Friday, July 31, 2009

Top 5 Things You CAN Say

To those whom I have offended through my post of Top 5 Things NOT to Say to someone whose child has died of cancer, I apologize.
To those who no longer dare talk to me for fear of saying the wrong thing, I apologize.
To those of you who will tell me I have no need to apologize, don't worry--it's a shallow apology.

Several people have asked me, "What CAN I say?" Good question. I have found that I can't predict my reactions to anything. It is the nature of grief, I suppose, that I am in a fragile state, with emotions running just below the surface. They shoot up like the flames in the Fire Swamp, seemingly without warning (another Princess Bride reference). But still, people have made comments that made me feel better, if only for a moment. This list is not comprehensive; it's just what I can remember:
  • Maura is singing in the Heavenly Choir. (But wait, but wait...isn't that also in the Top 5 List of No-no's? Yes, it is. Here is a perfect example of how unpredictable grief is. Sometimes, especially on Sunday, I think of Maura singing praises to God, and it comforts me to think that we are singing together. So, if said at the exact right time when I am in the right mood, I can appreciate the beautiful statement. But I've heard it soooo much from soooo many people, that it more often than not just reminds me that she is not singing where I can hear her. Too bad you can't know when you can say it and when you can't. Sucks for you.)
  • You will see her again. (Same idea. It's another dicey one you're better off not saying because it's been said so many times and usually only serves to remind me that I can't hug her now. So, it doesn't belong on this list, does it? But, I can't deny that I think about it every day. )
  • I won't ask how you are. (It's such a relief not to have to answer the question. I feel like such a liar when I say "fine" and such a whiner when I say anything else. I know that it is just a simple greeting or expression of sympathy, not even requiring a response other than "thank you," but it still stresses me. )
  • I remember when Maura...[fill in the blank] (I love hearing stories about Maura. I love hearing how she affected others. I love hearing about her zany adventures, her laughter and her smile, her good deeds, her passions, her love of life and God and music and languages and travel and penguins and parties and elephants and clothes and shoes and sunflowers and yellow and pink. This is a pretty safe bet to use most any time, even if I cry.)
  • I'm sorry. (When in doubt...)
I guess this is only a Top 3 List. Oops.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I'm so disappointed. I had always believed that the Inuit had a zillion words for "snow," a reflection of their more constant connection with all things snowy. When I googled it, I found out that, really, they have no more words than we do to express snowiness, but, linguistically, there are good reasons for the myth, reasons, I don't want to explain here. If you like that sort of thing, you can check out the following article that  I found interesting.It ends with a few references for further study. Okay, I confess, this is the kind of thing that I really enjoy reading. I'm such a nerd.
So, anyway, the whole search came about because of something that several people have written to me. That is, while we have words for those who have lost a spouse and those who have lost parents, we have no word to label the person who has lost a child. Language develops because of human need for a word to express a concept. Why is there no word for parent-whose-child-has-died? Because humans don't need it? Or because it is so unusual? Or because we don't want it?
I wonder if there is a language that has a word for parent-whose-child-has died? If such a language exists, what does that say about that culture and society? How sad is their history?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Top 5 Things NOT to Say

Here is my list of the top five things not to say to someone whose child has died of cancer. Yes, these have all been spoken in an effort to comfort me.

#5. A lot of good will come from this. (Yeah, hmmm...for me it will always be a bad trade. Now is not the time to quote or misquote Romans 8:28)
#4. God gave her cancer because [fill in the blank].
#3 God took her early before she could become corrupted. (Oh, really? Um, I think Charles Manson would have been a better choice.)
#2. God needed her to sing in the heavenly choir. (So, I hear there's an opening for another soprano. Anyone? Anyone?)

and the #1 thing not to say to someone whose child has died of cancer (Drum roll, please):
#1. It's not so bad because you have two other daughters. (Oh. My. Gosh. )

I know it's awkward. I never know what to say either, and I'm no stranger to putting my foot in my mouth. I also know that everyone has the best of intentions; no one sets out to say something stupid. Nevertheless, if there is a lesson here, it is this: Resist the urge to say anything more than, "I'm sorry."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Sorry about that last post. I was just venting.

"New Normal"

Who invented that term? There is nothing normal about this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mr. Hemingway

Today we went to Mr. Hemingway's 90th birthday party. He once said his goal was to be teaching when he turned 90. Well, his 90th birthday was actually on Thursday, and he spent it teaching a math class at the college. He has been a teacher for 66 years. I used to teach GED classes with him for most of the 1990's. He has been teacher, mentor, and friend. But forevermore, he will be the man that was in the right place at the right time, just when I needed him most.
After I went to another campus, he managed to show up every now and then at my office to just keep in touch. The last time he made a surprise visit was on Friday, April 11, 2008. While we ate lunch in the back office, I got a phone call from Maura, only it wasn't Maura. It was the P.A. from the university health center telling me that Maura had a very large tumor in her abdomen. That was the moment the earth stopped spinning. Mr. H. saw me struggle not to fall apart as the P.A gave me as many details as he could. By the time I spoke to Maura, I couldn't hang on any longer. I asked her if she wanted to pray. She said yes. And then I couldn't say a word. Nothing came out. I thrust the phone in Mr. H's face and he took over. He started out by saying, "Dear Lord," and Maura, thinking he had said, "Dear Maura," responded with "Yes, sir?" Mr. H. probably figured it was her vocal Baptist upbringing coming out because he didn't skip a beat. He prayed, and Sarah saw what was going on and joined us. I wish I could say that then I was calm and all was well. Not so. But I can't imagine a more perfect person to be with me when I received the most terrifying news of my life. Mr. Hemingway prayed and I could sense his strength in the prayer, and I didn't feel alone. After the phone call, I tried to formulate a plan, and I didn't feel alone. There's something very comforting about knowing that there is a spiritual giant praying for you.
Happy 90th, Mr. H! I love you!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I think bittersweet describes so much in my life right now.
I have enjoyed having Lydia here, discussing wedding plans, being a family.
I've enjoyed the thought of returning to the college in a new role, once again working with students instead of in administration. Oh, what a relief that is!
The 4th of July saw the resurgence of our family tradition: we hung out at the park, everyone dispersing to do as they pleased, while Mom cooled herself on the blanket with iced tea and a good read. At dusk, the Houston Symphony Orchestra played a patriotic concert. As always, the concert concluded with the 1812 Overture, complete with cannons and revolutionary soldiers. As always, the orchestra played The Stars and Stripes Forever as its "spontaneous" encore. And then, a fireworks display.
Oh, and Bianca was bad. The other dog owners at the park pretended to be tolerant and lovey-dovey, but you know they were thinking,"Get your dog in line, lady!" But I had my revenge. When she licked them, I didn't tell them that she eats poop.
A difficult yet precious moment? Maura's best friend arrived wearing a favorite dress of Maura's.
Remember that song from The King and I? ...Make believe you're brave/And the trick will take you far/You may be as brave/As you make believe you are (and then there is a bunch of happy tune-whistling). That's me. I can smile and laugh without faking it part of the time.
But the hole in my heart is cavernous, and sometimes I feel like all my blood flows through that hole, pooling at the soles of my feet, leaving me weak and lead-footed.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sarah Palin

I'm a hot mess of tears and it's all Sarah Palin's fault.
My sister called from Alaska with the news that Sarah had resigned as Alaska's governor. Ohmygosh,how intriguing! No explanation from the governor, leaving us with endless possibilities: Has she decided she needs to spend more time with her kids? Is there a huge scandal about to break? Has her poor judgment caught up with her? All of the above? And what does the self-proclaimed "First Dude" Todd have to do with it?
But the one person who would enjoy the sheer FUN of discussing the latest Sarah Palin gossip with me is Maura. Maura.
Maura, who shared months of pre-election chatter with me; whose eyes lit up when she spoke of Barack Obama, whom she fiercely supported; who discovered her political voice quite recently in 2008. How thrilling for me to see her appreciation for our American political process develop and thrive before my eyes!
I shared the Palin news with Lydia. I called Adam, too. They showed interest, but it wasn't the same. With Maura it was more like sharing secrets at a slumber party.
I long to talk to Maura, and I am doubled over in pain from a stomach punch of grief.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ashes and Paris

Kara and Chelsea released some of Maura's ashes at the top of the Eiffel Tower on her birthday. If you have trouble viewing the video go to the following YouTube URL