I don't know most of you, but Paula often spoke fondly of the people who came here. She was flattered that you would care about what she did.
On Friday, and then Saturday at her funeral service, in what was an incomprehensibly difficult moment, I wrote and then delivered her eulogy.
I knew Paula better than anyone ever has, and most of you just know her from this House of Toast. But I want you to know that she was the person that you would hope that she would be after reading her words. Kind, generous, compassionate,modest... This blog really is who she was. She was every bit as wonderful as these pages makes her seem.
Some of the happiest moments of my life were when:
I would be in my studio in the basement, composing music, while Paula was on the second floor in hers, working on this blog.
Or when I was riding my bike through the New England countryside, while Paula as out in any of the countless spots she went to photograph her beloved "weeds".
And at those times, we both had a great feeling of togetherness, even if we were physically apart, and it always gave us both great comfort.
Anyway...I wrote and then read her eulogy....it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
I got to spend nearly half of my 64 years with her. What a joy and a priveledge and an honor it was.
I choose the following images randomly, from the THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS that she's left....some of them may well have been here before...
I’m here on this most sad of days, to tell you about my most marvelous wife, Paula Tatarunis, and our life together. We shared 30 wonderful years.
Paula was one tough woman. She survived a lot of things that might have stopped her, up until the last events that were finally just too much.
And as heart broken as I am, I know that I was blessed to have such great life with her, and for so long, even though I had hoped for many more years. We were planning on 30 more. At least.
Paula was my soul mate, my sweetheart, my light, the center of my world, my love, the love of my life. She was my wife, my companion, my partner, my friend, my collaborator, my colleague, my muse. My inspiration. And there is a lot of weight to EVERY one of those words. And it’s still amazing to me that I was all of those things for her.
She was a loving mother to her son, Michael, a devoted daughter and sibling.
I have often heard it said that marriage is hard work, with big compromises. Not ours: it was easy. We loved and nurtured each other, we took care of each other, and we together we faced all of the things that life put in our path and laughed and cried together.
I met Paula on March 22nd, 1985. I probably wouldn’t remember the date except for the fact that it was my birthday. I cannot imagine anyone ever getting a greater birthday present.
We got married, on May 3rd, 1987, in our living room. We wanted a small, simple wedding, and so it was. Afterwards, we all went to a Chinese restaurant.
Paula was a most amazing person. I never for a moment took for granted our shared love, or the marvelous way that our relationship worked, but I didn’t pay as much attention to how the rest of the world saw her. She was a woman of great accomplishments, talents and skills, and profoundly creative. With a unique view of the world. A physician, a poet, a photographer, a writer. She sang and played multiple instruments, and painted and drew.
One of the first things Paula ever told me about herself was, paraphrasing a line by John Cheever: “I’m a jailhouse doc, with holes in my socks”. And it couldn’t have been more true: she worked in a prison hospital and her socks probably DID have holes in them, because you never met a woman who despised shopping more than she did. Her wardrobe still contains “hand me downs” (or ups) from her son, Michael, which he wore when he was in jr. high school. He’s now 34.
My wife was: smart, funny, witty, brilliant. Modest. Self-effacing. She loved nature. She loved words. She was gentle, kind and always compassionate. Everything that she did, she did full out, with passion and intensity. If she was going to do something she totally immersed herself in it. This would include writing poetry, joining this church, being married to me, or being a vegan. She did not do things half way.
She was insatiably curious. About the world and the people in it, and how and why things worked, and why they were the way that they were. I’ve had a love of books all my life, too, but our house is utterly buried in books, because Paula NEVER stopped reading. She read, sometimes just to entertain herself, she read to delight in the craft of writing, and most of all, she read to learn. Because she wanted to know everything that she possibly could, about literature, history, medicine, the religions of the world, nature…
Her love of animals led her to become a vegan for probably the last fifteen years. And, of course, she did that all out. She gave away her leather purse and belts. The lovely wool overcoat I’d given her (Paula was incredibly generous with everyone except herself, so she was very easy to buy presents for). She wouldn’t use soap or shampoo or toothpaste that was made (as most of them are) with animal projects. She wouldn’t eat honey. She would eat nothing that was animals, or that came from animals. She was devoted to our four kitties. People wondered how we managed to have dinner together since I am NOT a vegan. Was NEVER a problem.
Paula had a very strong set of values, and beliefs about how one should go about life. And unlike many of us, she lived up to them: she was honest and had great integrity.
She worked at the prison hospital at MCI Norfolk (Massachusetts Correctional Institute) for 10 years of more. By the time she left, she was medical director.
Her patients were bank robbers, drug dealers, rapists and murderers. And she’d come home at night, and complain about them, as well as the correctional officers and the prison administration. It would have been a tough job for anyone.
But despite it all: she treated her patients with kindness, compassion and respect for their humanity, no matter what awful things they may have done. And she stood up for them, too, and advocated for them as need be. She did not want them to be denied proper care, as so often was the case in a terribly flawed system.
At the prison, when and if a convict was causing trouble in his cell (lighting their mattress on fire, or throwing excrement at the guards, for instance) they would call out the extraction team, to remove said prisoner and put them in solitary confinement. One of their tricks would be to use tear gas to subdue the prisoner.
The prison administration asked Paula to sign waivers for ALL prisoners, unless for some reason they were medically unable to withstand being gassed. And she refused.
Paula was 5’4”, and weighed 100 pounds. She (except with me!) was terribly shy.
But she stood up to the prison guards.
She stood up to the administration.
And although she treated some of the worst people you can imagine with, as I said, kindness and respect, she stood up to them, too. Everyday, there were prisoners seeking to scam her for drugs, or to get out of work details, and she wouldn’t allow to play their games with her.
She did not think of herself as being brave. But she surely was. Because she had the courage to live as she believed.
The final stage of her life lasted seven months. And I was astounded by the outpouring of love and care from the people that she worked with at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Prompt Care and Hallmark health. They helped Michael and myself in every way that they could. She was the most beloved misanthrope there ever could have been...and yes, except with me, she wasn’t always very sociable. She wanted to be, other than with me, a hermit.
Amongst her heroes was Thomas Merton. She loved the thought of monks, living lives of meditation and silence…and if it wasn’t that she wanted to be with me, I think she may have ended up living in a shack in the woods, leading a quiet life of contemplation.
Our marriage was a most perfect thing.
It started out great, and for this whole time, it just got better and better. We never fought, or argued, or hid resentments or got bored with each other. We never drove each other crazy: she even forgave me leaving my socks strewn about the kitchen floor. Sometimes we’d discuss this: “Why don’t we ever fight”, we’d wonder. “Are we repressing secret resentments or otherwise in denial?” And the answer always was: no. We weren’t.
We loved each other dearly. And of equal importance: we really and truly liked each other. A lot. And always enjoyed our time together. I (who have had LOTS of resentments and anger and so on to OTHER people in my life) don’t see how it’s possible for two people to get along as well as we did, but we did. We were indeed, the cutest couple I know. We were miraculous together.
We wrote our own vows for our wedding…. I wished that we had managed to save them…but I know one thing we promised was that we would go on adventures together. And so we did, great adventures. I never realized that there would be a last one, and that it would be so terribly sad.
I have the fondest of memories of exciting things that we did, like visiting the Grand Canyon, getting a new kitten, going to Lincoln Center to hear Louis Andriessen, or buying a house. But my fondest memories are of the most boring, mundane parts of life, the ordinary moments. I was always so happy to see her at the end of the day, or to sit at the breakfast table with her, reading the newspaper (we liked to write notes to each other on the paper, commenting on the news, and draw devil horns, pitch forks, and forked tails on politicians we didn’t like). We liked to watch TV sometimes, and I will forever be disappointed that she didn’t get to see the last seasons of Madmen, and Nurse Jackie. And every morning I was always so happy to see her.
Like many people who spend lots of time together, we had a lot of silly little catch phrases that we would repeat endlessly.
“Do you still like me?” she would ask.
“Of course I do!” I’d answer, “do you still like me?”
“Yes”, she’d say, “I love you”.
And on most days one or the other of us would say, “Hey, we should get married!” or “do you want to get married?” If people had heard this prattle, they would have thought: “what’s up with these nitwits”.
But we liked being married to each other and we always had great enthusiasm for adding to it. I decided, this summer, that when Paula was in the hospital that we should really be serious about it. And that when she got home, we’d get married again. On our patio. And even though she could barely speak, she wanted to. It was an awfully nice thought.
I said that Paula was my collaborator, my colleague, and my muse. And that’s true…
And she was a most accomplished poet.
Once she had her medical career in order, and her prison days behind her, she took up writing poetry. Big time. She wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems. She had 150 published in literary magazines, won major awards and was simply brilliant.
I began setting her poems to music, and for the past 20 years, that has been my major musical identity. And in doing that: I reinvented myself as a musician and composer. In attempting to do her poetry justice and to match the music to the sounds of the words, and to the content, I learned as much about composing music as I ever have learned anywhere. She also wrote any number of wonderful poems at my request. Paula’s poems, my music, Rebecca Shrimpton singing them. This for me was bliss.
And then, a funny thing happened. She took up photography. FULL TILT of course. And said: “Who I am to call myself a poet?”
There are two things that I am mad at her for.
That she was ALWAYS right when she self-diagnosed any of her medical issues (her co-workers have told me that she was a brilliant clinician). And that she said questioned calling herself a poet. Paula, love of my life, you most certainly were a poet, and you had every right to say so.
And yes: she became a most accomplished photographer.
I’d like to read one of her poems now…. this was one of many that she wrote for me, or about me or that referred to me…I loved the name she gave me, “oddsong”…
I re-discovered this poem early this summer, set it to music, which is complete, but not yet performed and wondered when she’d written it.
Which was on July 6th, 2012. On July 2nd, I’d had knee replacement surgery, and was in the hospital, having a hard time.
I don't need to tell you, oddsong,
that defense from all perils comes in handy
in whatever forest of the night you find yourself,
so sing on and on, even (or so it goes)
at the grave, even if (as is likely)
there's no one to hear either you or the tree
that will fall on you and crush you, even
before the birds have eaten all the breadcrumbs, even
before you reach the Big Rock Candy Cathedral
where the curate has prepared a supersaturated solution
to all your problems, hope
after hope after hope, my beloved.
She was SO imaginative. Who would write a long narrative poem about the political corruption involved in the building of Quabbin reservoir? Or the history of the antique typewriter I gave her for a birthday present, made into a poetry noir, about the woman who bought it and made payments on it, and the man who sold it to her (based on the receipt, issued in 1935, that was in the typewriter case).
And oh, what a sense of humor. Cynical, witty, wicked, a bit snarky, and oh, so devilishly clever. We laughed together. Often. At ourselves, at everyone else, at the world.
Long after we’d been married, Paula decided to join this church. She embraced it full on: joined the choir and the alter guild. She had some real ambivalence but she sure worked at it. Reverend Sara tells me that Paula was more serious about her doubts than most people are about their faith. As anti-social as she could be, she still loved being part of this community. It was hard for her, being a Christian. She didn’t necessarily believe in Jesus. But she believed in his teachings.
Here I am, her husband, a non-practicing, agnostic jew, and I am so grateful for what this church gave to her.
I do hope that any of you who’ve not will look at her blog, “Paula’s house of toast”. She practically invented her own art form: on it is her magnificent, macro-photography of plant life, interspersed with her writing. She wrote about her spiritual longings, her existential dilemmas, her wonder at the beauty of the world, the ills of society and the joys of life. And the photography and the writing flow together as one: the pictures represent what she wrote about, the writing represents the pictures.
On her blog, I found a comment by Chaize Parré-Barando who said:
“Rest in peace, dear Paula, and may this House of Toast — your House of Toast — remain a sanctuary for weary wanderers drawn by the strange and beautiful light. I'll continue to spend time with you here often, as I have for well over a decade.”
About a year and a half ago, I asked Paula to write a poem for me called “How To Clean A Sewer”. And she did, and despite the title (which had a real purpose) it was beautiful. It ended by saying:
“With ash scour, and the scent of windfall lemons, from the grove of the last dream before you wake…”
So today I am heartbroken. But I know with absolute clarity and certainty that I have been miraculously lucky to love, and be loved by someone who I had such admiration and respect for.
And love me she did. I’m astounded that such a remarkable person could love me so.
She always put me, and Michael, the other great love of her life, ahead of herself. Always…even in the midst of the events that ended her life she thought of us first.
Paula was really fond of looking through the obituaries in the morning paper. And I think that she would be really pleased that Thursday’s Globe had hers, and with such a lovely picture of her. You made it, Paula!
As you may or may not know, Paula was not conscious, for seven weeks….then was able to communicate with me for a few weeks before six more weeks of non-consciousness…in the last three weeks of her life she began to emerge from that particular forest of the night.
And one of the last things she said to me was: “I want you to be happy”.
Paula and I were blessed to have found each other. I was blessed to be able to have shared half of my life with her. And so, on this sad day, I am grateful.
And like Romy said to Michelle (in a tacky movie that we both adored), “Paula, you are like, the funnest person I know!”
And wherever Paula is now, I know she give Michelle’s answer: “Me too!”
Goodbye my love. I will cherish you forever.