Browsing Tag


Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss

Proof of Loss.

January 12, 2015


beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sara Marchant.

When my husband comes home he walks right by the cradle in the laundry room, still drying from its hard scrubbing. His excitement makes him more unobservant than usual. He has news for me. He rushes in, past where I stand at the kitchen counter, already exclaiming before he sees what I am doing.

“The owners took me aside and gave me a raise. It’s supposed to be secret because I’m the only one. At their last meeting they discovered I’m responsible for 60% of the revenue and decided they should keep me happy.” His hands are on his hips. He is containing his exuberance.

“That’s great,” I say, genuinely happy but intent upon my task. “It’s about time.”

“Yeah,” he agrees and then looks up, I assume, for he goes very quiet. I am not looking directly at him, having turned back to my task on the counter. I sneak peeks at him from the corner of my eye as his silence continues. He is standing next to the dining room table he has appropriated for his ‘office.’ He has dropped his wallet, keys, and hat on the table, but stands staring at me. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing, motherhood


December 19, 2014


By Kelly Thompson.

The first time. The shock of being punched.

Walking down Nevada Avenue after an afternoon shopping. We look at fish tanks in a pet store. Greg is captivated by the angelfish and chooses two blue ones, a small tank, supplies; all are tucked into the baby stroller with Shawna in it; she reaches fat baby fingers to touch the fish before they are tucked away in the catch-all. The fish stare through big eyes – dart and dash about the plastic bubble.  The costliest purchase, a life-like resin castle, causes a brief disagreement.  I worry about the groceries it might replace and start to say something, but Greg shoots me a warning glance.  Later, when we get home and release the fish into the glass box, their bluish wings will flash like warnings as they weave between the swaying green plants, flit behind the castle turrets, disappear in its corners.

We buy ice cream; a Jimmy cone for me, Greg shares his banana split with the baby. She laughs. He gives her the cherry. We stroll by the park, a warm day. Sunshine. The trees are old and offer what must have been welcome shade on a hot summer day. I am surprised to see someone I was acquainted with in high school walking our way. He recognizes me, nods, and pauses, as if to talk. We say hello, have the briefest of conversations. Yes, this is my baby. My boyfriend Greg. Nice to see you. Take care. It seems there was a breeze blowing, caressing my hair. I always wore it long back then. I imagine I felt beautiful, carefree, the afternoon spent leisurely, my boyfriend and baby with me. A day as good as any I’d enjoyed with Greg. My naive ideas of romance, love, marriage, how to be a grownup, a mother, this must be what it looks like, are tumbling, jigsaw puzzle pieces, in the air.

The blow comes moments, seconds after the high school acquaintance has passed. His fist slams into my face. Who was that? What? Who was that? What? What? Who was he? John! I don’t even know him. From high school. What?

Disbelief. Followed by interrogation. I barely knew the guy who had been politely conversant as he passed us on the street. I might have last seen him in the halls of Palmer High School a year before, maybe less before I dropped out, a teenager displaced by unwed motherhood, to join Greg, a lost boy I met in a bowling alley, who grew up in foster homes, juvenile hall, abandoned by his mother. There is no discussion about our future. As soon as we meet, I’m his. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Pregnancy, The Hard Stuff

How to Get Through It.

December 4, 2014


By Jillian M. Phillips.

Step One

Two days after Christmas, realize your period is late. Triple-check the calendar, just to be sure. Ask a friend to drive you to the Planned Parenthood. When you get there, keep your head down, hoping no one you know sees you. You don’t want to explain that you’re neurotic about your flow and too poor to buy an eight-dollar pregnancy test.

When the doctor comes in and confirms that you’re pregnant, hide your smile. Try to appear appropriately distressed because you’re not married. Nod along to everything she says. Pretend that you are interested in “Options.” Accept every pamphlet gratefully and solemnly, as if each one contains a sacred promise.

When your friend drives you home, share the news with her. Allow her to see your joy, but don’t tell anyone else. You know how hard your life has been lately. Your rent is way overdue. You’ve received two disconnection notices from the power company. You don’t want people telling you that your baby is a mistake. You don’t want it to be a problem people tell you to fix. Rationalize that you have eight more months to be in a better apartment in a better neighborhood. Your boyfriend, X, has a new job. If you watch your budget carefully, you can save enough to get a nicer place.


Step Two

Write in your journal about how excited you are. You know this baby will be a boy. Name him Caleb. Picture him with black hair and gray-blue eyes. See him in your mind as a voracious reader with a contemplative nature. He will be a poet. He will have a strong will. He will speak softly, but firmly, and use literary quotes in everyday conversation.

Decide that you are unwilling to allow X any say in this pregnancy, because he will tell you to get rid of it. He’ll tell you that you are financially unstable, barely able to take care of yourself, not ready. Write in your journal that you will wait until your second trimester, when you can’t legally terminate the pregnancy. It’s only two months away. You can keep your mouth shut for that long.


Step Three

Call yourself an idiot for leaving your journal open on the kitchen table while you were cooking dinner. Curse your stupidity at not putting it away in your nightstand, where it belonged, instead of letting X find it. Now he knows you’re pregnant. He tells you exactly what you thought he would, and is even angrier because he knows you were planning to lie to him.

X tells you to “do what’s right.” He reminds you that you have always been Pro- Choice. Curse yourself again for not having strong enough faith in your religion to hide behind. You have no argument other than that you’ve already come up with a name. The moment you rolled the syllables around in your mouth and felt them on your tongue, pregnancy ceased to be an abstract concept. Caleb is no longer a scientific term— embryo, zygote—he’s a person to you.

Listen to X’s argument. Let him pace around the living room as he rants on and on that you can barely put food in your own mouths, let alone a child’s. In a self-satisfied, fuck-you tone of voice, tell him that you are planning to breastfeed, which negates his argument. Casually add that he was the one who didn’t put on a condom. This is his fault as much as yours. He ignores this. You always forget to take your pill on time. One simple thing and you can’t even do that. Mutter something about subconscious intentions.

Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Guest Posts, Pregnancy, The Hard Stuff

Sharing Your Worst.

December 1, 2014


By Anonymous.


They say everything happens for a reason- and I found that easier to believe for a while.

But I call bullshit. Sometimes the worst happens for no reason whatsoever.

My daughter is a deep empath. She absorbs all of the family stories, feels sad for Godzilla when the M.U.T.O.S. are getting the upper hand. When she was about five when she wanted to take every homeless person home with us, as we had plenty of good food. They could sleep on her floor, she offered, or in sleeping bags in the living room. When I tell her stories about my childhood and how my brothers were mean to me (I usually tell them because the stories are hilarious,) she feels terrible for me and wants to somehow make it better.

So I can’t publicly write about one thing that happened to me because I’m worried it will somehow hurt her. There’s this part of me, this protective mama instinct that wants me to keep the truly ugly shit from her. I want my daughter to grow up thinking that pregnancy should be healthy. That the stories she hears that happen to strangers couldn’t possibly happen to her. When I thought of writing about this before, I imagined her years down the road thinking of this story, having been told, and worrying through her own first pregnancy, “What if it happens to me?” Or worse, that she would spend her pregnancy feeling sad for me and my experience – because that’s how she’s wired. Maybe this is the wrong approach, but as I’ve found in parenting, this is seat of the pants instinct stuff, so I’m going with my gut on this one. Hence, the anonymous story.

So why write it at all? To work it through?

No. I made my peace with this-or as much peace as you can make with the truly bad things that happen in your life- years ago. But there’s another part of me that remembers how very alone I was when all of this happened. I had heard no other story like mine, had nothing to compare to or sympathize with. Aside from the nurses who worked at the place where I got the procedure done, and my mother, and my husband, there was no one to talk to about this. It took a few years before I even saw an article where this had happened to someone else. And I did write about it once, anonymously for Salon in an op-ed piece because they were going to make “late-term” abortions illegal in my state. And for a time, they did. And I would have had no help at all had this happened to us a few years later.

My husband and I had shacked up for a few years when he figured it would be a good idea to get married. I was working, he was working, we enjoyed our early marriage as we had our first years together and four years into our marriage we bought a house. All of our ducks were in a row, he had a profession that could support us both, it was time to have a baby. I had contracted Lyme disease- nowhere near its east coast origins and had just finished my course of antibiotics and at my doctor’s advice, had allowed a month to pass after that. It was time to give it a whirl. I got pregnant in the first month. My husband had wanted kids since he was small, I was a bit more apprehensive about the whole thing, but was thrilled nonetheless. We were twelve weeks in and everything looked fine, so we came out of the closet, sat on our sunny bed on a Sunday morning with the phone (back when they were attached to walls) and called everyone we wanted to share the news with. Everyone was thrilled. This was really happening. I got the standard blood tests and we celebrated Christmas with family and I was 14 weeks along. My belly was getting round and hard. My brother said, “Oh, I just thought you were getting fat.” The day after Christmas I got a phone call. My doctor said that something in my blood test said we should probably get an in-depth ultrasound and an amnio. The chances were small, but something was up. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, parenting, The Hard Stuff, There Are No Words To Describe This, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Deep Blue Secret.

August 10, 2014


By Deb Scott

I have to tell you my secret fast or I won’t tell it to you at all.

It is a secret that few people know, even all of you who think you know me.

Even my family, the ones who were there don’t know. I mean they know but I think they don’t let themselves remember.

The secret is about my daughter. My baby who died.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love, motherhood

What Is Gained After Insufferable Loss.

January 24, 2014


By Stacey Shannon.

I hide these tears from my husband and kids. It upsets the kids, unsettles them, to see me cry.  My husband, who loves me, but who never properly dealt with his own grief, is not able to respond to the quivering blob of bottomless need that replaces his normally stoic and capable wife each year at this time.  This upsets me–but then most everything upsets me right now.  I am short with my darling dears.  Then berate myself for not holding them close and treasuring them instead.  They are, after all, the babes God allowed me leave the hospital with.  

But, now, it’s a rainy Monday morning, my darling dears are at school, my husband, at work and I am on the couch, still fighting a stomach thing that has been dogging me for two weeks.  I call the doctor to explain the problem and as I am made to list and thus face, the pain, inconvenience and other indignities I’ve suffered for the last 10 days, it is too much, something snaps and the tears will not be stopped.

Who are these tears for?

They are for my raven-haired first born.  Why she was allowed to leave here without knowing how very much she was loved and wanted, I can’t comprehend.  When I think of the things she missed, that we missed as a family, I can only shake my head.  I’m sorry her last day on earth was spent on the surgeon’s table instead of in my arms.  I’m sorry I let them cut her satin skin and crank open her impossibly tiny chest.  I guess we made the only decisions we could at the time, but, now, knowing the outcome, I wish I had said “no” and spent her last days holding her warm little body, letting her feel my love for her. Covering her angel skin with mommy-kisses and tickling her tiny feet.  I would have rocked her and sang her all the lullabies I’d been storing away like so many Christmas ornaments wrapped in tissue paper.  I didn’t have the chance to do any of these things until it was all over. I hope she doesn’t hold it against me.

And, they are for me, the girl I used to be.  The girl I was 12 years ago who never believed, no matter what the doctors said, that my baby would not come home with me. I was the one reassuring everyone around me.  I was keeping every one’s hope afloat.  The possibility of my baby dying never once computed with me until it was all over.  It took us a year and half of trying, in earnest, to conceive her.  “God wouldn’t make us wait that long, give her to us, then take her back after 3 days.  Where is the sense in that?  Of course we will take her home, of course we will.  She will come through this day-long surgery just fine and we will take her home.  This is just another test–He just wants to see how much we want her.”  That girl? The one who was so sure she understood the order of the universe? She doesn’t exist anymore.  And I miss her.  I cry for her broken heart, as I would cry for anyone else’s.  She left a piece of her heart back there in that bitter and grey January.  I see it now, that lost piece of her heart, as one sees the broken bits of muffler in the rear-view mirror as the car it was once an important part of,  inexplicably, continues to chug on down the interstate.

I keep a list in my head of all sorts of things I lost in that moment.   Topping the list: consciousness.  I’m pretty sure, as the surgeon came into the waiting room and said, “I’m sorry folks….”, that I passed out, perhaps for only a few seconds as I slid, sweating and shaking, out of my chair and onto the floor –I was 3 days post-partum, wounded and bleeding, and I remember thinking, “Why does this shit always happen to me?”

I lost all faith in God. Fear not, Readers Dear, the Big Guy and I are tight these days.  But in that moment: I was done.  I hated Him and I was convinced He hated me.  The spiritual rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet, and it took many tears and alot of time before I was able to put my world view right again.

I lost a future.  To best explain what I mean,  I can only say that I spent much of my mental energy reconciling what existed with what I thought my existence would be.  These moments of reconciliation would come upon me in many places.  In the grocery store, I would look down at the empty seat in the shopping cart and think, “there should be a baby there.”  At Christmas I delighted in my little 1 1/2 year old niece, who was such a comfort to me, then sneak out of the room to dab at my eyes, because my baby should have been there in a pretty Christmas dress to match her cousin’s.  At support group I broke down, sobbing, saying, “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here.”  The other ladies there, also grieving, rushed to reassure me that I did indeed belong there.  My friend Donna, who gained her own understanding of the situation the hard way, gently explained my tears to the others saying, “She means she shouldn’t be HERE because she should be home taking care of her baby.”  Rocking and clutching my sides, I could only nod and sniffle.  “None of us should be here.”, said another girl, and she, of course, was right.

I didn’t know it then, but in that moment was the beginning of the end of a friendship.  I had a friend at the time, who, having chosen to be child-free, simply was not able to relate to my grief.  She made me, if you can believe it’s possible, even more miserable than I already was. Let me tell you, there are few things more pitiful in this world than a young mother with aching, empty arms.  She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t shoulder her unending problems and listen to her go on and on.  AND, BE FUNNY!  She actually asked me, “Where did my friend Stacey go?”  If we had been in the same room I probably would have, well, I don’t know what I would have done.  As it was, I spat out across the phone lines, “HER.   BABY.   DIED!”  The words tasted like bile and I couldn’t believe I had to actually vomit them out for her.  Eventually, I learned, as I hope anyone who survives a life trauma learns, that I had to show her my back as I turned to face those who did “get me.”

I am happy to report, when I look back on that time, I believe I gained, if not more, than, at least as much as, I lost.  The PA Posse as an example, (read “Wine for My Horses, Chocolate for My Girls” to learn more about the Posse)  and other new relationships. New character traits: strength, patience, peace, etc..  And, a close, personal relationship with my new boyfriends:  Ben and Jerry.   I’ve never been fond of the whole “when God closes a window He opens a door, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah”.  The universal, mathematical  truth of it is that once a vacuum is formed, it will soon be filled.

We all lose our innocence. If we are lucky, we gain wisdom in it’s stead.

Click photo to connect with Stacey Shannon.

Click photo to connect with Stacey Shannon.

Stacey’s first daughter, Faith, would be 14 years old this month.  In the space created between then and now, she and her husband have been blessed (through much blood, sweat and tears) with another daughter, age 10, and a son, age 8, who was the sweetest of surprises.
Stacey Shannon is a life-long reader/amateur writer whose most exciting accomplishment, before today, was to have been chosen as a finalist in Real Simple Magazine’s First Ever Simply Stated Blog Contest in 2011. To see her entry:
She is president of her children’s PTO and is her church’s librarian. She has been married to her first husband for twenty-one years, and is the mother of two school-age children, both budding writers.  You can find her blog at:
Join Jen Pastiloff in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015.

Join Jen Pastiloff in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Little Seal, There Are No Words To Describe This

That Which Brings Me To You. By Jen Pastiloff.

October 6, 2011

This is an older piece I wrote almost 3 years ago. Ronan passed away peacefully on Thursday, Feb. 15th at about 3:30 am in Santa Fe. He was surrounded by friends and family. 

October 6, 2011. Which Brings Me To You.

That which brings me to you. Here I am in Santa Fe, sitting on a love seat. Next to me, a sweet baby is propped up on pillows as I write, drool sliding down his chin, eyelids heavy and soft, purring like a cat every so often. A sweet dying baby.

Which brings me to you. It caught my eye, that book on the shelf in the office converted into bedroom, equipped with an air mattress for me on the floor.

Tay Sachs is that which brings me to you.  A dying baby is that which brings me to you, Santa Fe.

Ronan with his mom’s book Poster Child across his chest

It is cold here. Colder than I expected. There is an energetic shift in my bones that I recall from many autumns in New Jersey and New York. As if the person within the person of me comes out and takes over during this time. The person wears my clothes and looks like me. She is a more somber and introspective, melancholy. The light patterns change, the air demands attention and the sky meets you at the front door as you open it for a moment of season. They get season here, whereas L.A. lacks that. I appreciate the season as it demarcates the eras of my life. Without them, my life becomes one long weekend. Such is life in L.A.

The season here, however, is the same it has been since Ronan’s diagnosis.  I can tell the weather in their little adobe house has been winter dark for the last 9 months. December dark. Losing light at 4:30 pm and dead trees kind of dark.

Ronan is peaceful. He doesn’t know what is happening to him. It is hard for me to conceptualize that soon, could be months, could be a year or more, he won’t be anymore.

Right now he sits next to me in a plaid shirt, sitting in what looks like a lotus position, and just is.

I sound like such a yoga teacher when I say that. He just is. He doesn’t fuss except when he is very tired or his head flops over to one side, which it does quite often. His presence is comforting, the knowing he is sitting there next to me, like a fat baby Buddha making little hiccuppy noises every few minutes. He’s here now. In time, a short time, he won’t be. The mathematics of this equation refuses to register in my head. He’s here now and everything feels good on this brown couch. The rise and fall of his chest is a reminder of what is constant in the world, of kisses and baby things and deep full breaths of mountain air after you’ve been trapped in a dirty city way too long. He is so peaceful it is hard to imagine that with his death will come such an uprising, such pain, such a loss, that the word peace will have long left the English vocabulary.

The word ‘peace’ will be come extinct along with ‘fairness’.

It is colder than I imagined here. We went out to breakfast today with Ronan to Mavens. Emily, with her one leg, was one of the most dedicated yogis (and spin class addicts) I had ever met, and right away I knew I would be her friend. It was fast like that. Love at first sight, if you will.

At Mavens, I had a traditional Mexican breakfast of sorts and while Emily went to the restroom I snapped 15 pictures of Ronan with my iPhone. I pretend that if I take a lot of pictures and write about him enough that he won’t ever stop existing. A friend of mine emailed me yesterday and told me to “steal away a little of their pain.”

I wish I could.

Ronan gets startled easily. I crack my knuckles, a nasty non-yogic habit. A dirty disgusting habit I acquired at eight years old  when my dad died, in an effort to be like him. I crack my knuckles and Ronan startles. He may be dying but his intuition is still spot on. He cries when he is tired or hungry or annoyed or I crack my knuckles. I should stop doing it in honor of him.

His face is stunningly beautiful. So much so, that yesterday at a coffee shop in Santa Fe with Emily, I told her that maybe he was an angel. Corny, I know. The face of an angel  stares back at you when you look at this baby. No judgement, no fear, no lines of pain and a life lived, just beauty and quiet contentment.

We went into town while he was napping and looked at the chile shops and turquoise. I bought chile fudge and a watermelon juice and some dragon leggings. They have literal dragons breathing fire on them. It felt apropos.

Nothing makes sense so why shouldn’t I buy dragon tights and a watermelon juice on a freezing day?

I used to think perfect didn’t exist. Not the word, not even the idea of something so without faults that there was no room for growth or improvement. It does exist. He is sitting next to me. Whining just a little, so I know he is here. He won’t improve or grow. This moment is who he will be forever in my mind. He is perfect.

I felt embarrassed after my meltdown at the airport when they wouldn’t let me on my flight. I had thrown a fit. I went into a rage. Now as I sit here on this cold Santa Fe day, as Emily is teaching her university freshman writing class, I realize that I was right to fly into a rage. I get to have this moment on this couch, in this room, all by myself with a perfect purring baby. I was robbed many moments when I was rerouted to Dallas. I want those moments back.

Emily and Rick’s whole life is going to be filled with wanting those moments back. With wishing to never have gotten rerouted. I know I threw into that rage for them. I was indeed trying to take just a little of their pain away.

I sit here with Ronan as he snores lightly. It is a calming sound, one I could listen to forever, knowing Ronan was right here.

Rick comes and takes him to feed him his lunch. Ronan smiles slightly, but it’s there. A smile. He is still here. He can purr and cry and smile every so often. The science fiction like reality of what is happening to him is still far enough way, locked outside in the October New Mexico sky, pummeled to smithereens by his ability to still smile at his daddy.

That which brings me to you is death, yes.

But that which brings me to you is also your life, sweet Ronan. It is your presence in the world, which right now, at this moment, is as spectacular as a million meteor showers as you lie on your back outside and watch the night explode into light.


Ronan passed away peacefully on Thursday, Feb. 15th at about 3:30 am in Santa Fe. He was surrounded by friends and family. In March of 2014, Emily and soon-to-be husband Kent Black welcomed Charlotte Mabel Eliot Black into the world.


There Are No Words To Describe This

Little Seal.

October 4, 2011

The following is a copy of my dear friend Emily Rapp’s blog post. I felt compelled to share it on my blog because I want each and every one of you to read it. Read it and share it. And share it again. I am flying to Santa Fe in an hour to be with them. Stay tuned for my own words on my trip, although they may just be empty and filled with air. 

Look at Ronan's sweet little hands


The Weight of Things  (originally published in The Nervous Breakdown)

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we

may see and remark, and say Whose? – Walt Whitman, from “A child asks, what is the grass?”


I am kneeling in the garage, sorting through a black garbage bag stuffed with Ronan’s outgrown baby clothes. I have promised to give them away to a friend of a friend who knows a friend who is raising a little boy on her own. I want to do this good deed; it makes me feel good to think about trotting off to the post office with a taped up box full of clothes for this woman I’ll never meet, a boy I’ll never know. But as I sort through the onesies printed with dogs and dinosaurs and stars, a green onesie with “Organic Baby” printed over the outline of a leaf; a cream-colored onesie with “I Am a Magical Child” printed in cursive over a picture of a unicorn and a dragon; a shirt that reads “Mr. Happy” and that I remember Ronan wearing on a day when he screamed for 24 hours straight; tie-dyed onesies with matching hats and missing socks and hand-me-down onesies and bear and lion and jungle animals onesies; blue and yellow t-shirts covered in stripes and stars and balloons; a fox sleeper in the orange, white and black colors of my junior high cheerleading outfit (foxes are an underused animal on little boy baby clothes); tiny striped shorts and long pants with more puppies and pandas; jean jackets and Osh Kosh overalls and corduroy jeans and cargo pants (what does a baby do with pockets?); the Pooh t-shirt with matching Pooh pants (yes, there was a poop joke); shirts that say “Doggone Fun” and “Surfer Baby” and “Handsome Like Daddy” and “There’s a Nap in my Future” and button-up shirts and polo shirts in different shades and textures and patterns and prints; a pale yellow cotton one-piece with a collar and a fire engine stitched on with a door that actually opens and closes, real snaps at the neck, even a little fabric flap for the firehouse dog who is wearing a red hat (this last outfit belonged to my brother), I shut the plastic bag and weep. I feel as though I have just peered into the deep pit of a grave. I can picture Ronan in every little outgrown outfit: the skinny-legged, newly born red-faced alien Ronan; the round bowling ball face five- and then six-month Ronan; the one-year-old Ronan with the light already fading, just a bit, from his eyes. The floppy toddler Ronan who is now double the size of these clothes and dying fast from Tay-Sachs, this ridiculous disease with no treatment and no cure. I could not give them away. Not yet. I’m not ready to let those clothes loose to live another life on another baby’s body. I’m not ready to even let them out of the bag, as if they are dangerous and if released might wing away and wound someone. I want them for myself. I want to get in the bag and eat the clothes like some starving animal, some desperate creature. I scold myself: these are just things, nothing more. Just objects, and, even more importantly, items other people need. I still can’t do it.

This is a sentimental moment, I guess. On a sympathy card there might be a bunny, a lovely, red-and-gold painted sunset, the dark silhouette of a bird flying over a beach, a shiny horse running free, a dreamcatcher and a hawk doing something symbolic. I don’t like this moment with the clothes any more than I like sympathy cards or funerals, which so easily and lustily dip into sentimentality. I feel dangerous, churning. This sentimentality masks a deep and terrible rage. Bunnies=Rage. The murderous kind, the bite-your-lip-until-it-bleeds kind, the kind of anger that makes you exhausted and yet howling for more, like a belly that can never be filled. The only appropriate card for this moment, on my knees in the garage, is an empty one, maybe one that screams when you open it – one great, long keen. Some deep-noted dirge; some furious, melancholic song full of discord and drums. The responses I found most satisfying – like a bell ringing out the hour — after Ronan’s diagnosis were these: I am so angry; I am thinking of you with grief and rage; I don’t even know what to say I am so angry; it is so unfair; I am sick to my stomach with sadness and anger; BLOODY UNFAIR!; I LOVE YOU and also, WHAT THE FUCK? RAGE! Sympathy cards are about as useless as candy cigarettes – just give me the real thing. I’d so much rather have an email that says something brutal and terrible and true than a sympathy card made of special-grade parchment and that’s soft to the touch, even the edges gently serrated and decorated with loathsome, uniform birds (there is a standard sympathy card bird; it’s like clip art) flying peacefully into the distance and a super shitty rhyming poem inside. (I do not even dare type them here for fear of expanding their odious reach.) I’d rather have this poem, “Matins,” by Louise Gluck, which is the one that comes to mind while I’m bawling into a plastic bag full of Ronan’s old clothes. I look it up later:

You want to know how I spend my time?

I walk the front lawn, pretending

to be weeding. You ought to know

I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling

clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact

I’m looking for courage, for some evidence

my life will change, though

it takes forever, checking

each clump for the symbolic

leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already

the leaves are turning, always the sick trees

going first, the dying turning

brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform

their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?

As empty now as at the first note.

Or was the point always

to continue without a sign?

Why can’t that poem, that little missile of grief, come printed in a card? I’d happily weep over it or frame it or burn it up in some meaningful ritual fire. When I open the pastel envelopes and see the birds and the sunsets and the birds scrolling into the gentle sunset, I chuck them straight away. I don’t even wait to see who sent them and I don’t care if this is cruel.

Who knows if I would feel so unaccountably devastated about giving away outgrown baby clothes if Ronan were not dying. I know plenty of moms who’ve blubbered as they’ve sorted through baby clothes; even if their child is a teenager, sulking grumpily in his man cave and playing video games and trying to watch porn or smoke pot when his parents aren’t looking. In any case, the baby stage is lost, gone for good.

And yes, they are just clothes, but just as the body carries physical and psychic weight, so do things: a favorite shirt of the beloved, obvious objects like wedding rings, but also random things given and received: a map my best friend made for me ten years ago that shows me the way from the train station to her house; the lyrics of a song written on a napkin that I sang at her wedding outside London, the paper growing damp and gooey in my sweaty palm; my DUKE sweatshirt that I stole from someone’s brother in high school and wore superstitiously for four years during finals week; a creamy flowered blouse that reminds me of France and a steamy night spent necking in a Strasbourg car park with that blouse in a pretty ball on the floor. Mouse-sized menorahs and engraved cigarette holders found in the corners of tenements and on display now under glass at the Tenement Museum in New York City, precious items that were tucked into underwear or satchels or shoes and that crossed continents and made it through the gauntlet line of checkers at Ellis Island (early, less technologically advanced versions of today’s snarky TSA agents) to be found, decades later, abandoned, in a corner. And things mattered more then, too, because people had fewer of them. Things are charged, they act as gateways, and we want to believe they give us access to the person who once inhabited them. We want to believe that they are doors to other worlds, portals to unknown stories that we intuit even if we don’t know them for certain or for sure. I have a cheap dress – blue polyester with red and white piping on the bottom and the sleeves – that puts me chain smoking in my office in Geneva on a blazing hot spring morning, the view across the garden thick with pink blossoms. My Doc Marten boots were my Ireland boots, trekking boots; I literally wore them out, the back soles were finished. When my mom was given her mother’s old cameo necklace from her cousin when we visited her farmhouse in Kansas on one of our summer cross country trips, she said “Oh,” almost mutely, amazed, her eyes filling as she turned the necklace over in her hands like a piece of delicate lace. I saw her seeing it on her mother’s throat, her mother who had been dead for 40 years and had been given this piece of jewelry, now falling apart, by an old boyfriend that was not my mother’s father, who was also dead. I restrung the necklace and wore it at my wedding to Rick. Things matter, things endure when people and relationships do not. Things: simply lasting, then/failing to last: water, a blue heron’s/eye, and the light passing/between them: into light all things/must fall, glad at last to have fallen. (from “Things,” by Jane Kenyon).

In Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, David Eagleman’s stunning, playful, and at times devastating book, he imagines all sorts of after-death scenarios: comical, heart-wrenching, unfair, unbelievable, wonderful. Here’s a snippet from Graveyard of the Gods, one of my favorites:

You begin to realize that the gift of immortality applies to things we created, as well. The afterlife is full of cell phones, mugs, porcelain knickknacks, business cards, candlesticks, dartboards. Things that were destroyed – cannibalized naval ships, retired computers, demolished cabinetry – all return in full form to enjoy and furnish the hereafter. Contrary to the admonition that we cannot take it with us, anything we create becomes part of our afterlife. If it was created, it survives.

Just after I turned fourteen, when we were moving from Wyoming to Nebraska, before my parents found a house to buy we stayed in rented rooms at the top of an old museum attached to Bethphage Mission, a residential home for mentally retarded adults, although I believe they were in the process of changingretarded to delayed. The museum had clearly not been visited in years, maybe decades, because although it was of historical interest, I can’t imagine anyone pulling first off the interstate and then off the dirt road to learn about the history of nursing care when this facility had been a straight-up mental asylum and not an assisted living home. And if they did, they’d be out of luck, because the museum was apparently open for exactly one hour each week, when the door was simply propped open with an old book. There was no entrance fee and anyone could have taken off with what was inside: mannequins with 1960s beehives modeling nurse’s outfits from the 1940s that glittered with dust when the hazy fall light fell through the dirty windows; cobwebs stretched across pointy chests as if they were part of the fabric pattern or bras worn on the outside of blouses. Old shoes – once-white clodhopper nursing shoes, one pair of fancy lace-up boots, a pair of square-toed, ratty heels – were piled in a corner. Carefully I roamed through those empty rooms, walking slowly through the bones of those other stories, scaling some falling-apart ladder of time. I felt I should hush my footsteps although I was alone, as if I were disturbing the things, which might have a life of their own. The rooms felt populated. A few windows were open and the air was typical of autumn in the Midwest – crisp and expectant, things turning and falling and changing – but no season was going to penetrate these unvisited and neglected rooms. You had to stick your nose out the window like a dog riding in a car to get a whiff. My breath practically echoed. I walked in the museum to scare myself, as a distraction from other concerns. “What are you DOING?” I’d hear my mom call from the top of the stairs leading up to our “residence.” I was fourteen; I ignored her. “We’re having beef stroganoff for dinner,” she called into the silence. “You’ve got ten minutes,” she said, and I heard the door click shut.

There were books and made-up beds, and a “model” of a room where “treatments” had been administered. An old wooden cabinet marked with a sign that read “surgical tools,” had apparently been plundered. The creepiness of the museum almost made it impossible for me to sleep above it; I was certain that all those things down there were alive. Those mannequins moved I told my dad. At night they walk around and do stuff! The feet of one of them moved an entire inch! I measured! The other story was that someone was outside in the prairie, a stolen scalpel in one hand, preparing to run up the stairs and plunge it into our unsuspecting hearts, one by one. Who would ever find us in the middle of nowhere Nebraska at the top of a museum that was NEVER OPEN? We never saw a single resident, as the museum faced the street and the “campus” was on the other side of the building. This was the end; I just knew it. We were toast. My middle-of-the night histrionics were draining my parents’ energy and robbing them of sleep. “You’re not a child!” my dad said, exasperated, all other logic having failed to convince me that we weren’t about to meet some inevitable and gruesome end. “Don’t let your imagination run away with you!” But run off it did, and I went with it. The need to find a house gained greater urgency.

I also got my period for the first time in the cold, institutional-feeling bathroom attached to our “rooms” (two twin beds in three plain, identical-looking rooms); and so I’d walk around, fingering the outfits on the mannequins, smelling the cold dust, slowly eating peanut M and Ms from a one pound bag, feeling the inside of my body buck and kick in a way that was painful but not wholly unfamiliar. I was a woman now, apparently, for whatever that was worth. In one dim corner of the museum, on a slightly raised stage stood an old-school crib with rockers on the bottom and a faded, ruffled top. Displayed on nearby tables were yellowed baptismal gowns, tissue-paper-thin, with matching hats, puffy like the tops of muffins, that were worn by some baby long ago, a baby who had lived and died probably hundreds of years before I walked by munching chocolate and bleeding. I sat in the empty, claw-footed bathtub and wrote mournful letters to my friends in Wyoming and yelled at my parents through the door. Then I got mono and slept in the car while my parents shuffled in and out of potential houses. Much to everyone’s relief, I no longer wanted to move or haunt what I was sure were those haunted rooms full of haunted things. Things with life, things with stories, things that breathed in their own lifeless yet very real way.

Things, things, things. I am a collector of things. I have a storage room full of books, a box full of artificial legs, old cotton cloth Esprit bags full of scattered photos from junior high, me sitting in clumps of girls at pizza parties and sleepovers, sticking out my chest in an effort to look busty and gregarious. (I was flat-chested and miserable). At least ten jewelry boxes stuffed with cheap and ruined jewelry, rhinestones and crystals and rusty charms shaped like tigers and elephants. Boxes of letters and three boxes of all the cards I got as a kid when I was in the hospital. A box of prom dresses and bridesmaids dresses, more boxes full of journals and math workbooks and yearbooks and notes that I passed and that were passed to me in junior high and high school. Someday, when my parents move out of their house and clean out their basement for good, I’ll have to reckon with my pack-rattish self. But not yet.

Since Ronan’s diagnosis six months ago I have begun adorning myself: a ring for every finger, an engagement ring that was my husband’s grandmother’s; a wedding ring from the same year – 1932 – that Rick and I found in a pawn shop in Los Angeles and that fit me perfectly – “a princess fit!” the saleslady cried gleefully, and the Cinderella sound of that pleased me; the claddagh ring I bought the day I arrived in Dublin in 1994 for five Irish pounds, pre-Euro; the ring my mother gave me for college graduation, interlocking loops of Celtic knots; a ring that says joy love hope recently purchased at an airport shop in Phoenix, hoping the words would rub off the silver and into my skin; a ring that’s a long sheath of silver with slits where the skin shows through; a dragon ring for my thumb. Around my neck a locket with Ronan’s hair and a picture of his face tucked inside, his birth date 3/24/10 engraved on the back below his cursive name, a gift from my mother for Mother’s Day. A silk chord swinging with my box of holy dirt, my Buddha, my Santa Nino charm from Chimayo, New Mexico, my power animal gorilla charm that a friend retrieved with a bobby pin when it fell off its chain and down a drain in Palm Springs. I want to close things around my wrists, shackle my hands. I need to feel weighted, close to earth, anchored. I don’t want to want to leave it.

Things matter, things count. I took the last/dusty piece of china/out of the barrel./It was your gravy boat/with a hard, brown/drop of gravy still/on the porcelain lip./I grieved for you then/as I never had before. “What Came to Me,” Jane Kenyon

In Spain, at a two-week writing residency in June, my leg develops an annoying squeak. I take off the piece that covers the knee, clean it of dust and dirt, put it back again, it still squeaks. I leave it off although it rips up the covering hose and any long pants I might wear. It looks like a cat has been at me, perhaps the two that fight horribly every night outside my window after dinner, their battle meows like human screams. I let the hose and pants rip; I’m tired of making noise when I walk through the silent farmhouse rooms with their black and white checkered floors that smell of lemons and foreign bleach. When I look down at my knees there’s a big sticker on the end of the metal knee that warns DO NOT TAMPER WITH. The knee cover seems to weigh ¼ of an empty coffee mug if my hands are accurate scales. Franz Kafka, skinny insomniac, on August 31, 1920, a Tuesday, went to a doctor in Prague and wrote “neither he nor the scales find me improved.” We weigh and tweak and size up. Decision-making language.

The Swiss sweep the homes of their citizens each year and count bullets to be sure the weapons haven’t been fired by any members of the peaceful, civilian army; the neutral moderators of the neutral army take out the neutral bullets and hold the neutral bits of steel in their hands. In 1994 a piece of a Viking ship was found near my apartment building in Dublin, which meant one less crane would be obscuring the skyline as the archeologists arrived with their books and enthusiasm, their special shovels and precision tools. There’s a pool of dark and tepid water in a wet well in Dublin castle that has been sitting there since A.D. was in the single digits. In one legendary story, Mary Shelley was given Byron’s dehydrated heart – by then a handful of powdery dust – in an envelope. In Victorian times you didn’t send a letter to your beloved through the post, you sent a lock of your snipped hair, like a pressed flower or a leaf plucked from a tree. The world of things seems to make people accessible; it’s what hierophany is all about, stones and other natural objects as portals to another world, another life. For a full year after my divorce I drove around with my engagement ring freed from my finger and rattling around in the glove compartment of my car before I felt ready to pawn it with a friend at my side at a seedy, sprawling shop in South Austin that I’d driven by three times in the previous six months. Once I actually managed to enter the parking lot and park for a minute before driving away. The ring was small and light and made me enough money to get my first small tattoo, a tiny, colorful flower carved in a place I hoped my mother would never see it.

Things. We adorn, we bedeck, we festoon. We search and select gifts for our beloved. I saw this and thought of you. A ring from Paris, a scarf from Wisconsin, a hand-knit sweater with your name on a tag stitched inside, a tattoo sleeve stretching from shoulder to wrist. A clutch of coins from countries you’ve visited, currency that’s useless in your own country that you can chuck into a big plastic bin for charity in airports in Madrid, London, Berlin. Marks, shekels, pounds, euros, francs, pence, lire, Canadian dollars.

When I see a mother walking on the arroyo path near my home in Santa Fe with her baby in the front pack I think she’s what, maybe eleven pounds? The premature nine-month-old twin girl in Ronan’s swimming class weighs seven pounds. The woman who sat next to me during a turbulent plane ride in the 90s, back when flying absolutely terrified me, said, “It’s virtually impossible for these planes to fall out of the sky. They weigh too much to fall.” (Too big to fail!) An artificial leg weighs between ten and fifteen pounds; an artificial foot weights about four or five; the “model” legs (like model homes) that are lined up along the walls of a prosthetist’s office are often lighter, the ones that hang from straps and pulleys in the back rooms, the ones for real people, are the weight they should be and of course these weights range – they are as individual as the people who wear them. When I was 18 I weighed 95 pounds; when I was breastfeeding Ronan I weighed 110 pounds; in Geneva I weighed 132 pounds; when I was married the first time (and the second time) I weighed 118 pounds. Now I weigh 120 pounds. Ronan weighed 6.5 pounds when he was born, and doubled his weight within the first three weeks of life. Now he weighs almost 24 pounds. An earthquake kit has water bottles, a transistor radio, a bright orange vest, energy bars, and weighs about 6 or 7 pounds. A baby tooth is practically weightless. When bald 6.5 pound Ronan was weighed next to a 12 (!) pound baby with a full head of hair at Cedars-Sinai in his first 24 hours of life he looked miniscule, a little terrified worm unearthed from the ground. When my St. Bernard hit 85 pounds the vet put him on a diet. A bag of outgrown baby clothes weighs 5.4 pounds. Grief weighs nothing but you still have to drag it around.


Emily and I last May

EMILY RAPP is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir. A former Fulbright scholar, she was educated at Harvard University, Saint Olaf College, Trinity College-Dublin, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She has received awards and recognition for her work from the Atlantic Monthly, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation, the Jentel Arts Foundation, the Corporation of Yaddo, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Valparaiso Foundation. She was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University and has received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Sun, The Bark, The Texas Observer, Body & Soul, Good Housekeeping, and many other publications. She has taught writing in the MFA program at Antioch University-Los Angeles, where she was a Core Faculty member, UCLA Extension, the University of California-Riverside Palm Desert Graduate Program, the Taos Writers’ Workshop, and the Gotham Writers’ Workshops. She is currently professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently at work on a novel and a new memoir,Dear Dr. Frankenstein, which chronicles her life with her infant son, who is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. Excerpts from the book can be found at and you can visit her at