The Art of the Obituary

In September of this year, I took up the task of writing my mother’s obituary.  She passed away on June 28 from complications due to advanced Alzheimer’s at the age of 94. Previously I had never written an obituary .

An obituary announces the passing of a person’s death as a public notice in a newspaper, church bulletin, or the like.  Usually, there is a brief biography and a photo, but everything else is up to the writer’s interpretation.  An obituary can be solemn, funny, traditional, or even in poetic form.  Writing Mom’s obituary begged the question ”What should be said about a loved one when they pass?”  What was their essence? What was their legacy?

I didn’t like the idea of writing the 3rd person like a detached narrator so I made it clear this was from the viewpoint of her surviving adult children.  I had to keep in mind that obituaries can be very expensive in major newspapers.  Ultimately, my mother’s average-sized obituary at approximately 1000 words cost over $1000 in the San Fransico Chronicle for one run.  Her local paper for the same obituary cost $300 with 4 courtesy copies thrown in with the deal. (non were included with the Chronicle). So yes, a lot of money but hey, you only die once and everyone deserves memorialization. In most cases, like in my mother’s, the deceased estate covers it.

It was therapeutic for me, the author, to cut through all my mother’s foibles as we had our differences and honor her- her accomplishments and her legacy, I also decided to mention some of her hardships growing up. Hardship is a pivotal force in a person’s life.  I could see how her challenges as a child reflected in her parenting.  In her last years with her memory loss, all that friction washed away like dust in the first rain of fall. It was an honor to summarize her life for all to see.

As for the picture?  Rather than one from her youth, I chose one that was taken on her 80th birthday looking radiant with the celebration. 

Having written my mother’s obituary, I wonder about my own.  What would be written when all is said and done?  I have considered writing my own and leaving it in my will giving me some authorship.  I should include such things as

She liked to start her day with a steaming up of tea in her hand sitting up in bed with her pens & journal with a clear view of the bird feeder.

Felt complete with a dog and or a cat at her side

Liked to take adventures in the wilds, as well as  in art, writing, and music

I’d like the picture of me taken by my friend Deb we were out on the Zumwalt Prairie in 2021. Then I would choose one of my doodles to be included.

Now I may be tasked with writing my step-daughter, Heather who recently passed.  For this, I would solicit the help of her many friends to contribute their thoughts for a young woman who lived very large for her 38 years.  This is a challenge I would be honored to take up.

As I think of the many people that have passed from my life this year, I also think of the other beings, favorite trees, dogs, cats, and the like that have crossed the rainbow bridge that I could memorialize.  They certainly are deserving of an obituary as well, at least in my personal writing.  I’m inspired by this worthy genre.

Two good friends that passed on this last spring- Hilma Kaye and G.D Armstrong whose spirit lives on in my guitar…

Aftermath

Four months after being diagnosed with heart/lung cancer my husband’s daughter and my stepdaughter, Heather died peacefully last night in the hospital surrounded by family and friends. A beautiful young woman living the peak of her dreams. She is missed.

Heather and her husband Jerald
She is gone now
After she took her last breath
we exhaled deeply
bearing the pain of loss as her pain is no more

Our loved ones are like trees
they grow providing shelter and food for our souls
and when they fall they leave an empty space in our hearts
Yet in this very space is light
so their seeds planted within us will flourish
with the memories, stories, and lessons
that they have left behind in their wake

We hold our sadness close
continuing our journeys as better people

In memory of Heather Ann Woltz Winfrey

July 24, 1984 – October 27, 2022

Age 38

Daughter, step-daughter, wife, sister, and friend to many

Heather welding with her Dad

What to Do When You Don’t Know How Else to Help

My husband’s daughter, Heather was just readmitted to the hospital with the final stage of cancer. Last Sunday we had her and her husband Jerald over to share a meal with us. Reflecting on this experience afterwards, I wrote this poem…

Stage 4
The hiss/swish of her oxygen unit keeps time
like a hydraulic clock in the background
We converse and laugh 
carefully avoiding the minefield of reality
the dark mist that surrounds us all
Her lashless eyes morphine heavy
Her head chemo bald
The nasal cannula that hangs from her nose
connects her to the lifeline of air

The decline of her shocks me
There is no longer room for miracles
How can I help in her mortal struggle?
All I can do is prepare a homecooked meal
with apple crisp for dessert
We savor it in the company of family
around the table in the warmth of my kitchen
Maybe that is enough

A Delight of Mushrooms

About the time the chlorophyll-producing plants get weary in the garden, the mushrooms are just getting ready to party.  After I applied a fresh layer of ground yard waste on the native plant garden a few weeks ago and watered it a few times, I have had some surprises appear.  Here is the latest show.  I have no idea what type of mushroom they are.  At every stage they look quite different- suitable for fairy play.

Please also visit my blog on sustainable living at onesweetearth.blog

Fall Crocus- The Encore Bloom of Summer

It happens every year, I think the bloom show is over, and up pops the fall crocus. It seems like crocus herald the beginning and the end of the blooming season. Fall crocus have their vegetative phase in the spring. It’s a large corn lilly-looking plant that dies off when other bulbs are done blooming. For years I didn’t know that these plants were in my yard. I would pull them out until I saw the same mysterious plant displayed at a nursery labeled as fall crocus. I finally connected the dots that the crocus that appeared in the fall and these mysterious plants were the same. Now I let them be.

It turns out that these crocus and saffron crocus are very closely related. It’s a great plant. I ignore them and they return faithfully every year in greater numbers popping up in the yard in unexpected places. For more information on fall crocus go here.

Check out my other blog on sustainable living at onesweetearth.blog

A Summer of Musical Adventures 2022

With the easing of the pandemic, the summer bloomed with music.  Learning to play the tenor guitar was my defacto pandemic project. Three years later I was ready to venture forth with my new skills along with my friend, and neighbor, Kelsey in our newly formed duo “The Ribbon Ridge Girls” the name pertinent to the rural area we live in.

We kicked off with the Tenor Guitar Gathering in Astoria, Oregon in early June, a gathering of 4 string guitar aficionados. Kelsey plays a standard guitar but she was more than welcomed.   The tenor guitar came about in the late 1920s when banjo was going out of style.  Those out-of-work banjo players had guitars made with tenor banjo necks with the same tuning CGDA so they could still be employed. It’s tuned in 5ths rather than 4ths of a regular 6-string guitar. The sound of a tenor guitar is brighter and a good complement to a regular guitar. It faded away in the late 1950s and currently is experiencing a resurgence.  Tenor Guitar Gathering is special as it is the only event in the world that celebrates this instrument.

This was an intimate affair of around 100 friendly participants plus local participation at the concerts on Friday and Saturday nights.  On Friday morning we packed the historical Astoria trolley strumming and singing tunes along the waterfront.  There were various workshops offered and in between, we sampled the beer, baked goods, and coffee that the town has to offer. Astoria also has an array of vintage stores we visited. At night we jammed in the local motel we stayed in along with the featured musicians.  A high point for me was meeting Tyler Jackson in person, my virtual guitar teacher from San Antonio, Texas, who was performing and teaching at the event.  We won big in the raffle, Kelsey won a guitar (which she later donated) and I won a year’s worth of virtual lessons from an award-winning musician back east (woohoo!)

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Morning Glories

Those few little seeds I planted several years ago bring me more and more morning glories every September. This year has been the best season ever. Even the UPS guy stopped in his tracks to ogle at their beauty. Mingled with scarlet roses it’s quite a show.

Morning Glories

Morning glories light my path 
as the day unfolds
Trumpets of majestic purple 
and simmering pink
announce the end of summer
a surprising coda as the garden fades
a blessing to walk beneath 
this arch of glowing flowers

Photos and poem by the author

Please also visit my blog on sustainable living at onesweetearth.blog

Beyond the Golden Gate

I had the privilege of sailing on the San Francisco Bay with dear friends, John and Diane and their friend Bob,  on their 41-foot sailboat, the Giselle, last week.  I grew up in the Bay Area and had never gotten the opportunity before- in fact, I had never been sailing

We departed from the Brisbane Marina on a blistering hot 100-degree day with an audience of pelicans, cormorants, and gulls parked on the break of the marina as we left. The bay with its breezes offered welcome refuge from the heat, especially as we neared the Bay Bridge with its collision of currents and choppy waters. The Giselle tipped side to side from one 40-degree angle to the other as we tacked into the wind.  This requires a lot of coordination and movement from the 3- person crew as the sail needs to be released and winched from side to side.  I was merely ballast and shifted position from port to stern as the situation called.  Oh yes, and I was the wench who held the wrench for the maneuvers.

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Fishtrap- An Adventure in Writing in Eastern Oregon

I love creative retreats.  It’s a time when I can escape from the nagging responsibilities of daily life and immerse myself in the creativity of some genre.  In July I rejoined the Fishtrap experience, but this time instead of being in the remote grandeur of the Zumwalt Prairie like last summer, I attended the summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers for five days at the Wallowa Lake Lodge.   Wallowa Lake is nestled at the foot of the rugged, snow-capped  Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon, an eight hour drive frome my home in the Willamette Valley. 

What is Fishtrap?  Founded 35 years ago by forward-thinking writers Kim Stafford, Rich Wandschneider, and  historian, Alvin Josephy this organization was created to provide support, connection, and education to West Coast writers

From their website “ Every July, readers, writers, journalists, historians, publishers, and lovers of the arts from all over the world gather at Wallowa Lake to write, to explore issues important to people of the West, and to make connections. The weeklong conference has provided hundreds of writers the opportunity to work with some of the best authors and teachers in the West including Ursula K. LeGuin, Luis Alberto Urrea, Bill Kittredge, Laura Pritchett, Anis Mojgani, Kathleen Dean Moore, and many, many others”.  

By my campsite
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Resilience

We returned from four days at Paradise Campground, a favorite camping spot in old growth forest on the McKenzie River here in Oregon last week.  It was our first visit since a devastating wildfire swept the area in the summer of 2020.  This was one of our favorite camping and kayaking spots. We were devastated when it burned.  The fire destroyed thousands of acres of forest taking a multitude of homes and businesses with it.  Thankfully, the upper McKenzie where we would be camping was spared.

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