From Sylvia & Erma on Mother’s Day

This mid-May, Mother’s Day nor’easter on the Cape awakened me on multiple levels today (and too frequently last night if truth be told). However, in Sylvia-and-Erma fashion, I’ve tried to make sense of the morning chaos that Mother Nature has seen fit to bestow upon us, although admittedly my success may be lacking.

I’ve often felt that on days like today the gods are weeping- well, more like sobbing it appears as I look out my bedroom slider on the cove.  Yep, definitely sobbing.  Bawling, in fact.  You see, at the risk of sounding soft, gooey, and maybe even a wee bit emotional, my take on today is that the heavens have opened, and mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters, and all the little girls who were never given the chance to become any, all, or none of the aforementioned, are worried to the point of tears-for those of us who are here and remembering them oh-so-fondly at this moment and every single day we must live without them.  What are their worries you ask?  After all, how lovely it must be to have eternal peace! No homework to do for the little girl? No fear of not being invited by the cool girls to the slumber party?  No worries there.  For the nieces and aunts, no fear of the secrets they shared and kept just among  themselves – without fear of ever being revealed to their sisters or their mothers. For the sisters, no worries about who is the oldest, middle, or youngest; who will take over the position of matriarch in the family when Mom and Grandma have passed; who will be the glue? All of those worries, their worries, have hopefully been replaced by infinite bliss and the newly generated wisdom of what they have discovered as the meaning of life: live each day as if it is your last. Love passionately- whether it be for another person, humankind, or a slice of this earth. Care deeply. Laugh hard. Practice self-care. Dream of who you may become. Leave behind the parts of you that are draining. Love yourself as you are at this moment. Their worry, the worry of those women and girls, young and old, who weep for us this Mother’s Day is that we fail to appreciate the present.   

They weep because they know that missing them does not change the outcome. They shed tears for us with the hope that we learn from their successes, their failures, the dreams that either reached fruition or never came to be. But above all, their tears fall upon us to wake us up to the fact that we have what they don’t: life. Live it with purpose. With wild abandon. With determination. With fear. Yes, with a bit of fear.  Be afraid that if tomorrow never comes, you won’t have experienced the one thing that only you can possess. Love of self.

Mom, don’t cry.  I’m learning.  

“All that I am, I owe to my mother.”

Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth

I don’t believe in heaven. Not as a destination anyway. Well, let me further amend that to say that I don’t believe that “good” people -those who lived life both honestly and vulnerably, with purpose and love in their hearts for themselves and the world around them, those who atoned for their “sins” (you know, those so-called egregious lapses in judgment for which we seek forgiveness and absolution throughout life, not hurriedly as we stand at death’s door)- I don’t believe that they simply, miraculously, and invisibly rise to the sky, “up to heaven” upon death, and gain actual wings. I’m not deluded or crazy after all, though I’m certain there are many who would say differently.

When I look to the sky, whether it is just to the level of the horizon as I watch the fiery orange sun come up to touch the still-sleepy blue sky or straight up into the depths of the black night canvas that on some nights appears riddled with stardust and on others is so dark and vacant that no strangers have even dared to stop at the countless, lightless inns above, I picture heaven. It’s not a place at all. It’s a feeling. For me.  It’s the promise, the hope,  and the possibility that a new day brings. It’s the unconditional love between a mother and a child, between a daughter and a father. The seamless and steadfast love between friends who are also soulmates.

I’ll find heaven today. It’ll be in my child’s laugh whether I hear it over the phone or recall its hearty playfulness when I read a text from him. And most assuredly, I’ll see heaven in my father’s smiling eyes today. I’ll find her right here in all that I do today and in everything and in everyone who loved her and who loves and supports me. Seven years without her – some might say “hell on earth” and oh, I’ve said that quite often!   Today, I’m going to tell myself that I’ve been blessed to know, feel, and experience heaven on earth.  I had a mother who shared and who continues to share life’s bounty and beauty with me. Now and evermore. 

“A mother’s love is a slice of heaven.” (~k. morgan)

(Photo credit: Florence McGinn)

Sylvia Learns the Sweetness of Infinity

Sylvia: Erma, nothing lasts forever, right?  
Erma: Oh, there’s something that lasts longer than forever, Sylvia. Look into the eyes of a child- your child-that love, that hope, that sweetness, that lasts long past forever, my friend. 

I was often judged- and not always favorably- when I invited my parents to live with us in California after Mom’s diagnosis. Occasionally some would wonder aloud what effect having a terminally ill person in my home would have on an impressionable and growing young boy. Those who knew our relationships- the closeness that was much more than mother and daughter and the unconditional connection of love between grandmother and grandson- were extremely supportive. And perhaps if we had disclosed what we knew was happening with my father, others would have been more understanding and less critical, but that element was not mine to share at the time. The reality is though that none of what others think or thought at the time has any value.  The value of how my mother chose to live her remaining years and the final outcome of our decision to help her with her battle, however and wherever she wanted, is seen here.  

The boy who sat on Nana’s bed after he came home from school and shared his day with her (and likely shared more secrets than I’ll ever know) became this young man.  He lives freely as his own person; he welcomes the world’s differences and the adventures that come along with them; he engages those around him with his bright eyes, contagious smile and compassionate heart.  I am blessed, and God knows, that I learn far more from him than from any other about letting go and living.  He has bad days and pushes through.  He has self-made predicaments and doesn’t let them defeat him.  I am so proud to be his mother and I sure hope that we are friends.  I still have much to teach him, but deep down I know what my mother probably knew all along– our children are OUR greatest teachers.

Through him and my mother, I know infinity.

“Only in the eyes of love you can find infinity.”~Sorin Cerin, Wisdom Collection: The Book of Wisdom

photo credit: csamuel&afortin

(The above post is an excerpt from the author’s upcoming book.)

And Still I Give Thanks

Sylvia and Erma are spending the day with their respective families – giving thanks for the meal they’ll share, the orderly chaos of the kitchen, and their children who wish to forego the turkey for the pies that have been freshly extracted from the oven. And without a doubt, as these women sit down with their broods, however big or small, they take at least a second if not a hundred to give thanks for each other and their bond of friendship. And as I prepare the Thanksgiving feast, I’m thinking about how we all count our blessings on this day- love, health, family, friendship, peace, freedom, etc. but too often forget the little things, all of the tidbits that create the essence of our daily lives. 

Thanks. 

For dinner even when it’s out of a box or take-out. For the compliment whether it is “I like your shoes” or “You’re gorgeous inside and out.” For holding open the door even if it’s only because you are waiting for the person who is walking behind me to come through it.  For the flowers picked from the garden even if they are losing their petals. For the birthday gift even if it’s the wrong size. For letting me know you left on time. For letting me know you arrived safely. For kissing me for no reason or any reason. For holding my hand. For the out-of-the blue phone call just to check in. For the good morning text. For morning coffee. For evening wine. And of course, for pulling that pesky little thread on occasion, the one that I knew was there but was too afraid to pull on my own. 

Gratitude or semblances of it come easily when the offering is tangible, tactile, and visible. However, think about how much of life is intangible, untouchable, and invisible.  A staggering amount of life- most of it in fact! Life depends on what is felt and shared.  Yet for some reason and I tend to think it is due to self-absorption and our overwhelming inattention to the present (unless it impacts us greatly and immediately), gratitude is something we save for special occasions. We save gratitude- true, heart-filling, and profound thanks- for those times when we are reflecting on special days. So, here’s an idea: Practice gratitude. Don’t save it! It does not need to be coveted and handed out stingily. Opportunities for giving thanks, showing thanks, and feeling blessed are around us each day throughout the day. 

For chipped teeth and the dentist. Pimples and ProActiv. Minor cuts and Bandaids. Perspiration and deodorant. Crying babies and pacifiers. Missed appointments and calendars. Painful labor and a baby’s first breath. 

Small dilemmas and colossal joys and sorrows often find simple answers and deliver lovely outcomes. For each and every, give thanks. They are all individually and collectively reasons to be grateful. They are everywhere. They are bountiful! 

Whether short and sweet or long and laborious, days replete with moments that become memories to mark time.

For my days, I give thanks. 

Whether quick-footed and charted or leisurely and meandering, walks made up of deliberate steps filled with hope. 

For walks, alone or with company, I give thanks. 

Whether fictitious and colorful or authentic and serious, words that arouse the spirit and nourish the mind that comprise the tales of a life well-lived.

For words written and spoken, and above all else the feelings that the words evoke, I give thanks. 

Whether new and blossoming or matured and steadfast, friends who fill the days; create the memories; walk the path together; and write and share their words and stories.  

For you and for us, I give thanks. 

None of it is certain. And still I give thanks. 

Sylvia, Erma, and I extend to you our gratitude and wishes for joyful abundance of all kinds. Happy Thanksgiving! 


The Moment Sylvia Learned Her Best Friend was dying

An excerpt:

“You know, right? You know she has a mass, right?”

Of course, I know. How could I not know?  After all, she is my mother. My first friend. My best friend. My confidante. My spring board. My cheerleader. My moral compass.

But I didn’t know. I mean deep down I knew that she would one day succumb in some way, shape, or form to her addiction, her vice, that which she so often claimed was her saving grace, her anti-depressant, her stability. I don’t know what or whom I hated more at that instant. The cigarettes. The doctor. God. Or my mother. Even myself. Yes, me.  How could I not see the ravages that her body and spirit had been enduring all of my life? And why, oh why, had none of us helped her, comforted her, been important enough to her to save her from herself?

And then, there facing her in the ER, she looked at me lovingly with her beautiful, soulful, caring, blue eyes, and I could see.  She was not my anything. She belonged all this time to herself. For the first time in forever, I realized that this was about her- her alone-and she was saying, “This is my life on my terms.”

Terry Sohl

All I Needed to Know I Learned from My Mother

So, I envisioned posting this last week and then the week got away from me as most weeks and days usually do. For better or worse.  And there it is: for better or worse. That’s been the rumination of late, especially as I’ve attempted to get a look at myself through a toothpaste-covered mirror.

When we marry, there’s this “little” part of the traditional ceremony that says, “for better or worse, richer or poorer, etc.”  The toothpaste-covered mirror is definitely not indicative of the better part.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s far from the worst part either.  Let’s just say that these days the spit-covered mirror and the toothpaste-crusted sink represent ambivalence that is slowly becoming indifference. Indifference in this case isn’t a bad thing either.

I used to curse and scowl as I walked past that first sink of the double vanity, the one unknowingly claimed by him upon moving in to this house. And in all honesty, I still mutter and complain each morning and evening as I make my way to my side of the vanity.  How can someone not see the remnants of what is left behind?  My gosh, it’s so clear to me. And that’s when it hit me: as I ambled past that mirror last week for the millionth time and saw what has been there for quite a while- my war-torn reflection- a vision of a woman who has gone from caring and complaining about the mess to one who has thrown in the towel, literally and figuratively, and decided not to care.  Not to care about the small stuff.  Because as my mother said repeatedly, and reiterated almost ad nauseum, especially as she lay dying the last four months of her life (the only time in her life when she put her needs, wants, and thoughts first), no one ever gets a medal for keeping a clean house. It’s a thankless job. Necessary but without reward. And above all – both Sylvia and Erma would concur- it’s the least for which you’ll be remembered when all is said and done.

Yes, I get the “pride in appearance” part of it, but really?  I’ll take the word of a great lady who cleaned many toothpaste-covered mirrors in her lifetime, that in the end, it just doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you paid attention to that woman staring back at you in the mirror; you paid attention to and cared for yourself. After decades of wiping up around the sink, scrubbing the hardened toothpaste from the porcelain, and windexing the mirror last to find that the woman who took pride in and did the jobs that no else would without prodding, coaxing, or begging, lost herself.  When she allowed herself to be relegated to the person in the house who would deal with everyone else’s mess (physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual), she conceded defeat in a way. Mom didn’t realize that the war would take its toll, not until the battle scars of being a wife, mother, grandmother, and fixer-of-all-things were deep and permanent. It was then that she would admonish, “Show them you matter by putting yourself first, Kay. Trust me, if you don’t treat yourself well, you’ll let others think that you are okay with being last, disrespected and dismissed.”

So, that’s what this Sylvia has been thinking about lately. She’s been reflecting on her mother’s words — on Erma’s words. Sometimes it’s okay to say no. I just don’t feel like dealing with your shit or anyone else’s right now. At this moment, here and now, however fleeting, it’s all about me. The spit-covered mirror and the toothpaste-crusted sink will still be there tomorrow. I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and sit for a moment and do nothing. For better or worse.

Grab a mug, pull up a chair, and we’ll watch the sunrise.

When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.

~Erma Bombeck