We got to celebrate our kids’ 23rd birthday yesterday. One of our first activities was brunch at Cafe do Brazil then we went to Kelsey’s for gifts and cake.
Of course, it was a perfect opportunity to capture a few family photos for posterity. Keith suggested that we all squeeze in on the couch (similar to the cartoon The Simpson’s did). So we did our version of that.
Recently Keith and Travis were discussing the health benefits of manna bread so Keith decided to make some. I’ve always heard the phrase “manna from Heaven”, which is a reference to the food God gave the Israelites during the Exodus and has become synonymous with a sudden happening that brings good fortune. Until this weekend I’ve never had manna bread. It is bread made from a sprouted grain, which uses only the Essene’s technique to make the very simple and healthy bread.
Keith added sunflower seeds to the top of a portion of the bread. The bread has a sweet taste and the texture reminds me of bran.
My mom loaned the book How to be a Christian without being religious by Fritz Ridenour to me several years ago and it has been in my nightstand waiting for me to finish it. I’ve read the first many pages several times over the years but never seemed to make it through. It’s on my mom’s list of favorite books and I’ve heard her talk about the concepts in it for as long as I can remember. I’ve decided to read the books on my Mom’s favorite list. So, with my cat purring by my side, I finished reading this book this week. It’s an easy read and, for me, the concepts are what I was raised understanding. When my mom described herself and beliefs in the “About” section on her blog she said:
Although I am a deeply spiritual woman and much of my writing will reflect that aspect of me, for the most part, spiritual or reflective blogging will be published on my other blog, Notes from Life’s Journey. Although I participate actively within the framework of a traditional Christian church, I chose to characterize myself as spiritual rather than religious. That choice was made due to my understanding of religion as an organized system designed to bring people into alignment with God [or whatever name the participant uses for deity]. I believe the Christian tradition is not so much about a religious system that leads us to God, but is about God reaching out to us. The best expression of this concept came from a book I read many years ago written by Friz Ridenour called “How to be a Christian Without Being Religious.“ — Donna Brown
I’m glad I read it and now on to another book on her list.
It’s a birthday week in my family so Friday I pulled out the pineapple upside down cake recipe. I am happy that I asked Mom about it last year so I have her input on how she made it. Little did I know at that time how much that would mean to me a year later. I sang Happy Birthday to them while they lit and then blew out the candles and then we ate the special birthday cake.
Friday we interred Mom’s ashes; another step to this very surreal situation.
The step required a decision that has been difficult for us because we don’t know all of her wishes. We only know her view that she didn’t care whether she was buried or cremated. For her it was about the economics and the emotional needs of those making the decision. My brother and I discussed our personal opinions and the critical piece for us was that we make a mutually agreed upon decision. The first decision whether to bury or cremate was fairly straightforward for us. We made the decision to cremate.
Then a few weeks ago we received Mom’s cremains. So now…what do we do with them? We needed to answer for ourselves a few questions: What can we do from an emotional standpoint? From an economic standpoint? From a legacy standpoint?
- Emotional standpoint: We needed to do something we considered respectful of Mom. We didn’t want to keep the ashes in our homes or wear or carry them nor did we want spread them. In researching ideas for dispersing cremains the list seems endless.
- Economical standpoint: When we buried our grandmother in 2007 we learned that there was another space in that family plot. Mom said that space could be used for her since all other members of that family had made other arrangements. So, from an economic standpoint, we already owned the space and the only fee was $200 to open and close the grave. The rules of this particular cemetery allow for a husband and a wife to have their cremains buried in one space and then must have one double headstone. Mom wasn’t married when she died so that means the space would be for only her cremains. For me the difficulty with this was that I don’t really think it is economically smart to use a full space for one person’s cremains. In considering other ways to disperse the cremains the economics of them ranged from free to costly and none really seemed meaningful for our situation.
- Legacy standpoint: Over the years Mom became interested in genealogy and visited cemeteries to gather information from headstones, which she recorded on findagrave.com and in her genealogy program. I believe she came to value headstones in a new way.
Our decision: Pay the $200 fee to open and close the space in the family plot and bury the cremains then place a headstone there. This decision met our emotional, economic and legacy needs.
Great. Now, all the decisions are made, right? Nope.
- Choosing a container in which to bury the cremains: The cremains came in a plastic bag inside a small cardboard box with Mom’s name and date of cremation on it. Some cemeteries require an urn others have no requirements. Our cemetery had no requirements. Ultimately, we chose to place the cardboard box with the cremains in a decorative chest that we found at Mom’s house while we were cleaning it. We used that chest in the memorial service for her and placed treasured items in it. So, it has symbolism and meaning.
- Choosing a headstone: What size, color, cost? What do you include on it? Do you want to include her middle name and maiden name? Do you want to include her full birth and death dates or just the years? Do you want any engraved image on the stone? Do you want an epitaph? These sound simple in some ways but each person has different thoughts and emotions to consider. My brother and I worked through each of these and made our decisions together. I think one of the toughest parts in choosing a headstone was writing an epitaph because as my brother said “I just don’t know what to say that will epitomize Mom in 5 or 6 words. It’s not much space to put all your feelings of a lifetime into.”
- Writing and choosing the epitaph: There are two types of epitaphs 1) an inscription on or at a grave in memory of the person, i.e.: beloved mother. 2) a brief statement epitomizing the deceased. Originally I was writing the second type and it seemed to me that my brother preferred the first type. We spent much of a day texting one another and sharing ideas and definitions. Music was important to Mom and we know she believed we each have a voice – a special melody that is our own. Knowing that helped us recognize and identify with certain words. One quote I shared with my brother was “When we hum or whistle to ourselves, it is melody that we hum or whistle, our recollection of the melody helping us to recreate in the mind’s ear as much of the whole piece as we can. — Walter Piston, author” So Mom’s melody recalls all of her, the whole piece. At the end of the day, my brother and I had written an epitaph that is better than either one of us would have done on our own. We chose: “Her melody, faith, and love lives within us”. I love what my brother said of it: “I like that one. That one sounds more like how I feel. It covers the most of who Mom was in just a few words, and also includes the people who love her as a testament to what she instilled in us.”
- celebrated Dad’s birthday
- celebrated my brother’s birthday
- ate a cake I baked using the steps Mom shared
- sang a song
- took pictures & video
- spent time together
- interred Mom’s cremains
- visited the cemetery where my great grandparents, grandparents, infant son and now my Mom rest
While I was helping my Dad move I noticed a couple of cast iron skillets that were quite rusty.
I brought them home knowing that Keith could make them look as good as new. The first step he does is put them in a very hot oven. Sometimes this makes the whole house stink and fill up with smoke.
Once they are cool he soaks them in vinegar water then scrubs them with steel wool.
Next step is to season them and heat them again.
Finally, with these, he did a test drive with them before giving them back to my Dad.
Wednesday, December 25, 2014
This morning I used my Mom’s snowflake coffee cup and enjoyed a new flavor of coffee (a gift from my son) and an almond biscotti biscuit (a gift from my daughter).
Later as my Dad and I were standing in the hallway, my eyes were drawn to that coffee cup sitting on the kitchen counter. This is photo that captures what I saw. I see an image of a heart formed from the shapes of the cup’s handle and the handle’s shadow. Interestingly, the shadow side looks as if it is someone’s thumb and finger joining the handle so that the two parts (spiritual and physical perhaps) create the image of a heart. “All is Well” my Mom said and continues to say this Christmas Day, which also marks one month ago that she died.
Another point to consider is that earlier that morning my Dad and I were talking about the power & symbolism of numbers, specifically 3 & 7. So, it was amazing that when I was trying to determine which of the photos to use, only photos named 2014Dec25_0003 and 2014Dec_0007 were in focus. The one included above is my overall favorite, number 7.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
I placed an ad on Craigslist 21 days ago to sell my mom’s piano, which was a gift to her from her mother in 1966. I’ve been quite worried about getting it to a good home. Last night I received a text that opened “My name is Charissa and I am looking for a piano for my daughter to play at home…Sincerely Charissa” She made arrangements with me to pick it up today.
When I woke up this morning and saw all the snow I fully expected to hear that she would not be coming, however; I was wrong. Charissa came, in the snow, and bought the piano as a gift for her 10 year daughter.
There’s more back story I want to share so you too may appreciate the significance this has for me and my family.
One day many years ago when my mom was going through some difficult times a beautiful cat came to her door wanting attention. My mom took the cat in and deliberated over what to name her. She ultimately chose to name her Charissa because the meaning of the name is grace (free, unmerited favor of God). Later when my grandma moved in with my mom my grandma and Charissa became quite close. This was fascinating because Grandma didn’t care for cats, however; Charissa won her over. Charissa died in 2009 after having been a comfort in my mom’s home for 17 years.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
This morning I was working on the photos I took Christmas Eve when my family come to my house. One photo in particular interested me because I observed the similarity of the positioning of my dad’s and brother’s hands and the manner in which they held them was similar. As I was looking at the photo I was thinking about the fact that this was my first Christmas without my Mom. It was then that I noticed that I had unknowingly included a photo of my Mom in the photo. Then I started thinking about whether I was reading way more into the possibility of Mom comforting me even though she’s no longer living. I opted to move on to a different task since I wasn’t able to resolve that in my mind just yet.
My next task involved listening to music. After planning my Mom’s memorial service I became keenly aware of how little information I have gathered to help others when I die. So, I decided to open up my iTunes and identify some of my favorite songs. Of course, the songs I’ve listened to recently are those identified in an album labeled “Donna’s Favorites”. The highlighted playlist was “Donna’s Favorites” yet the song playing was “I See The Lord” by Matthew Ward, a song I haven’t listened to in years and not in my Mom’s favorites. I thought it was odd and couldn’t figure out why it was cued up. Regardless, I fully listened to the song.
Here’s a youtube video with Matthew Ward singing this song. For me, the images in this video interfere with the music so I play the video and close my eyes or read along with the lyrics instead. http://youtu.be/r8xmkUhPQQQ
Here are the lyrics:
I see the Lord seated on the throne, exalted
And the train of His robe
Fills the temple with glory
And the whole earth is filled
The whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
With His glory
Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy is the Lord
Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy is the Lord
I see the Lord seated on the throne
My takeaway from listening to this song at this time is that God is showing me that He is present and that my Mom is with me as well, helping to comfort me.
Took photos of the guts of my Mom’s piano hoping someone will be interested in owning it.
Just a few months after my grandmother died in July 2007 my mother took pictures of several items around her house and wrote down a few quick notes about the items. As my brother and I recently went through our Mom’s house after her death, her notes and photos were a useful resource. Here’s the note she said about her memory of these figurines:
I took pictures of Mother’s things so you would know what things might be important to keep. All the figurines were things I played with when we lived in the big house in Gainesville so I assume they were things Mother bought for the house on Hardin Drive, though they could perhaps have been earlier than that. I treated them like dolls and had a storyline to go with them. I also played with her records at the same time period: two of my favorites were “Donkey Serenade” with Alan Jones and “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (totally dissimilar in style).
It was another tough day but it was an important day. Friday, December 5, 2014 was the memorial service for my mother. The words, images, friends, flowers, music, church, Mom’s things, family all came together for my mom.
Thanksgiving 2014 was two days after my Mom died unexpectedly. The funeral home and church were closed so there was little that could be done to plan the next steps. We opted to stay true to our family tradition and count our blessings by enjoying one another’s company and Thanksgiving Day food. My husband posed in the kitchen to attest to the Thanksgiving aftermath.