LOADS OF SISTERS

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LOADS OF SISTERS

Sisterhood at its finest is what I aim to celebrate with each blog post.  Typically, this means I write about my sisters, but sometimes we need to share the spotlight with other sisters.

This week, I have done just that.

Gail, Suzanne and I met Friday for Mildred’s funeral.  Mildred, like a handful of other caring, thoughtful and loving matriarchs, opened her heart, home and holidays to us in our time of need.

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Gail’s mother-in-law lived fully, loved even more deeply, and left an incredible legacy of peace, positivity and optimism to her entire family.  On a beautiful November day with full sun, near record-high temperatures and—much to Gail and Suzanne’s chagrin—absolutely no wind, Mildred was memorialized in this small town where Gail, Suzanne and I were born.

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Mom and Dad lived there from 2000 until they died in 2008.  Both Gail and Suzanne had lived there as well.  Tana and Amy (Swheat Girls Part Two, dated July 9th) were born there, and spent their early childhood years there, too.

The service left only a few dry eyes in the church, and the burial concluded with this spectacular sight:

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We all returned to the church, and enjoyed the unparalleled cuisine of a small-town church potluck lunch, complete with homemade desserts.  Gathering outdoors in the beautiful weather became the obvious order for the rest of the day.

Gail’s three daughters hadn’t been together for some time.  They, too, celebrated their sisterhood today:

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Lisa (right), who also married into the family, celebrated with her sister today too.

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Mildred’s daughters, who weren’t old enough to lose their mother—no one ever is, if you recall from last week, are now the matriarchs of the family.  My heart breaks for them.

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When Mildred was just ten years old, her world was effectively rocked by the arrival of—surprise—twin sisters.  She was an only child until then. Mary, Martha and Mildred became perhaps as close as Gail, Suzanne and me.  They traveled, had fun, bent the rules, laughed, spread joy, and drew even closer as Mildred neared the end of her life.

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Besides Gail’s three daughters, Mildred’s other granddaughters are left to help their mothers carry on her legacy.

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Even the great-nieces will carry Mildred’s memory forward.

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Mildred’s family didn’t let the beautiful November weather pass them by.

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The window pictured in that small gap in the trees in the center of the above picture is the house my parents lived in, just across the street and across an open lot.  Mildred, Mom and Dad couldn’t have asked for better neighbors in each other.

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Suzanne and I were chauffeured to Osborne by my husband.  We savored the beautiful Kansas landscape along the way, with next year’s wheat crop just getting its start.

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We stopped in Lucas to partake of the sights, and to procure some of the locally famous bologna and cheese from Brant’s Meat Market.

In operation since 1922, Doug Brant is handing the reigns to his daughter carry this family legacy forward as one of the few remaining authentic meat counters in Kansas.  Our dad was one of his regulars, and Dad’s local conversational legacy is still alive and well at Brant’s.  He remembers Dad, and he remembers us.  We remember how good his homemade treats are.

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No trip to Lucas is complete without a stop at Bowl Plaza, voted second best restroom in the world on World Toilet Day in 2014.

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The contest was sponsored by the United Nations and Cintas to increase awareness of worldwide sanitation.  This free, public restroom has been recognized for its uniqueness and flair.

For me, it provides a welcome rest stop on my travels in this direction, but more importantly, it validates my favorite expression of art:  mosaic art with all degrees of randomness included.

Life is often random, so art like this makes perfect sense to me.

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Next time, I swear I will make time to stop at the other world-famous attraction there:  J.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden.

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The holidays officially begin this week.  I know from heart-wrenching experience that this can be the hardest time of year for the newly grieving.

If it is your first year without a loved one, please consider this perspective:  Although the pain  never fully goes away, this first year is a blueprint.  We have no idea what to expect on the first round of birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, but when we survive the first year of all those special days, we can say I made it.  I will make it again.  We now have a foundation of what to expect in future years, and while each year is different in its own right, each year you move forward makes you another year stronger.

I am celebrating Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s family, and then we will spend the weekend at Gail’s for her much-anticipated annual Turkey Party.  It is a large part of the reason why I love Thanksgiving so much.  Our signature picture at the beginning of each post was taken in Camp Gail last year on Thanksgiving weekend, and I plan to take another one this year.

My favorite holiday is almost upon us, and after nine years, I can say I no longer dread holidays.  I welcome them, and savor the memories from so many blessed years with my parents.  I still miss them, though.

If you are missing a loved one, I wish you this peace I now feel.

If your family struggles to find harmony on holidays, I wish you peace as well.   Consider, if possible, seeing your family through their eyes for just a moment, or just for the day.

Give thanks.  Be grateful.  Express gratitude for the little things, as well as the big things.  Because the little things, as you already know, are what the big things are made of.

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In loving memory of Mildred.  I am thankful I had the privilege of getting to know her.  She left an incredible legacy of love for all of us to carry forward.  May her family feel peace at their Thanksgiving table, and every day.

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Any woman who was a sister to another woman posed for this impromptu picture.

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Gail with her family.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

 

 

 

THREE PAIR OF GLOVES

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THREE PAIR OF GLOVES

The words “Thank you for your service” seem to be the best we have to thank our service men and women.  It’s what I say when I see one in uniform and I reach out to speak to this stranger.   It’s meaningful, and it is always appreciated.

It’s also what I say to the veterans I know when I want to express my gratitude for what they have done for me, for you and for our country.

If I dug a little deeper, put a little more heart in it, I might find something like this:

There are no words strong enough to express my gratitude for the sacrifices you have made.  I want you to know how much I appreciate your service.”

I have one veteran in my family.  My father-in-law Marvin served in the Korean War.  I called him yesterday to offer my gratitude on Veteran’s Day.

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I sent an unspoken thank you to all the others.

Just like Thanksgiving Day, we should make Veteran’s Day every day.  We should go out of our way to thank them.  Be it for their service, or any other gifts from any other giver, we can never express gratitude too much.

The words “I am sorry for your loss” seem to be the best we have to express sympathy.  I say it to some people, but now that I have been on the receiving end, I try to dig a little deeper.

In the 150-plus cards I received after my parents died, there were three friends who sent cards—not even close friends—who wrote these words of gold I will never forget, and words of gold I now use:  “My heart breaks for you.”

I cannot find words that go any deeper in my heart.

If it is a parent of a friend or loved one, I also offer this:

We are never old enough to lose our Mom/Dad,” because we aren’t.

**

Our dad escaped the draft because of his flat feet.  Now, several of his seven children—including myself—have flat feet.  I don’t complain; I may not be here without them.  He was never outfitted in a military uniform, but he did wear another uniform for very special occasions.  The gloves were part of the uniform, and if not for a third pair of gloves, I may not be here either.

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I wrote the following piece earlier this year. 

I will never forget the gloves.  I gave them to Mom as she sat under the green tent at her mother’s funeral.  It was a cold, but bearable early March day in Wichita, Kansas.  I was standing behind her, and I noticed she had her hands clasped tight in her lap.  I wanted her to have them; she was burying her mother and I wanted to comfort her in whatever small way I could.  So I gave her my gloves.  Her hands were in mine, so to speak.

I wore those gloves five days later as I stood under another green tent—it’s always green–to bury my father and my own mother, the woman who, just five days earlier had these same gloves wrapped around her living hands as she buried her mother.   I held the hand of one brother and one sister; we held on to each other literally and figuratively in order to get through.

I retired the black leather gloves soon thereafter.  I panicked for a moment when I thought I had lost one of them, but it showed up.  I tucked them away in my bottom dresser drawer alongside other keepsakes.

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My father was a Fourth-Degree Knight in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.  They were knighted and outfitted in a regal, caped tuxedo with a plumed hat fit for a prince, a red-white-and-blue band that stretched from shoulder to the other side of the waist and a sword in a sheath on the opposite side of the waist.  The final touch was a pair of thin, bright-white gloves.

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The Fourth-Degree Knights would stand in full regalia in a majestic honor guard fit for a king when one of their own died.  Knights from nearby towns would come if they were available.  It was a solemn duty; one to be fulfilled if at all possible.

I remember my dad donning his tuxedo and all the extras.  As a child, it seemed mysterious when he would leave the house for a funeral fully garbed, but as I grew up, I saw the majesty.

I didn’t realize it until his own funeral, but apparently, he was the one who would cajole and beg other Knights to find a way to travel far and near to stand guard for one of their own.  One of the other Knights told me this, and took it upon himself to assume his powers of persuasion, and assemble a sizeable group for my dad’s funeral, since he did it for everyone else.

And it was sizeable.  He had a salute fitting for the earthly, humble king he was.   The Knight and his dame of 50 years got a special salute—women don’t normally get the honor guard treatment.

Along with other precious possessions, we were left with his tuxedo and accoutrements.  We turned in the tux, the sword and the hat in order for some other Knight to use it.  My brother was going to take the gloves and band and turn them in as well, but I stopped him.

Do we have to give those away, or can I keep them?”  I asked.

“No, they are his, we can do whatever we want with them,” he said.

So I kept them.  They are sitting in the bottom drawer, next to my black leather gloves that Mom wore.  They are sealed in a thin plastic bag, apparently they had just been professionally cleaned.   I kept the band too.  It bears the insignia of the Knights of Columbus.

I plan to let them rest there.

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I started writing this after I found a little ditty I had already written about my gloves some time ago.  I felt like writing more, so I sat down and let it flow.  Not knowing what was coming, or what I would eventually do with it, I just kept writing.  It felt good.  The part about Dad’s gloves came to mind, and it seemed fitting to add that to the story.

I sent the first part to my older sister, ending just after describing Dad’s gloves.  She is my sounding board, my cheerleader, my positive and constructive critic.  What she replied back with took my breath away for a moment.

I had forgotten the story about Mom’s gloves.

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My parents met on a blind date.  They lived three hours apart; Mom in the city and Dad on the farm.  They wrote letters to fill the hungry gaps of time when they didn’t get to see each other as often as they wanted to.

This was 1955, and long-distance telephone charges applied.  So letters it was.

Mom saved hers, and Dad saved his.  When they married, they combined them in a box.  When they died, we got the box.  I couldn’t bear to read any of them early on, and my sister took the box.

“Don’t you remember the story about the gloves?”  she asked when she replied with immediate feedback.  “In one of the letters, after one of their first dates, Mom said she left her gloves in Dad’s car on purpose so he would have to get in touch with her again.”

Without those gloves, I may not be here.

I knew I needed to honor my gloves that Mom wore. I knew after I almost lost one of them that I needed to keep my black leather gloves in a safe and special place, and then place Dad’s white gloves next to them.

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I wish I had Mom’s pair of gloves from their date.

I wish I could offer my gloves to my mom again.

I wish I could see my dad in his Fourth-Degree Knight regalia again, gloves and all.

I wish I could hold both their hands right now.

I wish the damn cemetery tent could be orange or maybe even yellow sometimes.   Perhaps a little twist with a paisley print or maybe some tie-dye would brighten things up a little.

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First, Dad wasn’t drafted.  That kept him here to meet Mom.  Next, the gloves.  Finally, to complete the trifecta that fate perhaps orchestrated, I must tell another story, just like the one about the gloves, one I recently learned from Gail.

Mom and Dad met on a blind date.  This I knew.  What I didn’t know was that Dad was not the first choice in this fateful match.

We’ll call him Fred.  Fred was the man my uncle had lined up to meet my mom, but Fred apparently had too much fun the night before.  By the time the scheduled date came around, Fred was in no shape to meet my mom.  My uncle rounded Dad up as a fill-in at the last moment, and the rest, well, you know.

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I am so thankful for the series of events that allowed me and my siblings to be born.

I am so thankful for the service of all veterans that continues to allow me to live freely in the United States of America.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

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I wish you the peace I feel now over nine years later, knowing their hands are guiding me along my path every day, in every way.  Hands that no longer need gloves.

I wish our veterans peace every day, peace of mind to continue to live their lives to the fullest, despite the sometimes unimaginable pain and suffering they have seen as part of their service.

MY HEART BREAKS FOR YOU.

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Gail’s beloved mother-in-law Mildred passed away peacefully on Tuesday with her family at her side.  She was an incredible woman whose smile will never be forgotten.  She  became the Thanksgiving Matriarch for my family at Gail’s when Mom was gone.

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She will be missed, because we are never old enough to lose our mothers.

My heart breaks for her family.

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Recall that my plan was to dress as Rosie the Riveter at Halloween.  Because this blog is dedicated to optimism, Rosie will be my final image and thought:

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WE CAN DO IT!

 

EVERY DAY SHOULD BE THANKSGIVING DAY

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EVERY DAY SHOULD BE THANKSGIVING DAY

Just like my parent’s generation remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the heartbreaking news about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, mine remembers the day our country came under attack:  9/11/2001.

I was holding a sick baby, glued to the TV all day, staring in disbelief.

The sixteenth anniversary of that dreadful day passed last week, the same day our country came under attack from Mother Nature with Hurricane Irma.  I was glued to The Weather Channel all weekend, staring in disbelief at my beloved St. Pete Beach, and all of Florida as it was battered by wind, rain and the fury of nature.

My heart broke for everyone in her path.  But this wasn’t helping them or me, not one little bit.

I feel heartbreak as a routine part of my work.  People whose lives have been devastated by a stroke, head injury, progressive neurological disease or a myriad of other illnesses present themselves for my attempts at remediation of their communication and/or swallow abilities.

Most days I can make a small difference, but most days I want to make more of a difference for them.  Most days I cannot heal, I simply offer a new way.

Sometimes, at the end of the day, I think I can’t take this anymore.

But then I remember something I read in a book by one of my mother’s favorite authors:  I can’t take on enough sadness to make someone else happy, nor can I take on someone else’s illness in order to make them well.  The best I can do is do the best with what I have, and practice gratitude for all I do have.

Even if this regular practice of gratitude does make me feel guilty for all I do have, while remembering those whose lives are being torn asunder by an illness or injury, a hurricane, or the ongoing loss felt from all those affected by the senseless attacks of 9/11—I have to keep feeling it.

And so I try.  Every day.  Some days it is easier than others.  Some days, I really have to dig deep.

It’s always there, though.  Always.

I recently read a book that challenged the reader to write down three things every day they are thankful for.  Three different things every day; no repeats.

The biggies—health, family, faith, freedom, food, shelter and clothing are the easy ones.   I used those up in the first few days.   The hard ones are the ones that take longer to get on paper.  Sometimes, I have to sit and think for quite some time before I can find something new.

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It is typically something easily overlooked, something like the beautiful orange-pink glow of the sunrise.

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A luscious, tasty watermelon from the bounty of our neighbor’s garden–as well as their generosity.

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From earlier this summer: the reflection of the water in our above-ground pool on the porch roof.   Getting a hand-written note in the mail.   Beautiful ground fog in the morning.  My boys enjoying an evening frog hunting.

These little things, when focused upon, become larger.  Larger, and more worthy of gratitude.

Sometimes, however, I have to turn it upside down to see the positive side in order to be thankful:  Electricity, as we sat for three hours without it.  Good dental care as I dreaded my six-month cleaning that afternoon.  Surviving a bad Monday.  No headlines in our daily paper about North Korea–no news is good news.  Realizing the reason a colleague irritated me was because I despise that too-frequent behavior in myself.

After a few months of making a point to recognize these small gifts worthy of gratitude, it started to grow on me, just like the author said it would.  I started to try harder to find the positive in what I typically considered negative.

I felt—do I dare say it—a little bit happier (just like the author said I would).  I realized I didn’t have to see something as negative if I didn’t want to.  Turning many thoughts upside down proved to be a good thing.

I felt empowered.

So, of course I wanted to share this good thing, this new view.  I asked Gail and Suzanne to try it for one day, just for this blog.  They each had to come up with three things that they don’t normally give thanks for.

Suzanne quickly came up with this:  she hasn’t taken it off since she got it in Florida.

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And, as a fellow lover of puzzles, she and I worked on this one last night.  Dad made two of these puzzle boards for Mom, and Suzanne and I are both thankful to have one.  Gail is not a puzzler like we are.

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She can complete a 1,000 piece puzzle in a day if she sets her mind to it, and she is grateful for this hobby that provides her with countless hours of enjoyment.

The third one was easy for her to come up with, but it is also something Gail is grateful for, and wanted to use as well.  It is something I despise.  It will wait until after Gail’s other two.

For over seven years, Gail was the owner and sole proprietor of a Daylight Donuts franchise in her small western Kansas town.  The bobblehead below reminds her to be grateful for all the friendships this created–her shop was the a.m. social hub in this small town.

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When she closed those doors, the woman in the picture below opened another door for her, and she will be forever grateful to her.  It was time to move on, and April gave her the opportunity to manage her chiropractic office.  Their children were both members of the homecoming court on Friday.

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The third one for both of them sets them apart from me, and makes me wonder just how they can both so enjoy and be grateful for something I loathe, something I gladly leave far behind me in one of my special places when I travel there.  In fact, one of my favorite things about Colorado is the relative lack of it:  wind.

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They both love wind.  The windier the better.  They both got their wish two days ago.  Gail has thought about changing her name to Gail Force Wind. 

I can say this because they are my sisters:  they are crazy.

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Because the title picture for my blog was taken during our Thanksgiving weekend celebration last year, it needed an encore presentation today.  It is taken in Camp Gail, a very special place in her home that will be covered in a future post.

Gail is our Thanksgiving hostess every year, and she does it up right.  It was my favorite holiday before she started the tradition, but her soiree enhances it.

I like the fact that there are no commercial expectations for Thanksgiving, just family, food and gratitude.

I am separating the idea of a holiday from a holy day, as I look at them differently.  Christmas is my favorite holy day, but I don’t like the commercialized, societal aspect of Christmas.  I prefer to keep it a holy day, and let the holiday buzz go on without me.   Thanksgiving, however, is a holy holiday for me.  It is all about gratitude—and good food with my family.

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Today, I am thankful for you, my blog readers.  My day so far hasn’t been among my best.  When I finish this post, I am going to turn a few things upside down to find two more.

I am challenging you to start this daily practice as well, and sit back and see if maybe your life doesn’t become a little bit happier too.

Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving—every day. 

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Dedicated to the victims of the recent hurricanes, the ongoing grieving from 9/11 and my patients, all who fight their battles every day of their lives.  May you be filled with new hope for new and more frequent Thanksgivings.

Special thanks to my husband Mark, who suggested this post.