Everyone’s Grandma Betty

Every once in awhile, God places angels right here among us. Grandma Betty, as she is affectionately known, was indeed an angel. I recently read a quote that said, “Your smile is your logo; your personality is your business card; how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark.” Betty shared her logo with everyone with whom she crossed paths, and one always felt better after spending time with her. She had the ability to make everyone feel loved and appreciated. She made others feel better about themselves simply by being Betty. That is truly a gift.

Going out shopping, to an auction, or to dinner with Betty was always an experience. She knew everyone, and it seemed that everyone was her cousin. Her family seemed to blanket Perry, Breckinridge, and Hancock counties. I often wondered if all of these people were actually her cousins, or if Betty just had so much love in her heart that she wanted everyone to feel like family.

I still remember the day I first met Betty. We had just moved into the house across the street from her, and she and Dorothy, another neighbor, came over to introduce themselves. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.Over the years, Betty became part of our family. She was a second mother to me, offering her wisdom and love whenever it was needed, even times when I didn’t know I needed it. She became a grandmother to my daughters, sharing her love of baking and of laughter with them. They loved walking across the street to Grandma Betty’s. I loved having someone who would share both my joys and my tears. No matter how down I might feel, talking to Betty always made me feel comforted. And when I had good news, she would end up being more excited than I was.

About 18 years ago, when my daughters were young and I was working full time as a hairdresser, I began to consider going to college to become a teacher. It was an intimidating decision, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Betty encouraged me, never doubting that I could do it, and shared her stories of nursing school. She let me know that she would be there for me, and when I finally began classes, she even kept Addie while I went to school. It was during this time that Addie started her coffee addiction. “I just give her milk with a little coffee in it,” Betty would laugh. Addie and Betty had their routine; Betty let Addie watch her shows on Nickelodeon, cooked her better lunches than she would ever get at home, and they would swing. We all have such fond memories of the swing in Betty’s yard. And her yard…that lady could grow flowers. I will never look at an iris without thinking about Betty.

She took great pride in her flowers and in her home. She and I shared a love of decorating and of antiques. We’d go to a shop where she’d purchase some treasure, usually saying, “Don’t tell anyone how much a paid for this!” Every time I went to Betty’s house, something was new or rearranged. Her table was always set, and there was always candy on the bar for all of her kids. One always felt welcome in Grandma Betty’s home.

Betty spent her life helping others. Whether it was raising her six children or nursing ill patients, teaching school children or rocking babies at daycare, so many in our community were made a little better by a hug or kind word from Betty. As we all say our final good-byes, we need to take a piece of that with us and love fully just as she did. We need to pay attention, and when someone needs a lift, provide it. We need to make every child who crosses our paths know that he or she is loved and cared for. We need to encourage those who come behind us on this journey to chase their dreams, just as she chased hers to become a nurse.

And we should all thank Betty’s children for sharing their mother with us. She was so proud that each of them had gone to college, and she was proud of the caring adults they all became. So thank you, Donna, Doug, Debbie, Lorie, Lisa, and Janet. Your mother was a gem and she will be missed by so many. We all have an emptiness in our hearts, yet our hearts are also more full because of the love Betty shared with us all. Until we meet again…

 

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Dear Daddy…

It’s been 40 years; since I am 47, that’s practically a lifetime, but the pain is still there. It’s usually just beneath the surface, waiting for some random moment – a father and daughter dancing at her wedding, a little girl walking hand-in-hand with her father – to remind me of just what is missing in my life. Forty years ago tonight, my sister graduated from Hammond Tech High School, giving the valedictory speech. I was only seven, so I don’t remember much about the evening other than being dropped off at my grandmother’s little house on 169th Street afterward. Our family was going to be moving from Hammond to Hobart the next morning so that we would be closer to my dad’s company, The R.W. Greenland Co. It seems my parents thought I would be more of a nuisance than a helper as the movers were loading our belongings.

Little did we know that our lives would be turned upside down the next morning. After breakfast at Grandma’s, her black rotary phone rang. I followed her back to her bedroom and listened to her end of the conversation. I wasn’t certain what was going on, but I would soon find out when she carefully replaced the phone on its cradle. It was one of those moments that one never forgets. When one receives devastating news, she nevers forgets the words. “Honey,” my grandma began, ” lay yourself across the bed and cry. Your daddy just died.” Dad had been in the attic getting things down for the movers, and dropped dead of a heart attack. Just like that, this young businessman who was just beginning to see the fruits of his labor was gone.

I remember small moments of time from that day. We made our way back to our next door neighbors’ house, and spent most of the day there until it was time to go to our new house. Of course, at that point we didn’t want to move, but we had sold our house, bought a new one, and had contracts by which we had to abide. Imagine my mom, 41 years old and suddenly a widow with an 18 year old daughter, a 14 year old son, and a 7 year old daughter. She was a stay-at-home mom who was dependent upon my dad for most everything. She was quickly forced to learn her way around the business world, while at the same time mourning the death of her young husband and caring for three children. Thankfully, our wonderful friends and neighbors, Clyde and Peggy, were there every step of the way. Clyde had been involved with the start-up of dad’s business, and was able to help my mother with decisions she was not prepared to make.

At that time, we did not have a lot of family living near us. My two grandmas were close, and I had one uncle who lived in the region. We were very active in our church, Southside Christian Church, and they were our family. They swept in that day and took over. They helped us complete our move, and continued supporting us over the next few years. The men in our church stepped in as father figures, and the ministers visited regularly. That evening, my uncle came to help us. My cousins were near my age, so my uncle took me to spend the night with him. My mother argues this; she said she remembers my sleeping with her that first night. I did sleep with her in the days following dad’s death, but I clearly remember that first night at Uncle Sonny’s house because I remember lying in bed in my cousin’s room hoping to wake up the next morning to find it had all been a bad dream. Honestly, for years I waited to wake up from that dream. When I realized it would never end, I began to wish I would dream about my dad so I could remember him – the sound of his voice, his laugh, his smell. 

I get really frustrated because I don’t remember much, but I was so young. Sometimes I find myself wondering if I miss my dad, or if I miss having a dad. I often wonder what traits of dad’s I am carrying. Does my drive to succeed come from his? My talkative personality? At every big moment in my life, I have missed dad. I needed his advice when I began a new venture, and I wanted to see him the first time he saw his grandchildren. I wanted him to walk me down the aisle, and watch me graduate from college. I wanted him to hold me when I cried, and laugh with me when I said something outrageous. I still get jealous when I see daughters with their fathers. What a gift.

My faith has allowed me to move on, and to still trust that God knows what’s best. I believe that He has our journeys planned, and that no matter what the situation, there are lessons to be learned. I also know that if Dad hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have my girls, my husband, or the life I have now. We moved to Tell City because that’s where my step-dad is from, and if we hadn’t moved here, my life would have been completely different. I have a great life now, and am surrounded by many incredible friends. For that I am thankful. 

On Saturday, June 7, 1974, the world lost a great man, and my sister, brother, and I lost our dad. He’s been gone many years, and throughout those years, many of our relatives have joined him, including my grandmothers, my uncles, and most recently, my nephew. I believe Stephen entered Heaven and is spending eternity with his grandfather. I believe that dad’s spirit lives on in unexpected ways. My dad was a pianist and organist, and also wrote music. What a blessing it is to hear Addison as she sits at the piano learning to play a song my dad wrote. I’m certain he is guiding her hands across the keys.

Tomorrow, June 7, 2014, I will get up early and run. I will remember that day so long ago, and probably shed some tears. But I will also think about my life now, my family, my friends, my job, and all that I’ve accomplished, and I will know that my dad is proud. I miss you, Dad…every single day. 

In Memory of Stephen

One year ago this week, my young nephew, Stephen, died.  As we journey through this week, our thoughts go back to this last year, when amidst back-to-school preparations and our town’s annual Schweizer Fest, our family was planning a funeral for a 26 year old young man.  The following is a story I wrote about Stephen’s death with the goal of informing other young people about the dangers that lurk at parties. 

In Memory of

Stephen Paul Fordyce

I can’t erase her voice from my mind.  Sometimes her words come back to me at random times.  As I am walking up the stairs with a load of laundry it comes to me, “Stephen died.”    I remember how weak my sister’s voice sounded on the phone as she, still in shock, told me of my nephew’s death.   She sounded like a lost child, a wounded soul.

That morning was August 8.  It was the week before school was to begin, and I was in my third grade classroom preparing for opening day.   At nine o’clock my cell phone rang.  It was one of those calls I will never forget.  At first I couldn’t comprehend what my sister, Bobbi, was saying.  How could he possibly be gone?  Stephen was 26 and had just begun to live life.  He was healthy; actually he was more healthy than had had been in previous years after starting a workout routine and improving his eating habits.

I dropped what I was doing and stopped in the office to let them know what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be in for several days.  As the words came, so did the tears.  I couldn’t believe what was coming from my mouth.  My nephew was dead.   I have lost many family members, including my father when I was seven, but this?  This was incomprehensible.  What happened?  On the drive to my sister’s house, I just kept wondering what to do.  I don’t know what I am supposed to do.  What do I do?  Whom do I call?

Shortly after arriving at my sister’s house, I watched as her co-workers walked her in from the car.  What could I possibly say to her?  All of my life I have wanted to fix others’ problems.   I could not fix this.  As she began to explain what she knew, the story only became more difficult to swallow.  First of all, it was Monday, and Stephen had died on Sunday.  Stephen lived in a city about an hour from us, and the coroner’s office had failed to notify my sister that her son had died.  How is that even possible?  His friends knew of his death before his own mother.  There are no words to describe the pain that caused.

When the coroner first informed Bobbi, the only explanation for Stephen’s death he gave was that there had been a party at his house the night before, and that one of Stephen’s friends said there might have been prescription drugs involved.   As you may or may not know, grief comes with a wide array of emotions, including anger.  While I was extremely sad about the loss of my nephew, as I pondered his own responsibility in his death, the anger occasionally seeped in.  How could this intelligent young man make such a stupid – and ultimately deadly – decision?

While we awaited the final autopsy report, there we arrangements to be made, and phone calls to make.  Every step we took was wrought with devastation.  Watching a mother make funeral arrangements for her child is heartbreaking.  Because that mother was also my sister, it was nearly unbearable, yet I needed to be there to help carry her through.  As we spoke with the funeral directors, they tried to gently give us more troubling news.  While Stephen was passed out at his party, his friends (please remember these weren’t teenagers; they were all in their twenties) thought it would be funny to write on his face with a permanent marker.  The funeral directors knew we wanted an open casket, but were not certain they could remove the black marks.  Fortunately, a couple of days later, they called to report that they were able to clean the marker off; my sister would be able to see her son’s beautiful face one last time.

Any time a young person dies, there is a large turn-out at the visitation in our small town.  Stephen’s day was no different.  It was comforting to our family to see how many friends Stephen had, and how many lives he had touched.  At the same time I wanted to scream at his friends to remember their friend lying in that casket the next time they thought it would be cool to try drugs.  Though they were clearly upset by the loss of their friend, did they really understand the implications of his choices?  Would they remember that day the next time they were at a party?

We made it through the first week, but this was by no means the end of our grief.  We had a house to clean out, financial arrangements to be made, and visits to a lawyer to make sure the legalities were handled correctly.

After a few weeks, we received the autopsy report.  Stephen’s death was caused by mixing Xanax and Oxycontin.  There was no alcohol in his system.  According to the coroner, this is becoming a common practice at parties.  Supposedly, mixing the two gives quite the euphoric feeling.  Or it kills you.  As I began to research the effects of mixing these two prescription drugs, I found that it slows one’s heart rate and blood pressure.  If it slows them too much, death is inevitable.  While a party-goer might be able to mix the two one time with no ill-effects, the next time could end in death.

According to his friends, Stephen was intoxicated at the party, but they noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  He even woke up the next morning to see his girlfriend off to work.  After she left, he returned to bed to ‘sleep it off’, and that was the end.  His life was over.  He had a great job as a heating and air conditioning technician; he owned his own home; and he had a wonderful girlfriend who cared about him very much.  In an instant, none of that mattered.

My nephew was not a drug addict.  The coroner stated that the results of the autopsy showed that he did not make of habit of taking these drugs.  He was having a good time with his friends, and he made a mistake.  That mistake cost him his life.  That mistake left a mother without her son, an aunt and uncle without their nephew, his sisters without their brother, grandparents without their grandson, and cousins missing one of their own.

Life is about making decisions, and every single decision we make has a consequence.  We all make poor choices at some point in our lives.  When I was young I took unnecessary risks, partied when I shouldn’t have, and made my share of mistakes.  By the grace of God, I was never arrested and I lived to tell about it.  Teenagers and twenty-somethings:  You are on the brink of living life as an adult.  You can be whoever you choose to be.  You have countless opportunities before you.  Take advantage of all the great adventures this life has to offer.  Enjoy life, but make smart choices.

Many young people seem to be under the misconception that since drugs such as Xanax and Oxycontin are prescription medications, they are safer than street drugs or alcohol.  They are safe only if taken by the person for whom they are prescribed, not mixed with other medications, and taken as directed.  Otherwise, you are literally risking your life.  One night of partying is not worth the chances you take.  The wrong mix of drugs and/or alcohol can cause irreversible damage, not just to you, but to your family.  Our entire family has been affected by Stephen’s decision.  His mother lives every day with the knowledge that her son’s death could have been avoided so easily.  Let his death not be in vain.  Learn from his mistake, and share that knowledge with your friends.  Consider the consequences before making a decision.  If it would help, buddy up with a friend, let him or her know your intentions before you attend a party, and ask her to make sure that under no circumstances do you go off path.  You have to look out for one another, even when it’s difficult.

Please share this story with everyone.  Share it through your own blog, email, or your Facebook page.  If by sharing our story we save one young life, perhaps we can begin to make sense of our loss.

For My Father

My father is the handsome man on the left in the second row. The handsome man in the front is my Uncle Dave, who also died much too young. My mother is partially hidden, the woman on the far right in the back row.

On this Father’s Day, I cannot help but think of loss.  My father, Rex Greenland, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 42; I was seven.  Though I was young and have few memories of my dad, I have many memories of the day he died.  The night before, my sister, Bobbi, had graduated from high school.   After the ceremony, I went to spend the night with my grandmother because we were moving the next day, and I would only be in the way.  We were moving from Hammond, Indiana to Hobart, Indiana, which is about 30 minutes away.  My father owned a company in Hobart, The R.W. Greenland Co; the business made rock that goes in the bottom of aquariums.

On Saturday morning, the phone rang at Grandma’s house.  I followed her to the phone, and could tell that something was wrong.  Really wrong.  Upon replacing the phone, Grandma said, “Honey, lay across the bed and cry.  Your daddy just died.”  The rest of the day was a whirlwind of activity.  Our neighbors and people from our church jumped in and helped us finish moving as we tried to process what had happened.  That day would change the course of our lives.

As an adult, I still miss my father terribly.  I miss having a father.  When I see daughters with their dads, I feel that pang of jealousy.  At times, I have had to leave the room when television shows or movies depicting a father’s death are on.

I often wonder what our lives would be like had he lived.  What career would I have chosen?  Would his business have grown and been successful?  At every meaningful event in my life, I wish my dad were there to share the moment with me.  Would he be proud of me?  When I have made poor choices or failed at something, I wonder if he would be disappointed, or supportive and encouraging.  What kind of grandfather would he be?

I have had so many questions for my dad over the years, and have yearned for his advice.  When my friend and I opened a business several years ago, I grieved at not having my dad to go to for business advice.  I have spent a lot of time wondering what about me is like my father.  Do I get my ambition from him?  Do I get my work ethic from him?  Am I somehow carrying on his legacy?

I know, without a doubt, that my father is present in my life.  He was a wonderful musician, even composing his own music.  My youngest daughter, Addison, inherited his musical ability.  She has taught herself to play the piano, and as I hear her play, I know my father, without ever having known her, has touched her.   It is such a blessing to hear her working to play songs written by my father; I know he is proud as his music is played by his granddaughter all these years later.

I turned 42 three years ago.  The year prior to that particular birthday, I was filled with dread.  Almost my entire life, all I had associated with the number 42 was my dad’s death.  I was quickly becoming depressed, and knew that I needed to find a better way to handle turning 42.  My husband and I had been talking about exercising, and several of my friends had begun to run.  I hated running.  Even when I was a kid I hated running.  I envied runners as I passed them on the road, but I knew I could never be one of them.  Then my husband, who has an artificial knee and is 16 years my senior, began to run.  Crap.  What excuse did I have?  For my 42nd birthday, I began to run.  It was slow going at first.  I would run 1/4 mile, and then walk.  Gradually I worked my way up to running a mile without stopping; that was a huge accomplishment for this anti-exercise-junk-food-eating mom.  As the months went on, rather than focus on my loss, I focused on keeping my own heart healthy (my dad’s brothers also died very young of heart-related problems), and on living life to its fullest.  We began running 5k races, and we were hooked.

I am so blessed that through prayer, the support of my husband, and the advice of friends, I chose to honor my father’s memory by improving my health – both mental and physical.  I think my dad is probably pretty proud of the progress I have made over the past three years.  I have run many 5Ks, a couple of 10Ks, and three half marathons – and it all started with 1/4 mile on the treadmill.

I also wanted to use my story to help children deal with grief, so a year ago, my first children’s book, Dear Daddy:  When a Parent Dies, was published.  It is based upon my experience, and written in the form of letters to my dad.  If I can help one child through his or her grief, my book has served its purpose.

Through my faith and directing my energy into exercise rather than self-pity, I have been able to cope, and truly believe this was the path God intended for me.  Had my father not died, our family would not have moved to Southern Indiana (my mother remarried a man from this area), therefore I would not have my daughters, nor would I be married to my incredible husband.  I have a good life, and for that I am thankful.  I will continue to run and to step outside my comfort zone so that I can experience this life to its fullest.  We have one shot at living, and it can be taken away without warning.  I strive to make the most of each day.  So along with thinking about my loss today, I am also thinking about my blessings.  I have lost some amazing people over the years, and I miss each of them, but I am so blessed to have known them.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day, Friends!  And be certain to tell those you cherish that you love them!

Something Different

My posts are typically about running or some other random idea that pops in my head and I feel compelled to write about.  Today I want to do something different; something not so fun.  I want to share a poem that I composed last fall.  Oh, get up off the ground and quit laughing!  I realize I am hardly a poet, but after my nephew died, I was literally driving home from Walmart, and these words came to me.  How many people can say they feel inspired after going to Walmart?

Well, I got home, put away the goods, and grabbed the computer.  This poem just spilled out.  I don’t really know if it is any good or not, or if it will even make sense to anyone.  It is simply how I was feeling, and I needed to try to put it into words.  Here it goes…

That Moment…

Joyce Stath

It only takes a moment in time

for a heart to be broken, for a life to change.

The innocent ringing of the phone,

the call no one expects.

Ma’am…I’m so sorry…

Sir…I’m so sorry…

It’s your son, your daughter,

your father, your mother,

your husband, your wife.

Those words.

 Words we never forget.

Words that devastate.

At first, they seep ever so gently into our soul,

and then, they rip relentlessly into our very being.

It isn’t true.  It can’t possibly be so.  You’re mistaken.

But I just…

You’re wrong.  No!

Tears spill over, soft shudders become breathless sobs.

How….why?

What do I do?  Where should I go?

Dear God, why?

Not very uplifting, but did it remind you of anything?  As I wrote, I was thinking back to those phone calls, those words, that changed my life.  The first was the call telling my grandmother that my father had died.  I had spent the night with her, and was nearby when she received the news.  I will never forget her words to me, “Honey, lay across the bed and cry.  Your daddy just died.”  I also thought about the call from my sister telling me that her son had died.  The tone – weakness actually – in her voice still haunts me.  I, in turn, had to make that dreadful call to my niece that her brother had died.  Knowing she would never forget my words to her, I tried to carefully word the news, but really, is there a less painful way to tell someone a loved one has died?

We never know when we might receive a life-altering phone call.  Tell those you love that you love them.  Give them a hug when you say good-bye.  Take advantage of every breath that God blesses you with – and don’t sweat the small stuff!

Peace and Love…