Tuesday, December 3, 2013


I have a new mobile phone.

When my father calls me, my mother's photo and phone number show up, as my Facebook contacts are synced with my phone.

The first time it happened was startling, like hopeful as if there'd been some mistake....
dawning realization.

Yes, I could change that.

But what then? One can not effectively cleanse oneself of memory. Of longing. Of the truth.

This is the picture I see when my father calls me.

It was taken when she lost all her hair from the radiation in 2011.

Today would have been Mother's 74th birthday.

I do not want to forget.

Happy birthday, Mother. Wherever you are. Happy birthday. I love you. You mattered.

You will be remembered.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Advent arrived three weeks after Mother went to sleep and didn't wake up.
She'd been in a long term memory care facility for just that long.
The young women who cared for her delivered her medications that morning.
Mother said she wanted to sleep longer.
The young women returned forty-five minutes later, chatting and laying out Mother's clothing for the day.
She was dead but still warm when my father arrived.
Having been through years of hellish suffering, Mother at last went to sleep and simply didn't wake up.
We had prayed for that kind of exit from her broken body and mind.

And now, we are without her.

We have begun the first holiday season without her in our midst, shining during her favorite time of year.

I feel broken myself. Tired. Sad. Normal activity requires monumental strength. Today, home with a sick child, I am given the opportunity to reflect and rest. My boy, now eight, wraps his sweet arms around me constantly, or holds my hand, rakes fingers through my hair.... for these weeks, there has been more contact even than usual. We have given up the pretense of starting him in his own bed even.

Driving in from "town" to Papa's house the other evening, our boy asked, "Where are Diggy's ashes?" When asked by his father why he thought of that at that moment, our boy replied that we'd just passed the place in which he and I last saw her, a week before she died there.

These associations tether us to the living and to the truths of being part of something larger than ourselves. The very next morning, my husband, who'd brought fresh laundry up to the bedroom of my teen years said, "I really like our kid. I just like him so much. Somehow, folding jammies always makes me think of that."

Our boy has encouraged me to again go on a Facebook fast, as I did last Advent. "I get more time with you," he says. And so....

My sister and I created our Advent wreaths this year from cuttings from her yard, dried grape vine wreaths and candles procured by our husbands, holders lifted from Mother's considerable stash.

We are quiet. Waiting. Hopeful.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Telling it just like you're here.

Oh, Mother. I miss you so....

I've been here in your house, staying with Daddy since the day you died.

This house we moved to thirty years ago when I was sixteen and you were younger than we children are now. You made it a home. Let me pick out curtains that Irene custom made, and we had our friends here for slumber parties and late night swimming. Remember that Jeffrey was Johnny Appleseed in his school play one of those first years, and he sang and looked so cute?
I don't even remember our writing this, do you? After freshman year of college?
Every room here, every nook, cranny and drawer, has you in it. A scarf you wore to a soccer game, or a news clipping from your service to UMW or Church Women United. We keep finding little squirreled away stashes of photographs in unexpected places from mismatched eras and your handwriting is on the backs with names and dates and sometimes captions like, "Not a very good picture of Laura." These things have kept us laughing and crying, both.

Dana and I, along with Laura, went through all your clothing. That was tough. We girls all took things of yours that we wanted and we'll be wearing them -- Dana most of all, as she was closest to your size. Jeffrey laundered and folded the clothing you most recently wore, and declined my help to fold. He has been wonderful, as you know. You raised a good boy into an excellent man, Mother.

And Dana gave a hilarious and moving eulogy at your service. Everyone laughed. Smiled. Remembered how fun you were. Eric says she captured that part of you perfectly.

Yesterday just about dark a floral delivery came from one of  Daddy's friends -- a beautiful white camelia in a basket filled with fruit. A LOT of fruit. The lady delivering the fruit told Jeff and me that you banked with her at First Tennessee for years, I remembered her face.... but that she'd been the florist owner the last year and a half, and knowing you, she overfilled the basket with good fruit for your family. She, like everyone, remembered you as gracious and always smiling. I think that's one of the words about you I have heard most often: gracious. And it's true, that was your way.

I like to think we're making you proud here. Daddy has been kind of amazing, really. Very gracious himself and kind. I keep thinking that you're just a breath away whispering, "You just be the best Joe you can be," and with your encouragement, he's doing just that. The children have been lovely and such a comfort. Every one of them adored you, and my boy told me he knows your spirit lives on inside of his heart. Audrey finds your photograph in one of your church directories and says, "THERE's my Diggy!" The big girls have been wonderful with the younger ones, and I'm glad they'll all help the new baby know you. He hasn't gotten here yet, but little Leo's arrival is imminent.

Mother, I'll admit, I have some unkind thoughts toward people. People who didn't come see you for their own reasons, or were even unkind and dishonest. But I know you, you'd have said, Love them anyway. So I've bitten my tongue, and tried to do as you would -- offered kindness and cried and fussed about it later.

It's hard though, Mother. Because you deserved the best. You didn't deserve the pain and suffering of the last few years. You were supposed to live into your nineties and go on that cruise with me and Dana and the grandkids, go to San Francisco and England and wherever else with Daddy.... I can't face the open years head on and know that you won't be there.

For now, I focus on today, and just the tiniest bit more. It's too hard to do otherwise. I miss you terribly.

Last night I was flipping through television channels and that Hallmark movie Matchmaker Santa was on; the movie that was playing on the television at the Courtyards the last day I saw you before you died a week later. I gasped. You were watching the movie with the other residents while Daddy snoozed on the couch beside you in your wheelchair when my boy and I kissed and hugged you, told you we loved you and that we'd see you soon.

I did not know the next time I'd see you you'd be dead and I'd be seeing your body all cold and stiff at the funeral home. They kept you there for me to see you before the cremation. And even though I knew it was your body, and that your spirit had gone on, I wanted to say goodbye. I left you with a fresh coat of Viva Glam on your lips and kissed you goodbye.

On Friday, I picked up your ashes, and your death certificate. I sat in my husband's car in the parking lot of the funeral home with you in a box beside me and sobbed. I didn't drive back across town until I'd worn myself out and settled into gentle tears. This grief is a real bear, Mother. It hurts so damned much.

We're all relieved, though. Relieved that you are no longer suffering. You never complained. And yet relied upon us for everything. I know that was, as you only said a few times, terrible. And then you'd apologize to us for your needing us. We'd have done anything for you. Any one of us.

And today, I'm going to leave this house and go home to Nashville to my husband and child. I'm going to rent a car and drive back across the plateau to do the next things that need doing and start a job at a new school, help my child make sense of this loss, crump up with my husband in our bed and try to sleep.

It's hard to go, though.... Hard to leave Daddy. Hard to part from this house, from you in every room, in every memory, including that we ultimately couldn't keep you here until the end, even though it broke our hearts.

I'll be back next week. For Thanksgiving. And the beginning of Advent comes just behind that -- your favorite season. I have yet to understand how we'll get through it without you.

But just for today, Mother, I'm going spend some time with Daddy and with my brother, your only son, and pack up and go home to my house for a few days. I am anxious about the drive. I pray for strength and for calm. For safety as I ferry myself from my loved ones here to those there. If you would, please whisper your encouragement. I need it today.

I love you, Mom.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Diggy's Blessing.

Peggy Joyce McDaniel La Grone: December 3, 1939- November 10, 2013

from her Celebration of Life Service on November 14, 2013
First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 

Mother Father God, I come to you today broken and full of sorrow, reaching for joy. I call out to you for blessings…. Blessings on the heavy hearted, the ones who sing out of tune or with tears running down cheeks. Blessings on the ones who stumble, who can’t make words come when they want to say, “I am sorry. I love you. I wish I knew how to help.

Bless the girl who grew up in Deep East Texas and fell in love with a young man who bought her a Dr. Pepper and spent the rest of his life with the goal of trying to impress her. Bless the girl who became a woman who taught school, married, became a mother, cared for own mother through illness and great loss, of her brothers and of her father. Bless her dear sister, loved and lone.

Bless the woman who embodied the radical hospitality of Christ – whose personal viewpoint and politics evolved to reflect the world in which she found herself, a world where families were torn apart by poverty and by war. Blessings on her for working to end them both, for setting the example that her own children would go on to follow.

Blessings on those children who grew up utterly sure of love they were loved, of the grace they were given, even when – especially when – they least deserved it. Bless the daily communion dispensed by way of motherly love and bedside hot cocoa and cinnamon toast. Bless the quarters taped to paper lunch sacks and encouraging love notes on napkins.

Blessings on this family. Bless them in their anger. Their anger with you, God. Their disbelief, their hurt, and their canyon wide missing of the one they cannot comprehend losing. Bless their old saddle shoes in a hat box in the basement, their Pinewood Derby cars and letters home from camp and from college and far away cities. Bless their little child selves in such pain at their beloved Mother’s long suffering, the unimaginable loss, the duties that call them to tend to children of their own who are afraid to go to sleep, even when their little bodies won’t let them cry.

Bless the grey hairs and the exhaustion, the doctors and the nurses and the tearful care takers who weep and shudder. Bless the hand needing another to hold, the shawl needing shoulders, the wheeled chair with nowhere left to roam. Blessings on the remembrances of words she seemingly just spoke, like, “My daughter who sings has come back.” OR “I love you so much I think my heart might explode.” OR  “Thank you.” And at hearing her as yet unborn grandbaby’s chosen name, “Leo the lion.”

Bless the father and husband of near fifty years whose heart is not just heavy, but broken, for he has loved her since they were almost children themselves. Blessings on him, God. Bless him and bring him comfort. Bless the brown recliner which holds respite from gravity’s pull and from the big too-empty bed. Bless the tears that go unwept, as well as the ones that baptize chins and cheeks, and shoulders of tall husbands, of wives ready to bear children, of sisters and of brothers, of small children like cats in laps. Bless the grandbabies who adored their Diggy. The youngest of whom only know or remember her as sick and as dying. Bless them.

Bless them all, God. Bless them. And most of all, God, Bless her. Bless our Diggy, the one that you know by name, by the sweetness of her Spirit, the enormity of her heart. Bless her, God. Bless her freedom from suffering in a broken body and from the shackles of her precious damaged mind.

Blessings on her, and on her people, all of them. The ones related by blood or by marriage or because she claimed them as friend.

Bless US dear Lord. Blessings on us when we falter, when we ask why, when we are not sleeping for nights upon nights and we know that life will never again be the same. Bless us at this time when faith is scarce, forgiveness just a word, but the love that loves that can’t stop loving goes on and on and on.
Blessings on THAT--  Blessings on what she taught us by the way she lived, and in what she ardently believed, through even the worst of it all….

Bless that love that goes on loving in this sweet little messy God filled life.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

And now we are four.

Thankful for the many years of life and love we have shared with Mother, Peggy Joyce McDaniel La Grone. We believed we were lovable and magic, because she was. Our beloved Diggy passed peacefully in her sleep early this morning. We will remember her words to us following her cancer diagnosis: "Love fully. Forgive, forgive, forgive. And: stay true to the Spirit of your Christian core." That's our mother, loving others and always letting her heart lead.... I can not tell you what a hole is left in not only our lives, but in the world at large with her no longer in it. And yet, we give thanks that her body and mind no longer suffer, and that her spirit is free.

May you rest in peace. 

Peggy Joyce McDaniel La Grone December 3, 1939 - November 10, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Domestic revelations of a domestic revolutionary.

Should your bathroom smell strongly and inexplicably of pee even after you've swabbed it down repeatedly, check the shower curtain. Why? I couldn't say. Pee smell that misses the scrutiny of the husband with an unworking sniffer and a little boy who smells of dirt and sweat and dog and pencil lead? Could be the shower curtain. Washing it (in hot, with very little detergent, just like those cloth diapers years ago) could well do the trick.

Should your husband and child come home from school to find you washing dishes and sweeping the floor in your underpants and a torso long sports bra, smile your best smile. Smile your best smile especially if this wasn't intended as a sexy saran wrap come-on, as you are a portly middle aged but reasonably attractive and good natured woman. Smile your best smile as you say to your husband, "Well, I guess you didn't expect to come in to find your wife in her underpants and a bra." Smile bigger when your husband adds, "And a necklace!" Place your open palmed hand over your chest as if saying "I swan!" just as you've seen your mother do for decades whenever she is tickled or moved or flirty with your father. You may wish to disclose that you are in such a state merely because not only did you burn the supper (aloo bhindi) you'd intended for take away for a friend  because you were on the phone with your brother and highly distracted, but you'd also spilled a considerable amount of aforesaid burned supper (laden with tumeric) onto your clothing and had actually intended to change but had again gotten distracted by the dirty floor needing attention.

And so it goes. If you are especially lucky, your sweet husband will take you out to supper by moving a few funds around and hold your hand across the table and then build a bonfire for your child and a friend upon coming home.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Holding while letting go.

I'm struggling with how to word it all and how to feel it all and still yet continue on with living life as we now know it. Preparing for life as we see it's going to be, without foresight, because, well, I'm not the omniscient narrator. I'm just someone's daughter and someone's sister, someone's wife, and someone's mother, and this is the how it goes.

I'm not special. Many many have been before me on this journey, my own parents included.

The plain truth: we are losing Mother. Piece by piece, bit by bit.

There is nothing more that needs to be said. She knows how much we love and respect her. We know she would do and has done anything for us.  No one really wants to talk about it. And yet, we have to sometimes. The days are long, the years are short. In child-rearing, and in watching a parent decline, hoping like Hell you're doing enough to offer comfort, keep regret at bay, be part of the team.

No one wants to feel left out. No one wants to have another pull her burden, or lift her share. We lean into now, while simultaneously preparing for a future we didn't ask for but is coming all the same, in a faster fade than we'd like.

As I said, there is nothing (or almost nothing?) that is left unsaid. We're all sad. We've all been angry. She's tired of fighting, and shakes because, as she told me today, "It's all so stressful."

It seems cruel that one good woman should be made to endure so much. So much pain, so much loss of independence, so much indignity, such need for help to do pretty much anything. For my independent, intelligent and highly spiritual mother, this last leg has been a mean moan, a long quiet mean moan echoing into a vast unknowing.

My sister told me to come. I changed my plans, on the fly I drove here. To Mother and Daddy's. Even now, in the midst of my own grief, I am thinking of my best friends, and how lung cancer has one father in its grip, a brother has pancreatic cancer holding strong, a mother beat breast cancer but lost her husband to the effects of a long decline into physical weakness and dementia. I am not alone. I think of my dearest and oldest friend boarding a plane going to tell her brother goodbye.

It sucks. Inelegant to say, raw and primal to live.

And we're the lucky ones. We have had Mother for so many years -- had her in high quality sparkling wonderfulness as the woman who adored our every word and song, but told us we'd have to work for things. Told us that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, even when we (I) didn't want to hear it.

I'm glad she knows I finally learned some of the bird in the hand wisdom. That I ended and healed from a broken marriage. Made a new life with a partner I'll love beyond the grave ("Not everyone has a tall handsome husband, Daughter," she tells me -- she is right. But I do, as does she.) I am glad she's seen all her children become parents, finish some things we started (me, especially, since frankly, I worried her perhaps longest.)

Here, I bag up things for Goodwill and the Ecumenical Storehouse. Clean out drawers, make plans to tackle closets. I cook, because that is what I do.

I listen to my father. I watch him, as he gently scratches under her chin with his hand at the breakfast table and I know how her vacant face lights up to him alone, her husband of nearly fifty years. She bestows upon him a smile and says, "Me and you."  He repeats it. I listen as he tells my brother of this moment. We get choked up a lot around here.

And in the inbetween times, we all go on about the business at hand. Raising our children, teaching our students, preparing and eating meals. Putting gasoline in our cars, walking by the river and reading books, driving between here and there. Paying bills, fitfully sleeping, generating more questions than answers.

She tells us she wants to go home. That it's all too stressful. She says thank you and that she's sorry (the thing that tears at my heart the most.) That she wants to get in a car, go far. Get on a plane. She asks if we have made the travel arrangements, and when we will leave.

We know what is coming, though we can not forsee its impact, the loss of her colorful self in the world as we know it. But I think I can say that each of us is willing to give up the reds and violets for the pink sky at twilight, and her peace, whenever that time might come.

We are both holding her close, and letting go, as she did with each of us.