Feeling Mortal


Nothing like upcoming brain surgery to keep a person humble.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

My, what an interesting place to find myself on this journey of life.

I think I have mentioned that I have a benign tumor on my right acoustic nerve. It’s called an acoustic neuroma. It’s pretty rare, as it happens in about 1 in 100,000 people in the US annually. Lucky me!

Because I am always worried about how my reactions will impact other people, I have been working very hard to stay calm since my diagnosis in April. It wasn’t hard, actually, because I don’t have a lot of symptoms, and it was easy to pretend it wasn’t there. Sure, I have lost about half of the hearing in my right ear, but that can be alleviated by sitting to the left of my friends. I am off-balance, but as a clumsy, chubby old lady, that hasn’t been so hard to deal with, either.

I have made my doctor’s appointments, gone to my CT and MRI scans, talked with audiologists, ENT specialists and PTs. Calm, on top of things, that’s been me.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I’ve said to my kids. “It isn’t cancer.”

But.

I am now two days away from meeting “my” neurosurgeon. And at odd moments in the day, I think, “Wait, I have a NEUROSURGEON??????” I have researched the upcoming procedure and have talked to my ENT. And I know that I have to go into a Boston hospital (only 1 1/2 hours away, but it feels like a foreign land). I will undergo roughly 8 hours of “microsurgery” through the bone behind my ear. When I wake up in the ICU, I will be dizzy, nauseous and in pain.

I’ll have to stay in there, far from home, for about 4-5 days. I may not be able to walk without assistance for a few weeks. I may not be able to drive for months. I will lose all of the hearing my right ear,, becoming totally deaf on that side.

I have been a singer with various local choirs for years. I love to sing. I am learning to play the violin and have made a lot of progress. I am a speech pathologist; I live by the auditory world. All of that feels threatened now.

None of this is life-threatening. I should be much calmer. I know two young, brave moms who are facing life-threatening cancer. I have a brother undergoing cancer treatments and a nephew undergoing years of treatment for leukemia.

But I am realizing something this week:

I do not know how to be that brave.

I’m afraid of being unconscious for a whole day. I’m afraid of being out of control. I’m afraid of the pain and the weakness. I am terribly afraid of who is going to come home from the hospital.

None of this feels like “me”.

I want to get up in some strange public place and shout out, “Wait!!!!! I can’t have brain surgery! I’m Nonni!”

Mostly, I am so terribly afraid that I won’t be strong or stable enough to take care of my sweet baby Max. I am so terribly afraid that after I have this surgery, I won’t be me. I won’t be myself.

All of this has me thinking about life. And about death. About what is really important.

I feel so mortal.

I am sad, too, that I’m going through my first medical crisis without my Mommy. Sure, I’m 66! I’m gray-haired. I’m a grandma! But as I try to be brave about the scariest thing I’ve ever faced, I I still wish that had my Mom to tell me it will all be OK.

If any of you have been through acoustic neuroma surgery, can you let me know how it went???

Renewing My Gardening Life


Thanks to a wonderful young man, I am back.

My wild “multiflora roses”.

I think the first time I put my hands in the dirt to grow a flower, I was 19 years old. I turned some soil, put in some seeds and enjoyed an entire summer of beautiful morning glories growing up the backyard fence.

I tried to turn hard city clay into a garden in our first apartment but had little success. Gradually, over the years, I learned about composting and aerating and the importance of using native plants. I became a joyful gardener in my mid-thirties, when we bought this house in the country. The house came with a big yard, a ton of trees, and not much else.

Slowly, painstakingly, I added some perennials and some flowering bushes. A few tiger lilies from my parents’ house soon turned into hundreds of them growing in garden beds, in a little “flower fence” and in the woods where I threw the ones I thinned out. A couple of small, scrawny rhododendron slowly turned into three magnificent specimens that are now far too large to prune.

The tiniest stick of a little lilac, given to us by good friends, is now the grandparent of no fewer than five full-grown bushes.

I love my yard.

It is overgrown, filled with “volunteers” like the tall phlox and wild columbine that grace us every year. I love it because it is untamed and wild. It isn’t trimmed to within an inch of it’s life and it is the happy home to hundreds of rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, moles, voles and more birds than I can begin to identify.

I love it.

But I can no longer take care of it all the way that it needs to be nurtured. My muscles are weak or achy or both. My shoulder has bursitis. My hands are arthritic and the combination of age, Fibromyalgia and a crazy tumor on my acoustic nerve have rendered me fairly useless in the garden.

And that fact has saddened me more than I can say. I walk outside and look at the overgrown clumps of tiger lilies, the unkempt groups of fox tails, and ever-spreading evening primrose. Instead of feeling the call to get my hands in the dirt that I have felt for decades, I feel instead a call to make a cup of tea, settle in the rocker and feel badly about myself.

In the face of all of this gardening chaos, I broke down and followed my husband’s suggestion. “Let’s hire a teenager to do some of this,” he said, not realizing that I would take that comment like a blow to the heart. Too old to garden, I thought. Too old to take care of my own flowers.

So I reluctantly put out an inquiry on my local social media page. Most of the responses were from professional landscapers, who were simply out of our price range. I waited, hoping for some kind soul to recognize my pain and come to my rescue.

And he did.

As so often happens in my life, my rescuer comes in the form of a child. An almost grown child, but a child. At the tender age of 13, my young helper, whose name is Marcello, has not only eased the heavy burden of dealing with the yard, but he has also reignited my belief that I CAN still do it, as long as I have some help.

Marcello and I spent two hours together today, pruning and trimming and digging up hopelessly overgrown tiger lilies. We chatted, we joked, we worked side by side. To be honest, I spent most of the time giving directions, and my young hero spent his time actually doing the work.

It was, for me, a truly uplifting day. I am so happy with the work that we did together! So happy with my beautiful yard again! And Marcello asked me such good questions that my inner teacher was thrilled. We talked about perennials and worms and composting and lilacs and school and teaching and technology.

I felt healthy while he was here, and that has become a rare pleasure.

Tonight my right arm hurts, my back is aching, my leg muscles are shaky. But as I stand here in my window, looking out at my gardens in the sunset, I am so pleased.

Hooray for young people. Hooray for their questions, their strength, their humor and their willingness to help.

If I have any hope for our country’s future, it is because of young people like Marcello, who probably doesn’t have an inkling of what is presence means to me.

My Mom LIED to Me


This is a terrible shock.

My Mom. So freakin’ gorgeous.

Well, I barely know how to go on. My Mom, my beloved, kind sweet MOM, whom I looked to for the most important guidance of my life….that woman actually and deliberately TOLD ME A LIE.

It was a bad one, too.

Sure, she raised me in safety and love. Sure, she fed us and kept us clean and entertained us. Yadayada.

She still LIED.

I remember it so very clearly. Mom and I were standing in the bathroom in the house where I grew up. I was looking in the mirror. I was HORRIFIED, I tell you, just HORRIFIED.

I think I was thirteen. I had big brown eyes and nice thick dark hair. I was, to be honest, kind of cute. But: I had my very first ZIT.

There it sat, right on my chin. Big, and red and ugly. How, I asked Mom in despair, how can I ever go to seventh grade tomorrow with THIS on my face?

It is hard to describe the panic and disgust that I felt as I stood looking at my horrifically deformed face?

My Mom, she of all wisdom and grace, put her hand on my shoulder. I remember her chuckling a bit, and telling me this:

“Don’t worry, honey. People have acne between the ages of 13 and 19. Then it’s all fine.”

Hahahahahahaha.

Sure.

That was true for HER. Her skin was perfect. Her hair was perfect. Her freakin’ fingernails were perfect. She probably had two zits in her entire life.

I, alas, was not so lucky. I remember trying desperately to pop a zit on my cheek when I was about 16. I failed. I was left with a HUGE, red, pulsating, crater on my face. I tried to cover it with makeup, but I remember that when my family arrived at my Grandparents’ house, my Grampa took one look at me and asked, in his Italian accent, “What happened? Did a cat scratch you?”

I have yet to live that moment down with my sister.

So.

Here I am. I am sixty-six years old. My mom died in November, and I am still missing her every day.

This morning I went into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror.

WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK IS ON MY FACE?
There it was, right next to the wrinkles, the dry spots and the gray hair. A giant, pulsing, red ZIT.

I am old. I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and back pain and not one, but two brain tumors. All of that sucks, but not as much as HAVING A GIANT ZIT AT 66!!!!

I am enraged. I am furious.

Mom said they’d go away at the age of NINETEEN!!!!

I am not happy.

Can you seriously be in the hospital for your old lady brain disorder and have a young intern say, “You know, I have something for that huge zit.”?

Gah.

Even When You’re Super Lucky, You Can Still Be Sad


I know, I know, I have to right to this feeling, but here it is.

Well, here we are. On the cusp of summer. A time of relief, a time of freedom, a time of joy for every teacher on earth and almost every kid.

Wahoo.

But I’m not feeling wahoo.

I know. I have absolutely no right to this feeling that is pulling me down like an anchor into the deep. I have been the luckiest grandmother I have ever met. I say that in all seriousness and all honesty. I have pinched myself a million times over the past seven years.

When I was pushed out of teaching, I stepped right into the most wonderful role in the world. I became the primary daycare provider for my grandchildren.

I am so lucky!

So why am I fighting off tears this week?

Well, I guess because all good things come to an end. And because my last go-round with the empty nest resulted in a whole lot of sadness, grief, reinventing and a fair amount of disbelief.

Tomorrow will be the last time I will be Johnny’s caregiver. He has delighted in twice-a-week preschool and is off to conquer the world of kindergarten next fall. He is more than ready. In spite of his nerves, he is eager to head off to school every day with his Mom, who teaches at his school, and his sister who will be entering the second grade.

My heart is so heavy. How did this happen so fast?

I know, I know, I know. I am being ridiculous.

I have friends who would love grandchildren but don’t have them yet. I have friends with grandchildren across the country or across the globe. I know too many people who are estranged from their children and don’t know those beautiful grandkids. And I have friends who have suffered real grief, true grief, as they have lost their children.

So I promise, I am not whining. I know, I know, I believe that my luck and my blessings are far more than I deserve or have earned.

But.

Tomorrow will be the last time that Johnny will come in for breakfast and ask for “all the cereal, all together, with milk!” We won’t have our daily game of hide n’ seek or Pirates. I will no longer sit beside him with a bowl of pretzels as he explains which guys are villains and which are good guys in his shows.

I think that this time it is harder for me. Ellie moved on to public school at the beginning of this year, but because of Covid, I got to see her progress through kindergarten online. I got a bonus year.

But as she went into first grade last September, I realized just how different our relationship would be. Sure, she still loves me and tells me that often. She asks to sleep over. But she isn’t that little needy girl anymore. She has her life, her friends, her preferences.

And that’s GOOD! As it should be.

But.

I don’t care that it’s good. Not deep, deep down in my heart. Down there, I want to go back to the days when she needed me because she couldn’t open a box, or because her nose was running or because she felt sad.

She went off to school and I miss her.

Next year, I will miss Johnny.

It is what it is, and it is as it should be, and I am so lucky and I feel like a fool.

But I am sad today. I do not have the many talents of so many of my retired friends who paint, and garden, travel, and refinish furniture. I have one great skill; I take care of kids.

I hope that next fall I will have Max here with me. Our funny, smart, goofy 2 year old Max. I so hope that he will be my charge for next year.

But there’s a medical issue that might make that difficult. I don’t know yet, and won’t know until mid-summer when I find out if I will need invasive surgery or non-invasive to deal with a benign tumor on my acoustic nerve. I feel like it’s all out of my hands, and that is a feeling that old Nonni here does NOT enjoy.

So.

Today I am sad.

I hope that my ridiculously good luck will hold for a bit longer and Max and I will spend next year playing, cooking, reading books and making decorations for various holidays.

But I am grieving, as silly as that sounds, because Johnny is flying from my nest.

I have tried to write this post at least 20 times, but my embarrassment has stopped me.

I am so lucky.

I know it.

But, wow, it is so hard to empty the nest again.

My Bunny Guru


Barney is his name; comfort is his game.

Image by the author

I live in a relatively rural place. It’s Massachusetts, so you know it isn’t all that wild. But for someone who grew up in Greater Boston and has lived, studied and worked right in the city, our part of the state is like living in the wilderness.

We have a big male black bear who cruises the neighborhood, and a gorgeous bobcat who peeks out once in a while. We have deer and foxes and turkeys and coyotes. There are more birds than you can begin to appreciate.

And for the past three years, for some reason, we have sweet little cottontail rabbits.

While these little guys used to be a rarity, these few years we have had one or two living right in the yard and sharing the dandelions with us.

This year’s bunny is named Barney. I don’t know why exactly, except that the alliteration must have appealed to my grandkids.

We first noticed Barney back in about February. The ground was frozen, and the earth was clumps of mud and dead leaves. We saw his tiny grey face one morning in the protective cover of a fallen pine tree. The kids and I watched his little twitching nose as he washed his face with one white paw. Then he squished himself back under the log.

I worried about him that night, as an icy rain fell. Silly, I know. I told myself that I worried because he was important to the kids. I didn’t want them to be sad. But I knew that wasn’t really it. I worried because he was so small, and fragile. He was alone in a cold, dangerous world. His innocence touched my heart and I imagined getting him safe and warm somehow.

Over the next few weeks, Barney would make an appearance some days as the sun set. He would hop along, carefully avoiding snow and ice clumps. I watched him chewing on dry oak leaves. I saw how he stood on his hand legs to carefully peel the bark of cherry saplings.

I started to leave him bits lettuce, carrot tops and celery leaves. He ate them, but never while I was watching.

He began to seem like a pet to me.

As the spring has come, Barney has grown considerably. He still lives under the fallen tree, but he spends time in a windfall of dead branches and hops between my rhododendron and forsythia, where he can hide when he feels scared.

With everything that is happening in this crazy world, Barney has become both a talisman and a mentor to me.

If I go two days without seeing him, I find myself up early peering out the windows. I feel responsible for him in a ridiculously inexplicable way. I am anxious when I don’t know that he has survived another night in the land of foxes and fishers and coyotes and cars.

But then I see him. My heart rate slows. I smile.

I often see Barney outside now. Right there on our front lawn, almost always with a dandelion stem in his mouth. He no longer accepts my offerings of food, and I laugh when I imagine his reaction to seeing them. “Great,” I imagine him thinking. “Dead, wilted, human scented, soap smelling green stuff. I live in a literal giant salad bowl full of clover and grass and leaves and shoots and dandelion stems. And she thinks I’m gonna eat THAT?”

Sometimes when I see him, I stand very still. He goes about his business with me there, chewing rapidly and fixing his shining black eye on my presence. I have noticed that he seems to have a good sense of social distancing. He is almost always about 6 feet away. If I take a step toward him, he takes a hop away.

The other day my little grandsons and I were out in the yard. We were admiring the millions of little Forget-me-nots that bloom all over. As we reached in to pick some, we saw that our Barney was sitting very still in the middle of a patch of flowers. He wasn’t moving at all. We stood there, admiring him, and making soft noises.

After a minute or two in which I guess he realized that we weren’t planning to eat him, Barney hopped, rather calmly, out of the flower bed and under a bush.

The kids were enchanted. I was inspired.

This is how I want to meet the challenges of my world. I want to go on calmly eating in the face of danger. I want to take my time to assess how real a threat it is that I am facing. I want the courage to calmly keep myself generally safe, while also having the confidence to live under my own fallen tree.

Barney, as far as I can tell, spends no time at all wondering if he should have done something differently. He doesn’t appear to be worried about tomorrow; unlike the chipmunks that race around here all day, he is not storing food for a later date.

Instead, he is soaking up the sun, eating what tastes best to him, avoiding disaster as long as possible and having a good bunny in the summer life.

He’s kinda my hero.

He’s also very very cute.

How Do We React to the Texas Shooting?


The terrible massacre in Texas is awful for all of us. But for some of us, for teachers like me, it is particularly horrifying.

I taught fifth grade for a decade. My babies were ten and eleven years old. Just like most of the little ones who were slaughtered in Uvalde. I was in charge of a class of kids when the Newtown massacre happened. I know, in the very depth of my soul, how innocent and how promising our children really are. I know too well how deeply they love and how intensely they hope.

Tonight we were watching the news. PBS had extensive coverage of the slaughter in Texas. We watched it all. But at the end of the show, they turned to a roll-call of the children who were murdered. I started to cry, of course. My loving husband stood up and went to the TV.

“Let’s turn it off” he suggested, worried about my emotional state.

Part of me agreed. How would it help to see this? How would my tears make anything better?

But then I caught myself.

“These precious little kids deserve to be fully mourned. They deserve my tears. My pain and sorrow is only a millionth of the pain their parents and grandparents are feeling at this moment.”

We left it on. We saw each sweet young face, each gently smiling child. We both cried, and we both felt awful.

As we should.

I am thinking, at this moment, that our entire nation is in desperate need of a huge, national day of mourning. We do NOT need any more moments of “silence”. Instead, we truly need many moments of rage. Moments of sorrow. Moments of regret.

We need an outpouring of national grief. The kind of deep, soul-shaking grief that is the only proper response to the brutal assassination of our children. We need to close everything down, for a day, or a week or a month. No more work. No more school. No more students sitting quietly at their desks.

No more.

Nothing.

We need to take to the streets and open our hearts and our mouths and we need to give voice to the terrible, terrible pain that we Americans are feeling.

“Stop!” We need to scream. “Stop!”

“You cannot keep slaughtering our children just because you want to play with guns! You cannot continue to make your desire to play soldier more important than our desire to raise our children in safety.”

We need to shout. We need to wail. We need to hold a huge, national, public day of sorrow and rage and we need to honor every single life that has been stolen in the name of pseudo macho bullshit.

I am here in my little house, on my couch, sobbing again. Thinking of those kids I taught and those kids whose lives are gone. I’m sobbing and mourning and thinking of the deep levels of terror and survivor guilt and complete confusion that will now envelope every single child who was in the building when the attack happened.

But it’s not enough.

I really, really think that we need a national day of mourning? grief? rage? sorrow? before schools reopen in September.

Anyone with me?

Coming Back Home, Little By Little


I haven’t written in months. Here’s why.

The past few months have been a challenge, that’s for sure.

My mother died in November, the night before Thanksgiving. It had been a long and sad journey, and it was not an unexpected death. Still, she was Mom. I found myself mute in her absence.

And I have had some crazy medical challenges myself in the past few months, including a tumor on my right acoustic nerve which resulted in many many many conversations that included the words “Huh? What? Say again?” and “Why are you mumbling?”

I find myself contemplating the end of my own life in ways that I never have before. For the very first time in my existence, I thought the other day, “There’s no point in replanting this lilac sprout. I won’t be here to see it bloom.”

Well.

That kind of thinking is NOT what I want. Not at all. I want to be the old woman who says, “I will plant you today and someone will love you later!” I want to be the woman who thinks, “Well, life has been great so far! Let’s see what’s next.”

I’m trying to be her. I really am. I think about her. I channel her. I embrace her spirit as I walk around my spring-filled yard.

But sometimes I can’t do it.

Today I was able to embrace that “here I am” woman all day. I pulled some weeds from my perennial beds. I did laundry and I cooked good food for my son and daughter-in-law as they prepare for their first child. I walked the dogs and I looked at the sky. I breathed in the scent of lilac and lily-of-the-valley.

And then I came inside. I turned on the news. I saw that another group of innocent children was slaughtered in their classrooms by an angry man with a lethal weapon.

I broke at that moment. I broke.

I lost my hope. I lost my belief in my country and in my fellow Americans.

So. Here I am. Back in this space where I have found support and encouragement over these many years. I need you all, dear readers. I need a reason to believe that all is not lost.

I am broken.

Midnight Musings


I am at a funny point in life. One of those odd, serendipitous moments that seem to follow me.

Tomorrow Paul and I will head to Florida to visit two of our very best friends. The kind of people who you trust implicitly. The kind of friends who, on the eve of your visit, when your husband hasn’t really started to pack, you think to yourself, “It’s OK. Dave will have something that fits him…..”

As we plan our trip, the first vacation we have had together since the summer of 2019, I find myself obsessing over how I look.

I turned 66 this week.

I have jowls. Actual JOWLS. I am gray, I am pale, I do not look like anyone’s version of a woman who should be walking the beach.

Or am I?

As I contemplate my aging self, I take stock of the multiple leg bruises caused by my dogs, my blood clotting issues, my awkwardness. I look at my doughy middle. And my sagging “ladies”.

Why do I feel shame?

I used to be young, pretty, smooth, fresh.

But then I lived my life. I had three kids. I aged, as does every human who is lucky and blessed.

This morning, at about 3 AM, I woke up thinking about the arm that I injured yesterday while trying to clean out the house where my parents lived for 60 years. Yesterday I gently, lovingly wrapped dozens of pieces of glassware to be donated. I carefully sorted through the kitchen drawers, wrapped in memories of dinners past, and placed each spatula, each knife, in a box for someone to take away.

As I thought back on the day, I reached out to find my ice pack, wrapping it around my forearm. I remembered the moment when I had been pulling down my Dad’s old gardening tools to toss into the dumpster. An ancient string trimmer had become rusted to the rack my Dad had built to hold it. As I pulled, it fell down with a crash, catching my arm as it did.

I barely noticed the damage at the time. But when I got home, I saw the swelling, the broken blood vessel, the emerging black and blue.

Do you know what I thought at that moment?

I didn’t worry about my health. I didn’t worry about the fact that it actually hurt like a toothache. No. Instead what flew through my head was this, “But I’m going to Florida! I don’t want to have an ugly bruise on my arm!”

Ugly.

Not painful. Not aching. Just ugly. That was my fear.

As I drifted back to sleep last night, ice pack wrapped around my bruise, I suddenly remembered a woman I saw in Germany a few years ago.

Our German hosts had taken us to the gorgeous island of Sylt, way up on the North Sea. We went to the beach, of course, and it was absolutely breathtaking. I wanted to swim, but there were no dressing rooms, and our young German friends informed us that if we wanted to put on a bathing suit, we should just do it on the beach.

I didn’t. I felt fat. And old. And silly.

I was experiencing my one and only time to visit the North Sea, but what I was thinking about was my flabby thighs. I was far too embarrassed to change my clothes on a mostly empty beach in front of people I would never see again…..

So I waded into the water, but only up to my knees. Where my shorts began.

As we walked along the gorgeous, wild, impossibly amazing shoreline, we saw other people enjoying the day. One was a woman that I cannot forget. I so wish that I could talk to her tonight, before I head South to put my full old lady on display.

This woman was lying on her stomach on one of the many beach lounges that line that stretch of shore. As we passed, I realized that she was both completely nude and completely at ease. I kept a view of her out of the corner of my eye, as I strolled through the very edges of the waves in my shorts and t-shirt.

After a few minutes, the woman arose from her lounge. She stretched for a minute, then ran her hands through her hair. Slowly, with great grace and an obvious sense of pleasure, she walked across the sand and into the pounding surf. She raised both arms above her head and dove into an incoming wave.

I watched her for five or so minutes as she endured in that very cold water. Then I watched her elegantly and nonchalantly walk back to her lounge, where she lay back down in the August sun.

I think of her often. I am thinking of her tonight.

I wish that I could talk to her.

I would say, “Thank you for the model you have shown me.”

I would ask, “How is it that you are so comfortable with your old body? You have short gray hair, like me. You have round hips and a belly, like me. How do you dare to walk in public showing your every flaw?”

Of course, I could never really say any of this, but I do imagine how she might answer. I think that she might say, in complete seriousness, “This is what a grandmother looks like. I have gray hair because I have been lucky enough to have lived for several decades. I have wrinkles because I have laughed and cried as the situation has demanded.”

I think of her looking at her sagging breasts and belly, and imagine her saying, “I gave birth to my children! I fed them. I cooked for them. I worked hard.”

I imagine her telling me, “This is the body of a woman who has lived. Be grateful that you were able to achieve this.”

And then I try, very hard, to imagine myself telling her, “You’re right! My bruises and bumps and wrinkles are nothing to be ashamed of!”

I imagine this very hard.

I Have No Words


And that is profoundly confusing for me. I have always had words. I was the second-grader who got in trouble for bringing a book into the girls’ bathroom so I could get to the end of my chapter. I was the third-grader whose teacher pulled her aside to say, “Honey, I know you have a lot to say, but can you practice waiting to say it later?”

I have always processed the entire world verbally. If I didn’t talk about it, I wasn’t sure it had really happened.

But I am out of words right now.

I feel stiff. I feel frozen. I feel as if every one of my deepest and most profound emotions is stuck in my throat.

I am learning that grief presents itself in strange ways.

When my Dad died, I cried and mourned and wrote about him and talked about him and somehow put everything in place.

But with the death of my Mom, I find myself at a loss for words.

It’s funny.

One of the many things that Mom and I shared was our love of the spoken and written word. We were both readers. We were both writers. We both preferred verbal puzzles to mathematical ones.

We were also both more emotional than logical. We both struggled to force our hearts to follow our brains, instead of the other way around.

And now she is gone.

And I have no words.

I have tried and tried and tried again to come to this safe space where I can write just what I feel. But I can’t quite get my arms around the hugeness of the hole in my world.

I have no words.

Mom was graceful, even when she was unaware of that grace. She was stylish, as I can attest now that my sister and I have sorted through the 12 bags of her clothes.

Mom was opinionated. She was strong. She was fragile and breakable, and we all spent so much energy trying to protect her from the life around her. She was never able to fully grasp how much we loved her and looked to her to guide our way through this life.

I have no words to express the strange feeling that I have without her in my life.

One moment I feel like a balloon that has escaped its knot, rising and rising into the stratosphere with absolutely nothing to guide me.

The next moment I feel like the wise woman of my own village; the oldest and wisest, able to fold my mother’s lessons into my own.

I am here because I am afraid that if I stop writing, stop speaking, I will simply disappear. Without the reflection of my Mom in my mirror, am I really there?

I have lost my words.

I believe that they will come back. As I embrace my beautiful granddaughter and watch her falling into a good book, I see my Mom.

Life is a journey. Life goes on, no matter what we think about that fact.

My Mom is gone. For now, my voice has gone with her.

I will look to my children and to theirs, and I know that I will find it once again.

For now, I am here only to show that I am here.

You Know Why I Love a Good Blizzard?


I am a summer person. I love the heat. I love the sweating and the thunder and the bees and the barbecue. I love the beach.

But even I have to admit, I really love a good snowstorm.

I love blizzards and nor’easters here in Massachusetts because they are such a visceral reminder that while we think we are in control of our own lives, nature is laughing right out loud at us.

I love these big storms because they force me to look beyond my usual safe and secure and technologically supported life. They force me to think, “Oh, oh….if the power goes out…..” I feel strong, smart, and prepared when I plug in my portable battery, double-check my generators and make sure the solar-powered flashlights are all charged up.

I feel excited and ready for a challenge when I make batches of calzones that can be eaten either hot or cold. And when I charge up all the flashlights. And bake some cookies because……really?

All of this preparation and pioneer-womaning is great and it all makes me appreciate a good snowstorm. But there is something I love even more.

I love a good snowstorm because it leaves behind it a small patch of untouched perfection.

No footsteps mar the perfection of the white. No dirt is anywhere in the image. No human impact can be seen on the landscape.

A good snowstorm is the ultimate “Do Over”. It allows me to look out my window, watching the birds flit from branch to branch. It lets me watch as a tiny chickadee picks the seeds out of an overgrown perennial.

A strong storm is a reminder to all of us that earth has been here a lot longer than we have. It reminds us that the roads are only a recent addition to the earth. It shows us that if mother nature set her mind to it, we’d be gone.

I love it.

I love the expansive spread of pure white snow across a yard.

Today’s New England blizzard is reminding me of one of my favorite memories as a teacher. I arrived at school one morning after a storm of some 12 or 14 inches. My students gathered in the classroom as usual. They handed in homework, did the “attendance” record and sat down to do “Before School Work”.

At exactly the moment when the official school day began, I told them all to put on their coats, snow pants, and boots. As I recall, they were excited and bewildered in equal measure. I lined them up. I walked to the door of our classroom, and then led them down to the outdoor exit. The exit that would take them outside to the playground.

To the playground that was covered with pure, untouched, sparkling snow.

“Nobody has been out here yet,” I told them. “Go!”

There was a short frozen moment of hesitation. And then the door burst open and out they ran. Twenty-four ecstatic ten-year-olds burst out into the pure, untouched snow. They laid down their footprints. They rolled in the snow. They buried their faces in the snow.

THIS is what I love about snowstorms.

They let us start fresh. They let children feel the miracle of laying down the very first footprints on that pristine palette.

A snowstorm tells us to stop, to slow down, to savor the moment. It tells us that no matter how powerful we feel ourselves to be, our footsteps will not last in this world. They tell us to embrace the moment of icy, sparkling joy. And they remind us that those moments are not eternal. They remind us that the snow will soften. It will become gray and icy and old.

A good snowstorm reminds us that every moment of joy is a moment to treasure. And it reminds us that even if it’s cold out there, we should go out and jump into the drifts.

Life and love and joy are all as ephemeral as a snowstorm, I guess. And that’s why we have to embrace and enjoy every one.