Earthly Illusions and Blackwater Woods

St. Patrick’s Day Sky: Am I the only one who sees a wide-eyed smiling face?

One can learn many things from those who channel non-earthlings.

One of my daughters recently finished a school-specific rite of passage that involves writing a Senior Meditation.   I know little of this ritual.  I do know that our puppy consumed a good helping of fiber from a book of past Meditations, because I discovered  shreds of palpable (pulpable?) evidence of that transgression.

The Dog Ate Her Homework. Really.

I  know only the tidbit of information my daughter was willing to disclose to me about her Meditation: it was about aliens.

“Did you get it done?”  I was slightly afraid to ask, particularly because she spent the last three weeks of winter term with a horrible flu that turned her silvery voice into a froggy, hacking mess.

She nodded.  And unleashed a coughing fit.

“What was it about?”


“Aliens?”  I asked, sloshing coffee on my suit, shoes and outgoing mail as I headed out for work.  “Like, undocumented immigrants?”

“Tralfamadorians.”  She replied.

“Oh.” Enough said.

Tralfamadorians, as any Kurt Vonnegut fan knows, dispensed pearls of wisdom and were not favorably disposed to linear time: “It is just an illusion, here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”

A few nights ago, on the anniversary of the day when my husband finally came home from the hospital, I read Hallucinations.  Not unsurprisingly, Jim then visited my dreams, but in a disturbing way that left me feeling acutely that there was something more I could have done.  Time and time again, in that peculiarly concentrated kaleidoscope that makes up REM sleep, Jim and I were racing to find the solutions to intricate word puzzles–and we always found the answers, but were too late.

In this dream world, governed by the strictest of linear time, only those who got the answers first won.

When I replay the weeks and days leading up to my husband’s death I think there was something more I could have done, some puzzle I could have solved in time to help him, to alleviate his pain, to make things somehow easier for him.  Perhaps this is common for caregivers.

Some version of that searing self-doubt is my constant winter companion, when the very feel of the air and lighting of the sky brings me back to the moments when I rushed Jim to the emergency room, when snow curved into waves on the flat rooftops outside his hospital windows, when I trudged miles along an empty highway in a blizzard , ice granules whipping against my face, to get one more medication for him to try.

Yesterday was the day that contained the moment my husband’s heart stopped beating.  

That moment and all those which surrounded it remain with me every moment of every day.  Yesterday did not bear the date on which my husband died, but it included the moment: 1:20 in the afternoon of the third Tuesday of March.  The sky was suffused with the same clinging wet snowflakes which weighed down and crushed the first tentative floral signs of spring, and spun birds into disarrayed formations–just as it was on the first Tuesday of spring when my husband died. 


Of course, the Tralfamadorians would quickly cast me out for missing the larger point.  That moments do not disappear–that they have not gone, gone away–does not mean that one should-or perhaps even can–mire oneself only in the darkest of them. 

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.

It is poet Mary Oliver’s third component of coming to grips with living on this Earth that I haven’t mastered–not nearly (the exact two words Jim, who yearned for and tended to his own nameless pond, used when I asked him on that last day in the hospital whether  he’d told me everything he wanted to tell me):

Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The mind is beyond a curious thing.  Within the same waking moments I can have visions of taking a last walk with my husband around the hospital floor before he was sent home to die while also being  visited by him–and by the younger me–as he sat next to me in an operating room and held my left hand and said, “It’s a . . . big . . . girl.”  I can peel back layers upon layers of moments among the many years we spent together, and at times the moments rearrange themselves like mosaics.

Of course remembering is not all bad; it is not uniformly unnerving and  horrifying, at every single moment along the way, to relive the loss and death of someone you love.  

The Trafalmadorians also knew this, as did Billy Pilgrim: “If I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.” 

To the nice moments, Jim.  We love you and we miss you.  You’re not and never will be  gone, gone, gone.

Author: Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She attended law school on the banks lso is an adjunct professor at a law school near the banks of the Charles River and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter and @schnitzelpond on Instagram. Bonus points for anyone who understands the Instagram handle. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2021 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with the wee Wordpress buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.

19 thoughts on “Earthly Illusions and Blackwater Woods”

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing. “Not nearly” indeed.
    Thank, Stephanie, for sharing your thoughts and your process.

  2. What beautiful thoughts and writing. We think of you and Jim — your writing keeps you and Jim with us, and that is a pleasure to us.

  3. Beautiful post as always, so powerful and yet so fragile all at once. Anniversaries and revisits provoke us in so many hidden ways. I love that poem, she’s my favourite poet 🙂

  4. You did everything for Jim, and then some. All throughout the diagnosis and treatments and hospice, you were an amazingly strong and loving caretaker for Jim, and we love you for it. The saddest thing in the world is when there’s an unfixable problem….and though you try with all your heart and soul, we sadly know that some things cannot be changed or fixed. We hold you and the kids in our hearts every day, but especially today on this anniversary day. With love, Denise

  5. I used to read Science Fiction (SyFy) including Kurt Vonnegut and he certainly knows about moments. They are the least not by choice. Sometimes they are happy moments sometimes they are sad moments. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Jesus wept.

    I have learned
    Now I’m living just enough for the moments
    A momentary thrill
    A momentary relationship
    Chases the blues away

    Just two strangers who are not
    Meeting and connecting
    Sometimes two or three
    Some relationships long lasting
    But still momentary

    No one to live with
    No one to send home
    They come and they go when they please
    Sometimes at my prompting
    Sometimes they are gone forever
    Not by choice
    I’m living just enough for the moments

    It’s a new life
    It’s a new way
    I can do this all the day
    Never knowing who I may meet
    I just head out to the street
    Oh what joy and fun it is

    Some I hope to see again
    It is really interesting when
    They pop into my life again
    Hey didn’t I see you just the other day
    I don’t have to say.

    We just look at each other.
    Hey didn’t you just pass my way
    Didn’t I see you at the stop back there
    Now you are walking with me
    And we are not even close enough to talk
    But we touch
    I’m living just enough for these moments

    I’m living for the moments when sorrow comes crashing down on me like a Tidal Wave, accompanied by thunder, lightning, rain and hail. When the waters reseed I have to rebuild civilization starting from scratch.
    I never totally forget moments.
    All I know is that I have to survive.

  6. Thank you for stopping by my blog, and leading me to yours. You’re a gifted writer who’s been through quite a lot lately. There are things here I can empathize with – my mother died of PC, too. She managed well over a year from Dx to dieing at home, as she wanted. But it was very tough on me, my brothers (my father was already gone), and her best friend. I’m sure we have quite a few experiences in common. Be well, and I’ll be back!

    1. Thank you very much, bluebrightly (I like your optimistic, sprightly blog name, too). I’m sorry about your mother, and hope you realize it was a profound treasure to her to get her home when that was her wish.

  7. The depth, lightness and beautifully woven humanity of this journey you share… leaves me (almost) speechless. I hope that you benefit from the telling as much as your readers do.

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