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, Markers, My Bonnie


“There are 37 days until Thanksgiving,” Alexa tells me. Which means there are 37 days remaining between me & the Motherhood archetype.

I turned 37 in the year I lost my mother.
I moved to Marlboro and opened a new post office box that year: #37!
There is something else too.
Just beyond recollection.
Hovering there outside my right brain.
Oh, right! I
became a writer at 37!

Alas, I’d been writing in a journal, making art out of pain, for almost two decades by then; while I’d begun publishing pieces–interviews–about others just as I became a mother myself.

But it wasn’t until the darkness of motherless-ness at 37, accompanied by the birth of my second son, that a new generativity awakened in me–which led me to begin sharing my personal journey–first in safer little bits–an essay here, an article there–until I discovered blogging and Facebook–and let loose a flood of presence to what was stirring in me–past, present, future–in the divine play of art and connection and humanity.

So YES, 37, I bow to you on this journey to Menopause.

(October 17, 2017)

Posted in Back to the Castle, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

36 Hours at the Beach

On a later August morning, I woke before dawn, and took out my laptop to squeeze out a bit of deadline, while everyone else slept in the home that now only belonged to my husband’s mother, but moments later I closed my computer, and walked out the front door, and kept on walking, east, across the island, until my feet were in the sand, and the spray of sea against my face, and the sun streaming through the clouds in regal light.

I turned south then to trail the surf and passed under the fishing pier and kept on walking until I arrived at the beach of my childhood–set between the Pan Am & the Crusader hotels–and I noticed how the lifeguard stands bore the name of roads–all flowers and birds and plants (instead of numbers or men or cities) which is something I long dismissed as fluffy, and now receive, as grace.

At Cardinal, I turned away from the surf and trudged through the deep, soft sand, and into the dunes past the place where the prickers always found our ankles or shins, and past the beach hotels, across Atlantic Avenue, and down alongside the Little League field, with the dugout and the concession stand where Mrs. DelConte sold Reeses Cups; and then across Seaview, beside what remained of the beach cottages not yet turned into condos, until I came to a rose bush, on the corner of Pacific, just across the road from what had been my grandparents house, and then ours.

Only I didn’t pretend that I lived there, not this time, I just kept on walking. Past the Way’s house, which was the older sister house to ours (and the better-looking of the two elegant brick homes, having aged with love and continuity, instead of loss and abandonment), and paused a moment to nod on the diagonal toward the church across the avenue where I went to Sunday School and married my husband and buried my mother, and nodded too to the huge white house beside it, the mother house of these 3, all built by Philip Baker, who first settled the island in the late 1800s, and whose mansion became the home of my Aunt Sue, but was now a summer rental, for wealthy strangers.

I turned west past the Johnson’s and the DelConte’s and what had once been the Parsonage, until I came to the other end of the block which had been my entire world, my solo adventure, from the age of 4, a large cement rectangle, traversed barefoot, big toe bloodied by sidewalks shifting on sand, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” pennies in my pocket.

Which must be why, after a summertime at the shore, I was bold enough to abandon the first-grade, at the mid-day, crossing the streets of Center City Philadelphia, arriving home to our crowded high rise, unannounced, “Hi Mom, I’m home for lunch.”

Nothing left but memory.

Anderson’s Corner Shop, my penny-candy Mecca, now a Realty Office; the bakery with the jelly donuts, a parking lot; and the Polish Shoe guy’s repair shop where he still charged only a dollar to fix the pumps I wore as a first-year teacher, a Driving School. Sticky Fingers, across Cardinal, a surf shop, and Snuffy’s Hoagies, across Aster, where my grandfather opened a lunch account for me the summer I was 7, now the Jellyfish Cafe. (Jellyfish?)

I continued west, across New Jersey Avenue, past Phillip Baker School which is no longer there, where my mother enrolled me in the second grade for two weeks at the end of June, in between our move from Virginia to Colorado, because I begged and squealed with delight to have a desk beside Debbie DelConte, my very best friend of every summer, and then I continued up the road toward the bay, even though I told myself that there was no need to see the house that had last been my mother’s, especially with the sun rising higher in the sky, and the day growing warm, and only 36 hours in town, some of them sleeping, and yet my feet brought me there, and I stood still for just a moment and asked myself to feel into her presence.

And there she was.
On the porch.
In her wicker chair.
And wasn’t it the memory of her tomato plants beside the stairs
that brought my tears.

And here was her steady, contemplative presence, and those deep chestnut eyes (that live on in my first born) and her dark lustrous hair that she dyed lighter and lighter and lighter until it was lighter than mine which she had always admired/envied? like my light eyes.

“Hi, Kel,” she’d said, as she always did, having named me after her people, who lived only a few blocks away, on the Wildwood side of the street (the “other” side of town), instead of Wildwood Crest, home to her well to do husband’s family.

And then it was the morning of my wedding, just after Jackie fixed my curls and put on my veil, and so I stopped by before I left the island to be sure that she was okay, and awake, and I was relieved to find her sitting on her front stoop, almost sober, still in her night dress, hair matted with neglect (why hadn’t I thought to bring her with me to Jackie’s) and careful of my veil (married twice but never in a gown herself) she kissed me on the cheek, almost somberly, and stood to wave as I got in my car, leaving, beneath her, a puddle of blood, not knowing that it was that time of the month or that she hadn’t eaten for weeks.

And so, I turned and walked away, two blocks north back toward my sleeping family, and at the end of that day, I continued north, 300 miles, into the mountains, that have for 25 years, been my home.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie


I straddle September the 8th, like a wishbone, fearing I will break in two, holding both the celebration of life–my husband’s–and loss of life–my mother’s–inside.

I chide her for it.
All these years.
17 since she left on his 35th birthday.

With the sunrise came her last breaths, and by sunset, I was sitting at a table, eating cake.

Every year since I’m forced to celebrate.

Seriously Mom, what were you thinking!

And then, it occurs to me–perhaps she was protecting me. Still. Tempering loss with love, in the same way that her passing intertwined with the coming of my second son.

And if my husband dies first, think of how tidy it will be. “You can mourn us both on one day,” she says, “Rather than ruin two.”

Christmas is the same. I curse her because it’s her birthday, and it’s so hard to be all Christmas-happy when your belly is full of grief. But then again, Christmas always invites thoughts of lost loved ones, increasingly as we age, and so once again, she was economical on our behalf.

So perhaps it is my thinking that it is most at fault–seeing loss and love as opposites instead of one.

What if I softened my pelvis to hold both.

Or am I meant to break apart
and if so,
what might I birth
in two?

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

17 Years~From the Other Side

For 17 years, I’ve loved my mother.
From the other side.
She had a kind heart.
Fastened, shut.
A noble mind.
Rarely cruel.
She loved me with tenderness
And maybe envy
though I never sensed it.
She hid so well.
Her deepest desires couldn’t find her.
She tended others
and took little herself, and then
Gentle was her soul
And sharp as stone.
A beacon and a martyr.
Her consciousness vast
Fed daily by study and contemplation and conversation.
Her compassion instructive
Large enough to include those who sought to injure us,
Forbearant to a fault.
She was an alcoholic.
She abandoned her children.
She had 10 years sober.
She made amends.
Some too late.
Some just right.
Just home from rehab, she apologized to me over lunch at an Italian restaurant.
I immediately vacated my body, terrified of what it would mean–to both of us–to accept.
She came to me when I lost the baby.
Sat beside me on my couch.
Let me fall into her body.
Set her arms around me, as I sobbed.
But the flesh of her presence was a mirage.
Just a bag of bony angles.
Protecting her grief, denied…
Perhaps the baby that came before me, or the men who forsaked her, or the fall out with her sisters, or all those mysterious years before she was wife or Mother.
“Kelly, Why are you crying,” she once asked, when my best friend’s father died in his sleep.
“Kelly, Why do you need those,” she asked, when that same friend and I split a pack of pads between us.
“Kelly, Not now,” she said, when I asked her to tell me about her life just before she orphaned 8 children–two still at home, another few barely flown, some mothers to grandchildren who hardly knew her and later those who never would.
I sat with my mother as they zipped her into a bag.
I watched as that bag was stowed in the back of a station wagon, much like the one that she drove around town to t-ball games and the wicker store and Wawa for milk & eggs & butter & bread–and always some sugary treat–Bridge Mix, Circus Peanuts, Jellied Nougats, Maple Nut Chews, Milk Maid Royals and endless boxes of Entemanns–soberly sweetening all that had soured around her.
17 years later and she is still making the rounds.
She comes as Muse, as companion, as witness.
She admires my courage.
Champions my boundaries.
Kisses my forehead.
Loves me still.
Bows to the awesome depth of my presence.
Delights that it still includes her.

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers, My Bonnie

Cricket Song

the windows open on the first warm June night–humid and occupied–with the sound of crickets–serves as a time machine

Like the hour of the night in which I wake to write,
I was 11 going on 12,
which is to say, what I knew, I knew
through the body.

So that even after my mother came back,
and I relaxed again in her steady presence,
I did so at a loss to her.

Not the loss of the bottle.
But the word: NO.
Her sense of self, beyond role.
A small bit of wild seeking space to take hold.

Barely in her thirties.
A mother of 4.
I should have let her go.

But we needed her.
I needed her.
And so she stayed.

Until she was a mother of 6.
Until she disappeared,
little by little,
from the inside.

Until the flame,
left unattended,
burned like wild fire
through our lives.