When Loss Is Life

when loss is lifeNo one expects the loss. We live as if life, the precious commodity, belongs to us. Yet loss is a part of life, and when it tragically and irrevocably attacks, it changes you forever. And I mean forever. Life is not the absence of loss, rather, loss exists as a part of life.

March 11 dawned as an ordinary Sunday morning. We prepared for church and when the call came that Brenda was calling an ambulance and would I help with the kids, I seriously thought it was nothing. Our son hadn’t been feeling well, but doctors were talking seizure disorders, not death! As I fed the kiddos, Bill took me aside and said the medics were working to revive him and in that moment, my life spun out of control.

We hustled the kids into the car and raced…and I mean, raced to the hospital. I literally ran into a cubicle filled with family, and Brenda teared up when she told me, “We lost him.” I tried to hold it together for her sake, but when Bill and the boys and I went to see his lifeless body, I sobbed. Literally sobbed over his body. It was like an out of body experience. I had no idea it would hit me like that. But it did.

Since I blog, I kept a record of the adjustments throughout this first year of life without Alma. I knew the stages of grief, but I learned a new set of stages. My grief skyrocketed through all the Kubler-Ross stages in days and hours, only to repeat their eccentric gyrations again and again. In reviewing the chronology of my dance with grief, I realized it hit me hardest as months progressed after the support of services and cards passed.

Throughout this year my mind felt numb. I virtually went through the motions. I did the next thing in front of me, but thoughts were intangible wisps and hard to connect. Prior joys like sewing, knitting, and playing the piano fell by the wayside. I not only couldn’t concentrate, trying to made my heart overflow with sorrow. My chest often felt like it might explode with pain. Was I having a heart attack?  When I was still alive after a few days I realized it had to be stress, painful nonetheless. What helped me the most was talking about him, about what I was experiencing, about my pain to friends who would listen. Blogging brought healing.

Ten months to the day after Alma’s death, however, I woke up. I could focus again. I could knit and keep track of a pattern. I sat down to finish a quilt and had to relearn how to thread my sewing machine, but I was able to actually accomplish a goal! Like a mother grizzly coming out of hibernation, I felt awake. Alive.

This chronicle of my year of life with loss is meant to be a path for you as well. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time. Blessings…

*Note: This chronicle of my year of grief is available on Amazon. It is meant to be a solace for others who wonder, “Is this normal?” “Am I dying?” “What’s wrong with me?” I’ve made it 99 cents, affordable and public. I hope you can share it with others who find themselves lost in the fog of grief.

 

Winter Storm Yum!

We love chili when frigid air hovers, and it doesn’t matter if its white or red. As a matter of fact, I prefer white. I make this when rotisserie chicken goes on sale, and good fortune preceded this storm, so yay! We’re in luck, because I’m just about to hit the kitchen.

If you’re new to white chili, here’s my recipe.

  • one shredded chicken
  • 1-2 chopped onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 can green chilis
  • 1 can diced jalepenos to taste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2-3 cans chicken broth
  • 3-4 cans navy beans
  • pint of cream or evaporated milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

I saute the onion and garlic in butter, add all the seasonings and chicken and broth. I like to rinse my beans well in water. I lose the B vitamins, which are water soluble, but I also never get gassy, so it’s worth it to me! Simmer awhile. Add the cream/evaporated milk shortly before serving. I add a dollop of sour cream, some sliced avocado and grated cheese to the top and wowsers!!

Obviously I adore creature comforts, and this satisfies. Complete the meal with some cornbread and you’ve got a rib-sticking heart-warming dinner. Bon Appetit!

Narnia or Snowpocalypse? It all depends.

Winter’s death grip on the midwest remains strong. I took a 2-3 week hiatus from blogging during the holidays and our remembrance of Alma’s birthday. I didn’t have a lot of uplifting thoughts, anyway.

Then storms struck and we lived on generator power for a couple days. We saved the freezer. We heat with wood, so we stayed warm. But life between the haves and have-nots bore a strong distinction between those who loved the snow and those  who felt otherwise. I kept my computer at arm’s length awaiting our re-entry into civilized society.

Now I vacillate between pleasure over earthly comforts, ready to write, and at the same time I peer timidly into the future, with more ice/snow coming our way by week’s end. I see both sides of the perspective continuum.

Here’s the thing: Your perspective on winter landscapes depends on your creature comforts. In the throes of having no power, heating with wood and trying to keep a generator running, the snow became my enemy. When power was restored and our porch shoveled and the drive bladed by my good man, we headed to town and marveled over a magical landscape. It looked like we were traveling through Narnia.Image result for images narnia children crossing ice

Let’s remember, though, that the characters in Narnia didn’t enjoy the cold or the ice or the scenery as they struggled to survive. Spectators enjoy the scenery. Survivors not so much. We love our heritage as being rugged individualists and survivors, but we have been coddled into a generation of spectators. We need to be prepared for every eventuality and strong in the face of adversity. Civilization’s thin veneer is more easily punctured than you might imagine. We exist one disaster away from once again struggling to survive. Look up the FEMA recommendations for surviving a natural disaster and be the hardy pioneer stock we claim to be!

Change is In the Air

Happy 2019!  I took a couple weeks off through the holidays.  It was a difficult Christmas with one less at the table, and Alma’s birthday January 1st came as a double whammy.  We gathered to share his favorite foods and tell stories in remembrance of him…it was a good day.

alma's handsThis is one of my favorite stories, Alma describing how he built a breakfast bar for their home.  “OK, so you start with a pile of scrap 2x6s from building the house. You put them through the table saw twice to make them more square, then through the planer twice, then through the drum sander several times per side. Then you cut both ends off to make the ends square, then you put them in your homemade Taylor press with some glue and a few screws. At this point you have a plank, that you now have to run through the planer 4 times, then through the drum sander 6 times. Cut it to size and shape, add some trim, some stain and lots of lacquer an, Wammo, you have a butcher block breakfast

I am beyond thankful to friends and family who have gotten us this far, and look forward to a year of adaptation, change and joy!  Yes, change is in the air.  Blessings to all.  I’m back!

What Happens On Cookie Day…Really?

Rhoads family cookie day occurs just once each year.  Let me give you some sage advice: never give your grandchildren little love monikers, like cookie names.  It leads to hosting a family cookie day where we bake each kind of cookie.  It leads to bedlam!

It all began so innocently.  Matthias was our first, and whenever we wanted to talk about him, we all just said “M” and he never caught on.  Then I had a little Sugar, so the others all asked what their cookie names were, and, well, before long I had a Chipper, a Gingersnap, a Snickerdoodle, a Tea Cake, a Chocoberry, and a Lemon Drop.  If you make double batches of each, that’s a whole lot of cookies!

in the beginningIt begins with a pristine kitchen large enough for all of us. We go to the church, which has three ovens.  I wonder if the kitchen feels any fear…it’s those Rhoads kids again! Watch out! 

Everyone lines up for hand washing.  When Alma was alive he wore an old security guard uniform and his sole function was watching little hands touching faces or noses or hair…it was back to the sink for all of them once or twice.  They’re better now, but Bill watches all the same.

Some of the chilled dough is ready for immediate baking, four batches have to be mixed, and of course, everyone loves helping Katelyn with the sugar cookies. The shapes are beginning to look better, but icing is thick and literally swimming with decorations. Note to self: You can never have too many sprinkles.

When it’s all cleaned up, the cars are loaded, and I turn off the light, I breathe a sigh of contentment mixed with a whole lot of relief.  Cookie day is a happy memory.  I hope when I am gone each one will think of me when they munch on cookies, and remember how much I loved them…enough to endure cookie day once a year, lol!

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Be Afraid of the Nine-Year-Old

I’ve languished for three weeks with a virus refusing to go away. Today I lay, spent, on the couch and a perky 9-year-old wants to prove she can bake cookies without me. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The first comment hollered to me from the kitchen foreshadowed her entire venture. “Nana, what’s 21/4 cup?” Really??? She’s baked with me for years. She reads ingredient lists to me all the time. Her math features fractions on a daily basis. Really?!!

“Nana, is this granulated sugar?” She hauled in a canister of powdered sugar. Really?  Have you read the label?  Yes, I’m feeling very afraid.

But this is how she learns. So far the crashes sound muted, but she’s still on the first step in the instructions.  I’m wondering why there have been so many crashes in just the first step. I’m afraid to look, but I’ll have to, sooner or later.

Letting our little ones grow up is hard, isn’t it? On the one hand, we bust our buttons with each milestone. On the other hand, we pay for each milestone along the way. I’m left wondering if all the universe operates on that same principle. One step forward, two steps back, three step forwards and lose the common sense somewhere in the middle. With each gain a loss promises growth.

Living with loss helps me appreciate the promise, and I’m very much like a nine year old in walking down this lonely path. Minus the perkiness. Minus the sweet treat. Of course, we have yet to taste her cookies, so the analogy may prove true in the end.

Family Bandaids

Life with loss, so they say, is a Chutes and Ladders kind of game. I never played as a child, but I’m playing now. Today I enjoyed a chute that put a bandaid on the hole in my heart. We enjoy family dinners on the first and third Sundays, and they never disappoint.

On first Sundays we have recitals and all the littles play something on the piano. I love watching those little fingers fly across the keys! They usually play something they’ve memorized, so who’s interested in looking at the music or counting, anyway? Aaron tickles the ivories, always a blessing. Today Levi brought his electric cello, and those mournful tones touched my soul.

The hugs and giggles and chaos may be exhausting, but in a good way. Megan and Lori work seamlessly with me to get the meal on the table. It takes two cycles of our dishwasher working overtime to handle the mess. When the toys are put away and the final waves initiate the mantle of silence, it’s a lighter silence. We wear little smiles and laugh about the kids’ antics. Charlie breathes a sigh of relief because he ‘s patiently endured too much love, so he naps beside me. The room feels less oppressive.

I like looking back at pictures with my son and ran into this Thanksgiving picture from a year ago, when Alma was still with us. They say you grieve as much as you love, so I must learn to adapt to a lifelong hole in my heart…but these short reprieves help. A lot. Yes, it’s like putting a bandaid over a sore that made me cry all week long. So incredibly thankful for family.DSC_0152

No Empty Chairs

We put up the Christmas tree. It was all glowing, and at first I felt lighter. No, my scale still tipped at the same alarming poundage. It was my soul. My soul felt lighter.

It took me awhile to figure it out. More than color and twinkling lights, more than cheesy ornaments and memories, more than being my favorite holiday, the tree this year offered me a new perspective. It filled a corner where I last saw my son alive.xmas tree

A lovely burgundy wingback chair usually graces that corner. Alma sat in it many a night on his way home from work, stopping in to chat. It remains my last memory of my son. The advent of the tree removed that last vestige and it didn’t take long for the pendulum to swing back and smack me in the face.

Putting the chair in another place didn’t banish his memory, for I think of him with every breath and with each beat of my heart, but it removed all hope of finding him there some morning, dropping by to say hello. It removed all hope, period.

I find I am no better off than the atheist who doesn’t believe in life after death, who believes that when a person dies, he’s simply gone. I know. I believe in life after death and all, but on this side of the veil, I’m no better off than the atheist. My son is gone. I never got to say goodbye, and I have no talisman to ward off overwhelming grief.

Something will have to change, for life at this point is unsustainable. I need hope. Only hope can bring an easing of the heartache. Only hope can make it easier to breathe, cause my heart to cease its palpitations and stop the tightening in my chest when I try to eat. I need to live again, for a part of me died last March. I am waiting for that empty corner of my heart to be healed, made new, filled again. The empty chair, empty heart ends at some point, right?

 

Odd Numbers and When to Celebrate

ann347. It’s an odd number, isn’t it? Not quite golden, but close. Very close.

We opted for a big shindig on our 40th, never realizing a third of our family would be missing at our 50th–so glad we didn’t wait! I always thought I’d die young, so I’ve tried to squeeze a lifetime into each moment. Now I find the unthinkable has become my new reality. I live, yet the bones of my bones lies dead. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted it the other way around.

Being real, this is my story. My life. And 47 is a great number, because it symbolizes 47 years of learning to be one, surviving our ups and downs, trials and blessings. In this arid desert we tend to grieve better separately, at the same time, but each in our own way. We’ve learned to give space and to seek solace, and our advice to our friends is simple–celebrate now. Never wait. Loss can strike viciously, suddenly, with never a chance to say goodbye. Celebrate life every chance you get.ann1

Here’s the important point: We celebrate together. We celebrate life. We celebrate the family we have, both here and beyond the veil. Bill, I love you. I loved our evening out. Here’s to another 3, anyway. Let’s be golden!

 

Always Find Time to Smile

The world gets whacko sometimes, doesn’t it? We thought road rage was bad, but that devolved into interpersonal aggression in every corner of the country. Between wars, threats of terrorism, Facebook bullying and politics in general, life gets grim…but look at that as all the more reason to smile.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart: The simplest antidote to all this pent up rage is the application of a smile. Paste it on if you have to, but find it. Wear it. Share it. This is the time and the place to do just that!

As a guest columnist, I’d like to share with you one of the things that makes me smile. My second book has just been released, and writing has brought me more pleasure than you can imagine. I started writing the books because I cherish five granddaughters and certain life lessons needed learning without preaching. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with my heroine.

Christine is a girl, every girl, your girl. Perhaps she is you. Born a commoner, she finds herself a princess being trained for royal duties. Doesn’t that just describe each gal on the planet? We do the mundane. We sweep. We cook. We fold laundry. Yet in our hearts we know we wear invisible crowns. We know those simple acts serve a greater good and to the little minions we treasure, we are heroines.

Living vicariously through Christine and her adventures draws me from the sad notes in life and restores my joy. Seeing my granddaughters enjoying the books puts a sparkle in my soul. Do I see myself writing more books? Of course!

And that is my challenge to you, dear readers. Find those grace notes that bring a smile to your face, and put them consciously, intentionally into your life. When you share your smiles, you’ll find others smiling back, and who can be spewing rage when faced with a smile bubbling up and overflowing?  We exercise no control over the world at large, but we each influence a small corner of the world where we hang our hats. So smile and clean up your corner of the world.

The Common Princess 005 book 2 cover aaron