I am because you were

Today would’ve been either your 85th or 86th birthday depending on which document or story you refer to. Either way, today is your birthday. And today I am sad like I have been sad since I ever considered your death and the fear of how devastated I would be when that day came. I started feeling sad about that fateful day years and years before it ever arrived. I do that with everyone and everything these days. I start feeling the sadness of the death or loss of that person as soon as I realize I love them. I have even done that with my dog. I’ve already come to realize I’ll maybe only have 13 or so years with him before he’s gone and I will be sad about his death. I’ve already mentally prepared myself. My relationship, I already know that one day, whether it’s soon or not until the day one of us passes, it will end. And it makes me sad. I realize this sounds depressing or grim, but it is what I do for now. It also makes sure I don’t ever take a moment for granted as every second shared is a second gained and a memory made that deepens the connection which carries us longer together. Every single second counts. And because I know it will end one day, I make sure to savor those moments even with the undercurrent of sadness of the inevitable.

With the times we shared in the last years I knew that your days were numbered grandma. I knew that after grandpa died it wouldn’t be too long thereafter we would have to say goodbye to you. But this is thing… losing you to the monster of death just rips me to my core. It reminds me that no matter how lovely, wise, good gardener, good cook, loving Christian, generous and kind, death robs us of our life and leaves holes in the hearts and lives of the people who love us. There will always be a piece of my life missing because you are gone. I know it’s childish to wish for invincibility or long for more time when we aren’t in control and the human body is fallible and weak. But God do I wish I could’ve had one more day. One more memory. One more time to watch you wrestle my son or race him in the parking lot. One more chance to learn a recipe from you. One more chance to watch you tend to the garden or complain about one of the kids.

I am because of you. Because you lived I too am alive. Because of the life you lived I am more whole and more able. Because of you and your persistence I have a drive that is endless. I aim to be a good gardener and have the green thumb you so easily possessed. I aim to create a legacy of love and goodness that you left for me. The good stories I get to tell my son from my childhood are because of you. The good lessons I have learned came from you and your example. Because of your generous spirit you gave and provided for me for many years. I’ll always remember and always be grateful.

Grandma, I know a birthday in heaven isn’t quite the same and I know you have arrived where you’re supposed to be. But I can’t help but be sad and wish for all the time I still want with you and want time for my son and all the other great-grandkids who now can’t know you like we did.

I keep seeing these damn cardinals all over my yard and home and I feel your presence. I don’t know why but I feel your spirit with each visit I get from them. It might be silly to some but I have to know that you’re still here in some way. That your spirit still exists in this realm in some way. That you are not gone. That because you were, you still are and there’s a permanence to your existence.

My birthday and Mother’s Day happen to fall on the same day this year and it will also be two months exactly that you’ll have passed. I don’t know the significance of that beyond the alignment of such things. I do know that because you lived I have life. Because you are my mothers mother then this Mother’s Day is a little emptier than usual but serendipitously because you’re my mothers mother then I am and I am my sons mother who is the shining star of my life. And without you there would be no me, and no me there like be no him and he is good and will do great things in life.

Thank you for existing. Thank you for being the you that you were in this life and giving what you did. I am grateful for you in so many ways. 🎉❤️ Happy birthday in heaven, grandma. 85, 86, of 39 again, have a blast celebrating you and God breathing life into your lungs and wooing you into existence. 🎉

Hole-fully,

The Repressed Peach

Legacy

While in Arizona for my grandmother’s funeral my family members and I got to relish the opportunity to sort through hundreds, maybe even thousands, of my grandmother’s photos. She had a vast collection spanning many decades all thrown together in a couple of suitcases. Pictures from back when she was likely in her early thirties (before I ever met her) and all the way through the last two or three years of her life. My aunts, uncle and I all picked through the pictures recalling old memories and sharing them with some of our children. It was truly wonderful in many ways. I saw pictures I never knew existed. I saw my mother in various forms of her life including teen years and as a young mother. I loved sharing this time with my family. We were all hungry for good memories and to find the next treasure in the chest. It was very cathartic for all of us and really bonded us in our grief.

And this was all my grandmother left behind for the most part. Anything of any value actually. She had a few trinkets and knick-knacks, but all essentially worthless. And no meaning in any of them. When I first walked into my aunt’s home she had some of grandma’s jewelry laid out on the kitchen table. The first question to me was, “would you like to have anything?” The last thing I want right now is to pick apart my grandmother’s life piece by piece and parcel everything out. It seems strange to me in so many ways. We work so hard to have the things we have to enjoy life. We labor over these things and worry about them. We pack and unpack only to pack again and move them about with us as we travel from home to home in our moves through life. Yet at the end of the day when the death bell rings and we have ascended to glory, all we have are some old pieces of costume jewelry and knick-knacks that nobody really wants. We are reduced down to the few meaningless possessions which are split amongst those who care about us the most. And then I wonder, does it even matter? Those things are just things and do not represent her or why she mattered to me. She was a person whose life mattered. How she loved me mattered. How her infectious attitude and laugh mattered. Her zest for life and her love of Jesus mattered. She mattered, not the things she possessed. I guess this is why I didn’t want anything of hers. All she could give me she gave while she was alive. She gave me the greatest memories and taught the best values. She left a legacy that cannot be associated with any sum of money or equated to treasures to take to the pawn shop, she left a living legacy of love, hard work, happiness, joy, and family.

At the end of my life I hope someone can say the same for me and what I’ve done with my life. I hope that whatever material possessions I have remaining aren’t riffled through with reckless abandon but are treasured and respected while also not being valued over my life. I hope that the people who surround me while love each other, reminisce on their time with me, cherish each other deeply, support each other in their grief, and leave the event better because it happened.

With love,

The Repressed Peach

Tribute to My Grandmother

On March 10, 2020 my grandmother, affectionately called Little Bit, died after a massive stroke. She hadn’t been sick or anything and was just days before jumping on a bouncy castle with her great grandkids at a birthday party. The whole family was shocked when she died, to say the least. I find myself rocked to the core with this death… beyond the others I’ve written about, the death of my grandma has me deeply sad but also very grateful for her.

She was feisty, small in stature, big in love, the heart of our family, the thrill seeker, the wrestler, the fearless matriarch. Everyone who knew her loved her. She was a Christian woman who relied heavily on her faith. She was a phenomenal cook. She ran a tight ship in her restaurant business and didn’t take kindly to laziness or ineptitude. She loved all animals and often had various animals on her farm. From chickens to geese, sheep to pigs and cows that would nurse on your hand, she had them all at one point. She was a huge fan of emus before her farm life came to a close. She and my grandfather cornered the market on emu oil and all things emu. They raised them, farmed them, and sold the byproducts. They were all in!

As for her family… she was something else. Grandkids always have a different perspective about their grandparents than our parents had about their parent. My mom lived a different life with her mother than I did with my grandmother. My grandma taught me about Jesus Christ and led me to know him as my personal savior. I learned hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “I Fly Away” by singing them with her during bible study in the evenings in the living room of a small shack we lived in at the time. I learned to pray and what it felt like when God was in the room. Grandma always gave us a place to live when things weren’t going well with whatever man my mom was with at the time. We always had food because grandma would send my mom home with leftovers from the restaurant. If it was her delectable biscuits and gravy or the despicable liver and onions, we had food. My grandmother taught me to brush my teeth. She made sure my sister, brother and I all had Christmas gifts every year regardless of what was happening with my family. Grandma gave me my first job at her restaurant where I earned my first paychecks and saved enough money over time to buy my first pair of brand new, name brand shoes. Grandma taught me the value of hard work, discipline and servitude.

She was a giver in the truest form. Every year on thanksgiving she would have the whole family come together to cook and prepare a thanksgiving feast for the community offered through her restaurant. She had a donation jar for people who wanted to pay for their meals but she had no expectation for payment from anyone regardless of their ability to pay. The entire meal was free for everyone. Every year. Once everyone was served and off to their homes to rest in a food induced coma, all of the family, and any employees who wanted to, stayed for our own thanksgiving meal. We would make a 20 foot long table and load it with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, biscuits, dinner rolls, gravy, and fruit salad. Then dessert was always homemade pies: apple, cherry, blueberry, pumpkin, and other varieties from time to time. The cleanup was always the worst because we all just wanted to go home and knock out for a nap, but alas we had to clean and prepare the restaurant for a full shift the following day.

Grandma was an exceptional cook. She was famous for her homemade jams and jellies. She made blackberry, strawberry, prickly pear, apple butter, peach, marmalade, and so many more. She had the greenest thumb I’ve ever known. She could grow anything out of nothing. She liked to grow cucumbers for homemade pickles that she would use in her restaurant. She liked to grow flowers and plants. She especially loved purple irises and marigolds. I remember both flowers being on her property and behind her restaurant all the time. She also hand an affinity for hollyhocks. A flower I’ve only ever seen in Arizona. She loved green houseplants like the philodendron. Even as she aged she maintained flower beds and small gardens that she diligently tended to daily. She was one of the few motor homes in the mobile home park that had a garden and flowers. It seemed as though she would plant something everywhere she went. A small bit of Little Bit was left in her wake. Gardening and planting joy was her passion. She did it with a smile and great pride. When I would visit she often start off by showing me her plants and what’s been growing in her garden. She would brag about the fact she had the best garden in the mobile home park and would smile in delight.

To grandma, no one was a stranger. She was friends with everyone. She didn’t meet a person she couldn’t connect with or find a way to serve. She was generous in so many ways and found ways to bless others. I’ve learned in the last few years that we had several regular patrons to the restaurant who never paid for a meal because she just fed them. They were hungry and so they ate. She would use that time to talk to them about Jesus or Pop would come out and make friends, smoke cigarette or drink a cup of coffee while they ate. But those guests always had a plate of food and no judgement passed, not that I ever witnessed. Grandma lived a modest life. She didn’t have a lot but she did all at the same time. She was wealthy in family, friendship, and character.

Every being has flaws. We all make mistakes. We all do things we wish we wouldn’t have done or said things we wish we wouldn’t have said. We all have rough edges and need polishing in some regard or another. We are not born perfect, and we don’t die perfect. But, I know that my grandma taught me so much and gave me so much that I will forever be grateful to her. I think she likely saved our lives in more ways than one in the course of my lifetime. Thankfully I had opportunity to meet with her alone a couple times over the last five or so years and expressed my gratitude and the magnitude of the impact she had on my life. I hope she remembered all I shared and how much I loved her. I pray she knew my voice as I spoke to her in her final hours via video-chat. I pray the tears I saw gathered in the corner of her eyes was from the intensity of the love she felt. I pray that in her final hours she knew no pain and ran happily into the arms of God the Father as her spirit left this earth. I pray that she wasn’t afraid or worried about anything. I pray she was at peace with the legacy she left behind.

And for me, I pray that in time my heart will heal and this won’t hurt so badly. This post alone has taken me nearly four days to write because I couldn’t keep it together long enough to finish in one sitting; I was too overcome with emotion and the intensity of it all. I pray that I live the rest of my days honoring her and living up to the person she believed me to be. And more so, I pray that I live a life where I create a legacy of my own while also honoring her legacy.

Until we meet again Grandma, I love you, I miss you, and I hope you know how much you mattered. Rest easy in heaven and I hope you and Pop are enjoying your heavenly reunion! I know he missed you so much! Love you forever and always.

In memoriam,

The Repressed Peach

The latest loss

Sometimes life throws some serious curve balls. There’s no preparing for them regardless of how much you worry or fuss beforehand. Death is one of those curve balls. I’ve had 15 people in the course of 3 years depart this earth and I’m just fed up with it. I’ve written about some of the more shocking tales in previous posts so I won’t belabor the idea, but the most recent was closer to home than I would have preferred.
My father died in January.
I’m just now coming to a place where words are making sense. Ideas are coherent and flowing. But I’m not entirely ok yet. 

I didn’t get to make many memories with my father. In fact, most of the memories I have were given to me through stories told to me by my mother. As you can probably guess, those stories didn’t necessarily highlight my father’s more redeeming qualities. No, they generally retold of his drunkenness, joblessness, inability to provide, etc. in much the same fashion, that’s how his life came to an abrupt halt.

As reported on his death certificate he died of “alcoholic liver disease and multiple organ failure”. He was homeless but had shelter. He was very sick for a while according to his friends and refused to seek medical care. I still can’t get a straight answer as to how long he had been sick or what was really going on but I guess it doesn’t matter so much anymore. Fact is, he’s gone.

All my hopes of having a good relationship with my father are gone too. Ideas of letting my father meet his grandson are gone. Prayers for sobriety have ceased. Prayers for safety have ceased too, but in some way they have been satisfied. A lot more is gone too but the words escape me right now.

It feels like I’m thinking through clouds. I’m not feeling much. I’m not even really thinking a lot but I know things. Thinking sometimes causes pain where pain isn’t really welcome. Feeling isn’t so hot of an idea because I don’t know exactly what to feel and everything that I do feel, feels wrong. It feels wrong because I didn’t even know my father. I knew his name. I knew he was my father. I even knew a little bit about his younger years when he first became my dad. But I didn’t know his birthdate. I didn’t know his address. I didn’t know he had soothed other children to sleep after fits of nightmares. I didn’t know he had taken his family to WWF matches. I didn’t know what kind of music he loved and that he had attended concerts with his wife. I didn’t know so much and I feel silly grieving too hard. But he was my dad and some other part of me feels like I should be terribly devastated. I should lay awake at night desiring his wisdom. I should miss his birthday cards each year. I should long for days gone by where we spent summers together and let him make glorious memories with his grandson. This is all just empty wishing though. He never met his grandchildren. Not a single child did he meet and his eldest grandson just turned 17 years old. I feel more sad about that than much of anything else. He was a grandfather to some of the greatest young people and he missed out.

Alcoholism is a terrible disease. It tears apart the person, the family, the soul… It affects generations and generations of family. It’s more than I can wrap my mind around really.  

I feel so badly for the judgments I’ve passed on to others because of my experiences with my father. Absent fathers. Homeless people. Alcoholics. Passive aggressive personalities. Pie-in-the-sky, overly carefree people. Holier than thou, saved people. Rebounders. Tee-totalers. Every single person has some overt problem that is apparent to the world to cast judgment upon and I did just that. It will take time for me to learn a new way of thinking about these problems to avoid the judgments I’ve previously cast and I’m praying for a changed heart. Even in my father’s absence he affected the way I see the world around me. 

I’m praying for the callous on my heart from all the hurt to be softened and sloughed off so I can feel again. I need my heart back. I need to feel again. I need to let the waterworks flow and experience that soulful cleansing from a good cry. I’m praying for God to change my heart and heal all that’s wounded in me and restore me to wholeness again.

Grief is no friend yet oddly it is not foe. 

Expressly yours,

The Repressed Peach 

Notches of grief

Brain cancer. 5 years old. 

Brain cancer. 27 years old. 

Suicide. 30 years old. 

Brain aneurysm. 27 years old. 

Car accident. 17 years old. 

Old age. 83 years old. 

Drive by shooting. 16 years old and 3 months pregnant.

Cancer. 35 years old. 

Cancer. 53 years old.

Drive by shooting. 19 years old. 

Sudden infant death syndrome. 4 months old.

Drive by shooting. 16 years old.

Your lives mean too much to be relegated to a list on a page

But your numbers consume so much of my heart and I fear I don’t have enough skin to ink your name

My life of white privilege and living in no fear will never be the same

Cancer. Suicide. Shooting.

All of these and more will be gone before I. 

Where does it end?

With you?

With me?

Between lines on pages and ink making its mark? 

With brush strokes and poems or song lyrics and rhythms? 

Where does it end?

A life is sacred. A life is precious. Without life there is no me. Nor a you. Without life there is no purpose. 

A familiar face unfamiliar to me in a

cold

hard

steel box

wrapped with embellishments too gaudy to be sentimental.

Your soul is gone.

Your life is gone.

Your nails too brittle.

Your eyes never to open.

Where does it end? Life is too precious to be gone too soon. 

Grief

I decided long ago that death and dying was a concept I was not ok with. I hated to think about death much less talk about it. I would cry every time I would think of someone I loved being mortal and the inevitable truth that I would have to face their death at some point in my lifetime. Yet, grief is very real and very raw. Grief is hard and it’s a struggle in so many ways. I know a lot about grief now and I’m none too happy about it.

My bachelor’s degree is in Social Psychology and my master’s is in Community Counseling. In my undergrad program I didn’t have to face the concept of death too often and if I did, I managed to hold it together behind the screen of a computer as I was taking many of my classes online. Then I started my masters program. I faced death and dying in my first weeks of school. It was unsettling and I questioned God about why people needed to die. Why do you take us home so soon? Why is our time on earth so brief? What about all the work people have left to do God, they aren’t done yet! I didn’t have to wait too long before I came face to face with death and dying. I wasn’t ready though.

The rug was pulled out from under my feet as I laid face first in a pile of tears in front of my professor and classmates while I watched a heart wrenching counseling service video of a little boy whose mother had died of an aneurysm in the garage while he played inside the house. He went to check on mom and in the video he says he tried to open the door but her head was blocking it. She was dead in the garage. He was alive and alone in the house. He was nine years old. I was a complete mess. The video ended and I excused myself from the classroom while I tried to get myself together. Well, naturally, and as it should be in a counseling program, my professor urged me to discuss my tears and my emotions and, more importantly, why they were so out of control. I didn’t have a great explanation, but I attempted something along the lines of “I just don’t understand why little people have to deal with such sadness so soon in their life. Doesn’t God understand that little boys and girls need their mommies and daddies here on earth and not in heaven?” It seems so childlike now as I look back on the experience, but I was just about 30 years old and my son was four at the time. I didn’t like death. I didn’t like the concept of losing people who were close to me and I wasn’t ready to concede to God that I know He has a plan. All I could think is that there just isn’t enough time…time goes so fast and I never know when it will be the last time I see someone I love and adore. I was challenged in the classroom by my professor to reach past my fear and dive into my issues.

My program, like so many others, requires internship. I was counseling with supervision for over a year in various settings one of which came to include The Children’s Bereavement Center in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to put my big girl panties on and face my fears and try to see the bright side of such sadness. I wasn’t prepared for the lessons I would learn there. I didn’t know then that my experience and training would help me in my personal life more than it ever would in my professional life. I didn’t know so much, but I learned quickly.

The first lesson was that, in grief, there is hope and happiness. I never knew so much genuine happiness could come from some of the most brokenhearted. It was amazing to work with such incredible families and counselors, to be in a home that captured love, light, and peace as though it were a butterfly net, to be at the center of sadness but in the warmest of places ever created on earth. The Bereavement Center is one of the happiest places on earth. What irony. Irony catapulted me into facing my fears and forced me to see what grief really was and, more importantly, what it wasn’t. Grief has a mask of its own that each person wears so differently. Some hide behind grief, some wear it on their sleeve, others create magic from their hearts in various forms. I worked at the Bereavement Center for about ten months and then my time was done. I was to graduate in December 2010 and move on to new ventures.

Grief will strike home in less than two years. November 2012, a sweet boy I knew, named Jaxon, dies of brain cancer at the tender age of five. November 2012, a grad school classmate’s husband, Cody, dies at the age of 28 of brain cancer. December 2012, a grad school classmate whom I sat next to for many semesters dies suddenly and tragically from a brain aneurysm. Melissa was only 28. December 2012, an Army veteran, professional counselor, professional bodybuilder, funny man of the funny men, and a co-facilitator at the Bereavement Center with me, Dominic, commits suicide after a tragic bout of PTSD and relationship issues. I lost four people in the span of a month. I was devastated and angry. Confused and shocked. I couldn’t imagine how the people closest to them felt, because I was a wreck.

As if that weren’t enough, I faced yet another loss in March 2013. One of my students at the time, Raynord, died in a car accident after writing his epitaph in my English class the day he died. The writing prompt was, “If today were the last day of your life, what legacy would you leave behind? How would you want to be remembered?” He died in that car accident less than 10 hours later.

I couldn’t have imagined this amount of grief and loss in such a short time in my life. I couldn’t imagine being happy when it was so sad to lose too many young people with such great lives yet to live. I kept questioning why. I kept thinking, if them, then why not me? What protects me from the same fate? What would my son do if I were to die? How would his life change without me in it everyday? And what about him…what protects him from being free of terminal illness and dying too young? How would I even be able to wake up in the morning if I were to lose him. I shook off the uglies and I prayed. I prayed for faith. I prayed for answers. I prayed for comfort.

Another round of grief struck as my grandfather died in December 2013. He was so sick in so many ways. He had everything wrong with him except cancer and he had lived a good long life. He was 82 and died peacefully in his sleep at home with my grandmother holding his hand.

I thought our 2013-2014 school year would be the best one yet as we hadn’t lost any students, but then in May 2014, right at the end of our school year, we lost Kiana. She was a former student, 16 years old, and just three months pregnant when she was shot and killed in a driveby shooting. The retaliation was from a rival gang which caught her in the midst of the shooting. She wasn’t the intended victim. I recently learned that the young man claiming responsibility for the shooting committed suicide about three weeks ago. So many lives lost so soon. Too young. Too much potential for greatness. But, their names were called by God and he brought them home. The community was angered and afraid. I was, again, a sorrow-filled woman questioning my God.

I haven’t healed from those losses yet to deal with another, but today, I am faced with it. Today, my friend and co-worker, Milyse Lamkin, was sent to God on wings of doves. She died August 28th after battling cancer like the warrior she was. She was such an amazing woman. A woman whose tenacious spirit infected those around her. She was young too, only 52, and healthy other than the stupid cancer that invaded her body without invitation. She was an athlete and a coach. She was a mentor and a friend. She radiated common sense and understanding while holding strong to her values and opinions. She was fearless like no other woman I have ever known. She was a legend in the community and, quite honestly, everywhere she went. She was an alumna of the high school where we worked together for the last three years. She was our Lady’s Head Basketball Coach and a special education teacher. She supported me in my classroom last school year and helped me see some areas for improvement. She helped me with students who were difficult to raise. She helped me recognize faults within myself as a woman and a human being. She wasn’t my closest friend, but oh, how I wish she would’ve and could’ve  been. I was afraid she would see right through me. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be good enough. I was afraid I would be swallowed whole by the woman whom I wanted so badly to be my mentor. She wasn’t a jerk or anything, I was just a coward.

My tears today are mostly for her. But many more of them are for me. I have chapped and sad, swollen eyes because I was such a coward. I lost someone who I admired for all the right reasons but I didn’t get enough time with. She was the iconic woman. Always dressed the best. Always calm when the heat was on and a fighter when it was time to fight. I will miss her so much. I am grateful for the time we did share though. The many long conversations in my classroom after my students moved to their next class. Grateful for the moments when she would share her struggle with cancer and pray for me to excuse her memory with words while she dealt with radiation for the brain cancer. Little did she know, she needed no permission from me to be fallible because she just wasn’t. Never.

I will forever remember her beautiful face and warm smile. I will work hard to carry on and work for the students she devoted her life to. I will continue to live a life that will be a legacy once I die, but will pale in comparison. I will move forward with her in my heart. She and everyone else who has been near and dear to me will stay in the warm comfortable places of my heart.

Death hasn’t been easier, I have only learned to understand it better and have deeper faith in my creator. I struggle with each new loss as though it were the first. I cry. I fuss. I fight. I lose sleep while I toss and turn. The only comfort I find is in knowing that God has these souls on His right hand. The have been called to glory and are free from the mortal bonds. Free and free at last.

Rest in sweet peace my loves. I miss you all. I will see you one day, but until then, watch out for me, have my back in this life and teach me how to be a better person. I will seek guidance from each of you in my daily goings.

With love,

The Repressed Peach