Tuesday, January 31, 2017

It's All I Can Do to Keep Waiting on You

Or the Tenth Good Thing About Sallie

Walking through her house the last few weeks I've come across a certain book left on a desk.  It was not odd to see children's books throughout her home, she was a reading teacher and had the equivalent of a small town library in her house.  But why was this one out, I thought for a moment as I speculated about the theme based on the title.  I finally sat down and read the story and it was as I thought:

"My cat Barney died last Friday.
I was very sad.

I cried, and I didn't watch television.
I cried, and I didn't eat my chicken even the chocolate pudding.
I went to bed, and I cried.

My mother sat down on my bed, and she gave me a hug.
She said we could have a funeral for Barney in the morning.
She said I should think of ten good things about Barney so I could tell them at the funeral.

I thought, and I thought, and I thought of good things about Barney.
I thought of nine good things.  Then I fell asleep.

In the morning my mother wrapped Barney in a yellow scarf.
My father buried Barney in the ground by a tree in the yard.
Annie, my friend from next door, came over with flowers.
And I told good things about Barney.

Barney was brave, I said.
And smart, and funny, and clean.
Also cuddly and handsome, and he only once ate a bird.
It was sweet, I said, to hear him purr in my ear.
And sometimes he slept on my belly and kept me warm.

Those are all good things, said my mother, but I just count nine.
I said I would try to think of another one later....."  from the Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst

My mother passed away in her sleep over the holidays.  She left the world quietly, the way she lived it.  Over the coming days many people asked us how we were going to cope.  For though she was quiet her impact and presence in our life was ubiquitous.  She transported kids to practices and to and from school.  She managed school projects, mended clothes, took care of needed tasks such as picking up those birthday cake candles at the last moment when forgotten.  Her smile was always a comforting salve to a challenging day for not only myself but the entire family.  As Shannon stated we were not a family of four, we were a family of five and she was the bonding glue that held our every day existence.

In life she was a teacher for over 35 years and in her spare time (though in truth a parallel career) she was a gardener, a seamstress, and a lover of animals.  Yet, to be fair, lover of animals would be a severe understatement.  As her former principle stated at the memorial "I always said that if I ever came back in life, I wanted to come back as Sallie's dog."  Oh, to be the person who received the love and attention of Sallie has always certainly been divine.

As we spoke in the days after, we realized there were so many ways she made our lives whole.  Her impact was vast and yet the biggest impact was the accumulated collection of small things she did for us each and every day.

The book on her desk began to make sense to me.  The boy was struggling to find the tenth good thing about his cat and yet what he was really trying to figure out was the true meaning his cat, Barney, had on his life.

In the end the boy figures out his true feelings for Barney and what Barney's lasting impact will be for him.

"Barney was brave, I said.
And smart, and funny, and clean.
Also cuddly and handsome, and he only once ate a bird.
It was sweet, I said, to hear him purr in my ear.
And sometimes he slept on my belly and kept me warm.

Those are all good things, said my mother, but I still just count nine.

Yes, I said, I have another.

Barney is in the ground and he's helping grow flowers.
You know, I said, that's a pretty nice job for a cat."

From my perspective what the boy comes to realize is that more than anything Barney made him feel loved and supported and his greatest gift was helping the boy grow.

My mom's ending wishes were as simple as the life she led.  She wanted her ashes placed on the mountains she loved.  And per those wishes we endeavored to find just the right spot, though we soon knew there could only be one appropriate eternal spot.  We silently placed her ashes at the top of a trail above the pond, finding a good spot among a collection of young Rhododendrons. Below us snow flurries fell delicately to the ground and on the chilly pond while Canadian Geese honked unknown communications to one another, the only sound within our melancholy yet beautifully tranquil scene.  A few people walked around the pond across the way.  How many times had she walked those paths with her beloved furry friends.  Yes, this was the spot for her to rest.  As I walked away I wondered should I take a picture but I know the peaceful image of the day will be implanted on my mind in perpetuity as is the appreciation for the person we were there for.

As I thought about the tenth good thing about my mom I realized that there was only one good thing about her.  And that one good thing was that her impact was pervasive throughout our lives. All the good things she did collectively accumulated to create the foundation of everything we are today.  We are a function of her enabling and nurturing love.  My daughters, their joys and talents were because of her support.  My success in life and yes I must admit my adventures here, a result of her ability to hold down the fort at times in order for me to pursue passions.  Shannon's success, a result of her helping me get through the challenges of work-life balance while she traveled the country enjoying success.  But more importantly was her ability to provide that stabilizing fabric of support woven indelibly into our lives.

My mother is now with her friends the geese, the birds, the deer, the squirrels, and she lays among the Rhododendron and enjoys the peace of the snow and the sun and the breeze.  I hope that is OK for her, though I know if we missed the spot she would have just said "it's OK, this is fine."

We will come back to visit her for I want her to see the people we have become, the women my girls, who she helped raise will become.  I think we are going to be OK and a lot of that is due to her.  And that's a pretty nice thing to have accomplished in life.