This month a year ago…

Warning:  I haven’t been sleeping well, so rambling is upcoming.

I’ve done some posts about this being the tenth anniversary of some huge losses in my life, but today I am reflecting on a year ago.

Last September, I sang with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus for a choral homecoming weekend with Alice Parker.  One of the posts I made afterward was about visiting the memorial tree for our friend Beth who died during our senior year and the chapel where I had spent so many hours.  I had always intended to write another post about friendship and Smith women, but didn’t for reasons that will probably become clear later on in the post. I’m hoping to give a taste of that topic now…

I love to spend time with Smith women, especially back in Northampton. It is always special to me to see my roommate Mary with whom I share such a deep connection that we pick up conversation as though we weren’t a couple thousand miles apart the vast majority of the time.

I was blessed to renew ties with two women, each named Cathy, whom I had known during my Smith years, although they were in different class years so I didn’t know them as well.  It may not come as a surprise that our best times for sharing revolved around food. Cathy R. invited us to a lovely farm-fresh al fresco lunch with her family who had travelled with her and we talked about farming and New England and family and medicine and art and photography and how some of us would have been at the Climate March in NYC that day if we hadn’t already committed to being at Smith for the weekend.

Cathy K. lives in the next town over from Northampton and invited us to her home after the concert for appetizers before going out to dinner.  Her family owns a couple of local stores that sell specialty foods, wine, prepared foods, and more. Everything was so plentiful and delicious that we never did go on to dinner but spent hours eating, talking, laughing, and sharing. Family, education, politics, losses, music, career changes, hopes, the future, new directions.  It is so seldom that one has an opportunity to discuss with such depth and breadth. I am profoundly grateful that being with Smith women so often leads to these heart-mind-and-soul-enriching conversations.

I was also grateful to have re-connected with Anne, who is a wonderful poet and who graciously accepted a copy of the chapbook I had assembled the prior year for a local contest, even though neither the individual poems nor my editing abilities were advanced enough to warrant doing so.  She sent me valuable feedback and advice and has since looked over other poems for me. She is one of my poetry godmothers!

Now, a year later, the Alumnae Chorus is coming up on a deadline to sign up to tour in Cuba next July.  And I can’t do it. Within this next year, both E and T plan to finish their master’s degrees and our travel time and resources need to go to supporting them. I also must admit that the thought of touring Cuba doesn’t really appeal to me, especially in the heat of late July.  I am such a delicate flower that I would probably wilt!

And yesterday was Grandma’s (my mother-in-law) birthday. She has a problem with admitting her age so I won’t reveal it here, but this year was especially difficult for her because last year at this time we were in the throes of trying to determine what was wrong with her back. It turned out that an osteoporotic compression fracture in a vertebra led to its collapse and a long year of pain and complications and medications and therapy and ups and downs. Well, a lot more downs than ups.

Her elder son and his daughter came to visit for the weekend, which was nice, but it also was a reminder of how much she can’t do anymore.  Grandma was trying to wish away the last year, which is painful to watch.

It’s also a reminder of how stressful the last year has been. Exhibit A:  my outbreak of shingles last December. Lucky for you, I’m not going on to the rest of the exhibits. I am doing better with giving myself a bit more distance, but it is still sad and concerning and draining.

Especially in September.

I’m working on getting myself back into a better place. I actually managed to sleep a five hour stretch last night.

I’ll take all the progress I can get.

Memories of Peter

Last May, our community lost a wonderful friend and musician, Peter Browne. I wrote about here and here.

Now that September is here, we are missing him again. At Binghamton University, Harpur Chorale, which Peter had directed for many years, has begun the semester under the direction of a talented local music teacher who earned her master’s in choral conducting at Binghamton U. a few years ago.

Yesterday, I wound up having an extended conversation about bladder cancer, which what took Peter’s life so unexpectedly.

Today, I put on the car radio in time to hear the last movement of the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony.  I immediately thought of Peter playing this piece with the Binghamton Philharmonic at the Broome County Forum.

All reminders of Peter and how much he is missed.

Ten years later

2005 was a difficult year. I lost a great and good friend, my long-time church community, and my father-in-law all within a few months.

Today is the first of the major tenth anniversary dates. Ten years ago today, which was Good Friday that year, my friend Angie died from cancer, leaving behind a husband, two sons, a daughter, her mother and siblings, extended family, and many, many, many friends.

I’ve written about Angie before, including here, so I won’t go on too long about her awesomeness. Her legacy includes not only her wonderful family and friends but also a charity fund that gives scholarships, supports cancer patients and their families, and supports The Discovery Center, our local children’s museum, which Angie blessed with her artwork. There is an art gallery, memorial tree, and butterfly house dedicated to her there, as well as an art gallery near the African Road/Vestal Middle School auditorium, which I will always think of as Angie’s Auditorium because it was a long-time dream of hers that she helped fulfill when she served on the Board of Education.

What I am thinking about today, though, is the ten years we have been without her physical presence.  The high school graduation of our daughters, the college commencements, her son’s law school graduation, passing the bar, getting married. All the little moments – hanging out in the kitchen, going out for lunch, taking the dog for a walk, attending seemingly endless committee meetings.

Because I do believe in the eternal life of the soul, I believe that Angie is still able to be present in our lives spiritually.  For those who don’t believe, Angie is still present through her role in shaping the people whom she loved and who loved her, as well as through the art she left for us to enjoy and the legacy projects I’ve already mentioned.

In some ways, we have been without her for ten years. In other ways, she has been with us all along.

SoCS: My friend Angie

I have written before about my friend Angie. I’m thinking of her today because next month will be the tenth anniversary of her death. I’m thinking about things we missed over these years, such as supporting each other as our eldest children married. If she were still alive, she would probably be on the school board still, and I’d have a clue about what is happening in the school system, something that is hard to do when you no longer have children young enough to be in K-12. She would have supported me through the health travails of our elders and I would have supported her in the same way. Even though she has been gone for a long time, I still miss her.

Friends are forever.

This week’s prompt is:  acquaint and/or friend.

This is a February and Linda and Bee are joining forces. First, Bee’s badge and link:

Love Is In Da Blog

And this post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. Please join us! You can find the rules here:


The most thoughtful Christmas present I have ever received.

Such a beautiful post on love, loss, friendship, and remembrance by Tric, who is a wonderful blogger from Ireland, that I felt I had to share it. I hope that all of us have at least one similarly thoughtful and compassionate friend in our lives.

My thoughts on a page.

I’m sure some of you have contenders, but I think it will be difficult to beat the one I received last year. It was given to me by a friend of mine after a very difficult year.

The year had begun with young Daniel coming home from hospital just before Christmas. He had been diagnosed with leukemia aged twelve years. On St Stephens Day he asked to have his hair shaved off as it was shedding due to his leukemia. It never again grew back.

During the awful year that followed there were huge lows and a couple of small highs. I was in contact on a daily basis with Daniels mom. Looking back it would appear that we shared more bad news than good, as we spoke or texted each other. I was a person who preferred to cry alone, but so regular were my tears that my family…

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Today is my 54th birthday. Not usually considered a milestone birthday, but it is a poignant one for me. Fifty-four is the perpetual age of my friend Angie.

Angie called us “October babes.”  She was born in 1950 and I in 1960.  It didn’t feel like we were ten years apart in age because we had children in the same grades in school, although – bonus for me – she also had a child who was two years ahead of my elder daughter in school, which meant that I had a preview of coming attractions.

We were different in a lot of ways. I’m 5′ 1.5″ and Angie told people she was 5′ 12″ because she thought it sounded less daunting than saying she was six feet.  Angie was raised in New York City and thought of our mutual home now as small.  I was raised in a New England town of 200, so our current hometown of 20,000 was as large as the city I traveled twenty miles each way to attend high school.  She was a trained artist and skilled in decorating and entertaining, with a great and quirky personal style, which included rocking her signature look – overalls. (Trust me – it was amazing.) I am not known for any of those things.  She had a great talent for storytelling, complete with different voices and accents for the characters.  I am better with the written word than the spoken word.  She had a vast array of friends in various circles of the community and was well-known, while I had far fewer friends and was more comfortable working behind the scenes.

We were, however, both personally dedicated to volunteering, and met when I joined a site-based decision-making team at our district middle school.  Angie had already been serving as one of three parent representatives and we quickly became friends.  She helped me navigate the surprisingly intricate educational world and introduced me to a lot of new people and ideas.

Even though she had many friends, she was near and dear to all of them.  She was a wonderful listener and a wise advisor. She was unfailingly kind and generous.  The kind of person everyone hopes to have in their life.

Because her husband was a doctor, she had many friends in the medical community, but had a heightened awareness of the possible health calamities that happen to people of various ages.  She talked about being worried about turning 50, because she had known so many people who succumbed to medical problems in that decade.  When she turned 49, I gave her a box with a penny from every year of her life, which meant that I gave it to her with fifty pennies in it, and the promise to give her a new penny each year on her birthday. I thought already having fifty pennies in the box might help ease her into her next birthday.

Within weeks of her 50th birthday, a nagging cough turned into a diagnosis of stage 3 lung cancer.

It was a shock.  Angie had never smoked, but through some combination of factors – growing up in a congested city when vehicles still used leaded gasoline? lung damage from infections? genetic vulnerability? secondhand smoke, as she was growing up before anyone had even thought of smoke-free rooms? – here she was with a frightening diagnosis.

Treatment was aggressive and achieved a remission. There was a big 50+1 birthday party, which served as a charity fundraiser.  But, as we all feared, there were metastases that developed and more treatment with some short breaks but then the next problem and the next round of radiation or chemo until finally around the time Angie turned 54, there was nothing else that could be done.

After the new year started, I began searching for a 2004 penny for her box.  We knew she would not live to see her 55th birthday and I hoped to get the penny to her while she was still able to realize it, but even the coin shops did not have them available so early in the year. Angie died in March.

When I found the penny later in the spring, I sent it to her husband to complete Angie’s box.

I still miss Angie and honor her memory. One of the ways I do that is by donating to the fund set up in her memory which raises money for scholarships and for the LUNGevity Foundation, which supports both lung cancer research and patients and their families.

Another way is to spread as much love as possible and to dedicate as much time as possible to caring about and serving others.

And for this year, Angie and I will both be 54.

When the Circle of Life Feels More Like a Box

A beautiful reflection on grief and friendship from a high school friend who has recently begun blogging.


IMG_439808736277A dear friend of mine lost his mother this week. The moments of death & grief unfold unexpectedly yet predictably. That is, not knowing when or how they will arrive, they will come. And as a close friend who, as any of us do, wants to help ease the pain, I realize such skill doesn’t always easily come. And maybe it’s not suppose to. I can think of no more solitary journey than that of grief. Being surrounded by love, family and friends cannot, nor should it, alleviate that sacred walk along immortality and mortality, finite and infinite. Life and death. We all breathe it everyday, witness it ad nauseum through news media which desensitizes us with over sensationalism giving little to no regard for the sanctity of life and death. And the most difficult observation while grieving is the harsh realization that life around us marches on. How is…

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