We Travel Far and We Survive

Building my father’s coffin was one of the most healing things I have ever done.

I want to build my own.

I want to build my coffin and put removable shelves in it.

I will place all  the books which have shaped me, in my coffin bookcase.

When it is time for me to go, my family will need only to remove the books and the shelves; I will be on my way.

I can picture my loved ones taking the time to look at each book before placing it aside, the books that meant the world to me in the hands of those who have meant the world to me.

That makes sense to me.

It does.

I know who means the world to me now, but by the time my time comes, I hope they will be joined by other people who came to mean the world to me

unloading the books and preparing my coffin.

Collecting books and pennies is great;

Collecting Love is Better.

My mother is across town in her shared room on the secured wing of a  nursing home.

She can have her mothers desk in the room with her.

It is a tall desk with a fold out table for writing letters. There are nooks and crannies for stationary and a glass case above it to hold important, beautiful things.

When I was little the desk held every Missal from every family member all the way back to England.

I would take the Missals out and marvel at the fact

that my great-great-grandmother’s Missal is so much like mine.

I made my First Communion post Vatican 2 but we lived in a pre Vatican 2 neighborhood.

My Missal has both the Latin and the English translation of the Catholic Mass.

I have the Missals here with me now; they are not safe on the secured floor of my mother’s nursing home.

I have glass figurines of birds behind the glass now. I have locked the glass doors.

I imagine my mother now, propped up in her bed looking through the albums I made for her of all the pets we ever had;

including Cynthia the racoon.

I imagine my mother looking up at the desk and remembering her father fold the desk down and pull out the thick note paper to write the letters he wrote to family.

I pretend that my mother is fine on the secured floor of the nursing home. I pretend that her dementia is due to old age.

My mother is relatively young, 70 I believe, and has been institutionalized for years now.

It took a forced medical detox and the state of Colorado being ready to take guardianship of her,

to get her in the home.

I am her guardian and I have been for years.

I did not give her to the state though there have been times I have wanted to.

The old desk, the coffin I will build myself, books and Missals and Mass said to Women countless generations back are all on my mind.

My mother across town, alone and me here, alone.

I wonder how many hands touched those Missals and how they have managed to survive so much; travel to America, floods in Iowa, the dry air of Colorado.

Those Missals survive the same way my mother does and the same way I do; because of Love.

My mother has Wernicke – Korsakoff Syndrome; alcoholics dementia. Due to the deterioration of her brain, she must be locked away for her own safety and the safety of others.  My mother was a drunk until the forced detox a few years ago. Being a drunk is why she is where she is now and not sitting here with me drinking tea.

I know that when the time comes to take the books out of my coffin bookcase my mother will have been long gone. I know that when her time comes I will move the old desk back into my home or my sisters home and we will return the Missals to their rightful place.

I guess we all return to our rightful home; where ever that might be.

I hope that when my mothers time comes I will be there by her side with only love in my heart.

That seems pretty  far-fetched  at this moment,

but I am looking at these Missals and I gotta tell ya,

they have traveled far and they have survived.

I will ponder that.

Peace,    Jen

~ by Step On a Crack on October 15, 2011.

19 Responses to “We Travel Far and We Survive”

  1. Jen … lovely. Peace indeed. I love your history, your reference to current and present life … you connection with you family … your love for your sister, your “origins” … your gramma’s stately desk … it’s all beautiful and it connects you to a larger world, but a personal world, nonetheless.

    Your coffin … we need to talk more about this when i see you. [Note: not exactly party talk … but] …

    … while at first the notion of building one’s own coffin seems spooky, it is not. We will all need our final vessel to carry us to the next life, or heaven, or wherever we believe we will go. I loved the description of you and your family building your dad’s coffin: it is SO personal … almost as if he did NOT die alone …

    Why is it that we are born alone and die alone? Is it because we must be reminded that we NEED people, we need to love and be loved to sustain us through life … to do God’s work? To try to do god’s work … to try to love, forgive … give and take. The key here is “TRY”.

    I truly believe you are SO TRYING to “get to that place” with you mom. That is heroic, and it is VERY amazing.

    The more i read about your mom’s problems, the more i realize how AWFULLY painful this whole stage in your lives this is: together, yet separate. A forced detox and not being able to drink (if that is true) could make her more angry and difficult … so your attempts to reconcile are THAT much harder! Magnified: There is suffering all around.

    You are who i care about. You are trying, unfortunately YOU CANT TELL if she is trying. Maybe she won’t … but that means you are strong and loving — that which you are not TRYING: YOU ARE LOVING!

    The forgiving … it comes perhaps … you hope … in the work that you do. It’s all about some work, some reflection, some distance … then a little more dipping into the waters … ebb and flow. DAMN IT! Why aren’t there any direct routes to heaven???? to continued peace … if only we could be Gandhi-esque … aaaaaaa.

    I think part of the reason i like painting and sketching … there ARE lines … and colors and you can arrange them however you want … there’s some, maybe, control in that and the work is from my own soul. Still, it is only painting … and then you are done … on to the next.

    WOW … i’m blathering! I’m moved, as usual.

    I love your courage and commitment to all you do, and all you care for!

    ALSO … i loved the “Y” story about looking for the NECKLACE. That sounded like a HOOT, and so “connecting” with your friends!.

    You Winkle girls DO know your way around the tools!

    All my love!

    With respect and admiration,



    • I hope this is not confusing, sweetie … tell me if you feel you’re lost in my wafting thoughts and shifting topics.

      And, to be sure, YOU ARE LOVING … that is what i meant. not that you are trying to love … you are! The forgiving is the trying … and so it goes … more to be done … and maybe you’ll do as much as you can … and that will be just right, as i think Debby has said to me before.


  2. I like this, Hope you can make the journey there. Let me know if you need company on the way-


    • T, You are my company along the way. Your ear and your support are, have been and continue to be key in my journey. You keep me honest and make me look at all of it. You don;t let me wallow. Thank you for that. AND Dr. Plunkett. wow. Thank you….. xxxx Jen


  3. Hi Jennifer,

    I’m “Mrs Demeanor,” the wife of “Al K Hall.” I’ve so appreciated your comments on his recovery blog & he has spoken highly of your posts here. I’m now living with Al in a country far, far away, but my home is Colorado, and I was pleasantly surprised to read that is where you are now. I miss it, I miss the life I had there some days, and so it is really nice to be in touch with bloggers from “home.”

    I’ve been reading here today, and just wanted to thank you for doing what you are doing here, unflinchingly and with care to provide a “cautionary tale.” It makes me really glad that Al has taken steps to address the disease of alcoholism in his life so that neither I nor his children have to be in this same situation you are. I’m sorry that you are in the situation you are in. It must be a very painful reality.

    And yet, I see that you are trying to find the good in the bad with what you write here. Good on you for taking steps to write this stuff out. I hope that it has the cathartic and perspective-building effect it seems to be having!

    Best to you,
    Mrs D


    • Good Morning Mrs. Demeanor,

      It is a joy to ‘meet’ you! I returned to Colorado 25 years ago after a career traveling. I would not want to live anywhere else. The Sun; Ahh, the Sun! There are SO FEW natives here! It is great to meet another! I want to thank you stopping by and let you know that I have been where ‘Al’ is and where you are standing. Both are tricky stances. I am really stunned by ‘Al’s’ honesty and his humor about the Beast. In my experience those are hallmarks of the folks who stay sober. I hope that offers solace. His blogs remind me that the journey is a lifetime one. His blog has touched me. I WISH my mother had made ‘Als’ journey and I have friends and family that I still hold out hope for. Al is inspiring! And Funny And Touching.

      I was HOPING that this blog would reach folks in recovery. A good friend of ours, a Real Professional Drinker, is now stone cold sober. He has known my mom for decades and watching her decline turned the tables on him. It works. Hearing and seeing the truth of the devastation of alcoholism is the KEY to staying sober. I think that is why meetings are so important. “Al” will be there for you and your family. I will soon post the numbers of drinks per day, per week that begin to kill brain cells. I am a little leery of posting them: That is one small threshold. I know the numbers will turn some folks who are drinkers cold. They are scary numbers. Drinking is TOO socially acceptable in our culture and the alcohol lobby has way too much power and money.

      My painful reality is not just mine. I WISH I could find other caretakers and I hope that I can reach others in my boat. The Demon Rum rules the roost ; I know I am not alone.
      I am trying to balance the Hell with Hopefulness. Not always easy.

      Again, Mrs. D, So nice to meet and chat. Thank you for your kind words . What ‘Al’ is doing is important; Virtual Meetings! Good God (Higher Power) ! If I had access to posts like Al’s in my early years of recovery, It would have been 1000 times easier. What Al is doing is very important.

      He is lucky to have YOU by his side.

      Best to you also Have a Great Day,

      Jen thank you. really thank you.


      • What a lovely response! 🙂 Thank you so much. It’s nice to know you have been on both sides of the “fence” — a recovering person and the one close to an alcoholic. That’s a good perspective for me to read about here. And it is *really* good for me to read how Al’s recovery blog is having a good effect. His “other” Al K Hall blog was started very much when he was still in the throes of drinking, and I have come to understand how his blogging in general is a “trigger” for me. (It was not easy to have him be cavalier in the other blog about drinking when I could see it pulling apart his life at the seams). But to read that his honesty and humor in his recovery blog are keys to sobriety, and to know that this is the “good blog” for him to keep up with makes me able to step outside the dynamic and see it the blogging in a more neutral, non-triggering kind of way (if that makes sense!).

        Anyway, I honestly have other blogs of my own, under my real identity, but I have been somewhat inspired to perhaps take a stab at doing my own blogging about *this* topic. In the other writing I have done, I have basically had to hide what’s really going on to protect Al’s privacy, anonymity, and therefore his identity — it’s not easy, and has made me think that perhaps writing my own recovery as Mrs D would be a good thing. I’ll have to think on that. It’s true: having this kind of place to read and share is a help.

        Keep on keepin’ on Jen. And I hope that others will find this place, too. 🙂

        Mrs D

        Thank you for reiterating that what Al is doing is important.


      • My Goodness! This is one of those really good days thanks to you, Mrs. Demeanor!

        Triggers. Man do I know from Triggers! I really hear you about this. I have PTSD from my childhood (no shock there) and I have spent years trying to identify and deal with the darn things. I can totally understand why Al’s blogs would cause you distress. I hope it really does help to hear how helpful what Al writes can be to others in recovery. I actually put a link from his recovery blog to mine in the hopes that people in recovery or considering making a ‘lifestyle change’ will visit his blog and see that it is not all darkness and gloom. Al really is a clever writer; he makes it clear you are not Giving Something up but Gaining a Life. I really dig that.

        It is remarkable to think of how the internet might have helped my recovery. Really. Al is a genius and on the right track. He is certainly lucky to have you.

        I would love to see your blogs! AND a blog from Mrs. Demeanor’s point of view if NEEDED out here! I mean REALLY REALLY. I Could use it, yes ma’am!

        I debated concealing my identity and decided to go ‘balls out” (Ovaries out?) If I really wanted to make a strong statement it seemed the right thing to do. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and all that; but the story is true and sad; there is no way around it. It seems important to me to let people know that a ‘normal mom’ in the pick up line at school has been to Hell and back and can still smile and raise a half way normal kid. (don’t get me wrong, we do Go Our Own Way and we always will. We are not mainstream but my husband and I are breaking the alcohol/drug abuse cycle.) The high school hunt will probably not include Juvie as an option. We Shoot; We Score! I know we are messing our kid up somehow but at least not the same way or as badly as our parents messed us up.

        Please seriously consider writing a blog from your point of view. This recovery thing IS a family affair and I think that is often missed. That is a HUGE gap in the stuff written about AA, the 12 steps and recovery in general. Alcoholism destroys EVERYTHING in its wake. Too often we focus only on the alcoholic. That is not OK or helpful to my way of thinking. Do it. How does that go: Just Do It!

        Thank you, you have made my day! I will keep on keepin on. Let me know WHEN you start your blog (and if you are willing to share your others….)

        All the best to you, Mrs. Demeanor,



  4. Just a remark that you have a lot of Love in your heart for your mother, Jen. Maybe more love than you know because a lot comes across in your posts about her. Keep it up, please!


    • Oh Mr. Hall. I am gonna cry now. I deeply appreciate you saying that. You might know how this goes: life is life and Words are Words. Maybe it IS easier to feel things more completely on Paper with Ink. I am going to reread some of the posts (I post and move on) I could use a dose of seeing my love for my mom. If you see it, it must be there. Words do set me free, I guess I oughta read em…. thank you thank you. Send Mrs. Demeanor my Best….

      Peace, Jen


  5. As I read your blog, I can follow your growth and healing. I think of my own mother and father who both had dementia and were alcoholics. In the end all I held on to was the love and let go of the hurt. I forgave them and grew as a person. Though these are tragic topics I really enjoy your words and watching your wisdom develop.


  6. Another beautiful post, Jen.
    I love your bookshelf coffin concept. What a treasure trove that will be. Like those precious Missals, you’ve had a long journey. When the time comes, I have no doubt He who is Love will tenderly hold you and offer you His love for your mother. It’s too much to ask of yourself, but not too much for the One who has always known her pain and her secret heart and loves her in spite of herself. Much the same way He loves you and I, all the while knowing the damage we’ve experienced and the damage we’ve caused. Your grace is compelling and journeying with you is a gift.


    • Hoo Boy Debbie. You hit a vein here; a Good one. I am Seriously pondering your words. I MEAN SERIOUSLY! You have given me a lot to gnaw on. What comes from the seed you planted in me today is GONNA be a post that means an awful lot to me. Bless you…. xxxx Jen


  7. Powerful post. What a great concept project. Do you still have access to your Dad’s tools? I think this is a wonderful idea!

    You are doing a lot of emotional work here. Great job! Thank you for sharing your life with us. I’m privileged to be able to ‘know’ you.


    • Dear Sweet Heidi! The tools were all stolen and of course, that story will be a post soon. BUT every Winkel Woman has her tools. Thank you for your support and your Heart. The privilege is all mine, really!


  8. Reblogged this on Step On A Crack…Or Break Your Mother's Back.


  9. holy molé. wow. incredible in every way.


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