Cold Comfort. Helping Refugees: Part 6

I missed several appointments to meet my refugee and give her massage therapy. I didn’t show up, because my father died while I was on vacation. I had to cancel my flight home and extend my visit to America.

I called M’s daughter the day after I finally got back to Germany. We set up another appointment. Just like always: Monday afternoon. I got there and took off my shoes.  M’s husband offered me a glass of strong Turkish tea. “No sugar,” I requested. (It’s usually served with enough sugar to send me into diabetic shock.)

M was sitting up in bed with a smile. I sat on the edge and took her hand. “Please tell your mother how sorry I am that she didn’t know where I was for the last three weeks.” (I’d sent a SMS from the States, but they hadn’t read it.) Her daughter dutifully translated my German words. I looked into M’s eyes and talked slowly, willing her to understand.

I tried for a session that would make up for the long summer pause in her therapy. I began with foot reflexology and moved on to treat her knee and hip joints, her shoulders and neck, her hands. When I was done, M surprised me by taking my hands back in hers and scrutinizing my face. She spoke for a long time.

The daughter translated for her. “My mother says to tell you, don’t be sad that your father died. Everyone’s going to die sometime. And you and I, we’ll have to die too someday.” M kept holding my hands and I felt tears come. We kissed one another on the cheeks.

The tears were for my father; they were for myself and my loss; and they were because that day was the first time that M comforted me rather than the other way around. Cold comfort, to be sure…. She gave to me out of her terrrified flight, her pain, the violence and death she’d seen in her home country. Her words were framed with the bitter truth of the life  she’s known. But she presented me with that truth, because she wanted to ease my ache.

And it helped.

 

 

Breath

Her chair is in our living room. I curl up in it cross-legged; the air around it is empty.

I wash the leather cushion and back with a damp cloth. It swivels under my touch, then stills.

Her limbs did too, shortly before she died. I gave her the ritual of a final loving massage. It was gentle touch, my palm on her forehead, my hand over her heart.

Her ragged breathing calmed. I found myself matching her breaths. You can go, it’s okay. I thought those words, and said them aloud.

Her breaths slowed. In, out. In. Out. In….. out. In.

And just like that, she was gone.

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. A hole in the everyday has punched through the solar plexus of life’s waistcoat. I discover I can’t fill the resulting void.

My mother-in-law and I breathed together, the same air, for 24 years. I’m not able to breathe back out, because Mama’s no longer here to do it with me.

Grounded

Grounded_for_web

My new novel Grounded is finally in print and available as an eBook! Use the following link to see it: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell  

Grounded is the story of how two people react when cyberattacks lame the world. It’s also the tale of a father’s love for his son, a woman’s search to feel alive again, and what the Arctic Circle and a temple in a remote corner of India reveal.

I wrote the first draft in 2002, worked on it for over a year, and put it aside for a decade. I returned to the manuscript last year and reworked and rewrote. This book has had a very long gestation period, and I believe it was worth the wait. Please read it and let me know if you agree.

 

 

 

Remembering How to Feel

I have to relearn how to feel. My mother-in-law went into the hospital with a lung infection for a long week and a half. She rallied, and returned to the nursing home. I finished my third novel Grounded and began preparing it for publication on Amazon. Then Mama grew weaker again. A few days later we got the call we’d been expecting. The home phoned and said that we should come. Uwe and I had the blessing of being at her side as she died. Less than 48 hours later, my book became available.

We were busy with all the details that follow a death. People had to be contacted, and a funeral arranged, and Mama’s body transported to the town where she would be interred next to Uwe’s father. We drove down to meet with the funeral hall director and a pastor, and to visit Mama’s sister and her family. We cleaned out her room in the nursing home, sorted through the little that remained, moved furniture. The book would wait. I’d celebrate its release later. And I wanted to stay strong and present for Uwe, because these are the moments when your partner is so much more important than anything else.

When we finally got done with all the details a few days ago, I turned my attention back to a very special project that will take place next Monday, June 6th. My first-ever writing commission has been to write a story to connect an evening of Gershwin songs. In February I wrote in a 2-week blaze of inspiration for NEAT, the New English American Theater in Stuttgart.  The four singers and a pianist rehearsed the songs. A Welsh actor will read my story. All I have to do is show up and sit in the audience and marvel and enjoy the talent on the stage.

I went to a rehearsal a few nights ago and heard my story spoken aloud for the first time. It is a surreal experience to hear one’s creative work interpreted and combined into a greater artistic work. I was speechless as I watched and listened. Up to that night, I’ve been numb. I figured I could finally allow myself to feel proud, to be satisfied with all the hard work I’ve done with my writing. I gave myself permission to be excited about my book and the Gershwin evening. But when I let myself open up to feeling something emotional, a tidal wave of grief hit me. I’m mourning my mother-in-law of course. I’m grieving for her, even knowing she was ready to go and had given us the gift of waiting until we got to her bedside to leave us. One of us, Uwe or I, have visited her pretty much every other day for the two years that she lived in the nursing home near us. I don’t have to feel bad about not seeing her enough, or caring enough. But I write this in the present tense, because it’s all occurring in real time still. The birth of my book, the death of Mama, the use of my words to connect the magic of timeless songs, it all weaves together for me, I can’t separate out any of the strands. I’m a hot mess, trying to remember how to feel again. I remind myself that any one of these emotions is huge, fraught with anticipation and months or years of living and taking form and interconnecting with hopes and expectations. Love, sorrow, hope, creativity, illness, dying, death, coming into being, leaving this earthly plane…. Trying to remember how to feel any one of these emotions, let alone all of them all at once, overwhelms me.

But mostly, mostly, perhaps what I feel is gratitude. To know what I have in my mother-in-law and my art. To literally feel in body and soul how it all connects. To be able to feel again, even if it leaves me in tears.

And to know I’ve got a lot more tears in me.

NOTES: In loving memory of Margaretha Hartmann.

Save the Recriminations

Keith starts a new conversation now that Glen has left the table. “So, you two have children?”

“Glen has a son. I have three kids of my own: two girls and a boy. They’re somewhere camping with their father this week. I’ve been going insane not knowing where they are or if they know yet. I can’t stop worrying about how my children will hear the news.

“I can’t even get them on the phone. We’re supposed to meet in Seattle, but since planes or trains are out of commission Glen and I are driving from California.”

Keith’s look travels from the wedding band on my hand up to my face. “I see,” he says slowly.

His wife’s next words surprise me again. “I don’t know the particulars (and I suspect I don’t need to) but clearly you and your young man love each other. That’s not a bad thing, Nicole. You’re right: the main thing right now is to reach your children and be with your family. Save the self-recriminations. The rest will sort itself out.”

I can’t speak. I want to thank her and can’t force any words out of my throat.

She’s standing beside my chair with a hand placed on my shoulder when I can bring myself to look back up. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Nicole.”

Joley and Cass watch us without blinking. They stay silent, listening intently as if they know something important is transpiring, as if it’s important that they understand.

We all watch Glen come back in the room. His eyes glitter and I can’t tell if it’s tears from missing Petey. Or being moved by the connection to these four people at the next table. Or a perfect storm of the lives and choices and events that led to Ocean Beaches and a candid conversation about the last time someone believed it could be the end of the world.

Keith smiles as Glen reaches our table. “After eighty plus years on this earth one thing I’m confident about is that answers are seldom pat. And they’re never what we first think. If only life were simple…. And if this is my last night on earth, I’ll have spent it with good people.”

We stand and everyone shakes hands, then hugs. “Don’t skip dessert. You have to try both the cheesecakes. Nectar and ambrosia, I’m telling you. That’s how this lovely evening’s conversation with you two all began,” his smile grows wider. “Life begins and ends happy when it involves food options!”

And with that grounding comment the four of them leave the dining room. Cass hands her grandfather his cane and takes his arm.

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

The Honeymooners

We were on our honeymoon.

We married in Germany and went to Paris for a week. A few months later we threw a party in America. I wanted to show Uwe around the northwest, including a visit to Vancouver. For that part of the trip, the easiest solution would be to rent a car once we got to Canada.

 

Three Killer whales in mountain landscape at Vancouver Island Royalty Free Stock PhotoPacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Royalty Free Stock Photo

 

I found a charter bus leaving from Seattle for the right price, leaving at the right hour. When we got to the designated departure spot that morning the others were already waiting to board the bus… all fifty members of the seniors’ tour group.

“Jadi! We’re 40 years younger than anyone else taking this bus,” Uwe whispered.

“Look at the bright side: no crying babies.”

The woman in line behind us tapped my arm. “Excuse me honey, but are you two newlyweds? Are you on your honeymoon?”

I grinned as Uwe began to turn an interesting shade of pink. “We are!” I told her.

“I knew it!” the little senior crowed. She nodded at her friend, totally pleased. “I have a sixth sense for honeymooners. When I meet people I can always tell if they’re newlyweds! What are your names, dear?”

Uwe was hurriedly climbing on the bus away from the conversation.

“Uwe and Jadi Hartmann,” I told her to keep it simple. Our first names are confusing enough without including the information that I’d kept my maiden name.

For a second she looked flustered, but she recovered quickly. “Well, it’s lovely to meet you,” she beamed.

As I boarded the bus and headed down the aisle she was talking with the bus driver. “That young couple that got on the bus ahead of me? They’re on their honeymoon!”

“Gott, Americans ask personal questions,” Uwe chuffed once I’d seated myself next to him.

“They’re friendly. Isn’t it wonderful?” I gave my new husband my sweetest smile.

We settled in for the short trip to Vancouver on a bus filled to capacity with chattering seniors. The bus left promptly, people in their 70s and 80s twittering like happy magpies.

When we reached the highway there was a scratching noise as our driver turned on his microphone. “Welcome on board, on the charter bus for Vancouver, Canada. Our estimated time of arrival is twelve noon. I’m your driver Carl, and I’ll be pointing out sights of interest along the way. But in the meantime, I’ve been informed that we have a pair of newlyweds traveling with us today! Let’s congratulate the new couple! Would Jay – ,“ he faltered suddenly, “Oo – uh, would Mr. and Mrs. Harmon please stand up and take a bow?”

Wild applause.

I was already on my feet. “Stand up!” I encouraged gleefully. Uwe had slumped down in his seat as far as he could get without actually hiding underneath it.

My beet-red husband stood up and sat down in a flash to even louder applause.

As you, dear readers, can surely suspect, any trip that got off to a start like this one had to be good….

And it was. It was a lovely trip!

NOTES: Images courtesy of Dreamstime.com.

You Can Have Your Cake & Eat It, Too

If you grow up with the name Jadi, it will be mispronounced. Jodi. Judy. Janie. Right when a community had it figured out, we would move. One after the other, a parade of grade school and high school teachers and college professors stumbled reading roll call.  

When the second Star Wars film came out, everyone at the firm where I worked treated me to (insert uproarious laughter here) “Hey! It’s The Return of the Jadi!”

Perhaps it was inevitable that I married a German named Uwe.

Uwe is a common name in Germanic countries, but just about impossible to pronounce correctly for anyone else. “Ova?” my mother suggested. “Ewe-y,” grinned Dad; I know he did it on purpose.

We had a quiet wedding in Germany and a party Stateside a few months later. A restaurant catered the reception and a local bakery made the wedding cake(s).  

I’ve written elsewhere about the awesomeness of German bakeries [1]. For our party, rather than do a tiered and tired yum-where’d-you-get-this-cake-that-tastes-like-sugar-covered-cardboard, I wanted to honor the country I was marrying along with meinen Mann. I went to the best bakery in town and made a proposal:

I ordered six sheet cakes, all different. Yellow cake. Coconut cake. Carrot cake. Chocolate cake. Spice cake. And, yes, one white cake. Turns out I’m a sucker for tradition after all. The bakery manager dutifully wrote everything down.

“And,” I continued with the order, “I want you to write our names on all of the cakes. Wrong. Except for one of them. Here’s a list of names for each cake,” I said, and handed him a page of phonetics.

When we went to pick up those cakes before the party, the bakery let us know how much fun they’d had filling the order!  

Twenty-three years later I recall those cakes with a smile – and wonder where the time went.  

JayDee and Oyvay 4Ever!

Hochzeit1 Hochzeit2

NOTES: [1]  Go to My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies for more about the tradition of yummy German cakes. [2] New Morning Bakery in Corvallis, Oregon still prepares their own baked goods and meals.