Tag Archives: grief

The Importance of Being Kind

Hubby came to me this morning to ask if Kate was OK. She’s not.

She hasn’t been herself for a while now. She seems to be managing the loss of her best friend, Big Sister, over some childish disagreements that occurred last fall. At least, she was managing just fine until the prom pictures hit FB and comments were made. Not that anyone said anything even remotely negative about Kate. She and Little Sister went to prom with several other friends. Before they left, I took pictures of the two of them together. Little’s dress was very elegant and refined and a bit vintage 40’s. Her mom and I agreed that they looked like they had just stepped off some ocean liner from the days before cruise ships, as first-class passengers, of course.

On the surface, Big and Little have patched things up. They used to be very close, just like Kate and Big were, but Kate and Big had been friends for so many more years. And the reconciliation between Big and Little is superficial at best: their relationship is certainly not what it ever was. Back at the FB photos, Big decided to comment on how beautiful Little looked; she made the comment on one of my pictures of Little and Kate.

If you know anything about teenage girls, and just how cruel they can be to each other, then you probably recognize the insult Big laid on Kate by excluding her from the accolades given to Little. Common courtesy dictates that you be polite and not exclude people from conversation, even people you don’t know very well or are currently having relationship issues with. Had the situation been reversed, had someone left a compliment of a photo of Big and a friend, and Big was not included in the compliment, she would pout about it. More likely, she’d throw a hissy fit about it. (Hissy fit: above the Mason-Dixon, that would be ‘temper tantrum’.) I can hear it now, because I’ve heard it before: “Everyone is so mean to me! They deliberately left me out! They could have said ‘You’re BOTH beautiful’ instead of ‘You, Big Sister’s friend, are beautiful, (and you, Big Sister, aren’t worth commenting on.)'”

Kate noticed the comment right away, but said nothing about it until Sunday afternoon. But when she finally decided to talk about it, the floodgates opened, the tears poured, and ten years of suppressed emotion came flowing out: the difficulties of being Big’s friend; enduring her temper tantrums; wondering what she’d done to cause Big to completely ignore her for weeks at a time, incidents so insignificant as to be ridiculous. Here’s one: In middle school, Big wanted Kate to sit next to her on the bus but there was no room in the seat. Kate sat behind her, or in front of her, doesn’t matter. Big did not speak to Kate for 4 weeks after that, until her dad reminded her that she was being petty and needed to remember who her friends, her one real friend, was and always had been. She called Kate and things were resolved. Big has asked for my advice many times. She’s come to me, in tears, usually upset over something her step-mom had said or done. And I held her in my arms like she was my own daughter, let her cry it out, and then talk her through it. I’ve been her mother when she needed one.

Now I am evil. I’ve never been there for her. As a matter of fact, no one in our family has ever really cared about her for as long as we’ve known her–10 years. She used to call Hubby “dad”; she called my mom “Grandma”. Now, Kate is “NOT her friend.” (her words and her emphasis)

So, back to this morning. Hubby is wondering what’s wrong with Kate. Looks to me like she’s working her way through two of the stages of grief. I think she completely skipped “denial” and “bargaining” and is currently working on “anger” and “depression”. “Acceptance” was the only stage Kate didn’t have any qualms about; she immediately accepted the fact that Big was gone from her life. But she’s still grieving. There is a hole in Kate’s heart, ten years big, and it won’t fill itself back up overnight. And Kate’s not the only one working through this. I am currently mired in “anger”. I tried reconciliation between Big and me, to no avail. Big has no intention of reconciling.

Sunday afternoon Kate poured her heart out, about how hard she’d tried over the years to help Big, to be there for her when she needed a friend, about how her efforts were ignored or insulted. Big has had a rough go of it: emotional and physical abuse by her step-mom; her dad works long hours and has little time for her. The list is long and some of it is downright ugly. Looking back on their relationship, I see an emotionally scarred girl, Big Sister, who always needed someone she could put a leash on and control.  She learned that negative attention is better than no attention at all. She learned how to take, but not how to give back. She learned to manipulate other people, but not how to help them. Kate has been the one on the leash, and we’ve all been recipients of Big Sister’s behavior. We’re all hurting. Maybe Big Sister is hurting too. Maybe she’s realizing her destructive behavior has consequences. Maybe she’s ready to address the real issues.

Or it could be that she’s hurting because she keeps burning bridges behind her as she sweeps the people who truly cared for her out of her life like so much trash from the floor? She’s not very adept at building new bridges, and the ones she does build are all one-way. Accidents, some of the fatal, are bound to happen.

I’m proud of Kate’s decision to finally remove the leash. The scars under the collar that bound Kate to Big are still healing and that will take time.


In the meantime, this came from Little Sister yesterday:

“Today, I saw two men. They were on the side of the street. One had a cast and crutches and struggled to walk… The other was strong and generous. He grabbed the guy and slung him on his shoulder. He carried the man down the side walk as we walked by. I have not witnessed such kindness as this until now. If it wasn’t a sign, what was it.”

Well, look at that: a teachable moment.

Dear Kate and Little,

What you witnessed today was an act of kindness. It was someone reaching outside himself, maybe going out of his comfort zone, to help a fellow human being. It’s not hard to do, but it can be scary when you do cross the line that marks the edge of your comfort zone for the first time. Try it. The opportunities are everywhere. You just need to learn to recognize them. If you’re standing in line somewhere, talk to the people around you. You know how many homeless people there are in our little neck of the woods. Next time you and Kate go out for a snack, get an extra one and a bottle of water, and give them to the guy standing at the intersection. Offer to take the shopping cart back to the corral for the young mom with a baby in her arms and a toddler at her side. Say ‘Hello’ to someone who looks like they could use a kind word. Being kind can make you vulnerable to hurt, but it can also make you feel better about the world. It might be the first time anyone has spoken to that person on that day, maybe even longer. If you’re really lucky, you might wind up with a life-long friend like I did. Not everyone is a user. Not everyone is a taker. Not everyone is out to manipulate you to do their bidding. Trust yourself, and do what you know is right.

Love, Mom

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears.

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

-William Wordsworth


it sneaks up on you when you’re not looking



It’s been four years since my dad died, in early November 2004. That first Thanksgiving was, um, difficult because I was behind the locked doors for a few days.

But each year has been a litle easier. The bad memories, the ones of illness and hospitals and waiting for hours, uncertain about what was coming next, have begun to fade. The good memories, of Thanksgivings past, spent at Oak Island or home in Virginia, are becoming more vivid. Like the year we stayed up until 0’dark-thirty in the morning watching My Fair Lady, or the year Daddy went to WalMart on Black Friday to buy….cookies.

So here we are. It’s 2008, Mom has remarried to a wonderful man with a huge family. I’m getting to know my new step-brothers and step-sisters and their families….I may need to buy Christmas cards ’cause I don’t think I have enough in my stash! Our parents’ wedding celebration last weekend was a trip, literally and figuratively. Parties are way more fun with lots of people, and there were lots of us.

Thursday we traveled to spend Thanksgiving with Hubby’s family in Virginia. Lots more people. It’s funny, but I actually met Hubby’s brother before I met Hubby, in high school band. And his girlfriend, now his wife of way more years than I should admit. So when we get together the topic of high school or high school acquaintances will invariably come up. One of Hubby’s nieces found some old photo albums and started flipping through them. What a marvelous time! We laughed at our 80’s haircuts, about how skinny we all were back then. We looked at wedding pictures, bridesmaids in a rainbow of pastel-colored dresses, all made by the brides mother. Does anyone do that anymore? It’s so NOT Vera Wang.

Then there were albums of candids from all over. Niece found a picture of hubby and me taken on Halloween in, oh, about 1982. Definitely before we got married. I found a dress, hat and some beads and went to the party as a flapper. (And yes, I can do the Charleston.) Hubby, well, I think this was the year had put on mismatched suit pants and jacket, white socks, loafers, and put a bag over his head and declared himself to be the “Unknown Comic.” (And if you reach way back into the cobwebs of your 1970’s mind and retrieve the Gong Show, you’ll remember the Unknown Comic. Of course, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine was my personal favorite. I digress.) Niece has challenged me to scan the photo and put it on facebook as my profile picture, which will be done before the end of business today.

There were other pictures from 1982. Various Hubby-family functions, cute babies, etc. But there was one event that year that brought both of our families together for a party: my college graduation. We used to have a cabin on New River where we’d go on weekends to rest, eat, fish, eat, visit with river friends, eat. And in the summer the river was perfect for tubing. So we had a graduation party for me at the cabin, and hubby’s family (only he was boyfriend then) were all there. There were pictures of the river, which is lovely. There were pictures of us tubing the river. There was a picture of my graduation cake: Garfield. I love orange tabby cats, even the cartoon variety. Then someone turned the page and there it was: a picture of three of the “adults” in attendance that day, all standing next to the river in a semi-circle, laughing. Two of them were immediately recognizable: Hubby’s parents. Both of them passed away in 2004 as well. The third person was standing at a funny angle, face in 3/4 perspective. So I looked a little closer and…it was Daddy. Smiling, his hands seeming to be in motion, as he was known to do when telling a story or making a point.

And he was young. Younger than I am now. He looked so happy, not a care in the world. He loved the river, and my heart broke for him when, many years later, it became too difficult for him to keep up the maintenance on the property and he and Mama sold it.

I looked at the picture and managed not to cry, but to remember the fun we had that day. I missed my dad, again. But I was also thankful to have had him, thankful to see that his influence could be seen in other peoples’ lives, people who weren’t my family then, but have become dear family to me in the years since.

Grief sneaks up on you when you’re not looking for it. You turn a page, empty a drawer, rummage through the basement looking for the yard rake, and something catches your eye.

But other things can sneak up on you when you’re not looking: love, joy, friendship.

My mom found new love, and while I wasn’t looking, I found friendship and joy.

Little Girl, Lost

The little girl I used to be is lost in my basement.

I went down there yesterday looking for a book. I found these pieces of that little girl, scattered in cardboard boxes, plastic storage boxes, and a trunk:

a naked, dirty baby doll.

a plastic circus elephant coin bank; you put the penny in his trunk, pull his tail, and he throws the penny into his back.

her first pair of prescription eyeglasses.

a broken souvenir of the Empire State Building, given to her by her first “boyfriend”; he was 5, she was 4. His mother was her babysitter. He went to New York on a vacation and brought her back the souvenir.

clothes that she made for herself when she was 10 or 11: a skirt, a blouse, shorts, a dress.

one of her favorite sweatshirts: there are two sets of footprints facing each other. One set has 6 toes on each foot. The other set says, “I like you. You’re different!”

her only ballet costume and black ballet shoes.

a pocketbook.

a list of students from her fourth grade class: Chris F, Robby R, Regina H, Tammy M. Contrary Goddess is on that list too.

“Teaching Little Fingers to Play”, “My Recital Book”, “My First Hymn Book”: all circa 1965.

school books: Virginia History and Geography, Spelling Correctly, Journey Through the New World.

a stuffed black bear, souvenir from her trip to the Smokey Mountains when she was 9.

Evening in Paris, purchased at the Ben Franklin on Front Street.

Avon bottles in cartoon character shapes, that used to contain shampoo.

vinyl records: 45s, LPs of Donny Osmond, The Jackson 5.

a matching scarf, hat and mitten set, green and gold striped.


a single blue mitten that she knit herself.

her girl scout handbook.

a heart-shaped pink box that began its life as a Valentine candy container. Now it holds broken costume jewelry, an old wallet, string, various other junky broken things. I think her daddy gave her the candy, but I’m not sure.

Who is this girl, and why is she in pieces in my basement?  

I cried for her. Hard. For hours.

And I can’t seem to stop.

The Part Where (I)We Let Go: Chapter 2

The next morning husband and I awoke to find mama already gone back to the hospital. We followed a little while later. It was now Thursday, November 4. Daddy had gone into a coma overnight. He would rest for a while, then become agitated. At some point during the day a nice lady with a small harp came through the ICU, asking to play for each patient. She played for a little while and daddy seemed to relax a little. But after about 45 minutes he became restless and we asked her to leave. I don’t remember much else about that day, other than watching daddy, looking out the hospital window, and talking with the people who came to visit. My husband left the hospital for a while. He’d just gone through this with his mother the past May, and his father in June. In the evening, around 8:00 I think, we were all in the family waiting room taking a break when daddy’s doctor came and asked to see mama. She went with him and was gone maybe 10 minutes. When she came back into the waiting room, she fell onto the floor, in tears. They had taken a CT scan earlier and it showed massive bleeding into the brain. The doctor gave her 30 minutes to decide if she wanted to transfer daddy to another hospital for aggressive surgery, or let it be. Since daddy already had an implant defibrillator she didn’t see putting him through anything else. Husband and I agreed. She relayed our decision back to the doctor, and we went back to his bed.

Mama and daddy’s best friends from their church were there, and we spent about an hour talking with them, talking to daddy, reading from Psalms. And they started discussing plans for his memorial service. It was surreal, but not frightening. At one point daddy’s friend J. mentioned a gospel quartet piece that daddy had really liked. J. couldn’t remember the name of it, but he started singing it. Amazingly enough, it was something that I sang w/ our praise team at our church. I couldn’t believe it! We decided right then to ask the choir to sing this at the memorial service, and I asked to sing with them. The name of it is “He Never Failed Me Yet”.

On Friday, my husband came home to pick up the kids and bring them to Virginia to wait w/ us. I had a CD that I’d put in my mom’s car when I drove it home the night before. She never left the hospital after that first night, except to go for food, I think. Anyway, the CD is called “Revival in Belfast”, and it’s very popular in contemporary Christian music. She went out for lunch or something and my CD was playing in her car. She’d never heard it before, and I think the first thing she heard was “Days of Elijah”, a very uplifting song. There’s another, “When It’s All Been Said and Done”, that speaks directly to how we should live as Christians. She brought the CD into daddy’s room and we listened to it a lot over the next couple of days.

Through Friday and Saturday we talked to daddy, told him it was ok to go, that we would be ok. For some reason that I can’t remember, we weren’t allowed to turn the defib unit off. But we were allowed to slow it down to the max. He held on though. Saturday night mama sent us home to get some rest. She called us around 7:00 the next morning. He was gone, having died just at sunrise on Sunday November 7, 2004. She’d played music for him all night, sitting up w/ her best friend. The last thing she played, the music he heard here when he left, was “Days of Elijah”. She said it was like a celebration. Husband and I went to the hospital. The nurses brought us breakfast and let us sit with daddy as long as we wanted. We left around 8:30. My kids didn’t see daddy in the hospital, a decision that we made together. They had already seen their other grandparents in hospitals, nursing homes, and caskets. All within the past 6 months. Enough.

 That Sunday was special in my parents’ church, because they were beginning the process of raising funds to build a new church, having outgrown their space. Daddy had made a wooden box that had been used before for taking special offerrings. He had refurbished it, fancied it up, for this particular Sunday. We think he waited around just long enough to make sure they used it.

The letting go continued.

The Part Where (I)We Let Go: Chapter 1

I have a new favorite band, HEM. I must be living in a cave or a barn or something, because I’m finding music that I love, that everyone else already knows about. If this title isn’t a familiar title to you, and you watch television, you’ll recognize it as music from a Liberty Mutual Insurance commercial. Whatever.

The past few weeks have been so, what, frustrating? Boring? I went into knee surgery on September 28, thinking I was walking out the door. But I came out on crutches, and am still on crutches, and will be through the rest of the year, most likely. My fingers, toes and eyeballs are crossed in hope that, after this Thursday, I can “officially” bear weight on my right leg, which means I can drive. Unofficially, I’ve been walking around my house most of the time and only doing the crutch thing when I go out, which hasn’t been that much. Did manage to hit a Switchfoot / Reliant K concert last Friday that was great.

This particular week, the first week of November, is not one of my favorites. On November 3, 2004, my daddy had a stroke. It was Wednesday, the day after the elections. He and mama were at the bowling alley, doing their league thing. They had just finished the first game. I don’t know what he bowled, but I think it was something in the low 200’s. He was always a good bowler. And if you think bowling isn’t a sport, give it a try. Especially if you have knee or back issues. You’ll find out. Anyway, daddy fell or something and someone recognized what was happening to him and called EMT. The got him to the hospital very quickly. Luckily they were at the bowling alley and not at home when this happened, because the bowling alley was about 10 miles closer to the hospital than home was. Last April during the Va Tech tragedy the media was set up at this same hospital. Every time I saw a report from Blacksburg, and saw the entrance to that hospital, my mind went back to November 3, 2004.

I think I mentioned earlier somewhere, that day at work was just nasty. I was assigned to two projects: one in system test, the other in heavy development. There were meetings throughout the day on the two projects. My code in system test was working just fine, thank you very much. But some of the other programmers were having trouble, and I kept receiving error reports to debug that were from other programmers’ code. One other programmer in particular. I was new to this system and development environment; she was a veteran; I was supposed to fix her errors, because she had so many other errors in so many other facets of the project that she didn’t have time to get to them all. Did I mention that error reports were to be cleared in 24 hours? So, in meetings on the project in system test, I was reporting on her errors and not on test results from my own code, because we hadn’t gotten to my code yet because hers kept crapping out. Somehow, I was responsible for that.

On to the development project meetings: where are you on task 23? Not there yet, working on system test errors. What about task 24? Not there yet, because I haven’t gotten to task 23 yet, because I’m working on system test errors. Did I mention that those errors weren’t mine?? I went through two of these meetings, the second one ended about 2:00 in the afternoon. My boss followed me back to my cubicle with a view. Man, did I have a view, the only thing that made going to work tolerable there towards the end. On a clear day I could look out of my 17th floor window, due north, and see Pilot Mountain, and farther in the distance, the Blue Ridge. Awesome. Anyway, boss follows me, I sit down, he stands at the window and tells me I have a problem. I ask him what problem is that? (I know of several, but which one is he wanting to discuss?) My problem, says boss, is that my priorities are not in order. I ask him about that, because I”m genuinely curious. His answer: my focus should be on development, which was something I really liked about what I did. I told him, honestly, that I would prefer that myself, but as long as he assigned me other programmers’ errors to correct, each having a 24-hour turn-around, I had to focus on those first. He told me no I wasn’t. I got really confused. So he told me that I had to figure out some way to do both simultaneously such that, all errors were corrected and development would move forward. I told him I had a headache, probably migraine, coming on and that I was going home. I packed up my laptop and my files and headed home around 2:30.

At 3:00 I walked in my front door at home. The phone was ringing. My daughter had just gotten home from school. She was reading the caller ID and asking me if she should answer the phone. I told her it was OK, so she picked up. I listened to her talking very calmly with someone about school, about her new horse. I dropped the laptop, files, coat, etc. as she said “Here’s my mom” and handed the phone to me. Silence on the other end. The my mom’s voice, screaming. “Daddy, stroke, bad, you and husband come now, don’t bring kids, hurry please.” I don’t remember what I did next. I must have called my hubby because he was there almost instantly. I think I told the kids to pack some stuff for spending the night w/ friends. I don’t remember what I told them, probably that Papa was sick, but not to worry. I called a couple of friends to come pick up the kids. I remember sending both kids off w/ their friends’ parents. I don’t remember packing anything for myself. We hit the road at 6:00 PM and walked into the hospital at 8:30. Found ICU and my mom. Daddy was awake, recognized hubby and me, but he couln’t say anything because of the ventilator. He would hold my hand and smile at me, and then push me away. He did that more than once. My mom interpreted; she’d seen that behavior from him before when he’d been really sick. She said it meant “I’m fine, you take care of you and husband and kids.” I think he did that a couple of times. I think we told him the kids were w/ their friends, and I think he indicated that was a good thing. My mom told him that we were going to stay until he went to sleep, and then go get some rest to be there the next day. He closed his eyes for a little bit, then sort-of peeked out of one of them to see if we had really left, like he was pretending to be asleep just to get us to go home. So we left the hospital and went to mama’s.

And the letting go began.