I tried to write out every little thing I could remember about my great aunt last Saturday.  I think because it was the right thing to do, to ponder and think and remember all of the things that I hadn’t thought of in so long.  But more, I think, because I felt lost in what should be a bone crushing grief:  this was essentially my surrogate grandmother, my last link to my mother’s parents and family, the one woman left on Earth who had known my mother all of her life.

Except I wasn’t feeling it.

There was a moment in church last Thursday (my daughter is an altar server and she had to serve during this special prayer week we have going on) when the strains of “Be Not Afraid” wafted from the organ where I felt it.  “Be not afraid,” the lyrics go.  “I go before you always.  Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.”  I felt a pull in my chest, whispering the words to myself, words that I sent out into the universe to my great aunt, struggling at that moment to live or die. But you’d think I’d have felt more, in church, in that moment.  But I didn’t.

I felt the tiny pin prick of tears and I gasped and sighed when I got the email from my cousin telling me of her death.  I’d been waiting for that moment when I thought I would just….know….that she wasn’t with us.  As it turns out it happened late at night while I was asleep.  I’d walked three miles with the dog and cheered my daughter on in a soccer game in blissful ignorance.   There was no cosmic knowledge of what I’d lost.  It was gone, she was gone, and I had no idea until technology worked its magic to confirm it to me.

My sister cried, of course.  In fact, she called me out on the fact that I wasn’t crying:  “Why aren’t you more sad?”

Good question.

I responded, blithely, that I’d cried my tears already, earlier.  In reality, this is so much more deeply true than my flip comment would suggest.  I’ve been sad for years knowing that my aunt was still alive in the world and that we were no longer a part of her life.  She was so much to me and mine growing up, but in the last twenty years?  She missed my wedding, hasn’t met either of my younger children, and the only times I’ve seen her since 1993 are the times I’ve traveled to see her.  So little has she been part of my adult life, in fact, that when I told my mother in law that my Aunt Katie died, she had no idea who I was talking about.  She’d never really heard mention of her in my day to day life.  Of course not.  She hasn’t been there.  Which is weird, because when I was kid, she was always there.

I don’t know what to do with that, my oblique sadness of a relative who ostensibly was lost to me a long time ago.  I don’t know where to place my grief that is riddled with an anger I am embarrassed to even speak of.  I’m sad, I’m angry, and I’m lost.  I’m crestfallen that this woman who I idolized, loved, respected so much has no idea who I ended up to be, how much I grew and matured.  How selfish is that?  Me, me, me.  But yet there it is.

And to add to my feelings of confusion on her death, there is no funeral.  My aunt was cremated already, but her children don’t really know what else to do with her.  I find this a little strange, as they’ve known her health was declining for so long.  They’re in their sixties, these two:  they couldn’t figure this out ahead of time?  I did it when I was just twenty two.  We’d planned her arrangements with her before she left us.  But maybe that’s the problem.  Losing my mom at twenty two meant I knew how fragile life was.  Having your mother around your whole adult life means you take her for granted.

Lucky them.  They’d gotten to take her for granted.

I don’t know what I am looking for really.  Peace, I suppose, as always.  Closure.  To find that somehow, what I thought I shared with my aunt did somehow exist, that it mattered, that it wasn’t all just in my head.  And too, somehow, that she missed me over the last few years as much as I’ve missed her.  And I know, I know I can’t look outside of myself to ever find those things, that those things need to come from within myself.  I’ll get there, I am sure.  I hope.  Well, maybe.

Until then…I’ll comfort myself by remembering.  Remembering Aunt Katie.

She baked brownies, drank white wine spritzers at 5 o’clock every day, and knit baby booties for everyone she ever knew that had a baby.  She joked about forgetfulness (“I’ve had a series of small strokes, you realize….”), made homemade pies and knew how to make everything look easy.  I always remember her voice in my head when I roll out and cut cookies:  “Try to get as close to the edge as you can so you don’t waste any.”  She was big on not wasting things.  She washed and saved her aluminum foil.   She would root peach pits on the sunny kitchen window in glasses.  She taught me how to scrape every bit of batter out of the mixing bowl with the rubber scraper:  “If you’d lived through the Depression you’d realize that all those scrapings could make a whole other serving.”  Every Christmas she sent us a huge gift box full of at least a dozen different kinds of cookies and Christmas treats.  My favorites were these round ones that I think had almonds in them that crumbled into a million pieces when you took a bite.  She made this tomato relish every year that my mother loved to eat on her hard boiled egg sandwiches; I’ve never seen another concoction like it anywhere.

I miss her.



Rest in peace, Aunt Katie.  She passed away last night.


Death and Dying

My great aunt is sick.

Well, it’s more than that, I suppose.  My great aunt is more than sick.

My great aunt is dying.  Right now.

My great aunt Katie is my mother’s aunt, her favorite aunt, and we were very close to her when my mother was alive.  Most of my happiest childhood memories involve her.  We used to drive to their home three hours away in Grand Rapids, MI so often that the exit number was forever burned in my brain:  Exit 40A on I 96.  In fact, sometimes when I have trouble sleeping, I mentally walk myself through their rambling ranch house on Maryland Avenue, and remember the events that happened in each and every room.  The Christmases we spent in their open plan living room/dining room.  The political debates my Uncle Dave and my mother would have in the den.  The Buick that was always parked in the driveway.  The back patio where my Uncle would sometimes serve Bloody Marys on Sunday mornings in the spring.  The bedroom where I spent a summer living after my uncle passed away, because my aunt was too sad to stay in there without him.  And finally, always, the garden my mother and I raided for plants after their house sold (plants that bloom still in my own garden nine hundred miles away).

It was my Aunt Katie that came to help after my Zachary was born when I was just 19 years old.  My mother was helpful but of course had to work, and it was Aunt Katie who stayed with me during the days and cleaned and cooked so I could rest when the baby rested.  And why not?  Apparently she’d come when all three of us were born to my mother.

It was my Aunt Katie again who came when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She arrived before my mother even got home from the hospital after her surgery to help again in the background so that the rest of us could focus on my mother.  It was she who sat with my mother during those early days while I completed my student teaching, holding her hand and convincing her that it was indeed a good thing that she hadn’t “died on the table”.  She stayed for a month trying to make sure that my mother would accept treatment (she succeeded in a way that only an older family authority could, unlike me).

And it was my Aunt Katie still who came when my mother passed away, coming in time for the funeral and staying for a week after to help me and my twenty two year old self pack up things and hold my hand while I cried endless tears of loss.  I was an adult, but still felt very much the orphaned child, and she let me wallow in that for a few days before she taught me how to handle my loss like a grown up.

After her husband’s death, Aunt Katie lived with her daughter in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.  I always made a point of visiting when I would travel out there in the summers when Zachary was young.  But when Melinda and Michael came, it became much harder to get out there.  And her failing health and aging body made it impossible for her to visit me after their births as well.  In fact, she’s never met either of them in person.

I’ve only seen Aunt Katie twice in the last ten years, as a matter of fact.  Once, at her granddaughter’s wedding.  I flew out there alone in 2003 because it was impossible for R to get away from work.  And then again, three years after that, for another great aunt’s funeral.  By this time her daughter and husband had retired and moved back to his home state of Minnesota, and they moved her with them to an assisted living facility there.  They’d only lived there a few months when my sister and I traveled, again without our families, to a small town just south of Duluth, to see her.  She was already starting to experience the early stages of dementia then, and macular degeneration had robbed her of much of her eyesight.  But she was still the same Aunt Katie, telling stories and smiling at photographs and shining her warmth and light on all of us together again.

I’ve been so sad that my life and its path has pulled me further away from my Aunt Katie in the last ten years.  Especially now, knowing that the chances are simply all exhausted, to make things any different.  I have kept her close in my prayers and in my heart, but it just isn’t the same.  It kills me to know that while she had been there so often to hold my hand through times of grief that I will not be able to be there to hold hers.

She is in my prayers today, and I am hopeful that she is at peace and not in any pain.  And that somehow, some way, my mother will be there to help guide her home.

The Quiet

It’s quiet.

It’s just the same as it used to always be here in our house….two kids amusing themselves, windows open on an unseasonably warm fall day, homework done, husband at work.  Relaxing.  Peaceful.  Blissfully quiet.

Except that now all of that quiet seems disconcerting.  Too quiet.

It’s because my eldest, Zachary, is gone.

Zachary graduated from college last May.  He went away to school, far away, to the University of Pittsburgh.  On a good day it would take us seven hours to drive out there.  He spent the summer there working at an internship that he had hoped would turn into a full time position.  It didn’t, and so we moved him and four years of his life back home in early August.

At first it was strange to have him here after him being away for so long.  In the past he always had something to do:  school, or music practice, or a job, or friends to see.  But this time, all of his friends were away working or still in college.  And he didn’t have a job; his only task every day was to find full time employment.  He traveled to interviews, did them on the phone and on Skype.  The weeks past, frustratingly empty of job offers.  The school year began, and for the first time since Zachary was five, he didn’t have anywhere to go.  He grew frustrated, unhappy, but continued every day to apply for more work.

And then finally, it happened.  A company in the Washington, DC area asked him for an interview, and then a second.  They emailed him writing samples and Excel spreadsheets to work through.  They asked him to travel there for an in person interview.  He didn’t get his hopes up, because he’d been there before, taking a bus down the Jersey Turnpike and waiting in traffic.  But this time was different:  five days later he received the job offer.

I marveled as I watched my son do all the grown up tasks involved with deciding upon employment.  He reached out to a friend to see if they could be roommates.  He made a budget and researched cost of living.  He mapped out his mass transit route to work.  He scoured the internet to gauge how much his car insurance, his gas, his taxes would be.  He asked us which pieces of furniture he would inherit and planned out a living situation.

He accepted the job.

So this weekend, he packed up the car we gave him for his college graduation, and he drove down to DC from our tiny little town in CT.  All by himself.  And just like that, he is living a whole different life.  Last week he was here watching my little guy during my daughter’s soccer practice, and tomorrow he’ll be putting on a suit and tie and collecting a paycheck.  It’s mind boggling.  It’s exhilarating.   It’s bittersweet.

Zachary is living the life that I never had the chance to live after college.  I have to perspective to gauge any of it by; when I was his age, I was substitute teaching and caring for him and my mother with cancer.  I never picked out an apartment, or chose to live away from my family.   He has choices I never even dreamed of, and I am continually amazed at how far we’ve all come.  Life could have been very, very different for him, and for me.

So I will remind myself that the quiet is good, today.  But you’ll forgive me if I also remember that it is a little sad, too.

Baby Steps…Into Big Girl Steps

Well I certainly don’t want to have this blog turn into a weight loss blog after the monumental stories and things I have shared here.  But if I have any possible regular readers out there you may be wondering where I am at with my struggles.

I completed Week 4 of the Couch 2 5K program this morning.  What that means for the lay person is that little old me who could barely run a minute at a time three and a half weeks ago can now run 5 minutes at once, and I ran 18 minutes total this morning, in stretches varying from 2 minutes to 5 minutes in length.

I’m kind of amazed by the progress, actually.  Everyone has always raved about this program, but until I was actually doing it this week, I would never have believed I could be successful at it.  There was a moment on my last workout, on the trail through my local park, when I realized that I wasn’t hating it, that I wasn’t wondering every second when the walk portion would kick in, where I was actually almost enjoying the running.

The running hadn’t been enough to kick start my weight loss, though.  So last week I started using a site called and starting logging my food.  I know from Weight Watchers that the only real way to get on top of the weight loss game is to track your food, and to stay within some sort of reasonable limits. asks you your current weight, asks you how much you’d like to lose, your activity level, height, etc and then calculates a target calorie goal.  This is exactly what Weight Watchers does, but with their Points system.  MFP logs exercise and gives you bonus calories for the ones you burn (just like WW) and gives you a spot to log your water intake.

But my favorite thing about MFP is when you finish your log for the day.  It uses some sort of alogrithim and tells you that if you ate/exercised this way for 5 weeks, you’d weigh “x”.  I was astounded when I first saw it.  It gives you real, concrete incentive to keep going.  In five weeks I could be down 7 lbs!  Woohoo!  Let me not eat that cookie and drink another glass of water!

And as a result I’m down over 3 lbs from last week’s weight today.  But more importantly, I feel in control, for the first time in a long time.  And it’s funny how that feeling of well being and control bleeds over to other areas….I feel more calm, more peaceful than I have in months.

It’s a good thing that I am (finally) confident that I will be able to continue.

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