My grandmother, Joan Juanita Peterson, was laid to rest last Saturday. When we walked into the funeral home, one of the first things I noticed was her casket – pine green with gold pine trees along the edges. The first thing that came to mind was, “that matches her.”
Once we were all seated and the pastor started the services, the first of 3 songs started playing that grandma had picked out months before – all classical pieces. As I sat next to my dad with tears streaming down my face, I remembered the cassette tape she gave me when I was younger. It was by Mantovani. At the time, I was listening to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi but I remember enjoying and appreciating the cassette in private. I wish I would have kept it. The pastor shared great stories and memories of grandma and my heart ached for her three sons as well as my sister. Sherry took care of grandma in her later years, mending fences and roofs, painting, and replacing floors. She always bought grandma cotton candy at the fair. She also took care of my grandma in her final days until the end.
The graveside services were beautiful – warm weather, blue skies with soft clouds drifting by, and cows quietly grazing in the distance. I commented that it was a beautiful place to be laid to rest. The funeral director agreed, saying he also enjoyed going up to the cemetery for moments of peace at the end of the day.
At the end of the services I gently patted grandma’s casket and told her I loved her. There is a beautiful crab tree in bloom right over grandma and grandpa’s grave and it was full of pink flowers. I plucked one of the blooms and set it on her casket before I walked away to join my husband and son.
Everyone was hungry at the luncheon and I was humbled by the church and everything they did to help my family. They provided a huge table of food and a kind woman plated up my mother’s food so she could keep both of her hands on her walker. My two-year old nephew, who has also been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ran around the church basement in his little suit with a mischievous grin on his face. Despite the sadness in my dad’s heart, this little fella did not fail to make Dad smile.
That evening a storm rolled in. When the rain started to fall a double rainbow formed. It stretched from the edge of the Judith Mountains to the front of the house. Over the edge of the mountains, lightning started to strike. The Judith’s took on an otherworldy, orange color and they lightly glowed in the setting sun. The closing of the day we said goodbye to grandma could not have been more beautiful.
The next day, my son said “Mom, the lightning was there along with the rainbows because great grandma was sassy.” Well said son, I thought. I cannot think of a better closing to the great novel of my grandma’s full life. You have inspired me to live more, love more and fear less; to be bold and be myself; and to refuse to take a backseat in life. Rest in peace grandma – you were a warrior and an artist who painted the most vivid picture of life.
My grandmother of 92 years is in hospice care. I drove over to see her last week and was taken aback by how frail she looked. As I sat next to her and talked to her, I kept looking at her hands. I thought of everything her hands accomplished during her life – raising three boys; taking care of a home; breeding and raising beagles; growing, picking, and canning massive amounts of vegetables every year; shooting and processing deer every year; raising and caring for rabbits; boarding dogs; creating art and building things; and living a full life. Her hands became still on her blanket as she slept, and I watched her hands raising up and down to match her breathing as I thought of everything they accomplished during her life.
Grandma only said what needed to be said and she said it with truth and boldness. I honestly cannot remember her ever making small talk. The funniest thing I remember hearing her say to date was about a woman sitting in the waiting room with her as she waited for the eye doctor: “She talked and talked for 30 minutes and didn’t say a thing.” Grandma listened and I know this because she always had a remedy or an idea for just about anything. When Dave had to go into the hospital for a stomach ulcer, her advice was to have him eat some lamb. When I wrote to her about our finches and the eggs that were being laid, she gave me tips on caring for a female that was having a hard time passing the eggs. I told grandma once how much I enjoyed hearing chickadees and she told me that she always knew when a deer was around because the chickadees would start chirping. I am thankful for every moment I have had with her and I will always try to follow her example in many areas of my life.
Equally amazing is my sister and our good friend, both of whom are caring for my grandma. The sacrifices they are making, the dedication, and the love they are pouring out for her truly humbles me beyond words.
We are not here on this earth just to exist, waiting for Friday every week and dreading Mondays. We are here to love, create, serve, worship, lift others up, and bless one another. One of the greatest gifts God gives us is the opportunity to care for others – whether it is hands on caregiving, offering a smile to a stranger or encouragement to a co-worker, donating our time or resources to people in need or simply being who God created us to be with no fear holding us back – only holy boldness and beautiful hands.
Fall is by far my favorite season. It brings golden leaves, bluer skies, and cool breezes. After a summer dominated by smoke and fire, it was a great relief to see two days of rain and cooler temperatures. I looked out the window and noticed something different along with seeing a blue sky – the trees were swaying. It took me a while to realize that we barely had any wind since the heat and drought set in late June. The wind usually blows so much that we practically fall over when it doesn’t, so welcome back wind! I will try not to complain when you blow my hair all over the place!
With summer coming to a close and fall approaching fast, I wanted to share the highlights of my summer in photos. I went for a visit to Lewistown in June and enjoyed taking Mom to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant. I enjoyed several walks with my family, before the smoke rolled in, on the River’s Edge Trail. My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a trip to San Jose and San Francisco. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot and it was exhilarating. Finally, in August I was thrilled to see Drew in a tuxedo for the first time for my niece’s wedding.
I admit that the smokey skies made their way into my spirit. I forgot that the smallest of gifts are the most important: a mourning dove perched outside of the dining room window, the chatter of chickadees on my way back to the office, golden spots of sun on the floor, ceramic pigs strategically placed around my house by my neighbor for me to find, time with my husband on the couch watching Suits, and a smile from a coworker.
I came across the quote in the picture above during one of my morning meditation sessions. When we live in our heads, our lives can pass by unnoticed. We miss the bird placed on a branch in the perfect place for us to look up and see him. We miss the cloud in the sky shaped like a heart or the uplifting lyrics of a song. It’s better to let our fearful thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky than to end up underneath them for months, even years. Remember the cartoons when a character had a raining cloud over his head wherever he went? That is exactly what it is like to live in our heads. This is something I am guilty of and I have realized that life is far too precious to go by unnoticed for even a moment.
Next month will be three years since Christian passed away. The turning leaves take me back to the months before his passing and it can be very painful – like it just happened. As the day approaches I want to see the world as I would want Christian to see it – a miracle in process, given to us by a God who loves us.
When I was a youngster, Thanksgiving meant Ritz crackers and cheese, mince meat and pumpkin pie made from scratch by my grandma, cranberry sauce, yams, turkey, rolls, olives and movie marathons. I always looked forward to my grandpa stopping by to drop off the pies and chatting with my mom over a cup of coffee. We never had any large family get togethers but it always included mom, dad, myself and my two younger sisters.
Over the years, as my nieces and nephews have grown and my sisters have moved away, we have had a few big gatherings. We would have a houseful – people sleeping in the spare bedroom, on the couch, air mattress and the floor. These were Christian’s favorite Thanksgivings.
For the last 2 years, the three of us have had a quiet meal while the fourth chair remains empty. We will visit the cemetery tomorrow morning and do our best to enjoy another Thanksgiving without our boy. Christian always loved and appreciated his Thanksgiving meal. He also remained thankful for the smallest of things until his last breath.
Every time I see something beautiful, I wonder if Christian is showing me what he always appreciated while he was on this earth.
I am thankful each and every day that I was able to take care of Christian for 21 years. I am thankful for the conversations we had while I cared for him, the things he did to make me smile and for the strength I had to care for my boys with little to no help. I am thankful for everything Christian taught me and for the things I continue to learn as I care for Andrew. When you care for someone who cannot leave the house because of their failing health, you learn just what we should truly be thankful for – a dove on the sidewalk, the warmth of a blanket fresh out of the dryer, a short visit from a dear friend, music, hugs, a birdsong, the smell of fresh coffee, a clean house or hearing the sound of the warm air flowing through the vents on a chilly winter night. The more I become thankful for, the more reasons I find to praise God. Praising God for the small miracles opens our hearts to the bigger gifts. Our lives become filled with peace and unexplainable joy as we carry Thankgiving into our everyday lives.
On October 21, I was blessed to see my favorite band, Two Door Cinema Club, in concert with my sister in Denver! My husband surprised me with tickets last June. Being a full time caregiver, my going out consists of books and coffee at my favorite coffee house, errands or some occasional shopping. It had been years since I was able to get away by myself – for 4 nights! I rented a car, a Nissan Sentra, plugged in my Two Door Cinema Club playlist and away I went! It took me a couple of hours to relax and get used to not seeing anyone in the back seat. I rarely go anywhere in a vehicle by myself so this was a new thing for me! It was about the time I reached the wind farm by Judith Gap that it started to sink in that I was on a trip by myself! Yes!
Everything went smoothly until I missed the turnoff for Billings by Lavina. I ended up close to Roundup so I was about 45 minutes out of the way. I eventually made it to Billings, passed the ramp for I-90 only once and it was interstate all the way to my sister’s house. I didn’t leave home until 2:00 so it was getting dark by the time I saw Billings in my rearview. I continued to enjoy my tunes and had to turn them up louder once I reached I-25. This portion of I-25 is straight and I was beginning to feel drowsy. After almost hitting a huge porcupine and seeing only 4 deer along the entire drive, I made it to Douglas.
My sister, Sherry, and I had Sunday to relax before our big day in Denver. She is a volunteer firefighter so she showed me around the station. This gave me a visual of what she deals with and I really admire her and her husband, Pat, for what they do. I had the privilege of meeting Sherry’s good friend, J.J., and her two wonderful sons. I visited with my niece and nephew and briefly saw my brother-in-law between his workdays. I went to bed that night very relaxed and thankful for family and new friends.
We left for Denver early and arrived in Fort Collins in time for lunch. We ate at Mad Greens which was delicious. It was located close to the university and the trees were golden with the light of autumn. Once we got back onto the interstate, traffic started to become heavier and more lanes were appearing. I am a Montana girl not used to city driving, so I had to keep telling myself to chill out. We used Siri on my iPhone as we started to approach Denver. My stomach started doing flip flops when downtown Denver came into view. Next thing I knew, I could see Coors Field and we were approaching Colfax Avenue, which is where our hotel and the Ogden Theatre is located. It went smoothly except for the old woman who drove her wheelchair into the middle of the intersection I was approaching and the red light I had to run because I didn’t even know it was there! By the time we reached our hotel, I was nauseated, relieved and excited. I kept telling myself, this is it! I am actually going to see my favorite band tonight!
We had plenty of time to walk down to a record store right next to the Ogden Theatre and grab a bite to eat at an Irish eatery. We went back to the hotel and I could hardly sit still for all of the excitement. We left early and there was already a line. Most of the people in line had big X’s on their hands for under 21 and my sister and I were one of the few with over 21 bracelets on.
At one point while we were standing in line, we saw two guys run by that looked like they were straight out of the 70’s. We laughed a little and continued waiting for the doors to open. We were fairly close to the front of the line so we were able to stand in the front section. We eagerly waited for things to start and I was surprised at how close we were to the stage. I could hear a lot of excitement building for one of the opening acts, St. Lucia, who I had never heard before.
It was 8:00 and the opening act came out! I looked at the lead singer and lead guitarist and my jaw dropped! They were the two guys who ran by us earlier. Come to find out, they were straight out of England – Peace was the name of their band. They were very good. We laughed at ourselves for not knowing who they were. As St. Lucia’s turn was approaching, I could feel the energy in the crowd building. Sherry and I had to hold our stance and keep our place in the front section. The Ogden is smaller so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Only one guy tried to cut in front of us and Sherry pretty much told him where to go. Not many will press their luck with her – she is tough as nails.
I am surprised to this day how much I remember about St. Lucia – their enthusiasm, energy, the music and more. As I listen to Elevate at this moment, I feel like I am there. Everyone of them looked so happy and full of life. It was impossible to stand still as I watched the beautiful woman in front of me play the keyboards, shake the tambourine and jam out. Once they were finished, the drummer threw out his drumsticks. Some girls next to us were fighting over one and Sherry took her chance. They all knew better than to try grabbing it back! I am happy to say that it is safely sitting on my piano as I write this.
The set up for Two Door Cinema Club took the longest. I could hardly contain myself. The girls in front of us left to meet St. Lucia and next thing I knew, Sherry pushed me up into the spot they were in. I was right up front!!! The lights went out, fog began to rise and I could see them entering the stage. My eyes started to water! Next thing I knew, Alex Trimble was up there and the bassist, Kevin Baird, was right in front of us! I could feel the music in every cell of my body and as I listened to the songs that were so familiar to me, I was amazed to see it all unfolding in front of me. The music was flawless and I couldn’t stand still. Sherry had to take most of the pictures because I couldn’t stop dancing!
Once it was over, Sherry and I could feel our age. We were sore and tired. That night I awoke around 3:00 and I still had adrenaline. It took me over an hour to go back to sleep.
We enjoyed the rest of our time in Denver at a cute consignment shop on Colfax and a small coffee house across the street. The drive back to Wyoming was relaxing and the weather was beautiful.
The morning I left was so hard, as I knew it would be. I cried in private as I packed and didn’t waste too much time leaving since I had a 9 hour drive ahead of me. I kept myself together until I hugged my niece and nephew again. I bawled as I said goodbye and Alex, my niece, said they were tears of joy. I look back on it today and realize that she was right. They were tears of joy for an experience I will remember for the rest of my life – the concert, the time with my sister and meeting new friends. I took several pictures and will keep them close, saving them until I need them most. I may not be able to do something like this again for some time. My sons’ disease is progressive and I find them needing more and more help. My husband is the greatest guy on the planet for taking such good care of them while I was away. I may have been annoying for a while after I returned, showing off my photos and talking about the concert, but it’s only because I have given so much up since I left my career in 2005. This more than made up for it and I will always be thankful!