Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 1

Every year I mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing by writing her a letter.  For the past two years I’ve published excerpts of those letters online to model healing and vulnerability, and hopefully to inspire others to do the same.  Those posts still rank among the most popular posts I’ve written.

JVB TributePreparing to Write

This year’s letter, written on the eve of the 4th anniversary of her passing, was just as hard to write as the few before.  I warned my family days in advance that I would need some time to myself to do this annual practice.  I had hoped to get away and work on the tribute scrapbook I started after her passing, but those plans fell through as well.

My family went out for the evening leaving me alone with my laptop and Zoe, our miniature Schnauzer and my faithful companion.  In the past I had written her about the changes I was going through internally, and the decision I made to take medication for my ADHD.  The latter decision was only possible because I had finally dealt with my fears of medication due in part to what I witnessed in her lifelong struggle with mental illness and psychiatric drugs.

What to Write About

This year, I pondered why I was writing her again.  Was it a healthy thing to do—write a letter to a deceased person?  I knew that letter writing was a good tool for healing.  I used it before in my spiritual and recovery related classes.  But what was the purpose in writing an annual letter?  I sat with that indecision briefly, prayed about what was on my heart, and proceeded to pen my longest letter yet to my mother.  (It seems I had a lot to say!)

Our happy family, before mom’s nervous breakdown, circa 1964.

Growing up without the emotional stability and attachment from my mother has left me longing in many areas of my life.  I’ve gotten some of those maternal needs met through my Sisters in Christ and my long journey to love with my stepmother as well.  Questions still linger though that are specific to my family of origin and what I didn’t get from her.

For instance, my mother spent many years seeing a psychiatrist.  She never shared what happened in those sessions.  I do know it was something that she looked forward to every week.  I’ve re-entered the therapeutic process myself to deal with the effects of my ADHD and to support my son’s similar struggles.  I too have come to look forward to those weekly visits and have more empathy for what my mother must’ve been going through.  I imagine it was her lifeline, as my counseling sometimes feels like it is for me.

Reading my Letter

I chose to read my letter to my counselor and ask her my nagging question:  “Is this healthy?”

She loved my question and enjoys watching how I am integrating the challenges I am facing as I come to terms with my ADHD.  Her response to my question was a resounding “yes!”  She went on to explain how my letters are catalysts for continued healing from my mother wound (by offering my forgiveness) and is bringing great revelation into who I am as a person (and connecting it to my mother).  Those were welcome words to someone who at times feels like I am walking around in a state of disequilibrium.

The main point I finished my letter with was how my mother’s faith changed mine as well:

“The faith steps that I took to minister to you in your final months, and to bury you, gave me such a depth of trust in the Lord.  It brought me back to Him in ways that I wouldn’t have possibly considered in the past.

It led me to Spain (and France), not just to meet Rosa and see the sights, but to pray for His people there.  He prepared me for that and met me there…

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

…If I have any legacy or fruit of righteousness that will grow in those countries, you will have it too.  Your faith planted the seeds for me.  I hope you are privy to that now and have a glimpse into what lies ahead for the Church. 

…Thank you Mom for your faith, for investing in me when I was young, and fighting the good fight until the end.  Your story is important.  I pray that in time, I can share it to a larger audience, and that it inspires others to embrace forgiveness and healing so that they too may live with the eternal Hope that comes from Above.

Love,
Ardis”

In Part 2 of this post series, I’ll address other benefits of this annual practice and introduce you to another author who has been doing this for over 30 years.

Super Bowl 49: Dealing with the Agony of Defeat

I stayed up late into the night after my husband went to sleep on Super Bowl Sunday.  I surfed the internet and flipped the channels on the TV remote control for any news I could possibly find to help console me.  As strange as it may sound, I was grieving the loss suffered by our hometown heroes, the Seattle Seahawks, in Super Bowl 49.

SB49 score

It was heartbreaking!  With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted by the New England Patriots’ wide receiver Malcolm Butler on the 1-yard line.  The game was over.

Final score: Patriot’s 28, Seahawks 24!

Grieving the Loss

Shock, disbelief and disappointment filled the homes and hearts of the ’12s’, loyal Seahawks fans, across the city, the state, the nation, and the world.

Facebook was filled with posts from friends who were disappointed.  Most of them were also filled with gratitude for our team and the amazing season they gave us.  Some were quick to jump on the bandwagon of questioning the last call and why the ball was not given to Marshawn Lynch—letting their frustrations out on Facebook.  That play and that decision will be debated for years—and probably never forgotten.

MLynch SB49 comment

I didn’t feel like writing after Sunday’s game like I did two weeks ago, or like I did after last year’s Super Bowl game.  I was too numb and in a state of shock.  My emotions were also in a bit of a roller coaster.  At one point, I even wondered if I was living in some sort of dream.  Did that really just happen?

I soon realized I was rapidly experiencing the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  They are not just stages that we go through over the loss of a loved one.  It is what we experience in any type of significant or unexpected loss.

High Hopes for a Victory

I guess I had some pretty high hopes around that game.

Why was that?  The Seattle Seahawks have a great team of talented players and coaches.  That is for sure.  It was also their never give up attitude, their optimism, and how they connected as a team—like a band of brothers.  More than that though, it is because this team commanded such a high regard for its fan support (the 12s) and they openly shared about their faith in God.

RSherman tweet

I’m sad for the Seahawks players.  I’m sad for the community.

I’m also incredibly proud of the national spotlight that this team has brought to our city.  I’m proud of the sense of unity and passion that has been ignited in our community.

Facing our Failures

Naturally in the post-game interviews, the players were somber.  Yet I also saw tremendous courage, dignity, and humility as responsibility was taken for the plays and decisions made in the game.

The Seattle Seahawks are a class act.  (Yes, I saw the mini-brawl on the field.  Bruce Irvin was quick to apologize to the press and on social media.)

Two weeks ago in the NFC Championship game, the Seahawks stopped the Green Bay Packers from stealing the game and our 12th man joy.  On Super Bowl Sunday, it was the New England Patriots who ‘stole’ the game from us with their miraculous interception.  (Some might say that it was karma, but I don’t believe in that.)  We weren’t cheated out of a victory like in 2006 when the referees made some very questionable calls.  This was a fair loss.

Nonetheless, it was deflating; and it robbed the 12s of their much anticipated joy.

What do we do after a defeat of this magnitude?  Do we hide and lick our wounds?  Or do we stand tall and move forward facing the challenges that surround us?

RWilson FB post

How we move on with life through the trials and tribulations is what shapes us, defines us, and builds our character.  From what I’ve seen of our Seahawks, I believe they will persevere this storm and come back even stronger.

God is Still Good

The Seahawks gave us both the incredible thrill of victory and the painful agony of defeat.  And they are still winners who are worthy of our 12th man support, on and off the field.  They are leaders and heroes!

Thank you Seattle Seahawks for such an exciting season of football, for playing your hearts out, for bringing pride to our community, and for displaying grace under fire.

Whether we win or lose, God is still good!

Remembering Wanda

The community of women that I scrapbook with lost our fearless leader Wanda rather suddenly earlier this month.  Going out in style, Wanda passed away on National Scrapbook Day.  She had just laid her husband to rest a few months earlier after serving as his primary caregiver for several years.  We were all looking forward to this new season of Wanda’s life, where she could rest and relax.  But that wasn’t part of God’s plan.

Remembering Wanda 01

A toast to our courageous cheerleader!

Celebrating Wanda

Today I will be attending Wanda’s memorial service.  But a few weeks ago, one of her best friends, and a fellow scrapbooker, opened her home to our scrapbooking community, Wanda’s Croppers, to celebrate Wanda and to share stories of her life.  It was a beautiful evening with wonderful food accompanied by a champagne toast to her.

We all shared stores about Wanda going back as far as 40 years when she first met her husband, although most of us met her in the past two decades.  Tears and laughter intersected as we grieved and celebrated her life.

The Art of Scrapbooking

As a writer who is also passionate about scrapbooking, my blog has become a reflection of both crafts.  I spend time searching out just the right image, captioning them when needed and writing stories that I hope inspire and intrigue others.  My scrapbooks aren’t just photos stuck to a page; they are stories and works of art.  These creative endeavors go hand in hand for me.  So Wanda shows up in a small way every time I publish a new post.

Digital scrapbooking page courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Digital scrapbooking page at a retreat with Wanda, courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Wanda was a courageous, caring and Godly woman who inspired us to share our legacy and family heritage through the art of scrapbooking.  Her legacy touched hundreds if not thousands of people as the passion of storytelling through digital and handmade scrapbooks will be passed down for generations to come.  She left a mark on us all.

A Tribute to Wanda

When Wanda’s croppers got together a few weeks ago, I wrote my thoughts down on paper in advance.  Below is my tribute to Wanda from what I shared that night.  I hope it gives you some inspiration to consider your legacy and treasure the moments you have with those you love.

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Pedro’s scrapbook inscription.

“Pedro, May this book serve as a remembrance of the wonderful adventures we shared together in 2010 and mark the start of a summer filled with wonder and awe.  Remember—that is what the Lord tells us to do—not to live in the past, but to give us hope for the future and to keep us grounded in His promises.  I hope this book serves as a spiritual marker of the wonderful things that God has in store for us if we are open to His leading.”

That is an inscription that I wrote on the inside cover of a digital scrapbook that I gave to Pedro after the first summer he spent with our family.  How I toiled over that album.  It was my first one with the Creative Memories software.  I was rushing at the last minute to upload the files hours before my precious coupon would expire on New Year’s Eve.  And Wanda helped me all along the way as she did with subsequent albums as well.

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Always at ease behind the camera, and planning that next scrapbooking page in our minds.

That is what Wanda was all about, helping us to preserve our memories—and our stories.  So tonight I want to share with you some of my memories of Wanda and what she meant to me.

First of all, I have to admit that the news of her passing hit me pretty hard—surprisingly so.  I didn’t consider myself close friends with Wanda like many of you here are.  But I greatly admired her.  She was a kind and giving soul.

When Pedro’s CD was released, she was one of the first to buy it.  She told me how much she enjoyed playing it on her drives over the mountains.  She let me play Pedro’s music and sell it at the crops and retreats.  The same was true with my book.

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CD and book display at one of Wanda’s crops.

I’ll never forget attending her first Open House when she returned back to Western Washington.  She took time out of the event to sit down with me and tell me how moved she was by my story.  She actually apologized for not saying something to me sooner.  No apology was needed.  But she wanted me to know.  She wanted to have that connecting time.

When Creative Memories (CM) filed for bankruptcy, I reached out to Wanda to pray for her and for the business.  I knew it was her passion and financial provision.  None of us wanted CM to close its doors, and we didn’t want Wanda to be cut off from her livelihood.  I knew what it was like to be a CM consultant.  Back when I started scrapbooking, I signed up to be a CM consultant for a few years.

She worked hard at her business.  A former teacher, she was the perfect consultant—always doing crop talks and teaching us new tricks and tips.  There was never any hard sell or pressure.  She was just interested in keeping us motivated to keep working on our scrapbooks.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Wanda was our leader—a cheerleader to be more exact.  She fed us, wined us, dined us, and nurtured the parts of us that connected to our families or whatever scrapbooking project we were immersed in.  She knew it was important to us and she made it important to her too.

My heart aches for the loss of this woman and the community of memory keepers that she mentored and invested in in sacrificial ways.  She will be missed in so many ways by her family and friends.  But this group of women will miss her in an entirely different way with a grief that will connect us beyond tonight and beyond Wanda’s public memorial.

Every time we get together again to scrapbook Wanda will be there in spirit.  It will be hard to not notice that empty void that she once filled.  We unexpectedly got a glimpse into that in February as we gathered at a retreat while Wanda was caring for her husband who had just been put on hospice.  He died a few days later.  We never imagined that this would soon be her fate as well.

Wanda's granddaughter

Wanda’s newborn granddaughter.

I thank God that He took her in such a beautiful way, how He timed her departure to be with her husband so quickly, and to see her first grandchild days before she passed away.  The time between those few hours when we got the shocking news of her cancer and her passing were surreal to me.  It was hard to pray for her when I knew all hope was gone for her recovery.  But I prayed for her family and what they were all going through.  And then her son gave us all a gift when he posted her tribute on Facebook hours after she passed away.  It was as if God wrapped it up with a bow Himself.

Tonight, I’m very grateful that this gathering was planned for us so that we can openly celebrate and grieve the loss of this friend who was so passionate about life, about her family, about her faith, and also about scrapbooking.  I know she is looking down from above at us now.  I think she is probably taking photos of the entire event and planning a 2-page spread that she can show off to her new friends in heaven.  So let’s all stop, look up, and smile for her camera one last time.

Save us a place at the crop in heaven Wanda!  We miss you!

Remembering Wanda 06

Wanda’s Croppers

Today’s memorial service will be surreal once more to be together with Wanda’s Croppers and not have her there with us.  I think it will bring us together in a way that maybe scrapbooking couldn’t—in our shared grief.  Some of us will create scrapbooking pages in tribute to her.  I am choosing to write and craft this tribute to her.

In closing, I’m sharing with you the same scripture I inscribed on Pedro’s scrapbook:

He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.  Psalm 111:4

Wanda was one of those wonders we will always remember.

This post is happily shared with Christian Mommy Blogger/Felllowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

In Search of a Mother’s Love

There is a hunger inside of me sometimes.  We are all born with it—the desire for love and relationship.  From an early age we are taught in life how and who fills that need.  It is generally filled by our parents.  In most cases, the responsibility falls on the mother.  But what if that mother isn’t equipped to take on that role or isn’t capable of bonding with the child?  What happens to the inner need?

Longing for LoveThe Longing for Love

The need doesn’t go away; we just find other ways to fill that emptiness and hunger for love and relationship—in either healthy or unhealthy ways.  I didn’t know that or understand the affects that my mother’s mental illness had on me until about ten years ago when my unhealthy ways of relating and compulsive behaviors finally caught up with me.

I’ve done a lot of healing work and spiritual growth in that last decade.  I now serve in a ministry where I can come alongside others who are also struggling with the hurts from the past and seeing themselves as God sees them.  Even though I know with my whole heart that Jesus came to give me life and ultimately fill my need for love, there are still times when life can get me down.

I still have a longing to be known and to know others.  It is a longing for deep relationship.  It is the search for a mother’s love that was lost.

Looking for Love

I’ve lived my whole life this way—being self-sufficient without close siblings and without involvement and emotional attachment from my parents.  I didn’t know what I was missing because I didn’t experience it.  Now, after a decade of healing and recovery work, I know.  I know because I have started to more intensely experience the loss of the women in my life who helped me to heal.

michelle-ventor-reason-season-lifetime1When I started recovery, I had virtually no female friends—only a few through work.  I didn’t know how to be a real friend.  As I started my recovery journey, I observed real authentic vulnerability in other women.  I was hungry for that.  I let down my walls and embraced this new way of relating.  There was freedom gained by not being a secret or thinking that I was the only one who experienced that depth of pain.

Those bonds formed felt sacred to me.  They became my mother, my sisters and my daughters.  Those relationships have been hard to let go of over the years.  Insert the ever increasing presence of social media, and I begin to wonder who my friends really are.  Do I want quality in my relationships or do I want quantity?  I choose quality, but that has its cost too, as it’s hard to fit in the time to maintain the intimacy.

Missing my Mother

Mother’s Day 2014 marks four years since I last saw my mother alive.  Her passing and end of life forgiveness poured love back into me in a whole new way—her love and God’s love.  And still the loss of never getting to know her as a person keeps me searching at times for the love and mentoring of a mother.  My inner child (my little Ardis) still longs for my real mother’s love.

look_into_the_mirrorI wish I could’ve had more time with her.  She’s generally not far away though.  If I slow down long enough to look for her, she stares back at me in the mirror, smiles, and tells me that she loves me.  The knowledge and hope that I will see her again in eternity makes the longing fade into the distance once more.

May your Mother’s Day be filled with the love of your family or other important people in your life.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

A Love Letter to Mom & Annual Tribute

I’ve come to annually mark the passing of my mother by writing her a letter.  This year I was at my annual winter scrapbooking retreat amongst friends—just like I was the day before I got word of my mother’s passing in 2011.  Again I was working on my mother’s tribute album.

Tribute AlbumSetting the Stage to Write

Three years later this scrapbook remains part of my healing process as it retraces my steps before and after she died—the visits back home, meeting with her health care providers, making end-of-life decisions, giving her eulogy, and burying her remains.  It is the visual story that was eventually published in Journeys to Mother Love.  It is a beautiful tribute album—not necessarily for others’ eyes, but something between my mother and me.

This year the anniversary letter was harder to write than last year.  After my arrival at the retreat, I was told that Wanda, the woman who has organized and run these retreats over the years, wasn’t going to be joining us.  Her husband who suffered with Parkinson’s had taken a turn for the worse and was put on hospice.  His end of life was very near.  It hit us all by surprise, and gave us an opportunity to privately lift her in prayer and share our own feelings about this sad turn of events.

Final goodbyesFor me the timing hit too close to home as our discussion turned to end-of-life decisions and the role women often provide in caring for our loved ones.  On the outside I was listening to the conversation, but in my mind I was back at my mother’s side caring for her at the nursing home on one of my visits back home.  It was as if my bittersweet memories from before were now being lived out by Wanda and her family.  Sadly, her husband passed away a few days later.

Embracing the Grief

It was in that context of grief, that my letter to my mother freely flowed through my fingers to the keyboard, and with it a few well-earned tears.  I know my mom can’t physically answer my letter, but something tells me she’ll find a way to let me know she received it.

Below is an excerpt of that letter.  I hope it inspires you to do the same for someone you love—past or present—and let your healing turn to hope.

Mom and kidsA Love Letter to Mom

“Dear Mom,

I admire your perseverance. You lived a long life. Fate hit you a terrible blow when you suffered your nervous breakdown at the age of 35, and me as well, when I was six. Our journeys to emotional healing both started that day.

Now 48 years later I am approaching mine in a new way, with a different battle plan in place. No more white-knuckling it. I am choosing to take medication (for my ADHD).

…Anyway, Mom, the point of all this is that your passing put all of the pieces together for me to even consider this route for me, and for my son (who also has ADHD).  I am now an advocate for him.  I am an advocate for myself.  I am learning more about ADHD and how to help both of us.

I don’t know what lies ahead for us as we journey down this road on medication.  I don’t know what it was like for you.  I’m saddened that I never got to talk to you about any of this.  I’m saddened that I didn’t get to know you as an adult.  I’m saddened I didn’t really get to know you.

But I wanted you to know that as horrible as your life was for so many years after the nervous breakdown, the divorce, in and out of mental hospitals, etc. that it has served to help me to fight for myself and my son now. I am more open to trying and exploring how I can lead a more normal life with the support of medication.  I am taking back control of my life and my emotional health.

So I thank you Mom for not leaving me a legacy of mental illness.  You left me a gift that I get to integrate into my life.  That gift is the gift of perseverance and hope in the Lord through all things. 

I know what I am going through is important and life changing.  I know there are many others like me who have also suffered in silence as they lived in the shadow of mental illness.

I love you Mom.  Thank you for persevering to the end and giving life back to me in the process.

Love,
Ardis”

Peace to you and your family Wanda, from your scrapbooking sisters.

Peace to you and your family Wanda, from your scrapbooking sisters.

Updated 6/1/2014: Wanda’s husband passed away a few days after the scrapbooking weekend. Through a sad turn of events, Wanda also passed away a few months later. Remembering Wanda is the tribute I wrote to our dear friend and scrapbooking mentor.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

A few days before Christmas, while in the throes of the holiday rush, I dedicated some rare bedtime reading to a book given to me by my friend Debbie.  The book was a short memoir by her sister, and best friend, Shelly, published posthumously.  Debbie lost her sister to cancer on Christmas Day last year.

I’ve watched Debbie bravely live beyond her grief, especially over the past few months while serving together in ministry.  It is in honor of Shelly’s memory and Debbie’s family grief that I am writing this post.

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

The Cancer that Saved Me*

Shelly’s book, “The Cancer That Saved Me,” is a chronicle of her 19-month journey through cancer treatment, from diagnosis to her passing.  I didn’t read it to learn about cancer treatment, although I did get a better understanding of the medical process, I read it to get a sense for what Debbie went through—as a way of identifying more with her grief.

I had also heard Debbie recount how Shelly was full of spirit and that her battle was having a profound effect on their family.  Shelly’s ability to lean on God was giving back to the family and giving them the courage and strength to be there for Shelly.

A few pages into Shelly’s book, I didn’t think I was going to be able to read it.  The Forward of the book gripped me.  Below is an excerpt:

“I no longer ask, ‘why me?’  I now say ‘thank you.’  I no longer feel sorry for myself.  I now feel ‘blessed’ for every day.  Through God’s grace, I am alive, and although my body may be broken, it was my spirit that was broken before I got cancer.  God has given me ‘time.’  I may have a little hiccup in my giddy up, but I amble along every day giving thanks for all my blessings.  Ironically, I did not see them when I was healthy.”

One of the things that struck me is her statement about God giving her time.  When I read that I think of how most people don’t know when or how we are going to leave this earth.  Shelly was given a gift of time to prepare—to be aware of the gift of life—to turn to the Lord with her remaining time, and to develop an attitude of gratitude and worship.  Yes, even in the face of death—or especially in the face of death.

DoveLeaving a Legacy

Life isn’t fair.  It doesn’t seem right for a 51 year-old woman who was full of life to be taken from her family so soon and in such short order.  But through it all, God’s purposes did prevail.  With Shelly’s passing and limited publishing of her story, she was able to leave a legacy greater than her love for animals and her family.

Shelly left a legacy of restoration in her heart, love for the Lord, and hope for the future.  Her renewed commitment to God helped her to face each day.  She knew she was not alone in her battle.  That gave her great peace.  I see that same legacy of God’s comfort and love in Debbie every time I see her because she proudly wears it and shares it as well.

We each have a date sometime in the future that the Lord will call us home to be with Him.  We can live our lives for ourselves, or we can live them for God, leaving a legacy that is full of His Light, His Love and His Hope.  Shelly did that, finishing well.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

We all long to be home for Christmas–to be with our earthly family and friends.  But it doesn’t always work out that way due to distance, finances, broken relationships, and more.  We also innately long for our heavenly home, where peace will reign.  Revelation 21:4 tells us it will be a place of no more mourning, or crying or pain.

On Christmas Day 2012, God got a beautiful present when Shelly joined Him in heaven.  Shelly got a gift too, as she was freed from the cancer that ravaged her body, and united with her heavenly Father.

On Christmas Day 2013, the family turned over the calendar of first-year milestones in their grief process.  Just like anyone who loses a friend or family member at Christmas time, their holidays will be filled with sorrow and hope.  Their grief will continue in invisible ways for years to come, dissipating over time.  Shelly’s final legacy will see them through it—and us as well, if we are open to living a life dedicated to following God.

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*“The Cancer that Saved me”, by Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, is not available online.  In lieu of payment for the book, donations are gladly accepted and forwarded to the Swedish Hospital Uncompensated Care Program/Oncology Department through her family.  There is a nominal charge of $4.50 for shipping.  You can request a copy or more information by contacting Debbie@gowise.org

A Grief That Can’t be Spoken

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain goes on and on.” No truer words were spoken with the loss of a child. Or sung. (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Les Miserables).

Journeys To Mother Love

When my birthday rolled around this year on November 22, I was reminded again of the significance of that day in history. It was on my fourth birthday in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and I remember it well.

I hadn’t heard the word “assassinate” before that day. The sorrow that gripped my family also gripped the nation. I didn’t like it. I wanted it to go away. But every day the television was awash in news stories as the nation prepared to bury our president.

Four days in history. Four days in mourning. Four days that shook our nation and the world, now commemorated 50 years ago.

My birthday link to the Kennedys left me with a fascination for this public family. I collected books and commemorative magazines over the years. The grief of the nation and the grief of the Kennedy family didn’t end with…

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JFK Assassination, One Girl’s Grief

You don’t have to be a history buff to know that Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (commonly referred to as JFK).  The magazine stands at the grocery check-out counter are filled with commemorative editions of that painful time in American history.  Television programs are airing with their historical accounts as well.

One of many magazines and books I've collected about JFK over the years, 1988.

One of many magazines and books I’ve collected about JFK over the years, 1988.

50 Years Ago in Dallas

It was a day that changed America; maybe not much different than the events of 9-11 are for this generation.  Kennedy’s assassination also marked the loss of a sense of safety and security in our lives.  It was a time when Americans came face to face with evil in our country—the first signs of terrorism on our soil, so to speak.

The assassination of JFK sent shock and grief into our nation and the world.  All eyes turned to America.  In 1963, television news wasn’t the 24/7 force that it is today.  It was in its infancy stages.  In fact, the first televised presidential debates were held between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960.

For four days in our nation’s history, November 22-25, 1963, people were glued to their television sets.  We watched clips of the unfolding of the story: the President’s body flying back to Washington DC, people filing past his body lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, the horse-drawn carriage of the flag-draped coffin slowly proceeding to Arlington National cemetery.

JFK, Jr. models courage and honor at the tender young age of 3 years old.

JFK, Jr. models courage and honor at the tender young age of 3 years old.

In the midst of this sorrow, we also watched the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin of JFK, by Jack Ruby on live television.  Then there was the emblazoned image of little 3-year old John F. Kennedy, Jr., saluting the coffin as it passed by in front of him.  It was definitely a grief that shook our nation.

50 Years Ago in Seattle

What if that day was also the much anticipated birthday of a bubbly 4-year old girl?  Maybe the grief of the nation was also the grief that shook this young girl who desperately desired and wanted the attention and love of her own parents.  Instead her wants and desires were overshadowed by the grief of our nation.

Kennedy's body lies in state--a grief that shook the nation.

Kennedy’s body lies in state–a grief that shook the nation.

What if the disappointments that surfaced on that day for that little girl went on to fuel and magnify other losses, and the belief that she was unimportant and unloved?  What if a few years later, that same little girl, watches as her mother is taken away after suffering a nervous breakdown?

What if she keeps longing for answers to what happened and why, but she doesn’t get resolution?  These are sad things to think about, for sure.  I know because that little girl was me.

Unanswered Questions?

I, like the rest of the world, will probably never know the real answer or motives behind what happened 50 years ago in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  Yet as my 54th birthday quickly approaches, I’m getting answers to some questions that my 4-year old Ardis has been longing to know.  It is a gift from above to finally get more clarity on my life and move forward with it.

Eternal flame and burial site of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery

Eternal flame and burial site of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery

So I look at the passing of another year’s reminder of the assassination of JFK through a different lens.  It is through the lens of someone who carries 11-22 as a joyful marker of her birth, while also still processing the reminders of a painful childhood.  I’m grateful that the Lord is giving me the ability to hold both of those realities in the palm of my hand and know that He is turning my healing into hope.

The Little Girl Inside

When I was a little girl, I was captivated by the movie, “The Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews.  Although I was only six years old at the time, I loved the music and knew all of the songs by heart.  It was one of the few movies I actually got to see in the theater.  Soon after its release, my mother had her nervous breakdown and we stopped going to the theater.

1965 movie soundtrack for "The Sound of Music"

1965 movie soundtrack for “The Sound of Music”

Our Home was Alive…with “The Sound of Music”

Pedro, our Spanish host son, played “The Sound of Music” on the piano in our home the first summer we met.  His interest in that music along with my love for the movie landed my family at an outdoor theater in the mountainous setting near Leavenworth, WA—a Bavarian themed village.  It was a gift for his 17th birthday and it was a bucket list item for me.

When Pedro played that music in our home, it awakened in me deep feelings from my childhood.  My father was a strict disciplinarian.  I grew up in fear of his anger and his belt.  He didn’t show his love or give us words of encouragement.

Watching “The Sound of Music” as an adult I can almost relate to how the Von Trapp family children were treated—standing at attention at the sound of a whistle, etc.  Captain Von Trapp, their father, treated them like they were soldiers in the military, not like his children.  When Maria, played by Julie Andrews, entered their lives, play became a normal part of their day.

Ever since my mother died almost three years ago, I have gotten in touch with the part of me that wants to come out and play—the part of me that says it’s ok to laugh, it’s ok to dance, and it’s ok to sing.  It’s a part of who I am, but for years thought it meant I was doomed to end up crazy like my mother.

The hills really were alive with the sound of music, Leavenworth, WA

The hills really were alive with the sound of music, Leavenworth, WA

Playtime in Spain

That playful and unabashed side of me turned up in Spain this past summer.  I lived it up, maybe more than I should’ve at times, but I didn’t want to have any regrets about this trip of a lifetime.

One of my most precious memories in Spain involved “The Sound of Music”.  I lived with my Spanish family in their vacation home on Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, for ten days at the end of my trip.  I had already broken the ice and felt more comfortable with Pedro’s younger cousins by this time.  (See Mothering Inadequacies.)

Sitting on the edge of the pool one afternoon, I watched some of the children swimming and diving.  All of a sudden, a few of the girls started to sing “Do Re Mi” in English.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  These children barely knew any English yet they were singing this wonderful song from the musical.

I took that as my cue to join with the sing-a-long.  They did a double take on my cue and delighted in my participation.  Unfortunately it was the only song that we both knew in English.  Nonetheless, it turned into a fun-filled adventure with them creating a theater (teatro) production with me as their poolside audience.

The stage is set for the children's poolside theater performance.

The stage is set for the children’s poolside theater performance.

Getting in Touch with my Inner Child

In years past, I might not have even noticed the urge to sing with the children.  If I did, I would’ve definitely fought it.  I felt free in a lot of ways while I was in Spain.  Was it because of the love and generosity of this family?  Or maybe it was just out of gratitude to my heavenly Father for giving me something so special in this moment of time.

My little girl is slowly being integrated into this adult body that I have.  She is learning that it is ok to take risks, to use her voice, to love more fully, and to sing without abandon (in worship or in the privacy of my home or car).

My inner child, circa 1966

My inner child, circa 1966

I’m giving her lots of room to experience the emotions of a turbulent childhood and to grieve the loss of a mother that she never really knew.  My tears and my laughter are a beautiful gift that I am giving myself as I embrace this new season of self-discovery.

What about you?  Have you gotten in touch with your inner child lately?  Are you experiencing all that God intends for your life?  Healing is just around the corner when you invite God into the process.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out. (Proverbs 20:5, NLT)

This post was shared on Create with Joy/Friendship Fridays.

Reclaiming Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day forever changed for me in May 2010. That was the last time I saw my mother alive.  It was also her last Mother’s Day.  Previous to that day I think the last time we were together on Mother’s Day was my senior year in high school—a span of 35 years.

Happy Mother's DaySeparated by Mental Illness

Over those many years Mother’s Day wasn’t something I looked forward to.  It was a day of obligatory cards or calls. She was remarried (again) and happy it seemed—that is until her husband died.  After that she drifted in and out of mental hospitals and eventually became a ward of the state.

I had tremendous guilt about my relationship with her.  I wanted a mother, but didn’t want her to be my mother.  Due to her mental illness and emotional instability she wasn’t able to teach me how to be a mother myself.  I had to figure it out on my own.  I didn’t hold that against her.  After all, I was pretty self-sufficient in those days.  I just accepted that she was mentally ill.  I chose to distance myself from her physically and emotionally and told myself it was for my own sanity.

Coming Together Again

My final Mother's Day gift to my mom

My final Mother’s Day gift to my mom

When mom had her stroke in 2009, God nudged me back by her side for two visits. The Lord was working on my heart on those trips.  As she lingered on hospice, living day to day with the aid of a feeding tube, God was making it clear His work wasn’t done between us yet.  That led me to that last visit on Mother’s Day 2010.

Between that trip—the last time I saw her alive—and the day she passed away nine months later, Pedro and Rosa, my Spanish family, entered our lives.  And the rest, as they say, is history—forever documented in Journeys to Mother Love.

Mother’s Day Reclaimed

Those first few Mother’s Days after she passed away were hard for me.  I deliberately spent them entrenched with my immediate family, to distract me from those painful reminders.  Now, I celebrate Mother’s Day with Rosa, as my kindred spirit of mother love—although it is one week earlier in Spain.

Mother's Day Gift of LifeAs strange as it may sound, I feel like every day is Mother’s Day to me now.  My mom’s death in February 2011 brought about a rebirth in me that forever changed the way I view my life and Mother’s Day.

It was as if her death brought me life, not because of any burden I was carrying of guilt or shame, as some might do.  It was because I got in touch with pieces of myself that were previously buried deep within me—parts of my identity that weren’t ok to express.   God revealed to me in her passing that I am beautifully and wonderfully made in ways like my mother that I couldn’t bear to embrace before.

So every day really is Mother’s Day to me, because of my gratitude to my mom, and to the Lord for giving me back my life.  I have reclaimed the real purpose of Mother’s Day in my life.  It is the incredible gift that mother’s give to everyone—the gift of life.

Regardless of the status of your relationship with your mother, my wish for you is a Mother’s Day that is filled with pleasant memories and gratitude to the one who gave you life.

Journeys To Mother LoveMore “Journeys to Mother Love” & Free Ebook

If this is the first time you’ve stumbled upon my blog, I encourage you to also check out journeystomotherlove.com, the blog hosted by Cladach Publishing, the publisher of Journeys to Mother Love.  This blog, dedicated to encouraging each other in mother/child relationship healing, is authored by the nine contributors to “Journeys to Mother Love”, and invites others to share their stories.

Now through Monday, May 13, 2013, get your free Kindle ebook of Journeys to Mother Love at Amazon.com.  Since this is free, after you’ve read the book, would you do me and my publisher a huge favor by writing a review? And don’t forget to subscribe, follow, like, pin, press this or share in your favorite social media!

May these stories inspire you on your journey to mother love.  Happy Mother’s Day!

  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

  • Returning to Spain

    Arrival on Spanish SoilApril 29th, 2018
    Vamos a España!
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