An Easter story.

Dear Friends,

It’s Easter morning and I am up early, drinking coffee and contemplating the day ahead of me. At my age, Easter isn’t what it used to be when I dressed my children in pastels and we hunted for eggs and ate chocolate until our tongues turned a creamy shade of brown. I’m a mother who no longer marks her life in the change of the seasons but in the change of family gatherings and rituals. Now that both Kate and Parker have flown the nest, they can’t always make it home for every holiday, major or minor, so I’m recalibrating what it means to celebrate Easter without my chicks ’round the table. Instead of dying eggs or preparing an elaborate family meal, I spent Easter Eve cooking for a new family that moved nearby. They’re vegans and, having transitioned to a vegetarian diet several months ago, I know how difficult it can be for a family on-the-go to find healthy, meatless meal options in our community. Cooking for others is a small act of neighborliness that perked up what has otherwise been a melancholy weekend.

For me, for now, Easter represents the last holiday I spent with my mother before she died. I still miss her so much it sometimes takes my breath away, and this time of year my mind often turns to our last Easter together. In April 2010, Mom was frail and I knew it, but as I contemplated the spring and summer ahead of me, I had no idea she’d succumb to her final illness on Independence Day and die before Labor Day. I remember in vivid detail the meal I prepared (of course I do!) and her utter delight in my menu and my table. She talked about how talented she thought I was and she said my lemon meringue pie was so good it was “outrageous.”

Mom had asked me earlier in that week if I would consider inviting my sister to my Easter meal. Without much consideration, I quickly declined. Mom came to my house anyway — she wanted so badly to spend Easter with Kate and Parker even if I couldn’t find it in my heart to include my sister, P. For the life of me I can’t now explain why I was so thoughtless. It’s a regret I’ll carry with me forever.

The one thing that cheers me from being too plaintive on what is arguably the most optimistic of all holidays is that I recently had lunch with P. I traveled to Oklahoma to celebrate Kate’s birthday last month and, while there, visited my sister. When Momastery published this post that I wrote about my relationship with my sister, a few commenters asked what became of Kate’s planned visit to P’s house. (P cancelled, saying she wasn’t feeling well.) Another asked about the nature of my relationship with P now. (It’s still complicated but improving.)

I had texted P a few days before my trip to ask if she would join Kate and me for lunch. She gladly accepted but then called a few hours before to beg off, saying she felt bad because she didn’t have a birthday gift for Kate and she didn’t have any nice clothes to wear. I encouraged her to come anyway. I told  her Kate didn’t care about gifts and neither of us cared how she looks. For the life of me I can’t now explain why I possessed benevolence on that day and so few others.

P decided to join us and surprised both Kate and me. She looked well, relatively speaking. (I had braced for the worst after hearing her say she looked terrible.) She was upbeat and funny and generous. Often, her conversation can be hard to follow but, on that day, she was mostly cogent. She was kind and I responded in turn. I can only think Mom had something to do with that. And I can only wish Mom had been present, but then in so many ways she was, moving our hearts even if she couldn’t sit at our table.

P gave Kate a small grocery bag filled with trinkets from her home, a sweet if makeshift birthday gift from a woman who has little to share these days. Because we were going to see my father later, she pulled an old photo from her purse to show us. The photo was of my father and me on a hotel patio. I didn’t recognize the occasion but my father later explained we were on a trip to New Orleans, his favorite destination. I also didn’t much recognize the long-haired young girl dressed in purple. Sometimes when I see old photos, or hear my family tell stories about us, it’s as if I am a victim of amnesia and while I can clearly see I’m the girl in the photo, I don’t know her.  So much of my childhood is lost to memory — a result, I think, of trying to forget the people and their addictions that threatened to swallow me.

When I think of the Easter story, though, I can’t help but contemplate the notion of redemption as it’s played out in my life. I can’t help but think of the resilience of families, even as circumstances threaten to shred any semblance of kinship. I think about how fragile the ties are that bind, and yet still bind. I think about two “half” sisters with different fathers whose mother desperately sought to knit them together and who must have died thinking she had failed at the task dearest to her heart. I think about deliverance, not from evil, but from dissolution, from each other and from God, which is surely as injurious to the soul.

I think about P. And me. And our next lunch.

With gratitude {for sisters and second chances},

Joan, who wishes you Easter blessings in abundance

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Grappling with gratitude.

Dear friends,

I’ve been away for a few days.

Not away from home, but certainly away from my senses. From what I hold dear, including gratitude.

You see, Mr. Mom and I got some bad news earlier this week. As you might guess, it’s related to our mountain dispute. We’ve been trying to get our heads around this latest development, to understand our options — if there even are any — and what comes next. Frankly, though, we feel like we’ve been sucker punched and it’s hard to think straight when you’ve had the wind knocked out of you. The judge’s latest ruling unleashed a tsunami of heartache and regret and frustration and grief — and we’re standing dazed and battered on the shore while the remnants of our dream drift out to sea.

I’m not trying to be dramatic and I’m certainly not trying to foreshadow the conclusion to my weekly story — if I even get that far. Right now, I just feel silly and stupid and embarrassed about the whole thing. When I started telling the story in installments, I thought it would be cathartic. And, honestly, we thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel and we believed the story would have a happy ending. (I foolishly thought I had a “keep your chin up, folks” story to tell. And how perfect is that for a gratitude blog?)  As things have unfolded in recent weeks, however, it’s hard to believe in the happy ending and it’s doubly difficult to keep writing a narrative that looks as if it’s about to break our hearts.

So the last few days I’ve swallowed hard and thought a lot about gratitude. I said at the outset of this blog that I aspired to cultivate gratitude in my life — to reflect on it and savor it and spread it. And in a way, I feel like I’m cutting and running on my promise to myself and to my readers if I can’t muster the courage or the fortitude to finish the story and to unearth something, anything from this experience to be grateful for.

Here’s the truth as I know it today: If you ever think you know what’s next in your life, you’re delusional. And if you ever think you have any control over it, you’re certifiably insane.  The business guru Peter Drucker said “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I think Peter Drucker is full of BS. Life happens, and sometimes life sucks and sometimes it breaks your heart and sometimes it flattens you.

It seems to me the real test is — can you get back up? Can you walk through the rest of your days without a 10-pound stone of sorrow and regret in your pocket? Can you uncover something positive to dwell on, can you heal your heart, can you redeem your faith in this life?

That’s what I’m focused on right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.

With gratitude {for a partner whose admirable composure and stability has made a very difficult week bearable},

Joan

PS: I have a few more installments of our story already written. I’ll continue to publish them on Mondays until I run out of installments or run out of words.  In the mean time, I’m taking a little blogging break. Kate and I are headed out for New York City and I can think of no more restorative activity than mother-daughter bonding in the Big Apple. However, at a time when I’m grappling with gratitude, I can say without reservation that you, dear readers, are a source of support and encouragement and friendship for which I’m immensely thankful.