Friday, August 18, 2017

Checking off the list...

This was one of the hardest days of my life...
But also beautiful and poetic and perfect.
Mom's burial.
One of the things I have always told Steve was that my biggest regret in having the very difficult, very adult conversations with my Mom that April day when she struggled for breath and spoke through her C-PAP machine was that I had all of the perfect answers in regards to her wishes...she was able to tell me what music she wanted, that she wanted to be cremated, that she wanted the photo from Justin's and my wedding to be the photo for the obituary and for the memorial service, what Bible verses she wanted read, and what she wanted the event to be like...a celebration...and not dark and gloomy. But the final question I asked her where she wanted her ashes to be buried, she left the answer at, "I will just leave that up to you and Steve to decide."

And my biggest regret is that I didn't push further.

Jump ahead a few months and we are sitting in the funeral home, making her arrangements, and I look to Steve and just kept thinking...How did we get to this point...just plain numb and in a fog...and thank GOD he had the suggestion already in his mind that she should be buried up in northern Minnesota in the same cemetery as her parents and closest brother. I just felt like it was perfect choice.
It would be exactly as she would have wanted it.

Jump ahead to August 5, 2017. Many conversations had, many decisions made, and how perfect that on her birthday, we were able to all come together and remember her life, celebrate all that she had given us, and bury her ashes. I made sure to have some of her ashes pulled for two small heart urns that matched hers for Steve and I...also making sure that those who wanted some of her ashes would get some.

I was able to go up to Grand Forks the night before and spend the evening with my Godmother and her family. It is always a wonderful time together as we know there will be such laughs and giggles and reminiscing happening. The next morning, I drove up to Shevlin with my Godmother...and it was just felt perfect. I will always cherish that drive...such a wonderful heart-to-heart discussion and I felt more at peace with all that was going on in my life after I talked to her. I am so grateful for her, and their, love and support.

The service was short and well attended. The pastor had a few prayers and read Mom's bible verses. We gave everyone roses...either to keep or to leave on Mom's grave with a prayer from them for her.

My journey had brought me to this point and I was once again reminded of Theodore Roosevelt and the idea of a "Life Well-Lived" and you know what...she truly had done that... I wrote a poem read at the service that I share here for you all:
A life well lived
Today we celebrate the life well lived
A legacy left behind
Remembering her journey and fondly recalling her gifts.
A passion for her fellow man.
A traveler of the world.
A smile to light up any room.
A hug to calm the hurt or to say hello.
Courage to do the right thing, to fight the good fight, with fire in her heart.
To love life and others so deeply and fully and without expectation.
To spread positivity and light to others making each day a great one.
Being grateful for each day completed because each day is not guaranteed.
Soaring with eagles…on wings of living life to the absolute fullest capacity.
Seeing the bigger picture and dreaming just as big
Having immense faith that God would be there guiding the entire course of her life.
Allowing others to see her vulnerable side.
Love freely given…a lifetime of support and guidance.
Always there when others needed you.
Never realizing the immense gifts she gave to all of us, leading her life with strength, with hope, with joy and with grace.
Until it was gone and now the quiet is deafening and we feel the absence.
But are so grateful for the legacy left for us to follow, to cherish, to lead by.
Grateful for it all.
Fly free, sweet spirit, and know you did good. Your journey is complete and now you can rest.
How lucky we all feel to have been a part of a life well lived.

You will be missed but always loved and adored.

We listened to the new version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/A Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole which just felt perfect. The pastor let everyone go.
There were so many hugs.
There were so many tears.
My heart was full and so so broken.
Thank GOD for the arms around my waist during the service and for the hugs and well wishes.

After many had gone on to the potluck dinner gathering...the following moment just seemed so appropriate. Steve and I were there when this amazing, wonderful, vibrant woman left us to go onto the next stage...and he and I were able to bury her ashes together...with the side help of my brother-in-laws.
It felt poetic.
It felt perfect.
And it felt "as she would have wanted it"
And I know she was smiling down on us all.
I know she was so proud of all that Steve and I were able to do for her.
And I was finally able to check that final check mark on my list of what I needed to do for her and for her departure.
And I felt even more peace and comfort knowing that I had accomplished something extremely important for her.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The pull of Medora

So many years ago, a little boy slowly descended the ravine into an amplitheatre built there. The benches were rough, the path down was long, and the experience was magical. We, as many North Dakotans, went to this musical every year. That little boy was in awe of the music, the dancing, the live horses, the stories being told, the history lesson brought to life, the fireworks. It was all amazing to his little mind and he just sat there year after year taking it all in, vowing one day to try and become a part of it all...Jump ahead to a cold February morning...this little off to his first year of college...hopped a plane to head to Minneapolis for an audition. He was so green behind the ears...not even sure I remember the audition song or the dance routine...but I remember the feeling of getting that call from Fred Smith those many years ago, telling me that I would be a Burning Hills Singer that summer. And that opened the door to a vast amount of adventures, terrific memories, life stories, WONDERFUL friendships that have withstood the tests of time, and experiences beyond compare. From working in the town of Medora during the day, to clogging on HUGE moths on the stage under the starry skies, to mice having babies in your boot found right before you have to go on, to rainouts, to the parties back in Belfield...our home away from home...with folks who quickly became dear friends...
It was so much fun on this personal journey of mine to be back in Medora, to spend time with dear friends and to watch them perform and do what they do best. Emily and Jared...I am in awe of you both and love you immensely and the time we were all able to spend getting reconnected...PRICELESS.
NOTE: If you get out there this summer...go see their day shows!!! INSPIRING!

I was able to go back and see the musical that night and relive those days. Descending into the amplitheatre brought the rush of memories flooding back to me. To see this year's cast hoofing and singing and dancing and laughing and having such a terrific time made me long for those I joked with Chet, who was a little guy when I was a Burning Hill Singer, and is now the current Co-Host of the musical, I long to be up there, but know that these old feet wouldn't last a week with all the dancing they now much more than when we were in the cast.
I will always feel that tug to want to be back out there performing.

It is a little jarring to go back and see their Ticket Booth Building at the top of the Hill. Lots and lots of photos and memories of past productions...over 50 years worth of photos and costumes and memorabalia. I say jarring as they have lifesize cut-outs of my very first year during our clogging routine.

I always get selfies sent to me from friends attending the musical with my 18 year old face behind them and it makes me giggle. Always a little jarring and a little giddy...

And I always think..."If only I could tell that youngin' a few things now..."

Medora has left an indelible impression on my heart that will never go away. The fondest memories and friendships were created there and it is always never far from my thoughts.

I know that when my journey on this life is over, I want to somehow be in the Badlands and in the place that calls to me over the miles.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Something about buffalo...

They are magnificent and grand.
And they are all over the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They just walk right down the pavement and off on the side. It was breathtaking to see them just roaming free...and to see so many of them.
There are many symbolic meanings surrounding the Buffalo.
They represent: 

And the more I look at that list...the more, at various times in my life, I know that this represents my parents. I am so grateful for their gift of life, for leading me in the proper directions, for nurturing me, for taking care of me and making sure I had everything I would need, for guiding me in faith, for showing me I am strong enough, and for giving my the foresight to "Go it Alone" but to be grateful for the journey.

I have so many shining examples of this in so many of each of you in my life and on my journey.
I am grateful for it all.

I also felt like we needed a little levity from the moment...So here are a few selfies taken at the Buffalo Sculpture on the Heritage Center grounds on the Capitol Grounds in Bismarck. I took my husband to see the Heritage Center back for my twentieth high school reunion and we took a couple of goofy photos here at this I snapped a few more to send to him and the friends who were with us that day many years ago...It made all of us giggle.His name is Buffy. And we have joked in the past that that I have left my now husband for someone bigger, someone brawnier, and someone beefier.
And we have a good laugh...
Commence about your day, sweet friends...
Make it a great one!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The glory of work and the joy of living....

A history lesson, my friends...
Theodore Roosevelt's first wife and his mother died on the very same day. After going through my own personal journey and tangle with grief, I cannot even imagine the immensity of this grief he must have experienced. He decided to move himself, and just himself, to the Badlands, to regroup, to recoup, and to find himself and to figure out what his "next steps" would be.

This story has always made such an impression on me. I had heard it while performing in the musical and was able to experience the beauty of the savage land myself. I have blogged numerous times about the impact this area of North Dakota has made on my life. The life-long friendships I created there, while performing under its starry skies. The crazy stories of adventures into the Badlands at night to hike and reach out and touch the stars. The wonderful people I met while working out there. The opportunities I was provided by performing out there.

Years and years ago, right after my Mom's awful divorce from her second husband and shortly after I came out, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to head to Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a weekend. It was my hope that it would be a rejuvenating weekend. Little did I know that it would be a life moment that would forever change my life, my focus, my thought process and I think, hope, and pray, that it was as important for her as well. We went out to see the Musical, we stayed at the Badlands hotel, we ate downtown at the Roughrider Hotel, we had ice cream, we was a wonderful weekend. I decided to see if she would be open to going hiking in the Badlands. We could go for a drive and take in all the wonderous sights...but I wanted to get back out into the hills that made such and impression on me those years ago...
She agreed.
We got into the park and I remember going immediately to the trail for a hike...she was open to going onto the trail...which had mildly shocked me...she was always afraid of heights...we began our hike and taking in all the breezes, taking in all the natural beauty and then I saw this rock off to the left side...I asked her if she would want to go climb up to that rock and sit for awhile and just take it all in. She agreed and we climbed up. These are the photos we took of the event and they quickly became my favorite photos of all time...I cherish these photos with all my heart. It was a shared moment that I would later print out and have framed for her stating, "This is our moment. The moment of looking out over these vast Badlands but seeing only the potential of what is to come. The possibilities are truly endless. Forward from here. Onward."

I have this photo in my classroom today and share this story with my kiddos every year because of this idea of ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES. I love that concept.

Jump years and years and years ahead. Our lives have moved forward and we have experienced much. Grief came knocking on the door and I found myself  succumbing to its grasp. My confidante and closest friend had departed for somewhere far away, out of grasp, and I was left to figure out how to navigate without her guidance. I know that in the back of my mind and on my heart, I would eventually find solace and peace of mind and heart back in the land that Theodore Roosevelt found so many years ago.

And this was one of the things that became extremely important on my personal check list...I needed to find that rock, go back there for her, in remembrance of that one particular afternoon in the Badlands and leave a memorial out there for her. For the endless possibilities. For my heart and mind. I needed to find it to connect with her.

I got up early in the morning, got dressed, got in the car and headed to the entrance to the park. I paid my fee and began my journey. I put the music I had prepared for my trip into the CD player and began to trek into the park. It was the music from her service, the special music she had asked for...It was the music I sang into her ear as she left this world and it brought back such sweetness...but also such incredible sadness and tears.

I came to the familiar fork in the road...but all of a sudden could not remember which way was the right way to turn. I decided to go right. I did not grab a map. I was here until I found our rock. Shortly after the turn, I quickly realized that this was a wrong turn...but I decided to go forward and take in the early morning beauty of the park. AND BOY as AMAZING. The buffalo were out in full splendor...the witty prairie dogs were out convening with each other...the sun made all of the striations on the buttes pop out even more.

In the back of my mind, I could not remember what the name of the trail had been so long ago and me without a map. So I drove until I saw something familiar.

I stopped at Wind Canyon, thinking this was the spot, and got my sunscreen on, my backpack out, my hat on and shoes tied and began to the hike. I quickly began to realize that none of this looked familiar...was nothing like our photographs. SO after taking some time to take in the view, I got back in the car.

I drove a little while longer and actually drove past the true hiking trail but after a turn around at the fork in the road, I came back and parked the convertible. I got myself back together and began the hike. I knew that the rock was on the left hand side of the trail. I began to look and look but nothing looked familiar. It had been such a long time and I began to doubt myself as to how far it actually was. But I HAD TO FIND IT. I was not going to turn around. I began to see nothing on the left looking familiar but everything on the right was as it had been in the picture. I turned over my left shoulder and there it was and I immediately felt the tears well up in my eyes. I stood there and waited for the emotions to pass. They subsided and I began my climb to the rock.

It was very steep and I remember saying out loud, "Dang Mom, I am so impressed you and I made it up this"

I struggled my way to the point and just sat down on the rock, laid back, and gasped for breath, trying to calm myself, mostly out of exertion from being out of shape and of all the emotions I felt in the moment. I got my breathing down and then just laid there and sobbed. I had made it and I could feel her everywhere.

I sat on the rock and took in the view and journalled in my journal my thoughts being in this moment, at this time, so close to her and to this wonderful memory of what we had shared so long ago at this point. Thoughts were all about gratitude...for this moment, for our relationship, for my Mom and all she meant to me, to her family, to her friends.

Moments passed. Flew by actually.

I got my bearings and decided that I would go up the hill/butte behind the rock to leave my requiem to her. It was perfect...overseeing the Badlands as well as the rock. It was a place we had not climbed to but yet it seemed perfect.
I got up there and took in the view and it was glorious.
I got out my letter I had written to her and slowly pushed myself forward, through my tears, to read it to her. I had brought trinkets of hers  inside a red Zip-lock baggy. I had brought a locket I had purchased for this very moment.

The entire top of the hill was covered in red scoria, this burnt rock that is signature to the area. I dug down into the scoria and found dirt and dug farther. I folded up my letter, put it back in the baggy, and took some of the dirt and scoria chips from the bottom of the hole and placed it into the locket and closed it tightly. I laid the baggy into the earth, offered a prayer for Mom up to the universe, and then began to bury it, finally piling scoria and rock on top to protect the important contents.

I sat up there and documented it all with photos for remembrance and just took in the view. And it was breathtaking. I felt that I had achieved something very important...not only for myself but also for my mom and I.

The hours had flown by in a blur. I packed up my belongings and began my descent. And I felt lighter. I felt peace in my heart for the first time in a very long time and even more gratitude. I had accomplished what I had set out to do and I felt Mom every step of the way.

 Grief is such a crazy journey friends. And what is so weird is that it is so different for each of us. I hope and pray that when the time comes for you to go down this avenue of life, that you have a mountaintop experience where you can come to some sort of peace. A lightness of heart. A sense of accomplishment and a moving forward.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Fond memories of friendships and school

I am going to share a personal journey with you all.
I hope it will help someone struggling through grief, through a tough journey they have undertaken, or even just a window into softening your heart.
It's the importance of family, of friendship, or travel, of reconnecting with your inner spirit and finding a sense of gratitude.

I hit the road alone. I am grateful for the understanding my husband had and knew that I needed to do this one on my own. I needed to be alone for awhile to accomplish the things I had set out in my heart to do. I will always be eternally grateful to him for all his love and support. I could not navigate my way through this without his love and support.

I began my journey reconnecting with friends. Trying very hard to just practice what I have been writing about...being Present...being open and taking in all that is being given...Relaxing and calming my heart.

I started in Omaha, staying with my friends and chosen family Kim and Anthony and their amazing daughter, Stella. It is always so nice to be back home in Omaha. These three have become our family over the years and we have shared so much...the ups and downs...the hurts...the laughter. They are always there for Justin and I when we needed them most.

Here's what I love about friendships like matter how long you have been apart, it is like you have never been apart. You pick up right where you left off and move forward from there. Sure life has changed and moved forward without your daily interaction. That is to be expected. But it is the sign of a true friendship when you are able to pick right up where you left off and laugh and cry and enjoy the times together.

This became a common theme for the beginning of my journey.

I left early in the morning and began my trek northward away from Omaha toward North Dakota. I knew that the journey ahead would be difficult for me emotionally. How could it not be? But there were glimmers of light throughout that made the difficult times that much more bearable. The music sound track I had created was vast and thoughtful and filled with tunes important to me, my Mom, and to the idea of "rocking out" as I drive forward to an adventure of memories.

I arrived in Bismarck, North of all of my schooling...elementary, junior high, and high school. I had come to get reconnected to my high school choir buddies but to also be back in a town I shared so many wonderful memories in. I was quick to realize how quickly everything had grown and changed and evolved. It was crazy how much the city had grown past the limits I had remembered it having. Was fun and so jarring to see.

The first night we were there, Moni, Jen and I put the top down on Mom's convertible and we drove around Bismarck to see how much it had changed. We found old haunting spots, heading to the ole Capitol grounds to take goofy pictures. We actually drug Main, and went to Big Boy for a chocolate shake, a pizza burger flying style, and a Hot-n-Tot and more.

I had the tunes on, but these friends were finally together to reconnect and share their lives up to that point. The sky was beautiful. The night was perfect. We couldn't ask for more.

The next day, Moni took us to the elementary school Moni and I had gone to. It was crazy how much of it had stayed the same. The memories of first grade with Mrs. Jacobs, Mrs. Simek and how much of an impact she had made on my life by giving me the courage to focus on the talents God had given me. Eating in the cafeteria downstairs...yes the tables were EXACTLY the same ones we had.

The downstairs gym where we all gathered our sixth grade year to take our school year pictures...oh and to receive our awkward sex education videos...separately...boys first... and then the girls...those dang videos were SOOOOOOOO awkward...crazy film projector kind.

We went upstairs to our sixth grade classroom..and I truly think that this was where Moni and I had the strongest year of our elementary years together, in the classroom of Barb Evanson and Rita Klemin. These two women taught us the importance of knowledge but also refocused us on how important each of us were to each other and to ourselves... "I am THUMBODY. I am important. I matter."

Barb gave us a strong sense of self-worth and a place to belong and I have never forgotten how wonderful she was to have as a teacher. She is one of those teachers I have stayed in touch with each Christmas and have said numerous times that I pattern my own teaching style after her, among others.

We then had a gathering together of old high school choir buddies...a reunion of sorts...and it was WONDERFUL to see old friends and here again, pick up where we had left off. We shared fond memories. We laughed. We cried. We shared stories each of us had somehow forgotten and it was glorious. We reveled in each other's lives and how much we had changed and yet hadn't. Isn't that funny how that is?

"How is it that each of us is in our forties, and yet we feel like we are all in our twenties?"
How true. We each have lived so much life apart and yet it was our beginnings, our stories when we first started that we all reconnected with. It was beautlful.

We laughed at the stories.

We went onto the stage where we all shared our souls for the first time.

We saw how things have changed and yet how other things...other traditions had stayed the same.
It was like time had not passed and yet it had but it was all okay.

We had grown. We had moved forward, but had never forgotten the bond each of us shared.

It was music.
It was theater.
It was glorious and something we would never forget.

It was late night coffee drinking sessions at the local Perkins.

It was loving every moment together, remembering our past and reveling in our futures.
It did my heart so good to be together with these friends. I am, and will be, forever grateful for the memories, for the laughter, for the tears shared, and for their never-ending friendship.

I got up early the next morning and headed west.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The journey of a lifetime

Over the last week of July and the first of August, I took a very personal journey back up North to my hometown and farther. It was truthfully a journey I had been preparing myself for for quite some time.
It was a journey I knew I had to take alone.
It was one of the final aspects of a personal checklist I had mentally created for my Mom and what I needed to do for her after her departure from us.
It was a journey for her.
It was a journey for me.
It was a journey for my heart.
It was a journey for my family.
It was a sort of wrap-up and closure of a very important chapter in all of our lives...even though the grieving process does continue.
It was extremely personal.
It was a re-connection to my past, to those who have made such an impact on my life, to those no longer with us, to those I had forgotten and needed a gentle reminder of. A smile always present at a fond memory. A tear in the eye on some of those memories and how they have changed...a little different because of years long gone by.
It was a journey filled with memories, both difficult and joyous. Filled with laughter and with tears, but important nonetheless.
It was beautiful.
It was incredibly tough. There were moments I had built up in my head for months and months and months, even before she actually passed.
I knew I had to do this for her.
For her memory.
For my heart.
For so many things.

I am going to share this with all of you kind of as a window into it all, but also to be able to share the importance of taking these journeys. Finding solace in the journey, each step forward, always becoming more and more aware at the pull of your heart and soul.

It is so important and I truly feel like a changed man because of this journey I just took.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that you each get a journey like this one and can experience this...the struggle opens up into something else, my friends.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I love this...

Gentle reminders...
I grabbed this from one of my friend's Facebook page...
It speaks to me on so many levels...
So many times, folks get stuck on all of these to varying degrees at various times in their lives.
Truthfully, all of these points hinge on the ideas and concepts of energy expenditures and preservation, something I have been hyper focused on over the last few months.

I look at point number one and just keep thinking, "Boy HOWDY!!!" Just think of the life lessons I have learned from this...Allowing my past hurts and issues to cloud my present. That is giving those moments too much power and allowing them to define your present days.

In my younger years, I would get so wound up over my problems, my friend's problems, family drama...and I would spin and spin and spin...and would just exhaust myself. I love #7...Smile. You don't own all the problems in the world. The older I get the more I come to realize that I cannot fix the world. I cannot fix all of the other people's problems. I cannot heal everyone's broken hearts. Always remember that it is not your job to fix other's's not my circus, not my monkeys.

What I can do is be present. Listen. Own my mistakes. Ask for forgiveness for hurt I may have caused. Know when my opinion is being asked for. Give it with heart and great thought process. Allow time to heal all of my own hurts caused by yourself and others. Forgive those who have hurt you and let them go off to sea. Try very hard to surround yourself with positivity and stop comparing your life to other's lives. Stand up for what I believe in. Say what I need to say. Select what battles to fight and the ones to just let go. Live your own life as fully and deeply as possible. Don't give others your energy if they have not shown you the same courtesy.

Remember what other's think of you is something you have no control over and is none of your business. Seek your own truth. Understand your own truth. This takes time and being open to it. Live in your own truth, release that truth to everyone around you and try not to worry. What you put out there will be returned to you.

I love you, sweet friends. I thank you for being a part of my life and am grateful for your love, grateful for our journey together. Make today a great day!