Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

We just got word that my Uncle Tim died today – he was elderly; he had been ill; his death was not unexpected.
He was married to my mother’s sister – both my mother and her sister died of cancer in their 40s many, many years ago. My Uncle Tim was the repository of stories about my mother’s family. I had wanted him to meet my children but he never did. I had some of the most hilariously funny times at his house when we visited him in Ireland over the years. But I have not been back in a long time.
My parents and all my aunts and uncles and their spouses are dead now. Tim was the only one alive for many years. It’s inevitable but sad all the same. The immigrant’s ties to the family back home are loosened by distance but the ties with Tim remained strong just the same. I was lucky to have Tim welcome us into his home every time we showed up with questions about the family we lost when we were so very young.

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GiftsWhen I see this table, I see gifts, many gifts. The plates are from my husband’s beloved grandmother Pearl, a tiny jewel of a woman. The glassware, Waterford crystal, is a legacy from my Irish mother; she collected the glasses; I added to it when I got married. The silverware was assembled as wedding gifts. The center candle was a gift from my girls. The table itself belonged to my parents, one of the first things they purchased after they married.

The meal we ate at this table tonight included vegetables sautéed in the chili oil and beriberi spices my son got me for Christmas.

We had a feast of gifts today. It was delicious….

Both my parents died young of cancer. I was young when they died; for a long time, I measured my life in what I had lost. But now, decades later, I see the gifts in my life. And of course, the most important gifts are not yet at this table – my husband and my three children.

In life, it is sometimes appropriate to acknowledge all that we’ve lost on our journey. Tonight, however, I celebrate the many gifts – the people who’ve supported me in my lief, and the gifts they’ve shared with me.

I wish all a merry, merry Christmas and a year full of gifts and gratitude.

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My husband and I are fast approaching our 20th anniversary – I look at my plates, my silverware; all those things that were a part of my bridal registry and cannot believe they are all 20 years old right now.

But my oldest wedding gift was one bought long before I ever married. It is a pair of candelabra my mother bought for me (and a pair for each of my two sisters) to be given to each of us at our wedding.


I was 12 years old when she bought this wedding gift for me. She was three months away from dying. She knew she was dying and she knew she would never see her daughters marry. But she bought us each a present.

The plan, of course, was that my father would present the gift to us on our wedding day. But he, too, died before any of us married.

I brought out the candelabra last night – they had been packed away for many, many (too many) years. They are ornate and fancy. We are informal and casual. But I was thinking about my wedding anniversary and the many gifts we received and how much enjoyment we’ve gotten from them and I realized it was time to bring out the candelabra my mother had gotten for me. She was so very ill when she embarked on that particular shopping trip. I have no idea what she was thinking when she was looking through the silver section of Marshall Fields. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like for my mother to go wedding-gift shopping for three small girls, the eldest being just 12, knowing that she would never see us grow up and marry.

There is so much emotional weight in that choice she made to purchase these gifts.

So last night, in celebration of my birthday, I put out the gift my mother had bought for me so many years ago, the wedding gift bought years before my wedding. It is a beautiful gift. Solid, strong, decorative. And when I light those candles, I think of my mother and how much she missed and how loss never leaves you. But the mementos stay and remind us of the love that went into the gifts we have received from those we’ve lost.

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I was on the phone the other day, talking with a friend of mine. My husband was out on a bike ride, so I was on the phone while alone in the house with children.

(Can you see where this is going?!)

I’m at the stage where chatting on the phone with friends is as rare in my life as large diamonds, but my friend and I were chatting about a dear friend who had died last weekend. We were both overwhelmed with the news and, frankly, we were both a little teary.

Clearly, this was an important conversation.

Then, suddenly, all hell starts breaking loose upstairs, where my children have been sent to get ready for bed.

It is difficult in my house for my children to get ready for bed without proper supervision. There are all sorts of battles that can erupt – over who gets the toothpaste first; who stands where at the sink; who gets to use the toilet first, etc. and so on.

From the sound of it, there was a major war going on upstairs. And I am rather irritated because I am alone without the hubby to help and I want to be talking on the phone with my friend about my dear friend and all hell is breaking loose and from the sound of it, if I don’t go upstairs to stop the war, there may be casualties.

Then my son comes down, giggling hysterically. “Mom,” he says, ” they’re fighting about who farted the loudest!”

My two six-year-old girls, dainty flowers that they are, were at war over the sounds of their farts. Not sure if the louder fart was the winner or loser in that battle, but there you go. A new battlefield had been established. And there was a sound and fury to the war that had grown exponentially in just moments.

I decided to plunge into the fray. I explained the situation to my friend, who was astonished to have our conversation about grief interrupted by a story about farts. I went up into the battle zone with the phone so she could hear.

When I entered the bedroom, it was obvious the battle had shifted from farts to beds. One girl had pulled down the covers of the other girl’s bed. Both were screeching at the top of their lungs.

I held the phone up so my friend could hear it all. And she heard my girls screeching the exact same thing to me. “Stop looking at me!” “Stop LOOKING at me!”

And because they are identical twins, the tone and sound of the statement sounded exactly the same – as if one person was fighting with herself.

My friend and I couldn’t help it. We both burst out laughing. And we both knew that our dear friend who died last weekend would have laughed the loudest. In this moment of grief and loss, laughter rang out, and I was reminded once again that life is complex. Emotional. Contradictory. Life is war and anger and love and grief in one room. And life is laughter. Never forget the laughter.

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I posted pix on FB recently – and a friend from HS, who I’ve reconnected with thanks to FB, made a comment that my son looks like my dad.

It was an innocuous comment that caught me off guard.

Yes, my son looks very much like my dad. But my father died more than a quarter century ago – and there are very few people I see in my day-to-day life who have any memory at all of my father. He simply does not exist for anyone I’ve met since 1984.

So to have someone note the resemblance my son has to my father is highly unusual. And it made me sad. My son is so very much like my father – but he’ll never really know that because he never got to know my father.

Memory matters. Our memories of people are very powerful. When you lose someone you love, you lose the ability to introduce that person to all the new people who enter into your life as time passes on. My friend’s comment on FB made me realize that my parents, so important to me, are completely absent in the lives and memories of most people I see everyday.

And I realized yet again that the tentacles of loss are very long.

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Death in the Afternoon…

Yesterday, at about 1:30 p.m., a woman named Deana Reynolds slipped free of “the surly bonds” of earth and breathed her last breath. Less than a year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Yesterday, the disease killed her.

Deana fought very very hard against an invidious invader. The pain she described since her diagnosis seemed unimaginable. Yet she held on, signing up for aggressive treatment at a hospital far from home. Her goal, always, was to live for her family. Even as the cancer got bolder, she never gave up hope that she would rise above it in the end.

Deana left behind a husband and two small boys. Two boys who are too young really to have memories of their mother. And she left behind her parents who never expected to bury their child.

Cancer is a terrible foe. A most terrible foe. It steals too much from us. I’m glad I participated in a fundraiser for cancer last week. The task – the open water swim – was difficult, but I had been inspired by Deana’s fight – her strength – her courage. She reminded me that giving up is never an option.

Deana also set a powerful example of what it is like to face a terrible challenge with extraordinary grace and strength. And I’ll never forget the sage advice from Deana’s husband, Jack: hug your family today. Deana’s death reminds me that we won’t always have the option.

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Ticket sales were awesome. (And scalpers made a fortune.)

The venue was packed.

The show was filled with high-profile talent, including Mariah, Usher and Brooke Shields.

The audience was appreciative.

The gold coffin, front and center, cost $25,000.

Yes, I’m talking about Michael Jackson’s funeral/memorial/well-rehearsed “farewell to the superstar” performance at the Staples venue in LA. And all right, I admit it. I’m utterly mystified by the relentless coverage of the Michael Jackson death – and I’m equally bewildered by the outpouring of grief millions of people seem to be feeling for this performer.

Whatever you want to call it, the mourning for MJ is big, bold and a rather bizarre spectacle. He was a man graced with exceptional talent, a huge bankbook and the love of family, friends and fans. But a look at the mutilation he inflicted on his face is powerful evidence of a strange misery he endured, despite fame, fortune and a whole lotta love, if we’re to believe the people who spoke at yesterday’s memorial.

And I find it all rather sad that a man whose family thrust him too early into the spotlight decided to say farewell to him also in the spotlight. I don’t really understand taking one’s grief and making it public like this. I also don’t understand the visceral reaction millions of people, strangers to Michael, had at the news of his death.

Perhaps I’ve lost too many loved ones of my own to get wrapped up in grief for someone I’ve never met.

In the end, what really matters is that three small children are now orphans. Orphans that have a voracious public eager for a glimpse of them. I hope they can grow a few more years without the glare of attention focused so hotly on them. Because having lost my mother at a young age, I know how devastating the loss of a parent can be for a child. No one should have to recover from grief with a powerful media focus shining on their every move.

In the end, when you strip away the sparkly gloves, the spangled uniforms, the skin peels, the surgeries, the rumors, the slumber parties, the hype, the hysteria, what you’re left with is a father who left his children far too early. Michael’s beautiful daughter Paris pulled the curtain away from all the wizardry. Her heartfelt tribute revealed the man behind the mirror to be a beloved daddy, who will by missed by his children.

My sympathies go out to the superstar’s three children.

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