H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Okay…so, I’ve been really bad about archiving my reading or even rating books on Goodreads, a habit I wanted to get into for some unknown reason.  In my 60s, I have no explanations for what I choose to do or how I prioritize.  I hope that I come to some clarity on that when I begin reading, along with my sister-friend Karen, The Spirituality of Age: A Seeker’s Guide to Growing Older by Robert L. Weber, Ph.D and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.  There has to be SOME sort of explanation for my present state of mind and the strange rituals that guide my life right now.

I’m going to begin by reviewing my most recently-completed book…I qualify this because I had three going at the same time.  The Naturalist by Alissa York is still waiting on my bedside table…40 pages left to go on that one.

H is for Hawk is my most recent ‘favourite’ book.  I fall in love with a lot of books, but seriously, this one closely follows The Diviners by Margaret Laurence, as a book that will impact me for a very long time.  The reviews seem to be mostly-positive…but, this wasn’t my experience at my Calgary Public Library book discussion!

For reasons that I won’t go into, I left the book discussion group I attended for over a year at the Forest Lawn Library.  Quickly, I went in search of something else and found the group at the Fish Creek Library.  I already had the title on my book shelf, surrendered by my daughter when she put it down on the dining table and said, “This is just a strange book…you can read it if you want.”  So, I fired my way through H is for Hawk, completing it in five nights and two day-time sessions.  It was/is breathtaking

I really enjoyed the book discussion and I’m very happy with how that discussion was moderated as well as how respectful the conversation was.  Yeah!  Only two of us enjoyed the book, while the majority found it a real chore to read.

I realized, during my reading of the book, that the writer, at the loss of her father, lived a similar journey of grief to my own.  She was circling her pond, metaphorically-speaking, just as I was at the loss of my mother.  I have very-much entered into nature more deeply as a strategy of coping during these past five years.  Everything that Macdonald wrote about her experience resonated with me.  I found it refreshing to see someone so exacting about her response to the Goshawk, Mable…her relationship to/with the landscape…her withdrawal from human connection and her obsession with history, books and the hunt.  I found her book liberating.

Given the complexity of the book, I will read it again and likely, again…it would be very arrogant to think that I could contain its power in a simple post here.  I strongly recommend the book, although I wouldn’t recommend it to some of my besties as they know what sort of books I adore and they are not usually things that would appear on their own favourite book lists.  I don’t know.  Suffice it to say, that I found it to be delicious.  The author is a beautiful writer.

H is for Hawk

Creator: Camilla Cerea Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata

 

Five Years Later

Mom Painting

I have lived the past five years without my mother in the physical-her-voice-over-the-phone-physical way.  The night I received the phone call that my mother passed away, I crumbled to my knees.  Mom was my closest friend.  There was NO WAY this could be!  Today, the reality of it is still absurd.

Every event in my life, whether small OR significant…every milestone is a reminder.  Grief never leaves, but ‘softens on the edges’.  For those of my readers who have not yet suffered loss, we ‘don’t get over it’ ever!  In timely fashion, CBC radio produced an amazing program on the subject early this week? end of last week.  Just a sec.  I’ll go find the link.

When my grandson was born, I got a bit of a sucker punch in the gut, some time after the elation and after I drove home from hospital for some much-needed sleep.  Hot tears hit my pillow because in my mind the most heaven-filled experience of my lifetime has been the birth of Steven, so what might that have meant to my mother?  I hurt a lot with the inability to share this precious boy with my mother.

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Mom with my own son, March 1990.

So, there are always going to be those moments.

What can I do, moving forward?  Well, one of the gifts that my mother gave me in moving into the everlasting is that she gave me the relationship I now have with my Dad.  Let’s face it, Moms and daughters can talk A LOT.  As women they become well-bonded through their experiences and their enjoyment in conversation.  Since Mom gave me my friendship with my father, I am so grateful.  I love that man so much!  We have persisted with our 5:00 pm Skype conversations that began to happen daily when Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although clearly, our timing is a bit more flexible.  My Dad and I talk about absolutely EVERYTHING and this wasn’t always the case.  I thank Mom for this.  I’m very grateful. Moving forward, I can continue to honour my experiences with my Dad.

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What else?  Honestly, I am very concerned with the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.  It is a hideous disease and it is also very cruel to families and caregivers.  While not the only debilitating disease that is slamming the world population, it deliberately robs individuals of talents, abilities and knowing.

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As various forms of dementia wreak havoc on aging populations (and this is a bit of a stereotype), we need to explore a number of aspects…health care, supports for caregivers, a more generous perception of personal support workers (paid BETTER and valued for their important work), and financial support for the sake of clinical research.

Finally,  I am interested in spiritual connection.  My mother really valued her relationship with her Saviour.  During my nature walk this morning I was thinking about how human beings are plugged into their devices, around the clock.  My Mom would want people to unplug from those and to plug in to real-time conversations instead.   She would want us to plug in to experiences and to explore the inner workings of our hearts and minds,  no matter our leaning or our ceremony or our practice.  As I contemplate this,  I will take time today to consider my spirit and tend to it.

Let us be gentle with ourselves on our personal journeys of grief.  Time moves on, even though we fight against it.  Today, on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, I am going to spend time in the garden.  I’m taking my dog walking into beautiful landscapes.  I’m going to try to live an honourable life.  I am going to remember the times of laughter shared with a beautiful woman, my Mom.

1957 Mom and Dad New Years

 

Don’t Give Up…

…without a fight.

Have you ever been put in a situation…or put yourself in a situation…where you lose control, completely.  You find yourself cornered/humiliated/vulnerable/speechless?  You lose your voice?  Loud voices are coming at you.  You see mouths moving and eyes wide open.  But, you really don’t hear a word that the voices are projecting.  You want to catch up on the conversation and what is happening, but you are so shocked that you’re NOT SAFE, that you are deemed useless, defenseless and feel only things in your body?  Oh. I’m sweating.  Oh, my heart is pounding.  Oh. Am I going to throw up?  Am I going to cry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is going on in a world where this is allowed to happen.  We become enraged when we remember these collective experiences happening historically, in the unbelievable and horrific impacts of colonization and slavery, of racist and immoral conduct in war.  (Presently watching the Netflix series on Vietnam, with my son.  Watch the entire series, beginning with French colonization…see what atrocities happened there.) We are shocked and freaked out when it happens on the world stage in the forum of politics, religion and foreign policy. (I can’t even name all such horrors.)

The strong prey on others.

The privilege of power; whether that is white or big or strong or conservative or educated or rich…the privilege of power is a demon in the face of building relationship or building community or building trust.

The second clutch of sparrows was attacked on the hottest day of summer.  It might have been a Magpie or a Crow.  I wasn’t home to see the events.  The Crow and the Magpie have youngsters to feed…their aggression is without thought for kindness, but for survival.  That’s the difference between human beings and Crows.  We can choose to communicate kindly, even in the face of conflict.  It is our moral imperative to do so.

Mr.  did not give up without a fight.  How do I know this?  Because his feathers show the scars of the attempt to protect his youngsters.  Mr. and Mrs. have grieved at the empty vent these past two days.

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I ask myself if I had stayed home from book club, would things have turned out differently.  Maybe not.

 

Beyond Remembering

Listening to Fleetwood Mac’s When I See You Again, as I type.

I wrote away to Amazon for Beyond Remembering: The collected poems of Al Purdy before driving east, the morning of my mother’s birth day,  July 27.  Since then, I’ve been pouring through the poetry and visiting the places that Canada’s poet, Al Purdy, visited and sometimes thought and wrote about.  I heard Eurithe’s strong voice over the telephone, positive and supportive and carried to me all the way from Sidney, British Columbia.  Al’s wife gave me the generous permission to use bits of Al’s poetry in my paintings, all produced in my studio bedroom, generously offered to me by my loving father his summer.

I’m still working on small panels and told myself they would be completed by September 1 and I will hold myself to that and I will rest for September, taking in the new autumn air and visit my brother and sister in Ottawa before I drive west to Calgary.

If you haven’t had a connection with Al Purdy’s writing, do give yourself that opportunity some time, when it’s right.  The summer of 2013 was the right time for me.  I had picked up George Bowering’s book about his friend, Al, his writing…and I became suddenly, profoundly connected…not just with Al Purdy’s writing, but also George Bowering’s writing and more than before, Margaret Atwood’s.  I was excited by Al’s connection to my all-time favourite author, Margaret Laurence, and went in search of correspondences between the two and poems where he wrote about her…even to the point of the description he gave in one of his poems of his writing space and the images of both Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Laurence that hung there, on his wall.

Yes…I became a fan.  George Bowering co-authored a book with Jean Baird, The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.  Drowning in a dark pool of grief for my mother, all of these beautiful circumstances, all surfacing through poetry, writing and literature, gave me a nudge into my personal journey of grief.  I have to say that tentatively, visually, my relationship with the folk of the Gorilla House (you know who you are) and then the Rumble House in Calgary, also provided a string to my practice.  But, I have to face it, for years, I’ve been broken and not particularly functioning on any level as an artist.  I painted in my head and pulled off these two hour blast outs every Wednesday night.  I was happy to let go of them at auction on the same night because I was suffering too much to want to hold on.

Somehow, I knew that this summer I had to create a segue into my practice of painting.  I had unloaded all of the furniture and other stuff that I had pushed into my studio space, as a physical way of avoiding painting.  I finished projects that were created as a way of distracting me from the fear, the incapacitation and the flat out avoidance of canvas or panel or paint.

And so I find myself here, painting the shape of Purdy’s words, in as much as I can over a period of four weeks.  I am sitting here crying as I type.  Dad isn’t home.  Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks…singing to me through the single speaker.  And…I feel good to be in the act of painting again.  A bit illustrative in nature, I don’t necessarily believe that this is the direction my work is going…but, it is the beginning of the direction and for that, I’m grateful.  It makes sense that I should begin in this beautiful, lush, humid, Victorian city of Belleville, on the edge of the Bay of Quinte…not far from Purdy’s resting place and his little A Frame on Roblin Lake.  I know that when I get home, I already have a ‘shitload’ of content from a pond that I love, that will give me a subject for my winter’s exploration.

I will add the poems, a bit at a time, to this post…I really need to get back to those small panels I mentioned.  After all, it’s the 28th of August.

Mom, I love you.  I love you with all of my heart.   Something about what I’ve painted this summer is about you…home…Canada…experience that is the very most mundane…things in the day-to-day that all too often go unnoticed.   Painting again, with joy…not pain…is home for me.

Thanks to Mary and Pat…two friends back in Calgary, who tentatively asked…and supported my journey of grief as it related to my painting.  Thanks to Pricilla.  You know why.  Thanks to my Dad, who feeds me.

The paintings can be seen, thanks to the generous opportunity given by Lisa Morris and Peter Paylor at Artists and Artisans: Studio and Gallery on Front Street, show beginning on Thursday, September 6, with a bit of a sha-bang on the 11th from 2-4 and with the potential of after hours viewing any time.  I hope some of you can see these.

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From the poem, May 23, 1980 in the collection, Beyond Remembering…the final stanza.

I have grown old
but these words remain
tell her for me
because it’s very important
tell her for me
there will come one May night
of every year that she’s alive
when the whole world smells of lilacs.

Al Purdy

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The Week in Review: The Loss of My Mother

 

Mom and Kath

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the loss of my mother.  It’s one of the many difficult dates on the calendar, where Mom is concerned.  She wouldn’t wish for us to carry this much pain and heart ache, but grief is just like that.  It ebbs and flows and sometimes feels like it drowns us.  No one person can be blamed for how they grieve or what they do about it…their struggle to smother it or ignore it or constantly process it…it all has to be okay.  By embracing the journey, one never truly sees the world in the same way, but one can see the world and be in the world and carry on.

So…I put on a pair of Mom’s socks in the morning.  I brought her socks home with me three years ago when I headed out from Dad’s on my Trans Canada drive west.  In my mind I suppose I thought that at some point the socks would wear out, but, I’ve been lucky that way.

I said the rosary out loud before leaving for school.  Thoughts of Mom had inspired that.

Grief is exhausting.  I remember that I felt tired on Tuesday.  I went over in my head what  I was doing before and during and after receiving the news about my mother’s passing.  I played the one voice recording from a telephone call Mom had made years ago…one I had never erased.  I wanted to hear Mom’s voice.

I had a cry,  a couple of cries, privately.  I was so grateful to be painting during the day, with grade ones.  They painted kites and were so very excited and into it that life captured me…a wind carried me…and I felt lighter also.

I Skyped with Dad.  I always look forward to that.

I went to the pond and took a photograph of a bush.

I will always miss my mother.  The thing is, I was so very blessed to be her daughter that every day I know that I lucked out.  I am grateful that I carry so much of her in me.  I like it that sometimes when I laugh, I hear her laugh.  I love and never take for granted, my family.

Mr. Man-Moth Flies In and Out of Rumble House

This post isn’t a tribute as much as it’s an expression of my heart felt sympathy for the loved ones who knew well, loved, shared experiences with, worked along side beautiful human beings who recently lost their lives, while making their way somewhere on blustery roads in Saskatchewan.  They lived, created, inspired…were fun and funny…sometimes despairing…sometimes challenged and challenging…I just feel sad that they are gone.

Among them, Michael Green.  Over the next long while, Calgarians will be discovering so many reasons why we miss him.  Some of this was felt at Rumble House last night, a visual arts space where artists of all walks can gather and paint with wild abandon.  As Larissa so eloquently shared last night, having struggled personally as a result of the High River floods…ones art is sometimes all that gets a person through the struggles.  “My art saved me.”  Enriquito has his story.  Dave has his story.  Frank has his story.

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I went to Rumble House with a bit of a heavy heart.  Earlier in the day I had seen an image that Frank shared on social media.  It was the image of the most spectacular and exotic moth.  I was thinking about the absence of beautiful beings and about what their journey must be once letting go of the body.  The body, through gravity, lives a part of its life grounded.  Beings interact with other beings through voice and touch and smell.  This is all so beautiful and I think that through such recent news as this, we are reminded to cherish the lives that engage us every day.  Look, with care, upon the work of others.  Value their creativity.

It is worth your while to read this poem in its entirety.  It’s lovely.  Thank you, Jess, for purchasing this piece at auction.  Thanks, Bruce and Enriquito.  Thanks for the image, Frank, and we miss you.  The moth struggles toward the light.

The poem, The Man-Moth by Elizabeth Bishop

Here, above,
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.
                     But when the Man-Moth
pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.
                     Up the façades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.
                     Then he returns
to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.
                     Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.
                     If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee’s sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you’re not paying attention
he’ll swallow it. However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

 

Elizabeth Bishop, “The Man-Moth” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. (because the Poetry Foundation provides for a share on Facebook and Twitter, I’m hoping this means that I may share the poem)

Source: The Complete Poems 1926-1979 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1983)

 

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Losing Peanut

My readers knew that my beautiful tabby, Peanut Meister, was sick.  I wrote a cat story as I struggled with his health, visits to Dr. Marty and possible outcomes.  In the end, Peanut became very sick here at home (I will spare my readers the details) and after observing a list of observable symptoms, I knew that Peanut was struggling.  Thirty six hours later and before our Thanksgiving weekend, I made the difficult decision to ‘send him to heaven’, as Dr. Marty puts it.  As you likely would guess from my writing and approach to nature and life, I am not in support of the death penalty, abortion or euthanasia…personal views of mine alone.  So, when it comes to the decision to have a beloved pet ‘put down’, the decision comes with huge struggle and laboured consideration.  It’s a time when it would be great to have a partner to support or argue my decision(s).  But, more and more, I realize that decisions have to be my own and I have to make them with my own sense of right or wrong.

Where Peanut was concerned, my daughter informed me that we could have our vet make a house call.  This was something I did not know and in a very short time, on that horrible Friday, Dr. Jennifer Hewitt and her beautiful assistant, came to our home.  I am grateful for the respect and compassion that were shown to our family on that day.  And while it was another very sad time in my life, I felt cared for and felt that Peanut was genuinely cared for in his final hour.  Thanks also, to Dr. Martin Lovo, who always cares for my pets with a big heart and to Amanda who is the very best on the front lines.

We are all faced with difficult decisions, every day.  I’ve just shared one of mine.  Peanut, along with Laurie-dog, Edgar and Piper, before him, will remain in my heart and in the heart of my family forever.  As one of our pet-family, he brought 15 years of joy and fun into our lives.  Thank you to McKenzie Towne Animal Clinic, under the Horizon Veterinary Group.

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Evening Contemplation

My beautiful niece placed the body of a wee sparrow into a pink tissue lined box for me today.  Winter has hit all things hard.  It causes me to feel self-absorbed.  The idea of writing poetry comes to mind as I listen to Joe Nolan music, again tonight.

On my bedroom floor, sorted little piles of bric-a-brac that I think I might ‘deal with’ in one way or another, but each object causes me reflection and instead of pitching or placing, the story becomes too precious for parting and so I move onto the next object.  I love my mother and I miss her.

I wondered today how I could save all of the animals.  I am in awe of the challenges that nature sets upon the little beasts and the big ones, also.  I feel like one of the big beasts today.  It will pass and tomorrow the alarm will ring and another day will spin.  God be with you in your lives.

DSC_0431Birds in Snow September 9 2014Max the Flea Bag September 9, 2014Max has fleas.  I’m tired of doing laundry. I sawed, with a hand saw, two branches off May, weighted down and broken from the snow.  I picked all my tomatoes in the dark. Peanut is sixteen years old and struggling.

Flip side…

Chili is cooking on the stove, making the house smell good. Max is bathed and soft as can be. Peanut is curled up and sleeping on the red couch.  The tomatoes are in a popcorn bowl in the kitchen.

Life is just like this.

Tiny Art Books – Tiny Art Galleries

Last evening I attended a workshop facilitated by Emma Bresola and Melissa Centofanti.  It was a wide open creative experience after a brief viewing of the artist-facilitators’ exemplars and hearing about the possibilities.  The give-back to the community was a response to the recent exhibit of Emma and Melissa’s own art books in the Tiny Galleries situated throughout Bridgeland.  It was a fantastic night of creating!

I went with the specific intent of finding continued healing.  With the anniversary of Mom’s passing, I find I am needing to create objects as a way of both journeying my grief and celebrating Mom’s life.  Something so tactile and open-ended as the small books, allowed for that possibility.  The session flew by.  I am grateful for the expertise and guidance of both Melissa and Emma.

From the Bridgeland Community Center, I zipped out to look at one of the Tiny Galleries before the wind started howling and the weather changed.  A beautiful evening!

Melissa and EmmaIn connection with this, I strongly recommend that my readers take opportunity to view the PBS film, Objects and Memory.  This film really spoke to me and as various experiences of loss or destruction confront members of our society, it makes sense that we naturally memorialize through our objects.  I felt this happening as I created my small book.

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Greatness

A blog format isn’t necessarily conducive to writing on the subjects I currently need to write about.  Over coffee this morning, I quickly finished up the last two remaining posts about my recent experience on the Love Art in Calgary art tour. At 11:00 I was walking a prayer around the pond with Max.  And, yes, you read that correctly.

Before the hike, I sought out my father on Skype because I was feeling fragile.  Dad is giving me everything I need to journey my grief, everything that is, apart from what I am giving myself…and what God is giving me.  In short, Dad wasn’t available.  I went to the kitchen and ate an apricot square (I should have greased my pan, or as Dad later suggested, used parchment paper on the bottom of the pan) before making an exit.

At 11:00 the funeral Mass was beginning for a dear friend in Lethbridge and I was at a loss as to why I wasn’t there.  I’ve sat with that feeling all day long.  And just now, sitting here, I’m no closer to the answer.  The wind was a cold one from the north and on the south side of the pond, I couldn’t forge through the drift that, over the last few days, had accumulated.  So, I did an about face and headed back the way I had come.  That put me into the wind…and the cold lashing made my nose run and my eyes tear and then I was able to cry.

I seem to be losing women of greatness…women of tremendous influence…women who have inspired me and made me who I am.  And this is a difficult thing.  Because women of greatness have passed, the bones of my own mortality are being shaken and I am feeling an urgency about almost everything and that urgency sometimes exhausts me.

Last night, with remembrance of having done this alongside Gunda, I made a huge batch of cabbage rolls.  I am here alone, but I made enough for ten.  She would smile at this, I’m sure.

Cabbage Rolls and Apricot Squares

Cabbage Rolls and Apricot Squares

I know.  Like everyone else, I also say, “You never really lose someone you love.”

But, for the sake of this writing, I need to say it. I considered titling this post, Losing Gunda.  It feels as though we’ve lost her.

The truth is, I haven’t seen Gunda for the longest time.  The last time I saw her, she smiled and her eyes smiled, but she said very little.  I sent her Christmas cards.  That was the sum total of it, in the physical sense…oh, but in the spiritual sense, it was something completely different.

I think one of the most surprising blessings of my life, apart from having my children, was the moment I decided to be confirmed in my church.  Gunda inspired my faith every step of the way.  I sometimes sat on a stool in front of her…she would grasp my hands in hers…and we would talk.  She had such devotion and her devotion wrapped itself around me and never left.  So many times along the way of my life, I referred back to the wisdom that she shared with me and treasured the impact that she had on my life.  Gunda has always remained with me.

GundaI am sad today that the world has lost her beauty and her light, but I am confident in the promises of Jesus.  I will not forget her laughter.  I will not forget her raised eye brows when she was in doubt or questioning.  I will not forget how much she loved her beautiful family and her husband.  Thank you, Gunda, for connecting some of life’s dots for me.  I will continue to carry you in my heart for always.

Eternal rest grant unto Gunda, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.