Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A TEArful Farewell

Today we held a memorial for my dear teacher, mentor, friend, Joe Ann Cousino (Jody). By we, I mean the 6 of us who took sculpture class from her for many, many years. I think it's been about 17 years for me, and one of her students has been with her for almost 30 years. A few other students came and went over the years, but the 6 of us have shared a comfortable camaraderie for the longest.

Jody had been grevely ill and in much pain for some months, and we all took any time we could spare to visit, bring her flowers, massage her, read to her, and comfort her in any way we could. Oddly enough, it was she who comforted us in our greiving her impending parting, and our impending loss. She would tell one of her many travel stories invariably filled with some tidbit that would have everyone laughing. The thing that was so wonderful about that horrible time of waiting was the love that just poured out from every quantum dot of space and being.

After she passed, just before this past Christmas, her son had decided to put off her memorial until this coming June. This would afford him time to put together a slide show of all her work, and more appropriately gather the many people who would no doubt want to share in the celebration of this great lady's life. I look forward to that celebration, but that left me and the other 5 students in an odd sort of limbo. We just had to somehow mark her passing sooner than June.

So, we decided to meet on New Year's Day under one of her most loved sculptures, the "Woman with the Birds". She stands comfortably, comfortingly on a high platform surrounded by the greenery of Toledo Botanical Gardens (aka, Crosby Gardens). She's stout and wears a big brimmed hat and it's the serenity that she emits that attracts the birds (sculpted or real) and anyone who passes by. We couldn't think of a more fitting place to hold our ceremony.

I had prepared a poem by Kahlil Gibran, which so beautifully talks of death and dancing. I thought it so appropriate as Jody loved to dance, and I can remember on many occasions during class where the music which was always playing in the background would move her to dance around the studio while we sculpted. Since it was a very cold and snowy day, I had also taken an insulated pot of my Wild Blackberry Hot Chocolattea, a comforting blend of Wild Blackberry Tea and hot chocolate. We read and cried, told stories and cried: funny stories of things that happened in the studio; stories of how she touched our lives; stories of her body of work; and we each told the story of how it was that we came to be in the sculpture class and how grateful we were to have been chosen.

We lit a candle and toasted our cups of tea to this wonderful lady under her comforting sculpture with snowflakes gently falling all around us. It was so cold we all shivered and sipped, trying to keep warm, losing feeling in our fingers and feet by the time we were ready to leave, but I would not have missed this celebration of life for all the tea in China.

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