Tuesday, February 14, 2012

525,600 Minutes

I’ve spent most of the last year in a somewhat numb haze. I lost my Daddy in February a year ago. Lost? What a word. That word sucks really—How about I’ve been missing my daddy every day since February a year ago.

It has been the shortest and the longest year I can ever remember. Time has passed, it seems like I remember every minute and I also can’t remember hardly anything. Everything has been touched by change. Sorting through emotions and pushing many things to the back with the feeling of “I’ll get to that when I can.” But emotions do ambush you if you don’t give them the floor to present their case. They will demand to be heard—they will act like the reality show cast member most likely to be voted of the island. So from my cast of emotions that I keep beating down, anger continues to raise its ugly head. Because once beaten down anger just stews, anger plots, anger makes alliances with unresolved grief and will try its hardest to take you down.

Since Valentine’s Day last year I have let it stew in me – anger my vengeful reality show cast member.

Let me set the scene the week before my Daddy died it was Valentine’s Day. No… let me go even farther back. In what I thought were the last few months of my dad’s life I tried to make memories happen. Shall I say I tried to forced memories? I hope it was memories for him also, but I know it was just buying more memories for me. Just one more thing… just one more thing… just one more thing.

The humming birds in late summer, the space station coming over on a cloud less night, the family cookouts, the westerns watched, the Christmas snow, Christmas poppers and fake mustaches, always trying to let him know just how much I loved him, trying to make memories for my little girl with her Pop, they were each other’s Dust Bunnies. But truly it was all for me. I just wanted more time….more memories, more moments.

Not the kind of time that ticks away on the clock but the moments that you are really in, the moments that you know are just yours. When you are aware of life, love, and that this won’t last forever. Those moments don’t tick away, they stick, and they stay. Moments that are different than time.

So back to Valentine’s Day, during the last month of my Daddy’s life the kind people of Hospice helped us, helped Daddy manage the pain, the grief and they tried to take up some of the space in the void of uncertainty. There was so much uncertainty during that time, but they helped us carry a time that was oh so very heavy.

I had plans of spending Valentine’s Dinner with my Dad and Mom that night. Nothing big nothing grand just time together. But that is not how the evening played out. Not like the little Hallmark commercial I had planned in my head.

My Daddy's Social worker was there that day, and had locked her keys in her car.

And you see my Daddy was a helper. If you needed something and he could help he would. That’s it. He would help you.

So in his last year the chemo and the cancer had at times pinned Daddy down. But that week, the week of Valentine’s, He was almost back to himself. Maybe just like me he was saying “one more thing…just one more thing.” On the evening of Valentine’s when the social worker had locked her keys in her car Daddy and Momma took the social worker on a quest to find extra keys. They ended the night opening their home to this woman her children and whipped up some frozen pizza for dinner. It was not my hallmark card but looking back I think it was my Daddy’s “one more thing.” Helping this lady out was his last act of helping another. In the end of the battle of cancer, the loss of his life, he had the last words…LOVE WINS.

AND I HAVE SPENT THE LAST YEAR SO ANGRY AND UNABLE TO SEE THAT. I have felt like that night was taken from me. I have been blind to what really happened that night.

The next day there was the noticeable change in my Daddy’s condition. Looking back it was the day he started parting from this life. By the next Tuesday he was gone.

I’m sitting here sobbing and can’t even see the computer screen because in this moment right now I can hear my DADDY IS SAYING “LET IT GO LITTLLE GIRL, JUST LET IT GO. They needed help, and I could. You can’t stay mad little girl.”

It has been a hard year. A year filled with loss, numbness, grief, overwhelming sadness. Holding on to anger is not easy. Letting it go is even harder. But today on a Commercialized day of red heart balloons and candy that can start conversations, I will listen to my Daddy’s voice. I will let love win. I will try to let go of the anger. This will be one of my moments I will remember this year. I will have a Hallmark moment. I hear my Daddy’s voice in my head and I will let love win.

So here it is to all, I send a Valentine to all those who have my heart! You know who you are. You have held my hand, you have carried part of the load and you have listened to a heart that has been broken.

I love you all more than any Greeting card could say…

So for anyone keeping score

Here’s to a better year!

And for 525,600 moments of love!


From Rent
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2 Quarters, 1 Dime , 1 Nickel and Change

2 Quarters, 1 Dime, 1 Nickel and Change

Today would have been my Daddy’s 65th birthday. It’s not easy to know how to grieve, how to celebrate.

I started dreading today at my Daughter’s birthday party earlier this month—he wasn’t there. The dread has built during the month. It is not that I have planned to close myself off today, lock myself away and sob. But I have been so unsure of what today would be like, for me, for Gretchen, and for my Mom. But the sadness did not take me over this morning. That’s not what this morning feels like; my feet did paused before they met the floor, but in my head I heard “just do your best.” That’s all that has to happen today. Just do my best.

There have been a lot of firsts in the past eight months, since his death. Ambush moments that were the 1st time something rolled around and he’s not here to share in it. But today is a first for him also. He’s not here for his own birthday. And let me tell you…He was a man that loved cake.

In my grief counseling group the counselor suggested that having plans for the day might ease your feelings of loss and turn them to feelings of remembrance. So today will be a remembrance of Daddy. We are going to do a balloon release with notes for him, eat at his favorite Mexican place and cake will be a must. But it all seems like so little. Seems like it should not be so simple it should be more, it seems like the whole world should know what it’s missing today—But he was never about show.

Daddy often—actually I would say always, equated your age with pocket change, speed limits for tag numbers. If there was a number he need to remember he would come up with some long drawn out word problem that only he only make heads or tails of. Social Security numbers, lotto picks, phone numbers and dates—all word problems. He would go to the lengthy association game in his head and pull up a date or something like turning a page in the Farmer’s almanac. He saw patterns in numbers and committed them to memory. At the beginning of school this year he would have LOVED that on the 2nd day of 2nd grade Gretchen received car rider number 222. He would have told her she got that number because she was so special.

I can’t come up with a word problem for today, 10-25-2011 the first time I can’t hug my Daddy on his birthday but I know he would be glad to be 2 quarters 1 dime and 1 nickel. Last year dealing with those four pennies was a tough year.

Like I said the dread has been building…but spending the entire day with my Daddy as the focus has not been bad, it has not been easy, but easy is not always the way when you have never been down a path before. So today I will celebrate a man I still don’t know how to live without. But he would say… “Just do your best. Nobody could ask more than that.” So today I will tie a note of love to a balloon and let it go. I will watch it drift away and it will leave my sight, but it will not be gone. Just beyond where my eyes can’t see and just too where my heart faithfully knows unseen things remain just out of sight.

Before his death I had the chance to tell me Daddy so much of what he meant to me. If you have a chance please take a read and get to know a man who today would have been:

2 quarters, 1 dime and 1 nickel.

More about my Daddy...So Many Reasons

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Uninvited Company

I am no spring chicken. Come to think of it I don't even know what a spring chicken is.

I know what roasted chicken is. I know what Chicken Bryan is; it is a lovely dish with chevre cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. (Kisses fingers like Italian man with mustache)

But if you are what you eat, a spring chicken I am not.

A couple of days ago walking through my house I thought “who is that?” Now, you must understand I was home alone. There was no one else there. “Who is that?” I had uninvited company. I did a double take; it was me and this old lady in the foyer mirror looking back at me. I did not know I had invited her...that is me?

I'm not one to put myself down....that leads nowhere it just opens doors for others to feel free to walk over you. Not putting myself down but I will comment on this gray haired, tired looking, overweight, woman with fine lines around her eyes...Where did she come from? When did she let herself go? When did that happen?

There is a time-line of self awareness that I guess I have skipped a few dots on.

I'm not... that.... old... am I?

About two years ago I stopped coloring my hair. Bottle after bottle of hair color, chestnut, almond, golden hazelnut....they name the colors these wonderful offerings of the same things I have in my coffee each morning. Bottle after bottle of the wrong color, I decided it was an effort in futility. I was going gray faster than my color at home could keep up with. I'm too cheap to have it done by a professional and I decided I was not really that concerned with what other people thought of my appearance. If it did not bother me to go gray, it did not matter if it bothered anyone else. So I went gray. I'm still going gray—still going—still going. I'm not really getting there though. It is taking forever. I’m seeking Meryl Streep’s The Devil Wears Prada look—by no means has that been achieved yet.

Without calling first—as any company should—this old woman shows up in the foyer mirror. Is that my hair, really? It just looks dusty, it looks like I had a tussle with the Ghost of Christmas Past and we both walked away confused. And why does she—the woman in the mirror—look so…tired?

When did all this happen? I know there are more and more mornings that require coffee, there are more pain relievers taken? There are stresses of life, and loss. There obviously is less products from Clairol in play here, but when did I unknowingly cross that line to looking old?

There are dots missing on my time-line of self awareness.

Maybe it started when I did not have plans on Friday nights anymore; maybe it started with marriage, home and child. Maybe I can even pin point it to the night we were refinishing the wood floors and turned down the couples outing. Maybe that was it. Was that the day I made the choice that reclaimed wood floors being shiny was my plan for life? That was the grown up decision. Finish the floors, go out some other time. As I recall my back did hurt the next morning. I think that might be when it happened. When the right decision was also the old lady decision.

Maybe being old did not happen due to activities but maybe old is what happens when life becomes what you were aiming for all along. Maybe it started when I was sure the man I love loved me back without condition. Maybe it was when I stopped looking to others for my cues. Maybe it was when my magazines changed from fashion to DIY and easy week night dinners. Maybe it was somehow alright to let myself go? I was loved and was own person did that make it OK to become old? I think I just stopped looking for the dots on the timeline, I’m was just too busy. Time waits for no old woman. I now understand that if you let yourself go—there will come a day—several dots later on the time line you will look like uninvited company, you won’t even recognize the old lady in the foyer mirror.

Today was that day…there we were, she and I, at the foyer mirror.
I stared for a few minutes
I leaned in, I got closer
I squinched my nose
I pushed up my glasses
I turned my head slowly to the right
Now slowly to the left
I lifted my double chin
Peeked at her under my glasses
I dropped my double chin
Peeked at her over my glasses
(She is quiet talented as a mime she copied everything)

I said to her, “so we let this happen... aye?” (I'm not sure why I thought she was Canadian…aye)
She just looked at me...what are you going to do about it? She thought...

I stepped back closed my eyes for a second or two, because I realized this uninvited woman in the mirror was somehow thinking the same thing I was.

What are you going to do about it?

I only have to do something about it if it bothers me, only if it bothers me. I have to be frank...Today it does, today it bothers me. Tomorrow it might not, I don't know.

So what do I do about it? I'm not a crazy have surgery—introduce deadly viruses under my skin—eat a tapeworm kind of gal. So what could I do that would give me results? What would get this old lady to leave the foyer mirror?

I love lists so here is my “what are you going to do?” to-do list:
Spa treatments
Healthier life style
Hair color
Facial products
Salt scrubs
More coffee
Maybe just a temporary hair

List made—that's it. Course of action decided: temporary hair color followed by a full Egyptian Cotton treatment. This I can do.

Why temporary color? I don't have to commit—if I’m over it in a few days it washes away, right back to the dusty gray. Toasted Almond # 12 it is.

Why the Egyptian Cotton treatment? To cover up the foyer mirror so the uninvited old lady can't see me anymore. 800 thread count—only the best for company.

I will add that dot on my time-line of self awareness—Toasted Almond # 12 and 800 thread count. I feel younger already. That was easy.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Something to Hide

I did not know I had something to hide.

Gretchen asks “Is there anything you have kept from me and Daddy?”

“I don't think so” I said conversationally…Then in my mind, the wheels turned.

I've tried to convince him that we are broke... I think that has finally worked. I've learned to like watching M.A.S.H. before bed, but I won't tell him this—I will still grumble—that is part of my routine. I won’t tell her when it is goat cheese on the chicken. That is a conversation that just does not need to happen. She needs to eat the chicken. Having said that, I don't think I've “kept” anything from them. I don't think I have anything to hide....I don't think I do.

I've used this blog in the past weeks to share what I’m feeling—what I can’t just say—what might be seen as too much, but I don't think so. I will not hide. I will not hide from all of this craziness that currently resides in my head.

It seems like there is more honesty to write about circumstances, emotions, and stuff along that line than to talk about it. When I talk about it, my voice quivers, my eyes leak and my heart races, my temper rages and my face turns red. I lose my words and tend to become hysterical in a girly kind of way. That does not happen here with a keyboard however. All of that emotion, every bit of that comes out of my fingers like they already knew what to write, like it was always there, like all it needed was to be released. I find myself holding my breath until I finish the sentence and its punctuation. Breathe. The words cross the screen before I even think them. Breathe. It is there on the screen, like someone else was telling me what to think. Holding my breath like I too am reading for the first time what my heart is feeling.

I feel like there is nothing to hide because anyone who takes the time to read this is actually interested. They are not looking me in the eye they don't have to continue to read if it is boring or if they don't have time. They can click the X at the top right of the screen if the beeper goes off and dinner is done. People can read because they choose to. But regardless if anyone reads or not, I have said with my fingers what I needed to released from my heart, and you can listen if you have the chance. I don't have anything to hide....I don't think I do.

I can form run-on sentences to share the sorrow, the pain, the process of grieving, you can take part if you want. It is not easy to process all the power surges of emotion, but I'm glad that this keyboard is ready to hear me out. I'm honored by those who have read my words and have shared their feedback and given their caring advice. I thrive on the advice....I'm humbled by the advice. I'm also humbled by all of those who have read any of my blogs at all. I may not have known you were reading, but I'm grateful still.

There are those who have been through their own trials, and when they say, let me hold your figurative hand, let me share your road; let me show you what I have learned. To those I say thank you. Because knowing you care makes it easy to share, sharing without being afraid to be judged. I tell myself I have nothing to hide. I will not hide. I will not hide from these feelings—and when I have shown these feelings—to those reading—thank you for not running. For standing with me, for saying you care, and for sharing your own thoughts. Thank you for loving me and indulging me and my thoughts. Sadness and anger they are just part of what is showing right now. You can say anything to me you darn well please...it will not make me mad. It will make me know I'm not in it alone.

My daughter has an old soul. She is more understanding than a girl her age should be. She would almost make me believe in reincarnation, it is like she has done this thing called life before. It is all old hat to her. She has these eyes that are so knowing. She approaches situations like “now how did I do this last time?” Her questions are well beyond her age; she cuts to the chase and lays it all out. “Have you kept anything form me and daddy?”

I can't even remember where the conversation came from when she ask me if I have kept anything from them. I can't even remember what we were talking about, at that moment. I do however know where the question has gone to in my head since then. I haven't kept anything from them but I do tend to keep things secret in my head. Secret until I think it can be let out. Secret until I think it is safe to share. Secret until I have thought it through.

I tend to process every thought like it is a secret, I think each thought to death in my head, not just good things, not just bad things, not just anything...I over process everything. I tend to run scenarios of the hypothesized outcome over and over to see what the best plan is. My words are strategic, my plot is planned. This process builds anxiety like crazy. To think that in my head I can run enough scenarios to keep the bad things from happening. Yeah that will always go well, right? Breathe.

This over indulging thought process punishes me sometimes. It keeps me form being spontaneous; it keeps me from taking chances. It however makes me sure of who I think I am and that I have nothing to hide. Whatever I have thought through will be safe to let the world share.

I have found when I sit down to write, the over indulged thought process is gone, it doesn't seem to apply here. What crosses form my fingers to the keyboard is instant, it is unplanned and it is true. I take chances that my feelings set adrift into the world are pure and will be received by eyes and ears that care for me. So I do not over think them, I just let go, I will not hide. I will release them and let them go, I will be sad, I will be angry, I will be true, I will not hide. I will process and allow the process to heal me—because it is not just me that needs to be healed.

There is this little girl who needs me to be on her path of healing, to help her count the things she knows to be true. To help her not lose those things she knows to be true. It’s my job to help her not hide from the hurt, not to hide from her feelings, not to hide from her thoughts. So she can be able to release and to breathe.

For a few years, most nights before bed we do what we call “happy thoughts,” a list of things that make us happy.

Fuzzy socks
Painted toe nails
Battery operated tooth brushes
Each other...

Before my Daddy died her grandparents were on her list each night. Now they are not. She does not list them, I do not list them. I think we are both afraid to say it, to say that Pop is our happy thought, because right now it is not happy. Right now it hurts to feel happy about him. It feels wrong to list a man that filled us with love and with joy. So we don't. We instead list thing like...

Wind chimes
Humming birds
Ice cream

We list things we know would be on his “happy thoughts” list. It is not that we planned it, it just happened.

I may feel like I have nothing to hide, but I know I have something I would like to hide. I want to hide her away from this pain and grief, to be protective of her old soul. I want to collect and hideaway all those happy thoughts at bedtime about Pop. I want to hide them and share them with her again somewhere down the line. What I wish I could keep form her is the memory of her Pop and this pain being intertwined together. To keep her heart safe and for us to come out on the other side of all of this unharmed.

I have something to hide.

This young girl that has gained more and lost more than someone her age should be able to tell of; I want her to remember her Pop and it not be mixed with pain. She asks me why I smile right before I start to cry about Pop. I did not know that I even did that. I suppose I smile because the thought of him makes me happy, but the power surge of grief takes it and the grief washes away the smile with my leaking eyes.

I made a list of what my Daddy meant to me before he died because I never wanted to lose any of that or forget a bit of it. I want to hide away all those memories keep them safe and never lose them, so they will not be washed away for good. To hide them so my daughter will always know her Pop was a man that loved her so strongly. He loved her with a love so true that most people spend their whole lives looking for that kind of love. To keep that safe so she will not have to search her whole life for it—that love and happiness are hers already—it may be hidden right now but she just has to look for it. It is not gone she only needs to remember what it feels like. Maybe she can keep it hidden away in her heart for now—hidden away, but easy enough to find someday soon. She will know when the time is right to make him part of her “Happy thoughts” list again.

Someday we will not hide the happiness away, because the sadness and the anger will have faded. The sadness and anger, they will be over and the healing will happen. When the time is right the smiles on our faces will stay and the grief will not come to wash it away. When the time is right we will no longer have something to hide

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon...I wonder how many people have seen it? How many people have had their breath taken away from the awe, from the amazement they felt when they stepped to the ledge and realized how small they are. Did they even feel small? Did it even take their breath?

When my Daddy accepted that the cancer treatment was not going to cure his cancer he stopped treatment. He was afraid his doctor would push him for the next cure, the next punishment to his body. The doctor did not. The doctor knew the awful truth. So did my Daddy. The doctor said “go do what you want to do, spend time with your family and live”

Live like you are dying...the doctor did not say that exactly, but it is what he meant.

That was November.

Live like you are dying...My Daddy wanted to go the Grand Canyon. Ride a train cross country see the Grand Canyon and throw a rock into it. We thought Christmas break, “Christmas break—we will go then,” we said. “No,” he said “When I feel better. When I feel better, not now.” In his last months, my Daddy said quiet often “When I feel better.” But he never did. There were days that were not as bad—but he never felt better.

That was December.

He had good days and he had bad days, he did not want to be alone. He just needed to be with someone. We did not leave him alone. He just wanted to be.... he just wanted to feel better.

That was January.

Valentine's Day was a pretty good day for my Daddy. He once again was able to help someone out. His assigned Hospice Social Worker had locked her keys in her car. I wasn't there but I can hear him now.... “We will take you home, don't worry about it.”

That was his last good day. In the coming days his condition progressed so quickly it was a blur.

Since then, over the last few weeks I have felt so angry toward that lady that locked her keys in her car. That was my Daddy's last good day. I'm jealous of missing part of it. I'm jealous that it was spent on a stranger—spent on a stranger that should have been professional enough to just call a lock smith. Daddy spent his last good evening running across the county trying to help someone find extra car keys. His last good evening, it should have been spent having dinner with us. It became a rushed evening of frozen pizza and trying to take care of someone else and her kids.

But that was him—that was what he loved to do. Pay it forward—to help when it would have been just as easy to say fiend for yourself. His last good day was spent helping someone else. It was his last deed of kindness. By the next day he was hardly himself, by the next week he was gone. A week that was a blur and he was gone.

That was February.

I fight with myself over how angry that makes me, how angry I am about keys locked in a car. How can I be mad at someone that needed help and mad at someone for lending a hand? Maybe I should not be—but I am. I want it back. I want that night back. I want it back for me. For me. I want it back for all of my completely selfish reasons.

I'm not mad at the lady or her lost keys...that is just where I place some of my anger. I'm mad at Cancer, I'm mad at God, I'm mad at me. I'm mad because my Daddy is not here. I'm mad that there is nothing I could do to stop it. I'm mad because I'm mad. I'm mad because it hurts so much. I'm mad because we never made it to the Grand Canyon. It's what he wanted—and I did not make it happen.

Daddy being gone that takes my breath away, but it is not because of awe or amazement that the Grand Canyon may have brought, I can't breathe because it hurts. AND IT IS NOT FAIR. I want it all back...

There was still so much to do. There were still so many things that might take his breath away that he will never see from this side of heaven. Moments that still may take our breath away and he will not be here to share.

I thought there would be more time, how could there not be more time?

All he wanted was to throw a rock in.

When you are still here, still grieving it is hard to decide what’s next. We blinked our eyes and...

That was March. The March my Daddy knew he would never see.

Now we are in April, spring break is coming up. That was to be our next chance for the Grand Canyon. However, the Grand Canyon without him—I don't think we are ready for that. Do we still go? Do we pack the car drive cross country and stand on the ledge and lose our breath in grief? Do we walk to the ledge and celebrate him? Do I walk to the ledge and sob because I did not make it happen when he was still here? Do we still go?

“When I feel better,” my heart tells me. “When I feel better.” This is a hurt that is hard to think clearly through. Losing someone creates all these new questions. I don't have answers. I can't even find enough reason that there are answers yet. When you are still here grieving it is hard to decide on what’s next—but it is not time for that road trip yet.

Maybe it will be next year. Maybe when my anger has passed. Maybe when I find my own rock to throw in. Maybe when I find some reason of my own…maybe when I don't feel like I'm at the bottom of a grand canyon...maybe then I will feel better.

Sometimes I feel like I'm as close as your shadow
and Sometimes I feel like I'm looking up
at You from the bottom of the Grand Canyon,
so small and so far
From the Grand Canyon, with a hole in my heart
And I'm a long way from where I know I need to be
When there's a Grand Canyon between You and me
When there's a Grand Canyon between You and me
Susan Ashton

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Doctor, the Bankers, the Taxman and Hootie and the Blowfish

It has been a month exactly since my Daddy passed away. Even though it is on the top of my mind almost every minute of every day, that does not mean that the rest of the world knows that.

I think people are afraid to ask you about it after the initial couple of weeks they don't want to upset you; they don't want to make you cry. But really it makes you thinks that they just forgot.

You wonder how in the hell did the world possibly forget that I lost my Daddy. My world has changed, even if it is not always evident on the outside. There are things you can’t see on the outside. So I'll have to tell you, if I'm going to take it personal, I just have to tell the world it is OK to ask me about it.

Weeks and months later there will be people who don't know. You will have to once again gather yourself, and face the news. The Doctor, the Taxman, the Bankers, they will not know yet, you will have to tell them. It won’t be easy. They may not know how to react. There will also come a time down this new path that these people will have to be the ones to help with something. I'm sure they are sideswiped by the knowledge of this person’s death and they have about 3 seconds to make a choice. What to say...What to say? You can see the wheels turning. You can see their words forming.

In the last weeks Momma has had to cross the T's and dot the I's to take care of something almost every day since my Daddy passed. Everyday there is one more thing to take care of. She has encounter people that have been helpful and caring, thoughtless and insensitive. For some the wheels turn and the humanity finds a way to come out, they offer their condolences. There are others that turn a deaf ear to what you have just said, ignore the bright pink elephant in the room and just do their needed task and send you on your way. Is it because they don't know what to say, or maybe don't know how?

I like to think that for the most part people care, they just have their own reasons for their reaction or non-reaction. Maybe it makes their own grief come to the surface and they have no words for you. No words for you because it would be too hard for themselves. Maybe they don't want to ask how you are, they don't want to cause you more grief, and they don't want to make you cry. I don't know what the reasons are, but it is an unexplainable feeling to talk about my Daddy's death to a stranger—a customer service representative—and then with their expressionless face they just ask for my drivers license and turn to their keyboard, begin their data entry and never acknowledge what this is really about. What it is really about is that a part of me is gone, a part of my Momma is gone.

Customer service is an industry. It is the focus of meetings, conventions, books, seminars and it is the responsibility of every business—if they want to keep their clients and patrons. Customer Service is the face of any business to the public. You can't fool us, the public; we have been programmed to recognize the banter of customer service. We know to listen for good customer service. “Hi, how are you today?” “How can I help you?” “What can I help you with today?” “Would you like fries with that?” “Let me know if you need anything.” We always recognize bad customer service when we walk into it face first like a closed door.

From my side of the desk I want to know that my patronage of the business does not get some, programmed canned learned at a seminar style of customer service. I want to hear that you Mr. or Mrs. Customer Service Person are also human, and you recognize that my Momma is not a number My Daddy has not just changed addresses, he is gone, and he is missed. Recognizes that even if gone, he is still more than the member number that needs to changed and a new password noted. How about let’s hear a “Oh, I'm so sorry, let me help you take care of this.” Because as a client I should not be just a number, let’s act like someone’s life may have just changed. No it's not your life Mr. or Mrs. CSR, but the client's life and in this case it is our life that has changed. Let us add to the customer service seminars some quotable human sounding expressions to help us down this path—make that part of your job.

3 seconds is just about all it takes, the wheels turn.... and then they say...

The Doctor was teaching an intern during Momma's appointment, maybe he did not hear when my Momma said it. If he did not hear her I find that sad, because her words “I lost my Husband”...those are not easy to say. This doctor has always cared about everything before. He has been spot on with diagnoses and has always sought healing. I consider him as the best doctor I've ever seen. But on this day maybe while he was expressing the need of good bedside manner to the new student he just did not catch that tiny little part about Momma's whole life changing—changing completely, creating a scar that can’t be healed by his hands. He never reacted. I hope the intern learned all that is needed about bedside manner.

The Taxman did not know. We were talking about Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish and Hootie’s new direction in the world of County music. “Oh listen to this song”, the Taxman said to me and Momma. And there he was Hootie singing a county song. It was a beautifully lilting sad song, it was about loss. To me and Momma—exactly a month to the day later—it was to us about our loss. I'm sure the Taxman did not expect our reaction when he clicked play. Unknowingly he was sideswiped, but in those 3 seconds of wheels turning, he decided to show that he cared, that our grief mattered. Once he knew, “I'm sorry” he said. That was enough.

Of the Two Bankers, one made the right choice, one did not. Banker Number One knows Momma is a person with a heart that is broken. She is a face, not just a balance in an account. He made taking care of it personal. He knew her life had changed. His actions were the actions of understanding and caring.

Sadly for Banker Number Two, we were no more than another thing to do before lunch. We were the details on our drivers license. The Pink Death Certificate, the drivers licenses, the data entry and that's that. In the silence she took care of the shuffling of data, she was not rude...you can't be rude to just numbers. We said “thank you,” never looking up she said “you’re welcome. “ And with that her job was done. My Daddy was no longer the Primary.

The Primary...what a word.

How easy is it to remove someone’s responsibilities from the world? No Daddy no longer needs to be the primary on the; utilities, the checking accounts, Social Security, vehicle titles, life insurance the list goes on and on. There are multiple death certificates ordered because you have to prove to everyone and their brother's next door neighbor that a person is gone. But that notarized pink piece of textured paper with the State Seal more or less just says: I the State of ...here by certify that this person has been relieved of their responsibility in this world. They no longer have to take care of all of these things. Thanks for spending your whole life being productive, this stamped pink piece of paper says best of luck to those left behind.

There were many times I saw my Daddy pull off the road for an oncoming funeral procession, of a stranger. He said the reason he pulled off the road is that “even if you did not know the person, this is the last chance to show respect for them and the life they had.” It is the last chance for a stranger to show respect to that unknown person. The last chance you have to say they were someone, the last chance to say I'm sorry.

As strangers that small gesture of pulling to the side of the road may very well be the last chance to show respect for that person now gone. But strangers have a chance to show concern and respect to those left behind. I'm not owed anything from strangers. I understand that. But if you are the face of a business I do not see you as stranger. You are that business. I will see that business for what you show me it is.

If you don't know what to say...that’s an easy one, just say, “I'm Sorry” that pretty well sums it up. That is all it takes, to the world of Customer Service out there I request that you please add that to your list of challenging expressions the face of your business needs to have at the ready. To make your customers know they are more than an account number. And to show that you, the business, understand these little changes are more than just altering “The Primary.”

For the family that is still heartbroken it is life that has been altered on this side of the desk. When that pink piece of notarized paper is on the table it is about the loss of a person. We have lost a person that was “Primary” in more ways than being the first name on some record.

I'm the Customer Service face of a business. I hope I have always shown concern. If I haven’t I owe an apology to anyone I have not shown respect to during their heartache. I hope as the face of a business myself, I can in that 3 seconds of the wheels turning pull up “I’m sorry” That maybe the last chance I have of honoring the person gone and showing the person right in front of me that they are more than account so and so.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do You Have Your Funky Bus Fare?

Do you have your funky bus fare?
Let me hear you say HO!

How much is the Funky Bus Fare anyway, can I use my debit card? Do I need correct change, and can I get a transfer to the “I’m over 30ish” line after 2:00 in the afternoon?

In the past month I have had more than my share of reason to remember, delve deep into memories...to cry and to smile. The smiles are sometimes because of the overwhelming humor of my childhood memories. In the past month I have also been to two birthday parties for my daughter’s classmates. Let me tell you, not much improvement or advances from the birthday parties of my youth. There are some differences, but there are not so many that I can't recognize the things I miss from being young.

Growing up in a small town there was not much to do. We did not have a red light until it was too late. Part of the movie The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia was filmed there and we had a skating rink. When the Howard family moved to town it meant that pizza did really exist. Their family's once small pizza stand opened and our town folk flocked to them. I remember sitting next to the Howard's youngest daughter in the fourth grade and wondering, “Why would you move here?” However I came to understand that even the Northern Mountains of Georgia deserve good pizza.

The 80's in our small town meant big hair, and skating rink weekends, just Saturdays if it was a football weekend. The school dance was there at the rink on Friday nights after the home games.

When you pulled into the parking lot you could hear the thump of the bass outside. You know I can't even remember if the sign said anything but “Skating Rink,” but whatever the sign said you could feel the excitement, even outside. The metal building you entered was a welcoming shag carpet haven of fun. My Mom would snag a booth to sit in and I would go exchange my jelly shoes for the borrowed skates. The rented skates were the color of a brown paper bag. They had a white stripe down the back branded with the size, bright orange wheels and dark brown laces. My Mom sometimes had to use a lighter to burn the ends of the laces if they were missing the aglet and frayed on the ends. When I close my eyes, I can smell the singed nylon now.

There were not many choices for birthday party fare in town. It was only the skating rink or McDonald's I guess. When I had my birthday party at the rink I opened the best gift ever! It was just what I wanted skates of my very own. If I remember correctly even my cake was shaped like a skate. It was one of my favorite birthday parties. I had on cream colored jeans printed with pink roses. Oh those were the days! Skate shaped cakes and rose printed jeans what more could a little girl ask for.

So the next weekend we were headed to the rink. I had some cousins that were crazy good skaters. I mean crazy good, like Starlight Express good. As a little girl when we would show up I would so be like “yeah, I'm with them.” (Please note how many “likes” it takes to convey my message of coolness) Some kid with coke bottle glasses and striped shirts would look at me like “you're with them?” And I'd be like...did I not just like walk in here carrying my bag with my purple pom-pom skates that says like “yeah I'm with them.”

My cousins would take the rink floor—it was like Moses himself was there and the waters part—they would pay their funky bus fare and it would begin. The Double Dutch Bus comin' down the street had arrived and they were the engineers.


I would watch my cousins skate with amazement while I was eating my jumbo pickle, grape fun dip, and drinking from a waxed paper cup branded with the old Coke logo. I might have walked in like “yeah, I'm with them” but I was never a skater like them. That would have been impossible. I would later take to the smooth blue rink floor where my new skates with the purple pom-poms of power were useless, they did not help me skate better. Oh no, the pom-poms had no magical powers. It was clear once I had run into the wall to stop halfway around the rink, and my mother had shouted “TUCK YOUR FINGERS!” when I fell--the ruse was up, no one believed my “like, yeah I'm with them,” no one. If I listen real hard I can still hear my mother’s voice over Super Sonic.

So back to the booth with my Mom, next to the metal fountain of the kids with the umbrella that looked like it was raining. The bottom is soggy on my wax Coke cup and my cheeks are red—both sets. I would regain my composure and make an attempt again. With each round I was getting better, each time wishing beyond wishes that Another One Bites the Dust was not the DJ's song selection just as I fall. Then the worst words a kid could hear...“couple skate” was announced from the elevated DJ booth of power. I wish I had a microphone in daily life—people tend to listen. Then after some slow hair-band power-ballad you would hear your release “now time for all skate...all skate.”

Let us fast forward a few years, the cousins have moved away and I have new skates with blue wheels. There is new music and bigger hair. You know what they say, “The smaller the town the bigger the hair.” There is no cousin coolness to ride on the coat tails of now, so I better bring it. With my blue eyeliner, rave hairspray, and my sequined LA Gear jean jacket...I so like brought it. You should never doubt that Rave hairspray is the official sponsor of the 80's and early 90's. I had a coiffure that will never be stylish again, but I rocked it then. NKTOB, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice where calling my name and drawing me to that blue rink floor. I was now scared to death that there would be a “couples skate,” and that someone might ask me. I was not scared of the boy; I was scared of skating backward. I was a better skater now but the skating rink was not about being a good skater to me now, it was about seeing my friends and almost having an anxiety attack until they played Debbie Gibson. Spotlight on me Mr. DJ here comes Electric Youth.

Looking back I see that all of that time passed too quickly. Later on, weekends got busy, there were still the home game dances at the skating rink but it was not the same, for some reason going skating was not what I did anymore. Things changed, not the rink but me...what changed about me? Did I lose my Funky Bus Fare? I can't even remember when it happened but my skates no longer fit, they were pushed to the back of my closet and forgotten.

The next couple of high school years were filled with dates of mini golf, bowling, movies and ball games but no skating. Grunge music was what you were supposed to be into. My love of Debbie Gibson did not really fit into a mosh pit. The mosh pit is a whole other topic. Jumping in a big circle clump thingy? Did I really do that? Is that really dancing folks? Yes I fell into it, but no...No it was not dancing.

Then sometime later something clicked for me—I realized, I'm not really that girl. The mosh pit was not for me, not so much. I do like flannel shirts, but I don’t like Nirvana. I don't Smell Like Teen Spirit. I smell more like School Spirit, or maybe something floral. I was never all that angst filled. So hear this 1994—I LIKE TO SKATE, I like funk music. So I bought new skates. Kick ass new skates, with purple wheels and purple pom-poms of power. My hair was not as big now, but my love for skating was. Take that 1994! I...will...be...myself. So you can take your angst, your mosh pit and go find someone else to wear your flannel. I’m going skating.

I find that time stands still for no skater. Here I am years later with my daughter at her classmates skating party. I watch her in borrowed glow in the dark skates, breeze blowing her pony tail back as she makes her way around a smooth rink. She is taking it all in, waving at friends, singing as she skates. There he is the “Biebster” blaring in the sound system...Like baby, baby, baby oh! Like baby, baby, baby, NO! (She may never know he is the Debbie Gibson of her time.) She is being young and loving the moment.

I guess maybe youth always has something to do with hair. My youth was filled with big hair, brought to you by small towns and Rave hair care products. My daughter will someday remember her youth filled with boys with premature comb-overs brought to you by Justin Bieber. But I hope she remembers these days, these moments. I hope she remembers how fun skating to Justin Bieber was. Being young and living in the moment. Black light skates and laces frayed at the ends.

Like I said before, kids’ birthday parties have not changed much. I realize what I have been missing—from this side of 30ish—I miss not knowing how to live in the moment like back then.

They say you can never go back, and that is true. My hometown skating rink is no longer there. It closed just after I bought those kick ass skates, the ones that still fit me today. There are days that I wish I had that Funky Bus Fare—if just for a moment. I think back on the wonderful memories of cousins, smiles, grape fun dips and Coke in a wax cup with the soggy bottom and I smile.

I think I might get my skates out in the next few days. Live in the moment, and not be afraid of falling.

Give me a HO if you've got your funky bus fare...HO… HO… HO
There's a double dutch bus comin' down the street
Movin’ pretty fast …....