When real life imitates art

“What’s happened to Ana Adored?” you might ask.

Ana Adored tells the story of domestic violence and the death of a friend.

Guess what’s been part of my life in the past month?

Sometimes, I think our writer’s brain shuts down and refuses to let us process the art we have created before we knew it would become part of our lives.

I didn’t write the scenes of a character visiting a dying friend; Maren Smith did. Yet Maren has said good-bye to more than one important person in her life, and a few weeks ago I held the hand of a woman who had become my surrogate grandmother. I baked rolls and lemon bars for her memorial service, and I washed dishes and arranged the church fellowship hall along with the others who had known her.

I did write the scenes where characters deal with expressions of anger gone wrong. Bit by bit, I as the author (and Maren as co-author) discovered the story beyond an offhand comment. “This story ended up having an important message,” Maren said. I curled up into a ball, fighting back personal demons as my home transformed into a temporary emergency shelter for a woman who may or may not have been in danger of her life. I was naive then; I’ve become a sadder but wiser Ana now. I don’t know whether anything I was told actually matched with objective real-life events, but for an intense, grueling period I believed every word. I believed that this woman’s life and the life of her child were in my hands, and I toppled every shred of my life in order to protect theirs.

Then the dust cleared, and the stories didn’t quite match. Facts didn’t check out.

As I’ve circled around Ana Adored in the past month, reflexes have shouted, “No! Go away! I don’t want to deal with you!”

Writing (and editing) with Maren has taught me a great deal. We have complementary styles, strengths, and approaches to storytelling. I am grateful to have this chance to work with her, and I am terrified at revealing our product to the general audience.

What is Ana Adored, you might ask? The story of a happily-ever-after, set in our everyday world where we’re lucky to receive a happily-for-now.

I hope you, my readers, are safe. I hope that you and those around you will value your life and keep it safe. I also hope that you will find joy in the happily-ever-after of a character named Ana who bears absolutely no resemblance to yours truly. :)

Maren and I are working as hard as we can to bring you the story of Ana. We hope you’ll like it.

Thursday Thankfulness

Just a quick one before I begin my day. :)

  • I’m thankful that my church secretary was very kind when she heard I’d broken the ornamental cross on the pastor’s chalice. Oops! Crossing my fingers we can fix it with some glue or it won’t be too expensive to get a replacement.
  • Thankful for quiet nights of sleep without a one-year-old screaming.
  • Thankful that demanding house guest left on her own, without my need to intervene.
  • Thankful to have my life back!
  • Thankful that, if house guest’s allegations against her husband were untrue, that I took what steps I could to mitigate the harm I’d caused. Domestic violence is such a hot-button issue that I leapt first and thought later. If her story was true, I’m glad I could keep her safe. If her story was not true, I’m glad I no longer am participating in the charade.
  • Thankful for the overwhelming support when I needed it the most. Thank you. <3
  • Thankful for friends who don’t give advice unless specifically asked for it. I wrote this yesterday:

    Anyone can give advice. Casual, thoughtless, and often hurtful, advice-givers judge and criticize.

    But to listen, to understand, and to empathize with a fellow human being and recognize that we are limited in our abilities but care about each other…ah, yes. Give me a listening and understanding friend over an advice-giver any day. ‪#‎letsmaketheworldbetter‬

  • Thankful that tomorrow I will get to celebrate my friend’s life while surrounded by the friends and family who loved her the most. It’s sad thinking of how many people in my life never got to meet her. I’m glad to be surrounded by a community of people who knew and loved her.

     

    There are others, but I have to run to church to beg forgiveness for breaking the chalice. :) Hugs and much love to everyone.

     

    What is your thankfulness this week?

     

Lemon bars of love: Good-bye, Quilting Granny

Two weeks ago, I received the phone call that shook my world. You can read about the backstory here:

Part One: Why we all need a little love

Part Two: Never enough time and the last two days

“I’m calling you because you’re a special friend of Sara.”

“Oh, God! What happened?”

“She had a stroke last night and her daughter found her. She’s in ICU now.”

Why didn’t I ever bring a meal for her, the way I wanted? Why didn’t I ever go and visit? I didn’t want to bother her. I didn’t want to impose, or to expect too much of a friendship.

“Is she okay? Can she have visitors? Does she need anything?”

“We don’t know which hospital she’s at. They don’t let anyone but family visit in the ICU, but you could try. She’s unresponsive.”

I called my friend next, standing on my front porch and sobbing too hard to get the words out. She listened to me and held my hand across the miles as I said, “No, no, she’s still alive but…”

I went back inside and informed my house guest (who showed zero signs of empathy or concern, which should have tipped me off that something was not right, but I was too stunned to process it). Since I’d given her both of my bedrooms, I had to wait for her to go to bed before I could huddle on the futon in my living room and refuse to face the facts. Yes, she was old. Yes, heroic measures would likely kill her. Yes, she said she’d lived a good life and was ready to go when it was time. But not yet! Not yet. Not when she’d laughed and punched me (lightly) on the arm the day before, joking as we played cards and correcting the rest of us when we went out of order or confused her. She liked order in her world, and the rambunctious card-playing crew didn’t always provide that. She would have made a good school teacher, in her perfectly coordinated outfits that never showed any signs of wear. I could see her rapping a student’s knuckles for not paying attention and then smiling with a world of love once she had it.

In that moment, the denial in me wondered if she could come back. If she would have to stay home more, perhaps move to assisted living, and receive visits in her home instead of coming to church gatherings. I knew the odds were against it, but I couldn’t help hoping.

When we got the news she’d been moved to hospice (and not hospice in a family member’s home, but a full-service hospice center) and that we could visit, I still couldn’t believe it was real. I went to the dollar store and threw together a care package for her family, and I arrived despite domestic drama that had tried to keep me away.

I didn’t recognize her.

With her mouth half-open, her thin body covered in a hospital gown, and her usually immaculate hair combed any which way, she didn’t have any spark of the woman I knew and loved. I sat next to her, sobbing because she had already left. I knew, the moment I saw her, that my friend was gone forever. I went back the next day to bring the family a meal and say good-bye officially, not because she was still there.

As soon as her family arrived by her bedside to say good-bye, she died. She’d held out long enough to give her family time, and then she let go. Her daughter gave me the news (an unexpectedly thoughtful gesture in the midst of her grief, to remember someone she’d only met twice), and I couldn’t let myself “go there.” A few tears in private, and then the darkness descended. I spent the day in quiet and solitude, ignoring the demands of my demanding house guest and trying to make my stomach behave.

“You look like you’re in pain, even if my nurse friend says you aren’t,” I’d told her. “It looks like breathing is so much work for you, such an ordeal. I hope, for your sake, that you can go quickly. That you can be safe and protected and no longer have to struggle.”

I was glad her pain was over. Even if she didn’t consciously feel pain, how could she not? Her children were in pain, and a mother’s heart couldn’t tolerate causing them pain.

But never to see her again, never to play cards, never to squeeze her hand on the way back to my pew after communion…

“I’ve heard so much about you,” I told her daughter. I must have been several decades younger, but I said it anyway. “She always talked about you, how proud she was of you and how you were such a wonderful daughter.”

Her daughter smiled, and we reminisced about foibles and idiosyncrasies.

I practiced making her famous lemon bars (in plenty of time to make new ones for the funeral), and I found that my typical low-gadget, low-fuss baking methods didn’t work. Cheapskate Ana splurged on a new 9×13 pan (if the bottom doesn’t warp upward in the middle, I have a better chance of getting the bars out successfully) and a kitchen scale to make the baby dinner rolls the same size. The baking frenzy is interfering with my work time, but it’s the last thing I can do for her. I may make gingersnaps (what others call molasses cookies), or pumpkin cookies, or lemon cooler cookies in addition to the mini sandwiches and bars. I may feel self-conscious at the embarrassment of treats and give some of the extra away.

I know, rationally, that making baked goodies doesn’t make my friend alive again, and she won’t be able to eat it. I also know that her family likely won’t want to eat and the food will be more for friends than the family.

Still, the three-hour baking mania the day before she died helped me to take a breath of relief. Food solves nothing, but it makes me miss her a little less. When Ana feels sad or bad or mad, she likes to feed people.

She’ll never know I made cookies and bars and rolls for her, but I’ll send my love to her anyway. After all, this is the only way I know how.

Good-bye, my favorite quilting granny. When I grow up, I want to be just like you.

Love from the girl you called your special friend.

 

 

Guilty Ndulgence Blogiversary

(More content will be added later today. Check back for special Anastasia Vitsky information!)
We’re Celebrating the Ndulgent Bloggers’ 4th BLOGiversary!


4 Years of Reviews. 4 Years of Supporting Authors. 4 Years of Great Books. 4 Huge Bags o’ Swag.

 

 

 

Visit each of these BLOGS -Authors, Reviewers and Bloggers- and have fun!

 


 

Never enough: the human flaw of greed and the importance of thankfulness

Call this a Tuesdays with Ana post on Thursday, if you will. Or my need to write.

I was able to visit “Sara” yesterday and today. Her family was more than gracious in allowing me time at her bedside, even letting me speak with her alone. I was touched, embarrassed, and apologetic. Who was I, a random stranger, to intrude on their private vigil of grief? To make it worse, I could not stop crying no matter how hard I bit on my tongue and the inside of my cheek. How ridiculous is that…stoically mourning the imminent loss of your mother while someone you don’t even know sheds tears?

I am grateful and honored to have been entrusted with the time holding Sara’s hand.

And yet.

I am upset I could not have more.

I thought (her daughter offered, asked) I would hold vigil for two and a half hours today while the family took care of obligations and had a gap in their coverage. I was not entitled to it, but I was offered that chance. Then their plans changed, and instead of a vigil I was given twenty minutes (a generous gift, let me make clear)…except the nurses came in and needed me to leave so they could shift her position. I didn’t even get to sit down again at her bedside before my time was up. The nurse took Sara’s hand and placed it in mine (when I rested my hand on top of her bedsheet, hesitant to cause her discomfort and make her cold by moving the sheet). “It’s okay,” she said as she lifted Sara’s arm and moved it next to mine.

“I don’t want to hurt her, or for her to be cold,” I said, stroking the soft skin and tracing the rounded edge of her thumbnail.

“Don’t worry,” the nurse said. “She’s not at all cold.”

“There’s no change,” her daughter had told me before taking my food package and going to the kitchen area to eat the meal I’d brought. “But she can hear.”

I’d spent my scant ten minutes holding a conversation inside my head because I’d said so much yesterday, enough to embarrass me. After the nurse let me back in, I sat down on the chair and held her hand that the nurse gave me.

And then it was over.

Before I got a chance, my time was up and family needed their time with their mother, grandmother, aunt, and mother-in-law.

If her daughter yesterday had accepted the gifts and politely allowed me a quick hand-holding before asking me to leave, I would have gone away glad for a precious moment. Because she gave me more (nearly an hour), I wanted more. And because she offered more today, I’d allowed myself to hope (how can I say “allowed” when hearts never ask permission?) for the two and a half hours…a third visit…

Funny thing, human nature. The more we get, the more we demand. Instead of appreciating the time I’d gotten with Sara today (and the honor of her daughter accepting the meal, eating some, and praising it), I was mad. Upset. Storming (inside) that it wasn’t fair, I didn’t get the two and a half hours, I didn’t even get the half hour, why couldn’t the nurse have waited until I’d had my turn…

And then I walked out to my car, sobbing because it was over. I’d realized yesterday that Sara (the real Sara, the one who teased me last week and waved from the entryway) was already gone. I knew I’d never get that Sara back, but I thought I’d have just a little longer to hold her hand. I barely said a word today, but we talked inside my head. I watched her struggle for breath, and I closed my eyes to feel her presence with me. I wondered how crazy she thought I was to sit and stare at her, and I apologized whenever I needed another tissue. I told her thank you, in so many ways and for so many reasons. Her daughter had told me Sara could still hear, but it felt as if she heard my heart more clearly than my vocal chords. Or at least it felt like I could say things to her more clearly without the unreliable mechanics of producing sound. Her body worked so hard to take in each breath. I’ve been told it’s impossible, but it felt like pain. Pain each time for each effort.

Her daughter had been amazingly kind and generous to me, but it was time. I hadn’t (I think) overstayed my welcome, but I couldn’t presume to anything more.

“I’ll see you soon,” Sara’s daughter said to me as I left, and I recognized the signal from childhood training in social cues. “I won’t see you again except perhaps at the funeral, but in order not to seem rude I will offer the empty promise as a way to let you down easily and offer what I can…as long as you don’t try to take me up on it.”

The generosity is real. But so is the limit.

I sobbed, angry at the unfairness. Knowing I was expecting something that could never happen.

Had things been different for my second grandmother, I would have been the granddaughter when she died. Or at least one of the many granddaughters, but a granddaughter who had a special connection with her whether anyone recognized it or not.

I thanked Sara for letting me feel as if I had a grandmother again, but she wasn’t mine. Her family let me borrow her for a little while, and it was time to return her.

I drove away, not even wanting to take up a parking space in a lot for family coming to see family, and I wished I could have mourned at the bedside of my grandmother in the nursing home.

Then I went to church and polished the brass chalices and paten as if my life depended on it.

Now the problem is that there’s no more brass to polish.

Book reviews: Adventure BIble for Toddlers and Love Letters from God

Two quick book reviews today:

Adventure Bible for Toddlers 

“Toddler” Bible is really a misnomer for a collection of picture Bible stories. The slightly puffy cover and sturdy board book construction are great. It would be nice to have a dedication line (to write a child’s name) on the inside front cover, though. The illustrations and text are solid but not fantastic. The illustrations feel a bit dated (think typical Biblical illustrations from a generation ago), and the text lacks a robust read-aloud quality. Still this book is a solid offering and a nice addition to any toddler’s library.

Love Letters from God

This book, directed at children ages 4-8, takes a lovely approach to telling Bible stories. Each section tells a familiar Bible story, and the life application lesson is introduced as a love letter from God. It’s a sweet concept, and lifting the flap of each letter is a nice way to pique children’s interest. Each letter comes with a top flap decorated to look like a postmarked envelope. The text is fairly dense for a picture book, so this is too long for a single-session read. I enjoyed the concept very much and think I will give the book to a child in my church. It’s not overtly masculine or feminine in theme or color scheme, which is nice.

Taliasman and why we all need a little love: Fairy Tale Magic Herd Hop

Welcome to the Fairy Tale Magic Blog Hop! You can win a $100 Amazon gift card as a grand prize, and other bloggers will be offering individual prizes on their own blogs. Click on the image above to get all of the links.

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Today, I will visit a hospice center to hold the hand of a woman I met nine short months ago. A woman who spoke three sentences to me before revealing herself as a kindred spirit, soul mate, friend I’d always known and loved before we even met. A woman (I’ll call her Sara) who helped me heal in ways I never knew possible.

The first time I lost a grandmother, no one allowed tears. Later, I would see my mother shed more tears over the family dog than her mother-in-law. “She’s lived a long life” and “What a way to go” were the refrains at her funeral.

The second time, it was after a protracted and complicated year of absence. While living overseas, I found a ridiculously cheap phone plan that allowed nearly unlimited minutes for $3 a month. No matter how many times I tried to convince her, however, she didn’t believe me. “This is too expensive,” she would say, and sometimes she would insist on hanging up after a minute or two. I’d coax her with questions about her favorite news shows (she watched all of them and had strong opinions about the female newscasters’ wardrobe and hairstyles), and sometimes she would forget until twenty or thirty minutes went by. Then she’d exclaim, “I’ll let you go. This costs too much!”

Even living overseas and making a home visit once a year, my aunts told me that I visited my grandmother more often than most of her seventeen grandchildren. I didn’t do it for her; I did it for me. I’d “discovered” my grandmother in college (while writing weekly letters, we formed a bond), and until that point I’d been the not-so-interesting youngest grandchild after a plethora of grandchildren on both sides of the family. For the first few years living overseas, phone options were too expensive for more than an occasional brief call. Once I discovered Skype Out, my world changed. I looked forward to our daily call, and I’d grown up and gotten better at drawing people into conversation. I’d always been unsure of myself as a child/adolescent, and overseas I found people who liked me and liked talking to me. When I brought this new, more confident self to my grandmother (via technology and separated by thousands of miles), I received the unexpected gift of someone who loved me and connected with me on a daily basis.

Then, it all changed. She got sick (pneumonia or a fall, I can’t remember which came first) and was brought to the hospital.

She never went home.

After all while, she was transferred to the local nursing home for recovery/rehab with the hope she might go home (with more frequent home health care visits, and/or one of the family staying with her at least part time). She never got better, and the days turned into weeks and months.

She never accepted that she wouldn’t go home, and she didn’t want a phone put in her room. The nursing home didn’t provide phones, and patients’ families had to bring one. I begged my family to put in a phone anyway so I could talk to her, but they said no. Things with my family were complicated enough that they didn’t place priority on her communication with me, and they would have read (and judged) any letters or cards I mailed to her.

After months of no contact, a nurse friend gave me an idea to call the nurse’s station, explain the situation, and ask them to bring my grandmother to the phone. I did, they did, and I had one last conversation with her. I’m not sure she heard or understood me, but the nurse said she seemed responsive. Perhaps it was a lie, but I am grateful to her for telling it.

Later, when I received the call that the end was near, a plane ticket home cost more money than I could pay. I never got a chance to sit next to her, hold her hand, or share memories with everyone else who loved her.

I didn’t cry when my second grandmother died, either.

When I met “Sara” less than a year ago, I’d volunteered to help with the church quilting circle. I know the basics of sewing, but I couldn’t keep up with women who’d sewed twice as many years as I’ve been alive. I drifted to a table where a petite white-haired woman tugged embroidery thread through pieced quilts to tie knots.

“Can I help?” I asked.

“Sit down!” she smiled.

As we chatted (she and I remember this conversation differently), she asked me, “Where are you from?” She grew up in the neighboring state (which considers itself the better state), and somewhere in our conversation she laughed, “Why would anyone go there?”

“Because I grew up there,” I answered, and at least once a month since then she has told others about our exchange.

“I was so embarrassed,” she says every time she brings it up. “I just thought…well, who does live there?”

Within minutes, we recognized each other as someone special. At the end of the day, she was a friend I’d known my entire life. I went back to the next quilting session specifically to spend time with her, and the next week I debated for ages whether to bring her cookies. I finally (reluctantly) decided against it, even though I wanted to. She was someone special from the first moment, but I didn’t dare assume more to the relationship than was there.

Later, while playing cards (our monthly card game, an event she never missed and therefore an event I never missed, either), I mentioned, “I wanted to bring you some cookies, but I didn’t want to bother you in case you were napping or tired.”

Her eyes lit up, and she looked both surprised and pleased. “I’m diabetic so I wouldn’t have been able to eat them, but I would have loved the visit.”

I wish I could have brought her cookies, but at that time and in that place the verbal interaction affirmed our connection.

The last time I saw Sara (at our monthly card game last week), she laughed, joked, and set the rest of us straight when we took too long to play, didn’t go in order, or confused her by going out of order. As I left, she stood in the entryway waving to me while standing on her own two feet and leaning on the walker her daughter insisted she use.

A friend of mine told me, “It’s not often we get second chance to go back and redo something. Go and say goodbye to Sara, and tell her about your grandmother.”

Today, I will hold the hand of a woman who became a grandmother in all the ways that mattered. I know the tears are for my sake and not hers (she told everyone she had lived a good life and was ready to go when it was her time), and I am grateful to get the chance to say good-bye. To me, that is an affirmation of our love and connection. Saying good-bye is not about death but about life. The saddest good-bye is when there’s no one to say good-bye to.

Taliasman, my upcoming release from Decadent Publishing’s Beyond Fairy Tales series, tells the story of Talia, a young woman who never got past her initial hurt. Unwanted by her parents and devalued for being a girl, she decides to shut out the entire world. When Queen Vina comes to her home and offers a sackful of gold in exchange for Talia, Talia is hell-bent on rejecting every possible sign of affection from the one who bought her.

Taliasman blurb:

Born to a destitute woodworker who wanted a son to carry on the family business, Talia grew up with one phrase on her lips: “If I had been born a boy.” If she had been born a boy, she would have been cherished, supported, and launched into the world with her father’s legacy. As only a worthless girl, she toils all day long to earn her handful of inferior grain.

Far away in the heavenly palace, Queen Vina receives a mysterious coin necklace from Nicodemus, teller of stories. Compelled by the throbbing heartbeat, she scours the earth to come across Talia, enslaved to a family who never wanted her. Rather than admit her motives, Vina purchases the girl with a sack full of gold. Furious, betrayed, and homesick, Talia endeavors to share her misery with the entire palace. Vina, afraid to confess her love, allows herself to become trapped in the role of brutal slave owner.

Talia, bred to expect nothing but misery, faces the first choice of her life. Will she accept love, even if it comes from an unlikely source? Or will she reject the one who offers her everything?

Excerpt: 

If I had been born a boy, I would have followed in my father’s footsteps and become a tradesman. Because I was a girl, he sold me instead.

“No,” Vina corrects me when I bring up the story, which is not often. She doesn’t like the facts, and I dislike her pretty lies. “Your mother agonized whether to let you go, but she knew you would be better off here. She wanted to give you a better life.”

I would call Vina on her mistruths, but she claims I still reason as a child. All of my protests to the contrary serve to prove her right, at least in her mind. Only when I agree with her does she admit I am a full-grown adult.

“You’re happy with me, aren’t you?” Vina makes me sit next to her at the formal dinners she hosts most nights, and she dresses me in rich silks with real lace. If I tell her no, she sends me to my room as punishment for what she calls my petulance. If I resist, she gives me one of her lessons in obedience. Some are painful, others pleasurable, and all serve to narrow my world and make me focus on her. How could I not, when she owns me?

“No,” Vina corrects me when I call her my owner. “I set you free, and I gave you the life you never could have had otherwise.”

When I turned nineteen, no one wanted to marry me. My mother fussed with my hope chest, if it could be called that, arranging the one cotton handkerchief as if it could attract a suitor.

“Let me stay with you,” I entreated my parents, and I won. I always did. The house needed new walls, and I wielded the power tools. Small of stature and still a child, I could carry them to the electric outlet on the neighbor’s property. As an adult, Father would have faced fines for stealing electricity.

“You’ve turned her into such a tomboy no one will want her,” Mother chided Father, and the truth stung. I could have cared for my parents into their old age, but they wanted me gone.

necklace-0001

The artwork image is small, but this original drawing by the multi-talented Minelle Labraun depicts the talisman worn by Vina that calls her to Talia.

I will draw one random commenter to receive an ARC of Taliasman. Thank you for visiting, and may you have a blessed day filled with love.

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