enough of this maudlin crap

This is how we spent Christmas Eve:

Dad worked all day at the apartment. Scott worked all day at work and then went hunting for our New Year's Eve pig. I worked all day at home except for the hour I spent at Starbucks and Safeway, which frankly was the best hour of the whole day because I ran into Roberta, Sierra and Uncle Phil, and I talked to Lisa (finally) after days of missed connections.

I didn't realize til tonight how much Christmas Eve meant to me or how far we as a family have drifted from our roots and in some ways from each other. Scott and I have grown ever closer - a huge blessing. And although it's a good thing, Matthew living elsewhere has changed the dynamic of the household as well. And even though we live with Dad, striking a balance between his perception of filial piety and our perception of common sense has not been easy. He is mostly independent and declines 99% of our offers for help. We try as much as we can to consider his feelings and do only what is necessary so that he won't feel trampled or disrespected - it is his castle after all - but this lack of a Christmas Eve has made me step back and recalibrate. We all, including Dad, have the right to enjoy the holidays, right? We can't force anyone to be merry, but they can't stop us, either.

I was content enough to vacuum and do laundry today, but had a major WTF moment at dinner. Only after sitting through dinner on Christmas Eve, of all nights, in which he (Dad) ignored everything I tried to share and instead focused SO HARD on who has what disease, how much it sucks to get old and lose your memory, and how you just have to "go with the flow" (and no he didn't mean it in a peaceful zen way, he meant it in a defeatist way) ... I finally realized, like it or not, kids or no kids, I am now the matriarch of this family and I have to stop waiting for someone else to step up and make the holidays festive.

It's on me.

That's equal parts scary and wonderful.


Hello, holidays.

I hate you.

Last year, although technically our second, is what I think of as our first holidays without Mom. We lost her just before Christmas of 2011 and of course that year we were all padded in our grief bubble, kept afloat by the love and support of friends and family, that I don't think we felt the cold reality of all that had so freshly happened.

So last year, the "first year," I don't know how, but we skated through. I honestly don't remember much. We cried into our napkins at holiday dinners but there wasn't a pervasive gloom over everything.

This year, I haven't talked to anyone else about it, but the gloom is here and I feel like Mom just left and I am so regretful of everything I did and failed to do that November and December two years ago.

I left her on Thanksgiving. She could still get out of bed on her own and she could still walk, and she was coherent and could talk, but it seems inconceivable that we left her at home and went to One Kalakaua for "family Thanksgiving dinner." I never finished the Thanksgiving dinner prayer because I was crying for her, only thinking of myself and what the future looked like without her in my life. If I were thinking of her, I would have rushed home and sat beside her. And then, I went Black Friday shopping in a haze of exhaustion and sadness. I remember sitting on the cold ground in front of Bath and Body Works with my friend, thinking the whole time, why am I here? Why the hell am I here? Smiling blankly at the others in line, who were excited to get the cheap tote bag. Drinking a badly-made caramel macchiato. Shopping at Macy's afterward and buying stupid things like pillows because they were cheap, and still not going home. Have I always tried to fill the voids in my life with material possessions?

The hospital. Hospice. The blue folder with pain medicine schedule. The cot in her bedroom. The shifts. Why did I ever leave that room? People telling me how strong we all were. People telling me to take care of my dad. How breathtakingly quickly it all fell apart. How quickly she was gone. How I regretted not spending every minute in that room. How I stupidly cherished the nights I was "off" and went to sleep upstairs. How I can still not listen to Wynonna Judd sing "Burning Love" without remembering the Queen's parking lot, how the sounds of the theme song for Sims Social (defunct on Facebook now, but remembered flawlessly in my head) reminds me of the cot and the nights I did spend in the room. I spent one of those nights in bed with her, with my fingers enlaced in hers. It was my favorite thing to do when she was well - climb in bed with her just to goad her into kicking me out (she liked her space and the bed really was too small.) But we'd always spend a few minutes talking before she told me to scram. That night she either knew it was our last chance or she had drifted that much closer to Heaven because I spent the whole night curled around her, and she even let me hold her hand. One night before dinner, Scott sat in a chair at the foot of her bed, playing ukulele and singing to her. I called him to dinner, wanting to appease Dad, who was trying so hard to keep the household running like normal, but nothing was normal, and Scott would not be rushed. He sat with her, and he sang.

I'm sailing away, I set an open course for the virgin sea
And I've got to be free
Free to face the world that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain, so climb onboard
We can search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try, oh Lord, I'll try to carry on
I look to the sea, reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy, some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We've been happy forever, so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we'll try as best we can to carry on.
On board I'm the captain, so climb aboard.
We can search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try, oh Lord, I'll try to carry on.
To carry on, to carry on.

I would stomach the pain of losing her all over again if I could put my own needs and fears aside and spend every minute making certain she knew how much I loved her. What gift could I give, equivalent to a song in a darkened room? I don't know, and I spend so much time thinking about it. So much time wondering what I would do with a second chance. I would make package gingerbread cookies again, spend those late afternoons with my dad while mom slept. I would not go to Thanksgiving dinner. I would put two cots in the room so that I could be there even if it wasn't my turn. I would not let them do the radiation. I would not roll my eyes at the Chinese food conversation. I would take the picture she had asked me to take with her. When I thought, what's the rush - we'll have another two years. In my do-over she would never wonder where I was or why I wasn't there. I would believe her the day she said she was dying and I would cry openly with her instead of putting up such a weird, "come on now let's all be brave and positive" front. I would not linger in the QMC cafeteria or at Fisher or at Ala Moana before coming home and I would have moved in without her asking me, and I definitely would not be on the phone in another room of the house when she finally sailed away.

In reality I was there, I was by her side days and nights and hours and minutes, I knew things others didn't about what she needed, and I was there to provide those things and those words and that time and that care. But it's all the days and nights and hours and minutes I was away that will always haunt me.

I should be thankful for all I was able to do. But I can't stop thinking about all that I didn't get to do because I stuck my head in the sand and stayed on shore when I should have been charting those unfamiliar waters with my mother, eyes clear and focused on her. The opening scene of The Descendants always flashes through my mind - look how much joy on her face, this vibrant, flawed woman who clearly loves life. In the next few minutes everyone's lives will change. I want to play that scene - which fades out while she is still having the time of her life - over and over, with no knowledge of what's to come.


I Am.

To the person who once told me that women who do not have children are Less Than those who do:

It was years ago - I wasn't even married, then. I didn't want children at the time. But I clearly remember you, a mother to three young girls yourself - saying to me, "Christy, I've always believed that people who choose not to have children just don't know how to give of themselves the way parents do. Being a mother is the most important thing a woman can do with her life." On the surface, you weren't  attacking infertile women. You would say you weren't even attacking the childfree-by-choice. It's just my observation, you said.

A little part of me (plus nearly all of my respect for you) died that day. And as I've evolved as a person - as a woman - I've never forgotten what you said that day. I went from being a child-free single woman to a woman engaged to a man who wanted children more than I did. I agreed that we would have children when the time was right, and over the course of four years of marriage I saw the love between S and me grow in ways I never expected. And over those four years I started out reluctant to have kids, then became game to have kids, then eager, then anxious, then frustrated and furious at my body's betrayal of me, then distracted from it, then angry again, and finally, now, am feeling the first dawning of a true peace within. But I have never forgotten your thoughtless words.

Make no mistake - if you said it was the most important thing in your life, I would have had no qualms. I would never object to a mother putting her love for her children above everything else in her life - that's your joy, that's your choice. That's your life. I still want to be a mother, so I hope it's my joy soon, too. The fact of the matter is, I may never be a mother. But I will never, ever be Less Than you.


love and the butcher knife

They say good marriages are built on trust, and I've discovered this is never truer than when the love of your life, cleaver in hand, asks you to help him butcher a pig.

I hesitated.

It wasn't the pooling blood or the strings of sinew, the sharp edge of the leg bone that got broken by the arrowhead, or the trenchant smell of freshly slaughtered wild animal. It wasn't even the way the spinal cord glopped out of the vertebral column like a noodle from a straw, although that was a little startling. I grew up in Chinatown butcher stalls, but that noodle, I'll admit, is something I'd never seen before. 

But none of that made me recoil.

It was the cleaver.

He had skinned, deboned and given away much of the meat the day before, and all that was left were the ribs. They needed to be separated from the spine, and for that, he needed a hand to grip the bones while he cleaved.

Now, this had been my mom's cleaver, and as I got a good grip on the fleshy bones, I thought of Kevin Costner, my favorite Robin Hood of all time, telling Alan Rickman in their final duel that he would never fear his father's sword. But who the hell was I kidding? I definitely feared my mother's cleaver, especially when she'd been the one holding it!

Think about it: you can be tentative with a paring knife; you can be delicate with a boning knife. You can be elegant with a carver. You can make tiny mistakes and it'll be okay - one half of the strawberry will be larger; maybe your spiral ham will be kind of uneven. But you can't hesitate or miscalculate with a cleaver. And it's one thing to mind your own left hand while your right hand brings down the blade. But it's another when you have to worry about not chopping off your wife's fingers in your quest for super fresh lechón. And another still when you are the wife with the fingers in question.

Long story short - it was a quick twenty minutes of work, but it said a lot about how far we've come from the day we met. I didn't verbalize any of this while he was cleaving, but at one point he looked up and said, "Don't worry," just before he brought the knife down squarely into the bone. It wasn't a clean cut, and he had to do it again - several times. I gripped and he cleaved; he didn't hesitate and I didn't let go. I still have ten fingers; he has his first really good hunting story. We have a freezer full of fresh pork and a good marriage, and I couldn't ask for more.


Felt blah about doing a goodbye 2012, hello 2013 post, so 8 days into the new year, I'll just say, it was a tough year. And we made it. I can only speak for myself but I think it's safe to say no one in this household quite reached a point of serenity - but we'll take the moments of peace, the fits of laughter, the quiet afternoons.

Kind of excited about these new Shaklee vitamins I just started. My MIL and SIL are both fans. Aside from the fact that a gal who's not winning the mid-30s staredown really should be taking a quality multivitamin, I am paying (through the nose) for these because I've done some research and heard they're good for scalp and hair health. Good old vanity. It's no secret that no matter how deeply I love my hair, it doesn't love me back - since college it's been jumping ship and there always seems to be more of it clogging the drain than on my head. I'm weary of finding angles and comb-overs that minimize the baldy spots, weary of hairstylists' pursed lips and pauses and "Oh, it's not ... so bad"s ... Almost had a breakdown last month when I saw a photo taken at my brother's birthday dinner and realized it's so much worse than I thought. Heartless camera! Ruthless genes! But then, you know? I realized ... what are you gonna do? It's just hair. I'd like to say maybe I have achieved some level of serenity after all, but if that were true I wouldn't be paying $80/mo. for vitamins that I can only hope will make a modicum of a difference to my hairline.

Haven't made this really public yet but we registered for the marathon - not because we are so gung-ho to tear up our bodies again, or even because we are motivated to Do Something Great This Year but because 1) in this lifetime, I have to replace my 8+ hr time with something, well, shorter - and 2) it was so git-danged cheap. $1 per mile = $26.20, not a huge loss if something goes wrong or if we just don't feel like getting up that morning.

No newspaper column this time (see, I learned something from my last experience, even if it wasn't how to be a good runner). No promises/threats/self-bribery to keep ourselves in check. When we feel like running, we'll run, and if we're in the right shape this December 8, we'll sprint out of the chute and hobble to the finish line together.

I don't miss running but I miss the sense of community that running offers, and this in itself might be enough to bring us back.

We'll see.

In the meantime, I made all sorts of cliche New Year's resolutions (and am actually sticking to them - the key is to start before Jan 1) - like, get rid of crap we don't use, take in the recycling, increase legumes in our diet, get creative at work, start a vitamin regimen, save money. Overall, pretty happy - again, not quite serene, but happy to be where we are, where I am ... and propelled by an underlying energy to keep moving, keep doing ... which is something that I lacked for much of 2012. I feel less encumbered, and I know I have less stuff in general (fewer material possessions, fewer issues, fewer grudges) than before, which might be helpful in this new ability to move, create, teach, learn more freely.

Good show, as my dad would say. Goooood show.


Have found much joy in my new ultra-guilty, almost dirty little secret:

cheap gel manicures at what I will refer to very lovingly as the "Viet hole-in-wall near my house," VHIW for short.

And now I read (AT VHIW no less) that those nifty UV lamps may cause skin cancer? I know, duh, they're UV lamps, plus nothing that produces such a beautiful and durable shellac at such an unnaturally high speed could possibly be good for you. But phooey, because the one law that governs my existence seems to be, the moment I start enjoying anything, science (or my thirtysomething body) will prove that it's a silent killer.

Jillian Michaels workouts want to kill my knees. My cell phone wants to kill my brain cells. Caffeine wants to kill my reproductive system. High heels, soft contacts and now gel manicures want to kill me. Why can't I love filtered water from the tap, standing still, flat shoes, and glasses that make me look like Harry Potter's Asian spinster aunt? Those things don't want to kill anyone, although they do seriously judo-chop my desire to ever leave the house.

I read that slathering your hands and arms with a high-SPF sunscreen prior to sticking your fingers in the UV oven helps. But I'm sure abstaining from gel manicures helps more.

This first-world-problem rant has been brought to you by someone who at the moment has, inexplicably, too much time, and too much hard-to-remove gel nail polish, on her hands.



holy moly i'm a grouch today

Putting my classroom together for the coming school year; using "Gilmore Girls" as background company for the long hours of tedious solitude. Bulletin boards. Textbook distribution. Trying to quell the irrational anger that flared up when I discovered that once again, because of late enrollments, my numbering system is screwed up. It's nothing but a pet peeve blown severely out of proportion. Although I do wonder about the circumstances that lead people to put off registration till less than a week before the beginning of school. Kindergarten, sure, it's all dazzlingly new and a tad confusing. But five years later, it should be old hat, no?

Much to my dismay, I've discovered that I love my Gilmore Girls a lot less than I used to. In fact, there are moments, entire episodes even, in which I find Rory and Lorelai completely unlikeable. I guess one always has to remember to note and appreciate the un-reality that is a WB sitcom, and the even prettier, less realistic, perfectly-timed charm of Stars Hollow. That aside, I watched/listened to Season 4 with some amusement, a little boredom, and a lot of sheer disgust.

Most people who come to find Rory unappealing cite her relationship with Logan Huntzberger, or her fight with and separation from Lorelai. Those who become annoyed with Lorelai find that one-too-many reunions with Chris curdled the show. For me, it's the little things in Season 4 and beyond that grate on my nerves. Things that are supposed to be quirky/cute are just annoying, even when, once again, factoring in the surreal, almost Riverdale Gang-veneer quality of Stars Hollow.

1) Lorelai and Rory hovering over people who are eating at Luke's so that they can be seated faster - in what universe would that not get two self-important tarts punched in the face?

2) Lorelai pouting like a spoiled baby because she didn't get cast as the Renoir Girl in the Festival of Living Art, and Rory using her pull as Antea to get Taylor to give her mother what she wants? (Then of course the Baby Beeper goes off, essentially wrecking the piece de resistance of the whole show and proving Taylor Doose right about casting Lorelai in the first place.)

3) Rory, the gifted aspiring journalist, being genuinely shocked when her cruel review of a really bad ballet incenses the lead ballerina. She mentions the ballerina's rolls of fat and compares her to a hippo, and still has the sheer nerve to be surprised and defensive when the dancer hunts her down and yells, "Die, jerk!" at her.

4) Lorelai doing that "I'm sooo cute" thing she does by calling her father's high-school sweetheart (whom she's never met) her "Almost Mommy" at the Harvard-Yale game. When Emily tells her to knock it off, and makes it known that "We do not speak to Pennilyn Lott!", instead of taking the opportunity to side with her (albeit incredibly difficult) mother on this one thing, she decides to strike up a conversation with Pennilyn outside the ladies' room. Yes, Emily completely overreacted, but I was already so annoyed with Lorelai's character that I gave her ten more moron points for that one.

5) Rory, you can't claim a tree. YOU CAN'T CLAIM A TREE. In a gratifying turn, Lorelai actually told Rory off in this ep, in which Rory mopes through scene after scene because her dorm room (sorry, her SUITE) is too noisy, the library has the wrong vibe, and some dude is sitting under the incredibly ergonomic tree that she has discovered is just perfect for studying under. Get some real problems, people.

6) The opening scene of Episode 5. I can't stand women who scream when their hands get dirty.

7) When Jason Stiles takes Lorelai to a swanky restaurant and she actually makes them LEAVE because she doesn't like their table. Okay, she doesn't demand to leave, but she's whiny about the table as soon as they're seated, and then when he offers her a raincheck, she accepts, and they leave.

8) Lorelai fires a perfectly good designer that she and Sookie both love - for the sheer crime that the designer knows her mother. I'm hard-pressed to find another season in which I find Emily more sympathetic a character than the two younger Gilmore Girls combined.

Overall la-la land factor. I know with dramedies of this nature you have to allow for some discrepancies and let go of some details. And above all, just laugh the 40 minutes away. I don't know why it suddenly irks the crap out of me that everywhere they go, these two place themselves above everyone else. Somewhere in Season 6, I believe, the feuding mother and daughter actually ruin a baptism so that they can go outside and argue with each other. I used to find these things so human, and so amusing, and now I just want to slap the bejeezus out of both of them. It's supposed to be funny, Lorelai constantly disrespecting the diner's No Cell Phones rule. It's supposed to be human, the way Lorelai threw judgment out the window and made out with Max Medina at her adolescent daughter's school. It's supposed to be hilarious and quirky, the way these two order and consume food, but it just makes it entirely unbelievable that they are as skint as the writers make them out to be. The way Lorelai talks in movie theaters, it's completely implausible that she hasn't had all her teeth kicked in yet. Her character is rude (but it's okay because she's charming and pretty). Rory wrecks a marriage, steals a yacht (and goes all wounded puppy eyes when the judge doesn't let her off with a slap on the wrist), drops out of Yale, loses her marbles and all the audience's respect over Logan Huntzberger, and still manages to waltz off the sound stage, at the end of Season 7, poised to be the next Christianne Amanpour.

People make mistakes, and the conflict from mistakes is what great literature, movies and TV shoes are made of. It just seems that neither of the GG's ever learns anything or loses anything significant as a consequence of any of the dumb things they do. Like I said, I don't know why this bothers me TODAY. It's like people who brawl at football games, how you want to shout at them, it's only a game! And a bloody stupid one at that! ... Well, it's only a TV show. And, some would say, a bloody stupid one at that. I'm just harrumphing because I've loved these characters for many years, and these annoying qualities never jumped out at me before. Maybe tomorrow I'll shake my head in amusement at how seriously I'm taking it all today.


friends, summer, tell it

Summer. My favorite way to spend it -- an abundance of solitude and books, the comfort of a constant stream of Friends (all ten seasons), leisurely coffee breaks, doggie excursions, experimental recipes. I'm not a full-time hermit, though. Mini-travels, hanging out with friends (the real live ones, not the Central Perk ones), spending time with family, reconnecting with my husband in this big empty house while my father and brother are away, thank God for these people who pull me out of the sometimes too-quiet, too-serene world of solitude I encase myself in day in, day out.

I miss my mom, and as time marches on, her absence becomes more acute. For some, impact and shock and deal-with-it-ness are up-front; for me, the minute my mom entered hospice, it's like every part of me cooperated to create an internal anesthetic to ensure that I wouldn't implode from the unbelievableness of the whole deal. She was (and her values and voice remain) an enormous presence in my life. Sometimes I literally look up from the salad I'm making or the sink I'm scrubbing or the dog I'm walking and I think, "What happened here?" Six months ago, I knew what was happening. Now, I feel ... not quite as if the rug has been pulled out from under me -- more like, the tablecloth has been swiftly yanked out from under the settings. Each dish and place setting is still there, but everything's slightly off-center, the water in the glasses is sloshing back and forth, and although everything you need for the meal is there, the foundation is fundamentally changed. We come together, we sit, we eat. We are missing something.

Everyone in the world who knew her, knows of her passing. It's a weird thing to say but I almost wish there were someone left who didn't know, so I could tell them, and then there would be someone else who is as newly shocked as I seem to be about it all. The sadness isn't supposed to be this raw, there certainly shouldn't be such a feeling of surprise. And yet.

And yet ...


She came to me in a dream - we were sitting side by side - not touching, but close. I wanted to see her, but chose the comfort of nearness over the familiarity of her face. I can never see her face in these dreams of mine. We sat in the TV room and all the furniture was out of place. There were so many other people milling about, but through, or over, or under the noise I heard her say, "Do you hear me? Can you hear me, Christy?"

I can hear you. I can feel you. I hear you every day.

Keep talking to me. I hate when my dreams are wasted on stupid things like finding a tiny dolphin swimming in the milk after I've finished my cereal. Keep talking to me, I hate dreaming about giant foam USA puzzles that are missing Rhode Island and South Dakota, uneven bookshelves and chasing down serial killers. Keep talking to me because I really can hear you. I wish I could staple together every dream of you, and store them in a box to take out when I wake up from dreaming about balance beam practice where all my standing back tucks are no big deal and I always crash on the dismount because the beam is never more than six inches off the ground.

I miss you so much.


that's right, I said F*CK

I was at the Experience Music Project in Seattle a few days ago, watching a larger-than-life Freddie Mercury perform "Another One Bites the Dust" on the EMP's huge Skychurch screen. He was commandeering the stage wearing nothing but tighty whities and his guitar, and as open-minded as I was trying to be about the music of my early childhood and the music I was supposed to have worshipped in high school (round the corner was the Nirvana exhibit, which I had spent all of 10 minutes enjoying), my mind glazed over and tuned out. I turned from Queen and scanned my phone for Facebook updates.

"I have breast cancer." This blunt, shocking statement was the first thing that popped up in my newsfeed. I made my way to the bathroom so that I could read the rest of the post, and click on the link to my friend's journal, in which she is chronicling her journey from her diagnosis to her treatment and onward. I don't see this person often (once in awhile before, during or after church, at best) and we rarely get a chance to talk. But I know she is a good person, she is loved by many, she has a beautiful family, and she is only 39.

I sat in the clean, cold EMP bathroom and cried. Throughout my emo-tantrum I raged silently about the cruelty, randomness and pointlessness of cancer, the pain it causes, and how it too often takes people away from the ones who love and need them. I thought about how so many people I know are affected, how the "when it rains it pours" concept should NOT apply to cancer diagnoses, and how I want to get one of those "FUCK CANCER" t-shirts but can't because as Scott constantly and ironically points out, it really isn't very befitting of a teacher to use the F-word. (He says it actually isn't ironic. "I work in a shipyard. People expect me to swear a lot.")

Well, FUCK CANCER. There, I don't need a t-shirt.

I know it isn't a death sentence. People battle and beat all different types of cancer. My Dad is in the process of BEATING mantle-cell lymphoma. Jen has youth, huge strides in medicine, faith, and love on her side and will BEAT breast cancer. The relatives and friends going through cancer, radiation and chemotherapy are all lifted up by their faith and the support of others, and many have been BEATING their cancers for years.

I am just angry that when there are so many other battles in life, there is this one too, for so many people. I'm angry that it's even cosmically allowed for a father to be diagnosed with cancer weeks after a mother is lost. When I was little, when I would whine that something wasn't fair or was mad at my mom and said, "You're not my friend!" she would say, "Life isn't fair," and "I'm not your friend, I'm your mom." And naturally, I'd stomp away in a complete snit. Well, life still isn't fair ... only now I'd give every earthly possession to hear my mom tell me that.


In retrospect - this entry is a little bit disjointed. scrabbling together a lot of thoughts and feelings.

Mom's last days were a patchwork of gifts that we may not, at the time, have recognized as such. Of course the time we spent with her was an undisguised blessing - and the moments in which she made eye contact, spoke clearly, understood us, those were pure joy. But the difficult moments - especially the memories of physical closeness - now that some time has passed, they are coming into a different focus. Still accurate, still clear, but I feel them differently.

Cancer ravages a body and mind like nothing you can imagine. In her last weeks, she would sometimes not recognize people she had known her entire life. She would confuse people, events, reality. She told us to do things that were physically impossible, congratulated us for things that had never happened, scolded us for misdeeds we hadn't committed. Her appetite, and then her body, diminished until she was eating almost nothing, and was so thin that I was afraid transporting her from bed to chair would break a fragile bone.

We began the process of caring for her as one would care for a very young child. And we were already grieving then, for what was lost - essence, vitality. Autonomy. Clarity. Life as we knew it. And our mom, Amy, as we knew her. As we supported, and then lifted her body so she could get from place to place, we silently remembered the heartbreakingly recent days that she walked Bentley around the block, gardened for hours, showed us her newest zambudan exercises.

But even as I helped her scoot to the edge of her bed, slipped my arms under hers and around her back, bracing, feeling her use what little strength she had to pull herself up and balance, even supporting most of her weight, feeling so scared that I would drop her or that she would suddenly forget whether she was getting up or sitting down and panic and flail ... even as we did this time after time, even as the days went by and the distribution of weight and effort shifted from her to me, greater than my fear or my sadness, was a feeling of grace.

I was born to be here, right now, with you in my arms. To lift and steady you, to support and love you. With my arms around you I feel every bone, and I feel every tremble, but I also feel your will and your strength. You don't speak, but your essence hums from within, it isn't lost.

Walking in this embrace is an exercise in faith. Every step forward, every time a foot comes off the ground, we are putting our faith in each other and our faith in God. One step forward, I feel your breath on my cheek; steady and brace, I hear your voice but no words, I am not sure if you are trying to say something to me. But I keep saying to you,
hold on tight, we're almost there.
Aunties came every day to talk to her, relive the old days, give her the news. Uncles came to sit in their characteristic older-brother silence, the grief of losing a baby sister all over their faces. Her sister came to pray and come to grips with the surreality of it all. Her beloved nieces, nephews and godchildren came daily to say hello, and maybe goodbye, and hello again and again, and finally, goodbye. In the midst of all of this, the greatest gift was just to be there to care for her. Everyone did what they could to keep her heart full and her mind at peace. Sometimes I found the greatest comfort and sense of honor in caring for her physical body. The act of cleaning her skin, combing her hair, applying balm to her chapped lips brought such comfort not only to her, but to me. One of Matthew's many responsibilities was administering pain medications to keep her comfortable. Dad kept her nourished. Cousins massaged her with moisturizing lotion and filed her nails. Mom had always been down-to-earth, had always taken care of herself and everyone else. It filled us with peace to be able to lavish this care on her. I cannot honestly say with 100% certainty that she would have approved of or allowed this if she'd been at her regular strength - she was always proud, capable and incredibly self-sufficient. But it was the last small thing any of us could do to honor and connect with her, especially when it became difficult to communicate with words.

D gets married tomorrow and I am humbled to have been asked to read 1 Corinthians at the wedding ceremony. So that I don't squeak, choke, pause or ultimately let my emotions pull me under, I've been poring over the familiar words that D's mom, my Aunty Fran, read for me, and that my mom read for Laurie, D's sister, 7 (?) years ago.

I really can't make up my mind - whether to believe that A) my mom is here, in spirit, with us, or B) that she is indescribably far away in a place of unimaginable perfection, and we along with her earthly existence are long forgotten. There is a profound beauty in the second, but it has so far been too much and too final for me to swallow. But whichever turns out to be true, Corinthians has been immensely comforting. All you need is love - and it is patient, kind, truthful and unfailing, even if our best human efforts don't always produce this kind of love. It is in turns visible and invisible, but it is always there. We have been immersed in it and surely by now would have drowned without it.

Since Dad's diagnosis of mantle-cell lymphoma on the heels of losing Mom, we've had approximately five minutes for the whole woe-is-us rigamarole. We are stunned, to be sure, but there isn't time for the luxury of wallowing. Dad wakes up every day saying, "Life moves on," repairing this, cleaning that, keeping the house in order, and doing what he does best - soldiering on. We are all doing our research, Dad starts chemo on Monday, and we will keep on keeping on because that's what we do. It's less important to know why than it is to band together and form some kind of game plan for negotiating this beautiful but jagged terrain of life. Cue the marching band because like it or not, for better or for worse, we're all in this together. It's hard not to believe in scenario A at times like these.


the kitchen

Dear Mom,

In the middle of making pork chops right now ... I miss you more than ever. I never thought being able to pick up the phone to ask you if I should cook the potatoes first would someday be an impossible dream. Potato questions. So simple and now so un-askable.

I’m now the only Double X in the house and so am outnumbered three to one. Five to one if you count the dogs. The (human) boys, who miss you as much as I do, are unbearably bossy – can you believe it – in the kitchen. Dad wants to make sure everything is done just so; Scott and Matthew want to make sure I don’t ruin yet another dinner (and, subsequently, a week’s worth of lunches). The dogs, thank God, will eat anything I drop on the floor. Due to my inability to cook without spilling, they are well-fed long before their kibble is served.

I don’t know how you did all these everyday things. I don’t know how you sautéed the onions in a hurry without them jumping out of the pan. I don’t know how you resisted the urge to keep opening the oven door to watch the mushroom soup bubble over the sides of the baking dish. I don’t know how you established such a sure presence in your kitchen that no one hovered over you, cleaned up after you, or shook their heads and sighed as they retreated to other rooms. I couldn’t even get them to retreat until I murmured something about the onset of PMS – the wild card whose power I’m counting on to ensure that everyone eats without complaint (or “constructive criticism for next time”) even if the potatoes crunch between their teeth. Golden silence is all I can ask for – the hope for a compliment is something like the hope of ringing your cell to ask you about baking times.

Mom, I miss you. I miss the most ordinary things that I can never get back. Thank you for leaving a birthday voicemail for me this past July. I wish I could listen to it without crying, I miss your voice so much. I miss your pork chops. I wish I could be a mom like you, although the reality is that I might never be a mom at all. The only person who could understand what that means to me – now I can only guess at what you would say to comfort me.

I miss your voice.

I miss you.

I love you.

And I wonder if the potatoes are done.