A few things have changed in medicine over the last few decades. Okay, a lot has changed, and most of it good. But along with the improvements in patient care there has been an exponential increase…
Recording memories by sketching is personal, even intimate. The results awaken the same emotions you experienced as you sketched the occasions, places and people in your sketch books. Since 2005 I have carried a sketch book in my car but my entries have been sporadic. My sketching ability leaves much to be desired – it is too tentative with short lines rather than long sure ones, however, looking through some of my past efforts retrieves lovely memories, lovely moments – happy, lonely, poignant ones – all a part of me.
2004 – 2005
Greg’s Ties (finished) June 2004
My mother died two weeks later, on January 13, 2007
The day she died, I promised her I would remember her in blue skies, sunsets, flowers and on a gentle breeze.
I am so grateful for the nearly six weeks I spent with her in hospital, for all our wonderful times together through the years, for our long distance mother-daughter chats, for her and Dad’s love.
My next post will continue from 2007.
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I AM STILL HAUNTED BY THE PHOTO IN MY POST YESTERDAY, ‘This is Hunger This is Pain’ … of the heartbreaking yet incredibly beautiful, and so personal, mother’s good-bye to her child.
The sight of the wee baby in that meticulously dug hole makes me shudder – NOT at the sight of the child in its grave, but at the elaborate funeral frippery we in NorthAmerica have come to think is OK. Modern funerals and funeral homes completely remove us from death, from our goodbye. It wasn’t many decades ago that our dead were placed in simple coffins in our living rooms for a day of so of viewing and good-byes before burial. This is still the practice in many countries.
I am not saying I want us to revert to burying our dead in our back yards, but there must be a more honest, more real, way. Even the language of some people have removed the words of death from their lexicon. I cringe when I hear the elaborate ways people have of avoiding the reality. – just watch television for a few hours and the avoidance pounces at you.
Death is a part of life. We are born. We live. We die.
How do I want to depart this life? I am still thinking on this. But what I do not want is a metal-lined, heavy as a tree trunk, sterile coffin. I am not a fan of incineration either, whoops – cremation. Nor do I love the ideas of the circle-of-life process in the ground before inevitably returning to earth. All in all, none of the options is great.
Death is not an easy topic, but it should be. It is inevitable. It happens to each and every one of us. So, I prefer to think on it and make decisions about my farewell to those I love.
So, I choose …
. A simple, non-religious funeral with photos of me (in case you have already forgotten :), and photos with family and friends – photos of my life.
. Flowers – there have to be flowers – a few lovely bouquets of flowers – not ‘ funeral arrangements’, but pastel flowers in season and a few gorgeous long-stem roses, all in gorgeous vases.
. My four genealogy volumes lying about for people to glance through and remember those in my life, those who helped shape it, those alive and dead.
. And music – music I love. Music that fills my soul and so will hopefully ease the pain of my family. (That’s assuming they will experience pain. Tho’ I have learned ‘never assume’. Sorry guys – a bit of levity is in order here). So just play my iPod or iPhone. That will do it.
. It would be nice to have the loves of my life speak at my funeral – of love and lots of laughter please. I am not above ridicule. So remember the good times, the funny times. Remember it all.
. Then watch my ashes catch the breeze across beautiful Georgian Bay.
My apologies to Dr.Elizabeth Kubler Ross for borrowing her title.
JOURNEY TO THE SPIRIT WORLD
Bouquet of sweet grass, braided
Feathers, pouch of tobacco,
Tied together with grosgrain ribbon,
Narrow suede ribbons,
Beading along ends.
Placed on casket by niece … At Barb’s mom’s funeral To ease journey into the spirit world. Made with love. Took my breath away.
Photo of our gorgeous Wasaga Beach Sand – by LRP
MY TURN TODAY . YOURS TOMORROW
I am loving my life journey
The warmth of spring sun
A breeze whispering its
Secrets of life, of eternity.
It will be over soon. All this!
Blue skies and dreams,
Thoughts .. percolating, creating
In colour or black and white.
It is powerful to contemplate
The idea of my story ending.
Tho’ not yet done, I know it will continue
In my loves – my family, my art, here.
Thoughts of my life ending
Begin to take more space in daily imaginings.
‘My turn today, yours tomorrow’
Is a consolation of sorts.
Taking turns at life …
My children, grandchildren and theirs
Each need their time
In this always amazing world.
I must not selfishly want to stay forever
Will I be able to watch you after I am gone?
I hope so
You know I don’t like to miss a thing.
‘Unconsecrated Ground‘ was previously published in “Many Women Two Men, Stories & Poems”, Anthology. Pub: Dove Tale Press, Kitchener ON, 2001. Also published in “ROBERTSON Lineages & Memoirs – Genealogies For My Children & Theirs”
As I turned off the highway onto a gravel road winding through dense, Muskoka woods, I could not have imagined that the next hour would haunt me for years.
I was on a quest to find the village of Germania, where for years, my father enjoyed happy visits with his mother’s family.
Now, I pictured what it must have been like for my ancestors a century ago, a landscape riddled with rock, root and mud, treacherous to wagon and humanity. Near their community they would have constructed a corduroy road by felling trees, each about six inches in diameter and laying them side by side. This would have provided easier, but bumpy, passage.
It seemed isolated here, unlike the scenic lakes of the tourist haven a few miles to the west. I sucked in my breath at my first glimpse of Germania. Pride of ownership was clear by the scattering of neat, brick homes. On the right was a play-house size church and a quaint cemetery surrounded by chicken-wire fencing. A plaque beside the front door read, Germania German Lutheran Church, built 1876. So long ago, so many stories, I thought.
Although I had never been here before, I had a feeling of coming home as I parked my car on the grass in front of the church. I opened the wire-and-post gate to the left of the church and walked toward the graves. My heart fluttered like a hummingbird as I read the old headstones nestled in the grass. They were gray with rounded tops. They seemed natural in this place. Some tilted, giving them a look of weary permanence. Their weight in the lush green-blanketed soil was causing them to sink. Some were barely above ground. Others looking old and worn yet nevertheless managed to stand tall. I eagerly read and familiar names began to emerge. Annie Dietz, Minnie Dietz. The largest stone monument in the center of the cemetery was in the shape of a cross.
The fading words carved into the stone read;
DIETZ, Adam born July 25, 1832. Died June 11, 1907.
His wife Willimena, died May 24, 1901, age 66 years.
These were my great-grandparents. My father was the youngest of eight children and missed out on much of the family lore. He didn’t even know his grandparents’ names, knew them simply as Grandma and Grandpa Dietz. I had to learn if anyone nearby could tell me more about my family.
I walked across the street and knocked on the door of the brick bungalow. An elderly woman, trim and neat, opened the door. I explained my mission and asked if she knew anything about the cemetery and, more specifically, did she know anything about the Dietz family buried there. She smiled and introduced herself as Velda Gilbert.
“I knew the Dietz family when I was a child,” she said, pointing to where their farm had been across the street, just beyond the small wooden church.
Velda and I chatted like old friends, she reminiscing, me prompting the memories. She offered to take me through the cemetery and tell me what she knew. I said I had just seen the family headstones, but she assured me there was more to see. Velda led me to the far, southeast corner of the cemetery, a secluded area overgrown by grass and weeds and shaded by a large, old tree.
“I want to show you something,” she said, pushing grass away with her wrinkled,
misshapen hands. She revealed a curved-top gravestone sinking into the ground, difficult to
see. I knelt to read and moved my fingers over the roughly carved letters worn by a century
of wind and rain. If there was more lettering, it was now below ground level, but I could clearly read:
Katherine Dietz, 1903 aged 29 years.
The site of this stone, so alone and untended, felt eerie. That was how I learned of Katie’s headstone, far removed from the others, in the unconsecrated part of the cemetery. Ostracized in death.
“Everyone called her Katie.” said Velda.
I knew from Census records that Katie was my grandmother’s sister. My dad never knew of this aunt. Her name was never spoken in the family.
“I will tell you the story,” said Velda.
Katie lay on her side, her knees tucked near her chest, her hands clutched tightly under her chin, tears wetting the cotton pillow case. Weeks of worry and fear had left her with a numbing feeling of hopelessness.
“How could this have happened to me? I am twenty-nine years old. I should have a husband and a home of my own by now. My chances of that are forever gone. I fear what Papa, my family and even the neighbours will think of me. What can I do? I wish Mama was here. I need her.”
Katie’s mother died just two years earlier and was buried in the nearby cemetery. Katie still lived on the family farm with her father, Adam, her brother William who was two years younger, and Minnie, her 24-year-old sister.
The realization that there were changes within her dawned slowly. She did not know much about the intricacies of her body, nor of conception and pregnancy. Such topics were never discussed. Even her mother’s pregnancies years before had not been acknowledged until they were too large to hide. Married women sewed dresses in such a way as to camouflage their pregnancies. There were layers of gathered skirting across the back and sides, and a secret panel at the front to allow for the inevitability of a thickening waistline. This hid an early pregnancy and provided fashion flexibility when one dress was all a woman could afford.
Her body’s rhythm, its changes and needs were the extent of Katie’s enlightenment about her ‘private parts’ and their functioning. She thought ‘that part’ of the body was aptly named because she wondered about, and guessed at, thoughts too private to be voiced.
At first, denial soothed Katie when her consciousness began to admit the possibility of a child growing within. As days grew into weeks, fear became so invasive that she constantly felt smothered by the weight of worry.
Katie had always hated that time of the month. Years ago, some of the bold girls at school called it being on the rag. Katie’s rags were hidden in the back of her tiny, doorless cupboard. In a futile attempt to hide the tell-tale indications of their embarrassing use, they were folded neatly, stains turned in. Each month she scrubbed them, up and down, across the ribs of the washboard in an old metal scrub pail in the shed. Even lye soap and scalding water lugged from the wood stove, could not entirely fade the blurred crimson outlines.
She had always hated the messiness of this part of her body. And she hated the Purity Flour bags, cut up for this purpose. The rags bunched up between her legs and with each step, they schemed to escape their designated place inside her bloomers. With each step, the delicate skin of her inner thighs became painfully chafed.
As each day passed without needing her supply of rags, Katie’s horror increased. She prayed she would need to pull them from their hiding place. Even as she clutched her hands together, she knew within her soul that her prayer would not be answered.
Katie didn’t feel she could confide the horrible possibility of a pregnancy to her sister, Minnie, who had her own grief. Minnie had a deformed back. When she was a child, their older sister Carrie was pushing Minnie on the rope-and-board swing. The child fell off and landed the wrong way on a stump protruding from the ground. Life had been cruel to Minnie.
Nor could Katie burden her older sister Carrie, living in nearby Bracebridge, busy with her two small children and expecting her third in as many years. Besides there really was nothing to talk about. Being pregnant while a single woman was sinful, unacceptable. Everyone in this village and even surrounding villages would always think of her out-of-wedlock child as a bastard and many would not hesitate to use that cruel word. Katie herself would be shunned, her family humiliated. Going through with this pregnancy, in this place and time, was simply unthinkable.
Growing up, Katie had enjoyed much laughter and camaraderie within her family. Her parents had been honest, hard-working German immigrants who instilled in their children a high moral code, deeply felt Lutheran beliefs, a robust work ethic and self-discipline.
“I’ve let them all down.” Katie cringed, experiencing unbearable guilt and shame.
After weeks of fear, then hopelessness, she lay weeping on her bed without anywhere to turn.
Fall set in, bringing with it the chill of coming frost. Katie didn’t seem to notice. She left the farmhouse and crossed the fields where bales of hay were drying golden on this clear day. Pausing at her mother’s grave she touched the cool stone. Cowed by a numbing sadness and terror, she walked on. Tears dropped down her coat and blurred her view as she tripped through shorn hay and dense underbrush. With determination and a sense of purpose, Katie continued on until she reached the water. Without a pause at the water’s edge she waded out into the lake. Her dress and petticoats, her warm wool coat, the high practical leather shoes, served as an anchor that pulled her under the surface of the water.
Nov.29, 2013, see: “Unconsecrtted Ground 2 – Postscript to Katie 1903 . Good Blood . Wonders of www .” at …
“AN OAK TREE AND I … HAVE A COMMON ANCESTOR.”
Dr. Carl SaganCarl Sagan in his wondrous and surprisingly lyrical book, on the science of the cosmos, binds our humanity with the origin of the world. In “Cosmos” he writes, “an oak tree and I … have a common ancestor”. For the first time I understood our real connection with the plant and animal kingdoms. We are each born. We live. We die. That is it.
I find that thought liberating. We can choose to live well, or not, to be as loving or as hateful, as kind or spiteful, as happy or sad, as resourceful or slothful, as ethical or unethical as we want. So, this is it. Enjoy your life. Make as much of it as you can … if you choose to!
As Oprah says (but not necessarily in this context), ‘Live your best life.’
Untimely Death . Disasters
Dr. Carl Sagan’s curriculum vitae is impressive. He was an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and author who’s career included: Professor of Astronomy and Space Science, and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies, at Cornell University; Advisor and Consultant to NASA where he helped design Space Missions – Mariner 2, Mariner 9, Viking, Voyager and Galileo. He died in 1998.
Carl Sagan wrote:
“More individuals are born than can possibly survive ..”
Some of us do not survive as long as others. So this comforted me. It removed the guilt that some religions impose on us … that our misdemeanors are in some way the cause, and the resulting effect, of personal tragedies.
We hear people cry, “Why me? Why my child?” I believe it is simply the randomness of nature, ‘natural selection’ … and, understanding the awful truth of Sagan’s statement: ‘More individuals are born than can possibly survive’. Believing that does not lessen the pain, but it does nullify guilt. In some small way it makes sense of a senseless occurrence. It has comforted me in the midst of tragedy and near tragedy. I have learned –
Awful occurrences are not done to me. It is not about me.
. . .
BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSIONS of LIFE, DEATH, LOVE …
Dr. Carl Sagan Dedicated “Cosmos” to his wife and sometimes co-author, Ann Druyan:
“In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie.”
Following the Death of Her Husband Dr. Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan wrote :
“When my husband died, because he was so famous & known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me — it still sometimes happens — & ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again.
Carl faced his death with unflagging courage & never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief & precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive & we were together was miraculous — not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural.
We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous & so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space & the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me & it’s much more meaningful…
The way he treated me & the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other & our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.”
April 7, 2013