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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

basil from the garden for pesto

Yesterday Steve and I were looking down at a single sheet of paper. His last will and testament dated August 2018. In that year during that month just a few days before that will was completed we had sat in a doctor’s office, the top in his field. He stared intently at a scan of Steve’s brain. He eventually nodded and essentially said I see where it is, it is growing fast so how about we do the surgery early next week.

What followed was this blur of activity as Steve kept us focused on the practical like preparing his office to be without their scientist, contacting financial institutions, filling the fridge, making sure I knew passwords, and of course sharing the news with family and friends. We had been in the process of updating his will and doing my first will anyway. But there was no time to complete that process so the lawyer coached him through what to put on that single sheet and to sign with witnesses present.

As I have told Steve over the years he attracts a strong team and the medical team was strong for the surgery. And they were strong for the unexpected second brain surgery that took place the following year and the subsequent intensive physical therapy. In between the two surgeries my youngest brother died in Virginia. Steve couldn’t travel with me. Following the second surgery my second oldest brother died. Steve determinedly made that trek. He could not do so when my eldest brother died only a few months later of cancer during the midst of the pandemic. Nor could I.

And in the midst of all that we closed on a house just as the pandemic struck. It was one of the most onerous processes I’ve ever been through. We moved ourselves in. The backyard was a demolition area but we managed to use every nook and cranny on the side of the house to grow a garden. Steve had his tomatoes and basil. I had my herbs and flowers. I accidentally hoarded eggs instead of toilet tissue and Steve was able to work in the basement and build us a dining room table. We zoomed zoomed zoomed like everyone else for work and to connect with family and friends. We did make excursions around the neighborhood with me constantly snapping at Steve to pull up his mask. We were cautious but not afraid. In a sense we were resolute … you deal with what comes at you because that’s all you can do.

Before August, nearly three years later, we will have our official wills completed. That’s why we were looking at that older document, to remind ourselves, and to reflect, “Wow. Three years? Is that when this whirlwind journey began?”

The yard that was a demolition project is now a full-fledged garden with different raised beds that Steve built. He has retired, more or less, and now enjoys the ability if not the outright necessity of impromptu midday naps. I was able to remain employed and of late have been given leave to do more writing and historical research. I’m committed to resuming photography and more creative writing, with what extra time I don’t know.

Soon Steve and I will go outside to pick some basil. Pesto will be made along with dinner. He moves a little slower in the kitchen in the evening hours so I will be sous chef and perhaps take some photos for instagram. I’ve had more pesto this year than in all the earlier years of my life. I can’t complain. I don’t think I can complain about much of anything.

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DSCN6154

This past year I read quite a few slave narratives by African Americans who were interviewed in the late 1930s to document their childhood experiences and memories of slavery prior to the Civil War. These people, ranging in age from octogenarians to centenarians, were also asked about their feelings toward the people who had formerly owned them. The wide-range of responses highlight the complex relationships that developed between those who enslaved and those who were enslaved within an institutionalized system of slavery as it existed in the United States for well over two centuries.

The following words that I call Winter into Spring were inspired by one man’s memory of the tough times after the Civil War and his continuing close relationship with the family who had previously owned him. In broken English, he conveyed the depth of his feelings using visual metaphors. He spoke only of his personal experience, but I was moved by something that I felt was universal … how people experience grief whatever its source. And so I took this man’s words, tapped into my own personal experiences and observations of others to draft the following. It may be a work in progress …

 

Winter into Spring

I remember the day, both of their days,

the soil covering them like I no longer could.

What can I say except losing them was like being a tree in the winter wood. 

Understood?

Every cold wind, so sharp, blowed my leaves and tore them loose.

They fell to the ground, crumbling to dust, as if to follow those two,

my master and mistress, into their graves below.

I was in a world so dark I could not see.

Naked and alone. Stripped bare like a tree soon to fall.

Then one day I felt whole.

It was a strange day. What day, do you say?

That day it was like Spring, and it come bringing light!

I could see.

Well I guess you could say that little tree it was me.

You asked me how it felt and now I’ve told you.

When they passed I felt done, but the day did come,

though I still sometimes wonder why,

when I finally felt alive again.

###

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The church was decorated with Easter lilies and pink roses and the entrance to each pew marked by a cluster of lilies. Palms were placed in pew openings and stood at various points to create a natural chapel. Upon the altar more lilies and roses. The war had limited the number of guests in attendance but even so Emmanuel Church on April 21, 1915 was filled with those wishing well the bride and groom, Leslie Hawthorne Lindsey of Boston and Stewart Southam Mason of England.

william lindsey, father of the bride, and daughter leslie lindsey

The bride wore white satin made with rose point lace and garnitures of small clusters of orange blossoms. The flowers held in place a veil of Limerick lace made especially for Miss Lindsey in Ireland the previous year. She carried a bouquet of white orchids and jasmine. Her wedding party wore shades of blue and pink silk, their gowns adorned by rosebuds. The bride maids carried baskets of pink sweet peas.

After the ceremony, there was a reception in the Bay State Road home of the bride’s father, William Lindsey. The bride’s mother now wore blue silk in a shade known as moonlight embroidered with baskets of silver. Flowers prevailed, decorating each room, smilax in the hallway, greenery entwining railings and baskets of roses on the stairs. Bells rung in celebration on both sides of the Atlantic as everyone knew that soon the bride and groom would return to his home in England and all they need do was board the Lusitania.

rms lusitania

rms lusitania

The RMS Lusitania would depart New York for Liverpool on May 1, 1915. On May 7, it would be torpedoes and sunk by a German U-boat. At least 1, 198 passengers and crew would die, including newlyweds Leslie Lindsey and Stewart Mason.  When the body of Leslie was returned to her father she wore the jewels that her father had given her.

A heartbroken father would do several things over the years in memory of his lovely daughter, one of which was to buy a piece of property adjacent to that of Emmanuel Church in 1919.  A chapel would be built. Begun in 1920, the structure would be finished in 1924.

The chapel was designed by the architectural firm Allen & Collins. John Ninian Comper (1864-1960) designed the chapel’s decorative scheme from the altar to the chapel’s signature stained glass windows. Sadly, William Lindsey did not see the finished chapel. His youngest daughter shared memories of seeing her father sitting across the street watching the building’s construction and knowing he would not live to see it completed.

Sources and Further Reading

History of Lindsey Chapel on Emmanuel Church website

Boston Evening Transcript, April 21, 1915

John Ninian Comper

Emmanuel Church building information

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Words taken from  Wordless: Writer’s Block and Grief, a beautiful essay out today by writer Lorraine Berry in Talking Writing Magazine.  As the title suggests, it is about a writer dealing with grief.  It is a moving piece that I hope you have a chance to read. It was startling to read of black birds in the first paragraph of her essay.  Birds of that dark shade have been on my mind of late though none did I see on a recent walk through the Fells. A friend faraway, who is dealing with grief, had mentioned as part of a larger conversation of seeing blackbirds outside of his house.  And though I was not close enough to hug him as he might have liked, we did spend a while talking about the wings of the bird and how they glistened iridescent in the sun.  Mostly on my walk through the Fells, I saw leaves. 😉

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Via this link you can read English professor Hank Kellner’s latest article on Using Poems and Photos to Inspire Writing, an article that incorporates my poem, The Color of Sadness.  Throughout our lives, if we’re lucky, teachers guide us.  English teachers have been very important in my life.  That is why I am so honored to have met Hank who is so dedicated to helping other teachers inspire their students to write.  He enables teachers to help their students view a photo or a poem as a launching point.  He has certainly helped me view my own writing with new eyes.  I wrote the Color of Sadness as an expression of lingering grief over the loss of my parents.  I have watched him turn it into a teaching tool.  What an amazing world.  😉

 

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