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.
February 11, 2021 § 2 Comments
This is an exercise from Diane Zinna’s online Grief Writing Workshop. We watched a short video of a New Orleans funeral march. The exercise was to create a character and when he turns the corner, what will he see, what is he thinking about and do, action please – you have 15 minutes of time to think and create, go!
Who would you create? Here is my character called Irwin.
- Gender Male
- Age 28
- Hair Color Brown
- Eyes Brown
- Education High School
- Interests Unafraid, brash, willing to dig deeper and get his hands dirty, longs for love and connection, wants to do the right thing in the world (think Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”), not interested in accumulating material possessions
- What is on their mind today? Finding love and maybe connection
- What he is about to see? A New Orleans funeral march
Irwin decides to walk off the too many beers he just drank, listening to the blues music that he loves. It was hard to pull himself away but the band took a break and he wasn’t sure he could remain upright on the bar stool until they returned.
The air was hot and stuffy outside, filled with leftover smells from po’ boys frying. He was looking up the street to see if there were a lot of people just hanging. Maybe he would find a friendly face and stop for a chat. He had no plans for the evening or the rest of his life. Twenty eight years was weighing heavily on his shoulders and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was lost, lost to the future and not having one.
He turns the corner and hears the loud music first. He knows that is, a person has died and there will be a party tonight. He doesn’t feel like celebrating, he wants to watch the goings on, just the same as in his life – observing, not participating, not reaching out and always purring with feeling bored, a dim hum from deep within, not knowing what to do next. Irwin looks around for someone smoking to get a light for a smoke. He searches and his eyes clasp onto the palest green kitty eyes of a young, blonde-haired dancer and puts his cigarette back in the pack in his pocket. Now he has a plan.
January 16, 2021 § Leave a comment
I am red, yellow and blue with many lines and tiny dots, in all colors. I saw the artist painting slowly, with great care, keeping my colors bright and edges neat. I can feel the sadness she carries because it is taking a long time for me to appear completed. I depend on her inspiration and try to pay attention as my colors swirl on the beautiful paper she has chosen for me. I feel her search for another color to pull me together and turn on my yellow glow. Now she blasts me with a whoosh of hot air to hurry up even though I am rushing while she paints to get dry.
I am not rebellious when she chooses blue paint for leaves. Maybe this is the color of her grief, I try to help by keeping all of the vivid colors in their spaces. I think that this is what she wants although in her searching, there is tentativeness and uncertainty. I want to soothe and comfort her, to reveal why I am here.
Her husband would have loved me, early on, even before blue came to the painting and would have given her a soft kiss saying this is colorful. I see her crying, face wet with tears, searching for a kleenex. A bit of green and surely she’ll trust her creative instincts to feel satisfied knowing that I’m her best work of art, so far. So far, that’s what he’d say.
January 10, 2021 § Leave a comment
This is the place, in Sweden, where I want to take you, to hear the birds flying overhead. I want to share their lively conversation. They sound so happy and full of news, chattering about the day and glorious sunshine. A few clouds drifting overhead in the blue sky reflect clearly in the water, rippling over rocks on both sides of the walkway bridge. Strands of dried reeds add to the quiet beauty and claim their rightful space.
I stop to reflect on this long vacation and in pausing, I remember the jelly candies stuffed in my sweater pocket as I walked past the hostess desk. Unwrapping the cellophane fills my ears as a crunch and crinkle in the sweet air. The sugary taste is so flavorful that it nearly overwhelms and I remember this moment when I felt that life itself was perfect and complete.
My eyes fill with tears. My heart is breaking with strawberry flavor on my tongue. He is leaving me here, now. I am not lost. I am alone. In the fullness of the moment, I remember my beloved and feel his hand tightly holding mine.
December 14, 2020 § 2 Comments
It was a cold, gray day in January, 2019. My car’s mirrors were all frosty white with ice crystal formations. I turned on the defrost and waited impatiently for the windshield glass to clear. Looking around, I saw the layer of dust on the console and wonder why I hadn’t noticed it before.
Soon I’m on my way to the market. There are many parking spaces and I’m surprised that I am already there, unaware of passing time. I had not turned on my favorite podcast and realized that I could not listen to anyone else’s voice. My thoughts about how sick Steve was played over and over again. I could not shake feeling painfully sad and helpless. There was nothing I could do, remembering that my presence was a comfort, as he moaned softly before dying. I had not anticipated that this is how his journey could end.
I have no words to stop this endless loop of inner dialogue. I park the car and push myself to get out, thinking about how empty my refrigerator is, just the same as my broken heart. I grab hold of a shopping cart and find relief in a familiar action, appreciating the young man holding open the supermarket door.
February 25, 2020 § 2 Comments
My sweet husband passed a year ago and so many words now have meaning. His spirit lives on in my soul. I am eternally grateful for the light of compassion, tenderness and love that he brought into my life. Although it has been a year of feeling extraordinarily vulnerable, I sense his presence and can move on, with courage.
Only recently, I started to think that he would be proud of me, picking up my life, making a difference in this lifetime, knowing that I am not done. I want my life to honor his memory, in humility and integrity. It takes courage to hold this together while longing to be in his loving presence, his hand was always there for me. My heart is broken and I suffer the pain from loss. This morning, while meditating, I saw him sitting opposite me, smiling and I did not want to come fully alert.
He lit up my heart, my life with happiness from our first date to the end, feeding him mashed/processed chicken and vegetables from a spoon in a dementia care facility dining room. I never didn’t want to be his wife.
I am filled with many simple memories from adult day care, before he entered the facility in 2017. Greeting him, arriving home on the shuttle bus, clutching a prize he had won in a game during the day, a new small calculator in hard plastic packaging, special for me. I always asked him if he had a snack that afternoon, knowing what he would say but enjoying watching him trace a circle in the palm of his hand saying “small things,” maybe cheese or Goldfish crackers.
Memories of his generosity and kindness will always nurture me.
I promised him often that I would always love him. He used to say this to me too when he could speak, when he had language, and I knew he meant it. Every time he heard this, he would kiss me. I wanted him to live forever so I could claim that kiss, I would tell myself, as dementia continued to take over his brain’s capacity. This yearning in a strange way helped me to have hope to go on. With each day, I was witness to his decline, that I was losing him. This sadness was always with me until it turned to grief.
Today I understand that the gift of love that I experienced for sixteen years will be treasured as long as I live. I will always miss him and what we meant to each other. In memory, our loved ones live on. I am forever grateful and humbled by the process. My difficult childhood and his previous broken marriages now have a proper place in the depths of our personal histories, far from the passion of our life together. This is the power of love: sustained, compassionate attention.
As he descended into dementia, I was his only caregiver. Even while the demands of taking care of him at home were overwhelmed by nocturnal psychotic symptoms, I would not stop trying to provide some normalcy to our lives until his geriatric doctor intervened. She said with the medication she prescribed, he was no longer safe at home, walking around steps in the dark, listening to the voices in his head. She said that he needed 24 hour care with medical supervision and recommended a nearby facility. The day he moved to that place, even though it looked like a hotel in Provence, was one of the worst days of my life. On that first night, as we kissed goodbye, he asked me where I was going, I said home and he told me he understands.
In Judaism there is a memorial prayer, El Malei Rachamim, and it is explained this way: “Our loved ones live in our broken hearts. Their acts of kindness and generosity are the inheritance left behind. We feel their absence; but the beauty of their lives abides among us. As it is said, The name of one who has died shall not disappear. Our loved ones’ names – and their memories – will endure among us.”
“So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”
February 25, 2020 § Leave a comment
Love and a Caregivers Journey
I am writing this blog post to share some comments about how we, my late husband and I, were treated by three of his adult children, as a result of fractures in family relationships that happened long ago, at a time before he knew me.
There is a lesson here about forgiveness and I want to share our personal story.
We frequently attended family events and my husband always looked forward to an annual summer visit to their state from Virginia. He was grateful for their morsels of kindness. He loved being Grandpa and adored playing with the grandkids, sending gifts on all occasions and always calling to sing the birthday song. When we met in 2002, he was seeing a psychiatrist every week to learn better parenting and communication skills. I often saw his handwritten scripts, what he wanted to say to his kids on the phone when he called, to get the words and sentiment just right. He did this, for many years, until he could no longer write or drive a car, on his own, to appointments.
After the dementia diagnosis in 2013, several adult children, two daughters and a son, did not want to have anything to do with their Dad. They chose a different path, turning their backs on empathy, lacking compassion and the opportunity to grow in wisdom.
Forgiveness can change the direction of one’s life. It is not forgetting, excusing or condoning. Rabbi Harold Kushner writes “Forgiveness is something you do when you’re strong enough to let go. When you are strong enough to say, you, because of what you did to me, you don’t deserve the power to be the ghost inside my head.”
The Son The last time I had any contact with his only son was about three years before his Dad died, while my husband was living at home. One day, the rude and impatient son called the house, spoke for seconds with his Dad and when I asked what happened, his Dad just shrugged. Knowing how pleased he was to hear from his son, a rare occasion, I dialed back and asked if everything was alright and in an angry voice, I was told, “I told him I would call back, I just got home from work” and click, he hung up. He never contacted him again. Now I’ve heard that his wife divorced him and took the children far away, giving his son an opportunity to learn about loving kindness as a long-distance parent; what his Dad tried to do.
Two Daughters After the diagnosis, we traveled to their area and arranged a family meeting to develop an emergency plan should I suddenly die or become disabled and not be capable of taking care of their Dad. I told them that we were looking for a dementia care facility in their area. While Dad sat beside me, both daughters told us that under no circumstances would they be responsible for his care, for even just one day, and would not help move him into a residential place. These women could not have been more mean-spirited.
The oldest daughter, now forty-something with two children of her own, said she is still very angry at her Dad for two childhood experiences. Clearly distressed, she told me that on one occasion her Dad had promised to drive her to a football game but instead gave a “a stranger” on his commuter bus home, a lift to pick up her repaired car and arriving home too late, she missed the game. On another occasion, he ‘punched her arm’ in anger and her next younger sister said she remembered this and so, both women, made spontaneous decisions, to never care for their Dad.
The oldest daughter does not remember when she was about 27 years old, she had moved cross country and found herself in an abusive boyfriend relationship, and she called her Dad to save her and bring her back to where she had been living. I know this is true because I found the airline receipt among papers he left behind.
From my sixteen years of knowing him, he was always patient, kind, considerate, gentle and soft-spoken. I never saw him angry, with me or anyone else, not once! I did not make him this way, that was his nature.
I do not condone physical abuse, but I believe that, in that circumstance, something must have happened. Only his first daughter knows the truth. She had a part in this. Knowing that your Dad was about to lose his mind, and after many heart-felt apologies, don’t you think that twenty years later he could be forgiven? By holding on to those one-of-a-kind childhood memories where she was disappointed and hurt, influences who she is today and will be in the future. They are their ghosts.
Forgiveness demands courage. His daughters are cowards. Their relationship with their Dad did not have to end this way. No matter how many times their Dad apologized was not good enough for them. They showed us that they are still providing shelter for these memories, frozen in time. They had the power to heal and chose the other way, to turn their backs. It is their loss for these memories cannot be resolved with a deceased parent. They never saw their Dad as a real person, with strengths and weaknesses, just like themselves. They lost that chance to make peace. We do not always get it right but only by stretching our capacity for openness and authenticity, do we grow in wisdom.
Their father deeply loved them. Sometimes love is not enough but he’s gone now and the chapter is sealed.