Posts Tagged ‘Death’

For some odd reason, Sweetie and my visits to California often seem to coincide with funerals. Most of the time we don’t plan it that way. Long long ago I once flew back to California just to attend a funeral. I hate to say I couldn’t afford to do that these days. But. I don’t think I can afford to do that these days unless I really need to.

A year ago Sweetie and I were able to attend his mom’s cousin’s funeral. We were here in July when we learned that a good friend of his family had died and attended that funeral with his mom, sister and (our new) bro-in-law. I was able to attend another aunt’s funeral – was it two years ago…. or last year?? Wow, I can’t remember. I also attended the funeral of one of my dad’s best friends while visiting California.

Big Sis, Mom and I just attended a funeral yesterday. We learned that my last aunt on my father’s side died. For Big Sis and me, all of our aunts and uncles are now gone on my dad’s side of the family. For our cousins, our mom is the only Auntie left. I stood next to my cousin C. yesterday and asked her – Do you realize that, other than mom, we are now the “elder” generation? She told me that, yes – she had actually thought of that herself. What a generation shift! It doesn’t seem that long ago that Big Sis and I were running through my eldest aunt’s house at Christmas, chasing our cousins’ kids and waiting for that perfect present from Uncle H. Now, one of my cousins is a grandfather and another one just sent his son off for his second year of college. My father’s parents had six children. Out of those six came only seven grandchildren. I am the youngest of the seven and haven’t even had my own kids yet, for heaven’s sake! But here we are. The next line of the family. Six of us were at the funeral yesterday. Somehow we seem to keep meeting up at funerals. We hug and catch up on new jobs, retirements, vacation, kids, grandkids, and surgeries.

There are few people I know who would say they enjoy attending funerals. However, given the death of a family member or good friend, I am glad for the times when I can pay my respects in person. Many people would say that funerals are not so much for the dead as for the living. I think it’s true to the extent that a lot of people need that odd ceremony to feel like they have said “goodbye.” For me, I needed my dad’s funeral to tell people a little about his life. And to thank those who came for being in his life. No, I don’t like funerals. But I value them. I’m not sure why I seem to time my trips with them, but I think I appreciate the cosmic calendar that allows me to attend as many as I can.

Now, if I could just avoid another one for a long stretch of time, I’d be happy.

By the way, Father Damien was canonized in Rome today. Kind of a big deal in Hawai’i.


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Sweetie and I watched the movie “Into the Wild” a little bit ago.  It got me thinking about a lot of things.  Then, someone commented on an old blog of mine, and it stirred up the thoughts even more.  I wrote this observation:

“I think some people want to be understood. In that case, they may need a good, non-judgmental ear. I have found, in my life, once I stopped focusing so hard on myself and feeling so isolated and incomprehensible, it was ok to let people understand who I really am.”

I felt I wanted to follow up my own thoughts on the movie and expound on these thoughts.  I’m trying to write without rambling for 26 pages.  Let’s see if I can do it.

Spoiler Alert:

If you want to see the movie and want no spoilers whatsoever, you should stop reading.  I don’t think I can write what I want to write without talking about important parts of the movie.  Consider this your spoiler alert.

Basically, this kid leaves home to wander the country for a couple of years with little to no money.  He lives off of odd jobs, the kindness of strangers, and (in the wilds of Alaska) off his own hunting and gathering skills.  This is what the IMDB summary says:

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

That sounded intriguing to me.  Of course, that is not the full story.  What you learn while watching the movie is – –  he was estranged from his family and never told them where he was during his travels. He lied to the people he met about his identity and his background.  And ultimately (end-of-movie spoiler here), he dies in the wilderness in Alaska.  Unknown and disputed is how exactly he died – did he eat a poisonous plant or just starve to death?  Also unknown were his motivations at the end – did he go to Alaska to die purposefully, or was he really ready to go back home/into civilization?  How bad was his upbringing?  Don’t know.

This is not a commentary on this kid’s life.  There has been a lot of comments made about his own motivations and behavior.  Was he selfish? Was he arrogant?  I don’t know.  I just watched a movie.  I didn’t know the kid.  What I am commenting on are very universal human behaviors that this movie made me think about. 

I started thinking about things like emotional pain, self-absorption, truth, alienation, and communication.  And I thought of a couple of universal behaviors:

People don’t see what they don’t want to see. 


Too often, people tragically become what they dislike.

This kid said he was looking for truth.  Truth was the highest ideal, the most important thing to him.  His parents had lied to him and that was bad.   But, apparently, truth is all relative.  He wanted truth because his father lied to him.  But what does he do?  He lies.  He lies about his name.  About his family.  About why he ran away from home.  He met people along the way who cared about him and felt somewhat responsible for him (by helping him out).  And he lied to them.  But he never seemed to realize that one particular truth about himself. Or maybe, he saw things in such degrees of gray that his lies were ok. 

His parents inflicted emotional harm on him.  The film never shows him being physically beaten, so let’s just stick with emotional harm.  Which, as most of us know can be as, or more damaging, than physical.  I had a friend who was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as an adult due to the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child, and it wasn’t physical abuse.  The wounds of the psyche take a long time to heal.  You would think that the children of abusers would be the last people on earth who would abuse another.  But, sadly, human experience shows this is not true.  Some learn to equate abuse with love and, in some warped sense of logic, abuse their own children.  This kid inflicted all sorts of emotional pain on the people around him in the name of “truth.”  Was he being true to himself?  Yes.  But, did he even take the time to acknowledge other people’s pain?  No.  And that is what bugged me.  He didn’t have to stay in Slab City with Jan and Rainey.  He didn’t have to agree to be adopted by Franz  (especially since his parents were still quite alive).  But he didn’t even look hard enough to recognize the pain that his actions caused on these people.  To say “I’m sorry I have to do this for myself, but I do care for you.”  Maybe he did in real life.  But again, I think this behavior is universal.  I was thinking, after I watched, this is universal in young people who are so tuned into their own selves.

He didn’t listen well enough to recognize the pain that Jan was sharing with him about her own son.  I don’t think she was trying to use Chris as a surrogate for her own son.  But, as a young kid who was doing the same thing, would it have killed him to say one encouraging thing to her?  And would it have destroyed him if he had shared his own tale of pain and abuse with others?  Did he just like giving the impression that he was a Zen-like, totally together, relaxed dude to other people? I don’t think so.  I think he honestly felt like his pain was too great and too embarrassing to share.  Though I don’t understand how, in the year 1992, being an illegitimate offspring can be that devastating.  Hello?  Was it 1882?  No.  It was 1992.  Not a nice thing to find out, but not something that would destroy your future in this country.

And that leads to the other universal behavior this kid displayed:

Self-absorption is a black hole

Ultimately, self-absorption can lead to your own destruction, and that is one of the most selfish things a person can do (which is what self-absorption is all about…….I know…..duh).  Does every human have that right to destroy him/herself?  Notwithstanding the will of God, yes (But there is a reason that suicide is classified as a mortal sin. And if you think that isn’t a grave matter for Christians, consider the fact that I may not have survived my teenage years if the idea of that mortal sin didn’t scare the beejeebies out of me.  Which, yes,  goes a long way towards proving Umberto Eco’s point of the church exerting control over its parishioners, but that is a long discussion for another day).

I’m not saying people are not entitled to some self-pitying moments.  Of course that will happen.  I’m not even saying that most people don’t recognize this behavior in themselves.  Including me.  We see it.  We know it.  We are not stupid. 

So, what are some solutions to these problems??  I came up with four ideas (Just ideas.  As the saying goes in Dogma: “It’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier”): 

Experience.  Brain chemistry.  Discipline.  Communication. 

How am I qualified to share this with you? I’m not.  Too bad.  I’m writing anyway.  That’s what we writers do. 

#1. Experience:  I think, the more you experience life and learn about other people’s experiences, the more you can put your own troubles in perspective.  Unfortunately, the only way that can happen is if you live long enough to learn about other people, other places, other experiences.  Whether by choice or not, Chris didn’t have enough time to learn perspective.  And he wasn’t listening enough to the people around him who were trying to offer him some.  But I think most of us, if we look, will find there are people in our lives who can offer perspective.  My father was vital at this for me after I went away to college and learned to appreciate his long, often rambling lectures.

Because, #2.  I think brain chemistry plays a huge part.  Perhaps the biggest part.  My buddy years ago (oops – I moved that story to the end.  Sorry) went through a lot of shit, yes.  But it was shit that other people have been able to get through.  It was stuff he was already in counseling for and was trying to work through.  But, for all his self-discipline and attempts to help himself, I don’t think he could overcome some basic short-circuiting in his brain.  For that, he needed some medical help, and I don’t think it was a cop out for him to submit to it.  Sometimes, those misfires in our brain can overwhelm everything else.  Never underestimate that, or think that you know yourself well enough to know what all the neurons and chemicals in your body are telling each other.  I don’t see it as a weakness.  It is a simple physiological fact of life.

#s 3 and 4.  Discipline and communication. 

I think of the scene in “Moonlight and Valentino” when Sylvie yells at Rebecca”  “Your time of self-absorption is up!!”

Wow.  That was tough.  Did Rebecca have an incredibly tragic reason to be self-absorbed?  Yes.  Was Sylvie correct though?  Probably, yes.  This is not to say that people don’t have reasons to be tragic.  But what was the harsh truth that Sylvie was pointing out?

There comes a time when we need to stop being dominated by those little and big tragedies in our lives.  Not forget them all.  As I pointed out, Tears for Fears has one of the best lines ever in “I believe there are wounds time can’t heal”.  But, the way the movie showed it, this kid could not stop dwelling on the bad things in his family life.  Forget about the fact he said he loved his sister, but then left her alone with the parents he despised. 

I think there comes a point you have to learn how to make friends with your ghosts (I hate to point out another movie reference, but this reminds me of a powerful scene in Uncommon Valor).  It’s easier to deal with your own demons when you learn to recognize that your human existence is not unique in the world.  We have many wonderful things that make each of us special.  We don’t need our tragedies and foibles to define how others see us.  Because, as you also learn as you get older, most people have seen similar things, and it’s not really a big deal.  Not to them anyway.  Wow.  That was a tough one for me at first.  But after the shock, it was the best realization of my life.  I’ve said it before.  Initially, this is a harsh reality.  But once I finally got used to the idea, it offered a refreshing release from my own demons.  I’m not so damaged that anyone would be shocked to know about me!

Unfortunately, just like treatment for substance abuse, working to heal oneself doesn’t succeed until the person in pain recognizes the problems and……seeks help.  Vital point.  For me, it was as simple as learning some basic skills.  I was great for years at recognizing and self-analyzing my own problems.  Was I good at overcoming them?  No.  Not until I learned how to communicate with others.  Not until I learned to stop despising simple things like crying and talking honestly to other people.  Wow.  What a realization.  It was hard to come by.  It was hard to overcome them.  I had to – sometimes still have to – exert a lot of effort and discipline to overcome my old tendencies and to let myself cry (though my husband would be surprised to hear this).  To reach out to other people for help.  To offer up my own open ears and heart to other people.  You would think that would be easy.  Sometimes, it’s the hardest thing in the world.  But, if you are the kind of person who relies on others, as Rebecca relied on Sylvie’s friendship, you owe it to other people to sometimes be a giver instead of a taker. 

Using that logic (back to the movie), did Chris need to snap out of it since he made a decision for himself to be on his own and not rely on anyone else?  Of course he did.  He needed to snap out of it for the sake of his own life, which was promising and which he could have used for many things…..to promote wilderness issues, or to write a book to share the truths he worked so hard to learn.  The movie did make it seem like this is exactly what happened.  That he had an awakening moment.  He dried his tears and he set out to leave the wild.  He was stymied by a raging river and he didn’t know that he needed to walk just a little ways down the river to find a path out.  Then, it was too late. 

And maybe that is the point of the movie.  Figure it out before it is too late.  Or, figure it out in slightly less isolated surroundings. ??  With a telephone and food around.  I wish that kid had the opportunity to take what he learned in the wilderness and leave more than just a few scribblings in book margins and boards and old paper. 

Why do I get so worked up about it?  Maybe because of a bad experience I had years ago being smack dab in the middle of a good friend’s suicide attempt.  I can tell you that brought a lot of esoteric, philosophical, high-falutin’ concepts into stark harsh reality for me.  It was real.  It was scary.  It was something I was completely not qualified to deal with.  And it left me knowing that I never wanted to see someone fall that far over the edge again.  Maybe I get worked up because I have spent so much of my own time working my ass off to try and improve my own emotional outlook.  Or maybe because, cynical old cuss that I am, I just want people to be more happy.  I know I’ve probably set a record for rambling but, of course, writing things out helps me process my own thoughts.  And since I started sharing them a little, I thought I might as well finish the thought.  I can offer no other justification than that.  Thank you for indulging me.  And to paraphrase Saturn, you get a big cookie if you managed to read through this whole thing.

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I went to a funeral yesterday with Mom, Big Sis, and my aunt. Sorry to say that one of my father’s oldest friends died a little while ago. “Uncle” Bill was my dad’s friend when Dad first dated Mom. Story goes – he was the friend enlisted to keep my aunt company so my dad could make the moves on Mom. He celebrated their wedding and stood by my dad’s side. I remember visiting him and his family when I was a kid – shivering in the pool with Big Sis and Uncle Bill’s two sons waiting for pictures to be taken, playing my first computer games on their Atari computer, learning how to play Chinese jump rope before it became popular on my own playground back home.

Last time Mom and I had dinner with him late last year, mom mentioned how much weight Uncle Bill had lost. That was when we realized he was waging his own cancer battle, just a few months after Dad’s death. Though – come to think of it, it probably started when Dad was still alive. But a battle against pancreatic cancer is tough to fight, and it was not to be won. But standing at the funeral, listening to his son and his friends speak, it sounded like Uncle Bill kept his spirits lifted and his outlook real during the last few months.

Uncle Bill was a veteran, and they played Taps at the funeral service. Every time I hear it, I think of my own uncle’s funeral – my dad’s brother who died a few years ago. It was a strikingly poignant moment in his funeral – to hear that lonely trumpet call. To hear the somber notes. To know that, truly, my uncle’s long day was done. And it just seemed so respectful, to me. To hear it. Don’t know why. But man, did that strike a weeping chord in me.

Wikipedia says that there are no official lyrics to Taps. But here is the most common form of the lyrics that have been used over the years. Farewell, Uncle Bill.

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.Day is done, gone the sun
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.



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Farewell, Great Maestro

Sad, sad news from Italy today.

Ouch. My heart hurts.

Luciano Pavarotti has died in his hometown Modena in Italy. Can anyone every compare?

I grew up listening to the great Pavarotti. Literally – when I was just a youngster, tugging my blanket and stuffed animals with me to the living room to sit with my parents and sister and watch Evening at Pops on PBS. For years, I watched Pavarotti, Beverley Sills, conductors John Williams and Zubin Mehta and a myriad of guests…..and always, so much music.

I can’t describe Luciano Pavarotti.

From the CNN report –

Widely considered the greatest tenor of his time, Pavarotti began his life modestly in Modena, the son of Fernando, a baker and amateur singer, and Adele, who worked at the local tobacco factory.

“I dreamed to become a singer when I was four and I hear my father singing in the church with a beautiful tenor voice,” he told CNN in a 1991 interview. “And I say to myself, well, let’s try to do something.”

And do something, he did. Here he is singing what is probably my favorite of all songs he has sung. With his white handkerchief, no less. Not his most famous song, perhaps. But my favorite. O Sole Mio (My Own Sun).

Farewell, truly a master of his art.

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For Dad

My mom picked out a fountain today for her backyard. She had been shopping around with Big Sis for one for a long while. She saw some she liked. She could not decide. They went back out this morning but did not buy one. They came home, and Mom asked me if I would go with her to one other place where she had seen a fountain she liked. So Mom, Youngest Nephew, and I drove Big Sis’ truck out to look at fountains. Mom made a decision! They loaded the 300+ pound thing into the back of the truck. Big Bro and I got most of it set up in the yard. We had to wait for Big Sis to come back to house to lug the last piece in place.

And Voila! Mom has a fountain. The Nephews had fun playing around with it. Mom found an old basket of sea shells that my sister and I had collected/bought many many years ago. The Nephews had fun placing them all over the fountain, changing the flow and sound a little bit.

Mom bought this fountain for Dad. It’s not just from her. Several of her family members, instead of buying flowers for the funeral last year, gave her money to get a memorial-type fountain for Dad for the yard. We all thought it was something Dad would like. And it’s more permanent that flowers. And here it sits. Almost exactly one year after Dad died. I like that it’s kind of modern looking, but still has a natural look to it. The patterns look almost like bamboo. Mom likes that it makes a decently loud sloooshing noise as the water flows down. Dad may think it’s a little big, but I think he would like it.

There’s lots I can say about last year. For now, I’ll show you the fountain. And think about Dad.

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No surprise, probably, but my brain is all over the place right now. This is a totally random thought, but I think my half-a**ed attempt at the South Beach diet is working. I can give up eating sugar. I can even give up fruit for two weeks (though it is very very hard). But I think it’s near impossible for me to give up rice and bread completely. Especially when we have such good Thai and Chinese food on the island. So, I cheat where those two things are concerned. But I am trying to stick to South Beach breakfasts and snacks. And I am back on an exercise routine. And I am about four pounds lighter than I was a couple weeks ago in California. Hoorah! Could all be water weight, but I’m gonna keep this wanna-be-healthy routine and make sure it sticks.

Today was a good day. I will blog and talk about seeing the Dalai Lama today. I watched yesterday’s public talk on our local cable channel and I, hopefully, recorded today’s talk. He is amazing, He is jolly. He is very wise.

On Saturday, when I was sitting at the main intersection closest to the War Memorial Stadium (where his talks were held), I saw the butterfly and thought of my father. The butterfly was fluttering across the street, in the direction of the stadium. And Saturday was a good day. Yesterday was not so great, and it ended with me trying to cry quietly at the end of the day. But my “I’m ok” was no match for my Sweetie, and I ended up in a small crying heap wailing about how I wanted to talk to my dad. He said “Why don’t you talk to him?” And I told him “I do.” All the time. What I’ve been learning the last few weeks is that I need to be better at listening. There are all sorts of things I think I can learn from better listening

Today, I was in line at the stadium by 9:30 a.m. (the Dalai Lama’s lecture started at 2:00 p.m.) I was in the stadium by 10:20, and I walked straight to a booth to buy water, knowing I would be sitting out in the sun for a long time. I walked under the stadium seats to the grass field and walked to the unreserved seats, as far forward and center as I could find. I sat down in between one woman sitting by herself and another woman saving about seven seats. I put my book down on the seat beside me (for my guy). And then I, one of the least social people I know (outside of my own gang of pals*), surprised myself today. I started talking to the woman next to me. She had a book also, but once we started talking, we couldn’t seem to stop. All sorts of things – talked about the Dalai Lama, the state of the world, kids, the environment, medicine, her family, my family, and on and on. She was well educated, married to a man who knew he loved her at first sight, had traveled to see the Pope in Rome (both John Paul and Benedict), and lived in Iowa and Connecticut.

And she told me “You will see your father again.” And she was pretty sure. As she was sure about many things. As she was sure in her desire to see the Dalai Lama. Even though her doctor had told her she could not go. Could not travel to Maui to see him (her platelets were way too low). Bu there she was. I don’t know how much time this lovely woman has left (she said not long), but she said she has made her peace and is not afraid to die. So, why would she be worried to travel and spend hours in the hot sun, though she cannot sweat? Why would she be worried to talk about all manner of things to a strange woman sitting beside her? She was not. And I am glad. For I did a lot of listening today. I listened to her. I listened to the Dalai Lama. Both of these people brought me a sense of peace today, in their own way. That is a big advantage of listening, I suppose.

And now, I must eat. More on His Holiness later.

* I didn’t mean that my pals are less social than me. I meant that I am very social with my pals, but tend to be more reserved (dare I say misanthropic?) with strangers.

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A tribute to Moms

Did you ever see the film “Mother?”  If you have, did you love that classic food scene as much as I did? Isn’t that the most typical Mom behavior?  Must…feed…children.  Doesn’t matter how old the child – Moms have this instinctive need to feed you.  From the big block of cheese to the “protective covering” of freezer burn on the ice cream, that scene in Mother is one of my favorites!  It cracks me up because it is so true. 

It reminds me of similar scenes I’ve lived with one of my best friend’s mothers.  Mama T always tried to feed me. And feed people she could! But there was one time where my friend and I had gone out to eat with friends and when we got back to the house, Mama T was aflutter with excitement at the thought of feeding us.  She delightedly showed us the steaks she had taken out of the freezer to fix for us. We tried to tell her we were not hungry. But she talked up her steaks. We insisted we were not hungry. But she talked up her steaks. We finally had to admit that we had already eaten out and were honestly too full to eat a gigantic steak each. I think she fed both of them to my good friend after I left! 

Mama T was always looking out for me, making sure I was comfortable in her home, making me welcome, and checking in on me. And not just me – though her daughter and I have been friends since we were five years old.  New friends and old friends alike, once you were in her home, you would be mothered.  She always wanted to see and believe the best in people, and by seeing the good in people, she treated you with kindness and respect and care. 

I am very lucky that I have good friends whose parents are so open and supportive of their extended families.  Mama T just happened to be the one who was in my life the longest.  She passed away a week ago, and I feel like a little part of my childhood left with her.  I could go back to my old hometown, and see her, and feel like I still belonged there (my parents moved away several years ago).  I could look forward to being pampered and scolded all day with her love and her no-nonsense common sense. For all that, I know her family will miss her very much.  But I hope they are comforted, as I am, with some hilarious memories and the warm-blanket feeling you get when you remember someone who truly cared for you. Moms are very very good at that.

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