Harriet’s last blog post…

a beautiful post written by my lovely sister.

Harriet's Hospice Blog


Harriet and I (daughter Christina) have been enjoying creating these posts. They were her last way of communicating with the wider world, to let all the people she knows in the world, that she loves them and wants them to benefit from her experience of being a hospice patient. She felt strongly that there must be other people ‘out there’ who were on the same journey as she; or that their caregivers could read these few posts and learn something that may help. Now she’s finally starting down the path of death, and can’t share her wisdom with you. I’d like to tell you a little about Mom, for her last post.

Mom has always been a facilitator. “What can I do to help?” has been her mantra. Whether it was bringing together the family for dinners or birthday parties, or taking her dogs to the old folks’ home…

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Anniversaries are an odd thing. They remind us to remember something or someone. Sometimes it is something good: a wedding, a birth, a day we fell in love. Other times they are a reminder of a tragic event: a death, an accident, or a crisis. Do you remember the day you got married with sweet fondness? Or perhaps, if you are divorced, that date sticks in your head as a more important one (for me it does!) Does the date September eleventh cause you to pause and think of the day our country was thrust into a turmoil that it has yet to recover from? Or do you have a date that is special only to you and a handful of others, like the date that a loved one passed?

For me, today is one such day. It has been a year since the death of my beloved brother. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. No time to say goodbye, no time to listen to one more of his dumb jokes and pretend to find it funny, or watch a movie with him for the umpteenth time and watch tears leak out of his sentimental eyes.

We never know when it is the last time we will see someone we love (or for that matter, someone we don’t, but I think that counts less.) It’s difficult to understand that, to be fully in the moment with every person we connect with. But since Eric’s death, I have tried.

The anniversary of his death is a visceral thing to me. I can relive everything about it. I was in Boulder at a yoga festival, blissed out from my head to my toes after an hour of chanting. I had practiced with my favorite teacher three times in three days. I was alight with love and peace and a deep serenity. Then the cell phone in my yoga bag vibrated; I got a phone call from my daughter, who was with my brother and found him dead that morning. It was like falling down an elevator shaft. I left the festival, blinking in the sunshine. How could it be sunny? How could people be roaming about in their cute yoga clothes, laughing, doing handstands? Dark grey clouds had closed in on my soul; it seemed incongruous that the world could still function, that there were birds, flowers, trees, and smiles all around me. I don’t know how I drove to my sister-in-law’s house; I’m not sure how I told her.  And my parents.  And my younger sister. All I know is that we all got through it somehow. We had no choice.

Grief is a funny thing. It’s different for each person. It’s personal, and it can be both anguishing and cathartic. Death is an essential part of life and we are all headed there eventually.

Marking a death with an anniversary is honoring the spirit of the loved one we lost. But is there a lesson to be learned, beyond the initial impact of the life and death of Eric’s treasured spirit? Death has been referred to as a veil, a thin curtain that separates the living in this concrete world from the spirits in the ethereal world. But do those spirits ever really leave us? I think not. I can still benefit from my brother’s presence, his belief in me, his love, his strength, tenacity, and humor. That didn’t go away.

So on this, the first anniversary of my brother’s death, I will help the rest of my family celebrate his life. Joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin, for if he had not been so loved, we would not miss him so.


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A-Z, A Writing Exercise

So, interestingly enough, a recent heartbreak/breakup has inspired me to start writing more. Everything can become a story, and in this way we can process deep pain and turn it into art. As writers, we store away story ideas and sometimes find them later. This is what happened to me today, as I was wandering around in the computer files and opened a folder full of little bits and starts that I had forgotten about. I came upon this writing exercise, and did not even get it until I got to the end. Using every letter of the alphabet, create a short story with a sentence starting with each letter, in order.

Coiincidentally, this story was about a breakup I had roughly seven years ago, thus lending me a bit of perspective on my currently mangled heart.

And here it is, A – Z:

And this is what I wanted.  But it is not how I thought it would feel.  Can it really be the end?  Dreaming of you nonstop, your hands on my hips, your succulent full lips and eyes of two colors, cheeks with the scarred ghost of adolescent acne that you hate and I love, your voice that ranges from dusky baritones when you whisper to me in bed to high and squeaky when animated in conversation; all this I can’t seem to live without. Even the things that annoyed me I now miss.  For example, your inability to see a mirror or even window- any reflective surface – without preening.  God, you are such a peacock. How about your change in personality when your daughter wants anything at all?  Idiotic.  Just buy her a tiara and a castle and get it over with.

Keep it as is, you begged.  Like I could not want more?  Many tears were shed in those months, the dream that I can’t forget:  we study a map together.  Negotiating.  Odd detail of a protractor, the pointy part stuck down on your town, and the tiny pencil drawing a circle around it.  Perhaps I could move to one of these towns, still have you, but stay out of your inner circle. Quite ridiculous.  Ridiculously sad.

So I strayed in the end, with someone who – amazingly – showed interest in me, the rejected woman. Took this young beautiful man to my bed.  Unaware that somehow, across the distance,  you would know.  Very surprised and touched that you cried.  Weeks before our planned breakup date.  Extraneous,  just slightly out of the scheduled order.  You now feel that was why we ended, and I feel cheated by the way you’ve twisted things around.  You get to feel righteous.  Zen moment for me.




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A Lesson From Heartbreak

Sometimes, love swoops down on you like a beautiful bird.  And sometimes it is a vulture, eager to rip out your heart.

People say you should be open to love, to believe in it.

But love can be a liar.

Things that seem too good to be true can seem that way because they are not really true.

What someone else does to you can make you believe that you were never really worth it, that the tiny voices in your head that have always told you that no one could possibly love you were right. That somehow you are the broken person that you forgot about for a while during a whirlwind dance with the devil. And now, suddenly you remember. You feel like a fool, like an idiot.

But maybe, just maybe, what someone else does to manipulate your feelings happened to make you remember you still have feelings. Maybe there is strength and resilience within you that can take the lessons to be learned and walk away a changed person with scars that don’t destroy you, but enhance the beauty that was always there.

And maybe someone, somewhere, someday really can love you.

Or maybe not.

But you cannot control other people, only yourself. So you pick your shaky self up off the ground and remember that you can love yourself better than any other person on the planet. And if that’s all you get, then that’s all you need.

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OMG, 2016 was a Hellacious year. My head is still spinning.  We lost Bowie, Prince, and Alan Rickman in one fell swoop. My mentor had her house burglarized and her possessions and money from a safe stolen. On a personal level, I lost my brother in June, my heart in July, a co-worker tried her best to jeopardize my job in December, and let us not forget that the entire country lost its freaking MIND in November! (Which is why I hesitate to welcome 2017.)

Sometimes it seems that the Universe is trying to tell us something. I won’t get all politicky here, because that is so not my area of expertise, but things needed to shift in the USA, people are restless (and apparently restlessness spawns idiocy)and we are due for a shake-up. I am trying to remain open to change while I calm my scared-rabbit terrified heart.

When people don’t pay enough attention, weird things happen. I could have paid more attention to my brother and intervened sooner. Not sure what I personally could have done to save Bowie and Alan (who both died of cancer, and cancer just plain sucks!) but maybe someone should have been paying more attention to my friend Prince. (And this just in: George Michael has also passed on today! When will it end?)

I could have paid more attention to my grumbling co-worker and nipped that dissension in the bud before it went all the way to the top. All of us could have paid more attention last year to the disgruntlement of our American brothers and sisters who felt so disenfranchised that they had to make a bold statement, electing the least presidential president the USA has ever seen (an orange-faced buffoon of a reality star.) Life gets scary when we are not paying attention.

So as 2017 approaches, let’s greet the New Year with cautious optimism. Let’s support each other in the spirit of love and compassion. Let’s not turn a blind eye to those who are in need, and if we ourselves are in need, let’s learn to ask for help. We need to lift up those who are struggling, share love with those who are lonely, and reassure those who are afraid.

As Betty Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!” (She actually said “bumpy night” but we are in for more than just one night of bumps, sadly.) And as Myrna Greenbaum said in Red Desert Penitentiary, “Are these holes or bumps?” Well, there may be some of each, and we will need to be relaxed enough that they won’t break our spines.

As a people, we need to come together and realize that we are all in this together. It’s not about black/white, right/left, rich/poor. It’s One Love.

I cautiously welcome 2017 and do so with all the positive intent and hope that I can muster. Along with a promise that I will pay attention to my surroundings, speak up when things are not ok, and definitely not become complacent. I do care what happens. And I feel a responsibility for contributing in a positive way, more strongly than ever, so that the negativity in our lives will be chased away by the sunshine. I know it might sound a little naïve and simplistic, but this is my strategy for 2017.It’s the best I can offer.

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You can’t.

The end.

Just kidding!

I’ve been puzzling through this lately, as I have recently fallen in love again. Or perhaps for the first time. Every time is different; every time feels new. I’m equal parts ecstatic and terrified.

The biggest problem is how afraid I am. I am afraid to love as fully as I know I am capable of. I’m afraid that the things that have happened before (betrayal, falling out of love, monotony) will happen again. I’m afraid it won’t be what it is supposed to be. And I’m afraid that I have such a cool single life -with travel, independence, and yes,  a little bit of loneliness thrown in, but it’s a trade-off, right?– that I might not want to give it up to be in a couple again.

Let’s face it, relationships are not always what we conceive them to be in the beginning. It’s hard. It’s brutal. It’s disappointing. Even if we dodge the marital bullet and end up in a long relationship, it’s all of those things. Just easier to extract ourselves from. At least, physically. Not emotionally. (Believe me, I learned that the hard way.)

Mostly I’m afraid of the kind of hurt that comes at the end of things when you have loved fiercely and lost it all in the end. The kind of pain that leaves you reeling, sobbing, begging the heavens for another chance while you know deep in your heart that it ended the way it was supposed to. That you learned another lesson. That once again you were with the wrong person, or that the person you were with was not necessarily “wrong”, but not the person you were meant to be with forever.

And then again, what is forever? Can we really promise each other that, in all honesty?

So I feel the need to go into this with caution and also blindly. To trust and to doubt. To risk it all while drafting an iron-clad pre-nup.

For we never really know, do we?

I talked to a friend the other day who has gone through many romantic relationships and never married. Our mutual friend with three young children was lamenting that she and her husband never had sex anymore. My friend said, “I don’t want to be that! The couple that never has sex? Isn’t it better to go from one romance to the next, learning and growing and feeling all the feels?”

Well, yes. I think so, anyway. But I don’t fall in love that easily, and so the feels don’t come that often. After a long dry spell, it’s good to be feeling them again, no matter how fearful I am.

So maybe I don’t know how not to get hurt. And maybe I still don’t even know what love is. I think I knew this more resolutely at age 16 than I do today! But the willingness to risk your heart when you think it’s love is a foolish and admirable thing. It’s what all the books, movies, and songs are about. It’s part of what makes us human.

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Why I Did A Boudoir Photo Shoot – as a Senior Citizen!

OK, maybe I exaggerated slightly on the senior citizen part. I’m 53. And a half. But who’s counting? I’m a yoga teacher and an early childhood teacher. I’m blonde and curvy, with some attributes I’m proud of, and others I am not. Like most women in our culture, I have some major body issues. I spend more time covering it up than flaunting it.

So why did I do it? Was it a desperate last grasp at my fading youth? Was it a joyful affirmation that women of any age can be beautiful and sexy? Or was it merely the fact that I got a Living Social coupon and it was about to expire?

Whatever the reason, when I realized the coupon was about to expire (drat! I just outed myself as a Living Social addict!) I called and made my appointment:

Me: I’m an older lady, I’m not really interested in wearing lingerie.

Her: That’s fine, just wear whatever makes you feel beautiful.

Me: Maybe I just want to wear yoga clothes and do some yoga shots. I don’t need all that sexy stuff.

Her: Whatever makes you feel good.

Me: (fuming at her lack of resistance against my resistance) well, maybe I will go through my lingerie and just see…

I realized, while looking through my “unmentionables” that they were really more unmentionable than they should be: sports bras promoting the “uniboob” and torn, stained Granny Panties. Even in my defensive mode, my undies were sub-par. So I went shopping and bought a few things, just enough to make me feel “beautiful”.

And I arrived with two suitcases of options (which the photographer, Lanette, told me was not excessive) and got ready to shoot. I was hella nervous. But I shouldn’t have been. It was a blast. I had scribbled down a few flattering poses in case she didn’t have ideas for me. I mean, it’s easy to photograph sexy young women and make them look good; it’s an entirely different matter to photograph an old broad trying to fight the cruel tides of time. But she knew what to do, how to arrange me, and promised she had a “smoothing brush” that she would use on the finished pictures.

As she looked through the viewfinder, she made a “grrrr” purring noise. Did I really look good? I began to relax, throwing back my head on the couch, crossing my legs in a classic pinup look, looking at the camera through my mascaraed lashes with a Mona Lisa smile on my lips.

We went through a dozen outfits. At one point, I wanted a shot in my jeans. She said “Yes, just jeans and a hand bra!”

“Oh, I didn’t bring a hand bra.” (what the hell was that, anyway?)

She smiled and cupped her hands over her chest to show me. Oh. That.

And a week later, we did a phone session where we went through the shots. I didn’t love them all, but I liked more than I had expected. A few hundred dollars later, I had my beauty shots.

Thinking back on the experience, I have to wonder: what had really motivated me? Was it vanity? Did I need to prove something to myself? Maybe. Or maybe I was just supporting a local business. Whatever the reason, I’m not sorry I did it. Women need to know they are lovely, because we are. And if it needs to fit within the cultural constraints that we are forced to live with, so be it. All I know is that Lanette was right; I did feel beautiful.

If you are considering doing a boudoir shoot of your own, here are a few tips:

  • Be relaxed. For me, this meant a glass of champagne before I showed up.
  • Trust your photographer; if they do this for a business, chances are they know what they’re doing.
  • Feel free to guide the direction of the shoot. Get as naked or non-naked as you feel comfortable with.
  • If you want to buy the digital rights to your shots, or even just some prints, it will be pricey. But it might be worth it.

And most of all, have fun and let your inner beauty shine through!catherine-maxwell141

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