Showing posts with label current events. Show all posts
Showing posts with label current events. Show all posts


Kids and the School Shootings: 7 Tips Left Out of EVERY Article I've seen

I couldn't keep silent.
Tell your kids you don't understand, either.

There are some VITAL points being left out of EVERY article I've read about "how to talk to kids about the school shootings in Connecticut." Yes, my heart is heavy; yes, it's terrible, and yes, many of us are having knee jerk reactions about gun control, religion in schools, and so on.

But, as a widow and parent of a sensitive, resilient 8 year old, this is in my wheel house, it affects you TODAY, and it's important. So I'm just going to write about those bits that have NOT shown up in the many articles shared by my more than 2000 FB friends, on my neighborhood, PTA, official school, and church list servs.

In general, these tips will help you with elementary school age kids but they may be useful for your own emotional health or with talking to older kids or even adults. Every child is different -- listen to your instinct and your experiences about your own individual child and do what works with your own parenting style. If you recognize something negative about your parenting style from what I say... well, crises can teach us things, and today is a new day. 

So listen up.
  1. Make your words honest and age appropriate. DO NOT LIE to your kids and do not try to conceal what happened. You WILL learn a lot if you listen well to their questions FIRST and this in some way works best if you talk less, and if you don't start the topic. You do NOT need to give them more details than they ask for. Many articles have been saying, "don't bring it up" and I hear a lot of parental discomfort with this point. Well, this does depend on the context. You may feel the need to control the story -- and at some ages, in some school situations, this may make sense. I find if I keep in mind that phrase -- honest and age appropriate -- it helps A LOT.
  2. Be honest about your own feelings. OK, this is mentioned in SOME of the articles but it's too important for ANYONE to skip -- and it is the one, that, in my experience, parents are most likely to be uncomfortable with. One of our most important tasks as parents is to demonstrate to kids that feelings -- sadness, anger, fear, helplessness -- can be overwhelming. It is not their fault, it's not only them, and it's part of being human. As they grow, they will learn (from you!) how to manage this sense of overwhelm... which is VERY scary, especially at younger ages. DO CRY in front of your kids. If they don't like it... help them understand it's natural and you can't control it (or maybe, you might say, "it's dangerous to cry while driving. Mommy's going to pull over for a minute." It is also up to you to model for them how to handle this intensity. 
  3. Share also HOW YOU DEAL with intense feelings. Do you hit, clam up, try to shove it down? Your kids can tell EXACTLY what you are doing. My daughter notices from tiny movements of my eyes or lips when my thoughts or emotions have shifted. Don't think you'll be successful at hiding your feelings from your child. If you're in a bad mood, you can say so. If you're sorry you reacted a certain way, say so. DON'T apologize for your feelings or for healthy manifestations of those feelings. Play loud music, go for a walk, have a comforting snack. Drink water to remind yourself to take care of yourself. Breathe to calm down. These are sophisticated tools peddled by gurus, but you know them. SHARE your good ways of coping with your child. (If alcohol is part of your coping, you probably want to hide that, okay?)
  4. Depending on your child's age, share your uncertainty. An important part of your message is that you, as parent, are not able to control what happens outside in the world but you will always listen and you will always (poof!) be honest. Caveat: this is less useful for younger age kids who may feel scared. You should reassure them that they are safe and that you and everyone (school staff, police, local and national government) is doing everything they can to keep kids safe -- and that these terrible things do not happen very often. A side effect of providing this reassurance is that it may remind you, too, of a larger perspective and your real safety.
    If your child asks a question you can't answer, say "I don't know" or "I wish I understood, too" or share something from your faith tradition. DO NOT TRY TO CONTROL THE STORY and do NOT force your point of view (religious, political, whatever) on your kids. This makes you look "shut down" to them when you MOST want to be open to their questions.
  5. Give kids time to process. Understand that kids learn things AS THEY GROW. We often explain children's grief -- and many other topics in emotional and cognitive development -- as "like peeling an onion." Children's feelings and thoughts unfold in layers. You may have a concise and terrific talk with your kids and they don't ask questions. You may be disappointed or push them. Let them lead you -- they may just want to go off and play. They will ask more questions later IF you make it clear that you are listening, not terrified of the topic, not reactive, do not have an agenda, and that you are fine with them being "slow to understand." (They're not slow -- but parents are often impatient). Big topics tend to unravel slowly, to be understood over time. New contexts, other developments in their lives, and the cognitive growth that is the main quality of childhood, will mean that they ask you similar questions over time (take each one seriously... they are actually asking something different). It will mean that a question pops up when you least expect it or when some rigid family member is visiting. You can handle it by being....
  6. I'll say it again: HONEST AND AGE APPROPRIATE. Keep this in mind, because every few months, as your kids grow and learn, and the new questions come up, the meaning of "honest" and of "age appropriate" will change, too. 
  7. Respect your own feelings and understand that your experience of this may be completely different from your kids' experience. It's okay for you to take care of yourself, too. Get comfortable with the fact that you can't control the world and that our own feelings can sometimes feel like "too much." Your comfort level will enable your children to "hear" that you are open to questions -- even though we know you don't want to handle this terrible topic AGAIN. Dealing with "shit that happens" (in all forms) is part of parenting and part of our world and you can handle it.
Okay, end of lecture. No, not quite:

I learned this stuff from being a widow and parenting my grieving child. BUT, the more I learned... the more it was really about my own spectrum of emotions and accepting responsibility for parenting in an uncertain world. Parenting a child through this kind of crisis is not all about "grief" -- a topic that too many people find intimidating or frightening. Most of these tips are really about life. When you really think about it, there is very little in our kids' lives we can control. But we CAN help them through it, and we can learn from them.

I know these tips are not concise. I know there is a lot of intermingling and melding and overlap between them. I wrote this quickly and when have I ever done that?

And it's not complete. I'm assuming you've already read at least 6 articles. I still hope it is helpful.

Please, share. 


Everything Possible: video and thoughts on marriage and death

In our state, we will be voting a referendum on whether same sex couples will have the right to marry. My church's denomination has been a big advocate for marriage equality, and yesterday we sang this song in hopes of the referendum's success tomorrow.

What struck me this time, again, was how intrinsically linked are the right to marry and the legacy we leave after we die. As the song goes:
... The only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done 
(The rest of the lyrics and the credit are at the bottom of this post)

After all, Gavin and I married in the shadow of death, nine years before he died. After complications from a heart valve replacement, he had several dangerous cardiac incidents and we thought he might die... it was in that light that I felt it was important to bind my life to his in that public and peculiar way we call marriage. (I had never, I don't think, figured I'd marry.) But leaving a record was important.

Eight years later as we endured multiple hospitalizations fighting kidney cancer, I found another reason the marriage certificate matters -- without it, I would not be allowed to visit ICUs. I saw five ICUs in those 22 months and he could easily have died in one (we moved to hospice at the last minute -- four days).

How much more unbearable would that time have been -- and afterward -- if we'd not had the right to marry?

So I learned first, that marriage does matter, and second, marriage is an essential right.  I hope if you live in a state where similar initiatives are up, that you'll consider supporting marriage equality. You know how I like to say that "we widows 'get it!' "


Two more videos that also tell this tale, if you are not convinced:

1. A young man loses his partner AND SO MUCH MORE because his rights aren't protected by law:

2. Republican Maureen Walsh, a widow, testifies why marriage matters:



* Here are the rest of the lyrics with credit: 

Everything Possible
Words and Music by Fred Small Copyright 1983 Pine Barrens Music (BMI)

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time
Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you

Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done.


(Possible) Cover of the Rolling Stone: Old Beastie Boys Pix

That kid is so pissed.
Some more photos of the Beastie Boys from 1982... never-before-seen:

I remember when I took these photos, which were part of a long session we did for Cooky Puss, in Washington Square Park one late winter day. The boys (and girl) were in costume from playing modified Candyland at Kate’s place, and they had some concept that the park would be like the game board. They wanted pictures of them skipping down the asphalt paths in the park. Eventually one of these skipping shots was used, in silhouette, on the paper center label of the Cooky Puss 12”.

You don't see something boybandish?
I don’t remember if it was my idea or theirs to shoot them looking down through the monkey bars, and on top of a phone booth and in other silly places. But I remember that I was going for a certain Beatles-type cliche: 4 adults staring down through a network of handbars, and I recall vaguely that they did not particularly enjoy this. I had fantasies, somehow, that I was Annie Liebovitz, pushing her subjects a little too far for the sake of that perfect Rolling Stones cover. I was 15 years old.

Which makes it a little weird to be responding to both an editor and a photo editor at Rolling Stone about a possible, actual real life cover image.


(Visit my Flickr if you want to see all my shots of the early Beastie Boys in higher resolution.)

I’m sure talking about my photography seems off-topic for this blog, unless you’ve been reading for a very long time or dredged through the archives (poor you) to read the origin of the blog name. Which is:

Marcel Duchamp did a piece called “Fresh Widow” in 1920. All you really need to know is that it’s a French window. However it’s miniature, it was an open edition and almost a “ready made” except for black leather applied over each window pane so you can’t see through. The piece comes with a command that the leather be polished every day. There’s one in the MoMA (which I grew up with) and one at the Philadelphia Art Institute. It’s perverse in more ways than one; look up interpretations if you’re intrigued.

Duchamp, handsome American living in Paris and mingling with the mostests, has been one of my lifetime idols. Not least of all because late in life he insisted he’d given up art and was only working to play chess (though he was lying about it). He seemed gentlemanly and unsloppy in most every way, and he was always funny and upsetting. My man, right?

I thought, as a newly minted widow, that I might open that toy black window. I thought my hair would fly back in the wind. I thought of what you can see when your eyes are closed, or with the lights out, or when your own light goes out, and I knew there was an exhilarating truth to it.

I wanted to own that, so I took its name.

(The silly “Supa Dupa” part came when I added the Pillsbury Doughboy and Missy Misdemeanor Elliott to the mix. I thought you had to have a fake name in addition to your blog name, some kind of rule.*)

So although I have spoken only of my widowed life and grief and mostly closely related topics, I hope you can see I’ve been leaving stuff out. For various reasons… and this has never been a daily-life-as-it-happens blog, never been totally “the real me,**” never been my place to drop today’s dump. I do enough in social media I don’t feel I can do too much of that anymore, anyway. And I’ve tried to do a “real” blog for my professional life but that hasn’t been too effective because the community work I do with widowed people is the vast majority of the work and where I get most of my credibility.

The full picture of me includes not only today (remarriage and all), not only venting, but also my history as an artist and my future as whatever I end up doing for work tomorrow.

I am an artist at heart… I was raised by artists (wolf artists, apparently) and spent most of my time with artists doing art things. I have abandoned being an artist at least ten times in my life: for my mental health, for an education, for health insurance, for money, for a good marriage. I never went far… each job until the last one had a strong visual component, and my late husband was an artist. I felt close to working by supporting him in his work, for many years.

But it wasn’t the same. Though I’m still at a turning point in my professional life — how long has it been? — Creating and working with images will always be part of my process of understanding the world and my place in it, whatever form my work takes in the next few years. And even if I don’t actually keep MAKING stuff, saying “no” to it over and over again was pretty bad for me.

How can I encourage you to be true to your grief and your truth if I can’t even listen to that obnoxious little punk, my artists’ soul, screeching at me? She sings, lovely, if I listen closer.

So  I’m back to listening a bit more. Which is good, because the phone is freaking ringing about a whole nother set of photos that I took when I was a teenager before I considered health insurance, money, or true love at all.

And I gotta go pick that up.

* I am kind of famous for thinking life has rules for things that are simple and ungoverned.
** Though by now, anyone who cares does know my real name.


Grieving Adam Yauch: An Inside/Outside Perspective

IMG0020 Because I was in the circle of the Beastie Boys early in life, I am in a few Facebook groups grieving the loss of Adam Yauch. I was not close to him, but we had several close friends in common, and I photographed the band at early gigs, backstage, in “photo shoots” and just hanging out. And as a widow, I know that when the time is right, our community can help support Dechen Wangdu, his wife, as she looks ahead as a woman and a parent. I am observing the grief from several angles because I am in several positions around it.

This time, I'm experiencing this loss in a different way than any of the others I’ve been through. I can see where the community and the widow diverge and why. It’s not what you think.

We widowed people, at first, are overwhelmed by the love showered on our loved one. We are torn open but we feel grateful for all this pouring in of feeling and sharing (and casseroles). And then after a year or two, we wonder: why did those jerks send casseroles? Why did they send a card and then do nothing else? Why have I been alone since the memorial service? And when is someone going to bring me dinner or ask how I feel? Are they afraid of me?

We figure that people are too afraid of death, our new status as single, or cancer or crying or whatever. We don’t need people like that in our lives anyway. And so the friendships are dropped, one by one. I’m not saying that isn’t true: to a large extent it is the reason for this perceived abandonment. But the end result is bad for us: more isolation, bitterness, the burden of building one more thing from scratch. 

Those factors of death-a-phobia and widow leprosy are real but they are not the only factors... These factors also present the most unkind perspective on the world. To look at it in a less loaded way, many people send a condolence card or food because they want to do something. Most people are compelled to and they know they "must." But it's a limited intervention because they know that the widow’s space is not theirs. They give these things from the heart, but they respect the most intimate, most strong pain and grief… they wish to give you room that you need. In the first few weeks, you can’t hear them if they do more. All you can do is to keep eating, keep drinking water, and try to get some damn sleep (or try to get out of bed. One or the other.). That space is natural and becomes part of your healing and anyway, it's all you can possibly stand.

I know that's not all the widowed person needs... the community doesn't know what you need either. That's another story. But doesn't the world look better if you realize that this simple space is not entirely cruel to you at this one point in time? 

I have been watching this dynamic in the private Facebook groups that grieve Yauch. For the most part, these folks want — desperately, kindly, generously — to cry on each other’s shoulder. They want to grieve their loss with others who knew him. Most of them don’t know Dechen. Of course they wish her well. But they know they are in a different department. Their need to grieve is also real, and it is also intense. They can still get together now and share without -- honestly -- burdening her.

In the big losses in my life — of course — I was at the eye of those hurricanes. When my father died, when my husband died, I didn’t notice or care much about what the community was getting out of the memorial service or out of supporting me with limited interventions (though I went to the mailbox compulsively [people still sent cards back in 2006] and greedily took any food that came by). Earlier losses I don’t think I understood at all… I was too undeveloped. And most of the losses I’ve been through since Gavin died, I’ve seen through my “widow” lens, which is invested in changing the picture and making folks aware of the widowed person’s real needs and real world in a real (and really long) timeframe.

Observing the grief and loss around Adam Yauch, in addition to that agenda (which matters!) I am also a member of the larger community. I’m not close enough to be overcome with my own emotion and sadness (though I am sad… but compare this to when Amy died, when I was cracked and off balance for weeks).

I think I’m getting closer to a healthy perspective on not only my own loss and grief, but what is really going on outside, without losing the benefit of my experience from the inside.

And I think that’s another new milestone. Next thing you know, I’ll start giving a crap about people’s kitchen renovations. (I might even get a custom tile backsplash!)


Boys will be Beastie, first interview, from Decline of Art magazine, 1981

Adam Yauch's death forces me to go back through dozens of boxes, to find relics of my high school history. The Beastie Boys' first published interview was in my fanzine, Decline of Art, which Jill Cunniff and I put together in 1981. This interview was in the second issue and typifies our teenage-bricoleur-meets-PereUbu style.

The Beastie Boys were a hardcore band in 1981, with John Berry on guitar and Kate Schellenbach on drums. Adam Horovitz had not yet joined. We were part of the same circle, kids in gifted-and-talented high schools running around NYC late at night. I took many photos of the band, as I did of any band we met or saw play, in this early stage. I am a little relieved I can't take credit for that much of the writing... though as I read it, I feel the tone of the times: constraints of that times' very grown-up TV and pop music scenes, the joy of being absurd and mixing things up that were part of hip hop the way it had to evolve before this digital era. The boss Grandmaster Flash, and gigs by Treacherous Three at a basement reggae club, were just around the corner but punk was here (possibly just across the ocean... we were always asking British bands about the riots) and now. Looking back reminds me how totally confusing it all was, even in its midst. None of us knew what to make of it even as we created the scene, and as kids, we were not really supposed to be there.

As I go through the boxes, I am surprised again and again. Nostalgia has morphed everything and as I review the papers, they change again. For one thing, I am  having trouble believing we were that silly, but there it is, in black and white.

Boys will be Beastie, an interview from Decline of Art #2, 1981

I did the photos on this sid
Us: What kind of musical representation is evident in your music?
A: We don't believe in music.
M: We only lift weights.
A: Off the record, my mother was a hamster.
Us: What do you think of N.Y. audiences compared to N.Y. audiences?
K: Well, I think -- yeah.
M: Best in the world, because you can insult them yet they think they are being complimented.
K: My mother is in the Health and Racquet Club.
A: Hyper admonitory synthesism of monitory confusement within a statement.
Us: What is your favorite T.V. show?
A: Bill Boggs.
M: Phil Donohue.
K: Tom Snyder.
J: I hate my fucking self.
Us: What is your favorite restaurant?
K: La Rompa.
A: Uncle Wong.
M: Lord of the Chickens.
J: Enough embarrassment for one night. (John leaves)
Throughout the interview Adam and Kate were far too eager to write on Michael's head and Michael was squirting Windex at my head.
Us: AACKH, DISGUSTING. What are your musical influences?
A: Pink Floyd.
K: Larry's hair.
M: the Mills Brothers and The 4 Freshmen.
A: Off the record, my father smelled of elderberries.
M: Honestly, I am upset.
Us: Why, Michael, why are you upset?
M: Because I wish to abate this nonsense which is plaguing this society.
Us: What do you think of Crass' ideas?
A: Los muchachos son mui stupido?
K: Das ist miene bruder.
M: Ta mere est le beurre.
Us: What do you think of Act II Haircutters?
K: Budgie rocks da house.*
Us: What do you think of these awful riots in N.Y.?
A: What?
Us: What is your favorite radio station?
A: Dub-ya Dub-ya....
M: WKRP in Cincinnati.
Us: That was really funny Michael.
K: WPAT, the place to relax.
A: My favorite color is red no blue.
K: Adam steals all his jokes from Monty Python. What time is it?
M: Marvy Marker.
A: Kate only said that because she loves Budgie because he kissed her.
Us: Do you like to carry on?
A: Yes.
K: The third OI compilation LP and they thank Noise the show on the back! **
A: Michael, you're a dick. Stop that or I'll chop your peny off and hang it from the tallest yardarm.
M: (Pollywog imitation) Are you going to see T.S.O.L. tonight? They're from Boston! (by Michael with his shaved head, dancing madly).
A: I'm Big Bank and I'm the chief of the tribe that went down in the hall of fame.
(Adam lights up a three foot cigar)
Us: Do you remember when Brian Brain threw bananas at the audience?
A: And chicken.
M: No I remember I feel on my hootie on a banana peel afterwards when I was dancing afterwards.
(Michael continues to stick his fingers up his nose and talks to an imaginary John on the telephone.) I love you, I love you. I love you. I love you. I love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.
A. Michael continues to babble on incoherently and continues to dance madly. 


* Budgie was the drummer for Siouxie and the Banshees, who had just played in NY, and also featured in that same issue of Decline of Art with an even more nonsensical article but really first class photos by me.

**  Noise the Show was Tim Sommers' radio show on NYU's station. Two blessed hours a day, M-F, if I remember rightly, and the only place we heard the records we wanted to buy. The Beastie Boys had played a live gig on the show and a recording of that was circulated widely on cassette before their first EP, Pollywog Stew, came out on Rat Cage Records.


Reflections on independence

This flag, reflected in the window of the Marriott San Diego when I was at Camp Widow last year, shows a little bit of how flags REALLY work: their symbolism might seem to be written in stone, but a flag at every moment, to every person, looks different. Linear, elemental, in primary colors, a flag symbolizes a foundation, but any real flag changes constantly, responding to wind and water. This one appears here to be cut off and wavy, and it was alone on just one tier of many mirrored levels of the hotel facade.

And I really hate Monday holidays (pretty sure I posted this last year too), which is a reflection of how crappy I am as a single parent.


Me and Casey Anthony

My daughter, Short Stack, was 2-1/2 when Gavin died, and Caylee Anthony was nearly 3 when she “disappeared.” So every time I heard someone say, “how could a mother possibly hurt a little angel like that?,” speaking of what Casey allegedly did to her little girl, I took it a little personally.

That first year that Shortie and I were alone — the year from 2-1/2 to 3-1/2, which started on the hot summer day we came home from hospice without her Dad — was, in many ways, hell.


Joyce Carol Oates, Janet Maslin, and voicemail mementos

My little corner of the internet is  ablaze with responses to Janet Maslin's "brutal" review of Joyce Carol Oates' memoir, A Widow's Story, published yesterday (the review was published Sunday). So meta: all this commentary without anyone (except Maslin), as far as I can tell, reading the book itself, without responding to Oates' experience or perspective.

Because the review includes this sentence, which sounds — to me and many others — like an ad hominem attack, and thus, crossing the boundary of a book review:
A book long and rambling enough to contemplate an answering-machine recording could have found time to mention a whole new spouse. 
Let's deconstruct this. First, is an answering machine recording a small thing in telling a story? And second, is becoming engaged after a marriage a significant part of the story? Specifically, is it the kind of thing that, if you were writing a memoir about your loss, you'd be required to include in the book? Let's say, if you were one of the most prolific writers in America? And if one decides that you should put that engagement in your memoir, would it be dishonest to NOT talk about it in the same book as the voicemail recording?

So, first things first, because this is a juicy one, and it will take up the rest of the post (we'll do #2 tomorrow). I asked the thousand-or-so widowed people I talk with on Facebook:
Did you hang on to voice mail messages of your loved one? For how long? Were they important to you? If your late partner's voice was the GREETING on your voice mail or answering machine, did you leave it? For how long?
… And here are just a few of the tiny tales I received back:
My husband passed away March 6, 2010 and i still haven't had his cell phone turned off. It is the only place I still hear his voice. (Debbie)

I left my greeting for a long time...maybe almost 2 years? I just couldn't bear to erase it even though I know some people may have been made uncomfortable by it. Then something happened to it and I had the kids put a message on, I didn't want to replace it with my voice. I can still hear his message in my head, years later, clear as a bell. (Linda)

Never had any messages or his voice on a greeting all i have of his voice is the home movies, which took me 2 1/2 yrs to watch and can't even explain the feeling when i heard his voice after so long....(Rachel)

Yes, for some reason, I always kept several of his voicemails on my phone at all times. I have three saved. One was from 3 years ago when he called to tell me he knew the day before had been really tough (at work) and that he knew that day would be better and that he loved me. The second one, he just called to wish me a happy day. These messages are so important to me that I paid a company to save them and send them to me as MP3 files. So I have them forever, even if they get erased accidentally on my phone. I never get tired of listening to them. (Lorie)

My mother-in-law still has his voice on her answering machine, it was really hard at first but now 5 yrs later when I call I cross my fingers I get her machine just to hear him. (Dara)

I still have the "tape" from the answering machine. Its been at least 18 years. (Sandy)

I have my husbands voice message to me. It just says "I love you." Me and my daughter listen to it often. (Bev)

(My new partner) found Scott's cell phone in the drawer. "Hey Hon, I didn't know you had a Razor?" My response? "That's... Scott's phone, and I can't bear to get rid of it." I've let the battery go so I don't know if there is anything still on it. I'm thinking because the number is gone, so are the messages. There is (was) one from me on there. A happy one that he saved. (My new partner) found a place for the phone...I've always wished I would have saved the tape of my Mom's message. She's gone over 20 years now. (Lynn)

Wow, I was just looking at my phone today with the ONE message on it from Bill, he was going from one of his trips to hospital to come pick him up. I listen every once in a while. I am coming up on a year in 3 weeks. I was looking at the phone and trying to decide if I would delete it. I will miss him for everyday of my life, but I need to move forward. (Paula)

I have his voice along with the kids as my cell phone message and I never want to take it off. To me it's a way to tell the world, especially his family, that I will never forget. Even just talking about a simple message tears my heart. I miss him so much. (Danielle)

I don't have any voice messages, but I do have his cell phone, I now have people call me on that phone. There is one greeting saved with his voice on it. I play it every once in a while just so I can hear a little bit of his voice. Wish I had more. (Yoly)

At three years I still have my late husband as the greeting. He recorded it with the kids. Funny, I've been thinking it was time to change it but still I just love hearing his cheery voice every now and again. The voicemails are gone unfortunately when I changed the number. (Jenn)

My husband passed away almost 2 years ago, I am still paying for his phone so that I can call and listed to his greeting. It says he will get right back to me — I'm still waiting! (Celeste)

Didn't save anything on the phones, but we have Grampy reading a recorded book for each of the four grandkids, a video "interview" of him telling us stories from his life that our daughter made and best of all...during his last days I asked... him to "talk to me like you do when I'm sad or upset." I recorded that and a friend put it on cd for me. He just gave them to me last night and I listened in the car on the way home. I cried and cried, but it was just what I needed to hear. Every time I thought, "please say you love me again," he did! I've often thought I could go without seeing him because I have pictures and I could go without touching him because I have his robes that I can wrap myself in, but I wish I had a phone to Heaven so I could talk to him. Now with his message to me on the cd I feel I have that! (Michelle)

Are these tiny details not beautiful? Do they not illustrate emotional truths, about living without someone and having true human feelings? A modern convenience - a machine, a service — are a memento, giving us the warmth of a voice, otherwise uncaptured, saved nearly by accident on the phone company's server.

Would you leave out a detail like this from your story? This snippet is our generation's gold watch: an heirloom, a talisman, precious. Everyday and transcendent at the same time. Current, relatable, real.

I can bet you that that anecdote which Maslin picked on will be one of the parts that resonates the most deeply with readers.

How about art other than memoir? I'm honored to be able to share with you this special song about listening to a loved one's voice later on — sung by my sister after her loss, more than a decade ago — a song which she movingly performed at Gavin's memorial service:

And tomorrow.... I'll address Maslin's charge of "major omission" from my point of view as a remarried widow.


Pictureless Wednesday: Spring will come.

Mommy, why are the trees all pink?

I wouldn't call it a storm, but peculiar precipitation last night,  neither sleet nor hail, and strange conditions all morning, had left a quarter inch of ice balls fused into a layer on every tree branch. As we drove, the trees bending down in front of us, arching into our airspace, were iced with the gentlest brownish-grayish-pink. This in addition to the light dusting of sugar on everything else around, and a specially gray day.

It was a somehow natural color. Behind the pink clouds, suspended water and sunlight, itself barely visible, brought out the variety of browns in the wood: reddish brown, yellowish brown for some grasses, deep greenish on some trunks, pale brown and white on the paulownias. And an infinite variety of shades in between.

Why? Because those are buds, dear. Thanks -- I wouldn't have noticed! The red buds of some kinds of trees, invisible a few days before, were magnified by their ice shields. A tiny bit of color, invisible yesterday, was made brighter in the light refracted by water.

The small ones are cherries, the large, red maples. A few tiny Japanese maple-types in yards, usually standing sentry over a rock.

They were all around us as we drove. And then, on the way out of the play date, it was too late. The ice bits, millions, had melted off or fallen. No special effect. No photograph. Nature is always ephemeral, but it's not worth risking my life to take a picture on the road. I'm going to hang on to this place.

I kept my eyes open. A few errands later, some maples looked like they were fatter now: swollen with water as the day warmed.

I missed the picture, but I can spread the words: Spring will come. Look up outside. It's a promise.


Elizabeth Edwards (3): Dying at home

Elizabeth Edwards was sent home to die, and I felt pins of jealousy pricking into me. My husband died of cancer after two years of fight: you might expect I'd hear echoes of the last days and of the loss. But no. The hurts were petty, many, and sharp.

Because Gavin couldn't die at home, the way he would have wanted. And it was because of me.

And because of those nurses in the ICU, loving and kind to me and my little girl, who wasn't supposed to be allowed in, but they saw how his numbers jumped when she entered his windowed area of the ward. How his face would light up, so it was worth breaking any rule, despite the risks to her and him and me. After all, it was a temporary transgression: no one stays in that ward long.

Adela, my favorite, the head nurse ("Adele" had been in the top 10 names for our daughter), was the one to really work on me. "You say he doesn't want to die in a hospital. You need to work on getting his discharge as soon as you can." (Discharge was tricky because our oncologist didn't have privileges there; she couldn't reach anyone she knew, because it was a holiday weekend: Memorial day.)

I'd always heard that inpatient hospice was hard to get into. "We'd really prefer to take him home for these last few months," I said hopefully, not knowing they were thinking weeks (it turned out to be just days). Adela danced delicately around it, but within hours another staffer was more direct: "You can't handle having him at home."

But I'll have help. We have wonderful friends. 
Won't hospice offer volunteers? 
Look what we've been through already. 
I can do what's needed. I can do what's right.

He died 4 and a half years ago and now I accept what they were saying: I couldn't have handled it. With a small child, his senile mother, and insurance paying for nearly nothing… the brutal truth was I could not have changed his diapers in addition to my toddler's. It stung to hear it then, and still to say it, but: I hated being a caregiver, even to someone I loved who I desperately wanted to live. And it would have been more dangerous.

But deadliest of all was to stay in the ICU. They really wanted us out of there. And he knew they were treating him differently, that they'd given up. Instead of being the most-well person there, I think my husband picked up on the fact that he was starting to fit in. "The ICU is not a place for extended dramatic intervention. People just don't last here. It's for emergencies. When there's nothing more to do… well, it's not a good place to spend your last hours."

I just thought maybe they could make an exception and allow more visiting hours. It wasn't a bad place… look how attentive they were to me. What came across as care for me was really their strong desire to persuade me to save what was left of my self and family by getting him into hospice.

To Gavin, the ICU was a neglectful lonely place. His veil was starting to lift: he saw what was really happening. I am sure he was willing to go to hospice before I was willing to sign the papers. I said it was just so he could recover some strength, and I could have some respite, and then we'd bring him home. The timeline was rather Hallmark: months of adjustment, designed by my mind for my own emotional convenience.

None of us had any control over the timing, of course, not even Adela. All the staff, the hospice experts, everyone was off by weeks. He died four days after transfer. He'd been fighting that hard all along and he took the rest he was offered.

I was a zombie with a job: I told visitors to "please tell him that you'll take good care of me and Short Stack and Frances, and that it's okay to leave if he needs to." I was choking, and I was also saying, "it's good for him to hear that, you know, just in case."

My chief regret, my advocacy, is that we didn't start hospice sooner. We could have recognized that this disease in this man at this time was just too powerful. I know that living with denial is actually a good idea when you're faced with a terminal illness, but regrets have nagged me all this time. I like to blame Gavin and the endless positive fight at all costs, but a lot of the resistance must have been coming from me. I pulled over on the parkway to cry in angry helplessness on the way over to that appointment. In the end, I signed the papers out of sheer duty.

I was frustrated that everyone thought — knew — I couldn't have handled him at home. Finally, now, I accept that they were right. I give myself permission — that old me, the one who hadn't seen anyone die — to be an imperfect caregiver. I know my family is better off because Adela got through to me.

I was envious that Elizabeth Edwards had the chance to go home to be with family when my husband didn't.

But death laughs at all our petty jealousy: before I had the chance to write a blog post (never mind three!) she was gone. A woman who'd advocated for hospice didn't get much time to enjoy her loved ones outside the hospital. Her courage, her honesty, earned even her just the barest bit of peace.

We all deserve more than that moment.


Elizabeth Edwards (2): The Estranged Widowed

Rose "Elizabeth Edwards"

One of the most destructive grief myths is "the deeper the love, the greater the grief." John and Elizabeth Edwards had, no doubt, a complicated relationship. He'd had an affair, another child, and the couple were separated, but stories tell us he moved back home to be with Elizabeth and their two children recently, as her condition worsened. So I anticipate that despite this late, public transformation to devoted family leader, there will be lots of talk about John Edwards' transition to widower and likely, lots of judgment of how he grieves based on how he "should" feel.

(Widowed people just looooove to hear things like this when they become part of public conversation. Did you know we have punching bags in our basements? Funeral homes ought to give them away as bonuses, along with the special kleenex and a year's worth of massage therapy.)

Some of us buy into the myth that big love results in big grief. We long to be told our love was "special," we romanticize our loves when they end in death, and we naturally idealize those who are no longer around to act real and challenge our glistening memories.

But it's not true. As we adjust to our life after loss, and the drama subsides, widowed people learn that there are no formulas for grief, no number of tears to shed per year of marriage, no tricks, no shortcuts, no system.

I've had the honor of sitting alongside hundreds of widows, hearing their stories, watching them adjust over time, in person and online through my social media outreach. I've known dozens who mourned partners who died during divorce proceedings, after affairs, during separations, and even years AFTER divorce. These spouses (and former spouses) feel the same type and degree of pain, and experience many of the same adjustments, as the widows with storybook marriages (both real and imagined). These souls deserve the title of "widowed."

Why would anyone want to be called a "widow?" We often say, "welcome to the club that no one wants to join." But it does matter, because unmarried couples are routinely turned away from receiving support after they lose a partner. Because inconsistent acceptance of marriage by LGBT people means that they are nearly always taken less seriously by those who have sympathy for widowed people. And as little institutional and social support there is for grieving people, it's important that everyone who needs it is included.

My own experience of marriage and the many stories I've heard make me doubt that relationships that are "difficult" in public are all that different from more private or easier ones, especially below the surface. Any long-term partnership develops organically. Each union is as different from another as one animal from another. Their triumphs are often formed in compromise; even when a couple gets along easily, outsiders can't tell what's going on inside each individual or inside their life together. My friend Malena translated a Spanish proverb to me once, as "No one knows what is in the soup but the spoon." It took me a while to figure out what this means: not only can you not tell what makes a relationship tick, but sometimes a couple that seems unhappy meets each other's needs perfectly. (My parents seem to have used this recipe.)

"Happy marriages" aren't always what they seem, either, and you should be especially mistrustful of the rosy glasses of a grieving person. Spouses tend to "saint" their loved ones the moment they die, no matter what happened before. And there is an old saying that one should "never speak ill of the dead." 
Imagine the burden this puts on widowed people who find out about former lives and loves, drug abuse, or "love children" after their partner dies.

The guilt John Edwards may suffer as part of his grief may be stronger than that of a more faithful partner, but one never knows. Guilt is a natural part of most grief experiences — most of us fantasize that our loved one would still be alive if we'd acted differently: taken a different route that day, spoken up to a doctor — and we bear this with us until we come to forgive. The guilt is so magnified that it hardly matters what the irritant is: there's simply no math that will tell you how someone may feel after a loss.

I'll wager that it won't matter that John and Elizabeth Edwards had a difficult relationship. His grief won't be lessened or increased by the fact that they'd been separated. Now the children's experience… they are old enough (the youngest is 12) to talk about everything they've seen. The challenge for John Edwards will be to be as honest as he can with them, about the good times and the bad times, to honor their relationship — and his — with his co-parent.

Unlike a child, grief is an elemental, animal set of feelings and experiences and it doesn't understand the details of any story. A different grief is borne by each person: our emotions vary in size, shape, and color. But it is always the same weight: 100%, and it can't be fooled or outwitted by any system, no matter how hard we beg.

Estranged, separated, divorced, unmarried, the death of someone you'd planned a future with is always a huge loss. We should call these losses by the same name: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.


Elizabeth Edwards (1): Talking around death

What a trigger it always is when a public figure battles cancer, especially when the cancer wins. It hurts less and less each year (each month even, moving at a fast pace as I approach five years after my loss), I'm less and less called to shout out to their partners, to cry in the streets, to feel it in my own bones that there will be another small emptiness somewhere in the world soon.

But I still feel it, and I still want to respond as an authority — to laugh like a disrespectful teenager when a newscaster asks, as above (earlier today, before she passed): "What does that mean, to say that 'further treatment would be unproductive?'" It means they're dying, you simpleton. Did you know, anchorman, that people are meant to age, to lose hair, to wrinkle? But we need an explanation. It's not enough to say, "they are dying," or as I would tell my child, "their body is starting to slow down and doesn't work as well any more." It's got to be concrete, physical, specific, and not use any trigger words like "death" or "dying." That's not enough: nature's not enough. We have to explain, and understand, and take it one step at a time.

So Dr. Gupta talks about fluids building up and so forth.

Why is it not enough to say, as they have, "she's at home among family and friends"? That would be enough to make me totally jealous, of both John Edwards (as myself) and of her (in the role of Gavin).

I didn't know any better either, though I wasn't on the news, and my crazy hair had nothing to do with that. I remember the last hospitalization — the week he spent in the CICU before "we" were sent to an inpatient hospice. Here are some ways the ICU doctors and nurses tried to explain dying to me in their own concrete, observable, ways:

  • Yesterday afternoon he lost the ability to walk over to the toilet in his room [it was ten feet from the bed]. Sudden loss of strength is a sign that someone is dying. 
  • He's getting discouraged. 
  • From him: "Just get me out of here. Anything, just to leave here." 
  • His body has been fighting really hard for a long time. 
  • Actually, his heart function is higher — at 40%. This often happens as the other organs get worse, like a rallying. But the heart function doesn't change the picture at all. 
  • So, he's been through all the treatments that are customary for this cancer? 
  • Whole brain radiation is a brutal therapy. I don't think there would be any benefit to it in his case.
  • I'm not his doctor any more. On this ward, we only supervise cases for 24 hours unless there is a positive change. Unless you want to start an aggressive treatment?… which I think I said I didn't recommend, when I was on his case…? 
  • This is a bad ward to be in. More than two thirds of patients who are here die. You said you don't want him to die in the hospital… you have to get him out of this ward soon. 
  • These infections he's fighting off… they mean he has no immune system left. [It seems so vicious, counterintuitive, petty, impossible to be felled by a fungus or a yeast infection after two years living with giant tumors!]
  • More antibiotics wouldn't make a difference at this point. — His organs are shutting down. [I started to hear it]
  • His body is showing color changes that indicate the dying process has begun.  [I got it.]
It's a damn good thing they don't keep bricks lying around in ICU wards.

I understand the need for science-based medicine, for diagnoses based on observation. I know I wasn't listening at all. I don't fault anyone for anything they said. I loved the care Gavin got in that CICU, as bad as the staff (wonderful people!) kept trying to tell me it was for him. I am even trying to forgive myself and my ears for trying to protect me.

I have a dream that I am part of a culture where we can hear the words, "he's dying," and not disassociate. Where science is wonderful, but the words "he's at home, among family and friends" send a clear undeniable message to us all. When I will be changed too, as part of this change; and I will be able to live and die in this brave and humble world.

But the newsmen still annoy the hell out of me. Just a little.


Guest Post: Top Ten Reasons to Attend Camp Widow

Carole Brody Fleet from Widows Wear Stilettos (WWS) has kindly allowed me to reproduce her "Top Ten Reasons to Attend Camp Widow." (Please note: Camp Widow is an inclusive, LGBT-friendly event for men and women of ALL AGES. For those who are in a relationship, your date or SO is welcome at all the social events.)

10. The People You'll Meet: Unlike the people that you are around in your daily life, every single person at Camp Widow is exactly like you. They have either lived or are living the widowhood experience. They are all ages. They come from all over the world. They are from all walks of life. Most importantly, you will be surrounded by people who "get" what you're going through – and will go "through it" right along with you.

9. The Location: Camp Widow returns to the gorgeous San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina in San Diego, CA. Located right on the water, it's a beautiful place to spend a weekend vacation. Many of your workshops and activities will include a gorgeous ocean view – and don't forget to take a break outside in the "tropics" – how does a cool drink or cocktail at the pool bar sound?

8. The Education: You'll learn from, meet personally & interact with authors & experts in all areas of loss & loss recovery. Choose workshops that fit your healing journey needs…financial planning, dating & finding love again, helping your grieving children, learning how to move forward while honoring your past – you'll learn all this & more. Plus lots of photo ops with your favorite authors & experts…FUN!

7. Shopping: Need we say more? Remember, WWS teaches that you need tools to help your healing & you'll find some of the best tools in the world at Camp. Browse the exclusive Camp bookstore & pick up popular books & other goodies… and don't forget the lunchtime Resource Expo for even more shopping & learning opportunities.

6. The Activities: From the welcome reception on Friday night to the farewell buffet on Sunday morning, you're going to have your choice of fantastic activities; workshops, banquets, music – even a 5K walk/run for the "ambitious" among you. And perhaps most importantly – you'll get to enjoy amazing "girlfriend time"…the BEST! (Note: widowed men are welcome -- no one will be alone!).

5. The Food: Bring your appetite to San Diego because you're going to be fed a LOT - & it's fantastic! The "light" fare at the welcome reception will blow you away & you'll dine in fine style at the semi-formal "No Date Required" banquet on Saturday night. And if you think you're going to walk / run it off at the 5K on Sunday…don't be fooled; they're going to fill you right back up at the breakfast buffet!

4. The "Attitude Adjustment": Does the name "Camp Widow" bring to mind a lot of people sitting around depressed & crying? You couldn't be more mistaken. You'll be uplifted, inspired & even laughing. PS: If those tears do come, that's OK too – there's always someone nearby to put their arms around you & let you know it's going to be OK.

3. Friends Forever: Feeling a little broken in the spirit department? Welcome to your personal "Spirit Repair". You're going to meet the most remarkable women at Camp & you'll make friends that you'll keep for the rest of your life. You'll exchange pictures, hugs, cards, tears, recipes, laughter & experience bonding unlike any other – because remember, everyone at Camp is exactly like you.

2. Do You Love Surprises?: ALL Widows Wear Stilettos attendees at Camp Widow (who RSVP either on FB's RSVP "Accepted" page OR send an RSVP to are receiving a "surprise" from WWS.


1. Your life will be changed forever in ways you can't imagine. Enough said.

Camp Widow details

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I have been feeling like I live in Brazil. Not the country (is it “third world” or not?), the movie.

We were without electricity for four days due to wild thunderstorms. This, 24 hours after returning from a week away with very spotty internet and phone service. It doesn’t sound so hard (and the weather wasn’t as hot as it might have been) but the scenario started to feel stressful for mellow me by the third day when I realized the power utility had no idea what was going on. When I ran out of towels. Oh, and when all of the adjacent blocks got their power back, all within 48 hours.


The power company has opened a special line for this crisis and to provide “service restoration times.” I call and they say they don’t have a time for my address yet, I should call back that evening.

I call back and they say Thursday at 11:30 pm. Conveniently, a time when the call center is closed.

I am pretty sure they are making this up. No one has even been out to look at the downed tree yet. It is Tuesday afternoon.

Why does it have to get dark so early? It’s hot as summer.

Doing dishes by hand, by candlelight, does seem to get better results than we’ve been getting from our dishwasher. Hey, silver lining.


My daughter asks me when we’re going to have normal breakfast again (toast instead of raw bread, real fruit not raisins, butter). I tell her when the power comes back on, we’ll replace all the food we had to throw out of the refrigerator and freezer. She asks, with a big smile, “Are we poor now?”

I tell her that in this country, even poor people usually have refrigerators. Then I recall the 5 kinds of bottled salad dressing I threw out and regret my callousness. But even in Brazil they have internet access. I tell her, no, this would be much worse if we were poor. But Mommy’s still frustrated.

Our home phone, run off our cable, is down. The cell phone is barely working. Whether it’s always being on low power, or a tower is down, I can’t be sure. I am conserving minutes and charge in case of a real emergency.

My mother calls and complains for 5 minutes that she is confused because she got my cell voice mail when she called our home number.

Everything is winding down, and I’m out of clean underwear.


I am a social media consultant preparing a PowerPoint for a conference and two client proposals and I can’t get on the internet except on my phone. It would be nice to fix that typo in my resume and respond to the edits on my catalog essay, but I can’t get online unless I run to Starbucks. Where I already spent all morning. AFTER drinking room temperature, supersweet bottled Frappuchinos.

I can get a few things done, as long as I spend a lot of time driving place to place for power and wifi, but not enough. My kid is delightful, doesn't mind a bit, except that she is pretty sure that I made it up about the TV. She gets extra playdates and that's fine.


I am getting in touch with the helpless and silent rage that fills me at times. This isn’t like someone is dying right next to me, but the uncertainly, the increasing dread that it will never turn, is suffocating. And the heat’s building up again.


My daughter is learning the complex meaning of the valuable term “room temperature.”


Linesmen from neighboring states are here to work 16-hour shifts to fix it. But there are still trucks patching potholes (why do we need roads if all the businesses are closed?). We hear scuttlebutt that the Governor has offered resources for tree removal and the power company said, No, thank you, we’re fine.


There was chatter on our neighborhood listserv saying that the company listed a fallen tree on our block as the culprit in just 5 outages, when there are at least 50. The power company made it clear they were trying to deal with problems affecting the most customers, first. So I called in to be counted.

The automated system asked me to confirm my address. I haven’t lived at that address for 8 months. I punched through to get a person.
“I’m trying to report an outage but your system is picking up my OLD address.”
“I’ll look that up… which number is yours?”
(I told her)
“And you live at (old address)?”
“No, we moved in November, now we live at (new address).”
“And your number is (old home number)?”
“No, it’s the number I’m calling you from, which your system understood…”
“Oh I see, the problem is that number is listed as your work number.”
“How is that the problem? You shouldn’t have the old address connected with any of my numbers. Work or home, I still moved. Can you change it?”
(click click click)
“Okay, that’s done. Now where is your outage?”
(I give her the new address).
“We already have a report of that outage.”
“They said they want every household to file a separate report so you know how many people are affected.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s already in the system.”
“Would you please make another report or record or whatever? Your online map shows only 5 houses affected and it’s been three days. If someone knew it was really 50 families maybe people would get to it sooner.”
“Oh. All. Right.” She sounded like my exasperated but resigned first-grader.
“Could I please speak to an executive about the confusing orders we’re receiving about whether to call? I’d like to clear up the confusion on my neighborhood listserv. It’s hundreds of your customers chattering about this.”
She might have shuffled some papers. “No one is available right now. Someone will get back to you this evening.”
They never did. Probably called the old number.


On the listserv a neighbor reported: “It seems we may be caught in a loop between the power company and the county. My wife spoke with the power company this morning and they said they can't touch the lines until the county clears the tree. A county employee came by on our street tonight to look at the tree and he said they can't remove the tree until the power company clears the lines.”

Buttle, Tuttle. What difference does it make?


On Wednesday I get an email from the power company telling me it’s best to keep my fridge and freezer door closed because the cold will keep most food okay for 24 to 48 hours. It has been 72 hours.

The email advises us to dispose of meat, dairy, and eggs first and check the USDA web site for details. Eggs don’t actually need to be refrigerated. I ponder using my scarce charge to check USDA.

I don’t know why I’d bother. I’ve already thrown everything out and propped the doors open so it doesn’t get too moldy. The inside of my fridge smells warm and brown, like moss might if you kept it locked up for a while.


I loved that being responsible meant throwing out tons of food. Imagine the rat carnival this will spawn! For the past few weeks our neighborhood listserv has been all about rats, crazy backtalk, energized. Accusations of cheap birdseed and compost piles fly.

We’re too like rats. We like the same things, and they are similarly social and family-oriented. That’s why they’re always around us. People only complain when they see them. If you really want to stop rats, you should stop eating, or at least, stop wasting food. Although rats can live on paper, drywall, and sewage. It’s your damn water feature that attracts them. Rats can’t carry water.

No one is talking about rats any more. A real emergency seems to bring out the best in people without suppressing their charming crankiness.


I fantasize about creating Molotov cocktails out of rotten jars of bleu cheese dressing and lobbing them at the power company’s headquarters.


The power company is expected to announce earnings this week. I’m not feeling much like paying the next bill they send. Listserv’ers suggest calling all the major media outlets but don’t provide the numbers. A newspaper columnist is screeching about his street, too.


Only 10,000 customers still without power. Nine thousand of them are due to one station problem. I start to doubt they will ever get around to our street. Our wonderful street which shoulder-to-shoulder shoveled a path out of 3 feet of snow this past winter. By hand. Maybe the grid is really going down.

The weather report shows more fierce storms headed our way.


There’s an article in the paper about the power company’s social media person, who started full time the morning after the storms. He’s doing okay and has a sense of humor. At least it shows that his bosses believe there will still be an internet in September.


I check my phone constantly for updates. Now there are five trucks on site. One from the power company, four from tree trimming subcontractors. Three hours later the joyous messages begin. A hundred machines washing seven hundred towels start up with happy hums.

I am plugged back in.

It'll be okay.

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Local man rests in peace: Harvey Pekar, grandfather of blogging, dies at 70

He died
. What more is there to say about Harvey Pekar’s death yesterday, at age 70?

You could say that Cleveland has lost its bard, blogging’s grandfather has slipped off, and the muse of diaristic comix artists like Seth, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown had moved off to the happy hunting ground, and you’d capture a little bit of his cultural importance and some of the people he touched. Course, to really do that, you have to include all the people who loved American Splendor, his annual, diaristic comic book drawn by other artists, genius all around, or who saw the major motion picture of the same name, starring Paul Giamatti, which wasn’t terrible. On a bad day, he might argue that you’d also need to include all the veterans whose medical files he handled in his day job at the Cleveland VA hospital, none of whom were aware of his labor on their behalf.

Pekar’s work elevated one man’s ordinary days – “the 99 percent of life that nobody ever writes about” -- to the point of either a story worth listening to (and looking at, using the pens of talented cartoonists from R. Crumb to Josh Neufeld) or possibly a part of history. Books, after all, used to be evidence that you mattered. Now, who knows?

Or you could think of the space this loss leaves for Joyce Brabner, his wife, who he met after she wrote to him looking for a copy of one of his books. She’s one of those, I suppose, who’s grateful there aren’t so many cool independent bookstores like the one I used to run, where I first encountered American Splendor and the cohort of folks my own age who worshipped, but couldn’t entirely “get,” Pekar: we understood his genius but to really respect the voice, I think you have to get beat down a few times by middle-class life, which didn’t happen to most of us till at least our thirties.

R. Crumb called Pekar’s subject matter “so staggeringly mundane it verges on the exotic.” I’ve always loved that intersection of real life and art, the making holy of the ordinary act, the Virgin in the pancake. So Pekar was a big influence on me, though I first identified my adoration of this stream in Fluxus and later, in my own living. The confessional comix, especially by the Canadians who followed in his autobiographical footsteps (though they did their own spectacular drawing), the ordinary heroics and dramatics of people bottled for reality television, the combination of artistry and self-sacrifice and voice exercise that we know as blogging: none of these would be the same without Harvey Pekar, and they all move me.

Pekar was more than all this, and less: a regular cranky middle-aged guy, a pugilistic guest on Letterman, an aficionado of antique Jazz, a writer and speaker and someone who lived among us. I thought of him as a better “Local Man” than the one featured in the Onion headlines: but Local Man was a fiction disgused as something real and boring, and Pekar showed the real and boring as epic and valuable.

Each of his stories was an anticlimax: his work with Brabner, “Our Cancer Year,” served not to inspire Gavin and I through our battle, but to validate that our fight was as ordinary as the year before or after, only with more vomit. It wasn't true for us, but every cancer is different and every person is different: witness still helps you get through.

In the end, he just died. My eulogy: Harvey, we hardly knew ye; rest in peace, old stranger, old friend.

(Photo of Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner at Hallwalls, Buffalo, N.Y. Oct. 4, 1985. Courtesy of Hallwalls' archive. Used under Creative Commons licensing.)

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My Response to the Today Show, Part 2: An Open Letter to Kathie Lee Gifford

(Read part 1 and see a video of the encounter I'm responding to.)

Dear Kathie Lee,

I watched your show on Friday, February 4, and you were laughing an awful lot when that young widow, my friend Brenda, called in. I recognized it, that discomfort, that laugh. See, I’ve been there, and I got stung. Death is way scary, but if it’s happening to someone you love, you – yourself, alone – will yet end up okay.

Now if I were married to Frank Gifford – but of course! I forgot, I can’t be, because you are. But if I were married to a man much older than I – oh wait! I was! But I’m not anymore because – oh yeah, you know what? HE DIED. So if I were a talk show host with a terrific national platform, and an avowed woman of Christ, I might use my pulpit a little differently.

And if I were – still – married to a much older man (Gavin and I had 20 years between us; looks like you and Frank have 23? Correct my math: 1930-1953 = 23, right?) I would probably laugh in a pretty uncomfortable way when the topic is raised, too.

But I wouldn’t be stupid enough to be married to him and reproduce without a solid life insurance portfolio behind me.

Which – I did. Once.

So see, I know what it’s like, and I know how to act at parties. I “get” polite society. I understand that sometimes you might just, oh, pretend, that you don’t know what V!agra is. You don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or anything.

But when someone who’s 25 and who’s lost their helpmeet, their love, their partner, their Christian-married husband, someone without a trace of botox or need for a lotion of any kind, calls in asking for help?

I’d try not to laugh too hard. Because I know it hurts. I know it’s a threat to open your heart. You might actually hear something, and words, they can make magic, they make things happen. If you don’t hear it, he could live forever. (I know he’ll always love you.)

I’m not saying anything will happen. But you said your vows, and you said the old ones, didn’t you: one of you will go while the other one stays. It could easily be you first. But statistically, it’s far more likely that Frank will be the one who goes first.

Hey, don’t look at me. It’s not me who created these rules. I’m not even the messenger. The ancients said death will part us and you both repeated it, willingly, smiling even, I bet. (Gavin and I did.) I’m not wise enough to scribe that in stone for everyone to use every day and mean it.

So if I were you, and I didn’t listen so well the first time, I might try to make amends. I might think about what my giggles were hiding. I might open my ears and my heart. I might talk to others. I’d apologize to Brenda, give the panel of men a good talking to about how women like men who listen and are sensitive, and how widows are the best deal in the dating market, and maybe start listening to some human stories from situations that scare you.

I can’t tell you to lay off the vino. I’m not the one who placed the glass there at 9 a.m. That’s not your fault, and hell, I’m a thirsty girl.

And Kathie Lee, I ain’t saying you need to own the word “widow” yet. Fact is, I saw myself in your nervous tittering, in your dashing to the explanation: “Maybe she’s not really ready to date yet!!!”

And yeah, when I had an older husband, I’d spend the energy ingratiating myself to the younger men sitting next to me, too. I might laugh at their dumb jokes. But I wouldn’t be proud of it.

I’d like you to be prepared better than I was. You won’t be poor, and you won’t have a kid in diapers, or responsibility for his senile mother, so you’ll already be way ahead of me.

But you can do better than you did on Friday. You can listen. You can let that big heart of yours, big enough for loving your man and your family, open to hear the stories of loss AND of loving again that are out there in the world beyond the studio, the people who make you look good and the ones who say "yes" to everything.

What do you think Frank wants? He wants you to be happy. He'd want you to be out there dating again someday, with full respect for the love you two shared. (Wouldn't you want the same for him?) It'll be an act of courage to love again, but we don't compare. We're women of action, we who grieve.

Lady, you've got a platform, and I know you like to work on making the world a better place. Let’s work together to increase understanding for young people living with loss, struggling to raise children alone, and help prepare folks for the death that, if we are human, and if we love God, we know will come for all of us. Tell me what you’d like to do, there’s more than enough work for us all.

C’mon, woman. I know you can do it.


Supa Dupa Fresh
The Freshwidow

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From the Bible to Tila Tequila

Bereaved women have never been pretty. (Hot, maybe, but not easy to look at).

I’ve been hearing these outrageous stories about the public trainwreck that Tila Tequila, the reality TV player (it’s not fair to say “star,” is it?), has become after the death of her fiancĂ©e, storied lost heiress Casey Johnson. (Johnson mixed diabetes with drugs and alcohol, a detail that is shamefully being left out of much coverage. Furthering the idea that something is "wrong" when someone young dies. ~buzzer~ FALSE!)

And Tequila (nee Nguyen)'s behavior has been pretty wild. Sixty tweets. Whoo hoo.

She’s showing off her grief so vividly. And I thought: she’s not that different from others I’ve known. Sorta, actually, like me.

It goes back to ancient days: the Hebrew traditions ask you to rend your garments, beat your breast, and tear at your skin. It’s supposed to hurt. And the skin is nothing when your soul has broken so wide open.

In the Bible, Tamar dresses like a whore after her loss and deceives Judah into fathering her child. Stealing sperm is turning some kind of trick! (What was she wearing?) Who would break all these rules? And why? Only a woman whose pain can’t be spoken loudly enough. And by this strange, horrific act of sluttiness Tamar mothers the race of David and Solomon. (Has anyone in a reality show done anything that freaky?)

In grief, I, too, wanted to look the way I felt. BAD. I wanted the world to see how I felt inside. I could never say it well enough, and no one seemed to hear.

Mourners seek to demonstrate, represent, and manifest these intense feelings. And grief is not just sorrow: we’re plagued by emotions without reason or apparent connection. Laughing hysterically one moment, smashing a favorite vase the next. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to disappear and break along with my world, a few hours later I’d be sure I’d never seen a more beautiful raindrop on a blade of grass.

Widowhood escalates our lives, and widows use their standing to make public statements. As others mourn the one who’s left, we often want to assert our own place in the world, whatever that place is. In grief, we sometimes becomes exhibitionist and often feel extremely sexual.

Tila Tequila is a widowed woman. If she’s different from how many of us would behave (and have!) in the same circumstances, it’s a difference of degree, not of kind.

Attention whore? Trainwreck? Loudmouth? Obsessed with fashion and Twitter? Yes, yes, yes, yes.

But isn’t that who she was before? She’s just more so in grief.

Widowhood is a journey, and she may come out stronger. I have, and so have countless others. Tila Tequila wouldn’t be the first to effect a radical change in her life.

In fact, her story sounds like one of the lives of the early Saints. Many of them were outcasts, pains in the ass, shallow and materialistic. I’m sure there was at least one, er, provocative dresser aside from Mary Magdalene.

So keep your eyes on this girl, she may yet have greatness in her. Try to keep your judgment to yourself if you haven’t been there. Mourners feel so alone, but maybe there's a Heisenberg Principle of Grief: letting Tila Tequila know she is heard, you might change what she does.

If you have lost a partner or a child, what do you think? Do you see any echo of your experiences in Tila Tequila’s behavior?

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