I am an Irish lass.

March 17, 2017

Cleaned-Illustration_Oxalis_acetosella

From my mother’s line, I have a French, Irish, and English background; from my father’s, Polish and Ukrainian. Growing up, my mom would make corned beef and cabbage for dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. After I moved out, my father made a tradition of phoning to wish his “Irish lass” a day of celebration. This was a part of me that wasn’t his, and that he recognized. There will be no call to his “Irish lass” today. Until they are no longer here to do it, it’s hard to see all the pieces of ourselves our parents hold for us, and hold up for us. When I tuck her in tonight, I’ll quietly say “my Irish lass” as I kiss our daughter’s forehead.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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Expertise

March 9, 2017

rainbow january 2017

At breakfast, the word “expert” came up and our kindergartener asked what it meant. I explained that an expert is someone who knows a lot about a certain topic and people respect them for how much they’ve learned and come to them with their questions. I asked her if she would like to be an expert in something.

“Yes, Mumma! I am going to be an expert in rainbows. And hearts, actually. And rainbow hearts.”


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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My father was born on Valentine’s Day.

February 14, 2017

dry broken roses

I didn’t have anything of his to touch then — there probably aren’t words to describe how whole-bodily I pined for a wool sweater — so, I would hug the roses from his funeral. Several times a day. I knew it was a strange thing to do, but it helped a little, so I did it. When they died too, I wasn’t ready to let them go. Some I did, because there are only so many places you can store dead roses in an East York semi, and the rest, I wrapped in twine and hung to dry. It hasn’t been five months but I was looking at my hanging flowers a while ago and thought.. I think I can compost those now. I don’t have a sweater but I do have a baseball hat. And within the hour, the stems, more shrivelled than when I first bound them, loosened themselves from the twine and answered my thoughts by falling to the floor. Broken, they make the room smell beautiful.

My father was born on Valentine’s Day. Today, these are his roses.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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I like knowing this is a choice.

February 8, 2017

A friend of mine is highly accomplished, intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, insightful, and compassionate. Recently, in public, she misspoke, and later, she was corrected publicly. And do you know what did? How she responded to this correction in front of hundreds of people, when clearly her intent had been good? She said, “Thank you.”


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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A stranger may send you a vase for flowers.

January 13, 2017

vase on desk

This has maybe happened to you too: some friends had disappointed me and I was making it all sorts of personal, and it hurt. I asked a wise woman in my life for advice and she wondered if I could have a go at releasing my friends from my expectations and, instead, just get very clear on what I was needing (and allow myself to need it), and then, well, could I let the whole world take care of me?

(Even a stranger. Even a sunflower.)

Could I still let that count as being loved? I thought about it. I decided I could try.

And within the week, an unexpected package came in the mail (“Tangible proof of care” had been on my Needs list) with a note from my friend, Bridget: “An anonymous benefactor has donated a kind object (for you).” I unwrapped the paper to find an antique Weller vase from the 1930s. It’s creamy and smooth and beautiful and, in my hands, as I turned it around and around to admire it, I thought to myself, What is an empty vase but a promise of days with flowers to come. It felt like hope. And what I needed most.

I sat on my floor and I wept and smiled that a person I did not know and who may not know me extended themselves to me through this “kind object” (and whole-hearted Bridget) to reassure me that there would be joy again. Flowers would come after this hard winter. And everything I need will be offered.

Maybe we all have anonymous benefactors, and are each other’s… And maybe we are all more loved and more supported and more held and less alone than we know.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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I’m sitting in the middle of a dying forest.

December 16, 2016

photograph of a dying forest in Florida
No one knows why these trees are dying. Some say climate change. Some blame disease. Others say it’s the age of the trees; it’s simply their time.

Their barks are dry, cracking away, sun-bleached grey. There are occasional plunks as pieces — a dead twig or a clump of needles — fall to the water. Plunk…. Plunk. If I weren’t alone, if you were with me here, I’m sure we would whisper. The place feels holy and haunted.

An ibis the colour of the white cloud behind her just settled so carefully on one of the highest perches. The branch creaked under her delicate weight but did not break. Three other matching birds have swooped in, and are pecking at the water below, finding the life hidden beneath its surface.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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It is a cloudy day so it’s unsurprising I think I hear rain…

December 11, 2016

dead frog
… but it isn’t rain I’m hearing: it’s brittle palm fronds tapping each other. Rattling. I’m reminded even senses can’t know or tell it all.

A few feet from where I’m sitting, there is a dead baby frog. The sun must have begun the work of drying it days ago as it’s now deep black and shrivelled. If I were to pick it up, its webbed feet would stay stuck to the rough concrete, its body dismembered, and that seems slightly worse than leaving it, belly up and burnt.

Just as I think that thought, the rain does fall (which I recognize by the rumpled blots forming on the paper pages in my lap). Maybe it will drop full and hard enough to wash the tiny carcass into the grass to rot privately in peace and green.

Or maybe the rain will stop and my stepfather will be the next to see the thing and will scrape it up with a butter knife or his man fingernails to discard it in the large plastic bin in the garage before my mother sees.

I’ve flown to her house to be away from mine for just a little while. I thought I’d find cheer in the sun and I thought I’d find distraction in the blooming things here. So much pink. And this place, this lanai, is a place my father, her ex-husband, never was. I have no mental file for the rattan furniture that includes his sitting on it. Never once did he eat at that table over there.

But. But.

What people say so often is some version of “he lives on within you” and there may come a time when that provides comfort but it is not yet here. Right now, he is with me, true enough. He’s in the dead frog, and the reminder all our precious atoms are borrowed and due to be returned. The reminder that, dead, the inside of my father’s mouth looked a lot like the colour of that frog corpse. And the reminder that right beside death, part of the very same system, in fact, sometimes grow ixora.

A bright white egret has glid in. Her beak is the colour of August sunflowers, sharp and gleaming in the growing light (the clouds are receding). Calling to others, she sounded and from her long throat, straightened, I heard a sound unforgettable: a note of the human death rattle.

Life is in everything. Death is in everything. The frog, flowers, and bird all know the tune. So do the palm fronds that sing like rain.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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Should I lie dying first…

November 1, 2016

Queen Anne's LaceDear husband and daughter,

My mother says I take after the French line of the family, and those women live long. You will likely have me into my 90s, finely silver-haired, slim, and head permanently bowed in a graceful osteoporotic curve. But you may not. Accident or disease could take me sooner than old age and tiredness of body. One day, we will find out.

If I go quickly, and we have no chance to say goodbye, please know it is okay. It will be different, but I will still find ways to talk to you. Probably in gardens and forests and birdsong and the swoosh of yellow sundresses. You will know it’s me.

And if there have been harsh words or disappointments between us, please know that they are done. What is real at the end is what was real at the beginning, what is eternal: only love.  There is nothing to forgive.

If I go slowly, and you are at my bedside, you might wonder what I’d wish, so let me tell you.

If at all possible, I’d like to lie dying in a quiet place, a private room. Hospital or hospice are both fine. You needn’t bring me home to nurse me. But please make it beautiful, as allowed. I would like fresh, fragrant flowers. Paperwhites would be nice if they’re in season. (Those were the first flowers you smelled in this life, cherished daughter. We brought you home to a house full of them.) Lilacs in spring, roses any time of year.

Bring a colourful blanket for the bed, or if I am too hot for that, a light silk sheet in some pretty shade of pink or yellow or lavender. Maybe a prayer shawl for my shoulders if I’ll tolerate the feel of fabric.

Open the curtains, unless I ask for darkness. (Keep all fluorescent and artificial lighting off, except for the briefest periods necessary, please.) If you can, wheel me outside to see the sun and the moon and a sunrise or sunset for one last time and tell me it is the last time so that I know to let them go.

Please set any necessary medical equipment to the lowest volume setting. Those alarms are jarring. I think music would be lovely some of the time. Rachmaninov’s Vespers and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Allison Angelo’s Clair de Lune each hold personal significance but don’t play them on repeat just because I mentioned this. Elvis Costello, Spoon, Pulp, James, Leonard Cohen, some Parisian cafe music are all good… Neil Diamond and Roy Orbison will remind me I’ll be seeing my father again soon. You know what I like. Play what of it you enjoy too. Softly. And have lots of silence as well. You know me. I do enjoy quiet.

If you feel like singing, Be Not Afraid and Hosea are favourites of the old hymns I used to sing as a girl, and that I sang to you, dear daughter, while you were in my belly.

Please hold my hand. Not constantly — your back would get sore, and those hospital chairs are terrible. But every so often. And please, tell me it’s you. As I get very close to the end, I won’t necessarily know by sight and it will be music to hear you say your names for me.

Gently brush my hair. Some dry shampoo of clay and oatstraw and lavender would be nice, if needed. And please keep my mouth fresh and moist. Apply a rich balm to my lips with just a little to the corners of my mouth. Kiss my forehead.

Talk to me. Even when you think I am sleeping, I am likely only visiting the place between worlds, and am still listening from there. Tell me you love me, if you do. Tell me you forgive me, if you do. (I know I said there’s nothing to forgive but that’s from me to you; at the end, I may not feel so sure I have been blameless. I expect, between now and then, I will have made many mistakes and hurt you many times, without wanting to, and I may need a reminder I’ve still been worthy of your love and the gifts of marriage and motherhood.) Tell me what you see as some of the contributions of my life. Help me with my life review so I will have an easier time knowing I’ve earned my rest, that I’ve used this life well enough to release it.

When you are with me, do not speak of me as though I’m gone, before I am gone. And please don’t allow the medical team to do so either. I want to have them, or you, explain to me what will happen — with treatments and tests and such — before it does, even if no one believes I can hear or understand. This one will be tricky but if you can manage it without offending, please also ask the medical team to speak to me in a normal tone of voice, not the high sing-song often reserved for children and the infirm. Inside my ailing body, I will still be me, an adult woman who has never tolerated those sickly sweet high pitches.

Even if they seem rude or uncaring, please thank the doctors and nurses for me when I cannot. It’s been my experience that the coldest ones cry most when a patient is lost. Be compassionate. (And scream in the car if you need to. You can be mad at them for me too.)

While my father was dying, a friend shared with me this special Tibetan prayer. If you feel comfortable doing so, please speak these words to me, too, as often as you like, near to the end:

“As the earth element leaves, your body will feel heavy. As the water element leaves, you will feel dryness. As the fire element leaves, you may feel cold. As the air element leaves, your out breath will be longer than your in breath. The signs are now here. Don’t get lost in the detail. Don’t cling to any of these phenomena. They are part of a natural process. Let your Awareness of the Light before you, guide you. Let your Awareness go free.”

Please lightly touch my temples with rose oil, and, if you are able, massage my feet with it. (They carry it in the health and beauty section of The Big Carrot.)

I may cry to say goodbye to you and to say goodbye to my body and to say goodbye to Life. Those are sad goodbyes. Of us, I will have to grieve (and maybe rage) first. It can be an awful thing to see. You may want to comfort me out of it, but, please don’t; if allowed and honoured, my grief will pass.

Your tears are welcome at my bedside too. If you are sad, you don’t need to hide that from me. Everything you feel is welcome. If you are angry, if you are afraid.. all of it is welcome. Now, and after. I’ve heard people say “Your loved one would want you to be happy” and I am not interested in that kind of urging. Your loved one, after death, has all the capacity in the universe to accept the isness of you and your human experience. What I will wish for you from the other side is that you feel what you feel so as not to stay stuck in any particular emotional place, but even stuckness has its gifts. Be as you are, and know I am loving you and you cannot disappoint me.

It may seem that I am in very much physical pain, and this will be hard for you to watch. I am not afraid of pain. It’s part of death as it is of birth and it will be working to bring me into profound awareness of the process begun. Letting go of Life is physical work. Labour. This is okay. That it aches you to see is okay too. If I am unable to speak for myself, give me pain medication whenever it feels right to you. You can make no wrong decision for me.

Take long breaks from my deathbed. Go outside. Lie on the earth. Shovel snow. Plant pansies in dirt. Read, or watch mindless television. I am a woman, you’ll remember, who has always enjoyed her own company and who cherishes solitude. You are welcome in my room for all the hours you wish, and you have my blessing to never set foot inside it. And I mean that. If you are with me or not with me, I will not die alone, uncomforted. When it is time, my great-grandmother and grandmother and father will walk me home.

If you would like to be with me when I die, let me know, and I will try to arrange it. I do think I’ll have a certain amount of choice, circumstances depending. If I’m the first person you’ve seen through death, it will feel strange. You will know it is coming in the next hours when my breathing changes. It will sound gurgled and strained. Don’t worry about that. It’s the way of the body. (Don’t suction it, please, just allow it.) Before the breathing, the smell of my body will change too. In the last few days, it will be sweeter, like cooked sugar. As the energy of death rises in the room (and within you), you may feel something akin to panic. That panic will change in my final breaths. Breathe with me, if you’d like. My breath will slow and then stop. You will inhale again, and I will not. My eyes may roll upwards. (I like the idea that I’m seeing heaven then. And my dear dad.) There may be some foaming at my mouth. It may be slightly agape. As the blood leaves my face, you’ll see my colour fade with it. It may startle you because it’s an uncommon sight but it is also beautiful. I remember thinking it looked like watercolour paint being diluted and washed away when I saw it in my father’s face. In the presence of death, you may feel still or numb or euphoric. All is well.

As for my body, once I’m dead, I’m gone from it and not terribly particular about how it’s handled from here. If you’d like to say a few words of blessing over it, you may. If you don’t want to see it, that’s fine by me too. If there are flowers in the room, and you’re there to do it, please pluck the blooms from their stems and place them on my body to be cremated with me. I like the idea of that. Give my organs to anyone who can use them.

If you’d like to keep some of my ashes, you can. I don’t mind if they’re divided. I would like some, if not all, to be buried in the earth. Please plant a tree above, something that is generous with its beauty or its fruit. Lilacs? Pears? You don’t have to visit it for me to know I’m remembered.

I’ll speak to you more privately about a funeral service. I have some ideas but what you decide will be best. I will only say that I would like flowers and charitable donations… none of this in lieu of business. And I would like a champagne toast. Please also, dear daughter, use some estate money to buy yourself a beautiful dress to wear, my last worldly gift to you.

Above all, know that I love you both still and although it’s different now, I haven’t left you.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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Sunday on the park bench

October 11, 2016

mandarinorangesUnexpectedly — because they’d never been a favourite or something we kept in the house — my dad asked for mandarin oranges, the kind in segments in syrup. I couldn’t have exited the hospital faster had I had wings. The only explanation for the nearest gas store convenience store having them has to be my grandmother’s celestial intervention. I carried them to the counter with delight. In hours upon hours of discomfort, he’d asked for nothing; there was nothing he could imagine that would offer him a bit of pleasure. Until the oranges. And I had them in my hands to give to him.

He was sleeping when I returned. I peeled off the foil top. Maybe the scent would make the room a little sweeter? I felt JOY that I had these oranges for him. And when he awoke, and brought one small segment to his lips, it was then that he discovered he could no longer swallow, he could no longer eat. And he cried.

I couldn’t say it to him because he wouldn’t have wanted to hear it, plus, I’d probably sound sanctimonious, and my voice would break, but here’s what I wanted to tell the man beside me on the park bench on Sunday, the man who was annoyed that his older mother wanted him to make an hour-drive to help her with something at her home: One day, you will long with all the cells of your body, with all the atoms of your spirit, to be able to give your parent something desired. Whatever your relationship is or has been, whatever the disappointments between you, it will drop away and what you will know is that this person gave you life and loved you as best they could, and you will want to offer something — anything — that says you’re grateful, that you understand. And you won’t know, when it happens, that the last chance for that offering has passed.

square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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Spire of light

September 26, 2016

black cohosh

I understand now that my father became distant in the months before his death because he was preparing to let go of this life. It was very painful to have him take himself from me before I thought he needed to. I was arrogant to think I could hold any opinion on the matter. But, I am his kid, his child, whatever my age, and I wanted my father’s comfort, love, and approval for every moment I could have it. And I wanted to offer mine to him, but it was hard.

My father loved a good tomato, and as a way of loving him, this summer, with our daughter, I grew tomatoes for the first time. Every time I watered those plants, I thought of my dad, and I looked forward to giving them to him. If we couldn’t love each other in the ways we always had, I was going to love him through produce.

I brought a quart the last time I saw him at home. He didn’t thank me. We didn’t know then that he would be gone not long later. I hope that he ate one, but I don’t know.

All the days in the hospital with him, my garden was left to languish, being watered only by rare drought rains. I haven’t wanted to see it. But today I steeled myself to go out and pick some Riesentraubes for E’s lunch. Most of what was left was rotted on the vine, unpicked, ungiven, uneaten.

There was still so much I wanted to offer my father in this life together.

In the end, all was beauty between us, all was whole. I should tell you that so you know we were okay, we were perfect. But, still, there were tomatoes left to rot on the vine and I am sad.

As a person approaches death, the body, breaking down, begins to smell sweet. And when he died, my father’s mouth was slightly open, and inside was darkest dark, as though he’d been lit from within and someone had turned off the lights one last time, but first, scattered warmed sugar. I had a vision in that moment of all of space within his mouth. Holy heavens with recessed stars. It was the strangest beauty.

This morning, a few small tomatoes in hand and sad-so-sad, I opened the gate to go back into our yard and into our house, when the sweetest fragrance stopped me, and I followed it back to our shade garden.

These flowers are what was blossoming on the other side of my dead tomatoes. They are tiny purple buds bursting into a 100,000 petaled stars. They are the tallest flower in our garden, “spires of light” as my friend Deb describes them, growing in the darkest patch. I think they are my father’s unspoken thank-you for the tomatoes. I think they are his love for me, alive. I think they are the songs of angels, reminding me what is true.

Just love.

My father died in the full bloom of black cohosh.


square of carrieCarrie Klassen writes about (and sometimes photographs) things she finds beautiful. She ghost-writes for thoughtful people with something important to say at PinkElephantCreative.com, teaches writing for small business at PinkElephantAcademy.com, and she shares her own words at CarrieKlassen.com. Carrie is currently working on a series of personal essays.

 

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