Better Because of Our 13 Days …

Geraldine Fay Lindquist Johnson

She’d been in my life for 43 years.  For much longer than my own mom … who died when I was 31.  I remember when she excitedly extended her hand to show me her rings. I had travelled 1195 kilometers to visit with her and my dad. Sick. I felt entirely sick. She never said a word, but her eyes were twinkling as brightly as the diamonds perched prominently on her left ring finger. It took everything within me to bite back the tears in order to feign ample and appropriate enthusiasm. Seriously … how could they get married without even telling me??  I never asked. Some things feel better left unsaid.

And so, I always spoke of her as “my dad’s wife”. However, some 15 or 20 years (!!) later, I actually came upon the truth. She had no idea I believed they were married. It was all a complete misunderstanding. The truth was that she had been working on him relentlessly … begging for matrimony … for years!  But for reasons known only to my very stalwart father … he steadfastly refused to remarry. I could sense the pain of rejection in her heart because as she said … for a woman of her generation … it would be particularly shameful for her to die an “old maid”or “spinster”.  And so, to spare herself any public embarrassment, she adopted his last name and wore her wedding rings very proudly.  I got it. 

All she ever wanted was to be a wife and mother.  But my dad died unexpectedly without ever officially saying “I do” to her.  And, although she had also pressed me to call her “mom” … I’m not sure I much embraced her as a parental figure. I guess the whole decades long belief that they had been ‘wedded without me’ had made her his ‘wife’ in my eyes, but certainly not my ‘stepmom’. Instead, I opted to affectionately call her“Ger” instead of Gerri … and … she fondly called me “Kar” instead of Karen.

In addition to my own little family, I was all Ger had left after my dad died.  And, at 82, she was still living on her own.  We had looked into alternate spaces, but it distressed her terribly to think of leaving the home she had shared with my dad.  I had finally convinced her that she needed to wear a Life Alert because she was getting less stable on her feet and had fallen a couple of times.

Celebrating her 82nd birthday …

Ger’s health had always been tentative … and she had regularly experienced days when she was laid up … feeling “punk”.  Usually it was because she had bitten off more than she could chew … trimming branches on trees, moving furniture, shampooing the carpets etc – by herself.  Yes.  I said by herself.  When she got an idea in her head, she had no patience to wait for help to arrive.  And so, she often overdid it and paid the price.

But, the malaise that preceded her landing in ER on July 31, 2017 had persisted for nearly three weeks.  When I got stern with her – questioning her reticence to call her doctor – she admitted she was scared about what he might have to say. She had a stint put in some years ago, carried nitroglycerin in her purse and took baby aspirin regularly. Perhaps her ticker was acting up again?

It appears that she was very intuitive indeed …  something was, in fact, very wrong. 

When she got out of bed the next morning … she took a few steps and collapsed.  Thank goodness for her Life Alert button!  And so … we found ourselves in the ER … utterly dumbfounded … staring at each other … in wide-eyed disbelief. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon on that fateful Monday and the day had already taken some very unexpected and unfavorable turns. There would be tests and more tests.

And may I say that for as long as Ger has been part of my life, she has always caught me up short by hastily forging head-first into foreboding territory.  She always dives in long before I am emotionally prepared to tackle any such precarious terrain.  I am far more tentative and reflective about everything in my life.  I prefer to tip-a-toe in tentatively and get a sense of things before I move forward with unfettered conviction. But not Ger … she has always preferred to swoop into action … immediately.

It was the same when my dad died very unexpectedly during a summer BBQ on July 12, 2009.  He had just filled his plate … and enthusiastically declared “This is great!”  And then … he was gone.

Ger needed to be ‘doing’ things to help her process her grief.  I, on the other hand, needed time to simply ‘be’ with the loss before I could think about making decisions or taking actions that could not be undone.  It definitely created some emotional tension for both of us as we mourned the loss of the same man. Nothing wrong with either approach … but … this particular Monday was proving to be no different.

She needed to know, right then and there … and … did not hesitate to ask the attending ER physician just how long she could expect to live. I expected him to defer by saying it would be premature to guess until the prognosis had been officially confirmed.  But, much to my chagrin, he responded:

“Maybe two months.” 

Whoa. What??  My mind frantically raced for some way to process this blindside.  Yesterday was just a normal Sunday.  We had a conversation on the phone.  I was looking forward to having this particular Monday off work so I could nibble away at my ‘to-do’ list. And, in all honesty, I was still trying to process the death of my father-in-law (who had died just two months prior) . And his passing was fairly hot on the heels of the death of his wife … my mother-in-law (just 7 months prior to that).  We were already knee deep … maybe chin deep … into the grieving process. I instinctively resisted.

“We can’t be certain Ger.  At this point, it’s all just speculation.” 

But she was already making plans.  I respected the gravity of her situation enough to know that if this was going to be the last leg of her journey … I needed to honor her desires to do it her way.  And so, in order to keep up, I opened a new tab in my Wunderlist  App … and labeled it “Gerri”.  I started making notes as she determined, discussed and directed what she wanted taken care of before she, too, departed this earthly plane.  I left the hospital late in the evening, in utter disbelief … hoping that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better day.

On Tuesday morning, August 1st, I returned bright and early … and … Ger was still making plans. I promised to take her cat, Scamper, home to live with me. She gave me her banking pass code and asked me to update her bank book.  I’m not sure why her finances were important in THAT moment, but she needed to be sure that OAS had given her the increase she was expecting. Can do.  And … she reckoned that one of the family best take and use the expensive silky cover off her built-in vacuum hose. She’d paid a pretty penny for it … no sense leaving that gem for a renter. Okay.  And … she wondered about how she would die … would she suffer? Would she suffocate, would she choke … would her heart take her? Gulp.

I compassionately searched deeply into her eyes and asked if she was scared. She confirmed that if she let herself think about it, she felt frightened. She looked down for a moment and then pensively uttered,“What if … what if I am denied entry at the pearly gates?”

For a split second, I could feel the weight of that worry hanging heavily in her heart. And then, with her next breath she moved quickly past that uncomfortable query and determined that her electric fireplace  would look great on a particular wall in the spacious bedroom of her grand-daughter’s new house. Agreed. She was delighted that another of her grand-daughters could use the stand up freezer. Excellent. And the desks … she wanted me to have her antique desk and tea cart. For sure.  I was squirming internally as she so casually discussed such things.

I told her it felt entirely awkward, inappropriate and insensitive to be discussing the dispersal of her belongings. Some things feel better left unsaid. She assured me that it pleased her so very deeply to know that her legacy would live on in the belongings that would be enjoyed by those she loved. And, she declared that she didn’t want a funeral. Okay. She wanted us to have a nice family dinner and just talk about her instead. Fair enough.  But, I found myself offering an alternate perspective:

“Ger, let’s wait until they do more tests.  They could be mistaken.  The mass they spotted in your lung might not be fatal.”

How does one even begin to integrate such news  when the big “C” was never ever … not for one moment … a prior concern in one’s eight decades of life.  They did more tests. And more scans.  They needed to consult with the oncologist and the lung specialist.  She reminded me to take her ashes, her mother’s ashes and my dad’s ashes to a specified place. We ordered her a TV so she could keep up with The Young and the Restless.  It occurred to me that we’d need a schedule so we could take turns watering her lawn and feeding Scamper while she was in hospital.

Wednesday, August 2nd … they did a biopsy on the tumor and were going to do a brain scan when her heart acted up again.  They ended up losing her at one point. Gone. Her room was empty when I arrived to visit. After a bit of panic … they sympathetically told me that my ‘mom’ had been moved to ICU. I never corrected them. They used the paddles to revive her. It was shortly after that they got the results of the biopsy and they discovered she also had MRSA.  It’s a super bug  … an infection that is highly resistant to treatment. It seemed prudent to get the Power of Attorney signed. It was entirely surreal … and … unraveling far too quickly for me.

Thursday, August 3rd … the doc came in to confirm the diagnosis. Yes. Cancer. Stage 4.  A small cell type that spreads quickly.  They believe it started in her lung about six to 12 months prior and confirmed that it had already spread to her adrenal glands and her liver. It had also metastasized into her lymph system and likely into her bones.

No emotion or tears on her part.  Just more action. She decided to sell us her car so it wouldn’t get caught up in probate. It occurred to me that I should probably take her purse home for safekeeping.  I reckoned I should bring her slippers. She thought maybe an ice cream would taste good. Funny where the mind goes in a moment like that.

When the oncologist arrived for rounds, she asked again: “how long”?  Perhaps two months … unless it was in her brain. She slipped up and later told someone she had two weeks.  I corrected her.  No Ger … the doc said two months. She second guessed me by asking if I was sure about that. Yep. I was sure. The tests had confirmed it was not in her brain.

Hmmm. She was sure she had about two weeks. The oncologist was gentle and kind and recommended palliative care. And she started planning again.

Because of the contagious nature of MRSA, visitation was counter-indicated for many.  We had to mask-up, glove-up and gown-up completely to be in her presence.  A few of the family came to visit, but for the better part of her hospitalization … it was mostly just me and Ger.

Monday, August 7th … Myrna (Ger’s late brother’s wife) made the long trip from Saskatchewan.  I could sense Ger’s delight with her arrival. They had remained very dear friends. And, she seemed tickled with our three-way conversation.  At one point … in true “Granny style” (as my girls would fondly suggest)  Ger looked at both Myrna and I and fervently exclaimed:

” After all of this … if I don’t die … I’m going to be really pissed off!”

We all burst into laughter at the paradoxical nature of her comment.  I suggested that maybe instead of having a dinner after she passed, maybe she could join us in a family feasting when she moved into Palliative Care whereby she could “eavesdrop” on our conversation about her.  Well, she thought that would be okay … but … could we have a dinner in her honor afterwards, too?  Of course. And we’ll be sure to serve Lucy’s famous chocolate cake!  Lucy is my son-in-law’s lovely mother … and … her chocolate cake recipe has become a family favorite!

Tuesday, August 8th … we talked about the things she could do to decorate her new home in palliative and make it feel like home.  The white shag carpet.  Perhaps an armchair … if there was space? Maybe we could sneak Scamper in for a final visit?  Maybe we could smuggle in a ‘go cup’  filled with her favorite Royal Red wine … aka “Granny’s swill” ?  She hastily put the brakes on that idea.  She was entirely averse to getting evicted from palliative care before she got settled in.  We laughed … and yet … there was something sobering about the absurdity of all that we were so casually discussing.

Her decline was rapid. The very next day, she unexpectedly lost some lucidity.  She told Myrna she was quite sure she had died at 2:17pm.  And, by the following day, she was unable to speak with any comprehensive coherence. And, it was becoming more and more difficult for her to breathe.  They cancelled her transfer to palliative.

And so, true to form, even in her dying … Ger wasted no time. Once again … her pace was far too fast for me to process comfortably.   And ultimately … she was right. It wasn’t two months. It wasn’t even two weeks.  It was 13 days …

At some point during our last 13 days together, Ger told me that she came into the world alone … lived most of her life alone … and … expected to die alone.  In that moment, my heart ached for her … because in so many ways … she was right.  Her father had been murdered. Her mother could be quite abusive.  My father – her spouse – was emotionally disconnected. She had limited contact with her brother before he died young of melanoma. She had endured a whole lot of trauma and abandonment in her life. The stories she recanted broke my heart.

And … I could not deny that I, too, had contributed to her sense of loneliness. I was often too busy to make her a priority. It takes 1.5 hours round trip to get to Ger and all our family from where I live … so a quick pop-in every now and again was just not possible.  I had gone back to school as a mature student to complete my BSW as well as my MSW … and …  was also employed  as a counselor in my community along with running a small private practice of my own on the side. I have one husband, three daughters and eight grandchildren …  so … the pulls for my attention are/were persistent and plentiful. In addition to that … within the last three years … the demands on my time had become increasingly intensified as my aging and ailing in-laws health deteriorated and their medical needs and chronic crises eclipsed any predictability in our lives. I am also a landlord with four rental properties. In all honesty … I had been struggling to keep all those balls in the air and had become entirely depleted trying to do so.

That said, I did my best to ‘be there’ for Ger … but … I always knew my best wasn’t nearly as much as she wanted and/or deserved in terms of my time and attention. And, in all honesty, it troubled my heart to know I was falling short of her expectations. And so, with an ache in my heart for my inability to make the days of her life less lonely … I committed myself to being there ‘with’ her and showing up fully ‘for’ her … during her final journey home. I let her know I was “all hers” for the duration.

I spent some long days with her at the hospital. I really didn’t want her to be alone when she passed. The staff knew me as her ‘daughter’ and referred to Ger as my ‘mom’.  I never corrected any of them. Some things feel better left unsaid.  In fact, I could feel Ger’s heart swell with these new terms of reference in the space. And, in all honesty … it felt really good to me too.

As it turned out … she waited until I had gone home for the night on Saturday, August 12th. The nurse called me, just a couple of hours after I left, to say that my mom had taken her last breath while they were making their rounds and tending to her comfort.  I was surprised by how hard it hit me. I thought I was prepared …

It was to be our 40th wedding anniversary the next day. I didn’t feel like celebrating. So we didn’t. And, although it does my heart good to know that she wasn’t actually ‘alone’ when she passed because she had the nursing staff with her … it still struck me that Ger was being a bit of a ‘stinker’ for not letting me be there when she transitioned. My daughter suggested that perhaps she waited until I was gone because she, in fact, didn’t want to leave me alone when she passed. Hmmmm … I still tear up when I think of it that way.

We hired a Life Celebrant  (thank you Shelly Bassett!)  who met with us in advance to gather our recollections … and … she composed a beautiful ‘life story’ honoring Ger/Granny. Shelly orated this meaningful tribute to her as we gathered in a large circle in our back yard on a very warm, sunny day.  Our celebration was complete with all of Ger’s very favorite things … including taco in a bag!  Her grand-daughters and I wore pieces of her favorite jewellery and we toasted her with her ‘swill’ and some Japanese ‘sake’ that she had liked to share with her grandsons.  It turned into far more than just the conversation she wanted us to have about her. I recorded it … and … we have a printed copy of the ‘story’ of Ger/Granny and all she meant to us.

Ger took great pride in her home and took such impeccable care of things.  I have updated my own space with so many beautiful things of hers.  Her energy is now present in each room of my house.  By the way, I discovered a number of ‘spreaders’ in her kitchen drawers.  I took three of them home with me and passed the others on to my daughters. I figured if she had more than one, they must be good.

Well … I am not sure how I lived almost 60 years without one!   Who knew they would make such a culinary difference!   I bought new ones for all my daughters!  I even bought one for my bestie!  If you don’t own one … or … haven’t tried one … I highly implore you to allow Gerri’s legacy to touch your life too, in this small way.

As I was going through her belongings, I came across something in her most precious memorabilia. Many years ago, one of the ways I attempted to combat the commercialization of  Christmas, was to have us make homemade gifts for one another and attach a meaningful affirmation to each other. I discovered she had saved them. And  … I share one year of our affirmations of her with you here because they offer a beautiful snapshot of just who she was to all of us:

And, I absolutely sobbed when I came across one she had kept that my dad  … the man who refused to marry her … had written:

THAT she was.  My dad’s life was irrefutably better because of my step-mom. His prior lived experience had carved some pretty sharp edges into him … but she loved him unconditionally … even during the times when he could be pretty darn difficult to love. And, she cared for him tenderly and compassionately during the most fragile and unbecoming moments of his own journey with cancer.  And, she tended to him with her whole heart … and … she never failed to make him her utmost priority in life.  Ever.

And, I must also add, that Ger’s life was undeniably better because of him.  He offered her more safety and security than she had ever experienced within her family of origin. And that doesn’t mean their relationship was all roses and sunshine. No.  A union of two wounded souls cannot be without its darkness. But, in all honestly … I could see that they were unarguably, the answer to each of their prayers.

Ger and I had eight years together after my dad passed, but … I can honestly say that our last 13 days became a cherished time of deeper connection for us.  We were able to  meet each other in that sacred place beyond the accidental hurts, misunderstandings and unmet expectations that sometimes prickled between us.  And instead … we embraced a felt sense of the unconditional parts of the love that we also held for one another.

With the deepest of reverence, I came to appreciate her idiosyncratic way of being in the world … not as my dad’s wife, but as my step-mom. Yes. It was truly a blessing to be gifted with that space and time … a divinely orchestrated opportunity to ‘be’ with each other in deep, unfettered and meaningful ways.

And so Ger …  I really want to “thank you” for launching promptly into action even before they could confirm your diagnosis. Were it not for that, I would never have been so aware of all your wishes.  And, I remain committed to honoring each and every one of them … except one.

Please accept my sincerest apologies  … but I didn’t bring Scamper home with me the day you died … as I had promised.  Through an amazing turn of events, I became aware of a youngster who really, really wanted to have him.  And I suspect you will forgive me, because as I look at this picture of the two of them together, it appears to be a match made in Heaven.  That said, I am wondering … if perhaps … you somehow had a hand in orchestrating this sublime alternative for your furry feline.

And ultimately … I need you to know Ger … I have been shifted and stretched to a better version of myself as a result of our precious 13 days together.  You taught me that there is something deeply transformational about sitting with the dying. I erroneously assumed that being with you was going to be my gift to you … but … I can see now that … the gift was mine.

I feel so very blessed to have shared that sacred space with you and I remain humbled by the love and energy in our final moments together. Thank you for loving me … like every good mother would do. Always. In your own special way. And thank you for caring so deeply about me … as your only daughter.

My home is filled with reminders of you … and … I will carry so much of your spirit in my heart as I greet all the days yet to come. I hope I can bring some of your feisty energy with me into our family celebrations.  Your generous heart will be missed in more ways than you can imagine.

Thank you again Ger … I am truly so much better because of your presence in my life … and especially … because of our precious last 13 days together,  ❤ Kar ❤

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[GUEST POST]: Township Environment

We are often inspired to support those less fortunate than ourselves. This Better Because of You Tribute is dedicated to Jim and Janet Jamer for their selfless efforts to bring more hope, light and love to the incredible souls trying to thrive despite the unfathomable hardships they must endure whilst living in the townships in South Africa.

We were so sadly sobered when we saw for ourselves the plight of so much of our humanity. It has been one of our deepest pleasures to provide just a wee bit of support.  I hope you will spend a few moments taking in the magnitude of both strength and strife that is reflected in these pictures and words. And, if you are so inspired, please feel free to contact Jim or Janet and see how you might be able to add your heart to this project!

AND … most importantly …

THANK YOU” Jim and Janet for being such amazing light workers. Our humanity is so much better because of you!

With deepest respect and appreciation for your hearts, Karen

Iizidima

IMG_2055 Knysna township

There are few days when we are not reminded that there is plenty to be thankful for in life. Given what we do in South Africa, we would need to be blind, in a physical and emotional sense, to not experience this sentiment. The living conditions and depth of poverty experienced by so many Africans, while in close proximity to areas of affluence and abundance, is jarring. Imagine visiting another planet each day,

DSCN0752 Shacks which will be demolished to allow for construction of government-provided homes

Similar to most of our supporters, we grew up in proper homes, a safe neighbourhood, raised by educated, employed parents, who provided us the material necessities of life. We attended good schools. Our friends and families lived similar lives.

IMG_2039 Temporary government-supplied, single-room wooden homes for former shack-dwellers awaiting construction of government-provided concrete-block houses (subject to a means-test).

We can’t recall a day as a…

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Better Because of Your Luminous Light Debora …

Debora Bradley - 1

Source Unknown but Deeply Appreciated

Well, Debora Bradley, I can’t think of a more accurate description of the bright light that is you!!  Although there are many, many remarkable lightworkers in the world, your generous gifts of grace and your compassionate, caring contributions to humanity are all rendered visible in the loving-kindness that is so inextricably woven into your beautiful benevolent beingness.

While it’s a rare treat to see you in person,  I am so grateful that I do get to ‘see’ you on a regular basis on Facebook.  You inspire such rich traces of love with your thoughtful posts/responses/reflections … uplifting spirits whenever you add your ‘shares’ to those in your virtual circle.  Thank you for being the wind beneath so many of our wings.

Your energetic touch is infused with something so nurturing and nourishing in it’s comforting caress.   And I can actually feel it … each and every time it lands.  While I might scroll quickly over many of the posts that pop up in my news feed, I have learned not to skip over any of yours … lest I miss out on something inspiring, meaningful and/or clearly drenched in divinity.

Encourager Extraordinaire.

Compassion Crusader. 

Luminous Lightworker. 

Love Incarnate.

Yes, that is you Debora Bradley. I deeply appreciate you for steadfastly shining your radiant light into all of our orbits … like the facets of a diamond reflecting sunshine in limitless directions … scattering points of light with warmth and wild abandon. Thank you for persistently looking through a lens of love … both personally AND professionally  as a remarkable integrative life coach.  The energy of altruistic intention that inspires your countless contributions to our humanity is entirely transcendent.

Thank you for ‘being’ the change we need to see in the world.  I sense you are making a remarkable difference in our collective consciousness.  And, I for one, am so much better because of your precious presence in my life. I just wanted you to know that … ❤

With utmost reverence for light of love in your soul,   Karen

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Better Because I Got to Be Your Mom …

places in your heart

For quite some time now, I have been contemplating how to best honor the depth of my appreciation for the three precious people who, more than anyone or anything, have invited me to grow into the next best version of who I can be in the world … and … who continue to stretch me beyond my own beliefs of what is possible when you open up to those places in your heart that you didn’t even know existed.

And I should share that I have hesitated to write this (for a very long time).  I have been reluctant because I would hate to think that my best efforts to honor my daughters with this tribute failed to do them justice … that my attempt fell short, in any way, of what I needed and wanted and desired to acknowledge.  It feels like an entirely ineffable task because there is absolutely no way that the totality of these remarkable human beings can be reduced to a paragraph or two … and because … if I concede to highlight only a small smattering of the magic in our moments, I must step over and omit  countless other things that are equally significant! Hence, my resistance.

It’s a conundrum of the highest order!  Even though I know there are not words … not enough words … and certainly not the right words to possibly express what being a mother to these three impeccable women has stirred within me, it also feels downright dismissive to perpetually postpone my attempt to capture what is in my heart and post it on this page.

And so, on this special day when we publicly honor and acknowledge motherhood around the globe,  I am inspired to give voice (at least a small bloggable snippet) to just some of what being the mother of Tiana Terae, Sherisse Shandell and Brittany Brooke has meant to me.

Childhood sisters

But … where on earth do I start?  I could begin by sharing that during my first pregnancy, I found myself thinking: “How hard could it be? People do this all the time … and more than once! If they can do it, I can do it.”  In fact, it would probably be fair to depict my pre-motherhood self as an acorn laying dormant, invulnerable and completely safe in the forest.  I was so damn put together before she arrived.  Solid.  Capable. Self-assured. Determined. In control.  I was convinced I had it all figured out. Yes, I could start here … but then again, maybe I should cut right to  the chase and speak about how the birth of my first daughter cracked me wide open. W–I–D–E open. Should I share how her presence rocked my world in the most magnificent and terrifying ways?  I could … but … how does one even begin to describe that kind of ecstatic moment?

With her twinkling eyes and a mop of dark hair … Tiana Terae, was chubbins and chuckles and cuteness to the core.  My soul tickled with delight at the sheer majesty of her beingness … and then spontaneously … the frighteningly fragile seeds of vulnerability that were tucked safely beneath my nicely defended exterior became entirely unguarded and totally exposed.  VULNERABLE … an ‘all caps’ kind of vulnerable. Insecurity. Joy. Anguish. Immense gratitude. Unadulterated fear. Indescribable enchantment. Unmitigated exhaustion. I felt blessed beyond comprehension and stretched beyond human capacity.

My precious, cherished, darling first born daughter, broke me open to experiencing a kind of love I never even conceived could exist … mother love. I had never imagined such emotion was humanly possible. And it rattled me to the core. I fiercely attempted to hold it all together with some semblance of grace … I couldn’t bear the thought of failing her and falling short of being/doing all that she so richly and rightly deserved! I floundered miserably as I struggled to hold tight to that people-pleasing, high-achieving, perfectionist self that I knew myself to be.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never, ever, not in a million years be the same person again.  I thought, in those moments, that I was losing myself but in retrospect I can see that my daughter’s inner strength actually saved both of us.  I had no idea that I would only really, truly find my authentic Self after I felt like I had lost my precious first born in the teen years.  But, unbeknownst to me … the very best was yet to be!

And sweetie, through it all, you were so loving and forgiving and tender and true.  You were  strong, caring, capable, and competent.  You refused to let my mistakes mar the making of the magnificent, miraculous, munificent masterpiece that is you.  You brought such light to the dark.  And, you still do.  You are so thoughtful, supportive, conscientious … and … incredibly trustworthy.  Your loving loyalty and unwavering commitment is entirely incomparable. You speak straight from your good heart … you are candid and honest and refreshingly real. And people feel safe and secure with you … because they truly are!   Because of you sweetie, I was inspired to heal the pains of my past. Because of you, I started upon the most life-altering journey of my lifetime! I was so lost and you helped me find me.  I cannot begin to thank you enough. I am truly so much better because I got to be your mom. ❤

Yes, it seems sensible to start there … but then again … maybe it would serve better to start with the incredulous bliss I experienced with my second born. Sherisse Shandell arrived with much less turmoil and turbulence in my heart.  I was more familiar with the landscape of motherhood … more prepared for the pearls and pitfalls of parenting.  I was more savvy than the first time … except during the nights. Even though she would sleep, I would wake up and check on her … often. Ridiculously often.  It’s crazy how vulnerable you feel when you are gifted with such an entirely irreplaceable joy … such a precious and cherished miracle.

Her safe arrival was such welcome relief. I had gone into labor for a few hours in my seventh month of pregnancy, and as a result, my final trimester felt somewhat fragile. There had to be stress tests because the measurements didn’t add up. And, she didn’t move much.  And they warned me that she might very, very tiny.  I tried hard not to catastrophize, but it was difficult to calm myself when my anxious mind taunted me mercilessly about how I dared to hold out hope that we’d get another healthy child. I was gripping her so tightly in my heart as I yearned for the moment when I would be cradling her tenderly in my arms. And so, when I found myself holding her for real  … all 6lbs and 13 ounces of her … it pained me to let her go … to set her down. I was derailed by the fear of what might happen … if I left my post … if I turned my back …  if I actually dozed off …………………

And despite those incessant neurotic nigglings, she sweetly and gently invited me to simply bask in the many joys of motherhood. Less frantic. More assured. Deeply blessed. Dare I say more comfortable. Yes. More confident.  When her dad left to work away on the rigs for three weeks (just two months after she arrived), I remember the hours that I just sat there in solitude, during the dark of the night … swelling with gratitude as I watched her sleep. Or while she nursed … I would gaze into her eyes with absolute reverence for our seemingly clandestine, post-partum nocturnal tryst while she gripped my finger as though she would never ever let go. Surreal. Sublime. Entirely divine. Unmitigated bliss.

SSL - 6 mos

Sweetheart …. through the years, you inspired me to grow into a more humble and conscious parent … more responsive than reactive … more pensive than perfect. You were so reflective and considerate and open to seeing all sides of things.  Your benevolent being invited me to step into being much kinder to everyone … including myself. Because of your gracious, kind and magnanimous heart, I began to realize that despite my various shortcomings, maybe just maybe … I was enough.  Maybe, just maybe, I was worthy of your love.  You were such an exquisite embrace of all that is exceptional, heartfelt and true … the purest essence of empathy, compassion and integrity.  You would intuitively see the hearts beneath the faces and the tears behind the smiles.  You still do. And I thank you from the deepest place in my being for all that you are sweetheart. I am so much better because I got to be your mom. ❤

But, then again, maybe this tribute would be better served if I began by speaking about our  debate/decision to have a third child. Almost three years had quickly ticked by and although my husband was content parenting two adorable, ruffly, pony-tailed cherubs … I was not yet convinced our family was complete.  So, I tendered my best argument in favor of a third … not really sure how I would actually manage it, because it was around that time that my husband had started working construction by day and was farming by night. We decided that it would only be feasible to have a third child if (s)he could arrive between mid October and the end of February (when farming was not such a demanding part of the equation).  It seemed like a ridiculously short window  … and so … we agreed to let the Universe decide.

I had done the math in terms of maximizing conceptual probabilities, but life got in the way and I sadly suspected that we had missed the optimal moments to conceive.  So … I can assure you it felt like nothing short of sheer rapture and rhapsody when I began to feel the twinges of new little life stirring within my body. What??  Wait. No … don’t get excited. It just could not be. And when the pregnancy test came back negative, I chalked it up to wishful thinking. But … I still kept feeling pregnant.  And, low and behold over time … it was confirmed that our new little love was due to arrive on February 26th … just two days before the official ‘there will only be two’ deadline. So, although our little angel was so strategically planned, she was also a magical, miraculous and welcome surprise!

Once again … I am without words to describe the abundant glow of grace that circled my heart space and nourished my soul with the news!  And many asked if we were “trying for a boy”. No. Nope. Nada. Not for one little minute. The prospect of wrapping our third little cherub in pink ruffles and lace was not only practical (we had all the girly stuff) … but … deliciously delightful because we already had precious proof that we made really, really, adorable girls.  Yes we did!

And, much to my surprise, mothering my third daughter took me to a whole new vista … to brand new and completely uncharted ground. I found a stronger semblance of faith in the divine order of things. Trust. Surrender. Optimism. Confidence that although I still had so much to learn, I probably wouldn’t/couldn’t mess her up completely.  I trusted that she was going to soar despite me, not because of me. It was both humbling and liberating! Brittany Brooke tickled our hearts with her gregarious giggles, her enthusiastic charm and her highly determined “I do dat” chutzpah.  She wore her ‘joie de vivre’ as boldly as the unique color combinations that she picked out for herself by herself. She knew exactly what she wanted and zealously pursued all her dreams, desires and delights … with the most radiant sense of abandon.  And she still does.

BBL - 6 mosHoney, because of your eager, energetic and enthusiastic attitude, I was witness to how you claimed and embraced the juicy joys along your path.  I so admired your “all in” engagement with possibility and your persistent pursuit of whatever made your heart sing. You are the most picturesque portrayal of pure potentiality and passionate promise. With your sparkling spirit and affable attitude you adeptly demonstrated how one can proactively seek out and savor special moments rather than reactively just accepting what comes along. Because of you, I could no longer deny my own intrinsic pull towards resurrecting my dusty dreams. I allowed myself to pursue my own passions. Growing. Stretching. Blossoming. Becoming. Because of you, I continue to explore/evaluate who it is that I would most want to be and what it is that I would most love to do … thank you for that honey. I truly thank you.  I am so much better because I got to be your mom. ❤

And although these reflections represent merely a sliver of what lies within each of you … and offer just a wee glimpse of the space that we share with each other, I wanted to acknowledge, in some small way, the big difference you have made in my life. You have gifted me, in terms of my own growth and evolution, in such salient and significant ways. As children, you helped me make peace with my past, find the grace and goodness in the present and shape a future that honored my deepest dreams and desires.  As adults, you continue to nourish my soul and kindle my internal flame. The best parts of my being have been inspired because of you.  I honestly believe that our relationships go far beyond that of mother and daughter … they represent my deepest and most meaningful expressions, experiences and examples of LOVE.  

And so, on this day devoted to honoring motherhood … I am thanking my lucky stars that I got to be your mom. It remains an indescribable joy … a priceless gift that I deeply cherish.  And, I must also say that my heart skips a beat when I see your own mother love spilling so richly over my precious grandchildren. The radiant and reckless abandon reflected in that kind of love tickles treasured places that are tucked deep in my soul and it takes my breath away. Every. Single. Time.

Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful daughters … who are three of the most exceptional mothers on this planet!  I love you … from those places in my heart that I never knew existed until I got to be your mom!  ❤ ❤ ❤

             Tiana Terae       Sherisse Shandell       Brittany Brooke

 

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Aunt Mil … Better Because Your Eyes Lit Up!

Everyone needs someone in their life who enthusiastically invites them to exist in their presence. Thank you, Aunt Mil, for your warm welcome into the world.  You were holding my newborn self in this picture … and … little did I know, but you would continue to hold me in so many ways significant ways over the years to come.

Me and Aunti MilThank you Aunt Mil … for the light in your eyes and the love in your heart that eagerly rolled out to greet us when we traveled six hours to see you.  I will never forget how your arms were so enthusiastically out-stretched (as far as they could possibly reach!) to embrace us as quickly and tightly as humanly possible!  It makes my heart smile when I recall you saying … with heartfelt and joyous conviction “Get IN here!”  I really needed to hear that passionate invitation to exist in your presence and you offered it … over and over and over again. Thank you for inviting me to feel like it really mattered that I was on the planet.  

Thank you for all your unspoken understanding. Thank you for holding me, holding my heart and being the loving spirit I needed when my mom (your little sister) was simply not able to be there for me due to her mental, emotional and physical ill-health.  Thank you for seeing the ‘truth’ of my childhood experience despite my best efforts to conceal it … and … inspiring me to create something better (without ever  actually uttering a word to me about it).  I treasured how your eyes would always greet my heart with such exuberant energy.  Maybe you knew how much I needed that too. Thank you for giving the kind of hugs that made me feel like you really meant it!

Thank you for your energetic radiance … and for daring to live ‘bigger‘ than you were ever supposed to … especially as a woman – way back in those days.  Thank you for boldly setting the bar higher for who and what all women could actually consider doing and becoming.  You bravely traded the image of ‘poor widow’ in exchange for ‘brilliant, capable and competent business woman’.  And you did it with such panache … such bold, charismatic and elegant flair! Thank you for inspiring me to believe I could take whatever life dished out … and … transform it into something better!  Thank you for teaching me that we should never let life’s challenges dictate our outcomes.

Still Fabulous @70 years of age

Still Fabulous @70 years of age

Oh my … you brought so much light to the world!  My heart cherishes so many special memories of  you and with you … including:

  • Coffee persistently boiling over on the stove.  You said it wasn’t sufficiently “dee-lish” until it bubbled up and over onto the burner and left a big ole mess to wipe up … or not.
  • The numerous summers I spent with you … amusing myself while you worked your fingers to the bone at the Early Dawn Poultry Farm.  One of my favorite pass-times wast decorating your basement as if I were a bonafied  ‘interior decorator.’  And I remember my delight, when upon completion, you would nod your head slowly – while meticulously inspecting every nuance of my newest design with just the right measure of good-natured approval!
  • All the food in your fridge that had expired and was long past the  ‘best before-date‘.  I never understood why it took you so long to tend to such things.  Now I get it.  You had your priorities straight! There were things in your life that were infinitely more important. You got around to it when you got around to it.  When I find expired and furry items in my own fridge now … I am affectionately and fondly reminded of you  🙂
  • Devouring your delicious Christmas feasts … complete with Swedish Lutefisk (which stunk to high Heaven!) and turnips served on the sideboard.  ALWAYS with the good china and real silver candlestick holders!  And … with the warm ambiance created by the Christmas lights strung up behind the curtain rods so the light cast down the sheers in amazing beautiful cascades of color. I’m not sure how you did it, but you always left us feeling  we were worth all that extra effort …
  • And … for setting such an example of unconditional love as you cared for your brother – my disabled Uncle Art – who sometimes frightened me.  He was bedridden, brain-damaged and disabled by an accident.  I watched as you cared for him for countless years with such dignity and respect and you never asked for a speck of recognition.
  • Hosting my wedding … for the endless hours and limitless love you put into making my day meaningful and memorable.  Our budget was so meager, so you offered up your backyard. I had no idea how much I would appreciate all the little extra bits of love you wove into the tapestry of that day … including unexpectedly hiring the 2 piece band that played in the grass while the dancing heels aerated your grass.  I still laugh when I think of you being bold enough to ask the Town Council of your small, rural home town to close down the public pool (located directly behind your fence) for 30 minutes so our outdoor nuptials would not be interrupted by the wet and wild Saturday afternoon swimmers.
  • Discreetly paying for my mom’s cemetery plot because you knew I had no way of affording the cost myself.  Most people would never have even thought about it … but somehow you did.
  •  Somehow straddling the heart-breaking family divide and tragic triangulation that resulted over your parents estate.  You managed to provide a loving refuge for my mom … and for each and every other family member … despite the forever fractured family dynamics.
  • And, lest I forget, for teaching me the importance of moisturizer.  I don’t use Pond’s Cold Cream, but … because of you, I always smear on a whole schwack of moisturizer.  You’re right, things just seem smoother that way.  🙂

You truly were my rock … my stability in a world run a muck … and … I think you knew it.  But you never said a word.  You just loved me and unselfishly  filled in the gaps.  I miss you.  I really, really, really miss you.  And, I really, really, really thank you.  You were hundreds of miles away for most of my life … but … only inches from my heart.  You still are.  It’s been 24 years since you unexpectedly passed, and yet, you remain unmistakably ‘felt’ within every aspect of my beingness.

Aunt Mil, I am so much better because of you …  and your love … and the beautiful light in your eyes which invited me to embrace life and shine on and be courageous … regardless of the circumstances! Thank you for being a model of energetic potential and enthusiastic possibility.  Thank you for that.  Really. I really needed that … but, then again, somehow you always knew what I most needed.

Forever inspired  … Karen XO

 

Maria ‘B’eautiful … Better Because You Shine So Brightly!

For a time, we had three staff members named “Maria”.  In order to distinguish them, we started adding a last initial … Maria B, Maria W, Maria K … and … somewhere over the course of time, Maria “B” shifted effortlessly into Maria B”-you-teh-full  for me.  And it was such a perfect shift … but not for the reasons you might be thinking.  In fact, I’m not sure if Maria Beautiful is clear about why I refer to her in those terms.  Allow me to clear up any uncertainty.  🙂

Maria ‘B’eautiful …  I fondly and affectionately refer to you as ‘beautiful’ not because of the obvious loveliness in your external packaging, but rather because I am not sure I know anyone else who actually ‘lives LOVE’  as authentically, humbly and generously as you do!!  I say that because, from my humble perspective, you are so achingly beautiful in the deepest parts of your being.  There is an energy of love, pure and simple, that bursts forth with every breath you take …

It has been my experience that the beauty that so effortlessly emanates from your spirit and lands brightly and brilliantly upon our interactions is very rare, very unique and so very precious.  It divinely illuminates each moment into something sacred and spiritual … something beyond mere mortal description. I can’t deny that my heart has been forever shifted by the energy of unconditional acceptance and radiant love that emanates in you, around you, from you and through you.  Somehow, without even trying, you always add kindling to my own internal flame when I share time with you.

And I know it is not just me who feels that divine spark in your soul generously igniting the best parts of whomever you are with.  I could name names … but my intention here is not to speak for others. I just want to assure you that I know that my perception is not just mistakenly biased or errantly skewed in your favor.  I know others would agree that your light-filled presence has been able to brighten even the most dismal moments.  Which is not to discount or dismiss the depth of the dark moments that have descended on your own doorstep over the years.  Rather, it is to honor and acknowledge the fact that these moments have not hardened your heart nor stifled your spirit.   In fact, despite (or maybe because of)  the challenges you have encountered on your path, whenever I think of you, a cascade of adjectives to describe you wash over me including:

  • grateful
  • gracious
  • joyful
  • gentle
  • light-hearted
  • light-filled
  • enthusiastic
  • energetic
  • passionate
  • raw
  • real
  • radiant
  • compassionate
  • humble
  • vulnerable
  • kind … very kind
  • brilliant
  • brave
  • forgiving
  • loving and loveable

Simply stated … LOVE incarnate.

Thank you for brightening my circle with a glow of all glows … with a heart that yearns to bring blessings to every soul she sees … not just the ones she loves and knows … but to EVERY single being she encounters!

I am savoring my memories of our cherished times of connection … and … looking very forward to receiving my next hug.  You always know you’ve been hugged when you get a Maria Beautiful hug … the gift of her loving spirit lingers long after the embrace has been physically released.

So … beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Maria … my life, my heart and my world are so much better because of you!!

With deepest reverence for all the beauty you bring to the world … Karen xo

Beautiful eyes, beautiful heart, beautiful spirit, such a beautiful being ...

Beauty in her eyes, beauty in her heart, beauty in her spirit … such radiant beauty in her being!

 

Better Because of Your Love – John Lanser

Grammy's80thBDayMay29 11 136 (3)
I think my love and admiration for you started in a 67 Firebird while cruising to the tune of ‘Elton John’ and Benny and the Jets … but now, has landed firmly upon the fabulous energy/controversy inspired by‘Robin Thicke’s’ Blurred Lines  … and … a very special 68 Chick (or was that the 58 chick? ) Either way, I can honestly say that the fun and laughter between the jets and the blurred lines over those years has typically been instigated by YOU! As we celebrate your 60th birthday … I am filled with gratitude for all the joys, challenges, triumphs and trials we have celebrated together!

I’m not sure who I ultimately would have become had I not become your wife … because without you this shy, timid, quiet girl was not likely to have travelled the roads we have ventured down together! Sometimes I have resisted … my inner scaredy cat making me tremble at the thought of flirting with whatever you were conjuring up in your imagination! Once you figured out when to nudge me a little versus when to let me just sit with your enthusiastic boyish schemes until I was feeling braver … it worked out pretty well!

 That said, I must share that I really, really, really LOVE your boyish enthusiasm. Whenever you get an idea that delights you … I can’t help but smile! It is truly a joy to watch your creative juices build a beautiful yard, repair a classic vehicle, renovate a dreary bathroom, and learn how to do ANYTHING yourself! Your courage to learn new things is terrifying for my anxious mind on one hand and completely liberating and exhilarating on the other! Your presence in my life has clearly invited me to live a bigger, bolder and more adventure filled life! Yes … there are far more pounding heart moments because of you …

One of the other things I so deeply admire about you is your kind heart. Your willingness to see the best in others and offer your compassion to everyone that crosses your path (well … almost everyone!) is so deeply admirable. It has sparked my own internal passion to find opportunities to dwell in the immense joy of giving! I am so grateful that we share in this commitment in life. I absolutely love your tender spirit and thoughtful interpretations of everything that crosses your path …

I also love the conversations we have as a result of comparing our days … discussing our meaning makings … and … whether we agree or not, I love that we can spend hours discussing life … love … hopes … dreams … realities … challenges … AND … inevitably we will end up with some kind of big BELLY laugh … !!

I treasure our moments of laughter … your sense of humor is one of the greatest things to wake up to! It’s such a beautiful thing to be laughing before you even get the sleep out of your eyes! Our relationship is so much better because of your sense of humor … !!

And … I get tears in my eyes when I think about what an amazing father you are and have been to our three gorgeous daughters. If truth be told … I think there was a time when I would feel jealous … wishing I could also have had a dad who dared to love me so big, so loud … so completely! There is absolutely nothing more appealing in a man than his seeing him expressing his love for his children! You are such a remarkable dad and I am so grateful that I get to see how your sheer adoration for your daughters sparks your desire to make their hearts smile!

Oh … and … while we are talking about hearts smiling … I must also mention how much I appreciate all the things you do to nourish our relationship! I love all the romantic, affectionate little things you have done over the years to remind me of your love and devotion. All those little moments are far from little … they take up big space in my heart … which is good! It means you have good credit to lean on when you make the occasional mess up!

Thank you for working so tirelessly over the years for us … without complaining! Thank you, as well, for learning when it’s important NOT to work. Thank you for being the very best travel companion I could ever ask for … our travels have truly been so much better because of you!

Thank you for being such an amazing, remarkable and loving husband! Thank you for inviting me to become all I can be in the world … my life and everything in it is so much better because of you!!!!

xoxoxox  … from your ’58 chick … 🙂

better because of you - love