we need to talk

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Siblings 1985

This is not going to be one of my funny, light-hearted posts. It’s been five months since my brother Norman died, and I’m still heartbroken. Writing is cathartic for me, so I’m going to get very real with you.

If you didn’t read my last post about Norman, you should. He was a loving, kind, generous, devout man who should be excited about hunting season, spending the holidays with his kids and playing with his beloved grandsons right now. But, on the morning of June 1, he took his own life. My life will never be the same, and I want to do anything I can to prevent others from choosing his path.

I learned so much about him at his visitation. I’m glad I know these things, but incredibly sad I didn’t know more of them while he was still alive. For five hours, friends, family and complete strangers (to me) filed through the line up of his immediate family to pay their condolences. Their stories had so much in common.

He was a helper. “Your brother helped me get into dental school. He helped my son get into scouting. He helped me achieve Eagle Scout. He was the best scout leader for our boys. He helped me get my dental practice set up. He helped my daughter get into Westminster College. He helped us so much through the Brothers in Christ Men’s Ministry that he set up. He helped get me through some of the hardest times of my life.”

He loved people. “I had lunch with your brother every Tuesday. We met for breakfast with our men’s group every week. We had dinner every other Thursday. I saw him several times a week at the salad bar at HyVee, and he always stopped to talk with me. We saw each other every…” You can fill in just about any time of day, week or month, his dance card was full of meaningful interaction with others. And not just small talk. He connected with others like no one else I’ve ever known. As an example, his bank teller recognized me by sight and asked if I still liked living in Colorado. How many of your bank tellers know what your siblings who live in different states look like?

Sibs in Chicago
In Chicago, 1982.

He filled his time helping, loving and praising God with others. As an endodontist, he saw thousands of patients over the years. A typical day for Norman may have started with a breakfast prayer group, seeing a couple of patients in the morning, meeting someone or running into someone for lunch, more patients in the afternoon and a ministry meeting in the evening.

Now, imagine his life when COVID-19 hit. He turned 65 in February, had extremely high blood pressure and asthma, so he was in the high-risk category. He closed down his practice and quarantined himself at home with his wife Anita. For weeks, then months. No more breakfast or lunch meetings, no joking with and talking with patients or his assistants, no going to church. Instead, he stayed home and worried. Worried about getting the loan papers completed so that he could continue to pay his employees. Worried about his health. Worried about his own finances.

This sounds terrible, right? Now consider that he suffered from depression, as has every member of my immediate family. This wonderful man, who thrived on connecting with others, was isolated. I believe with all of my heart that this isolation killed him.

Will I ever forgive myself for not getting in my car and driving to Kansas City to be with him, even when he told me not to? I don’t know. I do know that he took a piece of me with him. I also know that he left a piece of himself in me and in everyone who knew him. And for that, I am forever grateful. I hope I can continue his dedication to helping others. I pray for that every day.  

Siblings at Anna's Wedding
At my daughter’s rehearsal dinner in 2018

Back to that depression I mentioned before. It runs in our family, and this was not our first suicide. My paternal grandfather killed himself in 1940 after losing the family grocery store following the depression. My dad, who was nine at the time, found him. I learned this from a cousin when I was in college. Dad never spoke of it to any of us. There have been other attempts in our extended family as well.

We’ve got to stop hiding these stories away, being embarrassed or afraid of the stigma. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since I was young. I take medication that helps me deal with the symptoms for both. I still get down sometimes, but I’ve learned coping mechanisms and am blessed with a husband who knows my moods and helps me through them.

Grieving, and giving myself permission to grieve, is a long process. Our family has suffered so many losses over the past few years that it sometimes seems like I’ve been grieving non-stop. My brother-in-law Kevin died from a heart attack five years ago at the age of 57, then my mom passed away in February 2018…on my brother’s birthday. Dad’s been gone for more than 20 years. Norman’s death has brought back so many memories that I find myself grieving for them all.

These days, my sister Julie and I talk at least once a week for an hour or more. It’s such a strange feeling to be the only two left of our family of five. We have vowed to take better care of ourselves so that we can be here for each other and our families for many, many years to come.

We are honest with other about our feelings, and I am opening myself up to others as well. This vulnerability of sharing is hard, but it’s important. It’s a matter of life or death. So many of the people you see and talk to every day are suffering or struggling in some way. Take the time to really connect with your friends and acquaintances. If you sense something is off, ask them. Offer to meet for socially distant coffee or to take a walk. Send hand-written notes. (Check out my friend Elyse’s hand-painted cards here.) Be kind, to strangers and yourselves.

I know more people who have been affected by suicide in the past six months than in the rest of my life. It’s time to talk openly about mental health. Do it for Norman. If you need help, ask for it. I’ve done it and I’ll gladly help you find the help you need as well. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need to, call or text 800-273-8255, or reach out to me or someone you love.

You’re on this planet for a reason; the world needs you.

To end on a lighter note, I learned something really funny about my brother from a sorority sister at his visitation. She found him in the middle of the country road near their house with a can of spray paint. He was painting targets around potholes so that they could be seen from the air. Thank you, Kim. I don’t know if it helped get those potholes fixed, but it sure makes me smile. I miss you, Bubby.  

Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Anna Maria Island

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Room with a view on Anna Maria Island

We are so fortunate to have spent a week on the beach in Florida before COVID-19 really set in. I’ve been dreaming about going back ever since. Here are a few things we learned about Anna Maria Island so that you can start planning your trip right now.

Shrimp tacos at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut

1. Hit both ends of the island. Pine Street on the north end and Bridge Street on the south end are where you’ll find lots of places to eat, drink and shop. The free trolley makes this a breeze.
2. Ask friends who’ve visited the island (like me!) for recommendations. That’s how we found the restaurants we liked the best, like…
3. Eat at The Sandbar Restaurant. We liked our first meal so much that we went back a few days later. Get there early if you want to sit on the patio at sunset. Five stars for the shrimp stuffed with crab!
4. Eat at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut. We got a table outside the bar from which we could watch the sun setting on the beach and listen to the live reggae music. Get a drink to share. Five stars for the shrimp tacos.
5. Eat at the Bridge Tender Inn Restaurant. It’s just off the Bridge Street Pier with a view of the water. Great food and reasonable prices. Five stars for the Baja Mahi Tacos. Plus, for my husband who’s not a big seafood fan, they had a great hot dog.
6. Go beach hopping! There are lots of choices, including Bean Point, Holmes, Anna Maria, Manatee, Bradenton and Coquina. It’s easy to walk from one to the next. If you like a good long walk, take the trolley to one end of the island, walk to the other, then take the trolley back to where you’re staying.
7. Check out the shops! The Bridge Street Bazaar was our favorite for traditional souvenirs like t-shirts, hats and island décor. I found some wonderful bracelets and Christmas ornaments at The Island Cabana on Pine Avenue, and a beach bag decorated with sea turtles in the gift shop at the Gulf Drive Café. The Sandbar also has a nice gift shop, where I found bi-focal sunglasses right after mine broke!
8. Visit www.annamariaislandchamber.org to help with your trip planning.

Paradise! We spent relaxing on the beach in front of our room at the Bali Hai Beach Resort.

1. Don’t get a rental car without some research. There are shuttles available from the Tampa International Airport. Once you’re on the island, the free trolley will take you anywhere.
2. Don’t overpack! This is really hard for me, but I’m trying to get better about it. You’ll need a pair of sandals and a pair of walking shoes. We visited in mid-February, and the jeans, sweater, rain jacket, capris and socks stayed in the suitcase. (My walking shoes are comfy without socks.) For a five-day stay, I just needed a swimsuit, a pair of shorts, two skorts, a swimsuit cover, a few t-shirts and tank tops. Of course, you’ll want to check the forecast before your visit.
3. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Use it often and wear a hat.
4. Don’t forget to look up occasionally while you’re walking on the beach. We were watching dolphins play from our balcony while others were walking with heads down, probably looking for shells. They missed out on the show!
5. Don’t accept the first price you find for lodging. I found ours on VRBO, but it was actually cheaper on Expedia.

Bridge Street Pier at the south end of Anna Maria Island

Good to know
1. If you’re in a condo with a full kitchen, there’s a Publix grocery store, a couple of independent liquor stores, a CVS and a Walgreens. Don’t over buy! We ate one big meal out each day, then snacked for the other two meals in the condo.
2. There’s a Domino’s that delivers if you don’t want to leave the beach.
3. Glass is not allowed on the beaches. Pack a water bottle or pick up a plastic cup. Our condo only had glassware.
4. There are lots of places to rent gear, bikes, golf carts, scooters, kayaks, etc. It’s a fun way to explore the island.
5. There are also many options for activities, boat charters, sightseeing cruises, tours, fishing, snorkeling, dolphin and manatee tours and parasailing. The chamber website is a good place to start.

We stayed at the Bali Hai Resort on Holmes Beach. The location and views were amazing. Our room was large, clean and comfy. The private beach is well-maintained and quiet and not too far to walk to The Sandbar Restaurant. It was a little pricey, but worth it for facing and being just steps from the beach. Our only complaint was that we were not able to get housekeeping there when we needed them.

Now, I think I’m going to have to start planning our next trip. Thanks for reading Tales From the Empty Nest!
©Mandy Gauldin

sign up to save a life today

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Our cousin Brian has Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, or CML. He was diagnosed three years ago and, until very recently, his meds were keeping it in check. That changed, and now he needs a bone marrow transplant. You can help without leaving your home.

I’ll tell you how after I tell you a little about Brian. Technically, he’s my husband’s cousin, but after 34 years he’s my cousin, too. We spent time with Brian and Peggy in their beautiful home on the water in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, in February. We hadn’t seen them in about a decade and so enjoyed catching up and hanging out with them. They’ve built a wonderful life together on the Gulf Coast, and we can’t wait to visit them again.

“Please consider saving the LIFE of someone from your heritage with 70 different blood disease like sickle cell or blood cancers like leukemia.

Go to join.bethematch.org/TeamBrian to join as a committed new member online if you’re ages 18-44 and willing to help any patient in need. A kit will be sent to you. Just mail it back ASAP. Help us bring awareness by sharing this online link. Remember: YOU could be the CURE!”

Here are three ways to help:

Sign up to join the Be The Match donor registry without leaving home.
You can click here or text teambrian to 61474. Fill out the questionnaire, and they’ll mail you a cheek swab kit with a postage-paid return envelope. You only have to go as far as your mailbox to do this. (#couch2cure) If you are between 18 and 44 years old, it is free. That’s because most patients respond better to younger cells.

Share this information.
Share it on your social media platforms. Email it to your friends, family and coworkers. You won’t be just helping Brian, you’ll be helping the 12,000 patients who search the database for a match each year.

Make a donation.
When Brian receives his transplant, he will have to stay in the hospital for a month. After that, he will need to live within 10 minutes of the hospital for 8 to 12 weeks. Insurance will not cover these additional living expenses. Go to their GoFundMe page for the details. Every little bit helps.

Click for GoFundMe

Brian and Peggy during our visit with them in February.

Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Thousands of patients with a blood cancer like leukemia or other disease like sickle cell anemia need a marrow transplant to survive. Most don’t have a matching donor in their family. They turn to Be The Match®, a non-profit community of donors, volunteers, researchers and health care professionals that delivers cures. The Be The Match Registry is the largest and most diverse worldwide. But many patients, especially those of diverse ancestry, still can’t find a match. YOU could be their cure.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you’ll consider one or more of the ways to help listed above. Please comment below if you’d like graphics to share on your own social media platforms. I have information in Spanish as well. Let’s all work together to save some lives!

remembering my brother

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People let me tell you about my big brother. He was warm-hearted person who loved me ‘til the end.

You know how big brothers are. One minute they are playing “fatty cheeks” and seeing how many pecans they can fit in your cheeks, and the next they’re helping you through some of the most difficult times of your life. I don’t want to sound conceited, but I had the best big brother in the world. And now I’m brokenhearted without him.

Norman, who I dubbed Bubby from an early age, had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. He loved God, his family, his country, the great outdoors and OU football.

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a day in Sonoma, California

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Of our four days in Sonoma County, one was spent in and around Sonoma, a historic city in northern California at the heart of the renowned Sonoma Valley wine-making region. Its history is fascinating.

According to VisitCalifornia.com, “In the mid-1800s, the town now known as Sonoma was just a collection of ranchos, governed by Mexico. Even though the U.S. government and the State of California took over the territory not too long after that, you can still sense its heritage. The centerpiece of town, Sonoma Plaza, is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule. Today, however, Sonoma Plaza is lined with charming shops, tasting rooms and popular restaurants.”

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where to eat in Sonoma County: four faves

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We just got back from a wonderful, wine-filled week in Sonoma and Napa. It was an actual work trip for our liquor store. How sweet is that? Before I get to the wine, and there’s so much wine to discuss, I want to tell you about four restaurants we loved in Sonoma County. Two were recommended by winery employees. Locals have the best insights on where to, or not to, eat. The other two were found on Google.

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good boy

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We said goodbye to Jackson yesterday, and the nest feels very empty right now. It’s been 10 years since we adopted him as an adult, but it seems like yesterday.

At the time, we’d just moved into a new house and were dog-less for the first time since 1986. That lasted about three weeks. I started looking at rescues in the paper, then moved online and spotted an ad for Red, a black lab coming from a kill shelter in Rawlins, Wyoming. His name came from the color of his collar; they had so many black labs that that’s how they identified them.

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remembering Mom on her birthday

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I’ve been struggling to write this tribute to Mom for almost a year. She passed away last February, and though I’ve worked on it several times I’ve just now been able to finish it. Since today would have been her 85th birthday, I’d like to share some of what made her so special. Continue reading

ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

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Camping with Fido

Guest post by Aurora James

Spending time in the great outdoors with your canine companion can be quite a treat. However, if you’re planning on camping or spending the night, there are a few things you will want to do to prepare. With these tips, you’ll be ready to enjoy whatever nature throws at you. Continue reading

a tribute to outlander

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Memorial Wall at Culloden Moor

I’d love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon if it was pure fiction. Her storytelling takes hold of me and won’t let go until I’ve finished each book, which I’ve now done a few times. The fact that the series is based on real events and many real characters, and the lengths to which she has gone to make it as historically accurate as possible—except perhaps for the whole time travel thing—makes me love it even more. This really hit home when we visited Scotland in 2013. Continue reading