Archive for compassion

Blackberry Summer

29720184Kenny was just five years old, his brother, Jack, was 8.  Most of Kenny’s life had been spent on tenant farms in upper South Carolina. It was a hard life.  Momma had been sick most of his life with something called Pellegra.   It made her act funny and her skin break out in summer. Her name was Mattie and her family lived a good distance away. She had gone to the hospital in Spartanburg this time because she was so sick.  Kenny missed his mamma, but he was beginning to have a hard time even remembering what her voice sounded like or the touch of her lips as they puckered and kissed him good  night.

They had lived in a different house every year of his life. Which ever farm owner would offer papa the best deal  for working his crops, papa would load  up their sparse possessions and move his little family a few miles down the road.  The house they lived in now, Kenny and Jack had nicknamed ” the smoky house” because the flue in the fireplace didn’t work right and the house always had a smoky odor and in the dead of winter, there was almost a blur to the air  from the smoke.  It was warm, though, so they didn’t complain. On one occasion, Kenny remembered he and Jack playing with corncobs out in the yard, pretending they were cars. Mama had been sitting on the porch with her two sisters, Bettie and Jettie and they laughed at the boys as they played. The sound of her laughter was all he really had now.

When papa took the boys to town on rare occasions, they hitched a ride because Papa didn’t have a car. The boys loved the bumping and puttering of the car as they drove the ten or fifteen miles to where the big supply store was. They were amazed at the electric lights inside the shops and the fancy furniture in the two story houses on Main Street. Sometimes, Jack and Kenny  were  invited in to a lady’s  house for cookies and milk  while Papa was at the farm supply store.

Kenny had been squirming for ten minutes at the table with the red checked table cloth. Jack finally looked at the  lady who had told them to call her Mrs. Salter and said, “M’am, I hate to bother you, but I think my little brother needs to use yer , um, facilities.

Mrs. Salter smiled and led Kenny by the hand to a room by the bedrooms that had an indoor toilet  and a sink inside. Kenny’s eyes lit up. Indoor plumbing! He’d seen it before but never used it.  He turned to see that Mrs. Salter had cracked the door and stepped away.

At first, Kenny just ran his hands over the smooth white porcelain on the sink, his green eyes wide and his mouth agape.  He turned to the toilet filled with water and proceeded to relieve himself. remembered that the handle had to be pushed down for the  contraption to run clean water in it.

Soon, Kenny was back at the table where Jack was finishing up his last sip of milk.

“I bet you boys know where some ripe blackberries are growing.” smiled Mrs. Salter.

“Yes’m” grinned Jack, “we sure do!”

“Well, you two look like good workers,” Mrs. Salter said with her hands propped  on her thin waist.  “I’ll tell you what, If you bring me a gallon of the best ones you can find tomorrow, I will pay you a quarter for them.”

The boys faces light up with a smile. “Yes’m, Mrs. Salter, ”  Jack called out, “we will have them here by lunch time, , the best you’ve ever seen!

The boys, thanked Mrs. Salter for the cookies and milk and headed for the door. They saw Papa coming out of the supply store and hurried to him. Kenny turned to Jack and whispered, ” She’s got one of them indoor toilets!”  Jack had time only for a look of surprise before they met up with Papa.

“Papa, Papa, Kenny called out, “Mrs. Salter said if we’d pick her a gallon of blackberries tomorrow, she would give us a quarter!”

Papa chuckled and said, “Well thats right good wages, boys. Those lowlanders don’t much like to work when they come up here in the summer, do they?”

“No, sir” Kenny replied, ” and she’s got an indoor toilet!”

“Now how do you know about that, young man,” Papa looked sternly at his younger son.

Jack came to the rescue and told Papa that he had VERY POLITELY told Mrs. Salter that Kenny needed to use the facilities when she had offered them a snack.

“Well, I guess you two have got yourselves a job!” Papa laughed as they walked back down the dusty gravel road toward their driveway.

And they surely did. Mrs. Salter and her sister, had cometo the “thermal belt” as Papa called the area between the sweltering heat of the lowlands and the cool foggy  mountains to the north for relief from the heat. q For weeks, the boys went out in their oldest clothes and gathered blackberries for the ladies.

One time, Papa’s sister had come down to stay a while and fixed the most delicious dinners they had ever had. Fried chicken, biscuits, ripe tomatoes! It was heaven!

The boys had been picking blackberries one morning and after delivering them, they saw the postman talking to Aunt Lena. Curious, they stepped up their walking time to hear the man  try to whisper to Aunt Lena.  He couldn’t whisper very well.

They turned their heads toward the Mailman and Aunt Lena, who had failed to notice them walking  up. The mailman motioned Aunt Lena over to his opened door. Naturally, the two curious little boys were right behind her.

“Mattie died today,” he said, his effort to whisper lost on his effort to speak loudly over then engine. Then boys both gasped, and suddenlyAunt Lena turned around and saw them. She took a deep breath as if she was going to fuss, but turned her head back towards the mailman, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“What happened,” Aunt Lena asked the mailman. “I though she was doing better!”

Well, I can’t say for sure, Lena, ” the mailman replied. “She took a turn for the worse last night and when the nurse checked on her this morning, she was gone.”

Aunt Lena turned to Kenny and Jack and put her arms around them, scowling at the mailman for letting them hear his news. Jack and Kenny looked at each other and then at Aunt Lena.

“Did he say our mama was gone? ” Jack said. Kenny was silent, acting a bit confused.

“Yes, honey, thats what he said, your Mama went to live with the angels.” Aunt Lena spoke softly as she brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Live with the angels?” Kenny yelled. “My Mama wouldn’t  go live somewhere else!”

Jack looked at Kenny and  took his hand. “No, Kenny, that means Mama died. She ain’t coming back.”

“No!” cried Kenny. “She ain’t gone to live with no angels! Thats what they do in the Bible!”

Aunt Lena waved the mailman to go on about his duties and she knelt down beside them.

“You know your Mama’s been sick a long time. She was suffering. God didn’t want her to suffer, so he took her up to live with Him in Heaven, just like in the Bible.” Aunt Lena said softly.

Jack just stood there frozen, then grabbed Aunt Lena’s hand. Kenny was running down the driveway screaming, “Papa, Papa! Mama died, she went to heaven, like in the Bible!” he shouted through salty tears.

Aunt Lena heard the screen door squeak open just as they reached the wooden porch.

Papa just looked up at his sister. Aunt Lena nodded her head to say it was true. The four of them formed a knot of tearing, weeping family.

“Well, That’s it. mumbled Jack. We ain’t go no Mama.”  He slung his hands away from the others and ran up the steps to the porch.

Kenny gently let his hand slip from his Papa’s. He walked up on the porch where Jack was rocking back and forth in one of the wooden chairs. He looked up at his father and Aunt as they walked up the steps behind them. Nobody said a word. Papa walked quietly into the house, followed by Aunt Lena.

“What are you going to do, Furman?” Aunt Lena said to her brother. “You think Aunt Annie will take them?”

“Oh, no!” growled Furman, their daddy. “Ain’t nobody takin’ my boys! I will carry them on my back till moss grows on theirs before I give  them away!”

…………………………..

And he did.

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The Chance to Remember

 

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This week, I celebrated two events that I wasn’t, sure I would see.  My granddaughter turned two a few days ago. That seems like such a simple statement. I have quite a group of grandkids, but enjoying them has not always been easy. My youngest son graduated from high school, and it was as sweet and crazy as the other childrens were.

Why then were these events so memorable?  First, let me tell you about them.  After the ice cream and presents, I saw my older grandkids splashing in the creek trying to catch minnows, crayfish and salamanders. I didn’t give it a thought before I had grabbed two cups and headed for the creek. Because. Of my disabilities, I had to find an easy way in. My grandkids all know that I’m the nature lady- nothing makes me smile quicker than a chance to teach them a nature lesson, whether it is ” how to catch creek creatures”or “what are the different kinds of life cycles among insects?” Today, it was time for creek creature catching!   My oldest daughter loves these nature studies as much as I do and was already at the creek when I arrived. Among the happy shouts of ” I got one!” One of my grands would quietly ask me to catch one for them and let them have the cup to show off their prize.  I was in grandkids heaven as we lifted rocks and I tried o teach children the importance of patience and still waters if you want to catch your prize creatures. I am not sure a tassel of kids between 6 and nine really gets the meaning of patience.  Oh, well, having had six kids of my own, I could work around it. Soon, I was sharing cups with several little salamanders with them, the giggled and splashed and ‘dirtied’ the water as they ran to show them off to the others.

After a lot of hunting, we finally began to find some medium sized crayfish and put them in a bucket. My daughter and I explained how happy we were to see them because the ‘ nutrient rich’ water had killed off a lot of the creek life.  Yes, we had to explain that the ‘nutrients’ were fertilizers that he big houses that had been built used to make their perfect lawns , thus polluting the creeks and killing the creatures that lived there.)

As we worked to collect the creatures, I told my daughter and grands about the days when my mom took me and my friends to my grandpa’s pasture to catch creek creatures, much larger than these because the big houses had yet to overtake the farms. They were sweet memories. My mom, like me was a lover if nature. Rather than having instilled a fear of wildlife in me, she taught me to respect them.  From Black Widows to Black Snakes to water creatures and wild plants, my mom taught me to love them, catch and observe them, then let then go, so we could catch and observe them again. The memories of my mom and I, along with the privilege of sharing such a day with my daughters, sons and grandkids formed a mist in my eyes. You see, I never thought I would be able to do those things again.

Nearly ten years ago, as my 15 year old son was playing baseball, an unbelievable tragedy took him and “life” would never be the same. After a great double and a steal to third base, my lungs were sore from screaming my praises to him. The next kid struck out and soon the teams were practicing for the last half of the last inning. Suddenly someone called out, “What’s wrong with Andrew? ” I looked up to where he was practicing in the outfield and saw he begin to ru towRds me. Instinctively, I began to run to him, meeting close to the pitchers mound as he started to fall, hitting the ground in a swirl of dust. I was in shock. He had not even been sick, to my knowledge. I started screaming, ” Call 911, Call 911, and saw that the father of one of my sons team mates was calling. There was a fire station at the top of the hill and I expected an immediate response, but none came. After coaches and parents rushed up, one person ran up, said they were a nurse and looked at my unconscious son as he asked me questions. My heart, my mind was in a blur- why were there no sirens? Where were the EMT’s who could have walked there by now. Someone asked me his name and gently shook his shoulders, calling his name. No response- no siren or ambulance. I was screaming for the nurse to ‘ do something’ as the clock moved on and my son’s breathing became raspy. Between ten and twelve minutes passed before an ambulance finally came in a back gate- the opposite of the way an ambulance from the close-by fire Department would have come. The EMT’s first words were, ” bag him” ( give him oxygen).

I rode in the front of the ambulance to the hospital. I saw the attendants using a defibrillator on him. My mind was screaming, ” No, no!” I was met by a hospital cleric who lead me away as the ambulance attendants rushed my son in. After working on him for an hour a doctor came out and called our family in to a private room to tell us, ” They did everything they could.”

“You mean he’s dead?” I cried as we all sat in silent stares- our world crashing around us. I walked out the door with an apparently healthy 15 year old son and would walk, completely stunned back in that door without him.

Within a few months, I was having symptoms of what was later to be found to be a pituitary tumor, caused, mostly likely by the stress from loosening my son. This story is not about me, so I will suffice to say that neglect  nearly cost me my life just as someone giving the 911 operator the wrong directions to the ball park had cost my son his life.  By the time I had surgery to remove the tumor, I was told  that without the surgery, I would have had about three weeks to live.

Now, we come to the second part of this week just passed.  I saw my youngest child graduate from high school. He had been barely eight when his brother had died. Graduation is a crowded, long, yet joyous occasion. When the ceremony was over, my son’s girlfriend and I caught up with him and he gave me a ride back to my car when I would meet my husband and two other sons.  I was tired, in pain, yet thrilled for my son.   One more ordinary occasion that I got to witness.

It wasn’t until my son came home late that night that we talked about his graduation that he told me something that I guess I had never realized.  ” Mom, he said, as we sat on his bed, “years ago when you were so sick after we lost Andrew, I had the thought that you would not live to see me graduate. It has haunted me ever since.”

“But I did it.” I smiled as I hugged him. ” Yeah,  you did.” He smiled, holding my hand.

Tonight, as I sat in my room thinking, both of these simple events that I had enjoyed this weekend suddenly hit me. No one, most of all me, ever thought I would play in the creek with my grandkids and even my son had not believed that I would live to see him graduate.  I have suffered so much, so long, it just seemed endless. I still suffer everyday.  Somehow, this past year, I have found a way to bring joy back into my life, if even for a short time.  I told my son that it was his holding me close, willing me to live that had helped me  ” make it” this far. I thought of the song that I had heard on my Facebook page that some kids sang to their teacher who had cancer. it was called, “I’m Gonna Love you Throught It”.

That is just what my son, my kids and grandkids and my family had done for me. Through all the loss I had endured, the disability, the never- ending pain, I would feel their love and know that somehow, they still needed me.

As I found myself scratching the poision ivy on my arm tonight, I thought that even being able to work in my garden again was a blessing.  Maybe, I was still here ‘ for a reason’. The sweat running down my itchy face felt amazingly good somehow. I new life would never hold the same joy that it had when my son was alive and I was well, but I was still here, and I was determined, at last to be thankful for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Kind of New Years Resolution

29720269A New Years Resolution for the Technology Generation

It seems that everywhere we go, half the people we pass are on the phone, using Apps like Facebook, or watching ‘You Tube” perhaps laughing at jokes on the web, We are not really interacting with the people we are with- we are simply with them. We see it in restaurants, parks where people are taking in the scenery ( or used to), at the grocery store- just about everywhere we go. I have had so many older people say to me that they are “alone, even in a crowd” nowadays. “I wish they’d put those things away!”, they often sigh.

I admit to having been caught up in messaging, checking on the kids,, answering phone calls, seeing if a sick friend is doing better, all while I am out with friends. It’s a sign of the times. Almost everyone does it, the young people , more so than the older of us, but anyone with an “i phone” is likely to get a message or phone call while they with others and, it is only natural to answer it.
It is great to be able to call and tell a friend that “you will be late”, or find out that your loved one arrived safely at their destination. Having lived in both worlds, I greatly appreciate being able to stay in touch with my family, and for them to be able to call me if they need me. It is fun to play the games or look at jokes, but, lets face it, relationships are so much more important that spending your time in a room or restaurant with a group of friends, each in his or her own little world. We must learn to put a limit on how much of these modern conveniences are going to talk the place of talking to your sister who has met you at the mall, or visiting a sick loved on in the hospital. Enough is enough.

I have not had a “Happy Holiday Season” in the last decade, but that it not the subject tonight. No matter who we have lost, moved away from, or how deep within our thought we are, it is vital that we open our hearts, our thoughts, and even our worries to those that we find ourselves with.

I have raised my family now, and savor the chance to be with my children or grandchildren. It doesn’t matter if we are at home on the couch, going to the store, or taking a hike, our time with other people is important. It allows us to share, to hug, to laugh to love. True, we can do a lot of these things on our “i phones” in this day and time, but who wants to go out to eat only to watch people talk on their “i phones” when the whole purpose of meeting was to spend time together?

When I go on a walk, I want to observe nature, listen to the birds sing, smile as a squirrel scuttles up a tree. I want to show my grandchildren the caterpillar climbing a plant, a butterfly gathering nectar, a flock of birds flying over head. I want to tell my son that I appreciate him fixing my car. I want to hug my daughter, and tell her ‘thank you’ for taking the time out of her busy schedule to meet me. When I get home, I am sure my husband or parents want to hear about my day, compliment me on my new outfit or gently touch my shoulder and say, “I’ve missed you today,” We are missing so much of the meaning of life when we fail to do these things.

I think it is time , that we as a people, old and young, remember that there is a time for the technologies that all of us enjoy and a time to put them down and think of those around us, to remember the days when communication was largely done in person. I think it is time that we all value the personal side of relationships. How can we get to know a potential friend, welcome a new employee, even meet a possible mate if we cannot disconnect ourselves from technology long enough to take advantage of these simple pleasures that have brought us all to the place we are today.

It is a fact that technology will be a part of our future, and it can be a tool used to comfort those waiting on us, check on our loved ones, or make an appointment. We can use these advances to our advantage, or we can allow them to separate us from those we love and those who need us to look into their eyes and express our kindness and caring.

Let’s make a New Years Resolution this year that we will spend more time without our technological devises safely within arms reach than we do clinging to them like an oxygen tank on a sinking ship. God gave us the gift of speech. He gave us the gift of knowledge to invent technologies. But He also gave us each other. The ability to form relationships cannot truly take place without eye-to-eye contact. There is an old saying that reminds us that “the eyes are the window to the soul.”

Make a mental note of how much you enjoy the company of others, the conversations you have, a game of cards, singing or listening to music together. Fifty years ago, having a television was an amazing leap in technology, families found themselves crowded around them, listening and laughing together. Before that, our grandparents huddled by the radio listening to the news of World War II.

What did we do before that? We read, we had conversations, discussions, we laughed together, we watched the antics of children. We worked without interruption. We managed just fine without our modern technologies. It is important that the things we make a part of our lives, do not become more important that the people we live with, love and help. Though very few of us would want to give these technologies up, we must find a place for them within our lives-not allow them to take over our lives.

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Cocaine’s Daughter

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If she could go back down that road,

and take a turn-the other way-

And find a place, a gentle face-

that made her smile, and learn to pray..

One more day, might find a way….oh, oh, yeah, but then…

She dries her tears, holds back her fears,

and faces night in troubled waters-

She’s cocaine’s daughter.

To laugh and run in morning sun,

through magic fields of waving clover.

Not blinded by the clouded sky,

She’d take a breath and start all over.

One more night, she tries to fight..oh, oh, yeah, but then…

She dries her tears, holds back her fears,

and faces night in troubled waters-

She’s cocaine’s daughter.

I try to hide, I’ve learned to lie,

though my soul is dead inside me.

I’ve tried to run, but cannot beat,

The hurt and pain that seem to guide me.

So, one more dawn, I sits alone, oh, oh, yeah, but then…

I dry my tears, hold back my fears,

Treading in those troubled waters,

and fight cocaine’s daughter.

Face your self and brace yourself,

admit that cold and snow surrounds you.

It’s I, not she, not “us” but “me”.

Speak the truth, be strong and true.

It’s the only way, to learn to pray, oh, oh, yeah, but then…

I stand strong, I’m not alone,

I take a breath, God does the rest,

No longer trapped as cocaine’s daughter.

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Going Home

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Jen drove slowly down the old dirt drive. “There aren’t many dirt roads or long driveways left,” she thought. She hadn’t seen her great aunt Sarah in many years. All sorts of excuses rushed through her brain as she got closer to the lovely old farm house at the end of the driveway. “I’ve lived too far away, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t seen her since I was a child,”she thought, then guiltily threw each excuse aside.

She had not taken the time-period. Now, she was 27 years old, a high school history teacher, engaged to be married and she could surely have thought of more valid excuses than those. But something had tugged at her heart. She had come to Alabama to tour a local schools system for a study she was conducting. Remembering that Aunt Sarah lived in this county, she looked her up in the phone book. Surprisingly, she was still listed.

She got out her I-phone and turned on the app that showed her a map to the little town of Rosewood and soon found Cornfield Lane right off the main road. “What would she say?” she wondered as she pulled up the two story house with a wrap around porch. Would Aunt Sarah remember her, welcome her, or would she be treated with disdain?

Jen remembered that Aunt Sarah, her mother’s aunt, had been married, had 3 children and then her husband had died at a fairly early age. She didn’t think she had remarried, because her name was still the same in the phone book. It seems the children would be about her mother’s age, probably with grandchildren of their own.

With her heart beating quickly inside her chest, she parked her Maroon Chevy Van near the house and walked towards the door. It was nearly Halloween, and even in Alabama, there was a nip of autumn in the air. Jen, pulled her sweater around her as she walked up the old brick sidewalk. Before she started up the steps, an elderly lady walked out onto the porch. The screen door creaked as it closed behind her.

“Why, Jenny!” The lady exclaimed. “Jenny Markham! Is that you?”

“It’s me, alright, Aunt Sarah.” Jen said with a blush. “I have no excuse for not having seen you in so long. It makes those Christmas cards seem awfully pitiful.”

“Well, don’t you think a thing about it,” Aunt Sarah said with a smile as she opened the door and motioned for Jen to come in. Jen obliged, remembering the high ceilings and the slightly old scent of the wooden house. She looked around and smiled. It was as if she had been here only a short time ago.

“Come on in here and let me make us some tea,” Aunt Sarah smiled as she lead Jen to the room behind the living room. Sarah stood and looked around at her Great Aunt’s kitchen. The same long table and chairs sat upon the worn tiles, the curtains were new, but of similar pattern, an autumn harvest with ruffled bottoms around the windows which hung over the sink and the one on the slightly opened back door. It brought back memories of her mother and rest of their big family coming here for watermelon on the Fourth of July when she was young.

“It sure is good to see you, Jenny!” Aunt Sarah smiled. “What on earth brought you way out here in backwoods Alabama?”

Jenny told her about her research project, career and upcoming marriage, inviting her long-lost cousins and families to come. Aunt Sarah sat and sipped tea with her for maybe half an hour before she invited her to come through the house and see the walls and dark walnut dressers filled with pictures of her children, grandchildren and even their kids. Again, Jen’s heart beat rapidly inside her as she took in the years and memories that she had missed out on when her father had taken a new job in East Texas.

She wondered what her life would have been like if they had stayed here. Would her and her brother’s kids been friends with Aunt Sarah’s children, would they have ridden the same bus, lived on the same road, had watermelon on that worn front porch on the fourth of July? Would she already be married, maybe to someone she knew as a child.?

Thoughts swirled through her head as the “what if’s” rushed by. What was the name of the high school here? What college would she have gone to? Would she have been a teacher, like she was now? It was at that moment Jen decided not to tell her Aunt Sarah her secret. She would save it until after the wedding, it would seem better then.

Inside her, Jen felt the movement of her baby, a girl, she had learned just yesterday. She wondered how Aunt Sarah would feel about her being pregnant before her marriage and then grabbed her Aunt’s wrinkled hand. Of course, she would love this baby, just like all the other children that decorated her dressers and walls. Surely, out of all of them, there had been children conceived before their parents married. Perhaps their parents had never married at all.

After a long visit, Jen walked back to her car with Aunt Sarah and her collie, Barney, beside her. She promised her Aunt that she would never let their families loose touch again, and she meant it. In Aunt Sarah’s younger days, having a baby before marriage would have brought many cross looks and perhaps even a few rejections. But this, thank goodness as a different time.

Jen vowed to herself that she would write her aunt a letter and tell her more about her soon-to-be husband and the baby she was carrying as soon as she got back to Texas. There was one more thing she would ask of the Aunt she had just come know again. She would ask her to allow her the honor of naming her new baby, Sarah.

Jen drove slowly down the old dirt drive. “There aren’t many dirt roads or long driveways left,” she thought. She hadn’t seen her great aunt Sarah in many years. All sorts of excuses rushed through her brain as she got closer to the lovely old farm house at the end of the driveway. “I’ve lived too far away, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t seen her since I was a child,”she thought, then guiltily threw each excuse aside.

She had not taken the time-period. Now, she was 27 years old, a high school history teacher, engaged to be married and she could surely have thought of more valid excuses than those. But something had tugged at her heart. She had come to Alabama to tour a local schools system for a study she was conducting. Remembering that Aunt Sarah lived in this county, she looked her up in the phone book. Surprisingly, she was still listed.

She got out her I-phone and turned on the app that showed her a map to the little town of Rosewood and soon found Cornfield Lane right off the main road. “What would she say?” she wondered as she pulled up the two story house with a wrap around porch. Would Aunt Sarah remember her, welcome her, or would she be treated with disdain?

Jen remembered that Aunt Sarah, her mother’s aunt, had been married, had 3 children and then her husband had died at a fairly early age. She didn’t think she had remarried, because her name was still the same in the phone book. It seems the children would be about her mother’s age, probably with grandchildren of their own.

With her heart beating quickly inside her chest, she parked her Maroon Chevy Van near the house and walked towards the door. It was nearly Halloween, and even in Alabama, there was a nip of autumn in the air. Jen, pulled her sweater around her as she walked up the old brick sidewalk. Before she started up the steps, an elderly lady walked out onto the porch. The screen door creaked as it closed behind her.

“Why, Jenny!” The lady exclaimed. “Jenny Markham! Is that you?”

“It’s me, alright, Aunt Sarah.” Jen said with a blush. “I have no excuse for not having seen you in so long. It makes those Christmas cards seem awfully pitiful.”

“Well, don’t you think a thing about it,” Aunt Sarah said with a smile as she opened the door and motioned for Jen to come in. Jen obliged, remembering the high ceilings and the slightly old scent of the wooden house. She looked around and smiled. It was as if she had been here only a short time ago.

“Come on in here and let me make us some tea,” Aunt Sarah smiled as she lead Jen to the room behind the living room. Sarah stood and looked around at her Great Aunt’s kitchen. The same long table and chairs sat upon the worn tiles, the curtains were new, but of similar pattern, an autumn harvest with ruffled bottoms around the windows which hung over the sink and the one on the slightly opened back door. It brought back memories of her mother and rest of their big family coming here for watermelon on the Fourth of July when she was young.

“It sure is good to see you, Jenny!” Aunt Sarah smiled. “What on earth brought you way out here in backwoods Alabama?”

Jenny told her about her research project, career and upcoming marriage, inviting her long-lost cousins and families to come. Aunt Sarah sat and sipped tea with her for maybe half an hour before she invited her to come through the house and see the walls and dark walnut dressers filled with pictures of her children, grandchildren and even their kids. Again, Jen’s heart beat rapidly inside her as she took in the years and memories that she had missed out on when her father had taken a new job in East Texas.

She wondered what her life would have been like if they had stayed here. Would her and her brother’s kids been friends with Aunt Sarah’s children, would they have ridden the same bus, lived on the same road, had watermelon on that worn front porch on the fourth of July? Would she already be married, maybe to someone she knew as a child.?

Thoughts swirled through her head as the “what if’s” rushed by. What was the name of the high school here? What college would she have gone to? Would she have been a teacher, like she was now? It was at that moment Jen decided not to tell her Aunt Sarah her secret. She would save it until after the wedding, it would seem better then.

Inside her, Jen felt the movement of her baby, a girl, she had learned just yesterday. She wondered how Aunt Sarah would feel about her being pregnant before her marriage and then grabbed her Aunt’s wrinkled hand. Of course, she would love this baby, just like all the other children that decorated her dressers and walls. Surely, out of all of them, there had been children conceived before their parents married. Perhaps their parents had never married at all.

After a long visit, Jen walked back to her car with Aunt Sarah and her collie, Barney, beside her. She promised her Aunt that she would never let their families loose touch again, and she meant it. In Aunt Sarah’s younger days, having a baby before marriage would have brought many cross looks and perhaps even a few rejections. But this, thank goodness as a different time.

Jen vowed to herself that she would write her aunt a letter and tell her more about her soon-to-be husband and the baby she was carrying as soon as she got back to Texas. There was one more thing she would ask of the Aunt she had just come know again. She would ask her to allow her the honor of naming her new baby, Sarah.DSCN1026

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The Effects and Lessons of Loss-An Anology of Death

 

 

For many years of my young life, I escaped the emotional and physical costs of the death of a loved one who was a part of your daily life. In the past 14 years, it seems to have been nearly continuous, from aunts and uncles, cousins and friend, grandparents and parents to my precious 15 year old son.

I have learned that the deaths of different close friends and family affect us in entirely different ways. To see an older relative who has lived a long life and is now suffering gives us a sense of relief, that they are no longer suffering and are in, what we have been taught and hope, is “a better place. To Christians, and some other religions, that means Heaven.

When my best friend died at 48 after a 15 year battle with cancer, I could not help but feel cheated, for her, for her children and grandchildren, and later, as I faced deaths that were “closer to home”, for myself. I did not have the person I needed to talk to cry with, hug, and find comfort in her compassion.

I had several cousins and neighbors die in their middle-age, usually from cancer. I found myself looking at their lives, the happiness they had with their mates, and children, the love and attention their grandchildren would miss. I felt that they were cheated, they did not smoke, abuse their health or do dangerous things. It was a different grief process than I felt when my elderly relatives died.

I am an only child. I have lost both of my parents within the past 3 ½ years. It has been so difficult to walk into their house, the accept the not-so-good memories and embrace the wonderful support they always gave me, that I have often had to simply put their loss “in a box”, only to be opened at certain times, like birthdays, holidays or even the day they died. I spend a lot of time with my parents, seeing them most every day. When they were sick, I helped care for them, when they were sad, or scared, I listened. I helped them with their financial issues, memorial wishes, and settling estates. I would say it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it wasn’t.

I lost my beloved son eight years ago at the age of 15. It was very sudden, a regular day, filled with normal activities for a teen-school, buss rides, ball games. On that day, I took him to a ball game and didn’t brink him home. I have written about this many times in my blog, and would love for you to look up the articles and read them and what actions I have taken since, but that is not what this article is about.

There is nothing as painful as loosing a child. There isn’t even a word for a parent who has lost a child. If you loose your parents, you are an orphan, if you loose a mate, you are a widow or widower. What are you when you loose your child? So much of what you are, what you lived for, looked forward to is gone, it is simply indescribable.

In my case, I not only lost my child, I lost my health. Within a few months, I was developing symptoms of Cushings Syndrome, a pituitary disease that has many scopes, causes and outcomes. My doctor kept insisting that what I was suffering from was “just stress”, even though I insisted that it was more than that. First let me point out that stress is not a “Just”. It destroys your health, your ability to function, to deal with work or your family. Never accept this excuse, no matter what you are suffering from.

It wasn’t until I had heart failure 8 months after my son’s sudden death, that a heart doctor started really examining me. He immediately wrote my doctor and told him that I had the typical symptoms of Cushings Disease (some types are called “Syndrome”. Evidently, I wasn’t important enough for my doctor to even read the report because 6 months later, when I went to the Cardiolgist, he was astounded that I had received no help and sent me to the Endocrinologist then next day. Again, I will ask that you read my other articles on my son’s death and my illness and return to the topic of grief and the different ways we, as humans respnd to it.

Men, women and children respond to grief in various ways. Men have a difficult time showing outward grief, having been taught during their whole lives that emotions are a sign of weakness. Therefore, they often take it out on others, especially those that they love them most. It is horrible for a woman to be fighting for her life, and not have the person who is supposed to always be there for her, him being emotional abusive, and often reverting to child-like things to get his mind off of his unfathomable sorrow.

Children under about the age of 12 often have a delayed reaction to grief. When they begin to think in a more adult-like manner, the grief that may have happened several years ago suddenly creeps in. The child may not be able to sleep, have irrational fears for their own safety or for the safety of those they love. They may regress somewhat in their behavior, their grades in school may suffer. It is very important that a child who has lost a sibling gets the help they need, and this can vary from child to child. Do not be afraid to explore your child’s needs with his doctor, counselors, siblings, your spouse or minister. I feel like it has been very difficult for me to be the mom I always was and still meet my child’s needs. Even when I felt that I was, I have realized even years later, that I needed to give him the chance to talk to those he felt comfortable with about his feelings.

The death of someone particularly close to you is often almost impossible to overcome. The effects on my health on top of my emotional grief, unfounded self-grief, and my blaming everyone from God to my child’s friends is something I still struggle with daily. Even though I have made some progress, he physical problems caused by the Cushings Disease will be with me forever, always reminding me of why I have to deal with them.

One of the best things we can do to help someone we love who is greiving is simpy to listen. Let them be angry, blame people, feel what they feel. Just getting these things out of their system for a few minutes can be tremendously helpful. Since it is difficult to deal with those who are grieving, especially over a child or a person to whom they were particularly close, we often cut ourselves off from them just when they need us the most. It is not easy to allow a person who is in the midst of grief to express feelings that we may not agree with, but we have to be able to, and, hopefully, over time, we can help lead them back to a better place. Simply learning not to blame themselves is a big step in finding a way back to a better place.

I don’t think I will ever heal from the emotional loss of my child and some of the circumstances around it, but I KNOW I will never get over the physical scars and pain that I have to live with every day of my life. I am sure that living with me is not easy for those I love. They try, and I am very grateful that they put forth this effort.

Eventually, we will all have to deal with loss in some form. Having our family and friends around us is critical in getting back to a place where we can at least function to the best of our ability. Each person’s reaction to grief varies just as their path to healing is different. Try to stand back and see what your loved one needs and be there for them, even if it is difficult for you. You, their support team can make all the difference in the world to someone suffering from loss. Take the time to talk to them, not only right after the death of a loved one, but years later as well. Send a card on the loved ones birthday or mention then on a holiday card. Help them laugh (or even cry) over some of the memories you have of their loved one. Remind them of the joy they had when they were with them and let them know that it is alright to be angry, sad, frustrated or even overcome with emotion.

One thing that has helped me is for someone to take me to dinner, on a walk, read favorite poems, or listen to music near the “anniversary” of their loss, but perhaps not on the exact day. Sometimes, the anniversary of a death, or even the persons birthday may be simply too emotionafor them to profit from your good intentions.

Remember, our day will come, and in that sense, if we have been there for someone else, it will be easier for us to accept the help of friends and benefit from it. Love involves the risk of hurt, whether from loss, breakup, moving away or simply from a child growing up and concentrating on their own life. Stand back and see if you need to “be there” or “give them space” because each of those times will come. I have found that when I lost my son, I often lost my friends as well, not from “meanness” but simply because they didn’t know what to do or say. Do not abandon your loved one in their time of need,no matter how hard it may be. Neither should you smother them, because they are having to learn to live in a completely different way than they did before.

Whether they are able to express it or not, the fact that you care will make a huge difference as the person who has experienced loss begins this new and difficult path. Simply knowing that you are there for them may be the best “medicine” you can give.

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