Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Messages


                                                


When I first posted this picture in June of 2015, the caption read “I am confident that my parents look down on this man every day, grateful for the husband and father he is...”  I remember liking the way the light was shining behind Marv as though my parents were there in the doorway, offering their approval from beyond the grave of this man who was able to temper their stubborn, opinionated daughter and give her 24 years of understanding, confidence, compliments, and unconditional love.


Now, when I look at this photo, all I see is the almost-blinding foreshadowing.


On the evening of August 14, 2015, just two months after this picture was taken, I sat on my living room sofa in a state of nerve-numbing shock. Earlier that day, I had been called to Mountainview Hospital thinking my husband had simply passed out (and, maybe, just maybe, it had resulted in a heart arrhythmia that would require surgery). Instead, I was directed to a trauma room in the ER where Marv's lifeless body was still experiencing the violence of CPR--a frantic team of doctors and nurses surrounding him in a last ditch effort to bring him back. Their efforts proving futile.


Our family’s world was turned on end that day. His siblings left the hospital without a brother, his parents without a son, my children without a father, and I walked out of the ER without the one person who, next to my parents, knew me best and loved me the most.

I didn't feel entirely helpless as I could still walk and talk (sort of...), but after losing both my parents and my husband before my 45th birthday, I definitely felt defeated and alone.

Yes, I still had my children.
Yes, I had extended family.
Yes, I had close friends.

But the three people who had played an integral role in shaping me into who I was up to that point, were gone--two of them within a matter of months--all of them yanked from my life without warning.  


Feeling lost, alone, and just a smidge picked on by God himself, I sat in my front room surrounded by my closest friends and three cousins who dropped everything in their busy lives to be with me and my children while my siblings were enroute. I’m not sure what time it was or if someone else mentioned it first, but I do remember the moment it hit me.


It was on this very day back in 1976 when my mother received the dreaded phone call that her dad had passed away after battling stomach cancer, leaving my grandmother a widow at 61. Five years old at the time, I have few memories of my Grandpa Reeder, but I do recall the drive to Idaho the day following his death--mostly because Dad got pulled over for speeding in Oregon, and when Mom tried explaining to the officer the reason for our hasty trip, his monotone “I’m sorry, Ma’am” sparked a tear-laden fury in my mother that still rings in my ears. “You’re sorry, but you’re still going to write us a ticket! That’s just great! You’re sorry?…”

Needless to say, Dad wasn’t let off with a warning, and the added expense only fueled Mom’s frustration of living so far away from family, especially at a time like this.

To date, I only remember one other scene from my grandfather’s passing: the moment my mom and grandmother were finally able to embrace.

It was a muffled, teary exchange--one of the first displays of tender emotion I ever saw the two share. That was the day I learned what the word “widow” meant. But it wouldn’t be until August of 2000 when Mom and I shared this same teary embrace, herself a widow at the age of 60, that I began to understand the word’s true meaning. Or so I thought.

Until now...


Still numb on the sofa, it then occurred to me that we lost my dad’s mom on this same day just three years prior in 2012.  My Grandma Cluff was the only family member I’ve said goodbye to with any measure of satisfaction. Anna and I knelt at her beside just hours before her passing and read a letter filled with goodbyes of gratitude for the 97 years of love and laughter she provided in her lifetime. Her parting words to me and two of my children were “Keep the faith and love the Lord”—a far cry from my Grandma Reeder’s parting words to us when we visited her the summer of 2008 and she bid us adieu with a sarcastic, “Well, I’ll see you all in Hell someday!” shocking my children into a full fit of laughter and providing just the right amount of comic relief she always had.

Aside from highlighting the differences between my grandmothers’ personalities, these encounters showcase the differences between two women who'd navigated the world of divorce and widowhood for 60-plus and nearly-33 years respectively.  And, based on my last exchanges with each of them, I could only conclude that widowhood had the potential to make one much more cynical than divorce…


So there I sat in my living room, a 44-year-old widow, contemplating the multiple losses that August 14th now represented in my life: a grandfather, a grandmother, and my husband of twenty-three years—all on a day that had been considered a day of mourning in my home since 1976.

And that is when this very picture came to mind, filling me with a measure of peace.


I now believe this photo captures what took place just minutes before I was called to the ER two years ago: Marv being summoned then greeted on the other side by his grandparents and other family members, including my parents and grandparents who were not only heartbroken to see him so soon, but were eager to send a message to me in my desperate state of brokenness.

A message of empathy.
A message of understanding.
A message of love.
A message of concern.
A message of mourning.
A message that it was, indeed, “Marv’s time.”
A message that if he had to go, August 14th meant he was in good company.
A message that I was not alone in my pain.
A message that losing my husband in August was now a rite of passage--one I could navigate with the help of my mother and grandmother's example.

It was a message that convinced me, along with this photo, that there really are no coincidences in life…or in death.

Only messages from those we love.

Messages that, if we allow them, will carry us into all of our tomorrows.

Even if tomorrow never comes.





Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Do I Make?



What do I Make?
a poem inspired by Taylor Mali's What Teachers Make


I helped make my children.
But I aside from that, I haven’t been able to make
them do or be anything since
--at least with any measure of success.


Have you ever tried making a four-year-old clean his room?  


By the time I had raised all three of my children,
I had tried every “loving and il-logical” way imaginable:
manipulation,
indulgence,
coercion,
bribery,
punishment,
reward,
over-positive reinforcement,
conditioning,
and my all-time worst mothering method--i-Robot,
in which I stood behind my second son,
his wrists in my hands,
and forcefully bent him over,
refusing to let him up
until he had a toy in his grasp,
so we could walk it to the closet
and put it away in its "proper" place.  


We both cried that day.
And I remember realizing
(much sooner than most parents, I believe)
that I cannot make my children do or be anything.  
I can teach.
I can expect,
I can lead,
I can hope,
I can allow,
I can encourage,
I can champion,
I can ignore,
I can praise,
I can love.


So I did.


Then, I sat back and watched as they became  
a dancer,
a musician,
a runner,
a singer,
a missionary,
an orator,
a listener,
a loving sibling,
a writer,
a funny girl,

and perhaps most importantly,
my children became exactly who they were meant to be
--not out of force or manipulation or because
“You’ll be a nerd if you don’t make the basketball team like Mom did.”  


And, because I was a coach more so than a creator,
I do not mistakenly take the credit for who my children have become.


I now sit in a seat of satisfaction
and honor the beautiful, imperfect human beings they are
--people who any other beautiful, imperfect human being
will benefit from knowing and loving.





Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Mama Dragon Project--my initial thoughts

While I love the Mama Dragon Project and the individual accounts, I find it ironic that the format of each story feeds into the stereotypical “perfect Mormon” myth by beginning each account with a Mormon Mommy Resume. Yes, I understand these mothers are trying to establish the fact that they are “devoted” members, but by doing so they assume that readers will not find them credible if they didn’t do X, Y, and Z prior to discovering that their child was gay.  It feels as though each storyteller is saying, “I was a near-perfect mother...I served diligently...my husband was the bishop… I was 100%...an all-in Mormon” and this still happened to ME.  And if it could happen to someone as devoted as I am, it could happen to YOU.”  I think this highlights one of the cultural imperfections in our membership--that somehow our works, our service, our callings, our payment of tithing...whatever X,Y, or Z might be, will save us from encountering situations or life circumstances that are contrary to the gospel storyline or even church policy.  

To that I can't help but ask: How arrogant are we?


My mother was what I will call a pre-generational Mama Dragon. She quietly faced this challenge some thirty years ago during a time when no one spoke of being gay--at church or anywhere really--unless it was in mockery or in jest. She went to her grave with many unanswered questions, but she never doubted her faith, she never expected the church to change its policies, and she never questioned her love for my sister--a gay Mormon. They were close friends and confidants, attending church together for family ordinances and other special occasions. They didn’t demand that people understand their circumstances because they themselves didn’t have all the answers. All that each of them asked for was love and respect.  And, really, isn’t that what we all want?  Isn’t that what we all deserve--near-perfect resume or not?

Throughout my life I have watched church policies come and go regarding race, adoption, sexual orientation, and yes, even policies regarding which widows and widowers can or cannot be married for time in the temple. All of these have affected me and people I love dearly, and I feel that these experiences have allowed me to ask tough questions...some of which I am still waiting patiently to understand. However, I have had enough experience to reach the conclusion that God is not homophobic, sexist, or racist (as some have suggested) and neither is the church I belong to. I was taught to love others by imperfect parents and by imperfect people at church (granted, sometimes by their non-examples). I have quietly waited for others to catch the vision of love and acceptance for the LGBT community, but like my mother, demanding that others see things through my paradigm isn’t my style. So...for those who are just now cluing-in to the fact that people say mean things in spite of our basic human need for acceptance, that church policies change on a regular basis (or stay the same) regardless of our circumstances, that our works don’t guarantee us or our children happy lives, and that sometimes we don’t get the answers we want immediately...I say welcome to the party.  We’ve been waiting for you.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Shoes

 https://youtu.be/lXtK12q7qJw

The video from the link above prompted this piece of writing...



The shoes.


I was okay until I saw the shoes.


Unless you've had the unfortunate experience of walking out of a hospital with nothing but your spouse’s shoes shoved inside one of those pathetic plastic “patient's belongings” bags, I’m not sure you can appreciate the significance of the shoes.


In life, shoes can take on several meanings whether we are walking in someone else’s shoes, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or simply longing for a pair of shoes we hope will alleviate back pain or complement our favorite outfit.

In death, they take on an entirely different meaning.

On the afternoon of August 14, 2015, I walked into my house carrying nothing but Marv’s shoes. When my friend Annette greeted me at the door, I held up the aforementioned bag and said, “This is all that’s left, Nette.”


In that moment, it was a miserable truth that unintentionally captured the injustice my children and I had witnessed just hours before.

But soon I would realize that the shoes shoved in that bag in no way represented all Marv had left for us.






Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mom

Mom is a rooster, up in the wee dark hours telling everyone to get out of bed and get moving.

Mom is a homemade dress and a tuna fish sandwich--two things the other kids ridicule but secretly admire.

Mom is the judge, the jury, and the lead detective, making tough decisions based on the information offered as well as the information she suspects was withheld.

Mom is the Magic 8 Ball, foreseeing the future and warning of dangers ahead.

Mom is a game of Twenty Questions:  "Where did you go?"  Who all was there?  What did you do?Who drove?  What did you eat?  How much did you spend?"

Mom is a radar detector, a microphone, an enigma decoder: seeing and hearing off-the-grid conversations and "reading" body language better than a private investigator.

Mom is a field of red tulips and pink peonies (pronounced pee-o-neez), blossoming beautifully in the spring, looking forward to an action-packed summer.

Mom is a floppy hat, huge sunglasses, and "Did you get sunscreen on your nose?" at the pool or beach.

Mom is a pat on the back for a job well done and praise withheld in the face of a half-"hearted" effort.

Mom is a warm kitchen that has been open since six, the counter-tops filled with pies, cookies, and the makings of our next hearty meal.

Mom is an unexpected snort in the middle of a laugh, causing contagious giggles that spread through the house.

Mom is a brag letter at Christmas, the champion of all things family, our greatest advocate, our biggest defender, our most vocal fan.

And now, as she observes from beyond, I pray she is nothing less than a watchful angel who wears the robes of satisfaction and contentedness--a woman proud of her posterity.




Friday, January 6, 2017

Demanding Understanding

As someone who has both witnessed and experienced her share of life’s tragedies and emotional bodyslams, I am noticing a trend in “support blogs” that is starting to wear on me. It’s an attitude of I am going through something hard and I DEMAND that you understand my circumstance or How dare you judge me in my difficulty and/or have an opinion about what I’m going through?

The bottom line is you can’t stop human nature, and truth be told, very few of us can explain our difficulties in a way that will evoke true empathy in others. Compassion maybe. But seldom do any of us experience the exact same situations in life, so perfect empathy is not even a possibility. Trials are kind of unique that way.


I don’t even expect other widows to understand my journey, and sometimes I get a little uncomfortable when other widows say things like…”You know what it’s like” when really, maybe I don’t. That said, all of my friends (widowed or not) have offered me a great deal of comfort just by hurting with me, crying for me, and honoring the choices I’ve made since Marv’s passing. No one can SAY anything to make my situation better or make my heart stop aching for him, and by the same token, no one can SAY anything that will make being widowed worse!  

So why would I waste energy focusing on what people are SAYING about my decisions as so many “support blogs” do? Yes, I knew people would have opinions about everything from my choice to attend church just days after his death, to going back to work just three weeks later, to remarrying just ten months into the grieving process.  And if you don’t think I caught vibes from people about my decision to marry Marv’s brother…(Hello, THAT doesn’t happen every day).


But...so what?


The opinions and judgments of others didn’t change my situation, nor did they make my life any harder. In reality, these people were simply giving voice to things I might have thought two years ago:
“What are you doing here?”
“I could never do that.”
“I’ve heard of marriages like this and they never work out.”
“You really think Marv would feel that way?”
“I’m not ready to remarry; I love my late spouse too much.”

Anything negative came from a place of ignorance. Any concern (I hope) came from a place of love. And if it didn’t, those people don’t matter so I have since distanced myself from them.

It has also come to my attention--not through gossip but more so intuition from casual conversation--that some people didn’t know Marv like they thought (or I wish) they had. And that has to be okay, too. He didn’t have anything to prove in life, and he certainly wouldn’t want me wasting time trying to prove anything about him--or us as a couple--in order to placate others in his death. He wants me to live as happily as I can without him, and yes, I believe he has guided me through all of my decisions in the past year and a half.

In order to follow through with these decisions, I could not worry myself with the opinions of others. I shudder to think of the happiness I would have missed out on if I had.


So, to those who are wasting energy on what other people are saying or thinking about their situations, I beg you to focus on healing in your difficulty and stop demanding that other people understand your circumstance. The fact that they can’t does not minimize your trial. In fact, it may give it more credence than you realize.  And if my perspective doesn’t help you, go out and find some better friends who know when their opinions are helpful and when they need to keep their freakin' mouths shut.

Thank YOU for being a friend who "gets it."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

You Should Have Been Here

You Should Have Been Here
October 2016


Our oldest son said “Yes”
To a beautiful bride on Saturday morning
Within the walls of the Lord’s House.
A perfect day by all accounts,
But you should have been here.


It was a lovely fall day filled with
Forced smiles and flooded eyes
When your baby girl watched the bride
Dance with her daddy,
And wished for only one thing:
That you could have been here.


The pictures of our family’s
New dynamic were too much
For our missionary to cherish
Some two thousand miles away.
His anguish yet another reminder
That you should have been here.


Your brother fought back tears
As he stood in photos,
Greeted guests, and offered
Advice to the bride and groom,
Attempting to fill the void we all feel
Because you should have been here.


Even as I contemplate
The beauty of that day,
I sense the patronizing platitudes
Regarding your watchful presence
And ever-attentive eye
As I acknowledge your spirit’s whisper
In my heart.
But still, you should have been here.


Just as you should be here in days ahead
To hear the cheers of happy homecomings,
The playing of Pomp and Circumstance,
The opening shot of the hunt,
The first cries of future grandchildren,
And the laughter of holidays
Spent within the walls of a home
We built for the sake of our kids
Who long for your loving embrace--
All of whom are left wishing for one thing:
That you could be here.