Sunday, September 24, 2023

Summer Wrap-Up

Last week we had our first days of fall-like weather. Tuesday started off with clear skies and cool temperatures, and by noon it was pleasantly warm. Then clouds moved in with showers by late afternoon. This summer was one of the wettest summers anyone can remember. Two-thirds of the days in June brought rain and better than a dozen days in each of July and August. 

Luckily it did not rain the last weekend in August. That was the time my family decided in May that we would get together to celebrate my mom, their Grandma Ellie. I had some ideas about how the weekend would go but knew I needed to stay flexible. With my sons and their families and my daughter with her daughter, we had four kids ages two to nine and seven adults to consider. We were all in and out on Saturday and together for dinner, where I proposed a toast to my mom and remembered how fond she was of my kids and their families. 

The weather cooperated both days. Sunday we had tickets to a Portland Sea Dogs game, the minor league farm team for the Red Sox, and an event that my mom would have enjoyed as much as we did. The seats were perfect, and there was enough action and food to keep the kids happy. We didn't realize it was a double header until the end of the first game, so we had twice the fun. The day closed out with dinner at Applebee's, where I commented that my mom would have enjoyed the day and I thought there was a good chance she had a hand in how well everything worked out. 

It was the perfect way to wrap up the summer. 

June had been a time to work through so many thoughts and feelings I'd had over the past year, putting words to my grief and frustration so I could see it all in one place. For me, writing is a way to make sense of what I don't understand or connect what appears to be unrelated.

In July I was ready to create an album of the photos my mom had collected since she was a girl. I made new pages for an album she had and cross-referenced photos so each one was labeled and dated. The process of finally getting the photos mounted had been months in the making and felt like such an accomplishment. It was a way to bring together the people and events in her life that made her happy, that she wanted to remember. 

In the process of putting all the pieces together I had time to think about how my relationship with my mom had changed over the years. Neither one of us gave up on trying to understand the other. It wasn't always easy and there were times that we knew the other was frustrated and unable to see a different perspective. I realized that we had come to forgive each other for the hurt we felt, the misunderstandings and disagreements. We didn't ignore the past, but we were able to see that it was the past and we couldn't change it. 

In my Mothers Day card to my mom just days before she fell and was hospitalized, I wrote:

We stand where we are/ Because our steps brought us here/ Thank you for walking the way with me. 

I have that card now and am grateful that I had the chance to share what I felt. In recognizing the growth in the relationship with my mom, I have had time to think about the things in my own life that I wish had been different, decisions and choices that I would make differently now. Then I applied the meaning of forgiveness to my own life, giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.

With that, in July of this summer, I forgave myself. And like I've heard so many times, when the student is ready the teacher appears. For me, in so many ways....   

On July 31 I read a quote by Alden Howlan that someone posted on Instagram:

"The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise."

The journey continues....

Friday, June 30, 2023


The word forgiveness can evoke a variety of emotions. Fortunately, through the years I have discovered authors, Anne Lamott among them, who write about forgiveness in the vein that it is something a person does quietly for themselves. It's not something you say to someone else ~ it is introspective, personal, and something that has been hard for me to name and define for most of my life. 

I have practiced the intention of forgiveness for many years without calling it forgiveness. I forget that until I run across something written or work through what I'm struggling with until the "aha" moment when I think, "Wait, that's forgiveness," which is what happened this past week when I found a saying on an undated slip of paper in a drawer.

"Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different." It gave me chills. I had to google the saying to see who to credit with the wisdom ~ Oprah's name is attached to it. 

I had been struggling with something for days, tearing up at night when sleep wouldn't come. When I found the slip of paper, so many things fell into place, retroactively and in the present....

So I pulled out a journal I started 25 years ago. It's called a Journal of Gratitude and has a place to write a few lines under each day of the year. I use it to record quotes that have meaning for me, words of wisdom from movies and television shows and books and people I know. Last week I wrote this definition of forgiveness under the date December 6. 

That's the date my father died in 1996 from a sudden, fatal heart attack. My mom found him when she returned to the house to have coffee and talk with him; she had finally moved out that summer when he slapped her for the last time. Ten years earlier I had written my father a three-page letter informing him of my boundaries as far as he was concerned. It boiled down to three things: he could visit my home but he could not argue with my mom or hit her when he visited; he could not raise his voice to me or my children; he was no longer allowed to smoke in my house. With the help of an excellent therapist I had given up the hope that the past could have been any different with my father. I set aside his past behaviors and set forth the parameters for future expectations in my home and in the presence of my family. He chose not to visit for ten years, and when he did come to the state he did not stay at my house. I didn't engage when he talked about the past or justified his behavior. 

In 1986 and 1996 I didn't call my action "forgiveness." That would have sounded uppity to me, like I was somehow superior. That's not how I felt. Instead I felt like I had surrendered. I remember feeling desperate to do something to save my mental health, and this was all that was left. I knew what I had decided would impact my relationship with my mom.

And it did. She could not comprehend what I was doing. She did not understand what I was doing to protect my children. Again, with the help of my excellent therapist, I came to understand that my mom had not protected me and my siblings from my father, which my therapist explained was the job of a parent. I fought that idea tooth and nail for weeks, but I had to connect my anxiety and panic attacks to the kind of mother I was, a mother who was not a mother like my mother was. To get healthy and be there for my children I had to be a different kind of mother, and to me that meant that I had to admit that my mother did not take care of me. I did not say that to my mom; for decades I talked around that by explaining that it was what I had to do to take care of myself and my family.

Through the decades after my father died my mom and I worked through the process of letting go of what we couldn't change from all those years ago. In 2007 she had a stroke and sometime around then was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. She had remarried in 2003, moved to West Virginia, and stayed busy with him and part-time work. After the stroke it took years to find the best medication and get the correct dosage regulated. With the health issues she had started feeling anxious. She shared with me that she never understood what I was going through all those years ago, and that was an opening for us to talk more honestly about a range of experiences and feelings. She didn't hide her anxiety from me, and I was able to share the strategies I used to cope then and now. Those conversations added a new dimension to our relationship. We continued to talk honestly with each other right up until she died.

Within my sorrow in the last year has been a deep sadness that my mom had not been happier in her adult life. I do miss her - the cards she sent, our phone calls, and the sporadic in-person visits. My sadness was about more than that; as I've looked through photos of her with family and friends in her first 18 years I see a girl who is loved grow into a young woman who laughs with friends and enjoys experiences with family. She graduated from high school, got a good job with the federal government, and shared an apartment with a friend. 

As I have written posts this month and started putting my mom's photos in order, that sorrow has been front and center. What I realized this week is that where my mom is concerned I had given up the hope that many things in our past could have been any different. However, deep within my grief and below my consciousness I have been mourning the life she lost when she started the life with my father. Once that realization rose to the surface I considered what that means, what I could do to relieve the pain I have been feeling. Then I found the slip of paper ~ forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.  

Can I forgive my mom for staying with my father for 41 years? I am getting there.

The journey continues....

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Make The Trip

Last Saturday I took a trip to central Massachusetts. I had been preparing for weeks to drive 200 miles to the small town of Turners Falls, and I decided that the predicted heavy rain would not keep me from going. It took an hour longer than it was supposed to, and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I arrived. The purpose for the trip was to donate fabric, satin binding, yarn, and pattern books that were new and usable, things I had had for years or had inherited and hadn't used. There is a small shop in this small town that is making a name for itself in that it offers sewing/craft materials that will benefit from finding homes with people who will use what others have donated. They also offer classes and opportunities to gather for sewing, knitting, and crafting. The place is not on my way to anywhere but it was worth the trip.

From Turners Falls I headed to the Boston area to catch up with my sons and their families for Fathers Day. My sons are a pleasure to watch with their kids. I could not be more proud of them.

I decided years ago that when I got the idea to go somewhere I should go. I love to drive. I love to travel. If I make plans, and I am able, I follow through. 

Sometimes things happen beyond my control. Then I wish I had made the trip earlier, which often wasn't an option, but I feel sorry still. 

In early 2022 I made plans to travel to West Virginia in the summer to see my mom. My younger son and his family were also planning a trip to visit. In fact, from the hospital I talked to them about moving their trip to later in the summer until Grandma Ellie was settled in a rehab facility. The last time we'd visited was 2019, and we had scheduled different weeks to go to spread out the socializing for my mom. I have wonderful photos from those visits and am so glad we went when we did. The pandemic put off travel for the next two summers but last year we felt secure enough to plan the visits. Best laid plans....

I have been thinking this week about two other times my family has lost someone important to us, just as we were planning a visit. In 1982 Ken and I and the kids were going to Maryland for Thanksgiving. Ken has a large family and we were looking forward to seeing everyone. Just a few days before we were due to leave we got the call that Ken's mom had had a sudden fatal heart attack. We were devastated. Of course we all gathered but that day and all the gatherings after that felt the loss of Grammy. 

Just three years later we lost one of the most important people in our lives, a dear friend of Ken's family for decades, the man who started as a neighbor and became a mentor and friend to 12 year-old Ken who introduced him to travel, specifically to the state of Maine. We couldn't have been closer to Linwood if he had been a blood relative. When we moved to Maine we chose to live in the city where he had a home and started a business when he retired. We still talk about how glad we are that we had the years we did with Linwood. We spent holidays and birthdays with him and ordinary days in between. In 1985 I was home with my 6 year-old daughter and 3 year-old son, getting ready for Christmas and waiting for Ken to get home from work; it was Christmas Eve and we had plans for dinner at Linwood's. The call came that Linwood was with friends when he had a heart attack and died before anything could be done. We cried for days. All these years later we remember fondly our times with Linwood and share stories with our kids and grandkids.

The lesson for me through the years has been to take the trip, make the visit, and listen to the inner voice that says, "Go." I've never been sorry I listened.

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Thread

My daughter shared a poem "The Thread" with me several years ago, handwritten on a light pink piece of cardstock. I set it up my desk, on one side by the calendar and then the other by the pencils. I stick it in books I'm reading so I will come across it at random. This week I found it in the back of my day planner. I have read it many times over the years, and each time the meaning I find reflects what is happening in my life at that moment. Today the idea of the thread as grief occurred to me. The loose thread is a garment of grief that has unraveled and is slowly taking new shape as something different. A thought to ponder....  

Something is very gently,
invisibly, silently,
pulling at me-a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven’t tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
From: The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov

Wednesday, June 14, 2023


Going along and going along...and then wham. Today I was tired and my back was sore. Mid-morning I couldn't be up any longer, so I laid down on my bed just for a moment. I fell asleep for an hour. I can't remember the last time I laid down during the day without being sick. I only do that when there isn't anything else I can do. And today was one of those days.

I've been meaning to look through the books I have of Mary Oliver's poetry because the perfect one always shows itself. Tonight was no exception.


by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
"It's not the weight you carry

but how you carry it--
books, bricks, grief--
it's all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down."
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled--
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Scrapbooks, Photo Albums, and Memories

* In 2008 and 2009 I wrote posts for a collaborative blog called "50-something moms blog." The blog as it was cannot be found online, but I found a link to one of my posts in an early post here and the link still works. I never set up a category on my sidebar, I don't know why, so they are not readily found on this site. I did save copies of what I wrote in a  folder on my desktop - though why I thought of that I don't remember. Anyway, I am going to post them here when there is a topic that fits what I am writing about. This is my first attempt at making this work. I will make note when I get to the post I wrote all those years ago*

Yesterday I sat down on the floor and went through the envelopes, albums, and boxes of photos I brought back from my mom's house. I have been through them a dozen times in the past year, pulling out photos to share with siblings and getting those sent off. I have pulled out photos with no names and/or dates if I cannot identify the subjects, and there were dozens and dozens of those. There is no sense in perpetuating the handing down of photos that have meaning for no one. If I want to save photos to pass down, they have to be organized and readily accessible. What the kids do with them after I am gone is up to them, but I want to give them the option to keep or throw.

I wound up with the bulk of the photos because my siblings do not want them. Years ago my mom shipped me all my dad's slides, thousands of slides with some in slide holders that fit in a slide projector that would no longer move through the slides, which she had also shipped to me. Three years ago Ken and I spent long summer nights going through box after box of slides; I would pass him a slide and he would fit it into the projector so we could see it on a wall in the living room. Hours and hours over the course of several days we went through every box of slides, setting aside ones of my family. There were also hundreds of slides taken on my dad's work trips and of people I did not know. Then we pieced together a chronological order based on the dates on some slides and comparing to photos I have in albums from those years long ago. Then I sent the slides off to a company that scanned them, in the order I sent them which was a huge bonus, on a CD and made multiple copies that I shared with family members. My mom loved having all of those photos in one place and rotated the photos as the background on her computer. That alone made it worth the time and effort it took to accomplish the task.

I come from a long line of photographers on my dad's side so there are lots of photos of family get togethers at my great-grandmother's home in Toledo, Ohio in the summers of the 1960's. I started taking photos with my own camera when I was still in elementary school. I labeled and dated photos and put them in an album, grateful now that I started that habit young.

On my mom's side of the family there are formal portraits in sepia tones of her ancestors, taken either in a studio or when a photographer came to the house. Her generation and the generation before her were generous with their picture-taking, so there are many photos of her, her family, and her friends through the years. Most of those are dated so I can piece together a timeline even for the ones that are not specifically labeled.

When my brother started making trips to my mom's trailer last summer to try to make sense of what was there and all that needed to be handled, he commented to me that, "There are so many photos!" I told him that I had been sending Mom photos for over 40 years. When my kids were young and I had a 35 mm camera, I would send off a roll of film and get double prints so I had photos to share with my mom and Ken's family. The sharing of photos continued through my life with grandkids and right up until my mom's death. My family is well documented.

Maybe some of what I just wrote will be repeated in my post from January 2009, but I don't want to edit what I wrote then because I'd like to save it as I wrote it.

*Posted on the 50-something moms blog January 6, 2009:

I have a scrapbook that my mother started for me when I was a young child.  It holds birthday cards, photos of my friends from kindergarten, letters from relatives and friends, and my first library card.  This scrapbook has survived a life on various closet shelves and numerous moves, one of the few things that remain from a childhood that started in the mid 1950s.  It means a lot to me.
I have a photo album that I started when I got my first camera, over 40 years ago.  The square, black and white photos that fill the first pages hold memories of early friends and Christmas celebrations.  I  have photos from when I graduated to color film and a photographic record of when I had my hair done for my first prom.  These photos provide a priceless component in the historical record of my life.  It was fitting that I would want my children to have a comparable record of their childhoods.
The tradition started with baby books for each one of my children.  The overflow of cards and photos needed a home, which led to the start of a scrapbook for each child.  As they got older, my children selected the photos they liked and decided what mementos they wanted to save.  Their scrapbooks are filled with birthday and vacation photos, cards, awards, postcards, and graduation programs.  A scrapbook is the perfect reminder when a child is tempted to say, "I never went anywhere."  Oh, we went places and there is physical evidence to prove it.

Our family photo albums serve as an archive of people, places, and events that we have known and enjoyed.  The photos remind us of where we've been and who we've known. They serve as a resource  when we try to remember when we traveled to Memphis or who attended Grandma's wedding.  My children love to show off the family photo albums when a friend visits and expresses interest.  Some photos are good for a laugh.  Others elicit oohs and aahs as the pages are turned.

I sometimes wonder if my grown children appreciate the memories that have accumulated over the years.  Then one of them will ask, "Mom, is there room for these ticket stubs in my scrapbook?"  I smile and respond in the affirmative.  For all their digital photos and computer files, my children still appreciate a scrapbook they can hold open on their lap to remind them of the special events in their life.  For all that my children no longer need me to do, I can still track the passage of time and keep the family archives for the sake of history and the generation to come.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Memory Boxes

In May, on our return trip from Philadelphia, my daughter and granddaughter and I stopped over at my older son's house to stay Saturday night with his family. Sunday morning my younger son and his wife and son came over for breakfast. We were all together, and I had something to share with each of my children: a memory box. In April I decided I wanted to do something concrete sooner rather than later, in addition to a family gathering later this summer. The Sunday before Mothers' Day, when we were all going to be together, seemed like the perfect time.

I had bought three decorative boxes about the size of shoe boxes. I had set aside two or three cards that I found among my mom's papers that each of my kids had sent their grandmother. I started filling each box with those cards and the small album I had created for her of each of her great-grandchildren in their baby & toddler years. From her stash of photos I selected a half dozen photos of her as a child and young woman for each of them, as well as a few photos of her with each of them when they were babies and teen-agers; I made small albums for those photos and attached on the last page a copy of the notice of her death I submitted to her local paper last August. Also in the box I placed a solar collector in the shape of a butterfly for their garden. The finishing touch was a small two-inch hoop with a piece of lace from her wedding gown and tied on top with a pink ribbon to hang in a window or as an ornament. 

The creation of the boxes was a process that I could not complete all at once. I set aside the cards one day. Another day I went through photos, and it took a few times through over a course of days because it was emotional for me. I had seen all the photos many times, even several times over the last year, but I hadn't looked at her life from age 5 to age 20 all at once. She was beautiful with the most wonderful smile, truly happy. I wished I had known her then; I wished she had been that happy when she was my mom. I was glad to have photos of her with my kids because they didn't see her often for a variety of reasons; when the kids were old enough to say what was true they coined the phrase "fly-by visit from Grandma" because she would come for a visit and in a couple days she'd be gone. I was glad there was a record of some of the time they had with her.

It was meaningful for me to give the  memory boxes. My children listened to my explanation of each item. We had time to talk a bit about what they remembered. Now the memories in each box may sit on a shelf for a while, and that's okay because what mattered to me was the giving of the opportunity to remember.

And I still have lots of photos to finish sorting, organizing, and preserving for future generations.

The journey continues....