Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Where is home for you?

It’s a question I frequently ask, but one that I have trouble answering.

Living in the national capital region and working at a univeristy that attracts international students, it’s a novelty to meet someome who claims my current town as home.

More than once in the weeks leading up to break, when I mentioned that Elder, Younger, and I were driving to Buffalo over the holidays, someone said, “Oh, is that home? Are your parents there?”

My gut reaction was to say no. 

I’ve never lived in Buffalo, I wasn’t born there, and I have no particular affinity for the city itself. My mom is in Kalamazoo, and my dad is outside Philly.

Culturally, home is Long Island or the Endless Mountains, but I rarely ever go to either of those places because my people have left.

I’ve spent a lot of Christmases in Buffalo since my Gram moved there in 2003, though. 

If home is where your people are, then I guess when the question comes up again in the post-holiday conversations, my answer should be: Yes, I went home for Christmas.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I realized this past winter, that I am chronically lonely. Even when I am with friends, I am lonely. Even when I am joyful, I am lonely. It's like having a mild chronic illness along the lines of well-controlled asthma or surgically-corrected strabismus. For some periods of time, it's latent, and then it makes itself known again.

I get tired of being the odd numbered wheel.

My friends are wonderful and welcoming, but the vast majority of them are coupled, and being the third, the fifth, or the seventh at the table gets old. Excellent, wide ranging, adult conversation does not change the fact that when we all stand up, they are going home in pairs, and I am going home alone.

Because I have recently moved, I've been meeting lots of new people, and I have become fascinated by third fingers on left hands. Even in places where I tend to meet people separately from their partners, as at church and at work, the majority of my peers are similarly coupled.

There is a particular kind of loneliness in being a widow surrounded by couples.

There is also a particular kind of loneliness in being the adult in a household with teenagers.

My teenagers are good kids, and they have learned to bear greater responsibility for themselves than many of their peers are asked to, but their inherent adolescent selfishness means that the emotional labor of noticing that the animals need care and that the sinks need scrubbing is my burden. No amount of reasoned conversation followed by pleading followed by screaming followed by profanity has changed this.

This is the loneliness that comes of not being heard.

I get tired of being a broken record.

I don't dislike my own company, and I don't feel that I am an incomplete person as a single person. In fact, there are times that I quite enjoy making decisions without having to consult another person. Nonetheless, loneliness is part of my life. And I imagine in this I am not alone.

Monday, December 26, 2016


My uncle died. I am sad that he is gone, that I will never see his wry smile except on the backs of my eyelids. I am not sad that his pain is over. Chronic illness in these last years made his life a daily challenge, made him old before his time. I am sad that I did not figure out how to be supportive, that I  did not make the transition from niece to friend.

So many of our best family stories feature Mark.

My earliest memories of this uncle are as the humbug in the dark room upstairs who loved cats more than little girls and who did not celebrate Christmas with the rest of the family. The first year he decided to rejoin the holidays, he bought my sister, my cousins and me wild things from Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Ted got Max because he was the only boy at that point. My sister Gwen, Ted's sister Gretchen, and I got Wild Things 1, 2, and 3 in age order.

I am Wild Thing 1.

This toy, now more than thirty years old, still has pride of place in my bedroom.

When I was graduating college, Mark called and asked if he could come. I was surprised, but my mom pointed out that Mark had never had kids of his own, but he had me. He came, and I was glad he was there.

I thank him for teaching me cleverness, for honing my wit, and for showing me through his choices that it is possible to challenge the systems in which we participate. I can be a devout Methodist with heretical tendencies because Mark was an anarchist who worked for the IRS. Remind me to tell you the story about the name tags sometime.

Friday, November 27, 2015

begin again

Over the course of the last two-and-half years, I've talked a lot about inhabiting the liminal space between end and beginning, and recently a beautiful drawing captured this so well:

I can hardly believe I'm putting a Mitch Albom quote on this blog,
but I couldn't resist the artwork by Mike Medaglia at

The King James translation of Psalm 90 tells us that the alotted time of a human life is threescore years and ten. I feel like in half that time, I have lived an entire life.

My thirty-six years have arguably checked all the major boxes: childhood, youth, college, marriage, homeownership, babies, graduate school, widowhood. I have loved and birthed and buried and mourned.

The vision that I had for what my threescore and ten would look like died with Adam. That was a frightening, almost paralyzing, realization.

But as I learned to make my way through the dark wilderness, I realized that it was also liberating.

I get to choose a new life.

I get to make all the decisions of early adulthood over again: Where do I want to live? City or country? What kind of partner do I want? Do I even want a partner?  Do I want more children? Do I want to stay in academia? Is it the right place for me? Is it the best way to support my family? What other job would feed my soul?

I can choose differently than the last time I answered those questions. I get to reimagine the second half of my threescore and ten.

Some of those decisions are still under consideration; others have been made; some of the latter may yet change.

Selling Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and moving several hundred miles to Lovely Apartment felt like the beginning of beginning. Having said good-bye to our cat Jack feels like the end of ending, the end of the season of leave-taking that began with #1 Cat's death just a month before Adam's. Although I know that there will always be periods of loss and grief in my life as long as there is love, at the moment, the light of hope is gaining on the darkness.

This is a good place to be at the beginning of Advent.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

a glimpse of family

At the aquarium today there was a manipulative that taught about how objects moving independently of one another may appear to be coordinated if they are following the same rules (as in the natural laws of physics), and this appearance of coordination is heightened when the objects look alike. The manipulative used black spheres on strings, but it was teaching about fish and schooling behavior.

I was visiting the aquarium with assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins spanning three generations, and we moved through the space with a minimum of coordination. But we all had the same goals:

1. Enjoy the fish.
2. Be with each other.
3. Keep track of children.
4. Avoid toddler meltdowns at all costs.

Sometimes we were all together in a clump, showing each other the same thing. Sometimes, we were spread out into smaller clusters. At the end, we left the aquarium, as we had arrived, in small, nuclear-family groups.

This evening we sat around looking at old family photos. Over and over again, we collectively marveled at how much we all look like each other, each of us resembling different others of us at different times in our lives.

Most of the time, we are fragmented into clusters by geography and the quotidian demands of our individual lives. Every once in a while, though, we gather, and there is some critical mass of natural law that helps us hang together.

Photo courtesy of Alison Griffin.

In those brief moments, we are a glorious school of fish dancing individually together.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


For hours after my husband died, the phone just kept ringing. People were returning my, "Hi, this is Kate. Please call me as soon as you can," messages. Each call meant I had to darken someone else's day with my terrible news, and each of these conversations made the horror more real.

In the quiet of the evening, a different kind of call came. Mark had heard the news already and, having processed his shock, called to sit with me. In addition to the tragedy of the day, we talked about normal everyday things, and this was a conversation that reminded me I was still alive.

Then came the best call of the day. When the voice on the phone said she was calling from Gift of Life Michigan's organ and tissue donation program, I said, "I'm so happy you called!" I think she was a little surprised to hear the word 'happy.'

I had known that Adam wanted to be an organ donor. However, that paperwork usually happens in the hospital. I never went to the hospital, and I didn't think to mention it to the police officers who came to the house. By the time Gift of Life called, organ donation was no longer a possibility, but I gave permission to harvest whatever tissues they could. This conversation was a reminder that even death contributes to life.

The woman who called me was the epitome of compassion, but it was still a difficult conversation. It was not easy to give permission for the body of my husband to be cut apart when a part of me wanted to jealously guard all that was left. It was not easy to talk through a medical history that carried with it so many memories.

I did it anyway because I know that donation saves and enriches lives. My uncle lived more than ten years with a second heart. A friend lives today thanks to a live donor's bone marrow. Somewhere there are people whose lives are better for Adam's donation. One young woman wrote me a letter to say that her new knee means that she can ride again.

I'm telling you about this now because Adam was included in Gift of Life Michigan's donor honors ceremony this year. We could not attend, but they sent this:

So many donors. 

So many young donors.

So much new life. 

It's gut wrenching and beautiful.

I hope you'll consider being a donor, too. 

Mark your driver's license, tell your family, swab your cheek. Save a life.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Two Mays ago Old Cat's death was hard on all of us. It was especially hard for me to watch our younger cat Jack wonder where she had gone.  When Jack came into our lives as a strapping young boy, Old Cat was already old, and, although smaller than he was, she boxed his ears and told him in no uncertain terms that she was #1 Cat. She had first claim to my lap, to my bed, to any open doors, and to the food. For weeks after she died, when I set the food down Jack looked around to see if she was coming before he started to eat. He looked at me with disbelief that it could be just for him. This past January when Buttercup came into our lives, Jack went into a tailspin again. He knew he didn't want to be #2 Cat to this young brat, but he didn't know how to be #1 Cat.

As I've been working on job applications these past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm a little bit like Jack. While I wouldn't say that I was subordinate to my late husband, I had settled into my role as the trailing spouse, the one whose career would always happen in the space around the breadwinner's career. There were a lot of practical reasons that Adam would always be the breadwinner: Because his age and his co-op experience put him ten years ahead of me in career development, because he was an engineer, and I am a language teacher, because he was a man, and I am a woman, his salary would always have outstripped mine. For most of our marriage, in fact, my contribution to the family's income was ten percent of his.

When I started my PhD, the desired plan was that I would find work within daily or weekly commuting distance from Rambling Farmhouse, working as an adjunct until something full-time or tenure track came up. As things got worse for Adam at his workplace here, we started talking about my doing a national search for full-time work and moving the whole family to whatever I found, but it still had to be a geographic area within a daily or weekly commute to something for Adam.

My trailing spouse status was not only a result of our relative earning potentials, though. It was also about the difference in how driven we were. Adam always wanted to reach higher; he wanted to manage a group of engineers, to run a multi-million dollar project, to move the company from good to great, to start his own business, to work at the cutting edge. Me? I don't crave leadership. I don't burn to see my name on a publication. I don't aspire to eminent scholar status. I don't settle for shoddy, but I'll never be a rock star researcher. My elbows aren't sharp enough, and I don't own brass knuckles. I want to do what I love and do it well, and really, that's the perfect attitude for a trailing spouse.

I don't get to have that attitude anymore.

Insurance settlements and Social Security payments buy me some time retool the plan, but they will not last forever. As they cease to fill the coffers each month, I have to take this career that was intended to be secondary and find a way to support myself, my children, and our critters in the present while also preparing for college and retirement in the future. All of a sudden, I'm the #1 Cat, but no one is offering me first choice of the food each night.

I have to be the breadwinner, and it frightens me.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Today is not my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and that feels strange.

With my wedding present, Adam gave me a fiftieth anniversary card because he believed we would see that day. Even in our rockiest moments divorce was never an option, but because of that card we used to joke that we'd renegotiate the deal when we made it to fifty years. These days, when I'm frustrated with the estate process, I grumble that he reneged on our deal.

This has been one of the more challenging days for me in this year of firsts without Adam because there was not a logical thing to do, no traditions to guide the choice of how to mark this day. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are all holidays which continue to be celebrated even without Adam because each of those days contains its own reasons and rituals. This anniversary, in contrast, commemorates a marriage that ended when death did us part.

Today may not be day to celebrate thirteen years, but it can become a day to remember the twelve amazing years and one month that we had. So, this evening, I pulled out our wedding album and tracked down the music Fellowship of Sound sang for us that day.

Fellowship of Sound (May 26, 2001): Nate, Stuart, Kate, Kate, Brad, Chris
Then, I opened the envelope of memories.

I am so grateful to the friends and family who took the time to answer my call for stories. For most of this year, though, I hadn't been able to bring myself to read them. As they arrived, I just slid them into their designated manila envelope, saving them for a nebulous 'later.'

I'm really glad later was today. Your stories capture Adam's boundless creativity,  his gracious hospitality, and his joyful laughter. Thank you for writing his portrait. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

a glimpse of cousins

She's waited a long time for a first cousin. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

soapbox: bats & rabies & shots (oh, my!)

Pardon me while I turn this blog into a soapbox for a moment.


Rabies is one hundred percent deadly in humans once symptoms appear. This fact is key, and you should keep it in mind as I tell you the rest of this story.

The Adventure:

When I went to bed Friday night (Saturday morning, really), Sofia was already in my bed, so I pushed her over to make room for me, and then Buttercup and Jack stood on me until I made room for cats. All in all, a normal night.

I hadn't been asleep for long when I woke up to the sounds of thumping and chittering. Buttercup was hunting something underneath the old sewing machine table that I use as a nightstand, and I had no idea what it was, but it didn't sound like a mouse.  By the time I woke Sofia up and got her moving toward the door, Buttercup had chased whatever to the coat tree. When I followed her intense gaze upward, I saw a little brown bat hanging from my dress.

Even not very awake, I knew I wanted to isolate the bat, so I got Sofia to her room and closed the girls' bedroom doors. Then, I crawled back into my room, got both cats out, closed the door. So far, so good.

I sat down in the hall to wake up and think:
Fact: my bedroom door doesn't latch closed (we never got to the doorknob installation part of that remodel)
Fact: bats can fly through spaces as narrow as half an inch (like the gap around my door)
Fact: Buttercup was pretty determined to get back in
Fact: bats are challenging for cats to kill because they can wrap themselves in the leather armor of their wings

Buttercup's been fully vaccinated, so it was tempting to let her have at, but she's not actually very good at killing things. (Hunting and maiming, yes; killing, not so much.)

I peeked in and saw the unmistakable shape of bat swooping near the ceiling.

New plan: I woke the kids up, and took them and the cats downstairs and closed the stairs door. Then I army-crawled across my room to open the window that doesn't have a screen, grabbed my blanket, crawled back out, and went to sleep downstairs on the couch.

That open window was a critical tactical error, friends. Critical.

When I talked about this adventure online, a field scientist friend pointed out that I should have caught the bat and turned it over to appropriate authorities for testing, and that since I hadn't, I should probably consider rabies prophylaxis for Sofia and for me. I was skeptical, so I did some research.

The nurse on call at my doctor's office on Saturday morning said no shots unless I could find bites or scratches on myself or Sofia, but she couldn't really tell me what to look for. I looked but couldn't find anything suspicious.

But then I read The Washington Post's article about a woman who had an experience very similar to mine and opted for the rabies prophylaxis series despite the lack of visible wound. The CDC guidelines suggest the shot sequence even if there is no apparent wound when a bat is found in a room where someone has been asleep.

I went to bed Saturday night resolved to make a decision on Monday when animal control and the doctor's office would be open.

And it happened again. 

Same time of night, same thumping and chittering in the corner. I made sure the kids' bedroom doors were closed, got the cats downstairs, and closed my latchless bedroom door, hoping to trap the bat so I could have it tested this time.

The county animal control voicemail message directed me to call county dispatch after hours, but county dispatch was no help and little comfort. The officer I spoke to said that animal control won't come out "for just a bat," and he didn't know who would test it for rabies if I caught it. He suggested an exterminator and a local vet. I thought, Um, thanks a lot. Don't you know that rabies is nearly always fatal in humans?

So I called my sister (who lives next door and works second shift and was still awake).  My awesome sister and brother-in-law and I thoroughly and carefully checked the room for a roosting bat, but saw no signs. I slept on the couch, and we checked the room again during the day Sunday, but still found nothing.

Today I called the county health department whose rabies expert said that Sofia and I were definitely candidates for post-exposure rabies prophylaxis and then helped me make arrangements with the local emergency room to get the shots. Three cheers for Julie at the health department. She is awesome!

Dear heaven, the shots! Though, it's not as bad as it used to be (many injections through the abdominal wall), it's still a lot of painful (and expensive) pricks. The standard of care is now immunoglobulin at the wound site on day 0 and vaccine in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 21. Since we had no apparent wounds, Sofia and I got the immunoglobulin in the glutes. Being small, Sofia got one on each side. At 155 lbs., I got two on each side. Immunoglobulin is thick, and there is a lot of it.

The Lesson:

It is highly unlikely that bats will bite humans without provocation. It is highly unlikely that bats actually have rabies (less than 1% of the population in general, 6% of those tested in Michigan). The bat (or bats) that were in my bedroom probably live in my attic and were trying to find their way out, having just woken up from hibernation. There is a strong impulse to live and let live; nevertheless, as the CDC notes,
Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.
There is no possibility to wait and see.

Unless you are one hundred percent sure that no one was bitten or one hundred percent sure that the bat does not have rabies, get the shots. Someone who was asleep can not be one hundred percent sure. It is possible to not notice being bitten during sleep, and the bites look like small cuts that could be mistaken for other things.

The first people I talked to, my family doctor's nurse and the county dispatcher, did not see this situation as critical at all. These two people made me think perhaps I was overreacting. However, once I spoke to people who were knowledgeable about rabies and the CDC guidelines, Julie at the health department and the ER nurse and nurse practitioner, the tenor of the conversation shifted to one of urgency. Shots. Definitely. Today.

Even people who work with and respect bats agree that bats found in rooms where people are sleeping should be caught, euthanized, and tested for rabies. I'm frustrated that the health care worker and the first responder I spoke to first did not know this information. They should know.

We should all know, because when you're woken from a sound sleep at two A.M. by a bat in the bedroom, you're operating on instinct, not on Google, and my instinct was to get the intruder as far away from my family as possible. When this happens again (as I'm sure it will), I'll know better.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.