Tag Archive | Children

The Exit…

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The Exit

Marilyn McLeod

Life is full of stops and starts so to speak. The most emotional of these is birth and death—-the ultimate beginning and ending. Every family goes through them and each member seems to have their own perspective on the event.

My mother in law Harriett has been failing for months. At the age of 94 we all knew her exit from this world was near. Surprising us all, she met each threat to her health with a fierce rally and appeared to be on course to complete another year with us. She’s a sturdy soul; full of spit and fire. That personality at the retirement home has presented some big challenges to the staff. The necessity of having a roommate emerged when she moved into the nursing section of the facility. Finding the perfect “roomy” was quite a trick. It seemed the TV was one of the main sources of contention. Being head strong and sure she should rule the television, she warred with several roommates over what they were going to watch. She preferred sports and loved football and golf. One roommate loved only Shirley Temple movies and could watch them all day long! This would never do and Harriett would take control of the remote whenever the opportunity arose. The home tried to please them all by moving several ladies in and then eventually out of Harriett’s domain. They finally settled on a sweet little lady who was comatose. This was the perfect choice. Harriett could now watch whatever she chose!

In late October as the weather turned cooler Harriett came down with what she labeled “a flu”. We called to check on her and she did sound like she had “a flu”. She sounded very sick indeed. The family remained on watch with members who lived close by checking on her several times a day. We live in Texas and she was in California so our contact was by phone at that point. Sensing the end may be near, our daughter Michelle wanted to say goodbye to her grandma in person so she got on a plane to take that four-hour flight into LAX. Because his mama was going, my grandson Atticus was sure he should go as well to bid adieu to the great-grandmother he knew as “Mimi”. Now, he’s seven and we felt death had no clear definition in his mind. He had been told it was final but does a child understand that concept?

With her health declining, Harriett was put on oxygen to keep her comfortable and Hospice was called in. As the reality of her up-coming demise set in, Harriett made plans to get her hair done. At 94 and on her death-bed a woman still has her vanity!

When Michelle and Atticus arrived at the nursing home Harriett had been sedated. They sat by her side and waited for her to wake up. Five minutes of sitting is about all Atticus was good for and he asked if he could play a video game. He quickly engrossed himself in his DS tuning out everything around him. Harriett’s daughter Jeanne arrived on the scene and joined Michelle in a vigil that soon turned to a talkative visit. They were deep in conversation when a nurse from the home came in to check on Harriett. Much to their surprise, they were informed that Harriett had passed. Looking up from his DS, Atticus confirmed the diagnosis and said, “Yep, she’s dead”. He quickly turned his attention back to his game.

So in the eyes of a seven year old death was very matter of fact that day. “Yep, she’s dead” pretty well covered it. Since that experience Atticus has been rather preoccupied with questions about death. He asked if his dog Huckle would die some day. His mother told him yes and that they would bury him in the back yard. Attie’s reply was, “Can you dig him up once in a while so I can play with him. I know I’m really gonna miss him!” Everyone smiled at that one.

A death in the family brings on a lot of nostalgia and we got out old pictures to reminisce over. There was Harriett as a cute six year old with a huge bow tipping slightly to the right, bobby pinned into her short hair. Then there was Harriett the young bride appearing to weigh a slight 100 pounds at best. (Why is it we get rounder and fluffier as we age?) More pictures revealed me in my 20’s with Harriett and the family. Atticus took a look at that picture and said, “It’s Granny with a fresh face!” Out of the mouths of babes—so cute! It was Granny with a fresh face and I’m glad he recognized me!

They’re planning a celebration of life ceremony next month for Harriett. Well, really I should say Harriett has planned that ceremony. She wrote out every word of this event in her last years of life with details such as, “Deanne will sing Amazing Grace and then everyone will stand in a circle and say The Lord’s Prayer.” etc. This lady left nothing to chance regarding her exit plan and how she should be mourned.

She had also planned her burial which was attended only by family and very close friends. It had a few glitches she would not have approved of. For one, she arrived in the wrong coffin. She had specifically wanted a coffin just like her departed husband’s. When she arrived in what appeared to be a white Styrofoam box we all knew we were in trouble. Well, it turned out not to be Styrofoam but a metal coffin covered in white fabric. This was absolutely not what her husband had been buried in. After some tense moments and more investigation by the funeral home we were told this had been her first choice until she found the one that her husband had been buried in and then her “first choice” changed to that one which was steel grey and very sturdy—-much like her I must say! The trail of paperwork had taken them back to her other “first choice” which we left as it was in hopes she’ll rest just as well in the white one. The other glitch involved her choice of preachers for the funeral. The man she preferred and who had done her husband’s ceremony had recently left their church and signed a “non-compete” contract stating he would not do any weddings, funerals or events for his past church members for the next six months. So, her planning had to be altered to accommodate this new legal glitch and the man who performed the funeral had no first hand knowledge of Harriett.

I wonder if planning and control are really ours in the end. It appears to be a time to let go and let God. As a family we did our best to give her a good send off all in all. Hopefully that will suffice.

As the youngest member of our clan, Atticus has given us some wonderful quotes to lighten the days of his great grandmother’s illness and departure. “Yep, she’s dead” bypasses the sugar-coating we often affix to death and puts it squarely where it should be—a reality of finality—-the ultimate exit as seen through the eyes of a child.


Diamond Lil

Diamond Lil


Marilyn McLeod

Photo courtesy of http://stockfreeimages.com © Barndog | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

My father always called his sister Lillian, “Diamond Lil”. When I heard that as a child I pictured a queen dripping in diamonds from head to toe. My imagination played all sorts of sparkly scenarios through my head. Dad said she was coming for a visit and I really couldn’t wait to meet her!

When he pulled into the driveway after picking up “Diamond Lil” at the airport, my sister and I peered out the big picture window in the living room with great expectation. Slowly a large lady emerged from our 1950 Willys Jeep which, by the way, was hardly the vehicle you’d expect someone with the name of “Diamond Lil” to arrive in. I have to say we were sorely disappointed in what we saw! She looked very ordinary and not at all like we thought a “Diamond Lil” should look. She was rather round in the middle with pink cheeks and short grey hair. During her visit with us I found out those pink cheeks actually turned bright red when she laughed and we ended up laughing a lot with Aunt Lil. Of all the aunts we had met to date, she was without a doubt the most fun. We spent numerous hours with her thoroughly enjoying her company.

I noticed she had an impressive collection of rings. She carefully chose different ones to wear each day. Most of these were covered in large clear stones that sparkled when the light hit them. She revealed to us that this was why our dad called her “Diamond Lil”. Weighing the evidence, we felt it quite appropriate. Sometimes she would even let me wear one of her rings for a while and I felt very special knowing that she trusted me with such a treasure. Years later she told us they were all costume jewelry but that still doesn’t dampen my memory of those awesome jewels.

When company came to visit it was traditional for Mom to fix big meals using her best china dishes with the pink flowers around the edge. This occasion was no exception. She’d been cooking all afternoon and the table was beautifully set with great care and attention. She called us to help place the food on the table and we grudgingly stopped playing and went to work. I remember I was eyeing the mashed potatoes and gravy I had just set down when I heard a fluttering of wings. I turned to see Pretty Boy the parakeet coming in for a landing. He made a direct hit in the scoop neck of the china gravy boat! The bird was squawking and fluttering and mom was yelling and the rest of us were hysterical with laughter—-especially Aunt Lil. Pretty Boy flew off splattering gravy around the room as he went. Mother was totally mortified. She reached for the gravy boat to throw out its contents but Aunt Lil quickly interceded. Being a lover of food and no perfectionist, Lil saved the day telling mom, “There’s nothing in the world wrong with that gravy. Let’s sit down and eat.” Mom protested but Lil insisted and she and my dad exchanged a wink.

That was one of our favorite stories to reminisce about when we got together years later, and it still brings a smile to my face. Aunt Lil has long since passed from this life but she left a sweet legacy of fun and laughter I treasure to this day.

Bio-sketch #1 or “Let me say this, about that..”

Thoughtful Reader…

Thanks for joining me again on this journey. As I mentioned in my initial post, there is a little biographical background that I will serve up here along with a big slice of humble pie. Please remember as you read that I am not trying to sell you anything. I am not particularly proud of my history, but it’s the only one I have. The intent here is not to beat the drum, but to enlighten. It is my sincere hope that these first posts will give some insight into my life and why I am here. So, here a chronology begins…

Historically Speaking…

I was born a poor white child……While a bit tongue-in-cheek and overstated perhaps, it is nevertheless true. My early formative years were difficult ones. I didn’t realize it then, you understand, but in the decades following I have come to recognize that our family did not live a “normal” life. In retrospect, it seems like we were always from “the wrong side of the tracks.” Early school age years were spent with eyes downcast trying to avoid bullies…of course they weren’t known as “bullies” back then. It was accepted behavior that the stronger, more affluent, more influential kids were to be respected and shown deference. And really, I didn’t mind too much. I guess because I didn’t realize how poor we were, I was a happy child (for the most part..)….I was also a ghetto child. Not in the modern sense of the word, but really, that’s what it amounted to……Oh, the stories I could tell!!

My mother was killed in a car accident when I was about three. My father died shortly after I graduated from high school. All of the grandparents were deceased as well. I had already moved out of the house, for reasons which shall remain my own, when my father passed. My brother was still living at home at the time (he was three years behind me in school)….I think he was more scared than shocked. Today, my sister, my brother and I talk infrequently about this time in our lives. It is better left in the past. Chaos?? No, choices. It is all about choices. We have to make them every day…and live with the consequences. More about that later….

A World Touched by Tiny Hands…

I was present for the birth of my first son….In the delivery room….Four feet from the doctor when my son took his first breath. “Big deal,” you say…”that’s sort of normal isn’t it?” Well it may be now, but take my word for it, it wasn’t normal back then. It is an altogether moving experience as those who have been through it will testify. When your world is touched for the first time by tiny hands, it will never be the same. The same holds true for grandchildren too. Thinking back now, I am once again reminded of two facts that I hold to be self-evident (even if they are not, I still believe..). One is, the human race represents the highest ordered living things on this earth…above all other living things. And two, the human infant is one of the most fragile of all newborns. It is a bit of a conundrum, wouldn’t you say? The point being, our children require our help and guidance from the day they are born,……and we are all a product of our environment. Control the environment and the potential bad outcomes are greatly reduced. Is it easy? No. Is it necessary? Only if you want your child to prosper…..

Education, Education, Education…

Have you ever wondered how much education is enough? Some will say that a high school diploma is plenty….and I have met some who believe even a high school diploma is not necessary (although I admit to thinking that those who believe this need to be brought into the modern world, they are nevertheless out there, and represent a school of thought that shouldn’t be overlooked..). For me, education came late in life. My choices were limited after high school, so I moved on, always watching, waiting for opportunity. When I found it, I took advantage of it. Later, after leaving the Army, I was given the chance to work in education. It was an eye-opening time!! I spent some time in front of a classroom and some time in college administration. And today, I argue still for increased educational opportunities.

So, How much education is enough? I don’t have an answer. For me, there is no such thing as too much. Once you develop the mindset for learning, you feel lost if you don’t pursue additional knowledge. I guess I will continue to study and learn until I become incompetent or I die…..

If you can fill the unforgiving minute…With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it ………………………Rudyard Kipling

Time is a valuable commodity. All of us have a very finite amount of it available to us for our use. Every minute used (or wasted..??) is one less that we have in our personal vault. Education is a very worthwhile investment of that time. Use it wisely…


And so I come to the end point of this part. I would like to leave you here with a bit of sure and certain knowledge gained through experience. As we go through life, each in his own way, we are constantly shown different paths. We choose the path we take. Sometimes the paths that diverged in our past become convergent once again. Sometimes not. The one thing that remains certain is we alone are responsible for all of our choices. We cannot fail to choose and in so doing refute responsibility, because the act of not choosing is in itself a choice. I encourage you to accept responsibility for your actions, learn and move forward. There is no “right choice,” only what you find acceptable in your current time and place. My wish for you is to find peace and acceptance in your mind and heart and to find someone at least once in your life who will tell you …………”You have chosen………wisely.”