Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Remembrance’ Category

Birthdays and Funerals

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Folks, on Friday, I went to my uncle Carl’s funeral. And Saturday was my birthday.

To say I feel strange at the confluence of events is understating the point. I never do all that well with birthdays anyway, as I am more like my late husband in this than not (he who famously celebrated “unBirthdays”). And today, my plans were simple.

But I was wrung out from everything else. My plans got changed; I had to rest, at home, and think, at home, and deal with the consequences of being alone, at home.

Anyway, my uncle Carl’s funeral is more important than this, so I will tell you about that instead…as he was a retired policeman, there was an honor guard around the casket until the service started. Three policemen were guarding it; two at each side, one to rotate in and out so the others could rest a bit. (Standing in one place like that is not easy.) The way they rotated in and out was like an elaborate ballet; the third officer would come up, salute the casket, turn on his heel, turn to the side, and the officer being relieved would come forward. Then the relieving officer would take the first person’s place…I’d never seen anything like that before.

Note that Carl was not much for pomp and circumstance. But I think he’d have appreciated his much younger colleagues doing this for him, even so.

There also was a 21-gun salute as Carl was a military veteran. (The young kids at the funeral were scared.) And I saw two young military women first drape the flag over Carl’s casket, then re-wrap the flag and hand it to one of my cousins, thanking my cousin gravely for my uncle’s military service. (My late husband was also a military vet, but the flag came in the mail already wrapped, with a letter from then-President Bush’s office thanking Michael for his service and, I suppose, me for being Michael’s wife.)

Carl was 88, and he’d outlived my aunt Laurice (his wife) by a little over a year. It’s hard to realize they’re both gone now, though as long as we remember them, at least a small part of them lives on. (Plus, my aunt and uncle had grandchildren, and even a few great-grands. Time marches on and all that.)

The last year or so, Carl was in and out of the hospital, and was in a nursing home. He probably didn’t enjoy that overmuch, but the folks who took care of him were smitten by his remaining charm and by how he approached life. (Even as he was dying — he had Parkinson’s, and it was at a late stage — he could still charm the socks off people if he wanted.) He may not have remembered entirely who he was at that point, but he was still the same generous-hearted person he’d always been, even to the last.

My personal view of my aunt and uncle? They came to a lot of my concerts, when I was young. They went to my high school graduation, and my aunt went to my first marriage. When I returned to Wisconsin after my late husband died in 2004, they were among the first to comfort me.

They were kind people. Smart, thoughtful, interesting…they lived their Christian faith in a way most others can’t seem to figure out.

It’s partly because of them that I kept trying, even as I was laid low by my late husband’s too-early passing. They were unafraid of my deep grief, and they were willing to listen to my memories of my husband. Carl even said to me that as fun-loving as Michael seemed to be, there would be no way Michael would want me to feel this bad for many years after his passing. (I think that is true, but my mind had its own ideas.)

Anyway, it does feel weird to be officially another year older. My aunt and uncle are gone. My husband is gone. My best friend is gone. My grandma is gone. Some of my other good friends over the years have dropped by the wayside, too, and I feel terrible about that even though I don’t know how to repair what became broken.

I’m fortunate that I do have family left. Good friends left. And a strong mind, a willing heart, and at least a dab of creativity here and there to make things a wee bit better.

I love them, and they love me, even if they don’t always understand me. (Well, I don’t always understand others, either. Maybe love transcends that in some way. I’m not sure.)

So, I’ll keep going, and remember those who’ve gone before me. And do my best to honor them, and their memories, all the days of my life.

Because really, what else can I do that’ll do any good?

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 19, 2018 at 12:06 am

A Belated Appreciation of Chester Bennington

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Last week, the first anniversary of singer Chester Bennington’s death passed. Bennington was the lead singer of Linkin Park, and had also sung in several other groups, including taking over as lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots after Scott Weiland. And I wanted to mark that anniversary at the time, but I wasn’t sure what to say.

See, Bennington fought life-long depression. He also fought against drug addiction, had been raped as a child, and had many different — and difficult — things crop up in his life. But he was not defined by his depression, or his addiction, or any of the other things; instead, he found a way to bring out his pain and share it — and in so doing, help assuage the pain of others.

Musicians do this, mind. Whether they’re singers or instrumentalists, musicians use what they’ve lived through to inform their art.

Chester Bennington did this better than any other singers in this era.

Mind, that wasn’t all Bennington brought to the table. He sang all sorts of different styles. His range was solid, his lung power was impressive, and he wasn’t afraid to do anything the music called for, including scream at the top of his lungs. He was a gifted performer, and made the audience feel with immediacy anything he wanted them to feel.

While I wish very much that Bennington was still here with us, what he left behind as a singer and musician was beautiful. And it should be celebrated that he lived, and created his art, and found excellent musicians and vocalists to work with (most especially Mike Shinoda), and did his best with what sounds like a remarkably difficult set of circumstances.

————–

Before I go, here are my five favorite Linkin Park songs (with Chester Bennington leads):

1) “The Little Things Give You Away”

2) “Pushing Me Away”

3) “Breaking the Habit”

4) “One More Light”

5) “One Step Closer”

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 24, 2018 at 2:38 am

Happy Summer Solstice to All…

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…and man, do we need it.

Folks, my hope for everyone is that the Summer Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) will bring about a positive change.

For me, this is when I start intensively thinking about my husband Michael. Because on this date in 2002, we’d taken out our marriage license. And we celebrated over the weekend as best we could, knowing we would marry on the 24th, which was also the night of a full moon as best I can recall.

We had the whole world to look forward to, then…love, happiness, spiritual fulfillment, the joy of creativity, the joy of emotional and physical and mental and spiritual harmony, and the fun of being around Michael — the funniest, most intelligent, most spiritual and most everything person I have ever known.

I wish our journey together had been longer than a bit over two years. But I will never regret marrying him. Marrying Michael was the best thing I have ever done, and I am very happy that I get to remember him in the ways that I do — at the height of his creative powers, and at his happiest and most content.

For us, the Summer Solstice of 2002 was extremely beneficial.

May your Summer Solstice of 2018 be equally generous.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 21, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Heat Wave…and Mike Shinoda’s New CD Post Traumatic

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For much of the day, it was too hot for me to think.

We had a heat advisory for much of the day, in fact, so I am spending the evening somewhere air conditioned. (Thank goodness.) That way, I can think better, breathe better, and also rest a whole lot better.

Because of that, I can do what I’ve wanted to do for a few days now: discuss Mike Shinoda’s extraordinary album (or CD release, if you’d rather), POST TRAUMATIC, in greater depth than I used in my review at Amazon.

Why?

Well, as a musician, and as a grieving widow, I understand a good deal of what Mike Shinoda has done on his CD.

For those of you who don’t have any idea who Shinoda is, he is a musician, rapper, producer, and one of the surviving members of the alt-rock band Linkin Park. Last year, their lead singer, Chester Bennington, killed himself.

At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know much about Linkin Park’s music then, save perhaps “In the End.” So I’d heard Bennington’s voice — one of the more distinctive voices in rock, as he could go from very soft to very loud/screaming in what seemed like the drop of a hint — and had heard Shinoda rap, but not much else.

Since that time, I’ve listened extensively to four Linkin Park Albums, HYBRID THEORY (their debut, from 2000), METEORA (from 2003), MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT (2007), and ONE MORE LIGHT LIVE (2017). I’ve heard a number of songs I think are extraordinary, including “What I’ve Done,” “Battle Symphony,” “The Little Things Give You Away,” and “In Pieces.” These aren’t as bombastic as early Linkin Park songs, but they contain much heart and emotion and empathy, along with solid musicianship and interesting lyrics.

As a woodwind musician, I respond to excellent musicianship much more than I do to lyrics. (Though don’t get me wrong; I enjoy lyrics, too.) And I could tell the craftsmanship of how these songs were put together the first time I heard them.

So, yeah…”Numb” and “Crawling” are great, and there are all sorts of other songs that had a lot of airplay that are fine, too. But to me, “The Little Things Give Me Away” or “What I’ve Done” pack a huge emotional punch along with their craftsmanship and musicianship, so they’re probably my favorites of LP’s work. (At least, the work I’ve heard. I still have more albums to listen to, of course.)

Anyway, I told myself months ago that I’d buy Mike Shinoda’s CD when it came out. I knew it would be emotional, along with having good, solid musical underpinnings and of course the rapping Shinoda’s known for. (Any CD that’s named POST TRAUMATIC obviously know what it’s about, after all.)

The CD starts off with “Place to Start,” which deals with Shinoda’s sadness, frustration, incomprehension, and perhaps a bit of rage after Bennington’s suicide. Because all of a sudden, Shinoda’s in a place he never wanted to be. His bandmate is dead. And his group, LP, will not be the same without their lead singer, especially as Bennington had a huge range (like Chris Cornell) and the ability to sing any style required.

The suddenness and unexpected nature of Bennington’s death reminded me very much of what happened to my husband Michael. (Michael died of several heart attacks in one day, without warning, mind.) And Shinoda’s reaction to it reminded me very much of how I responded after Michael died; by incomprehension, numbness, anger, rage, sadness, frustration…and wondering how I’d ever manage to create again, considering Michael was my co-writer as well as my partner in life.

The next song, “Over Again,” deals with the run-up to the benefit concert LP did after Bennington’s death along with the aftermath for Shinoda personally. And the chorus, which says, “Sometimes, you don’t say goodbye once…instead you say goodbye over and over and over again, over and over and over again,” resonated very strongly with me.**

Other songs, including “About You” (featuring Blackbear), talk about how when you do finally manage to find a bit of peace, someone else brings up something that reminds you again about how you are grieving, and relates it back to the sudden death you have just endured. (“Even when it’s not about you, it’s still about you,” goes the verse. Yep. Ironic sometimes, and the literal truth other times. Works on every level.)

“Promises I Can’t Keep” and “Crossing a Line” both deal with the problem of how do you go on afterward. You need to do whatever you can, but you can’t do it the way you did before, and you may break promises even when you do your best, because your best alone is not what your best would’ve been with your creative partner (and you well know it). And to get to a new creative place, you may well need to cross a few lines…in Shinoda’s case, he has four other bandmates who have to be wondering about the future of Linkin Park every bit as much as Shinoda obviously is, and Shinoda seems rightfully worried that if he succeeds in his solo venture (as I sincerely hope he does; his message is powerful and his music is equally powerful), his bandmates won’t appreciate it much.

(I’m guessing they won’t have a problem with it, personally. But I can see why he’d be worried, sure.)

There are a few songs that are harder for me to handle than others, mind, because of the raw, emotional, and sometimes deeply profane lyricism. But that’s just another color in Shinoda’s palette, and I get it, artistically; this is what’s authentic to him, and as such, it works. And works very well.

In short, as I said at Amazon, POST TRAUMATIC is a heartbreakingly beautiful album. It goes through so many different emotions, moods, and feelings, all of which rang true to me. And the music itself is superb, with “Brooding” (an instrumental) probably my absolute favorite cut of all.

If you are grieving, if you’re a fan of alternative rock with electronic elements and rap mixed with solid musicianship and outstanding emotional lyricism, or if you’re a fan of Linkin Park, you need to hear this album.

Mind, you may not always like it, ’cause it’s a tough album to listen to due to its subject matter. But stick with it. It’s cathartic, raw, emotional, and real…and as such, it might be the most important album of 2018.

—–

**Edited to add: The dangers of writing when you’re tired got to me earlier. I mistyped the lyrics, and have now corrected them. (Sorry to all who read this sooner than I realized I needed to correct ’em, or read in their e-mail.) The error is mine alone.

 

 

Why Do We Feel So Bad When a Celebrity Suicides?

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Over the past week, two celebrities — handbag designer Kate Spade, and chef Anthony Bourdain — died in apparent suicides. And the grief when someone in the public eye kills himself (or herself) can be overwhelming. Whether that person is an actor, a sports star, a chef, a politician, or anything else that somehow brought that person to the heights of fame, the fact that person has a fan following before passing away so suddenly and abruptly by his/her own hand seems to magnify the outpouring of grief.

Or, at least, it seems to magnify how much that grief is being felt, because now the grief that people feel over the celebrity’s passing is also being covered in the news. And has become news in its own right.

Is this wrong?

Possibly, but not covering the grief people feel when someone they saw on television or the internet passes in such a sorrowful way also would be wrong.

See, these folks — who don’t know most of us from Adam or Eve — become like our friends. We get to know them. We care about them. We enjoy seeing them. And we want to believe, somehow, that their moment on the public stage will last forever…even though we know that’s impossible.

Lest you think I don’t understand why people feel terrible when people they knew (or at least knew of) ended their lives, I need to give you some background.

A very good friend of mine died by his own hand when I was in my early twenties. He was a smart man, a kind man, a caring man. He played organ in the church. He owned a home, which he’d inherited from his mother. He was a huge football fan. And he was a particularly gifted bowler, to the point he could’ve — and quite possibly would’ve, had he lived — made the Professional Bowler’s Tour.

(Yes, there is such a thing. Though there is a regional circuit to handle, first. And that takes a while to navigate. But I digress.)

My friend was only thirty-eight. And he felt he had nothing to live for, because he didn’t have a romantic relationship; he didn’t seem close to his family; he didn’t believe he should impose upon his friends.

So, one day, he told me and my then-husband one story about where he was going. And he told another good friend a different story. By the time we sorted out the stories, my friend had been dead for a few days.

He died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

He’d battled severe depression for quite some time. And he was in immense, enormous pain. His emotional state had gotten to be so dreadful, he couldn’t reach out anymore. And he didn’t want his friends to worry; he didn’t think we should worry.

That’s why he did what he did.

And to this day, I can’t think about my friend, and wonder about why he wouldn’t reach out to me. But I also know that he just wasn’t capable of doing it at the time; he was too upset, too hurt, too confused, maybe too angry with himself…just not in the right frame of mind, and couldn’t understand that he truly did matter.

I think, honestly, he didn’t believe anyone would remember him past the hour of his death. But he was wrong.

Getting back to the two celebrities who just passed away — I didn’t know Kate Spade personally, though I knew of her designs. (Very clever handbags, and quite attractive ones.) I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain either, though I read some of his writing (good stuff, with a visceral, meaty undertone; perfect for the chef he was), and saw at least parts of a few of his shows. I know they were creative people, and they did the best they could in their lives to maximize their creativity in a positive way.

And their deaths leave a big hole in the world, because they were known to have done this.

Of course their friends, their loved ones, their work mates, and everyone who held them in high esteem are devastated. How could they not be?

So, in a way, I can answer the question I posed above, regarding why we seem to feel a celebrity’s suicide so much stronger than a “run-of-the-mill person.” (Not that there is any such animal, but again, I digress.)

I think we do this because of our common humanity. And because many of us do know at least one person who has died, suddenly, because the pain got to be too much for him or her…and all we can do when we see that someone else has died in that same, sudden way is to extend our hands in sympathy.

We do this because we’re human. And it’s the best part of who we are, that leads us to mourn, even for those we didn’t know.

———-

P.S. No matter what you think when you’re at your worst, about your own personal shortcomings, or about the things you haven’t managed to do yet, or the people you feel you’ve failed — you matter, gentle reader.

Yes. You do.

And if you feel like you don’t, please get yourself to a counselor, a physician, a psychiatrist, a priest…whoever you can reach that has at least a little training in how to deal with someone in a major life-crisis (depression certainly is that, though most don’t seem to believe so). (Please?)

It’s Mother’s Day (in the US)

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Folks, last week I asked a friend of mine who lives in Scotland if he was going to do anything for Mother’s Day, and he drew a blank.

Then we both figured out that Mother’s Day isn’t celebrated on the same day in the United Kingdom. This year, Mothering Sunday (what they call Mother’s Day) fell on March eleventh.

So, for those of you in the United States, you probably know that Mother’s Day is today. Sunday, May thirteenth, 2018. And beyond all the hype you see online or on television regarding “you must get Mom this special something NOW,” there’s a quieter, more reflective holiday underneath it all that deserves your time and attention.

I realize that not everyone has a mother who’s still alive. (I am very fortunate that I can celebrate this day with my Mom, and am glad to do it.)

I also realize that some people don’t have mothers at all. (One of my best male friends is raising a daughter, alone. I’ve told him before that he should celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as he’s doing all the work.) And days like this are hard for them.

Personally, I think you should celebrate as much as you can, as often as you can, with the people who matter the most to you. If those people have nothing to do with your biological (or adopted) families, well, then they just don’t.

But you should let people know when you care about them, as often as you possibly can.

Why? Well, this world can be a cold and lonely place from time to time. The people we care about the most help bridge those times, and remind us that we do have family, friends, and loved ones to give us strength when we have little ourselves. And remind us of our past successes when we’re instead dwelling on our current failures, because they’ve seen it all and know we can rise, as phoenixes, from the ashes of futility yet again, given time.

Nurturing is hard work. And the people who do it don’t get anywhere near the credit they deserve.

So on this particular day, I hope to celebrate my mother. And my sister. And my friends who are mothers. And my friend the single father (who really should get to celebrate today, too). And everyone else who needs to be remembered for nurturing the next generation, so they can in turn nurture the next when their time comes.

What are you going to do for Mother’s Day? (Or what did you do, if you’re in a place that’s already celebrated it?) Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 13, 2018 at 4:52 am

Remembering Barbara Bush

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Former First Lady Barbara Bush died a few days ago at age 92, and her life was so extraordinary, I had to gather my thoughts for a few days in order to write about her.

First, she was an outspoken First Lady in many respects. She could be tart, was opinionated and made no bones about it, was often amusing (in a wry way), refused to be what was considered “the perfect political spouse” — and the American public adored her for all of that.

Second, as both the wife of one President and the mother of another, she stands alone among First Ladies of the United States, and probably will for a long time (if not for all time).

Third, she was a pro-choice Republican. These are rarer than hen’s teeth on the ground these days in the U.S., but once upon a time, there were any number of women (and, probably, a few men also) in the GOP who believed that women had the right to deal with their own bodies that no one else could — or should — gainsay. (Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion, counter to what right-wing pundits may say these days. What it does mean is closer to Hillary Clinton’s view of abortion: “Safe, legal, and rare.”)

Fourth, Mrs. Bush proved that you could both be for “female causes” and still be what is considered by most a “traditional woman” — i.e., her family was at the center of her life, and she fought like tooth and nails for them. This is what feminism can and should be: the right to choose your own life, in or outside of the home.

Fifth, Mrs. Bush was a lifelong advocate for literacy. She believed you should read. Educate yourself. Learn something. And keep on learning until the end of your life.

These five things seem to me to be the most important things no one is talking about in relation to Mrs. Bush. And yet, they were the underpinnings of what she was all about. Family. Literacy. Independence. The right to choose your own fate.

Oops, almost forgot one. She was a proud grandmother, too. She enjoyed “kissing their boo-boos” (their minor injuries) and giving her love and support to them, and showed them the power of unconditional love and support.

All in all, I think we need more women like Mrs. Bush. She wasn’t always easy to handle, could be stubborn as a mule when it came to her family (and, perhaps, her causes), certainly had her moments of anger and frustration and heartache and pain — but she rose above all of it, and had a life that many would envy: one filled with love, happiness, and public service.

Those six things are what comes to mind, when I think about the long and fruitful life of Barbara Bush. What do you think about, when you think of her? Let me know in the comments!