What I See Now

There might be a topic or two in this entry that some may say is TMI so I decided to say that out loud before I carried on any further. You know, at least give you the opportunity to read with one eye open and one eye closed if you were scared of possible content. (Nothing super horrible though, so for sure, don’t feel like you have to read with both eyes closed.) Ha!!!

There were so many things that I had stopped doing, stopped caring about and stopped even using brain power or energy for during the year of Mom’s illness; and honestly, all the way up to about 6 months after she passed. I didn’t realize what an absolute funk I had been floundering in until I slowly stopped floundering in it. I can’t tell you if I stopped floundering in it or if the funk just dissipated enough that I could see reality again. Well, I shouldn’t say I saw reality again because that funk was my very real reality for so long…so long.

Anyhoo, during our last year with Mom, the dishes at my little mama’s were done thoroughly. Dishes at my house stacked to the ceiling and I had no ability to care, even if my very life had depended on it. Christmas decorations at my little mama’s house were immaculate this year. As opposed to our Christmas tree that had lights with an angel on top and nothing else. I did buy my babies their new ornaments as I do every year, but they never made it to the tree. I should also include that my tree remained up this year until around late July. I could not have cared less what a soul thought about it either. I’m going to say that again. My tree stayed up this year until around late July…lights on. I. Was. In. A. Funk.

Other tidbits of information to show you just how much of a funk and tail spin grief can provide…we ripped out carpet last July and replaced with laminate floor; until August of this year, I still hadn’t hung one thing back up on the walls again…including curtains.

I want so badly to help others who grieve silently by grieving out loud through my blog.

I want you to understand that I have never been one to keep a spotless house. Not Child-Protective-Services-level filth…but if I have some dishes in the sink and some clutter here and there, I totally feel at home and am okay with that. Ha!

But to say I had let my house go was the most monumental understatement I could ever let flow out of my mouth. I lost control of a situation that I barely kept under control anyway.

During that time of funk, I would go days without showering. Weeks without shaving my legs…and when I did, the area shaved would only be specific to whatever article of clothing I chose. (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. Ha!) I don’t know that I even brushed my teeth regularly. When I say funk, I mean funk. (Literal funk. And in a lot of different ways.)

I would say that around the 7 month mark after my sweet little mama passed, I realized…Good God woman, wake the hell up, what is going on, who have you turned into and how did all this happen??? My house was a wreck, I had hairy man legs, my tree was still up, the house was so full of junk that when I “cleaned” it still looked horrible.

So what do you do when you wake up and life has gone on without you for months and nearly suffocated you with stuff? You start cleaning and throw stuff out…and you shave those damn hairy man legs! (I don’t mean shaving what is specific to the article of clothing anymore, I mean shaving your legs…both total legs…because you have enough care and concern to not want man legs anymore. Ha!)

I made the comment recently to an old friend but new reader (yay!!!) of Coffee with Paula that I want so badly to help others who grieve silently by grieving out loud through my blog. This is real life grief. This is what grief looks like. Grief is not just feelings. Grief has a personality, a look, is tangible and had consumed me. I worry that others only see the put-together-Paula and think that I don’t hurt or feel or grieve or feel anguish or despair. It is real. It is a part of my life and I don’t want anyone to be confused by my laughter, my smiles, my ability to keep moving everyday, my ability to joke about life, my ability to sing on a praise team or keep working with hospice patients every Monday thru Friday. I grieve, I hurt, I want to give up, I want to cry, I feel despair, something is missing, there is a dull ache in my heart…it has been like this since I found out she was going to die and gained in intensity after she passed. All of these are decreasing in strength now. But they are still there.

To say that I am so much better now, is the truth. Those are not just shallow words. I have evidence that I continue to get so much better. I still miss my little mama, the dull ache is constantly there, random tears still fall unexpectedly…but the consuming funk has gone. Will it come back? I hope not. But I think Paula is back. And that feels amazing!

Sipping coffee and liking the me that I see now…but wishing someone would get that Christmas tree box off my front porch. I got it out of the house, somebody else can take it the rest of the way. Ha!!! ~paula

Schlabor Day, As We Know It Now.

(Photo from 2010; ‘Chelle & Paula’s toes)

Several years ago, my little mama decided that we should begin going to the beach every Labor Day…just our little clan of folks. Dad and Mom; my brother and his fam; me and my fam. Oh the fun we have had throughout the years on these little excursions. Doin’ our thang which always included laughter, food, being ridiculously loud and crazy and then more laughter. It’s pretty safe to say we put the fun in disfunction during these long weekends; as we clearly do in any occasion.

We immediately began calling it Schlabor Day, to honor our family namesake; Schlehmeier. It was a time we all looked forward to and planned for months in advance. Around March, or sometimes the week we got home, Mom would make reservations for a huge house that would fit our motley crew. We stayed at various locations during the years, but always there was a separate bedroom for each married couple, always a kitchen big enough to hold the amount of food it would take to feed a group 67.9 times larger than what was actually there, relatively easy beach access, balconies for cigars and enjoying the beach breeze and plenty of lounging space inside…cuz that is what we do…we lounge. Around 6 weeks before the weekend arrived, my little mama would start emailing me and my partner in crime about meal plans; cuz I swear to God, what is a beach trip without good food, right? The three ladies would all have one supper meal and would all have one breakfast meal. We never had to plan lunches because there was always so many leftovers or junk food, no one needed lunch planned because food was just there if you wanted something. It eventually evolved to include one big outing where the men could drink beer and eat oysters.

Approximately one million pictures were taken throughout these long weekends each year; we wanted the weekends to be in our minds forever and we wanted these little nuggets to be available for remembering each amazing moment! In 2011 was the first actual family beach picture we took. It was always Mom’s favorite. She had every single one of her little chicks in the picture and she loved it for years to come.

(Photo from 2011)

Below, random pictures that commemorate some of the craziness and the fun-loving nature of our clan. I’m not certain where all of the craziness comes from, I’m just very proud that it’s there. We ain’t boring people. It doesn’t even take alcohol to make us crazy, it’s just already there. Ha! But I tried to find just one picture from each Schlabor Day we spent together; some I chose two or three. But enjoy as you scroll. I enjoyed walking through memory lane as I reviewed pics to choose the ones I would upload. A few tears but of course a few chuckles as I remembered.

(Photo from 2012)

(Photo from 2012)

(Photo from 2013)

2013 was another year my little Mama had every one of her little chicks right where she wanted them…together.

(Photo from 2014)

The T-shirts, you’ll notice, are air-brushed creations designed by the famous air brush duo…’Chelle & Paula. For a small nominal fee, they can design your family’s next T also. Ha!

(Photo from 2015)

(Photo from 2016)

Did I say there were always shenanigans?

(Photo from 2017)

Then enters Schlabor Day, 2017. There were still shenanigans, laughter, food, love and more laughter. But there was also some hidden tears, some hidden heart ache, some hidden dread. We knew that one of our precious group would most likely not be with us for another Schlabor Day. Man, when I say we did this year up right, we did it up right.

(Photo from 2017)

‘Chelle found us a house directly on the beach with tons of space, a huge balcony directly overlooking a breathtaking view of this beauty that had been so much a part of our lives since we were babies. For the first time in a couple of years, Mom was able to sit and just soak in the beauty. For the last couple of Schlabor Days, she wasn’t able to get out onto the beach or walk very close due to her knees giving her so much trouble. But this year she soaked it up for hours on the balcony because she knew it was her last time, her last opportunity.

(Photo from 2017)

We all loved a little deeper, laughed a little harder, savored the moments a little more intently because of the cloud that hung over us. We knew time was limited. We lived life differently now.

(Photo from 2017)

This was the final Schlabor Day pic with my little mama included. She loved this little group of people more than I can even begin to explain. Her goal in life was to see her family be together, stay together, stick up for each other and accept each other no matter how stupid or ridiculous we might be acting at the moment. She loved those grands fiercely and you needn’t try to deter that. If she wanted to buy them something, you could hang it up, cuz it was bought. If she wanted to take them somewhere or be somewhere they were, you could hang it up, cuz she was there. She loved fiercely.

This Schlabor Day, Schlabor Day 2018, has been with family, with laughter, with lots of food but with hearts that are still a little lost, still trying to figure out our normal and still asking “who the hell are we exactly right now”. We still shared the weekend together as she would have wanted but we just couldn’t pull off the beach trip. I’m certain that plans would have needed to be made back during the months when we were still floundering from the gravity of the loss of her and we just couldn’t wrap our minds around planning a beach trip when we didn’t know if we wanted to keep living ourselves much less plan a beach trip.

Next year may be different. Who knows? All I know is that grief still sucks us down fiercely at times; demands that we choke on the waters of despair while gasping for precious air. Precious air that one day will be ours again. I do notice moments now when I am allowed to breathe in the fresh air of contentment; moments that do not have that nagging hint of despair and loss. It still presents itself often, but I see hints of contentment now. The feeling that everything-is-okay is ever so slowly coming back. I will never not miss my little mama. I will never not wish we could have her healthy self back with us to spend the rest of our lives with us. But everything is going to be okay one day. One day.

I’m pretty certain she would be fairly content with how we spent Schlabor Day 2018. Pretty content with the fact that we still chose to spend it together, feasted together, gained a few Schlabor Day pounds as usual and just loved on each other. Maybe we will take Schlabor Day back on the road for 2019. We’ll see.

Sipping coffee this morning and thinking about a little mama that loved fiercely; and wanting to be just like her when I grow up. ~paula


When You Just Need a Minute

If there is anything that I’ve learned through this stupid grief journey is that sometimes I just need a minute. A minute to breathe, a minute to think about my sweet little mama, a minute to think about what things would be like if Cancer hadn’t reared it’s ugly head, a minute to think about all I wish I could tell her, a minute to just feel the pain, a minute to rip off the peel-n-stick smile I use daily and just cry.

Often lately, I’ve noticed that I wish I had the capability to wiggle my nose and instantly be on the beach for whatever time necessary to clear my head and then wiggle my nose to get me back home. I’m pretty sure I just had an epiphany while typing that sentence. It ain’t rocket science, move to the beach, Paula! (The beach is my most loved place on the earth because I think so clearly there…incase you didn’t know.)

But truly, there are a million instances during this thing called life that require us to regroup, reevaluate, redetermine who we are and who we want to be; you know, take a minute to “settle down” when something turns our world upside down.

So many things can manifest our own personal definition of “world upside down”. To one, the loss of a parent; to another, the loss of a job; an unexpected pregnancy; a car accident leaving one debilitated in some way; a house fire; a spousal affair. I could keep this list flowing for ten hours and still have more things to list. So many things have the ability to rock us to the core.

Why? Why are we so easily knocked on our behinds when things go wrong? I think we go along in life and constantly have these ideas and notions that are our own personal goals in life. We so easily let the words slip from our mouths that we want God’s will to be done, yet we keep making plans and arrangements on our own. We have ideas about what our lives should look like, what our kids’ lives should look like, how our neighbors’ lives should be looking. Goodness. For the most part, we can’t control anything and we just have to figure out how to deal with our new situation; even when it doesn’t fit into our well thought out plans.

I’m not saying that when bad things happen it’s because God wanted them to happen or He wanted us to have a less perfect life than we wanted to have, or even that He wanted to give us a wake up call. I’m just saying that this life isn’t ours. It is supposed to be His. He will not place you in situations that He doesn’t have the ability to walk you through.

When our children make decisions we hate. When our spouses make decisions we can’t tolerate. When things happen that are big, that you just can’t seem to accept, what are we to do?

The most simple thing to do is just take a minute to realize, the world hasn’t actually stopped turning. You are indeed still breathing. You do actually still have the ability to feel true joy, it just might be a minute before you can notice. There is very little in this life that is truly the end of the world.

When my sweet little Mama took her final breath, my heart stopped along with her’s. The problem was, mine started back again. For those few minutes directly afterward, my world was quite literally spinning out of control and I couldn’t catch my breath or have a coherent thought. I saw talking all around me but could only hear the screaming inside my head. I had held it together for so very long and the screaming inside my head was the tears and gut wrenching heart ache that had been waiting for the moment I would finally allow them out. The revelation came…I didn’t have to be strong anymore. When that realization hit my mind and soul, to say I absolutely lost my shit, is quite the understatement. I let a million loud, rushing tears go and it was not pretty to say the least. A solid year’s worth of withheld tears and despair flooded out of my weary and exhausted body. I could hold them back not a second more.

Who knows what all happened after that. Those immediate days following are such a blur to me now. I just know that I was surrounded by so much love and concern and tenderness from friends and family. I’m certain my little mama was orchestrating it all to make certain we were cared for during a time she tried so desperately to prepare us for, because she knew she couldn’t be there to physically help us herself.

What I do remember was the overwhelming need for time to stand still for just a minute. I NEEDED A MINUTE! And I was angry that no one was giving me that minute. I needed that minute to get my mind wrapped around what had occurred but there was no minute to be had. Time marched and I sort of just flowed with it. Had no choice.

But what I was being taught during that time was that there is an amazing God who was still on His throne, who kept His arms around me the whole time and never allowed me to slip under the currents for more than I needed to be under. He didn’t give me more than I could bear…with His help. THAT’s the key. He will not give us more than we can bear…with His help.

There is such a valid lesson in this for every aspect of life. Our kids don’t always choose for themselves the things that we want them to choose. They make downright stupid decisions sometimes; as do our spouses; as do we. Our spouses aren’t always capable of meeting the standard we think is required. Promotions at work don’t always happen when we think they should. Life gets messy! But God is always on His throne…no matter what rocked your little world to the core.

So take your minute when you need it. But don’t stay there. You have to get back to “keepin’ on”. You have to figure out how to keep moving and growing. I saw on a church sign one time, “If God brought you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” Right? Right.

Sipping coffee tonight and being so very thankful for parents who taught me that nothing that happens to make our life messy or troubled or rocked-to-the-core is the end of the world. Nothing. ~paula

What Am I Running From?

Have you ever wondered what wakes a person up in the morning? I’m pretty certain it’s safe to say I have never wondered what wakes any specific person up. I’ve never sat at my desk or on the church pew and wondered “Hmmm? What ringtone wakes so-and-so up every morning?” Cuz, quite frankly, that’s just weird. But just incase you’ve ever wondered what wakes me up, it’s the dreaded RADAR ringtone from my iPhone!

This morning, as I scrambled to snatch and strangle the culprit of what I considered the most dreaded sound to have ever pierced my ear drums, I had already begun to try and come up with a legitimate reason to call out of work. I was exhausted and wanted to go back to sleep. I didn’t hit snooze but I did decide to set the alarm for thirty extra minutes.

Honestly, I didn’t get another second of sleep during that thirty extra minutes. I just kept mulling over any reason I could possibly think up that I could use to call out. Nothing sounded legitimate and I absolutely refused to lie about a reason for calling out.

Any of you that know me well, know that I despise calling out and rarely do. I do believe that situations arise that make it super legitimate to call out, but some people look for reasons all the time and actually use them. Those are typically the co-workers I do not respect. (This is not to be confused with scheduled vacay days. Scheduled vacay days are a must when trying to maintain sanity.) But, I believe that when you agree to work for an agency…you agree to work for an agency whether you feel like it or not. They pay you whether they feel like it or not, right? So, with a little bit of work ethic, let’s come to work people. (That was my version of a public service announcement and general pep talk. Ha!)

But, I digress.

This morning I kept hanging out on my pillow. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to copy/paste a smile today. Making small-talk seemed positively abhorrent. I had no desire to do anything productive. No motivation. No energy. But still, I had no true or legitimate reason to not go in to work. I wanted so badly to call out just because but I could find nothing honorable in that.

Why didn’t I want to go? I love my job. Some would say that with drops of sarcasm but I do truly love my job.

As any good Social Worker would do, I began to analyze where in the world these feelings were coming from. What was I running from? I had no specific task that I dreaded for the day. I had no huge to-do list that was daunting. I had no specific problem cases that kept me wanting to hide under the covers. I had nothing that hurt, ached or felt sick in any way. What was I running from?

I came up with absolutely nothing. So I got my behind up, nursed a huge cup of coffee as I sat on the couch and stared off into space and then left for work. (Somewhere in the mix, I did brush my teeth as well.)

As I turned the first big curve in the road, my thoughts began the old familiar slide show that is so common for my morning commute. With the steering wheel in one hand and coffee cup in the other, I allowed my mind to flash to my sweet little mama. I watched snippets of her final days and mulled over priceless conversations that I will cherish for the rest of my life here on earth. I pictured some of the wonderful, intentional moments spent with family during her last year; laughter, tears, hugs, food, more laughter…did I mention laughter?

I thought of all the things I absolutely long to tell her; things that I know she would want to know. How Dad is doing, what is new with every single person in her little family, if we are taking care of Dad as we had promised. Hunter is doing an amazing job in band and loving it. Kelsi is beginning college and has the world at her fingertips. Zack is now a band director and lives in Florida. Madison babysat this summer full time and did an amazing job. Lee and Ana are killin’ it with their college classes. And p.s. Lee drove me in his car and I almost peed my pants…it was the most exhilarating feeling in the world! Ha!

Before I knew it, silent tears rolled down my face. Not a loud ugly cry…just the silent I-miss-my-Mama cry that is part of who I am now.

I’ve learned that, for now, sorrow and hurt still well just underneath the surface, waiting to burst forth whenever I will let them. Just underneath the smiling face that says “I’m okay” are tears that wait patiently, ready for a moments notice for the go signal. I miss my mama.

After the tears dried and my thoughts cleared, I had a very important epiphany for the day.

I was actually not running from anything earlier this morning. I was trying to run toward the grief that engulfs me sometimes. If I had listened to the hints my body gave me this morning, I would have stayed home to grieve appropriately today. I tell my families often to not run from their grief, embrace it, ride the waves, feel the pain, but always, no matter what, be honest and truthful about where they’re at for the moment; get it out in some healthy way. I apparently haven’t listened to anything I’ve said during the last 18 years of working with grieving families. (I’m apparently a slow learner.)

Yes, I arrived at work with a mildly red nose and puffy eyes…no make-up remained whatsoever…but everyone showed kindness and it was never mentioned. I sat down at my desk and got on with the work day. Busy with stuff, my mind shifted fairly easily from my little mama to other things. I was okay. But had I done myself an injustice? Maybe if I had just allowed myself to remain at home today, I would be a little ahead in this crazy game of grief. Maybe I would still be as far ahead of the game because I at least gave myself the hour commute to spend with my grief. Who knows…certainly not me. I’ve learned that, for the most part, grief is a guessing game where flexibility is a must.

Sipping coffee tonight and wondering who noticed how I set my alarm to address me each morning. Ha!!! Also wondering if you can tell the oftentimes capricious nature of grief through this entry…tears and sadness this morning; laughter and light hearted comments tonight. ~paula

Mr. Man at the Rest Area

The other day I was working my way through the work day when I realized I probably just attended a Divine appointment.

The day began as a typical day would in the world of Home Health and Hospice Social Work. I finished up documentation from the day before, faxed last minute details regarding an inpatient rehab stay for a patient that was no longer improving at home, discussed a case with our Occupational Therapist and made arrangements to retrieve items ordered to increase a patient’s independence at home, reviewed a case that had possible caregiver breakdown; all while sipping cold but yummy coffee like a boss! (Wait, if I was a boss, someone might have heated it up for me. Ha!) Four patients awaited my arrival and I was ready to get on the road to see them.

With the length of time in the office and all of the coffee sipped, I knew to potty before I left because one thing for sure was that a bladder was not designed to hold an entire pot of coffee for very long. So. All tasks completed…it was time to hit the road.

I put all of my Social Work paraphernalia in the car, walked around to the driver’s seat but noticed just how disgusting my ride looked. The mud from south Alabama dirt roads after rain was accompanied by the routine road filth that builds up week after week. My guess was that the thick layer of filth on the outside of my car had to be effecting my gas mileage by now. So the next stop was the 5 minute automated car wash.

Finally the work day was back underway as my sparkling ride veered into traffic and cruised toward the first destination; music, of course, set just right. After numerous miles were made and several sets completed of the travel concert that was a constant while in the car, the first destination was getting close. It then became evident that another potty break was necessary. Damn coffee slowing my roll again!

In perfect timing, I noticed a blue rectangular suggestion beside the 4-lane that a Rest Area neared. I traveled the distance, whipped into the parking spot, shut off the engine, jumped out, locked up and sprinted through the rain that had begun to drizzle with the expectation to dash in and dash out.


That was when Mr. Man at the Rest Area (MMRA) entered my day.

Brief pleasantries were exchanged as I entered and walked past the man behind the counter. When I walked to exit the rest area though, I mentioned that I hoped the rain would stop soon because I had many miles to accomplish before the work day was done. He commented, “I know what you mean. By the way, can I ask you a question?”

With that small question, my inner spirit cringed such a deep cringe that the professional poker face I own almost let me down. I didn’t have time for a long conversation. I didn’t want to answer any long nursing questions. (I wear scrubs and sometimes get the most in-depth nursing questions before I can get the phrase out of my mouth “I’m not a nurse, I’m a Social Worker.”) I just didn’t have time. I had patients. But with my most interested upbeat voice and accepting facial expression, I exclaimed, “certainly”.

MMRA proceeded to ask if I was a nurse, to which I explained, I was a Social Worker for a local Home Health and Hospice. This prompted MMRA to share of his grandmother who passed last year, his grief journey through the last few months and that their family used a competitor of ours who he thought did a wonderful job taking care of his beloved grandmother. I assured him that there are several wonderful hospice agencies in the area who mostly employ the same general types of people; ones who are compassionate, have a deep rooted love for all people as well as the genuine desire to help their fellow man. MMRA voiced agreement that it must be true.

But as we chatted further, I’m not certain that he ever truly asked the specific question for which he stopped me; I was fairly certain he wasn’t going to just ask if I was a nurse.

He mentioned studying to be a youth pastor, driving the church van and that he wanted to share God’s love anytime he could. He voiced that he knew I must be a Christian due to my caring nature, which I confirmed. He later mentioned that it’s easy to say we’re Christians but it’s hard to truly act like one; to which I firmly agreed.

He talked of an aunt that retired within the last few years from an agency where I used to work. I reveled in an it’s a small world moment as I shared that I remembered her very well and had actually just driven by her home within the last two weeks working in an area that was not typical for my work day. How strange that I would run into the nephew of this lady after I had just passed her house in an area that I hadn’t been for over five years. Crazy.

Chatter died down and I really had to get to my four patients so I bid farewell and headed to my car. All I could think to myself was why in the world did that conversation happen? I had always been a firm believer that things happened for a reason; this random conversation would be no different.

Maybe MMRA needed a moment to honor his beloved Grandmother with shared memories to a complete stranger? Maybe MMRA needed to affirm his faith and his decision to become a youth pastor by sharing that with a complete stranger? Maybe MMRA knew deep down this complete stranger needed a reminder that being a Christian is more than just singing in the choir and doing churchy things; that it’s more about a relationship with a Heavenly Father, sharing God’s love to the world and making certain you are walking in His will? MMRA’s comment, “sometimes you’re the only Bible a person will ever see” played over and over. The reality sank in deeply; Paula does not always look like a Bible; Paula does not even look like a Bible most of the time.

Sipping coffee this morning and wondering if Mr. Man at the Rest Area knew he had an impact on my heart with that random…or maybe not as random as I’d like to think…conversation. ~paula

Getting Rid

I am basically over spending needlessly, collecting junk that does not make me giddy with joy, storing things that I might need one day, organizing closets so everything will fit.

I. Am. Done.

I currently have a guest bedroom that wouldn’t hold an actual guest if it’s very life depended on it. I have stuff organized and shoved into nooks and crannies that shouldn’t be holding anything, much less the choice of ridiculous tidbits that I have obtained…and stored…through the years. Sadly, the nooks and crannies in my guest bedroom currently need nooks and crannies.

What makes us feel this absurd desire to store, collect, save?

I have a walk-in closet. But guess what? I can’t walk in. Clothes hanging that I wore ten years ago and even if the size was still correct, the fashion certainly is not. The fashion most likely wasn’t right when I actually bought them, per my kiddo. Ha!Boxes for printers, computers, cellular phones stored…wait for it…wait for it…incase we need to send it back. Newsflash! If you don’t even still have that printer, you’re not going to be sending anything back! Papers. Never ending mounds of papers. Why? Why are they in my beautiful walk in closet with the amazing storage unit?

I don’t know why we ever allow ourselves to place items in charge of our home. I am determined that from now til Jesus Himself comes back for His children, I will be the one in charge of what-goes-where in my home, what items enter this home and what items remain in this home.

I’ve come to terms with the knowledge that clutter equals chaos. I will allow it no more. Getting rid of unnecessary stuff is the name of my game right now.

Clutter comes in so many forms. Unhealthy relationships. Unhealthy spending habits. Unhealthy uses of our time. Unfinished projects. If you truly evaluate your situation, you may realize that quite a bit of your relationships, most of your expenses and a huge majority of your chosen uses of time are needless and destructive to your well-being. Why do we allow our sanity to be chipped away by things, of which, we should be fully in control?

We have absolute control over spending time with friends or acquaintances who tear us down and deplete our inner well-being. (Just don’t go.) We have absolute control over what our hard-earned money is spent towards. (Just say no.) We have absolute control over how we spend our time. (Stop agreeing to everything, you can’t do everything. And if you did, it all wouldn’t be done well. Right?)

We not only should have a place in our home that brings us peace, tranquility and relaxation; but our home should bring us peace, tranquility and relaxation; as should our relationships and our finances.

Goodness. Just thinking about the opportunity with which I’m faced in this game of declutter, encouraged an optimistic feeling that crept into my soul and a feeling of carrying less weight has begun.

I just want a home that actually looks clean when I clean. (Ha!) God knows how bad I hate to clean; I certainly need to be able to stand back and admire my work when I do actually get around to cleaning. That only makes sense to those of you who have more stuff than the space you’ve been allotted. (Like me!) I want the stuff that I have in my home to be stuff that makes me smile when I view it; not stuff that makes me anxious to look that direction because I know it needs some attention…like transportation to the trash can or thrift store.

I also want a home where I don’t see ten different unfinished projects because I don’t have the cash flow, time or energy to complete because of all the clutter I’ve allowed into my life. As of this second, I have two living rooms, two bathrooms and one bedroom that still need paint; two living rooms that need trim work from flooring put in months ago. Frustrating.

Now granted, the majority of these project delays were due to time well-spent with my precious Mama during her final months that I will never once regret, even if I live to be a million years old. But it’s time to start taking back control of a life that became chaotic during a time when I could only focus one one thing…a mama that was preparing for the most important journey she had ever taken that would rock our world to the core.

But one of my last purchases was a big box of the flex trash bags; biggest size bags and box available. You would be surprised by how much junk will go into a strategically packed flex bag. Over the next few weeks and months, the local thrift store will obtain quite possibly half of the items in my house, maybe a husband or kid also? Well, I don’t know that they would fit in the flex bag so I probably better just let them stay. (Not to mention, that just raises too many questions anyway. Currently laughing out loud right now.)

But just to let you know, I’m sipping coffee tonight out of one of the few mugs I will actually be keeping as I declutter. If it doesn’t bring me great joy or a sense of peacefulness…it’s outta here! ~paula

Dad’s Boston Cream Pie

Happy Birthday to my Daddy.

My little mama made this man a Boston Cream Pie almost every year for his birthday for as long as I could remember. This was his first birthday since Mom passed and I wanted it to be perfect. I was teary-eyed several times during the few days surrounding his birthday because I just hate this loss. It truly sucks. But as for the Boston Cream Pie, latter years I have to admit Mom would buy one for him because it was much easier and almost as delicious. This year I hoped to try and fill the void a little with a homemade version.

Looking back over the last few days, I’m not certain what was the specific cause for all the tears. Ever since January 28th when the world as we knew it crashed, all of our family birthday’s have been the first without her early morning phone call or voicemail singing Happy Birthday, or her phone call to me so we could make the menu for the feast that would be shared. (We know how to put away some food around here! Ha!) But my heart has ached for each specific person on their special day for the individual grief that would be experienced only within themselves. My little brother and my precious niece were the first birthdays without her. Since then, my son, my sister-in-law, my daughter, my nephew, my husband and now my Dad have all had their first birthday without her. But I wasn’t truly certain if my tears were for Dad missing her on his birthday, me missing her with the preparation for his birthday menu or if it was for the fact that this was also the six month mark of her passing. I had no idea. I only knew it was a struggle for several days.

I wish I could say this Boston Cream Pie was as good as Mom’s but I can not. It looked fairly okay, tasted fairly okay, but was most assuredly not the same. See, during the making of this Boston Cream Pie, the top cake layer cracked, of all things. Some cussing definitely occurred but more than that, tears occurred as well. Just a stressful day all together. I got done with the tears, regrouped, squished the cake together and covered it with frosting.

Magic. No one else had a clue. Nice! (Later, I was finally able to chuckle at the hidden chaos; more evidence that chocolate does fix all.) Ha!

God…the pressure of this cake though. Through the years, my sweet mama definitely had the occasional issue but for this one year, I just visualized a perfect creation for Dad’s Birthday. A perfect creation was not to be had. Ha!

Why did it have to be perfect? I guess I just assumed the day was hard for him as well. No Happy Birthday first thing that morning. No birthday breakfast. No constant little comments or texts making the day more special with birthday reminders. Everything was just different.

I cooked supper for Dad on the actual night of his birthday and tried to make sure it was all yummy. Hamburger Steak, rice loaded down with butter and cooked in homemade chicken broth, white peas that Mom had put up the summer before and of course…Boston Cream Pie. Don’t worry, I had already calmed myself and made it look as nice as possible. I didn’t want his day to pass without some acknowledgement of his birthday. I just couldn’t. Yes we had a shindig planned for Saturday with friends and extended family, grilling and chilling; exactly how we do things. But I simply couldn’t let his actual birthday go by without something. Why? Why was this so important to me? Because this was how my little mama handled it every year. No matter what was going on around us, birthdays were meant for special meals and family time. No matter if a big gathering was planned for the weekend before or after; a Birthday was a birthday and it was meant to be celebrated.

In the heat of the battle…wanting everything to be perfect, planning this meal, planning Saturday’s meal, making certain every detail was covered, deciding how I would duplicate the old Boston Cream Pie Mom used to make, making certain to call Dad’s birthday in to the local radio station for a chance to win the birthday cake…what did I neglect to do? I never bought the man a present. Ha!!! So on the night of his birthday, after the food was cleared, candles blown out and kitchen cleaned up I asked, “Dad, what do you want for your birthday?” Well, in typical Dad fashion, he commented, “well Baby I don’t really want anything or need anything”. Okay well that was not helpful. Ha!

So, the days rocked on. My baby brother and I finished the final pieces to Dad’s Birthday shindig menu. Groceries were purchased. We cooked. We grilled. We ate. We socialized. We laughed. We cried. We laughed some more.

I felt my sweet Mama smiling during that day because I knew we had honored her wishes. We were taking care of Dad the best way we knew how. She asked us so many times during her last year to take care of him. We are doing just that, mama.

My brother and I cling to each other through this carrying on business. Sometimes we’re in control of our grief. Sometimes our grief is in control of us. But all we know to do is to carry on. She would have it no other way.

In all of my stress and concern regarding making things perfect, you must know two things about my Dad’s first birthday without my sweet mama. I never got around to buying this man a birthday present and that Boston Cream Pie ended up upside down and jumbled in a storage container the night we ate it. He didn’t want plastic wrap messing up the chocolate frosting top layer…so upside down in a deep container was better. Ha!

Maybe next Birthday, not so serious Paula. Ha!

Oh, and since I’m apparently writing out my confessional, I suppose I should say, I’m not actually sipping coffee right now because I drank too much earlier today. Ha!

But, happy birthday Dad! I hope you had fun, enjoyed the food and felt how much we love you! ~paula

I ain’t doin’ it…or am I?

Sitting at work a few weeks back, I pulled up the next bereavement phone call that I needed to make, briefly reviewed the case and dialed the number. As the ringer summoned my bereavement client, I cleared my mind with nothing but thoughts of the moments spent just months ago with this dear family. A wife who fought a tough battle with Alzheimer’s. A husband who spent as much precious time as he could with a wife he had adored for over 50 years. Two adult sons who wept like babies when their precious mama took her last breath. I was instantly snapped to attention with the surprise of a deep chuckling voice that said “hello”.

I immediately shared my name, reminding him of my affiliation to the hospice agency who cared for his late spouse and shared with him that my intention today was to check on him and see how he had coped so far on his journey through grief.

He shared with me that he had met someone new and had been spending quite a bit of time with her lately, a person who was also widowed fairly recently.

My “judgy” nature, as the teenagers call it, came creeping out as I peeked back into the chart to see just how long his wife had been gone…six months. Six short months. As I forced myself to focus back on the words flowing through the telephone receiver, I picked up on “getting remarried” and “deciding which furniture will be kept” and “my boys aren’t okay with this”.

A couple of times during this call, I could tell that she must have been near as my client would mumble something I couldn’t understand or chuckle at a joke to which I had not been privy. I encouraged my client to attend our support group, assessed for needs and provided education regarding the phases of grief, as I do every bereavement phone call. When no needs were voiced, I ended the call with please give us a call if we can help in any way.

As I sat in the aftermath of the call, my heart was breaking for the sons who were having to deal with their grief as well as the gravity of seeing their father move on.

Grief has numerous layers. The loss of the person, the loss of hopes and dreams of future events with this person, loss of tasks or traditions that were contingent upon that person’s presence, loss of interest in past enjoyments due to all of the strain from grief, loss of identity after the loss of this person and just the raw pain that is present from having watched a loved one suffer through end of life. They are not easily worked through. Which phase of grief held these sons hostage?

I faced my own grief for the moment and realized that part of my own grieving process is negatively effected by the fact that most around me have moved on. There is only one other person who feels the same depth of loss that I feel after losing my sweet mama and that is my little brother. My dad is grieving as a husband, but my brother and I are grieving as children who will never again see the woman who kissed the boo boos, spanked our behinds, fed us and was always our biggest fan. We lost our biggest fan.

We will never again listen as two parents share stories from our childhood. We will never again have two parents that are present at some function solely to be our support. In my reverie, I suspected my client’s sons were haunted by the fear of being forgotten without two who shared knowledge of their childhood. Haunted by the fear that a new love interest of their father somehow decreased his ability to love them as much or deem them with as much importance as before. My mind questioned whether his sons felt like the life with their mom seemed less important than before. Devalued, if you will. All I could think was somehow one loss had produced a million losses and time continued to march on as if nothing had happened. Utterly infuriating.

There are still days when I cry a few different times within the same day; some days I cry none at all. Most only see the cool, calm, collected me. Most would be surprised at the level of hurt I still feel most days. Am I intentionally trying to hide this pain? Not really. I just feel like most can’t handle being present for my grief as often as my grief is present with me.

I don’t ever want to be the person someone dreads to see coming. You know the type I’m referring to; the folks that have woes they intend to share with every last person with ears. (Drives me nuts. Ha!) Those are the ones you quickly learn to never ask the question “how are you” because they will most definitely tell you and it won’t be a simple “good”. They are the ones who didn’t get the memo that you don’t really want any answer other than “fine” or “doing well”. Ha!

But there are no days that go by without seeing my little mama in my mind; whether it be something pertaining to her final moments or a moment where we belly laughed or a moment where we disagreed. Some good moments. Some bad moments. All of which are neatly tucked away in files in my mind, ready to be pulled up, reviewed and cherished at a moments notice.

There are no days that I don’t feel a tug to spend moments thinking of her; wishing she could be back here…not sick…but the her that was with us before pancreatic cancer entered our world. I long for the days when she was full of life and wanted nothing more than to see the precious family she loved so strongly.

My brother and I have become so much closer during this time. Honoring mom’s deepest wish to have family stay strong. Well, her deepest wish was for us to take care of Dad. But second to that was keeping family knitted together so tightly that nothing could slip between one fiber.

I feel as if time continues to march forward as I continue to drag my feet. Terrified of moving so far away from days when she still lived and breathed and laughed and loved that I’ll forget something; something about her voice, her mannerisms, her likes, her dislikes, the sound of her nails clicking on the ivory. I want to retain it all. Keep it safe in my heart. The fact is that memories do fade; my heart pleads for them to remain vivid.

Is it okay that I still cry when I sing certain songs? Is it okay that my heart aches to see others who don’t still long to have her back as deeply as I? Is it okay that there is a gaping void where a whole, unbroken, uncracked heart used to beat? Is it okay that I’m not ready to move on yet? Is it okay that I just feel like I owe her a few more months of wallowing in this funk?

I’m not certain that I have answers to any of those questions other than grief for me is what grief is for me. I have learned to be okay with wherever I am for that day or that moment. There are no other options.

Sipping coffee tonight out of my “I ain’t doin’ it” mug and realizing, you know what, I am doin’ it…and mom would be proud. ~paula

Above the Fireworks

I imagine Independence Day in 1776 looked a little different than Independence Day in 2018. Do you suppose they went home, fired up their grills and lounged by the pool sipping iced down drinks after they dropped their “John Hancocks”? (Did you see what I did there? Ha!) Maybe they attended the local township’s fireworks that night, while sporting their fresh sunburns from an afternoon by the pool; don’t forget the bloated bellies from chugging beer and grazing on glorious munchables all day? Possibly they just shot some fireworks in the back yard, while saying “Hear ye, set thou gaze upon this spectacle of which I am about to manifest” in the most distinct British accent…cue loss of fingers or limbs. But I’m pretty sure that is not how the rest of their day went.

Almost as much has changed from my childhood memories of the 4th of July to how we will celebrate this year.

My earliest memories of 4th of July include slurping watermelon juice while chomping on sweetness; spitting seeds at unsuspecting cousins. The chilly goodness of hand cranked homemade icecream as it rolled across your taste buds. Swimming in the pool all day with no responsibility whatsoever other than to not pee in the pool…or at the bare minimum, make certain no one knew. (Ha!) Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles manned the grills, icecream makers, long knives for cutting watermelon and the kitchen sink full of dishes. (Lord at the dishes with our huge family back then.) Dad’s grilled ribs were almost more 4th of July to me than fireworks. But the nearly perfect day was always completed by taking our sun burned shoulders and rosy cheeks to watch the City of Troy’s fireworks display. Just wonderful times filled with people you loved and who loved you in return, laughter, full bellies, American flags fluttering, slapping and popping in the warm breeze and of course, the red, white and blue spinners clacking from forced air as us kids ran with their sticks clutched tightly in our hands.

Then enter “adult” 4th of July. Dad and Mom moved into a new home several years ago, big enough to hold many people comfortably and they decided to begin holding 4th of July at their home. Kid laughter emerged all day from the red neck swimming pool; you could expect cold, wet splatters if you were an adult and dared to walk too close. Neighbors, family, friends, acquaintances, all gathered to join in one accord to celebrate our nation’s freedom. The adult version of Independence Day looked more like hauling food from one location to the next to make it all fit on the counters, refilling tea and lemonade pitchers, hauling trays of food from the grills, reminding the kids not to pee in the red neck swimming pool, making a point to catch a minute to watch the kids play as it brings so much joy to see their joy, killin’ it on the volleyball court but chugging water and popping ibuprofen because you’re old and the volleyball court might actually be killin’ YOU. (It was a toss up. Ha!) Adult Independence Day nights are for lawn chairs and fireworks; sitting by your mama, splendidly exhausted from the day, and thoroughly satisfied knowing everyone had a great time and enjoyed themselves.

As for Independence Day 2018…we will eat…we will be with a few family and friends…we will watch the fireworks splendidly displayed over the City of Troy…and on Saturday we’ll get together with a few more friends and family to celebrate. But the main difference this year is that my sweet Mama will get to see what the tops of those fireworks look like. We know full well what they look like underneath from years of gazing at them in awe of their deafening beauty. I suspect this year’s fireworks will look a little less splendid, the laughter will be a little more subdued, the atmosphere of excitement a little less charged. This Independence Day, I will have to allow the cherished memories of years past to carry me through the day’s activities and fill in the gaps where sadness from her loss leaves a hole.

Sipping coffee for now, though the heat will soon dictate I change over to iced water and with teary-eyes praying my sweet Mama enjoys her first year above the fireworks; hope they are spectacular Mama. ~paula

When Did I Lose Me?

I’m not certain when it happened. But somewhere along the way, I lost me.

I lost the me that loved spontaneity…the me that tried new restaurants on opening night. I lost the me that watched movies in the actual theater…the me that went out of town on a whim…the me that read a good book until 2am. I lost the me that would go to a friend’s house for dinner…as well as the me that invited friends for dinner. I even lost the me that would go to the beach with friends for long weekends. I lost the me that would shop all day on Saturday, do lunch and dinner before going home…shopping that was more about restaurants-with-friends than the actual shopping. God, where did that me go?

I think the last year we had with mom, knowing her time was short, made me lose the self that I once was. I had to rethink who I was and actually set that me aside for a minute. I certainly wouldn’t have had it any other way. But I now have to rethink the old me and decide who I am now that she isn’t here.

I’m now a daughter whose mama has passed on. I’m a daughter who has to use phrases like ‘I can hear mom say…’ or ‘before Mom passed’ or ‘if Mom were here she’d…’. I mean, I never wanted to be able to use those phrases. I didn’t sign up for that.

From February of last year when Mom was diagnosed with Cancer to January of this year when she passed, every single weekend and weeknight I felt guilty to do anything that wasn’t family related; guilty to do anything that would throw away precious time. And for the most part, I didn’t. I don’t think I even wanted to do anything but be with family…especially her. Time’s value escalated so tremendously during that short little year.

I’m not sure who “they” are, but “they” say the whole first year can be difficult because of the firsts. The first Birthday without, the first Mother’s Day without, the first Christmas without…well, even the first surgery without her was different. My hubby had surgery recently and this was the first time my little mama was not there in that waiting room with me. Goodness, did I need Mom there? Did I for some reason require her presence? No. I just wanted her there; missed her chatter; missed her making sure lunch didn’t pass without food. How different life is now.

How cliche it is to say life goes on. Time continues to march swiftly to whatever destination it has always been drawn. I continue to keep moving with it out of sheer momentum because if I don’t keep moving, in some way I know I will drowned. Keeping busy is the name of this game.

I really don’t know when I’ll find me again. Some days I think I already know this new, partially recognizable me. But then there are days like several days during the past two weeks, when what I’d really like to have done was just sit with Mom and tell her how my day went, cuz you know what, some were pretty crappy. But this is the me that doesn’t have a mom to sit with or call. I don’t necessarily like this me but, this is me regardless of what I want…so for now it will have to do.

Sipping coffee and wondering if I’ll like the me I find at the end of all this grief. ~paula