Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't Forget

Today, Julia would have been six years old and in Kindergarten. There are a lot of “would have beens” for this baby who was full-term but stillborn; a seemingly perfect baby girl who never breathed outside her mother’s womb.

Julia’s mom is one of “the girls.” (And, I do have her permission to write about this.) There is a group of us girls who have been friends since high school. Life situations have impacted how often we see each other, but we are that group which easily picks up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed. We are the proverbial friends for life. We have been together for more than twenty years, through singleness, marriage, divorce, birth and death. Six years ago, I learned something that greatly impacted me. In the weeks following Julia’s funeral, her mom said she most feared that people would be afraid to talk about Julia and use her name and would then forget about her. That statement stuck with me and has changed how I show love to grieving friends.  I have become more intentional about how I show care and love.

The first week or two after a death, there are cards, calls, hugs, flowers and meals. We need to think beyond the first few weeks. The pain doesn’t go away for those who are grieving. When everyone else has moved on and forgotten the initial sadness of the moment, there is still a raw heart fighting sleepless nights or dealing with regret or fearing running into someone who had not heard about the death. Mail will still arrive in the name of the person who died, making the pain fresh again for those here. Death is a sensitive subject and usually there are tears involved. We need to learn to not be afraid or ashamed of tears! Often, in an effort to avoid bringing on additional pain, we chose to not talk about the person who has passed away. The truth is that the loss is never far from the thinking of those grieving and by not talking about it, we are adding to the loneliness. This is exactly what my friend was afraid would happen with her daughter Julia. The honesty of saying, “I’m not sure how to comfort you, but I care” will be seen as supportive, not awkward. Ask a grieving friend to share a memory about the person who passed away. Look through old photos. Everyone wants to be remembered and often the memories will bring a certain level of comfort.
Be aware that the first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day of not having a parent or child will be horribly hard. Send a card or flowers at that time. The first wedding anniversary without a spouse will be difficult as will the spouse’s birthday. Send an email. Call. Let your friend know that you figure it’s a hard day and tell your friend they are loved. Take the memorial card from the wake or funeral so you can remember the person’s death and birth. I usually write the dates on my calendar so I can remember to send a note or call on what would have been their dad’s birthday, or the one-year anniversary of the death of their mom. Listen for verbal clues of what may be difficult milestones and mark it down so you remember. My friend’s dad passed away last year and she mentioned that it was sad that her dad was no longer around to remember Mark’s birthday along with her. Mark is her brother who had died many years earlier. I wrote down that date in October so when it comes around again, I can let her know that I’m thinking of her and remembering her brother. It won’t be the same as having her dad around to remember, but at least she won’t be alone in her thoughts that day.

Most people are really good about extending their sympathies soon after a death, but there is no expiration date on pain, sadness and loneliness. It only takes a few additional minutes of our lives to walk the extra step of purposeful thoughtfulness. We have to be intentional! Consider this – if you are willing to wait in line for a specialty drink at a coffee shop, would you also be willing to give those minutes to send a card to a friend? I know the answer is YES, so let’s just make it happen. Life is always busy and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon. Don’t wait for the time; just make the time to be thoughtful. Reach out to a friend who has experienced loss. They may cry and it’s okay. They will also feel loved and will know that their loved one was not forgotten. Don’t forget the important dates that will be bittersweet. There is enormous healing power in showing love to someone who is hurting.  Get active with your concern.  Be intentional in your thoughtfulness.

See you in heaven, baby Julia Marie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When I am Queen

There are going to be a few changes when I become queen. Not when I’m President. (Although, I could be the Mom Czar and appoint to all moms what I know they need.) I’m gonna be queen. Last I checked, there was no palace, no royal guards on horseback, no centuries old carriage and no jewel-encrusted crowns for President, so I’ll take queen.

Please understand that my changes are not unrealistic fantasies like, “Pizza will have no calories” or “Someone else can exercise and I’ll reap the benefits.” I’m going for queen, not God. My changes are doable. At least in my head. Listed below are some of the most urgent changes, proven extremely necessary by my own life this past month.

When all the children in the home have all their teeth, a Household Cook will be assigned to each family. I never had much of a problem with feeding the kids when they were really little. As babies, options are limited. As toddlers, a cheese stick, cup of applesauce and graham crackers was a perfect luncheon smorgasbord. But then comes the day when the children turn into eating machines and food consumption more closely resembles an Olympic sport where everyone is going for the gold rather than merely life sustenance. You all of a sudden totally understand the absolute NEED for Costco, because why would you ever buy less than 36 eggs at one time? It’s around this time that I lose interest in cooking, because IT’S ALL I EVER DO!! By the time breakfast is cleared from the table, it’s time for the pre-mid-morning snack, which is closely followed by the mid-morning snack, followed by the pre-lunch snack…you get the idea. And where “snack” used to equal a handful of pretzels, it now means “sandwich.”

This is why all families will get a Cook. Since food has morphed into a 24/7 activity, there will now be someone to handle it ‘round the clock. The process of procuring the groceries can be exhausting, so once we get the food in to the home – someone else will create snacks and meals with it. It goes without saying that the Household Cook will also take care of all cleanup. Any well-balanced meals provided are icing on the cake, because at this rate, we’re just going for quantity.

Or, it can be a man. This will be an equal opportunity position. Yes, the Laundry Lady will do the obvious – the family laundry. But, here’s what else she (or he) will do:

 Wash the towels and sheets once a week like they need to be done! If we’re honest, most of us moms will admit that we’ve laid in bed thinking about all the blue-light-wand/bed-bug Oprah specials we’ve seen, and wondered when was the last time the sheets and towels were changed? No more wondering!

 Find all the sock matches! We will never again need that basket where all the lonely single socks hang out. (or, the pile of single socks laying on top of the dryer)

 Wash specialty items! You know all those things that need to be washed sometimes, but not all the time? Bathrobes, jackets, throw-pillow covers, valances, hats and mittens, bed skirts and picnic blankets stored in the car – it will all be washed and NOT only on an emergency basis due to spills, stains or accidents!

And, it should be noted that all laundry would be folded and delivered to the room of its owner. No more digging through the basket of clean underwear to find a sock match! The Laundry Lady and the Errand Boy (keep reading) will handle all dry cleaning.

(Again, it could be a woman – I’m all about equal opportunity.) This person will get it all done and in a timely manner. No more piles of bags by the back door or in the back of the car. Need to return mascara? DONE! Pick up the snow blower from the repair shop? DONE! Go to city hall to pay for and receive the 3-month parking pass? DONE! Forgot just one little thing from the grocery store and need to go back? DONE! When I am queen, we will no longer carry around a bag full of plastic bags that we keep intending to recycle at the grocery store – it will be DONE! We will not have to run to the library to avoid a book fine – it will be DONE and without having to drag tired and crabby children along!

As a side benefit, Errand Boy will also be available to help drop off and pick up children when everyone needs to be at their respective activities at the exact same time and on opposite ends of town.

Remember those diaper pails that made a long, sausage-like link of dirty diapers and everything was hidden from sight and smell? We will all have something like that for the multiple piles of papers that seem to duplicate overnight. The Paper Genie will not be a contraption of some sort, but a real person, minus pointy slippers and a genie-like appearance. The Paper Genie will be a paper assistant of sorts…someone to make sense of and give order to the hundreds of dead trees that consume my life, counters, purse, minivan, etc. In this electronic age, I wonder why we still struggle with overwhelming amounts of paper that I dare not recycle because it is probably “very important.” The Paper Genie will take all forms of paper and just deal with it! We will no longer search high and low for the Wal-Mart receipt so we can return the antiperspirant with a dial that doesn’t turn. Paper Genie will know right where the receipt is and will hand it to Errand Boy, who will return said item. The Paper Genie will create and maintain a sensible filing system for all papers, and we will be handed a folder each morning with the paperwork needed for that day. No more permission slip/recipe/greeting card/phone tree/receipt/doctor appointment reminder/homework paper hunts or shuffles. No more shoveling paperwork into a grocery bag in an effort to clean when unexpected company comes over. The paper perfume samples will finally have a home! The Paper Genie will keep it ALL under control!

I am sure that my reign will bring many more valuable changes and I will catalog all recommendations made. But for now, I need to throw some laundry into the washing machine and push the counter-top papers over so I have room to make the meatloaf, because it’s time to bake the pre-dinner snack.