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Surreal-ality

It’s been over a week since we buried mummy and I’ve been facing a new reality – surreal-ality.  Yes, this a word I made up as an attempt to describe this realm I’m in. It seems surreal that she’s gone, and yet, it’s the reality I must face. Nothing in life prepares you for the death of a parent, although intellectually and spiritually (for some), we know all humans will die.  A high school classmate very thoughtfully wrote on my facebook page, in sum, that she is still with me, but in different form. His words were touching.

From the outside, it looks like I’ve gone on with my life, and in many ways, I have. I went back to work on Tuesday, have been cooking, exercising, tending to my plants, shopping, doing housework, reading articles, and so on.  What has been difficult is not hearing her voice, but I can still hear her voice in my head. You see, for the past 5 years, I’ve called mummy almost daily, particularly during the work week. I decided to do that a few years ago because I was aware that I didn’t know how much longer she would live. Part of that has to do with mummy prepping us for her death for about 15 years now. She became ill a few months after retiring. She’s been telling us since then we need to prepare.

My purpose in calling her was two-fold – distract me from my work day and bring a little joy to mummy’s life. In the process, I’ve gotten to know her as a person and I haven’t held back in letting her get to know me as an adult child. It was difficult at times to switch roles and be the encourager many times, but I did it.  My brother told me twice after the funeral that he knew I was her favorite. He said he heard her talk about things with me he never heard her talk about previously.  I don’t know how to take what he said, but I am certainly thankful I made this effort. I miss her voice. Even when she was irritable due to the medications or pain, or when she was complaining, or when we were arguing, I miss her voice.

The Saturday before I returned to Austin, I was at my oldest sister’s house, in the backyard, reviewing the paperwork from the funeral home and signing the 100+ “thank you” cards.  There were 4 small boxes in a bag. Curiously, we opened our boxes together and gasped with tears when we realized what the gift was – an embedded photo of mummy in a light up key chain.  It was such a special moment that we shared together. My sister asked me not to tell my other siblings because she wanted to be there in person to see their faces.

When we returned to Austin, I was reviewing the many photos I took in Chicago. I came across a photo where I was trying to capture the breath-taking key chain in the light, and in the background, I noticed my kids playing with each other.  They rarely play with each other, let alone outside, but my sister had a toss game that she set outside for them. It was a gorgeous day.  They might have played for all of 10 minutes, but it was so touching to see in the picture because I hadn’t noticed it when we were there.

Caleb & Elise 2017

Caleb and Elise, Chicago, July 15, 2017

As my brother said, mummy is in all of us. This picture gives me comfort because I know that she is with me, with all of us, and that she left a beautiful legacy. We’re going to be okay.

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Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen

Yesterday, I received the dreaded call that no one ever wants.  My sister was on the other end of the line. She sounded calm, and for a moment, I was relieved. However, her next few words pierced me to the core, “Mummy, passed away this morning”.  It took me a few seconds to process. I heard her voice quiver. We exchanged a few more words of which I can’t remember and she reassured me of something.  I told her I’d call her back. I walked to the group of ladies from my Zumba class who were talking. I  tapped on Mary’s shoulder and muttered the words, “I just found out that my mom passed away”.  I cried hard and loud as they embraced me for what felt like forever and I’ve been sobbing intermittently every since.

Albeit painful, I made peace on Friday that mummy might not make it through the night based on my sister’s report from the doctor.  They were transitioning mummy to hospice care. This is painful to write and I stopped a few times due to the uncontrollable tears. My husband told me that I should stop and that it’s too soon, but I must because writing for me is therapeutic. When I woke up Saturday morning without hearing new updates, I decided to go about my normal routine of  going to Zumba class and then the grocery store. I’m so thankful that I was in the company of my Zumba-loving prayer warriors because they consoled and prayed for me.

Words can’t truly express the sorrow I am feeling right now. However, despite the sorrow, I am overwhelmingly thankful Solange (SoSo) Nicholas was my mother. I’m thankful that I saw her beautiful smile in person last month. I’m thankful that I hugged and kissed her.  I’m thankful that my sisters and brother made sure mummy was not alone while she was in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. I’m thankful that my sisters made efforts to shield me from what they were experiencing while watching mummy suffer. I’m thankful my sister put her phone to mummy’s ear so mummy could hear me tell her that I loved her.  She told me that mummy’s eyes got bigger indicating she heard me.  I’m thankful that mummy is no longer in pain and that she can finally rest in peace. I’m thankful that mummy gave us her best. I’m thankful that she saw me beat breast cancer and came to Texas to be with me for my surgeries. I’m thankful that she always thought of us first. She even made and paid for her funeral and burial arrangements, so we wouldn’t have to worry. I’m thankful that I had a loving mother because not everyone has a loving mother.

SoSo, you did a valient job raising your 4 children…only if you knew it while you were alive. However, maybe you did because I spotted the look of contentment on your face when all of your children were together last month. You were always so humble and generous.  You came to Texas to visit your baby, the youngest (me), any time you could. You’ve been here, by far, more than anyone else.  You’ve been there for me, by far, more than anyone else. I can only aspire to be like you. BRAVO, my Haitian queen!

I have no more words…for now.

 

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Oh sweet May is coming to an end

I’ve always loved May mostly because it’s my birthday month. I love that it signals spring (or summer in Texas). Growing up in Chicago, I’ve experienced a cold day or two (or more) in May, so you’re really not in the clear in terms of warm weather until maybe June. Since I’ve become a mom, I get to add Mother’s Day to the festivities. Then there’s Cinco de Mayo, which I didn’t start celebrating until I moved to Texas. Mexican food has always been my favorite. We end the month remembering those who’ve lost their lives in the armed forced on Memorial Day. For me, the whole month of May is about celebration, inspiration, creativity, reflection and gratitude. This May has been especially sweet to me.

Last May, my husband experienced a serious health challenge and ended up having brain surgery on my birthday. This May, I get to prepare to see my family and friends in Chicago. I almost canceled this trip because with my new position, I was concerned about coverage for my unit, but some other managers agreed to cover for me. Plus there really isn’t any other time. I got a sweet deal on the tickets and my kids may be involved in various summer activities. We’re moving forward with the plan as scheduled.

My kids and I are leaving on 5/31 while my husband stays with the kittens. My son was on the verge of staying home too if he hadn’t arranged to take his finals early. I can hardly wait and neither can the kids. I’m so looking forward to getting fueled up with love. Not that I don’t get it here, but you know what I mean. It’s just my husband and I in Texas with our kids while mostly everyone we know and love is in Chicago. I’m also looking forward to the food, sites, and smells that I miss. I don’t have any plans of moving back because I hate the winter (so does my husband), but I don’t mind visiting when it’s technically supposed to be warm (weather channel shows 60’s & 70’s this week). Hey…it’s not December. I made a vow in 2009 that I would never return in December because it was so cold.

This visit is especially sweet because having dealt with breast cancer, I realize how fragile life is. Today, I picked out my outfits for the suitcase and have been encouraging my kids to do the same. Sometimes I surprise myself with how quickly and efficiently I pack now when that hasn’t always been the case.  I’ve been traveling for work for at least 3 years now, so I’ve become a pro.

Oh sweet May, you’ve been so good to me. I can’t wait to see what June brings besides the heat.

 

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Our family is expanding 

A lot has happened this week and I’m too tired to write about it all right now. I do want to share one of the highlights. Our neighbor moved out of town this week and my husband came home to a note (see picture) on our door from our neighbor asking us to take care of his outdoor cat, Baby, because he couldn’t take him (correction..Baby is actually a “her”, but with the male kittens, I’ve been getting confused. Now, I know how my mom feels when she calls her 4 children by each other’s names. Also, English is her second language and as she’s gotten older, she’s been getting the male and female pronouns confused, so I can relate). There is a back story regarding the cat as my family and Baby have been living in this neighborhood well before the neighbor. In fact, I’ve maintained all along that Baby is my cat because I’ve been feeding and allowing her to stay in the garage when the weather has been rainy and/ or cold and when the neighbor has been out of town during the holidays. Baby had been abandoned by a previous neighbor a few houses down, who has since moved away, and she never left the area. It is true that we both had been taking care of her simultaneously for a while, but Baby is really mine. 🙂

I was so happy when I saw the text from my daughter on Thursday. She was very happy too and asked right away if we could bring Baby in the house. I explained that it was more complicated than that because we already have 2, nearly 5-month old kittens and we’re not sure how they, or Baby, would react to each other in the house. We’ve attempted to stand at the door with the kittens, but once they saw Baby, they would claw themselves out of my arms. Plus, Baby, who is about 5 or 6 years old (or maybe even older), is used to living outdoors. It came in handy spending Saturday afternoon watching about 4-5 back to back episodes of Jackson Galaxy ‘s (I don’t remember the name) show on the Animal Planet network. My coworker had been telling me about this so called “cat daddy”, and from what we’ve seen, he is knowledgeable. We learned a lot. As a result, I have some ideas on how to slowly introduce the cat and kittens to each other.

I fed Baby this morning before church and that was the last time I’d seen her until about 9 o’clock this evening, as my son and I were returning from the grocery store. I was worried and hoping she was okay for most of the day. We had been working in the garage and yard for hours with no trace of Baby. When our garage door has been opened in the past, Baby wouldn’t hesitate to sit down and relax while we were doing whatever we were doing. For example, I exercise in the garage, and if the garage is open, Baby freely lays down near me while I take care of business. She even likes to participate (more accurately, “interrupt”) while I’m doing stretching exercises such as yoga. My husband and I were wondering if someone took her because she’s such a friendly cat. Don’t they know she is mine? My son had been reassuring me that she would return. He thought she might have gone with some other stray cats from her litter. Well, I don’t know if she did, but she was definitely someplace else because I called her name many times to no avail.

I fed her again, rubbed her a bunch of times, laid down a pillow near the rocking chair on the porch, and said “good night”. Our little family is growing: 2 children, 2 kittens (Cannoli and Beignet), and 1 cat (Baby). It’s become painfully clear to me, especially since my breast cancer diagnosis (you can can read about it here), how fragile life is, so I welcome love in all shapes and sizes.



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Learn to say no

In the rental car on the way to my meeting while in Lubbock, Texas, I came across a Christian radio station that caught my attention. From what I gathered, people were calling in to discuss their struggles with saying “no”.  I’ve read countless articles on wellness and self-care that often emphasize the benefits of saying “no” sometimes.  As I’ve gotten older and have vanquished my former people-pleasing ways (a lot of them), my “no” indicates that I’ve set some boundaries and recognize that I have limitations. It’s a statement that indicates that I value myself more than I desire to please people.  What struck a chord with me was that the host presented a whole new perspective on thinking about this. His point was that it’s great for people to take on different tasks, goals, activities, etc. as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing their very best in their primary God-given assignment. Everybody has an assigment from God whether that be taking care of their family, community, business, ministry, etc., but if you take on so much that you are unable to effectively manage your main assignment, then it’s time to say “no” to some things.

 

The main reason that resonated with me is I’ve had to learn to say no without feeling guilty.  I know that my primary God given assignment is to take care of my family. However, there was a point in my life that God had to remind me. I do value an identity outside of being a wife and mother, after all, I was myself before they came along.  As a result, I am involved in different activities that bring me joy.  I constantly set goals on different things I want to accomplish, I’m a constant learner, and tend to be an overachiever.  Balancing all of this while raising a family with my husband can be challenging at times. For example, upon completing graduate school, I felt like SUPERWOMAN. Around that time, I used to pray for God to use me to fulfill his purpose, which is to help people. Completing such a fete while working full time and raising a family with small children fueled the fire that I could do most anything. Plus, I wanted to help people. Therefore, I said a lot of “yeses” when I should have been saying “no”.

 

Soon after I graduated, I became a board member of a small, local dance company that my daughter attended. I had also been leading a ministry at my church. Both projects required a lot of time and effort, which I did put in.  I genuinely enjoyed them both, but boy did I overextend myself.  I started to see the toll this was taking on me and my family.  I honestly didn’t realize how much work each would take. God was sending me messages that I was doing too much. I also didn’t like how stressed I was and I struggled with resentment. I began questioning my intentions and why I had committed myself in such a way.  And then one day, I heard the message loud and clear that I should be using my gifts for my family. I had constantly prayed for God to use me to help others, but he had already entrusted me with my beautiful family (people to help). I had spent so much time away from them while in graduate school and here I was helping other families in these projects when I needed to be with my own. Don’t get me wrong, my family was not neglected (that much – I’m an overachiever), but I began to think about what more I could pour into them by redirecting that energy.

 

I resigned as the board chair of the dance company after a year. That experience taught me to question my intentions and examine my expectations and returns on investment before I agree to extend my time for such a project.  What was I trying to prove and what did this project have to do with my larger goals?  I also eventually phased out of leading the ministry at church, which I had done for a few years. Thankfully, the pastors were messaging the importance of taking a break from ministry to avoid burnout, so it was all coming together.

 

Something that the radio host stated that made me pause was to ask God about what to do when approached with various requests. As an intellectual, yes, I can rationalize, and after careful consideration, come to a solid conclusion on my next steps – participate or not.  In some ways, I do believe that listening to my gut and gaging for signs of peace with my decision (s) are indicators that I am seeking guidance from the God within me, but I will work on also asking God directly.


As I indicated earlier, I’m involved in several activities/groups and I get offers to participate in various activities such as lunches, fitness classes, events, projects, etc.  Similarly to what the radio host indicated, if any of these take me too far away from my primary God-given assignment, then I say “no”.  And I do think it’s possible to have more than one God-given assignment although the radio host didn’t mention it. He did specify “primary” assignment.  Therefore, since my family’s happiness is my gage of performance in my primary assignment, then if either of my children start having problems of any sort, I pull back on things I’m working on. If I find myself working on projects that cause me to spend less time with my family for long periods of time, I pull back.  If it feels more chaotic at home or if I sense that my husband is becoming stressed, I pull back.  If anyone becomes sick, such as when my husband was ill, I pull back. If I no longer feel enjoyment, start feeling burdened or stressed by the activity, I pull back. I schedule my reqired work travel so that I am not gone for too many consecutive days so that I can get back to my assignment.  All of this requires self-awareness, constant re-examination, flexibility, and knowing my assignment.

 

Something tells me that someone from the peanut gallery (I haven’t used or heard that expression in years…ha!) may be frowning and thinking that I’m giving too much and should put myself first. In a lot of ways, I do put myself first, but I also know that my primary God-given assignment (my family) requires me to be selfless too.  And saying “no”  isn’t so bad because it means that I’m saying “yes” to something else that I happen to find more important.