An Accidental Memory Palace

42EEA069-C9DB-43A5-9E0E-F4EFCA78B37BThese days my mind wanders. A lot. I’ve finished the eighth month since Michael died. During our 45 years together, it seemed that my whole life happened while we shared with each other. I was only 20 when we started. Remembering everything we experienced often overpowers me with pain that is physical, wrenching gut pain. Sitting with it is just too much. So off my mind goes to other places, seeking relief.

I don’t know why my memory has always been vivid, packed with detail, both visual and aural. I know that there are mnemonic tricks that you can use to train your mind to remember, essentially creating a mind palace to use as a tool to access information. I’ve never needed to do that. The inside of my head reminds me of those children’s pop-up books, the ones where each page turns into a 3D structure that you can walk through and touch. When I pull away from my thoughts of Michael and me, I drift into the before, my very early years and am suddenly in the midst of a different type of experience.

The picture above is of a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa where my family lived from the time I was 8 months old until age 7. The Green Gables. We rarely went out to restaurants because money was always an issue but on special days, we went there. In my mind it looked so much bigger than the building in the photo but I know that my child’s perspective accounts for that. I remember my favorite food was their massive turkey club sandwich with real turkey sliced from the bird, juicy tomatoes and lettuce, and enough mayonnaise to ensure that my mouth always needed mopping as I ate. I dreamed of going back there but then realized it was better to leave the memories in place so they could never be altered by my grownup perceptions. 

In Sioux City we first lived in a rental on 17th street. We had a blonde cocker spaniel named Trixie. When she went into heat, mom muttered and grumbled, mopping up spots from the floor and eventually putting Trixie in a diaper. I was about 3 then and the diapers were from my little sister. Trixie bit me in my armpit and we got rid of her. In that space, sunlight came through the kitchen window and I’d stand still and watch the tiny pieces of dust moving through the air like tiny fliers. Fairy dust. We only lived there a short time. Eventually my parents were able to buy a house and 17th Street disappeared. 

This is one of the few pictures I have of our house on 23rd street in Sioux City. The photo was taken from the rear.


It was the only house my parents ever owned. It was big and hard for my mom to manage. My brother bred white mice in the basement. When they were born, I was fascinated by their naked pink squirmy bodies. We had bats in the attic. I can see my mom chasing them, brandishing a broom at a sheer curtain or the baseboard by the door that led to the attic. I am sitting in the kitchen, watching her press a glass into cookie dough, the round shapes pulling away and then laid carefully on a sheet for baking. I played outside all the time. We had neighbors called the Brewers and the Larimers. The dad in the Larimer family was a doctor. Their home and lot were really massive. Their kids  were Robin, Charlie and Janie. Robin was my age and was my first love. We played imaginary games in which he played the dual roles of noble fly and nasty spider. I was always the butterfly in distress, constantly in need of rescue. Thinking about that makes me laugh because I was a rugged outdoor girl with a sense of confidence. But we played it that way anyhow. The Larimers were Scottish and each summer they had a huge barbecue with bagpipers and what they called a weenie roast. Still makes me laugh. I had my first drink of orange soda pop at one of these grand events and was astonished by the carbonation bubbling up my nose. I liked milk.

I had a tricycle named Silver after the Lone Ranger’s horse with pink, green and white plastic streamers that blew at the ends of my handlebars. We had a new dog, a collie mix named King who was gentle and once came home carrying a baby raccoon in his mouth. My mom fed it strawberries which it pulled apart with its black, leathery fingers. We called it Mario. I can’t remember what became of him. I stayed outside as long as I could every day. My dad called me Chief Blackfoot which hurt my feelings.,My mom gave me jars with air holes punched in the lids for oxygen. I filled them with twigs and leaves and hunted for caterpillars which I hoped would cocoon and turn into butterflies like me. There was a tall stand of hollyhocks on the corner and I’d stand very still and watch bees disappear into the depths of their centers and wonder if they’d ever come out. When they did, if you stuck your nose in after they left, it would come out yellow, covered in pollen.

Once, there was a big flood in our town and my dad wrapped me in a rough blanket and carried me to the house on the highest ground where Mrs. Monroe, who lived there,  said we could stay until the water receded. The next day, I went with dad to find our car which had floated down the block and was stopped from disappearing altogether by a sturdy fence. Life was full of adventure.

(C) 2003 Gateway,Inc. 

This is a photo of Hunt School where I went to kindergarten and 1st grade. I really loved my kindergarten teacher, Miss Wyfles. My mom had surgery the year before I started school and I was very upset by the possibility that people could vanish from their proper places. Every day I asked my mom if Miss Wyfles would be in school and if she’d be home when I got home. And instead of saying maybe or usually, she always said yes. One day Miss Wyfles was absent. Evidently I threw such an enormous fit that my sister who was 5 and 1/4 years older than me, was sent for to talk me off the ledge.  She said my eyes were big as saucers and I was totally rigid. The first terror I remember. But I liked school. I liked my rug used for naps and the carton of milk we got before we slept. I remember our cloakroom-in the winter, the teachers were always reminding us to stand our rubbers up straight so the insides wouldn’t get wet. Those ugly black boots which had clips to snap together. I was glad when I finally got a pair of red boots. I also remember our air raid drills, thinking all the while that my arms probably wouldn’t do much to stop a bomb if it fell right on top of me. 


Once, my sister forgot me at school. I was supposed to meet her on the front steps so she could walk me home. Eventually all the kids had gone except me. I can’t remember how I figured out how to make my way but when I appeared at the top of our slanted block, people were calling and looking for me.They were so glad to see me and proud of me for finding my way.  I always thought my sister figured if she left me there I might never come home. That was the beginning of my being industrious and streetwise.

Sioux City didn’t work out for us. We were moving back to Chicago and had to leave King behind because he couldn’t live in our apartment. Robin took me to the big toy room in their house and said I could pick out any toy I wanted. I chose a metal horse with 3 legs. He kept some of our fish which he held in a bowl, alongside his siblings and his parents who waved goodbye as we all looked sadly out the back window of our car. After they faded from sight, I asked my parents if there was milk in Chicago and how you got to be the first car on the road.

There was a before. Remembering it helps with the now. Someday, there may be an after.



637DA103-998B-419C-8C24-CB83EB609500When I was younger, I remember having a conversation with my older sister about hard times that invariably appear throughout life. How do we handle them? What’s the go-to response when things get tough? She told me that she always relied on her body for managing the challenges. I was so surprised. For me, it’s always been my brain. I’ve always thought that by turning inward and digging deep into my mind that I could manage almost anything. Michael would watch me thinking and roll his eyes and say, “ more brains.” I think it’s a quote from a Night of the Living Dead movie. He referred to me as his existential little soulmate.

I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. A lot of people view space as the final frontier. For me, the space between our ears is the most mysterious and still relatively unknown place for exploration. In the past week, I’ve read two interesting articles about the brain. One was about whether or not there are structural differences between the brains of highly creative people and everyone else. The other posited that there may be a universal brain Wi-fi system that connects all of us. That when we get a feeling about someone and suddenly your phone rings and you hear that voice, it’s because of a transmission rather than a sixth sense. I’m really interested in all this stuff and figure I won’t live long enough to truly know all the answers about what’s in my head or anyone else’s. But there are some things I feel really certain about and I’d like to share them.

If you’re not constantly questioning and wondering, you run the risk of getting stale, thinking you’ve got all the answers. We live in a perpetually evolving state, inside and out. Getting too comfortable and taking anything for granted is a dangerous trap. Especially if you don’t like unexpected bad surprises. No one knows what’s around the corner or a phone call away. Staying plastic and flexible in your mind helps when life dishes you a piece of darkness. 

Then there are the tricks that I’ve worked hard to develop that always work for me. My two most annoyingly repeated pieces of advice, especially if you’re one of my kids, are the following: 1) If you want to have a good life you need to develop excellent coping skills. People with the best lives have done that because most of life is about coping. Poor skills=poor life. 2) There’s a 5 year rule. When you’re smacked down in a hole by a life event, stop and ask yourself what you were doing exactly 5 years ago today. I mean exactly. Unless you’re one of those unfortunate people with total recall, you won’t remember. Just like you won’t remember the monster you’re dealing with today, 5 years from now. Not in the same way, at least. Indeed, perspective is everything. It all winds up in the rear view mirror.

I have a few more techniques that help me manage the unmanageable. One is by making sure I look back and comb through my history and my experiences. Often, I find something back there that shines a light on the now, some nugget that drops a useable tool in my my mind that helps me navigate today. Stuffing all your negatives away is a good way to get an ulcer. Looking them over demystifies and normalizes almost anything. And there are little gems hidden in those memory banks.

Finally, there’s cutting whatever the monster is into manageable pieces. I saw this cartoon in a newspaper once-it was a giant ball rolling downhill and there were feet, hands, heads and other body parts sticking out of it as it swallowed everyone in its path. Don’t get sucked into the giant ball. I usually sit down and write about whatever is happening, working my way from the worst parts to the less painful. I look for tiny pieces that I can somehow manage and manipulate rather than letting myself get completely flattened by the weight of the pile. Baby steps take time but after awhile, the impossible becomes doable and little pockets of being okay reappear. A process that for me is a metaphor for life. If you only think about the whole, you get paralyzed. Find the small. A little bit at a time. The next thing you know, the ball can be kicked instead of swallowing you whole.

So, brains. I’m working on mine. It helps. My son would say, there you go again, being the itinerant lecturer, offering up advice without ever having been asked for any. Michael would say I’m trying to be the cruise director. Whatever. Brains. Think about them. 





1CF7F75B-E387-46E7-8DDF-072A2A6FA104I never was very ambitious. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist for awhile. But I figured out that having no idea what to draw or paint when looking at a blank piece of paper was probably a critical drawback. I was pretty much interested in every subject that came my way, with math and physics being the only ones that didn’t light my furnace. I spent a lot of time reading books. I also liked talking about politics. I enjoyed riding in the car with my dad, listening to news radio and hearing what he had to say about Mayor Daley and local officials like Ben Adamowski.  I used to put people like that on my lists of friends and crushes, which usually changed on a daily basis.

I felt pretty weird, at least in comparison to lots of the kids around me. My family lived in a neighborhood which was populated by a diverse mix, but as a young teenager, I mostly noticed that we couldn’t afford the clothes and lifestyles of the “coolest kids.” No overnight camps, Gant shirts or Weejun shoes for me.  It was hard to be an outsider looking in on that world. How to fit became my most pressing question.

My family had moved from Sioux City, Iowa to Chicago when I was seven. I was put in first grade, though I’d already completed it, but I assume that small town school was considered less than adequate.  A few weeks into the school year, a teacher showed up and said I was done in my class and moved me to second grade. The year after that I did three semesters in two. Same thing happened in sixth and seventh grade. I felt so afraid. I didn’t know where I belonged. Each time I felt settled, I was in a new space.

My older brother and sister were having a hard time. I could tell they felt like imposters. Changing  cities and schools in adolescence is so challenging. I knew they were sad and uncomfortable. I was trying to figure out how to avoid that and just be ok. But what to do about the uncontrolled changes? Where did I really belong? How about the people I called the clothes police? The ones who said, “where are your dress shoes,” on picture day? I didn’t have dress shoes. So I said I forgot it was picture day. When I wore the puke green ribbon sweater with the maroon skirt and a girl said, “that doesn’t match,” I replied, “It does now.” Aha.  I’d found my angle. I would embrace the role of being different. And I’d make it charming, funny, entertaining. I’d squash the fear of being an outsider, push away that square peg in the round hole feeling. I wrestled internally. I was the wrong size, I had the wrong clothes, but I’d be the right friend and develop some strong  armor to get by. And it worked. I figured out how to maneuver my way through my teen years, planning strategies, cultivating friendships, even getting elected treasurer of student council. I was the puppet master instead of the misfit. Pretty repugnant but successful.

When I went to college, I was barely 17. I had no idea what I was doing or what I wanted to do, but I was sure of one thing. I wanted to shed the persona I’d developed to survive high school and be just me. Whoever that was. Just me. A genuine, authentic self. I kept a magic suit of mental armor to protect myself from unexpected assaults, but I turned inward, trying to figure out who I was. It’s a task that takes a long time. Trying to understand what you want rather than what others expect is a lengthy process. The layers of behavior and attitudes that take years to acquire have to be examined and dissected – a confusing process. Often a lonely one. Finding my voice was easy on the surface because I had a lot of language. Years of reading gave me access to a bottomless reservoir for creating one-liners and developing a stinging wit. But there was more to authenticity than word games. Everyone can remember the things they wished they’d been able to say during particularly tough moments. They usually came hours later, in the shower, where red-faced and fuming, all the should’ves arrive, like pieces of lost baggage at the airport. I peeled away at my insides, walking through an interior landscape with boulders and rocks that needed peeking under and shoving aside. Through my 20’s and 30’s, I clambered around in there, looking for my real voice, my real heart and perhaps most importantly, my real principles. And over time, I began to realize that what came out of my mouth was starting to be integrated with what was in me. I stopped feeling a disparity between my internal and external lives. I had become authentic, although I periodically wondered if I was really me and not a fraud. Those masks we wear are hard to discard.

Eventually I felt I had arrived. Living in a place where I was all me all the time. In a bad spot, I had access to my most real self. I became my trusted ally. Authenticity helps make you fearless. The certainty of self-knowledge is what we have left when our lives convulse. When the unexpected happens, when the people we love die, authenticity helps in going forward into the opaque that was once translucent. I’m not going to give up this hard fought self I’ve become in my life. I’m still flexible and can grow but I have a true center. No matter what happens, I’m truly mine. To this day I don’t know exactly what I want to be, but I like who I am. That’s something.






119CDD06-A430-4E2B-8F6F-8EDCF5099208I started writing letters to Michael almost immediately after we became friends. Back in 1971, there wasn’t much happening in the way of technology. Besides, I really loved stringing words together, trying to find the perfect ones to express the relentless deluge of verbiage that constantly rushed through my head. While sorting through piles of paper recently, I found an essay I’d written in college for a lit class-the professor commented that I certainly had a wealth of words. Indeed. I talk as much as I write.

Michael and I became best friends when we met in 1971. Neither one of us understood why. One of those instantaneous connections that is inexplicable. For 6 months, we spent hours talking late into the night and I wrote letters as well. Torrents of words that I needed to get out of me and Michael received them all. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if he was really listening, but mostly it felt like he was and when I was finished, I felt peace. After those months of friendship, I left for Europe with two friends. Michael was looking after my dog and he brought her to my parents’ place for a quick last visit before I left for good. My friends and I were driving to New York to get our flight,  and during those hours in the car, I was mulling things over and realized that what I had with Michael was more than friendship. I was pretty sure I was in love and when we stopped for the night in Philly, I called to tell him the news, and he replied, “Far out!” And off I went on my adventure for almost 3 months.

While I was traveling, I practically choked on all the things I wanted to say. I wrote Michael almost every day, in addition to filling pages in my journals. I recorded everything that happened, inside and out. And in each major city, I ran to the American Express office hoping he’d write me back. And he did. On a lucky day, I’d have a fistful of letters from him and my family. Truly a lost art. You could feel the writer in the paper. You could smell them as you pressed these precious missives up against your nose. I even wrote to my dog and she wrote me. That’s what we did for each other.

When Michael died, I started sitting through all of his papers and mine as well. And I found that both of us had saved every letter, every greeting card, every scrap and note that we’d ever written each other. So overwhelming and wonderful. How I missed our exchanges which stretched out over 45 years. What could I possibly do with all the feelings bubbling up inside of me?

The solution was relatively simple. I just kept writing to him. Right now I can’t exactly say how many letters I’ve composed to him since his death. I’m piling them up in notebooks. I know I’ll never get an answer from him. But the purging of all my churning thoughts remains the relief it always was. Some day I might publish the collection. Today,  I decided to share a particularly prescient one that I wrote him on July 10, 1997. I still feel the same as I did when I wrote it.


In my head I see your profile Because I’m next to you, as usual. Thinking of what we’ve done. Births. Surgeries. Deaths. Lies. Fears. Insecurities. Joy. Companionship. Passion. Tenderness. Excitement. Longing. Everything.

With more to come. It sneaks up on you. Year after year. The great love of your life, your best friend. The blurry lines between you and me and me and you.

I made the right choices. I did the best for me.

Right now our children are coming home from a trip. Haven’t seen them in six days or so. Haven’t seen you in four hours. I miss you more.

Will you be coming to sit on my bed in the middle of the night if you should die before me? The way my mother says my father comes to hers?


Who knew, right? I’m glad I didn’t.
















I don’t remember when structure started. I guess you’re born into it. By the time remembered cognition begins, there are people around you, and spaces which encompass you, and rules about everything. The structure seeps into you, osmotically, unconsciously and suddenly you have made contracts. Sleeping at night, eating at given times throughout the day, trying not to get in trouble with your parents, going to school. And over time, the structures define your life. Clocks and relationships and jobs. Time for exercise, time for fun, downtime, leisure time,  Appointments for life’s little chores. Deadlines. At least that’s the way it is for most of us who operate within the social construct. 

A normal part of the aging process is for structures to mutate, for priorities to shift in malleable hierarchies. There’s a big difference between a baby, a kid, an adult, a partner, an employee or employer, a senior citizen, a person alone. Usually. Things get really different when most of the structures disappear. The price exacted by being mortal and vulnerable, the price most of us don’t want to consider on a daily basis. If we’re lucky the pace of change is glacial. Small subtle alterations  are constantly coursing through us, inside and out. Too many to count and many below our level of awareness. In essence, this is the kindest, gentlest way to proceed on this brief journey through life.

The past 6 years haven’t been like that for me. I left my job of 33 years and became a caregiver for my grandson. The plan was to do it for the next one as well. But life happened.  My mother moved in with me.  Michael and I were stunned by his cancer diagnosis.  I suddenly had three people who really needed me. My knees went from creaky to bone on bone. I had to move my mother into an assisted living facility. She was mean and angry and treated me like a criminal.

Michael’s cancer advanced. He had 18 aggressive chemotherapy treatments and we ran off to what we thought would be our last trip. He stayed strong and on the eve of another journey to spend time with Henry alone in Panama, a guys’ trip, I fell into kidney stone pain. I sent him anyway. Got through that part while living with what felt like a golf ball rolling around in my left kidney. Then a close friend died with his wife abroad and I went through what felt like a dress rehearsal for Michael, at my friend’s deathbed with two of his children. My mother got the flu and developed dementia. Into the nursing home she went.  The new baby arrived – Michael was so thrilled to meet him. Tristan Michael.

The cancer came back again. We had second, third and fourth opinions. We scrambled to get into a clinical trial and were turned away with the comment, go home and get sicker. Unfortunately Michael obliged. In 2015, the third in our struggle, my brother died in April and Michael hovered at the edge of death until he miraculously received Keytruda off-trial in June. Then my mother died in July, followed that same week by our dog, aged 14 and a half. My older sister and I, who were always a seeming accident of blood, cut ties permanently.  And lastly, the family of the old friend who died, fell away, our friendship doomed by an accident in time which left me in their private  space. Such a year.

In 2016, there were months of anxious peace and joy, each ordinary day exquisite in its normalcy. But always there was the underlying threat of disease and as the end of the year approached, it was clear to me that Michael was changing before my eyes. Last  year, we journeyed through our final time together, ending first with his death, and then the loss of a second dog a scant two weeks later. Five deaths in two years and two significant living losses. 

A short time after Michael died, I realized that all the structures in my life were gone. I am unemployed. My parents are dead. My husband is dead.  My children are grown. I have no schedule. That was lost while caring for Michael. I have nowhere to be. An amorphous life. The structures of my days have vanished. I am like an amoeba, somewhat shapeless, floating around in the soup. Such a strange feeling. Separated from any framework other than what I create. 

I’m trying to build structures to occupy. But I’m not sure what I want them to feel like. I bob like a cork in the water, somewhat buoyed by what was,  and yet knowing that going forward is what is required. My new grand experiment. Will I rejoin the social construct or live in the periphery in this amorphous state? I guess we’ll see. 






Tracing in the Grey


Most of my life, I’ve lived by a conscious decision to be unaffected by weather. I never saw much point in allowing my mood to be altered by something so completely out of my control. And I’ve been lucky enough to adhere to this idea, day in, day out. Until this week.

Tuesday was the first day of the second session of the grief support group I fought to get started at our local cancer center. Not having a group there was such an egregious oversight to me. I needed help which wasn’t there.  I’m determined to keep it going so no one else has to feel that no place exists to share the grief that accompanies death, especially with others experiencing the same feelings.

But this group was very different from the first one. Everyone in the first one was a widow.  I felt a kinship with those people and our exchange was open and freewheeling despite the best efforts of the social worker to have us follow a syllabus of a sort – the ones that lay out the stages of grief in order, as if we all will follow the same path like good little grievers.

This time, everyone in the group had lost a child. One was a 24 year old son who’d died of a rare kidney cancer. He’s been gone 2 years, but his mom is stuck in grief as fresh as the day he died in her arms. Then there was the couple whose son was working hard on his organic farm when a tree suddenly toppled over and crushed him to death.

I instantly felt like an imposter. After we became parents Michael and I had countless conversations about the fear of losing a child. And that was a constant, that neither one of us thought anything could fell us except that.  And here I was with these people who looked ghostly and nakedly bereft. The new facilitator had her grief sheet with her and turned to the father of the son who died in the freak accident and asked him how he would describe loss. The man stared at her and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She could have been speaking in tongues for all he knew or cared.

I tried hard that day. I summoned all my internal resources to try to provide something meaningful to these people. I moved chairs to sit next to one woman and asked if I could just touch her hand as she vented. I felt so weighed down by their pain. I can’t deny my own, but still. I felt selfish and small even though I understand that I’m entitled to my pain.

When I left the group that day, I noticed the grey sky. It’s been grey and wet, icy and snowy, frigidly cold. So many people are sick with colds and flu and I, with my still dreadful sleeping habits, am digging deep and hoping my immune system will help me fend all that off, while I babysit for my sniffling, feverish grandchildren and watch my kids plow through their fatigue and aches. And then I realized I hated the grey weather. It feels like an iron yoke on my back and I want to push it away and feel sun and put my toes in the ocean where life will churn around my ankles. So strange to feel that sensation.

I have no idea how to adjust to this new feeling. Oddly, it makes me miss Michael more. He was the one who constantly moaned about winter and grey and cold, lying under piles of comforters and afghans on his side of the bed, while I never needed anything extra for warmth. While I couldn’t care less about what was going on outside aside from practical issues. I was always very busy and occupied inside. And despite this new external load, this awareness of the oppressive weather and atmosphere, I am internally occupied. I am quietly tracing the curve of his chin, the length of his fingers, the breadth of his shoulders inside myself, in this grey cloak. I’m doing my grief in the nether regions now, amidst the grey, foggy places that never meant much to me before. My new angle on the world. 






The Famous Red Notebook

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When Michael’s cancer invaded his brain in late 2016, and most especially after the effects of whole brain radiation, he lost his ability to deal with technology. No computer, no phone, no remote.  Television was confusing. Music was supplied by me-after years of constant tunes, he reached for nothing.  In addition, his memory was impaired.  All the humdrum daily events we take for granted vanished from our world. In the few weeks of semi-normal life that we squeezed out of his last days, the only significant routines were simple body maintenance, limited conversations and desperate hugs.

Frantic to keep him as engaged as possible, I started asking him questions that might stimulate other portions of his brain-my desperate effort to improve the quality of his life. Mine, too. Frequently these questions elicited a mysterious response – everything you want to know is in the red notebook. What the hell was the red notebook? To me it sounded like a figment of his imagination, a stuck place like a skip on an LP. I felt so desolate and empty. Void of the ability to make an impact, to provide meaning and depth in our shrinking interactions.

Until the day I found the said red notebook, squished in between his many folders and cookbooks in a basket on the floor, next to the spot where he always sat on the couch.  Sweet relief. It was chock full of ideas and lists, the outline for an autobiography and various chores to be done. Whenever later was. Coupled with what I found on his computer five months after his death, this was a unique look into the mind of this man I knew and loved so well. As he said so many times, he wasn’t done. Even though he faced down Merkel Cell every day for more than five years, there was humor and wit and plans for possible adventures. Ideas and designs and epitaphs. A notebook bursting with hope and desire for what he called “this glorious life.”A look into the most private labyrinths we all carry inside us. red was also his favorite color.

Using the autobiography as a guide, I decided to interview him to see what he could recall. To my amazement, the stories from sixty years ago and more came pouring out of him as I wrote frantically beside him. Too stunned to stop and find a recording device. Too afraid to stem the flow in case it disappeared. I’ll never understand why that storage bin was still accessible, but everything changed from  sharing those tales of the boy from long ago.

I’m now transcribing all those notes, with all his words, into pages that will be the companions for my kids and grandchildren and perhaps beyond all of them. My concept of immortality.



January 5, 2018

Last night, I was looking around my bedroom, my most favorite room in the house. Always the safe spot, the cushion of love, the untouchable cavern which kept the outside strife of the world at arm’s length. Our retreat from it all. 

Although my husband died in our home, this sense of security and sanctuary remains, leaked into the walls through almost 40 years of life here. Where the babies were made and grew up, bouncing on the bed with excitement, snuggling in when they were scared or lonely, a family bed that spanned three generations. The shelves with books and candles and artsy little pieces tumbled together. Dozens of photo albums. 

The room is full of photographs, black and white, color too. I see my grandmother, my parents, my sister, nieces and nephew. My children and their friends. And of course, the pets, dog after dog, who filled our lives and eventually broke our hearts as they went before us. 

And then there are the pictures of me and Michael. As individuals, as a pair, with the kids and the pets, inside and out, wintry and summery and everything that lies between. The homey ones and the magical vacations. So much wondrous joy.

And I realized that I’ll never have a new picture of Michael again. His history is played out and as I move forward, aging along with my children and their children, he is forever frozen in time. Why this was stunning, I truly cannot say, but it was. I felt a powerful wave of sadness, the tidal kind that makes you wonder if you’ll be able to stand up from the bed and step into the next room.

I am trying to puzzle my way through this particular sense of an emptier future, so different than missing flesh and body and sound. I am already missing the dream of us, shrinking some, wrinkling more, side by side, holding each other and all those we love, as we cross into our imagined old age. Still dressed like we were kids, listening to music, watching movies and maybe denying the physical changes and limits we were both accustomed to doing already. The missing pictures of future trips and life events. The photos which for me will always have an empty space by my side.

I never once thought about the photographs which will never exist. I’m grateful for the ones I have. I can choose the part of life in which we were our most beautiful vibrant selves and soak in those memories. Michael will always have seen me full of our love and joy, forever young or at least younger. I think I’ll do the same with him and revel in his strength and humor and consistency that is stacked on my shelves, the outside and inside ones.

And I will forever hate fucking cancer, as my friend Cynthia and I always say. Fucking cancer.



This Madness.


January 3, 2018

In such a brief time the culture has devolved into a mad carnival of the absurd. The news cycle spins so quickly, I must look away to stabilize my mind and wonder that there are those reveling in the madness that flashes in milibytes across their screens.
New weather names describe bomb-like storms with winds and snows that mimic nuclear devastation. Meanwhile, the recovery from fall storms and fires creeps along at a glacial pace and the suffering victims slide further to the bottom of the pile.
In the midst of this daze-inducing chaos, I try to figure out my new life.
I still sleep on my side of the bed. I am suddenly stunned by the knowledge that I’ll never have a new photo of my husband. He slipped away while Comey was fired, amidst absurd executive orders with a wild man displaying his signature like a five year old.
What steps should I be taking while the world quakes in mad eruptions every day? What can I do that matters?
I take a deep breath and reach for my self-taught lessons. Spin in circles with arms stretched wide and whatever you can touch is something you can try to fix. The big picture is too big. Remember my 5 year rule-I don’t recall exactly what happened five years ago today and I won’t remember exactly what happened 5 years from now. The sharp lines and feelings will hopefully blur into a less painful memory.
I am trying to push forward. I will forever wonder whether learning to live without my life’s partner would have been easier if only Trump had never been elected.
On to other thoughts tomorrow.

Whose Grief is It Anyway?

I wrote this post about 8 months after Michael died. My thoughts haven’t changed. I know a number of people in the grief process. I thought I’d share my feelings again in the hope that someone might find them helpful.

BC5F3DFA-3390-4E52-B946-77B024FFD2DCI am a really lucky person. I lived with someone who never asked me to be anyone but myself. The joy of reaching the space of true authenticity is hard to describe. Being able to always be yourself has a lightness to it. A sense of freedom. Arriving in that spot which enables you to say what you think, feel what you feel and be who you are, regardless of circumstance, is my idea of having truly self-actualized. I’ve treasured the luxury of being genuine.FF27030A-5C1C-4D57-8536-D33F0D609AC5

That authenticity has been challenged in the eight plus months I’ve lived since Michael died. The me that I am has created many odd moments as I work through my emotions. I’ve had some tough issues with people regarding the way they’ve handled my expression of grief.

Mostly, they don’t know that. Our culture does a wretched job with death and grief. There are lots of books out there which describe the steps everyone must take to handle what is the inevitable for all of us. There are timetables. The first and most popular one seems to be that you’re not supposed to do anything for a year after an important death. Otherwise you might regret your actions. But at one year, you have permission to act. Where’s the magic button for that change, I wonder? Can’t find it on my phone or computer.

Then there are the platitudes. “He’s in a better place.” “I’m sorry for your loss.” “It’s still too soon, but in time, you”ll believe you’re ready for a new companion.” Really??? Where’s the better place? I’d like to pay a visit. I haven’t lost Michael-I know I didn’t leave him at the mall. Why on earth would you think I want a new companion? I have a dog.

Let’s not forget the people who make you feel like a leper. They run the other way and say nothing. Your presence reminds them of the fragility of life. The ones who ignore you because they don’t know what to say. Saying I don’t know what to say isn’t on their radar. 

When I speak to people, I have often felt a recoiling.  If my words don’t match the common perceptions of what this pain is, people pull back. At a time when you feel most isolated, there’s a sense that if your truth makes someone uncomfortable, you should be quiet or agree with a thought you truly don’t believe. So you feel more alone than ever. And irritated that you’re the one who needs to fill someone else’s emotional gaps.

So here are a few ideas. The first is to try to simply listen. If you aren’t asked for an opinion or suggestion, don’t give one. We are all so different. What you hope might sound healing may have the opposite effect. Quell your internal noise and hear. Often, all that is required is a simple I’m sorry. Or perhaps a friendly pat or a briefly held hand. A hug. No one can change the course of another person’s journey. Don’t try to assist unless you’re asked for assistance. If what you hear sounds disturbing, unsettled or wrong to you, just let it be. Most importantly, don’t argue or try to convince a grieving person that you have The Answer. You don’t. Except what you decide for yourself. And don’t be afraid to feel helpless.  Everyone feels somewhat helpless in the face of another’s pain. But you can still bring a little warmth and solace into the impossible. Small moments count. Being marginalized or unheard hurts.

I’m happy to be able to purge myself of these thoughts. I hope you find them useful as you move through your own unexpected circumstances. I want to be helpful as well. Thanks for the listening.

Quote of the day: Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right. Isaac Asimov

On this day in history: January 2, 1788 – Georgia becomes the 4th state to ratify the United States Constitution.