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My mother and I backstage at Carnegie Hall,

On the Tightrope

But she wasn’t around, and that’s the thing when your parents die, you feel like instead of going in to every fight with backup, you are going into every fight alone.
―Mitch Albom, For One More Day

On June 5, 2016, it will have been five years since my mother died. Somehow I feel like I never really grew up until she was gone. I feel now like I am walking a highwire without the net that I had always sensed beneath me, always took for granted without really noticing it was there. My father died when I was in my twenties and that was hard enough but my mother was there. Always. We fought, we bitched and sometimes I felt like she was the biggest pain – but she was always there.

I have to admit, I didn’t appreciate all she did for me when she was alive. I was too wrapped up in my own drama and my own story about what she “didn’t do” or “hadn’t done”. Now that she is gone, I think of so many things and I realize every day what my responsibility was in our relationship. I would so like to apologize for what I did, what I said, to tell her I am sorry I was such an ingrate, so unfeeling sometimes to the point where she said once that she was afraid of me. But I have only realized those things now because that net is gone and that feeling of vertigo is what makes me look in the first place.

My neighbor above me where I teach has a little boy, just under two years old. My neighbor is beautiful, intelligent and strong willed. She is over 30 and a therapist. She has always seemed to me to have everything going for her.-But I watch her struggle every day not to give in to her feelings of frustration, confusion and anger when her son doesn’t want to do what she would like him to do. He is a little ray of sunshine most of the time but she told me that last week he threw himself down in the middle of street screaming and beating his hands on the pavement. She wasn’t even sure why he did it. She had a look on her face I will never forget.

And I think of my mother, beautiful, intelligent and strong-willed and the mother of three children before she was 25 in an era where women were supposed to function regardless of what they were going through or how overwhelmed they felt. When I was five, my mother pushed my father to support her to finish her degree so that she could teach school. It was unusual at the time and I really see myself in that bull-headedness. I know that she “felt” better after she started teaching, more herself, more in control. And the money she made was used for us. It helped pay for all of our schooling and got everyone of us out of a financial disaster or two. Funny enough, I never saw that as an expression of her love. Not until she was gone. I never understood what money might mean to a depression baby, who had lived on the road during World War II because her father was a colonel in the army and they moved a lot. Now I know and it is too late to tell her.

I think of her every day. I miss her every day. For some things, there a no second chances. Take every chance you get to say I love you. Don’t wait.

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Our Wedding Picture

Fourth Wedding Anniversary

Drum prüfe, wer sich ewig bindet, Ob sich das Herz zum Herzen findet! Der Wahn ist kurz, die Reu ist lang / Therefore consider, those who would marry, whether a heart finds a heart. Illusion is short, remorse is long – Schiller

On December 27, 2009, Wolfgang Michel and I got married in a small ceremony in the my mother’s church in Austin, Minnesota. We had actually been living together for 13 years at that point but like the quote says…
I had always dreamed what my wedding would be like and had very specific ideas what I would like to have but I didn’t get what I wanted. Trying to make the arrangements from 4500 miles away and the fact that my mother was already sick didn’t help matters. And I seem generally to have a problem communicating what I want to people. My husband complains about it all the time. But somehow the series of minor disasters makes it a story worth telling.

We planned the wedding at Christmas time to combine the visit with my mother’s favorite time of year, so I imagined lots of velvet and green and red. My sister-in-law – now ex – who was going to be my bridesmaid went out and bought a dress and planned what my brother should wear as the best man without asking me anything about what I wanted. It was announced to me by my mother. I didn’t feel like I could ask her to buy something else because of the cost and so I caved and we all wore black because that is what she had planned. Even though I wear a lot of black, it seemed to me to be more like a funeral than a wedding.

I found a picture of exactly the bouquet I wanted in the internet and sent it to my mother to give to the florist. When the flowers were delivered to the church, it was nothing like what I had asked for. The florist had apparently insisted on making it with full stems so that it could be used as an arrangement in a vase after the wedding. That I could hardly hold this log of flower stems and that I was getting on a plane the next day and couldn’t possibly take the “bouquet” that way on the plane was something nobody seemed to think about.

The man my mother chose to conduct the ceremony she chose because she had a crush on him. He was a nice man, a “free” minister not associated with any church but he also seemed to have problems understanding me. He kept saying, “It’s your wedding, you can have things how you want” and then refused to listen to either me or Wolfgang about how we envisioned the ceremony. It went so far that in the courthouse getting the license, we were so involved in trying to convince him not to do some silly things that I didn’t notice that my name was spelled incorrectly on the license – one “n” instead of two. When I tried later to change it back, they said it was now official and to change it I would have to pay $600 for an official name change.

At the rehearsal, even though my mother was ill, the minister kept insisting that she walk down the 50 foot aisle alone. Against my protests she also insisted on doing it in the rehearsal. At the wedding itself, she admitted it was too much for her and did as I had suggested, standing at the last pew and joining me when I got there. A lot of aggravation for nothing.

A good friend was supposed to sing at the wedding and several people, friends of mine, had talked about coming. Unfortunately, that was a Minnesota Christmas with a terrible snow storm. Planes were delayed, driving was terrible, nearly everybody had to cancelled. One of my mother’s best friends had already said she wouldn’t come which made my mother very upset and then the next door neighbor, who was very close to my mother, announced casually to Wolfgang while they were both shoveling snow that he wasn’t going to come either. I called him and begged and cried till he gave in and agreed to come. I knew it would mean a lot to her that he was there and the way things were going, we weren’t sure if maybe he would be the only guest.

In the end, it was a small ceremony, just my mother, my younger brother and his family, a couple relatives and a few of my mother’s friends. The organist played the songs that were supposed to have been sung on an out-of-tune piano, my sister-in-law strode down the aisle so fast I could hardly keep up. The minister jumbled the vows – cracking us up when Wolfgang repeated him saying, “in sickness and in hell.” He also almost forgot to let us read the vows we had written and pretty much made a mess of the thing. In the end, we survived and it was legal.

The only thing that was even remotely like what I had in mind was the dinner after the ceremony at a nice place in town. That had also been a big discussion. My mother had originally wanted fried chicken from the local supermarket served on paper plates in her living room. With the help of my sister-in-law, I got her to make a reservation at a nice place. Unfortunately the caterers had no clue really of what I had in mind and had certainly never heard of green beans almondine and so they served canned green beans with whole almonds with the skins still on. It all looked kind of like a church supper from my youth without the jello salad. The cake was good though. I had insisted on real butter frosting and this time I got what I asked for.

The few people that were there made the thing worthwhile, allowing my mother – who had pretty much given up hope that I would ever marry – to celebrate the day and be the “mother of the bride”. A year later when they found the tumors in her brain she said, “Maybe it would have been better if I had died with the heart attack in July (2009).” And I reminded her that then she wouldn’t have been at my wedding, which was already in the planning when she got sick. She kind of silently agreed that in that case it was ok.

Six months later we had a big party in our yard in Germany, nearly 100 guest, a small orchestra that my husband conducted including a piece he composed, I sang, we danced, an entertainer gave a show, and there were 6 grills cooking not to mention all the potato salad and drinks. In a way that was really my “wedding”. But I still feel like something is missing because there is a bad feeling about that first experience that I will never be able to change. I even argued with my mother about my disappointment just months before she died. Something I am not proud of and very sorry about but I just couldn’t let it go. Lesson to be learned – don’t compromise, go for what you want. Although I really believe in the power of second chances or third or even fourth chances with some things, even if you get a second chance, it isn’t quite the same.

For our anniversary, here are our vows:

The possibility I create for me and my life
is to be an opening for a fulfilled relationship
in which I create a space for
love, inspiration, personal power and freedom.
I am a stand for loving you how you are
and for being there so you can live your life in full self expression.
It is my commitment to inspire you
to bring every possibility you want to create into existence,
and to inspire you that you can have and be everything
you want to have and want to be.
This is our love.

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