Tag Archives: Grief

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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April 15 – My Grave Concerns

by Ariela Zucker

This morning  I look at the old oak tree towering over the yard and realize that the snow is receding. At the bottom of the tree, I can see a small heap of stones. It is there that we buried, my cat, Sheleg (snow) last October.  She died before the snow came and the ground was still soft. My husband and I rushed her, in a shoebox all the way from the motel where we spend our summers, to our winter home, two and a half hours to the south and dug a small ditch under the tree.

Meir, my other cat, the one we shipped from Israel is buried on the other side of the same tree. He died several years before, in the dead of winter. The ground was frozen and for hours I tried to create a shallow ditch to bury him in.

I tried everything. I lighted a small fire on the exposed soil. I read somewhere that even if the first 4 inches from the surface are frozen solid underneath the ground becomes warmer and softer. When this didn’t work, I tried an assortment of digging instruments, I found in my husband’s toolbox, resorting from time to time to stamping on the ground in frustration. I even considered storing Meir in the freezer until the spring thaw, but the thought of having to face him every day gave me renewed strength to continue.

Do graves makes a person feel more connected to the land, I wonder.

Eighteen years since we left Israel, the long, gloomy winter brings back images of the house we left, clinging to the side of a cliff. The road, a narrow strip of black asphalt meandering until it gets lost in the desert. And the small cemetery, at the bottom of the hill, only a dozen of graves, marked by a few Salt Cedar bushes with their broad unruly crown, and low to the ground stature, engulfing the soft whispering desert wind or bending with resignation to its immense power.

My husband does not think that burial is an issue. He told me many times when we had these bizarre conversations that he wants to be cremated and his remains spread in several chosen locations. Cremation is against the Jewish religion I remind him. We Jews go back to the earth where we came from and preferably in Israel, so we will have a first-row spot when the promised resurrection of the dead will happen. And besides, I always had an unexplained affection for land.

The thoughts of my final destination trouble me. Will it be back to Jerusalem, next to my parents, on the hill looking over the city? Or perhaps in our small town in the desert, the one where we lived for twenty-five years? Or under a big oak tree in this land that I see now as my home, covered in winter with a blanket of snow.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

September 24 – Trauma’s Shadow is Rage

by V.J. Knutson

The author at the time of the incident.

“…he had always been popular and happy and things had always worked out.”
(Holly LeCraw, The Swimming Pool)

I close the book, feeling the rage shifting just below my sternum. It’s the second time this week that words have elicited this response. The first was an online post and the author had written something about how gently we come into this world; a man, of course, whose lack of birthing experience allowed him to think glibly about such beginnings – and, I know otherwise.

Flesh tears from flesh.

Pain builds and peaks and in a bloodied push of exasperation life emerges.

I’m not discrediting the miraculous. Birth is miraculous. And in time, joy overshadows the trauma, and we conceive again. This, too, is a miracle.

Maybe it is all this talk of he said/ she said dominating the news; women daring to call out their abusers. The ensuing backlash.

I named my assailant. Included his address, and full details of the abduction. Then buried the memory, and self, in a well so deep it wouldn’t emerge for fourteen years; knife-edged fragments butchering my complacency. Memory works that way.

No charges were laid, no subsequent trial; the judgment occurred on the spot the day that they found me, missing overnight, in a state of shock. I had asked for it; my clothes, the unfortunate choice to attend a bar underage, the willingness to get in a stranger’s car with friends. The defilement was my fault. How could I not bury it?

Happiness is desirable – no different for me – but I am also a realist/cynic; and life does not unfold in candy-wrapped sweetness. It stumbles along, meets with obstacles, and demands that we look within. To say that someone has lived an unmarred existence, as suggested in the quotation above, is just laziness on the part of the author. This is not truth, so why write it?

Life commands character.

Real life, that is.

The rage subsides. I’ve said my piece. I turn the page.

V.J.Knutson is a former educator, avid blogger, and grandmother. She and her husband are currently traveling cross-country in a 40-foot motorhome. Originally from Ontario, Canada, V.J. hopes this journey will provide healing for her ME/CFS, or at the very least, inspire further creativity. Find her online at One Woman’s Quest.

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March 31 – Ghost Story

by Linda Hoye

Benson and beyond-1 (600x429)

The ghost lets me know she needs to stop again; I’ve momentarily forgotten her. I pull over and get out of the car to listen to the silence again, but I’m surprised to find that it really isn’t silent at all. I hear the click click click of grasshoppers flying and birds singing. In the distance, where the sky is now dark and angry, a fork of lightning reaches down to touch the prairie. Like me, it can’t resist just a touch of the land. The boom of thunder follows.

“The giants are bowling!” the ghost calls back to me as she runs across the field.

I smile at her exuberance.

Saskatchewan’s warm wind wraps around me. You are home, she whispers. I’ve heard that one can’t go home again, but I don’t want to believe it. I want to be home; I need to be home. The sky opens up and the rain starts; I look out in the direction where I saw the ghost running. Her face is turned toward the sky and her arms are waving above her head; she’s dancing in the rain. I can hear her laughter faintly in the distance.

The same rain the ghost is dancing in falls on me as I watch her carefree movements. I lift my own face toward the sky, and the cool rain mingles with the tears I am powerless to hold back. I close my eyes and let the rain wash the tears from my face as I breathe deeply, the scent of the summer rain like aromatherapy for my bruised and broken heart.

I should call the ghost back; I should get going; Aunt Edie is expecting me.

But I don’t move; I stand still and let the raindrops mingle with my tears and allow myself to let go, to weep deeply, to feel the anguish I’ve held in so tightly for too long, the grief to which I’ve been afraid to surrender. I grieve for the deaths of Mom and Dad, for the pain of not having them in my life, the sorrow I feel at having had them so briefly. I grieve for the death of my dreams, the breakdown of my marriage, the emptiness I feel inside, the mantle of responsibility so heavy on my shoulders. I grieve for my children and the mistakes I’ve made and the mistakes I see them making. I grieve for the loss of my birth mother. And I grieve for myself.

When I am spent, I open my eyes. The rain is just a drizzle now, and in the distance there is a break in the clouds. I turn my head, prepared to call the ghost back, but I’m surprised to see her standing next to me. She is simply standing there, looking up at me with eyes as big as plates,  her hair like long wet strings. I squat down and gently take her face in my hands.

Thank you for coming with me today, I tell her.

She smiles, and we get back in the car; this time I invite the ghost to sit in the front, beside me. I pull out onto the prairie road and turn the car around in the opposite direction from the way we were traveling before.

“What are you doing?” the ghost asks. “Stoughton is that way.”

I know. It’s not much farther, and we’ve got plenty of time.

“But where are we going?” she asks.

We’re going back to get your tadpoles.

Her face lights up with a big smile and I reach over and take her hand in mine.

 

(Hoye, Linda, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, Benson Books, 2012)

Linda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and a somewhat-fanatical grandma whose work has appeared in an assortment of publications in Canada and the U.S. Her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, is the story of her journey through the abyss of grief and coming out the other side whole, healed, and thankful.

 

Retime-1 (179x269) (2)red from a twenty-five-year corporate career , she lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier where she finds contentment in her kitchen, at her writing desk, behind her camera, and in her garden. 

September 25 – Mind Games

by Nancy Rankie Shelton

Thoughts jump into my brain
running around and around
bad ones trampling
good ones
good ones, hopeful ones,
try to grab unwanted invaders
in tight double-fisted clutches
to shove them back out of bounds.

The frantic race, the struggle
becomes so disturbing
the only way
to calm the panic
is to force
other, stronger thoughts
into the overcrowded boxing ring
my mind has become.

So I listen to audio books
blare my music
binge on Netflix TV shows
season after season in one sitting.
I plaster cracks
in the walls and
slather paint
over the repairs.

And I run.
First two miles, then four, then six, now ten.
I swim, thirty minutes at a time,
totally exhausting myself
so that when I come home
my mind will let me
read a book while
I soak in my hot bathtub.

It’s the end of September,
the end of summer,
more than three years after
Jack died.
I’m adding another hobby
designed to
overpower my brain.
I’m cycling.

My first outing with John
was twenty miles.
My second with Nick
was ten.
My next will be
with just me
to see how far I need to go
to completely exhaust myself.

All this running and swimming and cycling
has changed the way I look
to my friends.
I’m told I look great
better than I’ve looked in years.
My mirror
utters no such
lie.

My mirror reveals
increased and deepened lines
that disfigure my neck
and frame my eyes.
Skin sagging from my biceps
mark me old and tired.
Age spots tell more truth
than my friends.

And the thoughts,
good ones and bad,
keep jumping into my mind.
The battle rages
as I try to hold
onto an old self
an old life that slips away,
piece by piece.

Piece by piece I’m losing
Jack, my memory,
his belongings,
things shared
are fading and disappearing.
In tight, double-fisted clutches
I try to protect them, keeping them
in bounds, in my mind.

NShelton

Nancy Rankie Shelton is a Literacy Professor at UMBC. She’s an avid reader and writer. Most of her publications are in literacy education and politics, but her first non-academic publication will be released this fall. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

April 13 – Our Magical Goodbye Walk

by Lorna Earl

I was sickened with grief.

My canine companion, a scruffy three-year-old Terrier mix I adopted, died suddenly when he slipped his collar and ran into traffic. He was thirteen years old. The last time I felt as lost, abandoned, and downright empty was when my husband left me. He’s still alive.

Phil, my fiancé, tried to keep me busy, but he was grieving, too. We were a sorry pair. He was worried that my chronic fatigue symptoms would flare from the stress. So was I. I thought about scientific articles correlating pet ownership to health. How ironic. I took extra medication to help me sleep.

Fearing depression and an inflamed immune system malaise, I woke knowing I had to pull myself back from the hole into which I was falling. The hole in my heart.

I laid in bed and asked myself, “How can a hole feel so damned heavy?” Irony was everywhere.

I reached over and poked Phil. He stirred.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said.

This was an act of courage because every morning I took Scrappy for a walk and this walk would be solo.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I have to do this alone.”

“Okay. Just be careful.” It was dark, raining, and windy. Phil worries about me.

“I will. I just need to do this.”

And I did. Armed with my rain gear and a handful of tissues, I headed off into the pre-dawn darkness. That’s when I started talking aloud to Scrappy. First, I told him how sorry I was for not protecting him from harm.

“I hope your soul left before you felt any pain, Buddy. After you rest a bit, I bet you’ll be running and exploring with the best of them wherever you are.”

Second, I talked about our journey together and how maybe he knew it was time that I travel alone. We met when we were both abandoned souls, teaching each other about trust.

“I’ll always love you, Scrap. Thank you so much for being right there with me through those tough days. Remember when it was just you and me?”

Finally, I told him about how I was strong enough to walk alone.

“You were my brave and perfect companion but you don’t need to protect me anymore. It’s your time to do what you want.”

When I said this last declaration to him three things happened simultaneously:  The pelting rain stopped instantaneously; the wind that kept blowing the hood off my head died down to nothing; and the grief-grip on my heart released.

I smiled, knowing that my independent pal finally understood something I said. We spoke soul-to-soul and he got the message.

His sparkling love now fills my heart, effervescent and light. Do I miss him? Sure I do. But on our magical Goodbye Walk, something shifted and he was with me in a new way.

We still walk together every morning . . . in that new way.

Lorna was a sociology professor. Creative writing is her new path since her premature disability retirement due to Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. She has written two self-published books: a memoir and a historical fiction novel. Lorna has been blogging since 2010 at Lorna’s Voice.