Joan's Jottings


The Room
February 28, 2019, 7:06 pm
Filed under: life

It has been a calendar full of days since the boy entered the room, dumped his bags on the floor and plopped onto the bed for a power nap. This very brief, impromptu trip home served one purpose-the boy required yet another visit to the dentist to repair a chipped front tooth. Once the incisor was bonded, making it whole again, this student was re-deposited on the grounds of the university. Who could have known that this would be the last time the boy graced this space with his physical presence?

This particular room is of average size and comes complete with a smallish closet and one south-facing window. The furnishings are few-a queen-size bed, five-drawer dresser, a desk and a chair on wheels. The once Bomber blue walls have been slathered in a somber gray, a shade that matches the aura that drapes itself over the house, often coloring the mood of its inhabitants. Two large, black-framed photographs that once adorned the walls were never re-hung after the paint dried, however, there is a plan to complete this task in the near future. The room is tidy and dust-free. A well-worn black, blue and gray striped comforter cuddles the mattress. The bed sheets have been laundered, washing away any lingering scent of the boy who once lounged, studied, slept and dreamt between these cottony, woven threads. On sunny winter days, the blackout shade that normally conceals the window is flung wide open, inviting light and warmth into an otherwise dark and depressed space. There are a few photographs of the boy scattered throughout the room. One is a collage of wallet-sized school photos, Kindergarten through twelfth grade, a sort of visual age-progression of his growth. Another image, captured nearly twenty years ago, is of a smiling father and his toddler son snapped during the elder’s cancer pause.

A chunky, space-hogging computer rests somewhat sad and lonely atop the desk. The boy spent oodles of life-snatching hours tap, tap, tapping away at the keyboard in a Herculean attempt to conquer some online game. These rapid-fire clicks confirmed that there was indeed life behind the (frequently) closed door. Today, only an eerie kind of quiet seeps from the room. The faint blue light that once flickered from the base of the monitor has now been extinguished. There simply is no logical reason to keep this somewhat massive machine connected to its electrical source. The cord has been unplugged much like the cord that once tethered the boy to this lifetime.

The boy also spent time in another room located about thirty miles away. This home away from home, part and parcel of the landscape of a rural, picturesque, idyllic college town, was located on the third floor of a dormitory built of stone. This somewhat small and cramped space also served as a place where he studied, slept and just hung out, but unlike his bedroom, these quarters were shared. The boy had been co-existing in this room for the better part of six months, save for time spent at home during Thanksgiving and the school’s interminable winter break. He returned to this place of higher learning in late January, just about five weeks before an unexpected, unfathomable and life-altering event would occur.

A trusted source has revealed that the boy’s father, a lovely soul who resides just beyond the veil, visited this particular dorm room on March 6th, 2018.  He most likely arrived around the time the boy slumped to the fake wood floor, slipping into unconsciousness. As his son prepared to make the transition from one life to another, the father was there to escort him home. Once the pair arrived on the other side, it is likely that a huge reunion ensued as the boy was re-connected with grandparents, great-grandparents, and other members of his spirit family. It seems possible that two former childhood friends also attended this gathering, having made their own premature transition in the latter months of 2015.

Back on earth, the boy’s mother remains in human form, having been left behind by her son and one-time spouse. Though time was up for the father and child, it seems obvious that mom’s earthly mission is not yet complete. She still inhabits the cozy, ranch-style house where she and the boy shared their earthly journey, however, an emptiness now permeates every crevice of this residence. This place that was once full of hope and visions of a future for her only offspring, now serves as a constant reminder that the boy will never again live within its walls.

For the most part, the boy’s room remains much as it was on that Tuesday afternoon one year ago when he scooped up his bags and walked towards the door, intent on a punctual arrival at the dentist’s office. It is extremely likely that just before the boy headed down the hall towards the garage, he stopped, turned and took one last sweeping glance of his space-a sort of quick and final OCD inspection confirming that he had gathered all of his meager belongings. As his feet finally crossed the threshold, the boy had no idea that he would never again return to this room.

 



2018: A Year in the Books
January 22, 2019, 2:50 pm
Filed under: books

According to the Chinese calendar, 2018 was The Year of the Dog.  According to the Calendar of Joan, 2018 was The Year of the Bookworm.  Yep.  I read 20 books this past year, an all-time record for me, or at least I think it was.  I am proud of my achievement, but I know that there exists scores of Evelyn Wood speed readers who make my list look mediocre, pale, gaunt or even a tad bit pathetic.  I know of one such “reader extraordinaire,” Nick B., who recently published his 2018 reading list which contained an astonishing 61 titles!  That, my friends, is A LOT of books!!!  By the way, Nick’s surname is not Book, though I think it would be fitting.

It would seem rather obvious that in order to read a lot of books, one must also have the gift of time.  I did have the gift of time for the better part of 2018, and I chose to spend a fair amount of it alone, in quiet, save for the company of a book or magazine.  Below is a list of fifteen books I have read since my last update in September.  It contains four works of fiction, as well as memoirs, two anthologies, and a sampling of self-help type books.

If you are NOT a reader and therefore would be bored and uninterested in perusing this post, scroll down towards the end, just past the last title on the list.  I have included a little teaser about a book not yet published, but one that is in the works.  Here is the list of books that captivated my attention from late summer into winter:

1.  Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory–  by Caitlin Doughty

This book was an easy read for me.  Miss Doughty found her way into the business of death (and yes, it most certainly is a business) at a rather young age.  The book was enlightening and entertaining despite its somewhat macabre subject matter.

2.  Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions by Amy Newmark and Kelly Sullivan Walden

How can you go wrong with a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology?  This one does not disappoint, and is chock full of mini stories about dreams and things to come.

3.  Confessions of a Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life by Caleb Wilde

Caleb was born into a family where both sides, maternal and paternal, worked in the funeral industry.  Like Ms. Doughty’s book, Caleb also shares stories about the people and families he has served as a funeral director.

4.  Reaching to Heaven– by James Van Praagh

5.  Healing Grief-Reclaiming Life After Any Loss by James Van Praagh

These two James Van Praagh books were recommended to me.  I read Reaching To Heaven some time ago, and still owned a copy.  I reread it and then obtained a copy of Healing Grief from the local library.  If you are not familiar with James, he is a Medium and one of many who have gained notoriety via television.  These two books mostly reaffirmed things I already knew, but I am always up for a refresher.

6.  Almost Everything-Notes on Hope – by Anne Lamott

I am a longtime fan of Ms. Lamott.  I greatly enjoy her humor and admit that I am a tad bit envious of her writing skills.  As she traveled the country promoting her latest gift to the literary world, she made a stop in my hometown.  It was at this event that I picked up  my copy AND was treated to time spent in her company.  She shared a bit about what motivated her to pen this latest work, and then spent time reading portions of it to the mostly female audience.

7.  At Peace-Choosing A Good Death After A Long Life – by Samuel Harrington, M.D.

This book is relevant, important and timely.  We are all getting older, with many of us living well into our 80’s, 90’s and beyond.  This book speaks to our societal death phobia as well as our lack of planning when it comes to end-of-life care, funeral and estate planning and more.  If you are a caregiver to an elderly parent (or two) and/or are getting up there in age yourself, this book is a must read.

8.  The Book Thief – by Mark Zusak

I was a late bloomer to this work of historical fiction.  The book was published in 2005 and quickly rose to the top of the bestseller list.  The book has a unique narrator that is Death, which also happens to be a common theme in the books I listed above.  Mr. Zusak is a fabulous writer who “shows us” rather than “tells us” this heartfelt story.

9.  Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It an anthology inspired by the bestselling memoir.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray Love, became an instant hit among hordes of women (and a few men, too) when it hit the shelves in 2006.  Ms. Gilbert apparently inspired many to launch their own search of self, which in turn, created many similar stories of self-awakening.  A sampling of these quests are shared within the pages of this anthology.

10.  Organized ENOUGH-the anti-perfectionist’s guide to getting and staying organized by Amanda Sullivan

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE books and stories about getting organized, downsizing and de-cluttering.  Even though I live an organized and de-cluttered life, it does not prevent me from wanting to read and learn more about this subject.  This book was written by a professional organizer, who just happens to be the cousin of a friend of mine.  If you are looking for something to motivate and inspire you to take control of your STUFF, then this book just might be for you.

11.  Where The Crawdads Sing – by Delia Owens

This murder mystery will capture and captivate you until the bitter end.  It is the beautifully written story of the “marsh girl,” set in South Carolina.  This book brought back fond memories of the writings of a favorite author from that region, the late and great Pat Conroy.

12.  Mr. Mercedes – by Stephen King

I was loaned this book by a family member and was admittedly reluctant to read it.  I have read only one book of fiction penned by Mr. King, The Shining, which scared the bejesus out of me.  Once I decided to give this murder mystery a chance, I ended up finishing it in about three days.

13.  The Lovely Bones – by Alice Sebold

The Universe sent me two very clear suggestions to read this book.  And. I. Did.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story told from the heavenly view of its narrator, a young girl who was brutally raped and murdered.  This first novel penned by Ms. Sebold, catapulted her into her own literary heaven, the one where your story resonates with scores of readers, landing it atop a bestsellers list.

14. Death-What Is It? – by Jane Halliwell Green

I picked up this little book at a Psychic Fair after attending a mini seminar Ms. Green      (a Medium) presented about death.  The message contained within the book is valid and worth sharing, however prior to self-publishing it, the author could have benefited from some professional editing and organizing of the material.

15.  The Book You Were Born To Write – by Kelly Notaras

This 15th and final title on this list is perhaps the most important one.  The book is a newer release, and one that I was meant to read.  Ms. Notaras shares a plethora of information regarding writing and publishing a book, knowledge she acquired after years spent working in the industry.   I picked up this gem from my local library just about the time I enlisted the services of a professional book coach.  It is here where this list ends and my announcement begins.

I have spent the better part of two months seated at my desk, typing away on my computer.  I am very close to completing the first draft of a memoir I have been wanting to write for some time.  Once the initial manuscript is complete, my book coach, Christine, has instructed me to step away from it for at least two weeks.  When I return to this project after the suggested respite, I will be reading and re-writing it through the eyes of an editor.  First comes my own self-editing, and then I will most likely enlist the help and guidance of a professional.

I plan to share my progress as I navigate my way through the unfamiliar territory of self-publishing.  This is both an exciting and somewhat intimidating time for me as I will learn rather quickly whether or not my writing can move beyond the safe and small confines of this blog (and my very private journal) out into the real, competitive and somewhat saturated market that is the book world.  I intend to share more about my book writing journey on this blog, via emails as well as social media.  In addition to publishing, I will also be responsible for marketing my work as well.

As 2018 came to its natural end just weeks ago, a new year began.  I believe that 2019 will be for me, The Year of The Book.  (No worm.)  And this time, it will be mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Gratitude Amidst Grief
December 28, 2018, 3:19 pm
Filed under: life

A can of Coke wrapped in a red ribbon.  How could I possibly have known this gag gift would be the spark that would inspire my last post of 2018.  More about an iconic, carbonated, syrupy sweet beverage later.

Today is December 28th.  IT is over.  The holiday season is mostly behind us save for the tooting horns, fireworks, dropping of the ball, midnight smooches, and the familiar sounds of Auld Lang Syne that signify the flip of the calendar from one year to the next.  March 6, 2018 will go on record as the most devastating day in my life-past, present AND future.  There has never been and can never be a more horrible event that can occur that will knock this date from its perch on top.  And yet, with a heart and mind so heavy with grief and sadness, I feel it is important to take some time to reflect on ALL that occurred this year and expose the positive that rose out of the mucky muck.  And so, I offer this thank you note of sorts, an expression of gratitude for the good that was found in a year full of sorrow.

I am grateful for the 101 sympathy cards that we received, and for the cards, emails, text and Facebook messages that are sent to me on random days “just because.”

I am grateful for the $6,000.65 that was so generously donated to the JDRF-Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I am grateful for the thoughts and prayers that have been sent our way.  It is impossible to obtain a count on the intangible, but I am certain that we have not walked this journey alone.  We have been carried by many, and I want you to know that we appreciate you.

I am grateful for the women I know who are also unwilling members of The-Club-No- Mother-Wants-To-Join.  I am not grateful for the tragedy that forever links us, but for the unconditional love and support they provide, and for the plain and simple fact that they “get” what child loss looks and feels like.

I am grateful for my sister’s current and former co-workers who donated money for a tree planting near the gravesite of my son.  A plaque bearing his name and dates also includes a foreshadowing quote he penned at the age of 18: “Realize the importance of everyone in your life before the clock runs out of time.”

I am grateful for the 60 minutes that I have spent in the company of a Medium.  Utilizing his God-given ability to communicate with the other side, he provided me with concrete evidence that Mark did not die, he merely changed form.  He also confirmed that Mark is well and spends time in the loving company of my parents, grandparents and his own father, Alan.

I am grateful for the signs Mark has sent to let us know that he is around.  It is relatively easy for those in spirit form to trigger things that are electrical, and Mark has taken full advantage of this form of communication.  He has managed to turn on lights and an iPod, and also tinkered with the clock in one of our cars, to name a few things.  Mark used the Medium to confirm that he was responsible for causing the alarm in his Honda Accord to suddenly begin honking numerous times in the days and weeks after he passed.  Funny for Mark.  (The Medium heard him chuckle as he took credit for this prank.)  Not so funny for our neighbors, especially the time he tripped the alarm at 1:00 AM.

I am grateful for the gift of time.  I left my job on March 30th and have spent the better part of nine months doing things that have aided in my healing.  By far the most productive form of therapy has been writing.  My journal and this blog have provided me with a safe place to vent and share my feelings and perspectives.  Grief can take a toll on the body, so it is important to get your feelings out, whether this takes place in a grief support group, talking with family and friends and/or getting your thoughts and feelings scribbled onto paper or typed on a computer.

I am grateful for my spouse, the Guy in my life.  He, too, has suffered greatly as a result of this tragedy, yet he always has my back.  It was Guy who encouraged me to leave my job and take time to absorb and process all that has taken place.  He listens to my woulda, shoulda, coulda moments in regard to things I did or did not do in the weeks before Mark’s passing.  He is my number one fan and consistent reader of all of my writing.  And, he is currently supporting and gently nudging me as I quietly and diligently work to complete a project that has been a goal for quite some time.

Lastly, I am grateful for the 20 years, one month and one day that I shared with my son.  My very human mind tells me that it was not enough, and that there were SO MANY things left to do and experience, but my soul knows that our time together was up.  Mark fulfilled his journey and has moved on, and I remain here to complete mine.  I know this loss can never be fully healed, but I know that my life still has purpose.  And so, I will do my best to fulfill my earthly lessons in my remaining days, weeks, months or years, and take comfort in the fact that Mark and I will be together again one day.

And now back to that can of Coke.  One week ago, just days before all of the forced joy and festivities that accompany Christmas, the fella that picks up our recycling did something that not only made me laugh but reinforced my belief that most people are good and thoughtful and even a tad bit funny and mischievous.

A few months ago, my husband happened to be home on a Thursday, our normal garbage pickup day.  He saw the recycling truck pull up, grabbed some money from his wallet and proceeded down our driveway where he struck up a conversation with the driver.  Just a few weeks before, another employee of our local waste management company had been struck and killed as he went about his daily route.  My husband had been touched by the news of this tragedy and he wanted to make a small donation to the family.  He figured he could use our driver to deliver this contribution.  During the course of that brief driveway conversation (and unbeknownst to me), my husband shared a story or two about his own close encounters on the road as a driver for Pepsi.  Apparently, this rather brief interaction left an impression on the young man.

Our recycling was picked up last Thursday morning, right on schedule.  After the driver emptied the contents of our can, he closed the lid, wheeled it back to its spot on the driveway and placed a small, red gift on top.  He then climbed back into the vehicle and drove off.  I happened to be in the kitchen at the time and looked out the window and saw something on top of the can.  I immediately ran outside to see what it was.  As I approached our receptacle, I spotted a single can of Coke wrapped in a red ribbon.   I recalled the encounter a few months earlier between my man and this driver and instantly surmised that my husband must have shared that he was employed by Pepsi.  I jumped in my car and found our Secret Santa one street over.  I pulled up behind the truck, found its driver and proceeded to ask him if he had left us a gift.  He smiled and nodded yes.  He also confirmed that my husband did indeed share that he was a driver for Pepsi.  I KNEW it!  We had a good laugh about his “gift,” and I thanked him for his kind, thoughtful and comical gesture.  He would have no idea that his holiday prank not only made a sad lady laugh, but also reaffirmed her belief that most people are good.  All thanks to a divine encounter and a can of Coke.

And so, I end this rather long and wordy thank you note.  I believe it serves as proof that there is always SOMETHING that we can be grateful for no matter how difficult or challenging or tragic life can be.  There is always positive in the presence of negative.  And there most certainly is Yin to the Yang.  It is my hope that as you put your own wrap on 2018, you take a little time to reflect on the events of these past twelve months and come up with your own gratitude list.  And perhaps instead of making this a once-a-year kind of thing, you might even choose to take time each evening before bed to list a few things for which you are grateful.  It is a wonderful way to end the day on an upbeat note.

Oh, and by the way, this post was in no way a plug for Coke.  Drink Pepsi.  My hubby needs a job, at least for a few more years.

 

 

 



Tis The Season?
November 15, 2018, 4:32 pm
Filed under: family

It’s official.  The holiday season is upon us.  A time of year that offers several opportunities to gather together with family and friends for food, fun, conversation, connection and the exchanging of gifts.  For many, this is what puts the HAPPY in HOLIDAYS.  However, for some, there is little cause for celebration.  Life might be challenging them with illness, unemployment, financial burdens, or estrangement from family.  I consider myself among those who find little reason to embrace the season.

As far back as September, I developed an awareness that the holidays were creeping forward on the calendar.  I began thinking about the traditions that began many years ago.  I married into a Jewish family in the 1990’s.  My husband celebrated Hanukkah by hauling out his brass Menorah, lighting the candles and reciting the applicable prayers from memory.  He did this in honor of this festival of lights. He never bought into the consumerism that has (also) infiltrated his religion, choosing to concentrate only on the spiritual meaning of this holiday.  After he passed, I continued to commemorate Hanukkah in his way with our young son, which for me included gifting him for eight nights.  I also began acquiring the trimmings associated with Christmas, and thus began new traditions for the boy and his mom.  This included a photo shoot for the holiday card, decorating a tree, the decking of the halls, the sweet smells of baking, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra belting out classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night on the CD player, adopting a family in need, and the purchasing and wrapping of gifts.  My brother-in-law referred to this meshing of religious traditions as “double dipping.”  I guess the boy did get the best of two (religious) worlds?  As he entered his teenage years, I began to do less and less in regards to Hanukkah and focused more on just the one holiday.

After much consideration and deliberation, I have decided that I will do very little in the way of participating in this holiday season.  The Hanukkah mementos have been passed on to family members.  The Christmas ornaments, decorations, and tree shall remain tucked away within their containers, safely stowed in the basement to gather another layer of dust.  The stockings will not be hung by the chimney with care.  There will be no mailing of the annual photo card and letter updating family and friends on the events of the past twelve months.  There is little to share that is positive in regards to the year two thousand and eighteen.  We have lost not one, but two treasured members of our unit-my 20-year old son and my husband’s mother, the strong and feisty matriarch of a large, loud, and loving family.

Annually on Christmas Eve, my husband’s family gathers together to enjoy food, drink, laughter and games.  During the evening, Santa arrives, bearing gifts for each youngish child.  (Mr. Claus is usually lovingly portrayed by a male family member volunteer who steps up to don the suit and beard and chant the obligatory Ho, Ho, Ho.)  Last year, we stuck a hat on Grandma and morphed her into “Santa.”  As the kids came forward one by one to receive their present, they posed for a photograph.  And later, more photos were taken of Santa and all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My immediate family (husband, son, bonus child and I) made a memory with Santa that was forever captured by the click of a camera.  The five of us are seated cozily on the couch smiling for the photographer.  A happy and festive image frozen in time.

Today, as I reflect on that photo, the oldest and youngest souls posing for that moment are gone.  We had allowed ourselves to consider that perhaps it just might be the last Christmas for the 88-year old matriarch, which is why we selected her as Santa and made her the center of attention for the evening’s festivities.  No one could have imagined that Mark, the college sophomore, would be experiencing his 20th and final Christmas.  For me, the sad reality of the season is front and center.  Mark and Renie’s seats will remain empty at holiday gatherings.  There will be no gifts bearing their names.  Their sweet faces will be absent from cell phone snapshots.

When dealing with grief, there is often much said about “the year of firsts.”  This term generally refers to all of the occasions that arrive within a calendar year that can no longer be shared or celebrated with a loved one who has passed on.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  I understand the thought behind “the year of firsts” and how those certain days or dates might accentuate or magnify one’s loss.  And. They. Do.  However, when you truly think about it, our loved ones who have passed are gone everyday, not just the ones we note as special or celebratory.  With that said, I did survive Mother’s Day, family birthdays, two graduations and a cousin’s wedding.  Thanksgiving will arrive in a matter of days, followed by Hanukkah and Christmas. Soon, I will find myself smothered by the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the most wonderful time of the year.  And I will choose to mostly abstain from the decorating, parties, shopping and the general “hustle and bustle” that consumes the month of December.  Instead, I will hold close my memories, traditions and photos of holidays gone by.

 

 



Grief In My Aura
October 15, 2018, 5:04 pm
Filed under: life

Aura is defined as, “A supposed emanation surrounding the body of a living creature, viewed by mystics, spiritualists, and some practitioners of complementary medicine as the essence of the individual, and allegedly discernible by people with special sensibilities.”  Recently, a stranger with said “special sensibilities” relayed to me that I have “grief in my aura.”  He also mentioned that I am “dealing with SO MANY emotions that I am trying to solve, resolve, fix and rationalize.”  That pretty much sums me up in a nutshell.  My aura must look like a hot mess.  Instead of a pure, bright white light or even a vibrant rainbow of colors, my aura just might appear more 50 shades of gray and foggy with a cold, salty mist spraying the space around me.  At least that is how I FEEL it might look.  In a currently abandoned motivational speaking piece that I worked on for weeks, I focus on the aura-its brightness and thickness and offer suggestions on ways to illuminate our light (or supposed emanation according to the above definition) while here on earth.  Instead of motivating others with my spiritual lessons, I am resigned to working on my own issues, which I am hopeful will result in positive changes to my aura.

I have no idea what grief actually looks like, but I know it is a force to be reckoned with. I believe that I have been Hostess Extraordinaire to this once again uninvited guest as this is not my first trip to the Grief Rodeo.  I have devoted myself to her needs for the better part of seven months with no paid time off.  That is until the past few weeks when I dared to consume myself with the final arrangements of my 40th High School Class Reunion which also included attending three events associated with this weekend of festivities.  A few days after the culmination of reunion events, my spouse and I headed to the mountains of North Carolina for a much deserved break.

In an effort to maintain some sense of composure in front of former classmates and their guests, I did not invite Ms. Grief to the reunion.  I even rehearsed a mini speech that I would offer up should anyone (and a few did) ask me the dreaded question, “Do you have any children?”  My reply was a swift and curt, “I had a son who passed away earlier this year, the result of a diabetic episode.  I am not talking about it this weekend.”  For the better part of three days, I (mostly) put on my gap-toothed smiling face and reconnected with fellow classmates.  And then I busied myself for THE trip.  The mini vacation that would provide me and my co-griever with a change of scenery complete with mountains, fresh air, touristy attractions and a sense of calm and peace that nature can usually provide.

Do you know what Ms. Grief whispered into my ear?  “You can run but you cannot hide.  You can mingle all weekend with former classmates and drive a few hundred miles to another state with breathtaking topography, but I MUST be included.”  And so, all of that stuffing down of emotions followed by an attempted mountainous escape resulted in a stuffing up of my sinuses, a day or two of the blase’ for my Guy, and the reality that my grief and loss go where I go.  As my spouse and I sat in a lipstick red, converted double-decker bus coffee shop in scenic, artsy, hippie Asheville, NC, I was overcome with emotion.  Just like that.  Tears spilling down my face into my pricey iced coffee.  Ms. Grief had indeed joined us.  For all I know she had packed a bag and ridden shotgun with us all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Oh, and about those mountain views and clean, crisp air?  We experienced little of that.  The picturesque terrain that defines western North Carolina was hidden by gray, foggy, misty, low-slung clouds.  Sound familiar?  Even my mountain escape was enveloped in its own aura of grief.

And so I say to Mr. Stranger Special Sensibilities, you are 100 % correct.  There IS grief in my aura and my ever-thinking brain IS attempting to solve, resolve, fix and rationalize the tragic, unimaginable event that occurred 223 days ago.  I now understand that I am at my current best at home, nestled in my cocoon, surrounded by a small group of family and friends.  I read, write, exercise, and attempt to quiet my mind through meditation.  But mostly, I am the hostess with the mostest to Ms. Grief.  Together we are traveling my current journey of grief.  Final destination?  Acceptance.

 



Reading Recap #3
September 12, 2018, 4:04 pm
Filed under: books

In 2017, I vowed to publish my reading list on a quarterly basis.  By all estimates, I should have about six posts.  As noted by the title, this is post #3.  Oops!  As is often the case, my non-conventional life interrupts my free time, which in turn results in a reduction in leisure activities such as reading.  After spending about four months attending to “business, ” I have been consciously carving out time to spend with books, the best friend and distraction a girl can have.  The list is all non-fiction (think memoirs and self-help books) with the exception of one novel, a bestseller that was published about four years ago.  Happy reading!

  1. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls-David Sedaris
  2. When You Are Engulfed in Flames-David Sedaris

***I had the pleasure of attending an evening with David Sedaris later last year thanks to an invitation from fellow “bookie.”  (If a person who loves food and cooking is a Foodie, is someone who loves books and reading a Bookie?)  Anyway, it was a fantastic evening of laughter and stories.  I had read a few of Mr. Sedaris’ books prior to the event and then got caught up on a few more afterwards.

3.  Running With Scissors-Augesten Burroughs

4. Dry-Augesten Burroughs

***Both books by Augesten are memoirs.  I admit I had a bit of an issue getting through Running With Scissors.  I found his childhood story difficult to read.  The story is disturbing and actually somewhat unbelievable.  It did however, reinforce my belief that we really never know the horrors and dysfunction that are the norm for so many children.  I am grateful that some are able to go back in time, remember and then write about their experiences and share them publicly.

5. Happiness-Heather Harpham:  This memoir is about a seriously ill child born out-of-wedlock (is that an outdated term in 2018?) to the author and her boyfriend, who chooses, at least initially, to exclude himself from the life of his daughter and her mother.

6.  The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)-Gretchen Rubin: This self-help book asks the question, “How do I respond to expectations?” and then divides people into four personality groups.  Learn which group you fall into and how your personality profile influences your home, work and community life.

7.  The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives by Theresa Brown, RN: I have had many encounters with nurses, both personally and professionally.  As with any profession, there are some for which this is a true calling and for others what I consider a mistaken career choice.  Ms. Brown was called to nursing, and her account of “a day in the life of” was an easy and interesting read for me.

8.  Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:  This book is a series of insightful stories designed to teach the reader about healing, loving and living. It reinforces my belief that “we all are one,” and that with kindness and empathy we can all learn to aid in the healing of another’s emotional wounds simply by listening and sharing. First published over 20 years ago, the message is still completely relevant today.  Important advice for living in our current environment that seems to be full of selfishness and a lack of kindness and empathy for others.

9.  The Gifts of Imperfection-A Guide to a Wholehearted Life (Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are) by Brene Brown:  This book and author were recommended to me.  Categorized as self-help, Ms. Brown outlines 10 guideposts to living a life that accepts that none of us are perfect though society tries to tell us that we must be perfect.

10. Quiet-The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  As an extrovert and one-time wife and mother of introverts, I found this book interesting and insightful and one that I probably should have read some time ago.  As I often struggled to understand my introverted son and how best to parent him, I ALWAYS knew and believed that the world needs introverts.  They are generally kind, sensitive and great listeners and observers.  Most of us do talk too much and listen too little.  One of the greatest things that I took away from this book is that our society often forces introverts to act and behave like extroverts, and that this is occurring daily in schools and the workplace.  Who decided that extroverts possess the better personality?  Another reason to also read numbers 8 and 9 on this list as well as this selection.

11. Saving Simon-How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion by Jon Katz.  This is another animal-themed memoir by Mr. Katz.  I enjoyed the book and its reinforcement of living a compassion-filled life.  That includes compassion for ALL living things, including animals both domestic and wild.

12. Educated by Tara Westover: If you have read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, you will love this newer release and first book by Ms. Westover.  The book chronicles the unconventional lifestyle of the Westover family.  It is a book about religious fanaticism, mental illness, abuse and more.  Just like the two afore-mentioned memoirs, I found parts of her story disturbing and frankly unimaginable but cheered for her as she managed to break free and find her way to an education and world outside the confines of her warped Idaho home.

13.  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: I am thrilled that I finally found my way to this cute, funny, heartwarming work of fiction that the world discovered long before me.  Ove reminds me of several people who I have crossed paths with- crusty, hard and seemingly uncaring on the outside, yet soft, warm and compassionate on the inside.  I think Ove is LOVE without the L.

I saved the following book for last, as I intend to incorporate some of its teachings into a post about living with less “stuff.”  It ties into my year (2017) of diminished spending, which included differentiating between needs and wants, that was in part due to a period of unemployment.  More about that to come…..

14.  goodbye, things, The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki:  This is a rather short, easy read that introduces the reader to living a life without stuff.  The concept is pretty radical in my opinion, but there is substance and good advice in learning about living a life where we are not held captive by our things.  It is food for thought.

Thanks for reading my post.  If you have any books that you think I might be interested in, please send me their titles in an email, text message or via Facebook.  As one of my son’s elementary teachers used to tell her students, “Read, read, read.



My Eulogy: 1960-2018
September 1, 2018, 12:20 pm
Filed under: life

I know what you are thinking.  Joan is writing about death AGAIN.  Not really.  Okay.  Maybe just a bit.  A eulogy is not actually about death.  It is about life.  Your life.  Think of it as a mini autobiography.  If you take the time to jot down your story, you get to say what you want about yourself-the good, the bad and/or the ugly.  Who knows more about your life than you do?  As a self-confessed control freak, I want to be in charge of what gets said about me after I am gone.  Also, on a larger scale, writing your own eulogy and sharing it with your family and friends gets people talking about death, which is such a taboo subject in our culture.  I talk about death, write about death and do not fear death.  Why? Because NONE of us are getting out of here alive.  This post is long, so I hope you will hang in until the end.  There is a poem (not written by me) that I hope provides food for thought.  Happy reading!

Joan was born in 1960, the first offspring of German immigrant parents.  She grew up in the idyllic Village of Greenhills, Ohio where everyone knows your name (and your business).

Joan was afflicted with an eating disorder in her early teens and dealt with this issue almost daily throughout her life.  While Joan believed that regret is a waste of time, she wished that her issues with food and body image had consumed less of her precious time on earth.

Joan graduated from high school and went on to attend not one, but three different  universities in pursuit of a degree.  She finally settled on Psychology as a major, but never fulfilled her dream of being a licensed counselor.   In the end, she knows that she counseled many friends and acquaintances throughout her life.  She just didn’t get paid for it, which made it even more rewarding.

Joan loved to laugh and often surrounded herself with people who were able to channel their inner comedian.  She herself was born with a sense of humor, not a trait one thinks of as common among stoic, stiff, play-by-the-rules, Germans.  Later in life she married a Guy with his own comedic genes.  They often bantered about who was the funnier one.  She now concedes that he was George and she was Gracie.  (For the younger folks, you might have to Google this reference in order to “get it.”)

Joan had a giving heart.  She always believed that if she had found her way to enormous wealth, she would not have squandered it on lavish homes and fancy cars, but would have chosen to give much of it away.  Joan lived a middle class life that was below her means, so she gave when and what she could.  A few dollars here and there add up to a lot over the years.  She WAS blessed with the gift of time and so began a lifetime of  volunteering.  As a teenager, she worked as a Candy Striper for a local hospital.  In college, she was introduced to hospice work.  She believed that those who care for people at the end stage of life do not do it as “work,” but rather as a “calling.”  She was called to spend time with the dying and their families volunteering with a few different hospice agencies.  She also donated many hours working with the local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as well as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).  It was and still is her greatest wish that horrible diseases like cancer and diabetes are eradicated soon.

Joan had several jobs throughout her life.  She was a Department Manager, Retail Buyer, Aerobics Instructor/Personal Trainer, Administrative Assistant and HR Generalist.  She did not consider one job better than another as they each provided an income,  introduced her to TONS of people and aided her in honing her work ethic.  She was starting to believe that in today’s workplace, “work ethic” is being replaced by the “whine ethic.”  So many prefer a little Chianti with their paycheck.

Joan LOVED to read.  If she had kept all of the books that she spent time with throughout her lifetime, she believed that her library would have shelved hundreds of works penned by authors she loved including Pat Conroy, Nelson DeMille, John Irving, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris and many, many more.  She also liked to write.  She knew that her posts on her blog, Joan’s Jottings, would outlive her.  It was the one place where she was “published,” though not in the literal (and often elusive) meaning of this word.  She thanks everyone who ever took the time to read her posts.

Joan also LOVED to talk.  Probably too much.  She was spirited and opinionated and this was clear when she spoke.  She apologizes to all who were held hostage as she droned on and on and on about the topic or topics of the day.  Joan was once told by a fifth grade teacher that she had “diarrhea of the mouth.”  Joan always remembered these harsh words, but as she matured, she realized that she had disrupted MANY a classroom as the teacher attempted to complete their lessons.  As a way of cleaning up her Karma, she apologized to many of her former teachers when she moved back to her hometown in 2001.  She was unable to connect with Mrs. Diarrhea of the Mouth while here on earth.  Joan hopes to catch up with her on the other side.

Joan described herself as a Runaway Catholic.  In her third decade of life, she found her way to a set of beliefs that were more spiritual and less religious.  She devoured books on spirituality and was blessed to cross paths with many kindred spirits.  One of these kindred spirits informed Joan that she was an old soul who had chosen this lifetime as a way to experience accelerated growth.  Joan’s spiritual beliefs boiled down to a handful of tenets that aided her in her growth.  These tenets morphed into the religion of joan, of which Joan was the only card-carrying member.

Joan was a wife and mother, though these titles proved to be transitory.  She earned the title of “widow” at the youngish age of 41.  This loss left her as a single mother of a three-year old boy.  She did her best to raise the boy as a decent, caring, productive member of society despite the fact that the Universe continued to challenge them.  It turned out that the boy was also an old soul who, too, had arrived here to experience accelerated growth.  Unlike Joan, he only needed 20 years, one month and one day to complete his earthly lessons.  His sudden and abrupt departure left Joan questioning EVERY tenet of the religion of joan, as well as every single thing she did or did not do as a parent.

Joan understood that she was here on her own karmic journey.  She had chosen to enter this lifetime on 8-16-60, chosen her family of origin, and chosen the lessons that had come her way.  She has no regrets, and is hopeful that the accelerated growth she experienced on earth aided her in elevating her light and vibration.  She knew that she would only be able to receive answers to her MANY questions once she crossed over.

As Joan sat down to write this eulogy, she listed her “dates” as 1960-2018.  She did this for two reasons.  She penned this mini autobiography in August of 2018 knowing that she could feasibly pass at any moment since NO ONE is promised tomorrow.  Secondly, even if she does not actually cross over in 2018, a huge part of her did die on March 6, 2018 when her only biological son departed this lifetime.  There are 58 years between the dash, which reminded Joan of a poem she once heard (ironically) entitled, “The Dash.”  She included it in her eulogy since she believed the words need to be read and heard.  What will your “dash” say about you?

The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars..the house…the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

by Linda Ellis

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