When You Experience Grief…

I lost an aunt a couple of weeks ago in New York. I’ve never mentioned her here. She was the widow of my other uncle – my mother’s and my novelist uncle’s younger brother. He died at 48 in early 1994.

My aunt had been ill for a long time. I hadn’t seen her in about 5 years. I last spoke to her just after my mother died in 2015.

Yes, the beard is off. The major reason it is? She who is dearest to me, revealing: "It's as I imagine kissing a brush might feel."😜 . Okay, it's Friday and given previously I've put up paintings of lovely eighteenth century ladies, why not a handsome bloke of that era?πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈIt's only fair.πŸ“šπŸ–Œ . And how about an *unbearded* man? This is American diplomat William Short, painted by Rembrandt Peale in 1806, when Short was age 47.πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ . #humor #humour #painting #USA #France #diplomacy #Europe #travel #expats #classical #history #art #writing #authors #photo #photography #beards #Hertfordshire #England #novels #fiction #romance #writing #writersofinstagram #authorsofinstagram #fun #Friday #weekend

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My writing is a form of release. (As is social media.) It’s a means to try to get away. It has proven especially important to me in the last couple of years.

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The Widower

Yesterday, I was having what I had thought was an innocuous FaceTime with my father. There was our usual current discussion of the weather in his northeast Pennsylvania, and any snow – including what is up at our house in the Catskills. There was also the required exchange about what the new U.S. president is up to. And there was other chitchat.

As I thought we were about to sign off, abruptly he veered without warning into again reviewing my mother’s cancer and death in October 2015. Through hard personal experience, I’ve learned a lot about widowers since then. “The widower” is a particularly difficult area in our culture.

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Life’s Turning Points

We take photographs now so throwaway casually. We may forget how even amongst all of those uncounted thousands – so many of which we simply delete – that there are those that may be extra-special. Some few may eventually develop a deeper resonance and longer-term poignancy for us.

Probably you have something similar in your family and amongst your friends. I was doing some tidying up around the house yesterday, and while doing so I once again noticed this photograph on the wall in our lounge. It is one of my all time favorite family photos because of all it represents:

My maternal grandparents (before they were married), 1935.
My maternal grandparents (before they were married), 1935.

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Today’s Advice Column

As you probably know, I write fiction set in the late 20th century and – soon to come, hopefully – the late 18th century. I think I can do so in part because I feel I’ve gleaned a few basic insights over the years about people and relationships. We all do learn more as we mature further simply because we have usually come to experience more over time.

Social media also allows us, of course, to share our own unpleasant life moments – such as this one I saw on Instagram last night:

Screen capture of Instagram.
Screen capture of Instagram.

And social media also makes it possible for us to offer a little advice and even some (hopefully) reassuring words. Which is what I am about to try to do. Here is some insider information from an “old” married guy, which may prove useful for you as a woman.

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Grandparent Wimbledon

Father-in-law [on the phone yesterday, speaking to an old friend (also in his 80s) who’d just lost a brother, and now moving on subject wise]: “….You have our condolences. How’s your son? My youngest is doing much better, and his three are marvelous….”

Mrs. Nello [in the next room with me, overhearing, observes like a BBC sports presenter]: “The opening serve from Dad. It’s in. No return. Dad’s up, 15-Love.”

Me: “What?”

Mrs. N: “The bragging about grandchildren is like a tennis match. Back and forth trying to top each other. Haven’t you ever noticed?”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an older man playing tennis.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an older man playing tennis.

F-in-L [to the man on the phone]: “Well, and my eldest grandson is at Oxford.”

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Questioned By A Classics Student

Yesterday’s post opened revolving around my younger nephew. His brother is now age 21 and at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, doing Classics. He was around for the weekend due to his Dad’s “half century” birthday, and we volunteered to drive him back to his Oxford flat – he doesn’t live at St. Hugh’s itself – late Sunday afternoon.

View from the communal rear garden of my nephew's Oxford flat.
View from the communal rear garden of my nephew’s Oxford flat.

He being with us for a couple of nights gave us a chance to chat in person. His thesis topic compares Descartes and Plato. I won’t go into more detail; indeed I’m not sure if I even can at this time on a Monday morning. πŸ˜‰

After he explained, he surprised me when he asked me if I had a copy of my latest novel. (Although we’ve discussed my writing several times before.) Fortunately, I had a paperback “proof” of Distances within easy digging out reach. After I’d found it, as he inspected it, we talked.

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Those Happy School Memories

My brother-in-law had a “big” birthday yesterday – the same as I’d had back in September.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a birthday cake.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a birthday cake.

At the party yesterday, which was held in a restaurant, we sat at a table with my youngest nephew, who’s now 14. He held court, dominating the table talk. Also at our table were my wife, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.

At first, he offered insights into video games and PlayStation vs. X-Box, about which his grandparents looked totally confused, and bordered on too much even for us at times. Unsurprisingly, he began drifting into talking about his friends, then his teachers, his grades and his school generally. Then he came to school life – the “unsocial” side of it in particular.

He’s an excellent student, but we all know school can also be, well, school. We’ve all been through it in one form or another. Bullying came up, followed by his sharing some ugly examples of what happens occasionally in classes and in hallways.

Horrified, suddenly my 85 year old father-in-law spoke up: “Why, they [kids these days] are barbarians. In my day, the headmaster would take care of matters, and you didn’t misbehave again.”

“Teachers can’t hit students nowadays,” I reminded him.

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Mother’s Day: A Year Later

I wanted to share some U.S. Mother’s Day personal thoughts here – two days early. I choose to do that because, well, this is the first year my mother will not be here for one. Also, I don’t feel this post is quite appropriate for Sunday itself.

Screen capture of my iPhone calendar this morning.
Screen capture of my iPhone calendar this morning.

I don’t mind others celebrating, but I wish I could’ve “blocked” Mother’s Day just for myself this year. The barrage of ads that have been landing in my inbox seemingly hourly reminding me of the day and how I need to remember Mom with flowers or something, get deleted unread by me the moment I see them. They have led me only to remember one year ago: Mother’s Day 2015.

That day, from Britain, I had FaceTimed Mom over in Pennsylvania. I had expected an innocuous “Mother’s Day chat.” After thanking me for our card and flowers, she said she felt a bit under the weather. My father had booked dinner out, but she didn’t feel up to going to a restaurant.

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Those Italian Sweets

Of my 8 great-grandparents, 5 were Italians, including several Sicilians. My wife likes to joke when we’ve been in Italy that Italians don’t seem to know what to make of me. “You look like you belong,” she says, “and they talk to you like you do.”

I’ve run into something similar here in Tenerife. Some Spaniards seem to think I fit in, too. Until I open my mouth, at least. πŸ˜‰

There is also something of an Italian community here. The other night, we wandered into an Italian ice cream and sweets shop. The twenties-something Italian guy behind the counter looked at me initially and wasn’t sure which language to try on me first; he opened with a mishmash of Spanish and Italian until I made it plain I was neither Spanish or Italian.

His English was not great. But the ice creams were excellent. We also noticed the place sold….

What's in the wrapping? [Photo by me, 2016.]
What’s in the wrapping? [Photo by me, 2016.]
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