A Private Loss

Every morning this week there was a reason to weep. Of course, every week, every day, somewhere, there are a million reasons to weep. But this week we saw the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, and a tragic, personal loss in my circle of friends.

I cried a lot for Bowie, for his boldness and thoughtfulness, recklessness and wisdom — such a rare combination. And for his music: more than a dozen of his songs are in the soundtrack of my life. I pored over videos of his performances and interviews, read articles, looked at photos from his remarkable career. I even dreamed about him. I shared eulogies, sad emojis, and videos on Facebook. Heroes and Let’s Dance shuffled on my inner radio, the one I can’t turn off.

Two days after Bowie there was news of actor Alan Rickman’s death. Another artist gone. Everyone was saying that both were “taken from us.” But as I became aware that a friend’s daughter had died on the same day as Rickman, all public mourning was eclipsed by a private tragedy.

Charlotte was the fifteen year-old daughter of my friend Barney Miller, a musician and film editor in NYC. Reading Barney’s initial Facebook posts, I didn’t immediately understand that her death was by suicide. It sent me, and all of Barney’s cyber friends, into despair.

There is a photo portrait of Charlotte that her mother, Caitlin, took last summer. She is dressed in a navy blue English riding show coat, a white show shirt, and a Charles Owen helmet. She is holding a red ribbon in her black-gloved right hand, in front of what I imagine is a happy smile. Maybe she is squeezing her smile behind her lips. Her dark eyes snap directly at the camera. I love this photo, I relate to it. I was that girl once. I’ve known many girls like that since, girls who bloom in the company of horses and become strong and sensitive like them.

Charlotte Miller

When Barney first posted the photo I commented, “Well she certainly has the equine ‘virus’. Good to see her wearing the Charles Owen. PS she may never recover!” I was confident in my long-held opinion that horses can teach us to cope, help us grow up, even save us. But now I want to take back my comment. Instead of never recovering from a love for horses, a love so much like a virus that stays in the blood for life, Charlotte will not recover at all. She will never bloom in that way, or maybe she never found enough solace in a horse’s warm breath, tempered strength and generosity, in anything, to spare herself. I see no hint in the photo of the distress that drove her but it seems no one could save her.

Public and private loss. I know that private loss happens all the time, everywhere. All the time. Every day there is a reason to weep. Death reaches in, overwhelms. No one escapes, no one is immune. My own losses compound as I age and I have to find a way to balance them with beauty, memory, and hope. It’s hard.

Years ago I had a personal loss in the midst of a public tragedy. On April 18, 1995, my father died one day after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He succumbed ten days after being hospitalized for a head injury due to a fall. His health had been compromised from radiation and chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer metastasized to the brain. Like Bowie and Rickman, he was just sixty-nine years old. Meanwhile, the airwaves were flooded with video, photos, and interviews expressing outrage, grief, and analysis. One hundred sixty-eight died in the explosion in Oklahoma City, including nineteen children, and more than more than six hundred eighty were injured. This pre-9/11 tragedy, a homegrown terrorist attack, was inescapable and distracting, forcing my grieving family into a silent, altered universe of private grief set apart from the rest of our culture. I looked for connection and meaning everywhere, anywhere.

I found it in the hot summer of 2000 when I visited the memorial at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing while I was playing gigs nearby. In some ways this was the most important event of that tour. As always, while I sang and played my songs, I felt the familiar longing for connection, and its partner, skepticism about ever finding it. But it wasn’t until I visited the memorial site that I made the connection. I spoke with one of the uniformed docents, who stood respectfully nearby as visitors walked the grounds. She was dark haired and trim, in her 20s, hands loosely clasped behind her back in a show of deference. I told her my story. We walked together a bit and stopped to look at the empty chairs. I wrote Sunny Day in Terre Haute after that experience.

Charlotte’s death only touches me on an angle, but it is so harsh, so loud, much louder than Bowie’s and Rickman’s, louder than whatever personal drama I was playing in the days before it. It stirs up the deaths of my husband Eric, my father, my cousin Billy (suicide), my beloved horse, Shady. I look at Charlotte in her show clothes, proudly holding her red ribbon. I grieve for Barney, Caitlin, and Charlotte’s sister, for Charlotte’s friends. I grieve for families who have lost teenaged children to suicide, children who were truly and unspeakably taken from them. I will admit that I grieve for myself. And for Charlotte, because inside me, what hurts the most is that nothing could save her. Not even horses.


Charlotte’s family have created a Suicide Prevention charity in her name.

Photo © Caitlin Felton

 

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Alexi Murdoch – ‘Orange Sky’ music video

Music video: Alexi Murdoch’s lovely song ‘Orange Sky’ with my sunrise, sunset and moon photos.

http://sway2this.com/2011/12/13/alexi-murdoch-orange-sky/

Originally I posted it on sway2this.com, my photography blog – It’s also on YouTube.

sunrise 4/8/11

 

Flight

DTW Detroit Michigan Airport is civilized at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve day, December 24th, 2016. Terminal A is quiet. No one is freaking out or running to catch a flight. A lot of airport workers are moving about in clusters, chatting with each other about hospital visits and annoying bosses.

I have a four-hour layover, so I cruise the food choices and decide on Longhorns restaurant, not least because they are playing Motown hits on satellite radio. The Classic Breakfast is two eggs, biscuit, hash browns, bacon or sausage. I am seated at a table next to the enormous west-facing windows. Outside, the rising sun illuminates the space between A and B terminals as Delta jets taxi in and out like graceful solo skaters. Every few seconds a clean, crisp white jet leaps off the runway just beyond Terminal B into the cloudless morning sky, into the southerly wind. The jets escalate swiftly, just like all flying things.

Earlier, as I approached the down escalator to the tunnel between the terminals, I walked behind a tiny girl who was trailing her mother. On her back, she carried an overstuffed candy-colored backpack almost half her size. Her slightly older brother was several strides ahead of her, and ahead of them both, already on the way down the escalator, was their mother, a telescoping roller board suitcase handle in each hand, and another large backpack on her own back.

Escalators still alarm me, so I watched the little girl as I followed them. I remembered when I was this little girl’s age: the risk of falling (or worse!), the nervousness of my own parents, the panic of choosing that terrible second when you must step onto the moving stair, the visual disorientation — where do the stairs come from, where do they go? — the sound of the escalator’s rhythmic rumbling, clacking, and sometimes screeching. Terrifying.

At the top step, the tiny girl hesitated. I was right behind her. She stepped down, not holding onto the handrail, lost her balance, stooped, and began to cry quietly. Mom was unconcerned, or not showing it. “C’mon,” Mom chirped, “let’s go.”

I reached down and gently grasped the girl’s upper arm with my left hand, saying, “You’re OK.” She was crying but not too hopelessly, looking at her feet on the stairs that she straddled, half on, half off. We descended. A man on the parallel escalator was also descending. He reached over the divide, touching her shoulder with his big hand and said loudly, “You’re OK, you’re OK,” repeating it because the tiny girl was not convinced. Slowly she reached up with her left hand to grasp the handrail. “Good job,” I said. She continued to cry quietly.

“C’mon, we gotta go,” Mom sang, glancing over her shoulder, ready to step off at the bottom. The girl’s brother watched from a few stairs down between mother and sister, a bridge between them. At the bottom, he hopped off, turned to watch her. Adults nearby looked ready to intercede. But we knew the little girl had to learn the escalator rules, had to conquer her escalator fears. We all remembered.

The cloudless Detroit sky absorbs all birds leaping up and curving away, going everywhere. Diana Ross sings, Set me free, why dontcha, babe. Al Green sings, Let me know that love is really real.

 

© 2016 Patti Witten

Blank Books made from Album Covers

Blank Books made from Album Covers

I’ve made a bunch of these blank books using recycled and repurposed paper and old LP covers found in thrift stores, yard sales, or from my own collection. I could do this for you, too 🙂

Spring Haiku 2011 – Part 2

a single egg fell
from the nest in the pine tree
doves in grey mourning
4/17/11

sometimes when I ride
i want to close my eyes and
let the horse rein me
4/19/11

having a kitten
means going through bandaids
like a house afire
4/20/11

on May twenty-first
at precisely twelve a.m.
rapturous moonrise

as the clouds were limned
just before the moon came up
i heard coyotes
5/21/11

Spring Haiku – 2011

4/8/11

now my sunrise year
of gray to crimson beauty
has come full circle

april to april
spring to spring, sunrise sunset
i’m the book between

4/3/11

remember april?
birth, death, anniversaries
unforgettable

house finches scolding
heavy cat kneading my arm
red deer in sunrise

3/29/11

the itinerant
doves of mourning have returned
for summer love songs

3/28/11

the lake is fierce
whipped tourquoise and aubergine
brave gulls time their dives

3/26/11

damn snow obscuring
stealthy black frozen puddle
ouch – i have fallen

hobbled by mishap
suddenly i see grey wings
northern harrier

3/25/11

sunrise slides northward
each day a bit farther left
Democratic sun

3/22/11

caked, stained tails and manes
the old grey mare turns to brown
mud season is here

they open the locks
far far north of here and the
lake level rises

vernal equinox
i feel a gut twinge, a cramp
like a teenaged girl

"super moon" march 2011


supermoon rises
in a cold clear sky
due east: proud blushed perigee

3/9/11

all careful plans have
larger forces at work, like
weather predictions
..
ladybug plays dead
good strategy, good for you
and good luck with that
..
cardinal treetop
bluejays in the apple trees
no bobolinks, yet

3/8/11

sugary branches
ice fog: what chilling god would
create such a thing?

2/28/11

february gasps
trees are figured in the rain
resolving details

April Fool : Music Video

My song, “April Fool” (from CD ‘Tell The Wind,’ produced by Rich DePaolo) with my own photos* and video —

*the CD cover image is by James Nelson (Getty Images).