Category Archives: death

Sitting at my father’s grave

Dear Dad,

It is nearly one year since you left this world. I came to your grave, not a usual thing for me to do on Memorial Day, but I knew it would mean so much to you to have flowers put on your gravesite.

I chose some fresh flowers from my yard, such as they were, knowing it was the intention rather than their impressiveness. By the time I got myself out the front door, sunscreen on, and a big straw hat to protect my face, it was nearly noon.

When I said [my visit] would mean something to you, I’m sure part of it was projection on my part, looking in a mirror. Yes, this visit means something to me as well.

Our reconnecting after not communicating for–was it twenty years?–meant much to both of us. I give credit to Landmark Education for urging me to make that call to New Mexico. Although I lost touch, my sister Linda always knew where you and your next wife travelled. You were glad to hear my voice; amazingly, you recognized it after all those years. That call was more easy to make than my anxiety had led me to believe. Eventually I made a trip out West to visit. And it was good.

Then when your wife (after the long ago divorce from my mother) was ill and dying, you two returned to Ohio. You received support from your adult children. After her death, you and I began going out to eat together. It was what I called “your breakfast at lunchtime.” Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, Big Boy–you had your favorite servers at each one. I bit back my vegetarian rigidity and loosened up a bit to enjoy a few hours with my father.

But that’s the past and you are no longer available for those breakfast sessions. Now I sit here in the hot sun with the noisy traffic on Colerain going shopping on the Memorial Day holiday. I sit on the edge of your plot; there is some grass now but it is obvious that the ground is fairly new. I was there when they lowered you in your coffin. Frankly, it still creeps me out, no matter how many times I see it. It seemed unreal–or perhaps I had to be numb to witness it at all.

It’s All About Me, anyway, this journaling, this blog, and my witnessing the end of a life. I know some day, some month, some year, I will face this, too. Not knowing how much time is left has been a huge zen koan for my life.

I sincerely hope my short visit has been some comfort to you–indeed, for us both.

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Another Mother’s Day

I lost my mother in 2007.  The anniversary of her birthday came and went in April. I usually write about her then but did not. Am I not a loving, dutiful daughter?

For one thing, I am getting “real” about my mother having passed. And, although she is not physically present anymore, I sometimes feel her presence, her spirit, if you will. The wind chimes I got her for her deck came back to me after her death. I hear them often; they are comforting as well as beautiful. My two sisters and I text, remembering our mother, as we try to be there for one another.

So this morning as I sat before my fireplace on this chilly Sunday, the theme for my reflection is evident. I sigh yet it is a sigh of acceptance. Perhaps her first-born has finally grown. For acceptance is the final stage of Kubler-Ross’s phases for grieving. One can accept reluctantly but not kicking and screaming in denial (for that would not be acceptance).

I lit incense to the goddess mothers in my living room. If I pause to look and listen, there really are mothers all around me.

 

Hello once more, meditation!

Sunday morning. New resolve. I can, will, and must begin a regular practice of meditation once more. Trust me.

So I set the timer to twenty minutes. Lit a candle, sat on the floor in front of it. I decided: no mantra, no severe zen stance (I’ve done them all). Instead a simple cross-legged position, back to the sofa, old dog lying nearby. Was Winnie meditating in her dog way?

Here are thoughts that arose as I sat for fifteen minutes: flame of the candle–nice, better if I close my eyes? Back to the flame. Airplane flies over my house–damned Green Township pathway! I’ll be flying soon–Paris, hurray! Oops, stop it, Phebe, let the thoughts float by like clouds in the sky…..

In between these concepts, I did have a few moments of No Thought. So when I peeked and the timer told me “three minutes more,” I was disappointed.

Yes, disappointed! For I was just getting started. “Getting started” — an odd concept since there was No Where To Get to in my meditation. I reset the timer for ten more minutes. Ahhhh.

That new Sia song insisted on wafting through my head. Notice, float by. Tears. Surprising. Oh, earlier I had remembered my father, recently dead (whatever this means). “Where are you, Dad?” I inwardly asked. Maybe this is one reason I’d been resisting sitting in meditation. Feeling. Feeling my father’s recent death. Feeling my recovering chest incision from February bypass surgery. But, wait–then I felt tears of joy: my new internist. She has knowledge and caring. Knowledge and Caring. What more can a patient ask for?

Back to the candle and its wavering flame. Wavering. Yes, kind of like the baby meditator I have become after not sitting quietly for some time. Beginner’s mind begins again. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Father’s Day

It’s happy Father’s Day all over the U.S.A. but some of the children are not so happy.

I just lost my father last Wednesday, watched as his coffin was lowered into the ground. That makes it real! His body needed to leave since it was wracked by lymphoma, the cancer enlarging his spleen which pushed on his stomach which left him with little appetite. Going out to eat was his final pleasure in life. Going to Bob Evans, for example, was a social occasion for him and he quickly made favorites of the pretty young waitresses. I suppose they looked upon him as a grandfather or just a nice old man.

He was a nice old man. Not much of a talker, though. I sometimes wondered what our father-daughter karma was but now I think Norman Beiser was a steady listener for me. Thank you, dad, wherever you are!

Now I am a member of the Adult Orphan Society. I am 65, after all, and own a home on my own and mother furry animals rather than children. I am an adult who can sort through my thoughts and emotions, who writes about them, and shares communication with others.

One writing friend does not speak to her father because he was cruel to her in her childhood. I know another young father who is a baby daddy and has a kid by two different women, neither of whom he is married to. When I asked my own father about my early childhood, he remembered little. “I worked two jobs,” he informed me, back in the early and mid 1950’s. He also met another woman and, for this, my mother divorced him. They were too young to be married with three children. Thankfully, my mother’s retired German schoolteacher mother had saved her pennies and helped her out until she met and married my stepfather.

So fathers can vary, as do people of any age or sex. Responsibility is the word I think of when I think of a good father. In the normal realm, responsibility consists of earning money, making sure your children are fed, supporting your wife. My biological father did all of this until I was three. That was a very long time ago. I took my mother’s side for decades in my early feminist days. After I was involved in my own intimate relationships, I realized the actual truth was often something other than either partner’s view of the truth. So I forgive both my parents for the decisions they made along the way. For I am no better.

On this Hallmark day of sappy cards, grilling out, etc., I ask that we all pause, reflect a bit deeper, and really mean Happy Fathers Day when we say (write) it.

Holiday weekend ennui

I drove my dad to the cemetery where our Beiser’s are buried. As you can see from the photograph of the headstone, there is an opening in that plot, in the ground below us. My father, “Norman,” has a space waiting for him next to his deceased wife (this is the woman he married after my mother and his divorce).

Here’s our conversation in front of the headstone:

Me: “Doesn’t it feel weird to see your name on a headstone?”
pause
“Do you believe–or hope–you’ll meet [his wife] at the end of the light?

Dad: “What I HOPE is that someone will have my date filled in!”

That’s our dry family wit.

But that’s not the end of my holiday weekend ennui. Ennui is a French word describing a feeling that combines tiredness and boredom. It’s more complex than this. Here’s my intuitive fastwrite of a post trying to get to the bottom of these holiday weekend sadnesses:

I am single. No children. Being a lesbian still makes me an outsider to much of the world in spite of all the gay news lately about same-sex marriage. I have no family, automatically in place, to spend a holiday weekend with. No grilling out with the grandkids, no movies to watch together, no hopping in the car for ice cream.

Now, in many ways I have chosen all this. I mean, some lesbians do have children and grandchildren. I’m not one. And I’m well aware that there’s a certain Norman Rockwell sort of insipid fuzzy gladness in these images.

So I need to create my own family, circle of intimates, friends. As a matter of fact, I did have an invitation to a lesbian party Sunday evening. But I spent the entire afternoon picking dad up fifteen miles away, driving to the Bevis Cemetery near my neighborhood, taking him back home, then driving myself back home. Sixty miles. I was happy to do this (especially happy I had the energy post-cardiac surgery). It meant, however, that I’d be too tired to drive to Lebanon later for the women’s gathering. So I missed out.

So there is usually this sense of something missing most holiday weekends.

Later I realized there were two events that happened past Memorial Day weekends: Only a few years ago, I had to have my handsome elkhound Bodhi put down. He could no longer walk plus he stopped eating. Spent the night on the living room floor, never getting up.

Last year, I spent two nights in Maine meeting a woman I’d met only online. We’d shared months’ worth of emails and took an online class together. We were both in our 60’s and (now I realize) wistful for a love partnership. If I tell you I changed my plane ticket to fly home a day early this will give you the ending. One year ago. Hope and illusion.

It may take a few more Memorial Day weekends to soften the memory of Bodhi and Ms. Maine. These memories are attached only to Memorial Day weekend. I know I am strong as well as sensitive. I’ll get through this, especially now that I am aware of it. The one thing I CAN do is invite people over. I don’t have a grill but I have a spectacular deck and backyard!

My mother would have been 85 today

April 9th is a date that stands out for me: it is the date of my mother’s birth.

Today she would have been 85. Always easy to remember because she was twenty when I was born and twenty is an easy number for me to add to my own birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom (wherever ‘you’ are)!

I want to share the poem I wrote about my last day on Earth with her in March 2007. All five of her children plus two spouses were there, crowded in that hospice room at Ft. Hamilton Hospital. We Beisers, at least, seem to be a stubborn bunch! I’ve been told by several nurse friends that their experience is that people often die when you leave the room. But my siblings and I were not budging.

To honor and memorialize my mother (Irene “Shirley” Hornsby), I read my poem at my Thursday class at Women Writing for (a) Change this morning. We were having a readaround where we take turns sharing a piece we wrote. So, by popular demand, (at least from family and friends on Facebook), below is the poem:

Breath

It was her death, after all;
I was only an observer.
Lung cancer or not,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Towards the end, a final gasp.
My little sister, a nurse’s aide,
watched for signs:
See that blue, the
mottled colors on her feet–
the oxygen is lessening.
It all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

Later I called Jeri the conductor,
the family guide to mom’s passing.
When I, the last, reached the room
my little sister informed our mother
that all five of her children were there.
She had fought hard and now
it was okay to let go.
Earlier that day–
eyes seeing something we could not—
our mother exclaimed
“amazing” with no explanation.
We like to remember the joy
in that moment; meanwhile,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

When it was time she opened her eyes.
The look did not include us.
There in that room
with all her children watching,
she died with her mouth open.
The nurse checked her heartbeat
then told us she was gone.
She took the oxygen tube out
of our mother’s nostrils.
She asked me to turn the tanks off.

First one, then the other.
Suddenly so silent.
No more humming,
that nagging but necessary
noise of artificial breath
that had haunted her
those final few months.
No more need for these
tanks and tubes.

2:25 on a Sunday morning
and all we could do was
breathe in, breathe out.
It all comes down to the breath.

After reading a burial poem

After reading a burial poem

I remember my Grandma Katie at the graveyard.
We Beiser children waited … after the service, after the people left.
We followed the truck to the site where her casket would be dropped.
I’d never done that before. It was real.
We stood there silently and reverently.
After the job was done, after the guy and his truck
and death equipment had finished the job,
but not covered her casket with dirt,
I was ready.
Grandma Katie loved pussy willows.
I had bought some.
I dropped the flowers onto her casket.
If I said a chant it was unknown to me,
deeply felt, deeply dropped
into the earth with Grandma.