Archive for the 'grief' Category

Epistolary Life

amywink October 19th, 2017

Epistolary Life

I received your letter
and am writing
by return post
to tell you all the news
and say how much I
loved the things you said,
the ideas we continue
to explore together
in writing.

Though other letters
may be delayed
know that I am always waiting
hopefully for your messages
and always intend to
return to the page
and begin again
our interrupted conversation,
know that I am so often
thinking as I wait,
of that nameless Tang
Dynasty writer
who wrote his friend,
“Here at the frontier,
There are falling leaves,
Although my neighbors are all
Barbarians,
And you, you are
a thousand miles away . . .
There are always two cups
at my table.”

“Tell me a story”

amywink October 14th, 2017

“Tell me a story”

I watched my mother
once swept away
in the riptide
of her mania,
stories of her life
spilling from her
uncontrolled
without thematic
coherence,
without narrative
continuity
or any patterned
conventions
of oral history
or storytelling.

Desperate, she seemed,
frantic to find
the threads of
meaning and reason
in stories spinning from her,
to do like I was doing
in my own life,
writing and living
my own story.

She kept trying
to create the story
that would carry her
forward into the battles
of her life, like me,
but the distance
between us was
a chasm opening
before me,
wide and deep,
into which we
both might go,
except
in that same
daring leap
the difference
between diving
and falling.

Calling

amywink September 26th, 2017

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After my mother died, I missed her music the most. I had grown up under the piano in the churches where my father served and later, once he’d left the ministry, in our homes where she practiced on the nineteenth-century John Broadwood piano until it could no longer be tuned. Then she practiced on her 21st century digital piano which staunchly held the red Methodist hymnal binder she’d played from my entire life. I still have the hymnal and both pianos even though I do not play more than one handed. I do sing. My brother sings. My father still sings beautifully, despite his Parkinson’s disease (Of course, we sing. We’re Methodists). We played too, my brother the guitar, I the violin (a long time ago) but once my mother died, the pianos were silent, and I really missed her music. I missed the hymns.

When I set about creating my life again in the year after her death, I knew I wanted music again, maybe to play (though I had put the violin down a long time ago), maybe to sing, but mostly to hear because I missed it. I missed being in the music of a choir, surrounded by sound and joy, feeling the sound of the spirit that had moved my mother and filled my childhood. I bought tickets to a performance of the Austin Baroque Orchestra’s production of Bach’s Passion of St. John (the patron saint of writers) and invited my oldest friend, who I had played violin with in the orchestra and also sang with in the choir until we finished high school together, and we went to see the performance and another violinist friend from high school who had been in orchestra with us (someone truly gifted who is now a professional). We were lucky to know her then and lucky to see her now.

Listening to the voices of Bach’s oratorio of John the Apostle poet returned me also to a language I had tried to learn earlier in my life. Though there was a printed English translation and also projected on the wall, I followed the German printed in the program instead. As I listened, reading, I recalled what I had forgotten, returned to what I had lost, not just in the music but also in the words. Listening to how Bach had made those German words beautiful in their music was as delightful to me as the entire performance. Something was coming back to me in the music and the words, in the connections to my old friends. It was still hidden but something I had put away was on its way back to me.

I still thought it was the music and that’s what brought me to church the next day. Where could I find free music? Where might I be in a choir? Church. And I wasn’t wrong about that. I just didn’t know yet what really drew me there, what I really needed. I was a little out of practice listening for the Creating Spirit but the Creating Spirit was not dissuaded. I was way out of practice of church.

We had left the Methodist church in 1972. I was 7. I walked into First United Methodist Church at the age of 51. It’s not like I hadn’t darkened to door of any church since I was 7. I wasn’t exactly the prodigal child, but, well, I was way out of practice. I went with someone who was not out of practice, another new old friend who’d returned to my life in a way that can only be described as Providential. She had grown up in this church. Her mother had known my mother when they lived in San Antonio and went to church together. We’d gone to college together and now worked together– one of my students looking for me had found her and then she found me. It’s all a bit spooky, really, and if I was writing a novel, someone would surely complain about all the plot devices I used to get where I was going– as if God had said “I have got to get these two crazy kids together.”

But there I was, back at church, walking up the steps, to be with my old friend, upstairs in the introvert’s balcony, to listen to music and remember and grieve my mother. And I was in the right place. The completely right place. But it wasn’t just for the music. On the way out of church that day, I chatted with one of the pastors, who was about to head to Paris and then to walk the Camino de Santiago. Paris, where my dear friend and writing partner Stacey had meant to go her last spring before she died. Her favorite city. The city of where I know her soul lives.

The Creating Spirit whispered gently “See? There’s a poem here for you to write. Write it.” And I listened and I did.

“You are amazing. You are great. You are cool.”

amywink July 29th, 2017

This weekend marks one year since I lost my best friend, Stacey. We, as a culture, are not very good at acknowledging grief, recognizing it as part of a complex human experience, but we are better at recognizing the grief that is shared through familial relationships. There is precious little written about the lost of a long-time and deep friendship. Searching the blog posts on What’s Your Grief leads to one article: When Your Best Friend Dies. At least it’s a very good article.

When your best friend dies, many people don’t notice. When your best friend dies, you have to tell them if you want them to know–and when you tell them, they might forget you’re grieving. When your best friend dies, people don’t perceive that you might be the right age to have lost someone close. When your best friend dies, some people don’t even understand the concept of best friendships.

It is a kind of solitary, singular loss.

But grief is not a competition but a frame through which we, changed, now see the world, like Emily Dickinson wrote “I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing, eyes – I wonder if It weighs like Mine – Or has an Easier size.”

I am very lucky, both to have known Stacey, and also to have more than a single best friend (which as an adult, is not longer the hierarchical term we use in childhood, the Number 1 friend, but a description of the kind of friend a person is, the best kind). Those friends closed ranks and carried me through the worst of the loss, some old friends stepped up to the plate, some new friends stepped forward. But when Stacey died, a chasm opened and into it fell our shared memories, our collective experience, the tangential connections I had to her husband, her family, her friends. Suddenly, the bridge to her whole life vanished. At the same time, a few of those connections became stronger as we also became closer to share our grief, her husband, her best friend from college. What had been tangential has become central, like healing around a collective wound, a web across the chasm we were left with. But the chasm is still there and every time I think “Stacey would have loved this” or “Stacey would have said….” or “I’d have asked Stacey about this” or a thousand other small thoughts that drift through my days, there is only a deep and reverberating echo for an answer.

Stacey was born into a religious tradition in which the only afterlife was in the continual remembering of the person. While she happily left most of that religion behind, she did believe, and I believe, that the active remembering of a person, her life, her relationships, her stories, keeps that person among the living. I remember her. I am writing her into the fabric of my life, and in contemporary parlance, weaving her into the Web so she will never be forgotten. She didn’t want to be discussed on social media but she can’t stop me from making her presence known and her memory valuable. (Sorry, Stacey, I’m breaking your rules, but I think you knew I would because, well, you knew I was a writer.)

I wrote the following piece for her memorial service, though I did not attend (which I explain in The Difficulty of Blue, if you’re curious). And I still think of this as my favorite memory of our friendship, an allegorical story about the meaning of best friendship.

******

I met Stacey in graduate school at Texas A&M. We had circled each other but our gravities had
not yet achieved the closeness required to pull us together permanently until one day she asked
a fateful question “How are you?” And I answered truthfully “I am having the worst day of my
life.”

It’s a good thing Stacey didn’t scare easily. In fact, Stacey didn’t scare. And I was so lucky
she accepted my truthful response and chose not to run but instead to bring herself closer and
offer her friendship even though it would have been easy to walk away.

But Stacey was a First Responder at heart and she walked directly into my disaster and worked to pull me through.

And eventually, I did the same for her.

Because that’s what friends do.

Despite her chronic delusion that she was “just a normal person” she was most extraordinary, a
person who became a best friend to me through the some of the most difficult years of my life
but also my writing partner, who helped me be as creative, helped me flesh out ideas in
conversation and correspondence, helped me articulate the insights we searched for together.
She helped polish my work for publication and the many conference papers I wrote as I tried to
make an academic career. Our twenty year daily email correspondence– “our sharing thoughts
in writing”–was an amazing work of art between the two of us, a living conversation.

Our best work together, a presentation of our family history title City Ancestor/Country Ancestor” traced
the amazing stories we both had of our families. Blending her prose with my poetry, illustrated
with family photographs from both our family archives, we presented together at a Popular
Culture Association conference in San Antonio.

It was a fantastic performance piece. We were a hit and we were so pleased and proud of our own brilliance. Late, late, late in our hotel room, neither of us asleep but soaring alone on our triumph until one of us spoke:

” I can’t sleep.”

“Neither can I”

And we flipped on the lights to celebrate

“That was so great! ”

“We were so great!

“We were amazing!”

“We were so cool”

And we were great. We were amazing. We were cool.

I will miss writing with her every day. And I will miss her every day but like I told her in the last
weeks of her life, she will always be with me. I’ll always be hearing her say “You are great, You are amazing,
You are cool.”

Resurrection

amywink March 30th, 2017

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Resurrection
May 17, 2004

On Good Friday,
I kneel in the dim
antique store light
reading the titles
0n a bookshelf tucked
beneath shadows, searching
the scuff-edged spines,
hoping for undiscovered treasure.

This day, I find Jane Eyre,
Soft and battered leather,
with bible paper leaves,
And a tender message
Maidie Spencer,
From Mama
Christmas 1920

in a left-hand tilted script.

I covet.

At home, I unwrap the
swaddled volume,
packaged like a breakable.
opening the covers to absorb
my small extravagance.

In this new light, beneath
the ink inscription, a pale
and broken-pencil line reveals
This is the last book Maidie read.

In the daze of revelation
now ascending, I comprehend
anew this gift of providence,
this perfect Easter token,
a holy spirit rising,
the final offering for a
remembered life.

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After writing this poem in 2004, I recently revisited it after looking at my book collection again and my cousin tracked down this information:

Maidie Spencer’s grave.

Maidie Spencer’s death certificate:

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