I heard Frida’s single bark sometime around 4 in the morning and I responded with a quick, ‘Quiet, Frida’… I didn’t want her to wake Frank.
This was to be the first day of my week long Costa Rica workshop and as I turned over, readjusted my pillows and sheets, I thought about yesterday. Frank and I had spent a busy day separated by miles as I accompanied my 8 students from San Jose to San Isidro de el General in Francisco’s van. All day traveling – through San Jose, over the Cerro del Muerte, lunch at the top. Frank and I talked and texted by cell phone, checking on each other in our usual ‘many times a day’ mode. He relayed that he had experienced some more pain he thought was his continuing heart burn and finally took himself to the local clinic in town. He assured me by phone that now he felt fine, was given an EKG test that was completely normal. He would have hors’de’orves and a light dinner ready for us when we finally arrived around 5… After checking students into Papas de Paramo, just down the hill, all of us arrived at my house just before sunset. As the lights in the city below began twinkling into night mode, Frank looked up from the outdoor kitchen and extended his arm to pull me close. Someone said ‘hold it’ and snapped a photo that would be our last. The evening was filled with laughter and good feelings. We all felt this was a great way to start the workshop!
At first light the next morning, around 5:30 I got up to quietly let the dogs out the back door and begin preparing their food. Frank was still not up, which surprised me. Dogs fed, I finally went to his curtained bed in the adjacent room to wake him. We had chosen to sleep separately as was our custom when we both felt we needed uninterrupted rest. His eyes were closed and his mouth set in a relaxed smile. When I touched him I knew.
The next minutes, hours and half the day were crammed with jumbled and discordant activities – calling up to Joan in one of my cabins, ambulance arrival, I Jota, (Costa Rican equivalent of the FBI), Anita’s sobbing embrace, Billy’s arrival and offer to take Eve down to Papas where the workshop was to begin, Sinia making coffee, Joan’s solid presence talking with me through it all, conversation out in the studio with the coroner, a hurried shower, my mind’s persistent insistence that Frank would soon wake up, Anita handing me Frank’s ring, and on…and on…
By the end of the day I felt hopelessly unsure of it all. It was as if the cord I called my life line was suddenly, almost violently twisted into a knot and nothing felt the same. Frank and I had been so intimately engaged in each other’s everyday life that there was no where I felt safe to step to avoid the awful gaping wound. Turning my attention to the responsibility I felt to my students was life affirming. Altogether they eased me through that first week. I taught. We painted. I led the critiques that they carried forward. We talked and laughed and cried together and I will never ever forget each one of these somehow preselected women.
The workshop filled the days of my first week without Frank. It was probably the best of all ways to do what had to be done. My son, Tim arrived mid week and helped ease me through all the steps of arranging the cremation, meeting with the medical examiner and attorney, preparing the memorial service.
On March 23 somewhere near 100 people came to Papas de Paramo to say goodbye to Frank. Many had known him nearly 20 years and he had been a dearest friend to several. An impromptu memorial table came together in the same cabana where we were married. Frank’s hat, some dried bananas, his machete, the urn with his ashes, calla lilies, flowers from Randy and Marie’s place including chartreuse ylang ylang that filled the air with a natural Chanel No. 5 fragrance. During the service some spoke about him while others wrote in a book or stood speechless. Many cried. I offered my thoughts against the background cheers of a soccer game being watched in the bar in the corner. I thought to myself – ‘so Costa Rica’.
Celebration of Frank’s Life
March 23, 2014
Thank you everyone for being here today – to remember Frank and to celebrate his life.
Sir Robert Anderson, who died over 100 years ago once said:
Death ends a life. It does not end a relationship.
The relationship that Frank and I shared was very special to us. I remember him as a my life partner who was always kind. Always generous. Always gentle. And he never once hurt my feelings. We were just happy and content and so easy with each other. His death is now offering me a chance to continue the relationship through meaningful connections with family, friends and even with myself. I know he is here now and will be with me often while he is probably also working on some garden somewhere….
So now I’m thinking of ways I can honor our relationship – beyond pain and grief. One way is by being here now. This is where Frank and I fell in love. This is where I teach my watercolor workshops. This is where we were married just 15 months ago.
(Laughter erupted. Instead of 15 months I had said 15 years. I responded, ‘oh yeah, just 15 months. Well, it could have been 1500 years for all I know…’ And probably none knew how honestly I meant that.)
I went on.
And this is where we are now – celebrating and memorializing Frank’s life. I think one thing I’ll continue to do is to return here every Saturday evening as Frank and I did – for dinner or a late lunch. Frank usually ordered cordon bleu (or Gordon Blue as it is usually called in Costa Rica). I ordered it yesterday. I will be asking others to join us, one or two at a time – for a Saturday meal with Jan and Frank at Papas.
This morning a friend sent me these words that were just right.
Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away.
Frank took my breath away for enough moments to last a lifetime.