All That Remains…

Daily Prompt: Meaningless

The season has taken a step over some invisible line and declared that it is now spring. A higher power has spoken, and the landscape has opened, sprouted and blossomed. The insects woke up, the butterflies have come out of their cocoon, and the sparrows have arrived to move into the birdhouses. I believe that force has spoken to me too.

I greet each bloom as if they were long lost friends. I take a minute to join the lenten rose as they bow their heads as if in prayer. I breathe in the intoxicating perfume of the hyacinth. I pet the mounds of creeping phlox and its neighboring candytuft. I dig around the leafy beds to see what is yet to come and I find the peonies first unfurling leaves and the star-shaped mound of the lilies.

My cherry tree is the star of the garden. It is in full bloom and humming with bees. The flowers are white rather than the faint pink of pervious years.  Maybe the frost had something to do with this. Worried, I inspect my beloved rose and notice a few leaves were nipped, but for the most part, there is little damage. I found my rhododendrons, and both did not survive.  I touch a nearby butterfly bush and its leaves crumble under my touch. The last frost might have been too much for it.

The loss dampens my spirit, so I force myself to turn around and view the garden as a whole. It is bursting with new life, promising a beautiful season. I record the miracle, as I do every year, with my camera. I will remember the perished plants in the photos I took last year and that will have to be enough.

Writing keeps the memory alive as well. It is the reason I attempt this daunting task of journaling – which at times is painful. The words I write will tell the story to go along with the photo. I believe it is my purpose to write about the garden and about my loved ones.  The garden helps keep life in perspective – my living metaphor.

I will fill in the holes left by the plants that have died. New life will continue as if they never existed. A few pictures and this journal entry will be all that remains. And one day it will also be all that remains of my love ones and of myself.

Labor Day

I have had the perfect weekend – the weather was beautiful, with cool mornings for writing, lazy afternoons for reading and surrounded by family as we eat excellent food. This morning I will sit with the one family member that is not present – for even in the good times I miss him so much it hurts.

I believe the perfectness of the weekend has to do with the person we are missing. We have acquired an appreciation for each other’s company – for we know that in an instant a person you love might be gone tomorrow. My children have seen true love made visible by a loss. Nothing shows love more than how broken a heart is after you lose someone. They know I love them with the same intensity.

I wish I could have both – the knowledge of how precious life is without the loss. Maybe if someone told me – than maybe I could have had the best of both worlds.

Maybe I am the one to do the telling.

I sit here in the quiet on this Labor Day morning and I find myself in between feeling contentment and feeling sadness. It is in this space – the in between – that I have found survival.

When I am looking at my life from this point of view – I find that the world is full of contradictions. It is simply complex and perfectly imperfect. One can either have cake or one can eat it.

I can’t have the best of both worlds – but I can find comfort somewhere in between them.

If I Could Paint…

Writing Prompt: Paint

If I could paint – I would be able to create without needing the conditions to be just right. I would not have to wait for sun to peek out from behind the cloud to capture the spotlight on a flower. I would not have to wait for the leaves to shine in the golden hour. I would not have to wait for the lake to turn that color of blue, the color of someone’s eyes. I would not have to wait for the hummingbird to pose in the right spot at the right time for the light to create a halo out of the movement of it’s wings.

If I could paint, I would not have to wait for the gloomy days to turn bright in order to find all the spider webs hidden in the garden. Nor would I have to wait to find tiny rainbows in the dew upon the grass. I would not have to wait to capture the the sun’s rays as it shines through the tree branches. Nor would I have to wait for the reflection to appear as a crane stands in water.

If I could paint, I would be able to capture the mirth in my son’s eye and the highlights in his sun-kissed hair and the dimple in his right cheek. If I could paint I would be able to capture it from memory – for a photograph is no longer possible.

If I could paint, I would be able to portray the emotions that I cannot capture in my camera’s lens. Sadness would be an array of colors in gray, brown, and black,  regret in plum, blue and forest green and my joy would be splattered here and there in bright oranges and yellows. My hope would be in red – a small blotch of color in the center of it all.

A camera cannot capture everything – but if I could paint, I would have the freedom to capture sweet memories and powerful emotions any time I wish.

Whose Story Is It?

I am in hibernation and have spent the last few days wrapped up in a blanket in front of the fireplace.  As the snowstorm rages outside I immersed myself in my history by reading my journals.  I am surprised as I find memories that were long buried. And I brace myself for the memories I know I will encounter on my timeline.  A ghost lurks in my journals and I found him half way through the journal marked 1989.

I read about the day the baby boy was born and the difficulty I had in believing that I was his mother. I relived introducing him to his little sister when he was two. I laughed at his antics during his preschool years. I am reminded what a difficult child he was. How he hated new things or differing from his routine. How terrified he was about going to school. How devastated he was when I divorced his daddy.

He hated me, but still I pushed him. I pushed him to do home work, to practice piano, to eat right, to go to sleep at a decent hour and to brush his teeth. Everything with him was a battle. A war between doing what I knew he needed and what he wanted. In my eyes what he wanted was unacceptable. He wanted to hide away, to recluse to a safe place where everything was within his control. But I knew it was a prison and did everything in my power to keep him actively engaged in the outside world.

Then we moved to another state in the middle of his freshman year of high school.  A cease-fire was called on a count of my overwhelming sense of guilt. The relocation had a huge impact on him. I was occupied as I tried to navigate my way around a strange place and he withdrew into a world of video games. It was a lonely year for both of us. As I became involved in my three younger children’s lives of school and church, my determination came back to get him motivated again. The war was back on. We argued daily and fought constantly until the day he graduated.

We all came together and gathered around him to celebrate graduation, including his dad.   Early the next morning after the celebration, I was awoken by noise downstairs. I went to investigate and found my son with his bags packed by the front door. I glanced out the window to see his dad’s car in the driveway. He was going to leave without saying goodbye. I stood in front of the door and forbade him to leave, as if I had any power to make him stay. He said nothing with his head bowed as he waited for me to move. A silent war raged for what seemed like eternity but was only a few minutes. Everything in me knew that this was a horrible mistake. Powerless, I moved away from the door and he left without saying a word.

I did not see or hear from him again until six months later when he came home briefly for Christmas. In honor of the holidays, we were civil and spoke of only trivial issues, like weather or music. He left to go back to his dad’s and I went back to worrying. He called once in awhile to let me know he was okay and that he was working and saving his money for a vehicle. As soon as he bought his truck, he asked to come home.

He drove the five hundred miles that separated us, arriving home at 2 am. I answered the door to a shadowy figure. His hood was up over his head and I could not see his face in the porch light. I was startled at how stooped he was, he looked defeated as if he failed an important test. I pulled him into my arms and whispered, “Welcome home”. I could feel him relax in my embrace. After a moment I moved aside and told him “it’s late, go to bed”. He carried his burden up the stairs and went to his bedroom and he slept for three days.

The war started up again after a few months. I spent the next year pushing him out of the house. I pushed him to find a job. I pushed him to find friends and I pushed him to be respectful to us. Slowly he began to get into a rhythm of work, friends, video games, and chores. I yelled less and he rebelled less. We learned how to communicate to each other over brutal games of scrabble. I learned to trust him and worried less about his choices. He kept me informed of his schedule and texted me during the day just to say hello. An alliance was formed and the war ended.

The entry of my journal on the night he died was about him sending me a text message to let me know that he would be out late and would be staying with his friend so he would not disturb us. I wrote in my journal about how far we had come and how relieved I was that a connection was finally made. We were communicating instead of fighting.  I went to bed and slept peacefully.

After his death, my first question was “Did he know how much I loved him?” I spent his lifetime fighting with him and pushing him to do more.   And immediately my second question was, “Did I cause his death?” Because I pushed him, forced him out into the world and into danger.

These questions still haunt me. I desperately wish I could rewrite the story found in my journals. In it, I find myself the villain. If only I could correct all the mistakes I made. I wish I could change the story to reflect me being the perfect mother and he being the perfect son.

As I reflect on this history, I force myself to change my perspective and think about it being his story and not mine.  He needed me to push him to the next level. I believe this is the reason he came home. The more I pushed the more he did, the more he did the happier he became. The happier he was the more open he was to a relationship with those around him, his siblings, his friends and me, his mother.

I share this story with his younger brothers, now teenagers. They can relate with his fear and the risk that comes with living. They can relate with their mother and why I push them to do more. They ask questions and I admit I do not have the answers, but together we will learn lessons from his story. This is how his story lives on.

My story is found in writing his story.  His story had such a huge impact on my life and it is the connection between the woman I was in the story and the woman I am today and the woman I have yet to become.

Our stories knit together a beautiful tapestry and each individual thread weaves meaning that only can be understood if we stand back and reflect upon the whole picture.


It had been an emotionally draining day. My eyes burned from exhaustion and it was relief to close them. I felt my body relax and was on the brink of slumber when I was jolted awake by a knock upon my door. “Go away” I groaned.

“Mom, let me in” the baritone voice of my oldest son shocked me to an upright position. It has been a long time since he visited my dreams.

“I am so glad you are here.” I said as I pulled open the door. He stood there with a grin on his face. He looked exactly as I remembered him. An older replica of this brother, except his eyes shined a bright blue instead of grey. I reached up and brushed the hair out his eyes and his smile deepened until his dimples shown. How I miss him. Tears stung my eyes.

“Don’t,” he pleaded. “We have to talk”.

I took a deep breath and swallowed the tears. “I know, have you seen what the neighbors have done to our spot?” I asked sitting on the bed.

“Yeah” he said sitting next to me. “It sure changes the feel of it doesn’t it?”

“It’s awful and I am so upset.”

“I know you are.”

I jumped up and paced in front of him. “That place was special to me, to us! You know how many hours I have sat at that lakeshore, dealing with the pain of losing you.”

“Let’s go take a look.” He said.

We stood at the lakeshore viewing the damage. A small group of trees and brush had separated the shoreline from the grassy field of the greenbelt owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA. When I sat on the shore, the tree line would create a barrier between the neighbors, giving me the privacy I needed. The neighbors had spent the last two days clearing the brush and trimming the trees. I looked up into the treetops and saw no evidence of the cranes that use to nest there.

We walked towards the shore. He motioned towards the rock I used to sit upon. A vision of me sat upon the rock.  We watch her passionately write in a notebook. She looked up, her face shiny with tears. I followed her gaze as she looked out over the lake.   A small speck was flying over the water and as it got closer, I noticed it was a crane coming in for the night. I watched her watch the bird glide into the brush behind her, she smiled at the sound of squawking as other birds made room for the new arrival.

“This is worse than the huge boat-dock they installed a few years ago” I told my boy as the vision faded. “You know I love this place and the wildlife that lives here. It is ruined”

“Things change” he said.

“Why did I have to lose this too? Why can’t I have this one small thing?” Tears filled my eyes blurring the landscape. I raise my fist to the clouds, to God. “Why do you keep taking from me? I need something to hold on to”.

“Mom,” he interrupted.  “God doesn’t want you to hold on to  things. Holding on to  things holds you back”. Still holding my hand he guided me towards the water’s edge. Two beached kayaks rested on the rocky shore.

“I want to show you something. You up for it?” He asked.

Nodding through my tears, I allowed him to guide me into my kayak. “Ready?” He asked.  We followed a narrow inlet that opened up into a secluded cove. White egrets glided in a zigzag pattern looking for a place to roost. Blue herons spotted the shoreline looking for an evening snack. He pointed with his paddle towards a bird that was flying low over the water. It was the type of crane that nested in the trees that the neighbor took down. I watch it fly to the shore and perched in a nearby tree.

“Mom” he said. “Do you need the shoreline when you have the lake? Maybe it is time to move on” He gestured to our surroundings.  A school of minnows rained on the water’s surface and a huge fish somersaulted creating circle ripples of waves. I watched the rings get bigger and bigger until they faded.

“Life is filled with events,” he continued.  “It sends waves of change, some small like those minnows and some huge like that fish. Denying or resisting change is like trying to stop those rings from expanding.  Your acceptance of change,” He paused, looking at me, as if to make sure I was listening, “your acceptance of loss expands your world.”

I stared into his face, trying to etch this scene into my mind. Do I accept that he is gone? The pain of acknowledging that pierced my soul and it almost made me cry out. “It is so hard” I said.

“Yep” was all he said. I looked at him and he was grinning. I laughed and wiped away the tears. “Yep” I agreed.

We floated together until the sun set behind the mountains, the water turned smooth likes glass and a deep blue, the same color of his eyes. I knew our time would end soon.  I had so much I wanted to say, but I swallowed the words and only said, “I love you.”

“I know” he answered, his voice far away.

I closed my eyes trying to keep him with me.  When I opened them, dawn was brightening the window of my bedroom. I laid in bed for a long time, digesting the lesson of the dream. I allowed the emotions to run their course. I was angry about the change and saddened over the loss of my special place.  I tried not to resist the change and allow it it expand me.  I envision the rings made by the fish.  It will be my visual as I adjust to this new loss.

Next Chapter…

Nothing says spring like tulips and daffodils. I love when their sweet faces open to the warm sunrays. I know how they feel; I do the same thing after a dark cold period. A storm raged last week and took whatever was left of their blooms and carried them away. Their time has ended and it is now time to make room for other stars of the garden, like the irises, azaleas, and lilacs. Although I am saddened to see them go, I know that their blooms were a foretaste of what is yet to come. Continue reading