(Photo I took years ago of Shelley, her husband Eric, and their children: Britton, Brent and Garet. Please keep them in your prayers and good thoughts.)
I was sitting in a cafe when Yann told me you died. Everything around me became as silent as the snow falling outside. I stared out the window while people walked by, their world had not changed, their direction had not altered. They didn't know you, nor did they notice me covering my eyes.
Death rarely comes expected. Even though you were so very ill, I should have known. I did know. But there you were faithfully standing with your courageous gutso, holding your desire like an iron shield, and lived against the odds.
Your life with ALS wasn't one of anger, or pity, nor a slow motion surrender. Damn, if you didn't live more sitting still than most of us do with able bodies. You didn't miss a day, no you didn't miss a moment. You held true to the people you loved, gave your passion free rein and at times I daresay you looked death in the eye, shook your head and tsk-ed, "Whatever." You didn't stop living just because ALS said you would.
The last time I saw you, a month ago, I teasingly said, "Shelley if back in high school someone had asked: "Who amongst us was the bravest person?" I would have never guessed you." We laughed. Then I asked you about someone or something in high school, cause your razor sharp memory never ceased to amaze me. You asked Garet (daughter) to grab the Tattler (Our High School yearbook)... I loved toying with you about classmates we hadn't seen since 1976, you were a walking CNN, Wikipedia, Goggle all in one... often I wondered how it was that you could recall everything about the people we onced knew. I tried to stump you by making shit up, but you never fell for it. You made me laugh. Hey Shelley, by the way, I know I wasn't the bravest, I could barely pierce your ear with those two clothes pins and that potato. I never knew that your cheering me on to pierce your ears back then was a prelude to your mantra: "I am woman I am strong."
God Shelley, you amazed me. Amaze me. Oh Shelley.
The snow continues to fall. The pine trees, with their frozen roots deeply underground, their branches covered in white, do not waiver. Do they hope for spring? Do they long for birds nests to adorn them? Do they feel anything after such a long winter?
You did. God you did.
"Shelley is now free from pain and suffering, she is with God, she is at peace." That is what family and friends will say. And it is true. But it does not make the sadness less, it does not make the pain of saying goodbye easier. It is not because you are free that I am sad. Contrary, being free from the suffering is the silver lining. I can see you, yes there you are, shaking your head at me, with that endearing smile of yours, "We are all going to die, so live, go on, just do it for me." Some how that makes me want to start jogging, or take up tap dancing or something.
In the back of my mind I hear you asking Eric (Shelley's husband) to re-paint the bathroom every six months in memory of you, and laughter fills my heart full. Remember when you asked Eric to change the fan in the living room, for the one in your bedroom, and to put the one in your bedroom in the living room? You asked me what I thought about that. Eric was in the kitchen, out of your view, rolling his eyes at me. I said, "Why? The fans look really pretty were they are?" Because, what was I to say, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. And you rolled your eyes at me. Eric moved the fans cause he is the husband that makes all husbands look bad, he would move Mount Everest to Kathmandu and back just because of his love to make you happy.
Yeah Shelley you showed me that a life lived fully is by embracing whatever comes your way, and if you don't like the way it is going, repaint it, give it a new name, watch a movie, move the fans... What you showed me was change what you can and get on with it.
Living a full life isn't the once in a life time, bucket list, glory, money or fame moments that we we often make a goal towards. It is being loved and loving. And you certainly showed me the truth in that.
Shelley? Are you there? Where will I see you the next time I am in Willows? What color will the bathroom be? Eric told me you will hold a paint fan in your casket like we teased you about? What page of the Tattler are you on? Shelley are you repainting the pearly gates with your father and brother?
Evening has fallen, the moon rises about the snowy mountain, it glows.
One of the twelve angels (Patti, Andy, Jack, Sam, Joe, Marie, Gina, Maci, George, Kate, Molly and Warren.) that I can hardly wait to see!
(Photo of my niece Maci when she was five years old or so... It was August, we were playing dress-up, she was a snow angel... it was 110 degrees outside.)
Years ago my brother Mark told me this story about his daughter, "Gina was four year old she was playing by my side while I was tinkering in my workshop. At one point I accidentally dropped something on my finger. I bit my tongue trying not to spill out the familiar swear words in front of my daughter. Instead I moaned and groaned, blabbering nonsense. My daughter trying to be helpful tugged at my sleeve and offered, "Daddy I think the word you are looking for is Damn-it. Say, "Damn-it," Daddy, and you'll feel better." My brother really groaned after that.
While working on the apartment, I have learned a few choice French expressions from the workers. The other day Regis cut his knee, he didn't need any coaxing to gush out some of those choice expressions. Later he apologized for what he blurted out. I waved my hand at him, "Oh Regis, I would have dropped a heavier bomb than the words you used."
Luckily none of them speak English.
Why is it that foreign swear words, or words of little importance are instantly memorized? As I child I learned "Dry Fart" in Portuguese. Why? Too bad I never learned, "Thank you"?!
Do you utter slang words, or are your a purist like Yann?
Photo: My niece covering her mouth.
The faraway home calls. The news is sad. Tears swell and stream. There is the urge to be home now, but the familiar echo reminds me it cannot be.
Living away from family is not easy. Though I have grown accustom to the constant bruise. I know how to guard myself from the reminders that can feel like punches to the tender spot. Yet at times the punches cannot be avoided. Especially when someone I love dies.
When you grow up in a big family as I have their is a constant arm to lean on, a familiar face which reminds you that you are loved, a monthly party to keep you dancing, a prayer to be said, a hand to hold when tears are shed. Happiness, sorrow, love and sadness go hand in hand. A time for everything under heaven (scripture) birth and death, a celebration of life.
When you grow up in the country as I did the seasons teach you: Tend the fertile ground faithfully, water with your heart abundantly, and surrender to the seasons that come and go.
My Godfather Craig is being buried today.
He gentle spirit moves between family, friend, heart, soul, earth, heaven...
I can see my family. I have stood in that cemetery by the canal. The tombstones hold family names and will hold family names. I was taught to bless myself as a sign of love and respect when we drove by that very cemetery that I grew up next to.
I blessed myself often.
My cousin Judy wrote that one of the last times she spoke with my Godfather he talked about the transformation from caterpillar to a butterfly: "The concept that what is a disaster to the caterpillar, is liberation to the butterfly. The caterpillar enters a dark time, then comes out on the other side transformed."
When I was a child, growing up Portuguese, I was taught that whenever I saw my Godfather I was to bow my head and ask him for his blessing:
"Padrinho sua benção?" = "Godfather may I have your blessing?"
He then would kiss his hand and touch my head, "Deus te abençoe." = "God bless you!"
Dear Godfather Craig, Gentle Soul,
Thank you for leading me with your blessings as I grew up, I in turn give you my blessing to follow love where it will lead you.
Photography and text by Corey Amaro
The Harvest Market in Fort Bragg never disappoints. French Husband, Chelsea and I gathered grocerys for our sejour at Westport. In our grocery cart, stuffed between breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next three days were a few bottles of wine. One of them bought because the label was intriguing: "Dad's Daily Red".
My heartstrings were playing as I cooked our dinner to the sound of the waves crashing. French Husband poured a glass of wine that Julie and Bill (the owners of Westport House) had set aside for us. We noticed that the bottle of wine was from the same winery as Dad's Daily Red, and that the winery was a mere stone throw away. We decide to go visit the next day.
Sally, the owner of Pacific Star greeted us as if we were old friends. Dad's Daily Red is named after her Father. We raised our glasses in honor of him. My eyes glistened as Sally talked about her dad... The thought of her father, my father, Westport, serendipity, life... a rich harvest.
We drank on the edge of the cliff near Westport and as the sun starting to disappear Sally invited us to come over tomorrow... to help with wine making.
Repost from 2010
In the twenty five years of going, back and forth from France to visit my family in California, never once has my Mom and my brother Mark not been there to say goodbye to us when we have left.
No matter what the time was, Mom and my brother Mark were there, the last ones I kissed goodbye before heading to the airport.
Mom and my brother Mark have always been there to send us off, even when my children go to California alone, they are there to wish them, "Bon voyage."
It is a tradition we count on.
Sacha has been in the States since April, he came home today. My mom and my brother Mark were there at four a.m. to wish him well and send him on his way.
Now, I know my brother Mathew is going to read this, and probably leave a humdinger of a comment. So to even the odds: Thank you brother Mat for taking Sacha to the airport. I won't mention the alarm clock. I love you too.
Thank you Mom for taking good care of Shinga. He says he gained weight on the home made cookies and pies you made him eat everyday.
Thank you Debi Lilly for the wonderful opportunity/internship, he feel in love with Chicago.
Sacha is back. Sleepy is another word for sweetest of dreams. Though I wonder how he is going to fit in his bed he has grown so much. A monster of a man. Standing next to him my head came to his belly button!
"On this day oh beautiful Mother..." is a hymn from church, from my childhood, that we we would sing at the end of Mass to the Blessed Mother. It is one of my mother's favorite hymns.
And so I found it fitting to use it today, everyday really.
"On this day, O beautiful Mother,
On this day we give thee our love.
Near thee, Madonna, fondly we hover,
Trusting thy gentle care to prove.
On this day we ask to share,
Dearest Mother, thy sweet care;
Aid us ere our feet astray
Wander from thy guiding way.
Queen of angels, deign to hear
Lisping children's humble prayer;
Young hearts gain, O virgin pure,
Sweetly to thyself allure."
May the rewards of Motherhood be full, ripe, and yours today Mom.
Love you so much and I wish I could be by your side.
The song continued to play, the words carried me back,
I am standing by his side...
Death cannot rob the memory that feels so real.
Five years ago my dad died. At that time I couldn't imagine a day, let alone five years later.
Grief had its own map, and it took time to walk along the unknown path it put before me. Walking, running, or standing still... the view remained the same, the rhythm played on. I felt its strangeness, the sudden urge to run or cry or wrap myself up a blanket and hide. But grief did not let me go.
It does not matter if the person you loved died young, old, after a long illness, or suddenly, or if you got to say goodbye...death stings and mourning has a song all its own.
As the floodgate opened memories swirl around me, I would hear a sad song...and dare not move-
Each step forward was one further away from the moment of when my father was alive. Days passed, weeks went, years marched on.
It was a new world with a melody that had me somewhat off balance. As each day unfolded I would pray,
"Sing softly I am listening."
Five years ago. Thank you Dad for your undying love that sustains me even now.
That is where my heart goes,
That is where I find my roots that hold me in place,
That is where the long road ends, where the green never seems less green.
Home is where my soul knows no bounds, and my arms never tire.
Home, that is where I am when I feel the distance between the
Here and now, or don't have words nor need them.
Home is no longer an external place, rather it is within me. It rises from the core of my being, Like a spring that goes beyond space and time.
Home is no longer a place, it is my family. My Parents, my Granparents, my Aunts, Uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, husband, children...
Happy Birthday Dad.
Tell me a memory of your Father?