Friday, August 31, 2012

Last Days of Summer


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Passing

Looking up at the sky,  I'm reminded of last month's full moon.  The night it rose my father was whisked  away into the hereafter.  Perhaps one feels most alive after being in such close proximity to death.  I know my existence has been amplified by his passing.  Although my daily life has been removed from my parents' lives for some time, there's not a moment I don't remember my father is no longer with us.  Only in my dream state is there hesitation, and confusion.  I'll spot my father in a crowd, or sit with him conversing.  It will seem normal, yet something will nag at my mind.  He visits me most nights, and therefore most nights I struggle, deep in the recess of my mind I know my dreams are in conflict with reality.  I wake exhausted.  I know processing this experience will take time.  Grief isn't for sissies. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer In All Its Glory



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pop Up Picnic

At 3pm today the location for Los Angeles' first pop up picnic was revealed.  Tickets were already purchased, food was prepared, and white clothing had been chosen.  The site of the event was the last tidbit of information we needed.  After we learned we'd be dining on the South Lawn at the Natural History Museum downtown, we loaded the trunk with white plates, glasses, votives, linens and flowers and battled Saturday evening traffic.  Our menu consisted of hors d'oeuvres, citrus chicken, various salads, lemon bars and Veuve Clicque.  Over a thousand people, all wearing white, gathered on the grounds for a late summer picnic.  At 9 o'clock the quartet retired and the DJ started spinning, turning the elegant dinner into a big dance party.  We grooved until our feet hurt, and our sides ached from laughing.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but this was truly an exceptional evening.







Friday, August 24, 2012

Happiness


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Amen!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hanging in the Canyon

Nothing better than a sunset hike with an adored friend followed by a delicious dinner, that we walked to, in the canyon.  For years, the neighborhood cafe was trapped in the 50s, and although the decor was cozy, the food, Salisbury steak and open faced roast beef sandwiches, needed an overhaul.  Through out the years, rumors persisted as to why the cafe stubbornly remained an uninspired  eatery.  I gave up on hoping for a change, and then it happened.  Several months ago, a new owner took over the space, updated the interior and modernized the menu with farm-to-table dishes.   I was delighted with my veggie burger, kale salad, and pinot noir.  Even better was my walk home, up a set of steep stairs, under the crescent moon.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Deborah Parkin

Deborah Parkin's children ignited her desire to photograph the every day, simple moments she witnessed.  Living in a remote town in the Lake District, the internet became her portal to the international photography community.  Not surprisingly, her haunting, timeless work has been embraced by many.






Monday, August 20, 2012

Monkey



Sunday, August 19, 2012

Candy Chang

I'm a big fan of Candy Chang's urban art projects.  She creates community awareness and participation through her out-of-the box concepts.  Her goal, to make cities more emotional, is unique, and seemingly achievable.  I love this recent evocative installation stenciled on the streets of NYC called Sidewalk Psychiatry.




Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heatwave


Friday, August 17, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Coming Home


"I brought your father home today" my mother proclaimed with an air of excitement.  "I didn't think it would make such a difference, but it does.  It's very comforting."  She found a nice decorative box among her belongings for my father's ashes.  She placed it next to the fireplace so they can be together when she sits on the couch to read or watch TV.  She can see him from her place at the kitchen table, when she's aware of her widow status the most.  My mother wanted a partner in life and in death, so she never embraced my father's life long wish to be cremated.  His decision left her without a significant other in her burial plot, an issue they disputed often.  But even in death my father appeased my mother.  Weeks ago he acquiesced to being embalmed so there could be a wake with an open casket, and a body for the funeral.  Then, my mother told him, he would be cremated and we would carry out his desire to spread his ashes in the desert, at the ocean, and near his mother in Seattle.  I always knew this was the only way my father would finally leave NJ. 

My father's arthritic bones made him loath the cold winter months.  When my parents retired over a decade ago he dreamed of moving to a warmer climate, a house on the Chesapeake or somewhere in California.  Over and over again, my mother won this argument since she would never leave her family and friends in NJ.  My father continued to dream, "one day, I'm going to get out of this place."  In recent weeks he still uttered this phrase, and I teased him, "There is only one way you're going to leave The Garden State."  He laughed, silently acknowledging the inevitable truth.  And yet, even in death he remains in NJ.  My mother knows at some point we will split his ashes and adhere to his wishes, but for now she wants to keep him whole and enjoy his company. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When Your Life Looks Back


When your life looks back—
As it will, at itself, at you—what will it say?
Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool.
Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from.
Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many.
Your life will carry you as it did always,
With ten fingers and both palms,
With horizontal ribs and upright spine,
With its filling and emptying heart,
That wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return.
You gave it. What else could do?
Immersed in air or in water.
Immersed in hunger or anger.
Curious even when bored.
Longing even when running away.
“What will happen next?”—
the question hinged in your knees, your ankles,
in the in-breaths even of weeping.
Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in.
Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face.
No back of the world existed,
No unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for.
This, your life had said, its only pronoun.
Here, your life had said, its only house.
Let, your life had said, its only order.
And did you have a choice in this? You did—
Sleeping and waking,
the horses around you, the mountains around you,
The buildings with their tall, hydraulic shafts.
Those of your own kind around you—
A few times, you stood on your head.
A few times, you chose not to be frightened.
A few times, you held another beyond any measure.
A few times, you found yourself held beyond any measure.
Mortal, your life will say,
As if tasting something delicious, as if in envy.
Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.

Jane Hirshfield

Monday, August 13, 2012

Miki Takahashi

In Two Sides of Personality, Japanese artist Miki Takahashi brings the many sides of a person's personality to the surface.  In the black and white images, ghostly faces blend naturally together with buildings, landscapes, and flowers. Takahashi chooses what to reveal and conceal in her photographs and her viewers are left to reflect on the mystery of what is hidden beneath the surface.




Saturday, August 11, 2012

Still Exhausted

It's been years since I've been this exhausted.  I long to wake up feeling refreshed, but there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done that needs to get accomplished.  How quickly the eight ball secured a position in front of me.  I want to process my father's death, the weeks, months leading up to his passing, but downtime evaporates quickly.  There's always something to do.  Don't want to get caught up in wanting this time to be different.  It is what it is, perhaps even by design.  Still, I will find ways to take care of myself, create silence and nurture the calm. 



Monday, August 6, 2012

Home



Walking through the airport in my father's cowboy hat garnered many stares.  I felt him beside me as  journeyed home and went straight to a meeting on the lot.  Surreal to be back in LA, shifting focus from my family coping with death to fictional story telling and the chaos that is broadcast selling season. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hats

My father's hat collection is like a Halloween party waiting to happen.  Silly from exhaustion, we couldn't resist playing with his cherished stockpile.




Eulogy

My cousin Chris, who was unable to attend my father's funeral, wrote the eulogy and his sister bravely read it in his absence.  I'm grateful that as adults my cousins are part of my life in a very significant way.  Our connection outweighs our shared past, for our overlapping interests connect us in the present.  I adore them, just as my father did.
 Uncle Mike would talk to strangers at gas stations. He'd start a whole conversation with somebody he didn't even know. And yes, sometimes he'd talk so long with people they would roll their eyes. I was always observant of this. It was his way of experiencing the world and showing everyone that they are worth something.
He was also unpredictable. He took me on my birthday for a car ride once when I was a junior in high school. We ended up at an airport. He got out, and said nothing. I followed him into the airport garage. I was busy looking at a plane and he was talking with a mechanic at a desk. I figured it was just typical Uncle Mike, talking with a stranger. Then casually, Uncle Mike turned to me and said "you like these planes? C'mon kid, you're gonna fly one today."

He walked with me and the mechanic out onto the air field. It was windy, cloudy, and it was cold. He put his fedora on me and helped me into the plane. 

I noticed it only had two seats, and the mechanic climbed into the other one. Uncle Mike wasn't going up with me. I felt really nervous. I didn't know the flight mechanic. I wanted my Uncle up there with me!

Uncle Mike smiled, slammed the plane door and walked away. The plane started and I was anxious. I just got my driver's licence a few month ago and I was going to fly!?

The mechanic hit the pedal and literally handed the controls over to me. The plane started to move, lifted up, and I was up in the air. 

I looked down. Before long, Uncle Mike was a tiny dot on the ground. But I knew even if he wasn't in the plane with me, he was sharing the adventure. I went higher and higher. I broke through the overcast skies and it was sunny. I could see Manhattan. I was really flying.

When I landed I couldn't wait to see my Uncle. I ran over from the plane to the garage area. He was beaming with a smile. I learned that even though I wanted him there with me, sometimes you have to take chances on your own. You have to go out on your own adventures. It doesn't mean the people you love won't be there for you in spirit. 

When I was in grade school I spent many afternoons trying my best to imitate my Uncle Mike's watercolors. Sometimes the wind would blow so hard it would flip his water over and splash it all over his painting. He'd laugh and just work the mess into the painting as if it was always part of the plan.

That's how I remember him. I remember how he dealt with life. He embraced it, even as he was getting older. He didn't take things too seriously and just dealt with what life handed to him. He's a person who will be forever associated with life, love, creativity, and adventure. 

I am thankful for every second we all got to experience life with him at our side and the enduring memory of a great man. We will cherish him forever.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tribute

Hundreds gathered at the funeral home today to honor my father.  We personalized the room with his watercolors and hats, and jettisoned the obligatory elegiac music for a jazz compilation.  I had just had one of the most profound experiences of my life -- witnessing my father's last days and most importantly his last breath -- and then like whiplash I was thrust into a this-is-your-life social situation.  Familiar faces from the suburban NJ town I grew up in were intermingled with people I had never met before, but who knew details about my life.  My father was alive in the stories they told, and the ice cream wrapper my brother found in the jacket he borrowed from father's closet.  Many of the guests also revealed they were proud owners of my father's art; evidence of his generosity.  In between rounds of speed-dating like conversations, I acknowledged I was at my father's wake.  Oh well, I thought, a phrase he repeated often the last few weeks.  I came to love his "oh wells", a perfect summation of  his situation.  He was mildly disappointed he was at the end, but he wasn't despondent or morbid.  He would acknowledge the truth and then move on to comment on a recent dream,  the trees outside his window, or the color of a nurses' scrubs.  Oh well, Dad.  I already miss you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Exhausted

Interrupted sleep.  Woke up weary to face a day of planning and important decisions.  1030 am appointment at the funeral home, 2pm appointment at the church.  Submitted obituary.  Planned party for post funeral.  Picked out Dad's clothes.  Started phone chain.  Answered ringing door bell.  Cursed the ringing phone.  Selected old photos for a collage.  Made playlist of Dad's favorite songs for the wake.  Cried on the phone with people I don't know who loved my father.  Locked keys in car at Costco.  At 935pm we toasted my father's first day in heaven.  Missed communication left my brother stranded at Newark airport at midnight.  At 4am went in search of him at a nearby bus stop.  Eyes finally closed as dawn light flooded into the bedroom.  Long day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No Guarantees

I had just woken up, thirsty, in search of water, when the phone rang at 220 am.  My father had taken a turn for a worse, and most likely wouldn't last until morning, but there were "no guarantees."  I paused at the strange comment, but realized there was truth to the phrase.  In the dark of the night my mother and I dressed quickly and drove to the hospital spotting deer in the fields near the road.   On the way out I grabbed my father's favorite cowboy hat and placed it next to him when we arrived.  His breathing was belabored.  Twenty five seconds between breaths.  My cousins and aunt met us there, and the five of us settled in, watching the clock tick towards daylight.  We took turns holding his hand, assuring him of our love.  "Get into your dream car and go on one last, glorious drive to the finish line."  Our presence had calmed him down, and halted his rapid decline.  Recent conversations with friends who had lost loved ones made me aware that sometimes people prefer to die alone.  I wanted my father to have all options, so at 9am I recommended we take a breakfast break downstairs.  We took another one at 2pm, leaving the hospital grounds in the rain, under a thunderous sky.  Both times there was no significant change when we returned.

Yep, no guarantees.  And truthfully we were in no hurry.  This may be the most brilliant stage of life, to be caught between two worlds.  Feeling the love from the earthbound world while being drawn towards a different type of power.  To finally understanding the complete picture, to see how the puzzle pieces fit together. The nurses asked if there was any unfinished business, if there were people he was waiting to see.  I reassured my father that if he had uncompleted taks he could trust we would take care of them, and if he was waiting for my siblings they would be arriving the next day.  Thirty five seconds between breaths, a minimal change.  The hours passed.  I napped in the empty hospital bed next to my father (the most comfortable mattress I ever encountered) , meditated, made pre-arrangements at the funeral home, danced to Sinatra and Etta James, and started to write his obituary.  Around 6pm my cousin returned to the room, teary, after a conversation with her son in LA.  At the mention of his name, my aunt noticed my father's eyes opened and he moved his head, a herculean task.  Chris, an extremely important person in my father's life, was the one person who had not yet made it to his bedside.  Ah, the obvious missing piece. My father jolted to life at the sound of Chris' voice booming through the iphone, telling him how much he loved him and the influence he had on his life.  "Uncle Mike, I'm an artist because of you.  You taught me how to hold a paint brush." With intense effort my father kept his eye lids at half mast and moved his mouth.  Words were silent, but I have no doubt he was saying "I love you."  My father's decline was rapid after the phone call.  Sixty seconds between breaths.

I took my father's hand and guided him to the shore line.  "Let's go swimming.  I have your hand, you'll always be safe."  We rode the waves, swimming further and further out to sea until he could see the many outstretched arms waiting for him.  "I'm going to let go, so you can join your loved ones on the other side.  I'm going to swim back to the shore, but you get to stay."  As the sun began to set, the rain finally stopped, and the gray sky brightened.  Light streamed into a corner of the hospital room, illuminating my father's watercolor which we had brought to brighten his room. At 935pm when he took his last breath, we were surrounding his bed, caressing his hand, and loving him.  The profundity of this moment will be with me forever.  Like witnessing a marriage or a birth, it was a privilege to be by my father's side during this significant event.  When I visited in late June to be with my parents for his first oncology appointment, I sensed my role, perhaps an unspoken pact we made as souls. Through out the weeks I dismissed it as hokey, but the events unfolded as I imagined.  My love for my father has been deepened by this experience, he trusted me with the most significant passage of his life.  I'm so grateful for the last weeks we had together, the simple truths we exchanged, and the joy we experienced by just being together.