Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lisa's Memorial Service

I read this for Lisa's Memorial Service - it was such a beautiful remembrance with family and friends and several people read or spoke. I was especially moved by one of Kyle's teachers who spoke about how Lisa was so involved with Kyle's school - she is well-respected and loved by the community and has touched so many lives.

The photo at right was taken 13 years ago - at my wedding - with little Kyle - he was about 3 months old....

Remembering Lisa -

I have spent the last few months thinking a lot about Lisa. When Lisa called me in May that she couldn’t make my birthday celebration, and she told me on the phone that she had cancer – that word went through me like a rock shattering glass. How could life be so unfair? One day we’re meeting for happy hour and she is driving her cute little Audi – then, all of a sudden, it’s cancer. Actually, I was a bit envious of her car and also that she learned how to drive a stick shift. I have still not learned how to drive a manual transmission. Lisa was so happy that her boyfriend John had taught her how to drive that car.

There is a Hindu proverb that says – “no disease like hope.” I continued to have hope, that precious, stupid hope that we all have that we can beat death. Sometimes I live my life almost in a dream, hoping not to wake up. The dying teach us to be present, to live in the moment. A Buddhist teacher and author Sylvia Boorstein (author of the book Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There) says: “Life is difficult for everybody. Once you’re in, there’s no way out. You have to go forward. And we all die in the end. So how to deal with it?”

Yes, how to deal with it.

A couple of weeks ago I visited a greenhouse in the middle of winter. It was the Cowles Conservatory at the Walker Sculpture Garden. It was very cold outside, on one of those 10 below zero days and as I walked inside, it was 80 degrees. Palm trees were reaching to the ceiling and seedlings were emerging from the dirt. I was almost hesitant to take off my coat, that yes, this warmth was real, it really was nice inside. There were green plants thriving in the middle of winter. I stayed for about a half hour and it helped brighten my gray, uncertain mood. It helped to know that one season overtakes another. At this time of winter, when winter solstice has passed and the days are gradually getting longer and lighter, it gives me hope. But ice was on the glass. This was just one square of isolated heat, it was still winter. When visiting hours were over, I would have to leave, I would have to step out into the cold.

I’m glad I spent a lot of time visiting Lisa these last few months. I would come over and sit with her in her bedroom, climb on the bed with her, and sometimes my nephew Kyle, and we would talk and watch movies, almost like a slumber party. I brought over lots of movies and magazines for her, it was something for me to do. Lisa’s dad would answer the door and make us fresh squeezed lemonade. Sometimes we ordered pizza. As the chemo and radiation treatments intensified, Lisa said she was sick of being sick. We were all waiting for what was coming, we just didn’t know when, or if, or for sure.

I knew Lisa before she married my brother, we were both friends with Caroline, who married my brother’s friend and who died of cancer almost a decade ago. We went to a lot of funerals, including Lisa’s mom, who also died of cancer. We both had divorces in the same year and it was hard to be in the middle of things, to lose part of my family and hers. Lisa remained a dear friend, like a sister to me. I’ve been looking through a lot of photos lately and I had forgotten some of the happy times we had together as two families. Lisa and I were in each other’s weddings. After our divorces, we hung out a lot together and we gave each other support. She attended some of my poetry readings and art events and sometimes Nicole came with. I would meet her for dinner, we always managed to keep in touch with our busy lives. Lisa was there for me when my boyfriends were unreliable. She would invite me over for dinner with her and the kids. I was grateful I could see my nephew Kyle with both my brother and with Lisa. It was a way to see everyone more often.

I've been saying 'I love you' a lot lately - to Lisa, to family and friends. I'm a bit overly-sentimental because of all this. Each time I visited Lisa it was harder. Each time I hugged her more, held her hand, rubbed her feet, kissed her cheek. Sometimes I want to wake up and hope it was all a bad dream. I still get angry. Sometimes I feel I am trapped in that glass greenhouse, in a very fragile state. What are we here to learn? Why are we here at all? For love? For learning? I certainly don't know the answers. All I know is that we are all in this together. Lisa’s smile, her laughter, her friendship, will always be with me.

I want to close with a poem by Minnesota poet and a friend of mine, Freya Manfred. It is from a series on Winter and she writes a lot about water. Lisa liked spending time up north at the cabin.

Winter – by Freya Manfred (from her book “My Only Home”)

Down on the frozen lake,
I look for signs of life.
In the center of the bay
I find three round holes
Drilled and abandoned by ice fishermen.
I lie on my stomach and peer
Into one pale green cylinder,
Hoping a fish will swim by.
I wait until the entire lake
Tilts upright – with me at the knothole –
But I see no fish, no mermaids, no stars,
Just pure water rising toward me
From a meadow of green light:

Like a memory of a dream
Of a place I once

Lisa is a bright, shining star that will continue to be there for me. Nicole has been an amazing force of positive, healing energy. I know Lisa is proud of her and of Kyle. I am using Lisa as my inspiration to live my life, to do those things that need to be done. Someday I will learn how to drive a stick shift car and I will do it for Lisa. We now have one more soul on the other side watching out for us. Thank you Lisa, for being my friend, and for all that you are.

In Loving Memory -
Lisa Joy Nelson Nyquist
April 22, 1965 - January 20, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Glass House

Window looking at snow - it is not a dream.

It is ten below zero outside, and 80 degrees inside. Ice forms on the glass.

I took this yesterday in the Walker Sculpture Garden greenhouse, looking out at the Basilica.

It reflects my mood: gray, uncertain, cold. One season overtaking another. Winter blotting out summer except in glass houses in squares of isolated heat, although that doesn't mean it can spread anywhere else. When visiting hours are over, I have to leave.

I am posting this for Lisa. I am remembering her, yet she is still here, still alive, still fighting to say goodbyes as she dies, faster than the rest of us, coping with cancer. Terminally ill, she is in hospice care at home, brain and lung cancer at 43.

The photo above shows Lisa and I in July 1994. I am on the left, in the hat, Lisa and I were attending a wedding. I can't even remember the last wedding I went to - I've had a lot of funerals lately.

Lisa's smile, her laugh, her friendship are all still with me. She is now my ex-sister-in-law, she married my younger brother Russ and they divorced in 2003, the same year I divorced. I forgot some of the happy times we had together as a big family as I went through old photos. Her daughter Nicole is now 24, her son Kyle, 13. I don't need to put all the details here, but I do want to think about the shortness of life, this fleeting moment we have on planet Earth. What are we here to learn? Why are we here at all? For love? For learning? I certainly don't know the answers. Life isn't fair.

I've been saying 'I love you' a lot lately - to Lisa, to my parents, to family and friends. I'm a bit overly-sentimental because of all this. I visit Lisa once a week or so and each time it gets harder; each time she is a little weaker, and losing memory. Each time I hug her more, hold her hand, rub her feet, kiss her cheek. I'm not ready to lose her yet, but I know it will only be a few months, or weeks. Each time I let go a little bit more and know that she is letting go too, making peace with herself and her life. She is such a wonderful mom, and her daughter Nicole helped to organize a benefit for her in October. (Photo above is Kyle, Lisa and Nicole, Oct 2009). I want to wake up and hope it was a bad dream.

It's winter overtaking summer. I am trapped in the glass house, fragile. Visiting hours will soon be over and Lisa will leave us. She is wonderful and beautiful; a bright shining star. She will always be here with me - I remember. It's hard to talk about, but it is good to see her, here in the present.