Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Things are not going my way. I need to reschedule, re-organize, re-prioritize. I need to re-something. And I chuckle snarky at my internal shift.

These are the days when I’m grateful my shirt is on right side out. If I can to that, I have said out loud, all is lined tidy.

Then my mom notices the tag. It’s a label truly, just stamped paint & not what I need, which is the flag of hard white flapping surrender, getting hung in my hair or tickling my elbow like a gnat.

I smile wide. “Dang it. Stupid label.” I toss my hands in mock exasperation.  “There goes the façade, Mom. I don’t have it all together.”

And we laugh together from the experience of tags out, unmet wants & unwanted mets.

Then her face gets stern. “Don’t fix it, Honey. It’ll be bad luck. Leave it as it is.”

“Sweet! One less thing,” I nod, laughing loudly.

Standing at the sink, watching the water rush away the remnants of dinner, I feel the hard swell rise despite. Then I pull her grace around me tight like the Holly Hobby sheets & quilt, the net from my childhood.

“I love you, Mom.” I say hands putting more dirty dishes into the sink.

“I love you too, Honey.”


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I found it there mounded asymmetrical in the dirt. A heart. A dirt heart peeking through the litter of brown leaves and twigs.

I bent low to push them away & trace its edges.  When I called to my mom to come see, she gave the obligatory “Oh yes Honey,” which made me laugh & blush at my simplicity & easy distraction. There were other things to be truly tending, I knew.

But during the unpack & organization of a camp kitchen, a hearth, a dining room that would house the gathering family, I couldn’t keep from seeking it.


Eric Legge, one of my long time artist crushes, photographs them – found hearts. His flicker page is filled with them. A heart in the sky where tree branches meet. A heart of rust on scrap metal. A heart in a tossed banana peel. A heart made with fingers.


The next day, my mom told me the storm would pass, despite the dark clouds racing in. She said I was in the Midwest & things like this blow over. But I kept looking skyward, thinking of the children’s tents. I knew a storm was coming. The earth smelled different and the air although lazy summer hot was electric with anticipation for the first drops of rain.


He created a series of work in which he carved hearts deep & rough into cabinet doors & found pieces of wood then created a frame of sorts, wrapping each with extension cords and thick house wire. I asked him about the wires and he, in the softest secretive tones, told me how the heart must be filled with electricity, how that emotion described as “heart stopping” caused the hairs to rise on his arms and neck with intensity. He near whispered “bursting with strong energy. Love is the most important thing.”

I learned later that his father had passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack earlier that year and I smiled despite myself.  Because here was this man who worked side by side with his dad daily, whose respect & admiration was openly present when they spoke together or he spoke of his dad, and he was using his grief and confusion to create this beauty, to come to terms with that craziness, in order to hang on.

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I offer my presence up in the way of certainty, in the tone of “of course” experience. No one should travel to a funeral alone. A hand needs to be held. A warm familiar body needs to stand and sit beside.

Then I begin the drive and I want to take it all back. Because there’s an ache unexpected in my throat and in my hands gripping the wheel. I don’t want to answer the phone. I want the sound of loud music to rise and fall. I want those drums and that bass to replace the pound of heart in my ears and soothe the crashing in my chest.

I dawdle in heavy evening traffic, following the lead, but not too close. I sing. I stretch my fingers. I look at the clouds. I wonder if my clothes, chosen with a care rarely present, are appropriate to honor the deceased and the survivors, all of whom are strangers to me.

I listen and look as people are pointed out from a pre-me time. I smile, stay close. I want to memorize this. I see the span of ages – friends of parents, friends of brothers and of the deceased, the man’s children, others’ children. This is the only time this particular group of people will be together.

I watch the way a brother clicks the pedal for his guitar, tunes then nods “just right” before playing up to a his brother.

I follow the lights, explained as tribute to a man, who designed stages and sets harnessing light to create beauty. I listen to the accomplishments. I listen to a thirteen year old boy tell of clouds and chemistry, explained as it was by his father, in a parking lot.

So much grace, I think. I feel it move in like a mist onto the shore where grief has been crashing for months of prolonged illness.

I see the way a mother’s skirt of black and white ovals perfectly patterned clings lightly to her husband’s pant leg when he stands familiar close. It wraps around the leg of a man she remembers as boy, just as her arm does. My heart tells me she’s done this before too.

But this way she smiles comfort and warmth to those brave enough to approach her, the way this skirt catches the chair when she leans heavy onto its back, this is new, I know. After long pain, this kind of floating along and wrapping around for the love a son and gratitude to a room full of friends and family is foreign and unnatural. And yet so beautiful to me, two rows back watching.

I wonder if I have grace like that swirling, like a long skirt, when I mourn. I think of the lightest of fabric, of the shimmer given with each turn to the next face, the next hand, towards the sink to place dirty dishes and in the bend to pick up stray socks in the living room. I think of the need for time and space free of judgement, filling with spirit.

Perhaps it is this. Perhaps it is the spirit moving here, folding into her and others. Like the mist rising not disturbing or consuming but instead wrapping around so gentle and cool, like that on a shore line. Suddenly one is surrounded by it. The waves are heard and the wind is steady and sure on skin but there’s a new breathing where the crispness of mist is taken in and released, like a burning balm that meanders its way to tender heart places.

Grace must be present like this, I think. I want to wear long silky skirts and feel the mist rise about and rest in it beautiful.

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All of our internal mirrors are tilted to gaze inward when a death is announced. I felt their shift days ago and earlier saw their fragmented view as I packed my backpack and forced sleep at odd hours so I could drive all night.

It was if my life fell into the hands of Picasso, Braque or Juan Gris. Would I be painted with a guitar? Not because I played but because it fit into the composition, tapping a rhythmic emotion? Perhaps my body would be vine like and curvy. Would I hold an orb in my hand too like Gilot? Or would I be completely analyzed into sharp angles and placed on a staircase? I smiled at the whimsy of thought found and packed extra panty hose.

I think of my husband, slumped into the back seat. I strain to hear his breathing over our chatter and the wheel’s hum on road.

There hasn’t been a death in his family for nearly 15 years. I wonder if he too is placing himself inside this funeral, a foreign event. If he too is planning his in that macobre romantic way we all have, the details surrounding the preparation, the event and the letting go days that follow. Are they simply coming to mind and playing out involuntarily? What kind of flowers will adorn the casket? Will there be specific music or generic stream from what is on hand? A potluck supper after in a grassy field, a backyard or fellowship hall? How many people will actually attend?

And what of my sister curled under a pink fleece in the back seat? I want to blow bubbles for her, I think, seeing her as I do, me, the oldest sister.

And her over 6 ft tall husband attempting to stretch in the seat next to mine? What of him? Does he want all present to wear suits, traditional honoring attire, or can I come in my jeans and Darth Vader shirt, that is more reflective of the life he’s leading and I’m witnessing now, isn’t it?

I picture it quietly as I listen to them finally sleep.

My uncle will be wearing a white or cream turtle neck, I think, and a powdery blue tweed jacket. The flowers will be calla lillies splayed in a burst with white roses offering sweet scent. His waiting bride, who I know gathered him in her arms, is wearing blue too – a dress with tiny yellow and white flowers, elastic at the waist, where his hands will grasp hard until they find rest. It is impossible to imagine one without the other. I know I’m not the only one to think it. The thought brings tears to blur the road and I realize the pain of the last years.

If I were a painter, he would become a man bent, back split here in the middle, over work at a cursing angle. His shoulder seen in profile is one flowing arc that moves into his hands, larger than head, one clenching a pair of pliers sure, the other palm open and up. There will be glasses with dirt specks obscuring parts of his work seen frontal full on, juxtaposing the profile of other. His shirt won’t have sleeves and is dark blue with a pocket on the left. And there will be shadows and bits of children and dogs and flowers bursting around him. Maybe just a tiny part here from petal a small girl – me, pigtails uneven rising from it. Along the bottom a long table with a bird, who sits on the right side. The circle plates lined up neatly so there is enough room for all and the center dishes heaping full, gently emit steam. I see them as if looking down. And the bird’s beak is open in calling.

I smile large into the darkness. I am not a painter. I can’t help but hum My Eye is on the Sparrow.

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We are traveling north again. Barely settling our feet in our home hours before we return to bury.

The unexpected news of death came in the driveway as we were leaving, heading home to our beds and our couch and our messy yard. I remember how the few bits of gravel sounded as the wheels turned out and onto the road south.

Funerals have a way of startling awake ordinary time, pulling us from the lull of days. Each minute becomes stark in color, in comparison to the day and the moment before.

I remember the color of buildings rising like gray guards over the Indianapolis skyline. The cones marking detour glowed orange and reminded me of plastic toys still strewn in my house miles away.

The sky over St. Louis was void of color – so blue it appeared white.

I think of my husband who is traveling to bury a stranger. He is coming because he is my husband, for nothing more. I wonder at this distance.

One grieves for all losses when one attends a funeral, I think, as all curl into narrow car seats, covered with blankets. I watch the land flatten and trees become scarce to make room for planting and growing.

I have heard stories of the discovery of a never held or petted fish named Henry, who was floating after the school bus roared away. The day spiraled into tears. It’s as if at this time, when the brevity of life is seen at close range, permission is granted to open the box of all the little things that caused pain and sadness and to feel them and call them by name.

I have days like this, I think. Days that grief comes and spreads like a spilled drink on the table. I make pictures of liquid moving slowly across as I would clouds. Here is Africa, here are wings opening and here roots moving into sprout.

On these days a simple task like mopping up feels heavy. The weight of juice the color of sunshine morphs into thick oil smelling of citrus and unbearably humid summer days.

I wonder if he thinks that burying a stranger is an obligation or an odd gift. To walk into a room, known only by the few in this car, and witness others who are raw. See how they move from one pod of people to another seeking comfort in story and maybe side hug. Watch how they sit in rows, some slumping bent over by weight unseen, some stretching long legs out under chairs in front of them because the bend numbs too much.

Does he think, as I do, of all the things mourned? Words said that caused pain? Unsaid words that drip blood from bitten tongue? Does he wonder if their pain is just this right here in casket? Or if perhaps they are thinking of that one time when they did that one thing? Or worse – didn’t do that one thing so needed?  Or is it just me who does this?

I’ll never ask because truly we all have that one thing and sore tongues and a fish named Henry.

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I asked myself after such a long absence, why I should return? Why write out loud on the Internet, where pontificating and peacock strutting is the norm? I could continue with my scraps of phrases and images stuck in random drawers and my purse. I have done this for years regardless of this space so why on a glowing screen should I type my stories?

To gather praise? I asked hard.  To battle loneliness? To be heard? I asked more harshly.

I tossed the questions out and twisted up my mouth familiar with the slithering voice that sees rough questions as an opening to settle in.

I rested in the phrase “I don’t know.” I made the lists of reasons for doing and reasons for not doing. I did nothing out loud. Inaction sometimes can be more powerful than action. This I know.

On the phone, I listen to the chirping girl voice tell her story of diving. It is a goal she’s set for herself. To slip into smooth water with her tiny body pointed and lean. She longs for that sleekness, I know. I’ve seen her move.

“I guess it’s getting better but I think I still suck.”

I laugh in response, offer encouragement.

She sighs and whines in a way I know well. “Well, Mama, I look like a cat jumping into the water. You know how their front paws and head are all pulled in and tight but their back legs are straight with fear? That’s what I look like, Mama. I look like a cat and feel like that cat.”

My laughter rang loud because this I understood. Yes, I got it. I told her that was the perfect word painting, that I could see it without being present.

She giggles awkward under such light because she wasn’t thinking of painting, certainly not with words, and the praise is unexpected.

“Hey Mama, it was weird to say it out loud, you know. I’ve been thinking it but I just didn’t say it because you know people look at you funny sometimes.”

“Yep, Sweet Princess, I get that too. I get it totally.” I pause, picturing her face so small with a heart so big. “I think you’re amazing and brave for telling me in those words. And I think you just might have found one of your God gifts.”

We talk of other things like new hair bands and swings. I tell her to keep practicing to dive. We say we miss and love each other and then she dives in expertly leaving only ripples.

“Hey Mama, I think you’re amazing and brave too. I love you heavensful. And hey Mama, I love your words too.”

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