Our Jesi Memorial on 9/11

 

For the days leading up to this, the second anniversary of Jesi’s passing, I have felt a wash of emotions. Sitting in yogic pose on the edge of the pond three days ago, I remember the unthinking comment of a friend some weeks back. “I suppose you’ve moved on.” She said this as we spoke of the opening comments of the Senior Class Captain of Lexington High School’s speech at the graduation ceremony last May. “Someone should be here with us today. One of us is missing from our group.” Moved on? My jaw dropped.

I have wondered about that phrase a hundred times since that afternoon. How does one? How could one … move on? Would one ever really want to? And yet one has to. When the friend said those words to me, I have to admit, I was so taken aback, all I could think to say was… “You have to keep living.”

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Today, on the second anniversary of Jesi’s passing, I return to the pond. This time with Alan and Kari and Chris. We are on a mission. I have been frantic to get us there. All three weather apps on my phone predict thunder around 11 am.
We will each scatter some ashes. Alan and Chris and Kari from the shore and I have taped a plastic bag to my belly and slipped a small silver box down the front of my swimsuit. I want to swim into the middle of the pond, to somewhere near the deepest part and let go of them. For days, since this idea came to me I have been thinking how best to make sure I can safely transport them. What tape would be strong enough? Where on my body would they be protected? I wake this morning still pondering this question. It was that day after I finished my stretches and was swimming that I asked Jesi how she wanted us to rememberer her. “What do you want us to do on your anniversary this year Jesi?” Then, almost asleep the idea came to me. Jesi must have wanted it. Sprinkle ashes in the pond. Then she would be always be here swimming with me.

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As we arrive at the beach, the light cloud cover swells a deep blue stain before turning a menacing grey. It brings with it a stampede of water which tramples the pond like thunderous hooves, galloping from the cove in the east to the boat ramp in the west. The wind whips the water back towards us so that it is almost impossible to face it. We stand huddled together under a cluster of trees, mesmerized by the force of the wind and the rain.

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“I feel like this weather happening now is some sort of a message,” Kari is the first to speak. I nod my agreement, deliberating whether the lightning, now only 12 miles away (shown on one of my phone apps) is going to cause us to abort the planned swimming aspect of our ceremony.
But as fast as the hooves have galloped across the pond they seem to have taken with them the dark stain that covered the world, and the winds ferocious gusts quiet. A second weather app suggests I have 23 minutes until the thunderstorm will arrive.
“Do you think you can get to that point in 23 minutes?” Chris asks.

It seems like a ‘now or never’ situation and I think of the planning that I have put into this, not to mention the desire to carry through on wanting this to happen today, on the second anniversary of Jesi’s passing, with Chris and Kari are both back from college, and the fact that we don’t have time to wait around until the storm passes. They both have to return this afternoon.
“Let’s do it then,” I reply.

I grab by swim cap, ear plugs and nose clip. Alan offers to carry my bag. We plan to meet at the other end of the pond, somewhere short of the cove. They will keep me in sight and if the sky looks ominous will wave their arms to attract my attention. I will keep an eye out for them and stay close to the shore.
I plunge in. The water is surprisingly warm. Because the wind is whipping it up in swirls all around me it is not possible to lie flat along the surface. I feel like a surf life saver, torso angled up with my head pointed forward like the bow of a boat. I come up for a breath and forget to submerge my head and find myself face to face with a wall of water. For a split second I panic, but I do not have time to lose control. I have to keep swimming. All the time I am watching the sky. It seems to be clearing. I start thinking about why I am here, which in my near panic I had almost forgotten. I begin to talk to Jesi. I tell her what I want to do. That I want to her to be in the pond with me always. I thank her for telling me she wanted this too. I make a slight curve so I am heading toward the center of the pond. The sky is clearing. The wind is dropping and the water is calming. I am finding a rhythm in my stroke. I feel rested and peaceful. I remember the plastic bag taped to my belly and the small box which I feel slide under my bathing suit. I continue until I am in the middle of the pond where I stop and tread water. I look across to the shore, just short of the cove and see two figures. I think it is Kari and Chris. Later I learn it is Alan who is with Kari. Chris has walked a little further on.

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First I reach into my suit and find the small box. I had not thought how I would do this. I guess I had imagined I would just drop it. But when I pull it out, something very different happens. I turn to face Kari. I hold it up. Then I imagine the sun, which is now glinting through a hole in the clouded sky, will catch the light and reflect it. I wave it back and forth a couple of times as high as I can. I am laughing. I fling it up into the air. And I watch it, as it rises up, stops for a split second and then falls, down through the air and through the surface of the water with a splash. I tread water and watch it fall, feeling exhilarated and finding some sort of joy which I had not anticipated.

When I turn around and look at the sky. The sun has emerged. The sky over the boat ramp is a pale powder blue. White puffs of cloud drift across it. Now I am sure there is something larger than me orchestrating this event.

Next I reach into my swim suit and start tearing at the tape. I wonder why I was so worried about the tape not holding. I feel like I am pulling my skin off as I attempt to pull the plastic bag off. Eventually though, I get it free. Then I pry it open and reach into it. Little by little, as I float on my back kicking, I disperse ashes into the water. I hold them between my fingers and thumbs. I feel their softness even as they are sodden with water. I rub my fingers together after I have let them go. I think of Jesi’s young soft skin. I take some in my left hand. Then some in my right. I feel the same joy. I FEEL THE SAME JOY. Suddenly I remember over a year ago, in Birdwood Gully, Springwood Australia, sprinkling Jesi’s ashes when our family took her back to the place she had visited in her physical body two year before that. I felt joy then too. WHY IS IT THAT THIS BRINGS SUCH JOY, I wonder. But I do not wonder long. I look up at the sky and it is darkening again. This time over the cove where Kari and Chris and Alan are walking. So I quickly disperse the last of the ashes, replace the empty plastic bag under my swimsuit and turn back on my belly and swim over to the shore to join them.

Posted in Anniversary of Death of Child, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, Grief and Loss, Memorials and Remembering, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Taking Kari (and Jesi) to College

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As the minivan, loaded with boxes and bins crammed full of her clothes and music books and photos, and all the newly purchased dorm supplies lurches out of our street and onto the main road, I suddenly find myself thinking of Jesi. Chris is driving, Alan is next to him and Kari and I are behind them. We are heading for Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Kari reaches for my hand through the tangle of her two stuffed animal companions, Grandpa Jo, the cuddly soft bear that had been given to Jesi during the last months of her hospital stay, and Akira, a big black bear Kari was given when she was little.
“Do you think I’m too old to take stuffed animals to college mum?” Kari asks.
“Never too old for good friends,” I reply. “Besides, they love adventure and this is the beginning of a wonderful new adventure for you!”
It is, and I am truly happy for Kari and all she has achieved, but inside I also feel an indescribable sadness. Jesi should be here with us, also beginning her freshman year in college, and she isn’t.

For the past week I have been watching the progress in Kari’s room as her favorite belongings have gradually moved from piles on the floor into boxes and crates. As the walls of her room have been stripped of the laughter she shared with Jesi, and the echo of their life together has been folded away. I have stood silently, living the memory of Jesi, who, the week before she went into hospital for her bone marrow transplant over two years ago undertook a thorough cleaning and sorting of her room never to return to it. Watching Kari, I have felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention, alerted to her imminent departure, while the rational voice inside my head has kept reminding me, this is not the same, this is NOT the same.

As the car, weighted down with its cargo and four passengers lunges towards the freeway Alan asks Chris about the bike. It is strapped to the roof on its side. In order to have the handle bars lying flat the front wheel mud guard (they have taken the wheel itself off) is sitting at a right angle to the roof. It crowns the van like a silver beacon shining in the sunlight. Suddenly I realize Jesi is with us after all. I imagine her sitting perched on the top of the bike, her arms flapping in the breeze, mouth wide open laughing, her hair, its pre-cancer length to her waist, streaming behind her. Everything about her is waving untethered in the wind. I turn to tell Kari of my vision but she has her ear buds in and is listening to music so I squeeze her hand instead. A few days later, when we walk down the quiet streets of Oberlin I will imagine Kari riding her bike and Jesi perched behind her on her pannier, her same exhilarated laughter. Both girls hair will be loose and flying in the breeze. Kari will be yelling “hold on Jesi, hold on.” Jesi will be waving her arms and legs and screeching “go faster Kari, go faster.” This will be the way Jesi will attend college with Kari.

That evening, over dinner in a small Italian restaurant in Bethlehem Pennsylvania I suggest a family photo. This will be the last family photo of the trip, as in the morning Chris will peel off from the party so he can prepare for his final year at Lehigh University. We huddle together while I hold the phone for a selfie. Family photos have become a very complex issue for me. But I do not think this while we all lean in and make funny faces at the screen. I am busy making sure everyone’s head is visible. Click. But there is a nagging voice inside. Jesi is missing. We are not complete anymore. But I have to do this… just in case. What if something else were to happen …
There is something about losing a child… a sibling… that knits a family together in an undefinable way. Even a divorced family.

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When I look at the picture I look past the faces. I am looking instead at the flares of light surrounding the light bulbs. I want to find a sign of something supernatural, a sign that Jesi is with us and has revealed herself in the photo. An orb of light. But I find nothing. I look back at the faces. There are still only four of us and we are all still smiling.

As we drive Chris to his apartment the following morning, past the now familiar university buildings, I remember all the beginnings here. Three years ago when Chris was a freshman as Kari is now to be. Alan and I helped move him into his dorm that year. Kari had to stay in Lexington to try out for the high school soccer team. Jesi, in remission had been invited on a cruise to Bermuda with her best friend. Two years ago when Kari and Alan drove Chris to school to begin sophomore year and I stayed in Boston with Jesi who was in the ICU after her transplant. That was when everything went awry.
As I think about it I realize that even now my life is punctuated by Jesi’s life: her health, her illness, her death. It always will be a defining factor.

We pull up in front of Chris’s apartment and tumble out of the van and into his house. Jesi again appears in a vision before me. This time she is the fifteen year old she was when we visited Chris in freshman year for family weekend. She is wearing her tight black jeans and the waterproof grey jacket she bought in Australia earlier that year, and her favorite black lace up boots. She is jumping and leaping, larking around like the happy teen she was when cancer let go of its hold on her. When I see her I have walked through the front room of the house and I am standing at the door looking into an empty room. Except in front of me is Jesi, leaping, as if onto Chris’s back. The image is so vivid I have to stop myself for a minute. Sometimes it is like this because Jesi’s spirit is so enormous it is still difficult to comprehend she is not here with us.

We drop Chris’s bags off at his apartment and decide to potter around Bethlehem for an hour or so before driving on to Ohio. Unlike Oberlin, which is situated on a plain, Lehigh is built into the side of a mountain so Chris takes us up to a scenic lookout.
“This is a great place to come at sunset,” he explains and then adds, “One of our philosophy professors bought the class up here once and asked us all what we wanted out of life.”
I want to ask ‘and what did you say?’ but somehow it doesn’t feel right to make this carefree moment into an intense meaning of life conversation. Besides, I can feel a fluttering in my belly knowing I will have to stay goodbye to Chris soon. So I settle for
“Do you guys want a photo?” directing my question to Chris and Kari. “Sure,” they both respond.

The same pang hits me that did the previous evening when I point my phone at the two of them as they sit, Kari with her arms clasped around Chris’s middle, on the stone wall of the lookout. I know what goes through my mind. It is the same script as before. This isn’t right. Jesi should be here. Two is not right. I have three children. It happens to me all the time. A simple question in a doctors office survey. An innocent question asked by a new acquaintance. But what do Chris and Kari think? “He’s the only sibling I have.” Kari has said these words to me on a number of occasions. The same is true for Chris. Yet they both smile into the phone as I click some photos as if it has always been this way.  And this time I do not look for the orb of light. Then we all hop back into the car and drive down the hill.

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The road to Oberlin is long and flat and straight and for most of it I focus on Kari’s anticipation of the following day’s activities. It is a relief to have this to think about so Jesi takes a back seat in my mind. I also know that I struggle with the lingering thought of what it will be like when Kari is settled into her dorm room and the parent orientation is over and Alan and I get back into the car to start the long drive back to Boston. I am relieved to have a day or so’s respite visiting a friend in the Philadelphia area where we used to live to get used to the idea of being an ‘empty nester.’

That evening, dinner is very different. We are late arriving at our hotel and settle for a mix of take out dishes from a local south western style diner. Kari’s black bean soup ends up being white beans and beef. Not her favorite. She settles for the mac and cheese instead.
“Comfort food,” I announce.

It’s funny the things one remembers. Of all the times Kari has eaten mac and cheese it only now strikes me that Jesi would always choose mac and cheese when she was in the hospital. I mention this fact to Kari and we joke about it. We also joke about the way in which Jesi is making her presence felt on this trip.

The following day Kari moves into her dorm room. On the wall above her bed she pins two large photos of Jesi. Grandpa Jo nestles into her pillow below them. Kari entrusts me with the task of carefully unpacking the treasured items of Jesi’s she has bought with her: some jewelry, a head scarf, a small box of incense, candles and ceramic elephants, and a framed photo of them both taken when they were toddlers. I place the jewelry and scarf in the bottom drawer of her desk with her conductor’s baton and the photo on the shelf near her books.

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This is not the last advice I leave Kari with (let’s face it, mothers are always full of advice, especially when they are dropping their daughters at college for freshman year), but before we leave her dorm room I stand in front of her, her face glowing both from perspiration and with pride at having achieved this first step toward her independence and hold her hands and say,
“Maybe this is the best way for Jesi to always be with you, Kari. She can be with you everywhere now she isn’t restricted by a physical body. And through you, she can experience college that she never got the opportunity to do in her life.” I wonder while I say this how Kari will receive it. But Kari smiles and nods her understanding. We hug, a mixture of sweat and love before we wander out into the hall to find Alan and the cafeteria for lunch.

 

 

 

 

Posted in College Freshman after Loss of Twin Sister to Cancer, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, loss of a twin to cancer, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Opening and Closing of Doors

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It’s been two months since I laid my hand, left palm flat against the peeling brown paint of the door, above the lock and took a long slow breath. Then leant my forehead, just above my hair, on the thin wood panel between the door frame and the glass insert and closed my eyes. A moment passed before I turned and moved away.

It’s been two months since I walked down the old wooden steps, holding onto the wrought iron railing that led from the porch to the brick walkway, and when I got to the second bottom step sat down and put my head in my hands. I remember watching Jesi walk carefully down those steps many times, her knees stiff, her legs supported in braces least her quad muscles would not hold her and she might fall. She clung tight to the railing that our landlord tightened once he observed how much she needed it for support.

I had just done the final walk through of my apartment before handing over the keys to my landlady. It’s been two months now. Moving is always difficult, but moving out of that apartment was even more so. In some small way it was like I was losing Jesi all over again and it has been almost two years since then.

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Upstairs the rooms, their polished wooden floors and white patched walls, scuff marks which have witnessed the history of our lives seemed to breathe in and out as I wandered aimlessly through them for the last time. When I came to Jesi’s room I stood and leant in the doorway. I would always remember how she curled herself up into tiny ball in her bed, and how one knee would invariably find its way out from under the covers. I was glad I was alone with my memories, though I wondered if Jesi was with me. I felt I should have apologized for giving up on her home. inside my head I said I was sorry, knowing she would understand, just as I did her need to leave us and this life.

They say when one door closes another opens…
Now, two months later Kari is preparing for a different type of leaving. It is both exciting, the beginning of a new adventure and a little scary. And it is something she always thought she would be doing if not exactly alongside Jesi, and least with Jesi moving onward too.

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When Kari graduated from high school in early June she “carried” Jesi not only in her heart, but also on her dress. The prayer card with Jesi’s angel face clearly visible as she promenaded down the steps to the marquee where the ceremony was to take place.
When we went on a family vacation to celebrate Kari turning eighteen back in March and a woman she met struck up a conversation with her, Kari told her about her musical compositions and college plans. At that point she had not yet been granted admission to Oberlin Conservatory but said that was where she wanted to study. Kari told the woman she was a twin. The woman asked “And what does your twin want to study?” Kari replied “Oh Jesi’s going to Tufts to study Veterinary Science.”
I smiled when I heard Kari’s response.

I have no doubt though, that when Kari packs her pillows and her pretty new sheets, (Jesi would tell me it’s about the thread count Kari, not the colors, Kari states as we drive to the store) and towels and musical posters and coffee maker and mugs in boxes there will be not only pictures of Jesi and perhaps a couple of Jesi’s favorite stuffed animals snuggled in with her dorm room supplies. Jesi’s spirit will be right there by Kari’s side as this new and exciting episode of Kari’s life unfolds, and the door to her dorm and Oberlin Conservatory of Music opens to welcome her.

As they say, when one door closes another opens…

Posted in Losing a Twin to Cancer, Memories of Loved Ones in Physical Places, Writing about Loss of a daughter | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Jesi Sends a Frog

The moving guys have gone and I am standing on the steps of Alan’s house in Lexington, the last of the three stops we have made. Most of my possessions are out of the apartment in Arlington. What is left is to be donated, to be picked up at the end of the week.

The early clouds and threat of rain have vanished and in return left the day under a cloak of scorching sun. I decide the only way to handle the churning inside my belly and the ongoing jittery feeling which has been surging through me all morning is to go to Walden.

I always marvel how being suspended in 100 feet of water can ground me, but it does.
It is a spectacular afternoon and the pond keeps her promise, or perhaps it is the constant rhythm with which my body responds to being present in her that soothes me. But by the time I arrive back at the main beach I realize how exhausted I am. No doubt a build up of anxious energy which, like a spring has finally let go and rebound with a force equal to that which it was previously wound tight.

Technically it is not yet the swim season at Walden, still being a week prior to Memorial Day, but the ropes are in place, marking the designated areas for swimming and given the heat and humidity many young children and their mothers have congregated in the shallow water. Little frogs, I think. I wonder if Jesi was ever a frog for Halloween? This thought seems to rise out of nowhere, except that I remember thinking the toddlers remind me of little frogs as they enjoy playing in the water. For a few minutes I run through all the Halloween’s I can recall to see if Jesi was ever a frog. The closest I come is when she was a ladybird and Kari was a bee. I grab my towel and make my way up the ramp thinking nothing more of it.

 

The following day I returned to my apartment to continue the clean up. The first thing I notice is a piece of bubble wrap which found its way onto the lounge room floor and is stuck to it with tape. For probably fifteen minutes the previous day I stood chatting to one of the moving guys as he wrapped and taped a large oil painting which hung on the wall, first with flattened cardboard cartons and then with bubble wrap so it could be put in storage. He used all four remaining rolls of my bubble wrap in completing the task. As he worked he told me about a particular move he had done where the house was so dirty and unhygienic, and hadn’t been lived in for three years he had to refuse to move the fridge. When I told him I had not lived here for over two years we started talking about Jesi and what had happened. I talked about her love of animals. As it was around the time her scholarship was to be awarded he asked if he could donate. When he finished the painting

I noticed the piece of bubble wrap lying on the floor, but given the apartment was such a mess and I was so anxious about the rest of the move I didn’t bother to pick it up. I didn’t realize the piece of bubble I left on the floor was stuck to it let alone thought it possible there might be something under it. But when I returned the day after the move, the first thing I did was pick up the piece of bubble, or try to. That is when I found the frog.

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I startled when it jumped out at me and landed about a foot away on the polished wooden floor. I bent down to get a closer look, thinking it was a cricket, and least it might jump again gingerly kept my distance. Then it dawned on me it was a frog, not a real frog, but a tiny plastic frog. So I scooped it up in my hand. I still have no idea how it came to be there, though I immediately knew who had sent it. Those children playing on the water’s edge at Walden the previous afternoon … those thoughts that had been placed in my mind … Jesi who had never been a frog …

Sometime there is no rational explanation for the things that happen to us. We just have to Trust … And Believe …

Posted in Being open to Messages from the Afterlife, Enduring Nature of Love, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesi’s Bed

Dear Reader: This is the first in a series of works I will be posting reflecting back on what it was like to pack up and let go of the last home Kari and I (and Chris before he went to college) lived in with Jesi. I hope you enjoy reading them!

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I cried the day I unmade her bed. It was a Sunday, cold and bleak for early May. The air was heavy and my mood added to the weight of it. I remember pressing my lips closed as if to allow any breath of air through them would be to let go entirely… and I knew I couldn’t risk that… I remember carefully, deliberately lifting first one, then a second pillow-pet off the covers. Placing them on the box opposite her bed. I remember pausing before I continued to remove the pillows, at first the one she lay her head upon and then the body pillow which lay along the wrought iron back of the day bed she had slept in. I remember feeling the soft cotton thread of the pillow, imagining I could feel her by touching where her head had been, although it was over two years since she had lain there. I touched it gently at first, then less cautiously, pressing it slightly as if I might reach her into her through the heart of the pillow. When I got no sensation in response, no satisfaction, I placed it aside and continued with the task. I reached for the soft brown throw with its red embroidered edging which covered the end of the bed. Inside my head I heard her saying it keeps my feet from hitting the cold iron bed frame mama. But something stopped me from moving it just yet so I reached instead for the colorful patchwork quilt, one of the many gifts she received from charities, this time from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a camp for kids like her who suffered from life threatening blood diseases. I picked up adjacent corners and carefully bought them together folding the quilt in half, and then again until it was folded into eights. Then I placed it in a box I had bought in for the purpose of holding her bedclothes. I paused before I went back to the foot of the bed, and running my hand along the soft fleece of the throw with red embroidering I quickly picked it up from where it hung over the wrought iron frame, folded it and lay it in the box too.

The unmaking of her bed continued like this, through tightly closed lips with slow deliberate breaths in and out through my nose, in the silence of the empty apartment. Until I came to the sheets.

Sheets became a special part of Jesi’s day when she was in hospital “recovering” from her bone marrow transplant. They had to be changed and washed every day, and because I could give her so little of what a teenager deserved I gave her two things: colorfully designed sheets, a choice of three different shades, green with lines made up of hearts and leaves and triangles; purple and blue flowers, each with long straight stalk with carefully placed leaves at regular intervals growing out of either side of the stalk; and pink with flower petals, hearts and other shape doodles, the peace sign being the most notable to me as it, together with the hearts epitomized what Jesi loved and believed in most, even before her age reached double figures. All these I had changed, taken home and washed each night with the other thing I was able to give her: colorful hospital johnnies which serendipitously seemed to match one or other of the set of the sheets. (I remembered how Jesi and I had made a big thing of which hospital johnnie to wear with which sheet set so she might look best). They too had to be changed and washed daily to prevent bacterial infections while Jesi had no functional immune system. But the sheets Jesi liked best at my apartment had stripes of yellow and orange and red squares. They seemed thin and soft and I had always wondered why she preferred them over the sturdier, crisper cotton sheets I had bought for her myself, for these too had been a gift as had the others from Childrens Hospital. It would have exasperated me to have woken with them trapped around my legs each morning the way I remembered seeing them wrapped around hers.
It was these which I now pulled back, revealing the place where she had slept. A body which no longer existed on earth.
For these, I unravelled a clean plastic garbage bag. I planned to take them back to Alan’s house where I had been staying for all the months Jesi lay in that hospital bed and for all the months since she had passed, to wash them and fold them and put them away. The life I had shared here in this apartment with Jesi and Kari had to be put away in boxes, ready to relinquish the lease on the apartment I knew I could never live in again.

Posted in Losing a Child, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering Jesi’s Passion for Animals

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I leant forward to give Eleanor a congratulatory hug. “I’m so glad you got the award,” I whispered. Even with the applause from the audience engulfing us, I could sense her gratitude. It was woven into her person. Eleanor struck me as a quiet young woman, grounded in her own being, modest and unassuming. It was interesting that out of all the applicants for the scholarship, a memorial to Jesi, to be awarded to a senior at Lexington High School to honor her love of animals, Eleanor seemed closest to Jesi in her sensibility. Yet it wasn’t those qualities that earned Eleanor the award. It was her passion for animals that she cared for in her community, how she often sort them out to spend time with, even when she wasn’t required to and her plans to volunteer over the summer at an animal rescue before beginning to study Animal Science and Pre-Vet in college, that won her the honor of being awarded the first annual Jesi Watson Memorial Scholarship.

The auditorium at Lexington High School was probably only half full and the lights made it difficult to make out the individual faces from the stage. Faces of the group of seniors who I knew as young children. Behind them their parents sat, moms and dads who stood on the sidelines at soccer matches or other school events with us. Together we had watched our children grow and learn and slowly discover their themselves and their passions. Now, as Kari was, and as Jesi would have been, they would soon be making their way to college. It was a special year to be initiating the scholarship and Eleanor was the perfect recipient.

Alan had first suggested the scholarship to Kari Chris and I, so when we were called to award it he spoke on our behalf at the presentation. As he explained the idea behind its conception, he talked about Jesi and her love of animals; how entranced she had been as a young child by baby goats and calves when we visited petting farms, wanting to stay for hours feeding them pellets we bought, a quarter for a handful from a candy machine. He spoke about her love of dogs and cats as a little girl. I pictured her rubbing her face into the fur of our Shih Tzu’s and later our three cats, especially Micky, the docile Maine Coon. After she had lost her hair to cancer she used to love to feel his furry belly on her scalp. I remembered how, when she was learning to read, she would sit with our Pomeranian Elliot next to her in the large armchair and read to him. He sat patiently listening with what looked like an enormous grin on his orange face. Alan spoke about the summer Jesi did voluntary work at a local kennel, cleaning the cages and make sure the dogs had fresh water and bedding and helping socialize them in the play yard. I remembered how the kennel owners had been so impressed with her they told us she worked harder than some of their paid staff who were years older than her. (Jesi would only have been 14 years old then.) After that summer, Alan explained, Jesi was employed by a local veterinary clinic as a kennel hand. A job the owners of the boarding kennel recommended her for. There, each weekend she took care of the dogs and cats who were kenneled while their owners were on vacation. I remembered sitting in my car one foggy Sunday morning waiting as Jesi, the last to leave, diligently emptied the trash into the dumpster in the car park. She was only fifteen but because of her maturity and responsibility to her commitments, she earned the position. She very soon became a valued member of the veterinary staff so much so that when the vet heard that we were starting a memorial in her honor, they asked to become involved.

As Alan spoke, I looked around at the audience waiting for his cue. I was to read the letter which Dr J at the veterinary clinic had written, also to be presented to Eleanor. I stared out into the darkened room, nervous and unable to think of anything I might say to lead into reading the letter. I found myself talking to Jesi. Jesi, please let me know if there is anything you want me to say, I thought. When I learnt in toward the microphone I first supported Alan’s speech and then talked about Jesi’s dedication to her work and her goal of becoming a vet. “And I have no doubt she would have too!” I added. As I heard my voice conveyed through the auditorium by the PA system, the amplified sound vibrating through the air, I saw a vision of Jesi’s spirit riding on a spirit pony across the dark space above the heads of the audience. Even as I spoke about the loss of our daughter, full of light and love and laughter; her “gentle happy spirit” as Dr J described her in the letter I was about to read, I knew in my heart that she was free, serving the animals who had passed over, taking care of them in the spirit world as she had always wanted to in this life.

Knowing this and celebrating her with this memorial scholarship so that in makes it a tiny bit easier for Eleanor and others recipients in the years to come to pursue their dreams, allows Jesi to live on and help others, something she always wanted to do.

Posted in Loving and Caring about Animals, Memorial Scholarship | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Photographs, Memories…Moving Out… But Never Away

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Jesi … aged one … even then she had purpose in her life

When I carry the box down from the attic and dust off the black soot and crumbling asphalt, the old roof which fell in on them when the new one replaced it the summer Jesi went in for transplant, I find pages and pages of weather worn notes jammed together and bent like wilting flowers. It is not, however until I take them down the stairs to the living space of the apartment and begin to sift through them that I know what I will find. I have lived in, or at least paid rent on the apartment in Arlington for over seven years now, though for over two of those years I have not been living there.

It was the home that I shared with Chris and Jesi and Kari when they were school kids navigating middle school and then, for Chris at least, high school. It was the home that saw our hurried mornings racing down the narrow stairs to the front door, loading bags and shoes and lunches, and sometimes even half eaten breakfasts and Elliot our dog, and following him, Mimi, into mum’s minivan, for the trip up route 2 to Lexington for school drop off. It was the home that for the year between Jesi’s first cancer and its return, Chris drove his sisters to school; when I would stand at the top of the porch stairs waving and reminding him to drive safely, the girls taking turns to ride shotgun in his old jeep cherokee. It was the home which we left the day Jesi’s cancer returned, when I moved into a small space on the third floor of Alan’s house so Kari could have some stability in her already disrupted life.

It is the home which has, since then, sat empty; as if we pushed our chairs back from the breakfast table and left its half eaten remains, stacked the dishes in the sink and walked out leaving it like a museum… time frozen… lives frozen… normality frozen forever.

“What would it have been like?” I asked my therapist one morning as she headed down the narrow staircase on her way to the front door, (for a long while I believed it would be possible to come back to my apartment so we began meeting there so I might acclimatize), “if Jesi’s had not died?” I was almost in tears finishing my question.
“It would have been very different,” she replied, her voice soft as she turned to look back at me. “Everything would have been very different.”

 

I place the box on the wooden slates of the futon base in the room Chris used to sleep in, the mattress since removed and taken to his college dorm, and sit on a stack of cushions to start sorting through its contents. Finally, after avoiding even coming to the apartment, I am now making daily trips from Lexington and staying an hour or two, more if I can stand it, in order to cull and clean and sort, deciding which parts of our lives will be preserved and which will be recycled and become a new beginning in someone else’s home.

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For three days the boxes have been old notebooks and drawings from Jesi’s kindergarten and elementary school days. My progress slowed as she comes alive for me through her writings and her drawings and her familiar heart shaped signature. I hear her voice in my head when I read her assignments. I see her smile up at me from her pictures in books compiled by her preschool teachers. I feel her love when I see the hearts she drew next to her name and on her notes to “mummy and daddy”. I want to keep everything. More than that, I want to pull her back into the room, to become the child who loved first grade, who loved to read and watch TV and play baseball with her brother and cuddle with her dog. I want her to learn how to feel good about standing up in front of the class, (which she wrote in fourth grade was the thing she hated most about school), to get over being shy, “really shy” and feeling like she was not good at making friends. I want her to be able to continue to take horse riding lessons like she wrote, when she was nine, that she wanted to; and finally did when she was fourteen, and have the opportunity to spend time in a quiet place, “her favorite place to be” without being confined to a hospital room which gave her too much silence and too much time to think about not being at school where she wanted to be…

I want to see her grow up and become a teacher, because as she said in second grade, she loved school, or a writer as she decided in forth grade she wanted to be, because she loved to read. I want to see her become a vet, like she wanted to before the cancer returned and stole her from us. She would have succeeded too, at being any of these things … if only she had only had the chance to grow up.

But all I have of her is what she left me, and the memory of the place we called home…

 

When I return to my apartment having finally finished sorting through Jesi’s school notes, I decide to drag a box of old photos down from the attic. There are envelopes stuffed with prints and strips of negatives from the days prior to memory sticks and i-phones and computers we download our pictures onto. There are small albums with plastic sleeves, sometimes entirely empty, sometimes half full, albums from vacations in Norway with “daddy” or on Cape Cod with “mummy” or in Scotland with daddy and mummy and grandma. There are photos of birthday parties at Build-a-Bear, a row of little faces shining behind bears and bunnies and puppies held up in front of them, and Halloween princesses with candy buckets, and Christmases in the Australian summer. There are pictures of Jesi and Kari holding hands or sipping lemonade while they sit on deck chairs or of them splashing in a swimming pool. There are the faces my children used to be and who, especially in the case of Jesi, I want them to return to be. Never so much do I hear the voices of other more experienced parents in my head, enjoy these years, they grow so fast.

But it is different with Chris and Kari, I still have the sound of their voices echoing through the phone, the recent memories of Spring break, the couple of days we spent together in Portland Maine. With Jesi all I have are these photos and the firm round letters of her handwriting and her voice inside my head…

 

The morning after I begin sorting photos I dream of her. I dream she is sleeping in her bed. I dream she is walking up the staircase wearing her black and white houndstooth fedora. She is smiling at me the way I remember her doing. I dream I see her sitting in the lounge room.
But these visions are not of her in my apartment. They are of her in her bed at Alan’s house when I would sneak in, trying not to wake her, to start an IV medication. They are of her walking up the stairs to the third floor where I sleep, so we can talk. They are of her sitting in the family room at Alan’s house, the afternoon sun streaming in on her as she waits for her math tutor to arrive.

The memories I have of Jesi are no longer in the apartment we shared before the cancer came back. Those memories are fading. They live on paper and in photos which I can store and carry with me wherever I go. So I think that perhaps it is time to move on to that next place. That I must get through this period of mourning and reflecting, and that wherever I move to, Jesi will come with me, always in my heart.

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Posted in death of a child, Loss and Grief, Memories of a child who died, Mother's Love and Grief, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Happy….Un-Happy Day

“Thursday is Jesi’s birthday,” I say under my breath, my eyes firmly planted on the ground.
“I know,” she responds.
“And Kari’s” I add, as if she doesn’t know.
For a moment there is silence except for the swoosh of a passing car. I know there is no silence in either of our minds though.
“What will you do?” she asks.
I hesitate, finally offering up the best answer I can muster. “I’m not sure.”

I wonder what she is really asking. I wonder how to say the image that has shifted back and forth in my mind for the past couple of days. Would I look at photos of Jesi and Kari celebrating their birthdays together over the years? Would I look at the photos of the last birthday they spent together, peering into them and thinking that if I had only known this was to be the last… But then I think,

That is a crazy thought.

What if I had known? I couldn’t have nailed time to the floor, I couldn’t have held my daughters together in my arms and never let them grow and fulfill the paths that each of their souls was ordained to. It would have just made that sweet celebration with a few of their close friends, making pizza in the kitchen, unbearable. As it was, we had fun, only Jesi, relapsed and in the midst of chemotherapy treatments wasn’t feeling well. I remember her smiling in her upbeat way and saying “I guess I’m not going to have any pizza tonight then.” Uggg. She couldn’t even live it up on her last birthday.

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Maybe I would find the photo of Kari from last year, looking so sad it hurts to even think about it, and hope that this year it might be a tiny bit easier.

Would it be any easier???

Then I thought about telling my therapist that perhaps I might wake at 6.30am, light a candle at the altar I keep for Jesi in my upstairs room and watch the flame burn as the minutes ticked by. Six thirty-four, Kari was born. Six thirty five… Six thirty six, Jesi was born. Would I even need an alarm clock to be aware of time?

Suddenly it was last Sunday again and I remember standing in the sun talking to a friend. “It’s Kari and Jesi’s birthday this week,” I was saying, staring off into the distance. Then, feeling self conscious, “It’ll always be Jesi’s birthday too, no matter what.”

But when I drive away I start wondering.

Over the past year I have read about past lives and reincarnation. I have even experienced some meditative states when I have felt Jesi’s arms around me, mothering me as I was told she once did in one such past life. I know about soul families and soul journeys and I  have witnessed Jesi’s Spirit surrounding me with love. I have been told amazing things about her life in Spirit. Things that make me smile knowing she is truly free from the suffering of her physical body: Riding across the sky on spirit ponies, taking care of horses which have passed over…
These beliefs bring me solace as I miss her, thinking about how she might have been preparing to leave for college as Kari is now doing.
Kari has been dreading this birthday for weeks. I understand how she feels but I cannot imagine what she feels. At eighteen she has so many birthdays ahead… and the prospect of always knowing she would spend them mourning the loss of her twin. Seventeen was hard but eighteen feels harder. On the brink of leaving home and going to college, she knows she is leaving many of the things that tied her and Jesi together. High School, the Lexington community, this house they grew up in together. The other day she was talking to a friend who didn’t know Jesi had passed. That well meaning person asked where she was hoping to go to school. She said “Oberlin Conservatory.” “And what about your twin?” the woman enquired. “Oh she’s going to Tufts Veterinary School,” Kari responded breezily. When she told me I smiled. “Mum, sometimes I just don’t feel like explaining.”
I knew exactly what she meant.

Kari is planning a special gift to honor Jesi on their birthday. At eighteen she is legally able to get a tattoo. For months she has been asking. It seems that getting Jesi tattooed on her forearm a few months after Jesi passed (we had to drive to Connecticut as only there, with parental consent, was she able to get one before she turned eighteen,) she caught the ‘tattoo bug’.

“When you’re eighteen, Kari,” I replied.

Tomorrow Kari is getting her second tattoo. But she isn’t getting the elephant she was first thinking of. She has settled on getting a picture of her and Jesi together.

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Posted in birthdays and grieving, birthdays and twins, Writing | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Mothers and Daughters

Every night before I turn the light out I read. Lately I have been rereading a book which was given to Jesi, a memoir written by Rita Zoey Chin. On the title page Rita has written a special message to Jesi which distinguishes it from my copy of Let the Tornado Come. Her writing is wobbly as she pretends to be Claret, her horse, whom Jesi loved.

 


Jesi met Rita when, after I had been a student in one of her writing classes about five time over, I told her that Jesi was learning to ride and loved horses, and “Would it be ok if I bought Jesi to the stable to meet Claret.”     Rita beamed.
Rita already loved Jesi from my meager attempts at writing the story of her illness and wanted to meet her as much as I wanted Jesi to meet Rita, and of course, Claret.

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As I prop the book up in bed, I put a picture of Jesi between me and the book. Jesi looks straight into my eyes.

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Sometimes when I finish reading I don’t close the book for a while. Instead I look into Jesi’s brown eyes and tell her how much I miss her. One night tears spill out of the corners of my eyes and I ask Jesi for a sign that she is still with me. I always want a sign, and I often wish for one, but I feel more desperate that night. “I really need one, Jesi” I whisper. “Would you come to me in a dream?” Then I close the book and turn off the light.

I do not sleep well that night. The birds, chirping their vibrant dawning songs, wake me. It is 4.30am and I am in Queensland in the north east of Australia. My mum and I are staying in a small apartment. It resembles a demountable; one of the temporary classrooms I have often seen in school yards. There is a kitchette, a living space, a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms. French doors lead onto a verandah where we eat our breakfast at an old wooden table, or sit and read watching the tips of the eucalyptus trees sway in the breeze while we drink in the peace of country Australia. We leave the doors and the windows open overnight, the screens closed to keep out the bugs.

I lie in bed determined to get back to sleep. I have not had the dream I want. For an hour I lie motionless with my eyes closed. I sense them move back and forth beneath my eyelids and finally I doze. A kaleidoscope of color, violet and indigo and scarlet pass across the screen of my mind. Suddenly a butterfly, vivid blue and black flutters along a tall stone wall. I know the butterfly is Jesi and I immediately a strange feeling of contentment pass through me, something inside my body is settling to rest.

Later that morning I am walking around a brick wall of our hostess’s house when I am startled by a large black butterfly darting out in front of me. It was the first butterfly I had seen since I had arrived in Australia two weeks earlier.

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The following day I am back in Sydney. It is one of those cloudy mornings and I am making my way up and back in a 50 meter swimming pool. My mind drifts as I watch the black tiles on the bottom of the pool, the line which guides me forward, extending as far as I can see.
My stay in my homeland is coming to an end and once again I will be leaving my mother to go home to my children. I think about Jesi, how difficult goodbyes have become since our final farewell; how fragile and unpredictable life is. I wonder about my own life, it stretching before me before me as I grow older. I had imagined Jesi would be there, guiding me as we explored my homeland together, her driving, knowing where we were and where we were going, whilst I sat in the passenger seat trying to keep up as the road signs speed by. How she would find us a small apartment in the bush or by the ocean to stay in, where we would wake up to hear the birds chirping and the blowflies buzzing and the cicadas singing, just as I had done for my mum for our few days in Queensland.

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Then I remembered that Jesi was gone, that I would never have those adventures with her, that her love of my homeland would never manifest in our journeying together.

Even though it is eighteen months since she has been gone, sometimes I still forget that our goodbye was forever, and it will only be in the next life that I will see her again.

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Swimming in the pool that cloudy morning, the tears form under my goggles and my cries muffle with my bubbles. Yet because there is nothing else to be done, I keep stroking left then right then left again, making my way along that steady black line to the end of the pool which I cannot see.

Posted in Australia, Messages from the Spirit world, Mother Daughter Relationships, Mother mourning Loss of a Daughter, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Saving Prouty Garden…Jesi Power

I was sitting in the lounge at Boston’s Logan airport almost two weeks ago with my i phone to my ear. It was over an hour until my flight to LA was due to board, and I wanted to catch up on what was happening with the fight to save Prouty Garden. I had first heard about Boston Childrens Hospital’s proposal to build new clinical space on the site of the healing garden while Jesi had been a patient there in 2014. The site had been bequeathed to the hospital by Olive Prouty in 1956 “as a haven …for as long as Childrens’ Hospital has patients, families and staff to enjoy it.” At the time I was trying to contend with Jesi’s deteriorating condition and did little more than register that there was a plan to bulldoze it. Then last fall I had been contacted by Tom Paine, the landscape architect who had been asked to write a report to present to the hospital to defend the garden. Tom wanted to use a photo of Jesi in the garden posted on this blog (July 2014, In the Garden) and was asking permission. “Certainly” I replied. I knew Jesi, despite her shyness, would not mind her photo being used if it could help other sick children find the solace she had found during her visits to the garden. I remembered how upset she had been for another patient, a two year old boy, who never had any family visiting him.
I asked Tom if there was anything more I could do to help with the endeavor to save the garden and he told me about the Friends of Prouty Garden. (saveprouty.org)

Holding a banner on the curb outside the entrance to Childrens Hospital in late September 2015 I felt proud to be standing for a cause I believed in. At the end of the event I walked into Childrens Hospital, through the familiar corridors with their fluorescent iridescent lights, and into the garden with Mike, the videographer who asked a couple of parents to walk around the garden remembering times they had been there with their children. It was my second visit to the garden that day and I was grateful I had made the first, before meeting with the group in front of the hospital.

I felt something inside my belly tremble as I walked down the corridor toward the automatic doors. When I reached them they opened as if by magic and allowed me to go out into the garden. I walked slowly. It was a warm and sunny day. My last visit to the garden had been with Jesi. I had pushed her wheelchair out into the summer afternoon over a year before, around the bitumen path and into the shade of the trees. We passed the small patio area where large umbrellas bowed over tables, along to where I was now standing. We had stopped to look at flower petals, discussing the different scents of the roses, and she reached out to touch them from her wheelchair. I felt an overwhelming sadness at being there again, yet also an enormous sense of peace to have escaped the artificial light and overly chilled air of the hospital. I breathed deeply and drank in the soft chirping of birds flitting between the trees and bushes.

Now, as I sat in the airport lounge Tom told me about the hearing, a public forum which the Department of Health had called to gather more input about Boston Childrens’ Hospital’s proposed expansion project. He also told be about the video clip he and Beecher Grogan (lucyslovebus.org) were to film for Boston Neighborhood Network News. He wanted to use the picture of Jesi on that clip which was to be aired later in the week. I was delighted to be able to help by having Jesi represent the garden once again, although I would be in Australia at the time and unable to watch the braodcast.

As I board the plane to leave Boston I think of all those I love who I am leaving, temporarily, in order to visit my homeland. I feel the dichotomy I have lived with for almost 25 years tug at me. Although I am leaving Chris and Kari, I know that wherever I go now Jesi can be with me. Yet as I step onto the plane I ask her silently to come with me to Australia, remembering the gift of her presence last January when, as I had been told by a shamanistic healer, I might see her eyes in a stranger’s face. Remembering what I felt when I did, walking out of the ladies room at Sydney airport before I boarded the plane to return to the States.
But now, boarding the plane to leave for LA, and then Sydney, I want reassurance from Jesi that once again she will accompany me. Though I know too much about Spirit to think she will appear again with her eyes smiling at me out of a stranger’s face this trip.
I know I have to be patient and see if and how she will manifest. Yet I keep asking, as if she might not hear my thoughts to her, as if she might forget my human wants and needs.

The day after I arrived in Sydney I received an email from Tom with the u tube clip of the segment on NNN. The following day Alan forwarded me news of the DPH public hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 25. I would also miss this big event.

I was sitting in a train traveling to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney when I suddenly remembered that the meeting was scheduled for the following day. It was already Thursday 25th in Sydney but Australian EST is 16 hours ahead of Boston. I decided to email Tom and wish him the best for the meeting. Then I sat back and enjoyed watching the eucalypts and their olive green leaves dangling over the grey sandstone and leaf littered earth. I peered out over the steep gorges as the train climbed slowly, further into the mountains. It was as if with every grind of the wheels over the sizzling silver tracks, it was sighing heavily. The familiarity of it from all the years I had lived here was etched deeply into my soul.
Very soon I came to my station and left the train for the 99 degree heat of the summer afternoon. Memories of Boston had faded into the mirage of the scorched eucalyptus trees.

When I travel I miss Jesi. Perhaps it is that the familiar buffers in my life are missing. I am somehow left to face the demons I can avoid by losing myself in the structure of daily life in Boston. Perhaps it is that the memories of our family visit with her in June 2013 will forever seem recent, no matter how many times I come back to Australia, either by myself, as I am now, or with Alan, Kari and Chris, as we did in June 2015. Perhaps it is that whenever I come here, I remember the special love Jesi had of my homeland, and the trip she and I fantasized about, for when she was well. The trip that never happened.

The morning after my 99 degree day in the Blue Mountains, I was doing backstroke in the outdoor pool in West Pymble close to where my mother lives. Staring up into the cloudless blue sky I suddenly thought of Prouty Garden. After emailing Tom the previous afternoon I had completely forgotten about the meeting. But I could not forget about it now. As I swam up and down the pool thoughts of the meeting and what was at stake for the patients of Childrens Hospital kept swarming my mind. It was as if something (or someone) was nagging at me to channel all my energy toward it. Normally, swimming for me is like meditating. Thoughts pop up and then disappear, replaced by others. My mind a kaleidoscope of clips from the various movies of my past. But today, Prouty Garden and the Department of Health meeting were fixed in my brain. I kept thinking about it, the thoughts turning over in my brain as I did laps up and down the pool. When I eventually got out of the pool I glanced at the time. It was 8.15 am. I did the arithmetic to see what time it was in Boston. It was 4.15 pm on Thursday afternoon, fifteen minutes after the meeting had been scheduled to start. I emailed Alan to see if he had been able to attend. When he emailed back, he said he was waiting to sign up to talk and would call me when it was over.
Four hours later he called. The meeting had been amazing with over eighty people speaking, about three-quarters of them passionately recalling what the garden meant to them. Alan had waited and listened throughout the whole meeting and was the second to last person to speak.

I will never quite understand why, from the other side of the planet this event had such an effect on me but I know that for days following the meeting something kept nagging at me. It was as if there was some force that had not only had drawn all those supporters into that room in Boston to testify on behalf of their children and the garden, but that had also pulled me, from the other side of the world, magnetically into its power.

As I think about it, I continue to wonder…
And realize there are some things I may never know.

Posted in loss of a child, Prouty Garden Childrens Hospital Boston | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments