Thirteen Years Gone

//Thirteen Years Gone

Thirteen Years Gone

Dear Hugh,

Did I ever tell you how much I hate this time of year? Yeah? All the time? You’d be smiling in anticipation, bopping around the house tossing a football, wearing that Marino jersey. Miami Dolphins. Number 13. Hmmm. And you’ve been gone almost thirteen years now. How apropos. Wow.

Hate to break it to you, but your team really sucks. Their best season since you left was in 2008 when they won the AFC, then lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card playoffs. Out of ten games, they’ve only won four so far this year. Smelly, smelly fish.

Maybe football is a sport invented to insure all men love fall? These days it’s my husband B smiling in anticipation, bopping around the house tossing a football, wearing a black and gold Iowa Hawkeyes sweat shirt. If I want to upset him, I say, “Go Budgies Go!” His team has the cutest little bird face symbol that truly resembles a budgie, but B and all of his college buddies insist it’s a fierce tigerhawk, which isn’t even a real bird. Come to think of it, a dolphin isn’t that fierce of a symbol either.

November 29. You chose it, or it chose you. Who knows how that works? Maybe you do now? Probably doesn’t even matter? Birthday? Death day? Why isn’t it smushed together like birthday? Deathday? Maybe we should pick a nicer-sounding word for “death”, like “departure”, “gone” or “bye-bye”. Bye-byeday? See-ya-laterday? On-the-flipday? Ciaoday?

My hairdresser uses “ciao” all the time for “good-bye”. Adam, your son-in-law, does too. It’s appropriate (and cool), if you’re Italian, to use “ciao”. Our kids would say “peace-out” while flipping a peace sign. It’s cool, but maybe it’s over, that ship has sailed? Sayonara to peace-out? Elizabeth Gilbert, who I greatly admire – you probably missed it, but she’s the author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic – signs-off with “onward”. Encouraging. And eternal-sounding.

A while back, I started looking for my own cool way to sign off on emails. Being plain-old-English-is-my-only-language-WASP, just like you, it’s been challenging. I tried “bye nzuri” once. It’s Swahili, the language of Tanzania, where Mt. Kilimanjaro is. That mountain you wanted to climb and didn’t get a chance to? I did that for you. But, I guess, really, for me, my future. So, I thought “bye nzuri” was appropriate. Except for the “bye” part though, the meaning’s not obvious. And no one knows how to say it. So my sign-off right now is “salaam”. It’s Arabic. Means “peace”. Sounds exotic, right? And a positive message, huh? I was just on a girls’ trip to Arizona and one of them thought my name was “Rita Salaam”. Ha. Maybe it’s too confusing? Maybe I’m not cool? We’ll see if it sticks.

But how about “salaam” or “peace” instead of ice-cold-dark-black-scary-sounding “death”? Salaamday? Peaceday?

Taken so suddenly and unexpectedly, could you possibly have been ready? At peace? Surely you are now?

I’m comforted by what Jessica said in They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson: “Everybody’s born knowing how to die.” You were born, so surely you knew how to die? As I will too when my time comes around?

I don’t like fall because of what it represents. Impending death. Ah, but if we use one of our new words, fall could represent something else? Impending peace?

Sure, fall gives you guys football, but the way your teams often play? Anything but peace, right? Lol. (Texting has prompted all of these short forms. That means “laugh out loud” and if I was texting you I’d add an emoji, which is a variation on the happy face, in this case with tears of laughter streaming down its face. I’m so used to emojis now, I think in them, happy face with gritted teeth.) Admit it. Fall is a thief, snatching leaves from trees, blue skies, daylight, warmth.

It stole you Hugh. Perhaps a loss in fall is harder because of all the other losses going on?

And fall, falling, dying, can make one contemplate breath. The potential unexpectedness of one’s last breath. Try meditating – the healthiest thing you can do when the mind and the heart are in turmoil – knowing that this breath, or this one, or this one, could be the last. Following the breath is so simple and reassuring, but it took me a long while to trust in that journey knowing how things went down for you.

Here is a poem I recently wrote about my realization of breath’s eternal nature:

There is breath
It feels like mine
Yet when I follow the thread
I see it stitching back and forth
Up, down, in, out
Connecting me to generations of my people
Sometimes as shy as a sigh in calm waters
Other times as loud and proud as a roaring fire
Born of desire
A sweet perpetual gift
The first not first
Last not last
But lasting.

Love, Rita



  1. Cathy November 22, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Love him ? and love you xxx

    • Rita Hartley November 22, 2017 at 6:42 pm - Reply

      I love you too Cathy. Thx so much for your friendship and support over the years. Xo.

  2. :Paula November 22, 2017 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    A beautiful post Rita. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Deborah November 22, 2017 at 6:30 pm - Reply


  4. Sheila November 22, 2017 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    What a lovely post Rita ❤️

  5. Deb November 22, 2017 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    We Just lost a friend suddenly at our tailgate last Saturday.He was a close friend of Jeff’s big hawk football fan,’ Your post was perfect and the poem so fitting. Thanks for sharing.You have such talent with ❤️

    • Rita Hartley November 22, 2017 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      I’m so sorry! Condolences to all. How tragic. I’m glad these words could help in some way. I saw Jeff’s pic of him on fb and wondered … take care. Sending love and hugs. Xo.

  6. Carolyn November 22, 2017 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Beautiful. You are amazing Rita!

  7. Steve S November 22, 2017 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    I’m comforted by what Jessica said in They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson: “Everybody’s born knowing how to die.” You were born, so surely you knew how to die? As I will too when my time comes around? I think I will know when the time comes. I’m not ready yet for sure but if it happens I believe I have made a difference and helped to create wounderful new life to continue the journey! You know what a special spot you hold in our hearts. Steve

    • Rita Hartley November 23, 2017 at 7:18 am - Reply

      Thank you Steve for your kind words. Yes, that’s all we can hope for, that we have left some positive legacy, in whatever form makes sense to us. Life is both baffling – why are we here? – and miraculous so best to enjoy the journey, be and do our best. Salaam. Rita xo.

  8. Linda smart November 23, 2017 at 12:00 am - Reply

    Beautifully written..heartfelt..I, too,hate Fall. I lost my husband in November, also many of my family. Lovely picture of Hugh..always remember his beautiful smile,

    • Rita Hartley November 23, 2017 at 7:20 am - Reply

      I didn’t realize you lost your husband in November as well. A tough month for sure. It is a beautiful picture of. Hugh, one of the few of him on his own, taken by his brother-in-law. Xo.

  9. Christine November 23, 2017 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Rita, this is pretty awesome awareness….both my mother and daughter and son were born in the fall. My mother died a few weeks shy of her 80th birthday…in the fall. I especially loved the line “everyone’s born knowing how to die” “you were born so surely you know how to die” these two lines are in total alignment with how I feel about death. When I look at my daughter and reflect back to the time when she came so close to death …I just know she did choose life and she continues to do so now. She has a lot to teach me and she continues to do with her role as Mother to her two beautiful boys Clark and Henry

    I am not sure if you are interested, but I attend Death Cafes as well as being part of a pretty dynamic group of women who “dabble” so to speak in Death dialogue etc. If it is something you may want to hear about it would be great to connect for coffee sometime. Have a beautiful day and by the way, I liked the bit you wrote about “ciao” Every time I leave my family or some of my friends I yell “ciao arrivederci Roma ciao”

    • Rita Hartley November 23, 2017 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Thank you for reading and commenting Christine. I love the idea of Death Cafes! I think the best way to face death, our fear of it, is to shed light on it. When I read something like being born knowing how to die, I’m flooded with relief. I know I had nothing to do with my birth, so accepting I will have nothing to do with my death frees me up to just be happy with existence. My Higher Power has it all under control.

      I’m sure you have mixed feelings about the fall – kids being born, then losing your mother. Perhaps fall and winter are good for us on an annual basis. Circle of life stuff. Fall/winter really do prepare us, literally, for the fall/winter of our own personal lives.

      Your daughter sounds amazing and strong and resilient. Keep learning from her and enjoy those grand babies! It’s the best!

      You lucky Italians with the “ciao”! I’m doing my best to be/sound exotic while staying true to my roots.

      Salaam, Rita

  10. Jennifer Senez November 23, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    This is beautiful! He was one amazing man, he had the power to make you believe you were the only person in the room!

  11. Laura Iorio November 24, 2017 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    Wow Rita! Loved your post! You have connected the dots so beautifully! My Mom passed in the Fall and I never connected fall as a departure until now. Holy moly!
    I am sooo sorry that Hugh has been gone 13 years already??? !!!! Sending you a huge hug and my love! Laura Iorio

    • Rita Hartley November 24, 2017 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      Thank you for reading and commenting Laura. I’m glad to have provided some insight. It is so very hard to believe 13 years have passed. And thanks for hug & love. Salaam, Rita

  12. Julia November 25, 2017 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    You have been in our hearts. Your post made me smile and cry. Love Julia

    • Rita Hartley November 28, 2017 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      Thank you Julia. Love and all the best to you and your family. Xo

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