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November 30, 2005

The Last Sunset

bobanddad.jpgI’ve been hit in the gut – not with the flu – but with loss.

My father died unexpectedly Monday evening.

I feel deflated…and defeated.

Ironically, the most upbeat day in the 6 weeks he’s been in the hospital since his car accident was also his last. Everyone was excited that he was making such noticeable progress, and on the same day he was to die, he also got up with a walker for the first time. He was wheeled to the room where he would soon begin physical therapy in a wheelchair by my sister, Sherry, and my mother as everyone cheered him on. Did he take one look at the work-out equipment and figure (on some level) that he wasn’t up for the task? My husband, who has worked with Hospice, tells me that it’s typical for people to rally before they die. It’s also common that on some unconscious level they frequently know they’re going to die.

“Today’s the day!” he had said enthusiastically to Sherry and my mother when they visited him on that day. When Sherry questioned him about his announcement, he added, “It’s the day that everything’s coming off!” He meant the neck brace, the tracheotomy apparatus, and anything else they had him hooked up to.

“Today’s the day you’re getting up!” Sherry corrected him, wondering if he was confused.

A few hours later, after they left, he quietly slipped away. A blood clot? An aneurism? A mucus plug in the tracheotomy tubing? We don’t know yet. The hospital staff were as surprised as we were.

It looks like my writing is destined to continue the ongoing theme of grief and loss...

Photo: July, 2005 at sunset: Robert Leo Redman Jr. assisting Robert Leo Redman Sr. down to the parking lot at The Blue Hill Weather Observatory where my brother Jimmy’s annual memorial picnic was being held. The flag seen in the background is the one that was erected in Jim’s honor and has a dedication plaque set in its base.

November 29, 2005

The Cash Only Line

“If only one line in a poem has energy, then cut the rest out and leave only that one line. That one line is the poem.” William Carlos Williams to Allen Ginsberg

Poetry is like wine. We start out drinking Ripple, then move on to Mateus, and then graduate to something much better, I hope. Even though I’ve acquired a taste for a variety of poetry and understand more of it than I used to, I still go for the short poems when faced with a whole book of them. I do this with the same logic that causes me to choose a short line when I’m in a store waiting to check-out. But there’s another logic to my short poem inclination. Poetry, by its nature, is condensed, a shorthand of language that, if it’s any good, has a potency best taken in small doses. Maybe I have a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder, because the overuse of language shuts me down. But I think it has more to do with the fact that long winded-ness bores me, especially if it’s over-intellectualized. ~ From The Cash Only Line, “Muses Like Moonlight” by Colleen

In Gratitude of Short Poems

All in one piece
and easy to swallow

They hardly need editing
and aren’t temperamental ...

Who is your favorite poet?

November 28, 2005

I Almost Went to Woodstock

bellbottoms3.jpg AKA: My “Liar Liar” contest backfired!
I recently posted 4 things about myself, one of which was a lie, and asked readers to guess which one. Most everyone picked “I went to Woodstock” as the lie. And they were right, but not right for the right reasons. They thought I wasn’t old enough to have gone to Woodstock, but I was! Here’s the story:

I almost went to Woodstock. I planned to go. I was old enough, at 19 years old. My brother Jimmy, 4 years older than me, went. I had friends who were going and who pleaded with me to go too. I imagine that they were waiting outside in a car beeping the horn, but I wouldn’t come out. Although, I wasn’t even aware of the word “depression” (we called it a “nervous breakdown” back then), I was clinically depressed at the time.

There were no decent treatments or medications for major depression disorder back then. Nothing terrible had happened to cause it. I just woke up one day with a chemical imbalance. My hands shook. I couldn’t concentrate or sleep. I felt painfully self- conscious, as if I had forgotten everything I ever knew how to do, and nothing…absolutely nothing had even one ounce of pleasure to it.

Years later, I did some medical and genealogy research in an attempt to understand what had happened to me and came to suspect that my depression was related to the thyroid gland and was something I was genetically pre-disposed to. It eventually ran its course (something in-between a year and two) and caused me to study nutrition and to improve my own. Ultimately, suffering through a severe depression was a rude awakening that shaped me, deepened me, and made me more compassionate of others.

I hate that I have had to spend my adult life saying “I almost went to Woodstock,” the cultural event of my generation. But I think it was probably a good idea that I missed it. Even considering that I could have seen Janis Joplin sing onstage if I went, as someone depressed at the time, I don’t think I could have handled all the rain, mud, and the crowds that Woodstock was famous for.

As for the 3 true statements:

~ I rode on an elephant at a Renaissance Festival in Texas.
~ I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail…4 days worth.
~ In the 70s I worked behind the scenes on a short-lived Boston Children’s TV show, managing the children when they were offstage. Sometimes I (or my hands) could be seen on TV setting up projects and delivering supplies. I also was in the audience of “Candlepins for Cash.” My mother was a bowling contestant on the show and all nine of her kids went to support her, back in the days of Major Mudd, another Boston based 1970s TV show.

The last time I played this "pick out the lie" game only a couple guessed the right answer, but this time the majority guessed right. I’ll have to make it harder next time. Here are the winners. Thanks to everyone for playing!
A Revision , Melange, Jo(e)’s Place , Life in Mayberry , Colleen’s Corner, Nkki-ann,Hurricane Country , Musings from the Underground , Blue Stocking

November 26, 2005

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

I had so much fun with last month’s game of “can you pick out the lie?” that I thought I’d try it again. Listed below are 4 things about me, one of which is a lie. Can you guess which it is? Take your best shot. I’ll post the winner in an upcoming entry.

1. I’ve ridden on an elephant.
2. I’ve hiked on the Appalachian Trail.
3. I went to Woodstock.
4. I’ve been on TV.

November 25, 2005

Turkey and Mashed Potatoes

My brother Jimmy died in the summer of 2001, and my brother Danny followed him just a month later. Jim’s birthday, November 22, sometimes fell on Thanksgiving Day, and so Thanksgiving and the days leading up to it remind me and my family of Jim. Below is an excerpt from “The Jim and Dan Stories,” the book I wrote chronicling the grief process in the first 6 months after losing my brothers, titled “Thanksgiving.”

The leaves are falling as fast as the words in my head are spilling onto paper. A squirrel scampers by and a sense of urgency fills the air. I must get this all down. Tie this together. I must think harder to recover memories of Danny and Jim that I can lavish in. I have an impatience to do it all now. Death is a real motivating force. It teaches us that we don’t have forever. Understanding our own mortality is an opportunity, urging us to re-set priorities.

After seeing death close up, it’s hard to write shopping lists or want to sweep the floor. I want to keep writing checks to The Salvation Army with Dan’s name on them, keep pasting Jim’s weather pictures into colorful books. I want to meditate on death and be of service to others.

It’s almost Thanksgiving and my family will gather together at my brother Joey’s house in Hanover, Massachusetts. “Jimmy always brought the mashed potatoes,” Joey’s wife Nancy said with tears in her eyes when she and Joey passed through here with Dan's cat Winslow. Jimmy never missed a holiday gathering, a family birthday party, a basketball game his daughter was playing in, or any family event, which I know will make his absence on Thanksgiving even harder for my family to bear.

When Jimmy was visiting me in Virginia this past July, he talked about his machine shop job and even that metal milling machine, the one that would kill him (I should have been taking notes). He also talked light-heartedly about a lone wild turkey that would visit the bird feeder outside the shop where he worked. A wild turkey is a rare thing where Jim lived, and it was probably the first time he saw one. After Jim died, I was at his house looking through some photographs he had taken. I saw a close-up of a turkey at a bird feeder and knew it was the one! I looked up “turkey” in an animal totem book and learned that the turkey represents a give-away, a sacrifice, or a gift, to Native Americans. I couldn’t help but look at the turkey and see an omen in it, or at least a good totem for Jim.

A turkey would be a great totem for Jim for another reason. His birthday was November 22 and would sometimes fall on Thanksgiving, as it will this year. I remember as a girl “Jim’s birthday on Thanksgiving” was the only time I was not interested in cake, not after all the turkey and fixings! I was always confused back then about why his birthday wasn’t always on Thanksgiving.

The words are winding down (for now) as memories of past Thanksgivings drift through my mind. Like a favorite dream I am trying to reconstruct, I superimpose those memories over the harsh reality, which is this: There are empty chairs at the table this year, and never has emptiness been so concrete.

Post Note: Blogger friend, Naomi, from Here in the Hills recently posted her personal and moving account of the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, also on November 22, that ties into her life in the theatre.

November 24, 2005

Thirteen Thanksgiving Thursday

thanksgiving13.jpg1. I recently ate a fly. I heard it go down into my mug of tea like a Kamikaze pilot. But 5 minutes later, I forgot about it and took a big gulp and got a surprise. I spit it out whole, and it flew away.
2. I’m forever grateful that I took typing in high school. I can speed type, but if the thought comes into my head – hey, how am I doing this? – Or how do my fingers know what to do? – I suddenly forget how to type.
3. Sometimes I imagine that my brothers, Jim and Dan, who died 4 years ago, visit my blog. I once got a comment from a Jim that sounded like something my Jim would say, and I wondered if it could be him. When I get comments from Houston Texas, where Dan lived, I think Dan could be behind it. I recently connected with a blogger named Colleen whose blog address was “danno” something. That was my brother Dan’s nickname.
4. I had a dream last Thursday where my mother and sisters came to visit. I was living in this big old house of several stories, and it was FILTHY. One bed was full of ants, and I hadn’t even given them clean sheets. I was making excuses, all the while thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I’m blogging too much. How did I let this happen?”
5. When I woke up I was so relived that my house isn’t THAT bad. (Unless you look in the cupboard drawers and closets.)
6. My arms are sore from sawing rutabagas for Thanksgiving Dinner.
7. I cry every Thanksgiving because we do a communal potluck at my neighbor’s farm and, besides the above rutabagas, I bring the boiled creamed ONIONS. (Try peeling 10 pounds of onions sometime).
8. I always liked the Indians more than the Pilgrims.
9. “The first illegal immigrants were the Pilgrims” was a sign I saw while watching “Race is the Place” on PBS this past Tuesday night.
10. The most interesting Google search that brought someone to my site this week was “Pretty Boy Floyd” (I live in Floyd, Virginia).
11. I had lunch this week with my good friend, Alwyn. She’s giving things away because she’s moving and trying to downsize. The first thing she said to me when we met was, “I have a vest I want to give you. I’m de-vesting. Have you ever heard of that?” “Yes,” I answered. “It’s the opposite of investing, right?”
12. She later said, after I recited the poem I wrote for Elliot to her, “I don’t understand “atheism.” To say you don’t believe in anything is believing in something.
13. My Asheville potter son who loves the Red Sox arrived from Asheville NC for Thanksgiving in a gorilla suit. More on that later…

November 23, 2005

Grief in the Long Term

Even a pen has a lifespan, I think to myself just as mine has run out of ink in the middle of writing a sentence. The pen doesn’t come back the following season like the leaves on the poplar tree outside my bedroom window will come back in the spring… ~ From “The Jim and Dan Stories” ~ by Colleen

During my husband’s study for his master’s degree in counseling, he did an internship with Hospice and helped to facilitate a grief group. Knowing my experience and interest in the grief process, he invited me to be a part of the group. I would have appreciated a support group after I lost my brothers, but it had been 3 years since their deaths, a little late for that sort of thing, I thought. Even so, my husband encouraged me to participate, thinking that I could be of help to others who had more recently lost loved ones, and eventually, I agreed.

Our first meeting – a small group of all women except for my husband – was held at the local library. For introductions, we were directed to go around the room and share with the group a little about ourselves and why we were there. I should have known when I had to hold back the tears while listening to other people’s stories that sharing wasn’t going to be easy, but I was still surprised to discover when it was my turn to speak that, even after 3 years, I couldn’t be counted on to articulate losing my brothers without falling apart.

How is this going to help others, I wondered? What happened to my open book philosophy of taking death and grief out of the closet? I could go to the Radford University class that was using my book as part of their grief and loss curriculum and talk about the book, what it was like losing my brothers, how I got through it. But on this day and with this group, I couldn’t seem to state the facts, form the tragic words, or even use their names without losing it. I felt like an alcoholic admitting a disease that I had thought I was in remission of. Hello, my name is Colleen and I lost 2 brothers. Jim died in a violent machine shop accident. I watched my brother Dan die of liver failure.

Ah, is this what they mean when they say that you can come to accept losing a loved one but that you never really get over it? It was a rude awakening to remember again that Jim and Dan are really gone and then to speak it out loud to others. But I learned a good lesson that day: There comes a point in the grief process when it’s not a good idea to pick at an old wound.

November 22, 2005

This is Floyd, After All

cafe4.jpg Saturday night: A wedding reception was taking place in the back of The Winter Sun building, the same building that houses The Café Del Sol, where our Spoken Word Open Mic’ was to be held. There was a belly dancing performance across the street at the Black Water Loft, and The Jacksonville Center nearby was hosting an art opening of photography. Cars lined the length of downtown, and a spirited sense of activity filled the air.

Some came to the Open Mic’ specifically for the tribute to Elliot, the poet and member of my Writers’ Circle who had passed away just days before. Others came to read their own material, and all through the evening people trickled in from the neighboring events.

The first set, which was hosted by the Writers’ Circle and dedicated solely to Elliot, was opened by Mars, an 8 year old boy singing a song from the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “Going Down to the River to Pray.” He happened to be in the café with his mother and friend playing chess when the writers began to arrive. After we heard his hauntingly sweet voice singing impromptu into the mic, we signed him up, and he was happy to oblige.

There was a gallery of original drawings of Elliot spread out near the microphone and the chair where the readers would sit. Apparently, Elliot, burly, bearded and slightly hunched over, had posed for The Floyd Figures Art Group not long before he died. In one prominent drawing done by artist, Rick Cooley, Elliot was dressed in King’s garb with his cane looking more like a commanding staff than an aid to his disability. “Poet King” was etched below the drawing.

Sally, the owner of Café Del Sol, MC’d the evening’s entertainment, something Elliot himself usually did. She called me up first, and I read some prose pieces about playing scrabble with Elliot, which I was hoping would reveal the lighter side of the often bristly man. When the crowd broke out in laughter, after I shared a short interview I had done with him, written on the back of an envelope, I felt that my efforts paid off. “And who will play you in the movie, Elliot?” I asked. Without missing a beat, he answered, “Bette Midler!”

After closing with a newly written poem for Elliot, I handed the mic over to Mara, who read a humorously touching piece written by Kathleen, a Writers’ Circle member who was unable to attend. Kathleen’s piece, based on a conversation with Elliot, was set at a Contra Dance, something that she and Elliot shared a passion for. Mara and Rima then read a selection of Elliot’s poems. It was probably the first time many in the audience had heard his poetry, and it was amazing how good it sounded and how well it held up coming through voices other than the author’s.

It was hard to change gears, but we did. Elliot would have loved the fact that we had several new readers from neighboring towns. In the second set, we heard a lovely prose piece about a wedding in Spain, and poems about living like Henry Miller and not wanting to be a wife. One guy took the microphone over to the computer station and read his poetry off his website. A few people sang songs.

Doug and Fred, Writers’ Circle members who were attending the wedding reception in another part of the building, both made brief appearances, looking quite dapper in their suits. At one point, Jayn (another WC member) and I huddled together on the comfy couch. We fell into each other, close enough for me to notice the tears in her eyes when Elliot’s poem about his painful childhood was being read.

It was well after 10 when Sally bid us all goodnight, and the quiet of the room erupted into chatter. People were hugging, talking about Elliot, and making plans for December’s Open Mic. I grabbed my coat and the several cartons of farm eggs that had been delivered by my egg man sometime during the night. The friend I walked out with had just grabbed up the two hand rolled cigarettes that we discovered had been anonymously placed on the makeshift coffee table altar, next to mementos and photographs of Elliot. And didn’t they smell suspiciously like a certain outlawed herb?

“Well, this is Floyd, after all,” I laughed and said to her.

See Ya Later, Kiddo
~ For Elliot September 11, 1943 – November 17, 2005

Poet
Curmudgeon
Demanding
Liberal
Atheist
Sometimes lascivious
Lover of women
4 on the enneagram
Loved pistachios
and e. e. cummings
Walked with a cane
Smelling of aftershave
Sometimes wore a purple beret
and a daisy behind his good ear
Frequently called me on the phone
“Is that all the time you have for me?”
he asked on a bad day
On a good day he’d say
“Okay…see ya later, Kiddo”

~ Colleen

Post Note:
A contra dance memorial for Elliot is planned for Saturday, December 10, 6 - 11 p.m. at Winter Sun in Floyd, and a memorial fund for a poetry prize is being established in his name. Contact: Floyd Writers' Circle, c/o P.O. Box 81, Floyd, VA.

November 21, 2005

About Last Night

kalidescope3.jpg AKA: This is what can happen when I take Sundays off from blogging.

I woke up first, with a headache and the spinning realization that my vertigo had returned. My husband, becoming aware of my stirring, soon opened his eyes and smiled at me. We exchanged morning greetings and checked-in with each other.

His report: Pleasantly calm…drifting from sleep...full steam ahead for the day.
My turn: Seasick on the deck…man over board.
He: What? Are you hung-over?
Me: No, this is pretty normal for me.

After nearly 20 years of being together, I continue to wonder, how is it that my husband wakes up feeling great, and I never do?

The Spoken Word Open Mic night I participated in the night before was so well attended and richly entertaining that it ran over by about an hour-and-a-half (more on that later). After 30 years of dealing with some genre of Chronic Fatigue, I am aware of how easily I can become “overdone.” For me, one fun night out tends to result in a full day of rest and recovery the next.

After a mug of tea and our morning meditation, my husband offered to give me a full-body Tai massage. At one point, while my head was resting in his lap and he was massaging my temples, I asked, “Can I tell you what I want for Christmas now?” He bent forward and listened. Our faces, only inches apart, were facing upside down from each other.

“I want a kaleidoscope. Not the prism kind that you have to move around the room, but a real kaleidoscope. The kind we grew up with that you turn, and brightly colored pieces drop down making beautiful patterns of which no two are alike. They were made of cardboard tubing back then,” I remembered.

I named a few other things on my Christmas wish list, but it was the kaleidoscope I really wanted. We talked for a while, laughing at how funny mouths look while talking upside down, before heading into the kitchen to make breakfast. On the way to the kitchen, I passed the stairway that led up to the compuer room but was able to resist the urge to go up to check comments and emails.

After our breakfast of farm fresh eggs and stoned ground wheat bagels from The Harvest Moon, we retired to the lounge chairs on the sunny side of the front porch, each with a notebook to catch up on paperwork. My kind of Sunday morning activity!

Now it was my turn to look over to my husband and smile. From what I could tell, I don’t think he was enjoying his kind of paperwork (counseling case notes) as much as I was enjoying mine (blogging, afer all).

November 19, 2005

Man with Beard

A frequent Scrabble partner and member of my Writer’s Workshop who I was barred from naming on my blog, passed away Thursday morning. Although he suffered from numerous health complications, his death still came as a shock. His name was written on my calendar, expected to come to dinner on Sunday. His write-up about our Spoken Word Open Mic on Saturday appeared in “The Floyd Press” on the same morning he died, and a friend I ran into the night before asked how his mood had been lately.

A group of us expected him for a Scrabble game last Sunday, but he never showed up. “Too tired,” he later said. Was his no-show a sign of what was coming? I didn’t think so because I knew he was up late the night before at the local Contra Dance. It had been a while since he was able to dance himself, but he remained involved by making himself a familiar fixture selling tickets at “The Winter Sun” stage door.

Even though his health was compromised and he was frequently in a lot of pain, I don’t think he was finished with life. He was actively working to complete a first collection of poetry that he wanted to leave behind. Although he wasn’t finished with it, he had made great strides in telling his story through his poems. In the past couple of years at local Spoken Word venues, he read his deeply personal, sometimes daring, and often disturbing poems about child abuse, the death of a loved one, the sting of being laughed at for being disabled, and the frustration of being at the mercy of the medical establishment. His poetry also dealt with themes of loneliness and lust.

Although he was leery of computers and often made snide remarks about the time I spend on one, he had plans to take a class at Floyd’s newly forming Adult Education Computer Lab in preparation for finishing his poetry collection. His aversion to computers, coupled with the fact that he was going learn to use one, is only one of the paradoxes he embodied. But it was the internet he was suspicious of, not the computer in general, I can almost hear him correcting me. Yes, even his paradoxes had reasoning.

Tonight’s Spoken Word Open Mic at Café Del Sol, of which the bearded man frequently MC’d, will go on as scheduled but will not be the same. His poetry will be read by friends, others will read pieces they have written about him. I don’t expect to hear flowery tributes, as his manner and the life he led was anything but. I expect memorializing him will be done with hard facts delivered with an efficiency of language and seasoned with an ironic sense of play. Just like the man… and poetry he wrote.

Post Note: Bloggers and fellow Floyd Writers' Circle members, Doug at Blue Ridge Muse and Fred at Fragments from Floyd have also written about the bearded man's passing.

November 18, 2005

Love and Death

twotimer.pngDeath is like sex. It’s something everyone does, but you hardly ever see it, and no one talks much about it--not publicly any ways. Death, like sex, is raw. It demands that you give it its due. ~Colleen, “The Jim and Dan Stories.”

My poet friend, Mara, who I share a grief bond with and often play Scrabble with is in LOVE! When we played Scrabble last weekend, she was not only on the phone with her lover half a dozen times during our game, but she was playing Scrabble with her online…in-between turns.

Two-timer! I shouted across the table.

Three of us played that day, and when it wasn’t Mara’s turn, or she wasn’t on the phone, or playing online scrabble with her girlfriend, we talked about the paper she is writing for school, “Physical Symptoms of the Early Stages of Love and Grief: Exploring the Connections and Correlations.” Mara, who lost her husband a couple of weeks before my brother Jim died, can speak from experience on both.

Her paper begins: The initial reaction is disbelief. How could there be a connection between love and grief? One is positive, the other is negative – at least that is the common misperception. When some of the physical manifestations are examined, however it’s startling how similar the symptoms are. They mirror each other: mind, emotion, and most especially body. Loss of appetite. “Butterflies” in your stomach. Sleeplessness. The world becoming strange and surreal. Grief and love are different only so much as our perception changes them. They both change us inexplicably, often affecting our entire manner of viewing the world…

Besides the obvious similar physical symptoms of falling in love and losing someone you love, both are experienced with a wide open heart and both are tied up in longing. Does the body know the difference between tears shed for joy or for grief? And what about bittersweet tears that blur the lines of emotion, such as those brought about when in the presence of something painfully beautiful, feeling proud of your child when he leaves home, or being so deeply touched during lovemaking that you come undone.

Mara asks two good questions: Why do we continually strive towards love, not simply love of family, work, purity, but the eternally complicated conundrum of being “in love,” which tortures far often than it satisfies?

And…Why do we avoid grief with such a dogged passion? Why do we try to protect ourselves and those we love from the very realities of death? Often mourning provides similar heights of joy and clarity to the struggle and pain love can give.

Being with my brother Danny when he died was a gift, while at the same time it was a trauma. Even so, I look back on the last two weeks of his life that I spent with him in the hospital with such fondness. Every day I was excited to see him, knowing in the back of my mind that it might be the last time I could. With a heightened sense of awareness, I lost myself in caring for him. I saw only him and thought of only him, and when he was gone, I missed that one pointed focus. Maybe the experiences of love and grief are so related because with both you forget self, with both the illusion of separation falls away, and you are one with another human being.

Ultimately, what is grief, but an expression of love? The more love felt, the deeper the grief.

Post Note:: For the first time in 9 months, I’ve updated my Silver and Gold Website, a contact place for my books that is dedicated to my brothers, Jim and Dan. You can view it here. Photo is of Mara playing online scrabble while her Scrabble board players look on.

November 17, 2005

Thirteen Thursday #5

13thursscrabble2.jpg1. When I found out that my dad was in the hospital after being in a recent car accident, I brought my suitcase down from the attic and left it in my bedroom unpacked.
2. After a week, I packed the suitcase and flew to Boston to see him. His condition (a broken neck vertebra and pneumonia on top of that) was so serious that I had to debate whether to pack black funeral clothes or not.
3. When I returned home to Virginia a week later, I had a slight fever and wondered whether it was a “sympathy fever” because my dad had a fever when I left him.
4. I was afraid to unpack my suitcase.
5. On the same day I returned home from Boston, my computer hard drive failed. Would I lose all my documents? Would we lose my dad? The next day, when the computer technician told me that I hadn’t lost my files, I knew we weren’t going to lose my dad either.
6. My family finally had a meeting with my dad’s doctors, and were told that there was no reason why my dad would not make a full recovery. We were ecstatic, but it was also hard to accept that most of his life threatening problems were not from the actual car accident injury as much as they were repercussions from being in the hospital.
7. I got my computer back from the repair shop, but when I plugged it in a WARNING sign flashed on my screen. It seems that my computer problems are complicated and are paralleling what we are going through with my dad. On the same day I got the WARNING sign, my dad got a tracheotomy. The road to repair is not so straight forward.
8. I was burning my files to CD before taking my computer back to the shop. I still have dial-up because DSL hasn’t come to my part of the county, and my friend was trying to phone me. After 3 hours, she walked the mile over to my house to talk to me.
9. She stayed to watch a movie with my husband, Joe, and me. Joe was feeling down and needed a comedy, so we watched “Guess Who” with Ashton Kutchner and Bernie Mac. (In the words of critic, Peter Vonder Haar, the movie “has its share of eye-rolling moments, but at its heart it’s a decent story.”)
10. Ashton Kutchner reminds me of my son Josh, the Asheville potter who loves the Red Sox and is a closet super hero.
11. On Wednesday I was one of the judges of a literary contest at the Floyd Elementary School. The theme of the contest was “I wonder.”
12. I wonder why tea always tastes better when I make it at home but beer tastes better in a restaurant?
13. My favorite current saying is this: “I’ll keep you posted…Literally!”

Post Note: Leanne, host of 13 Thursday, is keeping us posted on all the 13 Thursday participants. She encourages us to visit each other, so that’s what I’m doing today.

November 16, 2005

Juxtaposition

marascarwithflag3.png It is not only the living who are killed in war. ~ Isaac Asimov
Leaving the Café Del Sol, after our Scrabble game on Sunday, my friend Mara and I discovered that we were unexpectedly stuck in town, but we also had front row seats to our local Veterans Day Parade.

Unlike most parades with festive themes, this one was understandably solemn. While I enjoyed watching the girl scouts and boy scouts, the high school band, and the veterans – many of whom were WWII vets like my father, marching by – I also had many mixed feelings. I felt respect mixed with deep sadness underneath a growing frustration with wars that aren’t about self-defense and the rash leaders who send young men to fight them.

I like to photograph scrabble boards to capture the setting and ambiance of the games I play, and so I conveniently had a camera in my hand when the above scene crystallized in front of me. It spoke to the ambivalence I was feeling.

My friend Mara’s car, covered with anti-war bumper stickers, stood out like a parade float as a color guard of men with rifles flanked by. “Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding” one bumper sticker quoting Albert Einstein read. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” read another one with a picture of Gandhi on it.

The parade marchers and Mara’s car were facing in opposite directions. I stood transfixed, as though looking at an artist’s installation. I focused my stare at the place where the marchers met with and then passed Mara’s car, as though it was a threshold of hope. At some point even polar opposites will meet and what appears to be polar opposites may not really be. We all exist together on this street, in this town, in this country and world, I thought, as I noticed a few neighborly faces in the parade ranks and lifted my arm to wave to them.

November 15, 2005

A Free Lunch

free lunch.pngAKA: Hey, how’d that scrabble board get there?!

I heard there was no such thing as a free lunch, but it’s not true. I just won one at the Café Del Sol and I don’t even remember signing up for anything. When I asked the owner, Sally, how this happened, she told me that someone must have dropped my business card in a jar. What business, you ask? Words are my business and my blog is my storefront. The card reads “The Blogkeeper is in!”

Post Note: A Spoken Word Open Mic is being held this Saturday, November 19, from 7 to 9 PM at the Café Del Sol in Floyd. On Friday, November 18, Floyd’s Black Water Loft Café is hosting “Poems of Thanksgiving” in which 4 poets are slated to read, including myself.

November 14, 2005

The Compliment

This is the compliment I received first thing Sunday Morning: “You look like Mary Poppins. Your cheeks are rosy. Don’t tell Joe (your husband) I said that.”

It came from one of the individuals with a developmental disability that I sometimes provide weekend respite foster-care for, and it translates to mean: “You’re a fun caregiver and I like you, the way Mary Poppins was a fun nanny and the kids she took care of liked her.”

“Thank you!” I answered.

November 12, 2005

Top Ten

I got the idea of featuring my 10 favorite posts from Paul at “Writing from the Hip.” I’ve been blogging at Loose Leaf for 9 months now, and I decided to choose favorites from my first 6 months of entries, March – August. I didn’t have many readers in my first few months of blogging, and so I appreciate the chance to take some of those posts out of the archive closet and dust them off. In February, I’ll post excerpts and links for my top ten posts from September – February. Please feel free to leave a link to a favorite post from your site. Perhaps I can start a links list.

The Cursed Luck of the Irish: When I went to Ireland in 1997 to visit my grandmother’s hometown, I learned more about myself there than I could have in 10 years of psycho-therapy. The majority of the Irish people I met reminded me of my own family. I saw the faces of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings in their faces. And that’s not all. The Irish tend to be unpretentious, playful, tender-hearted, nostalgic, self-directed, and not overtly ambitious. They are often self-deflecting, something that can be endearing but it can also border on an inferiority complex. And I thought these traits were unique to my own family. Read more...

The Blog Files: As a foster care provider for the past 8 years, and a person who has done some basic family genealogy research, I understand the importance of good documentation, and I consider my blog to be another form of it. Back in the days before the internet, I was a prolific letter writer, which turned out to be an important aspect of my writing self-education, just as blogging is today. One of my favorite authors, home schooling pioneer John Holt, revealed that the bulk of material in his books was taken from his personal correspondences. Sometimes blog entries are simply daily posts, other times they have other applications and could end up in a printed publication, a future book, or read as a radio essay. Read more...

Who is a Writer? My definition of a writer is a person who is compelled to write, and if there is no payment involved, it only further confirms that they are one. A person who will work for days to find the just right word and the right order of every written line without the incentive of compensation is either a writer or not completely sane. When I say “I’m a writer,” I’m not necessarily claiming to be a “good writer.” I am saying that writing is what I’m interested in and what I do, more than anything else. Read more...

Losing a Loved One: You know how it is when you’ve lost a tooth, and your tongue keeps going to the spot where the tooth used to be? Your tongue is drawn to feel the remaining sharp edges and to repeatedly examine the huge gapping hole left in the tooth’s place. You realize you’ll have to learn to eat differently. It’s sort of like that, losing someone you love. Your mind is compelled to review every detail of your loved ones life and death. It’s a seductive kind of torture that feels good while it hurts. Read more...

Life is not for Wimps: I get nervous when I draw attention to myself. My hands shake when I open a Roanoke Times newspaper and know that a political commentary I wrote is inside. When the local newspaper did a story about my first book, I felt like a girl in my first training bra that the whole town knew I was wearing. And whenever I read poetry onstage at our local café, I blush and feel outside my body with fear. Read more...

Is It Summer Yet? I seem to know summer through my bare feet. As a girl, I remember how they hurt, walking on our long gravel drive-way. It didn’t occur to me to put shoes on in June. And if I had, how would my feet ever have gotten tough enough to withstand the rest of the summer? Growing up on a narrow peninsula in Hull, Massachusetts, my whole body was immersed in water for most of the summer. My feet would flap like flippers through the cool dark liquid bay, while I imagined I was a seal or a mermaid. I recall the feeling of sand through my toes and the sticky residue of dried salt water on my body and in my hair. I can still remember my revelation when, as a young girl, I licked my own skin and tasted the ocean. Read more...

Life in the Rural Fast Lane: I live in a one stoplight town. I get my honey from the woman who works the front desk at the Community Action Center and my fresh eggs from the Gralla-Shwartz family. Some of the egg shells are actually light green and the cartons have feathers and pieces of hay in them. I also grow a lot of my own food and my husband stocks the freezer with wild venison. Last year my potato crop was so prolific that I’m still eating them in now, in April. All the stores here take my checks without asking for identification and some will cash personal checks made out to me. It cost $5 to fix a flat tire (up from $3 just a few years back) and a haircut at the local barbershop is $7. Because I have no visible neighbors, I can weed my garden topless or sunbathe naked on a lounge chair (one of my top criteria for Paradise). My water is from a well. It’s pure and tastes good. I can’t hear any traffic. If you think I'm out in the sticks, here's the flip side of that... Read more...

Speaking Bloggish: I may speak English, but I think in Bloggish – that ongoing internal conversation that when put down on paper amounts to writing. My bloggish comes in blocks of thought, too short to be a commentary or even an essay, but just the right size for a …post. Even my first book, “The Jim and Dan Stories,” about losing my brothers a month apart, was written in blog-style blocks. At first I was confused by the format that dictated itself, the slightly disjointed short pieces that I struggled to name. Essays? Vignettes? Journal entries? In the end, when viewed as a whole, those short prose pieces wove together a story; partly an account of my brother’s last weeks; part a memoir of growing up together in a large Irish Catholic family; and part a chronicle of my personal experience coping with all-consuming grief. Read more...

Let Me Clue You in about My Father: In a family photograph of my father, taken in Germany at the end of WWII, he’s standing in his army uniform holding a blonde German child in his arms. Her hair is parted down the middle, pulled tightly into two braids. She looks happy. When I was a little girl, I formed an opinion about that photograph. Regardless of the fact that I hadn’t been born when it was taken, I wondered why he was holding her when he should have been holding me…or one of my brothers or sisters at least. We all agreed that my dad was handsome and looked like Elvis Presley back then. Read more...

Word Play: I’m the sort of person who reads a “wet paint” sign, but still has to touch the bench to see if it’s true. I’ve always been curious about the alphabet that way too. I believe that alphabet sounds have properties, like foods have vitamins, plants have medicine and colors have the power to affect our moods. The M…M…M sound conjures a sense of manna, matter or mother. Whereas, the letter G…G…G, when it's hard, sounds antagonistic, especially if it’s followed by R…R…R (Grrr). Why does an L sound so light and lovely while D seems to say “downward descent”? Read more...

November 11, 2005

The Unbroken Circle

How come you can get 3 months off work for maternity leave and only about 3 days for bereavement? ~ My husband, Joe.

When I wrote the “Jim and Dan Stories,” about losing two brothers a month apart, I was really putting myself and my family “out there.” And so much has come back to us because of it.

Since the publication of the book in 2003, I’ve received dozens of “thank you” emails and letters and phone calls from readers. Some have stunned me. Some have brought me to tears. And some I want to frame.

Today, I received one of those “frame-able” letters from a reader who lost her mother as a child. She wrote, “I wanted to write you and affirm how important your message about grief is and that it gets out to the larger community…Thank you, for publishing your writings; for sharing what’s in your heart!”

In reference to the book’s introduction in which I wrote about feeling like I was down in a hole and described writing the book as “taking field notes from grief’s frontline,” she had this to say… “By the end of the first page of “The Jim and Dan Stories” I was in tears and connecting with your experience. That hole that you speak of that one must dive deep into to fully encounter the feelings of grief doesn’t go away. For me, it’s just not so cavernous a place that I fall into any longer, but more like a familiar pothole on the road home.”

I feel privileged that readers of my book feel safe to share their own stories of loss with me, but that alone isn’t the most meaningful thing that sharing the book has brought me. What is even more awesome is that the book doesn’t just reach out and touch others. Those who have been touched by it often reach back and touch me.

Not only did this reader share her innermost self with me through the poetry she included in her letter, she sent me a copy of an article listing insights into grief, which starts out by announcing: “Grief has its own timetable; sometimes it never goes away.” Considering how shrouded and misunderstood the subjects of death and grief can be in our society, I found the tips – which come from a book by Therese Rando entitled “How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies – to be very helpful. They include (in part):

~ Your grief will take longer than most people think.
~ Your grief will show itself in all spheres of your life: psychological, social, and physical.
~ Your grief will depend on how you perceive the loss.
~ You will grieve for many things both symbolic and tangible, not just the death alone.
~ You may be obsessed with death and preoccupied with the deceased.
~ You may search for meaning and may question your religion and/or philosophy of life.

Touching others and being touched back is extremely rewarding. But there’s more. Reconnecting with old friends through correspondences and the reunion in Hull that was spurred by the book, making new bonds and friendships with people who have read the book all spring forth from the fact that my brothers, Jim and Dan, lived. They are the center from which it all has rippled out. Even this blog is an offshoot of the book that likely wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for them. Losing them was the impetus that propelled my writing forward and urged me to reach out and share.

Not only is the circle unbroken; it continues to spiral out...

November 10, 2005

13 Thursday #4

13mph.jpg1. While posting a blog entry at the Hull Public Library from one of their two side-by-side computers, the woman sitting next to me talked out loud to her computer the whole time I was there.

2. On the plane home from Boston to Virginia, I sat next to a guy who coughed the whole way, and the view from my window seat in the back of the plane was completely blocked by the turquoise green propeller casing.

3. I was in Boston to visit my dad in the hospital. On one day when my sister, Kathy, and I were visiting him, we stopped to use the bathroom before heading home. When we came out, we bumped into my brother Bobby and his wife. If we had been in the bathroom a few seconds longer, we probably would have missed them, and I might not have seen them at all.

4. After walking the beach near my mother’s house one night at dusk, I went up through a pathway in the dunes to stroll along Beach Avenue and look at the oceanfront houses. The ground was sprinkled with a layer of white sand and under the streetlight it looked like snow. Protected by dunes and the closely built houses, the sound of the wind and surf faded into the distance. I felt like I was inside a snow globe scene. Noticing one surviving bloom on a beach rose bush, I bent down, cupped it in my hand, and breathed its aroma in deeply. The memory of this whole scene is still imprinted in my mind.

5. My brother, Joey, owner of the “Redman Construction Company,” remodeled one of the houses on Beach Avenue. The one with the two steeple tower rooms with weather vanes at each peak.

6. I drank my tea from the mug with “Redman Construction” embossed on it while at my mother’s. It was a red mug, of course.

7. I used my sister Trish’s car, which is exactly like mine, here at home. While driving it, I reached for my chapstick in the ashtray and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t there, where it was supposed to be.

8. Trish recently had a grand mal seizure and can’t drive herself for 6 months.

9. Before I left to catch my plane home, my sister Kathy tied a colorful cloth on my black suitcase so I could tell it apart from all the other black suitcases, but the pattern of the cloth looked just like some underwear I have and so I kept thinking my underwear was hanging out of the suitcase.

10. I read “the curious incident of the dog in night-time,” a fiction told from the perspective of an autistic boy while traveling. Although I loved the eccentric premise and format, I got bored towards the middle of the book and skipped to the end. I think this says something about my attention span more than the quality of the story.

11. Sitting on the plane by the emergency exits is a little like doing jury duty. You have to agree to help the flight attendants in the case of an emergency.

12. On the plane, I noticed that there was no number 13 seat. When I asked the stewardess why, she said, “Because they’re superstitious. There’s no gate number 13 either.”

13. The photo above, “Pedestrian Right of Way 13 MPH,” is a sign displayed in the driveway of my neighbor’s farm. I remember when this sign was freshly painted and all our kids were young.


Post Note:
The logo that “13 Thursday” founder, Leanne, provides to other bloggers doesn’t fit on my page, and so I’ve decided to take pictures of the number 13 for my Thursday entries instead. But it’s going to be hard to find 13 things to photograph, seeing as how so many people are so afraid of the number. Go visit Leanne and see her extensive list of 13 Thursday participants.

November 9, 2005

A Scrabble Brunch

scrabblenecklace2.png“I lost my deluxe lazy-Susan scrabble board in a divorce,” I said to my two scrabble partners. We were playing in a different location than we usually do, a restaurant that didn’t have a complimentary scrabble game, and so I brought mine from home. I couldn’t remember the last time I used it, but I could guess where I was. Everything in the box was sprinkled with a fine layer of beach sand.

The table was crowded. Not only did each of us have a full meal in front of us, but being that we were all writers, a couple of notebooks were also on the table. I was wearing the turquoise and adventure necklace that my friend Alex, who is battling cancer, recently gifted me with. I wanted to draw on her scrabble abilities and evoke her scrabble spirit in the room.

Alex plays a big game. “Sometimes we get 3 or 4 scrabbles (using all 7 letters for an extra 50 points) in game,” she had told me when I was at her house a couple of weeks ago.

“I play small,” I answered, feeling like a virgin as I went on to admit that I had never had a scrabble. “My strength is in playing high scoring small words that build on existing words. I frequently make 2 and sometimes 3 words in one play.”

Why does it seem that the fiddle player on stage plays more loudly when it’s my turn, I was thinking as I stroked the necklace and squinted my eyes to study the board?

“Whose turn is it anyways?” someone at the table asked.

I didn’t get a scrabble that day, but the score was in my favor, so it’s likely that I’ll be wearing the necklace Alex gave me for future games.

November 8, 2005

Coming and Going

comingorgoing.jpg These days it’s hard to know if I’m coming or going, and my father’s progress since his car accident three weeks ago seems to take one step forward and two back.

First there was the 2 week trip to Aspen for a wedding in October and then a week in Boston this November to visit my family and my father in the hospital. I arrived back home in Virginia Saturday night with no resolution and soon discovered that my computer hard drive had crashed.

How much damage and how much did I lose? I’m waiting to hear the answers to those questions from the technician at Blue Nova Computing.

How much damage and how much will we lose? My father survived his crash, but can he survive the complications (pneumonia) from being immobile for 3 weeks in the hospital and the cycle of invasive interventions?

With a knife, I go into the garden to save what I can before we get a hard frost. I cut turnip greens and kale for supper while crying, and I wonder…are they poisoned or made magical by my tears shed over them? I assume a winter freeze is inevitable, but this year it’s hard to tell.

A week into November and someone was walking barefoot on Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts, the last day I was there (see above photo).

Here at home, hordes of fat sluggish flies are gathering on my window panes as if it was spring. How strange are these times?

Post Note: My sister, Kathy, also posted about my dad today on her blog, A Particularly Persistent Point of View.

November 7, 2005

Nantasket in November

lowtide.jpg People walking the beach don’t organize themselves like they do on the road when driving, or when they’re swimming laps in a pool, which is part of the reason I like to do it. There are no up and down lanes or one-way rules to follow. Some people walk determinedly, while others seem to wander. I can zigzag from dry sand to the shore and back, stop to pick up an iridescent shell, or examine a washed-up lobster trap.

Up near the shoreline, the sand is smooth and looks polished. If I hang my head down and look at my feet as I walk, I can see clouds in its shine. Against the hypnotic sound of the surf going in and out, it’s easy to imagine that I’m walking in the sky. I like the way the glistening shore spreads out like a clean slate in front of me.

It’s feeding time and sea gulls are dropping clams to the ground to crack them open. When they make contact with the ground it sounds like Johnny Damon hitting one out of Fenway Park, so much so that I almost have to look to see what base he made it to. Because they’re busy eating, the gulls aren’t squawking as much as they usually do. Occasionally, one will squawk and others feel they have to follow suit. Suddenly, a clam drops from the sky, less than 6 feet away from me, and I imagine what it would be like to visit an emergency room for a clam on the head injury.

From a distance I watch a couple walking. Because the sun is so low in the sky, they look like silhouettes walking on glass. Someone else is scouring through sand with a metal detector, looking for coins or other buried treasure.

I always feel rich when I’m on the beach, and I wonder, as I breathe in the salty sea air and tuck my turquoise blue scarf into my jacket, what else could I ask for? A sunset?

Here it comes…

…And there it goes.

November 5, 2005

Writing as Grief Therapy

heartinsand.jpg “Everything has its roots in the unseen world…Every wondrous sight will vanish…Every sweet word will fade” ~ Rumi

We buried my older brother, Jim, who died suddenly at the age of fifty-four, in July 2001. My younger brother, Dan, died a month later at the age of forty-nine. Since their deaths, life has had a sharper focus. There are things I can see that I couldn’t see before. If I can describe what I see from inside this hole, will it help others when they are down in one? What place is this? How will I survive it? How deep does it go? I want to know. I’ve never been here before. Can I make something constructive out of the powerless feeling of loss? Am I digging my way out, word by word? I’m writing Jim and Dan’s story because after living this story no other seems worth telling, because what else can I do down here, because there’s no where else to go. I’m writing Jim and Dan’s story because I’m proud of their story. I want to shout from the rooftop how irreplaceable they are. ~ From “The Jim and Dan Stories,” the Introduction.

After my brothers died – one unexpectedly in an accident and the other from an illness – I read lots of books on death. I wanted to penetrate the mystery of death (as if it was possible to) and find proof that I would see my brothers again.

Recently, on the Charlie Rose Show, Charlie was interviewing Joan Didian, author of “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Didian lost her husband unexpectedly while her daughter was ill, and then lost her daughter. I related to the unexpected death followed by a more likely one, and the fact that she dealt with her grief by writing a book about it, as I have.

On the show, she said something about her husband’s death that poignantly describes part of the grief process, “You get obsessed and go over and over it… trying to find a different ending.

My blog bio reads: “I write to synthesize what I’m thinking at the time.” Didian put it this way: I had to write to know what I was thinking.

When Charlie asked her what has been the hardest part of writing the book, I knew what her answer would be.

“Finishing the book,” she said. And then she went on to explain that writing her book was a way to stay in touch with her lost loved one. Finishing it was hard because, she had to let go of that connection.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

November 4, 2005

Meet the Author

AKA: Homecoming at the Venetian ~ It was as if I was holding court at the Italian restaurant where my mother and I had gone to eat dinner and my sister, Kathy, the restaurant’s manager, was the master of ceremony. Over the course of our dinner – angel hair pasta with garlic, olive oil, and shrimp – three of the restaurant staff and two customers, all who had read “The Jim and Dan Stories,” were escorted by Kathy over to our table to meet my mother and me.

“This is my sister, the author, in town from Virginia,” Kathy said during the introductions, causing someone to ask if she was my manager.

“Oh, I have a few of those,” I answered, glancing over at my mother and smiling while sipping a Red Killians from the tap.

It’s always exciting to get feedback on my book (about losing my two brothers a month apart) and to meet readers who were touched by it, but what struck me most about meeting these readers were the losses that we all had in common and how it bonded us. One woman lost her husband and a son. “We’re in the same club,” she said with a wink as she reached over to touch my mother’s hand.

Another woman spoke of losing two sisters, and the man (Hull High Class of 69) who had lost his father and his first wife, actually used to hang-out with my brother Danny, which made reminiscing with him especially meaningful.

I didn’t sign any autographs, but I did leave my card with my blog address on it for the man who I share a Hull history with and whose last words to me were, “Write another book!”

The food was great, the interactions spontaneous, the atmosphere festive, and the feelings heartwarming. And I loved watching my gadabout sister, who had worked hard as a waitress for so many years, thriving in her manager’s role.

It couldn’t have been a more enjoyable night if we had tried to make it happen by planning it, and it was a great change of pace from visiting and worrying about my dad in the hospital. Thanks, Kath. You’re an all around great manager!

November 3, 2005

Thirteen Thursday #3

13 3.jpg1. I like the number 13.
2. There are 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 months to the year. But if we were using a lunar calendar (rather than a solar one) there would be 13 months in a year.
3. There were also 12 Knights of the Round Table and 12 Apostles to Jesus. But there were 13 in each group if you count King Arthur and Jesus.
4. I’ve lived in a one stoplight rural county for the past 20 years and haven’t gotten a single Halloween trick-or-treater the whole time I’ve lived there.
5. This Halloween, while in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts to visit my dad in the hospital, we got about 30 trick-or-treaters at my mother’s house. I passed out the candy.
6. The most interesting costume I saw was a group one. About 8 girls came to the door in pajamas with pacifiers in their mouths. “Is this a pajama party,” I asked. “”Yes!” they all answered.
7. I relate more to pagans than I do to Romans like I relate more to slaves than to masters.
8. The word “pagan” comes from the Latin for “country dweller.”
9. One Halloween, I went to a costume dance party dressed all in black. I had a black mask completely covering my face and no one knew who I was. I even changed the way I danced so that no one would guess it was me. Half way through the night, I went to the bathroom and took of the black costume, revealing an all red costume underneath. I re-joined the party and imagined that everyone was wondering what happened to the person in black.
10. My mother lives next door to the Catholic Church that she goes to. Last night, the parking lot was packed with cars. It was All Souls Day, the Catholic version of Halloween, a day when the dead are remembered.
11. I took the subway into Boston yesterday. I used to meditate on the subway on the way to work years ago when I lived here. People probably thought I was sleeping.
12. After an evening walk on the beach, I asked my mother why the seaweed was stacked up 2 feet high along the beach. She said it was because they had recently had a couple of Nor’easters (translation: storm weather with wind that comes off the ocean).
13. I’ve been sitting in my dad’s living room chair (keeping it warm for him) and even using his remote. My sister, Trish, brought a remote into my dad’s hospital room for him to hold. He loves it, even if it doesn’t work on the hospital TV.

POSTNOTE: To learn more about 13 Thursday, to meet its founder, and to view a list of participants go visit Leanne at Artist by Nature.

November 2, 2005

The Grief Bond

My poet friend, Mara, lost her husband, Cory, unexpectedly just before Jimmy died in July. She was with Cory when it happened. By October I was ready to drive out to visit her. We picked apples from her orchard and sat on the edge of the woods by a rock cropping, Cory’s favorite spot, and compared notes. “Do you want the community to start a food tree for you?” she asked. “No, I don’t want to see people now,” I answered. “I didn’t want to be alone,” Mara said. “I throw things away easier now, but I save things easier too,” I shared. She knew what I meant (something about knowing what was important and what was not) because we were speaking the same language. ~ From Death’s Poetry, The Jim and Dan Stories.

Mara and I share a love of writing as well as playing scrabble, but because she’s been busy with her creative writing classes at Hollins College, we haven’t seen each other much lately. Even so, she called me the day before I left for Boston to visit my father in the hospital, feeling that something was wrong.

“What can I do to help? Can I come over?” Mara asked when she learned that my father was in the ICU.

“I’m busy packing to go to Boston. Just keep me in your heart.” I answered, and then I added, in the language that we share, “I know that you know that I know you know, you know?”

Mara did know. She and I share what she has coined as “the grief bond.” And her phone call reminded me of another one described in “The Jim and Dan Stories…”

My friend, Mara, called to see how I was doing. I was crying over George Harrison’s death at the time. “I’ll call you right back,” I said… “If I had just lost a husband, it would be hard to find a few other people, let alone nine, who had just lost theirs and could offer support,” I said after she told me she was seeing a grief counselor. I had a built in support group! Is that why I couldn’t go a day without talking to my family members on the phone or through e-mail? Each of us has an individual way to grieve, yet I had nine others who really did know what I was going through. Two brothers dead a month apart, who else could relate to that? Mara had a little girl to take care of, and she hadn’t been back to the Pine Tavern to read her poetry since a woman there made a comment about her dress. “Red? I thought your husband just died,” the woman had said. Mara lost her boldness right there. ~From The Red Dress

Later, on the same day of our phone conversation, we ended up running into each other in town. She was coming from the Harvest Moon Health Food Store as I was on my way to it. We pulled over in front of "Oddfellas Cantina" and shared a big knowing hug on the side of the road… another language we have in common.

Update: I'm posting from the Hull Public Library. After this, my mother and I are heading out to see my father at the Tufts New Enlgand Medical Center. Over the course of the last few days, he has undergone several ups and downs. He's back on the ventilator but stable with that. He's lucidly present, which is a blessing. We're holding him in the light...

November 1, 2005

Loons on Surfboards

surfer2.jpgAt first I thought they were black loons treading water offshore like seagulls do. I even briefly considered sharks, but I knew that would be highly unlikely. As I got closer, I saw that they were surfers, about 8 of them. Two of them had banana yellow surfboards, one had a bright blue-green board, and all of them were wearing wetsuits.

Every time I walk the Hull beach, I see something interesting. This past summer is was a bride with her white gown and veil flapping in the sea air. Today, while walking back from watching the surfers, I came across a couple walking 3 completley white dogs. Two of them were little poodles attached together by a 4 foot leash. They ran as if they had one mind, and then began jumping up on me. How do they coordinate their movements so well, I wondered?

“They must be twins,” I said to their owners who had come to rescue me from their over-enthusiasm. By now I was charmed and laughing at their antics.

“They’re all white!” I commented

The blonde woman in a blue windbreaker and turquoise sneakers answered, “Yes, and now even our black couch is white!”

I had to think about that.