Sunday, April 21, 2013

grief



Here’s what I know about grief.

Grief is not linear.
With apologies to Doctor Who, I borrow from his explanation of time: It isn’t linear. It’s a wibbly wobbly ball of timey whimey stuff. By that I mean it takes an unpredictable path. When we are struck by loss, there is often a delay, a numbness, a sense of disbelief or shock. There was an editor at the newspaper where I worked whose theory was to interview those affected immediately, before the shock wore off. 

I know, it sounds cruel on its face, but it really is the most compassionate way. And as someone sent to talk to parents of child killed by a school bus before their very eyes, lost in a fire et al, I was grateful. (BTW: I would often throw up before knocking on those doors, yet almost always those at the heart of the tragedies were glad to talk about the loved one.)
After it sinks in, grief comes in waves. You feel as if you are drowning, only to find a length of placid respite. But it returns unbidden, without warning. Just when you think it’s behind you, it sloshes overhead, threatening to pull you under.

Time is not relevant. The above pattern can repeat for seconds, decades or lifetimes.

Grief is not proportional
People can be rendered as non-functional by the loss of pet as a person. I once found that hard to believe. But no more. I’ve seen it. Loss is loss. And a so-called minor loss can trigger unresolved grieving issues. I am reminded of a MASH episode in which tough-minded head nurse Margaret Houlihan remains seemingly untouched by a serious of deaths until the loss of a mangy stray dog sends her into hysterics of grief. 

Grief cannot be anticipated.
Here, I am reminded of Shirley Maclaines’s character in Terms of Endearment after her daughter dies a difficult death from breast cancer. After watching her child suffer, she cries that she expected to feel relief at its end. Yet she experiences only overwhelming sorrow and loss. Grief, guilt and regret are a treacherous trio.

Grief is often subtle, a chameleon.
It can take the shape of illness, depression, excess, addiction, anger or even overarching ambition—anything that throws life out of balance. I’ve been unable to overcome a respiratory infection for weeks, causing me to consider if it’s connected to the recent loss of Abbie, my cat of 18 years.

Grief is contagious.
Just look around you this week, from the Boston Marathon to Texas, grief and its repercussions are impossible to ignore.

Grief is a four-letter word: loss
It’s a word that unites us all.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

market day

                                                                          
I dragged my still-croaking voiced body downtown this morning to the farmer’s market. Every Saturday morning, streets are blocked off for the event with a festival air. Police direct traffic as streams of locals, snow birds and visitors stroll past a myriad of vendors in search of a deal. Serious shoppers roll carts, while others parade their pets—dogs, birds and often a reptile or two—sip lattes, fresh coconut milk or guzzle down a wide variety of junk or ungodly healthy foods. 

Me—I mostly come for the theater. I learned the hard way that “deals” are rare. How many farmers’ markets sport a cash machine? A short walk over to Whole Foods usually brings better prices. There isn’t even a guarantee that all the stuff is local. Farmers’ markets have become big business. So I make my rare purchases carefully.

 Ah, but the people watching--of customers and vendors--is more than worth the price of admission, so to speak. I drop a $1 into the case of a twangy street performer, passing closely by a couple of VERY drag queens handing out fliers. I don’t stop of get one so I haven’t a clue.  Another buck goes to a feed- the-hungry local charity. It seems inexcusable not to make a small contribution in the midst of such abundance.

There are stalls of beauty pageant produce, seedy looking organic choices, grass-fed beef, seafood, flowers, green drinks, sugary slushes, crafts, clothing, organic olive oils, teas, soaps and skin care, gluten/non-gluten pastries and pastas, herbs, rain barrels, fire pits ….etc. etc. For $15, you can get a chair massage. This almost catches me.

I give myself permission to violate all my dietary restrictions yet only buy a cappuccino. Odd. My tummy is still a bit outta sorts. So I pass up the yummy looking/smelling grouper sandwiches, “authentic” Argentine empanadas, egg & steak breakfasts, scones, and the like.

It’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.

Monday, January 7, 2013

the glam reaper



Once upon a half-century, in a land of black & white TV, there lived a series called the Twilight Zone, the product of Rod Serling , a man adept at teasing out our deepest fears for our own enjoyment.

That now famous 1962 episode staring an unknown and impossibly young Robert Redford as Death, in the guise of a wounded police officer come to coax a terrified old woman out of her basement hovel and into the “light,” began a trend—that of the “Glam Reaper.”

Decades later, the trend continued with John Dye, cast as Andrew, AN (not THE) Angel of Death, on the long-running Touched by An Angel series.  An actor of the same almost glacial good looks as Redford, Dye would arrive in time to gently escort the latest character “home.” Interestingly, Andrew often did so with obvious regret. (It must be noted here the irony of both his last name and the fact that he died too young and with a bit of mystery.)

Enter the ultimate Glam Reaper in the form of Brad Pitt as Joe Black in the 1998 film Meet Joe Black. Pitt’s Death hijacks the body of a human for the experience, falling in love in the process. Hey, if you’re gonna take human form, Pitt’s ain’t a bad choice.
As we all know, the tellie or movie character is always more attractive than its real-life counterpart so I do wonder, especially now that so many of those I know and care for have taken that walk. The personification of our universal fear widely regarded as the ultimate enemy to be fought to the “death’ into a young, lovely caring soul does provide succor.

Yet, in all the Near Death Experiences recorded, not one to my knowledge has reported seeing said Angel. NDEs—whether they are body or brain “deaths”—speak of seeing the now infamous “light”, loved ones, religious figures and the overwhelming feeling of unconditional love.

And that’s fine with me. When my time comes, I’ll take unconditional love over a stroll with a Glam Reaper of any description.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

death be not proud



Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.


                                                                   John Donne


Andrea died yesterday. 

I learned about it the modern way, a Facebook chat message. It’s strange, even when death is expected it almost always sneaks up on you and shouts “surprise” in your ear.

Andrea was sick, very sick. For more than two decades she lived with the terminal diagnosis of metastasized stage 4 breast cancer. We all tend to say at times such as this: she lost her long battle against etc…etc…and so on. I think of it a little differently.  Andrea didn’t live with cancer, cancer lived with her. Unbidden, it moved into her tissue and slowly began edging her out.

Andrea did not go quietly. Surrender wasn’t in her vocabulary. Not some sweet, new ager she. Andrea was a small, wiry, tough person filled with anger—an anger I believe fueled her life. A life, by the way, which she continued to find ways to enjoy—her music, movies, TV, plays and so on. She knew what she liked, fought with her husband, adored her dogs and didn’t hesitate to express herself, regardless. I know that firsthand. 

Last winter I struggled with a severe respiratory infection that had me coughing up blood and puss, straining to breathe, unable to even croak out a sound. After six weeks, alone and feeling sorry for myself, I made the mistake of posting: I’m sick of being sick on my FB page. Andrea landed on me like a house of bricks. And while I could certainly understand where it came from, I have to admit it didn’t make me feel any better. But that wasn’t her point.

I did not know Andrea before the cancer, but I suspect the disease did not change her nature. This past Fall, she took a belated birthday bus trip into NYC with our mutual friend Diane to see Wicked—only one of two plays she would agree to see. Diane later told me she fought with almost everyone she came in contact with, including the bus driver. She also insisted on walking to the restaurant, regardless of the neuropathy that plagued her legs.

Diane and I just nodded and smiled. Yup, that’s Andrea.

I did get to spend some time with her this summer, a long afternoon relaxing in Diane’s backyard. We just talked until shadows gathered. There wasn’t much left of her body but her mind—and tongue retained their sharpness. She still drove.

I do not believe Andrea “lost her battle” with cancer. I believe she finally decided to leave behind the condemned structure and move on. I’m betting she also has no more need for the anger to fill the spaces the cancer would claim. I choose to think she now has room for joy,

Sorry Andrea, I am not a cynic, so sue me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Woodstock 2012--back to the garden

Sunday last, decades late and on the fly, I finally made it to Bethel Woods, AKA, Woodstock. Not much more than a whim, on the way back from a weekend visit to my Aunt Sally’s country house, my cousins and I paid a quick visit to the site and museum.

I missed out on the original. By that time I was married with a 6-month-old daughter, living at the Jersey Shore. Like many of my generation—more than will admit—I experienced it second hand via TV. My aunt, however, the very same I just visited, did make it. She responded to urgent calls for help and brought sandwiches to the muddy minions.

The pull of the place took me by surprise—this despite the obvious corporate sensibility of the born-again pastoral concert space. It is lush, green and well-groomed, patrolled by an equally well-groomed staff in green blazers sporting ID’s around their necks.

It was mid-afternoon and folks were already arriving for the evenings (what’s left of the) Grateful Dead concert. My cousin and I shared a chuckle over the gathering of the faux hippies that live to follow.

You can grab a bite to eat, then stroll the store with everything “Woodstock” you can imagine (except the Peanut’s character). But the jewel in the crown is the museum. I kid you not. More than worth the price of admission, I could have stayed for hours.

More than a history of the iconic festival, it recounts the entire story of the 60s, with multi-media displays reaching back to the clean cut American Bandstand days. You can sit in a flower power bus and watch a flick narrated by those who made the cross country trip. You can slouch in a bean bag chair and gaze up at a HUGE panorama of festival films. The very scope of the scene take ones breath away.

Waves of nostalgia washed over me, not only for the times, but for my youth. It’s cliché but true. It was another world, long gone—and yet just a brief millisecond ago, on the edge of my peripheral vision.

How the hell did I get to be a 65-year-old grey haired granny? And how did that naked, tolerant mass of humanity, squirming in the Catskill mud, become the tight-assed, narrow- minded bunch running this country today?

I really thought we were a better lot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

gratitude

It’s a bit nippy on the shady side of the street outside No Joes this morning as I sip my brew, aptly named: sledgehammer. This sunny, dry, fall-like weather won’t last. I already see thick clouds closing in—boding a return to the violent summer storms of the past few days.

And that’s okay by me. The storms may be inconvenient, but that doesn’t measure up to REAL summer weather. By that I mean FLORIDA weather. When the worst of the storm hit several days ago, turning the daytime black, with claps of thunder loud enough to shake the dog, I was alone and calm, feeling entirely SAFE. This old Dutch colonial is nothing if not sturdy, with plaster walls so thick you cannot hear from room to room.

At that very moment, my “home” in Sarasota was among the towns being battered and flooded by Tropical Storm Debby. Almost the entire state was underwater and threat of tornadoes, expected to continue for up to five days. Yes, folks, that DAYS, not hours. And it’s a trop storm, not even a hurricane!

As I hung out of my friends cozy couch to wait out the NJ storm, my thoughts flickered to a major drive in leaving the sunshine state in summer—and gratitude washed over me—gratitude for my friend,s generosity of spirit in opening her home to me each summer.

Until I moved to Florida a decade ago, storms were inconvenient, as a journalist there was a bit of a pain, but never were they fearful. As a child growing up on the north shore of Long Island, the hurricanes that reached us were fun times, lit with the glow of candles and flashlights. Of course, it’s easy to be brave in a brick split level under the protection of loving parents. Not having to travel to work also helps.

Unfortunately, I do not live in a condo of brick, or stone, or masonry of any sort. I am one of the other little pigs of story lore, who build—perhaps bought—her house of sticks. Yupper, it’s a 1970s wood condo with a metal roof. The sound of rain bouncing off said roof is enough to drown out the loudest of TV audio.

(An aside: this “house of sticks” is a grand metaphor for me life, eh? Unlike my friends and family who have built their “houses of brick.” Just thought I’d say it before someone like my son pointed it out.)

On the, albeit mild, plus side, Sarasota is considered a relatively secure site, storm wise. Longtime residents crow that the town is a “sacred” place, protected against extreme elements. They point to the area as one the native Indians fled to escape storms in years gone by. In my view however, such arrogance in unfounded, as Sarasota is merely the highest ground around. Note I said highEST which is not all that high. And my particular condo complex is on its crest.

The roads around me flood, but so far, the unit has remained dry. This is particularly fortunate as I no longer have a lick of insurance, sorta going commando.

I try not to think about the wind.

To sum up: Tropical storm there + me here = GRATITUDE