvertently or intentionally. My friend was incredibly gracious to frame the story with humor, but I am sure others have stories of me that are not as funny or playful.

Those people most likely lived in my home with me, but I am sure also crossed my path in classrooms or dorm rooms or work rooms.

It was a sweet time together, and I ended up being thankful for the memory and subsequent wrestling with it. It was fun to see myself as a child and to find eyes of kindness rather than shame for that young person.

If I could go back, though, these are the candies I would give her instead.

Maybe.

Coffee for One

This Labor Day holiday morning is unusual as I prepare coffee for one. My husband is away with the teen girls visiting adult siblings in Richmond. I am home with a sick child and teen son who had to work. We are divided.

Instead of brewing a full pot, I take down the red single-serve coffee press, purchased the summer of ’89 to take with me to college that fall. I was inspired recently to forage through my parents’ china cabinet to see if it was still there. And it was.

This summer has been nostalgic in ways both good and hard. Mostly hard. The coffee press is good, bringing memories of preparing to leave home for the first time, albeit to a very controlled environment.

I remember wondering how I would make my necessary coffee and choosing to purchase a hot pot and this coffee maker. It bears witness to the importance of coffee to me, even then, much like this post does.

I grind beans and dump them in, boil water and pour, wait several minutes and press, transfer to a favorite mug and savor.

There is goodness and sadness. I miss my coffee friend. Slow mornings are a rarity in this season. I wish we were together in the slowness. I choose to enjoy my coffee for one as I read and write.

Grateful for a witness-bearer in vintage coffee pot form, I give thanks that it didn’t go the way of the Gucci bag. Protected from me to be found at just the right time, it now lives in safety on top of the Hoosier.

Welcome, home, Dear Friend.

Let Go

On the heels of my post about order and how I experience the show Tidying Up, I stand in the kitchen set staring into an open metal cabinet full of games. A mashup of titles from Honeybee Tree to Stratego fill the shelves.

Paralyzed, I stand motionless. This is a familiar feeling when entering a place of downsizing and decluttering. Theory enters my mind. Idealism. Memories.

In theory, I can pull out a game a day, week, or another set time with the family to decide if we really enjoy it, or even play it. In fact, on this unexpected snow day, I could gather everyone around for a fun downsizing activity.

Let’s try playing these board games together and see what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of!

Reality quickly enters the equation, and the energy that would take drains me before I mention the idea. How often do we actually play board games together, anyway?

Idealism jumps in with its voice. It might not be long before another generation of littles is running around here. They might like playing Honeybee Tree, and you might have more patience threading the branches through the little holes with them than you did with your own children.

Memories flood as past, present, and future collide. Art Lotto was a favorite of the first generation of littles. Memory was a game I hoped I could enjoy with my littles as much as I enjoyed my mom playing it with me. I know that missing Stratego piece is out here somewhere. If we get more clay then Cranium could be fun to play again like it was around the table of the Green Street house.

Caught in the undertow, trying to swim parallel to the shore, I pick up an item that is clearly to declutter. It is not a game but a dinosaur kit. I am certain we do not need it anymore. Opening it, I remember that my youngest has an overdue dinosaur project. These plaster of paris pieces will fit the bill perfectly.

I pick up a shallow cardboard box being saved to organize things in a drawer (ala Konmarie Method) and call my daughter to the table to assemble the dinosaur.

The process reminds her of another project, a diorama, also due. She runs to her room and brings down something she has saved since first grade.

I’m glad I saved this. It will work perfectly.

The theme is frontier, and she asks about the Lincoln Logs. I find the bin and bring them to the table. It is like Christmas.

Can I take these up to my room when I finish making the log cabin?

Two projects are checked off of the list, courtesy of items we saved for way too long. It is a good thing we did not get rid of that dinosaur kit, the cardboard box, the old school project, and the Lincoln Logs . . . right?

Hence the bind.

Yes, it is a grace to have those things appear when we need them, but can I trust my needs to be met without having to account and project for every possible option and outcome? Can I release feelings of fear and scarcity to make room for possibility and provision?

Can I let things go?

On the way to school the following day, teenage brother sits in the passenger front seat, headphones on. Noticing the dinosaur in his sister’s lap, he recalls when he got the kit on a family vacation one year. He is the one who cast the pieces when he was ten or eleven years old.

I have no memory of this. None. We laugh and remember more of the story together. I express gratitude for the help he provided these many years later. I think of him at the time he got the kit, older brother of three younger sisters and little guy to four teenage siblings.

No one has an easy place in this family!

The projects are back home and sit on the dining room table. I look at them as I write, allowing myself space for things to be out of place while ordering my thoughts. I do not resolve the game cabinet situation.

Honeybee Tree and Stratego are keepers, for now. Memory is not in the cabinet when I go out to take a picture for the post. I must have let that one go already. The others will hold the space as I work through feelings, practice, and grow in my ability to let go.

27 Years

It is not raining which is what makes the rainbow over the lake even more surprising. Calling to me while grilling lunch, my husband of 27 years and I share the moment. We laugh and take pictures.

It has been an anniversary weekend of surprises, both good and hard, and in these last hours I try to hold it in all that was good while remaining curious about what still feels hard.

Returning to reality is always challenging, but there is something in our story that makes it feel moreso. Our long-distance start and breakneck continuation hold clues to the longing to step out of the whirlwind.

I do not take this space away lightly. So much came together to bring us here. I almost thought it would not happen and held the idea and plan loosely.

Adult sons worked together to hold down the home front while the people still living there pulled together to keep things rolling. Grandparents and extended family filled the gaps. Christmas gifts of food, drink, and sweets were brought along to sustain us.

Friends generously offered a place to land, one of our favorites. We stayed in a different room of the house this year, changing things up. It had everything we needed to enjoy time together, our greatest need of all.

It is a gift to be married to someone who you just want to be with. While we both enjoy adventures, we also love slow days and sharing space and reading and cuddling on the couch with no agenda.

We like to take walks and eat snacks and one of us saves all of the paper bits to paste into a travel art journal. We found a musty antique store and walked through it laughing over memories but not buying any of them.

We stayed off of screens mostly. I posted some links to looks back at anniversaries of days gone by in Facebook and felt gratitude for where this one found us.

Twenty-seven years is not a traditional milestone anniversary. When looking it up, all eyes are on 30, the next big one. While it is good to look ahead, it is even better to be here now. Every year we say, I still do is a big one.

This year’s celebration was one to savor and revel in. While acknowledging that difficulties and disappointments may arise during our time away, we also felt the joy of hard work and honesty, and its resulting rest together.

Mere hours remain until our return to reality. There is clean up and packing and ending the time well. I smell breakfast cooking and realize that I have skipped yoga time to write, and I am okay with that.

There is deep gratitude for the goodness we shared here. There is joy of anticipating seeing the faces we love and beginning the first full week of the new year with them.