Saturday, December 28, 2013

a glimpse of community in winter

Someday, when I have sold Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and begun my life over again,  these are the days I will miss the most.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases and a New Year filled with hope and joy.

This photo set is our year in review.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

zweifelt (reprise)

Today, I went to the ballet and to the abattoir. Neither is particularly unusual; both were necessary.

My life is strange. Mostly I like it that way.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I've been bending your ears (eyes) a lot about grief, so here's a happy diversion inspired by the Friday tradition over at soulemama to post a photo of "A simple, special, extraordinary moment."

The surprise arrival of these living ornaments in the mail jumpstarted the holiday decorating inside Rambling Farmhouse this week.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


There are few people in the world from whom I will tolerate a harangue. My grandmother is one. (If you've met her, I'm sure you're smiling knowingly.) My friend Sasha's mom Lyudmila is another.

Lyudmila is usually soft-spoken, but every once in a while she takes up the mantle of the Russian Babushka and let's you know what's wrong with the world. (If you've ever had a grey-haired woman you've never met walk up to you in a public place in Moscow and tell you that you'll never get a man if you don't dress better and put on some makeup, I'm sure you're smiling knowingly.)

Several weeks ago, I stopped at Sasha's to visit for a bit. While I was taking my coat and boots off, I heard tsking behind me, and when I stood up, the harangue started:

"Still in black! Katyusha, why? How long has it been? Months! This is not what Adam would want. You are so young! He would want you to live and to be happy and to finish your studies. To live. Not this. Katyushenka, it's time."

Then she went to make the tea.

It was the most loving harangue I've ever received. And she was right. It's time.

Moving back to color is not as easy as embracing black was. The line of demarcation is much less sharp. I didn't have a choice about entering this space between end and beginning; Adam's instant and unexpected death plunged me into the wilderness. Moving through and emerging on the other side, however, has to be my choice. It's not necessarily an easy choice. I've gotten used to the wilderness, I've adjusted to the landscape, but I know I can't stay here forever.

So, I'm trying on color again. I haven't unpacked all the things I put away, just pulled out the warmest things or the things I missed. And there may be some days that the black that has represented me to the world for these months will offer the most comfort.

My friend Erin, who pointedly complimented my purple sweater when she came to visit this week, gave me a beautiful image for this process of moving toward beginning. She said that at first I looked like I was carrying a burden that bowed my shoulders and weighed me down, that she could see it in my posture and hear it in my voice. But now, when she looks at me she sees one of those women who carry baskets of produce or jugs of water balanced neatly on their heads with beautiful posture and seeming effortlessness. (If you've ever experienced what a klutz I can be, I'm sure you're smiling knowingly.)

I am so blessed to have wise people who can tell me what they see kindly and lovingly and just when I need to hear it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Sorting someone else's things is profoundly intimate.

I violate private space to empty the desk and the dressers.

I judge the value of objects:
worthwhile memento
useful bit
questionable mystery
worthy of donation
worthless trash

I create categories:
office supplies
foreign currency
drawings and calculations
garage debris

Many objects remind me of something about their owner. Some objects reveal what I had never known.

Each decision feels like not only a decision about the object, but a decision about the person.

I want to claim the corners of this house that have been unused since Adam died. I want to fill them with life and purpose instead of dust and cobwebs.

I purchase the space with my tears.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Today was the disposition hearing (juvenile court equivalent of sentencing) in the matter against the teenaged driver who caused the accident that killed my husband. Unlike the preliminary hearing, this time I did not go alone. Adam's parents, his sister and brother-in-law, his best friend, my mother, and the children went with me.

Taking the children was a bit of a controversial decision. Sofia especially did not want to go, but her reasons were all based on unwarranted fears (of having to meet people, of having to speak). I wanted the teenager to see the faces of the lives her actions have impacted, and I wanted the girls to see that she is a regular person, not a monster.

I did accept the invitation to speak in court. I said, "Your mistake has affected so many lives, and you can see some of them here. No punishment this court can impose can bring my husband back. The only thing you can do is serve the sentence the judge gives you, get a good education, and share your gifts with the world. Because that is what my husband was doing, sharing his gifts with the world." At least, I'm pretty sure I said all of that. It's what I meant to say, but it was punctuated by a lot of sobs.

I think everyone on the prosecution side of the courtroom cried. Even the judge cried when she was reading from the victim impact statement I had submitted ahead of time. (My submitted statement included a printout of the Wikipedia page about Adam, and the judge had it with her at the bench. If the author of that page is reading this, please know that you have my thanks.) The prosecutor cried, too, when she met us in the hall afterward.

The teenager has been sentenced to an additional 30 days of home detention, which includes attending school. She has already served 60 days of home detention, but more time can be added if the probation officer requests it. Probation will be at least 15 months and include mental health services. She is also required to serve 1,000 hours of community service and make a modest financial restitution.

Today's events have made emotions raw again. If you've been praying for us, please include all those who were involved in the hearing today. This was not easy for anyone.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

walk in the light

This sermon was delivered Sunday, December 1, 2013 at the Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference). The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Year A, First Sunday of Advent were Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, and Romans 13:11-14.

My favorite part of Advent is the candles. Seriously. I think we do not have enough holidays that involve candles. They’re pretty awesome.
In the storms a couple of weeks ago, we were without power at my house from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday evening, and I spent more time with candlelight than I have in a while. I was reminded that the flame of a candle is different from electric light. It’s more glowy, and it doesn’t penetrate as far. A single candle, like the one we lit this morning, or a small group of candles, like the ones we will light in coming weeks, can illuminate the space immediately surrounding them, while at the same time highlighting the darkness at the edges of the room, outside the circle of light. This limited range of candlelight draws people in, pulls them into the illuminated space. I suppose electric light works the same way, but on a grander scale, and the circle of light from one light bulb intersects with the circle of light from the next such that we notice the darkness less and we are not drawn together.
It’s no coincidence that Advent comes as the days are getting ever shorter, or that we celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of year. Have you ever noticed how many religious and cultural traditions celebrate a holiday this time of year? There’s Christmas, Hannukah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, African Kwanzaa, Buddhist Bodhi Day.
The common theme of all these holidays is light. Hannukah celebrates the light that lasted eight nights despite having oil only for one. Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing. Kwanzaa uses colored candles as a mnemonic device to remember the Seven Principles. And Bodhi Day commemorates the light of wisdom coming to the Buddah.
There is something wonderful about a light shining in the darkness, a candle pushing back the night with its wee little flame. This morning, as we lit our first Advent candle, we began preparing for our own celebration of the Light of World, the birth of the one prophesied in Isaiah, who will teach us to walk in his paths.
Isaiah 2:5 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.What a beautiful vision. Imagine that for a moment. Imagine a world where everyone felt safe enough to transform their weapons into tools. That looks like a pretty beautiful place to me.
We often read this verse as an impossible pie-in-the-sky vision for the future. Something that maybe our children’s children’s children will see. However, this verse taken in the context of the passage from Isaiah and Psalm 122 and the passage from Romans does not have to be a vision for the distant future. If we accept the call from Isaiah to walk in the light or from the writer of Romans to put on the armor of light, we can work to realize this vision here, now, in this world where we live.
For centuries, Christian thought has regarded this present world as unimportant, an imperfect and broken world from which Christ will lift us on his second coming. This idea of the world as an imperfect shadow of the perfect reality elsewhere can be traced back to the Neo-Platonists, a group of Greek philosophers contemporary with the early church.* This idea, however, does not originate within the church. Rather, it is an example of secular culture overlaid onto the narrative of creation, fall, crucifixion, resurrection, and return. At some times in our history, Christians have argued that this world does not matter, that we should live our lives as a means to get to the Kingdom of God in the afterlife.
The passages from Isaiah and from the epistle to the Romans, however, each include an invitation for the present. They propose that we “walk in the light of the Lord” and “put on the armor of light.” But what does that mean?
Increasingly in recent years, there has been a movement among some Christians to live in the kingdom of god right here and right now. To endeavor to make this present world a better place by loving our neighbors as ourselves, turning the other cheek, caring for the creation, and working for social justice. A commitment to living the kingdom into fruition has broad implications for the way we live our lives and where we spend our limited time, energy, and resources.
We can join the Evangelical Environmental Network, which embraces creation care projects around the world. We can support missionaries from the United Methodist Church and from other denominations who lead the fight against disease in the world’s most poor and war-ravaged countries with projects like Imagine No Malaria. We can support organizations like Friendly PlanetMissiology who are working to aid the development of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Katanga region by riding their bicycles through jungles and war zones to pray with local pastors and offer their helping hands. We can support UMCOR’s relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines. [At Wakelee: We can support Ruslan and Olga in the Ukraine or the Alliance for Smiles as we did with our collection this morning.]
Organizations and projects that live the kingdom into fruition exist around the world, but they are also happening right here. My friends Rob and Kirsten Vander Giessen-Rietsma, whom you might know as the founders of the World Fare store in Three Rivers, are doing wonderful work of kingdom building. Their organization *culture is not optional and the related Huss Projectmodel and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond” and “aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.” ** Rob and Kirsten and their board of directors took a huge leap of faith when they bought the old Huss School building on Eighth Street with the vision of a community center that includes space for public use as well as studio space for artists. Their faithful work has made so much progress. At their annual FutureFest, people who attended Huss mingle with the young people involved in the community garden and local artists, and the neighborhood around that building is rebuilding its sense of community. In this town of Marcellus, the work of the kingdom is happening, too. As the Marcellus Area Food Pantry offers nourishment to the body, this church and especially the Kids Rock program offer nourishment to the soul.
The world is so big. The creation is so very big, and it is so very broken, and sometimes the magnitude is overwhelming. It can be hard to choose where to commit our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.  With limited resources, we can only do so much.
But I think sometimes our commitment to projects and organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned this morning become a way that we pat ourselves on the back. We say, “I am supporting the mission of the church in Marcellus, or Three Rivers, or the Philippines, or the Congo. I am doing good work for the kingdom of God.” The greater challenge, at least for me, is to walk in the light in our daily lives apart from projects and organizations.
When we hear that line about beating our swords into ploughshares, we think of peace at the level of nations, but I think we also need to think of peace at the level of daily interactions. A sword is a tool for punishment, for killing, for aggression, and for domination.  A ploughshare, on the other hand, is a tool for nourishment and for sustaining life.  For the past few years, I have been working to interact with people using a ploughshare rather than a sword. You may remember the last time I stood in this pulpit talking about living God’s love in the world. It has not been easy to break out of the patterns of aggression and domination and to build life-sustaining habits of love in interpersonal interactions, and I’m not always successful. I still sometimes lose my temper and yell, just ask my children. The effort I’ve directed toward living love, though, has made me a better parent, a better teacher, a better co-worker, and a better spouse and friend.
My commitment to walk in the light of the kingdom of god by living love in my world was sorely tested this year. In June my husband was killed in an automobile accident caused by an unlicensed, teenaged driver who had taken her parents’ car for a joyride. She raced through an intersection without stopping at the stop sign and struck Adam’s car, spinning it into oncoming traffic at highway speed. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
            A lot of people expected me to be angry. A lot of them were angry themselves. They told me to “sue the pants off” the teenager’s parents, to "take them for all they're worth." They told me to demand the harshest sentence possible, to make sure the driver was tried as an adult, and that she served time in jail. The people who were angry wanted me to take up the sword.
Friends, that’s not what I did. I bent the sword into a ploughshare instead.
I prayed for the driver and her family, and I asked those who offered to pray for me to pray for her, too. I have been wounded and frustrated, but I have not been angry. This girl has seen the results of her poor choices in a very real way. She can not unsee the carnage of the accident or unknow that her actions resulted in someone else’s death, and that is a powerful sort of punishment that she will carry her whole life.
I do think that this teenager should face formal consequences for her actions, and the mechanism we have for consequences in American society is the court system. In conversation with the prosecutor’s office, I agreed that some combination of home detention, probation, and restitution through juvenile court would be appropriate, and the judge will make that decision tomorrow afternoon. In reality, though, no amount of punishment in a court of law can restore my husband to me or replace his unique contribution to God’s creation. To destroy the life of the teenager with the harshest punishment available would be to rob God’s creation of her unique contribution, too, and that would compound the tragedy.
This is me living love in a broken world. This is me doing my best to walk in the light. This is me saying with the psalmist, “Peace be within you,” to the people whose lives intersect with mine.

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar. We start our year in the growing darkness with time set aside to prepare to welcome the light back into the world at Christmas. There are many ways to answer Isaiah’s call to walk in the light, from the international to the interpersonal. I’ve mentioned several this morning. I invite you this Advent to join me in reflecting on what it means to walk in the light in our daily interactions with one another.

* More on this here.
** From *cino's mission and vision statements.

Correction: "Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing." This sentence has been changed. I mistakenly said that Saturnalia and the Solstice mark the moment that day and night are equal. I know better, and I appreciate the reader who pointed out my mistake. Thanks, Mel.

Update: This sermon has been reposted to the Spirituality Column at Spectrum in modified form.

Friday, November 1, 2013

(literary) companions in grief

It will come as no shock to those of you who know me well that I find solace in literature. My real-life friends are wonderful, and I have praised you here on these virtual pages, but many of my oldest and most intimate friends are met on the printed page. In this post, I'd like to introduce you to some of them.

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan and a poet in the early seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay Colony. If you picked up a memorial card at Adam's funeral, you saw her poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband," the last two lines of which have been with me lately:

Then while we live in love, let's so persever,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.

The above is, by far, my favorite, but Bradstreet has other poems that model faith amidst sorrow.

Where Bradstreet is excellent for comfort, Anna Akhmatova, an early twentieth-century Russian poet, is excellent for lamentation. Her cycle of poems, Реквием [Requiem], lays bare the soul's anguish at separation and loss. Especially apt is her description of the out-of-bodiness of grief:

Нет, это не я, это кто-то другой страдает.
Я бы так не могла, а то, что случилось,
Пусть черные сукна покроют,
И пусть унесут фонари.


No it is not I, someone else is suffering.
I could not have borne it otherwise, all that’s happening,
Let them grant to it a dark covering,
And let them take away the glittering......

This cycle of poems is on the syllabus for my world literature course, and teaching it is always bittersweet for me because it puts me through the ringer, while the students often don't appreciate its power.

Frederico Garcia Lorca's Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias [Lament for...] is also on the syllabus for that course, and the last time I taught it, in SP 2013, a couple of the students were deeply affected by this cycle of poems. They said that Lorca was spot on in his description of the process of grief. I didn't know it then, but now I know that they were totally right. Throughout the Llanto, Lorca, an early twentieth-century Spanish poet, captures the sense of time having stopped by building his poems around repeated phrases and parallel structure. 

The line from Lorca's Llanto that has been with me lately is the repeated phrase from the fourth poem: no te conoce, no te conoce, no te conoce. Somewhere (apologies that I can't remember where) I stumbled upon the insight that immediately upon the death of one's spouse, one is no longer the person one had been. I am increasingly aware that this new world, in which my new self lives, does not know Adam. 

Recently, a couple of kindred spirits have sent me poems with whom I'm starting make friends. One of these is Norwegian poet Karin Boye's "Din värme" ["Your Warmth"]. Another is "Life After Death" by Laura Gilpin, a twentieth-century American poet who reminds us

How the living go on living

and how the dead go on living with them
so that nothing is wasted in nature 
or in love.

Indeed, love is never wasted, even when it is lost. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

lingering fog

In the first days after Adam died, I felt like I was thinking through thick fog, like I didn't have access to all of my brain.

Even the simplest decisions were hard, and the hard ones were Sisyphean. My friends were amazing. They listened while I talked through choices slowly, and, though they offered their opinions and pointed out things I didn't see, they let me make decisions.

There were also resolutions, courses of action I knew to be right and necessary without having to decide. These came like bright beacons from a lighthouse. At no other time in my life have I heard the still small voice so clearly.

I remember having read somewhere that sometimes a coma is the body's way of making space for physical healing to happen. I realized the fog was like that, a protective blanket creating space for psychological healing. Despite my occasional frustration at my own plodding thoughts, I embraced the fog and tried to be patient.

Emerging into awareness was so hard. In the fog, I had been conscious of the enormity of my loss, but as the fog retreated, the small, everyday implications came into focus.

When I first returned to my research and writing when the kids returned to school after Labor Day,  I thought the fog had lifted, that I had my brain back.

I was wrong.

There is a lingering fog at the edges. Most of the time, I don't even notice it. Then, it reasserts itself. Perhaps because I've worked too long or because I've asked too much, expecting my current self to be like my old self. As I get deeper into revisions and need to make complex decisions, I...can't. I can feel the idea that will fill the gap, but I can't assemble the words. I stare at the problem and the fog advances until I have to walk away from the work. I have a deadline coming up, and it scares me.

I have four jobs right now: Mom, Dissertation Writer, Head of Household, and Executor of Estate. Each of those is full-time. I am not excelling at any of them, and recognizing that is humbling.

Even worse, though, is how the fog affects my relationships with other people.

I'm absent-minded in a way I never was before, and I keep double booking myself and the children. I put things in my calendar, but forget to check the calendar when making commitments. Then, I try to think of how I can manage both things, which rarely comes out well. So, I end up having to call someone and apologize for asking to reschedule, and that kills me.

I have no patience for bullshit, and my nice is broken.

I want to not need the protective blanket of fog, but I recognize that if it's still here, I still need it.

Forgive me and bear with me, please.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

preliminary hearing

This afternoon, I attended the preliminary hearing in the matter of the teenage driver who caused Adam's accident. The prosecutor is charging her with "operating a motor vehicle without a license causing death," which, if she were an adult, would be a felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Because she is a juvenile, the disposition that the juvenile court assigns to her will be some combination of home detention, probation, and restitution.

Today, the charges were read and explained, and she had the opportunity to enter a plea of responsible or not responsible. The teenager's mother does not speak English (parents participate in juvenile court) and the friend she brought to interpret could not handle the legal terminology, so her appointed attorney entered a plea of not responsible. However, the assistant prosecutor who is handling the case does not expect it to go to trial.

The next step is for the court to find a qualified translator. It's frustrating that they had not done so for this hearing, but the family may not have formally notified the court of this need. Then, the next hearing will be scheduled, and the victims' advocate will notify me.

I'm doing okay. Really. I'm glad that this process finally seems to be moving forward. I'm glad to have seen the teenager and her mother, who look like nice people, honestly.

Juvenile court is not the same as adult criminal court, so much of the terminology is different, and this process will not look like what we might be familiar with from personal experience or popular culture. These are all the details I can share right now. I'll keep you posted as I know more.

Please, keep praying for my family, for the third driver and her family, and for the teenager and her family.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


When I settled in to fairy tales as the main focus of my dissertation, Jeff said, "Well, if you're going to do fairy tales, you have to read German." I rolled my eyes and grudgingly signed up for his Reading German for Graduate Research course.

It turned out to be a great class!

Jeff is an engaging instructor, and German has so many cool words. The title of this post is one of the best. The root 'zwei' is the two word, and a literal translation might be  entwoed. It means something like having doubt, being between two things. Since meeting this word, I've felt that it is an amazing label for my life, because I so often have the sense of standing at a place where two roads diverge.

The standard advice for the bereaved is to refrain from making any big decisions for at least a year, but this was slated to be a year of big decisions anyway. So, as I work on my dissertation and prepare for the academic job market, I've been thinking about the sort of place I would perhaps like to live. I have been happy in large cities, in small towns, and in the countryside, but I have also found each of these wanting.

My travel and return this past week have brought these thoughts to the fore again. Last Wednesday, I walked eight-tenths of a mile to the metro, took the train from Arlington to the heart of the District and then walked eight blocks to a café to meet a friend. It was wonderful to be a pedestrian again. Using your own two feet as a means of transportation is empowering, and this is much more viable in Washington than in Jones. Over our not-coffee, Mark and I had a conversation that touched on my work and his, our mutual friends, the state of the universe, and the finer points of public transportation. The hour in the air-conditioned café was just enough to cool me off from the walk to get there, and I left the café ready for my next adventure.

That day, my feet, in coordination with the DC transit system, took me to meet three different friends, to shops and restaurants, and to one of my favorite places on earth.
It was both exhilarating and exhausting.

By Friday, I was back at Rambling Farmhouse, where distances are too great for walking, and public transportation is non-existent. Having dropped Sofia off at school, I stopped at the abbey for terce and then drove to Bluebird Farm, where I spent the morning slinging shit with Rachel. Ass deep in the barnyard manure pile, I looked at my dirty hands, encrusted jeans, and borrowed rubber boots and saw the chasm between them and Wednesday's linen slacks and leather loafers.

Yet, at the same time, Friday morning had a lot in common with Wednesday morning: the company was excellent, the conversation was delightful, and I was having fun. Just as being a pedestrian is empowering (even when it is exhausting)  through the freedom of movement it offers, I find farm and garden work to be empowering (even when it is disgusting) because it offers an intimate connection to the food that sustains me.

And Friday's scenic drive from Bluebird Farm to White Yarrow took me past another of my happy sights: a soybean field in fall color.
I love the combination of green, brown, and gold against the blue and white of the sky.
This year has not been stellar for fall soybean color, but you get the idea here. :-)
After all this, I'm really no less zweifelt about the sort of place I'd like to find work. I do, however, know that what I crave are good friends, meaningful physical activity, and inspiring spaces.

Friday, September 6, 2013

first days back

The girls were so excited to go back to school this week. "I can't wait for school to start!" Anna especially had been bouncing off the walls the entire week before in anticipation. "Mama, did we buy everything on the list? Oh, no! I need pecil-top erasers!"

They are not attending the same school as they had been for the last three years. Since we're back at Rambling Farmhouse, they are back in the district where they attended kindergarten (both of them) and first grade (Anna). Although they hadn't been here for four years, each of them has found a couple of kids whom they knew before, and the space is comfortingly familiar. I've told the teachers and administrators about Adam's death but asked them not to share this information with the other students and parents, so for the first time in two months, the girls can feel like just normal kids.

As their excitement built, so did my trepidation. I had promised myself that when the kids went back to school, I would get back to work on my research, and my best frolleague Erin had agreed to start checking in with me after Labor Day. In the last week of August, I tidied my physical and virtual desktops, excavated pertinent books from boxes, and made lists of things to do. I felt ready, but at the same time intimidated by my own work.

On Tuesday when I sat in front of the computer, each step toward getting started needed to be followed by a break: Locate file. Knit two rows. Open file. Hang the laundry on the line outside. Read first page. Make more tea. Wednesday was better. I made actual progress on a project with an upcoming deadline, made some notes about what to do next, and set it on the back burner to percolate. Thursday started off well. I was reading for a different project, and I was seeing connections between this reading and other sources I've looked at. It felt good, like my brain was starting to work again.

After lunch, though, I had my e-mail open because I was working on correspondence and up popped an e-mail from the county prosecutor's office asking to meet with me.* My momentum ground to a halt as a solid ball of tension formed behind my sternum. I am not doing as well as I thought, I thought. Scheduling the meeting took about fifteen minutes of e-mailing with the secretary and a friend who will go with me.

I closed up the book I had been reading and walked away from the desk, knowing that I would not accomplish any more research that day. With another cup of tea and my knitting, I retreated to the armchair hoping to calm down. Eventually I did, and I was able to accomplish some of the house things on my list for this week, so the afternoon was not a total loss. And in the evening, I made brownies.

While I recognize that my emotional and physical response to the prosecutor's message yesterday was reasonable, it was far from convenient, and it came close to ruining my day. The other people in this complex situation have incredible power to ambush me and demand my attention. And that is so very frustrating.

I'd been thinking about this post all week, but the draft in my head was quite different from this. This week has been a lesson in living the wilderness between end and beginning.

*They want to discuss the charges they plan to file against the teenage driver in Adam's case. I'm to write down my questions and bring them. That's all I know for now, so please don't ask me anything. I'll tell you more when I can.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


On July 26th, a couple of friends sent messages to say that they were praying for or thinking of the girls and me extra on that day. When I read the first of these messages, I had to think hard about why that day warranted extra thoughts and prayers. I finally figured out that July 26th was one month after Adam's accident.

Though I will never forget the day of his death, the date does not stick in my mind as well as the events. In fact, when filling out the first batch of estate paperwork, I had to repeatedly check the calendar.

When I mentioned this to our grief counselor recently, she asked if there were any upcoming milestones that concerned me. I've realized that for me, the milestones of grief will be not dates, but events: canoe trip, apple butter stir, Thanksgiving, the girls' first boyfriends, their drivers' licenses, graduations, weddings.

Today was one.

This weekend, one of the local living history groups is holding their annual summer gathering, at which Adam and our friend Doyle have roasted a hog for at least the last twenty years. Though I have gotten used to the empty space that Adam left in the house (and really, the process of rearranging the house to better suit the girls and me has made that space less garish), Adam's absence was a gaping hole in the events of this weekend. Adam and Doyle's partnership had at least as many habitual patterns as Adam's and mine, and they all crumbled to pieces this weekend, one after another. Each successive task that he was not there to do and each tradition in which he did not participate was a fresh reminder that he is never coming back.

A steady stream of fresh reminders all. day. long.

I'm glad that I went. For the most part, I enjoyed the day: I visited with people I don't often see, I got to pet greyhounds, the girls ran amok in the woods with a pack of great children. There was amazing music and delicious food. It was so very difficult.

As in other years, I felt like the pig pit was my center of gravity, the place to which I returned between other things. But it was not a center that sustains. Instead of my favorite person there was his absence because he is never coming back.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I'm still wearing black, but I'm not wearing this:
I could give you lots of reasons.

It's heavy. 
It doesn't fit very well anymore.
Adam rarely wore his.
It's not really the embodiment of the vision I took to the jeweler who made it.

If I'm being honest, though, the real reason is that I just don't feel married. Sitting at dinner with friends the other night, I looked at my own hand and thought, Why are you still wearing that?!?

I've never believed in the family-reunion-up-in-the-clouds vision of the afterlife that is so prevalent in American culture, so I don't believe that Adam is 'looking down on us' or that his soul continues to have agency in my life. It is through our stories and our memories that the dead are present in the lives of the living, but that is our agency, not theirs.

So, I'll just put this over here.

I don't particularly feel single either. This is that wilderness between end and beginning.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I don't really remember why I started this blog in 2008. That's a little sad, isn't it?

I do, however, remember that one of the things I was hoping for was conversation in the comments section. Blogging is often described as being inherently narcissistic, and I suppose sometimes it is. After all, here I am putting my personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings, what I once might have put into a locked diary, out in the ether for all to see. My conscious purpose has never been to use this space to declaim as from a soapbox. I have always wanted to generate conversation. You talking to me, but also you talking to each other.

Rarely does this happen on this blog, friends.

Though, I have been somewhat gratified to see this sort of conversation developing in the comments on the Facebook links to these blog posts.

But what really rings my bell is the stats page! A couple of years ago, I had almost given up writing in this space because I figured no one was reading. Then I discovered this:
Is this not a thing of beauty? It shows me how many pageviews the posts on kolokolchiki are getting and when. This particular shot shows activity over the past week, and that tall spike is when I posted "how are you" and "black."

I could go on about the stats page for pages, but I'll limit myself to one more thing right now.
This is an analysis of you, the audience of the blog over its entire existence. Which browser gets you here, which operating system organizes your life, where you come from. 

I especially love the map of the world. Readers, you are everywhere! For most of these countries, I can think of someone I know who lives there, but not for all of them. I might have readers who don't actually know me in real life. WHOAH! 

I am humbled. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing links. Thank you for commenting. 

Happy 100th post!

Friday, August 2, 2013


I can't really explain why I have chosen to wear black or how long I will continue to make this choice. Though, I suppose it will be at least long enough to justify the shopping I've done.

I do occasionally geek out on tradition, but I don't embrace tradition simply for its own sake.

I can say that in the aftermath, color felt wrong. Wanting my outside to represent my inside, I craved the emptiness and despair of black. I wanted to mark myself so that the people with whom I interacted could see my state, my in-a-fogness, my dropped-out-of-timeness.

I'm not in that place anymore. I've re-entered time, and the fog is lifting.

But I'm still choosing black.

Beginnings and endings are different sides of the same coin. The tragic end of my marriage is also the hopeful beginning of a phase I can not yet name. I miss Adam terribly, but at the same time I am intrigued by the possibilities ahead of me. My practical self is incapable of wallowing, but forging ahead too quickly would be folly.

Limiting myself to the plain emptiness of black is a call to dwell in my grief, to inhabit the liminal wilderness between end and beginning, to slow down.

It is like a fast from color.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

how are you

One of my favorite lessons to teach English language learners is one that I never plan. Inevitably, my advanced students, who have sufficient mastery of the what and how of using English to start wondering about the when and why, one day come into class and ask me, "Why do Americans always want to know how I am?" or "Americans always ask me how I am. Why don't they listen when I tell them?" The students are always shocked when I say that even though Americans ask the question "How are you?" all the time, most of the time they really don't care how you are. They don't want to hear about your headache or your challenging day at work or the problems in your love life.

A lot of what happens in an advanced language class is learning to move beyond the simplified interactions that are taught at the beginning levels, so my students have been surprised when I say that in this case, you really just need to stick with the conversation pattern:
-Hi, how are you?
-Fine. And you?
-I'm good.
The space for creativity and individual expression here is in the choice of adjective. Any synonyms for the word 'good' are acceptable: fine, great, good. Positive words like wonderful, excellent, and splendid are probably safe, but okay and so-so are as negative as you can go without making the other person uncomfortable by pushing him to ask you what is wrong. This interaction is really more ritual than conversation. Really, this ritual is so ingrained, that sometimes a distracted person will answer "Fine. And you?" even if you didn't ask the question. Or people passing in the hallway will say this exchange as they are moving away from each other.

There are times, however, when Americans do want a genuine, non-ritual answer to the question, "How are you?" Like when old friends meet after a long time or when the person asking knows that you are probably not okay/great/fine/wonderful. Although the words are the same, the body language  and intonation are quite different. When "how are you" is part of a genuine conversation, the questioner makes eye contact with the interlocutor, possibly while stepping closer or leaning in; he pronounces the individual words distinctly and puts extra emphasis on the verb 'are.' How are you?

I've had more genuine 'how are you' conversations than usual in these last few weeks. In fact, after the first week, when I started to re-enter the normal world of grocery shopping and running errands, I had gotten so used to the genuine question that the ritual took me by surprise. It was a bit of an effort to say, "Fine. And you?" those first days back in the world. Lately watching for the genuine question has become a bit of a macabre amusement. I can almost see it coming. Something in the person's face changes, but I can't find the words to describe it to you here.

So, how am I?

I'm complicated and capricious.

Sometimes I really want to be alone, and sometimes I really crave company. And the sometime may only last ten minutes before I want the other.

At times I feel like I'm walking through uncharted territory in the dark, and I'm frightened. Then, I remember that though I have never been here before, other people have. I know quite a few people who have lost spouses too young, but it's easy to forget because they have passed through this darkness into beautiful lives, and that gives me hope.

I feel like I've joined the worst club ever, but the other people here are pretty cool.

The loss of my spouse is a grief more intense than any other in my experience, but a couple of significant losses in recent years have prepared me for this in the sense that I have thought about the cyclical dynamics of grief and am aware of how I grieve.

I am looking ahead. Though I will not be returning to campus as a full-time student and teaching assistant in the coming academic year, I will be finishing my dissertation in absentia at Rambling Farmhouse. And then, I will be looking for a job in academia. Not having to strike a balance between my career and Adam's career makes this job search less complicated than it would have been, though the children and our extended family make it less than simple.

I am coming out of the fog, and this is a mixed blessing. I like having a brain again, but the fog was sort of a protective blanket. Having a brain means noticing the little things that I now have to do for myself because Adam is not here to do them. Over the course of our fifteen years of partnership, we had developed automatic patterns of working together. Each time I notice that I'm doing his part of the pattern, I'm reminded that this loss reaches into every aspect of my life.

So, that's how I am. Thanks for asking.

P. S. We're okay financially, too. The generous gifts we've received from friends and family, the wise choices about investments and life insurance Adam and I had made, Social Security, and the auto insurance settlements (still to come) will take care of the girls and me until I find a job worth having and then be a safety net for the next phase of our lives. Don't worry about this.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

unusual grief

I don't think of myself as a maverick, but I've come to recognize that I'm not entirely normal, either. From physical things like my pear-shaped, short-waisted body and my food allergies to life choices like buying raw milk but not buying paper towels, I'm in my own space, dancing along to the melody of my own flautist.

The thing is, though, I don't go out of my way to be different, so it always comes as a surprise when someone points out that I am.

Grieving the death of a loved one is an intensely personal process, dependent on a variety of variables: the degree of relation, the suddenness of the death, beliefs about the end of life, previous experiences with death, the presence of a support network, and the personality of the mourner. Nevertheless, stereo-types and expectations about how the bereaved will behave in the world are ingrained and strong. A young widow whose husband died unexpectedly in the prime of life should, apparently, be hysterical when the police tell her what happened and thereafter be visibly distraught with tears on her puffy cheeks. Also, she should, apparently, be unable to smile. I clearly fail to uphold this stereotype.

Adam was my husband, but he was also my best friend partner alter ego. He complemented and completed me in so many ways that I'm reeling as I try to figure out how to be those things for myself. I feel like half of my soul has been torn away. I feel physically and emotionally raw like I am made of the tender new skin exposed after a burn. Despite the heat, I find myself reaching for my summer cardigans. I have frequently caught myself overlapping the fronts of these sweaters across my chest and then folding my arms to hold them in place, especially when out in public, especially in conversation with other people. I'm not cold. I'm exposed.

But most of you don't see that. You see me wearing black, but smiling and laughing. You see me cleaning my house and hosting a joyful celebration of Adam's life rather than a somber wake.  What you see is me coping.

Adam's death was my worst fear. I am living my phobia come true.

The first summer that I lived at Rambling Farmhouse, Adam had to make a short business trip, and I remember being struck by how isolated I was. "If I were to scream, no one would hear me," I realized, a sobering thought for a girl who grew up in a compact neighborhood where I could watch the neighbor's television from my bedroom window.

I worried incessantly every time Adam traveled, which was often. We developed rituals. We said "I love you" every morning and every night, even when we didn't like each other. He called or sent a text as soon as he arrived at his destination and right before he left to come home. Still, I worried. Adam finally said, "So what if I do die? It's going to happen someday. What will you do?"

We talked about the answer to that question a lot. We purchased life insurance, we invested money appropriately for people our age. We discussed that we both would donate organs and tissues if we could, that we both would be cremated, that he wanted his funeral to be a celebration of the life that he had lived, that each of us expected the other to keep living.  What you see is me following the plan.

I laugh and smile every day because my children and I are alive and healthy, because Adam made sure I had a good plan that will allow me to keep living, because life is beautiful.

I cry every day because I miss my other half, and he is never coming home again. You'll forgive me for not exposing my ravaged soul in public.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I find myself thanking people a lot lately. I am aware that I don't have enough energy or hours in the day to deal with all the aftermath of a death. I don't really even have much brain.  Making phone calls, planning the service, and then participating in the celebration that Adam wanted his funeral to be drained me to empty. And now, there's paperwork to do.*

What I do have are friends and family who are generously and freely offering up their time, energy, and brains to help me. You have taken time off from work and been away from spouses and children, you have traveled from the east coast and from the mountain west. You have sorted and searched through mail and bills, you have cleaned my house, you have played games with my children. You have patiently listened while I talk through decisions slowly because you understand both my doubts and my need to be in control. You have held me while I cried.

You are amazing. I pour out my gratitude to you in abundance.

*Lots of people keep telling me the paperwork can wait. Some of it probably can. But I can't relax until I feel secure in terms of finances in general, but also in terms of my ownership of things like houses, vehicles, and bank accounts. So, paperwork. Don't worry. I'm taking it one thing at a time. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

don't wait for tragedy

Jenny, one of Adam's oldest friends, brought me several pots of perennials to display in the church and then plant in the yard. My friend Josie came Wednesday to help me with the planting. After days of sitting at the table sorting paperwork and crying on the couch, it felt so good to do something physical again. My body needed that. I even made it until late afternoon before realizing that it was exactly one week since Adam's crash.

Josie and I had a wonderful day. We used to garden together more often, but we'd fallen out of the habit in recent years, and that's a shame.  I'm grateful that Adam brought Josie and me back together in the dirt again, but I'm resolved not to wait for another tragedy before spending quality time with friends.

As friends who hadn't seen each other in ten or twenty years re-met and found their friendships, one of the refrains of the weekend seemed to be, "We should have done this years ago." It shouldn't be a funeral that brings friends together again.

A veritable flood of cards and letters has flowed into my hands this week. They tell beautiful stories of interactions with Adam, of his importance in other people's lives, of the happiness visible in me because of him. I have cried beautiful tears over these words. I wish they could have been tears of joy. I wish I could have shared them with Adam.

Don't wait for tragedy. Tell your loved ones how important they are. Tell your colleagues how they inspire you. Don't wait.

Friday, June 28, 2013

what I need right now

As most of you probably know. I became a widow this week. My husband died in a terrible car accident. I take comfort in knowing that his death was quick and that we were able to donate tissues to help other lives.

So many people have asked what I need or how they can help. I know you have been praying, and really, that is the most important thing right now. Just keep praying. Specifically, please pray for strength for me and the girls and discernment as I search for paperwork in Adam's unique filing system and then as I make decisions.

If you're coming to the funeral, I do have some specific requests:

1. Witness each other's grief. While grief is personal, and we each experience it differently, it's also social and we want to share it with others who grieve. There is not enough of me for all of you. Share with each other.

2. Do not touch my children unless you know them very well. If you don't know their names or can't remember which name goes with which girl, you don't know them very well. My elder daughter's composure is a thin veneer, and if you break it and spill her emotions all over the place, you will embarrass her. My younger daughter is shy even in the best of circumstances, and she just lost the foundation that gave her the courage to interact with the world. Hugging you will not make it better.

3. Do not cook for me unless you have cooked with me. I know it's tradition that the family says, "Don't bring food" and people do it anyway. Don't. With my allergies and crunchy granola tendencies and the children's pickiness, there are a lot of things we just won't eat. Most casseroles are guaranteed to end up in the compost. The chickens will love you, but I'll just grumble about having to wash and return the dishes. If you really want to bring something, bring fresh fruits and veggies (apples, bananas, oranges, cucumbers, snow/snap peas, carrots) or tea (green or black, Earl Grey is a favorite). Take the time that you would have spent in front of the stove and sit down at the table instead. Write down your favorite story about Adam and bring us that. It will sustain us far longer.

4. Pray for the others involved in the accident. The woman driving the third car is just as much a victim as Adam. The teenager has seen the consequences of her actions in a very real way. I wanted to go to the car to retrieve some things after the accident, and the sheriff's deputy refused to take me. The teenage driver can't unsee the carnage I've been spared. She will have that image with her for the rest of her life. Please pray for these women, too. I have been.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

marriage is phenomenally difficult

I’ve been contemplating this post since reading Jamie Gladly’s “[tap tap] Is this thing on?” post in August 2011. It’s not been an easy post to write and publish. I keep re-reading and editing with the intention of posting and then saving a new draft instead. 

Jamie wrote,
“I think this is the longest I've gone without blogging since I started this blog almost five years ago. It's been a tough summer and I couldn't seem to write non-whiny posts. I've been intensely frustrated with my marriage but that's not blog material. (Sometimes in the Catholic blogosphere it seems that everybody is in shiny happy marriages where they're jointly striving for heaven and Communicating Effectively and nobody else is fighting unproductively about the same damn thing for ten years. And counting. Am I keeping it real or bringing things down if I say that sometimes it's really ferociously hard to be married?)”

To which I reply, "Keeping it real, Sister!" Sometimes it is ferociously difficult to be married, and we should be talking about it with our spouses and with each other. The fact that, on some level, we expect marriages to run smoothly on love is part of the reason marriage is phenomenally difficult. That expectation sets us up for frustration. Marriage isn’t all sunshine and roses. It’s cleaning up puke and ignoring body odor. It’s sometimes putting your needs on hold to meet your partner’s. Then, it’s asserting your needs and asking your partner to make sacrifices. Marriage is balancing on a tightrope in tandem.  

I'm not sure that I would want to try actually balancing on a skinny little tightrope way high above the ground with Adam. We don't generally manage to dance very well down here on the ground. I am, however, proud that he and I have managed to figure out how to make our crazy partnership work for us for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, living in one house or two.

A big part of what keeps me sane is having come to the conclusion that long-term love is a choice and an action, not an emotion. Twitterpated Bambi and Fauna love is nice when it comes, but it doesn't stay. Adam and I know that even though we have committed to love each other until death does us part, we may not like each other every day. The following words have, on occasion, crossed my lips,  “I love you unconditionally, but the conditional love just flew out the window.” And that's okay. Because it is the daily choices to act out our unconditional love that create space for twitterpation to flourish.

When it comes down to it, really, twitterpation is just the chemistry of attraction allowed to flourish until one's cup runneth over. There have been times in my married life where I've been mildly attracted to other men or realized that were circumstances different, I could see myself in a relationship with someone other than Adam. I'm sure Adam has had similar experiences with his female friends and colleagues. The simple presence of these emotions related to other people does not weaken our marriage because we choose not to act on them.

Another tool for sanity is the recognition that any individual argument is probably just the apparent part of a deeper issue. Our ongoing argument about cleaning is a prime example. Adam and I fought bitterly and repetitively for years before we finally realized that the core issue is the difference between tidying and deep cleaning. I like things to be tidy, and I try to put things away as I use them. I sweep the floors often, but I'm lax about cleaning otherwise. Adam rarely just tidies. If he's putting things away, then he also gets out the simple green and the scrub brush. The debris that Adam leaves behind when he makes coffee drives me crazy, but my habit of sweeping the visible bits of floor without moving the furniture baffles him. Since we stopped shouting (at least about this topic), we've been able to learn from each other, and we're both better. But it certainly hasn't been easy or painless.

Conventional wisdom says that children of divorce tend to be either commitment-phobic or commitment-maniacal. It's pretty clear that I'm the latter, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't know if I could handle the niggling day-to-day frustrations of sharing my life with another person if I didn't have a long-term view. So, yeah, when it's working, it's wonderful, but making marriage work is phenomenally difficult.