Tuesday, March 31, 2015

This loved face

I was intrigued on my last post by some of the comments suggesting that the Quann sisters look like the women in my family. And then it hit me: They look like my mother as a young woman! No wonder I found myself gazing into their faces; there was something much loved about the contour of the cheekbones, the point of their chins, the softness of their eyes, the willowy stances. Even the particular burnished brown of their skin reminded me of my mother, who from photos I've seen was every bit as stylish as the Quanns. The pictures here are of my mother as a young woman, right around the age the Quann sisters are now. Do you see a resemblance? What do you think?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Quann Sisters

Identical twins Cipriana and Takenya Quann of Brooklyn are stunningly gorgeous and they're revolutionizing fashion. Those sweet faces. The sisterly body language. The vintage layering. That crown of hair! Yes, it's all their own. These pics are from their website, Urban Bush Babes. I'm mesmerized.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Today she is 21

Twenty-one years ago this incredible spirit child was born and I have been humbled and grateful to be her mother. My darling girl, I am so happy you chose us as your family. I do not take lightly the great privilege and blessing of having you as my child. I wish you everything in this life that your pure heart desires. Mostly I wish you a light heart and a quick laugh in the face of all life's uncertainties. Know, always, you are equal to anything.

So, wonder of wonders, I actually baked her cake though my girl added the Caribbean blue color to the icing. We sang and cut the cake a day early since we wouldn't see her on her actual birthday. She is in Washington D.C. with her brother and cousins, celebrating turning 21. What a glorious looking crew. My lovely niece promised to send me photos throughout the weekend so I can vicariously participate in the celebration!

The outfit my daughter is wearing was picked out for her by her cousin, aka her big sister, who had it waiting for her arrival. She instructed my girl to get a very particular style of shoe to wear with it. We went shopping for the shoes yesterday and my girl settled on a pair of nude-colored sky high heels that I am quite sure set that outfit off dramatically. I so glad she has a big sister like my niece to take social and fashion control at times like this. Happy birthday, my sweet girl. We love you so.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The lovely conversation I just had with my daughter who is on a bus on her way home for spring break

Making myself appear

I just want to say thanks for the friendship here. Thanks for allowing me the sense that we are sitting around on a breezy verandah together sharing our lives. Thanks for the company on long nights, the commiseration on days that outright suck, the cheers on days that don't, days that might even soar.

I'm not soaring right now but I'm trying to stay in the consciousness that life does not suck, even if your house getting flooded does. They came and pulled up 15 gallons of water from the carpet in my daughter's room, and they lifted the corners and blew industrial strength fans underneath, across the padding, drying it out. The carpet however is still wet and cold underfoot, though no longer sopping.  The remediation of this flood is a several days-long affair. The men are coming back on Saturday to saturate the carpet and under padding with special enzymes to prevent bacterial growth, then steam clean and deodorize everything. Saturday can't come fast enough. We won't even mention the expense.

So here's what's good. My girl is coming home tonight for spring break. She and her brother will go to D.C. this weekend for a cousin lime (hang out) to celebrate her 21st birthday. I gather this will involve the bar scene at some point, but I know my niece in particular will watch out for my girl. The kids will be back on Sunday and then I'll have a whole week of my girl being home. Sweet.

I need to get back to writing. I can't seem to focus, but I have got to. Time is ticking away. I have also in the past week been invited to attend two different conferences, one in Atlanta in April, and one Asheville, North Carolina in May, all expenses paid, and I'm saying yes! I'm practicing saying yes and working through the anxiety later. Who knows what gifts may be waiting in the form of new people, insights and experiences? I'd love to blow my thinking wide open. I'd love to shake off my secret social fear, stop being so self-conscious and self-critical, put myself out there, let myself be seen. Most people in my life have no idea that showing up socially is hard for me, because once I make myself appear on the scene I am generally quite functional. The trick is to stop hiding out and make myself appear.

Last night my husband and I lay on our bed listening to music that our mothers loved, choirs singing hymns as familiar to us as our childhoods, and we lay there against each other with tears rolling down, and we didn't have to say anything to understand that we were both feeling like the orphans we both now are. I am so numb most of the time I appreciated being able gain access to the feelings for a little while. Then we both got up and did the rest of our evening, the way people who mean to keep on keeping on, do.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Just Chaos

We had a flood last night, a plumbing disaster in the back bathroom, and now the wall to wall carpeting in my daughter's bedroom and the hallway outside it are soaked through. The water squishes underfoot, and my head hurts something awful this morning and I just can't deal.

Except of course, I have to. I can see what has to happen. We'll need to pull out the carpeting and padding and install completely new floor coverings, otherwise we risk mold and such. My son, always a good man in a pinch, already picked up everything he could off the floor and opened the windows and turned on the fan in there.

It doesn't help that all three of us are sick. My son had just taken NyQuil and curled up to go to sleep when the flood was discovered. His dad and I were pretty impressed with how he sprang into action.

My daughter's 21st birthday is this weekend and she is coming home for spring break tomorrow and she will not have the use of her room. She shrugged when I told her this. Said she'd set up shop in the living room. Her brother also offered her his room.

I feel overmatched by this. Just the thought of moving all the furniture out of the room to pull up the old carpet and padding, clean and disinfect, and then lay down new carpet, is making my headache this morning more like a migraine. Even though my husband and son will likely do most if not all of the moving, I will still need to call and make the arrangements with the contractors and see it through. I guess we'll be edging around furniture stacked up wherever until all this is done.

On top of this I have a book party to attend tonight at which I need to show up. I'm so tempted to cancel but I'd be letting down a friend. Or maybe just myself, because I do think my friend would understand. I'm letting myself be carried on the tide.

Oh God, I can't deal.

Except of course, I will.

Monday, March 23, 2015


"There's a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in."

—Leonard Cohen

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I need some recommendations for series to binge-watch, as that seems to be the only thing right now that can keep my attention. I have already binge-watched all of: Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Homeland, Transparent, House of Cards, Brothers and Sisters, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Orange is the New Black, Dexter, Girls, Nurse Jackie, and most of West Wing. I loved all of them except Dexter; I only watched it because my daughter was hooked and I wanted to see what she was letting into her brain. In retrospect, it creeped me out a lot and I hated the finale. But my girl seemed okay!

Speaking of my daughter, she's helping to run some huge conference on her campus today, put on by an organization called the Women of Color Coalition. I'm so proud of her and so awed by how capable and imaginative and organized and action-oriented she is. Who knew my dreamy little girl would grow into this passionate, powerhouse of a young woman? Who is still quick to laugh, who still brings light wherever she goes, and who, along with her brother and her dad, is no less than my salvation.

Here she in with her friend Henri in a photo I love. Henri is another one who gives off light. She wrote me the most beautiful letter after my mom died. It said in part:

"There's a poem in Portuguese that deeply resonates with me. It's about loss and what it feels like to lose a loved one. Translated, it says: Saudade (the noun for that feeling when you miss someone) is accompanied by loneliness. It's when the love has not gone away, but the loved one has."

My mom must be pulling strings wherever she is, though, because as much as I miss her, I am very aware of my blessings. This place, you all, that is a blessing, too.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Inclement weather

I found that anti-bad vibes shield somewhere online, I don't recall where, but I kind of like the sentiment.

Everyone thought the winter was over, but the snow is coming down out there today with surprising intention. I don't really know what to do with myself. I don't feel like working; I don't feel like reading; and I've already watched all of the most recent seasons of Girls and Nurse Jackie this week.

I wander from window to window in my house, looking out at the snow, remembering how it came down like this for an entire day and a half after my mother died.

I'm trying not to talk about it too much. It gets old, I'm sure.

I know. I'll go take a shower, get dressed and take a walk in the snow.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How are you doing?

People ask, how are you doing? The only response I can call up is "Fine," because I can't really think how else to answer the question.

I mean, you can't really say to people, well, I stay in bed as long as I can each morning, trying to wring out every last minute of sleep.

You can't say, I have been parked on the living room couch for two days, letting the phone ring unanswered, watching the latest season of Girls.

Or, I haven't gotten dressed in street clothes or gone outside all week, except for Monday night when I showed up late to choir rehearsal and Tuesday evening when I went to a first appointment with a new therapist that my friend Isabella recommended.

On the way there, I thought, I feel nothing at all, I feel numb and disconnected, as if my mother is not really gone, just away in another country, so why am I going to a therapist? But then, one minute into the session I was crying and I hadn't even been aware that tears were so close to the brim.

I sit sometimes in an empty room and stare at the walls, and then I come to, and I don't even know what I was thinking.

I have to find my way back into work, which hasn't happened yet. My friend J., who is also writing a book, and who has pretty much the same delivery due dates as I do, said to me this morning, "Just start reading your notes. That will get your head back into it. Then write just one sentence. That is all. Do only that."

By some strange coincidence she has also had a death in the family last week, a beloved uncle, so she is grieving, too. She sent me flowers today.

We have such an unexpected friendship. We worked together at the magazine for years, editor and writer, an award-wining duo many times over, same obsessive compulsive work ethic, same love of the rhythm of language, and we developed a great loyalty and understanding in those years. We didn't realize how deep our friendship ran until we both got laid off and still we continued to talk practically every day.

All that to say, I have support. I really do. My husband. My children. Cousins. Very dear friends.

How am I doing?

Not fine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


My mother's remembrance said in part:

Mommy’s greatest and most enduring love has always been her family. She and her siblings maintained an especially close relationship throughout their lives, and they passed that closeness on to their children, making us promise that we would carry it through to the generation after us, and the one after that. Mommy was especially gratified by the love she witnessed among her grandchildren, because she knew their sense of belonging and joy in family would sustain them their entire lives. As it had sustained her. 

Here are some random family photos from the week that was:

The cousins at Hellshire Beach

Nicky, my cousin, was my rock

More cousin moments

My cousin came from Canada

Lunch was fry fish, lobster and festival

My kids love to curl up against their dad

My son completely shaved his head

My brother and me at Hellshire 

The girl made of light

Some of the Stiebel cousins at the repast

The trip to the airport felt different this time

The Readings

We're back home in New York now. We arrived at 4 a.m. yesterday morning, everyone physically and emotionally spent. My daughter did homework in the airport and on the plane and then on the bus back to school this afternoon. That child is a diligent worker. Meanwhile my son was reading The Alchemist. I'd love to know what he's makes of it.

The thanksgiving service for the life of my mom went off beautifully. Everyone said it was a service worthy of my mother, and that she was definitely smiling down on us. The musical selections were exquisite, they said, completely fitting to the gracious lady my mother was. We opened with Ave Maria and also had a solo of The Holy City that was resounding; no one was unmoved. The cantor we engaged for the service had a voice my mother loved; she had said many times how much she enjoyed his performances at other services she had attended. The hymns, which Aunt Grace and my cousin Maureen helped me choose, were all ones my mother loved, and were well known enough to be sung by the congregation with gusto. This was my brother's only request of the program, that we not include any obscure hymns for which no one knew the tune.

Despite my mom's advanced age, and the fact that most of her friends were long gone, the church was packed. After the Ave Maria, my niece and my daughter went up to the lectern first. My niece Leisa gave a wonderful tribute on behalf of the grandchildren, then my daughter read a letter sent from Germany by her Aunt Hilary, who grew up with us on Paddington Terrace. Hilary could not be there, but we all felt her voice needed to be heard as she was one of my mother's many heart daughters. Both tributes spoke of my mother's gift for making others feel wholly and unconditionally loved. My niece and my daughter both read through tears, which set the entire church crying.

My brother and I went up next and read our remembrance to our mother, taking turns. He had most of the funny parts; I had the heartfelt ones. We agreed this suited our particular styles of delivery best. I had written the first draft of the tribute and then my brother and I had refined it together, editing according to how we spoke. We didn't cry until the end, when we talked about her final days. I broke describing our last phone call, in which we said her favorite prayer. The last words my mother ever spoke to me on this earth were, "Oh my darling, we have been so blessed." I could barely get them out. My brother broke when I said that she had died in his arms. The crying was all okay.

Earlier my daughter had commented that we should not be afraid of crying. "I hate when people tell me to be strong and not cry," she said. "You can cry and still be strong." My wise child.

It was a communion service. Neither my brother nor I had envisioned communion as part of the service, but we had to agree with Aunt Grace that Mommy would have wanted it. After, during the repast in the church hall, I felt completely overwhelmed. Everyone was coming up to me and hugging me and offering their condolences. I couldn't turn around without being enfolded in someone's arms. Some faces I knew from childhood, but couldn't call up the names. I faked a lot. I was grateful for the way all these people had loved my mother, grateful that they showed up for her, but at a certain point I grabbed my husband's sleeve and whispered, "I need to leave now."

My cousin Nicky, my rock this past week, rounded up my kids and my niece and two other cousins and we all slipped out of the repast and went back to my brother's house, where the second repast for family and close friends (really anyone who wanted to come) was being held. We were the first to arrive and realized that we didn't have a key to the house, so we sat at the tables set up in the garden. Mommy's ashes were in an inlaid wooden box that my daughter had carried from the church on her lap. At first, her dad had put the urn in the trunk of the car, but my daughter said, "We can't have Grandma traveling in the trunk of the car!" At the house, she set the box in the center of the table where we sat, and while we waited for everyone else to arrive, we shared funny and poignant memories of my mother.

Throughout the service, I had had the feeling of being behind glass, separate from everyone and everything. I couldn't hear my own voice singing. I was aware only of my niece and my daughter on one side of me crying, my husband's rooted presence on the other, and on the far side of him, our solemn-faced son. I know I cried, too, but I felt strangely disconnected, almost outside my body, unable to take in the moment I was living through.

Later in the evening, though, my cousin Arrianne took me aside because she wanted to tell me about an experience she'd had earlier that week. She had gone to an intuitive reader—Arri is a very spiritual soul. She was looking for guidance on a relationship she is entering into, but she said my mother came up in the reading. The reader kept seeing "a very elegant lady whose name began with G," Arri said. He said he was also getting roses, and did this elegant lady raise roses? Arri told him she thought he was describing her grand aunt, who everyone called Lady G or Aunty G, and who had just died. She said the roses could refer to her daughter, who the family calls Rosie.

The reader went on to say that this aunt (my mother) had "married very well, she married her twin flame, her great love, and now she was back with him." And the reader said my mother wanted me to know that she was with my father, and that I was not to worry because she was warm again, where before she had felt cold. Arrianne and her intuitive reader had somehow picked up on the thing I had been secretly obsessing about: whether my father had come to meet my mom in death. I knew my mother had waited 19 long years with such faith that they would be together again, and I ached at the thought that she might have been disappointed. The reader added that my mother had seen that I was worried about something, but that I should just address it because everything would be okay. I told Arri that my mom could have been referring to any number of things I was worrying about, to which Arri responded, "Then all those things will be okay."

The reader also told Arrianne another deeply comforting thing. He said that just as there is great joy and anticipation when a child is to be born in this world, there was also great joy and anticipation on the other side as my mother neared the end of her life. Death feels like a loss to us here, the reader said, but on the other side many, many people had been waiting for my mother with excitement and anticipation for the return of a much loved soul.

I was crying as Arrianne told me all this, and she was crying too. It was the first time all day that I was completely inside my feelings, the glass around me gone. I know that some will think me a little cracked for this, but I believed everything Arri told me, I believed that my mother came through to her, and that her reader spoke true.

Aunt Grace (my mom's sister) and Arrianne, her granddaughter

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The tenth day

The tributes have been written and rehearsed, the photographs of a life gathered, the tears and laughs mingled. The granddaughters have gone to the plaza this morning for manicures in honor of their grandmother's always impeccable hands. The food trays have been ordered, the cakes baked, the wine and liquor laid in. The six-top tables are set up in the garden, waiting for their tablecloths. Mommy's ashes sit in an inlaid wooden box in her room, the programs with her face smiling up at us in tall stacks beside it.

Last night there was a great "nine night" celebration here at my brother's house, with drinking and rousing storytelling across the generations that went on till the wee hours. My brother's lodge brothers turned out in force and family and friends who had flown in from overseas also came by, some of them directly from the airport. My cousin Brian said, "Look around. This particular grouping of people may never again be together like this. We are all here to celebrate Aunt Gloria."

Today we lay our beloved mother to rest. I hope we will do her justice.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Upon this rock

The truth? I wish someone would carry me through this week. It feels intense, so much to plan, so little will to plan it, except for the desire to do right by my mom. My brother and I do have support—my husband, our cousins Nicky and Maureen, Aunt Grace, and lately also my niece Dana, a graphic artist who is doing the program so beautifully, lifting a great weight from my shoulders.

My brother put the planning of the service and the creation of the program in my hands. He felt completely overwhelmed by those details. He is taking care of the repast at the church hall and then the family gathering after that at his house. It's a good division of labor as I'm glad I don't have to think about catering two events, ordering tables and cloths and bar service and all that. I also don't have to worry about the flowers as my cousin Maureen is good friends with the florist. Much of the planning had been happening at Maureen's house. I love being there not just because she has an airy, open home filled with beautiful art, but because her mother is there, and Aunt Grace is missing her sister as much as we are missing our mom.

My first job on Monday was to take a full set of clothes to the funeral home so they could dress my mom for the family viewing. My brother had scheduled it mainly for me. I needed the closure. The viewing yesterday morning was very emotional. Aunt Grace gripped my hand and didn't let go the whole time. My mom looked like herself, except for her mouth; they did a good job. We held hands and said the twenty-third Psalm over her. But it was so clear to me that she was elsewhere, and her body was merely the vessel that had held the animating spirit that was my mother. I will never get over the stillness of death, the complete absence of the true essence of the beloved.

The program options from the funeral home were depressing. If I had to sit in the church looking at one of those, I'd weep and weep. My mom was an elegant lady. Her program should look classy. As a designer, my niece Dana has a very clean and minimalist aesthetic. I knew this because she did the program for my Uncle Roy's services last year. She is his granddaughter, my parents' grand niece. Last night when we came to her with a flash drive of photos and the text of the service and hymns, she sat right down and got to work, all of us around her at the computer. In a hour she had a mock up of the program that was simple and elegant like my mom, and I was beyond grateful. She said she'd refine everything today and we should come back to give it a final proofing tonight.

Today, I need to write the remembrance to be read in the church by my brother and me. I don't know how to start.

My children arrive tomorrow. I can hardly wait to hold them in my arms.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Going home

I am flying home to Jamaica today to bury my mother. My husband is coming with me. Our children will arrive later in the week. So will the rest of our extended family. My brother is waiting for me to get there to make arrangements so nothing has been done yet other than booking the minister and the church. I dread walking into my brother's house and going up to my mother's room knowing she will never again be there waiting expectantly to greet me. I will never again experience the absolute welcome that was always there for me in her eyes. I am numb sometimes and then the truth that my mother is gone breaks through and I feel desolate. I went outside to run errands for the first time yesterday since my brother called to tell me Mommy had died. Under a crisp blue sky, snow on the ground, winter sun on my face, the world felt completely different. My place in it forever altered. I felt alone in a way I have never before felt alone and I realized that my whole life long I have felt my mother's protection at my back, a soft cloak woven of breath and love. My brother sent me the lyrics of a song that he said he had found some comfort in. "I'm everything I am because you loved me." The simple refrain felt so profound. I knew what he was feeling. I have never been in the world without my mother. She was so loved by so many. People have not stopped calling because her children are the closest they can get to her now. They tell me stories about her, all the times they felt lifted up by her. I wish I could capture the full measure of her grace and goodness and share it here. My words are so poor.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Soft Landing

It snowed all day yesterday. I watched it from inside my snow globe, wondering if any of this was real. I didn't get out of my sleep clothes all day.

I want to write and write and write here, like therapy, because I can't name what I am feeling from moment to moment, it's like I'm under water or under glass, there's no air coming in, but I have to practice restraint because the things I might write sound crazy.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Such a lady

I want to think of my parents together again, and take comfort from that. My mom has waited a long time, 19 years, with perfect assurance that she will see my father again. So I want to think of them as they are in that picture, or maybe as they were when they were just married. I can't quite feel it yet, and that troubles me a little bit, so I'm putting this photo up top, to make it all a little less surreal.

The phone hasn't stopped ringing, starting with my cousin Sharon at daybreak. I reached for the phone aware that I did not feel the stab of fear I have felt every morning for the past several weeks at the first call of the day. The worst has already happened. My cousin said she just wanted to hear my voice, that I was the closest she could come to hearing my mother's voice. We talked about my mom, about how I keep wanting to call her and ask her advice as we make the arrangements.

My son, who coaches track and field, has nationals weekend after next, which is also when my mother's service might be. Two of his athletes are going to nationals, including the kid he coached to the number one long jump record in the country. He hates the idea of not being there. But to move the date of my mom's memorial service will mean a lot of other people who want to be there but can only come on the weekend won't be able to make it. My mother's family and loved ones live far and wide, and a lot of people will be flying in to Jamaica for her send-off. I keep wanting to ask my mom what to do, to move the date so my son can coach his athletes at nationals, or to keep the date that is best for more people. My son will be there regardless, he says. He just wishes with his 23-year-old-heart to meet all commitments and to not have to choose. But if he must choose, his grandmother definitely wins.

Other people are also calling me, not just to offer comfort, but to feel closer to my mom. I know how they feel, because I want to talk to my Aunt Grace all day long. She is now the oldest sister, and her voice on the phone is so like my mother's that even their own children used to confuse them. She and her daughter went straight to my brother's house and sat with my mother until they took her away yesterday. Aunt Grace said my mom looked so peaceful, her body so small, almost childlike, the winkles all gone from her face. We talked about the fact that my mom is the third sister to go, and each one went in March, one year apart. Maisy on March 6, Winnie on March 22, and now Gloria on March 4. Aunt Grace said, "I wonder which one of the three sisters left will be marching out of here next year." Her daughter responded sternly, "Don't even try."

My brother had a hard day yesterday. Aunt Grace told me that he sobbed as they took our mother from the house. I am so grateful that he was there, holding our mother in his arms as she took her last breath. He lifted her from her recliner and carried her to the bed, and in that brief interlude, she departed.

His lodge buddies were at the house drinking with him last night. I called and tried to discuss dates for the service but it was clear he had hit a wall. "When you come on Sunday we'll work all that out," he said. As hard as my day was, his was harder. He had to go to the funeral home to make preliminary arrangements. Here in NewYork, my husband came home early from work to be with me. We spent the day quietly, making and fielding phone calls and emails and text messages from loved ones. My friends offered to come and sit with me, especially my Jewish friends whose ritual is to sit Shiva for seven days and receive guests and condolences. I loved them for wanting to come, but I felt a kind of social inertia. I think I just wanted to just be with my family last night, listening for my mom's whisper in the silence.

It's snowing so hard outside. I wasn't really sure that my mom could stop breathing and I would keep on. I didn't see how it was possible to be in this physical world without her.

But here I am.

Here she is not.


1. Mommy and Daddy on Christmas Day 1994
2. Grandma Camp in St. Lucia
3. I will never again be as unconditionally loved as this.
4. Mom and Aunt Grace in my cousin's pool
5. Mom with her sister Grace, my brother and her three oldest grandkids
6. Mommy and me a few years ago
7. One of the last pictures of a very great lady

Thank you to my dear friends here for your comments and emails and loving support. I am moved that my mother is in your hearts, too. You are most certainly in mine.