Finding Beauty in Death

photoMy husband suffered– while he lay dieing of pancreatic cancer.

For the last three months of Michael’s life, his back pain grew exponentially every day. For most of that time, we didn’t know cancer was ravaging his body.

Once it was determined Michael had adenocarcinoma and only days left to live, his pain intensified to such a degree that we kept him sedated.

During those last few days, there were no more two sided conversations. He was no longer able to acknowledge me when I cried or told him I loved him or when I told him how much I would miss him.

His hospital room stayed quiet most of the time. Few nurses entered, and they only came when called. His vitals were no longer needed. Visitors had stopped coming. Only the people closest to him kept vigil.  He no longer spoke or opened his eyes.

In those last days, I rarely let go of Michael’s hand. I knew as long as it felt warm, he was still with me. But I longed for him to not only be by my side but for him to be present.

I became desperate to find a way to make what little time we had left beautiful.

Then the answer came to me. Music. Michael loved music.

For the last few months, Michael spent more hours with headphones in than I had probably spent in my entire life. Music calmed him, helped him tolerate the pain. It allowed him the space to hold on to the small piece of himself that remained a healthy man.

So I searched for our song, and when I found it, I turned up the volume.

At the first note, with his eyes still closed, Michael smiled, not just a little twitch at the corners of his mouth, but a full toothy grin. He bobbed his head to the beat of Brother Iz’s song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I cried while I caressed the back of his hand.

This was our wedding song, and the lyrics wrapped up our life and what was coming for Michael.

We had lived a life full of seeing “red roses”. We were the “friends shaking hands”. And soon he would fly “over the rainbow”.

But for one more day, Death waited outside Michael’s doorway.

As the song ended, my husband raised his hand and motioned for me to come closer. He opened his eyes. They were still bright blue and still full of so much life. His gaze drew me into his heart. He cupped my cheek and pulled me to him. His lips were gentle and weak. We shared one last kiss as husband and wife.

My Michael’s final moment of lucidity and strength was spent reminding me of the power of our love.

We didn’t have any control over his cancer, but we were able to go back in time to the day we bound our hearts and celebrated the future we had planned.

Death only gave us a quarter of that time, but when you share a life so rich in love, you become grateful for every last moment you are given.

My Metamorphosis due to the Death of my Husband

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My husband died. Yes, my loving husband whom I only knew for thirteen years is gone. I can’t string words together to create sentences or even phrases that can amply describe the sadness I feel, even as a writer, there are no earthly words that can capture my grief. All I know is his death has changed me, and it has changed my writing.

Michael became ill in mid-May of 2014. At the time, we didn’t know what was really going on. He was experiencing back pain that steadily got worse. Much to our detriment, we trusted our family doctor. He told us time and time again the pain was nothing to worry about, and Michael would be fine. He was wrong to the worst degree. My husband ended up at Beth Israel in Boston two months later where we were told Michael had pancreatic cancer eight days before he died.

Through all of Michael’s sickness, his hospital visits and stays, his home-bed-ridden days, his tests, and the vials and vials of blood drawn from his body, I stopped writing.

In the hospital, Michael told me to make sure I didn’t stop. I said, “I can’t right now, but don’t worry, it’s percolating” and then I laughed because he frequently used this as an excuse when I caught him playing on his iPad during work hours. My story was in fact brewing, and I now understood that he wasn’t playing hooky.

The moment I had left off in the novel, I had to decide if a main character was going to die.

It’s been two months and a week since my beloved died, and I’ve returned to the opening of the book because I’m not the same person, and I know my writing has changed. While reading chapter one, I was hit with how superficial the novel is. It needs meaning behind the actions and I need to add layers and layers. The page once lived contently as a two dimensional space, but now I can see the possibility of an infinite amount of dimensions, and it’s my job to put words inside those worlds. I don’t know if I’m up for the task yet, but at least now I can see the empty space where as before I didn’t even know it existed.

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Just like my real life, I have to find something to fill the emptiness. There has to be more to this world I’ve created than just the words I’ve used to express it. Something lurks beneath my sadness, something greater than my grief, and I think when I search with a bright enough light, I’ll find out just what that is.

Observing My Grandmother

As a writer, I’m constantly observing and remembering small details. Sometimes I have to write a few words down so I won’t forget them. I tried carrying around a little notebook for this very reason, but it didn’t take. So I tried a miniature journal and even a recorder, but none of that worked for me. The Notes App on my phone, that’s what does it for me.

Last week my family traveled two hours north for a traditional family Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a day to be missed. There was a lot of cooking, and talking, many loud female voices, and laughter coming from every occupied room. But the highlight of my day came with great sadness.

You see my grandmother is quite old and fragile too. She lives in constant pain and has a hard time walking, especially after she’s been sitting for a while. After hours of visiting, it was time for her to go home. My sister and I surrounded her, supported her weight, and guided her out the door. As she walked down the two steps into the garage, she moaned because of the pain radiating up her back. There was nothing I could do to take her anguish away.

At the car, my sister let go of our grandmother, and I guided her into the front seat where I buckled her in. As I pulled back to say goodbye, I saw the tears in her eyes. I didn’t know if they were tears from the pain in her back or tears from the pain of facing her first holiday alone since her husband of sixty-six years died in a brutal tractor accident five months ago. They also could’ve been tears of happiness, we don’t see each other often and reconnecting is always such joy for both of us. I found myself tearing up when she took hold of my face with her paper-thin hands and looked me in the eye before she spoke one word. She said, “Goodbye.” I told her I loved her, kissed her on the cheek, and nuzzled her neck; much like a child does to her mother. She smelled of French perfume and lipstick. Then I pulled away. She took my hands in hers and squeezed them.

I don’t know if her last word was a forever farewell or a gesture of hope that we will see each other again. But that doesn’t matter. This detail, this one word of finality carried so much meaning. Even though our inevitable goodbye will be heart wrenching, I can already feel the joy she feels when she thinks about reuniting her husband. And for that reason, our sadness is our highlight.

Elizabeth Hand’s Cleopatra Brimstone

Cleopatra Brimstone, written by Elizabeth Hand, is suspenseful but leaves the reader questioning the main character’s motivation for her actions. While looking for coincidences in the story, I came up empty-handed. One event leads to another gracefully never sounding forced or coincidental. “Cleopatra” is a regular college student who is raped. She deals with this event the best she could by continuing with her every-day life, but she finds the need to free herself from the damaging environment she is a part of, so she moves away to another country where she is free to do as she desires. She is damaged and tries to find solace anyway she can, eventually this leads to her demise.

The questions that are left open do not hinder the enjoyment of the story. When I first realized how the plot was developing, I questioned why and how a young woman became part butterfly. I did not understand why she then turned unsuspecting, nice young men into butterflies. I have not read a lot of science fiction, so I felt this was something that I just had to let go and allow my mind to follow the storyline. When I let go of my disbelief that something like this could happen, I enjoyed the story quite a bit.

In the beginning, the reader is introduced to a young girl who is rummaging through her childhood memorabilia. When she picks up her old butterfly mobile, she feels a tingling sensation in her eyebrows, which lengthen and twist at the ends. The reader does not suspect this occurrence to be significant because prior to this scene, there is no reason to suspect that anything is amiss. As the story develops, the reader understands the physical sensation and transformation is the underpinning for progressing the story. It appears when “Cleopatra” faces any sort of stress in her life, she transforms into a crossbreed of human and butterfly. She seemed to accept this after she is raped when in college. She surrendered her body (I believe unwillingly.) to her rapist and eventually surrenders to her internal desire to transform men into butterflies whom she immediately kill then mounts in cases for her own viewing pleasure.

I question why she does not target men that are revealed to be criminals or just men she finds creepy of repulsive. This may be the point. It may be that some victims of rape find all people of that sex to be repulsive and potential predators.

Knowing that Elizabeth Hand was raped and often includes rape in her writing reveals part of her real inner being. I have always heard and continue to believe that authors write about what they know, about what they have experienced firsthand. It takes a strong author and person to reveal, share, and elaborate on such a traumatic life experience. I have to wonder if it was cathartic for Elizabeth Hand to write about rape. Even though the actual rape scene was short and nondescript, the entire story is about rape. In a sense “Cleopatra” rapes the men that she lures back to her house before killing them, raping them of their life. The fact that she sexually lures them home is disturbing because abuse victims often repeat the cycle. It is interesting that adult rape victims do not often rape others, but children who are raped or molested, often grow up to do the same to others. Why is this? What happens in a person’s brain that causes them to either repeat or not repeat the abuse?

I have thought about the conclusion of the story for quite a while. When I first read it, I did not like how it ended. I did not want the victim to be re-victimized, but that is precisely what happens. The reader enters into the mind of a serial killer, and the readers feel badly for her and even root for her. Does this happen because the main character was raped? Does the incident set it up justification? Or is it because I knew ahead of time about the author’s own rape? I wonder if someone read the same story, would they feel the same way as I do.

After taking more time to think about the ending, I find that “Cleopatra” became a perpetrator because of her traumatic past; the cycle did not end with her. And because she moved on to harm others, even though she transformed them into beautiful specimens, she became her own final victim through fault of her own. Sad.

What I found after reading Revelations from the Bible

Originally, I set out reading Revelations because I grew up with the notion that the plagues, demons, and Satan himself are the scariest things in this world. Having to create a monster for Abby’s Quest, I thought what better place to start than stories that I grew up believing were true and truly scary.

After reading Revelations, as if it were a science fiction piece rather than the Word of God, I found that the monsters sound so ridiculously unbelievable that they are ridiculous, meaning, somewhat comical. This set me on the quest to look for other monsters, ones that have truly scared me, either through reading or watching movies.  I found one monster that stood out beyond the rest, Balrog, from Lord of the Rings. He is what I have always pictured Satan to be. He is something to truly be scared of, not just in a visual way, but he also somehow grazes your soul.

It is not only what monsters look like that make them scary and sometimes even horrifying, but it is what their purpose is. Are they there to merely kill you, or are they there to torture you, mentally or physically. What is the scariest thing in my mind, being killed, being tortured, watching someone else be tortured? It is none of these things. The scariest thing for me would be living an afterlife knowing that it is never possible to enter into God’s kingdom. (Just so you know, I’m a Christian, but not a Bible thumping one.)

After reading Revelations, as I had never done this before, I realized the fear of never being a part of the joyous unknown but knowing that it is out there is the scariest thing there is. So how can I capture and write about something like that for people to who are not Christians and are even atheists? How can something be scary if you don’t believe in it? So I asked, why zombies are scary even to people that do not believe in them? I think it’s the power of possibility. What if we are wrong, and they really do exist?

Next I had to wonder what Revelations really is. What is its purpose? It is a book in the Bible that warns of the events to come that will set up the final battle between good and evil. Revelations is filled with signs that will signal believer to prepare because it is happening. But what if all of it already happened? What if the 144,000 people that are supposed to be saved from the evils of the hell, have already been saved, and my own personal hell is believing that the joyous reunion is out there waiting for me when in reality, it is not. Now that would be scary.

After reading Revelations, my mind has tripped out in such a way, that I was not expecting. I find that I am questioning life, reality a lot more. My dreams have become extremely vivid, sometimes horrifically frightening, and I want to know the truth. Since I can’t find the truth until I am possibly dead, I do not have any other choice but to go on believing my next part in my journey will be joyous. I would rather ignorantly live believing in the possibility of blissfulness than know it has already come to pass, and it is too late.

Now how do I incorporate my own personal findings into my work? It all comes down to belief. What we believe is the reality that we create. Abby’s choices are not haphazardly made. She has a destiny but has to make her own choices to reach it. She will have to believe a lot of unknowns in order to make it to the end and complete her role for the good of humankind. She has to trust herself and find her own path. But, she is destined to be good and has the ability to quash evil.

There is a lot more power out there than people believe in until they become entrenched in a story. Then it is not so much believe but rather acceptance. Readers do not have to believe in the fantasy world because they are present while they are between the pages. We do not have to believe in the things that we see. Belief and faith are only needed when the reader cannot see it.

I want to instill fear in my readers, especially when my monsters come on stage. But it is more than just being afraid of the monster. I want my readers to be afraid if Abby’s fails. I am not sure how to do this yet, but I know I cannot explain it to them after the book has left my hands because once they are reading. It is no longer my journey. It’s theirs.

What I found after reading Revelations from the Bible

Originally, I set out reading Revelations because I grew up with the notion that the plagues, demons, and Satan himself are the scariest things in this world. Having to create a monster for Abby’s Quest, I thought what better place to start than stories that I grew up believing were true and truly scary.

After reading Revelations, as if it were a science fiction piece rather than the Word of God, I found that the monsters sound so ridiculously unbelievable that they are ridiculous, meaning, somewhat comical. This set me on the quest to look for other monsters, ones that have truly scared me, either through reading or watching movies.  I found one monster that stood out beyond the rest, Balrog, from Lord of the Rings. He is what I have always pictured Satan to be. He is something to truly be scared of, not just in a visual way, but he also somehow grazes your soul.

It is not only what monsters look like that make them scary and sometimes even horrifying, but it is what their purpose is. Are they there to merely kill you, or are they there to torture you, mentally or physically. What is the scariest thing in my mind, being killed, being tortured, watching someone else be tortured? It is none of these things. The scariest thing for me would be living an afterlife knowing that it is never possible to enter into God’s kingdom. (Just so you know, I’m a Christian, but not a Bible thumping one.)

After reading Revelations, as I had never done this before, I realized the fear of never being a part of the joyous unknown but knowing that it is out there is the scariest thing there is. So how can I capture and write about something like that for people to who are not Christians and are even atheists? How can something be scary if you don’t believe in it? So I asked, why zombies are scary even to people that do not believe in them? I think it’s the power of possibility. What if we are wrong, and they really do exist?

Next I had to wonder what Revelations really is. What is its purpose? It is a book in the Bible that warns of the events to come that will set up the final battle between good and evil. Revelations is filled with signs that will signal believer to prepare because it is happening. But what if all of it already happened? What if the 144,000 people that are supposed to be saved from the evils of the hell, have already been saved, and my own personal hell is believing that the joyous reunion is out there waiting for me when in reality, it is not. Now that would be scary.

After reading Revelations, my mind has tripped out in such a way, that I was not expecting. I find that I am questioning life, reality a lot more. My dreams have become extremely vivid, sometimes horrifically frightening, and I want to know the truth. Since I can’t find the truth until I am possibly dead, I do not have any other choice but to go on believing my next part in my journey will be joyous. I would rather ignorantly live believing in the possibility of blissfulness than know it has already come to pass, and it is too late.

Now how do I incorporate my own personal findings into my work? It all comes down to belief. What we believe is the reality that we create. Abby’s choices are not haphazardly made. She has a destiny but has to make her own choices to reach it. She will have to believe a lot of unknowns in order to make it to the end and complete her role for the good of humankind. She has to trust herself and find her own path. But, she is destined to be good and has the ability to quash evil.

There is a lot more power out there than people believe in until they become entrenched in a story. Then it is not so much believe but rather acceptance. Readers do not have to believe in the fantasy world because they are present while they are between the pages. We do not have to believe in the things that we see. Belief and faith are only needed when the reader cannot see it.

I want to instill fear in my readers, especially when my monsters come on stage. But it is more than just being afraid of the monster. I want my readers to be afraid if Abby’s fails. I am not sure how to do this yet, but I know I cannot explain it to them after the book has left my hands because once they are reading. It is no longer my journey. It’s theirs.