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.

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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.

soaring-eagle

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….

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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.

Mom 2.0

When I die, many, many years from now, at least one of you—maybe all of you—will speak at my memorial party. (Yes, party and not service!) I know I have been annoyingly providing suggestions for my obituary (lots of details but I want it to paint a picture of me too), the music (Barry Manilow among others), and thoughts on the dress code (nothing dreary).

Dad and I were watching a show on TV the other night—Grace and Frankie with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. I particularly love Lily’s character, Frankie. The particular episode which precipitated this story was called “The Road Trip.” Frankie convinced Grace to go on a road trip in search of Grace’s old love, who Frankie was able to locate using her superior stalking skills.

Frankie said something that made me jump up and run to my desk so I could write what she said down, knowing I would forget it in the morning. It was so me—a description which I told Dad should definitely be used in my eulogy.

“I am an amateur sleuth with limited self-control and a computer.” Come one, girls. You all know this would make a great opening line at my eulogy or eightieth birthday roast. Does it not sum up me during this part of my life?

Think of all the people I have been able to find—both living and dead. Remember how I took the yearbook I found in the attic, which was from the year Dad graduated, and set out to find its owner? It did not belong to Dad.

I found the father of the owner and even spoke to him on the telephone. He told me where she was currently living, but mentioned he had not spoken to her in years.

I hung up the phone feeling happy that I had located her, yet at the same time, quite sad to hear an elderly father share this information with me, a stranger. So I took a photo of the yearbook and her diploma (which was tucked carefully inside) and mailed it to her. I got no response and concluded she did not wish to be found. Maybe she is in Witness Protection?

Anyway, the point is that I have become “the amateur sleuth with limited self-control and a computer.” So when the time comes, remember to include those words as part of my story. You will have other thoughts and memories I am sure, but you know this speaks of Mom 2.0

 

I Survived a Dangerous Toothbrushing!

I made a little mistake the other night, and I made Dad promise not to put it out on Facebook even though I admitted it was sort of funny. Actually, it was so funny that I could not stop laughing. I then said, “It can go in my eulogy, just not on Facebook.”  I even told Kelly and Mark, but again, restricted the telling of the tale.

Then I thought, I am not afraid to make fun of myself, but nobody else can unless I initiate the mockery.

Let me first defend myself by reminding you all that my vision is very bad. The error I made was done with my glasses off and my contact lenses removed—and I was tired. Those are all my excuses for what I am going to admit to you.

I decided to try a new toothpaste. It was a whitening toothpaste, and I thought I would give it a try.  It is packaged in a shiny red tube—very attractive. So I grabbed my toothbrush and reached for the shiny red tube. I put plenty of “toothpaste” on my brush and shoved it into my mouth. Remember, this was a new variety to me, and I was visually impaired. I was not thrilled with the flavor, but I continued for a moment more. Then I reached for my glasses. I grabbed the wrong tube. It was not toothpaste I was using. It was generic Bengay!

“Oh, no,” I yelled to Dad after reading the label which warned to “get medical help or call poison control immediately if swallowed.”

Well, I reasoned. I spit but did not really swallow. I decided to do a little late-night research before panicking. I started typing into Google, “Brushed my teeth with,” and before I finished, Google read my mind and finished with “Bengay.” Since my mouth was not on fire, I was not vomiting, having difficulty breathing or feeling lightheaded, I believed my time had not come. I was not committing suicide by ingesting Bengay. Just to be safe, I took the suggestion of rinsing my mouth with water and drinking some milk. But was generic Bengay more toxic? Was a playing a dangerous game by not calling poison control or go to the Emergency Room? I decided to live dangerously.

Fortunately, I did not wake up at the pearly gates, but I learned the lesson to segregate my toothpaste from the Bengay. I suggest the same to all of you.

Toothpaste

Moving to Dublin

I had an eye-opening conversation with a priest recently during which I was lectured about the official policy of the Catholic Church regarding funerals. It appears that any of the funerals since 2000 (I have also seen 1989 thrown about too so I am not certain which is correct), where eulogies given in the church, were allowed because of rogue parish priests. I learned that “at funeral Masses there should usually be a short Homily, but to the exclusion of a funeral eulogy of any kind.” Furthermore, secular songs or readings are also prohibited.  So I don’t know how Queen or Celine Dion music was allowed, but I am in love with the compassionate priests who allowed these songs to be played.

The purpose of the funeral mass, “contrary to common assumption, is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.” That is what I read and what I was told by the priest.

I truly never knew this, particularly since I have been to numerous Catholic funerals where words of comfort and perhaps a favorite song were part of the service, which helped me get through a loss of a loved one. Having gone to just two where this was not done, I saw a difference. The impersonal nature of what is the official Catholic way did not help relieve my sorrow. I left feeling empty and did not understand why it must be this way. Why did a father have to leave his daughter’s funeral upset rather than comforted because he was told a eulogy would not be permitted? I do not understand.

I was told that no one but a priest can stand at the “ambo” (pulpit), which confused me because I am positive I have witnessed non-priests standing there to give readings or make announcements such as telling me to remember to get my ashes or that the church was collecting for the bishop’s annual appeal next week.  But according to the conversation I had with the priest that is incorrect.

This particular man of God was quite adamant that the homily be only about the reading and how the life of the deceased’s followed the scripture readings, and that is it. I asked if a brief eulogy could be given after “the mass is ended, go in peace,” and I was told in no uncertain terms that it could not. Yet I also read that “the priest may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite.” (He never mentioned this.)

Under no circumstances “can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.” (I read this on catholic.com, and that is what the priest told me because the deceased is “not in heaven but in purgatory.”)

He suggested that the eulogy be done either at the funeral home, at the “meal of mercy” as we call it in our family, or at the gravesite.

I think we should move to the parish of Father Joe Mullan of Dublin, who said, “to forbid someone speaking seems unnecessary to me, harsh even; why not allow one of the community to speak about the deceased and the way in which their life was God’s gift to the world.? We need to move to Ireland then. But I guess if we have a President Trump, then that may be a good idea. Or I can find a rogue priest or a new religion! I have a lot of thinking to do.