Take Care

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddSome time last year Elayne Clift invited me to contribute an essay to an anthology she was putting together. It was going to be about women caregivers. Ironically, I was already working on my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I thought about contributing an excerpt, but I chose something different. I sent her a shorter version of an essay I had published in the Saint Katherine Review (Volume I, Number 2, 2012) about my last days with two people I loved dearly, both dying from cancer. “Watching” now appears as one of twenty-six essays in the collection, Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Clift. I’m so pleased to see this essay get new life in this book, and hopefully find many new readers. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart, and as I read it again now—nine years after I wrote it and five years after it was first published—memories of those precious but difficult days with my father, and then with a dear friend, as they were dying, seem as vivid as if they were happening today.

Clift is the perfect editor for this collection, as she learned early in her life what it meant to be a caregiver, as she explains in the preface to Take Care:

My own experience with caregiving began at an early age. My parents had married late, and while my two siblings and I were still young, both our father and mother suffered from chronic and often debilitating conditions: asthma and depression respectively. By the time I was in high school and my older sister had married, I had taken on may of the demanding tasks of caregiving, including carrying out the responsibilities that keep a home going and take care of (and worrying about) my younger brother. After our father’s death, looking out for my mother’s best interests and ensuring her care became paramount tasks that went on for many years until she died at the age of 86.

Clift did all of this while being married, raising two children, completing a graduate degree and doing volunteer work with underprivileged women. A Vermont Humanities Council Scholar, she is an award-winning writer, journalist and workshop leader, a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and a regular columnist for the Keene Sentinel and the Brattleboro Commons. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.

I wasn’t familiar with the other contributors but as I read their bios and essays, I quickly realized what good company I am in. I’m honored to be part of this collection. I especially love Patti See’s “Joyful Mystery.” Her blog, “Our Long Goodbye: One Family’s Experiences with Alzheimer’s,” has been read in over 90 countries. Helen Dening gives us five helpful tips for communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s in her essay, “Lessons from My Mother: Communicating with Someone You Love Who has Alzheimer’s Disease.” Deborah Marshall, an art therapist who works with grieving hospice families, contributes three wonderful poems. Karen Clark, who received her MFA at the City College of New York once owned a bookshop in New York and now edits, proofreads, is a contributing editor for two anthologies and is at work on a novel. Her essay, “Roar Above the Hum,” made me laugh out loud and clap my hands, as she tells the story of accompanying “Corine” to dialysis and hearing her stories of her life as a civil rights activist in the sixties, founding a school in Africa, and eventually becoming the principal of a failing Harlem school and turning it into a showpiece. I could go on and on, but I hope you will get this book and read these inspirational stories for yourself!

You can purchase Take Care HERE, or on Amazon.

Indexing

IndexesI’m working on my fourth book, another anthology I’m editing: Southern Writers on Writing. The manuscript has been through the peer review process and I’ve responded to their reports. While waiting on the galleys, I’m working on something I’ve never done before. The University Press of Mississippi requires an INDEX for all of their books. You can pay someone else to do this for you, but I decided to tackle it myself. Not just to save money, but to gain the experience. And to search through the book in a different way, looking for important references that readers might look for.

First I asked the good people at the Press for guidance, and they directed me to the Chicago Manual of Style’s Chapter on Indexes. I had recently purchased the Sixteenth Edition of the manual, not realizing that I could access it online. I actually like having a hard copy of it to reference from time to time.
Next, I looked at two other books published by U Press of Mississippi in the past year or two, to get a feel for the types of people, places, and other terms that the authors included in their indexes. Then I started a Word document, with a new paragraph for each letter of the alphabet. Like this:

A
B
C

Etc.

Index Delta RainbowNext I started going through the manuscript, page by page, and selecting words that I felt were significant enough to be included in the index, and placing them under the correct letter, noting that names are listed like this: last name (comma) first name.

It’s actually kind of fun, seeing all the references to important people, places, and things in southern literature, and just in the lives of the authors who contributed the 26 essays that make up the anthology.

Once it’s complete, I’ll wait until I get the galleys to fill in the page numbers. Hopefully that will be easy enough, doing a search for each word. Although this author says he’ll never do it again, although he saved several hundred dollars by not hiring a professional indexer. (My friend who published last year with U Press of Mississippi tells me she had no problem doing her own index.)

This may not sound very creative, but in a way it is, and it’s not a bad way to spend Memorial Day when you don’t have (a) a swimming pool or (b) travel plans. When I need a break from the manuscript and from sitting at my computer, I’m cleaning out my closet. Again, not much fun but one of those tasks that feels great when you’re done. Kind of like creating an index, right?

 

Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Practice Balls

About five years ago I was at the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writer’s Workshop, and one of the speakers was Tom Franklin. As part of his craft talk, “The Sucker, the Situation, and the Shit,” Tom talked about the importance of doing research on your characters before writing the book. Yes. On your fictional characters. He even handed out a list of 100 questions to answer about your main characters. I lost the list, but I just Googled it and found it several places online. Like here.

Proust-Questionnaire

 

When I was writing my novel Cherry Bomb, I did lots of research. I researched Elaine de Kooning (a major character who is a real historical person) and the world of abstract expressionism. I researched graffiti. I researched the locations where different parts of the novel would be set. I researched the famous photographer on whom I would base one of the supporting characters. And I had already done personal “research” by living it—by participating in icon workshops at monasteries, and having lived through a different version of some of the main character’s traumatic childhood. What I didn’t do was research the fictional characters.

This morning I had coffee with a friend who has become a mentor and informal writing “coach” of sorts. I had shared with her the idea for my new novel and the first few pages I had penned. I wasn’t happy with the opening and had a number of questions for her, which I thought would help me revise the opening pages and keep moving forward with the first draft of the novel. She agreed with me that the opening wasn’t working, and we discussed some other options for ways to open the story. But then she told me about a workshop she attended awhile back, and how the instructor had everyone answer 100 questions about the main characters. She encouraged me to take time to do this with my protagonist and several other characters before I begin writing their stories.

Set-of-Golf-Balls-with-Golf-Club-WallpaperI temporarily forgot that I had heard about this exercise from Tom Franklin five years ago, and didn’t think to mention that to her. Maybe I had blocked it out, back when I tossed the list. It felt too much like “work” and not much fun. I would rather see a few thousand words of my new novel on the page than spend days on character questionnaires. It’s my tendency to want instant gratification. It’s like expecting to be able to play a good game of golf without ever putting in the work of hitting rounds of practice balls.

And so I agreed to this “assignment” and will begin on it today. Right after I finish sending in the ad copy and art work for the back cover of Southern Writing magazine’s September issue. And right after I finish some paperwork. Maybe I’ll even work out on the elliptical machine. Anything to keep from doing my homework, right? Seriously, I do plan to do this, in order to get to know these people whose lives will fill the pages of this next book. Or maybe I’ll do a shorter version, “Marcel Proust’s 35 Insightful Questions To Ask Your Characaters.” Maybe I can think of it as an interview with each of them. Maybe they’d like a martini or a glass of wine while we talk….

The Leave-taking of Pascha

Today is known in the Orthodox Christian Church as the “Leave-taking of Pascha.” (Here’s a talk given on this topic by a Russian Patriarch in Moscow in 1980. I share it here because I think it sheds some light on the continuous nature of Orthodox feasts.)  We have celebrated Christ’s resurrection for 40 days, and tomorrow is the Feast of His Ascension into Heaven.

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For us, Pascha (Easter) isn’t just one day. We live the spirit of Pascha year-round, as every Sunday’s divine liturgy is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. But when the feast comes around, we celebrate with much joy during the entire Paschal season. We greet one another with this greeting and response:

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!

Tonight will be the last time we will use this greeting and response at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis until the Feast of Pascha next year. (Tonight we will have a vesperal divine liturgy for the Feast of the Ascension, which is tomorrow.)

It’s interesting how people from countries that are historically Orthodox have this greeting and response ingrained in them, whether or not they are actively involved in church. Recently my husband and I were in Beaufort, South Carolina, where we met a delightful Romanian man at a dinner in a friend’s home. When we met him, my husband looked at him and said (in Romanian):

Hristos a înviat!

And without hesitation the man replied:

Într-adevăr, El a înviat!

How did my husband know this greeting in Romanian? In our church many people learn the greeting and response in other languages, and our clergy shout out the greetings as they cense the congregation during Paschal services, and the people shout back the response in the same language. We have people from Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and other countries in our parish, and having this greeting and response said in their languages is a blessing for them and unites us all in our common joy over the resurrection of Christ.

StGeorgeToledo - Ascension of the Lord - Fr. Theodore JurewiczI’ll be missing the service at St. John tonight, due to a book reading/signing that had been scheduled several months ago, (for Tangles and Plaquees: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, at Trezevant Manor Senior Living’s Performing Arts Center, where I’ll be the presenter for their monthly “Southern Author’s Tour”) but I’ll be there in spirit. And tonight at the Feast of the Ascension, parishioners will exchange a new greeting and response:

Christ has ascended! From earth to heaven!

Magical Time in South Carolina

Susan Pat Conroy center signOur visit to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, this past Wednesday-Sunday was nothing short of magical. In five days we ate meals at five amazing restaurants (and dinner at Cassandra Kings home in Beaufort Saturday night); did a walking tour of historic Charleston with Bill’s friend from high school who has lived in Charleston for over forty years; Bill gave two medical lectures; I had two book signings at terrific independent bookstores, Buxton Books in Charleston and Nevermore Books in Beaufort; we visited the Pat Conroy Literary Center (in Beaufort) and met Executive Director Jonathan Haupt; and I had the opportunity to meet several authors and a literary agent I admire greatly.

At Nevermore Books in Beaufort, I was joined for a reading and signing of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be by contributors Cassandra King, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman. Owner Lorrie Anderson was a fabulous hostess!

Cassandra Susan Susan NK

My favorite restaurant was Fulton Five, in downtown Charleston. It has won the “Most Romantic Restaurant” award 17 years in a row, and the atmosphere, service, and food were amazing. We were the guests of Dan and Ilene Lackland. Dan invited Bill to Charleston to give two lectures at the Medical University of South Carolina, and they were delightful hosts.

oysters at AmenOutdoor dining on the front porch at Cru Café and the patio at Blossom, both also dowtown Charleston, were both wonderful. At Cru we dined with Bill’s high school friends, Bill and Sally Wallace. At Blossom we were joined by Julien and Polly Buxton, owners of Buxton Books in Charleston.

Lunch at Amen Street (just Bill and I) was another favorite outing, with She Crab Soup and East Coast Oysters on the Halfshell. Breakfast Saturday morning with our friend (from Memphis) Julia Alissandratos was at Café Framboise, a short walk from Julia’s house near downtown Charleston. And I had lunch with author friend Nicole Seitz at Napa in Mount Pleasant, where Nicole lives, on Friday.

The (surprising) good news is that I only gained ½ pound! Maybe the walking helped.

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Among the authors I met in Beaufort was John Warley, who wrote A Southern Girl, which I read last year, and loved. John and his wife adopted a daughter from South Korea, and the book is about some of the events circling around the social milieu in Charleston. Wonderful book and a delightful man. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

0cc6d8_6728dfa9946a4d518af1d73afe67813dA Southern Girl was published by Story River Books, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press, which was started by Pat Conroy.

So, why do I say it was “magical”? The trip combined so many of my favorite things in five short days: coastal sunsets, delicious seafood, bookstores, writers, old and new friendships, and several stimulating conversations with people who are very much in tune with their spiritual lives. I came home refreshed and renewed, as though I had been on a retreat. And inspired to get back to work on my next novel (which is in my head but only a few pages are drafted so far).

With my spring book tour winding down this week (17 events in 6 states in 3 months) and only one event scheduled for June/July, my plan is to use those first hot months of summer to stay inside with butt in chair and get a good chunk of this next book written. This is the hard part, but books don’t write themselves while we’re out having fun on tour. Stay tuned….

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer's

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s AND A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

An Eternal Present

nursing-home-residents-playing-bingo-1In his post today on his blog, Glory to God For All Things, Father Stephen Freeman writes about his weekly visits with a parishioner who lives in a nursing home. There was much that sounded familiar, similar to my visits with my mother who lived in a nursing home for eight years. The BINGO games. The sameness and monotony of the days, the food, the activities, or lack thereof. I often wonder how I will handle this situation if I find myself a resident in one of these homes some day. I have already begun to ask God to give me grace to bear whatever comes.

And then Father Stephen said something that resonated strongly:

True moral/spiritual progress should be measured more by the ladies in the nursing home. It is in just such a situation that very average citizens, regardless of religious background, are forced into a rather monastic setting. Life is not your own. The routine is as set as the hours of prayer. Everything is focused into the present, or, at most, turned toward an eternal present.

A monastic setting. Depending upon whether or not Alzheimer’s has taken parts of my brain, I can imagine myself entering into the routine as though I was living in a monastery. I feel the need to develop a stronger prayer life as I grow older. To be ready to enter the eternal present.

My husband and I are in Charleston this week, so I’ll let Father Stephen’s post “fill in” for mine today. You can read it here:

“Old Friends”

And now I’m off to have lunch with an “old friend”… Nicole Seitz, an author who lives in Mount Pleasant, just 20 minutes from our hotel here in Charleston. We haven’t seen each other in seven years. Nicole has contributed a wonderful essay to the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) about the importance of friends to writers. Perfect. Have a great weekend everyone. 

Synchronicity at a Book Signing for A Second Blooming

Kathy Susan RiverSo, I was in Nashville (Brentwood, actually) Saturday at a book event for A Second Blooming at Barnes and Noble, with local authors/contributors River Jordan and Kathy Rhodes. We had a good turnout, a great time, and then on Monday A Second Blooming contributor Wendy Reed posted this story on Facebook:

A friend from high school—whom I wish I saw more—texted me: “I have a story for you.”

The last time I saw her was Christmas before last. She’d completed chemo; I was facing an essay deadline. She drank water and listened. I drank a beer and complained. Though I didn’t use her name, I wound up writing that scene into my essay and so sent it to her to make sure I, who don’t perceive straight lines, hadn’t crossed one. True to her generous and kind nature, she thought it was fine.

Her text had piqued my interest, so I immediately dialed her number, and after catching up—she is doing well, feeling strong, and still upbeat and grateful, while I am cursing another deadline—the story she wanted to tell me was about Mother’s Day. In addition to graduating from the same high school, she and I have lost and become mothers, and enjoy reading books, which is what her husband and son went to Barnes and Noble to buy her for Mother’s Day, which good soul that she is, she spent driving to her father’s in Birmingham to go to a jazz concert with him. I think her husband and son had planned to buy her CS Lewis, but in the front of the store two women were signing a book, A SECOND BLOOMING.

“It’s about strong women by strong women,” the women said. Strong women: 1; CS Lewis 0 (okay, not the total all-time sales score, but just wait.) My friend thanked them for her present, vowed to read it when she returned, and headed to her father’s . It had been a year and a half since I’d sent her the essay, but somewhere outside of Nashville a little bell went off.

“Honey,” she said when her husband answered the phone (Actually I’m pretty sure she doesn’t call her husband “honey,” but I am pretty sure she pulls off the road to make calls), “Will you open the book and see if my friend’s listed as one of the authors?”

He found my name.

“I might be in there,” she said, directing him to turn to the last part of the essay. “I was originally, but it might have gotten cut.”

I wanted to tell her how essential she had been to the story, but I was too stunned. Her husband, whom I’ve only met once and who had no idea about the essay, wandered into a store with thousands of other books and walked out with the one book that not only has an essay by his wife’s old friend but also inspired in part by his wife. Is it just me, or is the Twilight Zone theme playing? Some use the word ‘coincidence.’ Others invoke the divine. I call such synchronicity. My grandmother called them signs.

My essay “Woman on a Half Shell” does not trade on faith, hope or coincidences, but it does meander aimlessly, and way more than I’d intended (I dream of writing tight, well-structure prose someday), but maybe, just maybe, there’s something to unstructured winding, to going forward anyway, to losing sight of our destination, to enjoying being lost so that we may find surprise. (Or maybe it’s my idealism showing again.) But I do know that I am delighted to have met Marcella Brehmer Tudeen so many years ago, to hear that her story is going so well, and I especially enjoy the part of her story where she unwraps A SECOND BLOOMING, a gift, and quite the surprise.

ASB CoverI remember the man and his son who purchased the book from us at the bookstore on Saturday. If you have a copy of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, look at page 150, where two paragraphs in Wendy’s essay, “Woman On a Half Shell,” are about this man’s wife! How’s that for synchronicity?

And that Wendy can sure tell a good story.

So can the other 19 women who contributed essays to the collection, so if you haven’t read it yet, BUY IT NOW and dive in!

Book Tour Continues: Nashville, Charleston, Beaufort, Memphis, and Oxford

My book tour in May is turning out to be as busy as April, and I’m loving it. Ater a signing for Tangles and Plaques at Barnes and Noble in Collierville last weekend, I just got home from two events in Nashville (actually Thompson’s Square and Brentwood) on Saturday (one for Tangles and Plaques and one for A Second Blooming) and this week I’m off to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina for two more readings:

ASB NeverMore flierFriday night (May 19) I’ll be at Buxton Books in Charleston, for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I can’t wait to meet Polly and Julien Buxton, the newest independent booksellers in the area. (My husband is speaking at the Medical University of South Carolina while we’re there, so it’s a two-fer! Also looking forward to dinner with friends from his high school days in Marietta, Georgia, a close friend who used to live in Memphis, and lunch with another author friend. I love Charleston!)

On Saturday (May 20) I’ll be at Nevermore Books in Beaufort, South Carolina with local author Cassandra King, and Mississippi contributors NancyKay Wessman and Susan Marquez for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be.  Cassandra arranged this event, and I’m looking forward to meeting her friends, the booksellers at Nevermore, Lorrie and David Anderson.

ASB Square Bks flierNext Wednesday (May 24) I’ve been invited to be the monthly author-speaker at Trezevant Manor (senior living) in Memphis for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

And my final event for May will be on Thursday, May 25, at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, where I’ll join local authors/contributors Beth Ann Fennelly and Julie Cantrell for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be.

TidesOn a different note, it’s always fun to see other work by the contributors to A Second Blooming. This week I found a fun piece by Cassandra King in Coastal Living magazine’s June issue: “The Tides That Bind.” A perfect article for Father’s Day, Cassandra “returns to the waters of her childhood, where harvesting oysters made delicious memories for a father and his girls.”

So when does a busy author get to read? I make time to read every day. Not only because I love it, but because the words of other authors feed my soul and my craft. Yesterday I spent a leisurely Mother’s Day afternoon finishing my latest read, Kristin Hannah’s wonderful historic fiction novel from 2015, The Nightingale. Powerful images of World War II in German-occupied France, with characters so real you are tempted to Google them! I especially loved how Hannah brought to life some of the women who fought so bravely for the resistance, and to save children orphaned by the war.

Next up? I’m trying to decide whether to dive into Lewis Nordan’s novel, Wolf Whistle (highly recommended by a couple of friends with excellent literary tastes) or Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout’s followup to her book, My Name is Lucy Barton, which I read recently and loved. Which one will I take on my trip to South Carolina this week? Stay tuned….

Rituals

 

Mom and me when I was crowned queen of the little league, circa 1961

Mom and me when I was crowned queen of the little league, circa 1961

With Mother’s Day coming, I find myself thinking about happy memories of my mother. I’ve been doing this a good bit this last year, since my mother’s death last May. And this first memory might surprise some of you (who remember that my mother was frequently abusive to me, verbally) but I think you’ll understand once I explain it.

When I was a little girl—probably around seven years old—my mother would come to my room every night to kiss me goodnight. My brother and I had small rooms right next to each other at that point, and I would hear her go into Mike’s room first, and then come to me. I don’t remember us saying prayers or having long conversations at bedtime, but I clearly remember the words she said just before leaving my room every night:

Good night, darling. I love you.

Those exact words. I would close my eyes, wrapped in an emotional security blanket, and go to sleep. No matter how she had treated me during that day, this was what I craved, what I longed for and thankfully received just before sleep. My mother’s blessing. If I heard her say something to Mike after that, I would call her back into my room to say it again. I wanted those words to be the last I heard before sleep. A benediction of sorts.

Fast forward forty years to 1998. My father was dying of cancer, and I spent the final days of his life in my parents’ home in Jackson (we already lived in Memphis) helping Mom with his care. (We also had help from Hospice.) Dad had a lung removed in May of 1997 and lived for fourteen months as a semi-invalid, on oxygen and often in a wheelchair. I would visit them about once a month during that time, and that’s when I observed their rituals. Dad bringing Mom coffee in bed (which he did for me on school mornings when I was in high school); Mom and Dad reading their morning devotionals together; and especially the greeting and response they said to one another every morning:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I remember telling my husband about this and we decided to begin this ritual, which we do to this day. Something about that mutual encouragement to acknowledge God and to decide to rejoice often kick-starts my day in a positive way. When my husband is out of town, sometimes we text the message first thing in the morning:

TITDTLHM.

LURABGII.

Are we simply creatures of habit, or is there something more spiritual—perhaps even more ethereal—at work here? I believe that rituals are a big part of why I love the Orthodox Church. There is something comforting about the rituals we find in our church tradition.

6088bb5795d4447b8b1a56bd32e67bc3When our children were young, we would bless them before bed. If my husband was around he would do it, partly because he’s a priest. But as a mother, I often said a blessing before kissing my children goodnight, and made the sign of the cross, touching their forehead, chest, right shoulder and left shoulder. (Or even just signing them in the air in front of their faces.) The intent was to call down God’s blessing on them, yes, but also to give them comfort. My husband does this for me most every night, and also says a special blessing for me whenever I travel. And when we travel together. We get into the car, sometimes set the GPS, and then he says a prayer/blessing for our safe travels.

I remember a priest sharing with me many years ago his habit/ritual of crossing himself in the process of putting on his seatbelt when he got into his car, and saying, “Lord have mercy.”

There is something comforting about the repetitive nature of the liturgy. How many times during each service do we say, “Lord have mercy”? Can we ever say it too much? Why do we love the repetition?

Ths article in Psychology Today says we engage in rituals for several reasons. One is to try to maintain a sense of control and order to our lives. Another is to find meaning and comfort after a loss, like when people pray after a tragedy. In the Orthodox faith, we have specific prayers for the dead at regular intervals after their death, and sometimes special liturgical foods are shared after the prayers. One practice is to read the Psalms for forty days after a loved one dies. I’ve done that many times over the years and I always find comfort and draw closer to God during those days. Part of that is, I’m sure, that I’m more aware of my own mortality, having just buried someone I love, especially when the person is close to my own age or even younger.

reading to my three oldest granddaughters at the beach last month

reading to my three oldest granddaughters at the beach last month

Have you ever noticed how children love to watch the same movie over and over (often on their iPads now) or read the same books over and over? When I first started reading to my granddaughters and noticed this I would think, “Wouldn’t you rather read something new?” But they seem to find comfort in the familiar, and never tire of the same episodes of Paw Patrol or the latest Disney movie or the words and pictures in a favorite book.

As I finish today’s post, I’m thinking about how writing for this blog has become a ritual of sorts. I started the blog ten years ago this August and have posted three times a week—usually Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—for almost every week of that decade. I wake up on those days thinking about what I’m going to write, if I haven’t already written the post earlier and saved it to publish on a certain day. Of course there are days when I can’t think of anything to say, and it bothers me throughout the day until an idea comes to me. Once it’s done, I find myself calmer, like a child whose mother has just kissed her goodnight.

 

A Time to Grieve Part IV: Rebuilding and Remembering

Ijtg_book_4_covert’s been six months since my last post about my grief journey following my mother’s death on May 22, 2016. I was going to wait until May 22—the one year anniversary of Mom’s death—to write this post, but with Mother’s Day coming up, today just seemed like a good time. And, I recently received Book Four of Kenneth C. Haugk’s series, Journeying through Grief in the mail from Mary Lewis, the Stephen Minister and Grief Ministry Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. This was the church my parents helped to start in the 1950s. The church I grew up in and was marred in on June 13, 2013. Mary’s letters and the booklets have been a great blessing to me over this past year, and this final mailing is no exception.

In Book IV, Rebuilding and Remembering, Haugk says:

Part of what we do during grief is to develop a new relationship—a continuing bond—in which we don’t disconnect from our loved one, but instead reconnect with him or her in a new and different way…. There are many ways to have a continuing bond with a loved one.

Haugk goes to on to share examples, personal stories of ways that people have kept that bond alive—using a grandmother’s recipes for Thanksgiving; curling up in a husband’s favorite lounge chair to feel close to him; lighting a scented candle as one man’s wife often used to do.

Mom and me circle 1953

Mom and me circle 1953

For me, this past year has been about working through the stages of grief in ways that have surprised me, knocked the wind out of my sails (depression, weight gain, etc.), and then encouraged me, as I began my book tour in March for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. Reading stories from those years of caregiving for Mom at book signings has reminded me of God’s grace in allowing me to forgive her, to ask her forgiveness at one point, and to begin to heal what was a very dysfunctional relationship.

This coming Saturday I’m traveling to Nashville for two book events. The second one is a book reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, with Nashville area contributors Kathy Rhodes and River Jordan. That will be at 1 pm at Barnes and Noble in Cool Springs Mall in Brentwood. But Saturday morning at 10:30 I’m meeting with a group of women in nearby Thompson’s Station, Tennessee. They have formed a support group for caregivers, and one of them read Tangles and Plaques and asked the group’s leader/hostess to invite me. I’m sure I will benefit as much or more from their stories as they might from mine, and I can’t wait to talk with all of them.

Mom peace lilyMeanwhile as Mother’s Day approaches, I’ll continue to heal, and hopefully to share that healing with others. As Haugk says:

Nearly every grieving person I’ve talked with has told me they’ve become more caring and compassionate with others who experience losses. They know what it’s like to lose a loved one and are much more sensitive to other people’s needs.

I hope I’ve become more compassionate. I think I’ve become a better listener.

This beautiful peace lily sits by my front door, as a reminder of the love of the people at St. Peter Orthodox Church in Madison, Mississippi, who gave it to me for my mother’s funeral last year. I love that it’s blooming right now, near Mother’s Day, and near the one year anniversary of her death. I hope it will bloom for many years to come.

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