You probably thought I gave up, or forgot about all of you. Not so. Just re-evaluating what I want to be when I grow up, and whether writing continues to have a role in my life.
Two years ago, at the beginning of this month, the challenges with my parents, as Mom tried to take care of Dad and Dad continued to decline with Alzheimers, jolted into high-gear-crisis-mode and we were on a speeding course of doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, and so forth, that led to both of their deaths by the end of January. The only good thing I can say about all of that is that it is over. And I will never have to go through that particular trauma of losing my parents again. Gratitude.
I also think that because of all the events that occurred during this Holiday month of family celebrations, December will always be bittersweet for me. It might have felt that way anyway. Holidays can be difficult for many people for many reasons. There are plenty of Christmas songs out there to remind us. But I do not feel the pain this year, more a quiet peace and contemplation with a few tears thrown in here and there. Sometimes it seems like Mom and Dad have been gone forever. And sometimes I am back in the Hospice room with Mom like it was yesterday.
Maybe this dichotomy of joy and sorrow that I find so inherent in the Christmas season is a lesson. Perhaps it is a reminder that this is what our lives here on this planet are about, learning to have joy in the presence of the inevitable sorrow.
Hoping you find the joy this holiday season.
It started with photography and a conversation over lunch. “I back up all my photos to an external hard drive and also to the cloud,” a fellow amateur photographer said. “That way if my house goes up in a fire, or a burglar comes and snatches all my computer equipment, including external hard drives, I won’t lose my photos.”
I got home and took a good hard look at my 15 x 10 x 1/2 in metal case with a keyboard that contains most of my life’s work. If I had a catastrophic digital failure of some kind, I would lose my genealogy, videos of my grand kids, photographs, and all my writing. My life’s work contained in this slim piece of metal.
Sure I back it up to an external hard drive. But is that really enough to protect against the devastation that the loss of what is stored inside would cause?
That led to yet another diversion from writing my dad’s book, as my daughter so nicely pointed out in a phone conversation. “Maybe you are trying to avoid something,” she said.
That may be true. But I still need to formulate and execute a better back-up plan. And I need to sort through my files, consolidate, and edit them down. Another motivation that drives me forward is the thought that my husband or kids would have to deal with my computer if something were to happen to me. How can I expect them to deal with all the photos, videos, and documents I have loaded it up with? I don’t want to deal with it myself.
So I started sorting through my old recorded videos and came across one that I took at my sister’s house for a celebration of Mom’s birthday in May of 2009. We had just gotten Arthur and he was playing with my sister’s new puppy. I spent over 13 minutes that day recording Arthur. On the video, like an unobtrusive soundtrack running in the background, my parents are talking all the while.
I hear my mom say my name, but the rest of what she says fades out. I hear her laugh. “My brother had a dog,” my dad says, “and he named him Blue.”
And I wonder, why didn’t I, even once, turn the camera around?
I wrote the post below a couple of months ago now. It has been patiently sitting in my post folder as a draft. I decided to go ahead and post it today even though it is dated. The eighteen-month anniversary of the passing of my parents has passed. And although I didn’t feel so just a few short weeks ago, I’ve begun to feel as if I have turned a corner. I feel like the fog is lifting and I am recognizing myself again, caring about things again, having more self-direction. I can’t promise this feeling will stick, but I am hopeful that the intense grief has passed and I am becoming accustomed to life without Mom and Dad.
That being said, I woke up crying one day last week from a vivid memory of Mom. When I was attending college in my hometown, I lived on campus. My long-time, four-year boyfriend and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about it. I gathered my dirty laundry in the morning after a sleepless night. And as soon as I deemed it late enough to arrive, I drove over to my parents. My roommate had called my mom without my knowledge. When I got there, Mom was standing at the door, in her robe, waiting for me. This makes me cry again today just thinking about it.
But what I realize today is that I may always have moments of tears about Mom and Dad. That’s okay. I suffered a loss. And the truth of the matter is that life will never be the same. It’s a new world.
June 29th, 2014
In a couple of weeks it will be the 18-month anniversary of my mother’s death. A year and a half. And the reason I’ve paid attention to that is that somewhere earlier out I Googled how long we grieve for a parent and I read somewhere that it’s different for everyone, but somewhere from 9 to 18 months is typical.
I’m approaching the 18 month mark for my mom’s death. And two weeks after that, it will be 18 months since my father died. So I wonder again whether I grieve for them simultaneously or consecutively which would mean I get three years to grieve.
Eighteen months. Is that all the time it’s been? it seems like forever.
Most days I think I am doing quite well, but every now and then I have a bad day where I find my self sobbing, with a deep gut-wrenching pain that reminds me how much I miss her, him, them, and how I’ll never see them again.
Am I getting through this okay? I wonder.
My sisters are my reality check.
My sister C. will call and say, “I had a really bad day the other day about Mom and Dad.”
“Me too. I’m not sure why, but I found myself crying again,” I say.
Then I’ll talk to my other sister. “I had a bad day earlier this week.”
“I did too,” K. answers. “I don’t know why. I have trouble at night before I fall asleep. I just think about everything that Mom went through, and I feel so bad for her. We really went through a traumatic experience.”
“Sometimes I cry for Mom and what she suffered and went through in the last years of her life,” I say. “And sometimes I cry because I want to talk to her, or because she doesn’t know I had a hysterectomy a few weeks ago.”
“Sometimes I feel really bad about what Dad had to go through,” K. will say. “I really hope I don’t have to depend upon other people to take care of me.”
Life does go on, but for me life will never be the same. Some things become less important, like finding the right window treatment for the dining room. And some things become more important like my personal relationships. I try harder to stop parenting in what can only be received as a judgmental way. And when I’m not able to hold my tongue, I find myself explaining my perspective and apologizing more. I try to nurture the sometimes fragile relationships I have with my siblings. And I make an effort to find ways to enrich my husband’s life. How I will be remembered is much more important to me. Being in control, having things my way, and being right don’t matter so much.
I still continue to feel like an unmoored ship, directionless, no one behind the wheel.
But maybe that’s okay.
See more posts about my journey through grief.
I’m back on genealogy.
I have been spending most of my time the past several days updating the family history book I created for my mother in 1998. At that time I used the Family Tree Maker software book program. It’s a clunky program, on an older computer, and nobody else can open the files if I want to share the story. So I am moving the whole book, all 146 pages of it, into Word by copying, pasting, and updating information .
When I have a good copy finished, I plan to post it on my Adams and Lemmon Genealogy site at WordPress. I have had some luck finding distant relatives who are researching the same lines as I am by posting stories about ancestors like the Mary Etta Conner Lemmon post from my Stitches we Leave Behind series. One of Mary Etta’s great-granddaughters, like myself, found the page and has been corresponding with me. This was much more exciting than it might sound to you because I now have a copy of my great-grandmother’s sugar cookies I wrote about in the post. A windfall as far as I am concerned. Although I searched and searched and tried out different recipes, I was never able to replicate those big soft cookies my great-grandmother used to make.
I started researching my family history in 1983, shortly after our oldest son was born. I felt more connected to my roots with the arrival of our son.
My father’s aunt, who was a Sister of Mercy, had started researching her family line, the Wirrigs. She gave me her research and I began.
Over the years I have worked on our family history on and off again. When I first started, like most people at that time, I did not even own a computer. I kept records by hand, wrote letters for information, and visited cemeteries. Today a membership to Ancestry.com opens up the world for you.
I also interviewed most of my elderly relatives. So many of these storytellers are no longer with us. I am grateful I took the time to talk to them while I still could.
Stories of my grandmothers and grandfathers began to come to life on the paper and in my mind. I imagined what their lives might have been like. I began to feel affection for my ancestors.
Today I updated my parents’ genealogies in their file on my computer by adding the dates of their deaths. It feels so final somehow. Mom and Dad have now joined the ranks of the mothers and fathers and grandparents who only live on in the stories on paper and in our minds.
I feel a great affection for my ancestors.
Overall, I have to give Viking high ratings for the Basel to Amsterdam cruise along the Rhine.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t also say that Mark and I did not feel this level of enthusiasm the first day or two on the cruise. We got off to a slow start.
But let me start at the beginning. The Viking staff was very helpful and accommodating as we made our plans, and changed them, over phone calls in the weeks before our trip. The flights and trip were scheduled with no problems. Viking was also very efficient at providing us our luggage tags and itineraries before the trip. I was impressed by how they met us at the airport and whisked us away to the Viking Tor.
Our room was very nice. We had a veranda state room on the third deck. It was largely occupied by a king-sized bed, but we did have a large counter that ran the width of the room with dresser drawers underneath, a closet, and room for a chair between the bed and the sliding glass doors to the veranda. We enjoyed sitting on the veranda when we docked and had time off in our room, or were cruising. We had a small, but adequate bathroom. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you understand the space limitations. Our room was equipped with a wall-mounted television. The room staff did a wonderful job of replacing towels and freshening up our room every day. They left candies on our bed at night.
The food was delicious and varied. There were a couple of dining options. The main dining room contained tables for six, eight, or ten people. Some of the tables lined the walls that were ceiling-to-floor windows. Unlike our ocean cruise many years ago, Viking did not assign seating at meal times. This was nice because Mark and I were able to meet a lot of interesting people as we shared a meal with them. It was also a little uncomfortable at times for two introverts like Mark and me when we had to find a place at a table or join another party. This was more of a perceived problem, however, than a real one. Everyone was friendly. Many people were traveling with another couple, other family members, or a group.
The second dining option was the Aquavit area on the front deck. This was a more casual, buffet-style meal, and there were options of a table-for-two. Mark and I enjoyed several meals, with others and by ourselves, in the Aquavit.
A coffee bar outside of the lounge was stocked with hot drinks and donuts in the morning followed by cookies or other treats throughout the day. Although the food wasn’t provided in the excess that we had on our ocean cruise, it was more than adequate. We enjoyed it. Our favorite meal was the Taste of Germany night where a buffet of Germany delicacies was set up in the main dining room. Among the variety of foods were amazing soft pretzels, sausages, sauer-kraut, sliced baked meats, German potato salad, and desserts. We also were invited to tour the galley where the food was prepared everyday and where more food was served as we walked through. I think I picked up a cream-filled pastry or two and luscious strawberries on my way through. The kitchen staff prepared special foods from the local area throughout the week. One thing that stands out in my mind was a white cheese soup with grapes and walnuts from the Netherlands.
The food on the cruise met or exceeded our expectations.
The serving staff, however, on the first two evenings of the trip were a bit of a disappointment. We felt like we had to wait an excessive amount of time to be served, even simply to receive a glass of water before the meal. There were problems with things. The salt shaker was clogged and didn’t work. We had to ask several times for something we had ordered. The staff was even a bit rude, or at least not pleasant. I felt like for the amount of money we had paid for the cruise, we should be at least able to get a glass of water when we sat down. So we were disappointed at first, and we were not alone in this. I’m happy to say that the problems with the serving staff got sorted out and the remainder of the cruise we found no fault with anything.
The other problem with the cruise the first day was the excursion. I was disappointed with the Black Forest excursion, and I felt like the excursion and, at this point in the trip, perhaps even the entire cruise had been oversold by the commercials I had seen of couples leisurely enjoying a glass of wine on a scenic hillside vineyard. We were moved onto a bus, driven through countryside, and deposited at what I could only think was a tourist trap. My expectations for what I thought we would see and do on this excursion were not met. But as I mentioned in my Journey into the Black Forest post the Black Forest cake that Mark and I shared somewhat redeemed the excursion.
Now, even though I spoke a bit disparagingly about being moved onto a bus, one of the things I liked very much about the Viking cruise was the way they managed moving the tour groups. They were extremely well organized. We stopped at the front desk every morning and received our group assignment and our on-board cards. The group assignment identified which bus we were to get on. At times they had up to four buses taking groups from our ship. On smaller optional excursions they had only a single bus or two. The on-board cards were to be turned in upon our return to the ship. They were filed under our names and used as a sort of roll-call so the staff could quickly check to see if everyone had returned to the ship. They actually did check this. One day Mark forgot to turn his card in and the staff phoned our room looking for him.
The other problem with the excursions in the first couple of days was that Mark and I felt we didn’t have enough time to explore our surroundings. This was frustrating initially. But as the trip progressed things improved. Some excursions had more built-in free time to explore on your own. Also, as we started adding up our experiences, we came to grips with our expectations and really enjoyed the convenience and ease of travel provided by Viking.
Even though we got off to a slow start, we enjoyed the other excursions. Some more than others. You can see links to detailed descriptions and photos of the excursions, if you missed them, on my Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise page. If you’re only going to check out one excursion, choose the Castles on the Rhine or The Knights of Marksburg Castle from Wednesday. This was my favorite day on the cruise.
In addition to the excursions, the program director, who I thought did an excellent job, presented programs in the lounge throughout the week that included a Flammkuchen, Rudesheimer Kaffee, and glassblowing demonstrations, to mention a few. Typically there was entertainment in the lounge in the evenings from musical ensembles to quiz games.
One of the reasons I really liked the Viking Cruise was all the small details or special touches they put into each cruise. They provided a bottle of water to each guest whenever we left the ship for excursions. Umbrellas were available and within grasp. Each night in our room we were provided with a Viking Daily, a four-page publication with information about the next day’s activities including a detailed itinerary and helpful and interesting information about the location. A convenient hand sanitizer station outside the dining room door to use before entering, not very glamorous but a definite must in light of the potential problems cruises can encounter.
Overall I have to give Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam a big thumb’s up. It was an expensive trip, but I think it was worth it. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Mark feels the same. We saw a lot of amazing things in a short period of time and came to understand that area of the world that the Rhine runs through much better than we would have likely been able to do on our own. It was a relaxing way to travel with everything taken care of for us. All we had to do was show up. Viking knows its stuff and is a pro at conducting these cruises. I would absolutely do another Viking River Cruise.
Now I’ve got to go find my piggy bank and start saving up.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have stayed with me through this lengthy discourse of Viking Cruise posts. And to my fellow bloggers, I hope to get back to reading about what you’ve been up to soon.
Mark and I bundled up in towels that doubled as blankets on the top deck
and then another near a residential area.
All that sitting, cruising, and watching the world go by generated a healthy appetite, and a bit of a thirst. It really doesn’t get a lot better than this—lunch on the top deck of the Viking Tor.
Kinderdijk is a village that has 19 windmills dating from the 1500s. (http://www.kinderdijk.org/ ) They were built to help with water control in this peat region of Holland. The cultivation of peat changed the drainage of the region and resulted in the farmlands lying below the level of the streams that had previously drained the peat. Dikes were built and canals were dug to prevent flooding of the land. The windmills were added a few centuries later as the drained soil settled and the river rose due to sand deposits. The windmills pumped water into a reservoir where it could eventually be pumped out into the river whenever the level was low enough due to seasonal and tidal variations. Today most of the work is done by diesel pumping stations. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/818 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinderdijk)
The windmills were not rotating during our visit. I don’t know if that was due to lack of wind, or the fact that they were anchored or tied in place. They can be dangerous, and have been responsible for injury and even deaths for the unwary adult, child, or perhaps unsuspecting tourist who wandered into their path when they were fast at work. They are powerful and, like lighthouses, are the stuff of legends. You can feel it in their presence.
On this, our last evening of the cruise, we joined the ship’s captain and crew in the lounge for the Captain’s Cocktail followed by the Farewell Reception and Dinner. In the morning we would be in Amsterdam. Although we could have arranged an extension of the cruise in Amsterdam through Viking, Mark and I decided to stay in Amsterdam a couple of nights, but made the arrangements on our own.
The Viking Tor left Koblenz for Cologne at 4:00 a.m., or so we were told, being fast asleep at the time. We arrived in Cologne, locally known as Koln, at 9:00 a.m.
The cathedral is situated right smack in the middle of a downtown business district where the nonstop daily loading and unloading of tour buses created a bit of confusion with their traffic disturbance.
Construction on the Cologne cathedral began in 1248 and took over seven centuries to complete in 1880. It is a symbol of the city and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. During WWII 95% of Cologne was destroyed by allied bombs, but the cathedral survived. According to our guide, bombardiers were prohibited from hitting the church’s spires as they were a clear landmark by which to navigate. Many people were gathered on the cobblestones surrounding the massive structure.
Our tour guide, who accompanied us on the bus, explained what he could about the exterior of the cathedral. Then a deep, loud, gonging started erupting from the bell tower of the cathedral as believers were called to Mass. As luck would have it, we were visiting on a high holy day and the church was closed to tour groups as masses were being celebrated all day. Our guide suggested we come back after the tour and try to gain entrance between the masses.
The bell continued to gong, reverberating through my body. I’d never heard anything like it. And it lasted for what seemed like a half hour, calling all to Mass. Although I was sorry not to be able to visit the inside of the church, I felt lucky that we were able to experience this amazing sound. The bell we heard only rings on the few high holy days in a year, so it is a special occurrence.
As we left the cathedral, we passed a construction crew erecting what looked like a stage for an entertainment of some sort. The ancient cathedral rising behind the modern-day band shell made an interesting juxtaposition of styles.
The fine mosaic floor can be viewed from outside the museum. According to Rick Steve’s Germany 2009, this was once the floor of a rich Roman merchant in its original location. The museum was built around it.
Nearby is a section of a Roman stone road beside a Roman fountain.
Our guide took us into the Jewish section of the old town that was under construction as an archaeological zone and Jewish museum.
In all honesty, I was having trouble paying attention at this point because we had not yet had a toilet break and I was beginning to wonder if our guide was ever going to realize we needed one.
I had pretty much given up on the guide to solve this personal problem and started looking around for an open restaurant where I might find a public toilet.
Since it was a high holy day, most places of business were closed. And although I had finally asked the guide if he planned on giving us a comfort break, he was not having any luck finding an open business with a public toilet. Finally, another tourist in our group pointed me to a building where I and several others took advantage of the kindness of the proprietor to allow us use of their facilities.
Too much information? I just want to say, travelers beware of holy days.
But I managed to see enough to realize that the Cologne cathedral was equally impressive on the interior as on the exterior.
Viking had a shuttle running from our ship to the downtown area of Cologne leaving at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 p.m. and returning at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. giving us ample opportunity to shop in or further explore Cologne. Had Mark and I been thirty years younger, we might have spent the afternoon there, but we were tired, and walking on the cobblestones of Cologne had worn out my knees for the day. We returned to the ship and relaxed.
Next up – Windmills in the Netherlands