Nana’s House versus Home. A reflection.

  • Nana’s house is a beauty queen. Home is a gawky 15 year old with braces and stringy hair.
  • Nana’s house is clean. Home looks like the entire Spartan offensive line has run through in full pads and cleats after a game in the rain and a run through the pig pen, just for good measure.
  • Nana’s house smells delicious. Home smells like a couple of dogs were playing along with the aforementioned offensive line in the pig pen.
  • Nana’s house is quiet. Home has iTunes running on the iMac; tv blaring in the living room; zombies being killed in the basement; kitties and teenagers hollering for food; and momma trying to get a word in.
  • Nana’s house is exquisitely decorated. Home should have a “Junk for free” sign out front.
  • Nana’s house has a fully stocked pantry and fridge. Home has a fully stocked pantry and fridge of mostly empty/completely empty packaging and containers.
  • Nana’s house easily passes the “white glove” test. Home…not so much.
  • Nana’s house has fluffy bedding and pillows. Home has fur covered bedding and lost-their-fluffiness-long-ago pillows.
  • At Nana’s house, everything has a place. At Home, everything is all over the place.
  • Nana’s house has Fox News on the tv all day long. Home has Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Zombies on the tv all day long.
  • Nana’s house is a wonderful retreat. Home is…bliss.

I loved being at Nana’s house; but there truly is no place like home.

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March 21

One year ago today, my sister called me with words that changed our lives forever. Andy had collapsed at the gym. They had been unable to revive him. Get. There. Now. Rockville was only a 35 minute drive away for me. Ten minutes into the drive my mom called to say that Andy was gone. Thankfully, Russell was driving.

The last year has been difficult. And I make no excuses for anything I or my family has done or said. None of us were prepared. Is anyone? Thankfully, more often than not, a family does not experience the loss of a child. There are no ground rules; no book of grief etiquette for when a family loses a child. We are not “over it;” we have not “moved on.” But we are learning to live with it. The phone calls, letters, food, visits are long gone. We talk about that frequently. We understand it. Lives go on. Our lives have gone on. Different; but gone on, just the same. Most folks don’t even mention it to any of us anymore. Some people won’t even look us in the eye. We understand that, too. There was a time when we probably didn’t mention the loss of a loved one to a friend. We think we will “open old wounds.” As if it had been forgotten, for a just a moment. We don’t know what to say. My incredible brother-in-law, Al, the week of Andy’s death, said he was going to get us all tee-shirts to wear at Andy’s Celebration of Life, that read, “We know you don’t know what to say. We are just thankful that you care.” Frankly, we don’t often even know what to say to each other. We don’t have to say anything, really, I suppose.

Andy’s death has brought all of us closer together. And trust me, we were a close family before March 21. We are all huggers and smoochers. We all say, “I love you” to each other when we end a phone conversation; when we hug and part. We’ve always been that way. But Andy…he was the biggest hugger and smoocher of us all. Crazy that this grown man, hugged and kissed each of us. He always kissed his dad and Grandpa, my dad, smack dab on the lips. He was confident of our love for him and never failed to express and demonstrate his love for us.

I have actually been better off than my sister and my mom and dad and my brother-in-law. I write as an outlet. You have only been subjected to a tiny portion of my writing over the last year. I write for me. I don’t write for you to read. Some days…weeks even…my journal is silent. The date will be written in the top right hand corner, just as we were taught in elementary school to do. Some pages are completely blank after that. As if had gotten distracted and wandered away and forgotten to journal that day. But, no. I hadn’t. Some days I recognize my own handwriting in the first paragraph or two but by the middle of the page it changes and by the end of the page, it’s barely recognizable or even readable. My own handwriting. Unreadable to me. Some pages are crinkled and bumpy and smeared. Tear drops gone wild.

But writing has helped me in a way that I actually feel guilt over. My mom and my sister have grief journals. My mom has her cancer journal. I don’t know what they write in them. Just as they don’t know what I write in my journal. I can only hope it is the same release for them that it is for me. But I doubt it. And I’m sad that it is not. I’ve received messages from some of my blog readers expressing concern over this or that that I’ve written over this last year. The comments, or lack thereof, don’t bother me. In fact I hadn’t really thought of it until this moment. Again. I write for me. The expression of my grief through words. My depression over the last couple of years at the many losses in my life; in our lives. I think is totally understandable. Temporary. Yep…have had some anger, too. But never anger at God. He has been my Comfort and my Shield.

So. One year down. “They” say it is the most difficult. I don’t believe “them.” It is always going to be difficult. But it is doable. Someone emailed my sister a saying about grief shortly after Andy died. Grief consumes you for a time; and then it walks beside you like a friend. Some moments, I am completely consumed by my grief. Most often, it walks beside me silent; present; dare I say comforting.

Andy was a bright star. He had presence. When he was physically in the room…he was the center of it. We loved that about him. We miss that about him. And we always shall. But we are so thankful that we had almost 23 years with our bright star. And those 23 years will last us a lifetime.

I have a confession. Today, the day I am writing this, is actually March 10. I’m not sure, as the anniversary of Andy’s death draws closer, that I will be able to write this. Right now, today, I can. 

Andrew Bryson Odenthal.

This week marks the anniversary of Andy’s death. We miss him terribly. That will come as no surprise. I thought I would take this week to share about him. It will make me feel better to talk about him. Thank you for indulging me. I think I shall do this in random, bullet fashion. Which would have driven Andy totally crazy.

  • Andy was born on April 11, 1988. I had been visiting my sister that weekend. Hoping he would make his appearance while I was there. Of course I turned right around and headed back down to Roanoke.
  • He was the first grandchild in our family. That right there makes a kid hold a special place in the family’s heart. Not that he was loved more; he was just loved first.
  • Coinciding with Andy’s birth, my dad had retired from a career as an Army officer and was working in the pubic sector. I don’t think he was thrilled with it. When Andy was about 18 months old, my parents drove from Springfield to Roanoke to visit. And never came back.
  • Okay, so it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that, but they did, completely out of the blue to me, at least, buy a house while they were there. Pretty quickly, the house in Springfield was sold, we had packed them up and were driving moving vans to Roanoke to move them into their new home during a memorable ice storm.
  • I spent a lot of time running up and down 81 the first two years of Andy’s life. My trips slowed down a bit when Shawn was born in 1990. But picked back up again when Sarah was born a short 11 months and one day later. This momma needed her momma. Complete exhaustion was all I remember of those first two years. Besides,  I wanted the cousins to know each other and actually like each other.
  • Andy was extremely athletic and smart. It didn’t take long to see that he had inherited his father’s Type A personality and everything had to be done perfectly: sports, school, clothes, his room, work. 
  • He continued his Type A path through high school, college and into his first grown up job.
  • He could easily have played, and excelled, at baseball at VT, but he chose academics over sports. He developed, instead, a love of working out and eating healthy. He was working out when he passed away.
  • We laugh when we think of Andy working with the public; his first real job. He always said he hated people. People, however, were very attracted to Andy. In the front office of the management company where he worked, “people” would wait for Andy to be free to assist them, instead of dealing with another person there. 
  • If you came to Andy’s visitation, you know how well loved he was. The lines were literally out the door and wrapped around the place. My sister and her husband stood at the front of the line and greeted every single person who came. For three plus hours. 
  • We miss him. Terribly, as I said. 
  • The grief of losing him is beginning to feel like a comfortable old sweater to me now. I take it with me everywhere I go. I still have days where I feel almost immobile; lost in a fog; totally enveloped by grief. Those days have lessened. My missing him has not.
  • Please keep my sister and her family and my mom and dad in your thoughts and prayers this week as our family remembers that night from a year ago in our memories. 

Love y’all.

The Back Porch

It is a stunning Spring morning. I am sitting on our back porch. Screened in with skylights and a ceiling fan, it is just about the best place in the whole wide world for morning quiet time. Our house backs up to parkland and a dense grove of trees separate our yard from the yards on the street that runs parallel to ours. I love to come out here early morning, watching the sun rise over the houses and trees, listening to the birds sing a song of praise worthy of recording.

The inside of our house is boxy; the rooms not conducive to party flow. The back porch and deck, however, have become party central: birthdays, end of seasons, welcomes, annual crab feasts, or simple last minute gatherings of whomever is here for lunch or dinner.

The back porch has been the setting for many a small group meeting. A gathering place for our collective desire to come together to laugh, cry, pray, study, and eat. Especially eat. The morning of Beth’s death, we all ended up here to cry and remember; to laugh and sip coffee and eat cake.

As My Man and I look forward ten years or so, we have already agreed that the number one must have in our next house is a screened porch. Well, that and a view and access to The Lake. I’m already imagining what it will be like to sit there, looking over The Lake, writing, studying, praying, and partying.

More memories to capture, to record, to share.

When my child forgets who is boss.

Teenagers. I have one. A man child. I love him dearly. He is my favorite. *I tell each of my three darlings that they are my favorite*

Lately, however, he has been acting like such a…well…teenager. I remember when The Big Boy did this. It lasted about a week. Seriously. A couple of fists through some dry wall in his room and a chest butt altercation with his mom (I won that round, by the way) and it was over.

Then there was My Girl. Her teenage years don’t apply here because she’s a girl. Enough said.

Not The Wild Boy. This is Year Two.

Do not get me wrong. He is a Good Kid. Which really makes it all the more difficult when he decides to act like a teenager. Almost shocking even. As in, I’m momentarily speechless. When I do regain my wits about me, I try not to blast him with both barrels. *oh, and I often fail that…meek and quiet aren’t usually adjectives used to describe me*

Take today, for example. He goes back and forth with this “I do want to play college football” and “I do not want to play college football.” Simple enough, right? Nope. The former sends his father into “my son is a college wide receiver” heaven. The latter sends his mother into “you best get on the grades then so you can actually attend college” tummy aches.

I’m usually pretty cool about teenage angst. I’ll take it. To a point. But when said teen hollers down the stairs, “I AM NOT DOING THAT!!!” well…that sets my teeth on edge and my mouth just naturally responds in kind. A gentle reminder of who is boss, it is not. A “get down here and look me in the eye while I remind you who is boss,” it is. Oh, and I get the last word. Period.

I know this is all totally normal. In some respects, he has it lucky that he is the third child of two parents in their early 50’s. *read…often tired parents in their early 50’s* On the other hand, he has to suffer the consequences of his siblings gone before. *read…been there, done that, not falling for it again*

Please know that when I pray for our children and our parenting skills…I include all of your children and you. It’s not easy being a teen and it’s not easy being the parent of a teen. This I know.

The hardest part? Like his siblings before him, I am so going to miss his teenage years.

Get on with it.

Is it the proverbial “writer’s block?” Or is it something more. *that was a statement, not a question*

A few months ago, I knew it was time for me to get back on track with some things God wanted me to be doing. Writing, one of them. Exercise, another.

Instead, I chose to focus on what I thought was my To Do List: go through, organize, and purge all of the not-my-stuff stuff in my house. And when I say focus on…I’m putting it lightly. Obsessed with it, was more like it.

And I have done a number on all of that stuff. And I’m pretty pleased with my tenacity about it.

But I’ve lost some blessings over it, I know for sure.

My writing has completely tanked. I’ve got tons to say, but when I sit down to actually put it on paper (in my journal) or type it up (for my blog)…I’ve got…nothing.

Just sitting down to type up this post is torturous. The words don’t flow. They are stymied and halted and I feel like it is all disjointed and not what I really want to say.

I think, by disobeying what I knew I was supposed to be doing, I have now missed out on the blessing that has been my ability to write. Hopefully, just for a time. Maybe forever. And I am sad about it. Which is hilarious to me because I’ve always fought it. I’ve never wanted to write…to bare my soul to the opinions and criticisms of others. I’ve always cared too much for what anyone would think or say about my writing. And the hilarious part to me is that now I don’t care much at all about what anyone thinks or says about my writing. I am finally writing for me and me alone.

The exercise and eating thing…seriously paying for that disobedience! Walking with my walking therapy buddy, Annette, has been pure torture, physically. I totally subscribe to the no pain, no gain philosophy but this is brutal.

I suppose the point of this entire post is to remind myself, and to convince you, to “just do it.” Do what you know you are supposed to do. Be obedient to the whispers in your heart that you know are of God and just get on with it.

Or you, too, might miss out on some major blessings.