Missing our Matriarch, Poem on Grief

We can’t avoid the saddest part of our humanity and though we know we’ll have to deal with it, as my husband’s Aunt Pauline said, “It never gets easier.”

I haven’t posted in awhile because Cecile Gruer, my 86 year-old mother-in-law and matriarch of our family, passed away last week. There’s so much to say about her decline, measures that were taken to try to restore her health, and the month she spent under hospice care. The last time she celebrated a happy occasion with the family was her granddaughter’s wedding in September 2021. Even then, she wasn’t truly herself.

There’s much more to say about Cecile, who as a young girl in Poland, ran with her parents and siblings from the Nazi’s during WWII. She spent years in Siberia, freezing and starving. After the war ended, she was a teenager in an Austrian displaced persons camp. Her immediate family eventually moved to America, first to St. Louis and then to New York. She met Morris, another Holocaust survivor, in Brooklyn, NY and they married and built a home and family. So much to say…

The outpouring of sympathy from family and friends illustrates the importance of community. It may sound cliche, but it’s crucial to support each other when a life starts and when it ends.

Hubby and I are exhausted from the many months of Cecile’s decline, reeling from witnessing her personality change, saddened by her loss of communication, and grieving her passing. A tribute post will have to wait. Though Cecile didn’t die young, Jon Pineda’s poem on grief strikes a chord.

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task was published in The New York Times Magazine January 16, 2022 with commentary by Victoria Chang. She said, “I first read this poem on Twitter, and even though it’s a simple poem about grief, it stayed with me. I’m fascinated by the way that it discloses so much in its title, showing how a title can get important information out of the way so that the poem can breathe on its own. Yet the reader doesn’t know what the ‘task’ is until the third stanza. The poem is an example of how abundant emotions can be conveyed by stripping language down to the bone.”

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,

their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

and my sister, entering the room quietly,

takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,

even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.

For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,

and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

domed with thin slices she brushes into

the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,

she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

Poem for Grief, On the Death of the Beloved

It’s been two weeks since Lucy died and it feels like I’m walking through sludge. One of my daughters said we have no ways to mark the death of our sweet, four-legged guardian angels and she’s right. There’s no funeral, shiva, or memorial service. Maybe that’s too much to ask since we enfold our furry companions into our families knowing we will outlive them, but still…

Lucy was also beloved by friends, neighbors and community, and the outpouring of sympathy is a tribute to her big, brown, expressive, soulful eyes and loving spirit. Those eyes. They talked to you. We went on so many adventures together. She brought us closer.

We miss her terribly.

On the Death of the Beloved

by John O’Donohue

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again. 

In Memory–Aleta

A dear ceramics class friend died this week, and a large group of teachers and students at the Visual Arts Center of NJ are devastated. In a year of compromised health, Aleta contracted Covid-19. Amazingly she recovered and, at a recent ceramics class social distance picnic, she declared herself, “The luckiest girl in the world!” We were beyond thrilled she had beaten the virus. Was her heart attack related to the illness? Research shows it may have been.

Aleta was incredibly smart, becoming a lawyer and professor of law at time when women were just making inroads into those professions. She was funny, curious, creative, talented, encouraging, kind, and a joy to be around. When I tell friends that I love my ceramics class because of the people in it, and because I can make a thimble and it’s still celebrated, I think of Aleta showering us all with, “It’s beautiful! Just beautiful!”

She loved her dog Gracie, had a thing for owls, always wore a Mets baseball hat, was ecstatic about the recent purchase of a dream vacation home, asked for and received an anniversary gift of a home pottery studio, loved to travel and, after a trip to Amsterdam, created hand-built tilting houses. She dispensed jokes and funny stories, shared family lore, talked politics and policies, and always expressed how much she loved her family. Her openness to learning, studying, and practicing was an inspiration. There will be an imprint in the atmosphere surrounding her favorite wheel.

I will always remember Aleta’s smile, laugh, and how she called all of us, “Honey.” My heart is heavy and my mind swirls with memories.

Sources: The Harvard Gazette, Oregon State University’s Jack Dymond

Late Summer Sun, A Memory and Poem

Me, my mom and sister at my brother’s wedding.

Hon, my goal on this blog is to share many of the things that bring me joy. But, today is a sad day. It’s been three years since my mom died and her presence is a shadow behind my eyes.

A memory comes to mind. My mom, dad, brother and I (my sister isn’t born yet) are at a farm where we’re picking either apples or pumpkins or both. I am about four years old which would make my brother almost two. We are running in a field of bright yellow sunflowers and my mother is running with us, young and beautiful and laughing. My dad watches and smiles. We have a wonderful day, even when we come home and check for ticks, tweezers and matches in hand. When my mom puts me to bed, she sings an “I love you” song.

That memory played in the air as if on an invisible screen after Lucy and I ran in a field last week. Lucy caught her breath as a I wept and wrote this:

Late Summer Sun

Late summer sun

Lights the leaves

That carry its warmth

While waiting to transform.

Late summer honeysuckle

Scents the air

That carries a hint

Of cool crispness.

Late summer monarch

Alights on blooms

To drinks in nectar

still left In the late summer sun.

Epitaph-Repost

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Today is a year since my mom passed, so I’m sharing these beautiful quotes in her memory.

“…we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honour heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honour the Pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone.”
― R.J. Palacio

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie

I wear a veil of sadness. My mother’s illness and passing has left me unmoored, so please bear with me as I stand in an ocean, the waves lapping and tugging, lapping and tugging.

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Epitaph by Merrit Malloy

When I die

Give what’s left of me away

To children

And old men that wait to die.

 

And if you need to cry,

Cry for your brother

Walking the street beside you.

And when you need me,

Put your arms

Around anyone

And give them

What you need to give to me.

 

I want to leave you something,

Something better

Than words

Or sounds.

 

Look for me

In the people I’ve known

Or loved,

And if you cannot give me away,

At least let me live on in your eyes

And not your mind.

 

You can love me most

By letting

Hands touch hands,

By letting bodies touch bodies,

And by letting go

Of children

That need to be free.

 

Love doesn’t die,

People do.

So, when all that’s left of me

Is love,

Give me away.

First Day of Spring

Lake Champlain, Vermont.

Hon, this poem speaks to the heart I wish to heal, the head I hope to clear, and the life I must make matter.

“So I am not a broken heart.
I am not the weight I lost or miles or ran and I am not the way I slept on my doorstep under the bare sky in smell of tears and whiskey because my apartment was empty and if I were to be this empty I wanted something solid to sleep on. Like concrete.
I am not this year and I am not your fault.
I am muscles building cells, a little every day, because they broke that day,
but bones are stronger once they heal and I am smiling to the bus driver and replacing my groceries once a week and I am not sitting for hours in the shower anymore.
I am the way a life unfolds and bloom and seasons come and go and I am the way the spring always finds a way to turn even the coldest winter into a field of green and flowers and new life.
I am not your fault.”
Charlotte Eriksson

Epitaph

img_7229I wear a veil of sadness. My mother’s illness and passing has left me unmoored, so please bear with me as I stand in an ocean, the waves lapping and tugging, lapping and tugging.

img_7227 img_7228

Epitaph by Merrit Malloy

When I die

Give what’s left of me away

To children

And old men that wait to die.

 

And if you need to cry,

Cry for your brother

Walking the street beside you.

And when you need me,

Put your arms

Around anyone

And give them

What you need to give to me.

 

I want to leave you something,

Something better

Than words

Or sounds.

 

Look for me

In the people I’ve known

Or loved,

And if you cannot give me away,

At least let me live on in your eyes

And not your mind.

 

You can love me most

By letting

Hands touch hands,

By letting bodies touch bodies,

And by letting go

Of children

That need to be free.

 

Love doesn’t die,

People do.

So, when all that’s left of me

Is love,

Give me away.