This spring has been slower to warm than usual. Most years, we have lilies of the valley by Mother’s Day or by Nana’s birthday on May 16th at the latest. Lilies of the valley are the birth flower for May and we always picked bud vases for her while they were flowering.
Years ago, B and I transplanted a few pips from our childhood yards in New England to our home in New York. Lilies of the valley “spread aggressively” as horticulturists say and we now have a patch at least 25 square feet (2.3 square meters).
I’ve written previously about some of the hidden blessings of not having to deal with the complications of 2020 last year as we spent our final months with Nana. We were able to bring her beautiful, fragrant bouquets of lilies of the valley for her last birthday, which would not have been possible with the later spring blossoming this year and the restrictions on visiting skilled nursing facilities.
Nana’s ashes are in an indoor niche at a memorial park in our town where fresh flowers are not allowed. I’m hoping someday to find some beautiful artificial lilies of the valley to leave there for her, so there will always be a bit of spring and her favorite May flower nearby.
I have forced myself to undertake one of my least favorite change-of-year tasks – transferring dates onto the new calendar.
Yes, I still prefer paper calendars. I carry a small one for noting appointments when I am out and about and keep a monthly one near the phone in the dining room. (Yes, I also still prefer to use my landline; only people who may need to reach me at any time have my cell number.)
I need to fill in appointments that are scheduled in 2020 on both the pocketbook calendar and the large calendar. This is tedious, but not especially challenging. What is more poignant for me is filling in birthdays and anniversaries, some of which include the applicable number of years.
Generally, age doesn’t bother me. I’m proud that B and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this year. Maybe, we will be blessed to reach a 65th anniversary, as my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, did.
Which leads to the poignancy of writing dates on the calendar…
As family members pass away, I make commemoration notes for birthdays and anniversaries on my calendar. This year is the first time that Nana’s birthday and Nana and Paco’s anniversary will be memorials rather than celebrations.
I think that Nana fought hard for a last chance to celebrate Paco’s birthday in March, their 65th anniversary in April, and her 87th birthday in May. She died a few days after her birthday. One of the last things that I helped her eat was a fruit tart that I got as a birthday treat for her from her favorite supermarket bakery.
The Binghamton NY area lost one of its stars. Literally. Patricia Donohue, an actor and activist, who has a star on the Binghamton Walk of Fame, died in September. Pat had a long career on the stage, as a young woman with Tri-Cities Opera and then many decades as an actor in our local area and beyond.
The first time I saw Pat perform was as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, but I will remember her most fondly playing Jeannette Picard in Solo Flight, a one-woman play about the balloonist and wife/mother who was ordained an Episcopal priest before it was officially approved.
I knew Pat because we were both members of Sarah’s Circle, a small group of (mostly) women grounded in the Catholic faith tradition who supported women’s ordination and full participation in the life of the church. A number of members felt called to ordination themselves. We met for prayer, discussion, and mutual support but sometimes did public events, such as prayer services.
For the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of Jeannette Picard and the rest of the Philadelphia Eleven, Sarah’s Circle sponsored Pat performing Solo Flight in Columbus Circle in Syracuse, in front of the Catholic cathedral. We were met by a raucous group of counter-protesters. Pat, the consummate professional, performed spectacularly, despite protesters marching within arm’s length, at times. Toward the end of the performance, we were finally able to get the police to clear the public area in the Circle for which we had a permit and the protesters did not. Instead, they shouted the Rosary from the Cathedral steps, which is a misuse of a lovely, contemplative prayer. It was a shame that they never bothered to listen to Pat recreating the remarkable life of Jeannette Picard.
Although I marveled at Pat’s abilities as an actor, it was her passion for people that shone most brightly. She was often seen, sporting one of her favorite hats and leopard print scarves, at rallies with Citizen Action for a variety of progressive causes, such as civil rights, access to affordable health care, and environmental protection. She performed with and wrote songs for the Citizen Action “Raging Grannies” – although she preferred the moniker “Swinging Seniors.” She also performed with the Mental Health Players, bringing attention and support to those with mental health issues.
She was always ready to share her time and support with others. Because both my daughters were interested in theater, Pat would attend their performances. She even let T borrow from her beloved hat collection for her role in Damn Yankees. Many of Pat’s hats were lost when the storage room of her senior apartment building flooded, but T was happy to see that the hats she had borrowed had survived and were part of a display at Pat’s memorial.
I was also touched that, draped over the end of Pat’s casket, were an Irish-themed quilt – Pat was proud of her Irish ancestry – and the stole she had worn when performing Solo Flight, which featured hot-air balloons, because Rev. Jeanette Picard had, in her younger years, been a stratospheric balloonist.
I’m sure that Pat would have approved of the memorial. The friends and family members who spoke all had wonderful stories to tell recalling her flair, passions, and wit. Our Sarah’s Circle friend Pat Raube sang a hymn that she had sung as a prelude to Pat’s performances of Solo Flight; I admit it was hard not to cry at that point. Another friend, Father Tim, was the presider for the service.
While we will all miss Pat, I am grateful that she was granted so many years among us and that she was active into all but her final days. We will each need to give a bit more of our energies to causes she cared about, although no one can truly replace her in our personal and community lives.
Yesterday, we reached another milestone in our process of saying good-bye to Grandma, gathering together with extended family for a graveside committal service back in Grandma’s hometown in Massachusetts, where her ashes would be laid to rest beside Grandpa’s in a plot that had been a wedding gift to them in 1953.
Grandma had been a member of the First Congregational Church since she was a girl and had retained her membership from afar over the last 6+ years she lived in a senior community near us. She had not wanted to have a wake and funeral, preferring instead the simplicity of a graveside service of her cremains. This gave us the ability to set a date well in advance, allowing travel plans to be made for the more far-flung relatives, including a cousin from Washington State.
This also afforded the opportunity to gather all four grandchildren, working around college and graduate school commencements. It was especially important to arrange flights for our elder daughter E and her spouse L, who were able to stop on the East Coast while flying home to Honolulu from visiting L’s family in London. It also gave E the opportunity to introduce L to our Massachusetts/Vermont extended family and B and I to show him where we had grown up, met in high school, and fallen in love.
As the family member with the most liturgical planning experience, I took on the duties of making arrangements for the service and for getting the information out to the relatives. We were blessed to have Rev. Carolyn of First Congregational preside for the service. Though she had never met Grandma, having come to pastor the church after Grandma had already moved out near us, she thoughtfully wove together some favorite Scripture passages, including psalm 121 and 1Corinthians 13, with references to Grandma’s life as a mother and grandmother, aunt, cousin, teacher, friend, and community member.
To close the service, I had asked our daughters E and T and son-in-law L to sing the traditional round, “Dona Nobis Pacem”(grant us peace). E and L have degrees in music and T is a long-time choral singer, including collegiate level. Everyone so appreciated the lovely sound of their voices, singing Grandma off to rest. I had forgotten that their relatives had not heard E and T sing since Grandpa’s memorial service almost eleven years ago; they were struck by how beautifully our family trio sings.
We were also blessed with a gloriously sunny, warm-but-not-hot morning for the service. Given the time of year and outdoor location, we had decided to forgo men in suitcoats and women in dark dresses for more spring-time clothes. I’m sure Grandma would have appreciated the floral prints and lace-accented tops we wore, which complemented the multicolor carnations we had ordered from her favorite florist shop.
After the service, we gathered for lunch at a favorite local restaurant. We had reserved a private room and had three tables of six, which made conversation easy. Although the reason we were together was sad, we appreciated the opportunity to catch up with family that we had not seen often in recent years. I was especially grateful for our daughters to spend time with their first cousins; given that their geographic distribution is about to be New York, West Virginia, Arizona, and Hawai’i ,they may not see each other together for years.
I’m sure Grandma would have been pleased and proud to see them all sitting together, chatting about their now-adult lives, even though she would still think of them as the children they once were.
The only reason I remember that fact was that that was the day my friend Angie died.
When she died after fighting cancer for over four years, both of B’s parents were still alive. His dad died in July, 2005, also from cancer; his mom, on Tuesday of Holy Week, just a few days before the 11th anniversary of Angie’s death.
In the early morning hours of March 25th, when I couldn’t sleep, I visited the website of the the charity that Angie’s family established in her memory. I always make a donation on March 25th and on October 25th, which was Angie’s birthday.
This year, the paypal link was broken, so I emailed to ask about it.
Her eldest son sent me a reply and set about getting the link fixed. He also sent me a wonderful photo of his daughter, whose middle name is Angeline, after the grandmother she will never meet on this earth. In the photo, she has a marker in her tiny hand. She may be an artist, like Angie.
Yesterday, there was a memorial service at the senior community where my parents and, until recently, B’s mom live. They hold one every quarter for residents who have died in the previous three months; this time, there were eight.
This service marked the first official commemoration of Grandma’s death. She did not want to have a wake or funeral; there will be a graveside service later in the spring back in New England.
By coincidence, the service was almost exactly a month after Grandma’s death. It made me think of a Month’s Mind Mass, which is from my Catholic faith tradition. Grandma was not Catholic and the service was not a mass, but it was comforting to me.
The service was the first time I have been a bit teary. I have been so busy concentrating on doing everything that needs to be done and on supporting others that I haven’t really done much mourning myself.
Somewhere, the Fates were snickering behind their hands.
Monday afternoon, I wrote poetry with my friends at Sappho’s Circle. Just as I was preparing to drive home, I got a call from B. He was at the hospital, waiting while his mother, known here as Grandma, was in the heart catheterization lab. She had had a heart attack.
I was not far from the hospital and got there as quickly as I could to wait with him.
The cardiologist was able to remove the blood clot that had caused the heart attack; there was no need for a stent. The nurses got her settled into the cardiac intensive care unit and we were able to spend several hours in her room, as she gradually woke from the sedation and B and I answered dozens of medical history questions on Grandma’s behalf.
We left the hospital at about 8:00 PM, with Grandma stable and resting under the watchful eyes of the ICU staff. We all expected a few days in the hospital, maybe a short stay in rehab, and then back to her cottage at her senior living community.
We didn’t sleep well. At 6 AM, B’s cell phone rang. Grandma’s blood pressure had dropped, but they had been able to raise it back to an acceptable level. Then, she became short of breath, but it was difficult to address it. They might need to put in a breathing tube as a short term measure. We dressed and headed to the hospital. It turned out that, as we were en route, Grandma’s heart had stopped.
We waited near the nurses’ station as they continued efforts to revive her, but they were not able to.
Less than 24 hours after her heart attack, Grandma had died.
There just isn’t any other word for what we have all been feeling since that moment. Everyone that we have had to tell, everyone who has spoken to us, we are all in shock. “But I just saw her at the movie on Friday.” “But she was here Monday morning, after her PT session.” “But she was at dinner with her friends on Saturday.” No one quite seems to be able to wrap their brains around the fact that death can be so quick.
Everyone is grateful that there was not a long period of pain and suffering. It was one of the things that Grandma had feared the most. She loved her cottage in the retirement village and did not want to leave it to live in the Health Center. We are grateful that she did not have to do that.
But we are still in shock.
And we are sad.
B and I have been doing our best to talk to people and deal with paperwork and start sorting and make lists and not miss anything that is important to do.
It’s been less than 72 hours at this point, but it feels so much longer. I have to remind myself what day it is.
And that it is Holy Week for most Christians, including my denomination.
As I write this, it is very early on Good Friday morning.
I had tried to sleep, but couldn’t, so I got up to write this.
Before I go to bed, I want to go to the website for my friend Angie’s memorial fund. It has been eleven years since she died. In 2005, March 25th was also Good Friday.
I wanted to watch Pope Francis’s address to the United Nations General Assembly this morning, but, due to the sudden news of House Speaker John Boehner’s impending resignation, part of the coverage of the speech was pre-empted. The part of the speech that I was able to hear was totally in keeping with what Francis has been saying around the world about overcoming poverty, upholding the common good, about integral ecology, justice, and peace.
After leaving the United Nations, Francis traveled to the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial. After visiting the outdoor memorial and meeting with family members of those who lost their lives that day, there was a stunning multi-religious prayer service in the underground museum of the memorial.
Francis joined an arc of New York City religious leaders, reflecting in their persons and their traditional religious dress the huge diversity of the city and of the United States as a whole. There were prayers and chants on the theme of peace from the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Christian traditions in several languages, often with translations offered. After a stunning prayer for the dead sung in Hebrew, the Pope spoke in Spanish, ending with a plea for peace and a moment of silence for each to offer their own prayers or thoughts in accord with their own beliefs.
This was followed by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The sound of their young voices, coupled with the visual impact of their diversity, brought tears to my eyes, especially when the camera zoomed in on two of the singers holding hands.
My daughter attended this year’s ceremony. The combining/adaptation/re-interpretation of cultural elements doesn’t surprise me as it happens so frequently in Hawai’i. Thanks to Within the K Streets for this post and to Rowena of beyondtheflow, whose reblog brought me here.
“I’m not coming out until you promise not to float me.”
Since 1999, an esoteric Buddhist denomination called Shinnyo-en has sponsored a “Lantern Floating” ceremony on Memorial Day to create a moment of reflection and collective compassion and remember those who have passed.
The name “Shinnyo-en” means “a borderless garden of the unchanging and real nature of things,” and its principal doctrine encourages everyone to develop the ability to act with unwavering loving kindness and compassion. That’s a pretty good thing, methinks.
The original Lantern Floating was a modest affair, held in a lagoon out near Honolulu Airport but grew in popularity and since 2002 it has been held annually at Ala Moana Beach Park, the major regional park adjacent to Waikiki.
How popular is it? About 40,000 people attend the ceremony. Folks stake out their positions on the lawn areas 24 hours in advance and guard their position…
After the Alice Parker concert at Sage Hall, Mary, Tricia and I proceeded up the hill near Paradise Pond to Helen Hills Hills Chapel.
Our first priority was to visit the winter-flowering cherry tree planted beside the chapel that is dedicated to the memory of Beth McBeath, another class of ’82 Glee Club member, who died as the result of an airplane fire during October break of our senior year. Her funeral was held at the chapel and Glee Club sang Bach’s setting of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” through our tears during the service. Later, I attended the planting of the memorial tree, although the tree in the photo is not the original tree but a replacement for the one we planted that day, a weeping cherry that was unrecoverably damaged in an ice storm years later.
Beth was a light-filled, infectiously joyous person. She served the Ecumenical Christian Church (ECC) at Smith as a deacon and liturgist. She participated in the Smith choral program in all her years there, serving as an officer as well as lending her alto voice to our choirs. In the best tradition of the liberal arts, she studied with both breadth and depth, including taking a course in the art department on bookmaking. She was always friendly and interested in other people. Like me, as we entered our senior year, she was engaged to be married.
Her loss, along with another classmate who died from lung cancer later in our senior year, taught us not to take time for granted. Her memorial tree is something that I try to visit every time I get back to campus. I make donations to the Smith Fund in her memory, which puts me in touch with her mom, who still survives. Mary sent the photo, which we took with her phone, to Beth’s mom. I hope it made her smile.
After visiting the tree, we went into the chapel. None of us had seen it since the pews were removed, although we had seen a photo in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly. Despite that, it still was a bit of a shock to walk through the front doors of the chapel, which was modeled after a traditional New England Congregational style church, and not see the rows of white-painted wooden pews with the red center aisle carpet down which I had walked as a June bride a few weeks after our commencement. Instead, there were heavy, boxy wooden chairs, arranged in circles over a wood floor. Given that there are no longer regular worship services in the chapel, a fact that still makes me sad, I do understand the impetus to remove the pews to make the space more versatile for concerts and other events, but I wish that the wood floor had been a traditional New England hardwood and the chairs had been more elegant and in keeping the architecture.
Still it was better than the last time I had visited chapel in May 2012, when I wrote this poem that touches on both the chapel and Beth’s tree. chapel at reunion (Sorry for the pdf embedding, but I didn’t have time to fiddle with the editing settings to get the indents and spacing to work correctly.)
After walking through the main body of the chapel, we went upstairs to the gallery and visited the organ, which was a memorial gift in honor of Helen Hills Hills’ husband James. I spent so many hours on that bench, practicing, having lessons, accompanying for Choir Alpha, playing for Mass, prepping for my junior recital with Mary and Natalie, preparing for and playing preludes or postludes for ECC services, and additional hours standing beside the bench turning pages for other organists. It’s moments like this when it feels odd that I haven’t played for years…
We also walked to the basement where the offices are. Almost every room has a different occupant or purpose than when we were there. I thought about the series of Marc Chagall prints that used to hang in the hallway. I think the art museum took custody of them so that they are in a better protected environment, but it used to be so cool to have original artworks in an everyday space. The Bodman Lounge is still there, with shelves of spiritual and religious books and couches and comfy chairs. Mary had given me a bridal shower there and it was the room in which I dressed for my wedding.
I felt reluctant to leave. Even with all the changes, the richness of the memories will always draw me back.