Tag Archives: Grief

To Those I Love

In my previous blog post I mentioned that my family has been through a series of tragedies over the past six months, including the unexpected death of my mother on June the 8th of this year. I did not learn until the day of the Memorial Service that she died of a massive heart attack, with no previous history of heart trouble. My wife surmised that my mother must have died from a broken heart because of all that has beset our family. I think she might just be on to something.

My mother was 89-years-old when she died and I am sure that many might assert that, at 89, it couldn’t have been all that unexpected. Yes, she had a good run but we all expected that she had several more years in her – given that she had no medical history that might have suggested otherwise.

My mother’s passing has raised several issues as she was the family scribe, as it were. It was she who kept track of births, movements, and other family demographics. It was she who sent out the annual birthday cards to every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild. She was an avid letter writer and a beloved pen pal to several of her descendants including my youngest daughter, who was also my mother’s youngest grandchild. All in all, my mother was the matriarchal glue that held the family together.

My youngest sister started an annual family picnic and reunion several years ago in an effort to bring my mother’s descendants, their families, other relatives, and close friends together for personal encounters that had long ago slipped by the wayside as school, spouses, in-laws, and the miles brought about separation. After the Memorial Service las Saturday my younger sister asked me if there was any point of trying to keep the family picnic and reunion alive to which I resoundingly replied: “Yes, there is.”

We don’t know for sure who will step in and fill her roles. My youngest sister suggested she might be the one to send out the birthday cards, but she has far too much to deal with as it is. Myself, I would like to automate the family demographics somehow but have not yet solidified a plan.

PrairieHillCemetaryIn the meantime my mother was interred this afternoon in the Family Cemetery, back home in Oklahoma, where she will lie alongside my father and baby brother, whom we lost in August 2000 at the age of 35.

Now, I had hoped that the death of my mother would signal the end of the series of tragedies but I received a letter yesterday from Anchorage, Alaska and I knew what it contained without a need to open it. My son-in-law was standing next to me, as the letter had gone to our old address, and I turned to him and said: “My (half) sister has died.” I opened the letter to discover that my father’s first born had passed on the 6th of June, just two days prior to my own mother’s passing.

Below the news was a poem much loved by my sister that she had asked be shared with those she loved upon her passing. I checked on the Internet and the poem exists in different forms but was always attributed to Author Unknown. Although I have read poems of a similar sentiment this was the first time I had read this one and I would like to share it at this time.

~ To Those I Love ~
When I am gone, just release me, let me go, so I can move into my afterglow.
You musn’t tie me down with your tears; let’s be happy that we had so many years.
I gave you my love, you can only guess how much you gave me in happiness.
I thank you for the love you each have shown, but now it’s time I traveled on alone.
So grieve for me awhile, if you grieve you must, then let your grief be comforted with trust.
It’s only for a while that we must part, so bless the memories within your heart.
And then, when you must come this way alone, I’ll greet you with a smile and a “Welcome Home.”

In Memory Of:
Nola Billie (Nichols) Richards
June 1, 1934 – June 6, 2015

Grandfather Speaks

On this date, December 26th, a Wednesday in 1956, my first best friend was born. Today she would have been 58 years old, but the fact is she never made it to her 20th birthday, having chosen to voluntarily shuffle off of this mortal coil far to prematurely. I have been unable to sleep this night as an old song plagues me. It is that Jefferson Airplane composition entitled Miracles and I ponder the connection that Paul Kantner and Grace Slick have with my inability to leave the past behind and embrace the comfort of sleep.

My cousin Carol left us too early but she has continued to be an inspiration to me, as I carom awkwardly through this life some call an illusion, although the tears and pain we bear prove all too well it is nothing less then real. Carol has been the catalyst for many of my poems and musical compositions, as well as my novel Pictures in the Sand, which is based upon a singular drawing she made in the dirt of the desert so many years ago after the ravages of this involuntary tour of duty left their scars inscribed upon her hopes and dreams.

Eight years ago, a Tuesday, on what would have been Carol’s 50th birthday, I wrote the following while contemplating what might follow this life.

20141226-Grandfather Speaks

“Grandfather, what is a soul?”

“Granddaughter, when our world first came into being the Creator included wondrous forms in the first mix. These forms existed for untold millennium as wisps that encircled our newborn world. They could feel the warmth of the sun and the cold of space but judged them not. The winds of space ferried them endlessly about. After a very long time life began to appear upon our world. First tiny creatures floated unseen in vast oceans living upon the light. Eventually larger creatures appeared until finally, one day, a creature inhaled the breath of the world and took in the wondrous wisp. This was the first soul. As the creature lived the soul learned of its surroundings. As the creature died the soul was released back into the realm of our Creator until the first breath of life once again captured it. And so it went for unnamed centuries, living, floating, and living once again experiencing the lives of our Creator’s works.”

“Grandfather, are not souls only the property of humans?”

“No Granddaughter. The unborn souls are more ancient than life. The birthing came when creatures imbued the breath of our world. This occurred long before humans came to walk upon this planet with his older cousins.“

“Grandfather, do all humans have souls?”

“No Granddaughter. The great prophet Black Elk once told me that our Creator had given only 666,000 unborn souls to our world. Since souls may live within any breathing creature only a very few humans may share their existence with one of our Creator’s souls.”

“Grandfather, what is the purpose of a soul?”

“Granddaughter, only our creator would know the answer to that question. Once, I asked Black Elk the very same question. He also said he did not know. He also said that he felt as if the soul was a gift from our Creator to connect all life. He also felt that the souls acted like teachers who would show us how to live life well.”

“Grandfather, do you have a soul?”

“I do not think so my Granddaughter. I am privileged to have learned from Black Elk what it is like to share one’s own life with a soul.”

“Grandfather, how is one who has a soul different?”

“In many, many ways, Granddaughter. A soul has shared the lives of many creatures and has developed empathy beyond the capacity of people. A person with a soul knows what it is to live the life of the least and greatest of God’s creations. A person with a soul does no harm to his fellow creatures or to the Mother of us all, our Earth.”

“Grandfather, are souls immortal?”

“Black Elk once told me that he felt as if there were now fewer souls upon our planet then when he was young. When I pressed the issue he could only say that it was a sad feeling, as if a good friend had died.”

“Grandfather, what other humans have souls?”

“I do not personally know of any.”

Sometimes I think that what happens after we leave this plane is exactly what we believe will happen. If we believe it is nothing then it is nothing that we will receive. If we believe it is basking in the warmth of God then that is what we will receive.

God bless you Carol Joy Harris on what would have been your 58th birthday. God bless you and forever may you bask in the warmness of His aura.

Tragedy & Creativity

I usually do not have difficulty with my writing once I sit down to do it. That is, until a tragedy beset our family and the import of it has left me emotionally drained. I had been working on revising the draft of my novel entitled Tears in the Morning when the news reached me that two very close members of my extended family have been arrested for that crime most foul – in the vein of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

When I was in graduate school my master’s thesis was titled: The Creative Process: An Organizational Perspective. I spent a lot of time reading about creativity from a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives including; management, sociobiology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, ethnology, and more. I was after all a social science major with a degree in anthropology, which included a behavioral science minor that emphasized the psychology and sociology of deviance. And so, after pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and transferring into an MBA program I simply wanted to look at creativity from the perspective of someone tasked with the management of the Creative Process within an organization.

One of my primary conclusions was that the Creative Process was manageable inside of an organization. The one thing I did not address with any great depth in my thesis was the management of creativity within the individual contributor or to what extent individual creativity can be hindered. And, as it appears, creativity may be stifled by many different factors including all sorts of emotional trauma including things like grief, post traumatic stress syndrome, depression, fear, and rejection, just to name a few.

Grief is a significant part of my novel The Seventh Stage and is also a theme within the novel mentioned earlier: Tears in the Morning. It is something I have dealt with too often and it is something that simply cannot be escaped from in a natural world wherein the direct consequence of birth is death. What a cruel jester is this thing we call life.

I have been dealing with this for several days and I have been studying it once again with the eye of a researcher but this time I am my own subject. So, can the Creative Process be managed within the individual? The conclusion of my less than scientific process is: Yes, it can, but it has to come from deep within. My father was fond of the old adage that went something like: “A real man sometimes has to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.” Which, I think is to say, that you need to find that place where the creative spark still burns and lift it out from under all of the trauma and let it shine.

I think also that ingrained habits may have something to do with being able to manage your own Creative Process. I have been writing significantly and creatively now for about eight years. Novels, plays, musical compositions and songs, stories, poetry, and finally blogs. It now seems easier to return back to these endeavors since they have become a habit. When I first got the news I was stunned and did not seem to know how to continue with my writing. After two days I forced myself to sit at my piano and play some favorite 70’s songs. Then I followed that with my guitar and a selection of hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Today I sat at my computer and wrote this.

Life is notorious for throwing us spitballs. We never know when they’re coming or whether we’ll fly out or hit them back for a base hit. I think my latest spitball hit me in the shoulder and I took the walk. At least I’m back on base now.


As a somewhat less than zealot student of A Course in Miracles I seem to have the ability (if not need) to occasionally step back and question what it is I may be reading or hearing. Now some would likely call this ego. However, I prefer to think of it in terms of a lifetime of diverse education that includes degrees in Philosophy and Anthropology (with a minor in Behavioral Science), coursework in Accounting and Business Administration, Certifications in Adult and Vocational Education, Art, Music, and more.

This is only to set the background for my reaction to a recent statement made my one of my fellow students of the Course. This particular statement was: “Animals may feel pain but only human beings suffer.”

Well, I and/or my ego, took immediate exception to that statement and I expressed my disagreement with that particular interpretation. My fellow student went on to clarify by adding: “While humans and animals both experience pain only human beings dwell on it, become obsessed with the circumstances surrounding it, make it a part of their future, and therefore are the only creatures that suffer.”

I think I said one or two more words on the subject and then dropped it because I could see that my fellow traveler was very attached to this belief – to the point it seemed that it was an unvarnished Truth. But, it led me to thinking about all of the things I’ve read, viewed, and witnessed firsthand in my life.

Way back in the summer of 1968, when I was still thirteen years old, my uncles took me dove hunting in Arizona. They put a .410 shotgun in my hands and told me to point at the doves as they flew overhead and once I got the course slide the barrel 12 or 18 inches ahead and pull the trigger. Prior to that day my sum experience with firearms was summer camp at the Lake Arrowhead Boy Scout Camps where they taught us to shoot .22 shorts at stationary targets. On that summer morning in 1968 I pointed that .410 shotgun fifty times and knocked twenty-five white-winged doves out of the sky.

Now, the problem with bringing them down was that they were not always dead when they hit the ground and so I was taught a merciful way of dispatching them. That is, I picked them up by the head between my index and middle fingers and spun the poor things around in order to break their necks. Forty-five years later I haven’t forgotten the terror in those poor creatures eyes and no one will ever convince me that they were not suffering.

Many of us have witnessed the agony of a cat, or dog, or squirrel, or another of God’s creatures being struck by a car and being left on the roadside to writhe and squirm until dead without being able to do anything. Don’t tell me that’s not suffering in their eyes as they know they’re dying and wishing they weren’t.

I think the crux of my education occurred several years ago when I was still consulting for a firm in the South Bay. Where we live we had a serious outbreak of the West Nile Virus. There were only a few human cases and I understand a number of chicken farmers had sizable losses. However, what got to me was the near decimation of our once quite robust population of crows, as I have long been amazed by the corvids, which includes crows, as well as, ravens, magpies, jackdaws, and jays. In fact, our areas population of crows dwindled to the rare sighting of one of the few remaining individuals.

What really hit me was the one morning I was leaving for work, ninety-two miles each way, and at the end of our access road when I came across a dead crow and its mate anxiously, if not frantically, pacing about it and nudging it as if encouraging it to arise. To my way of thinking, and perceiving, the crow was grieving and grieving hard. I watched sadly for a while and then continued on to Hawthorne for a full days work.

I was not prepared to find, when I returned home about nine that evening, that the dead crow’s mate was still pacing about her dead comrade and still appealing to it to arise and fly away together. It was one of the saddest sights I can recall. Now, the surviving crow was not there the next morning when I left for work, although the dead one was. In those days we were supposed to call a special number anytime we spotted a dead bird and I suppose someone did for it wasn’t there when I returned home that evening.

I don’t know why we humans have to underrate the value of others, including our non-human cousins. Not only do we do it with animals, we do it with each other, as can be seen by the suffering of the less able to protect themselves; as in the conquest of numerous indigenous peoples around the world and down through the millennia.

When I observe the Corvidae family of birds I am impressed by their ability to manufacture and use tools, to improvise in new situations, and to reason. I am also fascinated by their sense of community to the point where sometimes I think that, as we humans do not have an exclusive on tool use, maybe we likewise do not have the exclusive claim to that aspiration we call humanity.