Personality Plus

door

 

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an impossibly charming city, packed with colonial and Victorian homes.  Many downtown buildings are brick, with gleaming hunter green or black wooden shutters and doors.  Others are fronted with wood clapboards.  Painted a few shades darker are tastefully monochromatic front doors in appropriately Puritan shades ranging from cream through the grays and into an occasional green.  Subtle pastels coexist among genteel structures.

And then there’s this: Miss Personality.   A blaze of neon rainbow in a muted New England waterfront.

Sometimes, you just have to express yourself.

 

 

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Goodnight, Sweet Prince

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Sunrise.  Dawn of two family friends’ last morning before cancer took them away.

*****

Almost five years ago, a week after my husband Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of these friends strode into our lives.   We were then only just getting to know his oldest child, who has 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 the driveway and  powered over the old pine boards to the green door where many others (who’d known us for years) hesitated and others shied away, not having any idea what to say to us.

Chris had already outlived a dire prediction after being diagnosed more than two years earlier with metastatic cancer.

He shook my husband’s hand.  “Nice to meet you,” he said.  Radio voice: clear and sonorous, with a dash of gravel.  “I’m sorry about your diagnosis.”

Perfect.  Warm and direct and compassionate, with no dancing around.

And then he looked at me–quivering, wet-eyed, bereft  me–and sensed I could use just a little something more, a soupcon of hope.  He said, “I know it’s hard . . . but look at me.” And here he held out his hands theatrically, palms up to the sun, and he did indeed look terrific: “I’m still standing.”

And both Jim and I smiled for the first time since we heard the words, “This is your tumor….”

******

One of this world’s great blessings is a family of friends: an entire family that blends with another and develops friendships all around.  Like ours, the family of which Chris was so justifiably and enormously proud includes two sons, followed by two daughters.  And each family has a wacky curly-haired mom with a background in law enforcement, a proclivity towards acquiring puppies with behavioral issues, and deficiencies in the meal preparation department (“I fed him lasagna that tasted like cahdboahd!” my Doppelganger said–she has a Boston accent– after Jim drove to their house with our daughter for the first time).

******

I could not even begin to catalogue the kindnesses Chris and his family have given each one of us since Jim died.   Even as Chris’s own health deteriorated, his capacity to welcome people in didn’t waver.  Bear hugs all around every time we saw him.  Whenever he and any combination of kids came to our town, they’d coax me out and insist on feeding me.   And they’d make me laugh.

Once, soon after I’d moved, when all of my own children were away, he invited me for dinner with the family.  I was having a tough time organizing belongings, and would have stayed inside the house alone and cried myself to sleep, but I knew begging off wouldn’t work.  Resistance was futile.   I  spent the evening with all of them as they regaled me with hilarious family lore, alternately embarrassing their children with stories–just as it should be.

His elder son brought Chris and his wife to my Moth Mainstage show in Boston last spring.  The theme was “Coming Home,” and the three of them endured my describing how we brought my husband home to die.

******

It’s not been an auspicious year so far in my household.  It began with a spate of injuries and illnesses, though mercifully nothing unmanageable.

And then I found out Chris had died at home, where his wife and children tenderly took care of him.  I drove north yesterday and parked on the icy surface of an already packed driveway.  I had intended only to drop off a card, but one son was in the driveway assisting his grandmother, and gave me a big hug and told me to go in and see his mother.

“You’ve got family here.  I don’t want to intrude,” I said.

“You’ve always got a family here,” he said.

I had not known that Chris was still there.  He was in a room in which his favorite music played.  His wife, far stronger than I, had cared for his body herself and tucked him under a sapphire blue blanket.

******

On the way home, I had to pull over several times.  The sky was stunning, perfect crystalline blue hearts cushioned by silver and white and heaven-lit by extraordinary beams of sunlight.  A deep blue blanket of clouds lay atop the White Mountains, a seamless space between heaven and Earth.

I cried at the side of the road, as I had after Jim died, about how Chris just shouldn’t be missing this sight.

And then it occurred to me that the two of them now have the best views of all.

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Sweet Serenity

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Kyoto (c) Emma E. Glennon

My children have such an eye for serenity, which I confess has been in short supply within the household during recent years.

For Grandeur, wrote Pattiann Rogers, some look to nature’s intense bursts and others to all-enveloping quiet; some:

. . . choose the terror
of lightning peals on prairies or the tall
collapsing cathedrals of stormy seas,
because there they feel dwarfed
and appropriately helpless; others select
the serenity of that ceiling/cellar
of stars they see at night on placid lakes,
because there they feel assured
and universally magnanimous.

 

Above is a photograph one of my daughters took on the other side of the world.  Sweet, silent.  Moss and shell pink, gold dust of pollen, soft early spring.

Sometimes I breathe more easily just looking at the views she brings home.

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Broken Beauty (and a Blogiversary)

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Our Backyard, January 2012

A little fuzzy, a bit off kilter.

I chose the picture for its timing, not its content: I took it almost exactly three years ago, in the backyard of the home my husband Jim loved–the place where he lived, was loved, and died. Our children and I would move to another home months later.

I began writing this blog in deep, raw grief.  I notice now that photographs I took at the time featured a disproportionate share of broken things–including the colonial-era picket fence that curved gracefully around the front of our home.  As I nursed a broken foot inside the house, a speeding driver screeched off the road in light snow and crashed right through it, with enough momentum to fell a granite post that had stood for well more than a century.

But there was beauty in the breakage. Jigsaw shards of silver ice glowed atop sapphire water. Unadorned tree branches withstood hurricane-force winds and laced the white winter sky when the sun came out again.

With my third blogiversary careening down the tracks, I’ve been ruminating about the purpose and process of blogging.

A fellow blogger, Derek Bell, has an evocative blog, Playing in the City with Trains, in which he draws quite a bit on family and memory. He posed some great questions about writing.  The new year–my fourth at the keyboard–seems a good opportunity to tackle them:

(1)  What are you working on?

My site stats tell me I have a whopping 182 blog post drafts.  They’re about everything from the color red to the soundtrack of grief.  I’m also revising what I wrote for my children in the months after my husband died, but it’s difficult to revisit and yet more difficult to revise. I had a different voice then, belonging to the person I was at that time; it’s daunting to try to figure out what voice to preserve for my children.  Procrastination has in this case generated some unique new challenges.

I also have ancient drafts of fiction in the legal thriller genre–much of it inspired by my day job.  I don’t know if I’ll ever finish revising them, but rather than looking upon them as abandoned, I’ve decided to think of them as safely “gestating.”

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