Tag Archives: grief

How a Shooting Star Named Baby Sophia Bathed Us in Her Kindness

Recommended Reading Soundtrack:  Stand By Me by Otis Redding on Album Pain in my Heart 

Feeling grumpy, crotchety, stubborn or a bit sequestered today? Get ready, because that is about to change, I promise! In pondering the significance of kindness in my life, as blogger Erica has challenged our community this week, I am finding myself deeply grateful for this opportunity to talk about the beauty of the human spirit. It is a place in our hearts that always draws us together, even when we think those words are cliché or just a bunch of hooey!

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My mind stores up moments of kindness like a big jar of peanut M&Ms that teachers tempt kids with through a guessing game of how many are harbored within that glass. They are colorful, sweet and have the added bonus of not rotting our teeth. And I digress. Then I came across an awesome story on the Washington Post by Sarah Larimer and Casey Capachi titled “Today in uplifting internet news: Redditors help father who lost his infant daughter.” The story was like an envelope being opened on stage for Best Motion Picture at the Oscars and given the chance, I couldn’t help myself but open it. I didn’t even question opening it, as of course I have limited views on news stories here, seriously!

The story- a 26 year old father who recently lost his newborn named, Sophia. One of the few pictures he had of her with open eyes and alertness in tow was also full of her evident struggle to survive- hospital equipment. As the tears started pouring, my eyes and breath strained to read more of the story about a shooting star that flew across our sky for only a brief moment. He submitted this one picture to Reddit and asked if anyone could Photoshop out the tubes to create a memory that would survive for him and the mother.

“Since she was in the hospital her whole life we never were able to get a photo without all her tubes. Can someone remove the tubes from this photo?” Wrote the 26 year old father named Nathen Steffel

The father didn’t only receive a beautiful, single edited photo, he received thousands of messages and also some mailed presents containing drawings, even an embroidered blanket. This story is a beautiful representation of our capacity to love and how one request can be an opportunity for thousands of people to respond in kindness and appreciation for the preciousness of life and how it affects us.

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The people that responded saw these parents’ pain in their own experiences. They saw themselves and wanted to give comfort and love. Beautiful compassion for the human experience that we all endure every day of both living and passing away. And I leave this blog post with one thing- thank you, Sophia, for gracing our world with this beautiful opportunity to remember how fleeting and luminous our lives are. Your kindness will help me remember to not lose sight of what is important in this world, how we choose to live our lives and “pay it forward.”

At the end of one of my favorite films, Scrooged, Bill Murray’s character gave a speech that no matter what, always made me crave more. I would sit up at night, even in the summer, and replay this one scene just to see the son of his assistant who had stopped talking since witnessing his father’s death, to say one thing, “And God Bless Us Everyone.” If you have time today, check out this article and re-watch the scene in Scrooged (Click Here!). Remember, “If you give, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you.”

Let’s Rock Big Love!

Flaming June by Frederic Leighton

Sweeping the Nation with Sentimental Hogwash

Recommended Reading Soundtrack:  Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson

The past week. I have felt unsure of what to say. Between the UC Santa Barbara shootings, to the death of Maya Angelou and the release of an American POW after 5 years of imprisonment- it seems that the world seemingly continues its typical journey of inhaling and exhaling. A journey of ups and downs, where we are all collectively growing and contemplating big questions. In today’s world we are more connected through technology than ever before. We are vastly aware of our global challenges and their many potentials. Ironically it is prompting a contemplation about the nature of human love and the connection that exists outside of technology. The connection that comes from some place impossible to label, yet we feel compelled to search for it and understand it as it is felt on a grander scale due to the oxymoron that is technology.

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As I was tidying up some dishes the other morning in contemplation, I picked up a coffee cup that was given to me 16 years ago as a gift during more transitions. The gift displayed one of my favorite paintings by Frederic Leighton, titled “Flaming June.” I received the gift after I had just witnessed the painting’s phenomenal power with my own eyes and heart in an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.

I had just moved out of my parents’ home and into a group house in Northern Virginia. My best friend’s sister, Jane, gave me this mug for Christmas- and on it was a quote by William Shakespeare from Hamlet, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

I love gifts like this. Some may label them as “sentimental hogwash” like the greedy Mr. Potter in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but they tell a story whenever I look at them. Hundreds of moments flow through my mind, and I’m suddenly carried down a river through time and whisked into old places that seem new again because I am viewing them from the fresh (you could insert cynical in here, but let’s not go there today!) perspective of my older self.

Look at Maya Angelou. What a life! I mean, her voice was a shining example of how one can harness their power through choice and thrust it forward only to create joy like she probably couldn’t have imagined when she was young, sexually abused and mute for 5 years. Our life’s story is a part of us, but it doesn’t have to solely exist as “what we may be.” Our past and our potential exist in tandem, dancing with nothing but a fine line between them.

Our life story is the driver for choosing something that goes beyond what we think we are, it is the backup plan- the place we can revert to if we feel like we don’t know who we are anymore. There is a great Sex in the City episode where the main character Carrie loses years of work on her laptop when her hard drive crashes and burns, leaving her angry and speechless. Then she is asked the ultimate crap question, “When was the last time you backed up?” The problem? She had never backed up, and that was the end of that story- but not the end of what she “may be.”

“But ‘baby fish mouth’ is sweeping the nation?

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Sometimes I feel like Harry and Jess in “When Harry Met Sally” during their Pictionary game. I’m struggling to understand what is being communicated, from “Mick Jagger is a baby?” to “baby fish mouth,” when all Sally is trying to say is “Baby Talk.” Maybe “baby fish mouth” really is sweeping the nation. But then, clarity arrives. While I was driving on the evening of Maya Angelou’s death, NPR played her recitation of her poem, “Still I Rise.” I cried as I listened to her striking words. They struck my heart like a masterful musician commanding their audience. She commanded me to remember, that amidst all the chaos that appears in the world around us, hope really does win every time, no matter how much my ego wants to shout “sentimental hogwash!” There are always going to be Potters in this world, but the most powerful ones exist in our own demons.

As Ms. Angelou spoke, so did my heart-

“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”

My Funny Valentines- A Lumineers Moment

There are moments in our lives when we are given the great privilege to witness a deep, unimaginable love.  It is during such moments that I wish I could bottle it up.  And, whenever I feel a moment of high-test overwhelm or forgetfulness of what is most important in life, I could just pull it off a shelf, remove the top and take a nice deep breath.  Perhaps that is why writing is so important to me, as it gives us that opportunity to hold fast to those moments in our hearts, and share them with the rest of the world in high hopes that it will simply multiply with every reader’s eyes and connecting spirit.  Although, you wouldn’t know it by the unexplainable break I have taken from blogging!

My grandmother, Gertie, holding one of my favorite vocalists, my niece- Shaili.
My grandmother, Gertie, holding one of my favorite vocalists, my niece- Shaili.

But this daily prompt is another perfect opportunity to get back into the game of connecting with the brilliant hearts and minds reading this blog now.  A year ago today, my grandmother, Gertie, passed away after a long life in a place called Long Island.  With her passing I was left with one of those cherished privileges to witness this deep love that I have described, that resulted from a grand moment of togetherness and a mutual experience of grief.  As her funeral occurred over “Valentine’s Day 2013” it would seem uncanny to not take this opportunity to recognize not only my grandmother, but also my entire family, as “My Funny Valentines” this year (I’m allowed more than one Valentine, right?).

It happened at the end.  Bonding through wake after wake, and then the solidifying funeral.  There we all were, hanging out in the living room of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Sue.  My Uncle Joe’s obsession with DVR “cheese” was taking place over the television, and everyone was exhausted eating their desserts after a final meal together.  But there was one gem within his DVR madness- the song “Ho Hey” performed by the Lumineers at the most recent Grammy Award celebration.  My little niece and nephew, who were both 3 and 2 years old at the time, loved to divide the chorus between the two of them.

My 3 year old niece, belting out the words “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart!”

My 2 year old nephew doing the same with, “Ho!  Hey!  Ho!  Hey!”

We all sang with them in our melancholy and gratefulness, hence that song does not play to this day without the appearance of a tear running down my face.  I love you all, my funny valentines!  And most of all, I thank you grandma, for bringing us together at the end of your life for a smashing moment of enduring love that will flourish in my heart forever.  Just remember, “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart!”

In the spirit of the infinite space that resides within our hearts, I say let’s just “Rock Big Love” this week anyway, and forget about the hallmark holiday!

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Character to Be Loved

Me and my grandmother, Gertrude Grzybowski, right before I moved to New Mexico.
Me and my grandmother, Gertrude Grzybowski, right before I moved to New Mexico.

When I noticed the Weekly Writing Challenge this morning, I was grateful, because when I thought of all the people I would like to write about at this time, it was my Grandmother.  Gertrude Grzybowski, daughter of Dziadek and Babcia Perkowski- I don’t really know their first names- just grandma and grandpa in Polish.  They were potato farmers from Poland with a farm on Long Island, New York. They had a legendary flower pot on their front lawn made from an old toilet- a piece of cultural history.

My Grandmother has been very sick, in her late 80s living at a nursing home and trying to find ways to enjoy the last moments of her life, as she felt sad and lost trying to adjust to a strange place she was forced to call home due to her ailing health.  One of her last enjoyable activities was buying necklaces made by other ladies in the nursing home and wearing them all at one time.  It wasn’t NY high-fashion and it drove my aunt crazy, but it made her happy.  As I pondered about how I would write about her quirky character that she played in this life, I received a phone call this afternoon that I had been waiting for without any knowledge of when it would come exactly.

In my heart, I wanted her to be free of this body that was weighing her spirit down, and causing her the inability to live as independently as she has enjoyed for so many years.  My only living grandparent, Gertie, died this afternoon peacefully after suffering a stroke almost a week ago.  As people’s bodies start to break down, you find yourself as an outsider trusting the natural process of passing from one reality to another, but it is hard to stay in the present moment with them at times because you are constantly wondering- will this be the day?  I feel in her own mind, she was wondering the same thing.

You never knew what was about to come out of Gertie’s mouth.  She might shout the funniest thing, like her phrase that came to be her own, “That guy’s a bumb!”   Or she might just talk about how tired she was, and how she felt really alone, as all of her friends passed away with each year. Life seemed more and more like a foreign country to her with each passing moment.  She was not always the nicest person, but I always thought of her as this funny character in a film, navigating through this life as if it were one thing after another.  She loved Poland, and as a kid we always gathered our outgrown clothes for my Grandmother to send to our family there that had nothing because of the “communists.”  We were told, “They didn’t even have real ice cream.”  “Their” ice cream was more like half frozen sweet milk, barely recognizable by us spoiled Americans.

She prayed her rosaries every morning over her stacks of prayer cards, and every Friday she cleaned the altar and pews at St. Hedwigs Catholic Church.  I remember going to the masses growing up when visiting New York where the legendary priest would talk so quickly that it was like listening to someone pretend they were saying a mass and forgot the words.  Even though I didn’t understand anything because he was saying it so quickly, and with a New York accent, I was more than happy to spend 15 minutes less in a mass on a Saturday night.  Her collection of ceramic nuns in her living room and plates of the Polish Pope John Paul hanging on her walls would dance to the sound of her attempt to whistle while she swept the floors every morning in her house coat.

My Grandmother didn’t make it easy for anyone as they grew up in her house.  I was fortunate to be a granddaughter in her life that was told on her 16th birthday, “sweet sixteen, and never been kissed” with a giggle following her attempt to tease me.  She grew up in a time that lacked emotional education, a time where there was war and great financial uncertainty, and even though there were dark times in the house where she brought up 6 kids, there was a certain light around her that I enjoyed, and I will be grateful for every day.  During her last lucid days in the hospital my mother said she overheard a conversation with a male orderly who struck up a conversation with her.  He asked her about being a nurse, as she was, and how many kids she had in this life.  She said 8, which was correct- 6 living and 2 stillborns.  You never know what experiences people have had in this life.  Underneath the surface, there is always something lingering in someone that may be causing them pain and cause their personality to become distorted.   But the one thing we can always be sure of, as I was with my grandmother, our Gertie, is that inside their heart there is a place that just wants to be loved.

And so, as I come together with those that knew Gertie in many different ways- from sister, to aunt, to mother and grandmother- I shall remember that all you wanted was to be loved, and I shall send you that love with the hope that you are joyful in your freedom from the human body and in a place of peace in your heart.  Thank you for saying “I love you, Jess,” and reminding me that life does go fast, and every now and then we just need to remember that we are all human and subject to the foibles of our mind- but it is not our true nature.  I am grateful for all I have in my life, including you, and will remember to try and see beyond personalities into the human desire to be loved when we do not know how to love ourselves.

In one of our last conversations you said to me, “We used to have fun, right Jess?”  Yes Grandma, we did have fun.