The Wrong Coat
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.
Choose Your Own Adventure
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
Your worst fears were true
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.
That’s nice dear
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.”
Pass it on!
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.
Ode To Mother: If You Were A Pet
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.
the painting speaks up
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.
A widow’s perspective on forgiveness
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.