Dear Daughter,

 

Dear Daughter,

Dear Daughter,

It is impossible to predict circumstances or situations that might befall us.  You did not choose the life that was given you.  I did not choose to be motherless, just as you had no choice in being without a grandmother.

I feel it sometimes when I recall my own Grandma.  She taught me to sew and fixed me old-fashioned hot cakes in a cast iron skillet.  When I spent the night with her, she would tuck me in, piling home-made quilts on top before telling me she loved me.

I hear it in your voice when you say we spoil our grandkids by giving them too much or catering to their wishes.  I forget that you didn’t have that.  You didn’t have a grandmother’s love.  You may not know that it is a grandmother’s privilege to give this unconditional outpouring to her grandchildren.  I have heard it said that a grandmother is like an angel who takes you under her wing, she prayers and watches over you and she would give you anything.

Just as I cannot know what my relationship would have been with my mother, I cannot know how she would have been as a grandmother to you.  I cannot predict how the past might have been.  I cannot describe what never was.  But, I am sorry you didn’t have a grandmother.  I’m sad you missed that bond as you grew up.  I would give anything to have her here for you as well as myself.

It seems unbelievably unfair that we have had to navigate life without a mother and a grandmother, but, we have done just that.  Perhaps, in a quiet moment, we can reflect on our depth and our capacity to love even though our guide was not able to be with us.  Somehow, we learned to be in this world while receiving our direction from above.
Christopher Morley said, “It is as grandmothers, that our mothers come into the fullness of their grace.”   As I am coming into the fullness of my grace, I wish for you to feel your grandmother’s love through me.  When you see my interactions with the grandchildren, stop and feel the love for yourself.  Whatever I do, say, feel and express to them…..take it into your heart.  Let the little child within you be at peace, and as you do this, feel your grandmother’s love through me.  The healing balm of her love transcends time and space, we have only to believe…..and I do.
Love always

The Autumn of My Life

Old Grief and New LossThe Autumn of my life began in July 1977.  I was 8 months pregnant when I suddenly went into labor and delivered my daughter….stillborn.

As suddenly as a life is conceived, a life may end.  As much as we may want, anticipate and long for a child, we may equally grieve and mourn and fall prey to depression.  There is no guidebook or manual to read that instructs us on how to be…how to cope… or how to live with the sadness.

Because my mother died when I was very young, I didn’t know what to expect with pregnancy or delivery.  I didn’t know about children or even the smallest part of mothering.  You would think, however, that I would have known how to deal with the loss and pain, but alas.. I did not.

It seems I was completely inept at grieving.  All the years of missing my mother somehow tumbled into the loss of my child.  It became one and the same.  Old grief and new loss melded.  

Through time, of course, a slow mending began and healing took root, but parts were hard and lonely and dark.  Then finally, another pregnancy.  During this 2nd pregnancy, I dared not to plan or prepare.  I waited to think of names and I drug my feet at buying a crib.  Then somewhere after the 8th month, I took a breath and instinctively knew it would be ok.  I felt an inkling of peace, a boost of hope, and a firm resolve that no matter what, everything would be alright.  And, it was.

My Autumn would turn 40 years old this July.  In my mind, she is a baby.  A wee little soul flying back from whence she came.  I sometimes like to think that maybe my mother is holding my daughter.  Hopefully, my mother was there to meet her as she floated to the other side.  Perhaps, the two of them have enjoyed these 40 years together as grandmother and grandchild.  It heals my soul to think so.  My mother, who never lived to be a grandmother and my daughter, who didn’t live to be a child, living perfectly together, healed and whole; connected, just like I would have wanted.

Someday, when my time here is ended, I know those two will be there to greet me as I cross the bridge.  Hand in hand, two souls will welcome me and whisper, “We missed you!” My heart will know them instantly and in that moment, the Autumn of my life will be complete.

Daddy

Daddy

My Daddy was a “saver”.  A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager.  It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and perhaps an alternative.

However, when he died, I saw this tendency to save and how far reaching its depth.  When Daddy passed away we found many souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards.  We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums.  There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of mementos of his life.   

My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying.  Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!”  “No, YOU take it!”  Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of.  His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out.  Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” in hopes that he understood.

Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ seven years ago.  When I brought it home, I thought these were all things I would go through right away and look at often.  But, seven years had gone by and I had just found the strength to open the box.

Inside of this box were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essay’s, school pictures and more.  I found an old, faded manila envelope, 8 ½ by 11, sealed with a piece of tape.  Enclosed, were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him and behind those were a clump of letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.

As I unfolded this one pristine piece of notebook paper, I was transported, as I read my childish handwriting proclaiming my goodness all year and a love for a certain red cowgirl outfit.  Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, but a few were obviously chosen to be put away and remembered.

My Dad wasn’t always good at saying he loved us.  He wasn’t the sentimental, huggy, mushy type.  But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia.

There were cards and notes his children had sent and precious letters to Santa that must have touched his heart.  Suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See?  I love you.  I always loved you.”  And my heart sang back, “I know.  Happy Father’s Day, daddy.   I love you, too.”

Good Girls

Good Girls

 

For most of my life, my only parent was my Dad.  My whole viewpoint came from a male perspective and yet, instinctively I knew there was undoubtedly another way.

My dad, although his male view was domineering, tried to teach me what being a woman meant, particularly as he thought my mother might have wanted.

Mostly he guided me with a firm hand and lots of rules, some spoken…some unspoken.  On one hand, his rules protected me and on the other hand, they stifled me.  I was always led by what “good girls” did or didn’t do and by what my mother would have wanted, according to my dad.

Did he really know what she would have wanted for me?  Did he even want to know what she would have thought?  He always assumed he knew best, but would she have thought so, too?  I wonder.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, girls were given fewer choices or options for their lives.  It was always an unspoken rule that I would go to college.  It was acceptable to be a teacher or a nurse or a stay-at-home mother.  My dad always said two things about college:  1. You need to go to college so you can find an intelligent, hardworking husband.  2.  You need to go to college in case your husband dies and you have to work someday.

Marriage was the main goal for all “good girls” because of course, we could not be expected to take care of ourselves.  We needed a man.

Good girls wore a white wedding dress and meant it.

Good girls went to Church,

Cooked dinner every night,

Were well read,

Could dance,

Play tennis,

Played a musical instrument,

Held intelligent conversations,

Always looked attractive,

Were frugal with money,

Sewed,

Were good mothers,

And had some outside activity ie.  bridge, church groups or volunteering

 

Some of these rules have served me well.  In fact, all of these rules, in and of themselves, are wholesome and commendable.  But, what about life outside of the rules?  What about the un rules?

Follow your heart.

Dare to dream big.

Take a risk.

Think for yourself.

Say yes.

Try something new.

 

I know my dad did the best he knew how.  I know that now.   I didn’t think so for many years; in fact, my anger at him would sometimes squelch all attempts to understand him.  My anger believed he was stubborn, selfish and unyielding.

I’ve come full circle.  I can live by my own rules now and yet still be appreciative of his.  I can be compassionate instead of angry and see that his rules were just his way of showing me love and structure.  I realize he might have been frightened beyond measure to raise a daughter without my mother.  I can finally let him be himself and I can be me.  I can dare to dream big, take a risk or follow my heart.  After all, I know the rules…all of the rules and I am peaceful in that knowledge.  Once a good girl always a good girl?  Maybe.

 

Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

It’s almost Mother’s Day and for as long as I can remember, it has been a day occupied with countless emotions.

At times, I have approached this day with utter dread.  I dread the Hallmark card commercials and florist advertisements.  I scoff at those happy mother and child clichés, thinking how out of touch with reality they are.  Don’t they know that’s not the way it really is for some of us?

At other times, when my self-pity is at bay, I have so much joy and contentment.  I vividly remember my first Mother’s Day with my oldest daughter.  I recall opening the gift she and her dad had given me, an orange-flowered nightgown and robe.  We had a late big breakfast and later napped together on the couch.  I will always remember that feeling and have since had many, many lovely days with my girls.  I am amazed and proud and grateful to be a mother.

But, sometimes at the end of my Mother’s Day, I am suddenly taken aback.  I forgot her, I scold.  I forgot to remember that I am motherless.

I wish I could hire an investigator to find her, like the television show, Long Lost Family.  I fantasize that someone would locate her and we would have a wonderful reunion.  But alas, all inquiries stop short for the dead.

“Come on,” you may say, “It’s time to get over it…let her go.”  The reality is, this is “me” after more than sixty years of letting go.  I had no choice, except to do so, and now I can honestly say I feel contentment and even happiness despite the fact of her vacancy.  But, still….I miss her.  I miss not having a mother.  I feel cheated sometimes.

Every year I make a decision to celebrate Mother’s Day.  I do so by honoring her memory and acknowledging there is a glorious piece of her in me and in my girls.  She is with me, I know.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me.  They have clung to me all of my life.”  I certainly believe this to be true.  I may not remember my mother’s prayers, but I know she breathed them as she said her goodbyes; I know she whispered into God’s ear to especially watch over my brother and me.  I have felt her prayers all of my life.

Mother’s Day is unique for everyone.  Many of us honor the memory of our mothers.  Some of us are fortunate enough to have our mothers nearby and able to celebrate a day and a lifetime of love.

However this Mother’s Day looks for you, I pray that there are peaceful, loving thoughts and heart connections.  I encourage you to be the last to let go of a long, tight hug.  Whether your celebration is lavish and boisterous, or a quiet, respectful chat at the grave site, I applaud you.  Happy Mother’s Day to all mother’s everywhere.

Ode To A Motherless Daughter

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Ode to a Motherless Daughter:

It comes over me like a heavy wool blanket..it feels warm at first but then the denseness feels like an overpowering pressure that stops me in mid-breath.

This doesn’t happen every day, every week or month, but it will happen and when it does, it takes me by surprise, some 59 years later.  I walk by a mirror and glance up into my eyes and for a moment, I see that little girl whose mother is dead.  She didn’t go missing, or get lost or move away.  She left me in the most permanent of ways.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.

No one wants to be that girl without a mother.  No one wants to be singled out in such a brazen way, with pitying glances and pats on the head.  No one.

“She’s in a better place now”, they said.  “She’s out of pain”. I try never to say those phrases to anyone who is hurting, but I’m sure I have.  They slipped out of me because I didn’t know what else to say.  Me, not know what to say?  This is my area of expertise, but still….  My words are silent.

I remember hearing, “She’s in a better place”, but inside  I was screaming, “isn’t her better place with me?..wouldn’t she rather be with me”?

Me

Us

I’ve been saying ‘me’ and ‘I’, but in reality, there was an us.  My Dad, my brother, and I.  I was four and my brother was eight when our mother died.   I know my brother still feels the effects of growing up without a mother.  I will have to let him have his own story, but I wanted to acknowledge ‘us’, even though no matter how many are affected, it always comes down to one.  The ‘me’ in all of us.

Pink spongy rollers and pin curls

My Dad tried.  He tried to keep me clean, dressed and my hair looking presentable.  There’s evidence of this through photographs with my bangs trimmed unevenly, a homemade dress from my Grandma and a fake smile on my face.

The truth is, I looked motherless.

I felt motherless.

And I knew everyone could tell.  I hated that.

Enter, my first bout of shame.

As a female child without a mother, I felt such shame that actually I could feel it throughout my body.  I was ashamed.  Ashamed of how I looked, how we lived and who I was.  It makes no sense to me now, as an adult.  Why should I have been ashamed?  I did nothing wrong.  But as a small child with so many fears and doubts about everything, I felt shame.  I had no one who stepped in to help me grieve or question me as to what I was thinking or feeling.  We were all in this together….alone.

It’s hard to explain.  As Rosie O’Donnell said once, “it’s the dead mothers club.  You’re initiated, you get the tattoo and it’s not going away.”  And sadly I might add… You are a lifetime member.

I don’t want to end this story on such a sad note, for you see, that is not totally who I am.

Oh, I still have the fear and the overshadowing feeling that everyone else knows the secrets to life, except me.  

But, through the years, I believe my God and my mother have sent me guardian angels to light my way.   I’ve had a grandmother, my best friends’ mother, a favorite aunt, even sometimes a loving stranger who stepped in with a kind word or encouraging hug.  I’ve been blessed with daughters of my own and the best girlfriends in the world.

I have a posse of women who nurture me and love me and help me to know I am enough.  And finally now, at 63 years old, I am able to look up into the heavens and not question why, but with a smile in my heart, I am grateful for this life and all I have been given, all I have learned.

Sometimes, my little grandson will look up at me, eyes searching for mine, and smile and kiss my hand.  I just melt inside and wish my mother could see him.

I think she does.

Martha Margaretha

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Martha Margaretha

Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from my Grandma.  She was also my source of information on becoming a woman, wife, and mother.  Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my Dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.

My Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas.  They were very poor and she grew up working hard and only completing the 3rd grade.  Martha Margaretha, (her given name) although coming from humble beginnings, always wanted to look her best.  It was very important to her.

Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes, and nightgowns.  She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself.  She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles!  I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes.  Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I.  Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out while working tirelessly to make it come together.

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Martha had two main rules on beauty:  Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them.  In my Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items.  There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using, and she had the most fabulous face powder in a box.  I think it was Coty Airspun loose face powder or maybe Lady Esther, I’m not sure.  But, what I am sure of is the sweet fragrance and the way my Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged her or kissed her.  She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent.  The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.

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The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box.  The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section.  Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces, and broaches, most of which, came from us, for Christmas or birthdays.  She also had a small little Cameo that she pinned on for special occasions.  I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet oh so glamorous pieces.  Grandma truly believed in accessories!

With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’.  No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure.  Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home.  Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth.  I remember once while visiting her in ‘the home’, someone gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy.  After they left, she turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.

Yes, Grandma, it is.  I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder.  Most of you that know me, know I usually adhere to Grandma’s two main beauty rules:  lipstick and earbobs!  Martha was true to herself and lived her life by her own rules, that’s for sure.  As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

I think Grandma knew that too.