family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…The Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas is my favorite time of year in our house. This year was particularly magnificent as our home was filled with the laughter and stories of thirty Parks family members shared over Christmas dinner.

Decorating starts the day after Thanksgiving when the girls and I put up our tree with It’s A Wonderful Life playing in the background. The stories and memories associated with every ornament are retold with greater appreciation every year.

It takes me more than a week to decorate the rest of the house. After the girls leave on Sunday following Thanksgiving, my brother comes over for a few days to help me decorate. We, too, share happy memories of past Christmases and dream about ways we can make this year special as well.

Taking the Christmas tree down, however, is a solo act. And it’s more spiritual than utilitarian.

I spent almost a full day, with college basketball playing in the background, packing the ornaments away. I savored the memories associated with each and every one. I can track the growth and maturity of our girls from the priceless ornaments they made and the ones we gave them each Christmas commemorating something special from that year; from Veggie Tales and Barney, to American Girls and Hannah Montana, piano keys and play marquees, drivers licenses and diplomas, a red solo cup and a rather stern looking Boy in Blue.

I say prayers of thanksgiving as each ornament brings a memory of the vacations we’ve taken, the houses in which we’ve lived, the schools in which we’ve studied, the teams for which we’ve cheered and the friendships made through it all.

And I repeat countless prayers to God asking for blessing and protection for each family member and friend whose spirit is somehow tied to a memory, enmeshed in a symbol and attached to a wire hook. I ask God to keep those people happy and healthy until the next time I hold that same wire hook in my hand and again thank Him for their place in my life.

In an attempt to outsmart the January sadness that routinely and quite stealthily sneaks in trying to fill the void left by the now-curbed conifer, I started 2018 armed with a plan.

Energized by goals I’ve set for the year, I wasted no time diving into the “house organization” objective. I started with a tiny little drawer in our family room that sits partially hidden behind a chair.

The drawer had a blanket shoved in there along with an unopened murder mystery dinner party game, cocktail napkins featuring Santa’s face, a balsam fir-scented candle boasting its unblemished wick, and a book.

The book was Traveling with Pomegranates: a mother-daughter story by Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. I opened the front cover to reveal my mother-in-law’s handwriting, “Christmas 2009.”

I immediately felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach.

My in-laws have the beautiful tradition of giving each adult and child a book every Christmas Eve. Their selections are made with great care and consideration of the interests, essence, and place in the life of each distinct family member.

Clearly, this little drawer somehow became a time capsule of Christmas 2009. These items must have been placed in there and summarily forgotten.

Christmas 2009. Our last Christmas together. And the reason why, for every Christmas moving forward, taking down the tree has become a spiritual exercise.

We would never have guessed what the next months were to hold. Weeks after these items were curiously stowed away, Pat would come home from playing squash complaining of pain. Hernia surgery would follow. The pain would not diminish. More doctor visits. More questions. Mid-July would come the news of cancer cells. And on August 12, without even the chance to say goodbye, Pat peacefully offered his last exhale. His pain abated and ours began.

I speak often of the fog that follows such a devastating loss. I’m not sure how long it lasted. Quite frankly, there are days that I’m not convinced it still doesn’t linger.

And now I hold in my hand a gift given to me from the time I will always think of as the “just before.”

Life was good, and all was right with the world.

So, I’ve since abandoned my cleaning goal and found a place on the couch with this literary Ghost of Christmas Past. It is astounding how much more appropriate the message is for me now, so many years later.

Described on the jacket cover, this mother-daughter undertaking is a “wise and intimate dual memoir…each on a quest to redefine herself and rediscover each other” written primarily over two trips to Greece and France.

The mom is struggling with turning 50 and the daughter, a recent college graduate, is struggling to find her path. I’m enjoying the back-and-forth first-person narratives and find myself empathetic to both authors especially since I just turned 50, and my oldest daughter just graduated from college.

I’m only two-thirds of the way through the story, but I am feeling personally inspired by their reflections, profoundly grateful for the depth of love and, now, adult friendship I share with my own daughters, and pretty damn sure we need to visit Greece and France. Soon.

One paragraph, however, jumped off the page for me. Now a year or two into her 50s, the mom, Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “My only personal encounters with death have been with those of my grandparents, who were ripe with old age and the fullness of their lives, and with that of my father-in-law who died abruptly of a heart attack at the age of sixty.”

Wow. I honestly don’t know one human being who can share that sentiment.

Death has been a part of our lives since my children’s earliest memories. As I read this mother-daughter memoir, I can’t help but acknowledge how our life experiences have given us a different base of perspective, a unique appreciation for what is truly important, and a depth of communication that spans their entire lifetimes.

On some level, nearly impossible to articulate, I am aware of the impact loss has had in defining who we are—without actually defining who we are.

Which brings me to this morning. I sat down with a cup of coffee to read another chapter of Traveling with Pomegranates when a text dinged its arrival. My eyes were first drawn to the date at the top of the phone… “Thu Jan 25”

One month ago, this house was filled with a flurry of activity. And now I sit, reading, reflecting on the past and contemplating the future. Immediately drawing me out of any melancholy was this text sent to our family group chat.

Apparently, we don’t need a “wise and intimate dual memoir” to grapple with life’s deepest questions. We just need a Thursday morning in January when the oldest daughter (clearly very busy in the work world) texts, “If your life was a movie what songs would you want to be in the soundtrack?”

I needed all of six minutes to draft my knee-jerk playlist.

And then I went back to read and reflect with Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor, but this time with Stevie Nicks singing in the background.

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too.

I can only hope this literary Ghost of Christmas Past adds force to a Landside set in motion by my hopes and dreams for 2018.

The soundtrack of my life is still, very much, a work in progress.



The Working Title Is…The Ache from a Journey Down Memory Lane

I traveled a million miles in my mind before I even got out of bed this morning, and there were four things that fueled my trip.

In fact, the title of this essay should be “My SUPER GROSS Morning with The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, The Big Sick and Princess Diana,” but that doesn’t flow very well.

Let me break down how my day started. I rolled over when the alarm went off and felt a little itch on my neck. This was not so surprising since my one mid-life crisis move so far has been deciding to grow my hair a little longer. For the first time since I was seven years old, I’m getting used to luscious locks that can almost be pulled into a ponytail. As I went to swipe the hair away, I grasped something in between my thumb and forefinger, and when my eyes finally focused, I saw a squished spider.


There was a god-forsaken spider on my neck. And I killed it with my bare hand.

Just to review for those of you skimming text quickly; a freakin’ spider was walking over my jugular and now his guts were smeared between my fingers.

Final review: Spider. Neck. Guts. Fingers. Super Gross.

I reacted as any grown woman would have…I screamed bloody murder and jumped out of bed wiping my hand on the carpet at warp speed. (After later review of the crime scene, he must have been pretty tiny because I could barely find any body parts to scoop up. But in the heat of the moment, I was a main character in the sequel to Arachnophobia.)

I continued to react, as any grown woman would have, trying to problem solve while sitting on the floor in the fetal position. I asked Siri, “Where can I get one of those giant plastic bubbles like John Travolta lived in back when I thought he was super good looking?”

I suppose my plan to spider-proof my room should have taken me straight to Amazon Prime rather than Siri. Instead, I spent the next ten minutes reading this twenty-year-old Houston Press article about David Vetter whose life story was the inspiration for the 1976 television drama starring John Travolta. And perhaps the inspiration for a less emotional, albeit hilarious, Seinfeld episode.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

The actual story is heartbreaking and could fuel debate on a host of topics related to medical ethics, parenting, savior siblings and HIPAA. What is not up for debate, however, is the fact that John Travolta’s path from Bubble Boy to Tony Manero and ultimately Vinnie Barbarino was the thing of which a young girl’s dreams were made.

As I read about David Vetter’s relationships with his caregivers and his family’s struggle to do the right thing, I was soon lost in reverie. My mind couldn’t help but recall the path our family took seven years ago with an army of caregivers searching to find out what was wrong with my husband and how to bring him to full health.

I make a painful walk down memory lane each year. It begins on Fathers’ Day when I recall being first worried something might be really wrong with my husband and ends in mid-August after the anniversary of his burial. This morning I found myself remembering how lost we felt as we searched for answers. I remembered specific meetings with healthcare professionals and discussions with family and friends who felt as helpless as we did.

And when I considered where we were at this point on Memory Lane, my thoughts turned to The Big Sick.

The Big Sick

If you have not yet seen this movie produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, go now. Like, right now. You can finish reading this later.

The film is hilarious. I mean really, really funny. But it’s also beautiful and heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. It will have you talking for days about love and cultural tradition and interracial and interfaith relationships. And it will have you thinking about The X-Files and how tiny Holly Hunter is and if you could ever make it as a stand-up comedian.

If you have intimate knowledge of the word thoracentesis, it will make you shiver. If your mind’s eye holds an image of someone you love unconscious in a hospital bed and hooked up to machines, it will take your breath away. And if you’ve ever missed hearing that person’s voice so much that you sat in your car and replayed a voicemail over and over and over again, it will make you weep.

Cue the Royal Family.

Princess Diana

As I wiped a tear with my spider gut-free manicured hand featuring my go-to nail color which also happens to be that of the Royals, my thoughts turned to Princess Diana. This week, I watched the HBO special Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy.

It is recommended viewing for everyone, especially anyone who stayed up an entire summer night in 1981 dreaming of becoming a princess and wondering, “Who the heck gets married on a Wednesday?” Also recommended viewing for anyone who kept their kids home from school on an April 2011 morning while all wearing tiaras and cutting photos from Brides magazine and pasting them into wedding planning notebooks.

Prince William and Prince Harry shared very similar stories of a mother’s love and very different stories of facing and coping with loss. The documentary is a poignant journey down a painful memory lane.

As I stared at the television, I watched our memory lanes converge a bit. William and Harry were 15 and 12 when their mom died. Our daughters were 14 and 11 respectively, and just weeks away from their next birthdays, when their dad died.

So much of what these boys, now men, had to share resonated with me and echoed feelings my daughters have shared. Most comforting of all were continued feelings of the presence of a parent in your life many years after a far-too-early death and keeping memories alive for people who never even had the chance to meet that parent…people like spouses and children and grandchildren.

In the documentary, Prince William says, “There were times when you look to someone or something for strength, and I very much felt she was there for me.”

There is no doubt in my mind that is true.

As my walk down memory lane continues, happy memories soften the ache. And new memories and new experiences and new paths bring the girls and me such joy, just as Pat would have wanted.

Pat would have turned 50 on Friday. On that day, we will toast him and the positive, joyful, witty, calming influence he had on our lives. And continues to have. Everyday.

Who needs a plastic bubble when you’ve got all that?