Posted in Artifacts/My Bonnie, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

The Gift of a Secret Sister

Fragonard/detail (

There was yet another precious gift enfolded into the summer of my mother’s passing–the opportunity to meet the older sister I never had.

My mother gave Susan to adoption 39 years earlier in the months before she met my father. When I turned 19, she told me about this in an effort to protect me from the challenges of unintended pregnancy.

Though my mother was a private woman, she later confided that she often wondered about her daughter, but that she had always been silenced by her husband, a respected physician in the community.

Once I knew about my big sister, however, I was on the lookout.  I looked extra close at every Susan I ever met, but I never found her. After my parents divorced, I felt free to press my mother for more information, but she dodged my questions.

Soon afterward, my younger sister was faced with an unplanned pregnancy herself, and like my mother, she married a physician. 6 months later we found ourselves crowding into the waiting room at the hospital. When complications ensued, my mother dashed out of the Maternity Wing and headed down the hospital corridors.  Though my father and she barely spoke at the time, he insisted I follow her.

When I found her near the exit, she cried out that she knew something like this would happen, and that it was all her fault.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, shocked by this uncharacteristic display of emotion, and still reeling from my father’s show of concern.

“Today is the day Susan was born,” she said, “I’ve always felt like something bad happened to her too.”

My nephew was delivered later that evening–healthy–on the same day as his aunt, whom we had never met.

In the years following, I pressed my mother for details, using the bits I extracted to begin an internet search, eventually discovering the agency that had placed Susan.  When it came to signing the final release form, however, my mother stalled–for years.  I remained patient, until the summer of 2000.

In June of that year, at the age of 57, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and given less than two months to live. I picked up the phone and called the adoptive agency.

To my surprise, I was put through to the director who happened to be “in the field”–just thirty minutes from where my mother was hospitalized. She made the startling offer to go to see my mother and have her sign the release form.

I could hardly breathe when I hung up.  I quickly put in a call to another of my sisters who lived closest to the hospital.  “Can you go see Mom right now,” I said, “Tell her that the director of the adoption agency is on her way! She’s not going to be happy with me, but she has to sign.”

I couldn’t let my mother face death without knowing about her daughter–good or bad.

A few weeks later, Susan came to meet my mother and my siblings.  Alas I was in my final weeks of pregnancy at the time and living 300 miles away,  so I missed the reunion.  A family photo was taken (with me on the phone) so that all 9 of my mom’s children could be together with her.


Though Susan hadn’t ever looked for her birth mother, she felt compelled to come thank her for the life she had been given.  Her mother had asked to join her, but Susan requested that she wait until another time and brought along her husband and children instead.  The children spent the visit getting to know their cousins.

Two months later, Susan and her mother were on the road at 6:00 am to arrive in time for the private family ceremony at the graveyard.

My mother’s children on the day of her burial–including our oldest sister Susan, leaning over the rocking chair where I’m seated with newborn Aidan.

The following year, just after the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I received this letter from the director of the adoptive agency,

Dear Kelly,

Forgive me for taking so long to thank you for the lovely note and article about your mom. You have already celebrated your son Aidan’s first birthday.

How blessed you were to be at your mother’s bedside with Aidan when the Lord called her home.

I am glad that Susan and her adoptive mother met all the beautiful members of your family. You are truly an inspiration.

May your mother’s love and gentleness remain with you always.


Over the years, we lost touch with Susan.  I imagine I scared her off when I said that I was thrilled to relinquish the role of “oldest sister”  to her  8 younger siblings.  Wherever she finds herself, she’ll turn 50 first, and for that, I owe her a debt of gratitude.

I think of her every year on our nephew’s birthday.

Kelly Salasin, 2010

Posted in Markers, My Bonnie

Eulogy for a Mother

Kelly Salasin

I spoke these truths at my mother’s funeral in 2000.

I have the deepest respect for my mother
I’ve always wanted  to be able to offer this kind of public testimony for her–because she was a “background/behind the scenes” kind of person who I felt needed to 
be exalted…

My mom supported and encouraged so many others with their 
dreams and their problems,  but never seemed to need to be the center of 
things or to shine herself.  
For me this made her a kind of hero.   
She was definitely  the “wind beneath my wings” … whether it was acting in a highschool play, going off to college, 
traveling through Europe, moving to VT, or deciding to give up a career and 
be an at home mom.

It was my mother’s constancy of unconditional love and acceptance that made so much 
possible for me.  I always wished that she could have had some of the glory and opportunities 
that I did so it is an honor to glorify her here today.

And I always thought that I would have to get up here and tell people about 
how special she was, but after this summer– 
after all the love letters &cards, poems & paintings, presents & meals 
that were sent her way, I know that others realized the gift she was  too.

And more importantly, there is the testimony that her children offered, each 
and every day this summer in the hospital and at  home, as they lovingly 
cared for mom, and left their personal lives and homes behind. 
I was and am touched so deeply by their devotion and by their unified 
how they came together and loved my mother whole-heartedly.   
I am continually in awe of this,  and I was blessed to be here on some short 
visits and in her last days to witness this love story.

I’d like to share some glimpses of those last days and hours with you when 
all of us rallied around mom; there were so many beautiful moments, so many 
blessings in the sadness of it all….

So here is a spoken slide 
show of those moments together:
~my brother-in-law Dr. Ken Cramer at my mother1s side, listening to her lungs 
with his stethoscope, tears streaming down his face
~my mother’s eyes closed and unresponsive for hours, suddenly opening wide 
and looking all around  after hearing the cry of my newborn son
~wall to wall air mattresses, arriving daily to be placed around my mother’s 
bed so that each of her children could be there to support her in her last 
~in the wee hours, these beds filled with family who haven’t slept under the 
same roof in fifteen years
~having the little ones toddling around, John and Sequoia and Josh, and to 
see the love they had for their mom-mom
~my aunt cass (my mom’s sister) who massaged my mom’s feet each time she came, even after my 
mom had passed
~to hear laughter coming from a full kitchen of siblings and spouses, 
relatives and friends;  and the meals that arrived daily to feed of all of us
~to share in the sorrow of these days with with each other’s partners, Kenny 
Cramer, Ken Burcham, Casey, Tim, Rich, Frank, and Danny’s Diana who always 
had that beautiful smile and a gift for mom
~to find mom’s brothers and sisters together again to support her
~to see the natural rhythm of the bed-side vigil, always one or two to sit 
beside mom without the need to ask…  holding mom’s hand, telling her how 
beautiful she was, giving her water with a sponge, wiping her mouth and 
brow:  her brother bill, her sister chris, her sister in law Barbara

~the times we all gathered around mom, sobbing, holding onto each other and 
to her, telling her how we loved her and were there for her, thinking she 
was taking her last breaths, only to see her open her eyes and wonder what 
was going on…
~watching Kenny’s tears turn to laughter after this, realizing that his 
stethoscope & medical examination didn’t /couldn’t account for everything, 
particularly mom’s determination
~having Big Dan say at one of these gathering times around mom, that if he 
was a painter, he’d paint this beautiful picture
~the sight of my nephew Corey in tears behind us, and how my niece Jamie 
fell into my sister Michelle’s arms after my mother passed
~little bonnie lying beside mom that last night, staying with her in her last 
hours, and mom waiting to begin to finally let go until Bonnie got up to 
make a pot of coffee
~the incredible pain and blessing of each of us being present around my 
mother as she took her lasts struggled breaths, continuing to breath even 
after her heart had stopped
~the sound of each person’s utter grief
~to have my son Lloyd there when my mother passed, and my son Aidan waking 
just before she was dying, continuing the awesome connection between his new 
life and her ending life this summer
~to watch the love that each one of us gave to her even after she passed… 
causing the nurse and the undertaker to eventually leave to come back hours 
later  to do their work
~to witness the relationship and love that had developed between the nurses 
and my family
~to see my nieces Bekah and Jordan sitting beside my mom alone after she had 
died and lovingly touching her face… while Andrew and Lloyd jumped on her 
~to have big Dan bring us all together around mom’s body to offer our words 
of love one last time, and to hear him talk about how special we all were
~to watch my mom’s body being taken, and stand there among sobbing sisters, 
and aunts and uncles on the sidewalk, in the yard and on the porch as 
she left our lives
~to see what a comfort big dan was to my mother, his devotion, his daily 
tears, his touches, and to see the reflection of that in the affection and 
respect held for him by my sisters- for this he has my undying gratitude

For each  of us I think that there will be a “Bonnie” shaped hole in our 
hearts and lives from this time on.  Mine felt like a crater this morning, 
but there is also the blessing that this summer has been for all of us.
My mom’s life, even in its ending, was certainly a success, and so I’d like to close with a poem by Emerson entitled the same.   
I found it on  a card I sent to my mom years ago that she had saved.  It is as true today of her as it ever was,


To laugh often and much; 
to win the respect of intelligent people 
and affection of children; 
to earn the appreciation of honest critics 
and endure the betrayal of false friends; 
to appreciate beauty 
to find the best in others, 
to love the world a little bit better, 
whether by a healthy child, 
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; 
to know even one life has breathed easier 
because you have lived. 
This is to have succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted in My Bonnie, Poetry

the color red

The brand new baby was born yesterday… just in time,” (Jack Johnson)

Photo 357

My mother’s left wrist
haunts me,
The one limp on her lap,
While the rest of her
shrivels under a pile of blankets
on a perfect beach day.

The hum of the oxygen machine muffles
our outrage
While she struggles to breath,
terrified of storms and power outages.
And just as the air shifts from summer
to fall,
She is gone…

All winter long
I lay in my bed
Beneath the caging of striped wall paper,
sun streaming through windows painted shut
(or was it always snowing?)

The baby, beside me
Each day of his life
representing another
of mine
Without her.

He nurses in the crook of my arm,
as the the comfort
of grief
washes away
the emptiness
of despair.

I stare at my hand
Until it becomes hers–
The bony bend from wrist to fingers
Touching his head,
like a flower bent to kiss the earth one last time…

And I think of suicide…
Not mine, of course.
I have the blessing of this new child,
and this old house–
Both strangers,
but never mind that.

If I was a person who would kill herself,
I would slit these beautiful bends at my wrist,
at her wrist,
so Christ-like in surrender,
and Walk…
past the wallpaper
and the sealed windows,
into the tiny bathroom
with the slanted floor
Turning my gaze into
the white porcelain sink,
as it welcomed
the color

(kelly salasin, January 2001, vermont)