Countdown to 60

Aging on my terms - Daily musings in 500 words or less

Tag: death

Jump in, the water’s fine

The other day I shared a blog post called A Look Inside. I wrote about feeling off that day, and shared that I spent the day trying to understand why. I got a lot of very nice feedback on it, and several people shared some of their off moments with me too.

I like that so many people have commented and shown support. And I’m using several different platforms to share my blog, in hopes to reach people who can either relate, or just find my stories interesting.

I am also learning as I go, which is sort of the point of the blog. You know, reach 60 and be wise, healthy, happy and content. One thing I’m learning is that there is a bias towards sharing one emotion: Happiness.

Happy is a great emotion, and I’m sure for most of us it’s the favorite emotion. And I get that when you express your joy and happiness, it’s contagious. So I was tempted to put on my happy face and only share that side. Like, I better just show happy or people won’t like me.

But that’s not being honest, and I promised myself I would be genuine here. The truth is, I like all of my emotions. I honestly don’t mind feeling hurt or angry or sad.

When my mother died, I pushed my sadness down so far it’s now bubbling just under the surface. I didn’t understand as a kid that having strong emotions was a part of my life. As a woman I know better.

I’ve heard the analogy of the ocean used to describe a woman’s emotions, and I have to agree. My emotions change as quickly as the ocean changes.

I find myself riding a wave of happiness that plasters a ridiculous smile on my face, and I am in pure joy. It is thrilling and wonderful and I love it. I can also find myself in the strongest scariest current of uncertainty and wondering how I’m going to survive.

And then there are the times I’m just floating along contently, with nothing much happening besides enjoying the moment.

I like all of these moments, and wouldn’t give them up for the world. Maybe what I’m saying is I’m okay with jumping in and feeling it all. I don’t want to just float, I want to ride the wave of joy but I also have to work through the current to get there.

And then I get to do it over and over and over again.

Jump in, the water is fine

The shape of things to come

My husband loves to tell me stories of friends from school, even as far back as kindergarten. I am always amazed he can remember so much from so long ago.

I don’t recall much of my grade school years. Except in second grade, my older brother David had a hearing issue and was held back the prior year, so he was now in second grade with me. He hated that, especially when people would ask if we were twins.

The first day of sixth grade stands out clearly. It was a month after our mom died, and I think I was nervous about getting ready for school without Mom’s help. I’m not sure if my sister fixed my hair, of if I did. I don’t recall what I was wearing.

What I do remember was my classmates and I were mingling around and all of a sudden Jerry Snider was talking to me. Jerry Snider! In my mind, he was one of the popular kids. And I was not.

He came up to me and said, “I saw in the paper that your mom died. I’m sorry.” I just looked at him and couldn’t really speak. Then he said, “You sure have a lot of brothers.” He smiled at me and then just acted like we had always been friends. It was a wonderful way to start sixth grade.

The other memory of that school year wasn’t such a good one. I was doing the best I could to feel normal, even though things weren’t “normal” in my world. We were already the poor family. Now we were the poor kids without a mom. Making friends was challenging for me.

I was getting close to one girl and, honestly I don’t remember her name now. We would play together on the playground, and chat at lunchtime. In my mind, she was my best friend. Until one day in gym class.

We were playing some kind of ball game, and she got mad at me for something I did wrong. She started yelling at me to do it right, and I probably said something stupid back like, “I am!”. That’s when the words came out of her mouth that I will always remember.

She yelled, “You are the reason your mom is dead”. I stood there frozen. How did she know? How did she know I was supposed to be taking care of my mom the week before she died, and I complained about it?

Of course she didn’t know any of those things. Those are just the thoughts that ran through my head. She also didn’t mean it, they were just words that flew from her mouth to get my attention.

But that day changed my feelings about friendships. I know I had a few close girlfriends, but I also kept a distance. I think that made me seem like I wasn’t friendly.

Looking back at old high school photos, most of my friends were guys. Jerry Snider was one of them. It’s interesting to me how experiences from our childhood shape the things to come.

Fun to look back and see photos of dear friends

How to transform yourself

Yesterday I shared the story of the day my mother died. And, if you’ve been reading any of my posts, you know I grew up on a farm. It was after my mother’s death that I realized there was a whole different world out there.

The first time I remember my Aunt Ruth, was at mom’s funeral. She was my mother’s sister and had a very different life than mom. She lived in a big house in the city and came down with her husband to be there for the service.

The moment I saw her, I was immediately in awe. She had blonde hair and wore makeup, and looked nothing like my mother. She was stylish too, in her well-fitted red dress. After the service everyone came back to our house for food and condolences. My sister and I were showing Ruth around the farm, and when she got near one of the cows she got pretty skittish. She thought the “bull” was going to charge her because she was wearing red. We giggled at that one. She was definitely not a farm woman.

When it was time for her to leave, I found out I was to go with her and Uncle Dick, back to their home in Traverse City. I was so excited to go, I almost forgot about my mom…for a second.

When we got to their place, my aunt settled me in the front parlor with a cold soda pop in my hand, and went to ‘get comfortable’. I waited there feeling a bit out of place, but that changed when the woman who came back looked just like my mom. The blonde wig was gone, the make up off, her dentures were out, and a comfortable plain frock took the place of that red dress. She looked completely different.

I knew in that moment, even as an elven year old, the power of a make-over. I was lucky enough to stay with my aunt and uncle until school started. I had my own room, played 45’s on the record player they gave me, and went out on their boat. My favorite record was Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Our House” and I played it over and over, and my aunt didn’t seem to mind. It was a fun time and I still cherish those memories.

Back home in Hart, it took me a few years, but once I got my hands on some makeup, I was hooked. I also changed my hair. I had long straight hair, parted in the middle, just like everyone else. My sister, Linda cut it short and gave me a perm. Looking back at the pictures makes me laugh.

I think I wanted to be like my Aunt Ruth. Transform myself. And so I did.

Got to love the perms and makeup of the late '70s early '80s!


The Day the World Changed

I would like to dedicate today to August 3, 1970. This is a repost from a while back.

The Day the World Changed

My brothers, Johnny and David and I used to play Cowboys & Indians on the farm in Michigan where we grew up. It never seemed to fail that they were the cowboys and I was the Indian. I had a make shift bow and some sticks for arrows. They had toy guns and sometimes even the kind that had rolled up red paper with actual gunpowder on it that would pop when fired. My arrows didn’t really fly and I usually felt a bit overwhelmed by the cowboys and their cap guns.

One early August day we were playing on the hill that separated our small farmhouse from the main road. You could stand on that hill and look down and watch the occasional car go by or turn back towards the house and see the comings and goings of our home. Not that there were any real ‘comings’ or ‘goings’. My parents were old school farmers and we pretty much lived off the land. We raised chickens and cows and pigs and my Dad would butcher them right there on the farm for our food. I used to hate to see one of our cows walking around chewing one day, and then the next day see it hanging from this tall bar my Dad had fashioned to cure the meat. It would be hanging there, no hair or insides, just raw meat waiting to be cut up and eaten. We also had about ten acres in vegetables that we planted each year. I liked the vegetables way more than meat.

On that particular day, I was getting a bit fed up with hearing those guns pop and missing my intended goal of arrows bouncing off my brothers. I yelled that I was tired of being the Indian and I was going to go in the house and get myself a gun. But, I announced, I was still going to be an Indian, just that I would now have a gun instead of arrows.

At 11 years old I was already taller than both my older brothers but they weren’t too threatened by me. Johnny was 13 and David 12 at the time. Our mom and dad had a knack for having a new baby each year.  I don’t know if it was because they didn’t believe in birth control, or if they just wanted to have a bunch of kids.

Leaving my brothers laughing at me and turning to shoot each other, I ran to the house to find a suitable weapon of my own. We had a front door on our farmhouse, but I can’t recall ever seeing anyone use it. As I raced through the back door turning into the living room to head up the stairs, I came upon a scene that is forever burned into my memory.

My mother used to sit in her chair and crochet for hours. She made all sorts of things, always keeping busy. She wasn’t a woman that would sit idly and just relax. She had this credo of sorts that said we should always be working. If we weren’t working, then we had better be outside and out of her sight or she would be happy to find something for us to do. She was a formidable woman to say the least. As hard as she worked, she always – and I mean always – wore a dress. Isn’t that funny to imagine a farm woman wearing a dress? I mean this was 1970 for crying out loud, not 1870.

When I came into the living room I saw my mother sitting on the floor just in front of her chair, her crochet yarn and needle still in her lap. My father was kneeling beside her holding her head as it flopped over to one side, vomit coming out of her mouth. My older sister, Janet was there as well as the oldest (at home) brother, Steven. Janet was at the black wall phone in the dining room trying to dial a number on the rotary dial with shaking fingers, fear written all over her 14 year old face. I can’t remember for sure where my only younger brother was, but I know he was there. I quickly surveyed the scene and Steven took one look at me and ordered me outside.

I ran back up the hill and told the cowboys, who quickly turned back into my brothers, that our mom was in trouble. We sat together on the hill, watching the road carefully and listening intently for the sirens of the ambulance that was coming to make our mom better. It seemed like hours passed by, none of us saying a word in fear of speaking out loud the unthinkable. We just sat there, arms wrapped around our knees watching, waiting. When the ambulance finally came we raced back to the house.

We managed to get inside just as the two medics were putting our mother up onto a gurney. I watched and felt helpless. When they placed her on the rolling bed, I saw that her dress was up, showing her underwear. My mom didn’t have pretty underwear, just reliable practical ones, the kind a hard working farm woman would wear. I knew she would be mortified if anyone saw her with her dress up and her underwear showing. I wanted to go pull her dress down, but the medic closest to me showed me without saying a word, that he was worried and in a hurry, a big hurry.

They raced outside and pushed her into the back of the ambulance, both climbing in beside her. Dad jumped in with them and shouted to Steven to follow in the family car. I’m pretty sure Steven was 15 at the time and I have no idea if he had a license or not, but he did as he was told him and jumped behind the wheel in the car.

The rest of us stood there, in the driveway, and watched them speed away. I’m not sure how much time went by before we walked back in the house and tried to act like it was just another typical Sunday afternoon. When you have as many siblings as I do, you understand from a very early age that there is a pecking order to things. Janet clearly knew that she had the responsibility, as the oldest, to take care of the rest of us the best she knew how. She made us dinner, though I can’t remember eating. We were all so worried for our mother.

We had a tradition on Sunday night to sit as a family and watch “The Wonderful World of Disney”, so when seven o’clock came, she got us together in the living room (I think we all tried to sit in Mom’s chair together) to watch. Disney really is the Wonderful World, because for me, on that day, Disney took my fears away for one hour as I watched whatever show happened to be airing that night. I remember feeling like everything was going to be okay.

Five minutes later that all changed. Our father came into the house at 8:05 pm with Steven holding his arm. He didn’t look at all like our dad. He was shorter somehow, and older. He came into the living room and looked at each of us and then said, “Your Mother is dead”. I then watched my 6’2” strong, capable Dad crumble. Literally crumble to the floor. I had no idea what to do, what to say, how to feel.

I don’t think I even cried at that moment. How do you cry when you are in complete and utter shock? Tears don’t form when you are a robot or a statue. That’s how you feel when you can’t feel anything at all. Eventually I just walked up the stairs and climbed into bed, where I dreamt of my mother being on an exotic vacation somewhere.

I think that was the last day we ever played Cowboys and Indians.

Hard choices

I’m going to write about something I know nothing about.

I get a bit melancholy this time of year. It’s the time of year that leads up to the anniversary of my mother’s death. Naturally, she is on my mind a lot. I wonder what it was like for her when she was a young mother and had some hard choices to make.

My mom met a young soldier and as things can go, got pregnant as a teenage girl. I don’t know what the circumstances were, but she never married him. Instead, she had her baby boy and her parents helped raise him.

She didn’t finish school, as she needed to work to support her boy. Work was where she met a man and ended up marrying him. That man was my uncle. They got married in 1942. Did she feel like things were good then? Her husband had adopted her first son and they had two more boys and a girl. She had a husband and her children, and life was good right?

So how did my mother end up with my father? I’m not sure of the exact details, but the story I like to tell myself is, my father was so in love with her, he stole her away from his brother, so they could live happily ever after.

The only problem with that fairy tale is, well, the rest of the story.

The rest of the story breaks my heart and still brings tears to my eyes. My mother ended up leaving her two boys and girl behind. She moved across the country with my father, taking her oldest son with her, to start a new life. At least that’s what it looked like, at the time.

What really happened is my uncle shot a gun at her and threatened to kill her if she took his kids. So my father took her away, to protect her.

But that protection came at a cost. I knew my mother to be strong, and couldn’t imagine what she went through and how she just kept going. She helped raise my father’s children from his first marriage, as well as the six they had together. Did she care for my father’s children like they were her own, hoping some other woman was doing the same for her children?

When I look back on all of the photos of my mother, she looks so sad in them. I have to wonder if she would have had a different life if that young man she met all those years earlier had married her instead of my uncle. Would there be happy photos of her and would she have lived longer than her 48 years?

She had a hard life, my mother. I think somewhere along the line, she learned to just take it and not fight back. I don’t judge her for her hard choices, I just know I wouldn’t have let anyone keep my children from me.

That is something I know nothing about.

When Mom isn’t Mommy

My family worked together picking cherries each summer for a local farmer in Michigan, where I grew up. We would all get up before dawn, sleepily getting dressed and then right into the car. Our mom would hand us pint mason jars of hot cocoa with cheerios in them. A few minutes later, we were working in the orchards.

One sunny August day in 1970, Mom was sick and needed to stay home and I was tasked to watch over her. I have this memory of being mad about it. I remember standing near the clothesline, playing with a stick or something, muttering to myself that she wasn’t that sick, and how come we couldn’t be with the rest of the family.

She died the next week.

Boy did I have guilt over that for years and years. So much so that, as an adult whenever any of my girlfriends would complain about their moms, I would say, “you should be grateful, at least you have a mom”.

I didn’t know until later, how judgmental that really was. Some women have Moms who aren’t Mommies.

I met my best friend when I was in my 30’s. We hit it off instantly and were kindred spirits because of each of our life circumstances. I found out her mom was an alcoholic who abused her and her sister, and created a life of hell for those girls. No wonder my friend was such a loving, caring, non-drinking mother. She decided early on to go in the exact opposite direction of her role model.

And then one day, her mother called and said she wanted to move across the country to be closer to her. Just like that. Without skipping a beat, my friend drove to Florida and packed up her mom and moved her in with her family, just like that.

I was surprised, but then I also know, that your mom is your mom…that never changes.

Come to find out, her mother moved in to die. She was in her early 60’s and ready to die, and decided her daughter could take care of her until that happened. I watched my best friend go through so many emotions; sadness, guilt, fear, anger, hurt.

We aren’t supposed to feel relieved when someone dies…but sometimes we do. Today, she is helping another woman I know deal with some of these same emotions. I will let her words tell the rest of this story:

“My mom got moved to hospice and I asked for a morphine pump to assist her in her death. I sat by the bed and kept pushing the button as soon as I could. I waited for my moms last rattled breath. When she died, I cried. For a minute. Then, I got up and was grateful it didn’t take longer than it did. I cried again, not because my mom was dead, but because the chance of ever having her be the mom I wanted was gone. The fantasy of her being a wonderful Grammy and an involved mom was gone. With her. The next day, I went on vacation and celebrated her death. Really celebrating… she could never interfere with my happiness again. I was truly relieved she was gone. Today, I still am relieved.”

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