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September 27, 2014

A Part of Forever

I've given a lot of thought to what helps us through grief. Among the elements that serve us well are beauty and remembrance. One of the hardest things we feel is the continued missing of our loved one. It may change its form or intensity, but it is a piece of our new "forever." Our loved one has departed. Our missing will not cease. Liz Davies' poem is a remembrance beautifully expressed. 

Although Liz's mother died when she was just eight years old, her poem captures the child's view AND the adult daughter's view--with insight and beauty--not an easy thing to do. The poem leads me to wonder how my own mother would relate to my grandchildren whom she cannot know. And yet, I do know, as I believe Liz knows, as I believe Liz carries her mother's living spirit in her heart. 

That, as much as any kind of missing, is a part of forever.

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My Mother Years After
Liz Davies

Illustration by Kate Greenway, Dover Clipart Series

I think of her now, years after,
How she would love to see us grow,
My children and I.
See how I run to their aid, Mother,
And lift them with strong arms, on strong legs,
Keep them from harm like a mother tiger,
And hold them, bend down to them,
Laugh with them and tease them,
Touch warm skin, ruffle soft hair,
As you would have done,
Had you lived on.

I think of her on that last morning,
Alone in a quiet house with my father,
The little dog panting gently by the bed,
Her life slowly lifting away in sunbeams.
Did she hope she would still be there
When we returned from school,
Little brother and I, did she?
Or did she plead with Death to hurry,
To lift her away from the pain,
The worn-out body that bound her,
Kept her from us while she slept
Her last year away. What would I have done?


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 Liz Davies writes: "My mother died when I was eight, and I miss her more now at 65, wanting to share my life with her." Liz lives in Cambridge, England, where her poetry appears regularly in The Cambridge News. I posted another beautiful poem by Liz about her father here.

September 21, 2014

Learning from the Roosevelts

Photo, FDR Presidential Library
Ken Burns' team's seven-part documentary, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" debuted this week on PBS. I can't recommend it highly enough. (You can watch it online at link above.) I believe it is Burns' finest work, and that's saying a lot. One of the first biographies I read in the third grade was about Eleanor Roosevelt. She died later that year. I remember clearly gazing at flags at half-mast and learning what that meant. She was my introduction to the Roosevelt dynasty. 

In this documentary, history came alive for me. I re-learned and remembered how much I owe the two President Roosevelts. They are not objects of hero worship for me. No president is. Rather, they are objects of my admiration. These two men initiated much of what we now take for granted as fairness and social and economic justice in this country. Although both were born to great fortunes and privilege, they had a heart for serving and recognizing the needs of others. 

About the Roosevelts and grief: This blog has numerous posts about loss, most of which are about experiencing one loss at a time. One thing I learned to admire about the Roosevelts was their ability to persist in the face of multiple losses and the ensuing grief. Eleanor's father died when she was young, as did her mother. She and Franklin lost one of their children in infancy. Theodore Roosevelt watched both his wife and mother die on the same night. He had lost his father, "the only person to whom I told everything," years before. Franklin Roosevelt's mother died on September 7, 1941. In the next 48 hours, Germany dropped bombs on a US vessel and Leningrad was under siege. The day after his mother's death, Franklin was in his office, working under a burden of stress that, for me, is unimaginable. When John F. Kennedy planned to see Eleanor Roosevelt during a campaign trip, he learned that one of the Roosevelt grandchildren fell from a horse and died from her injuries the day before he was to arrive. Eleanor kept her appointment with the president-to-be. No one could know better than she how hard it would be for JFK to change his schedule. She also lived to watch her younger brother die, and said it was one of the hardest things she had ever witnessed. 

Photo, FDR Presidential Library
The loss of mobility that FDR suffered brought yet more grief into this history.  FDR was cut down, literally, his legs taken out from under him overnight. He must have experienced intense, long-term grief over the part of him that was forever lost. 

Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University
There is certainly evidence that grief drove Theodore Roosevelt to excesses. One has to wonder about his obsession with hunting, killing animals, and braving wars, necessary or not. In a time when the term "grief recovery" had not been invented, he sought physical outlets for sorrow, to stay not only occupied, but also challenged. The Harvard grad sought "solace" in the rough, rough life of the Dakotas, proving his merit as a true cowboy. One disadvantage to his "therapy" was his inability to relate to his infant daughter after the death of her mother. Their relationship remained difficult, and the core of that difficulty lay in Roosevelt's first wife's death. I know, as do many readers of this blog, what it is like to want to block out grief, ignore it, not discuss it or recognize it. Roosevelt's first daughter Alice paid quite the price for this. On the other hand, she spent meaningful time with her Aunt Bamie, an amazing woman, cultivated, courageous, and wise, who deserves her own documentary.

Photo, FDR Presidential Library
After watching this portrayal of the Roosevelts, I feel encouraged and challenged to redouble my efforts to be a person who perseveres in the face of loss. In the documentary's final installment, Eleanor Roosevelt says, "One most live life as it comes." There is no other way. Grief will come to us...if we love. And we will be called to live both it and the life that keeps pressing on at the same time. We will be called to keep our heads when our hearts are broken and not forget those still living who need us and whom we need. Among many other interesting lessons, I learned this from "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History." As an American, I remain grateful for their capacity to persevere in the face of loss, to keep their heads (most of the time), and serve this country to the best of their talents and ability. 

The world is better for it.   
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September 13, 2014

The Respite We All Deserve

I've written more than once about anniversaries of losses on this blog. People around the world just shared the anniversary of 9/11. It's an anniversary that I believe will not be allowed to leave us. As there are others that preceded it. That's as it should be... and yet...we all need and deserve respites, even at the heights and depths of the experience of loss and its memory. That's exactly what Tasha Raella Chemel's poem gives us. I deeply appreciate how she wove that bit of respite into the poem and her life experience. I trust you will, too. 
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Art by Kristin Hubick at RetroCafeArt

 QUEEN BEE

by Tasha Raella Chemel

On Sundays, my father would place magazines on his lap
and cut my finger- and toenails with his special scissors.
Then he would pretend that his nose
was the dial on a radio, 
and he would tell stories.
My favorite was about the queen bee
who rose to a power she did not want,
who died, gently, gently
when she knew her time was done.

Once, when my father came to kiss me goodnight,
he  saw a mosquito flitting near my cheek,
and he killed it with medical efficiency.
For some reason, when I imagined that mosquito’s
corpse, I thought of ribs shattered like old wood.
I heard the exertion of sickened lungs.
My sleep was disturbed by the knowledge
that my father had the power to kill.

My Granny Zip died the summer I was six.
I can still remember the perfume my mother wore
the day she left  for Johannesburg.
It smelled like sadness.

When my father broke the news
He did not plug up my mourning
with platitudes about the circle of life.
And my sadness felt safe.
Afterward, but only when I was ready,
he told other stories
about  South Africa,
about two black boys, Magugu and Matwetwe.
The mischief they got up to
was so ridiculous
that my smile emerged without my consent
and I knew it was all right
to stop thinking about death
for a while.

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Tasha Raella Chemel is currently a master's candidate in Arts In Education at Harvard University. She enjoys reading critical theory, seeking out the perfect chai latte, and over-analyzing pop culture. She lives in Massachusetts.   Poem copyright Tasha Raella Chemel. All rights reserved.

Illustration by Kristin Hubik, all rights reserved. I was delighted to find this piece to go with Tasha's poem. Equally delighted to explore Kristin's website, blog, etc. for the first time. See more of her work on Facebook and at: RetroCafeArt.com, KrisHubick.blogspot.com.