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Posts Tagged ‘Death’

I wrote this piece to enter into a contest, the prompt was, “the night”. Although I didn’t win the contest (I’m thinking by the sound of the form letter I received letting me down easy that I wasn’t even close, I also am imagining that Toni Morrison won the contest, I have a great imagination!), I decided I was proud of this piece and wanted to share my thoughts with you all:

 

In the few minutes where night and day are intertwined, before the sun rises, before the moon slips out of sight, before the working day is even underway… I hear the sound of the train whistle just a few hundred yards away. The sound lets me know the day is nearing, only minutes before my alarm goes off to jerk me into the oncoming path of a new day. I like that sound, the distant high-pitched squeal of the whistle. I can hear the train gliding down the track too, smooth, without hesitation — it knows exactly where it’s going. No need to ask for directions, it follows the track. Being a train must be an easy life — the same path every day. No thinking. No decisions. Just movement.

There was a train station right in the very center of the town I grew up in — the tracks quite literally cut the town into two sections. A train came through several times a day — long trains with so many cars that it was impossible to count them, though try we did. Everything would come to a complete stop as you could not travel from one side of town to the other when the train was coming. The loud whistle could be heard all around town — I could hear it from my house, it crept its way through the cracks in my window and would hold me breathless in my bed as my imagination soared down the tracks with it. When I heard it, I always imagined that I was jumping on board… no care in the world. Off to California because that’s where I assumed all the trains ended up… California. I imagined a huge train station right on the beach and if I was fast enough to hop the train as it passed through my town I would be taken straight to the breaking waves of the ocean, straight to the coast of California — straight to the edge of existence. I thought that if I was fast enough to hop on that train, I wouldn’t have to think anymore. The train would know exactly where to go and how to get there… no thinking, no decisions, just movement.

Listening to a train speed down the tracks is like a relaxing journey through the countryside… when you find a large shade tree and you spread a blanket out under it. You lie there with your hands clasped behind your head, your eyes squinting to block out the glow of the sun, your skin warm to the touch as a tepid breeze wafts over your exposed soul. You are calm. Your breath is quiet and deliberate — in, out… no thinking, no decisions, it just is. The sound of the train on the tracks gives me that peace.

I wonder if being a train is as soul-filled and thought-provoking as all the musicians and writers and poets who put together words about it would have us think it is — the life of a train. When I see it waiting at the station, loading all the travelers each morning, it is still dark out. The sun is still deciding when it will make its way over the horizon. The moon is often low and bright — the only light leading the train along its familiar path. If it’s raining, the moons beams glisten off the tracks underneath it — it’s sort of beautiful to look at — sparkling and shimmering as it speeds along, lighting its path on those early mornings when I wish for the sun to hurry along and takes its place above me.

I’m afraid of the dark. I know that’s probably an unusual thing to hear coming from an adult. But, I am. It’s possibly reading too many scary books or too much imagination that I put into each sound or crack I hear through the darkness. The moon is a wonderful nightlight. When it’s high in the sky and full and bright, it illuminates everything. There are no unknowns waiting to jump out because the moon has so graciously revealed their darkened hiding places. Even if I was a train, as big and strong and monstrous as a train, I think I would still be afraid of the unknown, the hidden creatures lurking out there, possibly on the tracks. There’s nothing that can stop a train, really. If it’s traveling along even at a slow pace, there’s nothing that can stop it — unless, by chance, someone wanders on to the tracks. If that happens, it stops. A screeching, halting, sparks flying, head jolting, bodies crashing stop.

I would imagine that trains are scared of the dark too, what they can’t see. It’s what they can’t see ahead of them, the unknowns in the dark, that weights the heaviest on their forward progress. Trains go on faith really, speeding faster and faster, hoping there’s no one there. It’s what we can’t see that scares us, all of us. Big, small, old, young — the unknown. What will be waiting for the train in the dark of the early morning or the still of the night — when the sun is too lazy to hurry along and the moon is too old to shine down and illuminate the tracks.

I just keep going, on faith really. Hoping none of you decide that I will be the way you do it. Can you imagine going through each day wondering if someone will decide to stop their car right in the middle of my tracks or walk diligently in front of me as I hurry to my next stop? I don’t suppose too many of you will ever have this fear, my fear. Nothing is as big and strong and fast as I am. I can destroy you in less than a second. I can hurdle objects out of my path as if they are weightless. I can get you to your house or your work or that bar downtown before you finish a whole chapter in that book you bring on me every day. And when the day ends, I’m the one you trust to get you home.

Several weeks ago, I heard the train’s whistle as I was making dinner. Like the call of the wild, I hold back my dreams of riding the rails to the edge of the world — I save my pondering of California for my pre-wake dreamland phase. But shortly after the train whistle sounded just on the other side of the row of houses behind my subdivision, I heard sirens. Lots of sirens. In small towns, we always pause, even just for a moment, and listen to the sirens — where they are coming from, where they are going, wondering what is out there that has called them into action.

I paused when I heard the sirens — so close to my house, so close to the train tracks.

When I was 18, a freshman in college, I was in one of my many literature classes. We discussed Shakespeare at length, the tragedy behind his writing. We discussed the mental illness that plagued Poe and Plath and so many others. I was fascinated by it all, the beauty that came from the minds of people who struggled with stress and anxiety and depression and reality to one extent or another. I remember specifically we became involved in class one day with a very tense discussion about suicide. The professor asked for a show of hands from everyone who had thought about ending their own life, whether momentarily or lengthy. My hand was the only one in class that stayed down — I looked around in bewilderment — I must have heard the question wrong… why was I the only one who hadn’t thought of suicide? The professor was equally as amazed at my neglected hand-raising, so he questioned me. He insisted I was lying actually. By that point in my life I had already witnessed the death of someone very close to me, I saw the aftereffects death had on those of us who were left behind. I knew the feeling of helplessness and pain and not knowing why and the permanence of death — death is permanent. The professor made such a big deal out of my lack of suicidal thoughts that I spent the rest of the term wishing I had suicidal thoughts… just so the others would stop looking at me as if I was completely insane.

I’ve never thought much about depression. I knew what it was. I knew people were depressed. I knew sometimes depression could pretend to give horrific answers to searching questions of life and death. It comes and goes I suppose. Life can trick us into thinking that we are, all of us, on a steady path and then it happens… a loved one dies, a child becomes sick, a bill is late. You worry about your job and if you’re doing enough. You worry about your kids and if you’re doing enough. You worry. You stop sleeping. You eat occasionally. You exercise either too much or too little. You envision yourself running away from it all — just like that… find a train and leave. We’ve all been there. This is the part I understand… now. Why didn’t that college professor ask me about this?

The Music City Star started service from downtown Nashville to the surrounding areas in September of 2006, the first passenger train in Nashville in about 30 years. In the four years since beginning, there have been two deaths associated with the train. The first was supposedly a homeless man who drunkenly wandered onto the tracks late one night… an accident. The second was several weeks ago while I was making dinner for my kids, while they were finishing their homework, while we were safe inside our homes sharing our lives and our thoughts and our words. Outside in the dark, in the unknown areas of quiet blackness of the pending night, a young man believed he was out of options.

The news reported that he walked out from the tree line that separates my neighborhood from the tracks and lay down. The train blew its whistle — over and over, the train blew its whistle. As if it were shouting at him,

Get up! Please don’t, step out of the unknown! Don’t do this… not here, not to me. The sun is just going down, I’m almost done. Why? Why are you doing this?

I think the reality of death hits us hard — especially death of a young person. In a small town, the story of an 18-year-old who laid down on the tracks to end his short life spreads quickly. The night after the screeching train whistles cry, my daughter and I were talking of the young man. She said there was a rumor that he was the older brother of a friend of hers — he was, it was true. I thought she knew. We were both silent for a while. I think the act of comforting a friend in the face of such an unspeakable tragedy shouldn’t fall on the minds of 14-year-olds — but it did.

My son and I drove past the spot it occurred… there was a cross in the ground to remind passersby. He paused and asked if that was where it happened — I told him I thought it was. He said on the school bus earlier that day when they passed the spot, all the kids stopped talking and stood slightly in their seats to look out the window at the cross. He said no one said a word until one boy said, “What an idiot”. My son said another boy immediately hit the transgressor with a great deal of force and anger. There are always people left behind… to sort through the emotions and seek out answers, even when there are none. This is the part I know too well… now.

Why did you choose me? I wanted to take you away. I screamed at you but you didn’t listen. You just lay there, without movement. The people on board were reading their books. They were planning their dinner. They were breathing and alive. They were here, not thinking… just moving forward.

That’s the problem with death and loss. We always want an answer. We ruminate on the questions, the conversations, the life that no longer exists and we skim the edges of a maddening mind to find some sort of answer — there is no answer. No answer for death. No answer for life. No answer for the “whys” and the “how comes” and the “can’t we do it differentlys”. And then we hear that whistle, calling us to hop on board, beckoning us to follow the tracks to the edge of existence — no thinking, no decisions, just movement.

I hear the whistle and I wish I could yell at him, I wish I could scream at him to hear what I hear. I hear the ocean and music playing on the boardwalk. I hear the laughter of small children and happy couples walking with their arms wistfully wound together, I hear the waves breaking at the edge of existence and I hear life. I hear life.

I want to scream at him in the dark that I hear life and his life is important! I want to scream at him in the dark that it never rains forever, that the sun will shine again, that California is just a train ride away!

And then I hear the sirens… the reminder that my screams weren’t loud enough.

The whistle in the dark means different things to everyone who hears it. So when I drove past that spot, the place it happened, my son reached over to turn the radio down as we both looked out the window. I told him that’s where the young man forgot that the whistle means get on board, life is waiting.

Since that day my freshman year in college, I’ve had many thoughts about death and life and my own mortality and the people who would grieve me if I no longer existed and those would never know the difference — too much time spent on the ones who would never know the difference if I failed to exist one day. Why do we always spend so much time on the ones who don’t care? Our minds begin to play tricks on us…

… and then, we wander further down that darkened path and we find ourselves ruminating on the mortgage and the cable bill and the cell phone bill and the other bills coming due and that meeting at work and the reports you need to get just right. You think about your car needing new tires and if you tell your kids you love them enough and if you remembered to pick up your daughters favorite snack at the store. And you begin to feel overwhelmed by all the “did you do it rights?” and you let your mind wander down a dark street where the lights haven’t recognized the night is here so they haven’t clicked on to illuminate your journey and you wonder… “Am I doing this all right?”, “Would it all be better if someone else was doing it?”, “What if I wasn’t here?”, “Would they be better?”

Just then you hear it — that whistle in the dark and for a split second, in less time than it takes for a dogs bark to break open the silence of a still night… you see yourself walking towards the track.

Hop on or lie down?

Will you remember that the trains whistle is calling you to California?

What are you going to do? I can’t stop, make up your mind. I’m barreling down this track in the dark of this night and you have more power than I could ever hope for. Will you let me keep going or will you force me to slam everyone forward into the seats in front of them to cushion the stop as we wait for the sirens to approach us — what are you going to do?

There I am again, sitting in a literature class, eyes down as I ponder the talk of suicide that had me squirming in my seat with more uncomfortableness than if I had decided to show up to class naked, fully exposed at whom all could gawk. I wonder this time, as I remember the scene from the perspective of a 42-year-old mother of three who has forced herself to turn on a light when all I wanted was the darkness to remain, who has forced herself to get up and move when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and hide, who has forced herself to look in a mirror at my own reflection when all I wanted to do was take my fist and shatter it into a million pieces. I wonder if all those hands shot up that day because they all knew the emptiness of depression, of loneliness, of a life taken over with the thoughts of “what-could-be’s”. I think that’s what happened to a young man whose life was just beginning — he must have felt the sting of this phenomenon known as depression. It can fool you. It can make you think you’re alone when you are surrounded by love. It can make you think you are cloudy when the skies of your consciousness are clear and blue. It can make you think that you’ve lost some pieces to the puzzle that is you when all you need to do is put them in the right order. It can make you think that lying down on the tracks is the only option available. I breathe deep and I don’t have to wonder why those hands went up… I realize my hand belonged with all the rest —  lifted that day in complete uncomfortableness.

The trains whistle means something different to us all. To me it means the California coast is waiting for me to explore it. To that young man it meant he no longer needed to exist. To his friends and family it means they couldn’t scream loud enough to infiltrate his mind that night. I read somewhere that committing suicide is an act of cowardness — I’m sure that’s not true. It’s an act of complete aloneness, complete isolation, and complete loss of any hope for redemption. I fully understand all of those things, so maybe, I do understand why so many hands went up that day in class… and if the question was asked of me today, I would need to think about it longer. I would need more time to think about the darkness that sometimes creeps in when we hear a whistle in the dark.

We listen, ever so intently, when we hear that whistle blow in the dark of the night. It can carry us away to new places and new friends and new adventures. It can save us when we’ve lost all hope… it’s there, in the distance. Beckoning us to follow it, jump aboard. But to some, they hear the end. They hear the sweet sound of no more pain, no more isolation, no more lack of redemption — it is sweet to them. Calming to us all. No more thinking. No more decisions. Just movement.

There are just a few moments left as I finish typing. The sun is attempting to push the moon out-of-the-way. My alarm is eager to bring forth the coming day. Calm fills the air outside my window as the night slips away and the day takes over. I think about a college professor who made me think about the dark paths our minds can travel — who made me wonder why I had never thought about suicide. The truth is, I had. Maybe not ending my own life, but I had thought about a world where I didn’t exist. I hear the whistle. It’s summoning me to finish that journey. California — the edge of existence, the end of the tracks, the smell of the ocean and the ripple of the waves as they gently caress the sand, the whispers of love. The laughter of life. I hear that whistle just as the night is about to succumb to the taunting of the day. I hear it and I think about hopping on… no thinking, no decisions, just movement. The whistle in the night takes me there, still to this day.

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This is one of those posts… I hesitate, I pause, I take a breath.

What should I say?

What can I possibly say?

Why should I say it?

Two years have passed since my mother died from cancer. Two years that I looked at her bedroom and bathroom daily, knowing she would never walk those floors again. Two years since I started sifting through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to toss and what to give away. Two years filled with new adventures and broken hearts and losses and finds and blogs and poems and learning to feel and learning to pause and learning… two years of learning. And still… here I am, lost in the depths of my own thoughts. Numb. Disengaged. Trying to breathe.

Last year, I seemed to be able to write exactly what I wanted to write about the anniversary. This year, I’m not sure about my words.

There is no time limit for grief, that’s a well established fact.

I sat down to write about my grandmother and how she talked with tears in her eyes about her father until she passed away at the age of 87, seems she grieved his death until her death made it impossible to grieve any longer.

I sat down to write about how my best friend and I can reminisce about our friend who died 23 years ago and we still get tears in our eyes thinking of her laugh and how she sang so off-key it hurt.

I sat down to write about the three dogs I have loved at various points in my life and who have died and how the absence of each leaves me wishing to hear their bark one more time.

I sat down to write about my father and how he was this gentle and kind man whose illness and death left us all drained and has surely still affected those of us who loved him.

I sat down to write about my mother whose battle with cancer was swift and fierce and untimely — her death was too soon.

There is no time limit for grief.

I sat down to write about how I’ve been left in an emotional well — digging and clawing my way, with my hand stretched out as far as I can manage, always reaching for the light that seems to be trickling in over the sides of the darkness.

But I don’t know what to write.

I have no words to describe loss.

I have no words to describe cancer.

I have no words to describe empty.

How do you describe empty?

How do you describe numb?

I have no words to describe a feeling that I’m not sure even exists — do I liken it to a color? If so, what color describes messy? What adjective describes vacant?

Two years since my mother passed away.

Two years of reaching out and pulling back and being stuck and moving on and begging and hating and loving and forgiving and wishing and mending… two years of learning to put all the pieces together. Two years of hoping I had all the pieces I need.

It’s been two years since my mother died. Three years since my father died. Fourteen years since my grandmother died. Six months since I acted completely irrationally…

One minute since I hugged my youngest daughter. Ten minutes since I laughed with my son. Five minutes since my oldest daughter asked me for fashion advice. One day since I read an amazing book. A few hours since I contemplated booking the vacation I’ve dreamt of for years. Two days since I emailed my best friend — one second since I smiled.

Maybe I am learning. Maybe I do have all the pieces. Maybe sadness and mourning and grief are just pieces to this puzzle. Maybe they are just a part of what makes me whole. Maybe denying their existence is like denying a piece of the puzzle that is me. Maybe.

It’s been a while since I gave you a visual — I love visuals.

I am completely in love with everything Jen Lemen has to offer. Check out her etsy shop and her amazing web page.

My son walked into my room and put one of his ear buds in my ear and had one in his ear, he said “mom, you have to listen to this song.”  I think sharing ear buds is a perfect way to be present in a moment with someone. Let’s pretend we’re sharing ear buds… you have to listen to this song.

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When my father died, he was buried in a double grave. The grave would be the final resting spot for he and my mother. Being that it was a double grave, the marker would be a double marker as well. When my father died, we really didn’t need to think too many things through, except what would be inscribed on the marker. It takes several weeks for grave markers to be engraved so in the interim, they put up a nice picture of your loved one with their name displayed — that’s it, just a picture with their name on it. When you go there to visit you have a smiling picture to remind you that someone is missing — the person who is looking at you through that photograph is buried in the grave you’re standing on.

It took a little longer than usual for my fathers marker to be engraved because, being that it was for my mother as well — who was still alive, we had to come up with the words to mark her final resting spot too. The words for my father’s side of the marker were easy enough — father, husband, son, kind. To be honest, I don’t know what it says… I’ve never been able to look at it long enough to read it and when my mother and I were deliberating what it should say I remember giving many “uh-huhs” desperately trying not to hear the actual words she was saying. If I heard the words it meant I had to succumb to the realization that my father was dead.

Our angst at finding the perfect words for his marker was magnified by the fact that we also had to find the perfect words for my mothers marker, who, as I said, was still alive at this time. When we first began contemplating the marker, we were unaware of the cancer that was coursing through my mother’s blood stream. It was the cancer that was making it impossible for her to walk and eat and sleep and get dressed and care for herself. We thought she was overly tired from taking care of my father as he battled lung cancer. A short six weeks after my fathers funeral, my mothers diagnosis was complete — Multiple Myeloma. The saying on the marker became too much for us to contemplate once we learned that cancer was again infiltrating our world, a little too real, so my mother finally choose a saying without too much fanfare — mother, daughter, wonder woman. Again, I really have no idea what it says, I “uh-huh’d” when I thought she sounded sure of whatever she decided to put there.

I’ve never been able to look at it long enough to read it — ever. Three years after my father’s death and a year and a half after my mother’s death… I’ve never let my eyes rest on that marker long enough to read the words.

I can remember when I was young. I had a cousin who died — hit by a car. She was older than me, beautiful, smart, funny… my own superhero. A tragedy that has possibly affected and shaped my interactions to this day but that is another post for another day. I was 9 or 10. I went to her funeral. I saw her in the casket. She and I had played together a few days earlier. I cried. I shook. I couldn’t stop. A harsh reality that I was unable to avoid — as long as I was at my grandparents house anyway. When the summer ended, I went back home as I did every summer and I continued. My cousin and I lived in different states, we only saw each other during the summer so when I was at my home it was so easy to pretend everything was completely the same because at my house, it was. I didn’t have to face the reality until the next summer when I visited my grandparents and I would be repeatedly punched in the gut with her absence on a daily basis. But, then, at my home — I was free from the pain of loss. I didn’t have to see it.

It’s the same premise of not looking at that damn marker. If I never look at it, if I never read their names on it, I can pretend a little longer. I can pretend they’re at their house waiting for me to arrive with my kids. I can pretend we are all going to go on a hayride or to the movies or to the mountains. But once I look at that marker, it’s over. The fantasy ends. The reality begins. One look at that marker and I have to finally concede that they’re gone.

A concession I’ve been unwilling to make… until now. Seems my life has led me down a path of letting go, of making new connections, of relying on a community of friends and strangers to guide me in the lessons of this life. Seems an easy task, really. Holding your gaze on a few words. Reading the letters that form the words that signify the time to move is now. Reality is an awesome place. We can shape it and bend it and coddle it because we are the reason it is real. The reality is, it’s time for me to open my eyes and see where I’m going. The reality is, it’s time for me to see what that marker says. The reality is, it’s time for me to embrace reality. What about you? Any realities you need help to see?

The reverb10 prompt today was community… this post is just where I ended up.

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Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward, one step back. Remember that and be very gentle with yourself. ~~~ Julia Cameron

I just started reading, The Creative Life by Julia Cameron. Not because I have dreams of being an artist. Not because I have dreams of being a writer. But, because I have dreams. It seems I’ve written often about friendship and forgiveness and trust and healing. I’ve been searching my heart for some inkling of a coherent thought that isn’t muted by my own inner voice. The question I keep coming back to is this… what do you do if you know you’re worth the effort but tired of trying to convince the rest of the world of this fact? I think, for me, the answer is beginning to form… let go of old thoughts, let go of things I can not control, unsettle my toes and let the sand form a new mound for me to stand. Be gentle with myself.

I had the most wonderful conversation the other night with a few friends. We talked about hugs and the power of human touch and the therapeutic resonance of the human voice… the power of connection. Simple human connection that can propel us all towards a new day. This comment was made about that powerful feeling, “…each wave is just different enough to unsettle my toes”. It took me a while to still my mind after that discussion. I continued to process the information and how I thought about it and how what the others said made sense to me in my life. I fell asleep, finally, smiling… my thoughts lingering on my friends.

As I drifted off to sleep, I felt my dream-self being transported to the beach. I was sitting there with a friend, faceless, both of us… our identities concealed in a foggy dream. We were talking and laughing and crying and digging our toes into the ever-changing sand along the edge of the water. It was just cold enough to need a jacket, the sun was setting — the sky was vivid purple and pink. I’ve had this dream before, it always seems so real. I never remember what we’re talking about, it’s as if our voices are muffled. A hushed conversation that only the dream version of ourselves are allowed to hear — but I distinctly remember turning to my faceless friend and telling her to open her eyes and see me. Then I awoke.

There was a girl I worked with for years who loved reading about dream interpretation. Whenever I had a dream I could remember I would rush to her and tell her the dream and ask, “… so, what do you make of that one?” She always said that the people and places in our dreams are secondary to the feeling you have when you wake up. She told me to write down what I was feeling when I awoke from a dream. Then, you could piece together what the subconscious was trying to tell you.

When I awoke from this picturesque dream of the beach, I felt anger that immediately turned into a sort of heartache which immediately turned into a sense of longing which soon gave way to a wave of warm connection that kept me tucked under my covers for a few more minutes.

It seems it all came full circle back to that conversation from the night before — the power of human connection. The power to lift our friends and carry them when needed. The power to hold a hand when it reaches for you in the dark of a dream. The power to open your eyes and see.

Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~~~ Walt Disney

I think we’re all intended to go down new paths, if we’re evolving. Personal evolution is just that… personal. You think it has occurred or is occurring and maybe those around you are blind to it. I thought, for a while, that this was because perhaps what I thought was evolution was just my wheels spinning. But… I believe that I’m spinning my wheels in hopes that those around me, those I care about, are evolving too. Personal evolution can be measured in the baby steps or the giant bounds we take. It’s scary to un-stick your feet and point them in a forward direction, it’s more scary to be stuck in a moment — a moment that doesn’t exist anymore. A moment filled with words and thoughts and people who don’t exist anymore. Personal evolution.

The death of a loved one is a powerful thing. We miss. We long. We cry. We yell. We wish for an outcome that might have given us just a bit longer to linger in the warmth of their touch. But, in the end, we pick ourselves up and we move on. We continue in our forward progress because there is no point in lingering in the solace of the death of that lost human connection. We don’t search for replacements for our mothers or our fathers or our grandparents or our cousins or our friends who have died. You don’t replace someone with whom you shared such a strong connection. Death took them. It’s easy, no gray areas.

Death can sometimes be the easiest way to lose someone. You recognize the vacant spot because a person use to be there and you’re okay with the emptiness of it because they’re gone, gone from this world. There’s a reason you no longer share the connectivity of a hug or the warmth of their hand to hold. You miss it and you long for it and you cry for its absence but you understand why. You understand that death is the reason… not because you aren’t worth the effort or you aren’t good enough — death then, brings you comfort. I think… I hope, that personal evolution involves knowing we are just enough.

We were made to lift each other up. We were made to cheer each other on. We were made to be angry and loathsome and helpful and kind and connected — we were made to share the simplicity of the human connection… we were made for this complicated ride amongst the breaking waves. The only thing I need to prove is that I am reaching my hand out in the dark of a dream, I am opening my eyes to see, I am connecting. So, with each new wave, I am unsettling my toes just enough to let the sand build up — just enough to recognize the stronghold of a simple connection. My eyes are opening — we are all just enough, with nothing to prove.

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature ~~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Check out this: Love Letter To The World

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Death was easy compared to this.

I bought a new dress for Death.

I bought new shoes for Death.

I took a shower and fixed my hair and put on make-up and I looked so pretty…

for Death.

I stood there greeting Death with a smile and a handshake.

I brought you all in to my home and sat you down and we talked to Death like he was our old friend.

Death stayed for a while,

Then I told him to leave.

It was time to let go of Death.

… and he was gone.

But this,

There is no death here.

There is no reason here.

There is no answer here.

Death was easy compared to this.

Denial.

Anger.

Bargaining.

Depression.

Acceptance.

Those are so easy when it’s death,

But life makes it hard.

When life is the reason.

When life leaves us.

When nothing fits.

You don’t buy a new dress for loss.

You don’t buy new shoes for loss.

You don’t take a shower and put on make-up and look pretty for loss.

You stay hidden away,

Hoping.

Wishing.

Bargaining.

Death was easy compared to this.

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It’s been a year, exactly …5:38am, as I sit here, since my mother passed away. I think the anticipation of such an anniversary has been burdensome. I phoned friends and emailed friends to remind them of this date and to be prepared in case I “needed” them. I’m not really one who likes to “need” people — I’ve always thought it showed a bit more weakness than I wanted. So, I’m not sure what this day will hold, really. But I remember, at 5:38am, when my sister called from the Alive Hospice facility downtown.

Both my sisters had spent the night there with my mother — I was too tired at that point. Too tired to sleep, too tired to be there, too tired to watch my mother drift away one last night. I knew why the phone was ringing (I also know that the sun is going to set everyday, but that doesn’t keep me from longing for it to warm my face just a little longer). Nothing good ever comes out of a 5:38am phone call, but, I answered it just the same. I collapsed on a bean bag on the floor when I heard the words spoken — overcome, confused… my body and my mind had parted ways briefly. I was already dressed, in anticipation, so I gathered myself and went to be with her, one last time…

My mother was a magazine person. She had books too, lots of books. But, typically, the magazines were so plentiful that she kept a large portion of them teetering in two stacks on a coffee table in her house. If you nudged the coffee table ever so slightly, the stacks would fall — I picked up those damn magazines more than once.

When she moved in with me, the magazines came too — they were a set. I had resisted the need to ever subscribe to magazines as an adult — the occasional kids mag and a cooking mag were all I cared to have. But, with the addition of my mother also came the addition of those magazines. I enjoyed reading them (as a side note, I read magazines from back to front — I don’t know why, always have… if you can enlighten me on this quirk, please do), she picked good magazines — there was always just so many of them. I have no idea how long of a subscription she paid for in advance — a year now, and they haven’t stopped arriving in the mail. Some every week, some once a month — all with her name on the label.

I don’t know what the day will bring. I’m sitting here in the same bean bag that held my collapsed body a year ago. I’ll push the publish button on this story and I’ll wake my kids for school. I’ll prepare their breakfast and help them organize their bags. I’ll go to work and I’ll talk to people and I’ll laugh with people and I’ll move on. Because no matter how much I want time to stand still or to even just slow down for a second so I can catch my breath — it won’t. My journey didn’t end a year ago. My journey continues — and hopefully, my North Star will allow me to see it. Maybe I’ll use those “lifelines” to phone a friend and just say “hi”. And they’ll know the real reason is because I needed them — just needed them — and that will be ok, because sometimes we just need a little distraction to remind us to move on.

But for now, for right now this morning…my journey is going to start with reading an interesting article in one of these damn magazines.

And now, enjoy this clip from one of my mother’s favorite movies and one of her favorite songs… Edelweiss (sung by one of the all-time sexy men!)

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My oldest daughter has made an unusual request for her 14th birthday gift this year — a chicken suit. Her birthday is in May so she’s making sure I’m aware of the request early enough so I have no excuses. She provided a website and a price and an explanation…it’s #1 on her “bucket list”. Like any good mother of a soon-to-be 14-year-old, I skipped the part about the chicken suit (I’ll come back to that in a minute) and immediately focused on the bucket list.

“A bucket list? Why do you have a bucket list?”

“Duh, it’s things I want to do before I kick the bucket — you know, die.”

“I know what a bucket list is, I don’t like it. Can it just be a life list?”

“No, that’s stupid…it’s a bucket list.”

And so ended the conversation about the bucket list — with her at least. The conversation continued in my mind… I listed all the reasons I did not want her to even think about kicking the bucket much less to have a “to do” list to accomplish before that day arrives.

I know death.

It’s real to me.

I envy people who have made it through life without experiencing the death of someone they love. I’m not one of them. I’ve been to too many funerals, said good-bye too many times, wished for one more conversation far too often. I could list them, but I won’t. But, the list includes aunts and uncles who I loved and who loved me, an older cousin whose friendship I cherished and who loved me and let me follow her around, my grandparents who I spent every summer of my life with (including every birthday — yes, even sweet 16), two very close friends who died during our college years, a brother-in-law who taught me how to play the guitar and tennis, and my parents. I’ve had at least one student from the class I used to teach die unexpectedly on her way to school one morning, and I had a young boy die in my arms at school on a beautiful sunny spring day.

I know death.

I’ve seen it, many times.

I have a bad habit of telling everyone to “be careful”. When I leave a phone call, “be careful”. When I sign off an email, “be careful”. When I write a card, “be careful”. Because I know…

When I don’t hear from a friend or family member when I know they’re traveling or just out, my mind immediately goes to the place of “something happened”. I’m the one who tells you to call or to text when you get there, just so I know.

So, back to the bucket list.

I have a bucket list I suppose. Things I need to do before I’m no longer a part of this world. I’ll share #1 with you if you promise not to tell anyone… #1 – meet Cher. Yes, that Cher.

So, my soon-to-be 14 year-old gorgeous, intelligent, witty, fiercely independent daughter’s bucket list — the one that makes me cringe in fear just to type those words — #1 on her list… run through downtown Nashville wearing a chicken suit. I’ll help her accomplish this (and oh yes, I’ll video it!) because my life experiences aren’t hers, my fears aren’t hers, my worries aren’t hers. I’ll help her accomplish her bucket list, and I’ll try not to tell her to “be careful”.

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