Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Business and Grief

When my sister died, I had to take over my dad's guardianship (not his care; I live clear across the country, but his legal and financial affairs). It was a lot of work and worry to get it started, and five weeks into the process, my son died. When we returned home from burying my son, I had to immediately continue the complicated and sometimes confusing process to get the permanent order from the court for my dad's affairs. Then I had to periodically report all things financial to the court.
Now I am backing my way back out of that process. Close a bank account (but not yet the primary account, in case any bills come in). Get the death certificates to show certain entities, as I had to do with my sister's passing 4 1/2 years ago. Do the final financial reporting, and so on.
It just feels a little weird to be putting it all in reverse. I was never comfortable with reversals. Also, I'm still in the same place of wondering what to do in what order, and not being able to ask the attorney questions every minute, but sometimes just do it, and perhaps once again I will find out later that I did it incorrectly, and fix it. At least now I know that most things are "fixable".
I'm not sure why I'm sharing all this. I'm not seeking sympathy. I've already received that and I appreciate it. I'm just sharing about a process. As I said yesterday, in the meantime his caregiver family has been taking care of the "junk" in his storage unit for me, which was most of what was there, after we and they looked through it together for items of value or sentimental value. So, they are backing their way out of this process too. I'm so appreciative of all they have done and are still doing.
I'm not sure about the other part of the process...grieving. I'm not sure what that looks like. Maybe I've already done it. Maybe I already did it when my dad had his mentally debilitating stroke, followed by my sister's death, followed by my son's death (and one of my nieces, and two brothers-in-law, and a couple of dear friends...all within about five years).
Maybe my grief came out enough in those moments four years ago when I couldn't track an important envelope, and I cried and told my story to a perfect stranger at a UPS store (who didn't know what to do with my story, poor guy), and when I left an important item on the counter at the post office (I'd already told them my story), and I panicked about the lost item, and when I came back, they looked up with a kind smile and handed it to me. I didn't know they would remember me, here in the big city. Maybe my grief came out enough when I used to cry at Mass every Sunday morning, after my son died.
Maybe I grieved my father (and mother) enough after I moved out of state at the age of 18. Or maybe I grieved enough when I was a teenager, and I didn't like that they had changed (in my eyes), and they didn't like that I had changed (in their eyes).

But maybe also, the good memories help outweigh the sadness, too. I will always remember that my best vacations when my children were young were visiting my dad. Ed and the children and I would go on outings during the day, and when we returned to the house, my dad would have cooked a delicious dinner for us. One time he had also created a wooden Aggravation game board for the kids and had painted golf tees as pegs.

When we moved from Los Angeles, my dad drove down from Washington to bring our house up to code so we could sell it. When we lived in Kentucky, he flew out to see us, even though he wasn't comfortable with flying so far anymore. And we had some deep talks about the past. Those kinds of talks always seemed to make him uncomfortable; and when I got ready to go visit him last time, I wanted to say some things to him. I never did though. I don't think he would have understood. Mostly he understood only the present moment by then. And mostly we couldn't understand his words. But one time, I laughed at something on the TV, and he looked up at me and said clearly, "Oh! It's you!" That's a beautiful memory I cherish.

What I had wanted to tell him, but didn't – I think the time was long past - was: "Dad, you didn't raise me perfectly every minute, but I didn't with my kids either. But you were always willing to listen to me prattle on. You taught me life skills and independence. You were a good father! You did good!  And yes, I know. It's 'you did well'. J "


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Maybe it's Not the Yelling

I was waiting for someone, and I just got to thinking about moms, especially moms going through menopause or moms not getting enough sleep, or any moms, really, who yell at their kids sometimes and feel badly (as I did when my kids were children). And I found an old grocery list in my purse to write on, and I just started writing the following. I've been in the trenches, and I've made a lot of mistakes. I still do. So if there's anything here that makes you feel badly...please, improve if you want to, but know that my purpose here was simply to lift you up. I think most mothers are "telling" the right things, most of the time, even when they are sometimes yelling.  

Maybe it's Not the Yelling

Maybe it's not the yelling.
Maybe it's: What are we telling?

What are our words?
What are our messages?

Are we telling them if they don't hurry up,
We will leave them behind?
(I won't try to keep you safe.)

Are we telling them if they don't comply with us -
every single time - they are bad people?
(I don't respect you.)

Maybe it's not the yelling.
Maybe it's: What are we telling?

Maybe we speak to them softly,
but tell them they should always give in to others.
(Your own needs are not important.)

Maybe we whisper to them, in gentle tones,
not to sit between dad and me next time.
(You are in the way.)

Maybe it's not the yelling?
Maybe it's: What are we telling?

What are our words?
What are our messages?

Are we yelling to say, "Would you hurry up
so we can get to your doctor appointment"?
(Your needs are important.)

Are we yelling to say, "Would you do your chores,
because I'm tired and your help is important"?
(I am glad you are part of this family.)  

Sometimes we need to say we're sorry for yelling,
remind them again that they brighten our day!
But maybe it isn't as much the yelling 

as what we are telling.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr. Day - 2016

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what he stood for and what he accomplished. Let's not forget what still needs to be done. Oh, I know some of my friends don't think anything still needs to be done. Some are even angry. There are things to be angry about, regarding systems and policies, and maybe we don't all agree with what those are. But where we need to be careful about anger is when it becomes directed toward people or groups of people.

There once was someone I was very angry with for over a year or more. I didn't think I hated this person, but I later realized that if my feelings for this person hadn't turned into hate, then I don't know what hate is. I have repented of this, of course; but I'm sharing to say that it was only much later on down the road that I recognized it for what it was. In case you think - because I'm talking about Martin Luther King Day - that this story was about race, it wasn't. The person in question was the same race, economic class, and gender as I am, but my point is that we tend to read about hate and think that it isn't us, that it would never, ever be us. Yet, it's so easy to cross that line and not even be aware of it. 

When I read Martin Luther King Jr. speaking of "love, not hate"…I think his words were revolutionary for our world, and still are. I also think we often don't realize what hate means. We think it's this nebulous thing that doesn't apply to us. Here's the definition from Merriam Webster's online dictionary: "intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury". 

All my life, in all the parts of the country where I have lived, I have heard comments that would seem to bear out that definition, and especially regarding race. I believe there are still systems that need to be improved to protect people from other people's hate, but I also believe that one of the most important things we can each do as a person is to strive to love and to keep letting love overcome and drive hatred from our world. What if we look at people respectfully as individuals? What if we see all people as the same, yet each unique, each struggling with something, each possessing a great treasure of goodness inside, each created by God with enormous potential on earth and the potential to inherit heaven?

If we find ourselves complaining about people of a certain race or religion or nationality, are we looking at them as individuals? Did God - who made each of the snowflakes different - make people of any one race or religion or nationality all the same? Did he make people who deal with any particular circumstance all the same?  Did he make people who espouse any particular view all the same? Or did He make them all different? And doesn't he look at each person whom he lovingly created, and continue to love them, individually, uniquely? If we really stop and think, if we really stop and feel, can we do any less? Can we do any less for Him? 

Saturday, January 02, 2016

My Mom's Thirty Guidelines for Life:

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. I remember watching my mom's hands as she drove. They were always soft. It wasn't because she didn't work but because she always remembered to use lotion, something I couldn't seem to pick up. 

My mom was born to an Irish father who, I was later told, sometimes used his fists to settle a problem, and a Dutch woman who kept an immaculate house and had only an eighth grade education. They grew up in the Midwest with my grandma having to quit school to care for her siblings and feed them, her father, and the farm workers, after her mother died. My grandfather left home at 16 to escape the abuse of his step-father. He worked as a cowboy, a farmer, and later as a professional carpenter. When I knew them, they lived in a darling little house he had built, which was decorated with the fruits of my grandmother's knitting, crocheting, and embroidery hobbies; and they had an extensive garden and orchard.

My mom married my German-English father, whose father had always been a professional carpenter and whose mother had been a teacher and, when I knew my paternal grandmother, she was the leader of the state ladies' auxiliary for the carpenters' union. They lived in town, kept up on current events, and when my parents married, my dad told my mom not to tell his parents that her bookkeeping job was for a brewery.  

My parents worked and scrimped to put my dad through college to become an electronics engineer, and then, all his life, he worked his own business on the side, in the evenings, as well. Though not a professional carpenter as both my grandfathers had been, he could also build. He built a tiny house from scrap lumber for himself and my mom while he was in college. I once asked him if my mom ever complained that they didn't have indoor plumbing and he said no. Later, he built a combination playhouse and tool shed, a desk and, with a co-owner family, an addition to our little beach cabin. I like to jokingly say that I grew up with an outhouse and a hand pump, but of course, that was only on weekends and only for a few years until they installed indoor plumbing.

Someone used to speak of my maternal grandmother in a disparaging way (behind her back, of course). I have no recollection who it was who said it, but it was pointed out that she said 'ain't', ate her peas off her knife, and didn't have a high school education. I never saw it that way. But when I look back, I even see the opposite. I recall a picture of my mom and dad roller skating before they got married, and my mom looked very classy. She must have gotten her classy start somewhere. 

I've always remembered my mom saying that this or that was "not classy". But recently, I had a chance encounter with someone who struck me as possibly being upper class (whatever that is, right?), and for some reason, she made me think of my mom. Then I remembered, too, one time - years ago - that I had the privilege of flying business elite because my daughter was working for an airline, I was flying stand-by, and they had the space. I met a family who struck me as the epitome of upper class...the kind of classiness that looks nice, well groomed, but not necessarily expensively, and who smiles and treats everyone with respect. Remembering that, last night, I started recalling some of the things my mom taught me, and then I started writing them down, and then the list got longer and longer. 

This may be some-50's and 60's, some simply common sense, and some just my mom. But here are thirty rules of life that I was taught by a woman who came from uneducated parents who someone had the gall to make fun of, but who probably had more "class" than the person who said it. Boiling down what my mom taught me into a sentence, I would say that being "classy", as my mom taught it, has little to do with either formal education or money. I can't say I practice all of this, all of the time, and I'm sure you all could make similar lists. But I've simply enjoyed this walk down memory lane and writing a little tribute to a woman whom I didn't fully appreciate for too many years. 

My Mom's Thirty Guidelines for Life:

Dress appropriately for the occasion; 
dress up a little to go downtown
Take a bath and dress up a bit to go to the doctor
Dress according to custom, for example, white shoes in summer, black shoes in winter, and the purse should match
Buy new clothing for the beginning of school and for going on vacation

It's okay to wear hand-me-downs, as long as they are clean and neat
If you let a hem down and there's a line, you can cover it by adding rick-rack where the line is
It's okay to make your own clothes; it's probably better quality than store-bought
Always sew a missing button or a hem right away, before you wear the item again
Always be clean, with hair and clothing neatly groomed; it isn't classy not to be well groomed

Treat people the way you would want to be treated; it isn't classy to treat people badly
Treat everyone, without exception, with respect
Never stare or comment on someone's appearance
Never make fun of anyone
Say thank you to the cashier, to your hostess when you visit, and to the bus driver
Say excuse me when you walk in front of someone
Write thank you notes

Don't talk about bathroom functions, illness, or underwear in public
Always cover your mouth when you sneeze, cough, or yawn
Don't burp out loud or yawn out loud
Chew gum with your mouth closed and never blow bubbles in public
Don't ask nosy or overly personal questions
Let the people you live with know where you are going and when you will be home

Keep a neat and clean bedroom, bathroom, and house
You can make delicious food without spending a lot of money
You don't have to buy the most expensive item, but you shouldn't necessarily buy the cheapest item
Homemade gifts are as good as, or better than, store-bought gifts

Work hard
No one is going to do everything for you
Working together with relatives on projects is expected, and it's fun too
Use your talents