Mind Matters — Bittersweet memorial

Ever wonder how your life would be had you taken a different path? It could be as simple as buying a house a mile away from another in the same town, or it could be as complex as choosing a school three thousand, rather than three, miles away, marrying one person versus another.

Reflections on life choices — and then the inevitability of aging and death too — became figural for me this past weekend. A friend’s memorial service/celebration took my husband and me back to Pittsburgh where we went to graduate school. It was also where our two children were born.

We arrived the night before the memorial that was to take place in a Unitarian Church. Not a somber gathering actually, although there was much sadness and some tears. My friend was a bit of a wise Yoda figure who was full of creativity and impishness. So to a backdrop of photos of her wearing hats and bright colors in many sunny places and her goofing with husband, friends, and family, those same people read poetry, sang songs, remembered and re-collected her spirit. In the midst of this, we saw people we hadn’t seen in 30 years. We had all aged, some healthier and better than others, but isn’t it funny how the essence, the soul, of a person shines through the weight and the wrinkles and we recognize each other and we are taken back in time.

Our travel back in time continued after the memorial. We drove to our first house in Pittsburgh, a grand old Victorian that sold for a song when we were mortgaged to it. The neighborhood at that time was teeter tottering and after several break-ins, we decided to move out of the city. We hoped that the house had made it through those tumultuous years better than we had and it did. We found another new owner puttering with plants in its backyard, thrilled to be living there. The neighborhood has gone through a resurgence, it seems, and that stately grand dame of a house stands dressed in new colorful siding. Why should we care? We don’t own it anymore—haven’t since 1976—yet it felt good to see that it was getting the love and attention befitting it. We wished the young woman good luck in her new home and let her know we cared for it many years before.

Our journey continued to a park — Hartwood Acres — where our pre-school children danced with us on the stage to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. What a memorable night under the summer stars that was. The lush green fields and the music stand surrounded by hills looked just as wonderful as they did then. Even better, walking trails had been added and we witnessed children flying kites, mothers with baby carriages, families frolicking with their dogs. We were happy to see joy still there. Yet was it also bittersweet to reminisce about the moments there that were since our youthfulness was now gone?

We moved on down the back road that has changed very little since we left, still hills of open space, to find our little house in the country, the stone house built so carefully and with such heart in 1929. Up a winding drive this place was the quintessential storybook house. Whenever I go to Winterthur’s Enchanted Garden, with its miniature stone cottage, I think of our old house in Gibsonia. Still there, we looked at it from the road not wanting to disturb its owner. It looked happy nestled among the trees that had grown much taller since our own time there.

What we did do was drive up to our old neighbor’s home across the street. Salt of the earth, kind people these were who have lived in that area all their lives. Since it was Mother’s Day, we found lots of their family present. We didn’t disrupt the festivities as they were done with their meal, but we did get to catch up on them and their numerous children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Again, it was a bittersweet time. Our friend’s extended family is doing well, but the mother, our old neighbor is in constant back pain, having had several spinal surgeries. We recalled the things we had done together, picking grapes from the back of a pickup truck because the vines had grown high into a tree. My foray into making grape juice! Neither one of us can do that now.

Our 10 years in this country setting saw us with goats in the barn and a garden larger than some backyards, sunflowers eight feet tall. Memories that even my children don’t know but my old neighbors do. That my friend who died has a shared history that they also don’t know.

Perhaps that is what it is about, aging and dying, or that we want the houses that we loved and where we loved still to stand. Is it that our family, friends take our shared memories with them when they die? That there is a part of us that goes with them? My husband and I needed to see these places to know that in this impermanence called life there is still some ground, some constancy, however fleeting even that is. It was good to reconnect with old friends, classmates, and neighbors in the midst of grief. Ah, the constant flow of life, death, life.

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or 610-388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, “Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine.”

* * The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to: editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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