Monday, June 20, 2016

he floats through the air with the greatest of ease

One month ago today, we said goodbye to our sweet Jimbo.  He had been transferred to a hospice unit  earlier in the week, and on Friday evening - just as the sun was preparing to set as it had on so many wonderful days during his time spent in Florida - so it set on his amazingly wonderful life.  Mom said that she knew Jim was close to letting go, so she climbed up next to him, and holding him in her arms - whispered in his ear how much she loved him.  And that is how Jim took his last breath... wrapped tightly in the arms of someone who absolutely adored him.

10560541_10203318887550913_7169946437143579588_o

My plane left early the next morning, and by Saturday afternoon, my mom was tightly wrapped in my arms - and the arms of so many others.  Loved ones from all over the country descended on Greenville, South Carolina that third week of May - and it was amazing.  Mom had wanted for Jim's funeral to  be a happy celebration of his life, and so we pulled together an Irish Wake style-program that included singing and dancing and libations.  Mom believes that it is barbaric to view the deceased, so although Jim's body wasn't there - his spirit most definitely was.

After the eulogies, the whole congregation joined together to sing some of Jim's favorites including, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" and "The Man on the Flying Trapeze."  And then we closed with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which was most fitting, seeing as Jim - in the words of our pastor - was born in the Grandstands... as the grandson, nephew and son of professional baseball players.

This is a link to the photo tribute that I'd pulled together which we shared with everyone at the service (it starts with Jim's grandfather, uncle and father playing ball!) And this is the eulogy that I delivered (which was just one of several; so many had kind words to share about the one and only Jim!):
I first met Jim Cooney when I was 10-years old … it was a Sunday morning at 7 AM and he and his wife, Pat, were playing tennis with a group from the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship down in Cleveland Park.   Back in 1981, the tennis courts were just in front of the zoo. Between the thump and whack of tennis balls, we would hear the lions roar – as they woke up for the day.   That was 35 years ago, when the GUUFs were a small group that met at a house on Buist Avenue.

Jim and Pat taught me how to play tennis. They would patiently stand on one side of the net and toss me balls, one after another, while instructing me how to step in and follow-through on my swing. They say that tennis is the only game where love doesn’t count, but I’m sure it was largely because of the love that the Cooney’s showed me on the tennis court, that I made the varsity tennis team in high school; earned a tennis scholarship to college, and met my husband, Charlie, when we played each other for the intramural tennis championship at university in California.  
 
Jim and Pat Cooney were not only PRESENT in my life, they were PRESENTS in my life.  They were present at my high school tennis tournaments; they were present at my high school graduation. And when I married, they were present at my wedding. In my vocabulary, their names are synonymous with friendship, generosity, kindness, loyalty, and love. 
I’ll never forget the day Pat presented my mother with a brand new graphite Prince tennis racquet. Up until that point, mom had been playing with an old aluminum racquet and that Prince made all the difference in her game.  I’ll also never forget the day when a year after our beloved Pat passed, Jim and my mother drove from South Carolina to California to spend Thanksgiving with me and my husband.  And thus began a wonderful companionship between Jim and my mom.  
The way I see it, Pat actually gifted my mother two Princes … one was a racquet.  The other was Jim.  And like the tennis racquet - he too, made ALL the difference in her game.  He made a difference in ALL of our games.  I am so grateful for the love and companionship that Jim has given to my mother … for the love and joy that Jim has given to my mother’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Jim really has been a gift for our family.  Even when he beat us diving to the bottom of the pool for quarters, whipped those of us 40 years his junior on the tennis courts without breaking a sweat, and swiftly defeated us a in a game of cards, he promised he’d never played before in his life. 
Every. Single. Time. He said – “Oh, it’s just beginner’s luck!”  
These past 15 years have been an amazing adventure for my Mom and Jim, and for all of us who had the privilege to witness their devoted companionship.  My mother was so proud of her handsome husband, and I know it was such an honor for her to be with him.

Jim was a humble man – who took such pride in his appearance - always presenting himself so well.  His shirt would be tucked in, and his waist belted.  His loafers were clean, his pants pressed.   Jim never bragged about his own accomplishments, but was so proud of his roots – and his family.

Jim was a decent man - who never let a lady open her own door, and the last time I saw him, he still insisted on carrying MY luggage.  Jim was never loud or offensive, but always soft-spoken and kind.  Well, except for when there was a game to be won and someone had a ball in their hand.  
Above everything else, Jim wasn’t just a gentleman, but truly a GENTLE MAN.  In his obituary it read that among other things, “Jim loved children.”  The longer I live , the more I know that the greatest testament to person’s character is the way that they respond to children.  Jim really did love children.  And all the little “Sport-o’s and Kid-o’s” that crossed his path, really loved him, too.

Before I step down, I know that my mother would like for me to thank so many people who have helped them and given them such strength the past few years. My sister Marylou – who never stops giving.  My Aunt Grace and the Finnell’s; Jon and Marion Grier, Bo and Suzi Boghani, Pat Dillow, Jackie Weddington and the entire UU community, your friendship means more than words can convey. 
 
Now Mom, I know that Jim and Pat would also like for me to THANK YOU: for the love and devotion that you showed to the two of them.  Just as Jim gave you so much these past few years, you gave Jim so much, too.  No one could have cared for Jim like you did – and he was so grateful for you.  You held him in your heart, and last Friday at 6:00 PM, at the exact time the two of you would have been toasting a sunset at the end of another wonderful day in Florida – you tenderly held him in your arms and lovingly made sure he didn’t leave this world alone.   
Mom - you are an amazing gift to every soul you touch!

He was Jimbo to all of us, and because he was so deeply loved, he will be so deeply missed.  At 92-years of age – the toast that Jim always gave, “Salud Dinero – Y Tiempo Para Disfrutalos!” was something he achieved in his own life.  Jim had health, he had wealth, and he had the time to enjoy them.  But he also had mucho amor …. So Much Love.   And of all the gifts – that is the greatest of all!
 
Dear God, may we will all be so lucky to have such a wonderful, healthy, love-filled RICH life as our beloved Jimbo!   
IMG_0189

(AMEN!) 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

he is the greatest generation

It's been a while since I've written about our beloved, Jimbo.

5533342063_ace584b772

Last year at this time, Mom and Jim were residing in Florida.  They made the decision to return to South Carolina in August, because as much as they love Florida, my mother really needed some additional support to care for her husband.

At the age of 92,  our former WWII Navy pilot, could still come up with answers for just about any crossword. But his mind has been slipping, and what started as a difficulty remembering where simple things were - like his wallet or car keys - has slowly evolved in to a general confusion about where he is, what he's doing, and when he's going home.

dolphinbeach2

Despite his confusion, Jim would almost always win in cards. And if you sang a tune from long ago, he'll know every lyric.  When we were with Jim a few years ago in Florida, and he started reciting the poem "Casey At The Bat" from memory, the lot of us that had gathered around him, were gobsmacked.

As I've written before, Jim is from a long line of professional baseball players.  Jim's Dad actually played with Babe Ruth for Boston in 1917;  before playing for several other teams - including the Chicago Cubs. It was with the Cubs that his Dad made an unassisted triple play, which landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

ElizabethJim7

Jim's Uncle played professional baseball, too. As did his grandfather, who Jim says is the one who "died at first" in the famous poem.   Jim would tell me that those were the golden days when ball players played not for some multi-million dollar contract, but for the love of the game.

(Although, he adds, it sure would have been nice if his family had made millions doing what they loved!) 

Jim has always had an insatiable love of sports, and would watch games on TV - any games - just so long as there was a ball involved. Baseball, basketball, football, tennis ... golf.

11603493855_baa6af6b26

Over the past few years, my mother has been Jim's primary caregiver as dementia has slowly taken over his brilliant mind.  And while Jim has always remained the consummate well-dressed gentleman, with a bright smile, and joyful expression of "Hi-Ya Kiddo!", Jim's demise has been painful for everyone, especially my mother.

More and more, I've become aware of articles and news stories that highlight the very real issue of caregiver stress, and after witnessing it in my own mother - I know how frightening and crippling it can be.

7926711176_1b64d40542

The exhaustion from sleep deprivation due to round-the-clock care; the frustration and depression from the exhaustion and inability to do things for yourself; the guilt that you think about doing things for yourself - and the worry that no one can take care of your loved one like you can.  Add to that, the stress over the expense of care should you even consider it - can run thousands per month.

12164029554_58a703c6a8

Mom had resisted putting Jim in to a nursing facility not because of the expense, but because she loves him and treasures his companionship.  According to mom, "Jim gives me purpose, and he is always so happy.  I hate to do it to him ... he is such a kind and wonderful man!" 

And he is. 

But a few months ago, mom was at a breaking point. Every time we would talk with her, she would collapse in to tears because she was so tapped out.  And finally, she took the advice of what every doctor, nurse, and health care professional had been telling her ... she sought help and put Jim in a facility where he would be cared for, round-the-clock.

3825335254_eab21184d9

It hasn't been an easy decision for mom, and several times she has mentioned taking him out and bringing him home.  But since Jim has been in a nursing home, mom has been able to spend some time on herself, which it turns out has been critically necessary.

3825362190_a0a0ac569e

Mom, who tries to make the the best of every possible situation, has started singing when she goes to see Jim. According to my Aunt Grace who has witnessed this before, residents will light up when my mother starts singing, and people who were moments earlier, sitting in a comatose state - will begin tapping their foot, clapping their hands, or singing along.

With the gift of music, it seems something deep in their minds is sparked.

3512424796_38afacb3ae

"Your mother has such a gift with people," my Aunt has told me.

Indeed, she does.

I know it.

And Jim knows it, too.

*******

This past weekend, our beloved Jimbo had a stroke.  After spending the weekend in the hospital, the decision has been made to administer comfort-measures, only.  He was transferred to hospice today, and mom is with him - by his side, holding his hand, and nurturing him.  Today when I called, she was tucking blankets around his chin, fluffing his pillow, and keeping the phone near his ear so people could tell him how much they love and appreciate him.

8625439353_2221328e6c

When I spoke to my mother yesterday, she told me that when she went in to his hospital room - although he could not speak - Jim's eyes made contact with hers, and she said that his eyes were so full of love, and gratitude.  She said that it honestly felt like his soul connected with hers, and their souls said to each other, "Thank You."  And when I talked to my mother tonight, she said that Jim had been trying to lift her hand up to his lips so that he could kiss it.

The thought of these sweet gestures make me weep tears of gratefulness.

Oh, what a gift these two have been for each other!

Jim's first wife, Pat - who was also a dear friend of our family - passed away in November of 2000. And for the past 15 years, Mom and Jim have been together.  They've traveled all around the United States, and spent more than a decade in Florida.  They've laughed together, danced together, swam together, done crossword puzzles together, played cards together, and of course - sang together.

I am so grateful for the role that Jim has played in my life, a close friend to our family for the past 35-years.  And I am so grateful of the grandfather that he has been to our children.   Almost all of our children's memories of Jim involve the beach and laughter.  (And getting whooped in cards.)

But mostly, I am so grateful for the love that Jim has brought in to my mother's life.  I am so grateful that for the past 15 years, Jim has been my mom's best friend - someone who unexpectedly has given her so much purpose, joy, and adventure.  I'm so grateful for this intelligent, gracious, kind, patient, sports-loving, well-dressed gentleman, who has adored my mother and treasured her for the gift that she is; just as she has treasured him for the gift that he has been to her.

Yes, this is the face of companionship...

10560541_10203318887550913_7169946437143579588_o

It is my prayer that Jim, and my mom, feel all of the love surrounding them.  And that for Jim - there is no pain... just peace, and comfort, and faith.

Faith that he he has his toes in an ocean of love...

3825314478_ec747250f1

And the tide is rising.

(Pam, Stan, and Kimball - you, too, are in our hearts. xox) 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

here's to growing up

When we lived in Virginia, there was a little boy who lived down the street from us, and one afternoon, he went for a bike ride with his mom.  To hear his mother tell the story, "He was riding his bike, just in front of me, and I could see that he was heading straight for a parked car.  I kept waiting for him to swerve to miss the parked car, but instead, he slammed in to the back of it, and flipped over the handlebars.  When I rushed up to him, he was curled in a ball on the ground crying.  I asked him, 'What were you thinking?!' and he said, 'Now I know. Don't ever ride your bike with your eyes closed!" 

I absolutely love that story.  There are certain things that kids just have to figure out on their own.

Now that William has joined the Boy Scouts, he goes on a full-weekend camping trip once a month.  For the past several months, Charlie has joined him as they leave on a Friday afternoon, and return home Sunday afternoon.  

Tents on the beach

This past weekend, William was slated to have a camping trip to a beach on Corpus Christi, approximately five hours south of us.  Until 3:00 PM on Friday afternoon, Charlie was planning to go with him - but at the very last minute he decided, "I really need a weekend at home." 

So we packed William off on his own - his first time ever - and after arming him with a cell phone and strict instructions on how to behave, and sunscreen to apply, etc. etc. we bid our son fare thee well a while.

William texted us along his route - they stopped for dinner  and gas - they were driving again - now he was sipping a root beer and nibbling snacks!  At 11:30 PM they arrived at the campsite and he wrote to tell us that he'd be setting up his tent and going to sleep.  Everything was going swimmingly and Charlie and I, feeling content that our son was doing A-OK, went to sleep.

At 1:17 AM the phone rang.

I answered it, and on the other end was a very distraught William.  There was sand IN his tent. There was sand everywhere.  He was miserable. Please, could we come get him?

Um, let me think about it for a minute ... NO!

I told him I loved him very much and that he needs to put the phone away and go to sleep.  "Goodnight" I said, as I hung up the phone.  Less than two minutes later, the phone rang again.

"MOM. You don't understand. THERE IS SAND EVERYWHERE AND I AM MISERABLE.  Oh, and also, Dad forgot to pack my sleeping bag."

Whaaaa????

Untitled

For nary a brief millisecond, the thought flashed through my mind that I'd drive south and rescue my son, five hours south of us at nearly 1:30 in the morning. Once that moment of insanity passed, I nudged a groggy Charlie and handed him the phone, as I rolled over on my side and tried to smother out their conversation with my pillow.

This is what happened next:

Charlie flew out of bed gasping, "What do you MEAN you don't have your sleeping bag?! William, we PACKED your sleeping bag. It's in the support trailer!!  I'll tell you what happened, you arrived and were goofing around with your friends and not paying attention to what you had and what you didn't have and now everyone's asleep and LO you don't have your sleeping bag.  I love you little man, but this one's on you.  You need to go to wrap yourself in a towel and go to sleep. Find your bag in the morning." 

My husband hung up the phone and less than five minutes later, it rang again.  I could hear William's bellowing on the other end of the line, "DAD! YOU FORGOT TO PACK MY SLEEPING BAG! I CANNOT SLEEP! COME GET ME RIGHT NOW, PLEASE!!! I'M MISERABLE!!!" 

And my husband, God Bless him, held his patience and said, "Son, I love you more than life itself. But there is no way I'm driving five hours because you can't find the sleeping bag that I packed for you. Use your towel, wrap yourself in it, and GO TO SLEEP.  You're in south Texas in the middle of May in a tent. The temperature will not drop below 75 degrees tonight. You'll survive until morning. Sleep well. I'll talk to you tomorrow, I'm hanging up now. GOOD NIGHT!" 

The next morning at 7:00, William called and said he was feeling GREAT!  He was able to go to sleep and when he awoke this morning, there was a beautiful sunrise.

Untitled

Also, he found his sleeping bag.

Imagine That?! 

Nonetheless, this was a wonderful experience for us - and him - and his siblings who heard all about it, because part of growing up is problem solving.  This was the first time he'd ever had a "problem" that wasn't immediately solvable by his parents ... and it was a good thing.  For everyone.  

My final word of warning was to make sure he put on sunscreen every 2-3 hours.

Untitled

When he arrived home today, he was burned to a crisp and he now knows that just like I told him - it is critical to reapply sunscreen throughout the day.

Untitled

Much like riding your bike with eyes open, some of these life lessons you just have to learn on your own.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

one year ago tonight

One year ago ...

I took the children shopping for supplies so that we could host a lemonade stand for our wonderful bus driver, Mr. Yani.

DSC_0098

He had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and with mounting medical bills and dismal insurance coverage, we thought it would be a good opportunity for the children to host a fundraiser and show support for someone who they cared about. (In the end, they rose nearly $1K!)

Untitled

The theme would be yellow.  Yellow for sunshine, school buses, lemonade, and joy. 

DSC_0101

Standing in the aisle looking at yellow cups, balloons, and table cloths - I received a call from my brother, Francis.  I'd seen the emails flying around the family the past 48-hours that Dad wasn't doing very well and had been hospitalized, so I immediately knew why he was calling.  I didn't answer the phone because I couldn't very well talk to him about my father's failing health, in the middle of Party City.  But as I clicked him through to voicemail, and let out a few small gasps and the tears escaped my eyes, the children stopped their perusing and looked at me. "What's wrong Mom? Why are you crying?"  Biting my lips, wiping my face with two hands, and trying to hold it together, I whispered, "Aw sweeties ... my Dad is dying."

By the time I'd pushed the cart to the front of the store and checked out, Charlie was calling me to say that my family was trying desperately to get in touch with me.  "I know," I told him.   He urged me to get home as soon as possible and call my brother back.  "But, I don't want to call him back," I said. As if my not returning his calls would somehow delay the inevitable.  

When I arrived home, I made the call to my brother.  He was standing at my father's bedside in the hospital, along with my sisters Beth and Janet, and my brother, Wally.   Francis told me that they were administering comfort measures, and asked if I'd like to say a few words to my father.  He then held the phone down to Dad, and I could hear his labored breathing and the beeping of various machines in the background.   I was totally unprepared for this.

What had happened?

How had he slipped so fast?  

While I knew that Dad was not well - I had spoken to him less than two weeks earlier when Beth - thank God for Beth - called me while she was visiting Dad so that he could wish me a happy birthday, and I could wish him a happy birthday.  The phone had been removed from his room, so my ability to call him was non-existent.  On that call we had on Beth's cell phone, we talked and we laughed and he sang, and it was so wonderful just hearing his voice.

And now, less than two weeks later, he was being given comfort measures? 

So on that Sunday afternoon, while our children were selling lemonade with other neighborhood children and their parents, I spoke with my Dad.   I told him that I loved him then I sang to him, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" The Van Morrison song that he and I danced together, at my wedding.  Then I sobbed and my brother Francis must have heard my sobbing because he came back on the phone and said, "Do you have any objection to us taking him off life support?" 

Absolutely not ... I have no objection, because I do not want for him to suffer.

Soon my sister Eileen called and told me that she was flying back to Boston that night.  I decided that I, too, should look at ticket availability and found that there was one seat on a 7 PM flight.  But I hesitated booking it ... because I didn't want to leave Charlie and the kids.  How would he get to Boston if and when Dad passed?  Would he drive - all by himself - with all the children?

Carolyn was supposed to have her tonsils removed on Thursday. We were smack dab in the middle of a kitchen remodel which was on a fast-track because our house was going on the market the next month.   And on top of it all ... I was in disbelief that this was actually happening.

Could I really be on the verge of losing one of my parents?!

So instead of booking the flight, I called my cousin, Margaret and I cried.  Then I left the un-purchased reservation on my computer and walked up to the lemonade stand to think.  And for the next two hours, I stayed with the children and handed out cups of lemonade and worried.   Although Charlie had been telling me, "Go, Go, Go..." I wasn't listening. It wasn't until my neighbor, Le, said, "GO RIGHT NOW." That I literally dropped a cup of lemonade and ran all the way home; threw clothes in a suitcase and ran back to my computer to purchase the ticket.

But that ticket was gone.  No longer available.  

Panic gripped my heart and I started to sob. I wanted to go to Boston, and I couldn't.  Even if I got in the car and drove, I wouldn't be there until the next day and that might be too late.  So I searched and searched and searched and nothing showed up, because by this time it was 6:00 PM and there were no flights available on the internet for departures that evening.   So I called airlines, and on or about the fifth airline, I gave up and called a travel agent who informed me there was one seat remaining on a flight that departed at 7:45 PM.  I booked the ticket on the spot, and was still talking to the travel agent, reading off my credit card number, as I was throwing my suitcase in to the car.

Our children stayed with a neighbor while Charlie rushed me to the airport. When I arrived - I ran through security to my gate - and was the last person to board, just seconds before they shut the door. This was a photo that I took that evening en route to Boston. When I snapped it, I suspected it would be the last sunset shining on my father's life:

Untitled

I arrived in Boston at the same time as my sister, Eileen, who was flying in from Michigan.  Our sister-in-law, MaryAnn, picked us up from the airport and drove us directly to the hospital in Concord.  We arrived at 10:00 PM and immediately put on the yellow disposable coveralls that were required prior to entering my father's room in the ICU.

After greeting my siblings, I entered the room and immediately went to the left side of my father's head.  I held his hand and despite warnings of biological hazard, kissed his cheek and said, "I'm here, Dad ... I'm here with you."   He squeezed my hand.  And whenever I would put Chapstick on his severely parched lips, he would softly squeeze my hand again.

Six of the seven siblings were there ... Marylou was still in Kentucky, having just attended the Derby, and was trying to figure out how to get back.  In addition, my father's younger sister, Peggy, stood vigil with us; along with Janet's husband, my brother-in-law, Bob.

For the next several hours, we told stories, listened to music, sang, and we laughed. Particularly when we heard the lyrics to this old navy song (Bell Bottom Trousers), which my father used to sing an abbreviated version to me, when I was younger.  As a surprise - Dad had that same abbreviated version played for us to dance to, at my wedding.

None of us had heard all the lyrics before (for good reason!) and we were in stitches laughing.  Even Dad, who we thought was slipping in to unconsciousness, tapped his foot a few times to the beat, and had a slight smile across his lips that let us know YES, he actually DID know ALL the words.   

While I wouldn't characterize our gathering as "festive", it certainly wasn't somber, which was remarkable given the grim circumstances and the fact that several of my siblings are estranged.

Francis and Wally had a business falling out several years ago, and had not spoken to each other in more than a decade.  Francis and Beth had a falling out - over the care of my father - and were on rocky terms, which put everyone at odds with someone else, depending upon whether you were in the "Beth" camp or "Frank" camp.  For example, I'd had a semi-falling out with Francis ... because of his falling out with Beth, and we were on quasi-rocky terms.  Others had fall-outs here and there, and would likely not be standing in this same space if not for the circumstances.  While there was an air of cooperation and uniting for our father's behalf, there was an underlying friction that we all did quite well to ignore.

Given our family dynamic, I'm absolutely certain that my father knew we had gathered for him. That we had put all of our disagreements and frustrations aside and had united, telling stories and helping to usher him out of this world - with kindness and laughter - in a way that he would want.

A nurse came in and told us that she was going to remove my father's oxygen line and make him comfortable.  She asked that we exit the room for a few minutes so that she could clean him up. Before I left my father's side,  I adjusted the prayer shawl that lay across his legs, and leaning down whispered, "I love you so much, Dad.  You are a GOOD man, and a GOOD Dad."  And my father, who had been laying so still, gently lifted his hand and softly cupped the back of my head.

When the nurse joined us a few minutes later, we asked what would happen next. She told us, that you never can tell. "Sometimes," she said, "People will wait until a certain moment to leave.  Sometimes, they wait until everyone has exited the room and then they slip away.  It often helps to open a window and let them know that it's OK for them to go." 

When we returned to the room, all the beeping sounds were gone, and the whoosh of the oxygen was silent.  We cracked open a window, resumed our places around Dad's bed, and continued our vigil for another few hours, before we were exhausted and people retreated to the waiting room.

Janet and Bob tried to sleep in a chair - and quickly decided that they needed to drive home so they could properly rest. Aunt Peggy decided to leave and drive back to Boston.  While Beth, Wally and Francis stayed in the room with my father, Eileen went somewhere in the hospital to sleep, and I curled up on the three foot sofa and dozed off.

By 8 AM, I was awake and back in my father's room.  Soon, my brother Wally's wife, Donna, who had just gotten her three boys off to school, joined us ... as did a Priest who read my father the Last Rites.  The morning nurse entered at around 9:50 and asked that we go outside for a few minutes so she could reposition my father. We retreated to the waiting room again and a few minutes later, the nurse hurried back and said, "You need to come quickly."  We rushed back in to the room and stood around Dad's bed as he took one last breath and exhaled. Just as our evening nurse had predicted - he waited until we had all stepped out of the room to leave.

I waited for him to breathe again, but when he remained silent, I gently put my hand on his face and softly closed his eyes.  For several minutes, I remained on his left side, holding his warm hand, stroking his fingers and nails, while clearly remembering the way those strong hands would grip a steering wheel, ship helm, lobster tail, prescription bottle, Budweiser bottle ... or my own hand.  

DSC_0017-5

"Don't leave me, Dad." I silently prayed.  "Please don't ever leave me." 

A year later, I'm certain that my father hasn't left me. I feel his presence now more than ever; and there have been so many things that have happened ... almost every day, something new - all of these incredible "chance occurrences" or "coincidences" that remind me of Dad, and what I strongly feel is some greater energy, surrounding us.

Untitled

I'd arrived at my father's bedside at 10:05 PM, and he passed at 10:05 AM, exactly 12 hours later.   It's hard to believe that I had hesitated purchasing the plane ticket to be there, and then had the incredible luck of actually making it; the last seat on the last plane.  Because when the time came - there was no place on earth I would have rather been, than right there with Dad, holding his hand on the last night he was physically with us.

One year ago, tonight.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

my buttons ... they poppeth offeth! (the awesome nephew edition)

I've written about my nephew, Tommy, before.

5722819f08348.image

He's my sister, Eileen's son, and we adore him.   This last week, we received word that after winning various competitions in his platoon, battalion, regiment and brigade ... he won Soldier of the Year for the entire 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

To put it in perspective, that's from a pool of ~25,000 soldiers.   Next up, he'll be competing for the Airborne Corps ... and pending the outcome of that - soldier of the year for the entire Army. 

To say that our family is proud of our Tommy ... and all of our boys in uniform would be a significant understatement!

Untitled

This is a photo of William and his cousin - my other awesome nephew, Michael, the 105 and counting Merit Badge Eagle Scout, who flew in to surprise us for my birthday week.  And who went camping with William on his first Camporee, which his troop WON after beating out 10 other troops from the Houston area.   Here, they're practicing knot tying en route to their campsite:  

Untitled

We had such a wonderful time with Beth and Michael while they were visiting with us.  One of the highlights of their visit - in my opinion! - was a horseback ride that I took them on.   

Untitled

The girls and I have been riding almost every week for the past four months, and it is now one of my favorite things to do with people whenever they visit us in Texas.  Here's my sister Beth, checking out the four-legged inventory and carefully pondering her steed selection. 

Untitled

I was so happy and proud of my sister for joining us on this ride!  

Untitled

She hadn't been on a horse for over 40 years, but she climbed on and took off, like a pro. 

Untitled

We were worried about the flooding with all of the storms in Houston, but there wasn't too much standing water... 

Untitled

Well, except this "pond" that had a residency of approximately six alligators. 

Untitled

So we were told, once we had safely crossed to the other side. 

Untitled

At this point, Beth gave up trying to keep her feet dry. 

Untitled

During this ride, Michael was able to work on his horsemanship merit badge. 

Untitled

In addition to learning about horse anatomy, grooming, tacking, and care - Michael had to walk, trot and canter.  He did awesome and has expressed an interest in possibly procuring a bomb-proof horse one day that he can take with him when he goes hunting and fishing in the New England wilderness. 

Untitled

His favorite thing to do was trot, and I could hear him whispering to his horse, "Trot ... Trot ... Trot!"  When his horse would change gait, Michael would break in to laughter. 

Untitled

Going in to this, I really wasn't sure what my 15-year old nephew would think of this experience, but I've never seen him so happy or excited in my life.  And best of all?   There was NO chaffing!   Poor Michael, I told him he'd never live that one down!   :)

As for Tommy, I won't ever let him live down the time I took him to Disney Land - when he was six - and he wanted to ride Space Mountain with me.  We stood in lines twice and made it all the way to loading, only to get out of line twice. Once because he had to use the bathroom; and again because he was going to "frow-up."  Eileen finally stepped in and said, "It's nerves. Let's go to "It's a Small World."  And so we did.  I've been thinking that what I'd really like to give him as a gift of winning the Soldier of the Year, is a trip to Disney so we can finally ride Space Mountain together.  :)

All kidding aside, these two nephews ... I couldn't be prouder of them.  Or more grateful that they are in our children's lives as such outstanding role models.

DSC_0158

Bravo to my sisters, Beth and Eileen for raising such amazing young men!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

fly like an eagle

So while we were in Massachusetts last week (er, earlier this month ... I started this post a few weeks ago), we attended the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for my 15-year-old nephew, Michael.



I suspect that only those in the know of Boy Scouting will understand what a BIG Deal it is to achieve your Eagle Scout.



This is a summary, from Wikipedia - because that's where I get the majority of my information:
Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The designation "Eagle Scout' has a long history since its founding over 100 years ago.  Only a small percentage of Boy Scouts are granted this rank after a lengthy review process. The requirements necessary to achieve this rank take years to fulfill.   Requirements include earning at least 21 merit badges. The Eagle Scout must demonstrate Scout Spirit an ideal attitude based upon the Scout Oath and Law, service, and leadership.  This includes an extensive service project that the Scout plans, organizes, leads, and manages. 
Did you read how the requirements to obtain Eagle include earning at least 21 merit badges?   There are 136 total merit badges offered, and each merit badge is no small feat to obtain.

Untitled

Michael has earned 102 merit badges and has every intention of earning the remaining 34 badges, before he turns 18 years old.  At the rate he's been going, he should have obtained all of them by the time he's 17.   Of the more than 2,000,000 boys who have earned their Eagle Scout Award - since the inception of Boy Scouts in 1912 ... only 283 have achieved ALL of their merit badges.

Or approximately 0.01% 

Carolyn and I on the bridge that Michael built for his Eagle Scout project.

Untitled

WOULD YOU LOOK AT THIS BRIDGE?!

It's like a miniature version of the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April's breeze unfurled ... here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard 'round the world! (Which, FYI, happened exactly 241 years ago today!)



There is no doubt Michael is amazing because he's the one that has done all of this hard work. But I am equally impressed by the dedication and devotion of my sister, Beth, and her husband, Michael who have encouraged him every step of the way.   Behind every Good Scout is a Great Leader.

(And parents!)

Untitled

As a sampling of what my sister, Beth, did for Michael ... here's a tiny percentage of the congratulatory letters that he received upon earning his Eagle Rank.

President and First Lady?  CHECK.

Untitled

Former President?  CHECK!

Untitled

CHECK!

Untitled

And CHECK!

Untitled

(Bill and Hillary's letters were apparently somewhere in there, too ... I just didn't see them!)

In lieu of the Clinton's ... there were several celebrities including Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon and all of the living James Bond's 007.

And look, Judge Judy weighed in!

Untitled

And Chuck Norris!

Untitled

As did the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins.

HELLO Major Sports Teams!

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

As the mother of a new Boy Scout, who hasn't even achieved his Tender Heart rank ... I know that the road to Eagle is long and extremely time consuming.  It seems that every week, Charlie and William are trotting off to at least one (and more likely two, sometimes three) Boy Scout events.



But the rewards are SO great.  When resumes come across my desk, I can tell you that I specifically flag those that have achieved the rank of Eagle.  To me it symbolizes devotion, dedication, leadership and teamwork - and the ability to set up a tent in snow, tie some serious knots, and start a fire with a piece of flint as a young teenager.

Untitled

Tomorrow is my birthday and Saturday is my Dad's birthday.  And seeing as this is the first year that I'll be without my Dad during "our" birthday week, my sister Beth and my nephew, Michael are flying in to Houston to spend the week with us.   

Coincidentally, William will be attending his Camporee, this weekend - which just so happens to be the biggest camping event of his Boy Scout Troop all year long.  And what he doesn't yet know is that his new Eagle Scout superhero cousin Michael will be attending it with him.

Squee, OMG, SQUEE!!

 The kids have no idea that we're having visitors arrive TOMORROW morning.  I'm hopeful they'll learn of this surprise when they return home from school, provided they actually have school tomorrow.  They've been out for the past two days because of the intense rains in Houston and the severe flooding in the area.

One of the things that I miss the most about Virginia - next to the seasons and our friends - are the awesome snow days.  While our hearts have been heavy for those negatively impacted from this severe inclement weather; I've been a smidge grateful for this slight reprieve from the bustle of what seems like a crazy busy life.  With no school - homework - or after school activities, these "rain days" are the southern equivalent of a snow day, and what I'm taking as Mother's Nature's birthday present to me.

Untitled

It's now OK for the gift to stop giving.  Michael sent me a text this afternoon, inquiring if I could still give them a ride from the airport tomorrow and I said YES!  The ride, however, might be in a boat since it's supposed to start raining again, tonight.