Sunday, September 4, 2011

My Grandma didn't smile!

I gingerly approached my grandmother’s casket, not wanting to see her so old and frail, not at all the strong woman that I remembered from my youth.  Her snow white hair was styled just as she liked it, the loving work of a cousin that had done so for many years of Gram’s life.  The hands were clearly hers, gnarled as they clutched a crisp cotton handkerchief.  Those hands had prepared man wondrous meals for her family, quilted countless blankets, both played and taught the piano to unknown numbers of students, but would be most remembered (at least by me) for her obsession with picking every speck of lint off of the carpet. 
                The similarities ended there – the eyes closed in repose were sunken and hollow, the skin around them smoothed and softened.  Gram’s eyes had always been framed with soft folds and deep set wrinkles, the lids tucking into themselves around her bright eyes.  I remember her eyes as a steel grey color, although to be honest, I’m not sure what color they actually were.  Those eyes were both piercing and gentle, depending what you had done to earn her gaze.
                This woman, the one that they had placed in my grandmother’s casket, had high cheekbones and hollow cheeks with a wide smile.  I knew that it couldn’t be Gram, because my grandma didn’t smile!
                Oh, she did.  In her own way, but certainly not like this.  Gram had thin lips that I had always felt sympathy for, lipstick addict that I am.  Her smile was short and tight lipped, with full cheeks even when she had lost the girth of her middle age and shriveled to an elderly woman. 
                I understand the ravages of time.  The vibrant young woman pictured at the guest table as we entered the funeral home was gone long before I was born.  Her eyes smoldered, her smooth skin milky and radiant.  Gone, too, was the young mother who sat regally in family photos, coifed and made up, surrounded by her 7 children, ranging in age from young adults to mere babies.
                My Gram, the one that existed when I was young, had a healthy midsection.  Years of her own delicious meals had contributed heavily, as had her demand that nothing to go waste – even if she had to eat it herself.  She wore lipstick, on those thin little lips, and perhaps mascara and some “rouge”.  Groomed, but not overly so, her one indulgence was the regular visit to our cousin that kept her hair up for her.  She regularly wore dresses, long after it was the expectation to do so. 
                Through the years, I saw the damage that time and gravity can inflect on a body.  Her high cheeks became more jowly, and her skin thinned out and began to develop lines around the eyes and along her hairline.  Her hair faded and thinned, eventually becoming cottony floss.  Her body thinned out as well, as her appetite shrank and she no longer cooked for a family.  As I grew taller, she seemed to shrink, her bones succumbing to the pressure of living on planet earth. 
                This, I understood, and yet, I was aghast at how she appeared in death.  Unable to accept this representation of my Gram, I left without saying goodbye. 
                In later discussion with the family, I learned of the mortician’s signature style of presentation – preparing the body for burial with a peaceful smile. To me, it was reminiscent of the old adage, “never speak ill of the dead.”  He was painting a lovely picture of the departed, without regard to the life that they had lived.
                My grandmother was a saint, but she was not saintly.  She was valiant in her faith and almost fanatic in her desire to follow the commandments.  Her strict adherence to rules made her sometimes harsh with her family and occasionally judgmental with others.   Not in the least shy, the nickname “Marge in Charge” didn’t begin to describe the way that she managed those around her. 
                Lest you think that I am being disrespectful, these are the facts of her life, at least as I saw them.  She was also a wonderful cook that welcomed anyone into her home and fed them well when they were there.  She lovingly cared for a son with muscular dystrophy, giving him every opportunity to live life to the fullest, even before t hose with disabilities were invited to do so. 
                It is all of these things that I want to remember.  Good and bad, joy and tears.  To gloss over the imperfections is to lose sight of the full dimensional being that she was.  The angelic looking woman broadly smiling from the casket with smooth skin in no way resembled the woman that I had come to honor. 
                It wasn’t until they had closed the casket and we had arrived at her burial place that I felt the desire to approach and tell her goodbye.  The dedication was given and the funeral director had invited the family to a luncheon back at the church.  The crowd was thinning; young children bouncing down the hill, dodging headstones, the elderly being lead gingerly by friends and family. 
                The pink casket glimmering in the sun, adorned with a lovely spray of rosy flowers interspersed with brilliant white blooms was, for the first time, alone.  A few feet away, the ground opened up, ready to envelope her.  Her headstone, shared with my grandfather, had been engraved years before with her name and birth date.  She had been anxious to join her sweetheart of 60+ years.  Now, his vault was clearly visible in the rectangular hole.  Hers would be beside his, and obscured from our view in a matter of minutes.
                “Goodbye, my grandma,” I whispered, my hand placed lightly next to the flowers, my head as near the lid as I could lean.
                A tiny hand touched me, my five year old standing beside me.  “What are you doing?”  He asked, no doubt aware of the tears that had finally come.  I knelt beside him to explain that we were saying our farewells to Gigi.  Giving him a moment to do the same, I gave Gram a final pat and made my way down the hall to follow the rest of the family.
                I left with reticence, wanting to go back to the funeral director to assure myself that he would stay with her until she was properly buried.  I knew that this was procedure, but I wanted to be sure that my sweet little grandma wasn’t alone there while the family partook of the feast of salads and goodies prepared by the ward Relief Society.  It seemed cruel to leave her behind alone.
                My baby must have been thinking the same thing, as he paused after walking just a few feet.  Running back to her side, he blinked a few times, and then burst into tears.  His little heart was filled with sorrow that spilled out in great heaving sobs as he stood near the casket, suddenly understanding that Gigi was gone and that he hadn’t even said goodbye. 
                This was his first experience with death.  He knew that there were times that people left us and went back to Jesus.  But he’d never seen a body before, and I wanted to be sure that he wasn’t freaked when he saw her. 
                I explained about her body and her spirit and how she would leave one behind, while the other would go on.  “She might look like she is sleeping,” I explained, “But it’s really only her body.  Her spirit, the part of her that makes her who she is – that part moved on.”
                He seemed to understand that.  But it’s hard not to think of her in terms of the physical body that she wore here on earth.  He found a display room of caskets at the funeral home and had asked if he could lie in the ‘beds’.  After all, Gigi was sleeping in one!
                It makes me wonder if we’ll even recognize one another in the hereafter.  Are we going to look much the same as we did here – mother’s eyes and dad’s short legs?  What does ME perfected look like?  The physical is what we ponder, often wondering if a celestial body will have brown hair, or if society’s idea of perfect will be instituted.  Wand which society?  Wouldn’t we all, then, look alike?
                No, my grandmother didn’t smile.  Her teeth were crooked and her lips too thin.  But she was MY grandma.  And that’s how I’ll remember her, with gratitude for the small things that make us unique.  The things that make us…unforgettable.    
                So spare me the angelic smile, save your smooth skin and perfect posture.  Let me remember my Gram in all her glory, perfectly imperfect as she was.  That is enough for me!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Is it over yet?

Is it over yet?  Can I open my eyes?

So swells the song by Kelly Clarkson, “Cry”. 
Is it over yet? 
Can I open my eyes? 
Is this as hard as it gets?
Is this what it feels like to really cry? 

A few years ago, I attended the State Wrestling Tournament.  The championship matches are intense, as they have come so far, and they are not going to give up now.  Some are seniors, their last chance at achieving greatness.  Some have had an undeafeated season, and don’t want their last and most important match to be the first that they lose.  The emotion is compelling, and it’s almost as entertaining to watch what happens off of the mat as it is to watch what happens on the mat.

Upsets are usually accompanied by jumps, flips, and sometimes even whooping.  Coaches slap one another on the back and wrestlers jump into their arms.   It’s enough to make your heart swell.  But remember, there are two competitors.  The losers show equal amounts of grief, anguish, and despair.  There are a few that behave like gentlemen and congratulate their opponent heartily, but not that many.  A few are downright angry and behave like children, hardly shaking hands with each other or the coaches.  Then, there is Starfish Man.

Starfish man was a tiny little guy, probably about a 125 pounder.  He finished his match, and with tears streaming down his face, he shook hands and walked off the mat with dignity.  And then he crumbled.  I mean, literally fell into a heap on the tarmac, just off of the mat.  He lay prostrate on the ground, pulling at the hair on both sides of his head.  His coaches bent to speak to him, but he didn’t move.   They patted him on the back, but he didn’t move.  They looked at one another and tried to lift him up, but he was dead weight.  They shrugged and just stood there by him until he composed himself and stood up.   It took quite some time for him to come to this point. 

I can identify with that.  In my depressed state of mind, I’ve always felt like I wanted to be a starfish, laying on a rock somewhere.  The water can wash over you, but it can’t move you.  You become one with your surroundings, so much so that you become…invisible.     I could just BE and let everything wash over and past me and I don’t even have to react to it.

I imagine that Starfish man felt the same way.  He was in a crowded stadium with no less than 20,000 people in it, but in that moment, he was all alone.  Face down, eyes squeezed shut, he  could imagine that no one could see him, no one could touch him.  He could let the hurt and anger and frustration just wash over him.

Being depressed becomes such a  great deal of work.  You fight to keep your head above water, you fight to maintain your dignity, you fight to keep the demons from closing in on you.  Your enemy is your own mind, and you cannot escape it.  I’ve envied starfish for so long.

Is it over yet?
Can I open my eyes?
Is this as hard as it gets?
Is this what it feels like to really cry?

The first time that I heard this song, I stopped dead in my tracks.  That’s exactly how I feel when I think that I can’t go on anymore!  When I’ve been battered by the waves for so long, and there’s no end in sight.  If I knew that daylight were just around the corner…if I knew that this was the worst of it…then I might be able to bear the unbearable.    

This past couple of days have been rough in our household.    We’ve had some standard family drama, with a bit of door slamming, raised voices, and emotional outbursts.  We’ve not had a great deal of this with the boys growing up, thankfully, but now that they are nearly grown, we’ve added girls to the mix.  Enough said?

Things were said that I’m sure that we don’t mean, not really.   In the heat of the moment, it is blurted out and then there’s no taking it back.  You can apologize, but the damage is done.  That kind of hurt takes a while to wash away.  The really difficult part is that in loving my children, in wanting the best for them, I fail.  It is the desire to make their lives perfect that exacerbates the situation and frustrates me.  Their inability to understand these actions and more importantly, their motives, often puts me in an adversarial position. 

One of my children has turned his back on me, and my heart is broken.  It might be for a day, for a week, or for years, I have no way of knowing.  Is it over yet?  Can I open my eyes?

I feel like I’m waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.  The fear creeps in.  The doubt.  The self-evaluation.  I should have, I could have.  I haven’t done enough.  I’ve done too much.   I begin to see so many other things that I have failed at.  My failure as a child to my parents.  My failure as a mother.  My failure as a wife, as a disciple of Christ, as a worker, as a friend, as a sister, a cousin, a .  They are all so connected, and when one thing falls, it brings the whole lot with it. 

I’ll give myself a few days to feel sorry, to worry, to feel helpless.  I might even lay down on the floor and pull my own hair.  Is this as hard as it gets?

And then…it will be time to get up off of the mat and leave the stadium.  You can’t be a starfish forever, and you can’t let the depression and cognitive dysfunction sweep you away.  What’s left?  Where do you go from there? 

I’m not sure yet.  I have no idea what the future holds for me and my child. I guess that is up to him.  It has definitely pointed out that we have some things to work on as a family.   Right now, it feels like everything is my fault, and everyone is placing the blame entirely on my shoulders.  Thanks to a great therapist, I know that is not true, and there are more personalities involved that need to share in the responsibility.  I know where I need to get to, I just don’t know how to get there. 

I have to let go with my little suckers, leave the rock, and just keep swimming. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Being a Wrestler's Mom means...

…that you have actually told your child on more than one occasion – “You probably shouldn’t eat tonight!”

…that it doesn’t surprise you to see your child running in 4 layers of clothing the night before a match. Likewise, you don’t even have to ask why they are sucking on lemons and spitting in a bottle.

…that you had better have your Christmas preparations done before December when tournaments start, or it’s not getting done.

…that you can recite the concessions offerings of nearly every school that you wrestle at.

…that you go to sleep at night with “Half! Half!” ringing in your ears.

…that you will learn to recognize your child’s name being read over the speakers, no matter how bad the announcer massacres it.

…that you know the names – and weights – of every other wrestler on the team.

…that you will sacrifice every Saturday for three months to sitting on bleachers, eating popcorn and nachos for three meals, and getting home late because the heavyweights always seem to make it into the finals.

…that you have to lose the notion of personal space. Wrestling is a close contact sport, and so are the bleachers. Don’t be offended if a wrestler suddenly reaches under your butt to pull out the bag that you happened to sit over the top of.

…that you will catch beautiful shots of your child on the bottom, but somehow, the ones of them winning are always less technically perfect. (When Tux won his first match, I jumped in the air screaming, nearly wet my pants, and took a photo of my feet and the edge of the mat.)

…that you will forever be frustrated by the fact that wrestlers are always more concerned about taking off the leg bands than posing for a good victory picture. I think that it should go something like this…Referee says, “Winner kid, your mom a photographer? Where is she? Okay, turn that direction. Everyone look that way. Keep your arm up here...did it flash? Nope, hold on, let me suck in my gut and let her get another one...okay, she’s smiling. You can go now."

…that you have albums full of pictures of referee butts because they step in front of you just as you snap. You also have a fair amount of shots of wrestler’s groin areas, which you delete before anyone thinks that you took that shot on purpose.

...that when March rolls around, you will be too busy missing the team and the fun you had to realize that you have Saturdays back to yourself again.

…that you know that wrestling is not for the faint of heart. Your child will be squashed, smacked, beaten, contorted, thrown, and wrenched.

…that you have to be there to help your child stand up at least one more time than they are knocked down.

…that when the match is over, someone will have won. Someone will have lost. There’s no one else to share the blame, and there’s no one else to share the glory. It’s all on your child, and you have to be aware of the pressure that places on them.

…that you have to remember that your child has a coach. You are the mom. Love them no matter what.

…that it’s heartbreaking to see someone else’s arm raised at the end of the match.

…that you’ve tried to find a way to pray that your child will win…without praying that another child will lose.

…that you know that whether they win or lose, your child will develop skills that will last them a lifetime. Not just take downs and reversals, but self-reliance, confidence, self-control, discipline, assertiveness, dedication, strength, attitude, and perseverance.

…that once you have watched your kid wrestle, everything else in life is easy.

A couple of other articles that I thought were great regarding parents of wrestlers:

Spoutin' Out
7 Rules for a wrestler's mom