One of my long time blog followers, Sandy, recently reminded me, “It’s been a year.” She was of course referring to the date of my last blog post. But those words hold so much more meaning than just milestones on the calendar. As we round the one year mark of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the struggle for peace continues with no hope for the fog of war to lift in sight. As I grow older, looking back on my own personal past which seemed so simple to what lies ahead can also sometimes feel like no peace on the horizon. I thought these were supposed to be the “Golden Years,” yet the older I get the faster it comes, and the less it feels like gold and more like lead.
I have really missed the blog. I miss digging through my non-creative brain for sparks of creativity. I can’t paint, draw, or play music. The blog was as close to creativity as I ever got, and I miss that. I also miss my beloved companion, my Canon G7X camera which is MIA. And I miss the connections I have made. But most notably, I miss looking for the beauty in my surroundings to share here. As I told Sandy, it’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s that I have too much to say. Yes, “it’s been a year.”
Shortly after my last blog post one year ago, I took a trip to Tulsa to visit the new Bob Dylan Center. On the way back, I stopped for a few days in Beaver’s Bend, which was my deceased brother Stephen’s happy place. He often escaped there to find solace from his complicated life. I thought it would make me feel happy to retrace his steps, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like peeling off the scabs from a seven year wound. In other words, putting my hand on a hot stove.
The morning I woke up to leave the park, my slide-out wouldn’t retract. The park was full and it was beyond check-out time as I recruited some strangers to help me manually crank it in. Then on the way home, the Winnie went into “limp home mode,” meaning the error code of “insufficient turbo boost” began preventing it from getting above 45mph. Figures it would start limping as I came through Dallas at 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon. And here she still sits awaiting a few thousand dollars in repairs while I sit waiting to finding my way out of denial.
As the summer heat intensified, life continued to heat up as well, as I spent the Fourth of July watching the local fireworks show from the fold-out bed of the hospital beside my Mom. She went into the ER with an elevated heart rate, and came out a week later with a diagnosis of abdominal tumors. However, the decision was made that surgery at 93 would be too risky. Since she was having no pain or discomfort, they would just leave them be.
Don was still on the farm installing a new mini-split AC in his Navion RV. Record high temps made it too hot to think about getting the Winnie repairs done until it cooled back down a bit. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After living in the Winnie for 10 years now, seeking a life outdoors while chasing 70 degree temps, sleeping with the windows open, I have trouble breathing air conditioned air. I have worse trouble outdoors when the air being inhaled is hotter than the air expelled. So with Mom being well cared for, I left Texas in search of some place cool. I flew to the UK and did a counter-clockwise loop up through Scotland, across and down through Ireland, and back to London via Wales. I hope I can write about those gorgeous places one day, before the memories completely fade. I’ve already lost the camera. I don’t want to lose the memories. “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” (Simon & Garfunkel)
By the time I returned from the UK, Mom was beginning to feel discomfort. Her long time cardiologist recommended she see a surgeon. The prognosis was the tumors were beginning to crowd her stomach making it difficult to eat and hard to breathe. It was determined a surgical procedure to “de-bulk” the tumors was the only option to give her some comfort. She went into the hospital on 8th November. After two delays in her surgery date, one due to a-Fib and the second due to COVID (no symptoms, just a positive test result which cost her a 10 day delay,) she finally had surgery on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Never can I find the words to convey how helpless and hopeless it felt to be waiting for the surgeon in the post-op conference room while watching the staff walk out one by one, wishing each other “Happy Thanksgiving!” The following “Black Friday” on a dark and stormy evening, the unspeakable happened…
Three months later, and I still can’t say those words aloud without breaking down, or even type them for that matter. I should have written a tribute. But I couldn’t. I can’t.
It’s been an aura of loss since that time, as one by one, family members splinter. No matter how solid you think your foundation might be, when the matriarch departs this earthly plane, the whole world rocks. When the last remaining roots of the family tree die, when the foundation cracks, well…brace yourself.
So now here I am on the farm alone for the first time in my life. Just me and the cardinals. I’ll leave soon, but not without taking care of my Mom’s personal effects first. The more intimate the item, the harder it is. Most days are spent wading through years of family memories. Mom never threw anything away. Going through old boxes that haven’t been opened in fifty years is a double whammy as I sift through not only my Mom’s keepsakes, but the baby clothes of my deceased brother, Stephen who died in 2015. Déjà vu all over again, but not in a good way. Open one box, and there are all my childhood doll clothes, some embroidered with the doll name “Tiny Tears.” Open another box, and there are the “Mother and Daughter” matching dresses cross-stitched by the hand of my maternal grandmother. A hard-sided “mystery suitcase” reveals every “fancy” childhood dress I ever wore, from christening all the way up to the prom dress, bought but still awaiting the invite.
Even disposing of the dozens of bottles of Mom’s medications, I find myself thinking back over the years, recollecting the evolution of each doctor’s visit, and how I came to know the intimate details of each medication, each dosage, when and why they were modified. Some days an hour or two is all I can do, as pain from my past overtakes me.
As I am going through the things Mom saved over the years, much I didn’t even remember, it’s opening one time capsule after another. I wonder…did she save these things because she loved them? Or did she save them because she couldn’t bear to destroy them? The ladder is certainly understandable.
My advice to my generation, those of us well into our “Golden Years,” I can’t stress this enough. Simplify your life. Rid yourself of keepsakes like crystal bowls and nick-knacks. Report cards to greeting cards. Not only will you free yourself, you will free those loved ones left behind to sort it out. Spare them the cloud of grief that gets stirred up with each drawer, each cabinet, each stuffed box or suitcase. I implore you…Do what you can now to lighten the load and free yourself as well as those left behind.
So now I am trying to plot a new course after feeling like I lost my anchor, my rudder, and half my sails in the storm. The compass is spinning, but at least I am still upright.
Here is the way I choose to remember my Mom. This was our last day out before she went into the hospital for surgery. She had just had her “perm” and was feeling quite spunky as she made the most of her frozen margarita. Cheers to a life well lived, Mom!
“When you lose a parent, it feels like a suitcase that you’ll be unpacking for the rest of your life.” ~P!NK
Hard to think of comments amongst the common tears. You are such a wonderful writer – who cares if you can’t draw! I can’t either! ;->
Hope the European sojourn is available soon. (tapping foot)
Precious picture of your mom. She is just how I pictured her. The world’s loss.
Suzanne, my heart breaks for you. Your mom is beautiful. I can’t say it gets better, but it might get easier. Someday. For me, it was wonderful to hear from you, as I had been thinking about you so much. Thank you for your post…..sending warmth and love.
I didn’t know of that line from Pink. So true. Just last week I was cleaning out my file cabinet, not even special memories, mostly old paperwork, but something in that pile kicked off a surge of nostalgia. My parents lived in the house where I grew up and had the same phone # for 60+ years. I knew I wouldn’t hear my Mom’s voice but I called the number to see if someone answered. But I just got a recording that said it had been disconnected. Yes, 7 years ago! That just made it all seem more final. I was so hoping to hear a voice answer even though I knew it would be a stranger.
I love the photo of your Mom. I’m so glad you were able to sip margaritas together on that day.
I and all of your friends are holding you close. Be patient with yourself.
It is so sweet to see you back. The eloquence of your writing, a melding of sadness and grief with a floating tinge of beauty and hope, requires a second and third reading, so that the sentiment can sink deep into my heart for full appreciation of your creative expression.
Your photos are filled with emotion, as well, from the sweetest dresses to cherished dolls and magnificent sunsets. I can’t imagine the depth of your sorrow as you wade through a lifetime of treasures. My heart aches for you, Suzanne, but I know resourcefulness surrounds you and I know your dreams of future discovery will carry you through.
“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken…
Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…
Face your life
Leave no path untaken.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
Your mom was beautiful, and it brings up so many memories of “unpacking my childhood” when my mom passed. I hope you can return to the other things that bring you joy soon, honey. Hugs !
I love that photo of your mom too!! PS: I lost my 92 yr old mom January 2022 and then 10 days later my 97 yr old dad died. We’re next in line . . . 🙁
I can’t. Not just yet. It is too close to home and too emotional. I will come back later, but had to say thank you for returning to my world, for sharing this hard part of life with us, with me. So later…I will stop crying and say more. I don’t mean to make this all about me…I know I am not the only one crying here. Love to you, Suzanne
So sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. I understand what it is like to go through the personal effects of a lifetime. It’s been ten years since we did that for my mother, and I still remember how hard it was. Your counsel to simplify is good, we have been doing that for years. Passages like this are hard, but you will find a way.
I have missed you.
And I love the photo of your mom enjoying the bottom of her margarita.
Big hugs and lots of love flowing your way. OOOOOs
It so wonderful to “hear your voice” again. I’ve wondered how you were doing. So very sorry for your lose. Your mother was such a beautiful woman. You have so many amazing memories to help carry you along. The mother/daughter dresses are precious. Thinking of you:)
Moved, touched, beyond words. Your gift is your writing and photography. The way you put them together is such a treasure.
Travel – literally or metaphorically- safely, it’s quite a patch of road you are on. When this patch is in the rear view mirror I hope your heart is comforted with the most loving and pleasant of memories. In sympathy.
How good it is to “hear your voice again” here. It brought tears and much rumination. Your writing is evocative. It brings on memories, a certain mood and reminiscence. These tears are for you and the difficulties you have faced. Your advice to SIMPLIFY is spot on. Nobody wants to sift through all that. Nobody. Thanks for your heartfelt post Amiga. You touched a universal nerve.
First let me say we have missed your posts. Barb and I know exactly what you speak of on almost everything you mentioned. The family dynamics, the memories, the keeping of things that should have never been kept in the first place. Our hearts go out to you on so many levels. I know it is hard to imagine it right now but embrace the next chapter in your life, there is no reason it cannot be a happy one filled with new adventures.
We were both christened the same year and even though I am the gender that sports the dangly bits, given the custom of the time my outfit, which of course mom has saved just to embarrass me, looked just like yours!
OK, this is not unsolicited advice because we are all unique and have traveled different roads so can’t truly put ourselves into each other’s skin, so it’s just an observation.
When I moved to Texas in 1981 I began making pretty much annual road trips back up to the family home in Michigan and along the way, in the piney woods of East Texas, I pass a drive-in movie theater. Well after the first few years that theater was shut down and abandoned and for a long time after that, every time I drove by and saw that a few more pieces had fallen off it made me sad. But eventually I realized that while I was busy mourning the loss of this icon of my childhood I was depriving myself of the best parts of its legacy. Now when I go by what’s left of that movie theater I smile at childhood memories of family excursions to our own local drive-in. Now I get to relive all over again that delicious anticipation while helping load the car with blankets and snacks, and the late-night warm-fuzzy of being safely cocooned in the car with my family. (Even if I did have to share the space with my siblings!)
When my dad died I dealt with processing his loss, especially on that long drive up to his memorial service, but because of that experience with the abandoned movie theater, I made it my primary focus to embrace and enjoy a lifetime of memories.
That was 12 years ago and his last pair of work-gloves still sits on the dash of my RV. Not as a shrine to mourn over but in celebration of the fact that he continues to travel with me wherever I go.
You have been on my mind for the last year, especially when something was happening in Ukraine. I wondered where you were and IF you would show up here during the holidays as you have in the past. No such luck.
Little did I know that your life was changing so radically and the loss of your Mom is a heavy load to handle. My parents passed around forty years ago but still and all I still remember the loss and the stuff and I’m SO SO sorry you have been going through all of that.
Luckily I have gotten rid of nearly everything as I’ve been in Mexico by either giving it to the kids ahead of time or selling it. I don’t want them to go through what you have been going through.
Just know you are in my mind and heart and hope our paths cross again someday, somehow! Onward my friend.
On the one hand I am so happy to read your blog once again, yet so saddened to learn what the past year has been like for you. Going through everything in the farm sounds like a real gut punch, and I agree 100% with your advice to folks to purge their belongings before it becomes someone else’s obligation. May the memories you unearth be mostly fond ones. Hugs to you as you navigate this new reality.
Sometimes it seems all we do is say goodbye. My sincere sympathy In the loss of your dear mother. Love the twinkle in her eye.
Ok Suzanne, I have returned, after a bit of time to regroup and think about all that you wrote. You talked about a cousin…I hope that person is helpful to you and I do hope they are at least a little bit close to you. I can hear so much unsaid in your post that it makes my heart hurt. I hope you aren’t depressed beyond repair, and that you will find joy to fill the empty spaces. I do hope that you can get back to writing about your British Isles trip, you know so many of us will love every single word, even without the photos. Did you lose the photos too, when you lost your trusty little camera? Is Winnie even fixable? Are there other options? Are you left with possibly selling the farm? I heard that possibility in your words. The photos of the sunsets seemed so fitting to illustrate some sunsets in your life. So many years ahead of you to regroup and continue to reinvent yourself as you have done so often in the past. I went through some horrific shifts in life when I was just a little bit younger than you are now, and they are reduced to stories and I barely feel the sadness. However, the losses, the people who have left the planet are always there in my mind, coming in the night in the quiet times. I know your mother and your brother will always be in that quiet sadness for you as well, but oh my the sunsets and sunrises you have yet to see. Looking so forward to hearing the rest of the story as you move forward. Much love to you my long distance, not often talked with, but treasured friend.
Sorry for your lose. I can relate to your feelings as I lost my father when I was 13 and mother when I was 48. As time passes and I get older I seem to remember them more and more. I agree with your getting rid of things as I have started that process of downsizing to a class B rv.
I can only hope you continue this blog and find a new camera for sharing your travels and wisdom. I have missed your comments for the last year as I have read your musings for a long time.
Thanks for sharing your life with all of us!
So very sorry and sad, too, Suzanne, for the passing of your Mom. I loved the spunky little smile she had on her face in the photo of her getting the last drop of Margarita from the glass. Appreciate the time and effort you have given to your blog over the years.
I was rereading our exchanges from shortly after your Mom’s passing and telling myself I needed to drop you a line, but best intentions and all………than this post comes in and I am so sorry. Grief is hard, especially when having to pretty much share it with just oneself and the ghost of the loss emanating from the physical surroundings. I realize you may not need/want/believe it, but time, and tears, and dismay, and “oh good grief Mom” can bring head shaking and loving laughter too. OH, and occasionally screaming at the moon also helps. Remember dear friend, there are many of us who care and will wait to hear and help when you are ready.
Hi dear, one never knows how one will react when dealt with a blow such as yours. All I can suggest is, don’t force the natural progression of grief, don’t be hard on yourself, and maybe, just maybe, I can channel your sweet mom through a birding adventure = just say the word! 😉 love you!
Susan so happy to find you once again. Think I saw a post when things started closing down from covid.
I am so sorry to read about your Mom, but what a great photo for remembering her. She looks beautiful with her fresh hair-do and drinking a margarita!!! Precious photo. I’ll keep u with you. How do you know so much background information in your posts. It looks like you have excellent sources, so enjoyable. Take care, glad to find you. Please take your time with grieving, there’s no timeline. Mothers are special people, so glad you have great memories. Thank you Susan. Please hang in there, eat well Be safe. Keep you head up and be thankful for all your great trips. Blessings and severe covid. I’ll keep up with you again. So sorry about your Mom.