Tag Archives: grief

Remembering Tulip

IMG_5983

Itty-bitty Tulip. Simply the sweetest.

We recently lost our dear Tulip. She’s been with me my entire adulthood, a faithful reminder of my year in The Netherlands and reliable provider of high-quality pastured milk for our family. I brought her home as a calf at the end of my exchange student year in Holland. My parents weren’t pleased that my hideous Rotary blazer covered in pins from around the world wasn’t a sufficient souvenir, but what choice did they have? They certainly weren’t going to pay to fly a calf back across the Atlantic.

She was the cutest Holstein Friesian calf I’d ever seen. Remember City Slickers? Norman had nothing on Tulip, though he was responsible for inspiring my desire to own a calf in the first place. I came across her on a bike ride in Friesland. She was tied up to a tree and I immediately wanted to rescue her from a fate of veal. I made an offer, and come June 1996, she was mine to take home.

Tulip was the reason I learned to make cheese and always had an abundance of aged Gouda in the house. As much as we enjoy eating grass-fed beef, we couldn’t handle consuming Tulip. Instead, she rests among my garden beds and near the boys’ swingset, keeping us company even in death.

IMG_5977 IMG_5976

RIP, dear Tulip. We are thankful you were in our lives for so long and that even now we can keep you close.

We hope that the city of Seattle will soon recognize the importance of allowing cattle on home properties, so other families don’t have to hide their precious heifers from their neighbors and friends.

IMG_5984

Tulip enjoying a last moment in Holland, before coming back to the US with me

 

IMG_5982

Tulip’s family and home of origin. I may need to go visit again and pick up another calf.

 

Advertisements

Sunbreaks

IMG_9132

When we first moved to Seattle in 2000, I remember dying with laughter the first time I heard a weather forecaster mention “sunbreaks.” My native Colorado soul could barely handle that I had moved from a state with nothing but blue skies to a state that gave residents notice of when they just might be lucky enough to see the sun for an hour or two. The choice was either to laugh or cry.

Last Friday I felt the heavy weight of my snowballed anxiety lifting. It felt like a sunbreak after an unusually long, gray winter. I quietly hoped that the majority of February trials would firmly park themselves within that month, allowing March to come in like a lamb.

I drove to Seattle Public School’s district headquarters to drop off paperwork and landed a parking spot right in front of the building. I shared a little yelp of glee with the parking attendant. She understood and laughed knowingly. Previously, I’ve ended up parking at least a half mile away. It’s an industrial part of town, and walking to the building involved crossing railroad tracks and busy, trash-filled streets. (If you don’t appreciate a good parking spot, visit Seattle and drive somewhere downtown. You’ll quickly understand why we love our bikes.)

After waiting in line a fraction of the time I anticipated, I received the best customer service I’ve experienced in years. The kind man processed Miles’ Kindergarten enrollment form with a genuinely happy demeanor. He didn’t seem to notice the line rapidly growing behind me. (I had been anticipating a stern look of disapproval from whomever helped me because I didn’t have Miles’ student identification number. I had recycled the only notice we received with his number on it because I didn’t realize that: 1) the number was on it, 2) the number was important, nor 3) the only place we could find that number from our home was on that letter. For goodness sakes, the entire purpose of that letter was to inform parents that we wouldn’t be getting a letter with school assignments on it. Why would I keep that? Sigh. But, I digress. He was friendly, not at all flustered by my error, and helped me forgive SPS for it’s poor communication.

While exiting, I ran into two different friends, one of whom I’ve known since high school. It was a fun surprise to see familiar faces in an unfamiliar part of town. Later that day, I met with a different friend whom I’ve known since junior high, and the two of us saw another Boulder friend. My entire day was peppered with friendly faces, most from days past, in parts of town I almost never visit.

At the end of the day, Harry finalized a contract that brings us sufficient income for March. Things look hopeful for April, too. We celebrated with take-out and a bottle of wine.

The past week almost felt normal. We enjoyed a fun family outing at the Arboretum Sunday. I cooked. Harry mowed the lawn. I returned to my weight-lifting class because my back is recovering. My stomach is nearly normal after the tenants’ surprise eviction. No one else in the family is sick. Harry has been working.

It’s felt comforting. Not everything is resolved, but all of these little gifts felt like sunbreaks. I don’t know if this winter has passed, but I am thankful for the reprieve.

IMG_5860

 

Shelter

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brené Brown

“Can we listen to ‘I see trees of green’?” Miles inquired at breakfast, singing the line as he requested the song. The boys were sitting at the table with their oatmeal, I was packing lunches, Harry was making the two of us some eggs, and Miles took a break from eating to sign along to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” At the end he made certain we knew that, “The sign for ‘world’ goes like this [hand gesture], because the world is round.”

As breakfast progressed, the best series of songs ever requested by a child in our household unfolded. We played James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” once Miles elaborated enough for us to figure out that “I feel nice” includes “I feel nice! So nice! I got you!” That was followed up by “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “My Girl.” “Baa Baa Black Sheep” also entered the mix; it wasn’t all nursery-free. More signs, more singing, more moments that made me wish we had a hidden camera in our household so I could watch this on repeat when I’m sad, nostalgic or otherwise needing to smile.

My episodic memory is so horrible that writing is one of the only ways I’ll file this away with most of the details accurate. Even a few hours later and I was dependent on Harry’s recollection for all the songs. I would be a horrible witness. (OMG!. Finally listening to Serial. Late to the party, but so glad I showed up. DO NOT TELL ME ANYTHING.) But I do not want to forget this morning. I want its sweetness seared into the depths of my cortex.

These beautiful, not-to-be-missed moments seem brighter to me now than they have for months. A crucial part of this season of struggle for our family is how we let it refine us. Harry and I are acutely aware that our stress can be handled countless ways. We hurt each other at times, of course, but thankfully we also call out to each other for support in our dark moments. It could easily go the other way. Blame, shame, anger, and guilt could do us in if we didn’t bring our more upsetting thoughts into the light.

IMG_5324I am raw. I cry often. Much to my embarrassment, this seems to include every time I walk through one of Seattle’s beautiful parks filled with gigantic, blooming trees. I depend on spring’s flowers. I am also, on occasion, acting like a caffeinated dog stuck outside during a lightning storm. No shelter in sight, I chase my tail until I collapse. This is not a particularly helpful strategy.

After, oh, round seven or so of time between jobs, I am finally realizing that this is one of my coping patterns. In my unhealthiest moments, I detour around my productive strategies for dealing with anxiety to a manic search for something tangible and “stable.”

I spent a ridiculous number of hours looking at homes on Zillow this week. Questions about the Seattle market? I’m your gal! Want a home on San Juan Island? I can hook you up! I’ve been sick and weak from a lovely GI episode (FeBRUTALary!), laying in bed drooling over gorgeous homes with views of the waters the orcas visit. Even if we could buy a house right now, it would be an idiotic move. Yet I chase that dream like it would bring reprieve. How can you weigh the importance of a dad choosing work that doesn’t demand relentless hours or suck his soul dry just to receive a higher income? How do you know whether it’s better to choose home ownership and a more affordable town than the city and community you love?

Yesterday, I spent hours fighting way too many regretful feelings that staying at home for over five years was a poor choice for our family given the ups and downs of a contract-based business. I went to that extremely unhelpful Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda place. If I had worked, we would have more money. I should’ve trusted that the wee boys would be fine with someone else and we could’ve bought a house. If only, if only, if only. The standard privileged modern mom’s dilemma. I’ve faced it before, just not as deeply. Was not working worth it? How much do I value on staying home with kids? Would greater financial stability, nice vacations and a home of our own be better for our family? How do I weigh these factors?

My questions about those things remain, for sure. I wish someone could tell me with certainty all the ways my boys are better off, but ultimately it’s a moot point. Mostly, though, I think I’m deflecting fear that our next income might not allow us to live as we have in the past, as well as anger that returning to work as a Speech-Language Pathologist requires jumping ridiculous, expensive hurdles. I didn’t anticipate a cake walk, but thus far the Washington State Department of Health is giving the DMV a run for their money.

This season has been painful for me, but I am beginning to value the questioning process that is birthed from the anxiety. We are in a refinement period, redefining what is important to us, reminding ourselves of our core values, savoring the laughter, passions, and love we share as a family. We’re going to come out of this with a clearer vision. This is a tiny but important step in accepting that I can not fight the storm. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to stop chasing my tail, too.

IMG_5816

Surrender

IMG_9050IMG_9029Despite Harry having just recovered from the flu, we pulled off a stellar 8th birthday party for Charlie last weekend. Our house was covered with squares and cubes to honor his Minecraft obsession. It was nice to have his party to prepare for on the heels of our news. It kept me focused on celebrating. I served Smitten Kitchen’s so-crazy-addictive-they-must-be-cocaine-infused rice crispy treats with a hint of green as “slime balls”, and her amazingly fudgy brownies as “coal” and “redstone”, along with savory bites like bell pepper “TNT.”

I thought we’d spend this week pushing through a few of the woes of unemployment, like finding health insurance, but it has been a doozy. I threw out my back Monday morning while lifting weights, Friday I got word that my SLP license is going to be held up for at least a month unless I can convince someone that their red tape makes absolutely zero sense, and last night Harry began a round of GI eruptions. This time food poisoning has him prostrate.

I wish we would raise white flags during times of need and our neighbors would take turns dropping off meals, watching the children, leaving good books on our doorstep or pulling a few weeds. While overwhelmed by a three year old and a newborn, I remember dreaming of a service that hooked up grandparents missing their grandbabies with moms of young children desperate for help. Maybe there should be a similar set-up for families dealing with illness, unemployment, death and other major life events. (What’s that you say? Move to Sweden or Holland? Ok!)

My jerry-rigged white flag system involves texts and emails. I’m getting better at this, quicker to fill people in. It still feels scary because I have voices in my head that tell me people won’t show up, are too busy, or really don’t want to hear about this Yet Again. But, here’s the deal. Just like I don’t care if someone’s sick repeatedly or needs a break from their crying baby, they understand our situation. They show up because they love us.

IMG_5813IMG_5814

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends have been my rays of light. They have been the bright notes to counter the gray. One arrived at our door holding enormous bottles of beer and a bottle of wine. (She knows we stop buying alcohol when future income is unclear, so she became our party Jesus, turning our water into wine.) Another friend’s thrift store birthday party provided some serious belly laughs. I realized that even though I wasn’t buying clothes, I could still try them on. I found the most horrifically ugly outfits to model, an activity I can’t recommend enough. My BFF Anne Lamott retweeted one of my tweets. (!!!) Another friend sent a link to a blog post she “knew” I needed to read and, indeed, it contained words that powered me through the week.

I also savored an evening with my graduate school girlfriends. The plans were made long before Harry lost his job and I re-injured my back, but I kept them because I knew time with them would be therapeutic. We can laugh, be sarcastic, cry and be ridiculously silly within a ten minute window. I’ve known these women over a decade and we’ve walked each other through major piles. We know how to show up for each other, in celebration or consolation. I feed them chocolate, they bring wine. An additional bonus is that they don’t mind the obstacle course of Legos, crumbs, nerf darts and discarded crafts covering my floor.

There is an abundance of beauty in my life. I feel deeply loved. I feel cared for. I am excited about what opportunities may arise from this shift. I’m just equally scared they may not happen soon enough. That we might have to let go of a few dreams that made my heart flutter. My little control problem turns me into an unpredictable geyser during these periods, erupting in tears at the wrong look from a dog. Stability and predictability are my game. However, I don’t wave my white flag when I’m in control. And I receive the most amazingly rich food for my soul whenever it waves. So, I’ll keep surrendering. Again and again.

IMG_5825

The lone remaining slice when I decided I would blog this. Isn’t she pretty? Imagine an entire loaf!

Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

Yet another from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Yields 12 servings.

Cake batter

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream

Filling

  • 1/3 cup raspberry or cherry jam
  • 1 teaspoon water

Frosting

  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Butter a 9 1/2 x 5-inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess.  Place the pan on two stacked regular baking sheets or on one insulated baking sheet.

Whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs individually, beating each for about a minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low to add the sour cream. Still working on a low speed, add the dry ingredients but mix only until they have just disappeared into the batter. Stir one last time with a sturdy rubber spatula and scrape the very thick batter into the pan. Even it out using a spatula.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. After about 45 minutes if the cake looks as if it’s browning too quickly, loosely cover it with a foil tent. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before turning it out. Cool to room temperature upside down.

Bring the jam and water to a boil over low heat. (Or make your own and just don’t let it get too thick. No need for water. This step was fun for me because I had some raspberries in the freezer begging to be used up.)  Stir to smooth it.

If the loaf cake is extremely uneven on top, slice off the very top using a serrated knife so it will lay flat on a plate. It will serve as the base of the cake. Slice the loaf twice more, creating three layers. Put the first layer (originally the top of the cake) cut side up on a serving plate and spread half of the jam on it. Top this with the middle layer and the rest of the jam. Place the top layer cut side down. Use a small pastry brush or a gentle hand to remove any crumbs on the top or sides of the cake.

To make the frosting, use a double boiler or fit a heatproof bowl into a pan of gently simmering water. Add the chocolate and stir it occasionally until it has melted. Continue working over the hot water and stir in the sour cream. The cream may tighten up, but just continue to stir gently and the frosting will become smooth enough to spread. Once it’s ready, remove the frosting from the heat and cover the sides and top of the cake with the warm frosting.

You may serve immediately or wait a bit. It will last covered and at room temperature overnight, otherwise it is best to refrigerate it. Just bring it to room temperature prior to serving. Serve with pretty much any sort of cream and you won’t regret it.

Crunchy consolation for a crappy week

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

The rain on our skylights sounded like a jackhammer this morning. It was a quick deluge, fitting for how various news landed on our doorstep last week. Gorgeous, mysterious fog was replaced by a pelting downpour. Unfortunately this change was an appropriate marker. Last week can eat it.

As much as I know that life comes with death, light with dark, joy with pain (Oh no! Now Milli Vanilli is in my head.),  I never snuggle up to death and it’s tendency to pop up uninvited. There’s the obvious ways, like the passing of those we love, but there are other ways death shows up. Ways that don’t come with a memorial or expected grieving period. The fading friendship. The dissolving marriage. The termination of a job.

The only place I’m super comfortable with death is in the garden. There, it’s easy to respect that the richest soil forms through the decomposition of things once alive. There are tangible benefits at the end of the process, too. Luscious tomatoes, stunning flower beds.

Monday brought the stabbing news of friends’ divorcing. I sobbed with the intensity of this morning’s rain, heartbroken. It’s devastating to know someone you love has to push through a hurricane of grief, unsure when she’ll step out of it. I woke up Tuesday and cried more. This is one of those times I desperately want to wave a magic wand even though I know that journeying through the grief is critical for healing. I just really, really hate that part.

For someone nearing forty, I’m astonishingly unfamiliar with divorce. Only a few friends have been through it, but none with whom I was walking closely at the time. Equally amazing, none of my close friends parents’ divorced as I was growing up. Until now, my only intimate experience has been through my husband’s family, and I walked into that scenario several years after the fact. I see their scars, but I wasn’t present in the acute stage. I didn’t have to survive the flood.

Thursday, Harry came home with word that HR Guy was traveling from headquarters to the Seattle office. Since the only time he comes is to lay people off, we had a hint. The entire Seattle office was laid off Friday. Saturday evening he started to feel bad, Sunday morning he had a fever. He’s currently holed up in our bedroom suffering through the flu.

I stress baked Friday. Baking centers me. (Especially kneading dough. I forget until my hands are in the thick of it, but man, it’s therapeutic. I should keep dough rising all around the house as a preventative care measure.) Since Harry felt pretty certain he knew what was coming, I felt pretty certain my husband would return home sad. I flipped through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and found her Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. My caramel-loving, sweet-toothed, out-of-a-job husband would be all over those.

IMG_9020

Miles claims that these are The Best Treat I’ve ever baked. After Harry commented that they were delicious, Miles corrected him. “No, Papa. They are THE BEST.” They are reminiscent of a candy bar. An extremely satisfying one. The brown sugar base tastes a little nut-buttery. The dark chocolate layer counters it’s sweetness nicely. Top that off with the awesomely crunchy caramelized crispies and you have a winner in our household. These will appear again. Hopefully in celebration instead of consolation.

I’m currently savoring each little chapter of Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. These words resonate with me right now:

When you’re in the dark, you have to try to remember that it’s a dance – dark, light, dark, light, dim. Or when you’re in the sun but the clouds come, of course you instantly think, Oh God, now it’s going to get cold and wet, and it’s all fucked, but then you might remember that when it was dark an earlier time, your friends shined a little thin light on it, and you remember one thing that sort of helped, one more step you can take, maybe one more thing you can try.

I see my friend watching for light. Taking great care of herself during torrential grief and looking to friends to help her navigate, to hold the light. I feel hope for our family, too. Just a few days in and we already feel buoyed by the support our friends have lended. I hate the dark, but I’ve walked this path before and the rays break through often enough to keep me steady.

If you’re walking through a storm right now, please be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Seek out your friends. Let them know you’re sad and need support. Exercise. Sleep. Nourish yourself. Hang out with people who make you laugh yet are compassionate and kind enough to know when silence and a hug is more appropriate. And maybe bake yourself and your loved ones a delicious treat.

IMG_9022

Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 16 bars

BASE

  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons; 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (102 grams) all-purpose flour

TOPPING

  • 3 1/2 ounces (99 grams) dark chocolate (60-80% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1/2 recipe Caramelized Rice Crispies (or alternately 1 cup rice crispies, large flake coconut, popcorn, or mixed nuts, etc… as a topper)

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the bars out of the pan. Butter the paper.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth, light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer about five times to beat in the flour. If it doesn’t completely blend in, mix on low speed until it disappears.

Scrape the sticky, thick dough into the lined pan and spread it over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer. I used my fingers, wetting them down a bit to counter the dough’s sticky nature.

Baker for about 22-minutes, until the base is golden brown and puffed up a bit.

Immediately top the bars with the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle it evenly over the base and return the pan to the turned-off oven for a couple minutes, or until the chocolate is melted. Spread the melted chocolate evenly using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.

Break off pieces of the Caramelized Rice Crispies (or whatever topping you choose) and lightly press them into the chocolate until the top is completely covered. Cool to room temperature on a rack. Once cooled, put the pan in the fridge for 20-minutes to set the chocolate if it’s still fluid.

To serve the bars, remove the cookie out of the pan by using the parchment overhang and place it on a cutting board . Cut them into 16 squares.

IMG_9024

Caramelized Rice Crispies

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (53 grams) rice crispies

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Have a pastry brush (silicone preferred, but not necessary), cold water and a spatula standing by.

Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of a large saucepan or a wide skillet that gives you enough space to stir comfortably. Sprinkle the water over all the sugar. Turn the heat to medium / medium-high and bring the sugar to a boil. Dip the pastry brush in cold water and wash down the sides of the pan if any sugar spatters. At the first sign of color, remove the pan from the heat and add the rice crispies.

Using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, stir until the syrup disappears. You will see cakey white streaks on the bottom of the pan as the syrup gets absorbed and sugar hardens on the bottom of the pan.

Return the pan to medium / medium-high heat and stir without stopping. (Be careful, it’s incredibly hot.) As I stirred, the white cakey bottom of the pan liquefied again, helping to coat each grain of cereal with the caramel. I stopped stirring and took it off the heat once the entire pan’s white cakey bottom was reabsorbed into the crisps. You want the cereal to be a deep caramel color. (It’s alright if the sugar smokes. That flavor will be nice, too.)

Immediately scrape the rice crispies onto the lined baking sheet and spread them out into a single layer. Work fast, because they’ll harden quickly. Allow to cool. Use half of these to top the bars and the other half to snack on or throw on ice cream.

(Cleaning your pan will be significantly easier if you throw it back on the heat with some water in it. Bring it to a boil to soften the hardened sugar.)

 

Celebrating in both spaces

IMG_5508

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

Like all holidays past, and all holidays future, there are other thoughts racing around in the back of our heads beyond whether or not the turkey will taste good and the pies will turn out. We miss loved ones. We ache for relationships to be healed. We want the children to stop pestering each other. We long for patience and wisdom.

Sunday morning brought news of my parents’ decades long neighbor passing away. Though her death was expected, I am never ready for the wave of grief that inevitably crashes into me as the words are spoken, and this time was no different. I sobbed, first to my mom on the phone and later in my bedroom while the boys played. It’s an odd experience to cry loudly while your kids are laughing and tearing apart the house. They were completely oblivious to my sounds. This isn’t too surprising since I could probably walk past them naked wearing a Frankenstein mask and they also wouldn’t notice if they were fully engrossed in their play, but it’s still strange to experience.

Once I calmed, all I wanted was to recount the stories. There are many, starting with my birth. Louise’s oldest daughter and I share the same birthday, a decade apart. My brother, nearly nine years older than me, spent the night with a swarm of ten-year-old girls at a birthday party while Mom labored and delivered. (I don’t know whether or not he enjoyed the party scene, but I like that it happened on account of me. My earliest successful attempt to mess with a sibling.) Several years later Louise baked me my favorite birthday cake- heart’s desire of every little girl of the 80s: the kind with the doll awkwardly sticking out of the middle of the cake while wearing a giant, impossible-to-walk-in dress, of course!

Louise lived across the street from me during my entire childhood, and she loved to garden. These two things ensured that our paths crossed frequently. Nearly every morning and afternoon of elementary school, as I hopped on and off the school bus, I’d look for her cats. Talkative, snuggly Cookie would cross the street, waiting with me in the morning and walking me partway home in the afternoon. Sugar or Pepper (I can’t remember which- they owned a lot of cats over the years and their food names always confused me) would wait in their yard, knowing I’d eventually come scratch behind her ears. If the cats weren’t outside, I’d inevitably ask my mom if I could go visit. I was always welcomed inside.

Routine, everyday encounters were the norm, but there were exceptional moments, too. One winter evening, a friend’s mom dropped me off at home after a dance recital. My mom and sister stayed for performances later that evening, but I was only six years old, exhausted and ready for bed. The woman didn’t wait to see if I got in, driving away before I even reached my front door. I stood knocking and ringing the bell, increasingly scared and lonely. The house was dark. The porch light wasn’t even on. The bushes grew big enough for people to be hiding behind. The night grew colder and darker. The wind hissed. My dad and brother were supposed to be home.

I was so young that I’m not sure if I’d even crossed the street by myself yet. I clearly remember being terrified to do it,  especially in the dark, but I knew where I wanted to go. Their porch light was on. The cats would be inside, too. I was even happy knowing that I could peek at the little world inside their enormous terrarium, which I found both odd and amazing. I remember my run across the street vividly, though more like I recently dreamt it than that it really happened. My heart pounded as I rang their doorbell. (I vaguely remember also feeling nervous about bothering them late at night or waking them up. It was probably 8pm.) A warm blanket of comfort covered me as the door opened and my neighbor took me in.

Both of the neighborhood women that nurtured me in special ways are now gone. There were countless simple, beautiful acts that only thoughtful neighbors can do: daily greetings, inviting me in for tea or kitty-cat petting, running little treats outside because I was spotted passing by. These women were present for my family during our most challenging and celebratory moments, too. They threw parties, brought food, gave hugs and ran errands. Their presence made our surrounding neighborhood pretty close to the elusive village “it takes” to raise kids.

The holidays have always felt hard to face when grief is fresh, but I’m realizing part of that is because I bought into a lie. For too long, I equated thankfulness with smiling and good cheer and felt like I’d somehow ruin a holiday if I was sad. So, I wore my emotions tightly, holding myself in a protective stance that didn’t allow for either extreme to be expressed. Finally, I begin to make room at the table for tears. What could be a more pure reflection of love shared and missed? And, of course, I set a place for joy. We would experience a different sort of grief without the warm memories of playing, dancing, laughing and telling stories. Without those elements, our grief might actually be regret. This year, I’m beginning to see how I can hold both joy and sorrow in my heart during the holidays. It starts with making space at the table.

IMG_5507

Absorb

IMG_8584 IMG_8585Gray skies, droplets lingering, snails gliding. I find comfort on misty mornings when browning petals drop from the dogwood, covering our nearly dormant grass with the semblance of autumn. Does this seem odd since artichokes await harvest, blueberries deepen their purplish hues, the smell of peaches fills my kitchen? IMG_8609 IMG_8611 IMG_8612 The clouds, the spent flowers. They console me. Grief is almost always present, even when surrounded by blossoms. Sometimes it’s a forgotten seed, buried for years, germinating after disruption. Often is arrives overnight, weighing down petals, penetrating layers.

It must wash over, soak in, absorb. Shelter from it leads to bitterness, drought, fruitlessness. I find comfort in the hope that eventually, like the rain, grief may provide nourishment. IMG_4676 IMG_8592