The Memory Tree

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Since I was around the age of 15 I’ve complained about one thing… I didn’t think we had any family holiday traditions….

I’d look around at other families during the holidays… I’d see their festiveness and annual excitement and I’d think “gosh, I wish my family had some tradition”….

So as I got older I’d try and find ways to create some tradition for my family… Like Christmas Eve dinners at a nice restaurant or opening presents a specific ways…

And my family would always get annoyed with me…

And I guess I basically believed that my family was so boring and so out of date… And that we didn’t do anything truly cool or traditional for the “Winders”….

So it was ironic tonight… Tonight as I was hanging ornaments on the tree… The tree mom kept bare until Bridge and I got home… So the three of us could decorate it together….

And as we were decorating… Mom said “this tree is a memory tree. I think we should call them memory trees”….

Now every tree is different… The decoration process I mean… But ours… Well ours is unique….

For every place we’ve ever traveled together as a family, mom has purchased an ornament…. We have snow skiers from Crested Butte, Vail and Keystone… Football Santas from the years we went to NOLA for the Dome… Several starfish from the beach…. Christmas in NYC…. Disney Princesses….

And then we also have ornaments for the activities we did… Cheerleaders…. Ballerinas… And of course BAMA football…

And then there are the ones made to put pictures of us in when we were kids…

And of course their are the handmade ones from preschool…. Mom loves those the most….

And we can’t forget “the three bears”…. Not sure where they came from… Or the toys that mom turned into ornaments because we loved them so much….

And true to Andrea form…. Each ornament has a date on it… The year we got it… And some of an extra kick like “ECA”….

But the beautiful thing was… As I unwrapped each special ornament… I began to realize mom’s words are so true…

Our tree is a memory tree… Because it’s full of moments we shared as a family… It’s a reminder that we went “there” and did “that”….

And with the absence of dad this holiday… Well the tree and the ornaments are that much more special and close to my heart…

And in the midst of all the decorating… I got lost in the moment and realized… We do have a tradition…

And all of those years I spent wanting one… Well we were creating one as a family… And now we have this beautiful tradition…. One that I hope to pass down to my kids and grandkids…

I get that some people like their ornaments to look the same and fit a mold of specific color…

But I feel like ours is just right… Because we are the Winders… And we have a beautiful story to tell through our memory tree…

And in a few years… When we look back at the Empire State Building…. Olaf… And Mary Poppins…. Well… We’ll know that was the first Christmas without dad… But more than that… We’ll be able to remember that was first Christmas we changed the name of our tree….

And you know what…. I’m more than ok with that…

We Just Do Life

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And then there were three….

Three of us remain… and we are supposed to be a family of four… but that’s not how life turned out… and it’s still hard…. and it’s still challenging… and it’s still emotional…

I’ve heard my mom tell a lot of stories… but this weekend is the first time I heard her tell me about the reasons she married dad… what made him stand out among everyone else she had dated and known… why him? why my dad?

And it was a fitting conversation for us to have…. considering the fact that we were at a wedding reception…. it was nice to hear her talk about how obnoxious she thought dad was when she first met him…. how he seemed like such an asshole…

She met him at a wedding… A wedding for her cousin… He didn’t even know the bride and groom…. He was invited by my mom’s cousins who did the know the bride and groom…. Cousins who probably figured Chris Winder needed to experience Natchitoches, Louisiana and some Prud’homme family traditions….

And she thought he was such a pain in the ass…. That was my mom’s first thought and memory of my dad… But they were engaged 3 months later and married 7 months after that…

To think that they met in the summer and were engaged by Thanksgiving is crazy fast to me… My mom didn’t even meet my grandparents until after they were engaged….

Until this weekend I’d never looked at my mom’s story from these perspectives…. I never really fully encompassed their love and romance… and what it must’ve been like to meet Delores Winder for the first time… She can be a little intimidating and controlling… So it must’ve been a lot for my mom… Especially since she’s so close to her mom…

And after hearing mom’s stories…. The parts of the beginning of her marriage and life with dad… well it made me excited for my future…. and it caused my great sadness at the same time…

I still hate thinking about the fact that dad won’t walk me down the aisle…. and seeing someone so close to me get married this weekend…. with her dad by her side…. and to know deep down that my dad will never, ever be able to do that for me…. well… it hurt my heart on so many levels….

I cried watching Morgan walk down the aisle…. And it wasn’t because she looked beautiful… I mean she looked gorgeous… but my thoughts instantly went from her moment to the moment I’ll never share with my father…. And then I looked up and saw my sister crying….

Standing as a bridesmaid…. I knew we were sharing the same tears… the tears that “dad will never get to do this with us. He won’t be there the day we are given away and start a new chapter in life.”

It’s still to much… Too real… And I asked mom what it like… the absence of a father at a wedding… What does it feel like? Did she cry? Was she hurting? And of course she said she was sad…. that even watching father-daughter dances today make her cry…. they make her wish… and just want her dad to be here… to have shared that moment with her on her special day with my dad…

And now I will experience the same feelings as mom… Knowing dad is gone and that it’s going to be a painful moment in that moment of new beginnings….

But I guess that’s life for you…. I can’t seem to figure it out completely… So I’ve just decided to keep riding the wave and sailing through whatever is thrown my way….

Because the most dramatic, stressful situations don’t leave me in a mess anymore… I just kind of shrug them off and move forward in the moment…. I just kind of make it work and hope it works out well… even if what I define is well doesn’t look well in the moment…

And I saw mom doing the same this weekend too… She was so calm… Much calmer than I’ve ever seen her before…. And she was on top of life like I’ve never seen her before…

Even in the lowest moment of her life… This time where she doesn’t know what’s next…. well she’s ok… We’re hurting but we’re all ok… And it’s encouraging… Encouraging and inspiring to know life does go on after death…. That it’s possible to get up every morning and move forward even when you feel like shit…

Even though the three of us don’t really know where we are going in life… and for different reasons… we do move forward… we do stay positive… we do laugh… we do cry… and we just do life as it comes at us….

And I think… right now in this moment… well, it’s the best way for us to do life right now…. to stay hopeful and helpful… and to watch out for those around us… with bigger hearts and a more understanding and possibly compassionate ear for listening…

Hurting for Mom…

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You know those unexpected moments when you don’t think tears aren’t going to hit you out of know where?… I just simply open a photo book to find a picture for a crafting project and… boom… I’m caught in a moment…. a moment reminding me of moments in the past… moments when dad was here…

And then I start thinking about how hard our family worked to come together as one… as a team… that we didn’t always function in a peaceful, loving and understanding way… and those thoughts… those reminders that it took time for us to become a close family… well they hurt….

They hurt because my world has been turned upside down… there aren’t four of us anymore…. there are three of us…. three Winder Women remain… and it’s painful to think about…

It also hurts me when I hear my mom say thing like “there’s no one here to take up for me. To have my side and my back anymore”….

I feel like I shouldn’t be hearing those words… At least not now… Not this early in life… Not this early in her life…

And I’m irritated that no one is there for her… that no one has her back completely… that she’s facing a crazy scenario in Shreveport over finishing a house… that pisses me off… I just want to get on a plane and fix it all… to help her finish… to rectify and make things right again…

But that’s not my job…. it’s not my job or my place to fly across the country and make sure this get finished…. it’s not my job to take care of mom….

It’s my job as her daughter and friend to support her and encourage her and ask that she does have some kind of supernatural help in all of this…. because she needs it…

And honestly, I’m ok with that…. but I’m not very good at being ok with people…. with people who say they’re going to be there… and then they aren’t…

Several people that have been in my place told me that once it’s all over, the funeral, the shock of it all… well people go back to their lives… they keep living while we continue to live in our new reality…. people basically forget because they get back to their own world’s… their own lives….

And while I understand this to be true… it still hurts…

It’s interesting to see those that really care…. the people in life that I never thought would be there for me, mom or Bridge… but they are….

And then there are those that I have to try my hardest not to get offended and bitter with…. those that I thought would be there for mom…. she’s so alone…. she’s so sad… and she’s facing so much…. it would be nice to have some support and a circle around her…

But there’s really not anyone there… and I guess in a way… well it’s ok because she keeps saying she’s ready to branch out… to make new friends… to try new things…

This isn’t tearing her apart like it could…. like it does for so many….

And in the midst of it all… well I begin to respect and admire my mom in ways I never thought I would… I begin to truly see how amazing she is…

Honestly, if I was in her position…. well… I don’t know how I would act and react… I don’t know what I would do… it would be painful and I might fall apart… I might not have the strength she has…

But I just want her to be ok… to be taken care of… to be loved and to be happy and free from all of this… I hope we can look back at this… this life situation and crisis as a good thing….

Mom keeps saying hindsight is 20/20… and I hope that’s true… because I just want the best for everyone in my life… I want my mom to enjoy her life… even though it’s without dad… I just don’t want her to hurt anymore…. or be taken advantage of anymore… I want her to be protected and someone to watch out for her… even if it’s just God…. He’s enough to have her back in all situations….

Life’s a Blessing

20140722-160347-57827484.jpg5 am… 5 am came this morning and I just laid in my bed. I laid in my bed halfway dreading the fact that I was going to have to tell my momma goodbye.

The past two months have been so life altering…. And I hated the idea of leaving my mom. Alone. Alone without dad.

And when I went into mom and dads bedroom to see if she and Bridge were awake, I crawled in the bed and thoughts flooded my mind. I’ll I could think was, “this really happened. This isn’t a nightmare. Dad really died and we are about to travel 1,700 miles across the country. I don’t want to leave.”

Everything that’s happened was playing in my mind so vividly….. And then I started crying thinking about how dad wouldn’t be there to tell me goodbye.

Every time I’ve ever left to return to college, dad has cried…. He’s cried so much and …. Well this time I was crying because he wasn’t there to cry because I was leaving. And then it made me cry even more thinking about how when I leave moms life won’t go back to normal. It won’t move forward like it used to. She will be home alone. And I hate that.

I absolutely hate that she has to completely start over and create a new life. It hurts so much. This pain, it never leaves. It’s always there. It’s easy to bury with life…. But it’s always there. A constant reminder of how real life can be and how disappointing life will be without dad.

And yes it’s teaching me so much, but damn…. Why does the absence of a person hurt so much? Maybe it’s not like this for everyone….. But dad was so intricate to my life. I feel like I’ve lost the most important person in my life. The person I was most dependent on. I feel orphaned and like I’m lacking something huge.

In a matter of moments I became fatherless and mom became a single widow…. What the heck? It’s still so fresh and I need my father so much.

But what’s ahead? I have no idea. Even riding in the car right now gives me the chance to think deeply about life. My life. The life of others. Just life.

And life truly is such a journey. And I feel so blessed to be where I am. The fact that I get to travel across the country (again), in the same year…. and my destination is Cali. That’s really cool. Plus this time my sister is along for the ride.

I feel like I’m so critical of myself at times that I forget how blessed I am…. How many opportunities I’ve had and the places I’ve gone… My story continues to evolve and it’s really cool.

It kind of makes me sad for people who are trapped, hating life… Hating life and wanting a way out…. Or worse, those who are comfortable and don’t realize they could be doing so much more with life.

Life isn’t about comfort zones. Comfort zones don’t get you anywhere in life. We don’t grow in them. We stay trapped in routine, doing what others are doing… And worse we never reach our full potential.

And I think I say all of this because I’m speaking to myself. Now that I’ve truly lost the person that meant the most to me, well…. I’ll be a little less eager to stay in my comfort zones and a much more proactive in moving into whatever destiny is out there for me.

Yes…. I’ll make mistakes. Yes… I’ll take chances and be disappointed… But at least I’ll be living and trying new things and pushing the limits in this world… Using life to my advantages and playing all the cards it offers me.

Because I think life respects us when we respect it by living in it and gaining all we can… Just being in moments as much as we can and syphoning it for everything it’s worth. Because it is short…. And when it’s over…. It’s over.

I guess…. Well I guess life is a blessing.

Steel Magnolias

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Dad, I wish you could see mom right now… Or maybe you can, but if you can’t I wish you could because she is handling herself with such grace. Right now she’s organizing things because we finally have time to get things in order. No more chasing around a potential home owner… God answered our prayers and the buyers backed out, so we can finish the house the way you planned…. Before we lost you. Before you knew death was about to become a reality. When you were somewhat healthier and planning to build a beautiful house for someone to call their home.

And mom is so beautiful in everything she’s doing. The way she’s choosing to tackle all of this… It’s impressive and admirable. I think you’d be happy you choose her to be your wife… I know I’m happy she’s my mother. And she does keep saying, “this sucks. This shouldn’t be happening. I hate this and want dad back.” But…. she’s still moving forward and that’s what matters in this moment… that she has the strength to move forward in possibly the darkest days of her life. We all know mom has made it through so much. She’s strong. Some people… well… some people can handle low blows. They can take them and still stand up and conquer life, and mom is one of them for sure.

I’m not one of them though. I’m pretty weak for the most part. I whine and complain so much… And I love to point the finger at others rather than look inside myself. A lot of times I’d rather talk about the negative than look at the positive… I wish I could be more like the strong… Like my mom.

But, while I work on becoming stronger… I’ll look to her. She says her strength comes from the Lord, and I believe that… But I also wonder how much of her strength was cultivated throughout the years… when she had to choose to walk through some painful times. Did she gain strength from the Lord in those times, so now it makes this time easier? It seems somewhat easier for her. And I love how my grandmother is handling the entire situation. Since she lost her husband so young, she knows what my mom is going through… So she just sits. She sits and lets mom cry because I guess there’s nothing you can really possibly say to make it better.

So… I’m learning from her too. Mere has so much unconditional love. It’s truly remarkable. I admire it and hope to show my husband and children the same love one day. Mom keeps saying, “we’re steel magnolias…” And I know what she means by that because of the film Steel Magnolias, but I don’t understand it at all. And when she says it people look at her like she’s crazy, but she fully understands what she means… Which makes the entire scenario so much better.. And I kind of drop my head and giggle a little.

And if a steel magnolia is a positive thing… If it represents strength in the midst of adversity, then I truly hope I can become one.

Mom

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I had a dream last night and dad was in it… or at least he was communicating with me through text messages. It felt so real, and it had to be him because no one was using his phone in the dream at all. Messages kept coming to me… and I felt so good when I woke up. I felt so much better. Yesterday sucked and I had the worst headache I’ve ever had, so it was nice to have this dream.

But… today is a new day and reality keeps smacking us in the face. I hate to see my mom cry. I absolutely hate it… And there’s nothing I can say or do to make it better.. Nothing. And that makes it even worse because I want to do something, anything to make the pain go away for my entire family.

Death has a strange way of bringing out the good, the bad and the ugly. For the most part, things have been good. We’ve been positive and looking at the things dad did that were right and just… And honestly, there is so much there that I never saw or knew about. But then the bad starts to come out. Like when we have to deal with finances and look at dad’s fear of money… And that sucks, but we’re trailing through it…. But… Then the ugly comes out… And in this situation, the ugly is heart breaking for my mom.

I’ve heard it said, “when someone dies it all comes out.” No more lies. You see the truth and have to stare it in the face. In this case mom’ s not on dad’s business. He was the sole owner and operator of it all…. And to see this and know it, we’ll it hurts me because she breaks down into tears. And I don’t know what goes through her head in those moments, but it affects me in a way that makes me feel like I could bring him back to life and shake him back to death.

Yes, it can be taken care of simply… Yes it is being taken care of now… But the pain she feels from it all is still present. She has to wonder and know that my dad choose to exclude her from something that was vital to his life and…. Well that sucks.

And as I watch my mom, I see a very strong woman. She’s stronger than she knows or realizes right now. She’s being underestimated too, which is flat out annoying. Family members and friends should have great confidence in her. Because she will be ok. She will conquer and overcome all of this. And she has every right to move forward in life how ever she chooses.

My mom is still young and full of life. I don’t think she knows how much of it she really has either. Her soul is youthful and she can do so much. I hope for her that she will begin to see this in the days ahead… And when it’s time for me to go back to Cali… Well I hope she grows in ways she never thought possible.

I hate that she’s taken so long for me to realize this. I hate that overt he course of my life, division has been there and our relationship was broken apart. I’ve really hurt her in the past… And she’s forgiven me, but I still underestimate her at times. Which is ugly within itself. I guess a lot of the reason I say these things is because I feel and think differently. I know in my heart she’ll be fine, but I do underestimate her confidence because I’ve never seen it full fledge. But I know it’s there…. For me, it’s like trusting God with something new… I know he’s there. I know he’s helped me through so much before, but I still underestimate him at times.

But… I guess I’m just learning to trust in a new way. On a new level… And that’s fine with me.