Tag Archives: Death

A column by a friend

28 Jan

I am waiting to write more until tomorrow at Midway Airport in Chicago. I will be flying back to NYC tomorrow and have a lot to do in preparation for going back. After being in Iowa for over a month, it will definitely feel weird to be back in my apartment, and using the subway and walking as my primary modes of transportation.


Today, I wanted to share a column by a fellow columnist at the daily paper I used to work at. Arvid Huisman is the development director for The Salvation Army in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes a weekly column called Country Roads, recounting his childhood memories of growing up in Central Iowa, funny stories about his family, and some very creative writing pieces. When I was able set up the opinion page of the Monday paper, I was always happy to open up the attached word document from Arvid with his latest column. The topics were always relatable and full of emotional content. He wrote a piece in the past year about his father dying – it was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I had ever encountered.

We would write to each other back and forth over our writing topics, and it was wonderful to hear from such a kind voice. I have counted him among my mentors and will continue to look forward to his columns for years to come.

Last week, his wife passed away suddenly from complications from breast cancer. Arvid was willing to share with the public what he has been going through with his Monday column. Absolutely honest and heart-wrenching.

Here is a link to “More of what I have learned.”

My prayers are with Arvid and his family.


If this were your last day …

30 Dec

Although I will be writing a blog post tomorrow, New Year’s Eve, I just don’t  know if I will be writing a resolution-themed piece. So here is a column written last year that dealt with that very topic. I will be writing some more humorous or story-based blogs very soon and will take a break from all of this sappiness!



New Year’s resolutions. We all make at least one, whether we like it or not. “I’m going to exercise more” or “I’m going to finally take that trip.” The first day of January has a certain crispness about it, a freshness that is different from the rest. It’s the time to say such things, to plan something new.

It reminds me a bit of Catholic reconciliation. Confess your sins to the priest and a load lifts off your shoulders. Start anew. But in either case, the planning and release is great and all, but means nothing if you aren’t willing to change and put effort into it. You can plan and plan and plan to lose 5 pounds, but I doubt it will come off if you don’t get off that couch and put down that bag of chips. You can confess your sins to whomever you choose, but if you don’t stop doing whatever is so bad, you aren’t going to be any better of a person (or more worthy in God’s eyes). So that first day, that first confession is just that. The beginning.

Recently, a former writer for “Saturday Night Live” tragically died. In his last blog post, Joe Bodolai asks in the title, “If This Was Your Last Day Alive What Would You Do?” In the post, he listed personal items under “Things I Think Will Happen Next Year,” “Stuff I Would Like to Have Seen in My Life,” “Things I Regret” and “Things I am Proud Of.” While the man definitely had made some mistakes in his life, he had a long list of accomplishments. It’s heartbreakingly sad to see such a person’s life laid out in such a way. But reality was right there on the computer screen. And like the ton of bricks it was, it hit me pretty hard. This life isn’t going to go on forever – and I won’t know how much time is allotted for me on this earth. Andy from “The Shawshank Redemption” said it best: Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Death, an uncomfortable topic. But it’s real and when it happens to someone close to us, it takes our breath away. You ask all the questions in your head, without ever saying them out loud. Was that person happy at this point in their life? Was there something they wish they had done, or something they had pressing inside that they wish they had said? Would they have done something differently?

No one likes talking about that stuff. Because that stuff is politely supposed to be shoved back in some dark corner, never to be brought up again.

But what if we lived our lives a bit more like that? Asking those questions of ourselves, no matter how difficult it may be. What do I regret? What are some of things I have enjoyed most? And what do I want to accomplish in the future? Not to dwell on the past or to covet something that will never happen. But to find out what is really there inside, your deepest desires and fears.

So what if this was your last day on earth? Or if 2012 was your last year to live? What if we start our resolutions like that?

We can list, plan and wish upon a star for various things on Jan. 1. Or we could start putting some plans into action. We will always have regrets in this lifetime, that is assured. But regretting never trying is something that no one wants to live with.

This year, act on those goals or ideas. Don’t just say, but do; it’s almost guaranteed that there will be mistakes, defeats and disappointments. But there will also be a chance for something good. For change.

Every man dies. Not every man really lives. – William Wallace

Quiet simplicity: A Christmas story

20 Dec

When did you first understand the meaning of love? I was once asked this question … here was my answer.

EP05 Red Apple on Cutting Board 16x20

My grandmother could peel an apple. It wasn’t haphazardly cored — the way I do it. Instead, the process was in long curling strips into the kitchen sink, never ending until the entire skin was removed in one swift step. Effortless is perhaps the best word to describe it.

But that was Grandma Mary. It didn’t seem that she had to try. When she knitted a blanket, she carried on conversations as if she wasn’t working the needles. Rolling out pasta seemed to be a small task, quickly accomplished. And patience was never an issue, as she listened to a loved one’s problems with full attention.

She was a hard-working Iowa farm wife. She diligently performed each and every task, and provided nourishment to all who needed it.

During our college years, my cousin Jennifer and I looked forward to noon on Mondays. That day we’d travel to our grandparents’ home for a feast, of sorts. The kitchen table would be heaped with everything a hungry farmer would ever want — a roast, simmering vegetables, baked bread, cheeses, a fresh dessert and more. We’d sit, relaying stories of school, while Grandma watched us, amused, laughing with this slight lilt. We’d walk out the door, an hour later, hardly able to keep our eyes open due to the food overload we had experienced.

A few years later, I found myself living in a new city, away from family. Life had gotten in the way — romantic relationships, finances, the normal worries of adulthood. Everything constantly surrounding me seemed of dire importance — and during that chaotic mess was when I received the phone call. My mother called me with startling news, one September day, that would cause my concentration to lapse. “Your grandmother’s cancer is back.”

“Well, she’s going to get better again, right?”

“Not this time.”

She had been diagnosed with uterine cancer a few years back, but had succeeded in fighting the battle.

But this time, it had spread. All over.

That day was a blur. I’m not sure how I got back to my apartment, after driving through rush-hour traffic. I wasn’t thinking of anything besides the rotting feeling that had settled in my stomach cavity.

She had a half a year at the most, doctors said.

Three months passed, and Christmas-time was fast approaching. I looked forward to spending time with my family in central Iowa. A perfect place for spending the holidays — fields blanked with snow, fireplaces, blankets and hot chocolate waiting inside to provide warmth.

Grandma had been in and out of the hospital recently. Sick with the ailments that come along with cancer. She had gone into the local hospital on Dec. 22, but we were assured that she would come home soon. Grandpa was quite worried — knowing that this was likely to be the last holiday he’d spend with his wife.  On Christmas Eve, I came into her hospital room with a small-lighted tree, to bring some cheer to the blank atmosphere. She was asleep, peaceful, and very pale in her bed. I couldn’t bear to wake her as she lay with a slight smile on her face. That moment, I realized how vulnerable she was — how I was.

The next morning, while opening up presents with my family, the phone rang. It was the hospital — and we were advised to hurry. We dressed quickly, and arrived to find our large extended family gathering in the lobby. The end was coming soon for Grandma Mary, as the cancer had entered her brain. A day or two left, the doctors said. A priest came to give her last rites, and we knew then that the tough stuff had come.

She stayed for a day. Then two. Three, and finally four. While there, she laughed and talked with family — relaying stories of the past we had never heard. We enjoyed her company and she enjoyed ours.

But there was something missing in this hospital room. My younger sister Emily. Oh, she was at the hospital  — more than most, in fact. But she hadn’t set foot in Grandma’s room since Christmas Day. She had her reasons.

While my grandmother and I had a strong connection, as most of my cousins did — the one bond that stuck out was the one she shared with Emily. They had nicknames for each other and daily card games to play. Instead of coming right home after school during our younger years, Emily would stop over at our grandparents’ instead. For cookies and punch, she’d say. In reality, it was for the conversation and the jokes they’d share. My sister couldn’t, or didn’t, want to say goodbye. So after three days of avoiding her grandmother’s hospital room, it was time. Well that was what my mother and aunts said. Emily didn’t think so. She sat stubbornly in the waiting room, arms folded, as my aunts coaxed her to the room. At first it was “I’m fine, thanks anyway,” to “No, I’m not going. Stop.” But she failed against the defiant aunts. Arm in arm, the two led her toward my sleeping grandma. She stayed in the doorway of the hospital room for a while, afraid. A gentle push from behind made her enter the room, to reality. Emily sat slowly next to the bed. Her face immobile. Frigidly still as she gradually looked at grandma’s closed eyes. Finally, an uncle gently took her hand and placed it into the frail embrace of my grandmother’s. That was all it took. These heaving sobs started coming out of Emily — her whole body shaking as she grasped onto my grandmother’s body with all her might. She couldn’t stop and wouldn’t let go. I stood in the doorway watching the situation. All who were in the room began to cry, touched by the situation. Seconds became minutes, before Emily, red-faced and spent, left the room.

It was then and there that I first knew what true love was. It wasn’t my first kiss, or hearing my boyfriend say, “I love you.” Romantic love couldn’t compare. It was watching my sister grieving over her dying grandmother, her friend. She didn’t want to say goodbye, didn’t want to believe it was true. But it was. The next morning Grandma left us, as we knew she eventually would. She left as she had lived — effortlessly.

Her favorite song “Claire de Lune” was played at the funeral. A tune known for it’s quiet simplicity, something that grandma knew something about.

That was six years ago — and I still look at that night at the hospital as one of the most beautiful, yet sad, moments of my life.

My grandmother loved, and we loved her back. And for that, I am extremely blessed.


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