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July 24, 2011

And now he has moved on ...

Saturn Letterpress Card. See below for resources.


I wrote in an earlier post that the son of a very close friend of mine was struggling against death, and now he is not. His soul departed this plane yesterday, July 23rd. Since speaking with my friend yesterday, the phrase "whipped into silence" continues to come to my mind.  Not whipped as in punished or beaten, but whipped as in a cooking event, stirred, folded, whipped into a great white mass of very fresh whipping cream. Silence.  White silence is what I feel inside me. The event is so large. I am so powerless. 

While in St. Paul recently, I visited an exquisite shop called Paper Patisserie, owned by Eileen Shapiro. Nestled in the ground floor of a 19th-century brick building, the shop offers very fine wrapping papers (beautiful enough to frame), meaningful and beautiful greeting cards of all varieties, affordable and excellent art by local artists, hand-milled soap, jewelry and Belgian chocolate. Don't go looking for the Paper Patisserie Website, though. The store does not have one. You have to experience this wonderful place the human, old-fashioned way: by going there!  To 366 Selby Avenue in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood.  If you are anywhere near the Twin Cities area, you owe it to yourself to go to this shop.
I bring this up in this post, because I found sympathy cards like no others at Paper Patisserie. Some of them are created and printed by Saturn Press in Maine. If you cannot get to Paper Patisserie, you can find Saturn Letterpress cards at various sites online, including:  Cronin and Company, Northern Tides Gallery, and at Rikumo.

The card above is one I bought at Paper Patisserie and the one I will send to my friend. It's a good quote to be read on any day at any time, as well as at that uncompromising moment when we must look toward the horizon and bid farewell to someone we love with all our being--and then some.

July 19, 2011

So Many Seasons in One Month

Cabin at Shore's Edge, Lake Superior, by Ysabel de la Rosa

We can tech out our lives all we want, but weather remains creation's trump card. Last week, I shivered in sweatshirt layers on the shore of Lake Superior, enjoyed wearing capris (Does anyone else besides me still like to call these pedal-pushers?) as I walked in the afternoon sun on a trail around three ponds in Minneapolis, and had the luxury of deciding whether to eat outdoors or in at the delightful Cheeky Monkey Deli in downtown St. Paul.  The next day, I returned to Texas, where a walk outdoors meant slowly pushing my way through a wall of heat and stepping into a back yard whose grass has a great summer tan and is now covered with lots of dead brown leaves falling from my neighbor's heat-stressed trees. And just yesterday, Minneapolis-St.Paul got hit with the heat, too.  The humidity of the "Land of Lakes" pushed the heat index to 115.  A touch of autumn, near-winter, late-spring, high-summer, and extreme temperatures, all in one week.

 Empty Adirondacks, Lake Superior, by Ysabel de la Rosa
Given that June and July are heavy-duty anniversary times for me, I have naturally compared this collection of weathers to the collection of feelings that accompany the grieving process.  My sister's funeral was held on the fourth anniversary of my father's death. So, this year, I had a cluster of anniversary dates:  June 23, June 30, July 7 ... all related to these two people, ones I love so much I still wonder how it is that I walk around on this earth without them.

Nor did I escape the anniversary body-response. It took me a while to "get it," but I developed a sore throat and fever that kicked in on June 30. Ugh. And I thought I was processing all this better than before. But, experience continues to bear out my belief that the body also grieves, in its own way, and it will have its way! 

As my daughter-in-law and I explored a bit of St. Paul, I noticed a sign in front of a lovely house. "The Center for Grief, Loss and Transition."  The sign alone was a kind of epiphany for me.  It reminded me of one of my duties:  Transition. 

Flowers in Transition by Ysabel de la Rosa

The way through and/or out of traumatic change is, indeed, transition. Loss of a loved one is very much like surgeries. Many surgeries take only one to several hours, yet the time the body needs to heal from them often involves months or even years. Just to read the word transition on the sign felt comforting to me.  I can, yes, I can make a transition into this new, awkward life without the presence of some of the people I love.

Transition holds the word transit inside.  The word tells me to travel.  To travel I need to plan. To plan I need to look consciously into my future. And future means that life continues here and that my journey is not yet done. In my youth, I would take time from work to visit my parents and grandparents. Now, I take time to visit my son and daughter-in-law.  My visits home were always to the South. Now, my visits to "home" and family are North. In the past year, I have not had the energy to take care of a dog and all that entails (no pun intended!), but I have been able to adopt a cat who had been traumatized by being left at a shelter and "lost" his human family.  He talks to me in a language I don't yet understand, and when I am fatigued and on the couch, he curls up beside me, a living, breathing, sentient warmth.  Signs of transition, of moving ahead, of life. Reminders to me that loss does not stop life, even though there are moments at the height of our grief when we might wish that it did. Fortunately, the design is not to be changed. 

Interior of  Center for Grief, Loss and Transition

To learn more about the Center for Grief, Loss and Transition in St. Paul, Minnesota, click here. They are doing very meaningful work. If you live in the area, I hope you will consider supporting them with a donation or helping to spread the word about the work their staff of 11 counselors are doing.  I gained so much, just by seeing their sign!

July 10, 2011

How stable are we? And to what degree?

Our friend's son's condition has stabilized for now. I have thought of him all weekend. And of the father trying to catch a baseball in the stands at a Rangers game....the father fell and died in the act. And of the hiker in Yellowstone who surprised a mother bear with her cubs ... and died as a result. And in one of those contemplative moments, after hearing such news, I have to say to myself, "We are all dying at this moment, just by degrees."  We are all also living at this moment, and the question to ask ourselves is, "To what degree?"

I've just returned from 48 hours by the shore of Lake Superior, slept in a cabin perched literally on its rocky edge.  Edge. Dividing line. Degrees toward and degrees from. The vast, featureless expanse of water-sky. There were moments, hours, when not even a horizon was visible.

Longevitud ..... Latitude .... At what degree of life or death am I in this moment? And how will my awareness of my position affect my decisions?  Not a question to ask every day, but a question to ask on some days, so that other days may be lived more fully.

July 7, 2011

A friend's child is fighting against death

BriArt of iStock Photo
I knew when I got the call last night that the news would not be something I wanted to hear. My friend's adult son has valiantly fought melanoma for nearly two years. In the last few weeks, though, the experimental chemo ceased to quell the cancer and, as so often happens, compromised his immune system. He is in the hospital now, and my friends, his mother and father, are with him.  To get there, they had to drive through a rainstorm in the Rocky mountains. It's both odd and amazing how natural events can intensify our grief and worry. I am sure that the storm outside matched the storms that each of them felt inside as they drove through the dying light, hurrying to the airport.

This experience, unfortunately, is not new to me. Six of my close friends have lost children. The circumstances and ages have all been different, but the loss of a child remains colossal, no matter the age or circumstances. Colossal, bigger than all things human, destroys all scale, all sense of logic, reason, and natural order. 

Were it in my power, I would "take this cup from" each of them. This, however, is not in my power. What is in my power is to drink from the cup with them and to choose to be present for my friends in this darkest hour. People who lose children often have the least support of anyone during grief. The knowledge that any parent can lose a child scares us all witless. If we just don't think about it, if we just don't let ourselves come in contact with this catastrophe in someone else's life, maybe we can be safe from this. We may not think these thoughts consciously, but thinking them is a natural, instinctive reaction.  

And a wrong one. The right thing to do is to show up.  Just stand there. Understand that you cannot make a dent in a bereaved parent's grief, but you can be there for them. You can show up and say, "This is horrible. I hate that you have to endure this loss. I will walk through the loss with you, though." Early in the loss, it's hard to know what to do. Bring food?  Help write thank you notes?  These help. As does offering to mow the lawn, run errands, or do laundry.  But I still think the biggest thing is just to show up, not run away, and be prepared to show up over a long period of time.

Research indicates that it takes four years to feel something of a return to normal after the loss of a child. (I think this is true for other losses, as well, depending on the relationship.) So, make it a point to check in with your friend over the next few years.  This does not have to be a big-deal commitment. Just promise that you will call them every four to eight weeks, and say, "How are you?" and then listen, really listen to how they are.  Remember you are not responsible for fixing their grief, but for walking through it with them. Right now, whether male or female, that parent is the elderly woman that you, the boy or girl scout, has agreed to help walk across a dangerous, high-traffic thoroughfare. Just hold their hand and walk with them.

I called my friend this morning. We talked for just five minutes. I assured her that my brother and I are praying for all of them, that we will call and check in with her to see how her son's condition either advances or deteriorates.  We are and will be HERE for them.

Do I wish it were different?  Yes, I would like to cure their son of his cancer, wind the clock back to the year before the diagnosis, recreate the happy family portrait of him, his wife and two daughters. Out of my power--oh, so far out of my power.  So, I must content myself with saying the prayer, "Lord, do not let what I can't do keep me from doing what I can do."  I can be with them.  Be with them, no matter what.

hronos 7 of iStock Photo
Do you know someone in grief to whom you can offer the gift of your presence?  For your presence is indeed a great gift. Never let the spectre of death convince you that your presence is not needed, not valuable. Send that email, make that phone call, knock on that door, and just say, "I'm here. I am thinking of you. I have not forgotten you, or your child, or your loss."

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you will always be glad that you did, that you chose the sacred thing to do, that you helped a friend cross the uncrossable, bear the unbearable. May we all, in whatever loss comes our way, be helped by just such a friend.

July 4, 2011

Un padre ejemplar

Here is the last of our tributes to fathers, this one from my friend Julieta Lubatti, an Argentinean living in Spain. I was fortunate to know Julieta's father, Jorge Lubatti. He was everything she said he was--and more. He was a builder and a nurturer, a listener and a counselor. He embraced the world and the people in it. His life was never easy, yet he found joy everywhere, especially in his wife Cristina and in his daughters Julieta and Natalia. When Julieta wrote me to tell me he had died, I felt an ache in my heart. I had always thought that I would see him again on a future trip to Spain, but it was not to be. Our last time together, though, was unforgettable. The Lubattis and I went on a picnic on a Sunday afternoon at Las Picadas, a beautiful area not far from Madrid.  What I remember most is our laughter, laughter usually brought on by something Jorge would say or do. 

Julieta writes that her father gave her her first bath when she was an infant. Her small body fit perfectly in his large hands, the hands of a workman and artisan who repaired and remodeled houses. She didn't like buses, so her father worked harder and bought the family a little Renault, in which they took many a family outing. As his little girls grew into women and suffered ups and downs, he continued to be there for them--through illness and through divorce.  Of Italian ancestry, Jorge was able to obtain Italian passports for his family, and they immigrated to Spain in 2001, which is when we all met each other. The essay is in Spanish and is titled "An Exemplary Father." And I know that Jorge would be glad to know that his daughter remembers him as exactly that.

Jorge, padre orgulloso de Julieta y Natalia.  Buenos Aires, Argentina

Un padre ejemplar

Mi papá nació en Luján Provincia de Buenos Aires El 8 de mayo de 1948, se casó con mi mamá Cristina Fernández  en Buenos Aires, en el año 1975 en la capilla Cristo Maestro en el barrio de Villa de Voto, Buenos Aires.
En el año 1978 un 18 de noviembre, nací yo, y el primer baño me lo dio mi papi, ya que sus manos eran grandes y entraba en ellas sin ningún problema. En ese momento en el que llegué, a este mundo fue su gran día. Al poco tiempo compró un coche, porque el autobús no me gustaba, y fue un Renault 11, color blanco.
El día 17 de agosto nació mi hermana Natalia y fue un poco más grandecita que yo, pero también la bañó mi papi. Él trabajaba de carpintero  y cuando venía de trabajar, siempre nos encontraba durmiendo y cuando se iba a trabajar nos veía durmiendo, pero luego los domingos nos llevaba a pasear por todos lados los 4, mi papi, mi mami, mi hermana y yo, y esos días eran súper lindos. Nos llevaba a parques, piscinas, íbamos de picnic y muchos lados más, por eso digo que fue un padre ejemplar.
Él decidió hacer la nacionalidad italiana a nosotras y en el año 1989 ya teníamos pasaportes italianos y por eso vinimos a España en el año 2001. Mi papi disfrutó mucho de los paseos por España porque fue su sueño hecho realidad, ya que él quería venir a España en el año que éramos chiquitas.
Trabajó mucho acá en este país, al igual que viajó y disfrutó en todo momento con mi mamá y con nosotras también. Él siempre decía que por primera vez con lo que ganaba, le daba la oportunidad de conocer España. En Argentina, sin embargo, aunque trabajó mucho, no podía viajar como viajó acá. Estaba súper agradecido de la vida, siempre estaba haciendo bromas, y te reías mucho con él.
De verdad, agradezco a dios por haberle dado la oportunidad de disfrutar de la vida. Con tanta fuerza que él tenía te daba fuerzas.  Si uno estaba triste, él estaba siempre ahí, como un padre que está en lo bueno y en lo malo, y le agradezco a dios todo lo que me enseñó y todo lo que disfrutamos con él.
Mi papá siempre me decía que hay que disfrutar de lo que tenemos, pero no lo material, sino lo que uno tiene de la familia, y era eso lo más importante para él. Él siempre se preocupó por nosotras, ya que nos casamos muy jóvenes y resultamos las dos divorciadas.  Él tenía razón, todo lo que nos enseñó y los consejos que nos dio nos hicieron muy bien.
Mi papá siempre tenía aspecto de estar contento, aun si estaba mal tratado en algún trabajo, porque no quería preocupar a mi mamá. Es gracias a él que estamos en España, algo que nos cambió la vida por mejor.
Bueno, quiero que todo el mundo sepa que las personas que tengan a sus padres presente, siempre estén a su lado en los buenos y malos momentos, escuchen sus consejos, cuídenlos porque gracias a ellos estamos acá en este mundo.
Estoy muy orgullosa de haber tenido un papá tan bueno. Además de ser buen padre, fue un hombre trabajador que no descansaba nunca. De las casas que tuvimos en Argentina, no paró de reformarlas, arreglarlas, hasta las casas donde vivimos en Madrid y en Alicante, siempre que había algo para hacer, estaba él ahí.
Cristina y Jorge, casados por 34 años.
Un buen esposo siempre al lado de mi mamá, siempre se acordaba de los cumpleaños, de los aniversarios de casados, y le encantaba traer un ramo de flores para dar alguna sorpresa a mi mami. Estuvieron juntos durante 34 años, un matrimonio ejemplar, quiso mucho a mi mamá y  a sus hijas, fuimos importantes para él.
Cuando se enfermó, por suerte seguía ahí, con buena onda fuerte y siguió  disfrutando de nosotras hasta el último día, pero, bueno, de eso a él no le gustaría que hable ya que lo más importante era la vida. Siempre decía que hay que vivir la vida, y que había que recordar a los seres queridos que no están como eran en los mejores momentos de su vida.
Nosotras siempre recordamos a mi papá en sus mejores momentos y que siempre estará en nuestros corazones y que fue el PADRE EJEMPLAR. Así que, papi, gracias por estar siempre en los malos y buenos momentos le agradezco a él todo lo que nos enseñó durante el tiempo que estuvo con nosotras.
Te quiero mucho, papá.

Julieta Lubatti