Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Missing A Generous Soul

If I had to write a companion piece to this post about my most recent car, it would not be as nostalgic and sad as the previous post was.  Instead of being titled "Obituary for a Friend," it would be more likely titled, "Don't Let the Garage Door Hit You on the Way Out."  Whereas my first Saturn was such a reliable and trouble-free car for most of its life, my second Saturn was a problem car and has soured me on ever buying a car from Carmax again.  I owned my first Saturn for ten years and she was mine.  This latest Saturn only made it four years, and I still owed $1,683.00 when she decided to give up the ghost.  She had brake problems, air conditioning problems, radiator problems, and transmission problems.  There is no love lost between us.

About a week ago I was driving home from work when my "Service Engine Soon" light came on.  The car seemed okay, but I figured I should have it checked out.  The next day I was going to drive it to my mechanic, but it started jerking when it shifted, so I decided to call a tow truck through my roadside assistance program with Progressive.  The tow truck driver pulled my car out of the driveway and behind the tow truck and all of a sudden I heard this weird wooshing noise and noticed that the entire contents of my car's transmission fluid had leaked on to the street in front of our house (so thankful it didn't do that in our driveway).

Anyway, I knew the repairs would be expensive, and they were going to come to at least $1,300.  I already owed the nearly $1,700 on the car, and I've been wanting to get a new vehicle anyway because we don't like driving my car on long trips anymore because it is unreliable.  I decided to just buy a new car.

Happily, Mom has left us kids some money.  We hope that after medical costs and taxes are taken care of that each of us will wind up with about $60,000 - $70,000.  We aren't divvying out the money until after tax time.  However, my sister, who has a lot of debt, already borrowed some of her share.  With my car dead, I asked my siblings if it was okay if I borrowed some of my share to put a down payment on a car.  Because I am trustee over Mom's trust, I decided it might be good if each child got $10,000 of their share.  We know even with taxes and medical expenses we can afford to give that much to each of us.

It's been such a blessing.  My sister and her husband can pay off some of their debts; I can get my car; my other sister and her husband can use some of it as they prepare to move into a new house; and my brother and his wife can use some of their share to pay for wedding and mission costs for their two sons.

What make me so happy is that Mom would be delighted by that.  Mom (and Dad) were both very generous.  There is not one of us children who has not benefited from their generosity, either in life or in death.  Both of my parents made sure we had money for school, missions, when we were struggling financially, etc.  Mom was always taking us kids and grandkids out to lunch; she freely donated to charities (which actually started to get a bit out of control when her dementia got worse); and she wouldn't think twice about lending any of us a hand if we needed it.

In fact, when I bought my last Saturn (the one that just died), both she and Jonah (also a very generous soul) helped me with my down payment at a time when I wasn't doing so well financially.  I remember when my car was broken into, Mom felt so upset about it, she offered to pay for my window.  I was doing much better financially at the time, so I declined.  Mom insisted, but I held her off, knowing that her dementia, which had progressed quite a bit by then, would cause her to forget about it, which she did.  But just the fact that she wanted to pay for it shows the kind of woman Mom was.

Mom was such a generous and thoughtful person, something I've seen passed down to my sisters, particularly.

In my search for a new car (and I decided to go completely new because this last car has soured me on used even though my first car was used and was terrific) I narrowed it down to Hyundai and Honda.  I looked at Toyota and Mazda as well, but was not overly impressed with either the cars or the salesmen.  Both the Hyundai Sonata and the Honda Accord drove really well, and both salesmen were great and low-pressure.  Ultimately, based on research, advice from friends who are familiar with both cars, and the driving of the cars themselves, I ended up getting the Accord.  I actually felt bad for the Hyundai salesman because we really liked him and found him honest and interested in us as people, not just consumers.  But the Honda felt right, and I am glad I got it.

It's hard to tell from the pictures because they were taken at night, but the car is silver.  It drives like a dream.  I've never owned a new car before, and it drives smoother than anything I've ever driven except maybe a rental car.

It also has a lot of technological gadgets that I don't especially need, but I guess cars come with them now - things like a rear view camera, hands-free phone system, duel climate control, fuel economy tools, cruise control, etc.  It's a great car, and I'm really happy with it (although still nervous to drive it because it's still so new), and I hope it lasts me years and years and years.

It's a 2014, and I got a great deal on it: $21,500 plus a three year maintenance package and a security package if the car is ever stolen.

Being a bit of a cheapskate, I feel weird spending that much money on myself, and I don't like the idea of being in debt, so I'll be glad when the rest of the inheritance money kicks in so I can pay the car off (as well as my student loan).  I'm so glad that even in death, Mom is still helping us out with her generosity.

As I was signing the car documents, it felt odd to think that just four years ago, almost to the day, Mom was with me when I was signing my documents for the Saturn.  She was still driving, still independent, still in fairly good shape, although certainly on the decline.

Now, four years later, she's gone.  Well, not really gone.  But I sure do miss her.

I mentioned yesterday on Facebook that I was really missing her, and that even though I knew things would get easier one day, right now it is still hard.

This morning I found a note from one of Mom's best friend's daughter.  It said, "I saw your post...about your mom. I thought maybe I should tell you a little about a dream I had about a week ago. .....I was at my parents' house, you and I were talking in the road. Your mom came out of her house, gave you a hug and said 'I just wanted you to know that I am happy.' 

As I read it, I really did feel like it was a message from Mom telling me that even though I am sad she's gone, she's in a good place and doing well, and that I don't need to hang on to that sadness.  But, as Sally Field's character says in Steel Magnolias, "Shelby, as you know, wouldn't want us to get mired down and wallow in this. We should handle it the best way we know how and get on with it. That's what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart."

It's going to take some time.  I'm just glad Mom is still with me.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A Dream Deferred? Nah!

Langston Hughes famous poem says:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

A year ago yesterday I performed in my last show.  While I still consider what I presently do to be an acting job, I have not actually been on stage in a scripted show for a year.

A year ago I made the decision to spend more time with my husband, to leave the pressures of taking care of my mother full-time in somebody else's hands, to move from my long-time home of Utah permanently, and to take a hiatus from full-time acting.

It was time.

What's very strange is I have been shocked...absolutely how much I don't seem to miss acting.

When I told Jonah I was taking an acting break, he told me he didn't want me to settle or just work some job I didn't like just to remain closer to him.

Acting was, is, and has ever been a huge part of my life.  It's always been my dream to perform for a living, and truth be told, up until a year ago, I was making a pretty decent living as an actor and doing all sorts of great parts in great shows.  In fact, my very last role and show was one of the greatest theatrical experiences I have ever had, and if it were the last on stage show I ever did, I would consider it an extremely wonderful note to go out on.

In February of last year, when I was still unemployed, I started to write a post about the above poem and was asking myself if I was deferring my long life dream of acting.

I wrote,

"I think many actors, who tend to be an insecure lot in general, sometimes feel the way I'm feeling right now.  I tend to get this way when I'm unemployed from my acting career for an extended period of time.  I've only been unemployed for 3 1/2 months, but it feels like an eternity.

"Anyway, the way I'm feeling (and which is totally irrational) is that the best days of my acting career are behind me." 

That's as far as I got.  Now that I am employed and doing something somewhat related to my acting career, I feel differently.

I like my present job and I love being home with my husband.  I love not having to hustle for the next acting gig and I like the relative security of my current job.  I like the benefits that come with my job, and I am still entertaining people, so I haven't really given up acting.  But it's not the same, and I do get paid less.  But I really don't mind.

I am happy.

My life has ever been consumed with acting.  I thought I would miss acting on stage so, so much.  Every once in a while, an audition will come up, and I feel a yearning, but it passes relatively quickly.  For the most part, I don't have any strong inklings to get back on stage nor do I have any great regrets.

I have not given up acting, and I'm sure I will be back on stage again one day.  If ever I become unsatisfied with my current job or should my current job end, I will cross that bridge.  Right now, I like what I'm doing and am glad it afford me the opportunity to be with Jonah.  I do miss my family, and I do miss Utah, but it's time for me to be here, doing what I am doing.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Day of the Dead and Missing People

Since Mom passed away, I find that every little thing reminds me of her.  This is not a bad thing, but it can sometimes cause a previously normal activity like, say, eating a yogurt to fill me with sadness.  Mom liked yogurt a lot and would often eat it for breakfast.  I was eating a yogurt the other day and it made me think of her.

Or Listerine strips.  The day I started cleaning Mom's room out after she had moved into assisted living, I found a drawer full of about 20 packs of them.  I use them now to freshen my breath after I eat dinner on my break at work.

Or a movie or a song.  A few weeks ago a local movie theater was showing The Wizard of Oz on the big screen.  Jonah wanted to go, but it was one of Mom's favorite movies, and I just wasn't in the right place emotionally to be able to do it.  (I wish I had; the movie we ended up seeing, The Family, was a dud, and we ended up walking out halfway through it).

I can't hear "Smile" or "Embraceable You" or "Que Sera Sera" or a million other songs without thinking of her.

Or places.  If I'm at a Sweet Tomatoes or eating sushi somewhere, I am reminded of the many lunch dates we had together.

And of course, I am consumed with her stuff, whether it be transcribing her journals, receiving her mail, or handling her financial and legal matters.  She is ever-present with me.  And that is a good thing.  But I am also more prone to feeling great sadness at the loss of her.

Two nights ago I had the night off as did Jonah.  Jonah wanted to go to a Day of the Dead celebration at a local park.  I am not very familiar with Day of the Dead, but it's apparently a pretty big holiday in Mexican culture, and while Jonah doesn't celebrate it, it is a part of his heritage, and he had always wanted to go to one of these events.

We went with a friend of ours.  It just so happens that the park where the celebration was taking place was the same park I had taken Mom to on her last visit here.  So being there already reminded me of her.  The fact that the theme of the day had to do with death or celebrating of the lives of those who had passed only made me think of Mom more.

While intellectually I know that Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and can often even take a humorous tone, emotionally I find the art depressing.

Even though I know there is the fanciful, mocking sort of attitude towards death, to me, culturally, skulls and bones represent a side of death that seems so permanent and without life, and I know it's just a cultural difference, but it made me feel sad rather than joyous.

We passed many altars dedicated to the likes of the poor kids shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary; victims of domestic violence or gang violence; girls who never reached adulthood (and there were dolls dressed in corn husks to represent that); and memorials to such fallen icons as Harvey Milk, Selena, Michael Jackson, and Frida Kahlo.  The more we wandered around, I just felt a great heaviness of spirit and I began missing Mom terribly.

Jonah and his friend had primarily come to examine some of the art, which just isn't my taste.  Jonah noticed I seemed withdrawn, and came up to me and said, "I'm sorry if you're not having a good time."  It wasn't that I wasn't having a good time; I actually found the experience very interesting.  I just missed my mom.  As I started to explain this to him, I just started weeping, and amidst a large crowd of people who didn't even seem to notice, Jonah just held me in his arms and hugged me tightly while I sobbed.  I told him I just felt overwhelmed by all the death talk and that we were in a place that reminded me of Mom, and it was just hard.  Jonah kept repeating "I know, I know."

Just a day before Jonah had been feeling similar emotions because his dad had always given the grandkids a ride on his miniature train for Halloween, and Jonah was feeling a deep sense of loss.

As Jonah has said, it's not easy.  We both have lost our parents so recently, and we are still grieving.  Some days are easier than others, and I feel like I'm adjusting quite well.  Other days I feel incredibly sad that our parents are no longer with us in life.

I will always miss my mom, I'm sure, although I imagine the pain will get easier just as it did after my dad died.  I miss hearing Jonah's dad hum his little songs or seeing him sit out on the front porch or hearing him ask me if I brought snow from Utah.  I see how his passing has made Jonah's mom more lonely.  I miss my dad when I hear a particular country song or "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio.  I miss my mom when I happen across a favorite movie of hers or when I'm out to lunch at a restaurant we frequented.

I guess that's life.  And I'm grateful for the reminders that bring back pleasant memories.  I often wonder what people will miss about me when I go.

Yesterday Jonah and I went to the cemetery to honor his father.  Neither of us are really cemetery-goers, but Jonah was curious about Day of the Dead festivities that were taking place at the heavily Hispanic cemetery.  I was truly surprised by the goings-on.  There was a high school Mariachi band (a very good one at that); a taco truck, balloon animals; face-painting, people hanging out in lawn chairs, etc.  For many, it was an all day celebration.

The cemetery where Mom and Dad are buried has a reputation for being a bit solemn and quiet, which is actually how I prefer it.  I would think a Mariachi band and a taco truck would be kicked out of the cemetery for disturbing the peace.  The most music I've heard at Mom's cemetery was the sound of a lone bagpipe.  Jonah's dad's cemetery seems much more relaxed than Mom's cemetery does.  To each his own, I guess.  Truth be told, the Mariachi music was quite enjoyable.

But the atmosphere was much different than I am used to.  Not bad.  Not good.  Just different.
Jonah left some flowers, candles, a coffee cup (representing his Dad's favorite beverage), a garden glove (representing his love of gardening) with a brick on top of it (representing the foundation he built with his children and family) and a framed photo along side the other mementos that had been left, including a wrench (representing his love of fixing cars), a statue, and a piece of duct tape that said "I love you."  It's so interesting how different people memorialize their dead loved ones.  I have a feeling Mom's cemetery would only have allowed the flowers.

When we were listening to the Mariachi band, I noticed two gravestones placed very close to each other: one was a Jewish man who died at the exact same age I am now, and the other was a black man who died at 20.  I don't know why it struck me, but I liked the idea that there were no racial or religious divides in this cemetery.  I also was struck by how many young people were buried in this cemetery.  I encountered grave after grave where the deceased was in his or her teens or twenties.  I wondered why so many had died so young.

We then went to a different part of the cemetery where Jonah's grandfather was buried.  It took us a while to find him, mainly because Jonah had told me to look for a fairly new upright stone with an eagle on it.  It turned out the stone was flat rather than upright, dirty, and had no eagle on it.  It also turned out that after having walked around extensively looking for it that the stone was a mere 15 feet right in front of Jonah's truck.

After the cemetery we went over to Jonah's sister's house, where Jonah's great-nephew was celebrating his first year of life.  It seemed apropos to be celebrating his birthday after so many days focused on death.  We visited with Jonah's family and his mom.

Anyway, I miss Mom, and my Day of the Dead experience was educational.