Listen to Your Art

“Listen to Your Art”

In April I said goodbye to my friend of 25+ years – she left earth exhausted and without words.

The last 7 months I’ve heard and seen the realities of grief – of my own, of those who also love my friend, and of those who have lost a love I didn’t know but have shared their grief with me – Grief and reconciliation and the need for healing are rampant in our world.

Less than a month ago, my daughter asked if I’d travel to Amsterdam with her since no one else had the same work time-off. I texted my German penpal, asking if she’d meet us there, too.

An ocean away yet my penpal responded within minutes, “I’m in.”

Today I went all over Amsterdam with my daughter and lifelong penpal – we went to the Banksy exhibit @mocomuseum , and later in the day, I biked Amsterdam’s streets with my daughter who I taught how to ride a bike; chasing her down a golf course fairway holding onto her bicycle seat, yelling, pedal! go! and with my penpal who as children, we were introduced by our parents – a gazillion letters ago –

Life is fleeting yet friendship is like the light that decided to show up on this #Banksy work of art right while I was taking a closer look –

Present yet sometimes flickering and sometimes seemingly out of reach – True friendship is a two-party contract that stands up to the tests of time; showing up when least expected and in ways, more moving than I, pre-grief, could’ve imagined “I’m in and here to stay. I’m tucked safely within you; securely fastened within your heart right exactly where the real magic lives.”

And listen here – pinkie swear –

We’re taking care of each other’s hearts and art forevermore.

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I know deep within my heart that she would’ve liked this if she were alive to “like” my art.

I was listening then, and I’m listening now.

That has not changed.

Befriending the Unfriended

45 days ago I was unfriended.  Not by choice, but by death, by lung cancer. After Julie’s death, I pretty much quit facebook; taking it off my phone and only replying to notifications. If Julie’s gone, who else cares to see my story and images – why post and why engage when my most encouraging yet objective critic isn’t online? She’s the only one outside of my immediate family who’d never actually unfriend me. Doesn’t everyone else use this platform to stalk and to scrutinize each other, why provide the material? Boy did I needed a kick toward positivity: do it for hope – do it for all those you love who remain – do it for your faith!

Last night when letting my dog out, I looked up to see two doves on a telephone wire with an incredible cloud show in the background. Two “old” birds just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company for no real reason. Not worrying about what everyone else is up to or posting selfies at the latest and greatest location, but truly together, taking in nature and feeling content. Julie called this goal, “a relaxed joyfulness.”  The wave of grief, my annoying sidekick these days, knocked me for a loop. It hits so randomly, ugh.

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Yet, today, less than 24 hours later, an envelope arrived on my doorstep from my dear high school-befriended-again-via-Facebook friend, Jon, and his wife who live across the country in AL. What on earth could this be!? Inside, a handwritten letter (side-note: Jon, the fit I find with my camera, you most definitely find with your pen!)  explained why I’d been given a hand-crafted work of art by Jon’s friend, Nizhoni Thompson.

Through your kindness, Jon and Wanda, I’m inspired to resume –

“wandering the world, seeking the sublime, capturing creation, glorifying God”

befriending the unfriended; restoring power when the Lights have seemingly gone out for good.

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We only get one shot – let’s make it beautiful

for us and for others.

 

 

0° of Separation

I’m building you a garden.

“I’ll be visiting a lot.” – Jules, a month before she died.

Do you believe in life after death?

Faith is believing in what we cannot see.

I listened to her last dying words – the messages she told me from behind her full-face oxygen mask as she laid in a hospital bed with a broken hip in her final days of battling lung cancer.  Her hands trembled as she attempted to reach at the oxygen mask, trying to pull it from her face so she could speak. She looked at me with her traumatized eyes and talked through the air blasting into her nose and mouth:

what kind of dressing?

You need to put it in an envelope.

I’ve been kind of busy lately.
Where are we going?
How are we going to get there?
So I have to walk?
Thank you for being available to me, it means a lot to me.
This is the way I wanted to go.
After her death, I happened to stop at a random Costco Wholesale to buy only one item. Headed to the cashier with my can of mixed nuts, I took a  detour when I saw a display of rose bushes.  I could tell they had been housed in the indoor light and without a recent watering (nothing a little love couldn’t cure) yet decided it was fate since I’d never seen rose bushes for sale in a Costco. I inspected the bushes and chose one based on the color of its buds.  It’s common name, Fire & Ice. Seemed like a fitting name for a plant to begin my Jules’ garden.
And now, two weeks later and a month after her passing, the Fire & Ice rose bush is going nuts!

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Jules always kept her word with me, and now I see, in death, she continues to speak; no longer muffled from entering oxygen or from the interruption of a lack of breath.

It’s our active choice to believe we sometimes won’t be able to explain why, when, where, how or the extraordinary but to trust we may see who.

And to me, this is faith –

An assurance that there’s life after death and there’s 0° separation if we listen to the messengers who’ve gone, returned and report we’re NOT going nuts when we see and hear the unexpected. Instead, we’re being led to the truth –

It really is phenomenal

where we’ve never been but where our late loved ones live!

 

From This Point Forward

Relaxed joyfulness is found at the point

when we have everything we could ever need,

and we know it.

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“Welcome to the Party, Let’s Celebrate”
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“Repeat After Me”
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“From This Point Forward”

 

Rest in relaxed joyfulness, J⁴

07.27.1954 – 04.05.2018

I’ll see you in the Light

and honor your grace

all the livelong day.

http://www.neckgrace.com

http://www.rpstillworks.com

 

 

From the Flight Deck

I prayed on the way to pick up my lunch date,

Please God, give me the emotional strength to wheel her in a wheelchair.

Amen.

I arrived at her house.  Lasso-ing her 40-foot in-home oxygen line, she looked beautiful as she secured herself to the portable oxygen machine. Her hair looked freshly fixed and her makeup impeccable.

She gathered her supplies.

1 portable oxygen tank

1 car power adaptor for the oxygen

1 extra battery for the oxygen tank

1 long cord for the oxygen tank

1 handicap parking placard

1 bottle of water

And her purse.

Without mentioning her newly rented wheelchair, she said, let’s go.

The captain had spoken.

I didn’t question her, and we took off – wheelchair-less.

We drove to the first restaurant, and I pulled my car up to the valet, so she’d have a short walk into the courtyard to sit. An easel holding a sign, Closed Until 4 saved us from the rigamarole of car-exiting and restaurant-entering. We discussed other lunch place options and quickly decided, Lon’s, a hotel restaurant with a patio to enjoy the day’s sunshine.

I drove a few minutes in the direction from which we’d just come and pulled into the hotel’s parking lot.  The valet, busy with other customers, didn’t help us, so we sat in a holding pattern, watching and waiting.  We didn’t want to exit without knowing we had an easy way to enter.

I parked and exited my car, but left the car running – we were dependent on the car to power the cord charging her portable oxygen tank. I approached the valet, questioning if they were open.  He asked, hotel or restaurant?

Restaurant, but we need effortless access -the shortest distance to the outdoor seating. The valet pointed toward the valet parking lot and directed us: Go in there, park your car and take the side entrance to the restaurant.

So that’s what we did.

We gathered all of her belongings, and we walked side/side, slowly into the patio area, about 10 feet. Out of breath, she looked at me with the look I’ve become so familiar – that’s all I’ve got.

I told her to sit down in the nearest seat, and I left her to check-in.  Finding the hostess, I asked if it was ok for us to sit at the table where my friend sat. The hostess said,

Of course –

The valet called ahead and told us that you were arriving.

Sit wherever you’d like.

The hostess led me out to the patio where my friend sat and gave us two menus.

The crew looked out for us.

We ate lunch while the mesquite tree overhead sprinkled its leaves on our table.  She blew her nose, she coughed, and she checked her oxygen.

She requested a to-go box for her leftovers, and we sat in silence. We both surveyed the beauty that surrounded us. The sun began to shine over the top of our table’s umbrella, illuminating her face and making her eyes twinkle.

She said to me,

“Know that I plan to visit you when I’m gone, a lot.”

“I know you will. That’s why I’m creating our place where you will visit.”

*******

An eternal gift, from the flight deck, announcing she’s at ease making her final approach,

and I need not worry.

I can rest assured, she’ll be using her wings with no need for pre-board, and most definitely, be wheelchair-less with wheels-up in the garden that I’m preparing for her landings and take-offs.

Cross-check.

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Extra Oxygen

In December 2016, my friends, a father/daughter team, organized a blood drive, and I signed up.  I’d never donated blood, but

J⁴ needed a blood transfusion.  The 12-week chemo/immunotherapy treatment had lowered her blood counts to a point where she desperately needed a life-saving boost. She needed three separate blood transfusions.

Although I knew she wouldn’t receive my blood, I went into the blood drive thinking about her need and about how having her blood type available saved her life. Someone else had given his/her blood for her to live.

I answered, in a private room, the medical history questions – some questions pretty basic, have you lived overseas for more than five years during 1980 -? And some questions downright personal, have you ever paid for sex?  have you ever had gay sex?  I got my finger pricked to draw a bead of blood to check my iron levels. I had my blood pressure and pulse taken.

Then I stretched out on a portable hospital bed and had a pint of blood drawn via IV. I squeezed a rubber ball to encourage the blood flow. When I finished giving, the nurse took an extra seven vials of blood for testing.

I didn’t coast through the whole thing – actually, I had some light headedness and nausea which I’ve now learned is normal.  After donating, I went to bed early, but in the AM, I felt fine.

I thought about the 12 weeks I accompanied J⁴ to chemo.  The needles that stuck her – blood tests, chemo IV, immunotherapy IV.  The machines she’s laid in and tables and hospital beds she’s laid on while having CT scans, radiation and doctor visits. The Penguin Cold Caps we put on her head every 20 minutes before, during and after the treatments.  How cold the caps felt on my gloved hands as I readied them, yet J⁴ had to endure the ice-cold caps wrapped around her head and also carry the worry, will I  save my hair? (which she did!)

A few weeks after donating blood, I received an email from the American Red Cross, asking if I’d give blood again, after 56 days, the required time between giving. Without hesitation, I downloaded the Red Cross’ blood donation app and scheduled my next donation.  I’ve now given 3x since December, and I receive notifications when I’m able to give again.

On my 2nd blood drive visit, I met a woman in the ‘recovery area’ where salty and sugary snacks and waters are served. The woman ate Chips Ahoy cookies while I munched on Cheez-Its.  She told me that she had worked in a trauma unit in an east coast hospital for over 30+ years.  She said she’d given blood, on schedule, for the last 15 years. She witnessed a patient who required 100 units of blood (a person can only give 1 unit/pint, so 100 people saved one life!) and who then fully recovered from his injuries. After seeing the miracle, she committed to giving.

I listened to a Canvas-SF service this week while I strung a NeckGrace. It was about minimalism; Less is More.

“Minimalism is not about having less stuff but it’s about being free to do more which matters. True life, that which is real and full, is found at the intersection of simplicity and generosity. You make a living by what you get, and you make a life by what you give away. Passing blame that you don’t have time is absolving yourself from responsibility – cuz you ‘B-lame” when you blame other things for owning your time. Are you making a living or making a life? Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible – hurried people can’t love. Love takes time. Will you open your hands and loosen your grip on the more that you’re pursuing, so you may have true life.” – Travis

In 2012, healthy and well, three years before lung cancer, J⁴ traveled with us to our family’s favorite beach in the world, Anguilla.  For some local flavor, we recommended she read the book, A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean, written by Melinda and Robert Blanchard, who gave up most of their worldly possessions and most of what they were familiar and moved to Anguilla and started a restaurant, Blanchards. J⁴ loved the book, so once on the island, she went to Blanchards and met the owners. She bought a hat, and they signed it –

I photographed J⁴ on the Anguilla beach wearing her treasured signed hat.

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“Extra Oxygen”

Five years ago, I had no idea that the beauty of these tanks in the foreground to the most beautiful water in the world foreshadowed J⁴’s necessity for extra oxygen.  The extra oxygen that will buy her time; time to read books, time to share with her beloved husband and boys, time to visit places that bring her joy and time to impact the lives of those around her by all that she gives.

Breathe life into yourself by giving blood, extra oxygen, sweat & tears and love in any way, shape or form.

‘Cuz real life doesn’t allow us to take a timeout when the going gets rough, and after we’re gone, the stuff we’ve acquired becomes someone else’s clutter, but what we give away sets us free!

Like when we take a trip to the beach – we keep it simple – some sunscreen, glasses or a good book – all the rest is extra – extra clutter – blocking us from the simplicity and a true life.

Don’t b-lame – give your extra away.

 

 

 

Sight for Sore Eyes

A late spring Saturday night – 6 couples get together for a dinner party in one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever laid eyes on.

My beloved friend, who’s lived and beaten the odds against Stage 4 lung cancer for 2 years and 4 months is there.  She’s now an honorary guest at our cooking group’s dinners and may I say, tonight, she’s a sight for sore eyes!

She’s had her hair done for the evening, and her makeup is flawless. Wearing an airy, blue & white patterned blouse, a white sweater, and white jeans, she’s standing in the hosts’ newly constructed dream kitchen. Guests are touring through the home, and rightfully so, raving about the design and decor.

I’ve taken the tour, so I hunt for the kitchen trash can where I may toss my empty beer bottle while no one’s watching. Discreetly peering behind each cabinet front, I finally find the trash bin and also discover the cabinetry conceals the refrigerators, warmer drawers, freezers, and dishwashers.

Every possible eyesore is disguised.

Guests are milling in the kitchen, choosing their beverages and preparing the food they’ve brought for dinner.

Guests are swapping stories – how are the kids? how’s your work week? what part of dinner did you bring? and even a, who’s new BMW is out on the drive?  

She’s standing on the sidelines in silence.

When she talks, she coughs.

As the drinks flow and the volume rises in the kitchen, the food celebration begins – oysters on the half shell, beef filet on the rotisserie BBQ grill, stuffed portobello mushrooms, spinach salad and caramel-chocolate souffle. A feast fit for royalty prepared in a kitchen fit for a king.

I am watching her.

She’s watching the activity, the conversations.

She’s trying not to cough, stifling it, but she can’t control its persistence. She’s quietly putting a Kleenex up to her mouth and then silently slipping into the back room off the kitchen.

Her Kleenex conceals blood-tinged mucus.

Coughing up blood is the lung cancer’s newest symptom,

and it ain’t pretty.

In fact, it’s downright ugly and upsetting but

brings this thought to light –

All that is downright beautiful is also housing the downright ugly.

People struggle.

We often don’t know others’ struggles – some struggles are more apparent than others, but nothing is perfect, nothing is seamless. We shouldn’t be ashamed or scared of the ugly – for it’s through our struggling, we expose the truth.

We, as humans, often search for the ugly – others’ faults, shortcomings, and secrets but wouldn’t we be more constructive if instead, we all, as a community, opted to share and to celebrate our struggles, so we wouldn’t have to hide?

Instead of looking for the eyesores, we looked at the Sights for Sore Eyes to reveal where strength, courage, perseverance, hope and joy live –

Struggles teach us invaluable lessons –

Genuine moments, like this dinner party, where I see a beauty with undeniable strength enter and leave the room.

That ugly cough doesn’t have her. She’s got it.  She deals with reality but keeps moving, continuing to manage and to celebrate.

Her struggle is real, yet has a purpose.  I tell her story because I’ve been given the gift to watch her, in all her strength and glory, carry on. I am so grateful for her. She’s a

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“Sight For Sore Eyes!”