A Ghostly Galleon’s Glow

glow 3

“Firebirds,” Newburyport, Massachusetts

When the sky is cloudless, the sun begins to peek above the tree line and lights the  sculpted monochromatic red-brown forms as if they were candles.  They glow with fire.  A strand of spiderweb makes itself known only by razor-edged silver reflection.

Camera in hand,  I always am drawn toward such feats of light.

Sometimes an entire city turns gold in the rising sun.  A full moon can turn a clear block of ice into silver or gold, or hover like a ghostly galleon in a tumult of waves rendered in cumulus clouds.  Just a hint of sunlight can turn water into shimmery rose, or sort gray air into a rainbow.  At high noon, flowers seem to be posing in a professional studio, casting everything beyond them into an illusion of pure black.


The most amazing tricks of light do not arise from the interloping sun or moon, but seem to emerge from within: impossibly dazzling, unwavering beacons even in a deluge of rain.







Posted in Love and Loss | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Layered Gold


It is only in the high 90s.

The 11th Century fort on the hill to our left glows bright copper in afternoon’s high sun. The desert city is layered gold.

Mottled cream and caramel cows and goats neither yield nor look up as I place my arms around a textile merchant’s waist and we careen on his motorcycle across town.  My daughter stays behind.  As I glance back I see her standing in the store’s door-less doorway, stacks of mirrored, thickly embroidered jewel-colored cotton and waffled silk beyond her, intricate overlays of ochre stone on the windows above.

My motorcycle mission: to extract a significant amount of negotiable currency from my bank account, the corpus of which lies half-a-world away.


I am wearing my daughter’s tea-and-thyme airy cotton kurta, a little worse for the wear from sleeping in the top berth on an overnight train.  It would endure yet more crumpling on our next stop: an overnight camel safari from Jaisalmer to the Pakistani border.

I am not wearing a helmet.

My mother would be appalled with just about every facet of this adventure.

My daughter, my hostess here, is pleasantly surprised and seems very pleased with me.

I am confident that her father, too, would be delighted to behold this scene in a place and space I never would have found myself had he not bequeathed to me some of his sense of adventure.

He, of course, would have signed on for the full-week camel safari.  He would have tied on a scarf, Lawrence of Arabia-style, and peered ahead into the strong sun with eyes that in his all-too-short life always gave him a better than 20/20 view of the world.  He would have looked back at our beautiful daughter and turned his head forward again before she noticed, so as not to unnerve her by beaming too brightly with pride at the young woman she has become.

If he were still alive, he would most certainly be the one here with her, and I would be at home in New Hampshire, afraid even of flying.

If he were here, our daughter would not have to constantly watch her parent for signs of dehydration and ply me with water, alert me when I may and may not take pictures, or coax me to expand my culinary choices.

But here I am.

Baby steps.



Posted in Love and Loss | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Forever Home




“Tom Brady.”  Hand-printed on the SPCA’s yellow card.

Male, tri-color  

Age: 1 – 1  1/2

Why here?  Stray, found in Nottingham NH

Responds to name: Yes

House trained: semi 

The penultimate question’s answer would prove inaccurate, the last a bit of sales puffery.

And he was a beauty: heavy on the caramel, tinged with russet-gold.  Enveloping glossy amber eyes.  When he curled up to sleep just so, dappled black on the purest white created an M. C. Escher image of  a platypus.

Brady was snipped before we were permitted to bring him home to his humans and his big brother, whom we had adopted a year-and-a-half earlier (“from a K-I-L-L shelter in Indiana,” we explain if asked.  To this day we whisper and spell out the word, even when the beagles are slumbering).

After his operation, with its attendant impingement upon his capacity to, well, tomcat around….we decided to cast off the “Tom” as well.

He became Brady.

Brady of Nottingham, a gentle prince among beagles.


Brady’s needs were relatively simple but his phobias already were entrenched.  He had been on his own in the woods, perhaps a hunter’s puppy who either had run away or been discarded because anyone could see he was incapable of doing harm to a fellow creature.

He was highly motivated by food, or any substance bearing the most tangential resemblance to food.

His IQ, which our children carefully measured, was sub-optimal.

Nonetheless, he was at least an accessory to, and quite possibly a principal in, the Great Sausage Calzone Disappearance of 2011.

His emotional intelligence was off the charts.  He howled with heartbreak when his master’s soul slipped from our home.  Then he came to me and quietly nuzzled me as I sat, stunned and broken, on the floor.  I would swear there were tears in his eyes as he bowed his cloud-soft head into my lap.

He was a lover, not a fighter.  My daughter said it best: she would never name a favorite among her beloved beagles, but “Brady was by far the sweetest, never started fights, never deliberately disobeyed or tried to get away with things (ahem scooter). He was always the pushover of the group, always giving up his beds and treats if one of the others tried. He may not have had the best listening or learning skills or bladder control but he still always tried his best.”

Over the course of nine years his fear of men in pick up trucks abated.

He remained pathologically afraid of thunder and of fireworks.  We would have to bundle him in blankets and hold him as he shook, his white-tipped tail locked between his legs.

He loved to lick the floor, an odd habit that dovetailed nicely with my disinterest in cleaning.

He developed a curious tendency to show up at one’s feet and park himself quietly there for as long as the feet were willing to stay in place.  He was a most excellent foot warmer.

And in the last six weeks he seemed the most content he ever had been.  He adored basking in his new garden, smelling each late spring and early summer bud, letting the bright pink bleeding hearts tickle his glorious ears, wandering among successive blooms: magenta peonies, four shades of roses, brilliant orange plate-sized tiger lilies.  The light pink roses were his favorite.  He spent hours stopping to smell the roses.

He loved to ride in the car, blissfully sniffing the great outdoors, his ears flapping in the wind.  Even when we were on our way to the vet.

Until Sunday.

He had a regular breakfast and walk.  As I tended to some work, one of my sons noticed Brady seemed to be having difficulty breathing and suggested I call the vet.  The office would be closed until after the July 4 holiday, so I called the veterinary hospital that had performed emergency surgery on puppy Scooter.  They said to bring him in to be checked.

With the luxury of being alone with me, Brady was perky enough to pull me for a short walk before getting into the car.  Then, instead of jumping on the seat to poke out his nose and take in the scents, he settled silently into a space on the floor, a darkened cave formed among my bankers’ boxes of transcripts.

It seems such a blur of events.  Oxygen.  “Has he had heart trouble?”  IV fluids.  “We may be able to bring down some of the edema.”  X-rays.  “Could we get a room?” the veterinarian says, nodding meaningfully to the receptionist when she comes out to talk to me.  “He’s not responding as well as we had hoped.”  Images.  More waiting, now on high alert.  “Congestive heart failure.”  His heart was too big: it pressed up into his trachea, making it nearly impossible for him to breathe.  Me, looking at another abdominal x-ray through the lens of scarred experience: “His lungs shouldn’t look like that.  Are those white shadows something else?”

And finally, “Can you make him not suffer?”

My friend arrives and we are led to the Comfort Room.

Brady comes and instantly relaxes as I hug him to me and stroke his head.

Everyone should be blessed with the kind of friend who will go into such a room and stay with you there, supplying a steady stream of tissues and holding your shoulder as you cradle your velvet boy and tell him you love him, how lucky you are to have had him come home with you, he’s the best of beagles, he’s going to see master again, and now at last he can run off leash.

When I told her we had to let him go, one of my heartbroken children said it was right not to have him continue to suffer, and now, from the distance of heaven,  at least he would not have to be afraid of the fireworks.


Oil Painting, (c) 2011 Emma E. Glennon




Posted in Love and Loss | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Beveled Blue

Wandering the Waterfront (c) 2017 SMG

My husband’s out-of-the-blue diagnosis was confirmed seven years ago.  It was a suffocatingly hot morning, the last Monday in June.

For weeks beforehand I had a profound and decreasingly punctuated sense of dread.

I was at the wheel of the now-retired mom van, thinking about one daughter’s upcoming high school graduation and her stresses, when I was visited with the unmistakable thought, “These worries will soon seem like nothing.”

Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven weeks earlier: a dream in which I visited someone I loved in a hospital room I’d never seen.  Completely still.  Quiet.  Sterile white.  In the bed a man I assumed upon waking, distraught, had been my father, although I did not see his face.

I think Jim sensed something, too, although he did not communicate it to me in words any more than he communicates with me now by traditional means.

I realize now that he did not tell me what lay ahead until he had ruled out all other reasonable possibilities.

He knew a probability that had hovered not far from zero had suddenly become 100 percent.

Until then, it was best for  me to remain oblivious.

Don’t be too eager to ask
      What the gods have in mind for us,
What will become of you,
      What will become of me,
What you can read in the cards,
      Or spell out on the Ouija board.
It’s better not to know.

Or was it?



Canon 2016 7727


For more than two decades, until that final Thursday night in June, our marriage employed a device known as the “Steph news blackout”: if something would endlessly worry me but was likely to turn out fine, or simply not worth my mental energy and tendency to catastrophize, Jim would take it upon himself to resolve it.

In tandem with the news blackouts, Jim, who would have been the first to say he was not a natural joke-teller, had an approach reminiscent of his tale of the vacationing parents:

The parents go on vacation and leave their son with his grandmother.  Mom and dad call home the first night to check in; their son answers the phone and says: “The cat died.”  The father, sobered, says, “You know, you could have eased us into that.  The first time we called you could have said, ‘The cat’s on the roof,'” the next time, maybe ‘The cat’s on the roof and we still can’t get her down,’ and then we could have been more prepared.”  “OK, dad, I understand.”  

The next night, the parents call home again and ask how things are.  The son answers, “Grandma’s on the roof….”

Thursday night: “I think we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that this is a tumor.”

The surgeon, Monday, just after noon, in a windowless white room, pointing to a computer screen image of my husband’s pancreas: “This is your tumor.”


We moved to another state where Jim began his medical practice.  Our first child was born two weeks later.  We had a house in the woods at the edge of acres of conservation land. To get to it one had to wind around a long driveway.

Winter was coming.  Jim had some people come by the house to give estimates on plowing.  I went to the door, baby in arms, to let one of them in.

When he left the house I said to Jim, “Not that one.  Do not have him come back here.”

Two years later I was driving on the rural road to our home, now with a second baby in a car seat.  We were diverted by a police barricade.  It was an armed standoff involving the person who, without doing anything but asking if Jim was home, had made me uncomfortable enough to tell Jim not to have him come back.


Days before my father died a year ago, a nurse thought to mention a certain phrase he haltingly had spoken, which would not have been particularly meaningful to me had Jim not spoken the exact same words in his hospital room days before he died.  I called my older brother and suggested it might be a good time to fly out.

What do I do now with my intuition?  What do I do now when I feel diffuse dread?

Atul Gawande wrote in Complications, a memoir of his surgical residency, “It is because intuition sometimes succeeds that we don’t know what to do with it.  Such successes are not the result of logical thinking. But they are not the result of mere luck, either.”

I think the real danger is that I am now conditioned for the heaviest of shoes to continue to drop, horrific echoes of the once steady and reliable thunking of Jim’s size 13 shoes on the wide pine floorboards in our bedroom.

But intuition, particularly conditioned intuition, can be the enemy of hope.

It may also be illusion.

Maybe what I have thought of as intuition was actually based on observations I didn’t even know I’d made.  Maybe I had seen the winces of persistent muscle strain-like pain flash across the face I knew so well.  Maybe I had seen my husband hold himself differently in some infinitesimal way.  Maybe I had seen micro-flashes of concern in his bright eyes and his unlined face.

Maybe I had seen or heard the first wave of tremors which would signal my father’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease.

Maybe the plow guy, or even his truck, had at some level reminded me of some distant defendant I had observed in a criminal case.  Maybe I’d once read something detailing crime statistics involving men with red pick-up trucks.

Ultimately I think experience is more trustworthy than intuition.  (They don’t call me my office’s “institutional memory” for nothing.) Of course, a devastating run of life experiences can also be at war with hope.  But I shall try to surrender to neither foreboding intuition nor scarring experience.

Yesterday I was with a dear friend who, with some trepidation, gently asked me if I knew my ring–the one Jim gave me 23 years ago and I have never taken off–was missing its center stone, a bright cobalt sapphire the identical shade of the silk dress I wore on our first date as teenagers.

I took off the ring, its center starkly bereft of its ballast, to make sure the surrounding stones would not escape as well.  Almost immediately I felt the ring’s absence.  A subtle divet circled the base of my ring finger.

After nearly two hours retracing steps and grid-searching waterfront docks and brick sidewalks, heart lifting and then falling at each of hundreds of pebble kernels glittering in the parboiling sun, my friend Judy found a lucky penny in the street.  She held it aloft toward the sun, cast her eyes upward, and asked Jim for a little help.

I gave up hope of finding the sapphire soon thereafter.

And then, within minutes, I lifted from the ground a brilliant fragment of beveled blue, its underside clouded by a dusky silver-gray sheen from 23 years’ inattention to the thin gold prongs which held it in place until it was time to catch my attention by letting go.

What were the odds?










Posted in Love and Loss | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments