Life Story Writing

Teaching Life Story Writing and Musings On My Life ~

Archive for the category “How To Write Your Life Story”

This Is The Story Of Lorraine

IMG_7767In a two bedroom end terrace home in Greystone Passage, Dudley, England lived the Jackson family with Mother Annie, Daddy Percy, big sister Beryl and younger sister Lorraine.

Lorraine loved her life growing up. She loved to watch her mother serve neighbors and friends in their little front shop. She loved to watch as her Mother built the fruit display in the window or see the different vegetables in boxes on the floor. There were even sweets on a shelf in a jar. Their home was always filled with good food to eat. Lorraine’s Daddy was a tailor and made their clothes. As she would say, they were well dressed and well fed.IMG_7388

As a little girl Lorraine loved to go with her Daddy up the street to the allotment, he carrying his keys and bucket of water. Percy loved it when Lorraine came to the garden and even let Lorraine help pollinate the tomatoes in his greenhouse.

Her Daddy had a dry sense of humour and many a time would have them dying with laughter. ‘Oh stop it Perce!’ her mother would say. They loved to laugh.

IMG_7589Lorraine and Beryl shared a bed in the second bedroom. It was cozy. The privy was outside and once a week they went to a relatives house for a bath. If they were naughty they were made to sit on the stairwell in the dark. And if they were ill they were taken to Mother and Daddy’s bed and cared for. It was comforting to Lorraine there in her parents room. She felt safe and loved and she especially loved it when her Mother sprayed lavender water in the bedroom. Lorraine loved the smell of lavender.

Lorraine looked up to her big sister Beryl. Although Beryl was four years her elder she was her best friend and would remain so their whole lives. Beryl was beautiful, funny and kind and had lots of friends and admirers. Lorraine loved to tag along with Beryl and her friends. When the war came Beryl went off to work in the land army.

Later Beryl married Fred and moved far north to a distant land called Yorkshire. Still they stayed in touch. They would call one another on the phone, send each other postcards and when time allowed visit one another and their growing families. Beryl and Fred now had two boys Nicholas and Jeremy. Beryl and Lorraine loved to laugh and sometimes they would laugh until it hurt and tears were streaming down their faces.

Lorraine became a beautiful young lady and met a lovely lad called Geoff at the local dance one night.

IMG_7711 He asked her to dance. From that day on they spent many hours together cycling all over the country on a tandem. Lorraine loved sports. She was a great netball player and swimmer. With Geoff she enjoyed cycling, rowing boats and climbing trees. Geoff loved to take pictures and in his pictures was a beautiful girl full of life and fun, love and adventure.Laneadventure

IMG_7720Before long Geoff and Lorraine fell in love and were married. First they lived in a room at The Gables, Geoff’s family’s home and later made a life together working hard in the little riverside shop and then The Hop Pole pub at Bewdley.

The years rolled by and then, one day life changed. Louise was born. Becoming a parent changed everything. Lorraine did not know how much this adorable big eyed baby girl would change her and challenge her but she held her in her arms and loved her instantly.IMG_7382

Lorraine soon learned that Louise was born with special needs that would require constant, vigilant care her whole life long. But God knew that Lorraine would have a heart big enough and strong enough to give all the love Louise needed and all the strength it would take to keep going, to be a champion for a good life for Lou.

IMG_7057A few years later Lorraine and Geoff welcomed Teresa and Nigel and Louise became a big sister to them. Family was everything to Lorraine. She loved them dearly and lived her life for them. Lorraine’s heart was heavy when she realized that Louise would have to go away to live. She searched carefully for the right place. When Louise was gone during the week she thought about her and worried if she felt loved and cared for. She missed her deeply.

Lorraine taught her children to be good and kind and polite. She taught them to look for the good in people and to be hopeful and optimistic. She taught them that music and laughter are great medicine and that family are not only born to you but sometimes are not even related to you. And she taught them to never go outside with wet hair!

Lorraine loved wise sayings and quotes and beautiful poems. Her children would often hear her say things such as the following:

‘You can’t please all the people all the time’

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’

‘This above all to thine own self be true!’

‘There’s always someone better off and worse off than you.’

‘Kill them with kindness.’

Lorraine filled the home with love and discipline with song and laughter, with smells of roasts on Sundays and smells of perfume and hairspray.

Lorraine loved to be her best and look her best. She would squeeze her feet into those pointy stiletto shoesIMG_7726 for a night out only to come home with tired achy feet and tell her little girl ‘Dont ever do this to your feet!’ And the little girl listened and she took good care of her feet.

Lorraine loved her ear rings and scarves, her suits and her sweater top shirts. Lorraine had a fashionista sense. Sometimes people thought she looked like a model, and some would say she was a real lady or classy but under it all she was still just plain ol’ Lorraine.

Lorraine believed in her children. She encouraged them and listened to them. Whether IMG_7458they were near or far they were always close to her heart. Lorraine taught them every day about sacrifice and how to love and forgive but she also taught them that sometimes love would say no.

Although Lorraine never went to Church she believed in God, she believed even though she saw bad things happened to good people. When her Mother and Daddy left this earth she would keep pictures of them near and go and talk to them. She knew they had gone to a better world and knew she would go there one day too and see them again. This gave her strength and she continued to feel their love in her life.IMG_7465

Lorraine loved the outdoors. She loved flowers, especially daisies, she loved to watch and feed the birds that came to her garden. And she especially loved cats.

As sometimes happen Lorraine and Geoff’s happiness came to and end and their lives separated but they would still remain good friends. Lorraine in time would also come to love, respect and deeply appreciate Geoff’s new wife Sue for many reasons but especially because she too loved Louise and wanted the best for her. Together Lorraine and Geoff and Sue continued to love Louise and care for her.

Time marched on and a few years later Lorraine found love and happiness with Ted. Ted and Helen were now included in her family circle and all of Ted’s family. In time Steve, Bethany and Ryan joined the family. And Lorraine loved them all.

Many years passed by. Teresa and Nigel were grown and gone living far away. Lorraine found the joy of grandchildren, Ryan and Bethany who lived far away in London and Mitch, Anie, Elliott, Brooke and Brieya who lived so far away in America. Any time with them was precious.

When she was with them she would get down on her knees at their eye level and play with them. Her eyes would sparkle as she watched them and you might hear her give a secret chuckle at something they might say. Lorraine delighted in them. Together they would put milk out for the cat or sneakily hide Grandpa’s stick, the one he used to chase the squirrels away. When the grandchildren were far away she would send them packages of socks, tea towels and random things from here and there. Sometimes the packages came with books filled with fairies and unicorns and ABCs or even poems. Lorraine loved looking for beautiful cards when she was shopping. She would send the grandchildren birthday cards and get well cards and thinking about you cards and congratulation cards. Inside these cards she would squeeze some extra love and good cheer. At Christmas she would send them Christmas crackers and Christmas decorations for their tree and Christmas cards with robins on them.

When the grandchildren grew older and came to visit she taught them things like how to iron and knit, how to swim and even how to take care of their nails and teeth but especially how to love little furry things. She also taught them to be fair minded and to love unconditionally. She would make them sandwiches with the good crunchy bread and good cheese and she’d tuck a heaping portion of love into each sandwich for good measure. Sometimes she made salmon sandwiches too. She only fed them cereal with the good brown sugar. Her house flowed with an endless supply of squash and biscuits and happy sounds of children. She would take them to the Black Country Museum and tell them what life had been like when she was a little girl and they would eat the best fish and chips in town cooked the old fashioned way. Lorraine loved and cared for her grandchildren unconditionally and the grandchildren loved her back. Now although the grandchildren don’t see her they each of them carry a little of Lorraine with them and will pass that on to their children too.

Lorraine’s grand children now married. She welcomed Amber, Will, Miranda, Trevor and Ryan to her family circle. Now she was a GREAT GRANDMA and had great grandchildren: Emma and Kenzie delighted her when they came to visit her all the way from America. The others she met on Skype, Adelyn and Levi, Raylee and Odie, Kanden, Bridger and Pierce and the newest baby Madeline Camille she was able to see in a picture. She loved them all.

Lorraine loved her friends. Over the years she would call them, do things with them, send them cards and visit them. Lorraine especially loved to go to the garden centers with them, she loved to look at all the plants and maybe pick out a pretty card to send to the grandchildren. Lorraine was a good listener and her friends loved that.

Often Lorraine would sit at the dining table looking out the window at the beautiful garden that Ted had made and think about the many good things in her life.

Then one day Lorraine was too sick to stay at home anymore and she went to a place called Mary Stevens Hospice, or really a Heaven On Earth but Lorriane didn’t know that till she passed through the doors. Then a miracle happened. All of Lorraine’s worries and cares melted away. She was so happy and carefree, almost like a little girl again.

Teresa and Nigel jumped on airplanes and were by Lorraine’s side in an instant because they knew that she never wanted to be alone. And so they stayed day and night, night and day, taking turns.

Many nurses and volunteers cared for Lorraine. Lorraine called them her angels. One nurse even brought lavender from her garden for her. They would move her gently from side to side, bathe her, help care for every need. They brushed her teeth and combed her hair and even sprayed lavender water for her.

As Lorraine lay there in her bed she would often talk about being back in Greystone passage and her Mother and Daddy and sister were there too. She remembered being ill and laying in her parents bed and then she would have Teresa or Nigel spray the lavender water and she would smile.

Lorraine’s smile lit up the room. Some nurses were overheard saying that if they were having a bad day they would go to ‘Laineys’ room because it was so peaceful.

Lorraine would sometimes go to sleep and smile. Teresa and Nigel wondered what she was smiling at but inwardly they knew she was drifting between this world and the next. One night she opened her eyes and said ‘flying’. Another time she opened her eyes and said ‘I’ve connected.

On her wall in her little room filled with love hung pictures of family who were too far away to visit. It made her so happy to have their pictures there and she felt their love and prayers.IMG_6165

Even though Lorraine was not well she made sure that every family member or friend who came to visit left with a golden memory of her. She would make them laugh with her quick wit and funny expressions. She would give them words of wisdom and let them hold her hand and kiss her. She wanted to see everyone, just one last time to let them know that she loved them. And she did.

IMG_6639Lorraine filled those last days with as much joy and living as her little body could hold. She even celebrated her 87th birthday! Nigel picked flowers from the garden and heather from Kinver Edge and brought them to her. She loved flowers. All the family and friends she loved filled her little room. They sang to her and gave her a cake. She opened her cards and Teresa read them to her one by one. She beamed. Light shined through her eyes. She had never been so happy. Even the nurses had their own cake for her and sang to her. Louise who lived far away sent her beautiful flowers too sent with her love.

Lorraine was happy. She loved everyone so much that now there wasn’t enough room left in her body for Lorraine to stay there.

So when all the people had been seen, all the words had been said, all the hugs and kisses had been given, Lorraine knew it was time to leave. She was sad and it was hard for her to go. But family told her it was time and that her Mother and Daddy were waiting for her and that Beryl was so excited she was jumping up and down and dancing!

So Lorraine thought about her Mother and Daddy and sister in a better world and beautiful garden and found herself there.

Lorraine’s family and friends were sad that they could not see and touch her anymore but they knew Lorraine was happy and at peace and full of life still and this gave them a feeling of supreme comfort and incredible joy. They thought about Lorraine and smiled. Sometimes they even talked out loud to Lorraine. They even imagined that she could be watching over them helping them or just visiting them and listening. Because in the end, nothing worthwhile is lost. The love goes on and on and one day they knew they would see Lorraine again.

Until then her family and friends would continue to love her and whenever they saw daisies or robins on Christmas cards or small furry animals or smelled lavender, they especially thought of her and every moment in between. Because they knew now how much Lorraine had always been a part of them.

This earth was a better place with Lorraine on it now heaven is a better place with her there. And if her family and friends could take a peek into heaven I think there just might be a whole lot of laughter going on there now.

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Where Have I Been This Past Year?!

Well they say …’the best laid plans of mice and men…’  Where do I start?  Almost a year ago on a visit to England, my Mum wasn’t well.  By December she was diagnosed with stage iv colon cancer.  Since then I have been flying back and forth to spend time with her and help her.  Its really a two edged sword.  I found myself looking at life juxtaposed with death, happy memories with sad, health with illness, expectations clashing with reality.

For years I had asked Mum to write about her memories, her life, but her pen never met the paper.  We realize we are down to her final weeks, I believe, maybe even her final days and its all water under the bridge.  As I scan her photos I have questions: how old were you when you met Dad?  Where did you meet him?  Tell me again about your knee injury?  How did you ever get your parents to let you go touring with Dad on a tandem before you were married?!

LanepersonalityThere are gaps. We gather what we have.  Old photos become treasures, a door to a bygone era, a Mother bright and beautiful, full of energy and adventure, a Mother I never knew.  How I wish I could have known her then.  We ask family members endearingly to take time out of their busy lives to start jotting down the memories as they come, and come they do: the high heel shoes and bleached hair, the Val Doonican records piping through the house, how she would run out and strip off her shirt and bathe in her bra to grab a little sunshine and tan, her cheesecake, her grapes smothered in cream and sprinkled with brown sugar, her legendary Sunday roasts, her brushing my wet hair and insisting it be dried before I go to bed, her devotion to family, her love for small furry things, her fashionista sense, her mad knitting and ironing skills and the list goes on.

Memories can come in fragments, they can come in torrents, they can come in a scent or a tune or a taste.  They can come from standing in a certain place or being with familiar faces or as conversations of shared memories are spoken.  These are the golden nuggets.  Sometimes we don’t get to choose what we remember so when the memories come we cherish what we have.  Grab that pen, write it down, text yourself, leave yourself a voicemail, write in your journal, write yourself an email, share it with Laneadventurefamily members.  I have found an interesting phenomena, that as I let these treasures surface and as I skim them carefully off the top of my mind and put them in a safe place, quite often they are followed by another memory and another.

So muster the troops! Call family members! Text them or email them! Ask them to write their memories.  Take all these gems and compile everything in a book using software such as found at http://www.blurb.com.  As we take the collective memory of many people and add to them the photos we begin to create a picture of a person’s lifetime.  Because when all is said and done all we have left of life is memories. Happy remembering!

Thoughts On Writing

The heights by great men

I have always loved this quote by Longfellow.

You don’t have to be really smart to write.

You don’t even have to be really talented to write.

What you do have to be is patient, with yourself and with the process.

And you have to be willing to work.

Whether that is literally writing in the night when others are sleeping or just putting in the effort anytime.

How is talent created? Over time with earnest effort.

I truly believe that writing improves with… well, writing! (Surely someone who writes every day is going to be ahead of the game.)

Your thoughts over time prepare you to write. Take note of your thoughts.

Anything you do in life to develop discipline will pay off in the writing department. Dealing with difficult challenges and not giving up or honing your ability to be tenacious will show up in your writing skills. Whether its just getting your butt in the chair late at night when you are tired or working through a difficult scene, you just start and do and keep going.

There is something extremely empowering in the actual doing, no matter what the end writing result is. You sharpen the saw in many ways when you sit down to write; your ability to be disciplined, your ability to focus, your ability to concentrate, your ability to think positively and your ability to open yourself up to a higher source of inspiration are increased.

When you sit down to write, there is before you, a moment of a thousand possibilities. Some of your best writing may be done without you knowing beforehand it is about to be created.

Creation is a process, so at one sitting you may fairly lay down a skeleton of jumbled ideas. Is that a brilliant piece? No. Is it a place to come back to and start from the next time? Yes. Does it have value? Certainly. Who’s to say what your skeleton of jumbled ideas may become…

Writing is like drawing lines in the sand. At any given moment when we sit down to write we draw a line. We can edit and change the shape and direction of the lines, each line adding to the overall picture, each line having value. But the picture takes time. Beautiful things are created, over time.

Sometimes you really need to take yourself out of the way of your writing. You need to practice being a conduit and let the writing come through you without judgment, without thought, without planning; let the thoughts flow down onto the paper. Sometimes you just need to write, to start and be a little less controlling and see what comes.

Over time, your writing will add to who you are, it will help you become the person you want to be. At tough writing junctures, whether its to write or not or how to write or even what to write, you will keep the vision of where you are going, where you want to be. Knowing you are on the path, headed in the right (write?!) direction helps you know writing is worth it. And you are worth the writing too.

You are blessed with the gift to write. You live in the light ages not the dark ages. You have a knowledge of language and literature and a world wide audience like no other generation.

Someone in this world needs your voice whether to uplift, educate or entertain.

These voices call you to your writing.

Writing; the most thrilling, unknown adventure you will ever embark on! And its only a pen stroke away.

The Infamous, Larger-Than-Life Gerry!

Gerry and little 'Teraza Maria'

Gerry and little ‘Teraza Maria’

Its seems only fitting that I should end this day by writing about Gerry Fairless, Auntie Gerry, as she was known to me.  In the early hours of this 4th of July 2014, in a hospital in Montevideo, Uruguay, Gerry began the greatest voyage ever.

Ninety one years ago a little girl was born to Ada and Alf Hill.  I can’t help but think that from her very first breathe she stole hearts and had a captive audience.  Four years later she became a big sister to her baby brother, Geoff, my father.

Nellie as she was known in her earlier years lost her Mother to cancer at age 14. Life could not have been easy. During World War II she was to meet a handsome pilot, Colin Fairless, whom she later married.  Colin was from Montevideo, Uruguay.  And so began her first of many trips to Uruguay (and back) and a new life there, half way around the world.

Gerry was big on family.  She wrote on aerogram letters every week to her ‘Daddy’ back in Brierley Hill, England.  Her Daddy eagerly awaited each letter and wrote faithfully back too.  They numbered their letters in case they were lost.  Gerry was very fond of her baby brother, Geoffrey. They wrote, then telephoned, then at 80 she entered the technology age and learned how to email and finally to Skype. Their friendship has spanned 87 years.  Today my Dad not only lost his longest and closest friend but last connection with the past.

My earliest memories of Gerry are at around age 3 or 4.  I remember sitting in the back of my Dad’s delivery van as we drove her back to Southampton to take a ship home.  It was dark and uncomfortable back there and maybe that is one of the reasons it was memorable.  Or maybe because of the huge cruise ship although I have no recollection of that, just a photo.

I remember she smoked which in my young child like mind I found an oddity.  I was never around people who smoked.

Gerry was loud and vivacious.  I was quiet and timid, but my Mum says I was just like her!  Throughout my life my Mum would all of a sudden look at me and say ‘Oh, that was so Auntie Gerry!’

Gerry could do the best ‘little girl’ voice, ever. It made me laugh. On one visit she called me ‘mon petite chou,’ my little cabbage!  She was one of the few people who could truly pronounce my name right and she would say it with her singing, Spanish accent. ‘Teraaaza, Maaaria!’

She seemed to have mastered being fully alive in that body of hers.

In Montevideo she became part of an amateur dramatic society, the Montevideo Players.  She adored acting.  It literally was true that the world was her stage, darling, because you never really knew if she was being Gerry or was still ‘in character’.  In a way, it’s as if she walked onto the stage and never walked off.

In her last days at the hospital the doctor asked her who the Queen of England was, testing her mental capacity.  She replied ‘Mary’.  When her son visited her he asked her the same question.  ‘Queen Elizabeth of course,’ she replied.  Mark, her son, explains that she was ‘acting’ for the doctor because lets face it what else could she do in a hospital bed?!

Oh Gerry! True to the end.

Gerry’s life was not without heartache.  She lost a son Neil and her husband Colin.  She has lived 25 years without her sweetheart.

A week ago her son Mark and grandson Morgan arrived in England for a visit.  Four days ago I skyped with them for the first time, catching up, we chatted about Gerry.  I talked about visiting.

I had so hoped to see you, Gerry, just one more time.

And now she is gone.

We play Russian roulette with the possibilities and probabilities of our lives.  So many times we hold the things that matter most, hostage, to things that matter least or to things that don’t matter at all.  Why do we do that?  Why do we let this life whiz by us half-lived?

Maybe my brother said it best of all; that in her infamous way, Gerry has gone out with a bang, stealing the show on the 4th of July.  Because lets face it every 4th of July I will think of Gerry and celebrate her crazy, beautiful life!

When all is said and done we are shocked she is gone, it almost unthinkable. She was in her own way iconic, a legend.  Yet we are glad she did not linger suffering in this body that wouldn’t work for her; this body that wouldn’t let her completely be ‘Gerry.’

I like to think there is a grande reunion in heaven today.  Gerry, her Mum and Dad, Ada and Alf, her son, Neil and sweetheart, Colin.  And guess what?  She is stealing the show again. ^_^  ‘Cheers, darling and goodnight Auntie Gerry, till we meet again.’

Behind A Closed Door

In life we make lists, we separate or compartmentalize our things and experiences.  We organize and categorize our living.  Yet in the end everything is connected, there is no separation in reality.  Okay so maybe I am just trying to explain this to myself.  Why?  I do have a reason and it goes something like this:

A couple of months ago I found myself in York England living out a dream I’d had for many years.  Although born and raised in England I now live in the States so going home is a much looked forward to tradition.  But this was a homecoming of a different kind.  I was travelling alone in England for six weeks and I would finally have time to live out some of my long-held dreams.

Alfred William Hill

Alfred William Hill

Why York and what does it have to do with Life Story writing?  My great-grandfather Alfred William Hill was born and raised in York.  From what little we know that has been passed down he sang in the York Minster and was trained as an Organ Builder no likely at the Minster too.  So what relevance does that have to me today?  Well for one I was born a Hill and secondly I carry some of his genes.  I don’t know about you but for me there is a strong connection to the past, where I came from and who I came from that helps me better understand and appreciate who I am and maybe even why I am the person I am.  Now that has direct bearing on your Life Story right?!

Evenson Chapel

Choir Stalls

The Mighty Organ

The Mighty Organ

 

My time in York was short but I was there and I reveled in that simple delight.  To think that I was walking where he walked, seeing in part what he had seen.  Well lets face it the Minster Cathedral hasn’t changed that much since he was there.  I was even hearing some of what he had heard as that beautiful organ bellowed out her ancient melodies that lifted our thoughts and eyes heaven ward.  At Evensong I sat a few rows away from the choir stalls and imagined him as a boy singing there.  As the organ played I wondered if he had been trained as an organ builder by knowing some of the intricacies of that organ.  As I climbed the tower up its several hundred steps to the view of the spreading city below I wondered if he had ever seen his world from that perspective.

 

I thought about his life, how he left this beautiful city to come to the industrial and blackened country of the Midlands.  Did he miss his family?  Did he miss his home?  He had married the daughter of an organ builder who had gone to York to work on the Minster organ, or at least that is what we are told.  Alfred married Bertha and they had four children.  Bertha was carrying their fifth child when she heard the news.  Her husband Alfred was dead, killed in an accident at work.  He had been working on repairing a lift (elevator) when it fell on him and crushed him.  He was just a young 35 years.

 

The York Minster

The York Minster

My mind was brought back to present day as I stood there in the Minster, breathless with its beauty and its enormity.  These two worlds present and past seemed momentarily to converge as it was as if I could feel Alfred so close that I half expected him to come from behind a closed-door and great me with sparkling eyes and a infectious smile!

Although long gone from this world, I believe my great-grandfather exists as a spirit being, that he is aware of my life here.  I find it realistic to believe that knowing of my visit to York, knowing of my awareness of him, that it is quite possible that he joined me in spirit there that day.   Real or imagined, I was there and it impacted me.

What can I take from this?  Alfred was born an illegitimate child of my great-great grandmother who was in service as a servant in great house at the time.  Taken in and raised by his grandparents as one of their own Alfred made something of his life.  We know of his love of music and singing and his ability to build and create.  We know he dared greatly to leave his home and move to a new place and made a new life.  We know even in those impoverished and challenging times he found love and married, raised children.  In his short life he truly lived his dreams with passion and conviction.

Thank you Alfred for the legacy: Create, Dream, Love and Live!

 

Is there someone from your past, recent or distant that you feel a connection to?  What have you learned from them?  Write about it!  Capture their story from your perspective.

Four Lesson I Learned From My Friend’s Viewing

There has been a great tragedy in our neighborhood, we lost a whole family, Mom, Dad, children and Nana.  One minute they were full of life, the next they were gone.  This has affected so many people but especially their extended families and close friends.  Hearts are aching, eyes are wet, sleep is hard to come by, so much emptiness.

Life is fragile for many reasons.

Here are four things I learned from my friend’s viewing.

Lesson number one: I walked by Kelly’s casket.  It was her body but it wasn’t Kelly.  The same with her children, their bodies lifeless almost manequin-like.  It never ceases to amaze me at open casket funeral’s that every time I see the body I get this overwhelming feeling that what I know is true.  The body is the empty shell that once housed their spirit, their essential essence, the thing that really makes them who they are.  Because day in and day out we see and interact with one another on this physical plane its a stretch for us to realize that who we are isn’t purely physical.  The physical is only the outward manifestation of spirit, emotion, thought and personality.  All those remain intact and leave the body as one at death.  The real life force of a person cannot be snuffed out.  There is a far greater, wondrous plan at work.  This once again brought peace to my heart even if my mind still reeled at the horror of their tragic deaths.  This was lesson number one.  They still live, not here but in another realm.  They still think and love. They are still the same people we knew here.

Lesson two came to me as I watched the video, the montage of a myriad of photos that passed before our dewy eyes.  I stood clinging to my husband.  And then it happened, Kelly pulling a goofy face.  We all need be goofy in pictures on a regular basis.  Why?  To bring a burst of laughter and smile to the faces of our loved ones, after we are gone. Kelly also took a ton of pictures. Lesson two, be goofy and take lots of pictures.

Lesson three.  Short though there lives were, Kelly and her children shared this immense loves for one another that was almost palpable.  Kelly always had a smile for everyone, was a joy and a light.  Lesson three, live life with love.

Lesson four.  Don’t fret too much about the worldly things.  I thought about Kelly today and realized, she didn’t have her cell phone or Facebook, she wasn’t worried about what she was going to wear, or if her house was clean, she wasn’t worried about how much money she had.  She was with people who loved her and was looking down on people who loved her who were sorrowing and wanted to comfort them and tell them everything was okay.  Lesson four: Write a letter to your loved ones on what you want them to know if you don’t have a chance to say goodbye.  Kelly would want us to be happy, remember the good times, live life and celebrate each day. That is what she would want us to do. That is how she would want us to honor her memory and not worry about her.  Besides if we really think about it we know what she is doing, she is busy making friends in heaven.

Kelly and kids

Perfection In Writing In An Imperfect World ~ Just Read It!

perfectly imperfect 2Perfection has been on my mind for a while now. The subject keeps cropping up here and there as if the universe is calling out to me to write this.

Today I posted this in response to a discouraged writer on our Facebook Writers Group:

I think as writers and as humans we need a more accepting, loving attitude, a gentler way with ourselves. We are not perfect and that is so blatantly obvious. Yet it seems we spend our whole life trying to come to terms with our imperfection. The opposition and struggle in life is what shapes us and our writing. Your words have value, they have power. Sleep on it, go for a walk in nature, listen to beautiful music, laugh, sigh, ponder. And write again. Write for you.

At age 20 I was living away from home for the first time. Up to that point in my life I had taken things to heart. I was conscientious and a striving perfectionist. You get the picture, kind of neurotically disappointed because I never fully lived up to my own expectations. Then out of the blue one day I was pushing my bike up a hill in Leicester, England when I had this epiphany. This striving for perfection wasn’t the right perspective on life. It was making me miserable. In that moment something changed inside of me and I let go of perfectionism for good.

Did that mean that I didn’t care about myself, my life and my goals anymore? No, that would be ridiculously counter-productive. I just took a step back and looked at life a little more realistically, maybe a little more logically. The pattern of, get up each day and try, was still there. There were days I succeeded and that was great but there were also days I failed. However, now instead of dwelling on the negative, I just joyed in the knowledge that tomorrow I would wake up with a clean slate to try again. And that is exactly what I did. I just kept waking up each day and trying. I showed up and I practiced at improving my life.

Fast forward many years. I am close to 40 years old, divorced with five children ages 4-13 and in school full-time. In one of my many classes, a class on morality, perfectionism was discussed. The Professor suggested to us that instead of seeking for perfection we seek for excellence. Something stirred within me. This resonated with me and felt right. From that time forth I viewed my life as seeking for excellence. Does this mean I am an overachiever? No. Does this mean I think I am pretty awesome? No. It just means that I am continually seeking growth and improvement in my life.

excellencevsperfectionDisappointment, struggle, opposition, failure are part of our allotment in life and we don’t like it. Yet without these things there would be no learning, no growth, and really in my eyes no life. Imperfection isn’t the enemy its the path.

So as in life, in writing. Imperfection: the disappointment, the struggle, the opposition, the failure are not the enemy, they are the path. We just need to learn from them, not dwell on the negative, be gentle with ourselves and keep showing up, practicing and seeking excellence.

My Love Affair With England

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Well today has been a landmark day. I started to live one of my dreams. I have made a new FB page called Visit My British Isles. https://www.facebook.com/visitmybritishisles?ref=hl In conjunction I will also be starting a new blog.

Why? I was born and raised in England for the first 24 years of my life. Then I removed to the United States when I married. Every time I have had the chance to visit ‘home’ again I have fallen in love once more with the endearingly beautiful countryside. Walking in the green-filled landscape always fills me with a bounteous peace.

Over the years I have spear-headed many an adventurous family excursion across the Atlantic taking my five children to their Mother’s ancestral home, and they love it!  We have done the traditional London double-decker bus tour, Stonehenge, Warwick Castle touristy things. But also the more off-the-beaten-path things too. We always traipse up Malvern Hills to the beacon, there is such a view from up there.  And even if its raining, its exhillirating and bracing.  We always go to Grandpa and Grandma’s holiday home in Wales and sit on the beach at Aberdovey.  We eat sandwiches and crisps in the sand dunes, make sand castles, paddle in the cold sea and fly kites. We have traveled and stayed in random B&B’s (Bed and Breakfast accommodation), toured the highlands (Scotland) from Stirling to Loch Ness and back down to Edinburgh. We have bought souvenirs from near and far, whether Scottish jewelry, tartan kilts and bagpipes or teach yourself Welsh tapes andWelsh love spoons to scads of English chocolate.

For the time we are there I make believe I live there just for a few weeks. Returning to the mock Tudor home I was raised in since I was seven years old, walking around the gardens and woods, soaking in the colors and scents, being amazed that the weather turns out so well, catching up with family and friends like it was only yesterday. Everything is so familiar.

The people are so down to earth and welcoming. They exude a ‘take me as I am’ air, quietly confident in being themselves. Not necessarily given to following the fashions of the day, they make their own style. British people have that outside weathered look from walking in the wind and rain. If you find any sun-tanned folks they are usually recently returned from ‘abroad’, some sunny south of France location or Spain or Majorca. Living so close to the continent they can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Not only do I love England for the greenery, the history, the memories, the family and friends but also the food. Food is so nostalgic. To go home and eat fish and chips, faggots and peas, a sumptuous Sunday roast and a great curry (er yes very British) not to mention the ‘pudding’ (desserts) topped in custard or the baked goods with fresh cream. Its a good thing I do a lot of walking when I am in England. It usually balances out all the extra yummy food I consume.

In a few months I will once again make my pilgrimage to England. My folks are getting old now, they are in their mid 80’s. Our time is numbered to days, however many days I can visit with them. Each trip could be the last time I say hello and goodbye. Yet I know even when they are gone, England will still call me home and part of my heart will always be there.  My quiet love affair.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM A STRANGER’S FUNERAL

I love going to funerals, said no one ever. But here I was again sitting with that quiet awe, pondering the mystery of life and death, finding it hard to imagine it will happen to me one day.

Everyone should go to a funeral every now and again. It brings us face to face with our mortality and that’s a good thing to think about once in a while. We are so caught up in our day to day business that barely do we take a quiet moment to look back and see how far we have come or look ahead and pick out the way. Nor do we sit back and enjoy the view from where we are.

At a funeral a life is painted in broad brush strokes and fractured detailed images, the stories that are pulled from the hat of life. I sat there only yesterday listening to the life of this man pass before my eyes. I man I never knew, yet knew fairly well by the time I left the chapel doors.

His son spoke first. He began by telling us all the things he hated about his father. Yes, that had our attention as he proceeded to tell of those things, like getting up early or putting up the hay. Then he confessed what he wouldn’t give to be doing those things with his father just one more time. Lesson learned: you know those things that annoy or irritate you that your loved one does? You will miss them and as the memories rise they will even bring a smile to your face.

At a funeral you can’t help but wonder what folks will say at your own funeral. What experiences will my kids draw on to talk about me? How will they remember me? How do I want to be remembered? Am I living my life so that I am leaving that legacy of memories?

Death can steal us away early or late. Am I living with any regrets, any unspoken words? Are there things that I am putting off doing because I am too busy or too tired or too scared? Sometimes there is no right time, you have to make it happen, maybe even be a little daring.

I sat there surrounded by hundreds of loving family, friends and neighbors. They had dressed in there very best, taken time out of their busy lives to sit patiently, lovingly, quietly listening for the more than two hours that it took to send Sherral on his way…home. I wondered who would come to my funeral.

His wife stood with courage. Would she cry? We would be brave for her. She related that her husband had insisted she speak at his funeral and how she had questioned his wisdom. She finally conceded and joked that now she would finally have the last word. The last words were filled with love and respect, admiration and joy for a full life lived with her best friend.

I looked at my husband as we drove home. I felt more forgiving, he seemed more perfect than a few hours earlier and my mind couldn’t help but think that one day we would have to say goodbye, at least for a while until we were reunited beyond this mortal realm. That day could be tomorrow, it could be many years away. The problem is we never know. We live almost carelessly like that day will never come. We live like we are immortal, untouchable, enchanted.

So tomorrow when I wake up I will pray to have a good memory, a memory of the things I learned and the way I felt at the funeral because you see tomorrow could the last day I have to forgive, to love and to live. You just never know.

Contentment, The Door To Happiness?

I have been pondering on the word contentment as of late. Why? You might well ask. Well I can’t exactly pinpoint where it began or if I kind of wandered into that territory. It all has to do with this: we are so busy ‘getting’ and ‘obtaining’ possession, rank and notoriety in this world. Mostly I have noticed friends moving and they are moving ‘up’ as the world terms it. They are moving to bigger and better houses or building the house of their dreams in more desirable neighborhoods. I can’t say I blame them. If I were in a financially secure position to do that I might follow there lead. Or I might not. You see there might just be something I value more than having a big house with a big mortgage attached to it and me for the rest of my life. I might just value my freedom to travel more than a big house. A big house might lure me like a carrot but really would that give me contentment? Would I feel like I was happy?

A few years ago we moved into our little house of 1000 sq ft. Oh we were excited! Oh we were delighted to not be homeless, to have a roof over our heads (now that’s another story). The walls needed priming and fixing, doors needed replacing, new toilets needed installing, second hand appliances needed buying, flooring needed to be ripped out. We did what we could with the allowance we had but it wasn’t enough. So we went without kitchen and bathroom flooring. Bare concrete showed between the carpet remnants. But that was okay. It was okay because of where we had been a few months previous. We couldn’t afford a place to live so we had taken shelter with friends. We had fallen on hard times. Now my Dad had bought this house for us to live in until I could get back on my feet and pay him back.

Fast forward a few years and I am feeling like the house is too small. We need a bigger place. We need nicer furniture. Wait a minute, what just happened here? Before we were ecstatic we had a beat up house with broken windows. Now we are in our winter of discontent? You get the picture. Maybe you have experienced this too.

And why does this matter at all? Well this train of thought got me thinking about my grandparents and what I know and remember about their lives. I know they lived simply. They never owned their home, they rented. They never owned a car, they walked and took the bus. I can’t honestly remember seeing a t.v. in their homes although there might have been one. This tells me if there was one, their lives didn’t revolve around it. My grandfathers were always dressed in their suits and my grandmas always in dresses or skirts. Food was homemade and simple. They probably wore the same things day in and day out and ate the same meals over and over. But they were happy. They lived in the moment. They had time for me. Grandad gardened and read the newspaper. His wife made the best flaky pastry and killed wasps with her bare hands. Pompa sat me on his lap and told me stories of fighting in a big hole in a war which I later learned referred to fighting in the trenches in WW1. Nana had a green thumb and grew house plants, violets in particular. After Pompa passed away she took up knitting. She had teeth that came out at night. She passed many hours sitting at her folded solid wood table, staring out the window at the passing cars. Both sets of grandparents had chamber pots under their beds even though they now lived with indoor plumbing. They lived through two world wars and were resourceful and resilient. They overcame personal tragedies and hardship yet I never remember them sad, long faced, downcast or sullen. In fact the opposite. They always had a smile, a hug, a story and time for me.
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It seems to me that my grandparents had mastered the art of contentment. Pompa was a tailer, Grandad was a clerk at the local steel factory. They both lost a child to death. Grandad lost his father when he was only two years old. Later he lost his wife to cancer leaving him with a ten year old boy and a teenage girl to raise. Grandad remarried and life carried on because that’s what you did. You lived each day, were grateful for what you had and tried to treat one another kindly.

Is it okay to be content with what we have in this material world? Or should we let the winter of our discontent spur us on to greater and better things? Do we weigh our choices carefully? Or do we follow the crowd aimlessly? Well it seems to me that learning the art of contentment worked for my grandparents. Maybe I can take a lesson from that life and be content with where I am at, who I am and what I have and treasure this moment. Truth be told, I do believe contentment is a door to happiness

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