These are stories of my daughter, Emma, lost to suicide at the tender age of 17. I refuse to allow Emma, or our lives together, to be defined by this single desperate act. I’m starting this blog to restore the memory, image by image, story by story, of that wonderful, delightful person that I knew. A person who brought me unparalleled joy - the kind of joy you can only bring others when you feel it yourself.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Happy New Year
Saturday, January 2, 2021
The Big 6-0 is Coming!
My 60th birthday is approaching fast. I had hoped this might be the year that I got to celebrate a decade unencumbered by grief or traumatic life events. When I turned 30, we were struggling with infertility and our birthdays were just a cruel reminder that life wasn't going according to the plan. My 40th birthday was tainted by the death of my father six months earlier and an ill-advised surgery my 84 year-old mom scheduled for the week of (maybe even the day of?) my birthday. My daughter died a year and a half before my 50th birthday, followed by my mom just 14 months later. I was desperately sad and at sea that birthday. I didn't even want to acknowledge I was having a birthday and celebrating was out of the question.
I guess that was why I was looking forward to celebrating my 60th birthday in a big way. I wanted to break my decade birthday curse. Peter's birthday is two months before mine, so I was thinking we could have a joint party or take a special trip somewhere relaxing, or adventurous, or exotic. But 2020 put a halt to our planning before we even really got started and by the the fall of 2020, we had to wave the white flag. There would be no big celebration or birthday trips. COVID-19 was going to temporarily rob us of those opportunities. Already feeling the certainty of my curse, I had no inkling of what else 2020 had to throw at me before January 11, 2021 rolled around.
First, it slammed me with the second C - cancer. On November 2, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer. It sounds pretty bad and I was quite scared until the breast surgeon talked me through my pathology report and options. The cancer was caught very early and my prognosis is excellent. Nonetheless, I will be spending my 60th birthday readying myself to begin radiation treatments, instead of for a celebration. Really 2020? You had me at COVID.
And then, another loss. My father-in-law passed away on December 17. Because of COVID, he died alone in a nursing home without the comfort of the soothing voice and warm touch of a loved one. We know this is a common story, but that doesn't make it easier. Like so many families this year, we will have to travel through the fraught territory of regret to be able to find our way to grief. My father-in-law had a really big milestone birthday approaching, too. He was to turn 90 at the end of January. Before he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in mid-November, we felt certain we would have the opportunity to celebrate that important birthday with him. Now we will be remembering him and bidding him farewell on that day with a virtual memorial service.
This past decade, accentuated by the horrors of this past year, has helped me accept that, especially as we get older, loss, illness and struggle are as much a part of the milestones we have reached as are graduations, marriages, births, adventures, and accomplishments. I don't believe everything happens for a reason. In fact, I loathe that expression. Emma's death was senseless. The way my father-in-law died was tragic. I will never believe my cancer is serving some grand purpose. I do believe, however, that we grow in important ways from what we learn about ourselves and others as we go through hard times. Over the last ten years, I have been comforted by the resilient spirits of Peter and Sarah and surprised by my own resilience. The pain of the losses I have experienced are still with me every day, but I have learned to use that pain in ways that are productive - to fuel a sense of purpose, to support others through loss, and to appreciate joyful moments. I have been blessed with new and growing friendships that are characterized by authenticity and deep connections; and I have re-connected with people with whom I had lost touch. I have come really far in the last ten years and I am able to look ahead to the future with optimism, despite the bad things that have happened. As I hit the big 6-0 that's what I want to focus on; not the growing older, but the growing.
Before I sign off, I want to share two more thoughts. First, don't let COVID keep you from getting important health screenings that are due. Sure, put off less important routine care, and certainly put off elective care; but if you are due for a mammogram, breast ultrasound, colonoscopy or other important screenings, go get them. My journey with cancer is going to be so much easier because we caught it early.
Second, despite everything 2020 has hurled at me and my family this year, and I've only shared a smattering of it here, I know we're still amongst the lucky ones. Low income communities and communities of color, like those served by Horizons at New Canaan Country School, the organization that I lead, have been disproportionately affected by illness, hospitalization, death, and financial hardship due to COVID-19. Early in the pandemic I had to worry about how I would get my food, but I never worried about whether I would have food. When I'm tempted to complain about being stuck at home, I remind myself how lucky I am not to be in danger of losing my home. Imagine being a child or a caregiver and trying to focus on school and learning when these things are weighing heavy on your mind. Long after the vaccine has beaten COVID-19 into submission, our families will be struggling to re-build their lives after this devastation. We are determined to be by their side every step of the way.
So, if you feel like helping me celebrate my birthday, here are two things you can do that would make me genuinely happy: make an appointment for any health screenings that are due, and make a contribution to Horizons at New Canaan Country School.
As for me, I will be looking forward to celebrating 61 in 2022, when I hope I to be wrapped in comforting memories of lost loved ones and have COVID and cancer largely in the rear view mirror.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
2020 Scholarship Recipients
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
AKR, as I like to call her, has a habit of writing to authors when she finishes a book they have written, so I thought she would appreciate a note from me with my reflections on her book. While I was still at the beach, I looked up the book's website that was shared on the cover, but the website couldn't be found. Next I tried AKR's website that was also shared in the book. Again, I got the message "website cannot be found." I concluded that this was the fault of poor cell service, typed some notes on my phone to remind me what I wanted to say to her, and decided to try again at home.
When I got home I tried both the book's and AKR's website addresses again with no luck. Were both the websites down? How weird. I googled her name and when I saw the first entry my heart stopped - "Amy Krouse Rosenthal Obituary." Obituary?! She's dead?! My friend is dead?! I felt a lump grow in my throat and tears begin to well in my eyes. How could this be?!
In her obituary I read about a column AKR had written that was published in the NYT, titled "You May Want to Marry My Husband." She had written the article as a love letter and Valentine's gift to her husband when it was clear that she was going to lose her battle to ovarian cancer at age 51. I remember hearing this touching story on NPR back in 2017 when the article was first published, but I had not connected that author to the author whose book had totally absorbed, entertained and moved me. She had inspired me to strike up a conversation, but it was too late. She was gone.
I have not been able to shake the desire to have that correspondence, so I'm just going to have it here. AKR, here's what I wanted to tell you:
1. I found it very affirming to read that you share my fear and distrust of escalators. My family is particularly fond of the movie Elf because the escalator scene is just a small exaggeration of the routine I go through when I mount and dismount an escalator. I completely distrust the toothed monster at the entrance and exit of every escalator and make sure that I step way over its mouth as I get on and off so that it doesn't reach up and snatch my foot in its teeth. I love amusement park rides of all shapes and sizes but, damn, escalators are scary!
2. I sympathize with your inability to remember which side your gas tank is on. I want to let you in on a little secret before you are subjected to the humiliation I experienced when my teenage nephew who didn't even drive yet told me the sure fire way to know. You see, there's a little picture of a gas pump on every dashboard with an arrow pointing to the side your gas tank is on. I'm not kidding, there really is! Go look for yourself! Before you get too excited, this information will not be as life-changing as it seems. If you're anything like me you will forget to consult the picture until you have pulled up to a pump on the wrong side.
3. Thank you for allowing yourself to vividly imagine how it would feel to lose your child. For all of us whose children slipped through a hole in the universe; who were there one minute and gone the next; thank you for allowing yourself to feel and express the terror, grief and anticipation of profound loss when Miles slipped through that hole in the floor of the shipwreck you were exploring. When my daughter died, so many people said, "I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my child." What many of them meant was, "I don't want to imagine what it would be like to lose my child." It takes courage to face the potential of a loss so profound. I realize that was not the last time you needed that kind of courage. I'm glad that you found Miles, scraped up but safe, one level down. I'm glad that you escaped a horrifying loss that time and got more time with Miles. And I'm so sorry that your time with Jason, Justin, Miles and Paris was cut short by your disappearance through a hole in the universe. Thanks for letting me get to know you.