Tag Archives: Mama

Touched

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From their hands to mine…

Once upon a time, long, long ago, ladies wore gloves and carried handkerchiefs as part of their apparel for activities like church, shopping or lunch with other ladies.  It was a more genteel era, an age of structured dresses, pillbox hats and cultured civility.  I often wonder if I wasn’t born in the wrong time because I sometimes yearn for the days of gloves, hats and hankies.

As a lifelong collector with a large extended family, I have inherited some of my Granny’s, Mama’s and aunts’ gloves and hankies.  The detail and craftsmanship put into these tiny items is impressive.  Many of the gloves have decorative stitching or embroidery, and little bitty pearl buttons sewn onto the cuffs.  Most of the handkerchiefs boast intricate stitching and lace as well.

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From the research I’ve done and the variety of items I’ve inherited, there seem to have been specific occasions when a particular length of glove might have been worn, or when a certain hankie might have been carried.  Some of Granny’s handkerchiefs are decorated with motifs for Christmas, weddings or Valentine’s Day, while the gloves range from just-wrist-length to halfway up my arm.  Generally, the longer the glove, the dressier the occasion.  There used to be strict etiquette guidelines for such matters and those rules can still be found in old books and online.  It’s fun to look back at how fashion and manners used to be.

There are also treasure troves of items like these in antique shops, flea markets and on the Internet.  Vintage textiles fascinate me, and the gloves and handkerchiefs in particular, items that began as strictly utilitarian objects, started being decorated and embellished.  They became both useful AND beautiful, petite pieces of art, suitable for framing, shadow boxes and any other display method one can imagine.  I can only begin to imagine the stories behind these tiny treasures.

I guess that’s why the gloves and hankies from my family mean so much to me.  The stories that come with them are part of my heritage.  There were the gloves that I wore with my wedding gown that belonged to Mama, and to Granny before her.  Even though Granny had been gone for 13 years by the time my wedding day came, wearing her gloves made me feel like part of her was with me somehow.  Granny also kept her diamond wedding set tied into the corner of a little hankie when she wasn’t wearing them (which was most of the time because they were fancy and she didn’t want to lose them).  I wish I knew which hankie she used for that.  Before Jeff and I were married, his Aunt Ann made me a beautiful lace-decorated basket and pillow, and wiith it she gave me a handkerchief that had belonged to her mother, Jeff’s grandmother.  What a sweet and meaningful welcome into the family.  I carried it on our wedding day.

I can imagine the church revivals, weddings and funerals where those gloves were worn…the tears of grief and joy wiped from the cheeks of loved ones with those soft squares of embroidered linen and lace.  Ages later, I look at these mementoes and I feel the women of my family in the things that they once Touched.

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Pie Jesu…Blessed Jesus

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Faure’, John Rutter, Mama, Doc and me…

I can hardly believe that it’s been almost 30 years since British composer John Rutter was on campus at Carson-Newman for a choral workshop to introduce his English-language edition of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.  I was a junior, my junior voice recital was that same week, and I had the distinct honor of singing the soprano solo for the performance of the Requiem, under Rutter’s baton.

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I was in such a twitch in the weeks prior to the workshop and my recital, I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of the event at the time.  One of my professors told me later that she couldn’t believe I got through that week still standing.  Looking back, I realize it was by the grace of God and lots of caffeine!

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(Me singing the soprano solo in the Requiem, John Rutter conducting, February, 1985.)

That week was not my first experience with the Faure’ Requiem.  I had performed it in high school with Knoxville’s All-City High School Chorus.  The soloists were adults Dr. Gerald Ballard, the director, had brought in for the concert.  Dr. Ballard had been my Mama’s high school chorus teacher at the old South High School some 25 years earlier, so I knew him at first only through Mama’s recollections of him.  I later borrowed his Requiem score so I could have the Pie Jesu for scholarship auditions.  I misplaced it and then forgot about it until it surfaced some years later. I value it as a prized possession now, and pray that my inadvertent theft can be forgiven.

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The workshop/performance at Carson-Newman was a highlight of my musical life.  Singing a solo with John Rutter conducting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember.  “Doc” Eric Thorson had just the year before taken the reins of A Cappella Choir at school, and it was his responsibility to prepare us for Rutter’s arrival.  He told us that Rutter, being an Englishman, might be a more reserved conductor than we were used to, and to pay close attention to what could be very subtle cues from him.  As it turned out, John Rutter was a whirling dervish of a conductor, with flailing arms and an outgoing manner.

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(Rehearsal with John Rutter–I am the shortest one on the front row.  Some things never change.)

Flash forward to February, 1998, when once again I had the privilege of singing the soprano solo in the Faure’ Requiem, this time under Doc’s direction with Knoxville Choral Society.  My sweet-and-spicy Mama had died just a couple of months before, and looking back, I don’t remember what I was thinking auditioning for the solo that time except that I might not be in any shape to sing it.  Little did I know the gift God was about to give me.

Almost 13 years exactly from the time I sang it at school, I sang it once more.  The music itself was the same…but my understanding and experience of it were completely different.  Still very much in grief throes from Mama’s death, the text of the whole mass spoke to me afresh, particularly the words of the soprano solo movement, Pie Jesu.

“Pie Jesu, Domine,

dona eis requiem,

dona Domine, dona eis requiem,

sempiternam requiem.”

Blessed Jesus, Lord God,

grant them rest.

Grant them, Lord God, rest,

eternal rest.

At the end of Mama’s illness, she had suffered so much and was so tired. I told her that if she was ready and needed to go on, it was OK.  In my family experience and work with hospice, I’ve learned that it is important to give the patient permission to go; it can give them peace at the end of life.  My spiritual life during the end of Mama’s sickness was a bleak period when prayers didn’t happen so much as just anguished groans of my heart.  Had I been able to actually pray, it would have been for her suffering to end, for peace…for rest.

She died, and her rest finally came.  Standing on that stage at The Tennessee Theatre singing Pie Jesu once again, Faure’s music spoke peace to me as I took another step in my grief journey.  This is the power of Music…the power to heal, comfort, and transform our pain into something of beauty.

Tears Of A Clown

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When a helper needs help…

A couple of months ago, I found a little dead bird outside one of the large plate glass windows at work.  The windows are slightly mirrored on the outside, and birds fly into them from time to time, breaking their little necks.  This bird was exquisite and tiny, with greenish-yellow feathers on his back and wings, and a whitish breast.

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Outside he was intact, with no visible injuries.  So beautiful and small. But inside, he was broken.

I’ve been feeling like that lately.  Today was the 17th anniversary of Mama’s death, and the days of the week this year are the same as the year she died.  I remember things like this.  Plus, two days ago was a full moon, which in my experience brings on more vivid dreams.  Mama’s anniversary and the moon waxing toward full have brought on a lot of dead people dreams.  I’ve had dreams of Mama, Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha and Lola clustered very close together in the last couple of weeks.  Even Ernie The Wonder Beagle showed up in a dream.

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The people I am closest to know that I have a sensitive side; they’ve been subjected to it throughout our lives.  But, while I consider myself to be pretty transparent most of the time, I don’t expose my tender places a lot.  I’m a good listener (so I’ve been told, anyway) and more often than not, I am the person who offers the shoulder to cry on.  Even my Enneagram research bears this out.  I am an Ennea-type 2—The Helper.

And that’s great.  Most of the time.  But it is a mixed blessing.

Most of the time I am a jokester, a clown.  I laugh easily and usually I try to bring others along for a ride on The Goofball Express.  That is the side of myself I am most comfortable with other people seeing, and I think it’s the side they are most used to.

It’s hard for a clown like me to even NEED help, much less to ADMIT that I need it.  It feels naked, exposed.  It feels vulnerable.  I tend to be much more comfortable with the vulnerability of other people than with my own.

But clowns like me cry sometimes.  Our tender places need to be soothed and comforted.  I have struggled the past couple of days with grief and sad memories, feeling weepy and lonesome.  I told Sweet Pea a little while ago that sometimes I just get so tired of missing people.  He listened to me with loving concern and compassion, telling me there was no need to apologize (which I always do when I cry.  Old habits die hard, I guess.  My tears were generally not accepted very well as I was growing up, except by Aunt Ruby.).  He has dealt with many tears of mine over the years, and while it hurts him to see me hurting, he listens without judging.  It’s a priceless gift.

My bouncy, clownish self will return soon enough.  There are gag Christmas presents to give and ugly sweaters to wear.  There is music (and cake) to be made.   But this day…this day has witnessed the tears of a clown.

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Arms

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Memories of embraces past…

Tuesday, October 28, 1997 was one of the worst days of my life.  It was the day Mama went into the hospital.  It was the beginning of the end, of Mama’s life and of an era in our family.

At this time, on that night, I was at the hospital to spend the night with her.  It was a bad night for us both, for numerous reasons.  She was nervous and agitated, and the medicine given to calm her down only upset her stomach.

There are lots of things about her last month and a half of life that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  I was still trying to work during most of that time while staying as many nights as possible at the hospital.  Sleep-deprived and stressed out, I know there are lots if things I don’t remember now.  But I remember some moments with vivid clarity.

I remember people’s arms around me.  I remember the night Mama’s condition was so bad that they had to bring  a portable ultrasound up to her room because they needed to do tests and didn’t want to wait for transport to come and take her down because she was so unstable.  Jeff had come to visit both with her and with me, and her condition upset him.  That was his meltdown moment during the last of her illness.  He cried like his best friend was dying and I couldn’t offer him much comfort.  We just held each other.

Dad had spent Mama’a last full night with her at the hospital, and I came the next day to relieve him.  He left and I settled in to spend what turned out to be her last day at the hospital with her.  She was unresponsive, and not too long after I got there her breathing changed.  I know now that she was actively dying.  A nurse came in and asked how long her breathing had been like that, and I said about a half hour.  The nurse then told me that I could talk to Mama, hold her hand and pet her if I wanted to. She said she didn’t think Mama was in any pain and that she didn’t think anything was going to bother or disturb her now.  She told me she would check on us during the day and if I needed anything at all to just call.  She put her arm around my shoulder and just stood with me for a few minutes, saying nothing more.

Countless times during her hospital stay, people hugged me, squeezed me tight and infused me with strength for the battle.  Guardian angels from my own family held me close as we all cried with sadness over what Mama was enduring, and what we all knew was to come.  I never take a hug for granted anymore.  I know the difference it can make.

After Mama died, at the graveside after the service was over, people were starting to disperse and leave.  I sat by her casket for what seemed like the longest time, by myself.  I knew the cemetery people would make me leave soon, but I wanted to spend those last few minutes with her.  My cousin Van, a favorite person in my life who I don’t see nearly often enough, came over and sat down beside me.  He didn’t say a word.  He just put his arm around my shoulder and sat with me.  I never felt more loved, more understood, than I did at that moment.

Many times I have leaned on the arms of other people for strength and comfort.  I hope that my arms have provided strength and comfort for the people in my life as well.  I believe one of the most powerful ways God loves us is through the love of other people. As I have leaned into the arms of other human beings, I have felt the everlasting arms of God spoken of in the old hymn from my childhood.

 

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Lord of love, thank You for holding me with the arms of the people You have sent me when I needed them most.  Use my arms and hands to comfort, strengthen and encourage the people in my life who need to feel You in theirs.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

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Nostalgia has me going in circles…

I was invited, and very much looking forward to, a wedding this evening. However, my body had other plans. After a week and a half of not feeling well I finally dragged myself in to the doctor’s office today and left with a prescription for some strong antibiotics, as well as a medium-sized dose of self-pity. It’s very cold outside, and that cold seems to have seeped into my very bones tonight. Oh well, I thought, if I can’t be at the wedding of my two friends, at least ‘The Grinch” is coming on and I can enjoy that. Imagine my disappointment when, instead of the animated 1960’s television classic, the opening credits to the modern-day theatrical release blared from my TV screen. Not that there’s anything wrong with the movie, I guess. It just is not what I was expecting, and not what I wanted.

Hence this blog post. This time of year finds me revisiting Christmases of my childhood, youth, early marriage…ghosts of Christmas past, I suppose, the circle of years. I remember kid-Christmases with Reed and our cousins at our house on Ford Street and their house on Arnold Street, when dolls and teddy bears and toy trucks were the things our fondest little dreams were made of.

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I still have my last Christmas present from Granny before she died, a little black and white panda bear. It has a music box inside it that used to play “Frere Jacques”, but the winding key was lost decades ago. Later Christmases on Ford Street, and then on Denwood after the bridge took the Ford Street house, included a big supper with lots of family coming and going on Christmas Eve, which was always when we opened presents and had our gathering. Mamaw and Papaw would be there, after Dad or Reed would go and pick them up. Mamaw and Papaw were homebodies and often huffed and puffed about coming over, but they always had a wonderful time once they were there. One year I remember we all got watches for Christmas, Mamaw and Papaw included.

Often Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha spent the evening with us as well, contributing something to the dinner table and providing lots of love and laughs. A highlight for me was always after supper and presents, when we’d gather around the piano and sing. Mama always played beautifully and sang alto, and the rest of us harmonized on familiar Christmas carols and old-timey songs out the hymnbooks that are in my collection now. Aunt Martha singing “Ivory Palaces” echoes in my soul to this day, her sweet soprano drifting through the recesses of my memory.

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For a large part of my life, I was unaware that my Mamaw played both piano and organ.  Once she asked Mama if she could play the piano, and Mama said, “Why, sure, Mamaw, play it all you want!”  And she did, like a house afire!  This side of Mamaw was a revelation to me, and what a kick we all got from seeing and hearing her play with such vigor and pleasure.

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Papaw enjoyed our musical holiday tradition as well, often adding his voice to the female chorus.  Dad would usually sit reading quietly, and Reed generally took the pictures, including, I believe, the second and third ones posted here.  He was a photographer from a very young age.

Some of my Christmas gifts have been memorable, like the “watch” Christmas, and the year Granny gave me the musical panda bear.   One year Mama and Dad gave me my “hope chest”, a lovely cedar box with its natural striated red and golden grain left showing, a gift which made me weep with joy.  The year Jeff proposed and gave me my ring and the first place setting of our good china was a milestone Christmas, as was our first married Christmas when all I asked for was a good winter coat (which I still own and can once again fit into!).

Some years the gifts were quickly outgrown or forgotten.  Some gifts, I am ashamed to admit, were disappointing to me.  Looking at all the decades of Christmases, I realize that the true gifts did not come stowed under the tree wrapped in shiny paper.  The true gifts came as we made circles.  Circles around the supper table sharing food, laughter and well-worn family stories.  Circles around the piano, blending voices in harmony as we sang other well-worn stories from out of the hymnbooks.  Circles now incomplete down here because Mama, Mamaw and Papaw and The Aunts have gone to celebrate their Christmases in Heaven.  I look forward to the day when in Paradise every day will be like Christmas…when once again our circle will be complete.

Falling

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Why this is a hard time of the year…

I awoke to gentle rain this morning and would have loved to stay in bed, cocooned in sleepy warmth.  But there is work to be done and a living to be made, so I reluctantly dragged myself from my cozy bed and got my day started with the regular routine of vitamins, bath, makeup/hair and getting dressed and out the door.  Our Boy Roy is a morning dog, so as usual he got up when I did and kept me company as I went about my morning.

The rain intensified as I drove to work and as the rain fell, so, it seemed, did the remaining leaves on the trees.  It’s always a little sad when the last of the leaves drift to the ground, especially when a rain seems to beat them down prematurely.  But it is November, and the leaves can’t hold on forever.  The rhythm of the seasons is unstoppable, and as fall deepens and winter approaches, the last of the leaves must inevitably let go.

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This time of year brings memories of Mama in the hospital and a different letting-go process, as she began to release her earthly life and turn toward her Heavenly one.  From her hospital window we could see the shifting seasons as the vibrant autumn leaves fell softly from the trees outside, whipped by wind sometimes, or battered by rain.  Inside her room the only color seemed to be pale…pale walls, pale sheets, Mama’s pale face.  Her whole life she had been so vibrant, until sickness drained all the color out of her.

So it is with the death of the leaves in the fall, and with Mama’s dying process that I always seem to re-live at this time of year.  I like to imagine that Heaven is filled with all the beauty of all the seasons, all at once.  We can witness the majesty of snow without being cold, the rich reds and golds of fall, and spring and summer’s lavenders, pinks and greens will be more saturated than we can begin to imagine here, with no harsh winds or battering rains.  Our loved ones’ faces will be rosy and glowing with perfect health and wholeness, and the Sun of Righteousness will shine His radiant light throughout Heaven’s kingdom.

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Nine Diamond

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A quilting memory

 

Nine Diamond

The quilt patterns have all kinds of names
Dutch Doll and Dresden Plate
Flower Garden and 

Nine Diamond 

which I never understood because it was squares

I have a Southern Belle made out of Granny’s dresses

When I was little I watched my Granny sew
Little colored squares into
Bright patchwork patterns
On her aproned lap

Many nights I stayed up late
Talking, listening and laughing
With Mama and her sisters
As they sat in straight-backed chairs around the frames

Nimbly stitching through layers of gingham and calico
All the while
Sharing themselves with each other
And with me

“Measure twice, cut once, and
Don‘t be using your good scissors for anything else!
A number 7 needle is what you want to use, the kind
With the gold eye, if you can find them.
And don’t forget your thimble, it’ll save your fingers!”

Still, a thimble would eventually wear through and
That number 7 needle would prick a finger
Leaving a little blood-spot behind
Like a scar on the fabric

Sometimes the scar is what makes a thing
Most beautiful

 

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Hands That Loved Me

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Healing tears and comforting touches

This time 2 weeks ago we had just said goodbye to Aunt Ruby after spending the day at her bedside, keeping vigil and waiting for her to make her trip to Heaven. It seems both  like a lifetime ago and like it just happened.

 

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I cried little cries several times during that day, as we all did. And I cried when she left to go Home, as we all did. But I have not yet really broken down and had the big cry, the ugly one.

This is unlike me, and it feels like something is wrong. I realize that every loss has its own unique set of circumstances, and that grief follows no specific, or even logical, timetable. Having lost many loved ones in my life, having volunteered with hospice for several years and having completed a ministry course which put me face to face with people experiencing their own losses, my mind knows that I will process my feelings in their own good time.

I just feel…half-dead. I remember the events of the day clearly and vividly, the faces of my family as we all communed together in that sacred space, waiting and watching. I remember all of it. But my feelings have been feeling flat.

This loss hits me in a new place, as each new loss does. But this new place feels foreign, strange and unfamiliar in a way I can’t quite describe. I may need some help to sort this out, in the form of counseling or a major sabbatical from some of my volunteer activities…or both. Or something else. Or all of the above.

Of course, after Mama, (and sometimes even before Mama) the person I would talk to about this kind of thing would have been Aunt Ruby. Aunt Ruby told me when I was younger that it was OK to cry, and to just let my tears roll. She was the only person in my life who ever gave me this permission, and it was priceless. What I would give now to be able to sit at her feet, my head in her lap, and have her comfort me. I can feel her stroking my hair and hear her soothing voice telling me that it will be OK, that God gave us tears for a reason, that crying helps us to heal…to just let my tears roll.

And so they roll now. I didn’t start this post thinking that it would help the crying process to begin, but I am grateful that it has. I can feel Aunt Ruby with me as I sit here, telling me that it’s OK to let go, it’s OK to cry…and that I need to if I am ever going to heal. I don’t know if I will ever meet another person with her wisdom or her serenity, and I am going to miss being able to sit in her presence and enjoy those moments.Image

She possessed an enormous heart, a mind that never stopped wanting to learn, and eyes that always saw something worthwhile in me no matter what anyone else saw. And her hands sewed warmth and care into every piece of clothing and every quilt she ever touched, baked nourishment into every biscuit she ever served, and canned future provision and generosity into more green beans and tomatoes than anyone could begin to count.  She soothed my tears and fears with those hands.  Precious hands…hands that loved me.  Image

The Big Six

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The end of a generation…and time for the next one to step forward

My cousins, my brother and I are living in a different world than we were just 10 days ago, one with a giant hole in it.  The woman Reed and I called Aunt Ruby, and who our cousins called Mother, Mom and Mama, has gone home to Heaven.  I will write more about her, her living and dying, in a future post.  Right now I can still hardly wrap my head around the idea that she is gone.

Right now I just want to reminisce about simpler times with Reed and my cousins, to find comfort and maybe some smiles in my memories.  Debbie was born to Aunt Ruby and Uncle John first, and she enjoyed 10 years by herself with them.  Then Aunt Ruby and Mama started the family “baby boom”.  Mark and Reed arrived less than 5 months apart, then I was born less than 3 years after Reed, Alan was born 10 months after I was, and Haven brought up the caboose about a year and a half after Alan.  Poor Debbie sometimes got stuck with babysitting the remaining 5 of us younger kids! I can’t even imagine what that must have been like!  Image

We grew up attending the same schools because we lived close together.  Reed and I began going to church with Aunt Ruby and Uncle John and their kids when Mama was taking care of Granny and unable to take us to church herself.  Granny made Mama promise that she would take us when she was able to, and after Granny died, Mama kept her promise.  Aunt Ruby and Mama were very tightly bonded and, as a result, so were we, often functioning as a single group of siblings rather than two separate sets.

Often we would “swap a kid”.  Haven would come to spend the night with me on Ford Street and Reed would go to hang out with Mark and Alan on Arnold Street.  Or vice versa, with any configuration of kids at either place.  I know I spent almost as much time at Aunt Ruby’s house growing up as I did at my own.  It was equally home to me.

As we’ve grown older, our lives have taken off in different directions, and each of us has dealt with individual issues and struggles.  Life as a family is not always pretty.  And even though 5 of the 6 of us all live in the same town, we’ve been hard-pressed to get together as a group…unless someone is getting married or buried.  But I agree with the immortal wisdom of the Facebook quote that asserts, “Our cousins are the first friends we have”.  In our case that has been the absolute truth.

Aunt Ruby was the last of her siblings, her generation, to leave this world.  She and her sisters, “The Big Five”, left us a rich legacy of strength, craziness, laughter, tears and love to draw upon as our generation is forced now to step forward and pretend that we’re grown-ups.  I don’t know how all of that is going to work out…but I pray that we can be more diligent about gathering now and then, just to spend some time connecting with one another.  We’ve learned once again, all too poignantly, how short life is.  Image