My solstice tree stands undecorated in the corner of the living room, my email in-box overfloweth, and it's been almost a week since I wrote in this blog. (That's the solstice tree in the photo above. The beautiful watercolor of the lily bed adjoining my kitchen garden to the right is by artist and neighbor Sherrie York.)
Last week got away from me, in part because I headed over the mountains to Denver on Wednesday, didn't get home until Friday afternoon, and then needed a day to recover.
The 128-mile drive to Denver is something I do not undertake lightly at this time of the year, when traveling over the three mountain passes between our valley and the city can be… exciting. But I needed to spend some time with my dad, and I wanted to deliver the hand-to-heart rocks Molly had carved to Richard's doctors and key staff at the VA Medical Center. (That's one in the photo below, a hand-sized, river-rounded cobble carved with his signature polished concavity.)
Each rock was packaged in a classy black corrugated cardboard gift box donated by Jerry Scavezee and Toni Tischer of Gallery 150, the Salida gallery that carries Richard's sculpture, and accompanied by a small broadsheet, which said in part:
"Richard thought of his sculpture work as a way to bring our natural love of this planet and its living communities into our daily lives and experiences. One of his signature ways to help people 'see' a rock as something unique and worth respecting was to take a rough native rock–whether a one-ton boulder or a pebble–and grind out and polish a concave place in the rock's surface. In essence, he was making a 'window' into the rock's interior to reveal its beauty.
"When it was clear that his life was ending, he showed Molly how to use his carving tools and asked her to make a set of rocks with his signature polished window, rocks that would be comforting when held in the hand and would convey his love of the earth… I helped him choose the rocks, Molly carved and polished them, and together we decided who each rock belonged to."
I carried a shopping bag full of the boxed rocks into the VA Medical Center first thing Wednesday morning, eager to return to the facility where we had spent so much time since he saw bird hallucinations in September, 2009, a place where he had been hospitalized six times–four for brain surgeries, and where we had been treated with skill and kindness. My first stop: Richard's oncologist.
On the way to meet her, I ran into the social worker from his palliative care team. As soon as she expressed condolences, my eyes filled.
"I warned you that most people find it hard to come back," his oncologist said a few minutes later, fingering the rock we had picked out for her with its silky smooth concavity revealing big pink feldspar crystals in a gray and white matrix.
"I thought I'd be okay," I said. "And then as soon as I saw Sarah…" My eyes filled again.
His oncologist hugged me. We talked for a few more minutes, and once she was sure I was indeed okay, she headed back to the consult room, her rock in her hand.
"Keep in touch," she said.
"I will," I promised.
And on I went. Each rock-delivery visit was similarly sweet and painful, yielding stories about Richard. By the time the shopping bag was empty, I was wrung out.
As I headed down the stairs, I realized that part of the grief I felt was that not only had I lost my love, now I was losing a community of people who I had come to care for in the time they cared for him.
Just before I left the building, I spotted one of the nurse-practitioners from neurosurgery.
She expressed her sympathy, and then as we parted, she said, "If you need anything, call. We're here to serve you, too."
Tears filled my eyes.
"Thank you, Fran," I said.
Then I walked on out to the car to cry in private.
We're celebrating Richard's life on December 23rd (the day after Winter Solstice, his favorite holiday) from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Salida's SteamPlant Event Center, next to the Sculpture Park that features his "Matriculation."
We'll take time to gather and socialize, to listen to recollections of his life, to reflect in silence and speak if so moved. We'll end the celebration by placing luminarias–small candles set on sand in paper lunch bags, with a few words for Richard written on each bag–in the sculpture park, to illuminate the night and signal the turning of the year, when the days grow slowly longer.
If you're in the area, please join us. If you can't be here, you can join in spirit by putting out a few luminarias of your own. Help us spread Richard's light and love!