Friday, August 26, 2016

Mama, You Are....

Never far from my thoughts .... Especially in moments like this. I am in the middle of an awesome show, during a break between Night Ranger and Rick Springfield. Now, honestly, I think of you far more often.... every day, in fact, and usually accompanied by eye leaks. But I'm thinking of you right now because of music. How much music was a part of my life and how much of a role you played in that. I know I told you this, as you lay there at Hospice House, but I don't know if you had any clue just how much the gift of music has meant to me in life ...... and how you encouraged it in me. Whether through singing or radio or piano or whatever you never once said, "Honey, this music thing is out of hand." You just let me. That was such a gift.

I was painfully aware in my teen years that our money was tight. When all my friends were going to the concerts I so desperately wanted to see -- Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates, John Mellencamp -- we didn't have the money, I had to live vicariously through friends who somehow understood and didn't shame me further.

My first live show was college.... Two of them. Then I didn't see another one for several years. Is this why you are pulling divine strings for me this year? Because keep pulling them. I am loving every minute of it. Every live show has been an absolute priceless treasure. I'm honored to share the moments with my friends in snippets of videos and pictures. 

Two more after this -- at least two planned ones. I'm looking forward to the Avett Brothers in Greenville but OMG I absolutely am freaking out over Temple of the Dog at Madison Square Garden in New York. Oh my gosh mom .... Do you have any idea? Do you? I know in the afterlife you have to know more than I do but oh my gosh, really, can you POSSIBLY know how utterly psyched I am for that one? 

Have you run into Bowie, Prince, Haggard? Have you met Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley? Please oh God please tell me you've seen a heavenly Rat Pack engagement. That IS heaven..... 

Okay so Rick Springfield is about to take the stage. I love you. Thank you. Thank you for EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Already Dreading The Holidays

So it occurred to me today that it will be 20 years on October 4 since my paternal grandmother died. The following March will mark one year since Mom's passing and 35 years since her mother's death.

I pondered these events mostly because if I don't plan for the holidays now, we'll find ourselves at loose ends. For Thanksgiving, we're looking at buffets and restaurants in the area. If nothing else, Waffle House will be open. Thanksgiving was always a small affair, usually just the four of us. When the rest of the Norman Rockwell version of America is stacked 20 deep at Grandma's farmhouse, we always kept it simple. A few times we had family over or joined some friends but I loved our quiet Thanksgiving. This year, I don't know that I want to be here. We are thinking practically. A turkey for three people seems ludicrous. I will so miss Daddy and Mama's dressing but no need to make a huge pan of it for us. So.... What to do? I'm considering some options. Maybe rent a cabin in the mountains that weekend? Head to the beach? Not sure yet. 

Christmas, on the other hand, has never been the same in 20 years. And for nearly that long, I've hated the holiday season. I thought last year was my absolute worst, as I wrestled with anxiety and depression unlike any I'd experienced in a number of years. And at this point in time.... well, honestly, outside Midnight Mass, I'd really rather not take part in any holiday festivities. I didn't feel like celebrating last year. I really don't feel like it right now for this year. I don't care if we ever put up a tree, decorate the house, or anything. I don't care.

I haven't cared for Christmas in years. Some of it is the loss I felt after Granny's death -- Christmas was always the time to get with the family and enjoy the day. We did one big gathering the Sunday after Christmas 1996 -- in fact, it's the first time I ever met my cousins Heather, Brandon, Krystle, and Danielle. But after that, a few hurt feelings and who knows what else ..... And we've never met at Christmas since. To be fair, everyone has families of their own and getting as many together as possible is difficult. So I get it -- it isn't an easy task. 

And this is not what my mother would want. She adored Christmas and was forever baffled by our lack of enthusiasm. "Your granddad loved Christmas," she'd tell us. I'm glad, Mom, I'd think, but he isn't here so.... And this year, she isn't either. It is going to be so weird. No one telling us "Come open presents, come on, get up and get going. I'll never understand why y'all don't love Christmas."

I can't explain it either. I just don't. And this year, even less so.

Friday, August 05, 2016

5 Months

5 months today
21 weeks, 6 days ..... 22 weeks tomorrow
153 days
3 days from what would have been your 79th birthday.

Someday, I'll stop counting. Today is not that day. 

Mama, I've thought of you so very much this past week. You're my divine hotline to awesome concert tickets (only teasing, mom, but don't stop!!). Birds and dragonflies everywhere. I haven't stopped crying each morning for the last week. 

I have a pretty late summer / fall arrangement that I'm bringing you this weekend. I hope you like it. I thought of you with sunflowers and mums, things you might like. Hopefully it will usher in some cooler weather too! Can you work a little magic with God on that particular area?

I suppose I'm the last of the three of us to dive headlong into grief. Dad and Richard seem to be in a different place with theirs. I was so strong at first and I'm still strong. I have softened so much, and in the best way. One of my favorite U2 lyrics that came to mind: "a heart that is broken is a heart that is open." I hope that I've grown more compassionate, more eager to try new things.

I have you to thank for some of the peak experiences I've had this year. Only fair, since you're also responsible for the most heartwrenching one too. Well, it's true. And you were right.... You told me years ago that one day I'd understand (whenever you'd cry about Granny). And I do. I'm slogging my way through it, eyes filled with tears and heart filled with an ache that does not go away.

I miss you but I know you're around. Happy birthday Mama!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Thank you again, Mama

Mama, you are still looking out for your baby girl, aren't you? Thank you. Thank Saint Cecilia. Thank the six-pound eight-ounce Baby Jesus. 

First I got Pearl Jam tickets while you were still here. Then you snagged that AH-MAZING Chris Cornell ticket for me. Fifth row, center stage? If I had not been on Cloud 9, I'd have wept ...... Mavericks? Done. Rick Springfield? Oh mama!!! Avett Brothers? Nice. 

But Temple of the Dog, at Madison Square Garden in New York City? 

You have outdone yourself, Mama. Oh sure, I had some help from your love, affectionately known as #BestDadEver.  But to make it happen, a little divine intervention was needed. That is all on you.

I love you, Mama. We had strange ways of expressing it, and usually so poorly. But it was there. I'm certain of that whenever I think of you. I feel it as surely as I feel that lump in my throat. 

Your birthday is coming up soon. That will be as tough a day as Mother's Day was. But I promise I will bring you a pretty arrangement that you will love. I'm thinking sunflowers ....... 


Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Year of The Concert

So far, 2016 has been a year filled with things I never imagined. I've spoken enough about the awful ones. Right now, I'd like to speak about the good things that took place.

In January, I got tickets for my brother and I to see Pearl Jam in our hometown (well, for these purposes anyway, I'd call Greenville a hometown...... like a band of that level would ever come to La Libertad). They did not disappoint, not in the least. The two of us, and upwards of 18,000 others, were part of history as they played their sophomore album Vs. in its entirety for the first time ever. When they played "Given To Fly" I was in heaven, beaming while thinking of Mom. And closing with "Yellow Ledbetter"? Over the moon!

Then in May, I got to see a band I've loved for nearly 25 years! I've been a fan of The Mavericks since their What A Crying Shame in 1992. They did not disappoint either, but man the crowd did. It was a beautiful Friday night, there by the river, but you'd have sworn they were playing in a cemetery. I actually felt horrible for the band -- they were giving everything they had and not getting as much back. They played slightly under two hours and honestly, I wouldn't have blamed them if they had cut it even shorter. I was a bit surprised that the demographic was way older than I expected. I mean, at 46, I should have been toward the low end of average, not the low end altogether. Lots of 60+ folks. Hey, I'm glad they like the band but c'mon act like it.

Then just last weekend, I got another experience I never thought I'd get: ticket to Chris Cornell in Charleston. It's an odd story but I bought the ticket the Monday after Mom passed, while sitting in the mortuary lobby. Hey, priorities. So I got a REALLY great seat -- I thought it was fifth row, then second but it ended up as fifth. It didn't matter. It was an absolutely phenomenal show. He had an opening act from a blues/roots artist, Fantastic Negrito. And you need to check him out. Seriously. He's that good. Then out came the main act and I was mesmerized. If you have a chance to see Chris Cornell live, DO NOT miss out on the chance. It was two and a half hours (maybe 2:45?  It was 26 songs) that could have stretched into four as far as I was concerned. Did he play every song I would have wanted to hear? No, but then again some of the ones I love don't lend themselves to an acoustic treatment. The ones he did were outstanding, including a few I wasn't expecting to hear......... if you have a chance to catch one of the remaining shows over this tour, then GO!!!!! Seriously.

I have two more to see that are planned: Rick Springfield in August in Charlotte and The Avett Brothers in Greenville in October. There may be another show, if Ticketmaster lets me cash in a voucher from the class-action settlement. Most of the ones on the list, I really didn't care to see.

It's been a good year for music. Music continues to be my sanity saver, my life raft in these changing seas........

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Thirteen Weeks

Today is thirteen weeks since Mom took flight. There have been easier days and harder days. On easier days, I might only shed a few small tears. On harder days, it's an ugly eye-leak after another.

I have been so blessed to have friends check up on me -- say what you will for social media but it's been a godsend for my far-off friends and family to keep up with us. And whenever I get a message from someone just to say, "how are today, really?" I know I'm very blessed. 

I think Maddox has had the hardest time adjusting to Mom's absence. He may worship the ground that Papi walks on, but he was my mom's constant companion ever since he came into our lives. He and Nanny were inseparable. To this day, he refuses to hop up on her side of my parents' bed ... as if to say, "no, she's coming back so..." All he knows is she was here one minute and now she isn't. I took him to see her at Hospice and she tried to pet him. She knew he was there. He didn't hang around her like I would have thought. Perhaps he could sense the impending death from her scent, a body already decaying from organ failure. My brother took him to the cemetery. He laid near the foot of the plot and whimpered. This great, mighty, 120-pound wee beastie, whimpering at the final resting place. Breaks my heart. He's been in a funk now for thirteen weeks.

And for us...... the absence is so real. We're adjusted to it. I think that's all that can be said. I have little bursts of insights and memories hit me, usually driving into work..... They usually make me fan my face and try not to cry too much. We wait, yet again, for December and probate. We've already had two birthdays, Easter, Mother's Day (which was so hard anyway but just multiplied exponentially this year), a family wedding, and now getting prepared to face Mom's birthday that won't be, later this summer. She didn't get to hear our stories about the concert my brother and I attended. She's missing out on so much. So are we. 

But I do balance it by knowing she's free from pain, from a body that no longer functioned well, and from the anxiety that hounded her and she cleverly tried to hide. Mom's death, if nothing else, finally galvanized me to stop hiding my own battles with depression and anxiety. It's made me no longer ashamed to say, "I struggle" ... as she refused to do for herself.

And I think of her every single day.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

I'll Ride the Wave

Nine weeks today. And it's Mother's Day weekend.

I've never been a big fan of Mother's Day for starters. Mom and I never had the BFF type of relationship, and we're both at fault for that. Make no mistake -- there was always love present, but it was an imperfect love at best, as most love is. I believe that she had an expectation that her daughter would be a sweet, compliant, dependent child ..... and she got me, the most noncompliant, independent child ever. I baffled her, I'm sure. She'd have to wait for her son to come along in order to have that beautiful compliant-dependent thing happen.

On top of all that, I came to the realization in my 20s that my own expectations for being a mom would probably not happen. That was, at that time, a very hard pill to swallow -- while at the same time, I had the fleeting thought of "well at least I won't have to repeat things....." Such conflicted emotions about my own chances for motherhood as well as my feelings about my mom. As time has gone on, I purely have loved being a godmother and honorary auntie and "Miss Annette" to a slew of kids -- and I'll take that as my stab at motherhood such as it was. But I also know that God is wise and there's a damn good reason I don't have children of my own...... Mother's Curse and all that? It's real. I cannot imagine how far under the jail I would be if I'd had a girlchild with even half the sass and dark broodiness that I had. So yeah......

But then February 22 happened..... and all that came with it. And my heart is forever seared by March 2, the last time my mother spoke to me. Her last word to me was my name: "Hey Annette!" said with an enthusiasm she hadn't had in days. My heart shattered that day -- I knew why I was there, and I sometimes think Mom did too. All three of us in the room at the same time in the middle of the day? She had to know. After that, she went so quickly and steadily downhill, and seventy-two hours later, she was gone.

On that Friday, I couldn't hold her hand, but I put my hand on her shoulder. I kissed a dry scaly forehead over and over. I told her not to talk, that there was nothing else she could say. She was so out of it and so drugged at that point, I don't know that I would have wanted to hear her thoughts then. Then again, she might have been the most unguarded she'd ever been. There were so many things I thought I wanted to say, to get off my chest, but in the end, none of that would have mattered. Only love did. And I gave it to her in copious amounts. I sang to her....... I told her I was so glad I'd gotten her voice, her strong alto, and her love of music.

I sang "Given to Fly" conveniently omitting the F-bomb. Believe me, while it wasn't like Mom had never heard me utter the word before, I surely didn't want that resonating in her head during that time, and I didn't want her waking up out of a drug-induced stupor and using her last reserve of energy to sock me in the jaw and tell me to be more ladylike...... Although, honestly, it wouldn't have surprised me either.... HA!!! I sang "I Am Mine" -- not sure why but it was beautiful and I wanted to.

And 3 weeks ago, when I was damn lucky enough to see Pearl Jam here in Greenville, they did "Given to Fly" and I shed not one single solitary tear. I was too busy beaming. But I had told my brother that if they did "Release" then he would have to find someone to pull me off the floor, because I didn't know if I could do it on my own -- I would be a sobbing heap.

Instead, I did use lyrics from both songs when I did the Pearl Jam Fan Portrait session that day. Worth every penny (and can't wait to get my photo, can't wait to see the book when it comes out later this year!)

Today, as I type this, I listen to "Release" ..... I shed a few tears but not many.....  because I am myself like her somehow. Not just with her voice (still one of the best gifts she ever gave me and it didn't cost her a dime), but with other things too. Dad always said Mom and I were too much alike, and now I believe it. Both stubborn and headstrong -- perhaps me, even more so. Both voracious readers. People told me all throughout mom's visitation (where we used the above photo of mom) that they couldn't believe how much we looked alike. I never ever noticed it until a couple of years ago, and I still don't always see it.

I see the world, feel the chill
Which way to go, windowsill
I see the words on a rocking horse of time
I see the birds in the rain

Oh dear dad (mom), can you see me now
I am myself like you somehow
I'll ride the wave where it takes me
I'll hold the pain, release me

Oh dear dad (mom), can you see me now
I am myself, like you somehow
I'll wait up in the dark, for you to speak to me
I'll open up, release me
Release me
Release me
Release me

I still talk to her..... every time I see a bird swoop near the car. Whenever I find a feather lying on the ground in my path. Wings and birds and flight and feathers......... And there are days when I say to the air around me, "Dang it, you old bat, why? Why did you not fight harder for years when we told you to? Why did you just stop trying? Dammitall, we miss you and we wanted you here just a little longer." Yeah, just me working through that lovely little "anger" phase.

Well, I've said it a million times before and I'll repeat myself: Grief is never linear. It comes in waves and at the most inopportune times and places. And those stages are not stages but phases and you will come and go in and out of them for years on end. You do not graduate and move to the next one -- "hooray! all done with denial!" -- but you move in them for years to come.

And you do not ever -- ever, ever, ever, ever, ever -- get over it.  How in the world can you ever expect to get over love? You live with a gaping, yawing chasm which can never be filled.

This year, I have all the more reasons to hate Mother's Day. I probably will for years to come.