Tag Archives: confessions

The Broken Swan this Side of Heaven



My family had to say goodbye to a fantastic lady today. After 95 years, my grandmother, Violet Stephens, ended her journey on this earth. This special lady left this world just as a person of her caliber should have—surrounded by people who loved and adored her. I wasn’t there when she passed, but I did love and adore her. I was fortunate that she spent the last year living in the nursing facility where I work. So, I got to see her and hug her and kiss her anytime I want. She was precious.

The truth is, she wasn’t even my biological grandma. I was a step. Sometimes that can be complicated. I was 13 years old when I became her grandchild and there was little else more complicated than I was at that age (except for maybe ages 15-19). It wasn’t complicated for Grandma. She just lumped my sister and me in with the rest of them and loved us like she had been there when they cut our cords. I would like to say it was because we were so special, but that wasn’t is at all. It was because she was special.

Grandma was a gentile sprit and kind nearly to a fault. She was the type of person who would go out of her way for other people and wouldn’t expect anything in return. She was someone I didn’t want to disappoint, because she was just such a doll. Once, when my sister and I were spending the night with her and my grandpa, she brought us a flashlight. She said, “Girls, I am giving you this flashlight so you won’t get lost if you have to get up in the night to use the bathroom.” I can’t really capture how endearing this gesture was. The bathroom was literally three steps outside the room where we were sleeping. The house was tiny and cozy and there was exactly zero chance of us getting lost. She was precious.

There was something I should have told Grandma and I didn’t. This isn’t like me at all, because I am pretty forthcoming about my plethora of blunders. I was sixteen and attending a family gathering at Grandma’s. Nearly everyone had congregated in the backyard and I had made my way to the sit on the front step. I was sitting next to a concrete planter that was fashioned into the shape of a swan. It was full of blooming red flowers and I casually reached up and put my hand around the beak of the swan. A good-sized portion of the beak broke off into my hand. Looking back, I know that Grandma would have just brushed it aside had I taken the beak to her and told her what had happened. But I didn’t. I did what I sometimes do in sticky situations–I improvised. I used the gum I was chewing to stick the beak back into place. I am normally not a good secret keeper, but I kept this one for a long time.

Twenty-six years have passed and as of yesterday, that swan with the bum beak was still sitting in front of Grandma’s house. I came clean to my sisters and my step-dad a few years ago and they have all teased me about telling Grandma I broke her swan planter. They never told either. I should have told her. It wouldn’t have mattered to her. It mattered to me.

A few months ago Grandma became very sick and we had to take her to the hospital. I went and sat with her until my aunts and uncles could get there. She was weak and barely able to stay awake or talk. Several times she opened her eyes and I would smile and say, “Hi there, Sleeping Beauty.” Each time that day she said the same thing to me: You aren’t my real grandchild. You aren’t my great-grandchild. You are a really great grandchild. She had never said that to me before that day and never said it to me again. I should have told her then I broke her swan.

At her funeral, my mom (who is a dynamic speaker) shared that my Grandma had left a note to her and my step-dad on a visit to their home about fifteen years ago. It was also something Grandma hadn’t spoken to them about before or since she left it. It was a request to have the following poem read at her funeral:

“Miss Me But Let Me Go”

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little-but not too long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that we once shared
Miss me-but let me go

For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home

When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me but let me go.

Author: Anonymous

My Grandma didn’t have many worldly possessions. She didn’t need many. She was content in her family, faith and community. I am a step. Sometimes that gets complicated, but I have decided to ask for the broken swan. I think it would look lovely on my porch with the flowers blooming and a broken beak. Moreover, it will serve to remind me to strive to be more like her. Maybe I can choose to focus on the good in people, to serve others more and to put God and family first. I get that wrong a lot of the time. She got it right. If I am entrusted with the planter, I hope Grandma knows it will be the most treasured broken swan this side of heaven.


Full Disclosure–Not Quite

Full Disclosure–Not Quite

One of my best friends, Leslie, was trying to talk me into running a 5K with her this weekend and since I haven’t been running much in recent months, I was resistant to the idea.  During the course of her appeal, she used the phrase ‘in the spirit of full disclosure’ when revealing details of the event that she knew wouldn’t entice me to participate.  I always appreciate Leslie’s tendency to give me all the facts, even when she knows they may push me in another direction.  Against my better judgment, I agreed to run.  When you are as out of shape as I am, not to mention the slowest living land mammal on the planet, even a short race like a 5K provides a lot of time to think.  I began to ponder the very reason I was trying to pound out 3 miles and some change with no preparation, when my brain got tripped up on the ‘in the spirit of full disclosure’ phrase that Les had tossed me a few days prior.    Trying to distract myself from my current situation, I began silently deliberating the concept of ‘full disclosure’.

It was at a very young age that I came to terms with the harsh reality that lying wasn’t going to be tolerated by my parents.  Punishment for lying was swift and severe and thus, I learned to compensate.  I almost always gave the unaltered facts, but I routinely eliminated the pesky details that I knew would interfere with my parent’s overall perception of a situation.   I often needed an accomplice, and this was almost always my younger sister, Kim.  I rarely asked her to lie for me; I just encouraged her not to talk.  I wasn’t above lying, but lying was complicated and often exhausting.  She was seven and I was ten, the first time she fully understood her role.

               Atari® game system had finally found its way into our living and I had asked for one thing for Christmas-FROGGER. It was about a month before Christmas and I began to use the 45 minutes Kim and I were home alone after school to explore the forbidden areas of our house for our gifts.  It didn’t take long until I discovered a neatly wrapped box in the far corner of a high shelf in my parent’s closet. Even though the identity of the box was hidden under Christmas paper, I knew instantly that I had struck amphibian video game gold. Unwrapping one end of the box, I slid it out of the paper cocoon and headed for the game console.  Kim watched as I attempted to guide my little frog across the busy highway, over the logs in the swift river to the safety of the lily pad.  We laughed when the frog was reduced to the state-of-the-art graphic red “X”, when I failed to avoid getting the little guy out of the way of a car.  When it was getting close to the time for Mom to come home, I put the game back in its box, slid it into the wrapping paper, carefully wrapped the end and returned it to its hiding place in the closet.

Kim was worried that we would get caught and be in trouble.  I told her, “If Mom comes home and asks you ‘Did Karri find the FROGGER game in my closet and play it?’ you can tell her I did.  Otherwise, just don’t say anything.”  We repeated the scenario of unwrapping-playing-rewrapping for the next several weeks without incident.  Occasionally, I would even let her have a turn, just to reinforce that we were on the same team and to ensure that she had been a willing participant if things were to go awry.  Christmas morning arrived and I excitedly received the gift in a state of excitement that was only worthy of a complete surprise.  My parents were astounded at my uncanny ability to safely beat level after level of the game, but after weeks of practice, I had gotten pretty good.  Mom watched and said, “I cannot believe how good you are at this!  It’s amazing!”  I held my breath and I looked at Kim and let the silence of our secret hang for a moment between us.  I knew the spirit of full disclosure was fully behind us, when she reached for the joystick and asked, “Can I try?”

When we reached our teenage years, Kim was starting to see through some of my BS tactics and because I was often a total bitch of a big sister to her, she started to become a hostile accomplice.  There were other times when she would keep silent until I pushed her to the breaking point and she would gladly toss me right under the bus.  One such instance actually involved a bus- the school bus, which I LOATHED.  As a freshman in high school, I suddenly became completely repulsed by the very idea of riding the bus to school.  It was totally uncool and I would intentionally miss the bus, so that my parents were forced to drive me to school.  Each morning became a battle of wits and wills to get me on the bus.  It became a source of such contention that I was regularly being punished for not catching the bus and my attitude became increasingly sour.

My mom and step-dad were, needless to say, astounded when one morning they found me up, clothes on, hair curled, and ready and willing to head out and meet the bus!  My delightful attitude in resigning myself to utilizing the public school transportation was a welcome change.  Day after day, I would be up and ready and making no complaints.  Once they were convinced that it was not a fluke, they started expressing their gratitude.  “Karri we really appreciate you not making a federal case out of riding the bus” and “You must be growing up, because you finally understand how much it helps us out when you ride the bus to school”.   One evening my grandma was eating dinner with us.  She had been witness to some of the bus battles and Mom proudly bragged about my “new attitude” about riding the bus.  There we all were at the table, with Mom gushing about how nice it was to have stress-free mornings since I had turned over a new leaf.  Grandma even chimed in about being glad that I was helping my mom out by being sweet about riding the bus.  I was soaking up the accolades, when Kim had finally had enough, “She is not riding the bus because you want her to and because it helps you!!!  It has nothing to do with being good, or sweet or anything like that!  The ONLY reason that she gets up and ready and catches the bus is because she discovered that the hot junior football player that lives down the road rides the bus!!!”   My little sister–busting me out in the spirit of full disclosure.

A couple of years later, my step-dad asked a business associate/friend of his to give me part-time job as a checker in his grocery store.  I reluctantly complied with the new job requirement and went after school and Saturdays to fulfill my checker obligations.  A few months passed and I managed to learn the difference between a russet potato and a baker’s brown.  I was polite, mostly punctual, and liked earning a little of my own money.  All was fine and well until one Saturday afternoon a group of my friends stopped by to offer me the extra ticket they had to a Cardinal baseball game.  I asked the manager if I could take off and go to the game and he said I couldn’t.  So I quit.  I went to the game and had a blast.  Two weeks later my step dad came home three kinds of pissed off at me. He had casually inquired from his friend how I was doing on the job and was informed that I had quit two weeks prior.  My boss–busting me out in the spirit of full disclosure.

It has been a long-time coming for me to fully embrace the spirit of full disclosure.  Understanding the damages that relationships can incur under the auspices of revealing only the details which are easy to swallow has been a motivating factor in the way I choose to interact with others.  There are many qualities in myself that I wish I could hide, many choices I have made that I wish I could omit and I am confident there are many more mistakes I am going to make.  Striving to be my authentic self is something that has made my life fuller and my relationships stronger.  Remembering what a brat I was is a reminder to ask my children VERY specific questions.

NOTE: Thanks to Leslie, I finished the race.  Like an ironic revelation in the spirit of full disclosure, it revealed that I am pathetically out of shape.  Thanks, Les!

Carla, Leslie, and Me