A Sorrow Shared Is a Sorrow Halved: Why We Need Funerals

A heartbreaking finale in a favorite television show left me, as well as the actors, sobbing. A father suffering from the results of a career as a miner slowly drifted from life to death, surrounded by his family. Particularly poignant to me because I’ve had several good friends tread this path recently.

But unlike the people in the program, I was unable to say goodbye to my friends. In every instance, the closest relatives decided to restrict visits. Certainly within their rights, but the reason sometimes was, “I don’t want you to remember her that way.” So I’m left with no memory of taking leave at all.

Funerals and memorial services also frequently seem to be dropped by the wayside these days. No chance to reminisce with others who knew the friend, no swapping of tales good or bad, no exchange of comfort. Just a blank where my friends used to be.

I’m not religious, and these deceased friends weren’t so inclined either. Yet I remember going to a number of services, formal or informal, to say a mental farewell to loved ones. More than that, to offer support to those they’ve left behind, create an emotional finale to a friendship, to ease my own grief. My dad didn’t want a service, so I created a little ceremony in my home for my kids, husband and myself, complete with matzos (my father was a nonpracticing Jew) and a few memories. I needed that.

Funerals and memorials have almost nothing to do with the deceased, but everything to do with the survivors. As humans, we must have rituals of some sort in order to move on or mark significant occurrences in our lives. Perhaps even more important, we require ways to judge, evaluate, measure. If we’re never poor, how do we value wealth? If we never know hate, how do we understand love? If we’re never young, how can we appreciate growing old? Without acknowledgement of the process of dying, where’s our growth in living?

In our contemporary era, everybody’s supposed to be happy happy happy all the time. Books, speeches, health professionals, friends give us advice on how to achieve this exalted state. But by eliminating farewell visits to the dying, along with funerals and memorials, we’re robbing ourselves and our nearest and dearest of an important process. The obese person who primarily gorges on sugar isn’t well. Isn’t this similarly true if we avoid and ignore sad times?

My husband and I have had some end-of-life conversations. He believes in leaving the decision about disposing of remains to survivors. “I won’t be around,” he says. But you can bet your bottom dollar if my husband is first to go, I’ll have some sort of observance, some acknowledgement this person existed, made a difference, and will be remembered.

I remember watching President Kennedy’s funeral on tv. His assassination wasn’t real to me until then. Unfortunately this is now a pattern for me. Death, disbelief, some sort of ritual, reality, then belief. Over and over. The Columbine school victims, 9/11, the dead Santa Fe students, Sandy Hook, victims of floods, fires, famine, and mankind’s evil. Now in my home state, yet another martyred student. I must mourn death and evil to survive them.

I need these aids, and so do many people. Nirvana and paradise are reserved for those who have completed their earthly existence, not for us now.

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WRITING A POEM IS DISCOVERING [Robert Frost]

 

 

 

 

I find myself turning more to poetry the older I get. Maybe because I’m uncertain about the process of aging. I thought I’d have more answers, but I get more uncertain with each passing day. It seems I can come to grips with that uncertainty, and, by the way, with insomnia, by indulging myself.

Here is a line 

Here is a line,

A place, a space,

Where she is and she is not.

Containing finite territory and infinite ether.

Side by side. Both parts are her. Seen and unseen.

How can this be? Yet it is.

 

“Metastatic breast cancer.”

She speaks with practiced ease from saying the words a thousand times,

Thinking them a million times.

Where she is now will become the reverse,

an absence.

Where she is now will transmute into a void.

How will I know her shape when she is gone?

Both halves exist now. Her and not-her.

Both halves will continue afterwards. Her and not her.

She walks, a shape, a shade, at the same time,

Her presence, gradually losing substance until she becomes her own counterpart.

 

I wait day by day.

Grasp the wisps of her

Flowing through my fingers like fog.

Hardly satisfactory, now or then,

Until she is missing.

Only a hollow,

Nothing to be done

Except fill the outlines of both sides of her with my pain

(©) 2019.

SUMMER CONCERT ON THE STAPLETON GREEN 2018

 

Jump for joy.
Run and throw arms up and out,
Spin, whirl, twirl, hair trailing, blowing.
Always moving, never stopping, somersaulting, kicking, vaulting.
Leap off stairs, roll down hills.
Toss balls and handfuls of grass, even an umbrella if                                                         you have one,
Or a little brother.
Pull skirts over butts, shoulders, heads.
Break things—toys, sticks, balloons, but not bones.
Sob when mom says no.
Pick nose, scratch sting, bite sister.
Lick a Popsicle, spit a wad, chew a taffy, suck a straw, munch a cookie.
Scream, howl, whistle, sing.
Skip, race, yell, punch.
Hair and arms and legs flying.
Small last one trying, always failing
to keep up.
No matter.
Laugh, smile, cry, shout.
Turn, dance, clap in time or out
Hug, kiss, stroke, pinch, cry.
Chase, catch, push, knock down.
Dance, parade, prance.
Faces smeared with ice cream, dirt, chocolate, mustard.
Look up. Clouds, sky.
Look around. Trees, park, people.
Trip, fall, laugh, cry.
Everyone loves someone here.
Yes, even the blond toddler blasting anger.
How long will this last? How long can it?
Harvest energy and life unbound.
A new crop next year.

c. 2018

(I’ve been trying my hand at more poetry, usually grounded in the everyday)

Help! I Fell Off the Social Media Craze and Can’t Get Up. Harnessing social media to influence people.

People continually advise authors, along with realtors, inventors, political strategists, and salespeople, to harness the power of social media to reach out to the public. All well and good, but the methods to achieve this are sorely limited, partly by their very numbers and variety and the amount of time required to become skilled at using them. The basics are to create a web page, initiate a blog, tell everyone you know how to get on them, jump on Facebook and Twitter, add a newsletter and other outlets as you’re able. But the strategies to accomplish this successfully are a mystery to me as dark and deep as the methods to build the Egyptian pyramids.

I went online with the publication of my second novel, about 5 years ago. Despite regular postings (all right, perhaps not as regular as they should have been), sign-ups have never shown a dramatic increase, nor have sales of books. I usually feel as if I’m talking to myself, okay in my case, for I mine the postings for nuggets I can use for my syndicated features and other freelance work. I tell myself that someday I’ll pull items together to publish a collection of think pieces. Sure. Just like someday I’ll lose those final 15 excess pounds. Nagging at the back of my mind is a sneaking suspicions I’m wasting my time.

I’ve tried to initiate a social media wave or trend on behalf of other, non-writing activities, to promote a conference or advertise a holiday festival. I’ve posted myself and begged others to do the same. To no impact. Still it’s tempting to think, “If I could reach out to five people, and they could reach out to five, and those could reach out to five, I’d soon reach a mob.” Doesn’t seem to work for me.

I’d still be a skeptic except for the coincidence of my witnessing an actual social media blitz which I initiated without intention. Some time ago I became aware of a great, free, online movie service marketed through libraries. Kanopy offers movies at no charge to library card holders of participating libraries. These aren’t usually brand new, big ticket, glitzy movies. They tend to be “artsy,” foreign and classic movies that appeal to smaller audiences. But they’re great. I’ve caught up on a number of favorites and ordered kids’ movies for my grandson. I’m currently watching Frank and Robot, a near-future fantasy with Frank Langella.

I happened to mention Kanopy to several friends at lunch. One went home and posted a remark on her Facebook account. Overnight several of her contacts talked about how great the service is. Shortly after more people contacted her with raving positive reviews. With one contact, I’d estimate at least ten people reacted initially, and who knows how many have praised and advertised Kanopy since then?

So I witnessed a social media trend right in front of me. Why was the Kanopy item so popular? Ideas: Everyone likes movies of some sort or another. Everyone likes free services. Everyone likes to share information that shows them to be early adapters or in the know.

Now if I could just apply these lessons to selling my books, I might have a chance of building a base for my own writing. I’m still struggling with that. The real challenge.

Holiday Songs That Always Make Me Cry

The holidays are supposed to be a time for cheer, happiness, partying, peace, good will. While I certainly participate in striving for these, there are certain holiday songs that always make me cry. Considering these, I think it may be that they envision a better type of human, a more empathetic and caring society. Not fashionable these days, I know, but with my schizophrenic personality, half cock-eyed optimist, half gloomy cynic, I’m able to live with the contradiction.

The first isn’t traditional at all. Written by Jerry Herman in the ‘60s, “We Need a Little Christmas” is from the musical Mame. It seems to insist that we stop all this nonsense with wars and greed because “I’ve grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older.” Certainly true of both me and the world.

The next can be guessed by many, “So This Is Christmas” by John Lennon, also known as “War Is Over” (good luck with that). This song gives all of us a much-needed scolding. “What have we done, Another year over, a new one just begun?” Sad to think Lennon was unable to convey his lesson in time to change his own fate.

Although the subject of “Good King Wencelas” is a saint from about 900 a.d., lyrics were written in 1853 and paired with a 13th century tune. I love the story captured in the song, the miracle of heat in the sod, and the admonition “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

The next probably won’t be familiar. I learned “Masters in this Hall” in the fifth grade from my wonderful singing teacher, who passed along so much history and appreciation of music. Another hybrid of an old French tune and lyrics by Englishman William Morris in 1860, it carries an openly revolutionary message. “Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud! For today our poor folk raised up and cast a-down the proud.”

Even a tune so innocuous it seems simply a paean to the season can carry inspiration for humanity. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (note the comma, thus making the statement a command to gentlemen at large, as well as gentlewomen), slips in words of encouragement and counsel. “With true love and brotherhood each other now embrace. . .oh tidings of comfort and joy.” Surely only the most radical in the 1600s as well as intervening years even dreamed of universal brotherhood, although the definitive term may be “gentlemen,” since in those days most people were excluded from the category.

Finally, “Oh, Holy Night.” In addition to its electrifying melody and soaring exhortations, its subtle message of “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn” provides an optimistic message for us to whistle or hum during the holiday season.

There you have it. My personal list of holiday favorites, always sure to tweak my emotions with thoughts of what humans are and what they could be, if only. If you see me driving along the street at this time of year, tears streaming down my face, you can be fairly sure I’m listening to one of my favorite Christmas songs.