Excerpt From The Funeral Day

Later, after we have finished with the reception the family heads out to Tania’s where she has a large back yard. There the children run around, play tag, swing. Under a tree Andrielle, Diana’s second oldest grandchild finds a dead bird. Julian, her oldest grandson, only 4, brings it into the house in a shovel to show the grown-ups. He is weeping; so sensitive he is.  “The bird is dead,” he cries out.

“We will go and bury it in the back yard,” his grandfather tells him.

The children gather around as Julian digs a grave and buries the bird in it. My sister, in keeping with her generous nature, has given her body to science so there was no burial of her body. I can’t help but believe that this burial of the bird is a symbol of her own burial.  A way for the children to understand that she is gone and will not return. That Julian’s weeping is not only for the death of the bird but for the loss of his Nanie.  That all this is the gentle workings of the mysteries of death.

Later, when Julian is in his new space ship pajamas he sits next to me and brings me a pile of art work he has done. “You can have them all,” he tells me. So generous.  I tell him that I don’t want to be greedy. That I will take only one. The one I choose is a self-portrait of himself. “I tried to make my ear but I couldn’t,” he said.

 “But you were able to make a big smile,” I say.

“And I made this heart because I love myself so much,” he says. Wisdom from a four-year old.

“You like it when there a lot of people at your house, don’t you.”

“Let me count them all,” he does so with precision…”One two, eight..ten…fifteen, nineteen…but not Nanie. She’s dead.”

Excerpt From The Universe Is Exceedingly Generous

Fun. It’s a darn good antidote to the blues. Of course, the serious part is finding out what’s fun for you. Then go ahead and do it. In my work regarding the treatment of drug addicts I ask them to write down fifty things which give them pleasure. Fifty! They are aghast. They can only think of one thing. Drugs. They’ve re-wired their brain chemistry so that the production of dopamine (the neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of well-being, in case you didn’t know) is insufficient. To do pleasurable things – which can be as simple as walking in front of a florist shop to feast your eyes on the colors and shapes of nature’s wonder or to smell fresh bread coming from a bakery, or to hear a child’s laughter – increases the level of dopamine and thus your sense of well-being. Feed your brain often with pleasurable sensations, I advise these addicts, so that eventually the dopamine level will become more balanced. And in case they have trouble thinking up pleasurable things to do I send them to this website: http://1000awesomethings.com/.

Do something awesome and see what it feels like.

 Once while on a yoga course at the Kripalu Center in the United States I came across this saying by Swami Kripalu, the renowned master of kundalini yoga and the namesake of The Kripalu Center.As I’m writing this I wonder how generosity fits into a book of essays on mourning. Because I have gratitude and the desire to keep aflame the goodness of life I trust that all will become clear. Links will be made and hope will once again carry me through one perfect day after another perfect day.

After my sister died I started to write an essay on her. Soon I had more than eighty pages and I knew that what I had was a collection of essays on mourning. I titled it A Year of Mourning. Now, the year is almost up and I am feeling a bit anxious. Will I forget my sister because my mourning is over? How will my relationship with her change now that I no longer mourn her?

Excerpt From Timing Makes It Difficult To Ignore

Everything is such a mystery to me these days. I am middle-aged and there is so much I don’t understand. I read this sentence from Heather O’Neill’s lullabies for little criminals: The moon was out already and looked like a melting bit of ice in a glass of water. A few big snowflakes started falling here and there, all slowly, like spiders on their invisible webs coming down. Or this one: Jules was able to smoke in slow motion when he was stoned. The smoke came out of his mouth like ribbons being pulled  off a present.

How does this happen? How does a mind think up such fresh images? To read someone is to plunge into another mind and realize how different we all are yet so much the same.  

The next day, I miss-type November 100 rather than 10 and think this is what I want. I want the impossible. I do not want the reality of my sister’s  death to sink in. Not yet. I need to hang on to her  a little bit longer. At a time when I need a pair of arms around me I interpret X’s appearance into my life as more than what it is. But it isn’t and I realize that I need, I want someone who cares for me truly. When I finally decide that X is not the man I need in my life grief for Diana returns and I understand the meaning of X’s presence. He was there as a balm to my wound. Mind and heart. Fascinating pieces of equipment.

Here’s an interview with Heather O’Neill http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=7521

Excerpt From For Whom The Bell Tolls- A Tribute

 Lately I have become aware of a wall I have built around my heart. As a means of penetrating this wall Lyse, my therapist,  suggests corporal therapy.  I agree for I am the type of person who is always willing to jump into something new, especially if it has promises of self-growth. I am very self-centered in this way.

I lay on a very comfortable mattress in her second story office just down the street from my apartment.  Lyse kneels behind me and gently holds my head with her hands. I am to stay still for forty minutes and simply be. She has made it clear to me that this is not meditation.  I do not focus on my breath or a candle or any other sound. I am to observe what is happening inside.

In this session images of myself holding an ice pick appear. In my imagination or visualization, I suppose,  I use the pick to break the hard cement crust around my heart.  The wall is too strong. I must melt it instead  so that I can reach inside my heart.  After the forty minutes are up Lyse sits next to me on the mattress and I say, “I am so much in my head. I want to get in touch with my emotions. I want to feel again.”

“You need to slow down so that you’re more in contact with what is happening inside,” she says.

Later that afternoon as I am driving in my car I hear on the radio that today is International Go Slow Day. I have never before heard of such a day but why not? It fits in perfectly with my self-improvement and so I take the time to go to the cemetery to spruce up the family gravesite. The rose-bush which my sister, Diana planted last year is in magnificent bloom. The purple-blue petals on the hydrangea I planted are breathtakingly beautiful against the pink roses while the sky is cloudless.  I water the plants as if I am pouring out of my heart all the unshed tears of mourning for my sister, my mother, my father -an oration from a space deep and raw inside of me.  I know enough to know that if you don’t enter your pain it doesn’t go away. Here on the earth before my family’s grave site I crouch down, my head on my knees. My hand extends to fondle one of the roses. The petals are as soft as a ray of hope and yet the presence of loss surrounds me, inside and out.  I feel both comforted and alone.   

 Footsteps of passers-by invite me to control my weeping. I do so but not completely.  I am aware that I need witness to my grief. No man is an island.

Excerpt From Unexpected Moments of Grief

Such a mystery this business of dying. One day you are surrounded by objects upon which you placed your touch: telephones, DVD controllers, magazines, vases, Russian dolls, spices, sponges, nail polish, cutlery, books…yes…books..lots of books and the bigger items one collects in a life time such as furniture, appliances, cars and houses.  Then death arrives, sometimes expectedly, sometimes not.  All THAT is left behind. None of THAT matters anymore.

Not even your flesh and blood.

So what does matter? Kindness. Generosity. Memories.  These days I often think of my sister’s grandchildren.  Six in all ranging from one and a half to seven.  I don’t know what it means my thinking of them so often. I make up scenarios of hope. Here she is from wherever still with them in however. Can she be with all at different places at the same time? Why not?  I realize that my question is much like that of a four-year old who asks why is the sky blue?

Even in her death I am asking a big sister to reassure me.

It is also during this time that I find myself facing mini good-byes in the most unexpected circumstances. Yesterday as I was going into a drugstore a woman came out. Her walk like my sister’s and something else impossible to grasp made me follow with my gaze this woman into the parking lot. This strange woman is the sister who held my hand as a child, who taught me not to be afraid of the dark, and who in the long and distant summer afternoons brought out iced tea and slices of pecan pie to savor before her rose bushes.

When I was eighteen I saw my dead aunt Jean sitting at the front of the bus I was on. Not someone who looked like my aunt. She was my aunt. But I was too afraid to approach her. Too afraid to face the reality she wasn’t my aunt.   

That’s how it seems to go for me these weeks following my sister’s death.

After the drugstore incident I go to work and get a phone call from the Quebec Pension Plan. My sister’s partner has put in a request to receive her pension. Since they were not married the validity of their relationship needs to be verified.

When was the last time you saw your sister?

The night she died.

Did you often go to her home?

Yes. We were close.

Did she have children?


How long was she and her partner together?

Seventeen years.  He was so good to her. Took care of her throughout her illness.

I want the woman on the other end of the line to say I am sorry for your loss, we will send someone over to put their arms around you. Instead she says the interview is over. Thank you for your time.

So there I sit in my office, alone and cry.  Another shard of mourning.  Something else to help sink in that my sister is dead. Still I continue to seek her our even in a sit com such as Reba where she sings Carol King’s song You Need a Friend. 

So far away…doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore.

Excerpt From Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring

“Look a tear,” I say.

“She had a tear when I visited her earlier this week,” Sophie tells me. Sophie is my sister’s youngest daughter. We are in my sister’s room, around her death-bed.  The doctor who is on call this evening has asked the family if they wish to disconnect my sister from her life support.  It is a question of whether she dies in five, six hours or in one. They – her daughters and her partner – chose to remove the life support.

“It probably doesn’t mean anything,” Sophie says,  “Maybe her eyes are watery.”

“I think it does mean something,” I  say.  Surely, my sister felt a deep sorrow for her daughter’s pain.  I remember her telling me that her brother-in-law, Jean shed one single tear the night he died. The tear of separation.

Sentimental. Weepy. Those are good adjectives to describe Diana when she was alive. A warmy comment on a birthday card would make her cry. Now, for the most emotional event of her life she sheds a single tear.

 Morphine numbs you.

I watch as Sophie bends over her mother laying pure-as-first-love kisses.

After she dies and after the nurse has asked us to wait while they prepare the body for a last good-bye we return to the room. There she is before us. Tubeless.    

“She doesn’t look like herself at all. It is easier to say goodbye,” her middle daughter Tania says.

“Does anybody mind if I cut a lock of her hair?” asks Sophie.

Of course not we all say. Her sister Tania and her husband, Scott. Jean-Louis ,her partner, Richard her ex-husband and myself.

 There are papers to sign. Diana has chosen to give her body to science. I leave this to the other family members to deal with and pick up my old CD player which I had brought along a few days ago. Music to soothe her. But even this she refused.

As I leave the hospital room, the kind and gentle nurse says to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I nod. “Thank you,” I say and want to fling myself in her arms.

It is three thirty am and I walk through the empty halls of the hospital holding my CD player. I feel defeated. Lost. A little girl with dreams taken away.


Each morning I receive Taro Gold’s daily wisdom.   http://www.tarogold.com/

Today’s words of wisdom are: a wise person is never afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

 I don’t want to be wise. What I want is to know. To know that there is an afterlife. To know that my sister is in a better place.  That is what I want to know. 

A few months after my sister’s death, a commemorative service is held at the hospital for all patients who died there. I go to it with Jean-Louis and Debbie, my sister Louisa’s daughter.

“Each person has their own unique way of mourning.”  This is spoken by one of the speakers at the commemorative service

Candles are lit. A large screen shows a photo of a beach with two people in a canoe drifting away. A social worker from oncology  gives a moving talk about how difficult it is for him when a patient dies. “This is a time for grieving and the courage it takes,” he says.

 I look at the canoe going away. Its symbol is clear.  

At the end of the simple service, the names of hundreds of people who died in the last six months are projected on the screen as two violinist’s play Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. 

When my sister’s name appears on-screen Debbie calls out, “there she is.” And begins to cry.

Seeing her name on the screen is accepting a bit more the reality of her death. A step away from denial.

Her name is written on the sand of the beach. I think about all the samples of sands she collected throughout her travels  lined up in labeled bottles along the window sill of her bathroom.

Later, I will begin to feel anger. I will feel myself fall apart.  I will wonder if I will ever be able to transfer anger to healing?

Have a listen to this modern version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Lai Youttitham. An interesting soul.


Excerpt From Treatments

It is a well-kept secret in medical circles that the required treatment for cancer, particularly chemotherapy and radiation, can sometimes hasten the death of cancer patients.

This I read in an article posted on the internet by Dr. Caldwell. http://www.whale.to/cancer/cantwell.html  He begins his catchy titled article (Is Cancer Contagious) by referring to Mrs. Kennedy-Onasis’ rapid demise that “makes us wonder if her treatment killed her quicker that her lymphoma.”

I go on to read how one of his patients who, after less than four months of chemotherapy died. “At autopsy,” Dr. Caldwell states, “there was no evidence of cancer. His death was caused by fatal damage to his heart and lungs by the radiation treatment he received.”

But what are our options if we are told that we have cancer? What were my sister’s options who had the same disease as Jacqueline Kennedy?  Stop taking her chemo medication?  If one googles alternative medications for the treatment of lymphoma one finds hundreds of sites on the benefits of herbal medications. Many of them used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. Of special interest is that these herbs tend to work in a non-invasive manner, healing the body naturally. Without side effects.

So why, I wonder, is our health care system not integrating these complimentary treatments? Are our politics and economics infringing upon our rights to the best health care possible?

The situation right now is that alternative medications are not prescribed by doctors and consequently are not covered by health insurance plans. Anyone wishing to add to their cancer treatment with alternative medicines better have a deep pocket. 

Because the study of herbal medicine is not an integral part of our “medical curriculum” alternative health care professionals are denied training to the workings of disease which our medical schools offer.

What’s stopping this collaboration between different health care professionals?

At the end my sister was drained from her fight with lymphoma. But it was not lymphoma that took her life away. It was the weakening of her immune system brought on by the radiation treatments. Even had she had the will power to do one more battle her weapons were taken away from her. She was like a child with a pistol gun going into battle against a country armed with nuclear power.


Excerpt From Comfort Me With Memories

My telephone conversations with my sister inevitably would turn to food, especially anti-cancerous foods and foods to stimulate the immune system.

 “Eat a brazil nut everyday. You’ll always have all the selenium you’ll ever need.”

 She’d explain how selenium’s antioxidant activity maintains the immune system.  Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer.

“Eat your fruits and vegetables organically, without pesticides on them. They are richer in vitamin C and in polyphenols (a rich antioxidant).”  From her I learnt that Vitamin C diminishes the formation of nitrosamines, which is a type of cancerous composit.

“The fruits which have the most pesticides are peaches, cherries, apples.” I have yet to taste an apple pie as good as the one my father used to make. It was simple. The pie crust recipe on the Crisco box, sliced apples with lots of cinnamon and sugar and that’s about it. But it was his pie and because he knew how much we loved it, he put his own love into making it.

Diana discovered the powers of  probiotics, fiber, garlic, Curcuma and noni.

Noni?  A tropical fruit shown to have disease fighting effects, including cancer preventives and boosting the immune system. In Tahiti, where the fruit comes from, it is considered a sacred plant. Om Noni.

Still, my sister died. The noni fruit, with its sacred promises of life prolongation, was maybe taken  too late.  Or maybe it did prolong her life. How can we know? And because we can’t know, and because I believe in better be safe than sorry I go on eating foods high in antioxidants. Blueberries are among the leaders.

 My golf buddy, Donna, makes a great blueberry pie. It’s an open-faced one. Use butter for the crust and chill it before pouring in the blueberry mixtures (3 cups of blueberries with sugar). It’ll take about fifty to sixty minutes to bake the pie in a 400 degrees oven. Once out, pour over the hot pie 2 cups of fresh blueberries. They’ll cook enough but not too much for them to be mushy. Your pie will look like it came out of a French pastry shop.


Warning: some people have been known to eat the entire pie alone.

Excerpt From Losing My Religion

As a child I loved getting ready for mass. Dress. Hat. Purse. Sunday shoes.  I felt so princess like. I loved the singing in church. The sound of the ping which my coin made in the collection basket. The lighting of candles. The smell of incense.  I liked standing in prayer, my hands together at my heart. I imagined I was a saint.  I was in love with the rituals of my religion.

Later, when I was about twelve, I joined the Legion of Mary. One of the sisters at the convent I attended saw me as recruiting material and told me that I had been chosen for “the calling”. At first I was flattered but then when her talks started to impinge upon my recess time I began to resent the idea of becoming a nun and one day I made her pay for this. Not intentionally, of course. To a twelve-year-old psyche this is all sub-conscious.  It was a spring day. May, the month of Mary and the class was outside on the balcony. A young worker on the grounds passed by. A boy a little older than my age.   I whistled at him and when I turned there was sister scowling at me. I had betrayed her. I had betrayed the entire religion. I was going to hell.

After that incident, I found myself drawing away from my religion. It wasn’t something intentional. It was something which happened naturally. Until I went to college. There, I had as my roommate a devote Anglican. In the face of adversity I felt compelled to stand up for my religion and so decided to go to confession at the church in the small college town.

Confession had always been an integral part of my education. Every Friday afternoon, the priest would come over to the convent and whether I had sins or not I was forced to enclose myself in that dark box with its wooden grid between me and the priest and a stench that made me nauseous. I knelt on the hard pew and began my confession. Bless me father for I have sinned and then I would rattle off a few sins such as hitting my younger brother or using my older sister’s make-up when she told me not to. The priest would then give me a penance of either three Hail Mary’s or a Our father or both. I’d compare my penances with those of my classmates and secretly envy those girls who seemed to have longer ones than I did for I imagined that their lives were full of excitement. Confession was both a religious and a social event.

I don’t remember what sins I confessed to the priest at the church in my college town. One of them surely that I had neglected going to church for so many years. Another that I was allowing boys to touch my breasts. I don’t remember what penance he gave…whether it was the standard three Hail Mary’s and a Our Father or the dreaded entire rosary. What I do remember is that was the last time I ever set foot in a confessional box.

I still had a long way to go before I would lose my religion. My religious trajectory took me to a farm in Seattle Washington in a commune of Jesus Freaks…This was in the early seventies. They all welcomed me as if I was part of their family, and I suppose that was how they saw me. Because of my desire for community I was drawn into their embrace. Through religion I would find my spiritual home. I would heal, what Carl Jung called, the sickness of my soul. Although, until I read Carl Jung, I never realized that my soul was ill.

This is by Colin James


Excerpt From Havana Blues

I hated Havana. I hated the heavy gasoline fumes and the hot July heat that would slap me in the face like a jealous lover.  I hated the stench of garbage that leaked through my skin and settled in my blood until I could taste it. “No water today, lady. Maybe tomorrow,” the corner street vendor would tell me.  It was a ten minute walk from my hotel to the university where I was taking Spanish courses.  A walk through the crumbling, decaying buildings with their rusted wrought-iron balconies and skin-and-bones-cats wandering about like voodoo zombies.  

But there was also much to love about Havana as well.  The lively squares where craftsmen sold their art and old books about Hemingway who had spent twenty years of his life in Havana. I loved the slow rhythm of the people as if they had all the time in the world. The sayings on their billboards: “The first duty of a man is to be true to himself.” I loved watching the dark Cuban children swimming in the Melacon , walking along the very charming Prado and going for cerveza in the cafe at the Capitolo.  Shirtless boys playing their guitars while drinking a can of Cristal beer, and old men drumming to salsa.  I loved the architecture which the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier described as “music turned to stone.”  Carpentier should know. His own writing is integrated with music as his means of better understanding his Cuban identity.

One day, on our way back home from Habana Viejan we stepped into a state supermarket to see what the locals ate. It was disheartening to face shelf after empty shelf; disheartening to feel the gaze of the few customers on their ration tickets to buy food.

I thought about the super markets back home with their excessive selection of food. Where it was possible to choose from five or six different brands of toilet paper while here one roll was a luxury.

After our morning classes we would head back to our hotel in the Vedada neighborhood of Havana. I would do my days washing which I would hang out on our balcony.

We would have a glass of rum and coke to give us courage to face again the relentless heat for the two block walk to the Nacional, Havana’s top end hotel where for the price of lunch we could linger the afternoon away around the grand hotel pool listening to the waves crashing against the walls of the Melacon and flirt with the young, handsome Cuban waiters who’d bring us mojitos on silver trays and when we’d leave we’d say, ” hasta siempre”, and they’d smile proudly.

Listen to this video to touch the soul of Cuba.