Posts tagged " death "

On Special Strangers

June 22nd, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

A little over four years ago, a very pregnant woman walked into the offices of a weekly shipping newspaper. She had an interview with the editor, a woman looking to retire, after 30-odd years as a journalist. The pregnant one was almost 40, the editor did not like to reveal her age, though her endless devotion to her career and her fight with cancer may have given it away, if it wasn’t for her mischievous smile, and the jokes she made every time the preggo ran to pee during the interview.

The pregnant woman was offered the job; a few months of training and she’d eventually take over as editor of the Athens bureau. She didn’t really believe it, she was thinking the older woman was just being nice, knowing that she’d never take it, even though she never had children of her own, and devoted her life to journalism.

After the official interview, the older woman suggested they go for a drink, she gathered up her stuff, left the rest of the staff with directions for the rest of the afternoon, and took preggo for a glass of wine at a bar down the street. They talked and talked, about things that two strangers don’t usually discuss, the younger woman had a cigarette, the older one chased the snakes of smoke with her nose, joking about her cancer-ridden lungs.

“I really want this job.” preggo said. “But I don’t know if I can leave a newborn at home to chase shipowners and their stories. I want to be a mom. But I want to have a career and this is the best chance I’ll ever get.”

“I can’t help you make that choice.”

The younger looked into the eyes of the older, trying to read what was behind that sentence, but found nothing. There was no answer, no pity, there was no secret knowledge, there was no regret.

Eventually they hugged and went their separate ways.

That night, the future stay-at-home mom sat on her kitchen counter, legs spread to let her massive belly breathe, and cried. She cried for what she knew she was giving up, she cried for the amazing person that touched her life for a mere three hours, she cried for what she was never going to have, and for what she soon would have.

Cancer finally won, as it tends to do, a few weeks ago, a little over a year after the older woman finally decided to retire.  The younger woman went to the memorial service, having seen her only twice in her life–once at the scene described, and again at a dinner a year or so later–for no reason other than wanting to say goodbye to an almost-stranger who helped her make a decision that women all over the world are faced with,  by saying nothing. That day, she showed her who she could become, but did not judge who she would be. It was at an Anglican church, unlike any funeral, wake or memorial that she’d ever been to, people kept getting up between hymns and prayers, telling stories, recalling memories, talking about her smile, her passion, her wisdom, her impeccable career. She wanted to get up and tell her story, but felt that she didn’t really belong, almost feeling privileged to keep her few hours with this woman to herself.

Rest in peace, Gillian Whittaker. I am sure that I am not the only almost-stranger whose life you have touched. It was an honor.


On Soil and Flowers

November 2nd, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

I don’t know if it’s the age, or the fact that I have a young child, but at a funeral today, for a moment, I became frightfully aware of my mortality. I stood there, behind the crowd in front of the open casket, black coats waving in the autumn breeze, the sun shining on the white hair of the deceased. His full head of hair was all I could bear to see from where I chose to stay, blocked by the ebony flock, even though I did not know him.

I’ve never been afraid to die, I don’t think anyone really is until they have some responsibility other than themselves, until they reach an age where it becomes a possibility other than a random accident, a terrible illness. I’ve never really even thought of death. Until today.

There was soil beneath my feet from nearby graves, I shuffle my feet to spread it out, the cemetery is crowded, busy. I know other people buried there.

The funeral is serene, it flows in ways few Greek funerals do. A man hands out flowers to everyone in the procession, he gives me some white ones. I immediately pull out my phone and take a photograph of it, aware of but at the same time, oblivious to my disrespect, knowing that I will need it later, that I will have to say something that may need an illustration, I need it to be real.

The casket is lowered into the grave by two workmen, their clothes dirty, dusty, not black, some bright color, I think there was green and white, maybe yellow. We walk by the grave and throw in a handful of soil and our flower, one by one. And we walk away.

I remember my grandmother, who has been claiming that she is old and dying tomorrow for over thirty years. I suddenly understand her fear, but I don’t want to speak of it. I want to go, quickly, to do things, what things I do not yet know.

Shortly after, in the safety of my car, the fear is a memory. I look at my hand, there are traces of soil and it smells of flowers.

Pieces: a novel

“Pieces” is the winner of the silver medal at the 2017 Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY), and a finalist at the USA Best Book Awards and International Book Awards.

When Clouds Embrace: a children's book

All proceeds from the sales of "When Clouds Embrace" will go to Giving for Greece, a foundation that works to help the hundreds of unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece.