Where were you on 9/11?

     Hello, readers. I have had writer’s block since I lost my ‘person.’  I wrote this years ago; but realized today that I haven’t shared this on here. Where was I on 9/11?  I was home alone, in my apartment in Kalamazoo, Michigan; and had just turned the TV on to watch while eating breakfast, at about  8:50 a.m. I normally watch a funny DVD to start my day, so for me to watch the news was very rare, since the news makes me physically ill, due to my Fibromyalgia. The first plane had just hit the first tower. I started shaking uncontrollably, scared that this was no accident. I tried to call my mom, and then I called my (former)best friend in San Francisco. Nicole was a travel agent at the time, and I KNEW her day would be totally messed up with air travel schedules. She was asleep, since it was before 6 a.m. She mumbled into the phone, and I said, “Nic, WAKE UP. Go turn on the TV. NOW. Go. You need to see this.” She kept mumbling, then asked, “What channel?” I said, “It doesn’t matter, it is on all the channels.” We agreed on the same channel, then we watched in horror and disbelief as the second plane hit. We both screamed and cried together, I was clutching my hair, scratching at my skin, wanting to escape. We sat together, each alone in our own apartments, a country away, but forever united in grief and shock. We watched the Pentagon get attacked, and had heard about another plane crash/fire near the Pentagon. Fear enveloped my whole body.     

     By the time we got off the phone, I had called my work. I was a manager at Bath & Body Works, and was scheduled to go in after noon. When I went in, I asked if they had heard. They said that they had the news on a radio in the break room. The Limited Corp. sent out an all store bulletin to close. They had five stores in the Pentagon and World Trade Centers, and none of us knew where the terrorists would strike next, so they closed all of our stores. We were putting the gate down, and a woman ducked under it as it went off track and got stuck 3/4 of the way down. She was insistent that we sell her a bottle of lotion. We explained that corporate had closed us, that our registers were already closed, and she would not let up. She was indignant, and aggressive. She insisted that she needed this lotion and that we sell it to her immediately. I said to her, “Do you realize that our country is under attack?” She basically said, ” So what? I still need this lotion, and this purchase doesn’t affect the state of the world!” (Next time you are in a retail establishment, remember that you have NO IDEA what we deal with on a daily basis!) We told her that our registers were closed. She said she would leave cash or a check. We told her that was against store policy, that she had to have a receipt, and that it was illegal. She wouldn’t leave! FINALLY, she left. The mall decided to close about a half an hour later, even though we had suggested it, and were shocked that they waited to make that call. (Our store was fined $500 for closing early, by the way, even though corporate made that decision; and the mall decided to close right after that…)

     I was supposed to work until closing; but my mom had had emergency dental work, and was having an adverse reaction to the anesthesia. The manager, Nicole (different Nicole), kindly offered to stay and wait for the maintenance person to fix the broken gate. I went home, and my mom was in bed. She was groggy and looked horrible. She was barely conscious, but she knew what was happening.

     I went outside, and lied down on the grass, not even a blanket. I wanted to feel the earth beneath my body, so I could know I was on solid ground. I remember looking up at the sky and crying. It was so still, so quiet. I live near an airport, so I am accustomed to hearing planes overhead. For three days, nothing. Our house is near a very busy street, and our yard backs up into many small businesses. There was very little noise. Not a car exhaust, a door shutting, nothing. The silence, especially in the middle of a workday, was so deafening, it rang in my ears.

     A few hours later, I was at my apartment and got more terrible news. My boyfriend called me at about 4 p.m. on 9/11, and said that he had been in the Special Forces, and in Vietnam (he was 18 years older than I) and that the military had called him back up for active service, and that he had to leave within two or three days. He then disappeared for weeks. He would only call every few weeks, and show up at my apartment late at night. He talked about being in all the ‘hot spots,’ the ‘sleeper cells’ in nearby Dearborn, and getting my family gas masks, etc. He made me swear on my life to never tell a soul, because it could put all of us in mortal danger. We got engaged, and this went on for over a year and a half, until I discovered it was all a lie. I broke up with him, and he stalked me for months. How could anyone use 9/11 to cheat and lie to someone, I will never know. 

     Now, I am painfully aware that I didn’t experience a tenth of a percent of what others experienced.  I know I didn’t lose someone close to me, but I ended up getting so stressed out that I lost my job and my health, and I became a hermit for over a year. I am an extremely sensitive person with a huge heart, an ‘Empath,’ and that year was the worst year of my life, up until a few years ago. I know others have horror stories I cannot fathom; but, for an extremely sensitive and emotional girl, at 31 years of age, to have almost everything taken away or lost was very painful for me. I appreciate the friends and family that have stood by me; and I still cry every time I see even a few seconds of footage, or a picture or words about that terrible day.

     I will never forget. Our country united as one. We flew flags, cried together, went to candlelit vigils, and bonded. For a time, we forgot our differences and focused on our common grief. I had a flag in my window with lights around it, that could be seen for half a mile. My apartment complex asked me to remove my country’s flag after someone from another country was asked to remove theirs. Even though I was offended, I removed it, so that the apartment complex would not go through with a lawsuit; and because I was a renter under a contract. Instead, I displayed a ribbon of red, white, and blue; and I put those same colors around the window as a light border. I was not going to let anyone stop me from displaying my country’s colors and show my pride in the United States of America. I wish we were still united….one good thing that came from this was my first cat, Lexie Kay. She wandered into my parents’ shop during a storm, and I ended up adopting her the week of 9/11. The first night, she slept in the crook of my neck with her tail wrapped around my throat, softly purring, safe at last. She would be a constant source of love and comfort during a time that I will never forget. The first photo ever taken of Lexie is above. I had to put Lexie Kay down, when she developed dementia. I still miss her every day. Thank God for Callie Christmas! She came during a snowstorm to my parents’ shop; same way as Lexie. She is on my lap as I edit this.

Just over one month later, my dear cousin, Maria, was brutally murdered. Senseless. Needless. Horrible. Nicole came to visit the weekend of Maria’s funeral. What a comfort she was to me. I wish Nicole and I were still friends. I still miss her every day. Maria-I miss her every day, as well. I just found a video of her, and was able to make a ringtone of her voice, which is a comfort.

Although the perpetrators of 9/11 were eventually caught and brought to their fates, America has not been the same since. It reminds me of the Titanic tragedy in so many ways. I am a member of the Titanic Historical Society, and others have commented that they, too, feel that way.  Public opinion, the confidence of a world sure of itself; and all the accomplishments and advances in technology and transportation. Travel has changed since both tragedies. The way people view those less fortunate, of ‘foreigners;’ and of the loss still mourned. The conspiracies, the hoaxes, the charlatans exploiting tragedy for their own gain, and the superstitions and ‘signs of evil’ before and after. The utter shock is what hits me. Both tragedies changing the world, bringing it to its knees in sorrow and despair.

I pray others will remember, will keep our country safe, remember what happened, teach our next generations, and will it never happen again. We all know we will remember what happened forevermore. Anyone that was old enough to remember, will remember. I pray for our country’s safety, our spirit, and our unity. God Bless America, and all that were affected that horrific day.

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Not again…

The perpetrator of the accident was sentenced a few days ago. Some were pleased with the sentencing, some were not. Will there be closure now? Some, but the pain is indelible. The impact is so far reaching, it cannot be measured. Kalamazoo is still waiting for the Kalamazoo mass shooting case to occur. It is unfair to draw out cases such as these, and I hope there is a conclusion, if not closure, soon.

marymomentsblog

In February, I wrote a blog about the shootings in Kalamazoo, my hometown. On June 7th, my town suffered another major tragedy. A group of bicyclists, called, “The Chain Gang,” were struck by a man driving a truck. Nine people were injured, and five of them were killed at the scene. One of them, Debbie Bradley, was my mother’s friend. One of my friends lost two dear friends. I know one of the first responders. Although I didn’t know them personally, as it happens so often in our town, we are all interconnected somehow; and we are all grieving. I have been numb, in shock. I haven’t written about it, because I have been so upset. Then, the tragedy in Orlando. That hit me hard, as well. I cannot imagine what that was like for anyone involved! Horrific. How does this happen to anyone-these people were just out to have…

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Mother’s Day

Hello, Readers! I have not posted in a very long time. Partly, because I have had writer’s block; partly, because my laptop keeps breaking; and mostly, because my emotions have been so raw that I didn’t want to see them in print. However, today is a great day. Today is Mother’s Day! Despite the rain and dampness, which doesn’t do my body any good, I am in a good mood. My mom went to church this morning, but left me a Mother’s Day card. She has done this for at least the past 15 years, despite the fact that I have never had a child. This one was a picture of Golden Retriever dog with a bunch of cute puppies on the cover. The inside was a list of so many pets and kids that I have nurtured and cared for, and she wrote that I am a “Mommy.” My first instinct would be to argue, disparaging myself. But, then I remembered how I spent last night in the basement, comforting our Buckeye, who is terrified of storms. I also got a visit from a Husky puppy,  he licked my face and cuddled with me, then curled up next to me, the three of us spooning while I tried to find a comfortable position on a very firm mattress.

I remember when I worked on a Mother’s Day while living in CA. My manager was asking a woman why she was shopping, instead of spending time with her mom. She wouldn’t stop asking her, until the woman told her that her mother had just passed away. I still remember it, because I couldn’t spend time with my mom that day, because she was in Kalamazoo.  I wanted to, believe me. I missed my mom very much.

“My mom has always been there for me;’ such a cliché. In my case, I did have that mom. She was my Brownie, Girl Scout, Youth Group(s), bowling, etc. leader.  When I was in band at Comstock High School, an entire section of the band would yell, “Hey, Mom!” when she walked by our section of the bleachers. She hosted every slumber party, drove me to school on the countless times I missed the bus (a frequent occurrence when she would be back in bed already) and would be the one to bring snacks at a moment’s notice, or whip up a batch of cookies when I forgot it was someone’s birthday in class. She has a unique way of making everyone smile, and her sunny personality is so infectious! I don’t know how she knows about everyone’s lives, even if she hasn’t seen them in a decade, but she can tell me their life history at the drop of a hat. She also makes a great tour guide; because, whenever you are in the car with her, she cannot help pointing out peoples’ homes and businesses when she passes by, even if you don’t know who it is she knows! lol She seems to know everyone.

One of my favorite ‘Mary Moments’ is when I lived in CA. I lived there about 4 years, in total. Never saw anyone I knew. She comes out to visit on Thanksgiving Day. I take her to Santa Cruz boardwalk, and the first person she sees, she knows. Shocker. She and I can be our own comedy team, especially in the car. She will make an absurd comment, and I will over exaggerate the sarcasm, until we go back and forth and start laughing at ourselves. I feel so blessed to be her daughter, but she can be really hard to follow! lol She goes off on these random tangents in her mind; and then start talking about a totally odd subject out loud. I look at her like, ‘what the heck are you talking about?’ I tell her that her thoughts must be really loud!

A prime example is when we were in the car together, riding in silence. She says, “I just don’t think I want to be a police officer any more these days.” Huh? (Luckily, I had noticed a police car on a side street that was giving someone a citation.) I looked at her and said, “Do you realize what you just said? ” Of course, she thought she had said something sane and logical. We went back and forth, because she was so sure she was making sense. After ten minutes of this, she finally huffed in frustration, saying, “Why can’t you hear what I just meant?!?!” This is now our code for any similar conversations now, and so fun to recall!

I have seen my mom do so many wonderful things for so many people. We have had our special times, and made wonderful memories! We went to 42 states before I graduated high school, and most of them were because she would get ‘cabin fever,’ pack my brother and sister and I in the van without waking us, still in our ‘footsie pajamas,’ and we would wake up to eat at Big Boy-in Kentucky. It has happened so many times, and we have had so many stories.

Today, my brother organized a Mother’s Day meal at our cousins’ restaurant, Theo & Stacy’s. We were able to see Stacy and Phyllis, which was wonderful. Although they were busy, they were able to serve all of us with ease and a friendly smile, as always. I was so happy to see my family, and our extended family, as well. It is no secret that family is so extremely important to me, and these times really make my life happier. I was able to explain how we were all related to my younger family members.

I really hope that other people get to experience the kind of family like I have; and truly love and enjoy their family, especially their mothers. My mom is definitely unique, but that makes her one of a kind! Happy Mothers Day!

Grannie Annie (and Mary “ANN!”)

Ann (Kuiper) Griffioen album photos (21)

Hello, Readers! Last night, I was able to attend a genealogy meeting on organizing your genealogy media, data, and files. I learned a lot, and was able to talk with some wonderful people at the conference. It brought to mind that I have written very little about my grandmother, Anna Mae Kuiper Griffioen Santee, aka “Grannie Annie.”

Last week was the four year anniversary of my Grannie Annie’s death. I miss her terribly. She had such a way of brightening the whole room when she was happy. She played the organ and piano for not only my childhood church, the former Faith Reformed on Milham Rd. in Portage; she played for campgrounds, lay missions, her retirement home, and anywhere else that needed her services. She played with her whole body, moving up and down on the bench, working the pedals as if she were a race car driver, skillfully getting the most out of each instrument, and filling the air with the songs of faith and hope from our hymnals. I LOVED to sit in the pew and listen to her play, and I felt so connected to her and proud of her ability to soothe and quiet the mood before service. She always played in her stocking feet, to better feel the pedals and to avoid making clacking sounds with her shoes. My mother, Sandy, can play ‘by ear,’ and also plays, ‘barefoot.’

When it was time to rejoice in the Lord, there was no better accompaniment than Ann Griffioen! She was able to get everyone up and out of their pews, ready to sing along and praise the Lord! I miss hearing her play, and I am so glad I was able to record a few songs on video. When she sang Gaither songs like, “He Touched Me,” while playing the piano, those songs were the most moving for me. Something about her melodies, the way she would emphasize certain chords, watching her fingers run up and down the keyboard like it was a part of her body, would always stir something in my soul that connected me to her in a very loving way. My grandma would also play the organ for church and at home; and, especially during Easter sunrise service, would get everyone rejoicing in the risen Lord! Heads would tilt, hands would rise, and feet would tap, all in unison to the music that flowed from the organ.

I remember watching her move her feet and hands across the huge organ, flipping this switch, moving this lever, never missing a note, always in sync with the organ. It was an amazing sight to see, watching her play. The organ and piano were second nature to her, as familiar as her kitchen sink. Anyone could tell how much she was a part of her instrument, and how she loved to use her skills for worship and praise. When I sat down at the bench and tried to use them myself, I would get so intimidated by the overwhelming options of levers, pedals, and choices for sound. Somehow, she would coax the most out of whatever instrument she played, and would almost look like one of the organ pipes, moving up, down, and all around; sending the music out to every corner of the room, thrilling all who could enjoy the sounds.

She was a character, my grandma. Some have said she was the ‘Grandma of the church,’ which makes me proud. I do remember many embarrassing ‘Mary Moments” that were caused by her; especially one in the middle of church service. I was a very self conscious preteen, sitting in the pew while the pastor gave the sermon. All of a sudden, I felt a couple of fingers on my neck and shoulder, moving my clothing. I turned around and looked over my shoulder, and a woman I didn’t know was tucking my bra strap under my collar! I was mortified to realize that my grandmother was three rows behind me, waving at me! She had tapped the shoulder of the person in front of her, who tapped the shoulder of the MAN in front of her, who tapped the shoulder of the stranger who fixed my bra strap, all because it was showing about an inch! Yup. That’s my Grannie.

If anything ever topped her skills as a pianist and organist, it would be her knitting and crocheting skills. She would always have some kind of needles and yarn flying from her fingertips. Many babies and toddlers were blessed by her gift. She would make booties, hats, and sweaters for children in hospitals. She made the softest mittens for her grandchildren; always with a string attached to each one, to be strung through our winter coats, so as not to lose one and to wear during our many snowball fights and igloo forts built in the front yard. I never did lose a mitten that she had made, but the booties. Oh, the booties. They were so warm and comfy, wrapping around our ankles and toes! The booties were always so much fun to wear, until we hit the waxed linoleum floor! I slid into cupboards and knocked over more coffeepots and cookie jars than I can count; but, what fun! We would wiggle and twist and dance, having fun just wearing the knitted footwear! One year, she made camouflage hats for all the ‘hunters’ in our family, and we have video of them, all lined up in their hats. I wish I still had a pair of the booties; but I do have a prayer shawl that she started; and my mom, Sandra Ann, finished for me.

At her funeral, the pastor said, “I bet she has made an afghan for each of her grandchildren!’ We all looked around, because none of us had ever received one from her; and my mom surprised all of us by opening a Lane cedar chest of heirloom afghans for each of us that she had stored in our garage!

I had the privilege to know all of my grandparents until adulthood; and I knew and loved them as much as my own parents. I would have slumber parties, sleepovers, many meals, and activities like hunting for Easter eggs, or sharing a Sunday meal. I posted an earlier blog about that, and I wish I could have that back, for even one day. There was something special about going to “Grandpa and Grandma Griffioen’s house” for any reason. My grandfather, “Papa John, ” built their house, and added a back porch with a wood burning stove. The whole family, all the aunts, uncles, and cousins, would all gather and just sit and talk with one another. My uncle Ron built a table for them, and there was always a deer head mounted on a wall. My Papa John, Uncle Steve, Uncle Ken, my mom, and my brother, Matt, all hunt, as well as my cousin’s husband, David, and my cousins Tom and John. John is more of a fisherman now, as he is studying to be a veterinarian. I have an entire album of hunting and fishing pictures. I love to fish, as well as my sister, Chrissy. My dad, Mike, would also love to fish, and we all enjoyed a good meal of whatever they brought home. Grannie Annie knew Papa John well, and accepted and enjoyed whatever catch he brought home.

Grannie Annie loved being the center of attention! When she was happy, she reminded me of Shirley Temple or the happy hippo with the tutu in “Fantasia;” not for her size, but for the coquettish way she would act, shy and flirtatious. I have said for a long time that she was like “Marie,” on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” except that she was Dutch and didn’t cook! lol She was a lot like “Miss Kay,” on “Duck Dynasty,” when she was happy. When she wasn’t happy, we all felt the wrath! She would get frustrated when she would go to yell at one of us, and couldn’t remember which name to use! Lol I remember once, she fell asleep on our living room couch, and I went to turn off the TV. I was about 10 years old, and tiptoed to the set, not wanting to wake her, and ‘wake The Beast! ” Just as I touched the knob, she yelled in her sleep, “KEN! DON’T TOUCH THAT TV!” I nearly jumped a foot! lol There have been many times that she would yell the name of every member of her family before getting the right name, even if it was not the same gender!        When she woke up, Papa John put on a curly brown wig to make us laugh, which we all did. Then, not to be upstaged, she put it on and started laughing. Now, when Grannie Annie laughed, her whole body seemed to have trapped air which had to escape, from whatever opening it could find! Lol She started laughing so hard, no sound came out, which made us all laugh harder! Then came the wheezing, the rocking on her heels, the red face, and the gas! I still remember how my ribs and side hurt from laughing so hard!

She was so desperate to have attention that she would call everyone, unbeknownst to the others, to come at once, for some ‘urgent need,’ and fifteen people would race to her side, for something that one person could easily have done. She was the definition of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” but it was hard not to feel for her and to judge her neediness. I didn’t truly understand why she was so desperate for attention until once, when I was a child and we were alone, I asked her what it was like for her as a child. A shadow fell over her face, and she seemed to go into a shell. Her voice tightened, and she whispered that she never felt loved or accepted, never felt her parents’ approval, never told “I love you,” hugged, etc. I have seen pictures of that little girl, and it makes me so sad, and explains so much about her personality. If she felt like she was given a place of honor, felt important, she was fine. She always had the first spot at the campground, her residence, anywhere she was; even if it was a community piano, she would say it was ‘hers,’ and say that anyone that played it wasn’t as good a pianist as she. I hurt for that little wounded girl.

She loved nature and music so much, loved the holidays, decorating for every occasion. A grand tradition, passed on through my mom, and continuing with myself and her whole family. I have her doilies, some cut glass dishes, and her handkerchief, which I carry with me always. My mom gave me her watch and a brooch. I just found a slide of Grannie Annie holding baby Sandy, my mom, and she is wearing the brooch! I am also glad to have a gorgeous round etched mirror that was given to her at her bridal shower, for which I also have found a photograph. I have so few items from my family, and I cherish each and every one. Grannie Annie had a love of things that I also love, like doilies and old furniture, etc. Her ornaments were the blown glass painted large ones, and she always had tinsel on the tree, and garlands. Poinsettias were also a theme, and she always had them on her organ or piano. I also loved this white ceramic cat that always sat by her chair in the front room. She was also a “Tupperware Lady,” and I have pictures and memories of the many items she had around the house. I also love the dishes and jewelry she treasured. When she and her sweetheart of a jolly man, second husband, Papa Howard, moved to Florida, I missed them very much, but they would come home for Christmas, and I was able to entertain them while the rest of the family would be rushing around the house with last minute details, and we would have great talks.  I miss Papa Howard, especially his smile, his friendly demeanor, and his bear hugs!

I am named for my grandmothers, Mary Helen and Anna Mae. All my life, she told me I was ‘Mary ANN!’ She was always jealous that Grandma Mennie and I were so close, and did not like having “Second Billing” of my name, so she would say, “Mary ‘ANN!” and write it on every card! Even though she thought I was closer to Grandma Mennie; to me, I was just as close to Grannie Annie, in other ways. She taught me so much about faith, family, and music. I feel like she passed those down to me. I owe my faith to my grandparents for paving the way and setting the example; not just for my mother, her brothers, and all of their family; but for the many lives they changed with their witness.

Someone told me to “Look for Grannie Annie in butterflies,” after she passed. A few months ago, Grandma Mennie passed, as I wrote in an earlier blog. I saw a huge swallowtail butterfly about 12 feet from me, and it did not move, even when a strong wind blew, bending the branch of the tree on which it was resting. I thought, “Grannie Annie is here, or is it Grandma Mennie? ” Almost immediately, I got a distinct image of both of my grandmothers in Heaven, siting side by side. Grannie Annie leaned over and smacked Grandma Mennie, and said, ‘Back off, b*#ch, that is MY symbol for Mary “ANN!” I have been dead longer, go find a feather or something, butterflies are MINE!” And both of them just cracking up together! Grannie Annie would be serious about that, but both have the best laugh together over it! lol The very thought of it still makes me laugh; and if you knew her, it would be easy to imagine! I have been so blessed to have such a special Grannie Annie in my life, and I love and miss her so much!

 

 

Friendship in times of need

Hello, readers. My laptop is dead. I have no money at all with which to replace it, and I do all of my work on my laptop, as sitting at a desk hurts my body. My entire connection to the outside world is via my laptop. My friend asked me why I don’t ask for help. I am too embarrassed. He took the initiative to start a gofundme.com account. Here is the link, and any help is needed and greatly appreciated!

gf.me/u/dz8vwq

Lost, pt. 3

Hello, Readers. I apologize for my lack of blog posts. Right after I posted Lost, pt.2, my beloved grandmother, Mary Helen Skartsiaris, passed away. It was barely six weeks after “My Person,” died. I had been praying for her to go to Heaven, as she has had dementia for years, and her quality of life was so poor. Still, it was a terrible shock to me. I was cleaning out the oven, and on the last rack. My nightgown was all wet, I had dirt and grime up to my elbows, and if I had been given 2 more minutes to finish and clean up, it would have been a bit easier. My mom just walked up to me, and softly said that Grandma Mennie was gone. I doubled over in pain, at that same sink where I had stood at the last bad news, and sobbed. I couldn’t see through my tears and the curtain of hair falling on my face, sticking to the moisture on my cheeks. I stumbled to the living room couch, and nearly vomited, I cried so hard. My mom told me to just go to bed, so I took her advice. I don’t remember washing up, but I must have; and I just curled up under my Schmooey blanket and sobbed until I fell asleep. I couldn’t tell you how long it was, a half hour, an hour…

My “Grandma Mennie,” as we called her, was gone. She was “Grandma Mennie,” because I am “Aunt Mennie,” a nickname I have had since my eldest nephew was a toddler. He couldn’t say, “Mary, ” and our family still uses it. I love it the most out of all my nicknames. My mom called me, “Mary,” in front of my nieces and nephews the other day; and the youngest corrected her and said, “That’s not Mary, that’s Mennie!” I am named for both of my grandmothers, Mary Helen and Anna Mae. As my mom says, I am Mary Helen’s ‘clone.’ I am the eldest grandchild on my mom’s side, and in the middle on my dad’s side. This is my father’s mother, and I was as close to her as a twin sister. She was always very good about loving all of her grandchildren, but we had an undeniable bond.      I seem to have many of her characteristics, and I worked for her and Papa Gus at their restaurants, over the years. I even had a party over at their house, when I was a teen. Papa Gus made baklava at 2 a.m. and Grandma Mennie had the dance music going strong! Their home was also the scene for the ‘grandgirls’ to go over and dance with Grandma Mennie to the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. My grandma was the coolest-she took disco and belly dancing lessons-in her 50’s! She would let us get dressed up in her clothing, and wear her makeup and jewelry. Then, all the grandgirls would put on a show for the adults-cheerleaders or fashion shows, etc.

We would often get confused for one another on paper, since I live in their old house; we both worked for Gilmore’s and Jacobson’s department stores at one time; we both drove Cadillacs, had furs (mine was faux), had doctors at the same offices, etc. She would get a call that my surgery was to take place, or I would get a call that my car was ready, when it was the opposite. My mom had the great idea for us to dress up in our furs, diamonds, and park our ‘Caddies’ next to one another for pictures. We had so much fun, posing and shooting those pictures!

When I say we were like twin sisters, it was a closeness I have always treasured. She would call and confess how much she spent on shoes; I would sit with her and talk about boys or school. We only got into a disagreement a couple of times, but we cleared it up quickly. I learned so much by watching her at work, with her family, or just her gestures. Her lyrical voice had a lilt to it that was at times both warm and distinct. I have been working on my family tree for a couple of years now, and there are so many questions I wish I had asked her. Her life seemed to be divided into three distinct chapters: birth to marriage; wife and working mother; grandmother/business co-owner. I never knew about her life before she met and married Papa Gus. All I knew is that she was the only girl of seven brothers, and she grew up in Pontiac. I have always felt that my roots are deep in the soil of Michigan, and that I love being a “Great Lakes Girl.” Even when I lived in California, I still sensed it; and just recently discovered that, through her, I am related to many of Michigan’s founding fathers and city pioneers. Wow!

The day of Grandma Mennie’s funeral was difficult to anticipate, but ever so unfathomable. The family was able to get together before the service started, and it was so gracious of the people there to serve us a continental breakfast, as family came in, a few at a time. I held it together, trying to be strong for my dad, until my cousin Lisa came in. Lisa is only a couple of years older than I; she and her sister, Maria, were my “big sisters” while I was growing up. I wore their hand-me-downs, and looked up to them. When she came up to me, I hugged her for so long, cradling her head, trying to show her how much I have missed her. I haven’t seen her in nearly a decade. The ache in my heart just opened up into a pain that flooded my entire body. She was so like Grandma Mennie, so kind, so loving, it was hard not to want to hold onto her for longer.

As we gathered in the cathedral, unsure of how to handle ourselves, we started to whisper about church memories, like being hit with a pocketbook for talking; passing around tissues and ‘church pills,’ big pink peppermints that my grandparents always had for church services. They were usually covered in lint, being stored in the bottom of the pocketbook or pants pocket. I think that the reason that they, and all the ushers and elders of our church, had them at all times, is to pop one in the mouth of a talkative child-they were so big, all you could do was suck on them and be quiet! lol I sat in the pew, praying desperately to make it through the service, and to see some kind of sign that this was all ‘okay.’ I scanned the funeral program, and the first song was a familiar one. It was also recorded by Enya, and my grandma and I shared our love for her music.

I cried throughout every moment of the service. I couldn’t help it. There was nothing I could do to stem the flow of tears that rolled down my cheeks. Every memory of my grandmother flooded behind those tears, every precious moment I have ever spent with her. About 3/4 of the way through the service, the priest encouraged us to greet one another. I was through my third handkerchief by then. My sister, who was at my left, just looked at me and said, ‘come here,’ and let me cry on her shoulder as she put her arm around me. THIS was big-my sister and I don’t hug. We don’t talk or show a lot of emotion to one another. Then, I tried to gain some kind of composure, but could not. My sister in law, on my right, also felt compassion for me and hugged me, letting me cry on her shoulder, as well. My dear cousin Stacy, whom I also hadn’t seen in years, reached behind her to hold my hand. Lisa actually came across the aisle and sat with me at one point. These women all reached out to me in my time of need. I cannot describe what that continues to mean to me. I didn’t want to be selfish, or make a big deal about how close Grandma Mennie and I were, but it was always silently understood. Sometimes, not so silently-my grandma would put her arm around me and go up to people and say, “I am Mary Skartsiaris, and this is the other Mary Skartsiaris,’ with people smiling and loving it; while my sister made gagging noises of playful disgust behind our backs, rolling her eyes-lol!

When we went to the cemetery, we had to wait a while to go to a secluded area for the burial service. All the grandkids were given a lovely rose to place on the table where her cremation box stood. It was odd, seeing my name on a crematory box. It reminded me of the scene in “A Christmas Carol,” where Ebenezer Scrooge wipes away the snow, to see his own gravestone. When the prayers and speech was over, each grandchild was to bring their rose to the table to say goodbye. We went in order of age; but, when it was my turn, my younger cousin, Stacy, whispered to me, ‘are you ready?’ and I shook my head no, so she went ahead of me. I think I went after her, or lastly. I just remember placing the rose on the table, and bending in half to lay my cheek on the lid of the box, with the tears flowing steadily down my face. I paused, then kissed the box. My feet dragged as I took my place. When it was over, my dad lead us in a chorus of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” which was her request. We were so off key, all over the place, that it was truly a mess, which made us all smile a bit. She would have laughed at it, but applauded our efforts.

This was the last of my grandparents to pass away; and, as much as I wanted her to be in Heaven and not be imprisoned in her body and trapped in her mind, I felt like I lost her all over again. Dementia is a cruel, evil way to die. Watching this once sparkling, vivacious woman that I admired and modeled so much of my qualities, this hospitable, gracious, gorgeous woman with such style and glamour, deteriorate to the point where she could not recognize her loved ones, or herself, is the cruelest torture.

One of the reasons it was so difficult for me, is that I had just lost the other person who knew me better than anyone, to whom I could share my ‘ugly secrets’ and my triumphs, and that they both passed within 6 weeks of one another, was a shock greater than I could bear. I have very few possessions of hers, only one of his, and I have been struggling with having a ray of hope, a sign from either of them, something with which to hold in my hand. My aunt, bless her heart, sent me a silver cross for my birthday, with Grandma Mennie’s ashes inside. I cried all over again, but with cleansing tears. It was so kind of her to do that, so good of her to realize what a gift that is to me. I still don’t know how to thank her, but she knows.

So, here I am now. What have I been doing since then? Well, when I am anxious, I clean. I organize. Everything I own. Literally. I have gone through every box in storage, everything that has been packed away from my beautiful apartment that is less than a mile from my current residence. It is incredibly difficult to go through every momento, every book and photograph, everything from every event in my life. I have sobbed in the barn many, many times; my life in memories before me. Some things, I have had to force myself to finally discard. Some items are to be sold, for my survival. Some were re-wrapped, some came into my bedroom again. I had some incredibly difficult decisions to make, some happy surprises.

For the first time in my adult life, all the clothing I own is in my closet at the same time. I cannot stress what a huge deal this is, since I have worked retail since 1991. I have always had at least five huge bins full of clothing in storage. I have ‘flipped my closet out; twice a year, every year, ever since. Now, all of my clothing, all seasons, is in one closet in my room. Deciding on what to sell, keep, donate, etc. may not seem like a ‘big deal’ to someone else, but it is huge to me. A lot of who I was before I became disabled is in those bins of clothing, lotions and potions, lingerie, etc. A career’s wardrobe. I have given up or sold items before, but now I have a huge table full of items to remove from my life. It will take me a while, but it will happen. I am very sentimental, so it is difficult for me to part with these treasured memories, but the memories are in my pictures, letters, gifts. etc. Even if those get ruined, it is in my heart. I may not remember what exactly was said at what date, or where I was, or what I was wearing; but I will remember the emotions that I felt during those moments. My heart will carry them with me, and bring the dawn of a smile on my face, a song to my ears, a long repeated saying among my family members will echo, and it brings peace to my heart, and an ache that is ever so bittersweet. God bless you, Grandma Mennie. I love you so very dearly. I hope you and Papa Gus are dancing and smashing plates up in Heaven. If you have time, could you send me a little sign that you are with me? It sure would help when the tears soak my pillow. Thank you.

Helpful tips and shortcuts for dealing with stress, organizing, chronic illness and/or depression

 

Hello, readers! I wrote some of this in a previous blog, but felt I should update it and add some other tips and suggestions.

I use the ‘Ten-Ten-Ten rule. “One tool we can use was invented by Suzy Welch, a business writer. It’s called 10/10/10, and Welch describes it in a book of the same name. To use 10/10/10, we think about our decisions on three different time frames:

  • How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now?
  • How about 10 months from now?
  • How about 10 years from now?”
  • I make a list, and prioritize my tasks by weather, best time of day, urgency, etc. I also cross it out, great feeling and visual reminder that I can accomplish tasks!
  • Mail: I have a hanging file folder bin that is portable. I set it next to my chair, and get three bins, one for unopened mail, one for opened mail, and one for mail that must be answered. Also, pull up a trash bin. Immediately toss the junk mail to be recycled. Open, sort and stash mail that can wait. Mail that must be dealt with in a timely manner, put in the third bin so you can get to it when you are done. If you can, write your checks or complete your mail and put it in the envelope with the date due written on the back, and put in a place to be mailed about a week before it is due.
  • Plan your jobs so that you can rest every 15 minutes. If you cannot manage alone,
    research hiring someone, like a person or two to do physical labor, like raking your lawn! Church groups are always looking for ways to earn money for mission trips; as well as band students, College students, foreign language groups, Boy or Girl Scouts, or other such groups; and they usually take donations.
  • Microwave -Use a damp paper towel or rag, lie it across bottom of microwave, and ‘bake it’ for 40 seconds or more. I usually use Lysol before-couple of squirts.
  • I put Clorox and Windex wipes in my bathroom, wipe down counters and mirrors while brushing my teeth, clean shower while taking one with a sponge brush with cleanser in the handle. Put toilet bowl cleaner in, let it sit.
  • I purchased a chargeable, lightweight vacuum that has a handle that bends, to be used under a bed or sofa. Much easier than hauling out the big guns every time I vacuum!
  • When I clean the house, I get out 4-5 cloth recycle bags or paper grocery bags and set them up in the first room I clean. If I find something that goes in the kitchen, it goes in one bag; the bathroom, another bag, etc. That way, I am not walking all over the house and making unnecessary trips that wear me out. OR, I will make bags for the other people in the house, and drop it at their room for them to put away.
    I invested in a long handled “grabber” that has suction cups on the end, and a trigger pull handle. I like the kind that does NOT bend, they are stronger and last much longer.
  • If I am hurting, I only clean from my shoulder area to my hip area, so I don’t hurt myself further, or overextend my body.
  • I pace myself, making sure I am hydrated and take time to rest between activities. I also lie on my back with my legs elevated higher than my head for about 5-10 minutes.
  • Dishwasher-group items together by location. For example, put plates together, then bowls, etc-silverware by type in the basket=easy to put away, and faster.
  • If I will be on my feet for more than 15 minutes, I wear supportive slippers or shoes, even in the house. My feet (and arches) thank me later! I get hot easily, so I wear sandals with contoured soles for support. I do the same when I cook, it helps!
  • I use plastic grocery bags for used kitty litter, and for picking up wet paper towels or anything gross that I don’t want to touch with my hands.
  • Box of vinyl disposable gloves for extra cleaning
  • Long handled tools. I use a mop or floor scrubber on a pole for the tiles in the bathtub wall area and tub, if I cannot reach or bend. I look for tools with telescope (extending handles) and that can be stored and cared for easily.
  • I subconsciously tense my muscles, so I stop myself every so often, and think of different muscle groups, and see if I can relax them and release the tension.
  • I have to argue with myself about believing anything negative, or feel guilty for asking for help-everyone needs help, and it allows others to bless me; I love to help others, and it is important that they feel they can do the same for me, and we are both blessed! In the Greek culture, if someone offers to do something for you, like pay for your meal, you don’t argue-it is very offensive! You might as well slap them in the face! I have learned, long ago, do not argue!

My favorite cleaners are classics:

  • Original Windex
  • Lemon Pledge
  • Bar Keeper’s Friend
  • Lysol All Purpose Cleaner
  • Baking soda-sprinkle it, mist with a water spray bottle, let it set 10-15 minutes, wipe it off.
  • Clorox Lemon Wipes
  • Dreft soap instead of laundry detergent
  • Downy (original)
  • Old English Furniture Polish Lemon Oil and Walnut Stain

Products I love-a.k.a. My “lotions and potions”

  • Biofreeze- I keep a roll-on in my purse, gel at home. It helps with pain, as well as hot flashes. It also helps with growing pains and dealing with hot weather
  • Restless Legs Cream by Magnilife for Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Tiger Balm-warm, cinnamon smelling hot balm-use extremely sparingly!!!!
  • Vicks Vapor Rub-for aches and pains, and sinus issues. Also good for nausea, a dab by the nose helps.; on the feet or neck. Also helps with fungus on the nails.
  • Mints for nausea-if your mouth tastes ‘stale,’ it mimics the feel of a queasy stomach. If you use mints and breathe through your mouth, it helps with the nausea.
  • Witch Hazel-for buildup of ear wax, cleansing of skin; better than rubbing alcohol (I use it to clean my dog’s ears, as well. Gentle.
  • CeraVe products-best I have used for fragrance free, non clogging lotion and cream that my dermatologist recommended for my extremely sensitive skin. Helps with chapped lips and hands, as well.
  • Glucose tablets for blood sugar drops. Almonds, a Pay Day bar, etc in my purse.
  • Quality linens, especially soft sheets-I love sateen, doesn’t catch on my skin. Essential. The higher the thread count, the softer. Percale does not soften like sateen. Ask an associate at Bed, Bath, and Beyond or other linen stores for advice. Some fabrics ‘breathe’ much better than others; and BB & B will take items back, and you can use expired coupons and multiple in one purchase. Experiment with different fabrics.
  • Pillows are also essential. I use two body pillows, and a water pillow that I can adjust by adding liquid to suit my needs. I also have a small ‘bean bag’ pillow to tuck under my chin and upper chest for support. I also have a foam ‘egg crate’ layer and a fiber bed for softness.
  • Essential Oils- Pure, simple, and effective. Watch for diluted types. I put them on my temples, wrists, back of neck, base of spine, and under my nose. Also great for blocking foul odors, like cigarette smoke! I put some on so smells do not bother me.
  • Bath & Body Works has a lot of great items. I was a manager there for years, and I am familiar with the process of making and the ingredients for many of their products. The aromatherapy line is wonderful!
  • “Stress Relief” eucalyptus and spearmint for relaxation
  • Orange and Ginger for invigoration and energy
  • Lavender/Vanilla. They have pillow mists that can be sprayed on your sheets without staining. I swear by these! I use the lavender/vanilla every night.
  • Candles with a candle warmer instead of lighting the wicks.
  • “True Blue Spa” line that has shea butter (my favorite,) and other natural, fragrance free products for hands, feet, skin, whatever.
  • Epsom salt baths, or oatmeal baths. Wonderful way to ease stress and help my body. I have to be careful, because of my heart and blood pressure. Read the labels.
  • Thermal curtain “black out” panels-they hang behind your curtains, and help block out the sun and temperature extremes. Great for migraines! A tension rod can be used for hallways or rooms without doors.
  • Tan tinted sunglasses. Great for migraines or sensitive eyes while indoors.
  • “White noise” machine. A small machine that plays sounds like waves, rain, etc. for drowning out other sounds, to aid in sleep.
  • Music-classical music calms me, as well as soft instrumental music. My all time favorites are “Return To Pooh Corner,” by Kenny Loggins; and Dino: “All Creation Sings,” “In The Midst Of The Storm,” and “Majestic Peace.” Anthony Burger and George Winston, as well as Enya, are personal favorites of mine. I read somewhere that concentration and memory increases 10% while listening to classical music. The instrumental, rhythmic time, and non repeating melodies help.
  • CD of weather-thunderstorms, ocean waves, etc. Inspirational music is great!
  • Fan or other air machine. Humidifier, etc. Depending on your needs, make sure you are keeping your bedroom at a cool, dry temperature. If your room is too dry, the humidifier makes all the difference with dry skin in the winter. A bedroom is ideal at 65* to 68* to sleep well, but whatever works for you.
  • Footwear-believe it or not, having the proper socks makes a huge difference! If you have trouble with circulation, a longer sock that has some compression helps, diabetic socks work well. Try not to wear any socks or stockings that leave indentations or ‘marks’ on your legs. I have several different lengths and weights of socks, and I change them as needed.
  • Slippers are crucial-use whatever works for you. I also wear sandals with arch supports or slippers with arch supports in the house when I will be standing for more than 10 minutes. It makes a HUGE difference in leg cramps and pain. I cannot use the kind that have no heel, aka ‘mules.’ Flip flops don’t work for me, neither do mules and such, because I find that my feet tense up, and they fall off. Pay close attention to what your legs and feet are doing when wearing footwear. I use gel arch supports, cutting them to just fit under the ball of my feet to the heel, because I have ‘Morton’s foot,” a common Fibromyalgia attribute. If I don’t use support, my arches and bursitis flare up.
  • lip balm or gloss
  • Saline nasal spray, for when my nose gets too dry.
  • Saline eye drops, for dry eyes.
  • Gel flex toe spacers, not to be confused with the kind that are used for pedicures. They really help with cramping and bursitis, etc. If I will be on my feet for more than 15 minutes in the house, I wear sandals or slippers with arch supports.
  • Gold Bond medicated powder. Great with menthol. Just not on the ‘pink parts!’
  • Foot pain and “Charley horse” relief: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Cross one leg over the other knee, and draw ‘A to Z’ with your foot in the air. Repeat with other leg.
  • Wraps and massage: Any kind of back, foot, neck, etc. massager or something that can be warmed in the microwave, etc to help. I have a whole collection of hand, foot, back, neck, and eye packs. Sunbeam has a Reneu Tension Relieving Heat Therapy Wrap that is shaped for neck and shoulders.
  • Gel or sand filled ice packs, refrigerated cooling pads, heating pads, eye masks, etc. “The Original Bed Buddy” line from BB&B is wonderful, and Jobar International has a great cooling pad. Anything that can be heated/chilled, AND reused.
  • Fireplace scenes, nature scenes, etc. I love “Fantasia,” and I have a fireplace DVD that just shows different scenes, with or without music or sound effects. Just the visual of the fireplace with the crackling logs is calming. Mountain, water, whatever works for you. It helps me focus my pain on other things, and calms my body and mind. Our cable company has an “Ambient TV” channel that shows various scenes with music.
  • Poetry- If reading is too difficult, poetry is short and sweet, and very uplifting!
  • Crossword puzzles, games, light reading. Very good to wake up my brain, distract me from my pain, or to get my mind off of stress. Hobbies or crafts help, as well.
  • “Mood” lighting. I don’t use a night light. I prefer to use a string of tiny lights that are usually used for Christmas. I prefer that over a ‘nightlight’, and it is also useful when young children are scared of the dark. It is less glaring, and can be as bright or dim as you choose. I change them with the seasons. I also like fiber optic lights, and a few choice lights that make stars on the ceiling, etc. Make sure the path to the door is clear.
  • Color-I have floral lined paths, inspirational sayings, soft landscapes, etc as artwork, and I painted my room a soft mauve. I used to have a sea foam green room, which was so amazing when the sunset created warm light on the walls.
  • Bras-I have a shelf bra from Cacique/Lane Bryant that helps give support without any issues. I also like their cotton non underwire bras, and their back smoothing bras. Any good bra fitter can help, and I wrote a bra fitting guide that will help with sizing and style.
  • Pajamas-I have a very large lingerie collection! I worked for Victoria’s Secret for many years. I have slowly switched from lace and satin to silk and cotton, because my skin is so sensitive. I also wear men’s pajama bottoms, because my legs are so long. Whatever works for you, just have different weights and lengths for different needs. I change my clothing at least three or four times a day, depending on my temperature and activity needs. Take the elastic out, and replace it with a ribbon or string tie, if needed. Cut out the tags, if they bother you. Cotton and silk are favorite fabrics, and sleeping in the nude may work the best.
  • Pet therapy-my ‘angel kitty’ does more for me than I can say! Helps with sleep, anxiety, blood pressure, etc. My dog and cat lick my tears away, and snuggle with me when I am hurting. They know.
  • My Arsenal-Stuffed animals and special blankets. I have “Sick Bunny,” a white and pink small stuffed rabbit that my dad gave me before one of my surgeries. When I am upset, I cry or squeeze him. I also have a soft, fuzzy blanket that my mom gave me for Christmas that her friend hand made for me. The person I lost calls it “Schmooey,” and it makes me feel better. I cried when I got it, my nephew cried when he got under it, and it has made my nephews and I feel better when sick or upset. Similar idea to “Soft Kitty,” from The Big Bang Theory.” I have a singing “Soft Kitty,” and I just bought a big teddy bear to use to prop up my arms so that they don’t go numb in the night. Whatever works! If I am upset, I squeeze it like a stress ball. I even found a tiny stuffed version of my cat. It stays in my purse, for when I am anxious.
  • When I am anxious, I try to breathe slowly and carefully, look for four things around the room that are blue, three that are green, two that are white, one black. I tell myself that panic attacks are like Charley Horse cramps-they come on out of nowhere, are painful and scary, but are not permanent. Keep calm and stretch out gently, and ease into normal pattern. Rest and ease up your muscles, it will go away.
  • Keep essential items close at hand-nightstand, a caddy by your chair, whatever.
  • Funny TV shows/movies- I watch them when I wake up, and before I go to bed. I want something light and happy to put me in a better mood. I don’t want to go to sleep with scary or upsetting images in my head. I have the full series of several comedies, and I try to laugh out loud.
  • A big, lightweight drink holder. I use a plastic Mason jar with straw and handle-refill it a dozen times a day.
  • MIO electrolytes -drink liquid additive with vitamins. Helps with muscle cramps
  • Keep a warm cardigan, pair of socks, and throw blanket handy
  • Did you know that moods follow the path of daylight? When I wake up, I am sluggish. Mid morning to mid afternoon is my best time for moods and energy. After 4, I start to lose energy. The later the day, the worse my pain and emotional state gets; and the later I stay up at night, the worse my depression. I have to logically remind myself that SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder affects me daily, as well as with the seasons. Knowledge is key. Knowing this helps me to feel more “normal.”
  • Look for adaptive clothing, items for diabetics, elderly, pregnant, and hospital.
  • Prayer. Last, but not least. Talking to God, and having faith and hope that it will get better, that I have Him to give me strength, and that He loves me and understands how much I hurt without saying a word is so crucial. Believing in His power and His angels helps me so much! Making a few cards with verses helps! A daily devotional that I love is the Duck Commander Devotional. Easy, “non preachy,” useful and positive. The Bible is my solace. I wake up every day with renewed hope and resilience; when I am in “The Dark Place,” I remind myself that my body and brain are at war, and to just hang in there and ride it out, and wait until morning.