Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Dear Ellen
It's Christmas Eve. A year ago, a lifetime ago, I wrote on this same evening about your decline, about your slipping away from us. Can it really be a year ago? I didn't think I could live ten minutes without you and yet here I am, still learning to deal with the loss, but learning so much in the process. I've cried an entire river of tears, but I've found a strength I never knew I had.

I've thought over and over again "why". There's no answer to the question and there never will be. Or at least, not in this lifetime. All I could ever do was accept and move forward one inch at a time. I listened to what I thought was your voice, loud and clear, reminding me to pick myself up, stop feeling sorry for myself and get busy. Very busy. Somehow, I thought anything less than giving my best effort would be a disappointment to both of us.

I think there was something you were to learn here on this earth, there was a reason you were taken from us so young. A lesson I will never comprehend because it was yours alone. Is it my lesson to accept loss? To learn from it? Is this your final gift to me, to teach me I'm stronger than I thought? That I can take something so painful and use it to make me a better person? Is it what we choose to do with loss that defines us, shapes us, allows us to move forward?

I believe there was a reason we were placed in each others lives. I can't comprehend the reason, but I know we cared for each other and I do believe something good must come from losing you. I think I've spent the better part of the year trying to understand this.

A year. A year to learn so much.

Merry Christmas Ellen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A years journey

Dear Ellen
Your birthday party was perfect. Lots of laughter, a few tears, great stories and memories to share. It was exactly the way I wanted to honor your day and I think it would have pleased you to know we were together, missing you, but remembering you in such a special way.

My birthday is Thursday this week. Last year that day was one of the most difficult days I think I've known. It was the day I lost hope. I realize now you had let go weeks before and was simply waiting for me to realize it too. After months of fighting to keep you, of thinking there was a chance with the last chemotherapy, of refusing to accept losing you I finally realized there was no hope. You were dying and nothing was going to stop it. I couldn't stop it. You weren't capable of many words then, but your eyes said it all. I realized something as I watched you sleeping on the sofa during that afternoon. If I kept fighting my own fight you would be alone in your journey. If I let go, I could walk a least a little further with you. I wanted to help you through to where you needed to go and I wanted you to know you wouldn't be alone to get there. So I let go.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

In letting go of you I let go of myself too. What I knew about me, about us, about life in general was lost. In the days and weeks after you died I felt I'd never find my way back to living. I spent the better part of this year trying to figure out how to begin again, how to breathe again, how to figure out who I'm supposed to be in this world.

How to find hope again.

I dreaded December for a long while until last month when I realized I had to think differently about it if I wanted to survive it. So, a birthday party for you and yes, a birthday party for me. I have to take back my birthday. I can't remember it as a day of loss. A birthday party with cake, good food, great friends and many reminders life is still worth living. Maybe hats and a birthday dance too. Maybe a birthday shuffle conga line.

There's no escaping some of the emotions, the feelings, the sadness during this month and I'll feel all of it. But there's a balance now that I didn't feel before. There's good too. There's laughter again.

There's hope.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Birthday Wishes

Dear Ellen
Wednesday is your birthday. You would have been 54. I have been trying to remember the many birthdays we shared in the years before your diagnosis, celebrations of a life well lived, surrounded by love, good friends and laughter. It's the way I want to remember your day, though I admit I also find myself caught up in the sadness of last year at this time. The day of your birth in this world, the day you celebrated your very existance should be a day of hope and joy. And that is how I want to celebrate it this year too.
So a birthday party is planned at your favorite restaurant. A gathering with family and dear friends to celebrate you and what you meant to all of us. Probably a few tears will fall, but I know we will all be remembering the Ellen who was full of life and quick to laugh. The Ellen who was always ready for a good time, a good meal, and perhaps a glass of good wine. The Ellen who would spend hours fixing her hair, putting on makeup and going through every cute outfit in the closet to wear for the occasion. The Ellen who would lite up a room when she walked in. That's the birthday I want for you.
I am asking our friends and families to send you a birthday wish. When you were so sick they would join together and send you messages of hope, prayers and love. The positive energy was always felt and you were so touched by those reaching out in kindness. You felt loved and I think that love helped you find the strength to deal with the fear, to find some peace around it. Honestly, I think the love of your family and friends kept us both going when things were hardest.

So, sometime on Wednesday, a moment of stillness large enough to contain a loving thought, a prayer, a memory of Ellen full of love and laughter. A message sent in streams of love to you on your special day. A birthday you would love.

I know you'll be the happiest one at the party.
Happy Birthday dear Ellen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Into December

Dear Ellen
It's the end of November. A year ago you had a brain bleed which took away the Ellen I knew. The tumors were growing rapidly, unchecked by the chemotherapy which had kept them at bay. This was the beginning of the end. I've anticipated this coming time for several months, knowing it would be difficult, knowing the memories would turn dark, knowing I can't escape the emotions. No matter how many walls of defense I've managed to build over the past months I know these next weeks will shake my foundations.

I think of you and what you had to experience and endure. I will never be able to comprehend the emotions you must have felt, knowing you were dying. I watched the changes in your personality, watched you deal with the confusion over the changes in your physical condition and witnessed your acceptance of each. I watched you slip away from me as I struggled to care for you, as I struggled to find the same acceptance in losing you. Each day brought another change in your condition, each hour brought another challenge in simply adapting to what was happening. No matter my will to protect you, no matter my struggle to keep you safe and comforted, I was going to lose you.

I felt so helpless.

Perhaps this is what I still struggle with the most. I couldn't save you.

Such a simple statement to contain such a mountain of emotions to unravel. Where do I begin? Where will December take me?


Sunday, November 21, 2010


Dear Ellen

I am finally home again, safe and sound, now rested, now happy to be back in the routine of simpler things. The show in Philadelphia was a success in many ways, but the connection to friends and the interaction with people seems to be most important to me in these past few shows. I find the messages in these conversations are always just exactly what I'm needing to hear and the emotional connection so beautiful. It's almost as though I sit and wait for it to walk in, expecting it, knowing there will be someone who will share something amazing with me at some point.

Sure enough, the messinger arrived.

A man walked into my booth and looked carefully at each piece of art, leaving and then returning some time later to make a selection. He chose a piece and as we completed the transaction he told me he was touched by my work and was giving the art as a gift to his five year old daughter. He then shared he had terminal cancer. We spoke for just a few moments, but the connection was genuine and touching. There was an understanding communicated through my work to him and through his vulnerable conversation to me. I thought that was the "gem" I'd been anticipating.

I returned home and although happy to be in familiar surroundings I felt somewhat lost, the result of traveling a 100 miles an hour for the past month and then stopping abruptly at the end of the journey. In a funk, I went to the studio to pick up my mail, expecting to find a stack of bills. Instead I found a letter from the man I had spoken with. The envelope contained a wonderful little drawing by his daughter and a poem he had written for me. I found myself dropping into a chair to cry. This man who I had never met had been moved enough by my work to write this beautiful poem. What an amazing gift from a complete stranger. The poem is focused on a small sculpture I had done of a feminine figure hanging upside down by wires, encased in translucent cloth and representing a cocoon, a chrysalis. The title of the piece was "Transformed" and this is his poem:

Star toed, she hangs,
The porcelain pendulum of a chrysalis,
Defying the shell of her spent vessel.

Woven memory,
Love fed new life.
Shadow partnered,
Each movement,
A dance step echoed.
The choreopgraphy,
The serendipity of lives shared.
One so close, another name not needed,
Halves merged without the vestige of separation.
Hear the wings of gossamer unfolding.

Over the many years I have been doing shows as an artist I've had wonderful encounters with people, but never have I been so touched and humbled by such a sweet gesture. It reminds me, again, of what's important. You taught me this lesson through your life and within our relationship to each other. It's the human connection, the threads which bind us to one another, making us whole and truly alive, which live on when we leave this world for another. What a beautiful gift in such simplicity.

So, I turn toward December and the month which holds too many memories.

And I carry these threads as my shield.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dear Ellen
It's been too long since I've written. I've been working a lot, every day since I returned from Kansas City, trying to produce art for the show in Philadelphia. I'm really not sure how I managed to pull off getting it all together, but the truck is packed to the roof with a body of work created in just over 30 days. I'm on my way, another adventure in front of me, the last show of the year.

My work is changing. For months the pain of losing you came through my hands and into the art. It wasn't pretty, but it was powerful and emotional and it helped me heal. As I worked my way through the summer the work became less about the loss and more about the transitions I was going through. Now I think my work is a statement about who I am and who I want to become. I can't fully appreciate or see these changes in myself, but I can see it in my work. Somewhere along the way I found a determination and resolve I didn't realize I had.

So I'm looking forward to taking this show on the road. I anticipate another interesting and educational experience which will come from the most unexpected source possible. Someone at the show will remind me I know nothing about anything and someone will provide me with an amazing moment of insight. It may come from the same person and it may come in the same sentence and if I'm lucky I'll be paying attention and not miss any of it. In the meantime, this is what I've learned this past month. I'm not fighting to hold on to parts of myself I no longer need. I'm finding a balance between resolve and acceptance and the possiblilties of keeping my eyes open.

It's going to be an interesting trip to Philly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

just different

Dear Ellen

I went through your clothes last week. Closets and drawers filled with things I haven't been able to deal with until now. I sorted them into piles and boxed them up, sending some to charity and some to a dark closet where I won't have the daily reminder they're no longer worn. It was hard to go through them and yes, the memories flooded in as expected for each t-shirt or funky pants or cute little dress I knew you had worn. I'd been putting this off, staring at them from time to time as I hunted through the closet for some old t-shirt of my own, never willing to move them or make any changes to this sort of shrine to what was. I had found such comfort in this for a long time, things kept just as you left them. Shoes left in the same spot on the floor for 10 months. I would simply pick them up to sweep under them, placing them back where I thought they belonged. Did I half expect you to come in and ask me where I'd put them? Maybe. I didn't dare move them, just in case.
But it was time. It became harder to walk into the closet and see them there, a constant reminder. I can't move forward if I'm holding on to the past and I know the only way I can continue this journey is to let go. It's not just you I was boxing up, but it was me as well. Clothes and shoes and pieces of me.

It's not so simple. It's not just sorting clothes. It's painful steps again, reminding me of those early months when I walked the world in a deep fog. I know I'm not escaping memories by packing them up, I know there will always be reminders of you, but I carry them differently now. I am different now. Not stronger, not better, not free of pain from the loss, just different.

I think you would understand.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

About Peace.

Dear Ellen
It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks.
I went to the show in Kansas City thinking it would just be an art show. As usual, I was wrong. I can't begin to count the number of people, both artists and collectors, who came into my booth to just talk with me, ask about you, express their sorrow, share a story about you and simply share themselves with me. It was so kind and so reminded me how many lives you've touched without having ever met them.
A woman came into the booth on Sunday afternoon who had also been there on Friday evening. She looked intently at the work and then came up to me and asked,"how do you find this peace?" I was struck by the intensity and sadness in her eyes as she began to weep openly. We spoke for several minutes as the world revolved around us. I wasn't able to answer her question, I think because it was hers to answer, but I was made aware of the power of the human connection in that conversation. The words we exchanged remained with me as I finished the day and began my drive home.

There is an artist I've known for several years who has been living her life with cancer. She is an amazing artist, a beautiful and thoughtful, wise and kind woman. I hadn't seen her in a couple of years, but found her on Sunday morning at the show. We exchanged a warm hug and she lifted the hat over her head to reveal her cancer had returned, her peach fuzz hair the latest indignity. We spoke at length about your journey and now hers. She expressed how touched she was by you and by how I had continued to honor you and keep your spirit alive. "I just want to be remembered in that way". I was struck by both the words and the deep pain they sourced from. We hugged again as I left her, knowing full well I may never see her again.

I've thought so much about both of these women and our conversations. The connection was real, raw to the bone, honest and haunting. A rare and beautiful thing. So how do we find peace? How do we wish to be remembered?

My work reflects something which I couldn't recognize in myself. I never thought I would feel joy again when I lost you. I am learning, with time, with the empty loss, I have the capacity to feel joy again. My work is not so much about loss now as it is about what I've gained from the loss. In this way you are remembered and cherished. In this way I share your story with other women who are seeking themselves. The peace you found in your journey is carried forward. You will not be forgotten. In this way I will find my own peace.

I miss you

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pieces of the Puzzle

Dear Ellen
Already I'm preparing for another road trip, this time to Kansas City. I'm just barely back to my little routine from the last therapy session and now I'm packing again. The good part is I love Kansas City and the people who come to visit me at the show. It will feel good to be there and it's only a day's drive instead of three. I'll hardly have time to work myself up in thirteen hours.

It's hard to believe how much my life has changed in these past nine months. Sometimes I sit still and let it all in. How did I ever get from where I was in those beginning dark days to where I am now? I don't even remember much of those first few months. I think I just kept getting up in the morning, kept trudging along until I realized my legs were under me. Grief is a great teacher. It's such a painful process, but I've learned so much about who I am and who I want to be. I am at a place now where I can understand and recognize this as a gift. Maybe it's a gift I didn't ever want to experience, but the value has been etched more deeply by the pain. I know it will take me a long time to fully understand how it's changed me, but I am beginning to place the pieces together.

Time to head to the studio. There's a kiln load waiting to be brought forth into the world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The journey home.

Dear Ellen
Oh, it's so good to be home. Sitting here on my Sunday bed, surrounded by newspapers and cat, a cup of coffee not from an odd machine in a hotel. No concerns about tearing the room apart for those damn bedbugs I was paranoid about all the way across America.
I am home from my 4,800 mile adventure and finally rested. I know there was an art show sandwiched in between the 60 hours of car therapy, but I realized on the last few hundred miles it was about so much more. I was delirious at that point, but knew it had been a journey I had to find my way through. I think I wanted to push myself, remove myself from a comfortable routine and strip my thoughts down to their core. I resisted for a couple of days and then as I crossed into the Mojave Desert my protective barriers dissolved and so did I. It seemed to fit the desert landscape. Sometimes, I guess, you have to be in a desolate place to find what you're looking for. After some hard tears I found such a beautiful sense of peace as I rolled along, deep in thought, watching the sunrise in my rear view window.

The hole in my chest is closing. It's smaller now. It was a gaping tear reflected in my sculptures, hard to look at without cringing, but necessary for the process of spilling out my grief. I am sure there will always be a small opening near the scar. Grieving you will be a part of me, just as love for you will be held within.
Now though, the opening is left behind for what comes to spill in. Now I have room for whatever it will be.

So the journey emptied me and yet I feel filled again. Funny how sixty odd hours spent in a car with yourself can do that.

The cat is snoring. Happy dreams I suppose. Maybe she's happy I'm home.

I know I am.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dear Ellen

I leave tomorrow for California. The van is packed and waiting, fully loaded down with work for an early morning exit from New Orleans. I wish I could say I'm looking forward to this journey, but the truth is I'm afraid. I know it will be good for me to get away, to experience some fresh air, but the anticipation of spending three days in a car with just me for entertainment is a daunting and frightful thing. I'll be gone for twelve days. Twelve days away from everything I've come to know as safe and routine. My cave where the cat and I hide to heal our wounds, my studio where I'm always happy to be. All my safe little crutches removed. The only connection to sanity will be a cellphone with tenuous coverage for 1,950 of the 2,260 miles I'm traveling.

How can I have come this far, spent so much of the past 8 months alone, and feel so undone about being in a car for six days? I see myself as stronger now and yet, as our dear friend Donna reminded me this morning, I'm also so fragile. I keep pushing forward as though I'm in a race to prove myself, but the truth is I have faultlines along my edges. I'm like the porcelain boat I pulled from the kiln three weeks ago which had split wide open to reveal the flaws hidden in the first firing. No longer perfect, I broke the piece apart and mosaiced it together again. An attempt to make it whole, knowing full well where the faultline still left scars. I can't hide my scars, but they are making me stronger. And maybe I'm learning that being split wide open is a good thing. To be vulnerable, to be afraid, just makes me most human.
It reminds me of a May Sarton poem I read a long time ago called "Somersault", the passage I remember, "Is it a question of discipline or grace? The steel trap of the will or some slight shift within an opened consciousness? The tightrope walker juggles weights, to lift himself up on the stress,and airy master of his own loss, he springs from heaviness. But we, stumbling our way, how learn such poise,the perfect balance of all griefs and joys? Burdened by love, how learn the light release that, out of stress, can somersault to peace?"

I will be allright.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Muse

Dear Ellen

I've been thinking about you a lot this past week. It's crunch time in the studio as I get ready to go to Sausalito for a show. I don't think you liked crunch time too much as it meant I was anxious and grumpy up until the hysterical last minute, but we always managed to get through it and you were always happy to see me when I returned home. My work reflects the change I was hoping for and I'm pleased with it. So many times I wished you were here to help me figure out the finishing touches on a piece and so many times I'd hear you in my head telling me to "calm down". It makes me smile to think of how many times you've had to tell me that.
In a way, I'm taking you with me to Sausalito. The new work is clearly about the loss and transitions I'm making, the expressions and emotions reflected in the faces I've carved. For the first time in a few years I am a little afraid of setting them up at a show and hearing the reactions from people. It feels like I've been stripped down to a core and now waiting for the verdict. I guess, like you would say, "there's only one way to find out". So, a week from today it's off to California and in the meantime, a flurry of fur in the studio.

I'm meeting with someone tomorrow from your old school, Nicholls State. I've decided to set up an endowment scholarship in your name for students who have lost a parent to brain cancer. I think it would make you very happy to know how many lives you touched, not only during your lifetime, but long afterwards. It makes me smile, because I know you wanted to leave some of your estate to charity, but couldn't decide which one. I think this would feel right to you.

I'm off to the studio as there's fur to fly.
I know, I know. Calm down.

I miss you
love, cathy

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Dear Ellen
We have wonderful friends. Last evening there was a dinner party here with several of them. Lots of good food, wine, interesting conversation and most of all, plenty of laughter. I thought of you often, knowing you would have loved the evening, knowing time with good friends always made you happy.
I even put art up on the walls before everyone arrived. I guess I'm planning on staying here for a few more months. It's starting to look like someone lives here now, instead of feeling like I'm staying at a hotel. I suppose both things, a dinner party and art on the walls, are signs I'm joining the human race again. There's a little more balance in my life, more awareness of the world revolving around me. Mind you, I have my moments when I dissolve into sadness, but now they don't fill my days. Now when I think of you, it's more often a good memory accompanied by a small smile. Sometimes, I still can't believe you're gone, but there seems to be some level of acceptance about it.

Our friends have been a big part of my returning to the world. Honestly, I don't know how I would have kept trudging along without their love and support. Old friends have been with me every step and stumble, new friends have become a joy and blessing to me. I figure everyone coming into my life, through the door of the gallery, have been directed there for some good purpose. Familiar friend or not, I consider them as a small jewel in my day, a gift of conversation from a stranger or an exchange of love and support between friends. In many ways this is what gives me purpose now. I feel your presence with me, giving me strength to move forward, but it's these small gifts of love from friends which give me hope again. I truly am a lucky girl.

Love you, miss you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The process.

Dear Ellen

I've been working like a crazy woman this past week. The studio looks like a tornado whipped through it, pieces, parts and papers scattered around in piles, dried clay clinging to the floor and beeswax now sticking to every tool I own. It's fabulous. I am surrounded in unorganized splendor which is leading me to the very destination I hoped to find when I began a month ago. It's been a challenge to be patient and allow the process to trudge along, but I'm realizing the education has been good for me. Getting lost in the creative spaces of my mind centers me, calms me, allows me to reach those places within which I'm usually running from. It teaches me honesty and keeps me grounded. What a gift it's been, especially these past few months.
Remember how I used to run into the house and grab you, beg you to come out to the studio to see what I was working on? You were my art consultant and number one cheerleader. Yesterday in the midst of finally seeing some success in the studio I thought of you and a smile came over me. I missed you terribly, wished you were there for a consult, but took comfort knowing you were. It's almost as though I can hear your voice, reminding me to add more color, or change the shape of the nose. You are such a part of my work and in a way, I find great joy in knowing you are living on within it. It feels a little sad, but good.

I'm off to the studio to finish some work. See you there.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Dear Ellen

Sunday morning again. Rainy. Perfect for staying home with a cup of coffee, the newspaper, and a large cat who is put out with me because it was also a good morning to sleep an extra hour and delay her precise feeding time. It was an unacceptable mistake which has been noted and filed away in her feline memory along with the others. She now stares at me from the foot of the bed, utter contempt registered on her face. What a wonderful little companion she has become for me. She was so much your cat and such a sweet comfort to you, but I think she has learned to tolerate me as best she can. I will keep my expectations low.

I have had the most amazing dreams about you the past two nights. First, I dreamt we were in a boat, like a small fishing boat. You weren't feeling well and getting tired, but the river we traveled was so beautiful and you were happy to feel the wind on your face. There was no motor, but we moved swiftly across the water as though we were flying. It seemed I was trying to get you to a destination, but I had no idea where it was. I'm making canoe shapes in the studio, maybe the dream began there. This morning, the dream I had was more intense. I was standing at the sink in our bathroom, staring at the strands of your hair which are lying there. I noticed there was a new hair added to the others. I sensed you behind me and felt your arms go around me in a warm embrace. It felt as though you moved into my body. It was disturbing, but comforting. You whispered into my left ear that you would always be with me. It seemed I was awake and yet dreaming at the same time. I couldn't differentiate between what was real and what was the dream, but it absolutely felt safe and good. Physically, it was an odd sensation which woke me up.
I stayed still for several minutes thinking about the dream, but the feeling was one of contentment, not sadness or fear.

I don't know what the dream meant. All I know it that for the first time in many months of wishing I just had a minute of having you back, I did.

I don't know much about how the mind works with the heart and what it all means. I'm thinking I'm not supposed to. I'm thinking the cat knows, but she's not telling me. I'm thinking the sun has just come out and a bike ride around the park sounds good.

Thanks for the visit.
I love you,

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Dear Ellen

I think not having the stress of a house in Orlando has been good for me. I seem to have more time and energy to focus elsewhere. I feel more relaxed inside my skin.
In the studio, I'm finding more of my creative self coming back, which is a welcome change. I knew this would come back, I knew my emotional self would work it's way through my art, but I wasn't expecting such an avalanche of new ideas coming into my head. The hard part is now patiently working my way through the process of making them into sculptures. Or maybe this is really the fun part. I do know I feel excited about my work again and this is a good thing.

I've started going through some of your things. Just a little bit at a time. Sort of testing the waters with crates of medical records and insurance papers before I move on to more scary places. I threw away every last piece of paper related to your illness. I didn't realize how angry I was until I started stuffing them in a trash bag. Damn, damn cancer and all we have lost to it. It was easy to let go of a pile of papers that represented a nightmare. However,going through your clothes and personal papers may require a sturdy heart and a long afternoon. I don't think I'm there quite yet, but maybe I'm getting closer. At least I don't get such a stabbing feeling when I open the wrong drawer and see your pajamas in a neat little pile. It's more of a dull thud and an small smile to remember you in pink pajamas.
It's small, but it's progress. Grief is an incredibly exhausting process of very small steps, but I do see a small ray of light at the very end of the tunnel.

I miss you

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4th

Dear Ellen
I've been riding my bike every morning. Up early to beat the heat, I ride down the newly paved streets and around the park. It feels good to get up and start my morning this way and the routine of some exercise feels comfortable again. The rides have become my time for reflection and morning conversation with you. A time for clearing my mind and figuring out my directions for the day. I know it sounds odd, but I swear I can hear your voice in my head, reminding me, guiding me. On Tuesday, halfway around the park, it began to rain. A nice, soft warm rain. I knew it was you. It was such a comforting feeling to have the rain surround me as a I rode home. It's small things, subtle gestures which remind me you are still with me in many ways. It can be sunlight coming through the window, the memory a photograph brings, a song I hear, or a soft summer rain. I know you're not here, but the quiet thoughts, the awareness of them, keep you with me and bring me comfort.

Our house in Orlando finally went to closing this week. It created a strange mixture of emotions for me, but I know it was the right thing to do. Many thoughts and memories of our time there came back to me. It was a house where much sadness related to your illness happened, but it was a home where we both felt safe too. Most clearly I can remember you, wrapped in your red bathrobe, sliding into the breakfast nook each morning. I remember long Spring evenings on the front porch, watching the world pass by. A cozy bedroom where you would be found reading or taking naps. A home where our relationship, though stressed by illness, became stronger and deeper. Those are the memories I want to bring with me now. It's a relief to let go of the house, but I'll hold on to the memories of home.

I guess it's been a mixture of many thoughts and emotions this past week. I'm reminded by the strength of your presence, I'm reminded by the power in letting go. It's been six months today since you left here. I wish I could say it's getting easier, but mostly I can say it's getting different. I'm slowly healing, slowly becoming more aware of the world around me, slowly crawling back into my own skin. I know you were worried about me, afraid for me, but sweet Ellen I'm slowly finding my way.

I think it's still cool enough for me to take a morning ride.
much love,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Journey

Dear Ellen
I went to Chicago last weekend, city of big memories. It was. as all these "firsts" are, a bittersweet time. I spent our anniversary at the art show and no, it wasn't the same without you. I was surrounded by wonderful, sweet friends, my art family who took good care of me, but all of us missed you. Betsy, Danielle and I spent the evening over an impromptu dinner and a lovely bottle of wine, trying to make sense of the world with our "therapy". It helped, but I don't think we figured out the point of our existance on this planet, which is what I was really hoping for...

I suppose it's common for people who have experienced a loss to question the laws of the universe. Maybe it's because we have plenty of time to think about it now. Plenty of time to wonder about purpose. Plenty of time to ponder the definition of God. Plenty of time in a 16 hour drive from Chicago to New Orleans. Do you think it's because we want to make sense of it out of curiosity or fear? Will I understand it all when I leave this world? What's the point? I've always had this notion we are here to conquer our fears, to learn a particular lesson and when we have the puzzle solved we are whisked away somewhere to enjoy our success. I think I witnessed this in you during the course of your illness. No, I don't know what your lesson was, but I do believe it culminated in knowing what deep love is. I could see it in your eyes as you came closer to dying. There was an acceptance, a knowing, as though you had found the answer to your own questions. One of the last times I think you recognized me, it was only for short moments, you held my hand tightly, you looked at me clearly and smiled with such love. It said everything. Not so much about me, although I felt it too, but it said everything about your own peace. It did affirm my belief in something beyond this existance.

That's all I know for sure. The rest is still a mystery. No matter how many miles I drive, no matter how many impromtu therapy sessions I have. I'm not supposed to know the answers yet. I am hoping, when I get whisked away myself, we can get together and talk about all these things. Maybe clean up some unresolved corners. Maybe enjoy some long, rich, and all knowing laughter.

I'm looking forward to it.
Much love,

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Dear Ellen
I've been thinking about you a lot these past couple of weeks. It's been five months now. I know it doesn't seem like a long period of time, but it feels like forever since I've seen you or heard your voice. I think I would give everything I own just to hear your laughter again. I'm afraid I will forget it, forget the sound of it, forget how much it was a part of who you were.
Susan came by the gallery last week and we had therapy. The kind you have when grief is taking up too much of your life. We are both sad and somehow comforted by voicing it with each other. Grief is such an odd thing. I can be caught up in such a small world, deep in despair over haunting memories of your illness. They are so vivid to me, so toxic and yet I am so unaware I am drowning in them. Susan reminded me there is more of you to remember than just two months of sadness. She also reminded me you would never want to be remembered that way. She is so right. You would want me to remember the good, only the good. The Ellen who was happy, healthy and very much alive.

So. I'm working on it. Next week is our anniversary of eight years. This is what I choose to remember. Not the loss, but the blessings. The memory of our first days together, the cards filled with messages of devotion, the celebration of times and years spent with each other. The joy, the love and yes, above all, the laughter. That is my gift to you this year. I promise to remember your laughter. You deserve nothing less.

Happy Anniversary my love.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Dear Ellen

It's Sunday evening. I just spent the last hour trying to paint my toenails. I thought, it's almost summer, I want to wear sandals and I need to do something about my toes. You would think this is a simple thing............

I went to your drawer to get the clippers and polish and realized why I was putting this whole thing off till now. I saw your little bottle of nail polish and dissolved into tears. "Cajun Shrimp", last years perfect color, took me to a place I didn't want to go. I held the bottle in my hands and remembered last summer, a bittersweet time we shared in Florida. You couldn't take the chance of an infection from a pedicure at a shop so we became each others artistic toe stylists. I would set up shop on the front porch and there you would sit as I carefully applied the color. Layer after layer until it was perfect. You would smile and approve and then insist on painting mine. I would sit quietly while you worked. Such an intimate and loving thing we shared. Afterwards, while we admired our amazing talents, we would laugh and talk, not wanting to go in the house till darkness crept over the porch and the cat would beg for dinner.
It's those things I miss, those things which bring to my knees. The small and sweet things I only knew how to share with you. These days, now almost five months later, I find myself moving through the days in a quiet way. I think of you and smile. I remember our times together and feel comfort in the memory. There are days I don't cry. There are times I even feel happiness in laughter shared with friends.

But, there are "cajun shrimp" moments. I let them in, I sit with them for awhile, I feel the tears flow. I realize the reason I didn't want to paint my nails before this is because you were the last one to paint them. It felt like one more thing I had to let go of.
It took me awhile. They don't look so great and somehow there's polish on my arms.
I know you are laughing at my toes, but I somehow don't mind. Dear Ellen, there are some things which will never be right without you. Toes are one of them.

I love you

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Dear Ellen

It was a strange week. Such a mixture of interesting encounters, stressful tensions, realizations and reminders of the frailty of life. On Monday a well known actor walked into my gallery and reminded me the thread of human emotions runs through us all, binding us, regardless of our perspectives. Grief is powerful, it is painful, but it makes us thoughtful and compassionate.

I waited all week, impatiently, for news on the sale of our house in Orlando. A couple I've never met are making decisions affecting the direction of my life. What an odd thought. Another reminder I have no control over anything. Finally, on Friday, a phone call from Orlando to let me know the sale is moving forward. Tension is replaced with relief and a tinge of sadness, a realization of one more thing I am letting go of. Grief seems to be a part of me, as though I have learned to embrace the letting in and letting go. I can't escape it, but maybe I can live with it. Grief is a powerful teacher.

Susans mom died on Tuesday. It was sudden and shocking, the kind of loss you're never prepared for. My heart went out to Susan, her pain so fresh, so intensely written across her face. I watched her begin an all too familiar journey. I sat at the funeral on Friday and felt my own story bind with the beginnings of hers. Dear friend, I understand.

Maybe compassion is an antidote for grief. Maybe it is only through these threads which bind us all we will find comfort, find release, find our most human selves. I found it twice this week, once in the kind words of a stranger, once in the tear stained face of a dear friend. I am learning more about love from the roots of grief than I would have thought possible.

Such gifts from such loss. You continue to teach me so much.
I love you

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Dear Ellen

There are so many changes happpening with me. Sometimes I don't know who I am or who I've become without you. Sometimes I can't remember the person who was your partner. There are days when I don't recognize myself, as though I'm so detached I can't feel or see who I am in the mirror. It's as though I am floating through the days and though they might be full of people, I'm not there. I'm staring at them and I know I'm talking with them, but my voice feels hollow, like it's coming from someone else.
I'm trying to figure out who I am in the world without you. And though it looks like I know what I'm doing, it looks like I'm "handling" things, like I'm doing "so well" the truth is I haven't got a clue. I just keep stumbling along because there's still the memory of me who was half you pointing my shell in the general direction of progress. It all looks good until I get home at night and the silence reminds me there are whole parts of me missing.

This I do know.
You have never left me.
I know this, I believe this. I feel you with me, even in my darkest moments. You have stayed with me, have watched over me, have cared about me and if you could, you would tell me how to let go of who I was. You would tell me to be patient, to take each day as it is, to let in who I can be. The little girl, the lost person inside me dosen't understand, but the woman who knew you does.

So, the missing parts will be missing for awhile. In the meantime, if I listen carefully, if I am very quiet, I can hear you. If I am paying attention I will know the way to go.

much love,

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Home Again

Dear Ellen
It's been a busy couple of weeks, between Jazzfest and a Gallery Opening, I haven't had time to keep up with my thoughts. Maybe this is a good thing.

Jazzfest was different this year. It was difficult, it was emotional, but it was good to be with friends and experience the musical energy. You were missed. Somehow, I kept expecting you to come bouncing back into my booth with a big smile and a great story about someone you met while waiting in line for a mango freeze. Instead, I saw you in the eyes of friends and heard you in the musical breeze coming from the Blues tent, a favorite song reminding me of a different time. Jazzfest was not the same without you and I don't think it ever will be, but the familiarity of it all was comforting to me.

The Gallery opening was on Friday. It was a mix of good friends and total strangers which filled the studio with interesting conversation and laughter. It was a warm and wonderful evening you would have loved. I'm sure you were there. These past two weeks have been full of you, full of bittersweet moments and memories. I move through these days in a dream, keep getting up, keep moving forward, keep busy, keep breathing. Life pushes me, drags me through the day, encourages me to honor your memory with the good. Life dosen't stop, I can't stop it, but I carry you with my every step.

The house is quiet again, the friends all gone. The cat and I stared at each other this morning and resumed our normal routine and conversation. We find comfort in it. We like the world, enjoy it when it comes calling, but really, there's nothing like an old bath robe, a cat on your lap and stupid TV luring you into slumber. I sense you here in the quiet, in the silence. I feel your joy and hear your laughter at Jazzfest, but here, at home, I feel your heart.

It's good to be home again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home Again

Dear Ellen

The gallery has been doing well. I am surprised by this although I should have known you would be smiling down on it all, guiding people in to buy art. I didn't have many expectations when I opened it, I only felt it would be a place to work and a source of a little extra income. It has become so much more than that. Working on art again has been a comfort and saving grace, but it's the encounters with people who come through the gallery that have truly inspired me. I didn't expect this at all. The people owning other shops along the street wave and wish good morning on their way to work. Strangers come through the gallery during the day, people from all over the country or just from the next block and they share a story and a little bit of themselves. Our friends stop by the "clubhouse" for a hug, or "therapy" or just a brief but wonderful conversation. My day is constantly interupted with such beautiful moments, just when I need them the most. The messages brought to me are gifts, small and perfect gifts. They heal my wounds and remind me to stay grateful, to remain most human and vulnerable. It's been a blessing to have this place to work, to learn these lessons.

Thank you, Ellen, for bringing me home again. You knew what you were doing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Dear Ellen

I'm trying to remember a time, a moment, a day we shared together before our lives turned upside down. I want to remember one and hold on to it. As hard as it is to remember the final weeks, it's almost more painful to remember a time when we were happy and free. That's when the full enormity of loss hit's me, when I know happiness was taken.
I want to remember you on your finest day. With shorts and flip-flops and a wide brimmed hat on a bicycle bound for glory. With a huge smile and a swing in your step, dancing in the Jazz tent to John Boutte'. I want to ache with the thought of you sitting on the beach, feeling the sun on your face. Memories wash over me and the sorrow is deep, but this is what I want. I don't want to keep crying over the horrors of cancer and what it robbed us of. I want to cry over the beautiful memories and what they gave me. That's what I want to remember. That's what I want to feel.

You on your finest day.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter morning

Dear Ellen

It's Easter Sunday. You passed away three months ago today. I can't help but mark the day and reflect on the changes. It feels like I lost you yesterday and yet it's been forever since I've heard you say good morning.

Is it getting easier? In some ways, yes. I seem to function, seem to deal with my feelings, seem to even feel good at times. The studio and gallery have been my salvation, work has helped me move forward. My art keeps me centered, the people coming through the gallery have engaged me in thoughtful, wonderful ways. It feels good, it feels right, it feels like hope. When I think of the choices I've made in these past three months, the decision to stay in New Orleans was my choice to continue living. Maybe it hasn't been pretty at times, but I am finding a way to survive.

On the other hand, it's so very hard to live without you. When I think about you, the stabbing feelings of loss are still raw. I try to think about happy memories, but the haunting thoughts of your final days still leave me shaken and incredibly sad. I miss you. I just miss you and everything about our life together. I get angry at the world because I'm still here without you.

I ask why a lot. Why. Why. Why.

There's no clear answer. So I find comfort in my art, in the friends and strangers who come through the door of the gallery, in the cat who curls up next to me in the evenings to watch stupid TV. This is how I am building a life without you. Slowly, quietly, my small new world takes shape. A day marked by the anniversary of your death, another day of finding my way through it. Tentatively hopeful, yes, that's how I feel this morning.

Happy Easter, my love.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Dear Ellen

It's finally Spring. After a long, cold and rainy Winter, New Orleans is wearing a fresh coat of green. You loved this time of year. The warm weather would pull you out for long bike rides, walks by the levee, and digging in the garden. Weeding, you loved weeding for some reason I never understood. Oxalis would bring out the beast in you. We would plant beds of flowers, carefully choosing the colors, placing them in just the right spot, finally standing back on the curb to admire our work. I love remembering you in Spring, I love the memory of so much promise.

I wonder if it's Spring where you are.

Where are you? So many times I've thought about this. The day you died I felt certain you were lifted to a beautiful and spiritual place, a place I cannot comprehend. I could see it on your face with your last breath and I felt great comfort in that moment. I knew there was something beyond this world and you were safely held by those arms. But now, where are you? My mind can't wrap around an answer. Am I waiting for you to appear at the foot of the bed, waiting for you to tell me you're safe and happy? Will I hear your voice, channeled through the cat wailing at 3:00 AM? I can feel your presence sometimes, find a pillow with your scent still clinging to it, discover a note you'd written to me months ago and feel the coincidence is more than coincidence. There's good things happening for me, is that you? Is that your smile on the face of a friend or stranger who stops by the gallery for conversation? Is that you, in the warm Spring rain, coming to me like you said you would? I gather the thoughts, wanting to believe, wanting and craving the comfort they bring for even the shortest of moments. It is my faith, failing me, sustaining me.

I wonder if it's Spring where you are. I hope there's flowers.

I love you,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The 50th Time

Dear Ellen

It's been an interesting week. I never know what to expect when I get up in the morning, but I think that might be a good thing. If I knew what was coming in a day I may not be so ambitious about climbing out of bed. Not that it's all bad, just overwhelming in a confusing insane sort of way. You think you've got something figured out only to realize you haven't even scraped the surface and you're still on hold, waiting for a human being to answer the call.

I'm learning about balance again. For the 50th time. I'm trying to figure out who I am in this new beginning place and it's really awkward for me. My feelings often confuse my perspective, affect my reactions, cloud clear thinking and turn me into a bewildered adult with an eight year old mentality. This makes for interesting conversations with myself, but does confuse my friends. I am trying to understand new boundaries, new challenges, a new relationship with myself and it requires balance. It requires standing outside my own skin observing the chaos and then deciding how I might tweak my thinking. It requires me to remember my manners, sometimes with others, but mostly within myself. It's kind of exhausting, but if I can figure out the most simple things these days, then I celebrate a victory.

What I missed the most this week is our long talks. You would always listen to me, always understood me and always told me to get over myself. I miss that. I miss how we would collapse in laughter when I would finally realize how absurd I was. Maybe that's my problem, it's hard to find balance when half of me is still missing.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


Dear Ellen

It's been an interesting week of varied encounters and emotions. What I'm learning is each day is going to be different and I can wake up and expect only that. My feelings are aboard Mr Toad's Wild Ride and the best I can do is hold on tight. When it's not terrifying to be out of control, it's exhillarating to feel the wind in my face. By the end of the day I'm exhausted, regardless of whether I even spoke with another person or engaged in the slightest activity. The cat and I drag our weary asses upstairs at night to watch stupid television shows, just so we can escape ourselves.

It's not all that bad, just confusing. The slightest thoughts or memories can fill me with joy or leave me pleading for the damnation of the universe. And either reaction can originate with the same thought, it just depends on whether I've had coffee yet or not, or the sun is shining, or a stranger says good morning, or the scent of the Sweet Olive tree fills the air as I walk to work. Am I that fragile? How can I do all I am doing in a day and still know the scent of your favorite flower will reduce me to tears. Can I even determine the difference between tears of joy or sadness anymore? When I walk to work should I take a different route to avoid the question?

I can hear you say "no" to that last question.

Where does all this lead me to? What am I supposed to be learning? Why do I think so much? Somebody needs to slap me. The cat would gladly oblige, but I won't give her the pleasure. It's time to get up, make more coffee and walk to work.
Today can be anything at all and more, it just depends on what route I choose to take.

I miss you so much.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Dear Ellen

I am a tightrope walker. Behind me on this thin wire is everything I know about you, me and the world in general. Everything familiar and comforting pulls me back, but I can't turn around because the wire is shaking and my balance precarious. There's no net below me, just an abyss of loss, self pity, depression and fear which is constantly pulling at me. Each day is a fight to keep my balance, to avoid the
fall, each evening I find myself hanging on by this thin thread of a wire with just my fingers. Ahead of me is a platform of safety. It might as well be a mile away.
I know, it sounds so drama, but this is what my mind dreams of at night. I used to dream of flying, wonderful and light and free, now I dream of high wire acts.

It's been two months now. It's a lifetime which just happened yesterday in terms of time endured. My protective fog has lifted, leaving me with a clear mind to indulge in sharp images and unexpected emotions. If I falter on my thin wire, the fall is hard. I do fall, often, and sometimes the spiral downward is a relief, like breathing in while drowning to quicken the process. Maybe it's not so bad, I think, to stay here awhile, blocking the world out.

But then, your voice in my head. Clearly annoyed. You rarely indulged in self-pity and didn't tolerate it much in me. So we talk, well really, I talk and you listen. I sit in the bathtub with a glass of wine and the cat lying nearby as a witness. I talk until the glass is empty and the water cold, the cat now bored. I talk until I feel better, until I figure out a way to climb back up on the wire. I laugh at myself, how utterly absurd I am to think I could get away with self indulgence when you are listening.

Each day I find a new way to see things differently, to cope, to understand this grief.
I am a tightrope walker and the platform is only a mile away.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Now Open

Dear Ellen

Another Sunday morning with coffee, cat and newspaper spread across the bed, your bathrobe keeping me warm. It was a long night. Some of them are just harder than others. I'll have a good and busy day, but when I come up the stairs into this room, without you here, the feelings catch up with me. There's no escaping them.
I was in shock for the first month, not believing you were really gone, somehow thinking you'd be home soon. Now the reality has set in, now the loss, now the day to day living without your presence. Now the terrible missing you.

Some nights are just harder than others.

I worked all week at getting the gallery ready. I began on Monday, staring at the pile of pedestals and blank walls and thinking I had no idea how to make it all work together. On Tuesday I stared some more. On Wednesday our friend Pam came over and we put the finishing touches on the new wall I helped her build. It was starting to take shape. On Thursday I stopped staring and began moving pedestals around. By Thursday afternoon I had art on the pedestals. On Friday I took the paper off the windows, swept the floor, and unlocked the door. Our gallery is now open. I stood in the middle of it all and cried. How good it felt to realize a dream, how I wished you were with me to celebrate, how joyous and sad all in one big cry.

Two hours later the first customer came in and purchased a large sculpture. After she left, I sat there and started laughing. My dear, you are so busy in Heaven. Just when I felt so alone without you, you reminded me I am not.

Lucky girls we are.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

White Paper

Dear Ellen
Mardi Gras was not the same without you. I went to parades, I spent time with friends, I costumed, sort of, and went to the Quarter for Fat Tuesday, but I don't think it felt real. I stood and watched the St.Ann parade without really being a part of it, which is not an easy thing to do. It was beautiful and colorful and wild as usual, but it was like watching a movie for me. I was afraid to even think about you, knowing the first thought would open me like a river. You loved it all, the crazy freedom of a day devoted to joy and release. Mardi Gras missed you this year.

Strangely, I find things not real and too real.

I wake up in the morning with the day before me like a great sheet of white paper. It can be terrifying or exciting, regardless,it compels me to get out of bed. I spend the day trying to figure out who I am now. It's been so long since I was Cathy Rose, artist, or Cathy Rose, medically uninformed person, or Cathy Rose, normal routine person. The nature of your illness changed every aspect of our daily lives. I don't remember who I was before we were turned upside down, but it dosen't matter because I am no longer that person anyway. I've been changed and now my own skin is no longer familiar or comforting. So, propelled by my fear of being stuck in this purgatory of the unknown I get up each morning to make coffee, feed the cat and figure out who I can be now that I'm no longer me.

The white paper comes with a large eraser, thank heavens.

Sam and I hung the sign for the gallery yesterday. Just another stroke of the pencil on that paper.

Much love,

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday morning.

Dear Ellen
Your Saints won the Super Bowl. How did you pull that one off? Even the parade for the players was incredible, the energy and emotions filling the streets of the city.
I could see you, I swear, running after Drew Brees float to catch beads.

The studio/gallery is coming together quickly. I sat there yesterday afternoon, tired, but amazed at how much had been accomplished. The studio is completely put together with all my junque organized, the tools arranged, the brushes and pencils waiting for me. The gallery area is taking shape, I just need to build more pedestals and then the hard part, figuring out where to place and hang the work. How I wish you were here to help put the finishing touches on it all.

It's bittersweet. A week of joys tempered by your absence. So many times this week I turned to you and smiled. So many times I thought of you, knowing how you would have savored every moment. The game, the parades, the people, the gallery, the joy, energy and excitement. This was such an Ellen week, it was everything you loved about life. It was everything I loved about you.

Happy Valentines Day, my love.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Baby Steps

Dear Ellen

New Orleans is wild. It is the center of the universe this week and I know you would be loving every minute of the craziness. We finally voted in a mayor who might accomplish something, Mardi Gras is in full swing and the Saints are in the Super Bowl this evening. It's a smorgasborg. I would say I am sad you arn't here to experience it all, but I know you are and I know you probably have something to do with the Saints in the Super Bowl. How else could it happen?

I moved my studio from Orlando to the new studio space this week. The trip to Orlando was good, but hard, as ten hours in my head during the drive was about six hours too long. It was sad in some ways, to pack up the old studio and be at the house, but it felt good knowing I am moving forward. Our little house sits there full of memories, too many memories for me to live with. I knew, I know, I'm making the right choice. New Orleans, it's big old wild self, will help me heal.

The new studio/gallery space seems huge. I love this place, this point in the process where my tools and my wood parts and my paints and all my "junque" are waiting for me. It's the beginning which is wonderful and terrifying at the same time. After the movers left I stood in the middle of crates and boxes and burst into tears, my emotions catching up with the day. As much as I feel you with me, as much as I know you are a part of this, the beginnings are scary without your reassuring smile. I came home afterwards, took a hot bath, got into your old bathrobe, poured a glass of wine and had a long conversation with the cat. It helped.

This is how it will be. Wonderful and scary. Sad and yet hopeful.

Exactly like it's supposed to be.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Brick Walls

Dear Friends
Sunday morning again. The cat and I made it through another week. It might be more accurate to say I barely squeaked by during parts of the week, but squeak by I did, and I take some measure of victory from that.
The reality of it all has started to sink in. She's really not coming back no matter how much I pretend. No matter how much I go about my day staying busy, busy, busy, she is not coming back. There is no way I can avoid this truth, regardless of my best efforts to do so. It catches up to me during the day and by late afternoon I find myself on the couch in a fetal position watching old movies. Yesterday I had a really great sobbing, snorting, wailing and cleansing session, the kind where your stomache churns and your chest aches. I had been avoiding it for weeks, but it finally broke free. It wasn't pretty, but I felt better afterwards. This is how it's going to be, the brick wall keeps rebuilding on the path in front of me and there's only one way to move through it. Honestly, I have no other choices.

I've decided to name the gallery Lucky Girls. Ellen and I always talked about how lucky we were, even after she was diagnosed. Despite everything, despite a crying session on the couch every day, I know how lucky I still am. I have wonderful friends who have been such a comfort and support, this gallery adventure is really happening, decisions are being made, things are falling into place and the cat seems to tolerate my company most of the time. It's a balance, holding on to the good while feeling the depth of this grief. I am under the guidance of an angel.

Lucky girls we are.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Dear Friends

It's Sunday morning. I am in bed, with coffee and the cat, thinking about this past week. It's been a week of up and down emotions, of dark places, of decision and change. It's been a roller coaster, with my hands in the air and lots of screaming.

I spent the week searching for studio space here in New Orleans, knowing I need to get to work as soon as possible. I decided to at least give it a try to stay, even though I have the house and studio space in Orlando. It's more logical to return there, but logic has always taken a back seat to my emotions. My heart wants to stay here. I searched most of the week for a space to work and I searched just about everywhere in the city. On Monday I saw a storefront space on Oak Street, which is just three blocks from my house. Through the week I kept getting drawn back to it and on Thursday I made a decision to lease it. It's large enough to have a working studio area and also a gallery space, which is something both Ellen and I have always wanted to do. It's a big, risky, grand, and crazy adventure.

It's perfect.

Ellen would be so happy I am choosing to do this. She was always supportive of my work, encouraging me to "take it to the next level". I have no doubt she has been guiding me in my search this week, no doubt she would have wanted this for me. Before we moved here from Orlando she told me she was going to do something special for me when we got home to New Orleans. She wouldn't tell me what it was, wanting it to be a surprise. She declined so quickly when we got home she never was able to follow through on her promise and I never knew her secret. Now I know. I would say I am sad she won't be here to share it with me, but I know better.

I hide out under the covers in bed, I take long walks, I talk out loud hoping Ellen can hear me. The cat stares at me while I cry in my cereal. I miss her every minute and I am very sad. But I know, I really do know, she is here with me. She wouldn't want me to lay around and wallow, in fact it would really annoy her to no end. If I am going to carry her name forward, if I am going to become something better because of her, this past week was the beginnings.

I believe she can hear me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Now What

Dear Friends
It's early morning here. I'm hiding in bed with the cat. We have become best friends, especially since everyone has left and she has realized I'm the only food source available. I talk to her constantly, she stares at me, she lays on my stomach, she tolerates my crying sessions and I am beginning to realize she is much smarter than I am. She sits still with her grief, staring out the window. I have a lot to learn from this cat.

I've decided to continue writing on this blog for awhile. I think it's helped me to express my feelings and from speaking with many of you, perhaps it's helped you deal with losing Ellen as well. I cannot understand all of the raw emotions flowing through me these past couple of weeks, but I know I have to sort them out and begin this difficult journey of finding "me" again. It might get ugly.

Ellens service was beautiful. It was such a loving tribute to her and so many friends and family traveled to be here for it. I think what most people seemed to take from the service was the feeling of a positive and healing love. It brought us close to Ellen and each other, it comforted us, it helped us understand who she was in this world. It was uplifting. It was a lovefest. It was so Ellen. I know I will carry this with me these next months, reminding me when I am down, hiding in bed and not sure how to put my foot on the floor. This is who Ellen was in this world, a healing message of love.

The cat already knew this.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dear Ellen

Dear Friends.

First of all, I want to thank all of you who have continued to support me, who traveled from near and far to be at Ellens service. It meant so much to me.
I will write again this week about the service, but I wanted to post the letter I wrote to Ellen and which was read at the Mass by our friend Donna. I will also be posting the eulogy our good friend Greg delivered at the service.

Dear Ellen
You changed me.
I met you at a point in my life when I never thought I'd find you and there you were, walking into my booth at Jazzfest to buy a painting and walking out with
my heart. I was permanently smitten by your beautiful brown eyes and constant smile. By your love of life, by your infectious laughter, by your great big and loving heart. I adored you.

My life changed when our lives joined together. We created a home, we created a circle of friends, we created a safe place for our love to grow. I was never happier. You were my muse, my art became yours, your spirit infused and inspired me. Your support allowed me to become the artist I aspired to be. Our life was busy with travel, work, entertaining, family visits and all manner of adventures, but what I remember most about you was your desire to be a homebody. Sunday mornings would find you in bed, your cat curled up next to you, a cup of coffee on the nightstand and the Picayune spread around you. Sunday afternoon might be a bike ride, weeding your flower garden, floating in the pool and lying in the sun. We cooked together often and your gumbo made me swoon. Your coconut cake would bring me to tears, your pecan pie to my knees. It was those simple things we experienced which made our relationship so magical.
Our love grew stronger and I adored you.

Our lives changed with Katrina, as it did for all of our friends. We left our New Orleans home confused and sad, but determined to make a better future. We ended up on a beach in Florida. What I most remember of those summer months would be the vision of you, in flip-flops and hat, heading to the beach. The beach is where you found your center, your serenity, your smile and I am so thankful you had that summer. One day we rode our bikes for miles to the very end of the beach where the ocean met an inland waterway. We were completly alone. The ocean stretched to forever, the birds scattered all around us, it was achingly beautiful and you were in Heaven. We stayed there a long time, drinking it all in, enjoying the God-given moments. I will remember you always with the wind and water, the sun on your face. You were so happy, so beautiful.

Our lives changed once more when we were stunned by the diagnosis of your brain cancer. One day healthy and strong, the next your life altered in incomprehensible ways. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, you endured them all with little complaint. Our emotions, our strength, our faith were tested in ways we could never have imagined. Your passion for life, your compassion for others, your appreciation for simple things intensified. The things we thought so important to us before, no longer were. Finally, this past October we made a decision to move back to New Orleans. You were so happy to be home, so happy to be near friends and family, back in the city you loved. I wished you could have had more time here, but I know, deep in your heart, it didn't matter. You were where you belonged, at last.

Over the weeks and months of your illness we both changed. Our lives condensed into something simple and pure, stripping away layers and layers of our very selves. Our love, our relationship, our trust in each other grew as the layers fell away. At the end, we had said all that two people can say to one another, we had no regrets, there was only trust and love. The last weeks of your life you lost your voice, but my love, by then there was no longer any need for words. Your eyes told me everything.

Ellen, you were never defined by cancer. You were, and always will be, defined by strength, grace, and a determination to live and love fully. You taught me and everyone you touched how to laugh and love, how to accept life and now, how to let go.
You changed me. I am a better person knowing your love, your touch, your heart.

I adored you. And I always will.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wednesday evening

Dear Friends

I have set a date and time for Ellens celebration, which will take place at St.Marys
Catholic Church here in New Orleans. This is a church affiliated with the Father Seelos shrine and so important to Ellen in her final months. It seems most appropriate to hold her service in such a beautiful and sacred place. The service will be held on January 14th at 4:00P.M. with a number of friends and family taking part in the service.
I have appreciated all your thoughtful notes, messages and phone calls. I am doing my best to take care of myself, but as you can imagine, there have been many difficult moments, with many more to come. My good friend Donna will continue to stay here with me for the next week and I am thankful for her company and friendship.

Please continue to keep Ellen and I close to your hearts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The next day..

Dear Friends
It's evening, a long day after the passing of Ellen. I am sitting in bed with Ellens cat curled up at my feet. "Iggy" is confused and sad, but I think I made things better by wrapping Ellens big old bathrobe around her. I told her I understood, that I would take care of her. She seemed to understand, in my feeble human way, I was trying to help. We are both in this together.

Ellens passing was peaceful and very beautiful. Her sisters, Beth, Carol, Carol's partner, Irene, my good friend Donna and myself, spent the day with Ellen. We surrounded her bedside, holding her hands and stroking her face, speaking to her with great love. Towards the end, her breathing changed, becoming quiet and slow. Moments before she stopped breathing, I looked at her face and saw, clearly, a glow of light. As though her face were bathed in escaping light. She took several slow breaths and then stopped. It was so silent, so sacred, so incredibly peaceful. I felt the presence of something powerful, joyous and comforting. I know, deeply, she was lifted up and carried to a truly beautiful place. There is no doubt in my heart about this. A cold and cloudy day and with her passing, the sun broke through the clouds. I can't explain all of this, I can only express the awesome power which everyone in the room experienced.

When Ellen was a young child, she had a wonderful Great Aunt who was a strong and loving presence in her life. She was "Aunt Nan" and Ellen adored her, speaking so often of her with great affection, especially in the recent months of her illness.
They had a very special bond. Nan died January 4, 1990. Twenty years to the day, she came and carried Ellen home.

We are planning a service for Ellen, hopefully for next week, either on Wednesday or Thursday. I am trying to arrange the location for the service so that those of you who wish to attend can make preparations. I should know more by tommorow and will post the information. As part of the service I would to invite all of you to express your thoughts or memories of Ellen in a short note to her. I will take all of these messages of love and place them in a box for her at the service. You can email your message to her at:, or mail it to: 1031 Fern Street, New Orleans, LA 70118.

I will post again tomorrow with information regarding her memorial service.

Thank you so much for you loving prayers of support. I know she still hears you.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Dear Friends

Ellen, my love, passed away peacefully this afternoon at 4:20.
She was beautiful, it was incredibly spiritual and I know she is happy and
Your loving prayers, all of you, lifted her from this world to a joyous place.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I will write again tomorrow, there is a wonderful story about her passing I would
like to share. I would also like to ask you to participate in her celebration which I hope to be planning in the coming week.

I am sad, I am numb, I will be lost without her, but I am happy knowing she is finally free.

Monday morning

Dear Friends

I am again sitting next to Ellen's bedside. She has reached the point when her body is shutting down, her breathing labored and she has lapsed into a coma. Her heart rate is very high and has been since yesterday afternoon. I stayed by her side last night, listening, holding her hand, talking to her. I believe the end is very near, possibly this day. It's painful to watch her labor, painful to only watch and wait. We have all, her friends and family, encouraged her to let go, to be free of the body which holds her soul hostage.

She is so beautiful, even now.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2

Dear Friends
Yesterday morning Ellen declined again, spiking a high fever and not rebounding from it. We suspect she has bled into her brain again, or the tumor has affected her body thermostat center. She is not in a coma, but lies quietly or sleeps most of the time. Her breathing is labored and we have stopped giving her nourishment or fluids due to the danger of choking. We are keeping her medicated with morphine and I have been told repeatedly she is not in pain or uncomfortable. Her wishes were to remain here at home and that is what I intend to do.
At this moment, she is sleeping. I listen to her breathing. I gaze over to her as I am writing and she appears peaceful, a very small smile at the corners of her mouth. I wonder what she is dreaming about, but I can imagine it's a sweet dream, with plenty of angels. I take comfort knowing she isn't in pain, knowing she is surrounded by love, knowing she is home where she wanted to be, knowing she will soon be free of the cancer.

She is beautiful and brave and such a sweet, loving soul. I feel so blessed she let me share this most sacred journey with her.

I know you all will keep her close in your prayers.