Month: July 2017

Grief and Loss

On Acceptance

“All I’m saying is, kindness don’t have no boundaries.”

Kathryn Stockett, The Help

Dear Reader:

Yesterday I felt a memory. It hurt almost as much as it did seventeen years ago. I was discussing religion with a friend and it brought to mind something I’m sure I wanted to forget. How many words does it take to describe how horrible it feels to be judged? Not many.  And yet choosing the words is so difficult for me, even now.

I’ll start at the beginning. My father converted to Catholicism shortly after marrying my mother, and my siblings and I were raised Catholic. But when my brother, Matt, met his wife he joined the congregation at her non-denominational Christian church, and his new church family came to supplant his birth family. It was not difficult to understand why:  we were raised in the “classic” dysfunctional family. You know the kind; we looked so good from the outside that no one could believe it when we fell apart.

I understood my brother’s desire to believe and to belong. I had moved away with my husband and started a family and a life separate from the drama that was a painful part of my past. I was mothering a newborn as Matt was beginning his married life 300 miles away. We had always been close, but for three years we saw each other only occasionally. We exchanged birthday greetings and the obligatory holiday wishes through the mail.

Then my brother called to tell me he’d been diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live. My husband, young daughter and I arrived on his doorstep the next day.  We were met at the door by a man I did not know. He introduced himself as Bruce, a close friend and the pastor of Matt’s church. We stepped into the small living room of Matt’s ranch house to find him comfortably settled in his favorite chair with his dog in his lap. He looked great; he was smiling. After the three of us exchanged hugs, Bruce suggested that my husband and daughter take the dog into the yard for a romp. Matt grabbed a ball and joined them, and Bruce and I were left alone. That’s when I discovered that Bruce was serving as a sort of gatekeeper to determine who could spend time with my brother. He was applying a religious test to anyone who didn’t identify as an evangelical or born-again Christian.

He asked me to describe my relationship with God. I told him I was Catholic. He asked if I had acknowledged that I was a sinner and asked the Lord for forgiveness.

“Of course,  I’m a sinner. Aren’t we all?” I answered.

He pressed on:  Did I understand that my brother would be going “home” and could I support him in this journey? I felt like crying, but I was steel. I told him that Matt and I had always been close and that I loved him dearly. I assured him again that I considered myself a Christian. Bruce left shortly after our conversation and we enjoyed the day with Matt. My “Catholic credentials” had been deemed satisfactory.

I will never forget how it felt to be held in judgement. I thought I had, but yesterday the immensity of it came back to me with full force. There were people who felt they had the moral authority to decide whether I should be allowed to spend time with my own dying brother. Well, I confess, I judge them as well,  and I find them to be lacking in compassion and grace. My opinion of evangelical Christians was formed by that single heartbreaking experience.

Since then, I’ve been careful when I interact with people who I know to be Christians. But for some reason, this week, after all these years, I opened up to the wife of one of my husband’s closest friends, a woman with whom I’ve also grown close.  I’d been careful to avoid talk of religion with her knowing that she attends a Christian church, but when we found ourselves alone our conversation turned to things we hold dear, such as family. She mentioned her faith and I found the courage to share my memory with her. She disavowed the isolationist position of the members of my brother’s church. While she shared some of their beliefs, she could not exclude us as her friends. I was not steel; I felt tears come to my eyes.

Making judgements is part of being human, but it can be humbling to reflect on the moments you’ve been judged. It can be a reminder to work to consciously choose acceptance of others over rejection.

When I woke up this morning I found myself thinking of the waitress at a restaurant I frequent.  She’s Mexican, and one day she told me that since our president came along she’s been concerned about what people think of her. Are they wondering whether she’s  legal? Did they think she should go back to Mexico? I thought of the day I was discussing colleges with a friend and she said that she and her daughter were researching the rising incidence of anti-Semitism on campuses out of concern for her daughter’s safety. I reflected on a discussion I’d just had with a young man who lost Facebook friends when he announced his engagement to another man. Suddenly my mind was filled with the faces of those who had been judged and hurt.

Perhaps we should all regularly call to mind those times in our lives when we’ve been deemed unworthy so that we may  be less likely to inflict that kind of pain on our neighbors.

Michele

Politics

#$@&%*!

Dear Reader:

I wonder if you were equally as appalled by Anthony Scaramucci’s language in his interview with The New Yorker. Probably not if I am to believe the general consensus of pundits from both sides of the political spectrum.

“The problem was not in the choice of words,” the talking heads all insisted. “After all, we all talk that way.”

No, we do not all talk that way! Perhaps, it would be accurate to say that most adults have heard this type of language, but it is not accurate to say that most adults use it. It is not even accurate to say that most of us are subjected to this language on a regular basis.  It would only be accurate to say that we have not heard it from a spokesperson for the President of the United States before yesterday.

Foul language may be the least of our concerns about the current state of the White House, but I wonder what that suggests for our country. Imagine if we (really) all spoke that way.

Mr. Scaramucci leaned on his Italian, New Yorker personality to suggest that he was just being authentic. I know nothing of New York, but I know Italian. I’d like to help his mother wash his mouth out with soap and remind him that he speaks for our country now.

Michele

 

Politics

Ladies, Let’s Buy Reebok!

In case you were wondering when it IS appropriate to say, “You’re in such good shape…beautiful,”…

Dear Reader:

When our president looked at Brigitte Macron, the first lady of France, and said, “You’re in such good shape,” women of a certain age knew exactly what he meant. At 64 years old, she is 24 years older than her husband. Our first lady is 46 years old; our president is 70. Interesting mathematical coincidence, huh?!

I’m a glass half-full kind of gal; always have been, so I haven’t stopped looking for something good to come out of the results of our presidential election. Perhaps having the most openly chauvinistic president ever inhabiting the White House will force a light on the fact that we’ve got work to do. I hope so.

Michele

Creativity

Your Life in Six Words

IMG_4181

 

 

Dear Reader:

Today was housecleaning day in the pink shed… translation: a bit of dusting, a lot of moving stacks of books around. There are so many that I am constantly re-discovering titles I’d forgotten. This morning’s find:  Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs. What a fun book! It’s a collection of famous and not-so-famous peoples’ memoirs in…you guessed it…only six words!

Here are a few of my favorites:

Maybe you had to be there 

Roy Blount Jr.

Asked to quiet down; spoke louder

Wendy Lee

Me see world! Me write stories!

Elizabeth Gilbert

Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs

Aimee Mann

Brought it to a boil, often

Mario Batali

I couldn’t resist the challenge of writing my own mini memoir:

seeking: home 

found: love

shared: truth

Take the six word challenge today….and share if you dare!

Michele

 

 

Grief and Loss, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

All You Need is Love (all together now)

“Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.”

Caitlin Doughty

 

Dear Reader:

Death has come again and taken the life of another in my circle of friends. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote to you about a friend who lost her father quite suddenly. Today I learned of the passing of another man. He was a husband, father and grandfather who took great joy in the companionship of his family. Indeed he spent the morning at the pool with his grandchildren and the afternoon with his wife and daughter before he passed quickly of an apparent heart attack.

The lives and deaths of these two men have raised questions among my friends. The questions are old and yet they seem new again when one is confronted with loss. Why do some live long lives and others die young? Why do some suffer? What is the meaning of life now that I know this will happen? When and how will my loved ones die? And, ultimately, when and how will I die?

I have friends of all ages and the youngest ones are just now facing loss as adults. It is quite a different matter when a young child loses a grandparent or great grandparent. I can still remember the Christmas morning when my then four-year-old daughter looked at her great-grandmother and commented: “You are very old; you will die soon.” The room fell silent until Gigi smiled and took her great-granddaughter into her arms for a hug.

My daughter does not remember making this bold statement nor does she remember her great-grandmother. It was in fact a year and a half later that Gigi passed at the age of 96. We were surprised the day we got the call as we had anticipated that the next death in the family would be that of my 36-year-old brother. I lost my brother two weeks later, a year after his cancer diagnosis. I was newly 40 and devastated.

My brother was never given any hope that he would live longer than a few months; he lived a full year. Friends and family offered to finance a trip for him and his wife as they’d never left the country. My brother chose instead to live the last months of his life simply. He devoted time to housekeeping,  sorting and gifting his possessions and putting papers in order. He spent time with family and friends. He shared his deep faith and complete confidence in God and an after-life with anyone who would listen. He created art and he enjoyed the companionship of his wife and dogs in his comfortable home and in the nearby mountains.

I watched my brother die…closely and attempted to make sense of it all. It made no sense and yet it informed me and inspired me. I can never explain why the youngest member of my family was the first to die. I still don’t think it was “fair.” I still believe he should be here with me to exchange a laugh or two about how hard it is to get older. But, he accepted his passage with such courage and calmness that I could not help but do the same.

His death gave me the opportunity to ponder life and all the old important questions. I concluded years ago that the Beatles said it best…”all you need is love.” I have loved and I have been loved and, in the end, that is the only thing I need.

Sincerely,

Michele

Creativity

I Remember a Tree

“People don’t remember each tree in a park but all of us benefit from the trees. And in a way, artists are like trees in a park.”

Yoko Ono

IMG_3927
Carmel Valley Ranch

Dear Reader:

There once was a tree. I remember it well…a large oak, in the center of a parking lot, that regularly shaded my car. Unfortunately, the beautiful oak reached the end of its life a few months ago. I remember the day; the entire property looked different without its grand  presence.

The tree is once again part of the landscape in the form of a bench. I’ll remember a particular tree every time I pass by or stop to rest on a particular bench.

Michele