Sunday, April 14, 2019

Scattering Love

It has been four months, three weeks, and two days since our kids lost their mother. I don't know what the hardest part is for each of them, but I would guess it is trying to make it through every day as though everything was normal, when it so clearly will never be the "normal" they once knew ever again. It might be the fear that everyone else has forgotten, that everyone has moved on with their lives, and they have been left behind in a space of despair, desperately yearning to talk to her again. They each vocalize (or don't vocalize) their grief in such completely different ways, but all equally profound and deeply heartbreaking. We never forget what they've gone through, the sadness in their eyes won't let us forget.

Today would have been Rebekah's 39th birthday. To commemorate the day we made a pilgrimage to her favorite beach, Scarborough Beach in Rhode Island, to scatter some of her ashes at the spot where her family has vacationed for years. The day was warm and sunny when we arrived at the beach, but a thick warm fog quickly rolled in and enveloped us. It felt like a spirit embracing us, and I can't help but wonder if Rebekah wasn't with her kids as they sent her ashes off to sea. The kids wanted to walk quite a ways out on the jetty, to a small inlet that was protected from the wind. They took turns sprinkling the ashes and watching the water sweep them away. It was a beautiful moment, one that I know would have made their mother proud.

After the ashes scattering we headed north to Enfield and met up with Rebekah's family at the cemetery to bring flowers to the space where the rest of her ashes are buried. The kids were very happy to see their grandparents, and it was a nice way to end the day.

Jon and I are beyond proud. We are in awe of these kids. Their kindness, grace, strength, and perseverance in the face of such a deep and profound loss never ceases to amaze us. They are beautiful, resilient humans who I am certain will grow up to become beautiful, resilient adults.

I want it to get easier for them. I don't know when or if that will ever happen. I cannot imagine losing my mother, not even now at 38. Thinking about it makes me weep. I want to shoulder some of that for them so that they can feel joy for at least a little while. I am hoping that at some point they will find some peace. Until then we will continue to hold them up with love as best we can.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Going Home

I just returned home from two weeks in the Dominican Republic, a country that helped to shape the core of who I am. I have been back often, as most of you know, but for the first time in 16 years I was able to visit the town that first made me fall in love with the island. I did not visit San Cristobal while I was married to Francisco for many reasons, most of all because he wasn't comfortable with the idea, and also because it was logistically hard to fit into our trips there. Jon was on board with the idea of us visiting the town I called home back in the 90's, and was excited to meet the people there, so we went together.

It's interesting visiting a place that you were so desperately in love with, so long after that time. So much has changed, and yet somehow nothing has changed. Many people have moved, died, or grown up and didn't recognize me, but the feeling was the same. It's a gritty town with an edge, but at the core, just like any other place on the island, it's filled with loving people who are trying their best to get by. We sat on the porch at Maria's (a woman who was like a mother to me), although she had just recently left for a trip abroad to visit her daughter in the Netherlands, so I was unable to see her. Life flowed around us the way it usually does, and I felt like I had never left. I haven't had so many feelings overwhelm me in a very long time. I found myself texting Jane (my best friend who lived there with me) to give her a sense of how it felt, but even with that I couldn't make it clear how surreal it was.

Being back in San Cristobal was like floating like a ghost over my adolescence, viewing my 18 year old self from above and feeling like I was watching her from above. It felt like going home again. The poverty there is always staggering, and it always leaves me with an ache to not be able to help my friends more, but I was able to do a lot with the donations we had collected to rebuild a friend's home that was destroyed by fire. We were also able to pay for medical expenses for several  people and buy groceries for some hungry families, so our trip was helpful on many levels. I wanted to stay there forever, or at least for a few days, and hopefully at some point I will be able to go back and stay a while, as opposed to just a few hours.

The rest of our trip was exciting and packed with fun and sunshine. We brought my daughter and three of Jon's kids, who did well with the culture shock. I was ready to come home after the two weeks, as the exhaustion of translating was wearing on me, and I missed my surly teenage son (who sadly didn't want to come with us for many teenage angsty reasons). So we're back in the gray New England winter with cozy fires in the pellet stoves and dogs to snuggle with, and our kids are back to ignoring us and hiding in their rooms. Life with teens is a constant feeling of loneliness and angst, but at least I have the memory of the warm salt water washing over me and the sun of the island to keep me company.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


I have been trying to muster up the ability to write a blog for quite a while, but I can't seem to get myself to sit down and get the words out. First I was consumed by the busy everyday life of the working mom, driving kids around and helping make sure everyone has taken their medications, does their homework and picks up their bedrooms, while also staying up all night at work helping bring babies into the world night after night. The regular routine many of us are used to that swallows us up when we aren't paying attention, and leaves little room for much else. So I didn't write for months.

Then something big and awful happened.

My step-children's mother, Rebekah, died on Thanksgiving day.

It came out of nowhere and we don't know what happened, but she died suddenly and without warning and for a long while our lives just stopped moving. We have been picking up the pieces ever since, trying to help sort out the confusion that comes when someone dies.

We had a challenging relationship with Rebekah, as most people do with their exes, but for the most part we worked it out and were able to parent the kids in an amicable way without too much drama or arguments. We were able to share holidays together with the kids, and talk back and forth about the minutiae of life in a way that felt good to all of us and made the kids feel safe and secure. Although she struggled to find her path in life, she loved her kids, that much I know, and they loved her very much.

It has been a roller coaster of emotion for the four kids she left behind, to say the least. It is an unparalleled level of unfairness that they have to endure this kind of a loss this early in their lives. When they should be thinking about college, and prom, and theater productions, and middle school instead they are left feeling empty and sad and confused. All I want is to ease their burden, but I can't. There isn't really anything anyone can do or say that can make this easier for them. They just have to go through the process, and the process is hard and shitty.

There are a lot of things I am grateful for. I am grateful to everyone in our lives who have helped to hold up the kids, and Jon, and me so we can be there for them when we need to be. The amount of food and love and kind words and cards we have received has been both overwhelming and uplifting. I had no idea how helpful food was when people are grieving, and this will certainly change the way I approach helping people when a loved one dies. I don't know how much it was helpful for the kids, but it sure as hell was amazing that Jon and I didn't have to spend every waking moment in the kitchen. I am grateful that the kids were home with Jon the night that the police banged on our door to tell us the news, and they were not with her to witness such tragedy. I am grateful that her family was warm and accepting of the role that I play in her children's lives, and that planning her services was not a difficult ordeal. I am grateful for the love that Jon and I have for each other and our kids, that keeps us afloat as we wade through this deep ocean of child grief.

I just wish I could hold onto the kids' sadness for bit so they didn't have to. And at the same time I don't ever wish to feel that kind of pain. It is remarkably unfair. Helping kids grieve is a challenge I don't feel like I have the training for. Each day is up and down and I honestly never know what kind of emotions to expect at any given moment. I feel like we are grasping to the side of a fast moving train, trying to stay attached but at any moment one of them might lose their grip and fly away.

We are gearing up for everyone to go back to school tomorrow. We have had as good a Christmas as we ever could have hoped for, given the circumstances, and I think some routine will do everyone good. I am looking for the light at the end of this dark and narrow tunnel, and although I do not yet see it I am hopeful it will come soon.

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