Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Eve Reflections

12/24/17, 9:25 pm

As I get ready to take part in yet another Midnight Mass (27 years now, I think?) I always pause to reflect .....

I think back to December 2014 — the last year we had anything close to a normal Christmas. Mom was still fairly mobile, but was starting to have issues. Richard was here. Maddox was around. Dad had just retired for the second time. We were together .......

I think back on those three years since then.... I could focus on all the losses, all the pain and the many tears I have cried. I could look at my own struggles from foot surgery to staying sane through all the whiplash changes. I could concentrate on all the disappointments, the dashed hopes, the what-might-have-beens.

But instead, I want to be grateful for the many blessings. Through all those adversities, I have been abundantly blessed — the kind of flowing grace that makes me drop to my knees, sobbing in gratitude for the love I’ve been shown. Love that makes me want to share it out, paying it forward to a world desperately in need of unconditional love. Kindnesses that have been poured out on me like a rolling river, that leave me shaking my head and wondering what I have ever done in life to deserve such favor.

In the last few years, my faith has been shaken and stirred and made gelatinous. It has been shredded and reconstructed and my soul sewn back together as much as possible. My hope has at times wavered like undies in the breeze on Granny’s clothesline. But I pray fervently that I only grow in my ability to love without measure or condition. It’s all I know to do these days. Just love.

Yes, I have lost family members — and the pain is still raw and fresh and I still find myself tearing up at the blink of an eye. But I have  gained a deeper, stronger bond with my family as well. They have held me up so much since March 2016 that I can’t even begin to say adequate thanks. I am so glad we are close after all these years and I love you all so much!

And I also gained a worldwide “framily.” My framily contains people I grew up with; people from my young adult life; people I’ve just met in the last couple of years, and some I have yet to meet in person. You are all SO vital to my life, and I am so very grateful to you.

No matter the specific holiday you celebrate, the one thing we share in common is the light — whether Hanukkah candles, Yule fires, Christmas lights, or any other representation. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, as the sun has diminished and now as the days will slowly lengthen even as the cold settles in, there is light that darkness can never overcome. Be that light, reflect that light. May all of us find ourselves warmed by the light and the fire it generates in us and in the world.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Looking Back - And An Eye To The Future

I thought 2016 was enough to kill me. I was so wrong.

2016, to be perfectly fair, was a craphole of a year in which doom and gloom seemed omnipresent in my life, in which I could not escape the spectre of all things wrong - and yet, one in which I experienced some amazingly awesome events.

2017 was much the same, multiplied tenfold. Once again, the Grim Reaper overshadowed my year, losing an aunt, my favorite musician (which most just do not understand how much his loss affected me), and finally and most harshly of all, my brother, so suddenly and so painfully. I feel his absence from my life even more harshly than I did my mother's (which was harsh enough).

But today, new hope. I brought home a new pet to love.

As most of you know, it was 375 days ago that I had to say goodbye to my beloved Maddox, my heart and soul of nearly 10 years. I had many opportunities from friends who knew pets (or who had pets) that needed rehoming. And as much as I wanted to do so, I couldn't .... Dad had an eye on knee surgery, and then losing Richard...... but over the weekend, I just started looking in earnest.

He called to me. His sweet sad little face and his story stabbed my heart.

So this morning, I went to the Humane Society. He was skittish, as they told me he would be. But then.... and I called my dad. He was very skittish, as they said he would be around men. But then....

We brought him home, and unlike Maddox -- who, make no mistake, worshipped my father -- he marched right into my father's workshed and lay down. Eyes on my father at all time.

Maddox, part deux, at least for the worshipfulness. I'm not surprised. That makes 3 of us now -- Kendi, Maddox, and me.

Kendi brings me hope. Making creative gifts for family and friends and coworkers has brought me an outlet.

Maybe - just maybe - 2018 will leave me the hell alone. Will give me space and time to heal at last. Will give me a chance to find myself again - maybe the parts of me I hadn't yet grown to know and love.

And at last, may we find peace and comfort and solace in a world grown bonkers.

L'chaim my friends.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What I Miss Most

It's been a little over three weeks since I lost my brother. Most days I'm good..... I haven't had my extreme meltdown yet but it is coming. This I know. But as it was today, I had quite a few tears. They were good ones, healing ones, cleansing ones. They were not tears of sadness, just tears. Tears that had spent far too long trapped inside me.

This week especially, I had quite a few people reach out to me to say, "Hey, I'm making sure you're ok, so really how are you?" And I always reply that we are managing. We feel our way through the days because I don't think there's a blueprint to be followed. That by Day 22, you're supposed to (whatever). It's Day 23 and we are still figuring things out. We have until this Friday to file paperwork with probate as a "small estate." That will save a lot of headache and trouble - I think, anyway. This is such a different process from Mom's probate. Feeling our way through.

We've discovered that the grocery bill has gone down a good bit -- which is good because we're going to need the money for other expenses. The house is quieter on football Saturdays -- even though Dad and I can do quite a bit of yelling our (ahem) encouragement and (cough cough) love of the officiating crews. Mornings are minus the laughter coming from my brother's room where he would watch reruns of Married With Children while the rest of us were expanding our minds with the news and current events, and occasional breaks from that while watching reruns of Parking Wars. For 23 days, we haven't heard -- criminy, I don't even know the name of it, but it was a smooth jazz song that he would play over and over and over..... I almost used it as the backdrop for his memorial slideshow but I couldn't torture anyone else that way. And I couldn't stand to hear it for 3 hours on end. Years of it was enough.

But I also miss jumping up to share funny memes with my brother -- especially this time of year. He purely loved the whole Friday the 13th thing, and Friday I missed him most. So many cool jokes that I couldn't show him. So many other horror movie spoofs that he missed out on. So many funny things in general that he would get and no one else would, not in the same way. I miss teasing him about things. I miss Saturdays where we'd have one channel going, he'd have another, plus listening to a game via livestream.

I feel like a large part of me has been excised, like a limb that's been removed, and I'll have pains (not just phantom ones) for the rest of my days. I don't quite know how to manage. I just wake up and keep doing. One foot in front of the other. One hour, one minute, one whatever at a time. More tears will come, of that I am sure.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Richard McClellan: In Memoriam

From Tuesday night's visitation at the mortuary. If you didn't get a memorial card, just let me know.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A more fitting obit....

On Friday, September 22, my baby brother departed this life. It was sudden and very unexpected, and I find myself at loose ends, not knowing what to do.  It is now me and my father. We're it. We are having to pick up the pieces and figure things out in a way that we did not have to do with my mother.

This is my brother's official published obituary.

Richard McClellan
Liberty, SC

A memorial service to honor the life of Mr. McClellan will be held at 2:00 PM Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Clemson. A visitation will be held from 6:00 until 8:00 PM Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at Liberty Mortuary. Private burial will take place at a later date at Westview Cemetery.

Richard Thomas McClellan, 42, of 114 Lee Street, died Friday, September 22, 2017 at Cannon Memorial Hospital. Born in Easley, Richard was the son of Tommy R. McClellan of the home and the late Nancy Prince McClellan. Richard was a 1993 Graduate of Liberty High School and was employed with Data Trac. He loved music but more especially college and NFL football. He was of the Catholic faith.

Surviving in addition to his father is a sister, Annette McClellan of the home. 

The family will be at the home. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting 

It's serviceable but it is stale. One of the joys of my genealogy days was finding obituaries of my ancestors, and when I finished reading them, I felt as if I knew them - or at least knew them better. This is facts and figures and cold hard data. It is not the story of my brother's life.

But obituaries do not come cheap. Had I published this one, we'd be in a deeper hole than we find ourselves in now......

Richard McClellan
Liberty, SC

Richard Thomas McClellan, age 42, died unexpectedly on Friday, September 22 at his home. He was a teller of stories both true and slightly embellished; a lover of music, from smooth jazz (no, really) to European metal; a fanatic about sports, especially his beloved college football; and a connoisseur of both fine German brews and cheap American swill. He was a great cook as long as the instructions read "peel back the foil from tater tots...." or similar wording. He knew sports statistics backward and forward, kept track of all the college teams -- especially his beloved FCS/I-AA teams, and watched wrestling when it was "rasslin'." He had the fortune to be singled out by The Nature Boy Ric Flair (WHOOOOO!) at a house show and did an amazing impression of him. 

His laugh was infectious, and in the midst of his storytelling, he would get so cracked up that he would lose track, lose his voice, and start crying. He did impressions that made everyone laugh, and he had a memory like a steel trap. He was a savant with dates, an ability that astounded everyone. He carried around 40 tubes of lip balm and still couldn't keep track of them. He hated having his picture made as an adult, but we have managed to find a few. He had a wanderlust for driving around all over the mountains of North Carolina, the back roads of Georgia, places in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and once drove to Memphis just to spend the weekend. He loved telling of his 11:00 AM drink in BB King's bar on Beale Street, just to say he'd done it.

He loved live music, and had the privilege of seeing some of his favorite bands when they were not too far past their glory days. He loved everything from George Strait to George Michael, and had an odd penchant for "yacht rock." No, I didn't get it either. Richard had many quirks which would cause you to shake your head in bewilderment, but you never stopped loving him. If anything, it probably made you love him all the more.

He is now reunited with his mother, who preceded him in death by 18 months, and his dog Maddox, who preceded him by 9 months. Mama is now back with her favorite child (we all knew it, ha ha ha), and with his beloved "Smaddikins." Together they will roam heaven on crumb patrol. Having to learn to live without his physical presence are his father, Tommy, and his sister, Annette; his coworkers at DataTrac, and former coworkers at First Franklin, Perception, and Greenwood Mills; a legion of brothers from his high school days (all of "Mama's Boys"); friends from all over the US who knew him as Catamount Man or other varied aliases from his football messageboards; and countless others who may have benefited from his kindness and acts of charity. 

Yes, and that only covers a part of who my brother was. I had 42 years of beautiful memories, but what I wouldn't give for 42, 52, who knows how many more.

This picture was taken at one of the few concerts we attended together. When I learned that Pearl Jam had put Greenville on the 2016 tour, my brother -- not a huge PJ fan -- said, "You *ARE* getting tickets, RIGHT?" Yes indeedy. We went to the show and had a fun time. He laughed about my musical choices just as much as I did about his. It was one of the best nights of my life. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

23 Words

So for the last few weeks, I've been part of an online challenge where we do a physical activity, 23 repetitions, in memory of those who have completed suicide and to bring awareness that it's more widespread than we can think.

As part of it, I've also been writing daily thought -- condensed to 23 Words only. I write them from the perspective of someone who lives with mood disorders that affect my life. While one may feel anxious or depressed over situations, it isn't the same as having anxiety disorder and/or depression. Those are baseline conditions -- a lens through which the world is viewed.

I'll be sharing some of those poems / thoughts  in a series of posts. Hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chris Cornell, My mom, and Me

I have lots more to say but that's a separate post. This is about my first time to see Chris Cornell live:

His music helped me through a very dark place in my life during late 2015-early 2016. In late February my mom was taken to the ER with what was thought to be another cardiac event. She never recovered.

During those two weeks, Chris announced he'd be playing at Ravinia near Chicago. Mom was teaching me from her hospital bed that life was too short, to go for what I wanted to do. So I told my father that if I had to sleep in my car and eat peanut butter crackers to see him, I was going to.... harrumph!

My mom passed March 5. On March 6 (also my dad's birthday), Chris announced the entire North American tour. There were three places all within a reasonable distance. I decided I would go for one of those.

March 7 (also the anniversary of my mom's mom's passing; freaky, no?) I'm sitting in the mortuary helping finalize mom's arrangements. My Ticketmaster app buzzed and only one of my locations was operating through them. I couldn't stop to call the nearest venue, but I could do this one (next closest). So I got my ticket -- don't laugh, the mortician was running late.

I got home later and looked up the seat on the venue's website -- my mother and grandmother gave me one of the most precious gifts ever. My seat was 5th row, almost exact center stage (#20 on a row of 38). I cried buckets. I could not believe it. It was my first ever Chris Cornell show in any version. It was going to be magical.

And it was.

And mom continued to work her magic -- I got tickets to Temple in NYC; a friend ended up with a spare for Seattle and asked me to join her. I got tickets for Carolina Rebellion and then with days to spare, lucky enough for an opportunity to see them the next night in Tuscaloosa.

This morning in the grey dreary rain, on the way to church, I had a heart-to-heart crying conversation with my mother. I thanked her for all she'd done to help me see my favorite artist so many times in such a short time frame. I also told her to please find him in heaven and to give him a huge hug and thank him for meaning so much to me and countless others. I asked her to keep his sweet family and close friends in her prayers as well.

I don't always subscribe to a traditional understanding of theology. I honestly don't know what the afterlife holds..... my own thought is that we're bathed in light and goodness and that love fills every missing piece, all the gaps. And so I pray and hope with all my being that whatever gaps were there have been filled to overflowing with light and love..... and that the overspill comes down and makes us better people for it.

Loud love my friends.

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Spring 2017 Grand Adventure

So, in all mi vida loca, I had never attended a music festival. I had considered it on a few occasions -- especially something like Bonnaroo or Coachella. Heck, I'd even settle for Floyd Fest (Floyd VA, not all that far from me). But I just never had done it.

Well, when Soundgarden announced they'd be playing at Rock on the Range -- a 3-day harder music festival in Columbus OH -- heck yeah, sign me up. Two weeks later, I learned they'd be playing at Carolina Rebellion on an even EARLIER date -- only two hours east of me. I debated internally and decided ah heck, I'm only middle-aged once. I'm living my mid-life crisis, so sure - why not? I decided to get a one-day-only pass, because I'd be seeing all the acts again in Ohio, right?

Yeah. Then I found out they'd added some non-festival dates -- including Atlanta. Big salty tears, because that show was mid-week. I just couldn't swing it, so I was going to settle for my festival dates. At the last minute last week, an opportunity presented itself to see the non-festival show, to be held in west-central Alabama, the day after my one-day pass in North Carolina. Again, I'm only middle-aged once, why not? I'm still young enough to put in that much driving in a weekend and that much fun.

Well, I did a really stupid thing on Thursday evening: I took a yoga class. This in itself is not a stupid act -- but taking a class you never have done before, stretching and using muscles that haven't really been engaged and activated in a while....... You can imagine how I was feeling Friday morning, waking up early and driving to just east of Charlotte. I got to the festival parking site around 12:00, and began walking toward the edge of the parking lot, where I could hear the band pretty well. I then learned the band was across the road -- and back a few hundred yards. So I kept walking.

Keep in mind, this was a cold morning for early May for us. So I had put on my long sleeve Gamecock tee, and my thin black hoodie. I had packed a short-sleeved tee for later - you know, when it warmed up. And I kept walking in an overcast sky and began to stand in an interminable General Admission entrance line. I'm not sure why it took forever to get through -- the gates had opened at 10:30ish and here we were, well on 1:00 and past. I know this because the band that was screaming its lungs out was one of the bands serving as an opening act on Soundgarden's tour....... I pretty much decided that I wasn't crazy about their style.

I meandered around and found the merchandise tent. Nothing really interested me. There was a Soundgarden shirt that I knew I already wanted but it wasn't one of the ones on sale at the festival. They had all the shirts available on the LiveNation web site -- but having already waited three months on a tee I'd ordered from them (and then asking for a cancellation and refund)..... um, no. So if Alabama didn't have the one I wanted, then I would just have to order from the site, much to my dismay. I couldn't decide if I wanted a festival shirt or not. And there weren't many other knickknacks I wanted -- no keychains or koozies. Hmm.... I was going to have to decide which (if any) I wanted. But I had all day to do so.

I was going to meet up with several fellow Knights of the Sound Table (a FB group) who would be at the event. I found the first one during the Eagles of Death Metal concert -- by the way, EODM is really good! -- and we were waiting on some of the others. We wandered over to another stage and found a little punk trio named Radkey -- WOW! Punk is not dead! These guys were good and definitely worth another listen! Then I had planned to see Pierce The Veil, but I just watched them from afar - mostly waiting for the guys to come back from the portapotty lines. Wandered to another stage where a screamy-metal group was playing. I've listened to enough of that with my brother, so I put my poncho on the ground and took a much needed break off my feet. We then wandered over to see The Cult. That was phenomenal!! Their music was around during my high school and college years, so hearing some of those songs was a sweet trip down memory lane. Afterwards, part of the group (myself included) went to grab some grub. And the weather was brutal.

Remember that short-sleeved tee I packed? Yeah, I put it on -- on top of my long-sleeved tee and under my hoodie for a third layer. I was freezing!!! By 8:00 it was back in the 50s and so, so windy. We went to the mainstage for Soundgarden's show. The temperature only got better when more bodies joined in and whatever body heat we had began to commingle.

The show began and oh my God!!!! the dream came true. It was absolutely un-freakin'-believable. The music was spot-on, the crowd was into it (and heavy into bodysurfing), and to hear "Kyle Petty, Son of Richard" in the heart of NASCAR country....... OMG, unbelievable. (PS: if you are easily offended by language, don't even bother to click the link for the song.)

So festival sets are usually shorter (anywhere from 30 minutes for early acts to about 90 minutes for headliners) -- but even in a shorter set, they did not disappoint in the least. But better stuff was to come........

So I got up pretty early on Saturday and started going west toward Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I began to call this the #RoadWorkRoadTrip ..... because there was SOME slowdown or variation on construction in four different states. North Carolina had a holdup for 3 miles for literally no reason. It seems someone forgot to turn off the flashing sign that said "Left 2 Lanes Closed, Merge Right" -- we all got in the right lane for nothing. The construction crew was not there. I imagine someone in Raleigh sitting in a control room somewhere, laughing their asses off at us. South Carolina -- yeah, we have road construction in 3 or 4 places along a 100 mile stretch of interstate. Georgia -- one word: Atlanta. 'Nuff said. Even Alabama had some in various places.

Oh, did I also mention this weekend was Talladega? Which is on the road I was on? Yeah.

Because of Talladega ..... and 'Bama's graduation in Tuscaloosa .... and graduations at UAB and Samford in Birmingham, there wasn't a hotel room to be found anywhere along the I-20 stretch. Even the Motel 6 in Tuscaloosa was going to be around $100. Sorry, but I'd rather sleep in my car. It's safer and certainly more hygienic! As luck has it, when I got the ticket for Tuscaloosa, I booked a room in Birmingham. It's only an hour away, I can deal with that. The hotel called me right before I crossed the state line to ensure that I was still planning to come and use the room -- YES! I couldn't scream it loudly enough. As it turns out, when I got to the hotel, the clerk explained that a couple of the online booking sites kept taking reservations even though they were at 100% capacity. She'd had to call them to explain that all the rooms really were taken.

Okay, so I got to the room, took a quick nap to alleviate the tiredness, and then headed over to Tuscaloosa. It was being held in the Amphitheater along the river front, and you could not ask for a prettier venue. We ended up as second row along the rail, and the opening band came on...... same screamy-metal band from Friday afternoon and they're not my style. I cheered for them and for their hard work, but I won't be rushing out to buy their album.....

Forgot to note that before the show, we did go by the merchandise booth and YESSSSSSSS they had the shirt I wanted!! While there were plenty of other designs on the web site -- and at the venue -- this is exactly what I wanted all along. And I love that they used a lyric from their 1989 song "Loud Love" -- and so apropos.

So anyway, it was time for the main act -- and I was so psyched. They started with a song from their 1988 LP that was recently remastered and reissued. It was phenomenal to hear again! They also did one of their earliest songs, which I think came from a demo in 1985 and eventually ended up on their first record (an EP from 1987).

Of course, they played a lot of the hits from years of recordings. Thirty years' worth of music trying to be distilled into 2 or 2-1/2 hours is hard, but they did a great job!

I was especially happy to have heard two songs, one on both nights and another just at the Tuscaloosa show. I have what I call the Big Three by them -- "Fell On Black Days," which I've heard live twice by them and once by their lead singer on a solo acoustic tour; "Blow Up the Outside World" (same - live twice now by them, and on the acoustic tour), and "The Day I Tried to Live" -- which he did not do on his solo show, but which I heard both nights here.

Let me state up front for the record -- if anyone ever tells you that any activity or hobby saved their live, they aren't joking. You best believe them. Music has saved me -- constantly throughout my life, and again in very key moments. That song saved my sanity in December 2015 -- so hearing it live and done so well was very nearly a religious experience.

Then one of the other songs from that time frame that made me happy at a time when little else did: "Burden In My Hand" ...... it's hard to explain because the song is dark, the video is slightly odd, but for me, the song is absolute delight and joy. It makes me want to pull my car over, get out and dance and sing along. And to hear that........ I sang right along, heart full to near-bursting.

And then -- the same closing from the night before: An extended version of "Slaves & Bulldozers" from their Badmotorfinger CD from 1991. The original itself is near 7:00 -- this clocks in around 11:30ish. There's an extended jam in the middle, coupled with some lyrics from "In My Time of Dying" that match the rhythms of S&B. I wish I had gotten video of it, but I was just enjoying it way too much. Which is kinda the whole point of the show......

So then Sunday morning, I got up, checked out of the hotel and went to church (thank you, Catholic guilt - HA!). Then I bummed around Birmingham until that afternoon to meet friends for a late lunch/early dinner. I found some of my beloved Diet Buffalo Rock, the spiciest ginger ale that I absolutely adore! Hung out at B&N because I wanted to check out some books on quilting..... but nothing that really screamed "YES" at me. Much like many crafting projects. I need to just start designing stuff for women like me!

Met my friends and we had a grand time laughing about a lot of things. Then it was time to head back -- remember that little race going on east of Birmingham? I was heading that way just as the race wrapped up. God bless the state troopers and other traffic enforcers because they have that exit strategy down to a science and an art form. There was no delay at all on I-20 E at the speedway. Bravo, Alabama - you do this right.

Back through the hell that is Atlanta traffic and then WHAM! 3 or 4 major slowdowns between Lawrenceville and South Carolina. At least there was a relatively smooth drive once I crossed the state line.

So........ 950 miles. 14 hours round trip. Two AMAZING events. Feet that still ache. Hammys that need to be stretched out. My chiropractor is going to have a field day on Wednesday.

Oh, and Ohio? Welllllll......... as much as I want to go, real life kicked in and I am very sadly giving up my opportunity to go. I'm still going to use the time off (partly to recuperate!) and I am going to live vicariously through others -- just as others did through me this weekend. It sucks but I'm choosing to be an adult about it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dear Craft Companies

To Whom It May Concern:

Allow me to share with you my frustrations at not finding craft products that speak to me.

I am over 40, single and childless. I'm not swimming in dough but I do have some discretionary income. And I'm pretty creative and crafty. But the products just don't address who I am. 

Feminine? Yes. But I'm not into all florals. Glitter? OH PLEASE! That's for 8-year-olds. Fabrics with prints of Parisian cafes and the Eiffel Tower are..... no. I like shabby chic but it just isn't me. My favorite shoes aren't Louboutin and Choo, but more on the lines of New Balance and Dansko or even Docs. I love tee shirts and jeans but I'm not all red-white-and-blue and country chic. Note: denim isn't just for the yee-haw crowd. I love bright colors but I don't want neon, I don't want sparkly, and I don't want polka dotted everything! I do not always want faux paisley. I sure as hell don't want chevron ..... and zebra prints and leopard spots? Oh no, no no, especially when combined with marabou feathers. STOP IT! I'm so over all this! Who decided that this is what women wanted and needed and we are this style?

I want something that speaks to the girl who loves attending both rock concerts and Broadway shows. To the girl who loves flowy Boho scarves and skirts -- and tartans and plaids -- alongside her tees and jeans. To the one who isn't a sports mom, who doesn't have a froo-froo pet, who maybe has a tattoo or piercing other than her ears. To the girl who is a sports fan and who isn't there because of her man, but because she loves the game. To the girl who knows who she is -- and it's none of the things being marketed to us.

What I really want is something that speaks less to the girl we were back then, and more to the woman we have become. To the one who has persevered and overcome things in the way that countless others have: with style and grace and a reserve she never imagined she had. I want real and authentic. I want Stratocasters next to the daisy prints. I want stylish and confident, secure in knowing who I am at this point in my life.

I want a line of embellishments that reflect my likes, my needs. And I'll happily help you out for a small consulting fee. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Year of Firsts

Yesterday marked 50 weeks to the day. In exactly two weeks from today, it will be one year since Mom left us. This Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of her final trip to the ER. Everyone told me about the "year of firsts" -- all the big events that are suddenly missing a person.

Last year, we had less than 24 hours until we hit the first of those firsts.  Mom died the day before Dad's birthday. A week before my brother's birthday. Three weeks before Easter 2016. Those firsts came along so rapidly that we didn't have time to process them. Then came Mother's Day, which is a day I would just as soon forget for the remainder of my days. And on and on it went.......

The first six months were horrible. I grieved Mom so much. Then on that anniversary weekend, she sent me a sign, a siren call really: it was time to let go as I'd promised, as I'd wanted her to do and be free. She was telling me that she couldn't be free as long as I clung tightly.

My birthday came and went. I missed Mom giving me a card and saying "I'm sorry it's not more...." As if I were still five years old and expecting a couple of dollars tucked in there. It was a rather wistful day.

Thanksgiving came and went. Then we lost Maddox. Losing Mom hurt, losing Maddox cut hard and sharp. Christmas came and we were okay until Dad choked up during grace. We made it through New Year's and all the bowl games.

And now comes the anniversaries we never wanted to "celebrate" ......
Another friend in the one-parent-left club mentioned that for her, the second year was the worst. The first was bad but you expected to come upon these things ...... But in that second year you're somehow supposed to be over it. As if you ever are.

The hard days for me will be Feb. 27 -- the day the doctors told us to start considering all our options -- and March 4, Mom's last full day, when I spent hours in silence with her at Hospice and sang to her. March 9 will be the anniversary of her funeral, and that day too may be hard.

What this year has taught me is that life is short and fragile, that you had best tell those you love that you love them. You have to follow your bliss and enjoy every moment, because you are not promised even one additional second. Do what makes your heart sing and soar. And love. Don't put tags or labels on it, just love unconditionally, as you are loved. Love large, love often, but love wisely all the same. And fear not.

As my family has unpacked Mom's passing and her life, we are saddened by how much and how often she was guided by fear. I usually am not the type to allow fear to rule my choices, but now I'm even less inclined to do so. I will not allow fear to make my choices for me.

And in doing so, I will honor my mother.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

When Adulting Sucks

Today marks 48 weeks since Mom passed. And come Monday, we McClellans will gather again to say goodbye to yet another member.

Dad's oldest sister, my Aunt Joyce, passed on Wednesday, February 1. Another one to pass at age 78. There have been way too many people I know recently and throughout my life who died at that age, and it's kind of freaky, to be honest.

So since 2009, we have lost Uncle Clyde, Uncle Bill, Aunt Harvalene, Uncle Jack, Mom, Aunt Glendel, and now Aunt Joyce. Two siblings and their spouses, plus three more of the in-laws. And counting my Uncle Bob's first wife, two other cousins lost a parent as well. Eight family members gone in as many years -- but four of them in less than two calendar years.

There are five left..... Uncle Bobby, Uncle Donnie, Aunt Peggy, Daddy, and Uncle Harry. There are two spouses left: Aunt Peggy "Red" and Aunt Betty. Bobby will be 81 next month. Harry just turned 71 last summer. Daddy will be 73 next month. I knew the day would come when my childhood and the people in it would be gone. God knows I went to enough funerals as a child and teen (and continuing...) that I have a pretty decent grasp on death and dying. But it never gets easier.....

In fact, as I get older, it gets harder. It's a slap in the face to my own sense of immortality. I know, I know, I didn't really ever believe I was immortal -- when you lose a classmate at age 14, it really steals that whole idea from you. But I've been trying to slow down time since I was 18. In my head I still think I'm in my late 20 or early 30s at worst. I've been to high school class reunions and number 30 is upcoming this year. But it's impossible, is it not? So my oldest cousin just turned 60 - I'm still a baby, right? The mirror tells me a different story and I know it.

There's a special irony in battling wrinkles while you're still battling acne -- or that you're still battling acne when wrinkles are supposed to be your biggest skincare issue at this age. When you're coloring your hair not to look spectacular but to hide the silvers and greys and making sure that you're covering the mousiness. When you're caught in that space of trying to look the young person you know that you still are, but not trying to look as if you're desperately clinging to a long-gone youth. Subtly covering the gray is great, but using "Loretta Lynn Bootblack" is another story.

Adulting sucks at times, and saying goodbye to loved ones is among the suckier parts of being an adult. With that, I look back on the fond memories of my family and my childhood, and plan to say a sweet farewell to my aunt. She is with her loved ones, and I rejoice that she is free from the confines of a body that did not want to cooperate with all she wanted to do still.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

One Year Ago

I can tell you exactly where I was -- working from home on an ice day. And sitting at the dining room table in yoga pants, a tee-shirt and my well-worn black hoodie, headphones on and blasting "Say Hello 2 Heaven" while I cried buckets.

There were two primary reasons: foremost, January 22 is the anniversary of the passing of two good friends, eight years apart. Last year was the tenth anniversary for one, and coupled with the slew of celebrity deaths that had just happened (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey), I was a hot mess.

But just as important, the day before, a good friend sat me down to let me know she and other people were worried about me -- seriously worried. I had been snippy and snarly, more so than my usual self. They were worried that all the tumult of 2015 had caught up to me at last -- my own surgery and unexpected delays in full recovery, my brother's emergency surgery and subsequent hospitalizations, my mom's continuing decline, job changes and stresses. She suggested I speak with my doctor and I made plans to do so on the next appointment (the following week).

And I spent time trying to figure out where it all went so crazy wrong.........

I still don't know exactly. I knew then and still know where one key turning point was, but it was already long past those expected trigger places and events. Instead, it was years and years in the making. Years of making do and years of putting off. Years of being strong and going on an empty tank. Years of saving others before I put an oxygen mask on myself.

But the time had come. No more running on empty. I spoke to my doctor and she absolutely agreed that I needed chemical intervention. We started a medical regimen for assistance. And after a year I can honestly say that I do not care at all if I have to take this pill for the rest of my life, as long as I never have to feel the way I did from October 2015 through January 2016.

I planned to not say much about my story. I'm not one to provide ammo to my enemies either. But then I learned that my mom had generalized anxiety disorder -- as did I. My mother absolutely refused to acknowledge any shortcomings, especially mental health issues. That happened to others, not her and certainly not her children (ahem, both of us).

And after she passed, I became more determined not to be silent. I no longer cared what anyone thought. Silence kills. Silence creates shame. My mother truly suffered in silence because she was too concerned with what others would think. I no longer cared. I would not allow others' opinions to have one iota of effect on my healthcare. I would not live in shame and embarrassment over a chemical imbalance.

I do not have a character flaw.
I do not have a weakness in my positivity.
I most certainly do not have a defect in my spirituality.
I have an imbalance in my brain chemistry. It is an illness, just as hypertension or diabetes or gout are illnesses.

My illness affects my brain and my thought processes. My illness sometimes affects my ability to relate well.

My introverted nature and my disease are not mutual by-products of each other.

Yes, my anxiety disorder feeds my depressive episodes at times. At times, the depression feeds the anxieties. It's a horrible cycle and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

But I have help. I have medication. I have good friends. I have awesome music. I have creative outlets (music, jewelry making, writing, photography and others).

And I have hope. When all else has become uncertain, I still have hope.