Unknown Stories

“Behind all your stories is always your mother’s story. Because hers is where yours begin.” 

Mitch Albom, For One More Day

I’ve thought about my mom a lot today.

Sixty-six years ago she was in labor, waiting for me to be born. I was her first baby and I was not waiting for my due date. This individualized perception of time is a pattern she’d battle and one I’d follow my entire life.

It’s only been the last year or so I’ve given myself time to think about my mom from an adult point of view. It’s been eye opening and heart breaking to look back with the knowledge I have from my own life experiences which intermingle with my childhood memories.

I miss her.

I love you, Mom.

“I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.” 

Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I am…

B…simply being. 

~Peace~  

The Gift of Friends

“No friendship is an accident. ”
― O. Henry, Heart of the West

Today is the birthday of three of my friends.

Happy Birthday, Jodi, Linda, and Jim.

Each of you came into my life at different times, each bringing your own special and unique gifts. I am so thankful.

As I take a walk down Memory Lane, the first person I’d meet is Linda. Linda and I were friends in grade school and junior high. She always had a smile and was full of energy. I loved her for her sense of adventure. She seemed fearless. An added bonus was the fact that my Dad knew her parents meaning I could actually go to her house after school. Linda lived in the country. For a town kid like me, that was so incredibly special because that meant I got to ride the bus. I never knew what to expect when we arrived at her house “out in the country.”

Now…I have to confess…as fearless as Linda was I was her direct counterbalance in this Universe. I was afraid of EVERYTHING.

Of course, I could not act like I was afraid so I had to devise all kinds of maneuvers to appear to be just fine with whatever it was we needed to get done as far as completing her chores. The most consistent thing to challenge my acting ability was the Houdini escape pig who always seemed to get out just before the school bus arrived. That pig was HUGE in my skinny little town kid eyes! It was our job to herd that big beast back home to the pen. I spent more time and energy running in some sort of zig-zag pattern making every effort to stay as far away from the pig as possible. I really really really disliked that hog. I was little, if any, help. We (meaning Linda) did eventually get him back where he belonged. Thank you, Linda Wendt Mossman, for being a friend then and now. Happy Birthday.

The next person I’d meet on the stroll today would be Jodi. She was one of the first people I met after moving to Waterloo from Traer. What a culture shock for me–moving from a small community school to a small city school. I was scared to death most of that first month of school. Jodi and I had many things in common–which neither one of us really shared until we were much older. I think kids are so open we felt our common bonds even without speaking about them. She never ever gave up on me and was successful in breaking me out of the house for different get-togethers. I was so grateful to her for never having to explain some of the craziness she saw going on at our house. Now, we laugh about some of those times. After we graduated we stayed close friends until I moved to Denver in the mid-eighties. I still miss those weekend nights when we would sit around her kitchen table and share stories from our week. When I count my blessings, Jodi McGrane Verbraken is definitely at the top of the list. Happy Birthday, my dear friend who has been by my side for so many life-changing things. I cherish you and love you.

The person furthest down memory lane is Jim. I met Jim and his wife, Jan, at a little RV park in one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Michael and I had our RV parked in Pleasant Valley, in the little town Howard, along the Arkansas River,  for many years. Jim and Jan and many others used this little spot along the river as a weekend getaway when we were all still working in Denver. I didn’t get a chance to really get to know Jim until we had retired. Both Jim and his wife, Jan, have the most contagious laughs on the planet along with being two of the most giving people on the planet. I am so grateful I have them as friends. Happy Birthday, Jim Finegan. I am looking forward to seeing you and Jan next week.

It’s not Carolyn’s birthday today but that is her needlepoint wall hanging I am using as my story photo. Carolyn and I worked together at St. Francis Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, for many many years. I carried this little wall hanging with me for decades–some of the age shows around the edges. I hung it where I could see it every morning–its last place was just inside my closet door–Carolyn greeted me every day before I hit the road to work. When we sold our house and became full-time RVers, I had to let many things go. This was one. So, tearfully I took a picture of it, knowing it would now be well-preserved. Thank you, Carolyn Nederhoff for this wonderful gift that symbolized our friendship and helped get me through my working days without your giving spirit. I think of you often and send you my love today. I hope one of our old hospital gang will share this with you. Many hugs sent to you today and always.

“A spiritual connection with someone lasts forever, even when physical presence fades.”
― Danielle Barone

I am…

B…simply being…

I am blessed and I am grateful.

~Peace~

 

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Sixty-four years ago today, I began this grand adventure called life.

I have been fortunate and very blessed–not to mention just plain ol’ lucky.

By the grace of God, people have been placed in my life at times when I needed them the most. Now, the question may arise as to whether some helped me or if they actually lead me off course for a while. Either way, whichever column you place people in, they all played a part in allowing me to grow and become the person I am today. Because of these wonderful and eclectic folks, I am alive. I am well. I am.

Sounds to me like it’s time for a walk down memory lane so I can share a story.

The summer after I completed eighth grade, my family moved from the small town of Traer, Iowa, to the city of Waterloo, Iowa. I don’t remember when I realized this huge change was happening. My family was not big on family meetings or sharing information. What I’d expected to be the start of my freshman year of high school, with kids I had been with since kindergarten, morphed into years of unforeseen changes and challenges. All that was comfortable and familiar in my life was packed away and dismissed that summer. Like it or not, I was off to a new life in a new town in a new house in a new school with new kids.

This was one of the most difficult times in my life. By luck or by an act of God, I landed in a place where I found wonderful and generous friends. Kids who welcomed me into their circle of friends. Wonderful people who are still in my life today.

That year my birthday fell on a day when we did not have school because it was opening day for the National Cattle Congress. What? Could anything sound more Iowan? Cattle Congress is an annual event that’s been part of the Waterloo culture for decades. It was and remains a mixture of a stock show, a fair, and a carnival. It was the perfect place for a group of young kids to go and hang together while checking out all the out-of-town boys. I was so excited. My new group of friends asked me to go with them AND my Dad and stepmother said I could go.

I did not realize my friends knew it was my birthday. Not only was it my birthday, but it was also my new friend, Margie’s birthday. At the end of the day, after talking and learning about the new people in my life, both Margie and I had birthday presents to open. The gifts were supposed gag gifts–meant to be funny. To me, that present was my new lifeline. As I type, I can still see that little-ribbed glass jar which held green, medicinal smelling stick deodorant.  A joke? Okay, but to me, it was a precious gift. Something that gave me hope for my future.

This is such a nice memory to have and carry with me as I continue on my life journey. It is also a reminder that a gift does not have to be big to be special. Kinda like that surprise phone call I just had with my friend, Dave. That was so thoughtful. Thank you, Dave.

There is so much joy in an act of simple kindness.

I am…

B…simply being…

Love Y’all.

Peace

 

 

 

Marie and Mom

 

I love September. It is the beginning of Fall and a month filled with family birthdays.

September 3 was my Aunt Marie’s birthday–at least that is the day we all believe to be her birthday.

Happy birthday, Marie. As usual, I am a few days late–which would be no surprise to Marie. This is the only picture I have of her. Marie is on the left. Her sister, Eve, on the right. My sister, Susan, and her two kids, Matt and Ashley are in the foreground. Of all the pictures I have saved through the different moves, this is one of my most treasured.

Marie was my Mom’s aunt and a nurse who took care of everyone in the McDonald family. At that time, the McDonald family was huge and scattered all over the country. Marie told me that her brothers and sisters never saw each other unless someone was sick or dying. Until Mom got sick, I never knew Marie or any of the extended McDonald family existed.

Mom’s illness started out innocently. Well, at least in my kid’s memory, that’s what I thought. It began about a month after the birth and death of my brother, Richard. I remember the details of those few days so well–I wonder if I subconsciously knew something was wrong.

Things were quiet as Mom recovered from the C-section she had with my brother. It was late summer and school was getting ready to start. I was looking forward to fifth grade, wondering who would be my teacher and what kids would be in my class. I heard Mom call me into the living room. She asked me to come look at the back of her neck. Could I see and feel a lump? Even my nine-year old self could see and feel that large lump. As I told her, the look in her eyes was my first experience of seeing fear. The question she asked next caught me off guard. She asked if I would go with her to the doctor’s office instead of going to the pool. I said sure. Not that I was giving up my favorite thing.  My motivation was I knew the waiting room had good things to read. I’d skip the pool if I could read adult-like stories and the jokes I knew were in Reader’s Digest!

Looking back, my adult eyes see things so differently. She must have been so afraid of what was coming next. She had just gone through a very difficult pregnancy and lost her son. She was still grieving this loss. What will happen to her three young daughters?

Looking back, I wonder why she asked me to go to the doctor with her and not my Dad? Looking back…I question many things.

We went to see the good doctor that afternoon. The little room was warm and stuffy as we waited with several other people, many sharing their stories about why they were there. HIPPA was far in the future and people shared more than even a kid really wanted to know. I was immersed in the Reader’s Digest joke section as my Mom waited. Silently. I sat close to her and she would hold my hand. Being there with her made me feel important. When she held my hand, I knew it was going to be okay.

She went back alone when Florence, the office nurse, called her name. As we left the office, the look I had seen earlier was back even as she forced a smile. She and Dr. Dalby had made plans and they were starting immediately.

This was the early 60’s and there was not a lot of hope when the word cancer was used. Mom went to the hospital and the biopsy came back as cancer. At the request of Aunt Marie and the McDonald family, Dad took her to Mayo for a second opinion. Mayo doctors confirmed and their prognosis was poor. All doctors suggested radiation so she had her series of treatments. In one of my life’s many twists and turns, I would find myself years later in that same room. I  would be a student in a radiologic technology program, doing a radiation therapy rotation at the same place she had her treatments. I don’t remember a lot about that rotation except the sound of the lock on the door when the Cobalt 60 treatment started. That heavy clunk sound still haunts me. That must have made her feel very alone.

Around Christmas, she began having severe headaches. I, too, started having migraine headaches at the same time. Mine would eventually pass. Mom’s headaches got worse. The first part of January, she and Dad went to Mayo for a follow-up visit. The news from Mayo was not good. Her cancer had spread to her brain. Because this was so serious, Mom asked Marie to come be with her. Marie arrived as soon as she could get there so Dad could come home to the three of us. Her stay seemed like forever. Because Marie would be coming home with Mom, they discharged her early. On February 14th, the anniversary date of her marriage to Dad, she came home. In my romantic young girl mind, that was perfect.

Looking back, I think it was just more irony for my parents to bear.

Mom began radiation treatments to her brain. Radiation is brutal. Her previous treatments and her recent surgery and hospital stay had taken a huge toll on her. After a few sessions, the radiologists determined that it was too much for not enough benefit. The same group of radiologists I would later work for sent a letter stating that–a letter Dad shared with me one late winter afternoon. We had gone to the post office box to get the mail. He handed it to me after he read it. I am not sure why I reacted with the intensity I did. I don’t think I really believed that the doctors couldn’t/wouldn’t fix her. I could not believe that God would take my Mom. I screamed. I cried. I swung my fists out at him. This had to be a mistake. Slowly, I started asking questions and settling down. Only then, after I was calm, did he tell me I could not tell Mom I knew. He had shared this with me against the advice of everyone in the family. I had to act normal.

It was a secret. It was a very heavy one and one I am sure I did not pull off well.

Mom recovered some after stopping radiation. Marie had gone back to Omaha and Dad and I were trying to take care of things.  I was feeling very adult and trying hard but it was obvious we were in an impossible situation. We needed help. Once again, Marie came to the rescue. She arrived just before Mom’s birthday, April 22. Mom passed away August 30. Marie and Mom waged a very hard-fought battle.

Marie cared for mom and stayed on to help our family for nearly two years. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened to my sisters and me if she had not stayed. Not that I made her life easy–I made it an absolute hell on earth. She was there through all my pre-teen rants and rages. Marie was the only one who understood a young girl grieves the loss of her mother in some strange ways. It must have been the love she had for my Mom that gave her the patience to always try to find some way to break through the shell I had constructed around myself. I was still trying to act and be normal. Through it all, she never gave up on me.

I never thanked her enough. Oh, I went through the motions and said the appropriate words. In my usual very immature adult fashion, I was so busy being busy, I could not and did not take the time to appreciate her. On my list of regrets, this is one of the biggest ones. Now, as an older and hopefully more mature adult, I do realize and understand all the sacrifices she made for all of us.

Thank you, Marie, for giving me the guidance and care that allowed me to be the person I am today. It took decades for me to grow enough to fully appreciate all you gave me. In all the time Marie spent with me, I never told her I loved her. I signed my hastily written cards and notes to her with love–but never said those words to her.

I now know that time stops for no one or for any reason. You can be angry and sad and hurt. Put yourself away long enough to tell those you love that you love them. Just do it.

I am…

B…simply being…

I love you.

Peace