Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers, My Bonnie

Benevolent

It was my mother who taught me to watch the signs, to wink at the synchronicities, to see all things, even the inanimate, in possession of soul, and to view the world, despite its imperfections, as she was herself, despite hers—benevolent.

Her life and that of my youngest crossed paths, for a single month, and now, eighteen years later, when he has unexpectantly returned to the nest, we embarked on an epic road trip, covering 8 states and 1,900 miles in under a week. Because we could.

Because one of my youngest cousins was getting married in Tennessee. Because the groom and his friends were scientists & engineers (& goofy & interesting) like Aidan aspired (and now needed encouragement) to be.

We drove west out of the Green Mountains into New York, past Albany. “I’ve never been this far west,” Aidan said, and he was right, but still this surprised me because hadn’t I’d lived in the Rockies as a kid and returned as an adult, and hadn’t Aidan always been with me?

“I can’t believe there is all this country I’ve never seen,” he said, “Now I have to go everywhere.”

I chose this westerly route at the advice of friends to avoid the traffic around New York and Philly and DC, and Aidan heartily endorsed a longer route once he realized that we would pass Scranton.

“Scranton!” he said. “Scranton, PA?!!”

His enthusiasm was unfathomable as was his request to stop there, particularly when he showed such little interest in a detour to Monticello on our way south.

“Dunder Mifflin is in Scranton,” he said.

We continued past Scranton (though I took photos at his request), traveling south on Interstate 81 for an audacious 678 miles–through Pennsylvania and into Maryland and West Virginia.

We took turns with our respective audiobooks. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” (which he downloaded “for me” because he had already read it three times), and “Half of a Yellow Sun,” by the phenomenal Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which was the more captivating of the two (in my opinion.)

The next morning we drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains in a snowstorm, with elevations exceeding 2,500 feet, which is where we found ourselves, stuck behind a box truck whose cargo caught my attention and grief, just as the characters in “Half of a Yellow Sun,” professors and parents and school children, found themselves steeped in the trauma of war.

“What is that?” I said. “Chickens?”

“Turkins, maybe,” Aidan said, navigating into the passing lane.

“It’s so cold out. Why would the truck be open like that?”

“There’s no company name on it,” Aidan said as we passed.” They don’t want to advertise.”

I snapped a photo of the cages, thinking there was beauty in the angles and color and light even as it pained me to see it, and thinking that I wanted to share what it is we do to animals before we eat them.

“This is why we get our food locally,” I said, as the truck faded from view, and Aidan nodded his head before pushing play on his second book, another Neil deGrasse Tyson’s, a new one that he hadn’t read: “Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military.”

All of this cast a spell on the afternoon–the high elevation, the wind, the snow, the chickens or Turkins, the war in the novel and the alliance between profit and killing.

“Let’s listen to the radio for a while,” I suggested, hoping to lend a sense of place, but it was then that the announcer said, “The poet Mary Oliver had died.”

This darkness stayed with me as we crossed into the Smokies and then it receded when we arrived at the site of the 1982 World’s Fair, and took the elevator to the top of the Sunsphere where dozens of relatives–uncles & aunts, nieces & nephews, siblings & grandparents–gathered inside a 360-degree view of Knoxville, Tennessee.

By the time Aidan and I left Knoxville three days later for the long drive home, we knew our way around town and had each found our favorite coffee shops–his downtown, sleek and minimalistic, and mine comfortable and homey in the historic part of town.

Our return trip was delayed by weather and so before we left Tennessee, I found us an establishment that served chicken & dumplings (in the town where Dolly Parton was born in fact, on her birthday weekend), and this meal nourished and delighted us, even the next day, as set out north on 81, out of the Smokies again, listening solely to “Accessory to War,” because the extra day meant that my library loan had expired.

We moved at a clip with Aidan was behind the wheel again, insisting on doing all the navigating himself, as he had throughout the city.

“There’s an accident up ahead,” he said, pointing to the GPS. “But this is still the fastest route.”

The traffic slowed as we approached the scene and I felt how strange it was to move in procession among the eighteen wheelers who had been such a nuisance on our journey, though there were fewer because it was MLK Day.

Their gray somber pace reminded of the teenage sport’s team who arrived at the funeral parlor, heads bowed, uncharacteristically subdued, outfitted in suits instead of cleats, as they walked past the coffin which held my lifelong friend, who died this very weekend, an unfathomable two years ago, for whom the site of the box truck with the chickens or the Turkins, would have been unbearable, so large her heart for the creatures among us.

The accident, if that’s what it was, seemed to have occurred on the soft grass up head between the north and south lanes of the highway, but I didn’t see any vehicles as we approached.

“I think it’s construction work,” I said, pushing pause on Aidan’s audiobook. But as we passed the site, he said something chilling, just as I realized it too.

“The chickens.”

The cab was barely recognizable, but the birds were.

I remember holding Aidan in my arms while my mother took her last breaths. I never understood why my sister needed to photograph even this, but those photos became precious touchstones of life, of loss, of love, and the benevolence of all that is, her passing, his arrival. Her dying palm cradling his newborn head.

We drove in silence for a good while as we continued on 81 through the Smokies and when we pulled over at a rest area just across the border in Virginia, Aidan asked if I would drive.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Losing a friend

Journey with an old classmate

July 5, 2018

We share the same name.

I remember her as wild and audacious at a time when I was the new girl at her Catholic High School, hesitant and introverted.

Decades later, she messaged me when I was the new middle-ager arriving on FB, and I was surprised to learn that she (like me) was fully adulting–not only as a wife and mother (unimaginable!) but as a widely, impactful professor (more unimaginable!)

Given the limitations of “knowing” someone within the confines of a high school uniform, I was further delighted to discover that beyond her memorable snark and comedy, there was a kind, tender and thoughtful soul–revealed in her very private responses to my very public writing–which I received from her from time to time in messages and in delightful hand-written notes and even in that rare in-the-flesh connection when we shared a pew or two back east.

She is still passionate about horses and friends. And now her 3 children. Her husband. Her work.

Looking back to high school, I can see passion as her sustaining quality. Living large. Gusto.

It’s hard to imagine such a life/light vulnerable.

The love shining back at her in this moment is exponentially large.

Send yours if you will out to Washington state.

May we all step inside this light of connection to hold and be held in times of difficulty.

ps. Kelly, our name means WARRIOR.

~

July 6, 2018

My first Cortado.

What I loved about youth was the way i could throw it all away. Sex with a total stranger on a ship crossing the channel. Tequila shots from Kass’s pump. Pool crashing and star-gazing with another’s lover. All night pillow talk. Another party. Another concert. Another city. Another train. Another friend of a friend’s couch. Hitchhiking. Road tripping. Heading out for a season in the Rockies.

There was so much life on the table that there was plenty to waste.

A high school classmate took a fall on Tuesday. A car accident on the side of the road. An overdose. A suicide. An empty nest in August.

In 2 weeks I’ll see my oldest friend.I want to wrap my arms around her and not let go.

Maybe I should have ordered the Flat White.

~

July 8, 2018

ARIA

This morning in my Facebook feed. A highschool classmate with whom I share a name. She took a fall on Tuesday beside her horse.

This morning we hear from her husband through a friend:

Kelly has taken the next step in her adventure… with strength and grace and beauty, as always.

And just as my heart collapses for him and their 3 children and Kelly’s life ending at 54, the very next post I see is that of a newborn.

The baby of my cousin’s daughter.
Arrived this same week.
“Aria,” they call her.
An operatic solo.

And isn’t that just like Kelly, as testimonied by friends and family and students and colleagues–near and far–past and present–as together we prayed/hoped/shouted/danced for a different ending than the one we’ve been given just  now.

~

July 9, 2018

Take a walk

Her husband writes:

Good morning to everyone, and peace be with all of you. I’ve picked up Kelly’s phone this morning for the first time, and I’m not Facebook savvy. I’m hesitant to post because I don’t want to stop the flow of love and remembrance and tributes and photos and stories. So don’t stop.

I’ve only read a few posts, and been deeply moved, to laughter and tears and admiration, by all of them. I will read them all, eventually, but know that the kids and Kelly’s enormous circle of friends are following right along.

Kelly loved life, and so many people, as fully as she could, and these last few days have shown all of us that her connections are even broader and deeper than any of us realized.

For today, and tomorrow, and as long as you can, keep her in your hearts, and live by her example, loving deeply, laughing often, reaching out, bringing together, questioning, wondering, inspiring, reading, mentoring and collaborating and learning, and walking in the light, both literally and spiritually.

(Our family) treasures these memories you are sharing. Keep it up.

Peace be with all of you. Now go take a walk, and take Kelly with you…

~

July 9, 2018

Post from a colleague:

July 10, 2018

Good morning!

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

There’s been some conflicting information about Kelly’s accident, so hopefully a few details will at least help make sense of what happened, if not why.

…On a beautiful Tuesday evening she picked up her horse from the trainer where he’d been while she was away. Since she was looking forward to riding in the Albion, WA 4th of July parade the next day, she led Eddie on a walk around the neighborhood — on foot. About a quarter-mile from home, walking into a slight ditch, her feet slipped from beneath her, and she fell with her head hitting the ground first.

The impact left a small bump on her head, but initiated massive internal bleeding, which led to profound and irreversible damage. She walked her horse home, put him out in the pasture, came inside, grabbed an ice pack, called to (our kids), and they decided to take her to the emergency room. She lost and never regained consciousness before she got to the hospital.

Pullman Regional immediately called LifeFlight for transport to Sacred Heart in Spokane, but all of the neurosurgeons agree that nothing could have been done outside the first 10 minutes or so, and in that window Kelly was still walking with her horse in the Palouse hills she loved so well.

Because Kelly was young, strong, healthy, and possessed of an indomitable will to live, she defied predictions for several days, which allowed her family and many friends to say goodbye to the woman they loved and admired. She passed peacefully as first light filled the sky.

Please keep her in your hearts, and keep the memories and tributes and photos coming. They are a treasure and a blessing and a solace and a smile to all of us who knew and loved and worked with Kelly, from family members and lifelong friends to casual acquaintances and professional colleagues.

Peace be with all of you.

~

July 11, 2018

A young friend of Kelly writes:

So apparently, Kelly has made it through orientation in record time (as expected) and the admins in heaven are letting miracles and moments like this bless our lives down here.

~

July 11, 2018

Her huband writes:

Good morning!

We are working on plans for a celebration of Kelly’s life — as soon as we have things figured out, they will be posted here as well as other sites. You Facebook readers will be some of the first to know.

We are also working on details of a memorial fund to, as Provost Dan Bernardo puts it, ‘perpetuate Kelly’s legacy at WSU.’ We are all sorry that the WSU family only had a year of Kelly’s enthusiasm and action and vision as Vice Provost, but we are hopeful her memory and momentum will be carried forward. Details as they become available.

Make sure to take a walk today, even if it’s just around the block.

 

~

July 12, 2018

Better for a while

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

We are very close to finalizing the details for a celebration of Kelly’s life and legacy…

Sharing this song this morning, because it feels right. It’s a favorite of ours. It’s for all of you, who ‘make it seem better for a while.

~

July 13, 2018

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

Here are the details, press release-style:

Dr. Kelly Ward, Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Recognition at Washington State University (WSU), passed away on July 8, 2018.

A celebration of Kelly’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, August 4, 2018 at 2:00 PM in the M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom in the Compton Union Building (CUB) on the WSU campus in Pullman, Washington. A reception will follow at the Lewis Alumni Centre, also located on the WSU campus. Program details for both events will be finalized and released in the near future.

The Funeral Mass for Kelly will be celebrated at 7 PM on Friday, August 3rd at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman.

Gifts in memory of Kelly can be sent to the “Kelly Ward Legacy Fund” at the WSU Foundation (https://go.wsu.edu/kelly-ward-legacy-fund). The Kelly Ward Legacy Fund has been established for the advancement of women faculty at Washington State University. The Office of the Provost will work with the Association for Faculty Women and the Commission on the Status of Women to ensure that Dr. Ward’s legacy continues in perpetuity.

For those traveling to Pullman, hotel blocks have been reserved at the following locations:

July 14, 2018

She listened to the end

Her husband writes:

Good morning!

I promise I won’t keep doing this every day, but it’s therapeutic. I’d love to talk and write with so many of you, so this is a small step…

Yesterday I moved the truck back to its spot beside the barn – Kelly had left it in the usual location for unloading horses. I knew from a message that she had been ‘jamming’ to music as she drove home Tuesday night, and as I turned on the CD, it switched from track 6 to track 7, so I know that this is the last song Kelly listened to, and that she listened to the end.

July 15, 2018

Surrender

Her husband writes:

Good Morning!

…Kelly and I have lived together since 1991, and she has written in her journal every day. I have NEVER seen any of the entries. Last night, while putting something away, I saw the book on the bedside and looked at the final page.

These are the last words Kelly wrote to herself that Tuesday morning:

‘Do not be held back * Surrender the material’

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Lila Stories

The End… of everything.

McDonalsThe sun was strong. Just right for July. Summer’s peak. Like me, at 14.

We stopped at McDonalds along the way. I got my own fries. (Daddy wasn’t there to say, “Share.” )

I got a milkshake too. (Daddy wasn’t there to say, “Absolutely not.”)

I’d been living like this for a month. No parents. No little sisters. Just me and Linda and Larry who lived in the officer’s quarters attached to ours. (They even gave me my own room.)

Daddy finished up his commitment to the army in early June and packed up the house to join my grandfather’s practice at the shore. Mommy and my sisters went too. Everyone was finished school, but me.

I stayed behind to face my first set of Regents exams. Three years earlier, we were transferred from Denver, and it took me awhile to find my academic stride. Just as I did, it was time to leave the small base school at West Point in order to enter the large public high school in Highland Falls. The hallways haunted my dreams. The throngs of beards. The cleavage. The smoking room. The changing room. The parking lot. Tori’s perfect everything.

Linda helped prepare me for Math. She was a professor at the Academy, and she got her colleague next door to help me with my French. I aced EVERY ONE of those Regent exams.

On the last day of school, I moved from Larry and Linda’s to my best friend Janet’s house at the bottom of the hill where the enlisted men were housed. Janet and I made the base ours that summer. Traipsing around town on the buses, shopping at the PX, baring our new bikinis at Delfield Pond.

I still remember the moment. Big Boys Don’t Cry was playing on the tiny transistor radios. I was heading toward the high dive. A line of cadets lifted their heads from their towels as I passed by.

“Why are we going to the airport?” I say.

Linda and Larry called Janet’s house that morning and told her mother that they were coming to get me.

“Because your father’s flying in for the day, and he wants you to meet him.”

“Why is flying in?” I say, as I lick the salt from my fingers.

“There was some kind of accident. A higher-up. He asked for your dad.”

Linda and Larry are lying, but I don’t notice.

I sip on my shake. They ask if I’m excited about next week–my first time as a Counselor in Training at West Point Youth Camp where I’ve been a camper the past two summers.

They tell me about their time in the Peace Corps. How they traveled the world. I decide that I want to be just like Linda and Larry when I grow up.

The conversation stills as we approach the airfield and park the car. I grab my shake as we head inside the small terminal. Floor to ceiling windows look out over the runway and I watch as a small plane lands and taxis in.

I open the glass doors and step outside, shielding my eyes from the sun.

I feel the saliva stretch between my mouth and the straw as I toss the cup into the trash bin beside me.

When I see my father jump out of the small plane and head toward me, I bound down the wide set of cement steps.

And then it’s over…

Everything.