Friday, November 29, 2013


Happy Thanksgivukkah, everyone.

We usually spend thanksgiving with James' side of the family - a tradition started back when our relationship was barely a few months old, and something I have always treasured.  This year, however, the time James took off to help me through mom's passing and the subsequent travel for her services meant that he didn't have any leave to take today off.  This meant that we weren't able to make the trip up to connecticut as we had planned, and so we had our very first experience of having Thanksgiving on our own.  Which, of course, also meant prepping the entire feast on our own for the first time!  It was quite an undertaking, and the whole day was fraught with triggers-I could feel mom's presence, and the lack of it, in just about everything I did.  I was glad to have so much to cook, though, it kept me busy and kept my mind off of things.

Another very helpful element was James' friend and co-worker, Ben, who joined us for dinner last evening.  Ben brought Chanukah gifts for the girls, and showed them how to light a Chanukiah and shared some of his family traditions with us...In the end, I think a little celebration of light was just the thing to right our hearty but unsteady little holiday.

Thank you, Ben!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Happy Birthday

Today should have been my mother's 58th birthday.

Only 58. But she won't ever be 58. Or 64. Or 80...I won't get to see what she looks like as an old lady, or ...or anything.  I tried to complete that sentence but there were too many possiblitiies, and it just came down to that: anything. 

Love you mom. I found this in the living room today:

These girls, they love you so much, too. We baked you some cupcakes-they are sorry things and I over baked the first batch. I'm sorry you weren't here to laugh about it with me. I hope next year I will be able to connect with you more deeply, but today I just felt the lack of your physical presence a bit too sharply.

Happy birthday.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Lanyard.

If the whole service had been just this, it would have been more than enough.

Thank you, Kelly.  

Mom's Memorial reading: The Lanyard by Billy Collins from Kelly Zenn on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Remembering Nana

I know that I must have someone within my network who can put me in touch with the Coen brothers…Can ya hook a girl up?  I need to have a chat with them about how they have managed to gain control of my life. It seems as though they have been orchestrating painfully hilarious layers over every element of it lately.

Example: I write this update from our shelter while we wait for the tornado warning to end. There have been devastating tornadoes all over this region today, and while it seems that this particular twister is far enough north to miss us entirely, the sirens went off and we figure better safe than sorry. The kids are grandly freaked by the whole thing, and trying to keep our now-toddler from sticking her hands in weird stuff (like the ever fascinating exhaust pipe on my dad's motorcycle) down here is a bit stressful...

But, at least we have all (mostly...hopefully) recovered from the food poisoning that hit all five of us the night before mom's service. Two hours before it was set to start, I was genuinely worried that none of us would be able to make it at all. We spent a miserable night up every few minutes with someone in the bathroom...thankfully we were able to make it through the service, but my stomach was doing flip flops for soooooo many reasons.

I don't feel mentally capable of writing about the service, about my emotional journey, about…everything that I feel needs to be said, expressed…Gratitude, in droves, for everyone who has come out to help; devastation at the lack of her presence in my life; anger, creeping in dark corners, at the fact that this is all happening; fear, trying to take over, about how to carry on from here, frustration, reflection…pain…

I did want to share this one thing, though:  In the hour before mom's service began, when it looked like Cadence and Hazel were too sick to attend, I asked them if they wanted to say something that I could write down and share at the service for them.  I let them both talk together and wrote down what they said with the intention of creating a brief statement from each of them, but they feed off of each other so well, and they took the prompts I gave them (what do you want to share with everyone about her? what did you like to do with her? How did Nana make you feel?) and ran…the resulting dialogue was so perfect, I couldn't have written something better had I scripted it with a dramaturg and an editor.

Thank you, Cadie and Hazelnut, for this beautiful tribute.

Cadence: I liked playing guess who with her
Hazel: I liked playing Maisy with her. And playing dress up with her.
Cadence: And I liked playing the allowance game with her and Kelly.
Hazel: Going to the park!
Cadence: Going to the water park!  I liked when I read a whole chapter book to her, and I liked reading stories to her.
Hazel: I liked reading the Oops! book with her.
Cadence:  She would sometimes correct me when I read a wrong word…like when she reminded me that it was 'stargaze'.  Nana made me feel good.
Hazel: She made me feel special.  When I was cold she would warm me up.
Cadence: Oh yeah! She would warm me up when I was cold, too! She made me feel safe when the fire alarm went off.
Hazel: When the fire alarm went off, she took me and jiejie out of the building that's what made me feel safe.
Cadence: We played together, and I liked playing with her.
Hazel: I don't know what else, I just love her.
Cadence: I love her, too.

Endlessly thankful to Zoe Adlersberg for this amazingly wonderful photo.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Holding on

The last smoothie that I made for her - the one with coconut milk and mango and vanilla and honey - languishes at the back of the fridge. I can't bear to think of anyone else consuming it, yet I can't bring myself to throw it away. Not yet. Not yet. It's still to near, too fresh.

The last bar of chocolate she tasted sits neglected on the bedside table, the chunk we broke off to give her conspicuously absent as it seems to wait to fulfill its purpose. "No one is going to want to eat that bar," we said, and yet it sits.

We go through drawers and bins and boxes, we reminisce over jewelry and trade stories over half forgotten tokens. We wonder over artifacts of our mothers life, details and nuance now secreted away forever. And we can do this with a healing flair, a sense of love, admiration, honor, continuation...

But the dates she bought before she left, the yogurt only she would eat...these things I cannot touch. I know that they will spoil and they will die, but for now they represent the closeness of her life, the nearness of her very being, and I cant fathom the emptiness that will be left behind once the ever present presence of her has disappeared.

My Mother's Hand

The hand I held
to help me learn,
to grasp for comfort
to find life's pulse

The hand I held
to steady my walk
to communicate
to test and try

The hand I held 
to scale the heights
to share tokens
to mold my skills

The hand I held
to guide my way
to make amends
to build confidence

The hand I held
to leap away
to steady passion
to support my dreams 

The hand I held 
to reconnect
to retain
to rejoice

The hand I held
to welcome a love
to greet a child
to embrace a family

The hand I held
to share
to encourage
to care

The hand I held 
to comfort her
to brace her
to reassure

The hand I held
to steady hearts
to love
to send her off to peace.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pears and Chocolate

I need to say thank you.  I need to stay grateful.  I need to remind myself of all the amazing support we have been getting over the past week.

Because this is hard.

It is so hard.  To be here, in this weird place, still new, where we don't know anyone well enough to fall back on, where we don't have favorite spots or trusted comfort is hard.  To exist in a little bubble of grief, when you know that no one nearby is mourning with you, it's isolating and lonely, and it is hard.

It is hard to find ways to feed my hungry family when my own interest in food has all but disappeared, my ability to think through a recipe hampered by the inattention my brain has employed to combat sadness, the very structure of our building making delivery confusing enough to become a deterrent, and anyway, allergies make ordering out a dangerous and stressful event best kept to a minimum.

It is hard to mourn alone.  James is here and present for maybe an hour a day, thanks to his 3 hours spent commuting on top of his full time job. He needs to get his rest in order to stay safe, riding his bike before dawn and after dark to get there and back, so I can't even ask him to stay up late with me.  Kelly has had friends with her throughout much of this ordeal, and will be leaving soon - which is good, she hates this place and I don't want her to suffer any more than she is already suffering, so she needs to go.  And the kids of course are always around, but they are kids and do not need the burden of holding such a grown-up loss on top of the loss they are already feeling.  If this was happening to a friend of theirs, I would be supporting them as they supported their friend...but who would be supporting them through helping me? 

I need to keep my children safe, and fed, and comforted, and inspired.  It is so hard to be kind to myself when skipping the dishes for a single night can derail an entire day and leave the house in such a state that I can't think except to worry that if anyone saw it, they'd take my kids away.  How can I be kind to myself when just getting through the day requires the kind of steel they build armor from, that leaves me capable of basic function but incapable of human emotion? 

This place does not lend itself to breathing.  It's so odd being here, in this new, not traditionally comfortable place.  We moved here for the ease of the day to day, for the quiet, the space...but they bulldozed the trees four days after we moved in, and now every window we have looks out on construction sites, and the building can't afford to provide the convenience they charge for, and we share every sound with the neighbors we don't know on the other side of the too-thin boarders between our space and theirs.

I can't mourn here.

But I can't get caught in the shadows.  I need to remember to focus on the positive the way I have done for mom for so long now.  To remember that our nearby cousin has offered to go shopping.  To remember that Liz came to me the day mom passed even though she probably didn't have the time.  To remember that we've gotten three boxes of pears, and two boxes of chocolates. To remember that even if no one is physically here, there are words of support flowing through this computer screen constantly.

So yes, this is hard...but in pears, and chocolate and love, we are rich.

Pumpkin slop lonliness

True to the emotions portrayed here; I never finished this post.


There is no one here.

I don't know how to do this alone, and there is no one here.  James spends three hours a day commuting on top of a full workday, and he comes home and has maybe an hour to spend with the kids and I and then he has to go to sleep or he can't get up in time to function to be safe riding his bike before dawn and after dusk to get there and home again.

Which means its just me.

...and now I can't stomach the thought of using the third room.  How do I take back that space that we built for my mother who is gone, and never coming back.

How do I grieve for her when being kind to myself means not doing the dishes after every damn meal and still pick up every toy the kids drag out, but after two days the mess is so horrid I can't think and I'm sure that if anyone came in they would have me committed and take away my children...

There is no one here who is mourning.  Outside of these apartment walls, no one notices a difference.  It is so weird to go through your day to day in a place where no one you encounter will be sharing your grief.  I have seen one friend, once, since my mother died, almost a week ago,

In Memorium: Mary Ann Johnson

My mother, Mary Ann Johnson, as a child
My mother really wanted her obituary to be funny. I don't know if I will be able to be as irreverent as she would have liked, but I will do my best to keep it light.

She came from long lived stock, her grandfather was born in 1822, and did not sire her father until 1895 - and he had younger siblings, as well. So, upon her arrival in 1955, she represented just the third generation in 150 years, and I guess somewhere there are odds that suggest that somewhere along the line, someone would end up dying would be just like her to take that fall for herself in order to improve the chances for long, healthy lives for her children and grandchildren.

She leaves behind two devastated but very proud daughters, Kate and Kelly, and three granddaughters, Cadence, Hazel, and Calliope. She also finally beat her older siblings, Peggy and Bill, in a race...though it wasn't one they knew they were running.

She married Scott Stroot in the early 80's, and their journey left her with amazing friends all across the country and throughout the world. Her work as a nurse allowed her to do what brought her the most joy in this life-caring for others.  She delighted in working through her first occurrence of cancer, saying that her own physical torment just made it easier to connect with her patients.

She spent the last year of her life unable to work, but finally able to live for herself.  In her final year, she traveled to Hawaii, swam with wild dolphins, took up yoga, jumped into a great lake, traveled to new places and made amazing new friends. She saw shows and flew in a hot air balloon, she laughed and cried and became a published author.  

She was one of the strongest, most genuinely kind people that have ever walked among us. To paraphrase Don McLean; this world was never meant for one as beautiful as her.

We love you eternally, mom.

My mother in the sun on her final vacation, about a month before her passing.  Thank you to Sandy for this glorious image.