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How About Leaving Some Surprises? October 13, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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As of Thursday the 11th,  it’s been 1 full year since K passed away. It’s difficult enough to understand she is gone and not returning, no less comprehend what a year means. So much has transpired in between, yet a year seems just impossible.

Over this period I’ve been observing some interesting things about the grieving process; one of those things is the interplay between memory and feeling. Sometimes a feeling will inspire the memories and sometimes the memories will inspire the feelings. The feeling seems to be the key component though. I can at times actually go back to the same feeling I had as when she was in bed and I was caregiving. Once I get to the feeling, the floodgates of memories open up. Everything from that time becomes accessible.

Quite often this year I’d find myself in search of the feeling. This would play out for me by cleaning house and going through all sorts of items such as clothing, files, books, boxes and whatever else may contain some trace of K’s life. Every now and then I would uncover some surprise; something unexpected. Invariably, whatever I found would bring me back to the feeling where I would whole heartedly indulge in the experience. There, I could spend hours sploshing around in the emotion and the memories.

A few months ago I was cleaning out my office closet and came across several discs. On these discs were about 30 short videos that my then business partner and I and created. The videos were part of a training simulator we developed for sales people. In producing the videos we used K and another friend of ours to play the role of executives in a fictitious company. I had forgotten about this disc and now, almost ten years later, there it was. And what a fantastic surprise!

Kris and our friend Glenn appearing in a business video

I couldn’t watch it enough the day I found it, and still watch it quite often. It’s one of the rare videos of K to exist from the past ten years. I then took the set of videos, pulled out K’s part and edited them together to share with her family so we could all enjoy them.

Earlier in the year I was on one of my “hunting” expeditions sorting through a box K had created of family photos. I had actually gone through this box before but for some reason this time I discovered newspaper articles. Newspaper articles about K!

Several times over the years she mentioned to me how, while in high school, she organized a student walk out. She never went in to any detail and to me it sounded like a nice story but I always imagined a group of 10 students marching around the school with placards. I had no idea what the scope was of what she did, nor did I ask. What a mistake.

In all the time we were together K never showed me the articles I found. Reading them was a revelation. These were articles from major Twin City newspapers. In one article they have a photo of her standing in front of 1200 students being cheered for her leadership. The protests she organized in her school spread to other highschools throughout the metropolitan area as well and was getting considerable reportage.

Her concern was that the quality of education was going to take a hit due to stalled budget negotiations happening between the board and the teachers and she wanted to do all she could to prevent that from happening.  The articles spoke of her strength, her sharp intellect and ability to articulate her position not only to the students but to the adults.

Kris speaking to 1200 of her fellow high school students

One such article entitled “Walkout Organizer has Way With Words” is about how she confronted the superintendent of schools in her district. It starts off, “Kristin Carlander is a no-nonsense 17 year old High School senior who handles her school district superintendent by alternately slamming him with a plank of pithy sentences and sprinkling him with sugar.” To say I was taken aback by all this is an understatement. I found it so sad that I never got to enjoy these newspaper clippings with her, but oh how they satisfied my hunger to reconnect to the feeling. What a wonderful surprise! (Yes, the walkout turned out to be a success in acheiving its goals)

Many days during the week I poke around, cleaning something or the other, hoping that I will uncover another jewel. Maybe it’s a hair that’s fallen in the pages of a book or a grocery note sitting in the pocket of an article of clothing. But all of them seem to have that ability to make me smile, cry or simply feel that she is still here with me. It’s part of my process.

All this got me thinking about something we can do when it is our turn to be cared for.  How about writing notes or creating little hidden surprises for our loved ones to discover after we’ve gone? If any one of them is going through a similarly strong grieving process they would probably love discovering something left secretly behind by us for them. Maybe it sounds like a silly idea, but I know that it would certainly mean a lot to me.

I came across a company called Eternity Message that some people use for this very purpose. It’s an online service that allows you to send emails one year into the future (their free membership) or anytime 60 years into the future (premium membership). It won’t know when I die, but if I suspect I may have only months to live, and have the strength, I can write to a bunch of people and have it sent to them whatever future date I set it for. Or I can write thoughts about my life now and send them off to my loved ones for arrival 5 years from now. I don’t know how I’d react if out of the blue an email from K arrived while I’m sitting here typing, but I’d certainly take the risk.

Although I don’t think K left anything specific hidden away for me to discover I will still continue to look and enjoy finding traces of her existence. I know that each time I find something it will thrill me and bring me back to the feeling of her that I love so much. I have to admit that it’s part of the grieving process I really enjoy. Maybe one day all that will be left is the feeling.


1. blessedbebeth - Middlescapes.com - October 14, 2012

Ira, I have been trying to respond to your blog for twenty minutes. I know, me momentarily speechless – it is hard to imagine!

This is an amazing post. You have so eloquently captured, with such insight, awareness, and passion, the transformative nature of ‘differently present’ relationships that continue beyond what can not be seen.

It is like fire in the morning. The coals untended in the night, (like treasured feelings of connection) have burned down and cooled. Adding kindling – a new discovery as you describe it, causes a little flare. Sometimes it is just a wisp that burns only for a few seconds before becoming smoke that can be shadowy or cleansing. At other times the memories and or feelings catch, igniting into a brilliant flame that warms or illuminates for many hours before burning down to coals once more.

Your description of finding the surprises. So real. It is something I too am experiencing as I find things that provide clues about what had meaning to mom and help me understand more fully the things that although I knew at the time, as you describe, I wish I had shared with her in greater detail.

I love the idea of encouraging messages that go forward into the future. In her last week of life, my mom dictated cards to a few very special people in her life and at the thirty day mark I sent them out. I hope I too will have some advanced notice so can continue this tradition.

You continue to inspire and amaze me in ways I’m sure aren’t even fully apparent yet. Blessings to you.

ijwoods - October 14, 2012

Thanks for your note Beth. You and your mother are very cool, it’s great you thought ahead about the cards. There are so many fun possibilities with this. I know that some people create videos to be shown after they pass away. But it’s that restlessness that grabs you every so often during the grieving process that sets one searching all over the place for something remaining to be discovered. So, if I had left things in books or hidden in a secret drawer… actually if I left things all over the place, including a secret video, I could have an email sent every six months or so asking things like, “Hi, I’m writing to you again to ask if you ever looked through the book of Camus I left in my office? Love you!” Maybe that’s too much and we just need to move on, I suppose it has some downsides, but I just don’t see what they are. What do you think?

blessedbebeth - Middlescapes.com - October 14, 2012

I love this idea. Kind of like the scavenger hunts we had as kids. Weren’t they fun??? Clues that lead to other clues for ‘important’ dates that we want to honor, like a loved ones birthday or something?

I hope by the time this happens in our own lives we will still be friends, and leave some of these footprints for each other to post on CC. How fun would that be? Well kind of fun… but maybe not so much. (hysterical laughing) Oh oh, must be time for sleep.

2. bethhavey - October 15, 2012

Dear IJ,

How tender and loving. Your words touch me deeply, the strand of hair, finding other jewels. Oh and she was so lovely. Her smile blotting out everything else in the photo. She has come alive for me even more now.

With John’s chronic illness, my mind cannot but wander to a time when I will not have him. So much around me will speak of him though we joke now that he has to clean his desk and get rid of some of his PAINTING SHIRTS–you know how men save shirts to paint in! I don’t fear losing him right now, but I do fear the work we will have to do when we move to a smaller place. We both get that.

Please read THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion. I think you are ready for it.

With awe and respect,


ijwoods - October 15, 2012

Thanks for your note Beth. I read Magical Thinking about 2 weeks after K passed away and really liked it. It might be good to read again now that I am somewhat more settled. As a matter of fact, in this post I was going to mention her use of the word “vortex”, which for me became “indulgence”. She has a great command of language and “vortex” is so right on. One of the things I liked about the book was the research into the science of grief she managed to incorporate. Reading those medical and psychological entries helped me undestand what I was going through a little better and gave me some comfort.

What seems to be so hard, especially when you are close to someone your love dearly, is after they’ve passed noticing all the missed opportunities to show your affection. There’s absolutely no way to go back or get it right next time you see them. The entire thing has been finalized and stamped in time. The fact you and John have coherent time together right now – and hopefully for a long time! – is a priceless gift.

3. Chris MacLellan 'Be A Healthy Caregiver' - October 25, 2012

Greetings, Ira…

I have been behind my reading and blogging this month, however I was so glad to have some time this afternoon to read your wonderful post. Your ability to paint a picture in your writing with so much feeling and emotion is to be commended. Even after the transition, I am a true believer that our caregiving journey continues, just in a different form. How wonderful it would be to find a note or a hidden trinket to reassure one presence. So beautiful and so touching.
Thank you so much for sharing, it is always a pleasure to walk in this journey with you.

ijwoods - October 28, 2012

Hi Chris, as always it’s great to hear from you. Sorry for the delay in my response I had to go out of the country on business and it has been a bit of work for me to get properly connected. In relation to the topic, coming over to the UK I saw a movie on the plane called “Increadibly Lound and Extremely Close”. The story is about a young boy who follows a clue left for him by his father. The clue was left before the father died while at the World Trade Center for business on the day of 9/11. He never left the clue because of any thought that death was near, but it turned out to be the case. It’s inadvertently what I was talking about because it ends up affecting the lives of many people including, the boy and his mother, in the most wonderful ways. Although not exactly what I was trying to describe it take a powerful look at grief and the search for that one thing more that may connect us to our loved one.

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