Thank you for still being here and reading. It means more than you know. See you in 2020!
Thank you for still being here and reading. It means more than you know. See you in 2020!
I wrote a piece a while ago that I shared on Medium last week. It’s probably pretty redundant for anyone who has been reading here – about Dad, poetry, Tennyson, Whit, loss, memory. One of the reasons I go back and forth on continuing to write here is this sense that I’ve become a totally boring, repetitive writer. Still, it’s a piece that means a huge amount to me, so I’m proud to see it up. You can read the piece here, and the first part of it is below. To add color to the particularly complicated and rigorous last year, Liz, who read at Dad’s funeral (one of two non-family members to do so) recently died herself. I will attend her funeral next weekend. Losses everywhere. Much is taken. Much abides.
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Dad closed the heavy Norton anthology and slid it onto the table in front of him, before picking up his wine glass and leaning back against the house and looking at me in the candlelight. It drove Mum crazy when he leaned back on the chair’s rear legs like that. She was always afraid he’d either fall or break the chair, maybe both.
I could hear the late-summer crickets chirping in the deep darkness and thought once again of how early sunset came these days, as the world rushed towards Labor Day and the fall. Dad and I were on the back porch in Marion, candles burning down, the napkins of the rest of the family crumpled on the table. Mum and Hilary had gone inside a while ago, and Dad had pulled the old Norton out of the front room bookshelf to read. He loved Tennyson and so do I. I was going back to my senior year in college next week, and I had almost chosen to write my thesis this upcoming year on Tennyson. Ultimately I’d chosen to write about motherhood and poetry in the lives and work of three twentieth-century poets, but Dad and I had talked a lot about Tennyson as I made that decision. He’d read me Crossing the Bar (the poem he’d always told us he wanted read at his funeral and which his own father had also adored) and Ulysses more times than I can count, and others, too: he loved High Flight and had recently re-read the Inferno for fun and wanted to talk constantly about the incredible imagery of light and dark in Paradise Lost. “Read” is not really accurate, actually, since he recited long parts of these poems by heart.
As I grew up and got married and had children of my own, Dad and I kept talking, about life and the world and poetry, too. I didn’t really understand the meaning of those Tennyson poems, or, perhaps, of those candlelit evenings where we sat in the dusk with poetry and late summer rising around us, until the fall of 2017. My husband Matt’s father died in late September of that year and two months and three days later my father died, too. Matt’s dad’s death was quick but expected; he’d been battling a variety of health issues stemming from a successful heart transplant in 2002 for years. Dad’s death was sudden and shocking; he died of a presumed heart attack three days after hosting Thanksgiving for 30, after a run and before he was coming over to our house for dinner.
Dad’s December funeral was surreal until I heard the familiar words read by one of my family’s oldest friends,, Liz. She stood on the podium and began to read.
“Sunset and evening bell, and one clear call for me,,” I looked up from my front-row seat and felt as though I was floating in the rafters, maybe above the driftwood cross that hung from the ceiling, watching myself.
Then I could hear my father’s voice, which felt as much a part of me as my own heartbeat. “But such a tide as moving seems asleep,” Dad recited Tennyson’s words by heart.
Liz stepped down from the pulpit and returned to her seat. The silence in the church was heavy, punctuated by sniffling and rustling. I heard someone sob quietly in the back of the room. The last time I’d been in this church with Dad was just over 17 years ago, when he walked me down the aisle towards the man who would become my husband a few minutes later.
9/9/00, Marion, Massachusetts
Today is our 19th anniversary. I’ve written about Matt on this day for many years, and I feel a little bit like there’s nothing new to say. In case you’re curious and have a lot of time on your hands: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.
So, I’ll try to capture the last nineteen years, which have been simultaneously and alternately a lifetime and a moment, in numbers.
20 – length of our wedding ceremony, in minutes
5 – the amount of time we’d been in the church when it started pouring, thundering, and lightning, in minutes
1 – number of houses we’ve lived in
18 – number of years we’ve lived here
6 – weeks we’d known each other when we planned a 2 month trip to Africa
5 – continents we’ve been to together
19,341 – highest elevation we’ve been to together, in feet (summit of Kilimanjaro)
2 – children we have welcomed
40 – length of Grace’s labor, in hours
3 – length of Whit’s labor, in hours
2 – fathers who died in the fall of 2017
6 – grandparents we have lost since we met
1 – number of times I have beaten you at tennis
lost track – number of times we’ve run together as the sun came up – best way to start the day
0 – number of times I’ve eaten shellfish since we’ve known each other
4 – number of books that we’ve both read and enjoyed in 20+ years (our tastes differ)
0 – number of minutes that I slept on our four flights between Boston and Bali for our honeymoon
0 – number of our duffel bags that arrived in Bali with us for said honeymoon
45 – number of minutes that you slept while I was in transition at the end of Grace’s labor
6 – minutes per mile (you)
8.5 – minutes per mile (me)
2 – number of cars of ours that have been hit by tree branches falling in storms (one was totaled)
unlimited – how much I’m looking forward to the next 19
This picture was taken by my college roommate’s mother as we left our wedding reception. We don’t have that many pictures from our wedding (I shared a few yesterday here) and so I am now recycling them, so long have I been writing anniversary posts to mark the years as they tick by.
This year was one for the ages, no? I’m still finding my footing and I know you are too. Certainly the last year of our marriage held the most transition of any since we got married. These haven’t been easy months. We are both volatile and fragile at the same time, and treating each other with gentleness, surely always a core tenet of marriage, is something we’re learning how to do (and the importance of) all over again.
I’m frankly without words when I try to write something commemorating today. And as you know that rarely happens to me. I feel overcome with all there is to say at the same time as I feel so spent as to find it hard to really say anything at all.
On Valentine’s Day I wrote a short post on Instagram which feels like the best way to summarize right now:
Twenty years, five continents, one apartment, one house, two MBAs, two howlingly (literally) unmedicated labors, two astonishing children who are now young adults, eight jobs, countless family dinners, a million photographs, one surgery, eight weeks lying flat in the living room, two fathers gone and two funeral eulogies given in last five months.
That was February, and it’s all still true (though now, almost 12 months). Right now feels enormous, heavy, gorgeous, fraught, and fleeting. I’ve never been more aware of how fast it all goes and of how ephemeral our lives are. I know sometimes the way I wrestle with this reality is frustrating. The week or two before Grace left, when I labored under suffocating weight of her pending departure, were surely not your favorite of our marriage. They weren’t mine either. And I know that can be traced back to this awareness, not new but newly keen, newly visceral, newly urgent, of how fragile and evanescent this life is.
And despite those messy weeks, despite the times I don’t act with gentleness, despite the heartbreak and difficulty of the last year, despite the dishes in the sink and the rush out the door in the morning, despite it all, you’re still the one I want to be walking with. Into the mystic we go. I’m still amazed.
Happy eighteen years, Matt. I love you.
I’m heading down to spend the 4th of July holiday with my children and husband, my mother, and my sister and her family, as we do every year. We crowd into the house, which has at least one too few bathrooms for all of us. We watch and cheer at the town’s old-fashioned parade. We line the kids up for group photos, which used to feature at least one person crying and now feature at least one person being a little surly. I used to dress the children in matching 4th of July pajamas, but that’s no longer happening.
This year there’s an echoing hole in the center of our experience.
We spent last weekend at Mum and Dad’s rambling house by the ocean, where we’ve spent so very many weekends. I have been expecting the summer to be full of landmines and memories, and last weekend that proved true. His absence colors everything in that house. Sure, his absence colors my experience in general, but it is never more true than in that house.
That house where I brought Matt to meet my parents for the first time, a month after we met, in January 1998. He and Dad were reading the same book (let me assure you it wasn’t an airport New York Times bestseller – rather a textbook-style book, about two inches thick, about the history of Europe). After that weekend, Dad said to me, “Well, if he had only lived in Europe for a stint, I think he’d be perfect.” To which I replied, “Did Matt not tell you about the two years he lived in London before business school?”
That house where Dad glanced at me as I walked downstairs in my wedding dress and turned back to the US Open. Sampras was in a fifth set! “Dad,” I remember saying with a sign, “We do have to go.” To his credit, he turned the TV off then.
That house where Mum and Dad hosted Thanksgiving for over 30 people for more than two decades. Where Matt and I pulled up, with a sleeping Grace in her carseat in the backset, on Thanksgiving morning 2002. I have intense, vivid memories of that drive, arriving in front of Mum and Dad’s house, leaning against the headrest of the car, looking into the front windows through which I could see Dad in his bowtie. Matt’s father was still in a coma after his heart transplant. I was deep in the weeds of post partum depression. The rest of the day is a blur, but I do recall with crystalline detail looking through the windows from our navy blue car as we parked.
That house where Grace and Whit lived with Mum and Dad for several summers, growing into themselves, developing their own relationships with their grandparents, learning to sail and playing tennis. Where Dad and Whit took the boat out alone, where Dad and Grace went out to dinner alone, where we spent more nights around the dinner table than I can count. Where for many years, Mum blew out birthday candles with all four of her grandchildren as Dad looked on from the other end of the table.
That house where, very often on a weekend morning, Dad and I were the first people up. I’d bring him a cup of black coffee and he’d glance up and say, “well, thank you!” before turning back to his book. I sat in the other room, reading, and could feel the pulse of him in his red leather chair. The same red leather chair where he held Grace and Whit as infants, and where he later read to them.
That house where I had my last conversation with my father. That house where I talked to him, hugged him, and saw him for the last time. It was another Thanksgiving with over 30 people there, including this year’s foreign student (my sister and I have long maintained that it is the presence of someone we’ve never met before is what makes a Thanksgiving truly real). That house from which we went for our usual after-dinner walk on Thanksgiving, which wound home through the boatyard, Dad and I walking in silence among the boats, up on stilts for the winter.
That house where we gathered for Dad’s funeral. Where a few special family and friends gathered the night before to have dinner, solemn and laughing at the same time, where memory swelled into a present, tangible thing. Where Matt and I retraced that same walk, the one we always do, early on the morning of the service. Where Tennyson ran through my head, as he often does. Where the old sailing friend of Dad’s quoted the same lines from Ulysses as he struck the canon as the crowd gathered for ceremonious colors in Dad’s honor.
And tomorrow, back I go to the same house, for the week with everyone together. It will be the same in many ways and of course wildly, terrifyingly different in one enormous one. All we can do is hold onto each other and proceed. Red and blue and white. Fireworks and memories. Ghosts around every corner, as well as memories of laughter and joy. It’s still Mum’s birthday. We are still together.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides.