Posted in Ancestors, Apprenticeship with my own passing, Lanscape of Loss, Lila Stories, Losing a friend, Markers, My Bonnie

Where to die?

Sea Mandala, by Pengosekan

This morning I noticed that the faucet in the hotel room shower reminded me of those cow skulls you see from places like Arizona.

“I’m afraid of places like that,” I say to myself, as water pours over me. “They’re too dry.”

The more I age, the more I need water nearby.

And then I think about the sea vs. lakes and streams, and I consider where I want to live at the end of my life and where I want to die.

My mind flashes to the space where my Mom lived out her last days–in a hospital bed in her living room, surrounded by windows, a block from the bay.

“I want to die there,” I think, which is absurd because I never lived in that house and my mother’s estranged husband lives there now–with his girlfriend and her kids. (I would call him my stepfather but we went to highschool together. He was my boyfriend’s best friend.)

“Do you mind if I die here, Dan?”

It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen in my family. My father, the surgeon, was the one to pronounce my mother dead in the livingroom of the home she shared with the man with whom she left him.

I left them all a quarter of a century ago for the mountains which is where I now live on a canopied road that runs alongside a brook.

My house sits above a pond belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception where I celebrated my 50th birthday 5 years ago next week.

A good friend from highschool came up from the shore for that weekend; it was her first time in Vermont; and last month, her husband came up with their oldest son to spread some of her ashes on the water here.

If I were to die like my mother, with time to consider such things, I suppose I’d welcome a view of the Atlantic. I was born beside that sea.

Mine was a December arrival, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is funny because my parents got pregnant out of wedlock like Mary and Joseph, and my father was a Jew (His grandfather was anyway) which is why the Catholic Church refused to marry them even though my mother was a Catholic born on Christmas Day.

Hate hides in so many places, fed by fear and superiority as if “All Men Are Created Equal” is not self-evident but something that has to be, in each generation, proven.

The Sisters of Mercy tended my mother’s labor at their hospital across from the beach in Sea Isle City so if not the beach, then maybe I could die in some house of Mary, like the one across the pond from me in the Green Mountains–the summer camp belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

Some find my absorption with death maudlin or worse—premature—as if there is the promise of tomorrow for any of us.

My sister died beside a pool. My grandmother on a bridge. My mother beside the bay windows. All in their 50’s. The first two by total surprise; the last with two months warning.

I suppose if I outlive the lot of them, I’ll be reborn. Last week I took the ferry across the Delaware Bay to visit my great-aunt ahead of her 92nd birthday.

Her mother, my great-grandmother lived into her nineties too.
“I’m ready to go,” she’d say when I’d come to sit beside her as she woke from her afternoon nap.

I massaged her legs under the blankets in a hospital near the sea in the days leading up to her death.

Born a Jefferson, my great-grandmother’s people go back to the 1700s in Delaware and Virginia. I imagine she never questioned belonging, though being born female in 1898 meant she wasn’t considered equal in any way–not with regard to property, opportunity, representation or even bodily autonomy.

Some things haven’t changed.

Belonging seems essential to living and dying, doesn’t it?

I suppose no matter where I die, I’ll carry the sea with me inside.

Posted in My Bonnie

for Bonnie’s Birthday

Our mother on her Christmas Birthday. (Michelle, the third oldest, directly in front of our father.)

My sister Michelle has our mother’s quiet, introspective nature, and her propensity for mothering a large family.

They both have big hearts too. Michelle took hers abroad, to Cambodia, where she has been living and working with her husband and their four youngest children for a year and counting.

This Christmas (aka. our mother’s birthday), Michelle longs to be reunited with her college-age children. Her oldest, Rebekah, who is a writer like her aunt, created a Go Fund Me campaign to help with the cost of the flight for her and her brother Andrew. This will be their first trip abroad.

Michelle's youngest in Cambodia ready to be embraced.
Michelle’s youngest in Cambodia waiting for her big sister.

It brings me great joy to imagine these siblings and parents reunited.
If it does you too, consider contributing.
We only could afford a little, but things like hope and love grow little by little, and sometimes in big leaps.

Click here to find out more.


Posted in Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

A Christmas Date with Mom


I promised myself that I’d have a date with my mother today.  I even wrote it on my calender so that I’d stick to it.  But I’m dragging my feet.

“Hi Mom,” I say, with a voice of hopeful expectation. She smiles back, and I feel warm. I restrain myself from saying, “I’ve missed you,” because I’m not sure that’s entirely true; and, I don’t want to scare her away with too much sentiment.

But then I’m at a loss.
What do we do now?

If she were in her diningroom, as she most often was,  I’d pull up a seat across the table and watch her drink her coffee–and know that she’s missing her cigarettes. ( I expect she still sneaks them.)

But today, she probably wouldn’t be home anyway.  She’d be out last minute shopping—maybe replacing the Christmas candy that she bought for the stockings early–and then couldn’t restrain from eating.

I think about skipping our date, but I know it will be forced upon me either way.  I tried to avoid her last Christmas, but she caught up with me–and it was ugly. Afterward, I went into my studio, closed the door, fell to my knees, and buried my sobs into the seat of the  arm chair. (All because I couldn’t remember how old she would have been on Christmas Day.)

This year, I’m ready. She’ll be 67. That’s way too old for her, and right away I apologize for mentioning it. To soften the blow, I tell her that I’ve grown fond of her blond hair. (For years I begged her to let it return to its natural dark brown.  “It wouldn’t be brown anymore anyway, Kelly,” she reminds me.)

She’s glad to see that I’ve highlighted my own hair though she doesn’t know why I don’t let the hairdresser cover ALL of the grays.  (My aging upsets her more than her own.)

“Why do you want to look old, Kel?” she says.  “You’re still so young.”

But I don’t feel young, especially when I worry about my younger siblings.

“I don’t think I’ve done a good job with the youngers,” I confess, filling up with tears.

We’re saved from this tender moment by an email from my father. I glance at it, expecting a holiday greeting or a response to news about his grandchildren; but it’s only a “forward”– a little girl on a greeting card giving me the finger, saying: “Thanks Obama…”

“Dad’s still a jerk,” I tell mom, and we both laugh, shaking our heads. I’m not exactly sure how my mom feels about the new President.  I can only imagine she is as thrilled as I am about what this means; but just in case, I don’t bring it up.

“Any tips?” I ask, returning to the topic of my siblings. I don’t tell her that I’m pissed off that she left me alone with all 7 of them. Particularly the baby. “They seem a bit lost,” I tell her.

She reminds me that they each have their own Higher Power; and we both nod our heads in alignment with the language and spirit of the Program.

I tell her I hope she’s found some nice (slightly) older man to take care of her–bring her flowers, take her to plays, tell her she’s beautiful, light a fire around her idea of a New Age book store/cafe.

Then, I ask her to read my Tarot for the next year like she planned to do in her shop. She’s surprised to find that I have my own cards now.

“It’s because of you,” I tell her.

She admires my spread cloth.  It was a gift from a friend she’s never met.  I suggest we draw a single card to guide our relationship into the New Year.  She suggests I focus on myself. (She was always good at that, reminding me when I was overdoing.)

I choose two cards. One for us. One for me.

I look into her eyes– into those deep brown eyes– and say with tears in mine, “Thank you for loving me so unconditionally.”

“Oh, I made lots of mistakes, Kel,” she says through her own tears.

“I know,” I say, finally allowing her to make amends.

Nicu Buculei / zeimusu

Then she turns to the card I pulled for us: The Six of Swords.  I don’t like the look of the swords; they seem to represent strife; and Mom and I haven’t struggled together like that since I was 12.

Instead she explains that the Six of Swords symbolizes what we’ve always shared–the very focused, intentional thought; the fair witness;  the creative mind that considers the whole, the integrative mind that recognizes sources of inspiration that are sometimes inexplicable.

“Like how the youngers are using their own guidance even if it’s hard for me to see?” I ask.

She smiles before turning to the card I chose for me.  It’s exactly what I like–orangey and pretty–with tulips and flames, and my favorite number 3. It reminds me of my mother.

I look up to see what she can tell me about it.
But she’s gone…

I’m alone again.

I want to cry out, but instead I consider that she’s probably off to a date with another of my siblings. Maybe Oregon or Pennsylvania. And after that, New Jersey, where there will be Eggs Benedict and bottomless cups of coffee with her namesake. The day will probably end with a walk around the lake.

Instead of wishing she was there, I deepen into my own card–the 3 of Wands–the symbol of Virtue and Integrity.  I see that the tulips are actually lotuses–representing mind, heart and action that is unified–exactly what I want in my life.

“This is a card of radiant, dynamic energy,” I hear my mom whisper from afar, “a state from which natural clarity emerges.”

I see that there is a crystalline structure behind the flowers and know that she would like that.

I wish her a big Happy Christmas Birthday.

(To read about another “date” I had with my mother on the first anniversary of her death, click here.)