allthingstammy

Tammy Talk

My First Motherless Mother’s Day

Mommy as a little girl

My first motherless Mother’s Day without you. I cannot even describe how this feels. All the painful commercials I’ve had to walk away from. Every email from some retailer I never should have given my email address sends me a little reminder:

“50% off handbags for mom!” “Tell mom how much you love her!” “Send mom flowers!” “Your mom deserves the best”.

I feel like writing back, “Don’t you know my mom died in June and that this will be my first Mother’s Day without her? I posted the obituary on Facebook. Get your creepy tracking software working correctly. Emails or no emails, Mother’s Day is coming, and my mother is gone. I’ve been dreading this day for ten months.

They have all just been a painful reminder of the relationship that I can no longer celebrate the way either one of us would like to. How am I to cope on a day dedicated to moms? My mom?

When you’re fortunate enough to have an affectionate and nurturing mother, you never stop craving her kind of love. She’s the only one who can make you feel it. After she’s gone, you futilely search to fill her void, but you’re trying to solve a riddle without an answer.

When she died, it was like a meteor hit; my foundation shook, I lost the things that were her, and I was left with a vast un-fillable crater. Motherly love is a story that has no end. I will never again be on the receiving end of my mother’s motherly love. I have started to learn that happiness and grief can co-exist. That time helps, even in the tiniest increments. That I don’t have to think about my loss every second of the day for it to matter. But I’m also realizing that once in a while it’s important to forget about happiness, and to focus on connecting with my mom instead.

Sunday, I will spend the day at my dad’s house. There will be food and laughter and many moments of happiness, as is inevitable when you’re with people you love. I will go to the cemetery to visit her grave. I won’t quickly delete the Mother’s Day emails that land in my inbox; I’ll let myself be reminded. I will look at photos of her, and watch videos of her, and I’ll miss her. Sunday is still Mother’s Day, happy or not.

Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day, Mom. I’m so grateful I got to have you for 58 years. I’ll love you forever and miss you for always.

What not to say to a woman without children

Women are choosing not to have children more than ever before in history.

But rather than celebrating the fact that we are free to make such a choice – and supporting each other in doing so – women who opt out of the social norm of motherhood are often condemned or criticized for their choices.

My personal experience, as a younger woman when I stated I didn’t want children, was mostly received with the somewhat condescending, all-knowing reply, “maybe not now, but one day.” As I have gotten older, comments have been tinged with pity “aren’t you sorry you didn’t have children” or “do you regret your decision”?

The insinuation that my life would be somehow incomplete if I wasn’t a mother, became tiring. It would have been really nice if people would have simply accepted my decision and commended me for knowing what was best for me.

I have comprised a list of the things never to say to a woman who has no children.

1. Why?

This is such a personal matter.

If a woman has been unable to conceive, hasn’t been in the right relationship or chose not to for genetic reasons, this could be a very painful topic. A woman who is child free by circumstance should not have to explain her child free state.

If a woman has simply chosen not to have children, trust that she has made the right choice for her. Nobody should have to explain or defend their decision to not have children. Just as nobody should have to explain their choice to have them.

It’s not your business. Period.

2. You’ll change your mind.

I remember when my first serious boyfriend said he didn’t want kids, it was almost a deal breaker. Not because I wanted them, but because I wanted the chance to have them if I decided I wanted them. You know, if I happened to change my mind.

I get it. People change their minds all the time. I’ve changed my mind about lots of things ~ from the mundane; what color to dye my hair, or a travel destination, to the magnificent; existential kingdom of God and the institution of marriage.

People change their minds about kids too. I know this. I have witnessed it. But having told me that I will change my mind just makes you sound self-righteous. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know me better than I knew myself, unless of course, you were my mother, my sister, or my very best friend.

So just don’t say it.

3. What if you regret it later?

I’ll live with it. I promise. A child is not an “idea.” It’s not a thing or a toy.

It’s an actual person that needs love and attention and dedication. For a long time. Like, forever. Deciding to “have a baby” is a lifetime decision. Bringing a whole human being into the world on the off chance that I might later regret not doing so seems like a terrible idea to me.

4. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

Well, sure it’s natural.

But if it were up to nature, a woman’s life would be dedicated to reproduction. There would be no waiting until you’re “ready”. If it were up to nature there would be no birth control (or technological advances that have lead to lowering the maternal death rate, for that matter). If it were up to nature we’d all just be breeding machines.

But being a “mother” is so much more than birthing a child. And motherhood, I’m sorry to say, does not come naturally to all women. If it did there would be no infantcide or abandonment or neglect or abuse or cruelty towards children of any kind. I don’t doubt the presence of a profound feeling, I just don’t think it happens to everyone.

5. Having a baby is the most fulfilling thing you will do.

I’m pretty sure that if you decided to have children, being a parent is the most fulfilling thing in your life. That is outstanding and important. Because, it would be pretty sucky if you didn’t find parenting fulfilling and you were stuck with being a parent for, hmmm, let’s say, FOREVER!

I think that having babies needs to be the most fulfilling thing you will do. What other reason is there to have children except that it is an emotionally fulfilling experience? They cost an extraordinary amount to raise. And money isn’t the only thing it costs to raise happy, healthy children. People everywhere are pulling their hair out over the trials of being a parent for the simple fact that at the end of the day “it’s totally worth it.”

It’s difficult for me to argue with the rationale that having children is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do because I don’t have children and that ship sailed long ago. But the comprehension that having a baby is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do is supported by women everywhere! “Yes!”, they are saying. “I thought my life was fulfilling before, but now I know real fulfillment!”

I’m not denying that things change when you become a parent. I have heard it time and time again from women who wanted to be mothers. They have capacities they didn’t even know they had, fill up with a love they didn’t even know they could feel.

I get that you can learn selflessness and patience and compassion and sacrifice and loss and pure happiness and a host of other things through being a parent. I also believe you can learn all these things in other ways too! Adopt a dog!

And when your life is not filled up with children, you fill it with other things. I have lived and continue to live a big life. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Ever. I feel fulfilled. I truly dislike having the quality of my life judged by the single determiner of whether or not I’m a mother.

6. Isn’t that a bit selfish?

I don’t even know where this idea came from. Since when does not having a baby equate to selfishness?

Everyone contributes to society in different ways. I understand that one of your many contributions may have been children. And yes, these are the people that make music I like to listen to, or performers that inspire me. These are the people that take care of me when I am sick, cut my hair or fly me to beautiful destinations so I can see the world. Trust me, I value your children. I also value anyone that makes a contribution to society, just as I value people with no children.

I think in many ways not having a child makes me less selfish. Because I don’t have children, I have more time and more energy and more money to give to others. Especially, to people and animals who need it more than what the world needs .. another person.

7. You just haven’t met the right guy yet.

I’ve met heaps of the wrong guys. I’ve been with a few of them too. I know all about the wrong guys. The guys that lie to you, the guys that cheat, the guys that take money from you, the guys that make you feel like you’re nothing, the guys that control you, the guys that give you the silent treatment for days, the guys that manipulate you, the guys that tell you that you’re crazy, the guys that don’t come home, the guys that do come home and lash out at you…do I need to go on?

Those guys are not the right guys.

My guy is not that guy. He is a good guy. He doesn’t mind that I made a choice that was right for me. The fact that he respects my decision that I didn’t have children, makes him definitely the right guy for me. Some of the wrong guys, that already had children from prior relationships, decided that they did not want a pseudo mom. Instead, a woman that already had children, who understood children, might be a better match and partner. Well, alright then!

However, do you know how it feels to be the other woman in a self-made family? Do you know how weird it feels when you love your children more than your partner and you make that known? Of course you should love your kids and you have to put their needs first. Loving your kids is like going to school, you don’t really have a choice. Loving your partner is like going to college, it is up to you to show up and participate. And whether you realize it or not, children need role models that show a happy, loving relationship. I am blessed to not be at the bottom of the totem pole any longer.

9. Didn’t you want to leave a legacy?

Did I feel like I needed to leave a legacy? No, not really. In fact, the thought had never crossed my mind until you said it.

But now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I would like to say that I find it incredible that there are, in fact, no other ways to leave a legacy. What about through art or writing? What about acts of kindness? What about teaching or changing the world? Are you trying to tell me that the Dalai Lama won’t be remembered? That he hasn’t left a legacy? Or Mother Teresa? If leaving a legacy is important to someone there are many other (and dare I say better) ways to do it than having a baby.

10. You don’t know love until you have a baby.

This is my favorite. The one that condemns everyone who chooses not to (or is unable to) have a child to a loveless life.

I know what you mean, I do. The love a parent feels for a child is different. Of course it is. I believe you. And, what’s more, I know I will never know or understand this love unless I had become a mother myself. But I’m okay with that. I rescue animals and I know that my love and empathy runs just as deeply for my four-legged kids.

Some sons and daughters are born to you. Others occur to you. I’m so blessed to be a part of the lives of so many amazing (and some pretty terrorizing) little ones. I am an “aunt” and a “fairy god mother” to several friends children. I am honored. My friends are like an extended family, and while their blood doesn’t run in my veins, their heartbeats do and I feel fiercely blessed every single day for being so cherished and having so many people fill my heart with love. I have a wonderful family that I have so much love for, sometimes I feel like I will burst from it. My husband is incredible. If all I had for the rest of my days was him, I would feel complete and content. I share him with his children and my role is based on what is comfortable for them, for me, and us as a whole. I am a piece to their puzzle. We all fit together to make one stunning, complete image. And isn’t that beautiful?

I often come across parents who don’t think that my life is “enough.”

But it is enough for me.


Second Chances

In the beginning, following the break-up, you think about all the things that went wrong and with time, the hurt and the anger start to diminish. You tuck the memories away, usually in a shoe box for me, and you begin to move on. You start to live life again, have fun and eventually begin to date someone new. You think, I am over it, over HIM and ready for new beginnings.

As you explore a new relationship, with an unfamiliar person, you feel exhilarated and alive and ready for newfangled experiences. You have decided that you are going to give your all to this new person, be everything you weren’t with HIM and be open to the endless possibilities.

But, there are those times that you feel like a familiar ghost is haunting you. One that you cannot seem to let go of. One that was apart of some big moments in your past. One that helped you through some pretty tumultuous stuff that life threw your way. One that also celebrated you when something good happened.

He was everything I regretted. Everything I blamed myself for. Every memory I replayed in my head wondering why things didn’t work out. Eventually, I realized, fixating upon the past wasn’t going to change my future.

As the novelty wore off in my newfound life and reality set in, the occasional disappointments or disagreements would occur and I saw HIM everywhere. I’d think to myself, HE would never treat me like that, or HE would be there for me, or HE really cared about me. In the pieces of myself, I saw him there too.

There are some people who touch you so deeply, even when they exit your life, they are in everything you take with you when you try and move forward. There are some people whose impact is a direct reflection of the person you turn out to be.

HE was no exception to that.

Over time I got used to leading a life without HIM. People stopped asking. People stopped wondering. They ask about your current person. And it is hard to explain something you struggle to understand yourself. In the years we didn’t play a major role in each other’s lives, that lack of closure and lack of understanding left me with an unexplained void I couldn’t find words for.

“You’re so much better off without HIM,” I’d hear on repeat. People try to make you feel good and it’s nice to hear, but you don’t necessarily believe that in your core. You wonder about HIM. Is HE happy? Has HE found someone new? Does HE think about me? Does HE have any regrets? Does HE still love me?

Because what if there are some people you aren’t better off without?

Sometimes I wonder if healing was easier because we removed each other from social media. Erasing every part of our past like it didn’t happen at all. But there is a heartbreak to that too. There is heartbreak to remembering how good things were. Remembering how easily you fit into each other’s lives.

Even when it’s your past you replay in your mind, when enough time has passed, it almost feels like it was someone else’s life you were living.

And just when I thought I was establishing this unique life, beyond HIM .. it happens. Here is the blunt truth about second chances; they rarely happen by chance.

It begins with a follow on social media. Then a message. Then a phone call or two. Finally, the arrangement to meet and see one another again with the thought; “I’ll just see if I still have feelings” or, “maybe we can be just friends”.

When you haven’t seen someone in years you don’t know what to expect. Hundreds of questions danced through my mind. I recall, my closet looked like a bomb went off changing outfits and doing double takes in the mirror.

But even your best outfit. Your best hair day. Your best makeup job doesn’t leave you feeling confident when it’s the one person you want to make an impression on the most.

And there I was standing, in the parking lot, a bundle of nerves heading towards the restaurant, heading towards HIM.

As he approached, I felt a lump in my throat and my palms became sweaty. I saw his smile, that sweet smile he has only for me. Though much time had passed since we last saw each other, there was a comfort and familiarity to one another. A simple embrace that felt like it was everything I had been missing. The handkerchief he pulled out of the top left breast pocket of his suit jacket to capture the tears, because he knows me that well. The conversation that didn’t seem forced or awkward. And all I kept wondering was, after all this time, are we really here having dinner, together?

Here was the one person, who hurt me as much as I hurt him, only this time it didn’t hurt.

I expected to say so much. Instead, it was a mutual exchange of conversation. The truth was, it didn’t matter what happened so long ago, the only thing that mattered was right now in this moment.

I knew to be wary of old flames. I knew to be skeptical of people from my past. But there was something about HIM I trusted. And as we parted ways and he said he’d see me again, I knew he actually meant it.

Sometimes when you want something that badly and you don’t get it, you think it’s never going to happen for you. Then it does and it’s not what you thought it would be, it’s so much more.

What I have learned is sometimes people need to grow a part before they have any chance of growing back together. You see, anyone can catch your eye, but it takes someone special to catch your heart. Sometimes it’s only after you truly lose someone do you understand their value. And if you’re lucky, if you’re really lucky, you find your way back to each other again.

Is Home Where You Grew Up?

For most people, their home is part of their self-definition, which is why we do things like decorate our houses and take care of our lawns. These plots of land serve little real purpose, but they are part of a public face people put on, displaying their home as an extension of themselves. It’s hardly rare, though, in today’s society, to accumulate several different homes over the course of a lifetime. So how does that affect our conception of ourselves?

For better or worse, the place where we grew up usually retains an iconic status. I think it is human nature to want to have a place to belong, we also want to be special, and defining yourself as someone who once lived somewhere more interesting. Isn’t the first thing we ask someone when we meet them, after hearing their name, “where are you from”, or the much more interestingly-phrased “where’s home for you?” My answer for “where are you from?” is Dix Hills, New York, yet I was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, the daughter of a First Lieutenant. Dad was to be promoted to Captain when I was just a baby, but when he completed his full military obligation, and received his Honorable Discharge, he became actively involved as a Real Estate Developer. It moved us around quite a bit and when I turned 12, we finally settled in Dix Hills, having moved approximately every 2.5 years.

But “where’s home for you?” is a little harder to answer. I have lived in Arizona for over 22 years now. I guess I must like it and I have learned to survive the scorching desert heat. Phoenix is a great place to live. It’s a bustling city in the middle of the desert and, yes, it does get hot, but you will find gardens of lush blooms, well-maintained highways, professional sports, and day trips to a great variety of places. Skyscrapers, historic landmarks, rusty cars, and potholes simply don’t exist. And, we are in our own time zone as Arizona does not subscribe to daylight savings time. I do like that!

But, if home is where the heart is, then by its most literal definition, my home should be wherever I am. Yet, I can call an array of other cities and states home too. If I’m going to visit my sister, I’m going home to New Jersey, where I lived prior to moving to Arizona. If I’m returning to Chicago, I’m also going home. If I am heading upstate NY, well I lived there too, and you get the picture. The truth is, the location of your heart, as well as the rest of your body, does affect who you are. The differences may seem trivial, but they can lead to lifestyle changes that are significant.

Memories, also, are cued by the physical environment. When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there. The rest of the time, different places are kept largely separated in our minds. The more connections our brain makes to something, the more likely our everyday thoughts are to lead us there. But connections made in one place can be isolated from those made in another, so we may not think as often about things that happened for the few years we lived someplace else. Looking back, many of my homes feel more like places borrowed than places possessed, and while I sometimes sift through memories of my time there, in the scope of a lifetime, I was only a tourist.

Prior to the loss of my mom, a friend of mine sent me a picture of the place I shyly called home. He was visiting New York and found himself in a little town called Commack, just next door to Dix Hills. He always remembered the street I grew up on, “Wagon Wheel Lane”. What a great name, for a lovely area and a pretty house surrounded by an acre of lush woods. His timing was eerie. It was June 17th, nine days before the death of my mother. It had been many years since we had seen, or even spoken to one another. He had absolutely no idea of what was occurring in my immediate world and the impact this photo had.

Wagon Wheel Lane

Of course the picture opened up a whole world of emotions for me. The very last home where we lived as a family. I knew from that moment, the answer to the question I pondered quite often, home is the house I grew up in, not where I live now. I can’t possibly live everywhere I once labeled home, but I can frame those places in my heart. I can’t be connected with my home in the intense way of the very last house I shared with my mom, dad and my sister. Nostalgia is the overriding reason for this – childhood dwellings are entwined with fond memories. It is the small details that stay with us, from endearing memories, a particular song or the smell of mom’s pot roast dinner. And and it is these little quirks that really make a house a true home, even after we have moved on and into a new property.

No one is ever free from their social or physical environment. And whether or not we are always aware of it, a home is a home because it blurs the line between the self and the surroundings. It’s the line we try to draw between who we are and where we are. Our homes tell a story as we are likely to try and recreate a sense of positive nostalgia in our current homes, often subconsciously, from our childhood homes. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘If these walls could talk’, and our homes actually do tell a story if you look closely enough.

 

LOSING A PARENT IS HELL

Me and Mommy

It’s never easy losing a loved one. The heart goes through so much pain that you feel you cannot breathe at times. You find yourself wishing that you could bring them back and the reality of knowing there’s nothing you can do, worsens the ordeal. Losing a parent is as painful as anything can ever be. Words can’t console you, and only time can lessen the pain, or so I am told.

If you simply cannot understand why someone is grieving so much for so long, then consider yourself fortunate that you do not understand.

I know I have written about my mother’s 4 1/2 year journey in the past. And I am certain I will again as my plan is to write a book about coping with dying, something nobody teaches us. There is so much to tell about those years of not only being her eldest daughter, but her advocate. This just touches upon the surface of how painful it truly is. I think the biggest part of the story is my denial of her painstakingly numbered days and I was helpless to stop the inevitable.

A dying parent is excruciating

I cannot even explain the physical gnawing pain watching my beloved mom go through so much suffering. On several occasions, I felt physically ill from the torture of watching her suffer so greatly. On what would be her final day, when her breathing changed, so did mine. I immediately went into a four hour, full-blown, panic attack. Something so frightening, I would not wish upon anyone.

I’d lay awake at night and wonder if tomorrow was the day her health would go from bad to worse. When your parent is dying, you die inside right alongside them.

A dying parent is exhausting

Shuttling between holding my home together, going to work, taking care of my dogs, attempting to have somewhat of a social life and checking up on my mother and keeping tabs on her condition, literally drained me at times. There were days that everything became overwhelming for me. I was also exhausted from worrying about what each day would bring. From the very onset, I would not sleep very well, constantly checking my phone several times per night to make certain I did not miss a call from her or her facility.

I forced myself to try to focus on other things. I longed for the days when our lives didn’t center on the ups and downs of illness and when I could selfishly call or see my mom and just enjoy her company and talk about life as we once knew it.

A dying parent makes you realize you’re selfish

Sometimes, I would find myself wishing mom would make just another holiday or birthday. At times, I think I willed her to live because I could not bear the thought of being without her. This train of thought can leave you feeling inconsiderate and self-centered.

I would secretly will her to hold on because I had made travel plans and was terrified something would happen while I was away. I’d find myself irrationally angry because the illness will eventually steal your hero and you can’t bear the thought of life without them.

A dying parent makes you worry about your own death

Death suddenly becomes very real, raw and you’ll be struck heavily by the inevitability. Thanatophobia is commonly referred to as the fear of death. I have struggled with this disorder since my mom initially became ill. It can be crippling causing psychological and emotional symptoms.

I have I prayed that I can face death with the grace my mother showed near the end. A dying parent means realizing that you, too, will someday be the one dying.

You’ll find yourself trying to absorb every detail about them

I recall watching my mother’s hands and trying to etch the lines of her palms into my memory. I would even stare at her frail veins which were more pronounced as her weight dropped. I would often try to absorb everything about her, dispositions and mannerisms into my consciousness. I wanted to remember everything.

It means breathing in their scent and praying that you’ll always remember how your hand fit perfectly in theirs. A dying parent means realizing that the earthly body you’ve loved fiercely will soon be one with the earth.

My story is one of unconditional love between a mother and a daughter. I shared in my mother’s pain, a situation I never expected to deal with. There are no rules for dealing with grief. You just have to get through it. Your friends will try to console you, but the words won’t really soothe the gnawing ache. Only time will heal it, but I have not quite experienced that yet. I still feel a suffocating void, some weird kind of numb. An unsettling mix of being lost and overwhelmed. I am a work in progress.

A dying parent will teach you that there’s nothing a parent won’t do to make it easier for their child in the end. You will hear your dying parent say, ‘I’m ready,’ and even though you aren’t, you’ll let go of the hand that you’ve held since you were small. When your parent finally finds peace, you realize that your parent is still teaching you about life.”

Rescuing Juliet

Kim and Dad rescuing Juliet

Do you think it is any coincidence that DOG spelled backwards is GOD?  While researching, I came across the legend about Adam in the Garden of Eden. God was allowing Adam to name all the animals, trees, etc., as it says in Scripture, but (here’s the legend part) there was a small creature following God and Adam through the Garden and as they got to the end, the creature got their attention. “You have run out of names,” he pointed out. “There’s not one left for me.”

God looked down and smiled at the little animal. “I have saved the best for last,” he explained. “I’ve turned my own name back to front, and called you Dog.”  

My family LOVES dogs.  I have often made the comment, “in my next life I want to come back as one of our dogs”.  Over the years, we have gone to great lengths for our beloved, four-legged, furry friends. But, why wouldn’t we?  They are more than just animals.  If you are lonely, a dog will be happy to keep you company.  If you need someone to love, there aren’t many other beings that can love you the way a dog can.  If you seek loyalty unto death, look no further than a dog.  If you need a laugh, the dog knows just when to offer comic relief.  Dogs are your proven stress reliever, honest about how they feel towards your friends and if you give your heart to a dog, he will not break it. A dog’s love for their owner is nothing less than incredible.  They are part of your family and should be treated as such.

When my Dad’s wife, Kim, asked me to write about their “formerly” blind dog, how could I resist?  Miss “Juliet” has captured the hearts of us all and it is my gift to tell her story.  You see, this sweet little ball of white fluff was visually impaired when first rescued by my Dad and his wife. They became Juliet’s seeing-eye-people. This little lady had absolutely no idea the blessing of what life would be like being adopted into this family.

It all began shortly after the loss of “Shakespeare”, my father’s faithful buddy for 18 wonderful years. Shakespeare shared the love of my Dad with his brother “Caesar”. Two precious Bichon’s with entirely different dispositions. When Caesar passed a few years prior, a special connection emanated between Shakespeare and Dad. We knew this loss wasn’t going to be easy long before Shakespeare’s health started to fail. The two of them were like peas and carrots. They had a routine, a bond that only each other could fill. Kim and I would often take dibs on who was going to handle Dad’s misery through the grieving process. Kim would say “you’re the daughter” and my remark, “you’re the wife”, would always trump her. That’s when Kim started researching rescue sites as we were all concerned about the heartache Dad was surviving without his boy.  

On a Saturday afternoon in late February, as I was sitting in conferences in Fort Worth, Texas, I was included in a group text between my Dad in Arizona and my sister in New Jersey.  Pictures of the most adorable little girl, with the most peculiar name given, flooded my phone.  Which reminds me, why are rescue sites notorious for giving these sweet animals such ridiculous names?  Anyway, as I received more information, I learned that she was approximately 8 years of age and blind. How lovely I thought, blind dogs always see with their hearts. Eventually, I asked the magical question, “was she to become a part of our family”? There was a long pause between texts until I finally read, “We are going to rename her and we need a name that coincides with the Shakespearean theme.”  Well, that was easy, I had the perfect name! The next text from Dad read “Marie Antoinette”. I chuckled silently as I was surrounded by at least 150 people. Oh, no, not Marie Antoinette who was executed by guillotine! My sister and I chimed in simultaneously, “Juliet”.  And just like that, it happened! A 9 pound, furry white snowball, named Juliet, was joining the family.  I could not wait to get back to Phoenix to meet this little bundle of love.

Juliet before surgery

Upon first meeting, I could not get over how well she had adapted to her new home.  Humans depend on their sight far more than canines, who rely on their acute senses of smell and hearing.  What’s more, a dog can feel vibrations more efficiently than people and they use their whiskers to help figure out what’s going on.  Although it has not been scientifically documented, there is evidence to indicate dogs have a sort of sixth sense, which includes picking up on auras around them.  Visually impaired dogs are as in touch with their owners’ moods as much sighted dogs.  This little lady was no exception.  She was definitely finding her way around quite well and into the hearts of everyone she met.  

The next exciting bit of news was that Juliet accompanied her seeing- eye-people to a specialty clinic, Eye Care for Animals. A visit with Dr. Joanna Norman proved that she was an excellent candidate for reversal of her blindness. Imagine that, Ruby Ranch Pet Rescue had told my family that Juliet had been blind since birth and she would never be able to see. Dr. Norman said quite the contrary and her odds of seeing were 90%. The expense of the procedure was in the eyes of the beholder and Kim and Dad were determined to give Juliet the gift of sight.  

Juliet after surgery

On July 18th, our beloved Juliet went into surgery to reverse blindness and restore sight. We all waited on pins and needles for the thumbs up. Dr. Norman stated that everything went extremely well and said her cataracts were so hard, she had to use a jackhammer .. of course she was just kidding, but the magnitude of her comment, understood. Juliet was sent home that evening accompanied by a cone the size of her body, sleepy from the anesthesia and plenty of medication to begin the healing process. And while it was accepted that Juliet would never be catching Frisbee’s, she would be able to navigate and not bump into objects.

For the first four weeks following the surgery, Juliet wore the cone and was subjected to eye drops throughout the course of the day. She handled all of her aftercare like a trooper. She never fussed or whimpered. But the changes that have occurred in her personality are nothing short of amazing. She is even happier now and hops around like a little bunny with a cottontail. She is more picky about her food, probably because she can see it. And the best gift of all is, she can look into the eyes of her seeing-eye-people with gratitude and love.

A happy little girl

Kim and Dad also believed that she didn’t have a voice box. However, my sweet Mollie has proven that theory incorrect. Juliet recently made it quite clear, when Mollie got a little too close, to back off! When we heard a growl and a few barks and realized it wasn’t Mollie, it was Juliet’s new found sight which allowed her to see Mollie for the very first time! Albeit shocking, it was a very pleasant surprise that sent my 40 pound Terrier running to me.

Let’s face it, when something is missing, broken or empty inside of you only you can heal yourself and close the voids. Juliet has done just that. She has taken away the pain, anguish and disappointment of loss. In return, she has been given a gift, a priceless gift. Rescuing Juliet was a blessing bestowed upon them all. And no, I don’t think that Dog is God spelled backwards but more than anything God created, dog defines incorruptible goodness, loyalty, and everlasting love.

Dedicated To My Beautiful Mother

My Heart

After the loss of my beloved mother and at the insistence of my sister, family and friends, everyone thought it would be a good idea for me to embark on a much needed vacation. Scouring the internet for places to visit seemed like a chore. Turks and Caicos, Italy and even a Mediterranean cruise were top contenders. However, the thought of multiple flights, transfers and schedules seemed exhausting and somewhat paralyzing. I couldn’t fathom the thought and preparation of all this immediately following the intimate burial of my “Sweetest Angel”.

Before my mom had become ill, she had always talked about going to Solvang, CA and taking a ride down PCH Highway to see the beautiful sights. My sister and I had discussed doing this for Mom’s 75th birthday and I had it all planned out. A girls trip, in a BMW convertible, just the three of us. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition. Instead, her 75th was spent in a bed in a post-acute rehabilitation facility. We still weren’t certain if she would ever walk again, and if we’d make this trip together, but we were equally as happy that she had defied her odds and we could celebrate her. Almost 4 years later, I had recently discussed this trip with her again. Just before her passing, I was planning to see Solvang and come back and share my experiences with her, pictures, memorabilia and of course, their authentic Danish pastries. However, on June 21st, when hospice told my sister and I that they were moving our mom to a transitional status on the day before my scheduled trip, there was absolutely no way I was going to leave her. The trip was cancelled and we shared as much time with Mom as we could. Our final five days together were filled with much emotion, prayers, gratitude and most of all, LOVE.

So, this past week, in honor of my dear Mother and with the blessing of my sweet sister, it seemed fitting that I take “our” girl’s trip. I know Mom was with me every step of the way as some very special things occurred. I was moved to tears on many occasions and I thank God for the blessings bestowed upon me.

Newport Beach

It started in Newport, California. A fabulous dinner at my absolute favorite restaurant, Fig & Olive. The next day, shopping at Fashion Island and a wonderful ocean view lunch before beginning the trip north. Heading up Ventura Highway, top down and the smell of the salty, sea air, felt incredible.  I was in my element and so excited for the next two nights that would be spent in Solvang.

My Ride
Solvang

Upon arriving in Solvang, I particularly noticed the countryside of the Santa Ynez Valley.  It was splendid with its rolling hills, fields of grapes and majestic beauty in this relaxed and peaceful setting. The following day was all about getting to know Solvang, with the hopes of “My Angel” sharing it with me. 

Solvang

The stroll through the village was incredible.  I admired the old-world European architecture and the charming boutiques and shops.  Although I did not indulge, there are world famous bakeries on just about every corner.  There is an adorable trolley that runs through town and a wooden, horse-drawn street car which is a part of Solvang’s rich cultural heritage and offerings. Food and wine lovers will find more than 120 wineries and beautiful vineyards to explore.  There are abundant dining options, including California farm-to-table cuisine.  I absolutely fell in love and understand why my sweet Mother wished to visit this incredibly charming town.  I also had the most amazing and wonderful experience occur, which I will keep private and safeguard it for those that were with me.  Leaving Solvang was bittersweet, however, I know that I will return every year, approximately around July 8th, to celebrate the memory. 

Monterey

The trip continued north, up the coast, to Pismo Beach, Spy Glass, Monterey (Cannery Row) and Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Each town with its own uniqueness, its own charm and beauty.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

There were beautiful flowers everywhere I turned. Living in the desert, Arizona is more indigenous to cactus and wildflowers. I simply couldn’t get enough of the things we often take for granted. Flowers are the sweetest thing God ever made and forgot to put a soul into.

Big Sur

The trip down PCH 1 was magnificent. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. Bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the west by the Pacific Ocean, it’s traversed by a narrow, 2-lane route, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the spectacular coastline. Stops in Cayucos, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo did not disappoint either. The final stop in Santa Barbara, at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, was the piece de resistance.

Ritz Carlton Bacara

One week of California bliss! One week of celebrating my Mother’s memory.  Never, have I seen such splendor and the weather was absolutely perfect.  My company, considerate, generous, caring, compassionate and thoughtful.  I had my moments.  I had my tears.  I miss my mom.  I miss her laugh, her hugs, her voice, holding her hand and even when she would roll her eyes at me because of my silly antics.  I will never move on, but each day, I will try to move forward. 

Santa Barbara

I also never dreamt that I could be a California girl, however, this trip has significantly changed my mind.  And as my life is about to change again, for my betterment, I scour the internet for the next possible home on the California Coast.  As the Beach Boys sang, “Wish they all could be California girls” .. I think the dream is soon becoming a reality.  I am so excited for this next chapter.  Mom, I hope you come for the ride again, only this time, let’s stay awhile. I love you.          

Mommy “My Angel”

  

FRAGILITY

We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are forever?

Have you heard that before? Felt that before? People, things, whatever it may be, can tear us down like brick walls.

The truth of anything is like a mosaic with many tiles, many parts.

The reality is that things bruise, tear, erode, disperse, or end – fundamentally, they’re fragile. Love and other feelings often change. Milk spills, glasses break, people mistreat you, good feelings fade. One’s sense of calm or worth is easily disturbed. Wars start and then end badly. Planets heat up and hurricanes flood cities. Earthquakes cause tidal waves and damage nuclear reactors.

A life is like a house of cards, and a single gust – a layoff at work, an injury, a misjudgment, a bit of bad luck – can knock it over. Sometimes we overestimate the fragility of things, as when we don’t recognize the deep wells of inner strength in ourselves and others. But I think we are more likely to deny or downplay the true extent of fragility: it’s scary to realize how delicate and vulnerable your body is, or the threads that bind you to others – so easily frayed by a single word – or the balance of climate and ecology on our planet. It’s scary and humbling – neither of which people like – to face the underlying frailty of the body, how easy it is for a relationship to go awry, the ways that so many of us are over-extended and running on fumes, the rickety underpinnings of the global financial system, the deep fissures within many nations, or the unpredictability and intensity of Mother Nature.

But if we don’t recognize fragility, we’ll miss chances to protect and nurture so many things that matter, and we’ll be needlessly surprised and upset when things do inevitably fall apart. We need to embrace fragility – to see it clearly and take it into our arms – to be grounded in truth, peaceful amidst life’s changes and endings, and resourceful in our protecting of the things we care about.

How?

Simply be mindful of fragility – both actual and potential. Notice how many things do break – defined broadly – and notice how many more there are that could break and eventually will: “things” such as physical objects, the earth’s crust, relationships, projects, agreements, states of mind, lives, and societies.

Notice any discomfort with recognizing fragility. Be aware of the other tiles in the mosaic – such as stability, resilience and repair – that can help you push through this discomfort. Appreciate that it is the fragility of things that often makes them most precious.

See the fragility of others, and their pains and losses related to all the things that have “broken” or could break for them. See the delicacy of their feelings, the sensitivities and vulnerabilities in their sense of worth or well-being. Let this knowing about others – both people you’re close to and those you’re not, even people who are difficult for you – open your heart to them. Knowing the fragility of others will naturally lead you away from being harsh or unkind to them.

See the brevity and flimsiness of your own life, and the fragility of your hopes and dreams. Why wait another day to do all that you reasonably can to fulfill them?

Consider where you are unnecessarily fragile – perhaps too prickly about criticism, too vulnerable to a slumping mood, too prone to illness, too indebted, too isolated at work (or in life altogether), or too under-resourced in any significant area – and make a realistic plan for building these up.

Ultimately, try to come to peace with the inevitable: all things fall apart, one way or another. Everything cracks. And yet there is something so beautiful about this part of the truth as Leonard Cohen says much more eloquently than I can:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in

A Must Read …

This is a must read for my guy friends .. but ladies, you need to read this too!

I know you love her.  Nonetheless, I hope you try to love her right.  I hope you cast every ray of awareness upon your love for her.  I hope you know that awareness is what keeps a relationship strong.

And what floored you the most was her completeness.

If you love her, keep her this way.  Keep her beautiful, keep her wild, keep her complete.  While she’s the master of her own fate, I wish you understood that you play a major role in her life.  How you treat her determines how she views herself – you can make her shine or make her feel lost.  She’s a statue in your hands and she only hopes to be held with vigilance.

If you love her, don’t destroy her.  Know that she was destroyed before and another destruction isn’t what she’s aiming for.  If she’s with you, know that she has stepped over her fear and insecurities to be with you.  She has stepped over her past and decided to give love another chance.  She has entrusted you with the health of this relationship – and with her heart.

Don’t let her down.

You destroy her the moment you think you know her.  She’s not a book you will eventually finish.  She’s something yet to be discovered – so live every day as if you’re meeting her for the first time.

Be present.  Nothing destroys her more than your emotional absence.  You can sit with her all day long and not really be there, yet you can be so far away and be completely present.  Stimulate her thoughts, her emotions, her being.  Dive into her soul like you’d dive into an ocean.

Know that you’ll wreck her if she ever felt you need her rather than want her.  You’ll destroy every inch of her if you only love her when loneliness creeps up on you.  Because she seeks your love in all moments, not just when your fears and insecurities strike.

I know that your own past sufferings may have destroyed you.  But don’t love her just so she can carry your emotional baggage with you.  Don’t love her if you only want her to fix you.  Know that she will, with time, without you even knowing.

Her love and existence will heal every part of you.  But if you are with her solely to fill the emptiness inside you, she will know – and it will destroy her.

And remember, she doesn’t want to be fixed either.  Maybe she opened up to you and told you about her painful past. Perhaps you know the exact number of pieces she was turned into.  But she didn’t tell you so you would fix her – she only told you so you can know what she endured and how it made her who she is today.

She wants you to acknowledge that your actions toward her – actions motivated by love, understanding and patience, are what matter most.

Don’t treat her like a broken woman.  She is complete with all her pieces, even though they may still be scattered everywhere.  Embrace them with her – just don’t add to them. Make her see why she went through destructive relationships in the past.  Make her realize that she went through the “worst” so she could appreciate the “better” that you are.

If you love her, love her with all her flaws and insecurities.  She is as imperfect as you are and she only hopes to share that imperfection with you.  She wants to undress her soul in front of you and be utterly herself.  She wants to be the same way with you that she is in the mirror – crazy, wild and free.  If you’re not ready to accept her as she is, you will destroy her.

If you love her, build her up because she will be doing the same for you.  Know that whatever effort you put in, she will be putting in double.

If you show her the moon, she’ll show you the entire galaxy.  If you treat her right, she’ll love you more.  If you love her well, she’ll never forget you!

My Personal Storm and Lessons Learned

It has been over 4 months since I’ve blogged.  As your life will never stand completely still, neither does time.  You see, my chronically ill mother developed pneumonia around the time of my last post.  And in her case, this can be fatal.  We weren’t certain if she was going to pull through and my sister and I were made aware that it was time to prepare for the worst.  We have been thrust into making some of the most difficult decisions that children can make.  It has all been a whirlwind since early February. Deborah, my sister, has already made several trips and traveled over 10,000 miles to be here with us.  Fortunately,  mom is stable at the moment, but her trajectory for life is fragile.  Nothing has prepared me for what I am facing.  Nothing has prepared Deborah, either.

Since my mother became ill, her journey has been a difficult one.  In and out of the hospitals, ICU, near death experiences, we have been on a roller coaster that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.  Despite all the highs and lows, my precious mother has always remained faithful and gracious, which is a lot more than I can say for myself.  You see, I have learned what long suffering is about, and when you witness it first hand with someone you love so deeply, you cannot help but run the gamut of emotions.  My moods and spirit have been very indicative based on how my mother’s health is.  Has it interfered with my life .. most definitely!  Would I choose to do anything differently .. absolutely not!!

I have prided myself on being able to get through anything that life throws at me.  No, I am not smug, just seasoned in dealing with trauma and drama .. LOTS of it!  I have shed many tears over the course of my 50 something years, but nothing like the last 3 1/2, as I have lived in denial that she was failing.  Denial is expensive, emotionally speaking!  But the little voice inside me say’s, “you can do this”!  And, I believe it!  Usually, it’s right!  But this time it’s different.  It is all about time.  How much time do we have left?  Do we have all our affairs in order?  Are her wishes going to be fulfilled adequately? Am I prepared?  Will I ever be prepared?  And what will life be like afterwards? 

I never thought anything like this would happen to someone in my family.  But it has, and I was blissfully unaware of the pain that would come to shape the course of my life.  Since that tragic day of December 29, 2014, when my mom was rushed into emergency surgery to save her life, it has felt like my whole world has collapsed on me.  But, this tragedy has also shaped my life.  I have come to realize that I am a completely different person than I was prior.  In fact, I will never be the same.  The lessons that this has taught me, I believe, will guide me to a better life.

First, everything is a matter of perspective.  So, you lost an important report for work, or you tweeted something that caused a bit of a storm.  So what?  Let’s think about how important it really is.  Are you going to die because it happened? No?  Ok, move on.  It’s not worth spending any of your life worrying about it.  I struggle with this every day, as I’m naturally someone that worries.  But it’s something I am working on now.  And I’m so much happier for it.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, because it really doesn’t matter.  If it helps, compare the thing that’s causing you grief with something that would cause you serious grief… perspective is a beautiful thing.

Second, find people who are a light in your life, and hold on to them.  Since my mother’s illness, it’s as if I put some tinted glasses on and saw the whole world differently.  Your priorities change; whenever there is some stupid argument or someone is gossiping about someone else, you just don’t care.  People who are self-centered or narcissistic, ditch them. People that make you feel unworthy or that berate you, lose them too!  People who make you feel good, hold on to them.  Life is too short to be around people who don’t light your fire.  Find your tribe, and let them know you appreciate them.  I constantly tell my friends and family how much I love them. Tell ‘your’ people that they light up your life, and you in turn will light up their day.

Third, do you know what’s even worse than finding yourself somewhere you don’t like?  Staying there.  We’ve all ended up in situations where we aren’t happy.  Maybe you hate your job, maybe you’re in a bad relationship.  Leave it!!  For god’s sake, you have to take control of your happiness, no one else will.  I’ve been there, I know it’s scary.  Don’t be complacent, don’t spend your time wishing away your tomorrows.  Don’t wait for a more convenient moment.  Be brave, take a leap.  It will all be ok in the end.  If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.

Fourth, remember that thing you’d love to do someday?  Do it now.  Plagued by ‘what ifs’ and doubts, unable to move forward because you’re afraid.  We’ve all heard people shouting ‘YOLO’ and chastising our safety-minded heads, and we laugh it away because it isn’t practical.  But what my mother’s illness has taught me is that you aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, or another year, much less another thirty.  What if you spend the next ten years doing something that you hate and then die?  You don’t want to have wasted your life waiting for the perfect time.  There is no perfect time.  But there is today, and you can do it now.

Fifth, don’t do things that make you unhappy.  Sound simple?  It’s not really.  It takes a lot of concentrated effort to say NO to and let go of things that aren’t helpful to you, but your life genuinely is too short not to. This has been my mantra since the day I sat in ICU watching my mother being kept alive by all kinds of machines.  I made her all sorts of promises, although she couldn’t hear me.  And it’s not been easy to follow. I left several things that were damaging my confidence and causing me so many tears.  And that was scary.  Really scary.  But you know what?  Despite what I am going through with my mom, I’m in such a better place now.  If you’re unhappy, something isn’t right.  You owe it to yourself to stop doing things that make you unhappy.

Sixth, find your thing, and do it.  How often have you been told to simply “Do what you love”?  I know, it can sound like a load of hullabaloo. But let me tell you a secret… it’s really not.  What is the thing that, like a dog chasing a tennis ball for hours on end, gets you excited?  What could you pursue for hours and hours on end?  For me, it was DIY crafts and starting my own consulting business.  Find your thing and do it!  But, if you chase that thing you love, opportunities will follow.  Make time for yourself to do what you love, one day you’ll be thanking yourself for having done so.

Seventh, create serendipity for yourself.  We all love those serendipitous moments, when you seem to be in the right place at the right time. It seems like luck, but you can create your own luck.  Surround yourself with people who push you to do more, to be better, and who you come alive with.  Put yourself out there, do something that scares you, you will be astounded by the opportunities you create for yourself.  Don’t wait for luck to come along and push you into something exciting, because it may never happen. Go out there and create some serendipity!  Do something today that pushes you out of your comfort zone.  You never know what might come of it.

Eighth, give, give, and give some more.  When I was a kid I frequently heard my parents claim they preferred giving to receiving gifts. I couldn’t believe it, what could be better than getting presents from someone else?  But there was something to their logic, and now I get it.  Nothing gives me so much pleasure as to see someone else being joyful because of something I’ve done for them.  We all have so much to give to others: time, money, knowledge, advice. It’s so easy now to share a little of yourself with those who need it, and it makes life so much fuller.  It will enrich not only your life, but the lives of those you love.

Ninth, remember to be grateful you’re alive.  We all have so much to be grateful for, no matter what has happened in our lives.  I have so much to be grateful for.  I feel the pain of my mother’s illness and her impending death so often, that at times, it’s really hard to breathe and to feel positive and keep moving forward.  But I am grateful that God spared her life 3 1/2 years ago and we have had this beautiful time together.  I am so grateful for that.  And I am grateful for my silver lining, for the lessons that I have learned through all of this,  and for the people who love me and have led me to the beautiful life I have .  We can all find something in our not-so-great times that we can be grateful for… a lesson learned, a new friend, a newfound strength. Don’t ever forget how powerful that is.

And finally, my mother, who always said to me as a child “life isn’t a dress rehearsal, live each day to the fullest”, boy, she has truly taught me what that statement means.  I have witnessed it through her beauty and her pain.  She has always been sincere and authentic with no pretensions and she is loved beyond measure!  I am blessed!

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