Burying a Cousin

Bunny 2015.

Recently I traveled to New England where we interred the ashes of my dear cousin Bunny.  It was a sentimental journey, for sure.  She was buried in the family plot in Norton, Massachusetts.  I spent the first twelve years of my life in Norton and this trip fueled so many memories probably because little seems to have changed in Norton–except the traffic.  Lots of cars.  It is now a bedroom community to Boston. I’m certain there are the dreaded “developments” somewhere but the town center is remarkably in tact.

In attendance were cousins of every age, ranging from nine weeks to 85 years.  It was a gorgeous day.  Bunny’s brother-in-law Ted gave the blessing. A religious man, he is well known in the family for his deep beliefs in Catholicism.  Nevertheless, he paid a fitting homage to Bunny.  After mentioning God at one point, he looked down at her gravesite and said, “if you believe in God.”  His courtesy brought tears to my eyes and, I have no doubt, a chuckle from Bunny.

Norton, Mass on Bunny's Memorial Weekend.
Norton, Mass on Bunny’s Memorial Weekend.

We each placed a flower on the grave and paused to remember our dear cousin.



After the graveside service we retired to the Norton Country Club and had a wonderfully relaxed lunch.  People spoke a few words.  A guitarist played softly in the background.  We ate, drank, toasted, and hugged.  The only downside of the day was a washed out Powerpoint show of Bunny pictures, dozens of them, from every stage in her life.  The room was too bright, the projector too dim.  But never mind, it was easy enough to go forward and sit for a spell, watching the images go by on the laptop.  It was there that I caught Bunny’s “baby” sister Carol, with her daughter Molly, sitting at the table, watching the cavalcade of Bunny’s life.  But it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the picture that I realized what I caught.  On the screen you can see Bunny and her sister Sally (who almost seems to be blowing a kiss at Carol) and faintly on the right side of the screen is Mary Helen.  Three Gavin sisters, all smiling, all gone to the other side.  Ghostly images looking back on their baby sister.  How lucky we have been to know them all.  ❧

Norton, Mass on Bunny's Memorial Weekend.
Norton, Mass on Bunny’s Memorial Weekend.



A Passing

Bunny and her great grandson Winston in 2014


Phyllis “Bunny” Gavin Robinson is gone. She died peacefully on February 29, 2016 in Sarasota, Florida.  She was 95.

Bunny was born in 1920 and was my first cousin, once removed.  She was nine years younger than my mother and they grew up together in Norton, Massachusetts.  Indeed, for me, Bunny’s death is the severing of the last link to my mother and her generation.

Bunny was the first of four daughters born to Phil and Helen Gavin.  The Gavin Girls — Bunny, Sally, Mary Helen and Carol — were a force of nature.  The power of four sibling sisters should not be underestimated.  I have known several of these groupings in my life and each has been fascinating to me.  There is a closeness and yet a distancing between these sisters that is almost electric.  They are fiercely competitive yet uniquely giving. They can fight like cats and dogs in one instance and then fall into a circle of intense communication that is almost telepathic.

Before her marriage she served in the Red Cross during World War II and was in the South Pacific when the war ended.  My Uncle Bud, then serving in the Navy, actually visited her on one of the islands during the war, an amazing thing to me.  All of Bunny’s life was amazing to me.   As I was growing up, first in Norton and later in Sarasota, Florida, I would hear stories of my exotic cousin Bunny. Her marriage to Parker Robinson immersed her in the diplomatic corps and Parker was stationed in some fascinating locales in the 1950s and 60s — France, Spain, Chile. Bunny became the diplomat’s wife and she had wonderful interpersonal skills.

She lived long enough to see her first great-grandchildren and, as you can see from the picture, she loved meeting them.  Look at that picture for a moment.  What is passing between those two?  Winston will not remember meeting Grandma Bunny but something passed in those moments that I hope stays with him, a joy of life and a respect for its wonders.

Five days before she died we had our last conversation. I was sitting at her bedside and she opened her eyes. “Alice!” she said.  I said hello and gave her a kiss.  The eyes closed and opened again a while later.  “Such a good girl,” she said.  The eyes closed again for a while and then opened.  Looking directly at me she quietly and sweetly said, “Now, go away.”

My years as a hospice nurse gave me the insight to know what she was saying. She was letting go. Her world was diminishing and she was acknowledging that.  I kissed her softly and said goodbye. Then I went away.

I would see her one more time but she was unresponsive, making the transition to the next world. She was very peaceful and that is how I will remember her. With the passage of time these awful weeks of her final illness will fade from memory and I will recall my wonderful, fascinating cousin Bunny in happier times. And I will recall her courage in the final days…the days that will come to us all…and hope that I can carry that courage to my final time.

RIP Bunny. ❧

In The Deep

Natalia Molchanova begins a deep dive.
Natalia Molchanova begins a deep dive.

Natalia Molchanova is dead. You can be forgiven if you have not heard of her. In this world of seven billion inhabitants there are people who accomplish great things that we never hear of or give witness to…until they are gone.

Ms. Molchanova was widely regarded as the world’s greatest free diver, perhaps in the history of the sport (at the time of her death on August 2nd she held 41 world records).

Free diving is a basic, no frills sport. All you need is a body of water and a diver. You hold your breath and dive as deeply as you possibly can. In Ms. Molchanova’s case it was very deep indeed. She was the first woman to ever pass the 100 meter depth. That is a little over the length of a football field, down into the sea and, of course, back to the surface again. Ms. Molchanova held the world record for holding her breath longer than anyone else – 9 minutes and 2 seconds!

These records are remarkable enough but are even more so when placed into the context of Ms. Molchanova’s life. She was originally a competitive swimmer but “retired” after giving birth to her son (who is also a free diver). She returned to training, and took up free diving, at the age of 40 and carved a spectacular career in the span of 13 years. At an age when most people begin to think about true retirement this remarkable woman found an outlet that not only satisfied her desire to compete but also, it seemed, gave her great spiritual reward.

“Free diving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,” Ms. Molchanova said in an interview last year. “When we go down, if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with world. When we think, we are separate. On surface, it is natural to think and we have many information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”

In a world where we are constantly barraged by stimulus that forces an almost non-stop thinking, the prospect of “not thinking” is almost, well, unthinkable. And yet it seems to hold some key to finding an inner peace, ask any Zen master or Buddhist monk.  Or, perhaps, any child in the womb, waiting to be born, floating in their own sea, experiencing the oneness.

For Ms. Molchanova her moment of becoming one with the world is now eternal. Her body has not been found and her son has accepted that. “It seems she’ll stay in the sea,” he said. “I think she would like that.”  ❦


Image #173 – Grieving Geese

Toulouse goose (gosling)
Toulouse goose (gosling) – June 2010

My friend Mary is mourning the loss of her male Toulouse Goose. His name was Doodle and he was twelve.  Three and a half years ago he fathered several goslings and I was fortunate enough to get their pictures.  Doodle is survived by a mate and two daughters who are greatly grieving his loss.  Mary wrote on Facebook,

After 12 good years of life he has passed over the Rainbow Bridge. If dogs and cats can go over, why not a much loved goose. His much younger mate and their two daughters are very lonely without him. If anyone has or knows of anyone within 100 miles of Sarasota, Fl who has geese please put me in contact with them. Many thanks.

The new male has big wings to fill. Doodle was an excellent protector and, of course, had been with his ladies for many years. Change is hard for all of us mammals.  I certainly wish the survivors well.  ❧

Death of a Friend


My friend, Gail Walton, died today, She was 69 years-old.  That’s her in the picture, on the left in the blue shirt. She is with her life-partner of more than twenty-five years, my college friend Bonnie Powell.  The picture was taken in 2000, not long after they got McDuff, the Jack Russell Terrier in the middle.

Gail was a wonderful woman with a big heart. She loved dogs and rescued her fair share of abandoned or abused critters.She ran a pet supply business for a while. She was also a respiratory therapist, a gourmet cook, an M.P. when she was in the Army, and a whole assortment of other occupations or pre-occupations. She was witty and beautiful.

Fawn Hill feels a little lonely tonight. A year ago I never imagined I would be living here, neither did Gail and Bonnie.  After I moved here in June we talked about how incredible it was that we had become neighbors. Gail said, “Alice, I believe some energy has brought you here.” Just a few weeks later she was diagnosed with an advanced case of recurring lung cancer. Eight years ago she had a lung removed and the doctors felt they had gotten all of it. But they didn’t. By the time Gail was diagnosed, just over four weeks ago, the cancer was everywhere. There was nothing that could be done. Hospice was brought in.

Hospice was my occupation for the last six years of my working career. The irony that I would arrive here just before Gail’s awful diagnosis was not lost on any of us. I did the best I could in advising and helping. I have to say, however, that administering hospice care to a friend is so much harder than administering such care to others. When I was working for hospice people would often ask me, “How can you do that kind of work?”  I would explain that there was a certain level of detachment, which is not to say disinterest or aloofness,  but rather an acceptance that death is inevitable and that dying patients deserve compassion and competent care.

When the patient is your friend or a family member (and I have had experience in both instances) it seems that all you have learned in ministering to the dying patient just goes away and you feel helpless. You lose the objectivity that is normally present. Your thought process seems fuzzy and muddled. Actions and reactions that once seemed so sure and competent become tentative. The shroud of grief becomes becomes a straight-jacket that seems to paralyze you.

We did the best we could in caring for Gail. She was surrounded by loving friends and, for the most part,  we were able to control the pain. Still, it has been a difficult time that has once again brought home the fundamental truth: Life is short. Carpe diem! ❧

The Big C and the Bigger D

reaperThis time of year — the last two weeks of May through the first of June — is very meaningful for me.  It’s a cluster time of death.  My father and a brother died on May 31 (19 years apart), my niece’s mother died on May 20, and my husband died on June 2.  During my work as a hospice nurse I learned that this phenomena of “clustered deaths” is not unusual.

So I’m already primed to be thinking about the topic of ultimate termination and my thoughts are getting ample amplification from a wonderful show currently on the Showtime network, “The Big C – Hereafter.”  It stars the superb Laura Linney, an actress I have watched mature from a country waif in the 1993 PBS series “Armistead Maupin’s Tales from the City” through the intelligent and worldly Abigail Adams on HBO’s  “John Adams” miniseries which aired in 2008.

In “The Big C” we have watched Linney’s character, Cathy Jamison, cope with the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma. Cathy has gone through the classic five stages — anger, denial, depression, bargaining, and acceptance — in some rather unclassical ways, like buying her 14-year old son a classy, bright-red Mustang convertible for his 18th birthday.  She places the car in a storage locker  and then keeps adding more and more presents, all tenderly wrapped with cards.  Soon the car can barely be seen under the barrage of gifts for future birthdays, holidays and major life events.

In this final mini-season, Cathy is definitely into acceptance and with good reason. Her melanoma has become more aggressive and so has the chemo.  The combination are ravaging her.  Linney has no qualms about showing the effects of terminal illness.  Her  appearence is startlingly different from the end of season three. According to an interview on NPR, she purposefully lost weight and cut her hair.  Makeup helps complete the look as do her mannerisms.  At one point the character develops a paralysis in her right leg.  Linney’s response to this is both heart-wrenching and hilarious.

The actress has clearly thought about her role carefully. “It’s human nature to — thank God — not have [death] be the first thing you think about every single second,” she says, ” but there is a reality to it. And as I’ve been aging, and parents are dying and I’ve unfortunately lost friends who were way too young to go — you realize what a privilege it is to age. And that’s not a message we hear a lot in the United States.”

Thanks to Linney and the writers at “The Big C” it IS a message being conveyed in this brief four-episode season. The last episode is Monday night and I know that I already want more.  I’ll miss Cathy’s quirkiness and her lovable extended family. But that’s how death is.  All too soon it takes what we love.  Thankfully Laura Linney will go on, hopefully long after Cathy Jamison has left us.  It will be a privilege to watch her continued growth. ☙

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