Thursday, February 27, 2014

See...really see.

I have found that life changes in an instant, and then it is never the same again. And afterwards, life is measured by that event.  For instance, when I try to recollect a date, I often hold it up against a memory of whether my dad was still living. We all measure our lives that way.

My house is situated on a lot that is slightly more than an acre, on part of a road  that has yet to be paved.  Before the leaves get too full, I have a view of Red Sand Lake across the street, and if  this brutal winter ever ends, the loons will be heard  communicating with their soulful calls, both from Red Sand on one side, and Whipple  Lake on the other. It is a very peaceful abode that offers much refuge from the pace of this life.

Last night, just as I was about to surrender to sleep, I heard a strange noise. In my sleepiness, I thought Atticus was scratching something. When I sat up to examine the source of the noise, my attention was directed to the window, where I could see a horrific fire taking place in my back yard.  I flew out of bed to look out the patio doors in my family room. 
Yes. It was true. Flames higher than I could see. Remembering consciously the challenges I had last June when calling 911 from my cell phone , I grabbed the land line and dialed. I told the Dispatcher that my neighbors house was on fire. 
The first time in this particular experience that  I got called up short was when she said, "What is the address?" I had no clue.
 But here's mine, and our woods abut each other. Just come please.

"We'll send somebody" she said.  And they did, but it took at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile all I could do was stand at that patio door,  crying and praying. Thanks to Jim and Sally Boos for phone therapy.

And while I was watching,after  being advised to " be aware" because of the possibility that the wind could spread the fire; it hit me, I didn't even know their names. 

I flipping didn't even know their names

I'm ashamed of that. 

I know these things about them- I remembered that the husband's name is Ron, and that he worked for Lindy (a pro fishing business)  for awhile. And that his wife did something with a retirement organization. 
And I only knew this because Glenn Derby usually took a lifetime to arrive home , as he needed to pull over and chat with everybody who  was getting their mail, working in their yard or walking the dog. I took the info second hand; I didn't need to know; give me the Cliff Notes version.

 From watching them,  I know that he has a cool boat, and that his wife must not let him smoke in the house,and that he puts up elaborate Christmas decorations for his children and grandchildren. And sorry Dude, but you have a really LOUD voice when I'm trying to read on my patio. But if I knew you, it  would probably be okay.
I know they have grown kids and grandchildren that play in their circular drive, and that last summer I was jealous of that..I wanted the sounds of life around me too. I've watched them and heard them while in my own yard. In fact I've heard whole conversations.

But I didn't even know their names to pray for them, while their lives were being totally ripped apart.

I've lived here almost five years. I saw them, usually daily in my comings and goings. 
But I didn't see them. For whatever reason, I didn't need to SEE them enough to know their names.
I know their names now. And I will reach out to them in their loss. Such a loss.
 A humbling lesson in the difference between seeing and being seen, on the journey.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

World Peace

Yesterday I spent what  could have been an agonizing afternoon of travel delays, made worse by fatigue. Instead, it became a rather magical time. And this is why I believe there is hope for our world. If we will only listen to each other.

I spent the afternoon with my former sister-in- law and now someone  who I would venture to call a dear friend. And this is our story.

I met Cari Ristock, now Matter, when she was 15 years old. I was 20.  She was dating my fiancĂ© s younger brother, and had just stepped on a bee. Cari was, and is, very expressive. The Matter family were and are, stoic Germans. And so when she was crying and screaming in agony, I immediately felt a kinship. Because I wasn't all about sucking it up either.

Cari eventually married my former husband's brother and they created a wonderful life for themselves. They had set backs, of course, but they raised two of the most wonderful young women, which is what I know they take the most pride in, despite also having extremely successful business careers.

I divorced her husband's brother,but Cari never gave up on my children, even when their dad and I were not operating very well as co-parents. I always knew that Aunt Cari had their backs.

But she had her loyalties to her husband's  family, as she should. And so we lost contact.

Last year however, we had a series of emails, that although painful, caused her to hear me, and perhaps find forgiveness for me, as to why I needed to leave our common family all those years ago.
But that didn't take away our biggest difference. Politics. Cari is as staunchly conservative Republican as I am liberal Democrat. Goodness how we have assaulted each other on Facebook these last few years.

Until last year, at Chris and Rianna's wedding, when I decided that it was just enough. She is as entitled to her opinions as I am. I took a deep breath , approached her, and told her that I thought that we were missing a prime opportunity to make a fortune. I told her that with our fabulous personalities  and obvious good looks, we could take our show on the road. She could be making the gun sign, and I would be making the peace sign. We would call it point/counterpoint. We ended the night in laughter, love and acceptance. A turning point.

So much so, that yesterday she showed me a picture of daughter Ashley, winning a shooting contest in high school where she won a gun. Sorry Cari...I think it was more than that, but my ears kinda closed at "won a gun."

And why was she on the plane? To meet her daughter Abby, who is probably attending Luther Seminary next year in some capacity. visit my children. That was humbling for me. Thank you.
And because ....Aunt Cari has always had their backs.
Wow....I'm just loving  some people...on this journey.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Six years

My dad died six years ago today. He was fairly ravaged from what was believed to be Parkinson's disease. He fell on a Monday and died the following Sunday. As they left to take him by ambulance to a larger center in Minneapolis, he looked at me and said, " Don't forget you'll always be my baby." Those were the last words he spoke to me. I'm glad I have that. He became unconscious in the ambulance and despite surgery to dispel the pressure in his brain, he died 6 days later, peacefully. He and I have found peace with each other posthumously. It needs no other words.
In keeping with this blog recording some of the magical thinking that is taking place this year, thinking of him caused me to reflect on my mother and her journey these last six years. My parents had a great marriage according to them. 63 years of joy that I believe was authentic. Everybody knew their  roles and that was more than okay. My mom has often told me that she was the last of the "lucky" generation who got to stay home with their kids. It worked.
 My mother has had a wonderful time the last six years. Has she grieved? Absolutely. Especially at the birth of Ryan; knowing it was the first big family deal without him. But until last year when her health and mobility caused her to move where she is living now, she lived it up. And even tonight she told me just how lucky she is. That is my mother.
It is hard. It is hard watching someone you love melt away. But her spirit is relentless. And sometimes I leave her and I am very sad, but mostly I smile and shake my head at her will to live.
Here are some recent Momo-isms. She is really such a gift to so many people.
My Mom loved to get dressed up and go out to dinner in downtown Milwaukee with my father every Friday night. I have been a mystery to her when I express how usually the last thing I want to do on Friday night is go out. She so wants to live vicariously through me. Sorry Mom.
This conversation happened on Saturday:
M- How was your party?
Me- Great...lotta fun and laughs.
M- what plates did you use?
Me- paper.
M-Oh. Well did you have enough silverware?
Me: Plastic
M- well. I guess it must have been easy to clean up then.  The shock was palpable.
Me: oh good I love Monday night because it's garbage night. In fact my three favorite things are garbage night, the day Colt cleans my house and the day I get my roots dyed.
My mom: Oh honey. I think you need to get out more. I laughed loudly and agreed.
Her short term memory slips a bit now and then and when she goes through the litany of asking about everybody I know, she often can't grab the name. My friend Misty is now "that little genius from Bemidj."
Is it hard? Yes. Sad? Some days. But would I trade some of these conversations? Never.
Precious time on the journey.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Heart Day reflections.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It was  one of the holidays that Glenn Derby titled, "National Guilt Day" , along with Mother's Day. He resented prescribed days of affection.

My memories of Valentines Day are few. As a child my parents always put a heart shaped box of candy hearts made by Brach's under my pillow. And my most prevalent memory was of the years I got favorite " troll dolls"  at my breakfast spot. 

I'm sure there were various high school affectations, but none stand out. I do remember at St Olaf  knowing that none of the many amassed bouquets in the lobby of the women's  dorm I lived in were for me. It seems I always dated men who didn't believe in over- priced bouquets of  flowers. 

As a parent of young children, it meant frantically making my children write out valentines for every kid in the class, and sometimes creating a cute receptacle. I do remember a truly darling dress I sewed for Emily's  2nd  grade party. And yes, they always got candy hearts and a present at the breakfast table.  I'm glad I did that.

And Grammy is a total loser, because she totally dropped the ball this year. Oops.

There are two memories here though. One was of the year during my sojourn to Bemidji State, where I was working on realizing my dream of obtaining a teaching degree.  This was complicated by the fact that Chris was an 8 th grader, and I refused to spend a night away from home. I had a semester where I needed to leave our home at 5:00 am, and not return until the night class I needed ended at 8:30, so I usually got home about 10 pm. 

That Valentine's  Day I received a beautiful watch when I awoke at 4 am, with a note that said,

"Because it really is your TIME to shine.So proud."

I still cherish the note and the watch.
Before and after that it was a nada holiday. Last year I awoke to find a simple message on our chalkboard. It simply was a heart with Cupid's arrow connecting A and G. I thought it was so sweet I never erased it.

I still smile,when I see it on the journey.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Last summer I received the gift of a book by Joan Didion called, A Year of Magical Thinking, from a close friend. I have referenced it often in these writings. The author's husband died from almost identical circumstances to Glenn, except that her husband's last words were a comment about his 20 year old scotch; whereas Glenn's were something along the lines of , " Yeah you're probably right -it was the meat." Yeah...the meat. Right.

I finally believe I couldn't have saved him. Finally.

When I got that book, I couldn't understand the there could be anything, even remotely magical about what I was going through, I couldn't grasp.

Almost immediately however , I started viewing everything in my life from a heightened awareness. Relationships were more precious, breathing became something I had to relearn, and when I did, I felt life flow through my blood again.  

I started exploring higher realms of spirituality that are less than conventional; and being open to it all as part of the big mystery.  Magical. 

I know that Glenn has visited me often. My proof is not something I want to put out there, because it is MY truth and that's enough. I don't wish to have logic applied to it.  And I know as I heal, he visits me less and less often. As it should be. We each have a  new journey. Magical.

It is through this magical thinking , that I would like to offer a collective apology,  as it were, to all the people in grocery stores, shopping alone that I have looked at and through all these years. In my heightened awareness  today I reflected  on how going shopping for food is one of the loneliest experiences I have in my life now. All around me are families with children, or couples, asking "Honey? Do we need eggs?" Nobody but me knows that answer in my home anymore. I buy one sweet potato, the smallest container of cream for my coffee, even though I still have some, and a deli- chicken, because cooking just isn't in me tonight.  I hate it. And yet, I must eat.

Now before all of you blessed people who love me send me emails wondering if I'm okay, please know that I am fine. More than fine. There is a flip side to "one". For the first time-ever- I am responsible only for myself. I do what I want, with whom I want, when I want. I can finally say, guilt-free, that  I am truly my own woman and I know that Glenn wouldn't have wanted any less for me, since he truly helped me,finally, love myself.

Even when I choke up at the grocery's magical thinking.
On the journey.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Music of my Soul

As most of you know, in Minnesota,this has been a winter. A WINTER. Not a winter where you can enjoy building a bonfire outside, snowshoeing ,cross country skiing or even sitting in a hot tub. Not even a winter where true Minnesotans say, " I love winter!" And certainly not for quasi- converts like me who have found that the previous activities make it slightly more bearable as we wait for spring and warm weather.

But in the days of isolation and the arctic temperatures that closed schools recently, I found a gift. Online music at my fingertips. My life had been silent for a long time. I don't know why, but I turned the music off about a year before Glenn's death. He commented on it, missing my exuberance as songs of my past played on speakers through Pandora. He used to point at my forehead and ask me if that's where I stored all the words.  I had no answer. I just needed quiet. I still have no reason for it.

In the months following Glenn's death, I spent a great deal of time with my children and their spouses. Music is very much a part of their waking hours ( unless grandsons need a dose of Ninja Turtles) and it started to feel good again. I started to listen. And I remember looking at the screen on Chris's computer wondering if he had bought all of those songs. No, he explained to me something called Spotify.  (Feel free to roll your eyes at my total ignorance at this point.) Chris and I spent many hours at night this summer and fall going through his playlists, drinking wine, talking about life  and dreams while listening. It was part of my healing and I loved it.

And so, recently I started playing music in the car again. I used to be an Olympian butt- dancer while driving. I might be doing that again. Maybe. :) I was reminded the other day as I was singing along how my kids would say when they were young, " I like this song Mom- who sings it?" When I'd answer they would reply, " Good...let's keep,it that way!" Memories. Smiles.

Which brings me to my reflection. For $4 a month, I can travel back in time. I can revel in the songs that defined my high school and college years, to music that sustained me during dark periods when I couldn't see the answer, to the music that defined my love and marriage to Glenn, such as " Because You Loved Me" which I insisted had to be played at his very somber and traditional funeral; to songs that will forever remind me of these days of "magical thinking",to quote Joan Didion, such as Goo-Goo Dolls, Adele, Train, Avincii and others. I can  play "Coldplay's " The Scientist" and be right back in the car driving Chris to high school, or Indigo Girls " Closer To Fine" and be back in Brookfield with Emily in junior high. Pop country stars Tim McGraw et al remind  me of driving back and forth almost everyday to Bemidji  in 2000-2002 to earn my education degree.  Louis Armstrong reminds me of my mother blasting his music on the stereo while she went about her work while I was growing up. Hmmmm....maybe there is a genetic thing here.

Tonight Tim  McGraw told me in his song tonight that I should "Live Like I Was Dying."

It's  what I'm doing Dude.

Hope he doesn't mind if I sing along , on the journey.