REMEMBER ME IN BLOOM

 

 

Magnolia bloomI am now at the age where I attend more funerals than weddings; a time more defined by loss than achievement. And while the years have crept slowly they seem to have passed overnight. One moment I was running barefoot for miles along the beach and now? Climbing a simple flight of stairs is agony for my knees.

 A friend of mine recently passed away. As I entered the church for her visitation, she was lying in an open casket at the far end of the room. Her face was translucently whiter than it had ever been in real life and her lips were pressed together as if just about to smile. They had dressed her in a blue suit and wrapped rosary beads delicately around her hands. She seemed so lifelike that I stared at her chest thinking any moment she might possibly take a breath. The longer that I looked, though, the more it bothered me. I did not want to remember her like this.

 As my friends and I waited to speak with her family, I asked them what their own plans were for their services someday. What surprised me was that all of them had plans. One gave a detailed description of every song and Bible verse that would be played and read at her service. Another said she wanted a simple funeral but no cremation. The last not only described her memorial but also asked if I would sing her favorite hymn when the time came!

 I excused myself and returned again to my friend’s body. Instinctively, I reached into the casket and took hold of her hand. It was something that I had often done when she was alive. We often squeezed hands when greeting one another. This time, however, her hand was cold, so cold, that even when I let it go, my own remained distinctly chilled for several minutes afterwards.

 As I drove away from the church, I realized this: I want no memorial, no funeral, or even casket. Do not stitch my lips shut or lay me stiffly like a mannequin. Cremate me and scatter me to the wayward wind. Then, I will become a part of the good earth again and perhaps even bloom in someone’s garden. Remember me with a flush of color in my face, a big smile on my lips and a hand warm to the touch.

 

 

 

  

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UPSIDE DOWN

handstand

 Well go figure. Apparently I have been doing something good for my body and brain for the last 40 years and I didn’t even know it!! I guess you could say it started in my 20’s and I just sort of kept it up.  I do it at home and always when I’m travelling. You name it. Anywhere I find the space, I  simply just do it. Like how it feels. Love how it gives me a different perspective on things.

I’ve done it in SO many hotel rooms your head would spin.  I’ve done it in public, in private, under bright lights, in pitch dark, against fences, bathroom doors in shopping malls and smack on the beach in broad daylight.  What am I talking about??  You guessed it:  handstands.

Now, science says that what I have been doing several times a day for all these years has 5 beneficial results:

  1. Builds core strength.
  2. Makes the upper body strong.
  3. Increases balance
  4. Helps with bone health, circulation & breathing
  5. BOOSTS YOUR MOOD!!

Here’s the crazy thing: anyone can do them. It just takes a little practice, a little confidence and a nice strong wall to fly up against. Place your hands about a shoulder’s width apart; aim them about 12 inches from a nice, sturdy wall…and GO FOR IT. The worst that could happen is you chicken out half way up and come back down.

One word of caution: in the thousands and thousands of handstands I have done over the years, only once did I have a disastrous result. As I recall, I was staying in a rundown Motel 6 and there was no room to do one. So, I closed the bathroom door and did a handstand against it. Well, the door didn’t latch tightly.  So as my feet landed on it, I had the lovely sensation of going all the way over and both feet landed smack in the toilet. Thank God I was only 20 at the time.

Give it a try….it just might change your mood AND perspective on things. 🙂

P. S.  Yes, this was me this afternoon at the YMCA.

DON’T DIE WITH THIS REGRET

man in casket

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” is the regret most often heard from the lips of the dying.  Those were the findings of an Australian palliative nurse.  So, if this is true about us, does that mean the primary reason for our personal sufferings in life is because we are too fixated on pleasing others?  Can it also be the root of our obsession with youth and beauty?  Is this why so many people who should have rich and happy lives simply don’t?

 This morning I watched a boisterous group of three year-olds play, “Red light.  Green light.”  They had trouble getting started.  By the time the teacher had the last ones properly lined up, the first ones were already wriggling out of their places.  Some hopped on one foot, others giggled and twirled, and one little boy never did get in line.  Corralling them was like trying to stop 18 grasshoppers from twitching and leaping; an impossible feat.

 For the half hour that I watched, the teacher pleaded for them to “stand still,” “listen to me,” “don’t push Sally,” “stay on the blue line,” “get back in order,” “no talking,” and on and on.  When I left, I realized that of the 30 minutes they had for the game, they only actually played about 10 of them.  Maybe our lives are like that:  two-thirds of the time we align ourselves with the group, or are forced to.  The other third we try desperately to be our unique selves and navigate our independent joys.

 One would hope that with maturity, we ‘grow out of it.’  However, if that list of regrets is accurate, we just may not.  So, I wonder.  When my own children reach adulthood, will they have found the unique qualities which make them individuals and pursue them?  Or will they, like many, be so influenced by their peers and society that their own true selves get lost in the shuffle?

 My grandmother always said, “Example is the greatest teacher,” and she was a great one.  These days, though, the young take theirs from computer screens, not flesh and blood people.  They are better ‘talking’ with their thumbs than their voices.  So, what will be their dying regrets?  That they didn’t speak up?  In the end, maybe that is the very, same thing.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.

MAKE THEM SING!

Jean Stapleton and Helen Hudson, "They Said it With Music." (CBS, 1977)

Jean Stapleton and Helen Hudson, “They Said it With Music.” (CBS, 1977)

When someone I have known dies, my mind immediately shuffles back through the Roll-a-Dex of my memories to the last moment I remember with them.  Such was the case last night when I learned that Jean Stapleton was gone at age 90.  The cards shuffled and in an instant, there she was:  sitting at the piano singing, with me at her side, during the taping of a music special for CBS. 

 The year was 1977.  At the time I was quite in awe of her, not just because I knew her as Edith Bunker from, “All In The Family,” but because she had an absolutely, lovely voice.  Who knew?  Last night, while reading her obituary, I learned that her own mother had been an opera singer.  We shared many nice moments during those weeks, but what stayed with me most was her kind, almost quiet, frank naturalness, both with the cast and in performance.    

 I began to imagine all of the people whose lives, like mine, she touched in those 90 years.  What came to their minds when they realized that she was gone?  My guess is that like my own memory, it was some brief moment, some shared conversation or perhaps even a mere sighting.  Our lives, like our memories are fleeting and ephemeral. 

 We connect with each other mercurially as if we are there–but not quite–there.  Even a firm handshake leaves just a faint imprint with time.  A great song is often remembered only by a few, mere lines.  So, too, our own lives, are just a few notes on the page of life.  Makes them sing.  She did.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” available on Kindle and in paperback.

STARLIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

      The noted astronomer began harmlessly enough.  Proudly, he held up a steaming, baked potato in front of us.  It symbolized a white, dwarf star, gazillions of miles away from our uncomfortable, folding chairs.  By calculating the rate at which the potato, and thus the star, cooled, science could assess the age of our galaxy.  When he excitedly announced that our good, old, planet earth has been around for at least 13 ½ billion years, ‘Yippee’ did not come to mind.  Black holes did. 

     As the others lined up to gaze at M-13 through the telescope, I lost my zeal.  I kept imagining all the billions of people who weren’t here anymore.  They were now like those faraway stars:  infinitely, irrevocably untouchable.  With all the eons of TIME out there, we’re stuck in ridiculously short ‘time shares,’ one breath away from being obsolete.  ‘Is it possible to feel any smaller?’ I wondered.

     Yup.  “Stars don’t die all at once.  The larger, densely packed, intense ones die the fastest.”  (I’m thinking James Dean).  “The smaller, less dense, more demure ones last longest.” ( Betty White?)  Uh Oh.  According to my family, I’m as high-strung as a key on a kite in lightning.  My oldest said just last week, “Mom.  Why don’t you return to Disney and ask them to remove your animation chip?”  My time may be shorter than I thought.

     Now I’ve had stars in my eyes.  I’ve stepped on the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese.  I’ve dated stars.  I‘ve stuck the glow-in-the-dark ones above my children’s cribs. But never have the stars seemed less appealing.  So, when the astronomer finished, I asked:  “Okay.  Now that we know how old the galaxy is, and that one day, billions of years from now, the universe will go dark and there will be no stars—what does this mean personally, for you, right now?’  “Um. . .Well. . .I guess. . . I. . . just don’t know the answer to that,” he said sadly. 

     But I do.  Tonight the Perseid meteor shower will be in full view and I will watch all those falling stars fall.  It will remind me that dying is pretty from a distance.  But mostly it will remind me of the nights Granny and I used to look up at those same stars and say:  “Starlight, star bright.  First star I see tonight.  Wish I may.  Wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”  (Hudson’s memoir, “Kissing Tomatoes,” recounts the 13 years she lived with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s).  http://www.helen-hudson.com.

CATS MAY HAVE NINE LIVES—WE DON’T

     Before we had our cat, Skitter, I thought that people who doted on their pets were complete idiots.   ‘It’s not like they can talk to you or do anything productive,’ I used to say.  But when my oldest turned six and that tiny ball of fluff arrived, I did an about-face.  I became downright besotted.  Even though I was the one who fed her, changed the litter and made the vet appointments, she was worth it.  The kids loved her and even Dad came around the day she plunked in his lap and began to purr. 

     After awhile I was certain that she understood me.  ‘We’ had conversations understood only by us.  I did all the talking but I was sure she listened.  Her ears even cocked towards the sound of my voice.  And get this:  I brushed her with my own hairbrush!  For 9 years, she followed us coast to coast, grew bigger, navigated puberty w/ my oldest and shred a few pieces of furniture in the process.   

     One afternoon I found her licking the dinner bell.  Odd.  The next day she wouldn’t eat & hid herself deep in the closet.  Once the vet diagnosed feline leukemia, the only hope was a blood transfusion.  He said she’d be in pain and likely wouldn’t hold on, so I let her go.  It was hard and haunted me for months.  

     Now my neighbor has a dog.  He loves strutting behind that highly groomed pooch.  Treats him like he’s the Crown Prince of Something.  Picks up his poop in a plastic bag as if he were gathering rare gems.  Calls him, “Buddy.”  Talks to him with such affection and kindness that the day he first spoke to me I was taken aback.  He’s not a very nice guy.  In fact, in 3 years, we’ve only spoken twice.  During our  last conversation, talk drifted to aging parents.  “My mother got that dementia thing,” he told me.  “Put her in a home and that was that.  Don’t know what all the fuss is about.  You can put ’em anywhere.  Doesn’t matter.  They don’t know where they are anyway.”  Wonder what he’ll do when Buddy gets old and loses his swagger.   (http://www. helen-hudson.com