ISO: A miraculous birth

Since this request crossed my “desk" just before Christmas, and I am a bit nativity-crazy anyway (the above image is of one of my molded guest soap sets, “No Room at the Inn”), and even though IVF is not really (quite) immaculate conception, I couldn’t resist this metaphor. Not that I am known for my restraint anyway.

But, here is the situation: A U.S. non profit organization is looking for a woman who conceived a child *after* her partner’s death. This would involve (one imagines) using banked sperm. They’ve asked me to ask my communities for help.

And this isn’t going to be easy. Out of the several hundred stories I’ve heard from widows, I have only known of one family in this situation, and she (the Mom) has shut down her blog and completely disappeared under what I recall as very tense circumstances.  I know dozens of women who were widowed while pregnant and many widows (and a few widowers) with banked sperm or eggs, and even embryos from prior IVF attempts. I know scores of widows who had children with new partners after being widowed, and as huge a joy as each of those births is, it sounds positively Mayberry compared to the rare situation we're looking for.

There must be thousands of cancer patients (including teens) who store sperm or eggs before undergoing treatment, and we know that not everyone survives cancer. (Well, I know that pretty well. Overall 5-year-survival for all cancers, without respect to age or patient’s interest in having children, is something like 60%.) Things change rapidly: services for young adults with cancer didn't exist ten years ago, and IVF is not only more common, acceptable, and accessible than it ever was when we were seeking conception, but loads more successful as well.

So I'm hopeful: If you are this Mom, or you know this Mom, please contact me and I will connect you with the folks who are seeking this rare and — you have to admit — at-least-a-little-bit miraculous family.


Is it better to give than to receive, or am I crazy?

Chandigarh Monument Is it really better to give than to receive?

I have come to think it is, for me, at this time in my life. Why and how is a complicated alchemy of heart, mind, and science.

For one thing, by being in a position to give, you are inherently doing okay. Giving forces you to see that you HAVE. This awareness is itself a kind of gift.

Giving encourages you to be intimate with need -- to direct your gaze at a gap. You might become aware of the sting of your own emptiness; you might see how easy some needs are to fill, which might (for just a moment) make life seem just. Often, when we give, we see that others have needs greater than ours. In our own needy places, we have closed our eyes.

Always, when we give, we know we are not alone. We find we can make a difference.

Science shows us that altruism feels good: performing a good deed, volunteering for a cause, or even the abstract and removed act of writing a check has been shown to release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones.

It was hard for me to get comfortable giving away, of all things, MONEY. I have always been a tightwad and for most of my life, I've had to scrimp just to keep my own interests alive. But when I started to share my income with projects I believed in, when I sent my money out beyond my household, my brain started to process just HOW money gets things done. In my heart, I felt that I was engaging in the world again, just a bit, after a long period of isolation.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t just USING. I was PART of whatever it was. Take my church. By making a decent sized gift each year — giving a portion of my income, paying the church FIRST, not some bit when everything else was left over — I became an investor. And “investment” refers equally to having a financial stake in something and keeping your heart there.

Giving enabled me to connect in a different way, one that I had never had. A peculiarly ADULT way. One with not only dreams, but also responsibilities.

I give as generously as I can because honestly, it does feel good to me. I give to a few organizations that do things that I feel need to be done. I give because I want them to keep going. I don’t care if they spend what I give on boring stuff like copier paper, but that’s just me. I expect them to handle the money responsibly but I also expect “my staff” (see how that happened?) to be paid fairly.

The largest share of my “schedule A” giving goes to Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation (SSLF). I support SSLF because they are building the programs that I wish had existed when my husband died in 2006 (the first Camp Widow was held in 2009). SSLF shares my vision and they allow me to help (I now serve on their board). They allow me to help a LOT. Soaring Spirits was the partner that enabled me to create WidowedVillage.org, a dream that was too big for just me to handle. With them behind me, that small community is part of a much larger world of support and connections for widowed folks.

And I do all this work because peer support saved my life. SSLF is providing that same kind of comradeship and hope to thousands of widowed people every day. SSLF builds these connections in creative and important ways. If you’d like to say that SSLF programs are yours too, make a gift.

Every gift matters. It might be easy to feel that your individual gift is not the kind that will make a difference. It’s probably pretty easy to imagine that someone who’s doing a lot better than you can afford to give a larger share. You might think that lots of corporations and foundations are willing to fund SSLF programs right now. Would you believe me if I said that neither of those things is true?

But I know you recognize this story: the intense relief and gratitude in the face of someone who for the first time, meets another widowed person they can relate to. It's astonishing: you share one small experience or feeling with them and all of a sudden, they "get it" that you "get it." Their eyes light up. They don’t feel you made just a small contribution. For that person at that moment, the world stops being completely broken and becomes a world where a bit of light is visible through one of the cracks. These connections are our path to hope.

SSLF is lean and growing rapidly but dependent on individuals like you and me.

Our new site on StayClassy makes it easy to give once, or set up a recurring donation. If your gift means something to you, believe me, it will mean something to this organization and to all the people we will serve next year.

So think about it… and tell me afterwards if it was as good to give to Soaring Spirits as it was to receive.

You can make a safe, secure gift to Soaring Spirits programs at http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise/team?ftid=4358.


Part of the Service of Remembrance

I participated in our church's annual Service of Remembrance, organized by my wonderful friend, John.   In the talk, I allude to two of the mourning practices of our Unitarian Universalist church: for one year, you stand during the moment of silence in each service (based on the Jewish tradition of the kaddish and yahrzeit); at some point, you or a volunteer at your direction embroiders your loved one's name on one of seven gorgeous memorial quilts that hang in the sanctuary. I have spoken in the past about these and my experience here, here, here, here and here. (Oh hell. Just click on the "church" label over there -------------------->)

Here's what I said this past Sunday:

I am here to speak a little about my loss as part of a once-a-year service of remembrance. There is a time for this, this remembering and mourning, as there is for all things. But I’d like to tell you that here, in this community, every day allows for remembrance.

A little about my time here: In 2004, my husband Kevin and I visited this church as part of our beginning journey as parents, and a way to cope with the crisis that his cancer diagnosis had brought us. A year later we joined. Kevin missed the joining ceremony because he was recovering from a surgery on his spine, a brutal operation that both saved his life and, as I look back on it, signaled the beginning of a rapid, bumpy decline in his health.

I had never had a church: no faith, no religion or tradition, and no second home. I had no way to deal with what we were facing. As the caregiver of a dying man, and another year later as a new widow with a young child, thrust into the world of death and grief I was confused, overwhelmed, and nearly broken myself.

Above all, I worried about time. I wanted to grieve quickly -- perhaps I could squeeze it all in to the 3 months which I had told work I'd need? I shuddered when I heard about rituals, like standing during the silence, that lasted an entire year. If I had known a year means nothing... If I'd known my loss is still a big part of my life, even remarried, even at 5 years.... ?

When I was in this sanctuary, I didn't have to "know." When I was here, time stood still. I never felt hurried here. I wasn’t judged. I could move backward and forward fluidly, as I needed to. When the time came, I even got awesome dating advice. Some of it from John and Amy on the playground, right out there.

Here, I was only one of many people who had lost someone. Here, we are surrounded by the names of others who loved and had to leave. People in church are not afraid that the past had existed. They say the names…. They share the loves, past, present, and future.

And the friends I made here… some of them were hurting more than I was.

Above all, the rituals of this place — the times it built — the time, at last, to stop standing during the silence — the time, concrete and specific, to embroider Kevin’s name on the quilt — helped me understand what time is and what time does for those who have lost.

One day a year is terrific. Ritual is magic, even Unitarian Universalist ritual. In this home, we are fortunate to be able to explore the traditions of the Piscataway, of Moses, and of others who have also lived through loss… who’ve done the work of time. People who know the ancient truth that our modern sage Laurie Anderson rephrased last year in a performance art piece:

“They say you die three times, once when your heart stops, again when your body is buried or cremated, and then the last time someone says your name.”

This home where the names live on — where it is always okay to cry and to laugh — can give you YOUR time, your own time. To find the freedom of your own ways to live in a world without someone you can’t live without.

This time is all that you and I have.


Surviving the first year, with help from Buffy

When my husband died, I had no idea how I’d recover. After two years of nursing his terminal illness, our household was drained and I was just plain exhausted. As the breadwinner, I had worked full time through his illness; as the mother of a small child, I was desperately needed at home. 

Perhaps it looked to the world like I could make it. Gavin had told me, over and over, “you’re stronger than you think.” Grief was overwhelming, but I knew that would run its course in time. My therapist assured me I had all the right tools in place to build a path up out of loss, a new life, to get my mojo back. But I just wasn’t feeling it. I needed an image… a narrative… a mentor.

I also needed something to do after putting my daughter to bed. I had abandoned most hobbies (and been abandoned by most of my friends) after our long fight. My eyes hurt too much to read. I was doing all the work, in all departments: estate, job, home, self care. I needed a little time out, some escape.

And I found something passive that held tremendous healing power: the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I pledged to watch all 144 episodes, seven seasons in order, that first year, as part of my self care. I swore, too, that I’d always have the essentials, red wine and dark chocolate, on hand.

I was converted to watching Buffy late in its run when a friend revealed to me that the show’s setting — a high school — had been built on top of the actual gate to hell. The blond and perky cheerleader heroine was burdened with her duty to save the world, and she did it over and over. This scenario was familiar. Duh! The entire show was ironic.

I didn’t get that when I caught my first fragments of Buffy episodes while surfing through Saturday afternoon reruns. The show’s special effects were superior to those of Dr. Who, another cult favorite I never got into, but I couldn’t understand why vampires would be marked by forehead bulges. Were they supposed to be Cro-magnons? The other characters were cute teenagers living in an idyllic suburb. I’d been a city girl and a brainiac who barely survived high school. No way could I identify with this laughable show.

When I finally surrendered, I enjoyed the last 2 seasons, action packed and subtle, postmodern to the max, while completing grad school. The legion of Buffy fans will tell you it’s a deceptive show, deep and dark at times, with real heart and occasionally, silly as all hell. Vampires — ordinary vampires and spooks in film — have always seemed to me to have as little to do with death as an amusement park. Even when the sets, costumes, and effects are “convincing,” movie monsters don’t grab me. At their best, the creatures are metaphors, unconvincing and fleshless. Death in a movie is a fake climax guided by music and lighting, when real death is blank and empty. I’ll always favor Beckett over Hitchcock and certainly over chainsaws.

The writers of Buffy don’t make any of those easy mistakes. After my experience of watching my husband die, living in the warm lap of mortality as that event approached, Buffy’s world seemed important and worthwhile. I could feel her duty, her struggle, and her fight against evil and root — with relish, like a good cheerleader — for the right side to win.

So every night, I settled on my couch with a glass of wine and opened a Netflix envelope. I spent an hour or two watching a girl younger than me kick ass, make fun of goths, and kiss boys (Yes, there is sex in Buffy. Good sex. Talk about the teenage years I never had!). I kept an eye on her friends, even the goofy ones, as they helped out, sometimes haplessly. I sat through the blood and the imaginary monsters. I made friends with ambiguous demons of all sorts, because nothing is black and white in the show; bad guys become lovers and friends break into evil. Watching Buffy is fun, but it’s rarely simple. 

Over and over, the premise of the show, its characters, its choices and even a few of its conflicts were real for me. Two events in the series spoke out to me in particular as a grieving person, and they are both about the hurt of our world.

In one episode, the partner of teen witch, Willow, is killed violently before her eyes. Slowly, grief transforms her: after losing everything, she comes to feel all the pain of humanity. Overwhelmed, her eyes turn black and she knows she must end this unbearable existence for everyone. It is loss that pushes Willow to cross over the edge — not a will to power or any desire to join with dark forces.

Like Willow, I could feel cracked open to feeling too much. I didn’t feel so much like destroying things, but then, life as a Mom grounded me and didn’t have any access to the tools of black magic. But I was awed that the story presented by Buffy’s writers isn’t the fairytale vision of what pushes evil.

At the end of season five, I felt Buffy’s relief as she sacrifices herself for her little sister and the fate of the world. This death is oblivion, which I felt strongly from contemplating my own loss. When Buffy is brought back to life, I agreed with her sadness at returning to this plagued and difficult world. She’s in a funk most of season six, performing her duties with little zeal. She just doesn’t want to be “here.”

Like me working through that first year, Buffy doesn’t find any tricks for her getting her groove back. An episode called “Once More with Feeling” suggests that living through an all-singing, all-dancing spell could break any mood at the same time as it encourages the viewer to suspend a last level of disbelief, if she had any left. In the end, Buffy and her friends save the world one last time, not without losses and costs. Good men die, an eyeball is poked out (and shows no sign of magically reappearing), and the whole town collapses into dust.

During my most difficult year, Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed me that everyone hurts. The world of Buffy is tough and often painful, like that of a Grimm fairytale, but I felt, as Buffy usually did, that this world is worth fighting for. There are no superheroes, although you get points for agility and teamwork, and once in a while you find a magical talisman or a talking book. By being honest about loss, Buffy gained my trust so I was able to enjoy the relief of rescue at its conclusion. By being silly and exuberant, the show kept me listening and broke down my intellectual barriers.

Watching Buffy every night required me to rest. It gave me color and excitement in the comfort of my own home, and a role model par excellence.

Most of all, my year of Buffy taught me that my imagination is probably my best and most intimate tool, and one I can’t live without.


Gavin's 9/11 drawing

My late husband’s drawing about September 11 was a memory of what a beautiful day it was, you know, otherwise. So clear and bright, mild, touched by a fresh breeze. His piece captures also the mystery, the gradual entry of that smoke and fog we couldn’t place or understand, not any piece of it. The sense that our whole world was about to change but we didn’t quite wish to believe it even as we grasped to know something. To know anything. To be included somehow and to be back in the world.

September 11 started as a quiet day, with birds chirping. We couldn’t hear birds after around 9, depending on where we were, but after some chatter, the day was quiet and calm again as we all hoped the state of knowing nothing, feeling only jumbled wouldn’t last. We scrambled to compute how many and who while we had no information and while so many parts were moving.

So yeah, like you all, I remember.

9/11 wasn’t my first loss, my primal one, but it was a sort of entry into adulthood, a turning point, like becoming a parent. 9/11 was most like the shock of Gavin’s diagnosis of terminal cancer and only a little like losing the man himself and grief and all the adaptation and transformation that we call widowhood.

So it’s an apt drawing, I think, that tells me many stories. Gavin hid this drawing, a bit, and I just discovered It last week, as I said goodbye to the last parts of “his” part of our home. (Forgive the crappy photo.) Unlike his sea drawings, I didn’t have any negative feelings — this event and loss are so much larger than his cancer and death, injuries I can remember in great detail still, and so much more “healed” (how can a nation SAY that?).

Seeing them reminded me how big that day was, how specific, and really, how beautiful our world, even one corner of polluted sky.

I was thinking about this as I drove home, bloodied a bit by bureaucracy, after handling the last bit of home sale business, something particularly thorny and so deeply entangled with Gavin’s time of illness and my worst breaks. It was a flood of feelings but I took care of every bit, pinned it down with numbers and maps, and connected people to solutions. As I left, relieved, I was remembering that distant day and the drawing, and I left the garage: there was the sun in a big clear sky, innocent and present like a child.

That sunlight was fresh and blinding after a week of solid drubbing, of oppressive wet, of trees destabilizing and bridges sinking, a week or more when nothing could be done easily, at least 8 days of crying for the WORLD AROUND ME TO CHANGE DAMMIT, of praying over nearby thunderclaps at 3 a.m., the few good moments in the week were pure gratitude when I remembered how close I had once been to moving to Seattle.

Today's sun was a message to me to keep my eye on the bright that you can’t see behind the sky.


Artwork: the breakdown

I have often said that I’m grateful that Gavin was an artist and that he left a concrete legacy — that he made a difference to literally thousands of people who look at a painting or drawing by him every single day. I say, it made it easier to throw out clothes like his old socks (although… he really did like his damn chinos). Because of the tons of artwork he created during his life time, I didn’t have trouble with which objects mattered to him or which ones would matter to me.

But that’s kind of a pile of garbage (as are many other things) now that I’m moving the last things out of his studio. Because when you get past the many layers of treasures that he created, there is still a lot of junk that was secondary. And even as great a genius as he was (Not really) (Gimme a break, I was married to him), it’s not worth saving every little thing he ever scribbled on. Except for some of it.

Let me give you a list of just a few of the categories of “stuff” and what has been their fate so far:
  • Actual artwork, large sizes: went to professional, climate-controlled, secure art storage facility.
  • Actual artwork, small sizes: moved to flat files which have been moved to my new home.
  • His notebooks, letters, and sketchbooks: to Smithsonian museum libraries for their collection of “papers of American artists,” in hopes someday someone will write about his work.
  • Sketches that were unbound, some rough, some finished, some with markings to help him enlarge them.
  • Artwork by his friends: some hangs in our home, some will be sold. This work falls into subcategories: pieces I really like that hung in our home, pieces I didn’t like much that hung in our home, pieces that didn’t hang in our home, pieces I have never seen; pieces by people I never met, pieces by friends that were in loving trade, pieces by friends that were “gifts” that might not have made it in a situation of natural selection, pieces by people I actively disliked. Pieces he bought during “good years.”
  • Art materials. Paint, not only the type he used. Turpentine. Half-dirty turpentine (fine for housepainting). Color pencils (a child of the 60s, he wouldn’t ever say “colored” pencils), boxes of broken conte crayons, soft pencils, hard pencils, china markers, 24 boxes of oil pastels that must have some story behind them. Most of all this went to the local college art department, whose 2 senior professors were his classmates there. Sheaves of luscious 100% cotton paper, pristine, wrapped up like nuns. FOR SALE!
  • Furniture. Tables made specifically for his work, the right size, unfinished plywood and 2x4s. Two “puzzle” desks he built from a pattern in Popular Mechanics 30 years ago. Shelves for tools. The dust from 500 punk rock and opera LPs that I sold long ago for $1 each.
  • Tools. Extra sets of screwdrivers (sets!? Who am I fooling.). Five hand saws. Thousands of nails and screws of the type no one ever needs. Extra brackets, nuts, clamps, and containers that I didn’t already claim for the new house. A compound miter box he felt obliged to buy when he was very, very ill.
  • Art-related tools. Matte cutter. Copy stand. Two lightboxes. A projector.
  • Empty frames. Frames with cracked glass. Replacement glass for frames that I don’t know where they are now. Frames that must be checked, lest a drawing is behind an old matt.
  • Slides of most of the work he created during his 30 years, which were scanned and stuck on Flickr. Slides that are snapshotty… will be tossed.
  • Snapshots. Includes snapshots that were source material for artwork, made and unmade. Snapshots that were “active,” on his desk, in the top drawer, for work that was finished in the past few years and for work he was contemplating. (Many are being scanned.) Family snapshots. Albums of family photographs, most of them without name or date information.
  • Books. Do not get me started on the damn books.
The last items to be removed from his empty studio — just yesterday — was a clutch of large drawings stashed in his drafting table (which I didn’t even know had a compartment). Some I’d seen before, some I hadn’t. Strange that items from the “valuable” category showed up long after empty frames and packing material had already been given away. Spookily enough, this group includes his piece for September 11, which I knew was SOMEWHERE around here. Right. On. Time, dear.

Clearing this out has taken forever, and called up a complicated tangle of emotions: I get only fog. There’s some justice seeing things go where they “ought.” The frustration of friends who don’t seem to care for relics of their own relationship with him. My anguish over deciding which papers to send to the museum, and which to recycle. (They’ll do no one any good in our attic).

(Yes, it would be a hell of a lot easier if I believed the house sale would actually CLOSE. But I'm in permanent skeptic mode after what I've been through this summer). 

There’s slight zeal in throwing out pieces that I know he wanted to destroy. One evening a few months before he died, he came upstairs saying, “some day I really need to burn some of those early paintings.” It was practically his only intimation that he knew he wouldn’t last forever. I found this batch behind the hot water heater (I’m pretty sure those are the ones he meant). But I felt a passive aggressive compulsion to photograph them before bending them up, as if I wouldn’t even let his ghost escape their primitive colors and compositions.

I had no such compunction tossing out oversized newsprint pads of figure drawings from college. Several large unsatisfying, unfinished paintings were figural too…. Figures were always his least successful pieces. Even when he cloaked them in allegory and myth and removed them into abstract or performance realms, no one really responded to them. (With one notable exception.)

There are literally crickets chirping among the oddments that remain, furniture that’s claimed but not picked up yet, my checklists and tools to bring home, some packing materials, and six identical empty frames.

And I’m oh, so tired.


Why you might consider bringing a party dress with you to Camp Widow (At least, if you are a girl, lady, or woman, or someone who identifies as one of those)

It’s hard to explain why I am in the market for a pair of silver high heels. Am I really going to feel like dancing at Camp Widow -- a “grief retreat”?

Well, I may or may not — but Kim put in an advance request to the gala DJ for some Chaka Khan, so there’s a good chance I’ll shake some tail feathers (note to self: pack tail feathers).

Yes, there will be a lot of crying at this conference. Everyone attending will, like me have lost their spouse or partner. Workshops will tackle every subject in grief, loss, and adjustment. But I am excited to attend an art workshop and one in writing as a way of healing.

More than 200 widows and widowers… men and women, of all ages (right now, folks aged 21 to 83 are registered!). Couples who were married or unmarried, gay and straight, divorced or “complicated.” People actively raising children, empty nesters, and couples who didn’t have children are represented in almost equal numbers. Folks who’ve lost someone just this summer… and those who are ten years out and more. You’ll hear about their losses, about their loves, and their selves, and you’ll see that they all have coped differently.

Camp Widow is a little bit, for the grieving soul in me, like “coming home.” And what an opportunity to be out, to be real. It can be beyond overwhelming to see and meet so many others who’ve been there, others who are “there” now, and people who are through it — who’ve gone beyond mere survival to flourish. Many attendees will find out they’re not crazy, or that they are doing pretty well. Some will have the experience of reaching out a hand to someone else and with that step… understanding their own path a little better.

Grieving people don’t have many chances to show how they feel (though we may do so unwittingly by staying home most of the time) — to live our souls in all their richness, the dark and light showing equally. Unlike when we’re out in the “real” world, at Camp Widow, we can’t hide. When no one expects you to hide your feelings, you might not even want to hide. You might even wish to shine. Something about belonging in that way — about that rare experience of deep freedom — might just make you want to boogie.

Sparkles are on my agenda because I had one regret last year. At Camp Widow 2010, my first time there, I wore a new outfit —  a very “daytime” outfit because I was keyed up about speaking, hate shopping, and don’t have many clothes that fit me after the “ups and downs” of being a mom, grieving, and now being happily remarried.

That evening, after a long day of workshops and friendships, I was surrounded by comrades and allies, and there were drinks.

I looked nice enough (although I discovered I have back fat). I could have danced in my sensible shoes, but what about black wedge mary janes makes you want to dance? NOTHING.

I didn’t think I’d need a party dress. I didn’t dream I deserved a whole second brand new outfit. Didn’t Thoreau tell us to “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”? I shouldn’t have been so cautious. I minded being a little dull that evening (plus my toe hurt). That’s my regret.

Something about that rare place and time where you can “come as you are” — a chance to relax without denying all your stresses, to work on rebuilding your “wild and precious” life — is in itself a celebration. And that is the element of Camp Widow that I find the hardest to explain to people.

Maybe this should be the motto: “Camp Widow: the grief retreat where you should bring a party dress.”

So pack something spangly and see how you feel, okay?


The Fish is Dead, Long Live the Fish

Winny, the third of three beta fishes (and the fourth pet if you count his best friend Fasty, the snail) has died. We are more or less certain that the fatal injury was incurred on a playdate by a mischievous friend wielding a cheap piece of jewelry.

Short Stack wrote this letter to the alleged perpetrator:
Dear Sophia, I'm sorry to say but you stuck paart of the necklise in the fish boll. My fish is dede now. It is not todally your falt. It's my mom's falt too!! Fish water: if you stick something (metle) in the fish water when you take it out, it is dry, that is how fish water works!
(Man, it was really fun to frustrate autocorrect there! Nyah, nyah!)

He's going in the garden in this scheme:
  • Fasty: under a tiny rosemary which has since, um, not flourished
  • Reddy (Bob): at the foot of a young redbud
  • Winny: in the hole I dug for a new hydrangea paniculata
  • Daddy: half, in the base of a young but noble elm tree (half still on a bookshelf).
(Sadly, the first fish, Goldy, was unceremoniously flushed because he died when I was out of town. But we're regretting that now).

Does this all help my daughter understand her great loss -- of her father -- any better? It's really hard for me to say. On the one hand, I think she's overly preoccupied with death. On the other hand, I just read that 7-year-olds tend to be a bit "goth" as part of their internal development. She's certainly not as bad as above mentioned Sophia (who believes that she is secretly a vampire and she keeps her little brother's secret powers in her jewelry box). She hasn't even been as sad as I'd expect after each loss, even though she expresses great affection and interest in each pet. And we are talking about fish here.

I mean, fish that she READS TO ("the Night Before Christmas"). Fish that she teaches TRICKS to. Fish that she has tried to get to pronounce the word "FOOD."

This kid knows how to love. She invests, even in small scaly things. And she doesn't get real upset, even while blaming me. It seems to me she has grown into her loss -- that she and I are more intermeshed because of it -- but it hasn't stopped her (or me) from attaching to Mr. Fresh. She is so at ease with having had two Daddies.

My child is such a comfort and a curiosity.

And she is campaigning for a cat.


What he was thinking, 2

(What he was thinking, 1, is here)

After Gavin died, I found a post-it note at his desk that stated:
Ataraxia: a tranquil indifference to the world’s vicissitudes.
I can’t think of anything he strove for more than this: calm and ease with the world.

As time went on and I sat in his office where I'd found the note, doing "estate business," (har har!) I wondered how he had managed to stare at these words all day long during his frustrating and futile fight with cancer (which angered him on many, many occasions). But I had, somehow, lost the note (I’d put it in a “special place” #yeahright). So I looked it up. Wikipedia had a different view of its meaning:

 … For the Pyrrhonians, owing to one's inability to say which sense impressions are true and which ones are false, it is the quietude that arises from suspending judgment on dogmatic beliefs or anything non-evident and continuing to inquire. The experience was said to have fallen on the painter Apelles who was trying to paint the foamy saliva of a horse. He was so unsuccessful that, in a rage, he gave up and threw the sponge he was cleaning his brushes with at the medium, thus producing the effect of the horse's foam.
I could compare the two definitions and try to psychoanalyze him, but probably, actually, I couldn’t. And I’m not sure it would be useful, since I THINK he wrote the note before his diagnosis and I don’t know where his version came from.

But I love that the example quotes another artist. Gavin was always using his work to explore, and he was often, often frustrated. Looking for definition, and finding Apelles, was for me and probably for him, too, like running into an old friend.

I remember how often Gavin wanted to tear up his beautiful sheets of Arches (and how often he did), when all anyone saw was the tranquil and pristine result. How often his struggles were with the page or his idea, and NOT with the wicked and messy world we live in. It’s a kind of transcendence that the artist has, even with cancer and the whole bit.

He knew how lucky he was to be an artist, allowed to use his energy this way. And I know how often putting it on paper helped him find peace.

Which is nice, because I tend to dwell on the hurt.

Which might be what makes writers.


Culture Clash

I love leading an online community. Today Widowed Village received the following application for membership:
I am intended to marry with widow/divorced woman. Their status, age, (having children) doesn't matter, only virtue (pure heart)is important.
I can promise I will be responsible person to make our family always be happy.
I think if we are doing something really right then we have to do this. This will my prominent decision of my life.
Widow/divorced woman are isolated from world, therefore i want to turn my wedding decision to right way and we both will be respectable for each other..

I am Aamir H. from India, as above given is short description, but it is truth. Actually, i am single but interested in to marry with widow woman .. so can you help me? Give me suggestion too...
He is only 26 and yes, I turned him down (we only allow widowed people to join).... I mean, for membership, of course.

Is Aamir doing a good deed? (Can we assume he's very ugly, ill, impotent?) We've all heard horror stories about being widowed in India. Even though the sati is banned, remarriage is supposed to be rare.

It just looks so, so bad in this country where soliciting online for a bride is a business and arranged marriages are considered an injustice beyond anything. Amir's request sounds... cheap. It seems... an ugly sort of business transaction. But if I read it... well, it seems like there's a man with a heart there. I don't really mean to make fun of him (though it would be easy to).

This is the third or fourth request we've had like this. They're all quite clear about their intentions. The first one made me queasy. By now, I sort of respect their honesty and wonder what is up. Do these fellows want to move to the U.S. or another English-dominant country? Do they think our community has many Indian members (we might, someday, I suppose)?

Can someone explain to me what is going on? I know I have readers in India....


Reflections on independence

This flag, reflected in the window of the Marriott San Diego when I was at Camp Widow last year, shows a little bit of how flags REALLY work: their symbolism might seem to be written in stone, but a flag at every moment, to every person, looks different. Linear, elemental, in primary colors, a flag symbolizes a foundation, but any real flag changes constantly, responding to wind and water. This one appears here to be cut off and wavy, and it was alone on just one tier of many mirrored levels of the hotel facade.

And I really hate Monday holidays (pretty sure I posted this last year too), which is a reflection of how crappy I am as a single parent.


Me and Casey Anthony

My daughter, Short Stack, was 2-1/2 when Gavin died, and Caylee Anthony was nearly 3 when she “disappeared.” So every time I heard someone say, “how could a mother possibly hurt a little angel like that?,” speaking of what Casey allegedly did to her little girl, I took it a little personally.

That first year that Shortie and I were alone — the year from 2-1/2 to 3-1/2, which started on the hot summer day we came home from hospice without her Dad — was, in many ways, hell.


Someone gets it

May 26, 2011

Dear Supa,

It's almost the fifth anniversary of Gavin's death. In the past, I would not have sent a note. I would have thought, "Sending a card is superfluous and even presumptuous. Supa certainly knows the date. You only talked to Gavin a few times. And you're lousy at keeping in touch, so it's weird to send something now."

From talking to you and reading your blog, I've learned that these thoughts aren't meaningful. Even though they still crop up, I'm ignoring them. I want you to know that I am still sorry for your loss. I will be thinking of you and Short Stack, especially on the 2nd. And I'll be hoping peace will be with you, Shorty, and Mr. Fresh.



Five Years

Holy crap. Today it's five years. He was a handsome guy and a wonderful artist and I loved him, and he loved me.


LGBT Families Matter in Grief Support, too

I had followed and supported the "issue" of gay marriage like most other good Unitarians, but I didn't really think this niche of civil rights was all that big a deal (most of my gay friends seemed pretty lukewarm on it) until I became widowed. Well... a little sooner... I "got it" when I became the caregiver for a dying man. Then, I KNEW how serious it was if your partner would not be allowed to visit you in an ICU or other secure hospital situation.

After I was widowed, and coped with the bureaucracies from insurance companies to my own and my child's health insurance, to the MVA and how my home was titled, I realized how many essential privileges I'd had by virtue of marriage -- and how I'd taken them for granted. How their denial would make life so, so much more difficult at the worst time in my life already.


What he was thinking, 1

I speculate all the damn time about what I imagine Gavin was thinking as the end approached.

And I am selling the old house, clearing out the non-art stuff from his studio, as well as unpacking boxes at the new house and unpacking my own experiences and percetions at the same time. My new life doesn't stop moving just because my old life is leaving -- or rather, my old life keeps evolving while I'm building my new life. (As if they are even two separate things).

Last night, in a box of his notes, this scrap of his handwriting, clearly original (he was fastidious about attribution) popped out at me as a challenge to my perceptions about what he was thinking in his last few months:
Fear accentuates the sense of self -- thus brings into play another "existential" fear, namely non-existence.

Are the two connected?

Can there be a veiled "existential fear pre-existing -- as a condition -- of existence which aggravates all fears and specifically heightens a fearing Self

Must one lost both fear and self -- simultaneously

(Yes, he was too intellectual. We fit together well as navel-gazers.)

In one sense, I can barely figure out what he meant. The words make sense, but I'm straining to remember my orthodox Sartre from years ago, and I'd do anything to add a few punctuation marks.

In another sense, I am reminded that as much as he denied that death was on the way, he was also afraid. This wipes away some of my anger at him, and also makes me feel compassion -- my least comfortable emotional companion, the one that hides from my other selves -- for where he was, what he was feeling during those dark last months, and helps me understand why he wished to hide the worst of his fear from me. It reminds me that my memory of that time is distorted -- as was my perception of what was going on at all levels for that long important period of downsliding that we went through together and (mostly) apart.

Five years after my loss, I continue to process, and change, and I am still putting things away in boxes.


Bloggers, Win a Scholarship to Camp Widow! UPDATED with all entries!

  • THIS POST IS UPDATED with all the posts from entrants. The contest is CLOSED! Thanks to all who participated or helped spread the word!
In August, Camp Widow, the premier event for connecting widows and widowers, will held for the THIRD YEAR.  Please visit the website for location, list of speakers and workshops, registration, and (my favorite) Frequently Asked Questions. This is the only event run by a non profit organization BY widowed people and it's an exception weekend of support, new friends, and the freedom to "come as you are" -- where EVERYONE "gets it." The event is inclusive (men, women, LGBT, all ages, all parenting statuses) with content and social events to meet all needs and interests.

I strongly encourage widowed folks to attend. To make it easier, I am helping to run this blogging contest, funded by a group of friends.

Widowed Bloggers -- win a ticket to Camp Widow!
Write a post sharing WHY you want to attend Camp Widow 2011. Notify us that you posted by leaving a comment on this post (below) to make sure we see it (you can also send us a note.)

Camp Widow is a exceptional weekend for widowed people of all ages. We will choose one (possibly two) bloggers to receive a PARTIAL scholarship that covers Camp registration and some incidental expenses. NO ACTUAL CAMPING IS INVOLVED. Learn more about this event, which is in its third year, at campwidow.org.

How do I enter?
Please write and publish a blog post telling the world WHY you wish to attend. You can include topics such as how you expect to benefit, or share about some of the widowed people you've already met. You do not need to demonstrate financial need though if you wish to write a separate note discussing your financial circumstances, you may do so.

Who is eligible to compete?
Widows and widowers of all ages who started blogging before 4/1/11 and who are interested in attending Camp Widow 2011. Please note: you should be prepared to pay for and arrange your travel to and from, and your lodging in San Diego. (We can help you find a roommate to reduce costs). If our generous donors can pay more, they will, but please don't apply unless you are prepared to make the trip (including arranging child care, taking time off work, etc.).

Summary and dates
  • You must publish your blog post AND notify us by midnight EST, * * * Tuesday, June 14. * * *
  • We will notify the winner(s) within 2 weeks.
  • Camp Widow will be held August 12 to 14. Details are at campwidow.org
Winner(s) MUST arrange and purchase their own travel and hotel reservations. Scholarship covers Camp Widow registration fee plus some incidentals.

Questions? Want to help fund this scholarship? We want to hear from you.

(Disclosure: This competition is hosted, managed, and funded by an independent group of widowed bloggers. We're not being compensated for creating this competition and those judging entries are not eligible to win.)

Here are the folks who've entered our competition so far!:
  1. Carolyn, Through a Widow's Eyes, We Widowed as Community, Camp Widow as Village Square
  2. James, JamesPinnick.com, Camp Widow 2011
  3. Christine, Widow Island, A new beginning... again 
  4. Maria, Missing Jorge, Fantasy Camp 
  5. Greggie's Widow, And I thought I loved you then..., Love, Tears, Laughter, Support, (In Person) Hugs... Camp Widow 
  6. Nancy Drew, Get a Clue with..., Camp Widow
  7. MPdaCNA, If I could write a book..., Thursday... It's almost here
  8. C, Letters to Elias, What does it mean?
  9. And our last entry... Kim, Live from the 205, Camp Widow 2011!
These posts are terrific -- thank you! The reviewers will do THEIR THING and read 'em all and winner/s will be notified around July 1. 

What he was thinking, 1

I speculate all the damn time about what I imagine Gavin was thinking as the end approached.

As part of selling the old house, I spend my days clearing out the non-art stuff from his studio,  unpacking boxes from OUR move here to the new house. This work unpacks my own experiences and perceptions at the same time. Memories I've taken for granted give way, shifting closer, probably, to the way things were. Bit by bit, my lens clears. As those memories change, so does my view of today, not of objects, but of actions: if I didn't DO this because of that, then I must take responsibility for THAT. My new life doesn't stop moving just because my old life is leaving -- or rather, my old life keeps evolving while I'm building my new life. (As if they are even two separate things).

Last night, in a box of his notes in my new, box-filled office, this scrap of his handwriting, clearly original (he was fastidious about attribution) popped out at me as a challenge to my perceptions about what he was thinking in his last few months:
Fear accentuates the sense of self -- thus brings into play another "existential" fear, namely non-existence.
Are the two connected?
Can there be a veiled "existential fear pre-existing -- as a condition -- of existence which aggravates all fears and specifically heightens a fearing Self
Must one lost both fear and self -- simultaneously
(Yes, he was too intellectual. We fit together well as navel-gazers.)

In one sense, I can barely figure out what he meant. The words make sense, but I'm straining to remember my orthodox Sartre from years ago, and I'd do anything to add a few punctuation marks.

In another sense, I am reminded that as much as he denied that death was on the way, he WAS afraid. This wipes away some of my anger at him, and also makes me feel compassion -- my least comfortable emotional companion, the one that hides from my other selves -- for where he was, what he was feeling during those dark last months, and helps me understand why he wished to hide the worst of his fear from me. It reminds me that my memory of that time is distorted -- as was my perception of what was going on at all levels for that long important period of downsliding that we went through together and (mostly) apart.

Five years after my loss, I continue to process, and change, and I am still putting things away in boxes for later, later when I have more room, around me and inside my head, for new ideas from old things.


Two Kisses for Maddy: A widow reviews Matt Logelin's memoir

Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love, the new memoir by our friend, Matt Logelin, stands out among the passel of recent books by widowed people about their experiences. With a combination of grace and profanity, Logelin shares his life and love leading up to the death of his beautiful wife, just a day after delivering their daughter, Maddy, and his path upwards as a father and as a man since then.

Readers of Logelin's blog are familiar with his "story" (uh, we used to call it a "life?") but will be happy to find the book not only original, but as heartfelt and black-humorous as his other writings. It's meaty without being gloomy at all.


Two types of people in the world

During my undergraduate class in Homer, I learned there are two types of people: Iliad people (emotion, war, death, loss) and Odyssey people (exploration, magic, critters, homecoming). Our small department taught just one of these each year, and I was thankful to have hit year two when the Iliad was "on" so I could enjoy the language without resisting my grain.

By senior year, after a few real-world jobs and other dabbling in the adult world that "deals," I’d decided there were, instead, two types of people in this world: people who divide the world into two types of people, and everyone else. I was determined to join the latter group though I  knew it would be a tough transition.

I was tired of black and white.


Peace online: one comment

I could write scores of pages on why I hate the whole "fight cancer with hope" thing, but it's still a trigger for me, and I know the vitriol which calls those words from me isn't natural — or at least, I don't want to make it a permanent part of me. So I have avoided blogging about it, and for the most part, I've stopped baiting Lance Armstrong on Twitter.

Cancer burnt Gavin and me, but lying about it and pretending he wasn't mortal were what broke our marriage apart as I prepared to lose him, alone, while he dreamed of miracles.


Musical Monday: Man in the Mirror

Once again, today, I sat before a mental health professional as they marvelled at the fact that I was alive. I felt, again, like the subject in the Natalie Merchant song, Wonder (a song I've found puzzling enough to never own though it would be so glorious to fit into it...).

Maybe there was less gawking than just pure appreciation. The disbelief part comes from within me, because I can hardly remember how bad I've had it, how crazy my world has been, especially for the year plus after Gavin died. Things seem so easy now -- they're not -- but I don't take credit for making my way through the muck and bricks and hurt of that time. I think so often of the caregiving, I ponder who I was at various points, what did I know? What was he thinking? Death and life and the big stuff. I turn these images over and over like minerals shifting color with the light.

And also, I have this concentric circles idea, that hurt and healing have led me back to finding a truer self and a path that has been nearly forgotten. That the farther I get from loss, the larger my life looks, the wider a perspective I can take, and the more I can heal from other damages, earlier and really really old. Somehow at this long view reminds me I'm not so old, really.

I'm still changing, and maybe even faster now, and it's still a load of work. So I heard Man in the Mirror on the radio today with fresh ears, irritated by today's burst of sunlight. Spring is playing with us, but our bodies must respond. I am stimulated and remembering how dark it was, how strong I must be, and contemplating as I usually am, the "what's next."

Man in the Mirror! Of all the superficial crap. I remember how that song sounded when it came out: like a distraction. It seemed to wiseass me that America had asked, "Mr. Jackson, have you had extensive plastic surgery to make you look like Diana Ross?" and received the answer: "HEY LOOK AT AFRICA." The song was not a pinnacle of honest self-assessment, and coming after the joys of Thriller and (especially -- my bliss!) Off The Wall... the whole album, Bad, just looked like a post-Michael-Jackson album.

Then again, who's a harsher critic than a student at a liberal-arts college?

Maybe I can have some empathy for what poor Michael went through to get there. Maybe I can listen to what he's saying. Maybe he has a good point.

Maybe I can look in the mirror, take credit for where I've been, and just... start.


Junk mail for the dead, or, YOU CANNOT BE TURNED DOWN!

Sometimes a piece of junk mail can really make your day. Widowed people are pretty used to receiving mail, email, and phone calls for their late spouses. At first, these situations can hurt, and be another occasion to "break the news" yet again… but as time goes on, the picture gets a little funnier: the dumbest marketers are the last to catch on. And once in a while, it's downright HILARIOUS.

Like the other day, when my late husband received a bulky envelope from United of Omaha Life Insurance Company. On the envelope there was no question who was being addressed — or what they wanted from him:
"Here's that second chance you hoped for, Gavin O'Shaunnessy!"

I open it up to find a direct and engaging, yet serious letter. There are lots of small official looking bits of paper, some that look like certificates, an easy card to fill out, and oh my — a prepaid business reply envelope. As a widow, I can really use that 44 cents somewhere else. It's just so hard not to talk back to this solicitation, which often puts words into my mouth, like: 

"Why didn't I get more life insurance when I was younger?…. "

Or maybe when I was alive?

"… And when it was cheaper?"

Well, um, gee, err… it probably won't get any cheaper than THIS.

"Now you've got the opportunity to get up to $10,000.00 graded benefit whole life insurance protection at an affordable cost… Your acceptance is guaranteed and your application is pre-approved."

Should I laugh or cry? When he was diagnosed with cancer, I would have killed for some life insurance -- he had just a tiny bit, because he'd lived with a heart valve defect and was self-employed. We couldn't find any that he qualified for. We kept our eyes peeled for envelopes like this. Too bad this offer arrived more than four years after he died. So, you know, I'm skeptical when the letter intones, in green gothic type,

"You can't be turned down."

RILLY? I say. Wannabet?

So I strongly considered filling the policy out. After all, as the letter states, "this insurance does not require a medical examination." And they make it so easy… that envelope was really (I had no IDEA) an IMMEDIATE ACTION ENVELOPE. The application was a big piece of paper, legal sized, two colors, but I only needed to fill out a few fields, and read the attached Post-it with Gavin's special preapproved authorization number: 519 858 890.

The forms were peppered with grown-up (if not senior-citizen) phrases like "beneficiary," "estate," "protection," "cash value," and an assurance that he'd be protected till age 121. (Suicide, of course, was excluded.) One table contained the word "GUARANTEED!" nine times in a row.

The whole package just left me feeling… I don't know. Confident. Comforted. Covered. Except for the fact, of course, that it was addressed to someone who couldn't, um, read.

Such a simple offer, a no brainer, with practically no effort required: payments could be made via "Easy Pay Option." I mean, even a dead guy could fill this out, right?

I laughed for a day solid, and so did my new husband, and I wondered if it would be even more fun if I applied, filed a claim, and had the requisite phone calls: this time, finally, with me at an advantage. Aren't they asking for it?

I mean, this is a company that bought a very very cheap mailing list. How careful could they be? They might even pay!

Then I realized that they would probably, at some point in the process, and possibly before issuing my check, ask for a death certificate. They'd probably notice that he was dead before the postmark date on my reply OR their offer.

It would probably be fun, but even United of Omaha was probably not dumb enough to fall for it.

And you know what? I've got better things to do with my time.

But it's hard to get this good a laugh out of a mailbox these days.


What Short Stack gets, part 3: Cancer

[Read What Short Stack gets, part 1 and part 2.] 

Bad news, Mommy.  Really bad news. You know that really really terrible sickness where everybody's hair falls out and then they die?

Uh… probably...?

Well, it's going around.

(Pause) Honey, most of the really bad sicknesses like that aren't catching. It can't be spread around at your school.

But lots and lots of people are getting that sickness. It's very dangerous.

Maybe... do you think those kids are talking about cancer?

(She spun around, excited.) Yes, cancer, that's it! It's going around at my school and lots of people are going to die from it.

(I owed you a post anyway, about my mixed feelings about cancer advocacy AND my analysis of the current environment in cancer research based on being a science writer and advocate and family member at the same time for 2 years. About how hope sucks sometimes (even though yes, I'd want it!) and no one who understands research on most cancers is really reaching for a cure anymore, anyway. It would have been a black and confusing post that failed to conceal my vitriol and hurt. You're better off with this one, anyway, at least for now.)

Ah, well, cancer. Mommy is an expert at cancer.

Really? Amelia said more than one half of all people will get cancer and so that means they will die!

(This is actually as severe a misunderstanding of this basic statistic as I heard from a 40-year-old at my HS reunion last year. Demonstrating, I guess, that it wasn't a very good high school, and that my 7-year-old could, by tomorrow, be ahead of that adult in her understanding of statistics.)

Well, Amelia is not quite understanding what those numbers mean. That's not how cancer works and even though it can be very dangerous, not that many people will die from it. I can answer a lot of questions about cancers, if you want to talk about it. I used to work with doctors and other smart people who study cancer. And remember, your Daddy had cancer.

That's what he died from?

Yes. But there are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, and the one that Daddy had was one of the very, very strong ones. There are a lot of different kinds, and some of them are easy to take care of. You don't have anything to worry about. Maybe some of the other kids know someone who had a cancer, too?

Yes, Francie says that her mommy's sister had it and her grandma and that her mommy had it, too.

That's very sad. I'm sorry to hear that.

And Joey's little sister is only three years old, no, one years old maybe, and she has it, too.

That's terrible, when a little kid gets sick. I mean, we know a little kid didn't do anything to catch the cancer, right?

How does somebody catch cancer, Mommy?

Well, we really don't know all the reasons why someone gets cancer, but we do know some things that no one should ever do, that are super duper dangerous, like smoking cigarettes.

My Daddy used to smoke a LOT LOT LOT!

Well, not quite, he stopped smoking a long long time ago, but yes, he did used to smoke when he was much younger. For most people if they get cancer, there usually isn't just one reason.

Are you going to get cancer and die?

Well, everybody has to die sometime, but I hope that my body lasts for a long, long long time, until you are all grown up and for some time after that too. But hardly anyone in my family has ever had cancer which means I am very very lucky. Sounds like a lot of people in Francie's family have had cancer?

But Daddy got cancer and died! That means you could get it, too.

No, I am not related to Daddy in that way -- I was married to him but my parents don't have any cancer in their families. Remember that show you saw about DNA?

(She knows just enough about DNA to know it's sort of like Google, because later the same day she told me: "I know how the Magic 8-Ball knows everything. It has DNA in it, and the DNA goes out and asks everybody in the world and then the Magic 8-Ball gives us the answer." Which, I suppose, is slightly more accurate than her previous belief that the Magic 8-Ball was really magic. She has not got to ESP yet, or, the Magic 8-Ball can read your mind.)

My DNA from my healthy family means that I will probably not get cancer, or at least, probably not for a very long time.

But I am in Daddy's family! I could get it!

I don't think you will, honey. Even if you get some kind of cancer, maybe when you are very old, you might get one of the cancers that is easy to treat.

(I didn't go into how research is advancing so quickly that by the time she is older, there will already be cures for most of those 200 types of cancer. Which, remember, I'm totally not on board with. But I might have to be, now. Right? Because you can't live in this world without hope and comfort and without simplifying some of the pictures in it?).

Sweetie, it's normal to be scared about very bad sicknesses like cancer, but we also have to remember to cross the street carefully, and stay away from foods that might have a little bit of a peanut in them. I don't think you have too much to worry about with cancer or too many of the other dangerous things in the world. Just be as careful as you already are and maybe a little tiny bit more. You're going to be alive for a long, long time and I will be with you as long as I can, honey.


I adore FLOR: My Top Ten Reasons

Le result!
Here are the top ten reasons I adore Flor modular carpet tiles:

1. FLOR products are design forward and encourage your own creativity. FLOR has easy online tools to find the right product and (gasp!) design your own wonderful solution for any space. FLOR IS ART, man! And FLOR is kind: they will hold your hand while you dream.

2. FLOR suits your personality — whatever it is today. FLOR can be colorful and playful, or subdued and neutral. FLOR can draw attention or divert it. FLOR can sing, on-key or off-, or speak only when it's spoken to. FLOR loves modern, transitional, and traditional design schemes equally. (Parent company, Interface, also makes modular carpet tile solutions for commercial and contract use).

One of a dozen designs I made using FLOR's online tools.
3. FLOR's parent company, Interface, is a visionary combination of stewardship and profitability. FLOR products are 100% recyclable. Read more about CEO Ray Anderson. 

4. FLOR is economical and versatile. You can use it in basements and entryways. You don't need to get a matching "runner" style for odd-shaped areas. You can take FLOR with you when you move and reinstall it — in a different configuration, if you like.

5. FLOR is practical around pets, children, and others who leak a lot, which is to say, it's very easy to clean. Even spoiled, you can replace a single tile easier than pie. FLOR is low-pile and allergy-friendly.

6. You can use FLOR in ways you'd never use carpet. Because FLOR's low tack "keeps it down," you can create jagged edges or cut curves and not worry about anyone tripping on an edge. FLOR doesn't require accessories (like carpet pads or special cleaners) and its low-tack backing is kind to your hardwood floors.

7. FLOR is easy and kind of fun to install on your own or with a friend.

8. FLOR loves me and published my own little story.

9. FLOR is easy to talk about. I pretty much sell it to every person who visits my home, which includes several rooms made better with FLOR. I hand out catalogs at parties. I am somehow still fairly popular because FLOR is so great.

10. FLOR recently started a blog advertising campaign. I hope they see this post because I ADORE FLOR.


Turning the corner on grief

How do you know when you're turning the corner on grief?, they ask. There's hope and confusion in their eyes. And who wouldn't want the pain to end? But I can't lie and say, "On day one of year two, you will be all fixed up." I would never say that; they believe it anyway. (I believed it too. We must all make it up with our good imaginations.) And you can't tell them time makes any difference, even though it's totally true, because they will hit you. I might say, "give it time," and "I'm not sure there's really a corner, but you will feel better one day."

Here's what it felt like to be turning the corner on grief:
  • I had more good days than bad days.
  • I started to get ideas about things I wanted to do next.
  • I began to feel that my loss was not the worst thing that ever happened to anyone.
  • I had urges to see friends, exercise, clean up, and change things around.
  • I started to be able to help other people.
Some people mention that they start to be able to see things in color again, or they start to taste food again (which usually results in their being disgusted that they ate Cheerio's for dinner 6 months straight, but whatever. Accept and move on!)

I think what's important is knowing that for most of us, it's not dramatic, nor even a single event. (We say "grief is not linear," but seriously, is anything in life linear?) For most of us, we say we feel like we're going "two steps forward, one step back," (often, "two back and one forward"). We say it's a bumpy road, or a rollercoaster. We say it's better when the peaks are higher and the valleys are less low. Most valuable is knowing that the time scale is incredibly long: no matter how long "grief" lasts, it's not unusual for it to take several years to get to a stable place where you smile a lot. But it's not linear: you're not inconsolable and disabled and an open wound the entire time. You keep changing and the world keeps moving too, and sometimes you are in sync with it.

Sometimes you can find a perfect metaphor even if it doesn't QUITE fit. This story about the wonderful Frog and Toad (by Arnold Lobel) captures at least one tiny bit of it perfectly: that progress happens when things just keep moving along, however they will, and whatever you think you're looking for, keep your eyes open to the world around you.

My daughter hates it when story time makes me cry but these gentle little reptiles always get me in the gut. Toad has been soaked in the rain, and Frog shares a story about how his father told him to buck up, "spring is just around the corner:"
"I wanted Spring to come.
I went out
to find that corner.
I walked down a path in the woods
until I came to a corner.
I went around the corner
to see if Spring was on the other side."
"And was it?" asked Toad.

"No," said Frog.
"There was only a pine tree,
three pebbles and some dry grass.

I walked
in the meadow.
Soon I came to
another corner.
I went around the corner
to see if Spring was there."

"Did you find it?" asked Toad.

"No," said Frog.
"There was only
an old worm
asleep on a
tree stump."
(I love that worm. I love Frog and Toad so much).

And so on. Four corners, and spring is not around any of them. Disappointed, tired, Frog heads home as it starts to rain.
"When I got [home]," said Frog,
"I found another corner.
It was the corner of my house."

"Did you go around it?"
asked Toad.

"I went around that corner, too,"
said Frog.

"What did you see?"
asked Toad.

"I saw the sun coming out,"
said Frog. "I saw birds
sitting and singing in a tree.
I saw my mother and father
working in their garden.
I saw flowers in the garden."

"You found it!" cried Toad.

"Yes," said Frog.
"I was very happy.
I had found the corner
that Spring was just around."
(The entire delicious story is online here.)
And why do I love this? Because what makes spring come... is not so much the effort it takes to look around all those corners (although doing so is unavoidable) ... but the work it takes to plant a garden.

So keep hope in your eyes... but keep those peepers open, peeps, especially when things are changing. Spring's a-comin'.


Market outlook

"Of course, these numbers would look a lot different if you'd sold it in 2005 or 2006," he said with the bright kind of regret that makes you know he had a good year that year. He was nice enough -- more than nice, really -- the real estate agent. The knife didn't even cut that deep.

But it's not that easy to hear that my single largest investment (which was really supposed to be simply HOME) is going to be worth so much less than I'd thought, hoped, and scribbled idly on the back of so many envelopes. 44 years and this is the one thing I did right: buying low. 13 years ago, wrapped up in my first life, trying to build dreams.

What we went through there! The tries to procreate. The birth of our child, the opening of his dream studio out there past the mud. What we ripped up and destroyed: the channel above was for our only really big home improvement, his studio, the muddy trench where they'd lay the electrical conduit. Then the cancer, the numb, the passion, the hope, the surgeries, the failures over and over again. The little things, the shingles, the thrush, our child's first words, the times alone home when he was in the hospital. 2006 was the year he died, but the entire year was downhill fast, and sliding, and murky.

Time went on, that bubble burst, and now, more than trenches, I think of the tranches of debt that made up the CDOs into which most of us lost money, and homes, and security. The financial foundation that fell out from under us, or was shown to be missing. I didn't care much about that economy, though it was golden and blooming while my honey fell apart and broke before my eyes. I didn't notice that bubble of real estate money, which was real for some, briefly, grew and grew and then leaked some air in a series of small burps. It hardly mattered among everything else; I was falling in love again. A few hours after Lehman fell, in fact, we went out shopping for a diamond.

Widows are bulletproof, did you know? Or at least full of contempt for the small things, and after what we've been through, everything's small.

But that trench is the earth bleeding, a wound that had to be dug to build something new, a something new that was never fulfilled and will soon be sold. For so much less. And with it, I'd like to let go of all those disappointments, all those losses, and everything that didn't work well. I'd like to heal, and patch them all, but I wish I had a bigger band aid.


Widowed Village is LIVE!

My new online community, Widowed Village, a collaboration with the non-profit organization, the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, went live at midnight Monday.

It really WAS like giving birth, including the whole "9 months" part. This is a service widowed people have been asking me for ever since I energized the widowed space on Facebook late in 2009, but it's something that couldn't happen without a whole community behind it. Thanks to the many folks who helped -- and boy is there a lot to do coming up, too!

Thanks for your enthusiastic reception and all the ideas you've shared in the past few months. Badges for your blogs, a press release to make it easy to "get the facts" right, and other features will be coming soon. 


Joyce Carol Oates, Janet Maslin, and the problematic second husband

Joyce Carol Oates with husband #2 at their wedding.
The more salient criticism many — not just Janet Maslin — have of the Joyce Carol Oates life/memoir is that this book, about her first year after losing her first husband, "fails to mention" that she was engaged to her second husband by month 11. Everyone rankled by this omission seems to think Oates' choice deliberate and disingenuous, inconsistent with their expectation (NOT the author's assertion) that this is an honest (and perhaps even complete?) account of her grief and loss.

One needn't be a remarried widow like myself to know that grief and great happiness — and that activity we so vaguely, distantly call "moving on" — can exist in one life at the same time. Feelings of great sorrow over loss can exist at the same time as we become attached to another mate, we can make large decisions while we are suffering (or even impaired). The surreality and vividness of living between and among two extremes is indeed one of the hallmarks of grief, as noted by commenters as revered as C.S. Lewis.


Joyce Carol Oates, Janet Maslin, and voicemail mementos

My little corner of the internet is  ablaze with responses to Janet Maslin's "brutal" review of Joyce Carol Oates' memoir, A Widow's Story, published yesterday (the review was published Sunday). So meta: all this commentary without anyone (except Maslin), as far as I can tell, reading the book itself, without responding to Oates' experience or perspective.

Because the review includes this sentence, which sounds — to me and many others — like an ad hominem attack, and thus, crossing the boundary of a book review:
A book long and rambling enough to contemplate an answering-machine recording could have found time to mention a whole new spouse. 
Let's deconstruct this. First, is an answering machine recording a small thing in telling a story? And second, is becoming engaged after a marriage a significant part of the story? Specifically, is it the kind of thing that, if you were writing a memoir about your loss, you'd be required to include in the book? Let's say, if you were one of the most prolific writers in America? And if one decides that you should put that engagement in your memoir, would it be dishonest to NOT talk about it in the same book as the voicemail recording?

So, first things first, because this is a juicy one, and it will take up the rest of the post (we'll do #2 tomorrow). I asked the thousand-or-so widowed people I talk with on Facebook:
Did you hang on to voice mail messages of your loved one? For how long? Were they important to you? If your late partner's voice was the GREETING on your voice mail or answering machine, did you leave it? For how long?
… And here are just a few of the tiny tales I received back:
My husband passed away March 6, 2010 and i still haven't had his cell phone turned off. It is the only place I still hear his voice. (Debbie)

I left my greeting for a long time...maybe almost 2 years? I just couldn't bear to erase it even though I know some people may have been made uncomfortable by it. Then something happened to it and I had the kids put a message on, I didn't want to replace it with my voice. I can still hear his message in my head, years later, clear as a bell. (Linda)

Never had any messages or his voice on a greeting all i have of his voice is the home movies, which took me 2 1/2 yrs to watch and can't even explain the feeling when i heard his voice after so long....(Rachel)

Yes, for some reason, I always kept several of his voicemails on my phone at all times. I have three saved. One was from 3 years ago when he called to tell me he knew the day before had been really tough (at work) and that he knew that day would be better and that he loved me. The second one, he just called to wish me a happy day. These messages are so important to me that I paid a company to save them and send them to me as MP3 files. So I have them forever, even if they get erased accidentally on my phone. I never get tired of listening to them. (Lorie)

My mother-in-law still has his voice on her answering machine, it was really hard at first but now 5 yrs later when I call I cross my fingers I get her machine just to hear him. (Dara)

I still have the "tape" from the answering machine. Its been at least 18 years. (Sandy)

I have my husbands voice message to me. It just says "I love you." Me and my daughter listen to it often. (Bev)

(My new partner) found Scott's cell phone in the drawer. "Hey Hon, I didn't know you had a Razor?" My response? "That's... Scott's phone, and I can't bear to get rid of it." I've let the battery go so I don't know if there is anything still on it. I'm thinking because the number is gone, so are the messages. There is (was) one from me on there. A happy one that he saved. (My new partner) found a place for the phone...I've always wished I would have saved the tape of my Mom's message. She's gone over 20 years now. (Lynn)

Wow, I was just looking at my phone today with the ONE message on it from Bill, he was going from one of his trips to hospital to come pick him up. I listen every once in a while. I am coming up on a year in 3 weeks. I was looking at the phone and trying to decide if I would delete it. I will miss him for everyday of my life, but I need to move forward. (Paula)

I have his voice along with the kids as my cell phone message and I never want to take it off. To me it's a way to tell the world, especially his family, that I will never forget. Even just talking about a simple message tears my heart. I miss him so much. (Danielle)

I don't have any voice messages, but I do have his cell phone, I now have people call me on that phone. There is one greeting saved with his voice on it. I play it every once in a while just so I can hear a little bit of his voice. Wish I had more. (Yoly)

At three years I still have my late husband as the greeting. He recorded it with the kids. Funny, I've been thinking it was time to change it but still I just love hearing his cheery voice every now and again. The voicemails are gone unfortunately when I changed the number. (Jenn)

My husband passed away almost 2 years ago, I am still paying for his phone so that I can call and listed to his greeting. It says he will get right back to me — I'm still waiting! (Celeste)

Didn't save anything on the phones, but we have Grampy reading a recorded book for each of the four grandkids, a video "interview" of him telling us stories from his life that our daughter made and best of all...during his last days I asked... him to "talk to me like you do when I'm sad or upset." I recorded that and a friend put it on cd for me. He just gave them to me last night and I listened in the car on the way home. I cried and cried, but it was just what I needed to hear. Every time I thought, "please say you love me again," he did! I've often thought I could go without seeing him because I have pictures and I could go without touching him because I have his robes that I can wrap myself in, but I wish I had a phone to Heaven so I could talk to him. Now with his message to me on the cd I feel I have that! (Michelle)

Are these tiny details not beautiful? Do they not illustrate emotional truths, about living without someone and having true human feelings? A modern convenience - a machine, a service — are a memento, giving us the warmth of a voice, otherwise uncaptured, saved nearly by accident on the phone company's server.

Would you leave out a detail like this from your story? This snippet is our generation's gold watch: an heirloom, a talisman, precious. Everyday and transcendent at the same time. Current, relatable, real.

I can bet you that that anecdote which Maslin picked on will be one of the parts that resonates the most deeply with readers.

How about art other than memoir? I'm honored to be able to share with you this special song about listening to a loved one's voice later on — sung by my sister after her loss, more than a decade ago — a song which she movingly performed at Gavin's memorial service:

And tomorrow.... I'll address Maslin's charge of "major omission" from my point of view as a remarried widow.


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