April 10, 2022 § 2 Comments
Diane Zinna’s Grief Writing Workshop
Sunday, April 10th, 2022
Writing Prompt: “The Wrong Coat” leaving the party
The music from the party was so loud that my ears were buzzing and I could only think that this is what bubbles in my glass of diet soda must sound like if they could hear their effervescence.
I couldn’t keep up, drifting back into the sadness of grief that I carry, always so near to my heart. I felt a panicky feeling rising and I just wanted to get out of there; a room filled with people I know well having a great time. It’s the contrast, I thought, with my desire for a peaceful rhythm. I wanted to be there, be present, but memories of my sweet husband kept breaking through the booming voice of the DJ introducing a new group of performers.
I rush into the coatroom and grab the first red coat that I see up front on the rack. The air feels cool and calming outside and I am relieved to be alone. I reach into the coat pocket and suddenly I realize that it’s not mine. There is a torn piece of paper crumpled up. I slowly, carefully unfold it and read that it’s from a funeral program with today’s date, printed text on both sides.
I know those words: “In the rising of the sun and in it’s going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind…” Shocked, I can’t go on. I must find this woman who has saved the “Prayer of Remembrance” from the the funeral she attended. It must mean something to her and she would understand why I needed to leave the party.
I ask the coat check person who is now standing by if she knows the owner of this coat. Relieved, she points to a woman who’s seated by herself at a table, in a dark corner of the room. I slowly walk towards the table and say, grasping the paper from her pocket, in my hand: “This is my life! So long as I live, he lives too.” As it is in the prayer, “Our loved ones are part of us, as we remember them.” She thanks me, stands and we embrace, holding on to each others grief and humanity.
January 12, 2022 § 2 Comments
Diane Zinna’s Grief Writing Workshop,
#61 on January 9, 2022
A letter to Ruth from her best friend, Anne, “On Dying”
Ruth, I must tell you something. Promise me you won’t cry.
I write this knowing how your big brown eyes are filling with tears. Don’t be afraid. Be brave. I need your courage.
I am dying. You promised not to cry.
I have lung cancer and I died on the doctor’s exam table. Today he was able to bring me back.
I told him, during my recent physical, jokingly, that I can’t catch my breath when i get to the top of the stairs. I’m really getting old, I said and we both laughed, only it’s not funny.
Ruth put the letter down to grab a Kleenex and wipe the tears that were rolling down her face toward her chin. Oh no, she cried, and dialed Anne’s number.
“Hello” she said. Not being able to say a word, Ruth held onto the receiver sucking in air hoping to get to the next breath. “Ruth, I know you’re there, you promised, no crying.” Ruth needed to speak, say something, anything and whispers into the darkness of the phone,
“I am here. I love you. I’ll be brave tomorrow.”
December 1, 2021 § Leave a comment
In the local market, among the massive pumpkin display and decorative gourds for sale, was a very small variety of squash that caught my eye. I brought one home to admire nature’s handiwork. The label was useful for identification, and I thought that I had never noticed this before now. Read on. I learned that it was developed in 1991 and later, commercially grown. At my age, this is recent and new.
Carnival Squash is a cross between an acorn and sweet dumpling squash, it’s a round, mini-sized winter squash with a deeply indented stem area with skin that is white or yellow, with green jagged stripes. It is very sweet in flavor with tender light orange flesh. Squashes of the Cucurbita pepo acorn group were domesticated by Native Americans then later made their way to Europe and Asia, but I wanted to know more about this.
This is an excerpt from an article by Native American foods expert Lois Ellen Frank, “History on a Plate…..” on History.com: “Corn, beans and squash, called the Three Sisters by many tribes, serve as key pillars in the Native American diet and is considered a sacred gift from the Great Spirit. Together, the plants provide complete nutrition, while offering an important lesson in environmental cooperation. Corn draws nitrogen from the soil, while beans replenish it. Corn stalks provide climbing poles for the bean tendrils, and the broad leaves of squashes grow low to the ground, shading the soil, keeping it moist, and deterring the growth of weeds.”
This squash is a descendant of squashes native to Mexico and was developed and introduced to the market in 1991 by plant breeder Ted Supernak of Harris Seeds (founded 1879) in North America with the intent to improve on the Sweet Dumpling Squash. The color vibrance in the rind is the result of seasonal temperature variations with warmer temperatures producing squash with slightly more pronounced green stripes.
The Dumpling variety specifically was first developed in 1976 by Sakata Seed Corporation of Yokohama, Japan. At the time it was a popular practice in Japanese squash breeding to take larger popular American squash varieties and breed them to be smaller in size. These are more home garden and home chef friendly since they grow on shorter trailing vines and benefit from being trellised to keep fruits off the ground.
It takes a plant nearly three months to grow one petite squash, a treasure from soil. I am grateful for all the labor it takes to bring this to my table that includes germinating seed, planting, watering, harvesting, packaging, shipping, and transport to my market.
It was delicious roasted. Think about where your food comes from, when and how did it arrive in America. There is so much to know. Be thankful. Stay curious.
July 4, 2021 § Leave a comment
Today in Diane Zinna’s Grief Writing Workshop, we talked about all kinds of fireworks and our prompt was to share a variety of “explosion – excitement, emotion, or awareness” going from one to the next,”like a fireworks show.”
My writing to celebrate July 4th, 2021:
Bark, bark, whimpers, don’t worry I say. I hug his fluffy body tightly. I think that I am comforting him. More bark, bark, whimpers. Well, maybe not. I will try harder as each burst of white light fills the sky with crackling sound. It could be the sound of impending danger.
Bark, bark, howls, don’t worry I say. I will protect you, struggling to keep my grip on him. Red is the color of the sky. No, it’s blue and raining down stars in sparkling white. With each thunderous burst, my ears jangle and his body trembles. Bark, bark, howls. We can get through this together but the color of the sky is terrifying now. Are we on fire?
Bark, bark, roars, you want to protect me too. Now the smoky skies are filled with the rockets and bursts of magnificent color, rainbows of color. I can’t stop shaking. I am so scared. Can’t we find shelter? Is there a table we could crawl under? I think that this will be over soon but my ears are overwhelmed with blasts of sounds I don’t recognize. Are we having fun? Bark, bark, roars. Please let’s go.
June 29, 2021 § Leave a comment
June 27, 2021
Today in Diane Zinna’s Sunday Grief Writing Workshop, this was our assignment: “Last week we were exploring second-person narration as a way to tell difficult stories; these books were all written in that style, making the reader the main character. This week, in addition to working with second-person, we’ll be considering the decisions we make in grief. You might remember how Choose Your Own Adventure books work–at the bottom of nearly every page, you’re given a choice that has you flipping around the book.” Make-believe page numbers, each decision moving the story along.
It is a cold wintry day and you received a text message that he is doing better playing in the group with the rubber ball. You want to see for yourself.
- If you get off at the second floor to sign into the visitor book, go to page 14
- If you park and stay in your car with a box of tissues, go to page 1
- If you stay home, stop reading
You know that the staff wants you to give him a haircut. This clean-cut appearance must be an important goal and staff achievement. You were disappointed that they had shaved off his white beard he grew during the recent weeks in the hospital. You thought that he looked so handsome and had never seen him this way before now.
- If you think that you should give him a haircut, go to page 23
- If you think that his long hair is a delight to see and the staff should get over it, go to page 22
You hear a strange noise from under your car and keep driving. It is late in the day and you’ll deal with that in the morning.
- If you think that you should go to the auto repair shop ASAP, go to page 30.
- If you think that you should ignore those strange care sounds and go to see him without delay, go to page 28
The next day, you enter his room and see his arms flailing in the air as he stands on the bed. Two nurses and an attendant are trying to calm him. Everyone is relieved to see me.
- If you think that I can make this better, go to page 32
- If you think that they should just let him do whatever he wants, as long as he is standing on the floor, not the bed, go to page 31
- If you think that some medicine should be administered to calm him, go to page 34
You look at your husband and cannot recognize his appearance. Overnight he has dramatically changed. He has never looked like this; ghostly and disoriented. He is dying. Every day that has passed since he returned from the hospital, showed signs that he was not getting better but was not suffering, until today. He holds onto your hand tightly, moaning softly, when the staff was able to maneuver him into a prone position. Those moans were sweetly familiar, reminding you of the pleasures of intimate embrace. That was a clue that you could not interpret, it was his ending.
You call the funeral home. You watch staff put clean clothes on a body that you don’t recognize. You must decide on one last outfit, the burial clothing for the coffin. Endlessly, you wait for hours sitting still. You are alone with his lifeless body until the hospice nurse certifies his passing. All thought has stopped as you are overwhelmed by the gravity of the moment.
- If you go to the second floor to sign out of the visitor log and another resident asks how he is doing, you can tell her that he has died, go to page 38
- If you leave without signing out, go to page 37
June 23, 2021 § Leave a comment
My Words on Father’s Day 2021
You didn’t know that your worst fears were true,
that your children did not love you.
When you declined into dementia, they turned their backs, pivoted and
walked away. It seemed easy for them to do. You knew that your four children, now adults, often could not tell you what they were thinking or feeling instead they would lash out in inappropriate anger or frustration. It kept you at a distance and would catch you off-guard as to how to respond.
After reconciling with my Dad when I was 40 years old, you knew that my dad would hold my hand at every opportunity, softly kiss me on the lips and always call me baby. He had no words and feeling the warmth of his hand in mine, had to be enough for me. This was our connection.
You went to a therapist for many years to learn how to be a post-divorce Dad and took notes for future telephone conversations with your family. You were armed, you had words.
You refused to engage in divorce warfare when you separated but nevertheless they were told purposeful lies by their mother hoping that they would love her more. You clung to your truth and admirably, you never stopped trying to speak to their hearts.
You were a warm and loving Dad, always reaching out to chilly reception. Your face would light up if they called or returned your call. Always interested in what they had to say, trying to engage in open conversation, loving every description you heard of a grandchild action or event.
Their hearts held grievances from long ago that we could not heal.
You lost cognition before you could know that the Dad strands were indeed fragile ones. You left me to bear witness as they lined up to receive their inheritance. I feel the pain and disappointment over how it turned out. I know the depth of your capacity to love, your power to change and this wasn’t your script.
May 9, 2021 § 2 Comments
That’s nice dear
It’s Mother’s Day 2021 and today, in Diane Zinna’s grief writing workshop, (www.dianezinna.com), for one hour, we will write what’s true for us. We are a group of gentle people who write our hearts out, to tell our stories, no matter how difficult or complicated our feelings are to translate into words.
Writing prompt: what were they like…
Writing time: 18 minutes
I am sitting on the grey leather sofa that is no longer in my living room. I dutifully call my mother to see how she is doing. She has been in the hospital more than seventeen times in less than two years, and at times, when she didn’t pick up the phone right away, I knew that she was probably back in the hospital. Past 90 years old, I knew that my sister, the doctor, was afraid to let her go but it was inevitable that one day she would not come back to her apartment at the Boca Raton independent living facility.
The telephone conversation would always be the same. I would ask her how she’s feeling and she would go on and on about her physical troubles that would cause her return to the hospital. I yearned for her to say that she saw a bluebird perched on the ledge of the window in the bright sunshine and she knew it was my Dad looking out for her.
I hoped that she was not afraid of passing. She knew that she could talk openly about that with me but never said a word. Instead, I would tell her about my sweet husband, his symptoms from severe dementia and how sad it made me. She would say “isn’t there something else we could talk about besides death?” My heart would be near my knees in defeat. What else could there be to talk about besides my impending losses on earth? I did see the cardinal in the tree but the sun was not shining. I tell her “I love you Mom” and she says “that’s nice dear.”
May 2, 2021 § Leave a comment
On Sunday afternoons, often you will find me grief writing with Diane Zinna (www.dianezinna.com). These hour-long online workshops include about twenty minutes of writing time to a specific writing prompt or two and sharpen our thoughtful listening skills when a few attendees read their words. This is an all together inspiring time.
As a widow, I will always count our ‘if only’ wedding anniversaries and this week would have been our fifteenth. I always think ‘you were supposed to be here.’ These words can bring me to tears but then I remember how sick he was and that is why he couldn’t stay for longer. No amount of yearning for him to be here, be here for me, could make a difference.
Today Diane was encouraging us to make a list of happy, joyful memories that are so painful to recall for they remind us of how much we’ve lost and our changed lives. Assignment: a list, maybe just a word or two. In memory of our anniversary, remembering the good times we shared feels like a celebration, an honor to what was and it is indeed painful.
We often talked about happy memories and I promised him that I would remember for us, when he no longer knew his own name. It doesn’t matter how many good times we shared, it wasn’t enough. Saddened, I looked at our photograph album and see that these are all the photos that will ever be, no time for just one more selfie.
The shared laughter comes through my writing today about glorious happy memories. Once again, I am reminded that love lives in the small stuff. How joyful simple lives can be! This is the wisdom about relationships that I wish someone had told me before now. Pass it on.
April 4, 2021 § Leave a comment
Today, in Diane Zinna’s Grief Writing Workshop, we spent 14 minutes writing about our pets; silent witnesses to the grief we bear. With instant recall, It has been too long ago for me to think about the poodles that had birthed two litters of puppies beneath my bed. Instead I wrote about my mother’s passing, whose anniversary was this week and I forgot to note it.
Here is an ode to my mother:
If You Were A Pet
If you were a pet, you would have brown straight hair
and a white spot on your back, near an upright tail.
You would not be proud to show off a spot that
marked you as special.
If you were a pet, you would have sat quietly until you were given
permission to eat from your shiny monogrammed bowl.
You would not let the smell of the delicious food cause you to act,
you knew your place.
If you were a pet, you would have been loved and well cared for,
never revealing mischievousness or the excited sound of your bark.
The drool of happiness from your tongue and wide-open mouth
would not be yours, always well behaved,
the price you paid.
March 25, 2021 § 4 Comments
This is a poem that I wrote in Diane Zinna’s online Sunday Grief Writing workshop. It is only one hour long but it feels like five minutes. I don’t attend every week, but when I do, the exercises are so creative that I feel inspired down to my toes. This is my first poem ever. Diane showed us five poems in foreign languages including French, German and Portuguese. Our assignment was to select one, looking at the rhythm of the words, imagine their meanings and then write our own poem, matching the number of lines. Time to write: 15 minutes: ready, set, go! It’s an adventure!
Today I awoke at dawn, yearning to see you.
I see your face in my dreams. I know that you can’t stay for long,
we are together.
I will hold onto these memories forever.
I look into your blue eyes, you are looking at me.
I did not leave you on that day.
You will always be gazing into my brown eyes that yearn to see you.
In my dreams I ask you to please stay, I yearn to see you.
You tell me that you can’t stay for long.
You tell me to hold onto our love.
You tell me to feel your embrace and I see you.