Archive for the ‘Positive Attitude’ Category

The Ring and the New Year

I guess the new year always brings in the good and the sad.  The reflection of what is not great compared to the wonderful.  This was reflected in my day both physically and mentally.  As my kids are back in school after the break and I am getting ready to head back to work, I am trying to finish some tasks and tend to matters that I have decided are important now. 

The day started off misty and rainy damp.  The sky was gray, but then gave way to the sun and the temperature rose.  For January, it was a perfectly lovely day.  I had to put on my sunglasses and take off my coat.  As I was driving to the jewelers, I noticed road signs that stated de-icing efforts were underway and, sure enough, minutes later I saw a truck putting salt on the roads.  This struck me as so odd.  The temperature was in the 60s and yet we were preparing for snow several days later. 

In North Carolina, even if it does snow, it will be sunny and warm within hours to days and the snow or ice will melt and the temperatures will again rise into the 50s.  A downward blip to make you rest and reflect followed by an upward surge of sunshine and activity.  And so is life…..

Once I made it to the jewelry store, I rang the doorbell and was buzzed inside.  It was as if I was stepping into the past.  I hadn’t been to this store in years and the memories flooded.  I pictured my late husband returning to this store week after week before he proposed to find a flawless, perfect diamond.  I recalled the stories of the people there trying to convince him the ring he was considering was perhaps not the best choice since it wasn’t a typical engagement ring (it was the perfect choice for me – Jim was right).  I looked around at the style of the store, the fanciness of the décor, the dress of the people who worked there and it was so my late husband.  It made me smile, and, of course, it made me sad at the same time.

After Jim died, I continued to wear my engagement ring on my left hand for a long time.  Then I decided to not wear it for an even longer time.  Recently I have decided I want to wear it again, but this time on my right hand instead (and thus the need to get it resized at the fancy jewelry store).  I am excited to get my ring back and to wear it again.  Jim did an excellent job selecting a ring he knew I would love and it will always remind me of him.  Wearing it again will be lovely.  The gloom of the past many years is trying to give way to a sunshine upsurge. 

As my life continues to change and morph into the new normal it is, I know I will continue to have periods of misty, damp times.  The new year reminds us of this.  The new year always brings this chasm – excitement for what is ahead, the possibilities and also the tension that comes from expectations not being met or conditions not being what you want them to be at the moment.  Patience is definitely needed as I wait for the sunshine to penetrate through the mist.  This past year has been sad and frustrating at times but also very wonderful in so many ways.  The promise of the future and the new year is great however and I know my sunshine is on the horizon.  

New Book Giveaway

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that today is the last day of my book giveaway on goodreads.  I’m excited for you to read the new book as it has some neat contributions – my 9 year old son wrote some insights, my 7 year old daughter illustrated the book, and a friend’s eulogy to Jim is included in the book.  It is entitled When Miracles Aren’t Enough: The Lessons Tragedy Taught Me.  It has been well received and I’m excited to be giving away 20 books.  Please share the link as well with your friends.  Thanks so much!  Erica

Here is the link to enter the giveaway (again make sure you do it by the end of today – Friday March 4th): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27314454-when-miracles-aren-t-enough

 

How Death Changes Us

I hadn’t seen her in awhile, many months, and much has happened since that time. A warm smile and a sweet embrace followed.  Then the words, “How are you?”  These were sincere words.  A question from another widow.  Then the firing of questions back and forth between us, trying to get in as much as we could as we knew the time was short – the meeting was about to be called back to session.

This widow is older than I. Her children are now adults and grandchildren stumble at her feet.  My children are in elementary school.  She is now retired but still quite active working in so many other unpaid ways.  I am in a paying career at the moment.  Her late husband was told of his illness shortly before mine died, and her husband died just a few weeks later.  My husband’s illness lasted years.

The opposites that this widow and I shared were direct, but, at the same time, we had so much in common. I knew her.  She knew me.  The knowingness that comes with the transition to this new phase of our lives.

As I was contemplating these two sides of the coin that we shared, I heard her ask “Are you the same Erica?” Of course too much had happened over those seven plus years of struggling to regain my late husband’s life only for it to end in heartache.  She knew the answer, but was looking for a bit more.  I gave her the glance of knowing exactly what she meant and where she was headed.  Then without skipping a beat, she continued “I am not.  How can we be?  But you know what surprises me the most?”  I waited.  I really wasn’t sure what she was going to say.  I was intrigued and wanted to know – I have so much respect for her, and she has so much more experience than I do in her wisdom and walk in faith.  Would our answer be the same or on opposite sides of the coin?

With the twinkle I have come to see often in her eyes, she said, “What surprises me the most is that I have changed and I am happy about that.  I have changed for the better.”

With all the sadness, with the loneliness, with the heartache that can come in waves, so too comes the good. The knowledge that we will see our late husbands again in heaven and that they are great where they are now, free of pain and doing all sorts of things I can only dream about.  The hope that goodness can grow out of sadness.  The renewed people we have become.  The new perspectives we have.  The appreciation for gifts and life and new people that enter our lives.  The joy that can become with honoring and remembering our late husbands always but also carving out a new path for the rest of our journey here.

How my friend is “better” she couldn’t clarify for me. The meeting was being called back to order.  But I can guess.  The better when we realize we cannot control the events that may happen in our lives, but the freedom we gain when we control how we view those events and how we will approach the rest of our years here.   As for me and my family, we will continue to be “better” and grow “stronger” every month and we will continue to love and welcome new people into our lives.  This is important as relationships make life better.  Relationships make me better – they help to heal, they help to grow, they help me become a better mom, they help me become the person God intends for me to be.

Can a 25-minute encounter change your life?

The doorbell rang.  I was impressed on the punctual arrival.  A sweet elderly lady greeted me with a smile.  She had travelled an hour to pick up a hospital bed for her husband.  The same one my late husband used.  We went to the garage and I showed her how to put it back together (it was in parts for easy mobility) and we talked logistics.  Then the question came, “Why are you selling the bed?”  I had to explain.  I was grateful for the question – so many people avoid talking or asking about Jim these days for fear they will upset me.  She looked shocked.  I was reminded how shocking it is that neurological Lyme disease can kill a person.  Then she told me her story.  Her husband had a stroke.  At first the physicians misdiagnosed it as Parkinson’s disease.  Then while he was walking in his disabled state, a car struck him.  I was horrified for her.  We both fought back tears.  We talked about the pain of seeing someone you love suffer and the frustration of not being able to help them in the ways we would want to.  Then she announced, “Come meet him.”  I didn’t realize he was in the car.  We walked over and I opened the door.  Another lovely wide beautiful smile.  A face aged by years of “doing”.  Wrinkles, crow’s feet, and signs of stress and age on the face.  A beautiful face.  We chatted for a bit and then I excused myself so I could get the bed into their van.

After we loaded up the bed, the woman asked, “How much do I owe you?” as she pulled out an envelope of cash.  “There is no need,” I replied, “I hope you enjoy the bed and that it is helpful for your husband.”  Then I paused and added, “I’m happy it is going to you both.  It served Jim well and I hope it does the same for your husband.”  Again, the woman had the look of shock on her face.  “No, I insist I pay you something,” she protested.  I again said no.  Then her tears flowed, she embraced me with the biggest bear hug I’ve had in awhile.  “God bless you,” she said.  “God bless you too,” I replied back.  She stood back and then came to hug me again, so genuine in her gestures.  Several more times she commented “God bless you,” and she meant it.

I approached the man again in the passenger seat.  His wife had told him the bed was a gift.  He started tearing up and then the tears started to fall.  The three of us were all there crying with the connection of pain, blessings of having lived good lives, and the frustration that comes with the knowledge that things sometimes go wrong and you can’t control them.

As the van drove off and I waved goodbye, my tears continued to stream down my face.  This couple, elderly and so full of love for each other, had just blessed my life.  I was saddened in that I had thought Jim and I would get to that point – be the cute elderly couple who still enjoyed each other so much.  I was glad too though to have made a small difference in this particular couple’s lives.

My 25-minute encounter with these two beautiful people reminded me that there are blessings always and that even though we are not in control of events, we are still in control of our attitudes and perspectives.  Thank God (literally) for amazing people to come along and remind us of the important things in life.

The Surreal Camping Experience: What the Skies Can Tell Us

We occasionally have those experiences that seem so unreal that they would be found in a movie. You know those stories someone tells you where you think “yeah, sure, come on…” but your friend insists she is telling the truth.  Well I had one of those the other week.  My kids and I were at a family camp weekend with our church.  I struggled to go on the front end – not because I didn’t want to go, but it was just so much – so much to do to get prepared physically and the mental anguish involved: the ultimate sadness of engaging in these activities without my husband at my side, the reminders of death, unfairness, of being alone.  But the three of us went – my 8 year old son, my 5 year old daughter and me.  It was the right thing to do and the kids were excited.  When we arrived that Friday evening, it was raining cats and dogs, it was dark, the drive was longer than anticipated, and again, I was thinking I made a mistake.

But as with most things, once you start, it is fine and often times, it is good. The next day brought sunshine, kids playing and laughing, and things felt right.  But the skies decided to again get cloudy.  The timing was just fine as it was mandatory rest time for all campers.  My kids went scampering off with friends and I was left alone to return to our cabin.  I pulled out the chair and sat on the front porch admiring the scenery.  Our cabin was on the water, there was green grass and trees all around, and I could hear seagulls in the background.  And so I sat.  The longer I sat and watched, the more I could see – including a man standing on the dock.  He wore a blue rain jacket with a hood and he was alone.  I thought that was odd given that I was the only single parent there and most adults were with spouses, buddies, or children.

As the clouds continued to roll in a haze fell in the backdrop of the dock. Now I could see the man even more clearly.  I couldn’t figure out what he was doing.  It didn’t look like anything.  There was no one else around – rain was inevitable and everyone was indoors.  Who was he?  The logical part of me said it was a counselor or someone working at the camp, but the longing part of me wanted it to be Jim.  Looking away from the man at this time, I saw an amazing site.  On the right side of the dock all across the water, the sky and landscape was completely covered with hazy rain.  I couldn’t make out the hills, the buildings or anything else.  It was a blanket of dew.  To the left of the dock, the sky was still visible and the imagery intact.  The rain hadn’t gotten that far yet.

Two things struck me:

  1. How much more detail I could make out with the haze in place. My attention was directed to the one object I could still see – the man. I could really see him now. I waited for “Jim” to turn around, wave to me, and smile.
  2. How one perspective (mine) could have both cloudy, hazy dreary on one side and clear, bright on the other. Both are possible at once, which has been my existence for the past many years. There is good present always, even in the sadness.

As I continued to watch the man and the sky, the haze and rain moved across the water. It covered the man eventually, and as the right side of the dock cleared and the left became hazed, things changed once again.  As the rain moved on, so too did the man.  My “Jim” was gone when the sun returned to the dock, but I appreciated his reminder to see the clear through the haze.

When Mean Girls become Mean Women

You remember that movie Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan about how awful high school girls can be to one another? Well, I never really thought much about what happens to such girls as they age; however, I was reminded about this phenomenon the other week and got to experience a mean girl now as a mean woman.

She wore a green dress. She was accessorized by a male who had his arm around her waist the entire night. She was also accessorized by a glare that seems to say “back off – I’m important.” My date that evening was one of my friends who decided I needed a night out on the town. My husband is now under Hospice care and she knew I could use a night to just be a “normal” person. It would be good to get out for a few hours, laugh, have some good food and drink. My night prior to meeting up with the mean woman in green was just that: relaxing, nice, fun.

Several other friends came to the foundation fundraiser. There were many sweet couples out on a date that night. I was sad that my night was without husband. It has been for years now, but recently it has been different. I feel more and more sad as his health decreases more and more. In the past, my husband would have been with me at such a function. He would have been full of life himself, but now he lie in the bed unable to communicate, move or breathe on his own.

And so as with life in general over these past many years, I smile through the pain, I concentrate on the positive and I am grateful for all that I have. I do have so much.

The mean woman in an ironic twist reminded me again what I have. After a period of mingling, speeches began. There was talking in the back of the room. I sat between the talkers and the mean woman in green. She glanced back often, throwing daggers with her eyes if you were paying attention. The accessory man pulled her close, trying to gain her attention. There were more speakers. There was more chatting in the crowd. I could see the mean woman growing more and more agitated. I was soaking it all in, my study on human behavior. I was quiet, but then I made a mistake. I looked at my cell phone and laughed at a photo that was sent to me.   Apparently I laughed too loudly and apparently I was close enough to the mean woman in green to get a direct hit. I honestly don’t remember what she said (other than “Do you mind?!!??”), but I remember her tone, ugliness, and was struck by the outrageous “right” she seemed to have given herself to rank above everyone else in the room. I was shocked by her rudeness, to the point that I didn’t know what to say. My friends, flanking me on my right and left side, stared in amazement too. If I could have looked at their faces, I am sure their eyes would have been bulging just as much as mine. How do women act like that? Part of the answer lies in the fact that I am sure she has always acted like that and gotten away with it. The mean girl became the mean woman.

I felt myself shrink just as a child would when scolded. But, this feeling was soon replaced with gratitude. My friends were outraged for me. They all agreed that this woman’s speech was so inappropriate and rude. In a strange way, I was reminded that friends are so important. My next thought centered on the seemingly random attack on me. Of all the people in the room, why did the mean woman in green breathe fire on me when there were plenty of other rule-breakers to the “keep absolutely quiet” rule set by Ms. Queen Bee.

Right at this time, my cell phone buzzed in my purse. Looking down I noticed it was from my 7 year old son and so I excused myself and walked to the corner of the building. After talking to the babysitter, I needed to just “be.” I was still processing the mean woman’s comments. I checked my text messages, answered several of them, checked on my husband and fought back the tears. I tried to make sense of it all, but when the chef walked up to me and asked if everything was alright, I knew it was time to return to the scene of the crime.

And so I did. The mean woman was still there. I considered for a minute if I should say something to her, but decided that was not the point. I didn’t know what the point was so what would I say to her. Ideas like “Are you really that miserable in life?” or “If you had any idea of what some people were experiencing in life you might think otherwise about acting so hastily and mean” didn’t seem like really good ideas. Again, I didn’t know what my point was and if someone can’t answer that basic question, she has no business acting. And so I just “was” again.

And then another friend flagged me over and started bad-mouthing the mean woman in green. She saw it too. She too thought it was outrageous. It made me feel good, but embarrassed at the same time. Again, why did the mean woman in green pick me? As with much in life these days, I don’t know. There are so many things I wish I knew, wish I understood, even just a little. There are so many events, people, comments, that don’t make sense. Things that I don’t understand. I never probably will but as long as I focus on the good in life, I can move forward.   The mean women of the world in green dresses and their counterparts may make me pause, but if they ultimately help flag something of value, like the importance of friends, then I can take the verbal assaults any day.

The Gentleman’s Birthday

My husband’s birthday is here – I wasn’t sure he would make it this year.  He continues to decline, in bed, unable to move and breathe on his own, and sleeping about 19 hours a day.  What kind of celebration can you have?  As I typically say at birthdays “What are your goals for your next year?”  I don’t know how much time is left for Jim’s next year.

Coupled with a celebration is the idea of a birthday gift. I like the tradition of acknowledging the value of the person on his birthday, but what specific gift could I offer my husband on his birthday this year?   I have been trying over the past several months to give Jim a sense of how much he is loved and how much he inspires by creating a CD with his favorite songs and collecting stories about him from friends and family.  But still, a birthday should be specifically celebrated.  Always.  It is the day Jim came into the world.  It is the day that someone who influenced so much and so many should be acknowledged.  And so, with this in mind, I decided to focus on the one word that I have used so many times to describe Jim: gentleman – and the legacy that offers to our two children.

What does it mean to be a gentleman today?  The word seems old-fashioned in many ways, but also distinguished and honorable. When many of us think about a gentleman, we think about someone who holds open doors for people, who takes the time to say hello to everyone, and someone who may dress in a certain classic way.  We may also think about a person who is duty-bound, respectful, and someone who finds value in tradition.  This is Jim, but his gentleman ways are broader than this.

When I looked up the word in the dictionary, this is what I found: “a man who treats people in a proper and polite way.”  There are two things that strike me about this definition.  The first is the verb “treat” and the second is the adjective “proper”.   This is different from what I described above – related, but still different.  Notice the verb itself is treat.  Treat.  It is not a state of being as we often associate with the term gentleman, but rather an action.  To treat people a certain way.  My husband Jim has always been one to treat others with respect.  It didn’t matter who the person was – how old she was, how he dressed, what words came out of their mouths – Jim treated every person with whom he came in contact kindly.  You might argue, he treated everyone properly.  Because really when it comes down to it, treating others as you would like to be treated is the proper thing to do.  There really shouldn’t be anything special about this, but yet there is a special word “gentleman” that we associate with the act of treating others properly.

My suggestion of the term “gentleman” to describe my husband over the years has spanned from this proper treatment of all, but it was more than this too.  Jim not only treated the people with whom he interacted well, he went out of his way to engage people who were strangers.  He yearned for that connection.  He made sure that a person knew she was special.  He made sure that his little gestures had a big impact.  Jim’s gentleman ways also crossed into the aspiration category.  By living as a gentleman, he showed others what a life of honor looked like.  He showed us all what a better world we could create if only we all behaved more like gentlemen.

And so, as I am teaching our children, ages 5 and 7, the lessons that I know Jim would be teaching them if he could, I am reminding them about the big things “respect people, respect property” and I’m teaching them that small things matter too such as “hold the door open for everyone coming behind you” and “the man or the adult walks on the side of the sidewalk closest to the road” and “you shake a hand firm, smile, and always look people in the eyes.”  I hope this gift of passing along Jim’s gentleman ways to our children is one that Jim will know is the best gift he has given to us all.

 

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