Happy birthday, Matt!

Tomorrow is your birthday, and this is one of two times a year I explicitly write about you here.  I thought about various ways to tackle this birthday, this letter, coming as it does on the heels of the most eventful year in our lives.  Two new jobs.  Two new schools.  Two fathers gone.  It’s hard to really think about the world on your birthday last year and your birthday this year; so much is different.  But of course so much is the same, as well.

I feel a little daunted by trying to capture in words all I want to say this year on your birthday, and a little overwhelmed given everything that’s happened.  Truthfully, I feel a little blocked, and mostly I just want to say thank you.  So here we go, freestyle, inspired, as I often am, by Gail Godwin’s words: “the more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and infinite.”

Let me count the ways I love you.

I love the way you are handy and can take care of a lot of things – the stove in Cambridge and the dryer in Marion come to mind.

I did not love the way you broke the door off of our oven days before I hosted Christmas for 15, but I do love the resourceful way you got it fixed.

I love the way you sat alone on all seven flights to, within, and from Hawaii (see above).  I love the way you could laugh about some of your particularly colorful seatmates. I love the way you always give me the aisle at a wedding.

I love the way you make coffee in the mornings (sometimes, feel free to bump that up to always).

I love the way we spin and run together.

I love the relationship you had with my father and the one you have with my mother.  I’ll never forget the look on her face on Christmas Eve when you sat at the head of the table, in Dad’s seat.

I love the way you make me laugh, and our long list of private jokes (“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” A-Aron, and the Kailach family come to mind).

I love the way you ziplined in Hawaii, even though I know it sort of unnerved you at first (see video above).

I love the way you call your mother every day.

I love the way you read books.  I do not love the way it often takes another person recommending a book I’ve already suggested for you to read it, and for you to comment on what a great suggestion that was X made!

I love the deep, almost-impossible way that we can relate to each others’ realities right now.  I do not love the way this makes us blow up at each other sometimes, but I do love the way we let the dust settle, remind each other of what’s going on, say I’m sorry, and move forward.

I love the way you told me, when we were on our honeymoon, that “I like to get up the morning and do things!” and yet sometimes you need me to remind you of the wisdom of this comment.  We’re all better when we get up the morning and do something.

I love hearing you speaking to our children, and watching you parent them.  I love seeing aspects of you animate in them.

I love the notes you leave for me, in my wallet, on my desk, often in brown ink written by my father’s fountain pen.

I love you for a million other reasons, big and small, and I’m not listing here.  I hope you know what some of them are, and I consider it one of the tasks of my life to keep telling you.

I love them, and I love you, and I love our family.  If we can make it through this past year, we can make it thrpugh anything.

Happy birthday.

Previous birthday posts are here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

Preemptive mourning

this is an old photograph of Grace, but I love the way she is literally in flight

Grace went away to school last year.  Shortly after she left, our lives veered off the rails.  It’s taken until the last month or two for me to be able to see the last year with any kind of clarity (and I’m sure this is not yet perfect clarity).  What I can see now, that I could not then, is that I spent most of the year before Grace went in a state of suspended animation and almost overwhelming anxiety.  My angst and preoccupation was all-consuming.

I have friends preparing to send children to boarding school in September, and it is talking to them that has helped me understand in a new way how difficult the months between April (her decision to go) and September (her leaving) were for me.  In fact, that season was one of the most difficult of my life.  I say that even knowing what followed immediately on the heels of Grace’s leaving.

It is such a first world problem: a child going to boarding school.  Cry me a river.  I know.  It’s just the departure for college four years early.  And yet it was immensely, guttingly, overwhelming hard for me.  No matter how you slice it, Grace leaving for boarding school was the end of something.  What’s come in the wake of that end is something new, wonderful, and full of its own pleasures and joys, absolutely.  But last September was also, irrevocably, an end and a farewell.  Life since then is both a celebration of what is now and an elegy to what no longer is (a similar sentence to once I’ve used before, describing parenting in general).

A dear friend recently posited that perhaps my overwhelming anxiety and grief about Grace leaving was some kind of subconscious preemptive mourning of the other losses that last fall held for me.  I’m not sure about that,but it’s an interesting interpretation.  In retrospect, Grace leaving was more all-consuming than John’s or Dad’s deaths, in some ways, mostly because it hung over us for months.  Of course John’s and Dad’s deaths were bigger losses that helped calibrate Grace’s departure, but the truth is even by the time John died (3 weeks after Grace left), I was already okay.

As is true for me – and yet as I apparently need to keep learning – the anticipation of Grace’s leaving was a hundred times worse than the reality of it.  The months leading up to her leaving home were full of angst – I remember last summer, at one point, the mailman asking casually “how are you doing?” as he dropped off the mail and my responding by bursting into tears.  I was a skinless, fragile person, walking through the world haunted by the end that Labor Day represented.  And once we reached that end, we pushed off into a new world.  And that new world has been lovely.  Grace is happy, happier than she’s been in a long time.  I feel closer to her than ever.  We are fine.  We have a new configuration, and we are all adapting.  The most important thing, for me, is the knowledge that she’s in the right place, doing the right thing.  As a parent, that’s all I need.

I wrote about Grace recently that “watching her [you] fly is one of the two biggest joys in my life.”  And indeed that’s true.  I didn’t realize until I was through it what a painful season last summer was, but I can see it now.

It was letting go, writ large. 

Not something I’ve ever been good at, but oh, my, the rewards are glorious. 2017 had a lot of letting go in it, and it’s my belief that 2018 and beyond will show us those rewards. It has already begun to.


We went to Hawaii over Kauai for spring break.  For obvious reasons, we did not plan our trip during the fall as we usually do.  For other obvious reasons, I did not have the usual lots of planning/air BNB/adventure in me.  I am sure we will go back to Europe, but for now the whole continent reminds me of my father in a way I can’t sign up for.  So we went to Hawaii.  None of the four of us has ever been, and truthfully, I’ve always wanted to go.  We chose Kauai because we’d heard it was the quietest, most rural island, and that sounded about right.  The trip there was long (booking six weeks before travel, on miles, means you don’t get the most direct or convenient flights).

We arrived in Kauai on Tuesday afternoon.  It was gray and spitting rain, but we were thrilled to be there and the children ran right to the ocean.  On Wednesday morning we woke up to torrential rain.  Our phones vibrated with flash flood alerts.  The concierge at the hotel said they hadn’t had rain like this in years.  The forecast was for three days of torrential rain and maybe a peek of clearing on Saturday (we were leaving Kauai on Sunday morning). I had a moment of: can’t we get a break?  we just wanted something to be smooth and relaxing.  But I tried to shake off my grumpiness, and we headed to where we always go when we don’t quite know what to do: the bookstore.

The western-most bookstore in the United States, to boot!  Talk Story sells both new and used books, and the smell when we walked in reminded so much of my father I was almost brought to my knees.  Everybody bought a book, and we found a cute place for coffee and acai bowls, and I was glad we brought raincoats.  I woke up the next morning and lay in bed, listening to a constant whirring sound.  “Is that more rain?” I asked Matt, distressed but resigned.

“No, Linds, it’s the air conditioner.”  He replied.  I jumped up and pulled the curtains, and saw that it was gray but not actively raining.  Delightful.  We spent most of the day at the ocean, and the kids took a surfing lesson. The sun actually came out.

My favorite experience of our Hawaii trip was the three afternoons we spent floating in the water together.  The waves were big and rough, and we let them toss us around.  Grace, Whit and I had a long conversation about how when the waves get really big the best bet is to drive through them. The only way out is through.  True in life, too.  I told both children about how when I was in labor with them, I envisioned waves, and I thought about this particular adage: through.  Through to the other side.  Lean into the wave.  It strikes me that while my childbirths were long ago now, that advice is still good today.

Another day, we went zip-lining.  The landscape was spectacular, and all four of us tried it in the “flying” position as well.  Grace and Whit were the most fearless and also ziplined upside down. The scariest part of any zipline, we all agreed, was the leaning into thin air from the platform.  It’s the jumping off.  This is true, also, of life itself.

We also went for a beautiful hike along a ridge by the ocean.  We could see humpback whales leaping and spouting in the ocean.  The landscape was rocky and foreign and gorgeous.

We saw sunsets (below) and sunrises (below that).  By “we” I mean Matt and me, as Grace and Whit slept long and hard.  Kauai was as magical as we had been told.  The island felt relaxed and joyful, and strange coincidences made us both feel our fathers near.  A song that reminds Matt of his father was playing seemingly everywhere we went.  And we saw dozen of KCM (my father’s initials) license plates in Kauai.  Yes, all the plates there start with K.  But still.  Everywhere I turned I kept seeing KCM.

The first couple of days were rocky, and we had some family arguments I’m not proud of.  But once we found our groove, it was lovely: we ate well and slept well and rested well and felt the sun on our faces.  The difficult first days reminded me that all four of us have, individually and collectively, been through a lot these last several months. We are still limping. The losses, and their aftermaths, are still fresh. I think forgiveness and patience is called for.

Forgiveness.  Patience.  Two things I’m not good at, giving or receiving.  But the waves are big, and the only way through is to lean into them, with forgiveness and patience.  And some deep breaths.


I’ve written about how my father was both a physicist and a poet.  I’ve written about the tremendous richness involved in growing up in the space between his two worlds, between the logical and rational and the inexpressible and infinite. He was a man with a PhD in Engineering who read (and annotated, in fountain pen) the Bible and the collected works of John Milton. This duality was expressed in many ways.  My sister Hilary, in her remarks at Dad’s memorial service, spoke about his bookshelves in Cambridge, which housed (and still do) books about World War II, America’s Cup boats, and dense historical tomes in German as well as a collection of gilded angels. That paradox, which defined my father, is the space between, and it’s where Dad lived.

Dad loved angels.  I don’t know that he fully believed they were real, in the sense that there were babies floating in the ether, but he loved them with an affection that I have to think correlates with some kind of trusting.  I guess it’s no surprise then, that I feel his presence in the strangest moments now that he’s gone.

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon, Mum asked me if Matt and I could change some lightbulbs in her house.  Of course, I said, just tell me where.  The light in Dad’s office and the light in the front hall both needed new bulbs.  I made a mental note. The next day, I picked her up early to go to the airport.  As we drove to Logan, she turned to me, “Oh, I forgot – did you change the light in Dad’s office yesterday?”

“No,” I said.  “We were going to do that sometime soon.”

“Well, it’s working now.”  She shook her head and looked out the front of the car.


Then, that same week, I noticed one of Dad’s business cards in the passenger door well of one of our cars.  The business card was worn, like it had traveled in a wallet for a long time.  I am frequently a passenger in that car and I’ve never noticed the card there before that day. Dad had literally never been in that car.


It’s not that different than the way Matt keeps hearing What a Wonderful World (his father’s favorite song, and played at the funeral) everywhere he goes. I choose to let these small coincidences (I’m a logical thinker on some level, too, and I recognize that these are likely random occurrences) reassure me, to see meaning in them, to feel my dad near.  I guess part of me has inherited my dad’s love of, and belief in, angels.



I have bemoaned time’s swift passage my whole life.  I’m a broken record, actually: I write, I talk, and I think endlessly about this.  Tempus fugit was almost the name of this blog.

And, suddenly, in the last couple of months, that has changed radically.  Now time’s crawling.  It’s been two months since my father died, but it feels like two years.  Thanksgiving, when he stood at the head of one of two tables and carved one of two turkeys, feels like even more years ago.

It’s a strange, contradictory thing: the actual days, as they pass, aren’t really any slower.  Nor are they jammed full of anything special.  Oh, yes, that first week after Dad died is a total blur, and I’m simultaneously aware that it was one of the most sacred and also the most strange weeks of my life.  And a lot has happened, since last fall – Grace went away to boarding school, my father-in-law died, my father died, my mother had her hip replaced, other dear friends and family members died.  We had special visits with our cousins on both sides, experiences inflected with both sorrow and celebration.

But everything feels so slow right now.  Full and blurry at the same time.  I’m sure this is a manifestation of grief (along with my irritability I hope).  But it’s remarkably different from how I normally experience life, which is both vivid and at high speed.

Sometimes, though, time slips in a dramatic, disorienting way.  On Saturday, Mum and I went to a family funeral (her beloved cousin, who was really her father’s younger first cousin, and to whom she’s always been closer than that familial tie would suggest; he also spent a lot of time in Marion, so was a part of my parents’ and our lives).  She stood up and read Crossing the Bar, the Tennyson poem that was read at my father’s funeral.  In that moment, as I watched her read, I felt dizzy, overcome with memory.  I felt like I was back in the church where we celebrated my father’s life, and, maybe even more, I was on the back porch with him as he quoted the poem from memory in post-dinner candlelight. In that moment, as I watched Mum read (beautifully, though I could tell she was emotional) time flew again, ad I thought of this post, and wondered if it was true.

It is, though.  Mostly, everything feels like it is moving incredibly slowly.  I’m struck by how far away life last fall feels.  I suppose it’s that, more than slowness, actually, that I’m keenly aware of.  And maybe that makes sense; the dual deaths of Matt’s father and my father cleaved our lives into a before and after.

The only way I know forward is to do just that: to move forward.  To let myself marvel at the tricks time plays on me, at how long ago it feels that Dad was here while he simultaneously sometimes feels so vividly present.  I think, several times a day, of the email my father sent to Grace after her other grandfather died, in which he asserted that the only thing to do is to face forward and grab the future with both hands, even if it hurts.”  Indeed. I’m trying.

I do have moments of noticing – often captured these days on Instagram. Life is no less beautiful; what’s different is the lens through which the world.  I trust that things will return to normal, but I also know it will take a while.  Until then, I’m going to let myself move ploddingly through my days, observe what startling joys I can see (alongside the numerous, and inevitable, moments of stunning sorrow). Dad believed in the value of new experiences, of that I’m certain.  I don’t know that he’d thought through this last, and most definitive new experience he would offer me, a literal change in how I move through the world. But it’s undeniable, this impact, and I’m trying to get used to it.