Written by my friend…

My dear friend and confidante, Lisa, claims not to be a writer. One of the things I love best about Lisa is her insight and her precise assessments of the sometimes very blurry life situations I find myself in.  It seems that Lisa can take the facts, organize them, name them, and then often, make just the right suggestion for solutions.  Often, I find myself responding to Lisa with, “Oh yeah! That’s it! Brilliant!  Now, I get it!”   It is amazing when I present her with some pretty gnarled and messy scenarios and without flinching she takes the rotting fruits and turns them into a smoothie!  The odd thing is, that Lisa denies she is a writer.  And yet, though she may not write things down, she scripts them in her head so that they can sometimes come out like well written prose. She IS a writer, just not on keyboard or pen and paper.

This is just what happened last week.  While I was frantically writing endless tomes of feelings, facts, observations, and solutions of the traumatic and heartbreaking death of our mutual friend, Sarah,  Lisa was being more concise.  She called me and said, I keep hearing these words over and over in my head, but they sound like prose.  “Oh, tell me, tell me” I said.  She hesitated and then just off the top of her head, she recited the following lines.  I cannot tell you how succinct this is and how, it really puts our whole relationship with our friend in the perfect perspective.  I strongly suspect, that these are indeed words directly from our friend, Sarah who died less than two weeks ago. This IS what she is saying to us. I am sure of it.  Lisa, be proud, you nailed it again! I am both grateful and blessed to call you my friend.

My thoughts from last Friday – Lisa Malmberg

Do you really know who I am?

Do you really know me, my life, my struggles?

If I tell you about it, will you still respect me, love me, be my friend?

Or will it be too hard for you to hear.

Maybe, it’s too hard for me to say.


Do I really know me?

What I need.


I can’t tell you.

I don’t know where to begin.

You have your own struggles.

Your life, your marriage, your children are so perfect.

You wouldn’t understand.


I don’t want pity.

I don’t know what I need from you, except your love, your friendship, your stories that help me forget mine.




My 25 year old niece Katie’s best friend was found dead this morning. It was a shocking, tragic death of a 40 something year old man whom she worked with named, Lee.  Katie spoke of him often and tinkered with the idea of moving from North Carolina to New York with him or traveling through Europe with him and vising his family in the UK.  Recently, when Katie visited some friends in New York, Lee was texting her constantly throughout her stay.  She relied on him for feedback, for laughs, for encouragement.  I noticed when she got back here, that he was the first person she called and spoke to as she went to sleep that night.
Katie is a waitress-supreme.  She is the waitress you always wish you had; one knowledgeable about the food and wine offerings and one who makes sure you are well taken care of for a perfect dining experience.  She does this in Wilmington, North Carolina’s only authentic French bistro and is well loved by her customers, co-workers, and restaurant owners.  Lee was also a waiter and by far one of the most popular in this dining establishment.  Most of the time, he and Katie worked together, laughed non-stop, made life plans, commiserated and drank together after work.  However, Katie was well aware that Lee drank too much and was clearly on his way to full blown alcoholism.  She was concerned and encouraging him to beware or at least to be aware. It seems his death was closely related to his alcohol abuse last night on his birthday.
Lee and Katie were truly best friends and though I questioned her about any possible romantic nuances, she clearly and vehemently denied saying, “He is my brother!”  I believed her.  And though I only met Lee once and very briefly, I felt that I knew him somewhat through Katie’s descriptions and joy in knowing this man. 
So, when Lee was found dead in the most shocking of circumstances this morning and Katie was there instantly to convince herself that this might be real, she became inconsolable saying as we all say many times in our lives, “I cannot do this.”  Ironically, I remember sitting next to her sister Maddie in the emergency room, as her father lay dying a few years, hearing her say, “I cannot do this.”  And then again, when Katie came home to see her father in his casket and decided she did not want to go into see him like that her saying, “I cannot do this.”
There really are so many moments in our lives when we do say, “I cannot do this” and we mean it with all our heart.  It is as if to say, “Someone please take me away from this horror, this unbearable pain, and protect me from this so I do not have to participate.”  The cruel reality is that there is no turning away and there is no protection from the worst that life has to offer and whether or not one thinks they “cannot do this” they will have to anyway.  Rarely, can one be protected and if they are, it will only be for a short while until the water begins to leak through the crack in the vessel. 
So, my heart breaks for the tender and vulnerable heart of this young and beautiful niece of mine who means so very much to me, because I wish I could protect her and her sister, and all of my sons as well, from the angst of life.  But not only is that not possible, but it would not be a life lived in truth and honesty either. Because the reality is such that if you have suffered, then you have also known joy and they do not exist separated from each other.  To know one, is to know both. To not know one, is to know none.  And don’t we elders all wish we had the language that we could use to describe how this flaming pain of love and loss will feel and to prepare our youngest ones for this? But, the words do not exist and each of us seems to have to go through these moments of life changing intensity in order to grow and become wiser and to develop the depth of understanding that enables us to become. 

So when Maddie reacts by asking, “When is this going to stop?” as if magically one day we will all be in the Emerald City and be done with the sorrow, the disappointments and the sometimes terrifying events, my answer is probably not the one she wishes to hear.  As long as we are living, “it” does not stop. The sadness and the joy keep on coming, side by side, in sync or totally imbalanced, but they are life forces and since no one promised us a rose garden, the thorns continue to grow on the vine.  


Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by death. I mean the whole concept of being here today and potentially gone tomorrow, is something I struggle to wrap my mind around. I suppose we all do. Flipping through recipes this morning, I found an email with an asparagus recipe from my dear friend and mentor, Mary Tully. In the email I am asking her to send me the delicious recipe for the asparagus we had at her husband’s birthday party months earlier. My son’s wedding was coming up and I wanted to make this dish for the rehearsal dinner. Mary says in her response that she is so honored and gladly shares the recipe. I renamed it Asparagus Tully for the event and everyone enjoyed it. The email was dated March 2009. The wedding was in May 2009. In July 2010, Mary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In December 2010, we attended Mary’s funeral. I still have the recipe but I always miss Mary.

Listening to NPR today on the way home from carpool pickup, I heard about the American photojournalist, Marie Colvin being killed today in Syria. She was originally from Long Island and then lived in France. She lived to tell the story in photos of the atrocities of war and despite losing an eye in her dangerous profession; she forged on until she was killed in the fray today. She served us by sharing the visual story with us, but we lost her anyway. I am sad for her mother and father, for her friends. It is just deeply sad.

I am even sad about Whitney Houston, whose four-hour funeral was completely over the top a few days ago. It had all the elements of a tent revival meeting and when it came to comparing her to Mother Theresa – well, that was really a bit much. I feel she really did kill herself, despite professing deep love for her daughter and an evangelistic love of God. Nothing was enough to keep her from the drugs she also loved and depended upon and no amount of rehab or cleansing could keep her from drowning in a bathtub, overtaken by too many prescription pain killers. Nothing really could kill her pain and she too, entertained us and thrilled us like no one else, but we lost her anyway.

And then again as I am reorganizing my recipe collection, I came across an old Thanksgiving Day suggestion for a new tradition. It involved asking each family member to write down one thing they were thankful for and then bake them into crescent rolls. Then, each person would break open their roll and read the blessing aloud. Well, the year I found that suggestion I thought it was great and so when my sister and her husband and kids came for dinner, we got right into it. Except for my brother in law who said, “I have nothing to be thankful for.” We all were angry with him and never forgot his lack of gratitude. In reality, he was an unhappy man and years later I watched him take his last breaths in an ER where he succumbed to the maladies of morbid obesity. His young daughter held his hand as he left this world that caused him so much pain. It still makes me sad every time I think of him.

When we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Hampton Bays, New York in the winter of 1982, I was still a Catholic but had already baptized my first son in the Episcopal Church. There was no particular reason for this other than that my husband was an Episcopalian and our childbirth educator was married to an Episcopal priest. It seemed like the thing to do. Living in Hampton Bays, I was drawn to this quaint old Tudor looking church called St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. It was Easter Sunday when we first arrived and when I went to the communion rail and found the chalice was filled with jelly beans and the priest, Father Dan Harris was giggling, I thought I might have found a church with a sense of humor. Week after week Fr. Dan delighted us with his sense of humor, his engaging ways with kids and a weekly show and tell type of God Box that he invented. I was hooked and in the spring of that year, I became an official Episcopalian, having been received by the bishop. I really loved this priest of ours but when he wound up cheating on his wife with a young woman he was counseling and planned to leave the parish with her, I was a bit taken aback. I remember sitting with him in the church kitchen one day following a hurricane that had knocked out the power supply. We sat at the dimly lit table and he said, “This time I want a piece of the pie. I’m leaving so that I can have it.” We lost touch with him over the years although he attended my son’s funeral at St. Mary’s years later. After a hiatus in New England for many years, he moved back to Hampton Bays with four kids and his newish wife. We visited with him but left feeling like he was not all that excited to see us. Perhaps he had a lot going on himself that day. But, I learned last week that he died four days after Christmas this year. It feels like the end of an era and in many ways it is. I often thank my father for giving me my faith. I thank Fr. Dan for bringing me into the open and loving arms of the Episcopal faith.

We all walk on eggshells. Will we find the lump in our breast today or tomorrow? Is that pain in my back, really a silent heart attack? Is the clearing my throat, really throat cancer? Esophageal cancer? Lung cancer? Is that what my shortness of breath is stemming from? Is my back aching because the osteoporosis has made complete Swiss cheese of my bones? Did I forget where I parked the car because I need Aricept to minimize Alzheimer’s? Is my knee hurting because all the cartilage is gone? Is that sunspot on my face changing or darkening? Will it be a simple skin cancer or full blown, life threatening, Melanoma?

This is how we live. There is so much fear and so much illness and death around us. Combine that with way too much information, and one could easily slip into somaticizing everything. As Dr. Christiane Northrup once said, “Hey, those are not lumps on your chest waiting for chemotherapy, they are your healhty breasts!”

Fear has a mind of its own though. Sadness can take hold of any normal, sunny day when you begin thinking about those who have died, wondering if they had any idea of when their last day would be. I mean did Whitney have a funny feeling as she stepped into that tub or was she too stoned to have any feeling at all?

Anyway, it ain’t easy…

After Death

This is one of the things that gnaws at me about death. I cannot bear the thought of things going on without me. I mean, how could new inventions or discoveries occur without me knowing about them? So, the new Apple Ipad arrived yesterday and all the world sat up to see. Haiti continues to barely function and Haitians die in droves from injuries and now, from disease setting in. Emergency call for donor human milk for Haiti, abounds. News is happening. Things are changing. All this in just a week. But, my friend Mary is not here to participate. I cannot wrap my mind around that. It has always mesmerized me about death. Then too, Gregory would be graduating from high school next Spring. Talk about not being able to wrap one’s mind around…. Death is so endlessly perplexing for me.