On Common Ground: Let spring bring life, love and hope
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Friday, Apr. 04, 2014

On Common Ground: Let spring bring life, love and hope

There is a tenderness in spring flowers, a delicacy to the coming of spring. Nature oscillates between tentative steps toward warmth and rebirth, and cold reality checks of rain and wind and chill.

On April 13, it will be exactly 18 years since I arrived in Los Angeles to see my sister, Suzie.

Suzie was dying of metastatic breast cancer. By the time I walked into her hospital room that day, the cancer had spread to her lungs, brain and liver. It was the cancer in the liver that would kill her two weeks later. Though I was 36 at the time, her funeral that April 29 was the first I had ever attended.

It was also my first exposure to cancer and its ravages. I knew nothing about that disease then, and I only know a little about it now, despite having known many people who have battled it.

One learns this: The disease must be eradicated.

For many years, I associated the month of April with loss. Hummingbirds would return to our feeder. Pansies and daffodils would bloom inevitably and happily in my garden beds, signifying the renewal of life. But I would think of my sister. She was only 42 when she died.

I learned in that year about that strange and surreal place of mourning. It took me much longer to accept Suzie’s death than most people outside of my family expected. At least one reader actively complained that I had written too much about her.

Perhaps that reader was thoroughly correct in saying so.

But I was learning what it was to grieve. I was finding out what it meant to feel one’s heart wounded and torn asunder. In 1996, I discovered that the world of loss catapults one into a wholly different reality.

For many years, I have officiated at funerals. Most of the time I have not known the people I am suddenly asked to care for. Sometimes the people I have worked with felt release from the anguish of watching a slow and tormenting end of a beloved father or mother. At other times, their lost one died as a result of a wholly unexpected crisis.

I don’t think I will ever forget one mother of two boys, a teenager and one in his early 20s. I had never met her. Entering the room in the funeral home where I had waited for her, she walked up to me and reached out for my arm.

She looked into my eyes, and said, “I will just have to hold on and not let go.”

“You do that,” I said.

It is 18 years since Suzie died. In Hebrew, the language of my ancestral and religious tradition, the number 18 spells the word “chai,” which means “life.”

At the very end of March, our son and his beautiful girlfriend, who comes all the way from Yantai, China, visited us in our Concord home. I saw life and love in their eyes.

I want an April filled with both, for me and for everyone. I want an April when Suzie’s memory can be simply a blessing for me. I want to remember all that was best in her and just be grateful.

I would like this spring to be a time of hope and peace. I would like to feel the renewal of life around.

I would like to know the tenderness of flowers.

Barbara Thiede is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Barbara? Email her at barbara.thiede@earthlink.net.

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