family


I stare at the screen and I realize that, until I purge myself in words of some of the sorrow I feel, I will not be able to continue healing.

It’s part of my process.

My grandmother died in her sleep over the weekend. She was on a pain patch and in my uncle’s home so she felt nothing and was not tied up to noisy machines or poked and prodded at by strangers in her last hours. She was in her early 90s (93, I think).

It was pretty much expected to happen but, oh my heart, why can’t we bend the laws of nature and keep these things from occurring.

There is no reason for me to be sorrowful except for the loss of her. And I will miss her terribly. In fact, it will be hard to go without crying when I attend my uncle’s wedding in June in California. Her absence will be right there for me to face and undeniable.

She lived a long and mostly happy life. Sure, she had some trauma happen throughout the years, but I can’t imagine it would be possible to escape unscathed over a 93-year lifespan.

I have no regrets regarding my relationship with her because I made sure to spend as much time with her as humanly possible in the last years of her life.

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She knew I loved her with all my heart just as much as I know she loved me equally. She lived with my uncle in California within eyesight of the ocean and I visited her probably at least twice a year over the last five years. My uncle took wonderful care of her. I am very grateful for all he did and the opportunities he provided for me to spend time with her.

During my visits, when we had alone time, we would talk about life. I would ask her about her past and she would try to reach back in her mind to memories that had been dormant for decades.

Most times, I would bring along a crochet project and she would help me by unwinding bunches of yarn while I would gather the yarn into a ball. Sometimes, I would sing to her and sometimes we would sing hymns together while gazing out as the sea and the rolling waves.

There are so many wonderful things I could write about her, many of them I recorded in a previous blog entry (https://esthernow.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/visiting-grandma-now-and-then/). But I’m not sure what to write from here. So many thoughts cloud my mind.

I’ve wondered in the past how I would handle her death. Grandma (on my father’s side) was one of a handful of soul mates to me. Her age didn’t do anything to hold back the bond between us that formed in my early years.

At that time, my blood grandfather (her first husband) had died un-expectantly and my father moved out there to be with her.

I guess I served as a sign of life for her — a happy, bubbling and giggling baby who grandma could spend time with to escape her pain and focus on someone who needed her. They say special bonds form in one’s early years and I think that explains, in part, why my grandmother and I were so close.

I’m also close with my mother’s mother, and I love her dearly. But there’s always been a special bond between my paternal grandma and me.

Anyway, I’m handling the whole thing pretty good considering how close we were. I even made it in to work today…although I’m not such how much I was able to accomplish.

Yesterday, my wonderful boyfriend stayed around way past his schedule to be with me until my sister arrived.

Then my sister and I proceeded to carry on a long tradition by my grandmother (and an unhealthy one) to eat ice cream right before going to bed. I pulled out albums of recent photos and older ones with her in it and my sister and I cried together over the photos then we talked about some of our memories.

Tonight will be hard, however, because I will be alone. My dog is at my parents because I’m leaving for a trip to Asia on Saturday. They will take care of my dog while I’m gone. But that means I have no one to comfort me tonight.

I’m saving most of my grieving for next week. While in Hong Kong and Vietnam, I will have ample time alone. I already had planned to go out to one of the islands (probably Lamma Island) where cars are not allowed.

On one of those islands or in a park or pagoda, I will find a quiet nook or lookout on top of a hill, write in my journal, and mourn my grandma proper by writing down my thoughts in my journal. Perhaps I’ll even direct the sound of my voice across the island’s cliffs with the sound of the hymns she loved so much.

Goodbye grandma, my friend and soul mate. May we all live as long, pass as peacefully and have people in our lives who love us so dearly.

This time of year I like to look back at all the wonderful things that have happened and all the things I am thankful for.

I’ll start with my thankfulness for the hardships.

This year, I learned a lot about humanity and also myself. I learned that you can never wholly know another person, no matter how many years you’ve been friends or family. I learned that I will not give up my faith in humanity but at the same time, I will not be surprised nor angry when they disappoint or hurt the very people they profess to love.

I’ve learned that I need some silent alone time so that I can listen to my inner voice and keep an inner peace that passes all understanding.

And as a result of the spiritual awakening, I met the guy I am currently dating when dating was the furthest thing from my mind at the time.

It all started when in the Spring months I lost the Master Chorale of Washington chorale family. Without the choir in my life, I learned that music accounted for much of my happiness. The choir was closed down due to financial hardships. I went through a spiritual upheaval as I realized that singing in the choir had been the piece of my life that had made it possible to cope with everything else — a sort of music therapy for my soul.

Without the choir, I needed to take some time to be retrospective and for spiritual healing and so I went to a monastery for a work week to be silent, pray and only use my voice in singing chants with the Benedictine monks.

It was a life altering event. I plan to go back each year to the monastery for a week of spiritual re-centering.

Now to the people I am thankful for.

To all of my friends, those I see regularly, my coworkers and those I’ve known since way back in the day: thank you for being a part of my life and the making of who I am today.

To the week-night crew, you know who you are: thank you for being some of the best friends I’ve had in a long time. You are a no-bullshi*t, laugh often and love (agape and philos) much bunch of friends among whom I feel freely accepted and free to show my affection.

This year I started participating in a weekly, Sunday night strategic board game group composed of grade-school friends, church friends, random participants and my brother. It has been a great opportunity for some social time without the pressure to be social and perform – other than to kick butt at a game. It has also helped to strengthen my friendship with my brother.

That leads me to my family. It’s been a rough year in some ways but I think we’ve survived in the end mostly unscathed.  Thank you to God for helping us hold it together and heal and I pray that I am able to forgive even more as time passes.

Tomorrow, I and my wonderful boyfriend, Ernie, will spend half a day with my family and half a day with his. It will be the first time I’ve shared my Christmas day with a boyfriends’ family.  I am both pensive and excited about the idea.

Merry Christmas everyone!

They say you learn something about yourself when you take road trips. And that most often you return and never again want to speak to those you traveled with or you return feeling closer to them (but perhaps needing a little break to recover).

For the road trip I took with my siblings last weekend there were definitely some HUGE lessons learned and we returned in good spirits and closer and wiser as siblings.

My brother, sister and I drove down last weekend to Murfeesborough (and later Chattanooga), Tennessee, for a wedding and to visit friends.

The main purpose of the trip was for my sister to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of Rose Estes and Justin Summers. My sister was suite-mates with Rose all four years they attended a high school boarding academy in Virginia and my sister loves Rose very much. We also drove to near Chattenooga to visit with some of my college/highschool/family friends.

For my brother it was the opportunity for him to spend time with our sister and to join in on a sibling road trip.

For me it was a trip that needed to happen for my sister, so I made it happen. I also love Rose and many of my sister’s friends, so it wasn’t completely altruistic of me to offer to drive.

It was the first time in more than 10 years that my brother, sister and I were trapped in a car together for more than the span of a few hours.  The trip out to the Western area of Tennessee took about 12 hours. The return trip from Chattanooga took about 9.5 hours.

We had a good time, although we learned a lot about each other’s personalities on that trip. Suffice it to say the weekend was one big sibling therapy session…slightly painful but afterward we were glad we took the trip.

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Here’s a photo of my brother, myself and my sister in Tennessee.

I also learned a couple of lessons for road trips. What to do/not to do when you go on a road trip.

1.Whether or not you have a GPS system, never go on a multistate road trip without a backup road map for each state in your glove compartment.

2. Make sure everyone’s iPod’s are charged before you leave so you can all listen to your own music if you can’t agree.  And if you are a music snob, be prepared to listen to music you don’t want to for at least half of the ride.

3. Bring thank you cards and gifts for the people you are visiting on the trip.

4. Before you go, check your car’s engine fluids and tire pressure.

5. Carry enough petty cash to get through tolls for the outbound and RETURN trip. lol.

6.  Have paper copies of telephone numbers for people you will be seeing on the road trip in case your phone battery dies.

7. Get plenty of sleep on the days leading up to the trip so you don’t kill each other.

8. Give emergency contact numbers and basic itinerary to a friend or family member at home before you leave.

9. EmergenC is a miracle for your immune system and energy levels.

10. Bring earplugs, an eye mask and a lap blanket.

11. For the love of God. Don’t forget your sunglasses if you plan to drive.

12. Bring twice the amount of food you think you’ll need on the trip. You’ll save money from not stocking up at gas stations.

and since today is Friday the 13th….

13. The alphabet game makes time pass by really fast. (Each person take a turn in alphabetical order naming a certain category. My sis, brother and I played the game for things you eat and for animals. You’d be surprised how many animals there are that start with Q and Z.

It seems like the end of last month and at least half of this month will be spent traveling (on weekends, that is).

I had a wonderful trip to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California at the end of last month. Not only did I get some quality time with my gradmother, uncle and a friend but I had the opportunity to tour the renovated and recently re-opened California Academy of Sciences.

In one word the place is “stunning.” For those who are familiar with DC museums, this one creates a refreshing blend of the Baltimore Aquarium, a planetarium and the Natural History Museum. I could have spent the whole day there, and I nearly did.

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Furthermore, the living roof and the other eco-friendly measures that were used in creating the building and its daily operations are awe inspiring.

Here is a picture of my grandman, myself, my uncle and his girlfriend.
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Last weekend I drove up to York, Pennsylvania, to attend the baby shower of a former roommate and a girl who was a great friend. She’s expecting a boy and she’s bursting at the seams. It was wonderful to catch up with an old friend. It was weird however, to be surrounded by people my age. You see I’ve been hanging out with people who either attend or hang out with people who attend the college near by house, my Alma Mater.

This weekend shoud be even more interesting. I will be traveling with my siblings (brother and sister) to Tennessee to attend a wedding of one of my sister’s best friends. While I’m down there I’m going to take the opportunity to reconnect with a few buddies and some family friends. But pretty much most of the time will be spent as a road trip, 11.5 hr drive each way.  I’m hoping it works as a great bonding experience for us siblings.

This weekend I’m traveling to Santa Cruz and San Francisco, California, — primarily to spend time with my 93-year-old grandmother, who also happens to be my soul mate.

I love her. She and I seem to have an understanding between us that needs no words. We also share a love of the water, backyard birds (she doesn’t like birds for pets), classical art and music, children’s books, nurturing others and singing hymns.

When I was a newborn my parents moved to Ohio to live near my grandmother who was deep in grief over the recent and unexpected sudden loss of her husband, my maternal grandfather.  Perhaps one of the reason’s she and I bonded so well may was because I was a distraction from her pain.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were in the house in Worthington, Ohio that Grandma kept for guests even after she re-married and moved into her husband’s home. It made sense that she had a house for her own stuff because she loved having guests and because (until his dying day) my step-grandpa kept his house exactly as it had been decorated by his first wife. Don’t take me wrong, he was a good man and I loved him too.

Grandma’s house was a treasure of things to discover and do from my earliest years through my teens.

Her hostessing skills put me to shame. We would arrive at the house (the one she kept for guests) and she would be there waiting for us, no matter the hour.

Her refrigerator and cupboards would be stocked with fresh foods and special treats such as Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream and sugar cereals that my parents did not usually allow me to have. And the toy closet almost always held a new (to me) toy.

It was a large house with four bedrooms (or maybe five). It had a fireplace, a remote controlled door garage (which to me as a child was a never ending delight), large kitchen and dining room with a big window facing the backyard. It had a livingroom with a huge oriental rug in its center and a painting of a stormy sea on one wall.  My favorite part, however was playing in her large backyard which had a fire pit, swing set, a set of beautiful white-painted cast iron benches, several bird houses and a sand pit.

For as much as I loved my grandmother I was a misbehaved houseguest in that I loved to rummage through grandma’s dressers and closets. I never took anything, however, without her initiating the offer (well maybe a couple of times I asked before she offered).

The kitchen had a blue and white theme. All of a sudden the memory of the smell of Dove dish soap mixed with grandma’s Este Lauder perfume floods my thoughts.

I was a child of simple pleasures. I remember how much fun it was to play with the wooden music box she had that you would put metal records into and then wind up to play. Or how great it would be to sit on grandma’s lap as she read to  me using different voices.

There were a few things she would do when she tucked me into bed. She’d sing the old tune that I only know by its chorus… “over the sea, over the sea. Jesus savior pilot me. Over the sea, over the sea, over the Jasper sea.” Grandma was an alto so her voice would sometimes crack on the high note on the word Jasper if she hadn’t pitched the tune just right.

Then she would pray with me, give me a hug and a butterfly kiss and turn out the lights. 

There were places forbidden to me as well, that is, until I was in my teens. The basement I later learned was full of my maternal grandfather’s things. Perhaps that’s why I was not allowed down there, for fear I would hurt myself or damage something of his. It held his rock and fossil collections, his work benches, his many cabinets of files that hadn’t been opened or touched since his death and many other things.

Also forbidden was the attic because it was not floored and I would have easily fallen onto the insulation.

We were at grandma’s often enough that I had friends in the neighborhood and from her church.  In fact my first official “date” was with a boy from my grandma’s church. He came to my grandparents’ door and asked to take me to the dairy queen. Neither of us were old enough to drive so we walked.

Well my day is coming to a close and I have a long list of things to do before I tuck myself into bed for a few hours of sleep before I catch an early morning flight so I must go.

What are some of your childhood memories of your grandparents or similar figureheads in your life.

Taking care of the elderly is like trying to maintain an antique car. No matter how much TLC you give them…. eventually they are going to give out. My mom once told me that.

I grew up in a nursing home. My living room was where the elderly patients sat and watched TV. They used my bathroom, ate in our dining room and often even celebrated Christmas with us. You get the diea.

There are times in my life when I realize that I have to step back from the family drama and just let things happen.

I’m not sure whether this is such a moment, but my hunch is it might be.

My paternal grandmother isn’t doing so well. She’s 93 and living with my uncle in Santa Cruz, California. My uncle takes superb care of her and he also makes sure she gets to go out and see plays, go for walks and attends classical concerts (so much that many of the professional instrumentalists in Santa Cruz know my grandma by name).

He also takes her to the church where my grandma gets to visit with an Indian lady about grandma’s age. The two women have known each other for many years since both their husbands worked and traveled together. Grandma’s eyes just sparkle when she sees her girlfriend at the church. They will just sit there and hold hands during all the service.

Uncle’s love, dedication and unselfishness astounds me and makes me respect him all the more.

I add here that Grandma Hartman is my soul mate, one of a very few in my life. It will be very hard to loose her.

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But grandma is old. It’s as simple as that.  And I’m sorry if this sounds cold but, taking care of the elderly is like maintaining an old car– it’s mostly guesswork, it requires a lot of TLC and no matter how much you take care of it, the car will give out eventually.

Well my uncle (and my aunt) now is faced with having to plan what to do when Grandma dies.For the first time he has found out all the numbers he will need to call My dad, who wants to imagine her healthy, wants nothing to do with making funeral arrangements. And my guess, although it breaks my heart, is that he won’t be able to visit her in the state she is in. It would break his fragile heart.

Oh dad that I could be your strength, but I can’t.It was all I could do, with strength granted to me from God alone, to help heal the hurt that has built up between my father and his siblings. I fear that there is nothing I can do to stop that from happening again when grandma dies. Their sorrow will be so strong that they will lash out and re-open those freshly closed wounds. And I will not be able to mourn at the funeral because I will be doing everything I can to keep things at peace. But to honor Grandma, that is what I will do.

I force back the tears even as I write.

Grandma has asked “uncle” to let her die at home. I don’t think he quite knows how his house will haunt him when she’s gone but that’s something one can only understand after they’ve had someone die in their house.

So here’s my decision.

I can’t fix the issues that have been built over yearsand years between the siblings no matter how much I know they love each other, I don’t think it will be enough.

I can’t make my father run to grandma’s side. It has to be his choice. And I understand why he can’t because I’m not good at goodbyes either. I also know that he’s had to attend the funeral of every elderly person we had at our nursing home and that with each funeral it drove all of us a little madder. Perhaps that is why I revel in my youth so extremely–to fight the inevitable.

So I’m letting it go. Writing this entry has been healing. I see now that anything else would be futile. I can only be there for those I love and that is what I am now determined to do.

There is a short list of activities that can make one appreciate how dangerous it is to be on the road and how nice it is to have two feet on the ground. High on that list must be riding in the passenger seat of a car driven by someone who has less experience behind a steering wheel than I’ve spent at the office in a day.

My sister obtained her learners permit about a month ago. She’s been taking driving classes and trips out on the road with a certified instructor and with me for several hours since then. Typically, I let her drive around in my dark blue Nissan Sentra for an hour or so. But because she was going back to Nebraska in a week I decided to let her have the wheel for three hours straight on Sunday.

We drove around old town Frederick, crossing two lane roads to continue down alleys, taking intersections, practicing yielding to the right and keeping track of the order in which cars arrived at a four-way-stop.

I’d forgotten how much concentration and energy it took to drive when I started driving.  All the time she was driving I was having flashbacks to when I first started driving, and how much energy it took to do simple things.
We avoided major highways and stuck to back roads. For a while we decided to just go where the spirit moved us… that is, until I realized we were one turn short of being COMPLETELY lost.

On our way back we decided to continue on a two lane road because there were not many cars taking that route.

There is a reason only a few cars take that road. It turns out we picked a “two” lane drive that wasn’t painted, was never straight, had plenty pot holes and seemed to be either lined with HUGE boulders or deep ditches that, had she let a wheel cross off the road, would have sent us careening 30 or more feet down to a small creek at the bottom of the wooded hill.

We were doing ok until she hit a stick. It made a loud crack as it hit the side of the car.

Worse yet, someone had caught up with us and was driving (at a safe distance) behind us on our slow ascent to what must have been the top of a small mountain.

We would have pulled off the road if there had been any driveways, except the two that appeared as soon as we cleared a steep and sharp turn lined with dark boulders. When we thought we were about as terrified as we could get Joan saw a small road sign that warned us….”Road Narrows ahead”

“Road narrows.” She said. “How can it narrow any more than this?” It was barely wide enough as it was to let two cars pass each other. We both let out a scream that was mixed with laughter at the absurdity of the situation and kept going. Well we finally made it into a driveway and turned around to go back down.

Tired, a bit frazzled and still shaky we decided it was time to go home.

So we went to Best Buy where I bought “Hot Fuzz”, a great movie that I’d watched at a friend’s party the night before, and we went home to sit on the couch, color in coloring books and watch the movie with our parents.

She flies back to school early Sunday morning.

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