Tuesday, December 25, 2012

More of the Sweet in my Bitter-Sweet Christmas – even Zenith

More of the Sweet in my Bitter-Sweet Christmas – even Zenith
Dear Family and Friends,                                                                               December 23, 2012

Christmas, like my birthday, is likely to be, for the rest of my life, bitter-sweet.  The news of Francis’ cancer came the day before the first, and during the second, he was dying.  

With the dignity of a saint, three years ago, Francis started walking to meet his death.  That didn’t preclude his also grappling with some dread, fear of the unknown which he overcame in the very admission of it.  I was privileged to witness how, with courage and surrender he did, as he told me was his task - “Let go, let God.”  Who would not want to die like that? 
So you can see how sweet this is for me to remember - even if also, bitter.  In fact, by now, it’s more sweet than bitter. 

In rereading, day by day, what I wrote then about what happened in this room, one of the 50 poems that have come since publication of Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Poems “came” today.   I experience joy, needless to say, whenever this happens.  New poems come, sometimes, from the story I’m telling in prose for the next book, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Memoir:  A Love Story.  For example, this one was written this summer: 
Your Pleasure    If you read / what I wrote / about you, / today - / you would be pleased. / But the feeling’s / so strong, that you / are . . . / pleased, / how can I say that /  “you would . . .”?

The writing, moreover, is more than a vehicle to share Francis’ and my love story.  It helps me grow through my grief.  It took me close to a month, this fall, to work through the poem A Widow’s Way.  I was shocked to discover that I, who thought I was indeed going through rather than around my grief, had numbed myself unconsciously.  What a relief to see and feel I could now face a deeper truth.  It’s still bitter, but it’s also heartening to realize it’s only when we’re ready for more that more comes.
My journey also helps me understand, in a way I never could before, others’ grief, any and all, but especially grief at premature and unnecessary loss of life.  It’s not only the loss in Sandy Nook that should compel our sympathies, but also the loss of life in Israel-Palestine and in all war torn countries.  I pray this latest tragedy will help those who depend on guns as well as armaments to realize that war is hell and that we should do what we can to bring into our world the peace and justice which Jesus came to bring.  As the bumper sticker reads:  “Who would Jesus bomb?”

In addition to my “imperative,” writing, my life has a rhythm which I appreciate.  Weekly babysitting my goddaughter Rowan is at the head of the list.  Resuming teaching English to Africans after Sunday mass, a practice I had dropped after Francis died, is also life-giving.  Francis used to sit in on those informal, small classes.  Participating in Taize chanting in Portland is also an important weekly practice.  I am planning to return to Taize, France for a week of chanting (3 x a day) with my friend, Sue Ewing, in May.  http://www.taize.fr/en  I’m not planning to go every year as she likes to do, but I feel drawn to return with her, this, my second time.  I gain more working in the Food Pantry once a month than I give, as a volunteer. Last winter I joined the Maine Poets Society and enjoyed going to two of their three annual meetings.  It’s encouraging to see how long poetry has been promoted in Maine.  For example, this society was founded in 1936.

Sue, whose late husband Bob used to accompany her to the same CTA/USA annual national conferences Francis and I attended, makes a good travel partner.  Believe it or not, though seven years my senior, she can outwalk me!  We attended two conferences together this past year, and I went by myself to the CORPUS Conference (married priests and wives) in Texas this past June, after which I met my editor in person for the first time in his home state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest.  Then in August I drove by myself to the McGillicuddy family reunion in Woodstock, Canada. I already wrote about the Shrine we visited on Sunday in my September 7 letter to family and friends, posted on www.elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com  But I copy here the link I provided there about this Shrine which was built and dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi (Francis’ patron saint) after Francis’ great grandfather donated land to the church close to 90 years ago. http://www.ofsnational.ca/EasternCanada/skifflake.html

Praying for good health and peace of heart to all of you this Christmas and for 2013 as you follow your own Christmas star.

With loving gratitude for everyone’s support - support of all kinds,
Long PS - December 24, 2012

               After completing this holiday letter last night, I remembered, this morning, a poem I struggled to write in September, when the news of Francis’ cancer shocked us.  I called the poem The Blow of the 24th, because that day – September 24, 2009 - was a bitter day indeed. 
               But remembering  the other 24th when Francis and I had what I called “Our Precious Dialogue” on Christmas Eve, - a Part II  for the poem “came.”  
So I renamed it Nadir and Zenith.  I want to include it with this letter (below) since it adds what would be missing without it.  Though September was my "Nadir," today is "very sweet" since it's the anniversary of my "Zenith." 

              If you make the time to read that special dialogue between Francis and me that inspired Part II, The Kiss, eight days before he died, I think you will be as re-inspired as I am too, every time I read it.  Here’s the link for it right here on this blog: 

       Nadir and Zenith    
 The 24th is a sacred date,
both nadir and zenith for me.    

           The Blow       
 Our birthdays were joyous affairs                           
that came in September:                  
yours on the 6th – mine, the 25th.       

But my body remembers now
the shock of the 24th,
the day we learned
you soon would die.              
After just three months  
they took away your body.      

three years later,   
I’ve been forewarned:
future birthdays
may be dyed purple.

        The Kiss 

 It’s Christmas Eve, the 24th,
ten days before your death.            

A festive tray sits on your lap
on your hospice bed at home.
Like a monk, you share your thoughts -
how to face your death.

But your mien, in altered state,
includes the humor of a
saint, when you joke comparing      
a soft and a crisp
ginger cookie
brought by separate friends,
like the gourmet meal,
yet a third friend’s gift.

Shifting your mood again,
in the midst of this talk,
you surprise me.
 Looking into my eyes,
you say:
“Your presence, always,            
is deeply drawn
into my soul.”

 The 24th delivered me
an unforgettable shock – a blow.
 The second one crowned our married life
with a kiss – of the gods’.

Friday, September 7, 2012

TV Interview with me + Family Reunion + Book # 3

Dear Family and Friends,

Seven years ago Francis and I were interviewed for a TV program on Portland Community Television called “The Second Act.”  It’s a program sponsored by the Maine Senior Guide, to celebrate “the gifts and vitality of people in the second half of their lives.” 

I agreed again to be interviewed for this “Second Act” program, by myself this time, on the subject of my first book:  Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Poems. 

It’s 8 minutes long.  I’m the last of three people being interviewed during this half hour program. 
People from out of town can view it here: http://ctn5.org/shows/second-act/second-act-5358  

Local people can view it on their TV’s next week, as well - Thursdays at 11 AM on Channel 5.  It will also air randomly on Channel 2. The upcoming CH 2 airings are: 9/9   11A; 9/10  8A and 11A; 9/11  8A and 8P; 9/13  2P; 9/14 7P; 9/15 11A

The interviewer is Bill Gregory whom I described in the Acknowledgements of my book as “a retired United Church of Christ minister whom Francis chose to help him ‘with the transition’ and who has given me trusted guidance and support since Francis’ death.”  (By the way, Bill wonders if it’s the camera that made me look more frail than he said I am and look in person.  ;o) 

Interestingly, the radio interview, aired in February, 2011, was also 8 minutes long:  http://soundcloud.com/carolynbarnwell/sing-and-i-will-hear-you   

Last month I went to Woodstock, NB Canada for our annual McGillicuddy family gathering on “Shrine Sunday” at Skiff Lake, NB.  It’s Francis’ great great grandfather Daniel, emigrated from Ireland, who donated part of the family’s property to the church for this Shrine to St. Francis of Assisi (Francis’ patron saint) to be built 89 years ago.  This annual pilgrimage to the Shrine has taken place ever since.  You can see a photo of it here:  http://www.ofsnational.ca/EasternCanada/skifflake.html

Since the following poem which came from that weekend experience doesn’t include everything, I want to mention my joy in being reunited with Francis’ family, nieces and nephews and in-laws, and especially Jo, my sister-in-law, newly widowed. 

I was also delighted by the rare appearance there of Paul McGillicuddy, the 98 (or is it 99?) year old relative who gave Francis his first job in the US before he went to college.  I told Paul, sitting next to me the whole time on the grassy incline during the liturgy – that he had made my day.  Thanks to cousins Barbara and Frank Bolton who brought him.

But here’s the poem (probably revised sufficiently for now) that came from that weekend experience:

Family Reunion                            August 11, 2012

As I round the bend at        
at the Woodstock Exit,
arriving alone
for our family reunion         
(it’s the town where my in-laws
went to school)
I’m flooded with my late             !          
husband’s feelings -
never before like this –
his own feelings in me.

Summer after summer
we came to this together.
But for many springs too,
he came alone.
He did it, he said,
“to commune
with the ancestors.”

He’s one of them now.

They were six siblings    
when I met him.
Only three remain,                     
none of them him . . . and
their spouses are gone –          
all but one
and I.                                  

The five of us gather                        
(it's my hotel room)
plus a nephew and a niece. 

When the eldest
tells stories,
his face animates the past.
I see him nudge his sister:
“You and I, Josephine,” he says,
“are the only ones left
who remember these things.”

My in-laws,
being kin of Francis,        
grace me with
their smiles and manners -
a touch of him.                  

By now Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Memoir:  A Love Story is coming along so well I told my editor (another Irishman - Mike O’Connor) that words and ideas are falling like rain, not only in the  chapter 4 I’m working on now, but for future chapters.  And yesterday, even a possible closing sentence for the whole of this book # 2 presented itself.

The writing is giving me such joy I can feel Francis’ pleasure.  In fact, after writing about him at Camp Pesquasawasis, this poem came:

Your Pleasure                            August 18, 2012

If you read
what I wrote
about you,
today -
you would be pleased.

But the feeling’s
so strong, that you
are . . .
how can I say that
“you would . . .”?

Book # 3 is therefore already on its way since the thirty poems that have come and will come, God willing/inshallah, after the publication of the first one, will comprise half of it.  The name of that third book, I like to repeat, is:  Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Uncollected Poems and Journals.

Loving Gratitude,
and Prayer for justice and peace for all people
and for our planet,


PS:  I love to hear from outside the glass door near which I’m sitting, my six chickens’ contented clucks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On the Second Anniversary of Francis' Death

Dear Family and Friends,

Today is the second anniversary of Francis’ death. I had initially decided not to write you about this second celebration of Francis’ departure from this life, and entry into whatever that other mysterious life is -since you had heard last year, about the ritual Lynn, Lee, Rowan and I had enacted. (We plan to make it an annual “family” tradition,).

But, a friend’s email gave me a nudge to write anyway. Moreover I do have something new to offer - a new poem that “came” in recent days which I recited in the chill winter air, after supper last night, once we had gathered around the “Pepere/Francis tree.

Once out of the side door, Rowan, holding her own lit candle which she had enjoyed selecting earlier (for each of us) - walked so quickly toward the Japanese Stewartia tree, I called out to her to come back and walk with us more slowly. “We’re walking in procession,” I said. Lee quickly explained – “Yes, Rowan – it’s like a parade.” I then added “That’s right – a holy parade.”

Rowan was so eager to sing our special chant we had rehearsed ahead of time – “Set me as a seal upon your heart. . . for love is (more strong) than death,” she started singing it en route. I was glad the three of them could keep it going for I could only sing snatches of it at first.

This year, after repeating key points I made last year - http://www.elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html - building on the parable of the water bugs and the dragon flies,* - Rowan spontaneously added comments of her own. Perhaps she was reacting to my saying (addressing Francis aloud:) “Because we are like the waterbugs that still live under water, we don’t know where you, like a dragonfly, went. But we will find out when we join you someday “ because that’s what she expanded – the idea of our being-“joined”-together. She used her own words, demonstrating them with a touching, powerful gesture: She brought the flame of her own candle to merge with the flame of our candles!

Here’s the poem I then recited:

On the Second Anniversary of Your Death

By your first anniversary -


came like kernels:

Gathered, they burst into life,


your presence,

all year long.

In the second one after you left -

I grasped anew:

You’re not present in the past.

You’re near, you’re here.

You rise with me in each day’s light.

You stoke my fire through our daily trysts.

(Silence is my Spouse and yours.)

You root my joy in the earth –

for you walk all the paths of my life.

Loving Gratitude to all,


PS The CD’s of my reading the poems have arrived, butThe Poems book whose “draft (hard) copy” will be mailed to me soon, will take a little longer. Having finished writing the chapter for the Memoir I couldn’t put down, I’m only now catching up with Christmas correspondence! Until January 6 – Feast of the Epiphany, it’s still the Christmas season!

* Water Bugs and Dragonflies, Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney