Tuesday, May 31, 2016

#SOL16: Out Rowing

from my art journal, 5.30.16 (gesso, archival ink, acrylic paint, stabilo pencil)


I could not know how difficult the change of season would be. Summer arrived in the Northeast last week--calendars be damned--and it found me gathering all of Rob's clothing, save the few pieces I simply could not bear to part with, and donating the lot. Next week I may pack some boxes of books and find a place to donate these too. The first part of acting is thinking.

Throughout the spring, I have relentlessly planted and today I noticed how brilliantly red the geraniums that grace the front stoop are and how lush the lavender and cilantro have grown. Since Rob's death, I have kept an art journal. I paint most days and I find it eases a restlessness I find hard to name.

Yesterday, my brother replaced the railings on the back deck that had warped this last winter and every day for the last 90, rain or not, I have walked. All this setting to rights, all this order-making is a slim attempt to tidy this mess.

Each morning, I collect the New York Times from the driveway. Each evening I sweep the front stoop and with it--bits of my heart.


The things we accumulate across an abbreviated life are mostly just things--they are rarely stories. Stories are what happen between and among people.

I once had a man I loved and he died. He did so unexpectedly. He did so early. 

Stories happen when the weight of loss grows so heavy that we unmoor what anchors us most and finally find the breath we need to speak.

This is me speaking. Can you hear me? I once had a man I loved.

Grief is the repetition of loss.


Some mornings as I walk I watch the men steer their rowboats to the best places on the lake for fishing. I watch as they row each day. Unperturbed by measures of success, they row.

I walk by the shore and I find myself thinking of Anne Sexton who years ago before she took her very life wrote about the awful rowing to God--the blisters on the hands that heal and break. And I think, Yes, that's how I feel many days: Healed and broken. Healed and broken. 

To bear this loss against the current is to know that grief has a weight that cannot be calculated. To bear this loss with grace is to know that weight and to still keep rowing.

Monday, May 30, 2016

#SOL16: Brisket

Self Portrait: Lips (M.A. Reilly, 2016)

I bought a brisket.

A few days before Rob was released from the palliative care center of the hospital, I went to Kings Supermarket in Morristown, NJ and bought a 4-pound beef brisket. I had never cooked a brisket before. In fact, I'm not even sure I ever ate brisket. But on the night of Valentine's Day as the threat of snow and ice came true, my husband told me how much he craved brisket. I was able to get him some cooked brisket that night from Kings and swore I would make him brisket when he came home.  So, the next day I had the rather heavy hunk of beef wrapped, not in freezer wrapping with its shiny waxed paper, but in the regular oatmeal-colored butcher paper as I intended to make brisket during Rob's first week back home. While at the supermarket, I also bought all of his favorite foods and carted the many bags of groceries to the car and then to our house. My husband was coming home after having lived in the hospital for the previous 50 days. He left the morning of December 30th by ambulance.  It was mid February and he was coming home to die.  I realize now, months later, that I believed more in the possibility of a miracle than in the certainty of his death. Surely God would intercede and save this man.


The brisket is now probably freezer burned. I placed it there, in the freezer out in the garage the fourth day Rob was home as he had stopped eating. I spent the next two weeks eating mostly orange wedges as I watched my husband prepare himself to die. It seemed orange slices were what I could best swallow. Each morning I peeled an orange and left it in a bowl on the counter.  And throughout the day, I would take a bite now and then.  After months of seeing to his care, I was told that I now needed to shift from life saving to comfort. The fine people from Hospice helped me to understand this, but what they did not know, what I did not know, was that secretly I was still waiting for a miracle.

It took a few days more before I gave up placing the oxygen indicator on Rob's finger. The drone and bang of the oxygen machine filled the pockets of silence.  Next to the hospital bed in our family room were three pulse oximeters. We had three in case one might break and another might be lost. Throughout Rob's fight with cancer, it seemed the measure of his health was directly tied to how high his oxygen saturation numbers were. Above 90 was reason to cheer.  Like the brisket, the oximeters seem to have gone missing as well.

What gets lost is sometimes too much to count.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

#SOL16: Secret Desire

from my art journal  - A Change in the Order of Things - May 27, 2016
(gesso, acrylic paint, white and black marker, newspaper, Magritte's writing)

"What echoes in me is what I learn with my body: something sharp and tenuous suddenly wakens this body, which meanwhile had languished in the rational knowledge of a general situation: the word, the image, the thought function like a whiplash." - Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, p. 200.


In the dream you are still alive. And although I can see you, I cannot hear you. There is some type of screen between us, a boundary preventing me from reaching out and touching you. The distance keeps me from getting your attention, from saying to you, "Turn around. Speak louder, I cannot hear you."

The dream is a loop that plays the same few frames of film repeatedly.

It is daylight. Bright noon sun. You are sitting on a dock and water surrounds you on three sides. Your head is thrown back and I watch as your shoulders lift and then fall. Lift and fall. And your movement shows me what I cannot hear: You are laughing.

And I think, how familiar. You were always laughing.


The last few hours of your life are so permanently etched in my mind and I have replayed your death over and over again these last three months. I have replayed your death while waiting for coffee to arrive.  While standing in line at the Stop & Shop.  While waiting for Devon to come out from school.  While walking. While falling into meditation. I see your death again and again like a loop I have no will to stop.  The grief counselor I see suggests that I may have a touch of PTSD. And I think she may be right. For what I see again and again is all so clear.

On that unseasonably warm March afternoon with the winter sun falling quickly below the tree line, I watched you die. I held your hand as your jaw loosened, unhinged itself, like a wild bird finally un-trapped. How hard your body worked to die. You were a starling finally given flight. Loosed from the world, a wild thing--I held your hand between both of mine, murmuring sounds of love until I felt your body give way, like daylight to night.

Unmoored, you moved to where I could not follow.The quick fluttering of wings between tree branches.


That which is repeated is its own kind of wonder. This week, the dream comes most nights and I think I must finally be sleeping deeply enough to dream. There in that quasi-twilight before morning fully comes, the birds chirp and chatter call me from the deepness of sleep and I hang on to the bits of what I have been dreaming.

You are still alive. There is a dock. Lake water. I know more than I can say. I hear the water as it moves against the dock, moves against the shore--a lapping sound and behind me there are birds on the wires waiting to lift and I hear the sharp whistling sound of mourning doves as they first find flight.

It is high noon. The sun's warmth against my skin finds me drowsy. You sit on the wood planks, your back is to me. I want to call out to you to turn around, but my voice is mute. I know more than I can say as I watch as your head--tossed back and then forward and then back again and again. I remember that afternoon as we sat in your car so many decades ago and you explained the significance of a möbius strip. And I think now about your death about that one boundary between us.

The flannel shirt, the blue buffalo patterned one you always loved, now pulls at the shoulders each time you laugh, each time your head falls forward. I think how strange to see you in that shirt.  I want to tell you that earlier in the week I donated all of your clothes and kept two of your flannel shirts to wear--and one is the shirt you are wearing.


When I wake, I look for you and see I am in bed, alone. I turn towards the windows and the sun leaks through the closed blinds, lightening the walls. Daylight has come and now early morning finds the walls a soft rose. I retell the dream and wonder, What does it all mean? What is its significance? What might it signify?

But I am still sleepy and these questions not for a Sunday morning when feeling drowsy feels right. Beside the bed is a book of poems you gave me. I find my reading glasses and then open to a folded page you must have turned down at some earlier time. It pleases me to think of your fingers touching the page I am now touching--your eyes reading the words I am reading--your voice sounding the poem as my voice does too.

You have woken up late,
lost and perplexed
but don't rush to your books
looking for knowledge.
Pick up the flute instead and
let your heart play.

 (by Rumi, from Hidden Music, p. 158)

And I wonder if you have left this page folded for me to find.


Outside, the birds call more insistently to one another. I wish I knew what they were saying. I wish I talked bird. I smile thinking how you too would have liked to speak such language. And laughing at the folly of such foolish things, I say after this year we have each earned a boon.

So, here's a secret for a Sunday morning.

Since your death, I have wanted to commune with you again, to boldly smash through that screen that separates us, and turn on its head the order of things as we have known it. Foucault was right. The order is arbitrary, Capricious, even.

Let's talk through dreams. Let's let this dream keep me company as I ready to walk. The dream replays like a song known for a long, long time. A familiar tune I can hum.

It plays upon my heart like a lover, slowly awakening this body.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

#SOL16: Grief - Nothing Stays Put

from my art journal - "For in Grief, nothing stays put" - 5.28.16
(gesso, acrylic paints, newspaper, white marker, pan pastel, watercolor pencils)

One of the hardest things to come to terms with, if coming to terms is even possible, is the way grief with all of its power re-emerges so unexpectedly. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes about this. He says,

Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again; the mad words, the bitter resentment, the fluttering in the stomach, the nightmare unreality, the wallowed-in tears. For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? 
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? (p. 56)

His account rings true. Out of nothing discernible, grief rises like a rogue wave, appearing suddenly, unexpectedly. Such grief submerges. And though you don't die, it just feels that way.  It is a paralysis that widows learn to stand inside, even as it unbalances the heart.

Sometimes the wait for a return to balance is long.
Sometimes a rebalancing happens quickly.
The only constant is the not knowing.
This is the way of grief.

Friday, May 27, 2016

#SOL16: Resettling

from Art Journal. May 27, 2016 (gesso, watercolor, newspaper, acrylic)


This past week I gathered Rob's remaining clothes--the shirts and sweaters, pants and jackets, suits and coats and donated 20 bags of clothing to the Lupus Foundation. It pained me to gather his remaining clothing and so I tucked away two flannel shirts, a maroon sweater, and a few things for Devon if he so wishes. Against the pain, it also pleased me to think that others will be wearing the well-tended clothes of my husband as I know Rob would want that. 

It took a considerable amount of time to gather from four different closets on three different levels all of Rob's remaining clothes. I lived with the bags lining the upper hallway for more than two weeks. I just couldn't make the phone call no matter how often I thought to do so.  On Tuesday, I received a card in the mail asking for a donation from the very agency I was going to phone. I took this as a sure sign and made the call.


There's an elegance that accompanies small steps. Outside on the front stoop are pots of geraniums. On the side porch are potted herbs. Each action need not be elaborate, nor even complete.  

Each bag of clothing I gathered and donated left a vacancy, amplified losses I don't care to calculate. For now, my home is filled with pockets of movement and of stillness. These are placeholders for the love that feels misplaced. 

I have worked these last few months to resettle the house.  The heart will keep for another day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#SOL16: Mend My Life

from my Art Journal, 5.23.16 - Tell Me About Despair (gesso, watercolor, acrylic, collage )


What do you love to do? the grief therapist I am seeing asks.
Hmm. I'm not sure. I love to teach, read, make art, write, walk, talk with others.

Our talk this week turned to taking action. Meaningful action.
Begin to breathe, again--to mend this life of mine that has been torn apart.


Rob and I led an insular life in many ways. Our work brought each of us into contact with so many people each day that we tended to spend our weekends and time off together in quiet ways. Now, the spaces of quiet are larger than I need or want and Rob is gone.  My life is an absence I need to redefine and there is such loneliness sitting in the stew. The way through this grief that paralyzes at times is not to obscure it with trivial activity which only makes the loneliness loom larger, but rather to transform it with contact with others and work that is meaningful, playful.

Meaningful work.

I don't feel ready for the pace of full time education work, but I do think I would enjoy teaching again. With that thought in mind I contacted two friends to see about potential adjunct positions at colleges. I have taught graduate school for several years before and think such work would suit me now. In the past, my courses tended to be rather creative mixing the arts with the study of literature, reading and writing as a way to make the theoretical more physical, more inhabitable. 

Yesterday, I joined a book group that meets in June and I am going to try out a sketching group that meets locally. I am looking for a watercolor class to take this summer and Devon and I planned our summer with a bit more detail.

I also have a book in the planning stages and am setting a time to meet with two others about writing a book about early literacy in kindergarten. I want to write about the work I have made with others during the last five years in poor inner cities and how joyful, developmentally appropriate, and successful that work has been for children.  

All of this reminds me of a poignant poem by Mary Oliver, "The Journey." 


The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.


Trust the voice that is mine. Wade deeper into the world. This scares me as the confidence I have had feels less present, certain.  Rob's illness, the speed of his decline, the tragedy that dogged our every step, the loss of my true love--all of this has dismantled the certainty of love that once framed my life. I felt invincible with Rob by my side.  We were partners in all things. And without him venturing into the world feels scary, exciting, lonely, uncertain, sad. 

"Don't you dare hide yourself away," Rob told right after he bid my to live brilliantly. He said this an hour after we learned that the cancer had metastasized to his liver, spleen, ribs, sternum, both lungs and that we would now measure time by days and weeks, not months and years. Rob knew me so well--knew that I would seek the shadow, not the sun.

Will you welcome me, world? Torn and battered as I am?

Do what I love.


Oliver, Mary. New and Selected Poems, Volume One: 1 (pp. 114-115). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

#SOL16: The (un)Fixed

Parked (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

For the last few weeks I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM). Last week I returned to the center for a check in and as I was viewing a talk given in 1971 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, two things he said struck me as significant. First, he said, "Stagnancy does not belong to life." This stopped me. Ironic, yes. How difficult it has been to move beyond Rob's death and to reconcile, if that is even the act I am seeking, the loss of Rob in my life. When Rob died, I lost my very heart. I moved from living to not belonging to life. And these last few months I do function, but I do so with an ear out listening for the dead. What would Rob think? Oh, that was a song Rob loved. Here is a magazine he used to read.  How might he have responded to this or that?  I must remember to tell Rob... If only Rob were here... and so on.  I could not have made the life I made with Rob for nearly three decades and not feel the absolute amputation of heart and limb that happened with his death. 

I am missing parts of me. There are holes you could drive through. 

And it is this sense of absence, of holes that I am thinking about when earlier this morning, two friends, Renee and Michael, from New Hampshire stopped in for breakfast. After they left I was filled with a profound sadness as Rob was not here to meet with them. Years ago, Rob was the best man at their wedding. Rob, Michael and I all met in graduate school and we have such history together. This morning was the first time they have been here since Rob died. Michael stayed with us when Rob first came home from the hospital in mid-February during the first few days of Hospice care, but he and Renee have not been here since Rob's death and their presence and then departure echoes Rob's absence. Honestly, the whole living world echoes Rob's absence and my loneliness.


It seems that since I listed all the things I am angry about I have not been able to stop crying. If I'm awake for 16 hours in a day, at least half of it has been spent sobbing. It's like that list somehow opened a faucet to where my heart once beat and out flows buckets of tears. ("Got all them buckets coming out of my ears/Buckets of moonbeams in my hand...") And for each moment in the day I am not crying, I can feel the press of more tears that are merely a breath away. The triggers are endless. 

If the natural inclination of life is flow, movement, I wondered if grief gives rise to stress when a body refuses to move. Is this emotional stagnation I feel a part of grief? Is grief its source--if such complexity can have a source? Or is the world of bereavement simple?  Input. Output. As I write this I am reminded of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a collection of essays that Rob first gave me to read years and years ago and if I remember correctly it was a book that he and Michael had read for a class. In the essay, The Fixed, she writes,

I want out of this still air. What street-corner vendor wound the key on the backs of tin soldiers and abandoned them to the sidewalk, and crashings over the curb? Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, who lay a bullock on a woodpile and begged Baal to consume it: “Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” Cry aloud. It is the fixed that horrifies us, the fixed that assails us with the tremendous force of its mindlessness. The fixed is a Mason jar, and we can’t beat it open...The fixed is the world without fire- dead flint, dead tinder, and nowhere a spark. It is motion without direction, force without power, the aimless procession of caterpillars round the rim of a vase, and I hate it because at any moment I myself might step to that charmed and glistening thread" (pp.68-69).
And that is how I feel when I push up against the grief.  Fixed.  A mason jar you can't beat open. And I wonder will I ever feel alright?  Will I ever feel like the confident me I used to be?


Towards the end of the talk, the Maharishi spoke about the use of the mantra during the meditation to gently return attention when the mind drifts. He said, "It just takes a whisper until that whisper goes away." I puzzled over that statement for a few days.  I understood it with regard to the mantra and how thinking the mantra is mostly about brief intention. It need not be mechanized and overt. Earlier a collection of essays by the Maharishi, I read, "...the capacity of subtle experience is rusted, the machinery is not used" (p. 101, from here) and I laughed aloud. How true that is for me. 

Being present is largely about subtlety--about letting a place happen to you. In Kathleen Norris's  wonderful, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, she quotes a monk who says, "You have only to let a place happen to you...the loneliness, the silence, the poverty, the futility, indeed the silliness of your life." 

Over-attention isn't a way through the grief.  Letting a place happen is where my heart, though faint, beats. It is where I must (un)learn to stand. 

I feel this centering power each day as I walk. Stepping foot after foot roots me to earth, to the present, to where grief washes over me and my footing is so solid, the earth so kind, that my movements with grief allow it to wash over me. Somedays, I move to feel whole.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

#SOL16: Something's Eternal


Each day I find Rob's death hard to believe.  He is my home and so I find my body responds as if he is just away somewhere and will be coming home soon, after the weekend is over perhaps. Or he is out running errands, visiting a client, at the doctors, getting some coffee. His absence is earthly.

I think about us a year ago. What were we doing?  How odd it is now that Rob's death (in)forms my every breath that we did not know last April and May would be his last spring. 


Yesterday I came across three sets of text messages Rob and I exchanged on my iPad. I knew of the text messages from my phone, but I forgot about the ones on my iPad as I don't usually use it to text message. These messages chronicle our day-to-day lives from November, 2012 through to February 3, 2016. A little more than 3 years. On my phone I have other text messages between us and these end the day Rob came home on February 17. 

I started to read the messages from 2013 and realized I couldn't bear it. Instead I reread the last few messages we ever exchanged and marveled at how Rob was so in the world, so present. How could he decline in just a handful of day?  Below is an exchange from early on Valentine's Day and the 16th. (I am the blue with white print and Rob is the grey with black print.)


2.14.16 - 1st Part of the text message exchange.
2.14.16 2nd Part of the exchange

2.16.16- 1st part of text message

2.16.16 2nd part of message

2.16.16 -4th  part of message

2.16.16 - 3rd part of message

One thing that surprises me is that I too didn't think of his time as being imminently over. I was praying for a miracle. I don't think I remembered feeling that. I do know that by the time Rob came home I needed to learn from the Hospice caregivers to shift my attention from life saving to comfort. My friend Jane tells me that I called her to tell her that brisket was on sale at Kings the day before Rob came home. He had a hankering from brisket and I bought one to cook for him at home. 

It remains in the freezer. 

Rob came home on a Wednesday the 17th and by Friday the 19th he would eat half an egg sandwich in the morning and that would be the last meal he would ever eat.


For now, I can't go back to read our texts from the ordinary days before we knew Rob was dying. I'm not sure I will ever be ready for that.  Knowledge of the future corrupts the past. All of this reminds me of Act III from Thornton Wilder's Our Town. This act opens with the burial of Emily Webb. We watch as Emily takes her place among the dead and those who had attended her burial leave the cemetery. Now only the dead remain and the Stage Manager. Emily, as you might recall wants to return to the living. She is cautioned not to do this but she insists.  She wants to see just one day. Just one day.
STAGE MANAGER: And as you watch it, you see the thing they--down there--never know. You see the future. You know what's going to happen afterwards. 
EMILY: But is that--painful? Why?
Wilder doesn't let any of the characters answer Emily's question. How clever of him to make us all wait and to experience the why with Emily.  Emily selects her 12th birthday to step back into her former life. As predicted this step back in time is a mistake. A painful one. After witnessing the absence of intensity on the part of her mother and father she understands a truth that I too know now. 

 Emily tells us:

EMILY: I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another.  
She breaks down sobbing. 
The lights dim on the left hand of the stage. MRS. WEBB Disappears. 
I didn't realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed. Take me back - up the hill - to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.  
Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners? Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking? and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths? and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.  
She looks to the stage manager and asks abruptly through her tears: 
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?  
The saints and poets, maybe--they do some. 

At the very beginning of Act III of Our Town, the Stage Manager tells the audience, "There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being." I liked to believe that my soul--that thing that is eternal in each of us--will (re)connect with Rob's soul. I want to believe that we will be reunited in/at another space-time. 
Something eternal. Yes. I saw what is eternal leave my husband's broken body as he exhaled his last breath that Tuesday afternoon in March. I know he stops somewhere waiting for me.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

#SOL16: An Angry Litany or 150 Things I Need to Shout

Closed Off.

I'm not an angry person, usually. Live and let live is an adage that often works for me--although less so now. My default is more often to feeling sadness, rather than anger.

I've been the good girl for so long, even thinking that perfection was needed for love--a belief my husband helped me to unlearn. This recent sense of anger that floods me feels oddly empowering and disquieting at the same time.  So I am nothing if not conflicted.


This morning I am learning that there are few differences among the many ways I am feeling angry. Beneath each anger is a sadness so hard to express that the anger bubbles up obfuscating the sadness like the white gesso I spread across each journal page. But anger bleeds through most of my actions and thoughts. I have been advised to get the anger out.  So here goes...

  1. I'm angry at myself for every mean thing I said to Rob during our 28 years together. Please forgive me.
  2. I'm angry with Rob for dying.
  3. I'm angry for Rob leaving me. 
  4. I'm angry that Rob won't see his son age. He won't see him dressed up for the prom next week, or his high school graduation, or be here when the letter comes for college acceptance.  He will miss all of Devon's milestones as an adult. 
  5. I'm angry that I sob off and on each day sometimes for what feels like an endless amount of time.
  6. I'm angry that I can't talk about Rob without crying.
  7. I'm angry that when I walk I sometimes cry. Being public and in tears is uncomfortable.
  8. I'm angry that we had no inkling any of this would happen and it is all so shocking and so fast.
  9. I'm angry and wounded that my son won't have his father and he is barley 17 and there's nothing I can do. 
  10. I'm angry that there will be no more car trips with Rob and that last summer we didn't go on holiday.
  11. I'm angry that I have no one who will read to me at night like Rob did for 28 years.
  12. I'm angry that there is no one to share details from the Sunday paper over coffee.
  13. I'm angry that our bed is so fucking large and empty.
  14. I'm angry that nothing smells of Rob that I have left.
  15. I'm angry that each time I get rid of something that was Rob that it feels like an injury to him and us.
  16. I'm angry that I only have his voice recorded on my phone.
  17. I'm angry that I took so many landscape images and not enough of Rob over the years.
  18. I'm angry at every good summer movie that will come out that Rob won't see.
  19. I'm angry that there is no one who I want to go see a drive-in movie with in Warwick.
  20. I'm angry that I am a widow. I hate that name.
  21. I'm angry that Rob will never see the plants I planted this spring or the peonies that are just about to bloom in a garden I dug 14 years ago.
  22. I'm feeling nuclear at the medical mistakes that compounded Rob's too early death and so severely lessened the quality of the handful of months he had from diagnosis to death. Rob went from walking fine (Sept.), to being a bit wobbly (October), to needing a cane (November), then a walker (November), to next having to use a transport chair (December), to being immobile (January), and at the end forgetting that he no longer could stand let alone walk and asking me each morning to help him stand so he could walk to the bathroom (February). 
  23. I'm  angry at the attending doctor in the Step-Down unit who spoke about Rob to the residents as if he was some problem put there for the doctors to offer hypotheses. Drs. please learn.
  24. I'm  angry at the senseless surgeries Rob suffered through that were so unnecessary.
  25. I'm angry at the doctor who told us 8 weeks before Rob died that he had at least another year to 18 months to live. How did he get this so wrong?
  26. I'm  angry with God for cheating Rob and me of the 25 years those life expectancy charts say is our due. 
  27. I'm angry with myself now that I realize that as I walk, I am checking out the entrances to houses I pass by and seeing which ones would be best for Rob given his inability to walk. I realize that I am crossing off the houses where renovation would be extensive as if this need was still a need. 
  28. I'm unsettled by those who are kind to me as it leaves me feeling so vulnerable, so not-together.
  29. I'm angry with the federal government that I have one year to list myself as married on my tax return and then I must be single again. Really?
  30. I'm pissed at the IRS who sent me a $4000 bill last week with no explanation save they discounted something from the taxes I filed in April. I have never done our taxes and this year they need to find something to discount? Is there no 'just lost her husband, so leave her alone' clause in the tax code? 
  31. I'm angry I will never touch or kiss Rob again.
  32. Some mornings I'm pissed at the poor kid who hands me a cup of java at our neighborhood coffee spot for no reason I can even muster. (Sorry)
  33. I'm angry at having to share the road with the overly-privileged drivers in Bergen County--yes all of them. (Ok, truth here is this anger started well before Rob's death. Driving in NJ is no picnic.)
  34. I am angry at having to tell so many working at state and federal agencies, banks, utilities, newspapers, etc. that Rob has died.
  35. I am angry when I hear someone I don't know say the perfunctory, "Sorry for your loss."
  36. I'm angry each time someone asks, How are you doing?
  37. I'm pissed at the doctors who still are sending bills for services the insurance company already paid. How much do you want?
  38. I'm resentful that I paid the doctor last fall who set Rob's death in motion by failing to properly treat the staph infection his colleague gave to Rob the month earlier. This error caused my husband such harm and resulted in Rob needing thoracic surgery, the removal of a rib, and the continued delay of cancer treatment--treatment he received once. I understand (sometimes) that Rob may have died anyway because of the lung cancer, but I also know that these errors caused him so much unnecessary suffering. 
  39. I'm angry at the surgeon who put an infected port into my husband's chest in mid-September and that he never apologized for such a gross error.
  40. I'm angry that I have no plan for Rob's ashes and that he never had the chance to tell me what he wanted me to do. 
  41. I'm angry at all the right-wing conservatives who stand in the way of government funding for stem-cell research.  No embryo is equal to an actual human life cut short.
  42. I'm resentful of couples as I think, You have my life. And no, I'm not interested in truth here. 
  43. I'm angry at everyone who is planning holidays and barbecues and dreaming of a future. 
  44. I'm angry at having to endure each holiday without Rob.
  45. I'm angry at couples who go to the library together.
  46. I'm angry at dealing with government agencies who keep losing forms.
  47. I'm angry at having to pay bills each week. This was a job Rob did throughout our marriage and I suck at it.
  48. I'm angry about having to teach Devon to drive. Rob was supposed to do this. We had agreed.
  49. I'm angry that I am not as spontaneous as Rob and that Devon feels that absence so much.
  50. I'm angry that if I should injure myself while out walking that there is no one to call.
  51. I'm angry that such a great man died so damn early.
  52. I'm angry that the closet is half empty and the dresser draws are vacant.
  53. I'm angry that a hat Rob wore is left hanging on a hatrack.
  54. I'm angry that I can't bear to pack up Rob's toothbrush or shaver.
  55. I'm angry that I sold Rob's car.
  56. I'm angry each time someone asks me to tell how Rob died or to provide them with the date.
  57. I'm angry each time I send a death certificate to some agency, etc.
  58. I'm angry when I sit at home and can still see in my mind the hospital bed in the family room where Rob died.
  59. I'm angry that I cannot forget the sound of the oxygen machine.
  60. I'm angry at all the narcotics Rob took to ease the cancer pain and how it took him away from me.
  61. I'm angry that my husband suffered so much.  This is a wound I cannot heal and I want to.
  62. I'm angry that making a life means leaving Rob behind.
  63. I'm angry that I can never make up the huge hole in Devon's life that Rob's death has caused.
  64. I'm so fucking angry that my son hurts from all of this.
  65. I'm angry that all the past hurts, hurt more now.
  66. I'm angry that I am scared of things I can't even name.
  67. I'm angry that I didn't insist that Rob be treated at a NY hospital.
  68. I'm angry that I only need to make one cup of tea at night.
  69. I'm angry that there is no one to recommend the unusual book, author, or essay to read.
  70. I'm angry that my husband, the poet, will write nothing more, nor read his work aloud.
  71. I'm angry that my favorite editor and co writer writes no more.
  72. I'm angry that my business partner isn't here to share ideas, joys, triumphs, failures.
  73. I'm angry that now I drive to Newark alone.
  74. I'm angry that it will soon be summer and most every summer we spent the majority of it on the road. No longer.
  75. I'm angry that I can't come downstairs and find Rob reading The Times at the kitchen table early int he morning.
  76. I'm angry that when I am ill there is no Rob to care for me as he did.
  77. I'm angry that Rob and I won't get to write that book we had planned to write.
  78. I'm angry that our plans--so many--are all lost.
  79. I'm angry that I lost a part of myself on March 8 when Rob died.
  80. I'm angry that my life is so unsteady.
  81. I'm angry that March 8 was unseasonably warm and beautiful.
  82. I'm angry that no one will every love me like Rob did. 
  83. I'm angry that Rob had only 16+ years with his son.
  84. I'm angry that I can't control most anything that matters.
  85. I'm angry that sadness seeps into most every happy occasion now.
  86. I'm angry that I sleep alone and restlessly.
  87. I'm angry that even though I turned the mattress so I could sleep on top of the side Rob last slept on, it offers little comfort.
  88. I'm angry that I will never look through a viewfinder and find Rob.
  89. I'm angry that he died so damn fast taking with him such immense beauty.
  90. I'm angry that my hold on life is so strong.
  91. I'm angry that I loved him with everything and the hurt is so big and continuous.  
  92. I'm angry that loss is so permanent.
  93. I'm angry that spring came without Rob.
  94. I'm angry that I didn't meet Rob earlier so I could have more time with him.
  95. I'm angry that lives are measured.
  96. I'm angry that I am blindsided continuously because Rob and I shared so much.
  97. I'm angry that I can't recall what Rob last said to me.
  98. I'm angry that Rob's last breath is seared into my memory.
  99. I'm angry that there is a large empty space in the garage where Rob's car used to sit. I hate coming home and seeing that empty spot.
  100. I'm angry that death happens to good people like Rob.
  101. I'm angry that Rob won't get a chance to cast a ballot in the fall. He loved talking politics, almost as much as he loved talking literature.
  102. I'm angry every time a cancer treatment ad comes on the radio. 
  103. I'm angry that I lost my soul mate and feel so adrift. 
  104. I'm angry I was an orphan and that Rob's leaving has me feeling orphaned again.
  105. I'm angry at every couple I see, especially those walking and holding hands or leaning into one another.
  106. I'm angry that by Rob dying insurance money was added to our bank account.
  107. I'm angry at people I barely know and who Rob barely knew who tell me how devastated they are because Rob died.
  108. I'm angry at people who tell me how I should feel.
  109. I'm angry that I believed there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.
  110. I'm angry at people who wrote about profound loss from a clinical perspective. This isn't something you know by studying.
  111. I'm angry I was so damn polite during Rob's illness.
  112. I'm angry at all of the rituals Rob and I created that feel out of balance without him.
  113. I'm angry that I will never again know the depth of passion that I knew with Rob.
  114. I'm angry that if I say the phrase, "Snow angels in Vermont," no one on this planet now will understand what I mean.
  115. I'm angry that I love Rob so much and that such love could not save him.
  116. I'm angry that I thought love had such power.
  117. I'm angry that I will never hear Rob call my name again.
  118. I'm angry that I'm angry.
  119. I'm angry that I am so lost without Rob and that I have difficulty remembering most things.
  120. I'm angry that my life has changed and will continue to change and that makes me feel out of control.
  121. I'm mad as hell that useless men are living when Rob is not.
  122. I'm mad that people voted for Donald Trump whose arrogance reminds me that useless men are alive and Rob is not.
  123. I'm angry each time someone tells me, "You look good." or  "Are you sleeping okay?" or "You look worn out." or "You have to take care of yourself" or "Rob would want you to..."
  124. I'm angry that I'm so envious of other people's happiness.
  125. I'm angry that each day the mail arrives and in it is mail for Rob.
  126. I'm angry with the Democratic party who phones to solicit donations from my dead husband.
  127. I'm angry that I don't have millions and could donate tons and tons of money to leftwing progressive media like The Nation in Rob's name.
  128. I'm angry every time The Threepenny Review arrives and Rob isn't here to read it.
  129. I'm angry that a beloved teacher died and mean people in the world still live.
  130. I'm angry that I don't have someone at home I can chuckle with while reading the cartoons in  The New Yorker.
  131. I'm angry that somewhere right now someone else is getting devastating news that her husband's illness is terminal. 
  132. I'm angry that somewhere right now a child is learning that his dad won't see another birthday. 
  133. I'm angry that cancer has not been cured. Let's get that fucking done.
  134. I'm angry at the stack of Walter Benjamin books I can't seem to move. I wished Rob and I could have talked about that more.
  135. I'm angry that I have misplaced Rob's notebooks somewhere in the house.
  136. I'm angry that I am so forgetful.
  137. I'm angry that I can see a future now.
  138. I'm angry that the future I see does not have my beloved in it.
  139. I'm angry that I can't find Dev's social security card because neither Dev nor I know where Rob put it.
  140. I'm angry I didn't pay better attention to house matters like when does the septic tank need to be cleaned? Or the Fireplace? What was that Rob said about bleeding some line? 
  141. I'm angry that when Dev and I are out at dinner, we are each missing Rob.
  142. I'm angry each time I see a ken ken puzzle and remember that Rob isn;t here to solve it.
  143. I'm angry that the brown cardigan Rob wore as he wrote downstairs remains folded over the back of his chair and I don't have the will to touch it.
  144. I'm angry that Rob never finished Krantzman.
  145. I'm angry that I lost the love letters Rob wrote to me years ago.
  146. I'm angry that I didn't save every card Rob wrote me.
  147. I'm angry that I will have to pack up this house and move at some point.
  148. I'm angry that I loved so deeply and lost that love.
  149. I'm angry that I learned TM after Rob's death and that he didn't get a chance to practice it with me.
  150. Mostly, I'm angry that I could not save the man I love so deeply no mater how hard I tried. I have never wanted anything as much.  

#SOL16: Pants and Shirts

Devon and Rob, Halloween, 2003


Rob's death has taught me to appreciate things evolving in their own time. Last Saturday I packed the many pairs of pants and shirts Rob had hanging in our closet. Nothing smelled like him.  And how could it?  Everything had been washed and pressed and waiting. The last five months of his life found him wearing hospital gowns more than his own clothes and even when he could wear his own clothes they were ones bought since he had been diagnosed with cancer. I got rid of the 'sick clothes' a few days after he died.

So now I have several bags collected for charity and Dawn, a friend and neighbor texted me the contact for a Vietnam Veterans group who will come to our home to take the donation. I thanked her but I have not made the call.


Downstairs in the office Rob and I shared are all of Rob's winter coats.  I remember last July when he decided to get a jump on the next year by having his winter coats and parkas dry cleaned.  He brought them in from his car and hanged everything in the downstairs closet. He never had an occasion to wear even one coat as he spent the bit of winter he saw in hospitals and being transported by ambulance when he finally did come home to die. Coats were never needed.

I wouldn't be lying if I said I can't bear the thought of even being downstairs, let alone opening the closet door and seeing more of what I have lost and what Rob can never have. I avoid as best I can even going downstairs, choosing to walk outside to get to the garage most of the time. A pair of sandals Rob wore last August still sit by his desk. They have been left exactly as he must have taken them off.  I can see him doing this--an act he had done over and over again. I remember his feet in the sandals--the width of each foot, how carefully he kept his toenails trimmed. Details only a wife would know.


Eventually I'll call the Vets, but I'm not ready for the packed shirts and pants to leave the house.  I have lost more than I could ever calculate. There are still more clothes and books that defy counting and bit by bit I will get to them.

But not today.  And that's the lesson I heed now.  I am slower. I need to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#SOL16: Invincible Summer

From my art journal, May 18, 2016 (gesso, gouache paints, pan pastel, graphite pencil)


Sometimes grief feels invincible, as if the body you have known all these years is no longer yours. It has been let out, given over, occupied. And the best you can do is surrender. And after so many attempts at standing, this sitting down feels right.


This means something--something I don't know.


In the late night when the whole world holds its breath and the quiet that surrounds is a sleepy lullaby no day could sing, I whisper, Take from the day what you can. Leave what you cannot bare to carry. 

I whisper so I might remember these words tomorrow.

#SOL16: What Will We Make Of This Day?

From my art journal, May 17 2016 (Gesso primer, gouache paints, digital print)

I was reading the poem, "Long Point Light" by Mark Doty and I was so taken by the closing lines of the poem.  

"...Here is the world you asked for,
    gorgeous and opportune,

here is nine o'clock, harbor-wide,
  and a glinting code: promise and warning.
    The morning's the size of heaven.

What will you do with it?"

It spoke to me and I wanted to represent how I was feeling, so I opened my art journal, selected some gouache paints to mix, wet both pages, and began to paint. 

I like the unfinished quality of the work. I appreciate how this two-page spread is imperfect--as if it too knew instinctively that the world before it is unfinalized, open to interpretation and actions.  

And as I reread Doty's words I could not help but think of Rob's earlier ones to me that he uttered last February from his hospital bed, "Live brilliantly."

Each day helps me to better understand that two-word phrase. This day is before me and the morning is the size of heaven. 

This morning is before you, too.  What will each of us will make of it?