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One of Life's Big Questions...

One of Life’s Big Questions…

I have struggled to answer this question for probably my whole life, but last week I had an experience which showed me one very good answer.

One of my oldest friends lost her partner and best friend; he succumbed to a fatal illness in a short period of time. Attending the wake, I watched her standing alone to greet the mourners. I admired her strength and poise, even as I could see in the unguarded moments, the strain of the past months peek through.

I was impressed by the number of people who turned out on a week night — for her — despite more snowflakes and very cold weather, during a winter when travel had become an endurance test for everyone.

At one point I met one of her bosses. When she found out that I was a very old friend, she proceeded to tell me what a great worker my friend is: how skilled, how professional, and how well-respected. “I wish I had ten of her,” she said. “And she is completely humble.”  I thought to myself, how wonderful to not have to promote yourself because your work speaks volumes…and also to have someone you work for respect, love, and admire you so much. She gave me the heads-up about something that my friend did not know: she was going to receive an arrangement from a very prestigious client. When they found out what was going on with her, they said, “We want to send flowers.” “That is UNHEARD of,” her boss told me, “But they like her THAT much!”

My friend held a small dinner after the wake at a local restaurant. I sat at the end of one VERY long table. She was fussing over whether we had enough food and was worried that the family-style serving was not working, but not one person was greedy and filled their plate. All appreciated the food and appreciated her. Everyone knew this was costing her money she didn’t really have, and yet she wanted to show her appreciation to her friends.  She had been unable to work very much during the time her partner was sick, and she works in a field that when she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid.

Despite the terrible circumstances, I felt happy for her as I looked down the long table full of supporters. Her life had been particularly difficult lately, but even without her recent challenges, her life wasn’t necessarily one that many people would look at as a “picture” of success. But it was clear as a summer sky to me that night.

A successful life does not have to be one with all the trappings and media accolades. It can be one where, when you are struggling, you are overwhelmed by love and support, respect and admiration in your own corner of the world. To me, my friend won an Oscar.



{December 6, 2013}   Eulogy to a Swan

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving…except for one thing. I saw this:

Dead Swan

A dock for a headstone…

I walked to the nearby police station and told them, and they said they already knew and they had called the “environmental officer.” I felt sad.

When I moved to my new apartment in the middle of the summer, I found that I lived near a park and pond, and I walked there often. I discovered a pair of swans with one baby and enjoyed visiting them. I watched the baby swan’s feathers change from fluffy gray to smooth white. And I took pictures.

I’m pretty sure it was one of the parents that died. I know swans mate for  life. That “family” no longer exists, but at least one swan is not left alone. And I can give a snapshot of a wonderful part of that swan’s life.



{January 14, 2011}   Is it Just Me?

Maybe I’m just sensitive because my father just died, but I was very put off by the President’s televised speech on Wednesday night.  It wasn’t the speech itself, which I believe said the right things and was passionate and well-written; it was the forum.  I would have liked it if he was giving the speech from the Oval Office with no interruptions.  What bothered me was the hooting, hollaring and constant applause, as if the event was a sporting event…or a campaign rally.

Although we should treat such tragedies as a learning experience and an opportunity to learn what we need to do better in our own lives, it just felt inappropriate.  People died.  Their lives should be celebrated, yes, but they should also be appropriately mourned.  It seemed like having the event at the college encouraged students (and probably others) to let their excitment at the fact that the President was in attendance and speaking become more important than what really happened there.

Yes, I am VERY happy Gabby opened her eyes…they are saying it is a miracle…cheering was appropriate there.  And cheering for the people who stopped the gunman…I buy that too…otherwise…just listen, think, and pray.



{January 3, 2011}   The Worst is Over…Now What?

The title of this blog refers to a lot of different things for me.  It initially came to me in the context of dealing with my father’s death and burial just before Christmas.  It was mentioned over and over at the wake, funeral service and burial what a bad time of year it was to deal with such a thing, but when is it a better time?  A year was coming to an end; a decade was coming to an end; a special person’s life had come to an end.

That unforgettable week was a whirlwind of activity and emotions, and brought me more-than-I-could-have-hoped-for support and sympathy from a lot of people.  But now that the most obvious emotional part is over, there is still so much to be done and worked through — for my mother most of all, but also for my family and myself.

Talking with my husband about our plans and goals moving forward (as we all must), I realized the title could mean so many things: economists and the media have said the recession is over, now what?  Now that one of the reasons I was working part-time has resolved itself (my father’s deteriorating health), now what?  Now that my wonderful father’s life has been summed up, what does that mean to me?

At my father’s wake, we set out a notebook containing a fraction of his extensive artwork and cartoons—it was something he wanted.  There were constant lines at the notebook; so many people had never seen his work—even I have never seen it all (but that’s another blog).  A couple of people he knew from the senior center were talking to me about how every time my father would show them one of his cartoons they would ask why he didn’t send it out to a newspaper and he would just shrug.  Family always came first for my father; he was long past having the required time and energy to publish his material.

Initially, my father’s death left me feeling no desire to move on; I felt lost and empty. But a strange thing happened as I watched people looking at his cartoons and artwork.  I felt like…I’ve got to DO something about that. I’m not sure what, but I’ve got some ideas, and somehow I feel like he is giving me a new strength, and new determination.

I also said to myself, “That’s not going to happen to me.”  At one point, I tried to do with my poems what my father did with his cartoons: I tried to put most of the poems I have written in a notebook in chronological order.  I didn’t realize what a daunting task it was —I am a disorganized writer; most of the poems had no dates and there were too many versions of the same thing.  I was never finished, always tweaking, and sometimes the initial off-the-cuff version was the best.  I realized it’s impossible to sum up a life in one notebook.

I’ve got some projects in front of me that are important to me emotionally, and I am looking forward to working on them.  It won’t happen overnight; I need to plan.  It could take me the next decade, but I feel ready to go.  Thanks, Dad.



et cetera
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