Many people are trying to process the untimely death – the suicide – of Robin Williams. He is a legendary comedian and actor who I first knew as “Mork from Ork.” California law required a detailed release of how he died. Depression. Hanging. An as of then publicly undisclosed diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Husband. Father. Friend. Loved. I’m not sure it gets any easier with time or that questions are ever answered. I find I’m still in some stage of grieving the suicide of a childhood friend who took his own life just over three years ago.
Steve, Steven, or Stevie. Few were allowed to call him Stevie. I did. Our moms were best friends before we were born. I’m a few months older. His father was absent and therefore was raised only by his mom. Today I would say he was co-parented by my mom and dad. There were always behavioral issues. As children, mom kept a watch over me for his flying toys – hurled without warning. I recall hurling my own plastic bowling pins at him for something. We laughed about it years later. He was diagnosed as ADHD and was on Ritalin for most of his school years. He could be off the wall and very funny. Hyper-creative at times. His own Mork from Ork impersonations guaranteed a “nanu nanu” and a “shazbot” now and again.
On and off, he and his mom attended the same church with my family. He participated in Youth Group at church. Sometimes there were emotional outbursts with other kids and adult leaders. In the church parking lot, my parents thought once he tried to run me down with his car. On occasion he would drive circles around the block around my house. In later years, he always offered his opinion on anyone me or my sister dated – or married. He worked for some time in the Renaissance Festival circuit. But, he was mostly unemployed and on disability. Issues with authority figures. You never new what to expect. Confrontational at home throughout his life. Occasional threats to end his life.
He threw himself into working for the local historical society. One of my last memories is of helping him with an exhibit. The historical society came into possession of a few Gone With the Wind items of historical significance. Stevie called to ask if I would mind loaning some of my collection to fill out the exhibit for a weekend. Realizing I’d become detached from owning this collection, I quickly agreed to help him. I packed up some items and left them with him for a couple weeks. I attended the exhibit. It was very nice.
Mom called me at work one afternoon – “We have a problem. Stevie’s gone. He’s dead.” – she whispered the last two words. He had gone to the historical society alone with a researched plan. Plastic wrap and nitrous oxide. He didn’t come home when expected and another historical society member found him – seated on a sofa – gone. He had recently turned 45 years old. I remember scouring Facebook for his last posts and trying to remember our last interactions. I was thankful for the GWTW exhibit collaboration. His mother wanted my sister and I to speak at the grave side service. I remember looking out at people – relatives – many of whom had their own troublesome history with him. I wasn’t always kind to him. I was even hateful at times. I said I would miss him and I cried. I looked at his mom and I meant it – the words and the tears.
The last Christmas present I remember getting from him is “The Dedo” – a small replica of a sweet faced gargoyle from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Legend has it that it was carved by the nun “Marie Therese” from Provence. She didn’t like the evil faced gargoyles and carved this one instead. She slipped into the Cathedral and placed on the highest point “closest to God.” The Little Way of love. Shortly after Stevie’s death, my parents, sister and I went to visit with his mom. It was my job to look around the house and the computer to see if there was anything left behind – perhaps a note. I slowly walked through the house. All the places he spent most of his time. The attic where he retreated to smoke. The computer desk. His room in disarray. Relics of the troubled spirit. As I looked around the house and the shelves, there among his collections was another Dedo – exactly like the one he’d given me. I picked it up and held it for a few moments. I left it there.
Sometimes I go through my shelves looking for chotskies I can give away. I pick up my little Dedo gargoyle and think of Stevie. I wonder why he didn’t call me or reach out in any way. I just wonder “why?”
Today I enjoyed a rare Sunday afternoon relaxing in my sun room. I browsed through an old book, “Creating a Sense Sational Home” by Terry Willits (Atlanta area Interior Designer). I heard her speak as part of a Women of Faith conference in 1997. Her book speaks of “a woman’s touch” in the home and she says, “I am glad God made me a woman” and cites Genesis 2:18 where God says “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Women and men are created to be a complement to one another. Her book then goes on to share about creating a warm and inviting home through our senses. She says,
“God has made us sensual beings. In his goodness and creativity, he has given us eyes to see, ears to hear, noses to smell, mouths to taste and talk, and bodies to feel. Each sense is a rich blessing that enhances our life in a unique way and can bring immense pleasure or pain. Though every sense is wonderful, we seldom encounter only one at a time. Instead, God has intricately wired them together to allow us to experience all dimensions of life as we take in the world around us.”
At the time I attended the women’s conference in 1997, my spiritual journey had asked me to look inward. For a time I put away the check list that women carry of the man they would like to marry. How often do singles ask themselves, “would I marry me?” I recall the presentation doing more to bare open my singleness in a painful way — what purpose do I have in my own home if not to nurture a family? In the years since that conference, I moved on with my life and have done big things on my own — travel, took my Christian journey into the Catholic Church — a big departure from my family origins. I even bought my own home.
When a person visits my home, I’ve always wanted them to come away knowing me better not so much by the things I say but by the things I choose to surround myself. My colors, textures, smells, religious art, nick knacks, and photos — what has prominence in my home? It is a conscious effort to find opportunities to share my home with family and friends. It is these times, when I’m not alone, that my house feels more like a home.
I look at the inscription to me that Terry made in my book, “…. may Christ’s love fill your heart and your home! Psalm 127:1”
“Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build…. Psalm 127:1”
Thirty years ago today, my grandfather — Papa, passed away. I think about him especially between Christmas and January 19th because I remember the last December. He was at Emory Hospital in December 1980. I remember the drive; I-75 to I-20 — Exit Memorial Drive — North to Briarcliff and a right on the By Way. We wound our way the back roads of Emory Village. The beautiful homes were elegantly decorated for Christmas. Many homes had no curtains and you could see the fanciness inside. I carried my school homework and a Seventeen magazine. I was sixteen. I dreamed about living in the homes we passed.
It had been a difficult year. My grandfather had lung cancer and he was on oxygen at home. I remember sitting next to his bed listening to him sleep. He had trouble with fluid on his lungs and he was afraid of not waking up. That’s really why I was sitting there — instructed to wake him up if I thought his breathing was getting bad. Looking back now, I remember that as precious time spent.
He was hospitalized in December and the last time in January. Papa was fully aware on that day thirty years ago. He asked for the family to gather — he waited until everyone arrived. We gathered around in prayer and maybe sang a hymn. My sister held his hand — my grandmother on the other side and the nurse. A few moments after we had prayed, the nurse simply said, “He’s gone.” It was quiet and peaceful — a falling asleep.
I left the room and walked away — around a hall to find a place alone. I stared out a window and cried. I had hoped so much for Papa to receive a miracle of healing. I was in disbelief for awhile.
Today, I’m not sad or even melancholy. I’m only aware that I wished I knew him longer — long enough to realize how much alike we are. He still finds ways to let me know he’s still there.
Peppermint Prayers and My Papa
My Papa and the Year for Priests
I am enjoying day #2 of “Ice Jam 2011” in Atlanta. They have made references to “Snow Jam 1982.” Really, it is only here in the South that our Winter storms are worthy of naming — their rarity granting them this special privilege. I recall the Snow Jam ’82 — I was a Senior in high school and this was the last gift of ‘snow days’ off from school before graduation.
I don’t remember if that was the only Winter event that year but I did write a poem about one of the events. I remember the thaw and how it sounded. I was sitting at my writing desk and looking out the window into my back yard. The snow had been coated with ice and the tree limbs were heavy laden with their icy burden. I was transfixed for a long time as the sun began to melt the ice. The sound of the ice falling down through the trees sounded like applause and I was taken by the gracefulness of the tree limbs. Already having experienced Atlanta Ballet performances and already a fan of Mikhail Baryshnikov; I saw the ballet in the trees and melting ice. Below is a sample of my early poetry — I was 16.
The Crystal Shop Ballet
Boughs bend with humble splendor,
Bearing gifts that only the season can bring.
Nature in its most graceful poise,
The Lady of Winter performs a ballet.
Evergreens curtsy in elegant form,
The envy of every prima ballerina.
Beautiful to see, but fragile to touch,
The Lady of Winter brings gifts of crystal.
The sun shines in earth’s open window,
Setting to glisten The Crystal Shop Ballet.
Trees dance to the wind’s whispering orchestra,
The Lady of Winter composes a masterpiece.
The sun rises higher as the dance crescendos,
Limbs slowly raise their arms to the sky.
The eyes of nature look upward as melting applause praises the performance,
The Lady of Winter completes The Crystal Shop Ballet.
February 27, 1982
The better part of the last week has been spent with my dad in the hospital. I’ve also spent time with mom — checking on things — walking the dog.
Walking the dog in the yard, I can remember what the yard used to look like. On this day, only the crisp smell of Fall air and the crackle of fallen leaves are unchanged. I instinctively remember the soft carpet of zoysia grass — carefully spread by my dad through meticulous plugs over several Springs.
I remember the two Christmas pine trees which had spread together creating a little arbor cave — a place with an iron garden set — a place where I, then a High School Senior, contemplated my future. The pine trees succumbed to beetle disease several years ago and are gone.
The concrete walkway and circle where I rode my tricycle — crumbled in many spots — the yard now eroding away from the edge and exposing the depth of concrete.
There is the giant oak tree that my mother warned against planting — it will get too big. It has indeed gotten too big. It is so large that its roots have taken all the life out of the carpet of grass — all the life out of the yard. There is no more grass at all on most of this side of our yard. The grass and soil erode and expose gnarly roots — like the aged wrinkles of aged skin. The roots exposed like the years of family hurts — disappointments — despair — sadness.
I close my eyes and breath in the familiar smell of Fall — I hear the crackle of leaves under my feet — I remember my laughter in the piles of raked leaves
and then I open my eyes again
Oak Tree in my childhood yard -- eroding roots