Anniversaries … Going on Without Her

For Kari it started in the summer, looming like the forecast of an oncoming hurricane, still distant but with 100% certainty of landfall. On a specific date: the location, her heart.
For me, I only became aware of it in the three or four weeks preceding its landfall. It arrived like a twister, dipping into my psyche in the grey light of morning and quickly taking flight having ravaged my calm. I woke up an angry self, shaking fists at the ticking clock and cursing the hands of time Jesi had been gone.

Three years…three years… so many anniversaries, birth days, death days, holi days… I am already having difficulty recalling where and how we have spent them all. And this next one? How to manage it, to best fit each of our family members individual needs.
Kari reminds me that months ago I had suggested focusing it on something Jesi loved. Making it a celebration of her life. I had thought of a family horseback ride. Perhaps last years remembrance weekend together, Saturday’s muted grey day, the hike around World’s End, standing, peering out over the water of Boston Harbor and beyond… were we all secretly wanting some apparition to appear, some sign from beyond the horizon? … happening upon the landscape art and losing ourselves in that mirror maze, reflecting perhaps too much of our inner selves that we could not bear to face. Were we all still struggling with understanding the complexity of, the futility of life that could be snatched away like that, a young girl with so much to offer the world: ended?
And then on the anniversary day itself, our visit to Walden Pond, the massive thunderstorm that swept across the pond like a curtain as we stood sheltering under the trees. And fifteen minutes later the sun appearing and the clouds parting, revealing soft pastels and sun sparkling on water.

But Alan is highly allergic to horses he later tells me. So the horseback riding idea fizzled, though somewhere inside me I still have the need to be near a horse…

Then Kari said she did not want to be in Boston. Nor did she want to be surrounded by grief, rising and engulfing her like a storm surge. It already did. Anyway, she would just have returned to college and a rigorous semester workload and the unsettling storm of emotions of being together with family like that would leave too much debris.
So on the weekend when the sunshine state succumbed to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose lurked somewhere in the Caribbean, a whirl of memories hovered over me reminding me of the tumult of grief. Chris and Alan and I made our way to Cleveland and Oberlin armed with ideas to distract, yet also quietly acknowledge those aspects of life that Jesi loved.
And secretly I wonder now whether the secret to getting through these times is more to focus on moving forward than standing still and looking out over the horizon like we did last year at World’s End.

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The sun shines cool with a gusting wind in Cleveland as I sit staring out over Lake Eerie. Chris is watching a volleyball game on a sand court behind us. Alan looking out over the city, behind us. It is Friday afternoon and Kari is finishing her classes at Oberlin before she heads into Cleveland to pick us up. I am mesmerized by the water, steel grey swirls with white caps. Chris turns around as the game finishes and asks about the lake, whether ships ever sink and Alan responds with the story of the Robert E Lee in the days when liquor was prohibited in the United States and illegally shipped from Canada, the border being somewhere in the middle of the lake…. I stare into the depth of the water, listening the tale.
Perhaps it is that water is somehow special to me, perhaps it is all the time I spend in Walden and the connection I feel with Jesi there for that image of the swirling waves and white caps stays with me.

That evening we discover a benefit concert where the Red Cross is raising money for Hurricane Harvey relief is to be performed by the members of the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Institute of Music, Credo Music and Oberlin Orchestra. We are sitting in the front. The concert begins with the Star Spangled Banner. The audience stands. Towards the end of the program I see that Barber’s Adagio for Strings is to be performed.
Hardly have the first stands of music sounded before I feel a shift inside me. It is as though I have fallen from a rock ledge. I am poised, held by a whisper, on the brink of tragedy. The swirling grey waters appear before me. Walden, Lake Erie, the Caribbean where Hurricane Irma now threatens her brutal force. I am submerged under the weight of it. Yet those are not my tragedies. Jesi is dying. Inside my body everything whirls and spins. I am losing my grip. I know it is too late. The music reaches up into the heavens and Jesi is gone. I am back in her bedroom three years ago with Alan and Chris and Kari and Jesi has gone into the light. Tears dribble from my eyes, a dam which holds them tight. I will myself back into the performance hall and reach for Kari’s hand and squeeze it. I know she understands. She turns to look at me and smiles faintly. I think about an essay she read to me earlier, an assignment for one of her classes when describes the twin relationship as the essence of her being. That which came before her and which will endure after all else, “outliv(ing) any separation that death might bring” (she wrote), “as her eternal truth.” **

The following day we visit Cleveland Zoo. Just inside the entrance Alan finds the map painted on a large wooden board. “Hey, they have an Australian section,” he calls out excitedly. I am positive Jesi had a hand in steering us to the zoo. Animals and Jesi are synonymous in my mind.
The kiddie train passed in front of us as we waited to enter the Australian Adventure. On a cyclone fence a large wooden board with a map of Australia had painted on it the words ‘Dog Proof Fence’.

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“Dog proof fence,” I read excitedly. “I’ve never heard of the dog proof fence.” I crossed the tracks and went up to the board to trace the line drawn across south eastern Australia. Then I posed for a photo and read about how it kept the dingoes out so they didn’t kill the farmer’s cattle and sheep.
We wandered off to begin our adventure. I began to feel a little let down. The dingoes were hiding in the shadows and would not be coaxed out. Across from the dingo enclosure was a petting zoo with goats and Shetland ponies. That didn’t feel unique to Australia to me? A large sign boasted camels (granted, they had been imported into the outback and used for transport across the desert due to their ability to store water in their bodies for days) but there were none to be found. Then we happened upon the homestead nestled in amongst the trees…

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These turn on the century type dwellings still abide in the suburbs of Sydney and in the Blue Mountain township where I used to live. The verandah, encircling the entire home, with its low iron roof makes shade from the scorching heat. There was a hat and coat peg at the entrance and a genuine Drizabone stockman’s coat hanging on one of the pegs. “Hey, I have one just like that, I shouted with glee picking up the Drizabone, the layered leather coat the stockmen wear on horseback to keep them dry while they herd sheep in torrential downpours.” It was as heavy as a lead X ray apron. “All they need is an Ekubra” I added. *** (the stockman’s wide brimmed hat)
I had no doubt in my mind that Jesi had steered us in this direction. She knew how much my homeland meant to me. …We had had a secret plan, perhaps not so secret but more like a dream as I look back on it now, that together she and I would vacation there once she got free of her treatment after the bone marrow transplant. Many times I had imagined that trip back to the Blue Mountains with her, doing some real bush walking, exploring Aboriginal caves and painting and learning bush craft. In 2013 on our family trip we had done a short bush walk together to Birdwood Gully in the Blue Mountains and Jesi had adamantly stated “I have to come back here”. She never did have the opportunity. But she would do everything she could to bring Australia to me. I knew that. We opened the door and went inside.

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Inside was a large open plan homestead. The kitchen, though not familiar to me, was to Alan. “We had a fridge just like that when I was a kid,” he told Kari and Chris. I was busy investigating the cupboards and shelves. They had done a pretty good job collecting stuff. Vegemite of course, pavlova magic, milo, a tin of billy tea, Arnotts biscuits. There was the library to explore yet. I wondered if there were copies of the children’s story books I used read to the kids… but I couldn’t find anything I knew. But there was a pretend gum tree with an oversized stuffed koala perched in it in the middle of the lounge area.

We left the house to see the real animals… kangaroos, wallabies, a black swan who was busy building a nest and trying to dissuade zoo visitors from coming to near the fence that protected him from us (the male builds the nest), an emu who we could not find, an aviary of lorikeets, a lonely cockatoo, a building housing a Koala encounter …
We were on our way out of the Australian Adventure when I suddenly remembered I had four Minties. These are a traditional Australian mint chew lolly (translate, candy) that everyone in Australia knows for the slogan At times like these, you need Mintes. Each wax Mintie wrapper has a different cartoon joke on it. Jesi loved them and used to collect them. Funny, but now I seem to have adopted that habit myself. I had shoved a few in my bag from a supply Alan had bought me after he went to Australia in May. They were still soft, juicy and delectably chewy. I raced over to everyone and placed one in the palm of their hands. Hmm, I wonder how I remembered about them exactly then!

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We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the zoo and on Sunday afternoon before Chris Alan and I flew back to Boston, together with Kari we visited another place the Jesi would have loved. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Jesi was a Beatles fan. Abbey Road, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, Let it Be. Jesi was a Beatles fan because Alan was a Beatles fan and exposed the kids to all sorts of rock and roll music. So naturally, Kari and Chris were too. I grew up listening to Here Comes the Sun and one of my fondest memories waking up from a nap in the family car were the golden rays of afternoon sun stretching out over the peaks of the Kosciusko Mountain Range in south east Australia on a skiing trip . But there was also John Lennon’s Imagine and the complexities of the lyrics and messages woven into the etherial chords of Revolution No. 9. Chris was fascinated by what The Beatles knew and were trying to tell us.
But I also wanted to see the Taylor Swift exhibit. I couldn’t let go of the fact that Jesi had met Taylor just over a month before she passed away. And I don’t know how many times since, when Taylor had released albums or been mentioned in the news I had thought of that meeting. A part of me tinged with guilt that I didn’t protect Jesi well enough. The staff of the hospital suggested Jesi not use her oxygen for the visit. So Jesi didn’t. She dressed in her prettiest hospital johnnie. She smiled, but it was a weak, pale smile. She hardly had the energy to joke or to talk. I stepped up to do the talking, concerned for her. I knew she was struggling but I said nothing.
Now I wanted to look Taylor in the eyes and say, Do you remember that young girl. Do you know she doesn’t exist on earth anymore. You were the last famous person she ever met. She didn’t make it. She was one of those kids that cancer took away from us. Can you help the rest of them???
But of course I am looking at her discarded clothes and her microphone, decked in silver sequins with the album name 1989 written down the side. Jesi wasn’t born then, I think.

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The visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame comes to an end, as does our weekend. Yet it is not yet September 11. Chris, Alan and I board our flight back to Boston leaving Kari in the hands of her friends. Kari has built up a network of amazingly supportive friends and assures us that besides her classes she has plans, support and a lot of work for the following day. I wonder what I will do, except for knowing I will go into the animal rescue and work with the dogs, something I do more and more all the time. Something I believe Jesi set me firmly on the path to pursue. It’s like that bumper sticker I often see which reads Who rescued who? I’ve asked Chris what he will be doing, given he is in Boston and most of his friends aren’t. He is not sure, but he assures me he is ok. Alan… ,I have not enquired… What ultimately happens is Chris and Alan go out to dinner. They invite me but as I am collecting Mimi from the pet sitter, the timing doesn’t work. I’m ok with dog cuddles…Jesi speaks to me through Mimi.

But I do surprise myself when, getting ready to go to the rescue the following morning instead of heading down Route 2 to Boston, I head in the opposite direction to Walden Pond. I am not dressed to swim. In my back pocket I am carrying Jesi’s prayer card and my phone. It is a beautiful morning. My lips are a zipped purse.
I lean against the wall on the beach where we, who continue to swim past the finish of the season leave our gear. A bag slouches next to me. I am silent inside and out. I look across the pond and my eyes come to rest on the spot where I last remember Jesi sitting on a rock. It is at the near end of Red Cross Beach. She is thin in her short shorts and tee shirt. Her skin is blotched, badly marked from the fungal infection she is recovering from. But her smile is so large that no one would see anything of the scars she wears. Nor would they know what she faces. She does not hide, but protects her bald head from the early May sun with a baseball cap. Large sunglasses protect her eyes. She munches on an apple.

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Now on September 11 three years later the beach is deserted. I wander over in the direction of the rock and am dismayed to find I can’t locate it. So much has changed. So much has changed…
I try to remember where the rock might have been. I turn to look at the water, wanting the eyes back that looked out from that Mothers Day afternoon at the angle of the pond from where she. I look up and down the beach and back at the clump of long grasses and white river stones piled in front of me. Suddenly I have an idea. I take Jesi’s prayer card out of my back pocket and wedge it in among the grasses, enough so I can see her angel face, but also enough so it is not too visible. I stand back to check its location and readjust it a couple of times. Then, still hesitant that Jesi will be safe, I leave her to look out over the pond for the day. I will return for her in the evening light.

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When I do return to swim I look over toward where I left Jesi knowing she is watching over me. It is late and the sun is falling behind the hills by the time I make my way, wrapped in a towel, over to the place where I left her. My eyes scour the grasses. I have not imagined the exuberance I feel when I first get a glimpse of her peeking out over the pond. It is not only as though I have had some enormous secret, but also there emerges an incredible sense of the connection that I have with Jesi ballooning around me to fill the dusky void of the sunset three years after she passed away. I stand in silence allowing myself to be engulfed by this, wishing for the feeling to last, knowing that like all messages from Jesi, it is fleeting and not to be held onto.
And so it passes. And so I pick up the prayer card, grateful for what I have just experienced, and move back along the beach to make my way home.

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Posted in Anniversary of Death of Child, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, Loss and Grief and Healing, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Around and Around of Grief

I’m angry. Its early morning and I open my eyes to a foggy grayness that I sometimes sense inside my head. But not today. Today I wake up instantly alert… and angry. I feel the anger in my ribs as they grip tight around my heart.
It’s three weeks short of the third anniversary of Jesi’s death and I am furious at time. How dare it keep moving onward, further and further away from her. How dare it take me with it.
But I don’t have time to be angry. I need to get up and move further into the day. So I take a reprieve from my angry self and race around my apartment collecting my belongings to leave for the weekend to care for a Scottish Terrier in Cambridge.

The following day I am driving past Mt Auburn Cemetery. It is a gloriously sunny morning; the air infused with a soft balmy feeling rather than the blinding white of summer. A gentle breeze rolls in through the open window of my car. I suddenly find myself visualizing Jesi’s coffin and her sweet sixteen self just as I last saw her resting peacefully in it. Sadness swallows me and absorbs the journey I am on to a meet another dog trainer. How can this have happened? How could I have borne the pain of losing her? Accompanying her coffin to the cemetery, helping push it off its roller bed into the crematorium fire. My finger pushing down on that switch knowing it would ignite the flames that would engulf her body. I could never ever do that again. How could I ever have had the strength to have done it then? Chosing to be with her until her physical body was no longer and she was fully transformed into spirit.
The remainder of my drive is ambushed. My car drives on. I am living a different world, a different time.

This is the beginning of the darkest month, I later write in my journal. August 20. It was on August 23 three years ago that Jesi’s mind began to leave us. Her brain cruelly sabotaged by alien cells rendering her unreachable to us. She knew something was happening to her. That final night with me, she reached for my hand, our arms entwined and circled, skin touching through the bandage board attaching her to her IV therapy. Our fingers making patterns on skin. Mine on hers, gently, so gently. Her long slender fingers, nails painted blue ever so softly on mine. It was her good bye to me and I never even knew it.
I have replayed that night in my mind a thousand times since to feel her with me again and each time I come up with an empty hand, a handful of dreams and the knowledge that Jesi is gone forever from my touch.
That’s what Kari screamed at the top of her lungs when Jesi drew her final breath.
J-E-S-I I-i-i-s-s G-O-N-E.

And we have been living it ever since.

A text comes in on my phone and saves me. The other trainer has arrived and is waiting for me. Back to the work of working with dogs.

But the darkest month won’t let go.

I leave my Scottish Terrier a second time that afternoon. This time dressed to attend a formal event. It is only when I join the line at the that it dawns on me that I should have chosen more muted colors, not the pastel blue with floral print dress that I am standing in. I consider going back to my car to at least find my grey jacket to throw on top, but do not want to lose my place. The line extends outside the funeral home and onto the street.
The last time I remember a line this long extending outside a funeral home was just over three years ago when well meaning friends kept whispering in my ear, asking that I be mindful when greeting the hundreds of guests that had come to pay respects to Jesi that there were probably over a hundred of people still waiting to see us.
When I agreed to come today it had not dawned on me what it would feel like to be standing here, alone, almost three years after losing Jesi. It had not dawned on me that inside my blue dress I would feel my skin shrinking into my bones and my heart collapsing into my lungs and my legs weakening at the knee joints. I consoled myself by repeating in my head that I no longer cared that my dress was pastel blue. That it was good enough I was standing there in it at all.

But of course I would never have contemplated not coming. Not for this particular teacher who had been so kind to Jesi, who had gone out of her way to give so much when Jesi had been sick.
I would have come knowing it would have felt this way in any case.

So I stand in the line feeling conspicuous and alone with these memories increasingly flood my mind.

 

A woman in black approaches and for a moment glances at me before she stops on the step above me. “You’re Mrs Watson?” she looks directly at my face.
“Yes,” I manage to respond.
“We were hoping you would come.” I notice a slight hesitation as she says this. But she goes on. “We met once, at the PMC for N. I’m Mrs X.”
“Oh yes.” I did vaguely remember a conversation and this woman’s face is taking on a familiar shape in my mind. It was the year Jesi was in hospital waiting for her transplant that Kari and I went to the PMC kids ride in Bedford on her behalf. She and the other boy from her school were joint pedal partners.
“How are you?”
“Fine,” I force the word out, desperately trying to make myself feel strong and willing my voice not to betray me. Yet I might not have bothered. I hardly have time to mutter the words before she has turned her back to me so she is facing the young woman standing above me. This woman is noticeably younger than both of us and her eyes are watering. She hugs her and starts talking. I lower my gaze and stare at the lines in the sidewalk.

It seems that a very long time passes before the line moves. I begin to scan the crowd for faces I might recognize. I scan once, twice, perhaps three times, seeing no-one.
Finally the line shuffles forward and I follow the two woman in black through the open doors of the funeral home. An employee nods a greeting to me and I gratefully smile back. The similarities between Jesi’s visitation just over three years ago and this memorial are striking. In the room to my right people gather around a TV screen. I see handkerchiefs dabbing the corners of eyes and hands grasped together, knuckles clenched so the skin covering them is drawn and white. Despite my resolve I am still obsessed with clothing and scan for women not dressed in black. Here and there a colored dress or shirt is covered in a blazer. Everywhere small groups. Nowhere does one lonely person stand unprotected from their own emotions. I turn away but to my left elevated on a stand is a large poster displaying photos. I am looking at each individual photo praying there will be none of this wonderful teacher with her class or the students she cared for. I am not sure what I would do if I saw Jesi smiling at me. Thankfully I do not have to find out. As I shuffle through the room and sign my name, my scratchy black scrawl along the line which seems to jump out of the page in its unbelonging, the women in the line ahead of me are joined by a few others and they form a small group. They seem to move out of the line to chat and I want to ask them to move along as I am getting more and more unnerved, or ask if I can go on ahead. Neither feels appropriate. I wait and eventually we all shuffle into the main reception room. Inside the door, a table is set up with memorabilia. A pair of tap shoes, photos of smiling women crowded together laughing and in formation on stage. I had no idea, a voice in my head says as I look at the smiling faces picking out the familiar face of the teacher. Message jars of good feeling notes in a handwriting I remember from school projects Jesi bought home…

When I finally leave the funeral home I know it was the right thing to have come. My blue dress fades in the evening light, the faces of the women who know but don’t know me blend into the hum of muffled chatter in the rooms adjoining the reception room. It is in meeting the family that I have felt the greatest kinship. We share a sense of knowing which bonds us together in a way those who have not experienced the death of someone in their closest circle do not understand. And we know this without words. It is impossible to express the feelings, to put into words the route that the journey through loss that we have all embarked on will take, to know how long it might be and how many u turns there may be. It is as individual as each soul that has left us…
and no matter how many years pass, it continues to baffle and surprise with its tormented twists and turns.

Now, when I think about it, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at the sudden appearance of anger pushing at my heart that morning. If I look back at photos I would have realized it has been brewing. My fridge with its display of photos sporting updates of Chris and Kari, no longer nineteen and sixteen as they were when Jesi left them. They have grown even faster away from her than I with my greying hair. But the photos of Jesi. All I have is those she left me with of her sixteen year old self. Her smile even then, ages older than her sixteen years. But who would the now young woman be behind that smile?
I often wonder what type of relationship would have grown between us. We built such a unique bond during the unnatural time of her illness. It fostered an inter-dependance between us in which I learnt how to truly love and give of myself, tending to her bathing and caring for her physically as her mother and her nurse, dressing her many wounds and administering her meds and IV therapy when she was home from hospital. And what she gave to me! Insight into her courage and strength, the lightness with which she faced the most awful treatments, singing her way through total body irradiation, laughing so hard she would go into coughing fits at Kari’s jokes and musical theater acts or my attempts at puppeteering with her stuffed animal friends.

I remember leaning on my kitchen countertop one morning during Jesi’s last year and telling my therapist, “I don’t know what I will do if Jesi doesn’t make it. I don’t know if I can go on without her.”
We knew even then, before the transplant that there was a possibility… But who wants to think about that…

 

Around this time last year, when Kari’s contemporaries were all heading off to college for their freshman year, I bumped into another mother of twins in Lexington center. Her daughter was with her, her son, the twin of the tall young woman standing behind her was not. She asked me how I was and we started chatting. She told me how at the high school graduation the class president, who had been one of Jesi’s good friends, started his speech with ‘One of us is not here today, and she should be…’
I had been told the story before but I could listen to it a hundred times. How this boy, the class captain honored Jesi at the graduation as being part of the graduating class. (Kari had moved high schools after Jesi passed away so essentially our ties with the local school had ended in Jesi’s death.) We continued talking for a while, and I asked after her twins. The mother lamented about her son choosing a school in the mid west, “But at least X will be close. She is going to North Eastern. I couldn’t bear it if they were both going to be far away,” she ended. I remained silent, though there were a million responses going through my mind that if I had not vetted could have tumbled out. Then, in asking after Kari and what she was going to be studying and what Chris was doing she mentioned Jesi. “So I suppose you’ve moved on…” she said, as if the fact I had another daughter might not ever have existed. My little dog had been standing patiently at my feet while I had been talking. We were on our evening walk. I didn’t answer the mother’s comment. I didn’t forget it either. But I did move my little dog down the street away from the direction she and her daughter were heading.

Posted in Anniversary of Death of Child, Grief and Loss, Mother mourning Loss of a Daughter, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Out of the Light of Chaos

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This is what I had been waiting for.

I am standing in the kitchen my hands wrapped around a mug of coffee. It is early, or it seems so as I am still waking up. I am frustrated that the file has not downloaded on my computer, it would sound so much better playing through the speakers, nevertheless I press the icon and settle for listening to it on my i phone. Its never as good quality but I am excited to hear the result of all the work that Kari has put into writing her first piece of music for full orchestra.
I hold the phone in front of my face, staring into the screen, straining to hear whether any music is coming out of the small dark rectangle in front of me. Gradually I hear something … tiny glass-like bells, a thread gradually creeping through a dark tunnel. I put my coffee cup down on the bench behind me so I can focus more fully. The thread is evolving now. It seems to be expanding into a spaciousness, a field of light. But it is not the fluorescent light of my kitchen. That small physical space fades as I am taken on a journey inside the music, inside my mind, into an unexplored and unknown world.

I am not ready for what I am about to experience.

My eyes are watering. I feel the tension across my forehead. I almost see the wrinkles as clearly as I see what is causing them, the vision in my mind of the world I am entering inside the music Kari has created. I know where I am going. I wonder if she meant it. I am not afraid, only that she may let me down and her music fail me. That I might fall off this celestial journeytrain before I reach my destination.
No, that cannot happen. I need to find Jesi…………………..Does Kari want that too?
Now tears are streaming down my face. They just happen. I do not vet them. I do not care. My day has taken a turn I could not have imagined and I am ransomed by it. I am momentarily distracted by my hands, noticing how I have curled my fingers inside my palms and how my nails, they need to be trimmed, are digging into the skin. The music continues to flow in its path, blossoming and intertwining like flowers and vines pushing upwards, seeking and searching for light. Suddenly stars burst forth. I have reached the pinnacle. Kari did not fail me. We are standing on the horizon of time. There is a sense of calm. Jesi is not with us… yet somehow she is. We cannot turn time back… but time is immaterial. There is a knowing. And the longing I have been feeling has vanished, just as the horizon I see inside Kari’s music, as if I am standing on a beach watching the sun slowly sinking, is taking it away.

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“So Kari,” I ask like a newspaper reporter, my pen ready to write down every word she speaks, “What were you trying to create when you wrote that music?”

“The idea of light,” she begins. “The way it fades and expands into an overwhelming blinding experience… the build up of energy and how it retreats back to where it came from, so precisely and exactly.”
She pauses.
I wait.
“Except,” she continues, “except out of the thread of it; the beginning or ending arise these fragments, melodies that subtly weave their way into the music to relieve the chaos of the blinding light.”
The space between us falls silent.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you what I thought before I asked you what it was about,” I feel somewhat bold saying this but it seems that she had been intending exactly what I had picked in first hearing the piece. How could I suppose to know what she was writing about?

Only I was to discover I had ascribed a different storyline to it…

Perhaps because I am a mother I had gone in search of my lost child, Kari’s lost twin. Kari had called the piece Kindred. It could have been about Jesi. I needed to understand more of what she was saying on this level…

“It’s about how chaotic our relationships became when Jesi got sick,” she tells me. “Everything goes crazy in terms of trying to have a stable family lifestyle.”
My mind darts back six or seven years as though they were yesterday, only all I remember is running to and from the hospital and trying to meet the material demands of getting food into the house and on the table for Chris, then fifteen and Kari, twelve. Of trying to get them both to and from school and sports practices and music lessons without missing a pick up time. There was hardly time for dinner conversation. Often dinner was hospital take out around Jesi’s bed after a lengthy commute through traffic to “Childrens” (Hospital Boston.) I immediately understood what she was saying.
And I understood why she had dedicated her first full symphony piece to her brother too.
“Me and Chris,” she continues, “Before, we had a normal relationship. Then everything changed. He was trying to survive, I was trying to survive. We grew separate. Often we were separated. He stayed with friends. I always wanted to be with Jesi. Sometimes we converged. We did things the way we used to but mostly it was chaos, like the blinding light, dazzling and confusing. I made the music say that through it evolving into melodic fragments of contrasting material. It was a relief from the spastic chaos of the overwhelming light at the beginning. It signifyied our sometime convergence… ”
“Hang on Kari,” I had to interrupt. She was going way to fast for me. It was an epiphany that she could write her story with all these intense emotions into music so succinctly. “Slow down a minute.” I needed to process not only the music but the underlying emotions she was expressing.
“Look at the score,” she offered. “The score descriptors…”
I got up and went into the next room to get my bound copy of the score. She opened it and pointed to the words in bold print scattered throughout at the top of the pages of music. Growing Kinetic Energy… Dispersing Energy… Light Uplifted… Blossoming… Fragmented…
“Yet it ends in the light,” I add.
“Yes. The tiny bells bringing closure.
I look at Kari’s face in the muted glow of evening as we sit together at the dinner table. Her eyes are alive with the light of her music dancing inside them. She is leaning slightly forward, her hands wrapped around her knees, tanned from summer’s sun and strong from yoga classes. I’m wondering what she will accomplish next. Three years ago when Jesi passed away Kari was not composing music at all. She had not discovered this passion that is now absorbing her so entirely and which she is using to express herself so completely.
I know that Jesi is watching what her twin is accomplishing from the world beyond. I believe she is sitting on her shoulder smiling.

Maybe Jesi knows what I don’t…

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to listen to Kari’s musical compositions including Kindred

go to KariWatson.com

Posted in Kari Watson Composer, Mother Daughter Relationships, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Music and Emotion, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Losing her Over and Over Again

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I sit at the traffic light watching the young girl in black stretch pants and sneakers cross the road with her mom. She has hair which almost reaches down to her waist. Some would call it blonde. To me it is light brown. Jesi’s hair was the same color and when she was ten. Her hair was long to her waist too. Only her hair was straight and this girl’s hair has a few loose curls at its ends. I like the way she holds her mama’s hand, her own small hand tucked into the folded grip of her mama’s palm. She walks, her stocky little body half a step behind her mama’s. But it is her bottom and thighs, perfect in the outline of her stretch black pants that grab my attention. I see Jesi’s young body in them, that same curve of the bottom, the same healthy strong thighs. I blink, my mind wandering back years and suddenly I see Jesi joking and running ahead of me to catch up to Kari as we walk down the street together. We are going to the ice cream shop on a summer afternoon after school and there is nothing in the world that could go wrong. Or so I imagine. We are not even far from where I now sit in my car, gripping tighter and tighter to the steering wheel until my knuckles turn white as my memory cascades me into an arena I am not ready to enter. Now I watch this “Jesi” walking away from me, this young girl who reminds me so strongly of my Jesi, her strong stocky body only a year or two before cancer sabotaged it. I have been catapulted back seven years in no more than a few seconds and there was no way I could either predict it or control it.

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The lights change and I move forward through the intersection. Perhaps if I accelerate I will escape back into the present.
But it isn’t that easy. I round the corner onto Gerry’s Landing Road and over the rise onto the bridge across the River Charles. I used to drive this route to take Jesi back and forth to treatment at the Jimmy Fund or to visit her in hospital, and now no matter how many hundreds of days that have passed since, although I was not thinking about it five minutes earlier, my mind has found its way back to the times Jesi and I drove this road together. A tear escapes from the corner of my eye; then another, and another and another. I wish myself to the animal rescue where I will work with dogs. One of the only ways I have found that totally absorbs me so that my mind doesn’t wander into the dangerous gloom of grief.

 

A woman I met last year in a grief group called me recently. We hadn’t spoken since the group fell away over the holiday season. “What are you doing to deal with your grief?” she asked me quite unexpectedly during our conversation, which had to that point been filled with talk of my new apartment, her recently completed degree, her up-coming vacation. I hesitated. Grief, I thought. Grief? I don’t even name it these days. In fact when she asked that question I had to think a moment, not even aware it still owned part of my life…it seeps so imperceptibly into me. “I don’t know,” I hesitated thinking how inept my response was, that I ought to have been able to reel off some sort of list of positive actions I took every day to fend it away. Then I continued, “I talk to Jesi a lot I guess. And I get sad sometimes. Sometimes I feel her around me. I always wish she was here like she used to be. Its like the ocean waves. You know, it ebbs and flows…” I felt strangely embarrassed to have been asked this question. Like I thought my friend was ‘better’ than I was at this thing called grieving to have known to ask me. My answer just wasn’t making the grade. Then she replied, “This will be the first Mother’s Day since my mother passed.”
I immediately understood why she had asked.

 

Two days later I was walking my dog in Lexington center. I looked ahead and realized that the back entrance to the high school Jesi attended for her last years of schooling loomed ahead of me, its stone steps and columns staring expressionless in the morning air. Suddenly I pictured all the times I drove up to those stone steps and waited for Jesi to appear so I could take her to physical therapy or doctors’ appointments. She should have been leaving the school from the front side of the building like most of the students did, boarding buses to go to their afternoon sports, not going to get her blood checked for white blood cells and platelets. It made me sad to look at that school. I could not see the stream of students wandering into the center of town on their breaks. All I could see was what had never been. Jesi growing to be a senior and graduating like she wanted to. She never returned after winter break of sophomore year. Large swellings had appeared in her neck over the Christmas period. Blood tests showed her blood was crammed so full of leukemia cells again they were blocking the growth of normal cells. The leukemia had come back.

I went back into the school many times during the year she relapsed. Jesi was, of course, only in hospital or at home and would be returning heself so Alan and I would meet with her teachers and talk about how to reintegrate her back into the classroom; what classes she would do and how she could stay current so she and Kari could still graduate together. Jesi was a phenomenal student and worked hard at her studies even whilst in hospital.
But after she passed away the halls suddenly haunted me with fantasies and half imagined memories of her smiling face. Or perhaps I saw her black and white checked hat bobbing on her head as she bustled with her uneasy gait down the corridors with a hundred other kids. Not to mention the stories Kari had told me about them passing each other, smiling and waving or texting to check in on how each of their days were going.

 

Now as the school year comes to a close, I walk into the main foyer, making my way down the corridor to the office there is an uneasy hush inside my head. I am meeting one of the admin assistants to collect Jesi’s Memorial Scholarship plaque in order to have it engraved with the name of the recipient of this year’s award. The admin assistant is waiting for me, standing in front of the open doors of glass cabinet where it hangs all year. She greets me and I watch speechless as she carefully lifts the plaque out of the cabinet and holds it in her hands. I watch her turn it toward her, holding it close to her heart, run her finger along the beveled edges, gently lifting a speck of dust off the bronze header plate. I want to scream at her as she turns it over and over in her hands as though it is some precious jewel, as though it is Jesi herself she is holding. I want to scream at her because I have seen myself do the same with Jesi’s possessions, as if they could be any substitute for Jesi. I register that I am suddenly furious that I do not have the power to bring Jesi back and that this silly plaque or Jesi’s clothes or jewelry or stuffed animals are all I have as tangible reminders of who Jesi was and what she loved.
Sometimes I am nothing more than a mother fractured into tiny pieces of past memories holding them in my hands.

At the award night I stand at the podium in the high school auditorium and speak about Jesi and what she loved. Her scholarship, awarded to a senior student who has shown dedication through work and care for animals “beyond simply owning a family pet” brings to light the variety of innovative ways in which students demonstrate their passionate love of animals. One applicant volunteers at a disabled equestrian school, reminding me of the weekly horseback riding lessons Jesi took while she was rehabilitating from the severe neuropathy caused by chemotherapy. Another volunteers at the Boston Aquarium caring for sea creatures and educating the public about the part we play in keeping their environment healthy. Another works to rekindle the failing SPCA club within the school. The young lady to whom we awarded the scholarship spends her weekends training and socializing service dogs for a disabled veteran organization.
When I read her application it burns into a memory inside me….I am touched in a way I cannot describe, seeing the image of this unknown young woman who each weekend spends her leisure time with ‘her dog’ whom she ultimately knows she will be giving up “because someone needs him more than I do“.
It is the picture in my mind of her sitting next to her dog Trooper at the lily pond near her house. It is the love and care she gave to Trooper, accompanying her to soccer games, rolling around on the grass with him, just as I know Jesi would do, snuggling and cuddling into his soft body, the two of them a mass of fur and hair and limbs, feet and paws flying. I know Jesi would have done just as our applicant had done, given Trooper all the love she had to give so he would be the best companion dog he could be, and then one day, just as our award recipient had done, hugged him goodbye and sent him into someone else’s arms. Someone whose needs were greater than hers.

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Now, with June in full brew I am deep in the middle of Walden Pond, gliding in the tranquil waters. But my mind is anything but tranquil. On the walk down the ramp to the water I have been telling my friend about my dear sweet little (and old) dog Mimi. She has lung disease, heart disease, is almost blind and probably deaf. “I get the impression the vet thinks she is living on borrowed time…..” I say. Our conversation moves on but I remember it while swimming, the water abnormally cold due to the erratic spring weather and abundance of rain. I remember the day Mimi came into my life. She came into Jesi’s the very same day when Jesi accompanied me to the animal rescue and we met her together. Later, after we took Mimi home, Jesi and I would joke about whose dog she was. “She’s mine! No, she’s mine! No, she’s mine…” and we would go on until I would give in with an impish grin. Now my only comfort is knowing that when Mimi leaves me Jesi will be there to scoop her up and love and care for her. But that is not what I think about in the middle of Walden Pond. Suddenly I am immersed in grief and it dawns on me that I will not be able to cope with losing Mimi. That I will “fall apart.” That it will be losing Jesi all over again…

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My body is no longer skimming along the surface of the water. I am struggling to maintain the rhythm that has propelled me across the center of the pond. My legs are sinking and I am gasping for each breath and each arm seems to have lost the memory of how to work with the other. I look ahead to see the faint outline of the beach house. It seems a million miles away. I know I cannot afford to think about these things, not now, not in the middle of Walden. So I do what I did the many many times I swam in Walden while Jesi was still with us, when I bought my worries to the pond during the time she was in transplant, fearing she would not make it, feeling the same feelings of anguish and desperation should she be taken from us. Not knowing then how I would ever go on. Crying inside my heart and head for her to be spared. Please, please God don’t take her from me… But she was taken. Her body had had enough. She had to go. And I had to go on. Just as I do now, in the middle of Walden. Just as I have a hundred times before.

Posted in Grief and Loss, Mother Grieving a Child, Teenager who died from Leukemia: Mother's Memories, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Twin, Alone on her Birthday…

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Imagine being eighteen and dreading your birthday.

The dread arrives weeks before your birthday does. It arrives on wings edging its way through your dorm room window, sliding in a crack open against the stuffy heat of the college heating system that buffers late winter’s cold. It lounges on the closed lid of your computer, sprawled like a cat waiting for you to open it and attempt to work on your music assignments.
It wedges on your shoulder as you sit at the piano in the practice rooms of the conservatory. Your oversized manuscript beside you, your pencil fingering the keys as you tempt ideas from your lessons on counterpoint, working on a multi movement chamber series on the stages of grief.
You are too young for this, a voice inside your head screams in objection. Your shoulders slump forward. Your head is bent. Is it concentration on the progression of chords singing on the keys as you play what the pencil scribbles onto the manuscript? Is it the empty feeling inside your gut?

Your twin is gone and it is the third year you will spend the birthday you shared without her.

You run from your dorm room to the practice room… immerse yourself in music. It is the only way you know the distance yourself from the feelings. The dread of that day. The remembering which you can never forget. You run from the practice rooms back to the dorm. It is late. The night is dark and only habit shows you the way. Sometimes in the dorm your friends are chatting together. Sometimes your roommate is working. Sometimes it is so late she is asleep. You fall asleep, exhausted.
Sometimes, when your own work does not consume too many hours, you run to concert halls and hear other students perform their works. At Oberlin there are first class classical and jazz concerts every night. There you can get carried away by the music. For you, the harmonies and instrumental combinations not only soothe, but your mind is charged by analyzing the technical genius of the composition…

Your birthday falls at the end of Spring break and although going home feels special, it can also feel more lonely. Jesi should be there. Your friends… your music… won’t be around you to cushion you from the loss. How will it be, you wonder?

Three years ago, that last birthday you spent together… Jesi was home from hospital between her initial chemotherapy treatment after the cancer returned, gaining strength before she was to return for a bone marrow transplant. Together you celebrated with a pizza party. A small group of school friends splashing ingredients onto the dough you rolled into odd shaped pizzas. Jesi was not well but she laughed it off.

“I guess no pizza for me tonight,” I remember her saying.

You stood next to her at the kitchen bench, your arm around her, a plate of cup cakes and an enormous bowl of fruit in its midst. I remember the happy birthday candle too. I found it in a bucket full of an odd assortment of stuff in an ethnic shop. A plastic flower when lit, the petals unfolded and rotated slowly, shooting silver sparkles out from the flame while it sung “Happy Birthday to You.”

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This year, I tried to make up for the absence…but how ever could I? Yet you did a wonderful job. You invited your closest friends over, just a handful, friends from college who happen to live near by. You bought party hats and paints and birdhouses to decorate. You ate vegan Thai food and we made vegan cake. We stood around the other side of the kitchen counter and sang to you. And your friends gave you some of the most lovingly handmade gifts ever!

And for all of this, Chris also came home from college to help celebrate your birthday.

Posted in birthdays and grieving, loss of one twin, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Turning Hallmark Traditions into something Special with Spirit…Lessons from the other side.

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I didn’t look up when I spoke. The words sort of tumbled out from I don’t know where. “Why don’t you make him one anyway,” I said. My voice was soft, sort of questioning.
“Where would I send it?” she replied.
“I don’t know. Don’t you have an altar. A memorial. Maybe a place where you keep his special things?” I asked.
Then I glanced at her, slightly lifting my head to the right, to where she was sitting next to me at the table, working on her cards. A litter of pink and silver hearts and stickers. Then I saw it. A single tear had formed at the corner of her eye. It was sitting on her eyelid, suspended. I quickly turned away.
“Maybe it’s not the right thing then,” I added. I turned back to my own work. What right had I, I thought. I hardly knew this woman. We had only met that afternoon. We had been chatting while we were making Valentines Cards and over lunch at a mutual friend’s house but I didn’t know her personally. I didn’t even know who the “he” was she had referred to, or who he was to her. I only knew he had passed on a day when the world had shifted politically and that day would ever have his imprint on it.

Like Jesi. Like 9/11 did for me. So I had blurted out what I did to cope with losing my sweet sixteen year old. But the woman sitting beside me didn’t know anything about that. And I didn’t say anything about it either. I just continued making my cards.

But when Valentines Day came around for the third time since Jesi left her body, her card sat on my altar and I know, although I didn’t have any special sense or message from her on the day itself, that she was aware of my love for her.

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Less than three weeks ago I felt her presence strongly in my room just near the altar. It was the first night I spent in my new apartment and I was in that place between wakefulness and sleep. I sensed her dance into the room, light and full of joy. She hovered above me in the space between my bed and her altar. I knew why she had come. She was telling me she was overjoyed for my moving into a place of my own, a small apartment in the woods.
I know not to expect Spirit to visit at my will. I am learning to trust in Jesi’s presence despite not always being able to control or sense it as I might like to. That is the task I have been given and I am embracing it.
Perhaps that has something to do with my blurting out what I did around the crafting table that afternoon…

Posted in remembering and memorials, Spiritual Beliefs, Writing about Loss of a daughter | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Holiday Traditions and Memories.

In the spirit world time does not exist. Everything happens simultaneously. The striking of midnight, signifying the changing of the years, is inconsequential.
So as I sit here thinking about how with each year passing I move further and further away from the time I spent with Jesi on this earth I know that in some respects, time is irrelevant. One day I will join with her again in the spirit world and it will be as if it were yesterday we last met.

Yet we develop rituals, traditions to mark time. And since Jesi has passed to a timeless dimension our family has adopted a number of new ways of ‘celebrating’ or remembering the time she spent with us on earth.
At first I chided myself for all the new and exciting events we planned.
…That first Christmas when we made that extra special attempt to be merry. We drove into Boston’s North End to eat Italian food at Strega before walking down to the harbor and Faneuil Hall and Quincy Markets to look at the Christmas tree and lights. We carried Jesi in our hearts and placed her prayer card on the table as we ate. We never forget she is absent. We are always aware she is present. Never quite enough. … Why didn’t we ever do this when Jesi was with us? I questioned. …There was one easy answer. Alan and I are divorced and divorced families don’t usually do that sort of thing. Even if they celebrate holidays together, they don’t go out to dine, to shows, on vacations.
But the real reason we were making that extra effort was because we were trying to fill the hole that Jesi left in our lives.

Since Jesi passed and even before, when she was ill, we started doing all sorts of those ‘don’t do’s’. I used to feel weird about them. But now I’ve stopped questioning all those things. I’ve also let go of some of the sadness that Jesi is not here to enjoy them with us physically. She is free in the spirit world. Her ‘life’ there is better than I could imagine. And sometimes when I am anxious or alone I remember that I have an angel, a special guardian on the other side watching over me. She watches over all of us. I know that. And that is a rare gift we have.

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Outside Strega, North End

Christmas 2016 we carried on our new found tradition with one addition. My sister and her family from Australia traveled to Boston to experience their first winter Christmas and joined us at Strega. Again we placed Jesi’s prayer card in the center of the table. The crescendo of voices and conversation rose above it. Four young adults joking, four older adults laughing. No one spoke of Jesi until after the meal when Kari approached me and confided she missed her. Jesi had been in my thoughts too. Sometimes in is difficult for company, with the passage of earth time, to remember. Not a day goes past that I don’t think of Jesi and I suspect I am not the only one in that boat though.
When we left to walk to Quincy Market I looked up into the dark starry sky and wondered…Was Jesi there too? Which star was she hiding behind? Did she know I was thinking about her? Did she know how much I still miss seeing her?
….Sometimes I really want to just see her again despite the fact I can still visualize her and imagine the way she walked, laughed and joked around. She possessed such powerful energy even her clothes carry the memory of her inside them.

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Jesi joined us for Christmas Dinner!

New Year 2017 we spent in Stowe Vermont. For many years TRAPP Family Lodge has been a tradition. I remember Jesi telling me the story of when she took her fifty-three inch teddy bear to TRAPP and the bell boy, taking the luggage to their room (this was in the years after Alan and I were divorced; before Jesi got leukemia and I was not part of the vacation) had to carry the enormous bear over his shoulder through the hallways, up to the Maria suite where they were staying. I always picture this scene and think of Jesi when I think about TRAPP.

We did not stay at TRAPP this year but we did visit the Lodge and walk through the hallways and lounges, looking at all the Sound of Music memorabilia hanging on the walls. I thought of the times I had been to TRAPP with Jesi. 2010 when Jesi had just been discharged from Rehab Hospital. We were at TRAPP and Chris and Alan had helped her practice walking up stairs. The neuropathy, a side effect of the chemotherapy she was having, had caused her to lose the strength in her arms and legs for nine months. I remembered our visit in 2012 when Jesi had been determined she would wear suede boots with tall thin heels. I visualized her struggling down the stairs to go to dinner in the restaurant one night. I felt sad as I walked up those same stairs this visit, though I did not share my thoughts with anyone. But Jesi had looked beautiful, dressed in an elegant crimson dress and those boots to match. And she had laughed and been happy regardless.

Jesi’s presence oozes out of all the places she has been. Sometime too much for me to bear.
But here I am, showing my Australian family the places she loved, memories of her percolating, unspoken inside me.


We gave our Aussie family other glimpses of our history too. Kari showed her cousin how to make a snow angel after the almost foot of snow fell over the space of a day and a night. We went cross country skiing (those younger of us) or snowshoeing from TRAPP Lodge, hiking up to Maria’s Chapel where last year I left a note to Jesi wedged between wooden beams supporting the roof. This visit I took my snowshoes off and rang the bell outside the chapel when we arrived. Then I stepped quietly into the small stone church. I placed one of Jesi’s prayer cards below the cross, having no idea how long it would remain there. Someone had cleared the altar of all other ornaments and only two pieces of bark remained. I stood for a moment in silent prayer before turning and glancing up toward the roof. A number of small white scraps of paper, neatly folded, were wedged between the wooden supports. I did not investigate whether mine was one of them before walking back out into the snow and latching the door behind me.

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Looking back into Maria’s Chapel

Jesi came to New Year’s Eve dinner with us too. Her prayer card sitting in the middle of the round table in the restaurant we ate in. She probably spent the night laughing with her siblings and cousins, darting from shoulder to shoulder, glass to glass I imagine. After dinner we all returned to the house we had rented and watched the fireworks at midnight. We have watched those same fireworks many times with Jesi from the balcony at TRAPP Lodge. They are lit from a field below the lodge for the guests who gather to celebrate the New Year.

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Finally, on our return trip to Boston, we stopped in to visit Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. I was hardly in the door before I began thinking about Jesi. She loved cows (not to mention ice cream!!!). As I followed the rest of the tour group up the stairs, the walls painted into green fields with cows grazing peacefully, I was grateful for the visit we had made when Jesi and Kari were toddlers. I imagined how excited Jesi had been then, almost visualizing her little girl self dancing and jumping about, her eyes glowing with delight. I wished she was with us now. She probably was, just that I couldn’t see her face shining with delight this time. She was probably jumping and dancing about all the same though.

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Jesi disguising herself as a cow … She amused herself while in hospital making art out of her photos !

 

Now, as January enters its second week, the Australian family has left for California, continuing their holiday on their way back home. Kari is in Oslo, studying music for three weeks and the house is quiet(er) again. Sometimes it feels lonely without the fullness of bodies and kids. (Chris is just back from an overnight with friends so there is the potential for friends to tumble in!) But I can always depend on Jesi. She may not be here in ‘body’ but she is in Spirit. And she is with my Australian family in California, and Kari in Norway. Watching over us all and keeping us safe.

Posted in Celebrating the Holidays after Loss of a Child, Divorced Family Celebrating Together, Love and Loss, Memories and Revisiting Places after Losing a Child, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Writing about Grief | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Christmas Memories, Jesi and the love of Mimi.

Five days before Christmas marked the fourth anniversary of Mimi’s arrival into our family. I still remember as if it was yesterday; the day we rescued her from the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

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Mimi in 2012 waiting to be adopted

Three weeks prior to signing her adoption papers and bringing her home Jesi and I had driven into the ARL so I could be assigned my volunteer working hours. After the assignment I remember sitting on the stone steps outside the Rescue and watching one of the adoption agents bring a scraggly looking shih tzu out to pee.
“What do you think of that little dog, Jesi?” I asked.

I had a history with shih tzu’s, having owned five; Mr Fu, Ming Ki, Douglas, Chili and Spunkee Monkee. We had lost our previous dog, a Pomeranian a “rescue” to a weird metabolic disorder six months earlier. We were ready to have a new four pawed member of the household.

“Hmm, I don’t know,” Jesi hesitated.
“Let’s go over and say hello,” I suggested.

Mimi was hesitant when I put my hand out in front of her nose. She was very subdued. She had just been surrendered by the second family who had owned her. She was said to be nine years old. She was thin and her coat was matted and oily, a sign of poor nutrition.

For the next three weeks when I volunteered at the rescue I spent a lot of time getting to know Mimi and I decided to adopt her. It was going to be a surprise for the kids.

 

On Thursday 20th December 2012 I pulled up outside the back entrance of Jesi’s high school at to pick her up. I was beaming. When Jesi hopped in the front seat I couldn’t contain myself.
“I have a surprise,” (I’m sure it was written all over my face.)
Jesi, her usual upbeat self, bounced around happily. I turned and nodded toward the back seat where Mimi was sitting impatiently. I reached over and picked her up and handed her to Jesi.
Jesi’s face lit up into one big 0 !!!!

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“IS SHE OURS? TO KEEP? …. FOREVER?” she exclaimed.

At that time I remember thinking “forever” was a funny choice of word. But since then, I guess I have learnt that forever is a relative term and maybe wasn’t so strange a choice.

 

When Mimi came to us Jesi was in remission from her first “bout” of leukemia. She was still going to PT and OT and having numerous check-ups in the Jimmy Fund, but for the most part she was well. Because she loved spending time at home when the other kids were out with friends (and maybe because she never had as much energy to go out as they did) she and Mimi became very close. Jesi was always the more animal focused of the kids too so she loved cuddling with her and taking her for walks when she could.

Sometimes Jesi and I would spar over Mimi.
“She’s my dog,” I would say, remembering how I spent those first days in at the Rescue getting to know her.
“No, she’s mine,” Jesi would reply impishly.
“She’s mine,” I’d respond stubbornly.
And it would go on… Neither one of us willing to let go.

Sometimes these days I feel really guilty about so stubbornly holding on to Mimi when I could have graciously allowed Jesi the joy of feeling more closely connected to her.

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Jesi on September 11 2013, a year before she passed, holding Mimi.

During the final week of Jesi’s hospital stay in the ICU in September 2014, when we knew she wasn’t going to get better we were given permission to have Mimi visit her in hospital. It was my therapist who undertook to drive back home and pick Mimi up, wrap her in a blanket and smuggle her past the security guards at the entrance to the hospital, up in the elevators and past the security at the entrance to the ICU. Although the ICU Nurse Manager had given permission for Mimi’s visit, her visit was not generally known in the unit itself. Mimi performed her role beautifully. She was quiet throughout the entire visit. I held her at the head of Jesi’s bed and spoke softly to Jesi.
“Mimi’s here Jesi. She misses you and wants to give you kisses.”
As Jesi was unconscious and on a ventilator with tubes and IV lines and drips hanging all around her it was difficult to get close enough to have Mimi’s soft hair touch her bare skin. I persevered, all the time feeling the sadness of the situation.
“Jesi, Mimi’s here,” I repeated.
Mimi, confused and apprehensive at the strange environment she had been bought into looked at me plaintively. I was torn between trying to comfort her, knowing she was confused and anxious herself, and wanting her to sniff and snuggle up to Jesi. But it was too difficult. After a while we decided it was time to take her home. I never knew whether Jesi understood Mimi had visited. But Mimi and the three cats did get the opportunity to see Jesi again. A week or so later we made the decision to take Jesi home where she passed away in her own bedroom.

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Now, over two years later Mimi is my dog. But I know it is not forever. Mimi is, as my vet tells me, “an ancient dog.” Probably more like sixteen years old, not the thirteen (nine years old plus four years since we bought her home). Mimi has a chronic fibrotic lung condition and tracheal collapse, and although she keeps toddling along in her sweet and self absorbed way (as older dogs slightly deaf and sight impaired do), I know that one day in the not too far off future, Mimi will go to Jesi.

And when that time comes Jesi will be there to receive her. Ands will take the best care of her that anyone ever would.

Posted in Losing a Child, Pets as therapy for sick children, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Trees and Angels and Believing

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The day I learnt the Magnificent Redwood Tree in Prouty Garden had been taken to with saws and axes in the first stages of the destruction of the healing space at Childrens Hospital Boston; the place where Jesi, conscious and laughing and chatting in her wheelchair inhaled her last breaths of fresh air, (August 2014) where she watched the squirrels play, felt the silky soft petals of roses and smelt the aroma of summer: On that same day, the last remaining lights of her Christmas tree which has stood in her bedroom through all the seasons of all the years since that first Christmas without her, extinguished completely, leaving her room that night in total darkness.
When I passed by the black empty space of her doorway and it occurred to me why there was no light shining from within, I was not surprised.

 

I cried when I heard about the tree in Prouty Garden. I imagine Jesi did too. If spirit children cry. Perhaps that is why it rained and snowed on Monday, the day they took to the tree with saws and axes, (I imagine, for I was told it was blocked from public view.) Perhaps that is why the sky that day sobbed, all those angels in heaven weeping for that tree which had given their-suffering-sick-child-bodies hope that they would, that they could reach for something beyond the illnesses that ravaged their bodies. That if a tree could grow so magnificent in the midst of city buildings and city streets with all the noise and commotion buzzing around it, they too could heal from pain and suffering. But the tree could not survive the illness either. This past week it lost its arms and legs. I wonder where those lost limbs lie now and who will grieve their passing.

Jesi has been close to me this week. She understands. When I arrived at Walden Pond to walk on Friday afternoon she blew in on a gust of cold wind, across the pond from the south west. I got this sudden sense of her completely unexpected. She knew that last week when I was there I was thinking about her and about Prouty Garden and the tree. {If you wish to read the blog post, or see a couple of photos of Jesi in the garden click here. She was letting me know she was with me again as I wandered amongst the trees this past Friday.

She was with me last Sunday when I went in search of a special ornament to hang on what would be a new Christmas tree in our house this year.
Knowing Jesi’s special tree was losing its light, Alan and I decided to buy something new for Christmas to honor Jesi’s presence within our family.
“I have no idea what I’m looking for” I told Alan as we drove to the local Christmas shop. “But I’ll know it when I see it.”

When I found it I had already spent about fifteen minutes scanning the hundreds of ornaments dangling from trees, sitting in baskets and displayed on tables as I navigated my way around the store. I was beginning to lose hope that there was anything that would feel right at all. Alan who had headed off in another direction appeared with a long candle holder decorated with birds.
For the table,” he announced.
It was pretty, but it wasn’t the Jesi ornament. We began talking and as we did I continued to scan a basket to my left, but I knew I was distracted. After he wandered off I thought about how mindless I had been looking at its contents. So I walked over and peered down at the gold and silver foil ornaments it held. Then I saw her.

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I picked her up and held her in my hands for a couple of minutes turning her over and lying her inside my palms. She was perfect. She had Jesi’s youthful energy and her lightness of spirit. I must have stood there holding her, looking down at her for a couple of minutes. The once busy store seemed to have emptied of people. Except for one person, a short dark haired woman who walked purposely past me toward the front of the store. As she passed me said
“That’s my favorite piece in the whole store.”
I looked up and replied. “Yes, I am sort of taken by it too.” But she had continued on her way. Then she disappeared.
When I found Alan I told him I had what I had come for and showed him my angel. We headed toward the cashier to purchase it and the other ornaments we had collected along the way.

It wasn’t until the following day that I was able to put the last piece of the puzzle about the angel together completely. During a meditation while I was contemplating fulfillment the image of Jesi’s face appeared as she had appeared to me many times in the past …. During many swims across Walden pond in the summer of 2014 while she lay in her hospital bed I would visualize her face as serene as the Buddha’s and next to the Buddha face itself. No, no I would cry into the waves and the water. Please don’t take her from me. For that was before she passed into spirit. Those were the times I would touch some knowing inside me that I could not bear to let myself know. Now, in my meditation her Buddha face appeared again. I had no fear of it now though, for when she did pass in September 2014 and I lay next to her lifeless body on her bed, hers became that same Buddha face. Serene and beautiful with pale soft skin and only hair like peach fuzz framing her face. But this time, next to her Buddha face the young angel girl skipped and danced and sparkled merrily. And I heard Jesi whispering. I’m here mama. I’m still here. I’m with you.

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And I knew that was what Jesi had come back to tell me.

Posted in angels, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Prouty Garden Childrens Hospital Boston, Spiritual Beliefs, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Family Weekend for Kari … How Jesi makes her presence felt!

Online registration for Family Weekend at Oberlin College is frustrating. Even the woman on the other end of the phone, an Oberlin employee who I have called for assistance keeps reminding me so, although the knot in the base of my skull is reminder enough. It is the second time I have run through the series of “next” buttons to move through the pages, filling in the required pieces of information. I am back to entering the names of the family members who will be attending the President’s Breakfast on Sunday morning. This time there is a gitch in the system. “It’s never happened before” she reports as she walks me through each step. As Family weekend is only two days away and we are a late registration I assume my contact has been through this a number of times. “Oh, quite a number,” she assures me, with a certain rattled disquiet in her voice.

I enter myself first, then Alan and then Chris, who is flying from Philli to meet us to spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday visiting Kari at her new college “home.” I do not have to add Kari, yet I sit poised on the edge of the keyboard at the next empty box, my tongue at the tip of my mouth. I am about to say, “Then there’s Jesi. She doesn’t need a seat, but she’ll be there,” before I stop myself.

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When Alan and I drive into Oberlin on Friday afternoon the sun illuminates the square in the middle of the college campus casting a blaze of orange and golden light through the autumnal trees and throwing long shadows over the grass and walkways between them. A handful of students meander along paths or relax on the grass, in the pavilion or lean against sculptures scattered throughout the lawn. There is a gentle, almost inaudible murmur rising from the square above which the sound of cars passing on the road can be heard. Alan and I wait outside Kari’s dorm for her to appear. I remember how anxious I felt leaving her here only two months ago. How would she like it? Would she be homesick? When she appears I realize how different I feel as I sense her commanding her environment, casually greeting the other students we pass in a relaxed friendly manner. She offers to show us around. We head for the town to buy lunch and then to the rooftop garden of the Conservatory to eat.

Once on the rooftop Kari shows Alan and I her newest tattoo. A couple of weeks ago she had two inverted hands, and the word “beloved” written below them, etched into the skin of her left forearm. I did not have to ask what it signified when Kari first told me about it. I had my own memories of hands.

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They say time heals. Perhaps even with death, there is an element of truth in this. Or perhaps time blunts the memory and it is this which allows one to revisit the cavern of despair without despairing completely. So on the rooftop garden of the conservatory on the sunny Friday afternoon I told Alan and Kari the story of how, on the evening I said good bye to Jesi, the evening before she lapsed into unconsciousness, her hands and my hands connected in a most unspeakable manner; communicating SIMPLY EVERYTHING through touch. I go back into that place now and I know what love is. Her hands touching mine. Her skin gently brushing my skin along my inner forearm, around my wrist. My fingers around hers, hers around mine. Running circles, stroking up and down, cupping her hands, placing my hands in her hands. On and on it went. Magnetizing. Rooting me to the place I was standing next to her bed, unable to leave her side. Unable to tear myself away. Unknowing of what lay in store. That this was the final goodbye. That the next time I would be with her, her brain would be locked inside an unresponsive body. That this would be the end of understanding, until we meet on the other side. Time had blunted that memory. Until I chose to open the door to it again, and share it with Alan and Kari on the rooftop of Oberlin Conservatory.

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The following afternoon we drive to the airport to pick up Chris. As we are driving away from the airport Kari announces “Now we are all here together again. It’s been ages since we’ve all been together. And Jesi’s here too.” I don’t say anything. Kari and I instinctively thinking the same thing.

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Back at the Conservatory Kari makes a bee line for the Timara Lab to show us where she has been learning to synthesize electronic music. Whereas I am feeling lost in a sea of black boxes and shiny silver knobs, Chris immediately understands what all the equipment is and does. Alan notices Kari has a file of her work on the computer.

“Can we hear some of your work?” he asks.

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A month or so ago Kari told me she was working on a piece for her Timara (Technology in Music and Related Arts) class using Jesi’s laughter, Jesi and her talking, Jesi coughing and the ventilator to construct a piece. I remember feeling both protective of her and that she was incredibly courageous to use such raw material to both work with and present in front of her classmates, especially when she said, “I feel like an outsider in this creative community mum. I’m just so different from the other composers and sometimes I feel really challenged because of it.” Then about a week later she called again, really upset. The peer critique of her work had been negative and hurtful.
She got a 100 % grade on the work.
“You sure you want to hear it,” Kari replied to Alan’s request. “It’s hard to listen to. It might make you sad.”
“I want to,” I replied. “What about you Alan?” Alan nodded. “Chris?” Chris nodded also.

Kari’s piece is striking in that it is initially lighthearted and gay, with laughter and talking and bird-like song which she produces by playing the Theramin (an instrument played, without touch, by manipulating sound waves) only to end with the deep somber sounds of the ventilator, drowning out all other “voices.” She does this to indicate how every action carries so much weight with it, and that things inevitably change through time. She uses repetition to build tension. She also develops themes, for instance, occasional coughing evolves into gasping for air and the repetitive narrative “Kari you’re going to kill me” (Jesi says this as Kari is making her laugh so much, yet the sound of her laughter also could be construed as crying), and the eventual plunge into the dark sound made by the ventilator. The narrative ends; consumed by the sound of birds going awry (the Theramin) and the ventilator, initially in the background becoming louder and louder until it overtakes all other sound, drowning out the entire sound set until the piece plummets into an eerie darkness. Kari is showing us that joy and pain (like love and hate) are in reality closely linked to each other.

I am stunned… I think of how must have been for Kari to be down in the Timara lab late at night recording that work until she got it the way she wanted it. And then walking back to her dorm and trying to go to sleep before she had to get up for 8.30 am lectures the following morning.

Stunning.

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Sunday morning; before Chris and Alan and I pack up and return to Philli and Boston respectively, Kari takes us on one of her favorite nature walks to the Arboretum. It is another warm and sunny morning, just the sort of lazy Sunday when walking on a dirt track around a pond, watching the changing perspective of colored leaves reflected in the water (itself the color of the sky) reminds me that despite everything happening in the world, there is good and we are in the midst of it.

Chris also reminds me of this when we come upon a piece of fishing line with both sinker and hooks attached. It has been carelessly thrown aside on the earth. “Some poor creature might get caught up in that,” he announces, before he scales a nearby tree and lodges the hook firmly in its trunk with the line wrapped so tightly to it so nothing can get caught up in it.
We continue on our walk in single file along the narrow path. I walk last, content to meander and listen to the birds and gentle buzzing sounds from the grasses, and gaze into the pond watching the water insects flit along the surface, (and of course, take photos.)
Since our walk on September 11 at World’s End where we spent Jesi’s second anniversary walking in the woods, I feel that even without words there is some special connection happening as we wander and stop to gaze at the pond, Kari pointing out her favorite spots, the rope swing where she swims, the place where the dogs gather and plunge in, her running track… And although there are no words spoken about the missing member of our family, I know we all share thoughts of Jesi and she is there too. I can feel that something special in the air. Something that makes the morning whole and fulfilling.


Then we get back in the car we set out on a long drive through the Ohio countryside. We have our lunch with Kari and one of her friends, visit the local museum and the cat rescue to cuddle some kittens before we head to the airport to fly home.

Posted in College Freshman after Loss of Twin Sister to Cancer, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, Spiritual Beliefs, Using Music as an Agent for Healing after Losing a Twin, Writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments