Joy in Family

Today is my Momma’s birthday.  I sat on my front porch this morning, enjoying my coffee and the rain pouring down.  I started reflecting on my Momma, my childhood and the joy I felt surrounded by my family.  

We grew up poor, so we made our Christmases special with homemade ornaments, building snowmen and the occasional snowball fight.  We cut strips of construction paper to make garland or if we were lucky enough to have popcorn, we used that instead.  We searched our belongings for possible gifts to give each other.  We wrapped the gifts in newspaper or brown paper grocery bags with love for the person who would receive it.

We survived “The Great Blizzard of 1978”.

My siblings, our friends and I had so much snow to play in. We doubled up our clothing and using socks as mittens, we headed out. Boy did we play! Boxes in tote, to use as sleds, we trudged upwards to conquer the snow-covered hills. One of my favorite memories that year was when my little brother and I built an igloo and used it as a cover for a massive snowball fight with our other siblings and friends.

We would come home frozen and hungry.  My Momma would help us out of our snow drenched clothing, give us warm towels to wrap around our feet and serve us whatever meal she had ready for us to eat.  I can still hear her yelling at us for not “coming home sooner because we almost got frost bite on our fingers and toes.”

 As an adult, I wanted the Christmas holiday to always be a special time for our family, and it was.  One Christmas, my daughter, Sabrina was coming home from Korea with her family.  It didn’t take me two seconds to start planning, “The Best Christmas Ever”.

I thought back to my childhood Christmases and the homemade ornaments and knew that would be my theme for this celebration.  I contacted the family and we all started participating online.  Before you knew it, we had our menu planned, we had rented a cabin in the snow, and made plans to cut our own tree.  It was truly going to be an old-fashioned Christmas.

I’ve always enjoyed crafting and all my children and grandchildren enjoyed it as well. I taught them to crochet, sew, paint and create things from their own imaginations as my grandmother and mother had taught me. So, what better time for everyone to bring their skills to the table.

All the family members began creating their contributions to the tree decorations. .  

Some of our creations:

Of course, we wanted to incorporate some crafting togetherness, so we held an online contest on which ornament we would make at the cabin. The most likes would win.

And the winner was:

This guy

It was a delight to see the ornaments hanging on our “Charlie Brown” tree. And it really did turn out to be a beautiful tree.

That year truly was “The Best Christmas Ever”.  Yes, we made homemade Christmas ornaments, we read books, played hilariously and fun inside games, went sleigh riding and inner-tubing, had snowball fights and built a snowman.  We cooked together and ate wonderfully delicious foods.  We laughed!  We loved!

Today’s my Momma’s birthday.  It’s been raining all day.  This afternoon, I sat on my front porch, watching the rain pouring down and the fog roll in, enjoying a cup of tea with my husband. 

It’s funny how the rain makes you feel so many different emotions.  Today, I miss the joy of my family, and I especially miss my Momma.

Silent Screams and a Snowman

How will I ever find joy again after receiving that devastating phone call?  The phone call that informed me that my beautiful daughter, had taken her own life! Or had she?    All I could do was scream…and I did….over and over and over again.  I still scream today, three years later, only silently ….. Silent Screams…..

The fall and winter of 2016 was full of funeral preparations, travel and overwhelming sadness. We traveled to Arlington National Cemetery and laid her to rest on December 7th; so many people, so many tears. I felt like a zombie,… numb,… just going through the motions. I kept telling myself that I had to be strong, be that oak tree, keep it together, hold back the tears, wait until your alone to cry. “Thank you for coming”…..

After the police investigation and several Army investigations, there are still too many unanswered questions for me to completely accept it.  Time discrepancies, conflicting statements, why didn’t they get her phone records? Are all questions that will forever trouble me.  But, the one question that haunts me is “Why?

Suicide is such a personal death.  It shreds the very fabric of our souls.  It’s a cry of bottomless despair that ends up creating an even larger hole within us; an insidious reaper of our basic comprehension of life, of what we thought we knew about our world and the people who are essential in our lives. It’s a decisive turning away from those who love you.

We, the survivors, travel on a sea-saw of emotions from sadness to guilt to depression to anger toward the person who made this fatal decision. Guilt for not seeing; not being enough; not knowing there was something we needed to do or say. I try to put myself inside her thoughts, and I can only imagine the desperation she must have felt to believe that this was her only choice.

I always go back to the thought that it can’t be true . . . not her. She was strong, she was amazing. She always shined. How could she be so lost, when she had been able to touch so many lives, help so many people find their footing?  How could she not know how truly special she was?

I listened to a song by Rascal Flatts, with the same questions that keep running through my mind. The name of the song is, “Why?” The song makes me uncontrollably sob every time I listen to the lyrics:

“Why, that’s what I keep asking. Was there anything I could have said or done?  Oh, I had no clue you were masking. . . a troubled soul. God only knows, what went wrong and why . . . you’d leave the stage in the middle of a song.”

I stopped listening to songs like this, and pretty much most music, as so many songs brought her to my mind.  I thought if I didn’t cry so much, maybe one day I would be able to stop crying.  I turned my music to gospel.  I don’t go to church or regularly listen to gospel music so I had never heard the song “He Said” by Group 1 Crew.  This song was perfect for me and gave me some strength.  Every time, I felt like I was sinking into a hole, I played this song. 

Since that dreadful day in August, I have learned a lot about myself.  One of which, is that I’m not an “Oak Tree” as some have called me.  I’m not strong at all……not this time…this time, I am FLOORED!

My new routine became rising each morning after a sleepless night knowing that I had to face another day without her, saying out loud “I miss you Sabrina”. Going through the motions of my work and other daily tasks; self-medicating with as much wine as I could in an effort to not feel this unbearable pain; and going to bed each night staring at her picture, crying and saying out loud “I miss you Sabrina”. I was totally broken.

I didn’t want grief counselling. I didn’t want to talk to friends or family. I hated everything and everybody. I just wanted to be alone with my sadness.  I felt that I surely would lose it if I heard “I’m sorry for your loss” one more time!  I stopped opening the cards and just threw them in a box that I had labeled “Sorry for Your Loss”.  I told myself, I would go through those things one day when I am in a better frame of mind to receive and appreciate the thought behind them. 

Upon our return home from her funeral in December of 2016, I awoke to the most beautiful snowfall.  The countryside was covered.  What would normally make me smile and feel joy, made me cry.  I took my cup of coffee, put on a warm housecoat and my snow boots.  I walked around my property crying and sobbing and screaming.  I couldn’t stop thinking of her.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I couldn’t stop screaming.

The next morning, I looked out the window at the melting snow and I told myself, “If Sabrina were here, she would be out there making a snowman”.  So, I put on the most ridiculous outfit I could find, the more ridiculous the better as far as I was concerned, and I took myself out there in that snow.  As I was rolling the snow, I began to cry and talk to her as if she were right there by my side helping me.  Remembering the many snowmen from the past, rolling the snow, crying, talking to her, crying……. before I knew it, I had made me a dang snowman.  I gave him the finishing touches by loaning him my hat and scarf and an orange highlighter for a nose.  He turned out a little short because in my excitement of the prospect of actually building a snowman, I forgot how hard it was to do all by yourself.  I named him Frenchie.  He made me smile….

The holidays were almost unbearable; more sadness and missing her so badly.  I remember, my husband attempted to cheer me up by taking me to this quaint little country store in our area.  It was decorated beautifully for Christmas.  They sold handmade ornaments, aprons, wreaths and such.  He knew this would be right up my alley and possibly give me joy.  As I walked through this cute little store with so many beautiful items, the handmade ornaments took my thoughts to Sabrina.  I suddenly missed her so desperately that I began to cry.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I hurriedly gave the items that I had selected for purchase to my husband and went to our truck to cry in solitude.

Sabrina was my best friend and Christmas was our holiday; we made handmade ornaments, baked cookies and pies, built snowmen, played games…we loved it and we loved family time. I was grieving not only for yesterdays’ memories of her but also for the tomorrows that I would have to face without her.

On that day, sitting alone in my truck, I decided that I would let myself cry for her no matter where I was or who was around me. No, I am not an oak tree and I have learned that crying is good for my soul. I have also learned that if I seek joy, even in the act of building an adorable little snowman, I may just find it.

I miss you always Sabrina, especially today!

Joy in Pets – Bootsie Finds a Forever Home

Shortly after my daughter died in the fall of 2016, a beautiful tuxedo cat took up residence under my house.  I already had an elderly 13-year-old calico cat, Callie, and I was struggling just to take care of myself, let alone think about taking care of anything else.    I tried to ignore that darn cat, but she just kept showing up.  She truly was a survivor, and she apparently had decided that my house was the perfect spot for her to make her new home.  She had an abundance of food with the wild bunnies, birds, squirrels, and shrews that also visited our property, and she loved to fish and quench her thirst in our pond.  It was becoming more often than not that I would find her either cleaning her paws or sleeping all cozied up on the cushions of my patio furniture or just sitting there bird-watching.

She tried her best to be my friend.  One morning as I was tending to my herb garden, she playfully ran past me and darted under the house.  At that moment, I decided that if this cat was going to adopt us, I should give her a name and take her to the vet.   It was official, Bootsie had found her forever home.  There was only one problem . . . Callie refused to share her home with a new cat.  One day as I opened my back door, unaware that Bootsie was on the other side, Callie actually ran out the door and chased Bootsie.  Bootsie, out of what I can only assume was pure fear, ran for dear life.  It was actually quite comical.  When I picked Callie up from under the bushes, where she had abruptly stopped, she was panting like she had just ran a marathon. It was literally 15 feet across the yard.  Poor thing had forgotten that she was an old girl. 

Out of respect for Callie’s wishes I made Bootsie a home in the garage where she would spend her nights.  I made her a comfy bed up high on a shelf, placed in front of a window, so she would feel safe and could watch the world.  She played outside each day and I put her to bed in the garage each night.  It wasn’t my ideal situation for her but at least she was safe from the coyotes and other predators in the area and Callie wasn’t having a heart attack stressing over this new cat invasion.  I would cuddle with Bootsie for a while each night before I put her to bed and she became quite accustomed to this routine. During those cuddle sessions and even through my sadness, I found my heart swell with love for this catShe needed me………………..and I needed her.

Sadly, about a year later around Christmas time of 2017, Callie became sick, we couldn’t get her to eat anything.  We offered her everything we could think of to no avail.  Eventually we made the ever so hard decision to put her down.  More heartbreak……more tears.  Ironically, the morning we were going to take her in, I offered her the one thing that she had an addiction for, whipped cream….and she ate it.  We had stopped giving her whipped cream many years ago, because she drove us nuts wanting it all the time; even waking us up in the middle of the night, meowing for it.   Although it didn’t have the nutrients that Callie so desperately needed, it made me happy to see her eat her beloved whipped cream as a last meal, so to speak.  Rest in Peace old girl…

Needless to say, after Callie died, Bootsie moved into the main house and continues to make my heart swell.  She has become a “Momma’s Girl” through and through. She follows me all over the house, waiting for me to sit down, so she can be a lap kitty.  She appears to be very grateful for her forever home.  She lets me dress her up for photo shoots… we go for walks; we cuddle.

Recently, after Bootsie became the ultimate curious cat and got herself trapped in my neighbors garage for two days without food or water, she has been grounded to the house.  My husband and I were both so sad when we couldn’t find her; crying and worried that she had become prey to an eagle or coyote.  She always came home for dinner.  She always came when I called her.  Not this time.   Although she loved being outside during the day, chasing bunnies, birds and butterflies, we decided that it was better to keep her safe.  She does get to go for walks each morning.  If you can call it that.  Some days she walks me all over the property and circles the house at least once, taking in all the new smells from the night before.  Other times, she just sits on the step and stares at the pond……. FOREVER!  Most of the time, she actually leads me to the door when she is ready to go in.  She is one amazing cat, and despite the depths of sorrow where I often find myself, she truly does give me joyful moments!

Losing My Joy

I was raised by a mentally ill single mother with six other siblings. We were poverty stricken.  We were also in and out of the foster care system. We didn’t have beautiful Christmases, nice school clothes or very much of anything growing up.  There were times when we didn’t even have food, but the one thing we did have was love for each other. 

I loved the small town I was born and grew up in.  It was one of those quaint little river towns like Mayberry, from the “Andy Griffith Show.”  We would fish along the riverbank, watch the boats carrying cargo, or the people water skiing in the summertime.  We would play outside all day.  Heck, we had an entire baseball team with me, my siblings and a few friends. Some of my fondest memories about my hometown is singing gospel songs in our little country church.  I surely did feel Jesus inside that little church.

During the time I spent in foster care, between the ages of six and eight, I was a victim of sexual and physical child abuse at the hands of my so-called foster parents. The events that went on in that home are for another time and another story. I had an internal struggle as to whether or not to include this information in this blog. I ultimately decided to go ahead and include it because the reality of this type of abuse is too often swept under the rug. I chose long ago to not let the things that I endured during this time of my life affect me; realizing that I had no control over what went on there.

At the age of 13, my mother uprooted the family and moved us to what I came to call “The Concrete City”.  I had so much distain for this city with its skyscrapers, moving stairs and what seemed to be a sea full of people.  I was forever homesick for my quaint little village along the Ohio River. I just knew that this big city was going to be way too much for this little country girl, and at times it was.

Inevitably I became a teenage bride and thereafter a teenage mother. Some of the few people I have shared my story with, have made comments such as, “Wow, you’ve been through a lot in your life” or “how did you ever overcome all that?” The truth be known, it was pure determination to provide and care for my child! Don’t get me wrong, it took a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice to lift myself out of the world I was trapped in. But, first and foremost, I am a mother and so the credit goes to my firstborn child, Sunny.

Through my determination, I managed to maintain a pleasant attitude, and stay focused and positive about the outcome of obtaining my goals.  I also managed to get rid of the abusive drug-addicted spouses that found their way into my world. 

Most importantly I managed to find joy in and through my children and my surroundings.  When things went south, from my car breaking down to not having the funds to purchase basic necessities, I would hear my grandmother’s words in my head, “Count your blessings, Young Lady”, and I would.  I was always able to find my blessings and kept trudging along to eventually obtain my goals and find success in the business world as an accountant.

For the record ladies, there are good men in the world. I did find my true love over thirty years ago and we married after a four-year courtship. Along with my children and grandchildren, he is one of my greatest blessings.

In August of 2015, I lost my mother.  She was 86 years old when she died.  The following April of 2016, my sister lost her battle with throat cancer. Although those deaths were difficult to deal with, they were somewhat expected.

Devastatingly, on August 27, 2016, I became a “Gold Star Mother.”  For those of you who aren’t aware of the meaning behind that term, it is a title that no mother wants.  It means that I lost my soldier, my child, my baby, my daughter, my precious Sabrina.

On that day in late August of 2016, I LOST MY JOY! 

I would find myself screaming over, and over, and over again, “Where is the blessing grandma?  I can’t find it!”.

Sadly, three weeks after my daughter’s death, I received another devastating phone call informing me that I had lost my youngest brother to a brain aneurism. I couldn’t even process this information; how could I?  The reality of it all was that I had lost four family members within a year’s time. 

As the third anniversary of my daughter’s death is upon us, I know she would want me to at least try to find joy again.  I know that the journey will be difficult without my baby girl; I also know I have to make myself do it.Therein lies the question. How?  How do I find joy again?  Do I even know what joy is?  Webster says it’s “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”  To me, that seems like a tall order to accomplish. It’s hard to envision it when you wake up with an overwhelming sadness every single day.  A sadness so deep that it’s hard to suppress it.  I usually try …I usually fail. 

I’m no writer, therapist, or anything of that sort and putting my story out there for all the world to see seems difficult on so many levels.  I’m not sure how often I will post or if I’ll even post anything at all, but my goal is to have this blog become a collection of joyful people, places and things, to hopefully help others who may have similar situations in their lives.  Basically, it is my attempt to heal my broken heart, share some of my story and the story of my grief, and to share the journeys and paths I have and will travel on my “Road to Finding Joy Again.”  I don’t know if I’ll ever find joy, so no promises here, but I know I have the determination to try!

If you’ve lost your joy and /or wish to follow me on my journey, I hope you do.  I also hope that you share your stories with me.  Together, maybe just maybe, we might actually find a glimpse of joy again. 

Thanks for listening. 

Just Me