My dad died. And I’m still waiting to cry for real.

I didn’t cry very much at the funeral.

I didn’t cry very much in the days before, either, but that was due to busyness. There were plans to make, flowers to choose, a Mass to plan, a scurry to find an organist to replace the one the church has a contract with but I haven’t ever been able to stand. There was shopping for dresses for myself and my daughters, a new pair of khakis for my son. Details. It was all very busy. There was also the small matter of writing something, since I’d agreed to speak at the funeral. I might claim to be a writer but I am not a public speaker. I have been known to weep while giving poetry awards to middle school students.

Any tears I had inside me must be cemented away, if I was going to get through. Any leaking, the dam would explode.

 

M&D 50th invite

On May 25th, we had a big party to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My brother Steve and his wife Trish arranged everything at their club in Riverside, Connecticut. It was an achingly perfect near-summer day, weatherwise. It was an achingly perfect near-family celebration, too — my cousin Maria and her family from Massachusetts had a conflict, as did my cousins Marcello and John, but nearly everyone else came, including Dad’s brother from Florida, Uncle Jack, who had been struggling with some health issues so the mere fact of his flight was more than remarkable, plus his daughter, my cousin Sue, and her husband, also from Florida, with their adorable daughters whom some of us had never me yet. Aunts, uncles, cousins, generations laughing together, a big blue sky atop a crystal water, all to celebrate my parents’ love story.

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It was kind of idyllic, the oceanfront scenery and the kids frolicking and the grownups talking and everyone laughing and the picture-perfect day that lasted well into the evening. I could almost forget how, despite remembering every tiny detail for my little family’s outing, from bathing suits to changes of clothes and shoes and extra diabetes supplies, I actually forgot the insulin. So Ray had to do a 30-minute-each-way back to my brother’s house after Mitzi announced her pump was empty. Except for that, the day was nearly perfect, full of hugs and laughter and speeches and being-togetherness.
Mom and Dad glowed.

Dad’s cough didn’t seem to trouble him very much that day. IMG_4991

The cough started a few months before, I think. Doctors treated everything from allergies to acid reflux. Often keeping Dad from sleeping, my sister, who had been living with my parents in the past few months, confided that it sounded tubercular, half-joking. I know the cough was exhausting, even preventing him from traveling a few hours north to us in Massachusetts, for my Joanna’s first communion in mid-May. But by the anniversary party, he seemed okay. A rumble here, a rustle there. It didn’t stop him from standing up during the meal and, for the first time in my entire life, overcoming his introversion to talk about his love for my mother, the love they shared, the journey they travelled together.

No, the cough didn’t seem to be a problem whatsoever that day. May 25.

After that weekend, I settled back into the end-of-the-school-year routine at home. Tests, projects, field trips, six sports spread among the four kids. Schedules. A week after we got home, on June 9, Mom called to say Dad was in the hospital with extreme stomach pain. After four days of tests, heart issues, more tests, a couple of biopsies, Dad was released with a diagnosis. Liver cancer. On Monday, June 16th, a meeting with doctors resulted a treatment plan. The news was grim, but we are La Famiglia, and we all rolled up our sleeves. Life had never been easy for Dad or Mom or their road together, and they never did anything but work hard and believe in each other — and the rest of us, well, we were going to give some ass-kicking wherever required on our loved ones’ behalf. Liver cancer was no exception.

During that week, Dad was exhausted, in-and-out-of-awake, sleeping mostly in his office armchair. He had perked up on Father’s Day when some of the local grandchildren came by with cards and hugs, but was too exhausted to talk when we called from Massachusetts. Rest was what he needed, for sure. Phone calls could wait. Father’s Day was just another day, and another day was coming. We believed that.

A PET scan was given on Thursday, June 19, my kids’ last day of school. It was a struggle for Dad to get to the car, let alone into the machine, but surely it was the various medications interacting in bizarre ways. Of course. It couldn’t be more than that. A call was in place to the doctor. Obviously, an adjustment in meds was required, so we wanted to get on that right away.

All along, I talked with Mom every day, as much as I could. She was honest, ever faithful, and always stoic. Always the next step. Always the fight. Never the fear. Always the positive, the what’s next, the pull-up-your-bootstraps-and-get-it-done. Ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Always.

Almost always. I knew things might be serious one day that week when she almost cried. She almost said words of despair. Almost said words that were fatal but she knew if she said them she’d never get to take them back. Almost words. That’s when I started to get scared.

The kids had their last day of school on June 19. On June 20, the phone rang at 7 a.m. Now, in the school year, the phone ringing at 7 a.m. is commonplace. But that day? That day we had no school and the phone rang and the monotone phone voice said “call from CONNECTICUT” and Ray leapt out of bed before I had time to find my glasses on the nightstand and I knew some kind of shit had hit some kind of fan because no one ever calls at 7 a.m. on a non-school day. Ever.

It was my sister. Dad was back in the hospital via ambulance. Unresponsive. No word about anything. No, you don’t need to come yet. I told Ray to get in the shower to go to work. I smoked a cigarette. I made Ray his breakfast and lunch and had some coffee.

Forty-five minutes later, the phone rang again. My sister again. She spoke a bunch of words that made no sense to me, words like system fail. No recovery. Come now. I wasn’t sure if it was her tears that muddled the meaning of her words, or my own mind. I made her put Mom on the phone. Mom didn’t cry or falter. The words were the same as my sister’s had been, but Mom’s words were clear, bold-printed.

Come now. But don’t drive yourself. I don’t want to worry.

Two hours later I was on a train. Three hours after that, I stood in the ICU at the hospital, staring. Dad was hooked up to 19 different tubes. I knew he would be; my brother Harry had told me what was going on when he picked me up at the train. But hearing and seeing were different things. I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what to say or do. Then Mom leaned over and kissed Dad and said, “Honey, Jennifer is here, and look at all her curly hair, and do you know she came down all the way from Massachusetts just now just to see you” and Dad rolled his eyes in my direction and sort of sat up and maybe he saw me so I kissed his forehead and I said, “Hi Daddy. It’s okay. It’s. Okay. I’m here, it’s Jenny and it’s okay.”

Ray drove down that night with the kids. In the meantime, Mom, my three siblings and I had met with doctors and with the hospice team. Dad’s liver was so far gone and his other organs were slowly shutting down that there was nothing left to do but keep him comfortable until the end. Later that evening he was moved to hospice. Until the end.

IMG_7741Less than three weeks earlier we’d been toasting 50 years of marriage. Less than three weeks since we’d spoke and loved and hugged and been alive together.

The next day, my mom’s sister and brother-in-law came down from Massachusetts. Mom’s little brother came up from New Jersey. My kids came to the hospital too. By then, Dad was comfortable, tubeless. He looked like he was sleeping, even snoring hugely from time to time, which made my kids laugh. They murmured to their Pop in varying awkward kid ways, first unsure what to do, then seeing it was okay to give him a kiss and laugh and tell him a story or two. There were muffins. The kids were okay — hugging and touching and awkwardly stroking Dad’s arm — even if the adults were less so. The nurses said Dad wouldn’t last the weekend. But they were wrong.

He was waiting, it was clear, but what for? My oldest nephew, Dad’s oldest grandchild, aged 15, with whom there was a tremendous bond, finally visited, after an understandable internal struggle. My mom’s littlest sister, who was only 12 when Dad and Mom married, and who barely remembered a life without Dad, was able to talk to Dad on the phone. So did Dad’s brother in Florida. Finally, my niece went to the hospital. The same age as my Mitzi, my niece and Dad had more than a tremendous bond, and I know she also struggled with going or not. How to see him last. How to remember him. My heart broke for her.

M&D175And yet Dad waited. There were a couple of times in the next day that he stirred and I smoothed his forehead and he opened one eye and seemed to see me. “It’s okay, Daddy. It’s okay.” And then he’d settle back into a silent sleep, until the next time he stirred and someone else — Mom, Michelle, Harry, Steve — would comfort him once more. Sleep was easy with morphine and Adavan. Michelle and I played the Eagles on our phones propped on his pillow, and the five of us laughed and told stories to Dad (with Dad?) for hours. It was the longest period of time the six of us had been alone together since the summer days of New Hampshire.

On June 24, we half-heartedly wished my brother Steve a happy birthday. I meant to get him a Hostess cupcake from the convenience store on the way to the hospital that morning, but got distracted. By then, the days were weirdly the same, at least for me. The kids and I were staying with my brother Harry and his wife, Michele, since Ray had returned north for work that couldn’t be put off. Harry, Michele, and I would wake up, get the seven kids ready for the day, and take care of morning business. By noon, Michele would take the kids to the pool and Harry and I’d go to the hospital. Around 7, I’d return to give her a break. Harry would usually stay for a bit longer.

On June 24th, Steve’s birthday, Dad had developed a rattle in his throat, due to the failing of his swallowing reflex. I thought he looked uncomfortable; the nurses acknowledged my concern, though all agreed that the brow furrow was a natural wrinkle in his forehead, nothing new, but if it continued and I was still concerned, they’d give more Adavan. I didn’t argue. Usually, Mom and my sister left around 6 p.m., as they’d been there since around 8 a.m. That night, on June 24th, no one seemed eager to go. Finally Mom and Michelle left, Mom remarking that maybe she’d come back with Michelle that night. (Michelle had taken to returning around 9 p.m. Sometimes Steve was there and Harry. Or Michele. The hospice floor had no visiting hours — you could come and go 24/7, because the death watch had no time frame and even the security guards knew it).

 

I left around 7, knowing Michele needed a break from parenting my kids. She brought my brother dinner and some ice cream. They sat with Dad and talked softly with him for awhile. When the nurses came to adjust Dad’s body position, Harry and Michele left to give the nurses space. They probably hung out near the elevators, away from the patient rooms, softly chatting about everything and nothing. A few minutes later, an orderly ran up to them. Come. Now. So they did.

And Dad drew his last breath.

My sister Michelle was on her way to the hospital when Harry called with the news a few minutes later. So Michelle turned around on the highway, to go home to get Mom, who only ever wanted during all of this to be with Dad at the very end.

And Harry called me, too, as I was wrangling a houseful of kids to their beds. When my sister-in-law came home I went to the hospital. Mom and Michelle were already there. I held Dad’s hand until the warmth faded and his skin was cold and still I could not let it go, kissing his forearm repeatedly, like I do sometimes with my children when they let me. And then a few minutes more than that. I finally suggested Mom wanted privacy with Dad. So we all left.

I have no idea what a person says to someone who has been the bulk of her world since age 15 or so. Is there any way to say goodbye to half of yourself?

It was June 24. Less than a month since celebrating 50 years of marriage, plus a few years of love before that. Dad was only 71 years old.M&D200

The next day I told my kids.

Then there was a lot of busy, including the pressure of writing and speaking. As usual, I wrote until the last minute.

I had yet to really cry. Even at the wake, when I watched the grandchildren finally take my advice of writing notes to their Pop — thankfully, Mitzi knows I always keep a notebook in my oversized purse — one by one tucking them into the pocket of his suit coat. At the wake, where so many people came to share their love and shock, some from so very far away it was almost ridiculous and yet so very touching I couldn’t catch my breath.

I had yet to cry.

Even at the funeral. Watching my husband and cousins and friends carry Dad’s coffin to a hearse. Spreading a cloth on the coffin. Listening to the prayers and songs I’d helped to choose, all expressed with supreme love and compassion by people who actually cared about Dad and me and my sister and brothers and mostly my mom. I had yet to cry, even when I had Ellie on my right, silently bawling, and Joanna on my left with her own quiet nonstop tears and next to her was Cooper and then Mitzi and how could my arms ever be that long and strong to comfort them? So I stretched and they cried, and I curled around their tears so tightly that I couldn’t shed my own.

My brothers spoke, at the end of the service, and oh my gosh, so eloquent and they too cried without shame but continued their words even through their tears and those words leveled me. And they broke my heart, with their words and their tears and their nakedness.

I still didn’t cry.

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I’m supposed to be a writer. Not a speaker. My dad wasn’t much of a speaker, but he was overflowing with emotions and words that begged to come out. The only time I heard him talk in front of a crowd was the month before, on May 25th, to honor and express love for my mother.

My dad died on June 24th.

I had to speak. I had to be as brave as he had always been.

So this is what I said. I wrote these words and I stood up and read them out loud and I did not cry.

 

 

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to say today, and some wise writer friends, who have come to know Dad a little bit through Facebook and my own stories, suggested that I just write him a letter.

So I did.

Daddy, 

As I write this, I am sitting on Harry’s deck just after I woke up. It’s the sort of early morning you’d really enjoy. The landscape is glistening with last night’s rain, and the air has a chill that belies the predicted awful humidity. The sun is starting to peek over the tall trees Harry keeps threatening to cut down, and there’s a faraway sound of a neighbor doing yard work. It’s the sort of morning where you’d be up early, as usual, and if you had no appointments or clients, you too would be outside, blowing the mess off your deck, or maybe just sitting, as I am, watching the sun climb in the sky, thanking God for another day to enjoy and for all the people we’re lucky to love.

I was trying to think of my earliest memory of you, but very old memories are my brothers’ area. Sometimes I think I write in order to find my memories, every word scribbled in hopes of unlocking moments in time from long ago when I was very young. It’s often hard to separate true memories from family legend — all the stories told so many times that they have a life of their own, or from the hundreds of familiar photographs in albums or in slides that are burned in my mind 

I guess it doesn’t matter how the memories were created, just that they exist.

I seem to have more of a sense-memory, feelings, recollections of touch and sound. For instance, I remember you hardly ever got to sleep late, but when you did, there was nothing better than to crawl into bed with you, to be silent and close against your still form. Even in those quiet moments, I knew you would always protect me. 

As a child, I took you for granted, as children do. As an adult, I can look back and truly appreciate all the amazing sacrifices you made, your uncomplaining energy and commitment to whatever you were doing. I took for granted that you left the house every day by 6 a.m. to go to work, and didn’t get home again until around 8 p.m. The five-hour-each-way trips you made to New Hampshire every weekend in the summer, just to be with us. I know that you weren’t always able to be there for every performance or field day or tennis game or band competition, but I never resented that, because I knew that you’d be there in a heartbeat if you could, and you were with me in spirit. Because there were so many times you were there for real. The New Hampshire moments, the times at Indian Lake where you pushed me back and forth in that red plastic boat, the time that you and Uncle Jack built the deck and we had lobsters in the wading pool, weekends of raking leaves when we “helped” and you didn’t care that we made a bigger mess for you to clean up, the way you brought me things like Swarovski crystal figurines whenever you took a faraway trip. 

You were also there for the middle and high school years, when drama overflowed in my world. You didn’t always understand what was going on, but you always gave me a hug and assured me that, whatever it was, it was going to be okay. Especially if I went in another room and talked with Mom. Despite the drama, I think it always made you happy to have so many of our friends in and out of the door – especially if it meant that you could advise them on their future, or tease them mercilessly – especially to tease them.

What a teaser you always have been! That sense of humor! It’s hard to picture you without a smile on your face. From corny jokes, to quoting goofy movies with us ad nauseum – there was always a laugh to be had with you. And you took it as well as you gave it, whether it was when we were little and discovered that it REALLY bugged you to have your socks pushed down, so we sat on the floor in front of you and pushed them down. You pulled them up. We pushed them down. This could go on for hours, it seemed. And you never complained! At least to our faces. Or when we were older, and we would brush out teeth in any other room but the bathroom, because it drove you absolutely bananas – it was especially effective if you had your back to us so we could gesture at each other while you pretended not to notice.

No joke ever got too old with us.

And so it went, through my college years (yes, I know, who can keep track of my colleges, ha ha ha) and through first jobs and various moves (let’s not ever speak of Miami), until I wound up in Boston and started a new chapter. For every step you were there, not judging, offering advice when asked (and sometimes when not). You never forgot to remember – every time the mailman brought a white envelope with your caps-only handwriting, I couldn’t wait to see what article you’d clipped from the New York Times just for me. There would also be a short note of love and a sage bit of wisdom – plus a $20 bill, because you not only believed in supporting my spirit, you also believed in supporting my “miscellaneous fund” account.

By the way, I don’t think that any of what I just said is proof that I am your favorite. I know that, like all parents, you never actually had a favorite – you were most happy with whoever was bugging you less at the moment. So, I won’t even mention the idea that you had a favorite, because I know you have always loved us all equally. There are no favorites. [points to self] 

So, okay, I really did enjoy the occasional $20 bill, but especially over the last fifteen years, I mostly enjoyed your words of inspiration. It’s kind of funny how your journey of recovery almost exactly aligns with my journey as a parent and as a serious writer. No one has been a bigger cheerleader for me – not only for my writing, but more for “me.” You learned some tough lessons about taking care of yourself, and you always shared them – you were the first to tell me to leave the dishes or laundry, and go for a walk. Forget the vacuum – work on my books. You always knew I’d be responsible, but you never wanted me to forget myself in the process. You became a person who tried to live entirely in the moment, and how I loved that about you! Especially when it meant a daily Buddha quote in the family email. (Though I really loved it when you started sharing bad jokes, especially the lawyer ones, but don’t tell Ray that.) 

I hope that right now you are enjoying an endless Christmas Eve dinner with all the grandparents, and the Christmas Day dinner too, with Mom’s cioppino and manicotti and bracciole, with Grandpa’s unlimited spoonfuls of pasta, and walnut-stuffed figs and filled cookies and a little anisette in your coffee, and there is card-playing and tons of laughter — and if possible, that this all happens on a forever lake where the sun shimmers off the water and the breeze tickles your face and the air is soft all around you. And even though we never won a single Christmas game as partners all those years, if they have those too where you are, I hope you continue our tradition of always being one of the pair with the best sense of humor. Also that pugnacious thing for which Uncle Frank always threw an award our way. Wise-cracking and never-giving-up, that is us. I couldn’t have asked for a better kindred games spirit. 

Oh, Daddy, how lucky I was to win you and Mommy in the cosmic parent lottery! How lucky my kids are to have you as their Muggy and Pop – and not just for the goodbye Oreos or for the unlimited computer time or the nonstop pool time or Chinese food for twenty. I know you didn’t always think the sun rose and set on the 10 of them, at least not every day, but danged if you and Mom didn’t always made each kid believe it was so.

There is so much to say, Daddy, a million moments to remember…but I think you already know. I think you always did.

And you know what? It turns out, I remember them too.

Every one.

Huh. Imagine that. I remember.

Daddy, I love you.

Take it easy.

 

My dad died on June 24, 2014. He was 71 years old.

The tears have come a bit, here and there. But I’m afraid to let them flow, unchecked. Because if they come, I don’t think they’ll ever stop.

Maybe I just miss him too much to cry.

Or maybe right now, tears are not enough. Not nearly enough.

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The end of the crustacean era

Yesterday we said goodbye to another member of our family.  The remaining hermit crab, Lumpy, went to his (her?) final resting place under the pine tree, alongside Bumpy, who was buried earlier this year.

Poor Lumpy.  Probably died of a broken heart, living a solitary life in the tank.  No one to climb the wall with.  No one to fight with over the crab house.  

Maybe not.  We noticed him looking poorly and grew concerned.  When he stopped moving and seemed limp, we knew something was up.  But our research led us to this conclusion:  the crab was molting.  Aha!  Experts say that it’s crucial to leave a molting crab alone, so that’s what we did.  We hydrated it, changed water, kept it warm.  The process was supposed to take up to 8 weeks.

And it went on and on.  Since there was no smell, we figured it was okay.  (I mean, dead animals smell, come on.)  But 8 weeks came and went, and eventually we decided that poor Lumpy didn’t survive the change.

So yesterday we had his funeral, poor little petrified Lumpy (I mean, stiff, fragile, like an egg shell molded to a crab form.  Every molecule of water completely gone.  Just a little crumbly skeleton.  No one wanted to touch it, because when you did, a leg or claw fell off.).  We buried him shell and all.  

Mitzi wasn’t upset to say good-bye to crab number three.

Next time, she says, she wants a better pet.

Grandma’s rose

As much as I love gardening and flowers and a pretty yard, I’m not much of a gardener.   I’m kind of lazy when it comes to tending the vegetation around my house.  But the other day I got a nice surprise.

After Grandma’s funeral last spring, as we were packing up to return from Connecticut, my mom offered me some plants that had been given by friends as condolences.  I chose a small tea rose, knowing my inability to nurture house plants.  I figured this lovely, delicate bloomer was not intended to last that long, so when it went it wouldn’t be my fault.  I’d get to enjoy it for a few months, as I mourned my Grandma and Grandpa, both now gone, and its beauty might help as I struggled to take solace in the memories of my short time with them.

So it hung around in my dining room, perched in front of the big, sunny windows, and it bloomed for a while.  When the last petals faded, I was surprised to see that the leaves and stem remained healthy.  After the June rains, when I got motivated to dig a new bed in the backyard for some perennials, I added the rose.  What did I have to lose?

Again, I was surprised each day at its survival.  Normally I try to choose plants that don’t require much from me — no pruning, good in drought conditions — definitely not a rose.  Maybe thanks to a somewhat wet and cool summer, the little rose dug in and grew.

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Then the other day.  There it was.  A single bloom in the bright September sun, opening just as the kids started their new year at school.

I’ll enjoy the little bloom while it can.  I don’t know what to do with the plant to ensure it comes back next spring.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Because that’s the way things work.  You do the best you can, but so much is beyond your control.  At some point you have to step back, bask in the wonder of the ever-changing, unpredictable, and often glorious nature of the world we have such a short time to live in.  Much of the time, there’s not much more you can do.  

The wonder of this rose, that it hung on, flourished, even, has nothing to do with me, I’m sure.  But maybe my grandparents’ love had something to do with it.

And maybe that’s the key to it all, what you can always do when nothing else seems possible.  

You can love.

Eunice Kennedy and children of grace

I never gave too much thought for the Kennedy women.  Ray has a certain affection for the Kennedy legacy, specifically, an admiration for the general philanthropic nature of the clan.  The accomplishments of the men (as well as their foibles) are legend.

But the women?  Eh.

Then today brought the news of the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  Much will be — and has been — written about the various accomplishments of this grande dame.  She was clearly someone to admire and applaud.

Were there more like her!  And why had I never cared before?

Her passing calls to mind many issues she championed, but most strongly the need for valuing those in our society who are born with differences.

Four times I have been blessed with healthy children, a son and three daughters who so far have needed little extra care (okay, there were a few hospital stays with nasty diseases, but those were thankfully few).  But I could have gotten a different hand.

After all, all but Mitzi were, well, surprises, babies conceived when no babies were expected.  (Ages 7, 5, 4, and 3 — do the math!)  And I’m not a perfect person.  That no mistakes made were held against us is a miracle.

When we learned about Ellie, I was more than a little upset.  My life was chaotic.  I already had two small children, one for each hand, who in themselves were a struggle to manage most days.  Ray was finishing law school and took a job far away from our young home, requiring us to stay with my parents for a long time.  Grandpa had just died.  My heart was stretched, torn beyond anything I’d ever felt, and suddenly I was expecting a miracle?

I was a little less than enthused.  “Miracle” was not the word I would have chosen just then.

The pregnancy was very stressful.  My life was very stressful.  So when Ellie finally came (neo-natal team at standby due to a small complication), and she was normal, healthy, I was grateful.  (I was also grateful that my birthing complications were destined to become faint memories in the grand scheme of parenting.)  Sure, she suffered from extreme reflux which led her to prescription formula and two medications, but she eventually became a happy baby.

Today at four, she remains happy, healthy and on track.  So many mistakes by mom, yet this bundle of complicated perfection.

The same is true for each of my babies, all my surprises and the planned baby.  I should be more mindful of the daily gifts, but too often life gets in the way for that.

When Joanna was identified as having positive testings for cystic fybrosis, I was not entirely panicked.  Through earlier testing with my first pregnancy, I knew I carried the CF gene, but Ray did not, so we were confident baby number four was healthy.  And she was.  She’s a carrier, like her mom, but no disease.  Still, the newborn had to endure a painful (and scarring) procedure that would not have been necessary without that test.

Today, the passing of Mrs. Shriver highlights that were my experiences different, my world would be no less filled with grace.  I always had prenatal testing to determine various health factors of each baby.  For me, I needed to be prepared for what might come (including which gender baby box to open).  For some, this information too often leads to a decision about whether that particular pregnancy is continued.

I am a huge supporter of women’s rights, particularly of the right to choose what happens with one’s own body, be it booster shots or pregnancies.  Since becoming a mom, my views haven’t entirely changed, but my heart has.   Looking at my kids’ sleeping faces, no matter what this day has given us, I couldn’t imagine life without any of them.  Warts and all.  Hospitalizations and all.  Whatever has come, it has brought me to today.

I can’t judge others for their decisions.  But somehow I wonder if we are burdened with too much information these days.  It’s easy for me to say that, having a fairly typical experience of motherhood.  I’d like to think, though, that I would still be me if the cards were different.

I see the children of friends who are challenged in any number of ways.  Perhaps my own are challenged in ways yet to be revealed.  Do those differences define the children, determine their fate, or are they simply a facet of that complicated mosaic that makes up our souls?

Mrs. Shriver, and so many like her, answer question, reply, no.  Differences are not determinations; facets are not fate.

Look into the eyes of any child, and that’s all the answer you need.

Another one bites the dust

Well, I’ve done it again.  Speaking too soon.  Setting in motion the wheels of Fate through casual remarks.

Yesterday a writer friend posted on Facebook that she had gotten her daughter a pair of hermit crabs.  Many comments followed with advice and experience, including mine:

“Ah, Mitzi asked for some for her last birthday. Bizarre pets! She does an okay job taking care of them — luckily, they don’t need too much attention! Ours are called Swirly, Jr. (after the first, which died) and Lumpy. Or is it Bumpy? I can’t remember.”  (For a refresher, read my blog post on that one in January)

Later on I remarked: “We’ve been lucky since, though. Seven months without incident!”

Soon after it was my bedtime.  I checked on the kids, one by one.  As usual, I also checked on the hermit crabs.

It happened again.  There was poor Bumpy (or was it Lumpy?).  Out of his shell, limp, like an icky rubber slug.  I poked him (or was it a her?).  Nothing.  I picked it up.  Nothing.  I washed my hands and went to tell Ray.  (It is my strong belief that fathers are responsible for taking care of dead pets.  Mothers handle the emotional aftereffects.  Call me a traditionalist.)

After the corpse was tagged and bagged, Ray told me that he suspected foul play.  Apparently, Swirly, the somewhat bigger and more aggressive of the two, had been harassing poor Lumpy (or was it Bumpy?) just the day before.   We are convinced it was a crabicide, though without evidence Swirly remains a free crustacean.

Luckily, Mitzi was not that upset.  

(An aside:  This morning there was another post in the Facebook discussion, from the original writer, who was responding to another friend’s comment on her own crab’s death:  “are you sure it was dead, or was it molting. A friend of mine kept throwing away one that were just molting.”  Uh.  Hmmm.  Well, if he hadn’t been last night, 7 hours in a zipped baggie surely did the trick.  But we won’t share that information with Mitzi.)

A mid-afternoon burial in the shade garden is planned. 

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On the left is Bumpy (or was it Lumpy?) as we remember him best.  

Now with his friend Swirly, in crustacean heaven.

RIP.

Oh, those crazy kids….

So, on this gorgeous August day, bright sunshine, low humidity, the first in a very long time, what do my kids decide they want to do?  Stay INSIDE and make a castle out of packing boxes they know I’ve squirreled away in the basement.  They are determined, probably because….

on Saturday, moments before we were expecting a bunch of friends and their children to arrive for a long-overdue barbecue, someone stabbed our blow-up pool to death.  Poor thing, never saw it coming.  Investigation continues, but it’s likely to be ruled an accidental aquaticslaughter.  Evidence:  calls for help revealed suspect with hands pressed over hole, desperately trying to prevent the life-giving air from leaking.  Bandages were applied, to no avail.  Slowly the pool succumbed to its injuries, leaving countless bathing-suit clad children to clutch their towels and wail.  Fortunately, the mourners rebounded and amused themselves in the sprinkler, as well as with the hose,  sand, and a jug of bubble soap.

The suspect confessed, weeping.  A beach umbrella was the weapon.  No motive.

The pool was buried at the local transfer station in a solemn ceremony.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the New Blowup Pool Scholarship Fund, which hopes to raise enough money to erect a new pool in the deceased’s memory.

Random thoughts….

I can’t write too much, following the days where we said goodbye to grandma.  My entire self is somehow braided together by the moments — stretched into hours, days — spent with her and grandpa.  How can everything still happen when they are gone?  I suppose that many hours will pass before I figure that out.  I have yet to let myself fully feel the loss, and so far have taken refuge in yoga and red wine.  At some point I’m certain neither will suffice.  Fortunately, Ray is only about me, especially right now.

But then there is the sudden news of Karin’s mom, Inga, this amazing woman of infinite energy and love and enthusiasm and now.  Suddenly wrenched from this world and gone somewhere — nowhere, if we are to agree with Ellie’s four-year-old assessment of where Grandma Mitzi is now. But everywhere, I contend, even while I wonder.  Can a person like Inga really be gone?  How can the world still rotate on this axis?

My thoughts are with my friend tonight. Somehow, the painful departure of an elderly person who had been fighting for so long, somehow that departure, though agonizing, is not as breath-taking as the loss of a younger, more obviously vibrant personality.  Neither is more or less heart-wrenching.  But I wonder, which is the easier end?  Neither, I suppose.

My grandma helped to shape who I have become; her death will help to shape who I continue to be.  And I guess, because of that, my breath is stolen to think of how my friends feel tonight, as I would feel, rudderless, deflated, lost in a wilderness never imagined.

I wish to be someone stronger, for my family, for my friends.  Alas.  I am only me.  And how amazingly self-absorbed.  As if I could mitigate the grief; as if I could offer a Band-Aid for the gash that will never fully close.   I am grateful for anyone who literally or, via the internet, symbolically holds my hand right now.  And I guess what I’m saying is, as inadequate as this is, my hand is what I have to offer.

And if that’s not enough, well, how about a bottle of merlot?