Giving back: in memory of Debbie Liles

(Warning: slightly political post)

As I’ve mentioned before, my father was a lifelong educator in the public schools.

When he died, one small comfort was knowing that memorial funds donated in his name would help causes he cared about.

Since then, education has taken a beating from our current administration. The arts, especially, have suffered.

I was the lucky recipient of a wonderful public school system that provided ample opportunities for music education, but times have changed. Title 1 schools, or schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families, especially struggle in the current climate of test-driven education.

Kids need to learn reading and arithmetic, yes. But they also need a reason to live. They need hope for a better tomorrow, safety to develop as a whole person, and encouragement to shine.

What music education gave to me, music teachers in public schools give to the next generation. Through endless budget cuts and inhumane demands and schedules, they give children a chance for a better future.

Last month, a music teacher was killed as part of a robbery.

There are no words to describe what her family and school family must be experiencing.

(Full disclosure: I’m not connected to her or her family. I’m just someone who was touched by her story.)

Debbie Liles’ son has set up a GoFundMe page for memorials, and they will be used to keep her music programs going. I know that many of you search for causes to contribute to, and ways to make this world a better place.

I hope, if you are looking for a place to donate, that you’ll consider keeping Debbie’s legacy alive.

As for me, I can’t afford to give much. But I am putting a small check in the mail and saying a prayer.

In my dad’s memory, I want to honor Debbie Liles’ life work.

Would you consider doing the same?

 

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Waiting for love

For those of you who follow me on Patreon, Facebook, or Twitter, this will come as old news. For those who have just joined the party…

Last month, I married the love of my life.

It’s a long story filled with details too private to share here, but “loved one” (as I’ve called her) and I went from best friends to life partners in the blink of an eye.

(Okay, so there were endless late-night heart-to-heart conversations, weeks and months of thinking we were still friends when everyone around us knew better, and an avalanche of heartaching logistics and red tape involved.)

But we were married in Gemma’s church in Citrusville (faithful readers will recognize Gemma from Gemstone), with one of my quilting granny friends (retired pastor) officiating alongside the pastor of Gemma’s church.

As the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Neither of us had any intention of falling in love. We’re set in our ways, and we considered ourselves best friends, sisters, and platonic soul mates.

Apparently, we are ace champions at denial and stealth dating. Except I think at least one person is supposed to know it’s dating when it’s stealth. 😀

(I won’t get TMI here, but…uh…not platonic. At least not anymore. 😉 )

There is a mountain of paperwork, bureaucratic obstacles, and endless practical details to sort out before we can find out happy ever after, but for now we wear our wedding rings and live in hope.

Waiting, not so patiently, for love.

Love reunited.

And love triumphant.

A not-at-all-real-life new book, An American in England, is currently in progress and will be published in the fairly distant future. Look for sneak previews coming soon. The first two work-in-progress chapters are available to Patreon subcribers.

Author appearance! Free reading!

Come and listen to the first chapter of An American in England! Edited by Nigel Paice with a few extra surprises for Beaten Track Radio tonight at 7:30 PM BST (12:30 AM EDT).

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On the first anniversary of my father’s death

Yesterday, after lunch, I stopped to pick up the rest of the printed invitations. My vision got gray and fuzzy, my ears rang, and I thought I was going to fall over (and hit my head) and/or faint. I had to grip the wall, my shopping cart, counter, anything in order to finish the transaction and get to my car. I texted loved one almost every step of the way, trying to focus on each next step. I was light-headed, dizzy, and shaky.
 
There, after I got myself to the car, I asked her to talk me home. I called her and immediately burst into tears. Struggled to keep it together as I couldn’t fall apart that far from home. Drove at a snail’s pace, keeping an eye out for side streets and parking lots where I could pull in if necessary. I kept saying to loved one, “Just talk to me.”
 
Once I got home, then it was another Mt. Everest to get inside. Change into pajamas. Brush teeth and cuddle in bed (alone). I woke up at 2 AM (this crap has GOT to stop), but it was worth it.
 
Loved one thinks I had a panic attack. I think it was due to stress. (Could be both, of course.) I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I did look up panic attacks and saw that…guess what, grief and getting married are two potential triggers for panic attacks.
 
I have one hundred million things that need to get done today, but I can’t do it. It’s going to be a day (or at least part of a day) of cuddling in bed, trying to relax, and doing something that makes me feel good. I bought yarn to crochet a new shawl, and I have crafting supplies for the wedding goody bags (not that I have any idea of the final head count). I like doing arts and crafts as long as it’s simple and doesn’t require artistic talent. Think elementary school art projects. 😀
 
I am scared that the panic attack, if that’s what it was, will come back. That as I resume the frenetic pace of getting everything done (and dealing with people’s stupidity), my coping mechanisms will be insufficient. I’ve been raw and vulnerable for the past few weeks, ever since coming out and losing my family/pastor.
 
I’m really tired of being Vulnerable Ana.
 
I’m grateful for all of the love and support you’ve shown me in this time, but I’d so much rather make smart remarks about wooden spoons and tease loved one about her silly idea that British is best. (<3 ya, loved one).
 
On the other hand, I think it’s been my vulnerability that has called out such loving, thoughtful, gentle, and supportive responses from all of you. I can’t believe the outpouring of support. Who knew this might happen, back when I started putting a few kinky stories on my blog? Who knew? I’ve found my tribe, the love of my life, and the courage to tell people who I really am.
 
This is all good. I know it is.
 
Having loved one is good.
 
Getting married is a good thing. Grieving my father is a natural and necessary part of life. Grieving my mother and brother has happened far sooner than it should, but it would have happened eventually. It’s just that their loss has been one more stamp in a lifetime passport book of losses.

It will get better.
 
Slowly.
 
Surely.
 
One teensy step at a time.

Author Appearance!

If you’re online tonight (this afternoon for those in the US), you can catch me with Nigel Paice at Beaten Track Radio. The show will include a few of my favorite pieces of music (popular, classical, and children’s), an author chat, and questions from listeners. You can tune in at any of the following locations:

The Web Site:http://www.beatentrackradio.com/
Via Facebook : http://www.beatentrackradio.com/
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Via iTunes: http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv.m3u
Via mp3 player : http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv
iOS app : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id1178446224
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I’ll also read a few excerpts, including one from my work in progress, An American In England. Plus, by special request, I’ll choose one of my favorite wooden spoon scenes. Do you have a favorite? Tune in and put in a request!

Hope to catch you at Beaten Track Radio!

Attending my first carol service in England

I attended my first carol service last night in a tiny but vibrant neighborhood church (one that actually posts service times and follows them).

To remind me that I am in England, the service contained slapstick humor (in the tradition of Christmas pantomimes?) such as the vicar dressing up as the Health and Safety Elf and pooh-poohing each announced song. He was eventually “booted” by “two strong men” requested by the worship leader/emcee.

Everyone wearing a Christmas jumper was asked to stand, and one woman received special mention because hers had flashing lights. The children sang two songs. Three of the boys wore shirts saying, “Santa, define good.”

A few of the children attempted (very badly) to play The First Noel with children’s handbells (easier and cheaper versions of real handbells). I love children and love children’s efforts to learn music, but every note made me cringe. If kids can sing a song properly (and one is a talented singer who had a solo last week), they can ring handbells properly. The Sunday School teacher in me wanted to rush over and correct their teacher’s handling of the song. 🙂

We sang several Christmas hymns. All of the verses. I closed my eyes and swayed a bit, feeling my dad standing next to me with his handkerchiefs, cough drops, mints, ridiculously bad jokes, and comments before and after the service. He knew all of the verses to all of the Christmas hymns because he’d grown up singing them.

I had to stop singing several times because I couldn’t sing without crying. Not because I was sad, but because my dad’s presence and the experience of worshipping in a foreign land (but still to the same God) overwhelmed me. Ever since my dad died, I can’t say the Lord’s Prayer (“Our father who art in heaven”) without getting teary.

I stopped myself from crying not for my own sake (although it is annoying to wipe tears away), but because I was surrounded by unfamiliar people. If I saw a new person come to my church and cry, I would worry. Ask what was wrong. Try to help. It’s the decent thing to do, right?

But for me, tears are the annoying side effect of feeling my dad near me.

I wish we had a small, symbolic return to mourning apparel. Maybe a button or bracelet I could hold up to say, “I’ve lost a loved one within the past year, and this is my first holiday season without him. If I’m crying, don’t freak out. It’s a roller coaster of emotions for me, and I may be absolutely fine even if I start sobbing.”

Tears are cleansing.

Feeling my dad next to me (closer to me than when he was alive, as we were separated by thousands of miles) is comforting.

Being in a foreign land with the same language but customs and culture just enough different from the US (to serve as a distraction) has allowed me to approach the holiday season as a forever student of everything. What words do people use here? How is this done? What is this like? What’s a selection box?

Underneath it all, I understand that I’ve lost my dad. I know he’s still dead and will always be dead. I know there are complications with family that will never fully be resolved.

But a tiny bit of me is starting to hope.

There may be changes and a new path for my life ahead. Maybe this journey since my dad died has actually been leading me toward something good, rather than just taking away what (and who) I loved.

This past year, I lost almost everything I valued. I’ve learned to hold onto the bits of good in my life, and I’ve discovered who and what really matter.

I don’t know what’s next in my life, but I feel like I’m holding my dad’s hand. That he’s got an arm around my shoulder and a twinkle in his eye, leading me forward.

Maybe we need to lose everything we thought was important to find out what we need.

I need to discover my true purpose in life.

And I need to love and be loved.

Beyond that, aren’t all the details insignificant?

.

.

Blessings to all of you this holiday season, especially those who are grieving lost loved ones.

Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 3: Blue Christmas

By special request, I am including a post or two on the blog rather than podcasts only. Today’s topic is a bit emotional, anyway, so writing may be best.

Podcasts one (on Giving Tuesday) and two (on holiday food traditions) are up on Patreon. Normally, my Patreon posts are only open to subscribers. For Advent Calendar, though, the podcasts will be available to everyone. (Story posts, however, will still be for subscribers only.)

Today, as is a yearly tradition, is a day called Blue Christmas. It’s a time once a year to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. We’ve had guest posts talk about loss of parents and other dear ones, but I never imagined that Blue Christmas might mean remembering my dad.

This year, I’m fortunate enough to spend holidays abroad. Putting physical distance between me and everything I’ve known seemed like a good idea, even if the focus is (supposed to be) on getting work and research done. I have a major writing project due, oh, two years ago, and I’d hoped to get it done. Getting sick and adjusted to a new time zone didn’t help, and mostly I feel lazy. Beyond cooking and basic daily life activities, I haven’t done much.

As we get closer to the holidays, though, I find myself surrounded by the presence of my father’s absence. When I see other dads with their daughters, it makes me think of mine. When I hear familiar Christmas music or see Christmas reminders, it brings my dad so close that I swear I can feel him. Hear his laugh. See the twinkle in his eye and groan at his terrible, awful, horrible humor.

It’s been most of a year since my dad died (many of you were there for me during the process), but the loss hits fresh each and every day. Sometimes it mellows into a dream of remembering, and I wake up feeling surrounded with love. Other times, it’s an unexpected chasm in front of me, yawning open with the realization that today, tomorrow, and a thousand million tomorrows I will wake up a fatherless daughter. I’ll never get to have my father alive again. I’ll never get to see his smile, or feel his arms around me, or hear him announce to the people nearest by that I am his daughter.

My dad had only one sibling, a younger brother. They look quite similar, except my uncle has a mustache and Dad shaved every day of his adult life. Due to complicated family circumstances, I only saw my uncle (and his family) once or twice a year as a child and almost never as an adult. When I went to my parents’ house after we left behind my dad’s body in Mayo, his brother and sister-in-law waited with open arms and an enormous box filled with food and necessities to get us through the first few days.

I knew, instinctively, (I think we all do) how to grieve at first. Our bodies know what they need to do, and they shut down. They force us to focus on the trauma and loss, and they make everything else impossible.

Eight months later, I no longer feel like vomiting at the sight of food. I can sleep at night, and I’ve returned to work. I’ve even started writing again, which in the first days seemed an impossibility. I’ve never returned to full productivity, and some parts of my life may never find “normal” again. But on the whole, I’ve found a new normal. A new way of living.

Except for the holidays. I’ve discovered that my commitment to Blue Christmas and creating a safe space amidst holiday noise is much easier when I create that space for other people. For myself, I don’t know where to start.

How do we find a space to grieve, but to make new joy?

How do we hold onto the love and memories while grappling with the lifelong ramifications of complicated, screwed-up families that commit unforgivable sins against its own members?

How do we live and love while losing and limping?

How do we celebrate, yes celebrate, when our hearts feel as if they will implode from the combined weight of painful memories, a shattered future, and a present full of uncertainty?

Some days, I’d like to wrap myself in a sweet-smelling, freshly laundered quilt and disappear into a ten-year hibernation. I’d like to wake up when the grief has receded, and I want the hurt to go away. I’ve never shied from grief, but I’ve never known it to this degree.

I have lost the man who raised me, helped to name me, and set me on life’s path as a tiny child.

I have lost the hope of family Christmases together, of making new memories, and finding healing as age mellows the sharp-edged miscommunications of youth and young adulthood.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a border collie nudging at me for attention and food, a lovely host urging me to go to the park, and fresh banana bread cooling on the kitchen counter. An uncompromising lump of what should have been bread dough, but either the yeast died or the 18-month-expired flour went on strike. I blame the latter. 🙂

I don’t have any answers for you today, and I suspect that you don’t have them for me, either. What is loss, after all, if not an inherent part of growing up and growing old? If we can’t learn to grapple with loss, we can’t live. Simple as that.

Except it’s one thing to read and theorize about grief, and it’s another to wrestle with it every day.

Dad, I miss you. I’d give anything to have one last conversation with you. One last hug, one last ridiculous joke, one last smile.

Love you, Dad.

And love to everyone else who is grieving a loss this year.