Tag Archives: death

Hearing voices

Driving in my car the other day, I caught WAMC’s Joe Donahue conducting an interview with a woman whose name I didn’t catch, having tuned in mid broadcast. As I listened to the conversation I realized the woman’s voice was familiar…it was my friend, Sally, who works for the University. How cool! I turned up the volume and enjoyed listening to the smart and compassionate conversation about important things impacting college students today, like food insecurity, stress and mental health.

From what Sally said, there are many resources available to assist the population with which she works. The Campus Center seems to be the hub for where students can physically access this support and I hope the various programs in place are able to work to their capacity. They’re doing good work.

I imagine the two perpetrators of last weekend’s mass shootings were each of the age the resources of Purple Pantry and related services are designed to aid. If they weren’t currently students, there were probably community programs to assist with mental health issues available to both young men. I know, from a meeting I sort of* attended at the Savoy last month, that the city of Albany offers referrals to numerous low cost or free counseling and other support systems for those in need and I would think most communities offer something along these lines, right?

Let’s just argue, though, for the sake of arguing, because that’s what we do when we’re afraid and hesitant to make hard decisions, and say that there was no possibility for either of these cold blooded killers to access any resources which might have improved their lives, and potentially avoided the taking of dozens of innocent lives.

Ok, if that is indeed the case, why in the world were either of these two young men permitted to purchase weapons and ammunition that would allow them murder people at a rate of approximately one every 8 seconds? Why are the laws in place so inadequate that a man who caused his high school to be placed on lock down, because of his threats to classmates via lists of whom he wanted to kill or rape, is permitted a few short years later, to purchase guns capable of wreaking that kind of carnage?

I’m starting hear more and more people coming to the same devastating conclusion – this is who we are. This is America, land of the free, home of the gun. If an arguably not for profit organization, like the NRA, and its demands trump the expectation that our children, siblings, parents, lovers and friends should be able to conduct lives in schools and stores and offices and concert venues and festivals and places of worship and not be gunned down…well, I guess it’s time to either own it or fix it. Because next time it just might be you or yours.

A last anecdote – a friend, who owns a local food business and vends at many markets, shared the following:

You can bet that’s my new Starbucks’ name.

 

*The room was packed and I couldn’t get in to the meeting. Closed circuit tv allowed for viewing from the bar.

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Filed under Albany, Local, musings, News, Observations, politics, Rant, Schools

Things I’ve learned during my 52nd trip around the sun

  • Honesty is free, yet more valuable than pretty much anything else.
  • With each birthday, I feel more compelled to celebrate.
  • My dog is smarter than I gave him credit for being. Last week during an “intestinal bout,” shall we say, he opened the screen door to the back deck rather than literally lose his sh*t in the house. Good boy, Jeter.
  • It’s really hard to keep moving forward without ever looking back.
  • A relationship that is healthy, positive and satisfying sometimes seems like a lot for which to ask. Settling for less, though, isn’t an option.
  • Maybe I read too many Danielle Steele novels as a teenager, but just once it would be nice to feel like someone fought for me. Not literally, but by playing their A game consistently.
  • The more places I visit, the more places I want to visit. I can’t imagine a life without travel, or at least the desire to travel.
  • I have no idea what the future holds and I’m getting better at dealing with that uncertainty.
  • My sense of loyalty is strong. Example? I’ve had the same dental practice, ob-gyn and optician for nearly 25 years.
  • Finding a good therapist is almost as hard as scoring a new patient appointment within the next 18 months with a new primary care giver.
  • A Catholic funeral mass is incredibly comforting. The tradition, complete with words, music and incense, is proof that death has been a part of life for a very long time.
  • Working to have my outside accurately reflect my inside has been my biggest accomplishment this year. There’s still progress to be made. Isn’t there always?

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Filed under aging, Austria, birthdays, Czech Republic, Europe, favorites, Germany, Italy, love, musings, Observations, relationships, road trips, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Vermont

Are your ducks all in a row?

IMG_2019Have you ever chaperoned a field trip? At this point in my life, I’ve accompanied quite a few bus loads of students to destinations like NYC, Montreal and, as of today, Boston. I take the responsibility pretty seriously and spend an inordinate amount of time counting my charges, hoping to consistently arrive at the same number. Today my magic number was four.

It was a beautiful day for a field trip to Boston. We left before the sun came up knowing we were in for a long day. After contending with typically hideous traffic as we approached the city, we arrived at our first destination, the Museum of Science. I’d never been there before and my small posse was a great group. We had fun exploring the hands on exhibits, checking out the dinosaurs and stumbling upon the lightning storm demonstration as a perfect finale to our visit. On to the next stop – the Duck Tour.

I herded my group, feeling like Mrs. Mallard from Make Way for Ducklings, to our meeting point and we boarded our amphibious vehicle to learn about Boston’s history and get into the river. I checked my email as we sat at yet another red light and gasped at what I read. There had been a very unexpected death in my family. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes. The day changed and memories washed over me in waves larger than any we would see on the Charles.

The uncle I lost was the relative, other than my brother, to whom I felt most connected. He was the first member of my German family that I met, years ago when he arrived at the Hauptbanhof to pick me up and bring me into the mountains where my family lived. He was the youngest of my mother’s brothers, closer in age to me than her, and from that very day he was never less than kind, generous and thoughtful to me and, eventually, my own family. Losing him has shocked me into sadness.

I have memories of him holding my babies, walking with us across the Brooklyn Bridge, sharing meals together in a half dozen countries, hosting us in his home…He and his wife had a marriage that never failed to make me smile. Their love for one another was evident and they enjoyed more adventures in their nearly 20 years as husband and wife than many couples will ever know. That’s the consolation, right? To have loved with passion, lived with spirit, taken advantage of the time given?

Our most recent trip together was less than two months ago. My youngest son and I spent nearly 10 days traveling around Germany with my uncle and aunt. We had what I’m convinced was the best Easter I’ll ever have, eating and drinking with five of my mother’s siblings and nearly a dozen cousins. I never imagined that he’d be gone just weeks later. Our last night together was in Berlin. We had dinner and then reconnected later in the night to have our final drink of vacation together in a little bar popular with the theater crowd. It was quiet and, as always, I felt a little sad to know that our time together was coming to a close, until next time, next year.

A day that began with counting my charges became an evening of gathering memories. I’m really going to miss being able to make more of those with him. Ensuring that all of my ducks are in a row may be something that will always require attention and work, but I’ll take some comfort in knowing that my efforts to know and spend time with my family have been the greatest use of my time, money and energy. Rest In Peace, WM.

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Filed under aging, cancer, family, Germany

David Bowie and Fame Right

Last Friday, we played a Spotify station to celebrate David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Less than three days later, he was dead. I guess that’s how it goes. We never know how long the journey from birth to death is really going to be, do we?

I can’t claim to have been the biggest Bowie fan in the universe, but I always liked his more pop stuff. Songs like “Let’s Dance,” “Young Americans,” and “China Girl” were definitely a part of my younger years and are still able to transport me to those simpler days of being a teenager. Some of his stuff was a little too avante garde for me, like this song which freaked me out as a kid but completely wowed me years later in Inglorious Basterds. I always appreciated his range and talent, though. He was very clearly a deeply gifted artist.

Bowie managed, over a career that lasted for decades, to find his way from being a flamboyant, hyper sexual rock star to living a private life as a musician, actor, husband and father. Does this sort of transition simply occur with age? Was it satisfaction with his personal life? Had he merely grown beyond his previous narcissistic need to share himself with the world in an over exposed fashion? Were his over-the-top antics merely a role he was playing for public consumption? Don’t we all do the same thing, projecting an image to the world outside, on some level?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but it has me thinking about achieving a new balance between my public and personal personas. When I consider the unsatiated hunger for fame that is present in contemporary American society, I find myself feeling uncomfortable. No longer is the goal to achieve success on a personal level. Instead, for far too many, it must be accompanied by public recognition and notoriety. It’s kind of sad in a vulgar way and I think I may need to wrap myself a little tighter in the future than I have in the past.

That being said, in no way do I consider myself to be famous or a rock star. I’m just feeling the urge to create a new balance between living life out loud and ultimately dying, hopefully many years from now, with grace. You see,

Fame makes a (wo)man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there where things are hollow.

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Filed under aging, cancer, Music, News, Observations

Fathers – the ones we have and the ones we don’t

imageI went to mass the other day. It was in my hometown in the same church where I made my first communion, attended catechism classes and impatiently sat through midnight mass on Christmas Eve eager to only get home and open a single gift, as was our custom. I was there to accompany one of my oldest friends as he said a final public goodbye to his father.

The priest was “new,” having been there for just 20 years, he said. He was not the priest from my own childhood, Monsignor O’Flaherty who had no hesitation about addressing those dressed too casually or arriving too late for mass. Reverend Sweeney, along with my friend and his siblings, provided a lovely eulogy to a man who lived a long life filled with family and friends. I learned for the first time that my friend’s dad had never met his own dad and rejoiced in the thought of that introduction finally, 87 years later, taking place. The image made me smile.

Am I a true believer in heaven and life after death? Probably not. Do I believe that when we leave our earthly bodies behind our souls somehow come together and combine with those of whom we missed to create a new energy? I think I do.

I hope your Father’s Day, be it the third Sunday of June or some other day not yet on the calendar, is filled with love and a sense of connection.

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Filed under aging, Aloysius, friends, holidays, musings, road trips

Running to hide in the dark

It’s times like this that make me understand the appeal of going to the theater to see a movie. Or three. I don’t often get to the movies for a film that is anything other than rated PG, but during my winter holidays, I found my way to the Spectrum three times for grown up movies.Two of the movies I saw were based upon books which I had very much enjoyed, while the third appealed to my curiosity and is the one which I’ve found myself reflecting on with surprising frequency. All provided an opportunity to escape.

Escape from what, you ask? Christmas and the stress which it can bring, the reality of who is present in my life and who is not, and a grief that I found I could not run away from no matter how rapidly I moved my sneakered feet. The holidays are a cruel time for death to visit.

So, I went to the movies. First, my middle son and I took in Birdman (and a medium popcorn) together. The plot was interesting without being groundbreaking and I thought the cast was outstanding. Michael Keaton was utterly convincing in the title role and Edward Norton was his standard mesmerizing self. Emma Stone continues to be difficult to look away from and I only wish Naomi Watts had been in more scenes. Overall, I found the film a bit disturbing, but that’s just coming from literal me. I like movies that neatly tie up in the end, and this definitely did not do that.

Christmas Day I made my way back down Delaware Avenue for a matinee of Unbroken. I’ve been waiting to see this movie since I read the book 3 years ago and, while I think the adaptation was respectfully done, the film simply could not live up to the printed page. There just isn’t any way to capture the richness of Hillenbrand’s book and Louis Zamperini’s life in 120+ minutes. By all means, see the movie but do not think it tells the complete story. Read the book.

I completed my trifecta with another film based on a biography, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. I just recently read and loved the book and think the movie accurately portrayed the journey that Cheryl Strayed took in the aftermath of the demise of her mother and her marriage. There are always creative choices to be made and I think the scenes taken from the book and depicted on screen were wisely made. I liked it, but, you should still read the book if you haven’t already.

Hooray for Hollywood and thank God for books and running.

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Filed under Books, Christmas, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Movies, Recommendations, running, winter

Preparing to die

To begin, a couple of childhood flashbacks…

The first time I entered the woods with the boys who have grown to be my dearest male friends, I was convinced they were going to hurt me.  It probably says something about the girl I was that I followed them to their forest fort, despite my certainty that I was about to become a victim.

A number of years after that dusky fall afternoon, on a bright summer day, the home I had known the longest was lost, along with nearly all of my belongings, to fire.  I remember finding irony in the fact that the only clothing that survived the catastrophe were the items I had in my car for a laundromat run.  The things I had worn and soiled were saved, while articles of clothing which had been relegated to my closet, perhaps for a “special” occasion, fell in ashes from their hangers.

During a recent solo afternoon ski, I encountered another skier, a male.  We were in a secluded spot on the course, near the Normanskill, yet I never once felt threatened or in danger. I no longer imagined that someone I didn’t know wanted to bring me harm.

After the fire, I no longer reserved items for only “special” events.  Expensive crystal stemware was used – and broken.  My “good” clothes were worn and enjoyed.  Discarding an item because of a stain, or an irreparable hole, was far more satisfying than seeing an unworn cherished possession turned into a pile of soot and ash.

What does all of this have to do with dying?  It seems to me that there are people who spend so much energy thinking about bad things which might happen, that they fall victim to the ultimate tragedy – missing out on their life.  When we try to anticipate every potential disaster instead of appreciating the wonder that is now, we neglect to experience all the beautiful moments life offers to us each day.

Make no mistake, the thought of my life ending chills me.  There’s still so much I want to see and do and taste and feel!  Any acceptance of death that I may have comes purely from living fully.  What I’m trying to say is this – the only way I know how to prepare for the ultimate end of my life is to live each and every day. Donna Tartt expressed it far better than I. Here, read it:

“That life – whatever else it is – is short.  That fate is cruel but maybe not random.  That nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it.  That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.”

What she said.

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