Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Treasure

Edwin and I both got treasure for Christmas this year. His came in the literal form, a bag of coins packed in a copper box, a nod to his interest in old coins and silver.

Mine came in a more obscure, but more valuable, fashion--as a hand-written book.

Reflections from a Mother's Heart:Your Life Story in Your Own Words was written by my mother over the past several months. She wants to get it all in the computer so I won't have trouble deciphering the handwriting, but to me, the effort she took to put her words on paper in her own hand are part of the value. I remember how, as a child, she'd tell us how valuable anything signed by her father was. He was left-handed, but was forbidden to write with his left hand. In fact, his teachers would tie his hand behind his back to train him to write with his right. It didn't work. All it did was force him to stop writing altogether. He used the typewriter to get his sermons on paper, to write letters to his children and grandchildren. So anything signed by Grandpa Hugh was declared as rare and of great value.

Mom's handwriting is that way to me. She used to have beautiful handwriting, consistent, legible, and similar to my own. (She holds her pen in a funny way, with 2 fingers on top--a trait she passed on to me and that I passed on to my daughters.) Parkinson's disease has stolen the easy flow of her penmanship and replaced it with a somewhat jerky style that gets more and more squooshed as the day goes on. My new book contains dozens of entries, each in Mom's writing, and all of them legible.

The real treasure is the collection of stories, told in Mom's own words. It's a collection for the whole family, but she gave it to me because, of all her kids, Mom passed on her love of a good story to me. She included the funny, the difficult, the sad, the bizarre. She left some pages blank, with the promise that we will fill them in together. I plan to collect on that promise.

Today is a sad day to me. I'm overwhelmed with the realization that Mom has been holding on for Christmas. Now that Christmas is over, I'm afraid she'll loosen her grip on the fight. I feel the tremendous burden of a mantle being passed on to me that I do not deserve, do not desire, and can never live up to. Who would ever choose to be the oldest woman in her family at the age of 43? Who will teach me to be the mother of the brides, the gracious mother-in-law, a grandmother who can gracefully blend fun and discipline? Who will give me the knowing hug when I am at my wit's end? When I feel like life's a shambles, who will say, "I've always been proud of you," or "You amaze me"
 or "This, too, shall pass?"

Thank you, Mom, for the lifetime of memories. And today, thank you for the book that holds them. I'll treasure it always.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Farewell, Friend

After a long decline, we decided it was time to say goodbye to our faithful hound, Missy. She wasn't getting around like she should and was in constant pain. She was the perfect dog for our family--low to the ground, given to taking long naps, rarely barked, and loved us all with unrelenting devotion.

She came to us as a "used" dog, found on craigslist. She integrated seamlessly into our family, never giving any indication that she missed her old home. I suspect she was thrilled to be in a family that stayed home during the day and that she never had time to miss her old home. I also suspect that she was named "Missy" because she missed people when she was alone. The only time she would make noise those first years was when she was left alone in the back yard. She'd roam the fence line, whining to anyone who would listen that she needed company. Later, she took to barking once or twice to tell us she was happy we were home. After she went deaf, she would use her voice to tell us she needed to come in.

Missy had such a great temperament. She'd let the kids dress her in silly hats. She tolerated the chihuahuas we used to watch. She never gave anyone anything but love.

I'll miss the old girl. I already do.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

10 things you should never, ever write

While I'm less of a stickler on certain points of grammar than I used to be, there remain a number of words and phrases that make me cringe. Beyond its and it's, there, they're, and their, and to, two, and too, there are a number of ways to mutilate the English language. Let's visit some of my (least) favorites.

1. You should never, ever have to emphasize the word never. It's the exact same thing as saying exact same. Redundantly repetitive.

2. You should literally never use the word literally for emphasis. Most times people use literally, what they mean is metaphorically, but it doesn't have the same ring.

3. I'm writing this blog at 3:30 a.m. in the morning. As opposed to 3:30 a.m. in the afternoon? For one, 3:30 a.m. is a terrible time to be writing a blog and often causes morning-after regrets. For another, if it's a.m., you can trust your reader to know it's morning.

4. Sit down or stand up for this one. Extra words that don't communicate anything should be abolished. Like up in stand up and  down in sit down. How else are you going to stand or sit? Same with fall down, raise your hand up, and lay down.

5. The way I see it, fiction writers should cut back on see and saw. A good writer can tell us what a character sees without using the word see. Also, don't say someone heard a sound. What else can you hear?

6. Breaking news! The media should buy a thesaurus and use it to find more interesting ways to say someone is outraged, devastated, or shocked.

7. While a well-placed adjective can be helpful, overuse makes writing trite, contrived, forced, banal, hokey, and cliché.

8. Unfortunately, the same goes for adverbs. In most cases, a strong verb communicates more than a weak verb with an adverb, the editor said snidely.

9. It seems like the word seems also weakens a sentence. It seemed like the monster was about to eat her isn't nearly as scary as The monster was about to eat her. I feel like the word feel has the same problem.

10. If you know your grammar, feel free to have fun tweaking it. Break the rules a little to say things in new and interesting ways. But if you don't know the rules, learn them before you go breaking them. Believe it or not, people can tell the difference.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How is your mom?

I never know what to say when someone asks me, "How's your mom?" So many questions are hidden in that simple one. Which one are they asking? Is the question, "How is she feeling today?", "How are her spirits?", "Are there any signs the cancer has progressed?", "Is the anti-nausea medicine working?" or, perhaps hardest of all, "How are you?" One thing I know, they are looking for more than a cursory, "Fine."

Day to day, I can answer, "She's hanging in there," or "She's had a good/okay/difficult day."

Week to week and month to month, it's harder to answer. First of all, she's not a complainer, so I look for clues of how she's feeling based on how long she sleeps, how much she eats, how engaged she is in the conversation and activity around her. Up to now, her demeanor has seemed to have more to do with how well the meds are working than how hard the cancer is working on her, but I see that changing.

It's hard to write about here, knowing Mom will be the first to open this blog and will be either embarrassed or mortified or amused by whatever I choose to say. Physically, you can tell the cancer is doing its work. She's eating less, sleeping more, puking more. She still moves about under her own power, with the help of her walker and her treadmill, which serves now as a grab bar instead of an exercise machine. She still enjoys our visits, but when the whole family descends on her, it feels more like she is the stationary sun around which all the activity revolves. (This feeling is magnified by the fact that her dream chair, where she spends most of her time, is planted at the end of the kitchen island, so anyone entering or leaving the kitchen brushes past her.)

Emotionally and spiritually, Mom is predictably holding up better than the rest of us. I know she has her fears, but she keeps them to herself, choosing the face of serenity for those of us she feels sorry for.

Dad has taken naturally to the regimen of daily chores, though I know he aches to be out in the bustling public. I like to give him the chance to get out as often as I can, but he seems more and more content to be at Mom's side and less drawn by whatever he's missing outside the walls of their house. He vacillates between being the ever-capable caregiver and a weeping mess, but says he is okay with both.

As for me, I'd say I'm "fine"...except when I'm not. I handle the heavy things with the closest thing to grace I can muster, but when something simple goes wrong (like the girls missing their school registration or me being forced to sit through a chaotic Girl Scout meeting), I lose it. I cry over the stupid things like people looking at me funny or a good piece of chocolate. If anyone has a suggestion for a real tear jerker movie, maybe I could clean some latent emotion out of my system. I have a nagging malaise that is seemingly unrelated to what I eat or how much I sleep, that has, unfortunately, done nothing to curb my appetite.

I feel like I should sit with Mom and pray with her, read the Bible and talk with her about it, ask her probing questions about what she's experiencing and what she wants to tell me before it's too late. We can go there once in a while, but it's too heavy and serious for all the time. Times alone with Mom are often spent watching I Love Lucy or sorting edge pieces out for the latest jigsaw puzzle. We've been "doing" cancer for half a year now, and hospice for more than 3 months. Much as I love to dwell on the eternal, I'm too exhausted to do it all the time. The time is coming, sooner than I want it to, that we'll be faced with the serious side of things all the time. I'm praying that, even then, we will find a little humor every day.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Change of Scenery

I'm trying out a new look on my website, Stop on by to read about the type of people God is willing to work with!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

On the Hunt

Take a picture of someone from your team...

1.Talking to a piece of fruit
2. Planking
3. Reenacting a scene from Star Wars and/or The Sound of Music
4. Working behind the counter at a fast food restaurant
5. Doing the can can in front of a movie theater
6. ringing a bell outside a store
7. dancing in the crosswalk
8. in a nativity scene
9. drinking a starbucks drink
10. making "tongue lips" while reading a book

New family activity this year--digital scavenger hunt. Both teams discovered that almost every item you need can be found at Walmart.


Tell me about your favorite family activities.