Earlier this summer, I turned on the “On this day” feature on Facebook. If you’re not familiar with it, it shows you your posts and interactions from the same date every year that you’ve been on Facebook.
Around Father’s Day, I seriously considered turning off the feature, because that’s when the bad news started appearing from four years ago.
My mom went into the hospital. She couldn’t breathe. She had to go on a ventilator. She was moved in and out of the critical care unit. She was offically diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. She was down to one working lobe of one lung.
The news got sadder and sadder, and though me four years ago didn’t know what was coming, me today knows.
So I thought about turning away, because it’s so painful, but I decided not to.
The pain of her loss will always be with me. I will always grieve. And because I love her so much, I won’t turn away or run away from that.

I named my baby daughter Della after my mom. It will take me a while to get used to hearing people say “Della,” and not be referring to my mom. I knew another as Della for 29 years — well, 33, actually — before baby Della came along.
What would she think of that, of me naming my baby after her? Can she see us? Does she know how much I still grieve?
I picture her in my home. Holding my baby.
Some stories died with her. I don’t know how much I weighed at birth (so please stop asking), and no one can find her chicken pot pie recipe, perhaps because she just made it from memory.

Things I want to tell her:
• Mom, I had a C-section! Can you believe that?!? I projectile-vomited Jell-O on the anesthesiologist and in my hair and then promptly forgot about it because I was in so much pain and later I thought my blood was splashed all over the draping before remembering the Jell-O.
• I named my baby after you because I love you and miss you and hope we have a relationship like you and I had, except for my adolescent years — sorry about that.
• You didn’t get to see how “The Strain” trilogy ended, but that’s OK because the third book wasn’t that great. And now there’s a TV show.
• You would have loved “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.” You, along with me, Matt and Nathan, would have laughed hysterically while Gerry kept replaying the scene of the witch jumping off the wardrobe in “The Conjuring” while Michelle screamed and threw things at Gerry.
• Kale is amazing. He was only 1 when you died. Now, he’s 5 and I’m pretty sure his vocabulary is bigger than mine. Emma is taller than me and Lane is umpiring little league games. You would recognize them if you saw them, but you would be astounded!
• Jazbo got ran over again last summer, the day before Independence Day. She died. Maybe you know that already. Maybe your little “junkyard dog” is with you again.

I recently came across the writing below on Facebook and I was curious about its context, so I looked it up on good old Google. Henry Scott Holland, the poem’s author, lived from Jan. 27, 1847, until March 17, 1918. He was a Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, according to Wikipedia, and who can’t trust Wikipedia? He wrote this as a sermon, actually, after the death of King Edward VII.
“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

All is well. Della Marie West entered another room on Aug. 9, 2011. Someday, I shall enter it, too, and I will see her there, and there will be no more tears.


Four years ago, I wrote with gusto.

My ideas filled my journals and my blog and my topics for my columns were numerous. My thoughts were wacky and silly and, though it’s a little embarrassing to admit and sounds kind of braggy, I would read them afterward and laugh heartily.

But then my mom died, and the fertile landscape of my creativity turned brown and dried up.

I seriously considered giving up my column for a while, because I had nothing entertaining to say, no witty observations. It seemed all I had to write about was death and grief and the never-ending suffering of a loss too profoundly painful for me to ever do it justice in writing.

I slogged through, and often found myself pulling material I’d already published to my blog to be printed as my column. I had no energy or inspiration to do more writing than I absolutely had to.

I’ve said before that part of me died with my mom, and I know that thought really bothered some of my loved ones. And while I’m not typically the type to say, “Do whatever you feel like,” or “You can’t help how you feel” — because I believe in something, or Someone, much greater — that empty part of me is something I have tried to revive without much success. (A well-meant “Buck up!” comment from someone isn’t going to change that, unfortunately.)

I think my creativity lives in that shadowy place now, too. Though it does make an appearance from time to time, things are not the same.

I don’t know why I wanted to put these thoughts to paper (or blog) today, but I did want to. And now I have.

An opportunity to help someone else recently broke my heart.
That may sound dramatic, but I’m not sure how else to describe the sadness and heaviness I carried with me afterwards.
On the evening of New Year’s Day, my husband and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things. We wanted to get our groceries as quickly as possible, because during our big grocery trips, it can sometimes take an hour or more. This was not a big trip, so we really didn’t want to be in the grocery store any longer than necessary.
We zipped through the aisles — me, impatiently — and in very little time, we were at the only checkout stand that was open.
Someone else was ahead of us in line, but nearly all of her items were already scanned by the time we got there. Nonetheless, we waited. And waited. And waited.
We began to get frustrated. I gave my husband that deadpan look to let him know I was annoyed. With my eyes, I tried to say, “Here we were so quick about our shopping, and now we’re going to stand in line for longer than it took us to pick out our groceries.” (I don’t actually believe he read all that just from my eyes, but he definitely understood my annoyed-deadpan look.)
I began to pay more attention to the situation. The woman was older, in her 60s. Her hair was matted. She squinted at everything, and I took that to mean she couldn’t see well. I heard the clerk tell her she needed about $30 more.
I can say the rest seemed to happen very quickly, but that would be an excuse. So I will just say that it happened, and I did nothing.
The woman had swiped what I presume was a government assistance debit card. It covered the majority of what was in her cart, except about $30 worth.
While the woman stood silently, probably wondering what to do, the cashier suggested she return some items. The woman offered up some large jugs of vegetable oil. The clerk took them off her bill.
I watched.
Returning the oil helped, but not enough. Then, the woman gave back two bags of sour cream and onion potato chips.
I watched.
Still, the woman owed maybe $3 or $4, and she didn’t even have that.
Somewhere during the time the potato chips were chosen for return, I faintly heard God knocking on my head.
I scrambled in my wallet for cash. I had $1 bills, but not enough to cover the remaining tab. I asked Matt, as quietly as I could, if he had any cash.
By the time we intervened, the tab was just down to that $3 or $4, and we paid it for the woman. She thanked us and left.
I made it to the car, after loading our groceries in the trunk, and to the first stoplight before I began to cry. It still bothers me so much that I have tears in my eyes as I write this.
Matt understood it, of course, and held my hand as we drove home.
We discussed the situation. Why hadn’t we seen it sooner, that we could help in this small way? I had stood there impatient and annoyed when I could have leaned forward and said, “We’ll pay the rest.”
I could have told them to add the vegetable oil and potato chips back and we would pay for those, too. Because seeing them take those potato chips really got me, and maybe part of that is because I’m a fat girl. I just pictured this poor woman at home with her small comfort of sour cream and onion potato chips and how she wouldn’t have those now.
I even could have picked up the oil and potato chips after she left and taken them to her in the parking lot.
Something else that really bothered me is that I’d seen this happen before in the grocery store and had done absolutely nothing then.
We prayed for that woman that night, and I still think about her and ask God to watch over her. I didn’t do the right thing that night, but regardless of whether I had or not, I must trust that God will take care of her.

In our Thursday night group, we’ve been discussing our word for the year. We each picked a word to describe how we want to improve ourselves and our spiritual lives this year. Matt and I, with a house and other big changes in mind, picked the word opportunity. I realize now that it’s not just opportunity for ourselves that I should be focused on, but also opportunities to help others. Because God calls us to be ready to share his love, and I just shared a tiny, grudging part that night.
But I’m ready, now — ready for the opportunity to help someone who can’t afford all of her groceries in the checkout line, and I hope I recognize other opportunities when they come in other forms.

I know, it’s been since, like, Halloween that I posted.
I went to New Zealand.
Allow me to make it up to you (Patty) by live-blogging my reactions to the film “Terror Toons,” which I added to my queue to watch around Halloween but, having never gotten around to watching “Hesher,” it stayed put at the magical Netflix distribution center.
“Terror Toons” is to be delivered in the mail today, and I’m so excited to see it that I plan on popping it into the DVD player as soon as it arrives. (Matt has already checked the mail once.)
I would provide a synopsis here, but Internet Movie Database is not cooperating.

3:02 p.m.
“Terror Toons” is here.
First impression of the intro by the makers: I could have filmed this myself at home.
I can already tell “Pumpkinhead” was better.
Danny Elfman music meets “The Ice Cream Man.”


She seems a bit old to have so many rubber duckies at bathtime.


On the left there is “Mom.”

Older sister, who also is a “teenager,” looks to be about 40.


It’s a movie inside a movie!

The narrator of the “Terror Toons” inside the “Terror Toons” has also narrated some Christmas classics, I think.


Is that the guy from Sugar Ray?

3:20 p.m.
I’m really starting to regret this. You’ll forgive me if I don’t actually finish this movie, won’t you?

Wishin’ and hopin’

After finding that email yesterday, I couldn’t resist reading a few more. This one really made me laugh:

“Could you please send me your wish lists? Unless of course you want me to randomly pick things out for you? Send it quickly, ok?

“Yes, somehow I deleted it. I don’t deny it. I don’t know how I did it. And no it wasn’t on purpose. So before you start hassling me how I don’t love you and all just send the list, ok? Thank you.”

She sent that one on Nov. 27, 2010, so she must have been wanting my Christmas wish list.

‘Last Christmas’ (…well, four Christmases ago)

I hate nearly everything right now.
It’s called the holiday blues, and even on my third Christmas without my mom, it’s still kicking my butt.
Sometimes it takes someone else putting it into words for you. My sister Cynda did that the other day. She wasn’t even talking about me, but when I heard those words, “the holiday blues,” it finally clicked. Christmas-time is kind of sucky for people who have lost loved ones. I’m one of those people.

Whether it’s Christmas or some other time of the year and I’m feeling just — I don’t know, sad — for several days in a row, and suddenly I realize it’s because my mom is haunting the back of my mind, I feel a weight pulling on me. That weight is the realization that I will carry this deep ache within me for a very long time, for the rest of my days.

Not this chick?
For a while now, I’ve been feeling like the tough part of me, the part of me most like my mom, has been in hibernation or is gone completely. Just the other day, someone was saying something about expecting me to tell off someone — I can’t remember the exact situation — and described the tough Sarah and how fearsome she was.
“She’s dead,” I said of tough Sarah.
Then, I realized I was also talking about the part of my mom that had been in me. I guess it left when she did.
I found this column I wrote about her a couple years ago, back when she was still alive:
“She stood up to any person who wronged me when I was a child and, as a result, I learned to stand up for myself and for those I love. She shrugged off adversaries whose character flaws made them act maliciously to others and taught me not to bother matching wits with those who have none.”

I can’t stand up for myself very well anymore. I wish I could, but that part of me feels broken. I’m sorry, Mom.

I went looking in my email for an address today, and this old email from my mom turned up in the search results. She sent it to me on May 30, 2007, when I was living in China.

Hi sweetie,
How are you doing? Sorry I haven’t gotten to talk to you much lately. I’ll sure be glad when you get home. I really do miss you lots and lots.

I loved those pictures of you swimming in the waterfalls. Very good.

Well, all the gang will start arriving tomorrow — Wilma and Leonard, Edward and Peggy, Lois and Lee, Rowan and Grace. Then on Friday, Nathan and Michelle, Gerry and Cynda and the babies. We’re having the family reunion Saturday at the park. Too bad you’ll miss it. You would have gotten to see a lot of family on my side. It could be really interesting, to say the least.

Glad you got your new toilet. Notice how I just threw that in there? Things just sort of pop in my head and I’ve got to say them before I forget them.

I guess Winkie wants me to move to Texas so she can take care of me. Boy, everybody must think I’m pretty helpless. Not this chick.

Well, better get back to the cookies I’m baking for the gang. Love you bunches, sweetie. Take care.


Mommie Dearest

It feels like maybe she could have just sent it last week. I love when she says everyone must think she’s helpless, and then she declares, “Not this chick.” She was one tough cookie super-mama.

She also refers to herself as “Mommie Dearest,” an old joke between us, and her comment in the middle about my new toilet made me laugh. She was just so funny.

My nephew and niece, Lane and Emma, stayed the night with us a few weekends ago.
The next morning, the three of us were out to visit the Halloween store and to go to some friends’ house to decorate pumpkins.
They ask me such adorably precocious questions sometimes when it’s just us. I never know what they might think of, ask or say.
For instance, when we pulled up to my friends’ house, Emma said, “Well, this is a pretty good-looking house.”
She’s 9, going on 10.
While we were in the car that Saturday morning, one of them — I don’t actually remember which one — asked me one of those surprising questions.
“What was the best day of your life?”
Who is the interviewer here? I thought to myself with amusement.
“Oh, well, the day I married your Uncle Matt,” I said.
“What was the second-best day of your life?”
It was starting to sound a lot like one of those precocious conversations I had with my parents growing up.
“Probably the days you guys were born,” I said.
Third-best day?
“The day I was born,” I said, which they thought was funny.
After a little silence — I could practically hear the gears turning — Emma asked: “What was your worst day?”
I had to take a moment. I knew this question was coming, and I knew the answer, too. I felt they probably already knew the answer as well, but they wanted to hear it.
I steadied my voice as much as I could. I was driving, after all, and I didn’t want to upset them.
“The day Gee died,” I finally said.
The next silence may have been the most expressive silence I’ve ever experienced, or maybe I’m just projecting onto them. After a little while, a small, sweet voice said, “Mine, too.” That’s my Little Ems.
They couldn’t remember how Gee, my mom, and how Gammaw, Cynda’s mom, died.
“Gee’s lungs weren’t strong,” I said. “It wasn’t her fault — there was nothing that could be done. It was a disease.”
This helped them remember how Gammaw had died, that she had passed peacefully in her sleep, with her sweet dog beside her. Then they discussed how that dog recently died, too.
The topic was certainly sad, but being resilient little kids, they looked on the brighter side.
“I don’t think I’ve had my happiest day yet,” Emma said.
“You will,” I told her, “on your wedding day.”
“My happiest day was when I hit that grand slam,” Lane said.
Those two. They keep us going.

Boils and ghouls, gather in, because I will be intermittently narrating this roadtrip when I am not driving, napping or reading (expect very little from me, kiddies).
Matty and I planned to leave at 5 a.m. (absolutely medieval). Here we are, an hour later, departing this earth on this journey an hour late. Ah, well. A Hilton’s life for me.
Watch for updates, my festering follower(s)! (Namely, Catty Patty.)

Update, 6:12 a.m.
Yes, we have already listened to (and sang our hearts out to) “Total Eclipse of the Heart (Fart).”
That was, like, first thing.

Update, 9:37 a.m.
I had a very, very brief nap. Thirty minutes or so. It sucked.
I can’t find a Chick-fil-a so I can get a friggin chicken biscuit and we’re in Dexter, Mo. So yeah, I’m feeling stabby.

Update, 12:45 p.m.
Driving. Hate Kentucky. Ordered an egg and cheese biscuit at Hardee’s this morning. Got an egg and no cheese biscuit.
Non-stop rain.
Stopped at Flying J in Fort Campbell. Dreadful.
Have noticed husband will do anything to not study.
Saw a soggy, nasty cardboard box blowing along the road, getting repeatedly run over. Reminded me of Patty.
It’s going to rain for the full 14 hours, isn’t it?

Update, 4:27 p.m.
I just finished my second painfully short nap of the day. I woke up in time to endure…wait for it…Chattanooga.
On the bright side, the rain stopped, and I can see all the lovely colors in the trees – orange for jack-o-lanterns, yellow for bile, green for a sinus infection and burnt red for that time I ran over a chupacabra.

Update, 9:19 p.m.
This will be my last transmission, as I will either fail to survive this trip or destroy Google Maps out of sheer desperation.
Coming up on Dexter, Ga. The world wants us to feel all stabby.
Dear reader (Patty), I hope you’re not too terribly pleased that I’m going to be late for my haunted tour tonight. I will remedy my misery by consuming a lot of discount Halloween candy tomorrow.
Until Sunday,
I remain(s),
Long-trip Leona

sleep cycle 10.28.13

Publicly forswear caffeine.
Quickly realize you are dying of tiredness and imbibe the “soft option” — tea, that leaf-flavored water gravy we dumped into the ocean back in the day to make a point.
Select English Breakfast as your tea because you just read “Life After Life” and man they drink a lot of tea in it.
Add two packets of Splenda.
Read the tea packet and pour in a splash or skoosh of milk, as suggested.
Try to drink it immediately and burn your tongue.
Ponder how “biscuit” became “cookie” on its voyage over the Atlantic.
Become an old lady and buy a tin of Danish butter cookies solely for dipping in your tea.
Insist everyone call them biscuits.
Consider learning how to make petit fours.
Create your own tea time twice a day at work because you are so tired your eyes feel like they’re actually bulging from your head.
Dunk a biscuit for too long and yelp in surprise and dismay when it breaks off and sinks to the bottom of the cuppa.
Do it again, because you brought just two biscuits and you need to screw this up twice.
Make another cuppa in yet another State Farm Insurance mug (how many of these does the newspaper own?) but lament having no more biscuits.
Cheerio, it’s a new day. Try again, old sport. Fussily steep the tea bag for just so long and bring milk in a small separate cooler for adding a skoosh and dip the biscuit for the perfect amount of time and rejoice. Brilliant.
Consider robbing a bank.
Text husband about idea to rob bank.
Sip tea.
Pip pip.


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