Notes on a Squiggly Squirmy 3-year-old (aka Aiden Christopher-Bryant)

We’re in church in Memphis, TN. He has been with us several months now and this is what’s going through my head:

He races to put his Ironman figurine under my left butt cheek every time I sit down (and we stand/sit a lot of times during Mass).

He uses my arms as a launch for his figurines in flight and sticks the sharpest point into my skin. If I move, he finds another tender part. I warn him, he looks at me, smiles slyly, waits a minute, and starts all over again.

He now wants to be in my lap.  He squirms, ever-moving, pulling my clothes into disarray. I whisper “be still or get off my lap.” He stops a minute, leans into me, waits; it begins all over again.

He stand on the upturned kneeler, a safety hazard for my legs should it fall. I tell him to get down—he does—waits a minute, and is up on it again.  I sigh.  Give him “the” eye.  He loudly whispers, “Sorry Nana.” He doesn’t wait for his words to register before he starts his squirming again.

His body is constantly in motion, his foot seems disconnected from his body as he batters my legs and ankles without even noticing. My now mottled, bruised legs and ankles don’t faze him at all. He is totally focused on the adventures of Ironman.

Looking back, those were days to be treasured.  His trust was complete, his hugs genuine, his visit–a gift.

October 2008

St. Augustine Church

Memphis, TN

A world of contrasts: The old and the new

This short, much looked for, vacation connects me with my mother and my newest grandchild, a girl, Teya Kathleen. The baby I see first, tiny, pink, skin so soft I can’t stop touching her. I watch her sleep, totally relaxed, arms in the bracket shape of a weight lifter, legs still bowed from the womb. I laugh almost continuously at the faces she makes as she sleeps with total abandon, as if she knows how safe and protected she is. Her hands, even in sleep, grasp and hold gently with tiny pink fingers almost translucent, fitting around the tips of my fingers without touching my knuckle. I kiss her sweet, soft face, inhale her new baby sweetness; am soothed by the way she snuggles into my chest into deeper sleep. Wiggle. Snuggle. Wiggle. Snuggle. And I laugh as she frowns and purses her lips as if blowing kisses at a questionable image in her dreams. I smooth her wrinkled brow and whisper for her to dream happy dreams.

Those soft images I take with me when I visit my mother in a health care center after a year’s absence. I don’t think anyone can be prepared to see their mother, father, parent, loved one, shriveled up, quaking, blind to all but blurs, deaf to most spoken word, in a fetal position in a darkened room, staring at–nothing. No TV, or radio to distract her unwanted, fearful, thoughts—and I sure know she has them. No one to talk with when she can finally gather a complete thought. I can’t imagine how fearful she is nor how this once stop-the-conversation-when-I-enter-a-room stunning beauty experiences her lot in life.

Where Teya sleeps in total abandon, letting the world in, my mother is curled tight, keeping the world out. Where Teya sleeps with wrinkled brow from a world yet unknown, my mother sleeps the deep dreamless sleep of the over medicated. A sharp contrast of arms spread welcoming wide of the newborn to my mother’s pale 90+ year old arms are pulled tight against her, resisting health care people’s efforts to relax them to dress her, and even more pale fingers grasp the covers and reminds me that she has always been cold. I see her veins standing prominent like someone drew crude lines on her with a black marker.

Where does the term “rest home” come from, I wonder. This building is not a place of rest, rather a place of sadness, and shadows of people who have lost their hold on the world around them and have no one to pull them back to rein in those unchecked thoughts. No one to talk about “the good ol days,” with lives lived so long ago that most of the memories are gone. Memories faded from a lack of someone to pass them on to, or just no one caring to listen. Where age creeps around in floppy slippers, or on rubber wheels, and knowledge goes dormant. Histories of active lives are lost in days that can’t be distinguished from nights. Once professional, active, skilled, talented people with healthy faces now sit in silence with drawn, empty faces of the hopeless. Unknowingly they have slipped into a state where the only way to distinguish the passing days are clean clothes, baths, and the medicine hour. Where no one dances to sounds all can hear, where fingers too gnarled to snap to a tune lie twisted in soft laps that may have once held a squiggly child. A place where minutes are hours and the changes on the clock have no meaning. No meetings to go to, no children to visit, no family keeping track of how much they eat or sleep, or if their output is the correct color and consistency.

As I wheel my mother to the tiny patio, shared with multiple vehicles rhythmically poot-pooting their exhaust into the lungs of the more-able bodied, I am controlling her hands as they reach out to touch, to identify things moving too fast past her near-total blind eyes. Once a better-than-average seamstress who made my clothes and patchwork quilts, I remember how she touched material to judge whether it was worthy enough to make skirt, shirt, or dress, touch connected with images of final product. Then there is Teya who touches out of reflex, too tiny to relate touch with image, but grasping at the world nonetheless.

Rolling through the center, I see room after room of people with no one to share old stories with, nothing familiar to touch when they reach out to identify with their fingers what their eyes no longer can distinguish. No one to grieve that sensation of being stranded and no one caring, but maybe there is no longer a connection of stranded and caring. No one to “remember when…” with. Strangers surround you, with all their poking and prodding. There is no way to determine who is caretaker, who is friend.

Multiple caretakers speaking languages above their heads that fall unfamiliarly on the ears of the patients, who seem to have just given up on trying to relate or ask them to speak English so they would understand. Foreign languages whisking about from worker-to-worker ignoring the people they are dressing, washing, feeding as if they are dolls in a play pretend world. An environment in which there should be a diagnosis consistent with “failure to thrive” which has the same meaning it has for the newly born, but no one associates its definition to those in the latter stages of life who are imprisoned in their minds and/or bodies.

My mother’s repeated cries of “pee” are answered with responses more befitting a small child “It’s okay, dear, you have on Depends,” says the caregiver, giving permission to a once proud and majestic woman that wetting her pants is now acceptable. I see the angst on the face of this woman once fiercely proud of her personal hygiene and I know it would never be okay with her. I am helpless to move her because she is no longer ambulatory, so I can only watch her eyes glisten as she loses the fight to keep her body from relieving itself while the nurses fluff her bed and gently fuss about how she needs to get over that being okay, and know she will never understand being okay with wetting on herself, no matter how feeble her mind. I know that such early memories are so imprinted in her psyche they are never forgotten. It gives me an instant insight as to the purpose of dementia and Alzheimer’s; it’s a mental escape when the world is no longer safe.

As I step close to her bedside, she grasps my outstretched hands. Her 90+ year old hands with nails that belie the daily manicuring that once made them the envy of most women. I interpret the way she grasps my hand in both of hers and squeezes as hard as she can with silent pleadings for me to take her with me; not leave her here to pee her pants amid people too busy to set her on the nearby toilet.

Where Teya grasps from reflex, my mother grasps in desperation. “I love you,” I tell her; “I love you too,” she responds. “I’m sorry,” I tell her, “that I have to leave you here.” She squeezes my hand, pulling up off the bed and closer to my face, she peers hard into my face and says nothing. I believe she is grieving the life she could have made better, valued more. She has daily reminders that she has not followed Oprah’s advice to live your best life.

It hits me harder than I thought it would that I would have to leave her here with strangers to whom she is only a job, not family. She is now the patient she, herself, used to have (maybe just as impatiently as her caregivers are now) as a nurses’ aide; irony. An exercise in poking and prodding and measuring urine, blood, and food intake for endless record keeping, which began with her beginning–DOB, and ends when she ends, a final entry which will be TOD, time of death.

Fighting thoughts of her, which would render me a puddle of incapacitating weeping, I realize I am only one thought away from tears. I feel her hands pull at mine, not sure which is the palsy of Parkinson’s, and which is the silent pleading for me to stay with her. “Don’t leave me” is what I take away. She is reluctant to let go and I am reluctant to leave. My mind again shifting thoughts of how I could possibly take care of her, take her with me and, failing an instant solution, I wrestle with the guilt of abandonment. Does she truly understand why I, we, leave her here, I wonder?

Her paper-thin skin, is still silky smooth and soft as a baby’s from years of expensive lotions and oils. Skin quite similar to four-week-old Teya; Teya’s beginning to my mother’s ending; a lesson in opposites. I recall the texture of the baby’s skin, and remember how alike they are, a mere two generations apart. Trying hard, I cannot remember a time when my mother, this paper-thin woman, now fighting hard to live, was happy to be alive. When I wonder, did she suddenly begin to value the life she’s fighting so hard to leave?

Born on a farm at the turn of the last century to a farmer and a school teacher under laws of segregation, this could-easily-pass-for-white beauty was never comfortable with her ability to chose her own life, always untrusting of the intention of whites. For one who has never had an understanding of foreigners, here she is now in the care of both.

Once a Lena Horn look-alike with long, soft, wavy, flowing black hair Indian hair, they used to call it, she was a conversation piece of envious women and covetous men who all stopped when she entered a room; like the old “when E. F. Hutton speaks…” television commercials. That thought now a great contrast to this wheelchair-bound wisp of inherent beauty, grasping at everything moving close by her as if she is holding on to keep life from slipping away.

Perhaps in her search for that one man who would rescue her, and failing, she gave up on a quality of life, choosing instead to resent the happiness of others. I can almost touch her desperation, palpable, a sad desperation to hold on to something that has only now become life-giving and important. Yet her imperfections and major flaws seem minor, almost harsh even now to recall. As I look at her now, I see only her beauty, now faded, but you still know that she once was “a looker” as they used to say. And “was” needs no definition, only regal emphasis.

I take away a sense of imprisonment, helplessness, abandonment, which leads to death. Imagine living your last days trapped in time and space, no control over the smallest of things such as sitting in a garden with the sun on your face, or putting your own body in a different space by your own will. I take away a reaffirmation to my husband to not outlive me, to not let modern machines breathe for me and tubes feed me while I’m stuck in an earthbound purgatory where strangers tell visitors what I may be thinking or feeling; acting more cheerful than they feel, only to disappear and leave me in an unwelcome darkness when my visitors leave. Where I may call out “pee”, and no one cares that I wet myself; where strange women speak foreign languages to each other around me as if I were not there, and strange men become more intimate with my private parts than my husband, and I can’t rebuff their invasion.

On my plane ride home to the opposite coast, after spending the night crying at having to leave her, I try to deflect my melancholy by noticing everything around me. A deep, invasive sadness I feel, so deep that Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman, at their movie funniest, fail to pull me out of my funk. Preferring to best remember the soft, sweet smile of Teya Kathleen, what haunts me stronger are the similarities and contrasts; the papery texture of my mother’s skin, even at 90+ as soft as the baby’s; their unscented, but clean smelling hair; the beginnings and endings. Even the dark, steel gray of Teya’s eyes compared to the blind-colored eyes of my mother’s remain. Another generation of could-pass-for women, mulatto and quadroon.

Looking for anything to pull me from my reverie, I notice a nearby passenger proofing notes with one hand and bouncing a finger puppet on the other as he entertains his months-old baby girl. Multi-tasking most efficiently, remembering to give her more attention every now and then as he looks away from his paperwork. And the chips I just finished had an expiration date of 10/ year. I finally find humor that if the left over chips are stored until November, it will look like they’re good for another year. Aeronautic efficiency, I guess.

The further the plane flies, the lighter my sadness, but it never entirely leaves me. A thought overtakes and haunts me: if it hurts this much leaving her now and she’s still alive, I wonder if I may ever recover from her death.

September 30, 2005

Forgiving your parents for mistakes to your inner child

There comes a time in our lives as adults when we have to understand that our parents can NEVER make up for some slight or misunderstanding we had with them when we were 5-7-9, or even 15. At some point in adulthood we have to take responsibility for the choice we make to be happy or unhappy.

And, unless said parent physically harmed you, they did the best they could with what they knew and we have to let it go. I am so sick of hearing people whine about not having “stuff” as a kid, or parents being too strict; it’s all relative. Adults who can now verbalize how they don’t trust their parent because that parent didn’t explain why he/she made the choices they made, which made the kid feel robbed of something, need to get over it and move on.

Our parents made mistakes just like we do. How can we think to not look at our lives as a parent and think our kids will not eventually bemoan some slight we made when they were young? Do we really believe that we’re now the perfect parent and can do nothing wrong? We aren’t; we do. Just because we let our kids run wild because our parents were too strict on us, does not make us a better parent. In fact, research shows that those same children malign parents who give their children no boundaries when they get to be adults because they provided no feeling of safety for the child.

Kids will like it in the moment, but they will hate you as an adult if you let them drink, or have sex (as long as you’re going to do it) at home. Kids won’t love you more because you bought every toy you could find for them, either. A few toys that are special to them are much more desirable to a child, and much less overwhelming.

When you speak your mind regardless of how it harms another person, it is just as bad to your child as it was when you were young and your mother/father never spoke up to defend you when you felt someone was damaging you in some way. Extremes in behaviors are not an improvement of those behaviors.

And stop patting yourself on the back exclaiming that you are a much better parent than your parents were to you. Repeat after me, it is ALL relative. The phrase “my kids can come to me about anything” only works if that kid has had the exact same thinking process and experiences as you did, and that’s impossible.

As much as you protest, it is highly likely that your kids will never tell you some of the things they have heard or are experiencing as a kid (including rape, abuse, bullying, or violence), no matter how you brag that they tell you everything. No matter how open you think you are as an adult some kids are just not going to tell you that someone groped them inappropriately because of the shame they feel, or the internal guilt that they brought it on themselves. They are just not programmed to do that. In your adult mind, you cannot determine how a child will interpret something they hear, feel, or experience.

A parent experiencing deep depression can’t possibly be mentally available to their children, and being angry if your parent was one of them and wasn’t available to you is the same as being angry because they had cancer or leprosy. Nothing short of medication (usually) can bring someone out of depression and all the wishful thinking won’t make it so. This is one of those times “just do it” can’t happen naturally.

Saying, “get over it” is too simplistic, but adults need to let that internal kid out, slap it on the back, and repeat, “from now on I am going to be the adult I dreamed I would be.” Then, become that adult.

The joys of purging

[Originally posted July 2010]

In purging out old paper I find I’m discovering my old life. There are papers in all that mess that I’m sorting through, I’m discovering that I did great, even though small, things. I can see how much money I earned since I left high school; am reminded of jobs that I can just vaguely remember; and, even discovered there might be a small savings account that still might be inactive somewhere.

Everyone wants to feel as if they matter, have value, and/or have made a difference. As you age and stay in the moment, you tend to forget what happened early on in life, at least that applies to me. I have read letters that I wrote to people to help them advance in school, or helped them with information vital to some point in their lives. There are even a bunch of writings from poems I thought I’d lost because they were stored on those 5 1/2″ floppy disks that I don’t think there make machines for any more.

I’m finding letters from inmates thanking me for my help in learning new computer or typing skills, or even giving references that would help them in their next facility or for a job waiting for them when they got out. It reminds me of the many types of people I worked with like thieves, murders, drug lords, hit men, transvestites, or just innocent pollos who are waiting to be shipped back to Mexico; it’s good to see that I treated them with respect so that I know that my memories weren’t skewed by believing I possessed a behavior that I really didn’t have. Evidently I treated them better than they expected and/or got in the penal system.

I have several notes from inmates who would write me when they were transferred, or when I finally left the job. One inmate’s letter just tickled me to no end so I’m going to print it here (exactly as written): “Ms. Bronson, I was going to wait until the classroom cleared yesterday to say goodbye buy yu dissappeared. So this note will have to do. Enjoy! Thank you for helping me to get started using computers. The knowledge should prove invaluable. It was alledged in court that my bank robbery notes said ‘Robbery–please don’t make me have to shoot you.’ Now I will be able to just hook up a computer to a phone modem, call up the banks computer, and send the followign message: ‘Robbery–please don’t make me have to unplug you!’ ”

This recollection of memories, added to my recent discovery of former classmates, is cathartic. It has given me a wider perspective of my life and what I have contributed to it.

Condemnation created by religious-based dogma

It saddens me that religions all use words written by MEN that make choices FOR US about who to love, who to accept, and who/what is good for us. It would behoove us all to remember that the translations of the scrolls and other biblical documents were done by MEN and they decided unilaterally what (of those writings) was okay to be used and what to be kept hidden. All this was determined by what they wanted; their personal goals and ambitions. There are times when someone discovers that the words some translator of old thought meant a certain thing turned out in later translations to mean something else.

What we’re forgetting is that “religion”, all of them, are manmade. If a man (always a man) didn’t like what he was hearing, he formed his own religion so that he could set his own rules and dominate anyone he wanted any way he wanted, and people, especially women, followed without questioning his motives. They followed Jim Jones off the cliff of life because they stopped questioning what I’ll bet their instincts were telling them. People who weren’t born Jewish began to separate into various religious groups like Catholics, Baptist, Methodist, and much later Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons.

When my sister became a Jehovah’s Witness I was a teenager.  She changed from a funny, fun-loving person to one more serious, challenging, aggressive. When I’ve tried to talk to her about religious beliefs she will get mean and raise her voice, and I back off because she changes her personality. I can remember commenting about saying a prayer asking God for something and she became icy, snapping at me about how God didn’t have time for us piddly individuals because He had the world to attend to. It was so noticeable that her husband interrupted and, in his soft, pleasing manner, explained what she was trying to say. Whatever she was trying to say I never heard because she mentally scarred me with her tone. When she first became a Witness she would not even associate with our family because (I understood at that time) we were not Witnesses. Manmade rules. We’re good now, but I don’t discuss religion with her—ever.

Mormons don’t allow people outside their religion to walk into their church. When the last huge tabernacle was built here in San Diego the whole country was invited to visit for a period of time. When that period was over, the church was cleaned from top to bottom and all the carpeting was replaced so that no trace of anyone outside that group was evident. And, for a long time Blacks were not welcome into their church and could not enter into heaven when they died. Manmade rules.

Even the pronouns “man” and “woman” were not as distinguished in the original writings (learned that from a Homily and a science channel). And I’m particularly fascinated with how someone who has what’s called “second sight” can be demonized by religions because the leadership can’t control the visions or the people having them. How is it wrong or evil when a person today has a vision of something that will happen in the future when it’s clear that prophesies learned from biblical readings are just people who had visions, or second sight?

If all of us are made up of energy and that energy never dies, and we are prone to genetic memories handed down through generations, how can some of us not be visionaries? When someone can see how doing X will be beneficial and that person creates X and becomes a billionaire, we don’t hesitate to call him or her a visionary. How is that bad? How does that differ from someone seeing a house ablaze in a dream and warn the homeowner to fix the electric outlet? They are all visions made from the energy that surrounds us and we get them in different ways.

When we look at the Catholic Church where laws were written to keep women from owning property (following generations of priests marrying and having children), papal decrees started prohibiting priests to marry because the CHURCH could lose the property; another example of manmade laws twisted into religious “beliefs.” After all, that law wasn’t always in place; greed and jealousy over possessions changed that.

In many religions writings are used in church doctrine that were not from the original translations because they created their own holy book (usually to replace or augment the Bible). In those cases, some man (always a man) decided he didn’t like what was written as taught by the Bible, so he proclaimed himself as being some type of prophet and wrote his own rules and little by little, others began to follow him until he reached the multitudes. There was a time when some religions taught that being Black (tied to Cain and Able) was an abomination and all Black folk could only be slaves.

There was a time when Catholics were forbidden to read a Bible because they were considered too stupid to be able to interpret what was written, so only priests could tell them what they should know. You might imagine the conflict that gave me as a kid when my mother was a Baptist who read the Bible, and good ol’ Fr. Buddy at St. Boniface Catholic School was telling us pimply-faced, pre-hormonal kids that that was a sin. I spent sleepless nights tussling in my undeveloped mind about how my mother was sinning because I can’t put together her NOT being Catholic with what Catholics are supposed to believe. I didn’t think it was right and that led to me questioning. My minor league kiddy questions to clear up my mental conflicts were answered by St. Marie Antoinette and Fr. Buddy (he led the catechism classes) with a saying I’ll never forget, “That is one of the great mysteries of God.”

Some religions have rules about with whom you can associate, or it’s against their laws to visit other churches (yet they can browbeat others about their church), or what you can (or can’t) wear, and of course, who you can or cannot marry. And, if you marry someone outside your religion, in some countries you can be killed. This is really happening at the time of this wring in India (Pakistan) where woman are particularly devalued.

I wonder, if I can visit your church without fearing I would lose my beliefs, what are you losing to visit my church if you are so solid in your beliefs? How can someone who knows NOTHING from experience of other teachings be so solidified in their beliefs? Do they fear their beliefs can be shaken?

It all makes me so sad, particularly when it’s about disowning someone for being born a certain way. Remember that in the past, people with obvious disabilities were deemed witches and therefore it was okay to burn them. Or, they could be hidden in the attic so no one would know they existed. Or if they were severely disabled they could be killed because of their imperfections. How about that a woman could not own property. Or that if a woman’s husband died, she had to marry his brother. God said that?

I don’t think God makes such distinctions. One cannot possibly say that God is good, and then demean His creations. If God creates energy and some of us are more susceptible to levels of energy than others, how is that not God-given?

I’ve been a Catholic almost all my life, but there are some things that I instinctively knew even as a kid that it was not what God intended. For example, I was very conflicted as a child about having a Bible in my house that my mother read. According to good ol’ Fr. Buddy at St. Boniface Catholic Church and School in Milwaukee, I was taught she was a heathen, she was going against God’s will for being bold enough to read the Bible on her own, but I didn’t believe that. I did keep silent on the issue (because I was a kid), but I never believed that God would condemn someone for reading His word. That same argument hits me dead in my stomach with condemning people for being gay. How can God create us all yet we can call His creations bad if some man deems them so? That’s all sorts of arrogant and a misuse of biblical guidelines. You can’t say that that gays are an abomination in the same breath as “love your neighbor as I have loved you” without being a hypocrite. You are basically saying you are better than something else God created. Again, arrogant as hell.

We see almost on a weekly basis an insecure young white male shoot up some establishment, yet we know that it’s against God’s will to kill. Do we look at insecure young white males as an abomination? Nope, society makes excuses about that young man being an INDIVIDUAL, not a representative of a whole ethnic group. If an insecure young Black male shoots up the post office, more laws are written to control the comings and goings of Black folk in general. Is that one of God’s teachings? Where is it in the Bible that whites are better than any other ethnic group? How can some minor writings in the Bible (alluding to gays) be such a prominent part of religions while other parts (what can and cannot be eaten) is ignored?

I really believe that religions were created to control women. Yes, that’s my take on it. Men don’t’ try to control other men they want the women controlled so they can multiply and control the children. When religious groups like the Mormons can expel males because they challenge authorities, they fair much better in controlling the minds of the women in the group. Women having children increases the number of the group and anyone questioning their beliefs are ousted and/or shunned.

From my perspective, no religion is perfect because it is dictated, translated, and taught by man, not God. The Bible is a guide for how to live our lives, but it’s used more to control our thoughts and hate others who are different than it is to love others as your neighbor. We, as a people, have got to stop these constant (mis)interpretations of what laws we follow , or don’t follow, because that indirectly influences the minds of the next generation.

There is healing in death, too.

A friend has posted about his father being in the hospital, which has gotten a lot of responses about prayers for him to get well. This, of course, is the ordinary response when someone is sick, or in ill health.  We all want them to get better, no doubt.  And, while I certainly understand healing prayer, I know for a fact that healing comes in death, too.

Having lost so many in my life I understand that not everyone will get well (or our understanding of wellness). Not everyone will even get better. We have to learn that “our will” will never trump God’s will. We can’t pray someone to health if God has chosen him or her to return to His energy, His home. It’s not bad to accept that, nor is it wishing someone to die; it’s merely acceptance of the process of life. We can’t keep running from the reality of death. It is always unexpected, even when we know it’s coming.

I know of two people who were just vying to be subjects of a study in how we deal with death.  One lady, in her 40s, had an aunt who was 102 when she died.  Her aunt had been in declining health and the doctors tried to prepare her for her aunt’s death, and when the aunt died that woman pitched a fit.  She screamed at the doctors, she stopped going to work and closed herself off from anyone seeking to console her.  I was perplexed.  She lived with her aunt and had about 20 (or more) years with her, what was she screaming about, I wondered?  What was so unsettled that she had to do all that?  She was the only heir to whatever the aunt had.

Another woman, single, rescued old dogs that people were going to put to sleep.  Every single day she rushed home from work to COOK dinners for those six dogs.  I mean HUGE pots of carrots, potatoes, beef, and other vegetables.  Every.  Single.  Day.  She took no vacations away from her dogs.  She spent a fortune on vets for them if they had cancer, or any debilitating health issues, and bought special things (like stairs) if they were too infirm to climb onto the couch or bed.  She allowed them to sleep or sit anywhere they wanted (and her furniture looked nasty).  And when one of them finally died, she went berserk, inconsolable.  She, too, stopped work and wouldn’t even take calls for anyone wanted to talk her down from her doggy death cliff.  Even though I knew she considered them her children, I didn’t understand her depth of grief.  I accepted it, but didn’t understand it.

I was in my 20s when I worked at the University of California San Diego, and at that time we had a chancellor whose wife was sociable and sweet.  She knew everyone in the office and occasionally asked us to his or her house for lunch or dinner.  The chancellor’s wife had a mother, I’ll call her Maggie here, who was equally lively and had been a teacher (if I remember correctly) and great in sports, too, she was a social philanthropist and in the society pages.  Then Maggie got sick, got better, got sick, got better, and got even sicker and bed-bound before she died.  That was a blow to all of us who had chatted with her over the years and I remember sending the chancellor’s wife a short note about how my heart ached for the loss of her mother.  What she sent me back floored me.

The chancellor’s wife sent me a note that was so upbeat and inspiring about how she was not sad that her mother had died because of all the time they had together in life.  She thanked God that she didn’t have to work so that in her mother’s last days she got to spend them all with her.  And, what stuck me most was that she said her mother had been in such pain during those last months and now she was free from pain, and she knew that her mother deserved that; she said she was happy that her mother was free from pain.  And all that was written in flowing script, on bright flowery, spring paper.

It was my very first time understanding that death could be received and accepted. It was without crying, falling on caskets, screaming “why me, Lord,” or being carried down the aisles by ushers because the pain was so heavy, as I’d seen many times in my community before that time.  Here was someone who talked about her mother being free from pain.  That–I understood.  I read and re-read the note many times because it was so impactful.  In hindsight, I realize that it has helped me grow.

Death of a loved one is painful. We can’t get around that.  It hurts no matter how much you try to rationalize the reality. I hear people say (and have myself said), “his/her death was so unexpected.” I can tell you from experience that even when you sit by the bedside of someone dying, when it, death, finally happens, it’s unexpected. You can’t prepare for it no matter how hard you try.

When my mother died seven years ago, I cried, but I remembered that she was no longer in pain or in a nursing home, which she hated. I knew without a doubt that she left here for a better place than the comatose state she had been in, limbs frozen at awkward angles from being unused, surrounded by a rotating staff of care-taking strangers, for a few years prior to that.  She couldn’t hear, she couldn’t see, could only eat some bland, tasteless, colorless concoction created by the nursing staff by which they gave her medicines, until they got lazier still and just gave it to her in a feeding tube.  Added to that, almost all of her eight children lived many miles away, so she got visits only when we were in town.  Even though she was 93, she died, I’m convinced, to get away from there.

When my sister died three years ago, my niece (my sister lived with her son, my nephew, and his wife, Pat) was told by my sister’s doctors that the end was near so she alerted my siblings and we drove/flew in to be with her. We laughed, talked, shared many memories with my sister, took pictures, and watched my sister eat better than she had in many months, before she briefly rallied in health; briefly. A couple of weeks later, her gentle heart just gave out and quit beating.  She was a believer in God, so we had a service for her (even though it wasn’t a Catholic service).  Pat was my hero for giving us that last meal and a chance to share memories as a family with my sister.

When Daddy died last year, it was more of a celebration because he was 105 years old and his body, legs, eyes, lungs, just plain wore out.  We never told him that his oldest child was already gone before him.  There was just no need.  He was a man with high morals about right and wrong, but not a religious man, so there was no funeral, just plans for a memorial in the future.  I prayed that God accept him “as is,” because I knew that him being born at the beginning of the last century (1907), he had suffered so much from the treatment of white people. I knew that all our images are of a white Jesus that he long ago stopped believing in, or hope that the white man would do right by him.

Then my brother died last month. It knocked the wind out of me. I couldn’t even comprehend what my sister-in-law was calling to tell me. I kept saying, who? who?  There was no preparation for this. He was my youngest sibling, and although he had some periodic health issues (some pretty severe), there was no implication that death was near. It literally took me two days before I truly understood enough for it to buckle my knees.  He was a spiritual man, but didn’t belong to any specific religion, so we will memorialize him when we memorialize Daddy.

When my husband’s father died a few days after my brother last month, he simply stopped breathing. His Alzheimer’s made him afraid of what was coming, but when he was clear headed, he was strong in his Catholic faith. The day before he died we visited him and he was nervous, looked somewhat disheveled, and shaky. He kept saying he was scared, and praying, “God help me, God help me, I’m scared,” in a chant. He asked his daughter to take him for a ride, and after getting into the car he died in the driveway. His daughter was almost inconsolable and screamed at the hospital staff to not touch him when they tried to revive him and failed. She blamed herself for not driving fast enough to get him to the hospital.

What these all made me understand clearly is that it doesn’t matter whether we are religious or not, spiritual or not, we all die when it’s our time; it’s inevitable.  And when you lose someone you love, it hurts and there’s no getting around that.  Prayers for health or healing sometimes, I believe, only prolong their pain, even though I still believe in its value.

What I’ve learned to do is to pray that I can accept God’s will for that person to recover or be taken away from their pain or suffering.  I pray for the strength of their family.  I pray for their strength in dying a good death, and for the family’s strength in getting through that awful period of mourning.  And, too, I pray for God’s grace to accept them back into His energy, as well as for the words I can use that will give comfort to the living.  In the future I’m going to take an example from Iyanla Vanzant and light a candle for them as I pray. And for me, well, I pray I have a good death where I slip away quietly, peacefully, when no one is noticing.

Dreams are very powerful

My mother told me many years ago that when you dream of someone dying, it meant someone was going to have a baby, and when you dreamed of someone being born, someone was going to die. I have learned over the years that dreams are very powerful and they have seldom proved me wrong in “seeing” something that will happen, or has happened.

I had a dream about two weeks ago that I birthed twins only they were some time apart, which I interpreted as a couple of weeks. The first twin, a male, had my coloring and felt comfortable to me, like I recognized him. The second twin, who followed a few days/weeks later, was very different. He was boxy-shaped, very pale in coloring, and had light green/grey eyes. This one wasn’t as comfortable to me and I kept staring at him trying to figure out why he looked like that.

Andre’ and I had a laugh about it. Then, about a week later, my youngest brother died suddenly. We’re still waiting to see what the final autopsy will be, but at some point I remembered my dream and realized he was the first twin. I told Andre’ that he had to be prepared that his dad would go soon, because I believed that was the second twin because the eye coloring matched his dad.

After we finished meeting with my brothers about the preparation for burying my brother, we stopped by to see Andre’s parents. His father was shaky, looked disheveled, kept calling on The Lord with “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy,” repeatedly. Andra talked with him about being present and in the moment. Andre’ held his hand and told him everything was going to be okay. Another sister, Suzanne, had stopped in as well as attended to him (she’s a nurse) and we all left together.

Today, Andre’ got the call that his father died. I knew immediately that was the second twin in my dream. He has green/grey eyes.  And so we continue the mourning process at our house as I realize that dreams are very powerful.

And Then There Were Six: In memory of Edward (Jahn) Bronson

I didn’t plan on my youngest brother dying so soon. None of us did. Never even crossed my mind even though he has had seizures that almost took him out for years. It was the biggest shock I’ve had in quite a while.

When we were kids, he was just Eddie.  And as the last of eight children, he was very spoiled by my mother. He didn’t have to do the same amount of chores the rest of us had to do, and he relished in that. There were six of us in a house with one bathroom and we RUSHED to get in and out before he did in the mornings to go to school. He was the absolute slowest person I ever had to wait on, and this was all his life.

He used to lift weights when he was young and he was so trim by the time he went into the Air Force, that my mother (quite a seamstress) used to have to tailor all his shirts and pants for his trim waist. He was sharp! And, he knew it. He spent four years in the Air Force, mainly stationed in Hawaii.

He used to look in the mirror at his naturally wavy hair (that men used to pay to have conked that way), pat it, and rather than kiss the mirror, he would kiss his finger tips, place them on one cheek; kiss them again, place them on the other cheek, to give himself his approval kiss before leaving the house. This was his Fast Eddie phase.

When he was a teenager in Milwaukee, some doctor saw his artwork and thought he had talent, so he paid for Edward’s scholarship to Messmer Catholic High School. I was so jealous, but that guy saw Edward’s gift long before we did. In turn, Edward had to provide a copy of his grades every semester. We just knew he would be famous and wealthy.

When my oldest sister, Annie Doris, was declining in health, we were kept abreast of what was happening to her, so her death was gradual, in some ways, an easier thing to experience. I thank my niece, Pat (Mattie), Doug’s wife, for taking the lead on that. We were able to visit her as a group, have dinner, laugh, reminisce, and tell very expanded (and hysterical) versions of our personal historical truths before she died, so that when she died it was more of a celebration than mourning. We didn’t get that chance with my youngest brother.

My brother, named Edward John Bronson at birth, but renamed himself artistically as, Jahn, later in life, was the youngest of eight children. He was vain and funny and would talk your head off. He was a smooth talker, and would quote scripture that always made him right and others wrong, did I say smooth, stubborn, an artist (talented, too), never really liked to work (but loved to get paid), creative, loved his daughter Tracey (even though they didn’t spend much time together), sweet, used to always have a toothpick in his mouth (thanks for that reminder, Kay), loved-loved his family—especially his brothers, always ended his conversations and visits with “love you,” stubborn (yeah, I’m repeating that), and was a real ladies man in his early years.

Honestly, I don’t remember the exact date when we last talked, a month maybe, but I know we were able to have lapses like that and just take up where we left off when we talked again and we laughed—a LOT. Just like old friends. At the end of every conversation and/or visit, we each told the other we loved them. Always.

He tried to spoil my mother when she, on her way to one of my sister’s homes in Milwaukee, took ill when she got to Las Vegas (where he lived at the time) and ended up staying with him for several years (she never made it back to Milwaukee). I tried to get him to let her do things for herself, but he would say, “She took care of us, now it’s my turn to take care of her,” and continue to do as he was always doing. He insisted that he needed to treat her like a queen. My blood would boil every time my mother would try to get up and get something, and he’d jump to her rescue to get it for her. Note: That kind of treatment, however kindly, further handicaps an older person because when they stop moving around their muscles atrophy and they deteriorate more rapidly. Regardless, he laughed a lot and we could send each other into giggle fits in our conversations. I don’t ever want to forget what he sounded like when he laughed.  And he talked softly in almost conspiratorial  tones as if you and he were only to hear his words.

We talked more on the phone than we saw each other even though we lived about two hours from each other. Of course, if you ever had to drive in that LA traffic, you’d know why we didn’t get up there much, and he didn’t have a car. We saw each other last summer in Las Vegas at the mini-family reunion. I am so glad I was able to provide him with a room in a very nice resort hotel.

One brother, Rowan, aka The Colonel, lives on the East Coast. The three brothers on the West Coast, James, Fred, and Edward, spent an inordinate amount of time together—on purpose. Weekends and most holidays would usually find them together at James’s house, talking sh*t, laughing, and drinking (moderately, of course). A while back they used to smoke weed together, but I thought he stopped that because of his medications; he didn’t and it attributed to his death.

Edward, as I prefer to called him as an adult (he was Eddie when we were kids), had many nicknames: Fast Eddie, Rev. Eddie, Edward, Uncle Eddie, Eddie, and later, Jahn. As an artist, he felt he should have an artistic name, so he just changed the “o” in his middle name to “a,” and put an exotic twist on it and he became “Jahn” (pronounced Zha-an) about 20 years ago. We used to laugh about that for ages. He didn’t announce this change, mind you, just let it creep up on us, and during a visit at his house, his girlfriend (at that time) called him by that name and I didn’t know who she was talking about. While I understood his desire to rename himself, I could never—or seldom—remember to call him that. He forgave me and said Edward was fine.

His death made me think of the analogy with my back. I have degenerative discs, and they are deteriorating from the top of my spine down, and from bottom of my spine up. My sister was the top like my spine, this brother was the bottom of my life. We never worried about having connections, or someone to talk with because there were so many of us. I always loved that, which is why I wanted so many children. Shared pain; shared happiness. How I got all those children wasn’t as important, for some reason. Andre’ used to call them mine, yours, ours, and somebody else’s.

Edward was a grandfather, but I have never seen any of his grandchildren. His daughter lives in New Mexico, and has been there since she was a toddler. I remember how it crushed him when her mother moved from Los Angeles and took her away.  I think I have seen her once as an adult. He always, always wanted to have more contact and be more present in her life, but he was not one to push to make that happen, nor could he afford to.

As an artist, Edward was frustrating as hell. He was good, granted, but he wanted to charge amounts for his work that no one would pay to an unknown artist, no matter how good.

He took an album cover of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and made a portrait that looks better than the album cover. Edward took his hair clippings and mixed it into a high-gloss paint and it turned out so beautiful. He used the same technique to another painting of a woman in profile. The album cover painting was so nice that Barry Gordy offered to buy it to put in the Motown lobby. We all knew that would be a great advertisement, and Carla, my sister-in-law, told Edward to do it at the price they were offering (in the hundreds). Well, Edward didn’t think that offer was good enough. He felt that if he sold it at (what he considered) a low price, his work would be devalued. He wanted thousands. He was a horrible businessman. Carla tried to convince him to let her be his agent, but he thought he would be better cutting out the middle-man/woman. He never sold anything. He artwork ended up in James’s garage, some beaten by the weather. He was very, very stubborn.

But, after all, he was still funny, sweet, never rushed for anything, loved his daughter and grandchildren as if he saw them very day, loved God and his family so much that we always knew the love was there.  He loved sweets, especially peaches.  And he could play whist and dominoes with his brothers for hours on end.

Just by coincidence I happened on a voice mail he left me June 21, 2013 at 4:47 p.m., so my phone says.  He says, “Hey, Big Sister, it’s me.  I’m trying to find out the information for, for the, uh, place down in Vegas.  It’s about 5:00 now.  I’m getting ready to step out now.  I’ll call you a little bit later.  It’s a Friday.  Bye.”  In all it was 17 seconds.

We had a glorious time in Las Vegas in 2013, catching up.  He loved his suite at the resort and didn’t want to get out of the jacuzzi tub at night.  He was disappointed that his daughter, Tracey didn’t come.  He held onto the belief that she would come to the last minute, but she didn’t.  While there we worried once that he didn’t answer his door or phone and one of my brothers went to check on him.  And now, that’s all I have left to remind me he was alive, 17 seconds of a recording to hear how he sounded.  Occasionally I play it just to hear how he sounded.  And cry.  I miss the hell out of him.

In the end following the shock of his death, I am left with this: Always, ALL-WAYS, ALWAYS, tell your people (friends or relatives) you love them at the end of your phone conversations. If you’re mad at them tell them you’re mad, but you still love them. I’m so glad we always left each other with love.  And I am glad for all the time we had together, 65 years, one month.  I love you so much.

Earth angels in my periphery

I’ve had some things happen to me over the years.  Some I can’t explain why they happened to this day.  But, when I reflect on a particular one, I think of the term, earth angels.  Earth angels are those in one’s periphery that does something that prevents one from being harmed.

I was working at the California School of Professional Psychology at that time and had to attend a conference in Los Angeles.  I loved the train so I took the opportunity to take a train ride.  Once I arrived, I stood in line in my fancy suit with matching heels (looking quite sharp, I might add) to get a taxi and at that time, they had a LOT of different types of cabs from all sorts of companies.  The cab I chose was a Yellow cab, but that was simply because when my turn came, it was the next in line.

When I got in the cab, the driver, a Black man, asked me where I was going and I gave him the address.  I asked him if he knew where it was and he said, “sure, sure,” so I settled back and took in the scenery.  After a few blocks, the driver asked me if I knew where the place was and I said, “no, you told me you knew where it was.”  A few blocks later he radios his dispatcher and asks him how to get to the location and the dispatcher was trying to tell him, but he kept getting confused.

About 20 minutes into the drive, I was really getting worried because the driver was really getting upset.  And then, he did the unexpected.  He pulled over to the side of the road under some overpass and turned to me and said, “How do you expect me to take you to the place when you don’t even know where you’re going.  We’re going to just sit here until you tell me where it is.”  He had turned sideways and was glaring at me as if I had done something wrong, and he was pissed.

I couldn’t breathe.  My heart was pounding so hard I could actually hear it in my ears.  My mouth was dry.  I was fighting back tears as I sat there clutching my fancy briefcase and purse and trying to figure out how I was going to get out of this situation.  I grabbed to door handle and thought about getting out, but the area was kind of desolate and I had no idea where I was.  Then the dispatcher came back on his radio and said something garbled (or maybe I couldn’t hear over the pounding of my heartbeat) that the driver understood and he slowly turned around, turned the engine back on and drove me to my destination.  I ripped a manicured nail off getting out of that car and throwing money at him as I ran into the building.

Most of you could probably imagine what went through my head as I sat there pretty much at someone else’s mercy.  Rape, murder, being beat up.  My family not knowing where I was or what happened to me was what was foremost in my mind.  How could my husband know that a taxi driver dumped me at some site?  What kind of story would the police create to explain why I was found where they found my body?

Not everyone gets home safe.  Maybe I was the first person this man did that too, and I was his test case.  Maybe another passenger wasn’t as lucky.  Once I was home I wrote a scathing letter to the taxi company and gave them all the information.  They responded saying that they had check with all their drivers, and all their people were stars and would never do anything out of line, of course.  But immediately they let me know that they had banned all taxis from the station that weren’t Yellow cabs.  Little good that did me, because it was a Yellow cab driver that pulled that stunt.

What I learned from that is to make a note of the next taxi driver’s name and ID and put it somewhere in my purse where only someone looking for me would find it.  I got a drive to the train station from another participant at the conference and have never been in a taxi since.

And, who knows, maybe the whole purpose of an earth angel is to do something that keeps you safe at that moment and neither of you know what they’ve done for you.  But, it’s one of many times in my life that someone in my periphery saved me from being harmed beyond repair.


I have some very nice friends on Facebook; some I’ve never met in person, some I haven’t seen since I was a kid, some are just a faint memory of what seems to be another life.  But, what connects us is a common interest in news, memes, politics, pictures, or just plain crazy talk.

That brings me to what I ignore.  Some days I can’t repost fast enough.  Some days almost everything I read hits a cord on some level.  On other days, however, I am on information overload.  On those days I can’t read another article about a kid lynched in the South using modern day methods (guns, vehicles).  On those days I might not feel so witty and my mind seems to purposefully shut out all the negative noise, even though I may go back to it on another day.

The religious posts are ones that I’m less likely to respond to, and if that’s all my friend posts, I’ll probably hide it because my conversation has to be more expansive than that.  Some of the memes I like and will pass on, but if that’s all that’s posted for that friend, I won’t see it unless I go on their page.

And then there are the games.  I don’t like the games.  I don’t like congratulating someone on something they posted only to get an IM saying I am now caught in the game web and I have to play so I can catch some other unsuspecting friends.  Maybe I don’t want to test the level of my friendships, or maybe they will react the same as I did about taking the bait, but, no matter how much I enjoy the friendship, I.  Just.  Can’t.  There are other game requests for something I have no intention of even responding (like candies, or farm animals, or something to do with hearts) to no matter how many requests I get.

But then there is Words With Friends.  I love this game.  It keeps my mind working as I try to outwit my opponent, but I don’t have as many players as I’d like.  I do, however, have a faithful competitor that always keeps me on my toes and I look forward to playing the game with him.  This is the most fun for me, and it was the best distraction I had when I was grading papers before I stopped teaching.

So friends, keep posting so I can pick and chose what impacts me at the moment and I’ll do the same.

Tiptoeing through the maze that is my mind

%d bloggers like this: