Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Family Quilt

Just recently my mother-in-law gave me a very special gift.  A quilt, hand made by her, fabrics chosen with care to reflect things that I care about – fabric with letters because of my writing, with books because I love to read, with wine, well, because I like to drink wine, and with a cabin in the woods, to show where my heart is at peace.  There is a hand quilted border of hearts, stitched by the lovely ladies of a quilting society – average age of 90 I believe.  It is a beautiful piece of work that I was so honored to receive.  As I sat and looked at it the other day, I realized that while the pieces of the quilt are pretty, it is putting them all together that makes them beautiful.  It occurred to me that our family is like that too.  Our family is a quilt of many pieces that make up a beautiful whole.

There are different names for quilt patterns.  There is the bears paw, or the birds in the air.  There is the double square and grandmother’s cross.  There’s the wheel of fortune and the wedding knot.  While each pattern is beautiful on it’s own, they are just pretty squares of fabric until they are sewn together, backed with fabric, and quilted in place.  When I look at my family, I see us more as a crazy quilt – made up of irregular pieces, exotic fabrics and embellished in different ways.   Individually, we are all unique.   There is my sister, beautiful like my mother.  She is a teacher at heart, lover of all the things in the forest, at times insecure, at times fearless, always full of faith.  There is my younger brother, who creates masterpieces with his video camera, so assured and certain and the grin of a little boy.   There is my older brother, troubled, anxious, fearful but caring beyond words for all pieces of this quilt.  There is my brother-in-law, hardworking, with an engineer’s mind and logic, determined to provide safety and comfort for his family.  My sister-in-law is another creator – with her camera she shows the beauty of the world around us.   Three nephews – the warrior, the dreamer and the curious. Two grandchildren – the actress and the imp.  My sons, handsome and strong, one a scholar, one a man who creates with his hands.  My husband, loving and patient with us all.  We are all the pieces of this crazy quilt called family.  And the backing?  The stitching?  That would be my mother and my father.  The fabric and thread that holds us and binds us.

We are not a new quilt, fresh and clean like the one I just got.  We have been worn and torn, washed and mended.  At times the quilt seems too heavy, too warm, like a heavy wool blanket on a hot summer night.  We push it off, fold it down at the end of the bed.  At others, it is the warmth that is needed to sustain us through the cold and we reach for it with gratitude.

There is a label on the inside of my quilt, with a blessing.  It says:

“May green be the grass you walk on,

May blue be the sky above you,

May pure be the joy that surrounds you,

May true be the hearts that love you.”

Our grass has not always been green, nor have our skies always been blue.  We have not always been surrounded in joy, we have had our share of heartache, sadness and worry.  But the hearts that love us are true, and they are the warmth of our family quilt.

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Tis a gift

I just have to say it, I love weddings.  Whether it’s a grand affair, or a simple ceremony, the hope and love, the promise of a bright future always touches my heart.  Sometimes, we aren’t too sure whether the wedding will result in a real marriage or not, one where both people give and take, where both do everything to make it work, and not just one that won’t last through the first life crisis.  And sometimes it is so evident that the ceremony we are witnessing is the true public expression of soul mates.   Yesterday, I had the honor of attending a wedding that was truly a blessing.  In the chapel of a monastery, high upon a hill, two people joined hands as the bells chimed and promised to love each other till the end of their days.  Part of the ceremony was a song called “Tis a Gift to be Simple”.  It was a reflection of how this couple has lived their lives, and how I try to remember to live mine.  The first verse that we sang is this:

“‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be fair – ‘Tis a gift to wake and breathe the morning air,  And every day to walk in the path that we choose, ‘Tis the gift we pray we never come to lose. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and  to bend we shan’t be ashamed To turn, turn will be our delight, ‘Til by turning, turning we come ’round right. ”

What does is mean to be simple?  What does it mean to be fair? Simple means that we don’t have to have a lot of physical trappings in order to be happy.  It means having gratitude for the things that we do have. It truly is a gift to have gratitude.  To be thankful that we wake, to be thankful that we can choose our path each and every day.  We can make the choice every day to be thankful for all that we have, or we can make the choice to concentrate on all that we don’t have.  We can think about all the ways we have been wronged, or we can think about all that is good in our lives. If we lose the gift of gratitude, we lose the gift of choice, for we will no longer be able to see that we have a choice.

Some days it is very hard to remember to be gentle and fair.  When we feel slights, when we have been wronged, when we are hurt beyond words, it is easy to see only our side.  Being fair means trying to look at the other side.  Not just in marriage, but with our children, our parents and siblings, in all our relationships.  It is a gift to others be able to be fair to them but it is more of a gift to ourselves.

When I look back on my life, it is the simplest things that have brought the most delight.  A walk in the woods with my husband, a glass of wine with a friend.  The curiosity of my grandchildren, a conversation with my sons.  A snuggle with a puppy, an afternoon with my dad, or a talk with my mom.  As the next verse of the song says, “Tis a gift to be loving, ’tis the best gift of all, like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls”.  And that’s what all of the simple things have in common, the gift of loving.  Not just being in love, but loving. To be able to “bow and bend and not be ashamed, to turn, turn will be our delight, ’til by turning, turning we come ’round right”.  It takes love, it take loving to admit we’ve made mistakes, we’ve been on the wrong path, or we’ve hurt others.  It takes loving to keep turning until we come around to the right path in life.  It is a gift.

That’s what the wedding reminded me of yesterday.  While it was clear that these two were in love, it was also clear that they were loving.  They have the greatest gift, and they bless us all.


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The arrival of Lobo

The big green travel crate sits on the grass in the back yard.  Dark curious eyes above a white snout peer out through the wire door.  Who are all these people they seem to say.  Hello, little guy Dad says as he cuts the plastic tabs off that act as a lock for the crate.  We open the door, and he sits in the doorway.  Dark head with a white muzzle and a white stripe between his eyes held high, he peers around at the five of us crowded around him. No, I don’t think I’ll come out.  It’s been a long day, I’ve had many strange adventures, and I think I will stay right here, thank you very much. He doesn’t move to the back of the crate, he isn’t afraid, he just observes those around him.  It’s alright, we tell him.  You’re home now.  Come on out.  Nope.  I’ll lay down right here in the doorway.  His dark head lowers to rest on white paws almost as big as my hand.  9 weeks old, and his paws are already that big.  Oh boy.  This beauty will be huge.  I try to entice him with a treat and get a stare in return.  We let Zeus the Westie out of the house, hoping he will come out to see another dog.  Ears up and bottle brush tail waving in the air, Zeus prances around the crate.  Come on, let’s play. No deal.  He’s not moving one inch outside the door.  Everybody go in the house, Dad says, maybe he’ll come out then.  Mom and the boys go inside but Dad and I sit down at the patio table to wait.  It really is alright little guy, I say.  There isn’t a better home that you could have come too.  I look over at the pine trees in the corner of the yard, at the freshly turned earth, a dark brown scar against the green, painful to see like the scar on our hearts is painful to feel.  No, there is no home you could have come to where you will be more loved than here.

As we wait, I think about the new life this little guy will have, and the joy he is bringing with him.  Dogs have always been a big part of our family.  They have been our companions, our friends, our guards, even our saviors.  Throughout the years there have been 18 furry members of our family.  Queenie, Missy, Token, Tonga, Lady, Sir, Brandy, Boss, Bear, Molly, Preacher, Katya, King, Lucky, Zeus, Cola and Katy.  And Maqua.  To us, they are never just dogs, but true members of our families.  Each was and is well-loved.  We worry about them, care for them,  as if they are our children.  To lose one is to lose a piece of ourselves.  A couple of weeks ago, we lost a huge part of us.  Dad’s gentle giant Maqua couldn’t go on anymore.  His hips were gone, he was in pain, and so with Mom and Dad at his side, he went to wait for us on the rainbow bridge.  His passing left a gaping hole in all our hearts.  Maqua was a Pyrenean Mastiff.  At close to 200 pounds he was the largest dog we’ve ever had.  He was also the gentlest. An ancient breed, Pyrenian Mastiff’s were bred to guard the flocks of sheep against bears and wolves in the Pyrenees Mountains.  They are fierce protectors and yet are extremely gentle with children, and anyone they consider part of their “flock.”  Although not technically a herding dog, Maqua never failed to use his massive head to gently push me wherever he wanted me.  He was Dad’s constant companion for the almost 11 years that he was with us.  Riding in the “dog car” – a Lincoln Aviator so named because it was full of dog hair and drool – the two of them would do everything from going to the grocery store to driving to the lake together.  They shared a couch in the family room, and in his younger days Maqua was not above climbing up and sitting on you if you were foolish enough to sit on his couch.  If you were lucky, occasionally he would bestow a kiss on you.  It always made your heart lighter if you got a Maqua kiss.  With him gone, what would we do?  What would Dad do?  Maqua and Dad

At 81, he had said there would be no more dogs, Maqua was his last.  But there was this awful, massive, empty space in the house, and in our hearts.  And so my brilliant mama convinced him that no, they were not to old for a puppy, yes, they could train another.  Out came the dog folder, the calls were made, and wouldn’t you know there was a litter of Pyrenian Mastiff puppies just ready to go to new homes.  Querida’s litter W, male number 2 looked out from the pictures as if to say “Well – what are you waiting for?”  and that was it.  A week later we were sitting at the airport, an hour early, waiting for the plane from California to arrive.

And so Dad and I sat at the patio table, waiting for male number 2 to venture out of his crate.  After a while, we decided waiting wasn’t working so we gently0815141849a tipped him out onto the grass.  I got down on his level, petting and talking softly to him.  Ah, a puppy kiss.  But he still stayed right next to the crate.  So we moved the crate closer to the table, and he followed.  About 10 minutes later, we moved it closer still.  He followed again and lay down next to it.  Slowly he worked his way nearer, Dad talking to him all the time.  And then he was sitting at Dad’s feet.  You could almost feel them bonding, see the connection being made.  Yes, Lobo was home.  He knew it, and we knew it.   He will never replace Maqua, but he will be just as loved.  And so we will endure chewed furniture and messes on the floor, torn skirts (Lobo has decided he likes to dance with my skirt in his mouth) and missing shoes, stolen sandwiches, sassy barks,  puppy kisses, ears soft as silk and dark eyes with a mischievous glint.  For in our eyes, there is no finer sight than a man and his dog, than this man and his dog.

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It’s peaceful back here this morning.  I’m sitting on the pontoon boat, which is tied to the dock and rocking with the waves.  It’s warm, windy and sunny.  The sky is that particular shade of summer blue, clear and bright, clouds crossing and casting shadows.  They are heavy on the bottom, fluffy on the top.  Somewhere later today they will drop rain.

It’s Sunday.  Church day.  So I’ve come to my cathedral.  Some people feel closest to God inside a building, I am closest to Him here.  The woods are now thick with foliage.  A month ago you could walk through them, off the trails, with ease.  Now brambles grab at your clothes, hidden logs trip you.  It’s easy to imagine Indians lurking among the trees, studying the intruders to their land.  Of course, now the Indians are nephews, and they only attack my sanity occasionally.

There are so many metaphors here for my life.   The water in this lake is so clear.  If you drop a quarter in you can see it at least 25 feet down.  Why can’t life be that clear?    Why can’t I see 25 years ahead and know exactly what I should do in each and every situation?  Life now is more like the forest in summer,  full of  hidden dangers and treasures.  Brambles that catch you,  logs that trip you, wild animals that could attack you at any time.  I’d rather see a bear walking down the path toward me and have time to prepare, than stumble across one by accident.  I would rather see some of life’s troubles ahead of time, than be slammed in the face with them.  There are also hidden treasures.  Crest a hill, and you’ll see an unexpected field of wildflowers, purple, pink and yellow with blue lupine mixed in.  Move a pile of leaves, and you’ll discover neon toadstools standing proudly.

If I close my eyes, lean my head back and am still, I can sometimes hear God speaking.  His voice is in the rustle of the trees, the buzz of the dragonfly, the lapping of the waves.  It says be still my child and I will guide you.  For each trouble you encounter will make you stronger.  I will not give you more to bear than you can handle.  I will help you through them and teach you to pick them off as if they are simply the irritation of ticks.  They may leave a bite, they may leave a mark, but they will only be reminders of what you can overcome.  I will also give you unexpected treasures.  The smile of your grandchildren, the gentle touch of your husband, the laugh of your mother, the joy of spending time with your brothers and sister.

When I come to the woods, when I sit at the water’s edge, I am reminded to listen for his voice and bring stillness to my heart.  For it is in the stillness that I find peace, and the strength to face another day.



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It is twilight here in the north woods.  That time of evening when the sun is tinting the clouds peach against the blue sky and yet the trees across the lake are darkening to a deep green.  No breeze bothers the glass surface of the water.  Birds trill their evening song, and an occasional frog croaks to his mate.  It’s that peaceful time of day where, if you are still enough you can hear the footfalls of deer as they make their way down to drink and see fairy lights begin to blink in the forest.  While all times of the year are magical in these forests, spring seems more so.

There is a special feeling in the woods at this time of year.  A soft carpet of green blankets the forest floor, inviting you to stray from the trail and take a stroll to the horizon.  Spring means renewal and regrowth, and as I wander through the trees I see the physical manifestations, young trees reaching up toward the sky, the soft green of new leaves on old trees.  I spot the brilliant white of trillium, a sure sign that winter is done.  First one, then two and then a whole swath upon the hillside.  More, I feel the hope that spring brings.  It seems to be in the very air that I breathe.

This winter was long and hard.  Temperatures well below zero and record snow falls mirrored the gloom in our lives.  A business closing, a son who lost his way, anxiety, anger and fear mixed with prayers.  And as the air warmed, the snow melted, anxiety began to lessen.  Spring in the north woods brings more ease, more hope.  If the forest can survive, and revive, if the trillium can once again bloom, so too can this family. Just as I saw first one, then two, then a trail of white flowers leading off, I believe there will be one prayer answered, then two, then a trail of blessings in this next year.

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Transitions Part One

The saying goes that the only thing constant in this life is change, and this last year has been the beginning of so many changes.  My youngest son is approaching the end of his senior year in high school.  We’ve gone through college searches, applications, the disappointment of denials and the excitement of acceptances.  The breakup with his first love, and his discovery of a new love.   We’ve easily weathered his pushes for independence and enjoyed the debates of an 18-year-old.  We’ve seen, amid much heartache,  the closure of the business that my grandfather started in the 1920’s.  We’ve spent hundreds of hours on the  roads between Indiana and Wisconsin, going back and forth to prepare for our move in June.  There is a huge transition about to occur in our lives, in my parents’ lives.  For me, it will mean I no longer have any of my children living under the same roof as I do.  It will also mean that I am, once again, under my parent’s roof.   Only this time, I’m there not to have them take care of me, but to help take care of them.

As part of preparing for this transition, we have been remodeling the house that I grew up in.  Late at night a couple of weeks ago, I sat in my parent’s family room.  The house was quiet, the lamp next to my chair casting a soft pool of light around me.  In the still quiet, I had the peace to reflect, for a moment, on one of the transitions that are happening.

For the last 46 years, my parents have slept in the same bedroom of their home.  The brick home that looks like Carter Hall, built to replace the farmhouse that burned, upstairs, at the end of the hall, next to the boys’ room, they lived , loved and had their sanctuary.  It wasn’t the only place they slept, they traveled, they have a cabin in the woods, but this space, this room, was their “home”.  This night  was the first night that they sleep in their home, but a different room was now that sanctuary.  Over the last couple of months, we have transformed the downstairs office into their bedroom and on this day we had  moved them down into that room.

An expanded closet, a gorgeous new hardwood floor,  familiar furniture and family photos.  Old mixed with new.  The room is comfortable.   To me, it is beginning to feel like them.  But my feelings aren’t the important ones, their’s are.  Although I have moved countless times, from one end of the country to the other, I can’t imagine what my emotions would be if I was in their place today. I understand moving.  I understand getting used to a new room, a new place.  They don’t.  They have been in the same place since 1969.  I can’t know what it feels like to live in one place, to sleep in the same room, to live, love, fight, and grow in that single space for so many years, and then move.   I can only hope that I can help make the transition easier.

Today’s society can be very transitory.  Once I graduated from high school, I  easily moved  from one city, one state, to another at the drop of a hat.  New job?  New city.   Many of us don’t have loyalties to the communities we grew up in, we don’t have the anchors that many of our parents have.  For many years, I didn’t think I had those anchors either.  I felt that when I left my home town, I was gone for good. I was launching myself on the world, eager to make my mark when I left.  I now understand what a fallacy that was.  My roots are here, always have been and always will be.  Home is home.  No matter where I went,  no matter where I moved, home in my heart was where my mom and dad were.  I created homes for myself, for my children and my husband where ever we lived, but in my heart my home was where I grew up.

As I sat in the chair that my mother usually sits in, I thought about this transition point.  Very soon, this house will be my home again.   Instead of sleeping in the room that was mine when I grew up, my husband and I will sleep in the room my parents just moved from.  I’m coming home, but  instead of being the child, I am now one of the adults.

And as an adult,  I have learned to think about others.  While I have lots of emotions about my future role in this household, this night my thoughts weren’t about me,   my concern was for my parents.  How must it feel, at the ages of 81 and 75, to move into a new bedroom?  To leave the space you have slept in, loved in, lived in for the last 46 years?  To know that even though you are still in your own home, things are changing and shifting?  Was last night, the last night in your old bedroom bittersweet?  Or did it feel like any other night?  Are you worried about the changes, or happy about them?

As we blend our households over the next couple of months, there will be many times that I have the same thoughts.  Are you feeling alright about the changes?  Are we feeling alright about the changes?  I am blessed with a husband who supports all that needs to be done to make all the transitions that must happen over the next several years happen.  And he does it with love and a smile.  Without him, this transition would be more difficult for all of us.

My hopes on this night were that this transition will be easy for all of us.  None of us like to think of our parents aging.  They are eternally young,  strong and invincible, dancing together to the records we played on Saturday afternoons. But reality is that we all get older.  It becomes more difficult to navigate life’s daily chores.  Just as when we were young, we needed help to navigate those same chores.  There is a circle to life.  When we were younger, we needed their help, and as we close the circle, they need ours.  I am honored to help my parents navigate to the next transition.




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October 2, 1995 wBaby Jay with Bubble Bloweras a very different day than October 2, 2013 is.  At the beginning of the day, I didn’t know your name, I didn’t even know if you were a boy or a girl.  I was anxious, and scared, and excited to see the child who had been nestled close to my heart for the past nine months.  Of course you made your entrance in your own way, Despite weeks of trying to get you into the “proper” position, you preferred to approach the world standing up, not laying down.  And so you greeted the world face forward, head held high, and ready to take on the world.  It should have given me a clue to the man you are becoming.

This morning, instead of simply opening your bedroom door and telling you it was time to get up, I stood next to the bed for a few minutes and just watched you, as I used to do when you were first born.  Now,  as I did then, I marvel that I had any part in creating you.  I would gently twist a light brown curl around my finger, stare at the long lashes nestled against plump cheeks, I would smooth the blanket out over tiny legs.  You somehow always seemed to wrap them around you, and I was afraid you couldn’t move (you still do that).  I would wonder what would be in store for you in this life, what things would you like, would you like to read or would you hate books?  Would you be outgoing or shy?  Would you be a writer, an artist, a construction worker, a businessman, a truck driver, an actor, a lawyer?  I didn’t really care, my wish for my boys has always been that they are happy at what ever work they choose.  But I did wonder.

Unlike those mornings 18 years ago, I know a great deal more about you now.  As i watched you this morning, I didn’t see chubby cheeks and plump arms.  I saw a face that is thinner, with more chiseled features.  You are no longer my cuddly little boy.  You are long, lean and muscled.  You haven’t even reached your full growth yet, but you are more than half a foot taller than I am.  You still have brown hair, slightly darker, slightly less curly.  Your lashes are still impossibly long and brush your cheeks when you sleep.  Just as your face has become more chiseled, so has your personality.  You are smart, smarter than almost everyone you know.  You love books, and science.  You are competitive, but more with yourself than with others.  You always want to do better.  You are funny, in a dry way.  You have a caring heart, and don’t tolerate injustice.  You love to debate.  You are athletic.  You are a better fencer than you think you are.  You can be stubborn, and inflexible at times.  You are messy.  You enjoy reading classics from Shakespeare, philosophers such as Nietzsche, Plato and Dante.  You like stories about knights and dragons, hobbits and magicians.  You are as good in English as you are in Science.  You don’t care for Dickens.  You are not afraid to take on a challenge, you face the world head on, face forward, feet on the ground.

As when you were a baby, today I still want to protect you from all that could harm you.  My heart wants to swaddle you back up in your favorite blankie, make everything soft and easy for you.  But my head says that you need to face challenges, go through heartache, strive and push so that you become the best man you can be.   My soul sees so much in you today that tells me how absolutely awesome you will be as a man.

On your 18th birthday, I have a wish for you.  It is not a wish for just health, wealth and happiness.  It is a wish that you have a life in which you give yourself permission to try, and permission to fail.  That you give yourself the gift of patience.  That you continue to value knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  That you dream big.  And most of all my wish for you today is the same as it was 18 years ago.  That you are a kind, caring man who makes good decisions.  For if you are that, you will have a life that is well lived.  Continue to face the world as you did on the day you were born – head up, face forward and your feet on the ground.

All my love –  MomAviary Photo_130196235117704375

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I’m spending a lot of time lately driving through the countryside on small country roads.  It is both restful, and stressful.  How can it be both?  I’m teaching my 17-year-old to drive.  In Indiana teenagers can now have to wait until they are 16 1/2 before they can get their license.  My son has waited until he is 17 and 3/4,  he will be 3 months shy of his 18th birthday before he completes the required 40 hours of driving and take his test, a fact that is hard for me to understand.  I wanted my license the day I turned 16, I couldn’t wait for the independence that piece of paper represented. I started driving in the corn fields that surrounded our house well before I turned 15 and took drivers ed.  The freedom to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, providing of course that I could use the car.  It was a symbol of growing up and I wanted desperately to be grown up.  My oldest son also wanted, and got, his license as soon as he turned 16.  Although I actually needed him to have his license at that point, living in the mountains of Colorado, in light of everything he managed to do that he wasn’t supposed to, there were many days when I wished I hadn’t let him get his license.  Yes, hindsight is twenty – twenty.

The current 17-year-old has been in absolutely no hurry to achieve that state of independence.  I have been the one that has pushed him to learn to drive.  I had to threaten to ground him to get him to study for the written exam necessary to get his learner’s permit.  I set a deadline by when he had to have taken it.  That was a year ago.  And he really hasn’t cared much about getting behind the wheel to practice actually driving.  Until recently.  I’m not sure what actually jump started him.  Maybe it was the fact that his girlfriend has now been driving for 4 months.  Maybe he wants to find a way to have some privacy with said girlfriend. (Hmm…maybe he shouldn’t get his license?)  Or maybe it was just a turn on the chronological wheel.  Whatever the reason, I am now spending time as a passenger traveling the byways of Indiana.  We haven’t made it to the highways yet.

For the most part, he is doing well.  Everyday he gains confidence in his driving skills, and my knuckles become a little less white (there are some indentations in the passenger side armrest, I’m sure they will go away in time).  For the most part I’ve stopped pushing my foot down as if I’m stamping on the brakes.  I’ve learned to communicate more clearly EXACTLY what action he needs to take RIGHT NOW.  And I’m actually starting to look around at the country we are driving through.

I love watching the rolling fields, green with spring planted corn.  We’ve had enough rain this year that it looks like it will be “knee-high by the 4th of July”.  Stands of trees, tall and strong against the summer sun, dot the landscape, usually surrounding  a farm homestead.  Sometimes the houses are compact and neat, white sided, fronted with neatly planted flower beds a riot in color.  Sometimes they are huge old Victorians, faded paint shadowed by ancient oaks.  Crumbling stone and concrete silos stand next to towering blue Harvestors.  Occasionally we come upon a stately old brick, with ivy climbing all the way to the top stories.  What stories each of these must hold.  How many generations were born, how many fought the earth, the wind, the rain and the sun to rest a living out of the ground, to keep this land as theirs?  How many did the earth, the wind, the rain and the sun claim as payment?   How many gave in, sold out, and moved to the city or sought greener pastures further west?  Who built that stone silo that now slowly crumbles back into the ground?  If we stopped, would the farmer driving a tractor through his field tell us the stories of his land?

We don’t stop, of course.  We have a mission to complete.  15 more hours behind the wheel before he can take his test.  15 more hours behind the wheel before he reaches another stage in his independence.  15 more hours behind the wheel while I watch the Indiana countryside roll by, and decide whether I am happy, or sad,  that he finally wants his independence.

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A Milestone

Giggles and shrieks, a cloud of perfume, hugs all around.   A statuesque beauty sheathed in peach lace, a classic lass in a column of black, an impish Greek goddess in cream, a curly vision in purple.  Four young women totter on four inch heels, trying not to fall off.  With makeup carefully applied, hair curled and braided, pinned up with a flower, they move joyfully toward the night.

Fist bumps and smiles, a nervous laugh or two.  An intricately tied tie, light  green against a dark gray pinstripe suit, curls under control.  Black tuxedo highlighted by a white tie, another with a baby blue bow tie.   Shoes shined to a gloss.  Three dark-haired young men prepare to take on the role of gentleman of honor.   A young love, a budding romance, a friendly escort for two. Tonight they will shine, tonight they will glow. Tonight they will dance.  Tonight is a milestone. Tonight is Prom.

Although there is a chill in the air it is with good-hearted cheer they pose and smile for us in the late afternoon sunshine as we capture this moment in time.  Picture after picture our shutters memorialize their youth and beauty.  Mothers look at mothers, both pride and sadness in our faces.  Fathers watch the boys, arms folded in warning. They are all so beautiful.  The girls slim and, even in this day and age, surprisingly innocent.  With the bodies of women they are still children, just learning the power that they have.  The boys stand tall and straight.  At 16 and 17 they are but shadows of the men they will become.  If you squint, and then close your eyes, you can see them in the future.  You can see their shoulders broaden, their legs grown even longer. As one places a protective arm around his girl you can see him protecting others.  You can see the kind gentle man  another will become as he insists that his one month old little sister be in the pictures too.

To them, tonight is a night of enchantment.  It’s a night at the ball, with a limousine as their magic carriage.  As a parent, as a mother, I see tonight as a right passage.  It’s a night that means we are on the downhill side of being a daily influence in our children’s lives.  Where once I couldn’t imagine a time when my son wouldn’t need me, I now realize that there will be a day in the not too distant future where I will be extraneous in his life.  Someday another woman will take precedence in his world.  But not now, not quite yet.

For now, for tonight, I can put that thought away, and enjoy the sight of seven beautiful young people.  With joy I watch their laughter and high spirits.  With one last admonishment to “be smart”  and a quick hug, I leave them to their evening.  It is, after all, their milestone.

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3 a.m.  It’s mostly quiet here in the ICU waiting room.  The lights are dim, white blanketed forms lay across pull out chairs.  From some come quiet snores. Others move restlessly. The wheels of a cart occasionally clack by the door.  6 families try to rest as, in another room down the hall, their loved ones struggle to live, or struggle to die.

I am one of those who cannot sleep. I keep a vigil, praying silently for answers, here in case there is a need.   In a room close by, my father-in-law struggles. Struggles to breathe, struggles against the ventilator tubes down his throat, occasionally struggles to talk, struggles against pain. I haven’t figured out, it isn’t clear, in which direction he is struggling.  Is there enough fight left in him to live?  To go through this who knows how many more times?  Or is he tired of the fight? Are 78 years enough, is he ready to go home to the God he so fervently believes in?

Tubes run from him in every direction.  One line runs into his stomach to deliver an antibiotic to fight the infection in his gut.  One line runs from neck, pulling his blood from his body, running it through a machine, returning it clean through another line.  His kidneys have failed, there is fluid in his lungs, making each breath an effort.  There is fluid around that huge heart of his, causing it to work extra hard.  Hasn’t he worked hard enough? Does he want to continue to labor for his very existence?  Should we force him to?

A short while ago I wandered down the hall, stood at the doorway of his room.  Diabetes has made his skin so fragile that the pressure of a touch can tear it.  Massive bruises cover the parts of his arms that I can see.  His mouth moves against the ventilator tubes, as if he is trying to spit them out.  I want to tell him that its okay, he can stop if he wants.  But its not my place.  My mother-in-law, his wife of 56 years, his sons, his daughter, it is their right, and their place.  They know him so much better than I, but I love him no less.

It seems there is nothing but questions.  Will the dialysis make his kidneys start working again?  Will the antibiotics kill the 4 different infections that are at war with his body?  Is he in pain?  On the next ventilator test will he breathe easy on his own? Or will he struggle to move his massive chest? If he fights through this, is it only so that he has a few more days?   Is he only fighting until Todd can get here from Seattle, or is he truly fighting to live? Will he ever be able to go fishing again, or will he simply sit in his chair for a time, and then go through this all again?  Why must dying be so hard?

I wish I was a seer, and could know what the future holds for him.  I wish I could wave my magic wand, and make everything easy for him.  I wish I could ease my husband’s heart and pain.  If wishes were fishes, I could feed an army.

The only thing I know, for certain and true during this vigil of mine, is that he raised a family with love.  And this family, through love, will be there for him, for each other, till the struggle is through.

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