"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in family (18)


The Convocation of Animals



Photo courtesy of Suki Edwards

Some of us gathered at a computer, adding names to the guest list for Jane’s memorial celebration.


Some of us had just finished writing her obituary.


One of us had arranged on her bed an embroidered gold, red and white kimono with a medicine necklace, both gifts sent to Jane.


Some of us felt her death as so strange that our cells would be rearranged.


Some of us went to a dumb film and drank too much one night.


Some nights some of us dreamed of Jane.


Some nights some of us couldn’t sleep.


One of us made long lists of things to do.


One of us saw images of Jane’s sculptures in cloud shapes.


One of us had a massage and the masseuse touched her back above her heart and released the rain.


Some of us went to the market and bought Gerber daisies and sunflowers to honor her innocent spirit.


Some of us went shopping for candles, and found white lotus blossoms that lit up the moment they touched water.


One of us passed an empty frame in the store, and was seized by the knowledge that she was gone.


Some of us were soothed by calls and messages from family and friends.


Some of us talked one night about how impossible it seemed to write a eulogy, our feelings for her too large to fit into three minutes.


One night one of us said, All I want to do is stand up and howl.


Photo courtesy of Hank Kitchell


One of us said, we could make different animal sounds, and began to hee-haw like a donkey.


One of us said, we could find animal masks and perform a chorus of animals to honor her, since many of her sculptures were of animals.


One of us laughed and said, But wouldn’t it seem too weird?


Some of us went to look for masks, but couldn’t find Owl, Fox, Bear, Cat, Monkey, Donkey.


One evening the ceremony was held at the farm of friends, a sweep of lawn sloping down to a lake fringed by tall pines.


Some of us who owned the farm lost a brother days before Jane’s memorial, but still wanted to host the event.


Some of us came early to set up tables under open tents like sails.


Some of us created a slide show of Jane’s life that was shown on a giant screen.


Some of us gathered songs she loved, and one of us played them throughout the evening.


Some of us opened boxes of candles and placed them on a table at the edge of the lake.


Some of us fanned open paper flowers for the tables.


One of us gave food from his own bakery.


Some of us, the first guests to arrive, were followed down the hill by a hawk.


Some of us had travelled many miles across the ocean.


One of us bicycled there from Victoria, British Columbia.


Some of us had known her since childhood.


Some of us had been her husbands, including her first and last.


Some of us had been caring for her for years.


One of us had moved to Seattle from New Zealand to be by her side the last months of her life.


Some of us saw sea gulls and thought of Jane.


Some of us saw whales.


One of us saw a sparrow hawk flying with another hawk through the desert.


One of us saw a turquoise dragonfly dart across the lake.


Some of us gave eulogies and some of us wept.


One of us heard a wise woman say that in certain African funeral services, hecklers in the back of the room balance the gravitas with irreverence.


Photo courtesy of Hank Kitchell


Some of us, after the eulogies, put on masks—of Horse, Squirrel, Cardinal, Rat, Pigeon, Chicken, Unicorn and Duck—and danced and called out to Jane through the voices of the animals.


Some of us sat with old friends telling stories of Jane all night.


Some of us gathered around the campfire at lake’s edge listening to stories about animal visitations after death.


Photo courtesy Suki Edwards


Some of us wrote messages to Jane on the candles, and floated them on the lake after dark, like fireflies under a three-quarters full moon.


One of us wrote, “I’m still in love with you, Jane.”


One of us heard the Rodriguez song, “I think of you,” and wept in the darkness.


One of us had cold ankles as the night grew deeper, and a white dog named Lily came and sat backwards so that her hind fur warmed those ankles. 


Some of us human creatures felt the grief lift because we had joined together to celebrate our love for Jane.


Photo courtesy Hank Kitchell








Below the Paris to Seattle sky bus,

a cloud path seems to lead to Shangri-La,

some impossibly beautiful cloud country only spirits can enter.

And I know she is leaving.


Over there, icebergs

and shipwrecked ocean liners,

giant frogs posing as princes,

a burning arrow of pink-gold cloud, a peony.




Were we close?

Only as close as twins

who do not know where one begins

and the other ends.


Were we close?

Only as close as two fledgling elf owls,

one a little noisier, finding shade in a saguaro

from the Arizona heat.


Were we close?

Only as close as two children of tender natures,

daughters of a Viking mother—

magnificent—but tough.


Were we close?

Close as two girls, one who loved playing with dolls,

the other, playing with characters in books,

both knowing early on which would be a mother.


Were we close?

Close as two swimmers

in red tank suits, passing the baton

in a relay race.


Were we close?

Close as two best friends, 11 and 12,

trying out our first tampons

in the bathroom at midnight.


Were we close?

Close as two Nordic girls

who gravitate to the sea,

high school in La Jolla.


Were we close?

Close as two astonished virgins

discovering sex the same summer,

one in Zurich, one in Paris.


Were we close?

Close as a pair of ears

thrilling to Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower”

and “Lay, Lady, Lay.”


Were we close?

Close as Betty’s daughters, raving about the best books,

The Wizard of Oz to Mrs. Dalloway,

In Arabian Nights to Duino Elegies.


Were we close?

Close as two horses nickering,

galloping, freed, ecstatic

in Berkeley in the '60s.


Were we close?

Close as two artists’ models

costumed as the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse

at an art class Tea Party in Kroeber Hall.


Were we close?

Close as two Viking daughters

setting sail for adventures in the ‘70s

on trimaran and schooner.


Were we close?

When one was in trouble in Ecuador,

she didn’t have to say a thing,

the other leaped to go.


Were we close?

Close as two female artists, slowly learning

how to stay devoted to the making, the shaping,

and cheering each other on.


Were we close?

Close as two monks

who value simple food

and silence.


Were we close?

All our lives when the phone rang,

we knew

when it was the other.


Were we close?

Praying for each other to find a worthy mate,

one who’d be there through celebration and suffering,

the failing body, sailing the long distance with us through the end.


Were we close?

Close as daughters of a splendid father,

fighting for him to finish his life as he wished,

exulting with our family when he returned as hawk.


Were we close?

Close as two art lovers,

speechless at Louise Bourgeois at the Pompidou,

a woman telling deep, difficult truth through her art.


Were we close?

Close as two stars

in opposite constellations,

the Centaur and the Twins.


Were we close?

Close as a dreamer

dreaming with Jane through the bardos,

through the long journey home.


Were we close?

Close as two stars in the same immensity,

connected to each other, and you,

through our shining.




Out of thick fog,

two points of a star lit with gold,

or the tail of a fish:



Pine trees, gold

light and sea.

Serenity over all.

Roar of the plane descending.


Race to Swedish Hospital

with Jon and Leatrice. Already there:

Betty, Suki, Ann, Greg,

Bayu, Rachel and Liza.


Jane in bed,

eyes closed, struggling for breath,

beautiful as ever. We hold her hands,

stroke her brow. An hour later, she goes.


Are we close?






Adieu to the Lion




He is old and tired. His right leg drags behind him. His bony skeleton shows pink through the white fur. It is hard for him to jump on the bed or onto a chair beside us.



In May and June, I traveled for a month in the USA, and coming home, wept on seeing our little lion so weak, so sick. You can see it in his eyes, his fur, his slow movement. He has a tumor, inoperable because of his age, and we grind six medications a day into his food. He is 19.


Street art by Miss-Tic (c) 2013 

Richard and I lie on the living room floor, and sing to him. We bring his small statue of Bastet out of her basket, and she blesses him. Marley’s voice is a peep now instead of a roar.

Macho cat, King of the Block, calm, afraid of nothing, no one, resourceful (he adopted us after interviewing everyone on the block), confident, outspoken. He was Richard’s muse and mine, he gave us equal time. He was the familiar of our writing group for six or seven years.



He was seriously pissed at us twice, and both involved moves. Once when we moved from Venice, California a few miles to Playa del Rey. There were so many feral cats in the neighborhood, and he came home beaten up and bitten (and turned into a Cone-head for a few months) that we had to keep him indoors after his years of roaming Venice. (How would you feel? Exactly.) But he did have a sunny inner courtyard all his own in the center of our Spanish-style house.



And then on moving to Paris, because he was ONE pound over the weight limit and so could not ride with us upfront, he was banished into cargo limbo for the plane trip. He hissed at us like a cobra when we picked him up in the fret section of Charles de Gaulle airport. Fret? We did. And later learned it meant freight.  He wouldn’t look at us the whole taxi ride into town.



And then he became a Parisian chat. He learned to modulate his voice, not to be yelling all the time like an American. To trim down. (A friend, Frederic Tuten, tells us that when he lived in Paris, someone told him the only serious crime here is being fat).



Marley learned to be a flâneur. He disguised himself as a fur scarf, and strolled around Paris on Richard’s shoulders, as cool and leisurely as any Parisian cat.


Street art (c) 2013 by C215

In all essential ways, though, he did not change on moving to Paris. He still loved being as close to us as he could get. Either one of us would do, but both of us? Purr-fect.

He was still psychic. When friends Mort and Jeannette were last here, visiting from their houseboat, he sensed Jeannette’s grief at losing their sailor chat, Miranda. In a room full of a dozen people, he stayed close to her, wove around her ankles, comforting her, and who knows, maybe even speaking to Miranda’s spirit. 


Street art (c) 2013 by Fred Le Chevalier

He approved of physical vigor. One morning just a few weeks ago while waiting for my tea water to simmer, I was inventing Hindu ballet moves. Marley nudged my calf and purred. This is more like it, he said. All that sitting around putting marks on paper. Stretch those limbs! Let’s dance!

Today I found him splayed like a frog on the tile near his litter box. I picked him up and placed him on his throne, a big pillow on the floor near the open window he used to jump out of to sun himself on the fifth-floor ledge.

I called to see how late our vet would be there on a Saturday. Till 3:30. I showered. Tried to reach Richard, who was out photographing a parade.

Marley was having trouble breathing. I kept checking as I dressed. He was panting. I lay beside him, talked to him. Tried to give him water. He couldn’t drink. I ran back to the bedroom to grab my purse. Checked again.



Marley was still.

Deeper than words, silence. And tears.





Marley: The Lion in Winter



Marley, our feline, family and friend: you're not feeling well. You’re eating a special food and taking daily medicine for a kidney ailment, but you’re still losing weight. It’s time to take you to Dr. M. for a check-up. 

You yowl in the elevator, then you’re calm, quiet, curious, as I pull you along Boulevard St. Germain in your cat caddy.

You growl at the alarming smells in the vet’s waiting room.

A door opens, a short yappy canine skids across the floor towards you. You hiss like a snake.

Dr. M. in slow-mo, as if walking in a dream,

John Lennon sculpted face and specs,

hands at home in fur, questions you.

I translate: your behavior is odd, changed.

You don’t jump up on the counter now,

sleep instead on your bed on the kitchen floor,

no longer come bounding out for our company,

you wander in beside one or the other of us for a while,

then return to the kitchen alone, as if disoriented.

You forget your cat box at least twice a week.


Dr. M. sinks his slow hands in your white belly fur,

feels around—how patient you are!—

then peers into your eyes with his light. This you barely endure.

We hold your head and paws while he presses a syringe into your front leg. 

You yell at him: you’ve had it!

One final indignity: claws clipped.

You are not amused; no, you are royally pissed.


Your eyes are fine, the doctor says, but it could be

a tumor of the brain or lungs.


The next day we have an appointment at a clinic

on the periphery of Paris, due north, a long Métro ride.


Richard places a turquoise towel around his neck,

and drapes you around his shoulders.


Won’t he jump down? I wonder. But no, you don’t.

Just in case, I wheel your caddy beside the two of you.


Photograph (c) 2013 Kaaren Kitchell

Your first Métro ride. Richard stands, with his Turkish Angora boa. You look around in amazement. You rotate your gaze in every direction, marble-eyed, down at the tracks, the tunnels, the cars, up at the ceiling, the ads, the humans, who eye you in amusement.  

Since we arrived in Paris, you haven’t been out at all except for up Blvd. St. Germain to the vet’s.

(I remember Grammy K., living in that high-rise care center in San Francisco, loving it when we sprung her and wandered the city streets.)

You stay close to Richard’s ears, lick them a little, your hind legs trailing down his back. I drape them around his shoulders again, but they prefer to trail.

A block from the clinic, you suddenly pant like a lunatic (a sixth sense as to where we’re going, or thirst?).


Photograph (c) 2013 Kaaren Kitchell

In the waiting room, Richard lays you down on a chair. You go limp, head and paws hanging over one side, tail drooping over the other.

I sign you in and bring you water.

Two young French girls ask your name.

Marley, Richard says.

Is your pet in there? I ask. They nod. What is his name?


Snoop Dog and Bob Marley, kindred spirits!

The vet comes out holding a tiny dog who looks like a fox with a tube coming out of his forehead. One of the girls reaches for him, cradles him on her lap. He sits there staring, forlorn.

Il est trés malade, says the other girl.

The girl who holds Snoop curls over him, sobbing.

We comfort her.

What kind of Frankenstein experiments are they doing in there? you wonder, still lying across the chair limp.


The doctor calls us in. He is young, handsome, warm.

You lie on the table, limp. The vet interviews us, examines you and carries you out of the room for the X-rays.


I go around the corner to find the bathroom. Returning, see the saddest dog I’ve ever seen, splayed on the floor, eyes wounded, his dewlaps spread like spilled water. 

He has neck cancer, the vet’s assistant says.

Will they put him to sleep?

She doesn’t know.


The vet carries you back into the room. It’s over!


You spring into action, explore every corner of the room, finally settle on a high counter near our heads.


The vet puts up the X-rays. Your heart: fine. So are your lungs and brain. But here, see the dark line along the colon? The lining appears to be inflamed. He’ll call our vet to discuss what to do. You need more blood work and an ultrasound.

We ask about the saddest dog. Oh, he’s on a course of chemo for three weeks, says the vet. He will look like that for another few days, and then he’ll be fine. Amazing!

All the way home, you’re alert and relaxed. Just a brief spell of white coat syndrome, just like Richard has.


Next day at Dr. M’s, a very young girl in a white lab coat with long dark hair tells us the doctor will be out shortly. She moves slowly, as if dreaming, comes over to you and coos.

Anouk is her name. She’s the veterinarian’s daughter, 11 years old, she wants to be a vet like her dad. 

More blood work means another needle. He’ll call us with the results later that day.


Drawing (c) 2013 Anouk McCarthy

The news is good. The renal condition is improving. He will give you medicine for the colon condition, and it’s not too difficult to treat. And you'll get your ultrasound the 24th.

Richard stops by the vet’s for the medicine. Anouk gives us her two drawings of you, looking like a little fox.

Marley with the plumed tail,

Marley the Prince (pronounced the way the French do, prance),

Marley with the Van Gogh eyebrows,

Marley with the turquoise eyes (now navy blue),

Marley, Mr. Floofypants, friend Dawna calls you,

Marley, little king of the block who adopted us

the day we planned our wedding,

Marley who wanted a home

with no other cats (or dogs or kids),

Marley with the white Elizabethan ruff,

Turkish Angora with buff-colored ears,

spirit neither shy nor neurotic,

fierce, sure of yourself,

certain of our affection,

rubbing white fur on us,

singing your feline song,

shedding your love

all over the house.


Drawing (c) 2013 Anouk McCarthy




Uncle Bruce Heimark, January 2, 1926 – November 5, 2012

I cannot think of a week with greater emotional swings of high and low than this past week has been. A death in my family. Rebirth in our country.

My mother’s youngest brother, Bruce Heimark, died on the morning of November 5, just as his family was preparing to call in hospice care.

He was my funniest relative, and rather merciless in his humor, as Norwegian-American Vikings can be.

I remember at the age of 12, walking down our driveway in Paradise Valley, Arizona to get the mail. Maybe I’d just seen a Marilyn Monroe film--I was trying out a sideways hip swivel. I wasn’t aware that Uncle Bruce was behind me, but when I turned to go back to the house, he turned too, and did an expert imitation of my slinky moves. In a man as tall as he, it was hilarious. And mortifying. Not a word about it to me, just a demonstration.

Norwegians from Minnesota are great jokesters, but they also put great store in being genuine, that is, unaffected in behavior and speech. In one minute my uncle had cured me forever of any temptation to be stagey or phony.

(Genuine is such a high compliment coming from my Norwegian relatives that when I brought Richard home for the first time, my mother crooked her finger at me 15 minutes after we’d arrived to say sotto voce in the kitchen. “Don’t let him get away! He’s genuine,” in a tone that others might use about God. (I told her not to worry, he wasn't running.))

I remember going to lunch with Bruce when I was visiting family in Paradise Valley, Arizona, during the period that he and Lee lived there. We talked about the shock of the late ‘60s for my parents, when their three oldest children were busy sampling every new freedom that was in the air.

From his more conservative Minnesota perspective, Bruce said, “I don’t know why they were so surprised. They’d encouraged you kids to be free from the time you were small—in books, music, travel, political perspective, independent thinking—everything.” 

I was startled by his perspective; it had never occurred to me that their encouragement of adventurous living was anything unusual, and at the same time, I knew what he said was true.

Bruce spoke at my father’s memorial eloquently, without notes. And afterwards, during my mother’s long grieving, he called her every week.




Then, several years ago, when Richard and I went to AWP, a conference for writers and teachers in Chicago, I remember the winter night of winds so strong we laughed uncontrollably as we were blown like leaves down the street. We were on our way to meet Bruce and Lee, cousin Kris and her husband, Jim, for dinner at The Chicago Firehouse, a yellow brick building that was once a firehouse, and still had the tin ceiling and brass poles.

Bruce had been through a health crisis not long before, and had nearly died. Through intensive care and intense love from his family he’d pulled through. His heart surgery and complications from a hospital-induced infection, meant a slow recovery that had coincided with his daughter Sue’s illness and death.

We had a rollicking good dinner conversation about family and books and our lives, as you always did with Bruce and his family.

That was the last time I saw Bruce. In spite of my mother’s claim that she was done with travel (Ja, sure, Betty, I imagine Bruce saying) she was glad that she'd flown to Chicago with my sister, Ann, then on to Mankato with Bruce and Lee, Kris and Jim, to celebrate my uncle Jack’s ninetieth birthday last January. Showing up, being there, that is everything.

I know that more memories of Bruce will surface in the weeks to come. I’ll remember the timbre of his voice. I’ll remember his sly trickster humor, and how he made everyone laugh.

Monday night, my aunt told me that when Bruce was in the hospital after a stroke last week, the nurse asked him a series of questions.

     What was his middle name?

     “Bruce Douglas,” he said. "And what's yours?"

     "How old are you?"

     "86. How old are you?"

     “Who is the President?”

     “O-BAMA!” he roared.

     "He's a Republican," said my aunt.

     “I gathered,” said the nurse.

When I spoke with Lee on the phone she said she imagined that he was already playing cribbage with his daughter, Sue, and she beat him.

I wonder if he heard the word “hospice” and said to himself, “No thanks, checking out!”

Or maybe it was the prospect of an Obama victory?

That victory was the high of the week—of the year—for Richard and me and most of our family and friends.

But love is larger than political affiliation, and may be the only force strong enough to solve the major problems of our country and the world.

When life draws to a close, our memories of that person seem to be etched in the heavens, and take on the radiance of stars. Bruce’s star is dancing and twinkling with laughter. The secret of his humor? Timing! Right to the very end.


Paris street art by JPM