Mama Used to Say: ‘Your Tank is on Empty’

Mama Used to Say: ‘Your Tank is on Empty’

One of many of Mama’s infamous phrases was, “Ann, your tank is on empty.” As I reflect on this last year there have been a plethora (sp) of phrases that have entered my mind which my Mama used in conversation; I am astounded that I understood anything she said in my childhood.

I certainly have my own quirky phrases that I throw out there on the regular basis, but Mama’s phrases were flooding my mind so often that I had to just start writing them all down. The strange thing is that I literally had forgotten these phrases were a part of our world on a daily basis growing up in our home.

When God gave us Rachael Lutz, we had to tweak so many things to try to help her. One that both myself and Mama worked on was using phrases that were very abstract which only confused and frustrated her. But, I’ll be “throwing a few” your way today.

So, has your proverbial “tank” ever been on empty? Chances are indeed, if they’ve not reached empty, they’ve run on low a few times. It’s always humbled me to know life is just way to big and complicated for me to ‘go it alone.’ I know I’m just a spec in a world that is millions of years old, but I believe God loves each of the “specs” He has created with an infinite and universal love. This truly does help to keep my cup very full.

Sure, there are days when I am tired and plum worn out. I allow myself to rest. Years ago, Richard and I were far more social folks; now we spend a tremendous amount of time in our garden and home. And, as for Rach, she has found beautiful families who love her just the way she is designed by God and treat her as a gift and a blessing. Our little Isle of Hope community has certainly embraced her and that is a HUGE blessing that “fills our tanks” with HAPPY ENERGY and much gratefulness in our hearts while we “chill out” at home.

I can still hear Mama, “Ann, your tank is running low” or “Ann, your tank is on empty.” She knew me so very well. We had such a very deep connection, even though we did not always agree or even understand each other for that matter. I loved her with all of my heart and would have never traded her. Another of my many blessings that I count.

I recently had a chat with Ashton, who is thirteen, about energy. Sure, it’s invisible, like the wind, but Mom always knew when I was “running low on energy.” I may have been grumpy or snappy with she or daddy. I may have been acting anxious over school work, tests, sports I was playing at the time. Maybe I was getting sick. SHE ALWAYS KNEW, she was my mom.

I never thought much of the amount of energy it took to raise four children, especially when one had needs that were special. Our mom tried so hard to get help for my brother, Stephen, as they realized that he had learning disabilities/dyslexia. It was a very different time and there was not the amount of help available then as there is now.

Mama and daddy tried tirelessly to provide him the help he needed, from doctor’s to school’s. He has so many talents in which God has blessed him. I saw Mom’s silent tears (whereas, I cry hysterically) as the ache within her soul was so very real. Here she was (they were) desperate to help him and save him from himself and his own path of destruction. We are so thankful for the prayer warriors out there that have really helped Rachael on her path in life.

By the time Mama was eighty-eight and closer to leaving this world, I’d spent countless hours in conversations with her over the challenges of raising children, but especially children who have special needs. They are all gifts from God, but Mama always said parenting was a “humbling job” and I definitely agree with her. They are not “toy soldiers” for each soul is so very unique.

Unfortunately, Mama also spent many hours of her life “beating herself up” over she and daddy’s inability to “save” Stephen from some of his own choices. I bought her many books, “Codependent No More,” “Boundaries”, and etc. in hopes that these would help her to accept that they had not failed as parents. They made mistakes and had faults, but they certainly tried during a time when they did not have the science, medication or the same amount of knowledge that they do now.

It was when she was tired, when her ‘energy was low’ (which happened far more often after she had buried my brother Fred and my sister Josephine in less than a three week period of time) that she would reflect more about her life, her choices, her parenting. I certainly understood to some degree. In quiet moments, we often do slow down enough to reflect.

Feelings had always been difficult for Mama to share. There was a tremendous amount of love but she thought she could parent Stephen (well, all of us) through control. That back fired on her by the time Stephen had turned eleven years-old. Actually, it didn’t work so well with me either.

I remember running and hiding when Stephen had returned barefooted from days hiking to who knows where doing who knows what. In one sense, we were all so relieved that he was safe, and in another breath, Mama and Daddy’s ‘temperature gage’ was off of the charts, yikes, scary!!! This required emotional and mental energy for us all I believe.

When I was “running low” or “almost on empty” with having Kira and what was described to me as ‘Irish twins’ cause Kaelan and Rachael are only twelve and a half months apart, I remember Mom sharing that I had kept them awake the first four years of my life. As she would share her stories, it always struck a chord with me cause it sounded as though it had just happened, yet it was a lifetime ago really.

When Rachael was a little child, she was having very clear struggles with fine motor skills, language processing, listening (and defiance) and Mama had plenty to say. She, no doubt, loved Rachael so very deeply, but assertively let me know how to parent her. It took a lot for me to find my courage, but I quickly responded with, “How did that work out with you with Stephen?.?!.”

It was harsh, it was hard, it was my version of tough love. She did adore Rach and loved my brother. My brother had (has) unfortunately spent most of his life in prison. He can draw beautifully and is such a creative soul. He can build things and I remember him doing really well in “shop” when I was a child. He was gifted with much talent.

Rach is not Stephen anymore than I am someone else. However, Rach has helped me, tremendously, become my more authentic self. It took so long for me to find ‘my voice’ and to understand what that even truly meant. All of it has helped to define my “soul purpose” and help to clarify why I am here and what God wants me to do. I “WOKE UP.”

Yes, Rach takes more “energy” to raise. She has woken up her entire life throughout the night. When she was little, 6 times was her “magic wake up number.” Yes, we too were exhausted so I finally understood Mama and Stephen in many ways that I had never understood prior to having Rachael Lutz. It was through all of our efforts with Rachael that Richard and I worked tirelessly on trying to learn how to be on the “same team” (that was hard for us) and learn how to parent Rachael and our other children. One thing was made abundantly clear early on in Rachael Elason Lutz’s life: she was NOT going to be controlled.

I believe, as exhausting as it all was: doctors’ appointments, social skills, play therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, equine therapy, etc. that it not only stretched our hearts (through good times and really hard times), it stretched my mother’s heart to love differently as well, with no strings attached. Gamee learned quickly that she wasn’t going to control Rach in this here lifetime on this here planet Earth. Rach taught her how to love unconditionally, even more deeply than she had loved before God gave us Rach.

Did it take “energy” from Gamee to restrain her natural habit of being in charge, it did. Did it backfire sometimes when she thought she was helping but Mama’s choice to command and demand Rachael could set forth a series of unfortunate events, it did. Did we love her all the same, yes, indeed we did.

One of the last times I really remember it happening was when she had gone to Disney World with us. Richard had a work conference and commitment, regarding the conference, that had to be met. It was here a series of unfortunate events certainly ensued.

We were in one room of the hotel and mom, Kira and Rachael were in the other room. Kaelan was going to be sleeping on the sofa bed in the main living area of the hotel room. There was also a kitchen and dining room table area which all opened to the living area in which was Kaelan’s sleeping/resting area. I cannot remember how old Ashton was or even where she was sleeping.

Mama had traveled with us before and knew it took a lot of mental and emotional energy (with a large dose of forgiveness) to travel with us Grizwold’s. She was excited and up for it, she assured us. Okee dokee then…

After, I believe a long day in the park, we returned to the hotel room. Kira was on the little porch talking to Arthur on the phone. Kaelan was chilling on the fold out couch, quietly watching T.V. Mama was intent on doing the laundry. So we did and we folded everything while stacking each person’s neatly in a pile on the dining room table. No big deal leaving the stacks right there cause we were going to be eating dinner with the folks at the conference and were not using the table. However, Mama felt differently, she wanted everyone to put their clothes away right then and there. She insisted Rach take Ashton’s clothes (she was resting in our room on our bed quietly watching cartoons while Richard showered in our room – notice the theme here – our room) and put them in our room. Rach made her way in front of the TV in front of KAELAN and tried to open the door. It was locked.

Meanwhile, I’d run to the bathroom near the other bedroom (I’d not run to the hotel lobby) quickly. By the time I’d returned, I heard yelling by Kaelan letting Rachael know he’d warned her three times about continuing to walk in front of the TV. She was yelling at him that Gamee told her to put Ashton’s clothes away and my STRESS METER escalated quickly. I knew the looks and I saw Rachael’s pupils. They were huge, black and she was livid. The door to our room was locked; Rach kept yelping for Richard to open the door. I’m trying to intervene to “calm the waters” and Mama tells Rach to sit the clothes down on the TV stand. Naturally, she chose to sit them (a nice pile) in front of the TV show Kaelan was trying to watch instead of beside the TV. I said, “Mama, things are about to EXPLODE.” Suddenly, our mild mannered, sweet and gentle son tore off of the bed like a wild animal on the hunt. “For what?” You say, his SISTER, of all things! Kaelan suddenly proclaimed with extreme INTENSITY that he was walking back to Savannah and wasn’t staying here another minute!!!

Kira swooned in and took off after him. Richard had opened the door by that point and asked what in the world had happened. Mama got tears in her eyes and I simply exited into our room, into our bathroom and put myself in a lump on the bathroom floor. I think this is how it happened or maybe Kira saw me crying hysterically in a lump on the floor and then she asked me if I wanted her to go after Kaelan. I can’t remember because it truly is all a blur. My emotions were a big bowl of mixed up MUSH.

I love Disney World, but it takes a lot of energy. Many memories (again, good and bad) have been made there. However, the energy that all of this took, mentally and emotionally, was not the same as riding on the People Mover’s in Futureland.

I had to dig down deep to pull it together; I don’t remember much about the rest of that evening, I’d cried like a baby myself. I was at a loss for sure, but I do remember a huge relief sweep over me as Kira returned with her brother by her side quite some time after the monumental meltdowns had occurred. The gratefulness enveloped me like a warm soft blanket as I had been petrified for Kaelan and his well being. I don’t think anything was discussed that evening.

The next morning, Mama and I were up early. “I’m sorry” was always very difficult for her to say, but she did tell me, in a soft and quiet voice (unlike her:), “I did not mean for any of that to happen last night.” Of course, I knew that for sure. I shared that it’s why I’d suggested the clothes just stay in stacks on the dining table until everyone had had some down/ quiet time. I gently said, “Do you see what I mean by ‘I now understand better about which battles to pick’ ” and she assured me that she understood now. Yahoo!!! Excellent news.

She then proceeded to tell me that we were not going to talk about anything that had happened last night because today was a new day. “Hmmm… a new day, yes, but a crazy, dysfunctional evening the night before, yes,” is what I was thinking. I kindly told her that was not how we did things in our family. I shared that it was called communication and we could respectfully each have our opinion or even agree to disagree, but we were indeed going to talk about it and ‘clear the air’ as best we could. Then, we could move forward with our day. And so we did.

I don’t remember anything quite that crazy happening the rest of the trip. I DO remember that ALL OF THAT definitely took a lot of our energy and we needed time to recover. We rested, we found time to swim in the pool and go to the gym to rejuvenate until we felt refreshed and then, we began again.

We must pray, as well as allow ourselves time to rest, renew, rejuvenate and restore our energy in order for us to move forward on our way into another day. And always hold onto this quote by Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” So deep breaths and let us all keep being thankful for our little and big blessings now and while moving forward. Each breath we take is indeed a gift from God.

”What About My Basket”

”What About My Basket”

So, who had to turn in a term paper in high school? Do you remember the feelings you had about it…sitting in your desk, awaiting the teacher’s announcement of looming dates and lots of deadlines. The topic was sometimes chosen by you or sometimes it was assigned. Every time I knew I’d learn something new, but I always had so much anxiety. I knew it would entail many trips to the library, using the card catalogue and doing research. Finding the books in the library was like pursuing a needle in a haystack (they had numbers). At times, I’d arrive right where the book was supposed to be, only to find it absent.

“Ugggghhhhh,” was my response in my insides cause that meant: REPEAT- back to the card catalogue, find another book on my subject matter and start the process all over again. My nerves would be frazzled: there were no snacks or drink machines in the library, I couldn’t talk (fathers!) and I was doing research, typically, on topics that really didn’t touch my soul or resonated with me. But, I didn’t like to get in trouble; I wasn’t a fan of disappointing my parents or teachers either.

Actually, I tried it a few times, leaving a paper until the last minute. I am forgetful, but some things stick with me. I had a paper on the Liriomyza trifolii and left it until the last week or so before the deadline. I believe I shut down a bit- I had notes everywhere, nothing was organized and ready to be typed and my deadline was quickly approaching. My typing was a matter of pecking and at 14 words a minute (with errors); I wasn’t getting anywhere fast. Oh, let’s not forget those infamous foot notes and endnotes, those liked to about send me over the edge.

My Mama called in the troops: my brother, Fred (very smart) helped to organize my heap of mess papers and notecards into some sort of order. I believe it was then that I made an outline, which probably would have been better for me to have done at the start. Josephine was typing at the speed of light (160 words a minute with maybe 1 error) as I handed her my papers. Mama was providing drinks, snacks and encouragement to us. In the midst, I was also receiving the death stares from Mama, loudly expressing, “I want to ring your neck!!!!” SCARY, even the thought, all these years later. Eep. They all three made it clear that this was a one time occasion and wanted me to chalk it up to “a learning experience.” And so I did for my nerves were shot from the whole experience. I got a “C” on that paper I believe and I was thankful. I deserved a “C” and it taught me many life lessons.

Suffice to say, I was a little nutty about term papers and pre planning, meeting deadlines, staying organized by binders with dividers and color coding notes, index cards, you get my drift. It didn’t always ensure an “A,” but it helped me to keep my sanity, which I valued, just a wee bit. I can hear Mama saying, “It isn’t the end of the world ANN, just always do your best.”

That was taught to me by both my parents. They had an incredible work ethic and always put forth great efforts to “do their best” in whatever it was in which they were involved or committed. So, the moral of this BABBLING…this has always been my approach for Rachael Elason Lutz. We have asked her as well to try to do her best. We’ve succeeded, we’ve failed, we’ve tried again. The trials and tribulations in her life have been real for sure, but she has somehow, someway (with lots of love, help, support, nurturing, pitfalls, prayers, promises, medications) continued to persevere and prevail. Huge blessings and grateful hearts over here!!!

We’ve hit a CROSSROADS- it’s “Term Paper Time” it feels like for sure. Once upon a time, I was under the illusion that I was “even keeled.” I’m not. I’m a passionate soul who feels deeply, thinks deeply, loves God, has a lot of Irish in me (as I’ve said many times before) and am a Gemini. I love deeply too and inside resides a “Mama Bear” that hibernates most of the time, but, once awakened…I’ll NOT QUIT, I’LL NOT STOP, I’ll KEEP GOING, she is our child, she is worth it, she counts.

Rach got back into the Public School System with great efforts from many folks. The “BIG MEETING ” was in between my brother dropping dead suddenly and my sister (two weeks and two days later) dying from a brain aneurysm. To say my nerves were completely shot was not even a remotely close assessment. Again, many folks were Rachael’s advocates and made it all come together. Rachael needed school, a place where she belonged, a spot where she was able to help others and learn as well as grow. Johnson High School provided her with a safe place where all of the above happened. Lots of hoops had to be jumped through and lots of us “jumped” to pull off this plan for Rachael being a part of the special needs program.

Fast forward to 2018 (probably October) and FEAR began to consume Rachael. They’d wanted her to try Project Search through the school system. She was going to have deadlines, interviews, senior year activities, you name it. I saw the LOOK and I knew THE LOOK all to well. She was headed in a spiral downward. There was no “pulling it together” to meet her deadlines. FEAR was like a ‘THIEF IN THE NIGHT” for sure. It had swooned in, STOLEN her JOY and replaced it with “FULL BLOWN DEBILITATING ANXIETY!!!”

In 2015 I’d started lots of files in a basket for Rach. A brand new basket as there are lots of boxes/ baskets already filled in our attic with her medical history, academic history, speech, OT, Pyschiatristy, social skills paperwork, play therapy paperwork, equine therapy and surely something I’m forgetting. I’ve kept a very long paper trail. With the help of our oldest daughter, Kira, and a dear friend, who had walked this “Rachael road” with us almost all of her life, we got all of my files organized and into a new basket to move forward with her into her very promising future:).

Rachael’s Pyschiatrist had shared many thoughts with me that had really gotten me to think about her future. A parent, who had a daughter several years older than Rach, spent generous amounts of time on the phone with me while guiding me and giving me thoughts to consider. She suggested Guardianship ✅ through the Legal System before Rach turned 18, she suggested going through the process of SSI ✅ (and that was no small feat either), she made several other suggestions, which I deeply appreciated. Another friend suggested Easter Seals ✅ and the Cat Bus System (which was Teleride)✅. It was made abundantly clear to me that if all of this was done (and a few other things which I completed but am going to leave out by choice), that Rachael (and our family) would have a much smoother transition into her adulthood.

So, let’s fall back for a moment into “term paper mode,” metaphorically speaking: my note cards are ✅ done, my information has been gathered✅ done, my information has been organized ✅ done, Rachael has tested for hours and hours and more hours at numerous locations ✅ done, rough draft complete✅ done, and now it’s a matter of all of the pieces falling into place. And, WONKY WORLD sets in…….just waiting…for the Grizwald’s to make an appearance.

Rachael tried the precursor to Project Search last Spring but was fired from the facility where she was working. BONK, she tried it and that so did not work out, for many reasons. Even though we all BELIEVE she can and will one day ACHIEVE a job with some independence and a mentor to help her, right now it hasn’t been in the cards, so to speak. She had become very aggressive at our home and verbally abusive. She had begun to threaten to kill herself again which is NOT OKAY ON ANY LEVEL. It has been several years since she had been coming apart at the seams, but we all knew it was happening. We were all living in the CHAOS daily…she knew it and we did too…she was like a ball of yarn unraveling at a rapid rate. There were LOTS of tears, yelling, begging for help, threats to each of us as well as herself (dreadful!!!!!) and telling us that we just didn’t care about her. I spent so many evenings in desperation on the phone with her Pyschiatrist. He tweaked medications, in review, she was FIRED from her job (through school that they’d placed her in, thinking it would work for her of course) and it was UNBELIEVABLE trying to get her to school (could not have been able to do that without the phenomenal support of her teachers) for her to finish and actually graduate. From the depths of within, she “dug in” and decided she could finish school. And so she did indeed (the moral support she had from family and friends was such a blessing!!!) We also had a great IEP meeting for her where we were all in agreement that for now in her life, Rachael would be most successful with EMPLOYABILITY on Eisenhower Drive. We’d been there twice before for meetings with Rachael and had been very impressed. SUPER!!!! We have a PLAN✅. She was to go to Talisman Camp in North Carolina (a camp for children and young adults who have special needs)✅ and upon returning (Richard and Rachael had a meeting and tour in April at Employability, which went GREAT), Rachael would start working at Employability. There were a few p’s and q’s that needed work, so Richard jumped on that to try to have that taken care of before we even left for our trip to North Carolina ✅. He left several messages hoping for a return phone call, but that did not happen.

So, because of stuff that I’m going to categorize as CLUTTER, Rach still does not have a job. Everyone at Employability has been fabulous. Richard and I have tried to cross t’s again, dot i’s again, jump through hoops again and yes, I am now officially complaining. There has been a breakdown in communication somewhere, I don’t even understand where. “Mama Bear” is AWAKENED, ALARMED and ALERTED TO DANGER!!! This is NOT OKAY.

I did all of that STUFF and have it neatly organized in my basket and to what avail? It would seem as though it was NONE!!! I know Rachael Elason Lutz better than any single person on this planet. She wants to do well. She wants to have a job. It will be hard for her, but she is willing to work and to learn. If she has to test again, even though it is truly tortuous for her, she will do it. She’s had two or three psychological exams since 2013. She has an IQ of 60. She has many strengths and weaknesses, as do we all.

My understanding is that she (we) have to start “the PROCESS” over again. I can hear my Mama saying with her assertive tone,”I beg your pardon?!” Im sorry, I believe I turned “MY TERM PAPER IN” and everything on our end has been completed, even an IEP Placement meeting.

Let me see if I understand this: the powers “that BE” basically just “TORE UP MY TERM PAPER!!!” (which involved hours of our time, hard work, effort, phone calls, delivery of paperwork, notorized documents, her hours of rigorous testing) right in front of me and threw it in the waste basket???!!!WHAT….I’m still in disbelief and trying to process all of these feelings and help her accept that we do not understand what has happened and I’m trying to get answers, but don’t have any yet. That’s been a really BIG HIT (understandably really cause she thought she had a plan in place) over here, just saying.

We are playing connect the dots with Rachael’s life and she is not a game. She is a person who has ALOT of confusion over what feels like a very skewed transition. She keeps asking me 100 💯 questions and I’ve gracefully been asking God to guide us, but now I’ve been feeling a little more stressed,”God, I need help on this here matter please and soon, thank you.”

In the end, I’ll be eating “humble pie” I’m sure as I’m always reminded things are on His timetable not ours and there are always reasons, even if we can’t see or understand them right now. Living a colorful life indeed✅. It will all work out for the BEST and the greater good. Patience is a virtue isn’t it:). I think I’ll put my basket in the attic now:))).

Questions to Ask in the Classroom of Silence

Questions to Ask in the Classroom of Silence

Our priest asked us to consider some thought provoking questions back in January of 2017. Matthew Kelly created a list of 13 questions to be seriously considered. Father Brannen suggested writing the answers down as they would help us to become the ‘best version of ourselves.’

I had truly forgotten about all of it: the questions, the pondering, the answering. I opened one of my notebooks the other day and the cover reads,”In the Midst of Our Lives, We Must Find the Magic That Makes Our Souls Soar.” Ironically, these questions I believe help us upon the right course towards ‘soaring souls.’ The 13 questions are as follows:

1. What are the biggest changes you would like to make to your life in the next 12 months?

2. What are the biggest changes you would like to make in your life in the next 1-3 years?

3. What do you want to receive most in your life?

4. What is your biggest obstacle to this achievement?

5. What are 3 of your biggest achievements to date?

6. What dream have you given up on?

7. What major transitions have you had in the past two years?

8. What is the hardest thing in your life that you have ever had to overcome?

9. Looking at the past 6 months of your life, do you like the direction your life is moving in? Explain.

10. What part of yourself have you given up on?

11. What are your primary stressors?

12. What is your definition of success?

13. What would you like your personal legacy to be?

“Maybe Later On Another Day”

“Maybe Later On Another Day”

Born February 2, 1928, our Mama, Mary Lillis Kelly Lindsay Fleming (mouthful there:) would have been 91 today. Happy heavenly birthday to the wonderful woman I was honored to call my MOM.

Mom lit up like a candle when she danced. She glowed with joy and happiness. It was beautiful for me to watch her, whether dancing in the kitchen or on the dance floor at Johnny Harris with Daddy, I remember an overwhelming sense of love inside me (which always caused little tears to roll down my face) seeing her so ALIVE & happy, as though time had frozen and there was nothing but the two of them dancing. It was mesmerizing for me to watch and I’d get happily ‘lost,’ as an observer in their immersion into their own world. It was as though they were the only two people on the planet.

Now I know that was her spirit all AGLOW and her SOUL ALIVE as she felt the rhythm of the music, moved to the sound of the beat.

In later years, she and Bob, (my stepdad, now in Heaven too) had belonged to the Penguin Club, where they’d dance the night away for years.

As she began to ‘wind down,’ it was apparent that her body could no longer move the way it once had (she was still an avid exerciser at the YMCA until she was 85 years old.) I thought often during this time of a book I loved to read to Kira as a child, “I Love You Forever.” My sister and I had a little tune we put to the line repeated throughout the book, “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as you’re living my baby you’ll be.” In my twenties, I’d reflect on how Mom had once held me as a child, sang songs, said prayers and told me stories. There I was with Kira doing what Mama had once done with me. Even then though, I could never imagine my Mom being so tiny, frail and fragile. The book is so lovely and it is the progression of life, love, roles changing and ultimately the passing of time. TIME…

A few years before she died, she shared she’d had a childhood dream of owning a dance studio, but never pursued it. I heard both regret and sadness in her voice.

At Kira and Arthur’s wedding reception, she sat on the seat of her walker (as if on the sidelines) and was watching us all dance. I saw her upper body twisting and moving to the rhythm of the music that played. I stopped dancing with my friends, walked over to her and said,”Let’s dance Mama,” and I held out my hands to her. She replied with,”I can’t.” (Actually, those were not acceptable words in our home cause ‘you don’t know unless you try.”) I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I’ll hold you while we dance and I won’t let you go.” And so we did and her smile lit up once more and radiated happiness. I saw pure JOY as she danced what would be her last dance in which she celebrated her life, her legacy and the beautiful marriage celebration of her granddaughter Kira to Arthur King. I told Kira this story last week, but left out that one part cause I was already crying so. I’d never thought to share it with her. It was a beautiful dance that I had with my Mama as we celebrated so many layers of love. She was worn out by dancing, but I’ll remember our dance forever.

On the morning before she passed, one of my nieces was able to get there quickly from her home and brought the “I Love You Forever” book. Josephine (her mother and my sister) had loved that book too.

There was a list of people Mom loved that had already passed before her, including one of her sons, her daughter and her husband. She was tired, very tired. She’d told her helper her final night on this Earth, that ‘she didn’t think she was going to make it through this one.’ Then she ate her last meal: a bowl of cereal.

At 10:00 pm at our home I was sound asleep. Our very old and sweet cat, Tigger, crawled up on me and literally gave me a ‘hug.’ I took a quick picture and popped up alarmed, as she had never done that before. I checked the phone for a message or missed call, there was nothing.

Fast forward, her Savannah Hospice nurse called me in am and shared that Mom was unresponsive and I needed to “rally the troops” and we all needed to get there as quickly as we could. I raced out of the bank, believe I sent out a group text and headed straight for my Mama. I climbed up in the bed with her and curled up next to her. Her heart was still beating ever so faintly. I’d already asked the sitter, “what time was it when she became unresponsive?” Her response, “10 pm last night!” Notice the time above our kitty cat gave me my hug.

As Michelle read the book,”I Love You Forever ” to Mama, the years flew by in an instant: my childhood, her dreams, my dreams, her telling me over and over the last few years how proud she was of me, of our family, of how far Rachael had come, of how glad she was that I’d followed my dream of being an artist (she’d been pretty strongly opinionated and insisted I not be an artist when I was in my twenties.) All of these memories raced through my mind and was all jumbled together.

Kira sat in Mama’s mechanical chair and as I lay next to my beautiful Mama who was slipping away, I thought back to the times I’d read, “I Love You Forever ” to Kira. It occurred to me twenty something years had passed and suddenly, there we were, not nightly prayers and story time but the Rosary and ‘good bye’ time. I rubbed her tiny hand and snuggled next to her making sure she was covered by her favorite blanket. As we finished the Rosary (Michelle had been taking her pulse and gently holding her wrist) I heard Michelle whisper that she was gone. Shortly thereafter more nieces and nephews arrived as well as my sweet husband. I’m not sure at exactly what point I became uncontrollably hysterical, but I did come unglued. The reality slapped me in the face, she was gone. It was harder saying goodbye than I thought it would be.

I knew her spirit was free from the confines of her tiny, old and withered body. I dream her soul is fully alive and all AGLOW in Heaven. I smile as I imagine her dancing freely through a field of wildflowers.

Within the last two weeks, we were cleaning out Richard’s side of the closet. We were going through stuff. He just wanted to throw a lot of the paperwork, cards, etc. away. I knew he was overwhelmed. I told him that I didn’t mind going through the piles. I opened one of his Father’s Day cards we’d given him and there was a folded piece of paper in there. I was puzzled as we’d written in his card. I unfolded it and immediately tears welled up in my eyes. It was a letter from my brother Fred years ago and I had no memory of ever seeing it or reading it. His birthday was this past week and my sisters was a few weeks ago. They’d certainly all been on my mind.

I cried happy tears as he even mentioned how proud Daddy would be of all of his grandchildren. I showed Richard, who confirmed he’d never seen it either. I forwarded it to our son Kaelan (he was very close with his Uncle Fred and had worked with him) and he too said it was his first time reading it. Almost tossed in the trash, that letter was a little hidden surprise that I am calling a beautiful treasure: my brother speaking to me one last time as we didn’t get to say goodbye before he died in 2015. I find peace knowing they are all up there together again. Rachael and Richard danced tonight at a beautiful wedding. We all danced. Ashton and I twirled and I smiled as I thought about how much the girls and I love to dance too.

As Ashton used to say in her precious raspy happy childhood voice, I pray to see you ALL “maybe later on another day.” Until then, happy heavenly birthday Josephine, Fred and Mama.