Puppy Love 2


The After differs from expectation in every way conceivable–not surprising, considering that the immensity of it can, in no way, be conceived of.

Not a dark void, the After fills with light, with feeling, with memory, with possibility, with imagination, with energy, with all that is and all that can be and all that might be and all that was. It is crowded with consciousness and overflowing with time. There is so much time that time ceases to have any meaning whatsoever as the entirety of the eternal squeezes into a single instant. This is what Forever means.

I fully intended to visit my family every day, but a day is a concept that does not exist where I was. I have no idea how much time passed, for where I was the concept of “passed” did not exist.

I could feel Tanvi’s grief, an anchor that kept me connected to this place.


Then, the anchor line was cut. I drifted. Freedom felt exquisite.

Nonetheless, I felt a pull. While no time at all had “passed” for me, surely time had progressed at my earthly home when I felt the pull.

Joy welled on the sight of form again.


But when I saw Majora, head down, ears back, slinking through the front gate, dread descended.


Bobie lay collapsed on the threshold, the light of him already ascending.

I remembered my promise to be there to help with the transition.


Our gardener stopped his chores. Majora circled back around, having found her courage, and followed Babe in the solemn procession.


Someone else, a young man who looked familiar, stood witness as the Reaper rounded the corner of the house.


My Tanvi stood in shock.

The gardener called Bobie’s name. I tried to tell him to stop, to let him pass, but I could not remember how to form words, or how to speak.

No one saw me. You cannot see light when it is light.


With all my being, I spoke to Bosko: Don’t fear. It’s not the end. 

But it is an end, and every cell in Bosko’s body knew what it was the end of, with a finality that carries physical fear in those for whom the physical still holds meaning.


At last, Nibbler slowly strode out to be present for this parting with her mate.


Dear Tanvi! She stood behind the Reaper in weary anger, grasping a fork in her hand. Go on, dear! Stab him!


But it was too late, and the dark shepherd raised his scythe.


The dogs knew where to look, not at the empty form, but at the light. Remember, dear ones, we will be together again!


“Come, Bobie!” I called. “Good dog! Do you want to stay, or do you want to go?”


To stay! To stay! The shepherd collected him in his grasp and handed him over to me.

Oh, Bobie! You are by my side again!


“Sad day, dude?” The maid said when he arrived. And the familiar-looking youth replied. “The worst.”


For them, it was the worst. For me and for Bobie, it was a day of joyful reunion. My grave was not so lonely now, and beside me, in the After, I would cavort with my spirit friend.


But before we were released to play, we had the task of comforting those we left behind.


Dear Babe, her eyes revealed her understanding. If you know you will join us soon, dear, how can you be so sad?  Because it is an ending, though it’s not the end.


Bosko raised his head in honor of his sire.


Dear Babe, dearest Bosko, weep no more. We’re still here. We will always be.

But not with warm forms and hearts that beat. Not with hands that stroke. Not with a wet nose and soft fur.


“Fuck it all!” said Tanvi, and I loved her more than ever.

Soon enough, she will understand, too, but until that day, let her rage. It’s love that stirs this anger, too.


When the young familiar-looking man followed Bosko, Bartholomew, and Nibbler back to the house, and Tanvi turned to join them, Babe curled up and slept on our graves, as she had the night through after my passing.


I left her there and found Tanvi curled on a stone bench in the garden. Poor dear. Grief is exhausting.


She and the youth dug deep into those reserves that we find when there are others to think of: Babe and Bosko needed walking.

I called Bobie to me, and we walked with them.

“Do you feel a breeze?” Tanvi asked.

“It’s just the sunset,” Lucas said. “Evening air off the bay.”


I couldn’t leave them. That night, I sat in the garden. The young man screamed when he saw me. When it is dark, I discovered, light can be seen.


“Don’t be afraid,” I said. I found my voice. “I’m Astrid. I used to live her.”


“I know you, Astrid,” he said. “You’re my mom’s friend. We were in the garden club together when I was a kid. I’m Lucas Munch.”

Lucas! I loved that little boy, so inquisitive! So polite! Now, all grown up.


“And what are you doing here, Lucas?” I asked.

“I live here now!” he said, and he explained that he wanted to be an artist and needed a place to live, and Tanvi wanted someone to help with the dogs, the garden, and the chores. He pitched his tent beside the house, free board in exchange for helping out.

“And all the art supplies I need!” he said. Those were my oils, canvases, and brushes. I felt grateful they could be put to good use by him.


I wondered if Tanvi had shared with him the details of our wills: that everything we had would be passed on to the person we chose to care for the dogs and Majora. The property was for them, along with all our assets, held in trust by the caregiver.


He was a good choice. I approved.

I discovered that night that I could help out in the physical world. I could wash dishes, clean the sink, take out the trash. I could be of use, and this brought me unexpected joy.


“Thanks for cleaning?” Lucas said. “I, uh, never had a ghost help out around the house before?”

I laughed. He’d kept his endearing childish quality of turning statements into questions.


After he headed out to the tent, I heard the quilts rustle from the bedroom. I hoped that Tanvi would see me. With all my intention, I remembered the shape of my form.

“It’s you,” she said.


We clowned around all evening. I had missed laughing with her more than I could have imagined. I hadn’t thought then, but, oddly, laughter doesn’t exist in the After. Humor does, and irony prevails, but laughter, laughter seems to belong to this earthly realm. It felt good to laugh again.


We discovered new games. I can put my energy into objects: Chairs, tables, my fiddle, even a squeaky toy.

So while I went inside Pinky SqueakChick, Tanvi picked up her rubber duckie. We played nice, and we played naughty, finding new ways that we could still be together.


When the sun rose, I was still there. I knew I couldn’t stay forever, that I would need, periodically to return to formlessness, but I wanted to contribute during the time I was able to stay.

I found a canvas that Lucas had set up, and I managed to open the box of paints.

I tried to express the fullness of the after: The sparks of light that we are, the shifting patterns, the way of seeing that exists beyond physicality.

Plus, if they don’t get what I’m expressing, they can sell the painting to buy more puppy chow.


Soon, the light would be brighter than my intention: This transparency would fade.

But I would be back, I knew that then, many, many times. And sometimes, Bobie would come, too. It is an ending. But it’s not the end.


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Puppy Love 1


It happened just like in the movies: The chime of a bass chord. The sensation of a distant someone calling. The collapse of the body. The separation of the light. The shadow of the scythe.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s not the beginning of the story.

The story began at my retirement.


All my acquaintances said I was a fool to adopt a puppy at this life-stage. I had no friends, so I didn’t have to listen to them gripe that I was too old. I had no family, so I didn’t have guilt-trips. All I had was former colleagues, past clients, and distant neighbors, and who cared what they thought? Yes, I was old. I knew that. Yes, I’d likely pass before the dog did. But so what? I’d leave everything to him in my will and hire an executor to ensure he was cared for.

I got the puppy, Bobie the pomeranian.


Then we got a cat, Majora the calico stray, found wandering down by the wharf.


Then we adopted another dog, Nibbler the beagle.


Then we had puppies, Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe, my little dingoes.


I was still alive. We had a full house. I could barely keep up, but I was happier than I’d ever been. I was in love six times over.

I still remember puppy breath and Bobie’s soprano howls when he was tea-cup sized.


For a while, we tried training. Bobie learned to sit and fetch, though he was too lazy to show off either very often.


The puppies learned a smattering of obedience skills: Bosko learned to sit; Bartholomew to heel; all three learned not to drink from or play in puddles, not to wake us, and not to fight, something their mother never learned.

One day, the doctor told me I wouldn’t be long for the world: an aneurysm lay waiting to strike. I would have no notice, the doctor said. Maybe a blinding headache for an instant, but that would be too late.

Who would care for Bobie, Nibbler, Majora, Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe when that coiled snake bit?

I’d hired a gardener when my plants began to suffer due to the time I gave the puppies. When she finished the garden chores, Tanvi would stop in to play with the pups, and we struck up an acquaintanceship

I explained my predicament.

“You want me?” she asked. “I’d live here and help out? And could I continue with the garden, if you wanted?”


Of course, but we hired another gardener, just the same.

We became friends.


I hadn’t had a close friend since high school. I’d forgotten what it was like to share secrets, to lay schemes, even to dream!

Imagine me, in my elder years, with the prospect of death waiting at the break of every day, hiding behind each sunset, sowing dreams like I was sixteen!

I felt very young. I felt eternal.

The puppies, clearly, were not eternally youthful. One day they were little.


And the next we knew, they’d grown! Now Bobie had competition for his chew toys and Nibbler had to feast quickly before one of her children would steal the beef.


Such good dogs, even when they were rascals!


Bosko and Bartholomew look nearly identical, with their coiled tails and beagle snouts.


Babe looks like her mom, only dark gray.

Every day was like the next: Fill the food bowls, walk the dogs, sit and chat, paint, garden, sip tea, play music. Life cruised along a happy route, with a squeak-toy soundtrack.


I kept living.

I had more friends now than ever in my life, and it didn’t bother me that six of them had four legs a piece.


Bobie and Nibbler were very much in love. That’s what I blame it on. Tanvi said that I should be giving them credit, not blame. But I laughed and said they were to blame nonetheless!


I never asked for romance. It asked for me.


Tanvi assured me I wasn’t too old.

“You’ve beaten the odds,” she said. “The doctor was wrong. Besides, who of us has any guarantees? The only guarantee I can give is that I think you’re pretty sweet.”


Neither of us were cut out for romance, really. I valued my solitude too much. She feared commitment. Yet somehow, while I felt crowded in, and she felt smothered, we still remained sweet on each other.

I dreamed of us getting engaged, but even still, the first time she asked me, I turned her down.

“I’ve told you that I’m leaving you everything,” I told her, “and we don’t need to get married to make it legal. You’re already in my will.”

But half a year later, I was still alive. This time I asked her. She turned me down.

“I won’t be purchased out of guilt!” she said. “You’re just feeling bad you rejected me before. This doesn’t make up for it.”

Years and years passed. We stayed as happy room-mates, best friends, lovers.

Bobie and Nibbler grew white hairs on their snouts, and their joints were stiff when they crawled out of their puppy beds.


I was still alive. I began to contemplate that I might outlast at least some of my four-legged companions. I hadn’t counted on this.


I saw a selfish angle to my desire, in my old age, to have a house full of dogs and a cat and a younger friend who loved me.

I’d been trying to cheat grief, hadn’t I?

Until I was old, I’d arranged my life so I would never have to care, so that no one would ever leave me. Had the deaths of my parents really upset me so much that I could bear living through no more goodbyes?

Then, when I was the next in line, and only then, did I open my home, my heart to let others in–so that I could leave first.


The night I had that realization, Tanvi asked me again if we might get married.

“Not for anything practical,” she said. “Not for any reason. Just because. Because my heart hurts when I see you walking and think you might someday leave without being my wife.”


We got married. We didn’t worry that she was decades younger. We didn’t worry that she felt afraid of long-term commitments and I hated for my freedom to be clipped. We simply married. For no reason. Simply for love.


We congratulated each other on our brave hearts.

“Don’t worry, love,” I joked. “You won’t have to be married for long!”

“I’d better be!” she replied. “I want you warming my soup when I’m old and gray.”


It would never happen, I thought, but it did.

Years and years passed, and I stayed alive while Tanvi, my sweet young wife, grew old beside me.

The years mellowed us, with so much to be thankful for.


Bobie and Majora lived on, too.


We fiddled through the day.


I practiced stretching my heart in case someone would depart before me.

Some days, Tanvi complained of ocular migraines. “My hormone’s are whacked,” she said. “I’m not cut out for old age.”


But we kept on, and most days were full of blessings.


And then it happened, like in the movies: The chime of the bass chord. The shadow of the scythe.


I did not know that I would have witnesses.


I did not reckon on their grief.


I looked down from great heights on Tanvi keening.


Death’s hands gathered my life-spark, pulling me together into a tight ball.


“Do you wish to remain,” he asked, “or to dissipate?”

“To remain,” cried every spark that was me. “To remain!”

“So it is,” he said, pocketing my spirit to carry to my resting place, and then, he took time out of his duties to pet the cat.


Tethers bound me to the tombstone, perhaps so I might witness my mourning.


I had never stopped to think that I might be missed.


Bartholomew’s eyes broke my heart.


And Babe, the biggest rascal of the all, ran to the meadow at nightfall.


She slept curled beside my grave.

Next >>

Author’s note: What’s this? It’s chapter one of my ten-gen dogacy! Follow along as we trace the generations of Bobie’s pups. (I’ll post the challenge rules soon!)

Septemus 3

Dear Septemus,

I wish I could make things easier for you.


I don’t know why you wake up mad and why you fall into rages. Are you mad at me? Are you upset about being here? What are you missing?


You look at me sometimes as if I should understand.


They told me at the agency that you didn’t remember anything–none of you did. They said that the impact of the landing erased all memory.

But I think they were lying.

When I read to you last night, you looked up at me and asked, “Bizaabgotojo?”

The strangest thing happened as you said that–I saw a flash of blue. A hand. A blue woman’s hand. Was that your mother? I felt intense sadness. You remember it all, don’t you? You miss them.


You woke me early the next morning with your tears.

I don’t know where she is. I don’t know where your brothers and sisters are. I know you miss them.


Grilled cheese helps, doesn’t it? It’s my favorite, too.


We ate breakfast together. You surprised me by laughing. I don’t know what story it is you told–I don’t know what “stipooo kiya cocinoxitopo stipoo” means, but it sounds funny and as you said it, I saw in my mind a flash of a blue man walking on his hands backwards. Is that a “cocinoxitopo”?


But you were sad again after we washed the dishes. It’s Saturday, but first thing Monday morning, as soon as they open, I’ll call the agency and talk with Ms. Snyder. She’ll know where your brothers and sisters are. Maybe if you can see them, you’ll feel less lonely.


When you’re older, I’ll tell you what happened to the pale blue woman who was on the ship with you–your bizaabgotojo.

But I have a feeling that you already know what happened.


I guess that’s what makes it hard to accept me. I am not a substitute. My skin is brown and my hands are rough and my voice is low and it doesn’t echo like water in a cave river.


You seem to like people with softer voices better, like Miko and Darling.

You lit up like a firefly when Darling came by this afternoon. You laughed and birds sang and the sun shone and it was Saturday afternoon like Saturday should be.


“You should try playing with him more,” Darling said to me.

“I’m not sure he wants anything to do with me,” I replied.

“Nonsense!” Darling said. “He’s crazy about you! Any fool can see! Just don’t be so sad and worried and serious all the time. Play a little!”

So I twirled you around and we flew like a double-decker airplane.

“Woot! That’s what I’m talking about!” Darling shouted. And you laughed like a river.


We danced before bed. I put on Coltrane, and we got mellow, and you hummed like a little bird, and the pictures I saw in my mind were peaceful and flowing, just the swirling colors of a sleepy imagination.


You’re sleeping now, and if I close my eyes, I can still see those colors, and I feel something, too. I don’t feel my heart breaking for you. I feel the beginning stirrings of happy.

Your pal,


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Forgotten Art: Gee-Jay – Tad 1


Dear Tad,

We want to be your pen pal. We are me–you can call me Gee–and him. You can call him Jay. Together we’re Gee-Jay.


We have a very good reason for wanting to be your pen pal.

Actually we have five.

One is that we like to get hand-written letters! We think that too much technology is stupid. We like technology, sure, because video games. But we also think it’s stupid because we like books and pipe organs.


I also like rocks. When I say I, I mean me, Giuliana or Gee. And when I say he, I mean him, Jasper or Jay. And so when I say we, I mean us, Gee-Jay.

OK. Reason number 2.

I, that would be me, Giuliana or Gee, was very sad.


I mean really super sad.


And he, that would be Jasper or Jay, asked me what was wrong. Why was I so sad?

It’s because I miss one of my pen pals. I had this really great pen pal. His name was Dusk. Maybe you know him? Anyway, he can’t write me anymore.


It’s not that he doesn’t exactly exist anymore. He does. Or maybe not. I can’t really tell. I think maybe he died.

I’m still writing to him, but I don’t think he’ll ever write me again. He says that where he is now, time doesn’t exist, and I figure that you need time in order to be able to write. What do you think?

We, that would be me and Jasper, or Gee-Jay, like to read about time.

Right now, Jasper is reading me a book called The Fabric of the Cosmos, and we’re thinking about, “Can the universe exist without space and time?”

I, that would be me, Giuliana, think yes. And he, that would be Jasper, thinks no.


What do you think?

So maybe that’s the third reason we want you to be a pen pal, because we want a pen pal who can write to us about questions we don’t have answers for.

But back to reason #2.

When he (Jasper or Jay) found out that I (Giuliana or Gee) was sad because my (that would be Giuliana’s) pen pal wasn’t writing anymore, and was, maybe, possibly, probably dead, or at least existing someplace without time, then he (Jasper or Jay) thought that I (Giuliana or Gee–OK, you get the picture now, right?) would be happier if I (you know, me) had a new pen pal.


So we (Gee-Jay) looked through the pen pal profiles and we found yours.

And Jasper said, “A spiritual guide!”

And I said, “A gardener!”

And Jasper said, “A gardener!”

And we both said, “That’s the one!”


So reason #4: A spiritual guide.

And reason #5: A gardener.

Back to why do we (well, really him, Jasper or Jay) want a spiritual guide?


Well, he (Jasper or Jay–you know) says that at his age, he’s seen a lot of coming and going. Mostly going.

He told me that his wife passed. (That’s what he says instead of “dead.”) And his brother. And his mom and dad. And his grandparents. And his uncles and aunts. And five cousins. And his brother’s wife. And his great-niece’s mom. And about twelve friends. And wow. That’s a lot of passing.


I felt surprised because he isn’t often sad. But sometimes he is sad. And he says I should write that sometimes we’re all sad, and when you get to be his age, it’s time to make peace with comings and goings, and that’s where a spiritual guide can come in handy.


Do you know anything about Buddhism? He (that would be Jasper, also known as Jay) talks about Buddhism a lot.

It seems like a lot for a kid like me to think about.

But he says that we will do this together, and it will be OK because I (that would be me, Giuliana or Gee) will get what I need out of it, and he (that would be Jasper or Jay) will get what he needs out of it, and together, we will both be able to learn and share, and then we started to wonder, what will we be able to give you?


Jasper says that I can give you funniness, because he doesn’t know anyone who’s funnier than me. He also says that I am fun. Both fun and funny.

I say that Jasper can give you smartness because he is very smart and he has read everything. Or if he hasn’t read it, he will. And he will even read it aloud to you.


That is really nice, to sit next to someone and have them read. It’s like the voice is the connection.

Jasper says that if you write, the energy of the voice somehow enters the words, and then the connection forms that way. I think it’s true because I felt connection to Dusk, my pen pal who is now where time’s not.

Jasper says that you said that you are asking for connection. And that is something that we (that would be Gee-Jay) can give you.


Because Gee-Jay is all about connection.

But we’re also all about mystery. Especially those mysteries that can’t ever be solved. It’s because we (that would be Jasper or Jay and Giuliana or Gee) are very curious. You might say that we live for curiosity.


We hope you choose us for a pen pal!

And if not, it was fun to write you anyway. (This means we both had fun, me–that would Giuliana–and him–that would be Jasper.)


Adios, amigo!


p.s. Jasper told me what your name–not Tad, but the other one–really means, and I think it’s cool! (This is from me, Giuliana or Gee.)

Gee-Jay’s Next Letter >>

Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 6

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin


Dear Kaitlin,

Hi! Oh, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could meet sometime? I wouldn’t stop smiling the whole time! All the hugs!

I’ve had so many thoughts in response to your last letter, and I’ll share them with you. But first, I want to tell you thank you!


In association with my volunteering at House of Hope, I’ve been examining my support system. And do you know what? You are one of my strongest points of support!

We’ve been using the materials available at the Soul’s Self-Help Central, an online resource center. I filled out a grid listing people I know that I thought could be part of my support team and their capacities to offer support. You came out so strongly in every category! I’m not surprised. You are an amazing person, Kaitlin–brave, kind, generous, and insightful! You’ve got a great sense of humor, too. I’m guessing that everyone who knows you has you on their list of support people.

And that makes me wonder. Who’s on your list?


I would be honored to be, if you felt I had the skills and capacity. I am so inexperienced when it comes to life, and I’m discovering that my interpersonal skills are woefully undeveloped. I’m starting to suspect maybe I’m not very mature emotionally. But, you know what? I am eager to learn and grow and develop capacity! So, maybe if I’m not a very good support person for you now, I will be later, after I’ve developed more skills, maturity, and abilities with people.

At any rate, you can know that all my good wishes and gratitude circle you!


Congratulations on Leroy’s proposal and your conditional acceptance! I hope soon the circumstances allow you to accept for real. Congratulations, too, on his adoption of Dakota. I guess, in a way, she’s a new daughter for you, too. Adoption is such a wonderful gift–I’m really happy that you get to experience it, too, and what a lucky girl she is to get to be part of such a big, loving, supportive family. See all the good things that have come out of your brave actions?

I can understand your not wanting to claim the word, “victim.” That word carries so much baggage–and none of it good! I’ve discovered that the women in my art group don’t like the word, either. During one of our painting sessions the other day, the topic came up.

Some of them use the word, “survivor.”

Ira says, “I don’t like labels, anymore. I like saying, ‘I’m a person who’s experienced trauma.'” She says that, since all of us living on this planet have experienced harsh situations, and the trauma resulting from those situations, that descriptor connects us with everyone. I like that insight.


Jasper’s organ teacher uses the word “hero.”

“It’s what we are,” she says. “I am a female hero who’s made it through my journey of trials and tribulations with the help of all my helpers, and now, I shine brighter.”


She says that when she read Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, she wept.

“This was my story,” she said. “All the patterns and steps of my journey, described here in archetype.”


She and I are going to lead a workshop on “The Hero’s Path,” along with one of the counselors. I’m excited that we’ll be leading it together, because that means we’ll be colleagues, and we can become friends! When I only knew her through the painting group, I had to limit our relationship to “service-provider/client” due to policies of HoH, since I’m the leader of that group. But that restriction stops when we lead a group together!


I’ve learned that when we’ve experienced trauma–and domestic violence is trauma–that any emotion can trigger it, causing us to re-experience all the fear, anger, and danger-signals we felt the first time we experienced it. It’s because when we feel deeply again, all the emotions can come rushing back. So please be gentle with yourself when you think about all you felt during your recent exchange with Leroy. It takes time to learn to trust again, and letting yourself feel whatever you feel seems to be one of the important steps to get there.

I don’t know much at all, but I’m learning. I’ve been researching trauma, grief, and shame and have discovered that they are very interconnected.

As best I can understand from what I’ve read, when we experience a trauma, our mind switches into survival mode. In that state, the focus is on survival–life doesn’t feel safe. In survival mode, the mind focuses all our energy on getting us out of danger, and so the painful emotions associated with the trauma are split off. We just don’t feel safe enough to deal with them.


When the system works, later, when we’re safe, we’re able to feel and process the emotions, at a time when our very survival isn’t threatened. But what if we don’t feel safe again? Sometimes, we never reach that point, and the emotions remain split off.


When that happens, we can sometimes develop guilt and shame, especially if the traumatic event left us feeling helpless. Guilt at least offers some illusion of control.

I didn’t really understand what I read about trauma, guilt, and shame, until I began to apply it to the most significant trauma I’ve experienced: the death of my mom.


It was my first year in college, during finals week, when she died. I just couldn’t deal with it. I remember thinking that if I felt the pain, I would drown. I’d drop out of college and I’d die. I didn’t think I could survive it.

So I didn’t feel it. I focused on my finals. I aced all my tests.

Then, when I got my grades the next semester, and I saw all those A’s, I felt so guilty. “I shouldn’t have studied. I should have gone to the hospital more. How could I earn A’s when that happened? I should have been with my dad. I should’ve stayed with Norman. I should have dropped out of college.” I thought I could’ve prevented her death if I’d just been there more–if I’d dropped out and taken her to chemo. Or if I’d stayed with her in the hospital. Or if I’d brought her flowers. Or if I’d worn red tennis shoes, instead of black ones.

Then the shame came. “I’m a terrible daughter. I’m a bad sister. I’m such a selfish person.”

For about two years, I didn’t grieve, but I was guilty all the time and I felt so ashamed. I could hardly see my dad and brother because of the shame.


What finally brought me out of it was in junior year when I took an Intro to Comparative Folklore class, and I discovered fairy tales from every culture dealing with the death of the mother. My favorites were about girls who lost their mothers just as they were coming of age. There are hundreds of these tales! I lost myself in them, and then I found myself.


Around that time, Norman came to visit. We went to the botanical gardens on campus. When I saw a bromelia in the greenhouse, I began to weep. It was my mother’s favorite plant. Norm hugged me, and he began to cry, too. We slumped onto a stone bench, holding each other, nestled in the humid hothouse air, and we finally felt safe enough to grieve, and we cried until we hiccuped. And then Norman looked at me, and he said, “It isn’t 42.”

“What isn’t?” I asked.

“The answer to life, the universe, and everything,” he said.

“What is?” I asked him.

“Damned if I know.” We laughed so hard. We laughed as hard as we’d cried, and then we laughed some more, and then we cried again, and then we ate ice cream in the tea shop, and my eyes hurt and my chest hurt, and I had a knife through me. I cried a lot during the next year. And then my dad died. And I cried a lot more. But I stopped feeling guilty, and I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt safe enough to feel, especially when I was with Norman or Jasper, even when it was hard.

I’m not saying that grief is the same as domestic abuse. I’m just saying that I’ve experienced the splitting off of emotions and the guilt and shame that follow.

Feeling guilty is nothing to feel guilty about, and there’s no shame in feeling ashamed. It’s all part of how our minds and bodies are constructed to help us survive. Call it socio-biology. And when we understand the process, maybe then we can create the safety that we need to be able to move through the process and back into our healthy selves again, to find our own paths back to being the heroes that we are.


I hope that I can help to create a safe space for you, Kaitlin, so that you can share with me how you feel. I would like to be able to do that. Maybe our letters can be your hothouse, with bromelias and orchids and roses blooming, smelling sweet, and safe, and calming. And then we could drink tea and cry and drink more tea and maybe even laugh.

Speaking of laughing, I have no idea what’s up with Ira and Norm. She calls him “Babe.” He calls her “Cupcake.” And he told me yesterday that they haven’t even yet shared their first kiss. At any rate, it’s plain to see that it’s love.

Kaitlin, I’m sending you all my thoughts and feelings of admiration, gratitude, and friendship.

Love, love, love,



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Shift 42: Passing


Nadja told me I was crying in my sleep. I don’t recall. I just know I felt so heavy that it was hard to get out of bed.

Everything was going so well. Tracy said it looked like I’d be ready to run track this spring. My grades were all A’s and my test scores were high, so it looked like I’d get academic scholarships, too. I was feeling like everything was working out.

And then, the world came crashing down, and now, I’m not sure how to get through this.

Mary, one of the YOTO volunteers, collapsed at YOTO. She was dead by the time the paramedics arrived.


I didn’t know her that well, so it’s not like there’s a hole in my heart where she used to be.

And she was old and had lived a good life. They say it was an aneurism. Seeing the paramedics wheel her out triggered something in me. I reacted as if it were someone I knew and loved.


I felt angry, too. Why was she working here, if she wasn’t well? Why did this have to happen on Aadhya’s day off? If Aadhya were here, she’d know something were wrong, and she’d have had Mary sit down and take it easy. We’re supposed to be safe here. It’s not a place for old people. It’s not a place where people are supposed to die.


I realized none of my thoughts mattered. My response wasn’t rational: I knew this. It didn’t make it hurt less.


Darling didn’t help. When I told her at school in the locker room, she got all upset, too.

“Mary died?” Darling said. “She died? I knew her! She was my neighbor! Oh, God! She was the first person to give me a job, watering her plants when she on vacation. How can she be dead? You were there. Why didn’t you do something?”

I didn’t feel better.


I had a hard time keeping up my training. My restrictions had been lifted, so I was free to train as much as I wanted, within reason.

But it was hard to even finish my morning runs. I came back early. Everything ached.


Working out wasn’t any better. In between sets, if I could even finish them, I ended up breaking down.


Aadhya told me to take a break from everything: school, working out, everything. Not for long, just for as long as I needed.

“What if what I need turns out to be a long time?” I asked her.

“It won’t be,” she said.

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ll be right here.”

So, I took a week off of school.

During the days, when the other kids were at school, Aadhya and I talked, and then I slept until they got home.


During one of our talks, Aadhya asked me, “How many people have you lost?”

“I didn’t lose Mary,” I answered. “She didn’t belong to me.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Aadhya said. “I have a feeling this doesn’t have to do with Mary.”

In her silence, I thought of Scott. I was still glad he was out of the picture. I wish I could have been strong when he was around, so I knew I could protect myself.

“I lost my uncle,” I said.

She kept silent. I thought of Gran. Once the EMTs came, I never got to talk to her again. She collapsed, and she was gone. I was alone.

“Gran,” I said. “I never had a chance to say goodbye to her.”

Aadhya looked at me in silence.

My mom and dad drove off, and I stood with Gran and waved to them. I was glad to see them go, because a weekend with Gran meant reading and climbing trees and drinking tea and staying up late to watch movies, cuddled under the log cabin quilts.

“They never came back,” I whispered.

Aadhya held me while I sobbed. I was so alone. All my family, gone.

“I never said goodbye. Not to any of them. There’s so much I never said.”

Aadhya held me. When I looked at her, her eyes were moist and ringed in red.

I held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Aadhya. I love you,” I felt fierce. I grasped her shoulders and I spoke really fast, like the words were racing to get out. “You have been a mentor and more to me, and to all the kids here. You’re like a grandma, only more. If I never say it, you’ll never know it. I love you. Thank you.”

She held me. We wept together. And then I went upstairs to sleep.


I still felt sad when I woke late in the afternoon. But I got up anyway. I could hear the kids coming back from school.


I got dressed. I dished up leftovers for myself. I thought maybe I could eat. Aadhya came into the kitchen.

“The volunteer who’s on duty tonight, Nancy, she just found out about Mary,” Aadhya said. “She’s very upset. Do you think you could talk with her?”

“I don’t know what I could say,” I said.

“Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything. Just being there, being present and listening, can be enough.”

Nancy joined me at the table. She started talking before I could say anything. She rambled on about all these esoteric things. She talked about spirit and essence and nothing ever being really lost. I think she thought she was comforting me. The thought made me smile, in spite of myself.

“Thank you, Nancy,” I said.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said. I could see she was still upset, so I sat there, in silence. It wasn’t nothing, and I wasn’t alone.

“Pain doesn’t have to separate us from everybody,” I said to Nancy. “Sometimes, it can draw us together.”

I was still sad, and I could see that Nancy was, too, but I could smile through the sadness, a real smile that reached out to the person across from me.


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Wonder 56

When it hits, it hits. Tia Berry, Mãe, and then Pai all passed on within a week of each other. I’ve seen that happen with patients before: all the elders in a generation pass within the same time period.

What’s left for the kids who are left behind?

For that’s how I feel, though I’m an adult and father myself: I feel like an abandoned kid.

If it weren’t for Tanner, I’d be alone in the world, no matter how many friends I have.


I’ve been trying to save my grieving for after Tanner’s gone to school.

When he’s home, I’m focused on him.


He’s been so sweet.

He told me the other day that we had something in common, only backwards.

“I started out an orphan, and now I got a family. You started out with a family, and now you’re an orphan. Same but different.”


“But not entirely the same,” I told him, “for I’ve still got a family. Same one you’ve got.”

“Yeah,” he said, and he smiled.


“It feels like peanut butter and jelly when you got a family, right, Dad?” He’d always called me Chaz before. I had to step into the kitchen for a moment to hold onto the counter, breathe, and let go of a few tears.


I came back to the living room with a cup of coffee, and I sat on the floor next to the drawing table. I leaned against the wall, hitched my knees up, and watched him work.

We could hear his crayon scratching on the paper, and he was humming a little tune.


“For sure this is a picture of a monster,” he said. “Think it’s scary? It’s scary. But it’s not scary like something that will eat you. It’s scary like something that you think you better not look at, or else, you know. Stone. You’re turned to stone.”


“Did you hear about Medusa and Perseus in school, Tanner?”

“Naw,” he replied. “Oh, I know all about Medusa. But this ain’t her. This is her sister Megaluna. She only comes to orphans. When it’s all dark, and then you think you better not look, then she comes. And orphan hearts go stony. But there’s a trick. You look anyway. Then she’s not scary, you’re heart stays soft, and when she goes away, there’s no monster anymore.”


After Tanner left for school, I found myself staring down my own Megaluna. It was too late. My heart was solid stone. I couldn’t even cry, and all I felt was a block inside where all my feelings should be rushing through me. I had a long day ahead while my boy was at school to try to find some way to slew this monster grief.


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Whisper 2.01


Dear Mom,

You know how you always said to listen to that quiet voice inside whenever I was feeling sad, confused, or troubled, and it would never lead me wrong but always provide the guidance I needed? I never knew what you meant, for I never heard the voice, until today.

Today, I heard it.

I was going for a run down to Lower Beach, and I heard the whisper speak.

Write to her. You will feel better.


So here I am, writing to you. I know you’ll never get this letter, but that’s not the point. The point is to write it anyway.

Mom, it hurts so much.

Riley and I waited for you and Zoey to come back in, and when you didn’t I went out to find you. And you were gone.


Then the kids came home from school. One of the Wolff girls came with them.

I could tell they knew something had happened.

Oh, Mom. I’m so glad you couldn’t see Bo’s face.


The kids did their homework right away, all three of them. You would’ve been proud.


When Bo finished, he asked me where you were.

Mom, I had to tell him. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I hope there’ll never be anything harder.


But the worst of it, Mom. The worst is how Riley is taking it.

She says that now you’ll never get to know her. She could see you, Mom, all along, even though you couldn’t see her. And she says that she thought of you as a mom, kind and nurturing and loving, like a mom. And she was looking forward to you getting to know and love her, the way that she knew and loved you. And now it won’t happen.


She tries to be strong. When she thinks no one is watching, that’s when she breaks down.

But when she’s with me, Bo, or Patches, then, you have to look closely to see the sadness in her eyes.


She says that she doesn’t want Patches to feel alone, because she knows how deeply a rag doll can love, so she spends extra time with her.

I heard her telling jokes about your eye sketch the other day.

“It’s all in the eyes!” she said. “Every emotion you could see!” And she went through each eye you’d drawn, naming the emotion: happiness, sadness, anger, wonder, until she ran out of emotions and had to get silly. “When you’ve eaten a hot pepper! Looking for your lost keys. Your cat steals your last ball of yarn!” Patches was laughing so hard. For that moment, I felt hope that we might get through this, after all.


Mom, you’d love Riley. She’s the kindest, most sensitive, sweetest person I’ve known–well, next to you, of course. If you could see her eyes and how tender they are. We’re so lucky, Mom. We didn’t get to thank you for making that dichromate cocktail, so I’ll write it now: Thank you. Of all the things you could do on your last morning, that was a good choice.


(I shouldn’t write things like that. It just makes me too sad.)

I was most worried about Bo, but he’s doing OK. Mom, you’d be proud.

Remember when Stray Dog disappeared and I spent days looking for him from the club house? That’s what Bo’s doing–he’s looking for you. He says he knows you’re still around. He can feel you. And so he’s keeping a look-out. I don’t have the heart to tell him you really are gone.


Even Dante knows you’re gone. I saw his ghost in the garden, right by your memorial, and Mom, for the first time ever, Dante wasn’t smiling.


It’s when we wake up in the morning that it’s hardest. We’ve been sleeping so soundly. We forget when we sleep. And then we wake, thinking we smell pancakes. But it’s a trick of our memory, a conditioned response. And when we realize that the house is empty–empty of you–that’s when we break down.


Patches asked if we could get a cat. I decided why not. I remember how I happy I felt when we got Zoey, and how I stopped missing Stray Dog then. Maybe a kitten would help all of us by providing a diversion, something we could love in that sad, empty spot we all now carry inside.

So, now we have Roxy. Oh, Mom. You’d love her. She’s all spotty and she’s got the cutest little bob tail.


The only thing is, Patches says it doesn’t make her feel any better. I hope with time it will.


I watched you grieve lots–for Chauncey, for Frank, for Shea, for your other friends from college. And just when I thought you’d always have that shadow of sadness around you, you surprised me. I’d tell a joke, and you’d laugh.

So, I know. We’ll get there. It will just take time.



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Three Rivers 21.1

Twenty-first Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: The Dos are a game-generated family, living in another beautiful home by TheKalinotr0n.

21.  Healing Past Wounds


Before the girls came home from school, Debra Do liked to walk through the house, sensing the mood in every room, filling each, as much as possible, with her own peace. She called  this ritual “Prepare.”

Her daughters, each of them, would bring home backpacks stuffed with their own issues just waiting to be triggered: might as well have a clean space in which to receive them.


“Let’s unpack it,” Debra liked to say to her elder daughter, Kaylyn.

“Oh, Ma. Leave it packed. It’s too gross to look at,” Kaylyn would say.


But Debra would insist: “Tell me about it. You don’t have to spill it all at once. A little at a time will do. Don’t just leave it there, festering inside of you with all the old hurts.”

Debra, Kaylyn, and Nyla, the younger daughter, had plenty of old hurts. The death of her father when she was seven spun itself through Debra’s core, so deep that it was a part of her, and she knew, each time someone left, that the terror of abandonment would awaken.

When Kaylyn’s father left in the middle of Kaylyn’s second year in grade school, Debra steeled herself to be strong for her daughter, for she knew what it was like when a father disappeared. Death or desertion, it hardly mattered to a child. All the while, as she was there to be both mother and dad for Kaylyn, her own heart split. Echoes of past pain seared her. You can die of a broken heart, she read, and so, out of her desperate love for Kaylyn, she meditated. She practiced mindfulness. She did yoga. She went to grief therapy. She pounded pillows. She tended plants. She baked batch after batch of cookies: chocolate, marzipan, French vanilla-cinnamon oat, rose water. And one day, her heart stopped aching. She found she could breathe a full breath without it catching.

That was when she shifted her attention back to her daughter. That was when she began the ritual of “Prepare,” and when, every day after Kaylyn came home from school, she’d ask, “What have we got to unpack today?”

One day, she didn’t even need to ask.

“Ma, let’s unpack it,” said Kaylyn, and she launched into a litany of complaints against girls who snubbed her, boys who laughed at her, and teachers who piled on the homework and made snide comments when kids complained.


“It’s tough when you feel alone,” Debra said.

“I hate it,” said Kaylyn.

“How do you feel at this moment?” Debra asked.

“At this moment?” replied Kaylyn. “All right, I guess.”

And Debra was rewarded with one of her greatest joys: the sight of her beautiful daughter, smiling.

“Ma, I’ve got calculus homework. You think you could help me we’re done eating? You like calculus, right?”


Nyla, her younger daughter, was a greater challenge. She seldom showed her deepest feelings.

Debra understood this. When pain goes that deep, it stays hidden, coiled around the heart or buried in the marrow.


Debra and Nyla shared the same pain. Debra had met Nyla’s father when Nyla was five. They met at yoga class. Debra always laughed that a Marine would take yoga.

“Body and mind,” said Stefan, Nyla’s father.

They married within a year, and then Stefan was deployed for six months overseas.

He never returned.

Having been through grief before didn’t make it easier, Debra discovered. Each time was different. This time, she felt it on so many levels. Her own fear of abandonment was triggered. Her anger at Kaylyn’s father reasserted itself. And when she wrapped her arms around little Nyla, she felt her own body tighten in grief, remembering the death of her own father. How can you be there to support a child when your own life is shattered in pain, once again? Scars hurt every bit as much as living tissue, she realized.

They got through it. Sometimes, she thought that Nyla was the one who decided to be strong for her.


Nyla was a storyteller, even from early childhood, and whenever she suspected that her adoptive mother was hurting, she would launch into a tale. Most often, the stories were tragic, and as mother and daughter felt themselves wrapped in the story’s shroud, the warmth they shared would slowly melt the blocks of ice within.

Lately, Nyla had begun to tell hero’s tales. Debra wondered where her younger daughter learned the pattern of the hero’s journey. Does it lay so deeply within us that when we’re called to draw from those reserves of strength we come to find that path engrained in the code of our imagination?


“The girl had five ghosts,” Nyla said this night, as she finished her story. “And each had its own powers, and they followed the girl wherever she went so that she could call on them whenever she needed them! And never once did they ever abandon her.”

“Now that’s a fine story,” said Debra. “And with that, I think it’s time for bed for one storyteller, at least.”


Nyla hugged her big sister goodnight. This was what the “Prepare” ritual was for, so that, before laying down for sleep each night, they could feel this warmth. Debra clung to the faith that each time their day’s journey led them here, something healed inside.


In the middle of the calculus tutorial, while Debra explained some of the finer points of infinite series to Kaylyn, Nyla returned with a bowl of chips.


“It’s your bedtime, Squirt,” said Kaylyn.

“I can’t sleep when I’m hungry,” said Nyla.

“Bed after snack,” said Debra.


Kaylyn tucked in her little sister when the calculus lesson was over and the chips had been eaten.

Debra and her older daughter watched a movie together, avoiding romance and opting, instead, for a Hercule Poirot mystery.

“I like that crafty Belgian dude,” Kaylyn said.

“I like Christie’s sense of moral justice,” added Debra. “What a safe world she wrote.”

Kaylyn laughed. “Safe? Somebody always dies! Usually several somebodies!”

“But justice always comes,” replied Debra. “The mystery’s always solved, and justice comes, and everybody heals and moves on. That’s a tidy world.”

“Can I sleep in your bed tonight?” asked Kayln.

“Sure,” said Debra. She’d read article after article about the dangers of co-sleeping with older children, but finally she decided screw it. There were times when a body just needed to hear another body’s breath beside it in the dark of night, and she wasn’t about to deny that to either of her daughters just because some of the latest psychologists said it led to chronic insomnia or increased anxiety.

In the middle of the night, Debra woke as the moon shone through the bedroom window. Kaylyn was breathing deeply beside her.

She got out of bed to check on Nyla.

“What are you doing up?” she asked, when she saw Nyla standing beside her nightstand with the lamp turned on.

“If he’s never coming back,” Nyla said, “who will tuck me in when you’re gone?”


“Oh, Sweet Pea,” said Debra. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m the one that stays, remember?”



Nyla lay back down.


Debra rubbed her younger daughter’s back and sang to her, an old sorry song about a mourning dove in a pine.

As she watched the little girl sleep, she thought how some wounds we carry with us, and this was surely one, a mark upon a life that would follow this little girl until she sang her own little ones to sleep, and maybe even past that time.