Two Steps Forward; Five Steps Back

The medical center I work for has been going through some changes the past couple of weeks. My boss resigned and then, a week later, her boss resigned. Three of our nurses moved on to other jobs and two of our doctors were let go. Other staff throughout the clinic was also trimmed back. As the face of health care changes so, too, does the medical center I work at. I am grateful to still have a job but we are all a bit on edge and feeling the loss of those people that are now gone.

I’m telling you this because one of the other Practice Managers has stepped up to oversee things while we are going through this transitional time. Last week she brought over one of her new Patient Care Representatives to be cross-trained on our front desk procedures so he can help out when we are short-handed. I worked with him a bit each day helping him set up his desk and printers, showing him where our break room was – little things like that. I found that every time I was around him for a few minutes I’d feel a lighter sense of peace inside and I’d walk away from him smiling and feeling better than I had in months. As he left for the day on Friday he came to say goodbye and to thank me for helping him and I found myself wanting to reach out and give him a hug – and that’s when it hit me like a big, wet towel: His mannerisms and pattern of speech were identical to my brother’s. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt like I did when Johnny and I were together.

I woke up this morning and couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I missed Father’s Day brunch with my family this morning because I can’t stop crying. I feel every bit as bad as I did the week Johnny died – the wound, fresh, raw, and gaping again. Saying goodbye to so many people at work and then being around this young man seems to have triggered something at an unconscious level until the pain could no longer be suppressed: the losses weren’t just at work – they were here, too, in my immediate family.

So, today, after months of moving forward in my grief for my mother and brother and feeling like I was going to be okay, I find myself in the pit again. And I know this too shall pass.

I know that we have to grieve in order to let go.

I know there is a purpose and a plan in place.

I know. I know…

But today I am grieving for all the men I’ve lost instead of celebrating the men who are still in my life. To my “Gramps”, John Kenward, my “other” dad, Rich Mahoney, my friends who would have made great dads, Jack & Tim, and especially to my brother, Johnny: I thank you for all of your love.

You are so deeply, deeply missed.

The Kitchen Sink

Something happened over the holiday weekend – something that took me by surprise. Instead of spending the four days away from work lounging on the deck, sipping margaritas with a good book in hand, I found myself motivated for the first time in months to deep clean my home. It started off innocently enough: I would get up from the computer to go make a cup of tea and I’d find myself putting things away while the water came to a boil. When I got up to let the dogs out, I’d stop and sweep the kitchen floor. The next thing I knew I’d be on my hands and knees next to a soapy bucket of water, ready to tackle the grungy corners that seem to always get missed when wet mopping the floor.

About halfway through the weekend I realizing just how much I had been avoiding caring for my home these past months. I’d been doing enough cleaning to be able to stand living there but I had let other things take a back seat to sleeping and playing mindless rounds of Internet card games.

As the weekend drew to a close, I found myself becoming a little bit weepy. Emotions began to well up inside me and erupt in small, quiet corners of the house. A tear would run down my cheek here and there at the oddest moments. A sadness would rise and fall inside me as I lifted things and moved them about. I even noticed I was dreaming more vividly at night, waking up wanting to be comforted but not really knowing why.

By Monday afternoon, knee deep in shampooing the dining room carpet, I stopped to take a short nap. I quickly fell asleep and began to dream of my old dog, Emma Woo. She was running across a field, full speed ahead, hurrying to run into my arms with the full weight of her enormous Sheepdog body. We collided in my dream, her knocking me to the ground, licking my face, pawing my shoulders, prancing like a 100-lb. puppy at the sheer sight of me. When I awoke from the dream, I had such a mingling of emotion surface all at once.  It was a cross between deep joy from getting to see her again and an even deeper sadness that came from knowing how much I had been missing her these past fifteen years.

I rose from my nap and dug back into the process of cleaning, rearranging, and reorganizing my home again. I walked over to the living room to put a candle on one of the shelves when I came face to face with the last portrait my parents had taken together before my mother had died. Suddenly, the weekend all made sense. After six months without my mother, I was finally coming up for air – ready to start putting my house back in order – literally and figuratively. It was time to stop standing still in the midst of my grief and begin, instead, to move forward into the path of my life again.

This afternoon I continued on that journey, sorting through all the junk that had accumulated in the hallway bookcase and then reassembling my dining room now that the newly shampooed carpet had dried. I let the dogs outside this evening right before the sun went down and made the rounds filling up all the bird feeders while they were enjoying the great outdoors. When I came inside, I went to wash my hands at the kitchen sink and, taking a quick look around, realized this was the cleanest my kitchen had been in a very long time. I flipped the bottle of Dawn detergent over and squirted a little soap onto my hands, washing away not only the dirt of the day but also letting a little more of the grief I have been carrying around go down the drain as well.

 

The Father, Son & Holy Ghost…

I’m 56 now and have been for the past four months.  Seems like it was just the other day that I turned 55 and crossed the threshold into Senior Citizen Discounts and free coffee at McDonald’s.  These past couple of years I’ve noticed my memory slipping here and there and I will pause when it happens and remind myself that it’s not Alzheimer’s if I can’t find my keys – it’s when I don’t know what the keys do that I really have to worry.  That will appease me for a few moments and then I’ll go back to being pissed off because I still can’t find my damn car keys.

And it’s not only the car keys I struggle with.  Yes, over the past few years I’ve found the butter hidden discretely in the freezer, the aluminum foil tucked neatly in the vegetable bin, and the dog food in the bird food tote.  I call breakfast dinner and dinner lunch and I can’t seem to say the day of the week out loud without it sounding like a word mashup game.  The red hairs that once graced my head are too tired to keep producing color; now they just come in white and say the hell with it.  I don’t blame them.  I tried to walk around the block last week and almost had to take a nap half way around.

But I digress…

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, my memory loss.

But just when I think things are starting to get out of control and perhaps I should go talk to a doctor about the fact that I couldn’t remember where I parked my car at the mall last week after two hours of hapless shopping, I hear a song come on the radio from 35 years ago and, before I know it, I am singing my heart out – every word easily rolling off the tip of my tongue and every note perfectly remembered.  Yes, I might not recall whether I wore my black pants to work yet this week but let me here Don McClean singing “American Pie” and not only can I recite every syllable to perfection but I can name the bar I danced on with my three best friends while that song played on the jukebox and I can even tell you who had to drive us home that same night because none of us were fit to be on the road.

God, I miss those days…

But, if I had to choose (and, apparently, I do) then I’ll take being able to remember all those wonderful, fun, laugh-out-loud moments of my youth – along with 40 years of music, concerts and wanting my MTV over whether or not I can find the butter when I need it.  The Father, Son & Holy Ghost might have caught the last train for the coast but I’m still here in the house I grew up in, rocking it out on a Wednesday night.  At least for a little while longer.  Got to get to bed by 9 or there will be hell to pay in the morning!

The Long Goodbye

Four months after my mother’s passing, we finally held her memorial service.

Yesterday was a very long and hard day but we all made it through to the end. It had some highs such as seeing the friends of my parents from when I had been a child – many of whom I haven’t seen in a good 30 years but I still knew them when I saw them. The funniest thing to me was how I was now taller than all of them – even the ones I remembered as being such tall men and women.  (I guess I grew a few inches and they shrank a few?)  The day also had some lows such as hearing my father eulogize my mother’s life, his voice shaky and cracking at times.  I found if I looked down at my purse instead of directly at my dad I could listen to his words instead of his heart and that helped me make it through without totally falling apart.

My father will soon be traveling to David, California to have yet another service for my mom where the friends who knew her for the past 30 years can say their goodbyes. I am glad I cannot make that trip; it was hard enough to hear him eulogize my mom the first time around.

The bonus to my weekend was that I got to see my nephew – so much like my brother, Johnny, that it was like getting to spend time with him again. He has my brother’s mannerisms and most of his personality, although he is his own distinct and wonderful person.  My heart lifted and lit up from the inside every time I saw his face.  It went a long way to easing the grief over my mom and brother.

Thank you to all of you for the strength and prayers yesterday. Several of us went down to the Kauffman Garden after the service and spent an hour walking among the flowers – my mom loved it there. Hundreds of tulips were open and dancing in the breeze and it left us all feeling renewed.

Last night we celebrated her life at 54th Street Grill and Bar – something that has become a new family tradition. I thank those who contributed to the gift certificate that helped pay for our meal – it was a beautiful and thoughtful thing to do.  Our friends and family took up most of their tables but we did our best to run up a decent tab to make up for it.

Today, we woke early to have breakfast together before putting my Uncle back on a plane and sending my sister back to St. Louis.  My nephew and sister-in-law took off very early to drive back to their home in Houston as well.  I came home and went back to bed, will do a little laundry this afternoon, and then plan to take it easy the rest of the day. Monday, I will put my best foot forward and “keep on keepin’ on” – just as my mom did every day of her life.

If there is one thing I have learned from all these years of photographing nature, it is that no matter what (or who) dies away, evidence of their being here on earth is always present in the new life that continues to flourish. I will do my best to represent my mother’s life on this world in the days, weeks, and years to come.

We will remember her often and miss her deeply.

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Kansas City’s Own Garden of Eden

I first found the garden in the fall of 2012.  I had been photographing the same old places for five years and was looking to add some new destinations that were close to home to my rotation of places to photograph.  I happened to come across a write up about the garden online one day and decided to go looking for it that next weekend.

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Many of the people I know who have lived in Kansas City most (or all) of their lives don’t even know it exists. When I mention that it is only two blocks south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum and directly across from the Kauffman Conference Center they look at me with a puzzled expression.  “It’s on Rockhill Road, you say?  Between the Nelson and UMKC?  But I’ve driven by there a hundred times and I’ve never seen a garden there.”

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If you were in a hurry, you could probably walk through the entire place in 10 minutes – but I’ve never managed to get out of the garden in under three hours.  Everywhere you turn, there’s something new growing for you to look at, study (and photograph).  It’s not nearly as large as it’s counterpart, Powell Gardens, but then it’s not a 45 minute drive to get there, either.  I can be out of my home in the Northland area and be pulling into the garden’s driveway in 15 minutes.

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And, although I love walking through the garden at any time of year, spring is THE time to visit.  Between the thousands of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and pansies stand two rows of flowering Crabapple trees that will literally take your breath away when you first see/smell them.  It is an intoxicating place to sit and just “be” for a while.

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Once you’ve seen the garden in the spring, you’ll be back to see what the other seasons hold as well – everything from lilacs, hydrangeas, roses, clematis, magnolias, flowering quince and dahlias…it is an endless parade of what grows well in Kansas City.

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And every time I make the trip there I walk out feeling renewed, refreshed and at peace.  To some, it is just a garden, but to me – it’s become a sanctuary.

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When life deals the hard blows or work becomes overwhelming, I know its time to pull out the camera bag and head south to the Kauffman Garden on an early Saturday morning.

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If I get there early enough, I’ll have the whole place to myself (well, except for the feline protector of the garden – she’s always there to greet me when I come.)

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If you live in the greater Kansas City area, stop in for a peek sometime.  There’s never a bad time to be there. If you go in the next week or so you’ll get the added bonus of seeing the Crabapple trees in bloom beneath the clear blue Kansas City sky.

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(Now don’t you feel better already?)

The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden is located at 4800 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110 and is open every morning at 8 am year round.  Although professional photo sessions are no longer allowed, you are always welcome to photograph the beauty of the garden.

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Whether you take your camera or not, you’re sure to walk away with a special place in your heart for this wonderful attraction that lies in the heart of Kansas City.

 

The Tipping Point

We are right in the middle of a soft, spring rain.  There’s no thunder, no lightning; only a soft sprinkling of water drops pinging off the still-bare branches and the glass windows of my home.  It’s been raining since late last night and the ground is now dark and moist, giving way to the push of the heel as my shoes try to gingerly walk atop it.  I hurry the dogs to take care of their business, worried that my hair will turn to frizz if they take too long.

Despite the gentle rain, the birds are flocking to the feeders this morning.  (Apparently, there’s no sleeping in when free food is at hand.)  Tonight we will set our clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time even though nobody can ever remember why it is we still do this.  It’s so silly, really, that it should take an act of congress to end this ridiculous tradition.  The birds have never reset their clocks and they seem to be getting along just fine.

The first of the blossoming trees began to show their stuff this week.  I noticed a Saucer Magnolia tree and an overgrown Pussy Willow bush both making their initial push to explode in the prolonged and deepening sunshine this week.  Temperatures rose into the 60’s and 70’s and stayed there; a sure sign that everything on this portion of our planet will be awakening to spring’s call for an incredible floor show and the participants will be all too happy to show us what they’ve got.  The Forsythia and Quince bushes, Bradford Pear and Flowering Crabapple trees, daffodils and crocuses will get things rolling.  Then the lilac bushes, Dogwood trees, and tulips will crowd them out, taking first place in the second act of spring.  In my mind, I imagine heaven being spring and autumn all at once: everything in bloom, everything showing its best and brightest colors, every day starting and finishing at the perfect temperature.  And then, as we lay our heads down to rest, it will rain exactly like it’s raining this morning – gently, leisurely, without force or fear.

It won’t be long and the grass will need to be mowed, the garden soil turned, the lawn furniture returned to the shady side of the deck.  There are many afternoons ahead where I will sit outside, cold drink in hand, spying on my avian friends as they come down from the surrounding trees for a nut-based treat.

We all make choices in life; these choices are mine: to breath in every moment, to see it for what it is, to experience it and remember it and let it soak into who I am.  Spring’s tipping point happened last night while I was sleeping and today I wait for the rain to stop and the show to begin.

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Saucer Magnolia Study

“…Peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet.” ~Anne Lamott

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That’s what I think of when I remember the day I took these images last spring.

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What a magnificent day it was.  So peaceful, yet so inspiring.

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I remember standing beneath this Saucer Magnolia tree with my camera

pointed straight up through the blossoms and I never wanted it to end.

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Everything about it was magical.  The light – the air – the tree…

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I look back on it now and can remember exactly where I was standing and

how it felt to be seeing that tree at the perfect moment in time.

Saucer Magnolia_13-0414_7439-2  And it’s almost here again!

Some For All

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I gathered this spring’s first batch of daffodils yesterday. Five little blossoms – one open, four still cocooned away inside their protective covering – all living beneath my bedroom window on the south side of my house. This group is always the first to emerge each year as they are in a prime position to soak in the late afternoon sun, yet stay protected from the worst of the seasonal winds. In other words, they got it good.

The other group – the ones that run along the fence on the east side of the front yard – they’ll be along in another week or two, flashing their sunshine smiles at the passing cars as they bask and bathe in the morning sun. This patch that runs the length of my 40’ side fence will be seen by many; whereas the first batch of five will be seen and enjoyed only by me.

In our society we often equate “more” with “better”. The more you own, the more you’re worth. The more you sell, the more you have. It’s created a society that honors “more for one” over “some for all”.

My whole life I’ve been a “sharer”. If I get, I give. If I receive, I pass it on. I keep a portion for myself and then find a way to bless someone else with what I’ve been given. I do it with flowers, with money, with food, with my photographs – I basically do it with everything. It is an inherent part of my genetic makeup that I was reminded of when I took an autumn leaf into my mother while she was in the hospital this past fall. I handed her a beautiful oak leaf and she looked at my dad and said, “Look, Jack…she’s still bringing us leaves.” She then recounted how I couldn’t be outside for long as a child without running up to hand her a flower, a leaf, a rock, or a caterpillar. I delighted in the outdoors as a child and I wanted everyone to see – and share – in the items I delighted in.

So it’s no wonder that when I picked up a camera ten years ago that I would eventually decide to photograph nature and then give away my prints for free. You like this one? Please, take it. Have it framed. Smile when you walk by it every day. It brings me joy to bring you joy.

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“More for one” is a fine concept – it rewards the doers of the world for doing what they do – and that’s all well and good. I’m glad to have that tiny bouquet of daffodils sitting on my kitchen counter this morning, staring back at me as I prepare a pan of lasagna to take over to my father later today. Those five blossoms will bring me great joy as I reflect on the coming spring this morning. But it’s the 40 feet of daffodils that are still a week or two away that will really light my heart up because I’ll know that every car that passes by, every person that walks my street, every mother that pushes her newborn in a stroller – they will all pause and think “Isn’t that a joy to see!”

Some people delight in the richness that comes from money. I choose, instead, to delight in the richness that comes from passing on a little joy to others. At 56, it seems a little too late to change that now…but what about you?