Thursday, October 27, 2011

Still Grieving

Of course.

When someone very dear to you dies, you don’t just ‘get over’ it. It’s been 10 days. For the most part, I am pretty functional. For the most part.

We had 10 inches of wet snow Tuesday night. It fell on trees that still had all of their leaves so branches and wires were down all over town.  When I looked out my front door yesterday morning, I saw the entire yard, sidewalk, front walk – everything -- covered by a four-foot high briar patch of fallen limbs. My huge maple was severely wounded – in part, by a huge branch that had fallen from my neighbor’s walnut tree. The red bud tree in my back yard lost only one 6-foot branch. Dealing with that (finding someone to haul away the enormous pile of debris) entertaining two afternoon visitors, changing litter boxes, and writing letters filled my day. I did pretty well.

Then I awoke about 2:30 a.m. and could not go back to sleep. I was obsessed with a need to find the name of the church where Jayne’s memorial service would be held. [It was not a good time to call anyone.] I knew (or hoped) I had saved a document with the name in one of the largely neglected but incredibly stuffed drawers in a study desk. So at 2:30 in the morning I went through three drawers, amassing a pile of things to be recycled and things to go in the garbage. I found the document and went back to bed about 4:30. I must have slept for a while. The next time I looked at the clock it was 7:30 – time to get up.

This is crazy.

I seem to do crazy things, say crazy things – every once in a while. The rest of the time, I am fine – except for the times waves of grief sweep over me.

So that’s how it is. And it will get better. My beautiful, severely wounded, maple will survive and so will I.

Eventually, my heart will heal.

Monday, October 24, 2011


It’s been a week since my sister-in-law died. Grief comes in waves. I function, laugh, take walks, and then wham!

On Saturday, I had bustled around, doing errands and chores. No problem. That night I could not sleep. When I did begin to doze, odd creatures threatened the edges of my consciousness. My legs cramped. I got up and rubbed them with an analgesic lotion. Still no sleep. I found a book but couldn’t read. Finally, I ran a warm bath then tried sleeping on the guest bed. That worked for a while.

But I slept Sunday night. So far today, I’ve only been overwhelmed by sorrow a couple of times. Yard work in the sunshine helped.

It’s interesting to notice what does help. Cheese helps. For five days in a row, I had scrambled eggs with cheese for dinner. [I knew carbohydrates were comforting. Cholesterol is new information.] Going back to church, talking about Jayne’s death to people in my community helped. Crying a little helped.

And cats. Guinness and I play in the morning sunshine as he ‘helps’ me make my bed. And they both cuddle and purr.

Television, even DVD movies don’t help. Perhaps tonight. Oddly, reading helps – perhaps because more focus is required.

And of course friends help. One of them connected me to a sermon by Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed who had delivered it to Unity Temple, the Unitarian Universalist church in Oak Park, Illinois. The sermon centered on a poem by Elder Olson:

"Nothing is lost; the universe is honest,
Time, like the sea, gives all back in the end,
But only in its own way, on its own conditions:
Empires as grains of sand, forests as coal,
Mountains as pebbles. Be still, be still, I say;
You were never the water, only a wave;
Not substance, but a form substance assumed."

The sermon and the poem reminded me of a phrase by Thich Nhat Hahn that I have read and heard and which inevitably blows me out of my egocentricity: “Enlightenment comes to the wave when it realizes it is part of the ocean.”

Still, the loss is overwhelming – even when part of me knows it is not really a loss.

I miss her.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jayne's Slippers

I returned a pair of slippers yesterday. I had bought them online as a Christmas present for my sister in law. Jayne died Monday.

It was, I guess, as good a death as possible. Last Friday, when she went into intensive care, the word went out to her family and friends. And they came. All those who could possibly be there were there. After the initial shock of seeing her on a respirator, they connected, sharing their love, their memories. There was probably as much laughter as there were tears. The stories were wonderful. So were the tears and the laughter.

The hardest part for Jayne was, I think, the fact that she could not talk (because of the breathing tube). Eventually, someone worked up a system. They printed out the alphabet and watched for Jayne’s signals about which letters to choose. Slowly, she was able to share two sentences: "I cry because I am so blessed" and (when someone asked her if she was angry about anything) "I am angry because of the chocolate cake." (Her very good friend Louise had made her famous chocolate sheet cake for Jayne's family ... but Jayne could not eat it.)

For three days they came – her husband, her sons, her sister, her friends, old neighbors who had stayed in touch, teachers who had worked with her, members of the League of Women Voters, and of her church. When her room got crowded, I’d move out. When others left, I came back.

On the fourth day, Monday, she was able to make her instructions clear: remove the tube with her husband and sons in the room and me and friends close by. So that’s what we did. She lived about 40 minutes after tube removal and died at approximately 1:30 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.

Eventually, her sons and I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant where her husband joined us. I am not a fan of Mexican food but I ate a huge lunch. After lunch, we parted – some going south, me going north. On the way home I stopped at a Walgreens – to use their ATM, and to buy some Alka Seltzer.

Yesterday, taking the slippers to the UPS store for their return, I was both incredibly sad and a little amused. In listening to all the stories, I had learned that Jayne had very hot feet. Why had I not known that? Slippers would have been a least desired present – although she would have been politely grateful.

I showed them to her at the hospital. She was probably grateful that she would never have to wear them. I’ll bet she enjoyed the irony.

I so enjoyed her.

Monday, October 17, 2011


A recent edition of the New York Times science section was (if we would but pay attention) a cautionary tale for citizens of the United States. The section contained articles about low cost innovations that are reaping profound benefits for thousands with less access to medical advances.

  • One was a piece of paper, the size of a postage stamp, that can identify an illness from a drop of blood.

  • In Bangladesh, folded saris used to filter river water reduce the rate of cholera.

  • Village Health Volunteers in Thailand have significantly reduced childhood deaths.

  • AIDS patients in Mozambique use relay teams to collect lifesaving medication.

  • Vitamins you can sprinkle on food now help prevent childhood malnutrition in Mongolia.

  • Other scientists have found nectar toxic to mosquitoes thus combating malaria.

In contrast, people in this country have now virtually abandoned one of the greatest of the disease-preventing tools – the bar of soap. “Lo, a simple good thing has been tweaked until it is no longer simple. Instead of soap we now have a gigantic selection of luridly colored products augmented with every variety of additional germ killer imaginable. … And no one has managed to prove that any of them controls infection rates in a hospital (or for that matter, in a home) better than universal, assiduous scrubbing with regular, inexpensive, plain old soap.”

Evidently, as the rest of the world moves toward simpler, less expensive solutions, we here in the United States hurtle ourselves toward ever more complicated (and more expensive) remedies.

This is not universally true of course but there’s enough truth in it to warrant some second thoughts. Or third.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An evening out

It had been a long time since I had ventured out for any kind of entertainment but recently I was tempted to buy a ticket to a guitar performance.

Black curtains hung at the back and the sides of the stage. A low chair in the center was flanked by two microphones and two speakers. That was it. After brief introductory remarks by a spokesman for the organizers, a short man with black curly hair walked out carrying a guitar. He wore a black shirt and pants.

His name: Alfredo Muro.

There were no special effects. No sheet music. Just a man and a guitar in the spotlight.


No one in the audience coughed. We were all mesmerized.

I don’t know what I had expected. Perhaps a nice, lovely interlude in my routine, some pleasant, harmless strumming. Instead I heard a diversity of sounds beyond anything I could have imagined one guitar could produce. Two hours was barely enough.

Sometimes I make the right decisions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October Flowers

My morning glories waited all summer to bloom ---

as did my dahlias.

                                          The weird geraniums persist.

And zinnias defy both frost and gravity.

The beauty of October flowers is enhanced by poignancy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

spot of gold

Felled by flu, I did almost nothing yesterday. 

But as symptoms subsided, I made my way to my front porch where I could sit on my swing and sort through my mail. 

My body gratefully absorbed the late afternoon warmth. 

My eyes gratefully acknowledged the first spot of gold in the front garden.

And I was substantially restored.