Family, Personal

Memorial Day — Utah Style

Memorial Day in the Washington, D.C. area meant a sea of flags waving brilliantly through Arlington Cemetery.

It meant Rolling Thunder motorcyclists descending upon the nation’s capital to bring public attention to prisoners of war and those missing in action.

And, it meant one of our favorite traditions of gathering with friends on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the annual Memorial Day concert.

There is nothing quite like a Washington, D.C. Memorial Day — especially sitting on the lawn of the Capitol, listening to patriotic music and then watching an array of fireworks light up the city from the Washington Monument.

Utah, however, has its own style of Memorial Day.

The first year we lived here, I took my mom to the cemeteries about a week before Memorial Day to place flowers on the graves of our relatives. It was a sweet, tender tradition that she kept up her entire life. I didn’t realize then that I’d need to decorate her grave the following year!

Last year, after she died, I went to the grocery store and saw massive amounts of mums lining the sidewalks leading to the grocery stores. I wondered why mums were out so early. I thought they were fall flowers. (Obviously, I’m not always very observant.)

As it got closer to Memorial Day, my sister, who lives about three hours south, said, “Don’t forget to decorate the graves now that mom’s not here to do it.”

I had so many questions. I hadn’t paid attention to all the details of this new job.

Whose graves? Where do I get the flowers? How do I keep them from blowing over in all the Utah wind? How do I find all the graves?

“You know all the mums you’ve seen everywhere? Those are the flowers you buy,” she said. “You take them to all the family graves. And you go to the dry cleaners and buy hangers, straighten them out, cut them into two pieces, and shape them like hooks. The hook end goes in the plant and the other end goes in the ground. That keeps them from tipping over in the wind.”

We were such Memorial Day rookies last year that we actually went on Memorial Day. The cemeteries were packed. It was hard to drive on the streets and parking was scarce. Some families took lawn chairs and had picnics near their family graves. There were reunions everywhere as family members met and reminisced. This was something we’d never seen before.

So that’s why mom went earlier in the week, I thought.

I realized too that I hadn’t paid close attention to the locations of all the graves as I drove my mother to the cemeteries. So, Doug and I did a lot of looking at maps, calling relatives, and traipsing around, trying to find our family graves.

We vowed to be better prepared this year. So, as soon as we saw the mums for sale, we bought them. My brother got in on the tradition and gathered up and “built” (his word) the hangers to secure the plants to the ground. Then, last Friday, we went to the graves. It took some time to find them all but we did it.

And, I have to say, it was a sweet, new tradition. I felt more connected to my family and my Utah roots.

We did a lot of reminiscing — remembering how mom threatened to haunt us if we ever put plastic flowers on her grave, and how she took a watering can and a broom to clean off the debris around the headstones. I realized how much I never noticed about this family tradition.

As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, it’s been a year of loss. So, we had a couple more graves to visit, including my mom’s and my older brother’s. But there was something tender about going to these family graves and honoring them — their lives and legacies.

As I saw all the flowers, flags and wreaths on all the graves and the crowds of families gathered together to honor their ancestors, it reminded me of the power and lasting love of families.

It was not be like seeing the Rolling Thunder motorcyclists roar down the DC streets.

It wasn’t like seeing 14,000 flags waving at Arlington Cemetery.

And, it definitely wasn’t like listening to a concert on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol or seeing the fireworks burst over the city.

It wasn’t a national celebration on a grand scale this year. But, it may have been a little more personal, intimate and sentimental than other Memorial Days I’ve celebrated.

So, while we paused to honor the armed forces who have protected us on the world stage and on the front lines, we also paid tribute to the family members who have loved and protected us on the most basic level of the home front.

It made me deeply grateful for both.

Change, Friends, Personal

Funeral for a Friend

Yesterday, I was telling Doug about how I spent my day — at a funeral for a friend, Kay Banks Robbins, and then at a luncheon with some of my childhood friends. He said, “That sounds like a blog.”

Thanks for the idea, Doug.

Kay Robbins Banks

Kay was one of the funniest people I ever knew. She was a quiet presence in the room, but with one comment, she had us all in giggle fits. We laughed and cried our way through her beautiful funeral.

There’s something about childhood friends you just can’t replace.

Lisa Whelchel

I remembered Kay performing a hilarious parody of Olympic sportscasters when we were about 12 years old. She was a one-woman comedy act using the funniest voices and accents to announce events like the shot put and synchronized swimming.

The stories of her pranks are legendary. As her sister said, “she was usually close to the center of every prank.” For example, it was so thoughtful of her to place visual aids in the high school library books, like a piece of bologna in the “B” section of the dictionary. 

As we sat reminiscing at lunch at a restaurant on Main Street of our hometown, I thought of a quote from one of my favorite writers.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.”

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You can’t go to a funeral for an old friend or have lunch with friends you’ve known since elementary or middle school and not think about the person you used to be. Even if you want to forget, they will remind you!

While we told stories about our great friend, Kay, we pulled up old photos that triggered some great memories.

One of the photos I found recently was the one below of our high school Booster Activity Club.

The Booster Activity Club. I’m the third from the right on the middle row

Can you picture this lovely group of formally dressed teenagers wanting to be in this club so much that they would endure a 1970s high school version of hazing?

Yes, we pushed pennies down the middle of Main Street with molasses slathered on our noses to help the pennies stay put.

We wore blindfolds and and swallowed what we thought were goldfish. (They turned out to be slimy peaches, but we didn’t know that until after we swallowed.)

And, we did all of this voluntarily.

As I left our day together, I thought of all these funny Main Street memories, and I thought of how much we will miss Kay, how there will forever be a hole in our group of friends.

We will miss her laughter, stories, friendship and fun, but we will never forget her.

We will remember the stories her children shared at her funeral like how she accidentally used cooking spray for mosquito repellant and how she was known as the Mary Poppins of Utah because she created fun and adventure everywhere she went, and she was practically perfect in every way.

We will remember her as one of our lifelong, forever friends.

When they carried Kay’s casket out of the chapel, one of my friend’s reached over and held my hand as our eyes filled with tears.

I thought about all the years that have passed and all the things that have changed in our lives, yet there we were together as if nothing had changed at all.

At the end of our luncheon, a man came up to our table and said, “I don’t know who you are but I can tell you sure have fun together!”

It reminded me of this meme…

Change, Memoir, Personal

Unpack Your Bags

In one of our women’s meetings at church, our teacher brought in a suitcase and rolled it around the room.

She asked, “How many of you have unpacked your bags?”

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She confessed that she has lived here for years and never mentally or emotionally unpacked her bags.

She said when we don’t unpack our bags, we live with one foot out the door. 

I wasn’t the only woman in the room thinking,”This lesson is for me.”

I heard women whispering, “This is for me.” And saw others nodding their heads as if it applied to them too.

Maybe carrying around our metaphorical packed bags gives us an escape clause or an excuse to hold back, and make fewer commitments.

The question then is what are we missing if we trek through life with a packed bag –always feeling like our circumstances are temporary?

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When we think we’re on our way out of a community, a job, a relationship, or any other situation or commitment, we automatically hold back and contribute less, which of course means, we get less.

Our teacher advised, “Whether you are going to be here for one week, one year, or the rest of your life–unpack your bags.”

I thought about that while walking one morning because sometimes I miss the familiar sights, sounds, and faces of my old life.

I wondered if after eight months whether I’ve unpacked my bags completely.

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When I see a friend volunteering at the White House Easter Egg roll or other friends going to Washington Nationals games; or groups of friends celebrating a birthday in one of my favorite restaurants without me, I get a little nostalgic — not desperately homesick like I made a drastic mistake in moving, just a little wistful.

While thinking about this on my walk, my thoughts were interrupted by the quacking of a beautiful duck floating in a pond, and then a chirp of a fascinating, unfamiliar bird.

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I stopped to look around and was awed by my new scenery.

I thought about the new sounds, places and faces I’m now appreciating, and I realized that unpacking is probably a process, not a one-time event.

Maybe we all need to continually work at unpacking because we don’t want to miss anything on our journeys, wherever those journeys take us.

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Brené Brown said in her book Rising Strong “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Sometimes it takes courage to show up, and it seems easier to live life with your bags packed, with one foot out the door just in case…

But, what do we gain when we choose that kind of timid, fearful, cautionary life?

I want to be like my friend, Laura, who has moved frequently, and after every move, has said, “That was my favorite place!”

Every place becomes her favorite because she fully unpacks her bags wherever she goes and she decides every new place and new experience will be her favorite.

I read about a military family that learned that the difference between misery and happiness is unpacking your bag and settling down—whether for days, months, or years.

They learned that if they believed they could be in a place for many years, they were happier. They invested more of themselves and in turn, had deeper relationships and better experiences all around.

This lesson applies not just to physically moving, but to all the areas of our lives where we hold back and carry around that symbolic tightly packed bag.

I love this bit of Buddah wisdom: “Be where you are…otherwise you will miss your life.”

Change, Personal, Uncategorized

Let New Adventures Begin

A “For Sale” sign is sitting on our front lawn.

IMG_6238Surreal.

I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C. area since I was a senior in college.

That was a long time ago.

I came here — like many others — for an internship on Capitol Hill.

And, I was smitten.

What better place to live for someone with a love of journalism, politics, and people?

When I got off the plane at National Airport, I watched for a woman named Claire holding a sign that said “Garn.”

Garn–  U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah — my new boss.

I had no idea then, at age 22, how that one summer on Capitol Hill would change the course of my life.

Coming from the dry climate of Utah, I felt like I’d entered a steamy sauna when I stepped out of the airport into the humid subtropical climate of Washington, D.C.

That was just the beginning of the changes I would experience.

Claire drove me to the U.S. Capitol, where, believe it or not, we drove right up to the front steps.

No security barriers needed then.

I got out and tipped my head back to take in the grandeur of that magnificent, historic building.

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“This is where you’ll be working. This is where it all happens,” she said.

Pinch me now, I thought.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

What did I ever do to deserve such a privilege?

All I knew is that I would work hard every minute of every day to be worthy of it.

From that moment on, I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.

So, how did this “For Sale” sign end up on my lawn?

I wish I had a clear and concise answer to that question.

All I know is that one minute I was telling Doug I’d never leave here, and the next we were talking to a realtor, preparing to leave.

We thought we would live and die here, and be buried in the quaint little cemetery up the street.

Until one day, that vision of our future changed.

It was like we were used to looking into a kaleidoscope at something clear and beautiful and compelling.

Because we liked what we saw, we never bothered to twist the cylinder and see the many other beautiful patterns that could be created.

Then, one day, for reasons we still don’t understand, we decided to twist the cylinder ever so slightly.

What we discovered was that all the bits of glass gently realigned, presenting a whole new pattern, and a reflection of light we’d never imagined.

Since we missed the old pattern, we kept twisting the cylinder, trying to get back to the one we knew so well — the one that felt most comfortable to us.

But it wasn’t there anymore. The beads, pebbles, and bits of glass were all different.

So we decided to examine the new reflection a little more carefully.

And, that’s how we ended up with a “For Sale” sign in our yard.

So, call us crazy, but if our house sells, we’re packing up our pioneer carts and trekking back across the plains to live in the high desert of Utah.

Oh, there have been tears — lots of them — and there will be many more, I’m sure.

How can you leave a place you love so dearly and not be sad?

Like Winnie the Pooh said, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”

We’ve debated this move endlessly for months because it’s not just leaving a place that is our home, it’s leaving friends that are our family.

I’ve always loved the comforting counsel of  Gordon B. Hinckley. His words have led me through many transitions in life.

So, I’m trusting his words again: “Those who move forward with a HAPPY SPIRIT will find that things will always work out.”

I’m counting on that.

Maybe it will be like our friend Brian said — “Oh, everything will work out. You’ll love it. You’ll enjoy being with your family, and having a new adventure. Then, you’ll get it out of your system, and come back.”

Touché

But for now, there is a “For Sale” sign in our yard, and our lives could be turned upside down any minute.

Or, like one friend said, “Maybe your lives will be turned right side up.”

Yeah, let’s go with that for now…

Whatever happens, it will be an adventure.

So, we will work on our happy spirits, and look forward to new adventures.

In the meantime, anybody interested in a great house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.

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This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.