Messages

I’ve written about my blocks before—my “grown up” alphabet letter blocks. It was the end of December when I wrote a post about how my children often …um, alter the messages I create, changing the words to nonsense or silliness.

But the current message on our blocks has remained unchanged for a while now—almost since that December post. In fact, I think this is the longest running message we’ve had without some sort of interference at the hands of the teenagers in the house. But that’s because this message is special; it was created in a deeply emotional moment—one that we all survived—and no one has the heart to disturb it.

It was the night my dad passed away; the children had gone to bed, and I couldn’t sleep. I was gathering all of the items we would need for an indefinite amount of time away from home, but I was directionless. I sat down on the floor of the living room, and in a mess of tears, I composed the message—Love to Heaven—tracing the letters with my finger.

My children didn’t see the new message until we returned from our time away. “Look what Mrs. L did with our blocks!” they summoned me into the room. Mrs. L is the neighbor who had been feeding our cats and taking in our mail while we were away. I went into the living room and looked to the top of the shelf.

I half smiled to myself. “No,” I told the kids. “I did that. I wrote that message the night before we left, while you were all sleeping.” I turned away and went back to the kitchen, hiding the tears that now flow freely and often.

Those moments, nearly five months ago now, they were a time of deep and pervasive sorrow. And while grief remains with me, it has found pockets in my life where it can emerge safely—when I am alone in the car, in the morning when I get ready for my day, in the evening when I prepare dinner. And there are also the sneak attacks that take me by surprise, and probably always will.

But the message has served its purpose of comfort to all who read it. And now, perhaps maybe we could use these blocks—as we have in the past—to summon the resistant summer weather. With reluctance, I will change this long-standing message. It will take courage to sit on the floor, dismantle the words, and scramble the blocks. I will remember the last time I turned these blocks in my hands to find just the right letters—the moment when creating the perfect message was so very important.

Healing

 

I am happy to say that I have found a solution to my mug problem. I now have new mug from which to drink my coffee and reminisce in the mornings.

As the weather grew warmer and spring was definitely arriving, the Christmas mug—despite the sentiments it held for me—was starting to feel a bit wrong. There was snow and a Christmas wreath on the mug, but outside, the weather was reflecting an altogether different season. So on my last, rather timely trip to visit Mom, I acquired a new old mug.

This mug was Dad’s and is one that I made back when my children were little. That Christmas, I made several similar but unique mugs to give as gifts. I painted faces (which barely resembled) my three children, and I included names of the grandparents. This mug—the Grampa mug—is now mine.

I thought it would be the perfect replacement for my Christmas mug. My sister questioned whether I would actually use a mug that says “Grampa” on it, and admittedly, it might seem a bit odd. Here I am, a woman of a medium age, using a mug made for a Grampa.

Do I care? Not at all. I use it every day! I think it might just help in my healing process.

 

Missing…

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of one of the things that my children have missed in their lives. Because my children have been brought up almost exclusively by one parent, there will always be things that I could not provide and attention that they did not get.

This weekend, I took my daughter out to buy a prom dress. The dress was one she had picked out several weeks ago, and one that we almost didn’t get. Not because she didn’t want it, but because it almost wasn’t available.

As we walked into the store, we found only two of the desired style on the rack, and both were the wrong size. My daughter briefly seemed to think she could make the smaller of the two work, but I was doubtful. Nevertheless, we made our way to the fitting room to try it on. Because it is prime prom dress season, there were piles of cast-off dresses littering just about every available surface throughout the store. As we walked by the register, I spotted another dress like the one she was about to try on. Amazingly, this one was her size!

When we arrived home with the dress, I had this crazy flash of memory that caught me off guard and allowed me to glimpse something from my past that my kids are missing. When I was young, Mom would take us shopping for clothes (new school clothes, special occasion dresses, etc.). Later that day, when Dad got home from work, we would model our new clothes for him. He always had some approving comment like, “That looks sharp!” or “That’s a great dress!” Always, he was positive and supportive of our outfits and our emerging sense of style (no matter how odd or colorful). Always, he was supportive of us.

Back at home this weekend, I had the thought that my daughter should have someone so encouraging in her life, someone for whom to model her new dress. Every kid needs more than one person who will say, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” or “What a great choice you made!” or “You make me proud!”

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of what is missing, but I pause and remind myself of what my children have. Not all children have the same memories, but they will still have memories that are unique to them and to their experiences. Hopefully, no better or worse. Just different.

Student Emotion

I was walking through one of the study areas at work yesterday, and I passed by one of my student tutors. She was sitting at a computer desk, her homework spread out around her. The non-work items on the desk were few since it was a public space, but she had a brightly colored box of tissues next to her. The box sported pictures of cartoony-looking fish from Finding Dory, giving me the impression it was not the nondescript pattern typically associated with institutional tissue boxes. Because we are (hopefully) emerging from the thick of cold and flu season, I pointed to the box. “Are you bringing your own tissues to work with you now?”

She looked up at me from behind the large the desk where she sat. “Yeah. It’s that point in the semester.” She blinked sad eyes for effect. “I brought them in case I need to cry.” Her face was more serious than usual.

I stopped abruptly. “Oh!” I studied her face. “Are you all right?”

She smiled. “They’re not really mine.”

“Okay,” I released a relieved sigh. “That sounded just like something my daughter would say,” I added.

“Yeah. It’s a girl thing,” she shrugged. But then she considered what she had said. “No, maybe not. I think it’s an age thing.”

I studied her face for a moment. In it, I could see hints of my daughter, of several of the students I work with, of so many people I know, young and old. “Maybe,” I pretended to accept this explanation as I turned to walk away, but I was certain it wasn’t an “age thing.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I think it’s a life thing!” But some things are better left unsaid.

A Random Cardinal

These days, there is always some random something lurking around every twist in the road that can flip the switch that allows grief to flood through me like a downpour.

Today, as I drove home from work, it was a cardinal that flew in front of my car as I navigated down the same street I drive every day. In fact, I was enjoying the routine of the drive. I was relishing the late afternoon light brought in by the weekend’s time change. I was enjoying the snow-less ground with its brown grass and scattered leaves left over from autumn, as it seemed it would be only hours before the landscape is once again buried under the heavy weight of winter’s last hurrah. (It’s almost spring, I have to remind myself. It won’t last long.)

But then it appeared—the cardinal. The vivid red bird flew across my path, dipping slightly as it crossed the road and disappeared into a row of bushes. My breath caught as I was simultaneously reminded that spring is near and that Dad is not. He would have noticed that bird before I did. “Look, at that cardinal!” he’d say, pointing. Sometimes it would be an oriole, or a bluebird, or a redwing blackbird. He always had a keen, birds-eye view that spotted them first.

It was that bird that brought the tears today—a random cardinal on a sunny Monday at the end of winter. While spring may bring the promise of new life and increased light, the newness will be intertwined with a million more random somethings just waiting to slip in and spark the grief anew.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / Mike Munchel}

Memories

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I have a mug that I have been using all winter for my morning coffee. It made its way from the back of the cabinet right after Thanksgiving, and I have been using it ever since. Supposedly, it’s a Christmas mug, but in truth, there isn’t much about it that screams Christmas. Aside from the wreath on the door of the house in the background, it is more of a winter mug. Which is a good thing because I’m having a tough time putting it away this year.

When I was little and winters were snowy, we would spend hours playing outside in the snow. We built snowmen and snow forts and entire houses with room upon room upon room on top of the snow banks in the parking lot across the street. Our fingers and toes would be numb, and it would be dark outside before we finally retreated to the warmth and light of the house. Or we’d wait until Dad got home from work and we had to go in for dinner….

These memories are why this mug has always reminded me of home. But this year, especially, it reminds me. When we were little, Dad would take us sledding on one of several different hills in town. We would load the sleds in the back of the car (or the back of the truck) and off we’d go. Dad built snowmen with us, sometimes adding an extra couple of snowballs for ears and noses and calling them snow bears, families of them, at times, populated our yard.

This year, winter has been a challenge, and I’m not ready to put away my Christmas mug. So I’m calling it a winter mug. This mug, it’s keeping me centered. It’s giving me pause to sigh and remember the good times. Remember Dad.

So if you see me using what looks like a Christmas mug in the middle of the summer, just let it go. I’m reliving some good times. And holding tight to some memories.

Music

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I’m not a fan of silence. In fact, I love listening to music. Or actually… I used to love listening to music. Recently, I have had to switch to talk radio. I have NPR blaring through the car speakers as I drive to work and back home again. The talk show hosts drone on and on and on about politics, the transition of power, the issues facing the present administration. Truth: I’m getting pretty sick of talk radio.

I used to enjoy listening to music. Usually on my way home from work, if not on my way to work, I would listen to music rather than NPR. I listened to music when I arrived home at night while I was preparing dinner. And I listened to music as I completed household chores.

However, when my sister and I were tasked with finding music for Dad’s service, the new reality of music became very clear. An entire song, a tiny line, a wistful melody, the dreamy intonation of the singer… any one of these things could turn on the tears like a switch.

Now, navigating a collection of songs is like walking through a minefield. A song will come on and I will be fine. The next song, and the next will not be a problem. Buried in the album, a line will be sung, and I will dissolve—suddenly and completely—into a puddle of tears. I never knew how swiftly these feelings could come and sweep me up into the tide of emotion.

And then subside just as quickly.

I used to enjoy listening to music; it would keep me company and drown out my own thoughts. But perhaps at least for now, I am better off listening to the sound of silence.