Archive for July, 2010

The Funeral Train Stops at Chesapeake, and on to Pickens

Kenny circa 2006

Cynthia, Debbie, Kenny, and Genia

All three of Kenny’s sisters are amazing women. I got to spend really lovely time with each of them. After the New Jersey celebration, I visited with my dear cousins for a couple of days. I cherished that time of catching up with them, showing them my Kenny’s Life Album, and sharing stories. It was Genia who drove me all the way from Basking Ridge to Chesapeake, Virginia, where I met Pat and Rich for the first time. Remember Pat? She’s the chaplain who wrote to Kenny throughout the last couple months of his life offering tender and moving hints about the process of letting go of the body and leaving loved ones and joining loved ones, letting us both know that symbols are important and knowing the Soul never dies and is always available is important, and Kenny chose the red-tailed hawk as his symbol. He’s also messed with the T-V a couple of times, made his portrait fall to the floor without breaking the glass, and remember best of all how he (and I’m sure God had a hand in it) changed the course of dispersing his ashes. You can read Pat’s comments throughout this blog if you’d like to get a glimpse of how compassionate and attuned this lovely woman is.

Anyway, back to the events: We spent the night at Pat and Rich’s. Pat had made some delicious sangria for us and printed out the program that the family created, outlining the coming memorial service at the Pickens County Airport (I’ll talk more about that later). On the front cover was one of my favorite portraits of Kenny taken at the Island House, his blue shirt emphasizing his amazingly deep blue eyes, Barnegat Bay in the background, and a soft breeze brushing through his hair. That’s the portrait at the top of this entry. Sangria in one hand and tissues in the other, I couldn’t help but sink into the couch sobbing yet again.

The next morning I woke up with a throbbing headache, suddenly I remembered the effects of sangria from years ago. It goes down very smoothly and I hadn’t had any for so long, I forgot how it packs a wallop the next day. Genia and I tumbled into the car and headed for South Carolina–all the while Genia is driving. And all the while telling me family stories and listening to my family stories and sharing memories of Kenny. Me, I’m feeling very well taken care of in all ways. I get the sense that the entire 12 days is designed for the most grace and ease for everyone or maybe just me, I’m not sure because it was so seamless for me.

That’s the work of three loving and creative sisters, their husbands and kids, putting their organizational skills to work, not to mention their loving and caring and various technical skills. And I experienced every activity as a celebration and honoring of Kenny.We arrived at Debbie and John’s and there had been some nice improvements to their house and land since we were there last. They built a “bonus room” where there once was a porch and garage, a great addition for big family gatherings. Plus the lake was up again which means the drought that previously had made their little cove into mud had passed and their boat was afloat again. I put my things in the sweet little bedroom Kenny and I shared the last time we visited, and a pang of sadness wafted over me.

Kenny at the beach in Lavallette

Two more days until the Pickens memorial. I was marking the time because I thought perhaps when this third memorial was over, I would feel different. Or at least it would represent some kind of milestone in my thoughts. I was looking forward to it for that reason and I was NOT looking forward to it for that reason. Maybe it’s because I take comfort in my memories, in talking about Kenny. In reading and writing about him, and hearing others tell about him. It’s almost like he’s just in the other room or just down the block playing with the kids, or just out tracking a deer, getting some sun, and he will walk in the door any minute now. Then I have the sudden, (always) shocking realization that he’s never going to walk in the door again and I melt into my sadness and longing. It’s pretty complicated, this grief process. And I don’t much like being labeled as going through the “grief process.” Sounds so like an everyday occurrence, which it is in the big scheme of things. But for me it was and still is the most personal, the most undeniable and the most irreversible loss I have ever experienced.

Friday night brings us all together at Villa Novella, John III and Casey’s Italian trattoria in Central, South Carolina. Great food, lovingly prepared by nephew Chef John, served by their attentive staff and shared by all us-sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews, cousins, me, and little toddler, Jones, the newest and darling member of the clan. We lift our glasses in a toast to our Kenny and to all of us, and tomorrow is the final memorial.

We drive to Pickens County Airport and walk into the administration building, which is dedicated to Herbert E. Jones, Kenny’s father. Daddy, as he is affectionately still referred to, passed into Spirit in 2005 on his birthday–I know he is still missed. He was instrumental in building the airport and in finding funds to make improvements–highly esteemed in Pickens. So this seemed a perfectly fitting venue for Kenny’s memorial service. Now comes the fun part, the actual service was to take place in the “big” hanger. Inside this really big hanger, along with a lot of open space, is a little two-seater plane and a helicopter. The open hanger doors are as wide as one whole wall, and that measures I venture to say about one hundred feet across. Out on the tarmac are little planes taxiing to take off and others landing, and far into the distance are the tail end hills of the South Carolina mountains. Lush, green, and rolling under the bluest sky with a few tufts of white clouds meandering around and a few hawks circling like little arrowheads. Some of us notice the hawks and acknowledge that Kenny’s spirit must be present.

We prepare the space and as I’m cutting the lemon pound cake (in preparation for the refreshments portion of the gathering), I am reminded that Kenny loved pound cake and I shed a few more tears. A hand on my shoulder and Pat says “You can do this. It’s OK.” And I do.

Pat opens the service with a prayer and then we all join in singing “Morning Has Broken” with Cat Stevens. We also recite Psalm 23. Each part of this reading touches me deeply.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my Soul, he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,
Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Genia and Bill’s daughter, Hilary recites a reading called “Death is Nothing at All” by Henry Scott Holland. Debbie and John’s son, John III, leads us in the Psalm of Assurance, and Cynthia and Jim’s son, Tom Griffith, shares the reading called “Gone from My Sight” by Henry Van Dyke. I’m reminded of meeting all these young adults as little kids 14 years ago during my first vacation at the Island House. Mimi, as the kids called her, was still with us then, though she did pass a month later. I’m grateful to have met her.

Kenny with Tom, John, Hilary, Karen, and Chris

Then we all sang “On Eagle’s Wings” with Michael Joncas. The formal part of the service ends with Pat’s Prayer of Commendation:
“O God, we give thanks for our beloved brother, husband and friend, Kenny, that You created him exactly as he was, to share our earthly pilgrimage with us. And now to You who created him, into Your arms we commend Kenny to Your tender mercy and eternal care with sure and certain hope of resurrection and his ongoing loving Spirit remaining with us, now and always.”

And finally the song, “Live Forever” by Billy Joe Shaver. All the while, each presenter is backwashed in the Light from the warm sunny day in the foothills of South Carolina. Chef John’s delicious refreshments commenced and then I was the first to share memories of Kenny. My first message was from Kenny–I didn’t say he had delivered it after he died. But he wanted everyone to know that death is not to be feared, he said, “It’s a walk in the park.” And as I’ve shared several times throughout this blog, he was a big proponent of having fun. He told me he wanted folks to have fun and if it wasn’t fun, to make it fun. Lastly he said in this blog, “I will keep breathing as long as Spirit gives me breath. And if melanoma absolutely must claim my body it can have it. Melanoma cannot go where I go, because I go into the pure Spirit of the Soul Realm that is my true home.

And we discovered through our own experience during the last few months of his life that Spirit (God) really does meet us at the point of our action. Which means, we prayed fervently, we did everything we could, and we watched for the miracles to happen for the highest good of all concerned. And they did, every day.

He said he prayed for some extension of his life in order to share his story and he was given that extension based on the following promises: to be of service, to use everything for his learning, growth, and the liberation of his Soul, to take care of his “Sweetie Wife” and to have fun. And to my knowledge he fulfilled all those promises.

Finally friends and family shared. Sister, Cynthia, Jimmie, Ben, Billy to name a few, and Genia closed the service by thanking everyone for coming out that day to celebrate.

My visit to the family is drawing to a close. We all rest the next day, take a boat ride on the lake, and watch the younger generation dive off the boat. All the while the World Cup soccer games and some local baseball games on T-V take up some idle time. Bill and Genia trek off to New Jersey on Sunday–a very long day of travel. Cynthia, Tom and I visit Aunt Mary where Kevin’s mom and dad come to meet us. Then a short jaunt of two hours to Charlotte where they live and where Jim has already driven Chris home from a special training at college. I’ve said my goodbyes to each as they leave and as we leave, and I well up with yet another piece of the great loss. It’s a delight to spend time with Tom and Chris–each of them shares their love with me in their own way. Monday morning I wake up to Velvet’s sweet eyes and cold nose. And there’s time to share more stories. Cynthia tells me a side-splitting one about Genia’s nail polish remover (I won’t go into detail). Jim shares his own experience of Kenny’s passing, and I get to share again about how the last year with Kenny was THE most powerful experience I have ever had of giving my life in service, of unconditional loving, of emotional intensity the likes of which are indescribable, and of his determination, strength, and oneness with all that is. I say goodbye to the boys breaking again. And again goodbye to Cynthia and Jim at the airport. Just as I arrived alone, I leave alone, remembering that Kenny would have liked the window seat this time.

My flights back to LA were fraught with mechanical problems and delayed endlessly, but I finally arrived back home to start the next leg of this incredible journey. The yard sale in a month and taxes two weeks later. Then maybe that whirlwind of activity that represents the diagnosis, the illness, the death, the closing of a life and all the details that go with that will subside. One thing I do know is that my darling husband lives inside me through all my tears and all my grief and all my activity and all my sweet memories. And just like every action while he was alive, I just keep doing what needs to be done out of devotion and well simply because I can.

Carol and Kenny at the Frisky Launching Party 2008

Please share this blog. Kenny would love for as many people as possible to read his account of spiritual awakening. And if my writings can be helpful to someone out there who is assisting a loved one to die gracefully, I would indeed be grateful.

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Finding the Inspiration to Write Again

Finding the inspiration to write this post has been difficult. I treasure every moment of my trek to Kenny’s family to steep myself in our memories of him every day for 12 days straight. I felt bathed in love, compassion, understanding, and peace throughout the days, yet my writing feels stilted and not very forthcoming. But today I received a call from Janet. Janet brought her husband John to the Baja Nutri Care Gerson clinic last November while Kenny and I were there. Dear John passed into Spirit in May. I was saddened to hear this and my heart went out to Janet. She had been reading the blog and commenting on it, but today I heard from her by phone for the first time. I heard her say the words I have said to so many. I heard myself try to comfort her, but all I could really do was understand. Even though we welcome friends and family sharing with us, no matter what profound, or caring things anyone says to us, there is still the vacuum, the broken heart, the void, the missing our dearest, closest friend in the world. The last person we said good night to and the first person we greeted in the morning. The one whose warmth kept our feet toasty at night, whom we knew was there throughout the night even if we weren’t touching. I want to tell you about my journey to honor Kenny because I knew it to be a deep and profound homage to a man who was loved by so many family and friends. Let me remind you, I’m still reading letters dating back to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and culling old bank documents, the sale of a house, and medical records, selecting which of hundreds of photographs taken through the decades to keep and which to toss. I’m being very selective, only keeping the photos without the old girlfriends. Oh, make no mistake, I had stored my own share of photos with boyfriends and “old” husbands, so I see no fault here, just noticing how my mind works.

We all come to each decade and each relationship with patterns and habits and “baggage” from the past that weighs us down a bit. And we all hope and pray we can either hide it or dissolve it instantly, but alas, it raises its head regularly and most especially with our closest loved ones. That’s the nature of how we learn in this life, on this planet, with the agreements we made about what we wanted to learn in this lifetime. Kenny had his share and we all knew it, yet his “True Self,” beckoned us to love him for all the sweetness, and kindness, the generosity of heart, the sense of humor, the deep blue eyes and forever smile, the constant forgiveness, the always making things better side of him, and most importantly, what we all are heir to, and that is to be loved just the way we are with all our foibles and shortcomings, all our strengths and all our beingness. How many people do we know who have died and were given three memorials? Whose family traveled across country and up and down the east coast to be with each other as they honored their fallen brother/husband? If there was any part of him that didn’t know his true worth in life on this planet, his Soul is getting to experience it now. Oh and I can attest that in his last months, weeks, and days, he caught many glimpses of the brilliance of his own Soul until he was living in that awareness consciously and daily. The shortcomings melted away, the second guessing, the hiding–they all took a back seat to what he called “A walk in the park.”

I think I’m ready now to account for those incredible two weeks with the family. See the next post.

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