I can write this now.

Grief.  It’s a long journey where everyone follows a different path.  It’ll be four months on December 2nd since Dad died.  December 2nd is his birthday.  He would’ve been 88.  Most of the time I’m ambivalent, feeling that I should be sadder than I am, because I seem to be doing fine.  But then a small trigger sets off a burst of sorrow.  It may last for a few seconds, or it may last for a full day. holding Dads hand

Tonight I was checking some photos on my laptop and came across a photo I took of me holding his hand on that last day in the nursing home.  It’s a good picture, the light plays across the folds and rolls of the sheet, and our two hands show a history no words can tell.  I noticed my thumbnail had a snag.  I meant to file that down, but when I received the phone call from my sister, telling me to “come now,” I forgot any list of things I had to do and drove from Missouri to Wisconsin amid a bath of tears.  I remember taking that photo, thinking at the time that I’d want that to help me remember.  I don’t need the help.

I arrived in time.  But in time for what?  Yes, Dad was still living, but he was weak and unconscious.  We surrounded him.  Mom was there, siblings, a few of his grandchildren, other close relatives coming and going.  We understood the outcome.  We’d been anticipating this day and our reaction to it for the past nine years, when he was first diagnosed with cognitive issues that led to Alzheimer’s disease.   We’d been carefully girding ourselves with the strength we knew we’d need.  I’m thankful for that part.  I know too many others who weren’t given that opportunity.

I had said my goodbyes repeatedly, each time I left him at the nursing home at the end of a weekend visit home.  He didn’t really know me anymore.  I’d try to wheel him away from the activity to spend some time with him. I might take him out to the garden, or just down the hall to a different sitting area.  At times he’d welcome the change of scenery, but other times he’d scowl and say, “No, I want to stay here.” I’d try to draw him out by telling him brief stories.  I’d avoid asking too many questions, because he’d get frustrated when he didn’t know the answers.  Later, his reply might be a closed-eye sigh and an “Uh huh.”  Then I’d wheel him back to the common area and park his chair.   I’d lean over and kiss him on the cheek and tell him, “I love you Dad.” Then I’d walk out quickly trying to hide my tears until I got in my van and melted.

I’d usually cry for the first half-hour of my six-hour trip home.  Then I’d get caught up in dealing with traffic and navigating my way through Chicago.  I’d usually well up a few more times while driving, as I thought about the conversations we could no longer have.  I had always wished I could converse more eloquently and listen more, but I have learned to write to express my thoughts.  I always wondered if other people had conversations with their fathers like people did in movies. Were people really able to share feelings like that, and I’m just a schmuck whose stilted attempts felt more like a halting bus, lurching and swerving with each stop—the passengers holding on, so they don’t topple into the windshield?  Or am I normal; do we all have difficulty expressing our true feelings to our loved ones?

And here I am, writing again.  I need to do this.  I haven’t been able to write about Dad since I finished the obituary for the funeral home.  I wrote it the day I received word he had pneumonia.  My heart told me it was time.  Since then, I kept tucking my thoughts away; I enjoyed the memories others shared and left it at that.  I couldn’t participate in the funeral by doing even a reading.  My brother, Ron, asked me, “Are you sure?”  I just couldn’t.

2017 has been a hard year, and we’ve lost more than a few members from our family.  I wrote two pieces about men I lost after Dad died.  I even read one as a eulogy for a friend’s funeral.  But I couldn’t send my thoughts to my keyboard about Dad until now.  I have cards I meant to send to others who I know are hurting, but I’ve yet to address them.  I keep holding back.  I’ve been functioning at work and at home, somewhat.

It’s time to challenge myself and work to bring my life back to a happier state.  I told a couple friends the other day that I realized I’m depressed.  It’s not a major depression, but it’s there.   I feel it hanging on the back of my coat as I walk out the door.  I feel it holding me to my recliner under a blanket, obsessively reading one “feel good” novel after another instead of tackling my sewing projects.  I’m indecisive—more than normal—and I can’t make up my mind either.

I understand that grief is a process.  I’ll work my way through it, but I also understand it will never completely leave.  As I watch those I care about go through more extremes than I am, I feel guilty.  How can I be grieving so much for my dad who lived a very full life, while one of my friends is reeling from the sudden loss of her fifty-something husband?  I think of my cousins who lost their dads, spouses or brothers–some way too young.  I think of my mom, aunts and uncles who are hit by loss repeatedly now.  How can they stand it?  Some have felt this for decades, and for others of us it’s still fresh.

We each take our own pathway.  We each deal with our losses in a different way, but none is honestly more keen than another.  Sometimes it takes suffering to make us acknowledge the suffering of others.  To those who’ve lost their parent so much earlier, I owe an apology.  I always sympathized their losses.  But I could never know how deep their sorrow when they lost their dads too soon.  But I know the void I feel, even if I was able to inch up to it over the course of a decade instead of being pushed into its depths abruptly.  It’s still deep and dark. I’ll eventually climb out and then occasionallypeer down into it from the edge.

Others have been here.  And others will be on this path at some point.  It’s the path of life, not just grief.  I understand that now.  I do.

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It’s My Path. If you Follow, be Prepared…

I’ve been thinking about changing the name of my blog, but I can’t seem to find the right title to encompass all that I hope to accomplish by posting here. I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is Susan’s Path…no one else’s and unique to me.

I have a great fondness for metaphors. I envision all my readers following along as I go for a walk. A merry group of dwarfs following Snow White as she warbles and dances down the path? Err, no! Even if I’m known to sing to myself, no one would admit to knowing me as I dance down the sidewalk. How about the Pied Piper leading….oh…forgot he led the snakes, even if he does play a flute. Scratch that idea too.

Maybe this will be more like Gandalf walking at the forefront of a unlikely band of adventurers; some short, some tall, some handsome, some hairy, some happy and some grumpy? That sounds more likely. At least I’m gray, but I’m not so sure I possess the wisdom of the great wizard nor the devoted followers. Maybe if I fall into an abyss and come up glowing white? Not happening.

My path is not the “yellow brick road,” and it’s not always the “straight and narrow” either. It’s an up and down dirt road whose end I cannot see, but it promises to give me more experiences than I can ever imagine. It has those dreaded roundabouts I’ve come to hate in local traffic areas, where we all have to merge together and keep the same speed, make major decisions about our direction before we veer off into the unknown alone. At times, I find myself going in endless circles so I don’t have to take that exit and move on.

It has forks and convergent roads, and it has short cuts and dead ends. That dirt may be hard-packed and smooth, or it might be mucky, slippery, deep boot-sucking mud at times. And it may take me through dense forests, through fields of flowers or even the back yards of a subdivision.

That dirt may even turn to cement for brief moments while I enjoy the lights and sounds of the city, but it always leads be back to the country.

The most intriguing part of this walk through life is the people I meet along the way. They enrich my experience and give me stories I’d never have told without them. I’ve met the most interesting characters when I’ve taken a side road instead of the highway. When I make an unexpected turn, I find myself opening my mind to those who aren’t like me.

My stories reflect this path. One blog is a memorial to a loved relative, another is rambling thoughts (like today?), and yet others are my attempts at humor at the expense of my loveable redneck husband. I may be passionate about a cause and will try to get my message across this way, instead of crying out on other social media.

No matter the subject, the voice, or the emotion, I hope you follow along. I’ll try to make you think, to reflect on your own relationships, or chuckle at the silliness of which we are all guilty at times. And I promise to keep the metaphors to a minimum. Ok, I’m lying. I love them.

Please Allow me to Introduce Myself: I am my Mother

MOM in TexasHappy Mother’s Day

Susan's Path

How many middle-aged women have had the epiphany that they’ve become their mother? And how many have come to realize that’s not such a bad thing? When I was a teenager, I’d have been horrified at the prospect, yet I now find myself both relieved and pleased that I am certainly my mother’s daughter. (Ok, you can skim over the fact that I’ve admitted I’m middle-aged, that’s another subject.)

So who is my mother? Esther Helen Pedersen Stevens was born in 1930, the middle child of eleven children who blessed Hans and Hilda Pedersen, Norwegian and Danish Lutheran farmers. Their home in Arkdale, Wisconsin was a sandy patch of corn, hay fields, vegetable and flower gardens the family shared with dairy cattle, chickens and pets. She and her siblings were all born in the farmhouse that had belonged to Grandma’s adoptive parents, the Olsens. They weathered the Great Depression as…

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