Losses, Memories, Joys, Tears, and a Japanese Maple

I introduced my mom, Velma Augusta Hatch Brisson to my readers in July because we were getting ready to help her celebrate her 100th birthday. She was born in 1917. This kind of milestone is not considered as great a thing as it used to be since many people live beyond the age of 100 these days, but it is not really a contest or an accomplishment. It is just a fact.

We were a lucky family. Who gets to enjoy their mom’s company well into their own senior years? It has its down sides because mom needed more care and she was still bossy. She would still look over your outfit and say, “are you wearing that?” But we were not orphans like most of our friends. Now we are. In November of 2017 mom died and it has now been six months since she passed. We, her children, have spent the last six months getting the family home ready to sell. It is a poignant labor of love to sift through all the memories collected in each possession, each room, each corner of the yard that surrounds the house.

Yesterday I sat out on mom’s back deck for lunch with two of my sisters, perhaps the last time we will meet, as we did so many times, on that back deck. You can almost see the family coming and going as we sit around that patio table. Sometimes, in the pictures in my mind, the family members who live in Florida come by and the level of talk gets loud and tangled with lots of individual conversations ebbing and flowing throughout a sunny afternoon. Sometimes the great grandchildren are there, visiting, playing on the back lawn, hauling out all the toys and games stored in the shed. Sometimes it is just the few sisters who live near mom, and mom, hanging out on a rare warm, dry day.

For me the years passed before me as I sat looking at the lovely Japanese maple tree that we all bought for mom. It will now belong to some other family, or perhaps, because the house is old and in bad condition, it will all belong to some flipper, who might even rip out that tree. You can’t have something and not have it. Does that fit the Schrödinger conundrum? I don’t know. You can’t have the tree and not have the tree. But you can have the memories. You can have the firefly evenings, the homework around the dining table, the brother shimmying down his sheets from the upstairs bedroom window only to be faced with a table full of his family (and dad) sitting down to dinner. You can have the ice skating rink in the backyard, and the ball games and the games of Tag and Red Rover. You can have the memory of mom having to stuff a crying child on to a school bus, and mom putting together a countertop full of sandwiches for all our school lunches (8 of us).

You can have all the day old bread, and the trips to the dairy to buy milk, all the tar-heeled walks to church in our high heels to sing in the choir or meet with the Youth fellowship. All the shopping trips with dad to the Midstate, the movies for 50 cents at the Hollywood Theater. Elvis had us dancing in the aisles. All the school days and instruments rented and discarded and all the books read. (People gave us boxes and boxes of books.) All the second-hand boxes of clothes we sorted through to find outfits that were suitably stylish. It all seems so wonderful now. But our feelings at the time were all over the place.

You can keep all the Christmases and the Easters, even the one when everyone had measles (awful). You can have all the graduations, the birthday cakes, the smiles, the songs, the friends, the broken hearts, the tears, the grief (my sister was killed in car accident at 29),the joy, the weddings, the babies, the toddlers, the tweens and the teens. You can keep them all because they are imbedded in your mind.

So why is it so hard to let go of that well-used house. I don’t want to buy it. It needs too many repairs. But I think the grief over the house gets magnified by the loss of our mom and the end of it all, the end of our childhood, even though we are ridiculously old. Our lives have lost their center.

These memories barely scratch the surface of a life lived in a simpler era which is probably gone forever. So I’ll throw that loss on the pile and mourn it too, because while it was happening I did not realize that these things would not be the memories of everyone. Now that I know the ravages of human hate, now that I know how poor we were and why that poverty has been difficult to leave behind, even knowing all I know, I still treasure those memories from our days of innocence and ignorance. I still am grateful for  how earnest my parents were, and how everyone around us pitched in to lift us up. I am sad right now, but we have all been there, all felt the sadness of loss. My mom’s life was a life well lived. You are missed.

Difficult to Forget Surreal Ferry Disaster in South Korea

I’m
having a recurring nightmare about young people’s bodies floating in cold,
murky water, a scene which plays in my mind like a movie from Zeffirelli’s Pink
Floyd period if he collaborated with M. Night Shyamalan or one of those avant-garde
Japanese authors like the one who wrote IQ84
or Kafka on the Shore (Haruki
Murakami).
But
then I realize that I am awake and this is not some surreal night terror; it is
exactly what happened to the teens drowned in the ferry disaster off South
Korea. My horrific waking dream is the reality for a whole Korean town full of
parents whose eleventh graders were on that ferry. Three-quarters of the eleventh grade teens in the Danwon area of Ansan, South Korea died in that ferry.
So
what works as a great scene at the end of Shakespeare
in Love
is so sorrowful in reality that, if we really place ourselves right
in the midst of this tragedy along with these parents, it is quite possible to
find ourselves mingling our tears with theirs. The long delay in recovering
these young people from their watery grave has added an enormous burden to the
loss these parents have already suffered. 
The details and the senselessness of these deaths will stand out in my
mind forever, joining a list of sadly famous loses that have occurred over the
decades of my life.
We
hold these Korean families in our hearts but here is a wrong we cannot put
right and it reminds us that we are often at the mercy of forces beyond our
control. We can’t even control for flaws like
incompetency, flaws that pertain to our very human penchant to err.
We
offer insubstantial words, which we hope the grieving parents will see represent
deep feelings. Peace be with you, some day.

By Nancy Brisson

Gut-Punched

Kennedy brothers; left to right John, Robert, Ted.Image via WikipediaI’m still reminiscing my way through True Compass by Edward (Ted) Kennedy. I’m knee deep in the Civil Right’s movement and the Vietnam War years are just revving up. Ted Kennedy knew Martin Luther King because they were contemporaries. We all owe MLK a lot. He could have advocated violence and that would have torn America up, but he didn’t. He stressed peaceful resistance. “Black” Americans bore the brunt of the white backlash, but his tactics allowed for a national mood of shock at the hatred and sympathy for the cause of civil rights that violence might not have produced. Then we lost Martin Luther King.

Then we lost Bobby Kennedy who had been successfully campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President. These were very bad days for America. Something was very wrong. Ted Kennedy, personally gut-punched for the second time in five years, describes how his life reeled out of control for several years. It it difficult to imagine the pain in his life. His brother Joe, dead in World War II, his sister Kick, dead in an accident, his dad unable to communicate due to a stroke, Jack, assassinated and now Bobby, also assassinated. How does one family absorb all of this. And we know there was more to come. Although Senator Kennedy discusses Chappaquiddick he maintains that it was an innocent accident and one that he never, ever got over. He is gone now and that is the last word on that.

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