Browsing Tag

dying

death, Family, Guest Posts

Grandmother

August 20, 2015

By Michael Price

John was my boss and he was very boss-like about it, significantly more managerial than I had ever known him to be.

“Leave the bar,” he said softly but firmly–and in extreme contrast with the din of the night’s shenanigans–looking me straight in the eye, not a smile on his face, which was decidedly unusual.

I thought he was kidding.

“Now, Mike.”

He wasn’t.

“That man over there says he’s your uncle,” he said, pointing.  “You need to go talk to him.  I’ll watch the bar for you.”

I hardly remembered my uncle Bob, it had been so long.  But that was him, most assuredly, standing at the far corner of the bar, behind another guy and his lady friend sitting in front of him, waving timidly.  He looked old from that distance, still a head taller than most people, but older than it seemed like he should have looked.

John is a great guy, I’ve always liked him.  And, being Saturday night, dinner hour, he knew what he was stepping into; the bar was three deep everywhere.  John had tended bar—we all knew that—and was probably very good in his day.  But that had been many years prior, several thousand margaritas past, and he had to know he was about to get slammed, and real bad.

It was a very busy night.

Uncle Bob was…I had very little recollection, really.  He was a relative, a very tall relative; I remembered that.  An army doctor somewhere, I thought.  Used to move around a lot; I vaguely remembered that, too.  Who I hadn’t seen for twenty, twenty-five years.

And he had my grandmother in the passenger seat of his car.

“She wants to say goodbye to you,” Bob said calmly, softly cupping my shoulder in his bony-fingered hand, leading me out the door, past the waiting list of wanna-be diners, and out into the parking lot.

It was about ten-below, and I was dressed in the my work uniform–black high-tops, cut-off jeans shorts and the company logoed mid-sleeve T-shirt, twice rolled up at the sleeves–but I don’t recall being the least bit cold.

Bob was my grandmother’s son, my mother’s brother.  I may not have remembered him much, but I certainly remembered his mother.

I loved my grandmother, the most spiritual person I have ever known.  And I’m not even sure what that means.

“I’m taking her back to Colorado with me,” Bob said.  “It’s where she wants to be.”

I knew what that meant.

“Here, you get in front.”  He unlocked and opened the driver’s side door for me.

The car was parked in the back row of the parking lot–engine running, heated defrost hard at work–facing the restaurant, just to the left-front of the main entrance.  There wasn’t another available spot in sight.

Like I said, it was packed.

I remember bumping my head getting into the car, but I didn’t feel that much, either.  I sat down and turned to her.

“Oh, honey,” she said to me.

The high, overhead parking lot light beamed down through the front windshield, directly onto my grandmother’s face, ineffective, for the most part, in concealment of the deeply drawn features that had crept over her face since the previous time our paths had crossed.  She had always had gray hair, ever since I could remember, but that night the bright light from above shone down on a head of almost unbearably phosphorescent white curls, tightly spun and immaculately brushed, as if Bob had just picked her up from the “beauty parlor,” as she still called it.  Her heartrendingly weary and doleful eyes looked happy to see me, somehow, contented, at the very least—we both felt it, a stronger connection I had and have never sensed—eyes that were smiling somberly through moistness, and her body was shivering from only, I hope in recollection, the cold.

“Oh, honey.”

“Hi, Grandma.”  Then, with a deeply lodged lump in my throat and desperately at a loss for words, “How are you?”

“Oh…”  She looked far off, past me and out the window, her head tilted skyward, as if she were searching for a divine answer.  “…fine, I guess.”

She gently shut her eyes, deep in reverence, it seemed to me.  I assessed her appearance; I all but stared right at her, it was difficult not to.

Much too much white facial powder and blue around the eyes; that was my initial impression.  A character straight out of Ghost Story.

Except, excluding a little carefully applied red lipstick on Sunday mornings, my grandmother had never worn make-up in her life.  Of that, I was all but certain.

I wavered but held on.  “Good.  That’s good.  It’s good to see you,” I blathered.

I didn’t know what to say.  Five minutes earlier, from behind the bar, you couldn’t have shut me up.  And glib stuff, too, not that conversationally appropriate drivel you get from a lot of bartenders.

“It’s been a long time,” I trifled.

“Oh…” I was so sure she was scrolling the highlights of her life across the top of her memory.  “…yeah,” she finally answered, smiling wistfully at me.

We—my parents, older sister, and I–enjoyed several Christmases with my grandmother in North Dakota when I was a creature.  Those early memories are few but precious: the wondrous aromas emanating from grandma’s kitchen–krumkake, pfeffernuesse, and other family holiday delicacies–while watching football on TV with my father and, before he died, my grandfather; playing Go Fish with my older sister and, sometimes, when she wasn’t cooking, baking, or vacuuming, my grandmother; listening to George Beverly Shea sing his Christmas tidings and other generic praises from the big brown stereo console I wasn’t allowed to touch; playing with the across-the-alley neighbor kid’s basset-beagle puppy, Samuel (not Sam, I remember that distinctly; I forget the kid’s name), an animal that stepped on his drooping ears about every third step, which I thought was the funniest thing at the time; and assisting my grandmother with the Sunday crossword puzzle–in ink, no less.  Although I’m quite certain I knew very few answers, if any, she always had a way of making it seem like I was “a big helper” to her.  Sometimes she even let me help out in the kitchen—I was “a good little stirrer”–to my father’s mild dismay.

“How are you doing, honey?”

Incidentally, she and my mother are the only two people that have ever called me that.  I don’t know why that seems important, but it does.

Insipidly, “I’m fine, grandma.  Really.”

If my life ever reaches the stage where the end is nigh and I know it, when I’m cognizant of the fact that I don’t have long to live and am fortunate enough to be able to articulate a final goodbye to my family and best of friends, it is my sincerest of wishes that I am able to look at my loved ones the way she looked at me at that moment, that night.  I have never felt so treasured, so cherished, in my life.

Who am I kidding?  I’ll never come close.

In my dictionary, the word spiritual has five definitions, at least three of which can be directly or indirectly associated with religion.  Certainly, being the loving and devoutly supportive wife of a Lutheran minister, with whom she ardently and faithfully helped serve multiple parishes sprinkled throughout both Dakotas for over forty years, my grandmother was most certainly the very model of a spiritually religious being.

But it wasn’t just that.  In her presence, spirituality was more than that. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

A Murder of Crows

July 20, 2015

By Mary Petiet

On Monday my movements were shadowed by crows. A murder of them swooped along as I drove down the street, and one came straight at me, nearly hitting my windshield, a kamikaze crow playing crow chicken.

A murder of crows is a flock, and if you’re ever plagued by one, it might be trying to tell you something.

On Tuesday I was confronted by an insistent single crow on the beach. It landed on the sand five feet in front of me and proceeded to engage me in vigorous crow talk as it edged a little closer, a little closer, and a little closer before finally taking flight, circling my head once and vanishing into the sun.

Crows are the messengers of change and death.

On Wednesday afternoon my Aunt Lisa died suddenly and the crows were gone.

The last time I saw my aunt I was in traffic behind her. When the lights changed I turned left towards the harbor while she proceeded straight. She drove one of the few remaining proper station wagons, not a cross-over, but a silver Mercedes four door wagon, styled like what we all used to drive before cross-overs and mini-vans ruled the roadways.

She headed east, and now I imagine her following the historic Old King’s Highway to its conclusion at the easternmost point of Cape Cod, the edge of America, the spot on the far side of the Cape’s tip in the oceanic wilds beyond the colorful cacophony of Ptown. The spot where Thoreau said you can stand and put all America behind you.

From here, any progress further east is blocked by water.

I imagine her on the edge of the ocean, the surf pounding and the blue of the water losing itself in the blue of the horizon, and it would have been so easy for her to slip into the depths and dissolve into the ephemeral nothingness of the blue fluidity.

Instead she checked herself into a Boston hospital with chest pain, was admitted to the cardiac unit, and declared dead of a massive heart attack within the hour.

Growing up my aunt’s house was a short path through the woods from mine. The path wound through trees, passed a daisy field, and followed a bridge over a stream. It was an ancient way, and it traced the old Indian Trail past colonial stone walls and bottle dumps my aunt would excavate.  It connected our houses and we called it the Psychopath.

I would follow the Psychopath to visit her and she would make elegant tea parties with Red Rose tea. She always called me Muffin, and she taught me to arrange flowers, find clams on the flats, and how to make tuna fish sandwiches. We’d spread the tuna on Pepperidge farm bread and have gold fish crackers with seven-up for lunch.

When my mother took her first tentative steps back into the work force, I would follow the Psychopath to my aunt’s house on school mornings, and my aunt would give me breakfast and put me on the bus, and she was always home when the bus dropped me off again at the end of the day. When I needed her, she was a second mother to me.

She was 70 when she died, the first leaf to fall from the tree directly above me, jolting my cousins and me with the realization that we are now the grownups, and jolting her own generation with a deeper insistence of its own mortality.

I hadn’t seen her in some time. She had unmoored from the old ties and I had been distracted by my own children, for whom I now make tuna fish and meet the school bus. Other people occupy our old houses, and the Psychopath is overgrown. I never thought of her as old, and there was never any feeling of urgency to the idea that we should connect.

She left quietly through the back door, and never got to say goodbye.

I imagine her young and tall and blonde and statuesque. She loved the ocean, was a strong sportswoman, and she effortlessly sported those iconic American good looks Ralph Lauren tries so hard to capture.

A week later my best friend died.

The evening before his diagnoses, a pair of peacocks roosted in the maple outside my back door. Crows are not a rarity here, but peacocks are unheard of, and the near Technicolor hue of their necks lent meaning to the concept of peacock blue. They perched there silently, made large by their dangling plumage.

The peacock is phoenix-like in aspect, and is said to symbolize rebirth and transcendence, and is death not the ultimate transcendence?

The next morning dawned with the knowledge that it was time to bring our rapidly declining black and white cat Faust to the vet. The peacocks stayed until well after sunrise, sitting vigil for Faust. I missed their departure meeting deadlines as I tried to get Faust examined.

He was diagnosed with a myriad of symptoms. He was dying of old age and suffering badly in the process. We knew his time had come, so we scheduled the appropriate appointment for the following morning.

This meant letting go of a dear friend, and I call him my best friend because he was more dog then cat, he was always with me, always at my feet or in my lap. Right now I am re-learning how to write because there is no softly purring presence sleeping against my left arm as I tap the keys.

It is hard now to discount the old traditions, symbols and omen. There is something to the ancient idea that information can travel on the currents of energy circling the world to manifest in subtle, easy to miss hints. Everything is connected and everything holds a space.

There has been an especial starkness to these first two weeks of April on the tail end of a horrendous Northeast winter. The seasons change, the earth tilts, and each death both takes something with it and leaves something else behind.

Lisa, the suddenly lost aunt I knew from day one, helped me grow and was of my childhood. Her absence places that time a little bit further from reach, and leaves me to grow more as her generation moves forward and my generation continues to somehow assume the mantle of true adulthood, in the space  between our children and our parents. We are sandwiched in the middle and we are holding the space so each can grow, the younger to maturity and the older to whatever comes next beyond this mortal coil.

When we arranged the flowers Lisa grew, we brought beauty inside to illuminate our interior spaces. When she taught me to dig clams, extracting delicious beautifully packaged morsels from the mud, she showed me how to find beauty in dark places, and when we fueled all of this with shared tuna fish sandwiches, we were tapping into strength and nourishing community.

Faust, the suddenly absent cat we acquired fifteen years ago in the bright days leading up to 9/11, was the starter child my husband and I added to the wonderfully ramshackle Cape starter house we’d just moved into.

Faust was what remained of us from those halcyon years before airplanes flew into the World Trade Center and the tech bubble crashed, when the world was truly our oyster and we were just starting to think about having children.

So we treated Faust like a child, and he became a true family member, always present with a happy greeting. He was our first parenting experience, preparing us for the children we now have, and his declining old age may help ready us for the inevitable fading of my parent’s generation.

We buried him in the rain at the foot of the maple tree.  The air was finally alive with spring as we worked through clumps of blooming snowdrops and struggled deeper through roots and stones and unyielding clay. As we finally placed him in the wet, dark earth, I thought I heard Aunt Lisa’s voice calling on the wind across the low tidal flats, “Don’t worry Muffin, I went first to check it out!”

A crow cawed high above, heading north out over the water and there was no sign of the peacocks. Their vigil had ended and they had vanished as fully and silently as the cat when his soul slipped from his body.

Mary Petiet (www.marypetiet.com) writes about current events, organic farming, local food, history and spirituality. She is a long time contributor to Edible Cape Cod Magazine, a reporter for the Enterprise Newspapers, and her work has been featured in Parent Co. Look for her upcoming article in STIR Journal, and her book Minerva’s Owls, which reinterprets old stories in new ways to create a new future from Homebound Publications,  April, 2017. Follow her on Facebook or twitter @maryblairpetiet.
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on august 10th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on august 10th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Do you want the space and joy to get back into your body? To get into your words and stories?  Join Jen Pastiloff and best-selling author Lidia Yuknavitch over Labor Day weekend 2015 for their 2nd Writing & The Body Retreat in Ojai, California following their last one, which sold out in 48 hours. You do NOT have to be a writer or a yogi.  "So I’ve finally figured out how to describe Jen Pastiloff's Writing and the Body yoga retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice, Lidia’s literary I’m-not-sorry. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home. Keep writing." ~ Pema Rocker, attendee of Writing & The Body Feb 2015

Do you want the space and joy to get back into your body?
To get into your words and stories? Join Jen Pastiloff and best-selling author Lidia Yuknavitch over Labor Day weekend 2015 for their 2nd Writing & The Body Retreat in Ojai, California following their last one, which sold out in 48 hours. You do NOT have to be a writer or a yogi.
“So I’ve finally figured out how to describe Jen Pastiloff’s Writing and the Body yoga retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice, Lidia’s literary I’m-not-sorry. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home. Keep writing.” ~ Pema Rocker, attendee of Writing & The Body Feb 2015

Featured image by Tiffany Lucero.

Binders, Grief, Guest Posts

I Never Expected to Grieve for My Mother

June 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Elin Stebbins Waldal

Lined up in the garage as if they are expecting us still are the dining room chairs of my youth. In all there are five. Yet now, as if in a dream, I see eight.

Eight wood chairs—each pushed under an antique table that, if you were not seated in the middle where the leaves met, touched the tops of your legs—three chairs on each side and one at either end.

But today there are five.

I close my eyes as if blocking the image of them here in the garage of my grown-up-life will erase the reality that these chairs equal in number those of us in my family of origin who are living.

There never were eight of us all at once.

One of the chairs stood empty. Empty in a way that occupied the space around me and shaped the backdrop of my growing up.

“Pain engraves a deeper memory,” Anne Sexton once said. As deep as an ocean I think with eyes still shut, my hands feeling their way across the faux bamboo back of a 19th Century chair.

The tips of my fingers search the woven thrush of the seat, the feel of which belies the hardness my butt once endured. I can almost feel the imprint of the thrush on the backs of my legs, traces of hours spent belly-up to the table bathed in candle light and the cacophony of voices, forks on dinner plates, and the occasional ring of the phone.

It seemed we were always at dinner—or at least the punctuated moments I remember best were at that table. Mealtime gatherings that spread out over hours, as opposed to the meals of today often swallowed while driving home from children’s games to this very garage. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Video, Vulnerability

The Body Remembers. (Vulnerability Alert.)

April 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff

Today, on what would be my dad’s 70th birthday. I’m wearing my LOVE sign for him. I wept watching Parenthood last night in bed here in Seattle. (I’m almost finished with the show so please, no spoilers.) I miss my dad every day. I feel cheated every day. I will never “get over it” but yet, I am here. I am not dead. I get out of bed. (Most days.) I lost my license in security and felt frustrated and upset even though I was wearing my LOVE sign. And then I realized that it was his birthday and how the body remembers. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Guest Posts

Foxholy

April 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janet Reich Elsbach.

“Smile, would you please?” said my sister as I came through the door to see if she needed any help. “Jesus loves you.”

There were a number of surprising elements to this interaction, beyond the fact that the room we now both occupied was the bathroom. For one, she might more reasonably have requested that I do a tap dance. My sister was dying of cancer, her beautiful athlete’s body wrecked and wracked, and we were just home from another two days in the hospital, where as usual she had questioned and refused 98% of what was on offer, where as usual the doctors and nurses had glared at me reproachfully behind her back, and where as usual I had done a non-stop theater-in-the-round cabaret of advocacy and placation for 48 hours. Maybe I had slept for two of those hours, and not in a row. So of all facial expressions, a smile seemed farthest from my reach.

For another thing, we’re Jews.

“He does, you know,” D. continued as I attended to her. “Don’t you know that?”

Once I became old enough to really put some muscle into talking back to her, some time in my teens or twenties, I pointed out that a large percentage of what she said to me (and to others, to be fair) ended with an audible or implied, “you don’t, do you?” As in, “do you know you’re supposed to put X on Y in that order, rotate your whatsits seasonally, never accept domestic yah-yah and ONLY buy organic hmm?” Here she would pause for a second to see if there was a flicker of agreement, then sigh or even snort a little when it failed to appear. “You don’t, do you?” Eventually the sniff or sigh could stand in for the four-word codicil. Sometimes I would say it for her.

Cancer had intensified her dissatisfaction with rubes and imbeciles in ways I mostly understood, as well as raised the stakes. As her prospects grew darker and her misery increased, so did the percentage of the population around her who could get nothing right. Since I frequently numbered among them, staying present and supportive was not easy, and with this new Jesus angle, she had managed, yet again, to sling a curve ball that could completely undo me. Having a front-row seat at an epic struggle with mortality, even if it is not your own, can inspire a person to feel around in their toolbox for some connection to a higher power. Over the 18 months of her illness, I hadn’t come up with much.

We aren’t especially Jewish, even though we are Jews. I majored in anthropology, so it’s easy for me to put it that I am culturally Jewish, just not spiritually. Meaning the cuisine, the mannerisms, the sensibility: yes. I like the food well enough and the rest I couldn’t shake if I tried. Bred in the bone. But whatever spirituality I possess, I don’t tune into it on that channel.

When I was little, we were high-holy-day Jews. We had a seder at Passover, and some excellent little hamentaschen from William Greenberg’s on Third Avenue at Purim. A menorah was lit at Chanukah, but the house saw a little Christmas action, too. Barring a funeral, wedding or someone else’s mitzvah (bar or bat), the only time we went to temple was on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; on all these occasions everyone around me knew the prayers in Hebrew and I did not.

Our house was generally a mood tinder-box at the holidays, our parents reverential one moment and irritated the next, apparently with us for not taking it seriously enough. I liked to please them, but I didn’t have much to invest since my sisters and I had never gone to religious school. So I would feel guilty and anxious, as well as excluded and confused, and all in all it was not a pleasant base from which to grow a faith. For a long time I connected my not feeling Jewish to this history, and I bet my parents did, too.

Finally I asked my mother why they never sent us to Hebrew school, if their faith was strong enough to twist and bind them with what had seemed like anger when I was smaller than they were, but I now recognized as guilt. By then I was in college, and they had become more obviously and contentedly Jewish: studying, actively identifying as Jewish philanthropists, lighting Sabbath candles, and I had become more confused about where the faith I felt was rooted. I could tell I had some but I also knew it wasn’t found, or fueled, in a building or book that I had yet encountered.

“We didn’t want to force it on you,” she said. “We had taken a big leap getting a place in the country, and at the time I felt more sure that getting out of the city would be good for you three than I did about Hebrew school. And we couldn’t do both.” I scoffed a little when she told me this, but now that I am a parent I can see completely how a person could arrive at that kind of inconclusive conclusion as the rush of life came at them. Punt! I can’t say that I’ve done much better myself, for my own three.

Around this time I was in the habit of spending a weekend in New Orleans every spring, at Jazz Fest, with D. One of the notable features of that densely packed weekend is the stream of little parades, the congregation of here or there decked out in team colors, waving flags and belting out gospel songs at the top of their impressive and collective lungs. “You kind of need Jesus for that,” I remember saying to her. Judaism, Buddhism, anything else I could think of—none of these other belief systems really loaned themselves to this kind of ecstatic, toe-tapping spectacle of testament. It was enviable, to me—that pure devotion and utter certainty and frank enjoyment that characterized their faith. Jesus had a plan, and come what may, that was the raft they set sail on and clung to in a tempest. It seemed as comforting and appealing as it was out of reach.

I was amazed that my sister had found that raft. Both my sisters had certainly gravitated more resolutely towards Judaism over the years than I had, and I’d had many occasions to wonder how it had all skipped me as they both spoke knowledgeably and comfortably about things that felt utterly foreign, even alienating to me. D.’s son even had his bar mitzvah, a first (and only) in our family for generations. And I also knew that D. was pretty open, as a seeker. Around her house you could find a little altar to Ganesh and a portrait of Lakshmi as well as a mezuzah, some Buddhist prayer beads, giant crystals from Arizona and an Islamic knot. But Jesus, now. That was new. Continue Reading…

Binders, death, Guest Posts

The Standalone Gift

March 18, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Teri Carter.

I first saw the chair in a catalogue, the kind we all get too many of with thick red and green pages, the kind that land in our mailboxes before the holidays with a thud, the kind of shiny wish-book that draws us, even if reluctantly, into its pages in search of the elusive perfect gift.

The chair caught my eye. It was almost Christmas, my mother’s last, and she was so puffy and swollen from the steroids she hated to see herself in the mirror. She mostly complained about not being able to cook, that she “couldn’t even stand up long enough to boil soup.” She’d tried pulling up a chair but the sitting/standing/sitting/standing routine wore her out, and she’d cried on the phone with me, “I feel like I’m just waiting.” When I saw the chair I saw a solution: this adjustable, portable, ladder-like contraption was just what my mother needed. I got out my credit card and dialed 1-800.

No matter our age, it’s so hard to understand what our mothers need. Looking back, I wonder if I ever stopped staring into my own mirror—worrying about some weight I’d gained or a bad haircut or the wrong clothes—long enough to care. There would be time for that later, right? Later, there would be time?

When I was eight, I discovered my single mother was having an affair. Let’s call him Jack. Jack was married with two little kids and worked nights as a delivery driver for Purolator, a FedEx-like company, and he lived in our very small town in a nice ranch-style house you could see from the main road. Sometimes my mother and I would drive by on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to see if he might, by chance, be outside mowing the lawn or washing the car or even throwing the football with his son. Jack never waved, never acknowledged my mother or me in any way, and we didn’t wave either, but I swore I could see Jack tip his head a little and I felt my mother slow the car just a bit and, with that slowing, I felt the electricity that passed in the space between them. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Other Side of Loss.

January 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Rene Denfeld

I come from a family of suicides.

My older brother killed himself by eating pain pills and then putting a plastic bag over his head—just in case. My mother followed a few years later, willing herself out of this world. Cousins, siblings, nephews: dead. Even those who survive often bear the marks or memories of trying.

When someone you love kills himself or herself—and when it happens over and over again, as in my family—suicide becomes as ordinary as crossing the street. It becomes your hand on a glass of milk. It becomes you opening the mail, you going for a walk: see that bridge? See that truck? It becomes the freeway ramp you recall your brother made his first attempt to kill himself, driving the wrong way, desperate for collision. It becomes the plate of food you look at and see your mother, denying herself until she literally starved to death, a gasping skeleton clutching your hand in a bed, so devoid of fluids she could not cry.

When the people you love kill themselves, it becomes a common thing, a normal thing, and an everyday you-could-do-it-too thing. It haunts you. It asks, why not you? What gives you the right to survive? Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, healing

A Doorway To Love.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88
By Lavinia Magliocco.

This is not a piece about victory over cancer.

This is not to talk about fighting. This is the way I found through a thorny path. With gratitude, I dedicate it to my teacher, Shambhavi Saraswati.

There’s always a test. A scan, biopsy, and of course, the waiting period, during which time you try to pretend you’re not waiting. You try not to think about it. Cancer’s scary for many reasons, one being that both disease and cure decimate the body. sometimes, it’s not certain which is more fatal.

It’s not that I haven’t thought of dying. Truth is, I can’t stop thinking about dying.Years ago, my innards were ravaged with inflammation while skin peeled off my legs like strips of old wallpaper – I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. I had to give up the one thing I loved. When the future held nothing but more illness, I thought: maybe I’ll just slit my wrists, lie down in a hot bath, and die. Even so, thinking and strategizing how I might go didn’t prepare me for this: death may come not by my choice. Continue Reading…

Birthday, Guest Posts, love

FIFTY-EIGHT AND COUNTING.

December 20, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Lesléa Newman.

I have been waiting all my life to turn 58.

Well, not all my life exactly. Just the last 48 years, ever since I turned ten. That was the year my best friend, Vicki brought over a wooden Ouija Board with the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine, and the words “yes,” “no,” “hello” and “goodbye” painted on it in bold black script. I still remember the day we sat cross-legged on the carpet of my bedroom facing each other with the board and our future between us. We asked the Ouija Board typical ten-year-old-girl questions: Would we get married? (Yes for both of us which proved correct: Vicki married a handsome man named David and I married a handsome woman named Mary). Would we have children? (Yes for Vicki who happily raised three magnificent children; no for me, who happily raised a pride of magnificent cats). And then bravely and stupidly I asked the Ouija Board: “How old will I be when I die?

Vicki and I held our fingertips lightly against the wooden heart-shaped marker as it slid across the board slowly, stopping first at the “five” and then at the “seven.” “Fifty-seven,” I crowed, thrilled to learn I’d live to a ripe old age. At the time, fifty-seven seemed beyond ancient. Why, my mother wasn’t even that old! It was 1965 which meant that I wouldn’t turn 57 until 2012, a year that sounded so far off and futuristic, it couldn’t possibly ever arrive.

I don’t remember ever consulting the Ouija Board again. But I do remember how its premonition popped into my head when death almost came to call. I was home alone slicing a leftover baked potato into rounds to fry up for breakfast. I popped a piece into my mouth without thinking about it until it landed flat across the top of my windpipe, sealing it tight as the lid on a canning jar. But I’m not 57 yet, I thought as I leapt up, raced to a neighbor’s house and frantically pounded on her door. After my neighbor performed the Heimlich maneuver, and the piece of potato flew out whole and landed with a splat against the wall, I thanked her and calmly strolled home, as if she had just given me a cup of tea instead of the rest of my life. She didn’t understand how I could remain so unrattled. But I was only 23. According to the Ouija Board, I still had 34 years to go.

Over the years, there were other brushes with death: a car accident here, a bumpy flight there. And then there was that time when I foolishly followed an electrician’s advice and stuck a raw potato into the socket of a broken overhead lamp to see if the switch was on or off. It was on, the potato sparked and fried, and I almost did, too (what is it about me and potatoes?).

And then I turned 57.

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death, Guest Posts, loss, parenting, The Hard Stuff

Dear Jerk: A Letter To The Father of My Kids After He Took His Own Life.

December 4, 2014

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By Erica Richmond.

Dear Jerk,

I drove Rain and Moxie to Dresden this weekend for your inurnment. Up until now I didn’t even know that word existed. I guess I should thank you for increasing my vocabulary.

While I’m at it, thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain cremation to our kids (I’m not sure it translates well into the afterworld but that was sarcasm). Difficult conversations seem to be a regular occurrence for me these days and I had to explain how your body could fit into such a little box. I told them that you had wanted your body to be turned into ashes before being buried. Rain’s eyes grew huge and he asked,

“HOW did they do that?”

Before I could even formulate any sort of appropriate and non-traumatic response he continued,

“Was it flame thrower or laser beam?”

God I love him.

When we turned down Trerice Street toward the Dresden cemetery I pointed out the high school we had both attended. Did I ever tell you about my first memory of you? It was here at my Grade 9 dance. You were in Grade 14 (that can happen when you leave town for a while to play hockey) and you ran past me across the dance floor with the Police and principal right behind you. Squeals of laughter and chants of “RUN HOOP – Don’t let them catch you!!” echoed over the early 90s dance music. You’ve never been boring.

Did you notice that Bittersweet Symphony started on my playlist as we entered the cemetery? It IS a bitter sweet symphony that’s life…. Well at least sometimes.

The ceremony itself was short and sweet. Hallelujah. You must have been as proud of Rain and Moxie as I was. They stood quietly between me and your parents and listened to the minister read a piece that one of your friends had written. I bet you chuckled when he even read the word ‘shit’. Did you notice that Moxie had chosen to wear the fancy black dress you had given her? Did you like the red roses they picked out for you?

After the service we went back to your parents’ house. The kids took off to play tag and the rest of us sat around the backyard eating sandwiches, drinking OV and sharing our favourite Hoop stories.

There are 2 things that you can be certain of:

  1. There are a never-ending amount of Hoop stories to be told.
  • You were (and continue to be) incredibly loved. As dark as your world had become for you I hope you had some understanding of how much you would be missed.

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Compassion, death, Guest Posts, Heroes

The Ebola Helpers.

December 2, 2014


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By Molly Krause.

Caring can be costly, even deadly. “Look for the helpers” – a quote attributed to Fred Rogers – often pops up online after another school shooting, another natural disaster or another bombing of innocent victims. “You will always find people who are helping,” the quote continues. Be comforted, rest your fears, there is indeed good in the world Mr. Rogers’ message whispers to us. And it works – we do feel better, we can let ourselves exhale, and we may actually feel inspired to be more of a helper.

My brother in law often shares bits of information with me via my Facebook page. Severe weather headed to northeast Kansas! Farmer’s Almanac reveals frigid winter! Terminal B at Kansas City International Airport evacuated due to bomb threat!

It was among posts such as these that he began inserting links such as ‘Deadly Ebola Outbreak is Spiraling Out of Control’. Like the previous posts I was used to merely scanning, I told myself that I didn’t really want to know. But then I starting hearing reports on NPR and thought I should pay attention. I listened to an interview from behind the wheel of my station wagon – Healthcare workers are hit disproportionately hard by Ebola infection. In Africa, this often means the women who are left to care for the ill. These women helpers, they are dying at an alarming rate. I am left with my sweating palms in my Volvo.

In 1996, when I was twenty-five, I cared for my dad as he was dying from HIV/AIDS. He was too ill for the antiretrovirals that have spared many (but not nearly enough) lives since. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Gratitude, Guest Posts

I Will Miss You Every Day of My Life.

September 18, 2014

By Kathleen Emmets.

Note from Jen Pastiloff: Kathleen showed up at my Kripalu Retreat a couple years ago and has since become a dear friend and a great source of inspiration for me. She is the one who created the Fuck It List, that I so often speak of. She sent me this and I knew I had to get it up on the site. Humbled.

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Dear Jen,

Thank you for the beautiful way you teach people to express themselves. I wrote this in the voice you helped me to find.

I love you.

I stand at her bedside, holding her frail, smooth hand. She can’t speak today and her eyes, for the most part, remain closed. “It’s better this way,” I think to myself. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, depression, Guest Posts, healing

Both Sides Now.

August 9, 2014

Hi guys, Jen Pastiloff here. I am the creator of The Manifest-Station. This gorgeous essay was submitted but asked to remain anonymous. 

Both Sides Now.

And I a smiling woman.   

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.

There are dark, blood red spots on my right Top-Sider. They are, in fact, spots of my blood. I cannot bring myself to wash them off. I will occasionally look down at my biohazard shoe and think, oh yeah. That happened. This time last week. Oh yeah. A week ago today, I walked into my therapist’s office at 4pm, apparently still stoned out of my head on the 48 Klonopin I had taken the night before.

I didn’t mean to, exactly. I don’t think I did. I told her I took 47, but I had brought the bottle, giving it over to her, and as she counted the remaining yellow disks, one more was added to the total, creating a dosage of 24mg, 48 pills total. The week before, after a long period of clean time, I had taken 10. I hadn’t learned my lesson. Again.

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death, Grief

Last Call.

August 3, 2014

A Memoir by Laura C. Alonso

We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material . . . when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

~ C. S. Lewis

I called before coming that evening, asked if you needed something, anything you might have wanted. “How about fruit?” you asked. “Yeah, I’d really love some fruit.”

I drove over to White Hen, best fruit I’ve ever seen: golden bananas and enormous apples as smooth and red as blood. Three times the supermarket’s price, but I wanted to bring you the best. It had always been hard, you know? This was the least I could do.

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