Looking for Signs

Today, 39 years ago, I remember packing  your hair dryer in the blue Samsonite case. It was the same one you’d had since you were nineteen. You were now 35. You hadn’t been feeling well during Christmas, so Dad was preparing to take you to the hospital.

I was used to these regular visits to doctors – checkups for things of which I had no knowledge, save the fact that I knew your skin was getting harder and harder by the day. Your fingers cracked and bled, you had difficulty holding a fork to eat, and now, you were so physically exhausted, a wheelchair had been rented.

I didn’t know that the scleroderma you had also weakened your lungs and caused pneumonia.

I also didn’t know that, sitting there on the bed beside you as Dad packed a few things, this would be the last time I would ever be this close to you.

You died in the hospital five days later.

There are so many times I have rehearsed in my head the things I should have said to you. The things I should have asked of you. How I wanted us to have a”secret sign” that would let me know it was you, paying me a visit on each day I graduated. When I was recovering from the hysterectomy. When I turned 50 a few weeks ago.

But I was eleven. I had no idea those things would be so important down the road. I had no idea I would outlive you.

It never gets easier each year. I just learn to deal with it the best I can.

And I still sit, wait, and look for signs. Just like I think you did

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Momma on her favorite pier – Bogue Pier, NC. 1975.
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Back from the Depths…

First off, I want to apologize for not having posted here in a very long while.

Truth is, I’ve been busy — this writing thing is starting to take off now, and I’m really excited about the direction in which it’s headed.  Over the summer, I submitted two stories for inclusion in anthologies and am honored to say that both of them were accepted for publication!

The first one — Letters for My Little Sister — is a marvelous book about menopause.  It’s filled with stories from women of all ages and walks of life from all over the world.  I’m one of those gals who never learned from my mother about these things because, quite frankly, she passed away when she was only 35.  My grandmother never shared anything, either, because I wasn’t experiencing (or even thinking about) symptoms when she was still here with us.  So when I opened this book and started reading, it felt as if I had settled in among a circle of kindreds — I poured myself a cup of favorite tea, pulled up the blanket, and started reading.  Couldn’t put it down. Several times I felt myself chuckling in acknowledgement at some of the experiences – of course, my husband wondered what I could possibly be laughing at, but he DARED not ask, for fear of what might happen (I’m pre-menopausal, you know?).

The second book — Women Awakening: Discovering Our Personal Truths — is an anthology of I Am Subject Stories that focus on women sharing how the influences of family history, body and mind, internal/external roles, and life-altering moments have helped shape their lives… and their stories.  The stories are raw, honest, risky.  I would like to meet several of these women in person some day.  Diane DeBella, the book’s editor and the creator of the I Am Subject project, has become a friend via the wonders of technology (she lives in Colorado and I’m in North Carolina), and I hope to get together with her very soon to explore some opportunities to expand on this project.

I encourage you to consider these books and their creators.  Here are links to their webpages and book information:

Cecelia Gunther — Letters for My Little Sister Book Order Page
http://thekitchensgarden.com/book-orders/

Diane DeBella — The I Am Subject Project Page
http://iamsubject.com
For Women Awakening Book Orders
http://www.iamsubject.com/diane-debella-books/women-awakening/

Here’s me… as proud as punch!
My Books Sept 2014

 

 

 

 

 

The Writer Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree…

Tonight was one of those nights where I needed a little “perking up” and some inspiration for writing, so while rummaging through the boxes of old photographs acquired over the years (and yet to be properly archived), I came across something so very unexpected – a “confirmation” of sorts.  It was a little booklet that my aunt had made and shared with the family shortly after Granny (my mother’s mother) had passed in 2004.  It contained poems she had written in 1937, when she was 22 years old and not yet married to Pa-Paw.  Even more exciting was the fact that a poem written by my great-grandmother in 1940 was included. She was 62 years old when she wrote it.

Not only was this a wonderful surprise, I also found it quite interesting that my great-grandmother’s poem was about a bird – now, the mystery of my strange attraction to them may have finally been explained.  Apparently, bird lovers run in the family.

Apparently, so does the love of writing as well.  Not only did Great Grandma Archy enjoy writing the occasional poem, I learned from my aunt that she also wrote for the Charlotte Observer sometime in the 1920s and 1930s under the pen name, “Ichabod.”  During that time, I suppose women weren’t strongly encouraged to write for the paper, so she found a way to get around that barrier.  (Way to go, Great-Grandma!) I am currently in the process of contacting the archives division in Charlotte to see if they can help me find more information…and hopefully some of her articles.

At the back of the booklet were some loose pages.  Brown and ragged at the edges – I discovered they were the original handwritten poems.  There was something about holding those pieces of paper in my hand and lightly running fingers across the words that made me feel as if, for a moment, I was right there when they were being crafted over 70 years ago.

Gr Grandma Archy's Poem 1940
Granny's Poem 1937

Digging deeper into the box, two yellowed envelopes also appeared.  They were typewritten – addressed to my Granny from my Momma.  They had been returned to me after her death, and I never realized exactly what they contained – until opening and reading them tonight.

Mom's Letter 1974

Before me was three generations of writing – and I couldn’t help but see a similarity in my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s style.  But what touched me the most was the letter from Momma to my Granny – 40 years ago, just after Pa-Paw had suffered a heart attack.  Momma had graduated from a business college and worked for a while as a secretary for J.P. Stevens Company in Greensboro when I was young.  I vaguely remember us having a typewriter, and I also think I remember her allowing me to use some of her onion skin typing paper and “practice” now and then.

But I digress.  Momma’s letter was dated 1974 – less than four years before she died.  As the years go by, it’s growing more and more difficult to remember little things about her.  But this letter brought all the memories flooding back when I saw how her writing reflected the deeply caring nature I still remembered and how she expressed specific concern over making sure that a close eye was kept on Pa-Paw because “he was used to doing what he wants to.” She mentioned me in the letter and that I was excited about going to see Elvis (yes, I saw him!) and that she regretted not buying a ticket for herself.  When I read that sentence, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of deep regret also – had she bought another ticket to the concert and joined my neighborhood friend, his mother, and me, that would have made for just one more fond memory to add to the small handful I was able to gather in her short time here with me on this earth.

Great Grandmother Archy’s poem was written about a Mockingbird, but it reflected a mother’s sense of loss after her last child left the “nest.” She needed to “keep on singing” after her children left home, as did the Mockingbird, despite losing her own “nestlings.”

Granny’s poem was an ode to her mother – the one who was her best friend and her “lighthouse.”

Momma’s letter to her mother was one of deep caring, compassion, and encouragement in a time of difficulty — and a precious, unexpected and much-needed gift of memories for her daughter 40 years later.

Three generations of mothers expressing themselves through writing – and confirmation to me that what they say about apples… well…

 To My Mockingbirdby Archy Harris Morrison (1940)

Oh, little bird, come sing your sweet song;
With your notes full of cheer the whole day long.
You sit on your bough and sing to me;
As if you are happy, as happy can be.

And, oh, mockingbird, sing on your sweet song;
Put pep in my step and cheer up the throng.
Who chance to pass and hear your sweet song;
Sing your sweet song, sing on, sing on.

Sometimes the cruel cat your nestlings take;
And you are left to mourn your sad fate.
But you sing your song from early morn;
Oh, who could guess you were left so forlorn.

May the sweet melody that you make;
Cause us some joy and courage to take.
That when our home ties are broken may we;
Still scatter sunshine where ’ere we be.

 

Mother – by Willie Morrison Taylor (1937)

You, mother are the dearest
Of all my friends to me.
You’ve been the inspiration
Of all my childest glee.

Tho’ all the years have passed
Since I was but a child
You have been my lighthouse –
Even your bright smile.

You’ve cheered me when I’m lonely
And helped me when I’m blue,
You’ve made the burdens lighter
And skies of brighter hue.

I hope when life is over
And our days here are done
You’ll have a crown victorious
With every battle won.

 

Living with Ghosts – Finding My Spirit

I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story.

 

“You live with too many ghosts.”

That’s what he said to me one night after seeing the title of the book, Motherless Daughters.  I was reading it in an attempt to begin processing what had been kept hidden inside for over 25 years. So I put the book away, just as I had done with several other attempts to find out exactly who I was.

On the outside, there was the confident, organized college administrator who received glowing evaluations and loved helping anyone she could, especially those who seemed to need that extra push or vote of confidence. Her door was always open, yet, on the rides home, she secretly longed for her own advisor to help make sense of everything and to tell her she was on the right track.   There was the “coach’s wife,” who attended every game and stood (literally) on the sidelines, filming her husband’s rise to fame during a winning season.  No one ever knew her name or even cared to, for that matter – she was simply “coach’s wife.”  And at a showing of the video she had created, his only acknowledgement of her efforts were, “Oh, yeah.  This is just a little hobby she has.”

I began to feel a slow grating at the base of my gut each time everything I said or did was interrupted by a better, bigger story or altogether ignored. I was important, and although I had allowed myself to focus on who I was externally – defining myself based on what I did for others – inside, my spirit was withering.

It took something extremely personal, extremely physical, for me to realize that things needed to change.  That I was an individual who had a name, a body, and a spirit who deserved to be recognized and appreciated.  Most importantly, I needed to learn how to appreciate myself. In 2005, after suffering through years of painful menstrual cycles and noticing (but not addressing) a growing abdomen, I found the courage to face one of my biggest fears and have a hysterectomy.  Since Momma died, I had always had this deep terror of hospitals, knowing they were the places “where you went to and never came out of.” I also feared the simple act of going to doctors because they “could always discover some horrible disease that would end up killing you.”

Something was different this time.  For once, I didn’t feel like the terrified eleven-year-old.  I knew I was taking care of me for the first time. So, in the quiet hours of the first night after surgery, listening to my husband grumble about “having his sleep interrupted by the nurse coming in to check vitals,” I began to heal – on several levels.

He wasn’t there the morning I was released.  No, he had decided to spend the remaining time of my hospital stay at home, studying for his teaching boards.  Eventually, I decided to leave the marriage.

Jokingly, I comment to my girlfriends that I received a “two-for-one” deal when I went to the hospital – not only did I have my uterus removed, they helped me remove an a**hole as well.

Nine years later, I can’t say that I’ve completely healed from the scars of mother loss or the hysterectomy, nor have I fully discovered who, at 47, I truly am.  But I can tell you that I’ve taken some amazing steps in the journey so far.

The man I married three years ago understands that I am on a journey toward self.  Although I have the outward challenges of trying to learn how to be a good wife, stepmother, survive menopause, etc., he also respects that I have some “me work” to continue.

Hubs and I met through our love for music.  About two years ago, we formed a vintage blues band that (very surprisingly) won a competition that sent us to Beale Street, Memphis.  In the past, my voice was stifled by, “No, you can’t join a band. Why would you want to, anyway?”  Now, when I sing, I feel alive.  Powerful. Sexy. Like a woman who’s beginning to take control of her life.

"Coming out of My Box" by Bob Powell
“Coming out of My Box” by Bob Powell

One day, while having a less-than-powerful moment on the journey, I was searching for another self-help book on “taking chances.”  That’s when I came across You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. The author, Jen Sincero, exemplified to me the type of woman I was seeking to become – strong, opinionated, in-charge, creative.  I read it like a college textbook, making notes in the margins and highlighting just about every other paragraph.  I needed to come out of my protective little shell, admit and face up to my challenges, and “get the hell on with” my life.  The author sent out a request for video clips from readers, sharing why they felt they should be selected for her 8-week course.  I submitted…and was selected.  In fact, I’m finishing up the final week right now.  I’ve learned how to maintain focus on what desires and goals I want and to step out of that comfortable little box I’ve lived in for so long.  I am close to earning my B.A. in “B-A.” Heh.

That book that I hid away years ago? Well, funny how things happen.  One night, Hubs showed me a book that had been recommended by someone.  He was trying to understand and support me in my healing over Momma’s death. It was the same book – Motherless Daughters.  That loving gesture started a crazy chain of events.  I joined the author’s fan page.  She sent out a call for stories of mother loss.  I took a huge leap of faith and submitted one.  A few weeks later, she contacted me for permission to use the story in her 20th Anniversary edition of Letters from Motherless Daughters (by the way, my story is on page 162 under a fictitious name).  In March 2014, I attended my first meeting of the Triangle Motherless Daughters Group.  For the first time in 36 years, I was among sisters.  I was able to express grief, challenges, and successes and be listened to and valued. The book’s author, Hope Edelman, was also there. She signed a copy of the book and gave it to me.  Hope's NoteOn May 10, 2014, I wrote a feature story in the Greensboro News & Record about life as a motherless daughter and shared that I was starting a support group for other motherless daughters in the area.  I’ve been contacted by numerous women (and supportive men) who thanked me for helping them and who want to join the group. I hope to hold the first meeting at the end of June. Visit my website http://momlesslife.wordpress.com for more information.

Do I live with ghosts?  Of course, I do, and I’m proud of it.  They stay by my side constantly, gently coaxing me along the way.  They sit quietly by me in the evenings when I feel compelled to write.  They give me the “thumbs up” as I click “enter” and submit yet another story for consideration.  They see that I am beginning to cut those spectral apron strings and come into my own self. If I listen closely enough, I can hear them say, “Atta girl!”

Tending the Roots (of the Family Tree)

I have this jasmine plant that has entwined itself around the posts of the pergola on the back deck.  For over five years, I spent time carefully guiding and gently securing the vines up and around the 9-foot post until they began to crawl on their own across the top beams.  The deep green leaves were beautiful, and the tiny white flowers provided me with calming, intoxicating scents when the right breeze passed through the yard in the summer months.

But this past winter was particularly harsh – on many levels.  As we experienced the most snow and coldest temperatures since I planted it, my life seemed equally as cold and bleak, as I was dealing with some physical and emotional issues that continued to nip at my body, mind, and spirit.  So, as my beautiful jasmine plant began to wither away… it seemed that I was doing the same thing.

Over the past few years, I’ve gradually lost connection with a family member who was, from the time I was eleven, the closest thing to a mother-figure that I had.  The details aren’t necessary to relate here – but they are such that our ability to spend time with each other the way we used to is forever changed.  This has affected me deeply – as I grew older and began to recall things about my life that had been kept “hidden” as a way of protecting myself and others, I began to realize that acknowledging and sharing those memories – especially with her – was an essential step in the healing process.  Unfortunately, sometimes one’s healing may cause discomfort and hurt in others. It was a tough, but necessary, decision.

The phone calls and weekend visits spent talking about meaningless things (and sometimes serious things), the updates on house projects driving us crazy, and the exercise walks on the boardwalk, interrupted by a “rest break” (cocktail stop)  – they were now a thing of the past.  I felt uncomfortable with the thought of calling her on a Saturday morning, for fear I wouldn’t know quite what to say to my own aunt — the sister who had shared her childhood bedroom with my mother and who had promised my mom near the end of her life that she would help take care of me.

Last week, I received a text message that asked if we were “still family.”  I must’ve looked at it at least ten times, wondering how our relationship had come to this – the occasional cryptic “Hello, I’m fine” that was supposed to make up for not talking for a month.  We were both guilty of it.

So I sent a note back to her (still hesitant to pick up the phone).

We started talking about the plants on our deck.  That was safe conversation after such a long time.  I mentioned the jasmine that had finally met its match this winter and said I was going to get a new one and start over.  Then she told me to look at it closely – saying that “when you think it’s dead, new growth will appear at the base, near the roots.”  I went over to the plant, brushed away the dead leaves and vines…

and found this.

jasmine

Beautiful little green leaves sprouting up from the roots.

In that moment, I discovered more than the fact that my gardening skills (and vision) were obviously lacking.  I realized that the moment when you’re withered to the point of giving up is the moment when you must push aside the old, dead stuff and take a real close look at things.  Chances are you’ll find that you weren’t really in as bad shape as you thought.  With a little tending, your branches will begin to grow again, and before long, you’ll be winding your way toward the top of the pergola and the sunshine.

So it is with jasmine… and with family — if you’re willing to spend the time tending them.

I think I will give her a call this weekend. It’ll be nice to chat over a long-distance cup of coffee.

Rockin’ My World This Week

photo (1) Okay, so those of you who know me well know that my “happy place” is sitting in Momma’s old wicker rocker.  The corner of the front porch where I placed it is the perfect location to soak up all the action — a little bird watching, counting the number of neighbors who are (unlike me) taking their regular exercise walks, and watching the goofy kids see who can skateboard on our lovely pot-holed roads without killing themselves.  Great fun to be had here.

But it’s also a place where I go to clear the old noggin’ of the day’s trials and tribulations long enough to focus on those things that really inspire me.  Haven’t really talked about it much, but I’ve been taking the “You Are a Badass – 8 Weeks to Awesomeness Workshop” with author/coach Jen Sincero… and I’ll have to say, that damned thing has ROCKED (I know, I know… bad timing for a pun) MY WORLD in so many ways. When the course started, I worried that I had gotten myself involved in something for which I really wasn’t deserving.  Our mission was to set… and ACHIEVE a goal in eight week’s time.  I had no set plan of action to achieve this goal that had been crammed in the back of my cluttered little personal “file cabinet of dreams and wishes,” and listening to and reading the incredible progress and enthusiasm of the other participants, I was starting to sink down into my comfortable little closed-off box.

Lately, along with the terrible bouts of anxiety that seem to come out of nowhere, I’ve been having these unexplainable little “jolts” of ass-kickery (that’s what Jen calls them).  You know, that gut message that comes so loudly that you turn your head to see if there was someone else in the room? This past week, the message was, “Let’s DO this sh*t, already!”  It came loudly and clearly… and I had to listen.

I sat down at my awesome new laptop and let the thoughts flow.  Sent a story off to a publisher-friend who has an author looking for story submissions about dealing with menopause. Since that stuff has been making a total MESS of my life of late, I thought this would be a good way to give it an old slap-in-the-face and show it who’s boss.  The next day, I received an email that the author was really impressed with the story… chances are, it may included in her anthology!

Then, I really threw myself out there and sent a note to the local paper, asking how I could promote the group I was in the process of starting.  I’m gonna save the rest of this story for another post. Let’s just say I’ll earn an “A+” in my Badass class! 🙂

Louise Hay says on one of her affirmation cards: “There are people looking for exactly what I have to offer, and we are being brought together on the checkerboard of life.”

Ain’t it the truth, Louise… ain’t it the truth?

The Granting of Permission

What would you do…

LMD BookIf the simple act of reading a book opened doors of possibility and healing beyond that which you ever imagined?

If that book helped spark a desire to help others who share the same life experiences and losses as you did?

If you secretly wished, deep in your heart, to meet the author one day and share your story with her?

If the author asked her readers to submit their “stories,” and for once, you heard that still, small voice loudly say, “DO IT. Send her your story right now.”

 

Hope's NoteIf, several weeks later, you received an email from the author, asking for permission to use your story in her next book?

If you connected with another person who experienced your same loss and offered the support and encouragement in pursuing that goal of helping others?

If you began to share your story… and people from all over the world began to read it and respond?

 

Hope and I

 

If you learned that author/mentor was going to be coming to your state, and that she welcomed the opportunity to meet with you?

If, after 36 years of feeling alone in the journey, you entered a roomful of other women – your long lost “sisters” who had endured that very same journey – and in that instant, you felt as if you had finally come home?

 

 

Macchu PiccuIf you were presented an opportunity to experience something so potentially life-changing that it scared the complete hell out of you to even imagine yourself doing it?

If you knew that it would force you to climb out of that safe little box you’ve lived in all of your life and challenge you to go places, both physically and emotionally, that would stretch your comfort zone to the limit?

 

 

If your daily work gets pushed aside by visions of walking ancient paths and hearing the sound of your heart as it beats in time with the rhythm of your steps…and the steps of those who have made the same journey?

If you knew that you would try to find any reason possible as to why you couldn’t… why you shouldn’t take this opportunity?

If you were afraid to ask permission from the only person who needed to give it?

 

Would you give yourself permission?