My Friends 

If you ever wonder what to say to someone who’s grieving, this post is a must-read. While it specifically addresses the death of a child, I think the wisdom here is useful for anyone who’s lost a loved one.

kathleenbduncan

I have friends who have had miscarriages.

I have friends who have had stillbirths.

I have friends who lost a baby to SIDS.

I have friends whose child drowned.

I have friends whose child died from cancer.

I have friends whose child died in a tornado.

I have friends whose child died from suicide.

I have friends whose child was murdered.

I have friends whose child died in a motorcycle wreck.

I have friends whose child died after a skateboard accident.

I have friends whose child died in a freak accident.

I have friends whose child died from heart disease or asthma or diabetes.

I have friends whose child died from drug overdose.

I have friends whose child died in a car wreck.

None of them like to take about the details of their child’s death.

They all love to speak of how their child lived.

When you meet a…

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My Mom Was Simple

One day I was given a writing prompt: tell about a person you’ve known, someone you’d describe as simple. Well, the simplest person I ever knew was my birth mother, Mom Vance. She was about as simple as they come.

Mom’s stepmom Maggie told me Mom was born “simple,” as far as she knew. I suspect that circa 1923 a number of babies were damaged at birth by various factors not controllable in the days of home deliveries, without x-rays or antibiotics. A difficult labor, a baby deprived of oxygen at birth, or an infantile infection resulting in days of high fever. The brain was damaged and the child was classed as slow, simple, or addle-pated.

And part of the problem was that Mom got her head stuck inside a cream can when she was nine years old. The family says she was already blue when they got her unstuck, so that oxygen deprivation likely did yet more damage.

Mom was friendly enough to people she knew, but not the cheerful, everybody’s-friend like a Down’s syndrome child. More like someone half asleep. Sometimes we say of such a person: “The lights are on but nobody’s home.”

I nodded when I read in Oliver Twist that “Mr Bumble struck Oliver with his cane; once on the back to make him lively and once on the head to make him wise.” Yeah; that was the policy and it probably made some normal children “simple.” One woman talked of how her father would knock the kids’ heads together and she’d see stars. It wasn’t because all folks back then were so cruel, but in that society nobody seemed to know any other way to raise children.

So I feel Mom’s upbringing was a contributing factor to her mental state. When I was young the old folks held to the concept that if a child was slow, a good whack on the head would straighten things out “upstairs.” And being slow, Mom got more than her share of whacks on the head — with frying pans even, I’m told. In one instance Mom’s father blew up and beat her over the head repeatedly with a chunk of wood until his brother intervened.

My Dad F, incensed at me over some density on my part, would often say, “You don’t have the brains you were born with!” Well, Mom V literally didn’t have the brains she was born with — or the emotions, either — because they’d been beaten out of her. Today we’ve tumbled into the ditch on the other side, where parents hardly dare discipline their children, but these former excesses have been cited to support the current position.

Mom did have a kind heart and was generous — too much so at times. She’d let any pal call from her phone — and run up huge phone bills. Anyone could crash at her house. But if she got mad, you had to watch for flying objects. My sister Donna claims she’s dodged a few knives hurled by Mom.

Because of her damaged brain, she couldn’t keep any facts straight. When Donna was expecting her third baby, Mom V told me one day, “The doctor says Donna might be having twins. She wasn’t very happy about that.” Her next remark threw me for a loop. “They say I had twins once, but I can’t remember.”

“Who said you had twins once?”

“Maggie (her stepmother) and them,” Mom replied in her usual vague way. Everything she said was vague. I overheard her trying to explain to someone who I was and she simply couldn’t. I was “that girl.” So Mom wasn’t capable of tact, sense, or the deviousness the rest of us are. As one of my sisters said, “A couple of beer and she was drunk enough to do anything.”

Mom’s schooling ended at Grade Three. My sister and I guessed Mom to be at a nine-year-old’s level, but really, a nine-year-old would be much more capable and careful if made responsible for the care of young children. It was her irresponsibility when I was a three-month-old baby that led to me catching pneumonia and ending up being raised by my uncle & aunt. (I refer to them as Mom & Dad F and call them my “real parents.”)

I must give my Dad V some credit here. He didn’t have much education or smarts, never had a driver’s license, but he was a hard worker. I’m not sure if all my siblings would have survived if he hadn’t been around at least part of the time to keep an eye on things. He really did love his kids and never forgave my uncle for taking me away and keeping me.

It wasn’t till I was older, started meeting other relatives and learning the family story that I discovered what kind of upbringing Mom had and why she was the way she was. But simple she was.

Auntie Ding-Dong

There once was a woman named Mrs. Dingle. The children who lived on her block liked to call her “Auntie Ding-Dong” because she often rang their doorbells. Mrs. Dingle, you could say, had “an enlarged heart.” That is, a heart full of sympathy for busy mothers and families under stress.

She would bake loaves of delicious bread, put them in baskets and take them around to neighbours who were going through a tough time. If she heard a mother was sick or just had a baby, Auntie Ding-Dong helped the family in her little way, carrying in a casserole or pot of soup, feeding the children, doing the washing up.

One neighbour boy tells how he loved to meet Mrs. Dingle as she walked down the streets carrying her basket of bread. She always had a smile and a cheerful hello for everyone. One day when his own mother was in bed with the ‘flu Auntie Ding-Dong rang their doorbell, handing them a large, still-warm loaf. The aroma made his mouth water.

Auntie Ding-Dong had been widowed when she was still quite young, so never had children of her own. But rather than spend her days hoping for the sympathy of others, she found fulfillment in helping other mothers when they were overwhelmed by the needs of their families. Someone once asked her whether she ever felt sorry for herself, to which she replied, “Why, I haven’t got the time!”

Note:
I once read this story in The Friendship Book of Francis Gay and thought it was worth retelling.

My Little World

Well, I made a very quick trip through the Cancer Clinic yesterday, getting there about 10:20 and leaving at 10:40am. I’ve never had an appointment go that fast before; I was barely into the building before I was called into the examining room and the doctor was in a few moments later.

My oncologist had great news for me: my blood cell counts are all normal. Now I can get on with life again for the next six months. 🙂

The more difficult diagnosis: she doesn’t think bouncing ideas around in my brain and running my fingers across a keyboard is adequate exercise for someone my age. If I want to build up my energy, she says, I really need to be more active. So I’ve resolved to get out and walk more. And this is the season to start.

We live in a mobile home on what was once part of a pasture. The farmer’s son fenced off these few acres from the main pasture when he got engaged and wanted a place to set up his trailer. He later moved away and we bought the place ten years ago. So on our west and north side there was a narrow strip of pasture; it has since been converted into a grain field in which the farmer has been growing canola these past few years.

On the other side of the pasture there’s a train track, so we sometimes watch and count the cars as they rattle past on their way to country grain terminals and oil fields. Some are potash cars.

To the east of us there’s a narrow strip of mostly poplar and willow woods between us and the farmer’s yard. To the south is a gravel road with minimum traffic; south of that is a strip of cultivated land, a hedge row of chokecherries, then more pasture. We often hear from this hedgerow and the pasture beyond, the conversations of coyotes in the twilight.

We are avid bird watchers; we delight in this little woods that abounds with a number of local bird species for most of the year and various migrating birds during spring & fall. We are right on the flight lane of the sandhill cranes; spring and fall they stop over for several weeks at a slough just north of us, or in the pasture across the road to the south. Many fall evenings are filled with their funny “throbbing” or hoarse honking as they settle in for the night. And what a racket if the coyotes pester them!

We’re also on the flyway of the snow geese: at times flocks of a thousand or more passed over our heads. Coming home yesterday we saw a flock of easily a thousand birds milling around and settling in a field right beside the highway. At times we’ve seen 10-20 acres white with “snow” in the early mornings.

We see killdeer, meadow larks, the odd nighthawk, tree swallows, a dozen different native sparrows, robins, brown thrashers, catbirds, wrens, warblers, orioles, hummingbirds — even golden and bald eagles, and the Grand Duke (great-horned owl) who lives in the woods beside us. Great place to live!

To the west of us, across the train tracks, there are large sloughs north and south of the highway, with their waters lapping away at both road edges. To the east of us, past the farmyard, there are a couple of other smaller sloughs. Ducks and Canada geese paddle around these bodies of water until they dry up in summer, if they do. We often see a snipe on a fence post beside the road and redwing blackbirds clinging to the bull rushes. One day several ducks came waddling down our driveway as if on inspection, checking up on what the tenants are doing.

I should mention the muskrat homes dotting the sloughs. Sometimes I surprise one paddling in the water or sitting on the bank as I approach. Sometimes all I see is a ripple of water if the animal spots me first. And there are a zillion frogs that fill our evenings with their songs. These are the “wetlands” our Canadian prairies are noted for, sloughs of all sizes teeming with wildlife.

Yes, it’s a great place to get out for a walk. And my oncologist says none of us — even she in her busy practice — has a just excuse not to get enough exercise. So I’d best follow doctor’s orders. It’s a great time of year to be alive. 🙂

Six Drops of Sinister Sauce

Those of you who were children, or had children, around 1973, may remember Count Kook chanting his tried-and-true Monster recipe:
“Five drops of the essence of terror
six drops of sinister sauce…”

For some reason that little snippet popped into my head this morning, probably because I was searching for words to describe the tsunami rolling through my emotions. Too bad “opaque” wasn’t today’s Word Press prompt, because it fits so well.

As I awoke this morning, this wave threatened to submerge me. I detected a tinge of terror, certainly some sinister sauce — it goes so well with cancer scares! I’m getting a whiff of foreboding dissolved in a cup of anticipation, a handful of hope, a chunk of resignation. All in this boggling batter of suspended animation.

So what brought this on? I had a blood test yesterday in preparation for my check-up at the Cancer Clinic tomorrow. Up until now I haven’t given this visit too much anxious thought but the blood test somehow brought it all to the forefront again. What will the results be? Will I still be stabilized, or will my leukemic white cells be multiplying with gay abandon? How bad, how fast? Will I need more chemo before long, or will I be okay for a few more years?

Another cancer survivor, Stacey LePage, wrote in her blog about these same feelings, wanting to avoid the checkup-visit, not wanting to hear a verdict. Not wanting bad news to flood her plans for a happy summer. Read her article here.

Even though I’m not really fearing the visit or anticipating bad news, the impending arrival does something to my body chemistry. I saw this funny, numbing emotional wave of blue coming at me and I felt like crawling under the covers until I’ve heard the score. Then to top it all off I have a bothersome tooth, starting yesterday, and woke up from a nightmare this morning.

Thankfully the sun has come out, the birds are filling our morning with their songs, I’ve painted the swallow houses a friend built for me. Spring is my favorite time of year, especially when my swallow friends return to greet me — something I’ll write about more in another post. I’m happy to get their homes ready for them.

I have some blanket squares to sew together today, too. While I’m eager to put tomorrow’s visit behind me, come what may, I do have lots of cheerful things with which I can dispel this opaque feeling. And Stacey tells us in her recent post that she’s writing a memoir about her experiences as she battles stage-four ovarian cancer. She’s giving it the neat and very apt title: Overcoming Stage Fright.

Yes, something good really can come from life’s hardest, most painful lessons. That faith is what keeps us plodding on.

Over the Cusp!

Welcome to my new site!

Yesterday’s Word Press prompt word was cusp. And yesterday I was on the cusp of a new blogging adventure at this fresh site. Starting over!

With the help of the champions at WordPress Support, I’m now over the cusp and into the fun part. Subscribers from both my other blogs have been switched over and this blog is now up and running. Joy, joy!

I know there are still a few glitches, like the missing sidebar with my Blogroll and Tag cloud. (If you readers see one, please let me know.) Hopefully those will be taken care of soon. I’ve scheduled a number of posts already, so the Categories tags above will soon fill up and we’ll be in full swing. Please come back and visit again. And thanks to all my Followers for your patience during this change-over.

If you wish to read any of my previous posts on my earlier blogs,
please visit Christine’s Reflections and Christine Composes