A CONVERSATION WITH GINGER

 

 

(L to R) Ginger, Kevin and Sean 

Happy 49th Birthday Ginger Lee Gillis!

I want to give you the biggest hug ever!!  You know your mom has a vivid imagination right?  I AM HUGGING YOU FROM AFAR!

Today i feel a flood of emotions erupting from the depths of my soul forcing tears that stream down my cheeks as i imagine you looking into my eyes with that wonderful smile.  My broken heart is beginning to mend but i continue longing for what i cannot have. It is MY wish for a real conversation with you, encompassing the you I missed over the years, the you who was taken from me one piece at a time.   Far too many parents have similarly experienced the gradual but relentless loss of a child due to emotional or mental illness and/or addiction.

I cannot imagine the pain you were experiencing.  I know you made choices which helped determine your destiny and others which were out of your control. There were times i thought i knew the real Ginger but they were short lived.  In those moments, i imagined you were going to come back to me but you could not! Today i choose to focus on those short lived moments with you when laughter erupted giving me a glimmer of hope that i would experience the old Ginger  “This Time”.

Ginger I know from time to time you dreamed big dreams!!  When you were very young you spoke of becoming a singer. We knew that would never work out following your performance as Miss Hannigan in The Musical Annie revealed you were tone deaf.  A few years later you thought teaching children might be a place to land, “some day”.

Ginger, there were those hopeful times when we thought you would do IT!  Times when we expected to celebrate your accomplishments only to be disappointed one more time.  IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!

Drugs and Mental Illness drove those dreams far away from you and you from us.  

But……

Today on your Birthday, let’s CELEBRATE YOU!

If you were in this room at this very moment, i would ask you many questions and tell you over and over how much I love you and miss you. We would remember our times sitting at the kitchen table with your siblings, playing a game, sharing an idea, and laughing together.   I choose to remember the bright eyed little girl who smiled your smile and asked too many questions. The beautiful Ginger who imagined an innocent world full of people who loved on her.

You know Ginger, you were trusting and naive, always wandering ahead of us talking to anyone who would listen to you.  It is beyond my comprehension that someone you trusted and an illness we didn’t understand, stole your sweet innocence.  I wish those drugs and demons hadn’t taken away your dreams and you from us. If I had known what i know now, i would have personally hunted them down until they were no more!  I know you suffered far more than any of us could think or imagine.

Ginger, I want you to know, you were an amazing daughter, and I count it a privilege to be your mother.  I use the present tense, because in many ways you are here with me today if only in my memory.  I believe mothers have an understanding, or a connection,  perhaps it comes through the umbilical cord.  I cannot explain it but it is part of you and therefore a part of me.

I celebrate your love for your sons when through those difficult years you loved them the best you could.  After you passed, and I cleaned your room i felt your love for them as i viewed their pictures taped and strewn around your desk.  Sean and Kevin’s school pictures, photographs of you holding each of them as babies, pictures of them together with arms around each other. These vivid images spoke of your love for them.  The pictures, displayed in simple frames showed your sons at all ages. Sadly, Kevins pictures ended at age thirteen but your love for him didn’t.  I thought of the guilt and pain you felt after his tragic death.  As I reflected tears flowed easily washing away my preconceived judgments.

Ginger,  You were bright like your dad, and lucky to have inherited his sense of humor.  So many times he reminded me that you were the child who laughed and understood his sick jokes.  The two of you loved sports and could spend hours watching Phillies or Eagles games, talking about Batting Averages, Trades, and Bad Umpire Calls.  You vicariously experienced your Dads adventure at Phillies Phantasy Camp listening as he described his time there. As usual you asked him many questions, holding on to every detail.  You were most interested to know his coach was Dallas Green and you were impressed that Phillies Coach Larry Bowa signed a baseball for him.  It was as though you were on the field in Clearwater with your “Daddy” experiencing every pitch and every at bat.  

Ginger, I loved how you loved people including your loyalty and ability to see beyond their appearances.  While some judged, you accepted and loved them always seeing the good.  This was an amazing attribute but unfortunately one which also made you vulnerable.  If i could have known then what i know now!

Yes, Ginger, I’ve learned lessons from you through your life and death.

You taught me  “Something Stronger was in Control of You”

It was a long time before i could understand your struggles.  I don’t pretend to have understood the power drugs played in your life, but i know they caused you to lose perspective.  I also know that early emotional trauma compounded your journey.  Although there were many times i believed you would be healed, I learned God had other plans.

You taught me to  “Keep Moving”

No matter your life’s circumstances or your deepest pain, you continued moving and when you fell, you stood up placed one foot in front of the other and continued to walk.  There were times i wondered if you would survive your life for one more day, but you did!! There were days I’d call you, and you would assure me you were doing fine and safe.  There were nights I could not sleep, worried you would die in the cold winter weather.  Many days I feared you were homeless but Ginger, you proved you were a survivor!

There were many times, You were sober and then you were using .  Your AA/NA community offered hope and encouragement to continue your sobriety.  Although it was an up and down journey, you stayed connected to your groups. You brought smiles to this recovery community, giving of yourself, when you had little materially to offer.  You became the groups “Baker” providing cookies and cakes for their meetings, a memory those friends shared at your funeral. You were the best Baker and Cookie Maker!

You taught me about “Truth” and “Love”

What is Truth?  And  What is Love?

Yes you lied to me often which brought sadness to my heart,  but somehow i knew inside of you there was truth waiting to come out.  Sometimes You told me you hated me then later wrapped your arms around me professing your love for me “to the moon and back.”  Were they both true? Of course they were!

You taught me lessons about my own “Grief Journey”

Through your death, i learned that Grief is a path we travel alone!  Your sister and your brothers are walking their own grief road having lost their father and now you.  I cannot understand what it is like to lose a sibling and especially one whose life’s journey deeply affected their life, but they cannot know (i hope they never will) know the pain of losing a child.

I am Grateful!

I am grateful to love and share time with your son, my Grandson Sean.  He is an amazing young man and you would be proud of him!!  He’s doing well, just as you would have expected, and now there’s a special person in his life and he is happy.  Sean is a gift we will forever treasure!

You taught me “Life must go On”

Ginger, We are pleased to partner with the Salvation Army’s  “New Day Drop in Center”

New Day, located in the Epicenter of the Opioid Crisis in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, is a place for women to come inside and find respite from their difficult journey.  The women who walk into “New Day” suffer trauma through Human Trafficking,  Addiction, and Mental Illness.   New Day offers them a safe space to receive love and affirmation.  They are offered vital resources such as a meal, snack, clothing, shower and Hygiene kits.  It is also a place where they can choose to speak privately to someone.   The programs at New Day are focused on women who have lost control of their life, helping them find a path to hope, healing and a holistic life.  It is a place to give them a chance to start fresh.  

Love you and miss you Ginger

Mom

Dear Friends,

We choose to remember Ginger and all those who have passed or are currently suffering from addiction and mental illness.  

Please use this link to share your contribution to “NEW DAY” in Gingers name or in the name of a loved one you choose to remember.  

You may write a short message, conveying your hope and love for them in the comment section of this blog.

 

Give Today

To DonateCLICK HERE

With Love and Gratitude!

If you would like Pat to speak to your group, you may contact her through her blog or directly at 267-832-8716

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views, official or position of The Salvation Army, its organization or management.  Assumptions made in the analysis of this blog are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author.  Comments on this blog and/or website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writers will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that result from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment.

BELL FREE

I heard my first Bell when my Grandmother yelled as i ran out the door, “Don’t run, you’ll fall and hurt yourself” Many years later she informed me that as a young child she was afraid to let go of me because i would quickly run away from her. While living on the farm, I enjoyed running to the barn, sitting on the ground and watching my uncle milk the cows. I wandered the corn fields chasing butterflies, and sometimes climbed the old rusty red tractor parked amid the stalks.
I believe I was a fast runner, but since my only playmate was Rover my dog, (and he wasn’t telling) I never thought about it. There were times, I ran so fast, I’d fall and skin my knees, stand and run again.


A few years later i moved to a small town with lots of sidewalks allowing me to roller skate and ride my bike. It was my favorite bike, a small blue road-master with a silver bell on the handle bars and a basket for my doll. One day while riding and paying no attention to where I was going, I plowed into a “Watch Children Sign”. The trip to Dr Romanos office was messy as I held a towel around my leg to stop the bleeding. To make matters worse, my mother was car less, requiring us to ride the town bus to visit the doctor. He placed twelve stitches below my right knee, leaving an ugly scar which joined my other scars. Dr Romano promised to give me a root beer lollipop if I didn’t cry but he ran out of root beer pops. I was sad.
You may believe those stitches would have encouraged me to slow down, or taught me to watch where i was going? Never! Of course my Grandmother’s words continued to haunt me. “Don’t run, you’ll fall and hurt yourself”. “Ok Grandma, I have a confession to make, “I wasn’t running, i was riding my bike”.

As I reflect on those events, I believe life was mostly black and white for me and full of Bells and expectations. If I did this, then this would happen, or If I failed to complete a task I would suffer the consequences.

Early on it was evident rules were a problem for me. I imagined the word NO could easily be changed to YES, and I was going to figure it out. My earliest recollection of this challenge occurred the first day of First Grade. I boarded the big yellow school bus with its flashing lights, giant steps and vinyl seats that stuck to my legs. It was onboard the bus I heard my second Bell “Sit down or lose your bus riding privileges”. If it weren’t for Miki Melovich, I’d have been walking to school in five feet of snow, three miles up hill, and barefoot. Yes, i stood up twice that day and Miki accepted the blame for me, or maybe i placed the blame on him. To this day I’m not clear on the details, but from that moment on, I was in love with Miki Melovich.

While in elementary school, READING, RITING, and RECESS were my favorite subjects. Reading group was a challenge for me and not because i was a poor reader, it was quite the opposite. I was a good reader, but Mrs Derby my teacher required me to sit next to “Teddy Thompson”. Teddy was a kind quiet boy with black messy hair and wore the same dirty pants to school every day or at least it looked that way to me. I noticed! To make matters worse, he was a very slow reader which made me crazy. Mrs Derby believed it was important for Teddy to receive encouragement from those who’d mastered the reading skill. Back in the day teachers referred to-us as Red Birds and Blue Birds, but we knew who we were, while recognizing the Teddy Thompson’s” placed among us.

I remember a day when it was Teddys turn to read the next paragraph in our reading book. I perceived myself to be a “Kind” little girl, so I chose to “Help” him pronounce the words. It was my first recognition of my character defect which i now understand as ”IMPATIENCE”.

MRS DERBY wasn’t a bit happy with me and stood shaking and pointing her index finger at me while firmly using the words “SHAME ON YOU”! I suppose if i had corrected Teddy only once, she may have understood. Unfortunately, it was the third time around for Pat and Teddy Thompson.

Mrs Derby directed me to the corner of the room where I was forced to face the wall and be reminded of my transgressions forever. I was totally humiliated and embarrassed but, mostly sad when I realized Mrs Derby had forgotten about me causing me to miss recess. I loved recess, and on most days i was the first out the door to play with my jump rope, and last in line to return to class when the bell rang. It was on that day, I Cried!

As a teenager, life presented Bells of freedom as well as larger expectations. The big school Bell at the end of the hall rang loudly signaling the change of classes. I was expected to make my way to my next class on time. On several occasions the Bell rang, and I walked into class late using various excuses such as “I was retrieving my homework from my locker” or “My locker was on the other side of the building”. The truth was somewhere in the middle and more about socializing with friends on important school related issues such as “CUTE BOYS”!

Soon I found myself studying, working and embracing additional time schedules, and Bells. When the Bell rang to signify the end of the day I ran to cheerleading practice, or a field hockey game. As part of the cheerleading squad, I was expected to commit each cheer to memory along with the choreography needed to coordinate with my teammates. It sounds simple enough right? The problem was I didn’t understand football, and couldn’t remember when I should move from one end of the field to the other. Fortunately my teammates took pity on me and encouraged me to follow them. It worked!!
Over the years, my bells became louder and expectations continued to influence my life. Some of them along with fears were self imposed. Religion played a large part in my life as i was taken to church and Sunday school, and taught God loved me unconditionally. From a young teen i questioned everything and became an observer of human behavior including the way many people of faith spoke one way but lived their lives to the contrary. In the church where i grew up, you were either in or out, going to heaven or to hell. These people often forgot the “joy filled living” part of Jesus’ message. Casting Crowns a Christian Band wrote and sang a song explaining that brand of Christianity in this way “No one knows what we are for, only what we are “against”. The Casting Crowns group continued their message with “Open our eyes to a world at the end of our pointing fingers”. People are not our projects!

As a Pastors wife, (I know i can’t believe it either) a journey I chose when I accepted my husbands marriage proposal at age 19. Of course I had no idea how life would work, but i was in love, and somehow in my young heart i felt called to be a partner in ministry with him. Many years later we were having a serious conversation-about life when he admitted, “Pat although you came with a dose of immaturity and naivety, I loved you and knew you had potential”! I believe that was a compliment! Somehow over many years i acquired some maturity and wisdom. I think!

I spent much time studying working listening and remaining present with church people and those outside of the church. Along the way, I came to the realization, I didn’t have all the answers to so many questions, but i worship a Big God who sees the Big Picture. (although sometimes i wish he’d let me in on it.)

One question I have been asked umpteen times is “Why does God allow suffering”? A recent example being a young women I mentored in a church we served who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. Why? Our baby boy dying of a severe birth defect age 4 months. Why? Thousands dying in the World Trade Center. Why? My Grandson committing suicide at age 13. Why? A mentally ill daughter killed in an accident whose life was filled with Opiod abuse. Why?

My husband and i debated many issues revolving around theology and church. I loved offering my not so humble opinions to him as he prepared his sermons and shared his ideas with me. I would ask him lots of questions such as “What will this sermon mean to the people who are listening, and how can they apply it to their life”? I always ended our discussions with “What’s the bottom line Bob”? Sometimes he listened!!

“The Perfect Pastors Wife” Bell sometimes pushed me to run and hide under the (pew) radar screen to a safe place. In no way was i the stereotypical perfect Pastors wife. In fact I considered it a compliment when people told me i didn’t remind them of a Pastors Wife. I immediately asked them for their definition? Their answers usually made me laugh as they related words like Perfect Phony Angry and Unhappy. Fortunately over the years i was privileged to know a few Pastors wives who were authentic and some who became my friends and role models. I am reminded of a woman (aka pastors wife) who came into the church inline skating with her children. She was a keeper becoming my long time friend and cohort in crime.

Having lived the life of a PW for many years, I understand the pressure to be perfect, to conform to the expectations of congregants while at the same time caring for children and supporting their spouse in the “fishbowl”of the church. I learned many life lessons as a Pastor’s wife including who i could and could not trust. I was immensely grateful to find a support network through individuals and especially through my small Discipleship Group where i could mostly be myself. Lot’s of people loved on me, supported me, and at times held me accountable, while many became my closest friends.

For my husband, a heavier and much louder Bell rang out, when a population of people placed him on a pedestal he neither desired nor would accept. He was an amazing leader but also a wise and humble man who shared and lived his life authentically, choosing at times to remain in the background, standing on a smaller stage. He received many words of encouragement and affirmation for his service and gave the God he served the credit. He once told me, “In this business it’s too easy to read my own Press Releases”. Over the years he observed a few of his colleagues fall into that trap. Unfortunately many continue to live there and stand in awe of themselves, and a few sadly have fallen in disgrace.

When it was time for us to retire from Full Time Ministry, a Bell rang signaling both sadness and freedom. It was time for us to listen to the Bell of fun and relaxation. Although my husband worked part time in retirement, we were privileged to enjoy a lighter time schedule enabling us to spend time with our Grandchildren, and do some traveling.

A few years later, a Loud and Demanding Bell rang summoning me to action. The Bell was noisy and stretched me more than I could ever have imagined, as my husband fell ill with a catastrophic illness that eventually claimed his life. This Bell called to me each day, for ten months and demanded my full attention as I cared for his needs. It was the Bell of suffering as I viewed this once vibrant, wise and kind man slowly and painfully disappear from sight. Soon this servant, was listening to his God ring the Bell calling him to heaven. During and after his illness this Bell elicited many strong emotions in me, including empathy, hope, compassion, frustration, anger and subsequent loneliness. It was a Bell calling and encouraging me to journal each day, and begin writing about the real stuff in my life.

Several months later i listened to an unexpected Bell inviting me to a New Life. This Bell caught me by surprise causing me some fear. The Bell clearly encouraged me to be brave, take risks, and trust my instincts. It taught me to believe in myself and encouraged me to stand alone accomplishing things I never believed were possible. In addition, it rang out another clear message, showing me I could LOVE, AND BE LOVED AGAIN. The Bell continues to enlist my attention, makes me smile, gives me new hope, and takes me to places beyond my imagination.

More recently Bells of Joy ring out for me calling me to stop whatever i am doing to be present with my Grandchildren. I am choosing to listen, observe and encourage them. The Bell sounds with gratitude for them and for their parents who love them and stay engaged in their lives, while sacrificing on their behalf.

Sometimes I beg these grandchildren for tech help, as well as fashion and makeup advice. I smile when at least one of my Granddaughter’s will give me “The Look” which communicates I may want to reconsider my clothing choice or make up application.

Several of these Grandchildren are grown now, some in college and a few out blazing their careers. These young adults cause me to take notice as they begin to embrace their own passions, and follow their dreams I love to listen to their stories, seek to understand their language, laugh with them, and encourage them. At times they tease me and talk about their “Crazy Mom Mom”. I work at being transparent, reminding them they will make mistakes but they can learn from them. I want to encourage them to be the best version of themselves, as they go through life listening to their own Bells. I encourage them to stand up for what is true, honest and just. Most importantly, I tell them, they can and will make a difference in this world!

More Recently Bells are calling me to “Be Still”, and remember that God walks with me each day, and places great people in my life who accompany me on this journey. These Bells cause me to focus my attention on memories which oftentimes make me smile and more recently shed tears as i remember loved ones who have been taken from me much too soon.

Today I choose to listen as my Bells continue to ring loud and clear, teaching me valuable lessons. They remind me to enjoy simple pleasures, never stop learning and growing, encourage me to be hopeful, courageous, and yes…..sometimes OUTRAGEOUS!

I am Grateful that today, “I WILL NEVER BE BELL FREE!
Patricia Gillis

THAT WAS PATTY

It’s hard to believe this is my last week in NC.  It’s been an amazing time filled with walking, writing, and watching my Turtle Family.  It’s been fun to walk, breathe in warmer air and spend so much time with old friends as well as meeting new ones.

Today, I’m ready to post another short story to my blog.  This story makes me smile and at the same time, brings tears to my eyes.  It is a story of love, it is a story about my friend and sister in law Patty. She departed this earth over a year ago leaving an empty space in my heart, but a plethora of memories to last me a lifetime.  

I am GRATEFUL BECAUSE……

That was Patty!

“Do what is Fair and Just to your neighbor”.  “Be Compassionate and Loyal in your Love, and Don’t take yourself too seriously”. TAKE GOD SERIOUSLY!

That was Patty!  

It was a warm summer afternoon in 1964, when we arrived at her home a few miles away. I was invited to enjoy a picnic in her backyard and to meet this woman Patty. Greeting us at the front door, were three very cute children and Ron her husband. In a short moment i heard this voice in the background inviting us to please come in. Along with our welcome, I could hear the nervous little giggle i would forever identify as Patty

On that beautiful afternoon i added two words to my vocabulary. Patty referred to the Hot Dogs she was serving as TUBE STEAKS,

But, most importantly i was introduced to this Patty woman who would become my sister in law, and my friend! Patty and i spent the rest of the day laughing and talking.  She was a warm, kind and friendly person and I knew immediately i wanted her to be a part of my life. Did I mention she was the quintessential Hostess? That was Patty!

Over the years we spent much time together, as sister in laws and good friends. She was a most loving and trustworthy kind of friend.  Over the 51 years i knew her, i never heard her repeat gossip or speak unkindly of anyone. Patty treated others equally and justly. That was Patty!

When we were together, our conversations sometimes continued into the night as we drank our tea and shared life.  At times we resembled two schoolgirls giggling and laughing ourselves silly but we easily transitioned into serious conversation, standing present with one another as we listened intently. That was Patty!

Over the years, Patty and i would frequently have our “GOD TALKS”.  Patty lived her faith in the most authentic way and although we disagreed on some issues, we could honestly and openly talk about it.  We worshipped the same God, and respected and loved one another. That was Patty!

My husband and I walked with Patty through her husband’s untimely death. She told us this difficult time in her life helped to grow her in many ways, as she stepped out on her own.  When Patty unsuccessfully searched for a Grief Group, she created one which was ultimately helpful to others as well as herself. Patty trusted God for her present as well as her future.  That was Patty!

Patty and I loved to shop, but i think she coined the phrase “shop til you drop”. Department store clothing departments were her favorite as evidenced by her overstuffed closets.  I loved Patty’s classic style, including her eye for matching the perfect jewelry to complete her ensemble. That was Patty!!

She loved to sew, including clothing for her children and created the most beautiful quilts.  I admired her work but would explain “Patty, If i were Betsy Ross, we’d still be waiting for the Flag”. She insisted i could learn to sew!  Later in life, Patty suggested i buy a sewing machine and promised to teach me. I tried explaining to her I’d tried a million times, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  She was determined i would magically become a quilter. Patty was the great encourager, and never gave up on me! I remember calling her in total frustration as i worked on a quilting project. She gently walked me through my issue then said “Pat, put your mind to it, you can learn to quilt”.  After a time, of sewing and ripping, and sewing and ripping, i realized, although i put my mind to it, i was actually losing my mind over it. Patty fully expected i would create a masterpiece, but It never happened! Patty understood, and love me anyway. That was Patty!

Patty journeyed with us following the birth and short life of our son Mark.  She sometimes cared for our other children while we spent time with him in the hospital.  Many years later Patty was present as we said goodbye to our 13 year old grandson, whose tragic death dramatically altered our lives.  While some people quoted Bible Verses, believing they were helpful, Patty communicated authentic caring that ultimately aided us as we began our healing journey.  I specifically remember Patty holding my hand, looking into my tear filled eyes and expressing “Pat I am here if you want to talk”. “I am sorry, and I wish i could take away your pain”.  That was Patty!

Approximately ten years ago, Patty  was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  It was a slow difficult decline of her cognitive abilities. Although I’ve been reminded that this disease is “The Longest Goodbye”, I found it to be a time of learning, affirming and a clear understanding that life on this earth is not our final destination.

In the beginning of Patty’s struggle with the disease, I assumed her memory loss was partly age related.  We agreed we were aging although, I would remind her i was the younger one. We joked about growing old telling our own stories of misplacing our keys, or going into a room and forgetting why we were there.  But once i understood the complexity of her disease, I wanted to be there to support her. Many times her brother and i prayed for a cure or a new medication to change the trajectory of this deadly disease. I wanted the disease to go away!!

Soon, as the  Alzheimer’s progressed, I realized i was grieving the loss of what was, and would never be again for us. It was at that moment i began to think of how difficult it was for her. Patty would try hard to think of a word she wanted to communicate and so many times it wouldn’t come out.  I continued to talk to her as if she could understand me while sometimes believing she could. I knew she was “In There” ! At times i needed to listen as she worked to communicate slowly and simply. I would pronounce the word i thought she meant and sometimes it worked. I knew one thing for sure,  Patty was becoming my teacher. She taught me about patience and suffering with grace and dignity. When she could barely verbalize words, she continued to speak (and sometimes to perfect strangers) in “Her Language”, always speaking with a smile on her face. Patty became my role model as she demonstrated living in the moment with impermanence.  
When she neared the end of her life on earth, Patty taught me how to be quietly present with someone you love. This lesson aided me when years later i sat with her brother as he lay dying from Esophageal Cancer.  Although at this point, Patty wasn’t communicating verbally she taught me the language of “HUG”. Patty gave the best hugs!! That was Patty!

When she passed, i listened carefully to those who served her physical needs at the nursing home.  They shared their stories of Patty touching their lives as they cared for her. They spoke of her gentle spirit, smile and kindness.  They cried too and told us they were going to miss her. That was Patty!

I miss you Patty, but i am grateful you were part of my life all those years.  Thank you for making a difference in my life, and for your compassion, love and courage.  You taught me so many life lessons!

That was Patty!

Chance Encounter

It was a short walk on a very long Florida Beach for Don and Pat (Two Crazy Old People) Early morning walks are best for us as our minds are crisp and clear allowing our conversations to flow. On this day, we found ourselves jumping from one topic to another endeavoring to remain on track. Our intermittant laughter continued to erupt while we pretended to figure out life sharing our thoughts and insights with one another. As we advanced our walk and conversation, we became oblivious to the cracking seashells under our feet and the wet sand squishing into our sneakers. This was our time to spend enjoying one another, the beautiful gulf view, and awesome beach.

For some reason when we are together, we encounter the most fascinating people and today was no exception. They appear out of nowhere becoming as loose yarn weaving themselves into our lives, attaching and impacting us if only for a brief time. We embrace them, we listen, and we learn.

On this day, we were introduced to “Beach Man Chris”. Chris was slight built, ponytailed, tattooed and presented a scruffy beard along with a lively personality. He appeared to be a simple kind of guy, living a simple life who could be happy with very little. He disclosed that he’d lived on the beach for a while and was in his late fifties. It wasn’t very long before much conversation ensued. It became apparent Chris was proud of his occupation and accomplishments and very willing to share the details with us.

By all standards, Chris had been a hard working spending his days at what appeared to be an ordinary job. He mentioned he’d received an early retirement from the Federal Government working as a mail carrier delivering mail through “rain sleet and hail”!

Early in life Chris had this crazy dream to live on the beach, but his father “Strongly” encouraged him to secure a job with a future, and one that provided benefits. Chris lovingly explained that his dad endured a difficult journey and desired better for his son. Chris’ job paid decently and afforded Chris an early retirement, enabling him to live out his “Fantasy”.

When it was time for retirement Chris quickly escaped from “what was” to his dream of Warm Weather and Wet Sand”. Eventually Chris found himself owning and operating a “Beach Chair” rental business.

Don and I stood in the center of that dream/ business (a carnival of sorts). Chris explained he’d worked alone over the years residing in many colorful clapboard houses along the beach. He continued dreaming, believing he would “one day” own one of them. The house thing never quite worked out for Chris. (Perhaps it wasn’t to be) and now those same houses were out of his price range.

Chris provided beach chairs to his customers, along with many interesting games both competitive and simple. His rustic “wooden checker board” was neatly displayed in the sand along with checkers strategically placed in each square. We were fascinated as Chris began setting up his “playground” including a large handmade wooden “Jenga” replicating the much smaller version found in stores. Lying in the sand was a large pair of “wooden dice” next to two “Corn Hole Boards” (including beanbags) spaced the perfect distance apart, waiting for the games to begin.

He created a small “Putting Course” to afford potential customers an opportunity to win a free Beach Chair for a day, if they landed a golf ball in the white metal bucket. Chris informed us there were winners each day which provided great advertising and gave him the competitive edge.

It was obvious Chris took great pride in his work, talking and answering prospective customers questions appearing to care about those he was serving.

It was fun listening to him describe his life to us. We began to understand that Chris was a risk taker, possessing amazing courage to realize his dream. When Chris opened his rental business, it was an endeavor offering no guarantees. If it rained a couple of days, Christ lost a lot of money. It was apparent his dream required hard work and determination. It also occurred to us that Chris’s journey may have taken him many places along the way, and like many of us, Chris could also be carrying an untold story, one we knew nothing about.

Don and Chris continued dialoging as Don shared his envy of Chris’ perceived freedom and fun life. Don explained he’d wished he’d taken more risks in his life “once upon a time”. Chris on the other hand admitted to Don, that although he enjoyed his life he envied Don’s journey in the Corporate World and of course the “Hot Babe” he held on his arm. Yep! That would be me!! The three of us laughed acknowledging,

“The Grass is Always Greener”

Before we walked away, we continued observing Chris go about his daily routine. He meticulously placed his beach chairs in rows giving each of them a “perfect” view of the water, then carefully rolled out the artificial turf in front of them creating a “relaxed cozy appearance”. Each of the chairs were fitted with an umbrella to keep the sun at bay, and the artificial turf served a practical purpose of removing the sand from between his customers toes. Chris thought of everything!

Thank you Chris for sharing a snippet of your journey with us. Thank you for inspiring us and touching our lives with your dream.

Chance Encounter? Different Choices?

Patricia Gillis

Remembering and Celebrating The Broken Pieces

Her name was Ginger, a smart and beautiful dark eyed little girl given to us to love, and nurture. She grew up in the suburbs, attended a Blue Ribbon School and was given many opportunities to soar. At one point in time the trajectory of her life changed and she slowly left us emotionally….

Over the course of many years, my husband and I watched as her Mental Illness and Addiction began eating away at her life. It was a long, lonely and difficult journey for her and us as we continued trying to figure out her issues. Over time Ginger visited and resided in many foreign lands including attempted suicide, alcohol abuse, pills and a wide variety of dark and lonely places. She received treatment and was sober for a time until the Alcohol and Opiods called out to her and she answered. In the last few years, I knew one day i would lose my child to the downward spiral of addiction. I thought many times a phone call would come announcing her death.

Shortly after the death of her first husband, Ginger lost her 13 year old son to suicide and this sadness was complicated by her son’s note coupled with the fact he had used her drugs to kill himself. Her other son was immediately removed from the home to live with family members which left Ginger alone. Following these losses, she circled various roads through Rehabiltation, NA and AA, then found sobriety for a time. She remarried. Her second husband who was a recovering alcoholic, died a few years later, and Ginger became homeless. She lived “on the edge” much of this time, and health issues continued to direct her back to prescription drugs and opioids. Her doctors were more than happy to prescribe the drugs, even when made aware of her history of addiction and mental health issues.

A while ago Ginger was involved in a motorcycle accident incurring serious injury to her arm. Surgeries were recommended and each time opiods were prescribed for pain. During this time Ginger began couch surfing from one AA acquaintance to another. Sometimes she cleaned houses and worked odd jobs to live, but would eventually lose her “room and bath” Some of these places afforded her food and safety, but along the way she was used and given little affirmation of her self worth. She spent time with men who used then disposed of her. Finally, a kind older man took her in, gave her food and a modest room and bath, while asking nothing in return. He loved her knowing her flaws, and told us,
“She gave what she could including cookies”.

Ginger loved to bake cookies and cakes for him and their ANON groups and seemingly found community and peace within those walls, but could not find it in her soul.

When spending time with my daughter, it was always a case of which personality would show up. As a family, we did our best to include her in family gatherings but it was a real effort. We were constantly on guard reminding each other “Ginger’s coming, hide your valuables”. She lied to us about everything and many times for no reason. Trust was an issue for years but increased after she became homeless.

On December 20th I attended a School Concert with friends. I arrived home and was greeted by family who broke the news to me of Gingers death. She’d died instantly and alone in a one car accident!

Of course I felt it coming!! I’d visited her in the hospital in October and noticed the signs of decline evidenced by her unintentional movement and slurred speech. I didn’t want to believe it at the time but now it became my reality. My body and mind dove into shock! I could hardly comprehend the news spoken by my children. I was broken as if someone had beaten me, kicked me, stomped on me. The anger and sadness were incomprehensible. Although predicted, this sad news was overwhelming and caused me to be unable to think or feel. THIS WAS MY CHILD!! For a time it shut down my ability to remember, but i would remember. I would remember Ginger!!

The day i wrote her eulogy, i was determined to recall specific happy times of her life that made me smile. I spoke lovingly of this dark haired, dark eyed daughter who came into this world and was loved and welcomed to this family which included at the time her daddy, older brother Bob and sister Cherie. I spoke of her physical and inner beauty, her smile, and her electric personality that drew people to her. They needed to understand she loved Donald Duck, Hollie Hobbie, and shoes that didn’t fit her. Yes, above all the difficulty of her life, it was her spontanaity and fun loving nature I chose people to remember at her funeral. Most funeral attendees remembered Ginger as a sweet young child. Some knew of the challenges she faced over the years, the struggles and drug addiction, and a few knew of her mental illness. Today there were not secrets. Ginger was gone

And now…. And now…..

The funeral was over, words were spoken, food was served, guests gone home and it was my family who should quietly grieve. I was her broken and sad mother grieving for me, her siblings and her Dad who passed a year prior and who tried many times to help her, always with the confidence she would one day be healed. Other family members and friends grieved too. Some of us grieved what was, and some what never was and would never be. All of us were sad for a life lost much too soon while we also grieved her unrealized potential.

Many months have passed, and grief often stops by to visit. It sits on my lap, looks into my eyes and shouts “I’m here”. I acknowledge its presence as tears flood my eyes and memories of my daughter wash over me. I realize life goes on for everyone, including my family. They continue to grieve in their own way. My daughters name is sometimes mentioned at family functions. “Ginger would have loved that,” or “Remember the time Ginger….” Her 26-year-old son continues to grieve the loss of his mother, the mother who at times was unavailable to him but loved him deeply, a mother taken from him much too soon.

There are times I cry alone in my home as i view her beautiful picture, her sister sitting beside her. I see other family photos taken in joyfilled happier times. I sometimes have sleepless nights wondering “What would life have been like if…..I cannot explain the “What ifs” but i know they can make me crazy. I don’t visit there often and i certainly can not dwell in that Sad Land.

And so life travels on for me, a life I’ve learned to accept as well as embrace. I work hard surrounding myself with family and friends who love me and are good for me. I’ve come to understand there are people who don’t understand, and may even judge me. Some may believe i could have prevented Gingers drug addiction and mental illness. These are the same people who fear Mental illness like the flu believing they may catch it. Some believe if their loved ones achieve well or hang out with the right people, or attend the right church, their lives won’t be touched.

Since Ginger’s death, I have watched people struggle with family members in the grip of drug addiction and mental illness. Some openly choose to talk about it, while some run and hide, keeping it a secret. But like the proverbial beach ball held under the water, it requires much energy to hold that beach ball down, creating much pain and of course the ball eventually pops up exposing the sickness. I get it, I understand, this was my life for many years. It is called Shame!!

Along my new journey I’ve learned to look for Joy in everyday places, sometimes reaching inside of my brain to remember the good times. Life with Ginger had been CLOUDY AND OVERCAST for so long, making it difficult to see the SUNSHINE.

Today, I see JOY which admittedly can be elusive. But, I experience joy and excitement at Basketball Games for my Granddaughters. I am present to cheer them to victory. I listen as my grown grandchildren describe their plans for their bright future as they talk about their College Experience. I get to share in the anticipation of my adult grandsons move to a new location for a job promotion. It is at that moment I understand definitively that “life must go on”.

On the Anniversary of Gingers death one of her brothers and their family invited me to dinner. We ate, then i asked the question “What do you remember about Aunt Ginger? Each shared their memories, and each included a funny story.

More recently i have been invited to walk alongside others who are bravely traveling this road. My long time friends fifty-year-old son is addicted to painkillers. She has spent years hiding his mental illness and drug addition from her friends and family. She’s made excuses for his behavior, accepted his deceit, covered for his inability to hold a job and given him money, lots of money! She cannot trust him because he steals, and she’s learned to lock away her valuables including prescription drugs. She prays that his pain and hers will end! I listen to her, I understand her, I get it, but i wish things could be different for her too. Sadly my friend is walking the same path I traveled with my daughter and wearing the same shoes. The color of the shoes may be different but the “SOULS’’ are the same.

Last week i received a phone call from another friend checking up on me, she’s a gift I treasure. She could not have known that at that very minute I was in a difficult place, or that she would become my joy for the day. This is my special friend who asks me how i am doing and allows me to speak openly about my daughter if I choose to. She doesn’t need to hear the ugly sordid details, but i know if i share, the information will be held in utmost confidence. I am so grateful for her friendship and her presence in my life. JOY comes in many packages!!

Each day i walk for exercise but also to smell the fresh air, which sometimes confirms I am alive and breathing. In springtime I see flowers on my morning walk and birds in the trees preparing to make their nest for the arrival of their babies. Tears appear in my eyes as i remember those days of expectation for my own babies including my Ginger.

There are days I find unexpected people in unexpected places including the day i encountered a Joyful and Contagious Peggy and her friend Florence at my local McDonalds. Although I didn’t know either of them, I listened to their conversation and later wrote about them. On that day they were a reminder to me of Gratitude, Hope and Joy!

Today I visualize a beautiful glass plate, broken into many pieces lying on the floor. I can choose to throw away the chard jagged pieces, or create a beautiful piece of art, cemented in, washed clean, sanded and polished to its new beauty. It will be different, but it will be beautiful!

Today I Celebrate the Broken Pieces

Today I celebrate you Ginger!

I love You!!

Diary of “A Widow’s Walk”

November 2016

I walk? I don’t want to walk, I want to run away! I want to be understood and I am so tired of this journey. I am missing my wonderful husband and trying to figure out my life alone. My friends and family do their best to understand me but have no idea what I am feeling, and sometimes they don’t know what to do with me. Everyone has an opinion or idea of where I should be in this grief thing. Mostly, they would like it to go away, it’s been enough time now, or maybe, they are too busy to care. I get it!

I want to ‘feel” better, and I want to “be” better. At times I feel like I am drowning in a lake and there’s no one throwing me a rope or pulling me to shore. Sometimes I hope there’s no rope, so I too will go to heaven to be with my husband Bob.

I want to “do” better, and I try to, until I don’t! And then, I pretend I am ok as I push myself, and begin to crawl into “My New Normal”, also known as “Widowing 101”. For a time, I reach out to my friends, which exhausts me. Those friends are tired of hearing my story over and over again. I know that sometimes they wish they could escape my sadness. I don’t blame them, sometimes, i don’t want to be around me either.

I listen to them speak of their coupled life, their twosome, their plans created by two, enjoyed by two. Theirs is the life I enjoyed for 51 years, it is a life I may have taken for granted, but the life I cannot reclaim as mine.

Sometimes I am invited to their homes for dinner, but it’s weird without my husband. I am careful with my words, while assuring them I’m doing well. They want me to be ok, and share their words of comfort. For some reason, they think they need to reassure me my husband is in heaven now, and is pain free. I know it’s true, and am fully aware the conversation Is uncomfortable for them, because he was their friend too. Grief belongs to them as well, they miss him, and I get it.

At times a panic swarms inside of me and I make an excuse, any excuse to leave their home quickly and return to my home and my loneliness. I need to cry, to go “Somewhere, not here”. I want to climb the steps to my tiny safe space, a place Bob and I built for the two of us to share. It’s a place we planned to live out our days with children and grandchildren nearby. It’s a non verbal place for me now, where silence helps me to think and remember my life with him. I don’t understand the silence I crave right now! This crazy, active, once happy and hyperverbolating woman need quiet? This can’t be me!!

At times I notice a glimmer of hope for some happiness in the distant future. He encouraged me to be happy after he was gone, but It is difficult for me to understand how I could ever be happy

without him. I feel I am being morphed into someone i do not recognize nor like. I want him to be here and to tell me i will be ok.

December 2016

I am feeling so many raw emotions because Christmas is coming, and He should be here. I wish he were holding my hand while we are surrounded by family, heading to the Festival of Lights, braving the cold, together. I want him to offer one more prayer at dinner with family and friends, because Those times were ours to share. I can hear him complain that the Angel on top of our Christmas Tree was crooked. It was always crooked because I was the, “Just get it done kind of wife”, “and he was the, “take time to do it right, or you may need to take time to do it over” kind of husband. It was then I would smile, and eventually he would too. I would hang the ornaments on the tree, and he would wait until i completed my job. Then, quietly but intentionally, he would “straighten them”. Although it would annoy me, this Christmas I long for that “perfectly balanced Christmas tree”.

I need his wise perspective on this drowning sadness I am feeling. The sadness of my new life without him I want him to smile one more time and assure me I am beautiful. He loved me and supported me when I felt unlovely and alone. I want to hear him tell me one more time that I am more beautiful as I age, which also includes these big ugly brown spots on my face, surrounded by the wrinkles large as dogs which are exacerbated when I smile. I want him to look into my eyes and assure me “you are what matters to me”. “It’s your smile Pat, your laugh, your insights about life and how much you love me”. Mostly, I want him to hold me tight and tell me I am ok just the way I am.

He loved me knowing my brain was impaired and sometimes he would insert his sick sense of humor filled with silly puns to tease me about it. He understood that my seizures, would sometimes have a way of isolating me. He watched as i fought a disease that could have taken my life, encouraging me to seek help while holding my hand in therapy as i shared my story with the doctor. His encouragement gave me “Hope for yet another day”

He grew up in a conservative religious family with parents who loved him and lived their beliefs. But, other family members, spoke the right words, but lived their lives to the contrary. Some were harboring deep family secrets of abuse, lies, and a hidden pregnancy. They kept their distance from our family because we did not speak their native language of “Christianese”. Our family was shunned when we disagreed with their “theological position”. It was interesting to note, we worshipped and trusted in the same God. Many of them spoke about trusting this God, but lived a life of fear, anxiety and mistrust. YOU continued to live an authentic life, serving an audience of ONE and helping people take next steps in their faith walk.

Your friends, family, and parishioners knew and trusted you. YOU pointed the way to a loving non judgmental God, a God who promised he would never let go of them. YOU spoke to them

of a God who loved them when they made stupid decisions, and a God who held onto them through their doubts, and fears. YOU encouraged them to live and be the best version of themselves. YOU authentically shared your own stories with them, exposing your humanity and explaining to them it was ok to make mistakes. YOU walked with them through real life while holding their hands through their pain and through crisis, YOU celebrated with them at weddings, and the birth of children and YOU cried with them as they mourned. Their path was your path, their pain was your pain, no better no worse. They trusted you because you were the real deal, a truth evidenced when they shared their personal stories of you through personal notes to our family, and at your funeral. Those Stories included “I came back to God” because of “Pastor Bob”

I miss you today Bob!

Once upon a time there was a “Baby Girl”

My Story

I came into this world on March 28, 1945, at Women’s Medical College Hospital in Philadelphia Pa. I was a tiny little baby weighing 3lbs 9oz, and immediately placed in an incubator where i spent the first three weeks of my life. My mother, a single 27 year old woman worked in center city but lived on a farm in Fallsington Pa.

After i was born, My mother placed me for adoption, then returned to the farm to make the announcement of my birth. Her mother Susan was shocked, but determined to bring me home to live on the family farm. My grandmother was a feisty Hungarian woman who said “No Granddaughter of mine will be given away”. So, she and my mother’s sister Helen boarded a train to center city Philadelphia and brought me back to the farm. I am told, I was placed on the open oven door to keep me warm. I know this would not happen today, but this was 1945.

I learned from my Aunt Helen some details of that infamous day. She explained to me that they were prepared as well as they could have been. They borrowed cloth diapers and safety pins from a neighbor, along with a blanket and baby powder. She said I was the tiniest baby she’d ever seen, reminding her of a baby doll. She remembered my mother wasn’t happy with the decision they had made, because she felt my Grandmother had interfered in her life, and that was probably true.

Although, caring for me would take a village, there were plenty of willing hands and hearts waiting to help. My mother continued to work in the city, while my Grandmother and aunts cared for me during the day. This most difficult decision, and many others would cause my mother much emotional pain for many years to come.

By every account I was small though healthy. After coming to the farm, i was given round the clock care, and placed on the open oven door for warmth. Born with a head full of strawberry blonde hair, dark blue eyes, and rosy cheeks i am told i resembled a china doll. My name was to be Patricia Ann, but i would be called Patsy. I was privileged to be surrounded by Aunts, Uncles, and extended family, who loved and cared for me. From the beginning my Aunt Beatrice was my favorite playmate along with my dog Rover. Aunt Bea was childlike, and since she never married, i became “her little girl”. Throughout my younger years and even through my adult life, Aunt Bea called me Patsy. She was the only person who could get away with calling me “Patsy”. When our children were growing up, Aunt Bea would come to visit at the holidays. She always came bearing gifts, that weren’t always appreciated by my children. For some reason Aunt Bea thought an appropriate gift to us was a large hand of “Bananas”, like twenty of them. Despite the hand of bananas, our children loved her and would look forward to her visit and unusual gifts.

A couple of years ago, My Aunt Bea passed away, leaving a hole in this now mature Patsy’s heart, but before she passed i visited her at the nursing home in NC. She gave me my last dose of “Remember When” while at the same time I was privileged to express gratitude to her for some wonderful childhood memories.

I have a few remembrances from the farm, and many have been told to me over the years by my Aunts and Uncles. I knew one thing for sure, i was cared for and loved on by many family members. I remember my Grandmother cutting asparagus, riding my tricycle and many visits from my aunts and uncles. i loved to sing, and by the age of three I was memorizing words to songs and sometimes creating my own. I sang to dogs, cats, or anyone who would listen to me. My one armed Uncle John would lift me onto a table so i could sing and dance for an audience. I memorized lines for the church christmas pageant and became impatient with children who had forgotten theirs.

My Aunt Susanne another of my mothers sisters, added many other memories and cute stories of me. She would explain it this way, “Patsy had an opinion about everything and needed to be disciplined often”. Evidently, rudeness was never acceptable at my Grandmother’s house, so i guess sticking out my tongue at the visiting Hungarian Pastor, was enough to get grandmoms attention. I don’t remember any of this, but i am told from time to time i would receive a smack on my bottom and told if i did it again i would lose my favorite doll Nancy. The doll was taken away the very next day when i loudly told Mrs Lawless, the lady next door, she smelled. Much later in life my Grandmother explained that Mrs Lawless was known to over do it on the perfume.

I suppose i was a bit naughty but it is said i could be kind and loving too. Each week i was taken to Church and Sunday School. There was a little girl at church, who cried when her mother brought her to class, but I was the child who could calm her down by wrapping my arms around her and singing in her ear.

While Living on the farm my best and only friend, was my dog Rover. I have seen pictures of me with Rover. He was a very cute dog who i am told loved me a lot. It is said, i held him tight his last day on earth and i cried when he died.

Looking back on this time in my life, i realize, those years from birth to age six were the most formative days in my life. They served me well on life’s journey when sadness, loss, and uncertainty would threaten to destroy me. I believe It was those early days on the farm that gave me a positive attitude, courage, and hope for the days ahead.