Messages From Dad

I miss both of my parents every day. My dad died 25 years ago; my mom has been gone 8 years. Twenty-five years is a long time. I was able to make 17 more years of memories with my mom. Memories with my dad haven’t faded so much as they are farther back. More effort is required to revisit them.

I have hit the age where more people in my age group have lost a parent. We share our hurt. I also know people who have both parents still living and they don’t see or talk to them very often. I don’t wish them ill will. I’m thrilled they are still alive. It’s wonderful these friends and acquaintances don’t know the searing pain of losing a parent. They don’t live with grief that runs deep and long. But still, I feel it’s unfair that I’ve lost both. My parents were older. They developed health problems. They died. We all know life isn’t fair.

A while back, I was wishing for something from my dad. My mom pops up often in dreams and waking memories. I don’t get a lot of that from my dad. Time passed factors into it. I put it out there that I wanted to hear from him. In dreams, or signs, or messages, or something. Anything. I miss him a great deal. I don’t think it’s said enough how much adults still need parental love.

One of my routines before crawling into bed is to read for a few minutes. I settled one night into an oak rocker in my bedroom that I picked up at an estate sale. It’s solidly made and has a simple patterned upholstered seat and back. Soft lighting provided by a Tiffany like lamp with shades of blues and greens lit the corner of my bedroom. I rocked gently and read.

At one point, I turned my head to the left toward the table where the lamp sat.

And there he was.

.

.

.

Not as a ghost, hallucination, or in any human form. I saw his handwriting poking out from a small stack of treasures that has sat there between five to ten years.

It had been there every night. His handwriting jumped out this night when I needed a sign.

It was a 3 x 5 notecard that had completely browned over time. My father served in WWII. This could have fit in his wallet but I’m not sure it did because it wasn’t bent. If not in his wallet, it was likely in a desk drawer or the top drawer in the chest where a lot of papers and some jewelry were kept. I’m not sure where I discovered it. I felt it was important and I took it. Clearly, I also forgot about it, but here it was to remind me when I needed it. It was one of those moments mixed with smiles and a slow but steady flow of tears. He had copied a quote from Winston Churchill about wartime living on the notecard.

I pulled the notecard out with my thumb and index finger like one would in a magic trick where you picked any card from cards splayed in front of you like a fan. I read it slowly as if it were a riddle, for that was what it felt to me. The word defiance hit me stronger than the others. I don’t want to dwell in the battle imagery that many who live with cancer use and just as many find cringeworthy. But hey, there it was staring at me in the face. These words were about war, not cancer. Exceptions must be made. If anyone has applied them to cancer, it’s me.

Allow me to say I don’t feel I am in defeat. I feel beat up. I feel constantly up against some stupid cancer or noncancer thing. I feel like I can’t get through to the very people working to keep me alive. I feel exhausted and that I never can catch a break. I feel defiant though and unwilling to give an inch more to cancer.

As far as the other words are concerned, I’m always searching for resolution. Mainly, I search at my oncology appointments through time with my oncologist and all the tests and treatments I do. But I look for answers in so many places. I read articles. I follow leads on the internet. I make note of studies others are in that may be of some benefit to me. There are group chats. I talk to and message friends. Virtual conferences are attended such as the SABCS (San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium) and LBBC (Living Beyond Breast Cancer). Occasionally, I’ll listen to a podcast. To be honest, it all overwhelms me. My days can’t be only about metastatic breast cancer.

Magnanimity and good will are always good guiding words. Generosity and compassion should never be overlooked. We need both in our world now more than ever.

I set the card back on the side table and shuffled through what else was in the small stack. There was a prayer book with a daily reflection I’d given my mom one year for her birthday. I found some of my dad’s business cards and his resumé. There is a grief journal I started after my mom died. The journal deserves a separate post of its own.

I also found the last birthday card I gave my dad along with more of those smiles and loving tears.

The middle section jumped out to me where it read he knew in his heart that I’d find a way. I realize I chose the card, but it was chosen based on who he was. I always knew my dad’s belief in me was present and constant whether whatever I did was big or small. I’m sure it’s why I chose this particular card. He knew I’d do well on tests. He thought it was great I played tennis. He supported all my band activities. He happily shuttled me back and forth from college to home on weekends. My dad knew I’d find a way. As evidenced on this card, even as a young adult the idea of finding a way was developing, perhaps just a seed of the oak tree pictured on the card. I would have to find my way a lot sooner without him.

A few weeks later he came to me again, this time in a dream. I was at my grandma’s farmhouse in the kitchen, milling around where the cookie jar was kept. Ah, that cookie jar. My grandma, mom, and dad were all in the dining room. Dad called for me to come into the living room. As I got closer to the adjoining doorway, everything went bright white and I couldn’t see. I knew my dad was going to hug me. I kept inching forward into the blinding light. Eventually, I shuffled into him and we hugged. I felt warm all over and felt a tight squeeze of his arms around me. I couldn’t see anything. Then I was jolted awake. I always wake up too soon. I am convinced it was a real hug from him. Make of that what you will.

I got my sign, my message, my something. I received several. Thanks, Dad.

You are there for me.

Always.

Lost in Vermont

My family took wonderful vacations together. Many spring breaks were spent at Disney World and on beaches. We enjoyed national parks in summer. I saw a lot of the country from the back seat of the family car. Long days, close quarters, and nothing but family from sea to shining sea. I loved those car rides.

One summer we went to Vermont. Dad had a meeting in Burlington. The rest of us always went along to the summer dairy conventions that were held in a different city every summer. There were activities planned while he was in meetings all day. When the convention was over, we loaded up the car and stopped somewhere along the way to extend the vacation.

Stowe was our next stop on the Vermont trip. Stowe is unbelievably scenic and quaint. It’s known for skiing. There is a tennis academy. The Von Trapp Family (the Sound of Music Von Trapps) settled in Stowe when they escaped Europe because the hills reminded them of Austria. They re-established themselves and built a family lodge that is now a luxury resort.

My sister was always the big shopper in the family. Into all the gift shops and boutiques we would traipse. One after the other, not skipping a one. Rarely was anything bought. Small souvenirs. I was into collecting teddy bear stuffed animals back in the day and had already purchased one in Burlington. I think this trip was where I got my taste for maple candies. I found shopping tiring and slow. She found it exhilarating. This hasn’t changed much. I’m done after about an hour of the touristy shops when we vacation together whereas she can go all day. I now drive separately and have more flexibility with present day trips together.

Back to shopping in Stowe. Like me, Dad didn’t have the shopping gene either. He was chief bench sitter. He’d scope out a bench along the main strip quickly and relax while the girls went shopping. Wise man, my dad. On this occasion, my mom and sister were taking forever in a store and I was done. I didn’t want to go in any more stores. I was at the age where I was exercising a little more independence. I announced I would go back and to the bench and hang out with my dad. Off I went.

He wasn’t there.

No problem. I hurried back to the last shop where I had left my mom and sister.

They weren’t there.

Bit of a problem. I darted into the next store thinking they’d be there, but they were not. I tried a couple more. I got a little more terrified in each shop I couldn’t find them. It’s tough to remain calm and think straight when you’re scared. Remember this point.

I was lost in Vermont and felt on my own and very alone.

I was scared but could figure it out. Instead of racing from store to store where they were not, I timidly started walking back to the last place where I saw them. My eyes combed the street for any sign of my family. I think I finally just stopped walking and stood out of the way on the sidewalk hoping to see one of them. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan, and eventually it worked.

I was lost for about five or ten minutes. Long unknowing minutes to me. I was safe again. My parents didn’t seem worried – at all – and that itself felt odd. We were out of state for Pete’s sake. A little comfort and concern was all I wanted. Why did my dad leave his post? Where had they all been? Didn’t anyone care about me? I can tell you that I stayed pretty close to the parental units for the rest of the trip. They needed to know where I was at all times.

Lessons Learned

It’s one of the first memories I have of feeling scared in real life. It was very different from a scary story or hiding when the wicked witch appeared in Oz. Being lost was real. Feeling alone and possibly left in a strange state didn’t fill my heart with the sound of music.

I was growing up. This brush with difficulty would be one of many as I worked through growing pains, learning as I went through each experience. I’m pretty aware of my surroundings. I notice landmarks, curves in the road, little things that stand out to me. I wonder if I started to see these things after this experience in case I ever got lost again and I needed to retrace my steps. Maybe I would have developed this skill set anyway. I don’t plan to find myself lost in the wilderness or really anywhere without my cell phone.

The whole thing could have been prevented if cell phones had been developed decades earlier.

I have learned to do a lot on my own. The little girl in Stowe grew up and traveled to European countries on her own. She lived in one for a year. She’s taken vacations by herself because it was preferable to not doing something she wanted that she knew she could get done. I know how to travel by myself. There’s some freedom to flying solo. It’s also great to have travel companions. I usually don’t and decided years ago I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

Cancer Connection

Cancer has left me in the familiar territory of feeling lost far too often. It’s still tough to remain calm and think straight when I’m scared. Daddy and Mommy can’t make it all better. Parents make things better – they just do. I’m not sure what specifically they would do for me if they were still living, but I know they would make a lot of the cancer crap more bearable. My mom was with me for my first year. Often, I would just lay my head in her lap and feel safe as she laid her hand on my shoulder. How I wish for my mother’s comfort. I’ve been missing my parents a lot. I lost mine rather early in the grand scheme of life.

With cancer, I feel on my own just like I did for those brief moments in Stowe. I flounder about and keep looking for something without much success. I can’t dart into every shop and hope to find what I need. I can’t just stand and wait to be found. Treatment choices need to be weighed carefully. I may need to seek out new trials or even other clinics. I can’t see confidently past the next few months. It’s a hard way to live. I feel out of control and on my own more than ever. Eventually, being lost leads somewhere. A person finds their way back to where they need to be. Maybe they even discover something pleasant along the way. That isn’t how metastatic cancer works. The lines on a map, directions to follow, and new destinations are unclear, scary, and I wind up someplace I don’t want to be where I can’t find my way.

Finding a way can be awfully hard.

Holly Hobby and Tennis Balls

‘Tis the season for gift giving.

I grew up in a family that was a bit over the top with the number of presents that my parents gave to their children. Discovering the floor covered with gifts under the tree on Christmas morning was such joy. There were toys as a child, then lots of clothes as a teen, and then more grownup gifts in adulthood.

My Holly Hobby doll was a favorite Christmas present. Santa brought her all the way from the North Pole one year. She played outside with me and still has a smudge on her right hand from some adventure. She even came on a couple of family vacations. We survived traveling cross country together long before the days of seat belt legislation. I remember riding in the front seat sitting on my mom’s lap while holding Holly Hobby on mine. That car had no central air conditioning. Sometimes my mom held both her daughters and our dolls at the same time despite a perfectly good back seat. Holly Hobby is still with me and lives on one of the beds in a guest room with the Bucky Badger I got another year from Santa. I know it would be nice if someone played with them again, but I decided long ago they both were staying with me. I’ve always been too sentimental.

Jewelry made excellent gifts as I grew older. Pearls and gemstones are treasured gifts that are more meaningful to me today than when I got them. I think I need to wear these more often to dress up my yoga pants and more relaxed attire.

Gifts of lesser monetary value carry meaning, too. My dad was especially vocal about how he liked tennis balls that I received one year as one of my birthday gifts. It has become a running joke with a friend of mine years later. I liked the tennis balls, too.

Christmas will be different this year because of the pandemic. Gifts will likely be exchanged and opened by myself at home with some type of video connection. A cold garage idea was floated but I am not excited about that option. Home by the hearth works for me.

Holidays can be hard.

It was simpler when Holly Hobby or tennis balls was all it took to make me smile. I could give my dad an Old Spice soap on a rope and my mom a knick-knack decoration and all was well in our worlds.

There truly is very little I need in terms of material goods. I am fortunate to be able to buy what I need. It ensures I get what I want without waiting. Amazon Prime hasn’t helped. Giving myself gifts and treats are an important part of my self-care. Can I share a secret? Having just shared I don’t feel I’m too materialistic, I’m going to wrap my gifts to myself this year and put them under my tree.

To me, from me.

An unprecedented year calls for some new moves of my own.

Experiences and time together are more valuable gifts to me. I still want to get to Sedona. I’d like to eat inside restaurants. I would love to have friends gather in my home. I would just like to see friends in person. Anywhere. The biggest factor is what my life looks like after there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. I’d rather hang out with my friends than have some big extravaganza event that is stressful. Some may enjoy extravaganzas. Not my cup of tea. I’d enjoy that cup of tea in a relaxed setting much more.

I have the gifts of family, friends, and a beautiful home where I feel safe. I receive top notch health care. I am kind and have a good sense of humor. These are all priceless gifts. Call it the holiday spirit, but my life is good. Cancer is not good, but my life is good.

What makes good gifts for someone with cancer?

A permanent cancer zapper would be perfect.

Good gifts should match a person’s interests. It doesn’t hurt to ask if something is needed or what might be appreciated. Please skip the pink crap, cancer ornaments, or things that take up a lot of space. Food may be welcome, but some of us have dietary restrictions we are trying to follow or may not tolerate spicy foods. I remember a couple home cooked meals I received as part of meal trains when going through initial chemo in 2012 that were exactly what I needed. Gift cards for takeout or delivery are thoughtful. Books are great if you know what kind of writing or favorite authors someone likes to read.

Experiences are the type of gifts that mean a lot to me. Tickets to a show. Listening to a concert. An afternoon history lecture. A gift certificate for a massage. Hiking someplace I’ve never been. All of these aren’t possible during a pandemic. Hiking is possible but I am hesitant to venture somewhere less traveled on my own where I could get lost. I’ve gotten lost twice before on hikes. I’m not looking for a stressful adventure. Some familiarity is welcome during crazy times.

One former colleague I have known for years does something incredible for gifts. She and the adults in her family don’t exchange presents but pitch in together and make a substantial donation to a charity they agree upon. Last year it was my fundraiser for metastatic breast cancer research. It blew me away but is a gift idea that has stuck with me.

If this idea appeals to you, here are a few possibilities that do research or support cancer research:

More For Stage IV

One Woman Many Lakes

Mary Gooze is a friend of mine. She is the one amazing woman behind One Woman Many Lakes and creator of the More For Stage IV Fund. Both links above will lead you to the same site to donate. Incidentally, Mary is planning to raise $70,000 for the Stage IV fund for her 70th birthday in June of 2021. She has a separate fundraising page set up to track those donations you can find here.

As always, thoroughly research how money you donate is used and how much is allocated for research. For full disclosure, I am partial to research happening at Carbone Cancer Center if you couldn’t tell from the multiple times I’ve shared their link.  I know there are many reputable research facilities making worthy strides in research. Here are a few others that I have heard good things about outside of Wisconsin. I always look for pull down tabs for metastatic breast cancer research or a way to direct a donation for research to a specific cancer type such as childhood, lung, colon, prostate, etc.

Metavivor

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Mayo Clinic

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

A donation to research is a great gift any time of year.

Holly Hobby, tennis balls, and even jewelry aren’t bad either.

Happy gift giving to you as you go about making the world a bit brighter this season.

Ice Cream Memories

Good memories are sweet like ice cream.

My ice cream specific memories from past vacations are vivid enough to eat.

Dippy’s is a small ice cream shop in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, offering about 20 flavors daily. It’s a simple whitewashed building for to go service. There is a small porch outside with patio seating for relaxing and looking at the flowers and passersby. An old-fashioned red popcorn machine is positioned just outside the door for those preferring kettle corn reminiscent of movie theater popcorn drenched in butter flavoring with lots of yellow food coloring.

Dippy’s was a place to take a break from all the other relaxing being done on vacation. It was a good mid-afternoon or early evening treat. The fact that it was a few mere steps from the corner hotel where I stayed didn’t hurt.

There is something about an ice cream store that makes me feel like a kid again. I thought this was as true for my mom as it was for me. She would sit in front of the store in one of the wrought iron chairs wearing her shorts that came to her knees with a smile from ear to ear. She possessed something childlike even though she was into her seventies.

She always apologized that she couldn’t share her butter pecan or turtle ice cream because of my tree nut allergy. It didn’t bother me for the same reason I never offered to share my ice cream with her. All free sampling was done inside at the counter.

Rules are rules.

My grandma enjoyed ice cream into her nineties. Grandma would have a bowl of ice cream often during the evening on the farm. One thing I’m completely convinced about is the existence of an ice cream gene and that I got it.

Both my maternal grandmother and mother died from metastatic cancer. My grandma was diagnosed with liver cancer. She didn’t go through gads of scans to see if it spread and chose not to do treatment. She was 96 years old and only lasted a few months after the news, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe she had metastatic disease. Anyway, genetic testing has revealed zilch in terms of the metastatic breast cancer in my body being inherited. I wonder if research hasn’t yet discovered the link.

Back to happy memories of ice cream because those memories make me feel happy. They take me back to a simpler time that was relaxed and unrushed. A bit of that feeling is captured whenever I enjoy a scoop or two. Sometimes those memories take me back to as recent as last week and other times much further.

Some memories take me back to summer nights in early childhood. People sat outside after supper just to relax. My sister and I would sit on the front step of the house in the humidity enjoying a bowl of ice cream before our bedtime stories.

In my childhood, I was a chocolate or vanilla person. Discovering mint chocolate chip made me feel pretty sophisticated. I still love mint chocolate chip, but favorite flavors also include cookie dough, coffee, and chocolate peanut butter.

Chocolate peanut butter was recently enjoyed on a lovely summer day.

I love moments of simplicity. I’ll take every single one I can get living with metastatic breast cancer. Memories that make me smile are delicious. That’s true whether I’m sitting on the front stoop as a child, outside at Dippy’s, or sitting along the waterfront outside Wilson’s Restaurant  in Door County slowly working on a double scoop while watching the sun dip below the water. It holds true if I’m home enjoying a dish.

Even Snoop Dogg knows ice cream is a good thing. Only Snoop knows his plans for the future, but maybe he was serious when he said, “When I’m no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.”

He would get no complaints from me.

Is all this just about ice cream? Yes and no. Sometimes ice cream is just ice cream. Ice cream is surely one of the better things in this world. You’re never too young or too old for it. There is a flavor for everyone. It’s a simple pleasure.

It also can be a metaphor for life.

Ice cream melts quickly.

Enjoy it before it’s gone.

My Mom: Memories of Love and Loss

My mom made the biggest impact on me from anyone I have ever known. She has been gone for six years and I haven’t written anything about her, not even notes.

Why?

Grief.

I couldn’t handle jotting down ideas. It’s still too fresh, but at the same time it feels like it’s been a million years without her.

Today is Mother’s Day.

I am ready to share.

I think.

Violets hold strong memories for me. It started with a violet that first belonged to my grandma. The porch off the kitchen of my grandma’s farmhouse was a greenhouse of sorts during the summer months. The light was perfect to grow an assortment of plants, one being violets. One such violet came to my mom when my grandma died from cancer. It was already huge but continued to thrive for another fifteen or so years. My mom had a knack like my grandma. It went uncared for when my mom was so sick and I thought it was past help when I discovered it. I took it to a local gardening store for a second opinion with the hope that I was wrong. Unfortunately, they agreed with me. However, I decided to give it one more try before I gave in to what I thought was inevitable. Do you know what happened? The violet came back! It had more blooms on it than ever. I started many new plants from the grandmother violet. Many of those have been redistributed to family, friends, and former co-workers.

Eventually, the grandmother violet stopped thriving. Its stem arched and twisted like an arthritic finger. It was very old and long past its expected lifespan. Being so twisted, I didn’t notice when the stem broke away from the roots. By the time I did, it was too late. I struggled to throw it out. I rescued it and had kept it going for years. It was a visual reminder of my mom and grandma. I couldn’t lose it on top of all I had already lost. One day, I finally accepted it was gone, and took what was left and buried it, figuring it was better to return it to the earth than chuck it in the garbage. Something that held so much value didn’t belong in the trash, discarded like it meant nothing.

It meant a lot.

I also needed to reframe how I thought about this magnificent violet. It was a life-giving plant. So many new plants came from one plant, much like the offspring from my grandma in my family tree. Friends and family still send me photos when the violets I’ve given them bloom. In this way, I feel like small parts of my family live on. Maybe the memories are just mine, but good memories deserve to keep blooming. Violets in bloom do this for me with fond memories of two of my favorite people.

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These are two of the many violets in my home.

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Now that I’ve chosen to write about my sweet mom, allow me to share a couple more memories.

I remember one summer day when she was mowing the back lawn. My father was still alive and not yet retired. I was also out in back reading and not being helpful. Yes, I know I should have helped more. The mower had stopped. She restarted it and the mower lurched forward with remarkable speed and headed across the lawn. It was a self-propelled model. My mom grabbed it and held on as her little short legs hurried to keep up with it. She regained control so it didn’t careen into a tree. I know I probably shouldn’t be smiling right now, but smiles are better than tears.

Another time she was outside gardening in a flowerbed I had encouraged her to start. I was older and home visiting for the weekend. This memory finds me once again out in back not being helpful. She stood up a little too fast from weeding and lost her balance. With surprising agility, she jumped over the flowerbed and just kept running across the yard until she slowed to a stop. I didn’t know she had that athletic ability in her! The flowerbed was a source of enjoyment for many years. Black-eyed Susans thrived and prospered.

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Black-eyed Susans took over the garden.

When I moved back to my hometown and got a teaching job at my former elementary school, my mom was there to help. I would bring her to school to help set up my classroom at the end of summer. She was my number one helper. Truthfully, she was my only helper. My mom did a good job cutting out laminated materials, putting up bulletin boards, and other small odds and ends that were huge time savers. She was great company. I’d stop by and visit a bit after the first day of school and let her know how the day went. I have countless memories of her being in my corner.

Another frequent memory I have of my mother is how she’d expect me to know answers to her questions without providing me much (any) information. She called me up so many times to ask, “Who’s that person that we saw at that place doing that thing?” I knew her so well. Most times I could figure it out. We talked every day. I miss that a lot. Whereas I can still talk to her, the conversations are not quite the same. I wrote to her in a grief journal for a few years after she died. It provided a much-needed connection that was part of my grieving and healing work.

We took many trips to Door County in summers when it was just the two of us. It was so easy to travel with her. We walked on trails not knowing where they would lead. Thankfully, they were always circular and we ended back where we started. We indulged in cherry desserts at dinner. We savored ice cream at two particular ice cream establishments. Our pace was never hurried. Sometimes we just sat by the water and visited. We watched a couple of beautiful sunsets. One year she got three consecutive holes-in-one at miniature golfing. She didn’t mind the attention it drew. I am glad there are memories of her around every corner when I visit today.

My mom died from metastatic breast cancer. It was painful to watch her worsen for her last final months. Slowly. Irreversibly. All the while, I was recovering from treatments from the very thing that was killing her. Pain for her. Pain for me. The various benchmarks of death inching closer are not things I care to remember. It’s excruciatingly hard to forget images that haunt me. Trauma mixes in with grief. I look far too much like her. Most of the time I consider this a very good thing. I can even see how she looked like my grandma. It’s when I relive memories of my mom during her last days that I’m not so fond of the resemblance.

These gut-wrenching memories don’t help me. They serve me in no positive way. There is no beauty in them. I am never going to be glad for those moments. It’s really hard work, but I am trying to shift to happier memories when the bad ones get triggered. Happy times are the beautiful moments filled with joy that I’m glad to remember. I finally started my list of happy memories I don’t want to forget. They are nothing more than bullet styled ideas that I can add details to later.

Grief is a lot like paper in a paper shredder . . . the original piece of paper still exists but has changed to an unrecognizable form. It will never be the same again. It never can be put back together. Maybe the paper gets recycled and becomes whole once more, but it’s a different wholeness with different print and perhaps a different texture.

Another shredding is always possible.

That’s grief.

I still have moments where I feel completely shredded.

March and April are months that are filled with more grief for me than other months. May historically is a happy month for me. I am always glad when May arrives. Mother’s Day isn’t meant to be sad. It is for many though who have a sick mother, have recently lost their mother, yearn to become a mother, or may even be a mom herself who isn’t well.

Grief shows up on unexpected days as easily as on expected days like birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. It comes and goes in waves. I can be okay at a funeral or visitation and then almost lose it in a grocery store. Whenever grief washes over me, I need to acknowledge it and let it pass. It washes back out to an imagined sea soon enough. Grief is ongoing. I swim in it, towel off, and am okay until the next wave. I work through grief and try not to get stuck there. No one should stay stuck in grief.

On Mother’s Day, I need to focus on good memories. The disturbing memories I have need to be banished, or at least minimized, so I don’t have a visceral reaction. So I don’t stay stuck. There is no point in remembering my mom immobile and unresponsive in a hospital bed, still breathing but unable to eat, speak, or open her eyes, and already gone in so many ways. When I look at photos of my mom in better days, she is happy. These remind me of pleasant memories. Even if I’m not in the picture, I go back and am happy in that moment again with her. Happy memories are the places I need to linger every day and not just on Mother’s Day.

I close my eyes and let the good memories fill my heart.

I see her stand in the front window where she’d always wave goodbye to me.

I hear her voice and uncontrollable laughter.

I smell the angel food cake she always baked for my birthday.

I taste her special cran-raspberry and lemon jello dessert salad.

If I try hard, I feel my mother’s hug.

I know how much I was loved.

That’s the best memory of all and never leaves me.

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Doom Dibbling or Hope Harvesting

Have you ever heard of a dibble?

How about a doom dibbler?

I was truly lucky to have my amazing dad in my life for 26 years.

I am equally fortunate that I carried over so many valuable memories and words of wisdom into my life today. Too many to share here, but there are a few that lend themselves effortlessly to being hopeful and resilient.

My father used many inspiring sayings that have stayed with me over the years. I don’t feel I experienced a lot of hardships growing up, but he would often fall back on the tried and true, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Apparently, this phrase is attributed to either JFK’s father or Knute Rockne. My dad would say it whenever I needed a little extra encouragement and the impossible loomed. My dad thought most things were possible. Sending the tough on its way has a lot to do with resiliency. A resilient person has the courage to bounce back and deflect tough things because he or she is tougher. Being tough and strong is the only choice. Some see this as stubbornness. I take those words as a compliment because the tough has to get going. So long, tough. You are not welcome here. Get going and be gone. My inner toughness will prevail.

My father was one of the pivotal hopeful figures in my life. He made me feel like I mattered every day. His positive outlook and upbeat attitude were repeated over and over from people who knew him at his visitation and funeral. I already knew these things, but it is so important that he spread hope to others. I believe that it’s part of his legacy. What qualities did he have that made me feel like I mattered? He was always in my corner. He spent time with me every day and sang me bedtime songs. He read to me. He loved watching me play tennis, win or lose. He drove me back and forth from home to college almost every day during my fifth year so I could live at home and save money. He drove me to job interviews and waited in the car until I was done. We had good talks. He made me laugh. He really believed I could do anything.

Another one of his key phrases was not to be a doom dibbler. JFK’s dad or Knute had nothing to do with this one. It is an original Dad concept! Really, I never thought dibble was even a real word. He had a way of mispronouncing things and getting some words wrong. He was raised in a German-speaking home so this was typical for him. I figured he had made it up, but I knew what he meant. Much to my surprise, dibble actually is a word! As a verb, it means to make a hole in the soil with a tool (from the noun called a dibble) for seeds or young plants. His background was in farming and agriculture, so now I understand doom dibbling on a whole new level.

He knew exactly what he was saying.

My dad didn’t just want me to stop whining about something and have a positive outlook.

He didn’t want me to plant that seed of doom that would grow larger and larger.

Doom dibblers get bogged down in negativity and worry. Constant emphasis on what undoubtedly will go wrong becomes toxic and central to their world. Are you thinking Debbie Downer? Womp-womp. Nothing is or ever will be right. What if the worst happens? It becomes central to their identity as a doom dibbler. Doom is quite an ugly word. Do not be a doom dibbler.

Become a hope dibbler instead. Perhaps a hope harvester better expresses the sentiment. Emphasis on the positive spreads that energy in the world. Use whatever dibble you have to plant the seed of HOPE and watch it grow. What if it all works out? Imagine all the wonderful possibilities. My dad knew a lot about hope. Yep, he definitely was a hope harvester.

My dad also had a habit of writing me notes that I’d discover tucked away in my slippers when I was home for the weekend or he’d mail them to me in college. Little stick figure sketches of himself, our dog, or Bucky Badger were included. A twenty-dollar bill was usually clipped to the notes. Little words of wisdom were also included. We were a close family who spoke regularly and saw each other every weekend. Yet, he’d still send weekly letters filled with words of hope and wisdom. Hope was a message in almost every note I saved. Usually the notes began that he hoped all was well. He was so eager to hear about school and support my studies in any way he could.

“You are such an outstanding young person. Do share with us all your accomplishments.”

Well, shucks. See what I mean about him being in my corner? These notes were my own personal cheering section. I cherish them now more than ever. Yes, I’ve kept them. His hopeful words and messages transcend time.

On one note he wrote that smooth sailing didn’t make good sailors. (I don’t know the source for this advice. It probably isn’t JFK’s dad or Knute.) He owned a recreational motorboat before he married my mother. He kept the boat after they married, but it was used infrequently. I remember playing in it when it was stored on one half of our home’s garage. I never thought of my dad as much of a sailor, but I’ve often come back to his comment about sailing.

Sailor or landlubber, the point was that hardships help us learn and grow.

In the end, they shape our character and strengthen our spirit. Hope plays a role because you land on your feet a stronger person after going through the struggles.

Another repeated theme in his weekly notes was on the value of saving money. I always thought I had been good at saving money, but maybe I’ve been good at it because of his influence with his notes. On some notes, I’d find articles attached on investing. In one note he wrote, “You’ll find a short article on the value of investing early for retirement. I know you’re young and still going to school, but it doesn’t hurt to have your ideas focused for future investment moves. Enclosed are a few dollars.”

I hope you hit the jackpot when you were given your father. I know I did, and even though he’s been gone for over twenty years, he’s never left my heart. Some of you reading this may have had the good fortune to know him. My words really can’t do him justice. Maybe my memories have made you smile with some of your own about special people you’ve known in your life. Thank you, Dad, for all the love and hope you gave me, and for everything.

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