Jilly D.

Archive for the ‘Anniversary and memorials’ Category

The skies cry

In Anniversary and memorials, Grief on September 13, 2013 at 8:59 pm

111111-R1-14-15_015Cold wet rainy. A lot like September 2009.

The skies cry. Winds howl.

Two days passed and grief snuck up Buffalo Hill through the Shindagin Hollow Forest. Like the mushrooms and vibrant fungi I see on my walks in the woods, grief manifests itself only under certain circumstances, but the spores stay right under the surface of the soil. When the days are sunny and dry it looks like they’ve disappeared from the woods, but they are simply dormant. When it’s the rainy season, fungi pop up between dark and dawn. When it’s mourning time, sacrificial offerings spring from the heart.

Looking up from my desk, I see outside lush green leaves of the maples and elms standing in the yard against the forest’s edge. The air is still and the drizzling has stopped. A branch on the sweet maple tree waves.  I watch the tree greet me. I take it in as if it were as customary as my dogs wagging their tails while lying still next to my feet. A calm and fleeting moment. I breathe and see wet green.

No breeze. I look out the windows on the east wall and notice no wind at all. When I look back at the maple, it’s still waving at me. I stand up and walk outside to greet the spirit of tree.

Greenway thru maplesThe dogs accompany me toward the backyard and take off down the lane into the woods without stopping or noticing the waving arm. As I approach the maple, I raise my hand to see if I detect a breeze or feel the wind. Tree waves back. By what magic?

The trunk felt solid. The girth of it did not vibrate or offer any explanation for its leaf fingers waving at me.  I looked up and put my hand under the moving branch to see if I could detect an updraft. Nothing. Houdini had me playing his nimble assistant in performing a magic show. Except there was no stage, but the one on which I walk in my interior life with Sam’s ghost.

Shindagin Hollow Forest

Shindagin Hollow Forest

Over my head flew a crow and it called to me. I followed the bird in flight with my lips, pursed into a frown. When I turned to follow the dogs into the darkness of the tall pines, every leaf on the maple tree stood still. And I shook.

Don’t leave me. I can’t say good-bye. I love you always. Come back, Sam. Come back to me.

It’s Friday the 13th and Sunday marks four years since Sam decided to take his own life. Tuesday, September 15, 2009. There isn’t a Tuesday that goes by that I don’t dread the dinner hour. The middle of every month my belly button bleeds.  When I hear a gun blast, every muscle in my body tenses. Sirens send a chill up my spine.  My mind can control most of the physiological responses before the panting begins and tears obscure my vision. I’ve learned to pull back from a full blown meltdown; at least in public. But my heart and body still know my sorrow.

Indian Pipe under rotting Elm tree trunk

Indian Pipe under rotting Elm tree trunk

It’s been so long that no one mentions Sam anymore. As though our life together is separate from my life alone. I know people don’t raise the subject because they assume it will bring up painful memories. For me or for them, I wonder. I live with all of these memories day and night, awake and asleep. I can’t forget. I can’t forget the night he died. I can’t forget the good times that came before. And I can’t forget the joy I felt being loved by Sam Warren.

Tree waves hello. Or goodbye? The crow returns.  Tears drip from the rumbling heavens. Memories reverberate in the thunder of another storm. Toadstools and moss will carpet tomorrow’s forest floor.


World’s Greatest Pea Shelling Machine

In Anniversary and memorials, New beginnings, The Farm, Time and seasons on May 4, 2012 at 4:11 am

Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, I took to the stage when my name was called.

Speaking into the microphone, I said the magic word of the day. Peas.

Way out of my comfort zone, tonight I ventured into Lot 10 for Trampoline, the new local venue for competitive storytelling. The kickoff to Spring Writes Literary Festival in Ithaca this weekend. I don’t like showing up in bars alone on a week night. Still a homebody after all these years. (RIP JD Salinger)

But I made myself go. My friend Laura Reid won last month’s competition hands-down. She showed up with her mom and made me feel at home with old friends. Deirdre Cunningham also came and I forced her to sign up to tell a story. Hers was about galloping on a horse for the first time at age 12; racing against her dad on his horse.

The theme was: world’s greatest.

So what story did I tell? The world’s greatest pea-shelling machine. Sharing my love of sweet peas and fond memories of Uncle Donald and his magical machine made me feel something I hadn’t in a long time: happy.

It’s May and the pea vines grow.

Happy Birthday Sam Warren

In Anniversary and memorials, Pictures and memories on December 6, 2011 at 3:10 am

Born December 6, 1951, Sam Warren was one of a kind. He’d be 60 years old. Sam would have been ornery, irritable, crochety and downright nasty about getting that old. Miserable old coot, he’d cuss and mope about the big six-o.

From the day I met him, Sam was an old soul trapped inside a younger man’s form. While he never read Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau, he lived their 19th century ideals.

Sam Warren

Sam in Summer

Sam hated getting older. To me, he’ll be forever 57.  His hair will never grey; long golden tendrils. The smile lines around his eyes and mouth remain soft and supple. His moustache and beard still strawberry blond. It’s his birthday and there’s no cake and ice cream party at his mom’s this year. I can’t buy him supper at the Glenwood Pines. He ordered the same thing every time we went there: Delmonico steak and shrimp, baked potato with butter, tossed salad with ranch dressing, and a Black Velvet and 7-Up. And please warm up the bread and bring extra butter.

He used to call his mother at the hour and minute of his birth from wherever he was on his birthdays. In the last 15 years of his life, he called from his phone sitting by the pond up to this parents’ house on Buck Hill Road.

Sam didn’t just call his mom on his birthday. He used to call her at any hour of the day or night; just every once in a while to check-in as his way of saying I love you. Now she misses his calls. And I miss listening to Sam talk on the phone. I’d stand there at the sink washing dishes and he’d call his mom to tell her some news. I’d turn around and he’d give me a big smile and those eyes twinkled with a wickedly happy glint.

Sam took me to the LeHigh Valley Restaurant for his last birthday. Prime Rib. He told me about coming there with his family when he was a child for New Year’s Eve. He didn’t come into Ithaca until he was 11 or 12 years old, he’d told me. In its day, the LeHigh Valley Restaurant was a pretty fancy place. Named after the train line first established here in the 1800s, this establishment closed just a few months after Sam died.

I close my eyes and remember the white table cloth. Sitting knee to knee at a table for two surrounded by people talking, eating, joking, singing. The linen napkins and white china and Sam’s freshly washed hair and clean shirt.  Relaxed and calm, he told me about the LeHigh Valley Bar and Restaurant and his image of it as a high society place to gather and celebrate. He liked that years earlier it was the nearest hotel and restaurant for those traveling by rail to Ithaca. And he liked that in his 20s he’d built the canal across the road, operating large equipment, and that he and the guys on a crew would stop in for lunch break . He had never taken me out to the LeHigh Valley before and he said it was a good birthday.

Happy Birthday Sam. It’s a good day to celebrate you.

In Anniversary and memorials on November 9, 2011 at 3:16 am

This guest viewpoint was published in today’s Ithaca Journal.

An endless loop of images, sounds and events plays in the theater of my horrified mind. Specific details brand themselves red-hot into memory. The hour, the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade before it happened replay backward and forward as my mind searches for clues to the mystery of my lover’s suicide two years ago.

As a reader, I rode a wave of grief memoirs that began with Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” and continues today with Joyce Carol Oates’ new book, “A Widow’s Story.” Other fine examples include Megan O’Rourke’s “The Long Goodbye,” Gail Caldwell’s “Let’s Take the Long Way Home,” Heather Lende’s “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs” and Kate Braestrup’s “Here If You Need Me.” Ithaca author Diane Ackerman has recently published “One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing,” her memoir of anticipatory grief.

The deaths of husbands, mothers, fathers, children, friends, even pets have been the subject of touching recent bestselling memoirs that affirm readers who suffer similar kinds of losses and create compassion in those who can’t even imagine. But none of these recent books tells a story about losing a loved one to suicide.

Jill Bialosky has written a new memoir, “History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life” (Atria Books, 2011). When I picked up her new book, I thought: Finally, someone who might understand; someone who might have answers. Suicide makes for a different kind of grief — an incomprehensible one, because your mind can’t find its logic. Even though our losses and circumstances are quite different, her story resonated with my own journey toward acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Bialosky tries to understand why her half-sister, Kim, took her own life at age 21 in 1990. During the past 20 years, Bialosky has been an editor at W.W. Norton as well as an acclaimed poet and novelist, nursing along her own brilliant memoir of grief.

“History of a Suicide” begins with the simple facts surrounding her sister’s suicide in 1990 and opens up a narrative on the effect that suicide has on those who remain behind. The book starts out like a good mystery or detective story. Bialosky wrote this page- turner in plain language. She weaves together her sister’s diaries and the words of Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath as well as those from doctors and psychologists. The author speaks straight into the reader’s heart with unflinching bravery. A voice filled with emotional honesty, Bialosky offers the reader both solace and clarity.

Bialosky doesn’t find the answers in social demographic factors or family dysfunction. The abandonment of Kim’s father at an early age and their mother’s depression are tragic elements, but not explanations. Bialosky offers a profoundly personal and poetic investigation of her half-sister’s death. Part psychological autopsy, part love letter by Kim’s unfinished life, Bialosky’s memoir mirrors the minds of those loved ones left in the wake of suicide. While the details of her story are unique, the relentless search for meaning is not.

The unanswered questions left in the wake of such an unexpected end haunt survivors. Bialosky writes beautifully and sensitively about this quiet quest. She will never really know what it was like for Kim in those final moments. Or, if anyone had done anything differently, would it have changed the trajectory of her sister’s short life? For all the forensic analysis applied to one young woman’s decision to end her life before it had really begun, at the end there is only the mystery. The reader is left with a sense that this feeling of no end to the “what ifs” is central to grieving in a way distinct from all other kinds of grief.

Twenty years of mourning Kim makes her an expert on what happened and how, not why. Bialosky helps the reader understand Kim and the inevitability of her death. Without judgment and filled with compassion, she lets Kim tell her own story and she shares her own with these opening words: “Kim’s suicide has forever altered the way in which I respond to the world around me.”

Mourners need specialized support after loss by suicide. Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services offers individual and group support for anyone dealing with such loss. Most people in Ithaca think SPCS works to prevent suicides, but we also need to remember the important work they provide to those like me and Bialosky and others whose lives are changed irrevocably by a loved one’s suicide.

Jill Bialosky will be in Ithaca on Saturday, November 12th, to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services of Ithaca, NY. She will speak at 3 pm in the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins County Public Library.  This event is open to the public and it will be my pleasure to introduce her to the Ithaca audience.



There are still no words….

In Anniversary and memorials, Pictures and memories on September 15, 2011 at 4:38 am

Madly, deeply, truly in love. From the minute he laid eyes on me — the snowflakes on his eyelashes, the orange snowpants, welding cap, moustache and beard — he captured my soul. I gave him everything he ever wanted and more. He gave me his heart.

Sammy Minor Warren (Dec 6, 1951-Sept 15, 2009).

There are still no words to explain what happened, or why, two years ago. There is Sam’s story and he’s not here to tell it or explain himself. And if he were here, I know what he’d say.

“None of your business.” But then Sam would go on and without shame and much embellishment tell a good story.

I know Sam thought he was doing a heroic thing — some Sylvester Stallone manly man Hari Kari thing; an honor killing.  Sam wasn’t one to use a lot of words. Actions spoke louder. He took full responsibility for ending his life and it spoke volumes to those who had let him down.

He never said goodbye to me. His suicide blindsided me. He had me convinced we’d spend the winter in Louisiana because he couldn’t live through another cold winter. After the first two winters together in a small cabin, he could never get warm enough with snow on the ground. I wanted to believe this was a good sign in our relationship. With all of the ups and downs and then a miserable cold wet summer our planning towards a sunny adventure is one way he kept the romance in our dinner and pillow conversations. The night before he killed himself, we made passionate love and I slept in his arms entangled between his legs and feet. I felt certain in my bones we’d make it through anything together.

Sam knew me well enough to know I am too weak to inflict pain and injury on myself. He ripped my heart out when he died and I didn’t want to live. But I felt his tremendous personal courage in taking his own life because I didn’t have it in me to end my pain and suffering as he did his own.  The grief of suicide crippled me for a long time. Mourning feels like an unwelcome spiritual rehabilitation program. But in my weaknesses I have found other strengths, and one of those is writing.

Sam encouraged my efforts at writing. I know when he died he felt certain the memoir I’d written about him would soon be published. He dictated the last unwritten chapter of this true to life story and I can’t write that part yet. Sam was such a unique character and his story worth telling, that I continue to work on it. Good things take time.

For me it’s a book of our memories of twelve enchanted years before September 15th, 2009. He changed my life. I’ll keep working on writing the story of Sam Warren that might change your life too.


Sunshine and smiles for Sam in September

In Anniversary and memorials, Friends, Mourning, Pictures and memories on August 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

september smiles

The days creep closer to the two-year anniversary of Sam’s death and I approach it with some fear and trepidation. For nearly a year the pain and grief seemed an emotional abyss; a black hole that sucked me in and the best I could do was hold on with magical thinking to the life we’d had together and all our dreams on the farm. Sam’s death brought me face to face with a darkness and depression I had to know as grief and face in mourning. I’ve spent another year trying to get back up on my feet, falling down several times, even breaking a wrist. But I’ve let go of the magical thinking. I am no longer expecting that collect call from the Sundance Kid in Bolivia.

 My memories are fond and sweet and the ways in which he touched  lives should never be forgotten. Everybody who knew Sam has a special story.  My recollections of this wild man backwoods lover are different from those of his mother, sister, and daughter. His buddies have endless tales of Sam and their rollicking good times together. Sam etched into our common memory the simple joy of summer, barbecue chicken, good friends and laughter.

In memory of Sam I have asked family and friends to join together for a chicken barbecue before summer’s end. My wish is for a day in the sun to celebrate Sam. A good day.

Sam' Warren's mother and sister

The Sam I knew lived a full life; everyday he tried his damnedest to do a good job, make something, fix a problem, accomplish a goal, live out a dream. He and I knew a rich life on the farm he grew up on as a boy. His fondest memories were when he was ten years old. His parents gave him a good start in life and he had so many friends along the way. I only knew him for short time, but I like to think of our years together as his best times. What we had was special, not perfect.  I never thought, honestly, I’d be able to live without him. I couldn’t continue to live without him on the farm. That was a slow reckoning, and painful. I didn’t think I could continue to live without his love and physical presence. But somehow the days continue to add up. I still wake up and do what I gotta do and go to sleep and do it all over again —  without him. I’m looking to bring a little more joy back into my life and that means more memories of the good times. I hope to laugh as we remember Sam and talk about the stories that made him Sam.  He was one of a kind and could always make you smile. He was my sunshine.


Time shifting into mourning

In Anniversary and memorials, Friends, Mourning on July 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

A full moon rises with the cast of a pale cheese. The rind takes its color as aging takes effect. And the moon gathers the silver threads in my hair. Every wrinkle on my face is earned; the smile lines around my eyes and mouth belong to Sam. How long has my face been turned up towards his anticipating a serious whisker rub? Twenty one months. The worry in my brow comes and goes with the everyday challenges. Lines form in the opposite direction of the past decade indelibly on my face.

On June 15, 2011, I woke up crying. Twenty one months.

I escaped back into 1892 as a schoolmistress at the Eight Square Schoolhouse, #5 in Dryden, NY for most of the day. Teaching young scholars about flag etiquette and memorizing a poem we know today as the first version of the pledge of allegiance reminds me of Sam’s patriotism. He liked to be called Uncle Sam and there was a slight resemblance between the WWII comics’ image and Sam Warren; if you replaced his welding cap with a top hat.

Reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar. Now those things make up most of my modern day. And I follow those roots back into 1892 and the instruction and celebration of words and language. It thrills me that I might provide a lasting positive impression on a young person’s mind. Every moment I am there in the schoolhouse I remember how much I enjoy timeshifting and what a kick Sam would get out of me in my hightop boots, long skirts and a straight-laced face.

Operating a pump, writing with slates and pencils, using the outhouses, cursive penmanship lessons with pen and ink, recess playing with hoops, graces, stilts, and the swing in the old pine tree bring me back to the lifestyle Sam and I enjoyed together.

Twenty one months.

Discussion of a work of fiction among six local women keeps me occupied into the evening. I dare not feel sorry for myself. Each woman in this group provides me with a model of being comfortable as themselves in the world.

What lessons can I learn? For me to survive, on the anniversary dates of Sam’s death, I need to fill my day and evening with good friends, good conversations, good times. Not to escape from the pain of his loss, but to remember why I miss him so much; and do so within a buffer zone that can absorb the impact. Keeping busy at what I do best lets me remember why he fell in love with me; with who I am. Keeping busy so I can tell him what is happening in the world that impacts me deeply. What stories I can tell Sam remains a mindset I cannot yet shake as I integrate the reality that he is dead.

I think he might love me more today. He loved me more and more the longer we were together. And so did I love him more every day. Twenty one months and I still can’t accept he is dead.

Hunh. That may be the first time I have acknowledged he is dead. Dead.

So why do I cry to the moon and howl?

“Come back, please Sam. Please come back to me.”

Time to stop that, I know. He comes to me all the time. I know him all around me and inside me. I miss the past. Don’t we all?


In Anniversary and memorials, Grief, Health, Mourning, Pictures and memories, Signs from beyond, The Farm, Time and seasons on March 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Eighteen months since Sam died and I find myself feeling like I’m 18 years old again: searching for my identity and wondering how to make it on my own. 

The sun woke me this morning. A night full of dreams I can’t remember, my preconscious state is sedate. No tears well up, no furrow creeps onto my brow, no sobbing steals my rib cage. I am still.

The dogs stretch and yawn. They let me get up and dress without moving from their slumber spots. They seem to know more than I. They sense I have stopped my relentless and urgent searching for Sam’s return.

I am in no hurry. The rush is over.

This sensibility is something new. I am not running away from the awful truth of what has happened anymore. What is, is.

For months and months I experienced nothing less than post-traumatic stress. The magical realism of staying put in our place together on the farm got me through the first year of shock. I survived; and my focus was on survival. Making sure I had enough dry firewood and not a chimney fire; keeping the pipes from freezing; planting, weeding and harvesting produce and seeds; clearing  snow off solar panels on the roof; paying the taxes; and grieving.  Somehow I got through all that and set up my own business as a book development editor, kept the business of On Warren Pond Farm and made it into a small seed company, and began to write again.

Grieving is a struggle to survive. I survived. Now what? Getting those answers seems to me to provide the clues to what next.

After experiencing tremendous physical pain, a broken wrist, my grief and health fused into an understanding of Sam’s death.

I couldn’t stay and survive all by myself on the farm. I needed more help than I had resources. It was more than a two person full time operation.  The efforts to survive would be my own death: hard work and financial doom. I had not chosen to die.

The opposite of fate is free will. Chance, circumstance, coincidence, serendipity, destiny, pre-ordained events, luck, and randomness are ghosts that haunt the living. If I had chosen not to die, then I had decided to live. This morning I began to make decisions about how to live.

There were many moments when I thought I’d rather be dead and magically reunited with Sam. But I can not tolerate pain. Self-inflicted pain is the worst. I have no tattoos and when I tried to have my ears pierced when I was 18, I passed out. With my luck, I would botch any suicide attempt and make my life worse, not over. And I’m pretty sure this is the only life I get and not so sure there’s anything after death.

Yet coming out of the anesthesia from my wrist surgery I somehow feel as though I crossed over and made my peace; I just am not allowed to remember my spirit visit with Sam. No longer terrified by reality,  I remain melancholy but open to the sweetness of spring this year.

Anesthesia: Signs of a shift

In Anniversary and memorials, Grief, Health, Mourning, Signs from beyond, Time and seasons on March 13, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Surgery on my wrist two weeks ago involved anesthesia. I don’t remember anything once the drip started down my IV. Waking up snuck up on me. The first recollection post surgery is walking out the hospital doors.

Anesthesia put me into a sleep and for days afterward I felt as though I’d been to the other side and my memory erased of the experience.  The dogs, Lucy and Scooby, smelled me all over and weren”t sure if it was really me. It was like I had a frontal lobotomy. I looked better and there was less pain, but I tasted metallic and felt numbed emotionally.

Every four hours I popped a Percocet for the first 48 hours, round the clock. The ice pack 20 minutes on, twenty minutes off; except when sleeping. The drugs didn’t stop the pain. They just made me stop caring that I was in pain. Dense. Serious brain fog.

Slept fifteen hours and cleaned out my system of the rest of the narcotic and lethal drugs. Went through the sweats and chills, headache and queasy tummy; a hangover.

This week marks the 18 month anniversary of Sam’s death and I realized I had to break my wrist to make the shift from grief to mourning. I am not crying all day long any more. I am taking care of myself; even when handicapped. I miss Sam terribly and love him still, but I am here and now it is time to move forward. The mourning begins.

Arlene’s voice

In Anniversary and memorials, Mourning, Signs from beyond on March 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm


Arlene Fisher had a dream shortly before she died. She dreamt that she saw Sam as a ten year old in the backyard again. He called out to her and waved. She heard him. For those who never knew Arlene, she was deaf. Arlene wrote a letter describing her dream to Sam’s mom and sister. Her letter arrived the she died.

March is the first anniversary of Don, Arlene and Brian Fisher’s death due to an auto accident in California. The Cayutaville Methodist Church newsletter reprinted a poem she wrote in January 1986 and I share it with you.

A Poem for Me

Looked out to see a sparrow;

Found a Cardinal sitting there.

Flinging his song in the air.

Looked out from a weary soul;

And saw a soft brown dove

A gentle, sharing bird.

A token of God’s love.

Walked out on a gloomy evening

And found a star-lit sky.

A sliver of silver moon

With soft clouds floating by.

Awoke one dismal morning

And found the world alight

A dusting of spakling frost

Had settled over night.

If only I would remember

On even the darkness day

God sends love and beauty

If only I’d look this way.

Arlene Fisher- January 1986