THE BITTER AND THE SWEET

When I was a few months shy of my 24th birthday, I departed for a year in Philadelphia. I signed a contract as a nanny for a suburban Philly couple, and I left 31 years ago last month. Despite the initial homesickness, and the difficulty inherent in living in someone else’s home and taking care of their children, it was a sweet experience.

My firstborn son is a few months shy of 24, and he left Friday for the first of his three-year commitment in ministry in south Asia. For me and his dad, it was mostly a bittersweet experience. For him, I know it is sweet-bitter.

Unlike me at age almost-24, he seems to genuinely care that it was hard for us to send him off, and hard to be without him here. I don’t remember giving a flip how my parents felt when I left them, but I do remember wanting so badly to turn around in that narrow center aisle of the airplane after they dropped me off, and run back to them, letting the fear overriding my sense of adventure. But I didn’t. I made it there, and I made it through the year with two visits to home.

My son will spend his first year there before he comes home for about a month. It will be sweet.

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Life has a funny way of coming around full-circle.

When I was in Philadelphia, I made two lifelong friends, both named Amy. They, too, were nannies, and both from the Midwest, so we had a lot in common. When I speak of both of them among others, I aptly differentiate them as “Tall Amy” and “Short Amy.”

“Tall Amy” sent me a text last Saturday. She wanted to let me know that they would be driving through my small city in six days on their way from Minneapolis to Texas with their three children for Spring Break, and would it work to visit, at least for a bit?

This was a gift from Above. Knowing my husband and I would be sullen and sad the day after sending our son off, I knew there couldn’t be a better remedy than a visit from an old friend.

There wasn’t. They arrived at dinnertime Saturday, spent the night and departed around noon today. I hadn’t seen her for almost two years, and she hadn’t been to my home since our second-born son took his first steps, almost 20 years ago. He joined us too, and at 6’4″, wondered why she didn’t get as excited about his ability to walk now as she did then.

Laughter is such good medicine, and we did plenty of that.

We recalled our dark, desperate days of the first week alone in Philly before we met each other. Both alone in a strange city, living with strangers, and soothing ourselves with the only familiar remedy: food. There seemed to be a big hole that could be filled with nothing but food.

We both arrived on Saturday, February 17th, 1990, through the same agency. They got us in touch with each other, and when she answered the door on February 24th, my first thought was this: “I know I am going to like her.”

I still do.

We were perfect company for each other, and quickly discovered our similarities: we both grew up in large Catholic families. We both couldn’t stop eating. We both were/had been runners; she was still running, but I left it behind after high school. We quickly became inseparable. Our respective employer families both suggested other nanny friends to us, because, perhaps, it wasn’t good to have just one friend. We both disagreed, and until “Short” Amy came into the picture in my neighborhood in the fall, we were all each other needed.

By May, she had me running again. I cannot put into words how grateful I am that she gently, but assertively coaxed me back into running. It saved me, I shed the extra weight, and I felt better than I had in my 24 years. She held me accountable to meet her for early morning runs, and I have been hooked since. I rarely miss a day now, and when I don’t run, well, I don’t run. Nothing else runs, either. And, it still saves me.

From the depths of my heart and soul, dear Amy, thank you.

I dug back in my Philly photos, and found one of the few of us together. While we took many excursions together, we had mostly pictures of each other. No selfies back then! We are no longer concerned with taking pictures with hot lifeguards.

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When we get together, or even through the mail–typically for no occasion, we like to share small gifts with each other. This time was no different. Let me preface the rest of the story with this: of our many food remedies in those early days of our year together, dry cereal seemed to be good medicine, and there was always plenty with kids in our respective houses. One kind in particular eased the most pain; and I called it my “crack”–its name fit. While putting together our bag of goodies for each other, we had the same idea:

This morning, we enjoyed a run. At age 54 for both of us, this now means a run/walk. We were gone for an hour, and I had my 10,000 steps for the day before we got back. It was gloriously reminiscent of our early days together, 31 years ago. Last night, we called “Short Amy,” and left her a voicemail. She lives in Hawaii now, and we dream of going there to see her. If not that, we keep trying to find a way for all three of us to connect when she is back on the “Madland,” as she aptly calls it. She left a voicemail back for us this morning while we were out running. We will keep trying, because friendships this special are worth the effort.

We enjoyed a brunch, and they hit the road. Their children were delightful and patient with our extended visiting, but Spring Break 2021 was calling, so they hit the road.

Two big send-offs in one weekend was enough. A shared meal is always a good way to begin the goodbye process, and we were able to enjoy a family lunch Friday in Wichita on our way to the airport.

I feel that big hole deep inside again today, and, once again, I have been trying to fill it with food. This time, I know I can rein it it, and accept and appreciate both the sweet and the bitter that life offers, and not rely upon food to provide it. However, I’ve got an entire box of cereal waiting to make me feel better…

GOLD AND GIRLS

If you value your personal safety above having fun, I wouldn’t recommend traveling with Gail in the mountains in the midst of a snowstorm.

If, however, like me, you value both, you may not have a choice. She was driving, it was snowing (blizzarding?), and I was trapped. She wasn’t the slightest bit scared, and I was white-knuckling it in the back seat. Margaret was in the front, not saying much. She didn’t have to. I was saying it all: Gail! We can’t go any further! Gail! Look at those cars in the ditch already! Gail! We can’t see the road! Gail! Slow down! Gail! Even the locals at that convenience store said we were crazy to go on! Gail! We can’t go 18 more miles on hairpin-turn roads in this weather! Gail! March 4th is not our lucky day! You get the idea.

It may as well have been sunny and 70 degrees, for all Gail cared. The treacherous driving conditions didn’t faze her one bit.

“Kathleen, it’s fine. I can drive just fine. Don’t worry one bit. I’m not.” And she truly wasn’t one bit scared.

Margaret remained silently stoic. I’m not sure exactly how she felt. It didn’t matter, Gail was captain of our ship, and she was captaining forward. Forward through the blowing snow, slush and ice, forward on the road with no center line visible, forward to our Cripple Creek, Colorado destination.

“All I need is my rosary and my rear-view,” Gail said. Apparently, she was right.

Apparently, Gail really is invincible. She thinks so, I think perhaps she is most of the time, but this time, I wasn’t sure. Much like when I am trapped in an airplane and scared to death–for no reason when I’m in the air–I felt trapped in the car. I couldn’t get out and freeze, and I couldn’t exactly hitch a ride either. And there was no place to stay at this point.

Obviously, we made it. And, several hours after we arrived, with several more hours of snow accumulation, several more hours of daylight gone, and several more hours of wind, Mary and Cindy made it, too.

I wasn’t feeling any form of Rocky Mountain High like I normally do when we are driving through the mountains on that last leg; I was too scared. The John Denver CD was ready and waiting, and finally, with just a few more of the last 18 miles to go, I loosened up a bit, dug out the CD and sang along. I let myself think that perhaps we really would make it there alive, and for that, I was feeling a bit high. Gail and Margaret sang, too, and we coasted slowly into town.

It is always a bummer when Suzanne can’t join us, and there is no replacing her. We weren’t trying. Her altitude intolerance makes it miserable for her, and we get it.

It seems Gail has touted this destination among her peers back home as a great place to spend time and money, and several of them wanted to check it out for themselves.

So, since it wasn’t officially an exclusive sister trip without Suzanne, we included several new adventure-seekers. Margaret went last year, and apparently had enough fun for a repeat trip. Mary and Cindy had never been, which made their arrival all the more wondrous. The last 18 miles are normally splendidly beautiful, but this time they were treacherous. Mary, however, is apparently a skilled snowy-mountain-road driver in her Jeep, even when she has no idea where she is going. They blew in with the snow and the wind in the dark several hours after we did, and the fun commenced.

And it really never stopped.

It actually started for me Wednesday evening, when I arrived in Atwood to spend the night at Gail’s before we departed Thursday morning. Margaret conceived the idea for this sign for her beloved hometown, and she worked to make it happen.

We hit the road Thursday morning, and made our way west. Gail’s favorite stop just outside of Colorado Springs–The Pop-a-Top Saloon–was on the agenda, as it always is. However, as we approached, something didn’t look right. It wasn’t. It was closed due to a fire in January.

We continued on, with the snow just beginning to blow as we approached the Springs. It became slush by the time we were on the other side of town, climbing up the mountains on Highway 24. There were several cars in the ditch along the way, and even with the snowplow just in front of us, it remained slushy and slick. We turned the corner for the last 18 miles, and the highway was white. It didn’t get much better as we went along. Mercifully, there were no idiots speeding at us from the other direction on this two-lane, mountain-hugging highway with sharp drop-offs on the side opposite the mountain. We met a few cars, but most people probably had the good sense to stay put. Below is a picture from Google Earth of the road this weekend, with more snow headed there.

The storm this weekend in Colorado apparently opened up for the travelers to arrive safely to Cripple Creek.

We were the only guests on the first night at our favorite inn, the Cripple Creek Hospitality House. It is the former Teller County Hospital, and it is reminiscent of the early days of the last century, complete with authentic equipment and remnants from its days as a hospital. I turned in before all the others, and, as I understand it, they celebrated in the hallway well into the wee hours of the night. Sleep is always my first priority, so I didn’t join them. I wish I had their stamina.

The next morning brought sunshine and warmer temperatures, as if the snow squall from the night before never existed. The wind went down, and the streets were quickly cleared.

We shopped, hitting our favorite jewelry and gift store, 9494, as well as the second-hand store, where–woo-hoo! I found a few more Fiesta ware pieces. It wasn’t the jackpot I gave away last time to Suzanne and Gail that I wrote about in my last blog, but I found a few nice additions to add to my collection waiting in boxes from Kohls.com when I arrived home. There are several more must-shop shops there, and we made our rounds. We donated to the local economy in the casinos as well, with a few of the others hitting a few small mother lodes, but no large fortunes.

And, of course, we ate. And we ate some more. We are sure to hit our favorite Irish pub each time; this time we hit it twice.

The donkeys that have freely roamed the streets of Cripple Creek for years are descendants of the original donkeys used during the original gold rush there, and are safely sheltered just outside of town during the winter months. Visitors are encouraged to visit and feed them, so we did.

Gail doesn’t normally kiss ass…

We took the four-mile drive to nearby Victor, another gold-mining town. The large mining operations along the way are an educational sight, and, because I am a trivia nerd, I wanted the others to know all the uses for gold besides jewelry, and I want you to know, too:

*It is used as currency worldwide.

*It is used in dentistry for crowns and fillings.

*It is used in computers and other electronics because it is a good conductor of electricity. It is likely in your cell phone, too.

*Winning the gold medal is recognized as the top honor, and it is used in religious statues and idols as well.

The mother lode was struck in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in 1890, and Cripple Creek’s population swelled to about 50,000. Today, Cripple Creek’s population is just under 1200 people, and Victor is home to about 400. Mining jobs remain an important element of the local economy.

It was in Cripple Creek that the idea for this blog was conceived. We have been taking our sister trips to Cripple Creek twice each year for the last ten years, and it became obvious to me a few years ago that I had indeed struck the sister lode. This time, we hit the friend lode, too.

We enjoyed lunch at a local veteran-owned bar and grill in Victor, then shopped some more.

We had a 5:00 date in Cripple Creek, and after an hour and then 12 extra minutes of grace, we found our way out of the escape room in the Cripple Creek District Museum. As well as enjoying our collective brainpower in this adventure, we learned a lot about the gold-mining history of the area; we had to in order to get out.

These adventures will stick in my memory, but I am most fond of this memory: I made new friends. It is no secret that when women gather in groups, as the numbers increase, so does the potential for discord. Not among us. I am looking forward to gathering again with Gail and her three friends, whom I now call my friends as well. We talked, laughed, cried, bonded, “relieved wind,” did yoga, did a puzzle, ate, drank and were merry–with Mary, Margaret and Cindy.

Bonnie and Judy, the sisters I found at a garage sale last year, joined us once again. They are quiet, but good company.

Mary and Cindy left a few hours before Gail, Margaret and me on Sunday. The weather remained bright, sunny and safe for traveling. While we have never wished for a snowstorm to keep us from arriving–which we almost didn’t this time, we always wish for a snowstorm to sock us in to keep us there for an extra day or two. As I write, the area is getting pummeled by a monster snowstorm, and I wish it would have been a week earlier. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and we were all able to hit the road.

Rocky Mountain High blared again on the way out, and we all sang along.

There’s no place like home…

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It has been 13 years since March Fourth became March Forth for our family, and while the pain of loss never fully subsides, each passing year strengthens our sisterly bonds, as well as our fortitude to continue to live our lives in honor of the legacy our parents left us. We celebrate life and their lives on or around the anniversary date with this trip each year, and again in the fall. We know that we hit the mother lode and the father lode with our parents. As parents and as people, they were golden. Something tells me Mom and Dad are smiling down upon us and our adventures, and while they never met Mary, Margaret or Cindy, I’m pretty sure they are smiling down upon them as well.

A TIME TO REAP

 

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A TIME TO REAP

It’s harvest time in The Wheat State again–finally.  The interminable cycles of  rain have relented enough to allow the combines to get in the field.  At least, for awhile until the next rain comes.  Harvest is typically finished by July 4th, but not this year.

My husband and I took a drive to the farm last Sunday.  I am incomplete without my annual visit to the harvest field.  He hadn’t been for a few years, so it was time. Neither of my sisters were able to go, so he was a willing substitute.

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We arrived shortly after they commenced cutting; the rains the night before kept them out of the field until early afternoon.  I eagerly climbed in to the combine when we arrived,

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then took a trip to the elevator.

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One field was finished shortly after we arrived, and for the first time in a long time–if not forever–I got to see the first swath into the fresh field.

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Independence Day is not taken lightly on the farm; my nephew added this symbol of American freedom to the combine before harvest.

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I cut some wheat to display at home before the combine got to it,

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and, as usual, my brother graciously gave me all I needed to grind into flour with our dad’s grinder.  We left the field dirty, dusty, greasy, sweaty and hot, but fulfilled.  The seeds that were sown last fall were reaped on this hot July day.  They did the work then; and they are doing the work now.  It is a labor of love for the American farmer; this I know from watching my dad and my brothers.  It is not easy work, but they would have it no other way.  It is more than a job, more than a career.  It’s in their blood.

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As I said I would several weeks ago, I went to Wichita earlier this week to celebrate a long-overdue reunion with my college roommates.

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It has been in the making for months; we finally pulled it together, and pulled it off. We threw most–but not all-caution to the wind, feeling the air and sky on our faces as we let the top down, let our hair down, and let it all hang out.

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It was  a fitting ride for four women who have stuck together for 34 years, four women who have suffered profound losses in each of their families, but remain tight with each other, with three of them catching the fourth when she fell.  They pick each other up, dust her off and help her move on to find joy again.

And move on, we do.  There is so much more life out there to live, and clearly, we are living it.  We have vowed to make July our annual reunion month.  We know, beyond the triteness of the phrase, that life is indeed too short.

We planted the seeds many years ago, and we continue to reap what we have sown.

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Two of the other three live in Wichita.  Tracy (bottom left) lives in Kansas City.  She and I left Saturday morning to return home.  We talked on the way, she told me she may call another college friend who lived on the way to KC, perhaps stop to see her.  “Maybe,” she said, “It’s too short of a notice, and I should do it another time.”

“Just do it now,” I told her. “This is the weekend for college reunions.”  It didn’t take much to persuade her, so she gave her a call.

She wasn’t available for a visit, but welcomed the call, and realized it had been too long since they had seen each other, which expedited the plans for a visit in the near future.

Coincidentally, this friend had planned to get together with two of her college friends the night before.  One of them had to cancel, but they vowed to make it happen soon.

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I should have made it happen sooner, but I am reaping another harvest next week.  I am traveling north with a childhood friend, I friend I see often throughout the year.  We are going to visit two of my friends who happen to live in the same city.  We planted the seeds of our friendship 12 and 29 years ago, and the harvest is more abundant with each visit.    By another coincidence–although I don’t think either one was really that, another friend of 33 years will be visiting that same city from her home three hours away while I am there, and we plan to connect.

I won’t be posting a blog next week; I will be busy with my friends, reaping what we have sown.  The harvest will be the best ever, but probably not as good as the ones in the years to come.

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Tracy arrived at our get-together bearing gifts, bracelets chosen for each of us with love, with a single word printed on each of them.  She knows us well:

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LAUGH, FAITH, ENCOURAGE, INSPIRE

May the seeds you’ve sown bring you an abundant and joyful harvest.

 

FRIENDS FOREVER

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FRIENDS FOREVER

I know how fortunate I am to have my two sisters as my best friends.  We have always been close, and with the passage of time and the lessons of loss, we continue to grow closer. 

I can’t imagine it any other way.

We didn’t have a choice; no sisters do.  We were born into the same family, brought up together and expected to get along. 

And we did.

We became even closer when we left home to make our way in the world.  When Gail left for college, I finally got our room to myself—until Suzanne moved in not much later.  It wasn’t always harmonious in that small space, and I have more stories from that time for another day. 

Gail, meanwhile, was making new friends in college—no surprise there.  She attended a junior college 30 miles from where she now lives, the same junior college her daughter now attends. 

I remember her bringing some of these friends home, and I remember thinking they were pretty cool.  They were, of course.  I have the pleasure of seeing another one of them in one of my work settings; she is a nurse in the small hospital I contract with.  She never came to our house, but nonetheless, she is cool.  Her name is Katy–Katy #1.

There was another friend named Katy–Katy #2.  They were roommates, and this Katy did come home with Gail.  They stayed close during college, and as time wore on, families, work and other obligations kept them from staying as close as they once were.  They last saw each other in 1980. 

Three years later, Gail named her firstborn Katy. 

Infrequent contact was the pattern for many years, but with the advent of Facebook, they were able to reconnect online.  This was a gift for both of them.

Last week, Katy #2 called Gail to let her know she would be passing through her small town Friday, traveling from her home in Missouri.  Just like the cliché would have it, it was as if no time had passed, even after 39 years.  They enjoyed the evening together, and Katy was off the next morning.  Gail and her family were off too, on their annual trek to Michigan to see her second-born. 

Except that they had so much fun, she forgot to take a picture of the reunion.  Otherwise, it would be featured here.

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One week ago tonight, Suzanne traveled an hour to see a college roommate of hers.  They have kept in close touch, and when it was time to memorialize her mother, Suzanne was there, just like her friend was when it was our parents’ funeral.

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On Friday of this week, I was scheduled to go to Wichita to gather with three of my college roommates.  It had been way too long, and longer than a year since we vowed to get together to pay tribute to Tracy’s dear mother, who passed away in June 2018.

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I didn’t go.  Hours before the departure time, the plans changed.  I was disappointed at first, but then, as fate would have it, greater things happened to one of the other three, surprise celebratory things that were more urgent than our gathering.  We rescheduled for two weeks later.  Our plans could wait; hers couldn’t.

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It has been several years since the four of us got together, which is way too long.

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There are no substitutes for college friends, friends who were with us in a formative, challenging and memorable time in our lives.  Gail, Suzanne and I are lucky to have them in our lives still, and for all three of us, this was the week to celebrate them—or at least make a plan to. 

I hope that if you have old friends from college or from long ago, you have kept in touch with them.  If you have been wanting to connect again, now would be a great time do to just that.  I hope that if something were to happen to them, you would be at peace with the way you left your relationship.   In reflecting on this myself, I don’t know if any of us can ever feel we did enough.  We all lead splintered lives; we all have other priorities.   We simply need to make the time to spend time. 

Easier said than done, but continuing to try is the key.

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I remember that many of Gail’s friends used the same word to describe her:  “crazy.”  It was always used fondly.  She was crazy in the sense that she always loved a good time.

I remember that my Jewish neighbor-turned-friend in Philadelphia used to call me “meshugana.”   In her colorful Yiddish language, it means “crazy girl.  I took it as a compliment.  She meant it as one.

This week, I am hosting my Arizona friends from long ago.  Not college friends, but the friends who come every Independence Day week to visit.  They were the young girls I babysat on their father’s farm near mine in the summers starting the summer before college in 1984—35 years ago.  We have remained close, and now they bring their children and husbands—whoever can make it.  This year it is three girls and one husband.  While I used to be in charge of them, we are now peers in every way.   They have known me longer than my husband has; longer than my college friends have.  They know me too well.  They see through me; I can’t hide much.  They also bring out things I didn’t know I could do—good things like finding the stamina to stay up later to get the most out of every evening,  as well as things I didn’t think I could ever do, like get the tattoo they talked me into getting with them several years ago.    Then we all got another one the next year. 

They, too, are crazy girls.  Crazy in a very good way.

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We will spend the week together, and I will bring you the third installment in a blog post of the annual visit from the swheat girls.  Crazy, and sweet.  I am so glad they chose to keep me as a friend.

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It has been said that friends are the family we choose.  I couldn’t have chosen better family if I could have hand-picked my sisters, and I am so thankful I chose the college roommates I did.  I know Gail and Suzanne are grateful for theirs, too. 

Give your college/old friend a call.  Better yet, make a visit.

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Enjoy your sweet freedom this Independence Day, and every day.

 

 

 

SISTER SARAH

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As I prepare my post for publication in three days, I am reflecting back on this day.  Today, Thursday, October 19th, 2017, would have been our parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  I am celebrating their day in peace, remembering the party we had for them ten years ago just a few months before they died.  It mostly brings me joy.  It wasn’t always that way; it has been a long journey. 

My parents, Ed and Liz, at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

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I pray, hope and wish for the same joy and peace for anyone enduring grief–new or not-so-new–anyone I know or don’t know who struggles along their way in this journey.  

This post was written in April, and this week I am honoring my dear friend Marilyn for her birthday, with a tribute to  her sister Sarah.  Wednesday, October 25th is Marilyn’s birthday; send her a wish if you know her!  The picture below was taken after Sarah’s funeral. As always, I am honoring my two sisters; I am so grateful for them.

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Laughter after the tears.

Sister Sarah

I have something very important to tell you.   Put your phone down, listen close and focus:  you won’t want to miss this.  I’m only going to say it once, and there will be a test.  It is important to say the least.  To say the most, it is the secret that, when realized, can bring you boundless joy.  It is a lifelong quest, and I work toward it every day.  Here it is:

Life is short.

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I went to Sarah’s funeral today.  I didn’t know Sarah well; that didn’t matter.  It was my turn to be there for Marilyn.  Sarah was a 42 year-old woman:  a wife, a mother of two sons and a daughter, a daughter of living parents, a professional in my field; a beloved sister.  I put the professional part before the sister part for a reason, I’ll explain in a bit.

Six months ago, Sarah was a vibrant, healthy woman.  Her smile and her spirit surrounded those around her.  Then she was diagnosed with neuro-endocrine cancer.  Extremely rare; no cure.

I met Sarah several times when she was perhaps ten, and then again briefly in her teens.  I don’t remember how many times or when, but I do remember her smile.  It was the same vibrant one beaming from her grade school picture on the table of memories at the funeral dinner today.  It was a smile of knowing, even then.

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Marilyn was my potluck roommate in the dorm my freshman year of college.  She was a sophomore, and advancing quickly toward her bachelor’s degree, with her sights set on a master’s degree in her field.  I was intrigued by her major, and, like Sarah, her smile and spirit surrounded the people around her.

That was 33 years ago.  I am still intrigued, and Marilyn’s smile and spirit still surround me every time I am around her.  

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Four years after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from that very college, Marilyn, unwittingly, inspired me to go back for an advanced degree in her field.

She inspired Sarah too.  Sarah went through graduate school in the same program at a different college.  Married.  With a baby.

Sarah is Marilyn’s little sister by 10 years.  I met Sarah when I went home with Marilyn during college, and likely saw her at Marilyn’s wedding, birthday party and the like.  I have kept in touch with Marilyn throughout our lives, and I remember her speaking of Sarah—and her other four siblings—often. They are a close family, much like mine.  They have incredible parents, much like mine were.  It all seemed well and good, all of them living happily ever after.

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Then, in the one second it takes to deliver the diagnosis, all their lives changed.  Six months later, Sarah was gone.  For us, the one second was the final second.  Either way, we both now speak and understand that language, the foreign tongue no one wants to be forced to learn.

Marilyn helped me work toward a degree to help others improve their language and communication, now I will help her with her advanced degree in grief-ese.

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I love, adore and cherish my sisters.  I hope I have made that abundantly clear.  Marilyn’s love, adoration and cherishing of her sisters is no less than mine.   We didn’t lose the same loved ones, but it’s all the same language.

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Above left to right:  Angela, Joyce, Sarah, Marilyn.

Below left to right:  Marilyn, Angela, Joyce, Sarah.

 

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Just like my sisters, they, too, know the importance of smiles and laughter.

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In our profession of speech-language pathology, we separate language into receptive—that which we take in from others typically by listening, and expressive—that which we put out to others, typically by speaking.  A newborn child is exposed to receptive language in their environment (hopefully), and it usually takes a year for the baby to speak.  One year, one word.  That is our general guideline.  They must first be exposed to their native language to understand it, then they can begin to speak it.  They must take it in before they can put it out.

In the language of grief, this process is reversed.   Those of us who have endured loss may never understand this foreign language, yet we speak fluently in this new tongue in an effort to understand it.  We express in order to receive understanding.   Sometimes we know what words to say, we just don’t know how to find the meaning in loss, how to comprehend the what and the why of it all.

Marilyn had six months to receive this meaning, yet it cannot be grasped before the loss, if ever.  I had one moment, and while my learning process is slow, I continue to learn.

Sarah began making plans shortly after the diagnosis.  Plans for her children, plans for her children’s future children, plans for her own funeral.  She accepted her short future with faith, grace, bravery and action.  She knew, short of a miracle, that her life was indeed short.  Not many of us get that kind of warning for ourselves, or our loved ones.  She took it and ran.  She lapped most people with her energy, optimism and grace.  She only stopped when she was physically unable to do anything else, but left no business undone.  She brought peace to situations that needed it.  She got her affairs in order in grand style.  She traveled and lived it up with her family until she no longer could.    She knew the life is short secret, and worked it.   Her short life was boundlessly joyful before the diagnosis, and, as Marilyn reports, was even more joyful after the diagnosis.

Marilyn, in her trademark intuition, wisdom and advanced comprehension of all things linguistic, is unwittingly enhancing my understanding of this language of loss.  The language no one wants to speak, and especially not to understand.    Sarah, who was a sister in profession to me and Marilyn, and a beloved sister to Marilyn,  gave me joy through Marilyn.  She taught me, and I thought I was a master teacher.

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It has been said that if we could put our problems out on the table along with everyone else’s and have the opportunity to take back someone else’s instead of our own, most of us would take our own back.

I know I would.

I tell people who were given time to prepare for their loved one’s death that they got the better deal because they got the long goodbye.  Except that I tell myself that I got the better deal because I got no suffering.

Now that I have made peace with my own form of loss, I wouldn’t trade it.  I would, however, trade the valuable insight and the resilience I didn’t ask for to have them back.  Even for a day.   I have, however, grown quite fond of this insight and resilience.  It is a part of me now, and it has enriched my life.

I have come to an understanding with my grief.  It is mine, it knows me and now, after nine years, I know it too.  The now-docile beast resides peacefully next to me, and only rears its ugly head once in a while now, instead of most of the time then.  I have trained it well, and it usually behaves.   Triggers like holidays and sad movies are its obvious green lights, but it sneaks in its turn even with obscure things like a certain song she liked, or a plaid shirt just like he wore.  I have turned the lion tamer’s whip and chair around and am using them on the caged beast, instead if it using them on me.  It obeys me.  It knows I mean business.

Still, sometimes like today, when a patient’s family member talked about losing the love of her life in an accident, I got a little teary.

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I was once sure I would have to be buried next to either of my parents when they were laid to rest.  I was sure I wouldn’t make it.  Just bury me too.  I didn’t let my thoughts go to that dark and scary place in my mind where, somewhere in the future, one of my parents would die.  It was too much, and I was sure I couldn’t face it.

But I did when we buried them both on the same day.

On March 4th, 2008, our parents were killed in a car accident.  They were driving home the day after our grandmother’s funeral.

Now, nine years later, I would take it all back if it was put on the table with everyone else’s losses, because, I am sure now that I got the better deal.  Most days, I am at peace with my loss.  It wasn’t always that way.

We have done our best to turn that black square on the calendar into March Forth, and for the most part, we have left the darkness behind.   Sometimes, it is one step up and two steps back, but we are so far ahead of where we started.  It is a hard-fought, ongoing war, but we continue to win battles both large and small.

My wish for Marilyn, her family and anyone enduring grief is that you will arrive at a place where you can say you have made peace with the beast of grief.  The beast typically never leaves, never vanishes, but we can learn to live with it, control it and shout at it from time to time, proclaiming “You’re not the boss of me,” and really mean it.  “Maybe you once were, but not anymore.  I am stronger than you now, so leave me alone.  Get away.  Shoo.”  And it will.

I pray for strength for your journey.

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So here’s the test, and a lab assignment I didn’t warn you about:  If you lost a loved one in the next second, or in the next six months, would you be ready?   And would you survive and experience joy again?  Or, if you were given a short time to live, would you live it to the fullest, like Sarah did?

And here’s the right answer:  Yes, if you have fully embraced the non-negotiable truth:  Life is short.

Now get out there and prove it.  Have fun and be an Instrument of Peace where need be, just like Sarah was.  Your lab assignment is life itself.   Go live it like your life depends on it, because it does.

Every day. 

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I had a great half-hour phone conversation with Marilyn one week ago.  Among other things, she spoke of a visit we had one week after the funeral.  Tracy and Denise, our other two former roommates from the 1985-86 college year, gathered in Wichita with us to celebrate Marilyn and the wonderful life of her sister.  

Both Tracy and Denise have lost sisters.  They, too, understand.  We talked, laughed, reminisced, and enjoyed each other’s company.  Mostly, we laughed.

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None of us would have missed this opportunity to re-connect, but Marilyn told me in our phone conversation that this visit meant the world to her.  One week later, when she felt the world had forgotten, and that life surely could not go on without her sister, we were living proof that there is joy to be found after loss.  

I wish all of you this same joy.  It is out there to be found after loss, so please hold on and keep looking.

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Dedicated to the memory of Sarah Hageman Probst:  September 22, 1974-April 15th, 2017. And, as always, to the loving memory of my parents.  Happy Heavenly Anniversary Mom and Dad.