A journal of healing

Archive for the ‘traditions’ Category

What would Mom think?

Today is Mother’s Day. I have been thinking a lot about my Mom the last weeks. She died when I was 23. My relationship with her was not very good most of my life. I often wonder what her take was on our relationship. I also wonder why she was the way she was. Through pictures and letters I discovered a different history and that has helped me to understand a bit where she was coming from and with the way she was.

Mom was the older of two girls. I know so little about my Grandparents. We were told my Grandfather died when Mom was very young. This turned out to be not true. After my Mom died, I got her steamer truck full of things from her life. In it was a box of letters from her father to her. He left the family when she was 15 and moved back to the family homestead in West Virginia. Mom told us that he died from being gassed in WWI. Well, he was gassed, but he died in a sanitarium from chronic alcohol abuse.

My mother must have been so embarrassed that she hid all this from everyone. I wonder if my father knew. I can understand why she did.

My father’s family was very wealthy and upper class living on Long Island. His father was an ambassador from Spain and I am not sure what else he did. He died when my father was three in a tragic accident. He was crossing a rail road and was stuck and got hit by a train. My uncle was also in the car and died. My father’s mother was pregnant with my aunt. Again, not much was ever shared with us about the past. My aunt wrote us all a lovely little book when my father died about growing up. They were well to do and privileged.

My mother married into a dream. She came from Detroit and I am sure there was not much money as her mother worked. The only proof I have the early years of their marriage are pictures of Mom in very lovely evening dresses and at dinner on cruise ships. They had a nice house with domestic help and my brothers and sister grew up attending sailing classes at the Yacht club where my parents were members. Being the youngest, I had a much different upbringing as by the time I came along, the money was gone and my father lost his business.

My Mom kept up pretenses all my life. My Nana, her mother-in-law, was a lovely woman but the truest snob I have ever met. We were not close. I am sure my mother was worried her whole life that she, the little girl from Detroit with hillbilly relatives, would not measure up. I am sure she worried about her pedigree. Hence, she did not speak about it. But she played the role of the grand dame right up to the end of her life.

Her gift to me was to give me some class. I grew up learning about etiquette and an appreciation for the finer things. Our house growing up was filled with silver, crystal and fine linens. We always had a proper dinner and I learned the use and procedures for setting a formal table. All this of course is now useless, which I think is sad. And now, I have what remains of the silver and crystal and never use it. I think my mother would be disappointed if she was still alive. She gave me traditions, some I still hold on to. But my sibling’s relationships are disconnected so the traditions have morphed into my family’s own.

My Mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in July of 1978 and was gone the next January. She did not want to talk about her illness. I think about that time and I wonder how she felt when she heard the diagnosis. Knowing my Father, I am sure she held back her feelings even from him. I was newly married but I spent the last two weeks of her life with her. She was in the hospital dying. They did not have hospice services like they do now. Even then, she did not share much. She did not complain about her pain other than to ask me to rub her back. As she slipped further and further away, we would sit in silence. She was the first person in my life to die and I had no concept of death.

I was the one who received the call that she had passed away. I now wish I had been there with her, but I was unaware that she was that close to death when I left that afternoon. I had to tell my father she was gone and that was only the second time I ever saw him cry. Emotional demonstrations were not allowed in my family. This is a remnant of their upper class behavior. “Stiff upper lip and all.” I never fit in that category and was constantly chided for being so emotional.

It has been almost forty years since she passed. I do not remember the sound of her voice. I only remember her face by pictures. She was the rock and glue of the family and when she passed, the family broke apart. I ended up having to take care of my father for 13 years, which was a huge strain on me. I am still close to my oldest brother, but he practices the same emotional restraint my mother had.

I look around my house and see pieces of her in my decorating. She loved flowers and taught me well about gardening. I have multitude of houseplants, much like she did. I have her love for sterling even though I hate to polish it. There is not much left compared to what we had growing up. My father sold off a lot of it and I remember being furious when he did. I felt like he was selling of pieces of my Mom.

I do not use all the china I have and now I am looking to get rid of it. I know that sounds callous but my nephews have their own or they don’t want it. There is no one to pass it on to. I have Waterford crystal that sits in boxes and other stem wear in a china cabinet. I have linens boxed and collecting dust and mold. No one wants these things anymore. My husband is content with paper plates and vinyl tablecloths.

There are other reminders of my Mom every day. She loved cardinals. I always have had a cardinal family living in my back yard. One time or another they have flown into the house. I took it as a symbol of my mother’s approval of this house.

Even being as old as I am, I do miss her, especially now. I want to ask her how she felt when she was diagnosed. I am facing my own diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease, Stage four, which has its own path to death. I want to know her truth. I want to know about her early years. She was only 58 when she passed. I would have liked to share old age with her. I wish she had shared more about who she was instead fulfilling some role she felt obligated to be. There were a few  glimpses of the real Mom in my late teens when my father was traveling and she would literally let her hair down.

But most of all, I would like to know what she thinks of how I turned out. And did she love me.

 

 

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On the horizon

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Thanksgiving has passed and now we are on to the “Holiday Season.” Ever since I was a kid I was bedazzled by the light displays. I think the spirit of Christmas is different from when I was growing up. There was religion still involved. I do not remember being bombarded with all the shopping stuff. Santa was important, but it still revolved around the celebration of Christ and traditional values. We learned about charity and giving in other ways than just presents.

The holidays now are  not about traditional values and the religious components. It makes me sad, even though I have severed my relationship with a formal church. I did that many years ago when I decided that the lies and propaganda that was being said at services was counter to my foundational principals of faith. There was too much political bias and discrimination being offered up as acceptable practice.

Let me be clear that I am not without faith. I have a strong spiritual belief which does not require me going to a church to practice.

No one can truly predict the future but from my view, I see Christmas becoming a completely different holiday and morphing to something that is not pleasant. I see it eventually disappearing. It will become so obnoxious that people will not celebrate it. The pressure to shop and get everything correct will become such a burden that it will be eliminated. I see it happening now where people do not want to bother because it is such a bother. My generation is getting too old to fuss and the next generations have not had the same exposure we did because parents are too tired and are working all the time. It’s now about the loot under the tree.

My youngest nephew sent me a text asking that I keep a look out for a specific gift for his daughter that she HAS to have. I was thrilled until I found it and saw the price tag. She is going to be seven. The toy is a stuffed fur ball that has a computer in it that makes it giggle and other things. It was $150.00. No way was I going to spend that much on one toy for a seven year old. I have seen pictures from their Christmas fall out of unwrapping gifts. That would be one of many toys for her. What was he thinking? What does this teach her? And in all honesty, they cannot afford spending money like that on toys that will be broken or not wanted in two months. But I know it all has to do with pressure and acceptance and nothing to do with Christmas.

Even my oldest brother does not want to exchange gifts anymore. There was a tradition that was attached which included spending the day and a luncheon together. But the last two years, the town they live in turns into a Dickens Christmas and is wall-to –wall people in every restaurant and store. They are in their 70’s and as my brother said, they do not need anything. It has always been a challenge to find something for them, but I spend the year doing it. It keeps them in my thoughts. I have not acquiesced to his desire to give up the practice yet, as I already had somethings purchased. I hope we will still get together but this has created some hard feelings.

What I see on the horizon about losing the tradition of Christmas is very sad but I am powerless to change it. Things will be different and a new set of traditions will be formed for the younger set. As my family gets older and we are separated by long distances, things will change. I can keep my traditions alive in my home and that’s about it. But as my strength and energy fails, I find even my normal over the top decorating of my house, my baking and candy making will not be over the top. But I know in my heart the spirit will be there.

 

Thanksgiving

writing spot 2014

It is Thanksgiving week. Many people travel at this time back to their family homes to gather to give thanks. I am sitting at my spot at the kitchen table thinking how wonderful and blessed I am and grateful. Many times I will sit here or in my chair and look around my home and think how lucky I am and how much I love this place. I did from the moment I moved in.

I saw the house in a whirlwind of viewings of places when I needed to move and get out of the house I was in. I was in the process of a crappy divorce and did not want to remain in that house. I had sold it and already successfully secure a mortgage loan. I actually do not remember much of the visit other than I liked it, it was in the village  where I wanted to live and it had a garden and a pool.

Heron Hill 2012  house after renovations and painting

The interior was very dark. They had covered all the windows with heavy drapes. It was early spring and the garden had not quite come to life but I saw potential. I bought it, had it inspected and moved in. Little did I know that the  inspection was a fraud and I discovered many things that needed to be redone, including a very leaky roof.

At that time, my one basset had seizures every so often. She would circle and her face wound cave and her tongue would hand out. She would be like that for hours and sometimes, she would whimper or cry. They were awful. I had her tested and they feel that she had been so abused that there was traumatic brain injury. My friend took her and Bishop for the day. They came over with them after the move was done. She walked into the house like she owned it. She pranced around the back yard. At night, she walked down to our bedroom, pulled the blanket on her bed over her as she always did and slept. She did not have another seizure until four years later, which was actually a stroke and she lost her life to it.

side after

There is an old style enclosed back porch with large screened windows that was my spot in the summer. I would sit out there for hours. In the winter, the downstairs room became the TV room and I filled it with overstuffed comfortable furniture. That was the only new thing I bought for years as I have too much furniture and need to get rid of some. There are many hand-me-downs and antiques and furniture I got in my first marriage. There is one room I call the museum which has a lot of crystal and fine things that were given to me by relatives. I wish I had a relative to pass it on, but sadly, there is no one who wants or even gets what they mean.

I have made improvement through the years. The interior has been redone with bright paint and papers. I had the bathroom and kitchen refurbished and the lower level area redone to include a man cave for my husband.  The exterior was painted the colors of the blue heron. We call the house now Heron Hill as there are over a dozen heron garden features all over. I had the old pool removed and the garden completely re-landscaped. I had the driveway widened and redone along with some new retaining walls.

The house was built in the same year I was born. We have aged and have creaks and groans but are still functioning. People comment on how comfortable the house is and often say it has a warm special feel to it. No one will ever say it is glamourous or worry about spilling something. It is a place to relax and recoup. I have one person who stays here to watch the dogs while we are away who absolutely loves the place and calls it her vacation spot.

Waiting for Santa Paws

I am sitting here this morning gazing at the snow falling. The house has an abundance of windows including a bank of almost  floor to ceiling ones in the front. They are old and drafty and I will soon cover them to keep the warmth in. But that’s ok because I have many plants inside and they have white lights in them to keep a festive feel even after I take down the Christmas stuff sometime in MARCH!!!! ( wish I was kidding)

Christmas 2014 1

On Thursday, my husband and his daughter will sit down to a meal which we all helped to prepare. I insist we say at least one thing we are grateful for. I practice every night thinking of things I am grateful for before I sleep. Even when the pain of my Psoriatic arthritis is pulsing through me, I find peace and solitude in my humble abode.

 

 

Joy to the World

Our Village

It is that time of the year where people can make a choice about how they are going to handle the season. It does not matter what religious practice you have, we are all affected by the trappings and pressure of the holidays. But there is so much more to this time of year if you look.

The sky turns dark very early at this time of year. As much as I hate driving now in the dark, I love holiday lights and decorations. Our little village goes all out and puts lights in all the trees. It makes it like driving through a faery town. They decorate our Village Hall and the park across the street. The canal goes right through town and the lights bounce off the water adding to the sparkle. We got married at the hall on a short flight of steps with a huge window overlooking the town.

Christmas vacation house

Lots of people got out this year to decorate while it was sixty. It is still warm here and no snow, which is just fine. But because it has been so nice, lots of people put stuff up early, including me. I put my angel out and decorated the front of the house.

Waiting for Santa Paws

Our front window always has lights in the plants. I add my pink deer and my Christmas tree, which is also decorated in pink and white lights. You can see them from the street. I am still working on the tree as I have a lot of lights that need to be replaced.

There are always lights in the garden as well. This year we replaced all the multicolored lights in the one shrub so it is brilliant again. This shot is from last year when we had snow.    Backyard

But think that makes the holidays the most special are the children. I do not have my own children and this time of year makes me feel the most regret of that fact. It was not my choice at all, but the combination of a selfish ex-husband and nature. And why are children so important at this time of year? Because they remind us of magick and wonder. Look at a very young child looking at Christmas decorations.

When I was very little, one of my early memories is of the town where  we lived in on Long Island was holiday decorations. Back in the fifties, there was no “you can’t put up Christmas decorations because of religion.” Matter of fact, the Jewish population sometimes had the best displays. But in town, the Catholic Church was across the street from the Episcopal Church we attended. Both churches had fabulous light displays. The Catholics had these huge golden angels that were lit from the inside of them and they literally glowed with ethereal beauty. I was mesmerized by them. When I found my angel three years ago, I was transported back to those memories of wonder and great childhood joy. (My angel is tiny compared to the ones from my childhood.) But in both cases, they remind me of the true meaning of the holidays which is love and renewal of spirit.

A green Christmas

Every year for the past three, I get the privilege of being Mrs. Claus to the best Santa that ever donned a red suit. My co-worker makes the act of playing Santa part of his ministry. He grows out his own beard which is mostly white and when he puts on the suit and bells, you swear you are in the presence of St. Nicholas himself. And you are. Jim’s love for this role goes beyond just “playing Santa”. He loves, truly loves people and children. The suit is just an extension of him and allows him to do what he loves the most. In the past, I have worked the room, gotten children’s names and passed out cookies. This year because I cannot stand for two hours, I got to sit next to him and pass out our little goodie bags. We went into a husband and wife shtick, which everyone seemed to love. And because I have been doing this for a few years, the repeat kids are used to me. So I get hugs now too. Matter of fact, one little girl who was afraid of the Big man, was very comfortable with me holding her as she talked to him. What an honor.

mrs Claus 2

And yes there were some kids who were greedy. But our Santa does not focus on the toys. He asks the kids about school and their lives. And because he knows the parents who are co-workers, he has prior knowledge and that really amazes them. And yes, there were disbelievers in the older kids who came with their siblings. But you could see in their eyes, even at twelve and thirteen, a little doubt in their minds.

Enjoy the beauty of the season. Spend some time with children if you can. It will help you to remember what this is about. Turn off the news; matter of fact, turn off the TV. I do not find that watching Michelle Obama dancing makes me feel at all joyful. Light some candles and listen to some holiday music. Read to your kids. We drive around at night and look at lights or we watch our DVD collection of old holiday movies like White Christmas and The Christmas Story and my extensive Hallmark collection. And yes, I have a Christmas Manger on my mantle. And it is there because it reminds me of the good memories of my Mother who would do fantastic Christmas presentations on our mantles. I honor her every year this way. This collection has been in the family since 1941.

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This to me is what the season is about: family, children, tradition, and wonder. The magick of the season is in the hearts of us all if we take the time to look. Step back from the shopping and the stress of making everything perfect. Take the pressure off yourself, because that is not what it is about at all.

 

 

The Sunset years

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Although the alternative is not what I want, getting older is a bitch. I don’t feel myself aging, but I know I am. I am not sure anyone feels it like they do with a growth spurt at 11. I see the physical changes reflecting in the mirror. However, I think back to my grandmothers when they were my age, and I certainly do not think I look as old as they did. I know I was looking at them with a child’s eyes, but even in photos they looked and dressed so much older. I love the fact that my age is now considered the new forty.

All this thinking is being brought about because of my poor mother-in-law. (MIL)  She is in a nursing home with a broken pelvis and severe dementia. My sister-in-law has finally had her admitted as a hospice patient. She is 91. She has not eaten now in almost 2 weeks but they are giving her a supplemental nutritional beverage. I am not sure if she is consuming that either. She lies in bed and mumbles most of the time. Some days she is a bit more coherent. Other days, like last Wednesday, are terrible. They found her on the floor and no one is confessing as to what happened. She is alone as her three children harbor ill feelings about her, especially her sons. She was not always a nice woman and I will let it go at that.  But still, it is a horrible ending of her life.

In my in-laws situation, they retired at 55. My FIL worked for the post office and they were very frugal. They traveled and lived in Florida until eight years ago when my MIL had breast cancer. They moved up here to be closer to the family, especially their daughter. My FIL was not sick for very long before he passed. My MIL’s dementia progressed rapidly in the last  years and she should have been placed in a memory care facility years ago. My FIL probably would have lived longer, if not happier.

Now, because she is private pay and has money, her options of care are extremely expensive and limited. Believe it or not, she would have better care if she was living with one of her children. But no one would do that. My brother-in-law did take my father -in-law in for his last healthy months this summer. She cannot go to certain hospice facilities because her needs are covered at the nursing home and because of her private money, she does not qualify for a comfort care facility.

My husband is partially retired. I work my ass of at my job and I am not ready to retire but I am also coming to the realization that time runs short. It is true that as you get older, time seems to speed up. We have spent our entire lives saving and creating nest eggs for our old age. WE have pensions and SSI and savings and annuities and stocks. Why? So that when we get old, it will be there for us. That is what THEY told us to do. And if we die tomorrow, all of that will be for naught. It will go to some folks but we will not have enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The thought of it going to pay for ridiculous nursing home costs so I can lay in bed and rot is incomprehensible.

This morning as I was thinking about creating this post I realized that I have been very depressed. The change in the season coupled with having a tough time with my Psoriatic Arthritis symptoms has exacerbated this condition. Seeing my poor MIL deteriorating helplessly and the splintering of my in-laws has not been conducive to making this a pleasant time.

But, the holiday season is upon us and I am the original “Christmas cheese”.  I am not as obnoxious as some, but I do love the season for it lights and decorations and the whole deal. The past years have been marred with forced in-law functions that ceased to be fun many years ago. When I first met my husband, his large Italian family would get together for these big fancy dinners and party. Once my MIL became so ill and nasty, we would all pile into their tiny apartment at the senior living facility. It was miserable. One year, my husband and I spent Christmas Eve with my MIL in the rehab center she was in after she fell for the first time. No one else came.

It is time for me to snap out of it. I want to enjoy this season for a change. This year, we do not have to attend any family functions. We are having a quiet Thanksgiving with just my hubby and my step-daughter. We seemed to have moved to a place on quite contentment now when we are together. We are talking about our holidays together this year with pleasant anticipation.

I am really thinking about my remaining years. It is actually a very stressful stage of life. When do you decide to stop working for retirement and old age? When do you live it? I know I do not want my retirement to be in a hospital in hospice. I think the answer will come but for now, I want to live in celebration of life. I want to hold on to some good times and create pleasant memories because those will be the things that will sustain me in my old age.

 

Death of a parent

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Nothing prepares children for the loss of the parents. But it is the way of life to succeed your parents. Somewhere I read that having children was the whole thing about being alive; the sole purpose of your existence. That’s upsetting for someone who is childless. But I do not agree with that statement anyways. There are many reasons for existence which are as individual as the being.

My FIL (father –in-law) is in the beginning stages of dying. I have learned a lot about hospice and there are stages of the dying process. He is near 95 and has had a good and honorable life. He has declined any intervention that would prolong the process. My in-laws are in denial of the situation. I think my husband is the only one who has accepted the inevitable. Hence, there is terrible friction and drama going on with the family.

The issue that makes it worse is my poor MIL (mother-in-law) has Alzheimer’s and it has also progressed. I have been saying we needed to place her in a good memory care unit for years. But I am only an in-law and have been ignored. Now, in crisis, they are scrambling. Someone has to stay with her 24 hours a day. It is a sentence of hell. She can be abusive. She smells and the apartment is hot and also smells. My in-laws have been on their own for too long and the care my MIL has needed has not been provided.

All this tension has brought family issues right up to the surface. My husband is feeling all the neglect he felt as a child. He is being ostracized by his siblings in the process of decision making because he has not been very involved by his choice in the past. This too is hurtful. My BIL is a know-it-all and can be very demanding to the point I have to walk away. My SIL is a princess who has not come to terms with reality. She also has refused to stay overnight with her own mother which is leaving this responsibility on her brothers and their wives. I have stayed twice but I now refuse because she will not stay. They also have no respect for my husband or me.

They found a place for my MIL and they are now in panic mode to get her placed. No one has insisted that my MIL see a doctor in the past couple of years and of course she has put up such a fuss and refused to go. MY FIL gave up fighting her. Now someone has to take her for a physical on Monday. It is not going to be easy but I am so glad because I think they will see there are other issues present. She was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago and had a double mastectomy. Her progressive weight loss and decline I think indicates more is going on. But if they had worked with her and got her the medical help and interventions earlier, she may have had a better quality of life in the last year.

My FIL is in kidney failure. I found out yesterday that he had an MI (mild heart attack) a short while ago and it went undiagnosed. Now he has congestive heart failure. He is unable to process the fluid retention he is having. They will make him comfortable but no one has said what needs to be said and that is Hospice Care. They think that is a death sentence and not what it really is, which is the best care he could have right now.

They explained they will discharge him off the floor and are sending him to a “rehab” unit. This is the same place my MIL went to when she broke her hip. The unit is actually a transitional unit and he will probably be admitted to palliative care. MY SIL thinks they are going to get him up and walking around. She said she is going to look for a smaller apartment for him when he comes out in two weeks so he won’t have to worry. She is not dealing with the inevitable and unfortunately she has the power of attorney and health proxy. My BIL was appalled that FIL signed a DNR. I hope they adhere to his wishes which are basically, “take care of your mother and let me go. I am tired.”

I went through absolute hell with my own parents. My Mom died when I was 23 and I was responsible for my father for the next 13 years. My siblings abdicated any responsibility for either except my oldest brother who did all the funeral arrangements and was supportive. It splintered the family and firmed up my resolve to not have anything to do with most of them. A couple of times that they have interjected themselves in my recent life caused only more hardship for my oldest brother and me.

Death is not pleasant for those who remain. That is who the entire funeral and other hoopla is for. The transition of dying is not necessarily horrid. It actually can be beautiful and loving. We all will face it in some factor or another. My husband and I have completed our advanced directives and wills. There is some peace in knowing that it is in place and we have a non-family (lawyer) who will oversee the process and guide my nephew and/or his daughter to do as we wished. I wish comfort for my in laws and I hope someone will supersede my BIL’s and SIL’s lack of reality and ignorance and get them the care they both need.

 

The unforeseen

Louie 1

This week was a week of death. Not in the sense of someone’s untimely departure, but in the future. This week I was made aware of the forthcoming dismissal of some employees. The other joyous adventure was that my husband and I started the process of doing our wills.

About a week ago, I wrote about a consulting agency that was ordered by the Mothership to come in and substantiate a prior report. We were not actually aware there was a prior report, but it became apparent when in interviews they asked questions around things that could only have been known if someone had given them a heads up. We now know for sure they will be reporting back a restructure process. For the last five months, our agency has been looking seriously at cutting costs and part of it will be the elimination of positions. Some have already happened. I was told of others. I wish I did not know, actually.

The staff who will be leaving us shortly have no idea. I think that is what bothers me. I just had my monthly meeting with one. They say you don’t get fired by a company, but you fire yourself. She has done herself in with being miserable and horrible to work with. I have been meeting with her and her current boss to help smooth some edges.  I thought they were going to redeem her, but there have been too many complaints. She is so oblivious to it all. She told me she is planning on going back to school on the company tuition assistance. Ah…no.  It bothers me that she will be let go, but at the same time, it will make for a better situation for my staff who have suffered with her nastiness. I am just grateful she does not report to me, as that had been talked about too but decided against at the time. Now I know why.

This week, I had to also look at my own demise and plan for what will happen to my Estate. It is funny to think of having an estate, but I do. I have all of my family’s heirlooms including some jewelry, I own property, and I have money. Nothing extremely extravagant.  But it is my life and I want it to count for something. So my husband and I had to make some decisions. This is where family can be a burden or blessing.

We decided to do what my very well off brother is doing. We are giving only half to three family members, my two nephews and a tiny bit to his daughter. The rest will be given to a charity we both love. “Save the River.” It was a group founded by Abbey Hoffman, who resided on the river and worked to keep the area protected.  My goal is to get rid of all the STUFF in the house prior to my death so it is not a big deal but I will have fulfilled my promises to the family who gave the stuff to me.

I will be honest that this week has not been a pleasant experience. It makes you face how fragile your world really is. Things change in a moment. I am not spontaneous and so there is some peace in getting things in order. We have such a tenuous hold actually. We need to cherish every moment.