Day 15: Bye-Bye Grandma

January 15th, 2013 § 5 comments

One of the things that still astounds me about grief is how it only takes a moment to be jerked back into its grasp, even years after a loved one has died. It still happens to me with Barbara. I’m going along, minding my own business, and I see something, hear something, touch something and it reminds me of her. And it hurts just as much as it did three years ago.

Our senses betray us, provide the conduit to those places in our memory we think are closed and safe. I’m not sure I’ll ever be safe. I think we stay vulnerable, sensitive, fragile. That’s what happens when you really love someone.

…………………………………….

October 6, 2009

The moments catch me off-guard,
like my brother used to do
when we were kids.

He’d lay in wait
around the corner
in the hallway upstairs,
behind the jog in the corridor
outside my bedroom.

He would leap out,
scaring me,
terrifying me,
and I would scream
and shake
and cry.

That’s what these moments do:
they make me
scream
and shake
and cry.

Last night it was Paige,
with her round angelic face,
eyes pink with tears bursting,
coming into the kitchen while I was on the phone with my parents.

“I went to the computer…
to send some email to some friends…
and all of the emails from her are there…
there’s just a whole list of emails from her there…
it just says ‘Barbara Adams’ the whole way down…
and I just keep thinking how she’s never going to write me back…”

And so we cried.
Together.
And we talked.
Together.

Tonight
I was cleaning the kitchen,
packing up backpacks,
doing things I thought were “safe.”
I thought I would be protected from
emotional assault.

I opened Colin’s green homework folder and
put in his math assignment.
A sheet was already inside the folder,
a red squiggly crayon line decorating one edge.

I pulled out the paper with reckless abandon,
expecting an innocent scribble,
a wasted silly drawing.

But instead, it was a piece of writing paper.
On it, neatly printed in his finest handwriting,
it said, “Bye-Bye Grandma”
and there was a tombstone shape in the middle
that said “Barbara Adams 2009.”

There were green zig zags on the top and bottom,
red squiggles on the left and right,
bright colors all around.

I wasn’t ready for it.
I didn’t know it was there,
in the shadows,
waiting,
lurking,
coiled to take advantage when I dropped my guard,
waiting for me to be vulnerable.

And so I acted just like I did when I was a
child and my brother scared me.
I screamed.
I shook.
And I cried.

I vowed not to let my guard down like that
Again.

I love you, Paige.
I love you, Colin.
I love that you loved your Grandma so much.
I loved her too.
I miss her too.

And my hurt may dull a bit,
but it’s never going to go away,
because some of my hurt is for you.

It hurts not only that I don’t have Grandma in my life,
but also that you don’t.
And that’s what makes me cry the most,
because I know how much she loved you both,
and little Tristan too.

One day
we’ll have to explain to him just how special she was
and how much she loved him
and all of the the special things she did to show it.

Thinking about the fact that she’s not going to be here to
show him for herself just breaks my heart…

It makes me want to
scream,
and shake,
and cry.

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Day 14: The Box

January 14th, 2013 § 5 comments

Today’s post is not about cancer. This post, about grief, still affects me every time I read it. I am hoping that those of you new to the site are finding this month of re-posts to be a good introduction to my writing. Hopefully it’s allowing you to see some of the life experiences that have gotten me to where I am. It’s been very interesting for me to go back and re-examine so much of my writing through this new lens of metastatic cancer.

This post was written the day after my beloved mother-in-law’s sudden death in a car crash.

………………………………….

Written September 17, 2009

She went up to bed tonight,
Still pink-eyed and shaky.
Finally calmed enough to hopefully get some rest.
And as she walked into her room,
Somehow,
From beneath her bed,
The bright kaleidoscope patterned paper
Caught her eye.

I heard the sobs,
The wails,
The primal,
yearning,
cry.

“My birthday present.
From Grandma.
The one she gave me early.”
She stood pointing at it,
Gaze averted,
Like a child pointing at a dead
Animal in the middle of the road.

Together we looked.
And then all at once it hit me.
I knew what she was talking about.

Two weeks ago,
When my in-laws were visiting,
Paige’s grandmother had given her a wrapped box
And said,
“This is for your birthday.
Put it somewhere safe.
Don’t open it until October 28th.
I know it’s something you’ll like,
But you have to wait until then,
Okay?”

And so,
Because that’s the kind of 10-year old she is,
Paige didn’t peek,
Or lift the corner of the paper,
Or ask her brother what was in it.

Instead,
She carefully put it under her bed
To wait until October.

We had no way of knowing we’d never see Grandma again.
No way of knowing that was the last present that would be bought.
No way of knowing that a truck which had no business trying to pass anyone,
Much less several vehicles at once,
Would slam head-on into my in-laws’ car and kill our loved one.

Tonight,
The very sight of the box,
And the thought of its giver,
Brought her to tears,
Racked her with sobs,
Riddled her with grief,
Filled her with anger,
And sadness,
And loss,
And pain,
And confusion,
And did the very same
To me.

Permissions slips: children grieve differently

December 15th, 2012 § 5 comments

I’m re-posting this piece today in light of the school shootings nearby in Newtown, Connecticut. I know there is a lot of material out there this weekend on children and grief, but I’d like to add mine as well. This post was originally written a few days after my mother-in-law, Barbara, was killed suddenly in a car crash in 2009. I think these observations apply now, too.

I will honor childhood today.

………………………………………………….

Children are different.
From adults.
From each other.

I had to give two of my children different directives this morning:
One I told, “It’s okay to be sad.”
One I told, “It’s okay to be happy.”

I needed to tell my 7 year-old son that it was okay to cry, to be sad, to miss his grandmother.
I miss her too.
And it’s okay to let your emotions show.
It doesn’t make you a sissy or a wimp.
What it does make you is a loving grandson.
A grieving boy.
A bereaved family member.

But my ten year-old daughter needed a different kind of permission slip today.
I sensed she needed permission to smile.
To laugh.
To be happy.
I needed to tell her that it was okay to forget for a moment.
Or two.
To forget for a few moments that Grandma died.
It’s okay to still enjoy life.
The life we have.
Grandma would want that.
I told her that Grandma loved her so much.
And was so proud of the person that she is.
I reminded her how Grandma’s last phone call here last Sunday was specifically to tell Paige how proud she was of her for walking in a breast cancer fundraiser with me.
It’s okay to still feel happiness.
And joy.
It’s okay to let that break through the sadness.

Children are different.
But they take their cues from us.
I know my children.
I know that this morning what they needed from me was a sign that it was okay for them to feel a range of emotions.
It’s healthy.
Because what we are living right now is tragic.
And confusing.
And sad.
And infuriating.

If it is all of those things for me,
It can only be all of those things and more
To my children.

Cranberry Ice (again)

November 17th, 2012 § 7 comments

Of course memories and legacies are on my mind all the time now. I can say for sure that I won’t be remembered for my cooking. I might be remembered for my lack thereof, however! One thing I make well is a citrus cheesecake. I’m quite sure Clarke married me for this dessert. I’ll share it here someday soon.

I miss Barbara, my mother-in-law, every day. It’s been three years since her death in a car crash. I wrote a post about Thanksgiving two years ago and referred to one of Barbara’s traditions– a delectable treat called cranberry ice. So many people asked about it that I posted the recipe. I thought I’d share it here again because I know some people have already made it part of their own holiday traditions. I think that’s just lovely. I’m reposting the information here in case you want to give it a try:

……………………………………………

The way we serve cranberry ice is as a side dish, in place of cranberry sauce. The tart, sweet, cool flavor is delightful.

I like to make a double recipe so there are leftovers… I am giving the instructions for that; if you want to halve it, you may. Because you need to beat it with a mixer as it freezes, don’t make it late at night.

You will need:

2 bags of fresh cranberries

2 packets Knox gelatin

Lemon juice

2 cups of sugar

2 cups of water

Freezer-safe bowl and a food mill, ricer, or strainer

Directions:

Boil the cranberries fully until the skins fully split. Drain the cranberries and run them through a ricer, food mill, or strainer to remove the skins. (I use a food mill that Barbara gave me. It has a hand crank on the top and you turn it around and around and the skinned cranberry puree drops out the bottom. A more updated version is here). Once you have all of the cranberry puree in a freezer-safe bowl, set aside. Take the 2 packets of gelatin and dissolve in 2 cups of water. Add this to the cranberries. Add about 2 cups of sugar (less if you like it very tart). Then add a bit of lemon juice to taste.

Take the bowl and put it in the freezer. As it freezes, take it out a few times (2-3) and beat with electric beaters for about 30 seconds to fluff it up. This will keep the texture airier. If you don’t do this, the consistency will be far too dense and hard. Once frozen, serve with your meal using an ice cream scoop. It doesn’t melt immediately because of the gelatin. Barbara always served in lovely cut-glass footed bowls. I haven’t found ones I like yet, so mine was served in regular bowls today.

Three years later

September 16th, 2012 § 13 comments

Today marks the three year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death. In the days and months after Barbara was killed in a car crash I wondered if I would be able to go one day, one hour, one minute without thinking about her. As grief does, it has quieted; its hold does not intrude so directly. And yet, the icy tentacles of loss invade our lives still. As our children grow, the fact Barbara isn’t here to see them still causes me great anger and sadness. Paige started high school this year, Colin is in 5th grade, Tristan just started 1st grade. These are days of so many changes and celebrations and I wish we could share them with her.

I remember vividly when she first died that I could not imagine there would be a day  when I could tell the story of her death without crying. For weeks after she died I didn’t put makeup on, knowing my tears would undo that small effort to gain some normalcy. Then again, I remember thinking, why did I want to put makeup on anyway? Someone I loved was gone, and nothing else mattered.

Most of us have no ritual to show the world we are grieving; the anguish we feel remains mostly private. In a country where so many cultures and religions coexist, we have no universal public display of mourning status. The Jewish tradition of a torn piece of clothing (or a button with a torn ribbon attached to it) does not have an analogous ritual in many other religions. For those of us who are not religious no outward display of mourning status exists.

My mother (a psychologist specializing in grief and loss) and I have long thought a visible display of mourning status is needed. First, it is a visible way to say “handle with care” to the world. There is no way for a stranger to know the reason you haven’t pulled out of your parking spot is not because you are checking your email on your smartphone but instead is because the woman walking in the parking lot looked like your relative from behind and for a moment you thought it was her and you are sobbing in your seat.

Public displays of mourning status could also serve as a signal to others that you are part of a group. One of the hallmarks of grief is feeling alone, that no one understands. If there were some type of visible “marker” of grieving status, mourners would know that there are so many others who share their pain. Teachers, coaches, and others might be more sensitive to the grief of children if such a symbol were shown.

In the absence of mourning symbols, family members must have good communication with schools and workplaces to keep them updated on the grief process. I believe it’s vital to have repeated conversations about death with children who may not be able to articulate their fears and concerns well. Not only will this show others that death and grief are topics that can (and should) be talked about, it will also ensure that misinformation does not persist.

I revisit difficult subjects with my children often in which I ask them to recount (1) what they think happened (“Tell me what you remember”), (2) how they are feeling (“What emotions did you have then? Have they changed?”), and (3) what questions they have (“Is there anything you would like to know more about?”).

I think it’s important to go back to difficult times and discuss them as children get older and their comprehension changes. I have definitely found this to be the case with my cancer. What my young children understood at the time I was diagnosed is very different from what they are able to understand now. If the circumstances of a relative’s death are complicated, it might be necessary to repeat the story to children and even to adults. These are important narratives.

Today is also the anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death. These two special women are forever in my heart and on my mind today.

 

Barbara with Paige, 2001.

Bye-Bye Grandma

December 19th, 2011 § 12 comments

One of the things that still astounds me about grief is how it only takes a moment to be jerked back into its grasp, even years after a loved one has died. It still happens to me with Barbara. I’m going along, minding my own business, and I see something, hear something, touch something and it reminds me of her. And it hurts just as much as it did two years ago when my mother-in-law died in a car crash.

Two weeks ago I walked through the Christmas decoration display in a tent at a local store. I was looking for outdoor lights and was feeling like a child mesmerized by all of the lighted figurines and trees. They had music playing and it wasn’t until I stepped further in that I really heard what it was: it was a boys’ choir singing Ave Maria. That’s all it took as I silently cried while listening to those pure voices sing one of Barbara’s favorite songs.

Our senses betray us, provide the conduit to those places in our memory we think are closed and safe. I’m not sure I’ll ever be safe. I think we stay vulnerable, sensitive, fragile. That’s what happens when you really love someone.

………………………………………………………………

October 6, 2009

The moments catch me off-guard,
like my brother used to do
when we were kids.

He’d lay in wait
around the corner
in the hallway upstairs,
behind the jog in the corridor
outside my bedroom.

He would leap out,
scaring me,
terrifying me,
and I would scream
and shake
and cry.

That’s what these moments do:
they make me
scream
and shake
and cry.

Last night it was Paige,
with her round angelic face,
eyes pink with tears bursting,
coming into the kitchen while I was on the phone with my parents.

“I went to the computer…
to send some email to some friends…
and all of the emails from her are there…
there’s just a whole list of emails from her there…
it just says ‘Barbara Adams’ the whole way down…
and I just keep thinking how she’s never going to write me back…”

And so we cried.
Together.
And we talked.
Together.

Tonight
I was cleaning the kitchen,
packing up backpacks,
doing things I thought were “safe.”
I thought I would be protected from
emotional assault.

I opened Colin’s green homework folder and
put in his math assignment.
A sheet was already inside the folder,
a red squiggly crayon line decorating one edge.

I pulled out the paper with reckless abandon,
expecting an innocent scribble,
a wasted silly drawing.

But instead, it was a piece of writing paper.
On it, neatly printed in his finest handwriting,
it said, “Bye-Bye Grandma”
and there was a tombstone shape in the middle
that said “Barbara Adams 2009.”

There were green zig zags on the top and bottom,
red squiggles on the left and right,
bright colors all around.

I wasn’t ready for it.
I didn’t know it was there,
in the shadows,
waiting,
lurking,
coiled to take advantage when I dropped my guard,
waiting for me to be vulnerable.

And so I acted just like I did when I was a
child and my brother scared me.
I screamed.
I shook.
And I cried.

I vowed not to let my guard down like that
Again.

I love you, Paige.
I love you, Colin.
I love that you loved your Grandma so much.
I loved her too.
I miss her too.

And my hurt may dull a bit,
but it’s never going to go away,
because some of my hurt is for you.

It hurts not only that I don’t have Grandma in my life,
but also that you don’t.
And that’s what makes me cry the most,
because I know how much she loved you both,
and little Tristan too.

One day
we’ll have to explain to him just how special she was
and how much she loved him
and all of the the special things she did to show it.

Thinking about the fact that she’s not going to be here to
show him for herself just breaks my heart…

It makes me want to
scream,
and shake,
and cry.

 

Children grieve differently

December 2nd, 2011 § 4 comments

I’m working on a new piece about grief during the holiday season, but really want to re-share this short post for those who missed it. I actually re-read it from time to time to remind myself of a valuable insight I had with two of our three children. This was originally written two days after their grandmother was killed in a car crash in 2009.

……………………………………………………..

Children are different.
From adults.
From each other.

I had to give two of my children different directives this morning:
One I told, “It’s okay to be sad.”
One I told, “It’s okay to be happy.”

I needed to tell my 7 year-old son that it was okay to cry, to be sad, to miss his grandmother.
I miss her too.
And it’s okay to let your emotions show.
It doesn’t make you a sissy or a wimp.
What it does make you is a loving grandson.
A grieving boy.
A bereaved family member.

But my ten year-old daughter needed a different kind of permission slip today.
I sensed she needed permission to smile.
To laugh.
To be happy.
I needed to tell her that it was okay to forget for a moment.
Or two.
To forget for a few moments that Grandma died.
It’s okay to still enjoy life.
The life we have.
Grandma would want that.
I told her that Grandma loved her so much.
And was so proud of the person that she is.
I reminded her how Grandma’s last phone call here last Sunday was specifically to tell Paige how proud she was of her for walking in a breast cancer fundraiser with me.
It’s okay to still feel happiness.
And joy.
It’s okay to let that break through the sadness.

Children are different.
But they take their cues from us.
I know my children.
I know that this morning what they needed from me was a sign that it was okay for them to feel a range of emotions.
It’s healthy.
Because what we are living right now is tragic.
And confusing.
And sad.
And infuriating.

If it is all of those things for me,
It can only be all of those things and more
To my children.

Mommy guilt

September 27th, 2011 § 9 comments

September 29, 2010

Most of you probably read the title of this post and thought I was going to write about the guilt we may feel as parents over the course of our children’s lives when we can’t be there for every event they want us to attend or say no to things we know they might want to do.

But that’s not what I mean by “Mommy guilt.” Instead, it’s the feeling I have today because my mother is coming to visit.

I feel guilty because I have a mother who’s alive and many people I know do not.

I commented on Twitter this morning that my mother was coming for a few days. Author and friend Katie Rosman tweeted back “jealous.” Katie and I actually met because of the moving book she wrote about her own mother’s death five years ago, If You Knew Suzy. I wrote a blogpost about that book; in it I shared personal feelings about having cancer and what my legacy might be for my children.

But there was more.

Katie’s mom is dead. So is my husband’s mother. So are the mothers of many of my friends. And as I go through middle age this will happen more and more. And someday it will happen to me.

Every time I drive the fifteen minutes to the Amtrak station to pick Mom up (when she and my father don’t arrive by car here together) I think about the night I drove to get her at the train station the first time she came to visit after Barbara died.

When I saw my mother step off the train that night last year I almost had to look the other way: it was like looking at the sun.

The sight of her was
so bright,
so intense,
so welcome,
so wonderful,
that I almost had to look away for a moment.

The guilt over being able to see her step off that train and into my arms again overwhelmed me.

And so, today, when I see her again, I will hold her, kiss her, hug her. I’ll hug her for an extra moment and think to myself: this is for all of you. This is for all of you who have lost your moms and can’t do this simple act anymore. A way I can honor her and you is to appreciate these times we have together because I know there are so many who would give anything to have one of these moments with their mom again.1

  1. I should say that it’s not true guilt of course, it’s not my fault that my mother is alive while others are not. But especially in the months right after Barbara died I did have feelings that it was unfair, that I was so lucky. I wrote a piece about the difference between guilt and regret, and perhaps I should have re-written this one with different language. But I decided to keep it true to what I wrote at the time, for better or worse. []

The threadbare shawl (Missing Sara and Barbara)

September 16th, 2011 § 7 comments

September 16 is the anniversary of the death of two women I loved: my paternal grandmother, Sara, and my mother-in-law, Barbara.

Bubbe (Yiddish for “grandmother”)  died in her 80s, many years ago, after her health had begun to fail. She lived in Israel, and I did not have the opportunity to see her one last time before her death. In stark contrast, Barbara died only weeks after I last saw her, laughed with her, attended a family wedding with her. We had no earthly idea she would be killed in a car crash, of course, no time to prepare ourselves for hearing the words that rocked our world.

It was Open House at my children’s elementary school that night, and when the phone rang I didn’t recognize the voice. It was my husband’s voice, strained, hiccuping, sobbing. I didn’t understand at first; I couldn’t process what he was saying. In the same way I quizzically furrowed my brow when I sat in the basement of my daughter’s school in New York City and the principal announced on that first day as our preschoolers were upstairs, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center,” I again heard information and my brain responded with Does Not Compute.

Anticipatory grief is real. A diagnosis, a doctor’s report, an assignment to hospice– all are ways others try to prepare us for the death of our loved one. With each step, with each caution, with each added conversation we start to get our minds used to the idea that it may be the end. Like a threadbare shawl we continue to wrap ourselves in, each time we are comforted less and less by others’ words of reassurance.

When a death is sudden and unexpected, there is so much to get used to, so much to process. It is a task to make sense of the death, to integrate it into our consciousness. We must unbreak habits. I remember so clearly when my uncle Alan died, I still continued to pick up the phone again and again to share a piece of news. I had to keep reminding myself, “You can’t call him anymore.”

There are so many talks I have missed with these women. There are so many things I’ve wanted to show them, share with them. However, I am so lucky to have had them in my life for as long as I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house with the purple awnings

September 9th, 2011 § 10 comments

I drove by it thrice today: the little house with the purple awnings.

It’s on the street near my children’s school… within walking distance, in fact. It almost always has a For Rent sign out front and seems perennially in a state of slight disrepair.

Barbara used to pass the house and say, “Paige, I could rent that house. And then you and your brothers could stay with me and I could walk you to school in the morning.”

We knew she wasn’t going to rent it, but the idea of having her so close was so appealing to us all.

“Whenever the boys are giving you trouble you can just walk over here,” she’d say to Paige. “We could have sleepovers.”

Grandma’s little cottage we sometimes called it.

But then Grandma died in a car crash— almost exactly two years ago. When that happened, our dreams of seeing her often and Paige’s fantasy of having her in the little cottage died too.

And so, today — and every day when I pass the house with the purple awnings– I think of her. And miss her. And all of the memories we could be making in the little house with the purple awnings right now.

Kindergarten

September 6th, 2011 § 11 comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house is so quiet… for the first time ever, all three of my children are out the door before 8:00. Tristan will have half days of kindergarten for the first two weeks so the change from preschool won’t be too dramatic. And yet, somehow with his backpack on, lunch pack clipped to it, it is different. He stands at the bus stop with a bunch of other children from the street; some of them were babies when we first moved here seven years ago. I see the changes in them after the summer more easily than in my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the psychological stretch marks I’ve written about before. These are the moments you know are monumental. Growth happens in fits and starts, not with smooth, sliding grace. This shift is simultaneously sudden and gradual in its arrival; I’ve been counting the days for the last month, but still the finality of its presence takes my breath away. With Tristan it’s different, his life thus far has been a challenge in many ways (background on Tristan and his physical abnormalities here). We’ve been a team, and worked so hard together. He will continue with OT and PT and need a few modifications in the classroom. But I know he’s going to be just fine.

I’m looking forward to writing again… the last month has been busy with things mostly of the unpleasant kind. But the routine of the fall, the schedules, the calendars give me structure. And with structure comes comfort. I can get through this rocky time. I can create the life I want, the one I need. I just have to keep trying.

 

 

 

Part of the Problem (children and books about death)

July 5th, 2011 § 19 comments

Last summer I wrote the following piece about an upsetting interaction I had with a bookseller. It remains one of the posts that readers mention and still ask me about. The topic of children and death must be a touchy subject for most. I guess because I grew up with a mother who was a psychologist specializing in these topics I have never felt uncomfortable talking about them. Let me know what you think.

……………………………….

June 23, 2010

School is out for my three children. At ages 11, 8, and 4, the days are a hodgepodge of activities to allow them relaxing time at home with each other and some physical activity each day. No matter what their summer plans hold (sleepaway camp for 2 of them later this summer), I always make sure they each have a stack of books they are excited to read. Each night they go up to their rooms for at least 30 minutes before bedtime to read.

Yesterday we took a trip to my favorite independent bookstore. The tiny, jam-packed store has many employees who know and love books working there (all women, it seems). The children’s section is brimming with wonderful books for all ages. My favorite thing to do is bring the older children there and let them chat with a bookseller, telling what they’ve just read and whether they liked it or not. The clerks then can make suggestions about what the kids might like to buy/read next.

When we walked in it was apparent my favorite person was not there to help us. Another woman offered, and off we went to the back room. “What have you just read that you liked?” she asked my 11 year-old daughter. “Elsewhere,” (by Gabrielle Zevin) she answered. The woman immediately snapped, “That’s too old for you. It has death in it,” she said. She looked at me quizzically, silently chastising me for my daughter’s book choice.

“I don’t mind that she reads about death,” I said.

“I loved that book… it was so good!” Paige implored.

“It’s not appropriate for a 7th grader,” the woman persisted.

“I think it’s how the subject is handled,” I said. “We talk openly about death and illness in our house, and my daughter is obviously comfortable reading about it,” I pushed.

The subject was over. She was not going to recommend any books that had to do with the death of a teenager or what happens to that character after she dies. And so, she moved on to other books and topics. Eventually, we found a lovely stack for Paige to dive into.

As soon as we left I talked to Paige about what had happened: how the bookseller had steered her away from reading about death and pushed her to “lighter fare.” I told her that I disagreed with this tactic, and fundamentally think it reinforces a fear of death and discomfort with talking about the subject.

While I believe that a teenager’s obsession with death can be a signal of some larger emotional problem, I do not think that reading novels where the main character dies is inherently a bad idea for a mature reader. After all, so many of even young children’s favorite characters in television and movies have absent/dead parents; Bambi, Max and Ruby, and countless others have significant adults missing from their lives.

I don’t believe in forcing children to deal with the topic of death in reading until they are ready. I do believe parents are the best arbiters of what information and topics are appropriate for their children. But if a child is comfortable in reading books where a character dies, I believe it’s healthy for the child to do so. As a springboard for an honest conversation about death, it can even be extremely useful in beginning to have conversations at home about it.

Paige’s grandmother was killed instantly in a car crash in the fall of 2009. She learned that the death of a loved one can greet us at any time, whether we are prepared for it or not. By trying to steer my mature child away from the topic, the salesperson contributed to the emotional shielding that makes death a topic that so many individuals (including children) have difficulty thinking and talking about.

A step

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments

Written September 19, 2009

I put makeup on for the first time in days.
I don’t know why.
I know the tears will wash it away.
But it’s a step.

Today, with complex fractures still unset in his right leg,
My father-in-law got out of bed and hopped with a walker.
I don’t quite know how.
But that’s the kind of guy he is.
He will have more surgeries on Monday.
He’s going to have at least twelve weeks without weight-bearing.
His wrist is set, with a plate.
His knee fracture will get repaired on Monday, too.
He’ll need months of physical therapy.
But it’s a step.

Colin, age 7, was just sitting at the kitchen table.
He had a plastic bone-shaped toy and
Had placed a piece of paper inside.
I asked what it said.
“Grandma 2009” he said.
And he wrapped Scotch tape around and around the bone to make
Sure the sides didn’t come apart.
“It’s like a memory box.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to hold back the tears.
“I think that’s nice.”

Paige is making a “Get Well Soon” card for Clarke to take to his
Father tomorrow when he goes to see him.
I am sitting in the other room and the thought of it
Brings me to tears.
I’m almost scared to go and look at it.
I just know it’s going to be so special.
So wonderful.
So filled with love
and innocence
and childish adoration
that it will be happy and sad
all wrapped up in one.
It will be painful for him to read I bet.

Being half of “Grandma and Pops”
is going to be like limping along…

But
I keep
reminding myself:
even
a limp
is a step.

Just a sandwich

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments

Written September 18, 2009

I had a lot of breakdowns today.
At Starbucks talking to my friend Brenda.
In my car.
Talking to the director at nursery school.
The most embarrassing?
At the deli counter.
Looking at tuna salad.
The sight of tuna salad made me cry.

Two weeks ago I asked for a small container of tuna salad.
The way I always did when my in-laws came to visit.
Tuna salad from Palmer’s Market.
It was my mother-in-law’s favorite.
Nineteen days ago she sat at my kitchen table.
Twenty days ago I asked for tuna salad.
I just want to ask for tuna salad again.
I just want to say to my favorite deli counter man,
“My mother-in-law is coming to visit,
So I need to get more tuna salad…
You know how much she loves it!”
I just want to say those words.
I just want to make her a tuna sandwich.
That’s all.
Just a little thing really.
Just a sandwich.
Is that too much to ask?

Does that truck driver know that?
That I just want to share a sandwich with my mother-in-law?
I just want to hug her,
Hear her voice,
The way she liltingly said my name when I answered the phone.
The way she said “hello” in a special
Sing-songy way when I called her.
I think of the cotton nightgowns she loved so much.
The way she hated the last haircut she got in Jackson Hole.
How she wondered if they were still wearing linen in
Connecticut in August and if she could wear a linen blazer for
David and Bronwen’s wedding.
How she loved the note paper I got her for her birthday last year.
How she played Webkinz games on the computer
Just to be able to have something to talk to the grandkids about.
How she was jealous I got to hold Baby Owen the day after
He was born this week.
How she was making plans to come and see him.

Does that truck driver know that?
Does he know she had a brand new grandson two days old that
She didn’t get to hold?
Does he know he killed her on her son David’s birthday?
Does he know he killed the mother of six children?
Nine grandchildren?
Many more to come?
Does he?

I bet not.

I haven’t been able to eat more than a few bites since Barbara was killed.
I wonder if the truck driver has.
I wonder what he’s having for dinner in jail.
I wonder if he’s going to have tuna salad.
Because right now,
When I think of it,
All I can do is cry.

Children are different

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments

Written September 18, 2009

Children are different.
From adults.
From each other.

I had to give two of my children different directives this morning:
One I told, “It’s okay to be sad.”
One I told, “It’s okay to be happy.”

I needed to tell my 7 year-old son that it was okay to cry, to be sad, to miss his grandmother.
I miss her too.
And it’s okay to let your emotions show.
It doesn’t make you a sissy or a wimp.
What it does make you is a loving grandson.
A grieving boy.
A bereaved family member.

But my ten year-old daughter needed a different kind of permission slip today.
I sensed she needed permission to smile.
To laugh.
To be happy.
I needed to tell her that it was okay to forget for a moment.
Or two.
To forget for a few moments that Grandma died.
It’s okay to still enjoy life.
The life we have.
Grandma would want that.
I told her that Grandma loved her so much.
And was so proud of the person that she is.
I reminded her how Grandma’s last phone call here last Sunday was specifically to tell Paige how proud she was of her for walking in the Komen Race for the Cure with me.
It’s okay to still feel happiness.
And joy.
It’s okay to let that break through the sadness.

Children are different.
But they take their cues from us.
I know my children.
I know that this morning what they needed from me was a sign that it was okay for them to feel a range of emotions.
It’s healthy.
Because what we are living right now is tragic.
And confusing.
And sad.
And infuriating.

If it is all of those things for me,
It can only be all of those things and more
To my children.

The Box

March 6th, 2011 § 4 comments

Written September 17, 2009

She went up to bed tonight,
Still pink-eyed and shaky.
Finally calmed enough to hopefully get some rest.
And as she walked into her room,
Somehow,
From beneath her bed,
The bright kaleidoscope patterned paper
Caught her eye.

I heard the sobs,
The wails,
The primal,
yearning,
cry.

“My birthday present.
From Grandma.
The one she gave me early.”
She stood pointing at it,
Gaze averted,
Like a child pointing at a dead
Animal in the middle of the road.

Together we looked.
And then all at once it hit me.
I knew what she was talking about.

Two weeks ago,
When my in-laws were visiting,
Paige’s grandmother had given her a wrapped box
And said,
“This is for your birthday.
Put it somewhere safe.
Don’t open it until October 28th.
I know it’s something you’ll like,
But you have to wait until then,
Okay?”

And so,
Because that’s the kind of 10-year old she is,
Paige didn’t peek,
Or lift the corner of the paper,
Or ask her brother what was in it.

Instead,
She carefully put it under her bed
To wait until October.

We had no way of knowing we’d never see Grandma
Again.
No way of knowing that was the last present that would be
Bought.
No way of knowing that a truck which had no business
Trying to pass anyone,
Much less several vehicles at once,
Would slam head-on into my in-laws’ car and kill our
Loved one.

Tonight,
The very sight of the box,
And the thought of its giver,
Brought her to tears,
Racked her with sobs,
Riddled her with grief,
Filled her with anger,
And sadness,
And loss,
And pain,
And confusion,
And did the very same
To me.

Barbara, I miss you

March 6th, 2011 § 1 comment

written September 17, 2009

I didn’t even recognize his voice when
I answered the phone last night.
It was my husband.
And through the sobs
He told me there had been an accident.
A car crash.
His parents.
Driving from their home in Jackson Hole
To their home in Scottsdale.
A truck had tried to pass some other vehicles
Around a slight bend.
The truck only got alongside an oversized load
when they collided,
at highway speed,
Head on.
In their lane.
The passenger side took the impact.
My beloved mother-in-law,
Barbara,
Killed instantly.

Mother to six,
Grandmother to nine,
Including newest grandson Owen born only two days ago.
Truly beloved woman.
We all grieve her loss.
We ache.
We are stunned.

Clarke’s father, airlifted to Salt Lake City.
Awaits surgeries for his injuries.
Already surrounded by relatives.
More scramble and scurry to be at his side.

We cry and mourn and try to make sense.
There is none to be made.
No reason,
No explanation.

Or maybe there is:
A stupid decision
By a stupid driver.

A moment’s impatience
Let to a
A split second acceleration
But a miscalculation
Let to a
Fatality.

Problem?
Wrong person died.
Wrong person paid the price.

Don’t tell me any logic.
Don’t tell me any cause.
Don’t tell me any plan.
Don’t tell me she’s in a better place.
Don’t tell me she’s looking down on me.
Don’t tell me anything good.
Don’t tell me anything about anything.

Right now
All I feel is pain.
All I know is hurt.

And now?
Now we have to tell our children.
Grandma’s dead.

Barbara, always in my heart

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments

I’m going to be bringing over many of the posts I made when Barbara Smith Adams died on September 16, 2009. I find myself crying reading my words again… reliving those confusing, tragic, raw feelings that I had when I first got the news. I want to have those posts here on the new site; eventually the old website will be taken down. These pieces are some of the ones I am most proud of. Perhaps that sounds odd to say about writing that came from grief. However, to me they are a documentation of my love for a woman I was privileged to call my mother-in-law. I had nineteen years of knowing her, and they weren’t enough.

Every day something makes me think of her.
It might be the necklace I wear that was hers.
It might be my daughter’s round face which looks so much like Barbara’s.
A milestone for Tristan,
a family gathering,
any holiday,
my spring garden,
a pretty set of linens,
a family vacation,
Colin’s essay about making snow ice cream with her…
it’s anything.
I think of her all the time,
and I cry.

Through the front door

December 26th, 2010 § 6 comments

I don’t know what it’s going to feel like to walk into the house.

Her house.

It’s been 14 months since my mother-in-law died and in a few hours I’m going to walk into the house that was the last place she slept before she died. The bed she slept in will be there. All of her Christmas decorations. Her towels. Her dishes. All of her things are going to be there.

Christmas has been strange already.

I didn’t send her my itinerary, of course.

I didn’t call her on Christmas Day to thank her for a bounty of presents for the children.

I didn’t call her to tell her about the bracelet Clarke bought for me that I know she would have loved.

There are so many things I didn’t do—and then there are the things I am doing:

I think about what it will be like to walk over the threshold and into the foyer and know she isn’t going to be there to welcome me.

I think about the Christmases past and can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like to be in her house without her. There will be nineteen of us together this year. One of my nephews was two days old when she died. One of my nieces wasn’t even born yet. And I know that every time I hold those babies part of me will be treasuring that feeling for Barbara, wishing she were there with us, doing what she loved most: being with her family and snuggling with her grandchildren.

I miss you, Barbara. I don’t cry every day anymore. But I still cry often. And this time of year, perhaps more than any other, just feels empty without you.

I was in Wyoming this past Spring at the court hearing for the man who was driving the truck that hit Barbara’s car and killed her. On a cold Spring dayI was in a car when I went over the exact place she died. It was a spot on a highway, a piece of asphalt in the midst of expansive vistas filled with mule deer and brown grasses. When I passed over that spot, identifiable by the mile marker on the side of the road I waited for it—something. I waited for a shift, a tingling, a sign that it was special. I wanted there to be something so that everyone who passed that mile marker knew that right there, at that spot, one of the most special people in my world died.

And yet, it was just road. Nothing happened. No one would have known.

This trip is different, though. Each and every one of us is going to feel the seismic shift when we walk through that front door this holiday season. In the same blink of an eye it took to cross the spot where she died, I will walk through the doorway and into her house.

It’s time. It’s time to feel that shift.

We keep moving on, but moving on does not mean forgetting. Moving on means weaving the feelings of grief and pain and sadness into our everyday lives.

We must keep going. We have kept going this year.

But it’s not the same. It never will be.

Empty Space

December 13th, 2010 § 4 comments

Clarke and I attended a family wedding this weekend. One of his first cousins got married and my parents stayed with the kids while we drove to the event. Four of Clarke’s brothers and sisters attended and we were able to see many family members we hadn’t seen since the memorial service for Barbara a little over a year ago.

Barbara’s three sisters were there, of course, and one of her brothers. It’s a large family and we all have a great time visiting when we have occasions to see each other. It was fantastic to have a happy reason to gather; so often as we age it seems we only see each other to mourn.

And while we were happy, while we loved seeing a young bride and groom start their lives together, we couldn’t help but ache every moment for the special one who was not there. Barbara’s absence hung over the weekend. For the first time since she died I didn’t have to distinguish one “Mrs. Clarke Adams” from the other. We’d had the same name for the last 13 years and over the weekend I missed the confusion it often gave us at check-in time or seating assignments for dinner.

It wasn’t until the groom danced with his mother (Barbara’s sister) that the emptiness became overwhelming. This particular sister resembles Barbara the most: her eyes, her expressions, her hair. And as she danced with her son we all could not help but cry: my youngest brother-in-law, still in his 20s, would not have that dance with his mother when he gets married.

I talked about Barbara a lot this weekend; I couldn’t help it.

My anger is still here: she should be here enjoying these things. It is someone else’s fault she isn’t (see here for original newspaper piece and here for my piece about the court hearing). Somehow, to me, that makes it worse. Her body didn’t fail, she didn’t get a disease. Someone made an egregious decision and she paid the price with her life.

I’m not over that anger and I don’t think I ever will be. Every happy event is one we are not sharing with her. And while no one’s life can go on forever, when it’s taken without warning and too soon it takes time to adjust to. It’s too much to swallow in one gulp, and this bitter taste is dissolving very slowly. This weekend was hard. Christmas, which has always been synonymous with Barbara, is going to be even harder. I know there are many people reading this who are grieving losses this year, and the holidays are always difficult. My heart goes out to you all.

Just a spot (the court hearing)

December 13th, 2010 § 1 comment

Originally published on www.lisabonchekadams.com on March 9, 2010

Now that I have been writing this blog, family and friends sometimes ask me to write something and speak at special occasions. Yet, earlier today in court and at Barbara’s memorial service a few months ago I remained mum.

While my love for her is obvious, my respect, my admiration, my sense of loss, I remained an observer while the truck driver who came into my in-laws’ lane and hit them head-on appeared in court today for his change of plea hearing.

Family members are allowed to read victim impact statements. Spread across the entire back row of the small Western courtroom we sat in wooden pews. Her six children, her husband, one son’s girlfriend, and me.

The nine of us sat as an army.

Wearing somber colors, we sat clutching tissues.
We cried.
We squirmed.
We jiggled our legs with nervousness and anticipation.

We stared at the back of that truck driver’s head.
We stared at the back of his sister’s head.
His mother’s. His father’s.

At some point when the judge was deliberating I couldn’t take it anymore.

And then I did something that’s become routine for me.
I picked a spot on the ceiling and I stared at it.

I’ve come to do this as my coping mechanism for pain,
for feelings of claustrophobia,
for enduring the seemingly unendurable moments
I’ve had so many of the past few years.

When I’ve been in pain,
in agony,
sick,
nauseated from chemo,
embarrassed during procedures,
I pick a spot on the ceiling.

And I don’t let it go.
I don’t let my gaze waver.

In some medical offices I visited repeatedly I used the same spot:
A sticker on the ceiling indicating a light switch,
A brown spot from water damage,
An intersection of metal latticework that if I stared hard enough
seemed to have a dot in the middle.

And so today,
when it seemed the plea bargain
would not, could not, be changed,
tossed,
reconsidered, or
modified,
I picked my spot.

I picked my spot and did not let it go.

I heard the sniffles,
the sobs,
the exhales of my loved ones realizing the punishment that seems so inadequate would stand.

My brothers and sisters-in-law didn’t need my words today.
Theirs were so poignant,
so heartbreaking,
so true.

While the words swirled inside my head,
this was their day to describe their pain.
While I come here and do it weekly,
it was their turn today.

I was so proud of them.
Barbara would have been so proud too.

That’s the irony, of course:
their finest moments,
their displays of character and strength,
have come to the forefront in her absence–
because of her absence.

And everywhere we go people say
that her six children are a testament to the mother she was.
And they are.
A family unit so strong,
so united,
so bereft at her loss.

Twice today we drove on the very highway where the car crash happened.
Twice today we crossed the very place where she last lived.

And as we approached the spot both times I sat in the moving car and waited.
I waited for there to be some type of shift,
some type of energy.
Some kind of
SOMETHING.

But it was just road.
Just pavement.
Just a place on a road.
And both times I could not accept it.

It did not seem real.
Our lives changed on that spot.
Her life ended on that spot.

In the middle of the expansive countryside dotted with wind turbines and packs of mule deer
dearest Barbara departed this world.

I can’t write enough words for her.
I can’t capture the ache and sadness I feel.
Not only for myself–never only for myself– but so much for my children…
for all of her grandchildren who missed years of knowing her,
many of whom will never know her.

I’ll never write much of what I want to say.
I won’t put it here where it could be painful for those who miss her and love her.
I can’t write everything I want to about the man who did this.
I don’t want to undermine any future court activity.

Sometimes the hardest thing is knowing when to keep quiet.
I’m working on it.
Truly.

Tonight I fly thousands of feet in the air
as the plane shakes and trembles
with turbulence.

And while I hate to fly
I wouldn’t have been anywhere else today.

So while the plane lurches a bit
I’m going to turn off the computer,
pick my spot somewhere on the ceiling,
and I’m going to stare at it.
And I’m not going to let it go.

Because I can get through this.
I can.
I can get through this.
We can.

Cranberry ice

November 25th, 2010 § 7 comments

After my post yesterday about missing loved ones at the Thanksgiving table, many people were intrigued by the Adams family tradition of Cranberry Ice. I, too, had never heard of it prior to meeting Barbara. Once you’ve had it, it easily becomes a regular addition to your table. I am sharing it here so that others may decide to fold it into their holiday celebrations, too (I think it is a lovely addition to Christmas dinner, so maybe you want to give it a try then).

The way we serve it is as a side dish, in place of cranberry sauce. The tart, sweet, cool flavor is delightful.

I like to make a double recipe so there are leftovers… I am giving the instructions for that; if you want to halve it, you may. Because you need to beat it with a mixer as it freezes, don’t make it late at night.

You will need:

2 bags of fresh cranberries

2 packets Knox gelatin

Lemon juice

2 cups of sugar

2 cups of water

Freezer-safe bowl and a food mill, ricer, or strainer

Directions:

Boil the cranberries fully until the skins fully split. Drain the cranberries and run them through a ricer, food mill, or strainer to remove the skins. (I use a food mill that Barbara gave me. It has a hand crank on the top and you turn it around and around and the skinned cranberry puree drops out the bottom. A more updated version is here). Once you have all of the cranberry puree in a freezer-safe bowl, set aside. Take the 2 packets of gelatin and dissolve in 2 cups of water. Add this to the cranberries. Add about 2 cups of sugar (less if you like it very tart). Then add a bit of lemon juice to taste.

Take the bowl and put it in the freezer. As it freezes, take it out a few times (2-3) and beat with electric beaters for about 30 seconds to fluff it up. This will keep the texture airier. If you don’t do this, the consistency will be far too dense and hard. Once frozen, serve with your meal using an ice cream scoop. It doesn’t melt immediately because of the gelatin. Barbara always served in lovely cut-glass footed bowls. I haven’t found ones I like yet, so mine was served in regular bowls today.

Missing and mourning while others celebrate and complain

November 24th, 2010 § 8 comments

I have many friends who have lost family members this year. My own devastating loss, the death of my beloved mother-in law, was only 14 months ago. The death of someone you love is never easy, but I think holidays are particularly painful times. Not only do you miss the physical presence of the person, but there are often so many reminders of special times you have had together, of traditions you shared.

While we grieve for the physical absence of the person at our family gatherings or the telephone calls we share, what we also grieve is the loss of future time together. That is, we not only grieve the person we’ve lost, we mourn the future events that we will not be able to share with them.

I didn’t spend many Thanksgivings with Barbara; Turkey Day is almost always a holiday spent with my side of the family (Christmas is always spent with Clarke’s family). There were a few years my parents and in-laws both lived in Pennsylvania; back then Clarke and I were able to see both sides of the family in the same Thanksgiving weekend.

Barbara loved to set a good table; she always had special items on the table that had been handed down to her — china, silver, serving pieces. But more than any other Thanksgiving tradition, the one that I associate with her is Cranberry Ice.

Cranberry ice is a sort of cranberry sorbet, an icy, tart, frozen taste sensation. Perhaps originally an intermezzo, it evolved to take the place of traditional cranberry sauce at the table and now is eaten along side the turkey and fixings. Barbara always had special small cut-glass footed bowls to hold it; I haven’t yet found some of my own. Last year, in a loving tribute to her, I made my own cranberry ice for the first time using the food mill she’s put in my stocking years ago. The mill sat unopened in my cabinet until last year. I pulled it out and held it then, realizing as I held it that her own hands had held the package. She had shopped for it, paid for it, put it in my stocking. I touched that plastic container and all I felt was cold. Without her, it wouldn’t be the same.

My daughter (pictured above, ten years ago, with Barbara) will be staying home from school today recovering from oral surgery. I think it would be really nice to make the cranberry ice together, just the two of us, while the boys are at school. Traditions carry on, however painful it is.

It’s important to remember that while some will be complaining about their relatives while spending time together this week, some of us would do anything to have our loved ones back with us to share the day. I feel sure a bit of sensitivity to the emotional turmoil some may be experiencing would be welcomed by your friends or family members who grieve this week.

Every day is hard when you miss someone; a holiday is especially so.


Bye-bye Grandma

November 21st, 2010 § 3 comments

The moments catch me off-guard,
like my brother used to do
when we were kids.

He’d lay in wait
around the corner
in the hallway upstairs,
behind the jog in the corridor
outside my bedroom.

He would leap out,
scaring me,
terrifying me,
and I would scream
and shake
and cry.

That’s what these moments do:
they make me
scream
and shake
and cry.

Last night it was Paige,
with her round angelic face,
eyes pink with tears bursting,
coming into the kitchen while I was on the phone with my parents.

“I went to the computer…
to send some email to some friends…
and all of the emails from her are there…
there’s just a whole list of emails from her there…
it just says ‘Barbara Adams’ the whole way down…
and I just keep thinking how she’s never going to write me back…”

And so we cried.
Together.
And we talked.
Together.

Tonight
I was cleaning the kitchen,
packing up backpacks,
doing things I thought were “safe.”
I thought I would be protected from
emotional assault.

I opened Colin’s green homework folder and
put in his math assignment.
A sheet was already inside the folder,
a red squiggly crayon line decorating one edge.

I pulled out the paper with reckless abandon,
expecting an innocent scribble,
a wasted silly drawing.

But instead, it was a piece of writing paper.
On it, neatly printed in his finest handwriting,
it said, “Bye-Bye Grandma”
and there was a tombstone shape in the middle
that said “Barbara Adams 2009.”

There were green zig zags on the top and bottom,
red squiggles on the left and right,
bright colors all around.

I wasn’t ready for it.
I didn’t know it was there,
in the shadows,
waiting,
lurking,
coiled to take advantage when I dropped my guard,
waiting for me to be vulnerable.

And so I acted just like I did when I was a
child and my brother scared me.
I screamed.
I shook.
And I cried.

I vowed not to let my guard down like that
Again.

I love you, Paige.
I love you, Colin.
I love that you loved your Grandma so much.
I loved her too.
I miss her too.

And my hurt may dull a bit,
but it’s never going to go away,
because some of my hurt is for you.

It hurts not only that I don’t have Grandma in my life,
but also that you don’t.
And that’s what makes me cry the most,
because I know how much she loved you both,
and little Tristan too.

One day
we’ll have to explain to him just how special she was
and how much she loved him
and all of the the special things she did to show it.

Thinking about the fact that she’s not going to be here to
show him for herself just breaks my heart…

It makes me want to
scream,
and shake,
and cry.

Things don’t happen for a reason

November 8th, 2010 § 1 comment

One of the phrases I heard often during the emotional events of the past few years is “Things happen for a reason.” The other night while Clarke and I were watching a reality show one of the contestants spoke the same phrase as she predicted elimination from the show.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” she said.

“No they don’t!” I reflexively argued with the screen.

“Why does that make you so upset?” Clarke asked.

“Because it’s just a way that this woman is rationalizing why this bad thing– elimination from a contest she’s competing in– is okay. She’s trying to tell herself that things really aren’t as bad as they are. She’s trying to console herself that there is a purpose in her suffering… that it will lead to something bigger and better, and that is just not necessarily the case!” I said.

I don’t think things happen for a reason and I find it unsettling when people want to tell me that cancer, or my mother-in-law’s death, or anything that has been a challenge has happened as part of some grand plan for something better.

I just don’t believe it. And I don’t want you to believe it about my life, either.

I think things just happen — and when they do, you have to decide how you are going to handle them. Those actions, those responses, can teach you lessons, but they are lessons you teach yourself. You can grow, get stronger, do something that you otherwise never would have. Alternatively, you might learn that you made a mistake and should deal with a situation differently the next time it comes up.

My attitude?

Don’t give away the credit.

Don’t minimize the hurt or disappointment.

Don’t rationalize why it isn’t as a big a deal as it is.

There isn’t necessarily a purpose in suffering; it’s not part of a causal narrative that “passing the test” will get you to the next step. You make your own tests, you find your own lessons. But using the word reason implies that it was given to you, designed for you.

And I just don’t believe that.

Eleven

October 28th, 2009 § 0 comments

I remember it so well.

I hope I never forget.

Those feelings I had eleven years ago as I had my first contractions and went into labor with my first child, Paige.

My husband and I were living in New York City.

I was taking a long walk home after an appointment when I

first felt the tightening begin.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon of October 27th.

By dinnertime I was at the hospital.

By evening I was home again.

Too soon, they told me.

Could be hours,

could be a day or two.

By midnight I was back at the hospital again,

This time for good.

All night we waited.

All night I labored.

And at 8:06 a.m. she arrived.

My daughter.

I left the hospital two days later in typical New York fashion:

not with a car seat,

but instead with sweet P bundled in a carriage.

We walked home the 4 blocks to our one bedroom apartment.

Two days later we emerged to show her the NYC marathon.

As every parent does,

I fell in love.

As Clarke worked 80+ hour weeks,

She and I were buddies,

my city baby and I.

For hours we would explore the city.

Everywhere I went, so too did she.

When she was one year old I had medical problems;

an autoimmune disease which attacked my skin,

pigmenting it bright red,

thickening the soles of my feet

and palms of my hands

until I could hardly use them.

Hours were spent in the waiting rooms of doctors

before I was correctly diagnosed.

The treatments were time-consuming.

Paige came to every appointment with me.

It never occurred to me to get a babysitter.

She just came along.

As she grew I just knew she was something special.

She was always perceptive.

Verbal.

Bright.

At sixteen months she sang the alphabet.

By eighteen months we were having conversations.

Once we started we never stopped.

Paige “gets it.” She’s an old soul.

She is so mature it is sometimes hard to remember her real age.

I am so lucky.

I am so lucky she’s mine.

And I tell her so all the time.

I don’t know what she’s going to do when she grows up.

But I know what she’s going to be –

All the things she already is:

smart

sensitive

loving

confident

grounded

brave

funny

creative

talented

focused &

lovely.

Paige has seen a lot in her few years.

More than I would have liked for her.

I wish I could have spared her some of the

difficult things we’ve gone through.

My medical diagnoses, especially cancer, and Tristan’s issues too.

There’s the box under Paige’s bed (“the box” 9.17.2009) –

The one Barbara gave her in anticipation of her birthday.

She knows what it is now.

It won’t be a surprise.

I know what she really wants for her birthday: she wants to have Grandma back. Alive.

Me too.

When Paige was 5

I got a call from the ski school in Jackson Hole.

“Paige is done skiing for the day,” they said cryptically,

“You should come get her.”

They wouldn’t give me details.

She’d fallen.

But they wouldn’t tell me anything.

Clarke was on the mountain skiing.

He was able to reach her first.

It was one of those times I marveled at how we existed before cell phones.

I made it to the medical clinic at the base of the mountain.

I walked through the swinging double doors.

I’ll never forget seeing Clarke and a doctor staring at x-rays

up on a lighted board.

It happened in slow motion…

I mouthed “Broken?”

and Clarke nodded.

My five year old had just broken her leg.

It was the first time I’d ridden in an ambulance.

I didn’t know the next time it would be my turn.

It was the first time there was a fracture.

I didn’t know the next time it would be my turn.

It all seemed so dramatic at the time.

Maybe being far away from home made it worse.

I had no idea I’d look back on that episode and think it was

literally “child’s play.”

After we finally got to the hospital and talked to an orthopedic

surgeon it was time to set the leg.

They’d given Paige pain medication and something to make her drowsy while they put the cast on.

Clarke and I were a few feet from the foot of her bed

talking about the logistics of getting her home on the airplane.

As she slipped off into a hazy slumber I saw her arm go up

into the air.

She slowly raised it, then her hand.

And then she made the sign language symbol for “I love you”:

Thumb, pointer, and pinkie extended out, middle and ring fingers

tucked back.

It was our signal.

I’d taught it to her as a toddler.

I wanted a way to tell her I loved her if I couldn’t be heard.

Across a crowded room, in a place that was quiet, or when she was nervous at a school performance,

I’d make the gesture for “I love you” and

she would know I was right there for her.

And so,

as she drifted off,

my five year old

told me she loved me,

that everything was going to be okay,

that this was all just a bump in the road,

all without saying a word.

Sweet P,

there are so many things I hope I’ve given you:

skills, characteristics and traits to

help you find your way in this world.

I hope I will have many more years to watch you grow

and see what you will do in the years ahead.

You make me proud,

you make me smile,

you make me laugh,

you make me cry.

Now, forever and always,

I believe in you.

May you someday know the joy that I have known having you as my daughter

and the special bond we will always share.

The love that Nana and I have,

now next to you and I…

I hope that you will have that gift

someday with a daughter too.

Happy birthday.


Obituary for Barbara Smith Adams

September 25th, 2009 § 0 comments

Obituary for Barbara Smith Adams

August 6, 1945 – September 16, 2009

Barbara Smith Adams, of Scottsdale, AZ and Jackson Hole, WY, died on September 16, 2009 in Kemmerer, Wyoming from injuries sustained in a car accident. She was 64 years old.

Barbara was raised with her siblings Daniel (deceased), Connie, Kathy, Ginny, David, and Bill in Lorain, Ohio. She was born on August 6, 1945 to Daniel and Helen Smith. She attended Denison University where she met and later married her husband of 41 years, Clarke Adams, who survives her.

Barbara was the heart and soul of a large family. She dedicated her life to raising her six children: Helen (Paul) Casseday, Clarke (Lisa), Sarah (Julian Lewis), Christopher (Abigail), David (Jessica), and Taylor.

Barbara doted on her grandchildren, recently adding a ninth grandchild two days before her death. She will be missed by them all: Jackson and Owen Adams (New York, NY), Benjamin and Ellianna Lewis (Phoenix, OR), Ryan and Emily Casseday (Anthem, AZ) and Paige, Colin and Tristan Adams (Darien, CT).

Barbara nurtured her children and grandchildren and her commitment to raise them with integrity and self-confidence has provided them with a foundation to weather this tragic loss. She loved to plan family get-togethers, especially the traditional family reunion in Jackson Hole each Christmas.

She leaves behind a loving and sorely bereft circle of family and friends. Her presence, love, and guidance will be missed by all who knew her.

There will be a memorial service to celebrate her life on October 9th at one o’clock at Brophy Chapel in Phoenix, AZ.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Shriners Hospital for Children, Philadelphia, PA http://www.shrinershq.org/Hospitals/Philadelphia/ or the Alzheimer’s Association http://www.alz.org/index.asp

Playing it safe

September 21st, 2009 § 0 comments

Written September 21, 2009

The light turned yellow
And in that split second
When my foot came off the pedal
I had to choose its destination–
Back to speed or
To the brake.

Right or left.

Go or stop.

A moment in time.

Hesitate or act.

And in that fraction of a second
I thought of her–
Barbara.
Her life gone
In a crash
In a fraction of a second.

I played it safe.

Under the amber light
I stopped.

Safe
and
sound.

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