Memorial Day is a day for many of us to remember those who lost their lives in the line of duty. But perhaps for others of us, it’s a day for remembering those we’ve lost, not due to war.
Memorial Day has also become a day of picnics and bbq’s and gathering together to enjoy each others company. This used to bother me. The idea of laughing and having fun on a day intended for remembering those no longer with us, seemed wrong somehow. But over the years and after experiencing several losses personally, I’ve changed my mind completely.
I’ve come to realize that the best way I can honor the memory of someone I’ve lost is to embrace the memory of the whole person as best I can – the good, the bad, and everything in between. If I can do this, then the focus is on that person instead of me and my rules and should’s and shouldn’ts of how to remember (or what it should look like).
Something is freed up inside to simply remember. And sometimes that includes a celebration.
This video is a tribute I did years ago to honor the life and memory of a friend, Zezette Larsen. The song is “Take me to the water” by Nina Simone.
May you remember those you’ve lost this holiday and celebrate in your own way. love robin
I sat slumped over the steering wheel. “What am I afraid of?” I asked myself. The lump in my throat made it hard to swallow. Not being enough, I sighed. My year had already been filled with so much loss. Now, having to face my dear friend’s decline due to advanced Parkinson’s. It was more than I could bare.
“What do I want to give my friend?” I thought next. Climbing out of the car, I resolved to give her my full attention. I simply wanted to be there for her. Nothing else mattered.
Marguerite’s home nurse greeted me at the door, warning me that she was having a particularly bad day. Approaching her room, my anxiety returned. I ignored it.
She lay on her side, eyes closed, even though she was awake. She seemed uncomfortable. Her nurse shared that she was feeling less pain than earlier that day. Her arms, tucked neatly under her pillow, contrasted with her legs. They moved forward and out in random movements from beneath the bedsheets.
I sat beside her placing my hand on the metal bed rail. I stayed like that for some time attempting to tune into her energy and rhythm. Her eyes remained closed while the nurse let her know I was at her bedside. Reaching to move a strand of her chestnut gray hair from her forehead, she opened her eyes and managed a smile.
She asked me how I was and took my hand. There was a long pause before she gestured to her CD player and asked me to play something from Cuba. I put on Celia Cruz, one of her favorite artists. She asked me if I would dance for her. So I did.
I danced the dance of Oshun, (the goddess and archetype of love and the river according to the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria) who provided me with guidance to dance with joy and abundance.
I tried to fill her bedroom space with dance, being mindful to not get carried away by the music on the one hand, but not over-focused on Marguerite, on the other hand. She was part of the dance, not just the audience. I danced large and small – fast and slow – but mindful of staying connected.
Half way through the song, Marguerite asked her nurse to help her sit up. As she did, her toes touched the floor. I pulled up a chair and brought Oshun’s dance between us. Random leg movements became deliberate and under her control as she tapped out the song’s rhythm in perfect time. I joined her foot tapping with my own. The nurse joined too, and tapped the rhythm on her lap. We danced together.
Marguerite returned to bed for some much needed rest. Her eyes – full of life. We hugged goodbye and I promised not to wait so long before returning.
As I drove away, I realized that it’s not whether I believe I’m enough or not enough. It’s in trusting that in focusing on love, the world opens and with it, more courage, more patience, more love. Even in years full of loss.
My story starts a bit over two years ago when I reinserted/forced myself (with the support of a dear friend) into my dad’s life. After several decades of failed attempts and disappointing encounters, I had almost given up.
This time would be different. After showing up at his doorstep, he let me in. We visited for a short while and then I left. I began calling him once monthly. After a few months, a connection developed. Not great, but much better than past decades. Most importantly, I let go of all expectations of what a father should be. …which allowed him to be. (Funny how that works). And, new for me, I didn’t trample myself in the process. In other words, it was an empowered surrender.
We shared a few nice visits together in the next year and a half, in part thanks to my brother, John who insisted we bring Thanksgiving dinner to him in 2014. It’s quite amazing the healing that can happen in the sharing of a single meal. Having that time together was good, but actually wanting to have that time together was the real fulfillment for me…maybe for dad too. I don’t know.
And then one day, I got a call from the sheriff’s office in Northern California. Dad’s body was found in front of his house, shot in the head. He was in critical condition and was being airlifted to the hospital. An hour later, I got a call from the Coroner who told me he had died on the way and that it appeared to be suicide.
It was early afternoon on April the 28th, 2015. I live alone and the fact that it was mid-workday meant that nearby friends and neighbors were not around. But I needed human contact immediately. I went to the corner laundry mat where Lottie the laundry lady, who after numerous chats while doing my laundry over the years, has become a friend. I barely told her what happened when she stopped what she was doing and just hugged me. I went from not breathing to sobbing and gasping for air to a settled calmness while in her arms. She saved me in that moment.
I went back to my apartment and called my brother to tell him. Obviously, extremely difficult for both of us. And though difficult, I also felt a moment of relief that I’d said all I wanted to say to him from the place in my heart I wanted to say it. That is to say, from a place of love.
But the miracle of repercussions from healing a painful relationship doesn’t end here.
A couple of hours after getting the terrible news of my dad, I received a call from a tissue procurement specialist….aka an individual who makes the first call to family members of individuals who’ve just died, with the goal of determining whether the recently deceased loved one qualifies to be a tissue donor. I’ll spare you the details, but will say that the roughly two hour process, spread over the course of three separate phone conversations with four different individuals was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. But I hung in there and remained on the phone, responding to questions as well as I could while at the same time, trying to be present to my own experiencing of acute grief.
The net/net is that my dad’s tissues couldn’t be used because of a time delay with the coroner…so the intake process was for not.
This didn’t work for me. I’ve got a little dictator in my head that’s always saying -“dam it, rob, make something good out of this”. It’s a bugger of a demon, but sometimes its useful. This was one of those times.
I put on my Consultant hat and wrote down all my notes from my experience with the tissue procurement specialist over the phone based on what didn’t work, but also on what did work. It resulted in a three-page spreadsheet with some basic principles. I resolved to reach out (code for: cold call) to any organ/tissue donor organization who’d listen and with whom I could share my experience and feedback. Maybe in a small way, I could make a difference from this tragedy after all.
I called at least 25 different organizations around the country – 3 of which responded, and 1 of which actually made time for a one to one conversation. (These stats are not atypical. Despite the fact that we are supposedly in a “customer – centric” era, most folks don’t actually give their time…that’s what makes the rest of this story even more amazing.)
After an hour-long conversation with Lisa Stocks, the Executive Director of Lifesharing, the donor agency for San Diego, affiliated with UCSD, we both shed some tears. She assured me that my input would be considered in their training. This was my goal: to make a positive difference. What an amazing way to complete the loop of my connection, however troubled, with my dad. To give life through helping to improve communication.
I leapt with joy inside.
Several months later, I received an email from Lisa. She asked me to come speak to her group about my experience. A couple of months later, I did so. And though my speech was quite imperfect (eg., I exploded with emotion just walking into the room with face and eyes red and full of tears), I think I conveyed to those listening, the power (and importance) of being present and being human when you’re on the phone with another human being who is going through what might be the most difficult moment in their life.
That was a couple of months ago, and since then I’ve shifted my coaching/training business from Sales Communication to one focused more on difficult/important communication or situations.
Lisa has since provided me with a wonderful testimonial, which feels good of coarse, but it’s even more fulfilling to know that something useful and hopefully beneficial to others can be the outcome of a really tragic situation.
Tomorrow is my late mothers birthday. In honor of her memory, I’m sharing the post below. I wrote it 2 years ago but feel even closer to the words and their sentiment than before. In fact, I love her more than ever before…
Remembering Mom, Sally Lou Cameron
(9/8/39 – 9/21/07)
“A piece of work” is a euphemism that encompasses a broad range of meaning, including the implication of difficult-ness. But with difficultness can spring, extreme beauty.
Mom was a piece of work. She was difficult and beautiful. If Picasso had painted her (assuming he’d have done it when he was transitioning from Realism to early Cubism), he’d have produced an image – part witch and part child. On the other hand, if Renoir had been her portraitist, the result would have been the soft image of an exquisite female, seated in a park, encircled by small animals and birds, with children on her lap.
Mom was all of this; complete; yet troubled.
A large part of my life experience was shaped by her Witch, her Child, her Goddess.
Today, I remember her with total love: the kind of love that accepts all of a person – their darkness and their light – and rejoices in gratitude for their willingness to let you see them.
She let me see her.
Since her death, I’ve realized that this means holding the love of one who may have done me wrong at times, but on so many more occasions, did me right. And, anyway, who endeavored and who did love me as much and as wholly as she could.