on grieving

here in palestine death comes in many forms. of course, here as everywhere people die of natural causes. and every day people die as a result of the violence that comes from israeli state terrorism. it is impossible not to think about death every day here. because you are surrounded by it. i think it is difficult for most americans to fathom what this might be like.

my dear friend kathi, who was like my older sister, was one american who wanted to come and experience this. to see this place that i fell in love with. although she was not religious she had a special desire to come see bethlehem, especially at christmas. last year i bought her some olive wood christmas ornaments from bethlehem and she asked me for some more when i saw her in october. my plan was to go buy some palestinian christmas gifts for her in bethlehem tomorrow. ironically, i cannot as she died wednesday. i just found out about it last night.

my grandma narrating "the three little pigs"

kathi was a dear person on so many levels. a vibrant woman. a woman who was constantly learning, questioning. a woman who had big dreams, many of which were left unfulfilled. one of her dreams, which she did see to fruition, was the creation of a children’s theater company, the bubblegum playhouse. every saturday children flock to this theater to see performances of familiar fairy tales rendered with a contemporary twist. for instance, the last play of hers i saw was her take on “the three little pigs,” in which there was a subtext (for the adults in the audience) about the housing crisis in the u.s. in our last conversation kathi was especially excited because she had teamed up with spanish-speaking actors and writers to create spanish-language versions of her plays so that she could reach the spanish-speaking communities in los angeles.

kathi & mackenzie, christmas 2005
kathi & mackenzie, christmas 2005

kathi was young–just ten years older than me. and her death came prematurely. like many struggling in hollywood she was poor. she did not have health insurance. and as a result she did not go to the doctor very often. last summer when i was home she broke her arm, but she didn’t want to go to the doctor because she was afraid of how much it would cost–even when my grandma offered to pay for it. eventually, my grandma and i convinced her to go and i drove her to the doctor. but because she waited so long to go, her arm never properly healed. she would have had to have the bone re-broken, and re-casted in order for it to heal. likewise, she suffered from diabetes, which she suspected, but it was never properly diagnosed. as a result, she tried to self-medicate by dieting with sugar-free food, but the food she chose (Nutrisystem) was loaded with salt and it gave her hypertension. this ultimately led to her death the other night from a massive coronary and a burst aneurysm.

kathi was not related to me, but she was every bit a part of my family. this little quirky, beautiful, non-nuclear family that my grandma has created for us. kathi lived with my grandma and took care of her. great care of her. so much so i wonder how my grandma will survive without her. not physically so much as emotionally. kathi put everyone’s well-being before her own. it’s ironic now that i was always so consumed with my eighty-four-year old grandma’s health when i should have been equally concerned about kathi’s. but kathi was so full of life, of laughter. i’d often hear her warm laughter from my grandma’s living room. i cannot imagine going home again without her presence filling out my grandma’s home. it is such a tremendous loss in my life, in my grandma’s life, and in everyone’s life for those who knew her and loved her.

this is the most difficult thing about living so far away and about living under occupation. i can’t just run home for her memorial. the risk of not being allowed back into palestine. the length of the trip. so how does one say goodbye without such closure? this is what one needs to do when one is separated by distance, by occupation.

and so i’m forced to consider grieving, mourning, and what kathi’s life means to me by myself instead with all the other people who also loved her dearly. i suppose it is like this for palestinians whose loved ones die here, but who are not allowed by the zionist state to return home to attend an azza.

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