There is a chasm where the echoes of you resonate
Memories vibrate, resounding up through the depths
Humming, strumming my heart
Orchestrating haunting internal melodies
Sentimental serenades bereft of lyrics
Frequently, the songs are as tender as a lullaby
Tranquil, faint, soothing as a purr
Intimate whispers shadow my perceptions
A fleeting smile or tear offers a glimpse into the hymns
From time to time, the reverberations are flagrant, flamboyant
Visceral concertos of cacophony
The interludes intrude and occlude
Boisterous crescendos, their clamors are deafening
Outwardly silent, inwardly surging, I await their conclusion
Most often, the intrinsic music is my resident accompaniment
Instrumental ballads proclaiming, portraying a bygone life
An opus of a lover pining for an encore
The unfinished symphony plays on beyond the curtain call
How I ended up being the mother I was always intended to be
There was never any doubt in my mind I would be a mother. As with most everything in my life, I had a plan: College, Career, Marriage, Children (four was the magic number — two of each). We’d grow old, retire, and wait for grandbabies.
Life would be as simple as blowing soap bubbles. With a little effort, each stage would inflate and delight with iridescent elegance. It would drift away when the time came and a new radiant bubble would wondrously take its place.
Somehow, in my youth, I failed to acknowledge that bubbles are bound to burst.
“Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”
Dorothy Canfield Fisher
It all began perfectly enough. I received my degree, started my career in public relations, and married my high school sweetheart.
I knew pretty soon after we started dating, he was father material. He treasured his nieces and nephews. He had a knack for connecting with any child, no matter what the age. It planted a seed in my maternal heart. I couldn’t wait to start our family.
When we decided the time was right, we tossed aside the birth control and got down to the business of making babies. But no matter how much time and energy we were putting into the project, we could not generate a profit. The plus sign would not appear in the urine-stained window.
Off we went to the doctor to get to the bottom of our elusive dividends.
Diagnosing and treating infertility is not for the demure. Blood tests, vaginal ultrasounds with an acoustic dildo, and post-coital exams to rate the hospitality on my uterus were on my agenda. (Nothing like your vaginal canal getting a Yelp review from the gynecologist.) More blood tests and monthly cup deposits delivered in a brown paper lunch bag were on my husband’s.
After 18 months of mood-altering medication, biweekly doctor visits, and sobbing at Huggies commercials, the test came back positive. The doctor beamed. The nurse cried with delight.
Our first son arrived early — he couldn’t wait for us to be a family either. Our second came less than two years later. We didn’t want to go through the physical and emotional turmoil of fertility treatments again, so we resolved to let nature take its course — or not.
Our offspring were capped at two, but it didn’t matter anymore. The seed that sprouted my maternal heart had taken root and blossomed. I was a boy mom, and I was ecstatic.
“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had.”
Even before your children are born, you begin planning the life ahead of them. Merging your hopes and dreams with theirs and contemplating the milestones along the way.
Having one of them develop a life-threatening disease is usually not part of the equation.
When our eldest was two and a half, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Within hours, our entire family was drafted into a life-long battle with his condition. We entered diabetes boot camp and learned how to manage his disease and hopefully, not kill him in the process.
And so began our months (and then years) of every-hour-on-the-hour glucose tests, monitoring everything he ate, keeping track of exercise, computing insulin intake, and praying he didn’t catch some illness that would send his sugars soaring.
But in the process, I became a warrior mom. I steadfastly guarded his health like a sentry. I studied his illness, educating all of us and others. I defended his rights and taught him how to do the same. Eventually, the power of my son’s own wellbeing was passed on to him. The tour of duty was complete.
“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”
Life during my children’s elementary school years was going according to the “new plan.” (I was still naïve enough to think that I was done with any further disruptions.)
I worked part-time as the school librarian and was active in the PTA. Saturdays were spent at the local recreation center where my husband coached whatever sport happened to be in season. Sundays were filled with church and extended family get-togethers. We were in our element. We were prospering.
Until one day — we weren’t. When my children were six and eight years old, their father was diagnosed with leukemia.
Girded by my warrior training, I went back into battle. Alongside my husband, I contended with hospital stays, complicated medication regimens, and cross-country trips for vital treatments.
All the while, I fiercely defended my children’s sense of normalcy even when we were anything but. They never missed a day of school. To help them feel secure, family members stayed with them in our home when we were away. Their father valiantly hid the full extent of his suffering and I followed suit.
I was the mother offering hope — right up to the day he passed away.
“Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.”
If it wasn’t for my children, I don’t think I would have survived the loss of my husband. They gave me a reason to function — to hold onto life. I was a hollow robot, mechanically going through the motions.
Somehow motherhood — that deep-seated desire to tend to my boys — provided the strength to endure. They already had their world torn in half; I couldn’t bear it if I caused it to be obliterated.
Ever so slowly, the need to stabilize our family drove me to reclaim my humanity.
“When we have joy we crave to share; we remember them.”
Rabbis Sylvan Kamens & Jack Riemer
When my husband was first diagnosed, I began mentally preparing for the inevitable. There is plenty of material on how to withstand — or even understand — the death of a spouse. I, myself, have written many times on the topic.
However, I was completely caught off guard by what widowhood would do to my identity as a mother. Suddenly, I was the sole captain. My co-parent — my child-rearing partner — was gone. The one person who could wholeheartedly share in the sorrows and revel in the joys of raising our sons was absent.
I lacked backup when I needed it and a contrary opinion when necessary. I’m sure my boys grew tired of my voice and longed for the counterbalance of their father’s baritone.
The title of “single mother” never seemed to fit. Single = One. One is a whole number. I was fractioned — incomplete. It took me years to accept this new individual version of motherhood.
“Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism.”
I often wonder if life had gone according to plan, would I be the same woman I am now. What kind of mother would I be? Would I be as resilient or empathetic? Would my children?
The trials we encountered brought out a fortitude I never knew I possessed; a steely determination to nurture no matter what the circumstances. Like apprenticeships, each struggle provided the preparation and developed the strength I would need for the next one.
My boys are now adults. I can only take partial credit — or blame — for the men they have become. Their personalities are unique and innate. It filters how they perceive and respond to whatever lessons I may have tried to impart.
Many mistakes were made along the way, but I have cast aside the guilt. (Well, most of it.) I know I did the best I could with the tools I had at the moment. How can I regret anything that helped produce the remarkable sons I have today?
Motherhood was not — or continues to be — entirely what I expected, but what in life is?
The bubbles may continue to burst, but they leave rainbows in their wake.
I am a woman of many faces:
My roles define the façade you see
I conform to your reality
Never unveiling my complete identity
I parcel out my character
Offering tidbits to delight, entice
The designated consumer
Your view is obscured
Tainted, tinted, rendered incomplete
By your imagined image
Will you dare — Do you care
To shine a light on my persona
Shapeshifting like a kaleidoscope
A psychedelic palette freckled with crystal and coal
Charming and disturbing
My colors twist and turn
Once there was one who embraced my entirety
Who gazed pierced my mosaic individuality
And did not turn away
Iridescent, my soul shone for him
Enraptured, my soul captivated him
Unfiltered, I was known
What is the face you perceive
Will you — Can you — comprehend my totality
Or are you limited by necessity
Do you see
Fear seeps trepidation creeps
Through my bones
Chilled from within
Cold-blooded — numb
Internally, eternally(?) frozen
The calendar marks the seasons
But the climate remains the same
A year of upheaval, uproar
Distrust, mistrust of each other
Outbreak, Outcry for
At long last
Faith warms dawn transforms
A hibernating heart
Awakened — free
Inwardly, outwardly joyful
Liberated from its stalemate
The break of day kindles spirits
Fair weathers’ watch resets, renews
Potential, promise for us
Release, Revelry for
*Poet’s Note: One of the first blooms of Spring, the crocus is often viewed as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and hope.
How I found laughter and love in my darkest of days
My friend was running a bit late, and my mother was agitated. “Where is Katie* (named changed to protect the terrified) with that cold cut platter?”
It was the day before my husband’s funeral. We were expecting another influx of people stopping by to pay their respects and were running low on food. Katie had graciously offered to bring up the traditional wake tray of deli meats and cheese.
She was always on time, so I realized it could only be one thing. “Knowing Katie,” I said, “she is taking the time to make it look perfect.”
An interior decorator by trade and fabulous cook, everything Katie created was impressive. She could make even the most mundane chips and dip look Insta-worthy — even before Instagram existed. “It’s all about the presentation,” she explained.
Suddenly Katie and another friend, Christine, frantically burst through the front door. “There are three sheriff cars and five officers with their guns drawn right in front of your house!” they breathlessly exclaimed.
Christine and I bolted upstairs to my son’s room to get a good view of the action, figuring we could duck behind the bed if bullets started flying. (Our lame safety plan made perfect sense at the time.) Too freaked out to join us, my mother and Katie huddled in the kitchen.
We peeked through the blinds like seasoned nosy neighbors. Sure enough, the three cars were stopped in front of the house directly across the street. The sheriffs were slowing converging on a pickup parked in the driveway, firearms at the ready.
Our hearts beating faster than any gunfire that might have erupted, we were captivated by this C.S.I. moment playing out on my suburban cul de sac.
The officers steadily approached the vehicle in question, but found no one inside. After a thorough check of the perimeter (yes, I watch a lot of crime dramas), they determined that there was no immediate threat. The squad soon dispersed, deflating our adrenaline rush as they drove away.
Turns out the house was in foreclosure. The neighbors, incensed at being evicted, had trashed the interior before they left. The word was out to call the sheriffs should one of them return. Apparently, I didn’t get the notification. Neither did my next-door neighbor’s gardener, who had innocently parked in the perpetrator’s driveway.
Condolences and Casseroles
The gardener had been forced to use said driveway because there was no space available on the street. Every inch of curb was occupied by someone visiting my house — the home of a grieving family.
Since my husband’s sudden death a little over a week before, it had been a steady procession of people stopping by to offer condolences, deliver food or flowers, or both. Casseroles and coffee cakes overran my kitchen. Bouquets of flowers took up every square inch of table space.
I walked around in a frenzied fog trying in vain to comprehend my current circumstances.
One insightful friend brought over copious amounts of paper goods, plastic utensils, and toilet paper. When you have a constant flood of guests, they are the things you need most, but the last things you think about. It’s now my go-to offering when I visit a family in mourning.
It Takes a Village, a Family, and a Community
My husband and are were raised in large and social families. Both of us — especially my husband — were active in our community. He died while he was coaching my younger son’s youth football game, calling plays as he went down. It had made the local paper. To say his funeral was going to be well-attended was an understatement.
It was like planning a wedding for 1,000 guests with only a week’s notice.
My sons — ages 13 and 15 — and I were dumbfounded by grief. We could barely get ourselves dressed, let alone plan such an event.
Fortunately, it was this extended family and community that picked up the slack and then some. Some kindnesses were elaborate, and others were simple, but all made a difference.
No gift of compassion is ever too small for a family that is grieving.
My parents’ main mission was to tend to my boys and me, as we were rolling on empty. One person created the funeral program, another had it printed. Matt’s closest coworker took charge of the video presentation and gave a soul-stirring eulogy. I can’t remember who oversaw the floral arrangements, but the altar was in glorious bloom.
The church bereavement committee handled the after-service reception. While I hazily muddled through the greetings and thank yous, they made sure every guest had enough appetizers to ward off grumbling stomachs.
A pair of Matt’s friends transformed our backyard into a splendid venue complete with lights in the trees for the at-home gathering. Still another generous couple picked up the tab for dinner and bartended the evening. When the sunset and the lights began to twinkle, it was truly heavenly.
My husband had always envisioned hosting just such a magical party. I only hope he was able to see his dream come true.
Absurdity at the Mortuary
A few days before the funeral, Katie had accompanied me to the mortuary to finalize the details of my husband’s cremation. She was a bit squeamish with the situation but determined I not do this alone.
Uneasiness radiated off of Katie as I filled out the forms. She was trying valiantly to hide it, which only made me appreciate her presence even more. Soon, the mortician came in to finalize the details:
Would you like an urn? No, we will be scattering his ashes.
Ok, that will be $50 dollars for the cardboard box. I could hear my cost-conscious husband bellowing from his yet-to-be-determined grave.
Would you like him sifted or unsifted? Wait? What?! We aren’t baking a cake with him! Katie turned ashen.
The mortician explained that if the deceased had false teeth or any pins and rods from surgeries, they wouldn’t turn to ash in the cremation process. Lumpy gobs of metal would be left in the cinders. Matt was a very good — but accident-prone — athlete. His body was practically cyborg.
I didn’t need any Cracker Jack surprises tumbling out when we spread his remains. I paid extra for the sifting.
Finding Laughter and Love Amidst Chaos
In the eight days between my husband’s death and his funeral, I was bewildered and broken. My entire world had been shattered and I had yet to learn how to pick up the pieces.
Without the benevolent support of family and friends, my sons and I wouldn’t have survived those first days and beyond. We were in a grief-laden stupor and many details remain hazy, but our hearts will always remember the outpouring of love we received.
As it is with everything, there were periods of laughter and even joy woven into the hours of sorrow. My spirit was delighted to see far-away loved ones who arrived to console us. Katie and I giggled over the “sifting inquiry” for days and years after.
Even the alarm of a police raid provided a much-needed diversion. In your darkest of days, life will provide moments of relief if you’re willing to recognize them.
Back at the Scene of the Crime
After the commotion from the impending shoot-out had died down, I was finally able to view Katie’s platter. It was a magnificent display. The cold cuts and cheeses were impeccably spiraled around what I knew to be one of her favorite dishes. She spent time considering the color palette when she transitioned from one deli item to another.
My dear friend needed perfection for an imperfect occasion. I knew each item was carefully placed with heartbreak as she worked to ease my burden. It was her sympathy card to me.
“So, this is why you were late,” I said to Katie as I admired the tray. She smiled through her tears and nodded.
“It’s all about the presentation,” we chimed together.
My cheeks clenched in alarm, I had to investigate this menacing malady.
Dead Butt Syndrome (DBS), technically known as Gluteus Medius Tendinopathy (GMT), a.k.a. Dormant Buttocks Syndrome, a.k.a. Gluteal Amnesia is a real affliction and it’s spreading across America.
Our hours of prolonged sitting have caused our posterior muscles to weaken, misfire, or simply forget how to work, causing tingling, numbness, and/or pain. Left untreated, it can lead to hip, lower back, and leg pain.
Our dearly departed derrieres are sleeping off the pandemic like Rip Van Winkle.
Greatly unnerved, I decided to research what other odd conditions we could expect to encounter as a result of over a year in isolation.
Tearing our hair out
We’ve all laughed at the quarantine haircuts gone wrong memes. Chuckled at the home dye jobs that looked like they were done by Jackson Pollock instead of Vidal Sassoon. (My son cajoled me into cutting his hair. He wanted a tight fade. He got a cockeyed zigzag.)
Our hair cycle has three phases: growth, transitional, and resting. When we experience a shock to our system — be it physical, emotional, or both, our bodies react by keeping more and more hairs in the resting phase. Stunted, they eventually throw in the towel and fall out.
Physicians across the country are seeing a huge increase in patients reporting excessive hair loss. Our lives have been uprooted and our manes are following suit.
It’s no wonder our couches are looking like Chia Pets.
Ew! What’s that smell?!
Chances are — it’s you.
Have you noticed a peculiar funk following you around lately? Do you keep cleaning out your pantry searching for that forgotten potato you’re sure has begun to rot? Blame it on pandemic body odor.
There are two main culprits contributing to our musty auras; the first being the quarantine Big Stinky Cheese: Yep, stress.
Humans produce two types of sweat: Normal, everyday sweat to regulate temperature and stress sweat — a thick, viscous secretion that foul-smelling bacteria love to feast upon.
In our pre-pandemic life, we interacted with dozens of people on a weekly basis. Now the social life of our epidermis squatters has been greatly diminished. We may be missing our daily organism exchange with the person who added just the right amount of zing to our zest.
When we’re hunkered down with a select few, their concentrated condiments can make our microbial parties a little too pungent for our delicate senses.
If we used to waft a slight scent of G&T with extra lime (yes, it’s my go-to beverage, in case anyone is interested), we may now reek like a garlic and brussel sprout smoothie.
Call me jaded, but I am exasperated with the ceaseless self-help articles and news segments that only serve to point out how topsy-turvy our lives have become. It’s been nearly 9000 hours of persistent tension. My battery is drained. My circuits are fried.
But then again — maybe it’s time to get my rear in gear: Don a cute hat and lather on some deodorant.