Posts in Category: Parents

Nature Knows – Moms, Kids, & Grief

Saying Goodbye to Hans

The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have had a tough year. The matriarch of the lake, Lydia, was injured early in the season. She was no longer able to defend her territory, be a suitable mate for Bud, or to care for her unhatched colts. In a strange twist, Crystal, Lydia’s colt from the previous summer stepped in as a replacement mother and mate to Bud. Lydia’s fate is currently unknown. She may be living on the fringe of the lake with the other unmated birds, or she may have died. Either way, her departure from the Lakehouse has been a devastating loss.

Crystal cared for the eggs as though they were her own, taking turns with Bud to keep them safe and warm. She has been a good and doting mother to this year’s colts, Hans and Solo. But as any mother knows, it only takes a moment for a child to step into danger. Hans did just that on Wednesday, May 29.

I could hear the horn of the passing car clearly from inside the Lakehouse. This happens from time to time. The cranes are, after all, birds and have very little sense about the dangers of the roadway. Most often, the cranes come away uninjured and unfazed by their close calls with passing vehicles. But in this instance, I felt quite certain that one or more of the birds were injured or killed. Bud & Crystal’s distress calls clearly communicated that a colt was seriously injured or dead. I searched for Hans along the roadside but found nothing. Perhaps I was wrong.

As the day passed, I watched the cranes closely. I saw Bud and Solo together in the bog, but not Crystal. I worried that Crystal, as a new mom, might have been unsettled enough by the event to abandon her new family. Or, maybe Hans was not gone and for some odd reason, Crystal was spending time alone with him. That, however, would be highly unusual. There is safety in numbers, and crane families stay together.

Around 8 pm, I heard Crystal knocking on the basement door. She normally does this to let me know that there is no bird seed on the ground. However, there was plenty, and there was no need for her to knock. She met me at the door and just stood there looking up at me intensely. I don’t know for sure what she wanted or what she was trying to tell me, but I believe she was sharing her loss. I said from my heart in my out loud voice, “I love you, Crystal, I know that Hans is likely gone, I am so very very sorry, I will miss him too. And, Crystal, I am so very proud of you. You did your best. You are a great mom.” She held my eyes with hers for some time. Tears fell as I focused on sending love from my heart to hers.

Thursday morning arrived, and no cranes came to the yard. I could still see Bud and Solo in the bog, but not Crystal. The afternoon passed, and then, the evening came. I could no longer accept Crystal’s absence. I had to find her. Perhaps I could see her more easily from the kayak. It did not take long to locate them. While I was saddened to see that Hans was indeed missing, I was relieved to see Bud, Crystal, & Solo together.

I was disheartened, but at peace. The remaining family was safe and together as a unit. For this, I was grateful. I paddled around the lake for a bit longer feeling my feelings, talking to God, and taking in the sights, and sounds of the lake.  As the sun began to set, I recorded and posted a video on Facebook sharing the sad news of Hans passing.

On my return to the dock, I noticed the cranes settling on their nest for the night. I called out to them, “Come back to the yard tomorrow, ok!” At that moment, I saw something that was not right. It was a patch of orange where it should not have been. My heart sank, and tears began to fall. Hans lifeless body lay below Crystal’s feet. She must have carried him from the roadway back to the nest. The mystery of her absence from the others was now solved. Crystal looked down at Hans and then at me with an expression that was not unfamiliar. It was, in fact, an expression I hoped never to see again as long as I lived.

Grief has its own timeline. It comes and goes without warning. Sometimes it lasts for minutes but often lingers for days or even months. Grief feels like a lonely Godless place. No one, absolutely no one can feel your pain. No one can bare it for you. And, God, where is God when every cell of your being aches for someone or something that is no longer here? With just one glance from a distraught bird, vivid images from my mother’s final days played out in my mind’s eye, and I plunged into the depths of grief. Grief makes no apologies. It is an opportunist that shamelessly marches in, sets up camp, and stays until the heart heals enough to send it packing.

Three days before my mother passed, she was standing in our kitchen getting ready to take her night time meds. Instead of opening one section of her pill minder, the entire lid came off and one week’s worth of pills scattered across the floor. She quickly got down on hands and knees and began picking them up. As suddenly as she started, she stopped and stood up. She was confused. She looked up at me and like small child opened her upturned fists to show me what she held. She said, “I don’t know what to do.” At that moment, my mother realized that the cancer in her brain was winning. Her eyes pleaded in the same way as Crystal’s. Both were saying, Help me, can you fix this, won’t you please fix this. I took the pills from my mother’s hands and then held her in my arms and rocked her gently as she wept. I said It’s ok, it’s my turn to take care of you now. When she stopped crying, I put her to bed.

What is a person to do when pleading eyes ask the impossible? What is a person to do when there is nothing to be done? I could not fix my mother’s failing brain or make the cancer go away. I could not bring Hans back to life. I could not give my mother or Crystal what they wanted. In that helpless, hopeless place, all one can do is show up. To bear witness to the other’s suffering and in some small way, help to carry the burden. I sat quietly in the kayak and held Crystal’s gaze until she looked away.

Grief is a Godless place, but it is often where we find the Divine. It is frequently in our darkest moments that we call on God to lead us out of suffering and into the light. It is the journey back from the despair experienced during grief that strengthens our relationship with God and heals our hearts. As for me, I am shaken, and my heart is badly bruised. But, I know that the grief will pass and that the sorrow will be replaced with gratitude.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Harold and Lynnie Howarth, Lydia, and Hans.

My connection to nature is a direct gift from my parents. It is where I connect most often with them and is where I see God. Without my mother and father’s demonstration of love and reverence for nature, I would likely have never befriended a nesting pair of sandhill cranes. I am grateful beyond words for my folks. They were good people. I am grateful beyond words for the odd connection I have with these splendid birds.

Song of the Post: How Can I Help You Say Goodbye By Patty Loveless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4F_cXGQN9k

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2019© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Birthday Dad

Dad

Dad

It is my father’s birthday, and I am lost in thoughts of the magic, mischief, and mystery that made up this man. He was a good man: honest to a fault, a hard worker, a great provider for his family, a great dad, a teacher, and a good friend to many. His joy was solitude, nature, food, and his family. His love for me, and mine for him, was as close to unconditional as I will likely ever know. He would tell me, “You are my sun, my moon, and all the stars above.” And though I never told him, he was mine.

My father was also a man of opposites. His needs were simple, yet his mind complex. He was deeply tenderhearted, yet he could spew words that would cut to the quick, leaving one feeling small and broken. In the out of doors, he was comfortable with silence, yet inside, awake or asleep, he was a living, walking, breathing, noise machine. He could condemn the church, yet quote scripture, and live by the Word better than many theologians.

My father loved winter. He always said everything made more sense in black and white. When all the distraction of foliage and colors were removed, the truth about a thing was much clearer. I always knew he was talking about more than the forest in winter. How appropriate, though, that he was born and died during the coldest of the winter months.

My father loved and respected nature. He saw not only the beauty of nature, but also its cruelty. In his own life, he did not turn away from the ugly or difficult parts. He embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly as a whole; not as separate items that could be compartmentalized, or ignored, just because it was not pretty, or convenient. He was a true realist.

My father loved food. He enjoyed cooking wild game and making soup. He believed that soup should always include carrots, and that any dish could be improved with salt, butter, tabasco sauce, onions, and perhaps a little more butter. He was famous for slum gum. Slum gum starts with eggs, butter, onions, and leftovers. I am pretty sure that in the beginning he was attempting to make an omelette. However, due to lack of patience or too many ingredients, it just became eggs and leftovers fried together in one pan. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was awful! But then again, those were the days we would just add a bit more butter, or salt, or tabasco.

I could tell you so much more about my father, but I believe I will stop for now. Today is his birthday, and if he were here, there would not have been much fuss. I would have given him a card that he would read once, then mindlessly, place upon the counter for my mother to put away. Mom would have baked him a cake, spice, carrot, or yellow, frosted in white. He would have eaten too many pieces, and she would object. But all he would have to say is, “What? It is my birthday!” And, what could she really say on his special day!

I love you and miss you, Dad. Though I cannot see, hear, or touch you, I know you are not too far away. You always said that heaven is here on Earth, and maybe you were right. See, since you left, I have come to believe that heaven exists only a short distance away, beyond a curtain that I am unable to see. l feel your presence every day, and I know that you are near.  I hope that there is cake in heaven, Dad, and that today your favorite kind is served.  Happy 87th Birthday!  

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Thanks to Carmel Steffen for proofreading and fixing my commas. I swear there were never this many commas needed when I was in high school or college.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s A Dad Thing

Today, I did a Dad thing.  It was not just a little Dad thing, but a classic.  It was one of those goofy things that you think you would never do in a million years.  I was so tickled with myself afterward, I wanted to call him and say; Dad, guess what I just did!  But of course, I cannot.  Though I often feel him with me, and even talk to him from time to time, it is not the same.  On this day though, if he could have replied, I know he would have grinned ear to ear and said; “Well now!  That’s my girl!”

So what did I do?  I fried my cereal.  That’s right!  I made little patties out of the slimy stuff, threw them into a frying pan with butter, and sprinkled them with cinnamon.  When the edges were crisp, I put them onto a plate, added a little more butter, and drizzled them with raw honey.  It was by far, the best thing I have eaten all week.

My father used to make something called cornmeal mush.  Just the word “mush,” was enough to keep me from ever eating it.  For those of you who may not know, cornmeal mush is cornmeal cooked in water or milk until it thickens.  Then, it is poured into a small cake pan to harden.  Once hardened, it is sliced and fried.

My father’s oil of choice was always bacon grease, but any cooking oil would do.  The key, for him, was that it had to be a lot of oil.  Enough, in fact, that it would, not only, generously splatter the stove top, but also, the wall behind, and the floor below.  After the mush was crisp, or perhaps, when it could saturate no more oil, he would put it on a plate, add an inordinate amount butter, and smother it all in maple syrup.  This left the end of the kitchen table both sticky and greasy.

My fried cereal did not resemble my father’s.  None-the-less, it was inspired by him.  First, it was Bob’s Red Mill Mighty Tasty Gluten Free Hot Cereal, not cornmeal.  After eating it in the form it was intended, I decided “Mighty Tasty” must have come from the marketing team, and not the taste testers.  Next, there was only a little butter in the frying pan.  Not even enough to splatter the stove top,  wall, or floor.  And lastly, raw honey was used sparingly, leaving no sticky residue on the table.

How many more “Dad things” will I remember and embrace as the years pass?  Too many to count, I hope.  No, I doubt I will take up hunting or trapping, or master cussing as he did.  But I am sure there are other softer gentler parts of him that I will rediscover.  I can hardly wait!

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Till Death Do Us Part

Nine years ago today, my mom lost her battle with lung cancer. Five hours later, my father passed unexpectedly from what I believe was a broken heart.  When people learn of this, they instantly conjure images of the couple in Nicholas Sparks’ book or movie “The Notebook.”  My parents were not that couple.

My parents were fiercely independent. My father worked away from home much of his career.  Mother was not the kind of woman to wait around for her husband to fix things on his short weekends.  Instead, she learned how to repair everything from toilets to electrical appliances.  She loved wood working and could build anything from bluebird houses, closets, desks, bookshelves, and cabinets.  She even finished the basement and constructed a sauna for my father.  My father preferred fishing, trapping, or cutting wood versus fixing or creating things.  The reality is that Mother was much better at these tasks, and it was better if he did not try to help.

When my father retired, my mother grew tired of him being underfoot.  Everything about him being in the house irritated her.  My mother was more than a bit OCD, and my father was more harmony in disorder.  He got up early and she late.  He made messes everywhere he went, and she continually put everything back in place.  He took over the kitchen to make breakfast and lunch often, leaving unpleasant odors, grease on the stove, counter, and table, and a mountain of dirty dishes.  He was also noisy.  He walked hard, he talked loud, and even when not talking made grumbling noises or often cursed for no apparent reason.

My mother’s solution was to have a 2 ½ stall garage built.  One side was insulated and equipped with a wood stove, sleeping cot, recliner, books, and a reading lamp just in case he might like to hang out there.  As time went on, my father did grow to love his garage.  So much so that he added a refrigerator, a camp stove, crockpot, and other cooking supplies.  Then he moved into the garage.  We might never have seen him had it contained a bathroom.  It was the perfect solution.  They could be close but have enough space to find peace with one another.

There were times I wondered why they stayed together.  I loved them both so much, but often felt they might be happier with other people.  I will admit there were times that I thought they stayed married because they lived during a time when a commitment was a commitment, and till death do us part meant just that.  But now and again, I would glimpse my father looking at my mother in a special way.  And, occasionally, I would see my mother look at him in the same fashion.

A few days before they passed, I witnessed a profound exchange between Mom and Dad.  Never again would I wonder if they truly loved one another, or, the depth of that love.  I was staying with them, knowing that the end was near for mom. Her cancer had spread from her lungs to her brain, and she was no longer thinking clearly. I had just helped her with meds and thought she was down for the night. I escaped upstairs to get some much-needed sleep.

Just as I started to drift off, I heard the thumping of feet running back and forth from the living room, to the hall, and the office. I rushed downstairs to find my mother racing from one place to another, confused, but knowing that her oxygen was not working. With all that running and sheer panic, she had become oxygen-deprived. I noticed a small oxygen tank near Dad and connected her air tubing to it. Of course, the tank was empty. Mom was beside herself. Then my father said something I had never heard before. He said quite sternly, “Lynnie, go sit down.” My mother obeyed, calmly walking back to her office, where we had set up a temporary bedroom. What startled me was that he called her by her name. In all my 50 years, I had never heard him call her anything other than Mother or Ma.

I followed her and then proceeded to study the manual for the oxygen machine in an attempt to determine a solution. I was still frantically looking through the document when my father arrived in the room. He, too, had an oxygen machine. He had gotten up on legs that were no longer stable or reliable, unplugged his machine, and was hunched over it, pushing it toward mother. He plugged it in, took the air tubing off from his face, and gently placed it upon her and said, “It is more important that you have this.” They sat beside each other on the twin bed, holding each other’s hands and looking deeply into one another’s eyes. There are no words to describe the moment they shared.

They looked like newlyweds with a lifetime to share, and yet, like the elderly couple, they were, with no words needed to express how they felt. The energy in the room was palpable. I was an intruder in this very intimate moment. As they both grew tired from the incident, the spell was broken, and I remembered that I needed to fix the oxygen machine.

The following evening, as I prepared dinner, my father told me that he had walked by my mother while she was resting. He could not see her breathing and thought she had died. It gave him a terrible shock. He told me that he did not think he could bear to live without her. Little did I know that what he was saying was that he would be going with her. Two hours later, he had a fever that would not break. Sometime mid-morning of the following day, my mother began to fade, my father’s kidneys began to fail, and his lungs began to fill with fluid as a result of congestive heart failure. They both passed quietly at home in the presence of a few friends, family, and a fantastic hospice crew.

My folks were clearly, not the couple in The Notebook! They were, however, hardworking, honest, kind, and giving. They adored the kids from the neighborhood and loved having them hang out at the house. My mother taught cub scouts and 4-H. My father taught many young people how to fish and trap, including most recently a group of Amish boys. He also mentored many young men when he was a journeyman lineman. They both loved their children with a passion. And in the end, I was lucky enough to learn that they had an unbreakable bond and love that lasted not only for their 54 years of marriage but also, into the eternity of the hereafter.

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Authors Note:

February 20, 2011, was the most devastating day of my life. At the time, it felt like the beginning of the end. Without the anchor of my parents, would I float adrift, not knowing how to live? As it turns out, they prepared me well. My ship sails with their loving guidance from their heavenly home. Their deaths made me stretch as a person, and I feel that I have found my True North. There passing was not the end of my life, but the beginning.

I am tremendously grateful for them, and I miss them every day. But I often wonder if I would have had the courage to leave my job at Patterson Dental, begin writing, taking photos, or start The Gratitude Project. Art is known to heal broken hearts, and that is what it did for me. Words poured easily from my woundedness and gratitude. Photography kept me present and surrounded by the beauty of nature. The Gratitude Project allows me to give reverence to that past, live in the present, and, hopefully, be a gift to myself and others in the future.

Mom! Dad! I love you. I miss you. I hope I am making you proud.




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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Mother’s Garden

 

Today I raked my mother’s garden.  It was not my intention to rake the entire garden, but the task was one of overwhelming and unexpected joy.  In February of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and the garden had been sadly neglected ever since.  As I tended to the garden, a flood of memories came to mind.  The clearest though, was that spring of 2010.

That year I bought flat after flat of blooming annuals.  The colors were bold and bright, and I chose varieties that would last all summer.  I wanted to provide my mother with the most stunning garden of her life.  I wanted the beauty to counter the pain and discomfort of her disease.  I wanted to give back something in return for all she had done for me.

As the spring progressed, mom grew tired quickly.  Though I had planned the most stunning garden ever, I was only able to plant about one flat of flowers before my time needed to be spent doing other things for Mom.  The garden was not beautiful.  In fact, it was less than beautiful.  It was not raked, and the flowers that were normally thinned were overcrowded, and, some even died.  I gave away the flats of flowers and let go of the dream of giving mom the perfect garden.  Mom did not seem to mind.  But, I did.

Mom passed away in February of 2011.  That year came and went without a thought of the garden.  Then, spring of 2012 arrived and I was determined to dismantle Mom’s garden.  I even promised any interested friends, co-workers, and neighbors that I would dig and deliver Mother’s beloved perennials.   But I could not.

Again in 2013 I have offered flowers to friends and family.  So today, I began to make Mother’s garden beautiful one last time.  As I raked I thought of how much she loved this garden, and how much I did not.  It is not particularly organized, nor does it follow any of the rules for creating the perfect flower garden.  It is truly a hodge podge of perennials that were added as she received them, with the edges of the garden moving outward into the yard farther and farther.

I was suddenly struck by the whimsy of this haphazardly planted flower garden.  Without a doubt what my mother did best was to control, organize, and manage people, places, and things.  This garden with no clear boundaries had no rules, nor need to be perfect.  Finally I got it!   This was the one place my mother had that did not have to be perfect, as it was beautiful of its own accord, just by being.  All she needed to do was to love it, tend to it a bit, and enjoy the gift of colors and scents, and the birds and butterflies that were attracted to it.

My mother’s garden is beautiful again.  Three years of leaves and branches removed.  Three years of blackberry bushes and small trees that threatened to take over removed.  The soil relieved of its heavy burden can breathe, feel the sun, the rain, heat. and cold.  And like the garden, I too have begun to shed the heaviness, the sadness, and despair.  I, too, can once again feel the sun, the rain, heat, and cold.   I am but one of my mother’s flowers, frequently difficult to control, organize, or manage.  My boundaries are often fluid, and I am not perfect.  But I am a beautiful flower that she loved, tended to, and mostly enjoyed, and I am forever grateful.

My Mother's Garden

Mom and two of the creatures she loved most.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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