Sedona Ring

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Vacation last week ended with a few days in Sedona, Arizona.

sedonaWe—the seven of us who travel together every summer, five of whom are family—wanted to see the array of red sandstone formations, visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross which appears to rise out of a one-thousand-foot redrock cliff, experience the famous energy vortexes, and go to Tlaquepaque. We also wanted to go to nearby Jerome, “America’s Most Vertical City.” Jerome sits up on a 5,200-foot hill, built into the side of it almost. It is on top of what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona and now it’s a bustling tourist magnet and artistic community of writers, musicians, hermits, gift shop proprietors, and artists.

The four girls in the group wanted to shop! We like to look for jewelry made out of local stones by local artists. I was determined to find a ring. I didn’t quite know what I wanted. I wanted lots of silver. I wanted a special stone. I always look for meaning and symbolism. I look for “signs.” Signs that relate to something significant and let me know I’m supposed to buy this particular item.

I walked up the incredibly steep incline of the hills of Jerome, stopping every five steps to get a breath, and looked in shop after shop. In between trolley tours and dining out, I went to every shop in Sedona along Highway 89A, some two or three times, just hoping that magic ring would somehow appear. But I couldn’t find anything really special.

And then. In The Humiovi, which carries jewelry, kachinas, and pottery by Native American artists, I browsed Dry Creek turquoise, White Buffalo turquoise, and Boulder turquoise. Nothing struck me. Until Jodi, one of the shop’s salespersons, picked up a ring and put it in front of me. “Try this one. I have one like it. We can have friendship rings.”

Sedona RingI slid it on my finger. It fit.

“The carving on the side is ‘the journey’—the journey we take to get to where we need to get. The circle of life.”

Well, that did it.

“I just wrote a book about a journey,” I said.

“What’s the name of it?”

“Remember the Dragonflies.”

“Why did you write about dragonflies? They’re messengers from heaven, you know.”

I knew. I told her I wrote about my five-year journey of loss and grief and healing after my husband died.

I bought the ring. She bought two of my books.

The ring features Sleeping Beauty turquoise. The mine, now closed, is seven miles outside Globe, Arizona. The stone is a favorite of Zuni Pueblo lapidaries and silversmiths for the purity in color—a solid light blue. Other stones in the ring are lapis, spiny oyster shell, red apple coral, green turquoise, and magenta turquoise.

The lapis stone is a royal blue, much like my sapphire birthstone. It is believed to offer protection. It is also for self-expression, writing, creativity, and dream insight. Spiny oyster carries the meaning of peace of mind and patience. Red coral is for confidence, courage, and vitality. Native Americans believe green turquoise is sacred; it is used in ceremonies and grants good fortune. Magenta turquoise provides a nurturing vibration which allows for the screening out of hostility, anger, and fear.

Any way you look at it, I think I’m set.

Thank you, Jodi! And thank you, Sedona!

June Came In Softly

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June came in softly this year. Four days in, it came to me that the calendar had turned a page.

The previous five Junes came in with a cloud, dark, roiling, impenetrable—a cloud that hung over all thirty days. It was June six years ago when Charlie died.

I haven’t been able to make much sense of things since then, but one thing that speaks strongly to me is that the sun goes down and the sun comes up again.

Cycles. It’s the cycles in life that I find comfort in. Especially the short-term cycles—day and night, the seasons, the leaves that fall off the trees, the leaves that grow back.

fogThis morning it is foggy. On my seven o’clock walk, I studied the haze hanging in front of the tree line behind the houses on the street that runs perpendicular to mine. The distant trees were gray. Those closer to me were gray-green with clearer definition. Up in the sky I could see a ball of light behind the fog.

Life after loss is that way. The faraway future is unclear. Fog blankets everything. Things closer in, you can see faintly. The sun is behind the gray.

You know it’s there. It’s stronger than the clouds. In time, as the morning goes by, it burns the fog away and stands against the heavens, leaving wisps of memories.

On Writing the Hard Stuff

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I knew how I wanted to write my memoir from the start. I wanted the reader to know on the first page that I was okay and that I made it through, so I started four years after the death of my loved one when I was planting flowers in the yard of my brand new house; then I went back and told of my loss. I took all the suspense away and perhaps I broke a writing rule, but – too bad – that’s what I felt I needed to do for the sake of the reader.

Why? Because when I was in the pit of grief and needed a book on how to get better, I picked up one memoir and started reading about  the author’s loss and how she existed in a fetal position for a year and how she couldn’t do anything to move forward. I couldn’t finish the book. And to top it off, I discovered later she had remarried during the time the book was written.

I read other books. I was frustrated and angry at what was being published for widows. I couldn’t hitch a trailer to my car and galavant about the country baking pies in order to heal, nor could I run off and hike a wilderness trail for months on end, nor did I feel like going out dancing with other widows on Saturday nights, nor did I find it practical to sit in my easy chair and read the Bible and pray all day.

irisI lived in a real world. I inherited a business I couldn’t do, and I needed an income. I had to stay put, go to work, and manage life. And I needed help doing it. I needed to read about someone else who had to keep on going where she was.

I wanted my book to show the real stuff. And I knew my book would need to convey one thing: You can’t get to the top unless you go to the bottom.

You cannot show someone that you are better, that you have healed as much as is practical, unless you show them how much you suffered. You’ve got to show the hurt, the pain, the extent of the grief—that nobody understands unless they have been there—before the reader can appreciate where you’ve been and how far you’ve come.

My book was meant to tell a story that takes place in the flow of real life.

Dragonflies, Unaware

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I’ve become a birdwatcher because a couple has taken interest in one of my bluebird boxes on the back fence. I’m a nosy neighbor, and I like to know whom I’m living near.

It isn’t a bluebird taking up residence in my yard, and I didn’t know what breed it was. I’ve never seen a bird like this. It is pretty because of the contrast—black on top with stark white underneath.

I’ve watched the male and female bring in dried grass for a nest, I’ve watched as he sat on the fencepost while she did the work, and I’ve watched them in flight—accomplished aerialists that glide and dip and dive.

What kind of bird? A phoebe? A junco? A swallow? I pulled out my Audubon book, sat on the deck, and thumbed through the pages and pictures to check each one. I inched out in the yard to get a closer look.

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The male was sitting atop a finial, the sun throwing a spotlight on him. I noted a green-blue iridescent sheen on his upper black body, a short, notched tail, and a white underside up to his eyes.

A tree swallow.

I wondered why he was in my yard—in a neighborhood full of houses and young trees—all a field, a pasture, a farm just a few years ago. Tree swallows nest in tree hollows; they prefer fields, marshes, and wetlands. They like creeks that produce multitudes of flying insects for food. Then I remembered: Aenon Creek is just down the street.

Tree swallows feed from dawn to dusk, performing acrobatic twists and turns, in wet areas full of flying insects: butterflies, bees, mayflies, damselflies . . . and dragonflies.

Oh no. The swallows are going to chase, dip, dive, and catch the dragonflies that emerge from the creek and the wetlands behind Aenon Circle. My dragonflies.

It seems there’s always something to look out for. Something bad comes along to snatch up that which you love and treasure, that which has become special to you. The predator something is lurking in the shadows, hiding in the darkness, unseen to the one moving in the stream of life, waiting for the moment, counting down—click, click, tick, tock, with each heartbeat—to destruction . . . like the aneurysm that obliterated my world. Complete aortic dissection.

Yet I know I can’t go there. I can’t let my emotions dip and dive and exist under the water. I have to breathe and live on. I can’t let the predator consume me. It’s not healthy. There’s an order to the world, and I can’t control it or stop it. I may not like that order, but I’ve got to learn to live with it. Now I’ve got tree swallows and dragonflies, and the former will be swooping in and stealing away the latter that my late husband sends to me. In the macrocosm of the back yard, life is brutal, but in the microcosm of my heart, I still have what I’ve always had.

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.

book display

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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Rhodes signing2

CHS friends2

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Kay2

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Marolyn Mrs Odom2

Me and Mrs Odom2

Rhodes 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.

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