Tag Archives: death

Are your ducks all in a row?

IMG_2019Have you ever chaperoned a field trip? At this point in my life, I’ve accompanied quite a few bus loads of students to destinations like NYC, Montreal and, as of today, Boston. I take the responsibility pretty seriously and spend an inordinate amount of time counting my charges, hoping to consistently arrive at the same number. Today my magic number was four.

It was a beautiful day for a field trip to Boston. We left before the sun came up knowing we were in for a long day. After contending with typically hideous traffic as we approached the city, we arrived at our first destination, the Museum of Science. I’d never been there before and my small posse was a great group. We had fun exploring the hands on exhibits, checking out the dinosaurs and stumbling upon the lightning storm demonstration as a perfect finale to our visit. On to the next stop – the Duck Tour.

I herded my group, feeling like Mrs. Mallard from Make Way for Ducklings, to our meeting point and we boarded our amphibious vehicle to learn about Boston’s history and get into the river. I checked my email as we sat at yet another red light and gasped at what I read. There had been a very unexpected death in my family. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes. The day changed and memories washed over me in waves larger than any we would see on the Charles.

The uncle I lost was the relative, other than my brother, to whom I felt most connected. He was the first member of my German family that I met, years ago when he arrived at the Hauptbanhof to pick me up and bring me into the mountains where my family lived. He was the youngest of my mother’s brothers, closer in age to me than her, and from that very day he was never less than kind, generous and thoughtful to me and, eventually, my own family. Losing him has shocked me into sadness.

I have memories of him holding my babies, walking with us across the Brooklyn Bridge, sharing meals together in a half dozen countries, hosting us in his home…He and his wife had a marriage that never failed to make me smile. Their love for one another was evident and they enjoyed more adventures in their nearly 20 years as husband and wife than many couples will ever know. That’s the consolation, right? To have loved with passion, lived with spirit, taken advantage of the time given?

Our most recent trip together was less than two months ago. My youngest son and I spent nearly 10 days traveling around Germany with my uncle and aunt. We had what I’m convinced was the best Easter I’ll ever have, eating and drinking with five of my mother’s siblings and nearly a dozen cousins. I never imagined that he’d be gone just weeks later. Our last night together was in Berlin. We had dinner and then reconnected later in the night to have our final drink of vacation together in a little bar popular with the theater crowd. It was quiet and, as always, I felt a little sad to know that our time together was coming to a close, until next time, next year.

A day that began with counting my charges became an evening of gathering memories. I’m really going to miss being able to make more of those with him. Ensuring that all of my ducks are in a row may be something that will always require attention and work, but I’ll take some comfort in knowing that my efforts to know and spend time with my family have been the greatest use of my time, money and energy. Rest In Peace, WM.

3 Comments

Filed under aging, cancer, family, Germany

David Bowie and Fame Right

Last Friday, we played a Spotify station to celebrate David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Less than three days later, he was dead. I guess that’s how it goes. We never know how long the journey from birth to death is really going to be, do we?

I can’t claim to have been the biggest Bowie fan in the universe, but I always liked his more pop stuff. Songs like “Let’s Dance,” “Young Americans,” and “China Girl” were definitely a part of my younger years and are still able to transport me to those simpler days of being a teenager. Some of his stuff was a little too avante garde for me, like this song which freaked me out as a kid but completely wowed me years later in Inglorious Basterds. I always appreciated his range and talent, though. He was very clearly a deeply gifted artist.

Bowie managed, over a career that lasted for decades, to find his way from being a flamboyant, hyper sexual rock star to living a private life as a musician, actor, husband and father. Does this sort of transition simply occur with age? Was it satisfaction with his personal life? Had he merely grown beyond his previous narcissistic need to share himself with the world in an over exposed fashion? Were his over-the-top antics merely a role he was playing for public consumption? Don’t we all do the same thing, projecting an image to the world outside, on some level?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but it has me thinking about achieving a new balance between my public and personal personas. When I consider the unsatiated hunger for fame that is present in contemporary American society, I find myself feeling uncomfortable. No longer is the goal to achieve success on a personal level. Instead, for far too many, it must be accompanied by public recognition and notoriety. It’s kind of sad in a vulgar way and I think I may need to wrap myself a little tighter in the future than I have in the past.

That being said, in no way do I consider myself to be famous or a rock star. I’m just feeling the urge to create a new balance between living life out loud and ultimately dying, hopefully many years from now, with grace. You see,

Fame makes a (wo)man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there where things are hollow.

Leave a comment

Filed under aging, cancer, Music, News, Observations

Fathers – the ones we have and the ones we don’t

imageI went to mass the other day. It was in my hometown in the same church where I made my first communion, attended catechism classes and impatiently sat through midnight mass on Christmas Eve eager to only get home and open a single gift, as was our custom. I was there to accompany one of my oldest friends as he said a final public goodbye to his father.

The priest was “new,” having been there for just 20 years, he said. He was not the priest from my own childhood, Monsignor O’Flaherty who had no hesitation about addressing those dressed too casually or arriving too late for mass. Reverend Sweeney, along with my friend and his siblings, provided a lovely eulogy to a man who lived a long life filled with family and friends. I learned for the first time that my friend’s dad had never met his own dad and rejoiced in the thought of that introduction finally, 87 years later, taking place. The image made me smile.

Am I a true believer in heaven and life after death? Probably not. Do I believe that when we leave our earthly bodies behind our souls somehow come together and combine with those of whom we missed to create a new energy? I think I do.

I hope your Father’s Day, be it the third Sunday of June or some other day not yet on the calendar, is filled with love and a sense of connection.

Leave a comment

Filed under aging, Aloysius, friends, holidays, musings, road trips

Running to hide in the dark

It’s times like this that make me understand the appeal of going to the theater to see a movie. Or three. I don’t often get to the movies for a film that is anything other than rated PG, but during my winter holidays, I found my way to the Spectrum three times for grown up movies.Two of the movies I saw were based upon books which I had very much enjoyed, while the third appealed to my curiosity and is the one which I’ve found myself reflecting on with surprising frequency. All provided an opportunity to escape.

Escape from what, you ask? Christmas and the stress which it can bring, the reality of who is present in my life and who is not, and a grief that I found I could not run away from no matter how rapidly I moved my sneakered feet. The holidays are a cruel time for death to visit.

So, I went to the movies. First, my middle son and I took in Birdman (and a medium popcorn) together. The plot was interesting without being groundbreaking and I thought the cast was outstanding. Michael Keaton was utterly convincing in the title role and Edward Norton was his standard mesmerizing self. Emma Stone continues to be difficult to look away from and I only wish Naomi Watts had been in more scenes. Overall, I found the film a bit disturbing, but that’s just coming from literal me. I like movies that neatly tie up in the end, and this definitely did not do that.

Christmas Day I made my way back down Delaware Avenue for a matinee of Unbroken. I’ve been waiting to see this movie since I read the book 3 years ago and, while I think the adaptation was respectfully done, the film simply could not live up to the printed page. There just isn’t any way to capture the richness of Hillenbrand’s book and Louis Zamperini’s life in 120+ minutes. By all means, see the movie but do not think it tells the complete story. Read the book.

I completed my trifecta with another film based on a biography, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. I just recently read and loved the book and think the movie accurately portrayed the journey that Cheryl Strayed took in the aftermath of the demise of her mother and her marriage. There are always creative choices to be made and I think the scenes taken from the book and depicted on screen were wisely made. I liked it, but, you should still read the book if you haven’t already.

Hooray for Hollywood and thank God for books and running.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Christmas, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Movies, Recommendations, running, winter

Preparing to die

To begin, a couple of childhood flashbacks…

The first time I entered the woods with the boys who have grown to be my dearest male friends, I was convinced they were going to hurt me.  It probably says something about the girl I was that I followed them to their forest fort, despite my certainty that I was about to become a victim.

A number of years after that dusky fall afternoon, on a bright summer day, the home I had known the longest was lost, along with nearly all of my belongings, to fire.  I remember finding irony in the fact that the only clothing that survived the catastrophe were the items I had in my car for a laundromat run.  The things I had worn and soiled were saved, while articles of clothing which had been relegated to my closet, perhaps for a “special” occasion, fell in ashes from their hangers.

During a recent solo afternoon ski, I encountered another skier, a male.  We were in a secluded spot on the course, near the Normanskill, yet I never once felt threatened or in danger. I no longer imagined that someone I didn’t know wanted to bring me harm.

After the fire, I no longer reserved items for only “special” events.  Expensive crystal stemware was used – and broken.  My “good” clothes were worn and enjoyed.  Discarding an item because of a stain, or an irreparable hole, was far more satisfying than seeing an unworn cherished possession turned into a pile of soot and ash.

What does all of this have to do with dying?  It seems to me that there are people who spend so much energy thinking about bad things which might happen, that they fall victim to the ultimate tragedy – missing out on their life.  When we try to anticipate every potential disaster instead of appreciating the wonder that is now, we neglect to experience all the beautiful moments life offers to us each day.

Make no mistake, the thought of my life ending chills me.  There’s still so much I want to see and do and taste and feel!  Any acceptance of death that I may have comes purely from living fully.  What I’m trying to say is this – the only way I know how to prepare for the ultimate end of my life is to live each and every day. Donna Tartt expressed it far better than I. Here, read it:

“That life – whatever else it is – is short.  That fate is cruel but maybe not random.  That nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it.  That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.”

What she said.

2 Comments

Filed under aging, musings

My youngest son is obsessed with John Lennon and related dilemmas

Image: @yokoono/Twitter

Quinn asked me to load some Beatles on his iPad recently and I finally had a moment to do it this morning.  He has been really into Here Comes the Sun and chose this song as our first tune of the day.  Not a bad way to start a Sunday, I’d say.

As the music was playing sweetly, Quinn mentioned that every day he thinks about George Harrison and John Lennon being dead and he gets angry.  Well, as he said, not really about George because it wasn’t his fault that he got sick, but the thing about John?  That made him really upset. Why did that guy have to shoot him?

Quinn asked me when John was killed – what year?  I’m sure that 1980 sounded like a million years ago to my boy, but I continued my remembrances of that time (freshman year of high school) by telling him that the man who shot Lennon was still in prison for committing that crime.  He was outraged – “Why wasn’t he executed, Mom?  How could he have done that to John Lennon?”

How do I respond to that?  How does one explain the precarious relationship between the emergence of sunshine, the death of an idol and a life spent behind bars?  Oh, Beautiful Boy, where would I begin?

Leave a comment

Filed under Boys, Music, musings

I don’t hate guns

image everydaynodaysoff.com

I hate what people use guns to do. Guns scare me, but I don’t hate them.  Today, more than two dozen people were massacred in a(nother) school shooting.  Twenty-seven people, including 20 children, woke up today for the last time.  I went for a run tonight and thought of the terror that was school today for those children and adults in Connecticut.  Each time I imagined the fear those children must have felt, I gasped anew, feeling my  heart nearly stop with my exhale.  Horror.

I couldn’t post today about the 12 Days of Dining DelSo. How could a person even consider a holiday season on a day like today?  This day belongs to those lives lost.

Peace.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, politics, Rant, Uncategorized