When the Planet Shifts

 

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Before we married, Jim promised me we would have five boys.

Because I was very young, somewhat gullible, and only took college laboratory courses because I had to (notwithstanding my lack of scientific skills), I believed him.

We had two boys in under two years. Promising start.

On a windswept January day the following year we had a few extra hours on our hands: my scheduled delivery had been moved to make way for an emergency one.  (I did not prove much more successful in the childbirth department than I had in the hard sciences.)

We took our toddlers to breakfast at a riverside restaurant where I managed–just barely–to slide my mid-section behind a sturdy stationary pine table where the boys laughed and gave us sticky kisses before we dropped them off to play with friends–and Winston, the venerable bulldog.

All of us but Jim assumed there would be three sons by mid-day; he let on to me that he thought we’d be bringing home a Holly or Fiona.

We stopped at a nearly empty restaurant near the hospital and Jim had something to eat; I was not allowed to partake before surgery.

The owner looked at me and smiled, “When are you due?”

I glanced at my watch.  “He should be here at 12:42,” I said.

She gave me a hug.

Then the two (almost three) of us went to the seashore at Odiorne Point and walked hand-in-hand down a snow crystal-glazed path to the ocean. A few hours later, beautiful Emma arrived, not with a howl but with a thoughtful, piercing and curious gaze from the second her enormous eyes adjusted to what we then knew as light.

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The Wings of an Angel, the Wings of a Dove

 

Emma had just turned eighteen when her father died. She is in such important ways like him, the man who taught her to love finches.

As sunset gathered on her birthday this winter I felt compelled to turn my steering wheel off course and drive back to Odiorne, where layered gold and orange clouds settled in one spot to form unmistakable wings so bright they lingered as an after-image even when the sky turned gray and only the smudged plum outline of a single bird soared over the sea.

 

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Vibrant Skies

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Sunrise in northern Iceland is indescribably vibrant, pulsating across the color spectrum, coalescing with the aurora’s shimmering purples and yellow-greens.

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Goodnight, Sweet Prince

A year ago our friend Chris passed away at home, where his loving family cared for him. Grieving people are often told that the “first year is the worst,” and, less frequently, advised that people tend to be very solicitous of the grieving during that first year. The first year is awful, but is leavened by others’ support and presence.  It is a great help when the support continues just as the grief does; the passage of one year is a milestone, but it does not end the pain or yearning.

If you know people who are grieving–and who does not?–please let them know that you continue to think of the person they loved, forever after that first year has passed.

Love in the Spaces

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Dawn.  It was our friend’s last day, a Sunday, fittingly for a man of such faith.

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Almost five years ago, a week after my husband Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Chris strode into our lives.   We were then only just getting to know his oldest child, who has since become like a son to me.

It’s an understatement to say it was a delicate time in our lives, given the shock and awe of that diagnosis.

Chris and his son arrived in our gravel driveway in a Crown Vic that now sports a Marine sticker.  No one cuts off the driver of such a car.  Jim and I went to the front door when we heard the gravel crunch and the car doors thunk shut.

Chris  powered over the old pine boards to the pine green door where many others who’d known us for years hesitated and others…

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Astounding Alphabets

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Alphabet Throne,” sculpture by Sarah Peters, Falmouth, Massachusetts

Outside a Massachusetts bookstore is an alphabet chair, a touchable (and  sittable) sculpture by Falmouth artist Sarah Peters.

On the same lucky date my younger brother had picked for his wedding–7/11–I visited this bookstore and touched the burnished bronze letters warmed by intense summer sun. An author friend seemingly similarly fixated (but in a much more literary way than I) on memory was speaking about her book of love and loss, The Summer of Letting Go.

The alphabet chair contains its own puzzle: a viewer soon notices that each conjoined letter is imprinted with the texture of something that begins with the corresponding letter: “b” is for button, “n” is for net, “s” is for seashell, “y” is for yarn. . . .

This, too, is an alphabet with an inner puzzle:

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Alphabet Quilt (c) SMG

My own most enduring artistic medium is fabric.  When my children were very young they would develop fanatical devotion to certain books.  Inspired by one of these, Lois Ehlert’s Eating the Alphabet, I made a quilt that reads in rows from left to right as an alphabet of fruits and vegetables.  Some letters of the alphabet have more than one entry (“b” is for beet, broccoli, and blueberries), but it is assuredly an alphabet quilt.

In making it I excavated decades of family memories embedded in fabric scraps.  The grapefruit’s dappled skin is from a Merimekko fabric in the cardboard-boxed scraps my collage artist mother keeps.  Strawberries were culled from a baby jumper I had sewn for my first daughter.  Mushrooms were stuffed with batting behind batik scraps from my friend Sharon’s fabric collection.  It took some effort, and not a few needle punctures to my forefinger, to applique a kiwi from the sturdy tan suede square salvaged from a skirt I bought when I was pre-teen.

(I was flitting around channels a few weeks ago when I caught a glimpse of a room filled with stacked clear boxes of folded fabric.  I thought, “That’s me”. . . . (when I think to myself  I don’t always follow grammatical rules strictly) . . . then wondered why such a sight would merit screen time.  Was it a sewing show?  A quilting show?  I backtracked and discovered the show was called Hoarders.  Mortifying.)

When we moved to the home where we had our fourth child the dining room’s 1805 walls were painted russet, and seemed an ideal background for this quilt.

When guests of all ages had the “quilt tour,” they would often stand and ponder the enigma of what fell between asparagus and zucchini. “X” is particularly difficult to identify.

And when Jim finally came home at the end of his illness to be with his family and friends, this was the quilt that hung in front of his hospital bed.

The bed had taken the place of the antique table where we had hosted countless family gatherings featuring endlessly intriguing–and sometimes infuriating–word games and puzzles.  Thousands of pieces of cardboard puzzles also had been assembled there by Jim and our children.  Jim loved puzzles.

By then the alphabet quilt was surrounded by one of our daughter’s oil paintings, next to photographs taken by our younger daughter-who had not yet been born when I made the quilt–and pictures taken of us by a lifelong friend.  On a table built by another lifelong friend were handmade cards written to Jim, including one just delivered by a young niece. All of it, including the very letters which formed the words on every note and card, was art linked and spun by love.

 

 

 

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