Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Case of Attack, Don't Wrap It, Bag It

Baggies in the Bunk(er)
Post-Apocalyptic Hygiene—and Humor
“Don’t wrap it. Bag it . . . in Baggies.”

During the Cold War years, my classmates and I practiced duck-and-cover and evacuation drills in case of nuclear attack. Should one happen during school hours at our Jacksonville, Florida, elementary school, the plan was for us to walk to nearby railroad tracks and board trains for St. Augustine. There, we would shelter in Castillo de San Marco.
Each student had evacuation supplies to take with them on that walk. I remember only one item on the list: Baggies, which were a new product in the 1960s. The first plastic wrap bag on the market, Baggies meant brown-baggers were saved from the chore of peeling layers of wet wax paper from soggy sandwiches, pickles, fruit, and worse. All hail the baggie! We said goodbye to wilted, mushy lunches. Television commercials sang the praises of Baggies with the then-familiar jingle “Don’t wrap it. Bag it . . . in Baggies!” It became a stuck-in-your head sing-song like Frozen’s “Let It Go,” Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” or McDonald’s “You Deserve a Break Today.”
Mrs. Steffan, our no-nonsense teacher, stood at the front of the class and reviewed the disaster-preparedness supply list. One student raised his hand. “Why Baggies?” Glenn Gay asked.
She looked over her glasses at him, and steeled her eyes toward the class. “When you have to go to the bathroom, what do you think you’ll do if there aren’t any toilets?”
Glenn missed nary a beat: “Don’t wrap it. Bag it… in Baggies!”
Hilarity ensued. Joyous laughter filled the classroom. It was such a gift in the face of the fears we felt. Today, the memory continues to offer me a lighthearted memory of that time. Once safe from the threat, our supplies were sent home. I imagine many a child was relieved to use Baggies for their intended purpose.
* * * * *

If you are not worried about it getting “stuck in your head,” the original Baggies commercial can be viewed at the following YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB3t9QzwZLU




Thursday, November 6, 2014

Russian Missiles Would Have Annihilated Us

Cold War Wake-Up
It might be better to not know everythingto not be afraid
—to not be very afraid.
Demanding attention, distinctive, and daunting, the frightening blare echoed toward my room. This Baby Boomer’s dormant, yet ingrained, training made me leap into action. Air-raid sirens do that. I jumped out of bed, alert, but questioning, and ran into the living room. “What was that?”
I spied my son, who had slept on the sofa, waking and pressing a button on his phone. “Sorry. That was my alarm,” he said. Alarm, indeed. Shaken, but relieved, I walked away, practicing yet another skill from those Cold War years: trying to calm myself after the all-clear. In gratitude, I noted that I did not have to move away from the windows, crouch beneath furniture, huddle in the hallway, arms protecting my head. I did not have to “Duck and cover!”
Evacuating my family was not necessary. Eating food set aside for emergencies (hurricanes in my current life) would not be necessary. An air-raid shelter would not be our next destination.
Fears calming, I nonetheless continued thinking about those Cold War years of fear and instructions on how to avoid death and destruction. I also thought about the gullibility of adults to believe anything other than death and destruction would be certain should a nuclear attack occur. Concrete bunkers and fallout shelters in basements would have done little to nothing to keep anyone safe. Duck and cover, shield your eyes from the nuclear flash, food stored in cardboard boxes—nothing more than bunk!
Prevailing pundits of the day fed bunk to children and adults. Now-declassified photos, films, and information about the aftermath of the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as well as other nuclear tests) have informed us that our civil defense preparations are as laughable as the final scene in Dr. Strangelove.
Not long ago, I watched Trinity and Beyond, a chilling documentary of the history of the atomic bomb, and was reminded of those years of fearjust as the early-morning air raid siren reminded me. As I discussed that era with a friend, I told him about the preparations we thought would help us survive an apocalypse. We considered the word bunker and its root: bunk. Bunk means nonsense. The bunkers we were advised to build and shelter within were bunk in the face of the total destruction of an atom bomb. Russian missiles poised in Cuba and aimed at military facilities in Jacksonville, Florida (where I lived), would have annihilated us.
These decades later, I know it’s all bunk, the shelters, the duck and cover drills, and shielding our eyes from flashes. Canned goods stored in car trunks would have fed no one: Those vehicles likely would have melted and become part of the asphalt roads on which they were parked.
As a child who was fearful about so many things, the threat of nuclear war was the worst fear tacked onto so many others. Already insecure, I felt some protection by participating in the drills and preparations for nuclear war. My family had a plan; our schools had a plan; we thought the government had a plan. That plan, like many others in society, allayed mass hysteria. Mass hysteria would have made any attack scenario unmanageable.
Perhaps It Was Better That We Did Not
Know the Depth of the Threat
On reflection, perhaps it was better that we did not know the depth of the threat and its aftermath. When I view that knowledge with today’s perspective and with the certainty that we would have suffered complete destruction, I feel a sense of relief. It is probably best that I knew so little, that my parents and other adults knew so little. In some cases, it’s best to not know everything, to not be afraid—to not be very afraid. We were afraid enough.
* * * * *
Trinity and Beyond is a documentary containing declassified military documents and footage regarding the development and use of the atomic bomb. Warning: The footage and commentary are graphic and frightening at times. However, the educational value of the film is outstanding.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vigils—A Path Out of Darkness

Vigil
A Path Out of Darkness
Days Pass By in What Once
Was a Long, Sad Month

October 16, 2014
October once was my longest, saddest month. During October, I am writing about the challenges we face during anniversary days, weeks, and months that mark extreme loss—or any intense, emotional life events. My child spent her last days on Earth in October of 1986. Memories of that time have affected not only October, but much of life since my seven-year-old Alexa died. Today, I share how we honor the memory of those we’ve lost during vigils.

Extending the olive branch of peace and healing.
(Stained glass window in Gracepoint Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida)
Candlelight flickers in a dark room, in a sanctuary, on a street corner, in groups gathered with a common purpose—to remember, to watch, to wait, to sit in silence and awareness. Warmth from the flames provides only scant heat to loosen the sometimes-icy grip of grief on the hearts of those who meet to remember.
Light, precious light, illuminates each event to ward away the darkness that can overwhelm when life’s events are too much to bear. Vigils are times of gathering in the light and provide the gift of being in community with like-hearted people. People share the same depths of the soul at the vigils they attend.
We have vigils because when marking times of sadness, loss, and grief, we don’t want to be alone. We hunger for the company of those who understand and welcome those who wish to be understood. Loneliness can weight the emotions of loss and make them too heavy to bear. Emotions immediately following loss often spur people to act. What can they do? How can they process the event? They gather at a designated time and place memorials, light candles, stand in solemn prayer. Such gatherings do not change the nature of life’s unhappy events, but they often answer the question: “What can I do?” Meeting with others can be the beginning of healthy mourning.
Fear of forgetting loved ones can haunt those of us left behind. We know time will pass, life will change, and the face of our loss will change. But some things we don’t want to change. We don’t want to forget. We’re afraid that in forgetting, we stop loving. Vigils give us an opportunity to say publicly, “Yes, I remember. Yes, I still love.”
Annual vigils, not unlike pilgrimages, give us an opportunity to hold each other up. In the community of a vigil, stories can be shared. Hope can be shared. Healing can be shared. Guilt can be soothed. Frustration and a sense of failure can be diminished.
Following a vigil, rather than being overwhelmed by sadness, participants often remember not only what they lost, but what they loved. That love continues to hold them long after the last candle is extinguished, the lights have come on, and everyone goes home. It’s the light of love that carries us through that journey and the journey we take each day—a new journey, a different journey, but one of hope and healing after loss.

♥ ♥ ♥ 
My dear friends Chris and Darrell Smethie lost their beautiful son Courtland almost three years ago. Saturday evening, October 18, they are hosting a NOPE (Narcotics Overdoes Prevention and Education) vigil in Ft. Lauderdale to honor the memory of those lost to and suffering from substance abuse. Please join us and bring light and healing to your own life and the lives of others who struggle with this problem. NOPE vigils are held throughout the country this month.
Information regarding the NOPE Candlelight vigil in Ft. Lauderdale follows:
October 18, 2014, Reception 6:30 p.m., Ceremony 7:00 p.m.
Gracepoint Church
5590 NE 6th Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Contact Chris Smethie: chrisstruther@hotmail.com


♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 
Vigils need not be public. Nor do they need to be held on a certain day. Anyone can light a candle when life seems too dark. Anyone can contribute to or volunteer for organizations that help bring light to the world: Compassionate Friends, Children’s Miracle Network, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Such organizations abound and can help us find our way out of the dark by bringing light to those still here.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Loss will touch each of us. That touch can sear our souls. As a healing balm, I present a new October. Rather than become snared in the dread of loss, I intend to spin a circle of compassion. I loved Alexa. I lost her. What did I love that made the loss so keen? What do I do, and what will I do to keep from stumblingthrough October and every day, week, month? By sharing my journey, I hope to make yours easier, to offer a hand when you stumble, to keep you from falling. If you fall, I want my hand to be there to help you up and back into life.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Do you have a “long, sad, month” or do you know of someone who is stuck in the depths of grief? Please feel free to share your concerns, struggles, victories in the comments. I welcome private correspondence at mysistersgarden@gmail.com.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Truth: I Lie to Me

Truth: I Lie to Me
Each of us must find our truth in the present.
I ponder truth, and all that comes to mind is lies.
Lie to me. I do it all the time. I tell my lies when I’m future self. Future self lies every day. Future self will . . . write later, exercise tomorrow, eat healthier—next week.
Lie to me. I do it all the time. Nebulous future self is my biggest lie. Truth lies in my substance as a living being—a woman, mother, writer, gardener. My core truth resides in the now—with every breath, thought, movement, with every word, written or spoken.
The truth of my fleeting self is that I am here for but a minute capsule of time—my presentso why would I ever lie to me?
The Great Until also puts powerful brakes on living my truth.
Lie to me. I do it all the time: “Until the dishes are done, floor mopped, mortgage paid (fill in the blank ____________). Until the Great Until, I continue to lie to me.
I lie to me. I do it all the time. It paralyzes me.
Will I lie to me today? I must, we all must, find our truth in present self and banish The Great Until to the great beyond.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Life Gets in the Way of Mourning

Life Gets in the Way of Mourning
Days Pass By in What Once
Was a Long, Sad Month
October 14, 2014

Loss never ends, but we still must wash the dishes.
Life gets in the way of mourning.
October once was my longest, saddest month. On October 1, I wrote about the challenges we face during anniversary days, weeks, and months that mark extreme loss—or any intense, emotional life events. My child spent her last days on Earth in October of 1986. Remembering that time affected not only October, but much of life since my seven-year-old Alexa died.
Because such anniversaries are difficult, I decided to focus on healing this October in hopes of furthering the healing of others—not only those who have lost a child, but also those who have lost anyone they loved.

Loss comes to all of us, but we still can experience beauty and joy.
Life gets in the way of mourning.
In the 28 years since Alexa died, the face of my mourning has changed, as well it should. Early on, when dealing with profound loss, our hearts are tender; grief—day in and out—wears on us. Our nerve endings are sensitive. On this day, October 14, 2014, I have tender spots, scars that mark those places of fragility, but they are not apparent to others—and even I sometimes am unaware of them. Fourteen days into what once was a month of mourning, I note that I am not mourning. I think of Alexa several times as day, as I do all my children, but the raw spots have healed as much as they probably ever will. Life gets in the way of mourning with the passage of time. That’s a good thing.
In some ways, I liken early mourning to an illness that is virulent, all-encompassing in its early phases. As a young adult, I had hepatitis. My liver isn’t damaged and I made a complete recovery. However, a blood test will reveal that I had the disease. I cannot donate blood or organs. I’m not sick, but it’s there.
I’m not actively mourning most days, but the pain of loss is there. Like the hepatitis marker in my blood, the pain of child death is a marker in my heart. I don’t often think of the hepatitis, except when a too-persistent blood drive volunteer tries to badger me into giving. I say, “You don’t want my blood.” I can also say, “You don’t want this low-level ache in my heart.”
Like the minute quantities of virus in my blood, I’m grateful that my mourning has reached a level where, for the most part, I live without deep grief, as I live without liver disease.
I’m also grateful, these 28 years later, that I’m not crippled with grief. I’m grateful that life gets in the way of mourning—that most of my days are filled with the ordinariness of life—work, dishes, laundry, carpet cleaning, gardening.

Loss comes to all of us but we still must do the laundry.
Life gets in the way of mourning.
Early on, when suffering extreme loss, mourning gets in the way of life. Those of us who have reached the phase in which life gets in the way of mourning have a responsibility to other mourners. My responsibility is lending an ear, lending time, lending heart to those currently living the deepest days of mourning. By doing so, I show gratitude for the child who gave so much love during her short life. It’s my turn to help those who are hurting get to the point in their lives that life gets in the way of mourning.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Grief has no time table. However, deep daily grieving several months after a loss might indicate a need for help stepping toward life. Please consult a trained counselor, spiritual advisor, or bereavement group if you need such help. Google bereavement or grief counseling for resources in your area.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Loss will touch each of us. That touch can sear our souls. As a healing balm, I present a new October. Rather than become snared in the dread of loss, I intend to spin a circle of compassion. I loved Alexa. I lost her. What did I love that made the loss so keen? What do I do, and what will I do to keep from stumblingthrough October and every day, week, month? By sharing my journey, I hope to make yours easier, to offer a hand when you stumble, to keep you from falling. If you fall, I want my hand to be there to help you up and back into life.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Do you have a “long, sad, month” or do you know of someone who is stuck in the depths of grief? Please feel free to share your concerns, struggles, victories in the comments. I welcome private correspondence at mysistersgarden@gmail.com.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Once Upon a Long, Sad Month

Once Upon a Long, Sad Month
October 1, 2014


October once was my longest, saddest month. Child Cancer Month—September—ended yesterday. Families who have lost a child to cancer don’t walk away at the end of any month. Their awareness does not shift to another disease or cause. Throughout September, I read about children fighting cancer, those who are winning, and those who lost. Photos revealing the ravages of the disease haunted me. Photos of those mourning the loss of a child to cancer resonated with me. Photos of children smiling in spite of their near-Sysyphean challenge gave me—give me—heart, because each one reminds me why this illness cuts so deep and stings to the quick of our souls. Children—their smiles, their innocence, playfulness, bright spirits, and hope for and dreams of the future—reflect everything we hold dear about children.
However, for those navigating the alien paths of child cancer, the tremendous challenges they face anchor them in the present. The future is too uncertain. Their razor focus is on the daily realities of living with, treating, and managing the illness. Advances in treatment mean that day-to-day reality of child cancer sometimes ends. Children go into remission and many are healed.
Other families and their children aren’t as fortunate; remission and healing are elusive and a child dies. They then are faced with navigating the alien path of how to live after child loss.
Not just during Child Cancer Month, but every month, I navigate that path over which I began stumbling on November 2, 1986, when my seven-year-old daughter Alexa died.
I still fall often, but not as much as in the early days, weeks, months. I’ve devised ways to plant my feet in a more secure stance. I look ahead before stepping. I also have devised ways to pick myself up when I fall. I don’t stay down as long as I once did.
One stumbling area that kept me down—keeps me down—too long is October—the anniversary month. I say month rather than day because the worst grief is not always on the anniversary of the death. For many, the days, weeks, and, for me, the month preceding are fraught with emotional and psychic peril. On this day, we were at Shands Hospital. On this day, Alexa had her last chemo. On this day, she made beautiful cards for a friend’s new baby. On this day, I hid from trick-or-treaters. On this day, our dear pediatrician said . . .
The first year, October smacked me in the face. I crept through it, the memories of that last month hobbled me. As more years passed, a vague sense of unease washed over me during October as I remembered where we were and what we did “on this day…”
Hardest were the Octobers I lived in the northeast away from my home state of Florida. September’s killing frost decimated my garden. October days meant trees barren of leaves and often-gray skies. Less light, less sun let the cold seep into my bones, reminding me of a deeper chill from that 1986 October. In an odd twist, and a blessing, by November 2, I often was not crushed and broken as I was in the preceding days. I had survived another year of loss.
It’s not always the anniversary that hurts deepest. Often, the days preceding an anniversary cut the most. Because of that, I want to further my own healing during these October days. In the process, I hope to further the healing of others—not only those who have lost a child or loved one from any cause, but also those who have lost a sibling, mother, father, friend, spouse—anyone they loved.
Loss will touch each of us. That touch can sear our souls. As a healing balm, I present a new October. Each day, rather than become snared in the dread of loss, I intend to spin a circle of celebration. I loved Alexa. I lost her. What did I love that made the loss so keen? What do I do, and what will I do to keep from stumblingthrough October and every day, week, month? By sharing my journey through October, I hope to make your journey easier, to offer a hand when you stumble, to keep you from falling. If you fall, I want my hand to be there to help you up and back into life.

* * * * * * *

Do you have a “long, sad, month”? Please feel free to share your concerns, struggles, victories in the comments. I welcome private correspondence at mysistersgarden@gmail.com.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cracked Grace: Don't Let "You" Down

Cracked Grace
Commitment
Don’t Let “You” Down
I made a commitment to someone to have a body of work—writing—completed today. I struggled with the work, but I completed it because I didn’t want to let him down.
At the end of the day, I realized it was more important that I did not let myself down.
In what ways can you honor your commitment to your “self” todayand every day? Don’t let “you” down.