Sunday, October 30, 2011


Samhain. The beginning of the dark half of the year, the time to honor our ancestors and departed loved ones, when the veil separating the spirit world and the living world is thinnest, when we face our ghosts.  Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine and why not? Dressing up and candy: two of the best things ever.  But as awesome as chocolate is, I think there's more to it.  I have always loved ghost stories, always believed in spirits and little snippets of magic.

Last night I went to the circle of women again to celebrate Samhain.  We all dressed in black, as that's the color of the season, and brought candles and pictures of the dead we wanted to honor.  And we shared our stories of them.  I was incoherent, my loss seemed the freshest and I couldn't even piece together what I wanted to say.  Instead of talking about Mom, I talked about me.  How last Samhain, everything was normal. How the cancer was so aggressive and came out of nowhere and how difficult is was to get a flight to Seattle on December 23rd...and this is not what I wanted to say, it wasn't supposed to be about that, but I'm clearly still trying to wrap my head around how this happened.  How was she fine a year ago?  How did we hike last Thanksgiving and shop for a wedding dress and how was that the last time she saw me?  How did she have a clear mammogram last August and every August for the fifteen years before that? How is she gone?

But what I told all of these wonderful women who sat there and held space for me was that Mom has been out visiting the people she needs to visit. (And it's true, I've gotten emails and notes from people who have walked into rooms in their house and found old letters from her, people who have just uncovered a photo they forgot they had, a memory triggered that they had to share with me.) Once she's done making the rounds and bringing some peace, she'll come to me.  I somehow knew as soon as I found out that I was pregnant that I wouldn't get to have both my mother and daughter.  And Gary, Mom, Dad, Ross, me...we all knew well before the sonogram confirmed it that we were having a girl. In that same sense, I know that Mom knows she has a couple more months of visiting that she can do, but then she'll be at the birth with us.  And, knowing her, she'll stick with the Pea as much as she can.

It's not actually Samhain yet-that's tomorrow night and Tuesday morning.  So, if you want to celebrate the season, take some photos down of the people you want to honor, light a candle for them and share a fond memory.  And as the dust fades tomorrow night, listen for them. They'll be there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Gary and I arrived home this evening.  Not gonna lie, it was very difficult to leave Florida today.  Like, full on uncontrollable sob fest on the beach difficult.  As is so often the situation, Gary just pulled me in close and gently asked why I was crying.  I couldn't articulate it well, but this vacation felt like the last vacation we'll ever take.  It was the end of something that I had been looking forward to and maybe clinging too much to: a last hurrah before baby, something easy and mindless to focus on in the wake of Mom's death, no responsibilities for a few days...But in a classic example of "World's Worst Thing to Say When You're Expecting a Baby in Two Months" I just said that I felt like I didn't have anything else to look forward to again. 

Which of course isn't true.  I am ridiculously excited to meet the Pea and to watch us begin the transformation into parents.  I am excited to go into fall and winter in NYC, to not be traveling for a few months, to buy a monthly Metrocard for the first time in 2011, to see friends, to start our childbirth classes and on and on.  But I do feel like we'll never take a vacation again. And I'm fully aware that the next big thing that we're anticipating and looking forward to will holler at all hours of night and day.  I'm afraid of the hormone fallout of delivery and newborn care and mourning the biggest loss of my life all rolled into one.

Even though Mom was only receiving hospice benefits for less than 24 hours, we get benefits for 13 months after hospice ends.  This is truly amazing.  I can't say enough good things about the Group Health hospice care: the family receives social work benefits (nationwide) for a full 13 months after the last day of hospice.  The social worker wanted to make sure that I knew that and took advantage of therapy or bereavement groups or anything that might help me in NYC.  And while I don't think I have any need for anything right now, I am very happy to have those resources in my back pocket post-partum. 

Monday, October 24, 2011


I bring Mom up in conversation all the time.  I don't know if I always have done it and I'm only more aware of it now, or if it's new and it's my way of hanging on.  Just little anecdotes or agreements with someone else who is talking about their family. The people who don't know the story wouldn't know.

I am trying to take Ross's advice and bring her presence into my life.  I don't know yet if I agree with him, but I'd like to.  I'd like to fill the voids and feel her with me instead of simply not. 

Gary and I are in St. Petersburg, Florida until Wednesday.  We came last Friday for a friends wedding and decided that we needed a vacation badly, so we rolled our honeymoon, babymoon and any relaxation time owed to us for the last year and the coming year into these five days.  And it couldn't be better.  I was worried about how I would be with the wedding (I have been having a very hard time with weddings since Mom got sick two months into my engagement and wasn't able to see ours, to name a few reasons) but I was able to get over myself and enjoy the weekend festivities.   I have been able to sleep, I have been able to unplug, I have been able to sit on the beach or by the pool for hours at a time and be okay.  The families staying here make me happy, not miserable.  Today a woman about Mom's age was laying out with her daughter, chewing gum the way Mom chewed gum (with air bubbles that pop-no idea how that would always happen) and I made the connection and tried to feel her presence. I am sunburned and remember the stories of Mom's family trips to Florida when she was a kid and how sunburned she would get; silly that something like a sunburn would make me feel connected.  But I think that was Ross's point.  I could just have a sunburn.  Or I could smile about it, knowing I share both my fair skin and my inability to stay away from the water's edge with Mom and we'll just deal with the consequences.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


This weekend was hard. Gary was away, and it was the first time I was really alone for any extended amount of time since Mom passed. And today was the first day I didn't have a packed agenda for myself. I did that intentionally, knowing I needed the downtime. But it was hard.

Lately I find myself tearing up constantly, triggered by anything that strikes me as beautiful. I think this is quite normal in most pregnancies and it's compounded by the fact that I am finally able to read pregnancy related books. I have absolutely no interest in What to Expect, the pregnancy advice books, the fetal development charts, etc. Once I got home to NY, I picked up Spiritual Midwifery and devoured the birth stories. I cried at every one. But since I do most of my reading on the subway, the crying is limited to what I can blink away and still go to work. It's not just birth stories; today walking through Soho, I watched a woman in her mid forties with her mom. They were window shopping and admiring the many tables of jewelry on the streets and it reminded me of me and my mom and how much she would have loved a day like today in Soho. Tear up, blink rapidly, go on with my day.

The thing that is most salient to me is that she's gone. Everyone has been telling me how she'll always be with me, how I'll feel her presence every day. And that is such bullshit. I feel her absence every day. I see what I'm missing, what she's missing. And that's all I can see sometimes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I have received so many beautiful cards, letters and emails from such far-flung well wishers. I am nowhere near caught up in even reading them all, let alone responding. But so many of them share stories I haven't heard, memories that other people are cherishing.

Nearly all of the people I grew up with had interactions with Mom where she listened to them, entertained them, did arts and crafts, offered advice, offered open ears and a shoulder to cry on or some combination of the above. I had no idea that most of these scenes had occurred. And I feel so lucky to find out about them now. It's like she's sending me messages still. How to love children, how to connect with people, how to make someone feel special. That 10, 15 or 20 years later, these adults remember with such clarity how good she made them feel as a child or a teenager. How honest and safe they could be around her.

Many people have shared their experiences with losing their mothers too young. Again, it's like I'm getting reassurance that I can survive this. That somehow I will manage to build my own family, raise my own daughter and be okay. It doesn't seem possible sometimes. How does one become a mother without a mother? But so many people do it all the time. Many mothers that I admire and respect have done it, are doing it. And I will do it. Imperfectly and clumsily and missing my mother the whole way. But there isn't a choice here.

When I was reading The Council of Dads (Bruce Feiler, amazing, highly recommended) it occurred to me that Mom had set up a Council of Moms for Ross and me, maybe without realizing it, or maybe intentionally. For example, when planning our wedding, Mom recommended specific people to help me with my wedding dress, who were different people than who threw the bridal shower who were different still than who helped arrange specific details like music and programs. Now, all of these women have become the Pea's "aunties" and I know that I will lean on them all the way I would have constantly leaned on Mom to get me through the new days of parenting. Already they have created a book of parenting advice, gathered from themselves and Gary and my friends with kids; the book is a cute keepsake, the real value is knowing that I (or Gary) can call any one of those contributors at our wits end and they will happily talk us down. And babysit. Ross, too, has all of these surrogate moms to help him through school, navigate his future and love him unconditionally. The best part of this council is that they all have known and loved Mom for many years; they can be a version of her voice now that her voice is silent.

And then there are the people who write who don't know Mom, or her knew her in college, or who knew her from when their kids were in preschool, or who met her a couple of times when she visited me, but have grown to know her through the blog. And this outreach is astounding, too. The reach and depth of her spirit and tenacity and the hope and love she inspired has been humbling. So many people have felt it. I wonder if that's another reason that I have not fallen apart and the rest of my family has not fallen apart: there are so many sharing in our grief that it's being held for us. We don't have to hold it all. People want to hold it.

As I was writing this post, Dad called to read me two letters that he received today. One was from a former coworker and old friend that was beautiful and meant so much to him. The other was a long letter from Dr. H, Mom's doctor at the Kline, which brought me to tears. She spoke of how Mom changed her as a doctor, how our family inspired her, how Mom is so missed. She spoke of growing professionally from having cared for Mom and what an honor it was. This was so humbling to me. That this brilliant, busy physician not only felt these things but took the time to write them and send sympathy...we feel so fortunate that Mom had such loving care throughout her illness.

As I work out my grief process in my head (and out loud to anyone who is near enough to listen), I talk about this blog and how it needs to have an end. When discussing the idea of reworking all of this into a memoir, Gary gets very protective and doesn't want anyone to edit anything I've written, fearing it would equate my emotions being edited. Dad ruefully said that he loves the idea, but that no one will believe it. No one could believe Mom's attitude in the face of everything. I think that may be true. I promise that I haven't taken creative license with it, and that's part of what made her so damn special, but it's almost an anomaly of human nature. To have all of the things you love about life taken away from you and still love life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Yom Kippur. I did not fast, I did not go to services, I did not even listen to streaming services as I pretended I might do earlier in the week. I am ritual-ed out. Or maybe just more interested in creating my own new ones.

One thing is clear: I am ready to loosen my grip on the nightly writing. I am thinking of dropping down to a few times a week, or even once a week. But I won't write tomorrow. I need more time right now to collect my thoughts and need to create more space for the Pea. I need to put more energy into our lives changing drastically and think about what that will mean and how we will manage it. Last night all my dreams were baby dreams, for the first time in almost my entire pregnancy. Clearly, my mind is shifting and I need to honor that.

I just finished an amazing book, Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin. I recommend this to anyone who is expecting, or just wants to be reaffirmed in all the beauty and miracles of life. The first half is all birth stories, just tales of ordinary people bringing their children into the world. But every birth is magical and every new baby changes the course of the universe. She finishes the stories with a small section "what to do if your child dies." Now, losing a parent is nowhere near as heart wrenching, tragic or impossible to deal with as losing a child. But she has some beautiful and practical words about grief that spoke to me:

Grief has its own dignity. To feel it makes you telepathic with everyone else who has ever mourned, and it makes you more compassionate of others. Hold on tight to your family. Losing someone dear to you is one of the risks you take in loving anyone at all. If you keep your heart open, the rawness of the hurt will go away in time. This is how healing happens.

So, to everyone reading this still, to anyone mourning this loss or any other in their life, take heart. To be heartbroken at all is a sure sign that you are capable of love beyond measure.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Tonight is Kol Nidre, the beginning of the holiest of holy days of the Jewish calendar. Traditionally, you fast for 24 hours, from sundown tonight until sundown tomorrow, taking a small cleanse for your body, concentrating on repentance, forgiveness and beginning anew. I was planning to mark this holiday with something special, even though I won't be fasting this year, but found that I wasn't able to. No meditations came, no rush of energy, no connections to all the others across the world who are taking part in these rituals. I just wanted to walk.

So we walked a couple of miles. That was my exercise for the day-I am trying to work out only five days a week these days and have defaulted to Wednesdays and Fridays as my days "off." Walking was exactly what I needed to do and felt like the only thing possible.

I don't know if this is grief, or apathy, or the way I usually approach the holidays. Everyone keeps asking how I am and I really don't know. I think I am okay. I think I am handling everything well. I can't tell if I will fall apart at a later date or if I fell apart last December and have been putting myself back together ever since in a way that I can live without Mom.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Gary and I finally caught up on our prenatal appointments this morning and saw our wonderful midwife. And before we started anything, she just looked at us across our kitchen table (seriously, homebirth prenatal appointments are so awesome!) and said "I never met your mom, but in hearing about her from you both, and seeing how you are about your lives and your baby, I can just feel what an amazing woman she was."

What a gift to be reminded that our parents always live on in us. Not that we're aware of it, not that we even notice. But somehow that energy is there. I've had a number of people share this with me in the past few weeks. Even if they didn't know her, they feel like they do. She inspired them, she taught them, she filled them with gratitude for their friend, recently back from her daughter's wedding, emailed me how thankful she was to bear witness. That literally just seeing her daughter on her wedding day gave her so much joy. Most of us consider this a given. But Mom's blindness on my wedding day reminded her to appreciate what would ordinarily be taken for granted. Imagine if each of us adopted some form of this once in a while. To be thankful for such minute details. To appreciate seeing your partner's smile, to appreciate feeling sunshine on your skin, that your legs can carry you to your next location.

Mom was always a beauty. I was not. She never struggled with her appearance. I complained constantly about feeling fat, various body parts being larger than they should be, or just overall the wrong shape. And Mom would always chide me: "your body is perfect; it's healthy!" Never have I appreciated this until now. Honestly. Never until this moment, being 7 months pregnant, seeing my belly swell with movement and still being able to run (albeit slowly and with lots of bathroom breaks) did I appreciate the gift of an intact body. What a lot of time wasted. What a lot of time ahead to practice gratitude.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I still have a stack of cards that aren't open, emails that I haven't read, let alone responded to. I have to meter everything out. I have to pace myself. I wonder if we missed out by not sitting shiva. Though in some ways, I have been sitting shiva for nine months. When Mom was first diagnosed, I was completely lost. I was spinning out of control, furious with people and situations that didn't deserve my wrath, prone to sobbing jags every night and oscillating between learning everything I could about the situation and complete denial.

As the months wore on, and I grew closer with my family (both of origin and new married family), my extremes mellowed. I loved talking with both my parents every night. I loved seeing my Seattle family so often. By the last trip I made, I was actually looking forward to being on the airplane, out of touch for six hours, nothing to do but sit, read and relax. Relinquishing control.

In some ways, I feel like this experience taught me all of the lessons that I needed to learn, everything I struggled against and wouldn't have understood any other way. We have been given gifts of unimaginable measure. We have strengthened bonds, we have opened our hearts, we have felt love so much deeper than we realized. Some days I am truly grateful for all the learning. Some days I rage against it, sure that Mom didn't need to be sacrificed to see all the beauty we witnessed.

I am trying to practice acceptance. It's going okay so far. But I don't think I've come anywhere near feeling the magnitude of what has happened.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I have been relieved to be home. Back at work, back to appointments (we had a lot of Pea appointments to catch up on this week), back to the familiar farmer's markets, back to our bed. But being here also allows me the indulgence of denial. I'm not going through Mom's clothes or jewelry. I'm not helping clean out the drawers, finding old photos, old letters, old mementos. I plan to help with some of it when I go back this winter, but I don't honestly know how realistic that will be. How much help I could possibly be to Dad with a newborn to attend to...or how much will be left to do when I am finally able to come. I'm not sure what I'll find when I am there next. I don't know what it's like to live every day in their house, surrounded by ghosts.

Monday, October 3, 2011


The seasons are different in New York. The two and a half weeks that I spent in Seattle were truly the turning of summer to autumn: the trees had a bit more scarlet every day that I spent there. I literally watched the green be eclipsed. Back home, the change hasn't started, or at least hasn't gotten as far. I don't know what makes the leaves turn when they do, but it does feel a little like going back in time. Scheduling a client this morning, I was shocked to see that it's October. October. How did this happen?

A friend from childhood re-posted a blog link on his facebook page, letting "friends" of his who aren't "friends" of mine know about Mom. He said she passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. I have been mulling this over, this sense of time. And talking with Dad this evening, he mentioned it, too. The perception of time is interesting. It was a long battle. It was the blink of an eye. Dad said today that sometimes it feels as though one hundred years have passed since he grocery shopped, cooked dinner and was home on the couch. And sometimes it's completely unimaginable how quickly everything happened. That less than a year ago Mom was vibrant, riding her bike, enjoying the fall colors, anticipating the possibility that Gary and I would get engaged (oh, yeah, it hasn't been a year since that milestone, either). I don't know if this is some riff on the Theory of Relativity, or if it's akin to the parenting mantra that "the days are long but the years are short" or if this is just human nature to forget how painful the pain is so that we can go on living, but I suspect that it's a function of grief and loss.

My dreams of Mom have shifted in the past couple of days. I had been dreaming of her as she was, sick and incapacitated in some way. But last night, I dreamt that she was her whole, healthy self. Her hair was long, she could see, she was sitting upright, unassisted and we were just having a conversation, but she was very sad. I hope that these continue to evolve and, in time, she will appear in my dreams as I hope to remember her most: joyful, active and enjoying herself. Loving life as she always did.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Today I am grateful for things that I have and moments I got to experience. I slept in today, finally waking at 9:30 to the feeling of thumps in my belly. It's really a bizarre experience, having something moving inside of you. So far, in my seventh month of pregnancy, I've never experienced pain or extreme discomfort caused by the Pea. I enjoy her movements; they makes me less anxious. Today was the first time her kicking (or head-butting-who really knows?) actually woke me up, but it was a nice feeling (probably because it was at 9:30 and not 3:30). And I was so happy that Mom got to feel her move, too. In her last week, I would unexpectedly grab Mom's hand whenever the Pea started dancing to have Mom feel. And Mom would take every opportunity when she was eye level with my belly to rub it and talk to the baby. While I know the Pea will not have any memories of this time, I know that she heard Mom's voice. Mom and I both know that we felt her move.

It's not enough, it's not what I wanted or what we planned, but it's what we got. And it's so much better than nothing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Writing this now feels like an addiction. There are no more updates on Mom, no more good days to be celebrated, no more bad days to get through. Or at least not in the same sense. I'm sure my family will have more good days and more bad days; the rest of us are all still on this journey. But I can see these posts morphing into updates on us, on me, on our individual and collective grieving processes and maybe this isn't the appropriate forum. But, as I said, I'm a bit attached and addicted to the writing right now and not yet ready to stop.

Soon. But not just yet.

I am back home in NY, and went to work today. After being away for two and a half weeks, I had a lot to catch up on and a lot to sort through. A similar, though smaller, avalanche of condolence cards sits on my dining room table, mirroring Dad's dining room table.

Dad attempted to (and succeeded in) have(ing) a busy, social and enjoyable Saturday-a round of golf in the morning and the Nebraska game in the afternoon. I'm so proud of the way he is handling everything. He is choosing to enjoy the things he loves. He acknowledges the waves of emotion that come up and doesn't push them away. He talks to his friends and family. His eyes well up, he is angry, he is heartbroken, he is making arrangements, he is planning for the future, he is finding joy and beauty in what is left over. He is looking forward to things.

Ross is back at school, full force. He is preparing for an awesome independent study course this quarter, he is seeing friends a lot, he is receiving the support he needs and deserves.

And I am okay. I'm actually concerned with how okay I am. I don't know if I'm in denial or if I've been grieving for so long now that I truly am relieved that there's no more pain, no more unknowns. But I feel okay. I am sleeping, I am laughing, I am enjoying making future plans. I got to spend so much time with my family over the past nine months. I spent every other night of my last trip with Mom, and every day. I trimmed her fingernails, I rubbed her back, we talked politics, we sang to my belly. We entertained guests. We said "I love you" constantly. I don't know if there will ever be a point where I really know in my bones that she's gone forever. I'm sure I have a lot of magical thinking to do. I'm sure there will be many sudden impact moments where it will hit me violently and I'll lose my train of thought and all joy for a while.

But for now, we are hanging in there. We have an amazing support system, the same one that got us through the past nine months. The people who have done our laundry, brought in Starbucks every morning, called to check in, emailed anecdotes, texted just to say "I'm thinking of you"...they're all still here. And they are still doing what they've always done. And I suspect that's the real reason any of us are doing as well as we are.