Tuesday, May 3, 2016

#SOL16: Loosening the Wall or Why I Write


                                       ...Deep in a life
is another life.  I walked out, the nest
already by the step. 

                        - Marianne Boruch, Nest


On top of a light fixture on the back deck, a robin has made a nest and inside that nest I imagine there are eggs and soon there will be baby birds. This nest building began a few weeks after Rob died.  It was at that time that I first began to notice the bits of twig and grass that started to accumulate in front of the door. And the mother bird has chosen well.  For this is a protected place, up against the house, off the ground. There are trees nearby for the mom to sleep and still be able to reach her babies in a second.  A fine home made ready.

A week ago,  I noticed the nest had been more fully formed and now the mother protects it, flying in and out, especially in early morning. There's something oddly poetic about this building, making, securing a future and how it began when a life that mattered so much to me had ended. All around are signs of life and I marvel at how this pulse beats so strong.


A friend, Simon, asked recently, why do you write? What moves you?  And I have been thinking about this off and on the last two days. At first I wanted to say, I write out of necessity. It so often feels that way, especially those last months of Rob's life when I wanted to understand what I could barely find courage to say. Then, writing felt required, necessary, like breathing. But saying that I write out of necessity is only a partial truth.

After Rob's death, when the word grew so grey, so heavy, I thought I was writing each day in order to save my life.  It felt like I was slowing drowning in a large pool of sadness and writing helped to keep me afloat. It helped me to keep an eye on a distant horizon, for even in that foggy state the horizon was noticeable, present, beckoning. My will to live is strong.  So no, I am not writing to save my life.

Now I see a bit clearer and wonder if I am not writing in order to preserve a life. For the last 28 years I have been a central part in what grew to become Mary Ann and Rob; Rob and Mary Ann; and later Devon's parents. I still wear the slim wedding band Rob placed on my fingers all those years ago. I still feel married to him--more wife than widow.

I write, in part, to preserve the life I have made with Rob. Letting him go is too difficult, too unnecessary for now. The stories we have shared, made together are ones I tell, in part. I write to keep alive and to explore my memories of my husband and of myself with him. But this too is incomplete. What compels me to write is bigger than all of this.


In 1922, during the civil war in Ireland, William Butler Yeats published a collection of poetry, Meditations in Time of Civil War. In the sixth poem in the collection, "The Stare's Nest by My Window," the speaker invites honey bees to build their home in an empty starling's nest. Against the death of soldiers, hostilities--life here is invoked by reinvention, repurposing the nest of a starling.

Yeats opens the poem:

The bees build in the crevices 
Of loosening masonry, and there 
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.  
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,  
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Come build in the empty house.
Come build.


This morning I am writing in the diner that Rob had breakfast more mornings than not. I am seated in the booth where he most often sat. Against the noise of dishes being cleared, orders being taken and served--I am writing mostly to loosen the wall. To reimagine, to reinvent my life. To wonder about who I am after Rob's death. Who is this woman? What does she favor? Want? What matters most? Least? How can she best serve others?

In February, when Rob told me to not hide away, to live brilliantly, he gave me a gift I knew was important instinctively. What I could not know then was how those words would carry me after he was no longer here to do so. Even on the very morning we first learned that the cancer had spread too far, too quickly and Rob would die too soon--his love for me led us. When I told him that I could not imagine a future without him, he commanded me to not hide away, to live brilliantly. He said this so directly with such certainty, that even now, months later I can feel the power of his conviction, the certainty of his love and I am humbled by this, motivated by his words.

After Rob's death, my life felt empty like Yeat's starling's nest. And during the last two months I have emptied it further.

Yes, emptied it further.

For the first time that I can remember, I have slowed working to a trickle and uncluttered my days, confronted the sadness, the pain, the loss. These days, my life consists of more contemplative arts like walking, painting, caring for Devon, gardening, grief counseling, talking with friends, photographing. At the end of the week, I will begin learning transcendental meditation.

Friends, I write to loosen my walls so I can try on the new, the repurposed, the starling's nest.


  1. We write, often, to summon up the will to carry on and make each day count....to repurpose, just like the starling and its nest.

  2. "Not to hide away. Live brilliantly!"
    I know that if Tuvia was aware that he was close to death that that would have been his message to me, even if his words would not have been so eloquent. But of course, it's easier said than done.
    I read your words regularly Mary Ann and think about our journeys... I don't comment often because I can't find the right words.
    But writing... I wonder where I'd be without them. That hour, each day when I can write to him keeps me connected to him in a very pure way.
    And there a are a few friends out there commenting regularly. I don't know if that helps you but it's wonderful for me, especially fellow widows.
    I am here for you...

    1. Thank you Bonnie. I feel the connection. It is difficult to understand this loss without experience. I'm pleased to know you write to Tuvia. Love is so powerful.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Your post touches my heart.

    1. Thank you Becky for reading and taking time to respond. Appreciate both.

  4. Mary Ann, I am so glad that you and Bonnie connected.
    This line is beautiful. "To reimagine, to reinvent my life." Springtime holds a certain sense about it that allows us to renew our spirit. Perhaps, in your walks you will photograph the spot that helps you reimagine, reinvent, renew.

  5. Oh Mary Ann. I am so very humbled and inspired. I remember that moment when i lifted my head for a few moments during the end of my mother's life and was stunned that the world in all its messy glory was continuing on without her and us. Your Rob was a very wise man I think to give you such advice. I hope that paring your life down to the essentials, will help you to find what you need to become part of that messy world again.

  6. "What space would these words take up? How might they move?
    What would be their destination?"

    1. It's hard for me to know the answers to any of those questions. So for today I will leave them as questions to return to. Thank you, Simon.