Surrendering to Spring

Shortly after a late winter storm blanketed our region with snow, someone tipped off Mother Nature about the arrival of spring.

In a matter of days our backyard went from a smooth expanse of crystalline white, to big messy swaths of slush, to sopping pools of mud and flattened grass. The thick slabs of ice I thought would never disappear drained back into the earth.

icy leaves

The night before the seasonal shift, after an entire winter virus-free, my daughter succumbed to the stomach bug. Within days the virus spread throughout our family, picking us off one by one.

While my son slept feverishly, I stayed in his room, fighting off my own growing nausea.  In the morning when I told my husband about how I literally willed myself not to throw up, a feat he unfortunately did not share, my daughter pointed out my hypocrisy.

“Mom, you always tell me it’s better to let it out.”

It’s true. I do say this. In fact, I just doled out this advice the day before when she was sick. She’s like me. We both fight it.

“You’re right, honey, but I needed to be okay to take care of your brother.”

But this wasn’t entirely true. I also needed to be okay because I hate getting sick. I’m terrified of surrendering to the will of my body, even if it knows best.

There was a moment in the night, at the peak of nausea, when I had to look away from my son’s lava lamp because the rising yellow bubbles made my stomach roil. I closed my eyes, breathing slowly, hyper aware of every internal rumbling, when a sentence popped into my mind.

We’re all just our bodies.

I felt a sudden nostalgia for all the nights I simply went to bed, without pain, without worry of being sick. Like many people, I take my health for granted until something goes wrong. We’ve all had this kind of realization. When we’re sick, or watching over a sick loved one, when we’re battling an illness, or facing a new diagnosis, we suddenly understand what’s at stake.

Without our bodies, we don’t exist. I suppose this is up for debate, but for me, that’s how it feels.

During my sick vigil with my son, his body was restless, and he moaned a little. I put an arm around him and my palm ended up against his chest. I could feel his heart beating quickly, every surge, every whoosh, almost as if there was no barrier between my hand and his most important organ. Under my hand was the sheer preciousness, and precariousness, of his life.

little guy

When my mother died, one of the strangest, and most painful things to come to term with was the fact that I no longer had access to her body. I couldn’t hug or sit beside her. One day her body was there, lying on a bed, struggling to breathe, and the next, gone. I didn’t just miss my mom. I missed her body. I had taken it for granted.

It’s been almost a full week since my daughter came home from a birthday party feeling nauseous and our family viral saga began. In that time, the snow has melted. While we’ve been recovering, winter has surrendered to spring. Uncurling its cold claw, making room for warmth, for new life.

The backyard is muddy, the trees remain bare, but there is new green grass sprouting, and one of the daffodil buds by our mailbox has a distinct yellow casing.

daffodil bud

I point it out to my son, warning him not to open it. He touches it gently with his finger as we marvel at what’s wrapped tightly inside.

Life Warrior

I just got home from a Glennon Melton Doyle event (of the crazy popular blog Momastery) and I am still reeling from the experience.

Not just from her talk – which was THE perfect combination of hilarious and heartfelt – but also from the whole exhausting event of getting there in the first place, and then having to leave early to come home to my crazy banshees.

But first, Glennon. I don’t know how or when I first came across her blog. Maybe it was via my other favorite heartfelt blogger Rachel Macy Stafford (what is it with the trifecta of names? Do I need to start going by Dana Heather Schwartz?!) but regardless, it only took one post to be hooked.

At first I was a tiny bit worried about the name, Momastery, clearly a riff off monastery. Would it be too Christian for me, a lapsed and mostly atheist Jew? Nope. That’s the beauty of Glennon. She’s all inclusive when it comes to love and hope and spreading the light.

Also, she’s hilarious. But the best kind of funny, because it’s not at anyone’s expense, it’s about the absurdity of life, and our absurd expectations of ourselves, of each other, and how she shatters it with her blatant unstoppable honesty.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of big feelings (not so unlike my own children). I was very sensitive, tender-hearted, basically a bruise waiting to happen. I still am, but there came a turning point in my childhood, maybe on the cusp of adolescence, when I started to feel a sense of shame about my emotions.

I started to express them more cautiously, or at least, less vocally. I also started to hesitate when asked for advice. Before this, if you asked me for help, I took you VERY seriously. I’d think through my answer, go over it in my mind as if I were composing a speech or writing an essay. Then I’d present you with my findings, totally guilelessly.

I still do this. If you ask me a question about celiac, writing, grief, death, I will compose you the best response I can and from the heart. But there was a period of time when I stopped. Because it didn’t feel safe or acceptable to be so open, so honest.

I started to feel foolish for thinking that people who asked  for the truth actually wanted it.

So instead of lying, or editing my response, I stopped talking so much. I second guessed my instincts. I swallowed my words. Better to say nothing at all than to look like a fool.

I wish I had known Glennon all those years ago, or had a friend like her, one who was as honest and guileless as me, who spoke straight from the heart without censoring or softening or smoothing.

I love the stories she tells about being brutally honest, whether during her kid’s play date, at church, or online, and then being faced with a wall of silence, with gaping mouths, bulging eyes. Basically horror that she had the gall to be real.

“Oh,” she says, her hands up in mock defeat, “we’re not doing THAT here, are we?”

Tonight I took notes on my program and ticket because I forgot my notebook.

love-and-faith

Then about halfway through the event, I snuck another peak at my phone. It had been quiet for a while, but suddenly I saw 3 messages and knew there was trouble before even opening it up. Staying out late, especially mid week, is not something I usually do. Because I can’t.

I’m about to get honest here (without going into too much detail in order to protect my family’s privacy). Spending an hour in Glennon’s presence inspired me to tell my truth. So here it is.

Many other moms I know have no problem saying yes to evening events. They easily arrange girls’ nights out, join book clubs, see movies, get drinks, etc after their kids go to bed. Some even host these events at their house (!). But I don’t. I can’t.

My kids don’t go to bed – well, not very amiably. Not without me. They honestly never have. It’s a thing. It’s our thing. But still, when I saw the opportunity to go to Glennon’s speaking event, I leapt. I arranged things with my husband and my dad, took the kids to swimming first, switched out my son’s car seat, prepped my daughter with the evening’s plans, and then drove away, arriving with only minutes to spare.

I listened with my whole heart and took notes and felt moved and seen and understood by a woman who sat on a stage way too far away to see my face in a crowd of hundreds, but I felt understood all the same.

Then the texts came. Come home, now, from my husband and my daughter. I wrote back, On my way, even as I sat in my seat, soaking up a few more moments. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I looked around. The rows were packed and leaving was not going to be easy, but I made my way out of the aisle as best I could and took one last look at the vibrant woman on stage before pushing open the door.

On my walk to the car I thought about how I could decide to feel. I could be pissed, which I kind of was. I could feel all victim-y, which is another one of my go-to places, why do MY kids need ME so freaking much? And finally, self pity, what is wrong with my mothering that my kids are so abnormally dependent on me? 

Then I read another one of my daughter’s desperate texts, and my husband’s, which was along the lines of please answer your daughter’s desperate texts. So I did. With hearts and loving words.

Right now my kids DO need me more than most kids’ their age. For whatever reason. But one day they won’t. One day I’ll be able to attend events every night of the week and they probably won’t even notice because they’ll be too busy with their own lives. One day they’ll grow up and leave me behind, which is the goal. But I’ll still cry. I’ll still remember the times like tonight when I was needed so much and so desperately that it felt like being strangled.

I drove back home listening to Pandora, and I heard the opening bars of a song that made me think of another song, one from my college years. Sarah McLachlan’s Hold On. I sang what I could remember:

“Hold on
hold on to yourself
for this is gonna hurt like hell.”

And I thought about what Glennon says about pain, what I already know about pain, and that is you have to feel it, you have to go into it, not away from it.

hot-potato

“Pain is NOT a hot potato.”

I laughed so hard at this, because it’s so so true. You don’t get to toss it away. You get to hold it. That’s a gift. Pain and grief is the price you pay for loving.

I thought about what she said about parenting, about how many parents want so badly to protect their children from pain, but they need pain and suffering to learn wisdom and kindness and compassion.

you-can-do-hard-things

“You can do hard things because you are a warrior.”

I thought about how hard life can be – how hard life will continue to be – for my anxiety prone, highly sensitive daughter, and how I will take these words like a gift and offer them to her, and to myself, again and again.

I’m heading off the bed now, but I’m taking one last cue from G and hitting “Send” before editing this (except for spelling and grammatical errors, because come on, I was an English major for crying out loud). But I won’t try to make it prettier or smoother. I won’t try to make it safer, or easier to swallow.

In a few weeks I’ll receive a copy of her latest book, Love Warrior, and I cannot wait to read every word of it.

*Some G for anyone who’s interested, she gives a great podcast

Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert

Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Siversten

 

Summer Writing, Living

My eyes burned from exhaustion. The kids were bundled up in blankets watching Netflix already and it was barely 7am.

kids

There are just a few more days of school. Summer is barreling toward us. My daughter is eight years old and this fall she’ll begin third grade, which feels unbelievable. Wasn’t I just fretting on my old blog about her entry into elementary school?

Now it’s my son who is closing in on that milestone. Thanks to a November birthday, he has one more year of preschool, for which I’m grateful. One more year until both my kids are in full-time school. That is the dream. The light at the end of the tunnel, my writing time opening like a dam being lifted.

Hours of quiet pouring in. An empty house. It’s what I claim to want, what I do want, and yet, I know it will come at a cost to my heart. The passage of time always does, especially as it relates to my children.

I don’t want to hurry away the hours of summer, wishing, waiting, biding my time – but the struggle to write is real. I’ve been rising early for almost a month now, #writinglikeamother every day. It’s been life changing. If I can get in an hour or more of solitude and work, I am a better mother for the rest of the day. A happier person. The problem seems to be when I don’t.

desk

Like yesterday. Up at 5:40am I was so tired I considered going back to sleep until I heard my daughter’s thundering footsteps in the hall. I crept out of bed carefully, so as not to wake my nighttime visitor, my son, and handed her my phone before heading downstairs. In my mind I’m pleading, please stay in your room until 7, please don’t wake up your brother.

Of course my wishes were not granted.

I slammed down my coffee and dashed upstairs to my son’s cries and my daughter popped out of her room like a jack-in-the-box.

My mood was grumbly. I felt frayed and irritable. Angry, that my time was interrupted.

This is what I feared when I made the commitment to early risings, but life with kids is never predictable. Things change. It’s the one thing you can count on. The only thing.

What I need to do is adjust, adapt. To accept the inevitability of shortened writing sessions, and to be grateful for the ones that last.

When it happened again today, I cursed (more quietly) before running up the stairs. I made jokes about their early rising instead of threats. I put on the rest of The Sound of Music and let myself fall between my babies as we watched, using the computer to pull up a map of Europe so I could show my curious daughter the proximity of Switzerland to Austria as we watched the von Trapp children sing and hike across the Alps to freedom.

Things will be quiet on the blog over the summer, for obvious reasons. I have big goals that I will try not to stress over, like filming lessons for my upcoming grief course, working on my memoir, and living my life.

The summer will fly by, as always, and I want to make sure I’m fully present for all of it, not simply wishing the time away. That will happen on its own, soon enough.

Hope we all have the summers we want, or at least the grace to surrender peacefully to the ones we end up having.

See you in the fall!

xoxo Dana

 

 

Write Like A Mother

Over the weekend I posted this picture on Instagram.

writing desk

It was taken at 7am on Sunday of last week after being woken up at 5:45am by my kid and cat. They often do a tag team on me in the morning, and after years of attempting to fall back asleep, only to rise grumpily an hour or less later, I decided to just get up and write.

I’ve been doing it for over a week now and it’s been kind of life changing. I don’t set an alarm (because I don’t need to, thank you kid and cat) and some days I “oversleep,” which means I get up a little past 6am, but regardless of the time, I stumble out of bed, grab some coffee, and head to my office. My daughter knows not to enter until 7am (thank you Netflix) and when she does I greet her with a smile.

But this post isn’t about advocating early rising, though don’t knock it till you try it.

This post is about being seen.

Getting back to my Instagram photo, I wrote a brief caption describing my new routine and even threw in a hashtag, #writinglikeamother – a big departure for me since hashtags usually stress me out. I have a hard enough time coming up with catchy titles for my short stories and essays.

Shortly after posting, I received a comment from a writer and teacher I admire, Jena Schwartz, co-founder of The Inky Path (where I’m currently enrolled in an incredible 14-day writing prompt course). She responded with, “Love love love love love.”

I stopped where I was in my kitchen and just felt such warmth, and this phrase popped in my head: I’m not alone.

Writing is such a solitary act, well, most of the time, and it’s easy to feel invisible, unseen. Sending out my photo was a way of connecting, of reaching out. The comments I received on Instagram and Facebook made me feel less alone. This is why I do this: blogging, social media, and posting pictures of my desk for crying out loud.

But let’s be real here – there’s a fine line between seeking support and falling into the black hole of Facebook. I know (ahem) from personal experience. The key for me has been finding balance and knowing my triggers.

It’s pretty obvious when I’ve spent too much time online. I start getting twitchy and anxious. Suddenly, people’s announcements about essays and publishing deals make me feel edgy and competitive. That’s when I step away and remind myself about the wisdom I gleaned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, which is: there is enough for all of us

I believe in that, wholeheartedly, and yet I find myself whispering those words out loud every few days. I’m currently working on a book length project, and there is no immediate recognition or acknowledgment in that, and if I’m completely honest, there may never be. I can’t know or control what will happen to my work, but I know I must do it regardless.

So, my question is, will you do it with me? Will you write like a mother? You don’t even have to be a literal mother, just a writer or an artist with other obligations that pile up in the summer months. Let’s face it, we all have other obligations, it’s called LIFE.

kids summer

My life, my summer.

I already know my summer solo time is going to be minimal, and I’m okay with that, but I want to make the most of the time I can squeeze out. Like mornings. Maybe for you it’s after work, or late at night.

If you’re not too hashtag averse (like I was), consider taking a picture of your workspace before, during, or after you put in some time and tag it #writinglikeamother and I will send whatever support I can (hearts, likes, kind words) your way.

There’s no competition here. This isn’t one of those write-every-day challenges (which for me is a set up for failure) and there’s no need to log in word counts or even describe what you’re working on (unless you want to).

If you want to follow me on blah blah social media, the links are on the right sidebar, or send me a note with your info and I’ll follow you, writingatthetable@gmail.com.

How about we hold each other up when we need holding. Let’s be witnesses for the work we’re doing, even when no one else is looking. Let’s be seen together.

Dana xoxo

 

I’m so pleased to be part of Writing Bubble’s wonderful link-up. Come by, take a look, and perhaps join in!

What-Im-Writing-linky-badge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Time

I’ve been quiet in this space, but it’s been a busy few weeks in my life. Back to back birthday weekends (my daughter and husband) with a grand finale of Mother’s Day, which always stirs up my emotions. I’m relieved it’s over.

I prefer the quiet lulls between celebrations. Must be that introvert side of me, relishing the chance to duck back into my shell and recover.

Meanwhile, things in my brain haven’t been much quieter, but that kind of work I can manage better. I’ve been tearing through memoir and craft books, inhaling podcasts, and basically gorging on this new (to me) genre. I’m filling myself up with as much knowledge as I can before taking my own leap.

memoirs

 

I never thought I’d be doing this, writing a memoir, and yet here I am, about to begin, beginning. I bought a designated notebook, a special pen, and I’ve been taking notes, writing out scene ideas. I feel like a train, its engine rumbling, steam rising, the whistle about to blow.

But once I get going, how will I continue my momentum once summer begins? The two words “school’s out” used to bring on waves of panic, but this year I’m not feeling as concerned. In fact, I’m making goals.

What the heck?! Two new words spring to mind:

Early rising.

(Well, that’s the goal. I won’t make any promises since this is quite a departure for me.)

sunrise small

Now please understand, I always get up early. My kids still wake in the night, and at least one rises with the sun (since birth, since birth!) and her clomping steps to the bathroom (if she doesn’t stop to peek in my bedroom first) always rouses me. Even if I pretend to ignore it, the cat doesn’t.

My old way was to grouchily flop back into bed and squeeze out a little more sleep, even the restless kind, because getting up at dawn felt like admitting defeat. I’ve fantasized about being the kind of writer who sets the alarm at 5am to write, but after being deeply sleep deprived for eight years, it seems sacrilegious to wake before absolutely necessary.

But then Saturday happened. I slept poorly (thanks kids and cat) and woke in a foul mood. The whole day I felt off, grouchy. It wasn’t until later that I realized why. That morning I had a chance to get out of bed before my kids. I heard my daughter close her door and knew she had turned on her requisite morning show on her iPad, but I forced myself back to sleep. Yet, for the first time ever, I understood that sleep was no longer winning.  What I needed even more, at least in the hour of dawn, was solitude.

I read this post by a fellow writer-mama Sophie a couple weeks ago, Why Early Mornings Are Good For My Well Being As Well As My Word Count, and this line in particular struck a nerve.

“If I don’t take charge of my day, and instead fritter away the beginnings of it in broken sleep, then when I am finally forced out of bed by a hungry toddler I am way more weary than I would otherwise have been.”

I’m more pissy and grumpy, but same idea.

The sleep I get from 6-7am does NOTHING for me. So why not write, or read, or watch the birds flit around the feeder in peace, with no one clamoring for my attention?

I tried it on Sunday and it was like a miracle. Not only did I get some writing accomplished, but by the time my daughter appeared at 7am (as per my firm request and the assistance of Netflix) I was feeling generous and sated as opposed to annoyed and disgruntled. I may have been spotted humming while cleaning the bathroom later that morning, but that cannot be confirmed.

It’s been five days so far, and though I slept in a bit this morning (due to staying up too late writing this!), I’m going to keep on with this habit. There is something incredibly peaceful about being the only one awake and drinking my coffee in silence.

Will I ever set my alarm for 5 or 5:30am? I don’t know, but the idea no longer seems unattainable.

This summer instead of surrendering my writing time, I’ve decided to set some goals. Not small ones either:

  1. Record all 12 video lessons for my grief course (coming to The Gift of Writing in October 2016 if all goes well, click here to be put on the waiting list!)
  2. Write 50 pages of my memoir about me and my mother

mom watching me

The trick is walking the tightrope of trying to meet my goals and not beating myself up if I don’t. All I know for sure is that there is no certainty, not in parenthood, not in life. I can’t predict what this particular summer is going to look like. Can I rise at dawn and still have my wits about me to deal with my two (often sparring) children? Will a babysitter be able to wrangle them or will I have to intervene?

I want to enjoy summer – the laziness of it, the surrender – without stress. Well, without the added stress of deadlines. But at the same time, having a goal to lean toward could serve as my fuel, what gets me through the bickering and squabbles, knowing I have my mornings, whatever may come of them.

What are your summer plans, and do you make goals, or play it by ear? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in Limbo

I’m reminded of why I love the ocean each time I return.

sunrise

We recently spent a week in Florida. With three days of travel, it wasn’t quite enough time to settle in, to get comfortable, feel at home. But then again, you’re not supposed to feel at home on vacation, are you?

This trip was a whirlwind, and hard in many ways. We went to Disney World first and then spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale to unwind. But unwinding with kids is kind of an oxymoron. Or maybe just moronic?

Don’t get me wrong, there were highs as well as lows. Vacation is just another piece of life. Your worries and stressors don’t disappear once you step foot on a plane. If you’re like me, they multiply.

On the way to Ft. Lauderdale our brains sizzled in the sunny, claustrophobic car. My husband and I bickered, the kids fought. At one point in the drive I went silent.

By the time we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale I had calcified.

Even the beauty of the ocean couldn’t melt me, and neither did the chic and crowded hotel we were staying at. I felt like an alien around so many smiling and scantily clad people. I wanted to go home.

But we made it to our room, dropped our bags, and then hurried to the beach as the sun began to drop in the sky.

Once there the kids immediately dove into the still warm sand and splashed their feet in the turquoise waters. I stood with my arms wrapped across my chest, but there was a loosening. My husband called a truce. He hugged me and my anger began to uncoil as the ocean lapped onto my feet.

The next day we went back, despite the spotty weather, the ominous sky.

Together we forged into the beautiful sea glass blue ocean. I held onto my young son’s hand while my daughter splashed at my side. I get the sense that the current wants my children as much as I do, maybe more.

My daughter doesn’t need my hand, however, she can swim like a fish. Diving down to the clear shallow bottom and coming up with beautiful shells. She knows to be cautious about the ocean. I’ve taught her that much. But she’s not overly fearful. She leaves her anxiety behind as she dips and dives beneath the waves with a confidence I hope to one day see on land.

bunky on beach

When my husband took her out to deeper waters, I sat on the shore with my son. We played his favorite game. Build and destroy. First I buried him up to his waist with wet shell studded sand, and then he broke through, cracking like an egg, delight lighting up his face.

Then, castles. I built ten, twenty, small structures so he could crush them with his still chubby four-year-old feet.

I sensed a young couple nearby watching us. They smiled kindly at me when I glanced over. I had a moment of self-consciousness, as if I were posing in an advertisement for blissful parenthood. I had to suppress an urge to run over to them and tell the truth. It’s not always like this. You should’ve seen me yesterday. But of course I refrained. The secrets of parenthood have to be discovered firsthand, if at all.

The beach is my touchstone. Every time I sit in the sand and it sticks to every part of my body, I always feel the urge to brush it all away before remembering to surrender. To the mess of it, to any semblance of control. But surrender has never been easy for me. I struggle to find order in chaos. It’s hard for me to sit in discomfort.

Right now I’m at a crossroads with my writing. A kind of limbo. I have to decide whether to continue with my novel, which needs to be rewritten (again), or embark on the entirely unchartered course of memoir.

The question ping-pongs in my head relentlessly. I’m worried about making the wrong choice. About wasting (more) time writing something that will never reach eyes other than my own.

There is no “right” answer. I know this, and yet I posed the question on Facebook. The wise and supportive responses filled me with gratitude, but ultimately the decision is still mine to make.

So I remain here, for now, in limbo.

A place I’m quite vocal about not liking. But maybe my struggle against limbo is more futile than I thought – because what if life IS limbo – the place we all reside between birth and death? If so, then all we can do is surrender to what may come next. To feel our way, as best we can, through each day.

wall quote

If I surrender to uncertainty, in my writing, and in my life, I will move forward. If I surrender to the mess, like I did in the sand with my son, I don’t feel so worried about wasting time, I can smash down the castles I worked so hard to make, knowing I will rebuild. I can create something new on the base of all those broken, necessary, pieces.

Are you in limbo right now? Hovering between conflicting choices? How do you find your answers? 

 

We Share Our Losses

My grandmother wasn’t a happy woman, not when I knew her, so this picture I came across the other day is especially striking.

Pauline and Harry

The joy and openness in her eyes, the width of her smile, radiates joy. Beside her is my grandfather, a man I never met, who died when my mom was eight years old. A man who never felt like he belonged to me, in any way.

His ending was a cautionary tale of a congested heart. Three strikes and you’re out. That’s how many heart attacks it took to kill him. A young man, in his mid-forties, he left behind the love of his life and two bereft children. My grandmother never recovered from his death. It left her shattered and bitter, furious at her bad luck. The life she had imagined turned into dust.

I don’t know how my mother recovered. She had been a daddy’s girl.

When I was a kid my mom rarely spoke about her father, though I’m sure she must have explained to us what happened at some point. I remember how she used to light a yahrzeit candle a few weeks before her birthday on the day of his death. Quietly it would sit on the white countertop and burn without ceremony. For the rest of the year it resided in the rarely used kitchen cabinet filled with dusty wine glasses and an assortment of solitary cups and mugs that had lost their companions.

Looking back, I wish I asked more questions, I wish my mom had been able to share her grief with me. But as a cousin reminded me recently, grief wasn’t discussed openly back then. Maybe my mom thought she was protecting us by keeping it to herself, or maybe her memories were too distant to access, but the space it left, in the shape of a father and grandfather, loomed large in my imagination.

My childhood friend Tamra, who I’ve known since third grade, saw the photo when I posted it on Facebook and made a comment that caught me completely off guard.

She wrote, I see the resemblance with you and your mom. I automatically assumed she meant a resemblance to my grandmother, but when I read the rest of her comment, I realized she had been referring to my grandfather. I stared hard at his jovial good-natured face, searching for familiarity: I saw shadows of my mother easily, and then, I almost saw myself.

I stared at him, this man I had never met, barely knew anything about. Despite all that he was mine. He did belong to me. For a brief moment I allowed myself to imagine what life might have been like if he had lived. A grandmother and grandfather coming to visit, living close enough for me to spend the day, the night, to curl up in his big arms and be read to, held, and loved. My grandmother might have smiled more, and maybe, just maybe she would have been a better mother.

Up until this point I had never allowed myself to stake a claim on this man, to miss him, or mourn his absence. To imagine what he might have meant to me. I felt like that would have been selfish. This was my mother’s loss, not mine. But I was wrong. It was both of our losses. Just like her death is not just my loss, but my daughter’s, and my son’s.

It seems so obvious to me now. We don’t have to hide or hoard grief, we don’t have to pretend it’s not ours to mourn. Like love, there is enough to go around.

The spring before my mother died, when she was weak and recovering from a long winter illness, but before we knew she was dying, my uncle came to visit. Her older brother. When his father died, he became “the man” of the house, too heavy a burden for a twelve-year-old to bear. Nevertheless, he bore it out of necessity, and out of love for his little sister, but it left a bitter trace on him, a shadow of his mother’s twisted anger.

We talked about the past that day, which was unusual. Maybe it was me. Maybe I asked about my grandfather, maybe I offered what I had been unable to offer all those years earlier. An acknowledgment of their deep loss. My empathy.

I listened with rapt attention as my uncle recalled that fateful day of the final heart attack. Their father taken away, and then later, the news traveling back to them, my mother running to her room in tears.

“She couldn’t stop crying,” he said, looking awestruck so many years later.

Those four words hit me hard. I looked over at my mother. Her big brown eyes were wide with sadness and memory as she gazed at her brother. In a flash I saw the two of them as children, trying to care for each other.

Before he left that day, my uncle said goodbye in his usual brusque but loving manner. A quick hug for me and a wave to my mom across the room. She said goodbye from her reclining chair where she had sat for nearly a decade since she lost the use of her hands and legs to multiple sclerosis.

“Go and hug her,” I told my uncle in a low voice. He looked at me surprised. This was not his usual way. I don’t know for sure, but I think her handicap made him uncomfortable. Maybe it was too hard for him to look at her in that chair. But that day I didn’t give him a choice. I took his arm and pulled him into the room.

He leaned over her chair and hugged her, maybe for the first time in years, and I heard him say in a voice so tender, “I love you Susii,” her girlhood name. The name her father must have called her. The name my father called her until she became my mother and decided she was no longer a girl, and to please call her Susan.

The next time he saw his sister, she was under hospice care, unconscious, and close to death.

When I got pregnant, shortly after my mom died, I knew right away there was one thing I’d do differently. My children would know their grandmother. I would tell them her name, show them pictures, and talk about her life, her art, and one day, her death.

There are two of them now, grandchildren. A girl and a boy, in the same order my mother had me and my brother. A strange kind of twinning, but not.

They do not wonder about the blank space as I once did because it’s always being filled.  My hope is that she is as vibrant and beautiful in their imagination as she was in life.

mom and Harry

My mom and her dad, my grandpa Harry

Rest in peace, Harry Cooperman, grandpa. I know I would have loved you.