Category Archives: writing

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.

Zephyr Sketch

I want to be more like Zephyr who curls up in a ball wherever she pleases. Waits patiently by the door to be let out. Speaks up when she is hungry or thirsty. Trusts that her needs will be met.

Zephyr lives in the now. When she is tired, she rests. When she is thirsty she drinks. When she wants to stir things up, she trolls through the house in search of the other animals who share the space.

Zephyr doesn’t ask, she tells. She lets you know exactly what is what in no uncertain terms. Then she curls up again and claims her current space. All of the spaces are hers. She just lets us borrow them.

I want to claim my space in the midst of the many unknowns. To Zephyr the unknown is why all of the humans are now constantly invading her territory. She is having to make adjustments. Work around us.

We are all having to adjust to unknowns. Work around things. Find our new spaces.

This adjusting is difficult. None of us is where we were a week ago. We don’t know what it will look like a week from now. We have only now. I am tired.

There is such a thing as being in seclusion with too many options, too many choices, too much crowding, too many voices. I use Zephyr’s strategy and curl up to rest, rise up to drink some water, and then reengage in a new space.

Refreshed, I stretch and settle in for a little more work before calling this day and moving on to the next part which is the evening.

While Waiting

It’s the beginning of the unknown. My children are home, a choice not my own, and yet I have desired that they be gathered, circled around for just a bit longer. Here they are.

We don’t have answers; don’t know the future. We only have now. This present moment.

They sleep until 9, giving me time for coffee and quiet and yoga, trusting what is to come.

I don’t have to strive for what isn’t.

Learning in small ways how to support with technology and how to love more fully in the midst of the storm. I am fed with food for this day, slowing down after years on hyper-speed.

Not wishing on anyone the circumstances we are trying to prevent.

While waiting.

Prayer for Pandemic

Jesus,

You have us.
All of us.
You hold us in your arms.
For our good.
And your glory.
You will be glorified.

What is in front of us?
What can we do
Today
for justice,
mercy,
humility.
How do we show love?
Share from abundance?
Of even from need?

Grant wisdom.

You say if we lack we can
Ask
And you will
Give.

I lack.
I ask.
Show me.

Make clear the steps forward,
the way to go.
Or stay.

Step by step.

Day by day.

This is bigger than all of us and in your capable hands.

Help love to chase down and cast out the fear.

Grant to us peace in the waiting and rest to us in the unknown.

Christmas Letter 2019

Dear Reader,

Christmas 2019 has come and gone, and no Christmas cards were sent. Plenty were received, and if you are one who generously kept me on your Christmas card list, thank you. It was noticed and appreciated.

This year I needed permission to not send cards. A time of much transition, it was kinder to remove the pressure and expectation. Thank you for understanding!

There were no major family events this year. No weddings, graduations, or career changes.

I say this and then realize that, in fact, yes there was something.

I started my own business!

Heart Path Story Coaching was born this year.

Like any newborn, it took time and energy away from other things, namely, writing on the blog. For those who continued to read faithfully and also noticed this, thank you.

The question of whether I have been writing is asked of me in private, and truth is, I have. I have been doing a lot of writing. Each time I respond to an email or send a letter, it’s writing. Each story I work on for personal therapy is writing. Each blog post I write for business is writing. Each story I post in my private writing group is writing.

It just has been quieter here.

I hope to be more consistent in this space in 2020. When I show up here, I love it. I love all of you who read and spur me on to keep writing. I love what Composting the Heart has been for me and hope to share more on it in 2020.

First will be my word of the year on January 1, so stay tuned!

As an added bonus for reading this far, here is a picture of Christmas Dinner festivities. We are wearing the crowns from our poppers! This is real life in our home. I am grateful!

May you finish 2019 well and find much love and peace in 2020!

Blessings to you all!

Julie