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"Not every death is the end of a well lived life"

At the hospital where my husband was being treated for cancer, Chemotherapy was administered in a communal room.There were several armchairs for patients, and some regular chairs for family members. The whole process took several hours, and we had to somehow pass the time. So, with everyone around,  it became an opportunity to talk, a kind of spontaneous support group.

One Friday we were only four in the room: my husband and I, another middle-aged man, like us, and a young woman. We started talking, and she told us about her life and her illness. It transpired that she recently had got married and had a small baby.

Suddenly the man, who sat with us, blurted, “ It is so unfair that you are sick, you are so young, and have a baby."

Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel


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Public Mourning Is Naked

Our Green Room friend Charlie Killleen posted a powerful essay about self awareness In it he asks " who needs be to told he's grieving?" I feel that many of us do need to be told. Surprisingly grieving is often perceived as self indulgence: strong people just get on with it. Here is my essay about  similar sentiments: 


In the first year of my widowhood I sought solace in the company of other women in the same circumstances as mine. Being confused and overwhelmed, I felt  that if I spent enough time with experienced widows, I could learn from them how to cope. Perhaps I was also hoping to skip some of the steps of mourning, and to expedite the healing process.

So I contacted a woman, whose husband died the previous year, I had met her before at social gatherings since her late husband was a colleague of my husband. We liked each other, had a lot in common, and as we were both lonely, we became fast friends. It was comforting to spend time together: we took long walks along the sea, went to concerts, and couple of times even drove out of town for the whole day.

Then all of a sudden, without warning, she ended our friendship. She claimed that there were other obligations and that she was too busy and had no time to meet up. I didn’t understand what was wrong, and wondered if it was something that I had said or done. I wrote her a letter and apologized, in case I had hurt her feelings without noticing. She replied that it wasn't my fault, but never made alternative plans to meet or expressed any wish to see me again.

Not long ago I heard on This American Life that “public mourning is naked.” I don’t remember the context, but I found those words so moving that I recorded them in my notebook, and wrote underneath: desperation, neediness, empathy. 

In Biblical times the words "naked" and "public mourning" were connected, and had a physical/literal meaning. At that time tearing one’s clothing, especially in front of a crowd, was the custom of the land,  and  it was a powerful expression of pain and sorrow: Job 1: 20

“Then Job arose, and tore his robe, and shaved his head, and fell down on the ground, and worshiped.” (World English Bible)

Tearing the robe and shaving the hair were outward (public) signs of grief. Originally, people would rip their garments as soon as they heard the sad news. The mourner tore  his clothing until he exposed his heart.

In a more figurative sense,  these words paint a picture of deep sorrow. In displaying grief I expose my heart. Being naked also  means that the masks have been removed, leaving me unprotected, vulnerable and at risk. Expressing raw emotions (or as the idiom goes: wearing my heart on my sleeve) is probably too uncomfortable, and embarrassing, for those around me. Therefore, and since public mourning is no longer in fashion, it is probably prudent to do it quietly and privately.

It has been almost seven years, and I was fortunate  to find other women friends (not only widows), with whom I share my feelings. But every once and a while I think about that friend and the time we spent together. I don't blame her, after all her husband died only a year earlier, and she had her own mourning to deal with. I still don't understand why she stopped being my friend, but when I heard the statement: “public mourning is naked” I realized that this was part of the answer: it was probably the nakedness of my grief which felt too close and scared my friend away.

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"One Radio Host": Ira Glass At Yale

I have to admit that I wanted to see “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host” because I am a fan of This American Life. I guess I wasn't the only one, the theater hall at Yale was packed and this was only a matinee, there is going to be a second show tonight.

I didn't know what to expect, but juxtaposing the two dancers,Monica Barnes and Anna Bass, whose voice is their body with Ira Glass, a radio host who normally is only a voice, sounded intriguing.

The show consisted mostly of old episodes from This American Life and recordings of Ira Glass’ interviews.The artists reexamined and revisited those stories with dance and narration.

For example the first act presented a story from the episode “Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time”( number 306 from  2006)  about the cast of Riverdance which  had been performing eight shows a week and suffered from boredom. 

Please keep reading in The Times Of Israel


The episodes mentioned in the essay:


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That Time of the Year

One short road with four  houses on one side and one house and one mobile home on the other side completes the main drag for our nearby village of New Dennison.  A church faces the highway and beckons you into the village, which ends with a lower entry road that continues on to Marion. Across that lower entry road is one more house and mobile home.  

This is a historic spot, which many years ago had a railway connection where people caught the train to Marion and Carbondale.  Once also facing the highway , where only  an empty lot remains, there was the home of  the doctor who delivered many babies in this area, but that house burned a few years ago.

Just around the corner on the village’s one road  was the small house of  his midwife companion who traveled with him in the buggy to help deliver the babies. A cousin’s daughter told me what a meticulous housekeeper she was.  Now that house too is gone after the midwife’s only child continued to live there with her cat until she finally went into a nursing home.  I never found out what happened to the cat.  I never met the mother, but I was acquainted with her daughter, who never married. She got her water from a well, and almost to the very end lived there proudly without electricity. They surely used oil lamps in her younger days, but I never saw any.  Because she had gradually confined herself to one room and it was very crowded with only a narrow path between furniture laden with clothing, I was afraid to suggest one.  I did take  her one of those battery lights you can put in closets or dark places, but I don’t know if she ever used it. She enjoyed a small battery-operated radio and was interested in the Kentucky Derby and also local news.  A social worker or a relative finally arranged for the Rural Electricity Association to put in a ceiling light in her one room, so she did have electricity the last year she lived there.  After her death, a neighbor acquired the lot and tore down the worn-out house and made it part of their lawn.  It definitely looks better, but I still think of Juanita when I pass by.

One of the more substantial homes on the road always interested me because a favorite speech student of mine once shared the story of his uncle who lived there at that time.  He was retired from some much larger town in another state where he served as post master, and Jerry explained in order to have that good job, his uncle has passed as white.  I never met the uncle, and Jerry died much too young just a few years ago, but I think about these things as I pass beside the houses there.

I always drive through the village and take the rural route into Marion when I go to visit Katherine.  Early in October,  I was driving towards the house at the end across from the lower entry road. I don’t know who lives there, but I always enjoy their Christmas lights. That day on the front porch swing which faces that road was a short man in overalls and straw hat  relaxing in the sun. It was such a pleasant sight that it made me smile, but then laugh when I grew closer and realized he was a straw-stuffed man,  Since then week by week, additional seasonal decorations have been added to the porch and yard  including a ghost by a tiny pretend cemetery.  Bright orange lights illuminate the scene when I come home late at night.  I liked it best when I thought it was a real guy enjoying the fall air and beautiful trees, but I still smile each time I pass.

I make a point of trying to absorb all the bright colors of the  leaves hanging on the trees in such abundance right now around our lake as well as on the road to town. We still have a rose bush blooming and few late day lilies, but very soon the bare browns of November will erase late October’s colors and we will need to adjust to a new kind of beauty.





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