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

 

On Marriage

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Panna cotta to celebrate our day!

Dear Reader:

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. We met in high school at the precise time my parents’ marriage was unraveling after 18 years. My mother in law and father in law had already celebrated fifty years of marriage when he died ten years ago.

One can never fully appreciate the dynamics involved in any marriage, but I feel that I am now in possession of a few truisms based on my age and experience. (I am choosing to write about everyday, hum-drum marriages, not those that involve violence, alcoholism or severe mental illness.) Here’s where you can decide to indulge me my opinions…or not!

First, it seems silly to say that “marriage is hard work,” to the extent that everything is hard work: children, friends, careers, pets, housekeeping, gardens, garages, fitness,  writing …LIFE. Anything worth having is hard work.

Second, marriage counseling can be instructive and enlightening. About ten years ago, it seemed likely our marriage would end. I don’t think the counselor saved our union, but two moments from that experience have stayed with me…one in my head and one in my heart. The first seems so obvious, BUT there is Michele World and there is my Husband’s World. These are different places, and, as such, the reaction to any marital event or communication will be interpreted differently depending on which world leader you ask. The second moment came when my husband said that it had felt like we had been swimming alongside each other for so long that it was odd to look up and not see me there. (Lovely sentiment and interesting as I can’t swim!)

Last, yes there are only three (I said a few)! Whenever anyone asks for my “secret” to  maintaining a long-term marriage, I always say the same thing: “Don’t sign the divorce papers.”  I’m sure my parents’ choice to end their marriage shaped my thoughts and I am not proud to say that I was the one who, at one time, felt that leaving was preferable to staying. Thankfully, we both chose to stay. And, ultimately that is the secret…make the choice to stay.

At 57 years of age, the graph of my life would look like that of most people, I assume. It’s a roller coaster ride, and I am grateful and proud that for more than half of it, my husband and I have been in the same car.

Sincerely,

Michele

Mean Mothers

Dear Reader:

As we drove home from Southern California yesterday, my husband asked me, “Does Mother’s Day upset you or make you sad in a way?”

I knew exactly what he meant, but the question still took me by surprise as I was quite happily surveying grape orchards and remembering the events of the weekend. If you know me from my blog, you know how proud I am of my daughter and the close relationship we share. If you are one of my dear friends, you begin every visit with the question, “How’s your daughter?” I love talking about my daughter. I simply adore her. She is my single greatest source of pride.

So, why should Mother’s Day in any way upset me? Well, the answer has to do with my mother. She died three years ago on the morning after my daughter had major surgery at Stanford Hospital. In life, my mom had loved being the center of attention and so the timing of her death seemed appropriate.

One of the nurses heard me take the call from my sister and she became immediately quite concerned about my state of mind. My daughter was scheduled to spend four days in the hospital, but she would need continuous home care for several weeks. The doctors and nurses, my husband and I soon realized, were training us to take care of her at home. Her release would be determined not only by her condition, but also by our ability to care for her. The hospital chaplain was alerted to our situation and within the hour began appearing at our door. My husband shooed her away several times while I snoozed, but she was determined to talk to me.

“Ah, good, you’re eating!” she exclaimed as she approached me late that night in the cafeteria. “I’m Dusty, the hospital’s multi-faith chaplain and I’m here to see if you’d like to talk.” Really I just wanted to eat, but I was polite. I thanked her for her concern and let her know that I was tired, but fine, and that I knew exactly what I needed to do:  take care of my daughter. “But,” she continued, “it’s hard to take care of someone else when you are suffering yourself.”

How could she know that was exactly what I’d told myself for years when I thought about my mother? She was simply unable to be kind or nurturing as she was in pain. The explanation served to protect me from completely absorbing the constant emotional assault she inflicted on everyone close to her. My mother died without having a relationship with me or knowing her only grandchild. “She’s no longer in pain,” I told Dusty and I left her to interpret the comment in any way she chose. I returned to my coffee and eggs as she left finally satisfied that she had done her job.

A week later I found myself speeding down the freeway to attend my mother’s funeral. I paid my last respects to the woman who had created me and who had, I think, helped determine the happy course of my life.

“You know we may not have Natalie if it weren’t for my mother,” I answered my husband.

I missed out on having a strong bond with my own mother; maybe that’s why I finally decided at 35 to throw away my birth control pills!   We all make choices and those choices are often based on needs we may not even consciously be aware of. Maybe I needed a strong mother/daughter bond. I did not have that with my own mom, so I set about to create it with my daughter.

It has been many many years since I felt anything for my mother, but it took time and counseling to resolve issues from my childhood. It seems to me that it is still taboo to speak about one’s mother in anything but appreciative terms, but for those readers who can relate to my story, I’m sorry… and I’d like to offer the following book recommendations: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep and Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black.

I’ll borrow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to perfectly describe my feelings about my life: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else…”

I am so fortunate to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughter. Happy ending!

Sincerely,

Michele 

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Flowers from my girl!

Dear Reader:

I am lucky enough to be spending Mother’s Day weekend with my daughter! One forgets how good food is in a college town: donuts, pizza, bagels and smoothies oh my!

Best wishes to my dear friend, Courtney,  mother of four girls all under the age of nine, and hugs to my mother-in-law, Mary , who gave me my wonderful husband!

Love,

Michele

Maui Time

Dear Reader:

While there is no bad time to go to Maui, my husband and I have discovered a truly good time to visit the island. Last year, a couple of days after Thanksgiving , we loaded the suitcases with books and magazines, threw in our suits and shorts and escaped the holiday rush. We walked every day along the beach paths and in the sand. We slept in late and began each day with a mimosa. We didn’t rent a car. We didn’t watch the news.We enjoyed sudden bursts of tropical rain. We sang along to “Frosty the Snowman” in the hotel lobby as we enjoyed Kalua pork sandwiches and mai tais. There is something particularly satisfying about having nothing to do for a whole week, especially in the month of December. (Our daughter was appalled: we had not only gone without her, but we were there while she was taking finals. We sent pineapples and chocolate covered macadamia nuts to her and her five roommates!)

My reading list for the week was diverse, and heavy! I have simply not made friends with readers, and so I hauled my heavy load from lobby to pool and back again throughout the week. I began with the book my sister-in-law had recommended: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. I am not a person who has to be convinced of the power of non-fiction. But, even I was struck by how moved I felt at the stories of those who lost their lives in such dramatic fashion in 1915. I followed that book up with something lighter:  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I knew I had to read the book when I heard  that it was a novel by a blogger and that the central character was a 59-year-old curmudgeon. My husband is not yet 59, but in three years he will be a 59 year old curmudgeon. The book was charming, as is my husband. For my third book, I read Delia Ephron’s: Sister Mother Husband Dog : (etc) . I’ve always admired the work of the Ephron sisters and I enjoyed the mix of autobiographical essays that had me alternatively chuckling and near tears…a true representation of life. The last book I read  Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho was an inspiration. I read it once; then I read it again while taking notes; then I read it again because it was fun. I felt energized, afraid, motivated, excited! After tossing around the idea of a blog for several months, I suddenly knew that I was going to become a blogger. Joy had convinced me!

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On our last morning, as I packed up my large tote with my books, my husband called for the bellman. He arrived shortly after and looked at me and said, “You look like a movie star…or, maybe a writer.”

His comment seemed to me to be a good omen. Clearly, I do not look like a movie star! But, yes, I’m a writer. I must be. I look like one!

Aloha,

Michele

* Note to those who want to look like a writer or movie star: Throw on a pair of jeans and a black tee, top with a long cardigan, drape a colorful scarf around your neck, carry a large tote filled with a computer and books, and WEAR A MARVELOUS PAIR OF SUNGLASSES!

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