For Laura

I know some incredible women.

It is one of those women’s birthday today.

Some people just blow you away. Laura inspires me daily. She is an artist, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. A leader. A teacher. An activist. A community contributor. An active citizen.

She lost her 20 year old brother to suicide in 2000. Rather than fall into despair, she has used her grief to create, educate, help and heal.

Read about one of her creations, Arts & Dreams, and the incredible work they do here.

Enjoy her art work here.

Laura reminds me to live creatively, lovingly, with ample doses of self-forgiveness.

I am so lucky she was born and that I know her.

She Is
Scarlet lips
Piercing chocolate eyes
Portals who see your soul
Lives in brush strokes
Of love and thoughtful heart
Colors rich with knowing
Midwife of self-love
Earth angel saving
wretched alone-hearts
One mantra at a time

Soul Tattoo

Allow me to assure you

You are intricately woven into my psyche

I’ve taken elaborate measures to leave you behind

To erase the traces of your affect on my personality –

On my life – to little or no avail

It seems that I carry you, etched into my soulskin

You are colored into the lines of a million needle sticks

Just as a pickle can never become a cucumber again

I am forever altered, forever changed

And yet, that is not the end of the story

I have decided to turn the design you’ve created

Into a whole new pattern of my own creation

Just try to recognize yourself in it

Allow me to reassure you

You won’t

 

 

 

 

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: elaborate

Legacy

I feel you there

All the hearts of those before me

Your dreams are in mine

Or are my dreams echoes

Of what you imagined for yourselves

I want to be what you could not be

Do what you could not

Live more fully

More freely

Give those who’ll follow me

Dreams less encrusted

With the pain of the past

Create a new narrative

Of True Love and Joy

Give the future a love that will last

Inspired by The Daily Word Prompt: encrusted

Carpe Diem, My Friend

Hello?! This is your life calling!

Stop acting like you’ve got all the time in the world

That those that you love will be there forever for you to tell

That those people you think about reconnecting with will always be around to do so

Start doing those things you think about doing, dream of doing, now

Every passing moment is one less opportunity

Like that old Nike ad says, “Just do it!”

Just do.

– Me to myself

Today I went to the funeral of a very special person.

And as I sat in the church looking up at the stained glass, I was reminded of the many, many funerals of special people I have been to in the last twelve years.

Wakes and viewings in homes, memorials in gorgeous holy spaces and modest church rectories, wonderful music and laughter, beautiful heartfelt stories of love and life, stoic, structured religious services. Quite a spectrum of final acknowledgements or celebrations of the lives of special people.

The one thing they all had in common was that I was struck each time by how quickly such services end.

Something in me gets so angry: how can a person’s life end this way? It always feels so…inadequate. So lacking.

I want to sit and reflect. Linger. Always, I am shooed out before I am ready to leave.

Even the greatest memorials – which in my book are filled with laughter, love and grief with voices raised and tears shed in full view and community – are over much too soon for my heart.

I leave baffled and bereft, with the sense that something is missing.

Then it hits me: oh yes, something is missing. The special person is missing.

Having buried two parents, a brother, a grandfather, three dear mentor father-figures, and two beloved cats over these past 12 years, I have learned and bourn witness to the truth that literally all that remains after a special person dies, in the end, is how they made people feel.

Yes, it is true, they may leave behind other kinds of legacies too.

But really, all that literally remains is how that person loved the people they came into contact with, isn’t it?

My special person whose funeral was today was not a lifelong friend.

I’d drifted away from our friendship the past ten years or so, for reasons that made sense at the time but don’t now. He did nothing wrong to instigate this drifting – he was an innocent in a part of my life that became lost in a kind of wreckage that was indirectly a result from past events. Our friendship was felled by friendly fire in a war I was waging with ghosts. Yet another tally mark on the side of things I grieve, having lost them.

Because of this, I almost did not go to the funeral. I didn’t feel entitled to.

Then I remembered the old adage about people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, and I realized that showing up for him as someone who had loved and been loved by him for any length of time is all any of us can do. That his current special people would surely only benefit from being surrounded by any and all of those who knew how special their special person was. That I could go for him, for me, for them, and be one of many who loved this special person for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

And there were many of us there. I have no doubt when I pass I will be lucky to have a handful of people. I have lived far too self-contained a life so far. I am still influenced by a deep-seated fear of people that shapes my connections no matter what I do, it seems. (Although I have been and am working to shift this, to be able to have deeper intimacies with people that I care for and who care for me.)

But my special friend was one of those people whose funerals reveal just how many people their life has touched. All kinds of people from all walks of life were there. And all had lost someone very special to them.

My special friend was my special friend for a season of ten or so very special years. He loved me dearly at a time I did not know how to love myself. He gave me unconditional love and support, and he championed my talents and dreams, and mirrored to me someone who had the courage to truly make their dreams come true.

I have so many happy memories of those years, and he figures prominently in all of them.

These years later, I can appreciate him even more with the wisdom of age. I thought of him many times through these years. Thought of reaching out. I foolishly kept putting it off, thinking I had the luxury of time. Hah.

In many ways, the way he lived puts me to shame. He found the courage to really put his talents out there for the world to see, over and over, no matter what anyone thought. I am still struggling to find that kind of belief in what I have to offer, that kind of courage.

He loved to sing so he sang. He loved rock and roll, so he performed in his own rock and roll cabaret shows. He loved what singing was to him, so he did all in his power to help others to be able to sing as well. He was a champion for many, and a power of example to all artists.

He died a senseless, awful death, one that seems ridiculously unfair and absurd for a man such as he was: one of the kindest, most generous souls I have known.

And so today, I leave yet another funeral, baffled and bereft.

But I carry the gifts of his life forever within me: how loved he made me feel, the memories of the music we made together, the inspiration he will always be to me as someone who just put it all out there for the world to see no matter the reception.

And the kick in the pants to “do it” already, no matter what.

There’s no time to waste.

I hear you, John. I get it. Thank you, my friend. I love you.

And I am so grateful we had our season.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: calling

All About Joan, Epilogue*

Ten years ago, I finished the second show of our two-show Saturday, and headed home to the actors’ house. I was feeling really unsettled and irritable.

As I walked out to my car, I ran through my day and night, trying to find some logical reason for my mood. It had been a perfectly normal day. Another great show. Nothing to explain the deep dread I was feeling in my gut. The unsettled sense in my bones.

I found myself driving aimlessly through the fairly quiet streets of the city, crossing over the river bridges again and again. This city in Illinois was unique in that you can literally drive across a bridge and be in another city, and then drive over another and be not just in another city, but another state. Without intending to, I was going back and forth, back and forth, from one city to the next, over and over again.

Something about the way the dark water was moving under the bridges in the light of the cloudy-mooned sky seemed to reflect something dark moving through me. At a certain point, I was literally overcome with emotion and had to pull over on the roadside. I felt so utterly sad, so desperately powerless, so…lone.

When I finally hit exhaustion, I drove back to the actors’ house to try to sleep. Just one more show to do, tomorrow afternoon, then I could make the trip down to see my Mom.

The next week was our last week of the show. It was bittersweet. I was sad for the closing, but relieved, too. I was looking forward to being able to just visit Mom for a long visit before heading back to NYC. The traveling back and forth on my days off had built up an accumulated tiredness that lurked just under the surface of my passion for the play and for my mother. My emotional and physical resources were being stretched thin.

Back to the actors’ house. The new cast for the next show had just moved in. We’d been a cast of four, swimming in the abundant space of the big many-bedroomed, two-story house. The cast for the new show was huge, and the peaceful house was now filled to the brim with with people, pep and parties.

My room was right off the common room, and as I made my way through it to my room that night, I did not bother to interact with anyone. Normally, the people-pleaser in me would have mustered up an insincere smile as I passed. This night, not only did the lively chatter and the blaring TV not suit my mood, it grated on my nerves.

I tried to sleep but was restless. Around 1:30 AM, desperate for some escape into sleep, I stuck my head out the door, asking that they have some respect for the rest of the house and take the party elsewhere, upstairs, anywhere, so that I could get some sleep. I’m sure I seemed like the biggest wet blanket ever, but God, did I feel awful. I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, I started awake to find a voicemail from my father. I knew when I saw the message that something was up. I will never forget that feeling in my gut, looking at my phone, seeing his name. And before I actually heard his voice saying the words, my body already knew what had happened. From somewhere deep inside, it gave a kind of primal groan – half silent, half aloud. I threw on clothes and grabbed my purse and keys.

I stumbled out into the common room and started lurching in a daze out towards my car. I passed some girl who had awoken early — I don’t know what she must have thought was going on – I am pretty sure I was white as a ghost, and I may have been crying. I waited until I was out on the street before calling my Dad back. It was if the house did not deserve to be the place where I would hear the words that she was gone.

He answered quickly, and we spoke as I wandered in the middle of the street. My father and I decided that since I already had a flight to go home the next day, I’d just keep it…no need to miss the show to get back that night. The funeral home would not be open…Monday morning made the most sense. I’d have a day and a half with him to sort things out, and then I’d fly back to Illinois to finish my contract out that week and drive my things back to NYC after the last show that next Saturday. Then I’d return to Texas.

I hung up with him, faced with getting through the rest of the day and night. I knew I would do the show that afternoon…that my mother would want me to…that I wanted to. That is what you do, as an artist, as an actor. You bring your life to the stage. Your truth. No matter what. But what to do with myself until I had to be at the theatre?

I knew one thing. I did not want to be around the actors’ house with those chatty, happy people who didn’t know me from Adam and had no reason to care about my loss.

While in Illinois, I had met a local woman, who, it turned out, was in town caring for her parents. She’d given me her number for some reason. Midwestern kindness. “If you need anything while you are here…” I barely knew her, but she was my next call.

That woman met me at Appleby’s and sat with me until it was call time. A total stranger, yet she sat with me and got me through those awful first six hours of shock. I hope to be there for someone some day in the way that she was for me. At a moment’s notice, she dropped her day’s plans to sit with a total stranger. I do not remember a thing we talked about, but what an Angel she was.

It’s funny. You can know someone is going to die, but it doesn’t prepare you for anything. The actual death still rocks your world. It’s just as shocking. I’ve since lived through sudden loss and additional prolonged deaths, and there isn’t much difference when you actually get the news in terms of the affect of the actual grief and the loss.

When it was finally time, I went and did the show, which was actually a grace. Having something in my life such as acting — it is an anchor, it grounds me to the world and to my core. It was a blessing to have a show that day. I figured I could either be heartbroken outside the world of the play or take my heartbreak and transform it within the world of the play. You bet I picked the latter. My cast mates and the production team were incredibly kind and supportive. I will never forget their loving kindness.

Afterwards, I quickly went to gather some things, and then I treated myself to a hotel out by the airport so that I could have some quiet and not be in that house! The next morning I boarded a plane and flew down to be with my father and begin to make all the necessary arrangements.

I later found out that my mother had begun to feel distressed that last Saturday evening just around the time I left the theatre. While I was driving across those bridges, over the river over and over, so distressed, she was experiencing great physical distress and fear. And that hour I was tossing and turning? That was around the time when my Mother actually died. It’s strange, but I believe that some part of me knew what was happening with her. They say energy can travel across time and space. I know it did that night.

I miss my beautiful mother every day. But I also feel her in my bones, hear her melodious voice in my mind. Her presence is strong in my heart. Her words come back to me as the years pass. All those talks we had at the end are stored in a bank in the back of my mind. She gave me so much to draw from. I see her in my reflection in the mirror more and more as I get older. And I do not mind at all.

Her death changed my life.

She was the heart of our family. All families have one. The person who is the love center. That was my mother. Our family has had to reconfigure. We’ve had to try to find a new balance. But the truth is, the heart center can never be replaced. You go on as a family, and love as before, of course. But you always feel the absence of that missing heart.

People came out of the woodwork to offer condolences. Baggers at the local supermarket sent flowers to our house. It turned out that she knew all their names, and their kids names, and their stories. Friends from my childhood that I had long since lost contact with came to her memorial because they had felt seen and heard by my mom. She had so many friends from high school and college and beyond…I’m talking real friends, not just acquaintances.

If I can live my life even one tenth of the way she lived hers, I will have lived a life of great value. I am so grateful for all she has given to me. For all she continues to give me.

My priorities shifted as a direct result of losing my mother. She left me with a legacy of living and loving better. Of having true curiosity about life and of others. I saw that all that remains when someone dies is how they made you feel. It made me wonder what I would leave people with when I die. It made me want to be more like her. To make people more at ease. To take more time to really see and be with others. To listen more. To make them feel seen and heard.

Her death made me see people, the world, differently. I grew up buying what was sold to me on TV — MTV was born in my youth, after all. I believed what I was surrounded by in all forms of pop culture: that celebrities and stars were the people of the greatest value. The beautiful people – the movie stars, the models and the rockstars – were the ones to admire and aspire to. It shaped my whole value system.

But after my mom died, that changed. I know now the beauty and honor in the quiet, ordinary heroes, the ones who live lives that maybe no one ever notices or reports on. The ones who love and listen and give for no acclaim. Who give their attention to others with no expectation or need to be adored back. Those people are the real rockstars of this world. I admire them and aspire to be more like them today.

More like my mom, who was one of those. A true star.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: homage

* In the spirit of full disclosure, with one tiny edit, this is a repost of the culmination of a series of blogs I wrote about my mother and how much I have learned from and been given to through her life, her illness and her death.

When I read today’s word prompt, all I could think of was her.

To read more about her, visit the following posts:

Like Joan

All About Joan Pt 1

All About Joan Pt 2

All About Joan Pt 3

All About Joan Pt 4

All About Joan Pt 5.

Like Joan

My mother had a special gift.

If you Google Mrs. Joan Fitzgerald Curry, you won’t find articles about her intelligence, her wit or accomplishments. While she had those, they didn’t capture the attention of the world beyond those who knew and loved her.

Yet she had a kind of talent, an innate gift, that is more true and essentially noteworthy than much of the behavior that millions of viewers tune in to reality shows to watch.

My mother could make a person visiting her home, or even just meeting her anywhere, feel deeply welcome.

I suppose you’d call it “hospitality.” She just found a way to make a person feel seen and attended to in a way that did not draw attention to either the giver or the receiver.

It was almost magical – seemed effortless and subtle, yet profound.

I remember my husband, visiting my mother with me, meeting her for the first time, remarking later that she just had this “way” about her that put him at ease. He couldn’t put his finger on what she did, just knew how he’d felt with her.

It is a lost art, I think. 

Towards the end of her life until her death, I began to observe and reflect upon this phenomenon in her personality.

What were the key elements that colored her hospitality?

She was warm. She was welcoming. She was genuinely interested in others’ lives. She was generous. She had an easy smile, a twinkle in her eyes, a melodic voice and laugh.

When she was with you, there was no sense of urgency to get on to the next thing. She was present with you, and her presence invited you to do the same. She brought a safe space wherever she was.

She left this earth as generously as she lived in it. Ever the gracious hostess, she left me a number of parting gifts. A spiritual swag bag.

One that I value above all else is the lesson contained within her hospitality. That she left behind circles of people who, when remembering her, would remember how comfortable they felt in her presence. How seen and heard. How good she made them feel.

I’d heard that before, that after you die, that’s all that is really left behind: how you made people feel.

Now I know this to be true. 

And since her death, I am continually inspired to develop and nurture whatever tiny nugget of her gift I can craft.

I aspire to live as she did. It doesn’t just mean hosting guests. It means how I treat strangers on the street. In the daily interactions I have with the other people on this planet.

How do I leave people after I cross paths with them? Do they feel uplifted for some undefinable reason, or do they feel drained?

I falter, I fail. But sometimes, I hope, I bring a good feeling to someone’s day. Sometimes, I am like Joan.

It is her legacy, and it is priceless to me.

#mothersday #hospitality #legacy

Prompted by The Daily Post daily word: hospitality