Monday, January 24, 2011

Gold Star Mother

Gold Star Mothers are moms who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country...they are those precious mothers who have lost a son or daughter during active military duty. I say "the ultimate sacrifice", because I don't believe there is a mother alive who would not rather die than lose a beloved child.
The picture of the plaque is taken from the Gold Star Mothers memorial in Florida.

We have a Gold Star mother living in our former home in Southern California, the same home where we raised our son, Joey. This week is the anniversary of her son's death. The house is a shrine to her beautiful son, and we found it deeply moving as we walked up to the porch to pay our respects.
Above is her son's weathered Marine cap hanging on a flag staff.

This is the Gold Star that was hanging on the window as we stepped inside the door. It reads:
Always In Our hearts
LCpl Anthony Melia
Our Guardian Angel

This is Vicki, our beautiful Gold Star Mom. She reluctantly allowed me to photograph her. Don't let the smile fool you. All bereaved moms have learned to put on that brave face. She is still very much grieving the loss of her precious boy, and I know how deep that pain runs. It is a coincidence that the picture is red, white, and blue, but I think so very fitting for this tender, precious mom who honored her son's desire to become a Marine, knowing the personal risk involved.

Around her neck are Anthony's dog tags and one with his picture. She said this picture oddly fell off the chain the day her beautiful 21 year old son died, though it never has before or since.

Vicki is a testimony to the sustaining power of a deep faith in God. She has learned in the past four years to entrust her son to God's care, and herself to His guidance. Her life is so changed now and she sees the world through different eyes. Her greatest desire is to serve. Her greatest joy was being able to go to Haiti after the earthquake, to hold and feed starving traumatized babies.
She said it gave her a taste of her son's war experience, as she lived in tents, without plumbing or showers, with meager food, and sleepless nights. It was an essential connecting point with him. She fell in love with those little children and hopes to go again.

This is the sign in front of the house.
Freedom Isn't Free
Our Unforgotten Hero
L Cpl. Anthony Melia
January 27, 2007

Inside their home, Anthony's honors and memorabilia are every where. In the corner, his boots and helmet. In the trophy case, his precious ashes.
Anthony is a true American Hero.
Thank you for giving all,
Anthony and Vicki and Melia Family.
We honor the pain and suffering of your sacrifice.

On the walls, beautiful, beloved Anthony. Bereaved families are very similar, I think, military or not. Pictures of our cherished child are everywhere. Those who put their hope in Christ, like this heartbroken family and our family, are counting down the moments as we await the day of resurrection and reunion.
We worship a Savior who knows about the pain and suffering and sacrifice.

In the driveway, another memorial on their vehicle. You can't seem to get enough of these memorial places when you've lost a child.
It says to me, "Please don't forget our beautiful son who gave his life for your freedom."
And we won't.

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy Birthday Beautiful Daughter

JoAnne as a beautiful young bride.
Such innocence and optimism. She had no idea what her future held for her. Do any of us? But she was in love and she boldly stepped out into the unknown with faith and hope. She married a soldier during peace time, with no way of knowing that there would be years of deployments ahead of her. She has faithfully served and sacrificed for her country for 17 years. She is a dedicated wife and mother who has made a warm and cozy home for her family through it all. With an open, non-judgmental heart, she gives what she has and shares generously with those in need. She is incapable of cruelty or callousness.

JoAnne, buried in leis, graduating summa cum laude from Hawaii Pacific University.
In the hustle of military life and re-locations and new babies and cooking and cleaning every day, college was forced into a sideline avocation. For years, she squeezed in courses and studied into the wee hours and took finals... and kept stacking up her A's! One fine day she had finally accumulated enough credits to graduate with a business degree. We all whistled and shouted when she walked up to the podium for that hard-earned diploma. No one deserved that moment more. She's a smart cookie and a hard worker and a persevering one, too.

Planting a memorial garden to Joey in her backyard
But it's not all been sunshine and success. In her life's most tragic twist, she buried her beloved brother only two weeks after her graduation. Such unspeakable that she carries with her always. And there have been other losses, too-- injuries and hospitalizations and people who turned on her. She has learned that there is more to life than this world, and her soul is anchored in Heaven.

My girl. That lovely face. Those soft eyes. They so reflect her beautiful and gentle soul. Such a generous, compassionate, strong woman. How I love her. You could say that she went dancing in the minefields and has never lost her grace.
And then there's the topic of dogs. She pretty much adores every dog she lays eyes on, and the feeling is mutual. She treats them like honored guests. Maybe one better, more like royalty at a five star hotel. She pets and pampers and dotes on them and calls them names like "handsome mister", and lets them jump on the bed. If they could, they would vote for her for president. I am simply content to have her as my cherished daughter.
Happy Birthday to my beautiful girl.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Birthday Girl Love

My birthday is coming and on Saturday, Sean and JoAnne surprised me with a visit to a local winery for our own little wine-tasting party. JoAnne had a couple of Groupons that entitled us to two--yes, two--bottles of free wine! We made the leisurely drive to the winery, through the back country, over the border to North Carolina. It was serene and relaxing, with an absence of cars and people, and an abundance of birds and golden wintery tidal lands, the essence of the beautiful tidewater region.

This is me with my hubby at the Moonrise Bay Winery. Here's to you!
We liked the Chambourcin 2004 the best. (Oh, don't I sound all wine connoisseur and all. We bought 6 bottles and have big plans for them.)
It was so cozy in the winery, with the wooded walls and beams and the stone fireplace, and the fire crackling and leather couches to sit on. It was cold outside, and the vines were empty, but so comfortably warm and lodge-ish inside.

JoAnne packed us a picnic, which the proprietors minded not a bit. There IS a picnic buried under all that packaging. Brie, and goat cheese, and maytag blue cheese, and a rich cheddar, and crusty bread, and olives and nuts and, most importantly when drinking wine, 3 kinds of chocolate! I could seriously eat only this every day of my life without complaint.

The really lovely thing about this, is that it's JoAnne's birthday this week, too. We are two days apart, and she did this for me. I'm telling you, this girl is all HEART. We spent a wonderful two hours, just relaxing together, truly IN THE MOMENT. I LOVE this girl! And I love, love, love being with Sean and JoAnne together. They are very interesting and thoughtful, and good listeners, and Sean is hilariously funny. I didn't want it to end and savored every moment of our time together. That's something I try to do now, more and more.
This moment is all we have in this world.
These people are precious.
Love is the true meaning of life.

The Two Birthday Girls

On Sunday night, we gathered for Family Dinner (hence my apron) and a sweet family birthday party. It cheered and comforted my heart to no end. My faithful husband, and both my beautiful daughters and my handsome sons-in-law and my adorable grandchildren said such beautiful words to me,
I've been floating... on a pink cloud... of love... ever since.
The best birthday ever.

PS: The pictures turned out so badly, this is all I have to show. I'm not happy with my camera these days as it's making white spots in the middle of my pictures, so you all know what I want for my birthday and you can send it here! If that's not in your budget, I am also taking camera recommendations. If you love your camera, please tell me why and what kind it is so I can get one, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clare's 1/11/11 Birthday

The Bestie and the Birthday Girl

These are two of my three adorable granddaughters. They are so close, it's hard to talk about one without talking about the other one. The picture was taken about six years ago when they were first graders. My goodness, how they have changed. Clare is taller than me now. Izzy deplores the curls (that we all adore) and straightens her hair now.

What hasn't changed is this: they are still best friends forever. We're talking total and complete BFFs. To infinity and beyond. They are cousins, they are in the same grade, and they can't live without each other (unless they are having an argument) (but the BFF part is: they always make up. quickly. )

Blue-eyed Clare turns 12 today. And it's her magic birthday--the one where all the date numbers line up. (At 1:11 today, I am going to text her beautiful mom.) I say the magic is in her gentle heart. She's a compassionate, caring, kind, helpful, thankful, curious and creative little girl. A delight. She makes us all smile. Oh, and those sparkly blue eyes. They are pretty magical too, especially in a family of mostly hazels, greens and browns. She got 'em from her grandpa Mike, and they match his to a tee. When she was a baby, her mama used to sing "Pretty Blue Eyes" to her.

Here they are again. This was two years ago. Solid BFFs. They are lucky they have each other. We all need a friend who is this squeezably close.

Last night at Family Dinner, we celebrated Clare's birthday. I used blue plates cuz I thought it was her favorite color, only to find out her favorite color is purple. We found out so many new things about Clare last night when we played the Who Knows Clare Game. Of course, Izzy won. She knew almost everything about Clare.

Clare got to choose her birthday dinner, and she asked for ravioli. We also grilled some shrimp, but the kids said they tasted like hotdogs. (hmmm. I guess I need a new recipe.)

Here's the ravioli. It's got a creamy tomato-basil sauce. Clare liked it-- once she removed the tomatoes.
Obviously, the big challenge with family cooking is making something that everyone, young and old, likes to eat. Not too gourmet, not too "kiddie-food". Something in between that is still yummy.

And sauteed zucchini.
Everyone likes zucchini, but I found out last night that it is not Clare's favorite vegetable. That would be corn. It's hard to make a meal out of ravioli and corn, I think. But she did get her requested ice cream sundaes for dessert, and that put a smile on her face.

They are sitting together as usual, waiting to open Clare's pile of presents. They giggle a lot, and speak their own improvised language, and roll their eyes at the same things. Those little girls are getting sooo grown up. Right before my eyes.

My number one thought? I am SO glad I am here with them --that I am not missing these all-important moments. I feel so sorry for grammies who don't live next to their grandchildren. I would have been one of those, and I guess, in a silver-lining kind of way, I have my beloved son Joey to thank for the fact that I am here-- for this birthday party and all the others.

Happy Birthday, Beautiful Clare, our little Bear. Blow out the candle on another year, and look forward to an exciting new one. We will watch you grow and be there beside you all the way.
You bring so much love and light to our lives. Your Nana and Papa love you more than words can say.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Family Dinner

One of the more difficult side effects of grief is a feeling of emotional paralysis; an inability to do what you might have done in a normal day before the loss. We spent our first year almost frozen, barely getting through the essentials, our hearts so heavy we couldn't move under the weight of the pain. Our first Christmas seemed like an extension of the funeral with the majority of gifts being framed pictures of Joey passed between family members and friends. We were unable to plan or do much more than just make pictures to hold on to him.

Our second Christmas, just a little over a year ago, left me again at a loss. I had lost my bearings on how to do Christmas. My helpful sister-in-law, Vivian, suggested I host a family dinner and coached me through it step by step. It was wise counsel, as I desperately needed to take some steps to strengthen my connection with life. I was totally surprised to find so much fulfillment in planning and cooking and gathering my family around our table for Christmas dinner.

That night started something. As the holidays passed and moved into January, I hosted a second dinner and this time we also played a table game and had a sharing question. We all loved it, and even the children enjoyed the sense of belonging that comes from being crowded around the table together. I told my family that I wanted to start preparing dinner once a week for all of us if they were willing to show up. It was good for me to give myself a weekly project that forced me to move off the couch and re-engage. I had to plan a menu, shop for it, cook it, set the table, serve it, plan a discussion question and a game, then clean it up...week after week. I loved it. They loved it. A family tradition was born.

Last year, I hosted the official Family Dinner approximately 43 times. Like the U.S. Postal service, neither rain, no snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night kept me from my appointed task. If I was in town, I was cooking. I haven't wearied of cooking for the people I love the most, and it's been comforting for me to have this predictable time with them every week. I sense it's been bonding for all of us. We celebrated whoever's birthday was coming up and had some great table talks. We played and prayed together once a week.
We often raised a toast to Joey and talked about heaven.

Today we packed up the remnants of our third Christmas without him. It doesn't get any easier to have him gone. I shed a great many tears this Christmas and I felt his absence profoundly. In my heart, I longed for just one more touch or conversation. Though his absence is not getting any easier, I find we are getting used to living with the wait for heaven and reunion. We are different people...we are a different family... and we will never be the same. That is the harshness of death. Like a fire in the house, we've all been singed by it and the smell of smoke hangs everywhere around us. But we are surviving our loss, and doing it together, and family dinners have helped.

Monday I prepared my first Family Dinner for 2011. This year I've decided I want to blog about it. Perhaps it will inspire others and I do think most families, bereaved or not would benefit. There are a lot of angles to the whole thing that I would like to share. I would like to document the unfolding story of our family's attempt to process grief... at the table.

So here is Family Dinner #1, 2011.
Note: We were missing a sick granddaughter who stayed home, her mama who stayed home with her, and a sister who went to a birthday party at a restaurant. We also had Sean's visiting parents with us for dinner.
Two of my darlings playing with the IPad while waiting for dinner to be ready.

Dessert is ready. Cherry Cobbler.

A selection of beer for the men.

Bruschetta appetizers with a pitcher of fruity sangria for the ladies.
Healthy garden salad with heirloom tomatoes, red pepper, broccoli, avocado, shaved parmesan and ranch dressing.

Cheesy potato casserole. Way too creamy delicious.

More green. Beans. Not fancy but healthy.

Apple-pepper sauce for the pork chops that are outside being grilled by Joe.

Table set. No paper. I use real plates and cloth napkins. (Teaching the grandchildren table manners is a subtle but important side purpose.)

Ten of us tonight. Discussion question chosen by Drew:
"If you were a leading character in a movie, which movie and character would it be?"
Let's see--Star Wars, Braveheart, Places in the Heart, Bratz Movie, La Traviata, Karate Kid... and a few others that escape me now. Which characters? The leads, of course.
Plus three rounds of Catch Phrase.
The men won.

And a new year begins...Family Dinner 2011.

Luke 24:30

When he was at table with them,

he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.