Showing posts with label widowhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label widowhood. Show all posts

Thursday, May 15, 2014

seeing myself

Adam used to reflect me back to me, so that I saw myself in his eyes. Not in the sense that I let him define me, but in the sense that he was the reality check on the person I thought I was presenting to the world. He could separate the insecurities in my head from the flaws visible to others. He could see the potential that I doubted.

Now, I feel like I triangulate the feedback of others to get the same picture.

Like when John wanted to help me sell Rambling Farmhouse right away because he knows it was never my house, never the place I would have chosen for myself. Which reminded me of the first time Mark came to visit, and said, "Kate, I don't know what I expected your house to be, but this is not it."

I saw myself as free to leave this house behind.

Like when Erin talked about me balancing into the burdens of the last year.

I saw myself making progress and gaining confidence.

Like when Dorrie's words about the writing process made me realize that my problems aren't grief problems, but writing problems.

I saw myself making excuses.

It is so hard to dwell in this wilderness between end and beginning. Sometimes I feel like I imagine Moses must have felt, able to see the promised land after many years' wandering, but unable to cross over.  I yearn to move on, sometimes blaming paperwork and sorting for keeping me here, sometimes resenting Adam for leaving so many loose ends.

In more insightful moments, I understand that I'm still here because I'm still learning to see the self I am becoming.

Pardon me while I gather today's manna.

Monday, April 14, 2014

girl power

Because it's spring, I had to prune the grapes. Because I've never pruned grapes, I called in reinforcements.

me: Rachel, can you help me prune the grapes?
Rachel: Sure! Kate, I've never pruned grapes. Do you know what to do?
me: I have no idea. I've never done it before, either. I'm going to ask You Tube. We'll figure it out. I believe in us.

Girl Power Day often starts like that. Sometimes one or the other of us has done the task of the day before, but even then we're not experts. So far we've refilled propane cylinders at the gas company, hauled mill ends from the Amish cabinetmaker, spread manure on the pastures at Bluebird, taken junk to the dump, pitched canvas tents, baked in the masonry oven, and pruned grapes.

Girl Power Days have taught me several lessons:

1. I can do almost anything if I educate myself and get the right support.
2. Just because I can do a thing doesn't mean that I have to like doing it or that I should commit to doing that thing all the time.
3. Sometimes the right support is just someone to make decisions with.

Because Adam and I had worked so hard to be interdependent, and because I had gotten so used to having a partner, it has been hard for me to remember what I'm capable of. It is the confidence generated on Girl Power Days that carries me through some of the physically and emotionally challenging tasks I undertake on my own.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

a glimpse of remembrance

Your favorite film, your favorite cake, your favorite way to eat lemon sorbet.

Happy birthday, my love. Godspeed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

flannel hope

It was Monday in Chicago in July, and I had a terrible headache. I had just picked Jill up from Midway, and we were at Costco shopping for the food we would be cooking for my sister's wedding that weekend. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at a display of flannel sheets. (cream with red snowflakes, they were cute)

me: Jill, I can have all the flannel sheets I want!
Jill: Kate?
me: Adam always complained when I put flannel sheets on the bed. He said they were like sleeping in Velcro. But he's not here to complain anymore, so I can have them all winter long. I love flannel sheets!
Jill: Silver lining! Are we buying some?
me: Um, no. Who buys flannel sheets in July? Let's go find the pork loin.

I've described marriage before as balancing on a tightrope in tandem, but I think it's also like trying to fit two people into a space that's very snug. Over time,  each spouse learns to wiggle and bend to make room for the other's knees and elbows. The rather surreal conversation above was the moment when I began to understand that I didn't have to bend to accommodate Adam's preferences anymore.

In the days following that conversation, my crazy family embraced more such realizations with me. Melissa bought me a fuzzy steering wheel cover, because I don't think having one compromises my control of the vehicle. Gwen and Sean gave me a silver owl, which I hung from the mirror in my car, because it doesn't actually compromise visibility, and I'm not worried about a ticket. Jill, Kathy, Tony, and my mom went a little crazy in the lighting section of the d.i.y. store, and the ceiling fixtures at Rambling Farmhouse now sport a variety of interesting and decorative chain pulls, because I should be able to turn fans and lights on and off without a step-stool in my own home, and I am short enough to walk under them, and not matching is its own beauty.

In truth, these objects are all kind of silly, and none of them were things that I had regretting giving up in service to marital harmony. After all, Adam had bent to accommodate my preferences, too, and you can bet that, were the tables turned, there would be towels on his bedroom floor, and he would be frying fish and chips in the kitchen, in bacon grease, without turning on the exhaust fan.

Suddenly finding myself alone on the tightrope was terrifying in part because I had gotten so used to sharing it with someone else, so accustomed to being attentive to and adjusting for my partner's movements. Bringing these silly objects into my life was a first step toward realizing that I could balance on my own again.

These small realizations led to bigger ones. I can look for a job anywhere, and then I can move wherever I find something. I don't have to own and care for land if I don't want to.

I get a second chance to decide what my life looks like.

The awful tragedy that ended the first amazing life I had built together with Adam does not diminish the possibility of a second beautiful life yet to be built.

I choose not to wallow.

I choose to hope.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Rambling Farmhouse is no longer home to any farm animals.

Rehoming the chickens is something I had been pondering for a while. I've been nervous about the challenges that accompany early spring every year. As the local raccoons, opossums, and foxes are having babies before the wild food supply is plentiful, they prey on the birds, so dispatching trapped predator becomes a daily chore. The sort of chore which I have little stomach for. Meanwhile this winter, our eggs have been selling well via the refrigerator at Bluebird Farm, so when Rachel asked if I might be willing to sell some of the chickens, I offered her the whole flock.

I know that leaving chicken husbandry was a good decision, but carrying that decision out was difficult nonetheless.  Chickens are stupid and dirty, but they are also beautiful and funny individuals, and nothing is better than eggs collected just that day. I won't miss arguing with the children about whose turn it is to do the chores, and I won't miss doing battle with Lucifer the Fiercest Rooster, but I will miss their noise and their popping up in unexpected places when I work outside.

This evening, we crated the chickens and took them to join the flock at Bluebird, where our good friend Henry will take excellent care of them. Then I came home, threw myself on the bed, and sobbed.

I wasn't really crying about the chickens.

Keeping chickens (and later turkeys and ducks) was Adam's project. At first, he had to work hard to convince me that this was a good idea, but once they were here, I enjoyed them at least as much as they pissed me off, usually more.  In getting rid of them, I am one step closer to being able to put Rambling Farmhouse on the market, one step closer to finding the life that belongs to me and not to us, one step further away from the vision that was my guide for so long.

Of all of the spaces I have cleaned out since Adam died, though, the chicken coop is the first one for which I don't have a new purpose. There it stands at the top of the sledding hill.


Saturday, February 22, 2014


Death is a lot of paperwork. If you've been around in the last six months, you've probably heard me say this. A few of you have even witnessed me shouting it at the sky.

No one ever tells you how hard it is to settle an estate. How in the midst of an emotional storm you have to make decisions and fill in forms and sign things that move money and assets. How you have to deal with people who may express sympathy, but don't genuinely feel it because they deal with ten of you every day.

I've come to think that we twenty-first century Americans cloak the ends of life in mystery, because no one ever tells you the nitty-gritty truth about childbirth or breastfeeding, either, but I really don't understand why. Like giving birth, settling an estate is, I suppose, not a path one can walk until the circumstances of life lead to it, but I think it would be easier if the whole process were more public. Being present for someone else's turn down the path, seeing the process, would make it easier to walk the path, I think.

The worst part for me has been the way that paperwork has the power to interrupt my day. I may be having a good writing day or working on a household project or reading a good book, and a phone call from one of the banks or the insurance agents or the prosecutor's office or the IRS or the SSA can pull me out of whatever it is I've chosen to do and demand my attention. After the phone call (or e-mail or letter), I'm not always able to return to the progress I had been making.

It seems like just when I think I am caught up, when I feel sure I have a handle on everything, something else pops up. This is very unsettling. It's hard to plan my time when recent experience has taught me to be always waiting for yet another shoe to drop. The grief-induced brain fog I've talked about before further complicates the situation. There is always a moment in which I am thinking, "Is this new? Or did I know this and forget? I couldn't possibly have made such an oversight, could I?" Sometimes I did forget, but not always. Seven months on, new tasks are still being added to my list.

Death is a lot of paperwork. Each piece of paper looks simple. Taking care of all of them is really hard.

There are some things that have made my situation easier:
1. I was my husband's only spouse ever.
2. I knew his system for creating passwords.
3. Joint checking accounts.

There are some things that would have made my situation even easier than that:
1. Having my name on all of the assets and accounts, even the ones acquired or created before we were married.
2. Having important papers stored logically in one place.

I am neither a legal nor a financial expert, so I want to be careful not to give blanket advice, but I think I can safely say the following to everyone:

1. Have a will.
2. Give your next of kin the key to your password system.
3. Invest thought, time, and energy into a filing system that even the fog-brained can follow. Show your next of kin how it works.

Death is a part of life, and we do not know when we will arrive there. It is wrong of us to avoid thinking about it and planning for it. It is wrong for people in their twenties and thirties to put off writing a will. It is wrong to sustain the mystery. 

Death is a lot of paperwork, and you should know that because someday you will be the next of kin.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Social media comes under a lot of criticism for making us more isolated, for decimating the glory of English, for changing the way people interact with one another. This post is not about that. This post is about the power of social media to build and maintain community across time and space.

The first year of my married life was bathed in the rose-colored glow of being newly wed, but the second year I was really lonely. I desperately wanted to be back in Washington, DC, with my college friends, which was silly for two reasons. First, by then most of my college friends were leaving the District. And second because I had plenty of great friends in Michigan. My La Leche League friend, my grad school friend, and my friend I stole from Adam are all wonderful women, but something was missing.

After dwelling with the discontent for a while, I finally realized that what I really missed was interacting with a group of people who not only knew me but also all knew each other. Identifying the problem helped me to accept it, but satisfying the craving was more difficult. Gradually, the sort of interconnected tribe I longed for coalesced around us as Adam started inviting a more-or-less stable group of people to three parties a year: sledding for Anna in January, a cookout for Sofia in May, and his apple butter stir in the fall.  My world started to look rosy again.

Facebook's expansion beyond college campuses, though, gave me back my college tribe. Although we were in Michigan and Texas and Washington and New York and Togo and Indiana and the DR Congo, we could still interact with one another easily. The asynchronicity of posts and comments on social media ameliorate the difficulties posed by work schedules and time differences and eliminate the costs of international phone calls. Most recently, Skype gave us back the ability to see each other as we talked.

I don't mean to say that social media completely replaces face to face interactions. The best analogy I've come up with is to say that social media simulates working in the same building as someone else. You might not have a conversation over lunch with Sam every day, but since you pass him in the hallway and you have brief interactions at the copier or vending machines, you have a general sense that Sam is alive and well, and when you do make time for a tête à tête, you can skim over the preliminary stuff and get to the deeper conversation more quickly.

Facebook has allowed me to have a general sense of what's going on in the lives of a few close high school friends, my close-knit group from college, the extended families of both my parents, and my graduate school colleagues. For a long time, this was the only social media platform I used.

Then, having learned to knit in 2009 because Anna wanted to, I kept knitting because I liked it, and quickly exhausted my reference book. Looking for resources online, I found Ravelry, a social media network geared toward fiber artists, and within Ravelry, I found the Ivory Tower Fiber Freaks, "The Centre for Textiles and Conflict Studies: For academics of all stripes who knit, crochet, spin or weave." I have only met a couple of the members of this tribe in person, but the group as a whole has a significant role in my professional development as well as my adventures with string.

When Adam died, ITFF mourned with me. Not a single one of them had ever met him, so they were not grieving for him, but because they love me, they mourn with me, and that is a critical distinction. So much strength flows into my hands from around the world with the cards they send to make me smile.  They have lifted my spirits with flowers on the 26th of every month from that to this.
August's flowers
I have long since felt immensely blessed that I get to be a part of this amazing virtual-yet-oh-so-real community of scholars and friends, but today they have outdone themselves. Today they wrapped the girls and me in wooly warm hugs. 

Each square an individual contribution:

Each blanket a symphony of color
Anna's blanket

and texture:
Kate's blanket
The note said, 
We were all so sorry when Adam died, and if we could, we would have wrapped you all up in virtual hugs to help you as you learned to cope with his loss. We couldn't do that, however, so we decided to make these blankets so you would have something tangible to hold you whenever you need a hug, or some love, or just something to keep you warm!….This was a truly international gift, and is from all of us at ITFF.
Some of the squares had their own notes:

I appreciate every gift I have received from all of my community, every bit of chocolate, every cup of tea, every penny you have sent, every task you have helped me with tells me that you love me.  This gift of blankets from the ITFF community, however, amazes me in the scope of its organization and coordination. 

This, right here. This is the power of social media. 

My cup runneth over.

My wooly hug is also beautiful on the inside. Come join me ;-)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

things I miss

There are things that I miss that are about Adam as an individual. I miss the expressiveness of his face. I miss the way he smelled, like Old Spice, engine oil, and sawdust. I miss the way he would scoot closer to me in the pew after the kids had left for Sunday school. I miss his culinary adventures, unpredictable as they were. I miss his laugh.

I missed Adam truly madly deeply on Christmas Eve when we stood in the darkened sanctuary holding candles and singing "Silent Night" because it was one of the few songs he knew well enough to sing with his whole voice.

There are other things that I miss not about Adam himself but about the role he played in my life. I miss having someone to share the duties of cooking and tidying. I miss having a co-parent. I miss having a sounding board and being someone's sounding board. I miss arguing and disagreeing and convincing and agreeing to disagree and then drinking wine.

I miss having that one person who has committed himself to always being there when I need him and who can demand the same commitment from me.

I miss the warmth of another person who is just here.

I miss having a partner.

Even my tribe of wonderful friends, who each take up a bit of the slack, can not fill this void.

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.

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.

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.

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.