Navigate / search

I’ve Got You, Under My Skin



It is in the air. Sitting at a table this coming Thursday, whether you like it or not, you are part of a community. Riding on the subway. Driving on the Ventura Highway. In line at Joe-to-Go in your rented car. Sitting in an Advent Circle. Floating on the ferry across the Sound. Sitting in an office waiting room. Sitting at the computer in the office of that waiting room.

Our hearts beat in community. There are many solo acts among us, but even they, by virtue of their choices, are a community.

Sometimes you stand alone in Community

Then there is family, which many of us are thinking about this week. Even stinky Uncle Phil, or adorable Nora, these people who burp loudly or reach under the table with a small sweaty hand to squeeze your clenched fist, they are your community.
These are the people who will be standing up at your memorial service to tell how deeply you loved, because, yes, you stood for loving even the difficult to love.

That is what community is about. Loving each other including our difficulties.

My friends in the School of the Womanly Arts are good at community and getting better. If you look at my friend Joanne’s blog, you will see us in Miami last week, looking so happy. We know each other glowing and we know each other in the moments not pictured here, with gales of tears, snot and despair soaking our socks. We have stood for each other through major life passages and celebrate it all.

My family, my little community here under this roof is a bit like an anemone, reaching out tentacles that suck people in. We each, in our appetite for fun, invite friends for movies or dinners or memorial services and these friends show up.
This salves the challenge of friends who live so far away, for whom showing up is not easy. It comforts you when what you need is a good long cry or a talk over the dirty dishes, getting clean, both of you. We create community.

I believe in community. I thrive in it. I rely on it. I live it.

Moon Circle Moon Rise at Antigua by Denise Barack

Six weeks have passed since my Mom died. First, there were the gatherings in Escanaba, where my parents live(d). The Lutheran response to grief is food and for this, I am fortunate. When else would my diet be laced with Scotcheroos for breakfast?

Scotcheroos CBB

There was the service and the people who traveled across the country to be with us. Miles traveled do not earn any badges of honor, but being there does. Whether it was a custodian from one of my Mom’s schools or my Uncle from Colorado, each came to stand with me, my siblings and stepdad in respect for my Mom. I relied on them to help me remember Mom.

Then, back here in Massachusetts, I was pining away like the dog at the door for people with which to grieve. My knitting circle friend urged me to plant my grieving here in my yard with a service and in my town with a notice in the paper. I could not have come to that clarity without her help. Another in my rich circle of friends, community, comes to my aid.

Standing in our yard a week later, with 30 friends talking about Mom, I felt a bit like I was on top of the Empire State Building…looking out over the vista and realizing it was mine. All this sadness and celebration of Mom is mine. I share it with my sisters and stepbrother and Stepdad, but each of us has her own vista. Whoa. I felt dizzy at the real estate.

Now, as the days pass, peppered through my hours are people I can look at who, though they did not know my Mom, they stood in the yard and planted daffodils in her honor. My friend Roger, who is one of the most extraordinary friends available, even adopted my Mom’s favorite song in to his Jestering. Perhaps you will be fortunate one day to hear his rendition of “I Know A Weenie Man”.

Hard to Laugh and Cry while eating a cookie watching my Roger the Jester

This week, I will be with my community. My sisters each have their own plans. We have not gathered as a family at Thanksgiving for years, so my husband and I have settled in to our community family holiday plan which we all enjoy, wrapped in deep love. We will toast our gains and losses of this past year, we will bake pies, and we will remember with each other how to laugh crying and cry laughing.

May your holidays find you celebrating your community.
Even stinky Uncle Phil.

Love, S

Of These Things I am Sure

1959 Mom and SBB

Mothering Myself

I am missing Mom something terrible today.
I am missing having people close by who will tell me stories about her.
I know I have been quiet for a whole week, both on my Notes and on the Laundry Line.

My grief is a soft yellow room with billowing curtains and a huge couch, within footsteps of a kitchen where my friend Janet is stirring something for me to taste.
No talking required of me, just listening and tasting.

This quiet morning, I pressed a big batch of quince applesauce through the food mill. It has been raining for 2 days. I am deep in to working on the book proposal for Laundry Line Divine and feeling not quite excellent about that project. I am not attending my Friday collage class because I really must write today. I have been too long from this room, from sitting down and remembering Mom.

Standing at the sink, I can look out at the elderberry bushes we planted last weekend. You can read all about it on my Face book Notes page. Jonathan and I planned that memorial ceremony for here in our yard because I desperately needed a place to locate my grieving, a spot in my life, my contemporary life that is away from the Lutheran Jell-O salads and plates of scotcheroos that appeared to accompany our week of Mom dying in Escanaba. There is great healing power in those salads, as gruesome as they may look, they have some secret ingredient that allows one to swallow and digest the shock of losing my Mom.

2008 Mom and SBB

I know she was ill for a long time. I know we were aware she was leaving. And the reality of her exit, of that last, slow slow slow breath that has now become the moment when I must begin to mother myself…that reality is steep to climb.

At the memorial I shared this thought. During gestation, from the moment those magnificent cells joined up to form each of us, our aliveness was intrinsically, cellularly connected to the surety of our Mother’s aliveness. Everything in us was because of her vivacity. Her electricity. Her love.

Then, born, we begin the mighty task of living away from our natal connection to stretch that umbilicus of love as we grow in to adults. Our lives continue, still pulsing with the aliveness of our Mothers, but different, stronger in many ways because we quicken with our own connections, whether we birth children, professions or gardens, we are all engaged in birthing something, our own lives.

Then, when the day comes that that aliveness ceases, when that steady breath that trucked along during our teen years- likely gasping for breath during angry outbursts, the breath that is taken away briefly while beholding the emergence of a stunning young person, that breath that was held during difficult passages, that breath that exhaled when stormy seas of early adulthood settled in to a life…that breath that I hear over and over again on the phone when I call or she’d call, Mom?
Big Inhale…. SUZI!!!! Yes, that breath, I hear it in my cells still.

But, we have a learning to do now.
Yes, learning to release this grief, in to the ground, in to the air, in to my art, in to my days, in to these words.
I do this as I listen for my own breath.
I know, with surety, my own aliveness.

I am bursting with life.
I am gasping lungfuls of my own aliveness.

This, is good, grief.

Before I leave you today, I have to tell you one story. It is about my boy Ben. Our boy, Jonathan’s and mine.

Ben is studying in Munich, staying with our new family there. This week he is visiting Venice, Italy with them. He sent me this photograph today.

Venice Laundry by Benjamin 11/5/10

As I miss him, miss his cherished vivacity clunking around the house; I realize what a gift he gave us when Mom died. Ben insisted on coming home. He insisted on being with us. He could not imagine NOT being with us. So, Jonathan undertook to fly him home quickly. Ben spent 3 full days with us before flying back to Munich. He played a borrowed cello as a prelude to Catherine reading “Barter” by Sara Teasdale at the memorial service.

I gasp for breath at the wonder of this child.
I inhale sharply knowing all he holds of my Mom, in his enthusiasm, charm and interest in the world.

1996 Mom and Ben writing something important

I know that the very surety with which I once dwelt in Mom’s care, that I hold Ben, in that surety. And this, he will pass on to his life, whether his children, his career, or his friends. They will know Ben is a loyal man, alive with aliveness.

I made my lunch this morning, packed it in to a bag so I would have something good while I am at work. I have been doing this for myself for years, for our kids, for years. But today, I felt my Mom’s hand as I tucked the napkin wrapped fork in to the bag.

I am sure of these things.

%d bloggers like this: