Tag Archives: grief

What Will Happen To Me?

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What will happen to me?

           My father often asked this question. Like answering a child who wonders where babies come from, I gave the simplest answer. I knew that money had been a concern of my father’s for as long as I could remember, so I summarized his financial position and told him he did not need to worry. I even went so far as to write out a statement of his monthly income and expenses for him to carry in his breast pocket. For a while, that was enough.

After a time, his question what will happen to me took on a different tenor. He wanted to know how he would die and how he would be cared for. He was the man who had figured out how to load a battle ship (put in last the things you need first). He thought in scenarios. What was the plan, he wanted to know. But this wasn’t a briefing. He was asking me, his daughter, to acknowledge his death and dying. How to even talk about it? Did he want reassurance – don’t worry, Dad, we’ll take care of you – or did he want a contingency plan? Should I use the word “death” or something sanitized: when the time comes? Did we really have to talk about this? I told him the truth: that I didn’t know what would happen. He could have “the big one” and die suddenly, felled by the heart disease that had plagued him since he was forty-six. He could fall and have to go to the hospital, in which case we would get him home to my house as quickly as possible. Or he could slowly lose ground, in which case he would be at my house with hospice. Whatever happens, Dad, we will work to get you home and you will not be alone. And for a while, that was enough.

He was thinking about his death. But he did not seem frightened. As hard as it was for him to lose my mother, first to dementia and then to lung cancer, he did not rail against the heavens. I asked if he believed in God. He said he wished he could. But he was angry, angry that my mother had feared her own death – a woman who had been devoutly religious, a mother who had been sustained by her faith when her little girl was taken from her by leukemia. He placed the blame on God. If there was a God, how could he let her be afraid, he asked. The Just God was unjust. Then he said, “I hope it doesn’t shock you but I look forward to being with your mother again.” So you believe in the afterlife, I asked him. He replied, “What’s the alternative?”

Six months before he died, he had stopped asking what would happen to him and started predicting his own death. On a visit in July, my brother Bruce called, choked up; hearing our father talk about dying unhinged him, he said. Initially Dad’s phrasing was playful: “I don’t have long before the big jump.” He made it sound like an adventure. He was plummeting to earth.

It was summer then, when the trees drooped from the heat that pressed down from relentlessly blue skies. In better days we would have walked in a lazy serpentine from one circle of shade to the next. Dad would have summoned his breath to recite a passage from The Ancient Mariner, intoning in his best imitation of Richard Burton, “Alone, alone, all, all alone,/ Alone on a wide wide sea!/ And never a saint took pity on/ My soul in agony.”

Instead I watched him pant in his chair, his lungs crunching inward at the end of each exhalation. He interrupted his sentences to breathe. For a while he said I don’t think I can pull through this. Finally he began to say I’m not long for this world.

I didn’t want to believe him. I even found a word for people like him, people who survive long past every prediction, people who teeter on the precipice time and time again, but always pull back from the edge. People like my father are called “biologically tenacious.” On the day that hospice came to evaluate my father, my son told me that he didn’t think Papa could die, would die within six months, as the nurse had to conclude for my father to be admitted in the program. My son was angry at the hospice nurse for her matter-of-fact statement about Dad’s prognosis.

My friend Jim wrote me: “Remember, the descent is like going down stairs.  Sometimes one by one, and sometimes several at a time.  Nothing you can do about this but be present and loving.  His spirit is trying to discard his human body so it can move forward.”

I wrote this prayer:

Help me, God, to be fully present

Help me to feel calm so that I can calm my father

Help me to radiate so much love that it warms him

Help me to support the others who love him on this awful journey

Help me to understand

Help me to love

Help me

I knew I had to say goodbye, to say the words that might help release him. I told him my brothers and I would be okay, that he had raised us well. That we would do the best that we could to help him be comfortable. I told him I wished I could make it easier. He told me he was proud of me.

On New Year’s Eve, when we watched the festivities on television, we did not know he had only twelve days left. He turned to me and said, “In my next life I’m going to come back for you.”

 

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Happy Birthday, Mom

Eileen D. Campbell and Henry S. Campbell, 1941

My mother would have been 97 today. I’m sitting at the laptop in my office in front of a wall cluttered with pictures, my son’s and daughter’s art projects, and Mary Oliver’s poem that ends, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” I’m here because I need to start working on my writing assignment to “follow the image”: see something or remember something and trace its association back to wherever memory takes me.

My mother’s clothes float into my mind. (Why my mother’s clothes?) She was partial to wool and crisp cotton, blouses paired with pleated skirts and sharp jackets. Her style was tailored, classic, unfussy. Chanel style without the Chanel. Her favorite color, red, was emblematic of her personality. Red, the color of berries and lipstick and blood.

In my parents’ courtship story, her attire is a factor in my father’s first impression, “Then this vision entered the room dressed to the nines.” She was never a woman to be taken lightly, and her clothes said as much. So did her shoes. Though she never talked about clothes (other than the trouble she got in for intentionally ruining a classmate’s leather coat by slipping Limburger cheese in its pocket), her selection as an I. Magnin shoe model in college was offered as evidence of her superior calves and ankles. When my grandfather met my mother, he reportedly said, “Son, a pretty face will fade away but a good pair of legs is a joy forever.”

Two “nevers” as I describe her. Funny that I find it easier to describe my mother in terms of what she wasn’t rather than what she was: not the slightest bit kittenish, not shy, not retiring, not patient, not passive.

I know a lot about what drove my mother: only child of older parents, self-described Tomboy, hero worshipper of her pugnacious attorney father whom she lost in her 20s, treasured lap child of a grandmother she adored (whose one-size-fits-all medical remedy was to “make up your mind and throw it off by morning”). I know what made her mad (almost everything I did). I know what she believed (in God but not virgin birth). I know what she thought (she told me). But I know almost nothing about her longings, fears, worries, hurts, regrets. Her vulnerabilities.

Why are my mother’s clothes on my mind, today? Clothes make the woman. Though she adapted to fashion trends throughout the years (hostess dresses being among the least attractive on a short full-figured woman), she knew what suited her hourglass shape. Having been told by her father that there would be no “female barrister” in the family, she focused on the domestic front, becoming the best officer’s wife and mother that she could imagine, performing her duties with ferocious commitment. Image came with the territory. She may not have stopped conversation when she arrived for P.E.O., the Altar Guild, or a bridge luncheon but her outfits always elicited appreciative murmurings.

I remember surreptitiously inspecting her closet during the later years of her life, looking for signs of stains.

I first noticed that something was wrong with her in 1991, when my daughter was four and I was pregnant. We had gathered my husband’s family and my parents for Thanksgiving. I had planned to have Maddie sit by my mother at the makeshift long table, but Maddie refused. Maddie was adamant about sitting next to me. My mother was so hurt by the rejection that she cried. She cried. A snit, a retort, or a cold shoulder: these were reactions I would have recognized. For my mother to feel snubbed by a child was inconceivable as she approached her fiftieth year of marriage and nearly as many years of child-rearing. By that spring, when I came home from the hospital less than twenty-four hours after childbirth, I knew something was seriously amiss. Mom had arrived at my home and promised to take care of the house and me so that I could take care of my newborn. As her mother had done for her. When I entered the house around 6 p.m. and laid down on the couch, Tommy sleeping on my chest, she appeared over the couch and asked, “What did you have planned for dinner?” I was stunned.

I hurt for my mother, my proud mother, when her clothes fell short of her meticulous standard. This was the woman my father found crying, trying to sew a button back on, aware that she had forgotten how, she, the woman who knew not only how to sew but to tailor. So I took to sneaking into her room while she stood at the kitchen counter smoking and staring into space. “I’ll just throw a few of your things in with mine,” I told her.

If she was surprised, she didn’t show it. She invented stories to explain the new routines in the household. “Your father seems to have developed an interest in cooking,” she told me. Dad, like me, had slipped in.

That was awful, Mom, worse than the lung cancer I feared would kill you, did kill you. You saved the letter I wrote in third grade imploring you to quit smoking. It read, “If you die my spirit and soul will die.” Watching you slip away – proud, funny, bold, hot-tempered, outspoken, opinionated, organized, independent, competitive, dedicated, passionate you – was torture. You, the real you, the you before dementia stole your mind, did not just visit this world. You made of your life “something particular, and real.”

For the complete text of Mary Oliver’s poem, click here:

 

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The Brown Box

brown kleenex box

To the casual observer, the tissue box looks worn, two out of four corners ripped, one side caved in, another mangled. Some Kleenex executive must have returned from Italy enthused about marbleized paper and decided that a little European flair was just what the product line needed. Some minion then dutifully produced a facsimile in a repeating pattern to decorate the cardboard before it was cut, scored, folded and glued into the shape of a box. The result is the brown box before me.

The design of the packaging is not important here. The brown is. Brown was my father’s favorite color, so I bought brown Kleenex boxes.

After dressing and emerging from his room at precisely 8 a.m. each morning (the hour he determined he would be less underfoot), my father pushed his walker to the side of my kitchen table and pressed firmly down on the handles that secured the brakes. He then crab-walked his hands along the edge of the table, moving carefully so as not to fall, and lowered himself into place on the far side. I rose from my chair nearby and surrendered the New York Times, reassembling it for him so that it appeared fresh from the porch. He offered to pour his own coffee, as he did every day. By then I was walking to the coffee maker, as I did every day. It was our little dance of manners; he would offer and I would decline. Coffee with room for milk, doctored with two blue packets of sweetener.

It was time for Kleenex. Every morning, while I prepared his coffee, my father prepared Kleenex with the precision of a Marine Corps drill detail. “Snap and pop” they call it. Dad had the snap but had lost the pop. In slow motion, he carefully withdrew one double-ply sheet of Kleenex (he insisted on double-ply) and laid it on the table, aligning it with the table seam that bisected the oval surface. A second sheet was pulled out. He then delicately lowered the second sheet onto the first, taking a moment to make sure the lower corners matched before allowing the top sheet to drift onto its mate. With impressive dexterity, he picked up the entire construction by pinching the top two corners between his index fingers and thumbs, this despite the loss of one top digit to a lawn mower years before. He raised the two double-ply sheets to eye level and inspected them to make sure that the creases lined up exactly. Then he folded the top half over the bottom, and reduced it to pocket size by doubling it again. When he blew his nose (damn post nasal drip, he would say), this improved Kleenex would provide a reassuring eight sturdy layers of absorbency. He supplied his left breast pocket with two such packets, and his left trouser pocket with two more.

The day could begin.

The prospect of running short on Kleenex was a constant source of anxiety for my father. He not only stocked his pockets, but tucked folded tissues under his bed pillows and stuffed them along the seam of his recliner. Every room that he entered was supplied with a large box. When a box in the bedroom, bathroom or kitchen reached the half-way mark, he asked me to buy more.

“How could we possibly need Kleenex again,” my husband asked as he prepared for a Costco run at one point. “I just bought it two weeks ago.”

My husband didn’t realize that, every night, Dad unloaded his pockets into his dresser drawer. Along with his glasses (kept in a plastic sleeve with his Col., USMC Ret., business card taped to the top), my father’s pockets disgorged his hoard: the small vial of nitroglycerin, travel sized dental floss, his wallet. But mostly, his pockets were a storehouse for wads of crumpled up tissue that would cover more than a square foot space with a two-inch high pile.

When I saw the brown Kleenex box with the tattered corners shoved in the back of a bathroom cupboard, I recognized it. It’s the last of the supply we laid in for my father.

These days, I buy tissue rarely, and when I do, I gravitate toward boxes with delicate patterns in light colors – peach, blush pink, pale yellow. But when I turn them over, I see that the saccharine message, written by some copywriter, remains the same: “With the perfect balance of softness and strength, each tissue soothes your sniffles, sneezes and tears and leaves your spirits uplifted.”

It’s hard to feel moved by tissues. They’re just absorbent paper in tasteless boxes. But this box, this ugly brown box, is a relic of everyday mornings in a sunny chair with coffee, the paper and Dad.

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“I Pray to Float”

momfigure

Only two young children were brave enough to join Rev. Mary when she asked for help with the sermon this morning. They shyly approached the front of the church where Mary awaited with pens and index cards.

Staying engaged in the liturgy had been a struggle. I kept turning over and over in my head a comment that really bothered me. At a recent memorial service in the same Episcopal church, a visitor — someone I know well — remarked that they really hated canned prayers. “In our church, we think you should just talk straight to the Big Guy,” she said to me. “There shouldn’t be anyone between you and God.”

As I sat in church, surrounded mostly by gray haired people, reciting prayers together and warbling through nineteenth century tunes with eighteenth century lyrics, I could see how it would seem foreign, formal, maybe even forced to someone who gravitates toward a Big Box evangelical church.

But I found it welcoming and comforting, like being held in my mother’s arms.

For once upon a time, I did lean against my mother’s ample breast as she added her voice to the church choir. I, too, was a little shy. I disliked church school, which my brother dutifully attended during the grown up part of the service. Rather than sit alone, I joined my mother in the choir, and sang along as best I could.

I was also thinking about Memorial Day. Last year, I remember a man rose during the service and paid homage to a friend of his who fell in battle, long, long ago, when they were both young men. “I will never forget,” he said.

As the children stared up at Rev. Mary this morning, she explained that she would give them index cards and some pens to write a prayer. Their prayer would be read during the Prayers of the People, which came next. They were asked to give the cards and pens they didn’t need to someone in the congregation.

With trepidation, little Carrie began walking down the aisle. Mary said, “Just close your eyes and give it to someone.” Her blue sparkly shoes advanced methodically, first the right heel, then the toe, then the left heel, and the toe.

“Pssssst,” I whispered to her. “Psssst.” Her eyes still closed, she inched in my direction. At last she opened them and handed me a card.

On it, accompanied by hand-drawn symbols, I wrote this message: “For love and healing for those who served (and serve), and those who waited (and wait). May their hearts find peace.”

Ripples extend each time someone dies. They flatten in widening circles with time and distance. But the ripples remain even when they move beyond our sight.

Church for me is a time of communion. I’m not referring to the gathering of a supportive Christian community (though it is that), or the sharing of the sacrament that we call communion.

Church is a place where I feel close to my parents, and my mother in particular, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Episcopalian. It is a place that lives out of time, a place between this world and whatever follows it.

Poet David Whyte recently published this line:

“Beauty especially occurs in the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur.”

When it came time for the Prayers of the People, Rev. Mary read what little Carrie had written, her heart’s longing:

“I pray to float.”

This morning, I floated — thinking of those who have died, praying for those who remain, and held by the familiarity of a liturgy that is embedded in my bones.

(I wrote about my father’s service during WWII last year in this post and about my mother’s role holding down the homefront in this one.)

 

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The Beach

Santa Cruz

The ocean doesn’t factor much in my memories. If anything, it was a trickster. When I was a child in Hawaii, it would lull me with its disarmingly benign surface, warm and inviting, only to upend me with a sudden swell that turned my world upside down. I emerged gasping and chastened, salt water filling my throat and churning in my stomach. When we crossed the ocean, I looked out from our ocean liner in fear, aware that our vessel was no more than flotsam in the unending sea that stretched from one vista to the other.

This is different.

We spent New Year’s eve and morning with two families we have known since we were young invincibles. Before kids. Back then we sat in tight huddles (the women), punched each other’s shoulders (the men), sat on laps (the couples), drank too much and stayed up late. The talk was salty, silly and sometimes serious. If we talked of the past, it was about our childhoods, our relationships with our siblings, mothers and fathers. If we talked of the future, it drifted toward where we would travel, the possibility of jobs and whether our children would like one another. Through years of three-day weekends spent together, one belly after another swelled with pregnancy. We carried the future in front of us.

Three girls and three boys we had between us. For a time, when the kids were small enough to curl up in sleeping bags on the floor, we crammed into a house together. A house on the beach. We hiked through the cut in the dunes down to the blustery shore where the kids would run up and down, chased by the waves, laughing. I see us adults clustered on the shore, bathed in orange light, watching contentedly. At night, the children dropped into exhausted sleep to adult chatter punctuated with regular bursts of laughter.

Pulled by the demands of jobs and families, we reformed in occasional twos and fours — girls’ weekends, and less often, guys’ weekends. Dinner with two families. Our gatherings became more infrequent.

We planned to gather on December 22 for a long-anticipated reunion, all twelve of us, at the instigation of our young adult children. But instead of twelve, we were eleven. Debbie — Debbie the Loyal, Debbie the Connector, Debbie the Loving — Debbie was suddenly and irrevocably gone forever. A hole had been punched in our universe.

We gathered again on New Year’s Eve in Santa Cruz. Eleven, not twelve. As we walked on the beach, listened to our kids riffing on guitar, poured the wine, gathered over dinner, played a raunchy game, and finally watched 2013 turn into 2014, I kept thinking, “Debbie would have loved this.”

And this: “Where two or three are gathered in my name.” Jesus understood the power of community as a way to bring Him present.

When we gather, I do not feel a void where Debbie should be. I feel her presence. But I ache that she is just beyond my reach, beyond the thin veil that separates her world from ours, that I cannot tell her how much I love her and miss her.

It is our last full day at the beach. My children, now grown, are sleeping downstairs. The ocean laps nearby, seagulls cry and sea lions bark. Of all of us, Debbie loved the beach. I think of this as where Debbie lives now, watching the surfers stream like otters toward the horizon where the swells are biggest, grinning at the children who delight in their wet sand creations, turning to me with love. She is smiling at all of us.

I look for the words that fail me, and find this:

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter
Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.
 
From “On the Beach at Night” by Walt Whitman

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The Year-Agos

Figgy Pudding 2012

I started writing this post yesterday, and then I received an email from my brother Bruce about how he was brought up short when he reviewed his holiday card database and realized he would not be sending a card to Dad this year.

Little static-electricity jolts triggered by seemingly meaningless moments constantly zap you the first year after losing someone. Last year, addressing holiday cards was a necessary but unremarkable task. This year, it’s a reminder.

A year ago Friday night, December 6, I dined with two girlfriends friends in Seattle and strolled the Figgy Pudding outdoor caroling event snugly bundled up in matching winter white hats, mufflers and gloves. I felt full of holiday spirit, braced by the cold air, a little buzzed from the cocktails we shared over dinner. I never suspected that Dad’s decline had already begun.

My brother Scott, who was caring for Dad at my house, called the next morning to say that Dad was unable to urinate and in extreme pain. What should he do? At the doctor’s urging, he took Dad to urgent care where they removed over one liter of urine.

When I returned to Sacramento that afternoon, Dad was significantly weaker. He’d had a recent bout of extreme shortness of breath and then pulled a muscle. With the bladder problem, there was no question of him returning back to his assisted living community. By Tuesday, he was in extreme pain again, unable to urinate. He was sent home from the ER with a catheter that we hoped would come out after a week.

I was frantic. The catheter gave him a sensation that felt like urinary urgency, so he tried to rise every 15 minutes or so. If he was not watched at night, he would attempt to get up for the bathroom and fall. 

Ten days later, he stopped being able to walk.

My world had transformed from light to dark. From an evening lit by sparkling decorations, cheeks blushing pink from the cold, lilting carols soaring in harmony, I sat by my father’s bedside, worrying.

Instead of making me sad, that turning point reminds me that a year ago, Dad was still here. A year ago, I had every reason to expect he would recover from this latest health setback. A year ago, I knew Dad would feel better when the winter lifted and spring bloomed again.

Today I leave Seattle, headed for home again. The house is already decorated. Dad’s room will be orderly and quiet. When I walk in the house, I will remember that it was the beginning of Dad’s final decline. The hard part is over. He is worth remembering, worth loving and worth every moment spent comforting him.

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An Address Served by Prayer

Eileen's angel

Yesterday’s email carried this message from my brother, Bruce. I know just how he feels:

I finally started my holiday preps by digging out the Christmas cards and printing out my Christmas database lists. As I begin the task, I am suddenly brought up short by Dad’s name and his address at the Chateau. After Mom died, I always sent him a card to help him keep the holiday spirit, and I continued that after he moved to Sacramento. I always sent the card to him at the Chateau, and sent his gift to him care of Betsy.

Seeing his name reminded me of this annual rite, and forced me to acknowledge once again that he has moved on, to an address served only by prayer. Momentarily, I felt guilty about deleting the entry, as though he would be dying once again, taken aback. I thought about leaving it alone. Then I felt his presence in my heart and knew he would want me to move on, and remember him in the uplands of heaven.

In the end, I deleted the entry, along with the one in my cell phone. Merry Christmas, Dad, and thanks for raising an optimist.

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Gratuituous Grace On Thanksgiving

candle

Eighteen days ago, one of my oldest friends was suddenly ripped away from all of us who love her. Five days later, her husband asked me contact a couple of her friends, friends that dated back to our college days. He closed our phone conversation with, “I love you.”

That wasn’t something he normally would have said to me. But a terrible loss like this one is a reminder of how dear people are to us, and how quickly things can change. We are shaken by the shoulders and reminded to notice things that hover just beyond our attention, people for whom we are grateful. Now.

I’ve been re-reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this week. Yesterday I recorded this quote, “Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, I look around me and see so much beauty. I see you, husband, my personal Mighty Mouse who continually saves (my) day by being so utterly reliable and unfailingly loving and who puts up with my Gemini self. I see you, daughter, not only for your talent, but your wisdom in being able to sense when people are going through difficult periods and your ability to be ready to support them even when they are not yet ready to accept help or support. I see you, son, your burgeoning talents, authenticity, sense of wonder and openness to all kinds of people.

I see you brothers, through our differences, for the loving, honorable and enduring presence that you are in my life. I see you, beloved nieces, nephews, and even great nephews, for the light in your eyes when we meet, which is nowhere near as often as I would wish. I see you, in-laws, for the umbrella of security and acceptance that you have created for my family, and for me. I see you, family who are more than family, Lynn, Louise and Mary, who always seem to reach out at just the right moment.

And I see you, friends. I’ve talked most about my female friends, who have been my pillars, but my guy friends have always been stalwart supports in my life. I see you, Howie, Bill, Pete, Jim and Mario.

And, yes, you female friends who always stand by: Ellen, Sandy, Lisa, Tammy, Cheryl, Collette, Wendi, Tracy, Sharon, Debbie O, Linda, Nancy, Judee, “Babes” (you know who you are) and probably more who I have inadvertently left off.

There is one name missing from that inventory of people I hold dear today, one who is gone from this world but smiling from the next. It is you, Deb, who is reminding me from afar to pay attention. I did not hold you close as I could have — should have — in recent years. Sure, I have decent excuses, but none of them seem good enough right now. I list you last, but not least.

Dillard wrote:

“Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous… (B)eauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

I am trying to be there and notice you all, you who I love.

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Insomnia

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 4.29.34 AM

I might as well get up.

The last few nights I’ve awakened around 3 a.m., my thoughts flying to my friend who died suddenly on November 8 at 57 years old.

I recognize this, this peculiar alarm clock that rings in the deep night to remind me that something is wrong.

In the days after my mother died in 1999, and my Dad died this past January, I awakened with a racing heartbeat, momentarily panicked, feeling that there was something I should do. This is different.

I awoke with her face floating gently in front of me, smiling. My awareness grew to include the percussion of the long-awaited rain tapping lightly and steadily in the metal gutter just outside my bedroom window. Rain reminds me of home.

In my adolescence in Tacoma, rain was often the last sound I heard before dropping into dreams and the first when I awakened. It surrounded me, drops splashing on the rear concrete patio to my left and rivulets sluicing off the sloped path behind me at window height, inches from my headboard. Periodically the white noise of the mammoth furnace would overtake it, but even that was a comforting sound. Above me, I heard the occasional creak of my father’s bedsprings as he adjusted his position in sleep.

The cat is concerned, padding over the papers on my desk to approach me at keyboard height, his tawny eyes observant. When I lean forward, he abrades my face with his rough tongue, scouring me with affection. I pick him up for the moment he will tolerate being cradled in my arms, and he purrs. For him to turn on his motor is a rarity, a sign of affection he seldom confers.

I don’t know what I’m doing up either. I know if I post this that friends will worry how I’m handling my friend’s loss, but to awaken and think of her is not a sign of distress. It’s more like communing with someone dear, someone worth missing.

Here comes the rain again. Shakespeare springs to mind,

“The quality of mercy is not strained./It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

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Fall Colors

Ruston Way Tacoma October 25 2013

When I walked the cement pathway along Ruston Way here one year ago, my eyes traveled to the carpet of sodden leaves at my feet. The heavy rain of the past few days had stopped and between the clusters of flattened leaves the sidewalk had dried to tan.

Occasionally, I glanced at the sky: blue, finally, with misty suggestions of clouds scudding by in the upper atmosphere.

I moved at a slower pace, as if I was a worm, with a worm’s stature and a worm’s eye view, pulled toward the earth. The black tips of my boots plodded forward, cautiously advancing. In my pocket, my phone felt heavy. I was conscious of its weight, knowing that it could at any moment summon me for the latest crisis. I was sick of my phone.

As I neared the hotel, a patch of crimson and orange leaves had begun to dry, enough for a breeze to shift a few a matter of inches. Everywhere else, the leaves left shadows when they moved: solid charcoal shapes. But here, in this one patch, the leaves transferred their pigment and the architecture of their veins onto the pavement below.

Crouching, I began to turn leaves over, investigating which left wet shadows and which left inky stains. I felt like grief and fear and anger had been pressed on to me leaving ridges and bruises so that anyone walking by could see them.

What a difference a year makes. Though fog blocked the sun and the leaves were moist, I didn’t see any that had bled on to the sidewalk. They were just leaves, wet leaves on a Tacoma pathway, ubiquitous. It was the canopy of colors that drew my attention today, burning red as the chlorophyll waned and warm colors, secreted within, emerged.

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