Thursday, November 17, 2011


When there is a death in our emergency department: Before the family is brought to the bedside, we cover the patient with a warm blanket, including the hands.

Death is a cold, cold ending. Soften the grief with some warmth.
If the death occurs to a baby or child: We wrap the child in a warm blanket and a nurse, sitting in a rocking chair, holds the child when the family is brought to the room.

Children should not die, but it they do, they should not be left alone.
Comfort should be continued as long as possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Come sit with me in my living room.

Would you like some raspberry tea? It's already brewing, just for you, my friend. I love sitting in this room with my friends because everything here is a memory and I love sharing memories. (And talking!)

See the Queen Anne chairs, colorful crewel embroidery on white wool?  I visited those chairs every time my car needed a 5,000 mile servicing because there was furniture dealer next to the car dealership. Better to wander through a furniture store than sit in the plastic chairs at the dealership! I couldn't afford the chairs until all the kids were done with college (sigh) but as soon as the last tuition check was written it was time to celebrate! I bought the chairs! Okay, an unusual way to celebrate but, whatever. It worked for me.

The colors (green, coral, tan, yellow) of the embroidery on the chairs works perfectly with the Persian carpet on the floor. There's a story about the carpet, also. The carpet came after the chairs.

Would you like more tea?

About the carpet? Well, when visiting my daughter in Turkey, she took me from one carpet dealer after another along the Alley (that's what the locals called it) outside of Incirlik air base. They knew my price range and unrolled carpet after carpet, piling them up, a dizzying array until I was on sensory overload. I learned to drink the tea they offered while holding a sugar cube between my teeth because that's how they do it. (When in Rome and all that except I'm talking Turkey here.) Finally, one dealer showed me a carpet "Just for fun, Madam," because it was out of my price range. But it was the work of an artist. And the colors? Coral, green. tan, yellow. "Yes, madam, an artist. And old, too. Made about 1930 in Persia. See along the edge? He wove his name there." I ran my fingers over the unfamiliar Arabic letters. Touching what someone created with pride in 1930. "No more Persia. Now Iran. I send it back tomorrow to Iran. Nobody buy it here for too long." I asked him not to send it back, to let me think about it. "Yes, madam, I wait." He gave me more tea and a sugar cube. I bought the carpet.

My sister found a glass sculpture of a coral fish suspended on green glass seaweed. She's an artist and knew it was perfect for this room I like how sunlight reflects off of it. I call it my cold glass fish.

The coffee table? Oh, my father made that and he also made the small cabinet in the corner.  Best of all, he made the grandfather clock. The chimes remind me of time passing. Passing in small increments of fifteen minutes, but passing nevertheless. My father passed but left me with his labors of love.

See the bookcase? Jam packed with books, my favorite books. There's a story there, too, of course, because things that have stories give me comfort. My grandfather-in-law was an Irish immigrant who worked as a grounds keeper for the wealthy in Shadyside.  Who did he work for? I don't know and that bit of history is lost. If I  could rewrite history, go back in time, I would ask him more questions but I can't go back. The grandfather clock reminds me of that. But the people he worked for (the Mellons? Carnegie?) gave him furniture they were discarding. The bookcase has a story that can't be told. An untold story is sad. Stories should always be told, written down, shared.

I'm trying to do that now. Thanks for listening.

Friday, November 4, 2011



Harriet Parke

Coming back from a fishing trip in Ireland, we flew over the Twin Towers on 9/9/01.  Two days later, the magnificent towers ceased to exist. Two weeks after that, my husband was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. That month both the larger world and our smaller, private world changed. The war in Afghanistan began. Our national soul struggled with the cancer of evil; our family soul struggled with the reality of disease.

            Time passed. My husband had his kidney removed. The nation learned to live with the undercurrent of insecurity and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. We learned to live day to day, praying for our nation and praying for his health. But by 2003, the war had spread to Iraq and the cancer had spread to his liver, adrenal glands and colon. We had our battles ahead of us on all levels.

In a horrific and selfish way, the spread of the war to Iraq in 2003 benefited me. Because of the war, my daughter, Amy, and her two children were evacuated from Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey where her husband was stationed.  They came to stay with us. She was my support, my anchor. The children, innocent and unaware, were my diversion. That was, indeed, a blessing from God.

The wars raged on in Afghanistan and Iraq while the poisonous chemicals of immunotherapy were the battle weapons against cancer. We followed news from the battlegrounds overseas while at home we struggled with an increasingly ill husband, father, grandfather. He appeared to be melting out of our lives as pounds fell from his frame.

After three months, the immunotherapy was completed and conditions in Turkey had stabilized. Amy and her children were permitted to return.  The evening before their departure the children, Jared age six and Anna age two, pretended to be angels. I made halos of paper plates and wings of tissue paper for them and they went outside to play.  Soon they were using butterfly nets to catch frogs in our pond. Little angels catching frogs. I stood alone at the kitchen window watching them, knowing they were leaving in the morning and I felt my heart fill with unshed tears.  I refused to cry because once I started, I would be unable to stop. A river of grief would flow from me for my husband, my family, my nation.

Shortly after my daughter and grandchildren flew back to Turkey, my husband had a CT scan to evaluate the efficacy of the immunotherapy. We prayed for a mission accomplished moment.

But that particular prayer was not answered. The tumors had increased in size by fifty percent. The tumors previously deemed too large for surgery were now even bigger. Surgery now was the only option and presented an even bigger risk than before.

            We drove home from that appointment in black silence. Every bump in the road caused him pain; I drove gingerly, trying to avoid potholes and sudden stops.

            Then, for no apparent reason, I asked him if he minded if I stopped at Plumline Nursery.

            Why did I want to stop at Plumline Nursery? I had no idea. I certainly wasn’t going to buy plants. No logical reason, no practical purpose but I felt compelled to stop there. I had to go there.

            He said he didn’t care but he would wait in the car. He made no eye contact; his voice was flat.

            There were no other customers there; the parking lot was empty. As soon as I got out of the car, I saw a statue, about two feet high, of a boy angel standing and looking down at a frog at his feet.

            “How much?” I asked the nursery employee. I gasped when she told me the price.

            “We have others,” she said and walked away. She returned with another angel. This one was a girl angel, crouching down. The employee set it down beside the boy angel in such a way that the girl angel was gazing at the frog. The angels were Anna and Jared, immortal and forever young.

            I had to buy them. God had directed me to this place at that time. He answered my prayers in a way that fortified my faith.

            My husband is now well; surgery was successful. My daughter and her family are back living in the states.

            The wars go on. I bow my head, clasp my hands.

            The angels live in my heart and my garden. May it be forever so.