Posted in Ancestors, My Bonnie

All Souls Eve

Today finds me preparing for a women’s retreat in my home, appreciating the cocoon of a dark morning.

This will be the first of 7 gatherings, one for each month/each chakra, carrying us through winter and depositing us deep into spring.

With 1st chakra meditational music playing in the background, I fetch a photo from my desk to add to the altar, but in my doing, I am suddenly stilled by the face of my mother, my hand drawn to my heart, her gaze so compelling.

Didn’t this heart of mine first beat inside hers? Wasn’t it the sound of her heart that I first heard?

In the tiny photo, I can almost make out a dimple in her chin, like the one at the center of mine, which I’d always assumed came from my father, everyone saying, “You look just like him. You are just like him.”

And yes, I had his smile, his walk, his confidence and authority; but it was my mother who taught me to steep in the Mystery, to listen beneath the surface, to commune with the soul.

It was her gentleness that was my greatest teacher.

To all those who came before me, those who brought me joy or pain or both. To all those lives passed before mine.

I bow.

~All Souls Eve, 2018

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Light, Losing a friend, Loss & our nation


It’s Sunday night and the house is empty again. Aidan has returned to school, and our weekend guests have headed south toward Philly.

The hush. The still. The simplicity. Tonight, the empty house is a friend.

In this spaciousness, I am brought to tears. Not once, but several times, consecutively.

“We buried my friend today,” I want to say, but that’s not true. It was only her ashes we released over the Whetstone Brook because she was drawn toward it when she visited 5 years ago.

“I love that creek near your house,” she’d say.

“It’s a brook,” I’d tell her.

That trip was her first and only one to Vermont, and she came in the winter, and she hates winter, and she was very sick then too. But it was my 50th birthday, and I had planned a women’s weekend, and she wanted to be here, much like she wanted to make it to London during my semester abroad when we were 20.

Despite her fragile state (though fragile is never a word that could be used to describe my friend), she traveled alone ahead of her husband and our friends so that she could have an extra day before the festivities.

The sky grew dark by the time her train pulled in, and a light snow began to fall.

She and I walked up the hill to the Co-op to meet my family, and we took it slow, stopping often. “It’s okay, Kel,” she said, “I’ll be okay.”

We were wild together once—dancing, laughing, gallivanting—in London, in Philly, at the Jersey shore.

Now all her wild was inside.


We got together again a couple years after my 50th for a long weekend in Cape May. We celebrated her birthday. She was doing really well that time. She loved the sea. Even in February.

No one knew it would be her last.

If you’ve followed me on Facebook ahead of the election in 2016, you may have recognized our friendship by our fierce arguments.

You may or may not have noticed the ways we “liked” each other’s family photos and celebrated each other’s milestones. You wouldn’t have known that behind the scenes, we checked in on each other’s kids and talked about her treatments and made plans to meet up when we could.

Laura talked a lot about making it back to Vermont in the summertime, admiring as she did all the photos I posted of the pond.

“My son Cameron has to get there too,” she’d say, “He thinks like you do.” (They’d argued fiercely too.)

On the day after the election, I posted an image of myself. It was reminiscent of the photo I knew as a child: the weeping chief looking over the littered land.

Laura messaged me immediately: “Maybe women will really rise up now,” she said, encouraging me, with deep compassion, even while celebrating her candidate’s shocking victory.

I missed the Women’s March. Laura was hospitalized that week, and died on the eve of the inauguration.

It’s funny that she’s come to Vermont again just ahead of the mid-terms. Her son Cameron and I talked politics all weekend, doing our part to bend the arc of history toward justice.

As we took a pinch of her ashes and let them go over the rushing waters of the Whetstone Brook, it began to snow.



Posted in Return

“Our Lady of Wawa”

Aidan’s autumn week home has come to a close, finishing with a trip south for a family wedding in Pennsylvania, completed by the necessary Mecca to Wawa–just for gas; and while we’re there–How about a soft pretzel or two.

We skip the hoagies this trip, but what about Tasty Cakes–the Communion of Return–the Body of my Childhood (the peanut butter chocolate ones) and of my late mother (Butterscotch Krimpets.)

We arrive home the lesser for it, even while our hearts are full, and the powdery sky above the Green Mountains speaks of the cleansing promise of winter, as once again we say goodbye to our son.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Light, Markers

love’s surplus

If able and inclined, raising kids helps open us to unconditional love which may have been buried in our own childhood.

Once the kids are gone, we may find ourselves with a surplus which we might invest in each other, and more poignantly, I find, in loving oneself, unconditionally, for perhaps the first time.


Posted in Apprenticeship with my own passing, Lanscape of Loss, Loss & our nation, Voices

Faces go to God

Like the flowers & the season & the light & even many loves, everything, including me, passes.

And doesn’t that make it hard to breathe?

On Wednesdays, I used to say to my children (and myself): “Don’t say, no, go with the flow,” which is perhaps why, in the absence of their presence, I wake on a quiet Wednesday morning to a spontaneous meditation of letting go.

Loved ones. Precious times. Personal highs (and lows.) Resentment. Bitterness. Dreams. Teeth. Muscle tone. Heartache.

There was a time when if I didn’t hold on tight, it would all be gone. Much like I ask the leaves to do when a strong wind comes too soon.

“Hold on!” I say, “Hold on!” not wanting a single leaf to leave before it’s reached its peak; before I’ve had every opportunity to savor its color as if such a thing is due.

How did I come upon such entitlement? Is it American? White? Middle class? Does such a subscription simply accompany each incarnation?

What if instead, I offered to the leaves and my heartbreak: “Let go! Let go! Let go!”

My stomach clenches at the thought like it did that September morning at the shore when they came to take my mother and carried her out in a bag right past her tomato plants, still ripening on the vine.

Didn’t she love her tomatoes. With salt. Don’t I still. 4 remain on my counter, the last of summer’s gifts.

And didn’t I feel, after she took her last breath, after we opened the bay window above her dead head–the whoosh of love. The freeing of energy. The opening of the door to heaven, whatever heaven may be.

To everything, there is a season, and sometimes the season is too short.

It’s this lack of certainty that unnerves me. Do I have 2 years left like her? Or will I be taken this year, suddenly, like my grandmother was at the age I am now? Or will I live on like her mother, long enough to dance at my great-granddaughter’s wedding? (Wasn’t my Nana something!)

My very first friend Glenn had Leukemia and maybe that explains my lifelong meditation on death or maybe it was my father’s and grandfathers’ occupation: physician, or one of my earliest jobs: in the morgue. Or maybe this is the pre-occupation of aging, “The apprenticeship,” as Whyte says, “With our own departure,” or maybe this is just the way my mind has always worked, like that of my firstborn’s, who was there when his grandmother died, asking me later or was it before:

“Where do faces go when they die?”

To which he responded himself:

“Faces don’t go to coffins. Faces go to God.”

Or it could be the leaves barely yellow blowing from the trees, the house once filled now empty of children, my mother gone 18 years, too many days in a row of dark and dreary, and the light, this morning, returning, with a rosy hue, a perfect color–for relinquishing everything.

“Let go, let go, let go.”

I’ll give it a try.



By Monza Naff

Urge me to drop every leaf I don’t need
Every task or habit I repeat past its season
Every sorrow I rehearse
Each unfulfilled hope I recall
Every person or possession
to which I cling-
Until my branches are bare,
until I hold fast
to Nothing

Blow me about
in your wild iron sky,
all that’s puffed up,
all that in me needs
to go to seed,
send my shadows to sleep.

Tutor me
through straining night winds
In the passion of moan and pant
The gift of letting go
At the moment of most abundance
In the way of
falling apples, figs, maple leaves, pecans.

Open my eyes
to your languid light,
let me stare in your face
until I see no difference
between soar and fall

until I recognize
in single breaths,
faint whispers of cool air
through lungs.

Show me the way of dying
in glorious boldness
Yellow,gold, orange, rust, red, burgundy.

Posted in Light, Loss & our nation, My Bonnie

For the grandmothers

Peaches & blueberries & lima beans: Nana Burrows.

Corn on the cob & shell peas: Nana Lila.

Tomatoes: My mother, my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, myself.

I find us in the garden. At harvest time.

And how is it that this matrilineality surprises me there?
Have I forgotten Eve? Gaia?

I resent the garden like I do all realms relegated to my mother because of course, they meant she had no energy, no time, no spirit left for anything else (if in fact she was admitted anywhere else.)

Even so, I marvel at the capacity of two days of vague autumn sun to ripen so much on the vine.

One must be hopeful to plant a garden and persistent and resilient. Gardening is foolhardy and often stunningly rewarding–body, mind & soul, but especially soul. To be intimate with the soil and the sun, the worms and the birds, the elements and disease is… Everything.

It is a holy act, gardening, in the dirt, on one’s knees.

A man in the garden is a beautiful thing. A child too.

But it is my mother and my grandmother and my great grandmother who I meet there, in the intertwining of the vines while I gather the green beans, reminding me of our lives, our paths, our futures–joined.

I harvest for them. I plant for them. I speak for them.

I hope–for all of us.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

2:22 am

The undertow of insight is so strong that it pulls me to the shore of waking, and in the alchemy of night, I see clearly, my son’s pain, like the barren planet upon which the Little Prince once landed.

18 years ago this very night, I woke too, with another kind of undertow. My mother’s leaving.

That night, instead of both my boys back home in their own beds for their father’s 53rd, it was each of my siblings sleeping under one roof, like we rarely had, with 22 years between the oldest, myself, and the last of my mother’s children, my youngest sister April.

As retrospect goes, despite being the oldest, I was young too. 36. A newborn at my breast. My mother just a few years older than I am now. My baby sister, 14. My brother 16. And a whole host of sisters in between, in various stages of “grown,” out living on their own.

It was a magical night of co-sleeping, literally beside one another, whole families on wall-to-wall air mattresses lined up in the diningroom (where had the table gone?)~the mattress closest to the kitchen held me, Casey, baby Aidan & Lloyd (missing his first week of kindergarten.)

Just two weeks ago, before returning home to an empty nest (a perch, I now realize, my mother never reached), I bought myself 3 different small packages of tiny tea cookies, one with Lavender, another with Earl Grey, and the last with a chewy raspberry center, which sits beside my rose tea as I type and the clock strikes 3.

We sat vigil with our mother this night, 18 years ago, beside her hospital bed which sat in her livingroom near the bay window where her exercise equipment stood only 3 months earlier.

We took turns beside her. One or two at a time. Until that time, when the turn-taker woke us to say:

It’s time.

But before that dawning, my mother’s namesake went to put on the coffee, and did I open a tootsie pop, the one with the raspberry wrapper, or were we eating pop tarts, the raspberry kind?

I’ve learned that if I set aside some time for grieving, for missing, for communing with this holiest of nights, my mother’s leaving, then there will be more space for celebrating the man born on this day with the boys we brought into this world together, though this was much less true on his 35th birthday after my mother was zipped inside a bag by her high school classmate, the undertaker, and taken out like the trash–a body that conceived, carried and delivered 9 of us.

She is my muse.

Until her death, I had only written for myself, in my journals, but after she was gone, the words poured out in an act of love and consciousness we had long cultivated together, at her diningroom table, though she preferred coffee.

The thing is, neither tootsie pops or poptarts have seeds, like this tiny cookie shaped into a flower that sticks to my teeth even as I sip and swallow.

Today is also the Feast Day of Mary. The Mother of God. A perfect day for my mother’s heavenly reunion as she arrived, like her Aunt Doll did, on Christmas Day.

We are a Marian household. I write across the pond from land belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (of Mary), my own day of birth, and welcomed to the world our first child on Mary’s Assumption.

No doubt it is Mary who thought of the raspberry and the comfort of the Little Prince on the barren planet, knowing what it is to worry about the silent suffering of a grown child.

He was the one to see her blue effervescent light on this land before it was ours.

“You live in paradise,” he says now when he visits.

“Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus.”

If only that quote belonged to Le Petite Prince then this piece would neatly end and I back to bed beside the birthday boy, but alas, “The true paradises are the ones we lose,” belongs to Proust.