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.
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 canbecause 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. 😉
This update graced my Facebook status Saturday morning. With a full heart I continued to wrestle and sort out all the feelings surrounding the Externship program and not stepping into it this year. Among hugs and sympathetic remarks, a dear friend commented, Give it three more years.
Though an inside joke for us, in that moment I realized that I had grown, am growing, will continue to grow through this process! My ability to read and hear her words as a statement of hope and not despair was a huge indicator that good work is happening in my heart.
The last time she mentioned three years, I was not hopeful. I was angry, stuck, and lost. I felt forgotten and left behind. Now I believe that I am right where I belong, and that it is a good place. I know that three years will look both better and worse, and that I can plan and dream but there are no guarantees surrounding outcomes.
Earlier this week another friend texted a picture that she took during my first weekend in Seattle. We were at the market downtown enjoying Sunday afternoon together before my flight home.
I was caught off guard by how well the image depicted exactly how I was feeling the moment it came through. Wistful, longing, ponderous, contemplative. All of the above. I remembered how I felt in that moment as I let settle all that had stirred in me after that first weekend.
I remembered her kindness to offer space while showing me all of the best downtown places and sharing her beautiful heart with mine. It was such a kind time. Neither of us knew what we were stepping into at the beginning or how it would look in the end.
I only know that she and her husband were the first I told I was considering the program. I was curious to see if they would be willing to host me. They enthusiastically cheered me on, welcoming me into their home and life on the realest of real terms. This family became mine as they graciously opened their home and hearts each of the four weekends.
We sat together on Tuesday, separated by thousands of miles, joined by technology for a brief time of texting as I responded to the picture. I expressed gratitude for her following the prompt to send it to me. It was perfect. She jumped in as we caught up on life and shared heart space in the midst of mothering.
Three years. I will be 50 then. Another son will be 18 and my youngest will all be teenagers. Things will look very different. That intention sounds promising. It allows space for presence, not wishing away the time but fully engaging it.
None of us knows what the future holds, but I will hold to the hope of three (more) years.
The post is first in my Facebook feed when I wake this morning. Shared by a family friend is an obituary for a young woman I met and knew briefly as Cassie when she was a girl and teenager. Our families crossed paths when I was a young mom with small children of my own, her mother a season ahead of me.
I am better acquainted with her oldest sister who taught with me at the school back in the day and her oldest brother who was a friend to my youngest brother. Even then, I was so wrapped up in my own newly-minted adult life that I was not engaged with them on a relational level.
Still. there are people whose lives touch yours who feel like family because of the seasons you have shared or the events you have experienced together. This young woman was born into a family that crossed paths with mine during the 90’s and early 00’s. We attended weddings, church services, picnics, and celebrations together. I remember her and her younger sister as the ages of two of my girls now, teen and tween.
It brought great sadness and deep grief to read of her recent death. I learned of her life in her obituary and of her death on the Facebook page set up for medical updates. I am trying to process the depth of loss it is to lose a beloved daughter, sister, wife, and friend so tragically and so young.
It does not make sense to have one with so much life taken this way. Her adult woman eyes looking into the camera show me her mother, her sister, the women I knew. My heart aches for them. I cannot imagine losing my third child, losing a sister. I do not have adequate words for the grief.
Today they will celebrate her life, grieve her death, bury her in the ground. I will be here tending my family as I was during the season when I knew hers. I will grieve from a distance. I will feel vicariously what it would be to lose a dearly loved one unexpectedly in their prime.
To the George family who I know, and all who loved Cassie that I do not know, I am so sorry for the loss of the one you loved so deeply and who loved you so well. It shows in her smile, in the pictures, in the words. May you find great comfort during this difficult day and in the ones that follow.
For those interested, a Go Fund Me is set up here.
A week ago I met Steve at Costco. We each needed items. Him for work, me for home. Since its opening in our town over 20 years ago, we have held membership through the school. This is one of the perks the move to a new career leaves behind.
Walking through the store last Friday, and unspoken sadness surrounded me. This is our last time to be in this space, this way, together. Many times we have met up to combine errands and grab samples. Sometimes a small person was with us. The milestone happened when we were alone, and it felt like a date.
I often make much and more of what is happening in my world. I sensed this was another ending as a boogie board, bathing suits, and a package of tortillas was placed in the cart.
Costco has played a big-box sized role in our family. At maximum under one roof level, there were ten of us living together. Countless Christmas, vacation, Saturday stock-up, and midweek shopping trips have taken place. I am sure membership could tell us how much money we have spent. I am sure I do not want to know.
Costco prepped me to welcome several babies, but number six stands out most. That winter I needed all of the fruit in the house before going into labor. I remember walking through the pantry on the way to the kitchen after a Costco run and saying, There is so much fruit. I bought all of the fruit. Now the baby can come, because we have fruit.
Then I organized the china cabinet.
In a weird way Costco feels like family. You cannot engage people and a place for 23 years and have it not. But Costco is not family. Or if it is, if I want to carry out that analogy, it is the family we need to take a break from in this season.
It is strange having that door closed to us. It was open for so long. It is time, though. It is time to cut back on all of the spending for all of the deals. I hope to occasionally tag along as a guest to stock up on essentials. Canned chicken, coffee beans, dog and cat food, dog dental chews, and hair care products are all Costco staples here. Maybe I will splurge on the black olives.
So many things are not staples, though. Non-essential. Too many of those items find their way to our cart. For now it is all about essentials and all about saying no to the Costco draw.
Good-Bye, (for now), Costco! How we will miss you!
This rare sighting is engaged with buckets of water poured over each other’s heads, while videotaping the action in slow motion. One sister stands on the grass and the other on the porch.
I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
In my childhood days, baptisms took place in the swimming pool as we fully immersed one another, Baptist-style. My Presbyterian children have witnessed differently.
Steve walks past with the mower, and I am secretly grateful he chose to pull it out in this golden hour of the day. This means I will not have to mow, and the grass will not have to be bagged.
The dog scratches at the front door.
One thing we agree on is getting soaking wet!
Soaking wet is an understatement. I remind myself that squealing, soaking girls means outside engagement is happening. We live in a great house in a great space. I am thankful for our yellow house on the corner, always a work in progress.
A breeze blows over me from the east, towards the setting sun.
The dog is brought out and clipped to his leash on the porch long enough to get wet in residual puddles of water left by soaking wet girls. He is then let back inside to shake it off. I hear this through the door.
Somewhere in the midst of it all, my 19 year old son steps out, and we look at each other and laugh. What else is there to do, as he observes the journal on my lap and bears witness to the chaos taking place? There is nothing idyllic about the moment other than the glorious rays of the setting sun.
Pressure on my chest reminds me of more to come. Two days more.
Two days are all that remain of what has been our normal for almost 25 years, Steve going to work each day at Good Shepherd School and Daycare, providing for our family. Over seasons we have worked together. We have worked apart.
I was a working mom, teaching through my 20’s. I took my 30’s off to be home with our children. At the peak of parenting there were eight of them under our roof that needed care. I returned to teaching when the youngest was in kindergarten. I was 42.
I ended my time at Good Shepherd last year. This was my year to regroup and be home; to figure out what was next. I jokingly called it my gap year. Mostly I spent time repairing harm done from times when I could not be there for my son, now 19, who had fallen through a gap in the family and was living with us in his (finally) finished bedroom after traveling abroad.
The year brought such a sweet space of breakfasts and coffee dates and sharing memories, both good and bad. There was laughter and lots of tears. I did not know at the time of Steve’s upcoming mid-life career change. It is probably good. Otherwise I would not have been able to be as fully present to my family and their needs.
Last night’s sleep passed as slowly as the water pouring over my daughters’ heads in the slow-motion videos they created. Insomnia is no stranger to me. Each hour I woke felt like another wave washing over me, as I mercifully fell back asleep. Dreams came in equal waves.
Tonight is Steve’s final program as Administrator of Good Shepherd School. Little Mae is playing recorder and singing and doing all of the things that kids in the programs have been doing for 25 years. Some of her siblings will be there to watch, remembering when it was their turn to sing the Piggy Song or play recorder.
I will remember the programs I directed over the years at all of the various locations. I will remember the peak season when large numbers of students were transported to Lehman Auditorium or Massanetta Springs Conference Center and the smaller ones of late at West Side Baptist where they all began for me.
One blog post is not enough to capture what is stirring in my heart. What do I do? Give a factual update? Share nostalgic memories? How do I honor the blood, sweat, and tears that my husband leaves behind? How do I honor my own?
This day brings both goodness and grief. Isn’t that all of life? Sitting and giving myself time to write is kindness. Allowing the tears to freely flow and be followed by deep sobs is necessary. More words will come in the future, but for now I will sit in the present.
I am blessed with the gift of built-in best friends. Many moons ago, my fourth little friend was brought home from the hospital. That gave me two younger sisters and two younger brothers by the time I was eight years old.
When Alex began to talk, he called me teacher. That is the family folk-lore. I am not surprised, because I played school with all of my siblings and stuffed animals. I probably roped him in as a nursery student before he could talk. By the time he was four or five, I had him well-trained, as seen in these photos from a school picture day photo shoot I did with my class one summer.
I did individual photos, hands properly crossed over a book, most likely a Bible for that extra spiritual touch.
I took a class picture, as well.
Clearly I was inspired by the real school picture of this little preschooler.
Fast forward a few decades and lots of stories to this summer when Alex brought his entire family from Bolivia to the States. We were on the same continent for three months, though not all of that time was spent in the same location.
It was so fun to catch up and connect. It felt like always. Just really good. Like this good.
There is so much love on our faces. So much contentment in this captured moment. Shalom.
Alex was ten when I left for college. One of my favorite letters from that season reads
Dear Julie, I love you. I miss you. We are still brother and sister. Love, Alex
We are still brother and sister.
This summer we took a trip with our mom and teenage girls to visit family in Ohio and Michigan. It was such a sweet time of laughter and conversation. And after this goodbye picture was snapped, I climbed into my car and sobbed down the driveway as I drove from Ohio back home to Virginia.
Happy Birthday, Alex! I love and miss you so much! I am thankful for your life. I am thankful that we are brother and sister.
Saturday’s end finds me sitting in my corner in the space of in between.
I am waiting for Steve to get the girls settled for the night. I am searching my brain for words that keep drifting just out of reach. I want to write, to keep up the momentum, but there is not much coming.
Saturday’s end finds me both wrestling with and resting in enough. The things did not all happen today, but enough of them did. What constitutes a good Saturday?
For me it was the impromptu phone call after lunch when I was ready to jump out of my skin. Hearing my sister’s voice on the other end as I walked the neighborhood alone was both comforting and clarifying as she talked me through the struggle to the other side.
It was the father/daughter yardwork , the sound of a chainsaw cutting stray tree branches allowing more sunlight into the yard and the smell of cut branches burning in the fire pit.
It was the smiles and laughter and engagement I witnessed through the window, because close up it is difficult to see.
It was the joy of finished chores after the angst of wrangling everyone through them, because no one wants to pick up after others, but we all live here and have responsibilities.
It was dinner around the table with enough asparagus for all, because it is the current favorite vegetable.
It was the laughter following dinner as an impromptu photo shoot took place. So much laughter. Sibling love is the best.
It was a son preparing for homecoming and another preparing for work and daughters doling out shower time to ensure there was enough hot water for all.
It was the realization that here we go again with the refrigerator that is never fully stocked and the people that have lots of things to say and the laundry pile that is never ever finished and the hot water tank that is never quite full.
It was being reminded that there is life in this place, even in the midst of all that is hard. There was a lot of hard today, too.
At Saturday’s end, I will choose to rest in enough. It was enough to have been given another day to live and to love and to laugh. Because those things all happened, and it has not always been so. Today it was.
I do this thing with birthdays. On a particular child’s birthday I stop, subtract their age from mine and their siblings, and reflect on the numbers. It helps me process more fully a life that has been so full.
I did this recently when my third turned 22. I was reminded that at her birth I was 24, the same age as my firstborn right now, and that her siblings were 2 and 1. It put more of my story into perspective and gave me a tangible space in time to inhabit while processing it.
Today is different.
This Saturday marks seven years since I heard the news that Brian Carderelli was killed. Not only is there a number but also the feeling of the actual day.
That Saturday morning had been a difficult one. Seven years ago I was 39. It was the season of peak dependence of dependents in our family, as the children were 17, 16, 15, 11, 7, 5, 4, and 2.
My firstborn was out of the country. The others were home at ages where they could be left alone for brief periods of time together. This had happened ~ Steve and I left them alone to go out briefly ~ and we returned to them acting like siblings who had been left alone together, some of them in charge, some of them little.
It was a mess of feelings and emotions from everyone that triggered deep feelings and emotions in me. I had often been left alone in charge of younger siblings. I had not yet begun to deal with younger me and all of the turbulence I felt inside.
Intense emotion spilled over and out and into my journal as I disappeared into my room to process a pile of pain that had nowhere else to go. After venting, I fell asleep.
I woke, and Steve had me read an email that Brian Carderelli had been in an ambush and was presumed dead. I remember sitting at the computer desk and going numb. It just couldn’t be true. Brian was a friend and neighbor whose presence in our life came at a time when a huge gift of grace was needed.
He often gave the teenagers rides to youth group. He would wave and smile at me from his car when he stopped at the sign on our street corner. I was usually outside supervising littles riding tricycles or drawing with sidewalk chalk. He was supposed to be coming home from his travels soon. How could he just be dead?
It was confirmed.
I cried a lot.
My kids are sad. I hurt. I hate killing and death . . . I am afraid. overwhelmed. hurt. So tense and overwhelmed which manifests in anger and panic. I don’t want to live in a hate-filled world.
These were some of the words written in my journal immediately after the news. Before any real processing began.
I took food to friends, because that is what I knew to do at the time. Bring food and sit with.
Seven years later, the day feels similar, yet different. I am 46. My children are 24, 23, 22, 18, 14, 12, 11, 9. Half have reached legal adult status. For those left behind, life marches on.
Still we remember. Still we grieve loss. Seven years since.
With a week to go until trip number three, it’s time to write about the dimes. There are certainly other things in my heart and on my mind, but the dimes matter, too. They don’t feel as emotionally charged as so much else in my world does. They bring feelings of hope, and hope is always good. I could use a hefty dose right now.
Last Christmas/ New Year’s season a simple money-saving challenge was floating around social media sites. A two-liter plastic bottle, filled with dimes, illustrated a simple way to save a few hundred dollars. With finances being one of the barriers to my pursuit of the LCC at the Seattle School, I thought this would be an easy, fun way to begin saving to fund my dream.
Procuring a two-liter plastic Coke bottle, I dug through my wallet and scoured my home. Those dimes alone filled the four little bumps at the bottom. I set an intention of dropping each dime I found into the bottle.
Playing fair, I made sure the dimes were not off of my kids’ dressers or out of my husband’s change jar. Only ones from my wallet or those found in stray places like the laundry room floor or the couch cushions were allowed. Dimes found on walks with the dog and in parking lots were definitely fair game.
My eyes became sharp. Each dime was a reminder to stay the course. I grew in confidence that God would provide for the work I was doing. Each shiny gleam brought encouragement. It became a game to see where the dimes would appear. I felt God’s smile on me through tiny bits of silver alloy found in random places.
All was well and good, but honestly, after the initial fill of the four little bumps at the bottom, the pace slowed. A lot. After a year of saving, maybe an eighth of the bottle is filled. I don’t think I will be making my final Seattle payment in dimes. I am grateful for the provision that has enabled me to do this work without depending on loose change.
Though the bottle is more empty than full right now, my heart is the opposite, illustrated by the overwhelming meltdown I experienced while attempting to clean the TV room. The space has never fully recovered from Christmas, and asking the child who plays there most to help with the cleanup was met with resistance. This tipped me into a state of upheaval while attempting to clean it myself.
Frozen, I sat on the floor, tears pouring from my eyes. It’s too hard. It’s too much.
And here I was expecting an eight-year-old to do it. It wasn’t really about the room, though.
Mustering strength and resolve, I broke down the job in my mind, grabbing a broom to sweep the perimeter of the wood floor surrounding the area rug. Almost immediately two dimes swept into the pile.
Would Shannon’s mom report to the mall office, please? Shannon’s mom to the mall office.
My heart is in my throat as I step from the carpeted floor of Centerpointe, the Christian bookstore in the mall next to JC Penney, to the sleek tiled floor of the mall’s common ground. Already, time has passed too slowly and too quickly in my search for a preschooler entrusted to my care, not for a few hours a day, but for LIFE.
I am failing at it. I can’t even keep track of ONE small child. How can parents continue to trust me to care for their children day after day? In that moment, all I feel in my brain is the relief that Shannon is found and only gave her first name. What if someone heard that Mrs. McClay had lost a child? I would never be trusted again.
How did this happen?
It was supposed to be a quick, after-work trip to the mall, bringing my youngest child along for some quality time together. We entered through the Walmart anchor end, making the long trek past all of the stores towards our destination at polar opposite.
She noticed the coin-operated merry-go-round and asked to ride it. Not now was my response, because I had no change, and we had places to go. Let’s be honest, my response was usually not now, because, well, just because.
Today we are pressed for time, because I have just gotten off of work, and there are things that I need to look for before heading home to fix supper and get on with the evening. There are always things to get to. Always that next thing.
We enter Centerpointe, precursor to Family Christian Store, and I begin to look in earnest for whatever it is that I need. I enjoy it here, because there is a play area for kids in the back where VeggieTales videos loop and books and toys are accessible, while moms like me peruse the latest CDs and Christian books and tchotchkes.
Shannon is into VeggieTales, these days, so much so that her birthday party was a VeggieTale theme, so I am more than happy to oblige when she asks if she can go to play with the toys.
I scan the CD display, searching for something new, that I know will lift my spirits, though I won’t be able to buy it. I remain lost in thought for a few minutes before returning to reality and heading to the back of the store for my girl.
I find emptiness.
The play area is empty.
Bob and Larry sing silly songs to an empty chair. There is no little girl in sight.
Panic rises in my chest as I run to the front of the store where a cheerful, curly-haired cashier is ringing up a purchase.
Did you see a little girl walk out of the store?
Looking at me with concerned eyes, she shakes her head. She has not seen a child, but she has been busy ringing up purchases. I feel her care and concern as shame washes over me. She is doing her job. I am clearly not doing mine.
It is at that moment, in the front of the store, that I hear the mall loudspeaker calling for me, and I rush out to the mall office.
Scooping Shannon into my arms, I have never been so happy to see a little face.
Well, you SAID I could play with the toys, so I went out to try to find them, but I went the wrong way.
The toys. The TOYS. The merry-go-round. She was asking to go play on the merry-go-round.
We talk it over and realize where she made a wrong turn, and where I made a wrong assumption, and I tell her I am glad that she was able to say her name so that I could come and find her. We leave the mall together with a memory and the huge relief of being reunited.
I have been Shannon’s mom for 21 years, now. I love her and how she has helped me to grow and become a better mother and person. I am realizing that there will always be wrong turns and wrong assumptions, but if we remember our name and ask for help, the reuniting is sweet and the memories are rich.
This is from Shani’s first birthday. Her face captures her essence even at a year old. Those big eyes and that furrowed brow speak volumes. I just want to scoop her up and hold her close again. Love those babies, Mamas!!! Time really does fly. Happy 21st, Little Angel!