I’ve never been one to linger over the death of celebrities.
Yes, I’ll feel sad, I’ll probably go to YouTube and watch a few videos, reminisce about what work of theirs I enjoyed and then move on with my life, because while yes, it is sad, I didn’t personally know them and I have limited time and energy.
I’ve often been perplexed by the outpouring of extreme grief for someone the person who is despondent over the loss of doesn’t personally know; I’ve always felt that the excessive time energy and resources spent in mourning, would be better focused on people we know in real life; our friends, families and communities.
I have always felt that “celebrity worship” in general was over the top and that we’d all do better to give more time and attention to the things and people who are in our real lives, every day.
While some of it seems excessive to the point mental imbalance, I understand that characters in films or books become familiar and inspire us, and that those in the music industry literally created the soundtrack of our lives.
As we get older, more and more of those who had impact on our lives die, some before their time. In many ways, these losses represent the death of our childhood, coming of age or other important times in our lives. It’s also a harsh reminder of our own mortality.
The world is rapidly changing, people are more divided than they have ever been (in my lifetime) and many of us fear greatly for global political stability, the economy, the environment and those who are marginalized and often victimized in our society and it’s natural for the loss of something that helped us through hard times or inspired us to have a significant impact when we’re already sad, stressed and worried.
I noticed something interesting with the latest loss of a well known and beloved person. Not only was her work and her most beloved character being mourned, but she was being mourned as a real person, not just a character, a person who did good work on behalf of others, who used her celebrity status to help fight the stigma of mental illness, who was a feminist role model for young women and was a tireless advocate for others.
For myself, when I feel the loss of anyone, be they a family member, a neighbor or someone whose art influenced my life, I am going to carry what they meant to me and stood for out into the world.
For carrying on their work, shouting their message to the rooftops and making sure that their struggles and hard work were not in vain is the best way to honor their lives and death.
Many (far too many this year) are spending their first holiday without a parent, loved one, beloved pet or child who has passed from this earth (losing a child to an early, unfair death or suicide… I can’t even imagine)
I was reading a Facebook post of a friend of mine today who asked if she was the only one who felt melancholy at this time of year.
She mentioned that she wished she had known as a child how precious those holidays with family were despite the fact that even though they were Jewish, they gathered at Christmas when they were free from work and school obligations and spent quality time together.
As many of us are wont to say, “Hug your loved ones; tell them that you love them, for you never know when it will be the very last time.”
Truer words were never spoken.
I do my best to distract myself from the fact that I have no immediate family (I do have some cousins in other states) and that due to my own abusive, dysfunctional, upbringing in an alcoholic household, I have been unable, as an adult to form a lasting functional romantic relationship/partnership (Wow, do I ever “pick wrong”)
I host holiday gatherings with chosen family (which in cases of severe dysfunction, neglect or abuse can be preferable to and healthier/safer than blood family)
I try to make sure that anyone who finds themselves alone at this often emotionally challenging time of year for whatever reason, knows that they have somewhere to go.
I cook, bake, decorate, send out cards and letters and try to give back to my community.
But in the end, there is still, always, that sense of aloneness, of being different-not in that cool, quirky, creative way, but in that “there is something wrong with me kind of way”.
Tonight, I will be cooking a holiday feast for friends/chosen from all walks of life, relationship statuses and faiths (or lack thereof)
I am going to hug them and let them know that I love and appreciate them, because we never know what someone else may be going through inside and because we never know when it will be the last time we have the chance.
I encourage everyone to do the same.
And just to end this rather serious reflection on a positive note, I offer up one of my favorite, past Christmas experiences.
“One Perfect Christmas Moment in Tacoma”
Sometimes when we least expect it, something amazing and profound hits us out of the blue, more often than not, it comes from a source that we least expect.
I am one of “those people” who prefers to use the words “Happy Holidays” to greet people during the winter holiday season in order to respect and acknowledge the fact that the season is shared by many faiths and traditions. It’s not a “war on Christmas”, it’s merely being inclusive and respectful.
I am not a Christian, but I do celebrate Christmas as a holiday of shared seasonal traditions. I celebrate it as a season of light, hope and ideally, peace on earth. To me, rebirth and renewal is a universal concept.
One Christmas morning, many years ago whilst living in Tacoma’s Stadium District, I walked to my neighborhood corner market to pick up something for a celebration that I was going to attend later in the day. The weather was beautiful, the air was crisp and clean, and I was still enjoying fond memories of a celebration with good friends the night before.
As I looked out on to the deep blue waters of Commencement Bay, I also contemplated all the stress and depression that many people feel at this time of year, and how truly sad that is. I thought of all the pressure that our society puts on people to be happy and have the “perfect” holiday, and how many end up disappointed and frustrated. I thought of those who have lost loved ones, and for whom this time of year brings only painful memories of loss.; and as I watched a homeless man digging in the trash, I thought sadly of those who don’t even have a home and a hot meal. It seemed so wrong to me that a season that is supposed to be about happiness and joy brings stress, depression and sadness to so many. I was feeling pretty darn jaded.
I was distracted from my train of thought when I stopped to chat with a friend from work at the little coffee shop on the corner, and was then greeted by familiar faces and smiles at our little neighborhood market. I made my purchases and began my walk back home, my mind drifting back to the sadness I was thinking about earlier..
And then, I heard it on the air.
At first it was faint and distant; then it began go gain strength and seemed to be coming from all around me.
Music, bells, magic.
Stadium is an historic neighborhood where most of the buildings are at least 100 years old. It contains several beautiful old churches.
Resounding across the waters of Commencement Bay, the castle that is now Stadium High School and the old brick buildings filled with history, was “Gloria, In Excelious Deo…” coming from real bells in an old church (I don’t know which one) that has an organ controlling the bells. Next I heard, “Joy to the World” and was reminded that this indeed is a season of hope for many traditions.
I stopped walking and just stood there to listen, appreciate the world around me and experience something that was very powerful. It was then that I noticed other people stopped on the streets, also mesmerized by the magical sounds. They came out of their businesses and homes to sit on the stoops and listen, some even pulled their cars to the side of the road and turned off their engines. Everyone, regardless of their religious upbringing, traditions or even current life circumstances was smiling in shared joy for the beauty in the air surrounding us. Most of us did not know nor had even seen each other before that moment; yet we felt an undeniable connection of the spirit.
For one brief moment, the world stood still, filled with peace, love and joy.
It doesn’t matter which church, religion, tradition or building that joyful sound came from. There are certain messages in this world that are universal.
If only we could all share more moments like the one I experienced Christmas morning in a tiny Tacoma neighborhood.
A couple years ago, I sincerely wished my friends who are fathers or who have/had fathers a “Happy Father’s Day”.
When I did the same last year, a friend jokingly commented on my Facebook post asking if those who were “immaculately conceived” need not apply.
I simply explained that some of us never knew our fathers; we were never given the opportunity so the observance does not in fact, apply to us.
I don’t want to put a damper on the celebration or happiness of others, so I generally keep my experiences/feelings/pain surrounding this particular holiday (as well as mother’s day) to myself.
Then other people started sharing their stories of divorce and being kept from their fathers.
Still more started sharing their stories about having their children kept from them.
It was then that I was reminded that while I don’t want to ruin the day for others, there are many others who need a place to vent and share there feelings.
In addition to not having, been kept from or losing a father, some were abused by fathers or step-fathers. Yeah, I got the double bonus in the “father” department; one I never knew and one who abused me.
People who were abused as children feel a wealth of pain and anger, and even guilt for being estranged from/not loving their father.
This is a difficult and painful day for so many people; many of whom are spending their first Father’s Day without their fathers or the fathers of their children.
Yes, they may have happy memories, but to them, this day is a painful reminder of their loss.
I have no words that will comfort those who are feeling pain and loss today. I have no words at all other than.
“You are not alone”.
I do however have words for women who are keeping children from their fathers. Actually, they are words for anyone keeping a child from a parent.
Unless the child is in danger/being abused, there is no excuse to keep a child from their father just because you think he’s an a$$hole.
My mother left my father when I was barely three years old.
I have no memory of him at all.
I never even saw a photograph of him.
When I would ask my mother what he was like, she snapped at me, “You don’t want to know what he was like, he was a terrible person, all he cared about was money. He is incapable of loving anyone, he didn’t love or want you or me.”
We moved a lot and she always made sure that we had an unlisted phone number and could not be tracked down.
I finally found his family when I was an adult; I found them too late, he had died two years prior.
I remember curling up in a ball in my kitchen and crying because I was too late. Yeah, I felt guilty for not trying hard enough.
I did finally meet his/my family. The letter I received back was from my step-mother, who had me come visit her.
She gave me some things of my fathers and told me that he did want me and did try to find me. My name was listed in his funeral program. I visited my aunts and met my grandfather before he died. They gave me a few photographs, something I had missed and craved my entire life.
Part of me was comforted by that, and part was very VERY angry for having been lied to my entire life.
I have had to do a lot of forgiving of my mother in regards to this, and other situations. It is a challenging and ongoing process. After she died, as I was going through her things, I discovered the true, terrible depth of her lies. Trust me folks, if you keep a terrible secret, it will be found found out eventually.
I share my story, not to bring anyone down or to ruin the holiday for those with reason to celebrate.
I share my story in hopes that some parent out there will make a different, better choice than to keep a child from their parent.
For those of you who are keeping your children from their other parent (for reasons other than the child would be in real danger) I have these words.
Taking away a parent, even photographs and stories, takes away half of a child’s identity.
Telling that child that one of their parents in a terrible person, teaches them that they are also a terrible person because it’s half of who they are.
Telling a child that one of their parents doesn’t want or love them teaches them that there is something wrong with them and that they are not worthy of love.
Lying to a child, teaches them that they can not trust anyone.
Please don’t do that to your child. They deserve better.
the above photo is of my grandfather and grandmother Lawrence, my father (the one who looks like trouble) and his five sisters/my five aunts
On Sunday, I went back to dragon boat practice for the first time since November of 2008.
I realized while out on the water, that I had not set foot (or rather butt) on a dragon boat since he died.
His death wasn’t the reason (per se) that I didn’t go back. In addition to the triathlon training, about the time I thought I might be able to go back, I was dealing with the illness, mental issues and traumatic death of my mother.
While out on the water, I thought about Ben; I thought about him a lot.
I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to go back, but I did. I don’t know if I will ever want to steer the dragon again (that is just too intimately tied to Ben and can’t imagine anyone but him coaching me to do so) but it was good to be back.
We do this drill called “hookey”; Despite the fact that someone different was calling it out, I could hear Ben’s voice. (he was so funny when calling it out)
I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry. (I have tears streaming down my face as I type this)
Today, I finally sanded, dragon decaled and varnished my dragon boat paddle, a project that Ben and I were going to do together.
It was November 10th of 2008, while driving back from Eastern Washington that I got the news that my friend and Dragon Boat Steering Coach Ben died the Saturday before.
He was steering the boat at practice when he had a massive heart attack. They were very close to the dock and the paramedics arrived right away.
They could not revive him and he was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later.
I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been for my friends, my team to watch one of our most beloved members and coaches die.
I think I hurt for them the most.
I felt guilty for not being there. Although it was said that the heart attack was too massive for anyone/anything to help, I still felt guilty for not being there to do my medic thing and even more so, because I was not there for my friends.
Between the ten hour shifts and commute and training for my triathlon and the STP, dragon boating was the part of my life that got let go. On the week days that I actually got home in time for a practice, I was too exhausted to go. Weekends were spent logging long hours on the bike, swimming or running.
I kept saying that I was going to find the time/energy to go back, and each time I didn’t.
Ben certified me to steer the dragon boat and at one time when I was having a melt down because I did not feel experienced enough to handle a task I was given (in the conditions location it was being held in) and be responsible for the safety of the crew. I had Ben take over my boat and I left the event in tears feeling that I had failed everyone. He gave me a couple of days and then let down his gruff exterior and let his true loving nature show.
Ben was only 61 (at least I think so-the article I wrote on dragon boating last year listed him as 60)
Ben had an infectious grin and made everyone around him smile and laugh.
He was a good coach, and good friend and a good person.
He will be sorely missed.
I was told that at the following Sunday’s practice, the other association’s team paddled alongside our boat (which was three deep in each seat rather than two) out to the flagpole at the end of the waterway and both boats did Bens “salute” with the paddles.
Later, there was a memorial event for him on the water, dragon boat teams from Portland Oregon and Seattle came to Tacoma to participate and honor Ben, who touched the lives of so many.
Once again, life reminds me that we never know when our last moment on this earth will be.
We never know when we may see someone for the last time.
We should treat every day is if it were our last and love and cherish those we care about.