Friday, October 31, 2014


The photo is from a pre-Halloween silent film event we went to last night. Some people wore movie-themed costumes. The woman above with a blackbird attached by wire to her head was channelling Tippi Hedren in the Hitchcock classic The Birds. She was Tipsy Hedren, she said, a glass of sangria in hand. The silent movie was the German fable Faust, and a very gifted pianist played live for the entire two hours, providing an impromptu score. I drank too much clove-infused sangria and found myself nodding off at some points. It was dark, no one noticed me much, so I rested my head against my husband's broad warm shoulder and let myself drift in and out of the music. I couldn't make much sense of the film until the very last scene, which basically conveyed the message that love drives out evil and conquers all, even death.

Despite everything that has been happening, I've been in a good place for many weeks. I've been able to observe and intercept negative thought loops when they arise, and not get caught in the weeds. I've taken a good long break from torturing myself with stories I make up based on worst case scenarios, with the crazy notion that at least I'll be prepared. Life has been good and sweet. Work has flowed in and with it the means to live. My anxiety has been at a manageable level, and even in those moments when I began to sink into worry, I was able to talk myself through, to be conscious. To trust the abundance of the universe, to coin a phrase.

What changed?

Today I am a ball of anxiety, of story, of fear that I will be blindsided by events that will emotionally unravel me. And I can't figure out why. Or rather, I can point to reasons but they don't really make sense. There is nothing that is true in this moment that wasn't true in the past several weeks when I was basically sailing along. For me anyway, it constituted sailing along. I felt light and free and so full of love I could hardly bear it. Today, I am full of fear. I hate this. I am trying to talk myself down, talk myself through. I guess I just needed to come here and say I awoke with this free-floating sense of unease, this unquiet mind, this nervous agitation and that can so quickly spiral into despair, making my world small and mean. What is it that Danielle LaPorte at White Hot Truth likes to say?

Love your sorrow. It won't last.
Love your sorrow. It won't last.
Love your sorrow. It won't last.

This is me, loving my sorrow, trusting it won't last.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Birthday to My Love

Here is a photo I just found from our very first Christmas together in our first tiny apartment as husband and wife. That was 28 years ago now.

And this is a photo from last weekend, when my beloved was, as always, the steady ship in our midst, the one on whom we can all always depend. I love him more now than I ever thought possible, and tomorrow I will love him even more. 

He doesn't want any fanfare, especially this year with our cousin still reeling, so we'll just have cake tonight, and he already opened his gifts last night because our son was so excited at the very cool-looking tea thermos he had bought him that he begged for him to open all his gifts right then. He's like his father, who also can never wait till the appointed date when he's excited about a gift he's giving. They want to see the look on the person's face, to bask in the happy.

Happy birthday, sweetheart. You deserve everything.

Monday, October 27, 2014


I was quietly an emotional wreck on the weekend, even as I pretended to be the stalwart older cousin, drawing up "to do" lists and helping to plan the services, fielding phone calls from relatives and crowdsourcing finances for the funeral. I love my family. Many members have pledged to pitch in, which eases the burden on my cousin tremendously. She is holding up okay so far. She and her sisters were with us for the weekend. One sister returned home last night as she is in a new job with bosses who are not very understanding. The other sister will stay on for a couple of weeks. She is a social worker and a therapist, this sister. She is kind and funny and wise with a good strong strain of the OCD that runs in the women in our family. At times like this, OCD can be a gift. I am so happy she is here.

My darling daughter was having her own hard day, with so much work, prelims, papers, extracurricular commitments, summer job letters, meetings, group study sessions, plus managing the fallout of recent landlord issues, or rather choosing to put the managing of that on the shelf so she could compartmentalize and do her work. I kept suggesting she make an appointment with the therapist she saw last year, but the counseling center is booked solid and they were going to send her to a therapist in town, which she decided was more stress than it was worth. She said she would just process in her journal instead as she has found that be be very effective therapy. She is truly my child.

She knew I was a bit on the edge, and she sent me a whole bunch of selfies to cheer me up. She knows that seeing her sweet darling face always, always lifts my spirits. She is so sensitive, this child. She has learned that she is a people pleaser, a trait in her for which I blame myself. But knowing the source of a struggle is half the battle. She needs to toughen up, it's true, and yet she is also resilient. Her quick sense of humor and appreciation of the absurd are saving graces, two of many she possesses. And so, after a good cry, she often finds herself having a good laugh. She decided to document the good laugh so I could share in it. My beautiful girl.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Son I Love

“There is more to a boy than what his mother sees. There is more to a boy then what his father dreams. Inside every boy lies a heart that beats, and sometimes it screams, refusing to take defeat. And sometimes his father's dreams aren't big enough, and sometimes his mother's vision isn't long enough. And sometimes the boy has to dream his own dreams and break through the clouds with his own sunbeams.” 

― Ben Behunin, Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp

My son got the job he was up for, a promotion with a good salary and an office and a title and benefits. No more shift work. And he can still coach track and field. Meanwhile the EMT process grinds along. May I be honest here? With Ebola making an appearance in the city last week I am secretly not sorry that the process of becoming an EMT with the Fire Department takes as long as it does. It's one less thing for me to worry about right now. I mean, I know the EMT-paramedics wear the hazmat suits and have been trained on how to handle transporting Ebola patients, and I know my son isn't afraid of all this. Still. Everything in its time.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


After a week of rain the sun is bright this morning, the air cool but not cold. My cousin is staying with us till her sisters arrive today. Her husband died yesterday morning at 5 a.m. After she called us, we drove to get her from the hospital. She was packed and sitting alone downstairs. She could not wait to get out of there once Gary had died. She said she felt no connection whatsoever to his body. That shocked her. The man she knew and loved was gone.

She was angry at first. Just pissed the fuck off that he had actually died, and now she had to go on without him. That lasted a couple of hours. Then she was numb, her eyes with that thousand yard stare. And then she looked dazed. I asked her if she was still feeling numb and she said no, she was feeling everything. I put on a mindless movie (Chef) and settled her on the couch with pillows and a blanket. I hoped she would drift off. She didn't, even though she hadn't slept at all the night before. All day she sat there, breaking only to go downstairs for a smoke, a habit she'd successfully quit for years but picked back up in the last month. "At least he didn't die when I was outside smoking a cigarette," she said. "That would have haunted me."

And now the arrangements. I called the funeral home and the man I talked to was the same one we dealt with for Aunt Winnie. He remembered me and greeted me like an old friend. So now I'm on a first name basis with the funeral home director. Hmmm.

I thought I would write more but it seems I've run out of stream. My cousin from Boston just got here. My husband went to get her from the airport. The third sister, the one who lives in San Francisco, arrives at 8 p.m. tonight. I love my husband. He had been so stalwart in all this, so steady and kind. Yesterday, he made curried pumpkin soup. Gotta love a man who makes soup in time of need. And does laundry.

In other news my mother contracted chikungunya. My brother, who she lives with in Kingston, didn't even tell me. She is over the worst of it now, but no.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Gary is gone. This was the day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not today

The doctor told my cousin this morning that her husband Gary would die today. Her sister sent that out as a Facebook message, and everybody rushed to the hospice to see him. My cousin, a Buddhist, was chanting at his bedside, his hand in hers, for hours. Some people joined in, others sat silently, and the minister who came offered a prayer. When my cousin stopped chanting the mood in the room was almost festive for a short while, then one by one people left, and it was just my cousin and Gary and my husband and me. My cousin seemed buoyed by the chanting, and more reconciled to what is coming than I've seen her so far. She says Gary is dying to us but he is being born to something new and wonderful on the other side. She says she is attending a birth and the labor on this side is hard. I don't think Gary will die tonight, even though a groan accompanies each shallow pushed-out breath. I looked around the room this afternoon at the people gathered, such a varied assembly, and I thought Gary is doing a great work. He is still bringing people together, allowing us to act with grace and love. The photo is of the ramp Gary helped build that allowed my mother to roll her walker into the church to which they both belonged. The church is a landmark building so the ramp had to be a removable structure, not a permanent one. It has been there for years now. I think of him every time I walk up it, and I think of my mother and how much easier it made life for her on Sunday mornings.

Thoughts of my dad on a rainy morning

It's rainy and grey this morning and I have lots of work to do, and how grateful am I that I get to do it from the comfort of my home. I am sitting here at my desk looking out at the rain brushed trees, the light inside my room cozy and warm.

Yesterday would have been my dad's ninety-first birthday. He died in 1996 when he was 72. For some reason, the memory that played in my heart all day was of him calling me all manner of nicknames. He was famous for bestowing nicknames on everyone, their inspiration mostly defied knowing, or maybe you suspected the origin, but it never had any sting. I had the most nicknames of anyone. My brother and I were Box and Pan. One cousin was Mummy Dumpel; she called me yesterday to tell me how fondly she remembers my Dad calling her that. Another cousin was Pieface. And so on. Among my other names, Patty Pan, Digger (I was always rooting through his things), and my favorite, Maria, from The Sound of Music song "How do you solve a problem like Maria." My dad heard that song and immediately decided it was talking about his daughter, and I loved that, loved the idea of being a problem, especially one who was beloved. I enjoyed the notion that I could be elusive and difficult and wild and disobedient and my father would love me anyway.

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay and listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

My father was a judge, but he could have made his living as a writer, such a brilliant wordsmith he was. His judgments were compelling reading, and his use of language in every day life was thrilling. Continuing in the vein of wayward children, I remember once he scolded me for something, I don't remember what, I just remember that I was soaking wet because the day had been rainy and bits of dirt and leaves clung to my bare feet and even my cheek, and my sense in the moment was of complete and utter freedom. But I must have done something untoward, because my father scolded me, and I talked back, trying to explain my position, and the whole point of this story is what he said next. "Good God, child, why must you be so dogmatic and pugnacious?" he exclaimed in exasperation. I didn't know those words, I think I was eight or nine at the time, but I looked at him quizzically, deciding I loved the sound of the words and the idea that I was them. My father's attempt at discipline completely went over my head, so enthralled was I with the words he used, so distracted was I in my eagerness to get inside the house and find the dictionary to look them up.

So the memory of my dad that was with me yesterday was that he loved me no matter what. No matter that I was chubby and unruly and smart mouthed. No matter that I dug through his dresser looking for treasures. No matter that I talked back when disciplined, and couldn't be pinned down. My father loved me through all of that, and the feeling he left me with in life is that I was worthy of his love. No matter how the world might view me, I was loved. I feel as if he spun a cocoon around me when I wasn't even looking, and now here I am, protected. Not that there aren't some problems, some hard things coming up for me and mine. But I've got good perspective this morning, and a strange comforting feeling that my dad has my back, and always will.

Homecoming album

She'd had a hellish week leading up to homecoming, papers, internship applications, landlord drama and roommate issues, but she got through it. She says homecoming this year was low key and perfect. She looks happy, which makes me exhale.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What breaks us

That bedroom, with its wrought iron bed frame, wooden plank floors, pink cotton curtain at the window and pitcher of fresh picked flowers on the dresser reminds me achingly of my grandparents' house in the country, the room where I slept with my two girl cousins, the ones closest to me in age, the three of us horizontally across the bed so as to fit more easily. Looking at that picture, at the distinct arrangement of the furniture, the floral bedspread and delicate white rattan chair, I could be standing at the door of that bedroom now, feeling the air in there, always chilly and fresh in the hills above Mandeville, where the tropical heat gave way to a surprisingly temperate clime. 

The only thing different is the ceiling, which instead of wooden beams was constructed of pressed tin. Also missing from the picture are the fat Sears fashion catalogs that my cousins and I used to idly leaf through each evening as we chatted before bed, before Grandma came in and turned off the lights and admonished us to go to sleep. She never worried about our bare feet hanging off the side of the bed, still dirty from a day spent roaming the farm, playing hide and seek in the woods behind the water tank, picking oranges off the tree in the grove whose fence we had to climb while dodging pigs. In my memory, how simple those days were, how stretched out before us in sun-drenched dreaming. That photo took me back there.

I had dinner with three friends on Saturday evening. (My husband graciously did the hospital dinner run while I did the social thing. Just one more reason I adore him.) One of my friends, a therapist, had just returned from an all day psychotherapy conference, and she was telling us about a presentation she had heard there, by a colleague who said that the whole cause of depression is the fact that we have not adequately mourned. He proposed that unless we mourn our losses, letting go of that which mattered to us or somehow indelibly marked us—from childhood events to people we have loved to compromised health to aging parents to a time when everything felt charmed and the death of dreams—then we will remain stuck, unable to move forward, desolate. He said that people often fail to adequately mourn; we push away the feelings that attend loss because it is just too painful, but that it is so important to say to oneself, this broke my heart, this broke me

I didn't fully understand the whole thing. I suppose you had to be at the conference or be a psychotherapist to really get it. But I'm still thinking about it days later. And when I saw the picture of that room, I mourned the passing of those long ago summers with my cousins at our grandparents. I think I had no idea that the loss of that time was still an ache in me. It makes me wonder: What else have I failed to mourn? 


Postscript: My friend Isabella, the therapist, sent me this important clarification by email this morning: "While there is this distinction—based on Freud's paper Mourning and Melancholia—mourning actually never ends. It is activated throughout life and evokes deep sadness but does not inhibit us the way depression does."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Place of Love

Last night at the hospice, Gary was breathing in great deep gasps, the oxygen mask over his face, his chest scooping with each exhale. My cousin was beside herself. She only wants him to be comfortable. The nurses told her that this was "normal," and I could see in their eyes that there was more they could have said but didn't know how to say it to my cousin. She asked to see the doctor on duty. He came, a young man of Sri Lankan descent. He calmly and kindly explained that this was end-stage breathing, caused by carbon dioxide build up and something about the brain stem, and liquid pooling in his throat, and so on. My cousin pleaded for Gary to be sedated and the doctor said he was in fact fully sedated, and that to raise the morphine any more would be to stop his heart. "He is not is distress," he told my cousin. "Or rather, he is in distress because he is dying, but he is not in pain at this moment. See that his face is relaxed, not grimacing?" It helped my cousin to hear that he was not suffering in the way she thought. Essentially, he is unconscious.

The doctor, whose gentle beside manner we all appreciated, likened the labored and intemittent breathing sounds to snoring, and that clicked for all of us in the room, my cousin, my husband and me, and two friends. He said that perhaps moving Gary's position would help a bit. My cousin begged him not to do that, that moving him caused Gary too much pain and the doctor repeated that he would not feel it now. Presently two nurses came and asked us to leave for a moment while they moved him. Always, standing outside the door, we could hear Gary moaning and swearing when they moved his position, which they did several times a day. Last night, he was completely silent. But his breathing did seem less labored after. His eyes are sunken, and he is shrinking before our eyes. His hair fell out on his pillow last Saturday and his once ruddy complexion is now completely grey. Every morning when I wake up now, I am surprised that Gary made it through another night.

My cousin said that if Gary had known this is what it would have been like, he would have gone up into the woods and shot himself through the head. I want to tell my cousin she has to release him, tell him it's okay to go. He is probably in his twilight world still worrying about how she will be when he leaves her. She will not leave his side. She is obsessed with his not dying alone. But she had a dream the other night which at first terrified her, and then when she thought about it again, she felt great comfort. She dreamed that Gary was reclined in a taxi cab, looking as he does now, and her father, an esteemed doctor in The Bahamas, was beside Gary, and as the cab went by, he looked out of the window directly at his daughter, and then the cab drove under a bridge. The bridge in the dream was the highway underpass that is just beyond the gates of the hospital. It looks a little ghostly, as if it leads to nowhere even though when you come out the other side there is bustling city life as usual.

My cousin at first thought the dream meant she was going to lose both her father and her husband at the same time. Both her parents are in their high eighties and are very frail now. Her mother (my mother's baby sister) is struggling with Alzheimers. It has been one of my cousin's heartbreaks that her parents are completely absent as she faces this. She knows they cannot cushion her this time as they have helped to cushion every hard thing she faced in the past. In fact, she and her sisters are doing their best to cushion them. But as she considered the dream again, she had a new thought. It seemed to her now that Gary was in the cab with the angel of death, who was wearing her father's face to let her know that she can trust the place where Gary is going. "My father's face was the divine manifestation of trustworthiness," she told me the evening after dream. "I think he was in that cab going under that bridge to tell me Gary is going to a place of love."

The photos here are from my cousin's wedding to Gary, which included a Buddhist ritual of binding the couple together (top) and a ceremony to honor the mothers (above). My cousin said finding these pictures made her dream make so much more sense to her. It also made her feel that even though her parents are far away in The Bahamas, they are doing this walk with her.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Under my window this morning

Children from the nursery school downstairs serenaded me as I worked this morning. My own children went to this nursery school. I used to love leaning out my window, watching them play. My son was always surrounded by friends, two in particular to whom he remained unshakably loyal, and they were the same toward him. We saw early on his great capacity for friendship and the fidelity he inspired in his friends. One boy pushed him one day and his best friend, a Japanese-American boy named Eugene whom he used to call "Newjean," became a whirling dervish, arms windmilling in his defense. My son, who was a pacifist, pulled Eugene off the boy and they walked away from him, Klignon style. I saw all this from my upstairs window. Yes, I have been overly interested in my children's life away from me since the beginning.

My daughter, unlike my son, was usually alone on the playground. My heart hitched in my chest as I watched her lying on the slide by herself as the other children swirled by. And then I realized my girl was gazing up at the sky, daydreaming. Or she was twirling round and round in her own little world, arms outstretched, eyes closed and face to the sun, coat tail flying. My son had many friends. In time, she had one, a girl as quiet and dreamy as she was. They would play next to each other, not talking but seeming to understand each other perfectly.

I remembered all this as I leaned out my window this morning, listening to the children sing. It didn't seem as if almost twenty years had passed since my own two were in that circle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Keeping the sun in sight

"Some painters transform the sun 
into a yellow spot, others transform 
a yellow spot into the sun."

—Pablo Picasso

Happy Birthday Nana


Your son did the flowers for the altar on Sunday, just as you showed him when he was a callow youth. He did them in honor of your birthday today, and because we all miss you so, not just your firstborn, but me and your grandchildren in New York, and your beloveds in Antigua, too. This year, he also held his dad in his heart as he arranged the tropical blooms. I gazed at the flowers in their gleaming silver vases on the polished wood of the altar, and I imagined you both together, looking down, smiling.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

This makes me happy

Childhood friends, attending different colleges, 
spending fall break together, traveling around.
I love these beauties and their joy.

Lots to tell, but if I start I'll be here a long time and 
I can't do that today. Heading to the hospice now.
My cousin from Boston is back in town.

See you soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Room to dream

My presence here may be a little sketchy over the next couple of weeks. There's so much going on and in the midst of it I am trying to meet a deadline. Today I am imagining being curled up in that space, Macbook on my lap, drinking in all that light and color and inspiration. That's a pretty fine workroom I'd say. If I owned a writer's colony, the work/dream spaces would probably look something like this. With real flowers though. And maybe also a chaise.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Life now

Someone from my old job called me this morning, wanting to catch up and then working around to asking could I edit something for her. She offered to pay me but it would be just too weird; she and I worked quite closely together once, so I said sure, but I'd do it for free. She talked about how crazed everyone at the magazine felt, how her head was just spinning all the time because there just weren't enough people to do the work and she couldn't remember when last she actually saw a season change because she was stuck indoors at the office all the time. As she talked, I realized how happy I was to be out of it, to feel as if my life is my own. Even if I have just a bit too much work at the moment—a very happy problem for a freelancer!—it makes all the difference to know I said a considered yes to everything that is in front of me. Even better, all of it is work that I find interesting and challenging, not frustrating and soul-crushing, as was often the case at the old job, except I didn't understand then that I had a choice.

I have finally arrived at the place where I can see my job elimination a year ago as a good thing that happened, an opportunity for me to find work I might actually enjoy. I love working the way I do now. Sure, every new project is a little daunting at first; I never truly know in the beginning how I will get through it, but I always know that I will  find a way, I will teach myself what I need to learn, I will figure it out. And little by little, the curtains part and the light slips through, a sliver at first, and every day I understand a little bit more than the day before, and then the sunlight pours in and finds me eager to jump out of bed in the morning and get to work, ideas popping in my head all night. And that's another thing: I wake up in the night around three or four usually, and instead of lying there twisting with anxiety as I so often used to do, the thoughts and ideas just stream through my brain, almost like a meditation, and I often awake the next morning with a new thought about how to approach not just my work, but my whole life.

I said yes to a new project last week, even though I knew it would make everything else feel a little crunched. I'm editing a book for a woman I often edited when I was a magazine editor, and she and her agent really pressed for me to do it, and in the end I couldn't say no even though the money wasn't that great because some things, you just do because you have history with people, and that history is generous and good. All week as I waded into the project, I wondered what on earth I had got myself into, and then, at the end of the week, the smoke seemed to clear and I knew exactly what to do, how to approach the edit, and now I'm immersed. I feel like one of those creatures that imprints on whatever I am working on. The writer's voice gets into my head, and I fall in love with the work and want to help foster it. It's hard to explain, but I am definitely one of the lucky ones in that I fell into a field of endeavor that engages me totally. I know I've said this before, but I wish the same for my children.

In other news: My girl has a six-hour-long hospitality law exam tonight, from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m., and this after a full day of classes and activities, and also her early morning job as a teaching assistant for culinary. My hat is off to her. Send good thoughts.

My son continues to work two jobs, as a track coach at a high school and as a lifeguard, pool time coordinator and swim coach at a sports club, while waiting to hear from the FDNY about his EMT application. A friend of his who works as an EMT told him to expect it to take a year. In the meantime there is another opportunity in the wings, because wherever this boy works, he willingly takes on more than his job description, and they want to keep him and move him up. But there are some uncertainties. Again, send good thoughts.

The new rector of our church preached her first service this past Sunday and I was there in the pew, so excited that this is who that little badass church had called. I keep hearing more and more about her and her partner that makes me feel as if their guiding the next phase of this church is no accident. Not only are they both ministers who served early in their careers at that church, but they were also married in that church long before gay marriage was legal in New York State. They've been together 27 years and have two sons. They are a biracial couple with deep activist roots, and many members of their old church in Greenwich Village seem to be following our new minister to Harlem. I told my husband that for the first time I have the feeling that I want to be a part of what is happening there.

My husband and I continue to drive north to the hospice in the Bronx to sit with my cousin and her husband each evening. The doctor says Gary could expire at any moment, but to me he seems to be getting stronger. He's getting a lot better care in terms of hygiene at the hospice, and even though he is in a lot of pain, that must help. My other cousins (one of them is with my husband in the photo here) have all left to go back home, so it's on my husband and me to provide the family support now. My husband is such a good man. He says, "There is so much that is beyond our control but we can go there each evening and bring dinner and sit. This is something we can do." I am so grateful to him.

My cousin sleeps every night in a cot next to her husband's bed because she doesn't want him to die alone. I suggested that maybe Gary would prefer not to die in front of her, and if in fact that happened she should not feel guilty, she should see it as his choice. She said the chaplain at the hospice had told her the same thing, that some people simply cannot die in front of a loved one. My cousins and I all marvel that we are being asked to make these life and death decisions. We have all had such powerful mothers—the six sisters—and have been so used to their stepping into the breach in times of crisis. Now all our mothers are either already dead or, like my own mother, too frail to travel. We try to imagine what they would do if they could and emulate that.

In Ithaca two weekends ago, my daughter and I were in the candle aisle in a home goods store and she picked up a container of candle wax that was called "Old Time Elegance" and she said excitedly, "Doesn't this just smell like all the sisters? Every time I come in here I have to stop and smell this because it reminds of Grandma and all her sisters, every one of them, their perfume, their talcum powder, all their smells." And dear God, she was right. The smell just took me right back to hugging them and being enveloped in their various wonderful scents, and so we bought a container of the wax and I have just smelled it with the thought that I would describe it to you here but I can't even begin to do it justice.

I keep thinking recently how life is just everything at once, the good and the hard, the laughs and the sorrow, the love and the dwindling down, and it just keeps right on trundling along and we better hang on for the ride.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

While baking cake

My girl was royally pissed off while mixing the icing for her brother's cake. With good reason. An unsettling thing happened to her yesterday. She had given out a pair of boots to have the zippers fixed in the morning, and dashed out at 5 pm to pick them up. She was in a rush as she was still in the midst of baking her epic cake for her brother's birthday, so she planned to take a taxi there and back. As she stood on the corner of our block, looking for a cab, a van drove up next to her and two men, middle aged, started calling out all manner of vulgarities to her and yelling, "How much? How much?" She ignored them and eventually they drove off.

But when she came home, she was steaming. As she came through the door, she said, "Some people in this world are just assholes." I asked her what happened and she told me. My heart skipped a beat, because I know all the stories of predators grabbing women and throwing them into the back of vans never to be seen again. I said urgently that if a van ever stopped next to her like that again to put a lot of distance between her and the van, and she said, "Of course, Mom, I know that. But why is okay for those assholes to speak to me like that?"

It's definitely not okay, I said and tried to suggest she not take it in. But she persisted, visibly upset, her eyes welling with tears. "Why should I even have to deal with that?" she insisted. "Why is it on me to not take it in while they go on doing that horrible shit to women?" And then she said, "I'm not crying because I'm sad, I'm crying because I'm just so angry!" I stopped trying to offer platitudes and just went to her and put my hand on her shoulder, knowing I didn't have any words that would make this feel remotely okay. She went back to mixing the cake frosting and presently she said, "The thing is, I knew not to say anything to them because I knew they might be really crazy assholes and it might make it worse but why should women even have to deal with this!" She was really, really furious, more so than I've seen her before.

Late last night, as she sat on the bus back to school, and as I waited for her to message me that she was safely home, she texted me that I wasn't to worry that the men in the van had made her feel in any way differently about herself. "I still know my worth even among all the assholes," she said but added that it was the helpless feeling that made her so angry, the sense that she had no choice but to take their despicable behavior. I wished so hard that I could do or say something meaningful but the truth is I have no answers, no idea how to frame this to make it less upsetting for my child. I realize that she has become more conscious of and politicized about these issues of late and is increasingly less willing to shrug and say well that's just the way the world is. And she is right—it isn't okay and it shouldn't feel okay.

Here is a bitterly funny link on the subject at hand that a dear friend sent me this morning.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Birthday Boy

My son is 23 years old today. He went to work this morning and won't be home till early evening. My daughter is in the kitchen baking him a cake. We went to breakfast on this rainy blustery fall morning, then did errands and got ingredients. She travels back to school late tonight while he has birthday plans with friends. Before all that, we will sing and eat cake and I will silently give thanks for him in our lives, this boy who made me a mother and made us a family, who keeps us laughing with his antics and who is surrounded by loyal friends.

Update: My daughter wasn't too happy with the way the caramel drizzle and cinnamon cream cheese frosting turned out but the birthday boy pronounced the cake to be "epic."

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Someone I'm working with said to me the other day, "The only way to change the world is to change yourself." For some reason that struck not just a chord in me but a reverberating gong. My husband and I are in a good place. I adore this man. I'm so proud of him and so grateful to him for so many things. This is always true, yet so much of where we are depends on where my own head is. Sometimes I lose sight of this completely.

I suppose it's also true about my relationship with my son, which is also in a lovely place at the moment. It is so completely about not sweating the small stuff with him. He's such a good kid. Who cares if his room is always always such a mess and that he never can remember to pick up his cups/glasses/plates from the coffee table and throws the living room couch cushions to the floor? On the bright side he brings in groceries and fills my prescriptions and always helped me with Aunt Winnie before she died. He is definitely a family person, so good with my cousins, his aunts, so responsible and intrinsically generous. I'm working on being less cranky and critical with him and wouldn't you know it, he opens up and becomes his sweetest, goofiest, most accommodating self when he doesn't feel as if he's going to be ambushed at every turn.

Life is so everything at once, isn't it? I'm juggling hospital visits with the care and feeding of my cousins from out of town with a difficult project with a short deadline. I'm trying to be all things to all people (including myself) and do my work well. It's complicated and I get undercover frazzled while trying to project calm and steadiness for my cousins. And yet at the very core of me at this moment is peace. I have in my line of sight what matters. The trick is not to lose that.

My son's 23rd birthday will be on Saturday and his sister is coming to the city for the weekend to bake him a cake. She's decided on an apple cake with salted caramel and cinnamon cream cheese frosting, with his approval. The best part? All four of us together again, if only for a day or two. This is my version of heaven.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


We sit together in a hospital room, my cousins and my husband and me, talking about everything and laughing more than you would think, given that our loved one is lying right there in our midst, sedated and pain medicated, drifting in a twilight world. The cancer in him is everywhere, the doctors say; the rogue cells have formed a sheath over his brain and spine and there is nothing more to do. And yet he looks robust at 48, not emaciated the way cancer patients who are close to death might be. His hair is a soft fuzz over his head, the ponytail he used to wear already lost to chemo, but his cheeks are ruddy, his eyes clear when he opens them, his hands strong when he grasps his wife's hand. It is hard to hold on to the reality that he is dying.

So we sit there around his bed and talk and laugh and Gary wouldn't mind at all. Some nights my cousin distracts herself watching Netflix on her iPad. We also sit in silence for long stretches, gazing at Gary's bare chest, rising and falling, pausing sometimes, and our breath pausing with it. And then he coughs and the rise and fall begins again, and we exhale and look at each other to see who else noticed the pause.

Gary is being moved to hospice today. Last night, when they told my cousin this, her eyes welled up, and even though she had promised herself to not cry in front of Gary, the news that the doctors now felt there was nothing more they could do for her husband undid her resolve. Gary looked at her, his own eyes so sad. She said, "I love you, sweet man," and he said, through the oxygen mask and the mist to keep his airways moist, "I love you, too." They were his clearest words all day.

He is going to an airy, light filled hospice with an atrium and terraces and an enclosed courtyard and kind staff who wheel in cots for family members to sleep in next to their loved ones. My husband, bless that man, took my cousin and her sisters to visit and tour the place on Saturday when I was up north with our daughter. He said they all forgot they were in a hospital, so open and welcoming and bright did the rooms feel. There is a family lounge on every floor and someone comes by and plays the piano. And even if your loved ones cannot be moved, they can be wheeled into the atrium or onto the courtyard where they can feel the sun on their skin and the see the sky overhead. If they are able to get out of bed, there are armchair recliners on wheels with which to accomplish the same thing. My husband called me upstate after they visited and he said, "The people who designed this place have obviously thought about this."

And yet. This is the place where my younger cousin will watch her husband die.

Many people have rallied around. Gary's church family continues to visit. So do family members who live in the tri-state area. The sister from Boston had to go back to work and her two children, but the sister who lives in San Francisco is still here, and one of our other cousins arrived on Monday night to lend support. She said, "This is what our mothers did for each other, and even though we are cousins, not sisters, this is what they would have us do." They switch off, one spending the night at the hospital with Gary's wife, the other crashing here at our house, replenishing with a home cooked meal, a shower, mindless TV and a bed. I don't usually go to the hospital till the evening. I spend the day working at home, then my husband and I go to the hospital around six for the night shift. My husband might then leave me with Gary to ferry the others to the Bronx to feed the cats who are now alone in the apartment Gary and my cousin used to share. Past tense. Gary is unlikely ever to go back there.

What will it be like to go home to a place that used to be full of the man you love, the music of his Japanese flute wafting through the apartment, and now there is just silence. When everyone leaves town again, it will be mainly my husband and me, trying to stave off her aloneness. She is already a solitary sort; she doesn't have a lot of friends and doesn't belong to any organized community other than her job. She just has her family. She has us. I hope we will know what to do, how best to help her. This is hard.