Death is never easy. It is final. It is sad. Why do we have to loose someone before their life even begins? Today, remember those who have lost a child. Death comes too soon for children.
A student asked me in the fall if I would be interested in helping with Relay for Life. My initial gut reaction was no. I had no desire to think about cancer however, I told her I’d think about it. When she asked, it was shortly after breast cancer awareness month and I’ll just be honest here, I was sick and tired of hearing and thinking about cancer. In fact, each time an infomercial regarding breast cancer was shown; the channel was very quickly changed. At first, it made me sad because I miss my sister so very much. Later, it just made me cry. After a while it just made me mad. Didn’t “those people” realize how difficult it was for me to listen to those stupid commercials? Not only that, when at work, every time I left my building I was bombarded by students asking me to purchase a pink breast cancer ribbon or a t-shirt telling others to get their “mammies grammed” from tables covered with bras that had clever little breast cancer awareness sayings written on them. Enough already! Soon, I started making bad (by bad I mean dumb) jokes about the commercials. That’s when I realized maybe it was time for an attitude adjustment. “Those people” had no idea what I was feeling, they were just trying to get the message across to people that there are things one can do to help catch breast cancer early and hopefully do something about it. Of course, that in turn caused me to get mad all over again because Carol chose not to do anything when she was diagnosed. I had to work through those feelings all over again. Ultimately, she made a choice and I in turn have to respect the choice she made. I’m not sure it is the choice I would have made, but it wasn’t up to me to decide for her. All of this to say, after thinking about it more, I decided to form a team for Relay for Life this year, more on this later.
When I first decided to do the Relay, I went through the motions; getting it organized, talking to people, etc. without really thinking of the purpose of the event. A couple of weeks into it the reality of the event and its purpose hit me right in the face. I received a packet of information about many of the things that happen during a Relay for Life event. I already knew this information, but had chosen to ignore it which I suppose was a defensive measure on my part. I started reading about the different laps and recognitions that would happen throughout the evening. Walking for someone you have lost to cancer; walking for someone you know who has survived cancer; walking for someone who was a caregiver, etc. I began making a list of those people I knew who have died, survived or have been a caregiver. It was fairly lengthy. As I was reading through the list of all these different people, I became very sad thinking about those people who have died and as per usual, my emotions began leaking from my eyes yet again. We always hear time heals all wounds. I do not believe it. Those wounds are always there, lurking in the corners of our minds waiting for a chance to sneak out again. Yes, it becomes easier with time simply because we do not spend every waking moment thinking of the ones that are gone, but it never completely goes away. I suppose if we spent all our time thinking of those that are gone, we ourselves would cease to really live.
Here I am a team leader at a Relay for Life event. In my wildest imagination I never would have expected me to be doing this. It is definitely out of my comfort zone – not the planning and fundraising, but the participating in an event about cancer. You know, that disease everyone hates which has touched pretty much everyone I know in some way? That’s the one. I’m doing it for all those who like me, have cared for someone who was dying from cancer. I am doing it for those people I loved that are gone: Babo (my grandfather), my daddy, my sister, and several close friends. I’m doing it for my husband’s mother whom I never met. I’m doing it for all those people in my life who have survived. It isn’t easy for me. Sometimes it makes me cry, but I’m doing it and I’m hoping and praying that in my lifetime, there will be a cure. So, if you are looking for me from 6:00PM April 12 until 6:00AM April 13, you will find me at Relay for Life walking for a cure.
Since this blog is about death and dying I will take a moment to mourn the death of my flashdrive. Yes, I said my flashdrive AND for me it is a tragedy. It had all of my journaling on it along with all the information from every class I have ever taught. Oh, and my resume`. For most this may seem trivial but for me it is not.
The loss of my journal is probably what bothers me more than anything else. Originally, it was on my home computer then I transferred it to my laptop. Because I worked between the two computers, I put it all on my flashdrive and took it off of my computers. BIG MISTAKE! Don’t do that, ever! I have learned a huge lesson . . . always back up your work! That being said, I’m sad. Very sad. Seriously sad. The journals I wrote while my sister was dying were on that flashdrive. The things I wrote after she died and beyond were on it, too. I’m not sure I can ever replicate what I wrote previously or if I would even want to do so. There were emotions, feelings, thoughts written which will never be replaced. It is similar to loosing pictures except these were snapshots of my thoughts. We have taken the departed to a computer shop to see if possibly it can be revived. So far nothing, but I am not giving up hope until I am told it is gone!
So, today, I’m mourning the loss of my flashdrive. It holds some precious memories and it makes me terribly sad they are gone. I’m angry at myself for being so foolish as to think a flashdrive could live forever. In the meantime, I’ll try to reach into the far corners of my brain and see if I can pull any memories of former musings back out again.
Have any of you ever done something like this?
This past Sunday was the anniversary of the tragic plane crash that took the lives of ten people associated with Oklahoma State University. Here is a link to a news story that discusses it: http://newsok.com/article/3749112 just copy and paste. Spoiler alert, you might need a Kleenex or two.
As I watched this video, I was overcome with a flood of emotions. I did not know one of these people personally however, I know many people who did know them. As I reflected on this situation it caused me to ask why. Why did it happen? Why were these lives taken and others spared? Why were the families and friends left to grieve? There really isn’t an answer to that question, but it is still one that we tend to ask. It goes with the whole death and dying thing.
All of those thoughts started me to think about this – how do you describe what it feels like to lose someone you love?
It feels like someone has cut out your heart, stomped it, and then put it back again and it feels like it will never heal. It makes your heart hurt, literally and figuratively. It feels like someone is standing on your chest. It feels like you can’t breathe and then when you finally take a breath, it releases into sobs. It feels empty. There is a void that feels like it will never, ever, ever be filled again. It feels like you will never smile again. It feels angry. It feels scared. You feel like a walking zombie. But then, after a while, (“a while” is different for every person) it begins to feel a little better.
You feel like your heart is beginning to heal. Your chest doesn’t hurt any more. You don’t feel like someone is standing on it. You can breathe without sobbing, sometimes you might cry, but you don’t always feel like you are going to sob. You discover the void is being filled up a little. There will always be a small space reserved for that person, but the hole is smaller than it was in the beginning. You don’t feel as empty because you have begun to fill up with memories. You begin to smile more. Hopefully, the memories you have of the person you loved cause you to smile more than frown. The anger goes away. That scared feeling leaves you. You start to function again. You no longer feel like a walking zombie.
My circle of thinking . . . .death hurts . . . . you get really angry . . . . you cry a lot . . . . you begin to feel better . . . . you eventually begin to lead your life again, but it takes time. Not a specified amount of time, but the time it takes YOU to feel better. It is different for each of us.
Do you ever forget? NO! You never forget, but it gets easier to cope. The memories you have of the person who is no longer with you linger. They cause you to smile. They help you forge ahead. They help you realize you can move forward. Don’t forget.
Today I would like to share this link to a blog written by a heartbroken mother. Before you read, make sure you have some tissues handy!
Here I am looking once more at what I wrote six months ago and again I am wondering why I haven’t been posting as much as I did in the beginning. No reasons really. It appears to be easier to not write when you forget to do it for a day or two. In the beginning, my goal was to post every day except Sunday. I did really well for a while then, it waned. I have decided to start the New Year with the hope of posting at least once a week.
When I posted yesterday and the day before, the reality of not blogging in over a month hit me square in the face! I knew that I had been extremely busy but I didn’t realize that it had been so long. I could offer excuses but what good would that do? So, here I am one year later, still trying to finish sharing my journals about the journey of death and dying. As I think about this I feel rather torn. Do I finish what I started or do I move on? After much debate with myself, (quietly, not out loud, so I really can’t be crazy, right?) I have come to the conclusion that it must be finished. The emotions and struggles of dealing with the death of my sister need to be shared if for no other reason than to bring closure for me. The reason I started this blog in the first place was to be able to help me with this journey of death and dying that was forced upon me. By forced, I mean that I really did not have a choice in the matter. Well, I suppose I could have just stayed home rather than going to be with my sister in the end, but for me that was NOT an option. One year later, I still have the same questions. Why do we not discuss death? Why is it something that is typically considered to be hush-hush? Why we are afraid to talk about the end of life and what happens to a person as they reach the end? Is it the fear of the unknown? Are we ashamed of the emotions we might feel and the tears we might shed? There are probably as many answers to these questions as there are people who read them. If I were to guess I would say that maybe it is related to our own life stories. What we have experienced in life influences how we perceive life and life circumstances. With all of this being said I shall forge ahead and continue sharing my journal pages of the last year. Maybe it will help someone else in their journey.
Tomorrow we will be back on the road again. Hope you decide to join me.
It is the day after Christmas and sadness overcomes me as I am thinking about my sister. It is not the deep down sadness I felt when she died but a different type of sadness. Today I am thinking of all the things we cannot do together. This would have been a Christmas I could have spent with her had she still been alive because we now live so much closer to where she used to live. The holidays were always fun when she was there whether it was at Mom and Dad’s, my house, or her house. We would sing Christmas carols, make cookies, decorate the tree, cook and even have fun as we were washing the dishes. We always had some sort of a “project” to do whether it was working a puzzle, making decorations for the tree, or decorating cookies and of course, there was always Christmas music playing in the background.
One of the things that my sister gave me before her death was the Dickens Christmas Village she had been collecting over the years. Last Christmas I put the houses on the shelf, but I just couldn’t bring myself to really make it look nice. It was just there. This year when I put it up I made the conscience effort to not only set out the houses but to display it in an artistic way. As I worked I thought about Carol and how she would be so pleased with what I was doing. Each time I opened another box with the “extra” things, I lovingly placed each piece in the village and made sure everything was just so. Now, after it is up, I sit back and stare at it and think about my sister. It brings me comfort and a smile.
Sometimes it is the little things which help you feel better.
Some days it’s the little things that set you off. Last night is was Glee of all things. When Kurt’s dad came to see him and told him he had prostate cancer, the tears began. It has been twenty years since my daddy died but all it takes is someone mentioning prostate cancer to start the tears. I know treatments have improved since he died, but even back then, he caught it early. It didn’t matter. All it took was one sticking cell to send it to his bones. When people say it is the easiest cancer to cure, my outlook is totally negative. I keep thinking that it will change but it hasn’t. The next thing that started the tears rolling was a delightful note from a sweet friend who has just finished her first novel. (third book, first novel) There is a character in it named for my sister. What a bitter-sweet tribute to her. Again, tears. So, as we are in this season of joy I am joyful, but I am also a bit sad. It’s just those little things that get to me sometimes.
When writing last night, I had not seen or heard anything about the tragic events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today as I read what I wrote yesterday, it seems selfish. I have experienced the death of many loved ones: all my grandparents, my father, my sister, the maid of honor in our wedding, a former boyfriend, an aunt, and many other older friends however, I have never experienced the death of one of my own children. I have been told it is the worst death to deal with because it is not natural for a parent to outlive a child. I won’t even pretend to understand the pain or agony one must feel. I can only speak to what I know.
My husband does genealogy research. Stay with me, I’m going around the block to get to my point. In the quest for information and verification he often needs pictures of tombstones. Throughout our marriage we have visited many cemeteries while on vacation to take pictures of tombstones and I’ve even eaten picnic lunches under trees in some of those cemeteries. Recently, after a move across the country, we have been on several quests for pictures. Somehow in this process he ended up taking pictures of tombstones for others. This has turned into quite a hobby for my husband. I have been, as my daughter put it so eloquently, “sucked into his cemetery vortex.”
Through this I have discovered several things about cemeteries which I find to be interesting. They are typically very quiet and serene which causes one to contemplate life and death. There are often interesting tombstones, especially the very old ones and by old, I mean the ones from the early 1800’s or before. These are the ones that have interesting quotes on them or very ornate carvings. In fact, some of them are quite beautiful. It seems obvious at least to me, we, as a human race need to memorialize the lives of our loved ones in some way.
Where we live now, the cemeteries are out in the country, up in the mountains and often very secluded or as they say in Oklahoma, “out in the boonies.” I enjoy being in those cemeteries until the sun begins to go down, but then they start to feel a bit creepy. I’m not sure I’d ever want to live next to one. I don’t believe in ghosts however, sometimes, depending on the weather and where it is located, I feel like I’m being watched not necessarily by people, but by something or someone else.
Typically, I don’t feel much emotion as we are looking for names of people from days gone by however, there is one thing which gets to me every single time and that is the tombstone of a child. It always tugs at my heart. We have learned throughout our treks to cemeteries there are certain era’s to expect a higher instance of childhood deaths. Even knowing this, I still get emotional. I always wonder what happened to the child. If the death happened in the past 10 to 20 years I always wonder about the parents and say a little prayer for them hoping it might ease their pain.
All of this to say, if you are like me and have never experienced the death of your own child, don’t even pretend to understand what the families of the children who were murdered yesterday are feeling. Unless you are made of stone, you will feel something, but do not think you can understand what they are experiencing. As for me, I am terribly sad and upset over this tragedy. I am only a person who lives hundreds of miles away from where this travesty occurred who happens to be a mother, an aunt, and a teacher who loves children. My heart aches for the children that had to see and hear what they heard. My heart is broken for the parents and families of the children that are no longer with them. It makes me sick to my stomach.
My heart swells with pride when I think about the teachers and other personnel that risked their own lives for the lives of the children. They are truly heroes. Hug them. Appreciate them. Thank them.
If you are a parent, tonight before you put your own children to bed, hug them a little tighter and for a little bit longer as you tell them good night and that you love them. Be thankful you have a child to put to bed. Savor the moments you have with them because you never know when those moments might end. Then, after you tuck those little ones safely into bed, take a few moments to send good thoughts and prayers to those families who lost their little ones and know it is okay to cry. Sometimes our emotions leak from our eyes because there are no words that can be said.
May the peace and joy of this Christmas season somehow ease the pain for all parents today, especially for those parents dealing with grief and heartache.
This picture was taken in the late 60’s or very early 70’s. Kelly was only about 2, maybe 3 years old.
It has been one year since my sister departed this world. I looked back at my journal post from the day she died. I am feeling much of the same emotions today I did one year ago, but I do have to admit my emotions are no longer spinning out of control; at least, I don’t think they are. You would probably need to ask my husband for an accurate description of this. I have had moments during the past two weeks where my emotions have leaked from my eyes non-stop. Carol would not want me, other family members, or her friends to dwell on the sadness of her departure from this world, she would want us to dwell on the memories we made with her while she was here.
One of the things she asked us (her son Kelly and I, et al) to do was to spread her ashes in a variety of places. We spent quite some time talking and laughing about the “Ashes to Ashes World Tour” prior to her death. (This was discussed in the post dated 6/02/11, but I’m not sure exactly when it was posted, just in case you are inclined to read it.) So far, I have spread them in OKC at our father’s grave and at the Rocky Comfort, MO cemetery where we have several generations of grandparents, great aunts and great uncles. There are many more places to visit and it will happen eventually. Believe it or not, I haven’t spread any where I live, maybe I should do that.
This is a picture I took in an alley in the downtown Stillwater area last summer. Unfortunately, I have no idea who the street artist was so I cannot give him or her credit. I think it would make a great “Ashes to Ashes World Tour” t-shirt. What do you think?
Carol loved to travel, not just around the USA, but to places such as France, Italy, and Nepal, to name a few. She once ate breakfast with an orangutan. She held a big Gila monster. She rode though a jungle on top of an elephant. I always loved to listen to the stories of the places she had been and of her adventures. She was much more adventuresome than I think I will ever be! France was by far her destination of choice with Paris being her favorite city. She always told me Paris was her favorite place on earth and often talked of moving there to which I always protested quite loudly. My hope is to go to Paris one day and visit all of her favorite places.
As I started writing this post, I was crying. As I am reflecting on the life of my sister, I am smiling through those tears. That is what she would want, smiles. She brought smiles to many people’s faces. I miss her today, well; I miss her often, but today much more so than usual. Tears. Loving memories. Smiles. She will always be missed but never forgotten.
July 8 &9, 2011
Yellowstone! Today we left Bozeman and headed to Yellowstone National Park. I didn’t think there could be more OH MY GOSH DAY’s but OH MY GOSH! Daily I am amazed at the splendor and beauty of the world that God has given us to enjoy. Today the “oh my goshes” were in relation to the beauty of the view and not the scariness of the roads! (refer to the 7/07/11 post)
One of my favorite things about Yellowstone was the random animal sightings. When we first entered the stone gates and drove to the lodge there were elk everywhere, in the parking lots, on the roads, lying on the grass, everywhere! They were so cocky! As we drove along through the parking lot they would stare at us and then walk right in front of the car looking as if they were saying “ha! Can’t touch me!”
They are interesting looking creatures.
The other animal which totally amazed me were the bison. Being from Oklahoma, I have seen many of these creatures in my life time. I have never been close enough to one that I could reach out and touch it if I so desired. (Well, once . . . when my sister was in college. The school mascot was a bison and on the campus there was a bison in a cage. I was young, in first grade, and since it was behind a fence, decided I could pet it. I did. It just stood there. I do not recommend doing this to a bison in the wild that is not caged!) We pulled up to a four way stop and I did a double take. What I thought was a big rock was a bison chillin’ by the stop sign watching the cars go by. Bison are incredible animals. They are huge and in some ways rather ugly, but, they have such kind faces and eyes. Although they look fairly gentle, they are wild animals therefore it is important to keep your distance.
She followed us all over the park. As strange as it may seem the crow has become my symbol of peace.
There are the beautiful snowcapped mountains,
the roaring rivers,
the hot springs and of course,
Old Faithful. We sat on the boardwalk for at least thirty minutes before Old Faithful blew making snide comments about how the wait better be worth it. IT WAS! What an amazing sight! Who would have thought watching steaming hot water blow up into the air would be so breathtakingly beautiful? More than anything, knowing how consistently it blows is amazing. Nature is so incredible!
The last day as we were driving out of the park, we enjoyed the beauty of a huge lake with mountains in the distance. The wind was so strong it made very large waves which blew over the roadway. The two days spent at Yellowstone were such wonderful “OH MY GOSH!” days. This was our first visit to Yellowstone but hopefully it will not be our last. On another note, if you are ever in the area I highly recommend checking out Big Sky Lodge. It is about an hour away from the park and is a very nice, reasonably priced place to stay. We saw this moose as we were driving to the Big Sky Lodge.