Monthly Archives: January 2018

Flowers From A Friend

I got a card in the mail last week, from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was so happy. We set up a coffee date. That was yesterday.

We met as volunteer Daisy moms when our girls were in kindergarten. Those girls–who once went around her neighborhood “raising money for Girl Scouts” by selling rocks they painted in her garage–are now twenty-six. We didn’t stay close, despite those Girl Scout years. Our kids went in different directions, and thus, so did we. There are hugs when we see one another in town, what’s news and how ares. The regular stuff of friends grown apart.

During those Girl Scout years, both our boys were unofficial Girl Scouts. Her son was a few years younger than Chris, so Chris got to be the “big boy.” They’d play, sometimes do activities with the girls. As they got older, they stopped coming to meetings, but that connection remained.

Not long after Chris’ accident, while he was still wheelchairbound and trying to process what life was going to be, I saw an archery competition set up to take place nearby. It was a local club thing, but open to the public. Chris had an eye! Whew. First time I ever took him to shoot, he got a bulls-eye. He could still shoot from his wheelchair. I thought it would be good for him. And it was. He out-shot all the other archers, grown men who’d been shooting most of their lives, and won two pumpkin pie trophies. It was a great day for him.

My friend’s husband and son were there that day, too. It was the first time the boys had seen one another in a few years. It was adorable, watching the old dynamic reassert itself. Her boy’s little bit of hero worship; my boy showing hers how to do something with his bow. My friend’s husband and I watched them a minute or two, chatted. There was nothing significant about the moment. Or so it seemed, at the time.

It wasn’t long after that her son died. Chris took it hard. He would have, anyway, but he’d recently seen him, and that connection was still there, and he was trying to process the death of his own identity. How he cried.

Fast forward ten years, and Chris was gone too. I’d seen my friend as I always had over the course of years. At the gym, in the grocery store, at Village Fair Days. As it had been with Chris and her son, the connection was always there. And now, we’d both lost our boys, those boys who used to be unofficial Girl Scouts. No one wants to have that in common.

She brought me flowers, and cookies she’d baked. We sat together over coffee, talking about this and that. Every now and again, one or the other of us would say something about our boys. They were tentative steps toward sharing deeper hurts neither of us can quite express. I might do fine on these pages, but only because the brain to fingers connection is far more adept than the connection brain to mouth.

And maybe we don’t have to actually say anything. We both understand the other’s pain, and sometimes just being in the presence of someone who truly knows is enough. It’s a relief.

This thing we have in common sometimes makes interactions with family and friends uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do when we’re sad. Do they talk about our missing sons? Pretend there isn’t an empty place at the holiday table? Talk about their own kids, thriving and growing up? Downplay all their familial happiness to spare us? They act from a place of kindness, of course, and that ramps up the pressure, because we’re the cause of their discomfort. And while I’m so very, very grateful few of them will actually understand, they will, nevertheless, never understand.

We all need those people who get where we are, with whom we don’t have to explain things, or tip-toe around, or endure getting tip-toed around. It’s not about like minds, but like experiences. Whether a mommy/daddy group or a writing group or a survivors-of-something group, those who understand our experiences intimately are vital to navigating this world. It’s not a place to dwell on the pain, but a place to be liberated from it.

Find your group. Free yourself. And in the process, free others.

Peace.

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On Being Strong

I just read Jamie’s article, Motherhood Has Changed My Idea of Strength. I got halfway through the article, saw the pic of her in the red leather jacket, braces, unibrow, and lost it completely. A great sob rose out of me, and then I laughed, and then I called her and told her she was a beast of a child for doing that to me.

How I adore her.

I’ve been a big mush about my kids the last week or so. I have my ups and downs. Most of my downs are quiet, kept to myself, and brief. But Jamie, Scott, Grace–they’ve seemed especially attuned this week, because I got random texts, an invite to tea, phone call out of the blue, always at the exact right moment to derail the sorrow creeping through me.

How I adore them.

In Jamie’s article, she writes: Motherhood will swallow you if you’re not strong, and it’s easy to see how and why. We fling ourselves into it, we want to do it well, and, often, we like it. This frequently means putting the needs of our children and others before ours. That can look strong — taking on absolutely everything for someone else — and, in its own way, it is. But it’s not sustainable without a cost, and that toll is ourselves as individuals. When we do that all the time, to the detriment of our own interests, limits, and desires, we become a background player in our own lives. It takes courage to pull ourselves back and assert time and space for ourselves.”

Jamie once told me that one of the greatest things I ever taught her was that I am a person. An individual. I have interests and desires and aspirations outside of my family. I wasn’t sure if she ever understood how hard that was to do, until now. It may be the hardest part of my experience as a mother, because my instinct put them first. Always. And partly because of that, I wanted all my children to know that they, too, are individual beings with interests and desires and aspirations outside of their families. If I sacrificed everything I am to be everything for them, what would they do when it was their turn?

It was exceedingly hard for me to be “selfish.” I come from a long line of selfless mothers whose entirety was comprised of their children, their children’s children, and so on. Identities were not a “thing.” They were someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, grandmother. I claimed my individuality for my kids, especially for my girls. But first and foremost, I did it for me. I always hoped they knew that. I think I can safely say, now, they do.

I raised individuals. Kind. Compassionate. Open-minded, always-learning, often stubborn individuals. They don’t go along to get along. Their drummers not only have their own beat, but an entirely different song. I didn’t do everything right; I’ll assume my kids laugh behind my back about all the things they survived despite my bumbling or backwardness or simple lack of knowledge. But I got this right. So right. And, damn, I’m really proud.

JSG

 

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She Wakes in Beauty…

 

 

home2It’s going to be very difficult to leave here. There isn’t a season in the whole wheel of the year I don’t open my eyes each morning to insane beauty right outside my bedroom window. In the spring, I wake to lilac blossoms. Come summer, it’s a swathe of yellow, brown-eyed-susans. Autumn is a blaze of sugar maples that go from amber to russet  to scarlet. And this is what I wake to in winter. White. A fresh canvas. The silence of snow.

I’m the country mouse heading back into town, where there are all sorts of perks I don’t get out here in the back of beyond. As I said to my Frankie D yesterday, I’m still equal parts excited about and dreading the move. I can’t imagine the last night here. Just trying to seizes me up inside. To never see those lilacs, the brown-eyed-susans, the autumn leaves and untouched snow. To never hear the peepers across the street in the marsh those cold first days of March, the cacophony of crickets in August and September, or the owls hooting in quiet October. To step out of this house, away from this land, and know it’s no longer mine; the memories made are finite after all.

I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again, and yet, I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again. The splatters on the wall, the roof he built, the little reminders of him every day will no longer be right there where I can see them–and yet, they’ll no longer be right there where I can see them.

There is always a before, and an after. Before Brian died, and after. Before Frankie D, and after. Before Christofer’s accident, and after. Before he died, and after. There are hundreds of before and afters in all our lives, some joyful, and some shattering. This before leaving the log house on the river and after comes with equal parts. There is no better, no worse to it, but a balance of both.

I am aware that staying here is remaining static, while moving away from it is going forward, and so I move forward. I promised my bear, my amazing children, and myself. I’m ready to leave, it’s just not going to be easy.

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Coming to Terms

Here we are. 2018. What will it bring? I find myself looking forward hopefully, rather optimistically, despite the fact that our financial situation is precarious.

I can’t hate 2017, despite getting kicked in the teeth yet again. We went to Spain, France and Italy. Frank and I enjoyed the best summer we’ve ever had together. Relaxing. Rejuvenating. An all around peaceful time. Jamie and her family moved back to Connecticut. Two years had gone by since we lost our son; there had been time to reflect, to heal. To get used to him not being here, though that’s not an accurate way to put it. I wish I had one. After five minutes staring at the cursor, trying to figure it out, that’s just the closest I can come.

I sold (what was then The Pen) The Bar Harbor Retirement Home For Famous Writers (and their muses) to William Morrow, and Bastei Lubbe. The experience has been sublime. Every step has been familiar, and yet entirely different from my past experiences in publishing. I could go on citing all the good stuff of 2017 of, but there is only one best.

Since my bear dream, I’ve found the sort of peace I didn’t think I ever could, concerning Christofer John DeFino. My son. My beautiful, chaotic son. Deciding to leave this house was directly related to that dream. Whether it was Chris giving me a shove, or my own brain sorting through things in its mysterious way, it worked.

Chris is gone. Really gone. Since bear-dreaming, I haven’t felt his presence the way I used to. I truly believe he “went north,” to where dream and reality mix and merge, to find his next adventure. Wherever that is, I can’t follow him. I can only send him off with all the love in my heart, because it’s what I’d have done had he lived. That’s what mothers do.

This life didn’t work out for him. I can toss all the whys and why nots through my head a million times between now and my own end of days, but there’s no way to know if there was anything I could have done to change his fate. If only. Maybe. I could have. Should have. Didn’t. Wishing does nothing. Crying doesn’t either. I’ll have to stop wishing, even if I can’t promise not to cry anymore, but I’ve come to a point that remembering him doesn’t bring instant tears. And while I write this, my eyes are a bit wombly, but I’m not crying. I can smile, knowing he’s off doing whatever it is he needed to do, to be. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. I just can’t be sorry he’s no longer here, suffering. Causing chaos that caused him even more suffering. I don’t know what he’d have become, had he stayed. I never will. But I do know my Bear is okay where he is, even if he misses us, too.

And now come the waterworks making the screen blur. But I’m smiling too. My boy. My sweet, brilliant son. I’m off into new adventures too. A new house, new town, a new phase in my life he’ll never be part of. I can’t wish him near me in spirit, because that only holds him back. Life held him back in more ways than anyone knew. Death won’t. I believe that in depths of my heart I never knew existed.

He’s gone north. How funny, I’m heading south. His journey is going to be way longer; I’m only moving to the next town. I won’t anticipate our paths crossing, but if they do, I’ll know. And I’ll be able to cherish whatever fleeting moments I get, then let go again without holding too tight, holding him back. Holding myself back.

Here’s to 2017. And three cheers for 2018. May the ups sustain you through the downs.

Peace.

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