Category Archives: Death

Self-Care in Painful Times

This page is not partisan, I’ve made that very clear.

I address issues that are not left/right, issues that are simply about human decency and morality.

Ripping children from their parents is not a partisan issue.
Putting children and little babies into cages, physically and emotionally abusing them, scarring them forever, is not a partisan issue.
Gunning down African Americans on our streets is not a partisan.
Looking for answers to stop gun violence and spree killings is not partisan.

I woke up this morning to find that there has been another mass shooting, 13 hours after the last. Nine irreplaceable humans are dead. There have now been more mass shootings in the United States than days in the year.

On the Nightmare and Laughter Facebook page, I offered soft words for Gilroy and encouraged self-care.
Six days later I did the same for El Paso.
And now, 13 hours after El Paso, we have Dayton.

My page is becoming a testament to barbarity, to hopelessness, to death and crippling pain. I don’t want people looking at it and, instead of finding comfort or laughter or interest, finding themselves scrolling through tragedy after tragedy.

All of this affects everyone, and I am no exception. I want to be a comfort and a refuge for my readers, that is the mission of this page. But I have to take care of myself before I can do that. And posting what will later be reminders of atrocity after atrocity is already compounding the nightmare for me.

Put simply, I’m getting depressed.

I don’t want anyone coming to my page and finding themselves in the same position. I want you to come to my page and not find only condolences. I want you to come to my page and find hope and comfort. Of course in the heat of it, everyone will know what I’m referring to, but my page will read like an affirmation, rather than an obituary. That is what Nightmares and Laugher is, that is what I set out to do. It will keep the page a safe place for you and honestly, for me as well.

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So please know that should you be affected by a future event, (I wish I could say if there is a future event) that the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart. Should you be adjacent to this tragedy, the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart. And if you are a human in the United States or anywhere and this hurts you, the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart.

Life many of us, my heart breaks and I cry with every bullet spent, every irreplaceable life forever gone. I am now crying as I type these words. It is simply overwhelming.

This is not a partisan issue. This is a national emergency that affects all of us. I will not hear any anti-regulation arguments, I will not hear any defense of what is happening, which is what an anti-regulation argument is. We need solutions, we need think tanks.

I do not have the answers. It is not my job to come up with the answers. We need the people we elected to do their damn job.

It’s easy to feel helpless but there are things we can do.  Here is a list of five things that any of us can do to help, to be proactive.

My beautiful, talented, irreplaceable niece hid from the shooter in Gilroy, while shrapnel flew beside her. I watched my dear friends receive a text from her, with no idea if it would be her last. My friend, her father, who is comfortable with guns, and knows how to use them safely, texted her back to remind her what to do in that situation. This is not acceptable. This is not normal. And this is not something I want anyone else to go through.

But it’s likely they will. So I want to remind you, and myself, to exercise self-care and watch your mental state, especially if you suffer from a mental illness. You can’t take care of others if you are broken. It is not selfish, quite the opposite. The consequences of ignoring and not treating your pain can be dire, and your family would suffer horribly.

I’m including resources that can help. It is not selfish to accept that you can’t do it alone. You are important, you are irreplaceable, and you are in my heart, even if I don’t know you.

 
National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

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Death, Taboo, and Moving On

Some of my funniest stories don’t necessarily begin that way, and they may not end that way.

Gallows Humor – Explained

I explain gallows humor in that article so I won’t go over it again here, but in a nutshell, it’s finding something unendingly hilarious in otherwise horrible circumstances, things where there really shouldn’t be any humor at all.  It’s a survival technique, generally.

For example, this story begins…

So we went to pick up my dad’s ashes.

My sister, brother, uncle, and aunt went to the funeral home to pick up my dad’s ashes.

Everyone grieves differently, sometimes from moment to moment.  My sister was not in a good place at this point, and I was in full disassociation mode.

Full disclosure – I loathe the funeral industry.  I have nothing but contempt for the business that takes advantage of people while they are in the darkest place of their lives to sell them caskets that cost thousands of dollars that they may have to take out a loan to afford.  There is no reason and no excuse beyond predatory capitalism.

It is with that frame of mind that I walked in and immediately my mind went sproing.  It looked like Barbara Cartland barfed on Laura Ashley, accompanied by the dulcet tones of music that made Yanni sound edgy.

The overstuffed furniture and pillows, the pink and green throw rugs and flower patterned curtains with puffy valances, which looked like a Jiffy Pop dome covered in 1950s wallpaper.

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Pictured – Comfort, apparently.

Already, I was stifling giggles.  It was just so very aggressively absurd.

When we were called into the salesman’s office, my sister and I sat at the desk and everyone else crowded around us.  My husband sat next to me, which ended up being a very good thing.

Before we started choosing the headstone, when the salesman began to speak, I started to lose any semblance of control.  He spoke in this near-whisper, so-very-sincere it practically oozed concern, the kind of voice one practices with a tape recorder to make sure it is just the right mixture of concern and sincerity.  It caused me physical pain trying to keep it together.  Then he poked the proverbial needle into my composure balloon.

He said the word “cremains.”

I had never heard that word before, and it was without question, the funniest thing I had heard ever.  Then he said it again.  And again, with that soothing voice right out of central casting, surrounded by tiny roses that I swear were mocking me, pointing at me with their thorny rose arms chanting “Haha!  You’re trapped!”

My eyes started to fill with tears.  I reached for Chris with my left hand, while my right hand snatched about seven tissues which I  shoved against my face and just, lost it.  I shook with laughter, my whole body lurching up and down and a sound I can only describe as the squeeeeeaaak a straw makes if you pull it slowly out of a plastic lid.  Luckily, everyone interpreted this as weeping, except for Chris who has met me.

In the end, we did what we needed to do, and the salesman handed my dad’s “cremains” to us.  Nothing about that was funny.

All of this is taboo. We have so many around death, but they are things we should be talking about because I know that they can eat at a person, the guilt behind it.

My dad had prostate cancer.  The doctors didn’t catch it until it was far too late.  He lived the best he could during his final years, but ultimately spent the last six months of his life in a hospice.

During this time, Chris and I drove to see him every day.  We left San Francisco for Fremont, about an hour and a half drive, at 4:30 during rush hour.  We did this every day for months.

After a while, I found myself grousing about this obligation. It became an inconvenience, we had to leave work early, traffic is a nightmare, and so on.  Dad did not ask us to do that, it was what I wanted.  But after a while, it became a burden.

When I caught myself thinking that, frowning as we headed to the car, my heart sunk.  How many times did he drop everything to be there for me? How many sacrifices did he make to see me grow up?  I felt terrible.

I got the call from my sister.  We went to the hospice to say goodbye and have an impromptu wake, and I saw my dad lying there, no longer my dad but looked like him. We shared our memories and cried with the staff (dad was a charmer, everyone there loved him) and we went our separate ways to grieve.

The next day, at 4:30, a thought entered my head.  I don’t have to go to Fremont.  We don’t have to make the hour-long drive during rush hour.  We don’t have to do that anymore.

And when I caught myself thinking that, my heart sank.

I was relieved.

I was not relived my dad was gone, that I would never see him again.  I was relieved that my life could slowly return to normal.  That I could finish my work day, come home at a reasonable hour, have a relaxing evening with Chris, plan for Saturday.

I wasn’t relieved that my dad was dead, I was happy that I was alive.

He was in terrible pain, bedridden, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything he loved.  He didn’t want to live that way, not even in a hospice with its own very good dog.

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This is Max.

He was an active person, he belonged to so many clubs, this was not life for him.  He was just waiting.  I know this for a fact.

Shortly before he died, dad asked me if I would interpret a dream for him.  He had never done something like that before, a WWII veteran, he wasn’t touchy-feely.  He started to speak very quietly.

“I am in an elevator, but it goes all sorts of ways, up and down, sideways.  The doors open but I don’t get out.  I want to get out, but it’s not the right floor.  So it gets to the top floor, the doors open, and there is such a light in the room.  I want to get out, but I’m scared.  What do you think it means?”

His voice started to tremble slightly at the end, and when he asked the question, he lowered his head, looked over his glasses with raised, fearful eyebrows.  He knew exactly what it meant, but he wanted to hear it.

“Why don’t you want to get out?  That room sounds nice.”

“I’m scared.  I don’t know what will happen.”

“If it feels warm and nice, maybe that’s a good place for you.  A safe place.”

He stared at me for a moment, and then nodded and turned his head.

A few days later he was gone.

He had checked in with each of us.  He wanted to know that we would all be ok, and he wanted us to know that he valued what we are. My brother was an electronic wizard, my sister was levelheaded and dependable, I was the touchy-feely arty person who interprets dreams.

I loved him, I didn’t want him to leave.  But he was in terrible pain, and he wanted to go.  I know that for a fact.  The elevator dream was not exactly ambiguous.

It’s not bad to want one’s life back.  He would not have been happy if we had stopped enjoying the life that we have.

In the end, my dad valued my strangely wired brain.  I believe completely that he would have been as disgusted by the funeral home as I was, and I would have caught his eye, pointed to the plug-in air fresheners that smell of chemical roses, and he would be giggling as much as I.

So please, be as kind and gentle with yourself as you are with your loved one.  Call on whatever it is that gives you comfort, however you cope.  You do not disrespect them by living a good life, you honor their memory.

My dad found his peace finally in his Christian faith.

My uncle asked him what he wanted to pray about.  He replied in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.

“Give me the grace to die.”

 

 

When Gallows Humor Triggers

One of my first articles was an attempt to explain Gallows Humor

Now, I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, I acknowledge this and have seen people respond poorly to it before but, well…

Let’s set this up.  A friend posted a picture on Facebook that was unpleasant.  I responded as I do, a comment that was so over the top, so fantastically inappropriate, it did not occur to me that someone would take it seriously.

Someone took it seriously.

Now, I don’t know this person, nor does she know me.  Rather than give me the benefit of the doubt and ask what I meant, I was attacked with burning poison darts right out of the gate.

Shocking no one, there was no discussion to be had.

This woman decided I was evil incarnate (seriously, she called me evil) and in a block of text ripped apart my character, motives, and worth as a person.  I suggested that might just be a bad idea, with a reminder that she had no idea if I was in a serious depression and if that might be the last straw to cause me to take the 15-minute stroll to the Golden Gate Bridge.

A laughing face reaction and a “Poke” were my replies.  Did you know that Facebook still has a “Poke” thing?  Neither did I.

gallows misfire 1
Neat!  Now please tell me I can still throw snowballs.

She made a fine point that she was 70.  She’s 20 years older than me, and therefore I have no voice?  Something like that. She was sputtering by that time.

My point is simply this, you don’t know what’s in a person’s heart.  You cannot read their mind.  If an offhanded comment hits you the wrong way and your response is to go on a spittle-spewing, hate-filled, character destroying attack, maybe it’s time to go ahead and glance at oneself in the mirror.  Maybe a response that is juuuuuust a tad over the top is trying to tell you to look inside, instead of ascribing hideous motives to someone you know nothing about.

This brings me to triggered.  Like so many other things that started off with good intentions, this has become a means for some to behave as our not-at-all-irrational 70-year-old did.  To expect the world to cater to their specific issue or pain, for the world to be sensitive to them or they’ll be hell to pay.  Something there seems kind of incongruous to me.

The likelihood that I would have been in a depression is good, the way the world is, a recent death in the family, I well could have been unable to handle such an attack.  What if I had taken that walk? Why am I not afforded the same consideration she demands?

Well, because she was triggered.  Because I hit something deep inside her and she lashed out.  I get that intellectually, but it doesn’t excuse it.

Now, I was not in a depression, and I just found the exchange surreal and annoying.  I tried to explain my joke, explain gallows humor, but that just made her angrier.

Triggered is being misused.  It is not meant to be cover for potentially dangerous behavior.

It was meant to be a tool for healing oneself.  Someone says something, it hits a button, I get triggered.  OK, I get to a safe place, and I try to examine why that statement hit me so hard.  What should I be looking at?  What should I work on, speak to gently, and try to heal?

What is the triggering trying to tell me, about me?

What I said was from the way that I cope, the way I survive, I was not setting out to hurt anyone.  Her comment, on the other hand, was intended to hurt me, was intentionally vicious.  There was simply no discussing it.  I am evil, and she is the victim.

Oh, it’s not real easy right now to give the benefit of the doubt, I get that.  Nerves are frayed, tempers on edge, and patience is wearing real thin.

But this is all the more reason to practice kindness whenever you can. Smile at someone in passing now and then, say something nice to someone, anything at all.  Tell your best friend you are going to bake brownies for them and wrap them up with a Hello Kitty plushy.  Hypothetically.

But try, really hard, to keep that hair-trigger venom in your pocket.

I hope this woman is able to see and address these unknown issues, I really do.  But they are not my issues, and my voice is not going to be silent on the chance that something I say will hit someone the wrong way.  My humor is my humor, my voice is my voice.

OK, I love the show Family Guy (and The Orville is the only Star Trek on TV right now, and if someone can get this to Seth McFarlane tell him he has a group of geeks who will forever be grateful for that show.)  Anyway, Family Guy sets out to offend just about everybody at one point or another.  For the most part, I think it’s hilarious, but there was one little throw-away that got to me.

It’s one of the cut-aways he does.  Margo Kidder comes to dinner and then is depicted as going “crazy” screaming and gibbering, flailing her arms around and leaping out the window.

For those who don’t know, Margo Kidder was bipolar.  She was homeless for a time, lost everything, and died very young.  I am also bipolar, so this hit me hard.  I actually had to turn the channel to regroup.  I was angry, how dare he make fun of her!  How dare he make light of mental illness!  Fuck that guy!

After I calmed down it occurred to me, I think “Prom Night Dumpster Baby” is hilarious.  I expect that song hits some people very badly.  I think it’s damn funny.

So how is my pain greater than someone who had a miscarriage, or stillbirth?  I cannot imagine a worse pain, I cannot imagine being in that position and seeing cartoon babies swinging around their umbilical cords like canes as they dance.  To their eyes and hearts, that must be unspeakable.

But I thought it was hilarious.

Not because I have no sympathy for them, I have a dear friend who lost her little baby.  It just struck me as funny.  But I totally understand someone else hating it.

As I hated the Margo Kidder bit.  I hated that with every fiber of my being.

But do I think Seth McFarlane is a heartless asshole?  Actually, I have no idea, he might be.  But I know that that bit hurt because it is specific to me and my pain.  But my pain is not worth more than people offended by any other of the thousand inappropriate bits in Family Guy.

gallows misfire 2
“It’s like that time I put on my fanciest hat and took my crate for a ride.”

The point is, I don’t know.  I don’t know if he’s doing these things to be hurtful or if he’s just super juvenile and dark like me.  I don’t know his intention or his heart, all I do know is that he’s smokin’ hot…sorry, trailed off there.

gallows misfire 4
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth McFarlane.  There is still hope for the world.

Taking it back to the woman in question, she intended to hurt me.  She was attacking based on no information and was not interested in getting it.  She didn’t listen when I tried to explain it, she didn’t have an ounce of compassion when I told her I well could be suicidal, all that mattered was that she was offended and hurt and seemingly thrilled to have someone to unload on.  My husband and I refer to that as sitting on the edge of your chair in cat-like readiness hoping to be offended.  Offended as a drug, as a shield, the opportunity to be better than, more righteous than, more adult, (I’ll give her that one, I am shockingly immature.)

gallows misfire 3
Halloween decorations, or as I call them, decorations.  <adult!>

If I can offer a takeaway, it would be this.  If you are offended by something, if you are “triggered,” please use it as an opportunity to look inward and see why.  Maybe you can sit with it, embrace it, speak to it softly, and try to heal it.

Come back after you calm down and ask if you can talk about it.  Maybe you get rejected, maybe not.  But you tried to be heard.

I know one way you will not be heard, and that’s when you call someone you don’t know evil.  That’s likely to shut down any consideration for you.

One last thing, in all of the interwebs someone reading this must know Seth McFarlane.  Just sayin’.

 

 

Perfect Imperfection

At a glass blowing show, in the back of a cabinet, set away from the perfect art, was a proto champagne flute.

It sat on a perfect stem, but the bowl hadn’t set properly.  It was going to be melted down, but I loved it, so I brought it home.

It can’t be used as a glass, so it sat on my dresser.  It existed only to be beautiful to me.  It has no function, it is beauty for the sake of beauty.

 

Imperfection 2.1

 

Immediately I saw the elegant watery dance of this perfectly imperfect vessel, the ripples on a pristine lake sneakily snatching the moonlight.

Imperfection 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It makes me smile. Maybe it is a kindred spirit.  Perfectly imperfect.

 

Imperfection 4

 

From a twisted glass, a reminder, look for beauty in the broken world, you will find it.

A quiet walk on a peaceful trail, pine trees have dropped branches, dead on the ground.  Brown needles, brown cones, brown earth, brown death.  But tiny yellow flowers pop through, green stems burst from the nurturing mound.  Life begins again.

 

Imperfection 6

 

From death, a reminder, live while you can live the best you can, find the beauty in the perfectly imperfect.

In the end, yellow flowers may grow from your bones, your ash or flesh in the air we breathe. Your life means something, even as it floats away. It will become something beautiful.

Strangely beautiful.

 

“Earthly bound to mortal cares

Greedy death awaits us.”

 

Imperfection 2

All of us as one, perfectly imperfect.

 

 

 

When the World is on Fire We All Burn

The shooting in New Zealand has ripped open wounds that never seem to have time to heal, do they? The pain for these families, for the people who left their homes seeking safety and a new life, is indescribable. People murdered for being dark, foreign, Muslim, whatever the excuse, people murdered. Black-hearted people committing black-hearted deeds.

I cannot imagine. My heart is with you, all of you.

New Zealand cartoon
Credit: Ruby Jones

Every news alert, every Breaking News banner, every other Facebook post causes me to clench, what the hell has happened now?

I don’t know what to say anymore. It just never stops.

Yet I write this as I sit on my couch in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I write this with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I write this on a sunny, lovely March day, my husband and cat with me, a cup of good coffee beside me.

I can hear the two little girls next door right now having the sibling squabbles that I’m so familiar with. I like these girls, I’ve known the younger one since before she joined us. Are these pretty white girls more precious than the Mexican/South American children being torn from their families to be placed in for-profit foster care?

I do not have children, but I have children in my life. I love dearly. I cannot imagine what it is like for their mothers to have them ripped from their arms, and possibly never see again. I cannot imagine that crippling, existential pain. Can you?

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Credit: Sue St. Blaine

How can people be that absolutely cruel and hideous?

I am a white, grey-haired, middle-aged female. I leave my home and know that generally speaking, I’m in no danger. There is no bravery or fear or admonitions to children to watch themselves when I walk out my front door.

I have white skin, I have that privilege. I am very aware of that. In the U.S. we are safe, and we are civilized. Really?

Here is a link from last March of black men killed by the police. It needs to be updated.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/03/29/police-killings-black-men-us-and-what-happened-officers/469467002/

How many need to die or be completely dehumanized before we say enough? Black Lives Matter is shouting loudly, but too many dismiss it. The videos are devastating, but we shouldn’t look away. Their families can’t look away. They do not have that luxury.

Can you imagine, my U.S. readers, leaving a war-torn country and take a backbreaking journey to a country that has been held up as a place to find safety, where the great lady and her torch welcome you, as they have my family, your family, all families that aren’t native, only to be torn apart, raped, abused, and dehumanized? I sure as hell can’t.

Statue of Liberty

I’m not suggesting that we are in the same position as countries fighting civil wars, countries bombed on a near-daily basis. I am finished with my coffee, and wondering what my husband and I will do with our Sunday. Listening to the sweet little girls next door make the memories they will laugh about later, as my sister and I do. I have no fear that a bomb will drop downtown and wipe out all I know and love.

But I am afraid. I am afraid because the anger and separation in this country are getting exponentially worse because the rhetoric is becoming more pointed, more specific, more bloodthirsty.

I’m terrified because it appears to be coming to a breaking point, and I fear there will be more blood.

The shooter in New Zealand specifically called out Donald Trump. The person who strode proudly into a mosque and murdered 50 irreplaceable people with glee and a sense of purpose, cited Donald Trump as “….” a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,”

Did that make your blood run cold? It did mine.

Yes, I’m white and privileged. I am very unlikely to be shot by the police because I twitched. I am in a country that is not being bombed from inside or out.

But I am in a country where people inside and out cite the highest office as an inspiration for mass murder. Where beautiful children are forever scarred by what has been done to them.

The little girls are in the hallway fighting again, sounds like there is a debate about who gets to push the elevator button.

I hope with all my heart that this is the height of their drama.

For my readers who have a mental illness, remember, this sustained pain, this constant fear, the unknowable future, can hurt us. I have been deeply depressed off and on. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

As always, please take care of yourself. Acknowledge that your pain is real and legitimate.

It’s not a contest. Nobody “wins” pain. Your pain is valid and worthy of nurturing.

New Zealand lotus
Breathe – and honor your feelings

But we cannot allow the black-hearted people committing these horrible acts to win. We cannot give them what they want, we cannot take ourselves off the earth and give them victory.

We can bend, we can even break, but we put ourselves back together, and we fight. Get back up and fight, when you are able to. Fight like your life depends on it.

Because it might.

You’re worth more than that. Don’t let them win. I’ve included the links to organizations that can help you if you need it.

In an earlier article, I wrote that I would not discuss politics or partisan issues, and I keep to that. This is not a political or partisan issue. It is a human dignity issue, a war crimes issue, injustice, un-Constitutional, horrible black-hearted people doing horrible black-hearted things. I have not mentioned I left vs. right, not once.

So let me ask you something. If you read this article, and you get angry, and you decide that I’m describing the right with these factual statements, maybe you should ask yourself one thing.

Why?

 

National Helpline
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
1-800-273-8255
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Past, Present, and a Future without You

So I think we can all agree that I am the worst blogger of all time.  If there were a trophy for this, like a guy throwing a bowling ball or doing that one arm forward, one back holding a football about to toss it to the outfield (I don’t know sports) my trophy would be an empty pedestal because I disappeared for months and forgot about it.

To my followers though, look at it this way, you know I won’t spam you!

I never actually forgot about the blog, I’ve just gotten sidetracked by other projects and shiny things.  I’m working on another book, which is going to be much bigger in scope than Life Songs and much more difficult to write.  Life Songs lived in my poetry, my head, my heart, it was written from inside.  The new one is going to be complicated and if I can pull it off, important to others like me.  That’s my goal.

The working title right now, by the way, is Nightmares and Laughter.

I want to take you with me on this one.  Life Songs was very personal, very intimate and there really wasn’t anything to discuss.  But this new one, heretofore called N&L (I’m fancy like that) is so involved that I want to bring you along in the process.  This is not entirely altruistic; writing things out, sharing them with someone else, can help keep me inspired.  And it will be a good way for me to keep up N&L the blog, while I work on N&L the book.

I’m certain that while I go through this process, “talking” with you will help me sort things out.

I will be honest with you, it’s Tuesday morning, I’m in my jammies drinking coffee, and I’m watching the pouring rain outside my window, thinking about my book.  You do not have my full attention, and I may start to ramble.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know this is not super unusual.

Lost in Thoughts and Daydreams

Since N&L starts with my old diaries, I’ve been living firmly in the past for a few months.   This is not entirely good, given the things I’m reading and reliving.  I had 10 physical diaries covering ages 9 to 33 to read page by page, capture notes, analyze…and remember.

1.2
Why can’t I just write children’s books?

This journey thus far has not been pleasant.

Here’s what I do to stop a downward spiral, and it works a lot of the time.

I have many photos and drawings of long-dead relatives, some going back to the mid-1800s.  I can see my face in a smirk, or a side-eye, or pursed lip annoyance, I can see these long-dead relatives in my siblings, my parents.  Except for my sister, all of these people are gone.

Bear with me, I’ll get to the comforting bit.

See, most especially with the very old photos and drawings, these people have been gone a long time.  They had trials, pains, headaches, menstrual cramping before Ibuprofen, (girlfriend, respect!) They lived through the Civil War, WWI, the Depression, WWII, and a million problems I can’t even imagine.  But those human events, all of them, are over.  Whatever one believes about an afterlife, those pains, as well as the joy, are done.

collage
L to R – Grandpa (on the far right) with his sisters.  Grandpa and Grandma in their vibrant youth.  Grandma during the Depression.  The same beautiful couple late in life, laughing and enjoying the snow.  Good times, bad times, laughter, and hunger.  Lives lived and long gone.

I try to hang on to this, look at these pictures and see my family, imagine what they went through. Did they keep diaries?  To my knowledge, there are no actual diaries for any of them.  How is that possible?  I can’t believe that in a family as artistically inclined as mine there is not one journal.

Maybe you have figured out where I’m going.

I will die someday

I’m not afraid of death, I don’t believe in an afterlife of any kind, so I’ve no fear of that.  But I do fear dying.  Any pain, regret, and worrying about what will happen to my journals, my writing, my photos, those beautiful family photos I take comfort in.

Neither my siblings nor I had children.  I have no close blood relations who might care about this random woman in San Francisco.  Will my diaries, at the moment I have kept 21, be in a landfill?  Deleted? In an antique store?  All my thoughts and fears and joy and pain will be gone.

But then I look at photos.

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Three generations greet me every day.

All of those people are dead, there are no diaries, no way to “hear” their voices. They are pictures in a frame. I can do a family tree, I can trace exactly how they are related to me, (the lady in the picture on the cover of Life Songs is my great x3 aunt Alice) but they are strangers.

At the end of our lives, we are stories.  We are not the photos, we are not the antiques, we are the stories.  Once we are gone, we have no control over our legacies.  Regardless of what you believe or not, we are gone.  I can’t imagine an afterlife that involves worrying about human concerns.

Grief is for the living

My brother died in June, my first sibling to die. Of course, I miss him, but there was something else.

He, my sister, and I formed a whole lifetime of memories.  No one has all of them, we filled in the blanks for each other.  Now with him gone, 1/3 of our memories are gone.

This made me very sad first, but then I realized we have the photos, the memories, the stories.  There are a great many stories where he is concerned. Kenneth was quite unique.

And that’s my point.  He lives in stories, our lives, our memories.

My close blood relatives are dwindling, but I have many friends who are my family.  They have children who are my nieces and nephews; I love them dearly.

Will they care about my “stuff” when I’m gone?  I don’t know.  But they will have stories, oh I guarantee, they will have stories.  From my grown niece who calls me her Fairy Goth Mother, to my little nephew Mini Cooper who has resigned himself to the fact that I will always call him that, and everyone I hold dear, there will be stories about me until there are not.

And I will not care, because I will be dead.

This is comforting to me.

Legacies Long Gone

I got an old phonograph from my brother, with the hand crank, and a collection of old 78 rpm records.  I love to listen to long-dead artists living their dreams.  I know too many musicians to think that they did not sit around and argue and swear and fight artistic differences.  One of the records is the Andrews Sisters.  They straight up hated each other.

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But the music, ladies.  The music!

But they all made beautiful music, they all left beautiful music.  And these passionate musicians will all be forgotten in time.

Except for the Beatles.  That’s just science.

 

Dreams, Death, Second Chances

One finds the oddest things when going through old photos.

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I have no memory of this postcard. I assume it was my dad’s since he was the musical one. It’s just an ordinary photo of a long forgotten group, who lived their dreams for a little while.

It’s what’s on the back that made me stop what I was doing and get lost in a time warp.

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I think it’s the same person writing all those little quips, and I assume who drew that lovely lady and the rather odd…dolphin? Airplane? I think it’s a dolphin. Anyway, I have no idea which one of those young men did, and I never will except in the astronomically unlikely event that one of them sees this article, looks at the photo and says “Say, that’s me n’the boys!” I’m not holding my breath.

Besides the little sketches, there are the things one would expect, the name of the band and members, and of course the promotion.

“The One and Only Quartet – Good Nuts”

A quick (image search off) Google search turned up nothing, so it looks like these boys went the way of most bands and found themselves working at insurance companies or warehouses or, well, the photo isn’t dated, but I think it’s safe to say they could have left us in the war. It’s likely we’ll never know.

I started to read the little scribbles around the edges. Random thoughts and silliness written by someone probably around 80 years ago or so, things he thought were interesting or funny or little bits of truth disguised as mirth.

“Don’t ask me if I got married when school was out!! Imagine. Aah. I can’t.”
“I learned a new song, real cute.”
“On what grounds were her aspirations founded? Those are $10 words.”
“My man’s a garbage man.” (I assume this was meant to be said by the lady, but it still makes zero sense.)

But what stopped me, what made me catch my breath, sit down, and disappear, was this, “I have one chance, shall I take it?”

Assuming this photo is from the late ‘30s, early ‘40s, I think it’s safe to say these boys are no longer with us. So did he take the one chance while he had it?

Are you taking your “one chance” while it’s there? Am I?

Between the silly sketches of fur-coated ladies and dolphins with underbites, there is this one little snip of truth, this one doubt that we all share,

“I have one chance, shall I take it?”

The words of a young man, uncertain and maybe scared to take a leap, whatever it was. A new band? Writing songs? Putting himself out there somehow, at a crossroads in an old-timey car, the signs labeled “Safety” and “Risk” with a hitchhiking, bindle carrying hobo, for some reason?

This hit home for me because my life is at crossroads like that, has been for a while. I’m taking the chance in some ways, finishing my book and putting it out there, working on some future plans, even this blog is a chance of a sort.

But I’m not doing enough. I’ve let so many dreams die. So many years I can’t get back. But I have now. I have right this minute.

This is why the musings of a man who was living his dreams 80 odd years ago landed firmly on my heart.

I have been going through my photos and mementos to put together a display for my brother’s memorial service on Saturday. He died June 18 of prostate cancer. Family photos always take me away sometimes very far in the past. But this one, I have no memory of it. It won’t go in the display of course, but it did cause me to think.

Did this boy in a quartette called Good Nuts achieve what he was looking for? Did he at least take the leap and was happy for it?

Did my brother?

He died young, only 57. That’s too young, but cancer doesn’t give one half of a shit about our wishes. So ready or not, here it comes. Fuck cancer.

I will make you all a deal, ok? Let’s all hit at least one thing we’ve always wanted to do. Just one thing, even if it’s small. If you can, grab a dream and hold on, ride it out. I will do the same, and in a little while, I’ll report back. I would love it if you told me what you are doing.

You are alive. You’re filling your lungs with air, and your blood is pumping through your heart, and you feel hungry, and your arm itches and you get eye-boogers…you are alive.

Don’t let that slip away. Have your adventure, whatever it is.

“I have one chance, shall I take it?”

Yes. Whichever young man you are in this picture, I desperately hope you did.

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Reach for your dreams.  If you try and don’t make it to the top, you tried.  Rest easy when time has its way.