This Woman Who Showed Me the Way~

I don’t write about my mom too often. Not because she wasn’t important to me but because, since Chuck’s death, all I can think about is him, and my life without him.

I’ve always known that I inherited some very clear traits from my mom. She passed along her love of reading to me. Her inability to suffer fools gladly…that she got from her mom. Her sense of humor.

This morning I realized I got a trait from her that I’ve not given much thought to, but one that looms large in my life. The one that has brought me to where I am, 6 years after the death of the man who was my life.

Betty Catharine, my mom, passed along to me the tenacity, the determination, the grit, that has kept me grounded and sane, to the degree that I can claim any sanity at all.

My mom, Betty Catharine, was an active alcoholic for most of my growing up years. There were some rough years, especially in high school.

She got sober, cold turkey, on the day my younger brother Kysa was diagnosed with cancer, and set about making amends (without calling them such) to her eight kids.

How she managed to get sober on her own, without medical intervention, after 30+ years of heavy drinking, I don’t know how she didn’t suffer delirium tremens or anything life threatening, and she never spoke of it, but she did it and stayed sober until she died one and a half years later, of breast cancer. Six months after Kysa died of Hodgkins cancer.

Honestly, as I’ve grown and matured, in the years since mom’s death, I’ve come to know her in more ways than I knew her during her life. As milestones have come and gone in my life that were nothing in degrees to what she’d gone through, I’ve wondered about how she got through the challenges in her life.

She was an Army wife at a time when the military did a bare minimum in supporting families, moving, as she said often, 29 times in 30 years. She had eight children born in 5 states and 3 overseas, and was always either pregnant or had just given birth with many of those moves. My dad frequently reported for duty ahead of her so she’d be in charge of kids, supervising packers/movers, adapting to new homes/countries, knowing nobody, far away from family.

I don’t wonder at all that she took up drinking. The family story is that she went to a doctor for stress (this was in the 50’s) and he told her to have a drink of sherry each evening after the kids were in bed.

She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who, in adulthood, converted to Catholicism. She was a nurse. She was the most intelligent, well read person I’ve ever met. She never remembered the punchlines of jokes. She had a droll sense of humor. She adored the royal family and, the older she got, the more like Queen Elizabeth she looked. She left me notes on my pillow as a young teen and called me every morning at 7:30 AM after I left home, cluing me in on political news and encouraging me to call the White House comment line to express my opinion. She’d given me the phone number and I kept it next to my phone on an index card.

She loved me the best she knew how and gave me what she had to give me, in spite of her struggles.

And what she gave me the most of was the grit and tenacity and determination that made her keep standing up when she was knocked down. She never gave in, in spite of what my young eyes saw growing up.

My mom was more than her alcoholism, and it didn’t take me long after her death to realize that.

I’ve no regrets, no blame. Only Love and the heartwarming memory of sitting at the kitchen table with her and my younger sister, Maggie, sharing Hollywood gossip, family stories, politics, everything under the sun, while laughing over our coffee or diet pepsi, in the last year and a half that I had with her, sober and loving and joyful, holding her hand over her mouth when she was doubled over with laughter.

My mom, Betty Catharine, gave me everything I would need as an adult, and it was my privilege to call her mom.

I hope, this Mother’s Day, that, if she is somewhere…and she believed in Heaven so I’ll picture her there…that she has found Chuck, and I hope that they share a hug with each other, from me, the woman who loved them both. Who loves them both so much, still.

I miss you, mom. Thank you for who you were.

What you gave me has helped me continue standing up again and again.

And I always will.

Just like you did~

The Process of Uncovering~

My daughter and I are in Ashland, Oregon.  Last night we went to the Whiskey Room in nearby Medford to listen to our friend Dani sing.  She has a voice of gold.

The last time I heard her sing was with Handsome Husband and we were at a dance club with a group of our daughter’s friends.  He and I closed the place down, spinning to almost every tune.  That night was exhilarating and romantic for us-we were in our element.  Last night, in this different club, Dani dedicated a song to him.  As the band played I could picture he and I swirling around the room, his strong hand covering mine.

Rachael and I have been on the road for just over a week now, making our way up the California coast.  Our first year of travel, Handsome Husband and I traveled these very roads, thrilled with the discovery of northern California and the Pacific Northwest.  His show of excitement was always much more subdued than mine.  Primarily what he loved was seeing me so thrilled and knowing that he’d been the creator of that.   Now we’re traveling those roads with me a widow, our daughter grieving the absence of her dad.

Layer upon layer will be stripped away as we travel this Odyssey of Love.  There are depths to this for both she and I that we will only know afterwards, after these 6 months are behind us.

I’m deeply grieving in a way that other widows will recognize, as I stand on the beaches where he and I stood, raise my eyes up to the magnificence of the Redwoods, as he and I did.  10314701_690329767688627_5864217604970271625_n Now I’m maneuvering my pink car around the switchbacks of Route 1 but on the dash I have a picture of him as he drove and my eyes are continually drawn to that.  collage

Our daughter stands in the places where her dad stood  and hears my stories and imagines it through his eyes now, connecting with him in a new way.  He loved the life we lived on the road.  He lived his dream in our years of adventure.   If he could see us doing this now he’d be both impressed and not surprised.  He knew the women in his life.  He knew our strength.

She’s making memories to carry with her after I die.  Yes, we’ve had those intense conversations already.  Not because we’re morbid but because they are conversations that must happen between parent and child.  I will not ever leave my kids wondering about disposition of my belongings, about my end-of-life intentions, about financial matters, simply because I don’t want to have that conversation.  She and I have spoken in-depth and the conversation will continue as we spend this time together.  I hope she will be able to look back on this Odyssey and remember not only what she experienced, but will take away an example of healthy grieving.  I can already see her growing into.  (No, that isn’t an incomplete sentence-that is a descriptor).  I am also growing into.  I don’t know into what and it doesn’t matter.   The woman I was with my husband disappeared one year and two months and a few days ago.  That life with him burned to ashes, the same as his body in the crematorium.

There is nothing easy about this road we’re on, but that’s okay and there is no melodrama involved.  It simply is what it is.  I needed to do this for my grief.  I need to drive headlong into it-that’s who I am.  Nothing beautiful was ever born from easy.

And there is so much beauty out here.  Seriously.

FWG rising.

Every minute of every day.

 

One Week

1908022_686124304775840_8575168731822894139_nIt’s been one full week on this Nothin’ But Love tour. Our first night was spent boon-docking off a forest road just outside of Sedona, AZ. The crickets chirped and the stars were bright. A hot air balloon greeted us in the early morning as it landed by our campsite. Camping for me typically involves not much more than a tent and perhaps a hammock. This new form of glamping (as “they” call it) is so up my alley. Night two in Dewey, AZ welcomed us with a home cooked dinner, storytelling, hula hooping, and a glorious view. Our hosts were warm and generous. The third night took us to a Flying J in Barstow, CA where I had a surprising solid night of sleep. Days 4, 5, and 6 put us in Morgan Hills, CA at USVA Pines RV Park where green vineyards, rolling hills, and tall trees kept us company. It also gave us some time to rest (sort of) and catch up with friends and family who lived in the area and brought with them so much love and many hugs- all of which keep us moving forward on this Odyssey of Love. One more long day north up the Pacific Coast Highway filled with winding roads, a fog covered ocean, and floral dotted cliffs finally brought us to our landing place in Fort Bragg, CA where we treated ourselves to a hot meal and comfy hotel room.

This first week has brought with it a wide range of emotions. Memories take hold and plop a smile across my face as I remember times traveled with my husband. Familiar places fill my heart with love for him. Other moments warm my heart but also tug at its strings as my mom and I happen upon places that she and my dad visited in their first year of travel. It helps me to know and feel closer to my dad as I stand in view of the very same sites he set his eyes upon in times past, but with that comes the grief of knowing that he will no longer hold my mom’s hand as the adventure continues. I also find myself wondering if my mom ever feels out of breath when she turns to look towards the drivers seat and finds me sitting there in place of my dad. Needless to say, it’s been an emotional roller coaster. 10491221_10153133209695400_8993084184656114303_n

I also miss my husband. It’s only been a week so it’s relatively easy to pretend I am simply on a short trip and will return home soon. The days come and go with gentle ease, as they are filled with many distractions. But as the lights go out, I climb into bed, and the sounds of night take over the bustle of the day, I miss him. I miss his arms around me. I wear his college sweatshirt to bed every night and shall until I can crawl up next to him again. He and I have always enjoyed falling asleep wrapped up in each other. It is a place I feel safe and oh so loved. It gives me the tiniest glimpse of the life that my mom is now forced to lead. This is a trip that I chose to do voluntarily, and one that he has been supportive of from day one. He and I both knew that this was something that I just needed to do with my mom. I have no regrets about that but that doesn’t make it any easier. I have left behind all comforts and everything that I know for 6 months to hit the open road. The only thing that I do know is that this adventure is being led by intuition and nothin’ but love.

 

So, what is to become of my life at the end of this time on the road? I have no idea and am completely ok with that. I will be a changed woman at the end of this particular experience- of that I am sure. I am moving forward with an open heart and allowing my world to unfold before me. And you know what? It’s kind of beautiful.