I Can’t Remember

I can’t remember a lot of things about her life.  I’m having a hard time remembering specifics about things we did.  I’m having a hard time remembering the distinct things she said or fun and exciting stories from her life.

I do remember her essence.  Her shine is so burned into me, it’s part of my DNA.  I remember what it felt like to be around her and I remember my constant love.

The flip of this is that I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened when I got the call.  I don’t remember the drive to Detroit or driving home.  I only remember the highlights of the weeks I spent preparing for her funerals.  I don’t actually remember much of her funeral at all.  I do remember being surprised there were three priests attending to her mass.

The same thing happened when my husband passed.  Time wore down those memories.  The same as her, I remember his love and his essence.  And I remember crying in the bathroom during his illness.  But I don’t really remember what his voice sounded like.  And I don’t remember how much taller he was than me.  Were we the same height?  I know we were about the same because I have photos of us standing together.

I don’t remember her baby smell, but I do remember her birth and all of the time we spent in the Detroit Children’s Hospital.  She had four surgeries for her urinary tract condition.  Or was it five?  I don’t remember.

I hate that I can’t remember these things.

I’m okay with not remembering the trauma that happened right after their respective passings.

One of my issues with my memory is that I’ve augmented it with fabrication.  I wasn’t there when she died.  I was three hours away.  But my mind has concocted a memory that doesn’t exist.  I remember her in the tub, I remember her passing out and slipping under the water.  It’s horrible.  I hate it.  I try to get rid of it and think of other things when it creeps into my mind.

I remember her in my arms as a teenager, giving me reluctant hugs (because teenagers don’t do hugs).

I remember dancing with him one night when he’d had enough to drink that he forgot he didn’t like to dance.

A couple of years ago RadioLab did an episode on memory.  One of the take-aways was that every time we access a memory it changes just a little.  Little changes that are molded into something just slightly different than what was.  The things we can’t remember, those things that don’t easily come, those are the memories that are pure and exact.  Our brains have not changed them.

This is what I have left of her.  A changing memory.

But I am resolute in my memory of her spirit.  The things that aren’t tangible.

I don’t remember if I burned her with the curling iron when I did her hair for her 12th grade homecoming dance.  I do remember her excitement.  I remember my pride.

I will always remember the shine they both left in the world.



Limited by Language

Language can be so very powerful.  We have composite thought because we can express concept with nuance and grace.  Language unleashes the complexities of art and mathematics and cookery and commerce.

Language really does nothing for emotion.

We have one word for love.  This one word will never adequately convey the love a parent has for a child.  It will never express the degree of difference between a new love and an established love.  The word love does not delineate between sibling and spouse.  It serves only as a guidepost.

Love, hate, happy, joyful, morose, sad, guilty, jealous.  They never really work, really.

We all know how inadequate our emotional language is.  Which is why I feel like I can’t get out what I feel for my losses.  I can’t truly tell you how deeply cheated I feel by losing both my child and my husband.  And having lost them with a seven year gap makes it much more salty.  It wasn’t a tragic accident that claimed everyone at once – to be processed together.  It was a kick in my life, then much later I got sucker punch to my soul.

I can’t make you really understand the depth of my anguish.  When I’m talking with my people, I typically just make sounds.  Wordless expression is primal.  Before we learned to talk, our only communication was via emotional grunts.  And I’ve come back to that.  Everything that I feel is so primal, so primitive, that I can’t give you a word. I can groan and make a weird face at you but to say I  yearn to hold my daughter, to talk to her, to feel her life is so deeply inadequate that even just saying those things feels elementary (?)

I hate that I can’t tell you what I want to tell you.  I don’t like that I can’t share this experience more intimately, but my language fails.  When I try to do this, I end up with a stupid analogy or a ridiculous simile.

Generally, where we lack for words we can express through action.  I can’t tell you how much I love and care for you, but I can certainly demonstrate it through my behavior.  I can’t tell you how much joy I get from being at the ocean, but you can see it in my face.

All of this pain is locked inside.  In this case, you can still see my face and look at the shape of my shoulders and you can hear me deflate under the weight of this situation.  But you won’t really understand.   It’s isolating.  

It’s even isolating among us with similar loss. I know many mothers that have lost children, but we will never truly understand individual pain. Our circumstances in both life and death are different. We have empathy and connection, but not a true and deep understanding.

I can tell you clearly and absolutely that I give it 0 stars.  Would not recommend.

The Big Tattoo

When my husband passed, I got a tattoo on the inside of my wrist.  A small firework.  He loved fireworks.  We stopped to watch all fireworks.  He passed away on July 4th.  Fitting.  I put it on my wrist so I could always see it.  It’s easy to look at.

When Z passed, I got a big tattoo on my bicep.  It peeks out of short sleeves and is all black and grey.  The reaction from my mom when I came home with it was “That’s big.”  It is.  This situation(?) is big.  If it were to be size proportional, the tattoo would have covered my entire body.

It’s a lot of pain.  It’s a big tattoo.  It could have been bigger.

My brother and sister drove in from Wyoming as soon as they could notify their employers and pack some items together.  My sister drove 5 hours to my brother’s house and they were off on the 20 hour drive back to Michigan.  Two days after they arrived we were in the garage of my mom and dad’s house and my brother announced/said “Amy, I want to buy you a tattoo.”   That was Sunday.  My family talked out the prospective tattoo design,  my brother did 15-20  minutes of research on northern Michigan tattoo parlors and we were in the next day.  I was in the chair when the eclipse happened.

Isabella had planned on driving to southern Illinois for the eclipse.  She missed the eclipse and I was in a chair with ink being driven into my arm with needles to memorialize an event that I could have never imagined.

I had the tattoo for her visitation and her funeral the following two days.

I need to have her represented always and everywhere.  All the places and things she should be a part of.  She can’t and I’ve got this tattoo.  A big, permanent sign on my body that is analogous to “I’ve lost someone forever and this is a representation of my pain and my life without them”.

My life has changed permanently.  My arm has changed permanently.


How to Have a Conversation

This afternoon, I saw a friend I’ve had for 20 years.  She lives in Germany, so I typically only see her one time, once a year.  We met up tonight for a quick dinner.  She brought her two peanuts with her.  They are so, so big… so perfect.

She knows I’ve lost Z.   She reads this blog.  But seeing her today – I was so morose (?).  I just didn’t know what to say.  I talked with her kids, and we chatted, but it’s hard for me to be part of a conversation that involves “catching up”.  My whole life right now is only one thing.  Or, rather, one missing thing.  And there really isn’t much to say.  We both know.  And that’s the sum of my life.  I have nothing else of note going on.

“My daughter is gone.  I struggle hard and constantly.  I’ve been making a lot of pies. I’m clearly eating my feelings.  I’m lost and hurt and broken.”  That is a shitty conversation that I don’t want to be a part of.  I don’t want to spend my 2 hours with my friend talking about this… situation (?).  But it hangs in the air. We’re both trying to ignore it, but I can’t think of anything else to say.

I don’t know how to have a conversation anymore.  I don’t know what to talk about.  I only have three non-tragic topics of conversation.  1) Pie  2) My bar trivia team  3) My dog.  After that, I’m utterly lost.  Conversation can’t revolve around my loss for the rest of my life.  It’s not healthy, it’s not comfortable, it’s not  what I want to be a part of. I don’t want to start crying every time I talk with someone.

The frustrating part is I’ve forgotten how to ask people about themselves.  I totally space out on the volley of question and answer that drives a conversation forward.  I forget what to do.

“How is your job?  What are you doing this weekend?  Do you have a vacation planned?  How is the meal you’re eating?  Did you see that video on Facebook?”  I can’t remember any of these questions.  I blank out when I’m with people.

Those couple of people that I’m seeing again know that I need to be carried through this.  They can make a conversation work.  But if I haven’t seen you in a while?  Useless.  It’s just one hand trying to clap.

I want so much to have the effortless, breezy conversations I had before.  I want to talk about the stupid mundane parts of life.  But I just don’t know how to break through this shroud of conversation that is so lost.

I’m terrible, thank you for asking.  But keep asking because I’ll come around.  I need to come around.  Eventually I’ll be able to talk about something other than trivia or pie or my dog.  Someday I’ll have a breezy conversation that doesn’t include crying.   It wasn’t tonight.  But I’ll see her again next October.  We’ll have a better conversation then.

Conversations with me is 0 stars.  Would not recommend.

I Used to be Funny

9 years ago, when I started writing about the trials and balancing act of cancer at home, I was mostly funny.  It was the counterbalance to the intense pressure of being the caregiver to a dying spouse while being the breadwinner of the house and still maintaining the illusion of goodness for the children we had to raise.  I made everyone feel comfortable with what was going on.  I lulled everyone into feeling better about our situation.  People around us were okay because they thought I was okay.

I sent pictures of the kids smashing pumpkins in our driveway,  my late husband and I vacationing, and always having a good time with our family.  Occasionally, I’d toss in pictures of him at chemo or in a hospital gown, but for the most part I kept everyone informed, sane, and feeling pretty good.  Our friends and family could forget that we were struggling with this pending… situation (?)  We knew what was on the horizon but we were all so comfortable in the daily humor that it was easy to forget what was there.

Then, we understood what was happening.  His death was expected.  I could tackle it with the absurd and the hilarious.

Her loss?  Hers was a sucker punch.  Right into my core.  Into everything I am.  Along with everything else, it sucked the humor out of me.  I could always find my way through things with humor, but this is too much.  And I hate that.  So much was stolen from my life – and to have my funny taken away too?  That’s just the salt into the wound.

Every day I struggle with what is coming.  I know I’m going to have to move forward and carry her life (and his) with me in a different way than I had before.  How can I do it without exploiting the humor as my crutch?  I know I have to make a conscious effort to do it, but I don’t know where to start.  I don’t know how to start.  This entire situation is just ludicrous.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my identity has taken a hit in so many ways and I don’t know how to cope with that.  I can go to my support group and I can commune with those around me and I can tell people that I’m part of that extra special grief club (child + spouse) that includes Joe Biden and Keanu Reeves and I can start to rebuild my life into these new circumstances.  But I can’t do it without humor.  I need to find it and pull it back into my life.

I want to be funny again.  I just don’t know how.

Life without humor stinks.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.

The First First

Today is Z’s birthday.  She would have been 19 today.

Today also marks exactly 9 weeks since she has passed.

It’s the first “first” for me.  The first time she’s not here for a big event.

I used to love the location of my girl’s birthdays on the calendar.  Z’s falls in late October, then mine and then X’s in early November.  Then the holiday rush.  Our birthdays ushered us into the celebration season.  It was a fun way to kick off the end of year festivities.

This year, instead of the start of the end of the year, it’s the first first for me.  For my parents.  For my remaining (other?) daughter.  For my SO.  For all of us.  We’ve lost the luster.

There really isn’t much to say today.  Today is all guttural emotion that bubbles into an anguish and pain that is so deep and harsh that it’s primal.  There isn’t much to say because there are no words.

I’ve spent the morning sitting at my desk hiding my literal tears behind paperwork.  I ugly cried in the bathroom.  I took an early lunch and read Facebook and cried more.

I’ll have to do this again at Halloween.  Then Thanksgiving.  Then Christmas.  Then New Year.  Then pull into 2018 with more firsts.

Today she should have been 19.


I’ve had a couple of kinds of shock.  The first happened when the initial trauma happened and I switched into a sort of robot mode.  The second took over from there.  It insulated me from the reality of what was happening.  I wasn’t knee deep in the trauma anymore, but nothing felt real.  It still doesn’t, most of the time.  But that is wearing off.

Right now, in my brain, I know that she’s gone.  But in my heart, I feel like I just haven’t talked with her in a long time.  Like she’s away and I’m just waiting for the phone call that will catch us up on all things going on.

I think I’ve mentioned this before… have I mentioned this?  My thoughts get lost in my fog.

I still have to catch my breath a couple of times a day.  The reality pierces the insulation around my heart and it’s a jolt.  That fades and I slowly ease myself back into the comfort of the shock.  I’m holding onto it.  I can feel it wearing off.

I can’t remember, really, when  the shock of my late husband’s death subsided.  Probably much more quickly than this will, but that was in a different life, a different place.  Then, I was unemployed and I had parked my family in my parent’s basement until I found a job.  I didn’t have the luxury of a slow heal.  I had a small family that needed me to do the parent things.

I don’t remember clearly, but I do remember feeling really gross (?) when I went on the first romantic (?) date after he passed – about a year and a half later.  It was like I was cheating… betraying the spirit of our marriage.

Now it’s still unreal, and the sinking truth happens more often.  Which means I’m a little quicker to bite since the grasp on my illusion of her just *being away* is slipping away.  Wearing off.

I want to grab into the night, to pull her back, pull her back into life.  Even still, I want to grab hold of this cushion of belief and hold that for comfort.  Comfortable lies I tell myself… she’ll be back… she’s just gone right now… I’ll talk to her tomorrow.  Comfortable lies.

Living in shock.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Healing Pie

Blueberries.  Half wild for the adventurer.  Half regular for what feels comfortable.

Rinse them in warm water – I feel the cold flow away from the berries.   I Feel the berries warm, let the new warmth wash over my hands.

Rinse them in cold water once for my love and once for my grief.  Cold water brings an anxious mind to the present.

Put half the berries in a bowl that is big enough to hold everything I thought I would have.  The other half of the berries go on the stove with lemon juice.  Acid.  Acid makes the berries brighter.  Acid hurts an open wound.

Gently cook the berries until they reduce by half.  Like my children.  reduced by half.  Gently mash away at what is left.  Break open the cooked berries to release the pectin.  It helps to set what is left.  It forms the gel that will keep the pie together.  It holds life together.

Mix the cooked berries into the large bowl with the uncooked berries.  Mix together what I thought I would have with what I actually have.  Mix them gently.  Add sugar and dry lemon pudding mix and a grated apple.  More acid.  More sweet.  More pectin. I trust the sweet to overtake the acid.  I trust in those that have done this before and tell me what it’s like.

I mix gently into my soul.    Love into the turn.  Watch life turn.  Watch the child slip away.  Mix her spirit and her sweet and her shine into the berries.  Mix for love.  Mix for loss.  Mix for the grief and the whatever is beyond.

Pour more dry lemon pudding mix into the bottom of the crusted pie plate. More acid.  I am told it makes the berries brighter.  I trust that it makes the berries brighter.

Everything goes into the plate and the plate goes into the very hot oven.  It’s seems too hot.  The temperature is much hotter than other recipes and cooking techniques.  This will burn.  When I open the oven to put the pie in, it heats my necklace.  My “Z” burns my throat for a minute.

Watch. Watch the pie change in the light.  Watch life boil with the weight of the pectin that is supposed to keep it together.

Half way through, turn down the heat and rotate the pie.  Release the scent into the house.  The love is tangible. It’s in the air.  It lingers.  I can’t put it back.  I can’t grab it or keep it.  I can only idle in what you have at that moment.  The memory of the sweet air will stay, but I can’t live that moment again.  It’s so sweet, the air, that I can almost taste it.  It’s so close I feel like can touch it… so close…. so close.  But it’s not there.  The sweet air is memory.

When the pie has bubbled for all it’s might – what’s left is not what I had.  I can’t have that back.  I have something different (new?).

The solemnity of the occasion allows my mind to wander and be focused at the same time.  The production of the cooking and the bake yields a result I can’t find in my daily routine.  In the fruit I find some escape.  In the bake I find center and calm.  I don’t find relief, but I do find a slowness that I need to give my otherwise racing mind.

Pie gets 5 stars.  Would recommend pie.



Emails are a kind of minefield.  Every email is dated and when I comb my deleted and archived email looking for evidence of this or that, I have to look at the dates.  June 2017 (graduation), July 2017 (getting ready for college), Aug 15 (the last day I would talk to her), Aug 16 (the day), Sept 1 (my first day back to work),

My mind separates everything dated into two buckets.

When I had her.  When I didn’t.

When we were a whole family.  When we fractured.

Every email I have to search comes at me and I immediately examine my memories.  What were we doing that day?  Where was she?  Was she happy that day?

I remember earlier in the summer I was reviewing my life and, taken in 5 year chunks, my adult life has had some pretty wild course changes and it’s always crazy to me where I ended up.  I’ve really never been on a steady course that would end neatly the way I intend.

I would occasionally look back with some regret (?) here and there, wishing the events in my life would have lead me down a less rocky path.  I would wish for an ease that never quite made it into my life.

And here we are.  Down a path I never saw coming and certainly didn’t work into the plan.

When my husband passed, we saw it coming.  I prepared, I planned, I moved into his death head-on.  I was ready for that.  I knew it was a gut-punch coming, but I managed.  I cried a lot and second guessed my choices without him, but bully for me.

Right after he passed, I moved my small family across the state to a new job, new town, new start.  I was able to make my date buckets into Before and After the move.  It was a protection.  It was a literal move. I didn’t have to refer back to anything that wasn’t on my terms.

This time, my life has a pinpoint.  A line of demarcation. 

Everything now is AD.



Sunday I decided I wanted to make an apple pie.  But I wanted this pie to look like a bouquet of flowers and I couldn’t do it without an apple peeler/corer/slicer.  I went to 4 stores looking for one even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to find one.  It’s an old-lady item.  Only available on amazon.  There isn’t much traffic in that peeler/corer/slicer needs – everyone wants a spiralizer.  That’s what is in the stores.

But I stood in all of the home goods aisles on the verge of tears because I wanted this stupid gadget.  I needed it in my house.  I needed it for my afternoon, I wanted this thing to be a part of my process.  I wished so hard that I could find one.

I wished so hard that I could find her.  I need her in my house.  I need her for the afternoon.  I needed her to be a part of my process.

But she wasn’t there.  I couldn’t find her.  All I could find was that stupid spiralizer.

And that’s kind of what it’s turned into… I’m compulsively looking for these *things* that I can’t find.  And I stare at the shelves and I walk away from the department and then walk back to where these *things* should be and she’s not there.  She’s never there.

I did end up making the pie.  It turned out very pretty – but it could have been beautiful if I could only have had the thing that I was missing.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.