Tuesday, December 31, 2013

There but for the grace of God, go I

The year is coming to an end. In less than 7 hours, we’ll usher in 2014. At our house there will be a party with chocolate fondue for the teenage friends of our daughter, a traditional celebration. Another daughter has traveled to enjoy the evening with college friends. Our son has plans with his girlfriend. Since I'm down with a cold, my husband and I will watch movies here at home. A ball will drop in New York City come midnight and millions of people will make resolutions. 

No matter how they will mark the night, over the past few days I’ve seen several references to 2013 as a year people are happy to leave behind. “Forget the past year. Here’s to a pledge to make 2014 better!” is the common theme. But I’m having a little difficulty with that sentiment. Usually excited to make personal pledges and to “start fresh”, I have mixed feelings today.

The truth is, although we are richly blessed, the past three years have been incredibly challenging for our family. In 2011 our family’s sense of security was shaken by an unexpected outside force we had naively invited into our home and in the midst of that circumstance, our 16 year old dog Charlie died after suffering from dementia and seizures. It was hard to let go of our dear pet, but we knew we were so lucky to have had her as part of our lives for so long. A few months later, we found joy again when we adopted another pup, Ziva, a lovable, affectionate black lab. 

Then in 2012, while on vacation at camp, we learned Eric’s Mom was losing her battle with cancer. We came together as a family, meeting often at her home over the next few months. Barbara died two days before Thanksgiving, one day before our son Paul’s 13th birthday. It was, obviously, a sad time. The holidays were strange for us all. But as the ball dropped and 2013 began, I thought, “This next year will be a better year”. It certainly appeared to be going well over the winter months. Our first born Sydney was doing great as an RA at her university. In January, Eric and I brought Emma to New York to tour one of her prospective colleges. The next month Emma and I flew to North Carolina where we spent time at another school. It was thrilling to witness Emma narrowing her search for a college. Then in March, I was asked to take the leading role in a local community theater production. As summer approached, I was excited to share that experience with my parents who we were scheduled to visit with for our annual two-three weeks at camp. Emma graduated from high school in early June. A few days later, my world flipped upside down.

My 85 year old father had a massive heart attack on the morning of June 15th and within a few hours, he passed away. I’ve already written of how that affected me. To say my Dad was my hero is an understatement. In the past six months, I’ve grieved to the depths of my soul. The grief has been complicated by other factors. I have struggled but I have also held my head high, proud of the man my father was, secure in the love and the faith he raised me with, and determined to live my life with honesty and positivity.

Each individual life is touched with sorrow and joy. Mine is no different. The darker days help us better appreciate the brighter ones. The hardships offer us lessons and intensify the joys, the songs after the storms. I will always refuse to dwell in adversity. I choose hope. I choose service. I choose to see the light of the sun which continues to shine.

So, as the sun begins to set on 2013, I'll probably make a few resolutions. It's in my nature to set goals and to work diligently to achieve them. However, I refuse to forget this past year or any previous year. How could I and why would I want to?! Sure, there was pain, there was sadness, and there were trials I never saw coming. But I felt the love and the grace of God in everything that occurred. And there but for the grace of God, go I...into the year of 2014. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Say My Name

A second earlier Mom had been at my bedside, saying my name. “Anne?” she’d whispered softly. My lips seemed to be glued together and I worried I wasn’t responding quickly enough. I forced the sound to emerge from my throat and it did, but it was low and mumbled. “Mmmmmooommm?”, I finally uttered, but I was too late. Mom was gone, if she’d been there at all. I knew I was now awake. 

My body was heavy from sleep, yet I felt the need to know the time. Without moving anything but my arm, I fumbled for my Iphone on my nightstand. Clicking it on I read the display. 1:47am. “Ten minutes to two” I said articulately inside my mind. I willed myself to remember the time before I dropped off to sleep. I needed to know the exact time Mom had been at my bedside. Just in case it mattered.

We’d gone to visit her thirteen hours earlier, finding her again in the lobby of the pleasant assisted living home where she’s lived for the last four months. Unlike my last visit, she did not greet me with a look of recognition this time, but sweetly accepted my hug and nodded in agreement as I introduced her grandson Paul and her son-in-law Eric. I thought of the many times I use others’ names on these visits, wishing someone would say my own name in hopes it’ll click with her. 

We moved to her private room and I had gone in, again commenting upon how pretty it appeared. Mom’s cranberry glass adorned the window sill and various pieces were placed on tables around the room. I made note of how many of them had tiny bouquets of flowers inside. The cranberry glass had never housed arrangements when it was at home. Instead the pieces had been happy to glisten in the sun of the front window panes, beautiful in their own right, not needing flowers for enhancement. 

I sat and visited with Mom and I talked, a million words a minute, or so it seemed. I strive to make her happy and it works every time. She matches my own smile, her eyes brighten. It’s remarkable to me how masterful I have become at small talk. I chuckle over this to myself every so often. Dad had loved that particular blog post I’d written a few years back about my hatred of small talk. He always loved my “globs” as he called them. Each time we visited he’d smirk, playing dumb as the children tried to teach him the correct pronunciation of the word, blog. These are the moments I hold onto, the memories that no one could ever discolor. He was proud of the writer I’d always been. “A writer, just like your mother”, he’d say. He was just as thrilled to hear I was returning to the stage to star in another musical. My number one fans, my parents always were. My greatest allies. Oh how I miss them. But, the love from parents is eternal. It’s a beautiful thing to have faith that although the clouds sometimes darken above my head, the sun will soon burn through and bring warmth again. 

It’s a beautiful thing to know who you are, what you are made of, and where you are meant to be. Some nights I am meant to be here, in bed, paralyzed with sorrow after another death of a young person from my school's community, trying desperately not to cry out to a Mom who is no longer able to speak my name with recognition, and a Dad who six months ago would have openly shared my grief. Some nights I am meant to heal myself through the tapping of my fingers upon the keyboard, trusting in the memory of my parents’ unending support of my goals and dreams, of their unconditional love, of their true understanding of my place in this world, whether on stage, online, in the classroom, in the arms of my husband and children, or on my knees giving thanks to He who sustains me.  

My body is heavy once again, in need of sleep. But as I let my head fall to the pillow, my arm is outstretched beyond the blanket. Take my hand, Lord. Cradle it within Your own. I have nothing but hours of slumber to spend with You. Tell my Dad I miss him. Tomorrow I’ll return to visit you, Mom. And we’ll smile at one another and I’ll tell you my name. And although you’ll not remember it, when I say, “I love you”, you’ll quickly tell me, “I love you too”. And that, my dear one, will be more than enough for now.