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Archive for the ‘burial’ Category

Susan and I went to a funeral yesterday. It’s not something one looks forward to, but a sweet friend had lost her Father, and we wanted to be there to lend our support and love for our friend and her family.

Our friends father (Bill) was a very sweet man. We didn’t’ meet him until the rages of Alzheimer’s had taken over his body and his mind; and yet his sweetness shown through.

I had an inkling this funeral was going to be different when we arrived at the church and there were white chairs set up outside. They were placed on a hillside with beautiful green grass surrounded by trees and flowers with a view of the San Diego Bay that was simply breath-taking. I’d never been to an outside funeral, but after today, I can’t imagine any other way of honoring a loved one.

From those who spoke, I soon understood this was a man who was loving and was loved his entire life. His wife, his children, his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Love, love, love. He loved being outside, loved camping, loved sunsets, loved ice cream and coffee, and loved being the family “tickle monster.”

One of his daughters started to speak about his courage and how he emphasized to her the importance of being still, and it was in that moment I found my mind began to wonder.

I began to think of the death of my parents. My dad in 2010 and Mother in 2012.  I thought of the lessons they had taught me, and what it is I still miss about them.  Some days the image of them is so clear I swear they are walking right beside me. Other days, I don’t feel them at all.  It’s those moments when I am “being still” that I feel them most of all. When I have my tea in the afternoon, sitting quietly on my patio watching the birds, sitting by the San Diego Bay knowing how much my parents loved to sit in the same spot some 30 years ago.  Dad’s ashes are scattered in this Bay so that every US Navy ship that goes in and out of San Diego has to pass over him.

The thing is, I never understood my parents – ever. I thought of this today as Bill’s children and grandchildren were speaking of him so lovingly.  I never understood some of my parent’s decisions, their beliefs, their grudges, their never wanting to talk of anything.  So many things were left unsaid, unsettled, unknown. I love them, I just wish…

I left this funeral with the understanding that life is most certainly meant to be lived. It’s meant to be shared with those who love you unconditionally. You’re meant to be still, to be tickled. You’re meant to watch the sunset, and eat ice cream and drink coffee. You’re meant to laugh and love and share your thoughts and dreams and desires .You’re meant to make memories that will carry on long after you’ve gone. This is what your life is supposed to be.

We walked away from the service on that beautiful hill to the Reception Hall where an ice cream social in honor of Bill awaited us.  Ice Cream, every topping you could think of, whipped cream, cherries, nuts, cookies and coffee. For the first time ever, I left a funeral feeling upbeat and hopeful.

As a side note – the pastor who spoke at the funeral had a voice that simply drew me in. She was kind and compassionate, and spoke in a way that wasn’t condescending or judgmental.  As the pastor was speaking, I leaned over to Susan and said: “If anyone could get me back to church, I think it might be her,”  And it’s been many years since I’ve spent any amount of time in a church.

Bill must have been smiling knowing that I had been still and was listening.

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It’s been two years today since my father passed away.  I’m wondering exactly where those two years went – and more to the point – I’m wondering if I have kept the promises I made to myself as I sat staring at his casket on that warm July afternoon.

I promised myself I would take care of Mother the best I could. I would make sure she got the care she needed and I would try to be there emotionally for her as much as possible.

Mother has since passed – but I did my best to fulfill that promise to myself to take care of her. She lived in a wonderful home that I wish everyone with dementia could experience. Her level of care was extraordinary, and more than I could have ever, ever given her, and she died peaceful and in no pain.

I also promised myself I would try to find a way to make peace with my brother and somehow get him into my life. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that – but he was really all I had left as far as immediate family and I was determined on that July afternoon I was going to find a way.

My father died not speaking to my brother – as did my mother – and I was not going to let that be the end of my family. I don’t really know their story –for our family never did communicate. I only know there was no closure for any of them.

A great many things have happened in those two years since I sat staring at my father’s casket. Mother has passed, friends have passed, the world has gotten a little warmer, and politics continue to divide a nation as we all struggle to find our way. There have been floods and tornadoes and storms which have taken homes and schools and hospitals. There have been shootings and bombings and Wars which have taken the lives of way too many Americans. One life is too many – at least this is how I feel.

There have also been in those two years sweet little babies born and towns rebuilt and families reunited from the end of one war. Freedom to marry has come to same-sex couples; a new heir to the British Throne has been born to continue that unbroken line for longer than I will ever see.  Life most surely goes on – this much I have learned.

As I sat staring at the casket which held the remains of my mother – my brother was by my side. I put my head on his shoulder and he squeezed me a little harder. He was kind and thoughtful and strong and supportive. He was everything a sister would want her big brother to be.

I can pick up the phone and dial his number – and he’s there, the sound of his voice comforts me – makes me feel so not alone on days when “family” seems so much a thing of my youth.

I like it when I make a promise to myself – and keep it…

I have a brother…

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I decided this morning that it was time to clear out my voice mails. You know what I’m talking about – all those calls that go to voice mail and you never listen to them, you just see the number and call the people back. Plus all the ones you started to listen to then stopped and never hit delete. All of those messages that one has to listen to in order to hear the one new message that is waiting for you.

I made myself a fresh cup of coffee, sat in my comfy chair, hit the speakerphone button on my phone and dialed my voicemail. The first voice I hear coming through my phone is my fathers. My father passed away almost 3 years ago, and his voice was certainly not something I was prepared for. I hit the resave button, all the while telling myself I would deal with that one later.  The next message brought my mother’s voice into the room. Mother passed away last November, and I most certainly was not expecting nor was I prepared for her voice to fill the room. My father chimed in with her, and I was frozen in time.

I wanted to hit the resave button, but I found myself frozen in my chair, tears running down my face unable to move, and instead of resave, I hit the number on my phone which would make the message replay.

I closed my eyes and let their voices take me to another time. Not necessarily a better or happier time, just another time. A time when I had parents who were alive and I wasn’t that person who was nobody’s baby. A time when I was a daughter and a sister and a cousin; and even if things were complicated – I belonged to a family.

I decided to just let my grief and my tears come.  Grief is a very strange thing – it comes upon me like a wave and I know that I must simply let it be what it is. To fight and say I’m okay – well – it’s useless – for I am most certainly not okay.

I feel lost – although I know I am not – I feel alone – which I most certainly am not – and I feel somehow out of sync with the world – which at this moment – I most certainly am.

I hit the number on my phone which resaves my messages, sit back in my rocker and as I taste the salt from my tears – I smile.  For one brief moment – I was once again a daughter and I was – for a moment in time – somebody’s baby…

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I’ve been introduced to Bronnie Ware and her book: “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” – which in turn has introduced me once again to my life.

Bronnie Ware is a palliative nurse in Australia who has spent several years caring for patients who are in the last 12 weeks of their lives.  She states:  “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets she has witnessed:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Anyone who reads these five statements and doesn’t take a moment to review their own lives is missing the point of what life should be.

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”  It’s like hearing my own voice in my head when I read this.  I understand this more and more the older I get. I’m 60 and the “I should haves” are taking more and more precedence in my life.  When I was in my 20’s I most certainly did not have that sort of courage, I’m not sure I had any sort of courage at all.

Most of my generation – born in the early 1950’s – knew what was expected of us. I lived in a small, rural town and was raised by a Mother who was quite strong – but also quite a traditionalist. I knew from a very young age what was expected of me, and it most certainly was not to be a Lesbian. I was to be a wife and a Mother and not question – anything.

So, instead of questioning or finding any sort of courage – I lied and cheated and hurt many people on my path to living the life that was expected of me. Oh yes indeed – “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

I think of my parents and I wonder what they may have regretted at the end of their lives. Mother never really discussed her feelings and I would never even be able to make an educated guess about her regrets, or even if she had any.  My Father was a complicated man – and a stubborn man – when given the chance to make amends and get some things in order before he passed – he refused and died with things unsaid and unsettled. Did he regret that – I have no way of knowing – but I most surely wish he would have made the effort.

This list of regrets by those who have gone before us is a gift for those who want it to be so.   While you have the time – do what you need to do to be happy in your life – Your life. Not your Mother’s or your Fathers or your husbands or your wife’s or your partners or your friends. – Your life.

Perhaps making peace with ourselves will bring peace to our lives.  I’m not sure one can ever live a life without any regrets – but I like to believe we can live a life which brings us pretty close.

At 60, I am well aware that there is more of my life that lies behind me than lies before me.  When I went home for my mother’s funeral – I understood it was time to let go of some anger I’ve been harboring for many, many years. Anger at family, at a town, at memories… I apologized for things I needed to apologize for, I listened when others spoke to me, and when I got on the plane to leave – I left it all there.  I didn’t want to carry it with me for one more moment in my life. I was no longer concerned about keeping peace or keeping quiet or being angry. 60 years was long enough…

Go back and read the five regrets. How many of them apply to your life? And how many of them can you change right now?  What are you waiting for?

Life is not about the destination – it’s about the journey…

 

 

 

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I found out yesterday that a friend of mine had died. He was a friend from long ago from a life that was lived with lies and deceit – but also with love and laughter.

My friend was a part of the love and laughter.

I’ve been thinking since I heard of his passing about how we all move from one life to another and people get pushed to the side as new people come into our lives.

I had a husband and a family and a job and friends, dogs, cats, homes – and they are gone now. That part of my life has been pushed away – only to be remembered at funerals and when looking through the pages of old photo albums.

For years I tried to think of how I could get away from that life. I dreamed of a life where I lived openly as a lesbian and wasn’t afraid of hurting anyone or disappointing anyone or being an embarrassment to my family. It was only a dream – and while I was dreaming I was also living the life that was expected of me.

My friend was a part of the expected life as we worked together on a daily basis and life in our small town also required you to share in outside activities. Fire companies, fishing, hunting, drinking…  We all laughed together, cried together, and when bad times came – we stood by each other.

Small towns can be brutal when the bad times come, and when it’s affairs or divorce, it’s mostly required that you pick a side and make your stand. And when the affair happens among a group of friends – well – that is the end of the group, the end of the friendships, and the end of that chapter. When we found out that his wife was having an affair with his best friend – I stood by my friend. I listened when he needed to talk; pushed when he needed a shove, and hugged when he needed a friend.

He moved away from the small town, but we still worked together and when I left to go and see the world with Carl – my friend was my biggest supporter. And when everything with Carl ended and the whole gay thing hit the gossip wires of the town – he was still standing by me, always hugging me every time I got home, always with a big smile happy to see me; always my defender.

We lost touch with one another – but we never lost our affection for one another. I would smile when I thought of him and the fun we had working together and the Friday nights when a group of us gathered and ate too many steamed shrimp and French fries and drank too much beer and whiskey. I always made sure I saw him when I went home – always, as the trip would not have been complete without his smile.

I will miss my friend and his unwavering love for me. He was a good man and a good friend. Rest in peace, my sweet friend, Rest in Peace.

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I understand I’m not the first child to have buried both of their parents; it’s just that this is the first Holiday in which this is the reality for me. My father passed in July of 2010, and I buried my mother 5 days ago. The realization of what this means has finally come home to roost in my head and in my heart.

I’m basically an orphan; for that is what a child is who has no parents. For whatever reason, no matter your age; when your parents are no longer with you – you are an orphan.

I’ve spent this Thanksgiving morning remembering…  Mother, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Grandfathers, cousins with whom I have shared a Thanksgiving meal throughout my life. Sweet, funny, precious relatives who no longer walk on this earth, who made me laugh, taught me to cook, insisted I read, and made me a fan of the Washington Redskins for the entirety of my life. Those Thanksgiving with them have been long gone, but on this Thanksgiving morning I feel the sadness of not having these people in my life more than ever.

I wonder… Is Mother with all of these people on this day? Are they gathered around a table somewhere oohing and ahhing over Aunt Jean’s turkey? Is there a mincemeat pie for my father, are they singing campfires songs as they do the dishes, and is Uncle Mike enjoying his 7 and 7 as he watches the Redskins play? Is there 40’s music playing quietly in the background, and are they sitting around the table drinking their coffee out of bone china cups reserved strictly for Holidays?  I think about these things.

Susan and I have a wonderful family – There are kids and grand-kids and lots of love to go around. We gather together, we eat too much, we watch the games, we spoil the children – it’s a traditional Thanksgiving. I’m blessed to have such a family.

I am also blessed to have friends in my life who love me and support me – no matter what.  They have been there for me with calls and texts and messages and love and hugs. Their kindness and compassion assure me daily of all that is right and good with the world. I can’t imagine my life without these people – these friends – in it.

Still – the reality on this Thanksgiving morning that I am an orphan is a new obstacle that I have to face.  Granted, it’s an obstacle that every child has to endure and learn to negotiate on their own terms, however, this is now my reality – my obstacle – my life.

Just because these relatives have died – have I stopped being a daughter?  A Granddaughter?  A niece?  A cousin?  I think about these things and I wonder…

Tomorrow with be better and the day after that better still – The reality is that our lives can be over in the blink of an eye – we must live every moment and be thankful every day. Orphaned or not – Life goes on, and I have so much to be thankful for…

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I just spent a week in the bosom of my family – not by choice – but because my mother passed away suddenly and I went home to honor her memory and lay her to rest beside her Mother and Father.

To be clear – most of my family has no idea who I am.  I left the place of my birth and the people with whom I share a blood connection over 30 years ago, and most of them don’t understand why I left or why on earth I haven’t returned! In their minds-eye I’m whatever age they remember me being before I left the little village we called home.

Also, to be clear –

The discussion of my being gay seems to permeate conversations whenever I’m around some of these people with whom I share DNA. I don’t know why – it fascinates and sickens them at the same time.  I was hopeful since I was there to bury my mother they might lighten up on such things and simply let me mourn in some sort of peace the week I was there.

I was wrong.  Throughout the week – this was my experience:

I was told that my family loved me and that they wanted me to make an effort to be a part of the family once again.  They didn’t understand the whole “gay” thing, and they still believe it’s a choice I made, and the Bible still says it’s wrong – but – they want me to feel welcome and loved…

Yes sir – warm and fuzzy – that’s how I was feeling.

For the sake of peace and harmony – I tried to hug one of the Bible relatives to thank her for bringing a desert to the church for my mother’s service, only to have her recoil like I had a gun to her head. She couldn’t look at me and walked past my partner Susan as if she didn’t even exist.

Oh yes – welcomed and loved – I was feeling it.

I was also informed that there was no way they were going to stop eating at Chick-Fil-A and if that upset me – well that was too bad.  Besides – why should I care where they eat they asked me.  They don’t care where I eat. Even after Susan explained to them where the money goes and what the money does – They informed us that they wouldn’t be giving up their chicken sandwich, waffle fries and sweet tea for nobody!

And – by the way – why do I have to write so much about gay issues? And why am I making such a big deal out of it? And – Why do we gay people have big parades and our own Oreo cookie?

Lord… Give me strength.

I came to the sad realization that there are members of my family who are just hate-filled people who believe that their religion gives them the absolute right to treat me with no respect and condemn my sick little soul to hell.  So be it.  Condemn away…

I also came to the sad realization that there are members of my family who are content to stay un-educated and ignorant to the fact that there is a world that exists outside of the confines of their little village. A world filled with wonder and excitement and diversity.  A world where stuffing isn’t considered a vegetable and going to Chick-Fil-A isn’t considered a night on the town!

On the other hand – I came to understand that there are members of my family who love me with no strings attached. They love me for me; they hugged me to death and comforted me and made me feel safe. There was no talk of Chick-Fil-A or anything gay – I was simply cared for in the most loving of ways.

And my sweet home-town friends who were there for me – no questions asked, with smiles and hugs and more love than I could have imagined. These are friends of the heart – not friends of the road.

The world is filled with the Chick-Fil-A eating crowd – Bless them – and let them go.  I won’t stop writing or marching or protesting their ignorance no matter how they wish that I would – and that gay Oreo cookie? I’d send a case to every Chick-Fil-A loving member of my family – if the cookie really existed!

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