Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Tears and tissues…

There’s a powerful quote that unexpectedly surfaced this morning as I quietly sobbed about the news of two more mass shootings within hours of each other: “There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not a mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…”  ~Washington Irving~

While tears are literally a body fluid serving to cleanse and lubricate our eyes, more importantly, they are often formed by the crying associated with strong internal emotional responses.  Modern culture is more forgiving of crying because of the known health and mental well-being benefits, but many cultures still consider crying undignified or even unacceptable forms of response.  So why tears and tissues?  Beyond the tragic news this morning, several recent situations have shed powerful personal light on the sacredness of tears.

We often joke in our family about the emotional responses evoked from advertising.  Take those Hallmark commercials (“when you care enough to send the very best”) and most of their movies; they get us every single time.  There are a couple of TV shows stimulating emotional responses because the characters are somehow living out our lives on the little screen.  Daily news events, poetry, short stories, novels, magazine articles, cards, letters, emails, social media, and more…all can awaken and summon unexpected emotional responses through shared human connection.

These days, it’s quite unusual to see my dad cry anytime.  His emotions and responses are fairly stagnant due to his advancing Alzheimer’s.  He’s not easily moved to great JOY or deep sorrow because he takes most news and situations with little-to-no reaction (this is how I know he’s not really processing all life throws his way). Gratefully, his witty sense of humor and teasing are still intact, thus we can “spar” with one another on his good days.  A couple of weeks ago, though, he had an emotional meltdown when the reality of my leaving on a short trip came to pass.  I talked him through the plan with his white board, handed him tissues, hugged him up tight, and did my best to reassure him his “team” would be with him every step of the way in my absence.  His favorite caregiver took over and I gingerly climbed into my vehicle to leave for the airport.  It completely broke my heart to experience this surprising response from him, thus I quietly cried clear across the country on the plane until I fell asleep exhausted (sorry, lady in the seat next to me).

My family knows, in an ironic twist quite outside my comfort zone, I cry more now than ever before in my life.  It’s not unusual for me to wipe tears of JOY or sadness on a daily basis.  This new phenom entered my world exactly three weeks to the day after mom’s passing three years ago, when the reality of losing her physical being (long after losing her mental and emotional being from Alzheimer’s) finally surfaced in a powerful delayed response.  I was quietly participating in the Anglican Evensong service at York Minster Cathedral in York, England.  Our little group was sitting in the beautiful choral loft on the opposite side of the chorus and vicar leading worship.  The dam of emotions suddenly broke and a profound flood of quiet but ugly, messy crying ensued.  My traveling companions vividly recall the bizarre scene of continuing to sing the liturgical responses and helplessly scrambling to find just one tissue, a scarf, or anything to help me stop the continuous flow of fluids.  Once the service ended and I managed to somewhat reign in my quiet sobs, the vicar approached our little group.  He quietly handed me his personal handkerchief along with the invitation to walk with him.  The two of us strolled leisurely along the magnificent handcrafted stone structure with its stunning collection of medieval stained glass, talking about loss and hope in this journey we call life.  The vicar ended our conversation by gently reminding me how “shedding tears as Jesus did is a powerful emotional release when dealing with all this season of your life evokes; simply embrace and celebrate the process in all its forms…” 

During a recent lunch with a friend of mine, we commented on the fact we’ve both cried enough tears in the past year to possibly resolve a saltwater shortage.  (Fun fact:  Research shows humans make 15 to 30 gallons of tears each year on a normal basis).  Often times, and in both our cases, the physical aspect of our tears clears the way and helps us gracefully move forward in hope.

I have a wonderful friend who enthusiastically collects and carries bandannas with him each day.  Because of him, I’m always on the lookout for unique designs to gift to him, knowing if I needed one at any time, he would have one for me.  Yes; you guessed it; he recently gifted me with one, thus starting my own collection by emotional default.

So here’s hoping my friends, we remember to embrace the sacredness of our tears on our journeys…and please find a little comfort in knowing I’m making it a mission to have a tissue or bandanna ready to give you when your flood of tears flows.  🙂

Let it be; yesterday, today, and tomorrow…

“Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…”

“There are places I’ll remember, All my life, though some have changed; some forever, not for better; some have gone, and some remain…in my life, I’ve loved them all…”

“All you need is love; all you need is love; all you need is love, love; love is all you need…”

“Hear comes the sun (doo doo doo doo); here comes the sun, and I say; it’s all right…”

“The long and winding road that leads to your door; will never disappear.  I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here; lead me to your door…”

For all her classical voice training, opera, choral work, and more, Momma loved the music, and most especially the lyrics, of the Beatles.  A powerful early memory of mine is sitting next to her on the piano bench after she practiced some aria or solo piece while she picked her way through the latest Beatles’ tunes.  Though we never had much conversation about the group or their massive body of work, she made it clear her respect and admiration ran fathoms deep.

Once I began formal piano training, my reward for required daily practicing was mom sitting next to me on the bench teaching me how to play and sing a Beatles’ tune.  As my younger sis beat on pots and pans (she liked percussion after all), mom gingerly chorded notes on the piano with me, never missing a word of the lyrics, and often reminding me how glorious it was to “whisper words of wisdom…let it be.” 

Sitting in the dark cinema quietly humming my way through the Yesterday movie this afternoon, her abiding admiration and powerful respect was felt anew for their profound musical contribution.  If she were here, she would have sung her way through the entire film, reminiscing and reflecting through each song.

So, on what would have been your 77th birthday today, thanks Momma, for embracing so many amazing musical genres and avenues while doing your best to always encourage me to “whisper words of wisdom; let it be…”

Flying high…

It’s no secret my dad loves flying.  He was a pilot of his own plane for many years, flying various locations to work sites on business or on adventures with family and friends.  He also proudly served in the Texas Civil Air Patrol, piloting multiple search-and-rescue missions through the years before turning in his wings (and boasts even today he can still fit into his required uniform).

Not long after his official Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he asked me one evening to take him once again to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, specifically the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport, a companion facility to the original museum on the National Mall.  These days, what daddy wants (when he remembers), daddy gets, so we headed north to visit and stay with family outside the beltway, spending an entire day at the museum.  While you were not with us to experience this day through his eyes firsthand, some others unexpectedly were…and what a treasured flying-high memory for all.

These two ginormous hangars at the Udvar-Hazy are filled to capacity with thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Space Shuttle, Discovery (I know you’re impressed; I was paying attention, huh?!).  As we entered through security, Pop insisted on navigating the museum chronologically so he could share his knowledge and insight as an aviation history lesson; he was the teacher and I was his sole pupil…for about 5 minutes.

You see, as we stood in front of a Wright Brothers glider and Pop waxed eloquently on the profound contributions this team made in 1903 and beyond, I noticed a mom and her four children scooching closer to listen and absorb.  This little group continued to follow his path along all the early flight experiments and exhibits while dad talked about “how failure forces us revisit, reflect, and improve on our hunches.” 

As we entered the age of WWI and WWII (and picked up dad with a group of five elementary-age girls), the aircraft were divided among the various service organizations, their important missions, and successes.  We stopped at length in front of the Enola Gay, when the world entered into the atomic age in August of 1945.  This B-29 Superfortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from the island of Tinian to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, thus forever changing the course of world history.  POP KNOWS ALL ABOUT THIS PLANE and he left no detail to chance!  You see, dad grew up across the street from the sister of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets (later Brigadier General), the pilot of this infamous mission.  Pop spent many childhood hours visiting, questioning, and listening to Tibbets’ stories, later talking with him at airshows around the country…but back to the museum.  It was about this time I noticed an even larger group gathered around us…a museum docent with a senior citizen group of six and then nine middle-school-age guys.  Dad continued sharing vast knowledge, answering questions presented to him on aviation, and talking like the flying expert he is.  About four hours later, Pop stopped, looked at me, and asked if we could sit down for a snack.  The docent gave him a museum hat and said, “you’re hired.”  The mom, dad, and children cheered in thanks.  The middle school guys each shook his hand and thanked him personally with one commenting, “you’re the BEST part of this trip today, and by the way, you look great to obviously be 90-something!” (Pop’s not even 80 yet 🙂 )

After so much complex medical news, decisions, changes, and more in recent weeks, this day was balm for both our souls, a truly JOYfilled experience where daddy’s older more powerful memories allowed him to share his wealth of expertise with others.  The pictures portray his passion and purpose along with his will to positively carry on in spite of deepening memory loss.

Pop miraculously understands how little things in life are to be celebrated, and for just a few hours on this random day, he bravely once again stood out among the stars.  As daddy himself often says, “eras have a way of ending all over the place.” Here’s hoping we find more ways to continue sparking his powerful memories and take what we’re given with grace and dignity “as off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high, into the sun…”     

 

Momisms…

My momma always told me the best sermon is a great example, thus she and daddy (for better, or worse sometimes) taught us daily by their example.  My sister and I know we “chose our parents wisely,” because in the midst of everyday life, there were daily lessons by their poignant example.

As I watch moms today in the grocery store, at the park, and everywhere else in the community, it stuns me how moms must be as wise as Solomon, as smart as Socrates, as unconditionally loving as Mother Teresa, and as disciplined as an Olympic Athlete.  My mom demonstrated daily who she was and lived by the legacy she created with southern sass, grit, humor, and backbone.  She shaped our character, expected integrity, and encouraged us to dream big for the future while finding a passion within to independently support ourselves (because we grew up in a progressive household knowing it was our sole responsibility to take care of ourselves…no matter what).  We learned to control our attitude and effort because “those two things are in our constant control.”  And just like her classroom setting, mom set the bar extremely high for us, but provided a loving cushion when we stumbled along the way.  Our mom was our first and most important teacher, advocate, and disciplinarian; she set the rules and we followed them…mostly…(sorry about riding the laundry basket down the stairs).

While mom’s physical voice is now silent, the echos of her lessons and expectations ring strong inside my soul.  I’m humbly grateful and thankful for the example of my mom.  I was so busy growing up and then raising two little women of my own, I often forgot she was growing older; mom was always smart enough to hold on, and then brave enough to let go on her journey.  Thanks, momma, for demonstrating the courage, hope, JOY, and unconditional love so I could one day be a mom to the two extraordinary miracles who shower my world in JOY!  I miss you so…and Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms!

Crossing Wires

While I’ve been accused of “crossing wires” many times, my heart literally challenged this concept for multiple hours over the past weekend.  Gratefully, this story has a positive outlook…

I’ve lived with atrial fibrillation most of my life, experiencing occasional flutters or skips at times including a stronger episode following the birth of our first child.  Each time, my heart naturally converted itself back into natural rhythm in a relatively short amount of time.  Not so, this time; it presented as a full-scale, ambulance-riding, cardiac-concierge event.  This was an excellent example in thankfully knowing my body really well and paying attention to its specific warning signs in order to seek medical assistance in a timely manner.

In spite of the trauma, the silver lining (after a full cardiac workup) is the professional affirmation my heart is a “strong, much-younger-than-my-age, remarkably boring muscle,” performing well in form, shape, size, and functionality.  My new cardiologist reports my issue “is strictly electrical, because your mechanics are impeccable.” He did note, however, “a slightly larger halo-effect surrounding your heart, but it’s simply due to the fact you were a long-time educator.”  🙂   Oh yes…I adore this man.

A-Fib is not to be taken lightly because it’s a leading cause of strokes. Losing the beloved Luke Perry to a stroke on the very day I’m laying on a cardiac table receiving a transesophageal echocardiogram and cardioversion is absolutely not lost on me. Eating less, moving more, listening, and paying attention to my miraculously aging body are lifelong goals–getting old and staying healthy continue to be a full-time job!  And ladies, as natural nurturers, we must help each other find more ways to graciously attend and give back to ourselves in the midst of giving to everyone else around us!

Longfellow observed, “the heart, like the mind, has a memory; in it are the most precious keepsakes.” Here’s hoping your heart (and mine) find natural ways to maintain the keepsake of the steady rhythm it knows so well.  Just know I’m walking in rhythm with you, my friends…

Grace-filled living…

It’s cold and our frayed quilts and blankets are working overtime around here.  Knowing I needed to mend and wash the favorite one in dad’s favorite chair, he insisted I provide another one in its place (and I did).  The one I gave him started an unusual conversation about family quilts.  In the midst of his story, he profoundly commented, “just like the changing of these quilts comes the transitions in our lives, many with uncertainty; others with excitement and, your favorite word, Bethy, ‘JOY.’ ”  

Yes; my mouth fell open.

Combining a multi-generational family into one home during this season of our lives obviously doesn’t come with an instructional manual…at least one I can understand.  Home is still where our stories begin and continue, and with that being said, we’re a little over a full year into tenderly stitching dad and Princess Sassypants (Poppy) into our home.  While nothing is perfect (remember, I despise that word), through grace, we thankfully haven’t lost our sense of humor yet.  Laughter, teasing, and smiles are some of the greatest tension relievers on the tough days.  My mom often noted how “the shortest distance between two people is always laughter.”  Daddy subscribes to the philosophy of “a good time to laugh is when you can.”  Even with his growing health concerns and loss of memory, he is remarkably full of life, laughter, and lots of stories.  He is the proverbial rose-colored glasses guy because he whole-heartily believes there is always, always, always something to be grateful for each day.  He chooses to walk to the sunshine in order to leave the shadows behind him.

On the really long, tough days when none of us have much strength left to deal, we work to gently remind one another to reach a little deeper into our personal well of grace where more resources pour out to move us forward.  And then there’s the tiny spark in daddy’s eye before he gracefully reminds me how “flexible people never get bent out of shape.”

His brain is astounding…one minute not remembering how to tie his shoelaces, and the next minute, spouting pearls of wisdom rendering me speechless.

You‘re right daddy; families are like our old quilts…carefully crafted and pieced together in colorful memories bound tightly in love.  Although they tend to unravel at times, each can be stitched back together with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots and lots of grace.

If you’re on a similar journey, just know I have thread, scraps, and sewing needles…along with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots of grace to share, my friends…

The gift of giving…

My family knows me so well…their personal choices for bestowing gifts upon me during the holidays were overwhelming on an whole new level.  From a Gratitude Box, a unique journal, and books to luxurious self-care bathing products, stunning jewelry, and tickets for musical events in the coming year, I was well-spoiled beyond imagination. Each giver took valuable time to really think about my interests, my needs, my wants, and my dreams while thoughtfully nourishing my mind, body, spirit, and soul in extraordinary ways.

My Momma often talked about the secret to a success life:  it’s in “the giving.”  GIVE is an action word and when we give, our lives are touched and changed forever.  All around us are daily opportunities to give; money is only a small part of what is needed in the world.  While we cannot give what we do not have, we are all wealthy in magnificent ways.  Instead, GIVE support, encouragement, time, attention, advice, honor, blood (literally, y’all–give a pint some day soon), praise, respect, enthusiasm, a smile (or ten), energy, ideas…this list is endless!  Each of us are givers and are gifted in miraculous ways.  Challenge yourself and others; dig deep if you have to, and then allow your natural generosity to spring forth from your personal well in some spectacular way as a “gift of giving” every single day…after all, it’s one more positive way to keep the season alive each day of the year.