Six simple steps

I won. And I rarely win anything, but I won “Six Simple Steps to Unlock your Life Purpose and Make Money Living It audio series with workbook, valued at $297.”

How, you may wonder, did I win such a prize. (A few days later I won $25 worth of free Fed-Ex shipping…so now I can’t say I never win anything.)

Let me back up. In early February I started listening to a nine-week “spiritual business boot camp” series for women by Sage Levine and Women on Purpose. It was online three times a week for an hour. I was excited about learning more about attracting customers, clarifying my goals, and effectively managing the businesses I was already involved in: my photography business, my goal to write a book, and SendOutCards, a company I joined in December as a distributor. It’s a great product for every day and designed to provide residual income later. Since I doubt I could sell water in a desert, I felt the series would help me clarify my vision and how I might more effectively work that business.

The series offered more than clarification, but not in the way I anticipated. As a result of the series, I launched my Life Stories to Connect the Generations personal history business, a business that has been in my head for nine years. I didn’t even talk to anyone about it. I just set about creating business cards and brochures. I showcased the business at a couple of fairs and introduced it at a few networking meetings. It bloomed magically and I have a few leads already.

Nearing the end of the series, Sage asked listeners to submit success stories for a chance to win the “Unlock Your Life Purpose” series. I wrote my success story, not anticipating I’d win the prize, but simply wanting to write what I felt I had gained from the series. They loved it! And I won! Although ironic to have won a series on unlocking life purpose on the cusp of what most people call the retirement years, I’m finding it timely. I do not have just one business I love, but three!! Which do I choose to promote and where?

After listening to the first section of the Unlock your Life Purpose series, which included a meditation about how the heart is a thinking organ and more powerful than the brain, I wrote what seemed like spirit-led guidance in my journal.

“You are not to worry about residual income, but to follow me on the path I have designed for you to follow. It doesn’t need to be seen as a loss, or choosing ‘this or that,’ but simply and easily stepping onto the path, listening to your inner wisdom that I so freely give.”

I am listening. And truly hope it’s laid out in six simple steps.


Closure: Illusory or real

It’s been a quiet Sunday. No phone calls. No emails. No calendar disputes. Husband has been replacing the element on the hot water heater, which, it turns out, has been an all afternoon endeavor because when you replace an element it’s important that you also dig out all the hard water deposits on the sides and bottom of the heater, or you’ll end up with another burned out element.

He replaced the hot water heater seven years ago, so he had seven years of deposits to vacuum out. But first he had to drain the water, which seemed to take hours. Poor guy. Tomorrow he goes back to a tiling project and then he starts a kitchen remodel. But at the end of April, we’re going on a vacation. Of sorts.

In two weeks, we’ll drive more than 2,000 miles, bury mom’s ashes, visit with family, including my 96-year-old aunt. While there, husband will install a handicapped toilet (you’d think she would have had that done awhile ago and had someone closer do it for her, but she loves husband and every time he does something like this he is more endeared to her).

We will visit my nephew, wife and great-niece, and her grandmother, my sister (ex-in-law). We will visit my brother and my sister (in-law). We will visit my cousin who has lung cancer and my brother-in-law and our sweet niece in the Bay Area, who will christen the end of our trip before we head north to the Oregon Coast where I will have a private (with husband) ash scattering in one of mom’s favorite places.

I had a dream last night about a friend we always visit when we head south, but I’m not sure where to fit her. Another friend moved back to San Diego from Maine and lives in La Jolla. She told me in January she was getting married, maybe in April, but I’ve  heard no word from her since she moved, so I’m thinking we’ll not put her, or her wedding, on the itinerary. Callous. I think not.

Husband’s uncle used to live in San Diego, but he died four years ago. As much as husband would like to have the opportunity to visit him, he was 93 and died rather quickly, avoiding the long drawn out drama we experienced with mom. It would have been hard to visit him this trip. I asked husband today if he missed his uncle. He said, “Yes, I miss all of them.” All his family is gone, except for his brother and a nephew and a niece. I stood over the sizzling bacon and wept.

But then I weep a lot. I wept for 15 minutes a few nights ago when a friend’s husband texted me to tell me their micro-preemie twin granddaughter was dying after three days of life. Another friend emailed husband to say he has bladder cancer. Another friend’s partner is undergoing chemo for pancreatic cancer. Hold on, I want to say. Enough is enough. But life doesn’t hold on. It keeps moving on. And so, I weep.

I’m looking forward to our trip…but I’m wondering if closure is illusory or achievable. I will have buried and scattered mom’s ashes. The taxes are done, the bills are paid. But I still have her wedding dress and all the photos of her and my dad and the ancestors that we spent hours and hours labeling. I have the great-grandmother and grandmother dishes, the set of twelve tea cups and saucers that I never knew existed because they stayed packed away in boxes the entire time she lived in Washington. I have her diaries of trips taken, the sun glasses she always wore, even in the dining room where she lived because the lights were so bright. I have her hutch and writing desk, and the memories of a powerful force in my life.

I will pack up some items to take to California for my family, including the cobalt blue berry dishes for my brother and books he picked out when he was here a month after mom died. I will share things I could not part with a year ago. And I will pray for closure–if there is such a thing.

In the meantime, I bought four packages of sweet peas today. I will plant them on each side of the garden gate before I leave. I will also plant some sugar-snap peas, spinach, broccoli and some lettuce. May the last frost be in May instead of June. I wonder if that is much like my prayer for closure–illusory.

Our box will be fine, thanks.

The representative from the cemetery emailed me today and said she was set to meet us on the agreed upon date at 1 p.m. at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

And then, quite inexplicably, she asked, “Do you plan to bring the urn with you at the graveside?”

Well, um, yes, I thought that was the plan.

I said, “Yes, but the ashes are in a box.”

Then I said I was having a waking nightmare that we would drive to Los Angeles and realize we left mom’s ashes at home.

She called me laughing and said, “No, I’m having the nightmare. What kind of box are the ashes in?”

Well, er, just a box that would hold ashes. Certainly she had seen such a box before.

I went to get the box to measure it.

“It’s a black plastic box that is 9 inches by 6 inches and her ashes are inside in a plastic bag,” I said.

“Well, that should be fine. We have boxes here that are [and I forget the dimensions she named, but it sounded like you could fit a body into it, not ashes, but I left that alone] $158.”

I laughed [hysterically].

“Hmmm, no, I think our box will be just fine, DON’T YOU?”


This is ridiculous

Husband came home last night and once again I tipped the bottle as he walked in the door. Over a glass of wine and my preparing a pot of soup, I told him about a conversation I had with the cemetery representative an hour earlier. He always listens, but this time he said, “I’ll be glad when I can come home and there won’t be any drama.”

What? No drama? How boring. But I understood his sentiments. Since we started dating more than seven years ago there has been continual drama around taking care of mom on one level or another. Now that she has been gone a year, he understandably has expectations that we could live our lives, at least without mom drama.

Sorry, honey. Not yet.

Okay, so we finally set the date to bury mom’s ashes; see Oops, Wrong Month. I emailed the cemetery representative to tell her we had picked a date. Because we will all drive from different places–us from Washington and my brother and nephew from several hours away in San Diego County, my cousin from an hour away, I suggested a specific time to meet, say 11 a.m.

It is costing us $1700 to have the ground opened, the ashes in the box placed into a cement casing and  the ground covered. Then they’ll place a tablet we had inscribed on top of the ground next to our dad’s tablet. That’s it.

If we wanted to do it on a Saturday it would have cost another $500. If we had a minister do a small service, it was another $500. We’ve had a memorial and didn’t feel it necessary to have someone we didn’t know say a few words about someone they didn’t know for another $500.

Yesterday afternoon I received this email.

Hello Martha,

Thank you for the date given! I will now notify Glendale on the details
regarding the placement so they can put it on records.

The place will be at the gravesite between 9-4pm. Since this will be at
Forest Lawn’s convenience, there will be no Funeral Director assigned to
you. You can be at the graveside at the times mentioned.

Please let me know if you have further concern or questions.

Best Regards.

(Note: The above is a direct quote.)

I wrote said representative a nice little email and said, “You bet, I have some concerns. We are expected to show up and wait around from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. hoping someone will show up with a shovel to bury our mom’s ashes?” I said.

Then I called her. When she answered she had just read my email and said, “Let me clarify. If we set an exact time, it will cost an additional $500.”

OH, NO,  HELL NO, I said. Well, no, I didn’t say, OH, NO, HELL NO, but words to that effect.


“Martha, I understand. I’m going to do my best. I talked to my supervisor. But now I’m going to talk to the vice president.”

The vice president of a large corporation (this is not one tiny cemetery…Forest Lawn has enormous cemeteries in L.A. County) has to decide whether or not they say, “Of course, we’ll have someone meet you. No problem. What time? How can we serve you?” Really?

I was furious. I was shaking. I couldn’t believe that she hadn’t cleared this up before ever trying to pass it by me with, “You can be at the graveside at the times mentioned.” I could just picture us sitting in lawn chairs in the middle of Forest Lawn having a picnic, although in retrospect that might have provided for some interesting family discussions.

I called my brother. He said, “The left hand never knows what the right hand is doing.” He told me a story about going to pick up their new computer yesterday at the time designated by the tech who was going to transfer information from the old computer to the new computer.

When he got there, the girl at the front desk said, “Oh, no, it’s not ready, they told you wrong. We always need 24 to 48 hours.”

“But I just drove more than an hour from home to pick it up.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He argued with her to no avail and drove home. An hour after he arrived home someone called to say the computer was ready.

That got me giggling in sympathy, taking my mind of my irritation.

Then we talked more about mom’s ashes.

“Some people keep them at home for years,” he offered (in jest, I’m sure).

I didn’t say, “Well, I’ll mail them to you,” but said, “I’m not going to do that.”

“What do I say if they can’t meet us at a specific time?” I said.

“Tell them we want our money back and we’ll scatter her ashes in the trees.”

I didn’t say, “Well, we should have gone to the Oregon Coast.”

He said, “I can just hear mom saying, ‘This is ridiculous.'”

I laughed as I pictured her face when she used to say that.

He told me that if necessary he would talk to the vice president.

Most important, for the first time in months my brother and I laughed together. I had tears in my eyes. He’s a funny guy and I was glad I had called.

We hung up and ten minutes later the representative called me back. I immediately said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.” She laughed and said something kind like, “We meet all kinds.”

Then she said, “I talked to the vice president and he said, ‘In this case, we’ll make an exception.'” Damn straight, you’ll make an exception, I thought. Instead, “I said thank you for advocating for us.” So kind.

After I shared all of this with husband, I said, “We need to decide what to do with our ashes when the time comes.”

“Pour mine on the floor of the Social Security Administration office,” he said. Talk about drama.

Bodies and bones and ashes

I received a couple of humorous comments yesterday after reading my post expressing their gratitude for being only children, allowing for independent decision-making in the face of caretaking a parent or in the face of taking care of the details involved with burying said parent. I understand that sentiment. My son is an only child, and from my perspective, and his, it does lend itself to simplicity.

But my post was not meant to be an indictment, but simply a look at the drama and saga surrounding the not so simple act of burying said parent’s remains.

I love my family. And as I’ve said it’s my fault it’s such a problem and I’m sure they would be willing to point that out ever so kindly. Of course, I say that tongue in cheek. People move away all the time and it works out. I know people who are the long-distance sibling, and those who are the care taking sibling.

It’s not always easy, however. Families are families and one way or another we are all faced with some form of the eventuality of a parent dying, unless they die like my father did before I was two, which raised a whole host of other issues my brother and I individually and collectively still tangle with at times.

But my goal is to untangle myself and my family from “taking care of mom,” so that future visits will be unencumbered by the details of her care that have so long been in the middle of just about every conversation. I hope we will be free to love each other and share stories about mom without the needs and issues of her care hanging over us. What we risk, of course, is not having anything to talk about. But I know that’s not the case.

I don’t resent my mother. I don’t resent having to go to California to bury her ashes. However, the drama around my mother has continued, and quite frankly, I’m exhausted. And really, mom would say something like, “What is all this fuss about? I told you to do what is easiest.”

Really, mom? That would mean me walking out my back door to the garden with your box of ashes. And considering your parting letter that said, it doesn’t matter where our earthly remains end up, maybe you’d be fine with that. Every time I eat a carrot I would think of you. But, no. I don’t think you’d be fine with that.

Nothing has ever been uncomplicated, from the beginning of mom’s life until now. And now, just think about it. Three cemetery plots? I get it. When we think burial we think family plots. But oh frickin’ no, not this family. We’re going to have bodies and bones and ashes scattered to the four directions before we’re done here. Which is, I guess, why we are burying her next to our dad. Some kind of continuity, a closing of the circle.

Back to the point. Mom wanted us to love one another. And that, my friends, is the case. I’m grateful for my brother and the sisters he brought to me, for my nephews who are often an enigma, but whom I love, their partners, and my sweet pea great niece who I adore, but don’t get to see very often. And of course my son who is remaining aloof from the family drama, much to his credit.

Issues, yes. Crazy calendar mix-ups, yes. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, yes. But as mom always pointed out and as my sisters (in-law, ex or otherwise) have pointed out, it will all work out, dammit. (my dammit, not theirs)

Oops, wrong month

When someone dies, usually the person is either cremated and put in an urn for interment at a local cemetery, or scattered somewhere. Or, a person dies and they are put in a casket and the casket is buried, usually within a week, after a nice funeral or memorial service.

Occasionally, there’s no service, but there’s still a burial. And occasionally, more often than I once thought, people keep the remains in an urn or an orb or a box, enjoying the presence of the ashes that remind them of mom or dad, or their dog, as one person I know.

My ex-father-in-law decided one day that his wife’s remains belonged in the rose bushes, just as others bury their loved one’s ashes in the vegetable garden for a little added carbon. A former client buried her baby’s ashes under a tree in the mountains outside San Diego and sent me a teaspoon of his ashes that I still have. My grandfather was scattered over the Pacific Ocean from my cousin’s helicopter. A friend took his parents’ ashes out in his boat and photographed the beautiful colors the ashes made as they circled and descended in the water.

But I do not want to keep mom’s ashes. And I sure don’t want them in my garden. She hated gardening. And so, a year later, they sit on a shelf. In a fascinating series of events, however, we have set a date.

It’s no one’s fault that the ashes still sit on the shelf, except maybe mine. I am the one who moved to Washington and enticed mom to do the same, moving her away from the rest of the family and three (not one, but three) burial plots in Southern California from which to choose to inter her ashes.

There was the plot next to her third husband in Oceanside, California, except there was no “next to,” since his ashes were interred in a “group burial.” We never discussed that, but his daughter told me. Then there was the plot somewhere in San Diego next to her second husband.

Mom originally told us she wanted to be buried with the third husband, but then one day as we talked with my brother on my patio she said, “If you want to bury my ashes next to your dad, that is fine with me. Do what is easiest.” HA.

She has owned the plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale since April of 1947 when our father died a year after I was born.

Note: In line with mom’s wishes to do what was simple, I preferred the ashes blowing in the breeze along the Oregon Coast. But brother and I decided that by burying her ashes next to our dad, we would be “completing a circle,” long broken. I agree, but some ashes may end up along the Oregon Coast anyway.

I pushed my brother relentlessly these past months to make a decision about what we were going to do. I suggested a family trek to the coast, but he felt strongly about Forest Lawn and I agreed. Even though I liked the idea of Oregon I will be glad we are going to our dad’s grave together to put her ashes next to him.

He agreed to meet with the woman from the mortuary to give her a check, something I couldn’t do from Washington. But when they met he didn’t pin down a date, even though we had talked about some time the last two weeks of April. She called me, she emailed me. I called my brother. He said he would get back to me.

A week later he called to say that he and wife were leaving for their home in New Mexico for ten days. He would call me in the morning. The next morning I got a message saying he still needed to talk to his son about the date and then asked if I would call him. I said in a return email that I thought it best he talk to his son and get back to me.

After they returned, husband called him mid-week because he needed to schedule his jobs around this trip. Bro said he would call back after talking to his son.

And so it went. A few days later I talked to sis-in-law who said, “Yes, I need to get in on my calendar as well. I’ll talk to your brother.”

A few days later we hadn’t heard. I was feeling anxious, waking up in the night, not wanting to be a thorn in their flesh, but determined to make sure this happened. There are other people we want to visit. My cousin with cancer. My 96-year-old aunt. My husband’s brother and niece. And my nephew, wife and great-niece. And we needed to pick dates to kennel the dog.

I called my brother. He said he hadn’t been able to talk to his son to pin him down because my nephew is busy getting ready to move into a new house.

Then nephew wrote me an email telling me the only dates that would work are April 5 to 15. I laughed hysterically. When husband walked in the door from work I had poured a glass of wine, but held the bottle up to my mouth, knowing that would make him laugh.

I called my brother and said, “We have to set a date and let whoever wants to come make a decision.” He agreed.

I wrote my nephew and said, “We can’t come then. The 23rd is the date we will bury mom’s ashes. Can we visit the weekend of the 27 to the 30th? A weekend is better than nothing.”

He wrote back and said, “That’s not a weekend. I’ll be gone. That won’t work.”

I wrote back and said, “It is too a weekend.”

The next email said, “Oops, wrong month. That will work fine.”

Next email, “Whew. I’m so glad.” Nervous breakdown averted.

In the meantime, I called brother’s wife and she said the 23rd sounded good. But I had sent an itinerary that said we would be at their house to visit the 25th and 26th of April. The 26th is mom’s birthday and I want to be with them. She said, “Oh, no, I’m not going to be here on the 26th.”

Then she said, “Oops, wrong month. That will work fine.”

I was thinking that the burial of mom’s ashes had become a fascinatingly bizarre sub-cultural study on family dynamics.

But the date is set. And that’s what counts. Although I know I have been annoying and persistent, if I hadn’t pushed, it wouldn’t have happened. I needed it to happen.

Irony will have it, we are burying mom’s ashes 65 years to the week she buried our dad. He died April 17, 1947. We will bury her ashes April 23, 2012. It’s the right month, the right week, and the right day. Now all we have to do is use the same calendar.

March Forth

March 4, 2012

Dear Mom,

It’s been a year today since you made your transition. Annie called and said they prayed for you in church. We talked for a long time, mostly about you. First she told me she and Stan are going to do a sixty-day art challenge. They will paint a painting a day and then promote it on Facebook, her blog and on her Web site. Stan still isn’t into the business of art but wants to sit under the cork tree and paint and have everyone leave him alone except when they are buying the art. Annie is going to help him with the challenge.

The art gallery in Santa Fe where Annie has been selling her art has been sold. The owner reminded Annie of her mother, and so when the owner told Annie she was selling the gallery, Annie said she cried and cried. Stan asked her if her tears were because the gallery owner reminded her of her mother. Then Annie realized that the day the owner told her she was selling the gallery was the anniversary of her mother’s death 19 years ago. There are times Annie says she is caught unaware by the intensity of emotion that wells within her.

She reminded me that it’s only been a year since you’ve been gone. Yes, we are through the year of firsts, and yes it is easier. But she said I will think of you and be reminded of you and have tears for you the rest of my life.

For some who knew how hard it was with you, how I chafed, how tired I was, they will not completely understand what Annie saw, which was the love between us. She said she knew that when you died I would take it hard. I had no idea how hard it would be. Your presence provided an identity, a way of being, with which I had become so familiar. I chafed, but I also loved. I was dependent on you in a myriad of ways I didn’t completely understand.

I’m sorry about the past and that we had to spend so much time working through it. But I am grateful you hung in there with me. We were on our own journey that others couldn’t see. But you and I did.

I am so enjoying our house–the one you helped me buy 20 years ago. It’s a good place for us, although I miss having the company that would come to see you. Jared hadn’t been home since last April when we did your memorial. But two weeks ago he and the band played a gig in Missoula and on their way home to Seattle the pass closed so they came here to spend the night–six of them. It was a bit of synchronicity for us, but not for the people stranded on the pass.  We had dinner together and we all talked and in the morning I cooked breakfast and we sat around the table and talked some more. Jared looked good and he and Kiersten are happy together.

Today Ben and I spent time in the garden. He fixed the gate and I dug in the beds. It feels so good to be in the dirt after a long winter that isn’t quite over, the sun warming my body. I know that’s something you never understood because you never gardened and for years didn’t like the sun or the wind. The extent of your gardening was cutting the pink camellias that grew behind the house and floating them in a dish of water.

I’m going to plant sweet peas on either side of the gate. Even though I never remember a sweet pea in your house, sweet peas remind me of you and Grannyma. When I used to bring you flowers you always called them posies. I will put posies on the table this summer and think of you. I wish I had bought you an orchid, but I never did.

I’ve been enjoying your furniture. I love the hutch. It was always yours so I never told you I wanted it. I love the great-grandmother and grandmother dishes that you always had on the hutch. They are still there, but in April when we go to California I will take the cobalt blue berry dishes that belonged to our great-grandmother to Stan.

I cherish your antique writing desk and the chair with the needlepoint seat you made. I sometimes sit and write letters but not often because I’m usually on the computer. The loveseat is in the end of the living room. Sometimes Taz sleeps on it, but I make sure there’s a blanket on it. It’s really not that comfortable. Now I know why you had so much trouble with the pillows for your back.

I will always miss you. But you wanted me to move on and have a good life. You knew that I sacrificed to take care of you, but you did what you could to help me too. Sometimes it was messy and hard and not very fun, but it was what it was. I don’t regret a minute.

But I’ve got to be honest. As much as I’ve missed you I am so grateful you marched forth out of your ancient body and that I am free of helping you take care of your ancient body.

I see you now in a new body, spirit made. You are young and happy and dancing again to the tunes of Tommy Dorsey, a filmy dress flowing as you move. I see you turning, just for a moment, looking at me, and smiling.

I love you.