Tag Archives: nostalgia

Grief: Body Memory, E-mail as Archivist


The body knows. It knows the angle of the sun, the fullness of the trees, the scent of the air, the sharpness of the light, and the grace of the wind. Even if the events are different, if a person is missing and another is on the way, the body knows. And when the body senses these things, again, it knows what to do even if your mind and your heart fight savagely, like a feral dog, to stay in the present, to stay busy, to stay distracted, to do anything but go back into that cave of grief and face the reality of your absent loved one.

I wasn’t sure, but I suspected it; I knew it was either the first weekend or the second weekend in February last year. I knew it was coming in a sensuous way, but I had no clue, absolutely as though a fact, intellectually. I just had that sense of awareness, of knowing and the unrelenting waves of nostalgia, heaviness and “cling” (it’s the best word I can muster) that came and went at me like echoes in a canyon.

Last year, February 2 and 3, 2013, was the last time my entire family of origin and their families gathered in my house. I remember it as if it happened last night. I remember waking that morning, eager for the arrival of my brothers, their wives and their children. I remember making sure the sheets were on the beds, the towels in the rooms and that we had enough mac and cheese and strawberries for the kids.

Each year, our families do different things on actual Christmas, so we’ve made a tradition, over the last couple decades to celebrate “second Christmas” which I now recognize as my third favorite holiday ever. It’s usually in late January or February. We like to push it out a little later into the year because we all see each other for Thanksgiving.

I’d like to think it’s the big holidays that would do me in regarding my mother’s absence. Thanksgiving, Easter, Bastille Day. That was sort of a joke, Bastille Day. I threw it in there for comic relief, but then I realized after I typed it that it was actually the last time I saw her alive last year. We got together that day last year to celebrate my nephew’s and brother’s birthday at my house even though they were still in NY. It was the dinner that I planned the Wednesday before with an odd sense of urgency and deliberation. I never “had” to have my parents over for dinner like I had to that night. Then scant six weeks later, after my yoga retreat and a final summer vacation, she was gone.

We left our outdoor lights on the bushes out front because it was still Christmas to us. It snowed that night. I couldn’t believe it.

from my Facebook page last year.

from my Facebook page last year.

Second Christmas of 2013 was special to me, I didn’t know why, but I did my best at one moment to announce to the family — despite my brothers’ imminent mockery and my own self-consciousness at the sappiness of it all — that I couldn’t have imagined my heart fuller than at that moment: all my loved ones were, as John Mayer sings in “Stop this Train”, “safe and sound”:

Oh well now once in a while,

When it’s good and it feels like it should

And they’re all still around

And you’re still safe and sound

And you don’t miss a thing

And so you cry when you’re driving away in the dark,

Singing, ‘stop this train, I want to get off and go back home again…

Which is a song I hadn’t ever heard, despite my affection for John Mayer, until Second Christmas this year at my brother’s house and of course when I heard it, I pretty much fell to my knees emotionally. So naturally, to help me usher and attend to all these feelings I’m feeling these days, I listen to it, nod my head, sniffle and it soothes me.

It began last week, the nostalgia. I wrote to my son on his 13th birthday, again citing the Mayer song. I thought writing to him would soothe this beast, ease my pain, but it didn’t.

So then I wrote to an eFriend I met last fall after her mother died, telling her about how I was doing and closed that note, “Good thoughts are headed toward you from me.” That didn’t do it. Then I heard from a beloved cousin with whom I’ve grown amazingly and naturally close since summer, she’s like a combo sister auntie mom to me. I told her what I’d been up to: the new puppy, that I’m teaching yoga to the high school rowers now and working on my certification and all that and she asked me, in the most simple, clear and loving way, “how are you doing with your bereavement?” and I realized (even though I knew it all along) that she’s no dummy: I’m throwing all these things in my path to distract me from my pain.

But the thing is: this stuff comes at you, as your body knows, out of nowhere and if you’re not ready for it (and who is ready for an emotional sucker punch, you tell me) you fall to your soft places, curl up and cry unfettered sobs wishing that things weren’t the way they are. That they were somehow different — all along different in fact — but that your Now is unreconcilable; it’s as unreconcilable as the Then you wish were different, kinder, gentler.

Then you realize with a full heart, heavy lungs and wet eyes, that if your past were different then your now would be too. You can’t have it all: a functional mother and attendant father and a path of self-destruction which led you to the life you’ve attained now… that your children would not be here because your mate wouldn’t have stepped into your life when he did because you would’ve gone to a different college entirely if your life were somehow different, kinder, gentler, more orderly and rational.

Dovetailing. It’s all this fate stuff that happens to us when we allow ourselves to see it all with the glorious acumen and vision of a Monday morning quarterback.

Doesn’t matter. Would you trade it all? Would you trade it for just maybe one less crisis in your youth? Maybe one less heartache? One less battle with your parent that would’ve gotten you into the shower earlier? Are these the George Bailey (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) moments of our lives: that the one moment earlier in the shower before leaving for English 348 affected what parking spot we got at college, which determined the length of the walk to the car which had affected who’d we see in passing through the doorway at work who’d invited us to a party where we met our mate? I look back now and say, “No. I guess I wouldn’t trade it all.”

. . . . .

The amount of flotsam in my email inbox was absurd last week. I had close to 3,500 messages in it; something like 850 of them unread. Most of the missives are subscriptions and retailer content. Just before I went on the yoga retreat in July, I emptied it to somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 messages.

I culled the inbox on Friday, to a manageable level, 1100 messages. I know that’s still high, it was an all-day affair requiring numerous bathroom and stretch breaks. I have now the same emails in the box that I had a hard time reconciling in July: notes from my family about my mother’s health and the conversations we had with my father a year ago today about his goals and ideas for the next 18 months, 12 of which have slipped through our hands like flaming kerosene, and the conversations going forward about how to best attend to her and his goals. I don’t know what to do with those notes.

The Chinese use the same symbol for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity.”

That email traffic created a new crisis (on one hand) and opportunity (in the other hand) for me. It was at that point that my father stopped speaking with me because I had drawn a line: After I gave him all the same information he’d requested three years prior and did nothing with, I told him to perform just one task and then I would help. This pattern of his, looking like he was doing Task A while really doing Task K was a long-held tactic of his — who can blame him? It’s human nature to completely avoid what you don’t want to do. The short version is this: it took a while.

The opportunity was that my mother and I started speaking more, as we used to, conspiratorially about my father and how curmudgeonly and obstinate he would be. He would be almost petulant like a child at times. If he’s reading this, he can close his laptop. I have suppressed a lot of this for at least one year and it’s just going to spill out of me somewhere even though I’m tempering a lot of it, so …

Then I began EMDR therapy to deal with the jolts and aftershocks of heavy emotional baggage, torpedoing through the abyss as though finally freed from the cargo holds of the Titanic.

While feeling all the feelings last week, I said to my husband, “The last time I remember feeling any sense of peace and purpose and composure in this house was immediately after my return from the yoga retreat. I did some sadhana, and then I went into the hot tub all by myself and chanted for half an hour. That was the last time I felt stable. Since then, it’s as though my life has literally turned upside down.”

This upside-downedness is ok; it’s how life is away from the Tibetan mountain top.

This next year, all the way through until the anniversary of my mother’s death on Labor Day, is going to be extremely tender for me; I can feel it already. My body knows; it is preparing me, and I best listen, to undergo and re-experience the final six months of my mother’s life and how I managed it; to honor it as it affected me while also reinventing it for myself without her. It’s right there: a pool of real, a puddle of authenticity that I am afraid to drown in.

If one thing’s super clear to me now: it’s the necessity to write about it. I haven’t touched my grief, actively, in months.

Stop this train.

Thank you.

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 20: #nostalgia #warped #memories #comparison


Welcome to Day 20 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.”

I am not fond of yesterday’s post. I don’t like the circumstances that led up to it any more than the way I managed the circumstances. I write all these posts at least a day in advance and I don’t check on the quote until I write them; so the things that’ve happened to me this past week in light of these quotes makes me wonder what next will happen…

Here is today’s quote and it leaves me again about to sleep with one eye open:

Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed. ― Brené Brown

Let’s go.

“Compare and despair,” Mom used to say that all the time. Sometimes in context, sometimes not. I remember her saying it to herself too. Mom actively did not like The Now. She found it caustic and harsh. She also claimed she didn’t understand sarcasm, but her illustrations would indicate otherwise. I think what Mom had, was a problem with reality; I feel it’s why she courted the past so aggressively. When we court or nurse the past, we are able to change it too.

One of the most vexing parts of my relationship with her was that she would constantly romanticize or outright reverse events and personal histories; her ability to forget or change certain events, yet retain sonnets, plays, movie casts and literary lore was very hard on those who worked hard to maintain a foothold on, or relationship with, reality.

It’s also a tool for people like her to record events and commit sins of omission.

I made an error last month.

I went to my parent’s house to spend some time with Dad and help him find some illustrations she’d done because he wanted to send some off to relatives who’d requested them. Mom was prolific, obsessive about her illustrations. Like Mitt Romney and his women, she had binders full of illustrations. They were leather binders too. With zippers and satin sashes for marking places. She had spiral-bound notebooks of notebooks. She was always writing, always recording, always savoring a moment — through her lens with all its filters.

I don’t judge her filters anymore. I can’t. It’s futile, actually, to judge anyone’s filters — we are all a little crazy. What I can do is recognize my own filters and also allow someone else’s to record the same events.

The error was that I shouldn’t have gone through the notebooks. Dad also wanted me there to help him sort through some pottery she had and make sense of it. The house is crowded. I will leave it at that. Visually, it can be overwhelming. Mom had a lot of -isms which manifested in the occupation of substantial physical space on this planet.

I have my versions of the past; they are not nearly as pastoral and beatific as my mother’s recollections. Oddly, sometimes our versions were the inverse: hers could be caustic and mine would be righteous.

There was a bag; an adorable leather tote that I saw and I wanted to look into it. Dad said I could have the bag and whatever was in it — I just needed to make sure it wasn’t significant. In that tote, was a small spiral bound notebook.

I had a feeling, “You don’t need to look at the notebook.” I selected it anyway. “You really don’t need to do that, there are no illustrations in it; just go through the other things and sort them out,” the feeling persisted.

I began to leaf through its pages. Seeing Mom’s familiar writing was … familiar. It was expected. I knew that when I did this, I risked the Unknown’s ability to come at me with brute force. These were my mother’s private jottings. I had done this as a child with no reservation ever; usually she had drawings she’d want me to see. I had no interest in those. The things she DIDN’T want me to see… they were the gold.

I was encouraged to invade her privacy, it was part of my mission to keep things as stable as I could for the family. I could feel the cold sensation come over me from those childhood days; the precision to turn each page, not upset the cache lest I be discovered, as the consequences were dire of such a flagrant boundary violation.

Most of her jottings were ISBN numbers for this book or that tote bag; lots of information on Catholic book stores, Orvis catalog information. Stop flipping though the pages. The fact is that I was looking for something about me. I wanted to read something about her love for me. Something about her interest in me, or in my life or how I was  doing.

I should have stopped. Boy did I find something about me.

Right there, on one page was her writing. A couple of other peoples’ names were mentioned, no one I recognized and some content about being careful to not base her recovery on another person’s acceptance; that her recovery was about her. I admired that. What that meant to me though was that it was someone else’s commentary because of the names she’d mentioned on the page. Below that commentary was, “Molly was a bad kid.” . . . . . . . . .


This is hard for me.

So, I started to weep a little and my dad looked at me and said, “Oh boy, what did you find? I knew this shouldn’t have –” and he reached out and made the “gimme” motion with his hand. “Gimme.”

He read it.

He sighed and said, “This is tough. But I can tell you right now, this isn’t her. First of all, I don’t know who this name is, but I’m sure she’s on the phone. I’m sure this person was just trying to help her come to terms with her humanity and your humanity. Her disease was a cancer on everyone. But I have no doubt: this isn’t her. She never referred to you as ‘Molly’ in her writings to me. It was always, ‘Mol,'” he said, and I did agree with that.

Lots of notes to me from her were “Mol” seldom “Molly”; the latter was too formal. She would preach ‘Molly,’ but speak to me as ‘Mol’ and she’d rarely write it unless she was inscribing a book. As was the case for my brothers, Percival and Jedediah: we all had shortened names, Perce and Jed. My father also said that Mom referred to me as “challenging” and “difficult” but he said she never used a negative to describe me wholesale. Mom was very careful about that: “love the sinner, not the sin, Maaaal” she would say. She considered any label on a person as a desperate ploy for control.

This is a peril of nostalgia. Her recovery discussion with this other person insisted that I be painted with a severely broad, rigid and uncool brush. My recovery, my memories painted her similarly. Neither of us was / is correct. In her death, I have been able to see Mom as more human and that has given me an opportunity to allow myself that same humanity.

HOWEVER, I’m not able to subscribe to Brown’s assertion that my editing has created a history that never existed. I’m desperately trying to do that! But I can’t — my past is what it is. It has gotten me this far and I hope the memoir writing can let me put it on a shelf. It’s hard on the heart and soul to reengage in some of those spaces. It’s important though, because we all need to validate ourselves.

Mom’s feral grasp on privacy only served to isolate us. I get that boundaries are important, but if one is parsimonious with herself, the appreciation for that person is one-dimensional and one-way.

Finding that notebook sucked the wind out of me, plain and simple. I was looking for rosebuds and sniffing tulips. I suspected that I might come across a cow pie, “But surely,” I thought, “not on my first foray.”

So that’s the takeaway for me: be true to yourself and your legacy. Revising it and steeping it in nostalgia is really not always so great. When we edit out that which demands accountability and magnify that which affords selective, beatific memories, we are basically pooping on the people we’ve hurt or pooping on our own pasts.

As I saw on a Facebook page, Pets, Politics and Pandemonium:

"... About those good old days..."

“… About those good old days…”

Thank you.

Tuesday Morning Press #8: Bowling & A Back-to-Basics Birthday

Tuesday Morning Press #8: Bowling & A Back-to-Basics Birthday


This one will be easy today because it’s mostly pictures (right… we’ll see if I can keep my mental trap shut).

The other night, Thing 3 had his 9th birthday party. He wanted to go play laser tag, and that’s what he told his friends he was doing, of course before asking me and Mr. Grass Oil. The thing is: we don’t do big rent-a-Hummer limo and throw a bunch of kids into a dark room before they’re 10. In fact, we don’t do the limo at all.

When his brother had his 10th birthday party, we went to laser tag. It was great. I loved siting in the party room waiting for the kids to come back all sweaty and watch them spill soda everywhere and knock over chairs and accidentally pull the tissue paper tablecloths off the tables taking the boxes of pizza with them. It was the time of my life. I distinctly remember hiding my new suede boots from the mayhem because it was in February and where I live, it used to be cold in February.

So this time, I made an executive decision: “You can invite either three or five friends to join us bowling. That is all. No dark rooms and aggression. Lots of light, smiles and heavy balls and pins.”  He chose three (alleluia!) friends and we all fit in the Grass Oil mobile and lumbered off to the local Bowl America at dusk. I chose a small number of friends because I learned: the bigger the party, the less intimacy, the less sharing and the less interaction. My son doesn’t do well with crowds either and three friends is enough for him to keep track of.

We had a GREAT time. I always forget how awesome this place is: what was likely state-of-the art back in the late 70s when it first opened is now a respectable form of cultural antiquity. It gently nods to the long shadows of the 20th century with its linoleum tile floor, etched formica placards, round diner-style bar stools and olde-tyme nearly burnt-out cathode ray tube computer monitors. It doesn’t smell like cigarettes and it doesn’t smell like beer. It smells like bowling.


Here he is… Thing 3 selecting his gear. He started with an 8# ball (OOF!) and when it slammed onto the floor and barely rolled down the lane, his friends told him to get a lighter ball. He did. It worked better then.  This place is free of plasma gigawhatevers. No iBowl or iLane apps. No virtual touch anything; everything here is all-touch all the time. Typing in our names reminded me of playing Merlin: the letter buttons had a push-back, something physical that confirmed my presence. Little things like that.


At the bowling alley, there’s an actual ball, wooden floors. History — even though it’s only 30 years, it’s so vastly different from anything going on today.


Check out the ball’s psychedelic swirls; the boys had a laugh and a half over the size of some of the larger balls’ finger holes. All the chrome and vintage styling doesn’t make you yearn for a simpler time because in this building: you are in a simpler time.

The whole place was a slow-down, ain't no cell phone 3g, 4g, tera-chomp access here. No WiFi because it's all LoTech and everyone I needed to hear from was with me. I LOVED it.

The whole place was a slow-down, ain’t no cell phone 3g, 4g, tera-chomp access here. No WiFi because it’s all LoTech and everyone I needed to hear from was with me. I LOVED it.


My boy was the first to score a strike and he actually won for the night. We had the guards up, to prevent complete destruction of the alleys and that proved to be possibly the best decision of the night, other than that pitcher of Sprite and those two large baskets of fries.

Bowling is just … so fun and simple: roll a ball down a lane, try to knock things over. How COOL is that?? It’s like reliving toddlerhood for adults too.

After the bowling, we came back to Grass Oil manor, played some hoops in the dark, immediately decided that was enough of that, came inside to play a little PS3 and then had pizza, ice cream cake and presents that we opened in front of our friends. I read a parenting book a while back, Parents in Charge, and it had a section about how children opening presents in front of their guests had been on a massive and disturbing decline. The author suggested that children need to open their gifts in front of their friends: the givers need to see the delight of the recipient; the other children need to learn / remember how to be gracious and happy for their friend who is being celebrated and the recipient needs to give in-person, real-time gratitude to the giver. My favorite part is when all the kids see the new gifts and talk about how cool they are or that they have one just like it and they love it.

I plan to go back to the lanes with Team Grass Oil at least every few months and each kiddo can bring a friend. Getting back to basics is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Thank you.