The Preciousness of Remembering

When I was a child Little Tasha 4and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.

Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.

I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.

When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.

When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.

Saying Goodbye to our Friend

Laura Dodge's Dancing DollsAs we were moving into our Forest Lane apartment, we needed to assemble some of our new furniture. My tools had not yet made it over to our new home so I went knocking on my neighbors’ doors to see if I could borrow a hammer. Met with headshakes in the negative at each one I tried, I arrived at the last one. A spry older woman with a wonderful smile opened it. “Yes,” she said, “I have a hammer I can lend you.” That was approximately ten years ago and the beginning of a wonderful friendship with my neighbor Laura Dodge. I loved her spunk and her bright mind, but most of all I treasured her kind heart.

Over time as we visited and got to know one another, she told me her entertaining stories and shared her crafts with me. She also at my request shared space in her freezer with me. Over her protests I paid her “rent” in fruit sweetened jams and frozen desserts. She also had Stephen and me to tea and made popovers and other treats for us. I have recipes of hers in my collection that she wrote out in her tiny script. When she visited us in our apartment she admired my husband Stephen’s art. “Would you like to try collage?” he asked, and handed her a canvas. “Here, have fun.” She began to turn out wonderful collages of her own, asking for guidance from her teacher, as she called Stephen.

As her canvasses mounted and her skill increased, Stephen arranged for her to have art shows two years running at a restaurant in Worcester. Many came to her openings and admired and purchased her collages. We invited her to our birthday parties and she became popular with our friends. Everyone loved her stories. We included her in some of our shopping trips, took her to the Worcester Art Museum, and through a car wash, which she said was a first for her. When at Stephen’s suggestion she began to make dolls, we had fun helping her with designs. Eventually we loaned her a cabinet to keep them in.

When we met she was quite able physically, considering. As time went on and her physical health became worse, she couldn’t get out as much as she used to. Many of the evenings that she was home I would go down and visit with her. She had pain in her legs and in her back. At her request, I did some energy healing for her, singing to her and using my hands to remove painful energy and replace it with healing energy.

The day came when she could no longer live by herself. When she moved out we were both sad to part. We moved too very shortly, yet we kept in touch by telephone nearly every day. It was always a joy to hear the stories of her life and daily doings. Despite her many ailments and illnesses, she was so very filled with life. One of my favorite things she told me was, “It’s a small life, but I make it interesting.” Laura was an inspiration to me and to many others as well. I will miss her always.

Do you have a story to share with me or a suggestion for a column? I love hearing from readers. Send me an email at tashahal@gmail.com.

A Valentine to Lost Loves

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When I was eight years old my dear nurse, Emily left to get married. She had taken care of me since I was around eighteen months of age and was in most respects my second mother. She was a practical nurse. That meant besides looking after me, she helped with household chores as well as driving me where I might need to go. She was a devoted caretaker and when she left I missed her sorely. While my own mother loved me dearly, she loved me in her own way. Unlike Emily she was not a physically affectionate person. Also she had much higher expectations of me than Emily did.

When I was twelve, my friend and classmate Sally went away to boarding school. A bookish, unathletic, somewhat plump child, I had no interest in the things my classmates did, and neither did she. As a result from the third to the seventh grade we formed a team of two, and I defended her from the bullies that taunted her for her shyness. I missed her sadly. She lived in a big house by the ocean and our idyllic summers were spent swimming and playing tennis in her private court. Her freezer always held a tub of ice cream and we could make cones when we wanted. When we reached sixteen and I began dating, despite my efforts to remain close, we drifted apart. She had been my best and only friend. She remained distant.

Once I was married and had children I became friends with woman whose two boys were around the age of my two girls. We all went everywhere together. She had a wonderful voice and we used to sing folk songs at our children’s school. We even performed in a contest. Very close, we spoke on the phone almost daily. Then for some reason she became angry with me and disappeared from my life. For months I was devastated. Later on I had another friend I went to the beach with each day. Sadly, after several years she went back to Germany and never returned. By then I was beginning to learn what it was to lose someone I loved, and how to handle it; I was able to recover faster.

Throughout my long life I have had many opportunities to learn to live with loss. I had to come to terms with son’s death when he was twenty-eight, and as I grew older, my parents passing. More lately have come the deaths of others I loved. As time has gone on, these experiences have helped me learn to let loved ones go with a more peaceful heart. I have discovered that I do not need to stop thinking about them, nor do I need to regret their absence. I can take the images of them together with the memories of our time together and put them lovingly in a special album I keep in my heart. Then when I wish to I can open it, turn the pages and smile as I remember with joy the good times we had and the love we shared.

Tasha Halpert

Into the Next Room

Maple Flowers          The first person whose death I remember hearing about was a relative named Cousin Ellen Parker. My memory of her is of someone roundish, gray haired, and somewhat wrinkled. I have no real memory of her other than of her appearance. She must have died when I was around four. My great grandmother died in her eighties when I was five. I don’t remember hearing much about that. I do have a vivid memory of picking dandelions in our yard and seeing her walking along in her purple hat. When I told my mother she insisted Grandma Great was dead and I couldn’t have seen her. But I had.

In those days death wasn’t usually discussed in front of children. I knew nothing of people dying, only small animals and occasionally pets. The rest of my family was healthy and active, living vigorously for many more years. I grew up with the idea that death was something that happened to people who were old. Times have changed. I have outlived not only my parents but now some of my friends and acquaintances.

This past week Stephen and I heard about three people dear to us who have stepped into the next room–another way to say they have passed from this life. As I write this, it is the birthday of another friend whose death I found out about earlier this year. Stephen and I both find it difficult to believe that these and other friends are gone from our sight. I find myself regretting that I never sent that card I meant to send, or made that phone call.

How can we know when someone’s time will run out? When the card we mean to send or the call to make can no longer be sent or made? No matter how well meaning I try to be there will always be that last small gesture that won’t be made before they are gone. There’s no way to predict when someone will make that transition from life on earth to the wider realm from which no one returns.

As I grow older in years I notice that more and more of the people I have known depart this life for the next. How can this be? Children believe one must be old to die. I’m not old so how can they be old enough to leave this life? When I was growing up I thought of fifty as old. As I approached that time I thought of the succeeding years as indicating age. Now it seems to me that there is no time limit on “old,” nor any way to tell what age is appropriate for the end of life.

It seems no matter how many years I accumulate, I still somewhere within me, retain my youth. From the other side of fifty and more, although the years tell me a different story, I don’t feel very much older. Why have these dear ones left me? It seems only yesterday that we were all in the sunshine of our years. Now the shade encroaches. Still I trust that those I miss are freer now, and without pain. My sorrow at their passing is only for me, not for them. However, I have my memories of them, and these will remain with me for all my years to come.

Tasha Halpert

The Season of Goodbye by Tasha Halpert

Halloween decor          Among the first things people teach their babies is to wave “bye bye.” Could it be because intuitively we know that saying good bye is one of the things we will do frequently in our lives. I have discovered that the older I become the more goodbyes I seem to be saying. This is not to complain, only to comment. It is also true that I have grown more aware that for every goodbye there is often a hello. Perhaps this is more on my mind as I say goodbye to Daylight Saving Time and hello to Standard Time once again.

This theme has been on my mind recently on more than one occasion. As I put away the last of my warm weather clothes, I say goodbye to the weather I wore them in. The shorts and tank tops go into clothing bags stored under the bed to wait for another season. To be sure there will be balmy autumn days, yet they will not be warm enough for cotton blouses or skirts. I have already begun wearing my woolen sweaters and corduroy pants and putting on my down foot warmers at night

I’ve been watching the leaves change and begin to disappear from the branches of the trees. I say goodbye to the them as they fall, baring the empty branches to the wind. Even the leaves that have not fallen have dimmed. The colors that earlier were so bright no longer flame over the hills but are muted, softened as the leaves get ready to drop. I see the fallen reds and yellows on the ground turning brown and curling up as they accumulate. Swirly gusts rustle them, scurrying them around the lawns and sidewalks as thought hey were little creatures racing to get away from the cold.

Not only my clothing changes with the season. My eating habits and preferences do too. My mother didn’t have access to fresh green beans, summer squash, or other seasonal produce from the supermarket when I was growing up. Now although summer produce is available, I am more apt to eat winter oriented foods. I prefer summer squash in the summer, winter squash in the cool months. It is said to be healthier to eat with the seasons. To me seasonal food tastes right. Warm drinks replace cold ones. Casseroles, stews and soups are the order of the day. Peaches and blueberries are a summer memory and I crunch apples. I say goodbye to one kind of cooking and welcome another.

Also I think of friends who are no longer near, or whose lives are now too busy to allow for visits. I remember those who have left this earth and its pleasures behind for a different kind of existence. I say goodbye to the longer hours of light and welcome the hours of darkness with their invitation to rest. Soon I will say goodbye to being outdoors for long periods of time. Fall is a season of goodbyes yet once we have said goodbye there is always the promise of what is to come. Goodbye is another way of making room for hello.