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This has been one of those weeks that really just shouldn’t happen. It has been almost comical in its twists and turns, because really, sometimes all you can do is laugh.

Even so, for some reason we decided to watch “Bridge to Terabithia” last night — a decidedly uncomical movie. I vaguely remembered the ending (and the deep sense of betrayal and loss that accompanied it) from reading the book in elementary school. Having those characters brought to life and then torn away again, all in an ultra-cheesy Disney setting, was the ultimate cruelty.

After finishing the movie, I checked out a couple of websites about the book to remind myself of the original plot. Turns out the movie was pretty true to the storyline, including of course the dramatic and depressing ending. A lot of the sites were for teachers (I guess they still read that book in school), and detailed the “Big Themes” that kids are supposed to take away from this book. Obviously the biggest one is that it exposes kids to the concept of death in a way that they can handle, supposedly because the characters are their own age and they can empathize better with the experience of losing someone.

Judging by my own memory of the book, I was certainly able to empathize. I remembered nothing about the plot other than the fact that the girl dies — obviously a deeply traumatic event in my childhood reading memory, since I haven’t even thought about the book in almost twenty years. As for learning any big lessons about death though, all I remember is a deep sense of resentment that this book would draw me in to these two kids’ lives, make me love them and their beautifully imagined world, and then suddenly, cruelly take one of them away.

Is that really the lesson you want kids learning about death, that at any minute someone you love can be suddenly taken away? Because if so, it hasn’t helped me deal with my current reality one bit. In the past two years, I have dealt with more death and illness than I can wrap my head around even now, much less when I was ten years old. So why make kids deal with a situation that they can’t hope to understand, one which clearly only distresses them in a way that will be remembered for a lifetime? Why not let them be ten years old for just a little while longer, and postpone the cruel realization that they live in a world of death and loss?

I remember that I always wanted to rewrite the book and give them a happy ending, let them stay in Terabithia happily ever after. I feel the same way right about now: I miss Terabithia, and wish it hadn’t been taken away from me so soon.


December 1 dawned cold and clear, with the winter’s first brushing of frost on the roofs of the cars and houses nearby. (God I love California — no frost until December! Fabulous.)

Even so, I was able to spend most of the day outside, first on a long walk near the ocean and then tackling the first of our wildly overgrown garden beds to go under the knife. For five hours. I am now sore and tired, but happy that I can finally look out my kitchen window without revulsion.

Gardening is a wonderful thing, a habit acquired only of late. There is something very Zen-like about the constant bending and plucking, the hefting of dirt and turning of roots. When you’re caught up in those simple, repetitive motions, everything else goes away for a while. It’s like running used to be, before I overdosed on it and got bored.

There is something extremely satisfying about the art of making things grow. Similarly, the destruction I have wreaked upon large swaths of my garden (alas, not large enough!) is also very gratifying. Plants are very black and white in their affections. Treat them well, they live. Treat them poorly, they die. Unlike in human relations, there are no gray areas.

But most importantly of all, gardening makes me feel close to my grandmother. My growing interest in the world of plants coincided with the last few months of her life, which perhaps not coincidentally also saw the two of us becoming closer than we’d been since I was a child. In fact, now that I think of it, I used to play in the garden with her back then, too.

In the last days of her life, I told her about my garden to help take her mind off of the pain and fear that had accompanied her to the hospital. Talking about my fuchsias and even our never ending battle with oxalis seemed to cheer her to no end. Now, in these days without her, I cheer myself in turn by spending time in the garden, telling her about all the things growing in my soil and my life. Call it strange, but it really does help me, just as it did her.

As my family gathers around once more for Thanksgiving, there is one person missing that everyone’s trying not to talk about… yet I know they’re all thinking about. Or at least I know I am.

This is our first holiday without my grandma, and truly, this holiday was hers more than anyone’s. She made the pumpkin pies, she presided over the table at dinner as the matriarch of the clan, she dried the family silver and put it back in its box after dinner. She loved this holiday, and it loved her.

So we’re all struggling not to be too sad, and honoring her in myriad little ways while still enjoying our time together. Tonight my teenage cousin went over to her house and made the cookies that they always made together, and my uncle is taking over pumpkin pie duty tomorrow. Life goes on, which I think would have been a great relief to her. Strong emotion of any kind always made her highly uncomfortable, and she would’ve been mortified to know that anyone was in the slightest way put out by her death.

For me, it really hit home tonight when I was setting the table for our pre-turkey day rehearsal barbeque. I knew I had the right number of place settings, but when it came time to put out the napkins with their proprietary rings, I couldn’t for the life of me think of who the last person was. It seemed there was an extra place, someone missing, and I couldn’t help but think that it should’ve been for my grandma. Of course it turned out that I hadn’t counted that same teenage cousin, as he is too old to think of as a kid and too young to make it as an adult just yet (although he’s certainly tall enough, following in another proud family tradition). But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had set an extra place at the table on purpose.

It is strange not to see her slowly making her way to her customary spot at the dinner table, overseeing all kitchen operations from there. It’s also hard not to have our afternoon interrupted by her going to “rest her back,” aka the kids are driving her crazy and she needs a time out. I miss her, and tomorrow is going to be difficult in a lot of unexpected little ways.

But somehow it’s alright at the same time, just as it was on my wedding day. She is gone, but as long as I can be with people who all share the same wonderful memories of her, somehow a little piece of her will still be with us. By honoring her life and carrying on with our own, we are able to make both ourselves and each other feel a little bit better about that glaring hole at the end of the table.

Perhaps this poem by Robert Frost can inform my actions and reactions in my current situation, at least optimistically anyway. (Thanks to Rachel at A Historian’s Craft for this one.)


When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, ‘Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.’

I’ve spent the better part of the last year trying to deal with the fact that my father is dying. Now that I’m finally starting to come to terms with that reality, I realize that he is not so much dying as just… fading.

Every time I see him, he’s a little less real, a little less in touch with this world (and that’s saying a lot, because even for a professor of religion, he was always pretty out there.) He’s eating less, remembering less, reading less… he’s just, well, less. Every day.

And then, perhaps someday soon, he will fade away completely.

This makes me want to curl up in a little ball on my couch right now and not move for a very long time. But I’ve fought that urge so far, and I can continue to do so now. Short of that, what else is there to do? I guess continue to do as I did today – sit next to him, content to just be in his presence, and every so often, reach out a hand to make sure that yes, he’s still really there. Repeat again in about five minutes’ time. And again.

One day, I will reach out my hand and there will be nothing there. But that day is not today.

When we left three weeks ago, it was still summer. But now that we’re back, it is suddenly my favorite season of all – Fall, or if you’re a Brit, Autumn.

I just woke up (after the longest night’s sleep I’ve had since getting back, whoopee!) and reveled in the cool, crisp air in our house, the kind you only get on a fall morning when it’s probably going to be warm later in the day but hasn’t really made its mind up yet. Looking out into the tangle of our backyard, it’s all yellow… or that could be the weedkiller we sprayed on the brambles before we left. Hmm.

The air and the light this morning make me think of the holidays, of family and eating and unfortunately my grandmother. This will be our first holiday season without her pumpkin pies, without the most current generation of kids running back and forth to her house and helping her make cookies, without her to exclaim over the Christmas tree (which has looked more or less the same for my entire life) and buy cheesy, easy presents for.

That’ll be a tough one, but it’s alleviated by the fact that it’ll also be our first fall as a married couple. In the way life seems to work, I have traded one tradition for another, making a whole new set of memories while still keeping close the old.

I rather doubt my new husband will be able to make pumpkin pies as well as Baba did though. Alas.

“… and but he’s something stained
With grief – that’s beauty’s canker – thou mightst call him
A goodly person.”

We saw the Shakespeare Santa Cruz version of “The Tempest” last night, and I was so struck by this line that I carried it with me for the rest of the evening, determined to blog about it today.

That Bill S., he sure has a way with words, don’t he? Describing grief as “beauty’s canker” has a way of diminishing its importance, portraying it as a mere sore spot on the face of life’s greater beauty. That appealed to me greatly.

(When I looked up the stanza this morning, I found on Google Books that Prospero is really saying that grief is attracted to the beautiful. I can see how it’s framed that way in the context of the play, but I choose to keep my interpretation intact. So there.)

My life these days is astoundingly beautiful. I just went and pulled weeds in the garden for an hour, and during that time felt very close to my grandmother, who always loved her own garden. She would not want my grief for her to be an open wound in my life, but rather a small canker on the face of its overall loveliness. And really, who can argue with that?

Next up on my list of deep interpretations of literature: Orwell’s 1984, which I am currently rereading. Watch out.

On Saturday, we hiked up a mountain in search of a waterfall. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, there was no water in the fall.


(See that last pond all the way to the right? That’s where the falls are supposed to be cascading over the edge to the valley floor.)

So instead of sitting by a rushing river to eat our lunch, we sat on a rock by a puddle. A picturesque puddle, granted, but a puddle nonetheless.

While exploring the mostly dry bed of these grand falls, I discovered that the rock still bears the marks of the river. Huge whorls and deep pools of stone, perfectly circular, with no trace of the water that shaped them.


Climbing around these holes carved in the solid granite, they started to remind me of what it’s like to lose someone you love. After spending so long with a person, little by little your heart starts to take on the shape of their presence in your life. They flow over and around you so many times that they mold you, chip away at you, smooth down your edges, until you can’t really tell where you end and they begin.

And then, they are gone. Your heart still bears the shape of them, but the force that created it is no longer there. What then? One becomes like this waterfall – still beautiful, still a testament to that person’s presence in your life, but kind of sad and really, really empty.

But then again, maybe I was just dehydrated.


Every time I’ve sat down to write for the past week, I can’t seem to get any words past the current block in my brain. (I’ve also been totally exhausted most of the time, but that’s beside the point.) What’s been stopping me is the most recent in the string of deaths that have visited my heart this year.

This time, only a week after the first, I lost another coworker. He too was 39, the same age as my fiance. This time, though, the death was self-inflicted. I have spent the past week struggling to understand why someone in the prime of his life could possibly do such a thing. And this is why I have been unable to write – the words simply don’t seem to flow around this block in my head.

Conversely, I have spent more time than usual noticing the things that make life worth living. In this frame of mind, it doesn’t take much more than a baby’s smile, a beautiful sunrise, or the smell of warm redwoods in the sunlight. For me, continuing to live is easy. It really doesn’t take much to justify my continued existence.

So the question remains… at what point do you just stop seeing the things that make life worth living? This is my block, the concept I can’t seem to wrap my head around. Suicide is the ultimate negation, a denial not only of one’s own basic worth as a human being but also of everyone else in one’s life. Even I feel that rejection, and I only chatted with this person on a sporadic basis. He asked me out once, or rather insinuated that he might have, were I not already dating the person I am now marrying. I can’t help thinking, “What if I had gone out with him? Would things have been different?” Of course the answer is no, but this just goes to show how far-reaching the guilt of a person’s suicide can be.

As I have struggled to comprehend all of this, I have also marveled at how the brain shies away from the concept of death, particularly that which is self-inflicted. I still can’t comprehend the fact that my grandmother is gone, and it has been over two months now. And I truly can’t accept that this person I worked with, whom I talked to about how to update our website just a few months ago, is now gone. By his own carefully planned and implemented design.

Trying to grasp something this monumental tends to drown out almost everything else with the din of its passing. Hence, writer’s block, a feeling I am most certainly not used to. I use words to comprehend the world, to place it into neat, easily digestible packages, and thereby surmount the insurmountable. But sometimes, there are things that are just too large to place into words, much less digest.

This is one of those times. I hope it will soon pass .

Despite the relative optimism of my last post, the death of my coworker this week has affected me more than I’d expected.

For one thing, I sit in the Public Information suite, so I have heard nothing but discussions about cause of death, etc. Cheerful.

Secondly, I work with a tiny thing of a girl who despite being my age (and did I mention very small? she makes me feel like a massive ogre) is somehow managing to take the grief of the entire division onto her slim shoulders while doing the job of two very overworked people. Impressive.

But most of all, the whole thing hits a little too close to home. I am finally getting to the point where I can think of my grandmother without feeling like someone just kicked me in the stomach. But I still get a pang, and every time I manage to draw breath after it’s passed, I wonder how much more devastating it would be to lose a partner, a friend, the father of one’s children.

When you do, how long does it take to be able to breathe without pain?

I mean, you take that ring, you say, “Til death do us part,” but in no way do you think that will be any time soon, much less when you’ve just given birth to a baby boy. Perhaps it’s a good thing that you don’t think these things, or else you’d be totally paralyzed.

This thought is especially poignant because just yesterday, my affianced placed my newly reset engagement ring on my finger for the first time. He did so with the intention on both sides that this is something I will wear for the rest of our lives together. (Until I size up, of course. Ha ha only joking darling!)

I did not take that lightly at the time, and I don’t think I ever will. You enter into this pact with the blindest of trust, not only that the other person will remain true and faithful, but that the universe will treat you both fairly. All problems can be solved, as long as you both are here.

Before this post gets any more morbid and depressing, I will stop by saying that I hope his widow can breathe easy again some day. I cannot imagine her devastation, nor do I want to. But I do know that when I go home tonight, I will hold my beloved so tightly that it blocks the hole in my own chest for a little while.

Perhaps then I can breathe for her and I both.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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