Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Reflections on Funerals — and Lives Well-Lived

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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

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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

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About my Husband Michael, the Writer…

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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

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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

Anniversary Thoughts — and Book Recs (from me)

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Folks, it’s my fourteenth wedding anniversary today, as I write this. (Actually, it’s nearly over, as it’s after eleven p.m. as I type this out.) And while I’m happy to remember my late husband Michael, and the happiest day of my life — our wedding day — spending my anniversary alone, again, is not the world’s most pleasant thing.

Grief is a very strange thing, you see. It’s a personal journey of sorts; how well can you cope with the pain? How well can you go on with your life, and all its vicissitudes, and yet do your best to honor your loved ones…honor your memories?

Every person’s grief-journey is different. Mine has been long, protracted, and difficult, but along the way I’ve met many wonderful people and reaffirmed long-standing friendships. I talk about Michael with my friends, and about how much I miss him, and about how much he did to help me as a writer and editor…and also about how much he enjoyed listening to me play my instruments (usually I played my clarinet, sometimes the alto sax), or discussing the music I was writing, or really anything at all.

Michael enjoyed so many things, you see. He was a strong, vibrant presence, even though he, of course, did not see himself that way.

I’m glad to have met him, married him, and been together with him until he passed — way too soon — in 2004. I will honor our wedding day every day of my life, but most especially on our anniversary.

That said, I also wanted to talk a little about writing today. Michael was a writer, and he loved to write. He also loved reading my stories, and talking with me about works in progress; I like to think that he’d be ecstatic that ELFY is out in two parts, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, because Michael thought Bruno’s journey from discarded orphan to worthy hero was well worth reading. (Plus, it’s funny, and Michael, like me, was always partial to that.)

My publisher has priced AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE at ninety-nine cents, so it’s quite affordable. And if you enjoy that, you can go grab A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE for only $2.99 — the two together are less than the price of most fast-food hamburger meals, and are far more satisfying (with far fewer empty calories, too).

That being said, I also wanted to point out that several other stories are available right now, including several that Michael had a great deal of input in (actually writing two of them). All are ninety-nine cents to buy, but are free to read with Kindle Unlimited. (I still plan to get up versions for other sites, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

TO SURVIVE THE MAELSTROM is a novella featuring Peter Welmsley, one of the few survivors of the Battle of Hunin. How can he continue to live while his best friend, much less his fiancée as well, are dead? And what does an empathic were-mouse have to do with Peter, anyway?

Note that the Marketing for Romance Writers Group on Goodreads featured TO SURVIVE THE MAELSTROM as its book of the week for June 21, 2016…thank you so much for that!

Also, considering I’m talking about my husband this evening, the main impetus for me to write this story was a 2,000 word story fragment Michael left behind. I wanted to figure out the rest of the story…so I did. (And I do hope you will enjoy it.)

Next is Michael’s fantasy-romance novella COLUMBA AND THE CAT. This story features Princess Columba of Illnowa; she does not want to be a princess, as she’s suited to be a musician-sorceress instead. She’s been looking around for a familiar animal — someone to help her with her mage-studies — and happens across a small cat with unusual markings while out riding. She rescues the cat, and then magical things start to happen…including dreams of a near-perfect suitor (not young, not overly handsome, but smart and funny and interesting). But the cat is a shapeshifter…when, oh when, will Columba figure that out?

And, finally, there are the two stories of spaceman and adventurer Joey Maverick, written by Michael (with the second story being finished and expanded by me), A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT and ON WESTMOUNT STATION.

I hope you will give these books and stories a try, as it’s the only present I want for this, my fourteenth anniversary. (And thank you.)

A Sunday Thought…and a Thought

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Folks, when I woke up earlier today, I thought hard about life. About what my place in the world is (nay, bigger than that — the entire universe!), and whether or not what I’m doing is my best course of action.

Then I snorted, sat up, and started laughing in near-hysteria.

I’m a writer. An editor. A musician. A scholar of arcane disciplines, and a student of history. Also a daughter, a friend, a colleague…

And, of course, the widow of Michael B. Caffrey.

This last is my most precious joy, not because of the widow part — far, far from it! — but because Michael was the most amazing person I have ever had the privilege to behold. He was funny, smart, self-educated, gifted at many things, and a person of remarkable wit and consequence. Michael mattered so very much; what had formed him, what had shaped him, into the man I feel in my heart was firmly destined to be my husband and other half of my soul interested me greatly.

Because we didn’t have that much time together, there are some things I will never know from his perspective. (I have picked up on some additional things since his untimely passing from his sister, his nieces, a few of his friends, and his ex-wife, who was possibly his very best friend in all the world besides myself.) But one thing I do know…Michael was special, and important, and being with him was worth every last bit of pain I’ve suffered since his untimely passing.

Much less the pain I endured before I ever met him, as I’d been previously — and quite unhappily — married before I had the privilege to meet him.

I mention all of that because it’s important to me. Important enough that I’m willing to put it out there, for all to see, in a format that will last as long as the Internet does…and perhaps longer.

But perhaps that seems obvious to you. If you’ve been here before, you know this about me by now; I have suffered, but I have learned, and I have been deeply loved. These things cannot help but mark a person. And in this case, I hope they have made me a better person.

That said, I can’t help but reflect on how life, all in all, marks us. We are all the sum total of our experiences. If we are wise, and learn from our mistakes — and celebrate our joys, no matter how brief and evanescent they may be — we may become our best selves, and worthy of the highest love our species can bestow.

This Sunday, I want you to consider your own highest gifts and blessings. From where did they spring? What are you doing with them, now, and what will you do with them in the future?

Now, as for the additional thought…this was my original post on the subject at Facebook, a few short minutes ago (if you want to read my public posts at Facebook, go here):

One of my best friends just pointed out that everything in life, good and bad, is a learning experience. As a writer, I tend to observe much, even when I don’t seem to be taking it in…the hope is that it gives my stories more weight, as I can’t help but do it anyway.

That said, as I’m in the month of June — my wedding anniversary rapidly approaches, the 14th (and 12th without my beloved husband by my side), I marvel at the changes life has brought. Some have been horrible. Some have been remarkably good.

But to get to Michael, to be with him, to hear him laugh and to create works with him was my most precious joy. I’d not change any of that for the world.

Thus are today’s Sunday thoughts.

Any questions?

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 12, 2016 at 6:26 am

Advice for Valentine’s Day, 2016 Version

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Folks, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to write a few words, just in case you haven’t read my two previous blogs on the subject (which, for the record, are here and here).

Too many people get caught up in conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day, because commercials and books and movies and nearly every possible thing says, “You must buy a whole lot of unnecessary things, or your partner won’t know you love them!” Even if you walk into a grocery store, there will be reminders that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so have you bought your cake/roses/card/fill-in-the-blank yet? (The most inventive one I’ve seen around here was over at Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant, where they’re offering a Valentine’s Day dinner, catered, that you can pick up for something like $42. That might actually be useful, and didn’t bother me…but I can see where it might bother someone who feels pressured to do something for Valentine’s Day.)

The thing is, as I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is not for conspicuous consumption. It is for love. But somehow, in our consumer-driven society, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the only way to love someone is to buy him or her a whole lot of stuff…and that’s just not right.

Let me give you a few examples.

The best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had was in 2003. Why was it so good? Well, Michael was with me, then, and the two of us had a great and quiet dinner at home, watched some of his favorite “Danger Mouse” videos (Michael loved them, and I enjoyed ’em, too — mostly because I liked seeing how he reacted to them), and then retired to “none of your business land.”

Note that this didn’t cost us anything. We already had the “Danger Mouse” videos. We already had the food. We already had anything else we needed in the house…we didn’t need roses, or wine, or fancy chocolates, or even sushi (something Michael and I both enjoyed, and I continue to appreciate), because we had each other and that’s what counted.

And my second favorite Valentine’s Day was in 2004. Michael and I had just moved from San Francisco to Iowa, and were living in a motel. The move had been stressful and we were close to flat broke, and finding work was a challenge that we hadn’t expected.

So, what did Michael do? This time, we went to a scenic overlook outside Davenport on I-80 with a couple of sub sandwiches, some soda, and sat and talked. It was the middle of winter, but I didn’t feel cold…and I don’t think he did, either. We felt the world was full of possibilities, because we were with each another…and I was touched that Michael remembered I liked spicy-hot peppers on my sub (something he wouldn’t touch because of long-term stomach distress).

You see, if a guy remembers what you like, that is sexy to a woman. Michael knew that.

Now, what did I do for these Valentine’s Day outings? (Maybe you’re asking this, and it’s a valid question.) Mostly, I was there and fully in the moment…yes, I’d asked Michael what he wanted on both days, and I’d actually tried to cook for him in 2003, but he wasn’t having it. (Mostly, Michael cooked for us, because he enjoyed it. And besides, he said I’d done too much for people as it was, over the years; now it was time someone did something for me.) I did suggest the “Danger Mouse” videos in 2003, and I probably suggested going out for subs in 2004…but for the most part, Michael made those outings happen.

So, to sum up…the important thing about Valentine’s Day, or any day, is for your partner to know that he or she is loved. Spending large amounts of money on a Pajamagram or a Vermont teddy bear or fancy chocolates (much though I enjoy that) is not necessary. Showing you care, that you pay attention, that you know what your partner likes…listening to him/her speak and asking intelligent questions (or giving intelligent answers)…being fully in that moment with him/her, with your cell phones/tablets off and your attention undivided…well, those are by far the best gifts you can give.

Don’t let the “must spend big money NOW!” narrative of the commercials blind you to this, OK?