Sharing my life and love of cross stitch. Thoughts about this and that.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What are Your Memories of the Space Shuttle Program?

(Originally written 7/21 but not previously posted.)

The question came up on the 123 Message Board: I thought I'd transfer my response and ask the same question here.
  • The first space shuttle was named The Enterprise. Good going ST fans! The next one needs to be allowed to actually fly.
  • When Columbia, on the very first shuttle mission, landed in April, 1981 on a whim I took the portable TV up to my DD's elementary school so her 3rd grade class could watch. However, I later mentally kicked myself when I belatedly realized the horrible effect it would have had on the kids had the landing been a disaster. Thankfully, the landing was spectacularly perfect and awe-inspiring (for me at least.). I wonder if any of the kids even remember that? I still vividly remember sitting in junior high World History class in 1961, us holding our mutual breaths and each other's hands as Alan Sheppard was launched from Cape Canaveral inside a tiny Mercury capsule, becoming the first American in space - the event broadcast live over the intercom.
    Challenger Mission Patch
  • In 1986 I had just walked back to my car from the Federal Courthouse, turned on the engine and radio and heard Challenger had blown up on launch. I don't know how long I sat there with the engine running, in a state of shock that quickly became a deep depression that lasted for weeks. Kay, my next door neighbor. had been a local finalist for the Teacher in Space program. When I got home I went to check on her. She was sitting in the dark shaking and crying. We agreed that even if we had known the tragic outcome, both of us would have still have gone through the weeks of training and gone for launch. I already had reservations for a trip to Disney World for my DD's 14th birthday 6 weeks later. I'd been excited and wanted to visit the now Kennedy Space Center ever since Alan Sheppard blasted off when I was about the same age  Instead, the Visitor's Center was unbearably somber with the Challenger count down /.mission clock clicking forlornly forward in time. It was at +42 days, so many hours and so many minutes and so many seconds ... and still inexorably counting.
  • One night in 2000 or 2001 a shuttle descended across DFW on it's way to a rare night landing in Florida. Our Sweet Adelines chorus went out to the parking lot to see if we could see it. The flight path was us almost directly overhead. The golden trail of ablation and sparks as it flew over (seemingly MUCH closer than it possibly could have been) were incredibly beautiful. We spontaneously broke out singing the Star Spangled Banner - in perfect 4-part harmony.
Columbia Mission Patch
  • The next DFW shuttle landing overflight was Columbia in 2003. I'd meant to get up early, go to the park and look up.Instead I turned on the TV just in time to hear a local newsmen [standing on the roof at WFAA in Dallas] suddenly go silent then say with voice that almost cracked that something big looked like it was coming off the Shuttle. OMG! was it breaking up directly overhead? We knew the horrible truth before NASA in Houston or Florida even suspected any problem at all. It was our local TV/radio stations calling them that alerted them to the disaster. One of the woman astronauts, Kalpana Chawla, was a popular post-graduate student here at UT Arlington, so a lot of her former colleagues and professors were outside watching her fly over. I have always been grateful I had NOT witnessed yet another shuttle disaster - this one happening right above me.
    • Since I was too young for Mercury and Apollo and too old for the early years of the Space Shuttle program, my ultimate lifetime goal (at the top of my bucket list, if you will) has been to be the first Octogenarian in space. Seriously! But I think John Glenn beat me to it. Ok, for John Glenn I'll lower my sights a tad and be the SECOND octogenarian in space. Maybe in the next 17 or 18 years they'll come up with another space program and I can still make those lifelong dreams come true.  
    ADDENDUM: When I was at North Texas in 1966, 3 years before the Eagle first landed on the Moon, my physics professor proclaimed with absolute certainty and conviction that within 25 years man would be living on and making scheduled trips to the Moon and to Mars, preparing for a journey to the stars themselves. I believed him and dreamed a dream that maybe one day I, too ....  Since originally writing this blog article, the Soviet Space Agency has announced it will scuttle the International Space Station in the Pacific Ocean in 2020 or so, thereby undoing and destroying all the work, effort, and dreams of myself and generations of past and future astronauts, discounting and perhaps discrediting the lives given and expended in the process, terminally wasting the billions spent by US taxpayers in its construction and upkeep, and inexorably nullifying the sole reason d'existence for the Space Shuttle program itself. For our children and our children's children, the past 50 years of human space endeavors may/will become just another blurry fairy tale: ONCE UPON A TIME, believe it or not, women and men from Earth were launched into space, traveled to the moon just to see if we could do it, circled the world in a two stations they quickly subsequently and summarily destroyed, and dared to dream dreams of future journeys to points outside the atmosphere and living somewhere other than on Earth. Once upon a time. Believe it or not.

      Finishing Tutorial

      The Twisted Stitcher's Tutorials -pin cushion, cube, framing, floss and key tags, many others  - See the list in the right-hand column. Lot's of photos and excellent directions.. This link added to Other Links Page.

      Tuesday, July 26, 2011

      Think I've Hit a Brick Wall / Freebie Links Page Updated

      Mom died 4 weeks ago yesterday, or a month ago tomorrow. I've been doing okay, but I'm finding myself more and more upset and weepy rather than moving through it. I've been able to hold it together for the most part, but found myself starting to choke up when I called to check on Dad yesterday. NOT what I wanted to do. I don't even want to leave the house, but that has a much to do with it being 106 outside and 25 consecutive days over 100 with record high overnight lows. I HATE SUMMER! My A/C is running full time. I finally just turned it off last night to spare what freon and motor bearings I have left. It was 85 inside when I woke up.

      I've taken photos of the Humpties, but they are still in the camera.

      I'm adding to the Freebie Links Page as I run across or discover more of them.

      BTW! I've tried to respond to your kind comments but Blogger won't let me. I'm signed in but they won't post. Anyone have any idea what's wrong? Know that I do appreciate all of them!

      Saturday, July 23, 2011

      New Prairie Schoolers & 2011 Annual Santa Have Been Released

      Click on title to access the Prairie Schooler website for photo:
      I purchased Bk #172- September (which will be stitched with a different verse) and the Annual Santa.  If you don't care for the hunter "sportsman" the smaller design has the man holding a basket [designed to fit the same space on the large design]. Note the squirrel bombarding the hunter with apples! I may reverse or rearrange the animals at the bottom so that it looks like the dog is running away from or being chased by them. :D

      I talked with Nancy earlier today who says the minicards were some that they had left over from years past. They've never done this before and are unsure how well the sets will sell (I assured her probably VERY WELL), and that when the minicards are gone, they are gone!

      Thursday, July 21, 2011

      Humpty Dumpty Found!

      First a small box with some partially cut out, then a bag of 9 Humpties Mom had already finished - located separately in the tops of 2 different closets. When he heard the news, my 53-year-old brother choked up and asked for one to keep for himself. Of course, Jim! You can have your pick! Now that we know where Mom put the Humpties, they went back to the same spots. Belatedly  I remembered the bag of finished ones being above the back bedroom closet, but only sometime after we found them, and only because I remembered the unusual fabric she'd used on one of them when I saw it. Unused synapses take their own sweet time to reconnect.

      Wednesday, July 20, 2011

      Separate Blog, Refocus and/or just remove posts?

      This was intended primarily as a cross stitch blog. Lately it's been the way I've been working through my emotions and honoring (I hope) my Mother after her death. I know that's NOT why people visit. So more cross stitch and pictures as I eventually d/l from camera, or okay as is?

      Your feedback is greatly appreciated. - LindaMc

      Saturday, July 16, 2011

      A Painting from 10th Grade


      Mother had also saved this 9 x13" Linda original dated 10-12-64 I painted in Art I.  It's a watercolor - right out of a black metal Prang box of 8 shades. That's a mauve draped something in the background. What an awful color even then. I'd never drawn or painted any of the elements before. The colors have since faded but except for that hideous mauve, this a close approximation to how I remember them. Computer colors and contrast are never the same as what the eye sees in real life. I was a fair artist even in elementary school, having some of my artwork displayed in the ISD city-wide art show, but I haven't painted and have rarely sketched anything in over 30 years. I really wanted to continue Art but I had a no-win choice: Art II or Choraliers (the audition only choir), both the same period. I chose to sing. I so wish I could have taken both!  My parents offered to send me to art school so I could become a professional artist. I said NO, why would I want to work at something I enjoy doing?  Instead, I've been an unhappy lawyer for the past 31 years. Talk about stupid.

      Friday, July 15, 2011

      Among Mother's Things - No Humpty Dumpty but an Advent Calendar I stitched years ago

      Yesterday my sister and I met at Dad's to start going through the things in Mother's life that were so much a part of her. It was supposed to be excess plastic containers and pots and pans. Instead, he wanted us to go through her closets and drawer to start sort clothing - and her sewing room. I wasn't really ready to do that. You just have to turn off your emotions or it would be impossible, and even with that a sudden memory comes fondly - which leads to the catch in your chest and tears anyway.  We boxed summer and personal items for Arlington Charities, but left winter and her really nice clothing to decide on later. And there were some items Dad isn't ready to part with. Us neither. We left more than we boxed.

      History of Humpty Dumpty: At least sixty years ago (probably a lot longer ago than that), my grandmother begin to make each of her grandchildren and nieces and nephews and the children of family friends a stuffed Humpty Dumpty out of scraps of fabric. It was a McMillen family tradition that Mother took over when Grandmother passed in 1958.  Thus, it wasn't surprising at all that within a day or so of Mom's death Dad asked (and others of us had already wondered but left unsaid), "Who will make the Humpty Dumpties now?"  Which led to: "Is there one at home, or can we find Mom's pattern?" So after Betty and I had boxed some and rearranged other clothes,. I went into Mom's sewing room to again look for the Humpty I'd seen in that closet, then quickly through drawers for pieces she might have already cut out and had pinned together awaiting stitching and stuffing - or at least one of Mom's homemade patterns - usually out of brown paper grocery bags. I was just going to do a quick search, since Dad had just again asked, but spotting me in there Dad came in and needed to personally double-check for himself. As he did he again mentioned calling the church ladies to come get Mom's boxes of fabric and anything else they might want. NOOOOO! Except for some of the fabric, leave everything else alone!! If it were up to me, I'd probably make Mom's sewing room an emotional oasis, it was so much a part of her and her volunteer work and her life.. I know that's me just wanting to hang on, but don't just willy nilly give everything away, Dad. WE want to keep many of her sewing things for ourselves!  Thankfully, Betty and I convinced him to leave it until later. We haven't found Humpty Dumpty as yet. I THINK I could recreate a pattern from memory (I helped her make 2 or 3 over the years to replace Humpties who had been so loved on they had fallen apart), but I might have to borrow one from a great-grandchild. I have looked online but the ones pictured are not the same. It's possible that ours was of my artist/seamstress Grandmother's own design.

      Advent Calendar: In the process of sorting and repiling things from here to there, I ran across this Advent Calendar I'd stitched for Mother at least 15 years ago and presented it to her unframed.  Laying under it was the frame she'd found it would fit. Dad and I had both I promised to frame it for her over the years - but never did. If that were the ONLY one of her stitched handiwork pieces for which promises were made and never kept... Every time I ran across something I would kick myself mentally,  "Oh, I need to get that done now!" But I never remembered when I COULD AND SHOULD have done it. NEVER LEAVE ANY PROMISE UNKEPT.  The design is from a magazine. Country Cross Stitch maybe? DMC with gold cord, gold Kreinik filament, and wine red translucent seed beads. Stitched size: apx 15 x 10


      Mother loved her garden and spent every morning out watering and pulling weeds. I'd taken her to the nursery 3 times earlier in the spring for plants, which she spent a very long time considering then choosing. While she was in the hospital the neighbor across the street came over to water, not wanting it to die before she could get home. She offered to continue. Dad apparently told her no need. He has no interest in maintaining any of them and they are dying in the record dry spell and almost record-breaking heat. That was her thing. Not his. Her beautiful hydrangeas are essentially already dead. The herbs and turks cap almost dead as well and her beautiful hostas and the bushes by the house and the poinsettia she'd managed to keep alive for 3 years in a pot. All dying - or maybe dead by now as well. It is killing me to see something she so loved deliberately neglected, but even when I offered to water them for him when I was there, he told me no. He'd wasted all the water he intended to on them. I can understand him not wanting to do it himself, but flatly turning down offers to help? Watching dead leaves fall from Mom's beloved hydrangeas is like watching her die all over again.

      I brought above stitched piece and the frame home with the intent to frame it now and hang it on my wall. But perhaps the guilt would be too great every time I looked at it. I don't know. To be honest, I'm not sure my mother really ever knew what to do with it either as I know it was in a drawer for several years before a frame showed up with it. I can't recall, but it could have been ME that pulled it out of the drawer and a frame was later found. What does one do when one really doesn't do Christmas decorating any more?

      Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      Nephew at the ESPY's - I'M BACK ON DSL!

      His employer leases professional television and radio broadcast equipment to ESPN and other organizations, so Alan gets to go along to supervise set up and trouble shoot.

      After six (6) frustrating months of various attempts to fix ongoing DLS problems, stuck with dial-up and 1990 connection speeds, and assurances even this afternoon by AT&T tech support that it could NOT be my modem or data line because they could ping my modem (even most of the time it was blinking red, and a itty bitty bit of the time it showed to be working and connected - but WAS NOT!!!), I did what I should have on January 2nd, BOUGHT A NEW MODEM and not relied on countless hours of "professional" troubleshooting, which did not work! YEAH - DSL!

      Thursday, July 7, 2011

      Surprisingly Not Sad Memories of Mom's Visitation and Funeral - Memories of Mom

      [Please excuse my need to document these things, for myself if for no one else. Writing is how I end up working through many issues in my life.]
      Mom, January 2011
      My mother, Helen Dorrace Taylor McMillen, was 84, almost 85, and she and Dad had been married 64 years when she died on Monday, June 27th. We genuinely expected Mother to outlive almost all of us, her children. The same was Dad's hope for himself. He once told me, as he sobbed during a previous serious medical event in her more recent years, that he hoped he'd go first because he didn't know what he would ever do without her. We all fully expected Mom to be there for us, and for us to care for when it came time, well into her 90's at least, maybe past 100, and that we or others coming after us would gratefully and joyfully celebrate my mother's amazing resilience to serious ills and the infirmities of advancing age. All these she viewed as inconveniences, which she quietly and gently accepted with little complaint, deeming them each just a part of life. We also truly anticipated that we would have the many opportunities to celebrate and toast my parents' 65th and 70th and 75th, maybe even their 80th anniversary, next year and in the many years we realistically expected for her ahead.
      We, or at least I,  may celebrate them in remembrance of my mother anyway.
      Photo: My brother, a professional musician/arranger/etc from LA, on trombone with my great-nephews (1st cousins - each a son of one of my sister's twin sons) playing Jim's overnight sort of  New Orleans jazz-style arrangement of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" at Mother's brief graveside service Tuesday, July 5th. Reed, age 12 and already very musical in his own right, (far right) has only been playing horn for 9 months but was likely note perfect. Travis (16) has played longer but not really that interested in it so far, played just as well, both despite little time to practice - especially together with their Uncle Jim. Surprisingly, but not really, it was my brother who had the hardest time - difficult to sing or to play with choked up throat through rolling tears. This was the boys first non-school  performance and experience playing with a real professional. We were very proud of each and all. Their efforts were wonderful and meaningful to us all. Thank you, gentlemen. The family is so proud and appreciative. Mom / GGMom would have loved it.  Photo by one of the Moms.
      "Never leave anything unsaid," Mom told us through the years as her family and friends her passed on, and out of the blue as well. I would add "nor unasked." I wish there was little left unsaid, but really there was and will always be. I wish Mother had broken through our thick skulls by confiding or at least more broadly and openly hinted or simply told us if she had a premonition her days were more numbered than we believed and so wanted. Though she had not bothered with a photo for the Church directory for years, she made a point to get the one above taken earlier this year. Dad doesn't think it looks like her. He prefers the one from just a few years ago where she's openly laughing and her eyes are lit up with an inner glow of mirth; the one of his young wife in a pensive mood; the one in which where she's looking lovingly down on my then 2 or 3 months-old baby brother, the same Jim as above, unsteadily holding up his head and staring "huh?" at the world from where she held him over her shoulder; the snapshots with her face full of delight and love for him and her children. 
      "Linda, I'm not sure I'll ever finish these quilts." "Sure you will," I answered brightly only 2-1/2 weeks ago. I hadn't understood, and it didn't occur to me to ask why she would say that at that moment. "Betty, I won't leave the hospital," she struggled to say. "Yes, you will, Mom, Every one is working very hard to help you get well so we can make sure you get home," the night before and again in the early morning before she died. We now realize that Mom knew long before we understood and had accepted she never could nor would. Never again to go back to her bricks and cedar home just down the hill. Betty, bless her, told me later that when she had said "home" she also meant Mom's heavenly one. Thank you, Betty. I was too wrapped up in my own disbelief and dismay and probably denial to think that clearly. I think Mom knew. Although Mom in recent years often plopped herself on the arm of Dad's recliner and told him how lucky they were to have had so many years together, he later told us that only 2 or 3 days before her final trip to the ER that she had slid on down into his lap (something she had rarely ever done), wrapped her arms around his neck and told him how much she loved him and how much she had appreciated their long life together and for their family. Dad says he now believes she had a premonition. Perhaps that was her gentle way of trying to help him prepare and was telling him those things she wanted him most and always to remember. But there are so many things she didn't say that I wished I had simply asked her about in recent years and months and weeks and days. Perhaps, maybe, some day or year or millennia, however it is time or nontime or non-linear time works on the other side, I and we will all get those eternal opportunities to speak again of all those things probably left unsaid after all and ask all those unasked questions just to hear her answers.
      More Words of Wisdom:
       "Don't simply give up, ever. You're too important and worth more than that, you know." I wish I believed in me as much as she always ALWAYS did. I wish you were here right now to tell me that yet again, Mom.
      "Linda, change the things you have control over and can change. Accept the things you cannot and move on." Her constant mantra to me as well, the person who almost never accepts anything gently nor quietly nor usually without a lot of complaining nor struggle nor occasional real fear, and often gets bogged down in the details and memories. I wish I had listened better and tried harder and inherited more of her can-do no- matter-what-the-odds spirit. I do try and Mom, I promise I will keep trying to live up to your simple philosophy of life, your hopes and your many many prayers for me. Maybe if * I * live long enough there's still hope for me yet. 
      Hi, Mom. I'm working to accept your death and will do my best to move on with my life to honor you. It's hard, you know.
      "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I do try but I am nowhere near perfect on that one.
      "Fools names and fools faces always appear in public places." Gotcha. That one took - permanently.
      Mother never swore. She said nothing at all or maybe "Fiddle-dee-dee" or "Fiddlesticks," and when really frustrated the occasional "Dern" or "Darn It." Those were as far as she would go, and promptly chastised us if we said anything more brazen in her presence as well. 
      So many other wonderful Mom and family memories. Her 100 or more typed-pages memoir, I've Had a Good Life, written a decade ago while she still retained her wonderful memories in vivid detail, printed and bound by Dad, is a treasure for us all. Maybe we should start adding our memories of her as addendum to that. But that would make it our book, not hers, wouldn't it? So maybe not.
      Visitation - Sunday, July 3rd: I absolutely dreaded it but was determined to plow through as best I could. Mom would expect that of me and of us. I wasn't about to disappoint her or them. It's been a long time since I was comfortable or brave enough to venture to one. I've always felt awkward and never knew what to say to a grieving family, almost none of whom I had previously met, if any. Turns out that doesn't matter. One's mere presence and fumbled words, no matter how brief nor how few, are meaningful to family and other friends in and of themselves. And the open casket, which always seemed somewhat morbid to me, was not morbid nor constantly overwhelming nor necessarily sad at all. We knew she wasn't in it and that was a happy thought. My mother had a deep and abiding faith and had no fear of death, so neither should I for her. I'm still a work in progress re myself on that, Mom. Seeing the quiet peaceful body, which in this life was my Mother's, did bring momentary hard tears but then almost as quickly fond memories of our too short time together. And it gave me another opportunity to see her as she almost really was, much less upsetting than her days and hours in the hospital (that for some reason I want to remember, too) another opportunity to tell her I loved her and to say goodbye one more time. 
      It surprised me that I took great comfort and felt a loving peace and could even smile knowing her body would be in the white casket with pink liner which she had picked out for herself almost 20 years ago, the one in which she was to be buried in the spot that she and Dad had selected in the almost-just-across-the-street-from-home cemetery (even if the essence of the person I knew as my Mother wasn't really inside or there), on the side of a small hill overlooking the trees and shrubs and landscaped lawn and flower beds surrounding a beautiful pond with fountain below, in the section designated by a large white statue of praying hands, which in winter we'll likely be able to see at a short distance away as we turn off of or on to the street where she lived for the past 50 years. Knowing that would be her resting place, I've been concerned for a long time that as I drove by I would burst into tears and would have to drive a different route. Instead, I think maybe I will smile knowing at least her body is so close, and maybe from time to time her spirit will be, too - our Guardian Angel looking down on us from a terrace looking out from the small hill above.
      We had asked for charitable donations rather than flowers, but I had received an very nice arrangement from the local Ham Radio Club I belong to (quite unexpected), a couple of peace lilies from my sister's employer and in-laws, a basket of indoor plants (??) that Dad will be able to take care of, and later a beautiful arrangement of pink gladiolas and large white lilies sent by a long time volunteer co-worker and friend who could not be at either visitation nor funeral. Though not expected, I was happy there were even those few after all. The casket piece was beautiful with a variety of colorful flowers and fillers, though overall color scheme and flower types looked similar to but only somewhat like the bright-flowered pictured selection. To be honest, I personally preferred the slightly gentler look. Or maybe my memory is just way off on that. It is dealing with a whole lot of more important things at present. Visitation included Dad and each and all of Mother's three generations of decedents (3 children, 3 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren). A variety of people dropped by: her or our old or current friends and neighbors, acquaintances from her 50-year church membership (most of that time anyway) along with several who knew her from the even greater number of years she's been involved in volunteer activities. Individuals she's been out of contact with for decades came to offer their condolences, too. But that was okay. I realized it meant they remembered her, or us, fondly still after all this time. Mom's nephew, his wife and his daughter drove the 5 something hours from Tulsa despite the fact my 66-year-old cousin, Bill, is on round 3 of chemo and very very ill. I'd asked them not to risk his fragile health, but he insisted on coming to honor his Aunt Helen. It had been many years since I've seen him. He's almost the age that Mom's father was when he passed,. Though it's been 46 years, Bill looks so much like the Pa I remember and loved, I spontaneously exclaimed so without thinking. Hugging him was hugging all those memories of my long-ago-deceased grandparents. Bill's sister, my cousin Janet, wanted to make the almost 10-hours drive from southern Louisiana, but she's also undergoing chemo (breast cancer). We so appreciated just her desire to be here for her Aunt Helen. Perhaps when she gets past these first medically difficult months, she'll be able to visit later.
      It was strange. Or maybe my brain and emotions were on hold. There was this beautiful, if slightly frail woman laying in a casket dressed in my mother's clothes who at first and occasionally thereafter, from the corner of my eye and sometimes in plain sight, appeared to be breathing who looked so very like my mother - but wasn't. Except for a moment's hesitation as I first entered the room and approached her and specific moments of sudden tears when a memory suddenly crossed my mind, I didn't feel really that overwhelmingly sad about it. In fact, more often I smiled (that was MY mother) and whispered to her from time to time hoping, I guess, that she was somewhere nearby and watching and might answer. Mom, am I weird or  just plain nuts or something? I asked if she was proud of how we were handling her unexpected passing as a loving and cohesive family and to please help us each as she could in the coming days and years. I love you so much, Mom.
      Shortly after the end of the visitation period and followed by my cousin 
      Bill's family, we drove the block or so home, anticipating but not knowing if anyone else would then drop by the house - and were relieved no one did, particularly as one of my nephew's wives took a turn and passed out in Mom's sewing room. Having eaten an hour or so before, her blood sugar, which I tested immediately, was much lower than it probably should have been. A full-strength soda helped and she seemed okay to go home 30 minutes minutes later. I hope that's all it is.
      My Dad, who has primarily lived alone with Mother for the past 30 years (except for brief stays by one of us kids or grand-kids in temporary transition - which I'm sure grated on his nerves), has had great difficulty physically and emotionally dealing with all the people and activity that has surrounded him this past week. I asked Dad at some point in the past few days if he had ever lived alone? Sure, the US Air Corp during WWII. But Dad, you were in the barracks surrounded by other young men. Oh, that's right. He had already moved back in with his parents and was living at home when discharged. A few months later he met (on April Fools Day), got engaged (on Halloween) and married Mom (a week before Valentine's), then they moved in together in the same boarding house where my mother had been living. I was their Christmas baby, then came Betty, and many years later, Jim. The only times Dad has live alone, if it could be called that, during the past 86 of his years were the occasional month or longer periods he was in a motel while doing oil field experiments in California or Canada more than 30 years ago. Not quite the same, is it? When my brother and wife leave the back bedroom to return to LA tomorrow after their extended visit, Dad will be truly be alone for the first time in his life; for the first time in Mom and Dad's now 50-year-old house; the house he alone designed and had built for Mom and us kids; the home they created around and for us. I know it will be very very difficult for him.
      Formal services at her church - 10 a.m., Tuesday, July 5th: The minister opened with a prayer. She'd been provided a copy and had read Mother's entire book of memories. She spoke of Mom's life from Mom's own perspective and often in Mom's own words. It was so thoughtful that she took the time to read and get to know Mom. Dr. Katie had assumed the ministry of the church only 2 or 3 weeks before Mom's even then infrequent attendance had ended, though Mom had continued participating in CWF when she felt well enough and probably knew her there. It was an honor and very moving that she had taken her weekend and holiday to read Mom's book and prepare her words. Jim and I then each spoke of our Memories of Mother. At one point he even sang a verse of the lullaby (Tura-Lura-Lura) which she'd sung to us every day before each nap and at bedtime from the time we were born, which we've since sung to our children, then grandchildren as they came. Because we have, he said it was, therefore, a piece of my Mom still lives in each of us, her descendants (a continuing theme in his presentation). There are MANY pieces of Mom and her Mom and Dad, and their parents and so on inside each of us. My fuzzy, sleep-deprived, foggy brain initially couldn't think of anything I might say until the wee hours just before that dawn when everything suddenly went crystal clear and resulted in 7 pages of single-spaced typed prose and/or bullet-points (some over-lap between them) More thought and attempts at editing, as you can guess by now, only made 2 pages turn into 4, then 6 and and finally 7, which, of course I knew, had to be severely edited down to only the most important thoughts. In the meantime I had to get SOME sleep before the funeral - 2 hours would have to suffice. I got to Dad's house just before everyone left for the church. Jim and I made sure we were in the same car, where he quickly skimmed my pages in the 2 minute trip to the church. Half or more of it had to go. With his keen insight and input and using the thick black marker he'd grabbed off the kitchen counter for that purpose, together we managed in 3 or less editorially brutal minutes, sitting there in the front row of sanctuary chairs (no pews) right in front of Mom's open casket with people starting to mill around us, to do so. It was absolutely necessary. Once started, absent black redacts for me and notes to himself to limit his personal remarks, both Jim and I could and would probably have talked on and on for hours and hours about our Mom. His remarks were much longer, more humorous at times (as is his natural state of being, despite the fact he is incredibly introspective and serious at other times) and more emotional than mine. I read. He had notes, but was often extemporaneous. At one point he even sang the first verse of  "Over in Killarny" (Tura-Lura-Lura) following that up with the comment that until a week ago he didn't realize what the lyrics, "I wish that I could hear her sing that song to me today ..., " had actually meant, and that Mom's songs and lullabys would live on and carry though us as well. A comforting thought. Since she never sought praise nor the spotlight for anything she did or accomplished, I suspect Mom was quite relieved that we kept our Memories of Mom down to maybe 3 or 4 minutes for me (I spoke slowly) and perhaps 10 to 15 for Jim. Momma, can you hear us? Momma, did you hear us?
      I'll share those other memories elsewhere, even if only for myself and for you.
      My daughter followed with an emotional, tear-filled reading from "There's No Such Place as Far Away" and her husband sang "How Great Thou Art," equally tear-filled and difficult for him to get through. Though he'd sung solo in church many, many times, it was his first funeral. He confided in advance that he so wished it wasn't for someone he loved so much. He's known Mom for less than 2 years and the depth of his emotion surprised and made me feel so much closer to him at the same time. The minister's Bible passage reading and homily that initially left us wondering what that had to do with death, was wrapped up with (a close paraphrase): "As Jesus took time out of his busy last [as it turned out] day to visit his disciple's very ill mother-in-law, take her hand and heal her, so, too, can you all be assured that admist all the strife and grief and joy in the world, He took the time to be beside Helen, held her hand, healed and lead her into God's kingdom." Ah, yes, He would do just that, wouldn't He?
      It's been many years since I've attended any funeral because they often upset me greatly (memories, I suppose, of the passage of all of grandparents by the time I was 20, and the related generations above me). But this was peaceful and very meaningful. Smiles and quiet chuckles as Jim and I spoke were wonderful to see and hear.  I hope Mom was there and saw and heard as well. I truly appreciated each and everyone who came, whether they stayed to express their condolences and said nice things about our Mother, or not. In my remarks, I had described Mom as a "compassionate pragmatist."  As she had told us many times over many years, and quoted by Jim in his remarks, "Funerals are for the living; the dead have no need for one."  Yes, yes she was a compassionate pragmatist, along with many mary other things as well. Perhaps I will attend more funerals for those I knew or were loved by my friends and acquaintances. At my age, those will be more and more of a certainty.
      On to the Cemetery: After the short receiving gathering, which sort of started out as a "line" but quickly became clump, my final last goodbye knowing it would be the very last time I ever see her again - but only for now I truly hope, the closure of her casket (which I am glad I didn't see - too much, that would probably have too much for me), casket was rolled outside and the pall-bearers (Mom's 2 grandsons, 2 of her great-grandsons, my brother-in-law, and my son-in-law) lifted it into the hearse, and they then rejoined their respective families in their respective cars. As each vehicle was occupied by family members or neighbor or friend, each left the church parking lot personal vehicle by personal vehicle to drive the 5 short blocks to the near-graveside location in the cemetery. The intent had been so my brother and his young trumpeteers could set up and be ready to play as the hearse and other mourners arrived. Shortly after we had all left one by one, the Funeral Director's car and the hearse followed on their own. I wondered of coming in absolutely last rather than leading a procession behind was a first for them? Not exactly as anticipated, but it worked just fine for us. We'd advised them in advance: no family cars, no formal procession and no escort necessary.
      After all arrived, pall bearers moved casket to a metal dias under the typical canvas shade, and the Brass Trio finished their tribute and joined us across the roadway. Some of us sat for the very brief ceremony under the stifling canopy, which consisted simply of a final prayer and minister's shaking of hands and brief condolence to each of us. For those that wanted to and/or had not seen the exact location of Mother's plot, it was a short walk to the actual grave site where we stood a few moments, each in our own thoughts under the scorching Texas sun. This brief but meaningful ceremony was followed immediately by a fried chicken lunch for family and friends back at the church, prepared with love by three of mother's long-time church friends. 
      Overall, it was as nonformal as a formal funeral could be without being considered informal (if you understand what I mean), and we believe just as personal, meaningful and non-fussy as as Mother would have wanted.
      It was very odd. Because her grave is in some sort of underground 2-vault-deep mausoleum that sits 4' below ground level at the top, it was very deep. My brother later commented that seeing it and understanding it was for "eternity" (to which I added "or for at least a few hundred or thousands of years" - the earth and the sun and the universe having their own cycles of life and death and rebirth that will profoundly affect and change all on this small planet - I tend to think on the really long term), [he continued:] "... looking into that permanent pit was a good recommendation to opt for cremation instead. He has a weird sense of humor and often uses such to express his innermost thoughts at times. I also recognized the attempt to handle is own grief. 
      Though Dad's name is already on the marker which comes with the gravesite, he will be cremated and scattered elsewhere. Although I really really want at least some bit of my atoms and molecules shot into space to rejoin the dust that has created everything so far and maybe some scattered and recycled into new life here, I also don't want Mom to be alone by herself in that deep hole in the ground and would rest there with her until some hopeful future judgment day or until the end of the world. I don't know if that even matters to anyone but me. 
      That may have been the body she had in this life, but the person and the soul that is or was my mother is not really in that grave. I think at times I almost see or feel her - or so wish she is still -  sitting in the passenger seat beside me and find myself spontaneously talking to her as I have when she's ridden with me in the past, and as I have here. It's very odd. I know she's gone, that she has passed on and is buried, that she is somewhere better than here, with God and her family I trust, and I am very strangely and quiet unexpectedly so far okay with that. Maybe I'm still numb and dealing with this a tiny bit at a time and later I will feel differently and suffer the throes of the despair that is loss. And when I think of the next time I need to call her about something family or stitchy or about the progress on her quilts or to just hear her voice or really need for someone to just listen to me ramble on and on or for advice I can't go to anyone else about or for her to remind me of the words to a song or lullabye she used to sing to me or hear her words of simple wisdom or for to give my Mother a gentle hug just because and for her to return her gentle kiss on my cheek but then realize she can never and will never again  be physically there .... I am going to be very very sad and it's going to really really hard.
      Somehow, Mom's favorite hymn, "In the Garden," the one she wanted sung at her funeral, wasn't. I don't know how that was missed by the minister or us before the funeral. Other things on our mind, I guess. I think the pianist played it somewhere in there as background music, but that wasn't the same, of course. There was some other hymn listed in the program which I'd heard before but was not meaningful to me, nor to any of us I suspect. I wish now I had just spoken up right then and there and asked to add "In the Gardent" just for Mom. Or had noticed it was missing and asked it be sung instead rather than edit my remarks before hand. Jim had arranged it for him and the boys and planned to play it at the cemetery, but since we all arrived at once, he chose not to, in good part because their short rehersals had not gone as well as he'd expected. 
      Back Home: So after we got back to the house (only 4 blocks north of the church - the cemetery beginning at the end of my parent's street), we persuaded Jim and now reluctant pre-teen and teen, to stand on the shady back patio and play for us again. With all gathered close round, cameras and cell phones recording sound and picture, they did just that. Mom finally got her "In the Garden" played very, very well, and as Jim remarked, far improved from their  earlier rehearsal. "Amazing how well terror-induced adrenalin can enhance one's performance skills," he quipped in typical Jim fashion.  On behalf of our mother and great-grandmother, Thank you so much, guys. I love you, Jim.
      More Thank You's: We, individually and as a family, are so appreciative for the many things the minister and church members, neighbors, relatives, friends and the funeral home employees have done for and with us during this difficult time, as well as for the family and friends who visited or attended, the persons who could only send cards, for each one who has expressed their memories of and love for Mother as well. And I also thank each of you, my stitching friends, who have taken the time to skim or read these lengthy posts this past two weeks, and for your kind comments and support. I'll need that for a long time to come.

      Friday, July 1, 2011

      It's Difficult to Know Just What I Want to Say About Mom - Way Too Much I Suspect

      Thank you all so much for your kind messages. I am printing those out for the family to read.

      If I'm able, I want to say or read something at her funeral.  I may also try to sing a lullaby, Sure a Little Bit of Heaven, which she used to sing to us as children and which we have sung to our children and many other children during these long years. Not religious, but one of the songs she sang so often that meant so much to us and which we will always remember her by. I'm not sure if I be able to or not. My brother has arranged a special musical medley for himself on trombone and my young great-nephews on trumpet of her favorite hymn, I Walk in the Garden Alone, and another of her and our favorite lullabies, Tura Lura Lura, to play graveside. It  turns out each of us had individually sang that and other songs to her in the ICU. When I did, she looked up with a big smile and said, "Thank you."  As a family, we also sang "In the Garden" during her last moments with my son-in-law providing forgotten words as we faltered, and so very very heartfelt. I so hope she knew we were trying to make her passing easier for her and let her know we loved her so much in return we were willing to let her go.

      The Brass Trio will play at a short the graveside service. The church is then providing lunch for family and close friends. After that ... I guess we try to get on with living our lives as Mother would definitely want us to do, though, I have been talking a lot to her since. I hope she hears. Otherwise, I've been pretty okay - mostly - profound sadness erupts momentarily into warm tears - then I go on okay - so far. So much so it both surprises and upsets me. Is this what profound grief is like? Is God letting me handle it a bit at a time as I can or will? Perhaps. But I don't know how I'll get through the funeral.. Will I be a lump of uncontrollable sobs or sit straight up and stoic, as my mother always was. I don't know how old I was before I saw her actually cry. She cried more as the years passed and she lost her parents and siblings. I so hope she is with them again. I would hate to think and don't want to even know how many tears she shed for and over me. Millions, I'm sure.

      Dad is overwhelmed with the hyper-activity by way too many people in his house immediately following her death, which briefly explodes in grimaces as he bites his words to most who are just trying to be helpful but whose timing has not been good nor wise. We've started disappearing ASAP to give him the space and silence he needs to emotionally process the profound reality of his loss. As it was certain individuals jumped immediately into house-cleaning / prepare for possible visitors mode as soon as we got home from the hospital, I just realized that we as a family didn't even get nor have we had the opportunity to simply sit and reminisce and decide what next, and haven't since then either. That disturbs me. We should have done that BEFORE we spoke to the minister this morning. What we all need, my Dad in particular needs, is for everyone to back off with probably wholly unnecessary hyper-cleaning and rush to detail food and drink plans for visitors who MIGHT come to the house, and to slow down and just let all of us have the quiet and inactive time to reflect and deal with Mom's passing. As far as I and probably Dad are concerned, if someone drops by to pay their respects, they get the house as it comes, which is always a lived-in but comfortably clean, only slightly cluttered state with the day-to-day minutea to begin with. My sister-in-law, whose way to deal with this is too keep as active and busy as possible, and to assign tasks to the rest of us in order to accomplish her goals, has been the source of a lot of the activity. She will leave Dad a REALLY scrubbed and clean house even if no one shows up [which, with 2 minor exceptions and the look of the house wouldn't matter to them anyway, is what happened after all]. She also insists on doing the cooking and shopping, jumping in and and often taking over what I and/or my sister and/or daughter would otherwise do and will be responsible for in the future, but with far more energy, expertise, skill and creativity than certainly I, at least, have ever possessed. I and we all very much appreciate and thank her for her energetic, caring and heroic efforts, but to be honest, totally spic and span clean house is the LAST thing I am concerned about at this moment in time.  I love her dearly, but it's just way too much far too soon for Dad - and for me.

      Mom would probably find it all instructive and amusing that someone finally found a way to make some of us more inactive types (read that moi) shape up and clean up NOW!