Feeds:
Posts
Comments

COMPLEX GRIEF

Last Saturday my much-loved daughter, Christie Romero, died after 21 months of struggling and in a sense, conquering the limitations of the dread disease that has yet to be cured: pancreatic cancer. She was sixty-three.
But her spirit and enthusiasm for her world belied the years. I mourn. I grieve. As in the Hopkins poem…”It is Margaret (i.e., Christie) you mourn for.” His meaning is that the loss of life is mourned by the person who dies.
Those of us who are left are grieving for ourselves, what feels like a deprivation. No, the tragedy and mournfulness is in the ending of a life that still had so much life within it to be lived.

Christie has rightfully been extolled for many things: her valiant fight not to give in to the pain and demands of her illness… She accomplished more in the period after her diagnosis than most people do in a lifetime. She is being given tribute from people all over the world not only for her scholarly, uncompromising work as a jewelry historian (totally auto didactic), but for the generous, spirited way she helped and inspired her students, colleagues and friends. She is a powerful loss to that world.

The umbilical cord that tied me to my daughter is primordial and her death was, at first, something I thought I couldn’t bear. But she belonged to her own world, which is only right and I rejoice in how much she filled it and was rewarded by it. Realizing this, makes the release possible…especially knowing that her suffering has ended.
Am I somehow less of a mother than a woman who wails and tears her hair at the loss of her adult child?
I hope…and even think…not.

Only the universe itself defies the dictum: the more things change the more they stay the same. Not so the heavenly bodies. All is in flux.
Nothing stays in or returns to the same place as the galaxies, stars, planets rotate and glide in their constant shift. What an interesting anomaly!

Okay. So how have my attitudes and perspectives changed of the years?
I’m more forgiving, but still vulnerable to guilt (is that why I’m more forgiving?) I see the socio-political world as immature, self-serving, often cruel – not much change there. While I’m not sure I forgive the world, I have some understanding of its slowness in evoloving.

As one of the more or less comfortable U.S. middle-class privileged –
and grateful – I long to be part of a country that is more beneficient than merely self-serving and aggressive both at home and abroad. Look to your own beneficence, Peggy! And watch your own selfishness and sometimes aggressive mouth! (There’s a bit of change in attitude.)

In a culture touting, in large letters, NEW! (products, that is) there is such a fearful resistance to flexibility and shift from the familiar. When things are relatively “good”…who wants to plunge into something different. If it ain’t broke, it don’t need fixin’. Hmmm. Well, that might apply to many situations, personally and publicly, but if we’re not willing to take at least a small leap into the dark, the unknown, where is the creativity…the movement, in behavior and interaction with others (not always as good as it could be)…as well as in impersonal fields of exploration…science, the arts, technology, etc.?

What is a constant inspiration for me is the memory of a television program interviewing artists, all in their eighties, in which, to a person they said that the next project was what interested them…not what they had already accomplished. I do apply that to my creative writing and attempts at art…but what about my daily interactions? I believe heartily in transcendance in art…How do I transcend my petty annoyances, my foolish prejudices, my unnecessary defenses? As in creating a new poem…I listen not to just the surface image or phrase…but allow surprise to leap and inform…So it’s attentiveness, awareness at a new level that can bring more than the same old, same old.

I’m often asked, What’s the secret of your young spirit? I am 88.
I have no secret. An outlook, yes. Each day comes as an open window.
I have reasonably good health (after three bouts with breast cancer…and a back that balks at elongated standing or walking), for which I’m deeply grateful. I’m not worry free. My daughter has pancreatic cancer. She too has a vital spirit that keeps her dealing realistically with each day, as she keeps working as a jewelry historian. My son is struggling herocially with the down-turn of the economy. I am a retired psychotherapist…living in a Santa Monica apartment,for 25 years with my second husband.

So what keeps me lively and life-loving? For one, a fantastic husband,
who loves me and accepts my foibles. We share interests and values. For another, a life-long ability to live in the moment and trust that I can handle what is dished out to me. An important factor, from as far back as I can remember, is the urge toward creativity…particularly in writing, poetry, prose. Within the past five years or so, I’ve also put my efforts toward art forms…collage, art boxes.
Above all, I strive to honor the imagination’s dictates, having disciplined myself in learning my craft. Although my poetry and other works have been published and produced commercially, it isn’t this that urges me to continue writing, creating an art form. As most people who follow their creativity will agree, the work is a compulsion, in and of itself. The reward is in the doing, in the “here it is!” surprise…often never finished.

Of course, relationships with family and friends offer the immensely nurturing factor of love, the give-and-take of personal involvement,
which are a constant spiritual part of my life. Friendship to me means presence, a kind of emotional, spiritual and intellectual availability that brings into being the most basic human interaction, that is like a pebble in the pond…reverberating. It calls on the best in me and when I fail, I appreciate what I still must learn.

Is this all enough? It certainly is for me!

The issue of psychological projection is to me a fascinating one. At its best, we love one another…see attractive traits, enjoy personalities, admire talents, etc. At its worst, we point fingers at the “bad guy,”
blame others, cause wars, murders and distrust our fellow man.

In both cases we are seeing capacities in others that we may not have recognized in ourselves. I may admire your open heart, your willingness to accept differences in others, your confidence. These may be characteristics I have, but have not yet brought into play in my life.

On the other hand, I may see you as cruel, nasty,selfish, even violent.
Again, I’m not fully aware of my own capabilities in this direction. How many times we think, or even say, “I would never do that.” Don’t be too sure…Given the particular circumstances, we are all capable of the worst.

All human beings are complex. None of our theories about us can ever fully account for our differences, our complicated psyches. But we do have some clues to guide us.

Rejection by another is hurtful. We often think: What is wrong with me? (unless our confidence is beyond such thoughts). For those of us who feel a quiver of discomfort when we feel rejected…there is some
relief in recognizing that the person doing the rejecting is projecting his/her feelings, ideas, reactions from within a subjective mind-set.
That old saw: “Consider the source” is not altogether off the mark.

I was recently rejected by a friend of my husband’s. It gave me pause, and a crummy feeling, until I applied the understanding that it wasn’t all about me…It involved his prejudices, his preferences, his
subjective vision. I don’t have to be liked or loved by everyone. To think or feel that I do is childish. After all, on the other side…I don’t like or love everyone either…and have done my share of negative projecting, rejecting others. I do, however, firmly adhere to the principle of giving everyone breathing room to be who they are, without judgement, unless harm is being done to others.

I welcome comments and personal examples or anything that would lead to a discussion of what to me is a most important issue.

Malinda Markham is a seer. Her poetry shines its glistening language deep into the interior. The crystal ball she peers into is not the world of politics, wars, money-power. It’s the reality of nature, its abiding relation to the human spirit (“Each maple leaf a school of urgency.”). It’s the slant, but penetrating revelation of human emotion and desire (“The sky is water,and yes, I am thirsty.”).

She both creates and feeds my hunger. (“How stories scald the sheets
until they’re stark enough to shelter even the richest skin.”) Nowhere else have I found language so tangential, fragmented and at the same time profoundly affecting in its totality. Each poem is an artifact. The “about” of her work is a given-over to the unknown, the unexpected, a leap of faith. She takes me where I don’t know I want to go, until I’m there. (“The dead/shook themselves loose from whatever/had kept them.”)

Children and their fears, their immediacy, their fierceness, their clarity even in their uncertainty and above all, their imagination appear in many of her poems and I am sent to my own childhood, my children’s.

Throughout, her poetry beats with the sound of melancholy, not sadness or depression, just a terrible, deep longing that is both private and answerable only in meeting.

Having just read a review of Lynne Sharon Schwartz’ new memoir, “Not Now Voyager, I felt moved to write about my own experience with travel.
She sees travel as a way of diverting oneself…getting away from the inner complexities. I disagree. While travel, especially to places with languages other than my own, removed me from the exacting problems at home, it never diverted me from the various aspects of my self, in fact, it often brought me in touch with some that I wasn’t conscious of. Encounters with strangers, of which there were many, gave me a broader sense of who I am, and what I’ve not cultivated in myself.

Schwartz believes that only in the quiet of one’s familiar home can the self be fully experienced. I don’t think that encounters with stresses at home are enough different than the stresses in traveling, which call on the self to rise and deal. I remember on a trip to Europe with my first husband, when we were in Paris, he thought he was spitting blood. This was a year after he’d had a heart attack. We rushed to an emergency room…fortunately learned it was only his gums that were bleeding…but we were certainly inwardly challenged for a while. Life and the self go with you no matter where. I find it equally true that the peaceful, so-called “spiritual” inner self rides along on the outer journeys.

When Norm and I would go to our house at Lake Gregory, I felt more diverted from the hurly-burly than on any of our many journeys hither and thither.

I believe I’ll never forget an encounter with a woman in France, on our last trip to Europe…We needed directions, pulled up the car and stopped the woman. She immediately came over and acted as though we were doing HER a favor by asking. It pulled me into a part of myself 1) that gets annoyed at being “bothered” by strangers and 2) by the inner part that loves being of service. It isn’t only exposure to the culture and beauty of unfamiliar places that enhances us, but the personal encounters that bring us back “home.”