Sunday, November 11, 2018

Moments That Define

How can it be that some of the darkest times of our lives later become the very moments that shaped us and defined who we are?

As a little girl of eleven-and-a-half, I began struggling greatly with self-esteem issues. Where I saw other girls that age, beginning to blossom, I looked into my bedroom mirror and saw distortion. Something was very wrong. One side of my body was straight and normal. But the other was unimaginably misshapen. I feared telling my mother, because we had recently come through an extremely bleak time. My mother had had a nervous breakdown and was finally well. We'd moved from the only house I'd ever known into a beautiful, wooded area to begin a new life. How could I ruin everything? And I was frightened also. What if this was something really bad?

Putting it out of my mind, I innocently sat on my mother's bed one day while she scratched my back. She stopped. I held my breath. She's noticed something. Mom said to me, "Kar, something's wrong with your back." I went into panic mode. Screaming and crying, I could not be consoled. But my parents made an appointment with a Pittsburgh doctor, a specialist, to find out about this mystery.

It turned out that I had scoliosis, curvature of the spine. Surgery was immediately scheduled.

My parents and I faced the unknown together when we arrived at Children's Hospital. Questions were asked, the answers of some which I didn't want to hear. For I'd found out about plaster body cast, wires, tubes, strange scary things I'd never dealt with before.

Mom was brave through it all. She never let me see how fearful she was. And she treated all the other little girls in the ward with kindness. I began to see in her, the woman I would someday become.

Dad handled this time with his best defense mechanism: humor. With silly words and funny phrases, he kept me laughing through it all. He had make-believe names for some of the doctors and nurses; names he only shared with me. This way of my father would be something that stayed with him all of his life--diffusing tough situations with his humor.

One day in particular comes to mind. We'd heard that Fred Rogers, of "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" was visiting. I loved his show but wondered what were the chances he would visit my ward. But there, before me, stood the sweet, iconic man. He took time to say something special, as only he could. I, who had felt disgusting, and abnormal, who now lay in a huge body cast, heard words that meant the world to me. "What a pretty girl," he said, smiling that charming smile. It gave me hope--hope that someday, this nightmare would be over, and I had a chance at being normal once again.

Though it was a scary time for all of us, I saw courage that I'd never thought possible. And it changed me. A newfound sense of compassion became a big part of who I was. Just like my mother, I was able to reach out to others who were suffering, thinking beyond my own circumstances. My eyes were opened to them in a major way.

I would use the lessons learned from one of my darkest times, to mold me into a better person. Not only in body, but in spirit.

I know we each have our own cross to bear, nightmare moments that seemed so bleak we thought we would certainly lose our minds, or not make it through. But if we look for the good in others who surrounded us during these times, take a little of their strengths and let it become our own, we will not only survive, but thrive. We will give back to others when it is our turn to be the courageous one.

These photos are from my time in my body cast:

Saturday, September 29, 2018

I Miss You Cousin

How is it that we lose touch with some of the people who most impacted our lives in profound ways when we were children? Do we "grow up?" Move away? Have lives so different we no longer recognize the little girl we once were? Can we dare try to find that innocence once again?

She was intelligent even at a very young age. Pretty, clever, funny, and imaginative. She was world-traveled and an army brat. She could be bossy, demanding, and opinionated. She was my cousin Anna, and there was nobody I adored more when I was a child.

When you are the daughter of mental illness, life throws harsh reality your way. You need to find ways to cope; to deal with the anxiety that has overtaken life. Every day is an adventure. Sometimes a most fearful one. But when you are fortunate to have imagination, and someone to share the journey, the road can be smoother, even easier. My cousin was that someone.

Anna and I could find adventure in the simplest places. Our Italian Nonna had a button box. You know the type. Little round tin with assorted bits of brick-a-brack, buttons of all shapes and sizes, old zippers, and sewing implements. We turned those buttons into pint-sized people. They were our family and had trials that were easily overcome. Our Nonna was the "Queen" button; the biggest, prettiest one with a faux diamond in the center. She ruled over our little world much like she did in our real lives. For Nonna was a constant. A soothing presence in the storms surrounding us.

We cut out super hero pictures from comic books and had daring rescues as Wonder Woman and Super Man escaped the evil clutches of whatever rogue assailed them.

We took old grape crates that our grandfather received his stock of fruit- of -the -vine for wine making. We jumped into them and imagined that we were visiting "The Old Country," the place that our grandparents spoke of often as if it was magical.

We pretended to be other people in other places, always with an outcome where good triumphed over evil.

As we grew into teenagers, we spoke of love and boys. And we were in love with every one of them. We made silly, clever questionnaires with all sorts of scenarios, and dared one another to answer truthfully. And we talked late on sleepover nights, sharing our future plans, hopes, and dreams.

How is it that we haven't spoken in years?

I miss Anna. I remember missing her like this when she and her family would move away for the Army. I would pine for her and write letters awaiting the day she would return once again. And she always did. Though as we grew older, it would take a little time to feel comfortable with each other. But once we did, we began to reminisce about the childhood we shared, and started laughing hysterically over long-forgotten memories.

I hope life has been exceptionally good to my cousin. I pray she has been blessed. I may even gather the courage to locate her in the upcoming weeks. She couldn't have gone far. After all, a bond from such wonderful days long past, can never be broken.

Monday, August 27, 2018

My Father's Special Language

        My father was shy, a man of few words, yet he fabricated a make-believe language, one he invented himself. Nonsensical, silly and fun, it was a constant in our lives—a way that he expressed himself and the emotions that seemed difficult for him to show.
       Dad wasn’t completely comfortable in crowds; he didn’t have any friends that he met on a regular basis. He chose mostly to immerse himself in a special world of his outdoor flowerbeds, working with his hands, and being with family. He began to restore antique furniture and build miniature dollhouses when he retired. When I visited my parent’s home, Dad would walk me around his little gardens. We would admire the glory of nature together—roses, pansies, petunias, butterflies and birds. He would share his latest projects in a truly humble fashion, lovingly showing me the smallest details, reserving this special time we had together using the silly words of his made up vocabulary to name everything.
       None of us were called by our real names, even the family pets, for Dad even had his special code words for each family member, friends, and cousins. My son Matt was known as Ray, my brother, as Boy, Mom was always Barnett, my husband Jim was Peppy, and I was little Tenya. It was as if a secret society—one that Dad was the founder--permitted entrance as his way of letting you know you were welcome in his world. Friends knew that Dad liked them if they were given an unusual name.
       Dad had a particular saying, however, when faced with a barrage of unexpected health bills, or when a particular project he worked on, wasn’t turning out as expected: “What a nightmare!” he’d say, though he said it with a chuckle, as if trying to diffuse the situation. ‘Nightmare’ became the code word in our family for anything we weren’t happy about.
       A robust, healthy man, Dad learned that he had congestive heart failure in his late sixties. Several blockages were found, and Dad had to undergo serious surgery to correct them. A sac of fluid encased his heart due to his heavy smoking. The outlook was a bit grim—not the usual type of bypass surgery.  Yet Dad came through that particular nightmare and subsequent rehabilitation better than expected.
       Years later, another nightmare crept up in the form of my mother’s dementia. Our family began to notice the small changes at first. She began to repeat stories, she forgot simple tasks. Then as time went on, Mom’s whole world changed. She experienced health issues and lost a part of who she was. My father’s words became more powerful than ever to me. He began an early morning ritual of calling before Mom would awaken. It was during those precious moments that we could commiserate about my mother’s failing mind. We made lighthearted conversation and solved some of the serious issues if only for a short time.
        For me, the dementia brought back frightening moments from my childhood—my mother’s mental illness. Her hospital visits had been long, and there were days when I wasn’t sure she would return to us. It was in those moments that my father’s soft-spoken words had soothed and given me hope as a little girl. And it was in our new journey with my mother that Dad would once again step into the role of protector and hero with quiet words of faith and goodness.
       He patiently watched the same movies over and over with my mother. He bought her favorite foods and took her for long drives to nearby places she enjoyed. I never saw him lose his temper with her, and much like the time in my youth, this quiet, good man handled our situation with grace and courage.
       Two years ago I noticed that Dad’s morning phone calls were becoming infrequent. When we did talk, he seemed agitated and spoke of more ‘nightmarish’ incidents as if truly complaining about them for the first time. He seemed to lose his smile, his sense of humor. Even the silly vocabulary that had been such a big part of our world fell by the wayside. None of us knew it at the time, but my father had gallbladder issues that would eventually land him in the hospital.
       In August of 2016, my father was told that he needed emergency surgery. We weren’t sure if he had ignored the symptoms in his care for Mom, or if it happened quickly. His body became septic. The outlook was grim. Dad was now eighty-five years old and his heart had become weakened.
I sat with him alone the morning while the doctor had a serious conversation with us. They weren’t sure he would be able to survive the surgery. Dad looked at me when the doctor left the room and said, “What a nightmare, huh?”
        My brave father chose to give the surgery a try. That night as he was being wheeled away he had something to say to each family member in turn. His last words to me were, “Thanks for everything.” But later I would find out that these weren’t truly the last words I would ever hear from my father.
Though he made it through surgery, Dad couldn’t breathe on his own. He was placed on a ventilator and given medication to keep him comfortable. Weeks passed with no change until I arrived at the hospital early one morning.
       Something had been nagging at me. We had all noticed that Dad’s health was failing, that there hadn’t been any improvement. I knew that I should say something important to my father on that day. Dad had always been there for all of us and he had spent his life dedicated to others. I knew he deserved to be at peace. Though he hadn’t been conscious, I felt that he would be able to hear me as I talked with him that morning. I wanted to be able to let him go. To tell him it was okay to leave us.     With tears streaming down my face, I arrived at the hospital. He actually was much worse. The nurses told me that it would be a day of decisions. Nothing else could be done. His kidneys and organs were failing. I called for my brother and Mom to be there. Friends came to support us on a most difficult day.
       Each of us took our time to say goodbye to him. I had been prepared, but now I wasn’t quite ready to let go. This was truly it. The end of Dad’s life. I glanced around the room at the faces of friends and family, so glad for their comforting presence when I sensed a presence of another kind.      Surrounding my father’s bed, almost like an out-of-focus camera lens, were four tall stately beings: One at the head, one at the foot, and one on either side. I realized they weren’t clearly visible, it was as if I could feel, more than see them. A sense of awe overcame me. They were beautiful, majestic. I wanted to cry out and share the moment with everyone else in the room. Were they angels sent to guide my father home?  Visitors sent from Heaven to greet Dad on the journey he would soon take? This incredible glimpse I was given had to be a true gift that only could have come from my Heavenly Father. I kept the moment to myself. Peace enveloped me then; a sense of well-being, knowledge that Dad would be in good hands—the best hands. I was able to leave the room, able to let go.
        Though others stayed behind as they took Dad off life support, I could not. I went downstairs to a small chapel in the hospital but it was too dark, too quiet for me there. The sun had been shining brightly outside and I decided that I would spend Dad’s last moments walking outdoors.
       A friend who stayed in the room told me she would call me when my father passed. I found a bench and sat upon it, lifting my face to the warming rays of the sun. Birds chirped happily in the surrounding trees. All was quiet, until . . .
I heard my father’s voice, clear as a bell. No mistaking the slight chuckle, the tone of what was said. “The nightmare’s over.
       Exactly at that moment my friend texted me. Where are you? She asked. Why, I asked, is he gone? Yes, she said, very peacefully. I knew that God had allowed another miracle! For me to hear my father’s words as he went off to glory. To let me know with our special phrase that he was leaving, but for me to be happy for him.
       A few months later I had a very powerful dream. In it, my father came to me. He looked young and handsome. He said to me, “Kar, here in Heaven, everything glows, even the people.” I remember feeling as if my heart would burst from happiness at seeing him. During the dream, I confessed how worried I was about Mom. He simply said, “Don’t worry.” When he wanted to tell me a secret about Heaven, I awoke, for I felt it wasn’t time for me to know.
       Throughout my life I’d always dreaded saying goodbye to my parents. Our family was so close. I was sure I would never be able to handle it. Though he left us, Dad’s words remained with me and got me through; the ones that were silly and made me laugh, the comforting ones which had always given me hope, and the parting words spoken secretly to me.
       We lost Mom only nine months later. Though it wasn’t easy saying goodbye so soon after losing Dad, it helped to know he was waiting for her on the other side. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Promise

I spoke with a good friend the other day about unfairness. They had mentioned the fact that a much younger person was making way more money than they did for doing much less. I felt the urge to commiserate at first, but something hit me powerfully. You can call it a Holy Spirit moment. One of those times when words pop into our head or heart that we couldn't possibly have thought on our own.

"Wait a minute," I said. "You are a tither, right?" She said that yes, she was. "Has God ever failed you, really failed you? Has He ever not shown up when you needed Him the most? Have you ever truly been in a bad way and not had the means to get through it?"

My friend's face lit up. She was beginning to get the picture. Clearly.

I continued. "Don't you think that God can take meager wages and quadruple them if He chooses? No matter what amount we are making at our job, He can multiply it. Our wages are His anyway. Everything is His. When we put our complete trust in Him, He shows Himself faithful to our situations. Therefore no matter what amount of money is in our hand, we are blessed and favored. Nothing can take that from us."

She looked down and then back up at me. "You're completely right," she said. "He's never failed me. No matter what I've been through, somehow things always worked out."

This reminded me of my own trust in the Lord where my finances were concerned. The Bible says, "Test me in this," says the Lord, "and see if I do not throw open the floodgates of Heaven." I had been a single mother at the time. And I decided that I would begin to tithe, to give ten percent of my earnings to the church. Many people scoffed at this. Some said that I was crazy. All I knew was God had been nudging at me to begin doing this. I had to. The first week I began, my car had problems and a family member needed help with a loan they had recently taken out. They were unable to make their payment and had come to me a little desperate.

"Lord, seriously," I said. "I began tithing and everything appears to be going wrong. Maybe it isn't for me after all." I struggled and thought about giving up. But something kept telling me to keep at it. Week after week, I gave ten percent to the Lord. And I know some people don't understand this at all. No, we are not handing money directly to Him. But we are taking what we make, and trustingly putting it into the hands of God's stewards. Other people would say hurtful things like "The church has enough money. How do you know where your money will really go?" All I can tell you is what worked for me, and what I felt peace with.

I not only was able to pay for the fixing of my car, but I was able to help the family member, and during Christmas, which was only a few weeks away that year, extra money came in many different forms for me and my son. God showed Himself faithful and His word, true. I have never looked back, and have spoken often of the ten percent. 

If you are in a time of lack, if you are feeling that others are passing you by on the ladder of success and that life is truly unfair; If you are struggling with your bills and debt, may I suggest putting aside ten percent of your what you make and give it to a church that you are comfortable with. Especially if your church, like mine, is the type that has many different ministries and you know it is going to good use. The faithfulness and trust alone is something our Heavenly Father sees and will bless. I feel very strongly about this. So much that I am speaking a prayer over anyone reading this right now. I pray that the Lord will bless you abundantly, dear reader. I pray that you will find peace, healing, grace, and the beginning of restoration in your life. In Jesus name.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Power of Positive Dreaming

(Photo of The Memory Blanket. One of my stories that was chosen.)

I'm old. I can't do this. I will never be chosen. Nobody will like it. I don't have talent. Can I think of any other negative things to say about myself?


When I was a little girl, my mother used to watch a soft-spoken pastor on t.v. or listen to him on the radio. His name was Norman Vincent Peale. He also had written a "controversial" book that my mother loved called 'The Power of Positive Thinking.' My goodness! Such scandal! How dare a man, and a preacher at that, try to combine prayer with thinking positively. Unheard of back in the day.

But combine them he did, and Dr. Peale and his wife Ruth went on to create the inspirational little magazine called "Guidepost" in the late 1940's. I came upon a stack of these small gems in my teenage years. Someone in our neighborhood had a house sale and had gotten rid of them. Dad brought them home to us. Every article, every little story was another diamond, another glorious tale of people just like us who experienced the extraordinary in their prayer lives, or had a wonderful experience that changed them in a powerful way.

I purchased another book by Dr. Peale called 'The Power of Positive Imaging' in my early twenties and read it so many times that it is worn out and dog-eared, but extremely well-loved.

A patient in my dental office recently brought a stack of Guidepost magazines for us to enjoy. I hadn't thought of them in a while, and began reading them once again. As I checked their website, I noticed that they accept inspirational stories from everyday people. Why not? I thought. I had several self-published, or small publishing house published books. Maybe I have a story to share with them that will bless others as I've been blessed.

As I write this today, I received my third call from Guidepost for one of my articles. It is truly a dream come true for me. You see, I never believed in myself, well, not much at times. I thought perhaps I'm too old, or not educated enough. But to be chosen! I am still floating! Someone likes how I write. Someone believes in me. Someone feels what I am trying to convey as I paint pictures with my words.

Yes, it has been a dream since about fourth grade to become a writer. Become. I like that word. For it evokes the fact that I've had to work for it. It shows that I am ever changing, learning more about the craft. It conveys that there is still more inside of me to share with you, dear readers and with the world that God is alive. He is real. He has never failed me. He is never changing. And He will use me through my writing for His purpose. Oh the mighty power of prayer, believing, and dreaming in a positive way.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Let's All Have a Meet and Greet

I'm prompted today by a small stirring in my heart to write about something I witnessed yesterday at my son's Matt3756 meet and greet at the Replay FX event in Pittsburgh.

What is a meet and greet you may ask? Well, at conventions, they are celebrities of some sort sitting behind a table with their manager signing random autographs or taking photographs with fans. Most of the time if you are fortunate, some of the celebs are very kind and engaging, spending a little more time with you especially if you are the "fan girl" type like myself upon meeting Sean Astin from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Yes, sadly this fifty-something-year-old lady made a fool of herself but Mr. Astin took it all in stride and even told me how adorable I was. (I can live on that forever!)

My son, Matt is a YouTuber for those of you who don't know him. YouTube is the new television for young people these days. They watch hours upon hours of this, and Matt is very popular to the point that he has done meet and greet events nearby and out of state as well. Children and their families have come from several hours away to meet with him. When I am with him, it always makes a mom smile. For I see him spend quality time with each child and their family, as if they are the only people who matter in that moment.

Yesterday at the event, I was playing a skee ball type of game, when I saw a mother and son who had already visited Matt's booth for autographs. She told me that the only reason they had come to the event was to meet Matt and how much her son loves him. Her son is a special needs child. I wasn't sure she knew that they could go back and "hang out" with Matt at his booth. He encourages his fans to stick around, chat, and play games. She hadn't known that, and was very glad I told her. So I noticed that they came back to his booth eventually, almost in a shy way as if they were bothering Matt.

Not only did Matt engage the little boy in more conversation, he cheered him on when he played Matt's table top claw machine. He encouraged him and made him feel special. I secretly watched as Matt talked with others, his loud and crazy voice and zany ways, that the little boy was grinning from ear to ear watching his favorite YouTuber acting silly.

At the end of the day, the mother thanked Matt so much for his time and making her son's day. There was a glow in my heart for God giving me such a good son; for letting me help mold him into a wonderful human being even though he doesn't realize it sometimes.

You see Matt wondered when he was a young child what he was good at. And I honestly didn't know at the time when he posed this question to me. I told him "wait and see." A pastor friend of mine from several years ago spoke words of prophecy when Matt was in a particularly depressed time, "Hold on for the ride!" he said. We had no idea those words would come true in a major way. We had no idea that what Matt would be good at, was to be a light in the darkness for many children. Yes, it's wonderful that he's able to make a living with his YouTube channel. But for me, it's the fact that he is doing God's will in this crazy world, meeting and greeting kids all over, and helping them to feel special.

I'm reminded a little of Fred Rogers. I've often told my son this. That he is a cross between Mr. Rogers and Jim Carey. Zany and crazy fun, with a heart attached. I can only hope that I touch lives like he does someday.

May we all be a "meet and greet" type of person. May we help the friend sitting near us telling us their troubles to feel like they are the only person on earth as we listen, truly listen to them. May we meet others with a cheerful greeting and enthusiasm. May we greet each day with the opportunity to be a blessing in a world that sometimes seems a little darker every day.

God, please use us to be your light.

This young man recently interviewed Matt. His name is Colton DeBiase and he has begun a movement that encourages people to "Live Like Fred." (Rogers, that is.) I love the idea.

Matt's YouTube channel:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Eighth Street Dairy

Newspaper clipping of when my parents took over the store. It says: An old fashioned store with a new old fashioned look.

A tiny corner Mom and Pop grocery store seemed like a magical place to my brother and I in the early 1980's. Especially since it was so out of character that our parents would decide to purchase the little business. Dad thought it would be a good venture for our mom to run. And even though he had a full time job at the local post office, he seemed happy to help her out during any time he had off from work.

First glance inside the old place, our family realized that it was in dire need of fresh new paint and many upgrades. Also, the flooring was bad and the look overall was outdated. Our parents put their creative thinking caps on, and purchased multi-color remnants of carpeting from a rug store in town. The end result was an adorable patchwork-type splash of color for the floor. Shelves were painted, plumbing restored, new fun items were purchased to add to the theme of a fun place to visit and set a spell.

With the help of several others, the new look of the store came together in an old-fashioned way. A glass case sat off to the left when you walked through the door; an old-fashioned tinkling bell announcing your presence. Within the case was an assortment of the magic of childhood. Penny candy sat in colorful cardboard boxes. Gum, candy cigarettes, chewy taffy, and those flying saucers that had an outer shell which reminded us of communion wafers and tiny little candy beads on the inside. Red Swedish fish, gummy bears (Mom swore we were the first to get them in the area!).

Because the store was situated across the street from our town high school, we pre-counted bags of one hundred with the most popular penny candy. After the last bell rang, the kids would flock to the store, and we tried to keep up with them as their fingers pointed out what they wanted as they clutched a wrinkled dollar bill in their hands.

We had the usual staples: bread, milk, pop, a few canned goods and cereals. Mom made fresh daily coffee behind the counter where a few stools stood sentinel. An antique game called "Kicker/Catcher" sat at the edge of the counter where we amused ourselves for long periods of time.

Nothing was as wonderful as the video games near the back of the store. One game in particular stands out in my mind. This was the time of the big standing arcade games. It was called "Super Astro Fighter" and it quickly became the major competition for me and my brother and all the kids who lived nearby. We would try to beat one another's scores. We would proudly place our initials at the end of each game, hoping to 'one up' the previous person's score.

The aroma of simmering sloppy joe greeted everyone who walked through the door. For Mom cooked the meat at home, and then placed it into a crock pot which she brought to the store daily. In a crude handmade sign, she cartoonishly drew a picture of a bun with meat inside, steam rising from the top. For some reason, this drew truckers and many others into the store for a quick lunch of one of her tasty sandwiches, a small bag of potato chips, and a pop.

The memory that is most vivid to me though, is the outpouring of good conversation with the folks that walked through the door. My mother loved people, was a good listener, and a great one to give advice. She had several friends that would stop daily for laughter and a good cup of coffee. Some of the warmest memories are of seeing my mother's beautiful face light up when a favorite friend or special young person walked through the door. She knew when they were having a bad day. She knew the right words to say, or promises of prayers for some of their situations.

I feel for the young people of today. For this bygone era of old-fashioned values is headed by the wayside. With the fast-paced world, electronic devices in front of our faces, we are losing something very precious. We are losing the ability to be kind to one another, to listen, learn and be in the moment. My mother had the right idea. She made everyone feel as if they were the only person that mattered in the time she had with them.

I miss the dairy. I miss the people we all grew so close with at that time. My brother and I were fortunate to make lasting friendships with some of them. And yet there are others that we know we will never see again. Perhaps they've moved on with their lives. Perhaps they, too, knew there was once a place where everyone truly did know your name.

On a corner of Duss Avenue and Eighth street in the small steel town of Ambridge, there once was a place of magic. A place that many could come and share their cares, dreams, hopes and troubles. And there once was a woman and man who made the magic happen. Eighth Street Dairy, I will always remember our time. Thank you for being more than just a building, an establishment. Thank you for being a home, a safe haven for many.

One of the only photos we have of the inside of the dairy during our time there. Our dear old friend, Albert Jones.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

It Will Be a Year

I'm pretty sure on this day last year, a Sunday, I was sitting with my mom at her care facility. I wheeled her around outside, listening to the chirping of the birds in the trees, and enjoying the warmth of the sunny day. I told her stories about the birds we listened to, the butterflies floating nearby in the little garden of flowers, and the cute dog that was a part of weekend visits there. When we went back inside for her lunch, I sat content by her side, enjoying the time with my mother and learning all the different oddities of the others seated around her.

There was a man who wheeled himself around and around the room as if searching for his lost love. There was a boisterous lady who reminded us of an old family friend with a biting, sarcastic humor. There was a sweet black lady who was blind, and had a marvelous singing voice and a huge sweet tooth for candy. A Chinese lady who befriended me and tried to get Mom to talk more. These people had become a normal part of my life. I'd grown fond of them, and looked forward to seeing them as I visited my mother.

How was I to know that in one week my mother would be gone? How do any of us ever know? No, her health wasn't great, but she seemed stable. It had been easy to picture heading into fall and Halloween at the facility, and then Thanksgiving and Christmas. In my mind I planned all sorts of fun things for Mom and the other residents. I would read stories to them, and make little gift bags. I couldn't wait.

Friday of that week, I got a very serious phone call from the Home. Mom began bleeding, vomiting actually. They wanted to know which hospital to send her. I chose an older hospital that we had used most of our lives; I knew that they knew her history best, and would give her good care. I phoned my work office and told them I wouldn't be in. I told them my mother had another emergency.

By the time I got to the E.R., Mom was doing better, rather quiet and calm. A doctor pulled me aside and much like our decision with Dad, told me it may be time to let the Good Lord intervene if He so chose. She had lost huge amounts of blood. They would only give her a blood transfusion if the family requested it, but in observing her failing health, her passing would be inevitable anyway. My brother and I spoke about it, and as long as Mom was comfortable and not vomiting any longer (they had given her something for that), we would begin the vigil of letting her go.

I remember sitting with my mother back at the care facility later that day. She told me that I looked pretty in the color I wore. She would fall asleep, become agitated, and then awaken where I would reassure her with words of comfort. I sat by her side quietly for hours.

The next day my husband and I visited with Mom. She did not wake up. Her breathing was shallow, the gurgle in her chest had begun. I laid my head upon my mother's shoulder while tears found their way out of the corners of my eyes. I began singing softly to my mother, silly songs she'd sung to comfort me as a child. Later that night, I received a phone call around three a.m. Mom wouldn't be here much longer. I live an hour away and wanted to leave immediately. My husband was worried for me driving at that hour and in the state I was in. My brother was able to be at our mother's side, and we remained on the phone together for a long while.

My brother later told that a sound like soft footsteps seemed to enter the room though no nurse was there. A napkin blew down from Mom's table, though no breeze created it. And in our mother's hands was clutched her Miraculous Medal necklace though we couldn't imagine how it had gotten there. Mom passed very peacefully.

I remember being strong for myself and other family members during the preparations for her funeral. I remember holding up well and greeting loved ones and friends with my own comfort for them and the words, "I know she is with God and Dad now." And my mother looked beautiful--radiant almost. I had no difficulty standing near her casket and soaking in every last detail that I could of her.

Why is it that I am having such a rough time right now? What is it about this first anniversary of her passing that has thrown me into a black hole of despair? For I find that I am not the same person. I am easily offended, sad and depressed. I cannot find the laughter that was such a big part of my world--of my family's world. Why is grief refusing to let me go of it's ugly grip?

I have many emotions when I think back on all that our family has gone through in these last two years. Two years of losing both parents. Two years of Mom's dementia and failing health. Part of what I feel is guilt, you see. Guilt over relief that a burden has been lifted. Guilt over not being there for my mother's final breath. Guilt over making the decision about the blood transfusion. But what is it that Mom always said?

My mother wrote me many notes and little letters in cards through the years. And one that I found recently said this: All our love always and forever. I want you to know all bad things pass but good thoughts last forever. Hold those good thoughts in your heart.

 And another: My Dearest Karen, I'm not the writer you are, but I speak from my heart. We grew together not just mother and daughter, but best friends also. We had laughs over the years but most of all, love. When you tell me I taught you compassion, you already had it when I was sick in your early years. I have been proud to be your mother. We are human, Kar, the Lord didn't mean for us to be angels on this earth. To me being kind and sympathetic as we all are is what I believe the Lord wanted for us. Don't waste this precious life on past mistakes; live it with joy and laughter as much as possible. All my love, Mom

These tangible reminders of how my mother saw life, are guides, beacons to me,  of how she wants me to live. Would she want me to remain guilt-ridden? I think not. Would she want me to wallow in depression? No. I think Mom is speaking to me through these little notes. I think she always knew how I would feel--how I would take her passing. As always, she is there to teach me and guide me. And in my heart, I know that these feelings will pass.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (And in the mourning.)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

This Is Not Easy For Me

In light of all the recent sadness brought on by so many suicides, I feel I need to share a story with you all. This is not easy to speak about.

When I was a young girl of about nine or ten, my parents took me for a visit to our relatives in the next town. I had cousins almost the same age as me, so I hoped it would be a fun time. It must have been a very hot day, so everyone decided we would head to a local pool for swimming. I was terrified of water, and not happy with the decision. I hated when rough older kids played near me, dunking one another and acting silly, and spent the day popping in and out of the pool to avoid them.

A little later in the afternoon--and this is sketchy--my uncle came to pick us up. It seemed that a little emergency had happened at his house, he'd said. And I found out it involved my mother. She'd been taken to the hospital. By this time, I was used to her hospital visits. Unfortunately, I knew all too well what her depression and mental illness looked like. I was used to the haunted look on her face, the words that didn't make sense sometimes when she spoke. I thought it was just another routine visit.

My father had asked my aunt and uncle if I could spend a few days at their house. I wasn't sure why, but I knew it was important. I was already a backward, sad young girl, not a carefree spirit as my cousins seemed to be, and I felt that I didn't fit in well with them.

When Dad picked me up after a few days, he didn't say much. I was thrilled to be back with him and my grandparents who lived next door to us. I became a bit needy, asking a lot of my father, wanting to spend as much time as I could with him, not realizing what he was going through. Mom still wasn't home, and quite a bit of time passed.

What I hadn't known, was my mother reached an all-time low during her visit with our relatives. In her mind, she felt worthless, unloved, guilty and condemned. Nothing looked right to her. Nothing made her happy. She fell into a pit of despair and decided she didn't want to live any longer.

When I saw Mom again, I had no idea what the bandages around her wrists were. All I knew was my mother was back! Maybe this time would be different and she would become a normal mommy.

As time passed, with the help of a great therapist, the love of my father, and a true miracle, my mother's depression lifted. It was as if the sun began to shine in our home for the first time!

My mother remained strong during my battle with scoliosis only a few short years later. A true steadfast presence and blessing to me, she helped keep my spirits up through frightening, serious surgery and a lengthy recovery. She used humor, great stories and prayer to get me through.

 She got pregnant in her late thirties, and though she was told to terminate the pregnancy due to complications from losing two other babies, she went on bravely to have my brother.

 She became an antique dealer, something she'd only dreamed about, and then went on to run a sweet little Mom-and-Pop grocery store where so many high school kids and others would stop daily for great conversation with her. Mom's infectious laughter, soft heart, and listening ear became known all around. To this day, I still hear stories about lives she touched during her time there.

In my later teen years, Mom had a talk with me about her dark time. She admitted her attempted suicide, and shock resonated in my whole being. Didn't she love me? Would she really have wanted to leave my father and I? Anger simmered within me. I needed time to process what she told me. But as more and more of her story unfolded, I began to understand the lost girl she had been. The child who hadn't been wanted. Who had heard her own mother speak of aborting her. Who had a father who seemed like a monster as he beat his wife and frightened the children with his alcoholic rages. And then losing the most precious person in her world, her dear sister at a young age. All of these things coupled with the sensitive person my mother was, would contribute to the black hole of depression in her life.

It was as if the scales fell from my own eyes. Not only was I able to forgive her, but my mother and I became like best friends during this time. I could talk with her about anything. And I learned compassion, forgiveness and goodness from her. I spent my life thanking God that my mother was still here!

What if?

What if she'd succeeded in her attempt? How many lives would not have been touched, blessed and affected in an amazing way? You see, my mother also had a near death experience when she suffered a cardiac arrest after the depression. She was able to share her story of a glimpse of the afterlife and to describe just how wonderful the feeling of being in God's presence was. Her story would go on to bless countless people throughout her life, giving them a reason for hope when they lost a dear loved one.

My mother's life had a purpose and a reason. Yours does too! Talk with someone. Even one person could change the course of your life. Share your feelings with anyone who will listen. Find a therapist, counselor, pastor, or friend. Be real with them. Be raw. You are needed in this world. Like my mother, you have so much more to offer. There will be someone who will benefit from your life, your very good life. There will be someone who is grateful for you being a survivor.

All my prayers and good wishes for you.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

My Unknown Siblings: A story of a heavenly reunion

Miscarriages seem to be a taboo topic still to this day. But I want to share some stories that will perhaps be a blessing to a young mother mourning the child she never had.

When I was a little girl, among the many other issues going on, I remember a very difficult time of hushed words, whispering and tears. I saw a sadness in my mother that didn't seem like her usual depression. It wasn't until much later that I learned that Mom had miscarried two pregnancies within a short time of each other. One of them was so bad that my mother almost died.

As I grew into my teenage years and beyond, I thought many times of the two who were lost. I wondered were they boys or girls? What would they have been like? How would it have changed our family?

 It wasn't until my brother Rick came along fourteen years later that I didn't think about them so much. I had what I always wanted: a sibling! Rick was named Matthew Richard. Matthew means Gift of God. He was truly that in our lives, the miracle baby who survived the odds, a great blessing in our lives.

But as the years marched on, and our parents began aging, when times got difficult, I began thinking of my two lost siblings once again. How nice it would have been to have a larger family! Perhaps they would have shared the burdens of our parents health issues and been a strength that our family needed so desperately.

I had read a book about the little boy who died and was brought back to life. He mentioned to his mother about his near death experience and said that he had spoken with a young girl and called her by name. His mother couldn't believe it, for it was the daughter she had lost in pregnancy and the name that would have been chosen!

I see so many women who mourn their lost children, wondering what life would have been like if they'd carried them to term. But I believe those dear little angels are in Heaven and they are waiting for us just like the story of the little boy who had met his unborn sister in the presence of the Lord. They are not lost forever and we will be reunited with them someday.

I now know who my siblings were. Their names are Kevin and Roxanne. Mom had always been fond of those names, and had almost named me Roxanne, and Rick, Kevin. I'm sure they would have been the names of my brother and sister.

And there's some neat stories during the end of our parents lives. There was one point that my dad wasn't doing too well. Rick was in the hospital room with him when Dad mentioned, "your sister's there in the corner." That really stuck with me because it certainly wasn't me. But I know now, I feel it deep in my spirit that it was Roxanne, waiting for her daddy.

A similar story happened to Mom. She was in the emergency room for the last time. She was drifting in and out. At one point, she awoke and said the word, "Bible". I asked if she was seeing one, and she said, "yes". I asked if anyone was there with the Bible, and she said "no". But shortly after, she, too, looked in the corner of the room and said the word:"Baby". I believe one of my Heavenly siblings stood there, ready to embrace the mother they hadn't known here on earth.

When I was saying goodbye to my father as he lay in a coma, I whispered to him to go to his children who he'd never met. I knew they were waiting for him. I told him how blessed Rick and I were to have him all these years, and now it was time for the other two to get to know their beloved daddy.

I have no doubt that there were two amazing family reunions in Heaven when Mom and Dad passed. The rejoicing of the children they hadn't known, the laughter and happiness that we cannot even fathom. Somehow it's easier for me to let them go to that glory and not hold on so tightly to my own grief. The Bible says: Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Wow, what a morning it must have been!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Earrings

Last summer, after my mother passed away, I had been in a deep sadness, unable to find a reason to smile or laugh. Nothing made me happy, and the weight of loss lay deeply on my soul.

I saw in my email a note from Guidepost magazine. I'd sent them several of my writings before, but had totally forgotten about it from all that had gone on with my mother's failing health. When I opened the email, I saw that they accepted one of my stories! Joy flooded back in. A reason to smile, and even to sing once again! Someone had recognized something good in my writing. And of course, it was an article I'd written about my mom. The timing couldn't have been better.

I want to share that article on my blog today since everyone may not be subscribed to "Mysterious Ways," Guidepost's sister magazine. It is not as I originally wrote it, as their editors had an idea to focus on the earrings. I had to make a few changes to my first draft. Looking back now, I see exactly what they intended. May you be blessed by the little story you are about to read:

The Earrings
     Mom’s earrings. I had to find them.
     I dug through the top drawer of my bureau, rummaging through my jewelry box and the knickknacks accumulated over the years. Printed scarves, strands of beads, dried flowers. Where were those earrings? I could see them clearly in my mind. Pink teardrop diamonds framed by rhinestones. Costume jewelry from the nineteen fifties, certainly not worth much. Yet Mom had to have them.
I’d been at my parent’s house earlier filling their pill containers and washing a few dishes left from the night before.
     Mom had been sitting at the kitchen table, nibbling the corner of a jelly donut and licking her fingers like a little kid. Her wiry gray hair stood on end around her face. Food from the previous day stained her sweatshirt.
     “Kar,” she asked, using the nickname she always called me. “Do you have those earrings I gave you? The ones with the rhinestones?” She stared at me expectantly as if she needed me to understand.
Dad and I glanced at each other. I knew what he was thinking. How in the world could she remember something like a pair of earrings when she could barely remember the names of her grandkids? Dementia had turned my mother into someone I barely knew. And here she was trying to tell me something with those earrings—giving me a clue of some sort. But every time she mentioned them, I felt like we were speaking two different languages. Like I was losing my mother all over again.
We hadn’t always been close, Mom and I. When I was little, she suffered from deep bouts of depression. She’d been in and out of hospitals for most of my childhood. She got better around the time I entered high school. A time when we became like best friends. We remained that way until three years ago when Mom was diagnosed with dementia. Now every day only seemed to bring more darkness as Mom became like a stranger. I was worried for her. I was worried for Dad and me too. What did the future have in store for us? What little did it hold for Mom?
     “My earrings,” Mom said again.
     “I’ll look for them when I get home,” I told her, giving her a kiss. “I promise.”
     Now I picked though the clutter in my bureau, searching for a pair of earrings she’d given me some twenty years ago. She’d gotten them from her mother and then passed them on to me. I’d never seen her wearing them. Why were they so important now?
     I turned to a small wooden jewelry box, one I’d kept since I was a kid. I nudged aside my grandmother’s gold locket and an old cameo pin. Underneath a tarnished seahorse necklace, I saw them. Two brilliant pink gemstones. Mom’s earrings!
     The rhinestones twinkled, casting prisms of light against something else in the box. A piece of paper so worn I could barely read the writing. What was it doing in there? I picked it up and stared at it, recognizing it at once. A page ripped from my girlhood diary.
     I plopped down onto my bed as tears welled up in my eyes and then made their way down my cheeks.
     February 14, 1970, it read. Mom went to the hospital in an ambulance today. . .
     The memories flooded back. Valentine’s Day, 1970. Mom was thirty-three and I was eleven. Too young to know the full extent of her battle with depression, but old enough to know it was bad. Mom would arrive home from one of her hospital visits with dark circles under her eyes and a haunted look on her face. When relatives and friends came to visit, I’d hear whispered words like “crazy” and “suicidal.” Dad did the best he could to take care of both Mom and me, but I felt so alone. I’d escape to my room, soaking up fantasy books and writing in my diary, trying to imagine what it would be like to have a normal mother and a normal life.
     That Valentine’s Day, her admission was different. Mom had been rushed to the hospital. She’d suffered a cardiac arrest in our upstairs bathroom. I’d watched terrified as she was taken out of the house on a stretcher. I thought I’d never see her again, that she was gone. That her depression had finally caused her heart to stop. But a week later, Mom was back at home. And she was completely different.
     The dark circles were gone and her face glowed. When she spoke, I noticed that the confusion, anxiety and sadness had vanished. There was a lightness to her step I’d never seen before. My parents became affectionate once again. Laughter replaced hushed voices and secrecy. Mom finally fulfilled a dream of becoming an antique dealer. And several years later, at the age of thirty-nine, she gave birth to my brother. Life settled into the kind of routine I’d always envied in my friends’ lives.
     I didn’t question Mom about the change, too afraid the spell would be broken. It wasn’t until four years later, when I was in high school that my mother shared what had happened that Valentine’s Day.
     “You remember my cardiac arrest, Kar?” Mom asked one night while we made dinner together. “I didn’t tell you the whole story. I didn’t tell anyone except your father. I was afraid people would talk.”
     “What do you mean?” I asked.
     Mom paused. “Kar, that day in the hospital, I died.”
     I stared at Mom, confused. Died?
     “I remember falling in the bathtub,” she said. “But the next thing I knew, I was at the hospital, staring from above my body on a hospital gurney.”
     She felt herself floating away and found herself at the entrance of a dark tunnel. The further she traveled through the tunnel, the brighter it became. She became wrapped in a brilliant light, unlike anything she’d ever seen. The feeling of complete love washed over her, surrounding her. Yet after a few minutes, Mom felt herself being pulled back. All at once, she was on the gurney again. She heard the doctor’s exclaim, “She’s back!”
     “The light was so pure,” Mom said, a starry look in her eyes. “Like an all-encompassing love. That’s the only way I can describe it. I got a glimpse that day, sweetheart. Of the joy waiting for us all.”
     I stared at the page in my hand now, and the earrings—their light so brilliant, so like the light that returned to Mom’s eyes that long-ago Valentine’s Day and the light Mom encountered when she died and came back.
     She knew. Somehow, even in the midst of her dementia, Mom knew that I needed a reminder. Of the joy that awaits her, and the light that overcomes darkness.

This is my actual diary entry that I'd found.