When Pictures Are All You Have

 

SCAN0039 (2)
My whole relationship with my mother is through photographs.  I don’t remember talking with her or being held by her. I only know the likeness of our features through these black and white photos adhered to the page with black corner holders, neatly placed in an album.

My Dad managed to continue my “baby book” photo album until I was about 10.  The photos early on with my mother stop when I was 3. My mother was already sick and becoming unable to care for us.

Then, of course, there are the pictures of my brother and me after my mother died.  I see the stress on our faces, particularly my Dad.  He struggled to make us look nice and well

DSC_0351
My 5th birthday party 

put together, and no matter how hard he tried, we looked motherless.  He would pose us in our Easter clothes or Sunday best and tell us to smile. The outcome is obvious in these Kodak moments as he tried to make us look like our mother would have wanted. Alas, no pasted on smile could hide our broken hearts.

SCAN0042 (2)
My Dad, brother and I seven months after my mother died.

I learned a lot about my mother’s personality and countenance from her high school yearbooks, her college scrapbook, and my parents’ wedding pictures.   I saw her as a young lady, vibrant and energetic. I saw her laughing with friends and smiling on her wedding day. I read the endearing remarks from her school chums as they professed everlasting friendship and love.  Everything I know about my mother came from those that loved her and from these priceless black and white snapshots.

SCAN0001
Mom and Auntie Sue

 

 

My impressions of her came through the lens of someone else’s view, but for me, that is enough.  I’ll let their love and admiration, their memories be mine as well. When pictures are all you have, it has to be enough.

SCAN0018
My parents’ wedding

 

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

Untitled design

 

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.

 

When I was growing up, that was the nightly prayer I said before going to sleep.  My Daddy made sure I knelt beside my bed and recited these simple words.

There are few things in life harder than losing a child.  It doesn’t matter how old, how young, miscarriage, or stillbirth, the death of a child is unspeakable.  Those who have not walked this path, rarely understand the deep emotions.  Their sympathy is sincere but the empathy only comes from experience.

In 1977 my daughter, Autumn was stillborn.  I had never known anyone who had lost a child or had a stillbirth.  I had a lot of shame surrounding it and since my own mother was deceased, I felt I had no one to share this shame and confusion with.  My shame stemmed from not being able to give birth to a healthy child and I felt totally inept as a woman.  I had no one to help me understand or guide me in being compassionate towards myself.

A few of my friends had experienced miscarriages in their early pregnancies, but I had gone through hours of labor and delivery only to find out she had never taken a breath.  Now, 41 years later, I have known a few women who have had the same sadness.  I have had the privilege of sharing my experience, strength and hope with them and they with me.

Recently, I have found two organizations that give hope, love, and support to the grieving parents.  One was in our local newspaper recently, called, “Angel Wings of Lake Travis.”  These volunteers make burial gowns for these infants who are victims of an untimely death.  Often the parents are unprepared or unable to provide a garment for the child to be buried in.  These precious burial gowns are made from donated wedding dresses.  The volunteers sew little gowns with a vest and bow tie for the boys and an exquisite gown for the girls.  The gown is given to the family free of charge.  What a meaningful way to help these parents say goodbye to their precious little one.

Another organization dear to me is, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.”  When I was taking a photography class recently, a volunteer spoke to us about giving our time as a photographer.  NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional photographers to provide beautiful portraits to families facing the death of their infant.  The free gift of a professional portrait serves to honor the child and the family, thus providing an important step in the healing process.

What makes these so special to me is the fact that I had neither for Autumn.  She had no burial clothes and I have no photograph or tangible reminder of her little soul.  I know I cannot change these facts, but I would give anything to help another family have the healing closure they and their babies deserve.

I hope you will visit these two websites and take time to read about their missions, and to donate if you are so moved.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to share something so close to my heart.

://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/about/mission-and-history/

http://angelwingslaketravis.wixsite.com/angelwingslaketravis

Resting in Peace

R

My dad was always wanting us to visit our mother.  After church on Sundays, he would suggest we stop by and see Mom, to pay our respects.  My brother, dad and I would stand at my mother’s grave and silently stare at it.  Sometimes we would bend down to clear the grass or pick a weed so the marble headstone would stay pristine.   What a sight we must have been to other mourners; a grieving widower and two small children.

 

As a young child, I was never quite sure what I was supposed to do or say while we were standing there. I just knew Daddy needed it and he wanted us to have whatever closeness or comfort the visit could provide.  As strange as it may sound, for us, this was a perfectly normal thing to do.

 

As I grew up, the visits became less frequent, being relegated to holidays or important milestones.  In high school, I went even less often, partly because I was ‘too busy’ and partly because I was a little embarrassed to show that un-cool side of myself; that side that was still hurting.

 

When my brother or I would come home from college, my dad would always ask,  “Would you like to go by and see your mother?”  Sometimes we would ask him first and I could tell he was pleased, his answer always yes.  Often, as we stood there, he would tell us a story or share a memory about her.  He so wanted us to find solace there, just as he did.  I could tell he never wanted to leave, hating for her to be alone.

 

Through the years my desire to visit the cemetery changed.  It may have been because I had moved away and we were no longer just a short drive apart.  I especially wanted to visit her when I first married and became a mother myself.  I knew she really wasn’t in that grave, but I also had no other place to go where I knew her spirit would be.  I had no memories of our time together, no past heart-to-heart chats to recall.  I only had this place, where somehow I knew I could find her and she would be waiting there for me.

 

A few years ago, I went back home for a high school reunion and visited the cemetery, perhaps for the last time.  As I got out of the car, I slowly walked up the familiar hill to my mother’s grave.  The only difference this time was that my daddy laid next to her.  Strangely, as I stood there, I knew they both were at peace.  They were finally together again and I was satisfied with that realization.

 

I don’t know if I will ever visit that cemetery again.  My whole family resides there except my brother and me.  Grandparents, parents and an aunt all underneath the Panhandle sky.

 

I am grateful for the effort my father made to keep us all connected.  He did the best he could; I wholeheartedly believe that now.  My peace has come with time and work.

 

I may feel the need to return there again.  But, for now,  I know that their home is in my heart, not in that grounded space, and with that, I do find comfort.  The comfort I was searching for was inside of me all along.  

 

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.”

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.