What are You Trying to Say?

Just before you dropped the call, slammed the door, threw that plate across the room, what single thought went through your brain? Was it a well-composed, carefully crafted sentence, meant to influence and impact someone you care about? Or was it a kind of primal scream, meant to liberate yourself from the mental and emotional anguish of having to deal with… with… that idiot over there? Did it help?

What if time froze in that particular frame? What if that were the last dropped call, the last slam, the last plate in a cupboard that once seemed teeming with plates and cups and bowls? What if the person you wanted to influence went away and the discussion ended, abruptly, permanently, forever? What then?

Relationships end all the time. Family relationships included. Everyone knows about some broken sibling relationship, some father/son breakdown, some daughter who can’t stand the sight of her mother, let alone walk the same sidewalk together. It happens like that all the time. What’s the big deal?

I heard today about a grandparent whose children were factioned. (Is that a word?) At Grandma’s wake, they stood on opposite sides of the casket and never spoke. At the funeral, neither side spoke nor even chose a reading; they let the church volunteers take care of it, rather than try to hold a civil conversation, which they knew was never going to happen. There was no lunch following the service. The burial was silent. They parted once and for all at the gravesite.

Could they have heard each other out? Could they have asked better questions? Could they have let bygones be bygones? Some people experience horrific injustices at the hands of family members. I get that. But more often, it’s some little thing, some disagreement about who was supposed to do something and didn’t, or was supposed to say something and didn’t realize it, or whatever. Usually, if you ask around, the not speaking part was the result of something so minor that sometimes it can’t be pinpointed at all.

So, we don’t eat tuna hotdish together after the funeral. So what? So, what would Grandma want? What are these adults teaching their children? What minor conflict escalated to the point where whole families stood cold shoulder to cold shoulder, buried a parent, and left without a word? Relatives. Blood. Kin. This is how we do loyalty? This is how we do commitment? This is family? Maybe it’s no big deal. But maybe, to the next generation, it might be.


Hospice Physical Care

Hospice Care involves physical, emotional and spiritual work. For some caregivers, providing physical care is a difficult project. Adult children who are successful in other areas of life find physical care to be especially challenging because it does require just a little bit of coordination and forethought, and it might take a few tries to really get it right. Also, it might require intimate contact with someone who lived life very modestly. I know, during my dad’s hospice, I had to leave the room when my sister shaved him every day. It wasn’t a big deal, it just wasn’t something I was used to. Oral care was okay for me, however, and my sister never got used to that. (Takes a village, right?) In hindsight, being able to provide physical care for our dad during his hospice deepened our relationships with this person who had always taken care of us. It was a way to thank him. It was also something we could DO, something we had some control over, in a scene where most everything seemed to resist being predictable and controlled.

Hygiene, Oral Care, Turning, draw sheets… what aspects of bedside care are the most important for hospice family caregivers to understand? How do you explain or teach it to them in the clearest, most effective way?

Building Poetry Communities on WordPress.com

The WordPress.com Blog

As we’re entering the final week of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) in the US, we want to celebrate all the wonderful poetry-centric community projects here on WordPress.com.

The sites we feature today — like many others we follow and love — make an important point. We may all write on our own, but it’s only when we join a community of other writers and readers that our voices are truly heard.

Keeping it local

Some of the tightest-knit poetry groups are bound by a shared space, where writers know not only each other’s work, but also each other’s face. Over at Poetdelphia, Philly-based poets share poems, announce readings and other events, and celebrate community members’ achievements.

typewriter poetry2Ghostless Sleep, by Yasin Chines at Xsentric.

Similarly, .: Poetry in Chicago is a project that aims to bring together writers from across the city’s eclectic poetry community, with posts on

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Rituals and Traditions

I’m fascinated by rituals. I don’t always adopt them or participate in them, but I find them so intriguing: why do they do that? why do they say those words in that order every time? why do they stand and then sit and then stand again? why are those people kneeling? why are they putting their food into that plastic bag?

My sister Penny has been telling me about a Native American funeral she attended recently. Understand, neither of us has experienced this ritual before, so her description and my understanding are both pretty naive. But oh, the deep beauty and utility of it.  I can’t really fit it all together, so I will share here a few of the things I remember from Penny’s rendition.

This is sacred. I know that. If your tradition is Native American, I thank you for allowing me to look into your windows for a moment, to take a single snapshot of something I can’t possibly fully understand. Please forgive me in advance for misinterpreting anything, and please add your own story and knowledge and insight to ours.

Here’s what I heard:

The Spiritual Leader will explain to the community what must happen, what we need to do. We must not say her name for four days, lest she turn around. She has to go home. We will not cry out, lest she turn around to help us and get stuck here. She needs to go home. In her casket are all the items she will need for her spiritual journey: food, a change of clothes, some other things.

The Leader will sing out to tell us, to tell her? what she needs to do on her journey: she will visit four wigwams, and then she will go home. We are to light a small fire at her gravesite every morning and every evening, so when she comes out of the wigwam and sees it, she will know it is time to go home. If we don’t, then when the sun climbs high into the sky, she will see that light, and she will know, but then she will be late; she will have to run. We need to help her.

We will prepare food and we will eat. If we do not eat, she will not have strength for her journey. We will take a portion from our plates and put it in a bag for her, for her journey. People in the community will prepare the food; the mother is crying, the sister is crying, we must cook for them.

We will wait in line to say goodbye. We will pass by and see her, and we will greet and comfort her family. We will touch her, we may kiss her, and we will wash ourselves after in cedar water. The family will go last so, you know, they can take their time, without worrying about others in line behind them.

We will sing and beat drums and dance. We will celebrate this life, and send her along her way. She has to go home.


Easter Reflections

Easter Reflections

Half-way around the lake, I had to stop and snap this pic. The sun and the trees and the water all intertwined in a way that seemed really cool and kind of meaningful to me as I finished my run.

I think my mind was spinning creative because I (woke up too early and) went to sunrise mass this am, where the conversation was about dandelions, including Walter Wink’s quote about trying to kill Jesus. Do you know that one?