A Different Type of Stocking Stuffer…

Darah celebrates Christmas with Karter

Darah celebrates Christmas with Karter

Friends,

As Christmas comes closer, the loss of Darah feels more raw than usual.  The thought of her stocking hanging empty haunts us as we anticipate this day.

Last year, you all blessed us with so many letters to her that we used to fill her stocking. Our whole family sat in our living room and read the letters with each other.  Your words brought our Darah into the room.  We were so comforted by the time and love that you put into this act of service.

This year, we ask the same of the  people in our circles, communities, and support systems.  If you so choose, for your healing or for ours, we would cherish a letter to fill Darah’s stocking.

If you would like to send a letter to Darah – we will put it in her stocking.
If you want us to read it we will – If you want it to be private we will symbollically send it to Darah by throwing it in the fireplace. You can email the letter to dbfarris@aol.com, Facebook message the letter, or snail mail the letter to 555 Woodside Drive, Akron, OH 44303.

In order to respect your wishes please mark on the envelope “private” or “do not open” if you wish for your words to remain between you and Darah.

“The writing becomes a map, a note left on a tree, a rock formation at a fork in the path, a cry in the distance saying ‘this way’.”

– Unknown –

Please help us fill Darah’s stocking this year.
Love always,

The Farris Family

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Top 10 Ways that Darah Attended Our Wedding…

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1. Cranes

When Darah was diagnosed with cancer, we all sprung into action. How could we be a part of her healing team? How could we support her through this journey? What could we do to help? We all took on our separate roles in her life, some as caregivers, others as comedic relief, a few of us became Wheatgrass pushers, but we all wanted to help make her feel immense amounts of love. It was only natural that our cousin Julie, an artist and environmentalist (amongst many other things) would create a piece of artwork to welcome Darah home from her first hospital stay. When Darah entered her bedroom, she was greeted by about 40 paper cranes suspended invisibly by fishing line from her bedroom ceiling. A symbol of hope and healing, the cranes danced above her bed creating a feeling peace and love that would become our motto as a family coping with such an illness.

Around the same time, my mom showed me a video of what I would eventually learn is called a murmuration, or a large flock of starlings. To see this miraculous act of nature, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k . I became quickly mesmerized by this airborne dance and was given an immense amount of peace when just moments after finding out about the passing of my sister, I saw a similar (but much smaller) act of beauty in the wintery skies of Chicago, Illinois. I knew that was the very first encounter that I would have with my sister on the other side.

It will come as no surprise to you that birds became a very important symbol for me in the quest to building this “new” relationship with my baby sis. So, when it came time to plan for the wedding, I went strait to Julie. Besides her grand idea of building a zip line into the barn for my debut as a bride, we discussed the possibility of folding a few paper cranes to represent Darah. We agreed that cranes would hang…we just had different ideas of how many. As the wedding grew closer and I got better at delegating, I asked Julie to manage the crane project. It took no time at all before she presented the idea of building a murmuration with paper cranes. This was a diversion from my idea of “a few cranes” hanging in the barn, but I was ecstatic. Julie and I quickly realized that we needed help, so we began having “folding parties” and teaching all of our friends how to fold cranes. In addition, Julie asked that before folding each crane, that the person write an intention or positive wish for our wedding. I could not believe the act of service that was happening before my eyes. So many people that I loved, writing love notes on each sheet of delicate origami paper and painstakingly folding it as a symbol of our beloved Darah. Through a series of events, and us learning about The Legend of 1,000 Cranes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousand_origami_cranes) Julie decided that we must have 1,000 cranes for the wedding. Cue more folding parties! Julie started hosting origami crane parties once a week and making signature cocktails and her famous hummus to lure people in. We sat in the sacred space that Darah used to call home, and while making tiny creases in paper, grew in love for each other. The result was a breathtaking display of time, effort, creativity, and love that none of our guests will quickly forget. Julie-my wish was granted long before we folded that thousandth crane-your labor of love touched me deeper than I know how to express in words. You brought Darah into the room, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

cranes murmuration cranes

2. Memory Wall

The memory wall at our wedding was a way of remembering all the people that have touched Jeremiah and I in ways that have shaped the people that we are today. Without the love of those people, we may have never known how to love each other. We honor and cherish the people that attended our wedding in spirit and are thankful for the role that they played in our lives.

3. Gratitude Journals

As we have mentioned on this blog before, Darah’s last Christmas gift to all of us were “positivity jars” which were mason jars with slips of paper, a marker, and instructions to jot down notes about the positive things in your life. I was dead set on not spending money on favors, until we came up with the idea to spin off Darah’s positivity jars with gratitude journals for our guests. We bought Molskine journals and hand stamped each of them. Thanks to Darah and the joyful way that she lived her life, we were able to spread the message of gratitude to all of our wedding guests.

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4. Jewelry

The day that Jeremiah proposed to me on the chair lift at Holiday Valley Ski Resort, he told me that he wanted to ask me to marry him on the top of a mountain so that we could be as close to Darah as possible. He went on to explain that he and his jeweler searched far and wide to find me a diamond with two very specific flaws: one called a feather and one called a cloud. Because of my strong connection to birds in flight, these slight imperfections in the diamond forever engraved my sisters spirit in the ring that symbolizes our love. To make my ring set even more special, my wedding band has 11 small diamonds and 1 sapphire, which was Darah’s birthstone.  Additionally, Kristen and I wore pieces from Darah’s turquoise collection.
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5.  Invitations

Our invitations also symbolized Darah by incorporating the murmuration into the background of the design. The simple beauty of these birds in flight was the first clue to our guests that the freedom and grace of birds would become a theme of our wedding. Our wedding programs contained the same graphics for cohesiveness. It was important to us that a traditional theme not take over our wedding, as to make it look scripted and overly uniform, but we wanted the grace and presence of Darah to shine through the use of birds and flow through the ceremony and into the party, as she would have wanted to be present for every moment of this day.  Many thanks to Charlie Wagers for making our design ideas become a reality.

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6.  Ring Bearer and Flower Girl

The ring bearer, Karter, was Darah’s beloved godson. Words cannot express the relationship that these two had. She loved him deeply, as if her own, and he respected and cherished her beyond what most little toddlers are capable of. To this day, he recounts memories of her, referring to her as Big Darah. Darah has become “big Darah” because Karter now has a little sister named Darah, who was born just days before Big Darah’s birthday. Tara and Dre, parents of Baby Darah named their daughter in memory of our Darah because of the deep friendship that they shared.  Jeremiah and I were honored to become Baby Darah’s God Parents, and our families have come together in a tight bond of sharing, togetherness, and love in tribute and in honor of Big Darah.
karter and darah kids

7. Lantern

Darah, without a doubt, would have been the Maid of Honor at our wedding. Because of this, I saved the spot for her and did not name anyone else to that position.   Kristen and Madeline, two of Darah’s closest friends carried a lantern down the aisle in honor of her presence in our wedding. The lantern was placed on the mantle, overlooking the whole ceremony. We did not need a candle to know that she was with us, but it was a physical representation of her presence and a reminder of her closeness. I am deeply thankful that Maddy and Kristen took part in this special ceremony.
kristen and maddy w lanter

8. The Best is Yet to Come

When dad spoke at Darah’s funeral, he read a letter that he wrote to Darah many years ago when she went to a retreat with her high school. He wrote about all the ways in which they are similar to each other and how, because of this, he knew that for her, the best was yet to come. This saying “the Best is Yet to Come” has become a theme in the way that my family celebrates Darah and it is engraved on the stone bench by her grave. Because of this, Dad and I danced to Tony Bennett’s version of “The Best is Yet to Come” at our wedding.

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9. It snowed

Darah’s last post on Facebook was “I.WANT.SNOW”, so snow is another way in which we celebrate Darah. Like any bride having an outdoor wedding, I prayed, wished, and hoped for warm and beautiful weather. For those of you who were present, you know that that wish did not come true in the traditional sense, but what did happen was even better. It snowed. Even if for only a few minutes, it was the first reminder that Darah was there. Who knew that snow on my wedding day would be the best thing that could have happened?

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Julie and I gaze at her tattoo that says “I.WANT.SNOW” in Darah’s handwriting.

10. Words in Ceremony

We made sure that Darah was included in the wedding ceremony. The following words were spoken to honor her: “Jeremiah and Maureen have also asked that we take a moment 
to honor those loved ones who are not with us today especially Maureen’s beloved sister, Darah. Her spot as Maid of Honor has been reserved as we know that her energy not only fills that role, but fills this room and overflows in our hearts.” This was read by our surrogate brother, Colin Morris.

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Many thanks to our families that made this day possible, for our guests that brought the energy that cannot be planned, and to our photographer, Ms. Anna Zajac (http://anna-zajac.com/), who captured the story that we told on this day.

It’s as Simple as Something That Nobody Knows…

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Where to begin….

I could go on for pages and pages talking about how amazing Darah is, but everyone who knows her knows that she is a spirit and soul unlike any other. When reflecting on what I would write here I kept finding myself feeling very selfish with my thoughts and memories. As a therapist, I talked to a colleague about this as it made me feel uncomfortable…Darah would never be selfish!! After a long talk and a whole lot of validation (we therapists are so good at that) I was better able to understand my feelings. As time keeps going, and it feels like it goes so fast, I find myself holding on tighter and tighter to everything related to Darah. Pictures, saved texts and voicemails, and mainly my memories. I realized I am reluctant to share my memories because they are Darah’s and mine, something we still have, and I am not willing to let that go. With that being said, the goal of what I am writing is for everyone who reads this to think of a memory of you and Darah, something you hold near and dear, something that was just between the two of you. How lucky and privileged are we to have that? A thought, a moment, a joke, we are so lucky to be able to have these with such an incredible person.

Now, I am going against all better judgment and I am going to share something.

On Darah’s birthday I take Riley (my dog that Darah and I picked out) to the lake and just sit for a while. This year was different because I went later than usual and it was already getting dark. Just thinking, talking to Darah, and looking around, something caught my eye and brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. I looked over and saw the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. In 2012, Darah came to Chicago for her birthday to visit.   We had an amazing trip…we went on a speedboat, went out to eat at delicious vegan restaurants, and did what we did best….laid in bed and talked (not to every be confused with being lazy).

During her visit I noticed an increased appreciation in everything from Darah! She refused to sleep with the blinds closed because she wanted to see the skyline every moment of the night. One day Darah and I took a speedboat architectural tour from Navy Pier. Darah then decided she wanted to go on the Ferris wheel. Now….this was not my thing…I’ve been on a roller coaster twice in my life and that was one time too many. Darah, in her fun-loving, adventurous way not only wanted to go on the Ferris wheel but also wanted to make sure she made a memorable experience. As the Ferris wheel got higher and higher, I got tense with fear, I told Darah how I was feeling (if she was telling this story she would probably say “then Kristen freaked out”). Darah then got a smile across her face and started rocking the cart back and forth until it was swinging. Within a couple seconds I was no longer sitting across from her, I was right next to her, holding her hand and yelling. Darah has always been so funny! The next thing I knew I had my phone out and we were taking pictures…clearly Darah’s rocking of the cart had calmed me down and I was present in the moment! Realizing how could this moment go by with us on top of the Ferris wheel without capturing it.

Darah had the incredible talent of bringing comfort to those around her. Amidst everything that she was going through at that time in 2012, everything she had already gone through, she was as adventurous as ever, laughed as loud as ever, and loved as much as ever. Inspirational is an understatement, Darah taught many of us how to live: be fearless, love unconditionally, live to better the lives of those around us, be grateful and appreciate everything, and never, NEVER, give up. That is something that we can all hold on to and practice. So, as I said before, I want to encourage everyone to think of a memory you hold dear of Darah. Think about how lucky you are to have the memory…it is YOURS!!!

And let’s all live our lives the way that Darah showed us how (thank you, Darah).

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Written by: Kristen Maltarich

Darah Farris Memorial Scholarship Annual Fundraiser

darah pro am

I have so many happy memories set under the hot sun on the golf course with Darah and our family.  Wish as he may, dad’s dreams of us becoming golfers never came to fruition.  We could be found either lathered in oil by the pool or driving the golf carts around the course (in all the wrong places-you can drive on the putting green, right?).  In the most famous of all golf cart stories, dad handed the cart over to Darah at the ripe young age of 4.  She did not waver at the opportunity to drive, but she did not make it very far, swiftly running into a ball washer and denting the golf cart.  This would foreshadow an imperfect driving record that Darah would grow up to aquire-but that’s for another post.

Please consider joining us on September 26th in celebration of Darah’s birthday and in an effort to raise money for The Darah Farris Memorial Scholarship.  See the flyer above for details and please note that dinner and awards will follow the Pro-Am.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and are deeply thankful for the love and support that you show us each and every day.  We can’t wait to continue celebrating Darah’s life and legacy with you

Life- A Collection of Memories

1909864_522111187905_1687_nWritten by: Michael Farris

When I was asked by my cousin Maureen to write this, I was a bit apprehensive. I am not really the best at these types of things and can never find quite the right words to express the things that I want to be expressed. I miss Darah a lot and think of her often. I have many fond memories of her, a few of which I will share here. Darah was funny. I don’t remember what year this happened but it was Thanksgiving. Holidays with us have been known for a number of things but always include lots of food, wine, friends and our family being together. This year there were many people there-family of course, and friends that had become family. I am sure there was plenty of eating, some drinking, and a lot of interesting conversations at the “kid table” ranging from school to activism, from vegetarianism and veganism to art and music. Anyway, in between dinner and dessert one of my favorite things to do is retreat to the “man-cave”, which consists of a big screen TV in the basement at George and Debbies home. That year my friend Billy and I retreated to the basement full on a buffet of Lebanese classics to watch some TV. Suddenly, a young Darah burst into the room and declared “boys have turkey gobblers” and then ran out. Bill and I immediately looked at each other and began cracking up. Funniest part of that Thanksgiving and maybe any Thanksgiving since. Fast forward… I needed a ride to pick my car up. Darah offered to do this for me. On the ride I looked through her CD’s and found that there were a number of them that I liked. We struck up a conversation about music, among other things. Then, she lit up a cigarette…I was shocked. My baby cousin was growing up right before my eyes. I remember asking if her parents knew. She replied “yes, but they don’t like it”. I remember thinking “I bet”. That car ride made me see Darah in a whole new light. She was growing up, she wasn’t so little any more, but she was okay…crossing a similar ground as I had.

This is where this gets hard.

There are so many stories that I could tell…and so many that will never unfold. When I found out that Darah was sick, I was shocked, I was saddened, I wondered to myself how my baby cousin could be going through this? But throughout it all she demonstrated a level of strength that inspired me greatly. Darah was an amazing human.  I was caught completely off guard, we had just spent Christmas all together.

…Flashback…

Months before Christmas, Darah, my sister Julie, and I went out to dinner at the Mustard Seed. We were quite a crew of vegetarian and vegan diners. I don’t know why I brought this up…I guess it was one of the last times that we would be out together. I remember a lot of laughing, and I believe I lost the “ordering game” meaning both Darah and Julie ordered meals that were vastly more delicious than mine, although mine was still good. Darah seemed “good” at that point, smiling and happy (although she maintained that attitude all the way through)-it was a wonderful evening.

Back to Christmas-there was of course family, friends, and an amazing spread. There were two standout moments to me that both came in the form of gifts. The first was a “thought jar” that Darah made. Each of us got one. Inside each jar was a little pad of paper and marker. You could write down something positive and store it away. A unique gift. The next gift was a split between Darah, Maureen, and Julie. It was an e-cigarette. I was talking about quitting new years and this was definitely a welcomed help.  Darah quit smoking a year and a half earlier and it was my time to kick the habit. Both gifts were cool in that they were meant to encourage positive life choices or rather actions. I remember being impressed with the spirit of both gifts. Days later we would all get the news that, well, crushed me. I left work and would not go back until after the new year. I would be around family and during all of this, I quit smoking.  I don’t know how Darah got cancer, I don’t know how my mother got cancer, but I knew I was done smoking. I quit that New Years and have not smoked since. I believe that this is in part to the positive influence of my baby cousin who had also smoked and quit. I love her and I miss her every day and I wish that I could have done more for her.  I am better for knowing her, my funny, compassionate, intelligent, beautiful Darah.

On Blow Pops, Flat Feet, and Selflessness

Darah and Cassady with their softball team sponsored by the "Farris Bro's".  Darah is in the top row 3rd from the left and Cassady is in the bottom left.

Darah and Cassady with their softball team sponsored by the “Farris Bro’s”. Darah is in the top row 3rd from the left and Cassady is in the bottom left.

I think about Darah every day. What I quickly learned after her death however was that I’ve been thinking about Darah every day for the majority of my life. Darah and I met at King School when we were 6 years old. Not only were we school friends, we were in Indian Princesses together, we struggled through at least 6 years of softball together, we transferred to the Elms together and we were just starting to figure out adulthood together.

As you can imagine, over an 18 year friendship we experienced many new things, collected an enormous amount of memories and influenced each other in many ways. For 18 years, including almost all of my ‘formative’ years, Darah was a part of my life. Because of this (as cliché as it sounds) Darah has always been a part of who I am.

Memories of time we spent together are brought to my attention from a variety of things throughout my day. For example, Blow-pops will ALWAYS remind me of Darah. They remind me of her because when she and I were in 3rd grade, we told our teacher Mrs. Jacobs that we were both allergic to the red dye in blow-pops; a lie Darah and I came up with as a means of securing one of the precious few sour-apple flavored suckers in the bag for each of us. I’m sure Mrs.Jacobs saw right through our story but she let us each have a beloved sour apple and she never once mentioned the fact that the gum inside of every blow-pop, regardless of flavor, is bright pink! Darah and I giggled about our younger selves’ mischievous plan as adults, while I ‘smuggled’ blow-pops into the ‘sugar-free zone’ Maureen was trying to create in her room at the Cleveland Clinic, sneaking to eat them whenever Mo left the room.

I also giggle every time I walk past the New Balance store by my office that has a sign in the window that reads: “What’s your shape?” with multiple examples of customer’s footprints hung below it. I laugh because Darah had the flattest feet of anyone I have ever met and I would have loved to see Darah’s solid, flat, rectangle of a footprint hanging next to all of the barely there foot prints of the other customers.

The impact Darah has on my life goes far beyond remembering all the time we spent and the things we did together. As a kid, I envied Darah’s inability to get embarrassed. It didn’t matter how loud Mr. Farris shouted her name or how many different times she got hit in the face with a softball, she would just laugh her amazing laugh and embrace it. I was always impressed with how easily Darah was able to ‘go with the flow’; nothing ever fazed Darah.

As we grew up however, I was able to see Darah’s most remarkable quality was much more inspiring than not getting embarrassed by your parents or being able to laugh at yourself. Darah was an incredibly selfless person. Despite her loud and outgoing nature, she never wanted to be the center of attention nor did she ever want anyone to recognize all of the amazing things she was doing for others.

Darah’s selflessness never ceased to amaze me. I will always remember the day Darah stopped by my parents’ house with Karter and a young girl from Abacus. It was Halloween and she had taken them trick-or-treating while their moms were at work. It was easy to see that Darah had taken them trick-or-treating because she didn’t want either of them to miss out on the fun of dressing up and getting candy, even if their moms had to work. She had been for a chemo treatment 3 days earlier.

When my parents were in a very serious car accident Darah was well into her fight and she was getting ready to start radiation treatments but she continually offered to help, always asking if she could take me to lunch, or bring anything to my dad at the clinic when she went for treatment, and she even told me SHE felt guilty for not stopping by to see my parents “as much as she should”. SHE felt guilty, the girl with fucking lung cancer felt like she wasn’t doing enough to help MY family! When I would try to point out how ludicrous it was for her to feel that way she would just laugh and ask what room my dad was in at the Clinic.

Darah was somehow able to deal with everything going on in her own life while she continued to focus on how she could help everyone around her. I am inspired by Darah daily both in the memories I have of her as well as the influence she has had on how I perceive the world. Even though my happy memories are often followed immediately by the anger and sadness of loss, I cherish them because I know that with them, I will always have a little bit of Darah with me in my life.

Written by: Cassady Horn

First Darah Farris Scholarship Recipient

Image                        On behalf of the University of Akron and the Darah Farris Scholarship, we are proud to announce our first scholarship recipient.  She is a young woman with a driven mind and a kind heart.  We know that Darah would be so proud to be able to contribute to educating people in her community who will go on to do great things in their fields.  The ripple effect of Darah’s passions and spirit will never cease as long as we are able to provide scholarship assistance to driven young Akronites.  The following is an essay written by Natalie Anderson, the first Darah Farris Scholarship Recipient.       

            As a fellow Elms girl I understand the importance of a good education and leadership skills. Attending Our Lady of the Elms and now the University of Akron, I see how valuable these two assets are. I strive to be the best possible student I can be, and I know that The University of Akron will help me continue this. Over my four years at Our Lady of the Elms I have learned time management, leadership, equality, confidence, and many other skills. I am a well-rounded student as well as an athlete. At the Elms I participated in varsity soccer all four years, bowling all four years, and varsity softball all four years. I love being part of a family and community. My teammates are my family. We rely on each other for anything and everything.

            As I head into my freshman year at Akron I am majoring in Nursing. I know that this is not and Early Education major or a major in Social Work, which Darah was involved in. However, the two share some of the same ideas. I want to become a pediatric nurse or a neonatal nurse. I love working with children, I always have. As long as I can remember I have wanted to become a nurse. I love helping others and making a difference in their lives. Miss Farris taught inner city children and altered their lives. Her career as a teacher improved many of their lives in the simplest way. As a nurse I would be doing much of the same thing. Helping children who are sick and injured would be changing their lives. Not only would I be changing their lives they would be changing mine. My older sister just graduated and has been working at Barberton Hospital. She comes home every day with stories about the children on her floor. How much they mean to her and how wonderful they are. I truly love being around young children. They bring so much joy and happiness to my life.

            This scholarship would mean the world to me. To be recognized by another Elms family who had a daughter with the same interests as me would be so special. My family is composed of me and my three sisters. We have all attended the Elms for high school. I just graduated on Friday. My youngest sister is going to be a junior next year. She served at Darah’s memorial service at the Elms. My two older sisters attend The University of Akron. My oldest sister just graduated from the Nursing College this year. My other sister is going into her third year at Akron. With all of us attending private high schools and my parents now having two in college, this scholarship would help me take a little weight off of their shoulders. Being able to contribute some aid to them would make me feel a whole lot better. Since my education is so important to them as well as me I would greatly appreciate this scholarship.  I want to thank you for this opportunity and for your time.

Our New Relationship

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Sometimes it is scary NOT to feel sad. How can I let go of this grief?

15 months after the death of my beautiful daughter, the pain subsides, some days.

We “celebrated” Easter this past Sunday. The holidays are so very difficult. Out of habit we gather. We smile, we hug. I stress out about hosting this again. I get angry with George for not helping.

I often get surprised by the Holidays. Even before.

Easter is different for us. We have always celebrated two Easters. When the girls were growing up, Catholic Easter was the one that we went to Mass and had Easter baskets.

Orthodox Easter was the one that we had the family over for.

One Spring Break, after celebrating Catholic Easter with the Blanco’s in Maryland, we were driving home. The following week we would Celebrate Orthodox Easter with the family. The girls questioned me from the back seat. “Mom, do other people WISH they were Lebanese, so they could have two Easters?” I always treasure that memory!

Sometimes the two Easters are on the same day. I don’t have any warning. No one does. Even as the Catholic member of the family – I am usually the one who is in charge of telling everyone when Easter is.

This year I assumed everyone knew – because it was so late and because they fell on the same Sunday. George and I decided to visit Uncle Louie in the nursing home on Saturday. I had other commitments, too. So I was not GREAT at notifying every one of the starting time, etc.

So due to tragedy and sadness and miscommunication – we were missing THREE people at the Dinner table this Easter. We were missing Darah for the second Easter. We were missing Louie for the first time. We were missing cousin Michael, because he forgot it was Easter and he had to work.

We did not even NEED a “kids” table. But did we have a very nice day? Yes we did. First of all, Mother Nature provided a gorgeous day. From the looks of it, much of the weather across the country was beautiful for Easter. I quoted my mother in law often. She always said Orthodox Easter always has good weather.

Secondly, our old friends, Cherie and Steve were able to come – even with a very last minute invitation. They provided a very special DARAH element for the day. I had left a piece of Darah’s artwork to be framed by a mutual friend. Cherie happened to know that the piece was ready to be picked up, so she and Steve picked it up and paid for it as a special gift to us – very special.

Third – our dear friend Dan stopped by. Dan also celebrates the Orthodox tradition so we are always glad when he gets to town and is able to celebrate with us.

Fourth – Maureen played Easter Bunny and had a very fun Easter Egg hunt for our little special guy, Karter and his cousin.

So where was Darah in all this? Her gorgeous Senior picture was propped in front of the Easter lily on the coffee table. She inspired TWO batches of hummus prepared by Maureen and Julie. We KNOW she loves how much we love her godson, Karter – we can feel her smiling on us every time we are with him. I even think she was with me when I decided to go to Mass at St Hillary – and good ole’ Father Kraker was saying mass. Father Kraker, who walked with me all 21 months of Darah’s illness and then retired and does not have a regular Mass schedule at a certain parish any more. Yet I seem to find him whenever I can truly use a Fr. Kraker fix.

So honey, I have had a really rough time lately. Funny, how I am just barely becoming aware that this pain and sadness is not going to end. I don’t want it to end because I always want you to know how much I miss you. However, I also have to keep working and learning how to keep you in my life in our new relationship. Love you and miss you like a ton of bricks! Mommy

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Ghosts in the Garden

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So spring comes again, alive with rebirth and the promise of renewal. And I’m in the back garden of my home, a huge old manor with a lot of history, in which I rent a room. I’ve been tucked inside almost since I first arrived here, some six or seven months ago, hidden beneath the snow as surely as the squirrels have hidden in the attic. But we’re three days into spring now, and the snows have almost melted, and the day is warm at last! So yes. I am in the garden.

I am reaching down into the patina of winter now, trying to scrape the last of it from the tender skin of spring. I am pulling up ghosts from last year’s garden, a garden I never really met before today, because I moved here from Oregon in the fall, and by the time I came it was already tramped down beneath the waves of the mint and ivy and weeds that I am pulling up now… I’ve noticed that gardens always go feral in the fall. And so this little Eden, no I did not know it then, but can discern it from the fragile, dried stalks, from the shape of the pathways worn into the earth, from the random new shoots just beginning to climb tentatively out of the ground and drink in the bright new day.

The influence of last year’s gardener, of last year’s crops, of last year’s flowers, it’s everywhere. I can see by the tomato cages where tomatoes must have been, and can discern from dust-brown, paper-dry leaves stretched across the ground where gladioli must have reached gracefully into the air. The winter kill tells me what there was, and gives clues to what is about to come forth. When I rake back the dead leaves, I find pale, delicate spears telling me that daffodil are unfolding here, and would have been here last year too. So I get a sense of this garden from this evidence. But there is something rooted even deeper than that. A feeling for who is here all around me – the groundhog still curled up beneath the woodshed, the cardinals in the trees, the squirrels probably watching me from the attic. Even the ghosts, the gardeners whose hands tilled this soil and planted hopeful seeds here years before. An intertwining of us all.

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This always happens to me when I am hands-in-the-earth in gardens. I get an overwhelming sense of the interconnectedness of everything; the great community of species, of beings; the circle of life; the interconnections even between here and gone, now and then, death and life. It is in the soil, after all, where the dead are brought back to life again; where fungi and worms and tiny microorganisms work their magical alchemy together to transform the fallen and decaying into the very broth of new life from which we have all been sprung. And it is into this very soil where the gardener enfolds the sleeping seeds of summer’s harvest, trusting the dark hands of the earth to hold and nurture them til they can unfurl and bring forth fruit.

But these are heady thoughts, and right now, I guess I’m troubled with ghosts. These iron-stalked mint plants, for instance, lying brown across the ground, undead and terrifying hints at the difficulty one might have, trying to reclaim this particular corner of the garden for anyone but these. Or the ghostly tendrils of some kind of snaking vine… God that can’t just be sleeping ivy, can it? (Oh, what slow-motion violence there must have been here, as the vestiges of some great and epic probably annual – battle between the ivy and the mint litter the ground!) See, so there is plenty of mystery left in every garden, no matter what hints the hands before might have given away.

But I have my own ghosts to struggle with, and that is why I’m here. There is, for instance, the ghost of the man I loved, still love, have loved all my life. Sid. He died the summer before I came here. It turned out his absence was too great a hole for me to ever fill out there alone in Oregon. So after struggling for a while, I left Portland and headed east to Ohio, where the only person I knew when I arrived was my closest friend Julie. I had nowhere else to go, and I needed a friend, so my dog and I left almost everything, packed up what little was left, and came here to this old house, where Julie lives up on the third floor and I live on the second. This house has become a home to me in a way I have not felt at home in quite some time. And my housemates and Julie’s family have become a family to me in a way I dearly needed.

And it is through my entanglement with Julie, and her family, that I came to know Darah Farris (a woman whose hands once worked this little piece of earth), much in the same way that I am getting to know this garden. I never met Darah face to face, but I have known her for years through the stories that Julie has told. For as long as I can remember, Julie has referred to her cousin Darah as “my little sister.”  I found strength and inspiration in the stories Julie shared about Darah’s courageous struggle with life-threatening illness; I remember laughing and celebrating with her from afar the day Julie shared a photograph of the “fuck cancer” tattoo that Darah got emblazoned over the surgical scar across her chest. And when Darah left this world, only five months after Sid did, I was shocked with my friend for her “little sister,” who had been so brave and fought so hard and died so very young.

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It still makes me cry to remember how, when Julie told me that Darah had died, I wanted to understand. All I could think to do, at that moment, thousands of miles away, was to look on Darah’s Facebook page. (Social media… its own kind of garden of ghosts.) I think I just wanted to see a picture of her again or something, some kind of connection with this woman who had to go so soon, some way of sharing in my friend’s grief, some way of comparing, in my mind, Julie’s loss of Darah with my loss of Sid. So yes, I looked on her Facebook page and besides the pictures, I found her words and thoughts, eerily preserved beyond her life. And… I saw that the last thing she had posted there was on the winter solstice, only a few short days before she died. Full of exclamation points and smiley-faced emoticons, she was celebrating the first snows and the first day of winter. Such a happy spirit. She must have been so sick by then, facing her own mortality, and yet still in love with the circle of life enough to celebrate the snow and the coming winter.

And so, the seasons turned.

Darah was quite a gardener too, I’m told. Last fall, Julie and I cut back the last summer shoots of the Abacus garden, a project Darah had brought to life in the hope of bringing fresh, whole, healthy foods and an appreciation for where life comes from to the sometimes-deprived worlds of the children whom she tended and taught there. Her presence is surely here in this garden at Beck Haus, too. Because Darah used to live here, in one of the rooms overlooking this little sanctuary. As I lean down and carefully cut back the browned arms of perennials to make way for green new growth, I find myself wondering which of them she might have planted here, which of the little pots or garden decorations pressed down under the onslaught of the unruly mint might have been placed there some summer ago by her hands. So this is a meditation on death and life, on concrete realities touched by hands, and on our ghosts.

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Gardening reminds me that season’s wheel doesn’t just take, it also gives; It brings back new life again, always born from the remains of the lives that came before. It brings me closer to Sid as well… he taught me to care for house plants long before I ever had a patch of earth to tend. And when we finally moved in to our first and only house together, he used to play guitar and sing soft music from an open window while I toiled in the rich, dark earth outside on warm evenings. The fruit trees we planted then would just be coming into fruit now… had things been different.

Sid and Darah… both left this world last year, within five months of each other, both gone of the same disease: Cancer. And that, too, I can feel in this garden. Because for all the glow of life there is in being out here, I can also feel the toxic sludge of years of Ohio industry beneath the soil, can sense the dusting of lead from all the crackling old lead paint in all these hundred year old houses. The water that will run from this hose, come the drier weather, will smell of rust and metal and chlorine, just as the tap water in the house, in all the houses here. I am afraid to plant vegetables here, afraid of what they might suck up out of the ground, afraid of what might dust their leaves and fruits. I am afraid to drink the water without filtering it. And even then… I am afraid of what might get through the filter anyway.

I have seen what cancer does, and I have watched as it went from a seemingly rare disease to one that touches every family that I know. Cancer is an environmental disease, one sickening much of our planet now, and the bodies of those we have loved have borne its outward symptoms. Cancer rates are skyrocketing. Here in Ohio, all along this rusty rim of Great Lakes and Industry, the toll is even higher than it was out west. I can only imagine how it will grow now that Big Industry is fracking the Marcellus shale, taking the precious waters of life, mixing them with potent, highly toxic poisons, and injecting them back into the earth in violent greed. Although we tell ourselves it’s such a complicated issue, with so many unknowns and so many years between potential toxic exposures and development of the disease, in truth it isn’t so complicated after all: The way our culture expects us to live right now is killing us. It’s already taken so much. So many years of extracting every last dollar from the earth, destroying every last forest, dumping toxins straight into the ground and the water, an “externality” to sweep beneath the rug on the road to someone’s profit margins… Alas.

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I wonder if we are weeds here, and what that really means. Are we the ivy creeping over the garden and choking the life from it in a pointless and greedy quest for more? Or are we the pioneer species, the dandelion and the burdock and all the healing herbs who are the first to colonize the broken ground, the first to heal wounds in the skin of life spread across the earth?
Julie and I got witchy this winter, and started blending herbal brews and tinctures. So I think about that now… how we both noticed that the plants we seem to need the most are the very ones that grow when nothing else will. They burst from their little fairy seeds and grab hold of the ground and suck the toxins away and purify the nutrients and make the soil clean again, bringing fertility and life back to barren places. And when we harvest them from cleaner ground, they purify and strengthen our bodies and souls. They bring the elixir of life to us as surely as to the ground they grow in. Can that happen here? Where there has been so much damage? Where people we love have left us, have died of the poisons, and the soil and water and air we breathe is compromised and terrifying in a way that only those of us who have been inextricably touched by the fallout can really see…?

Even the hardiest of the roots reaching down into the earth to heal it can only absorb so much. The earth herself can only take so much. Our bodies can only take so much. Sid’s body, Darah’s body… they could only take so much. So this gardening… this is a bittersweet meditation out here today. Spring brings Persephone back into the world again, after her trek through the underworld. It brings our ghosts surging forth again in our hearts. And it brings back questions about how we came to accept such pain and suffering, such disease, in exchange for a few pieces of silver to a few captains of industry. Why did we let them poison the very ground we grow from? Why do we just buy bottled water (from some other toxic source no doubt) and pretend it isn’t happening?

Clearly, there is a lot for all of us to heal from, and a lot of work to be done. If I am to make peace with these ghosts, I must clear this garden. I must let this anger express itself at last, transform it here in this soil from a futile and destructive force, into a focused energy to bring back life again. I need to stop quietly accepting that the people we love can be an “externality,” the price paid for someone else’s “progress.” And I need for you to do it too. We need to clean up the garden now… for the hope is that winter is almost over.

I have come back inside now. It got a little chilly, so I came in for a sweater. And by the time I turned around to go back out, it had started snowing once again. Might this be the last snow of the year, the very end of winter, finally? Oh please, let it be so.

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So now I am inside, and our ghosts are in here, too. Sid has come with me, and decorates the walls of my room and the canvases that I paint with his presence and his absence. I feel a sense of joy and comfort in the remembering, but also a sense of numb and futile pain. This is how it is, with ghosts. And Darah is certainly here too. Her old room is just across the hall from mine. Julie’s room is filled with her things, and her gentle spirit wafts through the dark halls here at night as comforting as a friend. I can feel her presence here everywhere. And when I hear from others who knew her, I can sense the impact of her life, spreading outward as tangibly as the daffodils reaching their little green shoots up out of the ground. Who knows. Perhaps a whole new crop of little children, who learned about the connection between our bodies and the earth’s body from Darah at Abacus Garden, will make a difference none of us could have believed. That, too, is how it is with ghosts – they never really leave us disconnected from them. They share with us the narrative of life, they walk with us from just the other side of the veil. Sometimes, when it’s quiet, when the wind shifts just right, you can feel them almost close enough to touch.

Just like spring… almost close enough now, to touch.

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Written by Cat