I Should Have Told You This A Long Time Ago

For my family: It has been said over and again that we are not promised tomorrow; with that mindset, I would like to share with you a few of my favorite memories and what makes me smile widely when I think of you:

Mom: That infamous day at Callaway Gardens when you ran into your only daughter with your bike because you couldn’t figure out how to use the pedal brakes- I can still see your face… laughing so hard you were crying and unable to say anything, including the helpful words, “Move out of the way!” That memory has made me laugh so many times!

You have sent me a Valentine’s Day card every year of my life. Thank you. You always know how to lift my spirits.

Trying to figure out how to work the card/key elevator in NYC… eleven!

Dr. M: When I was in high school, you would come home from work in the evenings and kick around the soccer ball with me. That was so awesome of you.

It takes a special man to love someone else’s child as if she were his own, and that’s what you have done.

Playing the word game, “Ghost,” on car rides, and “pocket repeat” from Radio Shack- I still have it after all these years.

April: Sitting on the floor with you at the Point Clear house listening to records; we looked at the Doobie Brother’s album jacket and you told me all of their names. We sang to each of the songs.

I love your sense of humor and hearing you talk makes me happy.

The night before I left for college, you gave me a popcorn maker; you covered my eyes with your hands as I opened it so I wouldn’t see the box and we laughed so hard while you gave me directions on getting the tape off.

Claudia: After I passed boards, I came home, pressed “play” on the answering machine, and heard your voice saying, “Woohoo! Is there an RN in the house? We are so happy for you!” That meant so much to me.

You make life fun.

We were all together in church one holiday years ago, and I spontaneously started crying snotty tears for no apparent reason. You didn’t try to ask what was wrong- you just handed me a tissue, smiled, nodded, and held my hand. That was perfect and made it all better.

Hank: Going with you and your Dad to the old auction building on a covert pigeon rescue/adoption/relocation mission in the dark of night- I think we may have rescued one or two. How did we get in there anyway?

The ways you show your love mean a lot; I never have to walk to my car alone after a family get-together because of you.

You let Austin ride in your boat as you pulled it back to your home. I don’t know whose grin was bigger that day as you both drove by and waved, yours or his! Thank you for doing that for him.

Missy: The Great Loon Rescue… you were so brave.

No one can make me laugh as hard as you do! I also love it when you open that tender heart of yours – talking with you replenishes my soul and releases buried tears turning them into laughter and snorts…well snorts for at least one of us…wait, I have heard you snort before! Shhh, I won’t tell anyone…

You taught me how to drive stick-shift. I’m not sure we were completely successful that day, but I do remember you saying it’s easier to feel the clutch bare-foot then warning me to always drive with shoes on.

Mary: Playing countless card games at Point Clear- MAMTG and AMCTG- many great memories of that summer.

You have such a sweet voice.

Walking with you at Gulf Shores, talking, dreaming, and collecting sea shells, then seeing a school of dolphins… we came close to deciding to swim out to them…until a fish bumped into my leg. Then it was over.

Mark: Seeing you at the grill every Easter with the lamb chops, and knowing you are doing it out of love.

I’m grateful for the special bond you forged with Austin that exists still. He would talk your ear off when he was little and you were always patient and listened.

The well-timed SEC football fan e-mail

For My Son

What I want you to know:

There are times I am disappointed for you yet I am never disappointed in you. I am so thankful that God chose me to be the vessel through which you came to be here; He is the One Who made you and He loved and knew you long before I did. You are a precious gift.

Even as I am happy being with you, it is not your responsibility to ensure my happiness. We choose to be happy or unhappy and any poor choices I have made are my own, not yours.

You inspire me. I am braver when I am with you. I see your love, your sincerity, your ability to make others smile, and I want to be more like you. I have never wanted for you to be like me; God made you who you are, and He knew what He was doing.

I want you to know, really know, that you are loved. You are loved not just by me, but by those who want to be a part of your life and to have you in theirs. My prayer is that you see yourself through God’s eyes- when that happens, you will have immeasurable joy and peace.

My wishes for you:

To love and be loved back.

To find your path doing what makes you happy. Please don’t waste your time with a job that you hate as a means to an end so that ‘one day’ you can be happy. ‘One day’ may never come and I don’t want you to ever look back with regret. It’s the little moments in life that bring smiles and they are easier to recognize when we do what we enjoy.

For you to laugh and to laugh often. Your laughter is a blessing to you and to those around you.

That you may know your worth, share the gifts God has given you, and see how much He loves you.

A Prayer

Dear Lord, tonight I feel weak and I ask for Your help
-that I may be a beacon and not a burden
-to be accepting and not controlling
-to be patient, kind, and forgiving
-to remember the times that You have forgiven me
-to be thankful and joyous instead of anxious and regretful
-to listen with my ears and with my heart; when I speak, to ask You for the right words to say
-to carry Your Light which chases away all darkness
-and to love, no matter what, no matter when.
Thank You for all that You have given me. You have always been in my life, even during the times I tried to push You away. Please continue to watch over my family.
In Jesus’ name I pray.

Stuff Happens- A Regrettably True Story

watre closet

In an effort to cut down on colorful language and not embarrass my parents (too much), I’ll be making a few word substitutions.
“Come help me! The toilet exploded!”
Those were my first words said to my son a few mornings ago. I should have known something was a bit off when I put a load of laundry in the washer and then heard a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen sink. We live in an old house and according to my neighbors, the folks who lived here before had an interesting way of performing home repairs.
As I rinsed a glass, I wondered why the water wasn’t getting very hot. When the loud gushing sounds reached my ears, I raced to the bathroom to find a volcano was erupting and hot, steaming, brown lava was everywhere. It coursed down the sides of the bowl, six or more inches up over the seat and with the speed and volume of the water at Niagara Falls… so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration… but maybe not.
“What’s going on?” my son asked as he came to join me in the bathroom. “Ohhhh…”
“The sewer line backed up and exploded. Inside. Grab some towels, there’s wit and miss everywhere!” I reached down to turn off the water- that didn’t help. Plunging only made it worse. Never try to plunge if the wit in the sewer pipes is going the wrong way.
“That’s old wit! Ugh, I’m gonna be sick! There’s wit from the whole neighborhood in here!” He did manage to find every towel we own and we worked as a team to at least cover the wit.
“Old wit, new wit, our wit, their wit- it doesn’t matter! We’ve got to get rid of ALL the wit!” Oh, what a twisted Dr Seuss rhyme.
“Mom, it’s all the way up to your ankles!” And off he went… heaving. Not everyone has a nurse’s stomach.
Mount Vesuvius finally stilled, leaving only steam escaping from its base. At least I knew where all the hot water had gone. The supply of towels was extinguished long before all the wit and miss had been cleaned, so I reluctantly started the washer up again, fearful of having the house fill with another explosion of wit. Once the towels were in the dryer, I had to get some bleach.
One of my neighbors was outside, so we chatted for a bit. I told her what had happened while she was getting some things from her boyfriend’s truck. She held one of his work boots, and then said, “Ewww, I wonder if he stepped in something… it smells like wit!”
“No, Cynthia. That would be me. I’m witty.”
“Oh!” Then quieter and a little sadly, “Oh… Sorry.”
Well, hoarding has come in handy; I had about ten of those cute little pocket-sized anti-bacterial thingies from Bath and Body Works. After pouring them all on my jeans, then running a little through my hair, there was a lovely combination of French Vanilla, Soothing Pear, Luscious Lavender, Citrus Peach, Christmas Holly, Merry Mistletoe, and Winter White going on to titillate the senses- what kind of scent is Winter White anyway and does mistletoe really smell like cinnamon?
Judging by the looks received from fellow Wal-Mart shoppers, not everyone’s senses were happy and there must have been a lingering cloud of wit surrounding me. Ah, so much for not embarrassing my parents with this story. However, I’ve never experienced shorter lines or quicker service while shopping! The lady in front of me at the checkout lane unloaded her cart at break-neck speed, no one got behind me, and the cashier’s hands moved so fast they were a blur.
Halfway through the decontamination process and while I was regretting not owning a Hazmat suit (you can find them on Amazon and the customer reviews are pretty entertaining), my sister Mary phoned to help me keep a sense of humor. We were soon laughing hysterically- me aided by the bleach-fumes high and her by the mental picture conjured from the stinky story:
Mary (her voice hitching through the laughter): “So it wasn’t just plain wit, but steaming wit? That really is a big hot mess!”
Me: “Yep, we are full of wit over here.”
Mary (so sincere)” Oh sweetie… I wish I was there to help you. Kind of.”
Me: “Thanks honey and I genuinely kind of appreciate that.”
Like a bad dream, it’s now all over- except for hoping to become best friends with the new plumber. Into everyone’s lives a little wit must fall. Keeping it in perspective, there really are worse things, this certainly brings new literal meaning to having a witty day, and if it makes my sister laugh then it’s all worthwhile. Kind of.

Put Me In Coach- For Beth

Those who impact others the most do so naturally with their souls; it is part of their being and it is beautiful.
This weekend was a big one- the opening weekend of softball season with my niece in her first position as head coach of a university’s softball team. All of the family is so excited for and proud of her and we loved being able to gather together in her honor. As an athlete and a coach, her accomplishments are impressive; even more impressive is her character and her integrity. As a very young girl, Beth worked hard to become the best she could be at everything she did and she succeeded. She did so quietly and humbly. As a young woman, she gives all of herself to help others become their best. She doesn’t take the credit for it- it’s just what she does.
Before the last game, her parents and I got to spend a little time with Beth who spoke about her most improved player, telling us, “She came from a town where no one expected her to be anything good, so she expected not to be anything good. She’s made such a turn-around.”
Listening to her gave me chills and I wanted to shout, “It’s because of YOU, Beth! Don’t you know? YOU are changing this girl’s life! I wish you were my coach!” But I didn’t. I listened. Her parents didn’t have to say it. They know.
The girls played hard but the score wasn’t in their favor this time. It’s early in the season- just the beginning- but it’s hard to find the right words to say to a disappointed coach after a loss. The team is already winning the big game. When I saw Beth afterwards to say goodbye, she said, “I’m sorry…” There was nothing I could do or say to help her feel better- just hug her and tell her, “Love you, baby.” I hope she felt what was in my heart: Sweet girl… beautiful lady…strong woman…you are affecting so many young lives and the world is a better place with you in it… But there’s a time for words and there’s a time when words need to be left unspoken.

When You Think Your Bike Is Your Best Friend

Having strong ‘loner’ tendencies, it’s no big surprise that I was drawn to cycling; I didn’t realize just how consuming my love affair with my bike had become until last night when I attempted to recount the details of the most recent ride to my son.
Me: “…so we were riding along Jefferson Highway and the rain was coming down in sheets…”
Him (trying not to laugh): “Mmmhmm…”
Me (becoming more passionate and slightly louder): “All three lanes had traffic, so we had to ride through the standing water on the right side of the road….”
Him (shoulders beginning to shake and eyes watering from trying to suppress the laughter):”Uh-huh…”
Me (louder still and very serious): “Suddenly our tires hit something slick-“
He started laughing out loud, incapable of holding it in any longer.
Me:”…and then we started skidding into the street… Just what the hell is so funny??”
Him (tears running down his face):”Mom! Who is ‘we?’ You and the bike?”
Me:”Oh.”
We’re both still smiling about that. By both, I mean me and my son. Not me and the bike!

To Our Patients and Their Families- From a Transplant Nurse

We are often humbled by the grace and courage you display. We remember your words many years later as you affect us so deeply and we are honored that you allow us into your lives at the most intimate times. Because of you, we love harder, smile wider, and appreciate the little/big things in life that we used to take for granted. Thank you for that gift. You are our greatest teachers.
We don’t want you to be in pain and we feel frustrated when we can’t make it better.
When we have been off for a few days, then return to work and find out you were discharged home, it makes us smile and we wish we had been there to say goodbye.
We get excited when we see your labs before we enter your room knowing that ‘new’ kidney is working well and are eager to share that news with you. We also dread entering your room when your labs indicate no signs of improvement knowing we will see your disappointment.
Sometimes we think about you when we get home, wondering if you are doing better, and cannot help calling to check on you. Sometimes, too, we try not to think of you as we are reminded of our own mortality and that frightens us.
We are moved when we hear you speak with sincere gratitude about your donor and the donor’s family. We want to hear about how transplant will change your life and what you are looking forward to the most- walking your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, going shopping with your friends without having to carry an oxygen tank, looking into your newborn grandchild’s eyes and feeling him grasp your finger with his tiny hand for the first time.
We love having you come back later to visit and giving us the opportunity to see you feeling well and enjoying life. You give us hope and that hope inspires our care of future patients.

My Sister’s Mother- for Miss Jody

Thirty five years ago, my mother accepted the marriage proposal made by my step-dad; it was her best decision of my life. At the time our families merged, I was 13 and my step-father’s four children were all young adults starting to carve their own paths. I’ve never asked any of them how they felt when their dad remarried; if there was pain over the breakup of their own parents’ marriage, and it’s certain there was, they were too gracious to show it. When I think of the many lives they have impacted- lives brought forth, lives nurtured, lives saved- I become overwhelmed, but those are stories for other days. This one is about their Mom.

I wish I remembered where we were the first time I met Miss Jody- it must have been someone’s birthday, or a holiday… what I do remember most is the way I felt before and after. I wonder what she’s like. It’s going to be weird meeting her. What if I don’t like her? And the last question, which was the only prophetic one- What if I do?

She hugged me when we met and got me past my shyness by asking about school… and horses; like a lot of young teen-aged girls, my passion then was horses. Over the past almost twenty years, I’ve watched this beautiful lady do the same thing with my own son at family gatherings.

Riding home in the back of my parents’ car that night, there were more thoughts that couldn’t be said out loud. She’s really nice. Did it feel strange to her being around my mother? I like her. Am I disloyal to Mom because I like her?

Everyone who knows Miss Jody can attest to her sweet, kind spirit. She didn’t have to accept me. She didn’t have to accept my son. She’s done way more than that… she has loved us, truly loved us- openly, genuinely, completely, and unconditionally. I always look forward to seeing her.

At my sister’s birthday lunch this past Sunday, I got a few minutes alone with her mother. As we talked, I couldn’t help blurting out, “Miss Jody, is it ok that I think of you as my step-mom?” The thought had been in my mind for several days and just had to come out- I struggle constantly between being awkwardly quiet at times and a blurter at others. “Oh, darlin’, of course! Of course it is!” was her sweet reply. She hugged me and told me she loved me as she pushed away strands of hair that had fallen into my eyes with her gentle fingers. I love it and it makes me smile when she does things like that- it’s her nurturing way. I love you too, Miss Jody.

Giving Thanks

There are many great memories of Thanksgivings past. For me, this one was the best ever, being spent with cherished family and friends who are family too. Gone at last were the selfish and self-imposed feelings of guilt and dark regret, leaving so much more room for light, love, happiness, joy, and gratitude. The beginning of this year was a scary time for our family as my brother Hank was really ill; his recovery has made the closing of this same year that much sweeter.

Sitting around the fire pit outside with everyone after our huge feast, we shared wine, stories, and lots of laughs. Being with nieces and nephews who are all grown now, learning more about them through their conversations with us and each other, hearing their laughter, and seeing the closeness they share was priceless. My niece Beth entertained the group both with her humor and her guitar, indulging all of us with our requests, leading us in sing-alongs, and best of all, occasionally going into a solo which allowed us to hear her beautiful voice- I don’t think she knows how good she is. Cliff and his sweet wife, Kara, radiate love and are always sure to include everyone in conversations- I love that about them. Oliver exudes warmth and makes everyone feel special; he has a quietly giving nature. Katie lights us up with her laughter and brings to the group her optimistic, positive energy.

As my sister-in-law, Claudia, periodically left her chair for only a moment at a time- we don’t know how she does this, but she takes photos in pure stealth-like fashion without us realizing she’s doing it; we only know later when we see the beautiful images of the ones we love, their personalities captured perfectly- I couldn’t help thinking about when these young adults were little… Beth as a toddler, walking around at a festival in Gulf Shores, a balloon tied to her wrist, a precious grin on her beautiful face, and arms outstretched to everyone… Oliver at the age of one, giving gentle pats on the back to whoever held him in their arms; God gave him the Spirit of a Comforter very early in life and he continues to share that gift with all of us…. Cliff when he was eight, meeting my two-week old son for the first time- such a kind soul then and now, he made sure to say goodbye to the baby before he returned home with his parents… Katie as a toddler too, standing on her daddy’s shoes, holding his hands, and ‘dancing’ at my wedding reception; she is the kind of young woman who makes others happier just because they are in her presence. It was with Divine timing that my own grown son phoned during these reflections. It was the first Thanksgiving I’ve been apart from him, and his phone call made it seem that he was with us all.

When it came time to leave, Hank said he’d walk me out (he’s always so polite) and the following conversation took place, making me smile widely as I type this:

Me: “You don’t have to do that.”

Hank: “I want to.” That’s just how he is, and we love him for it.

Me: “Ok.”

We stopped by the kitchen, and he insisted on carrying the casserole dish I’d brought. As we got closer to my car, walking out with my sister Mary and her husband, Mark, Hank asked, “Are you ok? You seem ok, but are you really ok?”

Me (perplexed at first, thinking physically? Mentally?- that’s sometimes up for debate! Emotionally?): “Ohhhh! You mean to drive?” (DUH!)

Hank: “Yes. Are you ok to drive?”

Me: “Oh yeah, I’m fine! I let people know if I’m impaired, huh Mark?”

Mark (my very patient brother-in-law): “She’d let you know.”

Me, to Hank:” I got really drunk Easter. Mark and Mary drove me home.” A little side-note here, Mark asked me the very same question Hank was asking now after the family Easter celebration at their home, to which my obnoxiously loud reply was, “Nope! Not even a little bit!” Yes, my parents were still waiting up for me that night when Mary and Mark drove me home, and yes, even though I’m in my 40’s, I felt like I was back in high school all over again…

Mark: “We didn’t mind.” So sweet.

As we reached the car, Hank asked me one more time gently and quietly, “Are you sure you’re ok? You’d tell me if you weren’t, right? Don’t lie to me.”

I really wouldn’t lie to him. There was only that one time, and that was over three decades ago! (https://awhitlow2.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/a-hank-story/)

Me: “I’m ok, I promise.”

Hank (seeming convinced): “Ok.”

Me: “I love you.”

Hank: “I love you too.”

Me: “I’m gonna cry now.”

Hank: “That’s ok.”

When I got in the car, the tears made it hard to see him standing behind, giving directions on how to back out of a tricky spot. It’s one of the Hank-like ways he shows us his love, and it feels so unimaginably good to have that.

Those Awkward Family Moments

Last night while I was in the kitchen, I heard Matthew McConaughey’s voice coming from the TV in the living room. Looking up at my nineteen year old son sitting on the couch, I asked him incredulously, “Are you watching ‘Magic Mike’?!”

He looked up with shameful disdain. “Yep. There’s nothing else on. So I’m just sitting here. Watching ‘Magic Mike’.” He shook his head pitifully as he glanced back down at the television.

“Oh!” I replied enthusiastically, “I’ll come watch it with you!”

The horrified panic that washed over his face was comical. As I walked over to the couch and began to sit next to him, he pleaded, “No, no, no! Mom! Don’t do it!” I nearly collapsed from laughing so hard.

“Mom!” the poor boy exclaimed. “You just made this, like, two hundred times more awkward. This is so humiliating.”

“I know, sweetie,” I replied as he put his head in his hands. “You’ll be ok.”