Rising Above

There are so many conversations I wish I could have had with my Mother. By the time I realized the gravity of what was happening, she was no longer able to be in the present with me. She was already consumed by the battle; alternately fighting to live and struggling to accept a mind and body conspiring to leave us.

I had been trying to show her my love and gratitude for months before; with more visits, more phone calls, with gifts, small luxuries and a dream trip with memories to cherish. I wonder if she knew all that was being said with those gestures…I hope so.

But at the end, I needed her to tell me what to do, how to cope, and how she wanted me to carry on. If she had left behind some departing instructions, full of all her experience and wisdom, I could have reflected on her words, and used them as guideposts for the millions of minutes I have been so very lost without her. But this was not to be…

In my search for others who have found themselves motherless and who might understand the accompanying devastation, I came across a staggeringly beautiful tribute site created by a 23-year old women named Emmy. She lost her mother to ovarian cancer in March of 2009 and since then has posted thoughts, music and pictures dedicated to her “mummy”. Her site is called grieving gracefully (in lowercase like a whisper).  Here’s an excerpt from my favorite post:

“Rise above this, Rise above Emmy”


is what my dear mother stressed to me one afternoon ( hands clenched ever so tightly that I could feel her hand pulsing in mine) in her bedroom.


She talked of what she expected from her daughter. Her last moments of crucial parenting before she left for her new home in heaven.


I sat down with a notepad in hand prepared to write down every word she told me and all i wrote was “rise above”- dated March 4th, 2009.


That one hazy afternoon we talked of life in the future. We were about to be separated worlds apart and she needed to know that I would carry on to the best of my ability. I made a promise in my head that day that I would “rise above”- I wouldn’t be that young woman who lost her mother and it broke her. I would be strong. I would rise above and show other’s that I conquered. Just like her.


We learned to LIVE. to LOVE to a higher degree. to be grateful for every second we are given and to see this LIFE as the greatest gift.


Our eyes opened in the darkest hour.


Death never took her away from us. Death could never separate us from our LOVE.


Choose to “Rise Above”

I am envious. Emmy and her Mom confronted what was happening to them, and talked about the end and beyond. As I read this, I try to imagine what Mom would have said to me and the catharsis I believe would have come from hearing her say the words.

Perhaps Mom was always trying to show me in her Bonnie Rae-unique, wonderful, quiet ways how much she loved me; to prepare me for what she would want me to do in the life left without her.

And hoping I would know.

Secession

Sunset in Key West

Secession (derived from the Latin term secessio) is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or  political entity.  Secession also can be a strategy for achieving other, more personal goals…

….like Perspective.  

First a little history:

In 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US1, the only road connecting the Florida Keys with the mainland.   Vehicles were routinely stopped and searched for drugs and illegal immigrants. 



The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the inconvenience for travelers to and from Key West, claiming that it hurt the Keys’ important tourism industry.


Their complaints were ignored by the federal government.  Attempts to win an injunction against the roadblock failed in court.  On April 23,  the Council launched their protest by declaring Key West’s independence and secession from the union.


Protesters believed that since the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if they were a foreign nation, they sure as hell might as well become one. 


As many of the local citizens were referred to as Conchs, the nation took the name of the Conch Republic.


It gets better.  

The Mayor was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform).  They surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid!


The roadblock and inspection station were removed. 


Traveling (seceding) to the Keys is one of the most unique driving experiences in America.  You are part of a vehicle processional along a narrow road,  which includes crossing several bridges with only the turquoise Atlantic on both sides.  It is 122 miles at 50 mph with plenty of time for reflection.  

When you arrive in the Conch Republic, you have entered a place where relaxation reigns. The locals and tourists gather every night at Mallory Square to watch the sunset and celebrate like it might be their last.  

The people bask in their freedom from the trappings of urban bustle and a disregard for the opinions of others.  So many Jimmy Buffet wannabes. Men with ponytails, earrings and Tommy Bahama shirts. People so tan they could be skinned for shoes or purses. Virtually NO children (seriously), giant strollers or parents clamoring to pacify the “precious”. Just Hedonistic Adult Nirvana!

But it is a tourist trap with a proud history. “We are laid back and friendly, but Don’t F**k with Us”  is the undercurrent of this peaceful, easy feeling.  I suspect even the 60+ six-toed cats who roam the famous Hemingway House have more attitude than usual to spare. The bars feature live music all the time and beckon to you that everything will be okay…especially after a few drinks.

Sometimes there is no substitute for Distance.  You may find relaxation at home or somewhere else in your town.  But oh, the epiphanies that await you after a few thousand miles and a margarita!  Looking back at your life lets you see more clearly your options for moving forward.  It is the best gift you can give your psyche.

By the way, you can apply for a passport from the Conch Republic.  I plan to carry mine proudly.  

I might even mark my calendar for April 23, and celebrate the Conch Republic’s Independence Day, inspired by the mission of the local organizing committee.  They call themselves Sovereign State of Mind and “seek only to bring more Humor, Warmth, and Respect to a world in sore need of all three”.

Viva la Conch!

Into the Mystic



Standing: Dorothy, Margaret, Frank, John, Agnes, Wynell, Faye. Seated: Joann, Bonnie Rae (Mom), Carol


The Peacocks are almost gone.  With my Aunt Wynell’s death on Friday night,  just Frank and Carol are left now.  Hearing the news, I am caught off guard by the returning ache of loss.  It feels like losing more of Mom , and I have been made melancholy by the memories flooding back to haunt me.

When my Dad  married my mother the year before I was born, he immediately moved her from her desert home in Arizona to live in the shadow of the everlasting hills (and the snow) of rural Utah.  He may not have anticipated how homesick she would always be.  Isn’t it ironic? We leave home like escapees from prison, only to discover from a new perspective all that we have left behind.  The realization that in some ways we can NEVER go home again makes it even more bittersweet and beautiful as we grow.
In magical summers long gone by, Mom, my younger sister Katy Jo and I would ride the Greyhound bus nearly 700 miles to the Peacock Family Reunion.  We rode all night, stopping in every cow town along the way, only to arrive tired and wilted in the Phoenix heat.  The Peacock gatherings were big in every way.  Big personalities, big laughter and big talking sessions… often into the wee hours of the morning.  Mom’s delight at being home again among her family was palpable and I knew there would be lots of tears when it came time to leave. 
Here is how I will remember each of Mom’s siblings:
Dorothy:  Friendly, welcoming and hospitable…everyone congregated at her home.  Smoked like a train.  Had a laugh that made me laugh.  Came with cute cousins; a bonus.
Margaret:  Elegant and pretty…great clothes.  She wore the most fantastic turquoise jewelry, and was crazy in love with her handsome husband, Johnny.  Smart, reserved and clever.
Frank:  Handsome with a voice that boomed.   He took over the energy of any room he was in.  Severely burned when he crashed his plane while crop-dusting.  Even without ears, he was charming and had an unforgettable swagger.

John:  The quiet, serious brother.  Chose to see himself as an outcast…strong opinions and really thick glasses.
Agnes:  Old-fashioned beautiful; extremely proper.  Spoke slowly with a melodic Alabama drawl.  The quintessential kind, genteel southern woman.  
Wynell:  Outspoken and blunt.  Smoked in public and later in private; lied about it. Way ahead of Madonna with her large pointy bras….we called them “torpedoes”.  Talking to Wynell was similar to the Spanish Inquisition.  She was going to ask the questions and you were going to answer. 
Faye:  Sweet, beautiful Faye suffered from some sort of mental illness that was never spoken about; at least not to us kids.  She would wander, sedated from room to room, and we were kept mostly away.  Her husband, Ernest always wore a coat, even in 100-plus degree heat and was a rock hound.  I met him once and his gentle kindness still lingers.
 
Joann:  The fashion-model with a smart-ass attitude to match her looks. Charismatic and funny. She came to pick us up from the bus station once in a multicolored pantsuit with horizontal stripes.  She turned heads and  jaws dropped.  She was scandalous and outspoken and loved every minute of it!

Carol:  The quiet, rich sister.  Married to a Montana oil man, she was shy and always seemed to be running from the poverty she had come from.  We saw her the most; but I knew the least about her. She and Mom were kindred spirits, far from home and family.  She is also the last remaining daughter of John and Katie Mae Peacock.

Knowing them all changed me.  These unique, flawed, wonderfully interesting people shaped my attitudes about family and togetherness.  I watched and learned as my mother loved and forgave them.  They were her touchstones for growth and her way to measure how far from the house by the train tracks she had come.  
Today I miss Mom with a renewed, but familiar pain.  I understand more than ever her longing for family and reunions; in this life and in our hope for what comes after.  
These are the spirits who welcomed Mom when she left us.

I like to think of them together now; returned again to their prime, just the way they were those summers so long ago. 

9/11: A Survivor’s Request

When my husband Ron came home Tuesday night from his Beer Crawl, his eyes were red.  Moved by a simple request, he wrote an e-mail and sent it to everyone he could think of. With his permission, I have included it here:  
 I recently befriended a New York City ex-pat who now calls Utah home.  Eddie O’ is a mountain of a man standing about 6 foot 4 inches tall with not an ounce of fat on his chiseled body.  Eddie fills a room both with his mere physical presence and his Irish-New York brogue.
 
Eddie, Ray, Ken and I get together every other Wednesday to share a few drinks, laugh at each others old jokes, and regale one another with tales from our past. 

 

Ray is a local businessman from here in Salt Lake City. Ken works with me at Sportsman’s Warehouse but he has previously worked around the world as a member of the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic corp.  Angie claims he was in the CIA; a fact Ken has never denied. 
 
But it was Eddie who dominated the discussion at this week’s gathering as none of us could top the tales he unveiled.   Oh I forgot to mention;  Eddie O’ is a retired New York City fireman. He was in the lobby of the twin towers as first one then the other tower crumbled around him ten years ago this Sunday. 

 

As a member of Fire Company 22, Eddie was enjoying the clear fall New York morning on the upper end of Manhattan when he decided to turn on the television.  That was when he first heard about the events taking place 5 miles away at the World Trade Center.  Moments later the All-Call came in summoning his battalion and all other fire companies in the city to what would soon be termed Ground Zero.  Upon his arrival Eddie said there was no other way to describe what he saw other than “Hell on Earth”!
 
 

 

Entering the lobby area between the two towers Eddie described the chaos and din of emergency personnel doing whatever they could to help whoever they could.  The one overriding sound he heard was the thud of bodies hitting the canopy covering the lobby.  As a veteran firefighter he knew the choice these people were making.  Knowing they were going to die anyway, they opted to jump, rather than suffer the torture of the flames.  Eddie was told to report to the 75th floor staging area in tower 2 and help with the evacuation process. 
 
A devout Irish Catholic, Eddie turned to see the Fire Department Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge who was also in the lobby offering last rites to victims as they were being hauled out of the fiery towers. 
 
It was then Eddie made a decision that probably saved his life.  Seeing a rolling food cart which had probably been set up for an early morning business meeting somewhere in the Trade Center towers, he chose to drop his secondary air tank figuring if he was going to climb 75 stories he would rather not carry the tank and instead he began filling his pockets with bottles of water he found on the cart.  

 

As he stood out of the main passageway filling his pockets with the water, a low rumbling sound was heard, and then it was felt.  He looked across the lobby just as a huge chunk of debris struck Father Judge in the head.  The Chaplain was later certified as the first fatality of the 9/11 attacks. 
 
Eddie didn’t have but a few seconds to realize what he had just witnessed before the lobby filled with 110 stories worth of debris.  The forceful rush of the onslaught ripped through Eddie stripping him of his gear knocking him every which way and leaving him no longer a rescuer, but a victim.  
 
As he told us this story he said he does not know how he survived or who pulled him to safety but with his Irish accent becoming a little more pronounced he said “Fellas, for the past ten years I have been living on borrowed time.”   
 
 It wasn’t until March of 2002 that Eddie’s helmet was found in the rubble of the twin towers… it’s shield a twisted piece of metal. That shield now resides as the centerpiece of a plaque featuring all the shields from Eddie’s different company assignments while with the FDNY.  
 

 

Eddie never returned to the fire department.  He accepted a healthy settlement from the city of New York and quietly retired.  But quiet does not describe Eddie O’s life.  For the past decade, after coming so close to death, Eddie lives like he was dying.  He hikes, he skis, and travels the world.  He does not just exist, he lives!

 

Eddie won’t be in New York on Sunday.  He made that pilgrimage last week.  He went to the reflecting pools which now sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers.  He visited his old station and saw the jerseys of his fallen comrades hanging on the walls.  It was too much for him.  He quickly excused himself and fled the building…stumbling onto the steps of the nearby Lincoln Center where he broke down and cried.   Eddie will be in Seattle on Sunday marking the day with an old friend who lost her firefighter fiancé in the attack. 
 
But Eddie asked us all to do one thing for him. 

 

With trembling hands, this man giant fought to hold back the tears as he reached into his fanny pack and pulled out several small pieces of paper. He handed one to each of us and asked that at sometime on Sunday we read the prayer found on the paper.  It was written by his good friend and fellow victim, Father Mychal F. Judge. 
 
I am asking that each of you also take a few seconds on Sunday to read the Chaplain’s words and remember those who perished in the 9/11 attacks on America.
 
 

Remembering Whole

In the quiet moments before dawn, I remembered.  Two years ago on the 25th day of August, I was driving to meet my parents in the hospital lobby “by the grand piano” at 6:00 a.m.  Thoughts of Mom and memories of the day’s events flooded back.  Surprisingly, I can’t recall if my husband went with me that morning or if he came later in the day.  I don’t remember if there was any traffic either, but I remember exactly where I parked.

I can still see her standing with Dad as I crossed the lobby to greet her.  She looked so small and pale.  Trying to appear serene, I felt her trembling when I hugged her.  We were all there that day, humbled by its importance, burdened with the weight of what was happening.
I can remember her sitting up in bed in the tiny pre-surgery room; each of us taking turns to spend what we knew might be our last moments with her.  I wanted to call a halt to everything, turn back the clock and lead a daring escape from what lie ahead. But I only let Mom see my calm and efficient…the dance to which I know all the steps.
As they came to take her to the room where her heart would be removed for repair and a bypass machine would pump life through her body, I reluctantly walked away leaving my Dad to say his goodbyes…
Between reports from the young nurse assigned to keep us updated, we talked, read, snacked and wrestled silently with our own fears.  Several of us decided to take a walk and were strolling the hallway when my brother stopped in his tracks. 
He told us in a hushed tone that he had just felt Mom’s spirit pass through him.  She had left her body…free from its betrayal for a few hours.
We didn’t realize that even though Mom would survive the surgery, so much of who she was would be lost that day, never to return.  She would not rally or recover.  Our hope, encouragement, love and tender care was not enough.  She didn’t see the six-month anniversary of her heart’s last chance.
Perhaps once she discovered what was beyond the tethers of mortality, she understood how easily she could leave her body.  I believe she fought for us, but knew from that day that she was going to die.
There will probably be years when I won’t remember all the details and feelings of that day.  They will be buried beneath the days that have followed, overshadowed by life’s rhythm and the passing of time.
But lying in the darkness before the dawn, I felt the warmth of those waning moments wash over me…the last time when she was still really with us.  For a few seconds our little family was WHOLE again. 
I will hold on to the memory for as long as I can.

What Dreams May Come

She was in my dreams last night….the woman I have until now, been unable to remember.  Haunted by sadness and regret, grief has only allowed me to remember the stooped, frail woman at the end of her life..the un-invincible Mother who slipped away even as we fought so hard to keep her with us.
My dreams since her death have been filled with re-enactments of various stages in her decline. In them she is sick or just a shadow of herself .  When I wake up, the questions linger…ones with no good answers.  What could we have done differently?  Why didn’t we do something sooner? Did we do enough? Why didn’t she tell someone what was happening to her? The list goes on…
But in my latest dream, she was the woman BEFORE… beautiful, vital and so very alive. She looked to be a few years older than I am now…in her late 50’s, maybe early 60’s. 
In the dream, everyone was together.  It felt like a family gathering, and Mom was larger than life…she was radiant, happy and engaged in all the goings on.  I was surprised when I saw Dad with more hair and looking younger as well.  
I found myself standing outside alone with him and I put my hands on his shoulders and said, ” Dad, now you can tell her!” ” Tell her what?” he asked.  ” All the things you didn’t get to say.” He nodded.
” What will you tell her?” he asked. “I just want to thank her for being my mother….”
Suddenly, I was somewhere else;  away from them both.  I was trying to find a suitcase (?) so I could “get ready”.  I wanted to get back to them; to her, and the urgency I was feeling made everything move slower.  I couldn’t find the clothes I had planned to wear, I needed to shower, but was unsure where that was.  My make-up was missing, and I was bogged down in the slow molasses of dreamtime. 
Then, someone put their hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s too late.  You can’t go back now.  They only look like that in the light, and it is dark outside.”  I woke up.
Was it her message to me?  I’m not sure.  I do know that the feelings I experienced in the dream have inspired me to find a new way to remember my mother.  

I know she would not want me to only think of her as she was near the end.  She would rejoice in my memories of her laughter, her smile at the front door, and her melodic, low voice speaking my name over the phone…”Angie, it’s Mom” she would say.  

It is time to venture beyond the darkness.. I want to remember again how she looked in the light.

All that Really Matters…

The BEST Birthday/Anniversary Gift Ever!
           Shiny, Happy Daughters! 

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