Happy Anniversary, My Love

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary, well my husband and me. I thought after my last post marking the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing I would continue with the celebration of a much happier occasion.

Twenty years ago today was by far the happiest and scariest day of my life. Can we agree for a second that change is scary? Yes? Good. Happiest for obvious reasons, and scary because of how long I’d known and dated my fiancé. We met back in the early days of the Internet chat rooms and before there were dating websites like Match or eHarmony. Ironically, an ex-love interest was indirectly responsible for getting us together, as he was the one who introduced me to this chat room. My ex and my husband had a mutual acquaintance that they had both chatted with on occasion. My screen name, which over the course of several online providers and thousands of dollars in over limit fees, had seen many changes, and finally came down to my real name, first and abbreviated middle: Wendy Sue. Some of my “real life” friends from that time still call me Wendy Sue, I’m totally okay with that. Hubby’s screen name was simply “sleeplss,” without the last “e.”

After showing an initial interest in each other, he vanished from online for about a month. I not-so-secretly worried we’d never cross paths again, while he was tying up loose ends and ending other romantic interests. He knew something long before I suspected anything about the potential of our future together. We exchanged photos, one I had my mom take of me by my new car a few months previously, drove 25 miles and foolishly paid $7 to have scanned into .jpg format, and his was a professional photo. His was much more impressive than mine, I can assure you. However, when he showed my picture to his mom, she smiled and told him, “This is the kind of girl I see you with!” His other family agreed.

After a month of absence, he came looking for me in my usual places. I was delighted to see him, as my feelings toward him had mysteriously grown in the month he’d been away. I was intrigued by the blonde guy from Oregon. My folks weren’t pleased that he lived so far away, but at the time really thought nothing of it. We talked for a few months online; everyday at lunch I’d come home and chat with him, and evenings I’d call him because I had the better long distance plan (10 cents a minute! Dirt cheap!!) The more we talked without the limitations of physical appearance that can hinder an in-person relationship, the more we discovered we wanted to meet in person.

Our first date was a three day weekend trip from Florida to Oregon. I took a red eye flight with an hour layover in Vegas. I’ll admit I pondered my sanity while waiting for my connecting flight, and even considered hopping on the next plane back to Tampa. But I’d come this far, so I was determined to see it through. I had to know if the guy I had such strong feelings for was the one I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. When the plane landed in Portland at 3am local time, there he stood in the concourse with a single rose, waiting for me. It was cold, as it was January in the Pacific Northwest, and I don’t believe I stopped shivering for the next 72 hours. I met his mom the next morning as we crashed into her bed for a nap. She was as charming and lovable a person as I could have hoped for. As I napped, he slipped away and returned with a little stuffed bear holding a satin rose, which he surprised me with when I awoke. I showered and got ready to meet his friends at a casual dinner, and then off to stay at a local hotel, to get some real sleep. By Sunday we were both under the weather with a cold I probably brought with me from the airplane, and Monday was back to the airport at early o’clock for an all day travelganza. The weekend went too quickly but I knew for sure where things were headed. Before we left for the airport that morning, he played a song on the stereo for me, and he just held me. The song was “Truly,” by Lionel Richie.

When I arrived back home, I told my mom we needed to look for a wedding dress, and sooner than later. I didn’t have a promise but I had a strong feeling that when he came down to meet my family a month later, that he would propose. The next 30 days was grueling, as we counted off the days until he came to Florida. When he arrived, my folks went to pick him up, and I applaud them for taking everything in stride. Mom looked at him and said, “Hi, I’m Mom, and this is Dad,” pointing at my Dad, who was probably trying to find words for the man he knew would someday be his son in law. I remember coming home from work and seeing him sound asleep on my bed, my sweet 2 year old calico cat curled up with him. I don’t remember the date, but he wasted zero time, waiting for just the right moment. All I remember was that it was about 2am, and we were outside enjoying a balmy February night. I was sitting on the wall in front of the house, when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring. The next few moments were a blur, but I do remember saying “Yes!” several times.

For the remainder of the week I had him here, I took him to Disney World in Orlando. We spent a couple of days there, newly engaged and deliriously happy. I bought him a Pooh bear, which helped me give him the nickname he’s had since those early days: Honeybear. And as time has a way of doing, it went way too quickly and before we knew it, he was on his way home. We only saw each other one more time between our engagement and the wedding. This is what I meant by scary!!

I wish I could go into as much detail about our wedding day as I have the rest of our story so far, but the truth of it is, the day was a blur of activity, family, doing hair and makeup, getting the finishing touches on the reception and making sure every detail was right. I remember my last dance with my Daddy, the DJ messing up the date when he announced us for the first time as husband and wife, throwing my bouquet and seeing family and friends I hadn’t seen in years.

Our first year in a new city for me was daunting, with a lot of homesickness and missing my mom and dad, getting used to a new life, new faces, feeling lost in a town I didn’t know, and having the love of my life right next to me every night instead of being thousands of miles away. That was the best part. Since our wedding, we haven’t spent more than a week apart at a time.

Now, I know this all sounds so idyllic and fairy tale-ish, but the harsh reality of life is, life happens. Our first two years were the only normal we have had in our entire marriage. We’ve been tested more than most couples married twice as long, and with every ounce of resolve and commitment we could muster. We started our third year with a serious health crisis, and then a car accident later that year left me with permanent pain and disability. And since I’ve known him, he’d been nursing an old military injury that he had surgery for in 2012. It has always been something, but no matter the severity we have stuck together by choice and with much hard work. I joke when I say I have earned every grey hair on my head, but in many ways I mean it.

Such devotion is not seen as commonplace in today’s “if it feels good, do it” society. Many have gone out of their way to congratulate us on a feat that is unfortunately unusual. Many of my friends from school have divorced, some are on their second or third marriage, and I don’t have any condemnation for them. I don’t know their issues or their relationships. In an age where most things, even relationships, are disposable, it feels good to have come from a place of trial and struggle and say, “Yes, we made it!”

On my way home from my Mom’s yesterday I heard a song I haven’t listened to in years. So many of the words rang true in our relationship that I feel compelled to write them down here and include them. The song is sung by Lee Greenwood, called “I Still Believe:”

Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not
Sometimes I can’t think of one thing we’ve got
In common to keep us from falling apart
To keep holding on with hope in our hearts 

Sometimes it’s heaven and sometimes it’s hell
Sometimes it seems we would be just as well
Off on our own or with somebody else
Then I think about all we’ve been through 


There have been so many nights that you saved me
There have been so many mornings you gave me
The courage to get up and get out of bed
To face the world one more day 

There have been so many trials we’ve conquered together
And so many miles of rough roads we’ve weathered
And I swear forever that I’ll never leave
Cause baby, I still believe 


You bring out my best, you can bring out my worst
You feed every hunger, then leave me burning with thirst
And at the moment that I know that I’ll surely die
Your love is my fountain of life


There have been so many nights that you saved me
There have been so many mornings you gave me
The courage to get up and get out of bed
To face the world one more day 


There have been so many trials we’ve conquered together
And so many miles of rough roads we’ve weathered
And I swear forever that I’ll never leave
Cause baby, I still believe

Happy Anniversary, my love. Here’s to another twenty, for better or for worse, in sickness or (hopefully) health. Forever.

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Remembering My Dad

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing. I’ve been told that the loss of one’s parents is probably one of the most devastating losses a person can suffer, with the exception of the loss of a spouse and/or a child. I believe this to be a true statement. Being a surviving child of a deceased parent, I have found that you never really get over this heart wrenching but all too inevitable loss. No, getting over it isn’t (or at least hasn’t been) an option for me. There is grief of course, maybe moving past it and even being somewhat accepting of it. But when a woman loses her Daddy, don’t expect her to ever just “get over it.” It just won’t happen.

Shortly before his passing, because we knew it was coming (and knowing does NOT make it easier. At. All.) I had started to write what I thought would be a fitting tribute to the man who was my father. In the end, my thoughtful obituary, written in grief, was not what I wanted to convey about this wonderful man. Yes, it was descriptive, and very expensive to publish in the paper, but I don’t think I did him any justice. I could write a whole post about companies that take advantage of folks in their time of sorrow and pain, because I think they are disgusting (local newspaper, I’m looking at YOU!!,) but I will save that for another time. This column is about my dad.

Thanks to a free week with Ancestry, I have found out some pretty amazing things about my dad and his family. I discovered that my dad’s father came to America from Italy with his family as a little boy, a family that consisted of only a father and his five children. I have not dug deep enough to discover what happened to my great grandmother, and why her name did not show up on the Ellis Island documents. But this discovery means that my dad was the first generation in his family to be born on American soil. This was a fantastic find! If only I could trace far enough back to find out more, but this was a start!

My dad, John, was the second born of nine children, and the oldest boy. I remember him telling me that his own parents were up before the break of dawn each morning baking bread to feed and care for their family. My dad was nine years old when the Great Depression started, which made it harder to feed a growing family. But when he reached the end of his eight grade in school, Dad left school to work and help feed the family. As the firstborn son, it was expected of him to do this, and he did it without complaint.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, my dad enlisted into the army at the age of 21. He spoke of his time in the war proudly, because he believed in the cause of freedom and that his sacrifices contributed to the eventual victory of the allies. His European Theater of Operations saw him in places like Normandy during the D-Day invasion, in Belgium and Luxembourg for the Battle of the Bulge, into Bastogne and even liberating the Ohrdruf concentration camp (part of the Buchenwald camp) in Germany. He served in the 4th Armored under Gen. George S. Patton, and he was so very proud of that. He was awarded the Purple Heart for sustaining an injury when the half-track he was driving with hit with enemy fire. The soldier sitting right behind him was not as lucky as my dad. He lost many friends over the duration of his service. When he would tell me of those stories, his eyes would become glassy with tears, and I’d see him secretly wipe them away.

After the service, he went back to helping to feed and shelter his family working in the private sector. He had no real formal education, so learning a skilled trade was really his only choice in a post-war America. His parents met my mom at a local bingo, run by her uncle and his organization, in our home town. She was working there with her family, and surprisingly she had known her future in-laws for some time before she met Dad. When they met each other while roller skating, he fell in love with her instantly. He returned home to tell his parents about meeting her, and when he described her they told him, “That sounds like our Janie from bingo.” And sure enough, it was! They were eventually married in the summer of 1948, on my Dad’s 28th birthday.

Over the next twenty years, they welcomed four children into the family. First was a girl, Diane, then John (nicknamed Jack,) then Jeffrey and then yours truly. Between the older and younger girl was eighteen years difference. Dad and Mom bought a home for the low, low price of $14,000 with a 30 year mortgage in 1955 or 1956, shortly after the birth of my oldest brother. Dad worked long, hard days in Connecticut’s harsh climate as a welder, a trade he learned while working for C.W. Blakeslee Construction. As far back as I can remember, Dad was laid off for the most of the winter, starting at the beginning to middle of December. While we were all still young and school work could be given in advance, back when teachers and principals didn’t mind if parents took their kids from school for 2 weeks before Christmas break, Dad and Mom took us to Florida for the holiday. We stayed with my Mom’s aunt, Irene, and her husband Ray. They owned a bungalow in Oakland Park, which is a small suburb outside of Fort Lauderdale. It was only a two bedroom, one bathroom house, and it was quite a cozy fit for a family of five plus two resident adults. And after my sister joined the Air Force, and my uncle Ray had passed away (I was a baby when both those things occurred) it was still very cozy, so much so that the boys stayed next door with my aunt’s friend.

I have some fond memories of Christmases in Florida, and some things I only remember in photos. For example, our family was the first on our block to visit Disney World. We have an old Polaroid photo with Dad, me and Mickey Mouse, date stamped December, 1971. I was only two that year, so I don’t remember that but I do remember being in the Bicentennial parade during the 1976 celebration. Jeff and I were picked to be in the parade from the crowd, and we were both given a commemorative medal and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. I wish I had both of those now. Our Christmases were sometime spent at the beach after presents were opened. I remember Dad washing “tar balls” that I had stepped in at the beach off my feet, and helping me to pick oranges from the backyard trees. And my Aunt Irene had some of the biggest orange trees in her backyard I had ever seen, even to this day. That was where I first heard the term “tangelo,” way back before Honeybells were known. We would pack the car’s floorboards with our clothes and stuff as many oranges as we could jam into our suitcases for the car trip back home in January.

Dad retired from his job in 1985 at the age of 65 years old, and it couldn’t come fast enough. Too many years of working in the heat and the cold of New England summers and winters had taken their toll on him. He had nerve damage in his ears from the loud machinery, before they realized that those noises could damage hearing. I don’t remember a time when he didn’t have a sore, achy back and only found relief at the chiropractor, who was his most trusted doctor. I had seen Dad barely able to walk into the office, and walk out standing straight and nearly pain free. That’s a good doctor in my book. After Dad retired, I was still only in high school, so he and Mom did a lot of volunteering for the marching band, of which I was a member. They helped to run the concession stand at the football stadium, and followed us around to every away game, just to watch me play in the band. Over the years, they developed some dear friendships and a ton of great memories. On the last regular game of the season, Thanksgiving morning, the band parents cooked up a hot, fresh meal for the band members as a way of saying goodbye to the outgoing senior class. When it was my turn to say goodbye to the band experience, it was a sad day for all three of us. Sometimes, I think my parents enjoyed the band days more than I did.

Those band years also took us to Florida and California for the end of the year “band tour.” Anyone who wanted to go on the band trip at the end of the year could go, and there were always fundraisers to help students offset the cost of the trip. Mom and Dad came with me on my sophomore trip to California, the first time they’d ever been, and to Florida on my senior trip. Most of my friends would have been horrified (and the ones who had been chaperoned usually were) by their parents tagging along on the trips. I would never have wanted to deny such an opportunity to them, especially since I knew how much they both loved the band atmosphere. Most of their friends also went, and the parents had their own itinerary of things to do separate of what we kids were doing. But I knew I could count on them to be watching the parade on July 4th, cheering me on as we marched in Florida’s blistering summer heat. Whether it was the scorching Florida sun or the bitter cold New England winter football games, they never missed a performance. Not one time.

After graduation, my folks decided it was time to start wintering in Florida. We call this phenomenon, “Snowbirds,” here in the sunny south. At first, they came down for a few weeks, then a month, and then for most of the winter. My mom’s brother would have annual tickets to the Daytona 500 in February, and it was my Dad’s favorite part of snow-birding. But finally, after a brutally cold winter they decided to sell the house and move to warmer climes. The house was on the market for a few months when an offer came in. The new couple loved the home and really wanted it. Considering that winter was coming again rapidly, and the housing market was turning sour, they took the offer and became Florida residents. I was the only one left without a spouse and nowhere to call home, so I came here with them.

Mom Dad Epcot Christmas

Mom & Dad, Epcot 1991

I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention my high school best friend, who not only turned out to be my best friend for life, but a third brother to me, and a third son to them. Patrick, known only to my dad as “Padderick,” was a very important part of all our lives after we relocated to Florida. He is a talented artist and wanted to refine and hone his skill at probably the most prestigious art school, Ringling School of Art and Design. During Patrick’s four years at Ringling, he visited often on weekends when he had nothing pressing at school. Dad always looked forward to his visits. My dad, an avid thimble collector, always loved to share his collection and his passion for it with Patrick when he visited. We were all right there when Patrick graduated Ringling, celebrating with him. Dad was proud of his third son, as he was the only one to graduate from a four year college. When Patrick moved away after graduation, I know Dad missed him. He missed sharing stories. He missed his company and love. Recently, my mom and I decided to gift a portion of Dad’s thimble collection to Patrick. I know Dad would have approved.

Though we didn’t have pets growing up, I had acquired a cat after a roommate arrangement went sour.  She was in the backyard crying, a tiny calico kitten. I have a soft place in my heart for calicos and tortoiseshell cats, so I rescued her.  When I moved back home, Callie came with me, but as a condition of her being allowed in the house, she had to stay in my bedroom while I was working.  My dad, who had previously not been a fan of felines, couldn’t stand to see my kitten cooped up in my bedroom all day.  Usually when I came home at lunch, she was in the living room waiting for me.  Dad and Callie were fast friends, and when she wasn’t sleeping she was by his side, waiting for him to sneak a piece of meat under the table.

Dad and Callie

Best friends forever!

Eventually I met and married my soulmate, who happened to live on the other side of the country. This meant leaving Florida and joining my new mate in Oregon. The wedding was small but meaningful. We had all of the trimmings that most weddings have: the cake, throwing the bouquet, my first dance with my new hubby and my last dance with my daddy. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing that I’d probably never dance with him again. After the ceremony the family went back to Mom and Dad’s house. But after that day, I was not just his little girl anymore. Life had changed. The Monday following the wedding, hubby and I started our cross country trek back to a home I’d only visited twice, with a man I’d only seen three times before the wedding. Dad wasn’t there when we left the house. I wasn’t sure I could have left if I saw him cry, but I still regret that he wasn’t home when we left. That was my one big mistake and it haunts me still.

After I left the nest, Mom and Dad continued to travel back and forth to Connecticut. They celebrated their golden anniversary in 1998, surrounded by family, friends and neighbors. Their grandchildren, my sister’s kids, lived in Illinois so that was a popular destination while they were still able. We threw him a huge party for his 80th birthday in 2000. Then in 2003, my mom told me that Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I was in college at the time studying to get an Associates Degree in accounting, but I wanted to come back to Florida, to spend time with Dad and help Mom, because I knew she would need it. So in the summer of 2004, hubby and I packed what we could bring with us, sold what we couldn’t and toted three unwilling cats across the country again.

Dads 80th birthday

Dad’s 80th birthday… the aftermath!

The next few years were precious but difficult. Day after day, we watched the leader of our family deteriorate. All of his years of hard work, and this was his fate. It was so unfair, so very undeserved, and so very hard to experience. In truth, my Dad was gone long before he passed, as the disease plundered his memory and personality. I hope with all that is in me that I never have to go through an ordeal like that with another loved one. But, we kept him home as long as we could, in comfortable, familiar surroundings. His war stories became more fantastical, going from reality to a Dad version of Rambo, jumping from his half-track and mowing those Nazis down singlehandedly. Even now, we still laugh about those stories. Evenings were rough for Mom, when she was alone with him and sundown syndrome had struck. Luckily, he was not able to walk well and we never had to worry about him wandering from home or getting lost. We joked about putting a necklace on him with his address when we first moved to Florida, never expecting that someday that would be a reality for us.

Around the time when we could see Dad was starting to lose interest in daily activities and things he normally enjoyed, we called my brother Jeff, who had a new infant daughter, to bring the girls down to see him. Though we had pictures of his youngest granddaughters, he hadn’t seen the baby and constantly talked about wanting to see her. So Jeff made a trip down with his family to see Dad. It was the last time I remember seeing him joyful and content. Jeff didn’t know that it would be the last time he would see Dad.

Shortly after Jeff and his family left for home, Dad stopped wanting to eat. He was getting weaker by the day, and Mom took him to his doctor, who in turn admitted him into the hospital for observation. A week later he was released, fully hydrated and nourished, and admitted to a rehab facility, with the objective of getting him strong enough to go home. It was during these four weeks at the rehab facility that he started to fail and decline rapidly. Eventually, Hospice was called to care for him. During that time, he didn’t know anyone, nor did he even have any self-awareness. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever witnessed, and I pray to God above I never have to again.

On the day he died, I planned on going from work to see him on my lunch break, but I couldn’t get away. It was March 15, 2007, the ‘Ides of March.’ Mom went to see him, and asked me what she should read to him, because she liked to talk to him and read to him, even though he was not conscious. I suggested that she read the twenty-third Psalm from his Bible. When she called me after work, she told me that she had done so, and was happy she did. Later that evening, Mom got the phone call from the rehab center letting her know that he was gone. In that moment, our lives changed forever.

Dad was an incredible husband, father and friend. His family came first, no matter the cost. His hard work and sacrifices throughout his whole life made our lives better, and I don’t think he would have traded any part of his life for something better. He had everything he wanted and needed with his family. We were more than enough for him. I wish the world had more people in it like my daddy, for it was a better place while he was in it.

Merry Christmas, My Children

It’s Christmas morning, but the house is quiet, except for the sounds of a hungry cat trying to wake us for breakfast.  Sleepily I walk to the kitchen, two felines on my heels.  I try not to trip over them as I pop cans of food open and portion it out.  Mercy cries when she smells it, and Pixel runs to check on her, making sure it’s only the lack of food that disturbs her.  The three of us walk back to the bedroom as we do every morning.  Sassy, Pixel and Mercy are chowing down on their morning meal, but the house is quiet.

Our tree is still packed away from last year.  Mercy would have had it torn down in minutes if we tried, and you’re not here for it anyway.  All of the decorations are still in their boxes.  A couple of packages wrapped in the same paper sit by my computer, ready to bring to Grandma’s house in a little while.  The room where you would have slept is cold and empty, even though there is furniture inside.  A twin bed.  Some toys for the cats.  A window to the outside that only Pixel and Mercy sit and look through.  There is no sign of you anywhere.

This morning, the house looks like it does every other morning.  It’s too small for us but it’s where we are for now.  There is no inkling of activity anywhere.  Even the cats, with their bellies full of chicken and liver, are not making a peep.  Mercy is on her furniture taking a bath, Pixel is watching out the window and Sassy is probably under the bed.  The house is quiet.

It’s 8:00am. Around the world, children like you are eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  The yearly visit from Santa.  You would have been good children this year, I bet.  Then again, you were going to be good kids anyway, even without Santa.  It is how we would have raised you.  You would have been kind and courteous, with giving and loving hearts, but knowing boundaries so you wouldn’t become a door mat.  I am in Grandma’s kitchen making cinnamon rolls.  There is enough for all of us, but you’re not here.  Daddy and I take a second roll each, because they are awful warmed up later on.

It’s 10:00am, and Christmas morning is over.  Presents were opened, but somehow it’s not the same without you here.  I wanted to see the look of wonder on your faces, the excitement of new stuff!  I wanted to get you that one special thing you wanted more than anything in the whole world!  To hear the sounds of laughter and yes, even play arguing. Maybe especially the arguing, because that would mean there was a brother or sister for you.  You wouldn’t have been an only child.  Yes, I would have wanted that for you.

Now it’s 2pm, and dinner is ready.  It’s only your Dad, Grandma and me today. The kitties are home safe, guarding the house. We are having your favorite for dinner.  Swedish meatballs and that yummy gravy with real mashed potatoes.  I made it myself for you, but you weren’t here.  Would you like green beans like me, or Brussels sprouts like your Dad?  Or maybe you would have liked them both.  I would have gladly made more if only  you were here.

At 5pm, it’s starting to get dark already, but it’s warm outside.  Maybe you would have spent your afternoon riding your new bike.  Or maybe inside playing with Legos with your Daddy.  He loves those things just as much as you do.  Maybe that’s why you love them, too.  Maybe you would have read your new book to Grandma as you tried so wonderfully to explain to her the nuances of the story.  She would have loved you to the moon and back, just like we do.

The clock chimes 6 o’clock.  I’ve been working to clean up after dinner while you would have been playing.  But now it is time to go home.  We pile all of our gifts into the little red wagon we bought, and it doesn’t even fill the bottom.  It should be filled to overflowing with all of your new favorite toys, that one special doll or stuffed animal that you would go to sleep with tonight.  You would be pretty tired by now, after a full day of excitement and play.

There is still time to catch a movie when we get home, but there is only two of us.  I could see one of you snuggling with your Daddy, and one with me.  Mercy might be licking the butter from the popcorn off your fingers, and trying to steal a kernel or two from your bowl.  Be careful!  All of us cuddled together on the floor, or maybe a sofa, laughing and pulling our last moments of joy from a perfect day.

It’s 9pm, and time for bed.  Daddy and I are tired, and even though I don’t go to sleep this early, I’m going anyway.  The kitties are fed for the night and happy.  They are the only ones in the bed with us.  Your room is still cold and empty.  The echo of your laughter fades from my imagination.  And I realize I miss you more than I can express, but I have never met you.  Tears come, and they’re hot and stinging the skin on my face again, probably for the tenth time today.  I was trying so hard to make this a special day for everyone, even through the tears.  Because even though I’ve never known you, I have loved you anyway.  And days like today only serve to remind me that you’re not here, and will never be.

The house is quiet.  All I can hear is Pixel purring at my side.  And I fall asleep thinking of you, my dear children.  My children.  The ones my heart misses and loves, but will never know.  I don’t know if you would have been a boy or a girl, or maybe one of each.  That is what I wanted most; a boy and a girl.

Christmas is gone.  The house is quiet.  Good night, my children. Merry Christmas.  I love you….

A Joyful Remembrance

Tika Bed.jpg

A freshly brushed Tika enjoying the bed.

Six years ago today was easily one of the worst days of my adult life, after the passing of my dad.  Because six years ago today was the last time I held my Persian cat, Tika, before she slipped away from us.  I’ve written of her many times in other places and on other media, but only once on this blog.  She has so shaped my being that I think that this year, her remembrance belongs right here.

Tika was no ordinary cat.  She was one of those creatures that when you met her, you just knew there was something special about her.  When we rescued her from the shelter during our first year of marriage, we knew she belonged with us.  Tika was the first birthday gift I’d gotten from my husband after our wedding.  She kinda picked us, the way you hear of dogs choosing their new owner.  We weren’t really interested in adopting, but we found ourselves at the shelter that rainy Saturday April afternoon.  It wasn’t unusual for us to stop in at the Humane Society just to look around, when we weren’t doing anything special on our way home and it was on the way.  We meandered into the cat room, where the staff was tending to a new bunch of cats that were recently surrendered after their owner passed away.  Since we already had a 3 year old calico, and because I have a soft spot for calicos and tortoiseshell cats, I was drawn to a pretty calico that was in the group.  She was reserved and shy in the back of her cage, not really understanding why she was there… and then I felt it.

Two light golden eyes were staring at me from a cage behind me.  It was Tika, but her name at the time was “Luna.”  And she was unlike the other cats.  She was active and friendly, purring and licking our fingers through her bars.  So hubby and I decided to spend some time with her in the visit room, and that is where we fell in love with this cat.  She was sweet, and loved belly rubs.  She purred the whole time we were with her, laying on the charm.  Her meows were soft and pleasant, almost begging us to take her home.  It was very difficult to leave her that afternoon, but we had placed a hold on her so we could “think about it.”  There was no thinking, but there was plenty of agonizing, tears and insomnia.  We finally decided to bring her home, and whatever the problems the two cats would have would surely work out over time.

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Tika and Callie in their favorite spot. Can you guess who the boss was?

In truth, it was over six months before Tika and Callie could tolerate each other and be in the same room.  But she was in my lap most times, and Callie just adored my hubby from the moment she met him.  So we each had a cat for our laps and our hearts.  Tika became my “certified professional” lap warmer, and my nurse when I was hurt in a car accident the following year and in the years that followed, right up until she passed away. She always knew when I needed her, and she was always right in my lap, grooming and loving me. She never knew a stranger.  Tika was the greeter that welcomed every guest into our home with a meow and a polite demand for a belly rub.  Everyone who met her adored her, even the veterinarians who treated her for the last six months of her life.

Every day since the day she passed, I have thought of her.  I have pictures of her on my desktop computer.  There is a photo of her and Sassy, our now 16 year old Ragdoll, that peers at me from a frame on the wall.  And every day has been excruciatingly painful.  For a long time, I couldn’t say her name without tears of grief, and I certainly couldn’t speak about her without choking sobs.  When she died, a piece of my heart died with her.

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Sassy and Tika.  The depth of their relationship was very apparent in this photo.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called, “If Tika Came Back From Heaven.”  It was unbearably difficult to write, and I couldn’t post it for a year.  Even now, it’s hard to read, but sometimes I do go back and read my thoughts about what she would say if she could.  But the one thing I know for sure Tika would have wanted was for me to be able to love again, and she would have given her blessing on our newest family member, Mercy. In so many ways, Mercy has been able to heal some of the hurt of loss, and replace it with joy and hope.  Her name was chosen because of her physical disability, but her presence in our home has brought mercy and grace, exactly the things that Tika would have desired for me.  So it is more than fitting that Mercy Grace has come to be with us.  I can never replace Tika, but Mercy has been good for my soul.

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Mercy Grace, our one-eyed kitten, six months old and lookin’ good!

Tika Marie, I still miss you with all of my heart.  Every day I wish you were here again.  And I am so thankful that you chose me to be your Mama.  I have learned so much from you, Munchkin; how to love without condition, to give without expectation, and to find joy in the small things.  You are gone from here, but always in my heart.  Rest well, until I see you again. Much love, baby girl, now and forever.

This Is Why Christmas Is Difficult…

Christmastime is a treasured time of the year for many people.  It is a time to spend with families, making memories and experiencing the goodness in others.  Holiday traditions such as trimming a tree, singing carols, the eggnog (can’t forget about that!) and gifts, when I think back at my own childhood, provoke warm memories of family, those whom we considered family and special friends.  I always thought that I would, at some point in my adult life, have the things my parents had that made them uniquely parents… children.

When I met my husband years ago, we knew we wanted to start a family, but I wanted to wait a year or so before we made the leap into parenthood.  First of all, hubby and I were an Internet couple, one of the first to fall in love, meet and marry (in that exact order) in the age where it was not commonplace . We had a total of four dates, the fourth one being our wedding, over a grand total of six months.  I wanted to take a year to get used to one another, to settle into a life.  He lived in Oregon, and I was living down here in Florida when we met.  I am the one who picked up my life and moved it all the way across country to settle in the Pacific northwest.  Maybe not ideal for most couples but we made it work.

The one year mark came and went, and as planned I discontinued my contraception (which I actually took for reasons other than birth control) and we played the monthly roulette game watching for signs of an impending pregnancy.  As time and probably a little Divine providence would have it, hubby and I were never blessed with children.  We began with life-changing medical problems at the end of our second year of marriage, almost to the day.  First it was hubby, then it was me, and among all of the doctoring, medicating, therapies, trips back and forth to hospitals, MRIs, CT Scans, I think you get the picture, my dream of bearing children slipped away with every new diagnosis, every new discovery.

Looking back at our first eighteen years of marriage, and how quickly illness can make the time go, we can see the time spent doing everything else but raising a family.  It was always a discussion that simmered on the back burner, and never actually came to fruition.  In some ways (well okay, most ways) I can understand how children never came into our lives.  Yes, there was always adoption but the cost kept us from pursuing that option.  And besides, who would give an infant or toddler to a couple with so many medical issues they don’t fit on a double sided pieces of paper?  We discussed fostering children, but I could never bear to have a child that I love taken from me, especially if I knew the child would be returning to questionable situations.  I admire those who can do that, but I just couldn’t.

So, these little people, the ones that never came to be, are the most missed at Christmas.  This joyous season is tailor made for children.  The wonder of all of the lights, the family traditions, the tasty treats, the school plays, the breathless anticipation of Santa bringing that perfect gift.  And it is now more than any other time of year that the hollow spot in my soul seems most vacant.  Other families share pictures of their kids, have funny stories to share, and the looks on their little faces should make me feel warm and fuzzy.  Our home is missing the squeals of excitement on Christmas morning, missing the sounds of quiet footsteps down the hall, the giggles and quarrels, the wonderful mess of toys and games and mountains of wrapping paper.  But we are also missing the opportunity to pass along each of our treasured Christmas memories to our children, to make our own memories, to share old traditions and create new ones, to make cookies and decorate gingerbread houses, to teach them what the season means, and what the love of God has to do with every bit of it.

This Christmas, hold your children tightly and thank God for them.  And say a prayer for those who miss the children that never were.

God bless, and Merry Christmas!

Blessings In The Middle Of A Storm

I am not precisely certain at what point our lives got complicated. John and I had been married only two short years when a congenital defect in his brain was discovered and brought with it health challenges we still deal with today. Five months later, I was involved in a two-car accident which at the time seemed minor, but ended up changing my life entirely. From the trauma of that accident, I developed Fibromyalgia, which is a little known but widely diagnosed pain disorder. The cause is unknown, even though most develop it after some sort of physical or emotional trauma, and there is no known cure. So one could say that we’ve been through a lot, and that was only the first three years.

Over the years, though we originally wanted children, those plans never panned out. We were advised to go through genetic counseling due to John’s brain disorder, because no one was certain if it was hereditary. Then the accident and the subsequent recovery (which I’m still doing, by the way) took two good childbearing years from us while I tried to get doctors to believe me when I said I wasn’t feeling any better. Looking back now, and seeing where we are now, I can see why perhaps, we never were blessed with progeny.

And just this week, I have spent my days in the hospital with my husband after he got an abnormal MRI report and showed symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. One of the tests the doctors claimed was necessary to confirm or deny (is that the right word?) the presence of MS was a spinal tap. Not a problem for someone with a “normal” brain but potentially deadly for my sweet, but very stressed out partner. But of course the doctors still pressed us to do the test because without it, all prior tests were inconclusive. We were at a crossroads somewhere between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to turn for advice.

So, where is the blessing in the middle of these storms?  Sometimes, in the midst of the latest “crisis du jour” it’s easy to get caught up in the now. But when we step back in review at some time in the future we can clearly see how there was a blessing at every turn.

If not for the first seizure that changed our lives the most dramatically, we would never have found our strong and unrelenting faith in our Creator. I had always been a believer, raised in the episcopal church, and John was too, raised in many different churches and denominations. He bought me my very first Bible in the months that followed his seizure, and I was “born again” in baptism on August 1 that year.

I believe my car accident, which followed my new “birthday” by two months, would have been unbearable to endure without the promise of a new body and a new life in Heaven. This is truly the reason I can wake in the morning and face each new day. With faith in a loving, just God, there is a promise that wrongs will be made right, if not here then in our next life. It’s not particularly easy to live life in pain, but my God is my strength and my shield.

And since I’m not a perfect being, sometimes I still struggle to see the blessing in being childless. My head knows because of our medical problems. I would have carried guilt to have knowingly given a baby daughter (or son) the burden of Fibromyalgia. And now, with possibly looking at a difficult diagnosis for John, one that is very possibly hereditary, maybe I can begin to understand why things never clicked for us as would-be parents. In my head. Each time a family holiday comes around, the presence of little ones I will never know is deeply missed. Christmas is awful, and more so as the years pass. Yes, on this point I still grapple with seeing the blessing. Perhaps some day.

As far as this week goes, time will reveal to us the blessing in yet a new diagnosis, a new challenge, and a life changing event. In the “now” I am thankful for the accommodation provided free of charge to us that allows me to be close by my husband while he receives test results, to hold his hand during times of trial, and just be near for comfort. Because of this accommodation I don’t need to spend my days in the car, commuting 3 hours a day back and forth. This accommodation comes in the form of Fisher House, located directly next door to my hubby. I am literally a 5 minute walk away instead of 60 miles and 90 minutes. This is my blessing now. The rest, like life, is “to be announced.”

I wish for all my readers to find blessings in their storms.

Happy Birthday Self

Today I am celebrating my 46th birthday.  I don’t really make too much of the day overall, mostly because it feels just like any other day.  I wake up, Pixel drapes himself over my waist at the crack of dawn for breakfast, and sometime between feeding the cats and noon, I’m usually out of bed for the day.  Today was the last of four doctor appointments in the last six days, three of which required me to drag my aging carcass out of bed and out the door before 8:30am, and twice on the highway in rush-hour traffic.  This appointment was my own.  Of all the people I want to see on my birthday, a pain specialist is close to the bottom of the list, right above my dentist and possibly a lawyer (no offense to dentists and lawyers!)

Somewhere between being 6 and 46, birthdays have gotten rather dull.  Last year, my birthday was spent waiting for a repairman to come fix our air conditioning system, which had systematically failed every 8th of the month since January.  By the time the repair was made, it was much too late to do any celebrating and I was really not in the mood to anyway.  This year was looking to go the same way, but with doctor appointments, until my husband made an ordinary day more special. Always going out of his way to do things he knows I’ll really appreciate, John contacted the band who sings the song, “Should’ve Gone To Bed,” to find where he could get a copy of it.  A few months ago, Plain White T’s seemingly removed all traces of this song from all of the popular music services.  We don’t know why, nor can I begin to understand the music industry, but what I do know is that when you really like a song and it suddenly disappears from iTunes and everywhere else,  you get very bummed out.  The band’s representative sent him to their merchandising website, which is where he found and bought this year’s gift.  Which makes me a very happy birthday girl, and a spoiled wife.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner out with my sweet Mom, without whom there would have been no reason to celebrate anything today.  It was her first time and our third to Longhorn Steakhouse, which by the way has the BEST soft pretzels with beer cheese.  We all laughed, talked and ate probably way too much, but as I get older I’m learning to treasure each moment I have with my loved ones.  One of my favorite sayings is, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper… the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.”  I’m not sure who said that originally, but I always keep it in mind.  At the end of the day, I’m thankful to have been blessed with another birthday, because today I’ve also realized that I’m at the age where I probably have more time behind me than ahead.  My own roll of toilet paper may be rolling by faster these days, but each “sheet” becomes more meaningful.

May we all celebrate not only birthdays, but every day in our lives, and learn not to take a single moment for granted.