Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life Stories

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
Marcus Tullius Cicero

It's happened again. Someone I know died. While Michael Phelps racked up an unprecedented number of medals and Simone Biles vaulted her way into gymnastic history books, my daughter's father-in-law drew his lasts breath.  I know, I know. People die every minute every day. People die in numbers too great to comprehend. Dying is part of the circle of life. It's when the circle narrows to include someone you know or love that death is no longer something that only happens to someone else.

A few weeks ago, my uncle went in for back surgery.  A man so full of life, it never occurred to him or any of us that something could go wrong - horribly wrong.  Complications that had nothing to do with his back sent him into another 4 hours of surgery from which he did not recover. And just like that, the once robust man, my mother's youngest brother, the end of a generation, died. No time for goodbyes. Final I love yous were whispered into the air as life support machines slowed to a stop. Another chapter in the book of life ended.

As the maker of memory bears I have listened to many heart-felt stories. One mother wants a bear, but can't yet part with the shirt her son was wearing before a hit and run driver ended his life. A few months before my uncle died I grabbed an old Vietnam era USMC shirt from the box of memorabilia we'd been searching through, never guessing I'd turn it  into a bear as a reminder of his years of service. I've made bears from quilts pieced together by a loving mother's hands; from the surfing shorts of a young man who couldn't kick his addiction to opiates; from a veteran's combat uniform with cigarette butts still in one of the many pockets; from a beloved grandfather's red and black buffalo plaid hunting jacket; from a souvenir concert T-shirt; from clothes cut from a mother's body in an emergency room. Over the past weekend, while making five bears, I've contemplated how a woman who wore bright, yellow and pink tie-dyed T's could be so ravaged by alcohol that she chose to end her life. The answer, I suppose, lies in the question. Alcohol, like cancer, knows no boundaries.

Having sat next to both my parents as they crossed from this life to the next, I am no stranger to death or its partner grief. I know that each passing is different and each person's experience is different. My goal is to comfort the living by remembering the life, not the death. Making bears helps me do that.

I believe some infinitesimal part of a person remains in the clothes I use to create  bears. I know it sounds weird. I can't explain it. Maybe it's like the butterfly effect. A person's vibrations keep dancing across time even after they are gone.  If I believe there are no coincidences, only God moments, then I have to believe the clothes I have been given are the ones that hold the most sentient pieces of that person. A never-ending trace of the Divine?

Or maybe it's the stories. I always ask for stories about the deceased before I start a bear.  At most any memorial service stories abound that will make you laugh and/or cry.  I wish there was a way to know, really know, a person before you are sitting in a church pew listening to an eulogy.  I've found by the time someone is ready for me to make a bear, they are ready to tell the stories - of life, death, joy, and sorrow. My job is to be present, to listen. Every storyteller, needs a good listener. It's an honor for me to do so.

In the time it's taken me to write this people have died. None of us knows when our turn will come. It behooves us all to make the best of the time we have. We don't have to win gold medals. We just need to be the best we can be. We need to be kind to one another. We need to tell our stories. And we need to listen to others'.

"To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, 
completely and freshly, to what is before us, 
not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. 
In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, 
with a willingness to be changed by what we hear."
Mark Nepo

What's your story?
Merry  ME

Monday, August 8, 2016

Book Review

Misadventures of a Happy Heart
A Memoir of Life Beyond Disabilities

by Amy Quincy

When E-books first came out, I was of the I'll-never-buy-one-because-I-like-the-feel-of-a-book-in-my-hand school of thought. Then I bought one. Then two. Then enough more to realize reading on a Nook was infinitely easier than holding a bound book and turning the pages, especially when reading in bed. Which is where I usually read. I also like the fact that I can make the font bigger to match my diminishing eye sight. I got a new pair of glasses last week and was amazed at how clear and bright the world looked through the new prescription. The saleswoman put a card with tee-tiny writing on it under my nose and I could read with no difficulty at all. Until I got home. Now I'm having to move my head either up or down depending on whether I'm looking far away or close up. Perhaps I should have saved the money I spent on new glasses and bought a larger Nook.

None of that made any difference when I picked up my friend Amy Quincy's newly published, signed with the author's shaky "A,"paperback Misadventures of a Happy Heart A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability. It had been a long time coming. As members of the same writers group, I've been a spectator and cheerleader as Misadventures gestated from wistful idea to finished product. Like an excited aunt, I wanted to hold the book in my hands, turn the crisp, white pages, inhale the words. Words that hadn't exactly been written in blood, but had been baptized by sweat, spilled wine and more than a few 4-letter words.

Misadventures of a Happy Heart is a memoir. It's the story of how Amy picked up the pieces of her life and moved forward when, at the age of 30-something, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in her brain's prime real estate - the brain stem. With a degree in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing, Amy had been published before the stroke. As with most writers, however, she had to fit writing in somewhere between work and everyday life. In an odd twist of fate, the stroke provided Amy with the time to do what she always wanted to do - write. For 6 years, Amy plugged away with one finger typing at the heart-racing speed of 9 words a minute. Her life as a massage therapist may have ended when the stroke robbed her of clear vision, the ability to walk, clear speech and control of most of her body. But it did not take away her ability or desire to tell stories.

Amy's post-stroke life included a lengthy hospital stay, rehabilitation training, physical therapy, adaptive therapy (horseback riding, soccer, tennis, skiing, and surfing to name a few) and the re-emergence of her once independent self. Amy eventually moved back into her own apartment with her cat, Bella and dog, Frankie. Today she can be seen driving her power chair around her neighborhood to buy groceries, get her hair cut, walk Frankie, or visit with friends at the local Starbucks. In the years that I've known Amy I've seen her maneuver in and out of handicapped vans and cars not much bigger than her wheelchair. I've helped her into hot tubs, mountain cabins, gas station bathrooms and tight shower stalls with no handicapped bars to grab onto. I've poured wine in her sippy cup on more than one occasion. With a determination she must have been born with, because how else could have come so far, Amy never gave up on her dream of writing a book.

"Three paramedics arrive. They're all good-looking. I mouth the word, "cute" to Lee Anne over their bent heads and raise my eyebrows suggestively. She catches it and smiles. I scan for wedding rings. There's just something about a take-charge, good-in-a-crisis man."

Amy's remarkable story begins when she notices some tingling in her lips. Upon examination, one doctor told her to have surgery, another told her "don't let anyone touch you." Before she could get a third opinion, the stoke happened and the decision was taken out of her hands. Amy writes with candor and humor about drug-induced conspiracies while in the rehab hospital. She writes honestly about "the unmentionables." Reading Misadventures of a Happy Heart is like being invited to Amy's house for Thanksgiving dinner and having a ringside seat to her sometimes difficult, sometimes dysfunctional, but always endearing family. Amy's style of writing is laugh-out-loud funny. It will bring you to tears. Try as you might you will be unable to feel sorry for Amy.

With uncompromising dignity, grace and humility Amy is miracle. She knows it and so will you when you've finished reading her book. Yet Amy has no desire to become a poster child for the disabled.  Instead, she's done the one thing she's always wanted to do. She told her story "with the increased urgency of someone who's been given another chance." If you're like me when you've finished Misadventures of a Happy Heart you'll go straight to Google to find everything Amy's ever written. If we're lucky, she's already working on her next book. Don't be surprised if it has something to do with a girl, a wheelchair and a trip to Mexico.

For more of Amy's writings check out her website at www.amyfquincy.wordpress.com; you can also follow her on Face book https://www.facebook.com/MisadventuresofAHappyHeart/home; you can even buy an e-book version of Misadventures of A Happy Heart at Amazon here.

Feeling really proud of a fellow writer,
Merry ME