A Quiet Christmas

Santa On Skis, by LKW

 

At this moment, I am feeling somewhat melancholy, because tomorrow (Christmas Day), this house will be eerily quiet. Growing up in New Orleans, our house was the gathering place on holidays. Ordinarily, I did not (and still don’t) enjoy big gatherings and loud noise, but on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, I welcomed the sound of family and friends who came together, both to celebrate the holiday, and to gather with those that we loved, to eat, laugh, eat, play, eat, and to re-establish and acknowledge the bond between each of us and those gathered with us. So, l love loud and boisterous Christmas’.

Until 3-4 weeks ago, I envisioned the house taken over by my 9 g’children and their respective parents, Jared & Franziska Patricia Cola, Brea Cola Angelo & Koury Angelo, Brandi Michelle & David Wasdin. In a house with 8 children, under the age of 6, loud is an understatement.

But tonight, I know that neither Jared and his family, nor Brea and her family can join us tomorrow. Jared lives hours away and unfortunately, he is working almost every day, including Christmas. Brea and family are still in California because she became ill, a couple days before they were scheduled to leave for Texas and since, has been diagnosed with a severe case of the flu.

I have a vivid recollection of the first and only time that I got sick on a holiday, in my case it was an Easter Sunday. I clearly remember my older cousin carrying me home after I became sick–all over the church pew. In spite of being sick, I was mortified that I’d actually thrown up in Church. I wondered whether vomiting in Church was sacrilegious or something. Anyway, such thoughts quickly took a back seat, when I got home and my Mom told me how I would spend my day. First, I had to take off my church dress and get into pajamas. Next, I had to crawl into bed where I was to spend the rest of the day. It was a dreadful Easter, turkey, ham or fixings, and no candy or Easter egg hunts, but had to lie where I was able to watch my siblings and cousins running and playing while I could not join in the fun.

The flu. I don’t know, but it seems like the universe playing a cruel joke on you when you get sick on a major holiday, especially one which involves kids. It breaks my heart that Brea is so weak that I can’t even speak to her on the phone. (I am heartened that my AH-MAZING SIL, Koury, is skillfully caring for Brea, their two boys, Brooks and Jude Austin and the beautiful little “Belle.” He is an incredible husband and father!)

Even in their absence, I know that I am blessed because their absence is simply a matter of the unpredictable nature of life, and not because they have passed on, as I know is the case with many family and friends my age.

Moreover, I am grateful that my youngest, Brandi, and her family will be here for a while. Brandi and Dave have one daughter, eleven year old Daisy, who will represent all of cousins as we celebrate the day of Jesus’ birth. Ironically, at her age she is not one of the noise-makers. In fact, she is at the age where she does everything that she can to separate herself from them. It is amusing to watch.

If you’ve read the book, “The Five Love Languages,” you get it when I say that my love language is gifts, both gift giving and receiving, so Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. (If you haven’t read the book, you can check it out here. By reading it, you are guaranteed to learn something about yourself, as well as to better understand how others show their love. It will aid you in determining and understanding how we show our love to another. The book will undoubtedly provide a number of aha moments, while ultimately helping you to improve your relationships. Understanding one another is the first and most important step to improve any relationship.  So, I am wistful everytime I pass the huge pile of gifts under the tree. I feel a hole created by my absent loves, but in my mind’s eye, I see the parents (my children and their significant others) as they strain to catch the children’s faces as they obliterate the wrapping paper to reach the prize within. I also can see my own children’s faces, as I remember the joy that I felt as I watched their young faces. They were excitement personified as they tore into their Christmas gifts, and realized that they’d gotten everything that they wanted. I can’t help but smile, as I thank God for the greatest gifts that I’ve both given and received: Jared, Brea and Brandi. They are my gifts to the world.

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and though she has the flu, I pray that Brea makes a speedy recovery. I also pray for Jared and welcome the day when he does not have to work so hard, and can utilize all of his  considerable knowledge and skills.  The thing is that as saddened as I may feel, I know that I am blessed because, God willing, next year, we will all gather together at this time of year, with a deeper sense of gratitude for the time that we spend together as a family.

Meanwhile, Christmas day will bring me more than 5 minutes to meditate on the birth that changed my life and makes me who I am. I suppose that answers the question of why all of this happened and that is quite a reason. And then, there are all those Christmas cards that I have yet to write…

I must confess to one thing. Given the small number of us who will gather together on this Christmas Day, I decided to forego the turkey and all, in favor of red beans and rice (After all, it is a Monday.), and crawfish etoufee. There are no complaints.

I wish you, your family, and friends a safe and Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with good health, joy  Continue reading

Some Things Never Die

Heart-shaped cloud

Heart-shaped cloud (Photo credit: aivas14)

Recently, I met someone new — a possible friend. As we engaged in small talk, she asked one of the questions that I fear most. The question itself is innocuous: How many brothers and sisters do you have? You see, I told you that the question is most ordinary, however, it gives me pause each time that someone asks me. For most of my life, the answer to the question, if it arose, was a simple one. I’d answer, “I have two sisters and one brother.” However, the question took on greater import years ago when my baby brother died. In my case, that event turned a seemingly straightforward question into a quandary. I mean, technically, I now only have two siblings, but in my heart, I still have three. Which answer was true? Upon the death of my brother, did I lose a sibling or could I truthfully say that I had three? Perhaps the answer is immediately clear for others confronted with the same circumstance, but not for me. I have to finally answer that question, more for myself than others.

I hadn’t given it much thought until after his death, when the first person asked me the question. I was so surprised and flummoxed that I immediately excused myself and scurried away. I literally could not answer the woman’s question and it saddened me. I mean, even though my brother’s death was tragic enough, after so many years, one would think that I’d arrived at an answer. Yet, that was not the case.

I was the eldest of four siblings and my brother was the baby. With two sisters already, I longed to have a brother. When my mother brought him home from the hospital, I would sneak into her room, just to look at him sleeping — my baby brother. I vowed to protect him and keep him safe. We were nine years apart in age, but for reasons that still defy me, we had more of a bond and connection than I had with my sisters. I became pregnant at a young age, right after graduating high school, and left home to begin my own family. Since my family didn’t have a car, my brother would take 2-3 buses to come visit me in our extremely tiny and cramped apartment. As my pregnancy and subsequent marriage (before I was even 18) wasn’t popular in my family, I was on my own. Among my immediate family, my brother was the only one who made the effort to visit me regularly. It was a very scary time in my life and his presence made a difficult time easier to handle. I loved him even more.

Over the years, he grew into an amazing young man and I was a very proud sister. When I moved from New Orleans to Houston, Texas, I missed being a part of his everyday life. Still, I reveled in the important events in his life, like his graduation from high school, leaving home for the first time to attend college and more. Because of family and work obligations, I was unable to join him in celebrating many events, but I was certainly there in spirit. I looked forward to our telephone conversations and as he grew older, it was clear that our thoughts and feelings were in sync.

It devastated me when doctors diagnosed him with non-hodgkins lymphoma at the tender age of 23. He’d only just graduated from college and had yet to begin his life. He had an aggressive form of the disease with a grapefruit-sized tumor in his chest that had grown in less than 30 days, so it was a serious condition. His doctors immediately began a rigorous protocol that involved chemotherapy and radiation. I was in my last grueling year of law school and a single mom with two school age kids, so I was unable to go with my mother to San Francisco to be with him. Of course, I kept in constant contact with my mother, but it was a poor substitute for being there with them.

Having no alternative, he moved back to New Orleans so that my Mom could help care for him. The chemo and radiation continued for some time and it was two years before doctors declared him cancer-free. He was never the same. Adding to the tragedy, the radiation damaged his heart to the extent that at his young age, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and the only option was a heart transplant.

One thing that I loved about my brother is that he researched everything, to make very well-informed decisions. He had a computer long before almost anyone that I knew did, and quickly learned his way around the internet. After thoroughly researching the area of heart transplant and learning the plethora of negative side effects that would last for the rest of his life, he opted to forego a heart transplant. I was afraid but respected his very thoughtful and courageous decision, because even though he was cancer-free, the serious complications with his heart resulted in frequent visits to the hospital.

It was a very difficult time for him, but I admired the way that he confronted the situation with a bravery and grace that I hoped to have were I in his shoes. By this time, the little brother’s wisdom surpassed his big sister’s and I was fine with it. After his condition somewhat stabilized, he made a decision that further amazed me. He decided to return to school to get a Masters in Communications. After all that he’d gone through, and although he was still sick, he choose to move on with his life.  Once again, he researched and decided to move away from home to enter the Master’s program at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he remained until his death in his last semester of study.

My brother was a courageous and gentle soul filled with compassion and a zest for life. He had a thirst for knowledge and adventure, and allowed nothing to hinder his dreams or his faith. He was everything that one could want in a brother and in my heart, he still lives and influences my life. More importantly, my love for him still grows, and he is and will always be my brother, wherever he may be. Nothing can severe our sibling bond, After all this time, suddenly, the answer seems so clear.

“And you will continue now, and forever, to redefine your relationship with your deceased loved one. Death doesn’t end the relationship, it simply forges a new type of relationship – one based not on physical presence but on memory, spirit, and love.” ~ Ashley Davis Bush, “Transcending Loss”

Finally, I have discovered the answer that lay in my heart. The next time that someone asks me “the” question, I will not hesitate to say, “I have three siblings — two sisters and one very special brother.” Of that, I no longer have any doubt.

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The Things That You Do For The Ones You Love.

Question mark

Question mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later today, my husband, J., and I are going to see a movie. Yesterday, he asked me if I wanted to go and I said, “Yes,” because he asked and I wanted to please him. Nevertheless, at the time, I thought, “Oh, oh, what ever have I agreed to?” You see, if I’d chosen the movie, there is a 98% chance that J. would have hated the movie, and vice versa.

J. and I have vastly different ideas of a good movie for venturing out, paying an exorbitant amount of money and sitting there for two hours to watch or sometimes, endure. We have cable television and with it, a DVR player. If there is a word that is defined as less than rarely, that is how often I either watch television or record a show on the DVR. In our home, the living room is located in a very central location, and usually, I stroll through it on my way to my destination.

When J. watches television, it is either sports, of a historical nature, or autobiographical. Granted, there is the occasional entertaining or funny movie. Nevertheless, in most cases, it would be torture for me to sit through these shows with J. In many cases, I’d rather have a root canal, which if you know how much I hate dentists, you might understand how much I don’t want to watch most of these shows. So I race walk through the room with a smile on my face and a slight “hello” wave all the while appreciating that my husband is a man who does not need me to sit beside him holding his hands while he enjoys his shows or even share the same interests.

Today is different. I’ve willingly chosen to attend a movie that I may not enjoy. Apparently, we are going to see a Tom Hanks movie about a vessel that is hijacked by Somali pirates. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Tom Hanks and I have no quarrel with Somalia. I also fully realize that the Somali piracy problem is a huge one for the government of Somalia, and even impacts citizens of other countries, including this one. I am not insensitive to this problem.

My problem lies in that the movie depicts the truth of the matter. It intends to depict reality. Years ago, I stopped watching television when I noticed that I was having nightmares loosely based on news stories and television shows that I’d seen. I realized that my body was sending me a message that these shows and news stories had a detrimental affect on my mind and body. In order to test the theory, I decided to stop watching television for a month.  Almost immediately, the nightmares ceased — totally. It was then that I realized that the issue arose from my body being bombarded with too much reality. I am not talking about “reality” television. No, I am speaking of those shows and stories that depict or report things that happen in real life — the senseless murders and robberies, the abducted or abused child, the lying and cheating politicians and so much more. On a personal level, I could not handle these real life stories and the fact that they exist in the same world that I inhabit. When I watch a movie, I like to be entertained, not reminded of life’s horrors. I do not watch television, with the exception of some carefully chosen shows.

Admittedly, the movies and shows that I enjoy are not for everyone. Currently, my favorite television shows are “Supernatural,” “The Vampire Dairies,” “Walking Dead,” and “The Originals.” Each of these shows deal with either vampires or the supernatural in some form or fashion. (Perhaps, it is my New Orleans upbringing.) My choice of movies tends towards action movies like “Thor,” “Die Hard,” and “Pulp Fiction,” feel-good movies like “What Dreams May Come,” and “Dr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” comedies like “My Cousin Vinnie,” and “Home for the Holidays,” anime movies like “Spirited Away,” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and very old-time favorites like “Imitation of Life,” and “The Bad Seed.” Finally, I cannot lie, but I anxiously awaited every release of the “Harry Potter” movies, as well as “The Twilight Saga.” All of this is not to say that I don’t occasionally watch other movies, but typically, they don’t involve serial murders, rapes, and other such things. Most of the movies that I prefer, deal with total fiction and are devoid of the real life horrors of the day. I like that!

In spite of this, I will most definitely be sitting beside my husband because he wants to see the Tom Hank‘s new movie “Captain Phillips.” Why? It is simple, love and relationships are about compromise and to put it bluntly, it’s what you do for the ones you love.

Blessings, Lydia

P.S. J. is not feeling particularly chipper today and asked to postpone the movie until tomorrow. I said, “Fine by me.”

Finding Peace in Forgiveness.

Forgiveness Mandala by Wayne Stratz

Forgiveness Mandala by Wayne Stratz (Photo credit: Nutmeg Designs)

This post is longer than is usually the case, but given the subject matter, I am sure that you will understand. Thank you for taking the time to read and experience it.

My father passed away almost two weeks ago. When a parent dies, it seems that most children feel a sense of sadness, longing, grief and in some cases, regret for missed opportunities and all that will never be. However, those thoughts and feelings are often tampered by the gratitude and precious memories that you shared with this man, your father.

A couple of months ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends called to tell me that her father had passed. Upon hearing the news, tears flowed and I was overwhelmed by a sense of grief, sadness and gratitude. The grief was present for obvious reasons; the sadness because a special man was gone from this world; the gratitude, because as fate would have it, I became best friends with his daughter and through her, was able to see and feel all that the word “dad” entailed, and the importance of the role of a father-figure in one’s life. Nevertheless, when I learned of my father’s passing, I felt a sadness, as I would when told of anyone’s death, but more prominently, there was a visceral void.

I suppose that you can say that our relationship was complicated. You see, he turned his back on our family when I was only five years old. When I say that he turned his back, I mean that his leaving was so complete that it was as if he disappeared from the face of the earth, certainly from my world. In fact, he did for about 11 years. At the time he left, I was the oldest of three girls and my Mom was left to raise us by herself, with no contact or support from my father. As a young child, I didn’t have the tools necessary to comprehend my father’s actions, so for the most part, I was confused, and even guilty, thinking that his actions were my fault. As I grew older those feelings transformed into resentment and anger, feelings that failed to change even after he began making the occasional appearance in our lives. He came bearing gifts, but none that I wanted or needed.

The truth is that I didn’t know this man and I knew no more about him than the passing stranger. What I did know was that he wasn’t there to give us food, shelter, clothing or love. He wasn’t there when I had measles or chicken pox, to pick me up when I fell or to soothe my tears over some perceived devastation that all children endure. Complicating the matter is the immutable fact that he is the man who gave me life, and my rational and logical mind knows that were it not for him, I would not be writing this post.

As is expected, people continue to express his or her sympathy at my loss. I’ve noticed that people use the words “father,” and “dad” interchangeably, and when the word “dad” is chosen, I feel very uncomfortable.  I find it impossible to apply that word to our relationship. In fact, I feel wrong even trying to do so. My mind keeps returning to the same question: what is the difference between a “father” and a “dad?” Why have I always been unable to refer to this man as anything but my father? In fact, more often than not, I instinctively referred to him by his first name, John. Yet, this is a topic for another place and time.

In reality, I’ve been pulled between the angry, confused and sad child that my father deserted, and the older wiser me that realizes that his actions were about him, not me, and that the anger and resentment has harmed me much more than it hurt him. I don’t know how to feel about a man who is a virtual stranger to me, but is a primary cause of my presence in this world. The icing on the cake is that as one of his next of kin, I am the one who has to make post-death arrangements, as well as pay for them. My inner child is stumping and screaming that life is not fair.

Yet, as often happens with life, a sense of closure occurs in the most unexpected ways. In my case, I was standing in line at the pharmacy after having had an amazing experience with my yoga therapist, which I will write about in a later post. I was next in line and I casually noticed that someone had gotten in line behind me. It is a dapper elderly man whom I later learned was a young 82 years, and  a transplanted Californian who moved to Austin five years ago. He said, in a friendly and sincere voice, “How are you today?” The question moved me because so often these days, people don’t take the time to concern themselves with others. This man was different. I turned toward him as I answered and politely asked, “And how are you?” His response took me by surprise. He said, “I am better than great. I couldn’t possibly be better!” I suppose that his answer intrigued me because I can’t recall feeling that way in some time.

As we continued our conversation, I learned that he and his wife had grown children, with lives of their own. Five years ago, they decided that with their children gone and they had no reason to tie themselves to California. They decided to set out to discover a new place to live. Serendipity brought them to Austin, Texas and he is, by all accounts an amiable and happy man. For reasons that I didn’t understand at first, I felt an undeniable bond with this stranger, this man who I’d never laid eyes upon. Before long, it was my turn in line, so I started toward the counter. All of a sudden, I experienced one of those proverbial ‘light bulb’ moments, and in my heart, I knew both why I’d met this man and why he’d affected me so much.

I turned back to him with intense curiosity. Although I hadn’t realized it before, there were definite similarities between him and my father. He was the same height and build with a similar hair cut and the same quick smile for strangers. When I was a kid, this was the type of man who I’d always imagined my father to be. I believe that there is a reason for everyone that we meet and that they arrive at the exact moment when we most need them. Even in his passing, my heart yearned for a compassionate, loving and attentive father who loved and hugged me liberally. I longed for a father just like this man, and I believe that this man represented all that I did not have in a father, and that, if for only a short while, he was God’s blessing to me.

Unconsciously, I reached out to him, grabbed his hand, and thanked him for his kindness. For reasons that I still cannot explain, I felt compelled to explain to him that my estranged father had just died and that meeting him was the balm to my soul that I’d desperately needed. He expressed sympathy and thanked me for bestowing such an honor on him. He hugged me in a fatherly way. I turned back toward the counter, picked up my scripts, waved goodbye and continued on my way.

I was aisles away from the pharmacy picking up a few items when I heard someone call out to me. It was my new “friend.” He’d searched the store for me because he wanted to properly introduce himself and learn my name. He told me that “When he thought about our meeting, he wanted to know my name,” and believed that every experience was a gift to treasure. We exchanged introductions, shook hands and turned to go on our ways.

As I walked away, I felt a weight lifting from my shoulders and an overwhelming sense of peace filled that hollow in my heart. I experienced a letting go, and a sense of forgiveness that eluded me during my father’s life, but now was possible at his death. It is true, forgiveness is more for you than the other. I do not claim to have let go of years of anger, resentment, disappointment and longing in a matter of 15 minutes. Yet, I’ve begun the process and to me, that is profound. As I attend to my father’s post-death arrangements, I intend to extend him the peace and respect that I never received from him. Doing so, brings me peace. It seems to be coming together, as it should be.

Blessings, Lydia

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