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Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

I just heard the sound of a flame being pinched out by wet fingers.

Wuff, SSssss.

My heart is in such pain over the news of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Young, talented, and responsible for some of my most moving moments in front of a screen. Yesterday he was capable of bringing additional decades of mind-blowing art to us. Today he is gone.

We just saw him in Catching Fire. He was just on Broadway. What the hell, Mr. Hoffman? What did you do to yourself, and why, for god’s sake?

I was in my car tonight, driving to pick up my kid from a friend’s house where she had been house-sitting. The words from the radio slipped into my brain before I had the chance to defend myself. I literally gasped out loud and took my hands from the wheel to cover my mouth. I know, such a silly movie pose, but it was instinctive. I thought back through the two-sentence newscast. When I realized I had really heard it, the tears began. I looked at the people in the cars around me, desperately looking to connect, to share this shock and pain. None of them were listening to the same radio station, or were reacting.

Crazy, huh, when a total stranger means so much to you that you cry at their death. It happened to me with Princess Diana, and Kurt Cobain. It makes my response totally inappropriate because I didn’t know the person; I just knew the way they could make me feel. As a stranger, the only things that come to my mind are weak cliches like “What a loss,” or thoughts that are so obvious it’s just stupid, as in “Fucking addiction,” and “His portrayal of Truman Capote was phenomenal.”

Forgive me, Mr. Hoffman, for not having the ability to honor you well. In words, no less, which are supposed to be my medium. Thank you for the way you lived your 46 years. Thank you for choosing to put yourself out there for public consumption for over twenty years. If the point of art is to connect to people, or to make the people react, or to empathize, or feel childlike joy, or weep like a betrayed lover, or flush red hot with anger, or yell at the screen, …or any of a number of remarkable human responses to effective art…

You have done it. 

Since my words aren’t working well tonight, I’m going to borrow from an old post that I wrote not so very long ago:

“Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him.

“The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathetic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

“See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

“In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

“I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.”

Read that whole blog post here.

It's so stark I could be tricked into thinking this is an artist's rendering of a farm. But no, this is simply Eastern Oregon.

It’s so stark I could be tricked into thinking this is an artist’s rendering of a farm. But no, this is simply Eastern Oregon.

Click here for Part I of the road trip.

Due to our visit the day before, we knew that Pa & Michelle would be at a doctor’s appointment, so when we came down out of the mountains we headed directly for Nampa. I had to stop by Rex’s house because he had some things that Gramilda had left for me. Gramilda went about the business aspects of her death calmly without any emotion apparent. She contacted everyone she could think of, and asked them what she could put a tag on. It appeared thoughtful and practical, and will be exactly how I do it, if I get that chance – a defense mechanism to ward off the pain and fear. She and her daughter (my mother) had obvious intent to their actions while they died, and sometimes I find myself disconnectedly thinking with fascination about how each of them left us. It’ll have to be a future blog post.

The Korean box of drawers. You would have picked this too, huh?

The Korean box of drawers. You would have picked this too, huh?

In any case, Rex handed over a collection of letters (between who and whom I have not yet the constitution to investigate), and the thing I had asked for: a wooden box of small drawers she had brought home from Korea, and used as a jewelry box.

Rex was delighted to hear that we were heading next to the Warhawk Air Museum, of which he apparently is an active member, contributor, and participant, having been a pilot in World War II. He and Miguel realized they share an interest, and so Miguel heard about the P-47 that had just shown up for the 4th of July airshow but hadn’t left yet, and the F-104 parked out back that had to be seen.

P-47 Thunderbolt at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho

P-47 Thunderbolt at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho

F-104 Starfighter

F-104 Starfighter

Though I had suggested the museum stop as a way to placate the boys, I ended up really enjoying it, and wished there was more time to spend exploring. Tara was drawn to the women of WWII section and said she wanted to have one of the uniform jackets hanging in display. I liked the old posters. Tara bought a Rosie the Riveter T-shirt.

There were many cabinets such as this one that tracks, through the placement of mementos, the history of an Air Force pilot and his wife, and their impressive careers.

There were many displays like this one that tracks, through the placement of mementos, the impressive careers of an Air Force pilot and his wife.

Join the WAVES!

Join the WAVES!

The kids had been begging us to return home, almost from the moment we began, so parents compromised with kids by agreeing to head back earlier than necessary if they agreed to comply with our stops along the way. We left Nampa all rather eager to get into higher elevation and out of the heat of the Treasure Valley.

Serendipitously, we parents decided that since we were heading back a full day prior to plan, then we didn’t have any reason to fly back along the Interstate. Instead, we struck out on Highway 26 through central Oregon, places that Arno and I had not been before, though his boys had been out there during previous summer camps with OMSI.

Graffiti in Oregon: we don't do anything around here without activism of some sort.

Graffiti at a rest stop in Oregon. Listen, we don’t do anything around here without activism of some sort.

On the map we spotted Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and what looked like several campgrounds right inside the boundaries. Sure enough, there were three awesome campgrounds close the the highway. You can’t beat $5 a night. We chose the one we liked best. After 7 pm, all traffic stopped out there in the wilds, so it was a peaceful, cool, and mostly bug-less night.

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d'Alene

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d’Alene

I miss my mom.

It’s been almost a year now since she died of cancer. The nasty black insidious mold creeping through her tiny body and taking hold everywhere before anyone knew what was going on.

I still have her last text messages on my phone. I finally found the strength to read through them today. Well, almost. I read through most of it, absorbing the awful meaning of the fumbled letters from her shaky fingers. I was at work and had to stop when the tears blurred the screen. I’ll share this desperately poignant and personal lingering bit of my mother with you.

December 1, 2011

Mom: I am thrilled with the Rosewater. (I bought some of her favourite perfume for her) Also I shake so bas in the morn I can hardly txt

Me: I was wondering about that – the texts.

Mom: sorry

Me: Pa sent the kindest email about how you need to know what a Legacy you’ve created. I will send it to you.

Me: Grandma Freda’s brother Dwight is a pastor, and he has been praying for you. He’s got an inside track to God, ha ha!!

December 2, 2011

Me: I had a great talk w your brother last night. He is perfect up there right now. (Mike parked his RV at a park in Bonners Ferry.) I am so glad he’s going to stay in Bonners for awhile.

December 3, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. I love you. Scrambling eggs and leftover ham for T before ballet.

Me: Are you available for a phone call?

Mom: Not yet.we R just loading laundry.I’ll call

Me: ok

December 4, 2011

Me: Good morning, my Moma!!

Mom: Gettingalot sicker.I may needU sooner. I’m trying to ignore but igs getter harder.I have to tons of xmascards, I already cant evenwrite tons of mistaaks

Me: Moma!! I can write cards for you!! I am so eager to help. Thank you for letting me know, i will talk to my boss.

Mom: Bruv (She called her twin brother Mike “Bruv”) will be livin in town,bet we can work out a plan!

Me: Yes, but you have no wireless Internet, so I may disintegrate with despair! Ha ha

Me: Is life possible without Internet?

Mom: Bruv is hooked to RVERTHING at motel!

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure. I can go visit him and check my email.

Mom: Boys here next week end,so mayby anyday after that

December 5, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. Miss T (my daughter) slept with me last night. She is the sweetest girl. We are so lucky to have her.

Mom: She is something that gets richer every year

Me: Yes, that’s true

Me: We dropped to 28 last night. 30 deg now

Mom: We R15. Di d U loose a maroony jacket?I found it in my closet

Me: I can’t think of any jacket I’m missing.

Mom: ok

Me: I have been thinking about how awesome your visit in June was. The food carts, naked bikers, clothes shopping, graduation dress.

Me: It was probably one of our best visits ever. How lucky we are.

Mom: Wow. That was such a suupper great time we had. amazng gift

December 6, 2011

Me: Just talked with my supervisor’s boss about leaving. I will come up there Saturday. I have enough vacation time to go through Jan 20.

Mom: I     was qoin t  o

December 7, 2011

Me: I put up the website today, and people have already donated $265 toward your medical bills! People are wonderful. 🙂

December 9, 2011

Me: I get to see you tomorrow, Moma! And you get to see your boys tonight.

And that’s it. As you can see, she lost the ability to text, and so I stopped trying. I sent two more messages in case she could look at her phone and read it.

I arrived December 10th and she was gone December 15th. She couldn’t really talk, but for a couple of days, she could tell what was going on, and I was able to make her smile once or twice.

Still can’t bring myself to clear my text messages. In fact, I still pull my phone out to send her texts. She’s that much a part of my life still. There are some moments when I can’t believe she’s gone. I know it’s a cliche. But this woman was so full of LIFE! How can she not be alive? And she was intermingled in my life in every way. I get angry sometimes that I don’t get any more of her. But mostly, I’m sad.

Gramilda, Pulek, and me, at her home in Nampa

I told Arno not too long ago that I believe I live in such a way that I invite drama into my life. Not drama in a negative sense, but more along the lines of Big Happenings. I live with my mind open and my eyes open, and while all the normal crazy things in life happen to me (as they do with everyone else), a whole bunch of other things happen too. I create this sort of “happening” energy around me, where pistons are firing on all cylinders all the time.

To make it more chaotic, I choose to engage with everything that comes along. I feel all the requisite emotions (and then some), I participate whenever possible, and you guessed it: I am often exhausted.

Recently I have had to endure the stresses associated with loss of loved ones (something I can’t control) as well as the stress of getting ready to live in another country (something I can control), and all the little adventures in between!

As I have recently talked about here, my mother died in December, very unexpectedly. Her mother, whom I call Gramilda (Grandma + her name, Armilda), took the blow severely. Gramilda has been suffering from poor health for several years. Now she had the death of her firstborn child to grieve, and it was too much for her to overcome.

Gramilda died Thursday night.

I talked to her a week ago Sunday. At the time, she knew she was going to die, and she sounded at peace with it. She said we were not allowed to be sorry or feel bad about it. That she is happy she doesn’t have to be old anymore, because she was sick of it. Gramilda said she refused to let another one of her children go before her, and thus was willing her own passing. Achingly poignant.

I can’t exactly grieve for her, because my heart is still all walled off from trying to avoid grieving for my mother. (She says, tongue-in-cheek) But seriously, I am not emotionally prepared to process another loss. Especially during a time when I have have had limited communications with the outside world.

HP guts (and my green toenail polish!)

My computer quit on me almost two weeks ago. Everything fine, then… blip! Nothing. I went 5 days with nothing at all except work computers, and about went mad. I had spent all my savings on Tara’s plane ticket to Japan (more on that later), and a new computer for Tara, whose own laptop had finally kicked the bucket just last month. Totally broke, my knight, Arno, saved me and bought me a new laptop.

The great thing is that only the hardware gave it up. All my saved files and documents and photos and spreadsheets are just fine. I got all the old stuff transferred from the old hard drive onto the new computer, and I’m back in business finally.

Our tent on the sand of the Sandy River, near Mt. Hood

This is Mother’s Day weekend, the one I had planned as my Tara Weekend prior to departure. Next weekend is Arno’s Weekend prior to departure. The weekend after that, I fly to Hiroshima, Japan, and then take the shuttle to Iwakuni. My choice for how to spend the weekend with my daughter was to go camping. So we set up a tent and a campfire on the beach on Friday night.

She looks great in a tuxedo!

It’s important to spend this time together, but not even Mother’s Day and Mom-Daughter time overrides the constant flow of activities in our lives. We had to break right in the middle for Prom.

Tara is only a Freshman, but was invited by her Senior friend to go to the big Junior-Senior event of the year. She is just daring enough to decide to wear a tux instead of a dress. She called me at work Wednesday, “Hey! Prom is this weekend! I need a tux!” Which is, if you are a parent, often the way things get brought to your attention. I had the luxury of three whole days to prepare. We picked up the tux without any trouble aside from the bill: $190! Luckily they gave us a $50 off coupon for first-time customers.

And so now, thoughts turn more and more toward Japan. I was selected for a temporary position with my employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs, to work for 4 1/2 months in Japan to explain VA benefits to soldiers separating from military service. I’ll be responsible for three bases on the mainland. A Marine base in Iwakuni, Air Force base in Misawa, and a Navy base in Sasebo.

Many things have been happening during April and May, but as you can see…very little evidence of it has appeared on my blog. Well, the most telling sign of all that I am extremely occupied (and have a dead computer): no posts! Rest assured, I will blog again.

Very soon, you will be hearing what it’s like for me to live in Japan. Sadly, my home will be on a U.S. base and not in the community, which would be my preference. But I am learning the language with Pimsleur audio lessons, and I plan to leave the military base as often as I can fit it into my schedule!

tracks in the snow

Arno and I are getting to know each other still. And we will continue to, of course, for years to come. He has seen that deeply personal messages sent originally to him will sometimes end up in a public forum. He said he’s realizing that <in his words> I am a writer, and a writer is going to write.</in his words> And the fact that it ends up posted on the Internet for all the world to see does not cheapen the intimate moments we have shared.

So yesterday at lunch when he told me my last email to him about my mother’s death was so passionate that it made him cry, I told him “Well, I just typed and then clicked Send. But if it’s that good, honey, it will probably end up on my blog.” Well, here is a part of my email to Arno. Only slightly edited.

***

snow rabbit

I stopped for the night at a hotel in Ritzville. I need to write Mom’s obituary. I was going to do that today, but got interrupted by packing up her things. It was hard, and upset me. Jim feels bad now, and I know he didn’t realize what a difficult thing he was asking of me. I don’t want him to feel bad about it. There is enough pain without adding more.

This morning when I woke up, I heard Mom’s ragged breathing. I had to look over to reassure myself that the hospital bed was gone, and Mom was not there, suffering. I knew I couldn’t bear another night there. I guess we probably all have a limited amount of tolerance for trauma. People who suffer with trauma for extended periods of time must go half crazy and get sick too. In the moments of her death, I thanked Mom for making it so easy on us. The quick journey through her dying was a gift for us and for her. Gramilda (Mom’s mom) said she thinks Mom did that on purpose, to make it easier on us. Ha, I can’t help but think she’s probably right. If Mom could find a way to take care of us while she was dying, I’m sure that’s what she did.

whose little feet made these?

So anyway, I may linger here alongside the freeway and take care of my last critical task. I can send the obit to the paper via email. My car is packed full of her stuff, and I may or may not get to it in a timely manner. Being away from the cabin makes it easier for me to fall into my old pattern of avoidance. I wish that trauma didn’t make me want to run. I went for a walk in the snow today (when I saw all those great tracks and sent you pictures from my phone), and I thought “I just can’t walk far enough.” No amount of running fixes anything. Today the walk didn’t even make me feel better. But being away from the cabin helps. I was still trying to take care of everybody. Maybe they didn’t need it. Maybe they didn’t even want it. But I can’t help but try to shoulder responsibility and boost everyone else’s feelings. It just sucks my energy out. I am not good at moderation. I seem to want to do things fully or not at all.

Man, I’m so glad I went to north Idaho when I did. The whole thing was so much quicker than I ever expected, or was mentally prepared for. But I’m tremendously glad I was there. When she died, it was such a relief to hear her quiet and at rest. Finally. I just wrapped my arms around her and held on to her and cried and cried. I felt greedy for the last bit of her life. Her body was warm, and I remember thinking I wanted to have her warmth, because that was all that was left. I held her until I realized it was my own body still keeping her warm in the cold room.

When I was finally able to leave the room, it was my biggest step toward letting her go. I did not look at her again. I did not watch when they took her away.

Driving away from the mountain, everything I saw was her. It was like the essence of my mother was in the air. Those mountains, the valleys, the river, the town of Bonners Ferry – they are all my mother. All I ever knew of those places is because of her. I was always with her there. I would never have gone there but for her. I know it all so well, and it’s always been flavoured with her perspective, her stories, her spirit and influence, her friends, her dreams, her thoughts.

I think the next time I go back will be another step of letting her go, if I can learn what life is like without her, then go back. If I can look at that part of Idaho in a world without my mother, I can re-frame what I see with new definitions. What will the snowy peaks look like without Mom? The yellow fields of cut hay and wooden fences and horses? They will still have her face and her voice when I stand there. The birds will sing in the trees the way that they do because of her. The squirrels will scold with all their boldness in the world she polished up for them. But how will that world change when she’s not here anymore?

And when I get home, what will my world look like without her? Her artistry is behind my world too. What is the next chapter of my life, where I am the mother now, and I look behind me at Tara instead of in front of me at my Mother? I don’t even want to know. But I guess I will find out.

Mom and I at a favourite Bonners Ferry, Idaho cafe two years ago.

My mother is dying of cancer. From the looks of things, combined with my extreme lack of experience with cancer, or of death, I think she has anywhere from a few days to a few weeks left. Or maybe a month, but I hope not, because this is no life.

I wish I had written sooner. I wanted to record my feelings as I went through this, so it might be of some help for me when I grieve in the future. But it is very hard for me to write about my denial, and then shock, and then determination, and then despair.

She’s my mom! My pretty Momma. The woman who was always there is now mostly gone, though some of her is still here, like when she was fighting me just now. I’m trying to get her into the bathtub, because it’s the first time I’ve seen her stand in 24 hours. But she won’t go. And what power she yet yields! It makes me smile.

And so yes, the despair is gone and now I have an immense sadness, and an awed sense of beauty and love.

I am so very lucky and grateful to have spent Veteran’s day weekend with her, and then Thanksgiving. It was shocking to see the vast changes from the middle of November to the end of November. During Thanksgiving she asked me to help her write her living will. She has a terrible fear that she will be taken to the hospital, because she does not want to die in a hospital. So, I was sitting beside her on the couch, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and she was asking me to read and explain things to her. She made a few notes to herself, so she could go ask her doctor about them. Her pen hovered above the paper for a moment, and she made a curve in the air with her finger, then turned to me, “Sis, how do I make a question mark?”

Mom's question mark on the living will

It’s the loss of her clear thinking that I did not expect, and that I have the hardest time dealing with. My mother, who has written long, detailed letters her entire life, couldn’t remember how to make a question mark. During that late November week, she had frequent periods where she would fade out, and fade back in with conversation from a different topic. But I could talk myself into believing it was because of her fatigue, or the pain meds. I talked with her on the phone December 3rd. She drifted and stopped talking a couple times, but it was still very easy to communicate with her.

But now, she speaks only a few words a day. Maybe she’ll say “no” or “water,” but that’s about it. And as vastly helpful as those few words are, I sense they will not be around much longer. I remind myself to transition to non-verbal communication.

She hears just fine, though sentences are often too confusing for her to understand. But simple ideas get through. “My beautiful Momma,” I said to her, as I stroked her hair, and though her eyes had been closed, she smiled. It was so wonderful to connect.

P.S. My mother and her husband Jim do not have health insurance, and she’s too young for Medicare. I made a website to solicit donations. There is also a prize for one person, whose name I will draw from the donators. So, even if you don’t know us, maybe you’d like to have a little holiday fun for a good cause. Please see the website.

Pete

Bwaaaahhhhh!!!

Sorry. I had to. I feel better now.

 

april

Oh my gosh, you got me laughing out loud with this. Akacia finds it depressing though. : )

david

Funny. Cute. I loved it. 🙂

katje

Loved it. 🙂

But I have a gallows sense of humor, or so they tell me.

crystal

April, David, J,

Thanks for the returned laughs! I have a twisted sense of humour myself. I needed to lighten things up a bit. Still feeling morose about the loss of my friend Kevin, then I get this image emailed to me at work with the subject line: Loss of a Friend. I’m thinking “Oh, geez, who found out and why are they bringing it up? I don’t want to talk about it.” I saw the picture and, like you April, laughed out loud. It was good medicine. So I put it on Gaia to let any readers know that I am healing. hugs to you guys.

Kevin making me laugh during Portland Pride

Back atcha’, Kevin, I’m really glad to have met you.

Goodbye, Kevin.

I didn’t know you that well. Only spent one day with you, to be honest. You were my boyfriend’s friend – he met you at a meeting – and since that’s his private battle that I can’t begin to understand, I try to let him have a place that is his own, which includes his own friends, those friends who can understand the SHIT of the battle that you were facing, friends who don’t need him to spell out all the details like he has to do with me because I just don’t get it.

expressing a lack of inhibition

Friends like you, Kevin. Who got it.

You got that the disease is hell. You got the twisted humor of genetics that came together to both create us and destroy us. You got the insanity of screaming “no, no, no” and MEANING it, while reaching for more.

You were young, handsome, intelligent, and beautiful like so many of your peers. Yet, all the good in your life was not enough to stop the path of destruction carved by your sickness.

Sometimes there is no wall high enough, or thick enough, or tough enough, with enough endurance, with enough of an army standing by – to fight this ugly, ugly, deathly disease.

And I am really sorry we can’t hang out ever again.

Kevin and me with dykes on bikes

Because I liked you. And you were a big doofus who made me laugh. And that is a good thing.

I send my love to your fiance, who found you. I send my love to your parents, who just lost a 30 year old son to an invisible demon foe. I send my love to my boyfriend who got your text that night, “Hey, when you get a chance, call me tomorrow.” I send my love to your other brother-in-arms, who called to let us know what happened and who is still reeling.

I send my love to ALL of you with this stupid Effing disease!!! This frustrating, maddening, pull my hair out, effed up journey through hell with a promise of – not even bliss – just a promise of “less hell” if you can manage to stay clean. It sucks. It makes me pissed off to even try to put it into words because there aren’t words to paint an accurate picture.

So hey, Kevin. I hope you are feeling no more pain. While you were here, you reached out and placed a little more beauty and laughter in the world. There was a time when you were the only friend my boyfriend had, and he needed you like you had no idea. Thanks for laughing at his f’d up stories of his own freakish journey, and for helping him find calm on some days when nothing, and no one, not even me, could do it. I owe you. I am grateful to you. I am glad there was you.

Comments from the old blog:

katje

There’s not much I can say, so here are some e-hugs.

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((Crystal))))))))))))))))))))))))))

And I think this was a very well-written, evocative tribute to a lost friend. 🙂

crystal

Hey J,

THanks for the hugs. Need them today. It’s good to have a friend “nearby” so that I feel more surrounded by love.

My daughter burst out this morning: “Hey! It’s Saturday! That means cartoons. I haven’t watched cartoons on TV since… since…. LAST Saturday!”

We clung to each other and cried all day long yesterday at funeral service for her Great Grandmother. She told me she hoped that people wouldn’t talk about only sad things at the funeral. I assured her there would be funny stuff, because I know my family… but I underestimated the grief.

In the afternoon we gathered with my Pa, his wife, his daughter-in-law, and my partner. This small  intimate lunch was where the pent-up tension released a little for my daughter and me. We joked and laughed over our food.

Well, the final result is that despite the dull ache of losing my Gramma, with my family around me and some laughs, I feel much better today.

Grandma Haley camping with us

I just found out a couple hours ago that my grandmother died. Grandma Freda Haley of the big Haley clan, and the reigning Matriarch of that family, as well as the Truloves. She was 82, and had been ill for months, but not so ill that this quick passing was expected.

Gramma at the reunion

Gramma was the second of 8 children, but Great Uncle Bill died in 1946 when mortar fire hit his tank in WWII. So Gramma was the oldest and all her brothers and sisters loved her so.

She married Rex Trulove and had six children – my Pa is not quite the youngest. I’ve done a bit of genealogy this summer, and by my rudimentary calculations, Freda’s children, grand-children, great-grandchildren – and one great, great-grandchild!!! – and their partners make up about 53 people.
I saw her this August at a family reunion. She was a smaller version of her vivacious self; not as loud, not as brazen, not as big. Her face was less physically beautiful – someone else had applied her makeup for her. Gramma was there despite the deception age placed on her skin, and it didn’t take any effort to see the amazing woman inside. Her devious eyes watching me like a hawk when she made up crazy stuff and told me with a straight face to see if I would catch it. Her bawdy jokes about sex and booze that she made up on the spot. Her willingness to use age as an excuse to cut in line and get the only brownie left, and to get wheeled into the shade when the sun got too warm. She would turn in her chair and look at me and laugh. I got the sense that she was still sort of surprised to be getting away with it.

The memories I have of her are primarily times when I was busting at the seams laughing. She could  – and did – drink as much or more than anyone at the table. She always knew the best jokes and it didn’t matter if I was 12: I could hear them with everyone else. I remember when my Pa brought her to Pine Ridge Inn, in Tamarack, Idaho for the Friday night jam session. She explained that the piano wasn’t tuned to the way she knew her songs, but with a little encouragement, she played and sang all night with the rest of us. (Yep, me and my little guitar and a mic in a redneck bar when I was only 10 years old)

with Gramma at the reunion

When she lived in Klamath Falls she had this teeny, white and curly haired, wiggly mess of Teacup Poodle named Sheba. One of the only dogs I’ve ever loved. Now, whenever I hear the name Sheba, I think it’s a poodle name. I was with her when her cat had babies, and I watched each one be born in a cardboard box. When the mother cat neglected the kittens, Sheba obliged. I was so impressed.

Her great love in recent years was her trusty companion, Spike. He was an indoor cat and gave her love back to her. When Gramma wrote a newsletter for her senior community, she included “Spike’s Corner” for news about pets. Spike died this year too.

Gramma was the only person I remember who washed my mouth out with soap. I don’t even remember what I said. I knew I deserved trouble, and there was no one else there to appeal to. I just accepted it. She opened a brand new bar of soap and made me put the whole thing in my mouth and move it around. Egad! That was horrible. The punishment was so effective that it wasn’t until I joined the Air Force before I was brave enough to learn how to cuss properly.

I have memories of her at huntin’ camp. Back in the days where it was a grown-up’s world and the kids were only invited along because they couldn’t be left home alone. There was coffee or beer to drink at huntin’ camp. I couldn’t bear coffee at that age, so I had beer for breakfast, and then I’d go find a creek to drink, or melt snow in my mouth if we were lucky to get an early fall storm. Gramma seemed at home camping. She was there at the famous Easter camp at some pond. Was it Otter Pond? Beaver Pond? The Easter Bunny found us out there and hid eggs in the Oregon Grape and amongst the pine and fir trees. Somebody imbibed too much and fell into the fire. That was the year I learned how to get over my squeamishness and bait my hook with a live grasshopper and I caught my first fish. It was only about 4 inches long, but my Pa was so proud he filleted it for me and fried it up anyway.

We’ve got this picture of Gramma in her chair right in a river. She’s got her pant legs wet, with her bare feet in the moving water, and a coffee cup (probably filled of whiskey and ice). I can’t remember where that was taken. Maybe it was one of the times she camped with us at Brownlee Dam on the Snake River.

She always laughed and laughed. She made everyone else laugh. She had had a hard life, sometimes things were bountiful, but often in poverty and want. All her kids and her siblings say to me about it is how she made life fun no matter what the circumstances were.

We are all so proud of her.

Grandpa Rex Trulove, Grandma Freda, Aunt Pat, Aunt Judy; my Pa and baby Uncle Buzz in front.

She was proud of her Cherokee heritage. Our Haley family came from Talequah, OK to Oregon. Gramma told me she was called Ho Ho Nay, meaning Calf-Woman. There was a great little story about why, but sadly I’ve forgotten it.

I complained once about being so fair skinned and blonde, saying I don’t look even remotely Cherokee. She told me to shush because she had a framed photo of a Cherokee Chief on her wall and the man had green eyes. I have green eyes. It made me feel better. I have big Indian eyes, especially when I was younger. I’m so white I’m translucent, but when I tan, I get golden dark, dark. I have a lighter streak of hair that naturally grows on my right temple and didn’t think much of until I saw a photo of Gramma with her hair parted in the same place, and a white-blonde streak in the same spot.

Send me some love. I’m so sad I couldn’t be at work today. I need to be strong for the services tomorrow in Eugene.

Comment from the old blog:

april

I’m sending love! I am sorry for your loss, and thankful for the rush of memories you provoked for my own grandmothers that have passed on. Thank you for sharing your grief and your memories with us, my dear friend. And for holding space for your grief by taking the day off and really allowing yourself to experience it.

Oooooh, so timely, go read Joy and Sorrow. The depth of your grief is a reflection of the joy your Gramma brought you.

crystal

Thank you, Ophelia, that’s a beautiful poem.

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