June 24, 2015

Class

Dr. Carolyn Saarni

Dr. Carolyn Saarni

Last week I learned of the death of one of my grad school professors, Dr. Carolyn Saarni. In addition to being a world-renowned scholar and author specializing in developmental psychology, Carolyn was much beloved by us, her students. Personally, I admired her so deeply for the life that she crafted for herself: she had a beautiful home in Berkeley, was very close to her family, was fit and trim and healthy (until she contracted lymphoma, relatively recently), and bicycled and traveled all over the world, taking gorgeous photos with which she would grace her PowerPoint presentations for our enjoyment. She was dating and would make sly references to her love life during her lectures — always in a classy fashion. She was SO young and vibrant and full of life. She had just turned 70 three weeks ago. Carolyn was my professor through two really rough courses: Developmental and Clinical Issues with Children and Adolescents, and the Research and Design course which resulted in my master’s thesis. I was so fortunate to learn from her and to be touched by her lively spirit and love of adventure. I am deeply saddened that someone so keenly full of life was robbed of additional years that likely would have been just as vibrant and exciting. Thank you, Carolyn. Your memory lives on in the lives that you have changed.

June 13, 2015

Six months.

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Tags: , , , , , , — Ann @ 4:44 pm
My father.

My father.

Six months to the day since I (we, all of us) lost my Dad. I’ve received loving support in abundance, for which I’m grateful. Another reason to be grateful: my Mom’s friends and neighbors have stepped up completely to bring food and company. They show up at her door with a container of soup or a casserole saying, “I made too much last night; here you go,” and I know the “too much” was intentional and I love them for it.

In the past six months I’ve learned more about loss and mourning than I ever really wanted to know. Because words are my conduit to understanding — whether I’m writing or reading them — in these months I’ve studied dozens of articles and essays on grief, looked at countless quotes, and pored over my counseling books. The truest quote I’ve discovered to date is this one: “Grief does not change us; it reveals us.” The experience of loss becomes itself a question, and the answer rests in the lives we choose to lead in the midst of unspeakable sorrow.

My life is different now. How could it not be, without my Dad? And not just in ways we would expect after losing a parent. For me there is a deepening of the spirit, a desire to be closer to my truest self to honor my father and his memory. A part of who I am is set aside forevermore, dedicated to the role of living eulogy.

It’s so like my father to figure out a way to inspire me to try harder and strive more earnestly on a daily basis, even after his death. Six months since his passing and I think I’m a better person, or at least a wiser one. I want to say I wish he were here to know it but, first, even if he were here he would wave off any attempt on my part to convince him I need to improve (he thought I was perfect as I was). And secondly, more importantly, I think somehow he knows that I’m trying. Wherever he is, he knows. It’s my spiritual journey, it’s my path, but there’s a sense that Dad is walking with me, every step of the way.

April 5, 2015

Life: Mourning and Celebration

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Tags: , , , , — Ann @ 11:06 am
The light is always there.

The light is always there.

After my father died on January 13th of this year, my mind began to process thoughts and images at an accelerated rate. Some mourners describe feelings of “blankness” or “going numb” but for me it was the opposite: thoughts and visual streams were spinning their grief triggers at maximum speed. At times I felt as though I were experiencing the clich├ęd death’s-door experience of seeing my entire life flash before my eyes: childhood memories were a constant slideshow…things my Dad said, did, things we said and did together, images of he and my Mom, the family, vacations, conversations…thumbnail reminders of his presence in my life. And, of course, all of that re-experiencing was accompanied by a sadness so heavy that I felt pinned to the earth by Jovian gravity.

But among those thoughts and images, others emerged as well: happy memories in the making. Weddings, picnics, barbecues, engagement parties, baby showers, reunions — and these images had nothing to do with my father or my family. Instead, I was imagining strangers together, smiling, laughing, drinking Champagne, raising glasses, opening gifts, celebrating. It was as though, in the midst of unbearable grief, my mind wanted me to remember that somewhere out there, far away from me but out there nonetheless, there was joy. I needed to remember joy. And to believe that I’d be in the midst of it again someday.

Last night I attended a community celebration of Passover. The room was packed, the music was loud, the wine was freely flowing, and I was surrounded by the dearly loved faces of friends old and new. As I sat taking it all in, I remembered. My mind formed a thought: “This is joy.” I greedily drank in every sensory aspect of the experience; I needed to memorize it in case I forgot it again.

This morning, I penned a thank-you note to the person who sponsored my attendance at the celebration. I ended by writing, “After my father died, I craved the other side of grief. Last night was that experience, and I’m filled with gratitude.”

August 18, 2013

Do you get it yet? You have to stop smoking, now.

Filed under: Rants! — Tags: , , , , , , , — Ann @ 10:20 am

This says it all.

I lost a friend to lung cancer last week. In the 1980s, she was my director for a number of community theatre musicals. On March 18th of this year I received an email from her through that theatre’s Yahoogroups list, thanking all of us for birthday wishes and signed, “Love to all!” It’s five months later, and she’s dead. A vibrant, life-loving woman in her 70s, gone.

Maybe people in their 20s, 30s and 40s (according to Gallup, the largest group of smokers) think that when they’re older they won’t treasure life as much. How can we make young smokers understand that, at 75, they will want to live active, energetic lives just as passionately as they do now? Maybe that cognitive leap isn’t possible. Tobacco companies are banking on that inability to see as a 20-something just how desperately you will cling to life as an elder — and just how worthwhile life will be.

When I heard what my friend had died of, I Googled “what is it like to die of lung cancer?” and read an About.com article with growing horror. Nonstop coughing, gasping for breath, increasing weakness, decreased appetite and weight loss, confusion and, of course this: “It’s very likely that you will experience pain in your final stages of lung cancer.” Severe pain, as the cancer spreads to your chest and spine bones. If you smoke, think of someone you love very much experiencing those symptoms. Unbearable, right? Please love yourself enough not to want the same for you.

And, by the way, I’m not just, well…blowing smoke. I get that puffing can be awesome and quitting can be hell. I was a pack-a-day smoker for 20 years before quitting cold turkey at age 35. I was motivated by an article I’d read about a little girl with cystic fibrosis whose mother had to dangle her upside down and whack her back several times daily to clear her chest so the girl could breathe. I thought, “That little girl would give anything to have healthy lungs, and I’m voluntarily harming mine.” I quit the next morning.

If you want stop-smoking tips, message me. I will help.

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