>Loss after Loss

>You may my glories and my state depose, but not my griefs. I am king of those.”
~ William Shakespeare

Come Friday, my girls and I will gather under my gazebo to celebrate what would have been their father’s 77th birthday. We will order take-out from his favorite Mexican restaurant and share memories precious to us. Their dad and hero died when they were just teenagers, and watching me cope with losing my mother has stirred up their pain and exposed their wounds again. In the last three weeks, they have each chosen to get a tattoo. Symbolic words and pictures of their loss are now and forever etched in their skin

Our family just passed the six-month anniversary of my mother’s death. But it is one year ago today that we really lost her. She never could fully recover from hours on a heart bypass machine, and the damage already done so many years before.. And during some of the most agonizing days of our lives, we have experienced other losses. If we were Chinese, it might be our Year of Loss:

My husband lost his job in June.

My youngest daughter, so triumphant in recovery, lost hers before that.

My husband and I lost our trip to Rome; at least for now.

My sister lost her boss and friend to retirement and shockingly, lost the opportunity to replace her. She also lost her sweet cat, Leo to old age.

My youngest sister lost what she thought was her dream job after a couple of nightmare months. She left discouraged and disgusted.

My brother lost his career’s passion to the company that was forced to surrender after 20 years. His wife is losing her father to lung cancer. He has stopped experimental treatment to enjoy whatever time he has left.

If mom was still alive, she would suffer our losses with us; sometimes taking them even harder than we did. She would listen to our despair and empathize as only she could. She would patiently talk us through the slings and arrows, and softly remind us that everything happens for a reason. She would tell us that we deserved whatever we were seeking…joy, resolution, victory, or peace.  She would then valiantly bear testimony to her belief that we would most surely find it.

If only she could be here when we did.

>Humility 1, Hubris 0

>There is a theory about the magic of 3’s. Supposedly you have to hear, see, or experience something three times for it to sink in; for it to become part of your consciousness. I can prove this theory with the extraordinary happenings of last Thursday…and I have witnesses.

To review:  It was August one year ago, almost to the day that I sat across from my Mother having “the” talk…the “what if you die” talk. I asked her to choose a sign, a way for her to let me know she was still around me if she did not survive the reconstructive heart surgery she was facing on the 25th. She was quiet for a few moments before choosing the mourning dove and its melancholy song.

I.
Fast forward to January. Eight of us have come to Florida, one month before Mom would leave us all. It is early, and my husband and I are alone on the pool deck, drinking our morning coffee. My escape from the agony of watching her decline is coming to an end, and I say to him, “I have to go home now and watch my mother die.” He points up. There is a mourning dove sitting on the wire above the yard. “She knows” he says.
II.

My father, husband and I are standing at my Mother’s grave.  I am feeling rather annoyed by this ritual as I feel only emptiness and silence here. We place flowers near the wreath and cherub that mark her place, still without a headstone. Suddenly, the mourning dove’s song fills the air. A butterfly begins flitting around us and settles on her grave. It flits away but returns with a partner. Now two butterflies are darting around the three of us, then lighting again on Mom’s grave. This happens for several minutes, and I ask out loud, “Why are they only landing here?”

III.

It is Thursday evening. I am sitting outside under our gazebo, having drinks with my sweetie. My brother calls and we chatter about our weekend plans. As I walk inside to fix another cocktail, the conversation goes where it often does now; to talk of Mom and the painful anniversaries of August. He tells me about chatting with my youngest sister over the internet in the wee hours the night before, and I remember that our middle sister’s blog had a time stamp after midnight that same night. I was awake as well, still haunted by the hope of last summer and the defeat we couldn’t see coming.

I complain to him that I haven’t heard a mourning dove for weeks and that I want more. The birdsong isn’t enough and lately there has been nothing, only quiet. I walk back outside. In that instant, a mourning dove begins singing. It is insistent, singing so loud my brother can hear it over the phone. It  is a different song than we have ever heard before. We marvel at the message our mother is sending, interrupting our conversation to say, “I’m here, I’m here…I’m HERE!” We hang up and the singing stops…just like that. I walk outside a few times after to listen…she is gone.

I know that the butterfly is symbolic of rebirth after death. But I didn’t know that in ancient Christian lore, the dove is a symbol for mother. Or that Gypsy folklore holds that mourning doves are messengers – singing of love to the living from the spirit world. In daughter lore, it is my magic 3.

I hear you Mom, Finally, I do.

>Get Up, Stand UP!

>For the last several months, our quiet middle class neighborhood has been under siege. The home next door was rented to a liar, his sourpuss wife and a couple of mongrel boys with skinhead haircuts. They proceeded to create a private junkyard, innundating the property with trucks, trailers, a boat, four-wheelers, a work van and a 30-foot dilapidated motor home parked on the front lawn! Yard maintenance was apparently a foreign concept, although bike ramps, blankets, trash and cigarette butts littered the dead grass. I was the first to confront Rich, a gangly, loud-mouth who couldn’t look me in the eyes when I said, “you don’t intend to park all of these vehicles here, do you?” He assured me that everything would be moved and rambled something about being nice, quiet neighbors. Thus began the Assault of the Transients, complete with more lies and a F*** You attitude that made me seethe every day

When they broke the fence between our homes moving their boat for the umpteenth time, I asked my son-in-law to access public records at the county to find out who owned the home. Shockingly, the four owners live only three blocks east of us; apparently oblivious in their beautifully manicured neighborhood.  That really ticked me off! After three drafts of my letter (the first including several profane, sarcastic phrases), I drilled down to a straightforward outline of each violation and a plea for action and compliance with basic neighborhood standards. I cc’d everyone on my street. I waited.

Imagine my elation when I discovered that the liar, his sourpuss wife and the mongrels were moving! Was my letter the last straw? Had some of my polite elderly neighbors called the city or the landlords to complain as well? Rich bragged that they had found a bigger, better house in some poor unsuspecting neighborhood on the other side of town…I had this vision of them driving away in their dirty, noisy diesel truck as the neighbors danced in the street with middle fingers waving in their rear view mirror…Oh joy, oh rapture!

Last evening, a young girl and her father knocked on my door. They came in response to my letter and they wanted to know how they could make amends. I invited them in. We accepted their apologies and came to a new understanding. They said that my letter would be helpful in the lawsuit that Rich is threatening. We exchanged phone numbers and they promised more thorough screening of potential new tenants.

Admittedly, I am feeling heady about the power of ONE. I channeled my disgust and anger by speaking out and standing up for my rights. My cocky bravado was tempered by a painful realization. The person who would enjoy this story most is not here to tell it to. My mother would relish the twists and turns of this politically-incorrect neighborhood saga. She would laugh with me at the ironies of Rich and Co. (they own a cleaning service?!) and we would bask together in the victorious resolution.

She would be proud of me…and that is what I miss the most.