Dragonfly on the Sidewalk

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Some people say dragonflies are the souls of the dead. Some say the deceased send us dragonflies to give us reassurance.

Thus, the title of my book: Remember the Dragonflies. I think now when people see dragonflies, they think of me.

Sometimes we all need little reminders that we are not alone in this great big universe, that others really do remember, do think of us occasionally, that something we’ve done or achieved might really matter a little. Last week was one of those times for me. I needed a reminder.

My biggest fear is that I will be like my mother in her older years. All her life she worked as a teacher, and she was too tired to go out and get involved in the community, so she didn’t have many friends. When she retired, she isolated herself at home with my dad. When he died, she was truly all alone. No family in town, no friends that she saw on a regular basis, and then when she could no longer drive, she couldn’t go to church and she couldn’t go shopping where she’d be around people. The daily phone calls from my sister and me were all she had. I don’t want to be alone like that.

In my mailbox Thursday was a padded manila package, the return address showing the name of my Memphis friend Susan Cushman. Inside was a sweet gesture from a friend. But it was more than that to me.

Inside a little gray mesh bag was a dragonfly pin. It is old with some realistic touches and fine etchings on the wings—could be antique bronze.

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The note that came with it: “I found the enclosed pin on a sidewalk last week. I immediately thought of you.”

Chill bumps came up on my arms as I was immediately taken to the last chapter of my book.

“I see an injured dragonfly on the concrete. . . .I pick it up, put it on the flat palm of my hand, and it walks to the tips of my fingers like it is going to take off and fly away into the heavens, but it doesn’t. I take it to the grass beside the parking lot and give it a resting place on the cool green next to a big rock. . . .Is it a tidy miracle box wrapped up as a gift for me? Some would say I am crazy to think so. . .”

I took it as a reminder that we are all caught up and intertwined in this life, and sometimes we do things for others that turn out to be so much more than we knew, but because we are innately sensitive to a power greater than we are, we listen and act, and often those actions turn out to be very meaningful.

This is a beautiful reminder to have especially on Easter, a time when we think of new and meaningful spiritual life.

Thank you, Susan!

Writing About the Hard Stuff

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Writing about the hard stuff — the deep hurt, the anguish, the heart pounding in my chest and throat that never stopped, the four walls of loneliness that surrounded me, the feeling that I was standing out there on a cloud with nothing under me, the constant waiting for something else bad to happen, and the physical difficulty of picking up and putting one foot in front of the other to walk forward — was not something I set out to do.

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Who would want to do that? It means re-living the pain. And not just once. Re-living it to write it, re-living it to edit it, re-living it to proof it…

But we all need to identify with someone who understands the deep hurt that comes with losing one you live with every day, one who is a part of you and a part of your life. And people kept coming to me to talk about this.

So I was called to share my experience — to show how I lived in the valley and faced the pain and how I changed as I walked that grief road month after month and took care of “death duties” one by one and made decisions and worked out a new configuration of life.

I had to walk through the fire to get out of it.

Writing my story changed me…helped me to understand who I was and what I went through and why…which caused me to go back and change my story to reflect some hope and healing…and to tell who I am now.

“You nailed it!” said a man who lost his wife eight years ago.

The Difference a Year Makes

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I like to keep up with myself. One fun thing to do is to look at my blog First Draft, which I’ve been writing and maintaining for seven years, and see what I was doing during the same time a year ago.

Last year during the first part of March, I was spending some time in the dentist’s chair. Under stress, I clamp my jaw down and bite my teeth hard together. Well, that causes problems. And costs money. Also last year in March between dentist visits, I was going to Bone and Joint for a shoulder injury. “I had four X-rays, orthopedic testing, and a steroid shot stuck straight into the joint.” The right shoulder hurt so badly that I couldn’t squeeze my mouse or pick up my fork to eat. I also began physical therapy at Star. I’d take my manuscript for Remember the Dragonflies and do edits while I was icing down after a workout. It didn’t have the dragonfly title at that point.

This year, I sleep in a mouth guard and the shoulder . . . well, it still hurts some, but I was determined to not get an MRI and find out about any possible tears, and I can pretty much do anything I want to do . . . except paddle hard enough to get out of dangerous strainers when I kayak.

Last year, my BFF had a birthday March 2. She had another one this year on March 2.

gerriandjudy3BFF on Left (and a BFF on right, too)

This year, I have the finished product of Remember the Dragonflies in hand. And I got to visit my BFF when I had a book signing in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Last year I was writing hard. This year I’m not. This year I’m trying to figure out how to get the book into the hands of those who need it most.

This year I hope to refresh. And remember the dragonflies.

Valentine Signing at BN

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It was a beautiful day at Barnes and Noble for a the-day-after-Valentine’s-Day book signing!

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I’m an author, and of course, book signings are about getting my book out to readers and to the audience it’s targeted to. But with this book, it is more, so much more. And those “mores” happened at Barnes and Noble February 15 between one and three.

First of all, there was the beautiful young woman who had questions about the writing process. My cover had attracted her, and she wanted to know about memoir writing, and I told her about pulling up my soul. We talked about fifteen minutes. Writing, books, reading — this is what book signings are about.

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Secondly, this book — a memoir of grief and healing — reaches out to those who are grieving. My book signings are all about this, and my friend Judy Hurley is almost always there to help speak with those who come to the signings out of hurt and the need to know they are not alone. We had those conversations with a few who came yesterday. My book is a companion tool for those who are grieving, a grief resource that lets others know there is hope and they can make it through. We talked about grief groups and GriefShare and the area churches who sponsor these meetings. (By the way, it’s West Franklin Baptist Church that has a class beginning soon.)

So my book signings are about signing and selling books — and I did that successfully! — but also about reaching out to people who are hurting, like I hurt when my loss was new.

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Here are some pictures of the happy moments:

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Thanks to Neil and Susie and Judy for being there and for your support always in everything!

Great Day in Greenwood

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TurnRow Book Company in Greenwood is a beautiful downtown bookstore with plenty of space up front by the display windows and street door for a book signing. My friend Judy from Franklin and I drove down to the Delta to introduce my book to a host of locals.

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Saturday, February 1, I signed Remember the Dragonflies for old friends and new. I was surprised to see friends from North Mississippi arrive, and they’d driven to Cleveland to pick up our English teacher from ninth and eleventh grades. Another surprise — seeing my family’s lifetime best friend from Cleveland walk in the front door! And of course, my best friend growing up came from Madison. Another Cleveland friend came, and also a few CHS grads who live in Greenwood now. And two Cleveland friends who now live in Clarksdale came with their beautiful daughter.

It was an energy-packed, fun-filled, awesome day. And it was a successful book signing, too, from the perspective of books sold and also for the fact that I was able to share my story of loss with some others who’d gone through the same thing.

Below are some happy pictures from the day.

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Marolyn Mrs Odom2

Me and Mrs Odom2

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Marolyn

Thanks to Anna Margaret for taking most of these pictures!

Sharing My Book in Greenwood

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I lost my husband in the summer of 2008. I became a woman in my fifties with no job (I worked for him) and no income and a mortgage I couldn’t afford. My book Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing describes the five-year journey of winding down the details of OUR old life together and building MY new life. That’s what the journey is: our to my.

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A year into that journey, I met Judy. After her husband died, she left Greenwood and moved to Franklin, where I’d lived for twenty years. I was born and raised in the Delta, an hour from Greenwood, and my best friend from high school lived in Greenwood. Gerri called, gave me Judy’s number, and said, “Call her. Go have dinner. She lost her husband, too.” She called Judy and told her the same thing. We had dinner at the Chop House, shared our stories of loss, and went to a GriefShare class together. Judy ended up leading GriefShare sessions, and we still meet for dinner occasionally and keep a check on each other. My book is dedicated in part to Judy.

I wrote Remember the Dragonflies because I figured that if I had struggled, hurt, questioned, and doubted my faith that others were feeling this way, too. And if I could make it through the fire, they could, too.

As a reader, writer, and teacher of creative nonfiction (true stories, personal essays, memoir) this was a story that I was supposed to write. I felt a calling to share my struggle. I felt called to write openly and honestly and let others look inside my heart and soul, even in the dark corners—not afraid to tell it as it was, willing to talk about the things we are not supposed to talk about, because we are expected to stay strong, lean on God, and let God take the hurt from us. I found it doesn’t always work that way. God wanted me to walk this journey right through the fire. And I had to learn that God didn’t promise skies always blue, but he did promise strength for the day and light for way. If I could say all these things on paper, someone might pick up my words at the right time and find her own strength and affirmation and know that she is not crazy for the feelings that bear down on her.

I wrote this book for two reasons:

1. So others like me will know they are not alone in their feelings
2. So friends and family of those who have lost someone who lives in their house every day will know what it is like and what that person might be going through in her grief.

Saturday, February 1, noon, at TurnRow Books, I will join Judy and Gerri in their former town of Greenwood to share my book with friends, readers, and those who have experienced loss.

What Is Grief?

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From Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing

“Grief jerked me up out of a normal life—one with plans, hugs, coffee and shared conversation every morning, laughter, and dinner with a glass of wine every evening across the table from someone I cared about—and threw me down on a different path, forcing me to go that way to some destination unmarked and unknown. Grief is disruptive. It is messy, chaotic, and mean.

Grief has been my road to walk. There are no rules to grief. We all grieve in our own way. We walk our own personal journey. The road stretches out far ahead of us, climbs the hills, drops to the valleys, covers the flatlands, scales the mountain peaks, takes curves and switchbacks and loops, cuts through canyons, and goes all the way to the ocean.

The appearance of that road reminds me of the dirt road on my grandfather’s farm in Mississippi that was an old Choctaw Indian path before my great-great-grandfather settled there in 1850. When Papaw’s father and uncles inherited the farm and divided it up, they used the old road to travel between the houses they built and the ponds they dug to fish in. Family wagons with heavy wheels, wooden slides pulled by mules, and footsteps that pounded the dirt for four generations wore the road down—down below the surface of the ground—and by the time I was born, it had cliff-like sides a foot high.

The grief road goes through such a worn-down place—“the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4 King James Version)—only instead of a valley, it feels more like a trench cut deep into the earth, deeper than Papaw’s road, a trench that you stand in, and the top edges are higher than your head, and the dirt walls touch your shoulders as you position sideways, and they threaten to tighten on you like a vise.

I know this deep-cut road. In a three-year period, I lost my father, mother, and husband. My husband was the one I was with every day and night, and the loss of my husband meant the loss of life as I knew it.”

A memoir about a grief journey not only includes walking that road in the fire but building anew. Stumbling, growing, changing, becoming a whole new person.

Going Almost-Home

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I’m excited! I’m going home to my Mississippi Delta! I’m going to Greenwood for a book Reading & Signing at TurnRow Book Co. I grew up in Cleveland about sixty miles from Greenwood and graduated from Delta State University, and it is a warm and wonderful feeling to take the words of my heart home. I will be sharing about my book Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing.

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I talk in the book about Cleveland and my love for my town and the childhood home I grew up in. It broke my heart to sell that house in 2010 after my mama died. It was a part of me.

But Greenwood. Greenwood was on the way to my grandparents’ farm over in Kemper County, so my family drove through Greenwood many times a year all my life, and I mainly remember two things about it. 1) the FrostTop (or FrostyTop or whatever it was)  — but that sign with a giant frosty mug of root beer! Oh, that always looked so refreshing, and I always wanted to stop. Dad gave in once or twice during my growing up years; it was always hard to get him to use the brake. 2) Coming home from the Hill Country between Winona and Greenwood and … wait for it … going down that last hill into the flat flat Delta. It always did something to me. It still does something to me, and I cry writing this. I loved my Delta. Still do.

I bought my black leather jacket in Greenwood. Eighth grade, you had to have one. It was the big thing that year. I got a new purse with money in it for Christmas, and Mama and I went to Greenwood to hit the sales the day after Christmas. I’ll always remember that jacket. Soft, supple, the heavy smell of leather. I was something in it.

So…Greenwood. Meet me there! Delta friends, y’all come! Saturday, February 1, 12:00 noon to 2:00, TurnRow Books. I’ll be there with Judy Hurley, former Greenwood realtor. Judy’s late husband Jim, a VP at Viking, died five months before my Charlie. Then she moved to Franklin, where I also lived. My old best friend Gerri Ricks Dangelo, also a former Greenwood resident — who is planning to be at the signing, too! — introduced us, knowing we’d both suffered great losses. Judy and I became fast friends. Judy and Gerri are both “characters” in my book.

Jessica Handler, author of Braving the Fire will also be at this event with her brand new book about writing through grief.

I hope to see you there! I hope to visit with each and every one of you!

Oh Happy Day!

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The official BOOK LAUNCH & SIGNING for Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing was December 8, 2013, at The Coffee House at 2nd and Bridge in Franklin, Tennessee. It was a cold, foggy, sleety, rainy, dreary Sunday afternoon on the outside, but on the inside, it was warm and glittery and full of little Christmas lights. And books! Full of books in the Library Room.

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My friend Susie Dunham decorated for the signing. She shopped and planned and put together a special dragonfly arrangement and transformed the whole room into a place of beauty and fun! Thank you, thank you, Susie, for your expertise and time!

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My friend (and business manager) Judy was there to help. Thank you! My writers group was there to provide support. Thank you, Susie and Chance and Neil!

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Judy

It was a momentous afternoon with new friends who came to buy a book and with old friends — even one friend I hadn’t seen since high school! Thanks for coming, Tommy!

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Finally, the book is out. The words are on the page, the feelings expressed, the mission poised to accomplish. It’s a book I never wanted to write. It’s a book I was called to write. It’s a book I hope will help others.

Thanks to all of you who came and were a part of this launch! And for the rest of you, I share pictures!

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cousins

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writer friends

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Remember the Dragonflies can be ordered through WestBow Press, or at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million. It’s available on Kindle. It can be purchased at brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble Cool Springs and The Old Curiosity Book Shop in Columbia. Or send me an email and I’ll sign a copy for you!

How Could I Let It Happen?

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I didn’t follow my own advice. Dammit.

This was the sixth Christmas without my husband. I didn’t think it would matter any more, and I didn’t buy myself a gift like I have for previous Christmases. But I guess maybe it always will matter. My pre-Christmas blog post, my book — both gave advice about what to do:

“I bought myself a gift and wrapped it … By golly, I had something under that tree … Do it. Be good to yourself. Buy yourself a gift and wrap it and open it Christmas morning. Don’t give yourself a chance to feel so alone in that way on such a special day.”

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I spent this year in a home where I’d never been, and I had no wrapped package under the tree. And I felt so alone. I know Christmas is not about gifts and getting. I know that with all my heart. But there were over a hundred gifts under that tree, and everyone got a gift, but me.

Thank goodness, I took the box my son in North Carolina had shipped me and I got to open that on Christmas morning with him on Face Time. He had to work and couldn’t come to the holiday gathering.

I don’t mean to sound whiny and unappreciative and entitled, yet I know I do, but this is real. This is the kind of emotion that the holidays can induce after loss. When someone spends six decades with gifts to open — from Santa Claus and parents and husbands — and then after the death of a spouse, that doesn’t happen any more, it adds heaps of layers of feelings to the original loss. It doesn’t matter what the gift is. It could be a three-dollar candle or a twelve-dollar book or a three-dollar bag of M&Ms. (And I really did get a bag of M&Ms in my stocking, and some Airborne, and I am grateful for that.) The thing is, the lack of a gift or even a card says nobody cares about you.

In the season of Light and Love, nobody has thought about you.

Families, kids, grandchildren need to know that this feeling exists. So in the spirit of all the raw feelings I have shared in the publishing of my book Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing, I throw this one out there, too. And it is not about getting a gift. It is about feeling loved.

If you are above these kinds of lonely or selfish feelings, then you are blessed, a good soul, a saint, and I’m glad for you. I confess I’m not. If you haven’t lost a spouse, you don’t understand this at all, so please don’t judge.

How could I fail myself this year?

I have a year to think about it. Next year I will make sure I am surrounded by Light and Love and shiny and glittering and warm things. I will make myself less easy to be taken for granted. I will not throw myself under the bus. I will take care of myself.

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