Great Visit with Madison

Today, I had a treat.  My beloved Madison Stingray came to visit.  Madison was my writing student from fourth grade through college.  Now she is getting her Master’s degree in Archaeology from Cambridge University.  We had a lovely two-hour visit that easily could have stretched into the rest of the afternoon except that another student arrived for her session.  Alas, I will look forward to seeing Madison again when she returns for her next school break.

These wonderful long-term relationships with my students are the best part of my job.  We become real friends in the process of exploring writing together and those friendships are irreplaceable.

Thanks, Madison, for taking the time to come see me. As always, it felt as if we’d seen each other just last week rather than several months back.  Of course, that’s a good measure of our friendship.

Happy travels back to England.

Madison

Thank You, Sam and Jaime

We returned this morning from our trip to Nashville where we visited my brother Sam and his partner, Jaime.  We had a “big time,” as we say in Texas, with lots of food, music, and sightseeing.  However, our main time was spent in conversation. We talked late into every night, started again early in the morning and went all day.  It was as though we just couldn’t stop ourselves from telling and telling and more telling.  We laughed, I got teary about a dozen times (not unusual for me) and we even sang.  We also tried out Jaime’s new Instapot (part slow-cooker, part pressure cooker) and ate the most delicious coconut soup I’ve ever tasted made at home.

Sam even gave me a mini-lesson in songwriting and encouraged me to try my hand at it.  I spent the trip home on the plane playing with a song, the very first I’ve ever written.  I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a gold record, but I felt proud of my first effort. More than proud, I felt happy.  The process was a lot of fun.

Spending time with my little brother and his life partner was long overdue.  I am so happy Ray and I made the trek.  They were wonderful and gracious hosts and couldn’t have been sweeter even with all that talking and crying.

Sam even got up and took us to the airport at 4:45 am.

What else can I say?  That is love.

Here are a few photos:

Station Inn, Blue Grass, Sunday NightIMG_1483

Legend’s Corner on Lower Broadway

Legends Corner

 

George

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REPOST: BROTHER GEORGE’S LAST DAY

MAY 23, 2016 LENLEATHERWOOD 10 COMMENTS

Fourteen years ago, my brother George passed away. He was 54 years old.

George called on the evening of May 2nd, 2004 and told me that death was coming soon. My response: “Can you hold on until tomorrow? I’ll get there as fast as I can.” His response was, “I’ll try.”

Thanks to my husband Ray, who called the airlines and reserved a rent car for me while I rushed upstairs to pack a bag, I was at LAX in a little over an hour and soon on an overnight flight to Dallas. I arrived right at dawn on May 3rd and drove the back roads to little Leonard, Texas where my brother lived with his wife Sandra and their daughters, Leslie, Katie and Mahlon. On the drive, I watched the sun come up and prayed that George was still alive. It was too early to call and besides, whatever the situation, I was heading straight for my brother’s house, no matter what.

I was listening to Alan Jackson, George Strait and Gretchen Holmes on a country radio station while I drove on the two-lane roads that wound through the country from Dallas to that little North Texas town. The fields were green, the bluebonnets in full bloom and the sky streaked with orange and pink as the sun rose. I’m not sure the day could have been more beautiful. The line between vibrant life and peaceful death seemed to hover right there in the air.

George had esophageal cancer that had metastasized to his lungs and he had been given 16 months to live. He was now on month 18 and we all knew that every day was tough on him. He had spent all those 18 months being home with his wife and kids, going to basketball games, school programs and family related functions. He had also stayed in close contact with his daughter from his first marriage, Casey. He’d sought out second and third opinions on his medical condition and every doctor had said the same thing: terminal cancer with no treatment available.

The day he told me that diagnosis, I was upstairs in my bedroom talking with him on the phone. “Sixteen months,” he said. “That’s all they’ll say.” After that conversation, I curled up in the fetal position on my bed. This was my closest sibling in age and my oldest friend. I had already lost my older two brothers to AIDS and my mother had died four years before. All I could think as I lay there was, “Not George. How will I make it without George?”

So, there I was on that beautiful spring day heading to my brother’s house either to say goodbye or to find him already dead. This was a very sad spot to find myself.

When I drove up to the house, everything looked exactly like it always did: the trampoline in the backyard, the cars in the driveway, the dogs running up and barking at the car. I tried the front door and it was locked, then went around back and turned the knob on that door. It opened. It was about seven o’clock in the morning and the house was quiet. I walked up the stairs to George and Sandra’s room, dreading what I might find. I tiptoed down the hall and peeked in the open door; there they sat on the edge of the bed, Sandra with her arm around George’s thin shoulders. George looked over, saw me and said in a weak voice. “Here’s Len!”

I could see that George was happy that I had made it. My brother Sam had arrived the day before, my sister Leslie was on her way. George hugged me and lay back down in bed. He soon lapsed into a deep coma. The hospice nurse came and checked on him. She said that it was unlikely that he would awaken, that from here he would simply drift away.

By late afternoon, my sister Leslie arrived. We explained the situation. George had been in a coma now for at least six hours. We all went into the bedroom so Leslie would see him. She leaned over and kissed him, talking to him softly. Within a few seconds, he began to move his legs and slowly he roused himself from that deep sleep. He didn’t talk, but he clearly wanted to get out of bed. He pushed himself up and tottered on the side of the bed. He walked stiff-legged to the door and pointed that he wanted to go downstairs. We all protested that he needed to get back in bed, but he walked to the stairs and then sat down, as if he was going to scoot himself downstairs if we didn’t help him. My brother Sam helped him navigate the stairs and then Sandra, Leslie and I followed.

George had recently had a new carpet and new tile floor installed in his living room and kitchen. He clearly wanted us all to see how nice they looked.

We sat on couches and chairs while he tottered over and leaned against the kitchen cabinet. He was straining to breathe.

While I think George wanted us to admire the new carpet and tile, I soon realized there might be more to his motivation. We were all so terribly sad about his dying; none of us wanted to say goodbye.

In those ten minutes of listening to him gulp for air and wheeze, everyone in that room understood that his body was no longer capable of sustaining any quality of life. It was as if we all came to the same awareness simultaneously: it was time for George to die.

Sam picked him up and carried him upstairs. George made Sam put him down in the hall and then he pointed to the doors of his girls’ rooms. Sandra called for them to come out. George went from one to the other and hugged them, then he turned to all of us and hugged us one at a time. We helped him back into bed, where he immediately lapsed into a coma. He died a few hours later.

I have been at the deathbeds of several people over the years, but I have never seen anyone die with as much awareness as George. He not only announced that the time was near, but he waited until everyone was there and personally said good-bye.

I sometimes think George didn’t so much die as transcend. It was as though he accepted that life was over for him and he needed to move on to whatever was waiting on the other side. I know he grieved about leaving Sandra and the girls, but by that 4th day of May, 2004, he’d moved into acceptance about his condition. He was at peace.

As for me, I’ve learned that my brother is never far away. The love we shared is still very much alive and well. I have also come to see that I can indeed make it without him, though I still would much prefer he were here. I do miss him, though, and hope there will be a day when I see him again. My faith teaches that this is the case; I am a believer, but I suppose I still think, “Well, we will see.”

As Leonard Cohen so aptly wrote,

My love goes with you as your love stays with me. It’s just a way of changing like the shoreline and the sea. But let’s not talk of love or change or things that we can’t untie. Your eyes are soft with sorrow, hey, that’s no way to say good-bye.

Ah, so very true.

George and Len at Brother Jim’s Wedding

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10 THOUGHTS ON “REPOST: BROTHER GEORGE’S LAST DAY”

Susan/s
MAY 4, 2016 AT 7:52 AM

Such a moving post, Len. Wish that all of us could say our goodbyes so beautifully. Thanks for sharing.

REPLY

lenleatherwood
MAY 4, 2016 AT 7:59 AM

Thanks, Susan. Yes, George’s goodbye was extraordinary.

REPLY

Nancilynn
MAY 4, 2016 AT 11:02 AM

What a moving testament to your brother’s strength and love.

Hugs!

REPLY

lenleatherwood
MAY 4, 2016 AT 1:07 PM

Thanks, Nancilynn. Hugs to you.

REPLY

mayadeb02
MAY 4, 2016 AT 1:01 PM

That’s the most beautiful love, yes, love story.

REPLY

lenleatherwood
MAY 4, 2016 AT 1:06 PM

Yes, a real love story. It’s true. Thanks, Maya.

REPLY

Kelly Wise
MAY 5, 2016 AT 4:03 PM

Len,

This story really resonates with me, both in the amazing blessing for you and for the conscious will of your brother at the end. I have always been fascinated with how this final transition takes place. As a thirty year nurse, I see death as the last developmental stage through which we all must pass. If all goes well, it is smooth and beautiful, perfect in its purpose, meant to be shared and shrouded in love. And such was your brother’s. Amazing story, amazing life.

REPLY

lenleatherwood
MAY 5, 2016 AT 5:53 PM

Thanks, Kelly. What a lovely description of the final stage of dying. Hugs to you

REPLY

Mary Jo Doig
MAY 5, 2016 AT 8:11 PM

Len, Such blessings you and your brother gave each other and he with the rest of his family, too. I have shared my mother’s and grandfather’s end of life moments and they were grace-filled, yet this story you tell feels extraordinary to me. I am so happy for you that this brother you loved so much was able to wait for you for your earthly farewell. Thank you for this.

REPLY

lenleatherwood
MAY 5, 2016 AT 8:23 PM

Thank you, Mary Jo. I appreciate your kind words.

REPLY

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Made It to Sam and Jaime’s House!

Sam and Jaime.jpg

It is 1:16 am CST and we have just crawled into bed after a lovely dinner and a good conversation with brother Sam and his partner, Jaime.  Ray and I are snug in their guest room bed though the temperatures outside are currently 19 degrees with a low of 16 in the wee hours.  When we came out of the airport to jump in Sam’s car, it was around 20 degrees.  Luckily, we were prepared with winter coats and scarves. Still, I’d forgotten what 20 degrees feels like.  I am very happy to be snuggled up in this cozy room, settling in for the night.

I forgot to take a photo of Sam and Jaime this evening so I have borrowed a photo from Sam’s Facebook page.  I’m sure I will get more current ones to post tomorrow.

Sleep well, my friends.  I’ll be checking back in with you again tomorrow.

 

 

 

Heading to Nashville

I’m excited. Tomorrow, Ray and I are headed to Nashville to see my little brother Sam and his partner, Jaime. This trip has been long in coming after being postponed due to the Thomas fire. So, tonight we are packing our bags for our visit.

Sam has already checked on our dietary needs – no refined sugar, no beef or pork  –  and suggested a few ideas for fun. Music, restaurants, and movies.  I am packing some warm clothes since Southern CA temperatures are a bit higher than those in Nashville right now. I still have to dig out my wool coat and scarf. I hope I can find my gloves.

I am looking forward to this trip.  I haven’t gotten to spend quality time with Sam or Jaime in too long a time.

Happy trails, my friends.  Next time I check in, I suspect I’ll be marveling at the cold temperatures.  It is supposed to be 11 degrees for a low and 30 for a high. I may need to pack my long johns too!

bigstock-Downtown-Nashville-Skyline-88079150-Copy

 

 

Honey-Sweetened Lemon Bars: 5 Stars

I plan to make these tomorrow. We have loads of lemons on our lemon trees and a healthy lemon bar is a definite treat. Here is the recipe. Let me know who it turns out for you.

Filling:

3 whole eggs
1/4 cup honey (I found the smaller amount was perfectly sweetened enough – raw honey is your best option)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup coconut oil (I cut back on the coconut oil from the original recipe since it was too strong of a coconut flavor to me. 1/4 cup was perfect! Choice virgin cold pressed unrefined coconut oil for best nutritional value.)

Crust:

1 cup of raw almonds (soaked and dehydrated, if possible)
1 cup of raw pecans (I have used practically any combination of nuts here!)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup of melted virgin coconut oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt

Filling Directions:

1. Blend the eggs, honey, and lemon juice together in a small sauce pan until thoroughly combined.
2. Turn the heat on to medium high and add coconut oil, mixing regularly until the oil has melted.
3. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens and bubbles.
4. Remove from pan and place in a bowl in the refrigerator to cool and thicken further.

Crust Directions:

1. Place nuts in a food processor or blender and pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed. You may have little chunks of nuts, and that is fine.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse again until well combined.
3. Spread over the bottom of a greased 8 x 8 inch pan.
4. Bake for 15-18 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
5. Cool completely before layering the filling over the top. Return to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Recipe from http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2010/08/healthy-lemon-bars.html

50 of My Happiest Memories

I participate in an e-circle with several other women through Story Circle Network and this was the writing prompt for December.  I would recommend it to anyone as a chance to think back on happy times in your life.  I could write a blog post (or several) on pretty much any of these items.  I have on several already, but this may also serve as a jumping off point in future when I need a writing prompt.
These are in no particular order and this is by no means a complete list.  I will post this and immediately think of ten more things I should have added.  This is simply the best I could do so I could post for my e-circle.
Try this prompt.  It will make you smile at the happy events in your life.
Here I go:
1) Having all three of my babies at home with a midwife, my best friend, Patrica, and Ray.
2) Being awarded the Crucis Cross at Camp Crucis (Episcopal church camp) when I was 12 after having spent that camp session with my brother George.
3) Marrying Ray Beaty.
4) Traveling in Europe alone for a month when I was 19 after spending time with brothers Sam and John in Italy.
5) Living and working in Italy for a year when I was 22 – 23 and spending time with my brother John.
6) Riding my big red tricycle up and down the sidewalk on East 9th Street.
7) Snuggling with my mom in bed, reading.
8) Riding with my dad in the pickup to feed the cows.
9) Falling in love for the first time with my high school sweetheart.
10) Being a member of a Sweepstakes band in high school.
11) Winning a slot as a twirler as a senior in high school and being part of a twirling trio that went all the way to State and won all 1s.
12) Sneaking out with my girlfriends in high school and riding around town in my VW.
13) Pouring out my heart to my beloved Lorene, our housekeeper and my extra mother.
14)  Being part of the “Free Curriculum” program at the University of Utah and designing my own college curriculum.
15) Discovering the joys of hiking and camping with my sister Leslie and her family while in college in Utah.
16) Working as a psychotherapist on a psych unit and at a community mental health center.
17) Moving to Los Angeles and being near my brother Jim through his dying process.
18) Vacationing in Paris with Ray.
19) Singing hymns at church on the back row with my friends at Holy Trinity, Bonham.
20) Singing with the St. Thomas the Apostle choir.
21) Singing with the Los Angeles Camarata at Carnegie Hall.
22) Being honored at Carnegie Hall as a writing teacher through the Alliance of Artists and Writers.
23) Writing over 50 memoir pieces for Nerdnosh and reconnecting with old friends from my hometown.
24) Having several of my memoir pieces and short stories published in literary journals.
25) Having one of my short stories nominated for a Pushcart Prize (the best of the small presses)
26) Being a member of John Rechy’s weekly Masterclass in writing.
27) Finishing several drafts of my memoir and getting a positive response at the Maui Writing Conference.
28) Talking with my mother.
29) Running the PTA parent education program for the Beverly Hills School District and receiving the highest award in PTA for running those parenting programs.
30) Starting my 20 Minutes a Day blog back in 2012 with the current number of blog posts equaling 2019 with almost 200,000 hits.
31) Spending time at our orange grove in Ojai.
32) Watching my daughters graduate from USC and UCLA.
33) Seeing Sarah graduate from medical school and her residency program.
34) Seeing Liz graduate from law school.
35) Seeing Rachael get a full-ride for one year of law school.
36) Watching my granddaughter Luna born.
37) Seeing baby Nico immediately after Sarah’s c-section.
38) Watching Sarah and Gregorio marry at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.
39) Serving as Rector’s Warden, on the Vestry and as an acolyte at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.
40) Visiting/laughing with close family and friends
41) Cooking breakfast for the homeless
42) Selling antique decor to the Chili’s chain
43) Buying and selling antiques at Canton, Dallas Fair Park and Brimfield, Mass.
44) Becoming part of Story Circle Network.
45) Presenting workshops at the Story Circle Network national writing conferences
46) Becoming the online writing classes coordinator for Story Circle Network.
47) Working with my writing students to win regional and national writing awards through the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest.
48) Working with my high school and graduate students on essays to help them get into their first choice colleges and graduate schools.
49) Being part of three Victorian house restorations headed by Ray and getting to enjoy those beautiful homes.
50) Celebrating 37 years of marriage with a man who is my best friend.
happy moments

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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