The Promise to our MIAs

I recently attended a showing of the film, “A Solemn Promise: Missing in Action,” in a theatre that was filled with Vietnam Vets. This was the story of the ongoing search for the missing and unaccounted men and women who served in our wars beginning with World War II.

We all learned that there are over 83,000 individuals still missing in action. Our country is the only nation that has made this vow to never stop searching for its MIAs. Now with the help of DNA, identification of remains has improved greatly over the years.

A submerged plane was located after a fishing boat’s nets became tangled in the aircraft. All the soldiers were rescued along with a dog. Remains from a mass-burial gravesite in the Phillipines are being identified as well as at battlegrounds in Vietnam.

At the conclusion of the film, a question and answer session showed how raw the feelings of these vets still is so many years after the end of the Vietnam War. One veteran cried as he expressed his thanks and relief in learning that his missing friends have not been forgotten.

I only learned of this recently from a friend whose DNA is being used to help identify a missing relative. It was a very emotional and gratifying evening. I wonder how many Americans do not know of these extraordinary efforts to help bring closure to the families of those Missing-in-Action, but not forgotten, men and woman.

Day is Done Gone the Sun

Yesterday, while Dad and I watched the news reports of the various Memorial Day services around the country, we heard Taps being played at least once. I turned to Dad and reminded him that I wanted that song played at my funeral.

“You played it at summer camp, right?” I asked him. When he nodded yes,  I informed him that he must play it when I kick the bucket.

His old trumpet is sitting in a lonely corner of our attic. I know exactly where it is. Perhaps he should get it out and make sure it still works and that he hasn’t lost his magic trumpet touch.

Dad told me he wouldn’t play his trumpet at my funeral because he did not plan on being there. (How rude!) His reasoning is that because he is older than me (just 2 ½ years), he will already be gone.

As we all know, death does not necessarily choose its victims based upon age, so it is possible he may be available that day. Now it is my hope that the reason he cannot do his own special rendition of Taps at my funeral is because he is just too old—very, very old—and I predeceased him by just a week or too because he simply cannot hang on without me.

My backup plan, as I mentioned in Roll Your Eyes and Snicker, is that Aunt Ar and Aunt El can hum it.

Bionic Mommy

I’m back! It’s been two weeks since I became a bionic woman after having received my new right hip. Clearly, since I am writing this, my fear that I would not awaken did not happen. But there was a moment, while I was in the twilight zone between my anesthesia-induced sleep and complete alertness, when I wondered if I was sitting outside the pearly gates. I recall hearing my name being spoken by several strangers looking down at me from above, but I do know they were not attired in white, nor did they have horns protruding from their heads.

Fortunately, I was not a patient at the hospital where I was born, because Uncle Jim informed me that when Grandma had once been a patient there, she woke up to harp music in the recovery room. While I do enjoy the peaceful sounds flowing from the strings of a harp, everyone knows the music of heaven originates from harps. Sometimes it could be a trumpet heralding the arrival a new resident, but never a clarinet or violin. If you doubt me, check out exhibit A: Music for Hearts to Heal By Notice that the harpist was wearing white!!!)

I’d like to move on to another important topic, which came to my attention on Sunday courtesy of Aunt Ar. As you probably all know, Aunt El does not wish to be buried, cremated, frozen for later use, launched into space, made into an eternal reef, composted into fertilizer, entumbed into a tree trunk or branch, or donated to science. Instead, she would like to be turned into a human diamond, which can be worn around someone’s neck (Aunt Ar volunteered explaining to me that she thought it would be a great source of conversation: “Where did you get that beautiful necklace?”  “Oh, this? It’s my sister Ellen.”)

Aunt Ar found an alternative to the diamond necklace, which I kind of like as an addition to sprinkling my ashes at Ellis Island, the Boonton falls, possibly snuck into the cemetery at night near the family, and on Kiawah Island.

For a lot less money than the diamond necklace, I could be incorporated into a lovely piece of art. At a cost of only $145, each of you could display me on a shelf in your home. What are your thoughts? Turn Your Ashes into Art.


The Time is Almost Here

In just a few days I am undergoing my hip replacement surgery.  I have been feeling quite anxious. I joined two Facebook hip replacement support groups, and reading the experiences of others who have already undergone the surgery has been helpful. I went to the group as an observer and posted nothing until Sunday, after learning of the tragic death of Bill Paxton from “complications due to surgery.” That did it, so I expressed my fears to one of the groups.

 I have been very worried about my upcoming surgery on March 6. My first worry is silly I know. I fear that I will not wake up and I have concerns about the epidural (3 children, all without it). Then today I hear of the tragic death of Bill Paxton. I feel sad for him and his family, and selfishly, think that this confirms my worst fears. Breathe in, breathe out. I need to calm down.

 The responses were great, and in some cases, quite amusing. First it was pointed out that he was having heart surgery, which I already knew since I immediately turned to Google to learn what type of surgery Paxton had. Someone else threw out a lot of statistics, which as a math person, were helpful.

Deaths from hip replacement surgery were almost cut in half during an eight-year period in England and Wales, according to a new study published recently in The Lancet. The study authors report the drop is mainly due to four factors – the way the surgery is performed, choice of anesthesia and two methods of preventing blood clots – all of which are used in the United States, too. The percentage is 0.4 deaths out of 400,000

 So many of the respondents had the same worries as me. Then a women chimed in with two comments which could have come from me.

I was scared to death of being put under. I literally prepared everything and everyone for my death! Six major surgeries since and I’m a lot more at ease. I still make those phone calls to my daughter to remind her of where all the important papers are and clean my house. Because God forbid I die and everyone judges me because the carpet wasn’t vacuumed.

 Yes, yes, yes! I have been doing a lot more cleaning than usual. I know someone will come to the house for physical therapy, and I may have some visitors. Poor Dad. I am getting the house in shape, and he must keep it up to my standards.  I told that woman about a conversation I had with Casey on Sunday.

You sound like me. I write a blog, and I just reminded my daughter of a category called Eulogy/Funeral– just in case. I could hear her eyes rolling from her home in Maryland to mine in South Carolina. Plus, I do feel the need to clean, just in case!

 When I saw her response, I thought, “Hurray! I am not the only one with a funeral playlist! (See Roll Your Eyes and Snicker.)

My daughter says, “I KNOW MOM!!” but I make her listen anyway. My friends all have the task of what music to play at my funeral! Ha ha and what is really wrong with making sure my family has clean sheets on the bed when they arrive to attend my funeral??

I feel better. I know I am being a drama queen, but you know, isn’t it finally my time to be elevated to this level of royalty? I have spent years being a mother of girls who have, on occasion, been dramatic. Everything will be fine, I know. But if not, read my blog and call my cousin Ellen.



You Think You Know Someone, But You Really Don’t

After losing a second family member from a sudden, unexpected death, I have been thinking a lot about the many faces we show the world.

There is the face we show to our co-workers—some perhaps seeing nothing more but the serious, business side of us. To those co-workers who we see outside our office, we may reveal our lighter side, where we share jokes and a few personal stories.

We let our hair down with our closest friends and families more, allowing them to know our opinions and some secrets, because we know they will not judge us. Few of the people in our lives know every faset of our personality.

How many of Dad’s acquaintances knew that he did not prepare taxes for the extra pin money, but rather, for the little old lady who came in each year and waited just for him?

I bet many of Kelly’s friends do not realize that she used to take photos, pro-bono, of the reuturns and good-byes of military families at the airport in Atlanta.

Jamie never announced to the world that she tutored an ill student after school each day and then made sure she was included in a special ceremony at year’s end.

Casey is now preparing to meet a refugee family this weekend and help the children with their English. I am sure few know that side of her.

Those are examples of faces that are not obvious to the world.

Reading through the comments about Aunt Sara, I saw a side of her that I wish I had known—the Sara so many of the people in Maine that lived, worked, and interacted with her knew far more than we ever did.

Over and over I heard her called a kind and loving soul. She was referred to as a “beautiful, strong woman,” with “such an appreciation of life.” More than one friend said “Sara was indeed a shining light to all of us who had the privilege of knowing her;” “she was a true light in this world;” and “was always a bright spot on this planet.”

She had just finished finalizing a new job working at a nursing home and was returning home when the accident occurred. Having visited Grandma at her nursing home, we know that working in such an environment is a calling that few answer. It takes a lot of patience and understanding, so I should not have been surprised by hearing that “she always cared about everybody;” and “she had a gift for connecting, for listening carefully, and for sharing an open, positive, uplifting outlook on life with other.”

“Over the past year, she provided us with steady comfort and support;” “Sara was a thoughtful, creative professional who helped my mom and our family through some difficult transitions;” “Sara touched the lives of so many with her heartfelt and caring attitude,”  and “Sara’s huge heart and giving spirit brought joy to so many people.”

Wow! I really did not know her. I have certainly learned a lesson about not letting distance and differences get in the way of keeping in touch with the special people in my life.

What will people say about me? If it’s not good, at least I won’t know.

Peace, Sara.


You Never Know When That Moment May Be

Every once in a while, the phone rings, bringing unexpected news that draws a dark curtain across a happy day and pierces our hearts with the somber announcement. We have all experienced the death of a special person in our lives—a special aunt or uncle, a friend, or an elderly parent. These all hurt, but when the death is sudden, there had been no indication of any health issues, and we have had no time to prepare, then that death is even harder to accept than one after a long, serious illness.

This has happened with our family’s favorite cousin, our friend’s young son, and now most recently, to a very special father, who was connected to our family through Casey. When I heard the news, the shock sucked all the life from me. I was speechless, and later I cried. This time, like always, I thought about my last moment with him.

My moment with my cousin always makes me smile, because as I have told you many times, it was a smile followed by the exchange of the peace sign while we were at church. My friend’s son I had only met once, so my moment with him was a casual “nice to meet you.” For that special father, it was a warm hug after a pleasant Thanksgiving weekend.

I have thought a lot about my last moments with each of you, and while we usually say goodbye with a hug, I rarely say, “I love you.”

Why is that? I remember sitting with all of you in my rocking chair and feeling that overwhelming love that you all may think you understand, but I contend that you really don’t until you become a mother. When you were babies, I used sing to you my own version of Brahms Lullaby:

I love you, yes I do

Don’t you know I love (fill in the name)

Honey cutie sweetie pie

How I am in love with you….


Sometime—I don’t know exactly when—I stopped saying it often enough. Maybe it’s because Grandma and Grandpa didn’t say it much either, although I never felt unloved. I’m not a fan of the casual “luv ya,” which I have observed people saying to people they clearly don’t know enough to love. But I need to start vocalizing it with you.

I listened to Bryce tell me that he loved his family, and later thought about it much more after the most recent death of that special father this past weekend. I surely don’t want my last words to you to be “Go Cocks” or “Got to Go.” If my last words to you were “I am proud of you,” then I think that would be a nice farewell memory.

So for me, I think what you may hear coming from my mouth as an alternative may be an expression of pride, or summary of our day together, like when Bryce said, “I am having a lot of fun.”

What happened this weekend made me think about the fact that you don’t always know when that last moment will be, so I want it to be good. I love each of you and am proud of you too!



Eulogize While Alive

I know I talk too much about my thoughts about funerals, particularly mine. Today, I am floating an idea of eulogizing while alive. The idea developed when Margaret got very sick, so I decided to write her a letter highlighting our twenty-year friendship. I would have preferred to write that letter the old-fashioned way—handwritten, not typed, and snail-mailed to New Jersey. However, when I decided to do this she was already in hospice, so I worried it would not arrive in time. I emailed it to our friend Patty, had her print it out, and hand deliver it. Thankfully, the letter arrived with just over a week to spare.

Rereading it today, I see that while it covered all the major events of our friendship—beginning with our meeting at the preschool down the street through my sadness at what was happening to her—I tried to keep it light-hearted. I wanted to put a smile on her face, if only for a moment.

That letter got me started on many other letters—the thought being that you just don’t always know when the end will come to a friend or a loved-one, so I wanted to pass on my feelings while I could. Why should the best compliments and stories be given at a funeral when the recipient is never around to hear those lovely thoughts and funny anecdotes?

The following year, I began my “living eulogy letters,” and I believe I wrote around thirty. Since then, I wrote a few each year, mostly coinciding with someone’s birthday. I have not written one in a while, but was reminded that it was time to get back to work by Mark. He called me the other day to thank me for inspiring him to write a letter like the one I wrote to Margaret. This was to the priest from New Orleans who married him and Kelly, and sadly, “Father Fitz” passed away a few days ago.

Maybe I can inspire all of you to write a few living eulogy letters. Call them memory letters if you prefer. I guarantee the recipient will cherish your words.  (But they probably won’t tell you.) As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, I would happily love a memory letter over a gift for my birthday or Christmas any time. I have received two so far. You know who you are! So get to work.