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I Think I’m Grieving Wrong

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            It’s now been 9 months since my dad’s passing. He had a wonderful Hospice group (Capital City Hospice). I almost can’t say enough good things about them. They always treated dad with such respect and great care. They explained things to us, which his doctor didn’t know. Today, nine months after dad’s death, they continue to send me information about dealing with grief. All of their advice seems to have one basic theme. Grieving is normal, and will pass. It’s not like they are trying to rush you through the five or seven (depends on who you talk to) stages. They just emphasize that you need to continue to take care of yourself: rest, talk about it, go easy on yourself, avoid negative habits, etc. They even made the Christian point that, it is kind of like the Easer journey, between death and resurrection.

            This latest flyer suggested that journaling might be helpful in expressing and working through grief feelings. But I have this web site, and know this is a helpful topic for all of us. Sadly, loss is a part of life. Dealing with it is a necessary ability.

            I learned about dealing a little with grief in nursing school. But it’s different when it’s your turn. It’s great to know about the classic stages: Shock/Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression/Detachment, and finally Acceptance. But what if you are doing it wrong?

            I very much hate to admit this, but when dad passed my overwhelming feeling was relief. He hadn’t been himself for years. He just couldn’t deal with his losses. He was a shell of his former self, physically and mentally. I did whatever I could, but it was never enough. I visited and took him out more than anyone where he stayed. I actually felt sorry for many of other residents who seemed forgotten. Still, I felt guilty, because I couldn’t make things better for him. I tried to keep him safe, but he always tested the limits. He fell so often one nurse called him the rubber man. Except he wasn’t always rubber. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to every hospital in Columbus, Ohio with him at some time. He missed mom like I missed mom. We had that in common.

            My grief for her was more of the classic variety. With dad my stages were relief followed, in no particular order, guilt, and anger. I still somewhat wrestle with what I might have done differently (guilt). And while I’m not angry during the day, my dad has shown up in occasional dreams. One of my most frequent dreams is with him driving and me sitting helplessly beside him. He drove way longer than he should have. And I couldn’t get the keys from him. Crystal was (as usual) smarter than me. She wouldn’t get into the car unless I was driving. In another dream he was walking without his cane, trying to cross a busy street. I can’t get to him. Sometimes my dreams do turn funny (sort of). One time, I don’t know how, he was driving and we wound up in the middle of a shopping mall. I’m screaming, and people are darting around. That’s usually when I wake up.

            I have talked to a councilor about this. She helped me realize who got me to realize that everyone’s grief is unique. Part of my grieving took place while dad was still alive. I’m empathetic, and I suffered along with him. I felt bad when I couldn’t give him the answers he wanted or tell him he would get better.

            Lately, and this is why I am writing this, I am transitioning to an acceptance phase. Lately, at least some of my dreams turned happier. Mom and dad are together the way they used to be. With the exception of their last days they both lived good long lives. They were always good to me. They were two of the best parents I could have had. I am lucky to have had them. That’s what I will remember.

            If you are ever in a position of grieving, just remember, it is part of life. Help is available. People have been where you are. You are doing it right. There is no wrong way. It may seem difficult, but reach out to loved ones and professionals. Take your pain to God. He understands your loss and promises peace.

Dad and me in 2012 in front of his Oak Lawn IL. house of 60 years, preparing to move him to Ohio
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Happy New Decade

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            It wasn’t until after Christmas that I realized, not only are we looking at a new year, but a brand new decade. As usual, the New Year is a time of reflection. What occurred in the previous twelve months and what do we resolve to make the next twelve better. Admit it, it’s February and many of you have at least compromised your resolutions. I just resolved to live healthier. I figure, the more nebulous the resolution, the easier to keep. P.S. I’m doing fine.

            However, when I look back at the last ten years, a lot has changed. Sadly, in that time we have lost the last of our parents. Three (my mom and dad, and Jim Carlson) died over the last decade. My dad died was the last, at the age of 98, just last May. We still think of and miss our parents often. As our book nears completion, it gives Crystal and me comfort that their stories will live on.

            Ten years ago, Lisa was a high school senior and I was working as an RN. Since then Michelle and Alex were married. Between them and Liz and Brad we have been blessed with four more grandchildren. That gives us seven all together. To paraphrase the movie “Jaws”, ‘We are going to need a bigger table’.

            While no future is predictable, we will continue to make plans. In what was hopefully the first of many, Crystal and I have just returned from a vacation. It was a nice getaway to central Florida. Future trips are already planned. Crystal wants to add book tours and lecturing to our future. It goes without saying, staying involved with our family will continue to be a priority.

            Of course, only God knows for sure what the next ten years will bring. We just need to live each day the best we can, and continue to seek His will.

            Hopefully, you will do the same.

Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy New Decade

Ron & Crystal

Our Loss is Heaven’s Gain

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Taking Down Christmas: by Crystal

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I don’t know about you, but taking down the Christmas decorations is not a happy task.  Putting up the decorations can be stressful, especially because before Christmas we have so much to do.  I tried this year to enjoy all of my Christmas activities, like writing our names in the cards, and making the newsletter, fluffing the tree up (Ron assembles and I’m the designated fluffer) and my quilted wall hangings, etc.  My daughter, Lisa, and I made candy and cookies together.  We only burned one tray, which happens pretty much every year.

I tend to put it off taking down the decorations in January (I usually don’t do it on New Year’s Day like a lot of people I know.) as much as possible.  I have several decorations, mostly from Hallmark, that are snowmen that sing and move.  I love those decorations. I am sure Ron is tired of hearing the music from them.  This year I got a Snoopy that dances, and a Gnome that sings “There’s no place like Gnome for the holidays”.  It dances in a circle and is so funny.  I will have real trouble stuffing that in a box to put in our garage.  Sometimes I wonder if the ornaments that are stuffed animals, or dolls, or the snowmen that sing, or teddy bears actually communicate with each other in the garage during the long time between January and December.  What would they say?

Our snowman with snow boy sings a song about the cutting down the Christmas tree. He might say:  “Gee are we back in the garage again?  It was such fun being out on the coffee table for a month.  We could see the beautiful tree with all the lights and toys on it.”

Snowman playing the piano:  “I know.  But didn’t that cat knock you off and pull on you onto the floor a few times?”

First Snowman:  “Yes; that happened, but the lady rescued me and had me sing again.  By the way why didn’t the cat knock you off?”

Piano Snowman:  “She tried and she has mitten paws and teeth, you know, but the lady stopped her in time; and I think she just gave up and pulled a little red stocking off the tree and ran off with it.”

A Teddy bear comments:  “Are you two complaining again?  I just take a long nap in between Christmases.  It works for me.”

Of course this probably isn’t really happening in the garage, but I can imagine that it could.  Well, I am going to stop writing now and make Snoopy and the Gnome dance and sing.  I hope you are having a good day and are enjoying January.  I do leave a few winter decorations up like my quilted wall hanging with the deer, and my snowman wall hanging in the bathroom.   I made both of those; and I like to see them on the cold winter days.  Our cat Ella, denies everything. She doesn’t know anything about those snowmen toys, or the missing red stocking.  She is telling me this while she runs off with one of my white socks in her mouth.

Ron

While I love my wife’s imagination, I really doubt the decorations are sentient. However, they did cause a disagreement. The Snowman and snow boy could only get through about a quarter of their song. Then they stopped. Crystal continued to try over and over again. It drove me nuts. I suggested we get rid of it. Crystal would have none of that. She hates to throw anything out. It’s still a wonderful decoration, she said. I thought, ‘it could decorate the garbage can.’ Eventually, I gave up. OK…the mechanism was completely inaccessible. I used all of my mechanical knowhow. I purposely and forcefully dropped it on the floor. Crystal was amazed when she came down the next morning and the device worked like new. She asked what I did. I told her, just a little engineering trick…….Please don’t tell her.

Ella attacking one of her favorite ornaments while the snowman and snowboy watch.
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Ella’s Christmas Letter

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Hi again, I’m Ella Meinstein. It’s been over a year since I found mom and dad (Crystal and Ron) picking raspberries in my back yard. They are very good to me. I get lots of good food. I have all sorts of toys like empty spools, my stuffed bunny and stuffed snowman; and there is always a nice warm lap to sit on.

            Recently they gave me a new game, which they love to play with me. One day Dad went to the garage and got a whole bunch of boxes and bags. Then he assembled this big green triangular thing which kind of looks like a tree. I’ll call it a tree. It doesn’t smell like a tree, more like the shower curtain. But that’s not the best part. After Dad put it up, Mom put gloves on and fluffed out the tree to make is look bigger, covered it with lights and little stuffed animals like Peter Rabbit and Woodstock, red balls, wooden stars, beaded candy canes and more toys. I didn’t tell mom, but I see really well and don’t need the lights. I love the toys though and jumping into the boxes that Dad brought in the house.

The super best part is that the game comes with the toys. The rules are simple. I just wait until no-one is looking and I steal one of the toys especially the soft ones and carry it off. When Mom sees me she chases me and yells. Dad usually, just sits in his chair and laughs. I would laugh too, but it’s hard with a toy in my mouth.

            I also think this game has levels of difficulty. Lately the toys have been getting higher in the tree. It makes them harder to get. Pretty soon I’m just going to have to jump or climb the tree to get them. I can’t wait. I love to jump and climb. And won’t Dad laugh then.

            And then there’s the mail. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many letters.  I watch mom write on cards and put bright red and green stickers on the envelopes. I sit on the cards, push the pen around and knock some of them on the floor until Mom pushes me away.  And when one “accidentally” gets dropped behind the couch, that’s when the fun really starts.  Mom has to push the couch out and reach over the back to retrieve the card.  She looks so funny but she makes the mad face so I run under the dining room table and wait until she forgets all about it.

            Mom and Dad talk about this fellow Jesus. I think he may be coming to play with me. They said if you let him, he could maybe come to your house too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Well until next time, be good (whatever that means), and maybe you will get some toys too. Merry Plastic Toy Tree Day to All and to All a Good Night!

Isn’t this the best time of the year?

Love and Peace and Cats Rule

Ella

I love the soft ones.
Got It!
Who Me?
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No German Thanksgiving

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            Thanksgiving was quite different this year. For the past three or four years we celebrated what our family called German Thanksgiving. Our celebration was combined with dad’s birthday on November 15th.   Instead of the traditional turkey feast, our family made all of dad’s favorite German dishes including sauerbraten, dumplings, red cabbage,  and of course, chocolate cake, etc. Dad and the rest of our family loved the tradition and the food.

            This year, however, marks almost exactly six months since dad passed. He would have been ninety-nine this last November. Somehow, the tradition didn’t seem as important any more. I miss my dad. I don’t miss the way he was during his last months, but as I remember him when we were both younger. As I told him those last days, I had learned a lot from him through the years, and I am grateful. I believe Crystal and I have passed a lot of our parents’ teachings on to our girls: the importance of honesty, responsibility, and respecting others just to name a few.

            As much as this year brought a feeling of melancholy, it was also a year to give thanks. Our family continues to grow. As we lost dad, Michelle and Alex brought our 7th grandchild, Ripley, into the world.  Our family is really close. The girls are always talking and planning. Sometimes they even include us in  their plans.

            Even though there was no German Thanksgiving it doesn’t sound like I’ll get away unscathed. Everyone’s favorite German meal will come between Christmas and New Year’s. I will once again spend three days marinating over ten pounds of beef for the main course. The girls will, as always, help with some side dishes. We will once again thank God for our many blessings, and enjoy our family fellowship.

            The Bible says “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2). Sometimes these seasons seem to overlap. Yes, we will remember our parents fondly. Yes, the time of mourning will continue for a season. But, it will not overwhelm our ongoing times of joy. Mom’s old world recipes will be enjoyed for many years to come. Someday, maybe you too can enjoy them. Our family cook book which includes family stories is coming close to completion. Their life stories will also continue, as our memoir is almost ready for the publisher.

            As we enter another Christmas season, be sure to give thanks for all of those in your life who contributed to making you who you are. Look forward with hope and anticipation. Seek peace. And always try to be a blessing to those around you.

God Bless You

Ron and Crystal

Christmas 2010 (This was a German Christmas Meal) Mom, Dad, and Family Happy
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Secret to Marriage: Final – Don’t get Married until you are Ready and Marry the Right Person

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            I know, I know, this seems obvious. But what does it mean to marry the right person? What makes them ‘The One’? Sadly, there is no definite answer. Our world is full of deception, selfishness and broken promises. However, it is also full of hope, dreams and love. Today we focus on the hope, and what to consider in making the biggest decision of your life.

            Growing up, we all have an idealized view, a fairytale view of how people meet, fall in love, and ‘live happily ever after’. If you are not in denial, and watch your own parents and other couples, you soon discover that life and fairytales aren’t the same.

            In real life, marriage is more like a football game played on a field during periodic earthquakes. Even in day to day life, sometimes you are on offence, sometimes defense, and other times when all you can do is punt. Then the earthquake (problem) happens and determines whether you and your spouse are really on the same team at all. If you are, you probably married the right person. If not???

            So how can you maximize your chances? The first and best advice I can give is don’t get married until you are ready. By ready I mean mature, with set goals, set beliefs, and set standards. Only then will you be able to choose the correct person and hold up your end of a marriage.

            One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is people who get married thinking it will solve their problems. One of my favorite sitcom movies is Six Days Seven Nights. In it Harrison Ford says about people who visit the islands to fix their problems, “It’s an island, babe. If you didn’t bring it here, you won’t find it here”. It’s the same in marriage. So enjoy your single experience. Work on you. Pursue interests. Learn, exercise, and try new things. If you are lonely, find activities with others who enjoy those activities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, surround yourself with supportive people and learn how to solve those problems.

            Now that you are the ‘perfect person’, or at least a reasonable work in progress, figure out what you need in a spouse. One reason it was so important to work on yourself first is that now you know what you believe. Don’t compromise those core beliefs for anyone. Don’t get into any long term relationship with the belief that you can significantly change another person. This isn’t a rescue project. If that’s what you want, go to the pound and get a dog or maybe a cat (my preference).

            Next, do your homework on your intended. Meet their family and friends. How does he or she interact with them? What do they say about him or her? Another test is reliability. Can you depend on him/her? Do they do what they say and are they truthful about what they do? Are they stable? Can they take care of themselves? I believe that until a person knows what it takes to be independent they are not ready for marriage.

            Last but not least, are you compatible?  Do you share a basic set of beliefs? My dad was raised Jewish and my mom Catholic. I was raised Catholic and never celebrated Jewish traditions. That was decided before I was born. Have you at least talked about important issues like money, housing, or children? Even before our marriage Crystal and I decided, that if at all possible, Crystal would stay home, and at most work part time when the kids came into the picture. The more and earlier you discuss that kind of issue, the better you will know if you are compatible and your relationship will have a chance to last.

            OK, a lot to think about, I know. The good news is you don’t have to find someone who agrees with you on all of the above issues, just someone who is willing to work out solutions. Finding a person with whom you can work things out is the key to marriage. If they can’t pass that test; it’s better to have loved and lost than to be stuck with them forever.

Conclusion: So in summary, the keys I believe will give you the best chance of a long and “happy” marriage are: do all you can to be ready to hold up your end of the partnership, choose the right spouse, make sure you are synergistic people and work well together, and never stop dating (your spouse). Also, God’s blessings couldn’t hurt. That’s all I got.

Mom and Dad Married 64 years
Category: Suitable Mate

Fun With Chemistry

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I think this blog has been a little too serious lately. I was going to share the last in our series about long marriages, but it can wait. As you know, if you have been keeping up, we are in the editing process with our memoir. Sadly, a few of my favorite stories have been lost in this process, and will not make it to the final draft. That’s bad for the book, but good for the blog. I will share one of my favorites with you now. My junior year at Bradley University was easier than the first two years but not without challenges.  

One Thursday afternoon I took a quick nap with my friend Dianne after lunch. We were just nap buddies.  We both had the time between classes and I wouldn’t have to go all the way back to my apartment. I very rarely actually fell asleep during the day but just rested. Unfortunately, this day was the exception. I was late. When I rushed into the lab, my partner George was there and set to start. He had not given up on me, but had started some homework on one of the lab benches. I apologized and explained my dilemma. He was fascinated and asked me to share some of my worldly wisdom on women. While a good example of the blind leading the blind, unfortunately, this became the predominate topic of conversation that afternoon. We probably should have paid a little more attention to properly interpreting our instructions.

            We had an idea about the identity of the unknown compound. In order to prove it, we needed to make a derivative. As we began, one of the professors brought a group of freshmen students into our lab, to take a test. Sitting at the benches, they could be spread apart properly to eliminate temptation.

We were still quietly discussing our topic of the day when we reached the part of the procedure which, was marked in quotes, “A vigorous reaction will occur.” If we had been focusing, we probably could have anticipated what happened next. As we added one compound to the other, the mixture started boiling rapidly. We stopped the addition, and turned off the flame. This only seemed to make it mad. A fume of white smoke was now filling the hood. That particular hood never seemed to work very well. Soon the beaker was sputtering and then began jumping up and down. The smoke was now pouring into the lab. We were still trying to control the reaction when one of the professors came in and rescued the freshmen, who had started to cough and wheeze from the smoke. The dense white smoke had now covered the entire ceiling of the lab. When I say cover, I mean, you could not see the ceiling.

             Another professor came in and yelled, “Who is pumping hydrochloric acid into my instruments?” He stopped only long enough to give us a dirty look and disappeared again. We finally threw a couple of handfuls of ice on the mess and left the room coughing and gagging. To this day, it still bothers me a little, that, while the precious Freshmen were quickly saved, us poor Jr. Chemists were left by two professors to die. By the time we re-entered the lab, George had explained, in great detail, the reaction which had occurred and all the noxious gasses generated. George was even higher on the geek scale than I. Think Sheldon Cooper with more personality. The lab experiment that should have taken about three hours, wound up taking about six. It was at that point that I realized, even the topic of girls, can cause problems.

Crystal’s Corner: Raspberry Soup and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

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            Ron likes to experiment in cooking which makes sense. He was a chemist. We usually just eat the results. I try to get him to follow tried and true recipes when he wants to make something new and/or different/weird.

            I asked “Why are you using sweet potatoes in the shepherd’s pie?”

            He answered, “That’s what we have, but I could add cheese.”

            I said, “No, I don’t think cheese would help”; even though I love cheese (I think I was possibly a mouse in another life). You can’t add cheese to everything.

            So I tried the sweet potato shepherd’s pie and it wasn’t that bad.  Actually, it was pretty tasty, and he had put cheddar cheese on the top of the sweet potato part (yum).

            When we were first married Ron decided to put red wine in macaroni and cheese.  That, I couldn’t even eat.  It was really a mistake. Even Ron agreed.

            Now let’s talk about the raspberry soup.  Ron doesn’t really understand about making pie filling.  My mom taught me from probably Betty Crocker’s cookbook, how to make pie filling with fresh fruits.  Unlike Ron, Betty Crocker and I use measurements in cooking.  Ron decided to just “wing it”.  So even though he did add starch and sugar to the raspberries with not much water, he didn’t let this mixture boil down enough to thicken.  He lacks patience which, I have found very useful in cooking.  So he puts this “soup” into a baking dish and adds ingredients he thinks will make it into a cobbler.

            Even after we cooled this dessert in the refrigerator after baking it, it didn’t thoroughly gel.  I wasn’t that surprised.  It did however, taste pretty good especially with vanilla ice cream.

            Ron also still thinks he is cooking for five or more people.  So we will be having leftovers for days and days.  Sometimes we share his cooking with neighbors, but these dishes were just too strange to explain and share.  If Elizabeth comes over she will try anything we cook.  She is the main cook for her houseful full of kids, and gets pretty tired of making breakfast, lunch and dinner.  She looks in our refrigerator and ask me “how old is this?” before she tries it.

            Don’t get me wrong.  I love it that Ron shops and cooks.  I just wish he would leave some of the baking to me and Betty Crocker, but again he is not good at waiting for me to make something.

Ron:

In my defense, I am getting better at measuring, especially since I have had to for our cook book. I will admit to a certain joy in winging it, and am probably successful 9 out of 10 times. However, they only remember the 10nth. And the raspberry cobbler was delicious, and shared with neighbors, after another bout in the oven at lower temperature to drive off moisture. It thickened very nicely. Thank you very much!

I have just a quick note about marriage. You have to learn how to work out differences. However, sometimes those differences are what make your marriage fun. Crystal and I, over the years, have spent more time talking about and laughing about my experiments than a reasonable person would guess. It has never been a serious cause of contention. It’s what I call, adding flavor to our marriage. Pun!

Here is a slice of my Turtle Pie. I did have to create a recipe for it. It will be in the cookbook.
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Vacation Down Memory Lane in Chicago

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            Crystal and I recently took a trip to back to my old stomping grounds in the Chicago area. The trip had several purposes. First, it was the beginning of a new phase in our retired life. Now that dad has gone on to be with mom in heaven, we have a lot more free time. When I first married Crystal, I promised to show her more of the country and the world. We finally can, and are planning some trips. Second, our trip was to take care of some details of dad’s estate. Finally, we went to catch up with some friends and neighbors. That last one is the subject of today’s post.

            It’s amazing what memories can flood your brain when visiting former residences. The first day there, Crystal and I took an extended walk near the downtown Chicago lakefront. The walk almost proved too long for Crystal (which I heard about often). It’s amazing how much change there has been over the years. Many new and tall buildings, some over 100 stories tall, have overtaken the skyline. As we stood close to the new Millennium Park and looked north, I saw the building known as One Prudential Plaza (formerly, and as I remember The Prudential Building). It was built in 1955, about a year after I was born. When I was around five, at 41 stories, it was still the tallest building in the city. Dad took mom and me up to the top to see the view. The elevator almost knocked me over. I loved it. I thought the view amazing. The buildings looked plenty tall enough for me. Over the beautiful Grant Park, you could see the home of my Chicago Bears, Soldier Field. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look much different now than I remember. Although, it might closely resemble the Roman Coliseum, instead of feeding Christian’s to lions, this stadium is about feeding Lions (Detroit’s football team) to Bears (sorry, couldn’t resist).

            After a Chicago style pizza, we headed back to our hotel room in Plainfield. The trip back reminded us of what we don’t miss, the traffic. The next day it was on to Oak Lawn where I grew up. To our delight, Mrs. Baker was home. Living in the brown brick house directly across from my old house, she is probably the last original neighborhood resident I remember from my youth. They moved into that house in 1957. Two years later, we arrived. Now 90 years young, it was fun and sad to remember good old times and people while commiserating about all the changes in the area.

            My old playmate, Jeff Baker,was in from Colorado for a visit. The oldest of the Baker’s seven children, he seemed so far from the carefree adolescent with whom I used to play. Darting in and out of the room with his cell phone attached to his ear, he seemed so focused. Apparently his boss wouldn’t leave him alone while visiting his mom.

            As we walked out of the Baker’s house, I looked across the street at my old house. I was flooded with memories. The house itself looked pretty much the same. The yard, however, wasn’t nearly the pristine “Better House and Gardens” type dad always kept. The joke around the neighborhood was that a weed wouldn’t dare show up in his grass. He was so proud of his yard that he wouldn’t even trust me to mow it. Instead, I made my candy money mowing for some of the neighbors.

            Next to the Bakers live the Preisers. They were good friends to my parents, but weren’t home for our visit. Before, they moved in, the house was owned by the Pozdols. They too had a Ron. He was my age, their middle child, and we got along quite well. His father was our scout master and a really great mentor to us kids. I remember sitting in a field with Ron for three hours watching an ant hill for our ‘Insect Life’ merit badges. Ron got bored, so he ripped the wings off a moth to see what the ants would do. Oh the carnage! Fortunately, the battle didn’t last long and the boring peace returned.

            Next to the Pozdols lived the Browns. They were an older couple who had one son, Billy a few years older than me. Mrs. Brown was so nice to us kids all the time. That kind of balanced her often grumpy husband. Mr. Brown was a fixture on his front porch summer evenings, with a cigarette in one hand and a can of beer in the other. He yelled at us when we played softball in the street. “You kids know there is a park just a block away.” He worried we would hit a parked car, even after I assured him that we were too good, and aiming away from the cars.

            A couple houses down from the Browns were the Byczeks. They’re oldest; Tim was my best friend growing up. We went through school together and hung out whenever possible. With a couple other friends, our usual Friday nights were spent either playing pool in his basement or ping pong in mine. Occasionally, there was a movie night. John Wayne was our favorite star. After the movie, it was always McDonalds. Back then you could get a Big Mac, fries and a Coke, and get a nickel back from your dollar.

            Summers were spent playing softball in the nearby field, now a large school. Mom would be ready with Kool Aid and cookies. The rest of those fleeting years included school, scouting, and in the winter, skiing.  It seemed such a simpler time.

Finally it was time to leave. As we drove away for quite possibly the last time, I peered in the rear view mirror,  remembering the good times, and visits with Crystal and the girls. And then sadly, as we drove away, mom and dad waved from the porch. Mom usually was crying.

            When she was gone, for a few months, until we could move him closer, it was just dad on the porch. And then, as dad and I drove away that last time, only the house remains. It outlasted my parents, and will most likely outlast us too.

            And so it goes. The house on Oak Center Drive still appears in good shape. It will probably need a new roof in a couple of years. But that is someone else’s concern. There is, from what I hear, a new young family for it to protect and serve.

            After Oak Lawn, we visited with some old friends, Laura (Crystal’s childhood friend), and Bob (her husband), whom we haven’t seen in forty years. We couldn’t visit Crystal’s old neighborhood because, as Crystal put it, it’s no longer safe.

In the end, our trip gave us what we needed. As we enter a new phase in our lives as empty nesters without parents, a look back gives us some perspective, and a greater understanding of who we are and how we got here. I think that’s always a good thing.

Our old house now

Me after a storm and our house about 45 years ago
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Secrets to Marriage: Part 2 Synergy

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            There have been a lot of times since dad’s recent passing that little things reminded me of him and our time together. Whenever I see wild geese or ducks I think about our drives together. He always enjoyed watching them with me. When I walk through the beautiful forested areas around our home, I remember walking with him. He always appreciated my knowledge and interest in nature. The other day I gave the last of his special Vienna salamis to Liz. She recalled eating breakfast with him and Mimi in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Salami and aged Swiss cheese on toasted rye bread was his favorite breakfast.

            I remember mom (Mimi) when I cook something she might have made, or tell a corny joke, at which I know she would have laughed. Crystal and Liz insist that from time to time, they can smell Jim’s (Crystal’s dad) pipe smoke. Crystal works on her crafts every day just like her mom.

I’m certain that, as time goes by, a variety of daily events and occurrences will trigger memories of our parents. Somehow, those memories always take me back to an earlier time. A predominant amount of my childhood memories are good. But my parents were like fire and ice. Some issues were triggers. My discipline was one. Dad was always ready to take off his belt for a swat or two. Mom knew the truth. I was a perfect child who only needed love.

            Other issues, to me, were almost comical. For years I watched, what I call, the thermostat dance. Every time mom walked past it, she would turn up the temperature. Dad would follow shortly after to turn it back down. Sometimes they would almost pass each other in the process. One time dad tried to teach mom how to drive in a forest preserve parking area. I left the car immediately upon arrival, and started walking. I made it about a half mile into the woods and could still hear the screaming/lesson. The next day dad got a private instructor for mom.

            On some levels, growing up, I never understood their relationship. Mom was a fiery and emotional extrovert, while dad was a left brain, logical introvert. What I often missed was how they completed each other. Today’s phycologists might call it codependence. I call it marriage. As we interviewed Crystal’s and my parents, for our memoir, I realized something they had in common. Even when friction was involved, spouses made each other better. I believe they made better decisions because of their differences.

            In science that type of relationship is called synergy. It’s like bees getting their nectar and at the same time pollinating flowers; or sea anemones on the backs of hermit crabs fending off the attacks of predators while having a greater opportunity to feed and grow. Species are helping themselves while at the same time helping others.

            Men and women can be similar. While technically members of the same species, we can be different enough to provide synergy in a relationship. The Bible says the two shall become one in marriage. I believe that must be the focus in a good marriage. Selfishness needs to become less. Two people need to focus on what makes the unit/marriage stronger. Focus should be on mutual benefit. What will make the marriage stronger? A marriage base on quid pro quo alone can’t last. Keeping score doesn’t work. Figure out your common goals and work together using the best abilities of each spouse to achieve them.

            I know it sounds nice and easy, but it is anything, but easy. But if you believe your marriage is worth it, give it every chance. Figure out which of you is the sea anemone and which is the crab (no pun intended). Learn to use each of your strengths to help your partner and put your marriage first.

Crystal’s Corner

            I agree with Ron that learning to work together in marriage makes the marriage better.  It took us awhile to figure out how to do this.  Ron and I are very different.  I am very art oriented and verbal.  Ron is very logical and scientific.  We look at life and problems differently.  What we realized was that my detail oriented way of solving problems could work well with his conceptual way.  He is also very mechanical and talented with taking things apart and putting them back together.  I am better at reading the instructions first and making sure all the parts are there.

            Ron mentioned that his parents did a kind of dance with changing the thermostat.  I believe that couples can learn to dance together well after they understand each other.  This comes with experience and also good communication.  When we were first married, we went to counseling and the counselor explained to me that we weren’t communicating very well.  I was expressing emotion through my words and he didn’t understand what I was talking about.  For example, I would tell Ron I wanted to do an activity and mostly he would either not remember that I said anything or ignore it.  The counselor told me you have to tell him how much you want something or to do something on a scale of 1 to 10.  So after that I could tell him I wanted to go to a quilt show and it was a 9 and he would get it.  This actually stopped a lot of confusion and eliminated arguments.  I also found that just telling him things, especially after he had worked all day, was not always effective, so I learned to write things down in lists or sometimes in a letter.  He can’t always read my handwriting, but my messages got through to him.

            Ron also learned that I sometimes just wanted him to listen when I had a problem.  I didn’t want him to try to solve it or even give me advice.  I believe that women need to talk sometimes just to figure things out.  Once we verbalize the problem, we can move on to the solutions.  When I do want his help, I tell him that.  We both learned that we can share problems and solve them together, by using our varied talents.

            I did learn a lot from being with my parents.  My father was very appreciative of everything that my mom did.  My mom was completely supportive of my father.  They liked each other as well as loved each other.  Ron and I have the same type of relationship.

            Even though we have been together now for more than 41 years, we still show appreciation to each other, in the form of words, and cards and gifts.  When I watch some of the reality shows about dating, I realize that I am very lucky in having a great husband, who is also my best friend.

Today mom and dad are in heaven where I’m sure it’s always the perfect temperature
(Lisa’s H.S. Graduation 2009)
Category: Make Marriage Last