Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Random Lyrics and Quotes

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
Norman Cousins

"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."
James Dean

Just what kind of love keeps breaking a heart
No matter how hard I try
I always make you cry
Come on, baby, it's over let's face it
All that's happening here is a long goodbye
Brooks & Dunn

Every generation gets a chance to change the world
Pity the nation that will listen to your boys and girls
‘Cos the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard
Is it true the perfect love drives out all fear
The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear

"Happiness is only real when shared".
Into The Wild

“Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”
Pope Paul VI

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why I Like Blues

I like blues.

Three chords, twelve bars and a whole lot of range: sad, depressing, heartbreaking, sheer joy, fun, danceable, raw emotional singing or playing, breaking up, making up, making out, naked and grinding, laughing, drinking, moaning, crying. Up tempo, down tempo and everything in between. Lots of sex and no sex. Heartbroke, dead broke. Deep feeling dressed in simplicity. Colorful vocabulary in shades of blue. In a roomful of friends and all alone. On the road or anchored to home.

A five-letter word that spells out a lifetime. Or a moment.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Totally Random 2.6

This round of randomness is just a list of random questions:

- Do you ever respond to a question with the answer you think the asker wants rather than your real answer?

- Have you ever wanted something so much that when you finally had the chance to have it, you choked?

- Or didn’t know what to do with it?

- Can you tell which of your dog’s barks means “I’m so happy to see you,” which one means ”give me another damn treat – it’s been two hours since the last one!” and which one means “I have to go outside NOW!”

- Have you had any regrets in life? Real regrets over something you did or did not do that keep surfacing in your mind cloaked in the repeating question ‘why did I do that?’ or ‘why didn’t I do that?’

- Did you ever buy something in orange even though you know it looks better in blue? Maybe a shirt? Or a car?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Change Your Thinking

My sister and two or three other friends regularly send me these pleasant little stories. They are usually accompanied by a suggestion to send them on to x number of other people in the next ten minutes, or some such thing. I usually read the story, smile for a moment at the thought that someone sent this to me, then hit delete.

This story, however, struck a different chord. I decided to share it with you, my five or ten regular blog readers.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.

One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs.... His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man could not hear the band - he could see it in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.

She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed.

It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, 'Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.'

There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations.

Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled.

If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy.

'Today is a gift, that is why it is called The Present.'

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Famous Kiss

Have you ever seen this famous picture, taken at the end of World War II?

I just learned today that the woman in the picture, Greta Friedman, is alive and well and lives in my county. This is a more recent picture of her:

There is an article about her in the latest Frederick Magazine. Small world, ey?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Life Lessons in Lyrics 2.0

It's never too late to live your life -
The time is now, it's do or die
It's never too late to live your life -
The time is now, its yours and mine.

performed by Papa Roach

The Older One Is On Top

Yep, every sport has its playoff series, and for NASCAR it’s the Chase.

Through the first 26 races of the 36-race season, drivers earn points based on where they finish in each race, plus points each time they lead a lap and each time they lead the most laps in a race. At the end of those 26 races, the top twelve drivers in the point standings qualify for the Chase. Their scores are reset and the one who leads in points at the end of the ten ‘Chase’ races becomes the Cup Series champ. You could say it’s the Super Bowl ring of stock car racing.

Jimmie Johnson is my favorite driver and he has won the Sprint Cup for the past three years. He is in the Chase again this year, but lots of attention is being paid to Mark Martin, who happens to be my second-favorite driver.

Unless you follow NASCAR regularly you might not know Martin. But you might remember his sponsor from a few years back – Viagra. The synergy was unmistakable – at 50, he is one of the oldest current drivers in NASCAR and the oldest in the Chase. Regardless of his sponsor, he is a hard-charging driver who is up for every race. He slid into victory lane again yesterday, which means he has entered the winner’s circle five times this season, a personal best.

A few stats: the average age of this year’s Chase drivers is 34, most are in their 30s and 20s, one is 40 and one is 50.

I’d like to see Jimmie Johnson win again, but my money’s on Mark Martin.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life Lessons in Lyrics 1.9

Now here is the one thing I keep forgettin':
When everything is falling apart
In life, as in love, you know I need to remember
There's such a thing as trying too hard.

You got to sing like you don't need the money;
Love, like you'll never get hurt;
You got to dance, dance, dance like nobody's watchin'.
It's gotta come from the heart, If you want it to work.

Sung by Kathy Mattea

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Anniversaries and Birthdays

Do specific dates on a calendar mean anything to you? I don’t know much about the psychology of commemorating events, but I know I do it a lot.

I usually remember birthdays and anniversaries, or at least the month if not the date. I add that disclaimer because I forgot the exact birthdays of two close friends in just the past three weeks, but I did remember the months.

Birthdays are more important to me than holidays. Everyone celebrates a holiday. A birthday belongs only to you or me (and anyone else who has that birthday, but you know what I mean). Mine is near the end of January and I focus on it more than Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day. December 5th, April 1st, February 19th, March 19th, September 16th and some day at the end of August are on my mind each year; December 3rd was added recently; I’ve forgotten some others but plan to find them and actually note them on my Outlook calendar.

Personal anniversaries play an even more significant role for me and specific images fill my mind’s eye when I think of those days. September 27th is one going back to high school; the images include veal parmigiana, teenage awkwardness, long brown hair and a movie. September 9th is a bit bittersweet but sometimes it brings a smile when I picture that sunny day on a North Carolina beach. December 31st conjurs up a whole movie of images for me because I’ve had so many unique experiences on that day (and I even remember the ones during which I was drunk). July 17th features pinot grigio, pizza with spinach on it and my first view of one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen.

At various times in my life I celebrated anniversaries of car purchases, house moves, job starts and first dates. My sister noted once that I learned that last one from my Dad. Speaking of Dad, I clearly remember the day he died, in part because I watched him take his last breath. That is a powerful and sad image, but I try to focus on celebrating his life each November. Mom died nearly alone one September and I don’t need a calendar to remember the phone call that morning; I celebrate her unique life on that day each year.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t know the psychology of celebrating anniversaries, but I know that for me it is a way to connect the dots of a sometimes disjointed life and make some sense of it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Life Lessons From Lyrics and a Conversation

Music superstar Kenny Chesney is taking some of his own lyrical advice by not touring in 2010. I'll tell you what convinced him in a minute.

Chesney is at the top of his game, more popular than ever, selling out concerts and regularly hitting the top of the concert revenue charts as well as the music sales charts. He decided to slow all of that down to take time off to actually live his life.

This the same Kenny Chesney who sings "Don't Blink":

'Cause when your hourglass runs outta sand
You can't flip it over, start again
Life goes faster than you think
Don't blink

and "Living in Fast Forward":

I’m always runnin’, son-of-a-gunnin’
I’ve had a good time, it’s true
But the way I been goin’
It’s time that I tone it down just a notch or two
I’ve been livin' in fast forward
Now I need to rewind real slow

What finally convinced him to slow down? A conversation with another music superstar ... Bruce Springsteen.

Kenny says, "He told me something that hit me really hard, and it's stuck with me ever since... Kenny, you can write half a song on a piece of paper, and you can put that piece of paper away in a drawer for five years, and you can go back to it, and that song will still be there. But life isn't like that. And whatever you're doing, don't miss your life, too."

Me and Kenny a few years ago, at 9:30am. We spiked his orange juice. Can you tell?

Kenny will be traveling, working on a new album and catching up with himself during his time off.

There is definitely a lesson in that, summed up by Springstein's advice: don't miss your life, too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dying In Threes Again

OK, Boomers – three more in one week, one is a Boomer and the other two mean something to Boomers. Patrick Swayze, Henry Gibson, and Mary Travers all died this week.

Swayze is the best known across generational lines, in part because his illness was highly publicized and partly because he was still actively working in the spotlight.

Boomers will remember Gibson mostly for his cameos in the late 1960s era TV show “Laugh-In.”

And Travers is the Mary in Peter, Paul and Mary, a commercially successful folk music trio from the 60s. Oldies radio stations sometimes play “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” their most famous song.

I’m feeling a little old tonight, my friends.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

That Damn Box

OK, this post is a bit personal. I’ll understand if you skip it and just wait for the next one. But, after all, this is my blog, so some of it will inevitably be personal.

It seems that self-analysis has been a part of my life for a long time. That observation rang true very loudly a few days ago because of what I found in ‘the box.’

The container I’m referring to is a box where I keep notes, journals, poetry, letters and other assorted mementoes from my past. I dug deeper into the box that I usually do when I go “past surfing” and discovered notes and letters from my twenties that I haven’t seen in a long time.

Here is some of what I learned about me that day:

-I have always been a dreamer. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t and the contents of ‘the box’ prove it.

-Learning from the past has been a personal theme for a long time. Apparently I keep relearning things too. In other words, I haven’t always learned from my past.

-I write more when I’m troubled than when I feel good.

-I am self-analytical and write about it a lot and have been doing that since high school.

-I found two letters written a few years apart, each to a different old girlfriend, each beginning with the words “you’ll probably never see this letter but I’m writing it anyway because this helps me think things through.” I don’t remember writing either letter. But I am certain neither of the girlfriends saw the letters. I was also shocked at the depth of my feeling for each; it seems I had blocked that out of my memory a long time ago.

-For a long time I have believed that one role I have in life is to help people feel good about themselves. If I really do have that ability, I am grateful for it. What I also realize from the writings in the box is that I have been that kind of enabler several times and after they are fully enabled, they’re usually gone. I don’t seem to have many friends who enable me.

-I also found a “Dear Bernie” letter. It may just be the most beautiful ‘we can’t see each other any more’ letter ever written. I helped enable her to move on in her life and she was thanking me for it. She said the reason we had to stop seeing each other completely is because right from the start we were never ‘just friends’ and she didn’t think we could ever be ‘just friends.’ She was telling me this as she was going back to her husband.

I read things in that box with mixed feelings. On one hand, I learn about myself from what I read, learn about past mistakes and repeated mistakes, learn about good things I’ve done for myself and other people, learn to feel pretty good about myself. On the other hand, I am trying this year to learn to live in the present and sometimes time travel is bittersweet.

The key word in all this is ‘learning.’ That is part of who I am and no matter how much I may live ‘in the moment’ I will always reference the past. I’m fine as long as I don’t live there. I’m fine as long as I only open that damn box a couple of times a year.

Life Lessons in Lyrics 1.8

Is it too much to ask, I want a comfortable bed that won't hurt my back
Food to fill me up, and warm clothes and all that stuff

Pens that won't run out of ink and cool quiet and time to think
And passionate kisses

Do I want too much, am I going overboard to want that touch?
I shout it out to the night: Give me what I deserve, 'cause it's my right!

Shouldn't I have all of this and passionate kisses
Passionate kisses, passionate kisses from you

Written by Lucinda Williams
Sung by Mary Chapin-Carpenter

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Twelve Dollar Impulse Purchase

What do you spend on groceries each week? $50? $100? $150? In that range, buying one of those tempting extra little things at the checkout doesn't seem extravagant. A pack of gum, for example. Or the latest Inquirer.

A tempting extra little thing got my attention a few days ago at Starbucks. And I yielded to the temptation. Along with my cup of coffee I bought … are you ready for this? … the re-mastered Beatles CD "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

A $12 impulse purchase with my $1.85 cup of coffee.

The release of the re-mastered Beatles CDs this week made news. That tells me Boomers still rule; or at least we have some influence on the media.

OK, what it really tells me is that the Beatles are still influential. Part of the mystique of this re-release is that they were technologically ahead of their time through much of their recording career. They began to experiment with sound recording techniques such as compression, distortion, microphones directly in instruments, tape running backwards, multi-tracking and overdubbing. All of that came together on this album.

But on some songs they also used some of the quirkiness of early stereo recordings, such as vocals in one channel and most of the instruments in the other. The engineers who re-mastered these CDs tried to retain the original mixes, preserving the intent of the group, while at the same time brightening some of the instrumentation that sounds a bit muffled in the originals.

One reason I chose this particular CD is that Sgt. Pepper is the first album I ever bought. I might even still have that vinyl version somewhere. So this was a sentimental impulse purchase.

I listened to it on the way home from work the day I bought it. Do the songs stand the test of time? Not especially. But this CD does provide a pristine vehicle for a trip back to my youth. And where else can you travel that far for twelve dollars?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hero Quote

I don’t know the origin of this quote, but I just saw it on a friend’s Facebook page. It seems appropriate today.

"a hero is no braver than the ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer"

....remembering the heros of 9/11.

Eight Years

Some people want to remember every little detail about September 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks. Some people just want to forget.

I am in the group that wants to remember.

I was stuck in traffic that morning on the way to a doctor’s office in Bethesda (suburban Washington DC) for my annual physical. I was listening to the DJs on my radio station doing their crossover from one show to the next. One of them interrupted the jovial conversation with an alarming “oh my God! An airplane just hit the World Trade Center in New York.” The on air studios have a TV in the corner to catch breaking news and he was reacting to graphics he saw flashing across the screen.

News that it was a large airliner not a small traffic plane had just been announced when I arrived at the doctor’s office parking lot. No one in the office had heard anything. By the time I was done with the exam and back in my car, the second plane had hit the towers, a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, DC was being evacuated and Bethesda was in full gridlock. The first thing I heard on my car radio was an unconfirmed report that one of the towers had collapsed.

Fear and uncertainty were everywhere. You could hear it in the newscaster voices. I heard it in my wife’s voice when I finally reached her on the phone half way through the two-hour commute home, a ride that normally would have taken thirty minutes.

My memory of the rest of the day is in fragments:

- Hugging like it was the end of the world when I finally got home
- Putting our July 4th flags back in the yard
- Watching hours of TV coverage
- Wondering where the President, Vice President and members of Congress were
- The car dealer staying open till we could get there to pick up my car from the service - department, even though they had no other customers that day because everyone was home watching the TV coverage
- A feeling of civility among total strangers, such as drivers on I-270 actually letting cars into their lanes rather than cutting them off
- More American flags going up on houses, bridges, buildings, vehicles
- F-16 military jets were the only thing flying
- Jumping every time I heard a siren
- Anger at some unknown enemy
- Fear that more attacks were coming

More than anything I remember the feeling that we, citizens of our towns, states and country, were all emotionally huddled together, ready to help and comfort each other; a proud feeling of patriotism. We are Americans – we will help each other recover first, then we’ll find out who did this to us and punish them. Then we’ll find a way to prevent this from ever happening again.

For me, remembering the details of that day, from the events to the feelings, helps me confirm my belief that even though we are often a divided country, we have the capacity to unite as one. That is the one positive feeling to emerge that day and it is a feeling I want to remember the rest of my life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Conversation Observation

Linguistic differences from region to region and state to state encompass more than just accents and vocabulary. The manner in which people end their phone conversations can point to a person’s region of origin.

In the south, a phone call often ends with six or seven sentences. For example, a typical phone chat with my sister wraps up like this:

OK, well I better go
OK. Thanks for calling. Nice catching up with you.
Same here. Take care.
You too. See you soon.
OK. Goodnight.

We’re both from Louisiana. She still lives there.

I’ve lived much further north for many years. The end of a phone call around here often sounds like this.

Gotta run.
OK. Seeya.

I think I like the southern way better. How ‘bout you?

Feel free to post a comment on this.

Thanks for dropping by.

Y'all have a nice night.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Partial Solutions, Appreciation and Color

Did you ever want something so much you could taste it? Have a dream so vivid you could see it. Have a clear picture of a life that could be yours despite obvious obstacles?

Ever second-guess yourself? Convince yourself that you could have that life if only (insert excuse here)?

I’m pretty good at second-guessing and over-thinking. I’ll pause for a moment to give those of you who know me in real life time to laugh. Actually if you know me well, you know I eventually get everything I want, or at least an acceptable version of it. “Optimists look for partial solutions” is one of my favorite lines from Alan Loy McGinnis’s book “The Power of Optimism.” I live that line.

There is a difference between “partial solution” and “compromise.” Compromise often refers to giving up something important or accepting a lower standard in the name of achieving some goal. A partial solution to a problem, however, can mean breaking a big problem down into smaller, manageable parts and dealing with each of those, one at a time. Eventually the big problem gets solved.

Breaking a dream down into smaller parts and making each of those come true, one at a time, could make the whole dream come true.

“Appreciation” is another characteristic McGinnis attributes to optimists. He illustrates many of his points with religious references, too many for my taste, but the essence of his chapter on appreciating things is summed up well by this:
Said a sympathetic friend to a crippled woman, “Affliction does so color life.”
“Yes,” she replied, “but I propose to choose the color.”

While dreaming about something you don’t have, it is often difficult to appreciate what you do have. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your dream, or that you should ignore the obstacles, but it does mean you can relax and not try so hard. Appreciate what you do have while you work at finding what you really want.

Paint the rainbow one color at a time.

Life Lessons in Songs 1.7

And there's no time to waste
In the play of this game
Don't lose the dreams inside your head
They're only there until you're dead

sung by Dave Matthews

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Life Lessons in Lyrics 1.6

You think life is like a movie
Where it all works out in the end
I think life is like a dessert
Where does it go where does it begin

When you look into a mirror
Do you like what's looking at you
Now that you've seen your true reflections
What on earth are you gonna do

Find some inspiration
It's down deep inside of you

sung by Dave Matthews

Learning, Friends and Balance

Role models come in many shapes and sizes. Learning from my role models and being one myself are part of the balance I seek in life.

Parents are the most obvious role models. As children, we learn from their actions, as teens we often reject that knowledge in the name of finding our own identity. We wake up in the middle of adulthood to discover we are more like them than we ever wanted to admit. We are also old enough and hopefully wise enough to find a balance between part of what we learned from them and part of what we learned on our own. Dad was confident, curious, stubborn and a great planner. Mom was curious, a great planner and had a great sense of humor. They are both gone now, but they live on in me.

Friends can be role models too. Most of the people who mean something to me have reinvented themselves over time and I observe their processes as guidelines for my own reinvention. One friend ‘retired’ in her 40s and moved to Hawaii with her new husband; she has since started a career of sorts in radio, something she had never done before. Another friend has reinvented herself at least three times, corresponding with living in three completely different countries on three different continents. Another finally found true love with the man of her dreams, in her forties, and has now also started her own business doing something she truly loves. Yet another, the youngest and newest in my circle, defied the odds and probably rejected some advice to chart a path to a new career and a new life; she is struggling with it sometimes but believes persistence will have a payoff one day.

As my blog posts might indicate, I’ve gone through a rough patch myself this year. It probably seems that I’m all over the place with goals and self-analysis. I am in a reinvention phase of my life; more accurately a rebalancing period. In Boomerville, they call this a mid-life crisis, but I reject that description.

I’m a small boat with a big anchor and a long rope. Lately I’ve been tossed around by some unusually high waves and I have intentionally let out more and more of that rope. I am expanding my horizon. But I also know that I am not at the end of my rope, the rope will not break and the anchor is strong. The rope and the anchor were designed by my role models and assembled by me.

I know I’m grounded. I know I am an optimist and believe I will always find a solution to my own difficulties. But I unabashedly look to my role models for guidance. Ultimately I will learn from them and find my own unique solution – my own balance. I hope that in some way I am a role model for them too.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Life Lessons in Lyrics 1.5

Temporarily immersed in Dave Matthews lyrics. I know some of my readers won't mind ... and you know who you are :)

Then an evening spent dancing
It's you and me
This love will open our world
From the dark side we can see a glow of something bright
There's much more than we see here
Don't burn the day away
Is this not enough
This blessed sip of life
Is it not enough

sung by Dave Matthews

Friday, September 4, 2009

Take Me Home Country Roads

I took the back roads home from work last night, successfully avoiding the Labor Day weekend traffic on local Interstates.

The commute begins on Route 28, a six-lane boulevard where I start in Rockville. The road is filled with cars and flanked by shops, restaurants, apartments and office parks. Cars turn left and right at each traffic light as I proceed straight ahead; a smile grows on my lips as the traffic volume shrinks.

Left lane must turn left. Right lane ends in 1000 feet.

Now highway 28 is a grey and yellow ribbon draped across estates, horse farms and acres of corn fields. Gentle rolling hills and a slowly setting sun add peace to the ride. Two traffic lights punctuate the scene, each in the center of a quaint town where small, centuries-old buildings nudge their toes against the curb.

Ever heard the John Denver song “Take Me Home Country Roads”? Despite the lyric reference to West Virginia, this is the road he used to drive on that provided inspiration for the song.

Next stop: Point of Rocks, a town known for its train station by city dwellers and for Potomac River spring floods by the locals.

North on 15, then three-fourths of the way around a new traffic circle (geez, why did they put that there?) to head west on straight-as-an-arrow, tree-lined route 464 toward Brunswick. No estates, just houses; “real “people live on this road.

Now north on 17, setting sun paints the sky mustard color behind South Mountain to my left and farms paint my right side view a calm green. A few miles later, the pace is even slower on cobblestone streets in the center of Burkittsville, site of the Blair Witch Project movie.

Ten minutes later I catch the steeples of Middletown, the main skyline feature of my adopted home. I call it my town, but I really live a few more miles ahead, on a developed street surrounded by rural farms and a creek bank full of trees. My neighbors include deer and rabbit as well as people.

As I enter the driveway, my barking dogs almost drown out the sound of my ringing cell phone. My field of vision is first filled with a cluttered garage, then with bills and junk mail.

Only one thing keeps me from getting back in the car and driving west.

Life Lessons In Lyrics 1.4

Isn't it strange
How we move our lives for another day
Like skipping a beat
What if a great wave should wash us all away
Just thinking out loud
Don't mean to dwell on this dying thing
But looking at blood
It's alive right now
Deep and sweet within
Pouring through our veins

sung by Dave Matthews

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Life Lessons In Lyrics 1.3

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth making

Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

sung by
Lee Ann Womack

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Little Unsettled

I’m feeling a little unsettled today. It’s the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death.

I’ve studied grief, interviewed grief and loss experts on the radio and talked with friends about their various losses. I know we never really get over the loss of a family member; over time we do process the loss differently and over time there is usually less sadness than when the loss first occurs.

All of that is true for me too; I usually feel some sadness on this date but I also smile when I think about Mom. However, on this date each year, I get a little more pissed off at the nursing home officials who decided they should ride out Hurricane Katrina rather than evacuate their residents, three of whom were over 90 years old. None of the residents died that day, but a day or two later, the residents had to be moved across the street to a hospital because there was six inches of water in the nursing home and no electricity, food, running water or working toilets. The hospital wasn’t much better and when the generators ran out of fuel, someone finally decided to transport the residents to another facility out of the hurricane zone.

After hours and hours of travelling (we never did get the complete true story about how many hours and what kind of vehicle they were in), they finally made it to a temporary facility in northern Louisiana. Mom survived the hurricane and the travel but died the next morning. Did I mention she was on a feeding tube that needed to occasionally be plugged in to recharge? Did I mention her dementia was significant enough at that time that she probably didn’t know what was going on and probably couldn’t really communicate whatever needs she may have had during that ordeal? Maybe I should be grateful that she didn’t know what was going on.

Mom was one of the three residents of that nursing home over the age of 90. Those three died within a few weeks of Katrina. Maybe they would have died of natural causes that month even without a hurricane; or maybe not. Not enough evidence for a law suit but definitely enough for anger.

I really do want to get past this blame crap, but today it’s still there – part of my unsettled feeling today. Another part is the guilt I still feel sometimes when I think that I only visited Mom twice during her last year-and-a-half. On my last visit, nine months before her death, she didn’t remember who I was until the day I returned home. Fortunately my second-to-last visit was a happy occasion. My sister and I held a birthday party for her (the picture below is from that party and is my last with her).

Mom is who I get my story-telling from; and my sometimes obsessive behavior and my curiosity. My sense of humor and love of travel too.

I know this is a long post, but just one more thing. This is what I said at her funeral, six weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It says a lot about her and maybe a little about me:

When we met with Father Ralph a few days ago, he pointed us in a wonderful direction for today. He said this should be a celebration of Mom’s life.

Ann Marie and I are so lucky to have had her as our mother, and there are so many things we could say about her. But in my mind, four things stand out above the rest:

1) She had a great sense of humor. She loved a good laugh. One of Ann Marie’s last memories of her was a few days before Katrina. Mom was sitting there at the nursing home laughing. Ann Marie doesn’t really know what she was laughing at, but she was having a good ole laugh.

2) Mom loved to travel. And with the evacuation to north Louisiana and her return here in this casket, she traveled more during her last three days of life and the weeks since her death than she had traveled in decades. She is probably having a good laugh about that right now.

3) Mom paid me and Ann Marie the greatest compliment a mother could pay a child … many times. She married late in life, especially for her generation, at age 39. She told us many times, including at her 94th birthday party, that her life really didn’t begin till she was in her 40s, when she had us.

4) One of the most important things in life is family. Up until the last year or so, she kept up with what was going on in your lives … the cousins, your kids, your grandkids. The Mary Kay sisters, the red car ... she even got to ride in the red Mary Kay car and she was aware of things that day.

And it means a lot to Ann Marie and I that you are here sharing this day with us.

Mom, we love you.

Wow, you’re still reading this? Thanks. It means a lot to me.