What Makes Us Friends?

birches13Once again, in celebration of the ski rental, there was a gathering of our good friends. The scene outside was one of beauty. The white, papery birch trees standing tall against the small fluffy snowflakes drifting down through the sky. Inside the room was warm and the laughter was raucous. It didn’t take much to get the group started down a path of bad jokes, and unruly behavior leading to snorts of amusement. It has often been said, people tend to get caught up in jobs, commitments, the rush that leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. Our group is no exception to that rule. Thus, it was nice to have this weekend to re-establish our priorities in life. Loyal friends bonded by the commitment we have developed over the years to each other. I know, and I believe my friends all know, that time and distance cannot break the bond that time and the distance we have traveled together has established. Not to take away from our blood families but this is a family too, the one we have chosen. These are the friends, who over the course of many years have established themselves to be there for you no matter the circumstance.
I wonder? Why do some people enter your lives and immediately become a best friend, while others drift in and out? Perhaps it is a common activity. This is certainly true for the core of this group. We met when our children all downhill ski raced together. There were many early mornings struggles of no coffee and sub-zero temperatures. Too often we encountered ice storms and dumps of snow as we crawled our way across the state of New York to get to a race. Weekends consisted of standing at the bottom of a ski trail and looking uphill waiting in anticipation for a lone figure to appear as it flew down a race course. The only thing between the racer, one of our children, and the mountain was a thin layer of spandex and a helmet. We held our breath trying to prevent a fall and exhaled as they came across the finish line. Evenings consisted of ski tuning and team dinners at an accommodating restaurant. Often it was adults at one table, racers at the next. Yes, we certainly bonded over the time we traveled together.
Yet, it has to be something more. Because over the years other racer families have drifted out of our lives while our group still manages to get together. Maybe our bond is because of common goals and beliefs. Politically we are a mismatched group. However, an even stronger shared conviction is our goals for our children. A good education, enough money to continue the lifestyle they enjoyed growing up, loving relationships and health. (We have had some struggles with the health, but that too seems to be making an upward trend.) I’ll admit those are pretty universal goals. Consequently, I think what draws us to each other is how we went about teaching our children to attain these objectives for themselves. Knowing that your child was safe and held to the same responsibilities, even if staying with one of the other families, was a comfort.
But, this past weekend we also included others who were not ski team parents. Still, the same power of friendship clings to all of us. In the end, the common bond must be our personalities; or perhaps, our mutual understanding of what being a true friend means. That definition being:
I want to share the joys of life with you. But, more importantly, I will stand by you when you are struggling, no matter if it is a struggle with children, health, death of a loved one or sickness. I will be the one to hold your hand, to lend a shoulder to cry on. I promise to cry with you when the pain is too much and make you laugh when your tears are finished. As your friend I will hold your confidences but shout out your accomplishments. At the end of the day, I only want to hear your laughter and see your smile and hope for many more years of friendship to come.
This, I think, is what draws our group and our fellow friends, who did not make the weekend, together and keeps us traveling down the road as companions.photo (12)


Snow Fall Reflections

One of my favorite things: watching snow fall.
So here I am alone and quite honestly, enjoying the time. My companions are a glass of red wine, cheese and crackers, piano music and snow falling on the Adirondacks. I use to be afraid of being alone. After all, I grew up in a large family. I think I’ve actually only had a bedroom to myself my senior year in college. Doing activities and making decisions on my own has been a gradual awakening. Now, there are times I can spend hours writing at my computer and not notice I am alone.
Still, I realize that this is the eve of the anniversary of my mother’s rapid decline into her passing. It will be one year ago tomorrow that I got the call she was not doing well. Then, less than 48 hours later she was dead.
It is hard to say what I miss about my mother. Certainly not the last six years of her life when she slid into dementia. It is not a friendship, we never really had that. But, I think I miss knowing she was there. Comforted by the fact I could call for advice, laugh with her when we watched David Letterman together. I miss her presence in my life.
It is in this grieving moment that I sit in my beloved Adirondacks in a house I rented with the gift of a small inheritance I received from parents who somehow managed to put money aside and still raise seven children. I sit here watching the snow fall and thank Mom and Dad for this small gift that means so much to me.

Me First

Re-learning how to put yourself first is difficult. I think most women, at some point in our lives, lose the initial reaction of me first and begin to experience concern about others. For many it is when we have children. But, it doesn’t have offspring, because of women’s instinct to nurture, we naturally put others first no matter the circumstances.
Lately, I have been making a concerted effort to allow myself to consider, what do I want to do? Or my new mantra is, No Guilt. With those thoughts in mind I planned a week for myself at the seasonal house we rented this winter. Even as I sit here and type I am surrounded by my fellow writer’s as we enjoy our first writer’s retreat. We gave ourselves a few days in which to enjoy the company of fellow scribes and actually sit and create for most of the day. While out our window, the beautiful Adirondacks lie snow-covered gleaming in the sun. It is pleasant to write and not be alone. I am enjoying hearing the click of my friend’s keyboards. Later, as we enjoy a night out for dinner I’m sure we will discuss what we have written. We will offer suggestions and constructive criticism. With each other’s encouragement we will keep moving ahead with our writing, forgoing other obligations and feel no guilt.
Later in the week I will be joined by two amazing girlfriends. The kind that know what you are thinking or feeling even before you do. We need some girl time; to reflect on our lives, to walk through issues that are troubling us, to laugh and build up each other’s spirits. Of course, more food than we need will be involved, along with adult beverages. I’m sure there will be long hours of talk and short hours of sleep.
Eventually, at the end of the week, husbands and other friends will join us for what we are calling our Hall Pass Weekend. A couple of days in which our group plans on letting loose with crude jokes, adult beverages, again too much food and much called for laughter.
In the end, I will have celebrated a week of letting go of commitments, worries, and pressure to put others before myself. A week for me.

The Sound of Laughter

I have often found it interesting that an event, which at the time seems small, remains a big part of your life for years to come. I remember being home from college one vacation. I was playing cards with my sisters and friends. We were creating quite a ruckus with our laughter. At one point, I walked into the kitchen where my mother was cleaning up our mess from dinner. She looked at me and said,
“I love hearing you girls laugh. It brings me such joy.”
I smiled and nodded, maybe even gave her a hug; that would have been nice. But, it wasn’t until years later, with children of my own, that I fully understood my mother’s comment.
I too, love the sound of laughter. The melody of it can lift the lowest heart. One of the first times I recalled my mother’s words was on a camping trip. Our family often camps on the Island’s of Lake George in upstate New York. Most of the sites are very private, some sites you get a small island all to yourself. Yet, on a quiet night, as you sit around the campfire, laughter can be heard. It floats across the water, coming into your campsite like the notes of a beautiful song. I never mind the intrusion because the laughter is an indication of the joy surrounding us.
One of my favorite endeavors is when friends and family gather around the dinner table. It fills my heart with gladness to sit back and spend a few minutes listening to the conversation and joy taking place. I search out the smiles on the faces of those sitting with me. I always feel a wave of accomplishment wash over me and I congratulate myself for pulling all of these people together. I have created a night where worries and troubles are forgotten for just a few hours; an evening where fun is the only solution to the weary tribe around me.
Most recently I was reminded of my mother’s words over the past weekend. Word had gone out, on every news and weather channel, that a major snow storm was headed for the east coast. Consequently, the skiers among us felt compelled to make a mad dash for the house we had rented for the season near Gore Mountain. After our large multi-generational crowd had dinner the parents settled into the couches and the younger set crowded around the table to play games. As I sat there with my friends the laughter began to rise from the table. Suddenly, I was my mother. The sound of their giggles brought a thrill to my heart. I now fully understood the comment she had made all those years ago as she heard the laughter of her children. I, in turn, felt that same joy as I heard the laughter coming from my daughter and her friends.
My mother’s feelings coming full circle.

Remembering February

For close to a year the month of February has been looming just outside of my conscious.  February 21, 2013 will be the one year anniversary of my mother’s death and the 12 year anniversary of my father’s death.   I have prepared myself to be sad.  But, what I haven’t prepared myself for are the down times leading up to that day.

On January first of 2012 I was celebrating the start of the New Year with friends.  We were at a bar having chicken wings and beer.  That was when I received the first call about my mother not doing well.  With the help of my sister Roxann, who flew in from Georgia, we spent nearly two weeks watching my mother slowly succumb to pneumonia.  Then, miraculously she pulled herself back from the brink of death.  Bewildered from what we had prepared ourselves for, Mom’s death, and reality, Roxann wearily went home.  As January faded into February Mom improved to the point where some days she didn’t need the oxygen.

scan0001One weekend in February, I visited Mom on a Friday.  I even took her picture to send to my sisters because Mom looked so good after her close call with death.  Unbelievably, that following Monday I was called by the nursing staff because Mom was once again ill.  The change in Mom over the weekend was startling.  I saw the look of panic in her eyes as she struggled to breathe.  With the help of the nurse practitioner, who prescribed, and then the nurse, who administered the morphine, we were able to ease Mom’s discomfort and fear.  I sat with her most of the day until she fell asleep.  I left knowing I would need to get many tasks accomplished before I began, once again, waiting with Mom for death to finally relieve her of her painful existence here on earth.

The next morning, as I prepared myself and my home for the long hours of sitting with Mom the nurse called.  Mom was worse.  Since Mom’s illness the month before, her children had resolved not to continue the brutal cycle of stopping the pneumonia, with antibiotics, only to have the illness return very shortly afterward.  We were committed to shortening Mom’s downward spiral towards death for her sake, instead of prolonging her dementia bound life for us.  But, I won’t lie it was difficult to see my mother laboring to breathe and the fear in her face.  I gave the nod and morphine was administered so that she could rest easily.  That afternoon the nurse practitioner told me this was it; Mom would not recover this time.  I called Roxann.  She made plans to return to Upstate New York.

As suddenly as Mom had become ill, she died.  She died before Roxann could arrive.  She died within 48 hours of my initial phone call.  No one on the staff, not even the nurses, thought she would die that quickly.  Yet, I had a feeling all of that day, because I sensed my dad in her room with me.  I understood that he had come to take her to their afterlife.

I remember many aspects of those long days in January and the few days in February that led to our extended family standing in a grave yard, once again sheltering against the biting cold winds of an Indiana winter.  It is with those days ingrained in my subconscious that I sometimes find myself crying for no apparent reason.  Why certain songs can turn a bright day into one of melancholy.  My conscious mind continues to check items of my list of tasks to accomplish.  I go to work.  I make dinner.  I admire the beauty of the winter blue sky.  I enjoy the company of friends, the stimulation of a good workout.  Still, I never know when or why the tears will come.  They just do.