When did you first truly feel like an adult?

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I was listening to my favorite radio station the other day while I was driving into the city.  It’s an interactive station.  It’s hip and fun.  They play all the newest songs.  And some oldies.

I’ve listened to this station for years.  Probably 20 or more.  On this particular morning, the DJ asked his listening audience when it was that they truly felt like an adult.  Did they remember the moment in time?  There were a lot of predictable answers.

When I got married…

After the birth of my first child…

When I was diagnosed with….

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Driving down the freeway towards my destination, I lost myself in thought as the soft sounds of the radio continued playing in the background.  When was it that I truly felt like an adult for the first time…

I had been through so much in the past 2 years.  My life had changed so drastically.  A diagnosis of Cancer.  Surgeries.  Radiation.  Moving my husbands parents across the country ~ back home here.  He and I had gone from the role of adult children to caregivers.  The loss of my Father-in-Law.  The loss of my beloved Mother.

The sting of my Mom’s death was still fresh. The wound still deep.

I went back to my hometown a few weeks ago.  Back to the place where I was raised.  Where I had grown up.  The Midwestern town that had shaped me into the adult I am today.  I needed to go back and go through my Mom’s house one last time.  We had put it on the market shortly after her death.  It had sold in a matter of weeks.  I brought a friend along with me for moral support.  The same friend who had helped me through some very dark days after my Mom’s immediate death.  And I met with my sweet sister, Nancy, there that day, too.

I did not know how I would react to the necessity of this final act of letting go.  Her home was the last materialistic and tangible object remaining of her time with us in this life.  And now, that too, would soon become just a sweet memory.

As I worked together with my sister and dear friend to clear out what was left of her belongings, I thought to myself how odd and somewhat sad it is that we accumulate all of these materialistic things during our lifetime.  Treasures to us.  But to others, just objects.  Often, objects of no interest to those left behind after a loved one dies.  And at the end of your life, it’s as if you just open up your front door, walk out  on your life.   All of your things are just left behind.

I came across things that I had not seen in years.  Things that would bring out a sudden laugh or chuckle.  Things that made me smile ~ each one stirring a treasured memory.  I found myself laughing more than crying that day.  And, I knew my mom would be laughing right beside me.  She was lighthearted.  And fun.  And always found the humor in any situation.  I inherited that from her.  Her take on life was also mine.  Her sense of humor I shared, too.  Thank You, Mom!! 

I thought back upon my deep love for my Mom throughout that entire day.   When did our relationship change from mother-daughter to a true, deep friendship?  I could not pinpoint the time, but I knew there was most definitely a metamorphosis that had taken place.  We truly were friends.  We enjoyed each others company and shared so many moments together that two girlfriends would share.  Hour long phone calls.  Often as long as 2+ hours.  We traveled together.  A lot.  And during those travels we became closer and closer.  We saw things for the first time together and were in awe as we traveled and our eyes were opened to new experiences.  Italy.  France.  Spain.  Parts of the USA as well.  She became close to my children.  They formed close bonds with her.  So much so, that they would travel by themselves to see her and spend time with her.  All treasured memories now, locked up in my heart.

As we finished our task that day and were walking out, I turned back one last time and looked around at what had once been her home. When did I truly first feel like an adult?  I never felt more adult than I did in that moment.  I was left behind here on Earth while my Mother, who I love more than words can describe, had gone home to be with my Dad in Heaven.

My Love for my Mom and Dad is deep rooted in my heart and soul.  Forever.

Tomorrow is Mother’s day.  I am going to be celebrating my Mom and smiling at the memory of her inner beauty, over-abundance of unconditional love, our deep friendship, and her selfless gift of being the best role model I could have ever asked for.

I miss her so, so, so much.  I’m sure she is smiling down on me right now from her new home in Heaven.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I Love You.

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Dear Mom

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Dear Mom,

Last Saturday I was signed up for a computer class.  I grabbed my laptop and headed towards the front door.  As I walked past the front room to turn off the TV, the Olympic Hockey game caught my attention.  The USA was playing.  There are a few Blackhawks on the team and I saw Kane whiz by.  So I sat down on the arm of the chair and watched the remainder of it.   For the life of me, I now can not remember who the USA was playing but I remember that it was an amazing game.   We ended up winning in a shootout.

Sitting there and watching that game made me late for my class.  But it didn’t matter.  As I turned off the TV and stood up to leave, my phone rang.  I thought about not answering it because I was running late, but something prompted me to pick it up.  So I juggled the heavy things I was carrying, freed up my right hand and answered it.  It was Tim.  I could not understand him.  Something about you.  He was talking in broken sentences.   I caught bits and pieces of it.  Panic started to rise in me.  And then, my heart stopped.

I don’t think I could have ever been prepared for that call.  I don’t understand how this could have happened.  You did everything right.  You exercised and ate right.  You lived an active lifestyle…..

The week was a blur of emotions.  The phone calls started immediately.  The txt’s came, too.  And the condolences via social media.  Isn’t it odd how fast word spreads now-a-days?  It’s rather comforting to know that when tragedy strikes, we are instantly lifted up in prayer.  Amy immediately jumped on a flight from Houston to Chicago.  She got in late.  (Well, late for me. You know how I love to be in my pj’s early.)  So I picked her up at the airport and we drove together in the dark to get home.  Home to Indiana.  Home to where we were raised.  Home to gather together with our other siblings.  The drive was hazardous.  I was white knuckled by the time I got there.  I’m not sure if it was because we were driving through whiteouts on icy, snow covered roads or if it was because I was holding onto the steering wheel a bit too tight for fear of what lie ahead for all of us.

Bruce took the week off of work.  He was by my side every step of the way.  Tim, Bobby, Nancy, Amy and myself – along with our spouses –  all found comfort in being surrounded by each other.  All week.

I miss you so much.  I can’t believe I’m never going to see you or talk to you again in this lifetime.  There’s so many things I still want to ask you.  And talk to you about.  And tell you……

Scottie got the job.  Remember I told you about his interview?  You said you would start a Novena for him.  Did you have time to start it?  Bruce and Lauren are going on a long weekend somewhere.  They are waiting to see which flights are open.   Remember the first time Bruce Robt. flew in to see you and take you to lunch?  He talks about it often.  That visit was the first of many trips back and forth to visit you.  In his words, “Grandma is the coolest!!”  Brian has a lead on an internship this summer.  He’s working hard and continues to keep his GPA up.  And he loves the college life.  He has become so independent.  It’s hard to believe he is almost done with college.  You were right.  Time does go fast.  Too fast.

You were taken from us way too soon.  The thought of never seeing you again or talking to you in this lifetime is too much….

Me?  I miss you more than words can describe.  My heart is heavy and I walk around with a pit in my stomach and a constant feeling deep inside that something is wrong.  I know you always told me that your prayer was that when your time was up, that the Lord would take you quickly.  He heard your prayer, Mom.  But I have a huge hole in my heart because I did not get to say goodbye to you.  I did not get to tell you how blessed I was to have you as my mother.  I wanted to be next to you when your time came to leave this earth, holding your hand and telling you how incredibly much I love you.  To tell you that I will miss you.  And that I will see you again one day and until that day, pray for me.  But God had a plan for you and He decides when our time on earth is done.  He decides when to call us home.  And in my heart I know you are in a better place.  You are at peace.

So Please, Don’t worry about any of us.  Right now our hearts are heavy.  But through our faith and in time, our feelings of sadness and devastating loss will be replaced by happy memories of our time spent with you.  I’m going to miss you so much.  I already do.  I can not thank you enough for the strong faith you instilled in me and for the unconditional love you showered me with.  I’ll pray for you everyday.  And I know you’ll pray for me, too.

I Love You,
Peggy

“We never really get over devastating loss. In the thick of it, we almost stop breathing; sometimes even wishing we could. And we know deep within that we will never be the same. Yet, one day we feel the sun on our face again. We find ourselves smiling at a child or a joke or a memory. And at that moment, we realize we are finding our way back. Changed forever? Yes. But also softer, deeper, more vulnerable and more loving too. And we are breathing again…..”

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on the sidewalk where i live

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It’s hard to get back up on that horse again once you’ve fallen off.  On my most recent visit to my oncologist, I was told cardio is non-negotiable. The hiatus that I had been on for the past 9 months came to an abrupt halt.  OK!  I was physically and mentally ready to get back into my old routine.

The route I walk takes me through wooded areas as well as suburban neighborhoods.  It is the best of both worlds.  Sometimes I walk with my friend Bonnie.  Often I walk alone.  It’s my time to reflect.  And pray.  It’s my time to think about what I have accomplished in the past week and about the future goals I have set for myself.

I walked out my front door this morning for my walk and looked down onto the sidewalk I was on.  And just like that, it set off flashbacks from my youth.

We did not have sidewalks in my hometown.  At least not in my neighborhood or the ones around me.  We lived in wooded neighborhoods.  Most houses sat on large parcels of land.  An acre or so.  There were not many fences. One backyard led into the next. There were clothes lines hanging between trees and fresh laundry on the lines.  It was a different day an age.  As kids, we would walk out our front door and be gone all day long until dinner.  There was no Nintendo or Xbox.  There were no Computers or Cell phones.  There was no such thing as Cable TV.  There were no indoor malls.

On holidays and special occasions, my family would drive to Chicago to visit my Mom’s side of the family.  We’d drive past neighborhoods lined up one after the other.  Looking out the window of our wood-paneled station wagon, I thought it was odd that all the houses looked exactly the same.  And they were so close to one another.  But they had sidewalks.  To me, that looked cool.

I loved those trips.  For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to live in a big city.  The city looked so different from where we lived.  There were smoke stacks on factories that we’d pass along the highway to our destination.  White smoke billowed out the tops.  The traffic was busy and fast paced.  And loud.  You’d see the outlines of the buildings as you got closer.  And then, you’d be upon them.  They were amazing to me.  Just Beautiful. It was exciting and it pulled on my heartstrings.  I could imagine myself living in one of those tall buildings.  I wanted to work in a city like Chicago.  And live there.

I thought back on that time ~ and my dreams ~  and continued to walk.  As I rounded the side street of my neighborhood,  I came upon the little lake.  It’s  really a retention pond. It leads into the bordering neighborhood.  The pond is big.   It’s lined with weeping willow trees.  The full, sagging  branches hang low. They sway lightly back and forth in the wind.  You can hear the rustling of the lower leaves as they brush against the grass below them.  I love that sound.  It’s quiet and peaceful.

There was a home were I grew up that had two giant Willow Trees in the front yard.  To me, they were the most beautiful trees around.  How lucky those people were to have them in their own front yard.  I admired the beauty of those trees every time we drove past them.  I remember thinking often that when I grew up, I’d have one!

I continued past the pond and onto the back roads and eventually into the next neighborhood.  Back up onto the sidewalk again.  I looked around as I walked.   Things had changed so much since I grew up.  I passed up fancy swing sets that had forts attached to them.  Most of the homes had underground sprinkler systems.  Homes had built-in swimming pools in the back yards.  There were expensive cars in the driveways.

Two little girls rode passed me on their fancy bikes.  I thought back to the bikes we rode in the 70’s.  Schwinn’s.  With banana seats.  Wicker baskets on the front.  We’d clip cards into the spokes with clothespins.  Loud!

I thought about our swing sets.  They were made of simple metal frames.  They held 2 swings and a bar you could hang upside down on.  And a somewhat flimsy, metal slide was attached to the side.  If you would swing too high, the two front legs of the set would come off the ground.  That was always a little scary and a little exciting!  There were a few times the entire set tipped over. That’s when your parents would coming running out and yell at you.  Fun over!

I saw a sprinkler on a lawn I was coming up to.  It was the old-fashioned kind my dad had.  It was long.  And had one bar with holes running along the top of it.  It went to and fro slowly.   This was the kind we ran through as kids.  We had no pool in our yard.  Hardly anyone did back then.  On hot days we’d get our towels out.  Lay on them in the yard.  Right on top of the grass.  Sometimes on the driveway.  We’d run through the sprinklers when we got hot. By the end of the day the grass was all matted down from trampling on it ~ and partly muddy where the ground was saturated with water.  Ahh, good times!

Sprinkler smallI looked up as I got closer to the sprinkler.  There was a man standing next to it.  He was inspecting the circumference and range of the water.  His hands were on his hips.  He looked very serious.  Every time the sprinkler bar pointed away from him, he stepped up to it, bent over and adjusted the placement a few inches to the left or right.  Just like me dad used to do.  I said good morning as I walked past and wondered if those few inches really made that much difference.

I circled all the roads of my usual path.  Passing up groups of walkers.  An occasional runner.  And, kids on bikes.  I walked along the wooded road.  It runs along a huge lake.  With lots of trees that house lots of birds.  I could hear them singing to one another.  I could hear the wind rustling the leaves on the trees.  An occasional car would pass me up.  It was good to be back in my routine.  This was one of my favorite parts of the day.  Walking.

I circled around and came back to the spot where I cut through into my neighborhood along the pond.  As I walked past the weeping willow trees again, I heard a faint voice in the distance.  Mom. Hey mom!!…Mom, wait up…..  I turned around and in the distance I could see my son Brian hustling towards me.  He had a fishing hat on.  He was carrying a pole in one hand.  He called out to me again and waved.  I started towards him.  He knew this was the path I come back through to get home.  Hey!  I was keeping an eye out for you.  I just started fishing.  Want to hang out for a while?  Did I want to hang out for a while?  *Jackpot!!*  Of course I did!!!

I took a shaded seat under the tree.  Brian stood on the bank and fished.

We talked about his week.  What was going on with his friends.  What he had planned for the next few weeks.  He was going to be headed back to college soon.  I was going to miss him.

As he talked to me,  my mind drifted a little.  I thought about my hometown. And my childhood.  About growing up in a time that was simple.  Is “more” really better?  Ask any child and the answer will be yes.  Ask any adult and the answer will be no.

I looked around myself.  A warm feeling came over me.  There was no other place on earth I’d rather be at that moment, than exactly where I was.  I thought back on some of those things that caught my interest when I was young.  About the things that fascinated me and the things I found beauty in.

As I sat there, I thought how interesting it was that I had indeed settled  in a big city.  My home on the outskirts ~ in a beautiful suburb.    Living in a wonderful neighborhood ~ with sidewalks!  And I looked up over my head….. and wouldn’t you know, I was sitting under a weeping willow tree.

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right where you are supposed to be

I have not always been in the best shape.  I have not always lived a healthy lifestyle or been in a healthy weight range.  I had tried all kinds of diets in my life only to fall off the wagon and fail.  I did Jenny Craig and the cabbage soup diet and diets where you eat no carbs and diets where you try to trick your body into thinking that it is full when you were actually starving.  In the end, fad diets only made me feel defeated.

In 2007 I walked through the door of Weight Watchers and signed up to become a member.  Walking through that door was hard.  They made it easy.  The receptionist who greeted me that day explained that as a member, I would receive all the tools I needed to be successful in my weight loss journey.  A  journey that is both physical and psychological.  Anyone who has gone through weight loss knows that a huge part of it is mental.   You need the will and drive and the focus to follow through.  At these WW meetings, I received that.

I was among peers who had battled the same weight struggles as I had most of my life.  Bad eating habits.  Using food as comfort instead of fuel for the body.  I sat with a group of girls that first day who have become close, dear friends of mine.  We faithfully attended meetings every week together.  We started looking forward to getting together.  Thursdays were ours.  We were diligent about making sure we all showed up for meetings and did not make excuses to do anything else those mornings.  We all ended up being successful.  Beth, Jeri, Pam and Marilyn.  They were my group.  Those were my go to girls.  I love all of them and we have a special bond.

I lost 60 pounds that year with the help of Weight Watchers.  One day my leader approached me.  They were recruiting for employment and she  asked me if I would be interested in working for WW.  By that point in my life, my boys were grown and for some time I had been thinking about going back to work.  I wanted a very specific kind of job.  Bruce thought it was humorous that I was looking for a job that would not cut into my lifestyle.  I wanted to be able to work only a few days  a week and have the freedom to still go out to lunch with my friends and into the city whenever I wanted.  I wanted to be able to travel at the drop of a hat.

I went on the interview for this job  ~ it was to be a receptionist for their company.  I could do that!!  I loved working with  people!  I know that it is one of my strengths to be the girl who people first see when they walk in to a place of business.  I had always shown bright like a star when it came to any volunteer jobs or tasks relating to the hospitality field.  I was most definitely a natural-born receptionist.  I went through the interview process.  They explained to me that it would be part-time.  I would be working in the city. On Tuesdays and Thursdays. My hours were flexible and I could decide how many meetings I wanted to work.  It was like a dream come true!!  I was hired that day.

I went home and told Bruce.  He grinned and shook his head in disbelief.  “Only you could find a job with those hours AND in the city.”  There have been so many times in my life that I have been in the right place at the right time.  Or maybe not.  Maybe I was exactly where I was supposed to be because there has been a carefully laid out plan for my life.   The latter gives me comfort.

The girls I work with in the city are amazing young women.  We are all so different,  yet we share a strong bond.  Nora has fought causes and for equal rights for her disabled brothers most of her life.  She is selfless.  We share the bond of both being Irish.  We probably get into the most mischief together.  She has a permanent smile on her face and laughs a lot.   I knew within days of meeting her that we were cut from the same cloth and that we would get along famously.  Sharon has a thick Boston accent and a heart as huge as the moon.  Compassion and nurturing oozes out of her.  Lisa is a true leader.  She is focused and dedicated to anything she gets involved in.  She is driven and always on board.  Karen is a sweetheart.  I have probably grown closest to her.  She and I work side by side.  She took me on a field trip one day to learn about the bus system in Chicago.  I needed to learn how to use the buses.  She showed me.  She has just gone on maternity leave and I am going miss her like crazy.  Nicole is quiet when you first meet her.  After you have gotten to know her, you realize what a truly sweet person she is.  She is kind.  And has an extremely hard work hard work ethic.    She is organized.  And young.  We tease her about the year she graduated from High School. ~ 2000!!!  YIKES!

Of all of my coworkers, Lesley is the most eclectic.  She is probably the person in my life who is most opposite of me, but we have a strange and wonderful bond.  Our talks are deep.  They are filled with spiritual substance.  I am Protestant.  She is Jewish.  I find her captivating.  She has such a beautiful soul.  She is artsy and creative and strong.  When I shared with her that I had cancer, we both knew that my life was going to change.  I remember her telling me that even tho a door may be closing, a window is going to open up somewhere else.  I remember telling her that I knew I was on some unknown path and was curious to follow it and find out where it was going to lead.

So far, it has led to reconnecting with old, dear friends who I had lost contact with.  It has also opened the window for my writing.  Something I had been saying all my life I was going to do, but had never gotten around to accomplishing.  It has led me to the realization that God has a quirky sense of humor.  Of all cancers to challenge me with, I have been struggling with one of the few types that causes you to gain weight rather than lose it.  My lifetime struggle is once again an issue.

One day at a time.  I will continue to receive my radiation treatments for a few more weeks.  Then I will have a scan to see what my prognosis is.  I still have a calm and an inner peace that this is all just a bump in the road.  Then, I will get back on that horse and refocus on healthy living and working my program.  My district manager, Lisa, has been amazing and abundantly supportive throughout my journey.  From the day I shared my news with her, she told me health first, weight later,  That has given me a peace to focus on important things in my life.  Like family.  And staying  positive each day.  And getting healthy.

We are always exactly where we are supposed to be in life.  I used to believe in coincidences.  Not so much anymore.  There are plans for each of us.  I’m excited to see where this journey and phase in my life will lead me.  Once I get there,  I will probably think back on the road I have traveled the past year and think to myself...”Ahhhh, this is where I was going.  It all makes sense now.” 

Easter

I sit in my kitchen early in the morning drinking coffee before anyone else in the household wakes up. It has always been my style. It has always been my favorite part of the day. The house is quiet. It is the calm before the storm. Raising three active boys, I knew it was only a matter of time before the storm came. Each day. And it usually did. Not in a bad way. But, in an active, chaotic way. I loved every part of it. Bring it on!

Today, tho the habit is deeply rooted and I still wake up early, the chaos is mostly gone. My children have grown. One married. One graduated from college and working. One living away from home at college. It’s mostly just Bruce and I these days. I think back on Easters past and how exciting this holiday used to be for our family.

Stay up late to fill Easter baskets. Hide them in the house. Get up early in the morning to three little boys racing from room to room trying to find their loot.

Then church. It was always a battle to try to calm everyone down. The prior weeks leading up to the big day, I would go out and shop for new outfits for each of them. When they were young, the outfits were always coordinating. They usually included suspenders and knee socks. Something they cringe at now. As they got older, they each developed their own sense of style. I still felt the maternal need to get them new duds for the holiday. So, I did.

Half the time on the way to church, a brawl would break out for some reason or another. There they would be in their new clothes, sitting strategically in our mini van to ensure the least damage to their appearance by the time we made our 10 minute drive to our destination. They knew how to push each others buttons. Inevitably, the buttons would be pushed. I would get stressed out. Clark would threaten to pull the car over.

We always made it to church in one piece. We would plant forced smiles on our faces so that nobody would know that 5 minutes earlier world war III was breaking out in our car. It was not until years later that I found out that most of our friends had that very similar experience on their ride to church. It was not unique to us. It was normal. It was the American way!

After church, the boys would find their friends in the church gym while the adults would gather and have coffee and talk for a little while. I loved this part of church. I still do. Time to catch up with everyone. This group of people end up being your church family. In a way, every Sunday after church felt like a mini family holiday or gathering. You are not born into each others lives. You find each other. Bonds form. A family by choice.

I was raised catholic. Irish catholic. That is a strong combo. Irish blood runs deep and loyal. Both of my parents worked at Notre Dame and because of this, we had the special perk of being able to attend Notre Dame at a deeply discounted price. You paid for room and board. The education was free. My friends think that for this reason, it was ironic that I ended up at a small, private, expensive protestant college.

I frequently tell my friends that I know it was not ironic, but rather, Divine Intervention. God knew exactly what he was doing when he plucked me out of my environment and plopped me down in the middle of Hope College. There, I met Bruce who I ended up marrying. There I found my true faith. A deep faith by today’s standards. Maybe it was the freedom that you experience while in College or maybe it was my age, but it was then that I realized that faith is a choice. You choose to be a believer or not. You realize that in the end, we are all worshiping the same God. We are just going down different roads and paths in our journeys.

Many Easter’s later, as a mom of three boys ~~ and now a beautiful daughter in law ~~ I think back fondly of all of those Easter mornings. The wild beginning, the chaos of trying to calm everyone to get ready for church, coming home to our big feast. I Love family holidays. I love being all together. It is my favorite thing in the world. We sit down for meals, sometimes for hours. I Look around my table and know how truly blessed I am. I have a beautiful, healthy family. My boys are the best of friends. They all love Bruce’s wife, Lauren. She fits in perfectly. They look up to their father with such respect and love. Today they might even admit that, yes, he did know what he was talking about most of the time when lecturing and giving advice.

So, however you choose to spend your day tomorrow, whether you choose to celebrate privately, with a family of choice or the family you were born into, on this day before Easter, may you all feel the special blessing that family brings to your life and of Easters past and present. And may you feel the deep meaning of the sacrifice given up for you through the cross. Happy Easter!!