Hush, Hush

If you are of a certain vintage, and especially if you have frequented small musical venues in New England which tend to occupy stone or clapboard churches in seacoast towns, you may hear “hush, hush” in Aimee Mann’s voice. I mean it in a far less ethereal and poetic way.

There have been gaping interruptions in my writing here, and among my photographs and indeed everything else in my life, because for the first time I have had to refrain from writing about an event central to my day-to-day life for well over a year now, and I have found it nearly impossible to write my way around it in these cyber-pages.

I am going to find a way. Complete silence has never been for me, and a good hush is only initially hard to find.

I find myself holding my breath and hoping no human noise intrudes when I catch a glimpse of a butterfly or moth flickering through a lattice of leaves, or see a fledging cardinal or mourning dove’s black eyes peeking out from under a bush while considering whether to attempt to take flight. I do not want to frighten them. Only in surrounding silence, bereft of traffic and chattering sidewalk runners, do I hear the approach behind me of skittish downtown deer, or catch the swishing of a coyote in the distance, camouflaged by sand and seagrass at a nearby Wildlife Refuge. 

I feel the serene hush as music is about to commence, and of its wordless initial notes. Yo-Yo Ma as he sits, eyes closed, about to play. My mind gifts me with the silence before Thaxted, from Jupiter, The Planets Suite, the one hymn I knew absolutely had to be played at my husband’s service. I could not have spoken afterwards had it not unlocked a new path to him when he was just four days’ and also forever not here.

I remember the more and less soothing spaces among words spoken by people no longer in my presence and no longer here. I still hear the way my husband’s quick mind would instantly produce a clever pun or bit of wordplay, and in the silences of every day I hear his soothing voice as he measured every serious word with such uncanny honesty and clarity. My father’s lengthening pauses as Parkinson’s robbed him gradually, but never even close to completely, of the brilliance of his theoretical physicist’s grasp of the silent unseen and he began perseverating about the concrete noises intruding within the room to which he became limited. My mother’s voice before a pandemic infection made it so tentative and sparse as she retreated into her own patches of silent memory, and we could only hope she found more peace there.

Two weeks ago, on another wedding anniversary as the spouse remaining in this world, I had the joy of being able to see both our best woman and best man. I was reminded that I not only hear their voices in my quiet world when they are not with me, but I can recreate conversations with them over decades and find much comfort and laughter there. I can even still hear their parents’ and siblings’ voices, and transport myself back to the less aching portions of growing up and of adult life which are forever leavened by true, enduring friendship.     

There is also a variety of noiselessness that overwhelms all our senses. I have felt it when frozen in time, in shock just from the power of the words which preceded it (“This is your tumor….”). I have, more than once, sat dazed in a busy, noisy hospital cafeteria and heard absolutely nothing around me as indeterminate static filled my head.

But whenever I have been able to, I have taken in sublime views in the profound silence that lets me commune not only with quiet creatures and the anthropomorphic clouds in which I sometimes spot them, but with the beloved ghosts who accompany me everywhere.  

Purple Chimes and Valentines

Sweet as” was in the glossary I picked up from fellow travelers during my recent adventure.

It’s a New Zealand term of assurance: all is well, “no worries” (a phrase that now hits my ear as  well-meaning  but oxymoronic, a double-negative coupling of “no” and  brow-furrowed “worries”; like being told not to envision a pink elephant, if I’m told not to worry, I’m going to worry).

Where “no worries” comes to a declarative full stop, the object-less “sweet as”  is gloriously open-ended, and calls to mind all my (slightly belated) Valentines.

The list is, as we say in the business, not limited by enumeration.

Sweet as….

My friend Barbara’s face when I first saw her, not knowing she’d made the long trip, downstairs at Phillips Church after hundreds of people had paid their respects and filed out.  (She does not know that the purple glass chimes she gave me years ago now hang on the window overlooking my Brady’s garden.  Their gentle clinking restores the missing sound of his bright blue tags as he made his way from flower to flower.)

The friend who told me he’d be there in ten minutes–from another state, on a traffic-filled holiday weekend–when I desperately texted that I had to make an unbearable decision about my beloved middle beagle, then dispensed (and even re-collected) a stream of tissues to me in the aftermath.

My newest friends, who made me laugh harder than I have in years, picked me up when I slipped on Morocco monkey ice (story to come), taught me Australian card games, and tried fruitlessly to contain me from overspending my dirham.

George, a wildly busy colleague whose wife had died when his children were very young.  He always took my calls, called me when I had been silent too long, and knew when it was time for me to go back to the job I loved.

Joe and Diane, who showed up to help me move a daughter into her freshman dormitory  when Jim could not, and who took all of us into their home when the same daughter graduated.

A network of people I’ve never met in person, who take the trouble to read my blog and leave me messages about posts and share their own thoughts.

Friends who sent me flowers on Mother’s Day and after my father died, who helped my children when I could not get to them because of competing crises in other states and countries, who shared their own heartaches with us and helped us see “the size of the cloth.

G., who secured for me the music for Jupiter and in whose office I knew I could always appear and get my bear hug without needing to speak.

Bethany, whom I met getting ready to go on a great big stage where we both told our stories, and arranged for me and my son to hear a long sold-out John Hiatt show after I told her the story of the golden CD my husband had burned for me years before I found it.

Jim’s lifelong friends, who visited him when he was sick and brought him a touchstone of their shared past, and who still invite me to their family events and allow me to be a part of theirs and their children’s and even their grandchildren’s lives.  Jim’s family, who became my family long ago.

David Subnaught (so-dubbed  to distinguish him among many distinguished college Davids), a classmate of Jim’s who flew from Colorado to the East Coast to be there for my eldest son’s graduation two months to the day after Jim died.

Tineke, my best woman, the first person I called.  She literally fed me, cooking from scratch  the only things she knew would tempt me, when I could not manage even that.  Best man Jon, who drove to us on the night we finally brought Jim home bearing pictures he’d taken the night before our wedding and had us all laughing so hard we may have unnerved our children.  Randy and Judy.  Dr. Bob.

You know who you are.



Life Lessons from a Natural-Born Teacher

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My friend Elizabeth has the serene and calming presence of many natural-born educators, and happens to be a teacher.

And, boy, has she taught me.

Still in treatment herself, she knew when to recommend I read “The Last Lecture,” and she knew what additional lessons perhaps only a survivor can truly impart to those suddenly thrust into cancer’s maelstrom.

She helped me wrap my brain around what my husband meant when he said that a terminal diagnosis could be harder on the spouse than the patient.

She and her husband offered up their own hard-earned experience to ease our sudden transition into a world not even doctors–unless they also are patients–understand.

They invited us up to their home for a rollicking last recording session with the Biff Jackson Group, an evening of belly laughs and home-cooked Italian food and an exegesis on the difference between People Who Like Parmesan and People Who Like Roman.

None of us knew that it would be the last night we spent out, enjoying the matchless company of friends.

They came to our home weeks later, as Jim was dying, and brought a table-sized family rolling board on which gnocchi were hand-cut for our youngest daughter while sauces bubbled on the stove to feed gathered family and friends.

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On March 22 of this year, five years to the day after Jim died, Elizabeth spoke about how she has come to appreciate life lived for nearly a decade with cancer.

Give yourselves a gift and read Elizabeth’s own words: “enjoy every moment you have, even the mundane ones. Every moment is an extraordinary gift you have been given. Ordinary is extraordinary. Every ordinary moment is the gift of life.”

May you enjoy every moment of your birthday today, Elizabeth. Each of them is the sum of wonders of love in all its forms.

As I look at the beaded pearls of water bringing light and depth to the brilliant colors of today’s newly bloomed flowers I remember sitting on the wildflower-strewn hill behind our home with you and Judy as you looked forward to your baby’s birth and told us about the friend whose name your daughter would be given–the baby who is now a beautiful young woman about to bring her gifts to college and the world beyond.

Hope and beauty, heartache and love, all part of each salty tear and each drop of rain.



Goodnight, Sweet Prince

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


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 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 stone-strewn driveway crunch and the car doors thunk shut.

Chris  powered over the old pine boards to the evergreen door where many others who’d known us for years hesitated and others shied away, not having any idea what to say.

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.  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, thick chestnut hair much like Jim’s.  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.  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 and last time during Jim’s final winter).


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 energetically 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 to a new home where I was alone when all of my own children were away at school, 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.”  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 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.  Once his grandmother was taken by someone else’s hand, he saw me 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 was looking into Chris’s brown eyes.

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 nubbly sapphire blue blanket.


On the way home, I had to pull over several times.  The sky was stunning, slightly broken crystalline blue hearts cushioned by silver and white and heaven-lit by 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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