Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year

I suppose the natural thing might be to happily say goodbye to the worst year of my life. 
Except 2009 wasn't the worst year.
Or maybe it was, but it was also the best. 
It was just the year of extremes. Extreme joy and extreme pain. Extreme anxiety and extreme peace.
I have mixed emotions about leaving this year behind.
I don't like leaving Maura behind in 2009. Now I can say, "My daughter died last year." Oh, but that sounds so far away, and I don't like to feel far away from her. On the other hand, I'm also that much closer to seeing her again, but am I supposed to just wish my life away? No.
I liked the closeness of knowing I had hugged her just today or yesterday, last week, last month, six months ago. 
Now, last year.
What will it be like in six? Will her memory be faded like an old snapshot? Will I stop thinking about her every moment of every day? Will her memory be like that of my parents, who I loved dearly, but no longer spend that much time dwelling on their lives or their deaths?

2009 was the year I put everything I believe into practice.
I practiced faith. Everything I believe about God was put to a test and it all proved true. He is all loving, all powerful, all merciful, all just. I can't express how happy and, I admit, relieved I am that I did not doubt that God would and has provided for Maura and for all of us who love her.
I practiced hope. At first, hope that it was all a big mistake. Then, hope in doctors, in medicine, in surgery, in a cure. Hope in a miracle. Ultimately, hope in God, and God alone. Not what He could do, but just hope in Him. Hope = Waiting. ...they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not grow faint.(Isaiah 40:31) I learned that verse of scripture from a choir song, so I can't say or write it without singing it in my head. And I got my miracle. Amanda's cure is the miracle. Annive Maura is the miracle. Seeing Maura so graceful and gracious and peaceful in her last days was a miracle. Surviving this is a miracle.
I practiced love. I don't think I have ever loved more purely than I loved Maura this year. Poor husband and other daughters--they were neglected for most of the year. Neglected by me, anyway. I keep thinking of the story of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the other 99 sheep, went in search of the one lost sheep. I know that the theme of the story doesn't apply here, but what does apply is that the shepherd focused all his attention on the one sheep, as I focused my attention on Maura. 2009 may be the year that Maura died, but it is also the year that Maura lived. For five months she lived. The pain of 2009 is worth it for the five months of Maura.
I practiced not taking anyone or anything for granted. The story of Mary and Martha comes to mind, when Jesus commended Mary for staying and talking to Him while Martha did all the work. "...but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her...."(Luke 10:42) Fortunately, I had an army of friends and relatives who were my Marthas in the last few weeks of Maura's life, although I can't actually remember seeing anything or anyone besides Maura. Of course that was the point: they made it easy for me to do nothing but sit by Maura. I am so thankful for them and that gift of time they gave me.

In 2009 other wonderful things happened. Elsa continues to do well in her latest sarcoma drug trial. And she got to see Leonard Cohen a couple of times. Michelle got rid of another tumor. Kathy's disease is stable and she is well on her way to becoming a nurse. Lindsay continues to go to school and is doing well on her sarcoma meds. Sue keeps on encouraging others despite the near chronic nature of her cancer. And, of course, there is Amanda, whose very life (and the life within her) is a constant reminder of God's love and grace. These six women survive and thrive living lives filled with love and laughter and family and friends. They know, better than I, not to take anything for granted. They inspire me.

This year I got a son-in-law. Yes, my very own son-in-law! How cool is that!

Friday, December 25, 2009


Last night I went to two Christmas Eve services at two different churches. I won't say it was easy. It was not. It was sad and quietly joyful and oh so difficult. But even if I am ignoring the usual trappings of Christmas in my household this year--no tree, no dinner, no decorations, etc--I cannot ignore that the One whose birth we celebrate put into motion the events that purchased my life and ensured that I would one day be reunited with the daughter that I miss so much. For that reason, and for so many other blessings poured out to all of us, I wish everyone a merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


In mystical Judaism there is the tradition of the Lamed Vavnik--36 righteous people whose role in life is to justify the purpose of mankind in the eyes of God. One of Maura's friends wrote her a sweet letter during her final days on earth, thanking her for the privilege of having known one of the Lamed Vavnik.
Today my doctor, who is originally from Beijing, told me that many Chinese believe that people come back again and again to become more perfect during each lifetime. When someone dies at a young age, it is a sign that they have reached a level of perfection worthy of heaven. It does not take a suspension of my Christian beliefs to settle into the warmth of the thought--that Maura was near perfect at the end of her life. Anyone who was with her during those final days would have to agree.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Amanda Part 3

So, I've talked about Amanda, and how just days before Maura's death Maura told her she would be cured of ovarian cancer--and she was, within a week after Maura died; and how Maura told her she would miraculously get pregnant, despite all the years of toxic chemo--and she is(as of August. Baby due April 29).
Last week Scott and Amanda found out they were having a little girl. Her name will be Annive Maura.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I've got a new metaphor for grief: a 5,000 piece puzzle. Each piece is an aspect of my life with Maura and my future without her. Most of the times that I cry, it's just a micro-cry; just a few seconds of grief, and then it's over until the next time. Each time I cry,it's because I am finding a new piece and fitting it into the puzzle. One piece: hearing Christmas music and seeing Christmas decorations at a luncheon at work. Another piece: tracing the curves of her name in the silver fabric paint on her Christmas stocking. There are some things that make me sad over and over again, which I suppose is like those horrible pieces that never seem to fit anywhere, no matter how hard I try. I've gone through so many pieces of her life, of our lives, and maybe when the puzzle is finished, I'll be whole again. Or maybe not. Maybe some of the pieces will stay lost forever, and I'll never be whole, but just like a puzzle, I'll be recognizable, even if I'm missing a few pieces.


For Thanksgiving, we chose to avoid the holiday and take a different kind of vacation--a relaxing one. We went to Isla Mujeres, in Mexico. Cheap flight. Cheap food. Wonderfully cheap hotel. Ohmygosh, we had a large balcony overlooking the ocean for $45/night.We almost got sucked into a time share at another hotel, but then we remembered our ocean front room for an unbeatable price and we managed to shake off the spell the timeshare people had cast. At night we watched ships make their way across the Caribbean. We slept with the sliding glass door open, listening to the surf crashing against the rocks. We woke each morning just as the sky started to lighten, but still in time to grab some coffee and watch the sunrise from the hammock on our balcony. Sigh. It was nice. At first, it was hard to relax, especially for Joel.
"Let's do something."
" We are."
"There's nothing to do."
"We're doing it: Swim, lie on the beach,get back in the water, lie on the beach some more, eat, sleep, repeat."
On the third day, I felt my shoulders release. I felt my blood pressure drop. Joel finally got the hang of it, too.
One day we navigated our way through some rocks in the water, and climbed a large boulder close to our hotel. From there we both spread some of Maura's ashes in the ocean.


Maybe because I've had a few cups of coffee after giving up caffeine for so long. Maybe it's the time of year. I've spent a lot of time not sleeping when I should have been sleeping. Insomnia is nothing new to me, but now it's always related to Maura. I wake up thinking about Maura. I don't fall asleep because I'm thinking about Maura. We successfully avoided Thanksgiving, but Christmas is unavoidable. It's everywhere. And I feel...I feel...apathy...and sadness. I love Christmas and all the trappings of Christmas. And of course, Maura was the one who shared my enthusiasm for singing Christmas carols and listening to Christmas music non-stop from Thanksgiving through December 25. And Maura always decorated the tree with me. And we made cookies, and shopped, and wrapped presents together. And lists, we always made lists. We are/were both list fanatics.
And, although I caught myself singing carols at work this week, I'm not ready to celebrate Christmas the way I normally do.
We went to NYC to spend the weekend with Joao and Lydia before they took off to spend Christmas with his folks this year in Europe. Christmas will be very different and wonderful for Lydia this year, and I'm so glad she will be in a place where everything is new! Although our time was short, we managed to work in making a few favorite Christmas side dishes, wrap and unwrap a few presents, and spend some time together.It was a little rushed, trying to work in family time amid her performances, but it was worth it. She did quite a good job in the play,too, but I'm not biased at all. :)
Here at home, the stockings are hung over the fireplace. That is the extent of my Christmas decorating this year. No tree, tinsel, lights. Nothing. Probably no cookies. The carols are not playing 24/7, although I have turned them on in the car at times. Joel works on Christmas day. Danielle will spend the morning with some friends. I've been invited to two or three homes this year, but I can't. I just can't. I will do one of two things: Either I will stay home and wallow (I need a good wallowing)or I will volunteer at the cancer hospital. I'll call on Monday to see if they'll have me. Friends feel the need to make me feel better because, well, it's Christmas! But this is what I want to do. This is what I need to do. It's all part of this stupid grieving thing.