And another hot minute passes…

Wild Horses Statue, Providence, RI

Right, so where was I? Ciaragh was back, I was done with GARF, and life was settling down so I could get ready for my inlaws to come for a visit.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Not even close.

For those that don’t know, my mom had some sort of major neurological event around the 3rd week of June, and she has not been able to recover completely. She is in hospice care now, and we really don’t know what the next step is there.

I’m updating right now from a hotel in Rhode Island because I am attending the RID conference. I had completely let this go to the wayside with everything going on at home. I happened to look at the webi

Nope, let’s start again.

This has been the weirdest summer of my entire 47.5 years of life. I sort of feel like I’m in the middle of that groovy statue I got to photograph in Providence – only the horses are real and in motion, and if I don’t watch out I’m going to get trampled.

Over the summer, I wasn’t watching out, and I was most certainly trampled. Ciaragh was back home, and I was settling into my regular summer routine of freelance interpreting, planning for upcoming faires, and writing as much as I could whenever I could. The final draft of the second Clobberpaws book was starting to sit up and pay attention. The first novel in the Forest Wars saga was being actively edited for the…I don’t know, umpteenth time, and was on track for publication at the end of July.

And then, my sister took my mother up to see my dad’s grave on what would have been his birthday. And then there was the night about four days later that I was talking to my mother on the phone and she was slurring her words and was very confused. I rang my sister who went over there, spent the night there, and then took Mom to Emory the next day to see the doctor.

From there, she was fast-tracked into the unit that treats stroke patients, only she hadn’t had a stroke. There was no evidence at all of a stroke. And then she had a seizure and slept for about five days – as one does when one is 86 and has a massive seizure. Her advance directive said no life-prolonging measures – no feeding tubes, etc. And then she was on the hospice unit for something like three weeks, so because nothing was happening, they discharged her to her home, where she died about two weeks-ish later.

Now, none of that is about me. It’s nothing to do with me. But the aftermath is everything to do with me, my sister, and our families. I spent a good day after Mom died wondering if I was an orphan now. Is that something that only applies to children? More time than was probably necessary was devoted to wondering what would happen to my sister and me – we had been texting all day almost every day since that fateful phone call because I am a state away from them. Now that the crisis time was over, would we fade back into our typical roles, only communicating now and then?

So here I am, a month and two days from waking up to a phone call from my sister that Mom had passed in her sleep, and I’m still wondering. Still waiting. Still an orphan – I decided I wanted to own that, so I did. Still struggling to find someone to talk to on long days at home or long car rides when I usually would call Mom. Still not quite able to listen to the stack of voice mails from her still on my phone – recordings that underscore what a neglectful daughter I am for not visiting her more often.

Here I am, with a book about to launch in a week’s time, a “First Page Critique” away to the folks running the writer’s conference in September that I will be attending (in the hopes that it will be chosen to be anonymously ripped to bits by a panel of literary agents), and a big signing event in the works for November.

Here I am, suddenly winning at being a writer for at least a few minutes, and the number one person I want to tell isn’t here. I hope she knows. I hope she is pleased. I hope she is proud.

My Little Irish Wanderer…and the Aftermath

Well, so it has been a hot minute since I last updated this – or wrote anything if I’m honest, but work and life have not given me a second to breathe, let alone open the laptop.

That little face there is my Ciaragh (Our Cailín Ádh), and she has had a marvelous adventure this week that nearly ended me. She and I were working at the Georgia Renaissance Festival this past Saturday and I completely forgot that there was a cannon shot from the bow of the pirate ship until it went off with us standing right there. She started to vibrate and I tightened up a bit on her leash to make sure she didn’t bolt. My wonderful niece was there with my sister and she tried to comfort Ciaragh, but as soon as she moved away and I slacked up the slightest bit on the leash, C saw her chance and bolted. Now, for the initial escape, I was still holding onto the leash, so I spun around and was dragged behind her (through the gravel) until she could dash through the exit. Sadly I did not make the graceful turn through the S-bend of an exit that she did and instead bounced off the large wooden fence that marks the boundary between onstage and offstage.

Two of my group’s volunteers and a GARF cast member pursued her as a third volunteer and my sister and niece stayed with me. At first, all I could do was make a primal growly sound because gravel+skin=OW but I was (and am) all right. It took a minute to walk up to my car, but that was where I fully expected folks to be waiting with C.

They were not.

She managed to evade capture for three more full days, and I drove back to the site every one of those days to keep looking for her. Finally, on Tuesday night around midnight, I got a phone call from someone in the area – Ciaragh was on his front porch and could I come get her, please?

Once I got my heart started again, I made some calls and arranged for some folks to go get her and keep her overnight until I could get back on Wednesday. I still don’t know how I did not get a speeding ticket on my way to Atlanta that morning, and yesterday (Thursday) we got her into the vet for a checkup – she is fit as a fiddle. An Irish fiddle.

Aftermath: I have helped out with many lost greyhounds in my two decades of having pets in my life as an adult. I have always just gone where I am needed and done what needs to be done, but I have not until now been on this side of the equation. Sure, my greyhounds occasionally got out, but I never had to spend a night without them back home safely – I sent thoughts and prayers to those that did, joined the search, rejoiced in the eventual recovery, but never really got it, until now.

I have ideas percolating (as does hubs) about non-profits that not only look for lost pets but care for the owners of those pets. I had so much love and support that it was overwhelming, especially since I was convinced that Ciaragh’s loss was my fault, but when it came to trying to pay for gas to keep searching, tracking teams to bring in, other pet recovery specialists who need money for materials and time – it is an expensive prospect to find your pet if they go missing, and mine was only gone for three days! So, I will let that idea keep rolling around. There has to be something that can be created that will harness the talents of EVERYONE that wanted to help rather than narrowing down the field of helpers to only those affordable options. What if we had not had a breed club behind us to help? I already have some ideas that were born from the search for Ciaragh.

So, enough of me. My girl is back, and she has effectively helped me write the last chapter of her Clobberpaws book, and I’m going to go snuggle her on the couch before I get back to writing. Make sure your pets are chipped and tagged, y’all…and loved.

#tenyearsdunne

Like it was just yesterday. I still remember you on one knee at Manchester Airport (if you want me to say yes to something, asking when I’m jet-lagged and just getting off an 8 hr flight is a good time to ask), and I remember Louise looking concerned that I might have said no when we got to the car. I can still feel the loose buckle on my left shoe that made my leg wobble throughout the ceremony. I can still taste that first sip of Yorks Tea at the reception. 
How are we ten years older in the picture on the right than we were in the one on the left? How have we had ten Christmases and Easters and moved house twice and country twice? How has our house been home to seven dogs and a cat in that space of time? Didn’t I just arrive at Heathrow and have my visa stamped? Wasn’t it just a few minutes ago when we drove to Atlanta to get my biometrics done, or to Berea to sort out your social security? I’m certain it was only a week or so ago, maybe a month, that I picked you up at Hartsfield right after you collected me at Manchester when we were basically living at various airports and train stations. Wasn’t it?
I’m so grateful for the macaroni and cheese, the shared nerdiness, the willingness to put up with my shenanigans, the flashlights bought for me to take to faire, the resolve to get up when the girls are howling so that I can lie in, the whispered, “love you, bye” when I think I’ve managed to get out the door without waking you, the love of travel and history, the debates over whatever has just been said on telly, the ability not to laugh in my face when I think I’m speaking Yorkshire, the shared love of Greenville, the support and encouragement to be a writer, the shared – and different – expat experience, and all the other things that I have been given over the past ten years that I most certainly did not and do not deserve. 
Ten years done and dusted, and as many more as I can get to come. Love you to absolute bits, Simon.

#funnynotfunny

Mr. Allen, White County High School

Grief is a funny thing. Not funny ha-ha or funny “that is so interesting,” but funny “what the…”

My default for handling things that are generally unpleasant, sad, upsetting, or otherwise is not to handle them. I use what I call the Interpreter Protocol – I close the door on whatever it is, build a wall to keep it out and try not to bother it again. And before any of you point it out, I know that isn’t healthy or at all recommended.

I’ve been saying to anyone that asks me how I’m doing since losing my dad that “I’m okay” and “really, I’ve had the last few years to deal with it” and “He hasn’t known me since about 2014 anyway” as though any or all of those phrases are the gospel truth. In fact, however, those phrases have been my protection – my wall that keeps my emotions safe from interaction with the pain and the guilt and all of those side effects that come with losing a parent.

The other day I posted a picture that I saw while at the farmer’s market that I thought he would have found terribly funny. I can still hear his laugh and see him wiping away tears that always came with something tremendously funny. At the moment, when I posted it, I was not sad. I was not grieving. I was happy that I could see something and have a pleasant memory of my father that made me and Simon laugh to share. But that laughter – that humor – that’s just another brick in my homemade wall.

Today I’ve had moments of profound sadness and I dealt with them the only way I know how – I ran. I pulled out a manuscript to work on, I cleaned out the makeshift food pantry in my desk because my summer hols from work are coming on, I did anything I could to stop thinking about whatever it was that set me off earlier. It worked – I cannot remember for the life of me what the trigger was this time.

But the sadness remains. I still miss him, even though it is not as visceral a feeling as the loss my mother and my sister are feeling. I miss him in the way that I missed both my parents during my first summer working at Camp Glisson, the first night of staff training week when all the fun and noise and laughter faded into the silent realization that I was alone in a new place with strangers. I miss him in the way you suddenly realize that something is gone as you pull away from university after graduation. This new reality is not that different from the one I was in a month ago, or a year ago, or even three years ago – and yet it is completely different and funny – and not funny, all at the same time.

The sign in question is the one on the right. Their tagline, “All Natural. No Doo-doo.
No kidding,” would have made Daddy laugh until he cried, I am fairly certain.

"I lift mine eyes unto the hills…"

Here is the public obituary (written mostly by my sister with input from me and our mom):

Hoyt A. Allen, 1933 – 2018


Please, if you knew him, or even if you didn’t, take a moment and have a read about a life lived so well and with so much love by this soft-spoken gentleman from the hills of Cleveland, Georgia. You can even leave a message if you feel so inclined. We would love to hear your favorite memories of my father.
For now, that’s all I can say, other than I am so very proud to be his daughter, and am ever thankful of the kind words, prayers, memories, and love we are receiving.  I miss you, Daddy, and I love you. Thanks – for everything.

Of sadness and happiness and being oh so very lucky…

Me and Sandy at a McDonald family gathering, early 90’s.

Sometimes you can get a text message that makes your whole day. Sometimes the message breaks your heart. Sometimes…all of the above.

I got the photo to the right during a class this morning, and as soon as I saw that it was from one of my favorite cousins, Margaret, I had an idea of what it was. I opened the message and my breath caught in my throat.

There is so much in this photo to unpack, and I’m only just scratching the surface, but here goes. On the surface, this is a picture of me and my cousin Sandy who left us last month due to a degenerative muscle disease that he has had for many years. Most of the time my husband knew him, Sandy used a wheelchair. I honestly can’t put a date on the last time he was independently mobile like he is in this photo. Sandy and I…I don’t know how to even begin to describe our relationship, and if I spend too much time trying this post will be over before it begins and I will have to walk away and compose myself. There we are, though, pouring over what I’m sure is either photos from an Amy Grant concert or Camp Glisson, just as we always did at the quarterly McDonald family gatherings that I attended every three months of every year of my life until I went to live in England. How many extended families see each other THAT much? My mother’s people are close, y’all. Close.

My father’s family, the Allens, usually saw each other at Christmas and very often my Aunt Inez (the one of his four sisters that was the closest to my father and was very much a second mother for me and Susan) would join us when we hosted the McDonalds – but the rest of my paternal extended family just wasn’t as close in the same way, I suppose?

The second thing I noticed in this photo happened as I was trying to identify when it was taken. When you have a get together EVERY three months there are a lot of possibilities. First thing I noticed is that it is not Christmas. How do I know that? Two things:

  • My dad, who is in the background holding a child, is not wearing anything red, green, or otherwise both in a plaid. The man is nothing if not consistent. Also, I am not wearing shoes. Leaving aside the jokes about being born and raised in the Southern United States, I would have had shoes on in December. It really does get cold in Georgia, I promise.
  • There are no presents or wrapping paper anywhere in the photo. One thing I remember clearly about the number of McDonald Family Christmases that my parents hosted was that there was always a mountain of wrapping paper for me and Susan to clean up when it was over. 

Next, I had to confirm that it was indeed at one of the 8 parsonages where I lived growing up. I’m guessing from the curtain and the photo behind Sandy’s head this was taken when Mom and Dad were in Commerce. The dish in my hand is one of a collection that had a rooster right in the middle of the plates and bowls that my parents had. I’m sure there is nothing but whipped cream in it, either.

Further, once I enhanced the photo a little I could see that the necklace I’m wearing is most likely my Sigma Beta Sigma necklace that I wore my freshman and sophomore years of college. I stopped wearing it when I got to Maryville in 1991 because MC did not have social greek organizations and I was 19 and all about BLENDING IN so the necklace stayed at home with my folks.

We are narrowed down now to somewhere between August of 1989 and June of 1991, and I’m leaning toward the spring gathering in 1991. My hair was short, but not yet the gorgeous Molly Ringwald inspired orange that I dyed it shortly before graduation in June of 1991. THAT IS MY NATURAL HAIR COLOR, PEOPLE. Also, please note the Artist-Wanna-Be pose that I’m striking in that chair. Back then I was in theatre and was going to be an actor, and since Sandy had been involved in theatre and performing, it was an easy match.

So, if this is around March of 1991, I was 19 and a half and Sandy was 28. We were the two edges of the gap in age for our McDonald cousins. Susan was the youngest (she is 4.5 years younger than I am) and Havelyn (not pictured) was the oldest. There were 7 of us and we ranged in age (at the time of this photo) from 14 to…I don’t know, Havelyn might have been in her 40s then? Susan tended to be more into playing with our second cousins who were all younger than she, and I desperately wanted to be cool like my older cousins. Sandy never treated me like anything less than an equal, even with the nine-year age gap. He came to visit me when I was at Young Harris and he wrote a song for me afterward. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I no longer have the cassette that he gave me that had that song on it.

So while this photo initially brought tears to my eyes because I miss him – I miss this kind of family, this kind of gathering where we are all happy and enjoying each other’s company and not worrying over ill health or missing the latest family member to leave us… I am happy in those memories in a way I haven’t been lately. I’ve put Amy Grant back in my Spotify for Sandy, to remember how he took me and Susan to see her in Atlanta at the Omni. I’m going to the Highland Games and repping Clan Donald, even though I’ve only gotten my own genealogy back to the ancestor that left Scotland for America.

I said to Susan today that we were so very lucky to grow up in this family, filled with love, always visiting and keeping in touch. In the world today where so many people have so little and families aren’t always able to see each other as often as they would prefer, I can say with pride that I did not have back then that I was raised part of the McDonald family (or clan, as my Uncle Lewis used to call us). Raised up in love.

For BIMS

Sandy and Margaret McDonald

My friend, I think of you daily
Because I care and it’s true
That though we’ve shared a lot together
It’s very rare that I see you

And I want you to know that God loves you
And that I love you too
And that even if we’re hardly ever near
I’m talking to Him about you

And I’ll be praying for you every morning
As I start off the day with the Lord
And I’ll be praying that you’re walking with Jesus
And abiding in His Word

I don’t know when I’ll see you again
A month, a year, or maybe more
But if your heart belongs to the Savior
I’ll see you in the sky if not before.

And I want you to know that God loves you
And that I love you too
And that even if we’re hardly ever near
I’m talking to Him about you

And I’ll be praying for you every morning
As I start off the day with the Lord
And I’ll be praying that you’re walking with Jesus
And abiding in His Word

Love you so much, my cousin Sandy, my hero. Hug your sisters and your sweet mother for me. I will hug Margaret and the rest of your family for you.