Browsing Tag

loss

Guest Posts, Hearing Loss, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings

Losing My Hearing.

January 10, 2016
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By Jen Pastiloff

The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself. —Charles Darwin, “Voyage of The Beagle”

After my father died, we left New Jersey with its death and dying and cold winters and fled to Southern California. We were the three of us in a station wagon—my mother, my sister, and I, and it was a simple case of “should we turn left or right?” Which, I’ve come to realize, is the way most of life works.
Door number one: you stay in college, wear turtlenecks, work in a university. Door number two: you drop out of college, run for three hours a day, wait tables. (And turtlenecks, they’re the devil.)

Turn right: he does drugs “one last time” and dies. Turn left: and there he is on the sofa in his frayed cutoffs and we never make the trek to California.

So a should we turn left or right happens and we choose left instead of right and end up in Santa Monica, where we live next to a man, his two daughters, and their beagle, Darwin, whom they keep locked up in a cage.

Darwin was a mean little dog. But hey, I might be mean too if I was confined all day to a small metal prison inside a dark kitchen. His bark was anxious, filled with accusations. I can see now how lonely he must’ve been in that little box. The kitchen empty, the lights out, and Darwin sitting in his own piss. I’d be angry too. Continue Reading…

death, Family, Grief, Guest Posts, loss, motherhood

Black Lace: On Music, Motherhood, and Loss

November 18, 2015
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By Geri Lipschultz

Nothing is sexier than black lace, nothing more deadly.  When it’s cut in a circular shape, one slips the bobby pin inside, fixing it there into your hair.  With the black lace thus covering, you can show respect upon entering a synagogue or a funeral parlor where your mother is, before she will be buried.  It may only be nine months after your father died that she developed the cancer, less than three months before it would kill her—and in between that time, that is, in between the two deaths, you, at forty-six, would deliver a girlchild in darkening November. With the lace in your hair, you are holding the girlchild in your arms.

My daughter’s love for me was palpable.  A friend had seen her spirit when the baby was in utero.  Her shade was long, Tibetan, a tall thin dark man who sat on my shoulders and wrapped his legs around me, put his head upon my head. Cradled me. Farfetched or not, this was the feeling of this baby. Loving, attached, but withdrawn among strangers, whereas my son would work to catch the stranger’s eye.  Born eleven years before, my son had colic. I held him, and he cried. Even his entrance into the world came with a face of doubt, a scowl of woe.  He was covered in meconium, an expression of his discontent?  My daughter swam into life, looked up, surveyed it, said it was good.  Did my daughter know she was conceived in wedlock?

I was already married a year when I found out I was actually pregnant, for the second time, at forty-six, and I called my mother to tell her this.  She expressed something that sounded like horror.  I asked her if she was horrified, and she said that she was worried.  I was too old.  She was in her seventies.  The other grandchildren, my sisters’ kids, were teenagers, mainly.  My son, David, was ten.  He would be eleven when Eliza was born.  I told my mother to please keep her horror to herself.  I told her I was thrilled, that she should pray for a healthy baby, preferably a girl, for me, and if she was worried, to please not inflict it on me.  It vaguely reminded me of my writing, the once or twice I’d shown her what I’d written, her inability to take it in, her tendency to read too much into the stories.  I wrote stories, fiction. The lace of words, of black on white, the way stories gush up into images. You turn something terrible into something beautiful. I made things up.  If it was good I made it bad—some bit of salt or pepper or honey to change the flavor. If I told the truth, I would feel guilt, but the truth can hide behind a lie. It can light up the sky. For a long time after my mother died, I felt the guilt of someone who did not do enough because she could not cope, could not take in the loss. I was in the thick of motherhood, myself.

Black lace is what’s left when the mother is gone. A string of memories, a household full of items, tangible and laden and one day all of her furniture and even her wastebaskets would be sent to your house, because you were the one without a real job, just adjunct teaching and the pittance you made from your writing. Not to mention the insecurity of your marriage. Sometimes, if you could, you would take a match to the world. Sometimes it felt as if someone had. Can you admit the waters of grief? Stunned, after your mother’s death, you walked away brittle, unfeeling, protective, pretending. This has become your way with any kind of loss, until music arrives with its stream of the eternal, its messages, its images, its notes and rests and etchings. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Letting Go, self-loathing

My Biggest Love, My Biggest Regret

October 21, 2015
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By Lisbeth Welsh

I’d never been hit before.  But then I’d never fallen in love with someone else’s husband before either.  I sat there and took it.  The screaming, the swearing, the cold hard sting as her hand connected with the left side of my face.   After all I deserved to have to sit and take it.  I had no leg to stand on.  I had done it.  Been in this affair.  I was the other woman that was blowing her life and marriage apart.  I deserved it.

Did I deserve for him to look the other way and allow her to hit me?  For him to not try to stop her?  For him to look away?  To stare down at his feet?

But what did I expect, he’d continually allowed her to hit him in arguments throughout their marriage.  Apparently.  He could ‘take a punch’.  Apparently.  If he had spent 33 years letting her hit him, why would he stop her hitting me?

Three years later I still feel that sting.  I still live on anti depressants and anti anxiety medications.  I still don’t sleep properly.  I still walk under the cloud.  I still haven’t forgiven myself.

He was my boss.  And so was she.  Her name was the one that sold the brand.  She was probably the one that had to sign my pay check every week.  And every week she signed that check for me to hang out with her husband and for us to fall deeper and deeper in love.

I suspect she knew long before she confronted it.  In fact no, I believe she willed us into being.  I walked into working with a couple who were falling apart.  Whose family was falling apart.  Whose grown children were a mess and plagued with self destructive diseases and addictions.

“I hate him.” She would throw those words around every day.  She would constantly stop, roll her eyes and mutter how hard it was to deal with him.  “I’ve told him, he either gets medication or divorce papers.”  The comments were endless.  He never said one bad thing about her to me.  He didn’t need to.  She would say it all to me for him.  Continue Reading…

Gratitude, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Rooted Mobility

October 10, 2015
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By Ashley Nicole Doonan

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines home as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” What if I disagreed with the Oxford University Press? What if I told you that home is something that you carry with you. Maybe you’ll roll your eyes and tell me to stop speaking in abstracts. Or maybe you, too, understand what it’s like to possess this internal shelter, built gradually as a result of the overabundance of physical homes.

I could you tell you about what I called at age three “the big blue house”—the only home that I knew for the first six years of my life. I could tell you about the Easter-lilac painted walls of my bedroom and my Barbie-themed wallpaper. I could tell you about the canopy bed that I received at age four, informally known as my fortress. I could tell you about the picture window in the living room where the sunlight flooded in at dusk upon the grey sofa. I’d curl up on that sofa for long naps and suck on the middle and index finger of my left hand—an infantile habit that I couldn’t seem to break. I could tell you how my almond-colored eyes lit up each afternoon when my father returned home from work. I would shriek “Daddy!” and eagerly leap into his broad arms, wrinkling the carefully ironed creases of his suit.

I could tell you what it’s like to lose everything when you’re too young to comprehend that loss. I could tell you what it was like to smell the lemon-scented disinfectant and listen to the vacuum do its final sweep of the living room, as the realtor impatiently waited in her ebony pencil skirt and overpriced stilettos for us to clear out the last of our things. I could tell you that at six years old, I kissed the speckled-black carpet before I exited the house for the final time. I could tell you how I stubbornly threw myself across that carpet and begged my mother to let us stay; the warm tears flowed generously down my face. I could tell you about the perfume that my mother wore that day, Estee Launder, and how that smell was the only familiar thing to me after we left the house.

I could tell you about the silent heartbreak in my mother’s expression as she carried me down the steps of the sapphire-blue porch on that humid July afternoon. This was same porch that was long enough for me to learn to ride my first bicycle on. But it was somehow shorter that day. Too short. I could tell you about the heaviness of the July air in that moment. Air too heavy to breathe in comfortably—I could have sworn we were ten times closer to the equator than I’d ever been. I could tell you that Matchbox Twenty’s “Long Day” blared through the speakers of our tawny minivan as it stalled down the paved driveway for the last time.

***

I could tell you about the apartment complex in Gloucester that we resided in for less than a year thereafter. I could tell you about the sea breeze that seemed like a permanent fixture of the residence. The air was not heavy, but salty. My mother would often bring my brother and me on walks down to the nearby pier because there was more to see there than there was within the cold, white walls of our apartment. I could tell you about the strangers that I’d occasionally see in the corridors of the building. I could tell you about the key card that we used to enter our room—equip with one and a half bathrooms and a kitchenette with black-and-white checkered floors. I could tell you that this residence was never technically my “permanent address.” My mother shuttled me thirty minutes to attend school and dance practices at “home.” I could tell you how at the tender age of seven, I knew to keep this place a secret; I understood that “living under the radar” meant that we might not lose everything all at once. I could tell you about the chlorine filled pool adjacent to our building and the metallic silver elevator that led us to our room. I could tell you what it’s like to spend a year in what was more a like a hotel than a home. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, Home, Life

The Country Estate

October 3, 2015
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By Stephanie Couey

The “Country Estate” is my home for five months.  I move in a few days after opening the lid of my then roommate’s white Cuisinart rice cooker, and having my face engulfed in a buzzing red swarm of fruit flies.  We fight about it.  I’m not even sure why.

My then-boyfriend, a jack-Mormon, picks me up in his dad’s work truck and listens as I vent about the fruit flies and the lingering trauma.  He highlights the fact that the roommate’s name is Sarin, the same as that of a lethal gas.  I don’t want to go there, and I’m not sure if I feel dirtier from the flies or from the fight, or from something else.

It is winter, and Nampa, Idaho is draped more in ice than snow.  The Country Estate, as we call it, is right next to an out of commission steam locomotive on its tracks, an enormous block of sculpted charcoal.  There is a silo so close by that we refer to it as “our silo” each time we drive back to the house.

The Country Estate is massive, yet chintzy.  It is an all-white two-story, in a style somewhere between colonial and warehouse.  The ceilings are made of porous tile, the living room, as well as the kitchen, is lit by fluorescent beams, and the floors are of ill-fitting linoleum bubbling up near the walls.

Me and my few things settle in upstairs, in the jack-Mormon’s room with muted green walls and a twin bed.  Heidi and Zeniff, the other inhabitants, aren’t home when I “move in,” but this isn’t the kind of house where people mind.

We call it the Estate because it is anything but.  We call it the Estate because it is surrounded by varying animals: goats, chickens, turkeys, and llamas.  We call it the Estate because we know it does not belong to us, but that we, for now, belong to it.

Here there is order.

The Jack-Mormon’s dog shits daily in front of the washing machine.

Each night we make tofu stir-fries with ingredients from local underpaid farmers and nearly-expired packs of tofu from Winco.  I introduce the jack-Mormon to Braggs Liquid Aminos, and he introduces me to putting a glob of peanut butter directly into the sizzling tofu and vegetables, letting it disperse into thick velvet liquid.

He’d come up behind me and breathe a gust of pot smoke down my shirt, his hair greasy.  We’d eat sitting on the floor with Zeniff, with numerous open beers, a bowl, and a guitar.  I cry during the Leonard Cohen songs, always in the same moments, ones like, “she broke your throne and she cut your hair,” and neither boy makes fun of me.  There’s something about being raised Mormon that makes them both sentimental in a way that respects crying.

In the time I live here, my grades slip a little, like they did when I was nineteen and aimless, but now I realize I wasn’t just aimless.  I realize I was comfortable.  And here I am again.  Comfortable.

At my first home, in California, I didn’t want to move forward because I didn’t have to, just as I don’t have to in this house, with the jack-Mormon, in Nampa, where it costs nothing to live and everyone’s family and everyone’s church is within a ten-mile radius, so no matter how much you’ve shunned any of them, home is never a variable, and at the time, the “Estate” is not a variable.

In this house, the jack-Mormon shaves his chest hair and legs with my Venus razor.  He holds me on the ratted couch as we watch the Elephant Man and Beach House music videos on repeat.  When his dad shows up, the jack-Mormon hides his stash, and I talk about my grades, my Honda Civic’s mileage, and my parents’ health.

Never does this feel like sinking, though I suppose it is.

We go for runs when the ice melts.

We sometimes go to parties in Boise, his being dirtier and druggier than the ones I’d been going to before we met.

We buy sodas up the street across from a carniceria, and when asked if we have the munchies by our attendant, I respond with eyes as red as stop signs that we have “the thirsties.”

Mostly though, we stay in.

I write a lot on a laptop with no internet connection.  He asks if I’m ever writing about him.  I say, “not really.”

We color in Little Mermaid coloring books, letting Ariel and Eric be us.  I squiggle some stretch marks over Ariel’s cleavage, write, “feed me” on her stomach, and give her more tired eyes.  Then it’s pretty close.

I ask myself what it is any of us really strive for, much like I did at age fifteen, only now with the presence of pure contentment I’d never had after youth.  If we are loved and fed and comfortable, isn’t that enough?  We are warm, healthy, creative, making music, writing, drawing, exploring and re-exploring Nampa.  Can we keep this contentment going?  After years on and off of anti depressants and in and out of therapists’ offices, “contentment” in itself is a swinging sunlit hammock – just enough motion, just enough light.

The Country Estate is my home for five months.  In the midst of asking myself questions about striving versus stagnation on a daily basis, the jack-Mormon gets arrested, after numerous other offenses, for driving under the influence of heavy doses of his father’s Xanax.  He is sent away without warning, his dark yellow urine left un-flushed in the downstairs bathroom, Apple Jacks spilled on the kitchen counter.

His family throws me a small birthday party with Reeses Pieces cupcakes, and I see the final Harry Potter movie with his nephew.  I begin to eat meat again, knowing the absurdity of my former lover upholding vegetarianism while in jail.

I move back to Boise.  I become president of an on-campus association, and I consider graduate school.  I write poems.  Sometimes I just speak poems on my long walk from home to campus.

I visit him in jail, past the fields of livestock and corn, until I don’t.

I stop asking the questions about contentment, and start once again asking the questions about identity, distinction, money, forwardness.  I stop asking about here or there, and decide that it’s all here.  I go from unceasingly gray to black and white.

When I later drive through Nampa and pass the train tracks, I see our old home, our silo, our rickety porch with half smoked cigarettes between the boards.  Perhaps this was a temporary distraction, but maybe it’s all a distraction.  I see the steam engine, black and still, and I drive on, newly obsessed with motion.

Stephanie Couey is an MFA poet and teacher at University of Colorado-Boulder. She is from Riverside, CA and Boise, ID.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Contests & Giveaways, Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats, motherhood

Final Essay Winner For The Scholarship to Emily Rapp/Jen Pastiloff Retreat in Vermont.

September 22, 2015
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Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station:

This was not easy. This is not easy. I had one spot to give away to our retreat (and yes, we will do it again next year as this is our third year leading the Vermont retreat.) I had one spot which then turned into FOUR, thanks to various generous donors including Lidia Yuknavitch, Amy Ferris, Elizabeth Quant and three others.

And yet and still, we have 70 essays to get through. You read that right: 70. In just a few days, 70 essays piled in.

I sat reading through all of them with eyes spilling over. I was so moved that I decided I could not stop here. I would keep giving and finding ways to be of service. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, passed away last week- that was his big message. How many I serve?

I intend to carry on that legacy.

I decided I could not stop at these 4 spots to Vermont so I am giving away 3 spots to my New Years Retreat in Ojai, California as well. Nothing makes me feel better than to do this.

And yet and still, there are so many others that were not chosen. There was not one essay that didn’t move me. There was not one essay that did not want me to push through my computer screen and embrace the woman who wrote it. Not one. I had a team helping me as I could not do this alone. I think we need to remember that more often: we cannot do this alone.

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.

Lisa Gray has been notified and will be attending the retreat with Emily and I next month in Stowe. The retreat is sold out. Thank you to every single woman who applied. We will do more!!

I hope you all will be moved to share this. I know I was. Especially with my own history.

At the end of my life, when I ask one final, “What have I done?” Let my answer be, “I have done love.”

Love, Jen Pastiloff

ps, I just returned from New York. The launch of my labor of love, my Girl Power: You Are Enough workshops, was this past weekend in Princeton and NY. It was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I will keep you all posted on the next one. This movement is so needed.

A Heavy Heart
By Lisa Gray

To say what you are seeing out loud makes something real. When I first noticed something, I chose my words carefully.

 

“My daughter is cutting back.” Always someone who ate with gusto, the behavior change seemed a bit of a relief. “My daughter used to have no off button. She’s finally paying attention to when she is full,” I confided to a friend.

 

But then a well-meaning acquaintance chimed in. “She’s finally growing up! Finally got outta that chunky phase. Thank god, right?”

Continue Reading…

Contests & Giveaways, Gender & Sexuality, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts

Essay Winner of Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s Vermont Retreat!

September 14, 2015
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Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: 

This was not easy. This is not easy. I had one spot to give away to our retreat (and yes, we will do it again next year as this is our third year leading the Vermont retreat.) I had one spot which then turned into FOUR, thanks to various generous donors including Lidia Yuknavitch, Amy Ferris, Elizabeth Quant and three others.

And yet and still, we have 70 essays to get through. You read that right: 70. In just a few days, 70 essays piled in.

I sat reading through all of them with eyes spilling over. I was so moved that I decided I could not stop here. I would keep giving and finding ways to be of service. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, passed away last week- that was his big message. How many I serve? 

I intend to carry on that legacy.

I decided I could not stop at these 4 spots to Vermont so I am giving away 3 spots to my New Years Retreat in Ojai, California as well. Nothing makes me feel better than to do this.

I also have 20 spots to give away to my Girl Power: You Are Enough workshop for teens next weekend in Princeton and NYC. Ten available for each workshop. Email me for a spot. I want girls who could not afford the cost to be able to attend. Here are the details. Please note: the Princeton workshop is 13 and up and the NYC workshop is 16 and up.

And yet and still, there are so many others that were not chosen. There was not one essay that didn’t move me. There was not one essay that did not want me to push through my computer screen and embrace the woman who wrote it. Not one. I had a team helping me as I could not do this alone. I think we need to remember that more often: we cannot do this alone.

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.

Which brings me to my first winner. Her essay floored us but her friends also wrote in on her behalf, unbeknownst to her. How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved indeed. Jena Schwartz is the first recipient of the four scholarships and I am proud to share her essay below with you. She has been notified and will be attending the retreat with Emily and I next month in Stowe. She is over the moon. The retreat is sold out. Congratulations to Jena. I hope you all will be moved to share this. I know I was.

At the end of my life, when I ask one final, “What have I done?” Let my answer be, “I have done love.”

Love, Jen Pastiloff

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Free Associating about Fear & Faith (Or, What I’ve Forgotten)
By Jena Schwartz

In this moment of sitting down to write, there’s the lump in my throat and the tears behind my eyes and the tension of holding them in. There’s fear. And behind that, faith. And there’s something I’ve forgotten that needs remembering. It has to do with connection, to myself, to moving slowly and having enough time and trusting that shit always work out in the end, and that there’s no end, only the unfolding of our days and the thank you. The thank you I need to remember to say, in the morning and at night.

Mani, my beloved wife of one year come September 27, is not feeling well this morning. She is shaky and nauseous. She drank an Ensure and rolled onto her side to try to sleep; she did not sleep well during the night. She is getting better. Two steps forward, one back. Like the two-step dance that magical weekend in Phoenix, when I flew out there to meet her and a whole group of us went to the Cash, my first-ever gay bar. Little did we know then, that we’d end up together, much less married!

Most of the time, I’m able to stay in a place of faith and trust. I’m able to stay in the light. I’m able to remember the partnership she and I discovered not only between us but with God, too — how when Rabbi Efraim witnessed and blessed our vows, God was there with us under that chuppah last September 27, the day before her 37th birthday and a few months before I turned 41.
Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

Missing Someone Before They’re Gone

September 9, 2015
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By Marissa Dubecky

For as long as I can remember, my dad was sick. It started when I was in kindergarten, and he had several heart attacks that our family physician misdiagnosed as heartburn. When he went to him the third time, after collapsing in the grocery store parking lot and crawling the rest of the way to his car, the doctor took his complaints more seriously. After doing some tests, he wasted no time life-starring him to the hospital in the nearest city, where he had a quadruple heart bypass. Bypasses were less common twenty years ago, and the doctors were honest about the fact that it was a risky procedure. But all went smoothly, and the blockages around his heart were soon circumnavigated by clear vessels grafted from other parts of his body. The blood could flow to his heart again.

After a few months of recovery, my dad returned to the bookstore where he worked, but he was never the same. He’d always been a worrier, painfully aware of his mortality since he hit puberty, and now death felt all too real. My brother and I were only nine and five respectively, and he became obsessed with the idea that he wouldn’t live long enough to watch us grow up. Though fixed for the time-being by surgery, his health issues weren’t gone for good. The physical ills morphed into morbid, troubled thoughts that made themselves comfortable in his brain.

My dad worked at a bookstore an hour and a half away from where my mom, brother, and I lived in the country. They’d moved to get me and my brother into a better school system, but hadn’t found work to support us, so my dad kept his job in the city and the apartment we’d inherited from his mother. It wasn’t a bad situation; my dad loved his job. He worked next to the Yale School of Drama and Art, so he was constantly connecting with artists, actors, and writers. He was a jack-of-all trades kind of artist himself, so he could easily converse with the customers, forming bonds with movie stars and screenwriters.

My mom carted me around to her freelance graphic design gigs, and I joined her most days as she volunteered as the librarian at my brother’s elementary school. On Friday nights, my dad would come home with a VHS tape and stories to tell us over a big dinner. Saturdays were spent grocery shopping and scouring thrift stores for books, clothes, and antiques. Sundays we relaxed, and Monday mornings he headed back to the city for work.

After the surgery, his lifestyle there changed. He started drinking when he got home from his shifts, and when we would visit the apartment during the summers, my mom would find the porch littered with beer cans. Among other anxieties, he felt that his death was impending, and alcohol was the best way he could erase that thought from his mind.

My mom eventually got certified as a teacher, and my dad was able to move up to the country with us the year I turned nine. We hoped he’d find work there and his drinking would stop, but it didn’t end until a court-ordered trip to rehab when I was sixteen. He didn’t get a job, but he built a studio on the side of our house and spent hours filling its walls with paintings.

Throughout this, I worried about my dad’s physical and mental health. He had a temper, and his sadness was palpable. You could feel the stress emanating from him when he was angry. He looked healthy and handsome, with smooth, glowing brown skin and a thick head of bright white hair, but he drank and smoked a pack a day. He joked constantly, always making me laugh, but it was obvious from what he talked about that death was never fully out of his mind.

He was also one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. He was complicated, but he wore his heart on his sleeve. I lived in constant fear that I’d get off the school bus and find him dead from a heart attack, but I never worried that his love and adoration for me would die.

When I was fourteen, my dad went to the hospital for an angiogram, a test that examines arteries for blockages. He refused to go to the doctor unless his pain was unbearable, and this time it was. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the angiogram revealed clear vessels. It was summer, which meant we were all free of obligations. It was our time for adventures. We hit the road, driving up to Maine to see the ocean.

Somehow, no matter the frequency of arguments or tension, we all thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. Long drives were spent in constant conversation, and none of us ever ran out of things to say to one another. We cared about the same issues, shared the same sense of humor, and were curious about the same topics. The trip was as memorable and magical as all our others.

The day after we got home, my brother, mom, and I were eating pancakes in the kitchen when we heard a crash come from my parents’ room. We ran down the hall to find my dad has knocked over a lamp to get our attention. He was gasping for breath. My brother ran and called 911. To this day, I’m not sure what I did. Eventually, the paramedics made it out to our rural home. They loaded my dad into the ambulance and took him to the local hospital, where he was again life-starred to Hartford.

The angiogram had punctured his lung, allowing fluid into it that he was literally drowning in. The moments while I heard him suffocating and waited helplessly to see if he would somehow make it were familiar. I’d felt that worry when I was five, begging a God I didn’t really know much about to give me more time, because I had no idea what else to do. I’d felt it dully over the years as I watched him neglect his health.

After a couple of weeks in the hospital, my dad was able to come home, but he was too weak to really get out of bed. The timing was especially hard because my brother was about to start his freshman year of college in upstate New York, a six hour car ride away. Our only option was for my mom to drive him, so I was left home caring for my dad. It was stressful the moment they left, but took a serious turn the day she was heading back. The previous night, his temperature had been rising and he’d been very confused. The next morning, it was dangerously high, and he was near-delirious.

I was scared and helpless at only fourteen. I paced the house, passing time taking care of him the only ways I knew how, which were mostly by getting him water and turning on fans or adding blankets. My mom got home around dusk. She took his temperature, and then as calmly as possible began to get him dressed and into the car. Then she drove him straight to the emergency room. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Letting Go Of My Mother

July 19, 2015
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By Vivki Mayk

After my mother died, the long silence of my 60-mile commute was the hardest part of the day.  I think I missed her most then, after years of talking to her on my cell phone as I sped along, on my way home. We’d gossip about my Aunt Betty or compare notes on Dancing With the Stars. Now there was no sound except rubber meeting macadam or the latest report from NPR.

Sometimes I’d suddenly dissolve into tears, the shaky sobs triggered by surprising things. Dionne Warwick singing “What’s it all about, Alfie?” on the radio once set me off so completely, I’d had to pull over when I heard the line “Is it just for the moment we live?” That hokey question was my reality now, the reality of adjusting to the loss of someone who’d been part of my life for so long – but in the end, not long enough.

I’d grieved slowly. First came the sadness tempered by relief after the months of watching her small frame implode from cancer.  Absorbing her loss was not something that happened all at once on the day she died or even when I collected her cremated remains. I let go of her by inches and days – cleaning out her apartment, hauling carloads of kitchenware to Goodwill, carting her designer clothes to a resale shop.  Bit by bit I was acknowledging, with every box packed and carted away, that she wasn’t coming back.

My daughter acknowledged that finality much sooner than I. On the morning of my mother’s memorial service, she’d turned to me, her grief raw. “Grandma’s gone, and she’s not coming back,” Katti had sobbed, reminding herself – and me — that this was permanent. My mother was not at her timeshare or away for the weekend. Still, it had taken me months to begin going through her belongings. To do that affirmed what my daughter knew, what we’d all known from the moment of her death. She wasn’t coming back. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Summer Solstice

June 24, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anonymous

Scout was conceived during the New Moon and was lost during the Summer Solstice. Before I even got the bloodwork results, I felt her leave me as the thunder stormed through the shortest night of the year. Which is silly, of course, since she was only 4 weeks and 2 days.

But I swear, I knew I lost her.

A “chemical pregnancy, “ they call it, since there would be no sac visible on ultrasound that early. To me, there was nothing “chemical” about it. The two pink lines, clear as day, over and over and over – two days’ worth. The nearly immediate instinct to rest my hand on my stomach. After months of trying to be a single mother by choice, two months of Clomid and three of progesterone, I was finally part of that club I envied; those women whose bodies were doing what they were supposed to. Mothers. I walked around, amazed that my life was changed so much already, but no one else could tell. I looked up my due date. February 26, 2016. I wondered if I would have a leap year baby.

When the spotting started hours after the first lines appeared, panic swam through my veins and soaked through my skin. I tried to tell myself it was normal implantation spotting. Instinct told me otherwise.

The next morning, bright red blood spattered the toilet paper and my insides clenched in horror. It kept coming, insistent and scarlet, on the toilet paper, on the pad; later, there were clots. I called the midwife and was sent for bloodwork. I bled through pad after pad. Asked the cab driver to please hurry, this is an emergency. Tried to quell the alarm that was quickly overwhelming me. Laid on my back with my feet up.

I talked with her. Pled with her to stay with me. The night before the positive test, I drank for the first time in months, since the pregnancy test that day was negative. Scout I’m sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start our relationship, but I swear I will never do it again. I feel guilty already; welcome to motherhood, huh? I prayed to Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah – infertile women of the Old Testament who were eventually blessed with a baby. I begged Yemaya, a goddess of fertility and motherhood, to please help me stay a mother. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, healing, The Hard Stuff

The Defiant Heart

June 11, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Karen Palmer

There was a family that lived two doors away from us, just over the top of a hill in Silver Lake, in a house that looked like a Beatrix Potter illustration, with a thatched roof and multipaned windows and roses in the tiny front yard. The dad was a doctor, a handsome pediatrician, the wife a full-time mom, blond, tanned and athletic, a swimmer and a tennis player, with happy crinkles at the corners of her eyes; and they had two children, the older a six-year-old boy, the younger a baby girl who was two. My mother and father didn’t know the family well — the parents moved in different social circles and their kids were several years too young to be playmates for me — but my mom used to get up the occasional bridge game with the mom, along with Meryl, who was my friend Jennifer’s mother, and a few other ladies from our neighborhood.

The summer of 1967, the family went off to their annual vacation at Big Bear Lake, and the little girl drowned. The parents, each headed back to the cabin for lunch, took different paths along the edge of the lake. Each thought their daughter was with the other.

Everyone was so sorry about the little girl’s death — this was such a nice family — but as the shock wore off, I became aware of a creeping communal notion that the wrong child had died. No adult ever said so, and certainly not to me, but the feeling was palpable. The little girl was bubbly and sweet, full of personality. The boy was skittish, dorky, and therefore less appealing. At the funeral he was too lightly hugged and then too quickly let go. Later, when the bridge games resumed, I heard someone say, What a shame, now that one was going places, and the ladies all sighed. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

295 North Toward Baltimore

April 16, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lexi Weber

I want to tell you to stop being such an asshole. For all you know my hands are white knuckled around the steering wheel and I am sucking in tiny breaths in rapid succession. For all you know the height of this hill, the sharp turn around the corner, and the anticipation of Baltimore traffic below have paralyzed me with fear. For all you know taking the exit for 295 today feels like cliff jumping. Maybe if you knew, you would stop honking, stop yelling, stop riding my bumper around this narrow bend.

What if I told you that my grandmother is one of my earliest memories of love? I don’t remember what it was we were doing, but I remember that I was small enough to fit in her lap. Her long fingers were clasped around my back, my face was buried in her sweater and we were rocking back and forth. She was singing. That is one of the few memories I have of feeling safe. Now, nearly thirty, I still cling to the sound of her humming.

As we inch along toward the exit I am sweating through my fleece jacket and cautiously tapping the brakes. I want to tell you to just back off a little bit.

You only know that I have stopped my car on the Beltway and proceeded at 12 miles per hour. You only know that you have had the terrible luck of being stuck behind this white Jeep Cherokee at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I bet the lime green sticker reading Island Time really pisses you off. But I want to tell you that there is so much you don’t know.

You don’t know that I buried my grandmother yesterday. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, healing

An Unfinished Life

April 1, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Rachael Koenig.

When my sister calls me in the morning much earlier than she usually does, I know there is something specific she wants to tell me, and I am proved right as she shares the news of the death of a successful young comedian and writer the day before. She knows his sister well. I am not familiar with his name, but I know why she called to tell me.

It doesn’t quite hit me yet as I talk to her on the phone.  “Oh my God, how terrible,” I say, “I can’t even imagine,” which is something that comes out of one’s mouth automatically when discussing these things, but I correct myself when I realize I CAN imagine, because it happened to us. And, then I think to correct myself again, because it happened to HER, our second sister, but I realize I was right the first time, because it’s still happening to us.

I google the comedian and read about his successes. Writing and producing hit television shows. Famous friends and peers. Regular columns on comedic sites and youtube clips of standup shows. I read his articles and watch his clips. He is hysterical and talented. A life to be envied. And I think what I always think  – what potential; how tragic; what an unfinished life. Continue Reading…

death, Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Steele Grey, Part II

March 21, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Julia Cassels.

Read Part I here.

My brother and I retreat through the vestibule of the funeral home. I pick my way through four inches of uncleared snow in the parking lot, navigating in my oh-so-appropriate black stiletto knee-high boots, and climb back into the cab of his pick-up.  I slam the door as he starts the engine, and reach for the pack of cigarettes we had bought for the occasion on the dash. “Where’s the fucking lighter?” Jeff fishes through his coat pocket, pulls out an AC/DC lighter, and passes it over as the heater in the truck comes to life.

“Where to?”

“Lager’s.  Now.” A divey bar with peanut shells on the floor, orange vinyl booths, and wagon-wheel light fixtures. A decor mode not uncommon in that part of the world. Perfectly appropriate to a day such as this.

Rap, rap, rap.

There is a man at the window of the pick up. He is wedged between the window and the side mirrors which extend far out in this monster of a truck.

I look to Jeff. “Oh shit. Are you kidding me?” I hit the automatic button to roll down the window, against my better judgment, although ignoring him and leaving the parking lot would have resulted in taking this poor guy out with the side mirrors.

“You must be Julie. We didn’t get a chance to speak. I’m Pastor Dave.” He is breathless, partially from the four degree weather and his lack of a coat, and partially from the chase he just gave us out of my father’s viewing.

“Yes?”

“Are you coming to the memorial service?”

“Um. I don’t think so, no.”

“Can we talk for a moment?”

“I don’t believe there is anything to talk about.”

“And you are?” He leans further into my window. I move the cigarette to my left hand, trying to keep the smoke out of his face, and let it burn.

“I’m Jeff. That asshole in there was my step-father.” Continue Reading…