Tag Archives: Women Writing

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.

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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.

March 18 – Little Joys

by Suzanne Adam

The words spoke to me. While scanning my email Inbox, the title of Maria Popova’s latest “Brainpickings” post caught my eye: “Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence.” I opened the post.

I read that in his 1905 essay “On Little Joys”, Hesse reflects on the busyness, the hurry-hurry and the aggressive haste of modern life. Terms coined over a century ago. I’ve learned the wisdom and truth contained in his words. Perhaps I developed this philosophy for living due to life’s circumstances and to the person I am.

Hesse advised everyday contact with nature. I grew up immersed in the natural world of a small northern California town. Trees occupied the views from every window in my childhood home. Camping vacations amidst redwoods started me on the path to becoming a tree hugger.

There were other signs. Searching for my first apartment, I’d check for the view from the windows. My chosen Berkeley apartment had a distant view of San Francisco Bay. In the slim space between my building and my neighbors’ grew a leafy redwood tree and a small garden tended by a few of the residents. I was forced to move out when the owner decided to demolish our three-story building in order to build a bigger, seven-story construction. Last time I went by, the redwood tree was gone.

When I moved to Chile to marry my boyfriend, we settled in the capital, Santiago, now a city of six million inhabitants. I learned to develop personal strategies for noticing little joys in this urban setting.

It is just a matter of noticing.

SAAndesAs a teacher in a school situated in the foothills of the Andes, in free moments, I’d gaze out the window at the glorious sight and feel nourished and replenished. During my lunch hour, I’d walk a few laps around the hillside track and maybe spot a kestrel perched on a post or hear the twitter of quail.

These city streets offer dozens of small joys: flowering Jacaranda and ceibo trees, a well-tended garden, a friendly dog, the chatter of playing children.

Now, although retired, I don’t get out of the city as often as I’d like. I miss the freshness of forests and the tang of sea breezes. To counteract this deficiency, each morning I step out into my backyard to inhale the exquisite fresh air still untouched by the scents of human activity. The dew releases a potpourri of fragrances from my redwood tree and the flowering buddleia. Nights I make another mini visit to my backyard to breathe in the nighttime air and gaze at the few stars visible in our city sky. Sky. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t looked at the sky all day.

Hesse advises us to cherish the little joys, inconspicuous and scattered liberally over our daily lives. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money!

Lessons for living.

Suzanne grew up northern California. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she served in the Peace Corps in Colombia before moving to Santiago, Chile in 1972 to marry her boyfriend, Santiago. She explores this experience in her 2015 memoir Marrying Santiago. Her latest book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile” was published by She Writes Press.

Suzanne blogs at Tarweed Spirit.

March 4 – How to Stay Married for Thirty-Four Years

by Cheryl Suchors
Actions that may have been unrelated at the time paved the way for my ongoing commitment. Here they are, in case you care to try some and avoid the others.

1.      Get a pet. Nearing thirty and single, I got a cat. I named the cat Escuela because I figured that kitty would school me in commitment.
2.      Beware big risk. I met a guy and moved to Washington, DC to be with him. We bought a house. He changed the kitty litter. After three weeks in our new home, he moved out. Enter one of the worst periods of my life.
3.      Find a good therapist. Have I mentioned therapy? I recommend it.
4.      Give up on passive men, no matter how enticing. After the above debacle, a man sat next to me on a train. We didn’t stop talking until the ride ended hours later. But in the cab line, he still hadn’t asked for my number. I decided if he didn’t pursue the surprising opportunity of “us,” he was too passive. I waited. He asked.
5.      Have a full life before marriage. I was thirty-two when I met the guy on the train. Thirty-four when we married. I had a career, travel adventures, a condo, pet companions, and good friends. I’d had a number of heartbreaks and each one taught me a lesson I tried not to repeat. (See 2, 3, 4 above.)
6.      Allow for ambivalence. We dated for a year before I moved to Boston for a job. He’d follow in a year. Meantime, we discussed the M-word. I was utterly ready. Until he proposed, and I panicked. I told him I needed some time. Apparently, I’d squelched my ambivalence. So I took the time to be terrified, to sit with my fear.
7.      Find a partner as smart as you. Maybe smarter. His mind entertains and engages me still. This is important because bodies, well, they age.
8.      Listen when you know he’s right even if you don’t like what he says. When we brought our infant daughter home, he offered to give her a bath. She looked so tiny in his hands. I hovered, making suggestions, worried he’d break her. He told me either I could act like I always knew better and be solely responsible for our child or I could let him do his best, learning as he went. I went off to bite my knuckles in another room. He’s been a really good father.
9.      Tell him what you’re afraid to bring up. Like that time I found myself way too attracted to a co-worker. My husband and I discussed it pretty thoroughly. That put a boundary around the co-worker, one I couldn’t cross.
10.     Re-up. Each anniversary, we pull out the wedding ceremony we wrote. We laugh at our naiveté. But the vows never fail to move us. We sign up, not for forever because that freaks me out, but for fifty years. My brain can encompass fifty years.

Cheryl Suchors is the author of 48 PEAKS: Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, an inspiring memoir of adventure, endurance, and heartache published in September 2018 by She Writes Press. Suchors lives in Massachusetts with her husband and a plethora of plants. Their grown daughter, to come full-circle, lives in Washington, DC. Cheryl blogs at http://cherylsuchors.com.

February 19 – After the Weddings

by Kali’ Rourke

I wrote about “Weddings, Finances and Your Kids” in my personal blog, and now that our second (and final) wedding couple is approaching their first anniversary, it is time to check in with some of the takeaways from our particular financial decision.

Our decision was to simply give our daughters the money that we planned to spend on each of their weddings and to give them the choices that went along with it. No strings attached, other than that we expected to be present to see them wed. Of course, we would be there for any involvement (wedding dresses, venues, whatever!) they wanted from us!

Our daughters are very different women, but some of their choices were quite similar, including the most important one.

They both chose spouses who cherish them, make them laugh, and make them want to be better people. These are men of high intelligence, integrity, and character…hmm, a bit like their Dad!

Dani and Jason chose hunter green and gold for their fall wedding in Nashville, and Devin and Charlie chose emerald-green and daffodil yellow for their spring wedding in Austin.

 

Both couples made excellent food, drink, and energetic dance party receptions features of their weddings, and they both chose to exchange personal vows with their spouses.

There was not a dry eye in the house at either wedding as each couple declared their love and committed their lives to each other in front of family and friends.

Both couples chose to spend money on memories. Photographer and Videographer were top line items in their budgets after the venue and refreshments.

After all, over thirty years later, Dad and I no longer remember all the tiny moments or even some of the people who were at our wedding, but pictures are forever.

Both couples invested in fun photo booths that encouraged their guests to loosen up and have a great time, and Devin and Charlie even had a “pop shot” basketball set up for all of the “hoopsters” in his group of friends who came from all over the country to celebrate his wedding.

Both couples invested in a “month of” coordinator who worked behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly, and as busy professionals, this was a very wise choice.

Each feature of their weddings was carefully chosen by them, to be meaningful and make their guests feel welcome and appreciated. My husband and I could not have been prouder, and we had a marvelous time while relishing the additional joy of gaining two awesome sons and their lovely families.

So, was this financial decision successful?

We think so. There were no meltdowns, no major mishaps, and virtually no family drama. Each of our daughters got a dream wedding and they did not have to run anything by anyone except their future husbands. We think this bodes well for their future as partners in life.

Thanks for inviting us to the parties, kids! We had a blast!

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kali´stays busy working in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. She blogs at Kali’s Musings where this post also appears, and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

January 14 – Gertie the Goose

by Marilea Rabasa

My partner, Gene, and I are great lovers of nature and we enjoy walking on our beach, rain or shine, on Puget Sound. Sunrise is often magnificent, heralding in the day with a spotlight on the Olympic Range across Saratoga Passage from us. Those snow-covered mountains look like scoops of ice cream the way I like it: with chocolate sauce drizzling down the sides. The sunsets are spectacular as well, the reds and purples muting into softer tones and then the dusk-gray sky quickly turning dark.

Last week we saw a white speck at the end of our beach as we were heading home in the approaching darkness and realized it was an injured snow goose, hopping on one leg onto the safety of the rocks as the tide was coming in. Our hearts went out to this suffering animal, unable to swim or fly, and we feared it would die soon. Predators were in the woods, but mostly coyotes would come down to the beach and find an easy victim.

Every morning for a week we brought food down to it and then decided to try to rescue it. The nearby wildlife center wouldn’t come and get it, but they would accept it if we got it to them. We had to wait for the tide to be low enough for there to be some beach to walk on between the water and the logjam from recent storms. But a day came with favorable conditions, and we found our opportunity.

Gene and our neighbor, Archibald, went down to the beach, threw a blanket over it and carried it squawking up to the car where I was the getaway driver. We placed it in a carton and once it realized it was a prisoner, it stopped struggling. Gene and Archibald regaled each other with similar stories, and I howled at their jokes. The ride wasn’t as stressful as I’d anticipated and we arrived at the wildlife center, safe and nearly sound. The handlers accepted her, will fix her leg, and send her back into the world, hopefully, to make more geese.

The three of us drove back to the island and felt good starting out the new year in this way. “Let it begin with me” is an oft-quoted saying in our recovery program, and when I do initiate acts of kindness like that, I feel empowered, no longer shackled by people and events that I have no control over. That’s what Gene and I do sometimes: we try to make the world a better place, along with many other people on our endangered planet. We pick up trash when we see it. And we care about saving our dwindling wildlife, one goose at a time.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is www.recoveryofthespirit.com.  She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.

December 10 – Giving in Paradise (California)

By B. Lynn Goodwin

Volunteers matter—especially when emergencies come up. At the Butte County Fairgrounds in November my husband and I found a mixture of hope and despair, of gratitude and anguish.

We couldn’t get near “Paradise Lost,” as reporters dubbed the Northern California town ravaged by fire, so we went to the tent cities at the Butte County Fairgrounds and the parking lot next to Walmart.  We found unparalleled need along with volunteers helping those who’d lost everything but their lives.

My husband and I took a huge stack of $50 gift cards donated by people in our church.  We followed the suggestion of a church guest, who returned to Paradise on weekends. He was there with his wife, who barely made it out ahead of the flames. They’d lost their home but had each other. He said, “Take gift cards and give them directly to the people.” My husband loved the idea.

What would you take with you if you had three minutes to escape the flames racing down the hill towards your home? Cash or pictures? A wallet or clothes? Your bankcard or your child’s favorite toy?

What if you never bought insurance because you couldn’t afford it and now you had no cash for socks or a tank of gas?

Admittedly a $50 gift card doesn’t go very far, but you wouldn’t know that from the reactions of displaced people who never dreamed of strangers handing them a gift card outside their tent. I will remember the shock and amazement on their faces forever.

All we did was offer enough to fill a gas tank or buy a family dinner or “buy my wife a pair of pants so she can get out of her pajamas,” as one man said. Even though we’ll never see those people again, some will remember they were “visited by an angel” as a middle-aged woman told us while picking up her child’s toys.

What a pleasure to see all the volunteers working directly with those displaced. Whether they were delivering the take-out donated by local restaurants, supplying hygiene products, or simply listening to those with a missing relative, they were providing a much-needed service. How the problem happened doesn’t matter. Finding a solution does. We all went there to be a part of the solution.

The people in our church rock. Their generous donations gave us a chance to play Santa and Mrs. Claus early. With so much controversy over human behavior and ethics in this country, it felt good to remember that giving makes everyone a little richer. It’s the original win-win.

B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advicewww.writeradvice.com. She’s written Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 (memoir), Talent (YA) and You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (self-help). Never Too Late and Talent are multiple award-winners. Shorter works have appeared in Hip Mama, The Sun, Dramatics Magazine, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com, and Flashquake. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network. She lives east of Berkeley and west of the San Joaquin Valley with her husband and their highly intelligent terrier.

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