My Mom: Jan Nelson

With my mother’s memorial service coming up a week from Friday, I was asked to put together a few words about her for my pastor. Of course, I wrote three pages. But I wanted to share them with you, along with some of the pictures I put together for a photo slideshow which will be shown at the church. Here she is in my own words:

My mama was the sweetest, most gentle heart I’ve ever known. She got that from her mother, Marcy, and her generosity of spirit from her father, Wally. Mom was kind and loving and so accepting of others. It took a lot to make her angry, and when she did get angry it was over pretty quickly.

Underneath that sweet exterior lurked a quick and wicked sense of humor. It’s one of the reasons she loved my father so much, because they were well matched. (Obviously, there were other, major reasons as well, but the fact that they laughed together, even in serious situations, was a gift to their marriage.) She and her friends Pat and Marie could laugh themselves into fits of hysterics and often did when they got together.

Mom loved to travel. The two of us went to London for a week in 1997 – the one and only time she went overseas. She loved every minute of it. We walked everywhere and had aching feet at the end of each day, but we saw so much. We even took day trips to Oxford and Windsor Castle. She made three consecutive scrapbooks to detail our trip.

My parents and I always did a two week vacation in the summer when I was a kid. We would usually go camping somewhere out west and we were fond of the National Parks. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Death Valley, Lassen, Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Parks all saw us at least once, but we revisited our favorites many times. We also explored the beauty of the Canadian Rockies by visiting Banff, Lake Louise, and Waterton Lakes. Even though camping wasn’t her favorite (she didn’t like bugs or wild animals), she went along with it in good humor because it got her out to see the world.

Unfortunately, bugs and wild animals seemed to like her. Mosquitoes flocked to her arms and legs and one time when a June bug flew at her and hit her in the face she literally jumped out of her sandals. And while in Mesa Verde in Colorado, two inquisitive mule deer quietly came up behind her to investigate our campsite while we were washing up after supper. They drove Mom to the safety of the car while they innocently nosed the frying pan.

Mom also loved the North Shore of Lake Superior. She went many times as a kid, usually staying with her family in Halcyon Harbor. But we made quite a few trips ourselves when I was a child. I remember sitting on the rocky shore with her and arguing over who got to read our only copy of Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. She loved Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, and wandering through the many gift shops that line old Highway 61, plus eating at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais, and Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors.

She and Dad had an absolute blast traveling around in their RV. Unfortunately, her health problems made them have to stop after just a year on the road. Her goal was to see all 50 states, and she made 47 of them, missing only Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia. She also collected pictures of state capitols and wrote a newsletter called the Roads Scholars that she sent out to family and friends.

She did have a multitude of health problems, but she never complained about them. She bore everything on her small shoulders with grace and fortitude. She had quiet strength that could withstand the most difficult situations. She had a fiercely strong spirit and was determined to beat the odds. In the end, her lungs gave out on her, but she fought all the way. She said she didn’t want to die because she had so many things she still wanted to do.

Mom was gifted with all creative pursuits. She decorated our home beautifully, but also loved scrapbooking, painting, cross stitch, sewing, and needlework of all kinds. Scrapbooking was a particular passion in later years, and she would spend hours slaving over pages of memories. She made two books chronicling my life, one for her sister, one for her best friends Pat and Marie, one for her mother-in-law Eileen, one for Disney, even one specifically for pictures of people wearing silly hats at Disney World. (Yes, she really had enough pictures.) She delighted in putting together colors, layout, pictures and words to create something truly eye-catching and special.

Mom had a few obsessions. Some of these included Disney, picture frames, Disney, soap dishes, Disney, scrapbooking, Disney, Department 56 houses, Disney, Christmas, Disney and Disney. She worked at Disney World for a period of several years and got to indulge that obsession as much as she wanted. She collected pins, Lilo and Stitch memorabilia and quite a few pieces of art from the local artists who worked with her at the Art of Disney. Her time spent at the Art of Disney, a high end art store where you could buy anything from a $5 keychain to a $40,000 painting she discovered she really liked helping people choose the perfect treasure and had a knack for selling.

Mom was really smart. She got very good grades in high school and had an amazing memory and was a quick learner. She loved to read and devoured books voraciously. If she wasn’t occupied with one of her obsessions, you can bet she had a book in her hand. She adored mysteries, fiction, biographies and Harry Potter. She instilled a love of reading in me, leading by example.

She loved art, especially the Impressionists, and loved museums. She liked to write and was quite accomplished at it. She always thought she would have made a good librarian, and was so pleased when I made that my career. She was a bookkeeper and would have made a fantastic accountant if she’d had the chance to go to college. She loved learning of all kinds and was always looking for ways to expand her knowledge of the world, whether it be through books or travel.

In addition to art, she loved music too. Every Easter she got excited because our church service usually ended with the Hallelujah Chorus, in which she loved to participate, and Lorie Line was her go-to Christmas music. We saw her several times in concert. She loved singing in Mount Calvary choir and joined the Disney employee choir which sang at the EPCOT Candlelight Processional. She got to be on stage with Neil Patrick Harris, John Stamos, Eartha Kitt and Phylicia Rashad.

And she was always playing music in the car. When I was still in a car seat, she would strap me in and subject me to large doses of Barry Manilow. I, being an extremely good daughter, took her to see him in Fort Myers a couple of years ago, and was surprised that I knew the words to all but one of the songs, which was in itself a little frightening. But it made her so dang happy it was hard not to enjoy it.

She loved her family. On her father’s side she was the youngest of 25 first cousins. She adored her sister, all her nieces and nephews and their children, and had a special friendship with her cousin Kay. She was proud of her Swedish and Norwegian heritage. She loved her parents fiercely and was devastated when she lost them just six months apart. Being only seven at the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of her loss. But now I have a very keen understanding of what she went through at just thirty two years of age.

She loved animals. From her collie Chloe, when she was a girl, to my cats Shady and Fingers now, she lavished as much attention on them as they would let her. She loved the softness of fur and animals recognized the gentle spirit that lay within her, and loved her back.

Most of all, I think, she loved my Dad and me. When my husband Kosta joined the family, she gathered him right in and loved him too. We were a tight unit with inside jokes and a rubber chicken that used to get passed to unsuspecting recipients at Christmas. No one has a perfect marriage but as the years passed Mom and Dad settled into the comfortable roles of best friends and soul mates. And yet, they included me in their love so that I never doubted it for a moment.

Mom left us too soon. She didn’t want to go, she wanted to make her 50th wedding anniversary in 2019, and see me be a published author. She wanted to visit Disney again and go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. She had books to read, and scrapbooks to finish and so much living to do and most of all: people to love. And even though her spirit was strong, her body crumbled away before our horrified eyes. She has left such a large hole in our hearts and knowing that I may have to live half of my life without her is almost too much to bear sometimes. I’ll never see her beautiful eyes again, or feel her soft hand touch my cheek. She was one of my best friends. I’ll never stop missing her and will remember her daily for the rest of my life.

The Club

I have recently become a member of an exclusive club. So exclusive, even my husband isn’t a member. I have a few friends and relatives who belong though. My friend from high school, Jenny, joined in her twenties. My cousins Michelle, Andrew and Paul have been members since 2006. And most of us, at one time or another will gain membership. It’s easy, you just have to lose a parent.

I don’t mean to be glib. In fact, I don’t want to be at all. Most of you know my mom died last Saturday. She had been sick for a long time. Her last month of life was spent in the ICU of Tampa General Hospital. And in the early hours of the morning, just five days ago, her fragile body gave out. Specifically, her lungs just couldn’t keep up anymore. She was 67 years old.

Grief is an overwhelming thing. Sometimes I am all right, I have moments of calm. But then my brain thinks, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and suddenly I feel like I have been kicked repeatedly in the solar plexus, all breath knocked from my body and the ugly crying commences. And I never know where or when it is going to happen.

The past few days I’ve been sleeping a lot. It is my one escape from reality and a blessing. While I am asleep I do not cry. I do not remember she has gone. I do not think, “I’m never going to see her again in this life.”

My own mother’s mother, Grandma Marcy, died when Mom was in her early 30’s. And Mom had told me on numerous occasions that you never stop grieving for your mother. I believe her. I will get distance and time away from that horrible day, but I will never stop wanting her near me. I’ll never stop wanting her to touch my face with her soft hand, or kiss me, or tell me to “Get home good,” when I’m on my way home.

But the club. They are part of what is keeping me going. You see, they know the hell I am in right now and they see me. I’ve had several members approach me over the past few days to let me know they know how I am feeling. And in a weird way it’s a great comfort. They have been through this and yet they are still actively living their lives. Thank you Andrew, and Julie, and April, and Beth.

Don’t believe, however, that if you aren’t in the club I’m not grateful as hell for your kindness, your sympathy, or your love. Everyone has experienced loss, and I don’t belittle it one bit. Pain is pain and you don’t have to lose your mom to feel that. My husband Kosta, has been my rock. He never gets sick of seeing me melt down. He just holds me and lets me get it out.

For everyone who has lost a mother or father, I see you. I know the grief you carry around with you every day, no matter how much time has passed since they died. I see you.

But we carry on. I am sure I will find ways to deal with my grief, and the day will come when I won’t cry once.

Just not today.

Mom

Next Friday on January 19 my Mom is having high risk surgery. She has a benign tumor in her colon that is growing aggressively fast and it must be removed before it becomes a bowel obstruction. Because of other health issues the doctors say she has a 50% chance of survival.

The surgery will be in Tampa, about two hours north of where we live. Kosta, Dad and I will be staying in a hotel for the duration.

I won’t deny it. I’m scared.

Please send us your prayers, goodwill and energy. Regardless of the outcome this is going to be an extremely difficult time for all of us. I’ll post again after the surgery to keep everyone updated.

Thanks in advance and love to you all.

 

Shine a Light

Our doorbell rang last night about 6:30. It was Dad, who had stopped on his way to the emergency room. Mom was sick and he couldn’t get a hold of us. We had just gotten home from dinner out, my phone charging in the bedroom. So we put our shoes right back on and hopped in the car.

My Mom has quite a few health problems, including three auto-immune diseases: Myasthenia Gravis, Fibromyalgia, and another unnamed one that attacked her lungs, leaving them at about 30-40% the size of an average adult female. I don’t talk about it a lot for several reasons. For one, it is her business as it is her health.  But it has been becoming more and more clear to me over the past few months that it is okay to talk to people about it. Support is a good thing to have from your family and friends.

Mom has pneumonia. It isn’t very bad, but for someone with lungs like hers it is bad news nonetheless. The good news is it was caught early and can be treated with antibiotics and she can be in the hospital where she can get the care and watchful eyes of the medical professionals. I have to say everyone at Physician’s Regional has been extremely top notch and helpful. I am relieved to know she is in good hands and being cared for.

Still, I am anxious to hear she is better and can come home. Our next hurdle to jump will be the surgery she will need in the next couple of months. It is extremely risky, considering the shape of her lungs, but it can’t be helped if she wants to survive.

Friday night my parents, my husband and I had a celebratory dinner marking their 48th wedding anniversary. While the men were outside heating up the grill for the steaks Mom and I had a good talk. We were frank and honest about the future. Mom said she wasn’t ready to die. She wanted to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. She wanted to go to Disney World again. She wanted to see me become a published author. In other words, she is far from done with this life.

I love my Mom. She is gentle and kind, but there is also a fiery center to her that I admire greatly. She has more strength than anyone I know. And it makes me feel so helpless to see her struggle when there is nothing I can do but hold her hand. But if that’s what I can do, I am there.

The holidays are coming. I am going to shine a light in the darkness for my mom and my family. We will get through this.

 

A Kick in the Arse

It is so easy to get stuck in a rut, isn’t it? We live our daily lives and one day passes, then another, and they march on in a seemingly infinite line without much change from day to day. But sometimes, just the littlest change can make a huge improvement in our outlook and mental well-being.

I don’t want to be a Pollyanna. I don’t want to play the Glad Game or always look on the bright side. I usually wish to shoot people like that. But let me tell you about the change we made at our house last week and the difference it has made for me.

We bought a new couch. I know you’re thinking, “Whoop-de-doo.” But no, really, it has lifted me out of my rut. Let me back up a bit and explain.

When we first moved in together ten years ago, Kosta and I bought a couch. It was from a cheapy furniture store and the couch stayed intact for about a year before the frame started breaking down. My Dad, bless him, tried to shore it up and found the damn thing had been put together not with wood screws but with staples. But we didn’t have the money to drop on a new, well-made couch, so we just sucked it up and lived with it. Broken. For ten years. We both said we would much rather have a trip to Europe than a new couch.

The couch slowly sagged into its spot. We stuck pillows under the cushions to bolster us but it became cranky and carnivorous. It would eat you ass first if you sat on it. It was an awful situation that was really at the center of our home lives. We sat on it every day and it made us sad and frustrated.

Last weekend I’d had enough. I told Kosta we were going couch shopping. We aren’t going on a big trip this year and living with this half-sofa was killing us. So we decided on a budget and went to the consignment shops. Naples has a lot of them and they are filled usually with pretty decent furniture.

We walked around downtown and popped into stores. There were some that were nice but too expensive, some that were the right price but not what we wanted. There were a couple that were okay, but I wasn’t going to plop down money for something that was just okay. Consignment shops turn over pretty fast, especially this time of year when the snowbirds all go back north for the summer. I knew if we waited the right couch for us would come along.

It was getting late and we had one store left. We walked inside and boom, there it was, just waiting for us. It was blue like the Aegean, it looked brand new, and it was within our budget. I was instantly smitten and Kosta seemed pleased with it too. Up to this point all the couches had been in neutral colors – beige, and white (who gets a white sofa, I ask you???) and an occasional gold. But this sofa sat like a glittering sapphire in a field of blah.

And then we found out they were having a sale and that everything in the store that day was half off. I had to sit down. Fortunately the sofa was extremely comfortable too. We didn’t have to think very hard about it.

True, we had to pay to have it moved (it’s a sofa bed and extremely heavy), but that was nominal, and when you get a sofa for HALF PRICE it doesn’t hurt so much. We bought it Saturday, hauled the tired old sofa to the curb Sunday night, and had the new one in place Monday afternoon.

It all worked so easily that I am still stunned by it. And grateful. Because that new sofa has transformed our living room. It has transformed us. We aren’t embarrassed by its presence. We can have people over again and sit on it without being consumed.  We love admiring it, sitting on it, and feeling happy that it is there.

And now that we have that in place we want to do more. We are looking for an area rug next. I am going to mosaic some lamps. A fire has been kindled by something so simple as a new piece of furniture. And if I had kept thinking, “We can’t afford a new sofa” this never would have happened.

Sometimes you have to give yourself a kick in the arse. It’s amazing where you can land.

Unexpected Events

Things have been great on vacation. We met up with our friends in Munich, and spent several days visiting Nuremberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber. We were treated to such views as this:

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn't it?

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn’t it?

We have had a wonderful time reconnecting with our friends Danielle and Sylvain, and we have discovered a few things about German culture.

  1. They like cash. I think I only used my credit card to pay for the hotel and the rental car. Cash everywhere else.
  2. Sparkling water is called Sprudelwasser.
  3. The Germans are crazy for pork and cabbage:

    That's a lot of sauerkraut.

    That’s a lot of sauerkraut.

Seriously. I ate so much pork I thought I was going to sprout a curly tail. Pork at every meal. Cabbage hiding under the lettuce of your salad and of course the ubiquitous sauerkraut. We went to the grocery store and they had an entire Wall O’ Pork. They are totally serious about their pig food products.

We are now comfortably ensconced in our friends’ old stone farmhouse in Western France. And it was good to be surrounded by friends because the totally unexpected happened.

The other day I got a text from my Mom saying Dad had been having chest pains. They went to the ER, ran some tests, and the upshot was Dad had to have triple bypass surgery. It happened today and went extremely well. He is in recovery and all signs point to a good recovery. But the fact that I wasn’t with my mother to sit there and hold her hand while her husband of 46 years had open heart surgery left me a quivering mess.

But my wonderful friend Danielle helped me through with Reiki. If you don’t know what Reiki is, I invite you to read about it here. Basically, it is healing energy from the Divine that a practitioner can channel into another being: human, animal or plant. I’ve been a practitioner for several years now and Danielle is the Reiki Master who has taught me. Together we created a flow of Reiki that was sent directly to my father, thousands of miles away. It was proactive and left me feeling more in control of my emotions and hopeful of a positive outcome. I held it together.

Dad will probably be in the hospital for five or six days. Kosta and I debated over what to do. In the end, (mostly because we can’t afford to change our plane tickets) we are going to continue with our vacation. Trust me when I say it was not an easy decision to make. Most of me is longing to be home with my family. Everyone seems to be coping reasonably well. Mom has been so brave and capable and I am proud of her for surviving an extremely difficult situation.

The last couple of days have been rough, for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much on a vacation before. But Dad has survived his ordeal, Mom is coping with hers, and Kosta and I will deal with ours.

Perplexed and a little frightened...

Perplexed and a little frightened…

 

 

What I Did for Love

This story starts way back here:

Mom and me at about 4 years old

Mom and me at about 4 years old

My mom and I have had a very close relationship for my whole life, and I know how lucky I am in this. She and I have been good friends for as long as I can remember. My Mom is one of the sweetest ladies on this earth (besides her mother). Don’t get me wrong, she can be salty and curse if the need warrants. But to me she is soft, loving, and a super cuddler.

Mom has had some health problems in the past few years that has left her unable to drive, walk very far, and otherwise do a lot of stuff she used to do herself. But she keeps on going, a tough woman for sure–especially after all she’s had to endure.

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow

When I was young (still in a car seat) Mom took me everywhere with her–shopping, to see my cousins, and to preschool. And all the time I was strapped into that car seat I was listening to the tapes she played of her favorite music. This was the late 70s folks, and that includes Billy Joel, Rita Coolidge, Crystal Gayle, and her all-time favorite: Barry Manilow.

As a teenager I got into heavy metal and hard rock and shunned and teased my mother for her musical tastes. (What can I say? Sometimes teenagers can be assholes.) As I grew up I didn’t bug her about it so much but I never saw the attraction.

Fast forward to this Christmas this year. I heard Barry was coming to town on his final tour. The man is 72 after all.  And as easy it would have been to buy my mom “stuff” for Christmas, I think you can imagine where this is headed. I opted to give my mom the experience of one final Barry Manilow concert. With me.

barry manilow one last timeShe was rendered speechless when she opened her gift. Not that my mother is a constant talker (I’m married to that) but it was wonderful to see her so excited.

The concert was this last Monday, February 1 at the Germain Arena in Estero. And if you think Barry Manilow isn’t popular, think again. They actually added a second show this Saturday to accommodate the call for tickets in the Southwest Florida area.

The traffic was a nightmare getting in. I certainly hadn’t anticipated the amount of cars once we got off the freeway. Usually it would take five minutes to get to Germain Arena but it took us nearly forty minutes that night. And there was no handicapped parking left, so I had to park out in the sticks. Mom can’t walk very far so we used her wheelchair, thank goodness. It was a hike into the venue.

2016-02-01 19.52.38

Let it go, let it go…

Our seats were great. We were up on the top right next to the box suites and had a terrific view of the stage. As we came in the opening act, Dave Koz was wailing on his saxophone. Playing “Let it Go,” I might add.

Waiting for the main event!

Waiting for the main event!

All right, so let me be the first to admit it. Barry Manilow puts on a pretty good show. I can’t believe the pipes on this guy, and his energy levels.

2016-02-01 20.25.30

It’s a miracle… A true blue spectacle.

Have you ever heard that your brain stores the memories of all the moments of your entire life? It’s your recall that isn’t quite as developed. Well let me tell you that all of those songs I was forced to listen to at a tender age came back to me. I was astonished to realize I knew almost all the words to all the songs. There were only a couple I didn’t know.

2016-02-01 21.43.34

I think the most amazing thing about Barry Manilow is his enthusiasm. He really REALLY loves performing and it shines through in each moment. And seeing Mom so happy made it very easy to sit through the concert and even (gasp!) enjoy it.

I’m not a convert, sorry. My musical tastes have not changed. But I can say that I can appreciate why so many people love this guy. He may write the songs that make the whole world sing, corny as some may think they are, but his appeal lies in his positivity, his love of what he does, and his lovely voice.

When my husband reads this he’ll think I’ve gone over to the dark side. But he didn’t get to see the look on my mom’s face when she clasped her hands and sang along to “Weekend in New England.” Sometimes we do things we don’t necessarily like to do for the ones we love. I surprised myself. I had a good time.

My mom did tell me that the concert tickets were the best Christmas present she’d ever received. I think that’s a win for all of us.  As far as I know, she’s still basking in the Maniglow.