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funeral

Binders, death, Grief, Guest Posts

On Losing a Brother, Survival, and Sweet Clementines

May 28, 2015

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By Joanna Chen

I remember the moments before learning of my brother’s death. It’s mid-December. I do not know why I have been called out of class but I register the horrified look on the face of the secretary as she enters my classroom. I am standing at the window, looking out at the dull fir trees swaying in the wind. I turn around when she calls my name and follow her obediently. Schoolgirls in bottle-green uniforms move about from class to class, ascending the stairs on the right, descending on the left. I am descending. One foot after another, very slowly. My hand lingers on the smooth, polished wood of the banister at the bottom of the stairs. The secretary leads me to the waiting room opposite the office. The pale oak door is closed. I place one hand on the circular door knob, turn and enter. They are waiting for me inside: Headmistress. Mother. Father. There is a pause as they look up at me, standing there, my hand still on the door knob.

Six years in this school and I have never been in this room. There are green easy chairs in a half-circle. On a low table is a silver tray with cups, saucers, milk jug and sugar bowl decorated with rosebuds. Sugar in lumps.  The headmistress wears cat-woman eyeglasses. I offer a small smile. I giggle. I am fifteen.

And then a sentence with words one after the other strung together, each word falling heavy into the air.  My brother Andrew, not yet eighteen, is dead. A coach came out of a side-street into the main road and my brother, on his blue motorbike, hit the side of the coach head-on.  And I imagine him speeding along, his first week with the new motorbike, freedom at last, no more standing at the bus stop in the cold of northern England, no more waiting for our father’s red Rover to drive by after work to pick him up, no more.

That last time I saw Andrew was in the mirror, three hours earlier. He was leaving the house, and stopped at my bedroom door. I was adjusting my school tie and did not bother turning around to face him. It would ruin the knot. I remember his face in the mirror, his hair thick like a bush, his hands on the keys, his stubby fingers, dirty fingernails. And now in reverse. His dirty fingernails, stubby fingers, his hands on the keys, his hair thick like a bush, his face in the mirror.  I always go back to this moment.

I bolt the waiting room. Outside it’s a cold day. Snow. Slush. Crunch under shoes. No coat. My finger traces a word on the window pane. Andrew. I am standing outside the school building, looking in. The separation has begun but people are looking for me already. My green gabardine coat is handed to me, and my school bag. I am led to the car.

We drive first to the Goodmans, friends of my parents. Mrs. Goodman tells me tea with sugar is good for shock and I should have a couple. She leans her stumpy body over me, sitting where I was put, and reaches for the sugar bowl with her right hand. She drops one lump into the tea and then another. The first one splashes faintly as the white lump hits the milky, still- steaming water. The second one she drops in more gently, more reverently, as if the little square of crystal is a child that might fall over. I say nothing. I hate sweet tea.

She hands me a magazine, tells me to stir the tea, passes me the spoon as if she is not sure I understand her and returns to the kitchen, where my parents are sitting. I need to speak to your parents, she nods at me, thundering along, already halfway across the living room with the white carpet.

I slide out of the chair onto the carpet, pull down the magazine and place the cup and saucer beside me. I’m still in my school uniform; we have not gone home yet. My shoes are by the front door; the Goodmans are very particular about their white carpeting. My socks are dirty. I had been in a hurry that morning to dress and grabbed socks from the day before.

Sitting in the living room will be quite a treat for you, she tells me earlier, patting me on the shoulder, and I wonder exactly what kind of a treat she is referring to. I suddenly feel very tired and want to go home. Perhaps he is there, after all, and he’ll punch me in the arm and tell me I’m an idiot. Continue Reading…

death, Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Steele Grey, Part II

March 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Julia Cassels.

Read Part I here.

My brother and I retreat through the vestibule of the funeral home. I pick my way through four inches of uncleared snow in the parking lot, navigating in my oh-so-appropriate black stiletto knee-high boots, and climb back into the cab of his pick-up.  I slam the door as he starts the engine, and reach for the pack of cigarettes we had bought for the occasion on the dash. “Where’s the fucking lighter?” Jeff fishes through his coat pocket, pulls out an AC/DC lighter, and passes it over as the heater in the truck comes to life.

“Where to?”

“Lager’s.  Now.” A divey bar with peanut shells on the floor, orange vinyl booths, and wagon-wheel light fixtures. A decor mode not uncommon in that part of the world. Perfectly appropriate to a day such as this.

Rap, rap, rap.

There is a man at the window of the pick up. He is wedged between the window and the side mirrors which extend far out in this monster of a truck.

I look to Jeff. “Oh shit. Are you kidding me?” I hit the automatic button to roll down the window, against my better judgment, although ignoring him and leaving the parking lot would have resulted in taking this poor guy out with the side mirrors.

“You must be Julie. We didn’t get a chance to speak. I’m Pastor Dave.” He is breathless, partially from the four degree weather and his lack of a coat, and partially from the chase he just gave us out of my father’s viewing.

“Yes?”

“Are you coming to the memorial service?”

“Um. I don’t think so, no.”

“Can we talk for a moment?”

“I don’t believe there is anything to talk about.”

“And you are?” He leans further into my window. I move the cigarette to my left hand, trying to keep the smoke out of his face, and let it burn.

“I’m Jeff. That asshole in there was my step-father.” Continue Reading…

death, Family, Guest Posts

Little Black Dress: A Resurrection.

January 28, 2015

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By Amy Tsaykel.

In the midst of a glaring summer, I see only black. I’m striding through aisles of colorful, racked clothing that normally might provide hours of distraction—but today I am focused. Not even my girlfriend who part-times at the outlet mall can regale me with her usual gossip. I’m on a mission, I explain, for a funeral dress.

I must be absolutely perfect for my grandfather.

Granddad was 91 years old when he decided to stop treatments for leukemia. Precisely according to his wishes, hospice was called, along with the longtime family minister and his five children. We all agreed that he was lucky to pass so quickly. Grace, dignity, and good fortune—the hallmarks of Granddad’s life—reigned until the very end.

Mom called me to deliver the news and was, amid her mourning, surprisingly pragmatic. She and her siblings had (per their father’s wishes) already been sorting his belongings. What did I want, she asked: hand tools? whiskey tumblers? One of his paintings?

“Clothes,” I replied, without hesitation. Why?

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Relationships

Steele Grey.

December 27, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Julia Cassels.

The phone started ringing at 8 am.  Incessantly.  Clients.  Clients’ mothers.  A million questions I don’t readily have the answers to.  “I understand your meeting with the Navajo Human Rights Coalition is Monday, but I do not have a release from the client to participate. … Yes, I understand.  Yes, I’m sorry.  No, I’ll see what I can do for you.”  I hang up.  Jesus, lady.

I walk into the kitchen to refill my coffee for the third time, turn around to discover the dog has torn up one of my shoes.  My fault for leaving it out.  I gather the remnants and then see she has also shredded my favorite book, a catalog, and something else which is no longer recognizable.  I pick up the pieces, wonder where the rest is, and thank God for coffee.

The phone rings again.  “I have asked to be removed from your call list.  This is the third phone call from your organization today.  Remove. My.  Number.”  It is 8:35 am and my daily allotment of grace appears to be spent.

Exasperated, I step outside onto the patio, phone in hand, to sneak a cigarette.  It has started raining again, so I stand against the wall, hoping for shelter.

The icon on my phone shows “Your TimeHop is ready!”  TimeHop pulls your old Facebook posts from one year ago, two years ago, etc so you can “Share your memories!”  I click over and scroll through photos of a holiday party we called Cheesemas two years ago, a quote I shared three years ago that is actually really stupid now that I look at it, and then— “Oh.”  The link to my father’s obituary.

I hadn’t realized it was the anniversary of his passing.  The thought never occurred to me as I walked through the past couple of days.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, storytelling

People You May Know.

October 12, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black By Teri Carter.

I carry a myth. In the myth, I am 36 years old, and I meet my father at my mother’s funeral. Or, rather, at her wake. It is the designated family hour from three until four p.m., the one quiet span when only close family gathers to see the dead. The viewing, they call it. My mother in her casket, the casket she chose. And there is my father, a bearded stranger, pacing between rows of metal folding chairs, viewing her.

I actually met my father around my 18th birthday. His mother lived in my town, and though I’d had little to no contact with her over the years, she’d sent me a card with money in it for my high school graduation and, in lieu of writing her a thank you note, I called. She was thrilled, she said, to hear from me, and I remember feeling her warmth through the phone, the idea of her grandmotherly embrace, and somewhere during that call she asked if I’d like to come for a visit to look at some family photos and I asked where my father was and I said it rather boldly like, “Do you know where Lee Roy is these days?” feeling all grown up at age 18 and out of high school, and she said he was living right there in town, “right up the road!” and would I like to meet him, maybe next Sunday, at her house?

But what happened then? What of the details? Did he arrive first or did I? Did we shake hands, hug, stand back, study? Did we share a meal, a laugh, a Coca Cola? How can I not recall? How does a girl not remember meeting her father, not remember hearing his voice, for the very first time? And yet, the edges, they are so watery.

I met my father at my mother’s funeral. We shook hands. He pulled a business card from his wallet and wrote his number on the back in blue, ballpoint ink. He said, “Call us next time you’re in town,” and as he walked away I wondered, who is us?

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, parenting, The Hard Stuff, There Are No Words To Describe This, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Deep Blue Secret.

August 10, 2014

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By Deb Scott

I have to tell you my secret fast or I won’t tell it to you at all.

It is a secret that few people know, even all of you who think you know me.

Even my family, the ones who were there don’t know. I mean they know but I think they don’t let themselves remember.

The secret is about my daughter. My baby who died.

Continue Reading…

Hearing Loss, loss, There Are No Words To Describe This

Memorial.

March 19, 2012

It poured on Saturday.

The sky opened up and dumped down in long slow strokes, before it sped up and cracked onto the sidewalk its big fat dirty teardrops of rain.

Of course it felt fitting being that it was the memorial for my dear friend Steve Bridges. Of course that felt fitting.

 

I woke up to a tapping on my ceiling and half-asleep I had thought someone was knocking. The grey sky depressed me which seemed a bit impossible being that I was already depressed in the way Old Jen would have been, ( how I think of the earlier, more screwed up version of me) rather than the new yoga-teacher version of myself ( I write with a wry wink and a tongue in the cheek).

I looked out the window and realized that nobody was knocking but the sky whispered I should crawl back in bed and forget whatever it was I had to do, whatever it was I said I’d be. Including teaching yoga. Including a memorial.

I taught my two classes, of course.

I went to the memorial, of course.

My body was aching tremendously. It was like I had taken this last loss of Steve, and every other loss I have ever suffered and stuck them inside my muscles and shouted “Go!”

I sat in the front.

Not by choice. Because my hearing has been worse than normal lately and I was afraid I would miss a word, a story, an intonation.

I still missed quite a bit but I heard enough.

It was the most beautiful memorial I had ever been to.

In fact, for someone who has suffered so much loss, it was only the second one I have ever been to. The first was my stepfather (my mother’s second husband) who died when I was 18, one week shy of graduating high school. We flew to California from Jersey and I sat on the beach in a long flowered skirt in my 91 pound body and threw a rose into the ocean for him as I wept like I couldn’t for my own dad ten years prior.

Grief unearthed is as inevitable as air.

I sat there last Saturday, in my aching body filled with screaming people trying to come out, and, as I wiggled to try and quiet them up, I started to drift to past lives.

My own past lives.

Like my father’s past life.

He passed in 1983.

I watched and listened to these gorgeous faces as they openly broke their hearts for us on a podium with stories of Steve’s humanity, his humor, his humility. His kindness. (And boy was he kind!)

And, as it went, I drifted to 1983. I was at my father’s memorial.

 

He was the funniest man anyone had ever met and the stories they told! Oh, the stories they told!

Only I hadn’t been there.

My sister and I were not at my father’s memorial or funeral because my mother had thought it was the best thing to do at the time.

Who knows, maybe it was?

If I was 34, and my husband, who I was just about to divorce, dropped dead and left me with two small girls, I would probably think moving to Fiji and selling my kids down the river would be a good idea. Who knows?

Grief is mean and calculating and tricky and gossipy and ugly and stupid.

So, during Steve’s memorial, in the moments when my beloved hearing loss got the best of me and all I saw were moving mouths, I simply went back to 1983 and sat in and listened to them talk about my dad.

I realized how important this ritual is.

I walked up to his larger-than-life photo on the stage, propped next to a surfboard and a Dallas Cowboys jersey (he loved both equally) and I said Goodbye Steve. I loved you. I love you friend.

Do I blame my mom for the fact that I did not get to do that with my dad?


Nope.

It has simply reminded me of why I love connecting with people. Why I love doing what I do.

I have no problem connecting with my father.

Am I insane? No. 

Am I hippy-dippy? Actually, no and I wish I was a little more so.

I realize that my father, and my beloved soul brother Steve, for the brief time they were both in my life, taught me how to be human. They taught me: what it means to connect to someone. To reach over and touch someone’s forearm, to look into their eyes and laugh so hard that I think my insides my fall out of me if I don’t grip my stomach and pray, to be made so alive by their presence that I wonder if I have made them up.

Maybe I have made parts of them up?

Maybe that’s what we do to people to make them fit.

I can make up as much as I want now that they are both gone.

In fact I will.

I am making up that I was at my dad’s memorial and all the stories people told made me laugh so hard I cried, like at Steve’s. And that Steve and my dad are writing comedy sketches up there and when I get there I will have a part in one, maybe two of them.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to my dad Mel at his memorial but I know that other people did. I was there this weekend for Steve and other people who loved him could not make it, so this is for them:

It is ok.

They forgive you and love you.

And it doesn’t matter.

Close your eyes and connect.

They are right here.

 

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