Monday, August 06, 2007

Rachel Elizabeth Chaffin: 11/11/1977 – 7/29/2007.

Here's a picture of Rachel with her son, Jacob (I obviously picked this for Rachel, as Jacob looks as if his gruntle has been dissed):

Here's one of her partying with her friend, Ritchie:

Ironically--isn't everything ironic?--on the last day I blogged I was to later receive the incomprehensible news that my eldest, Rachel, had died the night before.

Rachel, my little blue-eyed lamb with the beautiful coppery hair. She apparently died on the evening of July 29 and was discovered by a neighbor the following morning. It was not suicide, it was an accident. A coroner’s report is pending.

Rachel was 29, a single mother embroiled in a custody battle with a man who promised to marry her but continually added conditions to the prospect until it was unattainable. Not one for whom adult responsibilities came easy, I was so very proud that she proved she could handle them.

When visiting her apartment the day before the viewing, one daughter of mine said to the other: “So who gets the piano?” “Only Papa plays,” said the second. “Will you take it, Papa?”

Whereupon someone else said, “Yeah, let’s see if it’ll fit in your van.”

I never thought about whether I wanted this ancient spinet. But it was far easier to say, “Yes” than dispute the direction of others, so I ended up driving its tonnage through the curving two-lanes of the Redwoods and on home.

She was the most beautiful of children. Her pediatrician, who had two of her own, called her “one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen.”

Indeed. Rachel grew up irresistible, irrepressible, with a smile sweeter than an apricot, her hair thrown into Shirley Temple coils by the least humidity. I loved to watch her hair change hues through the sun’s daily arc. She was the most trusting of souls. She was the sort of person who would always trade her cow for some magic beans, never questioning the other's motive.

This was Rachel’s favorite of my poems:

Under Noise

By repetition noise escapes us:
the dishwasher’s cycling, the radio’s drone,
the whine of sirens over the shuffle of traffic,
the refrigerator's hum, all
inhibit alarm by repetition.
Below observation
in the deep recess of impression
the same damaged record spins
until we no longer notice the crackle
because it is too familiar.

Listen: I give you the soft carpet
of diminished volume, no sound now,
no sound but your heart pumping
and your lungs filling
as in surf throbbing
and breathing through
the polished sand.

Listen to your own Atlantis
wreathed in kelp and coral:
Beneath the green depths
your quiet is unspoken,
given by the blank waters.
You have no tongue to disturb
the imperturbable earth’s revolution
moving with some silent purpose.

She was verbally and mathematically gifted and could understand nearly any poem after one reading, puzzled that her sisters didn't get it so quickly.

When I was trying to explain to my grandson about his mother’s death, I showed him a picture of Rachel on my knee and told him that just as he was her child, so she had been my child.

“Jacob,” I said, “I’m so sorry that you lost your mother.”

Avoiding eye contact and splitting his attention between a toy in his lap and a video, Jacob replied: “I’m sorry that your daughter died.”

Jacob is five.

Everything is new now. I drive into town and notice things I never noticed before; formerly familiar clerks are re-examined like potential aliens. Actually everything is alien.

I wander in a world so changed even the most basic of facts seems questionable. I think of myself in the third person a lot. While weeping I sometimes imagine how I look weeping and whether my grief is only a show—even though I am most often alone when I weep.

Such thoughts are remnants of my depression.

Thank God my psychiatric medications began to work three days before I heard of Rachel's death, and that so far my precarious chemical status has held. I can’t imagine what this experience would be like if complicated by self-doubts about the authenticity of my grief, in view of the depersonalization that depression and grief share. Depressed, the sufferer often thinks he's only "faking it." Thank God that due to medications I know I’m not.

As for tragedy, I've learned never to ask "Why?" The Book of Job cured me of that.

When Job argued with God about "undeserved" tragedy, God said: “Can you make this whale swim in a direction you prefer? Can you put a ring in the nose of a giant warhorse and guide him? Can you instruct a crocodile?”

Job sees God's sovereignty and gives up his complaints. “Who am I,” he says, “to claim to understand the Almighty? I repent in dust and ashes.”

What makes Job indispensable to any religion is his courage to confront God with the very principles God had ostensibly taught him. Job, and even more his notorious "comforters" were guilty of the illusion that success in this world is a sign of God’s favor. Jesus knew that one by heart: “He maketh the sun to rise on the just and the unjust.”

Whatever the horrors of this world, I cling to the irrational belief that God is God, as Job teaches, and that God is Love, as the Apostle John wrote. His justice is greatly overrated as having any influence in this world, though there’s always talk about a future reckoning. But if God is indeed Love, who cares about a future reckoning?

Who ya gonna believe? The truth or your lying eyes? Aye, there’s the rub.

I believe Rachel continues and is at peace. In my heart’s heart I feel assured of this, a certainty based neither upon the psychosis of a manic-depressive nor the wish-fulfillment of a devastated parent.

If anyone would like to attend, or send cards and flowers, Rachel’s memorial service will be held on August 18, 2 PM, at

Grace Lutheran Church.
6931 Edinger Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Phone: (714) 897-0361

If a donation is preferred, please send one on her behalf to TARA.

In grief and shock but kiloneutral,

"Dr. Papa Craig"


  1. CE,

    It is with sincere regret that I read this morning of the loss of your daughter. I know how devastating a loss this must be. I want you to know how terrible Lori and I feel and we wish to express our deepest sympathy. Please, if there is anything we can do to help, don't hesitate to call.


  2. Anonymous7:22 PM PDT

    I love you Papa, your blog was so sweet, I cried again.

    Love always,

    Your incorrigible second born

  3. I'm deeply sorry to hear of the death of your eldest daughter. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  4. Anonymous8:48 PM PDT

    Craig, there is no greater loss than the loss of a child. As I told you and Kathleen in e-mail, my heart and sympathy are with you and your family. If either of you need a shoulder, I am close by.


  5. That's just terrible news. I'm really sorry to hear this has happened. You and your family are in my thoughts.

  6. Anonymous2:42 AM PDT

    .....Sending lots of kilobunny thoughts your way.
    Take care, Craig.
    If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.


  7. CE, I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.

  8. Masale.Wallah8:55 AM PDT

    Please accept my sincerest condolences on your terrible loss. My best wishes are with you and your family.

  9. Anonymous5:37 PM PDT

    Oh Craig - this is a shock! as my neighbor linda would say, and does to all troubles no matter how presented: " I'm Sorry"

    As I sit here listening to Van morrison's mystic -- Though you may feel like a grayhound, slamming walls with fistacuffs --I know you will discover comfortors and the solace in your living children even now, in the midst of this heat-seeking darkness; awaiting the beauty of hope flowering anew.

    chin up old pal. ..(I can say that without any slanty above cuz i'm a big girl now too.
    at 47.

    my thoughts with you.

  10. Very sorry to read this, can't imagine how awful it must be for you, will be thinking and praying for you and your family.

  11. Anonymous11:11 AM PDT

    Lovely, Craig. I don't read your blog, but was advised to this time. Your words really touched my heart. Thank you. She is/was a wonderful, and magical child, no?

    Rachel's mother

  12. I'm sitting here, stunned in disbelief.

    Oh, CE.

    I'm so sorry for your loss.

    This is unimaginable.


    I know there is nothing I can do or say to console you.

    So, here, friend, dear friend, is a poem.

    Funeral Blues

    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
    Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
    Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

    He was my North, my South, my East and West,
    My working week and my Sunday rest
    My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
    I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

    The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
    For nothing now can ever come to any good.

    --WH Auden

  13. CE, I'm very sorry to learn about the loss of your daughter. I can't imagine how you must feel because I've not experienced such a loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  14. C.E.

    I'm late, as always. I never know what to say during times like this - I can only pretend to understand what this sort of loss feels like. You are in my thoughts.

  15. Thanks all. Thanks for that poem, I love the understated title. Written for Auden's lover as I recall. Reminds me of the eulogy in Four Weddings and a Funeral, strangely.

  16. Strength & courage to you.

    My condolences.

  17. mr. chafin, back in '88, our younger son was killed in a car-train collision. he too was in his twenties, and left a wife and three year old son behind. i am with you in your grief, for the loss of a child, unlike any other death we face, never goes away. it will always be just yesterday.

    and although there is nothing anyone can tell you that you do not know, what you know is exactly what you will want to hear. grief is not something to avoid. it is the nourishment that keeps us going.

    to you and your family, my deepest sympathy.

    you will find yourself searching for some message from your daughter, some connection from beyond, no matter what your views on religion or the afterlife.
    with me it was pennies, 1988 pennies. didn't find them often, but each discovery was a joyous one.

    still looking for them, even now, after all these years.

    our gestures are so pitiful, so small, but they are all we have.


    at my son's funeral, his child took the preacher's hand and led him to the casket. my daddy's gone to heaven in a boat, he said.

    to you and your family, my deepest sympathy.

    james lineberger

  18. James, so sorry for your loss. Thanks, Didi. And good to be visited by poets with whom my paths have crossed. Here's a link to James Lineberger's winning IBPC poem in Melc:

  19. oh my, CE. That's sad news. I'm very sorry to hear. My sympathies - sarah

  20. Anonymous12:28 PM PDT


    I realize that no words can truly be of comfort. To know that many people will be holding you and your family in our thoughts (even for even the smallest of time on the cosmic clock) may be of some help.

    Only those that have lost a child will understand what you are going through. Please remember that no one truly passes from our memories--that they will always remain with you and that is the best type of immortality.


  21. That's terrible to hear. Deepest condolences.

    All my best,

  22. C.E.,

    I'm so sorry for your loss.

    Ash Bowen

  23. I am so sorry, I know how deeply you love your girls-

    I pray for her son, and you.


  24. God, CE. I haven't been surfing the blogs lately, so just got the news. I am so so so sorry.

    If there is anything I can do, let me know. Write anytime.

  25. Mr. Chaffin,

    Moments like these tend to highlight the inadequacy of all words, even for poets. I can only send all condolences, and wish the best for you in what must be very trying times. Do your loved ones a favor, and lean on them when you must. Best to you.


  26. Anonymous8:53 AM PDT

    So very saddened to her of your loss. I cannot imagine the grief of losing a child. Peace be with you and your family.

    T. Birch

  27. Anonymous1:58 PM PDT

    The Lord then said to Job, "Will we have arguing with the Almighty by the critic? Let him who would correct God give answer!"

    Then Job and I answered God, "I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth."

    The fallen-ness of our fallen world sometimes seems-- no, sometimes is unbearable.

    But where would we go Lord? You have the words of eternal life.

    Your daughter was magnificently beautful. I am so sorry you lost her. For now.

    May you grieve in hope. May you heal and live in trust and love. In Jesus' name. Amen.

  28. Dear CE, What a terrible loss. I am so sorry. Many prayers to you and yours.

  29. Craig, my deepest sympathy for you and your loved ones. It is a terrible thing, indeed.

    Please know if you need anything, I am here. Cher

  30. I'm deeply sorry to hear about this, CE. My heart breaks for your loss, and that beautiful girl. I just read your blog this morning for the first time in weeks and I'm beyond sad.

  31. Dear C.E.

    If I thought a poem could make even the slightest part of your daughter's passing better I would post one- there is one by ee cummings that comes to mind

    a way of seeing what he saw--
    I am sincerely sorry for your loss. And just because it might matter - even though I don't see how it can, if I did have a poem of comfort to leave here for you it would surely have to be this one by him (though the spacing is not the same) here anyhow by eecummings it is:

    i thank You God for most this amazing:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
    which is natural which is infinite which is yes

    (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth day of life and of love and wings:and the gay great happening illimitably earth)

    how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any-lifted from the no of all nothing-human merely being doubt unimaginable You?

    (now the ears of my ears awake and
    now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

    peace be with you.
    dorothy doyle-mienko

  32. Anonymous7:21 PM PDT

    My name is Leandro and me and your daughter share the sme birthday. I found this post online and wanted to personally say how sorry I am for your loss.
    My deep love goes out to you and your family.
    It makes me see how important the life of your loved ones really is.
    God bless you

  33. I just saw this and even though it is nearly to years after this sad loss, I send you this thought, may the first time you ever saw Rachel live in your father's eye and may she always be in your dreams, especially with her burnished hair and mathematical, poetic eyes. I am Ernie Wormwood from Facebook.

  34. Thanks, Ernie,

    Very poetical wishes.




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