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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert (Puppy Pick-up Road Trip)

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert (Puppy Pick-up Road Trip)

Could barely watch as our old car crept onto the ramp of the vehicle that would tow it away. No, it wasn’t my father’s Oldsmobile—but it was my father’s Mercury, as well as my mother’s Mercury, before it became ours.

My father planned to go on many adventures when he bought a new Mercury Sable in spring of 2001. But soon after its maiden voyage—a joyful college reunion where he and my mother and their returning classmates of fifty years earlier were honored—he received a diagnosis of cancer’s return. Instead of driving off into sunsets to see his grandchildren, children, and friends, as well as sites previously unknown, he became a passenger in that car, chauffeured often to treatments and procedures back and forth through the canyons forged by the Big Thompson River. Nature’s beauty remained a constant companion on those final journeys he never chose to take.

This would not have been the car my mother chose for herself. But when he died before a year had passed since its purchase, the car was too much depreciated for her to sell it without a loss. So instead she drove off in it on her own solo adventures, as well as those with family members and friends, to locations near and far.

When my mother stopped driving almost six years later, that car came to us for our own adventures, both with and without her. We called the car the Grandma-mobile—which wasn’t really fair since she never would have chosen such a large car with such a long front end. This car most definitely did not fit the picture of what our two 16-year-old drivers preferred, but its ability to seat six worked well when we drove our kids and their friends during the period when their graduated licenses did not yet allow them to drive alone with their age-peers.

You know how the story went. Yes, I ended up with my father’s Mercury, which didn’t fit the picture of what a certain 46-year-old mother wanted to drive either. But we were grateful to receive a good car with low mileage, which was a much-needed answer to our burgeoning transportation needs.

That car played a big role in our own family stories and travels and transitions. It drove off to college loaded down with too much stuff, but returned home with two parents ready for a time of greater rest. The Mercury later transported our family to the sacred grounds where we laid my mother to rest. I picked up my daughter from her first year at college in it so she and I could take a classic western road trip to pick up my new puppy—not that my father would have ever allowed a dog in his car, let alone a puppy leaving his mother for the first time!

When this mom finally got a car more in tune to her dreams (a MINI S), my son Jackson was grateful to inherit the Grandma-mobile. True, he was no fan of parallel parking it but he most definitely appreciated the get-up-and-go as well as the ability to work and play without having to juggle cars with us. Unfortunately, the car (and its driver) got-up-and-went a bit too fast on an icy day last November, leaving the driver unscathed but every panel on the driver’s side damaged—enough so that the insurance company totaled the car due to its age—an age that reminds me just how long my father (and then my mother) have been gone.

Seems fitting that my father’s car left us on the last day of Mercury in retrograde. You may not believe in the power of the stars over our lives but this concept is just the right metaphor for saying goodbye to his Mercury. Astronomically, Mercury in retrograde is the time when the planet Mercury appears to reverse its orbit due to its position in the sky—which looks a whole lot like going backward. According to the StarChild site (linked to NASA), it is not doing so, but “. . . just appears to do so because of the relative positions of the planet and Earth and how they are moving around the Sun.” Astrologers, on the other hand, see Mercury in retrograde not only as a time of complications in areas such as transportation and communication (as Mercury is the god of both areas), but also as a time for returning to past connections.

So, Dad, thanks again for the Mercury—though we never, ever managed to keep up with your standards and plans for its cleanliness, we did our best to live up to your dreams of taking adventures in your chariot of choice.

Farewell, oh fleet-footed one—turns out you were just what we needed after all.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

My dad’s parents lived well up until their last few years and they lived long—both until 92. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have grandparents who were active and independent—even into my late 20s—before old age finally caught up with them. Before that they made annual car trips halfway across the country to visit their relatives while also being able to drive themselves to watch our sporting events or to come stay with us. Granddad didn’t retire for the final (his third) time until he was in his mid-80s.

Although their own family was small—just my dad and our family—they had a large circle of extended family members and old friends who they always made sure to see. Their best times in old age were spent visiting with these people—something I thought was B-O-R-I-N-G. What I didn’t see then was how they got together with those in their circle, even during hard times. They loved to see new babies or talk about good times, but where they shone was visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes and attending funerals.

I have never been one of those people who walks into a nursing home at ease—though it breaks my heart that so many people are living in bodies and minds that are failing them, I am also afraid of approaching and interacting with them—as if somehow it’s all about me and my discomfort and not theirs. This despite the fact my grandparents brought me to visit in a nursing home often in my younger years because one of their (our) relatives lived there much of her long life after an early head injury. Thanks to them I at least understood that old age didn’t always look like the independence Granddad and Grandma maintained—and I witnessed what faithful commitment to loved ones through hard times looked like.

When my grandmother finally ended up in such a place in the final two years of her life, it was hard for me to see her that way in that space. I didn’t have to face my discomfort too often because I lived far away busy raising toddler twins, but in those years while my grandma declined, my father kept up the good visiting example set before him by his parents.

Later as my own mom descended deep into Alzheimer’s, I moved her into memory care. I had to learn to override my discomfort in order to visit her most days, but I did. And when you visit someone in memory care, you visit many other people beside your own loved one. I wouldn’t say I grew relaxed, but I could reach out to the other (mostly) women who I met there—people who I could see as individuals hanging onto who they were by a slim thread and people who needed to know they were not alone in whatever scary lack of understanding their own minds exhibited. Like my grandparents and father before me, I held hands and talked.

Now, four years since my mom has been gone, we are back to visiting my husband’s mother. A fracture of the femur and subsequent hip surgery sent her to a physical rehabilitation center, but it is an inability of her mind to absorb all the instructions that has finally sent her into a skilled nursing center—aka nursing home—to see if she can recover enough to walk back into her home. Once again we are confronting the frightening realities of people whose bodies and/or minds do not work as they should—including hers. But, still, we hold hands and talk.

My grandparents taught me how to do this—I don’t know if they were ever afraid or sad or tired of going when they went to see people, but they just went and visited. That’s what they did. I had no idea how brave they were to do so year after year for so many people and to keep visiting until they visited one last time for the final goodbye.

Visiting someone in a care facility is hard for me but I have to remind myself how much harder it has to be to be a person at the mercy of failing bodily systems away from my home and those whom I love. God bless the workers who care for our loved ones in our absence, but may we never forget how much power there is in spending our own time with those loved ones who long for who and how they once were and how we can give them a connection to the lives they have led outside their confinement.

I used to think my grandparents’ use of the word visiting spelled B-O-R-I-N-G, but now I know it spelled L-O-V-E. Now, that was living well.

I’m so in each moment these days that it feels a little bit unnerving. All those thoughts that usually overrun my head have gone a bit silent. Even with all the divisive news of recent weeks, I have my strong opinions but not so much that I have big words I can follow down the rabbit holes. Don’t know whether to try to stir up my thoughts on my own or to take this fallow period as a time of rest and underground growth.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert


So my moments are often filled with activities such as dog walks—lots of dog walks since our daughter got her puppy about five weeks ago. Of course, if we’re available when she is walking her puppy, we ought to walk our own dogs, right? Walk we do—this street and that street—serpentine if you will to keep that puppy from thinking he’s in charge and knows where we are going. I see raindrops on blooms, flowers gone bold in this oddly wet growing season, new paint colors on houses, as well as nighttime light from porches and the bluish glow coming from large screens inside.

What is different about those walks from when we walked our dogs before is that we no longer walk in partial anonymity. The puppy draws attention to our little group—despite having lived in our neighborhood for decades, we are meeting people old and new as never before. Perhaps the constant human connection and conversations ground me more into the here and now than previously when I so often could escape into my head?

Beyond walking dogs, most days we also visit my husband’s mother as she rehabilitates from a fracture that led to a partial hip replacement. The puppy comes, too—with or without our daughter—since he is one of the few bright spots in the sameness of my mother-in-law’s days where she is a little too in the moment. The little superstar works her into thinking about what’s good about being able to sit still with a puppy at your side. And on his way in and out of the residence, he brings smiles to staff, other residents, and visitors alike. Although he is an amateur at therapy, he is an expert at causing people to pause.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Life is change—whether it’s a daughter finishing college and trying to find her way or a long-lived person encountering a body that no longer does as she bids or a society debating whether or not to keep traditions. Maybe at times of great change what we most need is a pause.

Although my mind is not much used to pausing, perhaps this little break is just what it needs to figure out what comes next. What better than a puppy (and its paws) to make play from a pause button?

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

My friend shared on Facebook how differently his life has turned out from the plans he had 30 years ago when graduating from college. Instead of becoming Mr. International-Business, he is back living in his childhood home, after choosing to be his parents’ full-time caregiver. His life is full of love and laughter, despite the tears and despite having to do hard tasks for his parents. He understands how to find joy in ordinary moments such as walking along the river, observing the patterns created while pushing a snow blower, or reveling in sharing memories with his mom and dad while their shaky hands slowly help decorate the Christmas tree. And yet, he is happy in the life he has.

That kind of happy is easy to be around because it’s not the kind of happy that comes from having, doing, and/or achieving. Instead, it’s the kind of happy that comes from being—and loving.

Today I sat in a radiology waiting room with a man so like the one my friend thought he would be all those years ago. This man was busy—and, as far as I could tell, happy with all that busyness. He made one call after another. “I’m not sharing this with anyone else yet.” “I won an award.” “Please change the flight for our nanny for the Hawaii trip.” “I’ll be in a conference call from 2:30 to 5:00.” Call after call, the man just kept going.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t trying to listen—I’m just sharing some of the snippets that kept intruding on my plan to read my book in relative silence—while, once again, waiting for someone I love who was at a medical appointment. I was looking for a quiet, peaceful moment when I could relax and try not to worry about the whys for our visit.

Most likely our visit was just a rule-out activity, but it’s not lost on me that for some people this is the place where what they never planned to experience is discovered.

From the cheerful banter and movement from one phone call after another by the other occupant of the waiting room, I got the impression the man was there for something such as a picture of an achy knee or some other sort of a hitch in his get-a-long—some body part that was slowing down his fast-paced life.

That’s why I was surprised when I heard his offhand tone as he said, “Oh, I’m just waiting to get a CT scan. They want to look at those blood clots in my lungs. They’re saying I might not be able to fly.” After a pause and a short laugh, he added, “Well, that won’t work. I have to be there, you know?”

Despite his almost frenetic activity, I really did get the impression it was no cover for fear. He just didn’t have time for that sort of thing (health difficulties) in his life—he had things to do, people to see, and places to go. Something like that just wasn’t going to slow him down.

I wish him well, but I just wanted to shake him and ask him if he’d heard himself. If nothing else, there are the people who rely on him at work or at the companies with which he deals, not to mention his wife and the two boys under his nanny’s care. Might taking a break from all his plans be better than letting everyone else figure out how to do without him permanently?

Nothing against the man—well, except for the fact it never seemed to occur to him that maybe I didn’t want to listen to all his phone calls—but I question his priorities. His body clearly has some problem, but he acted as if he thought he was just spending time waiting to check off another “to do” from his list.

If that’s the kind of person my friend had become, then we probably would have drifted into way different circles.

But long before his parents became ill, he recognized those original goals weren’t really his. He is a healer of a person, not a wheeler and dealer. I am blessed to know him—the him he was and the him he allowed himself to become. And truly the world would be a better place for us if more people such as he is were the wheelers and dealers of this world, but I don’t think that lifestyle would feed the healers of this world in the ways they need to be fed.

Blessed are those who feel blessed, even when they have few of the trappings of the world—for they know how to slow down and see God in the tiniest grain of sand or while experiencing a nano-second of joy.

Well done, oh good and faithful servant—you “get” it.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

Most all was calm, most all was bright. That’s how this Christmas felt after so many years of distress and darkness. I’m not a person who expects a perfect Christmas, but it’s been a long time since our Christmases felt normal-enough in any way.

First there was the Christmas Eve when my mom fell and we couldn’t deny anymore that who she was was slipping away. There would be three more Christmases with her—each one with less and less of her present. But the first Christmas without her here at all, I could hardly imagine “doing” Christmas, knowing she would not be part of the celebrations at all, except in our memories. And so we created new traditions, even down to changing almost everything about the way we decorated.

But my mother was not the only one who had changed in a big way during all these years. The Christmas after Mom’s fall, my daughter—and our whole family, of course—was also freefalling into a developing mental illness—something with which we had no experience. After initial improvements and a couple seemingly reasonable years, her descent accelerated, all while we were trying to figure out what she needed from the distance as she attended college. Last Christmas, though seemingly bleak enough, brought the present of a different diagnosis—which has led to more appropriate treatments—and a renewed sense of hope—for her and for those of us who love her.

Though I still miss my mother at Christmas—and always will—I am learning to accept her absence and to find comfort and joy in the new traditions, just as I did in the Christmases after I lost my father. For most of us beyond a certain age, figuring out to how celebrate again after losing our grandparents and parents and other older loved ones is a life passage through which we must live. I am finally coming to terms with what Christmas means now for me without both of my parents.

However, a renewed feeling of calm and hope for my own children—something I took for granted years ago—is the most precious gift I have ever received. I treasure these things and ponder them in my heart.

Of course, this Christmas season, though more normal than it has been in years thanks to our daughter’s improved outlook, has not been perfect. Now my husband’s parents are in decline, even if not so precipitously (mentally) as my mom had been. And our son is suffering lingering effects from a concussion he received mid-month—time will yet tell how well he heals.

So crazy how hard it sometimes is to feel the true joy of the greatest miracle of all time when you have been seeking other more personal miracles in the lives of those whom you love. And yet, in my own dark nights of my soul, I continued to understand the longing for light to come into this world—and have clung to that light even when joy itself has seemed elusive except in the smaller moments. I remain grateful for the miracles—small and large—that have happened in our lives.

I open my arms and heart to receive this gift of a Christmas that has had more laughter than tears—something I haven’t been able to say for many long years. One of the greatest miracles is that I can still believe in a merry-enough Christmas after all.

God bless us one and all—especially if this is one of those Christmases when you are still trying to convince yourself to continue believing that one day, you too, will again celebrate a merry-enough Christmas.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

Though I have the occasional nightmare, what I have more frequently are what I call stress dreams—dreams that are more like nighttime anxieties on daytime themes. Mostly I dream of not getting to places on time or of misplacing important items or not being able to find where I’m supposed to go—you know, things like missing flights or not being able to find my classroom or misplacing whatever it is I need to do what comes next. I’ve always made my flights and found my classrooms, and even though I have misplaced things from time to time, still my days are not nearly as stressful as these dreams. I’ve never thought of these dreams as anything more than an over amplification of my desires to be responsible—until today.

Last night’s dream was slightly different because it involved experiencing these sorts of anxieties while visiting a dementia care center. As I shared the dream with my friend Lenny who, like me, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, and who, unlike me, is also guiding a father with dementia, she said, “Oh my gosh—you just got an insight into what people with dementia must be thinking and feeling.”

Talk about raising the stress level on my lifelong stress dreams. But really, with that insight, no wonder I found last night’s dream particularly upsetting—and it wasn’t even about my having dementia.

What the dream did do was bring me back to those days when my mother was trapped in her increasingly unreliable mind—and essentially trapped in her care facility. Now mind you, this was the place where the well-designed purpose-built setting and the wonderful caregivers helped her to relax into where she was and make it her home. She loved being around the people who provided her care and, unlike so many, did not need to be coaxed into eating the well-cooked meals. Though I can’t speak for how she felt about the betrayal of her own mind, I can say that she seemed much calmer and lost much of her agitation in that safe space. This, however, was not true of everyone.

When you visit your loved ones in those settings, you begin to know and reach out to the other residents. Often you thank God that it isn’t your mother who knows her name but who has no idea how to find her room—every time you visit. Or that it isn’t your mother who worries out loud about “being naughty” and who begs for forgiveness in one breath and then tells you you are going to hell in the next. Thank goodness there are others who have more good moments than bad.

When your mother’s music is silenced, you sing hymns with someone else’s mother. You listen to another woman describe how the Vienna of her youth is the only place where you can find the best schnitzel. You know to be thankful when the woman who has not been very nice to your mother all of a sudden relaxes and smiles—because your teenaged son has such nice hair. You do your best to meet these people in their realities—unless, of course, that involves agreeing that there can be no redemption for you or the other residents.

The amazing thing is that after awhile you start to lose much of your fear of visiting your mother in this condition in that place where everyone is lost or has lost something. You are in awe of the love and kindness shown by those who work with the lost day in and day out. And, if your mother only sleeps while you hold her hand, you chat with the other residents and the staff who also have social needs.

So my dream didn’t exactly start out stressful. I talked to residents and provided help, if needed. Staff members came out and said, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.” Then my mom found me—she was wearing that pink shirt of hers—not that pink was her color, but no doubt she had bought it because it was on sale. We sat together, me with my arms around her, as if she were a child, and rested into one another. Then she left to take dinner with the other residents.

That’s when the stress began. Where was the bathroom? Did they change the colors on each residential section or had they also remodeled them? I had to leave, but first needed to put away all the supplies I had pulled out. Plus, where did they all belong? And then where was the bag I brought with me? Where did I leave it and did one of the “shoppers” (what people with dementia are called when they tend to take off with things that don’t belong to them) find it? And if I didn’t find the bag, how was I going to get to where I was supposed to be? With so much to worry about, I just couldn’t find my way to the door even though it was way past time to leave.

Oh, Lenny was right—those must be the sorts of thoughts that run through the minds of those with dementia. What a nightmare for them.

Thank goodness I was only dreaming—let this be a wake-up call to live well now and to quit stressing out over minor details.

Freezing Out the Grapevine, @1990

Freezing Out the Grapevine, @1990

My daughter has the misfortune to work alongside a very chatty woman this summer. After hearing some of this woman’s topics, I agree with my daughter that her ability to work with the woman at all indicates just how well she deals with customers, even when the customer at hand is internal. But if that woman suggests one more time that my daughter should get married and/or have a baby, I’m going to go down there and have more than a chat with her!

Just kidding, I’m not really going to butt in on this conversation, but what is up with this woman who is also a mother of a young adult? Why is she acting as if all my daughter needs to do in life is get started on a marriage and a family? Why is this her business and what year is it anyway?

Both my mother and my mother-in-law expressed more than a little bitterness about how they were treated when they did not get married right away in the 1940s and 1950s. These women—gasp—finished their educations and worked professionally, not marrying until each was 29. I might have married a few years younger than they did, but I most definitely felt no pressure from them to start my own family right away—which I did not do. However, my daughter is just barely 22 and not yet out of college. So far she has only worked summer jobs, internships, and work study positions–give her a chance to use some of her education in a professional setting, please, before she faces family-related decisions.

While I understand changing life’s plans to care for unexpected births, I do not think people should actively pursue marriage and families without a plan for how to do so without needing help from others. And I am not the kind of person who wants to wedge another growing family into my home.

I’m stating my position here—I am not going to provide child care for a grandchild. I have waited a long time in order to not  be taking care of someone else—my kids, my mother in her final years—and I am not putting my own plans aside now that my time has arrived. Watching my mother’s decline also taught me that health is not a given. I don’t want to wait so long for my own time that that time never comes.

Please, if a person does not have the means to support a family, do not go out of your way to encourage her or him to start one anyway. Meddling of this kind is even crazier in the current times where job growth for young adults has been so tenuous and many, such as my daughter, will have student loans to pay.

Besides, thanks to the scheduling and poor advising in the department of her major at her college, though she has 122 credits, she still has two semesters left, despite needing only 11 credits. Talk about an expensive way to finish a degree. So, no, my daughter does not need to hurry into having a child—she needs to focus on how she will provide for herself come next year.

And, while we’re on the topic, ask me how I feel about people getting married straight out of college. For all those for whom that worked really well, I am very happy for you. But in my family, my brother’s very happy college relationship ended with an early divorce, thanks to the couple’s inability to transition into living on their own together as grown-ups. The real world is very different from college. Better to take some time to see how the relationship weathers the real world; if the relationship remains stable or grows during the transition, then nothing has been lost in waiting a little bit to make the final commitment.

Life transitions are huge and very personal. Questions about babies and marriage—none of your business, OK? These areas should stay private for many reasons. Can’t figure out why some people seem to think idle speculation or gossip about these very big changes is harmless. In past times we had meddlers such as the relative in Sense and Sensibility who could not stay out of Elinor and Edward’s love life—now we have The National Enquirer and reality TV—and, apparently, meddlers such as the woman who works with my daughter.

Talk about the weather, talk about what you did last night, but for God’s sake, stop acting as if topics about getting married and having babies are matters of no consequence. Have your own baby and/or marriage, but leave others to their own timelines.

And, no, I’m not babysitting for you either.

Still life by Christiana Lambert, 2010

Still life by Christiana Lambert, 2010

So after my last posts about biology and how it should not affect the ability to get an education, biology is back on my mind. Is biology destiny? And how do you confront biology that might be a bit flawed in one area—can systems and/or willpower change approaches?

Why do I ask? I’ll tell you why—I’ve just moved my daughter again and it’s a lot like moving my mother, even though my mother’s no longer here to demonstrate her lack of organizational abilities for my daughter. Yes she had dementia, but the moving difficulties were really more related to lifelong patterns and approaches. Neither of those two could load a dishwasher in a way that makes any sense to me—nor to even those in the family who are not quite as obsessive about it as I am. My spatial abilities are specialized while theirs might be or have been almost non-existent.

You see, ADD runs through the family, but how that manifests varies in each of us. Besides, I am not certain how far along the scientists are in tying what difficulties to what genes in this area. And though our family participated in one of the first big studies involving ADD and genomes, it wasn’t the sort of study that provided any information to the participants. We have no idea if in some lab somewhere, a scientist looked at all the traits reported and started to make sense of how the information on our DNA connected with our behaviors.

As for my mother, we know little about her biology other than the fact she had a head injury in an early car accident. By the time we were helping her, she was hopeless when it came to packing, either because of the biology, accident, and/or lifelong patterns.

I pray there is still help and hope for our daughter—and, consequently, us. If nothing else, she hasn’t had any head injuries and she’s young enough that she still can learn and still search out tools to help her.

The girl loves her stuff! And as an art major, she has a lot of supplies, too, that she actually needed at one time or still needs. Bins, stacking organizers, shelves, dividers, etc.—I keep trying to find something that will help her keep it all semi-together. Would it be too much to ask her to search out solutions herself, even if they might not be successful? Ask my family—while I have found some really good solutions for myself, there are many more I have tried that just did not work for me. When your mind isn’t wired to realize that there should be a place for everything—or that such a concept even exists—you have to concede you need help and search for whatever tools that work for you—and keep searching when you haven’t found a reasonable solution yet.

The Battle of Too Much Stuff is a constant in this household—and it would be so much better if I could rally more troops to fight against all that stuff instead of having troops who add more stuff to my stuff. I am dealing with my own biology on this—I don’t need other peoples’ stuff and biology to exacerbate my own disabilities. Really.

Love my daughter and loved my mother, but their stuff? Not so much.

Trina and Scott with Whiskers, the dog we had after Dee Dee.

Trina and Scott with Whiskers, the dog we had after Dee Dee.

Letting a dog go never gets easier, no matter how many dogs you’ve had cross the Rainbow Bridge in your life.

My in-laws had to say goodbye to another dog today. Today I realized that might be especially hard for them not just because she was their dog, but also because they have gone through this so many times before.

As I was thinking about that, then I realized what day it was and burst into tears for my not-quite-five-year-old self. May Day 1967 was my unwilling initiation into the dog loss club.

Oh, Dee Dee wasn’t an elderly dog—which is something altogether since in those situations we have so many years to connect with our dogs and grow to love them more each year we share.

No, she was my first dog, the one who came to me on my fourth birthday, so small she fit into a grape basket. I never imagined she wouldn’t grow old as I grew up.

May Days in small-town-Nebraska were festival days when kids took their handmade paper baskets, filled them with goodies, and distributed those baskets to the doors of the homes where their friends lived. But the wind and our typical unlocked front door conspired to turn our joy into sorrow. As a family opened our door to protect the gifts they had brought us, out ran our little girl, straight toward the wheels of a vehicle being driven down our normally quiet street.

Not sure if seeing that all happen made it much worse or not. After all, I got that she was really, really gone. Even if I didn’t really understand death, I understood what I witnessed.

She is just the first of the names of my “soft and warm and fuzzy” loved ones written on my heart. Dee Dee, Whiskers, Duncan, Chelsea, Fordham, Abel.

And those are just the names of those who have lived with me over the years. I also have not forgotten many of those dogs who stole the hearts of those humans I also have known and loved.

I definitely get that my in-laws are really, really hurting, too. That’s why I’m bringing my mother-in-law flowers tonight. I can’t fix her pain, but I understand it, although maybe not as well as I will understand when I reach her age.

(c) 2009 Lori Lange, Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

(c) 2009 Lori Lange,
Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

My American literature professor spent a lot of class time discussing author Ernest Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” concept. I admit that I am macho enough to admire some of the themes from Hemingway’s works. I suppose that goes back to the German-American pioneer spirit imbued in my genes, or at least in my upbringing.

Well, I have that grace. In a crisis it takes a lot for me to become that cliché character in movies that starts hyperventilating at the first sign of difficulties.

I have walked through many fires and not been burned—even when I have been singed.

I get that I have not worked full-time for years and that when I have worked, it has been as a freelance writer and editor or as a volunteer or as a daughter, wife, or parent. I don’t always know programs or letters, such as Photoshop or SEO optimization. But know that other than some word processing I was taught to do on a Wang system (and, yes, that really was a big computer system in a time long ago, not something obscene), I have taught myself everything. I was handed a manual and told if I read it, then I could probably learn how to create spreadsheets—I’ve been through Lotus, Quattro Pro, and Excel all on my own and I’m damn good at spreadsheets—not because I’ve been trained, but because I’m the sort of analytical person who loves the clarity spreadsheets can provide. I’ve switched from the WordPerfect I loved to Word because my work needed to be put into Quark in chart format—which I learned to do from doing it. Software programs come and go—and I learn them when applicable to what I need to do.

When my circulation boss left right before the auditor called, I figured out how to prepare the requested reports and proofs for the auditor. I read industry resources and called contacts and got the information I needed to meet the requirements and then exceed those as I had more preparation and time to develop my own systems.

In fact, the only time I have been trained to do much of anything in my work life is when I standardized financial data for a McGraw Hill company—I was rather in awe that I got to work for a couple months just learning—what a concept, right? Before I was done with that job, I was the person who created the new training manuals/programs for two specific industry groups.

Writing and editing? Not trained except as a college student and with the introductory studies in my graduate publishing program. But once again, I have utilized written resources and contacts, although I have not really got into watching online videos—I’m not so auditory in my learning style that I have converted to that type of learning, although it’s good to know that I can if I am stumped.

And I can’t tell you how many times my MBA studies have been relevant in both my volunteer work and my family life. I’ve used operations management techniques for standardizing and improving back room operations for large volunteer-run clothing and equipment sales and my knowledge of accounting and finance for analyzing financial reports as oversight for the local school district, a non-profit preschool, and any other volunteer organization I have supported. Plus, without my MBA, I doubt I could have proven to a large hospital and our insurance company just why the billing was wrong and why we were the ones owed money, not the institution.

Then there is all I had to do to “rescue” my mother from the details of her life as she fell into dementia. I had to jump in to her finances and analyze what she had and hadn’t done and come up with a plan for catching up and going forward. I had to manage her healthcare, finances, possessions, and real estate—and still find time to love her and my own kids who were still at home.

At the same time my daughter experienced her own health crisis (the one that led to the big billing problem) that required weekly if not more frequent medical trips as well as handling the human side of that crisis.

Even so, during these twin crises, I was still editing, volunteering, and exercising, as well as managing our own household finances, appointments, possessions, pets, etc. Everything that was essential was completed, but at the same time I didn’t feel I could commit myself to outside work and do it justice.

Those days are past. I have been baptized by fire and am ready to share my abilities with a worthy organization. No, my path has not been straight and I am not an expert in one particular thing. But if a computer program is spitting me out for not having “x” years of experience in this or that, then I will never get a chance to show just how much I can do. I need a hiring manager who has the imagination to understand the assets my life experiences, character traits, and my skills are and how they can add to an organization’s value.

On the other hand, I realize that there is still so much for me to learn about the way workplaces are now. Just because I have an MBA, that doesn’t mean I think I should start at the top. But know that I am a loyal person and when the time comes that I get a chance to dig in and begin at a lower level, I will put my powers of learning to whatever tasks are at hand and grow both myself and the organization that hires me.

I am relevant in so many ways—what I call “grace under pressure” is now called “grit”—and that I have in spades.

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