Saturday, March 31, 2018

Life as Music and Comfort During Grief, The Death of My Aunt, Pancreatic Cancer, Wishes for My Cousin, and Kacey Musgraves' "The Golden Hour."

I wasn't there, but with her last breath, my aunt was surrounded by family and the sound of the music she loved, as she died. Her daughter, my cousin, was unusually close to her mom. Similar to my daughter and I. They were Lorelie and Rory. Best friends and Mother/ Daughter. After fourteen long months of a roller coaster of emotion that the brutal beast of Pancreatic Cancer brought swiftly (after additional years of suffering,) my cousin watched her mother listen to her last song.
 (My aunt is the on the far left)
My aunt and my mother.
"Bursting with empathy, I'm feeling everything, the weight of the world on my shoulders. Hope my tears don't freak you out, they're just kind of coming out. It's the music in me and all the colours... I'm just sitting here and thinking that time is slipping and missing my mother...mother..."- Kacey Musgraves (*1) A daughter is missing her mother dearly and I can not begin to imagine the distress in my cousin's soul.
(My aunt is in front of the red candle watching my grandparents kiss. Each person in the photo besides my grandparents themselves have passed on. I can't even imagine the weight they have had to bear during this battle of their youngest daughter's after losing siblings, friends and other dear loved ones. Losing a child at any age is the deepest of sorrows.)

My aunt introduced me to some of the loves of my life; Eighties Rock, Country Music, Rom Coms, Elvis Presley, Audrey Hepburn, Barbies, and Keren Carpenter. We shared our tastes, magazines, and loved to explain to each other the back stories of songs written, bands who were famous, and their life stories. Pre Internet, this was a challenge and full of fun to find resources to back up our claims and prove our points about musicians, bands and life. The day after her death (today) I discovered Kacey Musgraves new album, "The Golden Hour." I realized that I could not share it with my aunt, who liked Kacey and Country tunes, but I somehow found comfort in the music despite this fact. Kacey wrote on the back of her Digital Booklet; "There are certain conjunctures that you can't think your way through. You just have to feel. I found myself at one making this album. It was like the universe was majestically saying "this is a time to be present, to witness the beauty of this incredible world you are lucky enough to be alive in" despite it being more complicated than ever and filled with so much darkness. We all need a little light right now. We all need compassion and art to flourish. We need to remember that when moving forward feels impossible, somehow new love still finds its way up through the cracks in the sidewalk. The sun still rises and the birds still sing. Inspiration finds it's way to you again..." I found this sentiment to be exactly what I needed.

Auntie Donna taught me how to put on my first bits of make up. I was about six, sitting on her bathroom counter watching her apply her foundation. I watched fascinated and wistfully proclaimed, "I wish I could be as pretty as you. I wish I could wear that too." She smiled and said, "Oh honey, with your olive skin tone, you are lucky to have that fresh childhood glow. You will have your turn for cosmetics, believe me." I think I looked a little crestfallen because she laughed and added, "But you know what? Make up can be a lot of fun. It's part of the beauty of being a girl. Some things are not so fun, so why not put on your morning face. Let's put on a little bit of eye shadow and lipstick." I looked in her oval mirror after her gentle application, and I felt gorgeous. My side ponytail and overalls didn't diminish my perceived glamorous affect. Anytime my aunt slept over, in the morning she would exclaim, "Let me put on my face before I come out." I loved that phrase.

Auntie Donna helped me find my voice in music as my main language. Music is medicine, empathy...and friendship. Before Christmas my Aunt came out to visit and brought two huge bins of her old records for me. She proudly told my husband, "Kiss always appreciated this type of thing. Missy has loved the music like I do. She knows that it can change life. I wanted her to have these pieces of me that we shared." We put on a few records while we talked. I found it hard in some ways because the Aunt that I related to in my youth was different from the Aunt who had gentled and was a smaller version of her old self. Watching her waste away in body and slowly in spirit was terrible. But I didn't wish for her to know I was thinking upon that. Because she was giving the fight of her life and still living every second she could. I wanted to respect that and give it dignity and not allow my own feelings to disrupt that journey. We sang 'Dancing Queen' together with my daughter. Which reminded me of the first time she introduced me to another diva, Stevie Nicks. "Some people thought she was witchy, and she was in the way she could bewitch music. I love Stevie. She was the queen of music but she also had sass. She chose her own way." Kind of like my Aunt.

She was so so beautiful. I can remember staring at her photos on my grandma's wall, hoping that I would be as beautiful as her some day. I memorized some of her photos. She was so pretty to me, in both spirit and body. I emulated her when younger. I watched carefully, and many of my formative ways were because of her when I was under fourteen. She is part of the reason why I find 70's style so attractive and appealing. I loved her seventies looks.

"Is there a word that I'm feeling tonight? Happy and sad at the same time? You got me smiling with tears in my eyes....they say everything that goes up...must come down..."- Kacey Musgraves (*2)

"When it rains, it pours, but you didn't even notice, it ain't rainin' anymore. It's hard to breathe when all you know is, the struggle of, staying above, the rising water line. Well, the sky is finally opened, the rain and wind stopped blowin,' but you're stuck out in the same old storm again. You hold tight to your umbrella, well darlin' I'm just trying to tell ya, that there's always been a rainbow hanging over your head. If you could see what I see, you'd be blinded by the colours. Yellow, red and orange and green, and at least a million others. So tie off your bow, take off your coat, and take a look around. Cuz' the sky is finally open..."- Kacey Musgraves. (*3)

I have to be careful not to dwell too much on the last months of my Aunt's life to the point of being "stuck out in the same ol' storm again." She was a very different person to me, although with the same core essence, in her last year of life. It is important to honour and recognize the fight she had at the end of her life. It was a legitimate part of her journey. I can't write it off. But I also have to remind myself to not stay in the rain either. My aunt also savoured the colours in life. She was always a feisty woman with a lusty side, who laughed hard, loved fully, angered easily, and worked for every moment of her life.

Kacey also wrote on the back of her album; "There are different masks we all wear the represent different sides of ourselves. None of them are solely us and yet they all are. There's the lonely girl, the blissful girl, the new wife, the daughter missing her mother, the hopeful girl, the selfish girl, the sarcastic rhinestoned Texan, the shy girl and the life of the party, the winner and the loser. They are all characters on this record. None of them alone are me and yet they all are..." I hope, that even with the grief, my cousin can feel free to be each of those versions of her self. Just like her mother did. I hope that she will not be constrained by each role, but fully own the beauty and realness inside. I want her to eventually find her days in the sun amongst the shadows, while still allowing herself the darker days. She's still young and in her twenties, and deserves to live life with bliss, even though she will carry this sadness and the waves of grief with her through out life.

(Me and my cousin)
"Northern lights, in our skies, plants that grow and open your mind. Things that swim with a neon glow, how we all got here, nobody knows. These are real things. These are real things. Oh what a world, don't want to leave. All kinds of magic it's hard to believe. Thank god it's not too good to be true. Oh what a world, and then there is you..."- Kacey Musgraves (*4)
(My cousin with my youngest. She is called their auntie because she had no other siblings and I felt she deserved that role...just like her mom she has been incredible to my children. Especially when they were younger and we could spend more time together.)

Langeston Hughes wrote that "Life is for the living. Death is for the dead. Let life be like music. And death a note unsaid." Death is detailed, complex and non linear in feeling. Each person's grief story is legitimate and different. Those whom are left, are the living, and while they live, have to find a way to carry on too. Northern lights, plants and the beauty in everyday magic is a gift...but the beauty we see in the souls of each other is the highest of all. When that breath is taken, the fall out is tough to justify. I am not the one to do that for anyone. I just know that music brings me back to life.

"You can't find it sittin' on a shelf on the store. If you try to hide it, it's gonna shine even more. Even if you lose it, it will find you. There's no way to stop it, but they'll try to. Running like a river, trying to find the Ocean. Flowers in the concrete. Climbing over fences. Blooming in the shadows. Places that you can't see. Coming through the melody when the night bird sings. Love is a wild thing..."- Kacey Musgraves (*5)

When I was five or six, my mom brought the silky white dress into the room. She put my hair in curlers so I could rock the Shirley Temple look in the morning. Because my pretty Auntie was getting married and I was the flower girl. I remember, on her day, she bent down to eye level and whispered, "I am so glad to be sharing this day with you sweetheart. I just love you so much honey. You are SO beautiful in that dress. Look at you. All the young boys are gonna turn their heads when you walk in." She was affirming of my beauty and told me often that I was one of her most precious people. I remember looking at her beautiful face, framed with eighties bangs (that she actually pulled off) and her gorgeous tiara veil, and hoping that I would be as happy as her on my wedding day. At the reception the family sang, "Oh Donna" from her husband and she cracked up. I could never hear that song without thinking of her and how she looked that night. When I was asked to put something on a card for her filmstrip at her funeral, those lyrics were the first that came to my mind, "I know a girl, Donna is her name, and since I met her, I have never been the same. Oh, I love that girl. Oh Donna." (*6)

And I never have been the same. The people in our lives help shape wisps of ourselves. The month before she died I wrote to her, "Listening to your records. 'How Wonderful Life is now that you are in the world." (*7) She wrote back, "Elton. Oh that man can sure write songs." I texted next, "Yes, I tried calling. I was also sitting here thinking and talking to Hubby. He and I were discussing how you are one of the main supports we had for our marriage. We have always been forever grateful to you for liking us together. It is always been very valuable to us and will continue to be valuable as the years pass. Also, you have been one of the few people who have seen our children's disabilities and try to understand them but also have seen their spirits and been a lookout for them. Our kids will be forever grateful and have been partially shaped because of you. So I wanted to thank you for that. We love you very much." She wrote back, "So as I sob reading this, I just wish you were here so I could give you giant luvs, hugs, kisses and squishes! I just love you so much honey, your mom texted me and I saw your text then so I read it and you got mommy to put put on Facebook, wow! Had no idea you felt like that. And you know what? It came at the right time, I was sick today and couldn't get my pain under control, that sure helped!! Feeling much better now, thank you, I would phone you but it's late there and you probs won't read this till morning anyway, much love honey."

(I love how I am looking at her in the photo below)

"... I can show you strong, I can fight for you, I can try to move mountains if you want me to. But baby, I ain't wonder woman. I don't know how to lasso the truth out of you. Don't you know I'm only human and if I let you down I don't mean to. All I need is a place to land, I don't need a superman... Bet all that gold gets heavy. Weighing on her. I wonder if it's scary, always trying not to get hurt. I know how it feels. It ain't easy. There is a reason why you always see it in the movies...Because baby, I ain't Wonder Woman..."(*8)

My aunt was strong but she also had her struggles and flaws. Sometimes life broke her too. She was particularly upset about a procedure she had to do and texted me about it. I wrote, "You are more than any procedure done to you. You are more than your illness. You are more than a series of symptoms. Your essence remains in dignity even when you feel some of these things are undignified. Dying is horrible but there are moments of beauty like witnessing the strength of those who love you around and also in you. Seeing that generations will go on and pass part of your spirit onward with them. That they too will pass onward and their energy will change into new (or however one believes.) I read a quote that said that 'Watching the people we love die bit by bit is the hardest thing life demands until we recall that watching the people we love die bit by bit in a certain sense is what life simply is. It just usually takes more time for the bits to go by in some cases.'- quote from (?) I'm sorry this is happening to you- that your process is a painful one often. That you have to tread through unpleasant moments with not much to look towards for time here except time elsewhere. I wish you more moments that are pain free  and moments of dignity. I hope you can retain your spirit while you endure the final moments of what bodies tend to do- be it slow or fast (and she did). In a way yours is both- it expired too fast but is also taking you slowly in pain:( That's unfair and tragic in so many ways. I'm sorry and wish that burden could be lifted from you. On the flip side I see how much you still give to life just by breathing. Right now until your time comes. None of us know when we could go. You have had goodbyes which in a way is bittersweet. You make a difference to life by being you. You are loved. It's ok to be both strong and weak at once. To need help and to be...that some procedures are necessary - it's ok to have all those emotions. It is human and normal. Just know that you are not any less loved or respected for what you must endure. We will carry you onward in our hearts and our children's hearts because you helped shape us and in that you will live."

I was nervous after I hit send because I never know how people will respond to my weird, honest philosophies and sentiments on life. I sprinkled the text with heart emojis but I was worried I made it worse for her. But then I looked at her text back, "Awe my heart overflows with love for you my sweet niece! thank you for that! I just love you to pieces." I was relieved I eased her burden instead of stressing her out more. She always loved the blog posts I sent her and was one of my biggest fans. I always appreciated the time she took and will miss seeing her email address in my contacts and the thoughts of her that went with it...

I was on the treadmill today listening to "I Dreamed a Dream"(*9) and I became slightly choked up. The song expressed the sorrow of the moment. "I dreamed a dream of time gone by. When hope was high and life worth living. I dreamed that love would never die. I dreamed that god would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid. And dreams were made and used and wasted. There was no ransom to be paid. No song unsung, no wine untasted. But the tigers come at night. With their voices strong as thunder. As they tear your hope apart. As they turn your dreams to shame. And still I dream she'll come to me, and we will live the years together. But there are dreams that cannot be. And there are storms we can not weather. I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living, so different now from what it seems. Now life has killed the dream, I dream."- Les Miserables. I would not wish the last few weeks of my aunt's life, of hell on earth, on anyone. There are dreams that can not be and storms that are almost impossible to weather. She had so many dreams left to share. But I am trying to focus on the ones she DID get to live.

My Aunt gushed over me and told me often what a character I was. She avidly protected and laughed at my fierce individuality and innocence. When I was seven, Auntie Donna came to me elated, "Sweetheart, guess what? I am going to have a baby!" Later she laughed and said, "Now don't you get jealous on me. You are still gonna be my sweet girl too, no matter what baby I have, but it will be like you get another special younger sibling to look after." My dark haired, elven cousin entered the world months later and I was enamoured. And also slightly jealous but my seven year old self got over it. My aunt predicted that one. She knew me well in that regard as her intense, scorpio niece. But she still made room for me though all of her being went into her little girl. The dream she dreamed became reality when she held her little bundle and her life was never the same. Her beauty can be seen through my cousin in so many ways. Her light is carried on within the life of her daughter.

Another phrase of my Aunt's was, "And don't ever forget to wipe off your face at night. Or else you will look like me! Always take off your make up honey. Wash and freshen up for a new day." (My dad snapped the blurry picture above when we were camping. I was a teen and even in the outback I was fastidious about my facial routine thanks to my aunt.) She passed the same practical wisdom on to my daughter. And really, when I think about it, it's also a bit of a philosophy. To wash off the grit and old bits and take a moment to savour the golden hours of life as one hopefully anticipates the next day.

Auntie Donna, how wonderful life was when you were in it. You contributed to so many people and their lives. You lived and owned every second that this world could give. I admire your strength and am in awe of the dignity you could muster through your varied trials. We mourn you. But we also celebrate you. Goodbye my rockstar aunt with the dyed red hair, beautiful make up, super sass, and large heart. Thank you for all you did to support, teach and love me and my family. We will remember. xoxo

2* Happy Sad- Kacey Musgraves

3* Rainbow- Kacey Musgraves

4* Oh What A World- Kacey Musgraves

5* Love is a Wild Thing- Kacey Musgraves

6* Oh Donna-- Ritchie Valens

7* Your Song/ How Wonderful Life Is- Elton John

8*Wonder Woman- Kacey Musgraves

9* I Dreamed a Dream- Idina Menzel and Lea Michele


calledtoquestion said...

When the memories pour in, worse the pain gets. When you let them flow through you, by writing or sharing, it helps relieve the pain. The ache seems to never leave but it is an ache that the body and mind can build upon. Thanks for sharing.

sn said...

What a beautiful tribute to Auntie Donna and to Jess! Thank you for sharing your stories and your pictures, She is forever loved, never forgotten. She loved you, the love of your life and your children so much. She treasured every moment she ever had with you. Thank you for your beautiful words of love. ❤️

Anonymous said...

I love your email.Made me cry.
Last night I can't sleep here at work keep closing my eyes but all I can see is her face smiling at me.I read every single word you wrote on that.And looking on all the pictures.I have mixed emotions - AnaL.

Anonymous said...

I read it and it's beautiful!! Thankyou love u - GRandma T

Anonymous said...

This is a really lovely post about Aunty Donna. It never really clued in for me about all that time before I was born that you had with her and how close you guys are. I’m sorry that this is hard for you too and that because we’re trying to offer love and support to others who are more directly affected like everyone here, what we’re going through can get glazed over.
I’m glad you guys were able to have a nice time out at Greatest Showman yesterday. Know I’m thinking of all of you because you have 2 wonderful women on your minds this weekend. ( your mother in law and auntie Donna)

💕 A.N.

Kmarie said...

C2Q: Wise words. Thanks love. xo
Sn: I wrote a post because its how I process but I was worried it was too fresh for people closer to the situation to read thus I sent warnings but gave it for later cuz it has pictures. I want to be sensitive to the journey of others while still honouring mine. Yes, she always made it clear how very special I was to her, and my children like her grandchildren and husband like another son. That was very precious. My heart goes out to Jess, Grandma and you especially. Losing an only sister, a mother and best friend, and a daughter is a different sort of grief. I hope you can also remember how special you were and that you carry her in your heart when it gets to be overwhelming. That before she got sick she was an avid lover of all things good in life and would also want you to enjoy that once your initial shock and deep grief is journeyed through. Words are not sufficient for your loss. Xo
AnaL; I am glad you loved it. Awww yea mixed emotions. I'm sorry for your sleep and also loss. You are a very sweet hearted person. She absolutely adored u and thought u were gorgeous. she told me. xoxo
Grandma: The biggest loss in the world is losing a child. Even more than a mother though that is the next terrible thing along with spouse. I hate that you had to live nine months watching and helping her in her agony in your “golden years” If I can pass on any of my grace it would be to you, mom and Jess. Grief can not be compared really, but there are people closer to the situation that carry the deepest war wounds. I am so sorry for your loss. I am glad you found it beautiful. Love you too.
A.N.- We have different stages in life and my first 14 years were heavily shaped by her...along with a few of the early years of my children's lives. Yes, we were closer and when I reflect back there are so many good memories. That is ok, you are where you need to be for the people who are more directly affected. That is important. I can deal and I truly feel that while my emotions are legitimate ( and thank you for validating it- had me teary) I KNOW that my grief is not the same and does not require the same amount of support. You are where you need to be. But thanks for the support.
We had a lovely time catching the show one more time in theatres! I am glad you guys could go too and get a break from life. Art and music really are healing.
Thank you for your thoughts. Yes this weekend is tougher due to the death anniversary of mom and the affect especially on the children and husband. I didnt have to go through this much loss at their ages. I feel for that. They are worried every March or ever 2 years in Spring they will have to deal with a loss. That is hard to compute at younger ages...but they are doing well in general and thank you so much for your thoughts. That is deeply appreciated. xoxo

S said...

I feel every word of yours... I also have an aunt and have many strikingly similar connection with my aunt. I spent my childhood years with my aunt in her home. I stayed with my aunt ( instead of my mom ) during my school days because there was good educational facilities in the town where my aunt lived. A few days ago, she has been hospitalized and is now struggling with heart issues. Many memories kept flooding and triggering me. The relationship however changed over the years, although love never changed. I have this urge to make her happy again but then I am not sure how. Things have changed so much. I just silently pray for her well being and am grateful for those fond memories of childhood. Inside me, there is a tremendous urge of "doing" something to make things like they were once before. Do you feel the same too, and if yes, what do you do ? But most importantly, do you think that we can really "do" something or do you think that being grateful is all we can do rather than putting more effort to make somebody happy. Hope you are getting what I am trying to say.
I am fortunate to have a glimpse of your childhood photos. you were so sweet and innocent !
May your aunt's soul rest in peace.

Kmarie said...

S: Thank you. I am sorry that your aunt is struggling. She sounds like a beautiful person. Yes, the relationship does change. I had a few phases with my aunt and the earliest is my most treasured, yet she was still a beautiful person. Things do change. That is sweet that you do that...Yes, I do feel that. I tried to be there on the phone when I could, or send money if I could afford it or gifts, or a kind email...but other times I just try to honour people by living my best life with my children and husband if I cant do anything... YES- being grateful is huge... I do understand what you are saying. Yes, I hear I was super sweet and innocent, and old soul with a little bit of fiery spunk.
Thank you very much for your words xoxxoxo

Stephanie Steeves said...

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your auntie. What a beautiful tribute to her. I'm thinking of you and your family during this time of grieving and healing.


Kmarie said...

Hey Steph:)
What a pleasant surprise to find part of your beauty on here :) I deeply appreciate your thoughts. Thank you for your kind words. I hear that a baby is on the way for you!!! CONGRATS! I will never forget when I was 6mo pregnant and you said you hoped you would look as stylish as me when pregnant- and I KNEW without a doubt you would be a stunning preggers! You are going to rock at being a mom. It's one of my favourite life roles (although it didnt start out that way for me) but now I ADORE it and I know you will too. I got a little caught up in the fact of seeing your familiar name and the lovely thoughts and memories that went along with now re reading your comment- yes, my aunt was a beautiful person. I especially feel for those more directly involved like her daughter, sister and mom...but it was also a loss because she was so much more than an aunt sometimes. I know what it's like, from my hubby losing his mom, in a way to experience second hand debilitating grief...and I hope for all involved that it has moments too of healing. I do appreciate you stopping by:) And I love that we have reconnected via another media forum. I look forward to a bit more interaction in the future and resuming our friendship so to speak. Seriously was on a high all day!:)