Monday, October 31, 2016

For the Mourners Among Us

There is a clinic where I work and they treat young children. There are often chalk drawings out on the sidewalks. Sometimes A,B,Cs, sometimes a hopscotch grid and sometimes a drawing. Children play here. It's a happy thing for me when I see their games and drawings.
It's a poignant thing for me when I see a tiny tombstone with no name, but just a word, "Baby." I think even the most dull among us would recognize the loss of hopes and dreams that is carried in this small space.

And let me be clear, it doesn't matter how young or old a child might be when taken by death, it hurts, and "you feel like the days you had were not enough."

On the evening of the first day, you lie down praying it's all a dream, that you'll wake up and your world will be righted. But in the morning you wake again to the hard truth: your child is gone. This continues for some time until eventually, you mostly get your head wrapped around the truth. As I've said before, the topography of your ground has been forever altered. But gradually you settle in to your "new normal."

Then a friend has a niece who is experiencing the loss of her son. You imagine her days and you remember how it was, all the waiting to know, the planning for the services, the raw grief of your loss. You relive your own grief, but from a stronger position than in the beginning. You feel everything again, but this time it's not about you. It's about this new mother who has been inducted into the club no one wants to join.

And you can't quite figure out what to say to your friend because words aren't worth much on occasions like these. Presence is. But you're so far away. All you can think of is how hard this is going to be. You count the loss, which can never be counted. You hold the friend in your heart. You hold the grandmother in your heart. You hold the mother in your heart. What else can you do? It's one of the hardest things a person can ever go through. No parent is supposed to bury their child. But it happens. All the time. You pray this mother will survive her loss.

I read this quote recently. It would not have comforted me in the early days of my loss. It's part of a larger article on connections between the child self and the adult self, where she is musing over a photograph of her and her older sister, who is deceased. She herself was much too young to actually remember the day of the photo, but she says this, and she asks questions--

A person whom one has loved seems altogether too significant a thing to simply vanish altogether from the world. A person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world. How can worlds like these simply cease altogether?  --Rebecca Goldstein

Apart from what I believe about eternity and life after death, one thing I have appropriated for my own comfort is that my son is alive for me as long as I am alive. I carry him deep in the muscle memory of my heart. It's not the same as him being here in the flesh, but my memories of him do bring me comfort, as do the stories we tell each other as a family when we are together and remember him. This is the hope I have for this bereaved mother, that one day, and it will take some time, the memories and the stories will bring comfort and a smile, that she will find her way in her grief, and eventually walk again on steady legs. The loss will never go away. That hole will always be there. For right now, I know that hope seems nearly impossible. I don't know that it gets easier. Most of us learn to live with it. Most of us learn a new way to walk. Some don't. 

Just today I learned that a friend of my eldest daughter lost her brother Friday in a bicycle/automotive accident. Just a couple of weeks ago, I ran into this friend's mother. We hadn't seen each other in many years. We weren't ever close friends, just allies in raising two girls. But we talked a good while. We talked about my son. We talked about my breast cancer, and she told me about hers, about how it'd been nearly fifteen years and now they were seeing something suspicious. We went our separate ways, comrades in breast cancer. And now we are comrades in that club no one wants to join, those parents who have buried their children. Another cycle of grief begins. I don't know that I will make it to the visitation or the funeral. My good intention will be to check on her in the coming days, to be present with her in her loss.

In October, there is always another little boy I remember. He was a childhood friend who lived in our neighborhood, born two years before me, and died in 1969. He was 11 years old. I think of his mom and dad and his three sisters when October rolls around. His parents were among the first ones to come to my parents' door when my brother died, saying they remembered my parents' kindness when their son died. They were years into their grief journey, evidence that one could survive the unthinkable.

I think of these sons, and daughters, too, and I wonder what might have been.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Project Thoughtful Thursday, Week 9

I'm late! I went to Houston Thursday afternoon for checkups and didn't bring my laptop. I received good reports from the doctors I saw and I don't go back until January. And again in February. I suppose eventually it will get to where I see everyone in the same three month increments., rather than one doctor this month and another doctor the next month.

I don't usually worry too much about the cancer in between my appointments. But in the week before the time to go in, I tend to get a bit nervous. That usually manifests itself in me overeating or choosing not to pay much attention to my exercise routine. I woke up this morning and realized how relieved I am that everything went well and all the reports were good. Now I'm ready to live again! And hopefully I'll get back to my routines and to better watching what I eat.

Anyway, this week's reminder is, "I have what I need." Truly, I do. And had there been negative reports, I trust that I would have had what I needed then, too.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Saturday Before Last

Last weekend, my parents and I went off on an adventure. There was a cemetery we wanted to see and there was another event we wanted to check out at a local historic sight (site?). I brought my big camera with me and got only a few photos.

These two photos were taken in the yard before we left. The blossoms are from my Confederate Rose, also known as Cotton Rose, officially known as hibiscus mutabilis. The flowers start out white in the morning and turn pink towards the end of the day. It's not uncommon to see both older pink flowers and newer white blooms on the bush at the same time (which fascinates me to no end, but I am easily fascinated).
Grave house alley! It was an oddly peaceful and quiet place to walk. One of the fenced in areas had morning glories growing all around. Another one had plastic saw horse frames propped up against the fence. We aren't sure if they were significant to the deceased or if they were just placed there by someone attempting to tidy things up a bit.
These two photos were taken at the Talbot Pierson Cemetery. The grave houses were originally placed to keep wild animals from digging up the graves. My dad and I have postulated that the houses were all redone at some time in the not too distant past, since they all look very similar.
It's so true. Sometimes you just have to decide to get out with a bare bones plan (or none at all) and see what you come across. If your eyes are open to it, you will find delightful in the oddest of places.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Let Go!

My son's best friend came riding up one day on a brand new dirt bike. My brother had a small street bike and a mini-bike so I'd had some experience riding. It had been years since I'd been on a dirt bike so I wanted to take a little spin around the yard. I wasn't brave enough to get out on the street. I went slow but it left quite an impression on the kids. My oldest, who was 12 or 13 at the time, decided if I could do it, she could too. Her brother and his friend helped her on the bike and started giving instructions.

They had a whole story to tell. My daughter didn't realize she needed to hear the whole story and then act. So when they told her to hold the clutch in and turn the throttle, she did. And when she started rolling, things went downhill fast. She squealed. She headed straight toward the building in our back yard. The whole event only took about 30 or 40 seconds but it lasted long enough for her whole life to pass in front of my eyes. Once that started happening, I hollered at her to "LET GO, LET GO!!!" She was squealing up a storm and didn't hear a word I said.

Finally she managed to wedge it between the corner of the building and an old light pole beside it. When she hit, and the bike stopped, she jumped off and ran like the wind toward the patio. We were all dumbfounded for a minute. We recovered and ran to check on her. I sent my son's friend to check on his bike. I was afraid it was torn up, but it wasn't. When I got to the patio I asked if she was okay and she was. When I asked why she ran away so fast she told me it was because she was afraid she was going to be electrocuted.

I don't believe she ever got within spitting distance of a motorcycle after that. 

This was one of my favorite collages from my recent 40 day project. I thought of the motorcycle story not long after I'd done this one. I was profoundly relieved when my daughter let go that day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Project Thoughtful Thursday, Week 8

"I am precisely where I am supposed to be today."
Sometimes I'm not too sure about that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 40 of the 40 Day Art Journal Adventure!

So now I've done 40 days of collages in my little journal. "What next" was the question I posed on one of the three collages I did today. I'm not sure yet about the specifics of what I'll do. Here at the end, I pulled out my watercolor crayons (Neocolor II water soluble Caran d'Ache crayons) and my oil pastels (same brand as the watercolor crayons). I bought them several years ago, when I started my current job. They were on markdown at the campus bookstore, plus I got a discount above and beyond the sale price. I was thrilled with the purchase, so thrilled, I guess, that I thought I needed to put them away and not "waste" them on anything I did! I thought I didn't like them. I thought I couldn't use them. I guess, after nearly 40 days, I got a little freer and a little wilder and a little braver, so I used them. 

I found this quote in an article in "O" magazine ( . She died of breast cancer in April 2012. She's one of my newest heroes. If you care to read the article, you might understand why.

I've been thinking lately of the October of 2016 I imagined back in October of 2011 when I was first diagnosed with colon cancer. I'd hope to be celebrating five years cancer free. Instead, I've weathered a second attack of colon cancer and breast cancer. Saying it, seeing it here on the screen, I feel like I sound a bit snake bit. That's not at all the way I feel. My prognosis looks good on all counts and I am grateful.

My five year anniversary didn't quite turn out to be the party I'd expected but that's okay. I don't know what might have been. I only know what is, right here, right now. I've been shaped and strengthened in the last five years. Katherine Russell Rich (read the article) said she learned, in times of uncertainty, to ask herself "How are you right now?" She said her answer was, "Fine. Stay right here, in this day, stay right here in your mind." I think that's mostly a pretty good place to be, "right here, in this day."

"What next?" You keep on living, you keep on doing. You don't spend too much time wondering how much time you might have. You put one foot in front of the other, and keep on moving the best you can.

(Yeah, sometimes that's easier said than done, I know.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Be Gentle With Yourself, Week 7

More collages. I'm almost to the end of the 40 day art journal. Tomorrow is day 40. I think I'll take a break for a few days to ponder how I am going to proceed. I'll have to think about the things I've learned by doing this.
I've enjoyed the words, I've enjoyed the images, I've enjoyed the cutting apart and the putting together. I've been a quilter in my past and this feels a lot like that, but working with paper rather than cloth.

I like the feeling of being born by bits, and not all at once. Always, a work in progress. It occurs to me just now that this process of working daily on these small collages, with no real thought of the outcome or of completing a finished project is a metaphor for my life. Each day I do what I can to do the best I can with what I have on that day. I don't look too far ahead but instead try to keep my mind right here in the present. I enjoy the process without thinking too much about the outcome.

I had a counselor type person tell me once that I sure spoke in metaphors a lot. I heard that spoken with a disdainful tone, and for a long time, I tried to nix the metaphor from my speech. I tried to come out and say what I had to say, without trying to couch it in symbolic language. Another thing I've learned from doing this practice for almost 40 days is that I love metaphor and visual symbolism. I have a poet's heart, and I'm not going to apologize for that. Not that anyone is asking me too, save for my own self!

I read an interesting article on Brain Pickings this week ( It was from an essay written by Mary Oliver, something about the third self. In it, the author quoted Mary Oliver, saying, "In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. Which is something altogether different from the ordinary. Such work does not refute the ordinary. It is, simply, something else. Its labor requires a different outlook — a different set of priorities." I'm no Mary Oliver, but I am, on my own small scale, in my own small spot in the world, a creative person, and an artist. The things I do are not earth shattering. They aren't things that will spread very far beyond my own small circle, but they are important, they are my things to do.

Part of my being gentle with myself is accepting that, and not comparing myself to others. I am only here to do what only I can do. Also, maybe I can accept that it is good for the world that I am here?!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Terminal (Project Thoughtful Thursday, Week 6 Writing)

There is a woman in my circle of acquaintances who I do not know very well. She is divorced from a doctor, and the last several times I've been in her presence, she has been talking about how she is redoing a home in the historic district of our city. She was always friendly enough but because I am introverted and somewhat slow to warm up to people I do not know, I did not know her well. I made some assumptions about her. It is no assumption that she is older than I am. My assumption was that she was a woman accustomed to having her own way. I also assumed she probably didn't have much depth to her.

I might have been wrong in my assumptions.

Last week, when I saw her in the group we have in common, she casually mentioned that she really hadn't had many dark times in very many years. And then she added that she was now facing terminal cancer. It is a relatively new diagnosis. She still looks and sound healthy. One would not guess her health is in such a dismal state by looking at her. She talked about how grateful she is, how she has been able to talk to her children and her grandchildren about her illness. She mentioned a few bucket list things she'd been able to do. Those things involved time with her grown children. It sounded to me like there might have been some restoration in those relationships. She is a pretty woman. There was a smile on her face.

When I went over to her after the meeting, she was the one who first offered a hug to me, not the other way around. And she asked me how I was doing with my own health concerns. She radiated peace.

I won't see her at this month's meeting. I'll be in Houston doing all my checkups. I don't know how quickly the disease will progress. We are not friends, only acquaintances. But she is who I thought of when I pulled the card for week 6 of the Project Thoughtful Thursday prompt. She was a healthy woman who probably expected to live to see her grandchildren grow up. Her life was changed in an instant.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Project Thoughtful Thursday, Week 7

I'm sorry I'm so late getting this posted, I knew yesterday was Wednesday, I know Thursday follows Wednesday, I just sort of somehow thought this was still Wednesday! I was thinking I'd write tonight about last week's prompt, and post this one tomorrow. Then I realized today is Thursday. O.o!

We all have different things we do when we are angry, or upset, or disappointed. My modus operandi is to turn on myself. I can be vicious toward me. I'm learning to catch myself when I start treating me in a way that I would not treat my worst enemy. I'm getting better at extending grace toward myself. When I forget, my friend Ralph is good at asking me to please be a little kinder to his friend. It's true that sometimes we can do things for our friends that we can't do for ourselves. But I'm also learning to be kinder to myself for own self.

I'm grateful for friends who help me to see the positive things about myself that I sometimes cannot see.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Day 31 of the 40 Day Art Journal Challenge

Today was Day 31 of the 40 day art journal challenge. I need to figure out what it is I have learned from doing this, and how I feel about it. But right now I'm just enjoying the process.

This was day 31. 

This is something I wrote for a Three Lines class I took online (Maya Stein). I'll probably end up tweaking this and using it with one of my photos for a "thang."

Living in the "and" is a bit of a philosophical mantra for me. I have to remind myself that I am both my strengths and my weaknesses, not just one or the other.

I love the colors of this one. 

I want/need to write about the PTT week 6 prompt. I hope to get to it in the next day or two. If I don't, I'll forgive myself.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Monday, October 03, 2016

Busy Hands, Busy Mind, Busy Body

Some days I feel like the proverbial chicken with my head cut off, running and running. It seems to me I have too much going on right now.

I'm keeping up with my practice of doing a collage a day. I believe I'm on day 23 now. I've been participating in a little daily writing practice, doing three lines to a prompt. That group is finished now but I think I may try to continue on with the practice, maybe by writing three lines about my day in third person. I've signed up for another month long activity that I hope I will continue to do, rather than getting upset and just quitting. And it's time for the annual Do You 10Q? that I've done for the last 6 years.

I'm playing tennis three times a week. Once for league play, once for drills, and once with a large group where we divide up and play for 30 minutes, then divide up again with different people and play for 30 minutes again (and once more after that). Plus I'm trying to do yoga twice a week during lunch and then there is the Power Sculpting class that I try to attend on Wednesday nights. And of course, I'm working full time.

I don't usually like my days to be this full! There are still other things I should be doing that I am not getting done. I know, I'm not supposed to should on myself.

Anyway, here are a few more of the collages I've been doing.

A grad student friend of mine loved this one. She said she felt like she needed elephant man hanging on her wall. She's having an extremely busy semester and has been very kind to me. I decided to give it to her. I had a square frame on hand so I framed it and brought it to her.

I've been experimenting with adding paint, ink, and charcoal pencil to the backgrounds. I've also dropped down from doing two a day to only doing one!

I feel like the woman in the picture. I think I need a time out! I've often said I wished I had the power to stop the world so I could get caught up. So far I haven't figured out how to make that happen.

I did these last two Saturday while I was in the country. I didn't have too much material with me. But it worked out well.

And finally, there is this little "thang" I did on my phone. My confederate rose was blooming and the quote showed up on my Facebook news feed, a lovely case of serendipity.