Just Do It

209

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve been discreetly cautious around water.  I detest the icy water of a swimming pool or even the ocean before the sun has warmed the tide.

I’ve never been one to Baywatch-run into the ocean and frolic in the waves, and I watch with envy those that do.  I’m the one at the swimming pool who gets in inch by inch trying to gradually get used to the water.  I sometimes hear the whisper, “Just do it.  Jump in.”  But I argue with myself, listing all the reasons I can’t do that.  I don’t want to get my hair wet, it’s too cold, or I feel fat.

I’m getting tired of the inch by inch life that weighs me down until I cannot move.  I’m disgusted by my lack of adventure and cautious moves.  I’m ready, I think, to embrace a more fulfilling way of life.  If others can do it, why can’t I?  This hesitancy is a long-ago habit that started when my mother passed away.  My four-year-old mind could not fathom the loss of my mother, but her death left an imprint on my body and soul.

That’s when I began my demure misgivings.  Shyness and fear took hold of me like a creeping fog from the sea, enveloping my very spirit.  I didn’t hear the whisper then;  I only felt the grip of an uneasy foreboding.  “Shrink back,” it beckoned.  “Hold back,” and so I did.  It’s much easier to shrink back than to push forward.  It instantly felt like a safe place to be and I began to try it with every situation.  My carefree childhood came to an abrupt halt and I became wary of life in general; my maturity at a standstill.

This past summer I heard my grandchildren prodding me, “Jump in Nannie, it won’t be cold for long.  Just do it!”  I sat on the steps of the pool watching them splash and play, their joy out front for all to see.  Where did their bravery come from?  It never occurred to them to shrink back or limit their fun.  I envied their unbridled joy.  

As I began my slow descent inch by inch into the water, I was aware of their growing impatience with me.  They stopped encouraging me and I felt the sting of disappointment from them and myself.   On my deathbed will I say, “I’m so glad I didn’t get in the pool and play?  I’m glad I shrunk back?”  I know I will not feel that way.  I fear my regret will be heavy and I will be deeply saddened that I missed their screams of delight and wet grip around my neck.  I’ll ask myself why?  And so, against my fearful judgment, I did jump.

I jumped for all the shrinkers who let the icy voice of fear stop them in mid-stride.  I jumped to prove to myself that I could, and I jumped for that little four year old who lost her mother and was afraid of life.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who was a pioneer in near-death studies, knew this very fear and spoke these wise words, “Live, so you do not have to look back and say: God, how I have wasted my life.”  Never again, I tell myself.  Never again will I shrink back from life, although I know there is a big chance that I might, at least a little.  I have made progress and perhaps that is all I can do.  It’s a good start, and today I can let that be enough.

This Motherless Daughters’ Dream

Mother's Day for a motherless daughter

In the spring when flowers come alive with vivid colors and my birthday, on the first of May has come and gone, I unconsciously start to feel anxious like I’m skating on a thin layer of ice.   My life gets smothered with unease and dread, my two old friends since childhood.  The dread of marking another year without my mother.  Another Mother’s Day to sit quietly by and watch the whole world celebrate.  Another milestone with no memory attached, just a blank hollow space that looks like the mother-shaped hole inside me.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old and now at sixty-seven, I still cannot conjure a voice or face or hand that might remind me of her.  I’ve never caught a whiff of her perfume lingering in the air and turned to see if she was near.  “Did she even wear perfume?”  I wonder.  

Lest you think me selfish and ungrateful, my appreciation and value of being a mother myself is at the top of my gratitude list.  I am grateful for the blessing that daughters and grandchildren bring.  I humbly acknowledge these beautiful gifts of life and what sweet music it is to my ears to hear them call me Mother or Nannie.  But, the little child in me struggles.  I struggle every year with those Hallmark card commercials and advertisements for “a free rose at brunch”.  I struggle with thoughts of envy and chide my friends who still have their mothers, to cherish this time before it slips away.

In the sixty-three years without my mother, I have never dreamed of her until just last year and even then, I did not see her face.  I often have asked God why.  “Please,” I would beg, “send me a dream or vision of her to let me know I am not alone.  Help me feel her presence.”  I’m always afraid I will forget her.  Afraid, my soul will not know hers when we meet again.

In my dream, everything and everyone was in black and white, except one person.  I was running down a crowded street and searching frantically for my mother.  I spotted someone in a bright red dress and I fought my way through until I reached the red dress and I touched her.  Her face never really came into focus, I just knew it was her from the thick brown hair and the red dress, the dress she was buried in, I was told.   As she turned around, I asked, “Are you, my mother?”  I remember thinking in my dream that I should hug her or pull her to me, but it was all very quiet and serene.  She nodded yes and gave me her hand.  We stood on that crowded street and looked at each other for a while.  It was quiet all around us, like in a bubble, and I felt she couldn’t stay very long.  I didn’t want to let go of her hand, but she let go first and touched my arm, saying, “I’ve been here all along.  You are going to be ok.  You are going to be just fine”, and with that, she was gone.

When I woke up, I could not believe that I had finally had a dream of my mother.  But, I felt sadly dissatisfied because it was fleeting and strangely generic.  I wanted longer.  I wanted her to hold me and explain her thoughts….tell me she loved me.  I wanted a reunion.  Was I being petulant, like a little child that didn’t get her way?

I have since had time to process this dream and think rationally, as best I can.  There is an old gospel song entitled, “We’ll Talk It Over” by the Gaither Vocal Band.  The gist of the song is that we only know in part why things happen in our lives, but when we get to heaven, we have a chance to ask God why and talk it over.

I don’t know why my mother had to die or why my brother and I were chosen to be among the motherless.   I may never know why my dream was short and took so long to come.  But, I can choose to believe that in the by and by, as the song says, I’ll have the chance to ask my Creator why and finally understand.

And, I can choose to believe what my mother said to me in my dream.  She has been with me all along, for if I search, I can recall her presence amidst a crisis or two and her hand in mine when I needed her most.  I can choose to believe that she has missed me as much as I have missed her, and in the by and by, we will meet again.

 

I am going to be ok.

I’m going to be just fine.

I know I will.

 

 

Angel Wings

Angel Wings

written by Nancy Malcolm

 

I’ve never really been a good sleeper.  I remember waking up early that morning while it was still dark outside and padding into the living room.  My father had closed the door leading into the bedroom he and my mother shared. I imagine he scooped me up and asked why I was up so early, as he sat us in the rocking chair.  He might have told me my mother was gone, but I don’t remember his words, only being held and rocked.

In the way that four-year-olds know things, I knew something was wrong with my mother.  I’m sure I was told about her illness and hospital stays but some sixty years later, I cannot remember the details.  The adults in charge of me most likely explained the circumstances in simple, cryptic words appropriate for a child. Only much later would I learn that my mother had died in the night and that my dad was rocking me as we waited for the funeral home to take her body away.  I find it unnerving that I awoke at just that time. Did her soul pass over my sleeping frame to tell me goodbye? Was I awakened by an angel’s kiss or my father’s sobbing?

All that mattered to me at the time was the warmth of my daddy’s lap and the rhythmic creaking of that old rocking chair.  It would be years later before I would feel the complete impact of her death and even now, I am taken aback at the enormity of my loss.  Our loss.

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

I have only two vivid memories of my mother.  One was the day we brought home a wheelchair for her.  After the surgery to remove her brain tumor, her face was droopy on one side, her speech was slurred and she had trouble balancing enough to walk.  Because I was only four years old, I was told these facts, I don’t remember them first hand. I truly have no memory of my mother’s face, voice or mannerisms.  My dad always said that our mother was very frustrated with her inability to care for my brother and me after the surgery.  My brother was eight years old and with us being so young, I’m sure we took advantage of her slow mobility. The realization that she could no longer keep up with us was probably more than she could bear.  She was only 33.

I remember my dad and me pushing the wheelchair into the house and us laughing and talking.  But, she didn’t want it. I can see her now, standing in the living room in her robe. She had one hand on the piano to balance herself as she said with her garbled speech, “No.  Don’t need it.” She cried and was angry and shoed it away with her good hand. My brother and I were sent to play outside while my dad tried to calm her down. I do not know if the wheelchair stayed or not, but I know that she became resigned and despondent after that.  Her life as it had been as a healthy, young mother of two, was over.

My second memory is of my mother’s funeral and my dad picking me up to look at my mother in her casket.  He wanted me to kiss her goodbye. I didn’t want to because her lifeless body scared me. My reluctance made him more sad and upset.  

 My mother looked as though she had been gently laid in her final satin bed.  She wore a bright red shirt-waist dress made from a heavy wool fabric. While her face had been stitched carefully to disguise the drooping eyelids and mouth,  her dark brown hair looked fresh and stylish and her lips, painted in a blood-red matte finish, looked pleasant, not pained.  

“Don’t you want to kiss your mama goodbye?” he prodded and held me up to see her.  He leaned over with me so I could kiss her cheek and I kicked my legs and began to cry.  

What a sight that must have been, a young widower and his two small children standing at the casket.  As a child, seeing my mother’s body stiff and unnatural had to have been frightening.   I realize now that my father was lingering at her side.  He didn’t want to let her go. He knew that for the casket lid to shut and for her grave to be filled meant the end of his life as he knew it and ours too.

Years later I would recall that story to a therapist and for the first time, someone acknowledged for me how scary that must have been.  That was the first time I admitted it to myself. Unknowingly, my dad had made me feel ashamed at not wanting to kiss her goodbye and I was finally able to see the scene through a different lens.  For most of my adult years, I was petrified to attend funerals and I couldn’t figure out why. I would make up stories saying why I couldn’t attend and if I couldn’t get out of it, I would become anxious and shaky, nearly making myself sick.   I had a true fear of death and seeing a dead body and that did not change until much later in my life.  

There is a huge distance between my mother’s angel wings and the harsh reality of death.  My childlike mind never fully understood it or separated the two. My father would tell us our mother was an angel in heaven now, and still, we felt the fear and ugliness of death.  How can they both exist?

To this day, I don’t like loud noises such as gunshots and slamming doors or references to the dead coming alive or anything unpredictable that would make me jump.  I still cover my eyes or leave the room if a television program seems too frightening or the music too intense. It’s all just too much for me. I’ve been afraid since way back when…afraid of everything.   And for me, real life has been much more disturbing than make-believe. As an adult, I understand the process and realities of death, but the child in me is chilled to the bone and I can’t stop the shiver.

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

 

My Brother

 Impress Dad with these classy yet practical gifts.

I had a wonderful visit with my older brother recently.  It is always a tender feeling to be with the one person who knows my beginning; the one person who traveled the same path in childhood.

 

I am amazed to look into his eyes and see a part of our parents and even myself.  One glance into his eyes and I feel his love and compassion.  His eyes say ‘I know’, and that is enough for me.

 

We know our story together and yet we each have our own interpretation.  It is not uncommon for siblings to tell completely different tales of the same upbringing.  We are all individuals with our own experiences.

 

Yet, ‘we know’.  My brother is four years older than me.  When our mother died, his eight-year-old self already had so many more memories and experiences than my four-year-old self.  He knew.

 

Although I don’t recall us as kids, ever really talking about her death, he has been gracious with his memories through the years.  Some of his memories have become mine.  I’ll always be grateful for that.

 

Whenever I am fortunate enough to spend time with my brother, I feel comforted.  As our eyes lock, we see our story flash by.  Sometimes briefly and vague and sometimes, we stop to tell it again.
No one else in my life will ever share my story.  He is my link to our past and my anchor to the future.  He knows, and that is more than enough for me.

SCAN0011

Happy Birthday Mom

025

Make a Wish
I haven’t always known my mother’s birthdate.  I’m sure my daddy thought about it as every September rolled around and she was not here to celebrate, but he rarely spoke of it.

About twenty years ago, Auntie Sue began calling me on my mother’s birthday, September 28.  She would call while I was getting ready for work, sometimes at 6:30 a.m.  “Hi honey,” she would say.  “I’m still sittin’ ugly, but I wanted to remember your mother on her special day.”  Then she would tell me a quick little story about her or just tell me something about her personality.  Most of the time we would laugh while she was telling her story, but we both knew our tears would flow as soon as we hung up.

 

As I’m prone to do, I imagine that I would have been a wonderful daughter.  I would have called, sent gifts and baked a cake.  I could imagine her eyes lighting up and us hugging as we both said, “I love you!”.

 

But, the truth is probably somewhere between my imagination and reality.  I might have been busy with my own life and children and only managed a phone call or card purchased hurriedly to make it on time.  I’ll never know how it might have been.

 

But today, I am wishing my mother a Happy Birthday.  Today, I am remembering a story Auntie Sue might have called to tell me.  I’m missing these two special ladies, but I’m happy they are together and celebrating within the Pearly Gates.  Who knows….they may be eating some heavenly delicious cake!  I hope so.

 

Happy Birthday Mom!

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.

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.