Gratitude and Grief

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As I stand in the window this Thanksgiving morning and watch the sky change minute by minute, tears slide down my cheeks. Missing my mother. Imagining her standing in this very spot through the years of her seasonal depression watching this same sky, while I was emotionally and physically far away. I know it lifted her spirits.

When I arrived back on the scene in 2012, her vision was gradually fading. I tried to describe the sunrise to her, hoping the thousands of photographs she took of it would flood her memory. But she could only say, “I can’t see it,” not understanding how to “see” it differently. I hope she sees it now.

I don’t have clarity about my grief. Do I miss her presence, or did I start missing that long before she died? And which am I grieving now? Or is it my distance from her for so many years that I grieve and regret? I stand here seeing the sun rise through her eyes. I stand here watching the sunrise through my eyes on her behalf.

Thank you, Universe. Thank you, One Who Is More. Thank you, Mama.

…i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth…

e.e. cummings

Notes from Three of Earth Farm

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Putting the “Modern” Back in “Mid-century,” and other tales.

With my sisters’ blessing and my oversight (and work), changes are coming to the house we grew up in from its construction in 1960. My parents took out a $50,000 loan from my father’s brother to build the house. Presumably there was money from the sale of the house we lived in on the south bay of Puget Sound in Olympia, but the loan is all I know for sure. We called it “the house that Donald’s jack built,” and he came from Michigan for the celebration when the loan was paid off not too many years later. The times they have changed.

The house has gotten tired in the almost six decades since then. My mom wasn’t crazy about change, and she couldn’t see—or didn’t notice—the dinge, so nothing much happened after my dad died in 1995. The kitchen got an update a few years ago when the pipe under the sink burst and Rebecca was in charge of repairs. Somehow she talked our mom into new counter tops and color on the yellow walls, along with the floor that had to be replaced.

I repainted the master bedroom some months ago, but over the past several weeks, some major work has been happening in the ceiling. The four skylights in the kitchen and hall have been opened up from the drop ceiling to reveal the sky, removing the cracked and stained opaque plexiglass panels that have covered them for 58 years (some having been replaced by even cheaper material in the “they don’t make it like they used to” vein). Matching cracked and duct-taped panels also covered florescent lights in the kitchen where there was no skylight and have been closed in and recessed lighting installed.

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Ceiling before, sans the one cracked and warped panel that shattered during yellow jacket nest removal.

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Opening the sky.

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Rebuilding the newly exposed orifices. Plaster and plaster dust everywhere.

And the florescent lights in the bathroom are gone, gone, gone. A new and smaller glass panel now filters the natural light there, where a support beam bisects the skylight making opening it up untenable. I found my dad’s notes up there, penciled onto a “tubafore” when he changed the bulbs so he could monitor their promised guarantee, dating from 1966. I’ve painted the bathroom (no more lavender) to go with the new bathroom floor (an earlier project) and replaced hardware on the bathroom cabinets. Next up is major work on the outdated leaky tub and shower fixtures. Alas, I think the pink tile will have to go.

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The bathroom skylight was completed today! And dimmers put on the eleven recessed lights; cuz you know, I don’t like overhead lights. And new under-counter lights in the kitchen too. Battery operated. No more cords and florescent bulbs. Yehaw!

As soon as the messy part of the project was complete, I was there with my paint roller covering the dirty beige walls in the hall, additionally dinged by my mother’s walker the last few months she lived in the house. The floors and trim are next! Huge thanks to H&S Custom Interiors, who are the absolute best, always willingly (or they fake it well) doing additional little tasks for me. You know, as long as they’re here. I love this small town family of independent business owners I have fallen into.

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In other news, the garden has been put to bed, leaving the mole-destroyed brick walk and gate and fence repairs for spring. I picked (and ate) the last of the chard last night. Or maybe not, that stuff has staying power.

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I wish she and her family (five of the them) would eat the spent daisies and black-eyed Susans so I wouldn’t have to get out there and chop them down, which I should be doing right now. I caught her dining on a large fungus.

In the occasional serendipity of operating an Airbnb (Three of Earth Farm, Centralia, Washington) last week my guest came to my door to meet me and asked if I knew who he was. No. He hadn’t known who I was either when he made the reservation—Airbnb doesn’t reveal the last names of hosts. He lives in California, but grew up in Centralia, his family and mine attending the same church. He was in town for the memorial service of his brother-in-law; whom, it turns out, was the retired owner of the mechanic shop (Ernie’s Rapid Lube) I take my car to. A beautiful person who created a great business; one that made my transition back to my hometown with an elderly car a bit easier, I was planning to (and did) attend the service as well. I was unaware of the connection between the two families. Small world.

The Women’s Writing Circle series I facilitated this autumn—in the midst of the renovations, which are being completed today as I write this—met for the final session yesterday. As my 60-year-childhood home was exploring new life, we nine women explored some of the themes of our past lives and looked to whatever is still to come. Writing, reading, laughing, crying. They all want to come back for another series. I am bursting with gratitude for these beautiful women and our extraordinary stories.

And this morning the sky danced.

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And now I’ve got to either get back to the garden or make muffins for tonight’s guests. Or both.

Be the Light: We Can Make a Difference

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Thank you, dear readers, for this space to pass on two blog posts I’ve read this week about how we can be part of transforming this country, and the world, into an inhabitable place of love rather than a fearful place of hate.

And I would be remiss not to also say VOTE! It’s our privilege and our responsibility. 

From my writing teacher, mentor, and friend, Christina Baldwin: How Apology Works.

Apology requires that we have the emotional maturity to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ even when we are not 100% sure we are 100% to blame. Training in this maturity begins in kindergarten as children are coached through ambiguous social interactions…

“…Again and again we race past opportunities that could help us heal and choose instead to cause more harm. To compound tragedy, it seems quite clear that Justice Kavanaugh has no idea he missed his chance to cross the divide of privilege and pain in this country; that he could have called Senators to their integrity, rallied bipartisan support for his entry onto the Supreme Court, and most importantly, stood as a surrogate in the shattered places in a million women’s hearts by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ And we, the battered citizens of America, would have been shown a model for opening dialogue toward relationships of amends. He might even have shown the president how to behave.

Read the post here to see the words Justice Kavenaugh might have said that could have had transformative powers rather than those he did say that widened the chasm.

Justice Kavenaugh missed a huge and public opportunity. But how many opportunities do we each miss every day? From another author whose blog I read, Heather Lende (author of “Find the Good,”): The Light of Trees and Grandmas.

He was really nice to her, and spoke gently and slowly, and took the time to point her in the right direction, even though there was a line and he was in the middle of ringing me up (and I was late for a meeting.) She was so appreciative she smiled with a beautiful bright light and thanked him earnestly and walked toward the produce section…

“…Did you know that elders played a significant evolutionary role in safe communities? You know how after fifty-five or so we don’t sleep as well as we used to? Turns out that was good for the clan, or the tribe, or the village. Grandmas like me shouted the alarm when there was danger in the night. And don’t you think that now is a good time to be extra awake and pay attention, and call out to the lights all around us when we see and hear them in the darkness– the kind gestures, the well chosen words, the pleases and thank yous, and how can I help yous that shine us on the path to peace and justice and how we want to live with others in this world we share? Isn’t it the least we can do?

Read the post here to see how a grocery store clerk seized an opportunity to be the light. And how the author passed the light back to him.

And as Heather Lende reminds us, there is always Mary Oliver:
“Go easy, be filled with light, shine.”

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

—Mary Oliver

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All Souls’ Day: Remembering My Mother

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She’s been gone six months and eleven days. It seems like forever. It feels like she was never here, that I was never buried in caregiving, that she was never driving me to the brink. That I didn’t lie in my bed at night crying, promising myself that this was not my forever and not believing it.

But I’m revising my memoir again, attempting to reduce it by 40,000 words before I pay an editor to read the rest of them, and I remember. She was here. She was driving me to the brink. And I miss her.

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Yesterday I finally cleaned out the rest of her dresser drawers in preparation for giving away the bedroom furniture she and my father got when I was in junior high or maybe before that. That’s when I got the dresser they bought used when they started living married, three years after the wedding when my father returned from the war; but maybe it had been stashed in the basement until I got my own bedroom. I still have that dresser and I want to use it again.

My mother was quite the collector of jewelry, very little of which I remember her wearing. Some pieces still have the price tag attached. Some that people, including me, made for her. Some of it may be her mother’s. Sometime, while she could still see and write, perhaps with the help of her favorite paid companion, she went through it all and wrote notes on many pieces, so my sisters and I would know its origins. She never got rid of any of it.

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I didn’t know she had a “love” of horses (or what it means in quotation marks). I think there is much I didn’t know about her. And I wish I had known the questions to ask.

Along with dozens of scarves and piles of my father’s plain white handkerchiefs, it fills the four dresser drawers I crammed it in when I cleaned out the other seven drawers for my own use. I touch each piece, most still in original boxes, as I put them in bigger boxes.

This is what I miss: her being young and acquiring this jewelry. When she went to church and concerts and her favorite restaurants and traveled with my father. When she wore necklaces around her neck rather than her dark glasses to cover her regular glasses outside; instead of her hearing aid remote; rather than the pendant to call for an aide to help her in the bathroom.

This is what bring tears: when my father bought jewelry for his love and sent it across the ocean to her, longing to be there himself.

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This piece of jewelry was in the box with this note, but since she is wearing it in the photo above–taken, I believe, before he went overseas–it does not go with the note. Unless the story I thought I knew is inaccurate. I wish I could clarify it with her. I wish she would have remembered if I had asked.

This is the mother I miss: the one who every year at Christmas wore the clip-on holly leaf earrings I made in fourth grade art until she lost one, or it broke. Insisting she loved them, until I finally understood one year that it was me she loved.

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I put the two stuffed boxes in the basement, then go back and get out her multi-strand pearl necklace. I don’t know if the pearls are even real, and I can’t picture myself wearing them. I just need her close by.

“…To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”      —Mary Oliver

 

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