I didn’t get old, you got old

I worked earlier this week at the polls for the State primary election. I see people I haven’t seen in a while, others I haven’t seen in forever, and some I’ve never met before. It’s fun work and I’m always happy to be called on to fill a shift (plus I get paid, not much but I don’t complain).

I saw two gentlemen in particular and was struck by how much each has changed in appearance. They both used to sport healthy, thick heads of hair. Not any longer. Both have gone gray, their hairlines have receded, and those previous full heads of hair have each thinned dramatically. These two guys got old.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve aged too. My hair has turned gray, I’ve got wrinkles and age lines, occasional curb feelers sprouting off my chin and patches of brown in my skin. I carry a few extra (plus a few more) pounds that I used to.

The difference in my being old compared to them is that I haven’t seen either of them in more than a couple of years and their new older age is dramatic change.

My aging has come along slowly. I look at myself every day and rarely notice changes, even as I have to admit that I certainly have changed. I notice most that I have aged when I look at old photos of myself. I tell myself that I like the new old me. It may be a lie I tell myself to better mentally cope with the new old me.

I don’t know if older is better but it’s what I have. There isn’t much I can do to change it. I will continue to age. What is left to learn is whether I will do it gracefully or with attitude.

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Ham for Thanksgiving

I killed a turkey yesterday. I hit it with my car and as it bounced off the grill and hit the ground in front of the passenger-side front tire, I added death to injury when I ran it over. The image in the rear view mirror was an explosion of brown feathers.

She (it was a female) appeared so quickly that I didn’t have time to avoid her. She came over the guard rail on my right and our meeting was destined. Oncoming traffic prevented a reflexive swerve to the left.

I am left with many questions.

Why did the turkey cross the road? Actually she didn’t.

Where was she going? The apartment complex on the left didn’t appear to offer much worth dying for.

Was she the leader of the advance team on scouting mission?

Is there a flock of poults waiting for their mumma to come home with dinner? A tom wondering whether his partner slipped away with a gentleman gobbler?

Do turkeys have a wake and funeral? Is there a rafter of hens preparing to gather with lacy hankies pressed to their beaks? Preparing acorn casseroles and baking fruits and insects into loaves of yummy goodness for her family?

How long will they be respectful to her memory? How long will be before they start swishing their tail feather for her man or gossiping about her?

So many questions.

Out of respect, should we have ham for Thanksgiving?


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“The Story Teller” Introduced

I am pleased to announce that I am expanding my work as a Justice of the Peace to include memorial and eulogy writing.

I planned to launch this service in another month or so, when I could update my web site (pennyrichardsjp.com). But in this time of self-quarantine and social distancing, families are limited as to the number of people you can include at funeral services. Helping you share your loved one’s story is more important now than ever.

Everyone has a story, but not everyone is a ‘Story Teller.’ I have been telling stories for years, as an award-winning journalist and more recently as a Justice of the Peace. I have written and shared with their guests the stories of more than 200 brides’ and grooms’ journey from first acquaintance to their moment of “I do.”

Over the last eight years I have also conducted wedding vow renewals, baby naming, and baby welcoming ceremonies. I have experience writing memorial messages, including eulogies for two of the most important people in my life – my father and my daughter. It is a natural next step for me to formally extend my writing to help share life stories for families and friends who are saying goodbye to a loved one.

Many people have the desire to share their feelings in times of immense sadness but are reluctant to do so for different reasons. It may be a perceived inability to put words on paper or not knowing what to say or how to say it.

Others may wish to craft their own stories to be shared at the time of their passing. Many want to tell their stories in their own words. I can help them prepare their stories to be shared with family and friends when they depart this world and make the journey to the next.

I know how difficult it is to cope with loss. I would like help you tell the story of your loved one during a difficult and sad time.

For the foreseeable future, we can work by phone and over email. Once this crisis is over I will be happy to meet with families in person and at their convenience.

Let us work together to tell the story of someone who meant so much and share with others the importance of a life well-lived.

Please call 978-815-4339 or email pennyjrichards@gmail.com. My web site will be updated shortly.

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Ringing the Bell

I’ve been volunteering at the infusion center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Danvers, where my daughter worked. It’s been a dream on mine to work there, certainly not in her place (I am not a medical professional) but in her memory. It’s been a dream of mine to find a small way to continue her good work toward excellence in patience care.

If MGH had allowed me to create my ideal volunteer job, I’d have developed the job they gave me. I fetch beverages and warm blankets. I deliver lunches. I chat with patients and their guests who are receptive to conversation. I’ve shared a few of my paperback crime novels with one gentleman who was reading one by a favorite author.

My job is the perfect job for me at this point in my life.

On my first day on the job I met Nancy, who is fighting her cancer with style and determination. I admired her the moment I met her and her sister, who was in from New York City to support the fight. Something between Nancy and me clicked and I felt a pull to her in my heart. It was as if an old friend was sitting in that chair with those toxic healing poisons dripping into her veins.

I looked forward to seeing her each week, which is kind of a shitty thing to say, that you look forward to watching someone endure chemo. Chemo is probably the least fun you can have under any circumstance. That said, I joke occasionally that I’d “rather have chemo” than do something I find unpleasant (like watching last night’s State of the Union address). I can say I’d rather have chemo because I’ve had chemo. It’s pretty miserable experience.

Today Nancy had her final treatment and got ring a beautiful brass bell that hangs on the wall in the radiation area. Ringing it symbolizes the end of this part of the cancer experience. When someone rings the bell, it is with relief (it’s over), trepidation (it might come back), and a bit of fear.

Fear. You’re walking out the door, away from the medical team that became your lifeline. They held your hand, coaxed you, encouraged you, laughed with you, and worried with you. They share the relief (it’s over) and the trepidation (it might come back).

Finishing treatment is a little like being a baby bird and having your avian parent push you out of the nest or your human parent take off your training wheels. It’s exhilarating and it’s terrifying.

When Nancy walked down the hall to the bell she found her medical team waiting for her. They were as proud of her and she was of herself. They presented her with a lapel pin with a graduation mortar board and they led the applause when the clapped hit the bell.

She had tears in her eyes as she rang it. She rang it three times–once for family, once for friends, and once for the community that rallies around the patient. And then she walked out the door.

I mentioned earlier that she is recovering with style. Today she wore socks woven with marijuana plants.

Today was a good day for Nancy and a fine day to be her friend. We have talked about seeing each other again, with cocktails in our hands. That will be another good day.

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Country Apple

country apple.jpgI’m snowed in (temporarily) following two days of snow and thought it a good day to clean out the hall closet.

It’s cathartic to throw away things I haven’t used and see no reason to keep to use in the future. It’s embarrassing to admit there were medications that expired in 2015.

Among the things I found was this bottle of Bath and Body Works Country Apply Body Splash.  I uncapped it, hoping to catch the sweet scent of apples and spices.

Like the old meds, the spray has seen better days. There is a faint hint of apple scent but it has blended with an alcohol scent. It needs to go into the throw-away pile.

Today is my daughter’s 36th birthday. She is not here to celebrate with me as I’d like. This Apple Body Splash was one of her signature scents. I hoped for a small miracle but didn’t get one.

It’s OK. I can still find a reason to smile by just holding the bottle.

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The question I hate to answer

You can ask me anything you wish and I’ll probably give you an answer. Whether it’s the truth is another matter.

There’s one question that I hate to hear and hate answering.

”How’s your daughter?” or any variation thereof, like  “How is Penney?” or “What’s Penney up to these days?”

The question doesn’t come up as often as it used to. In a few short days we will reluctantly mark the 10th anniversary of her death. But someone asked the other day and I reduced her to tears as I answered.

I was standing at the hostess station in a local restaurant when she came through the door. I recognized her immediately—the mother of one my daughter’s youth softball teammates—but I could not have told you her or her daughter’s name.

She looked at me with the same flicker of recognition and when I offered up the connection, she said, “My daughter is 35 years old. That was so long ago! How do you remember that?”

We exchanged our first names and daughter’s names. We smiled as we remembered each other’s girls. She told me that her daughter launched a successful career, has three-year old twin boys and just bought a house in a neighboring town. I was happy to hear all that wonderful news.

Then she asked about Penney and I made her cry.

It gets harder to tell Penney’s story the more time goes by. It seems harder for people to hear—they react as if they should have known and feel guilty for bringing up my painful past. I respect that many may never have heard. It gives me comfort to hear them remember her with glowing words and smiles, even smiles through tears.

Those of us who continue on as we miss someone appreciate when you talk about our loved ones. Tell us a story about them, share a memory. It helps us know that you remember and miss them too.

The fear our loved ones leave us with is that others will forget them. Help us know that you remember.


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The New Monday

I’m rumbling my way into retirement. Time for so many things I let slide off my radar, like writing.

I self-designed Monday as Clean Up-Clean Out-Donate Day (in part because Tuesday is trash day). These are worthy efforts by one of the two pack-rats who have lived in this house for more than 30 years, and retirement offers the perfect opportunity to wrestle back control.

So, this morning I asked Google to turn on NPR and started on the hall closet. Yea, NPR. I know! Like, who’d have thought?

Between a weekend tour of my bedroom closet, the hall closet and a few random items, I filled a large contractor-style bag with clothes and headed off to Lazarus House in Lawrence. They were grateful. A sweet lady said “God Bless You” to me, to which I said “No, God Bless all of you for what you do for the community!” We smiled and agreed that God would Bless all of us.

At that moment I happened to look down at my feet and noticed I was wearing my LLBean slippers.


If my blessing partner noticed she never let on. If God noticed, s/he didn’t let on either.

Back home, I turned to Penney’s room. Ten years after she left us, it remains pretty much as she left it, except that I’ve used it as a space to accumulate stuff. A lot of stuff. It’s time to sort and part ways with things that will be loved and appreciated by others, whether friends or strangers.

Today I tackled her bookcase. She had a shelf of books related to her short career as a medical assistant (biology, anatomy, nursing drugs guides and the like) and these will go to the used book store in Middleton (unless you want any/some/all). I found the covers of these two volumes to be interesting.

peacock.jpg             dragonfly.jpg

She was afraid of peacocks (I have no idea why) and since passing, she comes to me as a dragonfly (hence the tattoo on my arm).

I also found a vintage Baby Hugs. There’s a long story that goes with this find, one I think I’ll keep in my heart. But know this is huge and sweet.



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I’m good, thanks.

Before I tell you a story, I’ll give away the ending. I’m fine.

I had my annual mammogram on Tuesday afternoon, late in the afternoon, after the radiology team had gone home for the day. The tech told me I’d get a call Wednesday morning if I needed to come back, otherwise I could expect a letter letting me know everything was clear.

Wednesday came and went with no word from the breast center. Dave and I swapped high-fives slaps.

At 11:06 this morning (Thursday) my phone buzzed. I stepped out of a meeting to take the call from the Winchester Hospital Breast Center.

“You need to come back,” the nice lady said. “We found something. You need more images and an ultrasound. We can see you at 2:20 or 3:00.”

2:20 it would be.

I had breast cancer in 2007. I had always been diligent about annual mammograms (every 366 days). My maternal grandmother and her daughter (my Aunt Natalie) both died of breast cancer. I knew I would develop the disease. I just knew that I would. So when I got the diagnosis I was not surprised. I wasn’t pleased, just not surprised. So I went into treatment.

Lots of tests, two surgeries, chemo, radiation. I lost my hair (and honestly, I didn’t hate my bald bad self). I learned two things… hair grows back and if I had to, I could do it again.

Over the last 12 years I’ve had a few call backs for additional images. But this time, the call felt ominous. In the five hours between the call back and the news that I’m OK, I rearranged my life.

I started a mental “to do” list.

I’d need a wig this time, so I could maintain a professional and (hopefully) acceptable image while conducting weddings.

I’d step up the push at work to cross train people to cover my job, because I was not going to put pressure on myself to manage the job while dealing with treatment.

I’d spend a few hours writing notes about the roles I play at my annual work conference (scheduled for May in Orlando), so my boss could easily find a warm body to take my place.

I’d cancel the reservation I made at a motel in Maine for a July vacation, and sit out the annual sailing regatta on my back porch.

I’d pick through the box of medical supplies left over from the visiting nurse appointments from my recent appendectomy wound-healing mishap and lay in new/additional supplies to get me through the breast surgery.

I’d hurry-up a few yet-unscheduled dates on my calendar to get my social girly time in before I went onto the D.L.

That’s about as far as I got. Another very nice lady told me it was a cyst, nothing to worry about.

I asked her if she was sure. I told her I was willing to have it surgically removed. She laughed (I didn’t mind, it rang like music) and she told me to go home and enjoy the evening.

If you’ve had a significant illness or diagnosis, or have a loved one with a health challenge, you understand how it demands you pull up on the brake. It skews your view of the real world and turns everything into unattractive shades of dark colors. You worry about your Best Guy, your Mum and how everyone you love will cope without you being the strong one.

You worry and you fret and you plan, because you know that no one else will know what to do without your planning.

And then you don’t have to worry and you don’t have to plan because it’s what you wanted all along, but it does heighten and sharpen the nausea you’ve been biting back for the last five hours.

I’m good. If you’re not, call me. I’m here and I’ll hold your hand. You can cry or we can laugh. We can play cribbage or just sit in the quiet.

I’ve been there, I know.





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184 weddings and counting

2018 was another memorable year in my Justice of the Peace career. I officiated 33 weddings—bringing the total over 7 years to 184 (plus three for couples who had earlier [and secretly] eloped. Madam never shares those details!)


Here are some highlights:

Weddings for three couples in Mary and Jack Cronin’s family – one son and two grandsons were united with the loves of their lives.

Weddings on July 4, Halloween, and on New Year’s Eve.

Many weddings in couples’ homes, in North Reading (3), Sturbridge (2), Chelmsford (2), Lawrence (2), Peabody, North Andover, Tewksbury and Dracut.

Weddings in new venues: Crestwood Country Club in Rehoboth, Volunteer Yacht Club in Lynn, Stevens Coolidge House in North Andover, Arnold Arboritum in Boston, Lynch Park in Beverly, Acres of Wildlife Camp ground in Steep Falls, Maine, Ferncroft Country Club on Middleton, The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Carson Place in Dorchester, Knights of Columbus in Charlestown, and the Four Points Sheraton in Wakefield.

One Baby Naming Ceremony, for my beautiful and Favorite Great Niece Lily, at Three Chimneys Inn in Durham, NH.

I have been invited to become the “wedding package” Justice of the Peace for an area golf club/wedding venue, taking over from a JP colleague who will retire in 2019. I’m excited about this new opportunity. This will not be my only ceremony venue – I will continue to offer ceremonies at each couple’s desired location.

I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!

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Merry Christmas, maybe

Merry Christmas. This should be a happy time of year but for many people, it’s a miserable and painful time.

We may be lonely, missing someone special who will never come through the door again or who is far away and can’t be with us.

We may be unable to participate in a way that is meaningful our hearts. You may say, “No, your friendship is more than enough,” but that just may crush whatever spirit we still have.

We may be down on our luck or, due to poor health or circumstance, unable to welcome you into our home or accept your kind invitation.

You just don’t know what is going on the heart and mind of the person standing next to you – and we may not have the words to tell you.

I wish you patience with those who test you. I wish you an extra few moments – to make eye contact and to smile, to let someone go head of you in line or in traffic. I wish you a mind open enough to see someone who is struggling and a heart open enough to offer a hand in that moment. I wish you the wisdom to understand that this is a hard time, and likely for many more people that you can imagine.

If you are so blessed as to have enough of everything you want and need, I wish you the strength to be aware enough to offer a little of what you have to someone to whom it would mean the world.

Your gift doesn’t have to be wrapped in tissue paper and ribbons. Your gift can be as simple as a kind word, a gentle thought, your ear to listen, your hand, your time, or your ear to listen.

May the season brings you everything your heart desires.

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