Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Remembrance’ Category

Singer Chris Cornell Dies at 52

with 7 comments

Folks, yesterday I read the stunning news that singer Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, had died at age 52. Cause of death: suicide by hanging.

I’ve read a great deal about Mr. Cornell’s passing since then. It appears that he was taking Ativan (generic name: Lorazepam), an anti-anxiety medication, and he admitted to his wife by phone shortly before his death that he may have taken a few too many.

I am familiar with Lorazepam. It is a central nervous system depressant. It works to calm an anxiety attack, and is a very good medicine…but taking too many can lead to despair and suicidal thoughts precisely because it depresses the central nervous system. (That is its function.)

I’m also familiar with playing concerts; I’ve been a musician since age 10 or so, and while I never did much singing, I am familiar with some of the things that tend to happen after concerts. So please, bear with me, as I try to discuss some of them.

(Note before I do, I do not know the circumstances beyond Mr. Cornell’s death any more than anyone else does via various published reports. All of this is speculation, and I can’t be certain I’m right. I say this as a disclaimer; everyone here should know I’m not a medical professional.)

First, when you don’t play well, it eats you up inside if you’re conscientious and care about music.

This does seem to apply to Mr. Cornell, because audience members at his last concert said he wasn’t at his best. And his wife said he was slurring his words (this according to a published report at Huffington Post) in their final conversation…all of this tells me, as a musician, that Mr. Cornell was anxious before his concert, so he took some Ativan as prescribed.

And to my mind, this makes sense. I have taken anti-anxiety meds before a big concert where I’ve had solos I’ve worried about. And I’m not a multi-million dollar artist, known for at least twenty-five years as a big-name act.

See, we all want to play or sing well, and do our level best.

In my case, I took the lowest possible dose, and refused to take any more despite still feeling nervous. I had a reason for this; my grandmother used to take this medicine, and I knew how it affected her. So I didn’t take any additional meds; I just waited it out, played my concert, and did my best.

I think taking the medicine at the very low dose prescribed was useful.

But if you don’t have someone in your background who’s taken that medicine, maybe you might think differently than I did. Maybe you might take an extra one. Or two.

And if you don’t realize that it’s a central nervous system depressant, or you don’t realize exactly how much it’s going to affect you after you hit one of these “performance lows” you can sometimes get…well, my best guess is that these two things combined to cause Mr. Cornell’s passing.

From published reports, it sounds like his family wants a toxicology test done to see exactly how much Lorazepam Mr. Cornell had in his system. That makes sense to me; I’d want to know it myself, in their place.

I hope they also are aware of the whole idea of performance highs and lows. Most musicians are, whether they talk about it much or not.

I’ve known about it since at least my mid-teens; sometimes after concerts, where I feel I’ve exceeded expectations (and my own are pretty high), I’ll feel extremely happy, and it takes hours to “come down” from that feeling. But the reverse is also true; if I finish a concert and think I’ve played much worse than expected, I’ll feel extremely awful. And it takes hours to regain my equilibrium.

That leads to a story…

Last year, in the summer concert season with the Racine Concert Band, I felt awful. It was hot, it was humid, my hands were aching and sore, and I felt ten steps behind the rest of the band. I nearly had an asthma attack on stage if I remember right, and I did not play well at all.

Hours later, I was still ruminating over this concert. I was wondering if I just shouldn’t play my saxophone any more. (Was this an overreaction? Sure. But I’m trying to explain how badly I felt in that moment.) I thought, for a brief time, that maybe I was just getting older, and there was nothing I could do to improve my performance.

It took a few hours of a friend talking to me to realize I was overreacting. (I’d usually call it “being silly,” but in this context, I don’t quite want to do that, because I don’t want any fans of Chris Cornell to think I’m saying he was being that way. He wasn’t.)

And I did reach out. I did say to my friend, “Hey, I had a bad concert and I’m feeling terrible.” And my friend patiently talked me through it…staying up until two a.m., even, to make sure I was going to be OK, before he and I stopped talking.

Not everyone can admit to that. Not everyone wants to…they think of it as a personal failing they need to hide. Or maybe they just don’t realize that this feeling of playing or singing badly is going to go away. There will be other, better concerts; there will be other, better days.

But when you are in the downward spiral, it’s really hard to get out of that. You start to think that your whole life has been a waste, that your musical talent and training is a waste, that you don’t have any reason for being, etc.

I am not saying that I know what happened to Mr. Cornell that night, mind you. I can’t say that.

I’m just saying what happened to me that night.

And I’ll tell you what; if I had had some anti-anxiety meds that night, I might’ve been tempted to take too many. I was in a terrible state. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, or hear me, or realize I was in that rough of shape.

But I was. And for some reason, I was able to reach out.

My friend, whether he knows or not, may have saved my life that night. (Or at least my sanity.)

As for Chris Cornell…all I can tell you is that I wish he were still alive, still singing, and could still tell his family that he loves them.

I will miss Chris Cornell. I never knew him personally, but his songs, his musicianship, and the emotion that came through every time he sang spoke to me.

I hope wherever his soul is now, he is at peace and feels the outpouring of love and sympathy for himself and his family that has occurred since his tragic death.

And I hope his family will also feel that comfort. It isn’t enough — it will never make up for Mr. Cornell’s absence — but it may help them realize that they don’t grieve alone. (Though they will grieve harder, and longer…as a widow, I know that full well.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Collaboration with a Purpose: Losing My Husband Changed Everything

with 27 comments

Folks, I’m one of ten bloggers talking about various forms of loss today in Collaboration with a Purpose.

Blogger Tajwarr Fatma (of https://lifeaswehaveneverknownit.wordpress.com) came up with this idea (do visit her blog, OK?), and our joint purpose is to try to help others by letting them know they aren’t alone. We all have to deal with significant losses at some point, and the thought was that ten different bloggers might have ten different takes on the subject.

18009404_1408216655911837_1010120180_n

The theme is loss. How did you overcome it? How did you deal with it?

My topic is how I continue to deal with the catastrophic loss of my late husband Michael. He died in 2004, but without his influence on my life, and without the love he shared with me, I doubt I’d still be trying to make it as an author.

Why?

Michael was the most positive person I’ve ever been around, and he made me believe that I could do anything I put my mind to…I just had to keep after it, and keep trying, and not stop until the wall fell down, that’s all.

So, one day, I had the best and most supportive husband on the planet, someone who understood me and appreciated me and was into me, a wonderful and giving and caring man who also wrote and edited and was creative.

And the next, well, he had four massive heart attacks in one day over the course of ten hours. He couldn’t survive that, and he died.

His loss was devastating.

Even now, after so many years, I don’t have the words to express just how incalculable the loss of my husband actually was. Michael was my rock, my soul mate, and often my co-writer, and when he was with me, I felt whole. Loved. Understood. Appreciated for myself. And valued, not because I was a writer or a musician or anything, but because I was and am myself.

Michael even understood my health issues, and helped me work through them, so I could get more done with less wasted energy and effort.

When he died, all of that went away.

Or did it?

See, how I deal with Michael’s loss every day is to think about how much I love him.

Still. Always. Forever.

I love that man, and I feel his love for me, and it helps me go on.

No, he’s not here to make me dinners, or give me a backrub, or complain about politics (we both loved to do this), or come up with new stories, or edit anything I’ve got going, or help share the load with regards to paying work.

But his influence continues. I keep trying. I remember. I know how he felt about me. And it makes a difference.

In this life, I’ve met only a handful of people who truly have understood me, but none have understood me as well as Michael. He was my best friend, my everything…and all I can do to keep going is to tell myself that someday, in the positive afterlife (whatever shape or form that takes), I’ll see him again. And when I do, I want him to recognize me, and to know that I’m still the same person.

See, I can either celebrate his life, and do the best I can, or I can turn my face to the wall. I don’t see any benefit to turning my face to the wall, so I keep trying.

But yeah, some days, I do look at that wall, and say, “Hmm. Maybe today, I will stop trying.” Then I shake myself into sense, think, “Nah,” and go on and do what I was going to do anyway.

That’s what I learned from Michael. Accept that you feel lousy. Know why you feel terrible, even. But do what you were going to do anyway.

If it takes a little longer because of health issues or whatnot, so what? Keep going, keep trying, and do the best you can.

So, if you’re dealing with a significant loss like the loss of your husband, or a treasured friend, or someone you cared about deeply, try to be good to yourself. Realize there will be good days and bad days.

And most importantly, don’t listen to other people if they tell you that you’ve grieved long enough. It’s not up to them; it’s up to you what you do. If you need to grieve until you feel like you can take a step forward, you need to listen to yourself and do what you feel is right.

Just do your best. That’s all you can do.

But know that you aren’t alone. There are others on the same path as you, even if not at the same time, even if not in the exact same way.

As Buddha said (an apocryphal story, granted), there’s no one who’s not known loss. Every single person has known it, in one way or another.

May we use that knowledge to make us wiser, more compassionate, and more caring, eh?

Now, go take a look at the other bloggers’ takes on the same subject, will you?

SADAF SIDDIQUI
https://heartattachsite.wordpress.com
ADDISON D’MARKO
http://addisondmarko.com
AJIBOLA SUNDAY
https://ajibolasunday.wordpress.com
IPUNA BLACK
http://Ipunablack.com
ALTEA ADDISON
https://addisoniswriting.wordpress.com
JOTHISH JOSEPH
https://Jothishjoseph.wordpress.com
JANE LOVE
http://harmoniousjoy.com/
NICOLLE
https://storiesofahsi.wordpress.com

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 19, 2017 at 10:00 am

Introducing…Collaboration with a Purpose

with 5 comments

Folks, I wanted to let you know that tomorrow will be a special day at the Elfyverse. I’m one of ten bloggers who’ve teamed up to post tomorrow on the overall theme of loss. Tajwarr Fatma (of https://lifeaswehaveneverknownit.wordpress.com) asked me to be a part of this a while ago, and I’m pleased to take part.

This special event is called Collaboration with a Purpose.

Here, take a look at the nifty graphic:

18009404_1408216655911837_1010120180_n

 

So, as the graphic says, we’ll have ten different stories from ten different bloggers, all talking about different types of loss, all on the same day. The hope is that by sharing our stories, we’ll help someone realize he or she is not alone.

Because we all lose something, in this life. How we deal with that loss can make or break us as a person. Loss often defines us, at least until we figure out another way to define ourselves in spite of it — or maybe because of it.

In addition to my blog tomorrow, here are the other bloggers taking part (aside from Tajwarr, of course):

SADAF SIDDIQUI
https://heartattachsite.wordpress.com
ADDISON D’MARKO
http://addisondmarko.com
AJIBOLA SUNDAY
https://ajibolasunday.wordpress.com
IPUNA BLACK
http://Ipunablack.com
ALTEA ADDISON
https://addisoniswriting.wordpress.com
JOTHISH JOSEPH
https://Jothishjoseph.wordpress.com
JANE LOVE
http://harmoniousjoy.com/
NICOLLE
https://storiesofahsi.wordpress.com

So please, do look in tomorrow, and see what I come up with for Collaboration with a Purpose, won’t you? (You might find it inspirational. Or at least interesting.) And I do hope it’ll help someone out there, at least a little bit.

Because that’s what it’s intended to do.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 18, 2017 at 10:47 pm

Reflections on Funerals — and Lives Well-Lived

leave a comment »

Folks, this last week was not an easy one around Chez Caffrey.

Why? Well, my aunt Laurice passed away suddenly last week, and this week was her funeral. I saw many of my relatives for the first time in years, talked with my cousins and others, and paid my respects to my aunt’s memory.

My aunt was a very good woman, you see. She lived her faith, and believed strongly in the goodness of others. She was a kind person, she cared, and I remember her fondly for many reasons — but most particularly because she went to many of my concerts, sitting proudly besides my parents (and sometimes my grandmother as well).

My aunt didn’t have to do that. But she loved music, and she loved family. Going to concerts for one of her nieces — or later, two of ’em, as my sister and I played in many groups together over the years — was not a hardship for her.

Remembering that helps to temper the grief I feel. And knowing that my cousins have it far, far worse than I do — as do their own kids, no doubt — doesn’t help much.

Grief shared is supposed to be grief halved. And maybe it is. But when you first lose someone special, you can’t feel that your grief has been halved, because the grief is so overpowering, even half of it feels like more than you can bear.

Still, we all are born into this life knowing we’re here for a short time. It’s what we do while we’re here that matters; those actions will live on in others, and help to keep our spirit and memories alive.

If you think about it, a person’s spirit and the memories you shared with that person is vitally important. Because it’s those things that determine how you think about them, how often you think about them, and what you do when you think about them…

My aunt was a special woman. She cared about others. I’m glad that I remember that, and will do my best to honor her memory in the best way I possibly can…by caring about others, and thinking about her while I do it. (I think she’d like that.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 24, 2017 at 7:30 pm

In Memoriam: My Aunt Laurice Dies at 85

with 14 comments

Folks, I’m going to put a temporary moratorium on book promotional posts, as something far more important happened today.

My Aunt Laurice, my father’s oldest sister, died today at age 85 in her sleep. This was not expected in the least; she was waiting for one of my cousins to take her to physical therapy, and apparently had nodded off in a chair (according to what my father told me).

There are worse ways to go than in your own home, quietly and peacefully. But I still feel terrible about this. My Aunt was a very kindhearted woman, and perfectly epitomized the phrase “the salt of the Earth.” She truly cared about people, loved music (sang in an all-women’s choir called Opus 2000, originally known as the Sweet Adelines), played the piano, taught kindergarten…loved family gatherings.

And I haven’t even touched the surface of the memories I have regarding Aunt Laurice. Because in retrospect, I was fortunate; I grew up in Racine, and my aunt lived here also…so I got to know her very, very well.

What I can say right now is that I truly admired my aunt. She was an intelligent woman who loved her family and believed in the Golden Rule. She was married for nearly sixty-two years, which is a testament to her belief in the power of love and family. She loved kids, all kids…she read widely, loved deeply, and appreciated life as much as she possibly could.

While I mourn her death, I am doing my best to remember to celebrate her life. Because it was remarkable…it was a tapestry that in its way will never end, so long as we remember her.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 16, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Remembrance

Tagged with , ,

About my Husband Michael, the Writer…

leave a comment »

Folks, this is the worst day on the calendar, for me. My husband Michael died on this day, twelve years ago.

Some days, it feels like yesterday. Some days, it feels like forever.

I’ve written a great deal about my husband, about why I feel the need to continue his work as well as my own, about why I feel the need to try to keep his memory alive…about why he still matters to me. And why he will always matter, to me.

Today, I want to talk more about my husband the writer. Because that matters, too.

I wish Michael had broken out, as an author, before he died. He’d have gotten such a kick out of that. We did sell one story — “Bright as Diamonds” in the BEDLAM’S EDGE anthology — before he died, and we told no one. We figured, let people find out when the book was available for pre-order…we even knew what we were going to say.

I remember when we wrote that story together. I can still remember him peering over my shoulder as I wrote the first draft. Then, he’d sit at the computer and work on it in the next draft…we’d converse for the third draft, and I’d write and fix. The fourth draft, he’d sit there, and read it aloud, and he’d write and fix.

In between all that, there were conversations with our editor, Rosemary Edghill, and we made changes accordingly.

I really wish Michael had lived longer, so we could’ve written more stories together.

“But Barb,” you protest. “There are half a dozen stories out there — or have been — with Michael’s name on them. Didn’t he write any of them before he died?”

Yes, and no. You’re right that there have been at least half a dozen stories with his name on them. But every single one of those sales except for the one in BEDLAM’S EDGE came posthumously.

Anyway, back to the subject — my husband, and his writing.

Michael, especially as a writer, was a subtle man. The stories that came out of him were mostly quiet ones, such as Joey Maverick’s adventures, or Columba’s wish to leave her own kingdom and venture out with Cat, also known as the Duc d’Sanchestre.

Michael believed in romance as an element of storytelling, and exercised that element with finesse and style.

Michael spent hours on setting up his story universes. He wanted to know everything about them, in order not to make a mistake.

Then again, if he did make a mistake, he’d say, “Oh, well,” and go back to the drawing board. He didn’t believe in beating himself up. His view was that you should save your energy, fix the problem, and go right on as you were. (More of us should be like this. Including me.)

Perhaps most importantly of all, Michael had a great sense of humor, and could laugh at nearly anything, given the chance. He used all sorts of devices, including puns, witty remarks, and situational humor to exercise his inborn literary gifts — though if I had put it this way when he was alive, he’d have told me I was putting him too high on a pedestal and to knock it off already.

Anyway, that was just a little bit about my husband the writer. I wish he were still here on this plane of existence, writing up a storm, telling me just how Joey Maverick and Belinda Simpson managed to get together, and what, exactly, was missing in “Columba and the Crossing” that I now have to figure out…but I’m glad I got the chance to be with him, and try to complete his work as well as I can.

Because Michael mattered. And his stories matter, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 21, 2016 at 4:52 am

Musings on September and Mortality, Part 2

with 5 comments

Folks, last year I wrote this post about September and mortality. My husband Michael died in September of 2004, and I miss him even worse during September than all of the other months put together — though that seems almost impossible, considering how much I miss him all the time.

Anyway, that blog is still a good read, but I wanted to update it a little. Maybe talk more about what I loved about my husband — how he lived, and what he enjoyed doing, and what he thought life was about — as those memories are among the best I have. And for some reason, I realized I’d never put them together quite in this way…thus, this blog.

So, here’s a few of the many wonderful things I remember about my husband, in no particular order:

Michael believed that if you were going to do something, do it with all your heart and soul. He committed to things, in his own quiet, wry way, but did so in such a fashion that you had to know him very well to realize just how passionate he was about the things that mattered to him.

He was self-deprecating to a fault, loved puns, loved how words went together, and helped many writers codify their thoughts.

Michael believed in a Higher Power — he called it “Goddess,” but said if someone else wanted to call it “God,” “Deity,” or “Hey, You, Big Guy in the Sky,” it didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t sure what the Goddess was doing all the time, but he firmly believed that living the best life he could had led him to me…and me to him, in turn.

Michael believed in blessings, and in miracles. (He thought our marriage was both.)

Michael pretended he didn’t care much about professional sports, but he actually did. He loved baseball, football, and could tolerate basketball (mostly because he admired both the athleticism and erudition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He’d been into running, as a kid, and if he hadn’t developed arthritis in both knees early in adulthood, he’d probably have continued to run until the end of his life. (As it was, he enjoyed brisk walks, using his wooden shillelagh on days he felt he needed additional support.)

Michael loved music. All forms of music. His favorite group was Kitaro, which plays a type of Classical fusion music infused with Japanese and Asian themes. He also enjoyed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cher, musical theatre, and Barbra Streisand.

Being married to an instrumental musician who couldn’t sing a lick was new to him, mind. But he loved to hear me play. I played my five-piece suite for alto saxophone (alone), Creation, for him, and also the Paul Creston Sonata and some of the Ibert Concertino di Camera…but he probably liked the Alexander Glazunov Concerto the best.

Of course, Michael also heard me play the clarinet many times, too. There, I think he probably liked the Mozart Concerto the best, along with Saint-Saens and Poulenc and a number of other pieces. Mozart was his favorite, though, because of the clear and distinct melodic line.

And Michael adored writing. He spent much time on his stories, getting the universes  right, thinking about all the different permutations of this, that, and the other…he could be astonishingly meticulous on one hand, and then say, “What the Hell?” on the other and laugh.

Michael did love to laugh. Nearly everything could be funny, and, given time, he’d find a way to make even the worst situation seem much less bleak.

So, even though it’s September, and even though this is a very difficult and frustrating month for me in many senses (especially as CHANGING FACES is still not done, and that vexes me no end), I am doing my best to remember my husband Michael as he was. He was a living, breathing, thinking man who inspired me, encouraged me, and gave me a tremendous amount of love and support.

When I can see him, smiling, or maybe leaning over my shoulder saying, “Did you mean to say that? OK…,” I feel better. Because so long as I continue to live, at least part of him lives on…it might not be the part he expected, or I did, either, but it’s still here. I remember him, and remember his goodness and his worth and his humanity and the allness of him.

In short, Michael’s life mattered. And I will never, ever forget it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm