Category Archives: Friends and Family

On Saying Goodbye (Again)


I got he call yesterday morning from my cousin Sarah.

“Uncle Duane died at 6:30 this morning.”

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The news did not come as a surprise but it still felt like a blow to my heart.

Back in February 2013, our family had taken a whirlwind trip to PA to say goodbye to Uncle Duane, as he was given just a short time to live. (I wrote about that here.).

True to form, he survived for 20 more months. Tough to the end.

I had the chance to see him two more times since that day.

Last October, my brother and I made a trip to Pittsburgh and we were thrilled to be able to spend a day with Uncle Duane. We told him we would take him anywhere he wanted to go. He listed several places and as we traveled around town, he repeatedly apologized for “being a bother.”

We assured him many times that this was not a bother for us, but a joy.

And we meant it. Because it was.

Here is a photo that my brother snapped as we walked through Walmart on my way to pick up a new laptop for Duane because he was particularly interested in “joining the Facebook.” He was 87 years old. You gotta love that. 🙂

Later, Jeff spent nearly two hours setting up a Facebook profile for Uncle Duane and explaining how it all works. He would then receive several phone calls over the next few months with more questions. He never posted a status but he did enjoy getting to see the photos of all his nieces and nephews who he loved so much.

The last time I saw him was in August. He didn’t want me to take his photo because he looked so very frail, so I honored his wishes. Before we went back to New England, my mom and I stopped in to see him at the retirement home where he briefly lived. He was sound asleep and looked so peaceful that we didn’t want to disturb him. So I wrote him a note saying goodbye and said I would call him soon.

He was quite unhappy with us and said he should have awakened him.

I spoke to him several times in his last few months. His health declined rapidly and he spent much time in the hospital. When it became clear that he could no longer live in the retirement home, he was moved to a nursing home. He sounded progressively weaker each time I spoke to him.

Our last conversation was just a couple of weeks ago.  He was comfortably settled in his nursing home room and sounded fairly good, but very tired. I filled him in on all the latest family news, which he was always eager to hear.

As the conversation wound down, he said, “I know that I’m on my way out, Sue. My days are numbered.”

“Well, you’ve had a good, long life, Uncle Duane. I am so glad you are still here, and I am going to miss you terribly when that day comes.”

He agreed that his life had been a good one. Then, “I’m ready to go and see Jesus.”

“I know you are.” Tears filled my eyes at this point. “And my dad is going to be awfully happy to see you again.” I tried to keep my voice light. “Be sure to say hi to him for me.”

“Oh, I surely will.”

I told him I would let him go so he could get some rest and then I said, “I love you very much, Uncle Duane.”

“Well, the feeling is mutual.”

Classic Uncle Duane. My dad’s side of the family loves deeply but saying the words has never come easy to any of them.

There is a void in my life today. I have had my uncle in my life for nearly 50 years. He has always been there for me in so many ways.

I think that when it will hit me the most that he is gone is when the phone doesn’t ring at 12:01 on New Year’s Eve. For as long as I can remember, he called at that exact time every year so that he could be the first to wish us a happy new year.

The phone will be silent this year at that time but we will all be thinking of him and the fact that he is Home and whole and full of joy in the presence of his Savior.

Rest in peace, Uncle Duane.

You were so loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Changing Seasons


My husband and I took a road trip this past weekend to visit our son at his college.

It had been the middle of August since we had dropped him off to begin his new life in another state.

Now, summer had melted away into the brilliance of fall. It was a new season.

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In more ways than one.

My first thought when I saw Josh was, “He is taller!” I had to reach up higher to hug him than I did in August.

My second thought was, “He looks older. He looks like an ADULT for crying out loud!”

And of course, he is an adult.

Then, “He looks tired.”

We never stop being mothers, do we?

We had picked him up to take him out to dinner with Doug’s best friend Mike. Mike is a writer like Josh aspires to be and Josh was anxious to meet him. (They had met a few times before but Josh was a kid. This would be their first meeting as adults).

As we pulled away from the dorm, that is when I began to realize that just like the season had changed from summer to autumn, so our parenting season has changed.

I wasn’t prepared for the fact that our son felt like a stranger.

Not a complete stranger, of course, but there was definitely a certain awkwardness that I wasn’t expecting.

He had been on his own for over two months. We were no longer part of each other’s daily lives and text updates don’t tell much of a story.

So much life had happened since the last time we saw him in person and how does one get caught up on all that?

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So began that delicate dance that exists between parents and their adult children.

Doug and I had an understanding for this trip: we were simply going to take what Josh gave us. We were not going to pry. We were not going to ask a million questions. We would not give advice. We would let him set the pace.

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At first, the pace was slow. He didn’t say much, just looked out the window at the passing cityscape and said he was looking forward to getting out the city for awhile.

I began to fill him in on all the happenings in our small town. He smiled in amusement, made a few comments. Then more silence.

“What is happening?” I asked myself.

Gradually, the conversation increased and Josh became more talkative.

We got to the restaurant and before we ordered our food, Josh leaned over, and put his head against mine like he used to do. It was just a single, very brief moment but it made all the difference to me. My heart smiled.

Somewhere in that man-child, my little boy still lives. 🙂

Doug and I were thrilled to see Josh and Mike instantly connecting, talking about the joys and challenges of being a writer.

That was the turning point for the weekend.

For the next two days, the conversation was easy. We fell into an easy rhythm. The initial awkwardness of gone, much to my relief.

The weekend flew by and it was time to say goodbye again.

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It will be another two months until we see him again.

It was wonderful to get a glimpse into his life at school and into the man that he is becoming.

On the way home, I read an article that a friend had posted on Facebook. It was written by a mom who was explaining why she homeschools her children.

I found myself smiling as I read her article because I could relate.

How grateful I am for those years!

Wherever life takes me or my kids,  there was a time when we spent hours and days and years together. Was everything perfect? Absolutely not. But it is a time in our lives that no one can take away.

And the memories only become sweeter to me as the years go by.

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Over The Brick Wall


The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”–Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.

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It was summer 2011.

My daughter Julia had decided earlier that year that she was ready to follow her big brother and leave homeschooling behind to enter the local high school as a freshman.

Years ago, her dad had taken her to see a volleyball game at the high school. She was 10 years old and remembered being totally enthralled by the game. Now that she was entering high school, she decided that she wanted to play.

Fortunately, we discovered that the volleyball coach was going to hold a  summer clinic on the local beach. This was good news for Julia. Most of the girls had been playing volleyball since 5th grade, but she had never played competitively before and had much to learn. And learn she did. What she lacked in skill, she made up for in pure heart. She dove, she ran, she hustled, she spiked. She soaked all that knowledge up until she she was ready for tryouts. She earned a place on the JV team and made tremendous progress by the end of the season.

The following year she made the JV team once more.

When her junior year rolled around, she had improved a lot and had high hopes of making the Varsity team.

It was not to be.

She was devastated.

Several girls (also juniors) quit the team in protest rather than play for the JV team for the third year in a row. It was outrageous to them that 4 freshmen made Varsity instead of them. However, everyone knows that this particular volleyball coach is only concerned about ability, not age. There were girls who played on JV all four year of their high school career. Everyone who was on Varsity earned their spot, whether they were 14 or 18.

These girls joined the cross country team in “defiance.” They thought that that would really “show” the coach who had denied them what they felt they deserved. All it showed the coach was that they were quitters.

But Julia refused to quit. After a good cry the night before, she walked into practice the next day with her head held high, determined to be the best player she could be. She went on to help her team have one of their best seasons ever and became a fierce middle hitter.

“I WILL make Varsity next year,” she told Doug and me as we drove home from the last game of the season.

She was true to her word. This past summer she worked out several times a week despite working full time at the local bookstore. When the first day of practice arrived, she was ready.

On the third day (when the teams would be announced after the morning practice), Julia came into my room and said she felt sick. “What if I don’t make it?” she asked, her blue eyes meeting mine, filled with trepidation.

“All you can do is your best,” I told her. “You’ve done the work. Go and play your heart out. Leave it all on the court.”

I watched her drive away with a lump in my throat. I think I wanted this more for her than she wanted it for herself.

“I MADE VARSITY!!!” came the  joyful text a few hours later.

As soon as she came home after her victory, I didn’t even wait until she came into the house. I sprinted out into the driveway to greet her. She ran into my arms and we jumped up and down, squealing with excitement.

I have never been so proud of my daughter. She had a goal and a dream and she never stopped reaching for it, even in the face of intense disappointment. She didn’t stay down. She didn’t give in to self-pity. She didn’t play the blame game.

She simply refused to take her eyes off the goal. She knew she had one more chance to achieve a dream and she did what it took to get there.

This gives me great hope for her future. We all know that life is full of disappointments and as a parent, you wonder how those inevitable moments will affect your child. I now know that when life gets tough for her, she will get tougher.

Julia’s perseverance over four long years inspires me to deal the same way with the disappointments in my own life. I am amazed by her courage and her grace under pressure.

It is a beautiful thing as a mom to be encouraged and motivated by your child.

I am so proud of my girl.

Here’s to a winning season!

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.”—Mary Radmacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Chapter


So, I didn’t cry when it was time to say goodbye.

I hugged my son in front of his dorm, told him I was proud of him and that I loved him, and took one last photo of him and his sister.

PA 2014-0043Then I watched him wave and walk through the front door of his dorm, disappearing into a sea of students and into a brand new life.

I remained dry-eyed during the 14 hour drive back home. I was feeling pretty good.

Then I walked into the house, saw Josh’s room…and sobbed for a solid hour before falling into an exhausted sleep.

I cried on and off for the next couple of days.

I’m not sure I like our new normal. I miss my boy.

Yet I am so happy for him. We had a lovely last few days together exploring his new home away from home.

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Mudge-0037It felt very surreal to Doug and me as we walked around the city where we both went to college, knowing that our son would be walking these same streets thirty years later. Full circle.

The days since we have been home have been so odd. The house has seemed strangely empty to me, despite the fact that my husband, my daughter, my mom and me all live here. And I am so grateful for the presence of each one of them.

However, I have come to discover that you don’t realize the depth and richness that a loved one provides to your daily life until they are gone. I was living daily with a combination of sweet, happy memories and some regrets of things I did or didn’t do while Josh lived with us. I wondered what kind of decisions he is going to make now that he is on his own. I am filled with more determination than ever to encourage young moms to enjoy that season of life because as the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.”

One morning, I found myself scanning Facebook and commented to a sweet friend who was struggling with the fact that her little boy was about to go to kindergarten. I told her that I was right there with her, just a little further down the road. In turn, she reminded me of something that Linda Anderson, the founder of the Mom To Mom program told us, “You are not releasing your child into a void. You are releasing them into the hands of God.”

That was just the reminder that I needed to silence the fears, the regrets, the “what-if’s?”.

It’s a new season. Granted, it is not one that I think anyone ever feels completely ready for, but I am in it and I intend to fully realize the blessings that it offers.

I have more photography jobs booked. I am looking forward to enjoying every minute of my daughter’s senior year of high school. I will be leading 2 Bible studies and continuing to serve as a mentor to the young moms at our church.

My son’s story is really just beginning, and a new chapter is being written in mine.

Bring it on. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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A Week of “Lasts”


(Note: I have absolutely no idea why certain words are highlighted and capitalized. That was not my doing).

So, it’s come down to this.

This is the last week that my son will live at home before he leaves for college.

Sometimes it’s the unexpected gifts of time together that are the most precious.

I popped my head into Josh’s room yesterday to say that I was taking a trip to the camera store. He brightened up and asked if he could go with me to get some photos developed.

Within the next few minutes, we were heading down the highway, windows open, and listening to his iPod. I was delighted that he chose to play the 80’s music that I raised him and his sister on. We sang with abandon as the  summer wind whipped through the car. I smiled as he stuck his head out the window like he used to do when he was a kid, the sun lighting up his red hair like a flame.

After getting our photos developed, we strolled along Main St and walked into our happy place: a bookstore. Then we went to lunch before heading home.

It was such a blessed time. We talked about everything and nothing…and we laughed. Once again, I marveled at how much alike he and I are…just like my dad and I were.

As we turned off the highway, tears sprang to my eyes and I was so relieved that my sunglasses hid them. I didn’t want tears to spoil the joy of the past couple hours.

When 18 years comes down to a few days, I’ve noticed that there are so many things I want to say, so much that I wanted to remind him of, a few tidbits of last minute advice to dispense. But the words die in my throat.

I’ve already said it all. After 18 years, for better or worse, the days of my formal parenting of my son are over. I’ve left it all on the field and he will do with all of that what he will. It’s out of my hands.

When we pulled into the driveway, I whispered a prayer of thanks for the gift of those past few hours with him.

There have already been so many lasts this week.

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Julia wanted to give her brother a surprise going away party, which happened on Sunday night. He didn’t suspect a thing and was totally stunned to walk into the house and find it full of most of his friends, all gathered for one last hurrah under our roof.Surprise Party 2014-0002
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Surprise Party 2014-0018Those kids who have practically lived at our house for the past four years will soon be scattering all over the country, both to college and the military. I won’t hear them call me “Mama Brown” anymore or come home to  a bunch of them hanging out in our kitchen while Josh whipped up one of his culinary masterpieces.

How does time go by so incredibly fast?!

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Last night, my brother took the kids camping at their favorite campground for the last time. The tradition began when we first moved here in the summer of 2007. Every August since then, they have rented a cabin and had adventures. Doug and I would drive out there to join them for a campfire and s’mores and we would all sit under the stars and the faint glow of the cheerful multi-colored camping lights and make memories.

When Jeff checked in, they had given away all the smaller cabins so he was given a deluxe one for the same price that slept 10 and had an enormous loft. He later texted me a photo of the kids up in the loft, looking over the edge with delighted expressions. And in those faces, they looked to me like the 10 and 11 year olds they were the first time Jeff had taken them there.

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Our pastor stopped by the house earlier today to give Josh a copy of his favorite devotional.  His heartfelt inscription on the inside cover made me cry. At the end, he wrote, “The Lord promises His Presence always. My prayer is that you will find time to stop, be still, and experience it. May the Lord bless you, Josh, in all your endeavors for Him. Pastor Steve.”

That will be my prayer for him too.

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I received a text a few minutes ago from my cousin’s wife. Both our boys graduated from high school in June and he, too, is going off to college soon.

I am very anxious about  T moving 45 minutes away,” she had written. ““How are you doing?”

The truth is, I am both happy and sad all at once.

I will miss my boy.

I in awe of how fast the time has gone.

I know that as flawed as a parent as I am, that I did my best.

I am proud of the young man Josh has become and I am excited to see what mark he will make on this world.

Most of all, I am beyond  grateful that Jesus will go with him and be there when I cannot.

“There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” —Graham Green

 

 

 

 

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A Tale Of The Tails


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The local high school prom was two months ago.

Our son Josh had long wanted to wear a pair of tails for this momentous event, but it was not to be. He was incredibly disappointed.

Fast forward to this morning when he and I walked into our local thrift shop just to look around.

As soon as we walked upstairs, it was as if the heavens opened up and shone a beam of light on a fabulous find: a jacket with tails!

As soon as Josh tried it on and realized it fit, he made a beeline for the checkout with a huge grin on his face.

“What are you going to do with it?” I, being the ever-practical mother, asked.

“Wear it to the first day of classes at college, of course!” was his reply.

I was speechless.

“And then on the second day of classes, I’ll just wear a T-shirt and jeans.” He grinned. “Keep ’em guessing, you know.”

As I followed him out to the car, I found my voice and said, “Are you really going to do that?”

He gave me a look as he hung up the jacket in the back seat. “Do you really have to ask?”

I guess I didn’t, I thought as we drove home.

Josh has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. He is a true original, with no interest whatsoever in fitting into any particular mold. He is always perfectly himself, one of those rare people who know from an early age exactly who they are and make no apologies.

He taught himself to play every instrument he currently plays (saxophone, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, piano) and parlayed that into playing in four different bands and making the All-State band. He wrote his first novel when he was a sophomore in high school and published his first collection of short stories last year. He will get up in the middle of the night and find himself inspired to write a poem. He learned how to crochet and sold his scarves and hats for a profit. He runs 5K’s and lifts weights. He made a documentary about his senior class and the guidance department is going to show it to incoming freshmen as part of their orientation. He does hilarious impressions and can make people laugh until they cry.  He has photographed one wedding and been the videographer at another one. He is a New Hampshire scholar. He is fluent in French.  He is a loyal friend. He does not suffer fools. He has wickedly funny sense of humor and can be snarky at times. He was baptized at our church when he was 16 years old and he loves Jesus.

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Josh would no doubt agree that something Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his auto-biography: “What is the point of being on this Earth if you are going to be like everyone else?”

I am so proud of him. I am in awe of the fearless courage and joie-de-vivre with which he approaches life.

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I asked him if I could take his photo in the tails when we got home and he happily obliged, knowing this was too good an opportunity for his photographer mother to pass up.

True to form, he also sported bare feet, which is how he enjoys walking through his days.

He also loves his grandma, who was thrilled that he found his long-awaited tails. 🙂

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I sure am going to miss this boy when he leaves for college in three weeks.

And I wish I could be a fly on the wall during that first day of class.

 

 

 

 

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Graduation


Our son graduated from high school this past Saturday.

Grad 2014-0001All those years, months and days reached their culmination at this point in time where family and friends gather to celebrate the accomplishments of these newly minted eighteen year olds as they prepare to head off into the world to make their mark.

Grad 2014-0238e.e. cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; never stop fighting.”

Josh has always been his own person. What other people think about him matters little to him. He has a strong sense of self and and knows what he believes.  He is not one person at home and another out in public. What you see is what you get.  He doesn’t allow others in very easily, but once you are his friend, you’re a friend for life.

He reminds me so much of my dad, who died when Josh was six.

My dad had no time  or energy for pretense. He wasn’t rude, just direct. One learned not to ask his opinion if you were simply looking for flattery because you would get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

If someone didn’t like him, there were no sleepless nights, no agonizing. He figured it was their loss and went right on with his life.

My dad cared little for the fashion of the day.  His philosophy was, “If I like it, it’s in style.”

His sense of humor was unrivaled. He could have an entire room in hysterics within minutes with his jokes and impressions. He was the life of the party.

He had strong opinions and he wasn’t afraid to share them.

In short, my dad was a force to be reckoned with.

Josh is the same way.

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As he has gotten older, I see more and more of my dad in his personality.  I find it so interesting that he can so closely resemble a man who left his life when he was six years old.

When Josh showed me his yearbook, I noticed that nearly every student said that he was the funniest person they knew.

One is particular wrote an entry that really touched me.

She said, “You honestly are the highlight of my days. This school will be so gray without you…but I know you will go on and do amazing things at college. Hopefully you will make the students there as happy as you have made me.”

Being the sentimental sap that I am, it will surprise no one that that comment brought tears to my eyes.

Josh entered that high school four years ago. He blended in seamlessly with kids who had been together since kindergarten. He added joy and color to his class.

He made his mark.

Grad 2014-0356And I am looking forward to seeing how he will make his mark on this world.

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Our barefoot graduate

I am so proud to be his mom.

“The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each of you is a fuse.”—Ed Koch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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