Today is my anniversary. The clock moves on, pages pulled from calendars, life moves on, people move on. But dates remain, along with the people for whom they mean something. This date means something to me. But not to anyone else. Not anymore.
And so the day goes on. Lisa is at a funeral. I am at work. I’d be at the funeral too, but today is the last day of mid-term exams, and the last day before the winter break. Taking off today was simply not going to happen. People move on.
Bob was a friend. A radical in the style, location and times of the Chicago Seven, a musician, a photographer, and political activist, Passover and Hanukkah at our house, jam sessions – his funeral is today. Cancer. Everyone seems to die of cancer. Ryan wondered what to do with his anniversary with Joyce, after she died. He didn’t have to wonder long. He died a week ago just about two years after she did. Cancer. He is no longer worried about his anniversary, how it will feel when it comes around, how it feels when it’s here, whether to mention it, not mention it, toast it, ignore it. Bob was older. Early 70s. Ryan was in his 40s.
And I’m in my 50s now. Late 50s. I was in my mid 40s then, when I first wondered what to do with this date. Lots of people have died since then. But not me. So I’m still wondering. Like my father wondered. His father, too. Now, no more wondering.
And wondering how much longer I will feel this way. How much longer will this date still have this charge? If the answer is for the rest of my life, how much longer will I still wonder what to do with it?
I’m not looking to leave anytime soon, but I do want to know what to do. How to notice it, and give its proper due without tripping over it, without ignoring it, which I could not do. Would not do. Would not want to do. Could not forgive myself if I did.
Tag Archives: Lee
I remember the last kiss
like the first one,
like it was yesterday and
a thousand years ago
We met. You asked
is it ok that
you’re in love with me.
I said yes. You said
yes. And much of a century passed
of adjustments, smiles,
arguments, love, more love,
kids. Gray hair,
Trips to far-away places
we talked about, visits
for graduations, weddings,
the passing of friends, parents,
comforting, resting in
chairs around the warm fire
in Winter, old bones,
and I don’t remember who died first, but
Oh God, I hope it was me.
When I woke this morning, I was afraid I could not write. I felt it was gone. It, whatever that is, felt absent. But during the day’s discussion, in the three minutes between classes, in moments during planning, the topic of poets came up. I found the poem “We Bring Democracy To The Fish,” by Donald Hall. Don’t blame me for the way the title is capitalized – blame Donald. Anyway, he was Laureate until that poem was published. Then he was Poet Non Grata. He and the Dixie Chicks hung out together looking for work.
Distressed Haiku had this line: “I finished with April/halfway through March.” His wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, had died in the month of April, 1995. That line. That one line. I have said that myself, nearly word for word. And I was writing again. But would I ever write of anything else?
I ask that, yet I have. I have. But, time and time again, I return to it. Why? Because one doesn’t go on. One doesn’t heal. One continues, with the wound. With the weight. One may be happy, one may be loved, and one may be content, one may have a wonderful life. I certainly do. But that is still there, because it is part of our lives. For those in this “club we’re in that I wouldn’t wish anyone to belong to,” as a friend of mine put it, one doesn’t go back to the old way of being, but creates a new normal around the space.
Everything is made of space. So, I guess, I’m still writing about everything. I guess.
Halfway Through March
It is second period.
I have been discussing
Poetry with Mr. Wolf.
Poets, appreciated but
Never paid well,
Never paid attention to,
Paid heed, respected,
Honored, yes: the Poets Laureate
Paid, at first, in wine.
Chaucer paid in
Gallons of wine.
Name bridges after them,
Put up markers roadside,
Have them inaugurate
The president, but don’t
Pay them enough to
Leave their teaching posts
So they can develop
Their craft without
Daily worries of bills due.
The discussion moved to
Donald Hall. One year only
He held his post.
“We Bring Democracy To The Fish.”
So long and thanks for all that.
But now it is period three,
Donald Hall is in my brain,
So I am reading.
Teacher reading, because
I can barely think
I didn’t know
He lost his wife.
Cancer comes and
I had always pictured him
Alone. Solitary, New Hampshire
But he wrote of
Her leaving and
What was left,
He wondered if he
Would ever write of
Here, listen to his
“Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?”
Here is the Universal.
Here is the experience
Of the creative. Of those
Who take everything
Of their lives, of their
Turn it into something
Make the internal life
External, visible, palpable.
Make something with
No hands reach out,
Shake you, shock you,
Leave you thinking,
Understanding what you
Did not understand before.
Make the solitary
The common experience.
I’m not the only one.
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.
Some short time ago, I became interested in gins. Not just interested, but fascinated. I am not a tippler. I barely drink. A bottle of Plymouth gin I have is still more than half full and it is more than eight years old.
Gin, and gin and tonics, are nothing new to me. My Aunt Esther and Uncle Dave used to give them to me when I was four. Maybe even younger than that. But I could go years without one. I liked them, but no big deal.
But now I became preoccupied with gin. The differences in tastes, textures, bouquets. And, so I, with my friend Craig, looked for a place that had gins to taste and came up woefully short.
One place I called used to be a favorite more than a year ago. It was one of the last places I took my wife to eat before she died, before she was no longer able to leave the house, before hospice, before her death. Even toward the end, hard as it was for her to be out, to enjoy her days, they had great patience for her, for her needs, and for mine. I called with trepidation, but Matt’s Casbah, I thought, was a good bet for gin and, I had hoped, I could reclaim this place as a favorite happy haunt instead of only associating it with radiation therapy.
No, they did not have any different gins, the manager, Justin, told me. But rarely had he heard of anyone else interested in gin, and he happened to have a bottle of Smalls, a “boutique” distillery that produced, what he felt was a superior and different gin. And he remembered me, and my Lee, and asked if I would come in to have a drink with him, on the house.
I was delighted. Elated, really, and I did go there, to have a drink with Justin. I took Craig with me and we sat, happy, sharing a bottle of small-batch gin, fragrant, strong, viscous, with Justin. With our first sip, we toasted Lee. It was a small thing, but a great kindness, and it allowed me to reclaim something I had lost, and in that, I knew I could reclaim other places, other things, I had lost. Other things associated with pain could be brought back to joy.
Some days later, Jazmin handed me a National Geographic. In it was an article about dying languages she knew I would be interested in. It discussed languages and how they formed, and were formed by, a culture’s way of thinking. In one section it discussed Kazakhstan, and the word for juniper, which, of course, is the main flavoring for gin, coming from the word genièvre, French for juniper. It stated that the Kazahks burned juniper berries to allow those who have passed to move on, and those who were still alive, to live on. It cleared the souls who lingered for the rest of their journey. Kazakhstan is the part of the world from which Lee, the doctor, the shaman, and her family comes and she but one generation removed.
And here I was, at the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing, fascinated, preoccupied, with gin, with genièvre, with juniper as distilled in spirits.
When the soul reaches, listen and lend it your hands. And gin is what I was reaching for.
Since then, I have tried many gins. Many awful, many wonderful. I found a bar in San Diego while there for a book signing that had over forty gins, Aero Club, and the barmistress set me up with a tasting. I described what I liked, and she set it up. All for a Jackson and a tip. Junipero, one of the first small distillery gins, made by Anchor Steam, the first microbrewery to make it big. Farmers Botanical Organic Gin. Smalls. Hendricks, well-known but under-appreciated. Others. Many wonderful. All different.
I feel much better. And, I know, so does she.
Have a Shamanic Gin and Tonic
When a friend or loved one’s passed
(we know the body doesn’t last),
but the spirit’s not moved on
of those whose time has come and gone,
or those alive are still bereft
over one who long has left,
there is a cure one can employ,
a special drink one can enjoy,
to clear the space and tears away
and free a soul who mustn’t stay.
Have a shamanic gin and tonic
served tall in a glass that’s cold and conic,
prepared by a shaman with a twist of citrus:
cinchona bark and a gin that’s viscous,
and cubes of stone that fizz when you drop ’em
(better than pills that appall when you pop ’em,
or capsules or tinctures or some New Age option
is tonic and gin, the shamanic concoction)
or cubes of ice—they’re even freezier
(they dissolve in the drink, and that is much easier).
Then sniff the bouquet of the herbs and the roots
or the leaves or the stems or the barks or the fruits
or the spirits of plants that the gin spirit suits!
Have one or two
with a friend or a few,
and beat a skin drum
or rattle bones some—
then slip with a buzz down a hole or a drain
to discover your lack or the source of your pain
or maybe the unattached bits of your soul
that keep you from feeling as though you are whole
that fled long ago and now can be found
safe in the keeping of leopard or hound
or in a small cave or hole in a tree,
and finding them now, you set yourself free.
Then bring them back home as you drum with your drink
(it’s really quite easy, just try not to think)
with the cubes made of stone
as you journey alone
in the land underground (or is it within?)
assisted most ably by tonic and gin.
And what herbs or roots or fruits should we add
that would be good—or by virtue of excess or vacuity of some constituent or actions or combinations thereof—would be bad?
Cucumber’s a wonder in high summer heat
but in juniper, gin should be more than replete,
and filled with the spirits that cleanse and abide
for clearing the home (or office or what-have-you) and sending them outside,
so inside and happy now people can live
without items disappearing or dishes crashing or things going bump in the night, and they can be happy and productive and get a good night’s sleep without antidepressants or therapy or a sedative.
So toast those now gone, or gone but still here,
and raise them a glass in celebration and cheer!
And don’t take to drugs or psychiatry or colonics—
just drink some shamanic ice-cold gin and tonics.
It is possible there is a perfect time to die. A time when the stories told of you would be of kind compassion and rambunctious joy. Those are the times. When you are filled with love.
Not when you are alone. Not when you are filled with despair. A time when people think of you and smile, not shake their heads and ask why. Not too late when you have been lingering. But when you are active and happy. Die dancing. Die walking the beach. Not in front of a TV.
But most people don’t get to pick their time, it seems to me. And those who do often pick the time of despair and loneliness, leaving more despair behind them.
The perfect time would not have been the time that I picked. And, realizing it in time, pulled back. No, that was two weeks too early. The prefect time would have been as I lay on my wife’s body, having just heard her last heartbeat and felt her chest fall with her last breath. That would have been the time. Hearts and minds. My broken heart for her broken brain.
That would have been understandable. That would have been beyond reproach. Something worthy of writing about.
When people ask me how I am doing, I say I am ”integrating.” I can’t take credit for that. Unena said that. Right after she beat me at a word game. She is one of the people who saw me disintegrate, fall apart, helped keep me alive, gave me reasons, motivations for staying, put me back together, kept me together. She knows. I know. There is no healing. No moving on. None of that. It is integration. Synthesis. She is correct.
Leaving. It causes such pain. Such emptiness as can be understood only by those who experience it. And then, each relationship, each love, feels different. Yet we do reintegrate.
And so, now, there are moments of joy. Much of it, actually. There is laughter and love. So much love. So many reasons to be here. Yet, I can’t help but feel my reason for being has passed. Come and gone. And it is just now a game of waiting.
I haven’t written much since then. I try but there is nothing there. So there is that. I started writing about the last year, the discovery and treatment and loss, assistance, love, frustration and loss, but got bogged down, torn up. So I set it aside. I am not ready yet. I might never be.
I have lost so much of my drive. My get-it-done-yesterday-ness. I walk. I exercise. I ride my bike. Sing. Play my ukulele. I actually watch some TV which is new for me. I am contemplating fishing. I actually bought the lures and hooks and I got a pole at a garage sale. There are six-pound bass a hundred feet from my house, so, hey, why not? I am relaxing for the first time in, well, I am not sure. But it is new to me.
My ambition? Studying for the GRE seems silly. Maybe it was an ego thing. I can imagine myself with my PhD and still just wanting to find the time to write. So that must be what I should do. Which makes not being able to write at the moment feel particularly distressing.
My ambition? What to do? Why? The only reason to stay is for the joy one can create in our own lives and the lives of others. To enjoy the ride. To see our loved ones happy. To love. To bring love. To be loved. Getting things done is secondary. Only as much as it allows time and energy to love the people around me.
It is cliché to say we could all be dead tomorrow. But it is also true. The idea that we live on is delusional. It is a functional delusion. One I no longer have. So I want to treat people like, when I see them, it could be the last time. Tell them I love them before they go because it might be the last time. Deny no impulse to charity, no matter how small or large, because why not give what I have. And why not sit and watch the fish? And play with my granddaughter. Why not? I could not be here tomorrow.
And any time would do. Today. Tomorrow. A week from now. Ten or fifty years. One day or the next. Dying any day is still dying and I will still live up to that day. Because you never know.
Lee didn’t. I didn’t. And look now.
All is well with the people I love. Or at least all is static. Some have grown so they can move on without help. Some thrive. But all are getting along without Lee. Even me. And so, what of the stories of the devastation left by a death. Pain, suffering, sure. But devastation?
I was told how horrible it would be if I died. The suffering it would cause. The pain. The ongoing emotional trauma. But, if I left now, my book would still come out. My son would still buy his house. My daughter will still be in medical school. My friends will still work day to day, care for their children, plant their gardens. They will reintegrate.
Maybe they said that because suicide is different than an accident or disease. Truly, I am not sure. But the thoughts I go to bed with, the love and joy, that would be gone. But so too would the day-to-day cares. IRS, money owed, fixing the car, all those things. Rebuilding the business, eating right. All gone. Personal needs and drives. Gone. Gone the joy and delight in their satisfaction but so too their frustration.
And I know now people would reintegrate. And go on. The only thing missing is that perfect moment. It passed. It passed. And I am still here.