family · Grief · Life

I Remember Mama

I’ve had times when I wanted to throw in the towel. One tiny bit of advice carried me through those better than any other.

Children are a lot of work. Large families have a unique set of challenges.

For instance, when a family grows from two to three children, mom doesn’t have enough hands when walking to the library with the children. She can hold the hand of one child on her right and the other on her left, but where does the third child go?

When a family grows from three children to four children, they can’t all ride in one car, unless, I suppose, they have a bench seat in the front, which we didn’t.

When a family grows from five children to six children, they can’t fit into a mini-van. Driving a 15-passenger van is overkill, but there aren’t many choices or 12 passenger vans out there.

I had eight children. My mother-in-law had thirteen. Thirteen!

One of the first times I went to their house, she took me by the hand and we walked to their large vegetable garden. I still remember the feel of her hands, calloused and strong. She worked so hard. She earned those hands.

She was a hugger. My own mother was not a hugger. Sometimes huggy people feel awkward to those of us who haven’t always had those outward displays of affection. But it seemed such a natural extension of who she was.

Basically, she was amazing and made everything look easy.

One day I asked her when I was struggling with my two or three or six children — “How do you do it?”

In her sweet, sweet way, she said, “Oh, Sally, you just do.”

You just do. Those are hefty words to live by.

And honestly, I have failed at just doing sometimes too many times.

Still, that simple exchange was one of the most unforgettable conversations in my life.

She passed away this week.

But I remember Mama.

Mama (R) with her mother (center) and brother (L)
Grief · poetry · Writing

Ordinarily, I Just Blather

I lied
I promised a poem and blather
I may just blather
I won’t give you a poem
Not today
I can do this thing
Next Saturday

Yesterday, the prompt was “reversal” and, like an idiot, I all-too-quickly decided I would write a reverse poem. I used the word reversal instead of reverse because it actually shows up that way in the interwebs.

Last night I sketched out my idea — two opposing thoughts to put at each end with a few middle-ish words. This morning, I filled that page with words and arrows and crossing-things-out and carets to insert new words. It was a mess. It definitely needs more work.

So I got out my computer and stream-of-consciously wrote the intro to this post — which CAN be read forward and backwards, but it’s not really two opposing ideas.

Next Saturday, I hope to have a worthy poem to accompany my blather.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would bore you with all the new words and concepts I learned this week.

Check out this one: AESTIVATION. It has two definitions. In zoology, it’s a state of dormancy during hot weather, as compared with hibernation, which is that dormant state in cold weather. Snakes in the desert aestivate.

But the second definition is the one I fell in love with. In botany, aestivation is the arrangement of petals and sepals in a bud before it opens.

I love flowers

We have words for the coolest things.

I also learned the concept “Homo Faber” which means “Man the Maker.” One definition I found talked about man making tools to “control” their environment. I prefer to think about it more along the lines of Dorothy Sayers in her book The Mind of the Maker. There she talks about us being made in the image of God and the only thing we really knew about God at that point in the scriptures is that He created. We were made to be creative.

After my father passed away in 2019, I had some pretty serious struggles. In the spring of 2020, I found myself going for frequent walks to think — but more and more my thoughts were dark and morbid. Finally, I reached out for help and found a mental health counselor. We talked A LOT — and we still talk. I also admitted my struggles to my primary care provider who prescribed an anti-depressant. It helped, too.

There were a few times that I tried to wean myself off the anti-depressant, but quickly saw the dark road again. Then, this past fall, I found that I was forgetting to take it. I tried a bunch of different systems to help me remember, but none of them worked.

And the truth was that this time I was not seeing the darkness. Instead, I found myself feeling creative again. I mean, look at me! I’m writing here again!

I talked to my counselor about it. “I think I’m doing really well,” I told her. I showed her some of the Christmas gifts I had made — MADE — for my co-workers. “Do you think it’s okay if I just stop the anti-depressant? I promise to start again if I see the darkness or feel the darkness or have those dark, dark thoughts. I just refilled the prescription so I have a supply ready.”

She gave me her blessing — with a thousand caveats, of course, as I presume she must. She confirmed that the anti-depressant could also stifle creativity. I would have talked to my primary care provider, too, but she has since moved on to another city.

I say all this not to give my own blessing to anyone who stops taking a prescribed medication. Always have someone else in your loop who can monitor you and keep an eye on you!

I say all this because I feel alive again. Grief threw me into a period of aestivation. Now I’m ready for my petals to start opening.

This post has been brought to you by true Stream-of-Consciousness writing (thanks, Linda Hill). 49% of me says that I still have time to delete, but the 51% wins. I’m leaving the blather in the hopes it will be what someone else today needs to hear.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · Grief


V is for vulnerable — something I like and don’t like, if you know what I mean.

Try to follow me on this meandering story.

Last week, I had a couple of swimmers stop at the front desk and ask me if there was something wrong with the pool. It felt colder than usual.

One of my co-workers thinks that swimmers are the biggest complainers. “It’s always something with them,” she said to me one day. “How can they tell if it’s a degree or two off?”

They can. I know this because I swim in the pool, too.

Anyway — cold pool last week. I asked the Aquatics Director about it. Yes, it had been colder. A clogged duct or something.

“Some swimmers always complain,” she said, “but when the ones who don’t usually say anything tell me that the pool is cold, I pay a little more attention.”

I understood this, too. Maybe my front desk co-worker wasn’t totally wrong. Swimmers complain, but not all of them. Just like people in general complain, but not all of them.

Anyway — clogged duct. One clogged duct caused the temperature of this whole big pool to drop. Clogs can be huge issues. Clogged sinuses lead to sinus infections. Clogged bowels lead to … issues. Let’s just say that a family member recently had that problem and leave it at that. The clog eventually cleared.

Anyway — clogs. Bad. I’ve been struggling with a major clog for years now. Clogged emotions.

It’s not like calling a plumber to clear a duct, or taking laxatives to clear the bowels. I have a counselor who has been slowly chipping away this blockage of mine. She’s great.

We both agree that some of it may have to do with never being able to properly grieve my father’s death.

Last week was the anniversary of his passing. I planned out what I wanted to do. I found a bagpiper who would come and play at the cemetery in the evening. I picked up my father’s ashes from the funeral home. (He still hasn’t been interred.) I gathered poems and photos and blankets (it’s cold here now in the evenings) and a notebook and pen, and went to the columbarium where my mom’s and my brother’s ashes both now rest. I cleaned the bird poop off the marble bench there before spreading a blanket on it and setting out my other stuff. I wanted to sit alone with my dad and my thoughts and a bagpiper.

The bagpiper arrived a little before 6, dressed in black. He had asked me beforehand if it was important to me that he wear a kilt — it wasn’t. He brought his border pipes, which are smaller, quieter, and played with a little bellows that fits under the arm. We found a chair where he could sit.

He began to play.

A couple I see at the gym were out for a walk. They paused behind me.

“You’re welcome to stay,” I said, and started to clear some space on the bench.

“We’ll stand,” he said. They listened for a few minutes and then continued their walk.

The bagpiper played and played. I read the poems and looked at the photographs. He played. I wrote in my little notebook. He played. I walked to the corner of the columbarium where my mom and brother rest and cleared off the pine needles. I whispered to them both. He played.

I guess I could go on and on describing this whole scene and the songs played on the border pipes and then the ones he played on a low whistle. I wanted so badly to cry because I thought that tears would clear the clog inside.

I never cried.

Fast forward to the next morning at the gym. The man who had stopped to listen with his wife came in.

“What did you think of the bagpiper?” I asked.

“It was very nice,” he said, “but what was the occasion?”

“It was the anniversary of my father’s passing,” I said. I didn’t tell him about the clog.

“He must have been a remarkable man for you to do that for him,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed. “He was.”

“Tell me about your father,” he said.

Immediately I could feel the tears. I swallowed, forcing everything back down, and babbled for a few minutes about my dad. He listened patiently.

“Tell me about your father.” That may be the unclogging agent.

Now to find a safe person and a safe place and a safe time to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to share all those thoughts and feelings.

And to cry.

Vulnerability is scary, but it’s pretty important, I think.

The Columbarium
Faith · Grief · people

Lenten Rabbits

Five years ago for Lent, I carried a rabbit in my pocket as a tool for mindfulness. I wanted to remember that people are often smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside. I know, I know — this may not make much sense to you unless you followed my Lenten journey in 2017. If you want to read about it, here’s a semi-explanatory post from that year: Tuga and Aleluja.

Tuga is the Bosnian word for sorrow. Aleluja is the Bosnian word for — can you guess? — Allelujah.

This year I have two more little rabbits. Meet Dòchas and Bròn.

Dòchas is the Scottish Gaelic word for hope. Bròn is the Gaelic word for grief. I gave them last names, too. Dòchas a-Maireach and Bròn an-Diugh. Hope Tomorrow and Grief Today.

I carry them both in my pocket — separate pockets, of course.

For this Lenten season, I want to become friends with Bròn. Bròn an-diugh. (Pronunciation — and I may not have this totally correct — Bròn is like our word “brawn” but you need to roll that “r” a little. An-diugh sounds like on-jew, because the “di-” in Gaelic is our soft “g” sound as in giraffe, and the -gh at the end is silent.) Grief today.

I listened to a woman last week go into a long tirade full of conspiracy misinformation. She had told me weeks before that wearing a mask was the equivalent of the Nazis requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. Another gym member had started the whole confrontation by shouting at me about the masks — “This is BULLSH-T! This is BULLSH-T!” After the Nazi comment, I had turned and walked away from the desk.

Later that same day I put a check-in note on the woman’s membership — that if she checked in again, I wanted to speak to her. She finally came back on Friday — and I spoke to her a little and listened to her a lot. She has such deep fears and hurts.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

While she was talking, I reached in my pocket and held Bròn. I don’t know if hers was grief or just unhappiness at our world today. She needed to talk, though.

And I listened.

At the end of her diatribe, she extended her hand across the counter. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her. “It was so nice to meet you,” she said.

“What just happened?” my co-worker asked after the woman had headed to the pool. She had been sitting there listening to the whole thing.

“I’m not sure,” I told her.

But I stuck my hand in my other pocket — and there was Dòchas, hope.

family · Grief · Life


Maggie would have loved the snow this morning.

Even in this, her 14th year, she would run out the door when she saw fresh snow, throw herself down into it, and roll on her back, like the snow was scratching some itch that she couldn’t otherwise reach. When she was on her feet again, she would shove her snout into the snow, bringing it up with a small white pile on her muzzle. She always liked to grab a few bites of snow on her way back in the house.

I’ve never seen another dog love snow like that. The joy of Maggie’s snow-love always brought a smile to my face.

This morning’s snow is pretty — but there’s no Maggie to revel in it. No Maggie to bound through the depths of the drifts. No Maggie to chase the snow thrown from the shovel as we clear the driveway. No Maggie to leave that odd dog-snow-angel print just off the deck.

Maggie had been my birthday gift 14 years ago. I had long wanted for a dog, but my husband was resistant to adding a furry member to our family. In 2008, I received a leash, a collar, a dog dish for my birthday — and I looked up at him and said, “What’s all this?”

“You can get a dog,” he said.

And thus Maggie was adopted into our family.

On my birthday this year, we had to put Maggie down.

I still haven’t even been able to cry about it — life is too full. If you’ve ever been in that place of not being able to cry, you’ll know the giant lump of ice resting in your chest that can only be melted by tears — and the tears won’t cooperate.

I looked at the snow morning and missed Maggie intensely.

Now she’s a real dog-snow-angel and I hope someone somewhere is throwing snowballs for her to chase.

Rest in peace, Maggie.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · Grief

Blessed are those who Understand

The sympathy cards have slowed to a trickle. In the beginning it was a deluge.

Many of the cards said things like this:

Your dad was an amazing man, and I consider myself very lucky to have worked with him.

What a class act!

Don was a wonderful person: friendly, compassionate, smart and extremely generous…

I felt privileged to know him.

Here’s a sampling from his church:

Don and Elinor were two of the first people I met at church and I’ll never forget how welcome they made me feel.

His church will miss him much. I think he held at least every position twice and always took on the most challenging parts.

And a few of the many from the hospital:

He was one of the “Old Guard” at Bassett and embodied all of the wonderful good things of a medical career.

He was the one who recruited me to Cooperstown. He looked after me at work and worked so hard to make sure that our department ran smoothly. I’ll always remember how much he cared about the patients and making my early years there successful.

The more specific people were in what they wrote about my father, the more it touched me. For example, this story made me laugh because it captured his frugality:

Many years ago he asked me (chairman of building and grounds) to help him dig a trench across the driveway from the church house to the manse. If we put in the wires to connect a new manse computer to the one in the secretary office ourselves, we could save a lot of money. Although he was much older than I was, he outworked me with his pick and shovel!

After I graduated from high school I learned that my father had followed each one of his little league players all the way through graduation and had given each one a baseball necktie as a graduation gift. Apparently, he continued that baseball-themed gift-giving pattern into his later years as this person mentioned:

Our son loved baseball and Don often gave him baseball-accented gifts.

The words and stories people shared became a salve for my grieving heart. I read stories of him making housecalls,  of mentoring, of swapping “sappy stories,” of his Red Sox fanaticism, of his sweet tooth.

I also received cards from people who had never met my father but who only knew him through me. People who read this blog but that I never met in person. People I met at Hutchmoot or on other travels. Even people here in Cooperstown who know me through my church or my involvement with the swim team, but never met my father. I was so grateful. I felt so loved.

Two cards that especially touched me were from people who had also recently suffered loss:

Deepest sympathies and equally deep gratitude for all the love and care you shared with your dad. I know firsthand that is a gift that goes both ways and lives in memory always. (from another caregiver whose father had recently died)

We have a wonderful hope of  resurrection, but the grief is still so real right now. (from a grieving spouse)

Blessed are those who understand for God will give them words to ease another’s pain.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · Grief

Blessed is Resurrection

When my father passed away at home, I didn’t know what would happen next — so I went for a walk.

That Sunday spent watching him decline, decline, decline — sitting by his bed — pacing — calling hospice and family and hospice again — trying to make the best decisions based on what he had said he wanted — it all made for an incredibly long day.

Yet, at the same time, the day was too short.

Suddenly he was gone.

I cut across the yard when I left the house, walking past the red maples he had planted 40 years before. Their burgundy leaves were half on, half off —  trees caught mid-way through their fall undressing.

The oak tree I passed was barer. Its brown leaves and acorns littered the ground. Many of the acorns were cracked and broken. I wondered if the damage had been done by squirrels or the fat woodchuck I often saw in that corner of the yard or the heavy equipment that had driven through there earlier in the week to replace our septic system.

The acorns held no promise of a mighty oaks, just broken pieces with jagged edges.

The walk refreshed me, but, back at the house, we moved in a thick fog.

While I had been walking others had left, or come and gone, or stayed, waiting to say good-bye to me.

My two grandsons had been in the house when my father passed. When I heard them playing in the other room, I thought about an article I once read about Irish wakes and how healthy they are for children — to be around death and see that it is a part of life.

In the midst of life we are in death.

Book of Common Prayer

I said good-bye to the grandsons and to my oldest son who looked so weary and so grown-up. I wished he was the size of his boys and this hurt was a boo-boo a bandaid could cover.

A knock on the door surprised me. The man identified himself as a hospice nurse. “I’m here to clean the body,” he said.

I showed him to the room where my father lay. My father’s face looked ashen and waxy.

“Do you have some clothes I could dress him in?” the nurse asked.

My father was still wearing his old red Fenway shirt. He liked to wear Red Sox apparel when he watched their games, and the last game of the season had been on when he passed away.

I chose a favorite flannel shirt and a pair of corduroy pants that went with it.

Leaving the room, I re-entered the family fog. Pea-soup fog, my mother would have called it, so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face. People may, or may not, have talked with me. I may, or may not, have responded.

The nurse finished. He ushered us back in the room with my father.

My father’s hands were folded on his abdomen. It was a pose I had never seen him in before. He looked so dead.

I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Nicene Creed


It has now been 3 1/2 weeks since my father passed. When I close my eyes, I see that dead body. I see my sister coming out of his room, closing the door behind her, at 2 AM. She had just arrived and wanted to see him. I see the funeral director arriving at 8 AM and using the front door to remove the body.

I close my eyes and see death.

Ah, but the Nicene Creed. “I look for the resurrection…”

When I look for resurrection and life, it’s there.

The new grass pushing through the straw where the lawn was dug up for the septic. The two stubborn Shasta daisies that refuse to give way to fall. The geese flying south, calling my attention to them with their noisy honking.

It’s a beautiful sound.

At the memorial service, my son Owen read Wendell Berry’s poem, Wild Geese.

… Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. …

I am surrounded by life in all its beautiful and terrible stages.

Many trees in the yard are already bare, but I’ve lived long enough to know that, in the spring, new leaves will appear.

I know the geese will return, too.

On my walks I see woolly bears hurrying across the road. Sometimes I help them along — picking them up and watching them curl into a ball in my palm, then gently placing them on the other side of the road. I figure it’s one less death for the day.

And I sort through a few of my father’s things.

Life goes on.



A to Z Blogging Challenge · Grief

Blessed is the Quiet

I turned the monitor off Sunday morning not knowing it would be the last time.

For three and a half years I have slept with one ear open, listening to the monitor, learning the sounds of the different creaks of the hospital bed in the room below me.

One creak meant he was getting up. It was followed by the shuffle-thud of him walking with his walker into the bathrooom.

A different creak meant he was getting back into bed. I could hear the soft rustle of the bedding as he rolled onto his side and pulled the blankets up above his shoulders.

If I didn’t hear the back-to-bed creaks but heard the click of the light switch, I knew I needed to go down and redirect. He would be heading to his closet to choose clothes for church — no matter what day of the week it was. Sometimes that happened at 11:30 PM and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes it was every hour throughout night.

The monitor sat on my bedside table where its yellow light showed me it was on and its faint buzz served as a secondary reminder.

Now I hear the deep breathing of my husband sleeping beside me.

Just the other day I had been telling someone that I hadn’t heard the coyotes all summer. With the monitor off and the insomnia on, I could hear them, their long lonesome howls coming from somewhere farther away than previous years, but still there.

I hear a bird I can’t identify.

I hear gentle rain hitting the wide leaves of the hydrangea.

I hear the obnoxious sounds of vehicles driving on wet road. I can identify the milk truck, the speeding pick-ups, the cars. I can tell it’s foggy because everyone drives so much slower.

It’s so quiet, though, without the monitor.

Too quiet.

I want to hear the bed creak and the shuffle-thud.

My father passed away Sunday night.

He had dressed himself Saturday morning and eaten a bowl of cereal. Mid-afternoon he vomited brown-black — a sign of a GI bleed. He went to bed before dinner, and never got out of it again. The next day he was gone.

Thomas Merton said, “Prayer and Love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone.” (Seeds of Contemplation)

Prayer and love are learned in the quiet of a monitor that been turned off.

Merton also said, “The monk faces the worst, and discovers in it the hope of the best.” (Contemplative Prayer)

I’m facing the quiet.

I’m looking for the blessing.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · elderly · family · Grief

Blessed Are Those Who Grieve

It has been three and a half years since my mother passed away.

A few weeks ago my father wanted to visit my mother’s grave. In the first year after she passed, I had tried several times to get him to go.

His way of dealing with grief was avoidance.

I would ask him if he wanted to bring flowers to her grave. He wouldn’t hear me.

I would ask again. He would change the subject.

I would ask again. No response.

On the first anniversary of her death, I bought a small pot of pansies and asked Bud to drop my father and I at the cemetery before church. Slowly we started down the path, but when it came time to turn towards the Columbarium, my father picked up his pace and headed straight for the church.

Alone I set the flowers I had bought for her at the base of the Columbarium,

The Columbarium

Blessed are those who grieve.

Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The difference between grieving and mourning is this: grief is private, but mourning is the outward expression of grief that allows a person to move forward.

Grief is the emotional reaction to a loss, while mourning is learning to live again.

Grief muddles the mind, but mourning begins to put things back in place.

Grief is the raw emotions that say things will never be right again.

Mourning reflects on what was and what will never be again, and then works to  deal with that void.

About a month ago, my father asked to bring flowers to my mother’s grave.

“Can I see where she’s buried?” he asked.

He didn’t remember ever going there before, so I showed him pictures from her interment.

The avoidance had finally passed. He was ready.

I purchased a bouquet and tied an orange ribbon on it. My mother always liked orange.

We drove to town and I parked as close as I could to the Columbarium. He picked his way along the dirt and gravel path that led there, struggling with his walker, while I struggled to hold the bouquet and keep my arm supporting him.

Silently we stood before the gray granite corner of the Columbarium.

“Is this it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, and showed him my mother’s name carved in the granite.

He wept.

“Can you take a picture of it?”

I did.


Blessed are those who grieve, for they have loved deeply.

And blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.