Meditations on Mortality

sweet-william-barbara-moignard

Sweet William by Barbara Moignard

 

Springtimes have needed you.
And there are stars expecting you to notice them.
From out of the past, a wave rises to meet you
the way the strains of a violin
come through an open window
just as you walk by.

~ Rainer Rilke, from the First Duino Elegy

 

There was a graveyard I visited regularly with my grandparents as a child. My grandmother would go tend the graves of loved ones (possibly her parents) while I picked Sweet William in small bunches and put on the graves without flowers. I loved the delicate beauty of the petals, their velvety texture and intricate patterns. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to pick them from the edges of the cemetery and place them on graves that seemed lonely and untended. A child’s belief that putting something pretty there would make it all better.

The cemetery was a beautiful and peaceful place to me (other than the painful annoyance of the little sticky burs that always found a way into the side of my sandals or down into my sock). The quiet stillness enthralled me as a child before death or graves held any real meaning. Visiting the cemetery was one of my favorite things to do.

It’s been a long time since those cemetery visits – I turn 46 tomorrow and I was not even school age back then – but I can remember what it was like when death was just another word that meant nothing in my mind and heart. A grown-up word that made people sad and nothing more. My child self living free and joyful without the understanding of mortality.

 

^~^~^

 

I worked as a property-sales manager for a small local cemetery from 2003 to 2005. I was responsible for all facets of the business operation – designing advertising, making product sales, solving customer issues, meeting legal requirements, overseeing burials and entombments, and maintaining good relationships with the mortuaries and their staff. I took the job expecting to be “creeped-out.” I ended up loving the place and becoming friends with the clients we served and the morticians with whom I worked.

I listened to all the personal stories of my clients and attended every funeral service on our grounds. I was a quiet presence, standing nearby at graveside or sitting in the last row of a mausoleum service, listening and watching, making sure everything was as perfect and well orchestrated as it could be. This was the respect, the care we provided to those trusting us in their final rite of passage. Honoring that trust mattered deeply to me.

Two years in the death care industry gave me a new understanding of death and dying. It also provided a glimpse of the actual job of professional body disposal carried out by morticians and cemeterians. Overall, death care is a business much like any other, but there is a level of respect and compassion present in the workers that is seldom found elsewhere.

What did I learn?

At every burial there are people crying, but their tears come for a variety of reasons – as many due to regret and self recrimination as for love and loss.

 

^~^~^

 

Twenty-two days ago a harsh, burning pain developed in my left shoulder and armpit. A random “share” on Facebook with pictures of example breasts showing cancer signs sent me to the internet to look up my symptoms. What I found there terrified me into a hospital visit…

I was in the E.R. five days after the first symptoms appeared with a swollen left breast, a “mass” of unknown origins, and a great deal of searing pain. The diagnosis was Mastitis of unknown origin, and I was given high strength antibiotics and a referral to a local surgeon.

Today – the infection is gone, the swelling has diminished, and the pain is much duller. I go for a mammogram and ultrasound tomorrow to start the diagnostic process. I am hopeful that it is something small and easily solved, prayerful the word cancer will not apply to me. I’d like a little more time, please, to experience this thing called life.

 

^~^~^

 

My first thought was that out of all the panic scenarios and insane phobias I’ve imagined in my life, out of all the ways in which I have feared dying, the thought of possible breast cancer never even crossed my mind! How like life to throw something at you from left field!

My second thought was of not wanting to leave my husband, my children, my grandchildren. Worry that I needed to teach the kids more, maybe I haven’t prepared them as well as I should have, and a myriad other things having to do with all of them being okay or not.

My third thought was the shock of realization that I might soon take my last breath, that it could end so unexpectedly, the lights go dark, and thought – emotion – feeling – sentience just STOP.

Awareness becomes the split-second adrenaline rush of panic, fight-or-flight in a state of indecision, anxiety…and then quiet. Then, thoughts of all the stupid and important things you’ll miss: McDonalds pancakes, the way a breeze feels, the way your children call you mama, sun on your skin, books on the shelves you haven’t read yet, grandbabies in your lap, poems you’ve only half-finished, snuggling beside your husband at night, the dogs always underfoot, the projects still half-done and disorganized, you and you-you-the you that is the personal I-the I that has likes and dislikes, cares, loves, needs, gives, feels…. living.

Life in all its deep complexity. The small moments and the large that make up a life….that make up your very unique and personal life.

 

^~^~^

 

You recognize the fallacy – you have been living all this time as if you were immortal, but you are not. Your specific time here is finite. There will be a last day, one day.

Suddenly, so many daily things become unimportant. The core relationships in your life and the core things in your personality become everything all at once.

You realize you will not miss your job only your calling. You cannot justify money as a motivator for anything that matters only the hope, safety, opportunity it may buy.

You wonder at the speed of days, how they have passed you ticking like a rush of water over rapids. You reach to capture them, slow them, but they drip through your fingers and out of your hand. ~

 

 

Nellie

white dove snip

white dove snip (Photo credit: oddsock)

Grandmother —
Title, position, duties.
I never knew you
wanted to travel,
went overseas once.
A missionary trip
you longed to make, and
you did. I never knew
this small truth of courage
until your funeral.

How did you carry that
cold-heavy weight
of us on your shoulders
all those years?

Those dark-strong hours,
spent taking care of everyone
as we grew into non-children.
Solicitude, sympathy, tolerance.
Love always the deepest river,
lessons of giving-over everything
almost; and then

there was your God,
some stories you’d written,
a few trips taken —
the talented individual you were,
but all we ever knew
to hold onto
was a name, a presence,
the designation —
Grandma, Momma, Nellie – Love.

~February 2012 

 

Gleaned from Ink


Gleaned from Ink

~from the Collection, Odes to Plath

It is never a shock that you died.
(You announced deaths’ presence often
enough, explained your acquaintance
with his cold, familiar person.)

Not your dying, but the final distorted picture —
Isolated, alone, invisible gas, babies in the next room.
That stunning portrait shock-ripples our consciousness.
The proximity of life and death
so closely knitted together —
touching threads aligned
evenly in your created tapestry.

Your destiny was to become a great poet,
immortality gleaned from ink
flowing across a contrast-white background,
the dark-lined letters of your life
a glistening hue.

~composed September 2010.

ARTWORK CREDIT: The Scribe and the Scroll…, by Jon Gemma. Original and other artwork here.
Sell Art Online

Autism: An Interview with the Founders of William’s Garden

An Interview for Whippoorwill Journal with Marilyn and John Winright, founders of William’s Garden: A Camp for Autistic Children.

WJ:  In the Testimonial section of your website, you and John describe the initial decision to start William’s Garden and your belief that it is a God-given mission. Can you elaborate for our readers how you came up with the idea and what it means to you as Christian to be able to serve in this ministry?

Marilyn: I’ve always loved children and working with them.  For years I’ve worked as the girls club leader in our church, as well as teaching Sunday School and assisting with the teens. I was immediately on board when John approached me with the idea of starting some sort of a camp for children as a retirement career. This was something that I could get excited about because of my love for children.

We originally thought about a “camp” for children with Down’s Syndrome. We were familiar with illness and felt a strong desire to try to make life more complete and fun for those special kids. Then, after sitting down with our consultant, Ms. Dee Moody, also of Gaffney, SC, we learned that there are many programs available for children with Down’s Syndrome. However, we discovered a new, growing type of special needs children, those suffering with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and very few local programs  or other assistance available to help them and their families. We didn’t know that much about Autism. We’d heard it mentioned, but knew few details. John and I did some research and realized there was a great need for help in the Autism community.

As to what it means to us as Christians to be able to serve in this ministry: we feel that God has laid this project on our hearts and has given us the desire to do whatever we can to make William’s Garden a complete success. We are excited and hopeful every time we sit down to discuss our next step. We consider it an honor to be used of God to make the life of children with Autism and their families happier and more productive. We also hope that William’s Garden will help remove some pressure and aid the parents of autistic children as they try to find a place within our community and work toward their child reaching his or her greatest potential.

We believe that God leads us every step of the way and guides us in this effort. We feel confident that he confirms His Will in this for us through some awesome signs. That’s what we write about in our Testimonial on our website, www.williamsgarden2010.com.  There’s just nothing more fulfilling then knowing that you are doing the will of God.

WJ: What were the most difficult steps in the journey once you and John made the decision to start the William’s Garden project?  And, how did you overcome those places of struggle?

Marilyn: William’s Garden is still a work in progress and, so far, we’ve been blessed not to have what I would call “struggles”, but we have had to learn more patience. Creating a non-profit organization is not an easy task. There are many rules and regulations to follow. I’m sure that as we move forward there will be difficult times, but we know that God will provide the way for us to get this done.

WJ: Tell us about the struggles and the joys so far in this endeavor?

Marilyn: The hardest part at the moment is waiting for the finalization of our 501(c)3 Tax Exempt Status. We’ve gotten a head start by getting our name out to the community, we are working with developers  create the plans for the facilities and the campsites. It’s a process that takes time. Sometimes it’s a struggle to be patient, but we are making progress, and that’s what matters. Slowly but surely, William’s Garden is coming into being. We’ve met, emailed, and had comments on our website from parents who are so excited about what we are doing and how it will benefit them and their child with Autism. That’s a real joy. To know that we are already making a difference.

WJ:  Can you give us an idea, a description, of what you see William’s Garden becoming in the next 3 years? Five years? What are some of the goals and benchmarks you’d like to meet?

Marilyn: Wow! What we envision for William’s Garden? Lots! That’s for sure.

Our plans are to have a facility constructed on 7 acres of land that will include a shelter-house for outside activities and gatherings, campsites for 10 children and their counselors for a week long summer camping experience, outdoor gardening projects as well as nursery garden, and a “petting zoo” with farm animals and a few exotic animals. We have hiking/nature trails and will have horse riding  for the children as well. We plan to build “dorm” type sleeping facilities, offices for professional service providers which will include psychologists, therapists, family counselors, etc., as well as a Sensory Room, a computer lab and a Media Room for photography.

We plan to work with the school system and provide after-school programs for those kids who need extra help with homework, and communication and socialization skill sets. A swimming pool will be available to teach swimming lessons and water safety (which is very important because the Autistic child is often drawn to and sometimes has a deep fascination with water). As William’s Garden grows, we plan to offer various job training programs such as growing and selling produce, pottery classes, basket weaving, all types of arts and crafts, and some specialized training for industry within our community. We will begin with those children/youth from Cherokee county, SC and then expand into surrounding communities. We hope to one day be a national program.

A BIG part of our focus will be on making our program affordable. Most of what these special children need is not federally funded. We hope to raise enough in donations, contributions, and sponsorships to make it possible for ANYONE who wants to participate to be able to do so.

WJ: On your website, you mention that you do not have an autistic child and explain why you felt pulled toward this project. Can you explain that a little here for our readers? Also, how do your children feel about the project and will any of them be involved in it?

Marilyn: John and I love children and wanted to do something in our retirement years for children with special needs. It’s just something that we feel the need to do in our hearts. What really solidified the decision for me was an event that happened a few years ago in Spartanburg, SC. A 2 1/2 year old little boy was playing outside with his siblings when his mother needed to run back into the house for just a moment. When she returned, he was gone. She searched for 2 hours with no sign of him so she called 911.  There was a massive search. two days later his little body was found not far from his home –  in the river behind where he lived.  His mother said he had always had a fascination of the water. Investigators assumed that he could hear the sounds of the river, which was full because of recent rains, and went looking for it.  He apparently slipped and fell.  I followed it on the news very closely – there was just something in that little boys eyes… he had such beautiful, sweet, precious eyes! It just tore at my heart when I heard that he had died. His name was William. It just seemed fitting to name our program William’s Garden in his honor. His mother is aware of what we are doing and is supportive.

John and I, between us, have 6 sons, (as well as a foreign exchange student that we had several years ago that we also consider a son), 2 (3) daughter-in-laws, 1 (3), grandsons and 6 granddaughters.  They all support what we are doing with William’s Garden and are as excited as we are about it. Our youngest son, Caleb, lives with us and will be helping us with the gardening/landscaping/maintenance aspect of William’s Garden. He loves helping us with the planning and is really looking forward working in the gardens with the kids. The rest of our family lives all over the US, but if they were here, I’m sure they would be willing to do whatever it took to help make William’s Garden  a success.

Originally published in Whippoorwill Journal, Spring 2011 edition. Http://whippoorwilljournal.com

terra di sienna

Two tiny droplets
a morsel of medicine

Crayola-colored sienna.
A color from the box
with the sharpener
in the back — implying
grand accomplishment.
A budding artist, would, of course,
use them down to the nub —
. . . peel – sharpen – draw

Two miniscule pellets
of prescription medicine

Where else did you ever
hear the word sienna?
(We live exclusively in
shades of black and gray.)
Thirty-days, taken at bed time.
A few well-worn hours before
you pick another color, draw
inside the lines again a
new-born day of maybe —
. . . peel – sharpen – draw

Cigarettes as a Positive Factor in Treating Mental Illness?

 

There is a wonderful post about cigarettes, nicotine, and schizophrenics by Dirk Hanson over at Addiction Inbox. He has a great blog with some wonderful content. The first paragraph of the piece is below…continue reading at Addiction Inbox Link.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Medical Cigarettes

Is it “Inhumane” to Take Cigarettes Away from Schizophrenics?
In an article for Brain Blogger a couple of years ago, I looked into the astonishing fact that, as a typical study of in-patient smoking among schizophrenics in Britain revealed, about 80-90% of the patients diagnosed with schizophrenia were cigarette smokers. Given that the running rate in the general population hovers around 20-25% on average, this is really quite amazing. It seems clear that nicotine is doing something for a schizophrenic that makes cigarettes into a form of self-medication that almost all schizophrenics apparently discover at one time or another. Read the rest of this interesting article at Addiction Inbox.

Destiny in the Parking Lot

A young girl watches you
get out of the car at Wal-Mart
and thinks – one day
I want to be like that! The pretty car,
the nice clothes, expensive purse,
the perfect hair.

You are the vision
she holds onto, cherishes
in her broken-ness.

She will strive
to become . . . You.

You are her symbol-metaphor
for success – a chance sighting,
a living image of what it means
to have made it. . .

Out of the fear of less,
out of the poverty of nothing,
away from the cold truth of being
inconsequential.

Photo courtesy of Bigfoto.com

to an unknown poet

In the late 70’s, when I was about nine, a poet came to my class at O. P. Earle Elementary School in Landrum, South Carolina as part of an arts program. He spent several days reading poems, teaching us what poems were, and encouraging us to write them. He took several of the best poems from the class with him when he left, promising that some would be published as part of the program.

I received a package in the mail with a newspaper-style tabloid inside a few months later. One of my poems was chosen for publication. I can remember the “big deal” this was to me then and the excitement and pride of my grandparents when they saw the published poem with my name attached. This is the first memory I have of me as an individual, the first moment in which I understood personal identity.

The unknown poet that opened the door of individuality and possibility for me has remained with me in essence through the years. I wish I knew his name so I could write a letter thanking him for the great gift he brought into my life. I have been able to personally survive and grow in ways that would have been impossible without poetry. And, after years of writing in all genres, poetry is always the place of deepest emotion for me, the true home to which I return.

The power of poetry is such that in a small schoolroom, in a miniscule rural town, a frightened little girl found her voice. That voice found the courage to speak from the depths of isolation to the heights of possibility. That small, tiny voice has spoken from numerous magazine pages all over the United States. That voice is still speaking . . .

I remain indebted and eternally grateful to my unknown poet from childhood, to the arts program, the teachers and school system that believed in poetry as an important part of education. Thank you.