Happy Birthday, Mama.

Today is my mama’s 73rd birthday. Last year, when we were in the middle of battling her cancer, we tried to celebrate her 72nd birthday with a family dinner. The details are a little vague because we were so overwhelmed by what we were dealing with. We asked her how she’d like to spend her day and she tried to muster up a little enthusiasm, but it required so much energy — energy she didn’t have.

I remember we got sliced brisket, fried okra, coleslaw, and the trimmings from a local barbecue place that we’d frequented for years. My sister and my girl both made desserts. I can’t remember what my sister made, but my girl made an “Orange Slice Cake” that Mama had asked for.

We really hoped Mama would be able to enjoy the day, but I think her illness had progressed much further than any of us realized at the time. She was tired and the radiation treatments she received in May had fried her tastebuds. It didn’t help that the barbecue place we’d always enjoyed seemed to be slipping, with the brisket being half fat — and I’m not exaggerating. It was terrible. If we hadn’t been so worn out from everything else, one of us would have taken that styrofoam box of fat back and demanded a refund. The cake my girl made was delicious, but it was a very rich and heavy cake — more suited to a wintertime dinner than a summertime birthday party.

After the so-so birthday dinner and cake, my sister started feeling poorly and within about thirty minutes, she was shaking with chills and fever. Her symptoms were so frightening I, along with her kiddos, took her to the urgent care center while my guy and girl stayed with Mama. I can’t remember what the final diagnosis was, but meds were prescribed and she began to feel better. By the time we got back to our mama’s house, it was late and time for everyone to call it a night. I remember being sad that it was more than likely our mama’s last birthday with us.

Today, on the anniversary of that day, I’m sad. I miss my mama and I miss the sound of her voice (my sister and I chuckled about that earlier – that we missed her voice, except for when she was nagging us about something she thought we needed to do or not do). I have her voice on a recording from my voicemail and every so often I will listen to her say, “I was just calling to see what you’re up to. I love you.”

Like I said, I’m sad. But I’m also happy, too. Because today is my mama’s first birthday in heaven with the Lord. And she is with her mama and daddy, whom she has missed since they passed away in the mid 1980s’. I like to think they are enjoying a family dinner with the best food (it is heaven, after all) and lots of good conversation and love.

Happy birthday, Mama. I expect being healthy and surrounded by love is the best birthday gift of all. I love you.

My Mama

Tomorrow we face another first — our first Mother’s Day without our mama. I went out to the cemetery earlier this afternoon to put some flowers on her grave. I almost didn’t go, because I had a difficult time deciding what to put out that wouldn’t look cheap or tacky. Since we live in another town, fresh flowers seem such a waste. I wanted to find some “silk” flowers that would stay pretty for a while until I can get up there again to put out some more.

AJ had a great suggestion and I ran with it. Mama was a very patriotic person, and he suggested I put some American flags on her grave. I was able to find some red silk roses and some red, white, and blue silk hydrangeas, as well as seven small American flags — one for each of us, and one for Mama. I thought arranging them like so would help make up for the current lack of a headstone. That’s something we are hoping to remedy in the not-too-distant future.

Mama loved her country, and she loved her some red, white, and blue!

I want to share a couple of photos of Mama from her sixteenth year, in 1959. Wasn’t she a cutie?

Mama, around 1959. She was sixteen years old.
I always thought she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, but prettier.

There was another lady at the cemetery while I was there, and we ended up visiting for a few moments. Her mother passed away several years ago, but she said it never really gets any easier. I can believe that. You might get busy and your busyness keeps you from thinking about your sadness. But some little something will remind you, and the next thing you know, you’re blinking back a tear, or three.

My mind sometimes goes in weird directions, and a few days ago I thought of Mama and the teal dress we chose for her burial. You can see from the photo below it was originally purchased for a happier occasion. I keep thinking about how weird it would have been — we were out shopping for wedding things, having a great time together. How strange it would have been, to see into the future for a split second and know that this beautiful teal dress being purchased for a wedding celebration is also the dress that will be chosen for her burial almost twenty-four years later.

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I’m glad she saved the dress. I always thought she looked so pretty in it, even though blues and variations of blue were not her favorite colors. She knew I loved blue and I think that may have swayed her decision to buy the dress. Or at least I like to think so.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. I wouldn’t wish for any other mama and I miss you very much. See you in heaven someday!


My beautiful picture
My beautiful mama and me, 1965

My mama is never far from my mind these days. Even though I’ve been busy with usual day-to-day responsibilities, more days than not I spend a few minutes thinking “this time last year, we were in the waiting room at MD Anderson” or “this time last year, we were about to start radiation treatments,” or “this time last year, I was living with Mama in Alvin…”

It’s hard to believe in only three months it will be a year since Mama passed away and we laid her to rest under the beautiful old oak tree at the Confederate Cemetery in Alvin. Of course, it’s just her physical body lying there. We know where she really is. We know she’s with Jesus.

When I think back to last August — how the expected was still very unexpected — I am so grateful for Mama’s planning. I think it was around the time of her first battle with melanoma, probably four years ago, that she started thinking about preparations for the inevitable journey that we all face at the end of our time on earth. I am the daughter who usually sticks her head in the sand about things like this. I can’t help but also be grateful that my sister, Angie, handles “things like this” so much better than I do. (I owe you big time, Little Sister!)

Whenever Mama tried to talk to me about it, I emphatically insisted on changing the subject. Poor Mama! It was important to her to have a “nice” funeral — she did not want to be cremated. She pointed out how much respect the living paid the dead in the Bible. She couldn’t reconcile cremation with the traditions of the early church, and did not want us to have to resort to that because a traditional funeral was too expensive. I have to assume my sister helped her coordinate the information needed to purchase a $10,000 life insurance policy for burial expenses when the time came. Mama paid the monthly premium faithfully to make sure we wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

During the last few months of her life, she started making known the specifics that she wanted for her last “party.” It sounds strange, but to us it is a party, a celebration of eternal life through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong — we cried plenty, but there is comfort in knowing we will see her again.

The Christmas before she found out her cancer had come back, she faxed me her Christmas list. She asked for two specific songs: “I’d Rather Have Jesus” by George Beverly Shea and “There’s Just Something About That Name” by Danny Gaither. I was able to find the first, but could not find the second. I gave her the one I could find on Christmas Eve and then discovered she’d asked for them because she wanted those songs played at her funeral! I fussed at her about that, asking for funeral music as a Christmas gift! My silly mama.

From the time she was diagnosed the first week of April, until she passed away the first week of August, she kept hoping and praying that she would get well, but she also faced the fact that might not be God’s plan for her. So my sister brought her computer over and they looked at caskets and flowers and headstones online. It was during their conversations that she let it be known she would really like a mahogany casket, and that she wanted her full name, “Norma Jean Swearingen Swan” on her headstone. My niece was paying attention, because when it came time to choose a casket piece from the florist, I could not remember what my mama’s favorite flower was. My niece quickly offered that Mama said she loved lilies. Mama mentioned that there was an available spot near her friends at the Confederate Cemetery and my sweet husband took care of securing the spot under the beautiful oak tree.

When you lose a loved one, it’s amazing how quickly everything happens. You’re standing in a hospital room at 4:35 am being told your mama is gone, and before the end of the day, you’re talking to a funeral director and trying to deal with how far $10,000 will go in between close encounters with a soggy Kleenex. It’s painful and messy, but much less so than if you had to make these decisions all the while wondering how to pay for everything.

The precious funeral director took such excellent care of us. My sister brought the paperwork from the life insurance policy to the funeral home and with the ease of a couple of signatures, signed it over to them. The funeral home kept a tally of how much everything cost and deducted it from the value of the policy. We looked at caskets, and in the course of the conversation, mentioned that Mama really wanted a mahogany casket. The funeral director asked us if we’d looked online. We were both a bit shocked by that, but she smiled gently and said, “You can get what she wanted for half the price if you order it online. But you need to do it tonight so the truck will be able to deliver it from Dallas in time.” I cannot say how much we appreciated this kind soul who basically took money out of her own pocket so that we could honor our mama’s wishes. When all was said and done, they returned a balance to us which we set aside for Mama’s headstone.

The service was beautiful and I’m pretty sure Mama was pleased with how we did things. The mahogany casket arrived on time, and we were invited to come see Mama the night before the funeral. The director had taken special care and even allowed my sister to come sit with her while she did Mama’s hair and makeup. It was really important to Angie that Mama’s makeup look the way we remembered it. As we stood there next to the casket, Angie said, “Mama, how do you like your new bed?” We both burst into laughter through our tears because we knew it was what she wanted and that she would be pleased. The flowers were beautiful, and we displayed photos that Mama loved in the foyer. The next day, during the service, the entire congregation joined together to sing the songs Mama had asked for, as well as Amazing Grace. It was the most beautiful funeral I think I’ve ever attended.

I’m so grateful that Mama made provision with the insurance policy, and that she made her wishes known so we, her daughters, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren, could honor her in a way that reflected who she really was at heart: a loving mother, grandmother, and most importantly a woman who’d rather have Jesus than anything.


Change is on the horizon for us. Our girl is planning on transferring to the University of Houston this fall. She could commute, but she wants the experience of living on her own, even if it’s in the slightly more protected environment of a dorm, rather than an apartment.

It’s so strange thinking of her being somewhere else, rather than down the hall from our room. I can remember going into her room at night when she was a little thing. I’d stand next to her crib, and later her bed, holding my breath so I could see the gentle rise and fall of her little back as she slept. When she was a toddler and a little older, she would sleep with us sometimes. I remember wrapping my arms around her and pulling her close to me, because I knew then that time passes quickly and opportunities to snuggle with my only child would eventually disappear.

Now she is a good three or four inches taller than me, and those opportunities have long passed. Sometimes when she walks past me, I grab her for a hug and hold on tight. She laughs and starts to pull away and I say, “I’m not done yet.” So she lets me hug her a little longer and for that split moment, I remember what it felt like to snuggle with my baby girl on those quiet nights years ago.

A Perfect Day…

…which I will have to tell you about later. The plate is full to overflowing today, but I had such a lovely day yesterday, celebrating 24 years with my darling guy. I will definitely come back and tell you how wonderful he is and how blessed I am that he chose me.

My Marriage Wasn’t Meant to Be | TheBlaze.com

A thought-provoking article on the whole “soul mates” thing.  Personally, I think he’s spot on.  Love is a choice, each and every day.

My Marriage Wasn’t Meant to Be | TheBlaze.com.


100 Things About Me, Part 1

I’ve been spending the last few days cleaning up my computer.  Through an “accident,” I ended up with two user accounts on my computer.  I decided to utilize this accident, and add a third account to compartmentalize all my interests.  So I have “business,” “photography,” and “writing” sections on my computer.  While I was moving things around from section to section, I found this and found it pretty entertaining.  I’ll work on posting the second half another day.

  1. I was born in a Texas town that celebrated its 200th birthday long before the United States Bicentennial.
  2. I love the color blue in all its various shades.
  3. I lived in the Virgin Islands for almost 15 months when I was in high school.
  4. The two times I’ve flown to Pennsylvania, my flight has been cancelled and I’ve been stranded there.
  5. I learned calligraphy when I was in high school.
  6. I drove the teacher to distraction because I sat Indian-style in the chair.  She emphasized good posture to achieve the best results.
  7. She was distracted because I proved her wrong by being a very good calligrapher.
  8. I hate the humidity of the part of Texas where I live.
  9. I’d like to live somewhere that enjoyed four seasons, but it will have to be within the Texas state lines.
  10. I have a large freckle to the right (my right) side of my nose.  In junior high, I took a modeling class through J.C. Penney’s, and the teacher thought it was a bit of foundation that I hadn’t blended in properly.
  11. I fancied myself a writer when I was younger.  My first “work” was a pitiful little story about the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston.
  12. I won an honorable mention in the Houston Post Scholastic Writing Awards competition in 8th grade.
  13. Lynn Ashby presented the awards and I got his autograph.
  14. I won third place in the same contest my senior year in high school.
  15. Leon Hale presented the awards and I got his autograph, too.
  16. I learned to scuba dive when I was 15 years old.
  17. Diving over the Cane Bay Wall in St. Croix, I almost gave my dad a heart attack when he saw my regulator float out of my mouth as we swam along.  I grabbed it, cleared it, and kept on going.
  18. I find scuba diving very relaxing (and thus have to concentrate on not letting that regulator float out of my mouth…)
  19. The deepest I’ve ever dove was 80 feet off the Cane Bay Wall, which drops to more than 2,000 feet from the surface.
  20. St. Croix is probably the one place that I would consider living, outside of Texas.
  21. I took Creative Writing my junior and senior years in high school.
  22. The second time I took it was when my physics teacher advised me to drop his class.  I ran to the counselor’s office to return to my favorite class.
  23. I was the editor of the literary magazine that year.
  24. I had a ridiculous crush on the same boy from 8th grade through my freshman year in college.  Thank God for unanswered prayers.
  25. When I was a child, I had a play house with real glass windows.  Three of us were playing together and two of us ran in and locked the door.  My friend tapped on the window with a stick right when the other child pressed his face against the glass.  The window broke and cut his forehead.  I thought it was my fault.
  26. I also had a Schwinn bike with a banana seat and tall handlebars.  The same friend who busted the window in the playhouse gave her sister a ride on my bike.  The sister caught her toe in the spokes, cutting it badly.  I thought that was my fault, too.
  27. I planned to be a school teacher until I realized that I would probably end up in prison for hurting someone’s “baby” for misbehaving.
  28. I’ve been to Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington State, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, plus British Columbia.  Granted, I only changed planes in Florida, North Carolina, and Oregon, and I touched my toes in Illinois and Kentucky on a driving trip, but I have been there!
  29. I love photography.
  30. I have five cameras that were purchased specifically for me.
  31. I also have a 1980 Olympic commemorative Canon 35mm that belonged to my grandfather.
  32. I enjoy scrapbooking, but have a difficult time finding time to do it.
  33. I used to teach scrapbooking classes.
  34. I would like to start cross stitching more.  I used to cross stitch a lot, but haven’t in a while.
  35. I was a perpetual student in college.  From August 1982 to graduation August 1986, I only sat out one summer session to go on a family trip.
  36. I earned my Associates Degree in 2 years — 62 credits were required, but I graduated with 83 credits.
  37. I transferred to Sam Houston State University and earned my B.A. (English major/History minor) in 2 more years.
  38. One of my great great grandfathers was named in honor of Robert E. Lee.  His first name was “Jeneral” and his middle name was “Lee”.  My middle name is Lee, too.
  39. I met my husband on the phone, initially.  Several weeks later I met him in a bar when I went dancing with some friends.  I didn’t make the connection between the person I spoke to briefly on the phone and the person I met in the bar until we’d been dating several weeks.
  40. We dated two years and broke up.
  41. After four years apart, our paths crossed again and we married eleven months later.
  42. I am glad our paths crossed again.
  43. My first job out of college was working as a circulation supervisor for Texas A&M at Galveston’s library.
  44. They did not charge late fees on overdue books and the stack of missing books was ridiculous.  I put a hold on all the records of those students with overdue books.  The graduating seniors hated me!
  45. I retrieved approximately 2/3 of the missing books and collected payment for the books that were never found.
  46. My then boyfriend (now husband) nicknamed me “Conan the Librarian”.
  47. After six months, I changed jobs and spent two years working in the rare book and archives collection of The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
  48. Then I got a REAL job.  I became a legal secretary for one of the big three law firms in Houston and made good money.
  49. And realized quickly that money isn’t everything.
  50. When my husband and I had been married for four years, our daughter was born and I quit my job when she turned one year old.

My Heart

This girl stole my heart from the moment I saw her 18 years ago....
This girl stole my heart from the moment I saw her 18 years ago….

When I first learned I was going to be a mom, I went into shock/panic mode.  I’d never really been around babies or even small children, other than my younger sister — and there was such a wide age gap, that I was busy with high school things while she was in her little kid years.  It wasn’t until my sister was probably 12 or 13 (and I was 22 or 23) that we really became close.  I didn’t know how to relate to babies or small children.  What does one talk about?  How do you play “baby dolls”?  I always had my nose stuck in a book throughout my childhood, so I was clueless on how one interacts with small ones.

I think it was about 3 months into it when I came out of the “Oh my gosh I’m pregnant what am I going to do? I can’t send it back!” phase.  Suddenly, I started getting a little more excited about things, but I tackled it from a very “Oh my gosh we are responsible for this small human being and must only purchase the best of everything” attitude.  And I’m not talking about designer baby clothes.  I’m talking “Has this car seat been tested and approved by NASA?  What ARE the best baby bottles?” and so on.

I was determined that if I was going to be a mother, I was going to be the best mother I could be.  But I was still afraid.  Her daddy, AJ, kept telling me things would be okay.  And even when it came time for her to be born and a c-section became necessary, he sat next to me in the OR holding my hand and telling me it would be okay.

And it was.

She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  In a nanosecond, I went from being afraid and worried that I might not even like being a mom, to realizing that I would do ANYTHING to protect this beautiful child that God had somehow seen fit to bless me with.

Over the years, I am sure there are some things that I/we could have done better as parents, but overall, I think we did okay.  It doesn’t hurt that she was pretty amazing from the very start.  She is a happy girl, rarely complaining (and when she does complain, it’s for a good reason and doesn’t last very long).  She’s creative – building wonderful worlds on paper with her command of language, making beautiful jewelry with her imagination, and filling our home with music at her beloved piano.  I love hearing from other people how much they enjoy spending time with her — she brings a lot of happiness into the lives of the people around her.

I just can’t believe she’s already 18 years old.

Where does the time go?

Happy birthday, to my beautiful Jami-girl.  I could not hope for a sweeter, lovelier daughter and I thank the Lord He chose me and your daddy to be your parents.  I love you.

— Mommy