Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: Orange County/CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way. Now working at my Alma Mater, UC Irvine, as Marketing and Communications Director for the School of Biological Sciences.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Even a Sunset

OK, I must admit that two major "transitions" in one day is flattening. Losing my mom and Gary's sister, Arline, on the same day (1/7) sent us both into instant shock. More than a week later, we are still a nasty mess. When we speak, we make sense only about 60% of the time. Our words, especially those expressing ideas, thoughts, desires, even commands, often come out as gibberish. Example: Yesterday at Starbucks I wanted to order my usual venti decaf Americano with sugar free hazelnut. I ordered a grande sugar free hazelnut latte. I buzzed for hours because of the caffeine - but none of my buzz made much sense. Thank GOD I have associates who check my work!

As I write this, Gary is watching an NFL playoff game, but he looks and acts like a zombie. He can't tell me who is playing except to say, "old Colts and new Colts," and "it's three to three." He says he has a headache and isn't interested in eating dinner. I know he will be interested in chocolate.

Grief sucks. Even a beautiful sunset at the beach, like the one pictured here, doesn't merit a smile and the awe it richly deserves. We kind of gaze at what's in front of us - TV or computer screen - or we stare at each other hoping the other person will start a conversation. Gary coughs and I type or turn pages of a magazine. Mom's dog, Bailey, the pygmy sheep, cries incessantly at the screen door, as if to be sure we know he has lost his best friend, too.

We try to stay busy and pass the time with chores. Laundry does wonders in that department. Unfortunately, Gary, in his laundry zeal, today washed his new Tommy Bahama black silk shirt, a Christmas gift from our children, in a cold-water wash with a bunch of my white stuff, and everything self-destructed. His shirt is three sizes smaller and my white blouses and undies are gun metal gray. Thank God we have our senses of humor to combat the compulsion to bark at each other or worse, sink into those deep sobs that resonate grief.

The Indianapolis Colts are way ahead at this moment. I'm feeling glad that football is something Gary and I both enjoy, something we can count on to mitigate the pain of profound loss. I know we have to grieve and get through this bad time; but I also know we need brightness of the future. We love the Arizona Cardinals and Kurt Warner; but we're ok with the New Orleans Saints dominating today, knowing the tragedy and pain the New Orleans fans went through only a few years ago. These football games seemed a good counter-balance to all the horrors of Haiti on the air 24/7 right now...and the pain Gary and I feel about the loss of our loved ones.

There will be many more gorgeous sunsets in my life when I won't be devastated by grief. And like every day on this planet, those sunsets will be beautiful......

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pretty Woman

It's still too hard for me to write much about my mom, Marianne Garner, who left the planet last Thursday, so I'm just posting some fun photos of her...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Rose Today...

My mom always loved the saying, "I'd rather have one rose today than all the flowers when I'm gone." She learned it from her dear friend, Delia McHugh, who was our nanny in the 50's. I learned this phrase meant that someone would rather be with a family member or friend today than with lots of people at their memorial service.

My beautiful, funny, sweet, crazy mom, Marianne Garner, passed away this morning at one o'clock, in the presence of her "Silverado Hospice angels." I was fortunate to have spent a few hours with her late yesterday afternoon, going through the pictures I had saved from the boxes I mentioned in my blog posting last night. Mom was in some distress then, breathing oxygen from a tube attached to a noisy machine, and having some trouble swallowing the soup the staff had brought in for lunch. When I arrived, she was sitting on the side of her bed enjoying a conversation with her beloved Hospice volunteer and "dear friend," Patty. The three of us looked at some pictures and Patty asked to take a yellowed black and white photo of Mom when she was a chubby child to scan and enlarge. Mom and I were delighted that Patty wanted to do that.

After Patty left, Mom asked if she could have a glass of wine. I poured each of us two sips in plastic cups and we toasted to Mom's wonderful past. "I have had a wonderful life," she declared, clutching a photo of her and Jack at the captain's table on a cruise ship and extending her plastic up out to touch mine. "Yes, you have," I agreed.

Mom picked up a tiny, wallet-sized photo of her taken when she was probably 34, holding my little brother, John, in her lap. It must have been snapped by a professional photographer because the quality was excellent. Mom wore a simple black dress and John was in yellow "footy jammies." I'm guessing John was about two, although he looked older because he was such a big boy. They were both smiling in a giddy, silly way, as if they were sharing a goofy secret. Looking at the picture, Mom said, "Johnny was such a joy." I was quiet. "I love you and your brother so much," she said. "I know," was all I could say.

My mom died in the middle of last night, apparently with that picture of her and little John nearby, and surrounded by other photos she'd been viewing. I have to believe that my "Playing God" with historical photos last weekend was a good thing. I honor my caring sister, Meg, for insisting that I go through those boxes of pictures on New Year's Day - a task I dreaded - and then share some with Mom. What a wonderful gift those pictures were for her during the last precious days and hours of her life.

Something I remember from my last conversation with my mother was her question, "When exactly did Jack die?" I told her that my dear stepdad, Jack, had passed January 25th of last year. "Oh, I knew it was January," she said. And then five minutes later, she asked me the same question again, and I gave the same answer. This time she wistfully added, "I miss Jack so much." And I responded, "He misses you too, Mom; and someday you'll be together again."

Did I know she was destined to leave the planet after I left her last night? No. Am I grateful that I was with her just prior to her departure? Yes. Mom had her sought-after "one rose today." And thankfully, so did I.

God bless and keep you, Mom...I love you.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Playing God

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be God? What it would feel like to change or judge the quality of people’s lives with a wave, a wink, a smile, a comment, a fingertip on a keyboard or perhaps the flick of a photo into a garbage bag?

This past weekend of the New Year, I did the latter. I calmly combed through dozens of boxes of photos and family memorabilia, and decided what to keep and what to throw away. It felt like playing God. Photos of relatives or people who looked like relatives were safe. Pictures taken with instamatic cameras on what must have been cherished vacations to faraway lands – photos of meadows, churches, ruins, seascapes and green fields – I tossed into the trash. These were mostly my parents’ photographs, pictures representing their beloved memories and important moments, their travels and sweet, often silly times at celebrations of family and friends. I laughed incessantly as I poured through them; and I cried too.

In these boxes I discovered the photo albums of my “real dad," John Sumner, and his sister, Mildred. I found a 1911 letter from my mom’s “real dad," Ray Hanners, to her mother, Alta White. These gems were revealing and liberating. I felt as if history had opened up a treasure chest for me to find the jewels of my own family history – and suddenly the people I had previously known nothing about, or had judged harshly based on hearsay, were very real and vulnerable. These characters from my past were amazingly present in photographs and the written word.

In the midst of my joy of discovery, I realized that I had to decide if I would keep their photos in a storage box, or cast them to garbage or recycling in a moment of minimalist victory. I heard voices in my head saying, "We can’t keep dozens of photo boxes in storage. There’s no room in the garage, attic or storage unit."

I must have viewed a thousand pictures of countryside scenic’s my stepdad, Jack, had taken in England, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I saved some of the photos that included him, Mom or their beloved driver, Remo Bartolini. Remo drove them around Europe more than once. These photos were important to Mom and Jack…and hard for me to cast into the trash pile. But cast them I did…so ensuring there is room for the same kinds of photos we’ve taken and love to look at now, that our children will ultimately cast into what we hope will be “green” dumpsters.

Maybe the hardest part of this cathartic experience was turning the decomposing pages of photo albums deftly crafted by my grandmothers, aunts, cousins and uncles from 1920 to 1950. Fuzzy black pages of these albums disintegrated into dust in my lap as I turned them; but the little black and white photos stayed solid. Sadly, I didn’t know who the people were in the photos because the printing evaporated on the album pages. I was left with relatives and their friends unnamed, unaccounted for, yet honored. I may not ever know who they were, but I know each of them was “somebody” in my life, just like the friends I have today.

Heavy topic? Yes. "Playing God" is always a heavy topic. Have you thought about what will happen to the photos you love, or your family members love, be they in a box somewhere, in files on your computer or in someone else’s care? Where are the pictures of your past right now? Tonight I can honestly say I have a better idea about my family history – and about me – thanks to the pictures saved by my family, and I care about the people who colored them.

The pictures Gary and I have taken of scenery may ultimately wind up in a trash can because they're not works of art like those of my friend, Margaret. That’s ok because we snapped them in the moment for our own enjoyment, and maybe for the smiles of a few friends. On the other hand, our people photos will probably live for many years, as long as someone cares who is in them. It’s the same for anyone reading this blog – your photos will be judged by future generations, and either saved or discarded. God would tell us to keep snapping photos.

“Playing God” with the family photos sent me screaming to the shower. I hated it because I didn’t want to accept responsibility for my family’s visual record. I did it anyway. I tossed a gazillion photos and saved the ones I thought might matter. You may get to do the same thing. Good luck.