Posts Tagged With: Loss

It’s About Death

Both my mother and brother died on Dec. 13th, three decades apart. He had not reconciled with our mother and I have had a hunch that it was his way of honoring her at last.  I dunno, I’m just built that way:  life (and death) have meanings.   This year it is Corrie, my Dutch friend who married an old boyfriend of mine.  I’d passed him on to Annie who was so mean to him – but then we were Just Seventeen then and stupid.  It freed him up to eventually take a holiday to Amsterdam, where certain vegetation could be purchased with no hassles.  I’m not saying he found Corrie there, doing that.. but they both were known for dam heavy smoking and whiskey neat.

It was a godsend that Patrick was in Holland when my world collapsed in Sudan.  The kids and spent the better part of three months in Den Haag, waiting to see what the political outcome would be in Khartoum.  Pat is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and he had a beautiful life with an incredibly intelligent, funny and loving woman.  They were married over 30 years.

Corrie passed on New Years Day after nearly a decade of fighting brain and lung cancers.  During those years she was in and out of hospital, and when she was strong she and Patrick took off to various parts of the world to continue their lifelong devotion to improving the world.  They worked on fresh water and farming in Africa, built schools in the Greek Islands andSouth America. Where there is need the Dutch always roll up their sleeves and literally “dig in”.  They came to me a year ago last summer, and we held a wonderful party for them in our back yard when it still looked beautiful.  Food and drink and old folks:  we reminisced about our teenage years when we were young, silly and excited about everything – even an event in San Francisco I’d blocked out:  a “Horse Potato” fight in Golden Gate Park.  Disgusting but fun.

Most of us have relatives and friends who seem to choose the Annual Party Time: starting with Halloween, through Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year.  I am of the opinion that they choose their departure deliberately, they have some say in the event and it is not to bring sorrow to the celebrations, it’s their way of participating annually ~ perhaps even looking in on us???  Anyway, that’s my own take. I promise to make a post to my blog if I find out if I’m right after I make my own transition.  That should be Thanksgiving.   I will no doubt be hovering near your stove because I love to be warm!

In our wonderful online world, I found a distant relative living in the North of England and began a correspondence with her regarding a mysterious island in the freezing depths of the North Sea just off Scotland.  We did some research then she finally cracked her own “mystery” of the ancient isle of Ates.  During the course of searching I decided I really MUST visit the coastal islands of the UK, soon.  It’s the Isle of Man that has my attention as I once met a fellow who said he was Manx, so I asked if he was from the Isle of Man and he said yes, the residents call themselves Manx, and in answer to my unspoken query he added “Like the Cat. The breed is native there.”

I can only wonder how and why a tail-less breed of cat mutated only on this one small island.  It’s my understanding that cats were first civilized in Egypt.  Now how does this work?  In this paragraph one can see how my mind works and I probably should feel shame but I don’t.

I hope all have enjoyed your tour through my brain above.  Off we go to my letter from Hilda, and how the family celebrated the death of her husband Frank during the Holidays.  (While you read, I think I’ll post and move on to find out what the Barnardos Homes are. Perhaps foster care or orphanage…)


Happy New Year Melanie,

 I had a LOVELY Xmas, despite everything.  My grandson James sat in Franks usual place at the dinner table, and said all the things ‘Grumpy’ usually said on such occasions. It was fun.  His funeral service was beautiful.  He asked for “the cheapest funeral we could get “, and absolutely no religion”. He lost what faith he had when the cancer got him. We granted him his wish.  We had a ‘Humanist’ service. Some of his favorite songs, and a female officiate called Val.  She stood and told his life story. (he was brought up in foster care, starting with Barnardos  Homes.  About 12 of his old work mates turned up. I was delighted. I had only ever met one of them, and it was him who got the rest there.  He remained a loyal friend to Frank, and visited regular when he was ill. We are so very grateful to him.  

We played Ketty Lester’s ‘Love Letters’ to go into the chapel, ( we started out as pen-pals while he was in the army) Kenny Rogers / Dolly Partons  ‘Islands in the Stream’ , for the quiet thoughtful, quiet period half way through, and the very irreligious ‘Another one bites the the Dust’ by Queen, when we were leaving the chapel. (He was cremated) That was his specific request. He would have been laughing.  

 I have had a bit of a struggle with the arthritis  lately. the weather hear is weird at the moment. We have VERY strong winds at moment. I hate them. Makes me tense and head-achy.  Anyway, will finish now. Watching ‘Ben Hur’ for the umpteenth time, as tele  has been pathetic over the holidays. Very few adult programmes, all repeats, and nearly all childrens programmes, even in the evenings. They get there licence fee for nothing these days.  Bye for now melanie. get well soon.

Your friend Hilda.

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When I was a very little girl Freddy Giles was a big boy, practically grown up.

I met him when I was out at night Trick or Treating all by myself.  Mom had sent me with my older brother Bill, but he ditched me, as he always did, at the park, at the school, and at the movies.

We lived in a small town with the first wave of Baby Boomers prowling the streets looking for handouts.  It was friendly childhood extortion:  you pay or we play, Pal!

I had just turned four a few days earlier and went from door to door with my pillow case, sometimes meeting up with other kids.  My pillow case was getting heavy, so I sat down to rest on a curb.  Suddenly a big boy appeared out of the darkness and sat down next to me.

“You got any apples or walnuts, Squirt?”  He smiled down at me as I passed my pillow case for him to search.  He was a really big boy with dark hair and bright brown eyes and a smile that made me think of the picture of the Cheshire Cat, gleaming white in the night.

He sat next to me on the curb and munched on an apple.   “So how old are you, anyway?”

He glanced around the dark street with a trio of old fashioned globes posted at each corner.

“You are kind of little to be out at night on your own, aren’t you?”

“I am not little!  And my brother will be back.”

I didn’t like it when people said I was little.   Little meant that I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted.

“Hmm, maybe you’re right.”  He munched on the apple and observed me.

“What’s your name, Squirt?”

“My name is Mellie.  It’s short for Melanie.”

“Nice name!  When will your brother be coming to get you?”  His eyes scanned the dark street with pods of children going from door to door.  I shrugged.  Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t.

“Well, I’m Freddy Giles.  And I think I’d like to stick around until he comes for you.  If he’s too late I’ll run you home you home, OK?”

I had just taken a big bite out of a candied popcorn ball and my lips were not quite reaching each other.

“Okthay” I sputtered feeling sticky syrup drip from the corners of my mouth and half chewed popcorn fell into my lap.   I wiped my face with my arm.  Mom was going to be mad over this one.  I’ll need a good bath.

But this was beginning to be fun, resting in the warm evening air, listening to kids laughing and the occasional beer swilling neighbor swearing about what was wrong with all these goddam kids running the streets these days.

“Say, Squirt, how bout I give you a ride on my shoulders and we’ll play King of the World?”

I took a smaller bite out of my popcorn ball and glanced at him sideways.

“How do we do that?”

He hoisted me up on top of his shoulders and stood up so quickly that my popcorn ball fell into his hair as he started running, holding me safe by my feet.

“Okay, Squirt!  Holler I’m King of the World!”

And when I shouted “I’m Queen of the World!”  he stopped running.

“No, not a Queen, Squirt.  Being a King of Anything is much better than being a Queen of Nothing.  Remember that, ‘k?  Promise?”

Of course I promised, and, my brother never came for me, so Freddie brought me home, piggyback.  He climbed to the upper floor of Nana Graff’s old Victorian, to our apartment, and rapped on the door.  My mother answered it and blinked a little when she saw me sitting on his back.

“Why, Freddy!  Where did you find Mellie?  Billy was supposed to be watching her.”  My mom frowned and her eyes narrowed.  A little flash of the devil told me my brother was going to get into trouble.  For once.

“Well, thank you very much, Freddy.  I’m glad to have her home safe.”  She walked him to the door and reminded him to tell his mother that it was just too kind of him to bring me safely home.

After he left my mother inspected me.

“You’re a royal mess, young lady.  It’s bath time then bed.  You have kindergarten in the morning.”

Mom drew the bath and held my braids up and washed my back while I got all the sticky goo off my lips.  I began to get sleepy in the warm water.

“At least you didn’t get anything into your hair, thank God!”   I’ll dry you off and you run to your room, put your jams on and I’ll come tuck you into bed.

Halloween for me meant hunting down Freddy Giles.  He no longer called me Squirt; he called me Shadow because I followed him everywhere the rest of the year.   And when I was a few years older, he jumped out of bushes or from behind a tree yelling “Boo!”  Then raided my pillowcase as always for “his” fruits and nuts.  I became a stalker or maybe just a puppy looking for a home.  I was in love and he called me “Shadow”!  It was a fun little interaction for a little girl and a big boy.

Then one Halloween there was no Freddy Giles to be found, no big boy to put me on his shoulders and run with me shouting “I’m King of the World and Never the Queen!”

Crushed, I came home crying, without one bit of candy or fruit or nuts.

Freddy Giles was no longer a boy, Mom said.  He’d become a man, and he had left to strike out on his own.  She called it my short-lived romance:  I met him at four and lost him at seven.

A decade passed, and it was Halloween again, just after my birthday.  I was now seventeen, in Junior College and dressed as a modest Genie from the TV program that had all the men drooling.  My ex-boyfriend, now best friend Pat (and his date!) picked me up and we all danced and had a great time – me on my own, Pat with his girlfriend.  When the event ended, the drummer in the band gave me his drumsticks as a souvenir.  Then Pat and his date drove me home to our little cottage off of HWY 128.  My mother would be babysitting at Lola’s house, wouldn’t be home till dawn.  I was used to that.  I waved good night to Pat and his girlfriend then he U-turned and went back to Napa

As I walked down the path to our front porch I noticed that our screen door was wide open and the front door was part open.  We never left the house like that.  The porch light was on but the lamp in the living room was not lit.  I stepped up to the porch, pushed the front door open and crossed the room to flip the switch.  When light flooded the room I realized our kitchen/dining room door was firmly closed.  We never closed that door!  I could see light beneath the door:  the lights were on in the kitchen/dining room.  These were the last cognizant thoughts running through my brain and adrenaline clicked in.

I threw the kitchen door inward and it hit a man in black leathers with Hells Angels colors, pushed him onto the stove over the gas oven which was wide open.  I jumped on his back, wrapping my legs around his waist, an arm around his neck and hit him repeatedly about the head with my drum sticks.  And I screamed Holy Hell!  A shrieking banshee sound that terrified me.

He pushed himself off the stove and whirled quickly around, and my grip slipped.   I fell on the floor, in a corner and he stood over me, a horrible man, with long greasy strands of black hair, a long beard and bloodshot eyes, and yes he was a Hells Angel!

He stepped back, waving his hands and begged me to stop screaming.

“I’m not here to hurt you!  I won’t hurt you!  I don’t even remember coming into your house!  Please, please stop screaming and let me go, I won’t hurt you, I promise!”

He took another few steps back until he was backed up against the door to the living room. I scrambled upright, shaking.  I saw I was cornered.   The door between kitchen and living room was a barrier, trapping me in the house.

He must have seen my face, for he stepped back a few paces, then said   “Here, I’ll go into the living room and just go on out the front door.  I’m so sorry, ah; I’m really not here to hurt you.”  His dark brown eyes, bloodshot with both booze and fear assured me I was going to be safe.  Relief flooded through me.  And I now could see his features in the light.

“You are Freddy Giles.”

The man’s mouth dropped open and he teetered backward as if I’d shoved him.

“What the hell? How do you know?”  He sputtered and looked like he might pass out.

“I’m Shadow, the King of the World, because there is no use in being a Queen!  Go on into the living room and I’ll see if I can’t find some food.  You need to sober up.”

“You?  You are Shadow?  Dressed like out of Arabian Nights?  I don’t understand..”  Those blood-shot eyes rolled and he shook his head.

He sunk into the sofa, and I scrounged up the heel of a loaf of white bread, a hard boiled egg and a 7-Up.  I sat across the room in the worn out armchair.

And we talked.  He begged me not to call the police.  I told him the phone service was shut off.

He told me what he recalled of his visit to our hometown.  He and his wife piggybacked on their Harley Hog from Central California to visit his mother.  Then they decided to go to Susie’s Bar before they hit the road.  They drank too much, got into a fight, she flew out the door and onto the bike and he had no recollection of anything until he found himself with a Genie on his back and wanted to throw up.

I told him he could nap up a bit if he wanted.  There wasn’t much in the house as it was the end of the month, the lean time.   He shook his head and gave me twenty dollars.

“Here, Shadow.  See if this will help till the check comes in.”  And  in unison we both said “Don’t tell anyone about this, ok?”  And again, “Promise?”  So we made a pact.  And he slipped out the front door.

The following fall I moved out of our house to live near the Junior College in Napa.  Within a few weeks  Mom died.  I had to go back to my hometown, do the funeral and burial arrangements.  And while I was greeting everyone, Freddy’s mother came through the line.  She wanted to thank me for being kind to her son, and she wanted me to know that she’d told my mother and my mother had cried.

She said Freddy was killed in a bar-room brawl the year before.  She had his leathers and helmet.  She said he had a heart patch on the left shoulder of his jacket with the a full moon and the word Shadow embroidered on it, just like the tattoo that was on his left shoulder.

I’m a grandmother now, of teenagers. There is a part of me that still looks for Freddy, the little girl part that shouts “I’m King of the World, Not the Queen!” and adores him still.






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Where Can Loss Take Us?

Two decades ago I was in love with a sweet gentleman, a retired lawyer with a beautiful estate in the Sonoma Valley.  We spoke of marriage and I was not so interested at the time.   From him I learned love affairs don’t need to end in shattered dreams and broken hearts.  Of course our parting was sadly sweet, and in retrospect it brought me to a place I needed, perhaps looked for most of my life.

Just prior to our parting of ways, we’d met the son of a couple who lived on a neighboring hillside, a steep hillside, so steep that after finding a spot on the winding road to park, you approached a ladder-like stairway and began the climb, but not to a traditional house with a common roof.  This home consisted of three independent structures a good distance apart from each with a ladder-like stairway.   A selection of umbrellas were posted by all doors.

The first cabin, the smallest, contained the kitchen and breakfast area;  second cabin was a very  large entertainment room, and the third held sleeping quarters at the top of the property.   Fascinating paths and special gardens were between cabins:  herbs, fruits and vegetables between kitchen and entertaining room,  and between the last two cabins a landscaped plateau, holding  a hot tub,  fragrance gardens, and the largest statue of Buddah I’ve seen in the states smiled gently over a lovely paved area large enough for Yoga or to sit down and meditate.

This home was a thrilling, soothing, naturally inspirational place, and it hosted the funeral for the wife’s only child, Michael, who died in a motorcycle accident.  He was only 27 years old.  Michael’s passing marked the beginning of a very new life for me.

The Practitioner gave a brief heart-touching ceremony, speaking words of comfort for our loss, and of  joy for having had Michael touch our lives, and of the sadness as we all let go, let it be.

The closure of his remembrance was breath-taking.   Michael’s parents each had divorced then remarried.  Michael and his first wife, Alla were in the process of divorce, and he was in a relationship with a very lovely young woman named Julie.  The Practitioner invited the two sets of parents, Michael’s wife, and the young girlfriend to a small table draped with a simple blue cloth, his favorite color.  In the center three candles burned, representing the three decades of Michael’s life.

The biological parents joined hands and together they snuffed out the first candle.  The step parents joined hands with respective mates and snuffed out the second candle.  And finally the divorcing widow joined hands with the lovely younger woman, and together they snuffed out the final candle.

From a place further up the hill John Lennon sang Imagine, and we all joined in, tears rolling down our faces, as Michael’s wife Alla, cradled a broken-hearted Julie in her arms, singing with the rest of us.

Within six months, I suffered the breakup of that  three year relationship, lost my job, and my children decided to live with their father.  For the second time in my life I was totally alone and grieving deeply.

I remembered Michael’s funeral,  and tried to remember the spiritual place the Practitioner had trained at or worked for.  It was not a “church”, but a “center”.  But center of WHAT I had no idea.

One rainy Sunday morning I opened up the newspaper, urged on by an almost physical need to go  find this center, find that wonderful Practitioner.  I scanned the religion listings and finally came upon a “Center for the Science of Religion” and placed a call.  Lo and behold the new Minister, Rev. Edward, answered  and with his musical South African accent invited me to join him and everyone at the center, and gave me directions.

I made a bee-line for the Center, and was gob-smacked when I walked into the gathering hall before service was to begin.   I met at least seven people from all walks of my life there:  two from my early childhood in Calistoga, several real estate agents I worked for and with, a lady from my yoga class, and a fellow on my tennis team.  They laughed when I “finally found” the Center.  They had been members for decades.

On that day,Edward, the new South African Minister welcomed everyone to the gathering, and said something to the effect that we can change our lives by changing our minds; and if we cried ourselves to sleep last night, we had come to the right place.

I felt like he spoke directly to me.  I called myself  a “Renegade Christian”, having given up on traditional Christianity at the age of fourteen, and who had married, a “Bar Mitzvah Jew” – the one I was divorcing.  Our two children were reared deliberately without any religious instruction.  On that day I felt like I found the place I truly belonged, my home, after three decades in two very different kinds of “deserts”.

The Church of Religious Sciences, of which there are thousands throughout the world, changed the name The Center for Spiritual Living a few years ago.  The Religious Science moniker was getting  confused with a newer and somewhat disturbing organization.

I took a lot of classes there, taught  5th grade Sunday School and met up with old friends again through that.  I thought seriously about becoming a Practitioner, but I had a busy life and bla bla bla.   I haven’t totally stopped thinking about it though, especially now, as I’m also thinking of celebrating marriages again.

This morning I reached for my Science of Mind to look up the Guide for today, and it is about LOSS.  Boo! Loss certainly strikes a resounding chord in my heart,and for most people.  We know Loss.  I grew up in Loss, and I’ve Lost a Lotta stuff!  I’ve lived in Loss and from it all, I h learned an important thing:  Nothing remains the same:  it’s all change, which some call Loss.

The SOM title for the June 11th thought is “Letting Loss Lead Me”.  That got my attention, because Loss does tend to lead us places.  I read the piece and it was about  Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the famous Persian poet.  He lost a person very dear to him and went deep into grief.  The story is that he wandered into his back yard where there was a pole,  a team of his students trailed behind, out of concern for him.  Rumi leaned on the pole, perhaps sobbing, and caught up in his grief, walk round and round it, letting his tears flow.   Unexpectedly his thoughts changed.  Grief left and he heard incredible words of poetry stream from his mouth.  His words were so lovely that his students wrote them down.

These followers of Rumi  adopted his pole walking tradition and now seven centuries later, we call them the Whirling Dervishes.  These are the followers of Rumi and they believe that by whirling they let God in.

And so out of an unbearable loss came a gift for the entire world!

And, today in America Rumi is the best-selling poet.  It is true that loss can break one, one without a support system.   But it also is said that The Broken Heart can hold more love:  I believe loss can expand us if we let it.

As far as the Whirling Dervishes go, I can tell you what I know about them from personal experience.   The first time I went my children were very young.  I didn’t take them again.The site was I think South, (but it could be North or West  – it was so hard in the desert with no roads, dusty yellow desert beneath your feet, flat yellow sky above your head – couldn’t even see the sun, no shadows.)   I could take you there, but not tell you how to go on your own, when or where to turn.  Its twenty minutes past the ancient trading city of Omdurman.  You leave the road and drive on (one of the) tracks that goes through the graveyard.  Good Luck!

On the other side of the graveyard men in their white jellabias assemble, taking their shoes off and piling them around a telephone pole.  They face one direction, possibly East toward Mecca, and begin to walk around the pole.  Two men in white jellabias escort a third man who appears to have a crippling disorder, perhaps cerebral palsy.  They begin walking him slowly round and round at his pace.

Some men wear bright green flaring tunics, white breeches, with green fez-like hats embroidered with red and yellow on their heads.   As more men arrive and take their place in the walk-around, drums start beating, slowly at first, then with more intensity as the drummers get caught up in a rhythm of their own.  As they beat louder and faster, the men moved quicker, loping around the pole – even the crippled man!

My own blood is coursing through my veins, my brain; the pounding rhythm is matched by my heartbeat.  The mystics in green break loose, begin to twirl, their skirts flanged out  and I recall an old top I had as a kid, spinning, spinning.

The two men escorting the handicapped friend step aside, and let go of their friend! And the man who could not walk alone, dances and twirls with the best of them!

My children were as fascinated as I was.  We stood watching and weaving to the beat of the drums until I saw  some men jad brought sticks with them, and began hitting their own backs fiercely, in some cases drawing blood.

They had gone into another place, self-flagellation.  The kids and I made our way back to the car and headed home.  As soon as the drumming faded I felt my pulse return to normal.

I went out there twice more, taking (adults only) newcomers around Khartoum, teaching them how to navigate.  Eventually the political/military events started up, and it was considered no longer safe for a “kawajah” woman to go past Ombdurman alone.

Belief can be amazingly powerful.  Mind: over matter!  Change your mind:  change your life!  Believe and see!  What I think is what I do!  Loss will lead me to a fuller life if I let it.

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