Memories and Maine

In the years that Tim and I lived in Somerville, MA, we traveled to the ocean often.  Well, not as often as we should have, considering we lived just miles from the sea, but often enough.  Scratch that.

Sometimes we went to the ocean.  It was good.

Our favorite trip of the summer was camping in Maine.  In the beginning of August, we would pack up our car with the camping gear we used exclusively for this adventure, and drive to Georgetown Island.  We stayed in the same campsite, overlooking the bay, where we would spend the weekend with our dear friends, Hannah and Andy, and their children.

We would go to the bay at low tide and walk the tidal sands, past men clamming in the mist.  We would go to the beach and play with the kids in the sand.  On Saturday, we would order lobsters from a local fisherman, who would deliver them to our campsite, freshly steamed.  We would sit by the campfire every night, drink wine, listen to waves, and just enjoy the company of dear friends.

Then life started to shift, as it always does. Our friends announced their separation the same month we announced our relocation to Wisconsin.  We moved 1000 miles west.  The ocean was no longer a short drive away.  Our yearly trip no longer seemed a possibility with babies and airfare and work schedules.  We would sit and talk about our memories.  We would dream of those future days when it would be possible again to enjoy woodsmoke and seafood overlooking the bay.

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This weekend, the kids and I went to Maine.  This time for my cousin’s wedding, and a short stay with family friends.  We went with my parents.  It was refreshing, to smell the saline in the air, to watch my children play in the tidal sands, to eat lobster and enjoy the company of friends.

It hurt too.

It made me miss Tim and the memories we shared.  Because he was the only other keeper of many of those memories.  He was the one beside me on the long drive up the coast.  He was the one next to me in our chilly tent on dewy mornings.  He was the love I shared those moments of joy with.

He’s gone.

I’m the only one who remembers now.

It was painful to see my children playing in the water.  To see my son excitedly collecting stones and shells and to watch my daughter’s wonder at the vast sea.  To know how much happiness it would have given to him.  To want to see him explore along-side our babies.  To know that he will never share those memories.

Tim and I were master travelers with one another.  We balanced one another out and filled each other’s needs with our own presence.  We took turns handling logistics and stress.  We carried each other.  I don’t have my companion in the world any more.  My parents were massively helpful with my children, as they always are, but they are not Tim.

So I missed him.

I felt a lot of pain in the days I once would have felt joy.

And it’s not fair.  It will never be.

 

But I am grateful.  For the opportunity to return to Maine, and the opportunities ahead.  To hear my children’s laughter.  To smell the ocean air, and stand, fully feeling in the cold, misty mornings.  To celebrate the simple beauty of nature.  To taste lobster and drawn butter.

To still be alive.

I’ll keep living for you, Tim.  For our children.

We’ll make more memories.  And I’ll always carry yours.

 

 

 

The Awkward Conversations You Need To Have.

We don’t like to talk about death.  It’s gross.  It’s weird.  It makes everyone uncomfortable.  Shhhh…don’t make everyone uncomfortable, we’re trying to have a nice dinner here.  Besides, you’re not going to die, right?  I mean, by the time you get old, there will be SCIENCE to keep you alive FOREVER.  Yes,  you are sure of that.

I hate to tell you, my friend…you are wrong.  You are doing to die.  Your parents are going to die.  Your lover is going to die.  Your kids are going to die (maybe before you!).  Your friends are going to die.  Everyone you have ever known and loved will die.  Hope your morning is going well!  What a swell day!!!

Tim and I had the kind of relationship in which we could talk about ANYTHING.  We talked about it all: spirituality, our beliefs around death and dying and what happens after, politics, bodily functions, sex, emotions, random passing thoughts, boring mundane shit, everything.

We knew one another through and through.  And trust me, if you knew Tim you know we was a COMPLICATED man.  That brain.  Holy shit there was a lot in there.

So when we sat in that cramped conference room on the 15th floor of Tisch NYU and the Neurologist looked at me and asked “What are your and Tim’s spiritual beliefs?  What do you believe happens after death?” I KNEW the answer.  Because we had talked about it countless times in the 12 beautiful years we shared.  And because I knew HIM.

So on May 21st 2017, when he had his MRI, when we found out his cortex was damaged beyond repair, when we found out that he would only live in a vegetative state, I knew what he wanted.  He wanted to die.

At 33 years old.  I made the decision to take my beloved off of life support and watch him slowly die.  And I don’t regret it.  Because I knew him.

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Losing Tim and navigating this messy, confusing, emotionally shattering walk of widowhood has taught me a lot about the logistics of death.  Tim didn’t have a Will because he wasn’t going to die young.  Other people do that.  And he didn’t have anyone listed as a beneficiary to any of his accounts because, again, 34 year olds don’t die of heart attacks.  That just doesn’t happen.  So in the weeks following Tim’s death, instead of curling up in a ball and letting my community care for me, I got to work.  Because it was my only choice.

Life Insurance:  Tim had it.  I have no fucking clue what I would be doing now without it.  He had his company policy as well as an additional policy he purchased on top of it.  It’s enough to ensure that my kids will always have food and their basic material needs met.  I wish we had more, but it’s more than many end up with, so I’ll take it.  If you don’t have life insurance GET IT.  NOW.  ESPECIALLY if you have kids.  Get more than you think you’ll need.  Just do it already.

Accounts: Several years ago I had taken over our finances.  Because I was just better at managing our money and Tim was better at making the money, so it worked out.  That meant that, after Tim died, I knew what accounts he had. I knew who we owed what and how to pay them.  I knew what accounts to close and what should remain open.  I knew the passwords and log-in information.  I would have been completely screwed without this knowledge.  Write down your account information, your passwords, the companies you owe money to every month and how much you pay them. Stick it in the back of your desk or safe and tell your partner/kids/parents/trusted friend where it is.

Medical and End of Life Care: As Tim’s wife, I was automatically responsible for making medical decisions for him.  He was unconscious (and basically brain dead, turns out) so he was not legally able to make decisions for himself.  Know your partner.  If you are not married, set up medical proxy so that they can make decisions for you if you want them too.  Get a Living Will if you do not wish to receive unnecessary medical care.  Most importantly- TALK TO YOUR LOVED ONES ABOUT YOUR WISHES.  Talk about what you want in the case of a medical emergency.  Talk to them about what you are willing to live with and what you are not willing to live with.  Talk to them about organ and tissue donation.  Talk to them about what you want after death, look into your options and price them out.  If you live in a state with Right-To-Die laws, talk about that too.  Write down your desires and plans so that there will not be any question if your time comes to lie unconscious in a hospital bed.  You own your life.  You might be able to own your death.

Final Will and Testament: If you don’t have one already, get on that.  We thought we had time.  We didn’t feel like spending the money.  We were wrong.  You might be too.  Having a Will will make the death logistics all the easier for your loved ones.  And your wishes will be know.  You can get one online in about 30 minutes.  It’s well worth your time.

Funeral Arrangements: Tim and I never really talked about exactly what he wanted to be done with his body or how he wanted his life memorialized.  I did know that being embalmed was not something he was into, and that he favored creation or green burial.  I also knew that he wanted people to have a party, not a funeral, after he died.  So I had him cremated.  And we threw him a party.  A big one, with music and dancing and food and pictures and stories.  And then I had another party for him.  And I’m planning another.  Because that man LOVED A PARTY.  So he gets as many parties as I can manage.  Turns out, cremation and celebrations of life are a LOT less expensive then the traditional funeral route, so that’s nice too.  You don’t have to do what we did for Tim, you can do whatever you want.  But you need to tell people what you want.  In detail.  Write it down with everything listed above.

 

So I know what everyone is doing this weekend, right?  You are doing to invite your loved ones over for dinner, get the wine flowing, and drop a super heavy conversation about death on that.  Scratch that, it doesn’t have to be heavy.  You can have fun with it.  Have everyone share their thoughts, tell the whole group what you want.  You won’t regret it.

And if you do, hey, you’ll be dead.

Blueberry Muffins for Superior Mothers

Yesterday I received the preschool snack schedule and I was PSYCHED.  Because on Thursday, I get to bring in class snack.  Now, this may not seem exciting, but I have been looking forward to providing school snack since Byron was born.  Because I will be *That Mom*.  The mom that brings in healthy, homemade baked goods to be gleefully devoured by the hoards of children as I look on smugly and lovingly.

I would enter the classroom with a hand-turned wooden bowl, overflowing with fresh blueberry muffins, wrapped in an upcycled silk sari.  I would smooth my long, waving hair as I demurred “Oh, this?  My goodness, It’s my PLEASURE!  ANYTHING for the children.”.

THIS. IS. MY. TIME.

Now, I envisioned whole grain muffins sweetened exclusively with honey and dates, dotted with pumpkin seeds, sprinkled with flax meal and hemp.  A perfect, whole, nourishing snack for the little cherubs to savor before their free-play outside…

But these are the muffins I made.

They’re basically cake batter and blueberries.

Whatever…They’re good enough.

I’m good enough.  Right?  Right.

 

Blueberry Muffins for Superior Mothers

1 cup (2 sticks) softened salted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup maple syrup

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups All Purpose Flour

1 Tablespoon Baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Cup Whole Milk

3 cups blueberries

Cream butter and sugar and maple syrup together while yelling at 3 year old to stop eating fistfuls of butter.  Add in eggs and vanilla.  Lift crying baby from the floor and drop large dollop of batter on your dress.  You look beautiful.

Add in flour, baking powder and salt all at once and realize that the bowl is too small.  Make a mess because you really don’t even care anymore.  Add milk.  Stir as little as possible to bring mixture together.  Add blueberries.  Good.  You’re doing a great job.

Spoon mixture into muffin tins.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the same size spoonfuls, just get this over with already.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the tops brown slightly and a knife stabbed into the center comes out clean.

Cool.  Feed to children.  They like it.  You did great.  It’s going to be ok.

Resilience and the Creative Process

 

We, as human beings, are elastic. Our bodies stretch and change over moments and years.  We grow to accommodate fat, babies, tumors, muscle, liquid.  We change shape and size from our waking moments, over days and years, and through a lifetime.  We stretch and move to feel free, to feel healthy, to feel strong, to feel.  Our minds, our brains, are ever changing clusters of synaptic connection.  Firing, rewiring, dying with every thought that drifts through.  We are plastic and pliable, moldable in our physical presence, our feelings, and our thoughts.  We are incredible bendable beings.

Trauma affects us all differently.  While we may all may bare witness to the same unspeakable event, we will process our experience in our own unique ways.  We handle ourselves differently.  We make different choices.  Our brains create thoughts and sensations unlike any other person’s.  There are aspects of this that we can control and others that we cannot.

The expressive arts have been used by humans since the beginning our existence as means of communication and expression.  Throughout history, across cultures, we have used art, music, movement, writing and photography to show the human experience through varied lenses and platforms.  Through the arts we explore creativity, emotion, and thought in ways words may not be able to express.  As expressive arts therapists, we use these mediums as means of connection and communication between ourselves and our clients and our worlds.

As a Music Therapist and Mental Health Counselor, I have devoted my career to supporting people through their life experiences.  Through trauma and transition.  We work together with music and expression to create healing and change.  The day that Tim had his heart attack, my skills became not applicable to my clients, but to myself and my children.


 

The night that Tim had his heart attack, he died for the first time.  I held him as his eyes rolled back, his lips turned blue, his breathing ceased.  When I pulled him to the floor I heard my own breath rattling out of his lungs as I blew life into his mouth and pumped his still chest.  With time, work, and a team of first responders, his body came back to life.  I sat and watched from across the room, held in the arms of my best friend.

The week that followed was a surreal and seemingly endless balance between the worlds of the living and the dead.  Tim was in the care of some of the world’s best doctors.  All we could do was wait.

So I waited.

And I found ways to channel my confusing and painful experience in the process.

Dear friends brought me colored pencils and coloring books.  I spent hours creating colorful little worlds on neat and orderly paper pages as my beloved precariously clung to “life”.  I took scalding hot showers and listened to The Bahama’s “Lost in the Light” on repeat because it made me feel something in the numbness and haze.

When Tim finished his transition to the stars, when he died and I was left to continue our journey alone, I used my creativity to propel me forward.

I returned to the pottery studio after over a year away.  I began journaling every night.  I cooked and baked daily.  I filled our room with flower arrangements cut from my parent’s gardens.   I listened to new music obsessively.  I took photographs.  I sang in my car.  I found live shows and danced with my entire being.  I started this blog.

My son has followed me in this journey and creates art for his Papa.  At three, he paints, and draws, and glues feathers and googly eyes and plastic gems to cardboard boxes.  He works with focus and intent.  He stands proudly with his work and proclaims “I made it for my Dad!”.  We sing songs together.  His sister dances.  We find joy in each other.  We work to form our future with Elmers Glue and glitter and love.

Art gives life.

It has allowed me to feel at a time that I could not feel anything at all.

It gives me focus and energy and motivation to press forward in creating a worthy life from these smoking embers.

 

Roasted Tomato Sauce to Make You Feel Things.

If you have a garden this year, you have a lot of tomatoes.  Tons of tomatoes.  Truckloads of tomatoes.  Tomatoes coming our of your EARS.

Or, maybe not.  Maybe you don’t have a garden.  In which case, I feel bad for you (son).

I’m sorry for your loss.

I started making this tomato sauce several years ago when we were living in our triple decker apartment in Somerville.  The walls had little insulation, so I would make this sauce on cold days to save on heat.  It takes time.  It’s a Sunday afternoon kind of sauce.  It’s a person-from-high-school-you-always-had-a-crush-on but-seemed-unavailable-in-some-way-so-you-let-it-go-and-reconnected-10-years-later-and-got-married kind of sauce.

It’s worth it.

It’s thick and creamy.  Naturally sweet from the caramelized sugars that seep from the tomatoes.  It’s savory and rich.  It will make you feel things in places your lover has never touched.  Yes.  Yes, right there.  Mmmm.

Let’s do this, you and me.

Roasted Tomato Sauce To Make You Feel Things

All The Tomatoes.  (Like, 10 pounds)

2+ BULBS of garlic. (Not cloves, bulbs.  Don’t make me come in there.)

Liberal Sprinkling of Salt (Think Bernie Sanders)

Generous Drizzle of Olive Oil

Light Dusting of Hot Pepper Flakes (if you care)

 

Here’s the deal.  This is a really fucking easy sauce to make.  It just takes time.

Cut all those tomatoes in half.  Don’t bother cutting out the tops or seeds, it’s all going to the same place.  Lay them in a single layer on a large baking sheet.  Peel the garlic and just plop it all in there with the tomatoes.  They are friends now.  Sprinkle on that Salt.  Drizzle on that Oil.  Yes. Just a bit more.  Good.  Time for those pepper flakes.  Excellent.

Put it in the oven at 250 degrees.

Ok, now go about your day.  For at least 4 hours.

I’m serious.

I said this will take time and I meant it.

Wait.

A little longer.

Ok.

When the tomatoes look shrunken and shriveled and glossy with oil, take it on out.  Put it in a food processor.  Make it look saucy.  Good.  It’s done.

Serve over pasta or “zoodles” or whatever it is that you eat.  Layer it into an Eggplant Parmesan.  Dollop it onto eggs.  Eat it from the container at 3am while you cry.  You do you.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

On Grief and Gratitude

Gratitude is a gift.  Thankfulness is a buoyant yellow buoy to cling to in the dark and unpredictable ocean that is grief.  Grace shifts our perspectives and offers tiny fragments of light shining through the fog.

Grief affects each individual differently.  Through my process of grief, I have experienced anger.  Far more than any other time in my life.  Anger at the Universe.  Anger at a God I have never even believed to be there.  Anger at my situation.  Anger at the world.  Anger towards and strangers and loved ones.  This anger is not rational.  It is primal and illogical and fierce.  It seldom makes sense, nor does it serve a true purpose, but it is there and I acknowledge and accept it’s presence in my mind.

I learned quickly not to fight the thoughts and emotions that come with grief.  It is a frightening and confusing process.  It shifts our presence in the world.  Transitions us into altered patterns of thought and behavior.  It changes who we are on a molecular level.

I will not fight this change.

For a woman who tragically lost her soul-mate on a family vacation, I am a pretty lucky lady.  I have parents who love and support me.  I had a home to move my children into when our life in Madison shattered to pieces.  I have strong and loving circles of friends throughout the world that have kept me afloat through food, favors, labor, money, texts, physical presence.  I have the financial security that Tim set up even without the knowledge that he would die young.  I have house plants and warm blankets and comfortable clothing and hot water and sunlight and stars.

While I cannot control the events that have lead me to this place, I can control the choices I make moving forward.

So I choose healing.

I choose progress.

I choose to continue to care for myself and my children with gentleness and warmth and compassion.

I choose to move forward with love, focus, and gratitude.

 

Get Yourself Together Maple Pumpkin Pie

So today, we are going to make some pie.

When I first moved back to the Northeast Kingdom, I met a new friend who had also experienced profound grief.  A few years prior, she had lost her son when he died just a few weeks before his due date.  She told me, “Grief is like a soup.  Some people slurp it all down quickly and some people eat it bite by bite, but you have to eat it.”

I have carried that analogy with me…but instead, I think of grief as pie.

Because: Pie > Soup.

There are layers to it.  Different colors and textures and flavors as you go.  It’s a shitty pie.  The kind you buy in a sad, semi-dilapidated grocery store with no one working at the bakery and cracks in the floors.  It tastes bad.  It’s filled with stuff that is probably not good for you.  You have to eat it.

Well, this pie is not Sorrow Pie.  This pie is Get Yourself Together pie.  This is the pie I make with my kids to feel connected and happy and industrious.  This is the kind of pie you can proudly bring to neighborhood potlucks and finally impress your father with. This is the kind of pie you can eat in one sitting and only feel a little bit bad. Stop buying pie at sad grocery stores.  You’re an adult.  You probably do your own taxes and mow your lawn and push babies out of your lady bits.  You should know how to make pie.

You can do this.  Make this pie.

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Get Yourself Together Maple Pumpkin Pie

1 Sugar/Pie Pumpkin

1/2 cup Pure Maple Syrup

3 eggs

1.5 cups Whole Milk

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Ginger

1/4 tsp Nutmeg

1/4 tsp Cloves

Butter Pie Crust

1.5 cups All Purpose Flour

1 tsp Salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) Butter

3-5 Tbsp Cold Water

 

Pie Crust: In a food processor, process the flour and salt.  Cube butter and pulse into dry ingredients until it forms a cornmeal like consistency.  Add water one Tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together, soft and pliable, but not sticky.  Trust me, you can do this.  Roll it out between two pieces of plastic wrap and press into pie pan.  Trim and crimp the edges.  Yes.  You’re being an adult.

Pumpkin Custard:  Cut your pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts.  Deal with it.  Place, cut side down, on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until soft (approx 45 min).  Let cool.

Scoop pumpkin into the food processor.  Add in the syrup, spices and eggs.  Puree until smooth.  Add in milk.  Puree.  (If you are doubling this recipe, only puree the pumpkin and mix the rest of the ingredients in in a large bowl. Don’t be like me and make a soupy mess because you’re impatient.). Pour custard mixture into butter pie shell.  Don’t you DARE use a store-bought crust, I didn’t raise you like that.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until set in the middle.  Cool.  Slice and enjoy.  You’re an adult.