Posts Tagged ‘Swimming with Maya. grief’

Why I Love Thanksgiving

November 23, 2012
Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal (Photo credit: limevelyn)

Let me count the ways. In reverse order of importance, they are:

5. The Food. OMG. My friend Karen Hester makes the most amazing pies, including a crumbly topped apple pie and yummy pumpkin with whipped cream. This year, I made a yam,  pineapple, and apple casserole. Simple, but utterly delicious. Karen hosted us for potluck dinner at her house – omniivores and vegetarians happily comingled to eat stuffed squash with rice and tofu or turkey and all the trimmings, depending on your preference. Delish!

4. The Beauty. The day was gorgeous: sunny, in the high sixties with a crystalline blue sky. We hiked in Redwood Regional Park for two hours and saw gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay to the west and Mt. Diablo to the east. Along the trail we encountered a happy melange of dogs, kids (including babies in front packs and in strollers), and even bumped into a few friends of friends along the way. We walked beneath towering redwoods and giant eucalyptus trees, redolent with fragrance. Food for the soul.

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The Company. This year, I was with my “chosen family,” Karen’s tribe of women friends, some of whom I only see at the annual Thanksgiving feast. It’s good to hear people’s stories of the past year, their successes, their losses, their plans and dreams. It’s a kind of shapeshifting oral history we share that enlivens the day. We played Charades after dinner, acting out books, movies, and songs and one of the kids in attendance entertained us with a performance on her flute. At dinner we all went around and shared what we’re thankful for – always an inspiring and moving exercise in gratitude.

2. The Family. Some years, I spend the day with extended family. The Jones clan is big and boisterous with three generations coming together, including the ex-spouses, kids, and grandkids. This year, my granddaughter Lucia’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving. At three, Lucia is a bubbly, funny, and often challenging girl with a mind of her own. I hosted a birthday party for her last weekend, and now it was her grandpa Ron’s turn to celebrate the holiday and Lu’s birthday with family and friends. Even when we’re not together, family is in my heart. The Vincent family is spread all other the country and the globe now – Germany, New Jersey, Massachusetts, suburban Washington, DC, and Ohio. Each one was in my thoughts. And, of course, our beloved Maya, her stepbrother Mark, and her cousin Eric, all of whom left the planet way too soon. I give thanks for their lives and send them love each day, but on Thanksgiving I can share with others how grateful I am to have had Maya for almost 20 years.

Family permeates our lives. I thought of my two grandmothers. Eleanor, who taught me how to make gravy which I did yesterday at Karen’s gathering. And Pearl, my father’s mother, who made the best lemon chiffon pie ever and taught me how to sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Zippety-do-dah,” which I now sing to Lucia. We pass along these family traditions and on Thanksgiving I become so aware of these influences and so grateful for them.

1. The Gratitude. I practice gratitude each day, often writing in a gratitude journal. On Thanksgiving, being thankful becomes a public ritual, shared by family and friends. Gratitude puts everything in perspective. It doesn’t mean ignoring the sad or difficult parts of life. It’s a means of balancing the scales. Death and life. Pain and joy. Loneliness and togetherness. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the experience of being human. There are no presents, and little pressure, only the sharing of food and conversation. Gratitude makes me happy and so thankful for all of life.

What are you grateful for this holiday season? Do you keep a gratitude journal? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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The Look Challenge

October 18, 2012
A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as take...

A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as taken from Walnut Creek (Panoramic made from a 14 image stitch) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The premise is simple: find a passage in your manuscript or book that contains the word “look,” post it on your blog, and tag five other blogging writers to do the same. Seems to me like a great way to introduce readers to other writers, so I’m all in.”

I received this invitation/challenge from my friend Madeline Sharples. Madeline’s book, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the tender and harrowing tale of her son Paul’s bipolar disorder and ultimate suicide. But more than that, it is the story of a woman’s courageous fight to not only survive but thrive after a life-shattering loss. To learn more, visit http://madeline40.blogspot.com

To meet the challenge, I randomly opened my book Swimming with Maya to page 210 and found this passage:

“Sprawling over a broad ridge, Oakmont Memorial Park has a direct view of Mt. Diablo. As I kneel above my daughter’s grave, I look at the jagged face of the mountain. It towers above the suburban valleys east of San Francisco, its saw-toothed outline a sharp, cobalt blue. Almost four thousand feet tall, and many miles around, this place was considered sacred by the native peoples who once lived at its base. I regard it with awe. To me, it is a temple of the gods, of doom, of wild horses – a mysterious place that swallowed my daughter in one sudden gulp.”

This passage leads from the narrator kneeling above her daughter’s grave at the cemetery to a fateful meeting with the man who received Maya’s donated heart, his wife, and their two children. Meeting Fernando and his family changed the course of my grief and my life. So in a way, the passage where I describe looking at Mt. Diablo leads to looking in a much larger sense. Looking at and examining the outcome of my decision to donate Maya’s organs and tissues at the moment she was declared brain dead.

I’ve written extensively about this in Swimming with Maya, and more recently in the Creative Nonfiction anthology, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die, edited by Lee Gutkind. Organ donation and transplantation are miraculous and complicated. Instinctively, I was using “look” in the descriptive passage as a metaphor for the meeting to come when I would look into the eyes of the man whose chest held my daughter’s beating heart.

When Fernando drew me into an embrace, with my head resting against his chest, I heard the strong whomp. whomp of Maya’s heart. I was looking for my daughter that day. And I found her, but not in a way I could touch directly. Maya’s 19-year-old heart was keeping Fernando alive but as I held him I realized in a new, deeper way that Maya herself was never coming back. It was searing, heartrending, and inspiring. I found what I was looking for but not quite.

Because we are visual beings, we are always looking. But do we really see? In what ways does looking and seeing inform your writing and your life? Post a comment and let me know.


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