30

roseheather

She would be 30 today. We’d be celebrating, all of us together as a family.

Today, we mourn.

It’s been 30 years since we kissed her little forehead goodbye, and we still grieve.

Every day, but particularly every year on her birthday, I wonder what she would look like, what she would like and dislike, what would make her smile or feel sad. How she would interact with her sister and brothers and all the lovely people who’ve been added to our family over the years.

I wonder what it would be like to have her here.

Every year, this day has been hard. But today hit me harder than I expected and knocked the wind out in ways I wasn’t quite prepared to navigate. I cried pretty hard, bowled over by mama-grief and stay-at-home orders that have dragged on for weeks and a thousand thoughts I can’t begin to understand, much less put into words.

I need something to be normal, and so few things are.

Then I think of my sweet husband and the normal he is—the kind of normal that holds my world steady when it feels like it’s spinning off its axis, the kind that loves fiercely and forever no matter what is happening, what is hurting, what is off-kilter. He is a kind of normal I need in ways I too often take for granted. A kind most people won’t experience this side of Heaven.

Today, in the midst of the tears and pain and longing and if-onlies, I am grateful.

Happy birthday, Heather Rose.

Lockdown

MomMeAtHome

I’m on lockdown in my house with a pandemic out there and my mother-in-law in here.

A few weeks ago, my father-in-law, who has been my only dad since I was 15, took a fall and ended up in a rehab facility. The day he was put into that facility, it went on lockdown with no visitors allowed. No one. For the sake of brevity, I will skip to the part where he went sharply downhill, was readmitted to the hospital, and died a few days later. His graveside service was limited to family only, and the following day our county enacted an official stay-at-home order.

We asked my mother-in-law to stay here with us because we wanted to make sure she was safe, comforted, and among family instead of alone for the duration of the lockdown. She’s been with us now for two weeks, and when I think of being cooped up with my mother-in-law for weeks, the thought strikes my funny bone because I don’t imagine most people would think that sounded like a whole heap of fun. But she is, after all, a sweet little old Italian lady and she makes a great red sauce. She also made a really good guy who has been my husband for nearing 40 years, and she’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. We’re missing Papa, but we’re missing him together.

I don’t know how long this shelter-in-place will last. I don’t know how long we’ll have Mom in our lives. Hopefully soon, things will go back to some kind of normal. But I hope normal never looks quite like it did before because I hope we’ve learned a lot in the lockdown. I know I have. For now, I will be thankful for these days spent with a woman I am honored to call Mom. For now, I will be grateful for family and home and life. I’m glad she’s here.

An open letter to elderly-care facility personnel

RosePapaHands

My father-in-law, a beautiful man who has been my only dad since I was 15, spent a week in a rehab center in March. He was then sent back to the hospital showing evidence of less-than-optimal care while in the facility. We had no way of knowing the care he was (or was not) receiving because the facility was on lockdown with no visitors allowed due to COVID19. We lost him a few days later, and the world lost an amazing man who blessed the lives of many.

We got to spend his final day with him in Hospice Care–a gift from their staff that will never be forgotten. We stayed in for the next several days and some of us have only left home for his burial. Saying goodbye was never going to be easy, but it was made much more difficult because of the questions that will always plague our family regarding the likelihood of his life being shortened by a lack of quality rehabilitative care.

I’ll be honest–the thought of that sweet man being neglected is one I have a really hard time processing.

Since his death, we have heard numerous stories of advanced-age loved ones being neglected in rehab care facilities. That hurts my heart. Know what else hurts? Being told by doctors that most facilities caring for the elderly have sub-standard care, that by and large the attendants in such places don’t value their calling, and that it makes medical professionals hesitant to even release a patient to that type of facility because the prognosis automatically takes a nose-dive. I’m not sure why that came as a shock to me, but it did.

To clarify, not for a minute do I think all people who work in that type of facility provide less than optimal care. I personally know some wonderful caregivers, and I thank God for them and the vitally important job they do.

So here’s my message to those who work in such a place:

First, you are appreciated. You are seen. The work you do is valuable. If you haven’t heard that in a while (or ever), I am saying it now.

Second, please, if you cannot care for the elderly lovingly and gently and diligently, please find a new career. These people are precious to their families, and they are a treasure to our society. They are often under-appreciated, but these lovely seniors have seen so much we’ve never seen, experienced things we haven’t and could teach us so much if we care enough to listen.

We can’t look forward to more of their stories and being blessed by their presence if you fail to see them as worthy of your time and attention. Take the time to look beyond their condition, their needs, their complaints, their pain, and see them as we do. Please. At the very least, don’t be mean.

This plea applies to all the time, but particularly right now during this challenging time of quarantine when our beloved elderly are at your mercy and we have no window into the quality of their care. I beg you, if you can’t go above and beyond and love on our loved ones, at least do your job and care for them on a basic level. We count on you to keep our loved ones thriving, so I’m asking you to carefully consider the way you approach the job you do.

Please take care of our elderly family members. They are worth your time and energy. They are our very heart.

Seasons

seasons

For most of my life I have readily recognized the truth of the verse that says, “To everything there is a season.” I get it, the whole that was then, this is now thing. I understand that some life seasons are harder than others. I’m not sure I was fully prepared for how confusing and bewildering this season would be.

Becoming a mother of five adults crept up on me and by the time it popped out from behind the tree I was too far in to run and too scared to scream. Don’t get me wrong–there are some pretty awesome things about watching five adults grow wings and take flight and make their own way in the world. Something fulfilling, even, about knowing I had a key role and a ringside seat to who they have become.

But just about the time I get excited about being a big part of something so amazing, I catch a scent of something concerning going on with one of them and the creative in me goes all imagination-nutso and suddenly all the pride and joy gets vacuumed up in a whirlwind of worry. I like to consider myself fairly flexible and resilient, but this is maddening.

Maybe the truth is that I’m just beginning to realize what a key role fear has played in my life. What a key role it still plays, if I’m totally honest. The perfectionist in me grumbles that I should have grown out of this by now.

And yet here I am, in the throes of peri-menopause, with emotions flailing all over the map and me in the middle playing wack-a-mole to keep them subdued. I’m exhausted.

I find myself wondering what women do in my situation when they don’t have the fierce love and support of a family like mine. I know how the frustration mounts for me, how it feels like a vise I can’t escape, how on my worst days I wish I could start walking and not stop till I fall into an exhausted heap too far away to negatively affect my family. I can’t imagine doing this without the grace and patience of my people.

One bittersweet facet of this time in my life is that memory is acutely sharpened for times gone by. Someone asked today if I remember my childhood phone number. It’s 912-382-0273. I was eleven when that stopped being my phone number. Eleven was a very long time ago. Memory moments keep popping into my head–not just monumental moments but plain old ordinary ones–with an acuteness that has my senses piqued in ways it’s hard to describe. This is a part of my season that I don’t really mind; I find comfort in reminiscing.

All in all, I guess I don’t mind being here in this season. Things could be a lot worse, and I am not about to wish away the blessings that keep me rooted in the here and now. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s where I am. And even with the frustration and the occasional fantasy of heading for the mountains and the life of an old hermit lady, I’m glad I’m here.

Simple

calm

“One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.”
Jack Kerouac

These days, they are anything but simple. They are complicated, complex, wrought with conflicting opinion and stand-taking and assertion. I am tired.

I long for calmer moments, of rainy afternoons and dark clouds gathered and thunder like the rumbling of a distant train.

Things are about to become much less quiet in my life as I start work as a TA and simultaneously begin work on my B.S. in Ed Studies full time online. This will be far from simple, but I need rest soul-deep if I have any hope of getting through the next two years.

I want the election to be over. Whatever we are going to wind up with for leadership I just want it done so (hopefully) the arguing and judgment will stop. If it doesn’t stop, then social media will not be seeing much of me. I need to focus in a positive direction.

I long for quietness, for lightness of being, for peace. I long for moments spent holding my husband’s hand or playing Little People with my grandchildren or making dinner for my big, beautiful family. I need to pull inward, to beckon my heart back home. Only then can I pour myself out the way God calls me to do as a wife, a mother, a Mimi, a teacher, a friend.

I am praying for renewal of purpose. For all of us.

25

angel

One by one, they march along
So soon flew twenty-five swift years
Slowly fades the goodbye song
But not the sting of farewell tears

All these hearts remember you
Rosebud lips and tiny hands
Recall is all we now can do
This empty’s hard to understand

Yesterday I painted you
A graceful, earth-freed soaring dove
Upon a canvas spread with blue
Brush-stroked with a mother’s love

Time tries to help our parting fade
But April whispers soft your name
As Heather blooms in springtime shade
And I still miss you just the same

Love,
Mama

________________
In Memory
Heather Rose Easterling
B/D April 18, 1990
~ * ~

What we’ve lost

lisaupclosecropvertblinds25

There are days when I am no match for social media. Today would be one of those days. I have un-followed en masse and trimmed my news feed down to a skeletal list of family and even fewer friends and the smattering of news outlets that have survived the cuts, and yet everywhere I turn the posts and headlines pelt me like sharp rocks to the temple.

Famous Christian artist admits Bible not trustworthy!

Pastor has pornographic visions, gets ousted by foundation he created!

ISIS beheading Christians {Video–Graphic content!}

Economy lowest since Great Depression!

President’s approval rating lowest in history!

Military cuts hundreds of soldiers while on active duty!

America being overrun by illegals!

Beloved actor takes own life!

The anger, the grief, the misunderstanding, the accusations, the judgment. The deep, discouraging, disappointing loss.

It’s enough to bury the sturdiest among us, so it can really do a number on someone juggling mid-life hormone flux. Today has become a day when I needed to walk away from my computer and pour myself into housework or textbook reading or planning dinner. Or pouring all the anguish into a blog post.

Life can be pretty overwhelmingly depressing lately. Which brings me to depression and how wildly misunderstood it (still) is.

I see the reactions to a beloved actor’s death, words flying back and forth, from “Didn’t he know how this would affect his family?” to “You’re finally free!” to “It was a decision! He CHOSE this!” and quite honestly I sit here at my little desk and cringe at how blindly judgmental folks can be.

At risk of oversimplifying, please allow me to state the apparently-not-so-obvious: The person in clinical, chemically-altered depression is not thinking with his/her own mind.

This person is not weighing everything out, determining the massive damage suicide will do to those s/he loves, deciding s/he doesn’t give a rip about that damage, and then in full cognizance of all this, pushing the End button. It just isn’t as clear-cut as that.

I remember clinical depression well. It scared me to death. The sky looked dark in the middle of the day. I’m talking, like almost-night dark. I remember asking my husband if that was what it felt like to go insane. It felt like I was literally losing my ability to think clearly. And the truth, I discovered later as I researched it all, is that in a sense I really was losing it.

And today, what I fear we’ve lost is the ability to consider that we might just not know everything about everybody and what’s going on in the mind of another. And because of that, it might be best to hold opinion-forming until we know a bit more.

What people in depression do not need is blame. They need help. They need a shoulder, a hand, a listening ear. They need hope, not harassment. They need compassion, not condemnation. Believe me, there’s far more than enough condemnation coming from within.

So maybe instead of condemning an actor for selfishly taking his own life and leaving everyone in pain, it would be a better use of our time and energy to reach out to that person we work with, go to school with, live near, see at church/the grocery store/the post office and show a little love. Be a friend. Make a difference that might keep that person around long enough to get the help that is so desperately needed.

Less finger-pointing and more friendship. Because haven’t we lost enough?

 

 

 

Him coming Home

Rest in peace, sweet Joey
3/9/10 – 1/24/14
Photo: Ali Flower Shryock

I must have felt it in the early hours
A tiny quake when startled awake whispering his name to Heaven
Mumbled soft in slumber but the heavens knew
It was him coming Home

There must be a sound, a shake, a sensing
When the fragile soul of a three-year-old
Breaks through time and space
To see God’s face

It’s emptier here in our numbness and tears
We fall trying to make sense of it all
We pray and we grieve
And yet still we believe

In our struggle to cope we are not without hope
Another treasure’s been laid sweetly up
A beautiful boy with blue eyes bright
To light our way to Heaven

When I fall

yellowflower2

Thanks for catching me when I fall
Sometimes the empty of it all caves in
Like waves rushing over pushing memory
Where too many moments crush at once
I run and the tears come and I miss her so
And you reach out and steady me again
I did that for her

Thanks for loving me through it all
When the sadness steals truth from my knowing
And I don’t hear your heart at first
Know that I always feel it, look past the surface
And see you reaching out to grab my hand
Knowing you love me like I love her
And you

When your voice seems pale in comparison

wildflower

They are ever so lovely, those voices crooning from behind microphones, bellowing from bodies wrapped in spandex and sequins and sometimes very little at all. Their words are music and their presence seems to grip the hearts of hearers with an ease that makes you cringe when you think of how small your voice sounds in your own ears, how unappealing your message feels even deep within your own heart.

I’ve felt that way, too.

I’ve watched them dance and sing and speak and win fans in a five-minute performance when most days for me it feels like climbing a mile-high mountain getting one blog post written or sharing my own story or facing a tiny crowd to sing a borrowed song.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter. I can’t command an audience like that, so what’s the point?

Then there are days like yesterday when a woman I hadn’t seen in months walks up to me and places her hand on my shoulder and says, “I read your blog. I follow your life through your words, and I want you to know that I read your story and it’s like I know you, feel your heart, understand your story. When you write, I can see who you really are and it makes me want to share who I am, too.”

And suddenly there’s a ray of hope that breaks through the cloud of comparison.

Because really, I wouldn’t want to dress like those performers or dance the way they do. That isn’t me. That may be their stories, but it isn’t mine. And maybe it isn’t their story at all—maybe in reality it is a façade to cover what they’d rather the watching world not see.

I don’t want a façade. I want the world to see the real me.

And maybe that is what this whole thing is really about: me realizing that I don’t need to worry about how fancy or strikingly-clad or brightly lit my story is. Because it is simply mine.

And how amazing is it that I have the opportunity every single day to put myself out there, to show the real me without glitz or fanfare, to open myself up to everyday people who couldn’t relate to those Hollywood stars if they tried and who need a much more real and believable hand to hold on this journey.

I’m no prize-winning blue rose, but a tiny wildflower can bloom beautiful in a field of dry weeds.

Maybe the fact that I’m no celebrity makes me much more valuable to the millions out there who are anything but famous. People just like me. Maybe this little star doesn’t have to be blindingly brilliant to twinkle a smile in a hurting heart.

Perhaps in the end, it is the ordinary story that becomes extraordinary in its telling.

I’m willing to shine. Are you?

~  *  ~

 

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post