Posted in Lanscape of Loss

Apprenticeship with death

The 50s are a precarious decade for me. Although my great-grandmother lived into her nineties, and I might too, my mother, my grandmother, my aunt and my uncle all died in their 50s, as did a dear, dear friend, just last winter, and a colleague in a freak accident, and my best buddy from Junior High with whom I lost touch and only found via her obituary, and a sister I only met once who was just a year older than me and who I’d always dreamed of knowing and who died 6 months (6 months!) before I’d even heard.

I suppose this decade is the beginning of the apprenticeship of letting go, if not our own life than that of loved ones.

Before her death at 94, my great-grandmother buried two husbands, a daughter, all of her siblings but one, and most of her friends, and plenty of her students.

“I’m ready to go,” she’d say. “Everyone’s gone without me.”

Maybe it’s the cloud cover or the coming of Valentines Day (my late father-in-law’s birthday) or the tender broken heart of someone close to me that brings me to these thoughts this morning.

And yet, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about death, and maybe it’s always been so, having grown up in a surgeon’s home, who was also the child of a surgeon, who was the son of a nurse and a physician, that, and having lost the love of my life at 14 in a tragic accident that took away much more than my Nana Lila.

Perhaps it’s a gift, this intimacy with death. Perhaps it’s what is needed in order to remember that “There is no promise of tomorrow on this earth,” a prayer which hung above my marriage bed, almost thirty years ago, and hangs there still.

Perhaps it’s a preoccupation, a fear, a burden that I’ve passed on…

My son said goodbye to me this morning mindlessly, and I called after him as headed to the car–“Who knows if we’ll see each other again,” I said, reminding him that my father fought with his mother Lila on the night that was her unexpected last.

My son paused then, and returned up the porch stairs to embrace me with a smile,”These are the things I’ll tell my therapist someday,” he said, “How I could never leave without thinking about death.”

~February 2018
Marlboro, VT

Posted in Light

Light through Winter

When I worked in a church (which is still a funny thing to say, even though it was only a year, and it was UU, and it’s no more surreal than saying I am a yoga/dance instructor), we would arrive to our offices on days like today, and it wouldn’t be enough to wear layers (that building was exceedingly cold.)

In order to face the work ahead of us, we’d each light a candle on our desks–the Minister, the Church Secretary and me–the Director of Religious Education Although we were each in our own office, there was something about this mutual lighting that lent warmth and connection on dark days.

I imagine that it was the minister who began this lighting ritual, being Swedish and all (a country whose northern climate deepens into a darkness unimaginable to most.) She had one of those IKEA lanterns on her desk, and I had one at home so I brought it in.

It’s a habit I continue to this day–lighting the darkness around me–not only at night–but at daybreak and throughout any dark day. (Though as I age I rely on battery operated candles and twinkle lights and space heaters and lots of hot tea.)

I adore sunlight in winter and rely upon it for sanity, but I’ve learned to welcome these shrouded days, cocooned in darkness, for the way they deepen my attention to what it is to lend light, and how light can bless even the hardest way…

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Pure Love

Love & politics

The Women’s March, the inauguration of a misogynist and the death of a dear friend who supported his candidacy are woven into the fabric of this weekend for me.

My husband joined the march in Montpelier last year, without me, too consumed was I in grief to leave our home.

The irony is that my friend died the night before #45 was inaugurated.

We fought about him intensely on Facebook, while in private messages we connected around her health and our sons, and in person we doted on one another with love.

On the day after the election, Laura was so present to my grief that despite her joy, she ached with compassion, messaging me encouragement about how pushback on #45 might give rise to even greater women’s empowerment.

Laura loved animals and was fierce in protection of them. She was a strong woman. Outspoken. Big-hearted. Even when we were girls.

Although we came of age in the same shore towns and danced at each other’s weddings, we both moved away, and the distance between us magnified with time and the all-consuming responsibility of parenthood, until a funeral brought us together, and she said,

“Let’s don’t wait so long,”

And we didn’t.

We were together at the shore on her last birthday and before that in the mountains on my 50th, and we had plans to be together on the weekend before the Inauguration, but Laura ended up in the hospital again where she remained until I received these three words from our mutual bestie on the morning Trump would become President:

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

Motherless Birthday

The hardest part of my birthday isn’t getting older, it’s worrying that I won’t make the most of it.

I really enjoy my birthday, and just like Christmas Day, I’m sad to see it end.

The best part is that my husband takes the day off just to play with me, offering himself to whatever I conjure. Even ice skating. Sometimes a day trip. Often Christmas shopping. Always an indulgent meal.

I remember the first birthday that I celebrated after my mother died. I turned 37 that year. I woke up and wanted to be alone.

I left before the boys were up, and missed the coffee cake that the neighbors brought to share.

I was up before dawn this morning too, and apparently left behind some of the facial mask I had applied–a dark crusty clay–circling my right nostril–which I didn’t notice until after we went out to breakfast. (Though apparently, my husband noticed it and didn’t think to say anything.)

Without thinking, I did the unthinkable. I licked my thumb and scrubbed. And then I smiled. “Hi Mom.”

My mother was the one to wipe spit across our faces when we were young, particularly on special occasions. I found it revolting, and I made sure I never did it to my kids.

It almost always snows on my birthday, no matter where I live, but not today, except, I hear, on the beach where I was born.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

My Mother’s Birthday

I find my mother in the quiet spaces…

Although her life with little ones spanned three decades, my mother managed to create tiny oases of calm at the beginning and end of each day, which somehow brings to mind the small origami swan I discovered in the corner of the absurdly tight Japanese Airlines restroom after an overnight flight from Boston to Tokyo.

It is only now, 17 years after her death, that I realize that my mother comes to me in the quiet spaces, like she did last evening when I climbed the stairs and came across the warm glow of the night light over the old clawfoot tub–with the sweep of the soft-green bamboo curtain–and the steadying presence of the enamel pitcher inside the bowl–all arranged like a still shot–completed by the worn bath mat–a gift from my engagement party–a park picnic in 1989–to which my mother arrived late and barely sober with potato salad.

The rose-colored towels that matched the mat are long gone, last used in August of 2000–to swaddle my son and soak up the blood from my body–while 300 miles away in her seaside home, his grandmother lay dying. Lung cancer.

Bonnie was reserved by nature (or by life) which may be why I took up so much space; and my mother was reluctant to express her needs or opinion, which could be why I had so much to say.

Despite her struggle with addiction or because of it, she cultivated consciousness, which was a practice we shared, passing books between us when I was in high school and continuing until her deathbed, where I read to her–Salinger’s Teddy–while her newborn grandson slept on her chest.

I always thought that I loved/demanded the absence of crumbs in my kitchen, particularly at night, because the warm glow of the stove over clean counters meant that my mother was sober… but now I see that she comes to me in this stillness, assures me of her abiding presence, like the falling snow, particularly as we approach Christmas–the day of her birth.

And wasn’t she always gentle and Christ-like in her capacity for kindness, even to those who stoned her, and wasn’t it the sound of silence that she always shared and held inside.

Happy Birthday week, Mommy.
You would have hated turning 75.
(But look, it’s the inverse of the age you died!)

Posted in Lanscape of Loss

Ice & air & light & new beginnings

In my dream, a girl is trapped under the ice.

She is face up, unable to breathe.

I think back on the time when I was a girl of 14, frozen in the apocalypse of my life.

Loved ones circled around me, without screaming, leaving me trapped.

How too do I circle around those who are frozen in horror?

Or is it that there is no escaping what traps us, until love, like breath, warms the ice, so that little by little, sometimes taking years, it melts, and we become the breath that warms the ice around others…

(january 5, 2018)


stark, sober clarity.

this is what i love/hate about the ending of the holiday season, and about winter itself, and about aging.

my menopausal bones ache with this cold, and now that the house is emptied of the evergreen and its friendly accompaniments, family included, i fear myself sharp-edged, like the hard world outside, absent of color and fecundity

but there is an invitation extended in this stark sobriety, necessitating love and consciousness, warm woolen blankets and poetry, thick stews and storytelling…

i listen to my bones, to the bones of an aching world, the bones of the earth itself, and i understand suffering

in this spaciousness, i find myself silently spinning a cocoon, breath and light-filled, enveloping me, even as i resist the vulnerability of becoming nothing but air

(january 3, 2018)


our outdoor solar lights (so tenacious in summer)
barely last through dinnertime,
but the moonlight follows,
brightening everything white,
like a spotlight
on the theater
of winter

(january 2, 2018)


I remind myself, often, with desperate relief, that I can start my day over again, in every moment.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers


This year we all 3 went to the dermatologist for a full body-scan. and I mean full. wow. i’m so glad she was a she.

“You kind of remind me of Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones,” I joked, feeling like South America, as she adventured around my body with headlamps & magnifying lenses.

The other not so funny thing was that my 2 guys–with the lighter, more susceptible skin, whose bodies I’ve long protected–got an easy pass a month earlier; while I, with the olive hue (thank you Mom), naturally drawn to the shade & to wearing a hat as I age–left with something “to watch” on both my nose & temple. though to be fair, my youth was spent in full, sun-drenched, seaside abandon. baby oil. tinfoil. hours & hours under the mid-day sun. like a job.

Before I removed the gown and redressed myself in jeans and my purple Lucky Brand top, there was something else. a small innocent freckle, on the inside of my thigh, of all places, and just because it had the audacity to be a shade too dark.

She pointed out two nearby comps, one and two shades lighter. I squinted but barely noticed a difference.

I’d like to take that off, she said, if that’s ok. Now.

I tried to be grateful.

2 needles & a tiny chunk of flesh later, I left the examining room with a bandage and an interior hobble, but even so, stopped at the front desk to courageously ask how soon to expect the results (despite the reminder that it was “probably nothing.” )

I spent the next week in a meditation on the word, Melanoma.

I know someone from the shore who died from something on his leg, and worse than that, I watched a made for television docudrama–this week, in 1973–that never left me. I was 10. She was 20. And dead. Leaving behind a baby. Because she chose not to give up her leg. I remember balling. I lived in Colorado at the time and John Denver’s music was the soundtrack, and my favorite song was the title of the film.

I tried not to take it as a sign.

I’ve worried about it ever since.

Growing up a doctor’s daughter (and granddaughter and great-granddaughter), it’s easy to be preoccupied with health threats before your time. They arrive on the phone and at your front door and at your kitchen table and intrude upon holidays and graduations and birthday parties.

I recall early attempts to remember the difference between words like “malignant” & “benign.” They both sounded bad to me.

After the “procedure,” we left town for a college visit with our younger son and then continued north to see our older son in his “home” in Burlington. This provided just the right alchemy to ponder, despairingly, how all things end, and so I took the opportunity to mention to my family, something I’ve long held inside.

Just so you know, if I ever do get cancer, I said, I’ll probably want to just die like that mom in Sunshine (on my Shoulders) rather than subject myself to all kinds of disabling treatment.

This pronouncement was not met favorably, and my youngest assured me that he’d have something to say about that if the time came, and I had to laugh at all of us, in our presumptive authority over life and death.

The call came in sometime yesterday. 2 days later than expected. No one was there to receive it. My husband and I were in bed when our youngest arrived home late from work and pushed play on the answering machine.

We could barely make out the messages from upstairs:

A personal call from his dentist.

A robo call from someone trying to scare us into calling them back about something related to our finances.

And the final message, which I couldn’t quite make out, particularly over my son’s exclamation of joy and relief.