It’s May Day, and I’m remembering my father, Everett Ellis Gantz, Jr. His human trek ended seven years ago today, not quite two years after the death of his charismatic artist-wife, Ann Cushing Gantz, my mother. After nearly 89 years on this earth, my father was full of wisdom but still an enigma—especially to me and to his only grandchildren, Elliot and Ian. Few truly knew the man behind the stoic, tacit Midwestern façade. The quintessential Greatest Generation engineer, my dad did long division in his head for fun. But he also clutched a lifetime of secrets in his shadows—some I have only recently exposed.
At the time of his gentle passing from dementia and heart failure in 2014, I was a struggling single mom of two precocious and complicated young men—smack dab in the middle of the caregiver “sandwich generation.” Though I tried to put my oxygen mask on first, my “sandwich-making” expertise in this stressful context was, well, uneven—always getting tangled up in the roughage. So, as I reflect on those difficult and devastating years, I recognize now that the vitriol and extreme stubbornness I often encountered on both sides of the figurative bun were clear indicators of a family unhinged. Adapting Bohn and Conrad, I’ll just say, ”The road to heartbreak is paved with good intentions.”
So, as another Mother’s Day approaches, along with the launch of another new normal, I have revisited and tweaked something I wrote at the time of my mom’s extended paralysis and aphasia after her stroke. I suspect it’s applicable to the full spectrum of grief—and hope.
No need to give to receive any- more than her spirit shines, without veneer, without thoughts, without words, transcending— her true essence, now real— her soul apparent. Awareness without will, cognition, gone— she looks at me and now she sees?
Me letting go— With her, content to be. Helpless though, in her wheeled prison. Her body not knowing how to bridge this chasm.
In fear, he clings, together alone. Refusing to accept— or ever go home. To let go of control when his seizures defy the years and the secrets— he only knows why.
The anger. The loss. The stories, hiding in the dark, the stone walls— deep in his heart. Oh, let love live on, forever in peace and letting go but never release.
Lately, I have been thinking about the events of 2018, the year my precious son Elliot died on August 5th. Though I had faced many mighty challenges in my half-century on the earth, this series of 365 days was like no other. It was a messy mélange of life, death, disruption, and grief—but looking back on it now, I’m increasingly befuddled by some of the other events that occurred in that most devastating year. I have mentioned a couple in prior posts that pondered probable connections to the cosmic unconsciousness, like “Quantum Ghosts”.
Could it be true that everything really is happening at the same time—like some quantum ball of tangled twine in another dimension of the time and space continuum? Is the concept of time (past, present, and future) really just a convenient construct? It’s overwhelming to think about too much but still intrigues me in a “Twilight Zone”/”Black Mirror” sort of way. As a side note, Elliot loved both those shows and even introduced me to “Black Mirror.” So why rule it out?
I wrote the post below on May 28, 2018—just two months before Elliot’s sudden, horrific, and unbearable motorcycle death. Like so much in my life now, rereading this essay was both profoundly disturbing and oddly comforting. There is so much we simply don’t understand—and likely never will in this tangible realm.
Memories of those we have lost are often complicated—a morphing mosaic of longing, loneliness, anger, pain, guilt, sadness, gratitude, forgiveness, love and eventually, peace.
This Memorial Day I have come full circle in many ways. When my oldest son, Elliot, watched the “The Lion King” as a toddler, he called it “the circle guh-life.” Turns out that “guh” is profound because the circle is rarely a smooth curve. There are bumps and turns—which reminds me of the words of another Elliot – T.S., with one L:
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”
I arrived there this week.
I began a new assignment writing copy but in a new context. I hope to shift out of the chaotic freelance writing world to work with an integrated marcom agency in Dallas for a while. Every change is an adjustment, every new adventure a realignment. Every experience, your teacher. I missed the energy of a creative cadre—a tribe of brilliant minds collaborating and concepting in real time. A place to belong. I guess I enjoy the process as much as the product.
The Universe works in mysterious ways—most of them unconscious. Life coach Mary Morrissey teaches, “First, notice what you are noticing. It’s the first step to self-awareness.” So, here’s what I have noticed – though I am starting over once again, I find myself in stunningly familiar territory. I am working in Preston Center, a shopping center just a few miles from where I grew up. It is like returning to the place “where I started”—probably holding more hidden nostalgia than any other place of my childhood.
And I’m seeing it for the first time.
I have been flooded with memories of shopping at Sanger Harris and the Woolworths dime store with my mom and sister when I was just 10 or 11. This was our primary recreational activity—a pocket of together time. An artist, reluctant teacher, and sometime socialite, my mother’s presence filled every room she entered in the outside world. On Saturdays, she adored shopping and visiting her flamboyant fashionista friend Mercedes, who ran the Elizabeth Arden counter at Sanger’s with great panache. They would chat and banter as Melissa and I “played” in the makeup, but her mission was to purchase her signature lipstick shade, Fuchsia Shock. It suited my mom’s mega-watt style, and it was the same shade she sported on her thick, one-inch nails.
Over the past few days, I have wandered the sidewalks of Sherry Lane and Westchester during my lunch breaks. A hip, trendy free-range hamburger boutique has replaced the greasy soda fountain at the Woolworth’s. And Wyatt’s cafeteria, with its wickedly sumptuous chocolate-icebox pie, is long gone—as it the dusty, cramped little store where I purchased my very first record. It was the debut album by The Partridge Family. Though I have lived in Dallas for most of my life, I have never experienced the emotional impact of this place before—not like this. Until now, these glimpses of my past have felt like they belonged to someone—and disconnected.
Perhaps, this is the beginning of my exploring.
On Wednesday, I left my 18th-floor office at noon, pausing for a startlingly raw moment. I noticed the high-rise across the street and recalled that faithful day more than three decades ago when I hopped into the back of shiny, white limo after my wedding reception on the top floor. I struggled to step into the skin of that ostensibly happy married girl. She felt like a character in a movie—unrelated and detached. I saw her in a crisp, purple size-10 linen suit she could wear only after losing 30 pounds on Weight Watchers. She was waving to the smiling people on sidewalk who were tossing fuchsia tissue-paper petals into the air.
I chose not to linger there.
Yet I could not avoid more of the strangely familiar. Not sure why, but I turned right at the corner—away from the shopping center and toward St. Michael’s and All Angels Church. This destination held its own mixed, messy bag of memories, but it lured me with a gravitas I could not explain. The last time I was there was 2014 for my father’s funeral and before that, 2012, for my mother’s memorial following her protracted illness. I also was married there in the sanctuary and attended elementary school at St. Michael’s School, where I always dreaded that excruciating President’s Physical Fitness Test. Though my parents did not attend services there or address spiritual matters much at all, it was our “church of record.”
How I remembered trying to find a way to belong there. I offered to help Mrs. Dienes, our perfectly pressed neighbor, teach kindergarten Sunday School when I was about 16. I borrowed my parents’ powder-blue Mercury Monarch with the white interior to get there by 9:00 a.m. I sang in the choir for Paul Thomas, who always scared me a little, and I attended the youth group led by Kyle Rote, Jr., the super-cute soccer star on the Dallas Tornado. Alas, despite all my valiant attempts, I never felt like I really fit in—as if I were missing that essential component that made me worthy of the Episcopal whole.
Still, this is where my parents’ ashes are residing for eternity. My stomach tumbled as I realized I was about to see them again. Serendipity—but no coincidence. I had not been back since my father’s interment. At once, I felt the weight of generations of secrets and shame enveloped in a warm wave of comfort. I stepped closer to the austere, yet elegant, monument. There they were, together for always and forever. So present and peaceful behind the pristine limestone plaque. I stared at the inscriptions and was suddenly overwhelmed. I grieved not for what we lost but what we never had. And in that moment, I made peace somehow. Then, I paused in pure awe as I considered the convoluted series of events that had brought me to this place at this moment. There I was—steeped in memories and standing with my parents once again as I prepared for a new future. Almost too much to process.
I closed my eyes and thanked the Universe for this miraculous journey and others to come. These are the moments that amplify our being beyond all comprehension.
Then, I thought of sipping a cool, creamy root beer float at Woolworth’s . . . and I smiled.
Easter is a complicated and befuddling holiday—so many meanings, layers, beliefs, rituals and memories, but one stands out for me. Easter will always remind me of Elliot. In 2014, Easter Sunday just happened to merge with his spectacular fourth-year saxophone recital at the University of Toronto. His precise, riveting and affecting command of the instrument mesmerized and stunned his rapt audience of devote fans. I remember feeling there could not possibly be enough room in my heart to contain the flood of joy, love and pride I experienced in those remarkable moments.
On Easter, I do my best to stay steeped in the beauty of that sacred space seven years ago—which feels like both a lifetime and a heartbeat. As I honor this rare and extraordinary human, forever missed, I endeavor to embrace the grace and joy of this glorious memory—and the notion that love never dies.
So, here are two poems.
One is Elliot’s and the other is mine. I was inspired to write “Saxophone” in a recent poetry class with Megan Adler. We dissected “Shirt” by brilliant musician/poet Robert Pinsky, and I felt a flash of Elliot’s mercurial presence. I paired it with one of Elliot’s most haunting poems, “Shakuhachi,” which describes his love for another eccentric instrument. This piece evokes his unbridled passion for life’s music—and words.
SHAKUHACHI by Elliot Wright
Someone should not- ify the authorities— This can’t belong to me.
I shouldn’t be allowed to touch it when in every Japanese
restaurant I’ve been in they hasten to me with a fork,
this mendicant ghost’s pneumatic bamboo carapace, this severed bundle
of lacquered vacuoles. Hollowed stock, red bore tender as a ribbon of
his throat—he who is surely ululating to- ward me from the Pure
Land in futile rage. It came to me woven in the raft of my
grandfather’s trinkets, that gregarious poacher, anxious collector,
lover of things and strangers—those stop-gap measures against that vacuum
the mind so abhors. No wonder, then, that he should have parted with this
chime-hammer of the void, this attendant to the court of nothingness—
this contradiction given me
SAXOPHONE by Elaine Gantz Wright
The reeds. The ligature. The body. The bell. The saxophone’s bourbon-soaked wail lingers— longing for another coda or infinite reprise
The keys. The mouthpiece. The bow. The crook. Where is your rarified air, your circular breath— that was snatched, silent in eternity’s niche?
The tenor. The alto. The soprano. The bari. Fingers on fire made your practice perfect, such mania that muted all but your memory
Coltane, Parker, Getz and Halladay—mentors, brethren, your trenchant troubadours of note— persistent signs of life and bittersweet balm
Shakuhachi and Linux. Yamaha and Proust— virtuoso with far too many talents to be soaring into forever on a regular Sunday
I want one more song on the saxophone, redux to recall a melody long gone—again to fill this abyss with your timeless refrain.
And I was so smitten that I posted my own version. It read—”Spell your name, but for each letter, press the first word that comes up in your predictive text.” Who knew this would lead to an enchanting journey? Thank you to Kim Due Vacco and Alex Nicole McConnell for your introductions. Something about the randomness of predictive text captured my imagination, and the string of name-associated words held its own profound, provocative mystery. In some cases, the the obtuse messages felt predictive in an almost astrological or contemporary-version-of-runes sort of way. The oracle of Facebook.
Since I have been marinating in the world of poetry lately, I decided to challenge myself to create a “found” poem. I wondered what might emerge if I compiled these cryptic communications, posted by more than 100 of my Facebook besties, into a coherent (you decide) piece. I love the collective collaboration of this—the genius of the crowd, as they say. Full disclosure though, I did not include every post. I went with my muse and plucked those that felt like they would help me with the overall creative flow. Thank you to all of my eager contributors. This was more fun than I ever fathomed, and I could almost hear Elliot’s snicker as I succumbed to Facebook’s brazen manipulations. Yet the irony is that he triggered the whole thing with my first engagement, which became the first line of my poem. Thank you, Elliot. I appreciate your mischievous ways.
Elliot loved angels in NYC—even did all. Very, I did and now, not more— and really even after. Do I—angels need any? Even love and Ian now exist.
Please have it let—my all right year.
Get up, your soul up. Enough.
Let’s look everything with each lesson Like you need. Keep everything very in need. And no need can have everyone right your love. And no good enough love— and maybe you know we eat the same. We even need dinner, you. Good and really you.
Just one night. Just one a new— Just about now—everything. Just use like I expected Just enough for five reasons, everyone yesterday
But remember now: Do everything to the end. Remember, if they are.
But, both Bobs? And no, no Evanston? Evansville, really I can’t!
Sorry how and really—if sorry used sorry about not sorry about me.
Very excited, really, of new I know about— kids are really early now Remember, if they are.
So happy about new now — one night, please enjoy the early read. Please read it carefully everyday, but even early right left you . . .
This has been a poignant and moving week—punctuated by the power of words and the vulnerability of relief. Tears have welled spontaneously and frequently. And synchronicity has worked in mysterious ways. Last weekend, I participated in a profound and revelatory writing workshop with poetry priestess Meghan Adler. Astonishing, informative, and inspiring.
I am exceedingly grateful for every moment spent in the company of this sacred circle. Here are a couple of poems:
I notice the always ache I notice the awful gravity of gone I notice my breath beside a stream of sea-salt tears I notice the volume of your absence I notice the hallow of my emptiness and accept it as peace. I notice the fading jet trail against the bright azure sky— dangling like a cotton thread from heaven. Then, I notice your brother’s laughter in the other room. I notice what I notice—and I wonder. Are you there?
They say Mo-Ranch is a thin place, where the edges blur between now and then. I say Mo is a dream, a collection, really—had, made, and missed. Mo is a gene attached to my DNA—crafted and careening without fear down a creaky wooden slide into the cool green ripples. Mo is a memory, bittersweet and fragile, like a scoop of Blue Bell in July. Mo is a feeling. Forever and never again—still, inhabiting my heart. Mo was saxophones, songs, and s’mores. Can this be all that family is? But now, Mo is a time to remember and to grieve, held in the river’s lap by day and wrapped in glitter’s blanket by night. We say it’s not just a place at all. It flows through all who know Mo—by grace.
It’s Christmas, again. So, what have we done? Seems the years are barreling by more rapidly than ever. Hyperspeed. With the death of my father this year, the passing of my mother two years ago, my youngest turning 18, and other major personal epiphanies this year, the reality of time has been a central theme.
That’s why I bought myself a special gift this year — Mary Oliver’s new book of poems — “Blue Horses.” It’s exquisite. I find the purity and simplicity of Oliver’s intimate observations of nature and everyday wonder so profoundly moving. Perfect for a day like today — which celebrates our core, spiritual connection to the Divine or Source — no matter what our definition of faith.
It’s all about authentic connection — whether to self or others, right? So, a gift for you . . .
It’s difficult to believe my mom left this earth one year ago today–after a long struggle with the aftermath of devastating stroke. No matter how difficult the journey, life is never really the same after your mother has left your world. Remembering you today, Mom. Once again, here is the poem you asked that we read at your funeral . . . and another from me. Love, e.
When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted By Rudyard Kipling
When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!
Spinning Rhythms of Delight Fantastic By Elaine
Transition comes always in motion.
Summer and fall down again.
The cycle repeating so certain,
Who am I less the chagrin?
Fractured yet still—unbroken.
So this is together as one,
For it is all not forgotten.
I go forward in faith alone.
The newness of year’s end beckons
To lead my discoveries of soul.
Joy finally—that place so vulnerable
Peace on purpose—so whole.
I’m not sure how to rest anymore.
In this place of where I prepare
What I see is now just a wisp
Of a memory on gossamer air.
I will follow the lead of my truest heart
Unfold what is next without fear.
Not a nod to the doubts of others.
Only for what is genuine and clear.
He was a mirror to my deepest ache.
Unconscious, I acquiesced.
Releasing all that, myself I cherish.
Through salted tears, I am blessed.
Remembering . . . there is time to heal.
Now, here I am—flawed and free.
Truth – such the journey uncommon.
Facing lesson’s ubiquity.
Steer no more. Press, push or pull.
In heart-fragile release Divine.
Spinning rhythms of delight fantastic.
Let that glitter starlight shine.