obits

Goodbye, Ann Reinking…

Once again, I have a bunch of topics I could write about today. And, in fact, I have just written an obit post on my travel blog about a Greek guy whose restaurant we used to patronize a lot when we lived near Stuttgart. I could write about politics again, or the COVID-19 pandemic… or even my impressions of The Crown, which is a very addictive show on Netflix. But instead, I think I’d like to offer my thoughts on the sudden passing of Broadway great, Ann Reinking.

If you were around in the 1970s and 80s, and paid any attention to Broadway and Hollywood, you might remember the wonderful dancer, singer, and actress Ann Reinking was. I was first introduced to her in 1982, when I went to the movies with my sister. We’d traveled to Williamsburg, Virgnia on a sunny weekend to see the movie, Annie, starring Aileen Quinn. Aileen Queen is about my age, and although I don’t remember having any particular desire to see Annie, I really enjoyed the movie and its story, which I had not known prior to seeing the film. I do remember seeing an Annie Playbill from a Broadway in our house, though. Maybe my parents or another sister saw it on Broadway.

Anyway, I was less enchanted by Aileen Quinn than I was the beautiful Ann Reinking, who was in her early 30s at the time. She was so graceful and pretty. I remember thinking she looked like she was floating when she danced.

“You’re a guest, Annie…”

Ann’s dancing is so pretty!

Shit… now I want to watch Ann’s films. One I liked even more than Annie was All That Jazz. All That Jazz is a 1979 film based on the life of Bob Fosse, who was a famous choreographer. Ann Reinking was in the film, but she was also Fosse’s muse in real life and, for awhile, was his companion after he and Gwen Verdon divorced. I used to love to go to the library at Longwood College (now University) and watch All That Jazz on laser disc. It was a great way to escape for a couple of hours. And Ann Reinking was so young and magnetic in her role as Kate Jagger, companion to Joe Gideon, the character who was modeled after Fosse.

You better change your ways…
Look how long her legs were.

One of my friends only knew of Ann Reinking because of this unfortunate performance of “Against All Odds”, a song made famous by Phil Collins in the mid 1980s.

She was not a bad singer, but this is not a great rendition of “Against All Odds”. However, she dances divinely.

And again in 1988 with Tommy Tune, as they remembered George Burns.

They make it look so easy!
And All That Jazz!

I remember she even had a turn on The Cosby Show back in the 1980s. I couldn’t find a clip of that episode, though. It was called “Bald and Beautiful”.

I read that Ann died in her sleep on Saturday, December 12th, while at a Seattle area hotel. She was visiting her older brother, as their family was originally from Seattle. She was 71 years old, and at this point, it is not known was caused her death.

I am not a dancer myself, but my sister was one for years. I learned to appreciate watching dance, even if my particular skills are in making music rather than interpreting it. I always had huge respect for Ann Reinking, for she was a triple threat, and I found her mesmerizing to watch.

2020 has really been a rough year. We’ve said goodbye to a lot of wonderful people, especially in the entertainment world. Ann Reinking wasn’t someone I thought of every day, but every time I saw her dance, it made me stop in my tracks and pay attention. She was in a class by herself. My heart goes out to the people who knew her well, loved her, and are left behind to miss her… certainly her family, but also her many friends and admirers. As long as we can watch her films, she’ll never be forgotten.

The featured photo is a screen grab of Ann Reinking’s performance with Tommy Tune. So are the two photos above.

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mental health, nostalgia, obits

When the mourning is done already…

2020 has been one hell of a year for a lot of people. For me, personally, it was not my worst year, but I know that for many people, it has been the most challenging, difficult, and horrible year ever. Much of the worst of it has been punctuated by profound loss, causing large numbers of people to mourn. People have lost their jobs, their ability to travel, their homes, their social lives, and, in some cases their health or even their lives. All of this loss, which has occurred on a worldwide scale, has affected the collective mood of the planet.

Between us, Bill and I have lost three family members since October. None of the people who died lost their lives to COVID-19. Two had cancer, and one had pneumonia that turned into septicemia, complicated by osteoporosis. There was a thought that maybe Bill’s dad had also had COVID-19, but he was tested for that and it was negative.

I think being so far away from my friends and family has made mourning somewhat less challenging. Since 2014, I’ve lost my dad, four uncles, an aunt, a cousin, a cousin’s spouse, and my father-in-law. I lost my dad only weeks before we moved over here. I remember, when I went to Natural Bridge for his memorial a few months after his death, I thought to myself that I was probably seeing some of my family members for the last time. Sure enough, that is what came to pass.

Bill, on the other hand, is newer to grieving family members than I am. He lost his Aunt Betsy last year. Last month, he lost his dad. I remember him telling me in the early years of our marriage, that he dreaded losing his father. He actually teared up a bit as he talked about it. But now that it’s happened, he’s not totally depressed.

The trouble is, he says he feels a little bit of shame for not feeling “sadder” than he does. He said he’d cried more over losing our dogs. I don’t know how or why this happened, but I blurted out, “I think maybe it’s because you mourned your dad many years ago, when your parents got divorced.” Bill’s eyes widened in surprise. It was a new thought to him. It was a new thought to me, too. I think it was a sudden flash of insight that came to me as I realized that he hadn’t lived with his dad since the late 60s and was never able to forge a very close relationship with him, even though he loved him very much.

If I were to die tomorrow, Bill would probably be devastated. We live together, so my presence would be acutely missed. We’re also very close friends as well as partners, and we are a major source of support to each other. But I think that sometimes losing family members with whom you don’t share a close, physical connection can be somewhat less traumatic. A lot depends on how bonded you are to them. And again, living far away from your friends and family can dilute that grief somewhat. Because the pain of missing someone tends to be sharpest at the time of the breakup.

At about this time in 1993, I lost my pony, Rusty. He had been my very best friend. I told him all my teenaged secrets and cried in his mane when I was upset (which happened a lot in the 1980s). Since he was an old horse, I didn’t want to sell him when it was time to go to college. I was afraid he’d end up in the wrong hands and not enjoy his last years. So I found a local horsewoman to take him in. She lived on a beautiful farm in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

In December 1993, she told me that she thought it might be time to euthanize Rusty. He was going blind because of a progressive, painful disease colloquially known as “moonblindness”. The last time I had visited him, he hadn’t seemed like himself. His eyes had little yellowish looking “moons” in them. I was sad when I left him. He didn’t seem happy.

I remember dreading the day when it would come time to say goodbye to Rusty forever. But when that day actually came, I was actually okay. I didn’t cry much at all. My old riding teacher, Louise, told me that she knew I’d already “come to grips” with what was inevitable. In a sense, I’d already mourned. I do miss Rusty. I think of him all the time, even though he’s been gone for 27 years. He really was my best friend. But I knew it was his time to go and it was for the best that he had. He wasn’t in pain anymore.

Maybe some people might take issue with me sharing this story about my pony and comparing that loss to losing a human loved one. But I had a closer relationship with that pony than I did with most of my family members. For several of my formative years, I saw him most days. I spent time working with him and bonded with him. We went to countless horse shows and fox hunts. He was my rock, and I trusted him implicitly. It hurt to lose him, but when it came down to it, I knew it was his time, and I didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. That’s what it’s come down to with all of my beloved pets when it’s been time to let them go, most of whom I would prefer to spend time with over a lot of the humans I know.

I didn’t have an especially close relationship with either of the other two family members I lost this year. I knew them both and mostly had positive regard for them. I know there are people who were much closer to them and are probably dealing with very dark days right now. With everything else going on in 2020, it really is a strain to also lose someone you love, even if they didn’t die of the “plague” that is COVID-19.

But if, by chance, the strain isn’t too rough, I don’t think it’s helpful to feel badly about that. Don’t feel ashamed for not feeling bad. Even if it seems like you should be grieving or mourning more than you are, your ultimate goal would be to get over the pain, right? So if you’re not feeling the pain, there’s no need to force it. Forcing it wouldn’t be a legitimate form of mourning anyway. Chances are, if the grief ever did hit with a vengeance, you’d still need to do the work that comes from getting over a loss.

There may come a day when the gravity of loss will hit one of us very hard. But, for now, maybe it hasn’t sunk in… or maybe we’ve already done our grieving, years ago, when the loss wasn’t permanent, but still felt acute. I know I went through a rough time when I realized that some of my family members, whom I had looked up to and loved very much, were not as wonderful as I’d assumed they were. I went through a kind of grieving when I saw them with adult eyes instead of a child’s eyes. And then I moved away, and the pain faded. When some of them passed away, my feelings ran the gamut. In every case, I was sorry that they had suffered. And I was grateful that the suffering was over. In every case, I was sorry that I would not see them again. And I was grateful that their problems were solved and that there’s a chance I might see them again on the other side… if there is one. Even if there isn’t another side, when it’s my turn to go, I won’t be any the wiser.

Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. We all go through it. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you your feelings are inappropriate. They’re just feelings, and there’s no right or wrong to them. They’re just how you feel, and you have the right to feel things authentically. I know there are some people who are very concerned about appearances and would judge another person for how “appropriate” their grieving process is. But it wouldn’t help anyone else for Bill or me to be falling apart with grief. My husband’s stepmother would not feel better, for instance, if Bill was beside himself with tears to the point at which he couldn’t function. She might think that would be “appropriate” and deferential, but the reality is, it wouldn’t make any real difference to anyone… least of all, the deceased. She wouldn’t feel any better to see Bill devastated by loss. Maybe they could commiserate from afar– maybe there would be a feeling of “solidarity”. But when it comes right down to it, the real process of grieving is mostly a solitary one. Your feelings are yours, and yours alone.

There’s no need to add to your own burdens by trying to feel grief or sadness that isn’t there because that’s what’s considered “appropriate”. I think we need to change our thinking about that, and stop shaming people for not acting in the ways we think are “normal”. Who decides what is “normal”, anyway?

Well… that about does it for my Sunday message. I’m going to dive back into The Crown, take a shower, and maybe brush up on my guitar skills. Enjoy your day.

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Bill, family

Life… and death… goes on.

Today is the 18th anniversary of my marriage to Bill. We usually take trips for our anniversary. This year we couldn’t go anywhere because of COVID-19. Bill went to work because there’s a big project he’s working on. I’m reminded that last year, he had a TDY that started the day after our anniversary. I went with him on that trip, because it was to Wroclaw, Poland, and Wroclaw is a neat town. That was before the pandemic radically changed everything.

A week ago, we learned of Bill’s dad’s passing. Bill was already dressed and ready to go to work when he found out about it. I told him he needed to tell his co-workers that he wasn’t coming in. That was a good decision, since he did need some time to process the news and the fact that we were not going to be able to go to Tennessee for the funeral. A few days ago, a relative sent Bill a picture of his father in his casket. He had said he’d wanted to see the photo, but I think it was a shock to see his dad laid out like that… not looking like the man he knew. Part of it might have been because he’d been very sick, and part might have been that when someone’s soul leaves their body, the body simply turns into a shell of what it once was.

The news about Bill’s dad came less than a month after my cousin lost his husband to liver cancer. And it came a week before I found out my cousin, Karen, passed away from colon cancer. I wasn’t very close to Karen, although we had some things in common. Like me, she was a musical person. Like me, she loved visiting our grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia. But she was much more religious than I am and we had very different political views. She was also significantly older and lived in a different state. I never got to know her as well as I might have, although her presence in our family was one of great prominence. She was the eldest grandchild on both sides of her family, and very much a leader among us. By contrast, I am one of the youngest grandchildren on my dad’s side and the youngest on my mom’s side (which consists of my three sisters and my cousin Sue).

2020 has really been a surreal year so far. It started off fine. We visited France three times between Christmas 2019 and February 2020. Bill’s mom came to visit, and he went to the States for business and found time to stop in Utah to finally see his daughter, her husband, and his two grandchildren. It was the first time he’d seen Catherine since 2004, when she was just eleven years old. She’s now grown into a beautiful, thoughtful, and kind young woman. As much as I complained about the Mormons over the years, I am grateful there were good people in the church who helped her escape her mother and launch a more normal life. Obviously, she had some good role models to emulate. And it was such a joy for Bill to see her and meet her family. It had been fifteen long years, and clearly, they have missed each other so much. It took awhile, but we finally learned that we weren’t in the Twilight Zone, after all. ‘Nuff said about that.

Then the pandemic struck, just as Bill was returning from that trip. Everything changed. Bill had to work from home. We tried to adopt a dog, only to have it escape its transport on the way to us and get hit by a car. We sued our former landlady, and Bill got asked to be a witness in a lawsuit. We did some traveling, but it was a different mood, with constant worry about masking and personal hygiene and not getting sick. And then we adopted Noyzi, the street dog from Kosovo, who has stolen our hearts.

It hasn’t been all bad. There have been some unexpected moments of joy as we’ve adapted to this depressing pandemic experience. I’ve loved having more time with my husband, who isn’t able to jet off to faraway places for work right now. We’ve been eating more meals at home, although I do really miss getting dressed up and going places. I’ve loved getting to know Noyzi, who amazes us every day as he adapts to life as a pet in Germany rather than one of many dogs in a group home in Kosovo.

I would have liked to have gone somewhere special to celebrate our special day today. The last 18 years have flown by, and we’re still happy together. But it’s not a bad thing to be home, safe and well, and enjoying the company of Arran and Noyzi. I didn’t expect to suddenly lose three relatives within a span of a few weeks, though. It really makes one stop and think how fleeting and fragile life can be.

Well… I think I’ll take the opportunity to make some music today. Maybe someone will like it. Maybe someone won’t. But at least it’ll keep me out of trouble. And I expect Bill will bring home some bubbly for tonight.

Edited to add… this was our wedding song and I somehow never did it for YouTube. So here it is…
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