Ashes to Ashes

Sylvia carries a great deal around with her. On her mind. In her heart. And yes, especially in her purse. “The contents of a woman’s purse, or pocketbook as many of us refer to the bottomless bag of life, are sacred,” Erma declares to her friend. And Sylvia, her mind wandering to the bottom of her bag, quietly pronounces in agreement, “Mine are for sure.”

Since my mother died, I bring her with me in one of my favorite totes–yes, bits and pieces of her with me everywhere I go. Literally. Though much of her bodily remains are tucked away peacefully in a carved rosewood box she now shares with my father, awaiting their intermingling, I do keep some of “her” in one of her old medicine bottles- the ultimately inconsequential labeling has long been removed. After all, it’s been over a decade since she died and since her wish to be cremated was fulfilled. I change pocketbooks frequently too, so the little brown vessel that held one of the life-saving or rather life-prolonging concoctions she required has traveled and withstood the test of time. Those bottles don’t crack easily, but admittedly, that is not the point here.

Last week as I moved Mom from the black-and-camel Michael Kors bucket bag to the bright pink, Kate Spade satchel to the less cumbersome, multi-colored, crossbody Coach, I came to a realization. Well, two, actually. First, I’m a bag lady. Second, and more of an epiphany of sorts: I’m not bringing Mom anywhere. She’s gone from this earth. And yes, even to this day, I get a lump in my throat and a knot in my belly when I say those words out loud. Here is what I’ve been bringing with me on my travels, whether to the grocery store or local “Stomping Ground” or to Brooklyn to visit our favorite young man (there is no doubt in my mind that she would have proudly bestowed upon him that moniker). That little bottle of ashes represents my mother’s greatest gift to me. It’s the constant reminder that (1) life is fleeting; and (2) when we leave this world, everything tangible has little to no real value. Those things with the greatest meaning aren’t things at all. They are people and memories of shared experiences. The sum and total of one’s physical presence on this earth is reduced to ash, dust in the wind. The heart and soul of the person, his or her spiritual presence, lives on in those he or she loved, cared for, or touched in some way while on this earth. The ashes that I carry I’ve come to view as Mom’s ultimate lesson to me. We don’t get second chances. Make this life count.

And as I start this new day, I’m thankful for so much, the very least of which is the tiny, amber-colored, prescription bottle that travels with me. Where will I go today and who will accompany me? I don’t know every detail, but one thing I do know is that I’ll do my best to make moments count, to tell people who matter that I love and respect them, and to keep creating my life. It’s not over until it’s ash. I’ll keep adding to my bonfire.

************************

Sylvia is reminded of one of her favorite passages– and so, she’ll keep going:

Intriguing isn’t it? One day you are the king of your world. And the next day, you stand aside, watching it all burn. Ashes slipping out of your hand, you just stand and stare, your glassy gaze fixed on something no one else could see, no one else could know…

People will talk as people do talk. And they will walk over the ashes. And the ashes will dance in front of you, reminding you every second of what was and what might have been. And you will almost give in.

But my advice is, don’t give in. Because one day, you will decide to turn the corner. Put it all behind you. Just stand strong and still as the great wind comes and takes all the ashes away with with it, leaving fresh air behind. Fresh for you to make a new world, a better world.

~Aleena Yasin

All There Is

My parents were pretty private people, considering my dad had a fairly high-profile presence in our hometown and Mom, by virtue of her marriage to him and her longtime employment at a couple of business mainstays around town, also found it difficult to go incognito. They tried though, especially when it came to showing weakness, vulnerability, or just ordinary flaws. That was clearly an attribute or a shortcoming (not for me to judge) of their generation. They both knew though I’m sure that I needed to find and expose something redeeming in their terrible illnesses and in their stories, so I don’t really care if I’m judged for sharing this intensely special moment. I want you to know that when you wonder why I miss an event or say no to an outing, that this is my reason. Not my excuse. My reason for having set my priorities as I have. You set yours and I set mine. Friends accept and support; they don’t judge.

Well, on this day as I reflect on that which means the most, I’ll leave you with this. When you think there is no hope, no solace, and no good in missing something or someone because it doesn’t change a thing, a moment takes your breath away to show you that there is always hope, comfort, and good especially in the ordinary- in what we take for granted every single day-until we no longer have it at our fingertips and within earshot.

This is life in a single moment. All that matters.

Just when you think a page has been turned in the book- the memory book, that is- life has you go back to revisit what makes your heart full, brings you peace, and gives you the momentary reprieve, reassurance, and validation you need.

I hadn’t heard my name, my given name anyway, cross his lips in many months. And tonight, as he has just begun to turn the corner on a bout with pneumonia and was well enough to have an ice cream sundae, he said it, meant it, and knew me. Really knew me. I felt it with every fiber of my being. I’ve never liked my name that much until this evening.

Listen closely after I ask him if he’s ready.

Don’t call me a wonderful daughter. I don’t need praise. I’m just sharing this with you because every single one of us needs to know that individually we can make a difference and that one brief, fleeting moment can make all the difference in our own lives.

This is what is called a savorable memory.

❤❤❤

Erma to the Rescue

Today the full sun isn’t drawing any lines. Sylvia’s feeling everything at once. Erma’s just arrived to help provide the guide lines. Guide lines not guidelines.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. ~Erma Bombeck

#breathe

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.)

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