LOSS & GRIEF
Excerpts from some poignant published tales.
In hospital beds pushed together in their Easton home, Floyd and Violet Hartwig weren’t able to communicate the day they died — at least, not in words.
Their breathing told another story.
As the couple lay side by side and held hands, family members noticed their breathing was often synchronized. At one point, it jumped simultaneously from around five to 16 breaths a minute.
Granddaughter Cynthia Letson smiled as she remembered. “It was like they were all revived or something.”
“I think that’s what kept them going … that they each had the other one,” said the Hartwigs’ daughter, Donna Scharton. “They didn’t want to go without each other.”
And they didn’t.
On Feb. 11, after 67 years of marriage, they died within hours of each other at home.
Floyd, 90, died first, still holding his wife’s hand. Violet, 89, died five hours later.
Jeff Holbrook’s phone started playing music when he and others were trying to revive Torchia on the trail. It took him a while to realize the sound was coming from his pocket because he said his phone rarely plays music, even when he tries.
He pulled it out and hit pause. The song was “Neon Pegasus” by Parry Gripp, about a mythical, divine, winged horse soaring over troubles. It made him think of his nephew and a herd of horses that ran by them on the trail earlier in their trip.
Some of the lyrics: “Unbreak your heart, Neon Pegasus, and go climbing through the stars, out there with your dreams, your sparkly dreams. ... Never again to be lonely, never again to be without a home. ... Soaring over it all, high up in the clouds.”
Jeff Holbrook accidentally dropped his phone in water later at Muir Trail Ranch. When it turned on the next day, the song was still paused on Neon Pegasus.
He played it later and sobbed. He said it was a beautiful release of “just joy.” He felt like his nephew was telling him, “I’m in a beautiful place and I’ve got wings and I’m flying, and I’m happy as can be.”
Clanton has collected cards honoring so many people – and pets. In just one of many stacks, there are remembrances for dogs Flipper (“He was always happy and loved us”), Princess (“I wish she could have a Merry Christmas in doggy heaven”), and Nala the cat (“I miss my cat Nala and I wish her a Merry Christmas.”)
Another, for fallen soldiers: “This Christmas, I remember all the boys from Buchanan High and all their families who miss them every year. May I strive to be brave enough to lay down my life for another if ever faced with the choice.”
For a little girl, who would have been 2 years old this year: “Miss you baby! Love, Mommy. P.S. See you in Heaven!”
Some happy: “Hi Jesus, How are you doing? I’m happy it is your birthday. Also I love you.”
Others, sad: “I miss my Mom and Dad. They are alive but won’t see me because of religion. I still love them and miss them.”
A universal message, signed with the drawing of a heart: “For anyone who isn’t able to be here today, or has been through any difficulty.”
And one from a girl, who is missing everyone:
“1. I miss Grandpa.
2. I miss Mommy.
3. I miss Papa.
4. I miss Mimi.
5. I miss friends.
6. I miss family.
7. I miss everyone.”
She signed her note with gratitude: “Thank you!”
Darin Roam spends most of his waking hours in a Selma cemetery, removing dirt from headstones with a paintbrush and meticulously clipping grass with kitchen scissors.
It’s a labor of love and grief that started after the death of his wife in 2014 and has expanded to about 30 gravestones. He does it to help people he’s met in the cemetery and church.
Among the stones is one for his father, the Rev. Charles Roam, who died of a heart attack two years ago at the church he led, Grace Free Will Baptist in Selma.
Potted roses, a wooden cross, solar lights and snowman figurines grace the headstones at Floral Memorial Park on a recent winter day. Roam places photos on them while he works so people can see their smiling faces.
“I’m comfortable out here and stuff,” the 48-year-old says of volunteering in the cemetery. “I can be closer out here with them.”
Roam is mentally disabled. His mother, Kathy Roam, isn’t sure her son fully understands what’s happened to his father and wife.
As the sun hung low on the horizon, Neal and Nancy Dawson held each other close in their emptying living room, preparing themselves for the last evening they’d have together in their longtime home near Yosemite National Park.
“It’ll be OK,” Nancy assured her heartbroken husband.
“I hope so,” he responded with a brave smile.
Most of their belongings were packed, but a small wooden bowl – a wedding present – still lay beside them holding treasures, including two sand dollars, lavender, a dried palm twisted into the shape of a flower – a present from Nancy’s son – and a stone heart with the words, “Loving you is what I’ll do forever.”
Neal walked outside to try and conceal a flood of emotion as his wife started to talk about their “wedding bowl.”
The home that has sheltered these precious belongings tied to precious memories is being taken from them. At 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Yosemite leaders terminated the lease for the pad beneath the mobile home they own in the El Portal Trailer Park.
The homeowners learned the week before Christmas that they’d have to remove or surrender their mobile homes in 90 days. Yosemite officials are concerned about the safety of power lines there and have other plans for the site.
No financial compensation or moving help is being provided to the residents.
A moment of silence for Toni Covington grew increasingly heavy as a group of her longtime neighbors huddled together at a now-closed mobile home park where they had lived days prior near Yosemite National Park.
Covington was found dead Thursday afternoon in a rented employee dorm in Yosemite Valley, just a few days after she moved in there. She was forced to leave the home she owned in the El Portal Trailer Park last week without compensation.
Covington lived in the mobile home park for over 30 years throughout a 41-year Yosemite career.
“That moment of silence got kind of tough for me. ... I’ve been to funerals and things over my life, but that was a really sad, sad one,” said Rob Schiefelbein, who had been Covington’s neighbor for decades and watched her three children grow up.
The grief was mixed with exhaustion and hurt over what has happened to all of them over the past three months. The residents learned shortly before Christmas via letters from Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon that they’d have to remove or surrender the mobile homes they own in 90 days.
"I cry every time I take those pictures – every time," she said. "But that one (outside the coffee shop) I was probably hysterically crying because everything came to a head."
She posted her photos on Facebook a few hours later, after Michael asked if she wanted to share the photos so more people can see what addiction and life on the streets looks like.
Garcia said her photos are not meant to glorify or exploit her son, who also suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
"As hard as it was for me to post, it is the truth," she said. "It is the hard reality."
Veteran Lance Cpl. Enrique Salas' flag-draped casket was loaded into a hearse with a Marine Corps seal and two miniature American flags protruding from either window.
Salas finally made it home to the central San Joaquin Valley the only way he could.
The Persian Gulf War veteran, who was deported to Mexico in 2006, was buried with military honors in a Reedley cemetery on Friday beside his younger brother, another fallen Marine.
Cyclists joked with Bill Griffith about how he lost a rider when they noticed he was alone on a tandem bike meant for two during a charity ride to fight multiple sclerosis.
Griffith informed them that, yes, he had: His wife and cycling partner, Alicia Haro, who died. He was riding 100 miles throughout Los Angeles in honor of her courage, beauty and strength as she battled MS. That empty seat was hers.
Her students responded with a lot of compassion. Beyond bouquets of flowers, they made a GoFundMe donation account online titled “Mrs. Vargas’ Year of a Lifetime.”
“We are all devastated that our teacher has to go,” her students wrote, “but we really want to help our teacher have the best year ever with her daughter and husband. We are hoping to raise enough money so that they can go to Disneyland, Gilroy Gardens, Universal Studios, Hawaii, Washington DC, Ruth’s Chris, Chucky Cheese, John’s Incredible Pizza, Disney World, and anywhere else they want to go!
“They have a lot of medical expenses, and we are hoping to raise ‘fun’ money. … We all love her so much and want her daughter to have amazing memories with her mommy.”
His mom added that he was an “old soul” and a bright light. The Robinsons do what they can to keep his energy and light glowing in their hearts.
Little things become big things in that journey. Things as simple as shooting a hoop or snuggling up to a pillow go a long way.
Jeremy’s mom still sleeps with Jeremy’s pillow and Greg Robinson, now 20, sleeps with Jeremy’s pillow case. He isn’t really sure why, but he thinks it has something to do with a favorite image of the brother he loves so much.
In that memory, he’s back in a bedroom with Jeremy, half-asleep on Christmas morning and nestled against his pillow, happy.