It’s been a while since something has been posted to this blog, and that makes me sad…no blame meant towards anyone, of course. I get that life goes on, and when the grief isn’t as fresh, focus gets shifted elsewhere. My focus has been on the little family David and I created. This February, I gave birth to our daughter, Honor, and my life since then has been consumed by caring for her. Nori (our nickname for Honor) would’ve been Chris’s first grandchild, and thinking of what an amazing grandmother Chris would have been brings the grief over her loss back up to the surface. I know she would have loved getting to know our spunky, sometimes quite fussy, and oh-so-sweet baby girl. When we were in the hospital, I pictured what it would’ve looked like for Chris to hold her for the first time–Nori, swaddled and impressively alert, her big, dark eyes staring up into Chris’s face, her tiny body tenderly cradled in Chris’s arms. In the first few weeks of new parenthood that were a blur of sleep deprivation and feeding issues and C-section recovery, I imagined Chris showing up with a delicious home-cooked meal and a helping hand to watch Nori while we took a desperately needed break. She would’ve seen what a wonderful father David is–how he jumps at the opportunity to care for Nori, how gentle and sweet he is with her, how he comes home from a long day at work and immediately dives into an evening of diaper changes and bath time and endless hours of bouncing. She and Jon sure raised those Way boys well! Selfishly, I wish I could’ve had Chris to talk to when breastfeeding was a struggle and I wasn’t sure Nori and I would be able to figure it out (we did!), and about how much of an emotional minefield new motherhood is…I know she would’ve had some good insight there. The fact is, it sucks that Chris isn’t alive for all of this. She would’ve been a fabulous grandmother–she deserved to have that experience and I’m sad and a bit angry at the universe that she’s not here right now to live it. I try to console myself by thinking things like how she lives on in her children, even in Nori, and that helps somewhat. But for today, I’m feeling the unfairness of her passing, because I just wish my baby girl could have known her Grandma Chris.
Here is another post with thoughts of Chris, written by her friend Sue Spock.
I haven’t written for the blog either, because my grief has no words. I am simply not eloquent enough to express my truest and deepest sadness for the empty space that I feel – I can’t call her, and when I drive around 495, I know she is really gone. Each summer, when we drive from Maryland to Maine, and I have so missed driving off the road to see Chris. I miss looking at her flowers and eating her delicious, healthy food. I miss her smile. I miss her wisdom. I miss her generosity. I miss her voice. I miss her laugh. I miss her light in the world.
Sunday was such a sad day – I keep it on my calendar, but so far from Boston, I have not yet been to her bench. But her face will always be on my bulletin board. Her life will always be a role model for me. Her love for her friends and family will endure.
Note: I’d be happy to post any other remembrances or stories anyone wants to share. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Today — the second anniversary of Chris’s death — I have the pleasure of sharing a blog post written by Kathy Burton, partner of Chris’s youngest son, Jesse.
Time is a fickle beast. Grief is its friend.
Both come and go at different speeds and with different weights. They dilute memories some days and other days… they bring those feelings and thoughts into sharp quality, whether or not you’re ready for them.
I have tried to write something for her blog for… well for two years now. Each time feeling like the words I was using weren’t sufficient. Not to the caliber to which she wrote, and not the standard that her friends and family wrote after she died. Friends and family whose words carried me for the first year while living so physically far from her, her family, and those physical places that remind me of her. How could I have anything else to say that hasn’t yet been said?
But. I have learned that my own silence isn’t helping me, but weighing me down. Seeing my ‘Chris’ document each time I log onto my computer leaves me feeling like I haven’t been able to say my own peace to Chris. Chris. The mother of my other half in this world.
I have many versions of what I would write on this blog. Some written when angry, or helpless, or lost, or just to the bone sad. Each has a place within me. It comes in waves, some waves stronger and bigger than others. But always present.
Chris, I didn’t say it enough, I love you. I’ve missed you. I regret not saying it often enough. And I will miss having you there to play five crowns and cribbage, dance when the women win catch-phrase, and be a guiding force as Jesse and I move through this thing called life.
We made your pizza recipe last night, and I’m missing you. Love Kathy
Some excerpts from my two years of trying to find something to add to the blog…
May 6, 2017:
Came in the grocery store needing dinner supplies for Jesse and I. I am usually good about avoidance, but today I went down the isle that has jam. Chris’s jam came flooding in my head. Left my cart in the middle of the isle and I’m now home without any groceries.
It’s almost been a while since someone has posted. I’ve been waiting for others to step up. And realized, I needed to. I needed to push past my insecurities and do it. I’ve been avoiding this. For me this feels like the last connection, the last thing to do, my last thing I can do. A concrete connection with Chris. I wrote the following post months and months ago. Parts of it come from last fall, and other parts just recently. So it’s a hodge podge of feelings. I thought I should try. So here is my messy piece….. There are days when the tears are just always on the edge. That throat gulp where I try to swallow because I’m out grocery shopping, or planting some new plants, or trying to make her pizza dough with my hands coated in sticky flour, or for no reason whatsoever. Usually these come in waves, overwhelming, uncontrollable, powerful waves of nauseous emotion. When these types of days roll in I feel paralyzed in my feelings, unclear how to move through the weight of each minute.
September 16, 2016:
I kept it together. All week- perky, happy, dedicated first year teacher meandering my way through the trials and tribulations of second grade children, whom I adore. I knew the day was looming. The buses were packed up, Friday was over. Wait. Friday was over. Which means tomorrow is, tomorrow is…. And that’s when I fell apart. Running into my classroom and hiding behind the Level H books and snuggling into my classroom pillows, probably covered with germs (and hopefully not lice). Tomorrow is Saturday, September 17 and I wasn’t ready for it to be the next September 17. I wasn’t ready to not be able to say in my head, oh last year we were doing this, or that, or the other thing and finding a piece of joy from that memory. I can’t say that any more and it’s overwhelming. Pain that rips apart your heart to a point where my body is dry heaving and rocking, and man I was sweating. A lot. Overwhelming.
August 20, 2016
She saw Jesse and I grow together, meet each other’s families, go through college, work through long distance relationship strains, transition into the world outside the safe confines of SLU, move in together, and make decisions together. She was always there to support, listen, give advice, and be there. Just to be there. I miss her being there. For what will be coming next for Jesse and I, the limitless possibilities. I will miss her in my next life milestones. And it almost paralyzes me to make another big life change, knowing I can’t tell her about it. But here is a milestone I have been looking forward to for many years. My first day as a teacher. A real-life lead teacher of 24 incredible growing humans. And she’s not here. School starts tomorrow. Another day. Another day without her. I will try to keep her close to me as I take on another day.
August 2, 2016:
She should be here. Dave and Rose are getting ready to get married this weekend. She should be here…
There are many things that I look back on and regret, mostly things I should have talked to Chris about, things I want to tell her now. If I could go back and have those conversations, I would. My own mom gave me this exact advice last fall, so I talked to her about some things, but time was not on my side for me to get brave enough to bring up conversations that I was looking forward to.
So here is my letter to Chris, what I want to say today, and wish I had said last year. (part of it… the whole this would leave you reading for hours)
“Can we make pesto together? Do you have any favorite Christmas ornaments? Will you go for a walk with me? Do you have stories you want me to keep alive? Do you have any tips from raising your three boys? … I admire you. I love you. I miss you.”
So it seems time keeps going on. No matter what happens the hours keep ticking by. This time of year is usually happy, joyful, and exciting because the whole family is together. But the whole family together isn’t the whole family anymore, there’s a missing link.
September 20, 20 15:
I have heard from a lot of wise Mattern family members. Wise not only because of age, but because of experience. I look at their poise, their beautifully eloquent words, their honesty in the midst of heartbreak, and I wonder if I’ll ever get there.
The anniversary of Chris’s death was Saturday, September 17. As I expected, the contributions to her blog have slowed down, but it doesn’t seem right that the day should go unmarked here. So I’m cross-posting what I wrote on my own blog yesterday. It’s posted below. And if you have something you want to write for the blog, please be in touch. — Grace @ http://www.gracemattern.com
My sister Chris died one year ago yesterday. A year seems like an impossibly long time for her to have been gone, and also impossibly short. That’s the thing about death and the physical absence of the person — it can feel unreal, and so time gets distorted. Chris had been part of my entire life. She was two years older than me, so she was here when I was born and somewhere in my sense of the world she is always here.
Except now she’s not. Of course her absence feels much more acute for her husband and her boys — a life partner and a mother are gone, and I know how completely disorienting the loss of a spouse is. The built-in companion on evenings at home, the warmth next to you in bed, the other parent to sort out worries about the kids — all gone. How to even make that work?
It was a great struggle for me and there are enough people in my life now who are living the same struggle that I know my experience wasn’t uncommon. Others at the time who reached out to me, who’d lost a partner, confirmed it then. “It’s like an out-of-body experience, isn’t it,” a colleague said to me at work one day. His wife had died the year before.
It’s been ten years since Eric died and I’ve long since come back into my body. But I remember being out of it, I remember being manic and obsessed with writing The Truth About Death, I remember drinking a lot and eating hardly at all, working out whenever I could and talking, talking, talking, as I tried to make sense of what my life was going to be. Losing a sister has been much less brutal — sad and disorienting in its own way, but not cry-myself-to-sleep-alone-in-bed sad.
There was a family trip to Chris’s memorial bench in Scituate, MA yesterday that I couldn’t be at, but I’m building a cairn for her in the woods, on the rock where I’ve built cairns for Eric.
My younger sister Meg texted me first thing yesterday and suggested we talk on the phone and read each other our letters — Chris wrote letters to her husband, to each of her boys, to each of us sisters and to our parents. A common theme in her letters, and which she talked about at the end of her life, is her belief that she’ll always be with us.
“Know that I am not gone, only my physical presence is missing. In the space I left is my love, energy, memories and shared history. Things I would not trade for anything. Enrich that space with new people, events and shared history. I will be close by your side,” I read to Meg and she read similar words to me. We cried. We miss Chris, but she was right. Yesterday she was with us in her words and in the memories of her that Meg and I shared. She was with us as we talked about our commitment to being in the moment as much as we can, a lesson Chris worked hard to keep at the center of her own journey.
I just put another rock on her cairn, topped with a heart stone from the beach in Humarock, a favorite place for Chris.
Two Julys (1967 & 2015)
Brown-eyed girls turn my head.
Van Morrison sings,
hey where did we go.
Tanned legs in white shorts,
sun streaked hair,
tennis balls skid on red clay,
the bows of our sloops
splash through sun drenched ocean.
Dance and expect.
Hot bugs sizzle and fade.
Wind chimes stir in the warm breeze.
Birds chirp, and voices muffle.
Her chest rises with fading breath
as eyes open with a sigh,
awakening to taste a peach.
How can we keep her comfortable?
How will we venture on?
Watch and wait.
Note: Thanks to Chris’s brother-in-law for today’s guest post/poem. Remember, if you have anything you’d like to share on this blog, send it to email@example.com
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. — Genesis 3:19.
Except for the force which lives on.
Today we helped Chris come full circle. Her remaining ashes were interred at Humarock beach to mix with sand and tide.
Her ashes are also part of Otter Alley in the Assabet wildlife refuge, Pine Bluffs soccer field, near Skytop at Mohonk and behind her bench on Glades road overlooking North Scituate beach.
A life well lived.
We are all one.
June 23, 2016
Yesterday Chris would have celebrated her 65th birthday. As a way to remember all of who she was, I’m posting a short story she wrote called, quite appropriately given the season, “Memorial Day Weekend.”
Memorial Day Weekend
by Chris Way
As I woke up, I heard Ken snoring soundly in bed next to me. I could smell the salt air, damp from the marshes, wafting through the dormer windows. The sun was just coming up over a bank of clouds turning the horizon into a sea of rose and pink. “Red sky in the morning, sailors’ warning” rang through my head.
Yesterday afternoon, Ken and I had arrived on our bikes, pedaling the 10 miles from the ferry in Oak Bluffs to Edgartown along the cool, long stretch of sand known as State’s Beach. The air held the promise of summer, warm and silky on our faces as we glided along the bike path. Jim and Lisa were already at the house, a family property of our mutual friend, Barbara. This year it would just be the four of us as Barbara and her husband were out West visiting their daughter.
Arriving at the house, we found Jim and Lisa settled in lawn chairs out front. Stretching beyond the outer edge of the lawn was a wide expanse of honey colored marsh merging into the shimmering outer edge of Edgartown Harbor. My eyes filled up with varying hues of blue and gold before noticing a pile of beer cans on the lawn between Jim and Lisa. Lisa came over and gave me a hug, smelling of lilacs and beer.
“Sit down, relax. It’s beautiful out here. What can I get you?”
“Just water,” Ken said. “I’m thirsty from the ride.”
“Me too,” I said.
“How was the ride?” asked Jim, putting his laptop aside.
“Beautiful,” I replied. “We should head out to South Beach later. You guys could both take some pictures,” I said as I smiled at Jim and then Ken. “I know you both have this thing about who’s got the best ocean shot.”
“Oh, we have other plans,” said Lisa with a huge grin. “My second book is being published and Jim and I thought we’d look at a few properties while we were out here this weekend. It will be fun. You and Ken can help us pick something out.”
Only then did I notice the real estate listings lying across the wrought iron lawn table, several properties circled in red like a series of bull’s eyes. My mind went blank. I could feel Ken giving me a sideways glance.
“Hey, congratulations, that’s great about your book. You must be thrilled,” Ken said. He paused before he continued, “I think we could help for a bit. Wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity for some of those ocean shots though. This weather is too good to miss.”
“I told Lisa it might be a little soon to be looking at properties,” piped in Jim sounding a little annoyed.
By then I had recovered enough to give Lisa a brief kiss while echoing what Ken had already said.
“Don’t worry; we’ve lined up a sailboat for tomorrow. I know how you love to sail, Carol,” Lisa said as she popped the top of another beer. “You remember Eric, Barbara’s friend. We met him when we were here with her last year. He’s agreed to take us out on his sailboat tomorrow afternoon.” She looked at me smugly. “It’s a Hinckley or something like that.”
“Whoa, you’re kidding. He has a Hinckley, that’s a gorgeous boat. How did you manage that? And when did you see Eric?” I wondered out loud. Ken poked me in the side before I could say anymore. I glanced at him and kept my mouth shut.
“I promised him free drinks and dinner as his reward,” Lisa replied.
Two hours later, after having a beer and catching up on all the news of our kids and our lives, I grew restless, anxious to walk the beach, hear the waves and feel the sand massage my feet. Ken had excused himself earlier, grabbed his camera and headed out to take pictures of any and all creatures, ever the recording biologist. Jim was taking out his laptop to finish up some job related work as CEO of some company I had lost track of. Given the hazy look in his eyes, I wondered how much work he would actually get done. Lisa had gone inside to find a trash bag to clean up the litter of cans. Together we picked up the yard. The air had cooled as the sun settled lower in the sky and there was a mild chill.
“Let’s take a walk to the beach,” Lisa said as she stooped unsteadily to pick up the last of the trash.
I hesitated for a breath and then replied, “You read my mind. Let me just run inside to get a jacket.” I took the stairs up to the bedroom two at a time. Once in the bedroom, I cracked the windows to dispel the musty smell the house had collected from being shut up all winter. A movement directly below me on the front lawn drew my attention.
Lisa was running her hands over Jim’s face and chest. Jim looked up and spat words, low yet sharp as pinpoints. Lisa continued to stroke him. Jim pushed her roughly away. Falling backward, Lisa’s face flashed up towards me. It was caved in, broken.
I took my time going down the stairs and out the front door. With her back to me, Lisa was still, looking out towards the ocean.
“Ready to go?” I enquired.
She turned toward me, smiled briefly and replied, “Sure”.
We walked quietly for several minutes. A chorus of crickets and frogs surrounded us and seemed to press the quiet against my chest. I waited to speak, unsure. As we came onto the beach, the cacophony of crickets faded, and was replaced by the soft whoosh of the waves and the low cascade of pebbles dragged in and out by the ocean. The quiet eased. I glanced at Lisa and saw tears trickling down her cheeks.
“You okay?” I asked as I took her hand and squeezed it briefly.
“My mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said as she hugged her arms to her waist. “The doctors think that they’ve caught it early but she’ll have to have surgery and probably chemotherapy. She’ll stay with us while she has her treatments in Boston.” She looked away from me, out at the ocean. “Jim’s been so stressed at work. He’s not happy about having my mom come to stay. And my second book being published, it’s all overwhelming.” Tears continued to roll down her cheeks.
“You’re strong, you can get through this,” I said as I turned to face her and give her a hug. “Your mom is lucky to have you. You gave me so much support when I was going through those issues with Charlie when he was a baby.” I paused, my own eyes wet now with memory. “I don’t know how I would have kept up with my older two boys without your help, watching them for me and arranging for people to bring me dinners. I felt so lost, so alone. In the hospital all the time while Charlie had surgery to repair his heart.” Lisa was looking at me now, her eyes clearing. “I knew you were there for me.” I hugged Lisa again.
Lisa smiled, as I remembered how much we had shared, our lives intersecting at so many points like intertwined paths in a forest. Watching each others kids when they were little as we both explored working part time. Celebrating so many birthdays and dinners together. Sharing plans and plotting strategies for town politics, our liberal political views a product of the turbulent sixties and early seventies. But the paths had separated over the years. Lisa opting to return to work full time as a journalist, writing novels on the side, while I chose to stay home and have a third child. I loved Charlie, my youngest, and couldn’t imagine life without him but I was envious of Lisa’s success, her public recognition. And then there were the differences in child rearing. Lisa’s kids were never allowed to be wrong, their way cleared of all obstacles. As the children grew older, dinner parties took on a different hue. Lisa and Jim would linger long after the other guests had left, opening new bottles of wine until there were none left. The volume and aggression in their voices rose in direct relation to the wine consumed. And always, there was their competition with each other and those around them. Their need to be better and higher a constant drumbeat.
“Where are you?” Lisa asked. “You look so far away.”
“Just remembering, remembering all the times we’ve shared.” I looked away, my eyes now dry. “Congratulations on your book. You must be so happy about that.”
Lisa’s face smoothed out and opened up. For an instant she looked content, then, “I know it’s going to take off. The publisher loved it. We’re planning a book tour for the fall. Maybe I’ll be on one of the morning shows,” she said as she swept her hair back with her fingers. “My mom will stay with my sister while we’re gone.”
“That’s all great.” I hesitated. “Isn’t it a little early to be thinking about properties out here?”
“We’re just getting ideas really, something small, something for the summer.”
I stooped low picking up some flat stones perfect for skipping. They felt smooth, worn by the constant churning of the waves. The sun was very low on the horizon, the water turning darker as the rays lingered over the surface. I threw several rocks, watching them skim the water, creating tiny splashes as they nicked the surface.
“It’s my dream to own a house on the Vineyard,” I said quietly as I watched the last rock disappear into the dark. I turned back to Lisa. She hadn’t heard me as she was busy collecting smooth white stones for the blue bowl she always kept on her dining room table. Stones she had collected over the many Memorial Day weekends we had spent on the Vineyard. At first the weekends were just for the girlfriends, then later they included the husbands and children and now finally, with the kids grown, just the husbands and wives.
“We’d better head back. I’m getting hungry and the guys are probably wondering about dinner,” Lisa said as she pocketed her newly collected stones.
“Yeah, I’m hungry too.”
We headed back, quiet now, easy.
After dinner, Ken and I went to bed early, before Lisa and Jim. They had just opened a large bottle of wine before we headed upstairs. I could hear their voices rising, loud and sharp before I drifted into sleep.
Now, I got dressed swiftly, careful not to disturb Ken. Let him sleep in for once I thought as I headed downstairs and out the front door. I walked briskly, swinging my arms and breathing through my mouth. As the sun rose higher, the clouds on the horizon lost their rosy hue and turned light gray. The air felt chilly, moist, and I wondered if the weather would hold for our sail later in the day. The plan was to look at a couple of properties before lunch and then head down to the harbor to meet Eric around 1:30 PM. I wondered again how Lisa had managed to set up this outing. My body began to tense up, my breathing ragged. I let the rhythm of my walking empty my mind.
Returning an hour later, I sat on the front steps and let the air cool me. Ken popped his head out the bedroom window and called down.
“Want to walk to town for breakfast?”
“Sure, just give me a minute to cool down.”
“Any sign of Jim or Lisa?” he asked.
“No, I suspect they won’t be up for awhile.”
Ken nodded and I could see from his face that he had the same thought as me.
“Better to let them sleep, even if we miss seeing the properties. I know you’ll be disappointed but I’m sure you’ll manage,” he said with a knowing smile.
“I’m trying to be good,” I softy called back, my cheeks feeling a faint heat.
“I know. I’ll be down in a couple of minutes.”
Lisa and Jim finally surfaced around noon. The smell of coffee brewing permeated the house. Both had large ceramic coffee mugs in hand as they joined Ken and me out front where we had been playing scrabble, Ken as usual, the winner. Jim’s curly brown hair was sticking up in some places and matted down in others. A faint stubble and rumpled clothes seemed in keeping with his blood shot eyes. Lisa, at least, had showered and pulled her long, wet, frosted hair back into a pony tail. Her face was puffy, her eyelids droopy but she had dressed in a clean t-shirt and shorts, showing off her curvaceous figure which was just heading towards plumpness as the years had passed. Even with her puffy face, I couldn’t help but think that she was more glamorous than me with my fresh scrubbed look and short brown hair, graying at the temples, pushed back behind my ears, my body trim but flat.
“Have you guys eaten yet?” Lisa asked.
“We had a big breakfast downtown this morning,” Ken said. “Should we try to eat again before we meet Eric at 1:30?”
“Let’s pack a lunch to take. You and Jim can zip over to the store and get more beer while Carol and I make sandwiches.” Jim made a face at this but said nothing as he put down his mug and pulled on his sneakers. I could hear Ken and Jim talking photography as they headed off to the store. Jim was telling Ken how last year, his shot of the gulls flying low over the water, was the perfect balance of motion and stillness.
Forty five minutes later we were packed and ready to go. We made the guys carry the two coolers. We were a few minutes late and Eric was at the dock with the boat ready to go. Eric looked natural, a part of the boat, as he stood looking out the mouth of the harbor. He was tall with sandy colored hair curled gently around his face. His blue eyes were startling in a strong face, tanned and lined from exposure. With motions both smooth and confident, he prepared to cast off the boat.
“What a beauty,” I said to Eric as I helped stow the coolers and jackets below. “When I was in college, I had the chance to sail one of these along the coast of Maine. I still remember it. Maybe when we get in open water, you’ll let me have a chance at the tiller?” I suggested shyly, my heart racing slightly.
“Lisa told me you were a sailor. What kinds of boats did you sail?”
“Mostly small boats, but occasionally something bigger. I grew up sailing. I learned from my dad who was a competitive sailor out of Quincy Bay. He even qualified one year in the early rounds of the Olympic trials.”
Lisa came over, her cheeks pink and her t-shirt pulled tight across her ample breasts.
“What are you two guys talking about?” she enquired, keeping her gaze on Eric. Eric looked startled and said nothing.
“Eric, what can I do to help?” Lisa asked, breaking the silence.
“Let go of the line up on the bow when I tell you to.”
We motored out of the harbor, then raised the sails and shut the engine off. With the engine off, the soothing sounds of the boat gliding through the water filled my ears. As the sails filled, the boat seemed to rise higher, just skirting the surface of the water, hardly creating any wake. Jim broke open the coolers and passed around sandwiches and beer. I took the tiller for awhile so that Eric could finish his lunch. The boat felt powerful and responsive. I felt like a queen, regal, in charge and responsible. Lisa headed towards the bow with Jim, beers stuffed in her jacket pockets. My eyes lingered for a moment at her retreating back. After a while, I handed the tiller back to Eric, happy to relax and let someone else be in charge. Sleepy from the sun and sea air, I lay on the deck, my head resting in Ken’s lap. I drifted.
“Look over there,” Eric said, rousing me, a look of concern on his face. There was a large dense black cloud hanging over the entrance to the harbor. “We need to head back. The weather said the front wouldn’t move through until tonight. Wrong again.” Eric said as he shook his head.
“Jeez,” I replied as I sat up, fully awake now.
“Ken, warn Lisa and Jim that we’re coming about and they need to come back to the cockpit,” Eric directed.
Then I could hear them, arguing, their voices spilling out over the water, churning like the dark patches of ripples now visible on the surface of the water. Ken nodded to Eric, clearly not relishing his task, but heading up front to do it anyway.
“Carol, you take the tiller while I get the sails squared away. As soon as Lisa and Jim get back in the cockpit, head up as high as you can.” Eric’s commands were confident and left no room for debate.
Lisa and Jim’s movements down the boat were unsteady. Jim held a cooler but as a brisk puff reached us, the boat leapt forward. Jim grabbed for a handhold and let go of the cooler. It scrapped against the side of the deck and fell into the ocean, bobbing red and white as it passed the stern of the boat out of reach.
“Shit,” Jim shouted angrily, as he righted himself on unsteady feet, “can’t you control this thing? I thought you were supposed to be the expert sailor.”
Meanwhile, Lisa had hit the deck hard when the boat leapt forward, grabbing hold of the handrails on the top of the cabin. She was crawling back to the stern. Ken helped her up and guided her back inside the cockpit.
“So who do you think you are, the queen?” Lisa asked, startling me, her eyes staring at mine.
I ignored her and concentrated on getting the boat squared away.
“Hey, we need that cooler, it still has beer in it,” Jim shouted as he finally made his way into the cockpit. “Turn this thing around.”
I watched Eric, with Ken’s help, partially furl the jib and reef the mainsail; a smart idea given the steady increase in the wind.
“Hey, I’m talking to you,” Jim shouted as the sound of the wind rose and the boat heeled over.
“She thinks she’s in charge. She’s just showing off for Eric,” Lisa said, looking sullen.
Lisa’s words were pinging through my head. I responded, my voice tight, “It’s not about me. Look at that cloud. We’re in trouble.” I glanced again at the cloud and saw it had grown, swallowing up half the sky. It was low, dark and menacing with plumes creeping out towards the sun. “We need to get back. Eric’s in charge. Listen to him for god’s sake.”
“She’s right,” Eric said as he relieved me of the tiller.
“What can I do?” Lisa asked, her unfocused eyes searching out Eric’s, a coy smile on her face.
“Get out the life jackets and pass them around.”
Lisa stumbled into the cabin and emerged several minutes later with four life jackets.
“This is all I could find. Maybe you’d better come below and help me look.”
“There’s no time now. Just put them on. Jim, move, you’re in the way.”
“Move yourself,” Jim shot back. “And I don’t need a life jacket. I’m an excellent swimmer.”
“Look, cut the crap. It’s not a game.”
Just then we sailed under the edge of the cloud. It was dark, the sun blotted out. The rain started. In the next instant, it was coming down in solid sheets of water. The wind picked up, streaming over the side in quick, forceful gusts. The windward side of the boat rose high over the water pushing the other side down towards the surface. Water poured over the edge. Spray splashed over the bow, the wind blowing the salty water back in our faces. The boat shuddered slightly when hit with the full force of the wind, its power barely under control.
“Carol, let out the mainsail, now,” Eric commanded. “Ken, try to furl the jib completely when I head up into the wind. We need to get the boat level. Lisa and Jim, get down below.”
Lisa looked frightened, our situation finally registering in her unfocused mind. She stumbled toward the cabin door and disappeared below. Just before she dropped from view, I glimpsed her face; it was green. Jim yelled a response, his face red, but it was lost in the pounding of the rain and the flapping of the sail. The rain finally drove him below.
The sails snapped like gunshots as Eric headed up into the wind. The boom swung wildly back and forth causing me to keep low for fear of being knocked into the ocean. The boat sunk lower as the bilge filled with water. Eric started the pumps and water chugged out the side. The jib now furled, Eric headed down from the wind, barely gaining enough momentum to steer the boat. The boat heeled over once again, the windward side high above the water.
“Carol, Ken, get up here on the rail,” Eric shouted trying to be heard above the scream of the wind. “I’m afraid to drop the sail. We’ll lose steerage.”
Water continued to stream over the side as Ken and I struggled to throw our weight high over the water rushing below, the boat slippery from the rain and ocean spray.
The next 30 minutes were a jumble of sounds, commands and actions. And then we were out the other side, at the mouth of the harbor, the sun retrieved from the black hole.
I was shaking, my teeth rattling. Ken pulled me close, trying to warm me, trying to calm me against his wet body. I could feel the tension in him loosening, his shoulders hunching down into me.
“Well done, Eric.” Ken said over my shoulder as Eric guided the boat safely inside the harbor.
Lisa emerged from below carrying a bucket full of the churned remains of lunch. She didn’t look at us; she just dumped the contents of the bucket over the side and set it softly down on the deck. She sat down beside the bucket, looking out the side at the shore. Glancing into the open cabin door, I saw Jim stretched on the floor, his eyes closed.
“Jim okay?” I asked, avoiding Lisa’s eyes.
No one said much as we moored the boat. Ken and I helped Eric square the boat away as we waited for the launch to carry us to the dock. Jim had been roused and was sitting stiffly beside Lisa, both of them looking out the mouth of the harbor, not talking, not touching. Then Jim rested his hand briefly on Lisa’s before withdrawing it back to his side
Once on dry land, I turned to Eric, “thank you, thank you for everything. That was scary and I’m just happy to be back. Safe.” I stood on my tiptoes to give Eric a brief kiss on the cheek. “Maybe it’s better to skip dinner tonight, connect tomorrow instead.”
“You handled yourself well. I can see you have your dad’s sailing genes,” he responded smiling at me.
Over Eric’s shoulder, I saw a dark look cross Lisa’s face. It was so fleeting, I wondered if it had really happened. Lisa came up behind Eric and put her hand on his low back, softly like a caress. Her face was composed now and she smiled directly at Eric.
“Now, I promised you dinner and drinks tonight and that’s the least you deserve. You single handedly got us through that storm. Why, you’re an old fashioned swashbuckling hero,” Lisa said, her voice lilting over the last sentence. “I insist. I already bought the steaks. See you around 7:00 for drinks.”
Just then, Jim strode forward taking hold of Lisa’s hand and declared “What’s all the fuss? I’ve been in worse storms. I remember a snowstorm up in the Rockies, where I was climbing with buddies…”
I tuned him out as Ken came up to me, took my hand gently and headed me back towards the house speaking in low tones, “Don’t let him get to you. It’s not worth it.”
As I let myself be led away, I turned back to waive at Eric. He nodded, smiled briefly and turned back to Lisa and Jim, his face closed.
I could hear Lisa and Jim as I turned off the water in the outside shower. Still dripping, a large towel wrapped around my body, I stepped out of the shower and headed for the side door. Too late. Jim was standing there, towel and soap in hand, waiting for his turn at the shower. I saw him before he saw me. His face was clouded, battered looking. Just then he looked up and saw me.
“Finally done?” he chided.
“All yours,” I said as I tried to slip past, my head down watching my feet on the pavestones.
“Listen, I may have been out of line today,” he said as I slid past.
My head snapped up. I stopped and turned to face him. He was already headed inside the shower.
“But I have been in worse storms,” he called lightly over his back as he snapped the wooden door shut.
Warm and dry, I joined Lisa in the kitchen to help cook supper. She had also showered and changed. She was wearing a pretty summer dress with a full skirt and spaghetti straps. Her blown dry hair was swept up with a large, glittering, butterfly hair pin. In the dim light of the approaching evening, she looked pretty, almost young. I noticed that she had a large glass of ice water next to her as she chopped the vegetables for the salad. Avoiding looking at each other, I could feel a tension spreading between us, wrapping its tendrils around me.
“Remember the time we first tried to cook Chinese in our new woks. We heated the oil so hot, it set of the smoke alarms in the kitchen,” she said as she finally looked up and met my eyes.
“I remember,” I said, smiling. “Listen Lisa, about today…” I blurted out, hesitant and determined at the same time.
“Not now,” Lisa stopped me before I could get started. “I know that things got a little out of hand. I’m sorry. Let’s leave it for now. We’ll talk later. I promise.”
I brushed my hair nervously behind my ears, “All right I guess. Then what can I do to help?”
“Maybe you could peel the potatoes. I thought I’d make my special garlic smashed potatoes.”
Exactly at 7:00 PM, the front door bell rang and Eric walked in with brownies from the local bakery and a quart of vanilla ice cream.
“Perfect,” Lisa said. “We hadn’t thought of dessert. Come sit in the living room. Ken is setting the table and Jim is lighting the grill. We can relax for a bit before we cook the steaks. Everything else is ready to go.”
Dinner should have been delicious but I was tired and restless. Lisa had gone to the kitchen to make coffee, asking Eric to keep her company. I glanced over at Ken and could see his eyes heavy with fatigue. I mouthed “bed” and he nodded. We said goodnight to Jim who was pulling out his laptop, working on some deal for his company. Ken went upstairs and I headed to the kitchen to say my goodnights and to thank Eric once again for bringing us safely through the storm. My soft soled shoes were silent against the rug and I realized the silence reached beyond me into the kitchen. My skin prickled. My footsteps slowed. As I rounded the corner, I saw Lisa pressed up against Eric’s back as he reached into the high cupboard to retrieve the coffee. Her hands were circling his waist. Startled, Eric dropped the coffee and turned, pulling away. His face was red, his breath caught. He looked past Lisa’s face and saw me, my mouth open. Lisa turned quick, saw me and dropped her hands to her side.
“Eric was just helping me reach down the coffee,” she said to her feet.
I froze for a moment. “Goodnight Eric. Thank you for today. It’s been a long day, too long. Ken and I are headed to bed,” I managed to say, my face a mask.
“Yeah, too long. I need to go too,” I heard Eric say as I turned quickly and headed upstairs. I heard the front door shut with a snap as I reached Ken and gave him a hug. He looked at my face and held me gently.
“I’m torn. I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure I know her any more.”
“What’s happened now?” Ken asked, a little more insistent now.
I shook my head into his chest.
Ken stepped back, holding me by the shoulders, “You need to resolve this one way or another.” He pulled me back close, my tears wetting his shirt. “Come to bed. Talk to Lisa tomorrow. Leave it until then.”
“You climb in. I want to sit for a bit” I said as I settled into the chair next to the window. “I’m just going to listen to the ocean for awhile.”
The air had cleared out after the storm. It was dry, crisp. The sound of the ocean lulled me, calmed me. The moon was a white-gold disc, with Venus shining brightly below. Ken’s breathing became soft, regular. I sat emptying my mind, letting the day flow through me and out, carried away by the ocean air. I drifted. Then I heard another sound, a click then a muted bang as the front door sprang gently back into place. Barely distinguishable from the wind, I could hear a muffled weeping. I could see Lisa’s frosted hair lightly glimmering from the full moon as she moved across the lawn headed toward the marsh and the beach beyond.
I hesitated and then padded swiftly down the stairs and out the front door. I ran lightly across the lawn, catching a glimpse of Lisa before she was swallowed by the dark. I could just hear the quiet rustle of the long grass ahead of me before the springy path through the marsh gave way to the shifting sand of the beach. The sound of the waves rose, scrabbling against the tumbling stones. Lisa was walking slowly towards the water, a dark shadow outlined by silver moonshine.
“Lisa, wait,” I called as I moved quickly to reach her.
She flinched and turned. The tension in her body released as she recognized me. Her face, wet, looked defeated. Her teeth were stained dark from red wine. Her prettiness from earlier lost, running down her cheeks. She stood still, looking at me.
“Are you going to tell Jim?”
I shook my head. Relieved, she wiped her tears.
“It’s all too much. My mom and Jim. The thing with Eric. It was just a stupid mistake. I just wanted someone to hold me.” She turned away, looking back at the water. “Jim’s been so distant. I think he’s intimidated by my success, you know how his ego is. And when he drinks, well…” Her voice trailed off, her shoulders sagged. Now, barely a whisper, “Help me Carol, help me get through this.”
She turned back to face me. I took her hands. We stood quiet, listening to the tumbling stones.
Lisa broke the silence, “Talk to Eric for me, explain it was all a mistake.” She withdrew her hands and her voice hardened so slightly. “You seemed to connect with him.”
Now I turned away, listening to the repetition of the waves breaking against the shore. “You need to talk to Eric yourself.” I felt a cold breeze, filled with silence, surrounding me.
“It’s a small thing I’m asking,” Lisa replied, her voice rising. “All I’ve done for you. Caring for your boys while you were in the hospital with Charlie. Now my mom is sick. And my book is being published. Look at me.” She tugged on my arm. I turned to face her. “Is that it? My book, my second book?” Loud now, demanding. “You grew away from me. You couldn’t stand that I was published and now I’ll be on T.V. and buy a house on the Vineyard. You’re jealous.”
The words crashed into my ears. My heart beat loud in my chest. I shivered from the cold. “Yeah, I’m jealous,” I finally replied, loud now myself. “What about today, how you acted on the boat?” I stopped, drew breath and counted, letting my breath out slowly. “Yeah, I’m jealous,” I repeated, softer now, “but I made my choices and I can live with them. Can you?” My heart slowed. “Lisa, listen to me. We’ve known each other since our oldest were babies. The growing apart, it’s been mutual. You’ve pushed me away.” I tried to take her hand, her body was rigid.
“You owe me,” Lisa said, her voice loud. “It’s not about you, it’s about me. The boat was nothing.”
The breeze warmed ever so slightly and washed over me, the shivering now a memory, my body still.
“You need help, more help than I can give. I don’t know you anymore,” I replied, my voice clear.
Lisa was still for a long time. “I can help myself.” She turned and headed back to the house.
“I hope you can,” I called after her. “Ken and I will be off early to the ferry. No need to get up,” I said to her retreating back.
I drew my breath in slowly, inhaling the salt air. I crouched low, running my fingers through the sand still silky warm from the late day sun. The moonshine reflected off the breaking waves creating a cascade of tiny prisms of light. I stood, ready now to head back, my way familiar in the light of the moon.
The next morning we were gone before Lisa and Jim were up. There was an empty wine bottle on the front lawn, lying softly on its side were it had fallen over the night before.
Today’s post is from Ann Wachur, a close friend of Chris and Jon. Thank you, Ann!
It’s been over seven months since Chris’s death and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to write something. I can only repeat what Robin, another friend, articulated so well in her own post. “How can I write with the candor, love, and eloquence of those who have posted before.” I can’t, but I know Chris would encourage me to try. The other part of not writing comes from my own feelings of magical thinking. I can’t truly believe that Chris isn’t still here among us. So these are the times I think about Chris.
When the phone rings first thing in the morning and I expect it to be Chris wanting to walk that day and then when I go to all the places we used to walk. The Assabet, Town Forest, Marble Hill, the streets of Harvard Acres on rainy days, and the top of Wachusetts where we saw the bear.
When Corinne, Brenda, and I sit on her bench in Scituate and imagine her there looking out at the sea and when the three of us meet her parents and see the house where Chris and her three sisters grew up and know how hard this loss is for them. They greet us with such kindness.
When I pass Pine Bluffs soccer field and see that the women are playing and know that Chris isn’t there in her uniform or cheering on the sidelines for the team that she helped to form.
When Halloween comes and I think of Chris dressed as a witch and waiting for the kids at her front door.
When Thanksgiving comes and I imagine her family gathering for the first time without her.
When December comes and there is no Chris ringing my bell and handing me a jar of homemade jam.
When I occasionally have the answer to what’s for dinner tonight and it’s something new and different that I want to share with her.
When I go to the local grocery store and expect to see her car in the lot because she shopped there almost every day.
When it finally snows and I know that she is one of those people who appreciate and relish the beauty of winter. A kindred spirit.
When I walk past one of the places where her ashes are scattered and think how she would appreciate the beauty.
When a new movie comes out and I want to ask her to see it with me because I think we’d both like it and when it’s February and time for the Oscars and I want to tell her I too have seen every best picture nominee.
When I see Jon and I want to tell her that he’s doing okay, but that grief and loss are every bit as hard as we imagine them to be. Probably harder.
And when we lose another friend, Peggi or Margaret as she is called by her husband Tim, and the cycle of grieving starts again. Another member of our book group and and camping group and community gone. Another friend lost to us too soon. I remember the day Chris and I walked with our newborn sons and met Peggi in her front yard with her baby, Megan, and a new friendship began.
And I think of Chris when I consider time and how short it can feel and how precious it is. And so in this way, I suppose Chris is not here, but still present and still has things to share with me.
Even so, often I long to hear her real voice answering back.
As I get older it’s fun to look back, though I don’t think my children see it that way. I’ve taken photographs through most of my adult life and that’s given me a wonderful way to look back. I often find photographs to share with friends. Since we all know how many friends Chris had I decided to put together a slide show of the many groups Chris was able to hold on to through her life. It is not all-inclusive but just a representation. Take your time and let the slides move, or click through with the arrows. Please don’t feel left out if you don’t see yourself. Perhaps you’ll see somebody you know that will give you your own pleasant look back. And feel free to send a photo to be included.* — Jon Way
*To send a photo or to contribute to the blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I am glad that I am still here to make a second contribution to Chris’ blog.
Though I’ve realized that I am like an old junker car, the kind when you bring it in for a check-up or inspection, the mechanics cluck their tongues and say “the good news is it’s not dead yet. But you have to work on the brakes/air filter/main bearings/etc. to make it road-worthy.” Then they console you with the adder “But it has good torque…”
My cancer has been a) fomenting liters of fluid build-up in my lungs, b) interfering with a kidney, c) producing prodigious amounts of mucus and spit, d) etc. “But your blood is better….”. Actually, these things sound like plumbing problems, and the solutions were from the plumbing repertoire; namely drains and hoses and periodic suction pumps. Maybe I’m more like an old junker washing machine.
So January was a rough month. I lost a lot of weight again quickly, and had trouble eating. Probably due to cold (yes, I know it was an easy winter), and the succession of junker plumbing repairs.
I spent way a lot of time in hospital rooms, leading to these thoughts:
In a hospital bed, the room’s
dust of despair, bleak sadness
an ache behind the eyes,
A pallor of mind.
The room haunted
by death and pain?
It is the best medical care,
The nurses are cheerful
But used to it.
And after rhyming:
Lying in a hospital bed
the dust of despair blinds
behind the eyes, a dread
aching pallor of mind.
From wraiths of death and pain?
It is the best medical care,
the nurses are cheerful and humane
but immunized to despair.
Not sure which version I like better.
Hoping of course that Oscar Wilde’s observation would hold true, namely (or wordly) that by describing my reaction to hospital rooms, the reaction will go away before my next hospital stay.
But I have been thinking about Oscar’s truism: “Nothing survives being talked of”. It became codified in my worldview when I was in my late 20’s. I remember clearly stating, “I will never go to Lagos, Kinshasa, or South Africa.” Not two years later I found myself in the Congo for a 9-month stint, and two after that flying into Johannesburg. Once I noticed this personal phenomenon, I realized that merely saying I wasn’t going to do something automatically increased the odds that I would in fact do it. Oscar’s saying seemed to explain this phenomenon.
But of course it is not true on several levels. On the other hand maybe it is true for important things. I think really important things, like aspects of relationships, or experiences of emotions, are almost impossible to describe in English, and I suspect in any language. So perhaps what is true about Oscar’s insight is that talking of important things is doomed to failure, since it is so devilishly difficult to express what you really mean. So such things do not survive being talked of.
Now in my 60’s, my thoughts turn to Goethe’s “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I think Goethe implies that if I think up good and positive narratives of my adventures with cancer, then I might make my adventures be good and positive. I’m still thinking about that.
Getting back to January, it was hard to lose muscles the second time, the first being my tumor’s initial onslaught on my body announcing its existence. I worked hard to get healthy and strong after biweekly chemo treatments allowed me to regain a handle on life with my tumor. My wife and battle buddy and I exercise cultishly (we go to crossfit), and I am back near as strong as I was before January. But I’m not there yet, and I know that because in hockey almost anybody can lift my stick and steal the puck. Pre-cancer, that never happened; and last December I had reached near that level of play again. But my game now is marred by opponents’ ability to steal the puck with ease. And I’m not even talking about essential skills such as skating and shooting – you can guess my level of ineptitude in those aspects of the game.
At least my arms and legs are not the sticks that they had shrunk to in January. Interestingly, at our last meeting my oncologist said that Dana Farber and some institution in California had become aware of some possible relationships between muscle mass and cancer and cancer treatments. The idea would be a clinical trial or study to determine if having more muscle mass is correlated with more positive outcomes in patients with cancer.
Early in my cancer career we attended a Dana workshop on Alternative Therapies that might augment standard cancer treatment. Exercise was highlighted as the most effective Alternative Therapy then known. Exercise increased positive outcomes 30-35% in patients undergoing regular cancer treatment programs. Good diet and nutrition were second most effective, at around 20%.
I’m pretty sure communicating with your tumor via your vagus nerve was not on the list of Alternative Therapies at all. In my previous contribution to Chris’ blog I outlined a line of reasoning for, and possible strategies to open lines of communication with my tumors. I’ve not made much progress. I think I’ve been able to identify some sensations and body states that might involve my vagus nerve. I tried sending messages to my tumors encouraging them to shrink. The mother tumor perhaps has done that, to the extent that CT scan reports don’t even mention it anymore, and CT reports seem scrupulous at describing only what is there on the screen. No conjectures about why the dog didn’t bark in the night are to be found in CT reports. But if it is not mentioned, I think that is a good sign.
The little seedling tumors that are spread around my abdomen are getting bigger a millimeter or so in a two-month span. At the last meeting my oncologist said that the tiny seedling tumors are actually what he is most concerned with (a little tidbit that was a bit of an eye opener to me. I had heretofore concentrated my attention on the mother tumor).
About this time I realized that most likely my tumors don’t speak English (otherwise I could have bombarded them with the Oscar Wilde treatment). I have to learn tumor language, which is probably steroids and hormones and blood biochemicals. Maybe they have their own form of messenger RNA twitter. Through meditation I have worked on getting my center of focus to locate somewhere else besides eye level. I think I can get it down to my diaphragm through breathing awareness, but the diaphragm doesn’t seem like a particularly communicative organ. So now I’m trying to go up the chain of command to the brain stem and cerebellum, which I believe do send messages via the vagus to the area where the tumors are. If I could only learn how.