Time to Fly

Life continues on for this widowed mom. Time moves at an ever more rapid pace and often I wonder where the heck it goes!

A few years ago, my son’s AIG teacher gave me a lovely hand-painted gourd birdhouse for Christmas. It has hung from an iron shepherd’s hook near my front door for several years, lovely but empty. This year, just as my son arrived home from college, a spunky Carolina wren discovered it. Flittering in and out, she investigated the bird house and tested the entrance angles from every nearby bush. Then she and her spry little mate began lining the gourd with moss and leaves. While the outside of the birdhouse is quite beautiful, the home the tiny birds built on the inside together is a work of art. They built their babies a bed of soft green moss cradled by sticks and leaves.

Tirelessly, they worked dawn ‘til dusk on that nest, feeding on the mealworms in the tray feeder before and after their workday. When the weeks of endless rain fell in May I hardly saw them, and they were never together. I feared the worst. But then one afternoon as my son passed by the gourd he heard the tiniest voices imaginable from within the gourd. Babies! Knowing I would want to see them, too, he fetched me. When I peered in, the momma reared up and pointed her formidable beak at me. The days passed and the babies grew. Occasionally, when they were alone in the nest they would squeak with frantic cries and open their tiny mouths in unison to beg from me when I passed by. Day by day they grew and grew—they went from bald babies the size of marbles to fuzzy golf-ball size fledglings and every night, as darkness fell, they would sing the sweetest high-pitched sleepy songs to their mother as she returned to the nest and laid her soft blanket of feathers round them. This touched my heart deeply because my son used to do the same thing when the day closed in on him and I held him in the rocking chair.

And then they disappeared. I had seen a hawk circling my yard, had it taken the babies? A neighbor reported cowbirds had arrived in town—a known nest predator. But then four wrens arrived at the feeder. Two of them almost crashed into the window and the fifth sat in a tree flapping its wings and squawking. The parents flew them around the bushes in the side yard. Bush to feeder, bush to bush, bush to birdbath, back to the feeder. For the first few days, their flight training was a comedy of errors. But they survived and now, they are confident young birds starting to sport their mating feathers (Not unlike my son actually).

Those parents worked themselves ragged. Haven’t you done the same? (I know I have.) Parenting is hard enough with two, but when one parent dies and the other is forced to go solo, it’s really tough. While most of our houses look good from the outside, the real beauty of home is the world we’ve created INSIDE. It’s our selfless love that has made our houses places of safety. It’s the soft nests we’ve made for them, our dedication to their well-being, and the life we have modeled for them as the years poured out, that is nothing short of true art.

Just like the baby wrens from the gourd, my baby is flying now, too, and with each flap of his wings, I find my tired heart both celebrating and mourning a little. The mother in me marvels at how quickly my baby became a toddler, then student, Eagle scout and now… a man.

I know it’s time for him to fly! The mother in me is happy for him and proud that he has such strong wings. But I admit that as I watched that wren cleaning and relining her nest today I thought, “Thank God I’m too old to breed again!”

 

Time to Let Go?

Letting go is hard to do, just ask anyone who has moved (or even cleaned a closet).  Our stuff holds memories. My memories tend to fall into two categories: the ones I never want to forget and the ones I wish I could forget.

I’m not alone in that regard. One of the women I’ll be working with in the next Widow’s Recovery System program is in the process of selling the home she shared with her husband and children. She said to me the other day, “I know it’s just a house and it’s just stuff but I didn’t think it would be so hard! Why is it so hard?!”

Let’s be real here. A lot of our stuff has meaning. So of course letting go of our stuff when we need to relocate or downsize is hard. Packing is the easy part. Revisiting the memories those objects hold is the hard, joyous, painful, tearful, and even infuriating part. By the time you reach a, uh, certain age, you realize that life is always asking you to let go of something (Or worse yet, as we all have, someone).

Between the ages of 21 and 24, I made two cross-county, coast-to-coast moves and each move required that I let go of anything that wouldn’t fit into a shipping trunk. I still have that trunk (of course). It sits in the attic, filled with memorabilia from my acting career and the improvisational comedy company I founded when I was a pissed-off, disillusioned 27-year-old who weighed 105 pounds. But I digress.

On my last move (which only took 9 hours by moving van, which explains why the trunk is still here), I left behind an exquisite example of the finest in hand-painted British bone china, a large antique water pitcher that I kept carefully turned to one side due to the sizeable hole my very first cat Twinky put in it when he knocked it off the mantle for one of those reasons only cats understand (You probably remember Twinky as the author of a 12-step, self-help book for cats entitled “How to Own a Human.”).

The pitcher went into my “thrift store” pile because it was what organizational specialist Peter Walsh calls a malignant item. When I lifted it from the mantle and saw the hold in its side, memories flooded back. Memories of my first mother-in-law, who gave it to me as a “welcome-to-the-family” gift; the painful divorce that followed 7 years later when I realized I had married a serial-adulterer; and the insidious death Twinky suffered from a brain tumor. He was the only continuity in my life for almost a decade and his loss was as devastating as my divorce.

In his book, “Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” Peter Walsh says that while some things are easy to let go of (that old coffeepot without a cord and the 3 legged couch), others are “Memory Items.” He suggests that as you sort and pack for the next adventure in your life it’s best to divide memory items into these four categories: The Treasures, Trinkets, Forgotten and Malignant.

His sorting system is really helpful because it helps you think your way through the sorting. Walsh says treasures are those truly irreplaceable items that usually represent 5% or less of the objects you own. These are things like your mother’s wedding ring or the childhood teddy bear that still shares your pillow. Trinkets on the other hand are things you collected on family trips or vacations, like that key-chain from Yellowstone or the shot-glass from the casino. Forgotten items are things that have attached themselves to your life but you don’t remember how or why. If you don’t remember why now, you probably won’t remember next year either, so they go in the trash or donate pile. And that brings us to the malignant items. These are things (like my gorgeous bone china pitcher) that remind you of dark or painful moments. If you’re like me, you probably don’t need any more dark and painful moments to complete your life so just GET RID OF THEM no matter how “valuable” they are. In fact, if they’re valuable, sell them so they can help fund your new adventures!

The good news about letting go of your “stuff” is that it is very freeing! Yes, it’s a pain to sort through our things and make piles and then take those piles to the trash or the charity resale shop but in the end, it’s worth it. After you let go of all the stuff you really don’t need or want anymore, your life can move into new spaces much more easily. Plus, the memories you really want to keep are safe and sound, deep inside your heart!

 

 

 

Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

Have you ever had one of those days when you suddenly realize the safety-margins of your life are disappearing into a tangle of conflicting commitments or, worse yet, hiding out under piles of silent dust bunnies?

Well if you have, welcome to my day. As I write this, I am glancing at my hands and hoping I don’t have poison ivy. (Praying, actually, because I’m REALLY allergic to that stuff.) I have been working on the road most of this year and I have fallen way behind in my real life. (By real life, I mean the one that’s always lurking in the dark corners of the laundry room, tool shed or yard.)

The day started innocuously enough. I decided to have coffee on the deck. The birds were singing from every tree, a cool breeze was blowing, and I was having a perfect morning UNTIL I noticed that the fountain in my goldfish pond wasn’t working. So I took my coffee to the pond to investigate. I fed the fish and tried to decide if I wanted to tackle the pump. But while I was watching the goldfish feed with a spring frenzy I couldn’t help but notice the wild clematis, Virginia creeper, knee-high oak seedlings, AND poison ivy spilling from every corner of the day lily beds that surround the pond. Oh, and the pump still wasn’t working. It apparently doesn’t respond to the “Mommy Evil Eye.” Arrgh!

I tried to do meditative breaths and focus on the delightful little fish forms in front of me but I couldn’t! Because you see, just yesterday I had a similar realization while catching up on six weeks worth of journaling! Again, I have been trapped by that weird womanly need to be everything to everybody. You’ve been there, you know how this works: You do all the stuff you think you need to do for everyone else only to watch your personal life and goals disappear under dust bunnies and vines. Enough!

I stomped into the house and put on my armor: long-sleeved bug shirt (check), long pants (check), sunscreen (double-check), straw hat (check), and “Steel Lady” (It’s a long story.) yard gloves and got my rake, shears, and wheelbarrow from the shed, which I now know is also covered in vines. With a fury not seen since I fixed my vacuum cleaner, I pulled every last vine out from those lily beds, cleaned the filthy filter for the pond, restarted the pump, and made a brush pile five feet high at the curb.

Sweaty, dirty, wet and pretty proud of myself, I came back in the house, pulled the screen door behind me, took a deep breath and then… saw dust bunnies piled against the baseboard as far as the eye can see. Yes, it’s going to be one of THOSE days around here. So, how are you?

Happy Mother’s Day SuperMom!

Mother’s Day is right around the corner! You’re ready for your kids to bring you breakfast in bed. You’re pumped up! You are ready to be celebrated for a change, have someone else do the heavy lifting for a day. You’re longing for a rose on the breakfast tray, two blueberry pancakes with extra syrup, a slice of thick bacon, a rich cup of French roast coffee and a homemade card that says “I Love You Mom!” atop a flowered cloth napkin.

 

Haha! Dream on!

Click here to see a SuperMom’s Mother’s Day!

Beauty Rises from the Dark Places

On a beautiful spring day I found myself on a wildflower hike. It was one of those days when the temperature is like that last bed in the Goldilocks story: just right. It had rained earlier in the week and there was a cool, lingering dampness in the woods. A breeze teased my nose with the sweet scent of flowering locust trees.

I made my way along a narrow footpath that followed a creek as it rose up the mountain and suddenly there were flocks of dwarf iris tucked into every corner. Deep green leaf blades rose from the dank ground and the still-wet leaf mulch of winter formed the perfect backdrop for their shockingly purple blooms. The iris were the opening act for a true treasure: a showy orchis. A shy mountain native, its vibrant fuchsia blooms rose to meet the breeze from long, slender stems. What a privilege it was to see one. At the top of the mountain the soil turned loamy and pale pink shell azalea and mountain laurel bloomed on the rocky ridge.

I was lucky my rare day off fell into the wildflowers’ tiny crack of time. They arrive in between the last freeze and the greening of the forest canopy. In the life of a wildflower, timing is everything. They are literally there one day and gone the next. Spring is their midwife and they bloom from the dankest, most rotten soil on the mountain. They lift themselves from pools of melted snow and spring rain into shafts of sunlight that will soon disappear. They bloom from corners where the wild winds of winter blew the leaves of fall against ancient trunks and drink deeply of melting snow and spring rains. Wildflowers bloom when and where they can in the most unexpected of places.

Our moist, dark places give birth to beautiful things, too. All new life requires rich nutrients. You can’t grow a healthy plant from thin, exhausted soil. So, I think it’s kind of ridiculous that our society goes to such lengths to avoid hard times, grief and sorrow, skirt around it or pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s ridiculous because every trial we undergo, every grief we experience, every hardship we endure, and every tear we shed is a nutrient for new life. It’s not easy to sit with these dark things of life (I’ve done my share of sitting with dark stuff and watering it with tears.), but it’s just as important as the happy, bright times because when shafts of light finally pour down into the dark, moist, nutrient rich places of our souls, wildly beautiful things are born!

Life may seem dark now, but believe in nature’s promise – from moist, dark places comes new life!

Girls Fix Stuff

It all started when I invited some people over to my house for a meal. I’d been on the road for several weeks, eating food I really shouldn’t eat unless I want to weigh 600+ pounds. I’d been sleeping in hotels and bumping into furniture in the dark every night trying to find the bathroom (Why can’t OHSA step in and mandate that all hotel rooms have the bathroom in the same place? Seriously, how hard is that?). Anyway, I needed to nest, rest and bake something. Now that probably sounds crazy, but baking is very restorative for me, it’s one of my favorite ways to nurture myself. I get to eat a homemade food, plumped up with high-quality fat (like European butter, for instance), and my house smells fabulous!

I baked a quiche and cookies and then about a half-hour before people were to show up, I took in the state of my house and about fainted. My den was covered in dog hair. When I say covered, I literally mean covered. It was ankle deep in dog hair. Spring had sprung while I was away and the yearly shedding had begun.

So, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming. My part Jack Russell, part Basenji (Mr. Pip – a.k.a. world’s most adorable dog) had busied himself during my absence with chewing up a stick (Which I pray isn’t from a piece of furniture like it was the last time.) and he’d strewn toothpick size pieces of it all over the room. By the time I got to the kitchen, the vacuum was overheating and then it growled at me and just ceased to function. I hadn’t even made it to living room, so I did what our elementary school janitor did, I pushed all the fur and dust bunnies into the corners of the room with a dust mop and left them there.

I really didn’t think anyone would notice. My guests arrived and commented on how wonderful the house smelled. I thought no one had noticed until one of my girlfriends (who is also a widow) said, “Why are there dust bunnies in the corner? Did you break your vacuum cleaner?” Busted!

Now, as a Mom, I’m used to everything being my fault, so no worries there. Never mind that the #*@& vacuum cleaner fell apart 2 days after the warranty expired or that most manufacturers make products under a “planned obsolescence” program these days (This is a huge pet peeve of mine but I won’t get into that now). Of course it was my fault. I mean, I know that and in fact, I’d already accepted that. But I couldn’t accept buying a new vacuum cleaner. I’d had a lot of big expenses that month and I just couldn’t afford a new one, not just yet…it wasn’t in the budget.

So I asked my friend Andy to look at it. Now Andy is a very practical, handy kind of guy and he looked that thing over top to bottom. He used a screwdriver and everything. No duct tape was involved, but tools were. (I learned a long time ago that half of fixing anything the way a man does is to: 1. Cuss it out and 2. Put duct tape on it.) A few minor issues were solved but the cleaner was still overheating within seconds of being turned on. Additionally, it was now emitting a dark aroma that smelled a bit like dead possum, so I decided not to risk a house fire and I took it out to the trash.

Trash day came and I pulled my bins to the street. Then I went back for the vacuum. As I was walking to the curb, a light shone through the clear tube at the bottom that connected the beater brushes to the debris container. (It would be more accurate to say that it shone through the sticks and hair that were clogging the once clear tube.) and in an “a-ha!” moment I spun on my heels and took it back inside. I put the vacuum on the floor and looked at how it went together. Hmmm. I cussed it out. (This is mandatory, otherwise said tool or equipment KNOWS you are a girl and refuses to cooperate.) When I determined that I needed a Philip’s head (I realize I learned a lot watching Perrin fix things…), I got the little black bag that held the tiny screwdrivers he used on his cameras and lenses out and then I put a roll of duct tape next to the vacuum cleaner, just to scare it. I unscrewed that tube, pulled Mr. Pip’s toothpicks out of there, along with about 2 cups of his hair, screwed that sucker back onto the vacuum and it works like a champ. And I have to tell you, I’m feeling pretty dang proud of myself.

But the moral of this story is that we can all do things we think we can’t do with a little help from our stored memories and a roll of duct tape.

Waiting for Easter

The day my husband died, I gazed out the picture window in his hospice room and the lone tree in the labyrinth arched longingly toward the heavens, naked, before its creator. Gone were the blossoms and seed pods of spring. Gone were the full leaves blown about by the storms of summer, gone was the golden dress it wore when the harvest moon hosted her last ball. The dry leaves were snuggled up against its trunk like a blanket. Creation was waiting for winter. Inside that hospice hospital lay the mirror images of that tree. The once mischievous children who played in the mud on spring days, had become brides and grooms in summer, then moms and dads in autumn and, for the lucky ones, grandmas and grandpas. Now, they lay stripped of their cars and jobs and homes and roles and lifestyles. Now they lay silent, under blankets, bodies arched longingly toward the heavens, souls standing naked before their creator.

 

When they said my husband could die anytime, that the battle he’d fought so bravely was over, I’d gone to the mortuary. Thank goodness we’d discussed death and dying and burial and funerals on one of those long car trips that are so good for thinking and talking. My husband loved the outdoors. He was happiest in nature. He ran, he cycled, he swam, he camped. If you could do it outdoors, he did it. He wanted to enter the earth as dust, he said that day as we drove a mountain road, and he quoted that scripture passage from Genesis. The one where God kicked Adam out of Eden. From dust you came and to dust you shall return. Thank goodness, we’d had that conversation and I knew what he wanted. He wanted to be cremated and buried in the family plot, in South Carolina, next to his father and then have a big celebration of his life at our church. He was a man of faith, he believed in life after death.

 

A gaunt, solicitous young man greeted me at the crematorium. He was tall with pasty white skin and bulging eyes and a shaved head as bald as a cue ball. He was young but already very sanctimonious. He ushered me into a small office, with a metal desk and two pale green office chairs. He took out a long, legal sized form, in triplicate (one for me, one for him and one for the government) and murmured to me in hushed tones. “Now then, what kind of casket did you have in mind for your beloved?”

 

I could hear the sales pitch coming like a freight train in the dark and I wasn’t in the mood so I interrupted and said, “Actually I don’t need a casket – my husband wants to be cremated. All I need from you is the cremation and an urn.”

 

He checked the box that said, “Cremation,” and patted my hand. And then he put his pen down and he told me the sweetest story about how he’d been a paramedic in the military but given that up so he could do what he always wanted to do: embalm people. And then he assured me that I would want my husband prepared before the cremation so everyone could view his body and remember him the way he was, before he died. And he checked the box next to make up and hair styling.

 

Now my husband was born and reared in Alabama – roll Tide! His idea of gun control was not having a loaded one on my lap in the car. He was an Eagle Scout, an athlete and man’s man, okay? I knew, I knew my husband wouldn’t want some pasty faced man fluffing his hair and putting pancake makeup and lipstick on him so I grabbed the pen and scratched that out.

At which point, we proceeded to the display room to look at urns. This tour convinced me that the old adage is true: one man’s junk really is another man’s treasure. There was a cheap brass urn that I’m pretty sure was once a tobacco spittoon. There was an urn with a deer head and pine trees but I decided against that one because I didn’t think he’d want to be buried in camo. We walked under the wood cut sign that said, “Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” And I found my mind leaping into the scripture for safety. “Lo, thou art with me, they rod and they staff, they comfort me.” And then I saw a pale orange and yellow salt crystal urn. It looked just like the lamp my husband bought me at a craft fair for my birthday the year before. That lamp sits next to my computer and when I turn it on, the glow through the crystal is so warm and lovely. I picked it up and he said, “Now that is not an urn for a woman of your standing, for a Christian woman like yourself. That one is just salt and it will dissolve and spill your beloveds cremains right into the ground.”

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. “From dust you came,” the Lord God said to Adam, “and to dust you shall return.” And I held onto that urn with all my heart and said “I’ll take it.” And wrote the man a check.

My husband died before the day was out, and we buried him in South Carolina, in the red clay in the graveyard that sits next to the church his family founded before the civil war. A heavy frost sat on the ground and everything was gray. The only color was a bright red cardinal that flew to a bare branch near the open grave and sang to us. I swear to you it said, “believe, believe, believe.” I took the bag of tulips I’d bought for the yard and pushed them into the clay on top of the urn. Planted them in the shape of a heart, squeezing every last one in, and then I laid his ring in the middle. His siblings took turns shoveling the Carolina clay into the grave, we ate a meal at the farmhouse together, we had a celebration of his life and then…

Winter came… with all its “firsts.” My first wedding anniversary without him, our first Christmas without him, my son’s first birthday without him. The waves of grief came one after the other and like storm surge pulling the sand from a beach, there was a little less of us left each time the waves came.

But finally, spring came, My son and I decided to drive to the farm in S. C. just get out of the house for the weekend. And as the highway unfolded before us, the trees arched longingly toward the pale blue heavens, their graceful arms now covered in flowers and seed pods. The green of the wild grass along the road was so bright our eyes could barely take it in. We stopped at the church to visit the grave. Daffodils nodded from their neat lines along the walkway. Soft moss was growing into the cracks around the stone wall and the lusty mating songs of the birds burst in the air. Creation was birthing itself again.

We opened the wrought iron gate to the graveyard and what we saw there, took our breath away. A heart of tulips blooming on his grave. Red ones, pink ones, white ones, yellow ones, orange ones, encircling each other, entwining their leaves one to the other, like a family standing over him in prayer. And the cardinal flew to the branch now covered with fresh new leaves and sang “believe believe believe!”

What’s Your Story?

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you are a member of the sisterhood no woman wants to join. You’re on a journey to rebuild almost every aspect of your life. You don’t really have a choice about this. You will either rebuild or you will become the second victim of his death.

Each widow’s journey toward healing begins with the sacred sharing of her story. To have your story witnessed and held tenderly by another cracks open the dark recesses of your heart where you have kept your loss and pain hidden from view.

It can seem as though no one hears us when we are widowed. It can feel like no one is listening to you anymore. That simple sharing of life’s moments that you once took for granted is gone and a vast quiet takes over your life.

Yes, each widow has a story and I’d like to hear yours. But first, I want to tell you mine.

How many starfish try to be stingrays? Seriously, how much time does any given starfish, on any given coral reef, spend trying to be a stingray or a whale? Not much, right? Yet how many times a day do we try to be something we’re not? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to another woman, “Wow, I wish I had your hair!” I’d be a rich woman right now. I’d be a dang millionaire if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve envied another woman’s wardrobe, weight, lifestyle, or home décor. I’m not proud to tell you that, but it’s true.

Animals don’t do that. Animals just accept life for what it is. Wow. That’s a lot easier. So, the two wrens in my feeder today (that I’m pretty sure are about to become Mr. and Mrs.) are engaged in heavy courting. Right now, they’re feeding each other seeds and displaying their feathers. (She’s trying very hard to not be impressed.) But, it wouldn’t enter their minds to ask the crows nearby if one of them would like to make a nest. They’re wrens. They have tiny bodies and sharp beaks. They know what they’re about and they don’t waste any time trying to be a crow or a fox or a cat.

I think nature gives us a pretty good primer in self-ownership. If we try to be something we’re not, it probably isn’t going to work. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. (I can testify to this personally!) It won’t work because it’s not real. I’m a short, dark-haired Welsh woman with enough Cherokee to keep it interesting. I’m not a tall Nordic blond. I can wish that for myself, but I’ll never be that.

When we spend our time wishing things were different than they are, we’re wasting valuable self-time. And the fact of the matter is, God made us the way we are. We are enough, we are what we’re supposed to be. Until we accept what is, we will never grow into what truly can be. It’s only by accepting ourselves, all of ourselves (body type, IQ, innate gifts, life experiences, the whole shooting match!) that we live into who we are. And, who you are is actually pretty cool once you embrace it.

So, don’t waste another minute trying to be someone else. Become who you are and own that.

Are You Ready to be Healed

Jesus healed many people in his travels. But every now and then he asked them if they were ready to be healed. Now, as a child, this always puzzled me. Often these were people who were sitting near healing pools or at the city gates and they were obviously hurting. So, puzzlement was, “Why wouldn’t they want to be healed?” Seems simple enough, right?

But as I grew older and encountered my own demons and dis-eases the question returned to me again and again in my daily meditations. “Are YOU ready to be healed Donna Marie?” And one day I got it: We can become very addicted (literally) to our “dis-ease” and our wounded places and it’s hard to let them go.

We get a lot of attention when we’re sick (Remember how good that chicken soup and milk toast were when you got to eat them in bed?). Things really haven’t changed that much for most of us since childhood. When we trot out our hurt places, people tend to kiss our boo-boos. “He is always such a jerk now that we’re divorced! Why does he verbally abuse me like that?” Instead of, “Oh, you poor thing! Why does he do that?” maybe the question should be, “Why do you still allow him to do that? What are you getting from that?”

Now there’s a hard question to answer. And I’m not meaning to pick on divorced women here, since I’ve been one and done exactly that (And yes, he was a jerk.). But one day I realized that allowing him to engage with me that way let me hold onto the energy of our relationship a bit longer and dream of how things should have been different. When I finally accepted, sadly, that things had never been and would never be different, I stopped the next ugly conversation in its tracks and it never happened again. I didn’t need it anymore. I was ready to move forward into healing. It just took a while for me to get there.

At a certain point, holding onto our wounds is like walking on broken glass. My Dad used to say, “Don’t chew your cud, digest your life.” I mean, think about it this way: If you dropped a piece of china on a stone floor and it broke into twenty pieces, would you keep walking on the shards or sweep it up?

There is no way to avoid pain and sorrow in this life. It’s how we deal with, how we choose to heal or remain wounded, that determines how happy and productive we can be in spite of it. So, “Are you ready to be healed?” When the answer is yes, the healing begins!