Tag: grief (Page 1 of 2)

Twenty Years Is Both a Long Time and No Time At All

“In the language of the deaf, the sign for ‘remember’ begins with the sign for ‘know’: the fingertips of the right hand touch the forehead. But merely to know is not enough, so the sign for ‘remain’ follows: the thumbs of each hand touch and, in this joined position, move steadily forward into the future. Thus a knowing that remains, never lost, forever: memory.”
~~~ Myron Uhlberg in Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

Twenty years.

My daddy died died twenty years ago today, and I still ache with griefcrave one more hug, long to hear him call me Doll just one more time. Every December 2 I become a cauldron of grief – sorrow, anger, pensiveness, no sense of direction.  I usually spend the day doing soft, soulful things like writing, remembering, walking, but with the recent fullness of my life, I had no time to pre-plan. My waking thought was to read something written by someone else remembering and grieving for their daddy, and while that felt like a winner of an idea, what, exactly, I would read remained a question mark. Then, as Magic would have it, I went to the bookshelves in my studio this morning in search of another book for another reason, when the book aforementioned book  leapt off the shelf and into my hands.

It’s what I do.
It’s who I am.
Stories of remembering are my oxygen.

In August 2000, two weeks after delivering the book I wrote about my father-in-law to each of his children and grandchildren, Bones woke me up whispering, “Write a book about your daddy, and do it now.”

“Are you kidding me?” I countered. “I am exhausted, depleted, worn slap out.” (I kept the father-in-law book a secret even from Andy, which meant much writing at night) The Voice of my Bones was not amused or swayed, and I’ve learned (the hard way) not to argue with Bones, so the following week I began gathering stories, photos, newspaper articles, interviews, whatever I could get my ears and hands on, about my daddy. I wrote. I scanned. I wrote some more, and the Monday before Thanksgiving, off it went  to the printer and binder. Everybody in the family would receive a leather-bound copy of this 400+ page book of memories about Daddy.

Four days later – the day after Thanksgiving – Daddy fell, hitting his head. Hard.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I called Karen, the book binder. “I hear voices, you see, and well, Daddy fell last Friday and the voices I call My Bones tell me I need to get those books back asap. Can you help?” Without a single audible sign of exasperation, Karen said, “I can have one book to you on Saturday and the rest next Monday.”

First-Book-Arrives-Saturday started with all Daddy’s bells and whistles going off, his machine creating a cacophony of alert. I called family members. “If you want to see Daddy alive, you need to get here before noon,” I told them. They came trickling in. Friends followed. Finally, husband Andy and son Kipp walked in, brown package in hand.

In a rather bold move for a Southern girl raised to respect hospitality above (almost) all else, I asked the friends to  leave, gathered family around Daddy’s bed, and opened the package. I began reading at 1:05 p.m. A nurse stayed well past her shift’s end, keeping the machines shushed by holding her finger on the quiet button.

We took turns reading, arriving at “The End” at 4:50 p.m.

Daddy took his last breath at 4:55.

Though he never said a word, I know Daddy could hear his life review because from my position to the left of his pillow, I watched tears make their way down his face throughout the afternoon.

Take from this post whatever you will, just please promise me this:
~ If, God forbid, anybody you love should ever be in a coma or otherwise unable to communicate, take it upon yourself to make sure that only positive loving kindness is spoken within those four walls because I know – know to my very core – that they hear everything, and we all know that words are powerful.
~ You’ll take the time to capture your family’s stories. Start today. Record, write, ask, clip, copy, scan – gather and preserve those stories by whatever means available. You can shape them into narrative later, step one is to capture, and let’s face it: we never know. Preserving these stories will change your life (among other things, you will learn a lot about yourself) and future generations will call you good things and be forever grateful. Count on it.

If a Tree Falls in the Middle of a Waterfall, Does It Make a Sound?

a tree in bloom over a waterfall

View from my Studio Window, Before

She buds.
She blooms.
Over the course of ten days, she comes into her full glory. Every day I sit looking out my studio window, mesmerized at the splendor of her branches gracefully sheltering the spot my log once called home.

Today, as I eat a pack of crackers and call it lunch, I listen to Clarissa Pinkola Estes tell the story of her trumpet vine and how its raucous blooming annoyed the neighbor man. One spring he harrumphed over and asked her to cut it down. “I can’t do that,” she told him. “It’s an old vine. And beautiful.” One day she arrives home to find that the neighbor man has cut the vine down to the ground. And on her side of the fence, mind you. Once the initial wave of grief passed, she digs up the vine, plants the roots, and in a short while, the vine is growing again.

blooming tree lays across waterfall

blooming tree over waterfall


broken tree


I cover my mouth in horror of the neighbor destroying the trumpet vine, pick up another cracker,  and look back out at my tree of graceful blooms . . . to find it laying in the water. Tracing it back with my eyes, i see where the tree trunk snapped, the blooming limbs landing in the falls. Once again I cover my mouth in horror and disbelief.

Later, while I am on a business call, The Engineer and Mother  go out, cut off a few small branches, smash the ends, dip them in a root-activating powder, and plant them in soil. The trumpet vine grew back, so I’m hopeful these will begin to sprout, too. Maybe in a few years, I’ll sit mesmerized under the beautiful blooms framing the waterfall (I’m on my 17th day of yoga, so I might be able to get down and back up by then – it could happen.) I’ll spread out a quilt and picnic under the gloriously blooming tree, telling her the story of her grandmother who once thrilled my eyes and salved my broken, grieving heart with her beauty.

32: A Surprise Encounter

AlexFamily2 14 15

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So there I am, looking at pocketbooks, arguing with myself that I surely don’t need another pocketbook but gosh darn, it’s my birthday and I can be frivolous if I want to be, when a young teenage girl crosses the store to get to me and hands me a purple square of paper on which is drawn a heart holding these handwritten words: Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to love. Happy Valentine’s Day from Alex.

I want to know more, but she is gone. I don’t see her anywhere. I kick myself for not asking her what she was handing me. Eventually, though, I spot her and run to catch up. She is with a woman and a tall, lanky young man. “I’m curious,” I tell her. “What’s the story behind this valentine?”

The woman tells me that Alex is her son who died last October. His last words were “Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to love.” As she tells me more of the story, tears spill. I’m quite sure we’ll soon need to call for clean-up on aisle 14, and I don’t care.

“Today’s my birthday,” I tell her, “and this is the best gift ever.” Hugs are swapped and enthusiastic wishes for a happy birthday come from Alex’s sister and brother (who’s wearing a t-shirt with a photo of Alex on it, and you know, nobody thinks it the least bit odd when I reach out and touch the brother’s chest.)

Alex’s mother asks to take a photo, then more tears are shed and hugs exchanged before we part ways. I don’t even know their names, but Alex will live forever in the mind and heart of this woman called Jeanne who never had the honor of knowing him in this life.

Atlanta, GA

Today Alison and I go to the surgeon’s office on the twelfth floor to have the drainage tube removed from her throat. When the elevator doors open on the eleventh floor, a woman pushes a stroller from the back of the crowded elevator to the front, and as she’s exiting, I see that she’s wearing a shirt that says “Don’t forget to smile, Alex”.

It all happens so fast.

I see the shirt, the memory floods me just as clearly as if it happened yesterday. She pushes past me, exits the elevator cab, and in a split second decision, I go after her, turning around to hold the doors open long enough to assure Alison that I’ll be along in a few minutes.

“Excuse me,” I say to the young woman in the t-shirt. “I see your t-shirt, and well, last February on Valentine’s Day, a teenage girl stopped me in a store in Newnan to give me a purple piece of paper bearing those same words: “Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to love, Alex.'”

The young woman’s face lights up into a broad smile and in her best broken English, she says “That’s my sister.” She goes on to explain as best she can that the t-shirts and valentines are how Alex’s family deals with their grief and how they keep Alex’s memory alive. She reaches out and hugs me warmly just like her sister did 6.5 months ago.

And just as I did 6.5 months ago, I leave smiling and blessing Alex’s family for honoring his memory in such a fine, meaningful way and vowing that though I’ll never have the privilege of knowing Alex in this life, I’ll never forget him – memorializing him by remembering to love and remembering to smile. Seems a fine legacy to me, Alex. A mighty fine legacy.

An Improvisational Anniversary


I spy the leaf
as I walk to the truck
to begin our 12-hour ride.
Not the way I’d wanted to spend
the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s death,
but business meetings being what they are and all,
off we merrily go.

“Talk to me,” I pray silently to Daddy
as the sun stretches awake and water colors the sky.
“At least wave to me at 8 a.m. just to say ‘Hey’.”

At 8:00 a.m. on the dot,
(not knowing a thing about my secret ritual,
perhaps not even remembering the significance of today)
The Engineer pulls the truck into a Hardee’s,
the place where Daddy breakfasted with friends every morning.
“I’ll see y’all later,” the man in the John Deere hat says
as he exits the table.
“I’m gonna’ go do something bad enough to lift my spirits.”
I excel at eavesdropping.

As we ride down the country roads,
I remember . . .



the chicken houses and barns
my Daddy helped his daddy build . . .


how Granddaddy hired out his tractor
and his 12 year old son
to bale hay for neighbors . . .




the adorable little house
Daddy and his brother
built for their grandmother.
“We were just teenagers,” Daddy told me once.
“We didn’t know a single thing about building houses,
so we built Mimmie’s house right on top of the ground.
You never saw so many termites.”


I look at the water


the clouds


the early moon,
I watch the black bird in the morning
and the black bear in the evening
cross the road in front of us,
and I think this day is
the best conversation I’ve had with Daddy
in a long, long time.

It really is all we need, you know.



Alison’s recovery is nothing short of remarkable.
Yesterday, her surgeon came into room 713
and sat on the bed with Alison to remove the drainage tube.
Dr. Shaw: Now sing me an “eeeeeeee”.
Alison sang an “eeeee”.
Dr. Shaw, with a big smile on her face: “That was beautiful.”
Alison: “But it was only a G.”

Art and science collide.

Dr. Shaw,
the surgeon who loves science,
speaks in terms of the particular sound
that will allow her to gauge the performance of Alison’s vocal cords.
the professional singer with perfect pitch,
and for whom music is oxygen,
hears and responds in terms of musical notes.





This is a love story written by a friend and former coworker of my son, Kipp.

they helped make me who i am in ways i may never know


we’ll never know if granddaddy died on 12/19 or 12/20. he simply went to bed on the 19th and never woke up. the death certificate says 12/19, though, on account of that’s the date his son – my uncle gene – was killed years before. the town’s doctor (the small town wasn’t big enough to have a coroner – shoot, we were glad to have a doctor there) thought it fitting that father and son died on the same date.

GeneOnTractorPortrait001 copy


i still ache for them – all of them, even though uncle gene died before i was even an idea. i’m named after him, you know. there are still people around who actually knew him, and when i say “tell me about him,” the first thing they all say is “he was funny.” i have two lamps he made from turned wood, i have his wallet (complete with the photo of his girlfriend), and i have photos of him on a tractor – probably not the tractor he was using to pull up stumps when it flipped over on him, killing him. but maybe. i don’t know. granddaddy reportedly found him, shoved the tractor aside, then my wiry little granddaddy picked up my rotund 18 year-old uncle and carried him all the way back to the house. the next day, in a fit of grief, granddaddy drove a silver stake into the ground to mark the spot.



when i ask people what they remember about my granddaddy, they all – every one of them – say there wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body. that he was a good man. some even tell me about a time when he (the town’s banker) loaned them grocery money cause they left their checkbook at home. i have the clock that sat on his mantle; the tag he kept on his key chain asking finders, should he lose his keys, to return them to brooks bank; and i write sitting in the chair he sat in at the bank. it still has the original green leather.

nobody seems to know my grandmother very well. they tell me she was quiet. i remember her arriving home from a vacation, getting out of the car and walking straight across the street to see me – even before she went in her own house. later memories are of her being still, quiet, and lethargic, which i now know was a condition resulting from a series of strokes, but back then i didn’t know what was wrong until the day i was converting the pump house into a studio and got stung by wasps several times on each hand. by the time i got to the front door of our house, my hands had swelled up so much i couldn’t bend my fingers, and hurt – oh my goodness how they did hurt. then just like that, my little girl brain knew why grandmother sat quietly in the chair with a washcloth over her hands that were always idling in her lap. i spent three days like that, but the swelling went down, the pain subsided, and i was back out turning over bushel baskets upside down to become stools. grandmother never saw the results of my labor.

granddaddy and grandmother . . . well, if i ever walked as one who was once cherished, it’s because of them. they adored me, their first grandchild, and the feeling was mutual. they clothed me in ruffles and lace (i could seat 6 on the petticoats they bought me to wear under the dresses they bought me); shoes in every color; frilly fold-down socks; dozens of pairs of gloves. i even remember one dress – brown plaid. white collar with piping to match the dress fabric. sash. one of daddy’s favorite stories is of little me driving nails into the floor at granddaddy’s feet as he (granddaddy) sat in his rocker watching the news on tv. “JEANNE,” daddy said loudly, startling me out of my reverie. “junior,” granddaddy told him firmly, (daddy was named after granddaddy, and he hated being called junior, probably because he spent a goodly part of his life working to distinguish himself from his dad) “jeanne is in my room now. she can hammer wherever she wants to.” i rest my case.

i have lots of stories starring grandmother and granddaddy stored in my memory bank, but there are still stories i long to hear, questions i’d love to ask – questions and stories i didn’t know to ask back then.

i’m told that the internal voice that scolds me, saying i should not be living in the past or grieving because these people died long ago and besides, they weren’t my spouse or my parents or my children, they were only my grandparents. i’m told this is actually a caring voice, a voice that just wants to keep me safe. i’m told i should love this voice, thank it for protecting me, for caring so much about me . . . but i’m feeling more like thanking it through clenched teeth (by way of suggesting, you understand) to shut up and leave me to my grief and remembrances. i don’t care how long it’s been, i still miss them something fierce. and i don’t care about any alleged hierarchy of appropriate grief, they were my grandparents and we adored each other. and i don’t care that i never met my uncle, i can and do still love him and mourn him sight unseen.

maybe it makes sense on paper that i should be over this grief all these decades later . . . but on my heart, this grief will not be denied.

[ ::: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers has spent most of her life collecting photos, stories, and information about the day in May 1933 when bandits knocked on her grandparents door and held the family (grandparents, midwife, newborn gene, and 5 year-old crawford) hostage overnight until the bank opened the following morning. next year she intends to pull it all together, and she’s very excited about that because she knows that event somehow impacted her life, shaping her into the women she is today even though her daddy was only five years old at the time and not even thinking about girls and raising a family.

i miss him most on days that end in “y”


thirteen years. it’s been thirteen years since daddy died – and while it seems like the events happened yesterday or maybe just this morning, in my heart it feels like he’s been away forever. i must’ve been a better person then because i told him it was okay to go, okay to die, and i knew it was the right thing to do. but now . . . there are days i merely second guess myself; other days i despise myself for that. why didn’t i tell him not yet, to stay with us, that i still needed him?

i still talk to him, you know, writing him letters – sometimes carrying on conversations right out loud. every year on my birthday, i pen him a letter saying simply “daddy, you were once the age i am now – what would you like me to know?” eventually i will be the age he was when he died. people in his family are bad to die young and in december (a trend i fully intend to break). this year, on my big birthday, he told me to live – to cut loose and flat-out live. “what have you got to lose?” he asked, “the things you want to do don’t hurt anybody, so go on, doll, do ’em.”

other times i ask for other kinds of help – like a week ago today when i implored him to hold off the predicted freezing rain, sleet, and snow at least long enough to give us time to make the 8-hour round trip to pick up my son, his fiancee, and mother and deliver us all safely back atop the mountain for a week of thanksgiving togetherness. he obliged. on saturday when the congestion started, complete with sore throat and chills, i asked him to please make it so i’d feel better the next morning when the travel started to return everybody to their respective homes. even though i thought that request quite impossible, i woke up yesterday morning feeling fine and have ever since – no more coughing, no more scratchy throat, just enough congestion to allow me to sing my favorite songs without having to jump octaves. he still takes good care of me, daddy does, though i try not to impose too often because each request seems like i’m calling him in from the playground early.


it’s true: i can talk to him any time, but i want him here. i want him sitting at the table eating turkey. i want him touching his shoulders to his ears as he lets loose a belly laugh. i want him beaming with love and pride at kipp’s wedding next may. and don’t try telling me “he’s there” because i know he’s here in spirit, but i want to touch him. i want to feel his arms wrap me in a hug like nobody else on earth can do. i want to sit next to him and have him tell me his plans for the future and listen to mine, giving me his support for those he considers good ideas, candidly expressing his doubt or dislike for ideas he considers cockamamie. i want to talk to him, laugh with him, hear him tell me stories.

twice i’ve felt his rough, pudgy hands in dreams, and though it’s not nearly enough, i’m grateful for those two visits, hoping, hoping, hoping for more every night as i close my eyes.


he’s enjoying his life now, wherever he is – he’s told me as much in a variety of ways – and i know that i’m supposed to be happy about that . . . and i am . . . but oh good lord how i do miss him. right down to the cellular level there this deep, profound ache that varies in intensity, but never really totally disappears. i miss him part of every minute of every hour of every day, and i miss him most especially on the days that end with “y”.

[ ::: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is not ashamed to tell you that she will always be her daddy’s doting little girl, and that her daddy will always be her Hero. Always, I tell you.

Pull Your Soapbox Right On Up To The Table



A day we Americans stop and pause in a moment of silence, in a day of remembering.

Let me be clear about this: I mean no disrespect when I tell you that as much as I enjoy the stories of where you were and what you were doing when you heard, I want more. I want to remember with a wider lens. I want to move forward as we look back. I want . . .

I want to know what you learned on That Day or because of That Day.

I want to know how you changed since 9/11. I want to know if it’s a lasting change or was it a well-intended but short-lived change.

I want to know how you think our country changed on That Day and if you think it changed for better or for worse.

I want to know how you think the world changed on That Day, and again – did it change for better or for worse?

I want to know why countries and people can’t leave each other alone to live according to their own belief and economic and political/governmental systems. I want to know why people don’t just move to another location that suits them better rather than strike out in a desire to take down those who would not be, think, or worship like them. I want to know why it’s not enough to live with Epictetus’s notion in mind that a noble life is one spent being the best woman, the best man you can be. I want to know what it will take to end the conquering mentality, the arrogance of my-way-or-the-highway mindset.

I want to know how we teach people that the way to change an undesirable life is to push up your shirtsleeves and get to work changing what you don’t like about your current situation. Will that be easy? Most likely not. But since when do we turn away from hard work? Which reminds me of another thing I want to know: when did “earn” become a 4-letter word?

I want to know how – on a community level, state level, national, continent level – we instill in ourselves and our children open-mindedness, and not just a tolerance but a love for difference and individuality. How? Tell me how. Please.

So much of what we hear and read today will be about lives lost on That Day. I want you to tell me about your loved ones (people and/or pets welcomed) that have died. Maybe they died in that horribleness we’ve come to call 9/11. Maybe they died somewhere else for some other reason on that infamous day. Maybe they died before the tragedy, maybe they’ve died since. Tell me about them. Tell me why you miss them and how they touched your life. Introduce me to them and tell me why you wish I could have known them. Tell me and know that your missing them today does not in any way diminish the tenderness we feel for all those who lost their lives and whose lives were irrevocably changed on That Day.

[ :: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers has a wildly inquiring mind. Always has.

I Don’t Know if This Is Going To Make Any Sense at All


It’s been years – eons, it seems – since I felt anything resembling Christmas spirit. Every year I make half-hearted attempts to try to figure out why, but I mostly just keet putting one foot in front of the other to get through, pasting on that smile and doing what I think will make everybody else happy. This year, though, I feel an ole’ familiar flutter, a stirring, a quickening that I vaguely recognize from many years ago. I pass a mirror and am surprised to see myself smiling. I play and dance and I even sing Christmas carols.

Yes, really.

I feel peace and I feel contentment, and I’ll take those two things over happiness any day of the week. On the way home from a glorious day spent in Asheville with my husband and our children and their friends, I think about that, pondering what’s the difference. Wondering what magic ingredient is here this year that’s been absent the past umpteen years. What’s different? Maybe it’s an age thing – there’s no doubt my clock is ticking – but I think it’s mostly something else.

This past year, you see, I kicked the shutters off my heart, opening up to the sorrow I’ve long been trying to outrun or shove aside or leave on the side of the road. I sat with the sorrow. I went to bed with it and I woke up with it; I spoke to it and I listened to it. I stitched it and wrote it and invited it to tea. I grieved, and I grieved long. And hard. And deeply. It was a generalized grief and a broad grief, a mourning for those lost, for time wasted, for loss of my space, both physical and personal. I missed my daddy, my Aunt Rene, and my children, Alison and Kipp. There was a deep well of unspent grief for me to draw from, and though I did keep functioning (on most days, anyway), I didn’t rush my way through it, and you know . . . I think it’s that opening to sorrow that has made all the difference.

Oh don’t get me wrong, sorrow is still with me, quietly accompanying me, popping up when I hear Silent Night (the song we sang as we exited Daddy’s funeral) and when I realize that I’ve lived over half the Christmases I will ever know. Tears are precariously near the surface as I hear my children poking and kidding each other and laughing with their friends; when they stop what they’re doing and walk over to give me an unsolicited hug; when they ask to do something the way we’ve always done it. I think about how they are young adults living their own independent lives now, and I’m touched by their willingness to leave some of the burdens of adulthood at the door and come into the world of being a child again. I see them looking at me through different eyes, and I imagine them being impressed even if just a wee little bit to now see their mother as an independent woman who devoted a big chunk of her life to them and did so willingly and lovingly. Their dad comes over in the midst of the delightful hubbub to kiss me, and we linger in the embrace, knowing that we brought these two amazing people into the world. Satisfaction. It wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t, but we did good. There’s a sorrow there, and there’s a gladness there. Both.

I can’t explain it, and maybe I don’t need to. Maybe it’s enough just to enjoy and appreciate the peace and contentment that swaddles me. Maybe there doesn’t need to be a reason, and maybe I couldn’t articulate it even if I knew perfectly well what it is that caused the shift. But my bones say it has something to do with opening the shutters to sorrow, that somehow in opening to grief, I also opened to peace. That in giving space to the sorrow, I laid down the notion that I’m somehow defective or broken or less than because I feel sorrow.

However it happened, I feel Whole and Genuine and more Right than I’ve felt in an awfully long time.

Time and Timelessness, both


Today my studio moved at about 70 mph. I’ve this new-found dedication to my creativity, you see, a new-found commitment to studio time.

JeanneDad 1

My daddy died twelve years ago today, but grief doesn’t wear a watch, you know. Oh how I wish I had that shirt and tie he wears in this picture (isn’t that a fabulous tie?), even a pair of pajamas or those khaki pants he wore when I was a wee little thing – something, anything he wore that I could stitch out my grief on, something I could wrap around me.

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