An Artist's Quest

Birthdays and Deathdays

Last Wednesday we practiced a tradition that we have been performing for the past five years we celebrated the birth of my husband Jack’s mom, and my dear friend Leonora.  We began the tradition six years ago, a year after her death, to mark the building of the Trail-side Sanctuary.  The Trail-side Sanctuary is a lovely structure reminiscent of a Japanese tea-house built by local sculptor and woodworker Jordy Morgan.  Another artist Todd Reed crafted the massive ceramic altar in the middle shaped to bring to mind a chiming Japanese bell.  Each year to give thanks for her life among us we tromp out to the back acres, here at The Bishop’s Ranch, with buckets and brooms and rags to clean the Sanctuary.  We brush away the cobwebs and sweep out the oak leaves; we scrub away the bird dropping and toss out all the items laid in the altar over the year.  We start fresh.  We lay flowers in the alter bowl and this year we brought ginkgo leaves from the trees on the Ranch grounds that we planted in Leonora’s honor.  She loved the gingko tree and it’s beautiful leaves, and the ginkgo reminds us each year that her birthday is coming as the leathery leaves turn yellow and November works it’s way to winter.  Jack brings the martini shaker (a Leonora favorite) and we mix a martini for ourselves and pour one for her as well.  We give thanks and read a poem or sing a song.  Then, before we go, we pour the martini around the altar.  As in many years before we walk home in the waning fall light, the air crisp, scarves wrapped tight around our necks, throats thick and sore from memories and wishful thinking.

Back when we had the Sanctuary built to honor both Jack’s parents lives, we made a conscious decision to perform the ritual cleaning on their birthdays in November and May and not their death days.  Unfortunately, in the case of Leonora, the two are closely intertwined.  We celebrated her last birthday together and then just nine short days later she died.  The anniversary of her death is this Saturday.  The day after I post again. I struggle with this day, not wanting to pick the hard scab of this memory, not wanting to return to a frightening and confusing experience, a day where time slowed to a an excruciating crawl and an inevitable end.  Leave sleeping dogs lay as they say…but it won’t stay still, this dog of a memory. It wants to go for a walk, wants to bark and run.  I think it may be time to take it off its leash and see where it leads me.  I’ll let you know where this dog of a memory guides me on Friday.

5 responses

  1. Calen Swift

    Thanks for sharing the story of this lovely ceremony. I’m thinking of Leonora (as I do often), and will be all week.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:25 am

  2. Mary Thorpe

    It was lovely to take the trek to the Trail-side Sanctuary with you and revisit my many memories of Leonora. Those memories are warm and rich.


    November 29, 2010 at 11:54 am

  3. Siobhan

    I love the analogy of the dog of a memory wanting to be let out to bark and run! Thanks for the reminder to think of Leonora, and to be thankful for all the amazing gifts she shared with all of us.

    November 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm

  4. Julie

    I think about death all the time. It’s always there for me. I guess I’m at the age or the work I do. At 25 I was named, “chaplain of death” by my fellow interns at our hospital training because I had so many deaths on my “watch”. At 49, death is the next thing.

    oh, and that little cancer episode, gave me a little taste of the fragility of this time. Its just not permanent.

    I encounter the life flashing away from beings often. I also see babies born, life flashing in. Every year I re enact Jesus’ suffering and death. Come to think of it, every Sunday, his death is revisited. “Take this cup”, “body broken”.

    This life , this earthly life is about our death. To really participate in creation is to continually be recreated. The potter smashing us on the wheel to make a new pot. The grass blade becomes the rabbit when the rabbit eats it, the rabbit becomes the man when the hunter makes his rabbit stew. The man… when heaven breaks open and God…

    To become, to create is to die.

    So, what to do about the pain of the loss for those of us who remain the same.

    I miss Leonora. Her death was incredibly painful.

    Maybe its about letting the dog of a memory be a dog, it needs to be taken for a walk, its gotta bark or it gets destructive, it misbehaves and digs holes in your garden and chews up furniture. Dogs need attention.

    November 30, 2010 at 11:35 pm

  5. Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and remembrances, it eases the journey to share the load.

    December 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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