Imminent Threat

They say that there are 5 stages associated with a person dealing with any type of significant emotional loss,

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

Yesterday I thought about how potential loss might be very similar, in terms of the emotions one goes through. You grieve the loss before it even occurs.

A raging wildfire (one of the largest on record here in California where I live in the foothills) this past week is now at a safer distance; perhaps still a threat, but today…there is hope on the horizon and I’ve allowed myself time to reflect on a potential loss that now appears unlikely to occur.

Yet…still mindful that winds can shift; still praying for those affected or in the fire’s path; still praying for the firefighters who have taken on a whole new awe for me. How do they do this job, in such heat and smoke, with such danger?

Our family’s evacuation items have been packed for 5 days; the 3 cat crates and cat supplies stand ready in the garage. A pile of bags and a few boxes, and electronics needed for work, are ready at the front door.

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Five days ago the imminent threat began with the looming need to abandon our home of some 27 years; a home where we raised two sons and built a family’s life. 

We didn’t know how much time we might have. What to pack? How to prioritize a lifetime of memories and precious things?

What would be the greatest impact to leave behind, especially if we lost the house to the fire?

Important documents were an easy and unemotional first step: passports and various identification cards and records thrown in the first box.  A mental note now made that having birth certificates and our will stored in our nearby bank’s safety deposit box (a bank that would surely burn before our house in this particular fire!) is a mistake that needs future correction.

The cats come next. Mounting emotions start to claim more and more space in my head. I think how much the cats aren’t going to like being evacuated; not the crates, not the car-ride, and not their evacuation destination (a friend’s house with a resident dog). I know it’s only a temporary shelter so my mind starts thinking about longer-term options. Would we have to rent a home? For how long?

That’s when the panic begins. The realization that this is really happening.

What will it look like, if we lose our home? What will it feel like?

I now start to focus on what memories to take. I grab all of the photo albums; but wait, I know that many of these photos are scanned and likely available somewhere in the cloud. I start to sort through the many frayed albums and pick out a few I think are filled with photos I don’t have stored elsewhere; the wedding and honeymoon pics, various functions.  I haven’t looked through these albums in years, yet they seem so vital to me at this moment, as if to lose them means I will forget the memories they have captured.

As I walk through the house I grab a seemingly odd assortment of framed photos. The photo of my husband at a friend’s wedding; the friend gone now for several years, and the photo only one of a handful remaining of the two of them.

dad_twa_optimizedFramed photos of long-gone family including beloved parents; many do not exist digitally so must be saved. My husband as an infant in the arms of his dad. A formal portrait of our family when the boys were young.  A photo collage I made of my dad containing pictures of him as a young man…these don’t exist elsewhere. I look at his smile, confidence and strength and summon some of that to get through what is increasingly feeling overwhelming and terrifying to me.

Framed photos of our family are everywhere in this house…every age and stage captured and proudly displayed. Many likely exist somewhere in a Dropbox, but just in case, a chosen few are grabbed and shoved into a box.

I go room to room. I realize that I still have my kids’ yearbooks and Eagle Scout badges stored in their closets, even if they’ve been gone for years now. Prized school projects, awards and beloved stuffed animals (worn down from hugs and having been toted around by their toddler owners) are still stored up high in the garage rafters. I leave them all, the emotions creeping higher.

At that moment I realize so many precious things will need to remain.

I text my kids, what do they want me to save.

They respond with just you and dad, mom…and of course, the 3 cats.

I move throughout the house. The tears start to come.

How to choose.

In our bedroom, I look around; so many of my mom’s precious things are there. Quilts she crocheted for the boys; her needlepoint roses (so many roses, they were her favorite); things that have kept her close to me over the years. Even a pair of red pajamas, the ones she was wearing when she passed, still sit folded on a shelf. I had intentions to have them sewn into one of her patchwork quilts someday. I laugh at the notion as she has been gone 11 years now. The pajamas and needlepoint (and most of her other possessions) are passed over but I grab a few quilts for my sons.

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Precious things surround me everywhere I go. I am a precious things hoarder I know. Precious things adorn this house; that is intentional. I attach so many memories to so many things.

Someone said to grab jewelry, so I go and look at that. My mom’s silver bracelet is really the only emotional treasure I think of, but then I see the necklace I gave her as a child, then her wedding ring…and the charm bracelet my kids and husband gave me many years ago…so many charms given since then, each with a story and precious significance. In a bag they go.

As I walk through the house I pass so many photos. I glance at them but need to move on. I need to focus on the most precious things.

The Christmas boxes are stored high up in the garage and contain my vast collection of ornaments – all precious things with their own unique stories. Handmade ornaments from the kids (two of everything as they went to the same elementary school and made the same gifts over the years). Unique ornaments from special friends or purchased in special places. Most are one of a kind, irreplaceable. They are a tradition each year as we decorate our Christmas tree; each ornament to be admired and its story told once again.

Then there’s the Christmas tree skirt my mom made when I was a young child, each year’s date sewn onto the skirt in the same silver thread. The stitches become erratic and wobbly over time; you can see my mom’s progression as she aged. And then the year she passed, and I took over. I dismiss my urge to retrieve it; I just can’t pack up everything and the garage is now so smoky.

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I finally sit down and start a list. What have I already put aside and what still needs to be retrieved.

Surprisingly, there is actually very little packed up, a few boxes and several bags. Some albums and framed photos. I’m somewhat shocked at this…because it means I am leaving so many precious things.

On the list I become less emotional and more practical. Medications, clothes, glasses (all the different pairs scattered throughout the house!), the list of passwords, the address book, necessary electronics and files related to my work-at-home job. The items that can’t be proactively packed and set aside are marked in yellow highlighter. Hopefully we’ll have time to pack them if evacuated.

Each day since that first day of packing I think of new precious things. It is overwhelming so I try to dismiss the urge to retrieve more and more. A few things do get added, but very few.

There is little comfort knowing I have packed the most important things. Now I become obsessed with watching the fire’s progress. It is scary to imagine losing our home and the surrounding community that has become part of our lives.

I’ve always felt sad for people when watching them on the news in the same situation, but now I feel a whole new affinity for such people. How did they manage; we don’t really know as we’re usually not told. The news only shares the family’s initial shock, their sadness, and perhaps their appreciation that they and their family survived. Later we hear how communities have rebuilt but we don’t know how an individual family moved forward; I think about that. The need to rebuild and move forward. How will that look?

So back to the 5 stages of experiencing loss. I do think they are applicable. I started with denial, a belief it just can’t happen, we won’t lose our home.

I’m not sure I felt anger, but I did feel there was an unfairness about it. Why won’t the governor call out the National Guard, where is all of the mutual aid? I felt irritation over the poor emergency evacuation communication; impatience with the conflicting information.

I definitely bargained. I asked people to pray. I prayed.

And that’s when I think I finally realized that it is the lives that are the precious things. Not just our lives, but the lives of so many others and the firefighters.

With that realization, I somewhat let go of the sadness of losing the things. And there was an acceptance that there really wasn’t anything we could do but wait…and hope…and pray. We knew we could get out with our lives and our cats…and so, the next few days were spent texting nearby friends, many of who were in more imminent danger than us, providing updates, encouragement and love. No more packing. No more worry about precious things that could be forever lost.

Fortunately the weather has been favorable, or perhaps the prayers are really to thank. The fire has become less of a threat.

I am still packed, but feel hopeful.

As I write this I think of all the expensive gadgets we have in this house. Not one was on my list or packed to go.

And as I mentally unpack our evacuation bags and boxes I do have to laugh at its contents. Nothing of real value. But everything completely priceless.

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Today is my birthday, and I am feeling sad.

Canva - Boy Looking at Birthday Cake

Oh, it isn’t about my advancing age. After all, I always say you are as old as you feel, and most days I feel much younger than my years. I’m generally a happy, positive and thankful person; just not quite as much today.

My sadness is that this is my first birthday since I found my birth mom a few months ago.

Now, keep in mind that I hadn’t even looked for her prior to this past year; never really thought much about being adopted.

And actually, to be truthful, I wasn’t even looking for her when I did a 23andme test last year to try and learn something about my roots. I had been looking to find out if I had Irish or German heritage or otherwise. I hadn’t been thinking of or searching for my birth mom.

But I had found her. The 23andme results along with other information led me to my birth mom’s family tree on Ancestry.com. (you can read all about this in my previous blog post if interested)

And even though I didn’t want to meet her, or reunite permanently in any way, I wanted to reach out to her and just “touch bases” (LOL, that sounds so cheesy, but truly, I just wanted to get 100% confirmation she was in fact my birth mom, find out a bit about my medical history and let her know I was alive and well). I wanted her to know that my life had turned out great. That two loving parents had adopted me as an infant and were the world’s best parents a child could have ever had.

So I had written her.

Friends said to be careful. They know me to be an emotional sort, someone who cries while watching rescued animal videos and during television programs and the like. I can’t even make it through one episode of This Is Us without crying (how can anyone?). I also wear my emotions very visibly and deeply, I think it is the writer in me; I think you have to share how you are truly feeling to evoke an emotional response in others.

In any case I wrote her this letter:

Dear Suzanne,

I am writing you as I believe you to be my birth mother.

I am reaching out to you to let you know that I have had a wonderful life. I had the world’s best parents (both now deceased) and now have my own loving family (married 32 years and have two awesome adult sons).

I don’t want to upset you, disturb you or otherwise cause any concerns for you. I thought if we could connect I could answer questions for you, if you have any. And I thought you could answer questions for me. My primary questions are really just relating to ancestry info and health history information. I would also be interested in learning the name and any information about my birth father (for the same ancestry and health history reasons).

Why do I believe you to be my birth mother?

I had my family all do 23andme DNA profiles at Christmas. Being adopted has meant my sons didn’t really have a lot of info on their roots. My husband’s side of the family is also very small, so with no info on my side…it seemed like a fun thing to do, for them to get a bit of info on their ancestry. The results were interesting for them to learn. The results also pointed out that I had some cousins with the Diedrich name listed. I had known that Diedrich was my mom’s maiden name.

Recently I also dug into other sites such as Ancestry.com and pulled out my parents’ old file folder on my adoption. From there I had snippets of info, such as your full name, your age, a little of your family history and some other info relating to your father. It wasn’t hard to pull the info together and identify you were likely my birth mom.

My birth name was Theresa Gale Diedrich. I have a little background information on you, and know you met me prior to giving me up. That must have been difficult, but I understand the situation and harbor absolutely no ill will or negative feelings.

If you would like to reach out to me I’ll provide some contact information for you. It would be great, even if you don’t want to connect, to at least hear you received this. Again, I don’t want to create stress for you. Even sending this letter is not something I do lightly for that reason…but I just didn’t know another way to open up the possibility of dialogue with you.

Diane

I thought it was the perfect letter to meet my objective of “touching bases.”  I mailed it and waited…

Weeks went by.

I was fairly sure I had found the correct address (on the internet, scary what you can find there)…so I waited some more.

But no response.

I had provided every type of contact info. My email, cell phone, address, etc.

In any case, more time passed.

No response was challenging. Maddening actually.

Friends said to give it time. Not to take action.Canva - Woman Wearing Brown Shirt Inside Room

But I wrote a second letter (why don’t I ever listen to the advice of my friends!).

In this note I told her I would not write her again (and I truly meant it), but that I was disappointed in her lack of response. The whole “touching bases” was supposed to be a positive after all! My life had turned out well! Wasn’t that a positive for her to know?

I told her while I would try and respect her privacy that I was going to continue to find answers about my ancestry by connecting with people on 23andme, researching Ancestry.com or even Facebook. I told her that I didn’t understand her lack of response. I still wanted to know for sure she was my birth mom. I still wanted to learn who my birth dad was (to “touch base” with him, I suppose…). I wanted to learn about medical history, really more for the sake of my two sons.

I agonized over this letter just a bit (given her lack of response to the first one). Should I even send it? What was I hoping for?

Truthfully I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for at that point. In looking back I think I was secretly hoping to make a small connection with her. Not a “let’s meet annually” sort of thing, and not likely even meeting at all. But a connection, a brief exchange of information.  Confirmation she was my mom. Maybe my birth dad’s info. Something.

While I had originally been quite positive that I held no ill-will about her giving me up, I wondered if I did in some small way! Maybe I wanted something more from her, some emotional olive branch; acknowledgement that she was genuinely happy my life had turned out so well? Hmmmmm……

I thought long and hard on this, but was still fairly certain I harbored no deep resentments or ill-will regarding her long ago decision. None. I even sympathized with it.

No, any ill-will I might have been feeling at this point was from her lack of response to my initial letter. It seemed cruel and heartless. I tried to put myself in her place. Maybe it was a shameful place, or some type of trauma had been involved.  But now, so many decades later…a lifetime, really….and to have heard my life had turned out so well. It seemed wrong that she chose to be silent.

It would have been so simple for her just to respond with, “Have a great rest of your life. Thanks for touching base.”

I held on to my 2nd letter for several days. Along with her mailing address I had found her phone number on the internet as well. I toyed with the idea of just calling her, but I thought a phone call would be too aggressive. I felt like it really should be her decision whether she responded. I still held out hope that she would.

So in the end I mailed the second letter.Canva - Woman Sitting on Wooden Planks

But again, there was no response.

Time went by.

More time passed and I somewhat moved on.

It was fine. I had lived my entire life without worrying about my biological roots, after all. Plus I had learned a lot through 23andme. I had learned a lot about my biological family through Ancestry.com. I had learned a lot!

So what was the deal with me still pondering about my past?

Why did I still feel a response was so important?

I thought maybe my own parents being gone or my sons settling down (perhaps the side effects of an empty nest or aging?) were bubbling up these feelings…who knew…but I wondered if something may have triggered this need to learn more. Perhaps it was simply the DNA results, suddenly getting a “probable” mom identified?

Then, one day, I finally received a response.

It wasn’t really a response. It was more of a “Cease and Desist.”

It was from a lawyer.

Canva - Person Signing in Documentation Paper

While the particular words weren’t used, “Cease and desist” was my immediate reaction to the brief letter.

While I had done nothing wrong, I felt intimidated by its abruptness and tone.

And it was from a lawyer!

There were just four sentences.

The lawyer stated he had been engaged by my birth mom and was relaying her thoughts; it began with what I interpreted as general displeasure over my sudden appearance and unsolicited communication. One sentence had (incredibly) generic and pretty much useless medical info. One sentence said she would provide no info about the birth dad. And finally, please respect my privacy and buzz off.

Well, it didn’t REALLY say buzz off. After all it was written by a lawyer she had engaged. Engaged for the sole purpose of not connecting in any way, and of literally getting me to Cease and Desist.

I couldn’t believe it. During the initial few moments I alternated between being really upset and sad at being dissed in such a manner (pretty sure I cried), and then feeling completely intimidated.

Friends said not to respond.

But again, I chose not to listen.

So I responded to the lawyer, and reminded him – like I had said to my birth mom – it was supposed to be a good thing.

In the brief response I told him I was sad that my birth mom had responded through him and that, “I had no way to know of the depth of her apparent emotional concerns about my existence.”  (Yes I really wrote that…I was hurt after all) But I also wished her well and reiterated I was in fact, buzzing off.

So that was that.

I still can’t put my head (or heart) around why she would have responded the way she did. I’m sorry, but no amount of shame or whatever she was feeling should have trumped reaching out to me just once, especially if she was going to confirm she was my birth mom anyway.

So, that’s it. That’s the story. And that takes me to today. My birthday.

This morning I woke up and unbelievably…thought about my birth mom. I wondered if she remembered the date. Every year on my birthday…has she ever thought about me? Has she ever wanted to know what happened to me?

And now, is she glad to know my life turned out so well, that my adoptive parents were wonderful and kind?

And why do I even care? She is really no-one to me.

Yet it saddens me somehow; thus the need to write this piece. Writing is the only way for me to process my emotions and move on.

Now I feel better.

My chosen family, husband and sons are giving me lots of love.

My cell phone keeps letting me know a new birthday text has come in.

My life is full of love and wonderful blessings. Truly it is time to move on.

Time to go celebrate.

Canva - Lighted Candles on Cupcakes

The Kids Are Gone. Time To Downsize?

My parents lived in their home long after my moving out. But when my father died, my mom did finally move out of my lifelong “home”.

At the time of my mom’s move we sorted through her and my dad’s life, getting rid of all the collected stuff of a lifetime. She moved away from long-time neighbors and nearby friends, from a 3 bedroom home to a small single bedroom apartment. I remember how emotional it was for her.

Now, I am sitting in my own home of some 23 years. My older son lives in an apartment a day’s drive away; my younger son still in college, but not really around much. My husband and I have a 4 bedroom home. It is a big house with a large yard.

My husband was the first to bring up the idea of downsizing. “We no longer need the space,” he said one day.  “If we downsize to a less expensive area we can retire early,” I heard over and over again.anniversary_window

Then, one day it seemingly started to make sense…

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Have Christmas Cards Become Obsoleted (Too)?

This year, I once again spent a good deal of time writing a special verse for my family’s annual Christmas card. I also selected a number of recent photos of my college-age kids to share as part of the card. Sending Christmas cards is a tradition that my mom first exposed me to when I was very young; I routinely sent relatives a hand-written card…not expecting anything in return, just to connect with them and wish them well. My mom had thought it was particularly important as most of my relatives lived on the other side of the US from our family. I fear this tradition is coming to an end, however. As with many things in my life, I feel like I am plodding along in a dinosaur fashion by actually sending out physical cards. Have Christmas cards now become obsoleted, too? 

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Hair here…hair where?

Yesterday I put on my most powerful reading glasses and pushed my face up right next to the bathroom mirror, really close… I do this infrequently just to get a reality check on what is going on at close-range. Normally, I stand at a much safer distance – at least a few feet from the mirror – and wear a less powerful pair of glasses.

What’s the difference, you say?  Continue reading

(No More) Photo Album Memories?

The other day I made a photo album as a gift for a special friend. She has been a friend of mine for over 30 years; we met as next-door college dorm neighbors. I had a lot of photos to choose from, many were taken pre-digital era, of course…so had I not had the photos I could have still dug out the negatives and made prints (well, assuming there are places in the world where you can still make prints from negatives, I suppose). I think about the young people today, with their total reliance on their smart phones for photos…what will they have when they get older and want to look back at their youth? Continue reading

The Vision-ary Reason Why I Carry a Big Purse

Eyeglasses When I was younger I had perfect vision.  Over the past few years, however, my eyes have declined…significantly…and I often wonder if in God’s infinite wisdom he planned on that…as your body becomes less than perfect as you age…as the wrinkles come and the grey hairs (and those other annoying hairs!) start to sprout…maybe poor vision is God’s way of being kind and cutting your self-esteem some slack…    Continue reading

Men (o) Pause – the real story

Linguistics experts will provide one explanation relating to the origins of the word, “menopause”. Their root analysis will have to do with the “end of fertility in a woman” or something equally simplistic. Those linguistics experts must all be men. There is nothing simplistic about the menopausal experience, and I am 100% convinced that the term, “menopause”, really originated from the root term, “Men Pause”… because that is what they do when confronted with their wife (or significant other’s) symptoms…

What do you think?

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I’m sure there are a few men out there who actually do have the capacity to sympathize with the middle-aged women in their lives… perhaps running to turn on the air conditioner or providing a cold glass of water at just the right moment.

My husband wasn’t one of them.

His approach in life is more, “What you don’t acknowledge doesn’t really exist, right?” So I could flash away and he wouldn’t flinch. Ever.

Some of my menopausal friends, though, have husbands who really seem to WANT to help or understand, maybe even engage with them when they are “experiencing symptoms”. But something usually stops them from being successful in their intent, because they PAUSE in their tracks. Is it that they fundamentally don’t know WHAT to do? Or is it something more? Is there something just taboo about a man trying to relate to a female issue involving blood, hormones and sexual reproductive organs?

Or is it as simple as fear. My vote is fear.

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Funerals – The New Social Gathering Spot for Boomers?

Lately I have been going to a lot of funerals, most are friends’ parents…guess that is to be expected, our parents are definitely at that age…but what is weird to me is that funerals have become the only opportunity some of my friends – especially the out-of-towners – and I seem to have for a “social gathering” these days.  Are we really that busy? Or is it just that we are currently stuck in that phase of our “social cycle”? 

College Partying  → Dining Out With Friends → Careers → The Weddings Begin → Baby Showers → The Second Weddings Begin  → The Great Void (Due to Parenthood? Or Becoming the Caregiver of a Parent?) → Parents’ Funerals Children’s Weddings → Children’s Babies (Grand-kids!) → Friends’ Funerals → Your Own Funeral

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Female Forever Friends

How many of you out there love “Sex and the City”? Well, it’s my favorite show of all time. The other day I saw the episode (again) where Carrie helps get a stuck diaphragm literally “out of” Samantha. Carrie takes a stiff drink and “goes in” to help…

I am proud to say that I have friends who would do that for me. 

I am even prouder to say I have never required them to do so.

Forever friends are never obsolete

Forever friends are never obsolete

Lifetime friends. I have many…not a singular core group like in Sex and the City, but unbelievably good friends who I have discovered at different times and in a variety of interest areas of my life.

Some are from my childhood, others are from my wilder college and young single’s days, still others I met early on in my soccer mom transformation; becoming friends while hauling strangers’ kids to yet another field trip and meeting up at fundraising events.

They are actually an incredibly varied group from all walks of life. I trust them. I love them. I laugh with them (and sometimes, at them, as only a great friend can). And there is a huge comfort in knowing they are out there, at the other end of a text message, always willing to be supportive or make just the right joke for a particular crisis or situation.

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