Anniversary in Amber


A date announced itself on this summer’s calendar, swooping in to mark what is known in our household as an anniversary “of significance.”

Such milestones ordinarily are divisible by five, and are of extra note if divisible by ten.

If Jim were here I’m fairly sure that for this wedding anniversary he would have spirited us away to some outdoor place where we could behold birds and summer flora.  Chances are high that an ocean would have been involved.  He would have done all the planning, certain to minimize travel and avoid tiny modes of transportation: I always viewed as suspicious the smaller ratios of protective steel girding to numbers of passengers.

No camel safaris would have been involved.

If he were here I still would be profoundly afraid of flying, so he likely would have kept us close–perhaps winding up the coast of Maine to Bar Harbor.  If so, he undoubtedly would have been at the wheel.

In the steady comforting voice that still greets me on two of our children’s telephone messages, he would be reassuring me about my cataclysmic geopolitical fears and my worries about our children, each one of whom has now graduated and set out into this dazzling world without him.

He would have securely packed up what I think of as the “real” camera equipment to photograph what we saw, carefully waiting for images to take shape.  He would carry home these preserved pixels, refine them, and catalogue them; he would pare them dispassionately and keep only what was worth keeping, then tag them and star them so he would know where to find them.

I, on the other hand, would have merrily clicked away on my wee camera’s “Auto” setting until the battery, memory card, and/or shutter plum wore out.  I would have been photographing him and other people instead of landscapes and seascapes.  (I haven’t quite finished psychoanalyzing my change of subject matter yet.)

But instead…..

In dark New Hampshire where his widow wakes.”

Widow “wakes”–not “awakes” or “awakens.”  A far cry from “rises.” It’s not simply alliteration.  If I am in any way typical of what  happens once those wedding vows have been lived out, I remain mired in the moebius of my spouse’s last moments: now that I have occupied the marriage alone for years, my senses often revert to an echo of a wake (though we did not have one), by his side as he and I were then, as if both of us had stopped aging at the end of his life.  Our almost-anniversary preserved in amber.

Poet Donald Hall recently passed away.  He had first lost his far younger wife, poet Jane Kenyon, and written of the osmosis that continues in a marriage that endures after a spouse’s loss: “In the months and years after her death, Jane’s voice and mine rose as one, spiralling together the images and diphthongs of the dead who were once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the singular absence of flesh.”

In his case he found that some of his wife’s poetic voice had slipped into his, the rhythms and soul of her writing transforming his own poems, making them into the best artifacts of both.

Memories will rust and erode into lists/Of all that you gave me/A blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest/The best parts of lonely….”

Before another summer wedding, I met someone who voiced the sentiment that a spouse’s death signifies the death of a marriage as well.  I turned to a friend who was herself at the wobbly state of raw widowhood that rendered it necessary gently to physically pry her from her house and into a world of suddenly conspicuous couplehood.  We simultaneously shook our heads with the loudest silent “No” we could muster: “Dead wrong.”

At the ceremony one of the bride’s friends would read the same passage from 1 Corinthians 13 that the bride’s mother had read at Jim’s and my wedding:Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

Love endures all things, even death.  If love never ends, the marriage does not die with either or both of us.

For better, for worse.

So I suppose my view of the marriage I still celebrate boils down to a cross between Corinthians and a Canadian singing group.

When one spouse departs this world, he or she doesn’t leave the marriage, but does leave behind, for whatever we earthbound spouses make of them, both the best and worst parts of lonely.

As long as we both shall live.  

And then some.







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Forever Home

How we miss you, sweet Brady. As the thunder and fireworks both sound tonight, we hope you’ll just be enjoying the spectacular colors from up there, free from fear of the noise down here.

Love in the Spaces

“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…

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Liquid Courage

New England daffodils do not do well in storms.

Rain seeps in and they seem to give up, becoming one with the the weight of it. Pale  yellows dissolve into cadaverous shades of early frostbite.  Tea-tinged white turns translucent and becomes one with whatever lies beneath.

Tulips, which follow the daffodils in quick succession, seem to be the youngest child among their flowery brethren.  Rather than quietly making room for the next incoming flora, they become spectacularly, raucously undone by rain.  They send out distress signals, flares of bright twisted petals, and co-opt their more reticent neighbors as Victorian fainting couches when the clouds can no longer contain themselves.

Talk about raging against the dying of the light.

Some tulips remain aloft even after losing themselves by half, a sprinkle of stamen facing the world, chaotic innards utterly exposed, an architectural model of a flower.  Some suffer from accelerated aging, and within a week of blooming their soft new petals mottle and turn to crepe. Where daffodils melt like tissue paper into incipient hosta beds, tulip petals gulp liquid until they contract into gnarled clumps.


A few watchtower irises have just arrived but already encountered sustained seasonal storms. Their stalks have not bowed. Their falls are unencumbered, fluttering freely. They contain storms’ residue into discrete pearls which gather on saffron signals atop their purple petals. Through different angles they glitter and refract the riot around them when the sun comes out again.

It is no mystery which one reminds me of my husband, whose Mother’s Day gift to me this year is the seasons’ subtle rhythms.

I clearly was the daffodil for quite some time, but I think I’m making some progress through the tulip stage, perhaps someday to be in companionable peace among my fellow post-storm wanderers.



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God’s Golden Eyes

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March 22, 2018


Dear Jim,

I was awake long before you would have hoped for me.  It snowed yet again, though a far less fearsome Nor’easter than this month’s past three.  This morning I was in one of my favorite places, just beyond ocean dunes only miles from home.  Somehow we never stopped there together, although we brought our children just north and south of this stretch of the Atlantic.

The sun broke through bruised clouds like a spotlight, unveiling in a vast murky marsh a single gold-eyed snowy owl who turned to look straight at me before promptly closing his eyes to resume napping.

Subtlety still is not my strong suit.  A few years ago I picked up a novel because of the lacuna embraced by its title, The Inheritance of Loss, and discovered an author I wish I’d found in time to pass along to you.  She described a mother whose son had left only for another continent, who “was weeping because she had not estimated the imbalance between the finality of good-bye and the briefness of the last moment.”

We thought it was some devil
Who put the crying in goodbyes
Until we found ourselves staring in God’s golden eyes….


Seven years since the hospice nurse came into our home to check signs she knew would be absent.  “Dr. Glennon, I’m just going to check your pulse now….”  I can still hear her  speaking in the same gentle cadence she would have used with a living patient.

Of course, I’ve seen you quite a bit since then.  I saw you at our children’s graduations, at Jazz’s wedding, at my father’s bedside.  I see you wherever I wander alone taking photographs.  I listen to the music you left me and to music you didn’t have a chance to hear in the traditional way.

In the middle of the night, I may watch you go
There’ll be no value in the strength of walls that I have grown
There’ll be no comfort in the shade of the shadows thrown
But I’d be yours if you’d be mine
Stretch out my life and pick the seams out
Take what you like, but close my ears and eyes
Watch me stumble over and over


I’ve taken your place as best I could for all you would have spared me.  I’ve learned, if sporadically, to do the less backbreaking chores you did.  Finances still give me agita, but I muddle through.  I’ve raced to emergency rooms with our kids–and our dogs.   I had the conversations you would have had with my dying father.  I stroked sweet Brady’s caramel fur as you would have done with much steadier hands while he peacefully breathed his  last breaths and I told him he’d get to run off leash with you.  I see you doing that right now: my mind is treating me to a full-color view of you two in what seem to be the fields of Northern Ireland just short of Giant’s Causeway.

After work last night I found tangible evidence (easily capable of definitive forensic testing) that Rufus had been a very imperfect boy during my absence.  (You might have noticed the new return address, the scene of that recent crime.  After I’d moved, your sister told me you knew I’d need to.)  This morning he looked dolefully at me–though I recognize that’s a fine line away from the “are you sure you haven’t forgotten my mom-is-going-to-work treat?” face.

I told him, “Be good.  Be the beagle master would want you to be.”

I’m sorry I didn’t work harder on being the person I should have been when you were here.  I’m sorry I was such a blubbering mess from the moment you were diagnosed.  I’m sorry I didn’t find your photographs for you.  I’m sorry for everything I didn’t adequately treasure.

But of course you didn’t think there was anything to forgive, because that’s the stuff of which you were made.

We did the best we could, no matter how hard, we tried….
Like babes we come whining for some forgotten sin
Surprised to be shining just like diamonds in the wind
Every facet so perfect, every cut the proper size
When we find ourselves staring in God’s golden eyes


That day you came home  for the last time I told you I’d miss you every second of every day.  I caught the micro-wince flashing across your eyes.

I think I understand now: it’s not that you thought I was exaggerating; it’s that you knew I wasn’t.

You didn’t want the yawning space of the rest of my life to be defined by the constant undercurrent of missing, the pull of dark negative space.

You hoped I’d find a way to understand you’d still be with me, keeping me imperfectly afloat.

Love always and always,










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