Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 5, 1959 – December 2, 2012
I first met Darlene Sitler in 1988 on a field trip with my Mansfield University EdPsych class. Northern Potter Children’s School, where Darlene taught, was, at that time, an “open school” system, http://educationnext.org/theopenclassroom/ . As Education Majors, we were encouraged to visit individual classrooms and, since I was a Music Major, I sought out the Music Room. Since there was a class in session, I peeked through the door to see students engaged in playing a line of eight or more barred instruments: the same instruments we had been studying in our Methods Class. Ms. Sitler had the students arranged in lines of  two or three students behind an instrument. The students were accompanying and singing a song by playing simple repetitive musical phrases called “ostinati.” The rest of the class was gathered in a circle performing a dance as they also sang the song. All the students were actively engaged in the activity and I was captivated! 
As that class of 4th graders filed out of the room, I introduced myself as a Music Major at Mansfield and asked if I could stay and observe more classes. I was immediately struck by her humility, stating that she had only been teaching four years and was not that great, but that I was surely welcome. 
The next group of students was Kindergarten and they met in a circle on a carpet. Darlene began with an echoing chant “Sing, sing, what shall I sing?” The students echoed the words to the chant that identifies our four voices: singing, speaking, shouting, and whispering. After the chant, she began by having the children echo sirens and “whoops” going up and then down. Striking a tuning fork on her knee and listening to it, she chanted “My name’s Ms. Sitler” on sol, mi and la. The students chanted back, “Her name’s Ms. Sitler” and each child in turn sang their name on pitch.
As I observed class after class, I knew that I wanted to learn from this gifted teacher, so before I left, I asked if she had ever had a Student Teacher. Again, she humbly asked why I would choose someone as inexperienced as she was. Perhaps I should note that I was already in my forties, returning to college after an eighteen-year marriage and divorce. Nevertheless, I convinced Ms. Sitler to give me a chance and then convinced my professors to allow me to Student Teach in this tiny school in the middle of nowhere.
I lived at least 50 miles from the Norther Potter Children’s School and, since Darlene lived in the town between my place and the school, we decided to commute together. Despite our age difference and the fact that I was older than my “teacher,” we became good friends and had a lot of fun commuting and working together.
My favorite memory was the “notebook.” She had purchased one of those black composition notebooks. On the front of the book cover, Darlene wrote “AHHHHHHHhhhhhhh!” and on the back cover, she wrote “Whoops!” After every class I taught, we would meet after school and go over the “Whoops” first: the parts of my lesson that were weak. She always had great suggestions to help me make it better. Then we covered the “AHHHhhhs” which were the parts of my lesson that went well and that she really liked.   She ALWAYS made sure there were more “AHHHhhs” than “Whoops” because she was just that kind and caring.
I also loved teaching Band and Chorus. Darlene was an excellent instrumentalist and my skills were more vocal, although I was a pianist and church organist. Darlene said she was thrilled to have me there to accompany the chorus because her piano skills were lacking. I think she just liked conducting better than playing! On the other hand, my instrumental skills were LACKING for sure and it was all I could do to follow a band score of maybe fifteen parts at once rather than a choral score with only three singing parts. Darlene patiently worked with me as I taught instrumental lessons and directed the band successfully. I actually felt like a Maestro!
After graduation, I got a job teaching Elementary Music in North Carolina. I made sure to write Darlene and and we always kept in touch, especially after our MENC Music Conferences. We started finding little gifts for each other to use in the classroom. My favorite gift from her was this little shiny magic wand that had a spiral chamber on the end with a tiny metal ball in it so it jingled when you shook it. My students loved using it to do the “Bee, Bee, Bumble Bee” chant.
I always called Darlene when I was visiting in the area during our summer breaks and we would get together for lunch or dinner. I remember visiting for lunch with her and Greg and they were telling me about having a mouse in the house and trying to catch it. Darlene didn’t want to kill it so they got a cardboard mouse trap that was very sticky and the idea was that the mouse would get stuck to it and then you just released it outside. Well, apparently their mouse chewed off the cardboard around each of its feet. We laughed till we cried imagining this mouse walking around with cardboard soles on his feet!
When I sold my cabin in Sinnemahoning, I did not come to the area for Christmas or summer breaks, but spent time with my parents in Altoona. So by 2000 or so, Darlene and I were out of touch. I remember trying to call her over Christmas 2012, determined to get together, but when I called the land line number I had, I got the message that the phone had been disconnected. Though disappointed, I was not that concerned because everyone has a cell phone and I knew that Darlene and Greg had been teaching longer than I had and were probably retired and traveling.
I retired in August of 2014 and moved back to PA. After I got settled, I decided to start reconnecting with old friends and called Darlene’s number again, only to get the same message. Then one day when I was out to lunch with some friends at the Cabin Kitchen in Emporium, I decided to pick up a local paper and rather than get the ECHO, I picked up a different one. I didn’t read it for several days, but when I finally did read it, I saw a familiar face on the front page. The headline was “Sitler Seeks Retrial” and at first, it did not register. I started to read the article, and it was as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I could not breathe. My friend was shot by her husband in church as she played the organ on a December morning.     http://www.krinerfuneralhomes.com/notices/Darlene-Sitler
I researched everything I could find on the murder and finally called the pastor of the Presbyterian Church who was with her when she died. She invited me to come to the church the following weekend and to go with the congregation to the Northern Potter Children’s School Auditorium which was being dedicated to Darlene and is now called the Darlene J Sitler Memorial Auditorium. Several of her students performed that day, including a French horn student who played Darlene’s horn and friends and fellow teachers eulogized her with poems and short stories, some of them humorous and some very personal and touching. There were very few dry eyes in those gathered.
The Pastor handed me a piece of paper before I left for home that day. She gave me a hug and asked me to read it when I got home and respond accordingly. I took the long way home, down through Sinnemahoning, and past Winslow Hill and back to 155 and DuBois. My thoughts were scattered, all little videos of my times with Darlene. The darker thoughts were of her last moments. In church that morning, I had asked the Pastor to tell me how it happened: Did Darlene see Greg come in with the gun? No; Was she killed instantly? No. Greg fired off a few shots and she fell from the organ bench and he went back outside and put his gun on the hood of his truck. Several parishioners followed him outside and tried to subdue him till the police arrive. He picked his gun up and started back into the church stating that he had to make sure she was dead. He threatened those who tried to stand between him and the door to the church and he went back inside and up to where she was on the floor and fired more shots and then left. I played that video over and over in my mind and could not let it rest.
When I got home, I opened the note. It was an invitation to a birthday party for Darlene. The church had built a lovely memorial garden in memory of Darlene because she loved to garden and had been tending the flowers at the church and the parsonage. After she left Greg, she found a little house for rent not far from the church. The first birthday after her death, friends and fellow teachers had met at the garden and released balloons to celebrate her life. The invitation was for another gathering on her birthday at the Pastor’s house. The instructions read: “Bring a dish to share and some note cards. We will be sharing Darlene’s recipes.” I suddenly remembered what a great cook she was! What a wonderful way for her spirit to live on as we lovingly prepared her favorite dishes!
Six people came to the party and it was fun to look through her recipe cards and remember what dishes we had shared with her. There were other stories told; how she feared for her life; how Greg was stalking her; how she had joined the swimming pool in the summer and  finally learned to swim and dive; how much she loved her little house and her cats. Before I started for home, I drove to the street where she lived and found her little house. I could so imagine her dwelling happily there!
The horror and sadness of her death is still with me, though not as intensely as it was a year ago when I learned of it. Lately I have found myself thinking of her as I try to learn a song on my fiddle and I imagine her sitting and listening to my horrible scratchy playing and laughing. I have been weeding my front flower bed of those little annoying weeds that are only an inch tall but fill the bed profusely; weeds that, if you do not pull them completely out by the roots will continue to plague your garden space for years to come; tedious, boring work that Darlene would endure patiently. I could actually feel her there with me as I worked and in my mind, we carried on a spirited conversation about flowers, weeds, music, knitting, that special notebook; and I felt so compelled to finally write all of this down. 
And here I am. Looking up her obituary to make sure I got the dates correct and voila! It is her birthday! Happy Birthday, Dear Friend! I miss you so much! I am so sorry you had to live in fear but I am so happy you finally had the freedom to be you! Please continue to visit me in quiet moments. I will never forget you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


by MamaLou

I recently retired and moved from the city of Hickory, North Carolina to Treasure Lake, Pennsylvania, a lovely gated community deep in the woods surrounding two man-made lakes. My son and his family live across the road and to the left. I introduced myself to the family living directly across the road, and to the single gentleman who lives beside me on my left.

My cat Spice has also been making friends. She does not venture outside, but loves to sit at doors or windows and watch two chipmunks and a gray squirrel who gather the seeds that fall from two birdfeeders on the deck and front porch. These tiny critters and the birds at the feeders cause her to emit tiny, quiet "mews."  She watched the birdfeeders in North Carolina as well. She was not, however, prepared for the other neighbors of the forest who eventually came one evening to graze in our front yard.

A doe and her two fawns still displaying their spots crossed the road and came into the yard, followed by a small deer with "buttons" in velvet, probably her fawn from the season before. 
He kept his distance from the other three. Spice had never seen deer in North Carolina, since we lived within the city limits. She produced a throaty growl from somewhere  deep within and jumped down from the windows.

That was my introduction to this deer "family" who made regular trips through my property
in the mornings and evenings. I especially looked for the little button buck and noticed when he developed nice points, still covered in velvet, and was travelling farther behind his mother. Doe often chase off their male offspring from the season before. It made me sad and I was worried for him all alone as the days grew shorter and cooler.

Then one evening the doe appeared with the two fawns followed by another doe with one fawn, followed by my little two-point buck, then another four-point, also in velvet.  It seems that the two yearling bucks were travelling at a distance from their siblings.

We had some bad, rainy, blustery weather as archery season began during the "rut" and I didn't see any deer in my yard for about two weeks. Then, early one morning, I opened the front door to grab the birdfeeder to refill it and startled an eight-point buck in my yard...and he startled me too...and we stopped and quietly admired each other for what seemed like an eternity. Then he did this stately prancing step with his two front hooves...kind of like a reindeer...and stomped off into the thicket. He was so breath-takingly majestic!  I whispered a quiet  prayer to Artemis/Diana to watch over him and keep him safe from the archers and later in December, from the rifles that hunters will likely aim in his direction.

I am not against hunting. I have eaten venison and find it delicious, yet I feel a connection to this little herd and hope to see them throughout the winter and again in the spring.  I have decided to lay some scrub branches beneath the hemlocks that border my property to provide shelter as the weather gets harsh. When I have the trees cut down that are threatening to fall on my new roof, I plan to replace them with smaller native trees that will provide food and shelter: Dogwoods; American Hollies; Crab Apples; Mountain Ash; Hackberry; Serviceberry; Sassafrass; Spicebush. I will likely buy some corn and set it aside to feed them when it snows and covers whatever browse is available.

I have missed this way of life for the past twenty-one years I have been in North Carolina and feel so privileged to be living in such a natural setting again 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sleeping in the Middle

SLEEPING                                      IN THE


        So, which side of the bed do you like to sleep on? Years ago, when I was married, I slept with my left side on the edge, which means I sleep on the right side. Having been divorced for over 20 years, I really haven’t had a steady sleeping partner except for my cats. For some reason, they prefer the left side of the bed, so I am still sleeping on the right.  I do have a “sometimes” sleeping partner and he sleeps on the left side, probably because I automatically took the right side the first time he stayed over. You are probably wondering where this is all heading?
        It started when my friend Mustafa came and stayed for over a week. Now, I absolutely adore this man. I have known him for only 2 years, but I feel so at ease when he’s around and almost like he is my other half. While he was here, he helped me out in my garden and yard since I had my knee replaced about 8 weeks ago and my yard and gardens have become a jungle. He even cooks! When you live alone and are suddenly “co-habitating” with someone you really have an attachment for, and they leave, it can be devastating. The morning he drove off, I managed to keep it together, but that evening, getting ready for bed brought the worst lonely, heart-wrenching, achy feeling I have experienced since my Mom died 2 years ago.  That is until I watched my cat, Spice re-established herself on the spot she had considered hers until the invasion by that foreign beast. Her warmth against my body and her gentle purring soothed away my longing and I slowly pulled my emotions back through the hole I felt was surely in my soul and began to heal.
        A week passed with me waking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and gently petting Spice as I returned to bed.  Sometimes she acknowledged me, other times she slept on really deeply, actually snoring. It was Wednesday evening, August 14. I was watching TV and Spice was sitting in the dining room window which was open to the screen since the weather had cooled down considerably and I was letting some fresh air into the house. A stray, scruffy gray male cat was chasing a little white cat with a black moustache outside in the driveway and Spice growled, got down from the window and followed the cat as he passed by the screened patio doors. She threw herself against the screen at the cat as if she could fight him.  Spice is a runt and weighs maybe 8 pounds. That huge gray scruff-ball probably goes 12-15 pounds. I got up and closed the patio doors and Spice followed the cats around the living room windows till they passed by the front door and disappeared. I picked her up and carried her into the bedroom and started to get ready for bed. She snuggled in beside me. The bedroom windows were open. I remember petting her after a trip to the bathroom at 3 AM.
        Spice has problems digesting food and gets a lot of hair balls and throws up.  We now have this little ritual in the morning. As soon as I get out of bed, Spice runs to the dining room table and waits for me. I get her comb, her hairball medicine and her Greenies. I comb her hair, she licks the medicine off my finger, then she gets 3 Greenies.  Spice was not on the dining room table that Thursday morning. I called to her, but she did not appear. I wasn’t that concerned.  Her litter boxes are in the basement and this is an old house.  Sometimes mice get in and she stalks them till she catches them.  I got dressed and spent the day running errands and was gone until after 2:30 PM. When I came back home, no Spice greeted me. Again I called her, but she did not come.  I started to look in all of her favorite places. I went to the basement to try and find her. I did not notice it then, but I believe the basement door was open and the screen door does not have a catch. My other cat, Simba, could get outside quite easily by pushing up against it. I never thought that Spice would do that.  She was an indoor cat from the day I adopted her and had NEVER been outside! I was getting concerned and went and looked in all my closets and drawers and cupboards. I checked the crawl space. Nothing.  Her food had not been touched. It was late Thursday evening and I was getting frantic. I called my neighbor JC to come over and help me find her.  He brought a flashlight and we put up a ladder and looked up in the eaves of the basement and under an old rotten wood floor that partially covers one side of the basement floor. Nothing.
        I tried to sleep that night, but could only cry and worry. I kept thinking I felt her jump onto the bed.  When the hole in my soul returned, I could no longer stand the pain of an empty bed and I decided to sleep in the middle. Finally morning came.  I put a notice on Facebook and tried to make some posters with her picture on them.  My friend Hope called just as I was getting ready to go to Animal Control and the Humane Society. She offered to drive me because I was really in a state of hysteria, unable to stop crying. Animal Control had said on the phone that they had picked up a calico cat on Thursday.  I was so hopeful.  When we got there and they showed me the cat, it was not Spice. Such disappointment! I left a poster and my contact information and we went on to the Humane Society.  As I waited at the desk, my eyes wandered over to the cat cages and I noticed the back of a calico cat and it looked exactly like Spice! I ran over to the cage and there were 2 calico cat sisters in adjoining cages named Faith and Hope. When the cat turned around to look at me, I could see she was not Spice but my heart warmed for these two darling cats. I halfway decided that if Spice could not be found, I would return because I could feel the hole in my soul growing larger and larger and I knew it would take a lot to fill it up.
        All day Friday, I made flyers and put them up in my neighborhood: the Laundromat, the gas station, Dollar General, at the playground; and gave them to neighbors I saw out in their yards. I could barely get through my speech without a sob and everyone was so kind and promised to help me if they saw her.
        I came home and although I had my knee replaced only 8 weeks ago, I decided I had to go down into the woods behind my house and search for her.  I got my trekking poles and set out at the end of my driveway through poison ivy and briars and spider webs, covering the whole hillside down to a small creek.  It made me feel good to see the water in the creek.  I knew Spice had had nothing to eat or drink since Wednesday night.  It was now Friday afternoon. The lump in my throat and the pain in my soul grew with each passing hour she was gone.
        My friend JC tried to get me to play some music Friday night but I refused.  I put out some cat food and water on both of my porches and tried to go to bed.  I even took 2 pain pills to help me sleep.  At 3 AM I got up and decided to sleep on the pergola in my chaise lounge.  I went and got my BB pistol in case raccoons or other critters appeared. When I reached the patio, the food was gone. It was gone off the front porch too!  I refilled the bowls, grabbed my blanket and the pistol and settled into the chair.  It was so quiet.  It had gotten cooler and was only in the high 60’s. I sat there about an hour and then the mosquitoes arrived.  As I was contemplating going inside for some bug spray, the raccoon appeared, a big fat thing that must have weighed 100 pounds!  That critter was not giving up on getting that food!  I decided to call it a night and went to bed, taking another pain pill and sleeping in the middle.
        Saturday I made my rounds in the neighborhood and came home and tried to make some soup. It was starting to cloud over and it was in the low 60’s and we were supposed to get rain. My friend Mustafa said not to give up hope, but I have to tell you, it sure seemed hopeless to me.  I was not able to eat or sleep and the pain in my heart was so persistent and heavy. My eyes were swollen and sore.
        I put on some meditation music and began to pray to Artemis Diana to put a protective ring around Spice and keep her safe. I asked that she be brought home to me, but if that was not possible, I asked that she be safe and content and I let that be my mantra: “Spice is safe and content.”
I went down in the basement and turned off the dehumidifier and decided to sit there and listen quietly.  I thought maybe she was under that old wooden floor and maybe she was sick.  She hides when she doesn’t feel good. I sat silently and listened. I imagined my ears as big as a rabbit’s ears, standing straight up.  Then I started to whisper her name and tell her she was a good girl.  That always makes her purr really loud. Nothing.
        JC called and I just cried and told him to let me be, but he insisted on coming over and bringing a video that was supposed to be a comedy. It was about 7PM and I put the video in and we started watching it. I couldn’t pay attention to it. I almost fell asleep and I was wishing it would end and he would just leave. Besides, it had started to rain a steady downpour and I could not imagine my little kitty out there in the cold and wet without food or water.
        All of a sudden JC jumped up and said, “There’s a cat looking in your door!” and he started over to open it up. “No!  Get away! Let me go! She is afraid of other people!” I screamed and jumped up from my chair.  I opened the door and the cat kind of disappeared into my flower bed, but I recognized her meow.  It was Spice and I called her name and bent down and she came to me, all soaking wet.  I picked her up and took her inside and just held her close calling her name, feeling that hole in my soul fill to overflowing. She was struggling to get free and when I put her down, she ran right to her food bowl!
        It is now Tuesday and she still has not told me where she was or what she was doing.  She is scratching a lot and has some fleas. She stays very close to me and seems to like to be on my lap more. And at night, I cannot sleep in the middle any more. She is back on her side of the bed, but by morning, she is more in the middle as she scoots closer and closer to me. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night to be sure she is there. I have closed the cellar door and latched the screen. I have checked all the screens in the windows to make certain they are secure.
        This morning we had our little ritual with the combing, medicine and Greenies. I think we are back to normal.  I sometimes think of those two calico sisters at the Humane Society and my heart aches to offer them a home, but I am near retirement and don’t know where I want to be after this school year and I am not sure Spice wants to share me with another cat or two. She seems to be sleeping in the middle now.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Delaying Gratification

I have been meditating on the concept of “delayed gratification” lately and how it might affect one’s ability to “live in the moment.”
A missed phone call and my response caused me to look more closely at these two seemingly unrelated challenges.
      Thursday evening I like to watch two television programs: Gray’s Anatomy and Scandal. I had placed my cell phone and glasses on my bedside table, had gone to the living room to enjoy them, then gone to bed.  Friday morning when I picked up my phone, it blinked, telling me I had a message.  I checked to see who it was from and saw that Mustafa had called. Immediately, the urge to call him hit me, although it was early in the morning and he is not an early riser. That was “live in the moment,” which was beaten down by “delayed gratification.” If I wait until after school I will be more settled and have more time to chat. That’s exactly what I did and it was well worth the wait.
      For some reason I couldn’t get the two ideas to go away, especially after the phone call.  As I cleaned up the kitchen, I began to think of how I have put off “living my life” by waiting for certain conditions to be met: when I go to college…..when I graduate…..when I get married…..when the baby comes……when my husband gets out of the Marines……when we get the loan for the house…..when I get the divorce….when I get through college at age 40….when I get a permanent job…..when I buy the house….when I get tenure….and now, when I retire.
      Somehow, this lesson of “delaying gratification” was really taught well. I remember as a teenager, wanting to do things and wondering when, if ever, I would be “old enough” or just basically “allowed.”  I happened to have parents who really PARENTED. I am not complaining. I had a great life; perhaps more sheltered than was necessary, but I would NEVER have crossed my parents. I remember a particular incident when I was crazy over a boy in high school. He was three years older than I was and already out of school. I could not ever imagine myself with anyone else for the rest of my life.  My Mom had other ideas and forbid me to see him.  I SO wanted to go behind her back and still date him and I tried it a couple of times, but I felt so horrible, I had to quit. I often wonder what would have happened if I had “lived in the moment” and done what my heart told me was right?
      I remember dating my husband the months before he was sent to Vietnam.  I was in Nursing School in Harrisburg and he came through on a train on his way to Philadelphia where he was to ship out.  We spent the night together in a hotel in a single bed and never had sex, just because we had both decided to “save ourselves” for our wedding night.  I think if we had “lived in the moment” that weekend, it would have saved us both a marriage and divorce…but then we would not have our beautiful children….
      I do remember another time I decided to “live in the moment” and love unconditionally the man I was living with while I went back to school after my divorce. The only problem was that he was “living in the moment” too, but with several others and I got a STD out of it!
      How do certain people learn to “live in the moment?” Is it something they are taught by parents who know the basic need to quiet oneself and go within? Is it a cultural thing? Is it in our primal memories? I NEVER got the lesson!  All I got was “delay your gratification” and now that I have been on my own, I tend to do whatever appeals to me, but without any regard to the consequences: take financial risks; eat unhealthy foods; ignore my need for order; put off being creative; work 12 hours a day….
      I am worried that I may have made my children “delay gratification.” My son is very solid, grounded, takes NO risks; my daughter….Heaven help her…I think she is just like me. I may have done them a disservice.
I want them to live in the present…and enjoy all that life has to offer…good and bad….
      Me??? I need a guru to sit me down, help me find who I am before there is no time left!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Show Stopper

A Show Stopper

Well, I have put myself out there in the “dating” world and added my profile to at least two internet dating sites for senior singles. I also have a profile on a left-wing “green” site that has a singles-seeking option. I have met two interesting men on the green site. One who is originally from Bangladesh, but is a US citizen and lives in the DC area; and another who is a Jewish transplant to NC from NYC.

I only recently met singles from the other sites. One man is ten years younger, lives near Charlotte, and restores windows in historic houses.  We met and he is going to do some work for me on my windows in exchange for some antique casement windows I recently had replaced.  The other gentleman lives nearby, is a 69-year-old widower whose wife of 39 years died only six months ago.

The widower and I e-chatted on the dating site and then exchanged phone numbers. On the dating site, you have a “user name” and so, when we spoke on the phone, “Sam” asked me my name and I told him.  Then he emailed me specifics for the dinner date, but he called me “Amanda” which is NOT my name, but over the phone, you could possibly hear it that way. I kindly corrected him and then suggested that I call him “Sam” rather than his given name since I had a psychic reading about a year ago and she told me I was going to meet “Sam” who would be the love of my life.  This became our little joke and we began referring to each other as Amanda and Sam.

The plans for dinner were that we go ‘dutch’ because so many men on the site whine about having to pay for dinner and getting nothing in return OR of not being satisfied if they do not meet up with a swimsuit model. Sam reluctantly agreed. We decided to meet in the parking lot of the restaurant at 7PM. He said he would be driving a Corvet.

When I called Sam to let him know I was running late, he was having problems finding the restaurant, so I told him to meet me in the Hobby Lobby parking lot.  He agreed.  I could see the brand new white Corvet as I pulled into the lot and I sped right up to it and pretended I was going to crash into it.   Sam laughed, rolled down his window and I pointed to the restaurant right across the little side street. The Thai Lotus. It is under new management and it is absolutely WONDERFUL!!!!!

We parked our cars and got out.  Sam was at least six feet tall.  He had white hair and gray/blue eyes.  He was “fluffy” but not “fat.”  (like me)….so I felt quite relaxed. What I noticed right off was his manners.  He opened the door to the restaurant, held out my chair for me to sit, waited for me to order first, and tried to keep the conversation on me. 

As the evening wore on, I think we both became quite relaxed with each other.  We had wine, a Reisling which I suggested, and he liked it. He asked if I liked his shirt and I said I did.  Then he told me he had gone shopping that afternoon for something to wear.  He also volunteered that this evening was the first time he ever took off his wedding ring.  I noticed the indentation on his finger. Knowing that he was married for over 30 years and that he had been the caregiver to his wife in her last days really made me feel such respect and admiration for him and I told him so. 

He also found himself talking about his wife and apologized to me.  I told him there was no need to apologize. He must need to speak of her to keep the memories alive and begin to heal. He seemed like a very sweet man. I was not feeling any fireworks, but I decided I would really like to see him again and develop a friendship and at least share some music together, since he said he really loves to sing.

We found plenty to talk about and we even shared a dessert tray together.  When the check came, he would NOT let me share it, but insisted on paying for the evening. It made the independent side of me bristle a bit, but the feminine side was smiling.

When we left, he asked if I would like to ride in the Corvet.  I was excited to go for a little spin.  I had never been in a Corvet before.  He opened my door and got me settled, then he went over to his side and started to get in….and it was no small feat, cramming a six-foot teddy bear into a little Corvet.  We had a lovely ride up 127 North to the marina where we turned around and saw the most beautiful sunset display I have ever seen!  It was a gift for sure.

We headed back to the parking lot and said our goodbyes. As I drove home, he drove beside me and at a stop light, he rolled down his window and said he missed me already.  Now, that made me feel nice!

Well, that was Sunday.  It is now Wednesday and I have not heard from him.  I am not “needy” but I really thought he would email or call by now and I got worried, so I sent a short email to ask if he was okay.  His reply was: “I didn’t notice on your profile that you were not a Christian and that is a show-stopper for me.”

Now, I would have been prepared for “I just don’t think we have anything in common” but to refuse friendship because I am not a Christian really hurts.  I do not partake in human sacrifice. I do not worship the devil. I just cannot limit my spirituality to the Christian tenet that unless you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and unless and you confess Him as your Lord and Savior, you are going to Hell….along with all of the other people who believe differently.

Now, I used to be a Christian and a very devout one. And if you told me back then that I would ever NOT be a Christian, I would have thought you were a heretic. I am not sure how I got to where I am, but I have read and studied all of the “holy” texts, including the Bible. I want to know everything there is to know about faith and spirituality. I have come to love the teachings of Buddah; of the Hindu faith; the beautiful poetry of the Koran and its teachings of peace and equality; the earth-based narratives of the Native American Indians; and the pure teachings of Jesus Christ.  I have also read how, when any of these beautiful spiritual teachings become corrupted by fundamental interpretation, holy wars ensue and innocents are slaughtered in the name of one of the many “Gods.”

Now, if Sam and I had really made a connection and were going to become serious about each other, then I would understand, I guess. It just pains me that I am being rejected as a friend because I  choose to follow a different spiritual path. I am a good person. I love my neighbors. I love the earth, and I do my best to keep her clean and green. I pray and practice mindfulness and offer thanksgiving for all the gifts, worldly, spiritual, and earthly that I have been blessed with. I do not smoke. I do not drink to excess. I do not engage in lewdness or any deviant sexual behavior. I just cannot limit my spirituality to a single dogma that excludes and celebrates separate-ness.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Missing You, Mom

My mother died last March 31. It amazes me that I am only two months away from the anniversary of her passing. I personally have not moved beyond the last hours I spent holding her, stroking her, and telling her that she was beautiful and that I loved her. I don’t feel like we had any unfinished business to revisit; no anger issues; no regrets.

We were not “physically” close since 1992 when I moved to North Carolina and left Pennsylvania to find a teaching job. I had been married for eighteen years, had divorced, then decided to go back to college and finish a degree in Nursing, but earned a degree in Music Education instead. Upon graduation, with student loans to pay back, I took the first available teaching position which was in North Carolina, but that is another story.

Mom was always present in my adult life, though not at first, when I married Barry and we moved to Norfolk VA while he was in the Marines. She was not there for the birth of my first child in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, but she and my mother-in-law came down for a visit as soon as I came home from the hospital. Upon discharge, we moved back to PA to be close to family.

Jill, our second child, was born in PA and all three families lived in the little home town where I and my husband grew up. My parents later moved to Altoona, about 80 miles away, yet we still managed to stay in touch. They were only two hours away.

After eighteen years of marriage, I left Barry and both John and Jill stayed with him in “the big house” while I lived in a tiny log cabin miles from anywhere in Sinnemahoning and commuted ninety miles one way to attend Mansfield University. I would think nothing of visiting my parents on a weekend. My father was helping me financially the first year until I figured out how to apply for college loans.

I remember my Mom being “sick” a lot. I often felt like she was a hypochondriac. None of her ailments seemed connected. Once I got a job and moved to North Carolina, I only saw my parents over Christmas break, Easter break and through the summer months. They would make trips to North Carolina too. As they got older, I worried about them making such a long trip, but Dad always cut the trip in half and they stayed over night in Virginia.  

I can’t really remember for sure when Mom quit driving all together.  I think it was sometime after she had an accident while Jill was visiting with one of her friends. Jill must have been a teenager. Mom went through a red light in an intersection close to her house. No one was hurt but it really shook her up and she didn’t drive much at all after that.

On top of her heart problems, Mom was diagnosed with Adult Onset Diabetes which progressed until she was taking regular injections of insulin.  Dad was her “care-taker.” Mom did little at all to help herself.  She was taking on average, twenty or more pills twice a day and Dad had to put them all out and make sure she took them. I used to get so upset with her.  She was told to exercise. They had a treadmill and other equipment set up in their basement. Dad would use the treadmill regularly, but Mom did nothing on a regular basis.  This went on for years. She had bypass surgery and almost died afterward due to some complication that made her body swell up and put her in a coma, but she survived.  The heart problems and the diabetes continued to get worse. This last year found her often out of breath and unable to keep her sugar at an acceptable level.

All this time, Dad was continuing to try and take care of her. It was beginning to take a toll on him.  He was NEVER a complainer, but often when we called or visited, he would go on and on about how Mom was not trying to do anything at all and he had to care for her, including bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, and medications. She was also making more trips to the hospital.  She would fall out of bed; she would be non-responsive and not wake up in the mornings. The final straw was the bugs.

She insisted that bugs were crawling on her and she would swat at them and ask if we could see them.  There was nothing there. There were no bites on her skin, yet she was digging into her flesh, making huge, raw open sores. She was admitted to the emergency room and then referred to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation.

She was also “shrinking.” The mother that I used to have to look up to, since I am the shortest member of the family, was now shorter and more frail that I had ever seen her.

From the psychiatric hospital, she moved to a Nursing Home. I was not there, but my sister was when she cried and pleaded with my father to take her home. Kathy said it was heartbreaking. I am so glad I did not see that, but what I was to see would be just as bad.

I had not been home since December when I visited for Christmas and though Mom was weak, she was at home, able to get around and lucent. It was March when she went into the Nursing Home and so I made a trip to check things out. It is an eight-hour drive and I got in late, about 10PM.  Dad and I went to bed. It was about 5AM when the phone rang.  It was the Nursing Home.  Mom had fallen out of bed and had a huge cut on her head and was in the emergency room.  Dad got dressed and went to the hospital and I got up and dressed and followed about an hour later.

When I arrived at the hospital, they led me to a cubicle in the emergency room where Dad was sitting, drinking a cup of coffee.  Mom was on a gurney, totally out, a huge gash on her right forehead with about eight fresh stitches, a black eye, and the right side of her face starting to bruise up. I remember working in Nursing Homes and we had bed rails and safety jackets for patients who were restless.  Apparently it is against the law to use restraints on the elderly now, so Mom was able to attempt to get up, was so unsteady that she fell forward onto the oxygen equipment between the two beds in her room. They were getting ready to take her back to the Nursing Home in the ambulance, so Dad and I followed. I got lost…..arrived as they were having difficulties getting Mom back into bed.  She was in a hospital gown, her hair sticking out everywhere, with wild eyes searching my face, her face now half blackened with the bruise and the protruding stitches over her right eye. She was screaming and trying to get out of the wheelchair, her tiny arms, bruised from IV’s straining to lift her weight, her tiny legs, skin rough as leather from the diabetes, crossed in front, unable to support her weight, tangled in the leg rests.

I have worked in Nursing Homes with such patients and knew what to do, but could not wrap my mind around the truth that this confused, bruised, belligerent woman was my mother!  I knelt in front of her and spoke gently to her and she recognized my voice and settled down.  I combed her hair as best I could, wrapped her in her shawl and told her she looked beautiful and asked if we could take a ride around the hallways so she could show me the place while the nurse got her bed ready. She seemed agreeable, but as we started out, her right leg kept falling between the crack in the leg rests.  I finally grabbed a pillow and as I was trying to lift her legs to lie it against the leg rests so her feet would not fall through, she screamed at me, “Quit that, Wanda!”  I asked if I had been too rough and she said, “Yesh.”  Her teeth were not in her mouth. My Mother never went anywhere without her teeth. I looked around and found them on her bedside stand, rinsed them off and popped them into her mouth, got a little blanket for her lap, and we took off.  Dad was exhausted and said he was heading home.

Mom was leaning forward in the chair, her hands firmly pushing down on the arm rests, her feet pushing down into the foot rests, trying to stand.  I had to keep reassuring her and making conversation, much as you would to calm a frightened child. As we passed the Nurses’ Station, the nurse asked me if I thought I could get her to eat some yogurt. Apparently she’d had nothing to eat since the day before. I took the yogurt and we headed down the hall to the atrium, where there was a TV and other patients eating lunch.  I opened the yogurt and started feeding her and she ate it ravenously. I went to the desk and got another one and she managed to eat that one too. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the last food my Mom would eat.

We went back to her room and the nurses put her into bed. She began to be agitated and could not get comfortable with the bed up, the bed down, and she kept trying to crawl out, so they gave her something to calm her down. I stayed until I was sure she was resting comfortably, stroking her rough, dry, bruised skin, putting lotion on to soothe her arms, legs, and feet as well. Before I left, I laid my head next to her on her pillow and told her I loved her and I would be back in the morning and gently kissed her forehead, careful to avoid the swollen wound of stitches.

I got into my car and just sat there in the darkness. I felt such overwhelming sorrow, it is difficult to describe. I could not cry, though I wanted to curl into a ball and sob. I so needed someone to just hold me. I was frightened. My knowledge of nursing told me what was happening, but the “child” inside of me could not believe what was immanent.  I drove home. Dad and I hardly spoke. He just read his newspaper and watched the news. I said I was tired and went to bed. I was amazed at how soundly I slept.

The next day, I went to the Nursing Home early and Dad said he would come a little later. I think he was so glad to have some relief from hospital and Nursing Home duty! He had been handling this all on his own for so long. Mom was barely responsive when I got there. She was unable to eat any breakfast. I was afraid to feed her the solid food, but managed to get some juice and tea in through a straw by inserting the straw into the liquid and then placing my finger over the top like a siphon, and then putting the end of the straw into Mom’s mouth and gently taking my finger off to let the liquids dribble in, but I was still afraid she would aspirate.  

The Nursing Staff was diligent about changing Mom’s position to prevent bed sores. They gave her excellent care. Dad came in at about 10AM and we both stayed till after lunch and went home.  I planned to come back later in the afternoon and stay till dinner time. I was going to try and convince Dad to eat Chinese. There was a Chinese restaurant with a buffet right near the Nursing Home.  When I got back that afternoon, the Nurses said Mom had a really nice chat with the Lutheran Chaplain. It was hard for me to believe it.  She was nearly comatose, but the pastor came back in and told me everything they had talked about. I found it amazing! She had practically told him her whole life story. She never stirred the whole time I was there.  I stroked her arms and face, told her she was beautiful and that I loved her. I left around 6PM and got some Chinese food.  Dad actually tried it and liked some of it!

The next day, Dad went in early because I wanted to start supper in the crockpot and go and buy a CD player.  I had brought along a really nice, relaxing CD called “Heartland” and felt that it would be calming for Mom to listen to music rather than her roommate’s TV and the noise of a Nursing Home. I had spoken again with Bruce Burkness, my old friend and pastor from back home and he said that he thought Mom didn’t have much time left. She was not eating and they were not giving her IV’s.

I got there at about lunch time and set up the CD player and got the music to play.  It seemed to calm Mom.  Her breathing had become labored. Dad left. I settled in for the afternoon.  I had brought some knitting and a book to read, but mostly I felt compelled to sit next to Mom and put my head next to hers and rub her arms, legs, back, whatever, just to be near her.  I am no longer a Christian, but Mom and Dad had lately become more “religious” so I found a tiny New Testament in the bedside drawer and decided to read to Mom. I said, “Mom, I know you like to hear the Bible, so I am just going to open this one and read a little to comfort you.” I opened it to a page and started reading. It was the place in Matthew where they are talking about divorce. Now, I am divorced, my Mom was divorced, and my Mom is possibly dying….before I knew I had said anything at all, I had commented rather loudly, “Holy crap! How depressing!” and I swear I saw a smile cross my Mom’s lips. It was at this point my sister called from Cleveland to ask about Mom’s condition. She and JD were planning to come Friday after work.  I told her Mom was still the same and I thought she would still be here by Friday.

I stayed until 4:30 and then went home to get some supper for Dad.  We had Crockpot Beef Stew and home made biscuits. Dad said he would clean up the dishes and I said I wanted to go back over to see Mom, so I went on and left the mess to him. When I got there, Mom’s breathing had radically changed. Each inspiration was labored and each expiration made her lips make “raspberries” and there was some thick mucus draining out of the sides of her mouth. I put her bed up a little higher and got her to lie without drooping to one side and washed off her mouth and applied some Vaseline to her lips.  I decided to feel her legs and feet.  I remember that death comes on from the extremities and if her systems were shutting down, her extremities would be cold, but she was all warm and toasty, even her toes, although they were all crooked and stiff, I assumed from the diabetes. I decided to call Kathy and couldn’t get her, but left a message for her to call me.

At this point, I don’t know why I did it, but I crawled into bed beside Mom and we “spooned” with me on the outside of the covers. I just held her gently and told her what a wonderful Mom she had been and that I loved her so much and wanted her to stay with me forever, but I knew she had to move on.  I knew she was afraid of death and I told her that I thought it was going to be scary for just a second until you left this plane and reached out for the next one, but I told her she would not be alone.  I was here on this side and there would be others to reach out to her from the other side and I mentioned who I thought she might see….Gram Billotte, Fluffy, our old cat, her brother, her friends Lil and Grant.  I told her I would be okay, but I wasn’t sure about Kathy, my sister. She is really close to Mom. I don’t think she could have watched Mom go like this. I think it was my previous experience in Home Health and Hospice that got me through it.

I got up from the bed and resumed my spot on the chair and was rubbing Mom’s arms again. All of a sudden, Mom sat upright in bed, looked right at me and then fell back onto her pillow and there was no more labored breathing. As I was about to check her brachial pulse, I saw a huge “thump” in her chest where I assumed her heart was. Then she was totally still. I stifled a huge sob and reached for the Nurses call button and saw Dad just coming in the door to the room.  “She’s gone,” I managed between sobs.  He came and put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.  Then he leaned over Mom and gave her a kiss and said “Bye Mom.” with tears streaming down his face. 

The Nurses came and took Dad away to sign some papers and meet with the Funeral Director.  I stayed with Mom as the Nurses gently bathed her and put on a clean nightgown and diaper.  Then they got the body bag. I had to stay. I could not leave my Mom, so I watched as they put her tiny body into the bag and zipped it up and then transferred her to the Funeral Director’s cart. My sister called and I had to tell her Mom was gone.  She was shocked because I had just told her earlier that I thought Mom would still be here on Friday.

The loss of a parent is a significant event. I never “pictured” what would happen if I lost my Mom. I never even considered the possibility, even as I sat at her beside.

I have not moved on. I am still in that room. Am I still in denial?  I am more “spiritual” than “religious” and I thought I would see Mom somewhere….in a beautiful butterfly or hummingbird…..in a dream…somewhere…I really thought she would manifest.  I have had several “readings” and so has my daughter Jill and we have been told she is around us, one of our guardians, but I do not “feel” it. I cannot find her.  I miss her so much sometimes.  I have not had a heart-wrenching cry. I do cry at the strangest times; just a little bit; but my heart feels like it is crying. You know how there is a little warm spot in your heart just before the tears fall?

In the midst of all of this sorrow, I met a wonderful person who was able to hold and comfort me. I wish I could have “bottled” that comfort. I am hoping that by writing and sharing this I can heal and move on.

Monday, November 28, 2011



The Carpool

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I was a stay-at-home Mom until my children were in school. When I heard that GTE Sylvania was hiring back in my old hometown of Emporium, I immediately applied for work to help out with the bills.

We only had two vehicles at the time: a red Renault Alliance and a yellow Chevy Luv pick-up truck.  Both were great on gas, but I was already paying my neighbor for child care before and after school, so I decided to look into carpooling. I put a notice on the bulletin board near the punch clock and got a reply. Three men in my neighborhood were already carpooling and said they would be glad to have me join them. That way, each of us would only have to drive one week per month.

Now, I was in my 30’s and these men were WELL into their 50’s. I am not sure how they felt about my driving, but each of them had their “quirks.” They always made me ride shotgun.

Fiorantino, the Italian man always smoked and drank coffee. He felt it was necessary to talk to me the whole 40-mile trip. His breath made my stomach churn so I soon learned to dowse myself with some strong perfume on those days!

Bob was the most “normal” of the three.  We both seemed to sense this and would connect visually through the rear-view mirror. The first time I rode with Bob, Thomas snored loudly from the back seat.  Then I noticed that he also snored when Fiorantio drove.  When he snored as I drove, I began to wonder if he ALWAYS snored.  I was about to find out.

It was a snowy morning when Thomas picked me up.  Bob and Fiorantino were already settled into the back seat, Bob leaning toward his window as Fiorantino was speaking to him.  Bob and I connected eyes and tried not to laugh.

We started out from Ridgway onto the long 2-lane highway that connected to St. Marys, about 15 miles away. The road was deserted at 5AM and it was still dark. The roadway was completely covered in snow and the only way to gauge where to drive was by guessing where the center of the roadway was and stay to the right. I looked up and noticed that Thomas’ eyes were closed.  I scanned the roadway ahead.  We seemed to be on our side, so I wasn’t too concerned until I saw something in the middle of our side…something lying on the road…something like a dead deer. 

As we approached, I saw that I was correct….a dead deer, probably frozen stiff, lay in our path.  I quickly looked in the mirror to see what Bob was thinking.  His eyebrows were furrowed and he looked at me in anticipation, as if to say, “See?  I told you he ALWAYS snored and slept, even when he drove.”

We hit the deer dead on going at about 45MPH in a VW station wagon.  We were airborne for what seemed forever after the initial impact, then landed the way an unseasoned pilot might drop a DC-10 onto the airport runway on his maiden flight. The “landing” startled Thomas and his eyes flew open and he asked, “What the hell was THAT???

“Oh, a dead deer.” I mumbled, tightening my seatbelt while peeking into the back seat where Bob tried so hard to stifle a laugh, he had tears in his eyes, or else he was scared to tears.

Thomas didn’t snore, nor did he close his eyes for the rest of the trip. I managed to carpool for the first month and a half, but decided to drive myself just as it was Thomas’ turn…..