Wednesday, November 25, 2020

B7, Go to Heaven

Two years. That's how long it's been. 

It was fairly early on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. I was sitting on the couch, sipping my morning coffee. I wasn't thinking about Mom -- I knew I'd see her in a couple of hours. I took her to the bingo game at Village Shalom, most every Sunday. 

Then the phone rang and life changed. Her life was over. 

In the two years since Mom died, I've missed her every day. I've also made approximately 104 Sunday dinners, written a book, made international presentations, gained new clients, joined a book club, reclaimed my yoga practice, laughed a lot, and discovered the joy of watercolors. 

Simply put, I've kept going. I've gotten up and put one foot in front of the other, even on days when grief felt stronger than gratitude. Even on days when staying in bed felt like the better option. Even on days when the pandemic and politics and life in general made me want to not only stay in bed, but pull the covers over my head and hide. 

That's what we do, peeps. We keep going. You know why?

Because, we can. Because along with those dreadful days, and sometimes in the midst of them, there's unexpected joy and welcome laughter. 

We keep going because we're here. Because every single day gives us a chance to do something that makes our lives -- or someone else's life -- a bit better. 

When Mom died, the hardest moment for me came after the Jewish whirlwind of death and almost immediate funeral. The hardest moment was after we cleared out Mom's room at Village Shalom, and I went back up there the next day -- by myself, by my own request -- to wait for the facility management team to move her furniture out to our waiting truck. 

The almost empty room was heartbreaking enough; Mom had filled that room the way she filled my life -- with laughter and love and songs and silliness. With joy. But the emptiness didn't break me. It was the sympathy card the Village Shalom staff had left on Mom's bureau. 

More than a dozen people, including staff members I didn't even know, signed that card, sharing their love for Mom in special remembrances like these:

"I am going to miss Lillian and the way she sang thru life. I feel lucky to have known her."

"I looked forward to seeing Lillian every day coming to work, because she always sang songs, made up poems constantly & told many cute stories. She spoke in the sweetest manner & was always so encouraging. She was the kindest senior person I've ever met &. knew how to cheer everyone up."

"I will definitely miss Lil's smile, laugh, poems and saying, 'Delicious and nutritious!'"

"She was one amazing woman. I loved visiting her and listening to her stories. She encouraged me to visit the Golden Gate."

"I will greatly miss her. She was a bright light to my days."

Mom was 97 years old when she died. Nearly blind. Hard of hearing. Her memory was scattered and her mobility was limited. She still managed to get up every day and make the world better. 

If Lillian can do it, we can do it. 

In keeping with Jewish tradition, I have a yahrzeit candle burning for Mom today. But her bright light shines year-round. I see it in my brother and sister. In my daughters. My best friend. My husband. I see it in readers, who discover Lillian in my book, and take her life lessons to heart -- the emails and reviews and notes I've received in the year since the book was published mean more than I can say. 

On that day, two years ago, Kansas City had a rare blizzard -- it took the funeral home hours to arrive at Village Shalom. Tom and the girls and I walked alongside the attendant, accompanying Mom's body to the waiting hearse. The route took us by the Social Hall, where the Sunday bingo game was in full swing. 

We had to laugh, because we could all hear it -- the rhyme Mom said at that bingo game every Sunday, often repeatedly. "B7 -- go to heaven!" 

Bingo! I love you, Mom. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday Fun: Highly Recommended

When was the last time you wrote a thank you note to someone?

When was the last time you took a stroll, purposefully looking for reasons to be grateful? (Think autumn leaves, friendly neighbors, sunshine.)

When was the last time you heard a podcast that could truly change your life?

Do something wonderful for yourself today. Take a break, take a walk, take a moment. Listen to my friend Terri Hale talk about her gratitude project on the Highly Recommended podcast. Terri has achieved something I struggle with regularly -- she's consistent. And, over the years, her consistent devotion to feeling and expressing gratitude has repeatedly demonstrated the power to improve her life, and the lives of those around her, from family and friends to her dental hygienist. (Listen. You'll see.)

While you're online, check out some of the other interviews with host Michelle Rubin! Her fun-to-listen-to podcasts are geared toward finding joy and amplifying it. 

Gratitude. Joy. Friendship. It's Highly Recommended

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Creativity Tips: Take My Hand

When I was little and had a nightmare, Mom wouldn't let me tell her about it until after I had breakfast. Superstitious to the end, Mom would remind me that, "If you tell a dream before breakfast, it comes true."

Let me assure you, before you read this post, that I have already had breakfast. 

Last night, I dreamt that I was taking a trip with Mom and we were running late for the plane. There was no way we were going to make it, and I couldn't find my shoes or my passport or something. The girls were trying to help, but they didn't know what to do. Tom had bought some special gift for me to take, and I didn't have time to look at it. 

We only had 20 minutes to get to the gate at the airport, we hadn't left the house yet, we still needed to pick up Mom. There was no way we could get there in time, and yet ... I was still determined to try. 

Earlier in the week, I dreamt that the current president had baked something, and it wasn't good. I was trying to fix it. I was pulling out all the baker tricks at my disposal, but nothing helped. The president was remarkably calm about my inability to fix his mistakes. And, suddenly it occurred to me that since I couldn't fix what I had, I needed to bake my grandmother's pumpkin bread. If I did that, everything would be OK. 

There are more, but I'll spare you. And, yes. I know Freud would have a field day with all of this. 

I also know that my dreams, my anxieties, aren't unique. Based on the conversations I've had with friends lately, tensions remain high. People are twitchy. The election is over but the political fighting continues, the pandemic numbers are climbing, winter is closing in, Thanksgiving will be different -- the reasons for our collective stress are real. 

Here's what I want you to do: Breathe. Really breathe. Deep breaths, in and out, throughout the day. Your brain has enough going on without being oxygen deprived. 

Once you're oxygenated, I want you to do a few more things:

  1. Back away from social media. "There's nothing to see here, folks. Nothing to see." Social media is a train wreck in motion, and it's hard to look away. Fortunately, you can do hard things. I'm not saying give it all up, simply back away. If you want to stay informed without being alarmed, I strongly suggest following Jessica Yellin on Instagram. Her #NewsNotNoise approach is insightful, factual, and reassuring. I've also become a fan of the Morning Briefing from the Associated Press

  2. Look Up. Focus on the people right in front of you. I recently had coffee with a friend I hadn't seen since the pandemic started, and had to remind her that, "Facebook will still be here in 30 minutes. I won't be." Our obsession with the news of the moment is completely understandable, but this news cycle will pass. And, even with masks, we can make eye contact with the people right in front of us, we can give each other the stress-relieving gift of attention. We can talk about the colors of autumn or the power of poetry, rather than politics. We can give each other a much-needed break. 

  3. Plan ahead for happiness. Thanksgiving is one of the best days of the year for our family -- it's the one time of the year we all gather together. I get up early to start cooking, and make the same recipes every year -- mashed potatoes, corn casserole, the Harness family dressing, Mom's Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing. (Stuffing goes in the bird, peeps. Dressing does not.) Canned cranberry sauce for me and my nephew Cary. Too much turkey. Too many desserts. Hot rolls.

    This year, the family won't get together because we love each other and there's a freakin' pandemic underway. Yesterday, I moped about that. Today, I'm planning ahead for a happy Thanksgiving. And that's where you come in!

Raise Your (Turkey) Hand
Since my extended family won't be together at Thanksgiving -- and therefore won't be drawing on the traditional turkey hands -- I hope you'll play along! Trace your hand, cut it out, color it in, and send it to me! Tell me what you're thankful for, what makes you happy. Tell me how grateful you are for ... whatever. 

Taking a moment to be creative, to proactively reset a few synapses, to share joy and gratitude, is a healthy step forward. 

You've already helped, by reading this post. I'll sleep better tonight, imagining us holding (turkey) hands and moving forward, together. 

From Amber, 2017! Yep. I keep them.