RSS

Tag Archives: death

The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth

I don’t often sleep through the night anymore. The sleep of the righteous eludes me. The sleep of those without care seems out of my grasp. My mind is rarely clear, my body rarely at ease. I dream. I dream of times when nothing has changed, to remember, sometimes in the dream, that things have changed, find myself wondering why I dream this again and again. Sometimes I simply wake into a world so different than I dreamt in that I am confused. Some days this lifts as I get out of bed. Some days this lingers into morning, into the day..

Some nights I dream about tests ungiven, forgotten, incomplete – about my job being in danger. These are dreams of safety, or fear of losing the same.

Some nights my dreams are pleasant. Calm. Happy. I tend to remember these. But, often, I wake after them, as I do after the unpleasant ones. And wake often. Many nights I look for five-thirty to come soon so I can end the succession, dream after dream, or the lying half-awake, half-asleep. But some nights, not often, but enough that I know they will come from time to time, I sleep through the night, and the dreams are good, joyous, or happy, and I am comfortable, and all things are right and I want sleep to go on, that state of ease to continue even after the sun has risen, so I can lie there where all things are fine.

This morning I did not wish to wake. And, after waking, wanted to write. But I did what I always do – wash, dress, make my lunch, go to work, put off the writing until there is time, til work is done, til papers are graded, til errands are run. Often, the writing, the event, becomes lost. The energy dissipates, the muse becomes tired of waiting, feels unwelcome, leaves, By evening, I cannot call her back, cannot recall the feelings, cannot retrieve the compulsion. This evening I can.

I don’t know why. Perhaps having kicked wheat again, perhaps having learned to not eat late, to eat lightly, but I have been more comfortable the last few nights and, last night, I slept. And I dreamt.

I dreamt I was in a labyrinth. Dark, but not too dark. Greenish gray blocks form the floors, the walls, the distant ceiling. Wide spaces to wander between the walls told me this was large. Gargantuan. The scope felt as though it was encompassing of all that I have known, all I have been told, all I have experienced and all I knew to be the world. And I was deeply within.

And all was fine. I wandered one way, turned here, came to a wall, walked back, knowing there was no wrong choice, no bad direction, but only experience, that there was no getting out, only being within, this way, that way, moving on. It was calm. It was comforting.

Then I was at a table, tea cups full, in easy conversation with Joseph Campbell. We were talking about the symbolism, the pervasive, archetypal power of the labyrinth, from Crete, to the tribes of the American Southwest, from European monasteries to the sulci and gyri of our own brains, we carry the labyrinth in our psyches and our bodies. We discussed, unlike the common idea of the journey to the center being a search to find oneself, the labyrinth being a symbol for life itself, for the journey that can  be neither planned nor defined, that starts without our bidding and, most often, ends without our permission, with the space between one of chance, discovery, of choices and unknowable paths, each decision leaving us, like Frost, to take one road or another,, knowing either one would do, knowing the differences was at once minor and profound, immediate and everlasting, that “way leads on to way” and, even if we were to walk back again, to retrace whence we came, the road we take is now walked by a different person that the one who first laid foot there, as each choice changes who we are.

The conversation was pleasant. it was deep and comforting. it was the conversation I had always wanted with him but came not close enough to having.

Then I was back within the labyrinth. I was walking with Lee and we came to a place of decision – a crossroads – a choice of three ways. We could go left, or right, or continue straight. She stopped and looked at me and began to move to the right. I knew I had to walk on and I knew too she had go the way she had to go. And she did. I watched as she walked the first few feet from me, faded, gone. Nothing but an empty path and stone.

I was back again with Joseph. People have their own paths, he said. We can’t walk them. Even when we walk together, we are not on the same path. We can share space for a while, but when the path is clear, one must turn and nothing can stop that. That is something the labyrinth teaches us.

Then I was staring at the paths. Same as before. Left, right and forward. But I had a map in my hand. A plan. Turn this way, then that way. I knew how to go and I began to walk forward. Before I was through the crossroads the path in front of me became slowly solid, a wall forming where the path had been. My map was in my hand and my map was useless.

At the table with our tea again. Campbell leans a bit forward. Plans are fine, but take them lightly and be OK with letting them go. They may work for a while, but then we may find the way blocked and must discover ways around, or the way can sometimes disappear altogether. We must be willing to let the map go.

I wanted to lie here with this, to let it sit, but I felt the time I had was coming to its end, and the soft sound of the singing bowl told me it was time to leave my bed, to rise, and go toward my day. My day at a place I had never intended to be, doing something I never had planed to do.  Which, I know, is just another way of saying I am alive.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 3, 2015 in Culture, psychology, Religion

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Collecting Stones

Collecting Stones

Today is the day I collect stones.

Years ago, far away, Jews, before they were Jews, back when they were a wandering tribe of anthropo-theists who believed in a single god that they insistedGrave 1 was unlike any other, met the Canaanites, who believed in no such thing. Before they merged, even back then, we buried our dead in the ground. At first this was in caves. Then, in the ground itself. In areas that were too hard to dig, too rocky, a body would be placed on the ground and stones would be heaped on and around the body. The community would bring stones and the more people who attended, the more stones would be piled. One could tell how important, or how loved, and they are not the same, by how high the pile of stones was.

Still today, the tradition continues. One can walk through a Jewish cemetery and see graves with stones on them. Someone comes to visit and leaves a stone. “I was here.” “People still care about this person.” Over srtre gravetime, the piles grow.

The Hebrew word for pebble is tz’ror—a word that also means bond. In the memorial prayer, El Maleh Rahamim, we ask the deceased be “bound up in the bond of life”—tz’ror haHayyim. By placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that this person’s memory continues to live on in us, through us. And the practice is not kept to just Jews who have passed, but one may see pebbles on the grave of any beloved or respected. If you see pebbles, you know a Jew has been there. You know the person is loved.

Tomorrow I bury my father. Unlike my grandmother, whom I myself buried, my mother—and soon my father to join her—is buried in a “waterproof” concrete casket buried in the ground over which a concrete lid is placed over which a marble lid is placed and secured with four large bolts. I shooed the workers away and secured the bolts myself. It was not the same, one shovel after another, but it was some closure. Tomorrow I will do the same.

bernstein graveWhat strikes me about this cemetery, other than the non-Jewishness of keeping a body from the elements, securing it from the waters, protecting it from the natural process that brings it back into the Earth, is this—a nearly complete lack of stones. Oh, the graves have stones. They are brought in, small ones, in pockets and handbags and baggies. But there are none to gather—as though the ground had been cleared, swept, scraped free. There should be a sign. “There will be no gathering of stones here. No. We have made sure of it.”

First breath. Last breath. In between, we collect stones.

And, so, today I collect stones.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Culture, Family, Religion

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Already It Is Too Long

Already it is too long 
For you 
To lie there 
With your one eye open 
Staring at nothing, or 
Something only you can see. 
I cannot quite tell 
If you are conscious but 
Incapable of movement, or 
Vacated so fully 
you do not even care to swallow 
However much we may plead. 
 
I ask how you are doing. 
They tell me facts - 
How many squirts of apple juice, 
How many half-teaspoons of pudding - 
But I don't want facts. 
Lives are not made of 
facts and measure and scales and 
What do they know? 
They didn't even know 
Which way to comb your hair. 
So we brushed it back and 
Now you look like you again and 
You can go now. 
Really. It's OK.
 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Family, Poetry

 

Tags: , , , , ,

The Well

There are still tears
For you, around corners
I have avoided, nested into objects
Unexpected, curled up in words.
They well under memories
Until released, into the open,
Jostled by a stray scent,
Nudged by a colour,
A page of a book,
A wind in leaves.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Family, Poetry

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Nightshirt

Nightshirt

Originally Published in Elephant Journal.
(For Lee, 9/8/13)

For the first few weeks,
once I would return to the bed,
I’d lie on my side
arm on your pillow
your nightshirt tucked
under my cheek,
One of the few pieces of your clothing
I kept. The body is a just a shell
You said. But your lab coat,
the suit you wore to your graduation,
your nightshirt.

The one you wore to hospice.
The one you were comforted in,
the one, the last one.
Your favorite,
cornflower blue
Bamboo fiber,
soft and light,
unwashed
the scent of you
still smooth upon it,
the smell of your skin-
the gentleness of
the small of your back,
the familiar comfort
between your breasts
where I would rest my cheek,
the collar that still
carried the nape of your neck.
Each breath, a calmative
against the cruelty
Of the sudden solitary sleep,
the life, a brain, that was built around
your existence
suddenly
without.

And, sometimes, I would sleep.
and sometimes not,
but over the days,
the scent diminished,
disappeared,
like your ability to walk,
speak, see, remember,
until little was left and,
fearing its loss,
as I still fear yours,
I put it in a plastic bag,
removed the air, closed it tight,
put it away in the dark.

A perfume, almost gone,
of days past,
that brings a flush or joy,
a smile, a sigh,
that, for fear of being used up,
isn’t used at all.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Family, Poetry, psychology, Social

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Link

Enter to win the Songs from the Well revised and Expanded edition, in paperback.

Enter to win the Songs from the Well revised and Expanded edition, in paperback, to be release on Yom Kippur, 9/8/13, along with my latest book, Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Books, Culture, Family, Religion, Social, Suicide

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Seafoam and Shadow

She dreamt in color
She dreamt in light
Of the moon on the wavecaps
And the impression her feet make
In sand and seafoam.

And I dream of those footprints
And the light that filled them
The foam that took their shape
The shadows that became them.

And walk the beach under full moon light
Looking back at my own footprints
Trying to forget I just left them.

Watching them fill with shadow and seafoam
And wash into the waves,
Into the sea
To be shined upon by moonlight.

Trying to forget I just left them.

I can do that.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Image

Something My Mother Taught Me

Something My Mother Taught Me.

I know this is not what she set out to teach me, but I am grateful for the lesson about life, even if it cost my mother her own.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Culture, Family, Poster, Social, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

After You, I Insist

I am forty-eight. not old by a long shot. But still, this year, as I begin to think of myself as fifty, as half-way, I and my friends, my close friends, those long friends, those who have been with me for decades, for lifetimes, and those with whom I cannot recount decades but feel as though lifetimes have been spent in their splendid company, with those friends I have begun discussing who goes first.

Perhaps it is the death of my wife nearly two years ago. The shaking out of any sense of permanence and security. The blowing of the ram’s horn, the clanging of the cymbals, that shocks off the clinging illusion that anything lasts but love.

Perhaps it is the suicides, both successful and non,  that have surrounded me. The conscious choice to leave on one’s own terms.

Perhaps it is just age.

I have been asked to perform a wedding. It is an honour and a joy and I will happily bundle myself up to Boulder to help write vows and join Joyce and her Ryan in wedded (we hope) bliss. I also performed the naming ceremony for her daughter, my god-daughter, Sloan.

She told me, you know, I have you in my will. I knew why. She has it that I am supposed to do her funeral as well.

Joyce is younger than me by about seven years. She does Pilates, Jujitsu, dances, lifts weights, fight tigers, climbs poles, eats nails, and I think every bit of her gorgeousness is made of warm, soft and cuddly indestructibility. Near as perfect a human female body as I think anyone could imagine, like an android from a science fiction story. Heinlein’s Friday.   And she wants me to do her funeral. Barring a (lucky?) strike by a space toilet fallen from orbit or a sudden disease (like I don’t know those happen) I can’t see her going first. I told her so.

“Well, you’d better quite the pilates and Jiu Jitsu and start eating crap then, because otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’m going first.”

This morning I sent her a text.  “You know… You are the only person who knows everything. Did you know that?  You had better NOT go first. No one else knows all the stories.”

It’s true, though I’m not sure how this happened. We are very much alike, she and I, in so many ways that nothing I say surprises her. Nothing. She understands it all. She always has. Never a laugh except at our similarities and how funny humans are. Never a shame, or a judgement, or even a question. She knows it all. All about the kids, their stories growing up, about Lee and love and life with her and after her. She knows who I am and how I am and loves me anyway.

Someday, I will be on my deathbed, unless I’m on the grill of a truck, of course, or inside a bear, and there will be stories. That is a good thing. How sad to be dying and be, one would hope, surrounded by loving family and friends, and have no stories. How terrible for the children to have had no embarrassments to recount, no mishaps to retell, no tall tales to let grow over time. It will never be said of me that I worked, came home, slept, and did it again. No, there will be stories.

When Lee died, when we had her memorial, it was stories.  All night. The all night slumber pool party memorial and story-a-thon. I told so many. So did Lee’s mom, and sister. And Craig, and others. And Joyce had her share. She told them in the living room, she told them sitting with the kids, Sef, Alek, Ari, on the kitchen floor, each story leaving their faces a bit more red.  She told them as we all divested ourselves of our various bits of cloth and jumped into the pool. She told them over drinks, and breakfast, and whispered them to me when I could not sleep. She knows the stories.

And she wants me to preside over her funeral. No, dear. No. She needs to tell the stories. So the kids can pass them on. So everyone can laugh, or sigh, or cry, or shake their heads, or wonder how on Earth I made it that far.

And she wants me to preside over her funeral. Joyce, I think you shall have to preside over mine. And everyone better laugh. I know they will.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Family, Social, Suicide

 

Tags: , , , , ,

My fourth book is out and you must buy it. Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief

An author must practice promotion. And be utterly shameless about it. In this case, it is easy.

Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief.   Out in time for Lee, my wife’s (I cannot use the word “late”) birthday.

From Amazon: Songs from the Well is a memoir, selected from the author’s writings and told in essays and poetry, of the author’s life with his wife, Lee, through her diagnosis with brain cancer and death five months later, to the aftermath of dealing with his grief and facing a life without her.

100% the profits go to the local charity, Cancer Care Center of Brevard Foundation. They do not do research or anything alike that and have no administrative costs. All the money goes to pay for things those in treatment and their families can’t afford due to their treatment. Like water bills. Gas to get to appointments.Rent.Like that.Please please help us raise fund and help those who have gone through this process, but think they are alone.  So buy the book and share this link.

Or just scan the QR below with your phone and it will go right to the correct page.

We can celebrate her birthday with her by reading her stories. By celebrating her. And helping those who helped her when she needed it the most. And, frankly, if you don’t want to read it, buy it anyway. It is $4.95.

It is an ebook. It can be read on a Kindle, or on an iPhone or Android phone with a free Kindle app or on any PC with the free Kindle program or on Amazon with their CloudReader. If it goes well, we’ll do a paperback edition as well, but, for now, ebook was the way to go to raise the funds.

Don’t want to read it? Fine. it is $4.95. Download it into nothing. let is spend it electrons into the free air. But buy it. The idea is to raise money for the Foundation in Lee’s name. And as much as we can by her birthday, 4/22.

And we got it out in time for her birthday. I want to see how much we can raise for them and how far we can get this.

Please buy one, share this, send it out, whatever we can do to help refill their coffers and remember her birthday.

Thanks.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Books, Family, philosophy, Poetry, Suicide, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: