Airman Lost Airman Found: Creating a Memory

A strange set of circumstances happened last month. I received a box of photos and documents that were passed from Donna’s estranged brother to his girlfriend following his death in 2006. (Her brothers lawyer wrote to Donna and said in his will Jack noted that you are my sister but I am not giving you anything.) True story. 

The girl friend passed away this year and her friend was cleaning the house and found a box of photos and documents. There were photos of Donna, her mother, and various family members including her uncle Oscar Leibowitz. Donna's mothers brother. Surprisingly the box even contained her grandparents naturalization papers and documents. 

Oscar from what I recall was the favorite son of the family and the apple of Donna’s mothers eye. You know the oldest son of an immigrant Jewish family. Most of the photos of Oscar were from his days in the service and his time at Army Air Corp training and in England during WWII. September 1946 Donna’s mom received a letter from the Army Air Force in response to a letter she wrote, which I don’t have a copy of. The letter from the Army Air Force gave details of his death. "Lietuenant Leibowitz was killed in action March 22,1944 while flying his B-17 over Pfahlhausen from antiaircraft fire. He was interred in a cemetery at Oldenburg."

Below are some additional letters and notices about his death and service.

In August of 1944 Senator Mead sent a letter of condolences to Oscar’s father.

A Purple Heart is awarded

That same month August 1944 Oscars father received a note telling them that he will receive posthumously a purple heart for his “gallantry and devotion”. 

The Purple Heart was not his only medal. In September of 1943 he was awarded for “exceptionally meritorious achievement and participating in five separate bomber combat missions over enemy occupied Europe.

In October of 1942 the family received a letter from the Army Air Forces Training Center announcing that Oscar has been selected for training as a Pilot in the Army Air Forced. 

Those are some of the military files and government letters regarding this airman’s serving in the Army Air Corp and his death. There are also communications regarding returning his remains from Germany to the US for burial. That process took until 1949 before his remains were returned to the US and buried in Long Island. Yet there is much more here that offers a rich mosaic of this one airman, a son, a brother, and uncle. There were letters he wrote home and many photos. Below are some of the examples of his life while in service to the US. 

These letters are fascinating insight into what it is like to be a soldier and keeping the family up to date. He requests his birth certificate so he can apply to pilot training. Another is about not getting furlough. There is one where he describes his first cross country flight of 300 miles. Just letters home but a window into the man and the moment. CLICK ON THE LETTER BELOW TO SCROLL THROUGH THEM.

Here is a gallery of photos that show training in the US and being stationed in England and Europe. CLICK ON THE PHOTO BELOW TO SCROLL THROUGH THEM.

Originally when I received these items I just wanted to grab the photos of Donna and any documents that were specific to her and toss the rest. As I looked through them I found a family history all but forgotten in a box stuck in a basement in Berkeley. This deserved more.

The kindness of a stranger to find Donna's address and write at first set me back. Donna and her brother had a history that was fraught with pain and anger. I was angry. Going through this box and seeing not what is lost and forgotten but what is found deserved to be remembered in some small measure. The immediacy of our digital world today and the movement to what is next, new, hot, and liked somehow belittles the rich tapestry of small narrative moments in time. 

This is a memory that lives for now, as it has in a time past. There are moments when memories sting. Today these memories sing. 

I was able to find two references to Oscar here and here.

Domesticating The Feral Nature of Grief

Sun Magazine had interview that struck a resonant chord with my writings on loss and grief. “The Geography of Sorrow” the interview is with Francis Weller a psychotherapist specializing in grief and sorrow. Below is one of many thoughts and ideas Weller shared on grief and one that summarizes my journey. And what my hope is a the same journey that others facing can learn as well.

"The Irish philosopher John O’Donohue had a concept he called the “reverence of approach.” He said, “When we approach [things] with reverence, great things decide to approach us.” What if, instead of trying to outmaneuver grief, we came to it with reverence? Grief is not a passive state you’re “getting through.” You must find a way to engage it, to sit with it, to mull it over."

I have said that early on I was counseled by a dear friend not to ignore or hide from my grief but to embrace it and learn from it. To ‘engage’ with it. I have and will continue to. Yet I wonder if I am doing the real work or achieving the outcome of finding the joy in sorrow?

Weller discusses how grief has been for all of man’s time on earth a communal event to be shared with others in our communities and villages and tribes. That has changed, we now carry our grief in isolation defined in the word closure. People want us to find closure to our pain. I believe closure is indifference. Closure suffocates our reflection and growth. Our friends and family reminding us to move on to find a new place and being.

On the surface that is a goal to find that goal not holding the grief inside because it hardens to an unbearable sorrow and sadness. Weller points to transforming that grief into something of value for the community. I will add, making it something of value for yourself for your being and person.

The crux of Weller’s argument is a quote from Poet Kahlil Gibran, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” In our grief we can find not a way out of grief as much as find the message it holds for us, for our loss and that is the conflict that joy resides within grief.

We try to skip the hurt and find the happiness. To create a short cut to heaven without the hell. That is what Weller says about grief. We try or are forced to skip the hard work to embrace it and find that joy within. When going though hell don’t stop. This reminded me of something I read about Stephen Colbert saying, how he learned the value of failure, to learn from failure to later get it ‘perfectly right’. Failure is a bit harsh when considering grief and sorrow but we all know how when we fail, we feel lost and hurt. That is what our grief feels like, I am lost. It feels as if I've failed at life. I let Donna die which is hard when I see and read those survivor stories why couldn’t I’ve made that a story for her? Each post each reflection I learn and understand more. Or as told Allura told her daughter Kara Zor-El "There is no correct path in life. You will loose you way many times"

In Weller’s mind he looks at grief as something to be revered, something we should not run from but embrace. I like his thought that grief is not a passive state to travel though. It is to be embraced and learn from. Grief and loss teaches us about life and love. If we allow it to. Yet being allowed to in our current world where we are walled off and have lost the rituals and rite of passage is difficult. There are no villages and communities to aid us in our grief and sorrow. We do not have the village well to go to to cry out and share where the healing of time and place occurs. I am not denying the support of family and friends but consider the read "The Lonely Death of George Bell” and how many of us at a certain age are living alone. 

I thought about this idea of the village who help us with our sorrow and grief. I thought about those who I was and am blessed to have around me who supported me, fed me, gave me comfort, and care. Yet I held to the company line, I am doing well. I remained stoic but, ever vigilant to the turmoil within in me. I was engaging with the grief and sorrow with writing and podcasting. I was reading and reflecting. That is how we learn through reflection on our experiences and the experiences of others. I thought that was part of my engagement with my grief. I read Olivia Laning's “The Future of Loneliness” in The Guardian.

Laing wrote about how social media and the Internet was hailed as a new communal place. The well in the center of town. That was my belief. My writing and posting to Facebook and Twitter and all was to create those communal rituals of grief and sorrow. Laing's article was not that at all. It was a discussion of how behind the screen we remain invisible. A place where we can filter our avatar in such a way as to project a perfection of who we are or want to be. The Internet through social media has become a place for shaming and scapegoating. She ends the article with this about film maker Oliver Laric:

"My own understanding of loneliness relied on a belief in solid, separate selves that he saw as hopelessly outmoded. In his worldview, everyone was perpetually slipping into each other, passing through ceaseless cycles of transformation; no longer separate, but interspersed. Perhaps he was right. We aren’t as solid as we once thought. We are embodied but we are also networks, living on inside machines and in other people’s heads; memories and data streams. We are being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we are still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance."

Is the reality of my writing and sharing my grief online not achieving the rite of passage the rituals of grief have afforded us for centuries? Am I still lost without any control nourishing myself on emotional scraps? Was I secretly afraid of crying out as I hide behind the screen cultivating my avatar of grief? Is the feral nature of grief and the work I am doing failing to achieve the revered nature of my engagement with it? I will continue to do the work. 

Affective Filters On. Affective Filters Off. Loss and Grief

Have you had a conversation with someone and there is a random idea in the middle of the discussion and BANG a blinding cosmic insight? Me neither but, I am attuned to thoughts and ideas that offers perspective and insight on my grief. Those ideas become my directional road map. Much less cosmic but deeply telling and evocative. Filters off and finding 'your better self being born from grief'.

I was having a chat with Nico a composer at Red vs. Blue, Composer at Rooster Teeth and Founder at Trocadero. I met him through my gaming Sherpa Mig while at PAX. I had written Nico about how I am discovering not just gaming but the rich vein of textured music within games, similar to movie sound tracks  where music accelerates the emotional content of film and dialogue. The same happens in gaming. Music drives tactile feedback, motor cortex, memory from previous gaming moments and more. In Destiny when the creepy shit is coming and I am going to be swarmed the Hive the music makes me shudder. A deep discussion about music is beyond my pay grade or IQ. It is enough to note, I discovered gaming music, it exists, and it can stand alone. Music in gaming does all that music is suppose to do to our brains. Case in point, Nico shared a YouTube Video Halo-Openng Suite. He said it sounded similar to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I knew neither and listened. Barber’s Adagio is amazing. It was played at Albert Einstein’s funeral. And the Halo Opening Suite was perfect.

We were chatting back and forth. Me Mr. Tin Ear with a talented brilliant composer. My default with luminaries such as Nico, they are humoring me. I mentioned something I heard, music discovery occurs when we are young. For most of us once we hit 35 we are locked into what we know and don’t actively seek to discover new. We may find new music within what we know. Experiencing something truly new and outside our base of music is not in the mix. Discovery is lost as we age. If we consider the fact that adults will learn when they are seeking solutions to problems then we must accept that our music or our lives being problem free means we are not driven to discover (aka learn) when we are in a comfortable place. Barber’s Adagio Strings is playing now, totally new to me and just so powerful. New and outside what I would ever find. There was no problem to solve or was there?

Nico said this:

I think the reason why people do things like meditation / running / walking / adrenaline activities / drugs / booze is to erode the filters

Loss seems to melt them away as well, unfortunately

Because extreme joy doesn't seem to do that, at least not for me.

Filters. Filters. FILTERS! Were my filters turned off when Donna died, when she was diagnosed, during my caregiving, and beyond. Is that why I can hear my avatar of grief speak to me when I read or hear a random idea from Nico and others? Was my loss, not a loss? Or am I looking for solutions to the emotional and psychic problems? 

If you've reading these posts and podcasts I have tested and examined the depth of my life before, during, and after Donna’s illness and death. Prior to her diagnosis my unexamined life was limited to the day to day. There was work, there was home, there were the dog(s), there was each day with the components of living. I accepted and surrendered to the day. It was what life was, daily chores. Not to be harsh on myself I did want to learn and understand but, it was about my work and how we (Donna and I) could find a balance when facing those daily ‘things’ life threw at you. My filters were in place to aid me in or living life as I/we knew it. Filters are what we have to view the world when all is good. It was good, not perfect there was no need to discover/learn. I surrendered to comfort and ease. No heavy lifting. 

When Donna was told in January of 2009 she had Stage IV cancer and only six months to live I threw myself into getting situated so I could be a caretaker. So I could do what I could. I never considered her death or life after her. But during that time till her death in August of 2011 my filters were there, to a point. Or better said they changed. They filtered the boring day to day into a textured street fight of survival and support. No longer was the day filled with the usual. The filters were in place, different but still there. I think this points to a change that was occurring, the erosion of my filters. And the journey to find understanding, meaning, purpose, and learning.

When Donna died the most important advice I received was not to deny my grief or my loss but dive into it in order to understand and embrace it. It was that exercise in loss and grief that eroded more of my filters. Or continued too. The day to day life prior to diagnosis and during caregiving was fading. Though I will add I was grieving from January 2009 because I knew this would not have a happy ending. After her death and the search for understanding I had to look at myself and my days. Looking back the filters were still in place. I did not actively remove them. They faded over time with what I wrote and considered about this life altering event. I could not find the understanding and insight through filters because I would be placing what I was learning behind a scrim. I would be repeating on a loop what we did while it was no longer we but me. The harder you examine and the more you hurt the less the filters interfere or obscure and keep you to the past. The past and what was becomes what is. Of course this may just be observers effect here. I think I am doing the hard work when in reality I am just glossing over my life. I guess that is part and parcel of no filters, a harsh self view.

Where am I today? The loss of these filters has driven me to a more textured and nuanced view of what was, what is, what I had, and didn’t have. I think that sans filters l’ve come to do, to realize, to discover new things. That did not happen over night. It has been a process of building a new understanding and reflecting on my life past. Part of learning and changing our consciousness is to discover something new and to decide if you want to add it to historical experiences and create new or improve current knowledge. I still struggle to find right side up each day and to get back to some place and space where I feel self-worth. Loss is loss. It is about what is gone and will never to return. My sadness has dissipated and the grief has animated my life through it’s wisdom. 

Would I want to go back? To have a life with my filters in place? Yes I’d go back in a heart beat. All that I have and am trying to do now is seems vapid in comparison, my life is only me and do I really deserve any of it? Seriously do I? There are no regrets in this post filter world of mine. Regrets are for chumps and regrets perpetuate the sadness. Would I want to change what happened? Yes. What would be amazing is to take this new knowledge and understanding and go back in time (sounds like a cheap ass movie) and apply it. The harder play is to build new. To find meaning and purpose and self-worth while the filters are gone and actively examining everything. Missing filters are an opportunity. Donna would say “There is a reason they call it history, it happen then."

What I can say is that my sadness is lifting. The grief is continuing but my grief is opening the world. I am fighting to find a place. I am seeking to discover new. The visit to PAX and gaming, especially Destiny, has exposed me to new and in a way hides me from the work of finding meaning and purpose. These are small steps in rebuilding a life without Donna. Her death threw me into a world of hurt. Her death opened my eyes. Her death was tragic. Her death maintains me in life. Her death is my death. 

The future does not reside in the past. We carry the past to imbibe today. 

9|11: Fourteen Years Ago and Four Blocks Away

September 11, 2001 comes and we return, to memories, and moments forever carved in our souls. That day does not fade nor do the edges smooth over. It is as vivid and shocking today as it was in 2001.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words and memories in equal numbers. Below are some photos I took on that day and the following days. Looking at them evokes every minute of that day and beyond and being four blocks away. Donna and I stayed. We did not leave. We were not going to let them drive us from our home nor my business. The Wall Street Journal did a story about three business located here and on the other side of red zone. 

There was a Krispy Kreme on the ground floor of the North Tower, Donna said to me that all the donuts became halo’s for those who died. In November I worked a couple of nights at the Red Cross Center near the pile. I can still see the smoldering debris as I walked to the Center in the darkness. 

Death, Grief, Gaming, and Oliver Sacks

My grief avatar is on the move again. Then again this just may just be observer effect. I’ve noted here here here and here that the grief is changing and morphing into new forms. Or better said I am seeing it differently. My avatar is always speaking to me through what I’ve read and infrequently what I’ve done. Another way to look at the grief, it’s a floater in my eye. Always there darting about reminding me, yet moving just out of reach or repair. This week I returned from PAX Prime where I never thought I would ever have gone. My first impression of PAX is here. At PAX, I was sherpa’d around by a friend who is/was my IT guy for my business help me for over 18 years. I knew he was a gamer but, I never realized how well respected and connected he is. I’ve worked in healthcare with physician, luminaries. They never took me under their wing and showed me around or introduced me. There is something about an honorarium. My gaming sherpa is a luminary who give his time and friendship. And in doing that gave me a different view into myself. 

That same week as PAX Oliver Sacks passed away and my grief avatar spoke up. I was reading through the NY Times obit and stories and I stumbled on the “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding).” The title and quick scan spoke to me because the premiss is pretty clear. Sacks turned 80 and he wants to do more to learn experience, and grow. Sounds like a plan. 

Allow me to share a bit about me and PAX. I am gobsmacked wide eyed and giddy feeling like I was twelve again on Christmas Day. And that is in no way a reference to the booths, the cosplay, or videos. It includes the people in the Destiny Community I am met through my sherpa and people at Bungie who made Bungie. The 80,000 attendees. My half a brain is spinning at the magic of it all. The Sacks Ode to Old Age seemed well timed. Perhaps my avatar of grief was changing again and taking me with her.

How did I get to PAX? By plane. No, there is a bit of a back story. About four/five years ago I got a PS3 to watch Netflix and BluRay. My IT aka sherpa told me that it’s a great gaming platform. Well I was at Stage 1 of the Eight Stages of Gaming ‘I have no time for gaming I have a business to run and wife to care for. Games are for teens’. Well after Donna’s passing I took a look at the games. Listening to John Siacusa @Siracusa who besides writing the detailed long and amazing reviews of Apple’s Mac OS he is a gamer. He kept speaking about the game Journey and Zelda. My IT sherpa said I should get demos from the Sony Store to try and see if I like it. Now I was at Stage 3 Curious. Doing it alone without coaching was frustrating and I would fade in and out for months. No sense of success or control or fun. When you think about it, I could not go to the school cafeteria and talk about games and controller moves nor have friends over to play with after school. Part of that is my isolation following Donna’s death. The other part is that everyone had jobs, family, and activities. Finally, there is a sense of embarrassment at my ineptitude. June of 2014 Baby Mozart came over with his copy of Borderlands for the PS3. Baby Mozart is a recent 20 something friend who consults on social media, SEO, web traffic, gaming, etc. And he is genius. He loaded Borderlands handed me the controller and told me to play while texting, saying X or O, left bumper etc. And then went home. Well for a month I played both Borderlands and Journey. I finished Journey and was still stumbling around Borderlands. At that time the sherpa was posting about this new game Destiny from a company called Bungie. He was raving about the game. I watched some videos. When it launched I downloaded and played or tried to play. Here is my initial reflection of PAX et. al. 

While at PAX I thought about The Joy of Old Age I thought about how learning to play games becoming involved with the gaming community, specifically Destiny, was something that would help me find my balance to motivate my avatar of grief and myself. I’ve been back for less than a week and began to think about this post and reread the Sacks article. How things change.

Sacks opens by saying that that life feels like it is going to begin at 80. He ends the piece with "I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together."

A pretty positive and hopeful position to take and one that I thought would be of value to me. Between the beginning and the end Sacks speaks about all that he’s accomplished and that he still regrets the time that he wasted. He wants to complete his life. He hopes to "be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life”. And at 80 he has the long view on life not only his own but others. 

I am at sixes and sevens over the Sacks article. On the one side it speaks to my desire to find meaning and purpose again. To continue to love and work. Gaming, PAX, and the amazing community I witnessed in Seattle was hope and focus. On the other side is this only a surrogate marker for my life. I am not a brilliant neurologist and writer. I have experience some wonderful moments in life. There is no great body of work to carry me forward. When I had my business the phone rang and emails arrived in direct correlation to checks I wrote. I cannot consider that that history can carry me today. 

I am a bit of an idiot savant drinking my own kool-aid with a blind drive to do new and try. The harsh light of the sunrise (aka grief) illuminates is going nowhere fast. As much as I want to make it work I have to face the reality, I no longer have that ability to motivate and achieve. Perhaps I always lacked that and never noticed. Add to that meeting the principles and employees at Bungie who radiate the love of their product and the building of something they believe with full on passion. Or the wild abandon of gamers who cherished their living avatars and games. This witnessed passion ignited me for a moment but, exposed the dark corners of life. I saw what was once, is gone. That is what grief and loss does, dilates your self image and awareness. 

Donna is gone. She is not coming back. I miss her. Simple. That does not mean I pine to have her back or I anguish to return to that life with her. My grief animates me to do more, to try. I know enough to accept what can’t be and understand that what I seek is the same meaning and purpose from the past, sans Donna. I fear I have not sunk the pilings of life deep enough. The construction of a dock on those pilings wobbles. I will move forward with this vapid writing. I will engage in the gaming world clumsy as ever. Gaming does create new neural pathways. I will continue to look for meaning and purpose. As Sacks notes ‘bind the thoughts and feeling of a lifetime together’. Create new. That is the purpose of leaning to create new and when we learn we change our conscious. I hold the option that one day I get to say meh. Donna will never come back but I can join her. It is my free will and choice. For now I will be the loyal Guardian, The Hunter in Destiny leveling up. I will continue recording the musings and movement of my grief avatar. That is as much meaning and purpose as I can muster. 

Bird On A Wire Leonard Cohen

Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

The Eight Stages of Gaming

Stealing from Kubler-Ross and her model for the stages of death there are stages of gaming, at least for the old new gamer. If it wasn’t for PAX, Destiny The Game, the Community, my gaming sherpa Mig, and Bungie I would not have seen this world. 

No Time: You deny you have the time. You consider gaming something for teens and violent felon prone men. It is hiding behind self-doubt.

Fear: How does the controller work? What do I do with the game? How do I play? What if I am not any good? These questions flood your mind but tease you to go for it.

Curious: Games seem fun and passing the time on my phone. I wonder what it’s like on the computer or console? I can do this. I want to try.

The Push: A friend, a daughter, son, or neighbor talks about gaming. Talks about the fun and the community. They bring you a game and walk you through it and leave you to explore. It is the first step. 

Oafish: Why did I ever think this was going to be fun. I can’t do this. What an idiot I am. But you continue to play and try. Frustration reigns supreme. Yet the rough edges are smoothed over with practice. You give up twice a day and return three times a day.

Believing your own PR: Suddenly you think you are good at this. You level up. You’re more confident and think 'I am a gamer'. Oh how fragile we humans are. 

Surrendering: Watching videos of game play, competition, and friends playing trims your sails of self congratulations. Suddenly in a moment of blinding insight you see that the real gamers are in a zone when they play. They are calm, controlled, and are having fun. There is no frustration on their faces or in their play. You know you have so much more to learn and do. 

Egoless Play: It is a game. It is a place to surrender the moment and find peace. It is less about victory or leveling up. It is about playing alone or with others. Community with yourself, the game, and others. You and the game are one. (You get to kick ass and take names. After all we are competitive.)

My First PAX: A Short Reflection

Being the old new gamer I was lucky enough to get tickets (thank you Mig) to PAX. My Sherpa Mig introduced me to the community of Destiny players, the people at Bungie, and the coolness of PAX. I am still digesting the entire time and all that I learned but a couple of things stand out for me. The community is amazing and accepting of even an old geezer who only last Wednesday finished The Black Garden and got my weapon. The community is open and embracing. Word. The few from Bungie I spoke with were surprisingly generous in their acceptance of newbie. (I hope not too bored) They believe with their hearts in their product and brand. Destiny is not just a game but a place a home an extension of their vision and belief in quality. I get to be part of that.

I've worked in advertising with many luminaries from creatives to account people who fought to make a superior product and message. Where kerning a headline just right was a mission a passion. It has been years since I've met people with that same passion who believe good is not good enough. That is my impression of Bungie, good is not good enough on all levels. From T-shirts to music to code to art. I want to publicly thank those from Bungie and the pros in the community who took the time to speak with and listen to an old broken clumsy at controller guy. I am pumped to get better not just for me but for them. My success at Destiny is my thank you to everyone.

I am working on a longer piece about this and the recent death of Oliver Sacks. Yup obtuse but WTF. 

Animating My Grief Like a Pixar Film

“Death doesn’t burden your life. It animates your life.” Stephen Jenkinson

Ever wonder if you are going to find peace or a place in life after a loss? Wonder when there will be resolution of the grief or sadness? If you are a reader or a follower you know I have been slapping the entire grief, loss, mourning puck around for a few years. Yet again this avatar is changing. 

Approaching the anniversary (August 7) of Donna’s death I have been harboring a sense that my writings and podcasts (here, here, here, and here) on grief and mourning are the boring ramblings of an old man lost in the struggle to find meaning as I limp toward my expiration date. And truthfully you three loyal readers have been kind and patient with me and this scratched record I play. I felt as if I was coming to the end of this, not because the grief has expired but because who gives a shit. But as with most reflection something appears in the periphery of life that reframes it all. Some new knowledge appears that adds to our consciousness and changes one's outlook and opinion.

The August issue of Sun Magazine arrived this week. Each issue has an interview. The August interview was with Stephen Jenkinson. His recent book is "Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul” Jenkinson places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well. Die Wise is for those who will fail to live forever.” He was also featured in the 2008 documentary Griefwalker. Jenkinson was the leader of a palliative care counseling team at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The title of the interview in Sun Magazine was As We Lay Dying.

The above is an overview of Jenkinson’s interview and his view of death and dying. There is much more in the interview that I believe illuminates his thoughts and speaks to the current emotional state I am trapped in. Can this be a solution to a problem I was having or is more about trying on different shoes to see which fit and look good? Am I sticking random solutions onto problems that I have when I should just walk away from all of this? Many or most of the three people who read this will readily agree with his premiss and Ideas. It seems Jenkinson’s ideas are being largely embraced by the fact there is more evidence that palliative care, hospice, good death, etc. All of this is becoming an accepted or at least understood norm. And these ideas and goals all work to improve death, dying, and survivors state of mind. I would argue that yes there is much happening and trending but it is only to a point because, we are an aging society and many are witnessing loved ones and friends deaths. Thus we know what is coming and what death brings so we are changing our attitudes toward death and dying. There still remains many who have not and even more who have suffered the loss of a loved one and have not benefited from the collective wisdom of those who have passed before us through loss and grief. I want to share briefly Jenkinson’s thoughts on this topic and relate them to my journey. 

Jenkinson says there exists a ‘grief illiteracy’ in our collective lives. Since we have moved from the farm and fields we have lost the understanding of death, its symbolism and the culture surrounding it. Today death is put off, fought, and kept at bay and when death is inevitable those who are dying are shuttered away or kept from the integration of their passing into the lives of the young and living. Jenkinson notes we as a society consider dying ‘a mountain of regret’. Death does not have its rightful place in our lives today. Dying is at the core of our lives it is a goal that offers all of us insight. 

“Grief is not sadness. There’s sadness in grief, but grief is not exhausted when the sadness goes away. And it does go away, because you can only drag yourself around and rend your clothes for so long. Sadness has a shelf life, but grief endures."
"Your better self is born of grief. Grief is the amniotic fluid for your humanity. That's how it works. the guilt will pass, but the grief will not, because it is composted into something much more life-loving–but not human-hating. There's no hating, no resigning, no withdrawing or running or transcending. Stay here. Stay long enough that the grief can have its way with you, and you begin to realize that this grief is a wisdom, a recognition that human being are maintained by the death of other living things."

I’ve said frequently Donna will never come back but I can go to her at any time. This is me not facing what I have or don’t have. After reading this interview and considering the idea that death offers us insight it struck me that perhaps what I am saying is that from Donna’s death I have come to look at my own death and inversely my life. This is not a huge insight as much as it’s a trimming of the sails. Perhaps what this interview is teaching me is that if I look and listen closely grief can tell me what I am not, not what I am. Being defined by something is different from being animated by it. Grief may allow me to find those tender places within me and my life that creates reflection and understanding. 

It has not been unicorns and rainbows. Not sure it ever will. I readily admit anger and sadness. I also will say that I have not given up trying to understand and accept my grief and sadness. I am reevaluating this whole exercise of grief and loss based on this interview. What I do need to consider is how my grief has animated my life. What are the lessons learned or moments understood. 

I have learned how to podcast. I am trying to write more and better. I’ve not given up on starting over. Pitching and trying new business ideas. I am even changing what I eat just because. But those behaviors are who I am and not really a true response to the grief. Not all that animated if they were part of me before. But the difference is that I am not kicking in doors to make it happen. My life feels glacial. This may be a function of age or is it that I am alone and the one person I respected, trusted, and who took no shit from me is not here to push me. I am not the same person I was. The edge is worn down. The blunt object I used to move forward and open doors is now a rolled up newspaper. That is an outcome from this exercise to admit I am not the same. And perhaps the measure of being animated by my grief is to recognize I’ve changed and to measure that change. To look and see what changes are worth keeping and those that need to be expunged? Do I retain that part of me connect to the joy I felt and continue to feel and become the person she saw me as. Is that animation of my grief? I’ve said Donna loved me into being and perhaps I have surrendered that being. WWDO (what would Donna Do)  I have been shedding parts of me in the darkness of the days and nights. And that is not animation. It is surrender. 

I would say with  20/20 hindsight the grief has animated my sense of loss which is new, a deeper understanding of Donna and what love is, the sincere wish I could share what I am learning and doing with others in the same state of shit. But blogging and social media are such self-centered exercises. It is a rush to get likes and RT where we have little time to dive into others. That is so fracking sour grapes. Ha! I have come to see my grief is less about my loss and more about what I was embrued with during our 30 years together and have not carried forward. I guess the next morphing of my grief avatar will be looking at who was I, who am I, and what do I bring with me as I move forward? 

Memory and Grief: A Venn Diagram of Sadness and Beauty


If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m crushing on Sally Mann and her "Memoir with Photographs, Hold Still". I’ve been savoring each chapter and not racing to finish it. I stop reading and consider a point she makes in reference to my current state of mind, my changing avatar of grief or just plain smart. 

In the book Mann talks about photographing Civil War battlefields and asks the question: Does the earth remember? “Do these fields, upon which unspeakable carnage occurred, where unknowable numbers of bodies are buried, bear witness in some way? In the beauty of these fields lies the bones of the dead their darkness upon and in the soil." She later quotes a Japanese phrase for this beauty and darkness, mono no aware, “beauty tinged with sadness”. 

During my morning ride I have conversations with myself on a host of topics. Today’s inside my head chat was all about grief and finding a narrative to describe what it is. There is always a bit of hope at these times. Being out, active, and feeling ok I can do this. I can take and make a long view on my grief.  

Grief Day One

Starting with the diagnosis in 2009 and until Donna’s passing August 2011 grief was the soundtrack of life. Background to my days. From day one I knew there would be no happy ending. I occupied those days with doing and completing lists. Preparing for ... Moth balling my business. Selling and donating the 20 years of accumulated debris. The local school did not want a photo copier but, Donna’s agency did. She left her agency on February 5 2009 never to return. In a corner of an office somewhere is a Canon Photocopier the only witness to her work life. There is a charter school on the lower east side with desks, file cabinets, computers, and office supplies. Twenty years of meeting payroll, pitching business, paying employees healthcare, paying rent, succeeding some years, struggling others reduced to students passing through and sticking gum on the bottom of desks. No plaques to remember what we did or didn’t do. No memory of our successes and failures small or big. The conference room table where I sat with clients and talked about the work, fees, ideas, or their families is someplace unknown. Desks where employees produced work where I praised or fought with employees are now school desks. Those are the same desks where I signed vendor and payroll checks. The very desks where I stamped client checks for deposit only. The office with a view of the north and south towers of the WTC where we/I personally witnessed history. I shepherded my employees to my home a block away to be safe until they could get out.

These memories ended that January. They are there out there somewhere. No office, no clients, no staff. Everything from that time is shaped by the context of Donna’s diagnosis and treatment. Those memories are forever broken but not forgotten at least in my mind. They are gone but not the grief. 

Grief During Caregiving

My caregiving held the grief in check. I was focused on my/our days chemo appointments physician visits, MRI’s, and radiation. I saw the future in the drip of chemicals. There was chicken soup before an infusion. Sometimes during the infusion. Patients in the infusion chairs were gaunt, some smiling joking, reading, listening, being part of a club. Most were old some where young. All resigned to poisoning themselves to live or keep death at bay. 

We went to the movies. As we always did. Trailers poked my grief. That damn smooth voice telling us the plot of a soon to be released film. Stabbed in heart. Wondering if Donna would see it? Would I care if the film was coming to theaters this October. What is coming? The film, Donna’s death, my pain, more chemo, more fear or just the gnawing of my grief on my heart, soul, and memories. These were the dates we had before diagnosis and continued to have yet now they were battles to keep fear at bay. I was all clinical and business as a caregiver. I fault myself for that. I hate myself for that. I became not the annoying spouse driving at survival at all costs but, the spouse making lists, meeting timetables, doing, and undoing. It was how I approached business, set objectives, plan a strategy, create tactics, and measure outcome. Donna gave me her disease and ultimately her death. It was an objective. The goal to be a good caregiving. All along the grief was resting in the background. 

Grief in the Foreground 

In early 2011 Donna’s physical health was failing. Her cancer was producing a form of osteoarthritis. Walking was difficult and the pain was progressive. By the middle of the year a third round of chemo was offered and hoped to reduce tumor burden and beat back the crippling pain. It did not work. Analgesics were ineffective. At the same time her pleural cavity was filling with fluid. She was scheduled for a thoracocentesis or pleural tap for the following Monday. Actually tomorrow July 11, 2011. On Sunday we went to a local restaurant. The vast majority of our Sundays were our days, my day, to cook and have family meal, a glass of wine, and just be the family we always saw ourselves as. But this Sunday was different. The restaurant was only a few minutes away. It took 20 minutes to walk there and even longer to walk back. The next day we left the apartment early. A month later Donna passed away in hospice. She never returned. 

In Hold Still Mann makes the point repeatedly, her art her photographs stand alone without context. The context of the photos become her memories. My posts and podcasts are my attempt to contextualize my memories. They are my photographs. They are a way rectify my failure of not taking photos or holding her after her death. Stroke her hand in death. I was all business. I had to get the plans for the funeral underway. Make sure friends and family were coming. I was afraid no one would come. I did not stop to consider the beauty in her death the beauty of what was and is. Today and during these past four years doing these entries have I stopped to consider in equal measure the darkness, the beauty, and the overlap of the two. The grief came to be my companion. 

The Venn of It All

There is the darkness of the loss. The sense that Donna’s death has thrust me into this limbo. This emotional amber I am stuck in. The moments of the day the weeks where the usual events of the week, Friday night dinner out, movies, etc. are gapping wounds cut into the fabric of time. The pieces of art and furniture that was carefully selected and curated for our home. And I can barely pick a set of sheets out. Those moments/memories are the slices of the darkness in this Venn diagram. Let me assure you this does not provoke loneliness or sadness. This is just the status quo of life. I have no desire to replace or remove but to accept what is. It is the darkness of the grief. 

On the beauty side is the clear knowledge that what was and what is was unique. Finding an old Filofax calendar of Donna’s and reading her entries reassure me that I am not living in a fantasy land. The small red hand drawn heart around my birthday date. The note about a concept. The list of to do’s. All reinforce that what was is real. They are the context for the memories and act as a counterpoint to the dark side. 

The overlapping sections of darkness and beauty is today. It is each day where I find myself trying to balance between the two. I avoid residing one side or the other. I guess is called living in the here and now. My goal is to keep both sides less at bay but to bring them into a balance where both the darkness and the beauty take on an organic nature. The memories and the context thrive as I do. To become something new. But I can't help but consider the very reality of it all, I am wasting all that was, all that is, and all that I have. Is my future my life this one trick pony? I am stuck and some days loosing interest in much of anything. Not caring one way or another. Surrendering to the low hanging fruit of life while I try different venues. I am sorry I have no answers. This is my exercise in clarity. 

Eddie Cue and Tim Cook Discuss Taylor Swift (Recorded June 21, 2014)

Just an observation. Most of the press is saying how Taylor Swift beat the shit out of Apple. Or Apple surrendered. Well here is the phone conversation between Eddie Cue and Tim Cook 

Tim: Hello Eddie how's it going

Eddie: Tim here. Taylor finally published that letter about us not paying artists for the three month trial of our music streaming service. It is getting a crap load of attention. You were so right in your vision and setting this up for us.

Tim: Eddie can you send out the planned Tweets and call Taylor. As we discussed look contrite yet understanding. The media will go wild about how we folded like a cheap suit.

Eddie: This is just so good. The PR Dept estimates we'll get close to $450 million worth of PR for this. And a steep adoption curve for streaming.

Tim: I saw that report last month. It is so smart but the best part is it will cost us $1.29 to pay artists for the trail period. I expect uptake for the launch to be HUGE. Remember to send Taylor an iTunes gift card for her help. 

Eddie: Tim you rock and your reality distortion field is as good as Steve's.

This is humor though I think it can't be far from some reality.