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April 2011

April 17 ~ New Directions

"Thank you for a beautiful sunny day.  Thank you for Candy's support.  Thank you for a great interview.  Thank you for the opportunity to see Child Help.  Thank you for the invitations being well on their way."      Shannon    4-17-1998

IMG_9009 Remembering Shannon's excitement at finally finding a direction that made her heart sing, the expression on her face when she talked about the children that she had spent the day with, hoping that Child Help would recognize how lucky they would be to have her and call soon so that she could embrace her new direction... I love that day, that memory.

Looking forward with smiles and confidence, enthusiastically creating with Denise, the perfect wedding invitations, none of us could even imagine that in twenty three days, our lives would be unrecognizable.

Three years ago, almost to the day, I opted to retire from a thirty four year career with Verizon.  The company was downsizing, the offer to leave early was good, and I believed I was finally ready to do something that felt fulfilling.  I wanted a job that offered me a creative outlet, not just a job that paid the bills.  Like Shannon, I didn't want just any job, I wanted a job that "made a difference".

The first year I got my Associates Degree and started classes at Mary Washington.  I was finally going to write our book.  I turned our dining room into a "Therapy" room so that I could finally practice Polarity Therapy.  I stocked shelves with essential oils and flower essences and received certification to practice Flower Essence Therapy.  I fantasized about offering 'charcoals from photographs as a continuation of my "Lingering Light" series, even entering several in the Women's Club Art Show and being awarded first place both times.   The second year I graduated from the New York Institute of Photography, I was finally going to pursue photography as a profession.  Web sites, business cards, several weddings, reunions, baby showers, family photo sessions, head shots and a wonderful summer of photo ops later, I realized that trying to turn a passion into a profession, discovering  how difficult it is to please and how bruised my ego was getting, not to mention the accounting and paperwork, I moved into the third year floundering.

Writing with Shannon every day last year was such a blessing.  Tenuously opening my heart, exposing all of my tenderest spots also had its challenges.  Amidst all of the amazing kindnesses and encouragements that were expressed with regard to our journey, there were also those who "couldn't read the  blog because it made them so sad".   So I, once again, re thought my purpose.  I wanted to write about my life with Shannon, and my subsequent life with an Angel.  I wanted anyone who happened to read, to feel hopeful and uplifted, I wanted to talk about the people I love and the  ways they kept me afloat, but even that had its challenges.  Not everyone wants to be exposed, even in the most flattering of ways.  So, for a while, I lost my authenticity.  Tried to please.

Not working around a set schedule had definite advantages.  I was available to help my Mom with yard work and spring cleaning and an abundance of doctor's visits.  I had time to baby sit and mow grass and clean gutters.  I house sat and learned to use a table saw and made curtains and comforters. I enjoyed all of it.

What I didn't do was de clutter, replace the sidewalk, move the pond, submit a manuscript, read the thousand or so books or find my purpose.  I enjoyed the energy work.  I enjoyed making flower essence "spritzers".  I enjoyed the photography and the writing and the gardening but every time I had to consider charging for my time, anxiety replaced all enjoyment.

When I retired, I opted for a "lump sum buyout".   All of my retirement rolled into a fund that I could not withdraw from until I hit fifty nine and a half, without a substantial penalty.  That seemed fine the first year.  But for someone who has worked for forty two years, suddenly having no income was excruciating.  I started to worry about money and no amount of reassurance from Jules alleviated my concerns.

So.... I decided to self publish.  I decided to submit proposals.  I wrote query letters.  I reread and wondered what I was thinking.  I put the cameras away.  I sat on the porch and raked last year's leaves and wondered if I had simply wasted the last three years.

Life is mysterious and oblivious.  The fact that my one of my best friend's husband, one of my husband's best friends, my dear sweet mother in law and my brother's wife all returned to Heaven in that time frame, a dear friend began her battle with cancer and another was terribly wounded in an accident that left her broken in a million ways, feels surreal and life altering.  Equally surreal in totally different ways,  two of my nieces and my nephew got married, more of my best friends' children had babies with more on the way, my niece and nephew had babies...also with more on the way and my wounded friends continue to exhibit more courage and resilience than I imagined possible.  The world has experienced wars, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, droughts, blizzards and volcanoes, allowing us all to extend ourselves in selflessness and boundless compassion.  In the midst of our despair, we also find ways to  share indescribable beauty and seasonal wonder.  We count our blessings with far more regularity than our mishaps and the joys in life buffer the pain of our sorrows.

Maybe I knew all of that, three years ago.  Then again, maybe I needed time that wasn't enfused with the clatter of work nonsense to expand my perception of what really matters.  I needed time to revisit my last year with Shannon and to go back to the first few years without her, to remember that time, when being held in God's hands, and embraced by precious friends and family, allowed me to be totally open, raw and aware, without the mask.  I'm not sure.

Finally, several weeks ago, a dear friend suggested that I simply surrender.  Trust that God really can dream bigger dreams for us than we can ever dream for ourselves (thanks Oprah) and stop trying to plan and control and second guess.  Trust that I am not the center of the universe and that if I can just "let go and let God", it will be okay. 

Shannon was featured in an article in Woman's World in that first year.  It was written by a lovely young woman who had written a book of her own, "The Power of Flow ~ Practical ways to transform your life with meaningful coincidence."  The last time I heard from her she was in or on the way to an ashram in India.  She was "in the flow".  I think maybe I need to revisit her book !

So, here I am.  Surrendering, praying, pondering, wondering and you'll never guess the new direction ... Verizon called.  Yep, tomorrow morning I report to the same location that I left almost exactly three years ago.  This will be the first time I've even been on that drive in three years, and in this strange accordion way that time seems to have, it's as though I've never been away.

Of course I'm obsessing about pole climbing and ladder toting, I'm three years older and more than a few pounds heavier, but when I was splicing cable, I was competent and confident and I'm hoping that I'll get a taste of that again.  I will be returning as a Temporary Working Retiree and that seems safe enough.

Life is strange. If we're willing to surrender, we have to be willing to accept, which reminds me.... Seven years ago, when I was planning Shannon's Heaven day celebration, I was in the bathtub, where I seem to do my best thinking, and a phrase popped into my thoughts... Surrender, Accept, Believe.  You may notice that those are also Shannon Andrieu Broom's initials.  So I had that printed on some shark gray ( the color of Shannon's bedroom ) bracelets for everyone attending her party.  Tomorrow I'll be wearing one to the first day of this old new direction and she will be with me every step of the way.

"Surrender, Accept, Believe.    It's about love.  That's it.  That's all."


April 14 ~ The Light

"Thank you for Jeremy.  Thank you for cycles.  Thank you for change.  Thank you for constancy.  Thank you for nature."     Shannon     4-14-1998

You would think by now that I would be accustomed to my Angel's whispers.  That I would realize when a thought continues to tap on my awareness that she is there, trying to be heard above the ever present din of life.  But it is only when I open her journal and read the insightful words that she put on paper in the quiet at the end of each day, that I make the soul stirring connection.

Shannon 4-5

Shannon's birthday was tender and peaceful this year.  Jules had to work, but had requested German Chocolate birthday cake.  I moved through the day in relative silence, hoping for the "sign" that she was near.  I rearranged my dining room furniture, a white wrought iron table with a glass top and two chairs, with seat bottoms that have been reupholstered so many times that you actually sit a little taller these days on the soft peach fabric that shows every cat hair and paw print.

I thought about all of the years that I planned parties.  Even after Shannon returned to Heaven I wanted to celebrate the gift that she was, to commemorate the effect that her life had on everyone who loved her.  I wanted to redefine what death has come to mean and be certain that she was never forgotten.  After my brother's wife lost her life to suicide, after the children were grown and death was no longer the fearful black shrouded figure hanging heavy over our home, the parties seemed less important. 

In the early years I was blessed with friends who understood how important those days were, the birth days and Heaven days.  There were often flowers, cards, e mails, phone calls... all so appreciated and so meaningful as they often came from other Angel's Moms who understood without explanation.  As times change, every aspect of life seems required to adapt as well.  This year there were tender messages shared on Facebook.  Shannon was smiling. 

The last several days have been gray and chilly.  I walked out onto the porch last night and the brick sidewalk was covered with white petals from the crab apple.  I walked on them feeling the  damp softness on my bare feet.  The moon was centered between the low hanging branches and the blooms were glowing in that pale blue light.  Struggling with longing and loneliness, I sat down on the steps.  Subtly, my thoughts calmed and drifted. 

It hasn't been that long since the sidewalk was covered with snow, and before that brightly colored leaves and pumpkins, and before that soft green mosses and stray dandelions and before that... crab apple blossoms.   As my sweet daughter so thoughtfully expressed thirteen years ago, it is important to appreciate the cycles, and the change, and the constancy of nature.  For far too many years I have tried desperately to control life.  To resist the changes that inevitably come with time.  I wish for the instruction booklet that would make every decision simpler if not easier. I pray for a Heavenly billboard with flashing neon lights saying, "This way to wisdom and fulfillment" or "Take a right at the light on April 15 and you'll get a glimpse of the 'big picture'."  But nature doesn't resist.  Nature doesn't weep as the petals fall or the seasons change.  Each is to be celebrated and embraced and understood.  The message seemed so clear and so timeless.  There is a time to sow, a time to reap, a time to laugh and cry, to be born and to die.  Endless cycles that teach us to trust and have faith, to love more and fear less and recognize the constancy.

When my life was spiralling into the dark abyss following Shannon's return to Heaven, it took everything I had to see even the tiniest spark of light.  That's when all of you lit candles to dispel the darkness and here we are.  Some of you have expressed apologies for not realizing that Tuesday was Shannon's birthday.  Dear sweet friends, you were there when the darkness was all I could see. Now,  every time you share with me a new baby, an engagement, wedding or graduation, every single one of those life affirming celebrations, brings with it a light of its own and the darkness grows smaller, calmer, more intimate and privately held.

When I was working as an Installation/Repair Technician for the telephone company I would spend inordinate amounts of time trying to muster the courage to crawl under a house.  I would put on my bright yellow rain suit, rubber boots and gloves.  I would pull the hood of the raincoat over my head and cinch it in until only a minimal amount of skin would be exposed to any spiders or snakes or rodents that might be lurking in the darkness.  Flashlight and tools in hand, I crept furtively into the damp shadows.  Yes I saw snakes and snails and all manner of furry critter and spider's web but the truth was that they were usually moving away from me far faster than I could have moved away from them.  The mental gymnastics were exhausting and eventually I was too tired to be afraid.  I did what needed to be done.  I was far more productive and far less ridiculous when I was able to simply trust that the tiny beings hiding in the darkness saw me as the frightening intruder and the more quickly I got in and out, the happier we would all be.

Perhaps this is a metaphor for life.  Linger when it makes your life better, but when the task is daunting or less than pleasant, simply get it done and move on.  Observe with respect and compassion.  Realize that there is nothing in the darkness that isn't there in the light and we all need both. Life is cyclic and constant and change can be expected and trusted, even when the results come without immediate clarity.

One thousand and thirty eight words, rambling, through thoughts and memories that make sense only to me, so many words once again, in dire need of editting,  when I hear Shannon softly whispering, calming the endless chatter in my mind, "Mom, It's about love ... that's it... that's all," and she is exactly right, and I am incredibly grateful !


April 5 ~ Happy Birthday My Angel

BabyShan  Happy Birthday Sweetheart !

  I'm sure you must smile and shake your head when you see that I'm writing you a letter, as if you don't already know every thought I send your way.  I think I write because it's tangible... part of being 'human for a time'.  Some days it's not enough to feel it, think it,  I need to say it !

I love you and  I miss you. 

I wish that we could meet for coffee before you head off to work.  I wish that I could meet you for lunch or spend the day with you and your little ones.  I wish that I could pick up the phone and hear your voice.  I wish that the newest babies in our family could feel your arms around them and know the wonder of you.... knowing full well that they met you before we met them. 

I wish that I could do as you ask, " Don't be sad, it's wonderful here."  Yes, I heard you and in a little while, I'll get cake and a very large butterfly balloon and I'll print this letter and watch it disappear into the clouds and I'll smile, but for a minute, I just have to tell you how much I love you.

 When you were here I was stronger and braver.  I was younger.  You were the center of all that mattered in my life.   There are things I wish I had done better.  I wish that I had never fussed, that I had never been tired or grumpy.  I wish that I had never hurried.  I wish that I had told you more often how amazing you were, how proud you made me, how certain I always was that you were the answer to the why of my life.  I wish that I had laughed hysterically ... perhaps I'd have fewer wrinkles.  I wish I had learned to swim with you instead of fretting from the shore.  I wish I hadn't worried every time you got behind the wheel.  I wish that I had kept singing even when you asked me to stop. 

  I believe with all of my heart that we chose the course of this life.  That we knew before we came how much we would have to sacrifice for all that we would be given.   And even though I miss you with every breath, I would do it all again.  No amount of heartache would deter me from embracing enthusiastically another twenty three years with you.

Nanandem

  Thank you for always loving me.  Thank you for challenging me and inspiring me and making my life bloom.  Thank you for teaching me the value of gratitude, for giving me the courage to extend myself beyond "death" and for being my perfect "Path Director".   Thank you for being patient.   Thank you for leaving clues.  Thank you for subtle signs and songs that speak directly to me.  Thank you for trusting me, believing in me, choosing me to be your Mom.

  When a breeze blows through the leaves of the magnolia or cherry blossoms fall like snow,  when Sammy purrs against my cheek or rain falls on the skylight, when I drive with the windows down,  when nines seem to fill my day, when Jill struggles with math or someone writes to say that they have one of your bookmarks on their desk, I know you're close.  I feel my heart open and relax and I know it's going to be okay. 

 I had decided to put together a book proposal and mail it today... in celebration of you.  In the night I realized that today's letters can't be burdened with expectations.  Today I simply want to say "Thank you" to everyone who has celebrated with me.  To everyone who has delivered your messages from Heaven, made me smile, given me hope. I want to say "Thank you" to anyone who reads this letter with you and pauses to reflect on how precious each moment is.  IMG_0609

 Today I want to slow down, breathe deeply, expect nothing and open my heart to everything. 

  It's raining and I can hear the cars on the road behind the house.  It's strangely calming.  The house is dark and Dad has left for work.  It's quiet, except for the rain, and the sound of my fingers on the keyboard. 

  When I woke up this morning, I was remembering the quote from "The Invitation" ~

"If we are strong enough to be weak enough, we are given a wound that never heals, it is the gift that keeps the heart open."

 Lots of days I forget.  I think that being weak diminishes me, failing to acknowledge the strength that that weakness requires so I wear a disguise.  I worry that if I allow the wound to show, it will invite judgement.  Then, I am filled with a knowing that seems to be part of the wound.  I know that it is shared.  We have all been hurt.  We all know sorrow and by fearlessly and openly giving ourselves permission to be vulnerable we realize that we are never alone. 

Loving you, celebrating you, missing you and sharing  tears, seamlessly interwoven with  joy, is what allows me to look to tomorrow with hope.

 So, my Nan, know that your life continues to fill my own with more than I could ever have dreamed. 

I love you,

Mom