Cemeteries

cemeteryphoto credit: my brother R.D., who did visit the graves along with other relatives this weekend

Ones you visit. How often you visit. What do you do when you visit.

I’ve wondered all day whether or not I should feel guilty about this post, but I’ve decided I’m good with where I am and it was not intended to make me feel guilty.

As stated previously, I don’t do death days, I do birth days. And, apparently, I don’t really do cemeteries either.

I’m not entirely sure why. But at the moment I’m wondering if it’s because we grew up so far away from family that until I watched my father be buried in the family plot in the Randolph Cemetery when I was 10 years old I hadn’t spent much time in any cemeteries, so I did not know until I dated my husband and we went early one Memorial Day morning to a service in one of the two Duchesne cemeteries that that’s what one does.

It’s not to say I didn’t remember my uncle, who was MIA most of my childhood* on Memorial Day. I just had no graves to decorate, and so I did not.

Now both my parents are buried 3 hours away and I still don’t decorate graves, unless I’m going that way anyway, in which case of course I would. Now that my mother-in-law is buried in the Duchesne Cemetery, I fully expect to leave flowers for her when I’m in town.

So I have to ask myself, why don’t I do cemeteries?

One, it may simply be habit – the way I was raised, as a result of being so far away from any to which I was connected.

Two, it may be avoidance. Death touched my early in my life and shaped me and maybe, especially after the last two months of so much loss and of and for the people I love, I’m not as ok with that as I thought.

Or Three, it may be simply the way I think. I recall the words heard by Mary at the empty tomb: “He is not here.” I don’t think of my loved ones–both loved and missed–hanging around the cold marble stone waiting for me to visit. Nor do I believe they would want me to mourn their deaths. I believe they would want me to celebrate their lives and honor their memories in what way speaks best to me and in spending time with loved ones still here.

I thought of Barbara Friday when I dropped by the Fabric Mill, which is right next to the Chuckarama where I last saw her alive, enjoying family and the warmth of the spring sunset. I thought of Barbara and my own mother Saturday as we attended the Payson Temple as one of our nieces–one who Barbara loved like a daughter–received her endowment. The Payson Temple was a solace to my mother during its construction and holds special memories of our family during Mom’s last months with us. I thought of my dad Saturday as I attended a garden party at a friends and found myself surrounded by lovely Brazilian women all speaking Portuguese–of which I understand all of 3 words–and sampled some favorite flavors from Brazil and recounted to the hostess how I was very nearly baptised in Portuguese.

I spent today fixing cinnamon French toast breakfast for what family could be here this morning and then later today fixing homemade potato salad (my dad’s favorite recipe I used to make for him) and baked beans for a small family BBQ. It was a good day to appreciate time spent with those who remain.

*Captain Robert Alan Rex
(For the first time ever, I realized the error in this article. My father passed away in 1983. Thank heavens it wasn’t in 1962, or I would have been an only child!)

[Day 123 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Last day

falls
I’m trying to plan a trip to Oregon this summer. I was actually born in Provo, but I grew up in Oregon and it is still home to me, even though I’ve not been back to my childhood home for well over 20 years and only one of my sibling remains there, and in another city.

I can’t explain why I feel compelled to go back. A huge part of it is about remaining connected to my family. When I make this trip I can see three of my four siblings who live out of state. Another part of it is because my brother and sister-in-law who live there are close to me and take good care of me. They nurture my soul in a way unique to them and that fills my heart.

But part of it is simply a longing for home. The rich, lush, green of the not-desert Northwest. Not to stay. But at least to visit and take in, gazing fondly over the familiar breadth and depth of the thick forest and inhaling deeply the heavy not-dry air.

As I read the prompt for this post I realized, perhaps for the first time, that I had no idea my last day* as a resident–living in Oregon–was my last day. It passed was without ritual or farewell, other than what I believed to be simply an “au revoir” to my family as I went away to attend college at BYU.

I did not know my father was going to die one year after I went away to college. That my mother would feel compelled to pack up and sell the family home and follow me and my sister (who came to BYU the year after I did, just months after my father died) out to Utah.

Other than that day as a high school junior when I suddenly felt the words “I’m going to BYU and I’m going to major in English” fly out of my mouth, I had no plans for the future. So I don’t know where I thought I’d be after that, I just never imagined I would not be coming home.

I have no idea if this is what others do. When their past is so far removed that their own children don’t even know it. When their parents are gone and their siblings are scattered and they no longer have a home base. When they are transplanted to somewhere they love, but somewhere so vastly different than that place they grew up and that is so dear to them. But this is what I do. I want to go home.**

*This is also a place holder for writing about a collection of other last days I didn’t realize were last days and wondering if it is somehow easier if we don’t know they are last days at the time.

**Being very much present here with my current family, friends, and ward family and knowing my roots are very firmly planted here, which is also home to me. I’m still keenly aware that Oregon was my first home. It left its imprint on and in me.

[Day 122 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

worth the effort

When my dad died one of the young men he had profoundly influenced had a particularly difficult time dealing with his death. His name was Marshall, and he later helped me come out from under the heavy shadow of anger I experienced in my own grief.

In any case, one of the things Marshall said as he was processing the weight of this loss was that if losing someone you love and admired was this painful, perhaps it wasn’t worth the risk to love and care about people this deeply only to lose them.

I don’t recall the exact words of the response to this dilemma, but the gist of it is this: the act of loving people is itself so great, it is definitely worth the risk of heartbreak when you lose them.

Relationships are worth the effort.

I’ve pondered over this quite a bit in the thirty plus years–nearly thirty-five now I guess–since this conversation.

Duly noting how some of my relationships that got off on the wrong foot became some of the sweetest friendships, possibly due to the effort and vulnerability that went into setting them right.

Perplexed by how those closest to us are the most capable of wounding us the most deeply.

Learned to appreciate the power of a genuine, heart-felt apology to mend and heal.

Become convinced that even more important than the oft-discussed knowledge we take with us to the next life, are the relationships we forge, certain that some of them must have been established in the pre-existence.

Blessed by knowing people who’ve taught me simply through their art of living gracious lives.

Grateful for simple moments of service that felt pre-destined.

Yearning to follow my Savior and be my brother and sister’s keeper, learn the healer’s art, and show a gentle heart to the wounded and the weary.

Even knowing the risk of heartbreak.

Relationships are worth the effort.

[Day 121 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

things you’d like to throw away

sticky rice I only use this once or twice a year, but the luxury of having sticky rice with mango on demand even rarely makes it so worth the space it takes up. As long as mangos are in season.

Stuff is stiffling me. We have too much stuff. In January I took a decluttering challenge from some Internet expert with an Australian (?) or some other accent and I did pretty well on the days I was in town. But it seems to me like stuff is like some viscous something or other and as soon as you scoop it from one corner it oozes back in through another.

Here’s the short list of things I’d like to keep:
Quilts
Family photos
Art
Kitchen tools
Comfy sofas
All the nice sofas
Food storage

Here’s the stuff I’d like to throw away:
All the paper trails of anything over a year old (except for taxes, which I need to go back 7 years)
Anything not worn in the past 3 years
Anything unmatched, unmated, broken, rusty, or in disrepair

Other stuff I don’t want to throw away, but I need converted or returned to the people to whom it belongs:
Photographs and memories (letters, memorabilia, etc.) The truth is if we don’t have time to go through it, our kids certainly won’t. I want it all scanned and organized into a digital library where people can access it easily but it doesn’t take up space.
Stuff that doesn’t belong to anyone who lives here.

Things I’d like to toss off my shoulders and/or out of my head:
Responsibility for things outside of my control
Guilt for things that are not my own
Worry
Hateful and hurtful words and deeds
Embarrassment and humiliation
A general funk and malaise that seems to appear now and then and tarry

[Day 120 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Sad

The safe thing would be to bow out of this prompt and go with the kids’ day prompt: your name.

But this week I have felt sadness on many counts, most importantly on account of Wyatt.

I’ve never met Wyatt. In fact I’ve only met his mother a couple of times, but we are friends on Facebook and longtime sisters of Segullah.

Wyatt has bravely been battling cancer this past year. I honestly don’t recall how many months it’s been since Wyatt’s diagnosis. Or if he is 9 or 10 years old. But I do know he is beloved by so many. I know he is an avid sports fan. And always orders the medium chicken enchilada chili from Zupas, no mix-ins. And he helped his schoolmates with math and made them laugh and is kind. And one thing that is forever engraved upon my heart is Wyatt’s smile.

Over the past while, and even on my hardest days, I’ve seen Wyatt beaming at me through Facebook, Instagram, and Caringbridge updates. Wyatt’s sweet smile braves chemo, hospitalization, nausea, and losing his hair. His smile fills me with warmth, courage, and gratitude for his example of a perfect brightness of hope. For even when things are the worst, Wyatt reassures everyone whose hearts are breaking around him that he will be ok. And that everything will be ok. And I believe him.

I’ve been praying for Wyatt for a very long time and with my whole heart. I have wrestled in prayer over Wyatt. It took me a long time before I could add the words “…according to thy will” to my prayers for Wyatt.

This week, at the request of his mother, I’ve been praying that the strong drugs Wyatt has been taking to manage the terrifying symptoms of his cancer would be effective and that their also terrifying symptoms would be mitigated so Wyatt could go on his Make A Wish cruise with his family and have a lovely time. Sometimes as I prayed I felt the warmth of sunlight and ocean breeze and heard laughter. I willed it to happen. I pretty much begged. Possibly even demanded.

Yesterday I learned that Wyatt has take a sudden downturn and won’t be able to go. And I was sad. And also mad. Mad at God. But just for a moment. Because I as I read on I learned that Make a Wish offered to give Wyatt another wish, and do you know what Wyatt wished for? For the money for his cruise to be donated to the hospital where he has spent so much of his time this past year in order for them to create a play space for kids his age–tweens–because the other room is more for little kids.

Wyatt’s BIG WISH was not for himself. It was for others.

And I am completely undone–can’t see through the tears even now writing about about it–over Wyatt’s powerful example.

Wyatt’s pure act of selfless service reminds me–and I hope will always remind me–that while I believe it’s perfectly ok and healthy to feel what you feel and to be sad when you’re sad–the cure for sadness is simply to not just think of, but to do for others. To, when you’re ready, step out of yourself and your very legitimate reason for sadness and reach outward.

In doing this, Wyatt reaches upward, too. And I humbly pray the loving arms of our Savior will firmly but gently cradle sweet Wyatt and his dear mother and father and sister and brothers and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. And angels will attend them, carrying and lifting them through their sadness, surrounding them in peace, love, and light.jesus

#teamwyatt

[Day 119 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Artichokes

Jack's

Interesting that for someone who was raised on essentially meat and potatoes and carrots and peas and corn and green or jello salad and onions and salt–rarely pepper–and never asparagus, so in other words, nothing unusual I have experience with artichokes.

Every now and then (as in every few years) I remember my mom would steam artichokes. We’d dip the the large sharp-tipped leaves in mayonnaise and scrape the barely warm fleshy underside–mingled with mayo–down across our teeth. Yum.

Looking back, I imagine there would only have been just one. But that would have been impossible. How many artichokes would one have to steam for a family of 8? Or were there so few of us who liked them that it was no big deal?

A few years after I moved into this neighborhood, one of our friends, Jack Marvell, began a catering business. Oh it wasn’t just Jack. Jeanine was involved as well. In fact it’s now a flourishing family business. But one of my early memories of marvelous Marvellous Catering’s specialties was–and this is how it reads across my handwritten recipe–Jack’s Artichoke Dip. Obviously my copy of the recipe–hand-written by my friend Lynda–is just the essentials. I’m sure there are grilled or sautéed peppers and other delights involved now. But my recipe is full of cheeses and marinated artichokes and mayo and then heated until bubbly and scooped up generously in Fritos Scoops – which seem to be created specifically for just such an occasion. It’s a wicked but rare indulgent. Perhaps more appreciated for its rarity. Now artichoke dip is fairly standard at many a restaurant, but Jack’s was the first (I recollect) and is still the very best.

Finally, I have another recipe that called for marinated artichokes. Josh Bingham’s tortellini salad. It’s also yum and a meal in a salad. And contains another favorite ingredient my remedial palate did not experience until adulthood – avocado.

My favorite part of this recipe is not so much the artichokes, but the directions:

Cook tortellini (do not overcook and do not rinse); cool in fridge. (Note: I always rush this part because I cannot wait.) When cool, toss pasta with the next 7 ingredients and half the dressing. Refrigerate long enough for the flavors to fall in love and marry (Note: Again, I rush. Also, this part is better in Italian, which is the language of the original recipe. Also the language of love.) Toss in tomatoes and avocado and however much dressing you’d like. Then serve.

So yeah. Artichokes. I’m a fan.

[Day 118 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

shame or empathy

sunriseoverprovo.jpg

Ooooh, this is a hard one. I don’t mind going deep when I end up there accidentally. But to start out deep is scary.

I’ll go with empathy. It’s easier.

My mom was an empath. She could feel other people’s pain. It was good, in a way. It’s easier to serve, and to know what to do when someone is in need, if you can imagine how they might feel. But my mom was also carrying a lot of her own pain. And I wonder if others’ pain on top of your own is too heavy a load to bear. If eventually it uses you up.

I take after my mom. My heart can literally hurt for someone else. I put myself in their shoes and get a glimpse–albeit tiny, I know–of what they must feel. Sometimes it helps me. I can almost anticipate what to do and how to be there for some people. But sometimes, as in the past few months, there has been so much loss and so much sorrow it’s overwhelming. And it makes me numb. I’m no good to anyone numb. And I don’t like how it feels, or doesn’t feel, as it were. It renders me ineffectual. I go through the motions and it feels empty. That last thing I want is to try to be there for someone who is wounded or grieving and show up empty.

The other day I found myself wondering if this is what it’s like to grow old(er)–still can’t bring myself to contemplate just plain “old.” The rest of the world–the people you love–age with you. And you try endure loss after loss after loss.

I can’t linger there. It’s too sad. I want to hang on to joy even amidst so much sorrow.

Which just reminded me. Empathy is not just about sorrow. You can feel someone’s joy as much as you feel their pain. Babies to be born. Couples to be wed. Trips to be traveled. Successes to be had. Love to be shared.

I will look harder for joys to be had. Rays of sunshine to be felt through the shade of clouds.

[Day 117 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

A mother

Write about a mother. Any mother. All kinds of mothers.

momsMothers and grandmothers, but wait, there’s more…

A mother I’d known and loved and admired for several once invited me to walk with her friends up along the east bench just under the mountains. They were a generation further down the path yet they allowed my inexperienced and naive self in their magnificent presence (juxtaposed against the magnificent presence of Mt. Timpanogos). She once supported me through a difficult choice I’d made. And then, after being tossed by the spirit through the night, urged me the next day to reconsider, even as I had my own second thoughts.

A mother I’d never met calmly listened as I burst into tears the moment I heard her voice on the phone and then invited me to her home–again, nestled at the feet of Mt. Timpanogos–where she gave my 4th-child-week-overdue swollen feet a massage and told me things about myself she had no way of knowing. This mother has the knack of reappearing in my life in nurturing, healing ways–at the most opportune moments. Once taking a solid preemptive strike to bear me up before a tidal wave of grief buried me. Later reminding me to be gentle with myself when I was knocked to my knees with yet another wave of grief.

A mother loves my babies as if they were her own, being the one safe place to leave them in a time of critical illness and uncertainty. This is the same mother who invites all the kids to her children’s birthday parties for fear that any feel unwelcome of left out. The rare kind of mother with whom one can share one’s deepest heartaches and also one’s greatest joys. With whom you take turns holding on to hope when children you bore and whom you love more than anything choose another path.

A mother who, when in the throes of nearly every trial imaginable with her own beloved children keeps reminding you above all else, “Preserve the relationship.” A refrain that plays through your head over and over again years later when you are barely hanging on by a thread. A refrain that reminds you to choose your battles. To bite your tongue. To drag your war-torn self out to another game, event, or outing even when it’s least appreciated or you have the most to do, because you know the value of being there for your children in whatever way they will allow you to.

A mother who puts sheets out for the neighborhood kids to build tents and forts in the cool shade of the walnut trees on her front lawn. Who once carefully pulled tweezers from deep out of your child’s knee. Who wisely advised you when to spend money you didn’t really have on a doctor’s visit for your sick or wounded child and when to save your pennies because everything was going to be ok so often that your children, when given the option, always asked for her by name before accepting your proffered remedy.

Motherhood is the job for which you receive no training. A job that changes with each new age and stage. And then turns on its head with each new child so you find yourself deep in the arc of a new learning curve every passing day. A job that never ends. A job you show up for even when you’re sicker than a dog or have endured yet another sleepless night.

It takes a village. We tend to each other, to one another’s children. To the child in each of us who is still unsure, hurt, or even afraid. It’s just what we do.

[Day 116 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

A different choice

Today’s prompt uses the example of law school, followed by a whole line of “What Ifs.” Before I got engaged during my second to last semester at BYU, law school was on my mind. I’m a huge fan of deliberately choosing and then “using my words.” And law school seemed like a natural avenue for all those English majors being told “Whatever will you do with that?”

But what I wanted most to do with that was be a mother, and so I abandoned any serious thoughts of law school, got married, graduated, and worked to help my husband get through a little more school before our firstborn arrived and I could fulfill my dream of being a SAHM.

I never looked back, really. Until this past year. A good friend of mind just completed her first year, two kids in tow. I know it’s been one of the hardest things she’s ever done. But she embraces the opportunity to grow and seems to love the challenges along with the constant stimulation of her intellect.

Still, no regrets.

Until that day when an executive order was issued and so many people–doctors, scientists, fathers, mothers, students, and children–found themselves at the mercy of mercenaries. I was horrified. And helpless to help. And when I saw and heard witness of so many attorneys–people who you know are working way too many hours in the week anyway–flock to airports to donate their time and efforts on these peoples’ behalf, I cried.

As I repeatedly watch mother after immigrant mother being separated from her children, I find myself wishing I were an expert in immigration law and could help.

Could I go to law school now? My math is definitely too rusty to put a dent in the LSAT. I lack the stamina my young friend has. I work full time to help my kids get a turn at getting their education. And my husband is looking to retire in a few years. Eventually–when we figure a way to cover health care until we’re eligible for Medicare, we want to serve a mission. Probably a number of missions. So law school wouldn’t make much sense.

I’ll have to find other ways to help.

But even so…

[Day 115 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Something small that makes me happy

The trick therein is to name just one.

I subscribe to the motto “there are no small things,” because there are so many simple things that bring me great joy.

This very minute I’m looking out the big picture window we had installed when we first bought this home. No panes, though that was the style. I want my view of the mountains eastward (it’s a south window, but when I’m sitting parallel, my view is SE) unobstructed.

The evening light is perfect on the neighbor’s freshly leaved tulip tree. The sky behind is blue-grey with storminess. The juxtaposition of light and storm is one of my favorite things on the planet. At the moment the wind is calmed to gently flutter the leaves as if they were aspen.

An hour ago as I was driving home I looked towards Rock Canyon and was struck how the downward silver shine of virga was crosscut with nearly perpendicular rays of cloud-light. As I’m often wont to do, I took advantage of a moment waiting for oncoming traffic to try to capture it with my camera, which didn’t do it justice.

storm

I was late coming home because I went to Spanish Fork to see a friend of mine from work who is recovering from a painful shoulder surgery after months of suffering after a fall. For the first time since her surgery, she was herself again. I drove away after our visit with a big grin on my face. Relief now I know she will be ok.

This afternoon I was delighted by the sight of an old plane tied down right outside the door to my office. I had to step over a tumbleweed–not as big as one I saw previously that was almost as tall as me–to get to the fence for a decent shot.

plane

Earlier this morning as I walked past my sewing room window, I caught a glimpse of some visitors. I needed to get myself to work, but took a minute to grab my phone and go snap a photo. Which reminded me of how just last week there was not one, but two stories in the local news about first responders rescuing baby ducks. And how the other day traffic slowed to a crawl when careful motorists were looking out for a mother duck and her ducklings at the edge of the freeway. (Read that one more time–people who are used to going 80 mph on a freeway where the speed limit is 70 mph slowed down for baby ducks.) Which reminds me of a lovely story of a group of people in my neighborhood who once spend much of a day and went to great lengths to rescue baby ducks from a storm drain and safely return them to their mother.

ducks

At 4:25 this morning I awoke to the sound of rain. At first I couldn’t tell it was rain for the sound of the wind. I awoke from a sleep so deep that in my stupor I checked the weather report to see if it was raining (obviously I wouldn’t have needed to consult the current weather to identify actual weather had I been fully conscious). I got up to make sure the windows were flung open so I could cool my house and listen more fully to the staccato patter as it transitioned from furious to gentle, falling back to sleep under its lullaby.

Dusk has fallen. Thunder rumbles. It is trying to rain. My day has come full circle.

There are no small things.

[Day 114 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]