Tag Archives: loss

So Long, Farewell

I heard the trucks rumbling in the street this morning, groaning to a halt as I peeked through the blinds to see. The movers were here, preparing to load the wares of two families in my neighborhood who are off to faraway places—one to the Delaware shoreline and the other to the mountains of Colorado. To say that they will be missed is an understatement. They were the salt of the earth type of people, always there when we needed them, whether it was in the form of kind words or kind actions. And their kids, OH MY, their kids were absolute gems. They, too, will leave an impossible-to-fill void.

Now that these particular families are starting a new chapter in their lives after living here for decades, I’m reminded of the importance of not taking good neighbors for granted. And although we’re surrounded by other terrific neighbors and I’m sure we’ll welcome with open arms the new families who will move in, the neighborhood will never be the same without the people who forged such lasting relationships with us. Lord knows, the experiences we’ve shared cannot possibly be replicated—especially those we’ve had with the family whose back lawn merged seamlessly with ours.

Who else could tolerate our errant Frisbees…or help conduct important research on the mysterious appearance of a blue thong in one’s hot tub while away on vacation…or lend a hand by installing an ungodly number of outdoor lights on an unbearably hot summer day…or offer to clear the snow in our driveway because our snowblower was on the fritz…or loan us a hand truck/dolly so that we might spare ourselves the agony of lugging heavy furniture, etc. from Point A to Point B? What’s more, WHO WILL I LIST AS AN EMERGENCY CONTACT ON THE SCHOOL FORMS THAT WILL ARRIVE IN SEPTEMBER? Beth and Shaun have always been the ones I trust with my children—and my dog, for that matter. WHO WILL TAKE MY DOG OUT WHEN I’M STUCK IN TRAFFIC MILES AWAY FROM HOME? Better still, who will tolerate his quirky behavior (i.e. spinning around in circles roughly 47 times before he poops)?

And although I’ve tried, I can’t begin to quantify the number of memorable get-togethers we’ve had over the years. The clambakes, New Year’s Eve parties, fireworks, picnics, nights spent by the firepit, or just sitting around our kitchen tables sharing the remains of the day have been virtually incalculable, and more importantly, cathartic—particularly the gatherings that have included an embarrassment of wine or collectively hoisting a 24-foot ladder up to a rooftop during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night to discover why there was a leak. Those were good times I won’t soon forget.

Needless to say, our kids grew up together right before our eyes, spending quality time playing in sandboxes and on swing sets, dribbling on our basketball court and learning to swim in their pool, pitching tents in the backyard, together welcoming new pets and mourning the losses of old ones. And let us not forget the exciting sled rides down our icy driveway in the thick of winter or the holiday lawn-decorating contests for which Clark Griswold (i.e. Shaun) lived.

There was something comforting about seeing their windows all lit at night while I walked the dog, the yellow squares spilling their light onto the lawn and into the inky black woods. Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of the people inside clearing the dishes from the dinner table—people I cared about, never once imagining they wouldn’t be there, occupying that space. I can’t even estimate the number of times I admired the trumpeting angel they had on display above the landing of their staircase. It could easily be viewed through the gaping front window and seemed to welcome all who had come to call—suiting their family perfectly.

The moving trucks are gone now, and the windows dark. Of course, we wish them well in their new homes, grateful that fate allowed our lives to have intersected so meaningfully.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting our friends’ faraway moves… Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss, Won't You Be My Neighbor

A Tree is Nice

We have a half-dead tree in our yard. Make that FIVE half-dead trees. A pine, an ash and three fruit-bearing ones, although they haven’t produced much of anything in a very long while. Hence, the time has come to take them down, which by almost anyone’s standards makes perfect sense. It’ll be safer, since the risk of toppling over during a windstorm will be reduced to zero. We’ll also likely get some ample firewood out of the deal and we’ll free up a sizeable portion of the lawn for Frisbee in the process.

Everything about the felling of said trees is good. Except that it isn’t. The sad part of it is that there are memories attached to the trees in question—especially the peach tree, whose blossoms burst forth each spring in a glorious explosion of pink. Likewise, in winter its snow-covered boughs make me want to fetch the camera to freeze the moment in time. I just know I’ll look out my window weeks from now and lament that we ever made the decision to cut it down and dig up its roots, erasing from my mind the notion that it ever existed.

For more than 20 years we’ve been harvesting peaches from that tree. My husband was the designated proper-upper of craggy branches, assigned with the task of placing boards beneath its heavy limbs, laden with bushels of ripened fruit. Together we picked them, sampled them and then hauled bucket after bucket into the garage—a staging area for figuring out what to do with them next. Fruit flies be damned.

I wish I could claim that I baked an impressive number of pies with what we reaped over the years, but that would be a lie. Many of my neighbors, however, probably did, as we were inclined to give away scads of the fuzzy fruit each September, knowing we’d never consume all that we had gathered.

Likewise, I’m sure I’ll recollect a time when I watched my twin toddlers from the very same window, perched upon their dad’s lap as he circled the peach, the apple and the pear tree with the riding lawn mower. Round and round they would go, ducking beneath the limbs, smiling in the sun. One year they even built a teepee of sorts by leaning leafy branches we had trimmed from other trees against it. For days on end that summer, it was the most wonderful fortress in all the land, providing a haven of shade and camouflage for all who were so fortunate to crawl inside.

The aforementioned peach tree was one of their first climbing trees, too, its mossy branches low to the ground, inviting gangly children to develop and hone their scaling skills. I remember hoisting them up, assuring them it was perfectly safe and that it would be worth the effort because of the view it afforded them. After they had mastered the peach tree, it was on to taller and more daring venues, like the maple in the back yard, and the massive oak out front.

It’s possible I’ll miss the dear trees we plan to chop down, as well as any others we might lose in the years to come, because they remind me so much of my childhood—a time during which I practically lived in the woods behind my house, building a plethora of forts and climbing to the tops of trees all summer long, carving my initials there as a way of marking territory and perhaps time. I often wonder if my carvings remain, or even if the trees are still standing straight and tall. Far above the ground, swaying in the breeze was one of my favorite places to be, enveloped by a canopy of verdant leaves, summer after delicious summer. From my lofty perch, time was suspended, after all, and all was right with the world.

I can only hope that my progenies have had enough time in their special trees to make memories that will last.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the fact that our peach tree will soon be history. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff

Ten Ways to Say Thank You, Dad

Remembering the first man I ever loved… Miss you, Dad…

Fathers come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and talents. On the whole, I’d daresay they are a thankless lot—often underappreciated, largely misunderstood—an entire populace of men rarely acknowledged for the many and varied ways in which they contribute as parents. Mothers, deservedly or not, garner the lion’s share of recognition when it comes to the important business of raising a family. But Father’s Day, with its prominently marketed golf wares, grilling must-haves and sea of manly fragrances, forces us to shift our collective sentiment and pay homage to dear, old Dad.

And as I wander the aisles in search of the perfect greeting card for my father—one that I believe captures the essence of our relationship, keys on our shared allegiance to witticism and adequately gives thanks for the sacrifices he’s made and the wisdom he’s imparted, I find myself settling for that which falls disappointingly short. Hallmark, it seems, hasn’t stumbled upon the right assemblage of words just yet. Somehow their writers have missed the mark, along with all the other clever wordsmiths who’ve failed to deliver the sort of message my father needs to receive—the one that perhaps all fathers need to receive. So thank you, Dad, for so many things…

…for encouraging me to forge my own path instead of assuming that the paths of others would necessarily be right for me…for letting me climb to the tops of trees and to skateboard with wild abandon…for ferrying me to the ER when necessary.

…for teaching me how to throw a fastball, wield a mean golf club and sink a jump shot on command…for being my biggest advocate (even still) and for believing in me even before I believed in myself.

…for being oh-so-generous with your time…for listening intently to my wishes and worries…for considering me a worthy companion as we jogged over the back roads of town, watched doubleheaders into the wee hours and sat in scratchy lawn chairs together, completely mesmerized by the thunderstorms that rolled across the skies in the midst of July’s unbearable heat, summer after endless summer.

…for letting me date boys with mustaches and muscle cars…for traipsing around the kitchen in your underwear late at night, when said boys needed reminding that it was time to go home (an infinitely mortifying experience then, but absolutely hilarious now)…for walking me down the aisle—twice—and never once saying I told you so.

…for introducing me to the concept of balancing a checkbook, as well as finding balance in my life…for teaching me to accept failure when it comes to call and to learn from my missteps…to appreciate having grandparents, a roof overhead and acres of woods all around.

…for tolerating my teenage years (Oy!), for trusting me with your beloved cars even though the voices inside your head must have screamed, “Noooo!” and for resisting the overwhelming desire to share with my High School Yearbook Committee that hideous photo of me with the mumps. For that alone, I love you dearly.

…for navigating so many road trips—to distant airports, to a good number of college campuses I considered calling home, to my very first job interview in the city. Never mind that we got horribly lost in the process; but getting a glimpse of the White House at rush hour surely was grand.

…for inspiring me to be a responsible individual, to work hard and to strive to do good in this world…for illustrating the power of forgiveness, the refuge of one’s church and the necessary nature of grieving our losses…for reminding me that things usually work out in the end—even when they look entirely hopeless at the start.

…for underscoring the importance of finding time for one’s children, time for one’s marriage and time for oneself…for helping me recognize the inherent value of ice cream sundaes, the versatility of duct tape and the irreplaceable nature of a good friend.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for showing me the beauty of marrying one’s best friend.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks for my dad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss

Filling the Void with Remembrances

He had the softest ears of any dog I’ve ever known. That said, I almost never passed up an opportunity to caress them. Nor could I deny how I loved snuggling with him on the couch, his box-like body curled up and wedged next to mine—safe and warm. No matter what the day had thrown at me, I knew I could always count on him to erase the tension and to reconnect me with the here and now, almost the instant I stroked his fur and scratched behind his ears.

He had a penchant for chasing crows, for stovetop popcorn and for following me from room to room as if we were tethered together, a girl and her dog. I swear I can still hear his toenails clicking on the tile floor behind me, never mind the jangle of his collar every time he shook his head or sneezed—which he was inclined to do whenever he was happy. Of that, I am sure.

His name was Jasper and he was the most wonderful rescue pet anyone could ask for—the epitome of a “good dog.” But we lost him—three days after Christmas, no less, his aged body too tired to continue another day. Like so many dogs, he left us bit by bit as he declined over a period of months—his daily jaunts around the block becoming slower and shorter, eventually ending altogether when we had to carry him to the backyard. We tried hand feeding him to keep up his strength, to no avail. We covered him with a blanket and kept a vigil where he lay on the couch to give him some measure of comfort. We put him between us in our bed on his last night on this earth, to let him know he was loved—unconditionally.

Although it’s been almost five months now, I can’t seem to accept the fact that he’s gone. His ashes and plaster paw print came home from the vet’s shortly after his death. But I still listen for his rhythmic breathing in the quiet of night. I stare at his bed, now empty, yet lined with traces of black fur—an unwelcome reminder of what was. Against all logic and understanding, I can’t bear to remove his food dish from the kitchen. Not yet anyway. What’s more, there isn’t a room in the house where he didn’t have a favorite spot to lie, and that’s exactly where my eyes fall the minute I step through each doorway. I can’t help but visualize him in those places, his head resting comfortably on his paws, his caramel-colored eyes watching me with hopeful expectation, since there was always the possibility I’d suggest that we go for a walk and chase the godawful crows together. Heaven knows he wouldn’t want to miss a signal.

Strangely enough, I miss tripping over him. Well, maybe not so much, since that was beyond exasperating—especially in the kitchen when I cooked his meals—scrambled eggs, ground beef and rice. Truth be told, what I miss the most is kneeling down on the floor to hug him—gently wrapping my arms around his warm frame and placing my head against his, something the people at the SPCA taught me how to do appropriately. Who knew there was a proper way to hug a dog? At any rate, I followed their advice and it seemed to engender a remarkable sense of calm—in both of us. Sadly, hugging my tiny, yappy dog in a similar manner doesn’t produce the same result. Maybe it’s because he’s not as tolerant of my foolishness. Maybe it’s because he’s incredibly small. Maybe hugs just aren’t his thing.

One thing I know for sure is that he misses his forever friend, too. There are days he pads around the house in search of him, wondering why he’s no longer here to toss favorite toys in the air and growl at each other—just for fun. Other days he just seems sad—something with which I am all too familiar.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (missing my dog). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Gratitude, Love and Loss

Life is Good…Mostly

IMG_7997I own a handful of trendy t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: LIFE IS GOOD. I wear them because they’re ridiculously soft, they feature stick figures with infectious smiles and, quite frankly, because I like the upbeat message they send to the big, bad world. Often times, people will stop me in the grocery store or post office, point at my shirt and nod in agreement: “Yeah, life is good, isn’t it!” which is great, because sometimes I’m the one that needs a reminder.

That said, sometimes life is downright ugly—like right now, as the wheels fly off this crazed election and increasingly hateful rhetoric spews from otherwise civilized and compassionate people. I am no exception. Life is not only ugly, it’s also heartbreaking and undeniably unjust because senseless violence continues to ravage the globe, hurricanes, floods and fires strike unmercifully and so many people I love grapple with cancer, or Alzheimer’s or any number of other devastating diseases. Neighbors move away. Parents and beloved pets die. Friends endure unspeakable adversity—including, but not limited to financial ruin, crippling addictions or, heaven forbid, having to bury a child. What’s more, marriages fail, suicides happen and people I care about become broken for a host of reasons.

I suppose that loss—sometimes more than people can bear—comes with the territory, an unwelcome side effect of this thing called life. Strangely enough, the more sorrow I experience, the more difficult it seems to manage on a personal level, each event affecting me more deeply than the last. You’d think that by now coping with it would be a walk in the park for me—something distinctly unpleasant, yet easy to accept because, if nothing else, it’s familiar. Admittedly, I sometimes stay in bed and hide from the world—especially on days when sadness and negativity threaten to consume me, convinced that by avoiding reality somehow it will cease to exist.

Of course, avoidance is only temporary. It does nothing to change what is real. So I shake my fist at God, infuriated by the fact that bad things happen to good people each and every day—despite denial, despite rage and despite prayers.

And then, as the sun rises, a funny thing happens. My dog ambles over to my bedside and shoves his head and warm muzzle into my hand, demanding to be petted, acknowledged, and eventually, fed since it’s time for breakfast. I then crawl on the floor and spend a few moments rubbing his impossibly soft ears and talking with him about all the important things in his life—the walk we’ll take later, his renowned affinity for squirrels and how great his scrambled eggs will taste. Yes, my dog eats scrambled eggs. Don’t judge.IMG_6206

At any rate, somewhere between hugging him and caressing the leathery pads on his feet my mind is flooded with what can only be described as gratitude. Indeed, I can’t imagine life without the rescue dog my family and I decided to adopt more than two years ago—our black lab-mix with the grizzled face and unsteady gait. Nor can I take for granted the other loveable beasts that reside here, never mind that our curly-haired, pint-sized yapper is decidedly neurotic and that our cat gives him plenty to be neurotic about.

From there, it mushrooms into recognizing all the good that has come into my life—all the people for whom I am thankful and all the experiences I’m glad to have had. I think of my husband, a man who has been my best friend for more than 20 years, the love of my life and my soft spot to land when the universe spirals out of control. I think of my three children who are talented, bright and most importantly, kind—ever so grateful that I get to be their mom. I think of all the people who touch their lives daily and I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of indebtedness. I think of my treasured friends, my church family and how fortunate I am to have the lot of them in my life.

Of course, I’m happy to have a roof overhead, food in my pantry and the sweet refuge of music and books, too. But mainly it’s the people that remind me that life is, indeed, good…mostly.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wearing a LIFE IS GOOD t-shirt). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Depraved New World, Gratitude, Love and Loss

The Road Less Traveled

www.melindawentzel.comI remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment—the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilization it seemed. The place where a large and delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts—one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, swallowed whole by its quiet grandeur, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees that lapped at its fringes. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer—untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows, too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road and its deep, frozen furrows of mud, we’d barrel down the gully—half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks—eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there—foraging through the woods, hiding out in our ramshackle forts and letting our dog run free—were ravenously consumed, chapters of our lives that I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time almost seven years—the ones that have felt like seven minutes—I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late—a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift—only the leaves back then had long since burst with color, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favorite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to cleanly snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the road less traveled, and recognizing that it has made all the difference). Visit me there at www.melindawentzel.com and www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Love and Loss

Words Matter

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Love and Loss