Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being Thankful Even When It's Hard

Dear Irie,
It is Thanksgiving Eve and for the first time in my life I am preparing for the holiday without my mother. I am planning to cook the things that she would cook for both our extended and immediate family gatherings. I am using the recipes that she left behind, but there are still so many things that are missing. A measurer, your Maw Maw was not, so there will be much guess work in how much of this or that to include. I am reminded of the time she tried to teach me to make potato salad and I asked how many potatoes to use. My mama looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t know” she told me “whatever you have.” The potato salad turned out awesome, but I have no idea how to do it again, every ingredient was put in until there was “enough”.
As we start this holiday of thankfulness I find myself torn. Several times over that past few weeks I have found myself thinking “I am so blessed” only to catch myself and become angry. How can I feel that I am blessed when I have lost someone so vital to my life, in fact the very person to whom I owe my life? The fact is that I can feel that way because although my life has been painted with tragedy, it is only one of the many brushstrokes God has spread across my life. When I watch you and your brothers playing  I know that I have been blessed, when I watch you sleep or listen to you pray, I know that there is something greater than me at work, and whatever it is has chosen to give me things far beyond what I deserve. Because the fact is that often the things we get are not at all commensurate with what we deserve; that goes for both the good and the bad, sweet girl.
So sometimes we have to simply be thankful for what we do have. I am thankful for each day that I get to wake up healthy, with a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I am thankful for the family that was chosen for me. I have cousins whom I love like siblings and a sibling whom I love as my own child. I have children who I would do anything in my power for. I was given parents who did the same for me. They raised me with love and compassion. I lived in a house filled with laughter and affection. We didn’t always have money when I was growing up, but I never went without anything that I needed and most often got everything I wanted too. I am safe in the knowledge that I was loved and cherished and that as I grew, though my parents stepped back and let me spread my wings, they never stopped loving or cherishing me. I am thankful for the model of motherhood that my mother set for me, so that I can be confident in my abilities as a mother for you and your brothers. I am thankful that even now, though my mother is gone, she left me in the loving hands of her sisters and brothers. I am thankful that I still have an amazing daddy and that I can talk openly with him and share both my happiness and pain. I am thankful for my friends that have stood by me not just through tragedy, but who have also shared in my joys through the years. I am thankful to have a partner in life and not simply a husband. Your daddy is truly my best friend and not everyone gets to share their life with someone like that. I am thankful that he has supported not just me, but also my family, when we needed it, and that when I told him I needed to stay with you and your brothers instead of returning to work, he never batted an eye. Together, we’re doing what needs to be done. 

And I am so thankful for you and your brothers, the three of you are what oftentimes keep me going.   I am thankful for your innocence and your humor, your intelligence and your honesty, and I am thankful for the way that you make me laugh and the joy that you bring to my life. I am thankful that although sometimes bad things happen that we do not deserve, sometimes good things do too. You three are my proof that wishes are granted and even when a heart breaks, it does not stop loving, because each day you fill mine more and more. 

I will try not to be angry with myself the next time I have one of you wrapped in my arms or sleeping soundly next to me and I think, “I am blessed.” I will try to acknowledge that the statement is true in many ways. I will try to be thankful, even when it is hard.

I love you, sweet girl. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Always Do The Small Things

Dear Irie,
I hope that by the time you are reading this, my next statement will be untrue, but your mom is not always a nice person. Not that I am mean necessarily; it’s just that I don’t do things that are nice. When I see someone with a new haircut, I often think it’s cute, but I don’t say anything. I may like someone’s outfit, once again, I say nothing. I don’t usually offer to help. I don’t go out of my way to do things for others. I don’t return phone calls, and I don’t keep in touch with friends, even though I care for them deeply.  I often think about nice things to say or do, but I don’t say or do them. One thing I learned when my mother died was just how meaningful a small act can be.
About 3 or 4 years ago, a former co-worker of mine lost both of her parents in a house fire. This co-worker and I had been close from time to time while we worked together, but we had grown apart and didn’t see each other anymore after I changed jobs. My heart broke for her, and I honestly could not imagine how she was feeling. I cried for her and prayed for her, sent her a private Facebook message and emailed her current coworkers to check up on her, but I never went to visit. I didn’t go to the visitation or the funeral, I didn’t stop by the house, I didn’t call her on the phone or actually mail a note saying that I was thinking of her. I didn’t think she would want to be bothered, I didn’t think it would make a difference if she saw me.
The day of your Maw Maw’s visitation, this coworker was the third or fourth person in line. She was at the funeral home before I even got there. As she walked in with several of my former coworkers, other people that I had at times failed to do simple things for, I was overcome with a feeling of support that I cannot quite describe.
The night that your Maw Maw died, I had stood outside for hours in the October air and it was chilly. One of the women working with the coroner’s office had given me her jacket, but she was cold as well so I had given it back. When the parents of one of your Uncle Michael’s old friends showed up, they brought sweatshirts and coats for us, being able to do something as simple as slip on an old Carhart jacket was a simple act that made the night easier for me.
In the days surrounding your Maw Maw’s death and funeral, our house was filled with family and friends. People showed up with food and drinks. You thought we were having a party, and when you talk about anything that happened during those days, you talk about when we had the parties at our house. My cousins brought tables and chairs to accommodate the crowd, and coolers for the leftover food. Other cousins organized meals and cleaned up after the rush. I was never in need of a babysitter as I dashed from place to place. A friend from work drove you to my school so that you could still participate in cheer camp, like Maw Maw and I had wanted you to.
There were a hundred things that were done during those days that I can hardly remember and would have never known to ask for. I honestly wouldn’t have made it through without the daily help of my family and friends at our house, and those few bursts of support that came through the door of the visitation and the funeral. Every time I told those people thank you, they waved it off. They said it was no big deal or they wished they could have done more. But the thing is, they did exactly what I needed, and that is a big deal. Small things, baby girl, are big deals. So always, always do the small things.
So, I’m going to try. I’m 30 years old, and I’m hoping you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. I’m going to start with the billions of thank you notes for the people who showed me kindness when I needed it and then work my way out. I’m pretty sure that I won’t change the world by doing small things, but I’m pretty sure I won’t hurt anyone either (including myself). Life is too short not to be kind to those around you. So smile, hold open doors, let others go first in line, say nice things, be there for someone even if you think you’re not the one they want; brighten someone else’s day, baby girl. You never know if you’re particular light is the one they need to brighten their dark moment.
For my 30th birthday you and Andrew and Maw Maw and Paw Paw picked out a special cake and flowers for me.
I can always count on you to pick up the slack in the mommy department (even if no one asks for or needs it).

Had to get one of my boys too. Andrew loves to help out also.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Eulogy for your Maw Maw

Dear Irie,
I am starting this blog for you at a very difficult time in my life as a daughter and mother. My mama, your Maw Maw, died three weeks ago rather unfairly. We were in no way expecting what happened to her, and I for one thought that I had a good thirty plus years of having her around. We had so many plans for you. I say “we” because she and I talked constantly about what an amazing little girl you are and how you are going to take this world by storm. We were going to watch you cheer and dance in recitals. In many ways, I think you were going to be my mom’s chance to experience the good parts of me all over again.
I hope that you never forget what an awesome woman she was and how much she absolutely adored you. She loved you and your brothers completely, unconditionally, without hesitation. She thought the three of you walked on water; to her, you were and still are absolute perfection.
You and your brothers didn’t come to the funeral, or as we called it, the celebration of life. I didn’t want you around all of the sadness that I was sure would be there. Your daddy and I told you that Maw Maw went to Heaven to take care of all of the little babies that haven’t been put in a Mommy’s tummy yet, and I do believe she is in Heaven, and I’m sure if she can get her hands on a baby, she is cuddling one. Though I’m sure she doesn’t enjoy it as much as she would enjoy cuddling you and your brothers. My point is, as sad as your Maw Maw’s death is and as completely devastated as I am that it happened, I don’t want you to be sad. I know that if there is a Heaven, she is there. I know that if she is there, she is with her own parents and grandparents. I know that she is happy there, although I know that she misses us; she loved us too much not to. I didn’t want you at the funeral; because I want you to remember her smile and the way she would laugh until she almost peed her pants. I want you to remember her baby face and her soft hands and the way that they held you as often as possible. 

Maw Maw holding her first two grandbabies.

Although I didn’t want you at the funeral, I want you to know what I had to say about your Maw Maw that day, in case I never tell you these things myself. I want you to know what I was thinking on the first worst days of my life. I want you to know that I thought she was awesome, even when I didn’t act like it, and I want you to know that she was my best friend.
I have had so many people who were at the funeral tell me what a great job I did reading her eulogy. They’ve told me that they couldn’t have done it etc etc. I’m going to let you in on a few secrets, baby girl. I don’t remember most of what I said or what I saw as I stood in front of that church. I did what I felt my mother deserved that day. I won’t expect that from you, honey, so don’t feel bad if someday you can’t do the same thing. I wasn’t strong; I was numb, and for some of us that numbness isn’t there and things are more difficult. I think I was blessed with numbness. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and that’s what I did that day and the days surrounding it. I think you’ll find that we women have a knack for doing what needs to be done even when we don’t feel like it.
I am going to include the eulogy in this letter so that you can read it. There was so much more that I could have said about your Maw Maw, but there was only so much that I could get out that day.

Maw Maw and me at Tweetsie Railroad

Maw Maw’s Eulogy
First I guess I should thank you all for being here today and the days leading up to this. I have been surprised several times at the amount of support shown to my family. Friday night when we learned that my mother had passed, I called my Uncle Kenny and asked him to tell all of my aunts and uncles. I did this mainly so that they wouldn’t hear about it anywhere else. Within maybe half an hour my uncle drove up with my Aunts Theresa and Deloras. Then my cousin Brian and my Uncle Lynn arrived before we were relocated. By the end of the night all of my mother’s 7 brothers and sisters had arrived with their spouses and most of their grown children, along with several friends of Michael and my parents. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. Last night when we arrived at the funeral home and I saw that the parking lot was already full of cars and there was a line, I was again surprised. There was even one point where I thought we were done and figured we would spend the rest of the night greeting one or two people here and there, but 2 and half hours later we were still greeting family and friends. Once again I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.  And today, there are so many people here to support my family, and I have stopped being surprised. Many of you are here because you know Michael, or my dad, or me or one of my other relatives, you may never have even met my mother, and to you I apologize because you really missed out. But the fact that you are here supporting one of us, just further proves how amazing my mother was because everything great that you see in me and Michael and my dad is because of the people we became because of my mama. She was a simple woman, she never wore makeup, she didn’t worry too much about her hair or her clothes or the jewelry she wore. She didn’t ask for an easy life and she wasn’t angry at God or anyone else when she had to work for the things she wanted. She didn’t complain about the fairness of the world, she only asked that she be able to be with her family, especially my 3 sweet minis and Michael, or as my children call him “Maw Maw’s big baby” because even at 25 years old and 6 foot 4, he was still her baby. In fact one day recently she called me and I said “hello” and she said “hey baby” and I said “did you mean to call Michael?” we both laughed because we knew although she loved me no less than Michael, he was indeed her baby. 
My mama loved her family. I have been chomping at the bit since I graduated college to move somewhere close to the ocean or the mountains, but I couldn’t convince her to leave her parents and siblings to go with me, and there was no way, especially after seeing how much my children adored her that I could leave her. Even on Thanksgiving when I tried to convince her to go to the mountains with me and let The Daniel Boone Inn cook our dinner so she could relax, she refused because she wanted to be with her brothers and sisters. A part of me knew that if I had went to the mountains anyway and taken her grandbabies with me, she probably would have followed, but I know it would have broken her heart and I was raised better than that.
When I was trying to decide what to say today about my mom it was hard to know where to start or what to pinpoint. She has been so many different things to me over the past 30 years. A caretaker, a disciplinarian, a teacher and finally a friend. When I was a senior in high school, we were given the assignment to create an AP portfolio. One of the assignments for this portfolio was to ask 10 people to write something about us. I asked my mom to write something for me and she worked and worked to make sure she got her quote just right. She wrote “I am very proud to have Heather for my daughter. She is a confident young woman who knows what she wants out of life and she intends to get it. She’s a good person who treats other people with respect but she will let you know when you are not doing the same. If I was not her mother and we were the same age I believe we could be best friends. I love her.” If you had ever asked my mother who made me a confident young woman, she probably would have said that I got it from my dad because I am in many ways so much like him. I am stubborn and headstrong, I can be mean and say things that I regret and it is true that I didn’t get any of that from my mother. But my confidence has never come from those aspects of my personality. My confidence comes from knowing that it in the eyes of my mother, I can never fail. I know that it is ok to want more out of life because my mother made me believe that I was someone who deserved it. She made me feel smart and beautiful and loved more than life itself.  I have always known that no matter what I ever did or how far I might have fallen while doing it, I was still my mother’s daughter and she would still love me unconditionally. She recently told me of someone who had told her that they weren’t going to rearrange their lives because their adult child had made mistakes. She was so angry that they had said this, which to some of you who only remember her smile may be surprised to hear, but to those of us who know how truly fiercely she loved this is no surprise. She was so angry because she said that as a mother she would rearrange or change her entire life to help her child. She told me that even now that Michael is 25 and I am 30, if we needed her she would drop everything to do what we needed because we were her children and we were always most important. She was a mother before she was anything else.
There were many years that I didn’t understand what it meant to be a mother first, and I often didn’t understand how taking me to dance class and being my cheerleading coach and watching every one of mine and Michael’s athletic events was enough. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I understood what my mom had known all along; being a mother is the greatest role in the world, only slightly better than being the daughter of a really great mom. When Andy and I decided that we wanted to have children, my mama was the first person that I told. And she held her breath month after month when things didn’t go as planned. After over a year when I finally found out that I was pregnant I couldn’t hide my excitement the first time I saw her, even though I wasn’t supposed to be telling anyone. I met her for dinner at Golden Corral the day that I got the 2 pink lines. My dad was working out of town and Andy was coaching baseball so we were alone and she said something about me having a baby and I couldn’t not tell her, but I still wasn’t quite sure, so I just smiled. Her face lit up and her eyes filled with tears because without me saying a word she knew. She was going to be a Maw Maw and she was so excited. I think it was the only secret that she ever kept from my daddy because he was out of town and wouldn’t be home for another day or so and she wanted to see the happiness on his face when I told him in person. Later after we had confirmed the pregnancy and went to our first ultrasound, we came out of the doctor’s office and were surprised to see that she was sitting in her car waiting, ready to see the first picture of her grandbaby. When we handed over the ultrasound and there were two little people she cried and her happiness was infectious. I’m not sure if she was happier that she was becoming a Maw Maw or that her only daughter was becoming a mother.  I was finally being let in to the secret she had known all along, there is nothing greater than being a mother, even when it’s hard.
In so many insignificant ways, my mama and I are nothing alike. And in those early adolescent years, there were many things that we didn’t agree on. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t be as cool as the other moms or why she wouldn’t just let me do whatever I wanted. She checked up on me and invaded my privacy and like a stupid teenager, I thought that she had no idea what she was doing. But I have no problem admitting that that woman knew exactly what she was doing, she was creating a woman who would know what she wanted out of life and not be afraid to get it. She was being my mother; not my friend. She was giving me what I needed and not necessarily what I wanted. One of her most embarrassing moments was during this time. I had had a basketball game and it was over and she and Michael and my dad were ready to leave but I never came out and I never came out. So she came back into the gym and she saw me up in the stands talking to a girl. As she got closer she saw that the discussion was a little more heated than she had originally thought, so she walked up to the bleachers and tried to get my attention. She beat her hand on the riser and called my name, but I was really laying into this girl and I wasn’t about to be deterred by a little smacking on the bleachers. So this woman in the stands says, “do you need help” and she tells her that she’s trying to get her daughter’s attention. The woman turns around and she tries to get my attention, but I was really trying to convince this girl to step out in the parking lot and was not interested in what this lady had to say either. The woman turns around to my mom and says, “I think she’s busy.” My mom was mortified. I don’t remember how she got me out of that gym, but obviously I eventually made it home and became a productive member of society. It would take another 17 years as I was dragging my screaming 4 year old out of Outback before I would realize just how embarrassed my mama was.
As I made my way through high school and on to college, my mom did not lower her standards as far as my behavior was concerned and eventually I began to realize that she never would. She had signed up for the job of mother and she was bound and determined to succeed at it whether I liked it or not.
The part of my mama’s quote that stands out to me is not any of the things that she says about my character, but when she says “if I was not her mother and we were the same age I believe we could be best friends.” Because I have to disagree with her here. She is my mother and we were not the same age, but she was my very best friend. I am just so thankful that I was able to realize so early what a wonderful woman she was instead of wasting the precious amount of time I had with her. There is no one who has ever been so brutally honest with me, no one who knows me the way my mother knew me and loved me not just in spite of it but because of it. So many times when people lose someone they love they are left wondering if that person knew that they loved them, and I am lucky in that I do not have to worry if my mama knew how I felt about her. I talked to my mama almost daily. I called her on my way home from work or almost any time that I was in the car, we would talk about the babies, or her day or whatever gossip she had picked up after visiting with her sisters either at Theresa’s or after their weekly Friday night dinners. She would always call and say “are you busy?” although she knew in one way or another I almost always was, though luckily most often not too busy to talk to her. We talked about everything from how to raise my children, to what happened on Days of Our Lives, or sometimes even religion and politics. There was nothing that we couldn’t say to each other because we were both confident in the relationship that we had built and the love we had for one another. The love that she had for all of us.
Thank you for celebrating her life with us. 
Maw Maw and me at my bridal shower

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blogs for when you're gone? WTH?

For a while now I have been toying with the idea of writing a blog to my daughter, Irie. She is 4 and a half and there are so many things that I want to tell her about life and love and all sorts of things, but I know she is too young for most of it now. I am afraid though, that when she’s ready I won’t be here to tell her, and so I thought of the idea for this blog. I wanted her (and others) to be able to find “mom” answers to things that happen in life, in case I can’t be around to tell her myself. I put the idea off because I thought it was too morbid. I mean the idea that I have to write this in case I am dead when the time comes to tell her is not exactly uplifting. But the truth is, it’s life. We were born to die, as I was reminded at my own mother’s funeral two weeks ago. So whether it is soon or 60 years in the future, death is not something that I will escape. And if my words can live on and offer advice or comfort to my sweet baby girl, then so be it. It has been three weeks since I heard my mother’s voice and yet I miss it the same way I imagine I would miss breathing if I were trapped underwater. Although she taught me many things about life and being a woman, wife and mother; I am still unprepared to face this world without her. And so, if something I write today can help Irie when she is 30 or 60 or 90, then morbid or not, here we go. Perhaps even the rest of us will learn a thing or two. 
(PS- Yes, I am an English teacher. No, I probably did not use correct punctuation and grammar. If that's what you're looking for, read another blog!)

Dear Irie,
I decided to start writing down the things I want to make sure you know when you are older, just in case I’m not here to tell you myself. I know that if anything ever happened to me you would be well taken care of and never need for anything. You have the most amazing daddy, and often he does this whole parenting thing much better than me. When I originally wrote this, you had two full sets of grandparents who adore you. And you spent more time with my mother than you did with any other person on the planet (except Andrew). Now you are down to one grandmother and two grandfathers, but they still all adore you. You have eight great aunts and your Aunt Summer and maybe one day your Uncle Michael will get married, and maybe if something happened to me you would even have a step-mother someday (yes, I would haunt her until she gave up and ran away).
My point is if I weren’t around, there are many people who would step in and help you through life and teach you how to be a woman. I know this is true, because in the three weeks since I lost my own mother countless people have come forth trying to do for me what they know she would want them to do, trying to take care of me the way a mother does. But I’m sharing these insights with you baby girl, because I know that though they may all mean well, none of them will know you like me. You are my flesh, my blood, I grew you right under my heart and took care of you until the world was ready for you; you are in so many ways just a miniature version of me. So, while all of the people who love you will try to understand you; I already do.
There will be a time when you will not believe that I have any clue how you think or feel, but I will. Even while I’m punishing you for being late or drinking underage, even while I’m forbidding you from dating that really cute “bad boy” with no future. I will know how you feel , and I will still do the things that you think are unfair and that maybe even hurt a little (or a lot), because that is what a mother who loves her child will do. \\Because I am your mother, not your friend, I have a luxury that no one else has: I don’t have to worry if you like me. While those other people may want to help you through life, they will always want you to like them (whether they admit it even to themselves or not). Fortunately, my job description doesn’t involve that. I will always do what is best for you, regardless of how the consequences affect me. That is what a mother does, my dear.
Even on days when I want to laugh at something cute (but wrong) that you do, I will still punish you. Like the day that you told me you “cried the holy shit” out of yourself and you were punished, although your daddy and I are still laughing about it.  Because my greatest purpose in this life is to make you an awesome woman (and your brothers awesome men).
So back to my point… Because I want to make sure you hear the things I want you to know, I’m writing them down. I hope that you never have a need for them, either because you never have a problem (yeah right) or because when you do, we’ll be able to talk openly and rationally about it (double yeah right). But maybe one day, when you need some advice and you’re too pissed at me to ask or maybe I’m no longer around; I hope you will read my words, and hear my voice, and feel my love.