Death, Grief, and #Outlander

Books.  Are.  Refuge.  I believe this.  I believe they offer hope when it is hard to come by, that they offer respite when the world is “too much with us,” and they offer knowledge to combat the ignorance of prejudice.

So I was not surprised when, after my mom died on Christmas Eve, I eventually turned to my books.  I was surprised, however, that it took me so long to reach out to the solace of their well-worn pages.  There was an answer for that, of course, a reason for my hesitancy to slip into the relief offered by a good story; it just took me a while to work it out…

{SPOILERS AHEAD:  If you haven’t finished the Outlander series to date, you might want to book mark this page for later.  Otherwise, read further at your own expense.  You have been warned.}

Grief is a very personal thing.  It varies so much from person to person, and even from loss to loss.  There is no “right” way to grieve.  (Although, of course, there are some very unhealthy ways to do so.)

In the first book, we get a glimpse at Claire’s grief at losing Frank.  Despite the protests of some Frank Haters, Claire most certainly does grieve the loss of Frank.  She weeps for him at Castle Leoch after tending to Jamie’s injuries.  And, trust me, if a woman can sit on a certain ginger’s lap and sadness that, my friends, is some serious grief.  Some readers minimize the depth of this grief, since Claire doesn’t curl up onto the fetal position or rock back and forth.  Our heroine, however, if made of stronger stuff.  Her turns her grief to action, to purpose, to finding a way back to Frank.  Sometimes, grief spurs us on.

There is more grief, of course, grief over the Wentworth and what it does to Jamie.  Because sometimes, the grief that hurts is the most is the unrelenting pain of someone we know…a pain which we cannot ease for them.  The pain of loved ones can rub and gnaw until it creates a wound on our own soul–as if, by adding our own pain, we can lessen their burden.  Helpless in the face of Jamie’s pain and shame and guilt, Claire finally shares her own pain in the quiet of the abbey.  And, in that sharing, she finds hope.

Sometimes grief more resembles anger, like when Jenny lashes out at Claire for not raising a finger to save her beloved Ian from death.  Why him?  Why now?  Why like this?

Death, like any visitor, can be fickle.  Sometimes you know; you plan for him, wait for him, and are ready to receive him.  Other times, he catches you unaware.

Ian Murphy saw Death coming for a great distance.  There was time to make sure that there was nothing left unsaid.  Time to prepare.  To set things to right.  A blessing to be sure, but also a burden in its own way.  Everyone gathers.  Everyone waits.  Life stands still in the long moments between breaths.  Until finally, the breaths cease and, slowly, life starts back up again.

Other deaths seem to strike like a crime of opportunity.  One moment’s hesitation, a moment too long at a stop light, a skipped mammogram, an unknown allergy…  Unfortunately, life—much like a good book—has periods of unrest…dark times to make the reader appreciate the light…tragedy to make the happy ending that much sweeter.

And that, of course, it why I didn’t immediately return to the Outlander books.  I cared too much about the characters to risk losing anyone else.  Dealing with the loss of Mrs. Bug and also Young Ian’s guilt, seemed too much to take on.  Watching Claire drink herself into a stupor instead of contemplating a life without Jamie felt too raw; to witness, again, Claire’s feeling of maladroitness in the face of Ian’s illness, felt too eerily relatable.  I wanted something else.  I wanted escape.  I wanted love without the pain.  Light without the dark.  Good without the bad.

So, for a while, tended to things.  Arrangements, loose ends, the sorting through of things.  Busy work.  Work to distract the mind.

But that is not balance; it cannot be maintained.

So, now, finally, I venture forth.  I write a little something.  I read a bit.  I try to put one foot in front of the other.  Something akin to walking.  Something like moving forward.

At some point, though, I hope for more.  I hope for something better that just forward movement.  At some point, I want a measure of peace.  The peace that comes with acceptance.  Something past the blinding pain of loss, something past the anger, something past the empty void.  At some point, I want to have the grace and wisdom to, instead, whisper:  That she may be safe, Lord.  

Maybe someday, for the moment, that will be enough.   Until, we just hold on as best we can…

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Mom and Dad (Thanksgiving, 2016): our last holiday together

Auld Lang Syne

My mother was a faithful woman.  And in the early hours of Christmas Eve morn, she went to be with her Lord and Savior.

Yesterday was the Celebration of Life for her, and tomorrow starts a new year.  My first year without her.

My very talented sister in law put together a beautiful photo retrospective.  She included one of my favorite photos of my mom.  Still glowing with youth and full of life, it perfectly captures her joy and fiestiness and her grace…

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Charlene Zeller (1935-2016)

 

In honor of her, I will recount the words I said at her service–mostly so those who never got a chance to know her might at least know of her.

Those gathered here today undoubtedly knew of my mother’s grace and generosity. One of the ways her love manifested itself was through giving. It was undoubtedly her Love Language, and she was fluent in it. She loved to go shopping—she considered it a quest of sorts—a quest to find the Perfect Pairing of Gift and Value. (She came from Scottish ancestry, and their renowned thriftiness was a trait she bore with pride.)

In her quest to find Just the Right Gift, my mother hunted all year. The only problem was that, once she found that Perfect Gift, she simply couldn’t bear to wait to see the expression of joy and surprise. Many times she would call me at work and tell me that I needed to stop by on my way home so she could present me with one of her finds.

Even once she started chemo, she often sweet talked my father to run her by some store or other on the way to treatment, or afterwards, so that she could pick up something special for someone. I still have the text on my phone from this past Spring when she had located something special…you see, Mom had passed on to me her love of plants, and she had found a certain plant which she knew I wanted for my garden. She was eager to surprise me with it and couldn’t wait to tell me about it. Her text said: Hint: Witch Hazel, come by and get it tonight, OK?

When I picked up the plant that evening, I was shocked to find that it barely fit in my SUV. As always, when Mom did things, she did them big.

A lot of the flowers and herbs that grace my garden were gifts from my Mom. They are a living reminder of her and, soon, when Winter gives way to Spring, I can walk among the plants and feel her near.

Once of the reasons she loved plants so much was, along with their beauty, they had purpose…they had meaning.

One of the last plants she gave me was that Witch Hazel….in ancient times, it was believed that Witch Hazel could ward off evil…and soothe a broken heart.

It seems that, even as the end drew near, Mama was searching for one last perfect gift.

Thank you, Mama.

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Go mbeannai Dia dhuit.

 

 

Why I Encouraged My Teenage Daughter to Read #Outlander

When I was fourteen, I read Flowers in the Attic. Several of the other girls in my grade were reading it…whispering about it…stashing it away when the teachers walked by. Of course, I had to read it, too.  I was lucky; my mother was always happy to buy me books (although, had she read the book herself, she might have rethought that, at the time).

Some of my schoolmates had borrowed the book from their own mothers…and by “borrow” I mean that they took the book after their moms left for work and then slipped it back into place before their moms came home in the evening. In the time in between, we consumed the story with a kind of perverse fascination.

So this was what grown-ups read!

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300So when my own fourteen year old asked if she could borrow my battered copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I didn’t hesitate long before passing the book to her. My heart skipped a beat as she dashed to her room to start reading but, to be perfectly honest, this was likely more concern for the fate of my beloved book than for how my daughter would react to the story.

No, that was a given.

This was one of those books that would leave a mark on her soul.

Some stories do that…they stay with you forever. I simply wanted to make sure that her first Adult Book was one worthy of the honor.

I read a lot of the same books that my daughter reads. Not because I am policing her reading, but because I want to share in it. When she comes to me sobbing over some book betrayal, I need to know who has earned those tears. But some of the books targeted to teenagers seem to portray the female protagonists as perpetually enduring some Great Tragedy, or waiting for a male character to define them/save them/notice them/love them.

Not all of the stories, mind you. There are some really good YA books with strong female characters who represented a wide range of diversity. But, honestly, we waded through a lot of simpering fools to find a few strong female protagonists. And a lot of the love interests shown in the books were either sparkly or broody. Many were emotionally manipulative or controlling. If she was going to have a “book boyfriend,” I wanted better for her.

So when I realized that my daughter seemed interested in this massive tome which made me laugh out loud, and ugly cry, and real passages aloud for the simple pleasure of feeling the words on my lips, I didn’t discourage it.

In fact, I encouraged it.

I scoured the books to find passages which showed the strength of love, the resilience of the human spirit, the anguished soul clawing its way out from the pits of despair. Some passages I read aloud. But sometimes, I left the book conspicuously next to the sofa—pages temptingly dog-eared—like an offering.

So when she finally asked to borrow the book, it was a relief, really.

“Where are you?” I’d ask eagerly. But not too eagerly.

The book served as a way to talk about hard things, scary things, awkward things… We talked about love and sex and respect and mutual pleasure and consideration between couples. We talked about marriage and expectations and the roles we construct for ourselves (and those that others wish to inflict on us). We talked about sexuality and about when feelings aren’t reciprocated. We spoke of honor and vows. Of promises kept…or not. We shared tears and heartbreak and loss. We talked about rape and brutality…and of healing. We spoke of hope and faith and trust.  We talked about when to hold on; we talked of when to let go.

I let my fourteen year old daughter read the book not in spite of the fact that the books is mature, but because it is. I let her read the book because I know that a book can be more than just entertainment—more than just a story.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a book can be a conversation…or at least the beginning of one.

 

Preparations (and #whisky cake)

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Home and hearth.

The rest of the house sleeps, but the early hours–the hours before the sun breaks over the ridge–are the hours that allow my thoughts  to percolate…and my preparations for the things that lies ahead.  The  morning moments, before the bustle of breakfast or the scurry of the workday, grant me peace; I accept the offering and try not to squander it.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The amazing abundance that makes it the table is a labor of love.  I tend to plan my meal months in advance.  Some of the dishes will be found at tables across America, and others are simply family favorites.

Last night I brined the turkey.  Last year was our first year to brine the holiday bird, and it was such a success that it was quickly decreed that All Birds Henceforth Shall Be Brined.

Today will be filled with All Things Cranberry: the traditional Cranberry Relish, our beloved Neil Gaiman Cranberry Sauce, and Sugared Cranberries.  (Seriously, there is nothing more precious than hearing a small child say, in his best Holiday Manners, “More Neil Gamain Cranberry Sauce, please?”)

Desserts will also fill the oven today.  Whisky cake*, pumpkin pie, and pecan tassies.  The sugar  cookie and Pfeffernüsse dough were made over the last weekend and are ready to be baked on Thanksgiving night as we drag all of the Christmas decorations down from the attic.

Today I’ll make fudge (pumpkin, and peppermint, and chocolate), peanut brittle, and rum sauce.   Candy dishes will be filled and refilled as little hands sneak “just a taste” when I turn to stir a pot or peek in the oven.

Tomorrow is for side dishes and things-that-go-on-trays.  Pickle trays, cheese trays, olive trays, veggie trays…  Heaping piles of side dishes will be prepared: mashed potatoes, praline sweet potatoes, salads, quinoa and wild rice with cranberries and carmalized onions.

Tomorrow is for last-minute vacuuming by over-eager children with energy to burn (likely from the rush of stolen sugary-things).

Tomorrow is for trying to fill the table with all the foods that represent home, and family, and tradition; for wishes of a winter filled with Enough…enough food, enough warmth, enough family and friends, enough Love to make it through the years Dark Days.

As you go about your last minute preparations, I wish you Enough.

 

* If you will be having family over for the holdays, or going to visit family, I HIGHLY recommend making a whisky cake.  My version is very, erm, “bracing.”  Just the thing for a lovely day with the in-laws. 💕

Oath Taking

Life changes a lot over sixteen years, and I have changed with the living of it. My world has lost some lives…and gained some. I have added three souls to this world. I have uprooted my world, took leaps of faith, and found the bits of myself I thought I’d lost. Through it all, the one constant was family.

imageSixteen years ago today, the only thing that held the cold autumn breeze at bay was the heavy layers of satin and lace that I wore. Feeling more like a young girl playing dress-up than a fairy princess or a young bride, I moved through the day cloaked in unreality. (Perhaps that, too, kept away the cold.) Our guests had no such protection and huddled in small chattering groups as they tried to keep warm. The pristine white betrothal tent was carpeted with the fading grass of summer and a generous sprinkling of crisp fall leaves; the day was divided between seasons with one foot in each. And, with all eyes on me, I felt much the same as the piper’s drone announced my arrival: one foot leaving behind those years of Just Me, and one foot posed on the brink of Us. In the sea of faces, I found the only one that mattered at that moment, and I focused on the man that I had long loved. Still clutching my father’s arm I moved forward. The walk that day was short, although the journey was long. The piper played on as my father walked me towards my future and, as the last note hovered in the breeze, I felt him let go. For a moment, one last fleeting-yet-impossibly-long-moment, I stood alone. And then Travis was there, taking my hand, leading me forward.

imageWe stood together before witnesses and, shivering with something quite unrelated to the brisk chill, clung to one another. With hands bound together with a length of tartan, and with no idea what Life would bring, we bound our lives together. The vows we shared, that oath we took, were words full of Hope and Love; but still, for all of their sincerity, the words were untested. For what did we know then of loss and hardship and fear?

All these years later, they have most definitely been tested; all of these years later, I love him even more.

Life changes a lot over sixteen years, and I have changed with the living of it. What has not changed is the unwavering belief that love is a choice, and that an oath is not to be taken lightly. So, whatever the next sixteen years bring, and whatever Life tests us with…I choose Love.

imageThis is my promise. This is my vow.