Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

$500,000 Gruber Prize Recognizes Widows in the Hood
Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Left without the legal protection of husbands after the ugly bloodletting of 1994, fifty women stood together in Rwanda to form AVEGA Agahozo, the Association of Widows of the Genocide, and 17 years later they are still helping one another to get on with the business of living. Thank You Gruber for recognizing ‘Widows in the Hood.”

For their work, the group will receive the 2011 Women’s Rights Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, a $500,000 unrestricted cash award, to be presented in a ceremony later this year.

In a historically patriarchal society, AVEGA has helped to achieve legal reforms that, for the first time, gave Rwandan women inheritance rights, established rape as an act of genocide and defined other crimes of sexual violence as serious crimes.

 

The group seeks to promote the general welfare of widows through legal advocacy, social and economic development projects, and education, training and other support that contributes to income generation and self-sufficiency. It also operates three health centers and provides medical services to thousands.

 

Headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda, AVEGA Agahozo provides services across the country and includes among its members more than 20,000 widows and more than 71,000 dependents and orphans. Of the 300,000 to 400,000 survivors of the Rwandan genocide, widows outnumber widowers ten to one. It is the widows and orphans who witnessed the atrocities and, in many cases, suffered extreme violence themselves. Sexual violence was often used to humiliate and degrade women during the 100 days of the violent scourge, with estimates of the number of women raped ranging between 250,000 and 500,000.

 

Traumatized and shamed, many of these women are seeking help now only because they are ill. For these women, AVEGA is a refuge, providing medical services, psychological counseling, education and training, housing and legal services. AVEGA offers medical help to those suffering from AIDS and has coordinated voluntary testing for HIV for more than 10,000 of its members. It also delivers antiretroviral treatment and wraparound care and treatment, including nutrition support, to more than 1,500 HIV+ women. Last year it introduced a new program to provide educational support to children born to survivors of rape, a particularly marginalized group in Rwanda.AVEGA also assists widows who wish to testify against those accused of genocide. Members are accompanied to court and receive assistance by AVEGA in the resolution of their cases. In national, international and community-based Gacaca courts, an estimated 800,000 perpetrators have been convicted so far. Originally, when many women were unwilling to come forward, AVEGA sent hundreds of trainers into the villages to teach them how to testify. In Kigali, the organization has helped prepare witnesses for testimony in over 150 landmark legal cases.

 

AVEGA is now teaching widows and orphans about land law as well. It has built houses for many widows and orphans, and has provided about 13,000 of its members with shelter. Women had no inheritance rights before the genocide. AVEGA pushed for reform, lobbying lawmakers, judges and journalists until a law was passed in November 1999 that allowed widows the right to inherit a husband’s property. More recently, AVEGA’s advocacy played a pivotal role in securing the introduction of Rwanda’s first gender-based violence law, enacted in 2009. AVEGA has also helped women become involved in income-generating activities, such as business projects, farming, basket-weaving and other handicrafts. Garments produced on modern tailoring machines are now marketed worldwide.The motto of AVEGA, translated from the French, is “Let not the screams of our martyrs lead to our silence or make us forget.” But while the organization is ever mindful of the past, its focus now is on the future and making life better for tomorrow.(A complete organizational profile is available at http://www.gruberprizes.org.)

 

 

 

 

 

A Postmodern Widoe – Inadequate Language – Chapter One
Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Inadequate Language


Zavier said good-bye to his daddy in his daddy’s hospital bed.

 

Daddy said, “Say hello to Mickey Mouse for me.”


“Okay,” said Zav, and the pitter-patter of his feet could be heard slapping against the linoleum-floored hall as he ran, holding Uncle Matt’s hand, on his way to catch a plane to Disneyland, to the land of simulations and distortions.


“See you soon,” Daddy said.


“Okay,” said Zav, as he smiled for him one more time, pushed the buttons on his hospital bed, and made his daddy laugh with his make-believe pirate’s face. Zavi reached up to him with his dimpled, three-year-old hands, pressed his cheeks and gave him a kiss on his living lips.

 

I remember my son’s last kiss to his daddy, but not mine.


Peter had become sick with the flu two weeks earlier. His antibodies, which were supposed to fight a virus, turned on his red blood cells instead. It could have been the medication he was taking for his heart, or maybe a flu bug picked up in Florida, or maybe a scorpion carrying the sting of a smitten siren. Who knows? His red blood cells were gobbled up all of a sudden and then they clotted, or so they say. I’ve asked many specialists in the field of blood, “What happened? Why did he just die like that in the hospital?”


 “We don’t know,” was the other standard answer.


It was Tuesday when Zavi said goodbye at the hospital, without his daddy or his mama for his journey. We were all supposed to be together, but on Monday, while we were packing the car for our meandering holiday down the southern California coast, Peter had collapsed in the bathroom and crawled up to our bed, on our altarstage. He had called for me with a scratch of sand in his throat, a flutter in his heart, and tears in his eyes. I had called the ambulance.


When the paramedics arrived they seemed disappointed that they had been called to a house for an emergency that, according to them, wasn’t an emergency. Ours wasn’t a house either, or rather, it was a house, but it had been a church and we were about half way done in our reconstructing church to home project.  Because our bed was on what had once been the altar, the medics didn’t have room on the floor for the gurney  The lifted Peter two steps down the stage, or altar, depending on the mood.


 The men in blue uniforms with golden badges said Peter’s vitals weren’t alarming and they weren’t sure he needed to go to the hospital, but I insisted. I told them Peter had a history of arrhythmia and that he’d been taking folic acid for three days for a very low count of red blood cells. I said we were meeting Peter’s doctor at the hospital and that I didn’t dare drive him there by myself because I was afraid he might pass outenroute.


The gurney was raised to meet our bed, and Peter was safely delivered to the hospital where we could “aggressively” begin looking into this blood problem that had just begun sucking his bloodsong.


The first blood doctor wasn’t alarmed either, but we were alarmed, so we called in a new blood doctor. He was more alarmed. Even so, he said Peter could be out in a couple of days; after they transfused his blood and built up his red blood cells. My brother, Mark, was to be wed in San Diego on Saturday. We would meet up with everyone on Friday.


Instead, on Friday morning, in the wee-est of hours, Peter died.


When Zavi asks mommy why daddy died, I answer, “It was his time.”


 “No Mommy, why did daddy die?”


“Daddy died because he got a bad flu bug in his blood. It made his body stop working. When your body stops working, you die.”


“No mommy, why did Daddy die?”


“I don’t know Zavi. I don’t know. It must have been his time to die.”

My Protective Cloak
Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Motherhood brings out the lioness in me. No task is too small or sacrifice too great to ensure the well being of my three children. In my mind’s eye I can see myself jumping in front of an on-coming train to save their lives; feeding them first from my last ration of bread; offering myself as a meal for the hungry bear that is chasing them and in every one of these imaginings I manage to save the day.

In the normal course of life moms feed, bathe, clothe, soothe, encourage, celebrate, hold, hug, and protect their little ones through the bumps and bruises associated with living, learning and loving. Sometimes I think of my love for them as a protective cloak that serves the double purpose of reminding them of their innate value and also guarding them from the many perils that threaten to harm them as they walk this journey of life. But when death came knocking, I could not protect them.

After delivering the devastating news to my children that my husband died in a cycling accident, I rode home in the back seat of a car with the three of them crying in my arms. They asked question, after question as I felt my heart writhe repeatedly inside my chest. Why did that man hit him, Mom? Where was Phil’s bike? Wasn’t he wearing a helmet? I thought you said he probably broke some bones. How come that driver didn’t see him? Why did he die? I remember these moments like you recall a dream, vivid and yet unfocused and out of sequence. But through the fog of emotion one feeling from that night is piercingly clear…the terrifying sensation of being completely helpless. For the first time in their young lives there was not one thing I could do to take away my children’s pain. My own pain was echoed in their cries of grief, and the invisible cape I naively believed could shield them from every trauma lay crumpled on the floor mats at our feet.
Being powerless to alter the course my children were about to travel, I realized all I could offer was a hand to hold as we walked the road that lay before us. And so we grieved together. Some days were ugly. Some days I yelled more than I should have. Some days we cried; others we laughed. They went back to school; I sat on the couch and stared into space. They did homework; I tried to pay attention. Dinner was sometimes from a box, and other times from the drive through. We went to the beach, we slept in just because, we said Phil’s name often, and celebrated the fact that we loved him every day. Life milestones were bittersweet. We held fast to some family traditions, while others were re-designed. Slowly we built a new life one day at a time.

My kids taught me many lessons in the aftermath of our family tragedy. In those early days we discovered that tears can be shared; strong parents cry too. They taught me that time together is the foundation for the memories that hold us up in times of loss. Laughing with them reminded me that being happy was necessary, too. Their love was unconditional…which meant I didn’t have to know all the answers. My kids taught me that I could lean on them; the whole world didn’t have to rest on my shoulders alone. . Together we have risen from the ashes of loss to do more for the world we inhabit, because death taught us to value life. Three teenage angels taught me to be a better mother, and to see the world as it can be if we parents truly believe all those things we teach our children…love much, laugh often, and live well.
Ironically, my inability to shield my children from every pain has allowed them to learn lessons that will shape their future in ways I would never have imagined. And my lack of superhuman powers allowed their amazing courage and natural grace to shine brightly even death couldn’t dim their beauty.

The Emotions of Grief
Monday, October 13th, 2008

When you least expect it, you may find yourself overwhelmed by tears. You may sob uncontrollably. Or you may quietly feel tears dripping down your face and find yourself seeing through stinging eyes.

Just as quickly the tears can stop. You may even find yourself laughing or smiling.

The emotions of grief can be very unpredictable. And there may be inner confusion about whether the tears are from sadness or sweet remembrance of your loved one.

While these common characteristics of grief can be very painful and quite overwhelming, they are very normal responses to grief and loss. But normal does not mean pleasant.

The unpredictable feelings of grief can be really draining.

How do you handle the emotional roller coaster of grief?

Becoming a Widow
Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

In the early morning hours of September 1ST 2005, sleeping restlessly, I became aware of a warm red light filling the darkness of my bedroom. As I sensed the pulsing illumination, I listened intently for an accompanying noise. Still on the edge of sleep, I realized the glow in the room was coming from my husband’s alarm clock. I thought it was strange that there was no sound—the volume was obviously turned down. Why wasn’t he getting up, I wondered? For him to let the alarm go on for so long was unusual, and I started to worry that he would be late for work.

Then I remembered. Panic began to rise in my chest; quickly I calmed myself with the thought that I had surely been dreaming. In this disturbing dream my husband Phil was dead—many family members were at our home, the kids had all been told, friends had arrived to comfort us, tears had poured out uncontrollably, and somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear myself screaming. Yes, it must have been a dream. Still, I was afraid to open my eyes. What if he really was dead? Lying there, I imagined that if I stayed very still with eyes squeezed tightly shut, the horror of this dream would fade away with the beginning of the new day.

In the background of my rationalizations the light of the alarm continued to flash, each rhythmic glow a dare to verify my untested theory. Reluctantly, I slid my hand across to Phil’s side of the bed. To this day I can still feel the cool, crisp sheet in the place where his warm body should have been. The reality of his absence gripped my heart, as the unbelievable memories of the night before came flooding back. Tears flowed again as I repeatedly reached for him, eyes still defiantly closed, wishing desperately to wake up from what was rapidly becoming a nightmare. That morning I would begin my first day as a widow.

As time marched on and the initial shock of Phil’s death began to fade, I found being a widow to be both demanding and disconcerting. Not only was I abruptly left without a partner, but I felt the weight of unspoken expectations at every turn. All of a sudden every decision was mine to make at a time when I could hardly remember my name. As my whole being twisted in agony at the thought of life without my husband, the practical pull of daily life continued to demand my attention. Thrust into a fishbowl of well-meaning, sympathetic company, I wavered between the alarming temptation to allow the rising tidal wave of grief to consume me and the equally pressing need to prove that I would not crumble under the weight of despair. The tug-of-war between the desire to drown and the instinct to swim was exhausting. Suddenly my mind was paralyzed by previously inconsequential choices.

Overwhelmed and inexplicably unable to make decisions, I lost the self-confidence on which I had always relied. The moment I lost Phil, I was transformed from a poised, goal-oriented, content woman into a remote, indecisive, despondent ghost. I didn’t recognize myself, I didn’t recognize my life, and I saw no course that would lead me back to the person I used to be. Not only was I lost, but I didn’t care that I was lost. Anguish, fear, confusion and apathy became my constant companions.

Reading about the “stages of grief” frustrated me, because the broad concepts of denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance were not reflective of my daily experiences. The information I sought about being a widow was more personal – I didn’t want to know if other widows had been in denial; I wanted to know if they had worn their husband’s clothes. The bargaining phase did not interest me, but I yearned to find out what widows did with their husbands’ wedding rings. Being angry about losing your life companion was logical, but where was the logic in believing your dead husband could walk through the door any day? Depression threatened to consume me daily, while hope escaped me. Acceptance was a state I couldn’t even consider, so how could I aspire to it? Maddeningly, the “stages of grief” presented a road map that was deceptively linear. Each time I entered what I thought was a new stage I would quickly find myself backtracking and re-visiting an old one. Grief began to seem like an endless maze. I wanted reassurance that I wasn’t going to be lost in this labyrinth forever—I wanted to meet some survivors.

Suddenly I was certain that other widows were the source of the elusive answers about widowhood that plagued me. If I could find women who survived this loss and were willing to talk about it, the compilation of their stories would be the kind of comfort and reassurance I craved. Led by my desire to find out exactly how other women lived through the crushing loss of a husband, I traveled the country spending over one hundred hours speaking to women about their day-to-day life as widows.

The women I met while preparing to write this book changed my life. They told me their stories with courage and honesty. Each one of them allowed me into their sorrow without hesitation, unknowingly urging me to recognize that letting go of my sadness would not mean letting go of Phil. Welcomed into their homes, I met, through stories, pictures and personal treasures, the men they lost. The warmth and love evident in their remembrances demonstrated that it was possible to carry my husband within me, even as I began creating a new life for myself.

Slowly, it became obvious that there is no recipe for living through the loss of someone you love. I learned that grief is as individual as it is universal, and that healing happens one day at a time. Most of all, the intense despair these widows survived and the gratifying lives they lead now taught me to hope: hope for the day when I recognize myself again, hope that I can lead a life of purpose, and hope that love is not only a gift of the past.

A STRANGE AND PAINFUL COINCIDENCE
Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

My wedding anniversary is June 3. The first couple of anniversaries after my husband’s death were extremely difficult. There seemed no helpful way to get through this day. I would even start feeling sad and uncomfortable several days prior.

During the fifth year, my old dog began having health problems. she was 13. She looked really good for her age, but I had to acknowledge that 13 was on the older end of the life spectrum for Black Labs.

I was in the process of starting a business and felt very torn about whether to stay home with her or pursue my new career.

Rabi (pronounced Robbie) had been through a lot with me. She sat on the floor with me amidst piles of books while I wrote my Master’s Thesis. She had been our “trail guide” when my husband and I went on horseback riding vacations. She snuggled with me many times during my husband’s final months, tears falling on her soft fur as we comforted each other.

As my husband’s death grew more imminent, he continually asked me where Rabi was. He knew how important she was to me and how much more important she would become when he was physically gone.

The night he transitioned, Rabi really knew. And she also knew of my increased need to be close to her. She and I became constant companions.

Rabi was the one constant in my life through all the overwhelming changes which occurred after my husband died.

Rabi died on June 3, on what would have been my twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. How could this be? It felt so very cruel. She was really my last connection with the physical life my husband and I shared on our farm. And now she too was gone.

My husband was gone. Rabi was gone.

The next winter as I took a walk in the snow, I looked down and saw a perfectly shaped heart made of snow. It looked like it had somehow formed out of a chunk of snow that had flipped off my boots. I ran back to the house to grab my camera.

Of all the places for me to walk, here I was, gazing at a heart in the snow. Somehow my heart felt more peaceful. Somehow in this moment I was able to feel that the Universe had given me a message about the fragile and yet enduring power of love.

Soon the sun’s intensity melted the snow enough to transform the shape of the heart in the snow. It melted into air and water. It melted into the vastness of the Universe.

I will never forget that day. I will never forget the heart in the snow. But I hold it gently in my memory, as I now hold other days more gently in my memory.

Finding My Stride
Monday, March 17th, 2008

It was a perfect day for running. The morning was a bit cloudy, cool enough to wish for another layer, and there was a hint of fall crispness in the air—unusual weather for Austin in October. I was heading to a race start-line for the first time in over a year. For once there were no pre-race jitters or time expectations, just a lot of memories and a different kind of determination.

On August 31ST of 2005, my husband Phillip was killed when he was hit by a car while out for his evening bike ride. Phil was not only an avid cyclist; he was also a dedicated runner. He began his running career as a high school track athlete. Continuing his love of the sport as a devoted community track coach, he volunteered long after his own kids had outgrown the program. Running beside the kids at practice was one of his favorite things to do. Phil was a regular at all the local races; a towering pile of race bibs had a place of honor on his dresser. At 39, he was at the top end of a competitive age group. He was counting the days to his age group change, looking forward to racing as one of the youngsters in his field. But Phil never got to race in the next age group—he died three months before his fortieth birthday.

Before we met, I was an occasional runner. Through our courtship and marriage, my husband introduced me to the joy of running. Vacations were planned around running, track season caused the cessation of all other activities, and date nights usually began in running shoes. My love of running developed as our relationship did. After Phil died, my world looked different from every angle. The lines that distinguished what he loved and what I loved became blurred. I didn’t know if I loved running or if I only loved running with him. In the darkness of loss, I could not find the drive to put on my shoes, and run out the door without him, I quit running. Each morning I woke up in the haze of grief, with only the thought of how to make it through the day. After months of feeling lost without my husband, it finally occurred to me that I might feel more connected to him on a run. So, with some trepidation I laced up my shoes. For months I ran away; away from the heartache, away from the shock, away from the inevitable reality that he was gone. When I ran, I felt close to him in my soul and in my stride. Each breathless moment was a testament to all I had learned from running beside the man I loved. On my runs Phil was still my partner. Those runs left me spent and sad, but I needed them. Running became my way of saying good-bye to the man who was my husband and my friend.

The act of running was freeing. It reminded me that I was capable of putting one foot in front of the other—in forward motion. The destination was not as important as the journey. As time passed, my heart slowly began to heal. Eventually the nature of my runs changed, and I noticed that my step was lighter. I realized that my purpose in heading out for a jog was no longer exclusively a desire to feel close to Phil. Slowly, I stopped expecting to see him at every turn of our favorite route. Running did not always reduce me to tears. With every step I took, I began to remember the joy of running. Gradually, I ran just because I wanted to.

On that brisk October day, I faced my first finish line without my husband. A dear friend of mine, who lost her husband to cancer, lined up beside me at the start—we were there to run in honor of the men we had loved and lost, but not forgotten. Passing each mile marker, I marveled at the power of running. As we traveled the course, we shared stories about our husbands, we talked about the lives that were still ahead of us, and we celebrated the fact that we could run. Crossing the finish line I felt Phil’s absence, but I also felt his presence. Running had taken me across more than a literal finish line. As I crossed the line with cheering supporters in the background and my friend at my side, I realized that I wasn’t running just for Phil, I was running for myself, too.

The Only Person I Really Want Right Now, by Ann Suther
Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I am a new widow – 5 weeks. People ask “How are you?” and I don’t know how to answer. “Sometimes OK, mostly NOT OK,” I respond. Many of them really don’t want to hear that answer and I know it, so I try to pretend I’m better than I really am.I keep thinking somehow life will change back to what it was, yet I know it won’t. This new life feels so strange . . . so empty . . . will my life ever feel normal again?His death was unnecessary – an undetected surgical error. This surgery was supposed to improve his health, and it killed him. I’m just starting to feel anger amid my numbness.Tears come unpredictably – sometimes I can tell this story without them, other times a quick and fleeting memory of something we shared brings on a flood.Why are there so many decisions to make and details to take care of when I feel least able? There are too many questions in my mind about how I will navigate through all that lies ahead. I know I have to give myself time, yet financial woes may not allow me the time I need.I pray for patience and for strength . . . . and thank God for loving adult children, and countless supportive friends and neighbors who are only a phone call away. Still, the only person I really want right now is the one who is gone.

the sound and the fury
Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Today at work, I got asked The Question, the perennial favorite of those who have just met me or who have just learned of my history: How can you be so positive and relaxed about everything?

My canned response, the one that gets spit back at those who cannot even fathom the anger and sadness lurking beneath this sunny exterior (still, after more than a year to heal), boils down to learning to save my stress for the big stuff when Eric was sick and dying.

But it is really so much, much more than that.

The truth is that I’ve really sort of become a selfish and careless thing, spending my time only on those who care about me and actions to further my own position, and not really giving a damn about the rest. I really think that the only difference between myself and others is that I’m being brutally honest with myself. I don’t stress at work, because at the end of the day, the job will get done regardless of whether my blood pressure rises or not. And so I choose the path that accomplishes the task with the least amount of my time and energy: I get the job done. I solve the problem. No one’s dying or getting hurt, so no big deal.

I’ve also learned over the years to only share myself with those who have proven to care about me. I am an open book in some ways, but have been known to cut negative influences out of my life without much thought. The most recent example of this was an acquaintance who I met in F-ville. Although the only thing that we really had in common was that we both hated our jobs, we met outside of work regularly (albeit spending that time complaining about work). When I finally started to climb out of the deep hole of self-pity that I had buried myself in, when I finally started to be hopeful again, she had the nerve to confront me and tell me that I was “becoming a different person.” I told her that friends of mine support me both when I am happy and when I am complaining, and promptly erased her e-mail, phone number and other contacts.

And this whole crusade, this whole “Fuck Cancer, raise money to fight leukemia” business that I am hoping to make my life’s work? Although it appears altruistic at the surface, I want others to hear about Eric and me and what happened to us and how it should never have to happen to another nice young couple again. I want to beat this fucking, crippling, destroying thing for the most selfish of reasons: I never want to know that pain again. And yet, every time I connect with cancer patients online or offline, it is often the same tragedy. Many of the people whom I blogged with when I began “Cancer. It’s not just an astrological sign anymore” are gone or have relapsed. Sometimes it seems like everyone I know has cancer or is dying, and I guess in the big picture, those sentiments are true. Everyone is dying, but no one should have to live through the pain and have their life cut so short as Eric did. And so, I continue to raise my voice and speak out—not because of wanting to help others, but because I want to shield my own heart from the pain that it’s known before.

So when you see me being cheerful, not getting stressed over the day-to-day, don’t think that you should strive to be more like me.

I am not a role model.

I am simply trying to get by, the only way that I know how.