Learning To Grieve

Grieving is an art, a demented performance piece demanding parts of yourself for that special touch of realism. I thought by now I might have developed some expertise as I’m reaching the point where I’ve outlived a great deal of those who wished me ill, and am unfortunately starting to accumulate losses of those who now take a piece of me with each death.

For some of the losses, there were others I loved as much. There were others who loved me. There were others who understood me. Many are still with me, still let me grieve in my own steady way of approaching all things emotional. They lack for nothing in their desire to help me through this time that turned out to be more painful than I ever imagined it would be. But there’s a large piece missing that Tina filled.

I knew Tina’s death would hit me hard. I anticipated the grief. I prepared for it the best I could. But what I didn’t prepare for was the realization that Tina was the only person I never had to explain anything to, because she was there for all of it since we were fourteen years old. In fifty-six years, no more than a month went by without some kind of contact between us. She knew everything about me. Absolutely everything. I never had to explain because she knew it all.

Now I find myself having to explain all those things that never needed an explanation, and by doing so it has forced me to look at them all over again with different eyes.

I saw how the smallest of things can impact a life, things that seemed so insignificant at the time were actually the seeds of life changing events. I grew into those smallest of seeds. I took them into myself and became me, decades later, but still me.

I saw how things that consumed me for days, weeks, years, actually meant little in the larger pattern of my life. I don’t want to say it was all a waste. I learned things, important things that made me who I am today.

I learned to love, to dance, to sing under a full moon with those who knew why I needed to do so. I learned what it meant to love so passionately the body’s skin and bones were barriers to overcome.

I learned to talk to others without fear, without the crippling shyness of my youth. I’m still not very good at it, but I’m getting better.

I learned to cry in front of others without shame. I learned to let others see, hear, and know what I really felt.

I learned if I eliminated toxic people from my life it left more room for the good ones.

I learned to see my ability to love, my compassion, my desire for a kinder world as strengths to speak of with pride instead of seeing them as weaknesses that required an apology.

I learned to care more to make up for those who care less.

I learned to say this is me, and not apologize.

All of this I learned. And now I learn one more lesson I thought I already knew. I am learning to grieve, because until Tina died I didn’t really understand what it meant. Now I do and my next lesson will take a great deal of time. I will have to learn how to live with it. But I will get there.

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Kate Taylor’s Books and Art

Ursine Logic



  1. the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.”quiet introspection can be extremely valuable.” definition provided by Oxford Languages

I’ve never been a city person. It’s always been me against the noise, the frenzy, the mass of humanity crowded into too small a space. Cities are not good for introspection. They require doing, constant response, and outward focused attention.

There was a time I needed that, thrived on it, depended on it. It was also the life of someone who spent it in the arts. I grew up attending my aunt and uncle’s piano concerts, and those of their friends who were cellists and classical guitarists. I attended countless recitals by their students. I went to museums, art galleries, stage performances. I wanted it live and personal or it didn’t interest me.

As my friends and family developed into their personal arts, I attended their dance performances, concerts, art openings, poetry, book readings, and they attended mine. For the great part of our lives that was how we defined entertainment. It was also the way creatives supported and continue to support each other.

I still go to art openings, although in this time of Covid most of them are online. I still listen to new poems, new songs, new dialogues. But they’re all virtual now. It’s the new reality and I try and adapt the best I can, but I miss the mingling, the walking through the galleries with others, the long conversations over coffee in the bookstores. I miss all that.

But those who create don’t stop creating because the times change. If anything, my friends are working on some of the most compelling and fascinating things now. I’m seeing sides of them emerge I suspect not even they knew were there. Some of it is the introspection that comes from age, but I know a great deal of it grew from the months of quarantine. We’re only now starting to see how it manifests externally.

Kristina has motivated me to write more authentically, to put in those ideas I think are too far out there to be understood. Make them think, she always told me, make them think. She still says that, but the they are not the same they as now. Nor am I. I’m different. There are days I barely recognize myself. And yet I’m still there. I’m still me.

It’s the me who writes books on an island in a house that has more windows than walls. It’s the me who is surrounded by the natural world and with silence that is enhanced by the songs of birds and the wind through the trees. It’s the me who realized I needed this environment to write the books I wanted to write, not the books other people wanted me to write.

I moved to an island seven years ago because I reached the point in my life where I needed to go within in order to proceed forward on the path I needed to take. I wanted to stop the external noise that interrupted the places my mind wanted to go. I wanted to write something that wasn’t about politics but was still political. I wanted my words to have less objectivity and more subjectivity. I wanted to be the change I sought in the world.

I also moved here to achieve the blissful state of contentment I sought. Many people seek happiness, but I sought contentment because unlike happiness, it was stable, calming, a part of me that was not dependent on external realities.

But the most carefully crafted plans of bears and dreamers often take odd turns. As I sought the middle ground in myself I realized it was a place I never lived. I never even got close to it. During one of the last present time conversations I had with Kristina before her mind narrowed to a small period of time, she reminded me of all the things we’ve done together over the years, all the edge clinging, the chance taking, the risks we didn’t know were so risky then. You never did ordinary, not in your art, your words, or your lovers.

Kristina can no longer type, but she can still talk and use the speak to text on her phone. Her emails are just as long, if not so well punctuated. I woke this morning to this list of questions from her.

Do you see your high school self differently now? Have you been able to sort through the good memories and let the bad ones sink to the bottom? Do you see how once you love yourself it becomes easy to love others? Do you feel that in your heart? Do you feel differently now about your high school friends? Do you understand how a small piece of something can seed a larger whole?

At first I thought the tumor was allowing her to move beyond the limited memory that has condensed her life to the years between 1965 to 1975. But then I realized those were also the questions we asked ourselves then. We just never received a satisfying answer.

Kristina is still in her tumor defined world. The time frame of her memory hasn’t changed. She just sees it all differently now. And because I committed myself to going along to wherever her memory takes her, I’ve had to look at those years differently as well. I’m nowhere near done. There are days when I feel I’m just getting started.

After I finish this book, I have an art project that’s been festering. Actually, I have several. And more books. I have time and a whole library of research material not at my fingertips, but living inside them. I intend to spend at least the next year setting them free.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

My personal website

Kate Taylor’s Art and Books

The Metamorphosis of Memory

There are many interesting things about getting older that I didn’t anticipate, some good, some strange, some oh holy hell why me. But the one that fascinates me most is the process of remembering the past. I call it a process because I’ve learned it evolves, it changes, it picks up hitchhikers, it weeps and it laughs. Memory is like that. It dances away from what is remembered to how it is remembered. I’ve learned that matters a lot.

In the last year, since I turned 70, I’ve noticed the bad things that happened to me begin to fall away to make room for the good things. I didn’t do this intentionally. It just happened, as if the inner workings of this bear beast of a human chose to have a happy end game. But I didn’t choose.

That’s the part that amazes me and takes me again to scouring the internet tubes for brain stories. It’s hard to let the scholar go when it’s so ingrained in me to research my ideas before embracing them as my own. But I’m learning to let that go and just fly with them, because it turns out nature is a fantastic research library. I’ve learned a lot about myself sitting with the trees, breathing in the saltwater that brings that scent of ocean into my house. I don’t have to show my work because I am my work.

Here is one way this all seems to evolve, using me as the example. I’ve written often about trying to come to peace with my childhood . Basically, I didn’t have one. My father gambled for a living. He wasn’t very good at it. He was also not very good at being a human being. War leaves many victims behind and he was one of its most defective. He left a lot on the casino tables, but not his rage at the world and especially at women. That, he brought home to share with the family. My mother rarely spoke. I remember her as the silent ghost he used to take his rage out on before he came for us.

When he told me I reminded him of his mother, that was not a good thing. It was a condemnation, a chance for him to make up for the damage she inflicted on him. I understand that now. But then I understood only that he was dangerous

I was terrified of him when he was drunk because his violence had no limits. He left a lot of ugly bruises from his rages, a few of them that I carried into the future. He told me I was ugly. I wasn’t. He told me I better study because no man would ever marry me. He was wrong.

I was the classic runaway. On paper. In the real world where I lived I was a shy, awkward high school kid who worked full-time jobs in restaurants, took care of other people’s children, even sold an underground newspaper on street corners. I knew college was my only way out of that hell so I studied even when I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open.

I didn’t have time or the social skills for friends. I can count my high school friends on one hand. For a long time they became part of the memory of then, the bad times, the invisible people who were there but not there. But as I grew more into myself, their faces became more visible. And then an amazing thing started to happen. They began to show themselves as significant influences on my life, even though their time in it was so brief as to seem not worth noting. In the stew of bad memories they rose to the top as the good foam, the tasty, lovely bits you remember in your heart because they made a difference.

There were five in particular I owe my life to. Of course, they undoubtedly have no idea why, but I do. I picked the memories apart and found them. Of course, they were all artists. They lived in the good part of my life, the one with music, dancers, singers, painters, sculptors, writers, and performers. My father was the outlier in this world, the only American in a crowd of exquisitely talented refugees. He was also the only one who was uneducated, who didn’t play an instrument, who didn’t read books, who never went beyond the third grade and was basically illiterate. But in my memory, the rest of my family took the place of him. As I grew older that world became larger than the one he forced me to live in. Memory changed the script for the better.

But those five people, they weren’t part of my family. They weren’t people I worked with. They were my high school friends. They were also mostly gay because I could be friends with them and not have to deal with the whole concept of relationships, boyfriend-girlfriend, commitment and all those other phobias. And two of them were black during a time when just hanging out with me was dangerous for them. I learned a lot about courage from them.

But of that tiny group of friends, one in particular stands out because I saw myself in him, in his lovely shyness, his sweet nature, and his strange home life. Of course, I see that now with the gift of memory metamorphosis. Then, my memories of him were simple. I remember his house and how he made a fort out of his bed with hanging curtains. I recognized a hiding place when I saw it.

I met him at the worst time in my life when my father was the most violent. When he nearly knocked one of my teeth out with a belt buckle I began my career as a runaway. One of the places I ran away to was his house. It didn’t last long, mostly because my father had found out about him so to protect him I ran away from him too. I couldn’t take the chance of him being hurt by that monster. He was too good a human being. When he called me he would use different names but I always knew it was him. And then I got scared for him and was afraid to answer the phone. Try and I might I just can’t remember how we parted. I did see him again a couple years and it was the last time, but he’s always held a place in my heart.

In later years I thought about him. I wanted him to know what it was like to have someone care about me as a person, to hold me and make me feel safe. I got to sit in his lap crammed in the car with everyone else and enjoy the teasing that I had a boyfriend. I had a sweet crush on him, my first experience with those kind of feelings. It’s a good memory.

What he never knew was that he saved my life one night when I showed up at his house. I had reached the limit of living on this planet. I was exhausted. I had bruises all over my body. I made him turn the lights off in the unlikely chance he tried to remove my clothes because I didn’t want to explain what was underneath. There’s so many stairs you can fall down. I wanted to kill myself. I wanted the hurting to stop. I came to his house to say goodbye. Instead he held me, let me hang out in his fort, and saved my life. He came to visit me shortly after I got married and then he moved away. For the longest time I saved the cartoons he drew for me. And then the box they were in got lost. I remembered how sad I was about that.

The only one who wasn’t gay was my first experience of being loved by someone I didn’t have a clue how to love back. He was two years older, an immigrant child like me, but he came from France. I thought that was wonderfully exotic. And he thought it was exotic that most of my family was born in the same city but different countries. He would introduce me to his friends as the girl who was from that place where the boundaries always changed.

Without even sharing so much as an innocent kiss, we made plans to move to France. I applied to the Sorbonne and was accepted, much to my shock. All I had to do was get another job to pay for the tuition and living expenses. I did and began saving my pennies. And the plans began to take shape. I had a future that would take me away from the brutality of my father. I would get to be an artist, to write poetry, to live among those who didn’t think I was too ugly to love.

And then he was drafted. I begged him to run away. We were part of an antiwar group that helped conscientious objectors with letter writing, witnessing, making up shit to get them rejected, and when all that failed, arranging for our network to hide them in Canada. It would have been so easy. But he was an optimist. We were both poor broke kids. He saw a chance to pay for school, buy a house for us, and make a life together. He was killed in Vietnam within weeks of being sent there. I burned the flag they gave me from his coffin. I was done with love, even though I never really loved him. But I needed him. That was better than love. Memory works that way.

And I ran away for good. This time I was 17 so the police couldn’t bring me back, especially since I had a full-time job and was capable of supporting myself. I stayed away for many years and made contact again only after my father finally died.

I met a man at work when I was 18. He was a lot like me, a loner, the oldest child in a family with dysfunctional parents. I told him the first time we talked that I had no interest in marriage, I didn’t want children, and I was an Atheist. Turned out he didn’t want the same things. So I took him to a party where we were the only white people because it mattered to me that he accept two of my closest friends.

Within five minutes he was explaining the significance of her astrological sign to my friend’s wife. He left with my friend’s BBQ sauce recipe, an honor reserved for those he liked. “He’s a good man,” my friend whispered to me on the way out the door. “You deserve good. Take it.”

I thought okay this one has potential. So I took him to meet the family, starting with my grandmother who didn’t speak English and moving on to the others who spoke with accents. The only ones who didn’t have accents were my cousins. We grew up in America. I explained to him the role of immigrant children as translators, that we were the ones who answered the doors and the phones, and that’s why it was easy for me to go from one language to another. I’d done it most of my life.

I put that in practice, that moving from one language to another when we moved in together and began what has become a 50 year plus friendship. We talked a lot during the pandemic. He learned things about me. I learned things about him. We talked about how memory changes as we grow older. We talked about those we loved, the relationships with others we never denied each other. We have always believed in love and there are no limits if you truly believe. You love or you don’t. We loved and still do and always will. It’s who we are.

In the last year I’ve done something that I suspect other old people do when the memories change from bad to good. I’ve gone back and tried to find those who saved my life just with their presence. I’ve connected with two so far. It’s been affirming, necessary, good for all involved. They needed to be thanked. Still waiting to hear back from my high school crush, but if he doesn’t that’s okay. I love him differently now than I did then. It’s the love of gratitude, of appreciation, of knowing love doesn’t need an object or a presence, but merely the feeling in the heart that stays with you for life. One of my life lessons was learning once you love someone, that feeling never dies. Love is like the sun. It doesn’t die because night falls. It just changes and becomes easier, a softer and more gentle part of self. He’s one of my sweet, gentle memories.

And yes, part of my wanting to contact these people, was first of all to say thank you. But also to make sure they were okay, to reassure myself and especially them, that when you save someone’s life they will always be there to save yours because memory works that way.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art