Another Grace


Last week my cousin Sally called.  I don’t see or hear from my cousins often so it was an unexpected connection.  Sally wants to give me the antique typewriter our grandfather used when he first started to work for golfing equipment companies in the 1930’s.  I like the idea of having something from my grandfather. He was a man I barely knew.

My father’s parents divorced before I was born and it was my grandmother who was in our lives.  The first time I met my grandfather was a spring afternoon when my sister and I answered a knock and opened our door to a man I didn’t know.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?” the man said.

My sister and I shook our heads.

“I’m your grandfather.”

I only remember seeing him one other time, when he came to Chris’s high school graduation.  While he was at our house he came out to the garage to inspect how well I was preparing our sailboat for a summer of racing.  He ran his fingers along the sanded bottom, making sure it was smooth.  He nodded.

I asked Sally to tell me more about our grandfather, which led to stories about our grandmother.  She was a tough, independent, divorced woman which was a step outside the norm at the time. I don’t remember many hugs or sitting in her lap, but she endlessly knit hats and mittens for me and my sisters and our children once we had them. She knit for church fairs.  She made her own yogurt, gardened until she was in her 90’s, mocked the creaky walk of all the old people in a rehab facility where she spent time after an accident at 97 (she was probably the oldest person at the rehab and the accident wasn’t her fault), and lived to 102.  Visiting her in the hospital towards the end of her life, she complained that she couldn’t get a needle and thread.  “What good am I here?  I can’t even sew while I lie in this bed.”

In the 1950’s my grandmother was diagnosed with uterine cancer.  She was treated with cobalt which was sewn into her abdomen and left there to irradiate the cancer cells.  Later the cobalt was removed and Sally remembers being with her mother when they drove my grandmother home up after the surgery.

“I need an apple,” my grandmother said when she got in the car, wearing a wool coat she’d sewn herself.  They stopped at a local store and my grandmother went in and bought two apples.  When she got to her house she went straight to the kitchen, and without taking off her coat, took out the bottom of a pressure cooker, poured in oil and popcorn and turned on the burner.  When the corn was popped, she sat down and ate the apple and the popcorn.

At the time, doctors told my parents that my grandmother probably wouldn’t live another five years.  She lived another 50.

Her name was Grace.





Now that it’s wet suit weather again, David and I spend a few minutes floating when we go to the pond to swim.  I’ve never been a good floater, my hips and feet sinking any time I’d try to lie back on top of the water.  In swimming lessons as a kid, once the teacher stopped holding up my middle from underneath I’d go down.  Trying again when I got older didn’t make any difference.

Except in a wet suit in the ocean, where the extra floatation and the salt keep me on the surface, face to the sky, arms and legs spread, slowly lifting and falling with waves. The ease of floating is part of what makes me love swimming in the ocean so much.

But really, I love any outdoor swimming, and somehow just recently David and I have discovered we can float in the pond too, as long as we’re wearing wet suits, which we are now that the water is cooling.  Could we always float this way?  We’re not sure.  We were both so sad-skinny when we first met and started swimming together in Long Pond, a small, quiet pond close to our house.  We probably would have sunk then if we’d tried, even in wet suits.

Now we both have more floatation around our middles and we’re coming out of a summer that’s left us relaxed enough to want to be home, to not be rushing off somewhere all the time, to take a few moments to stop, on our backs, in the middle of the pond, and float. Today the sky was cloudless.  Yesterday there were light cirrus clouds.  With my ears in a swim cap, lapped by water, I don’t hear much.  My heart beats, I hover, I look up.

In describing our personalities Eric used to say he was a floater and I was a swimmer. He could move from task to task without a clear sense of where he’d end up.  Not me.  I organized tasks in a sequence so I got things done.  He did things.

David’s a swimmer like me, and I’m still getting focused on getting things done a good part of every day, but I’m also floating.  At least for a few minutes.


A Cairn for Chris



My sister Chris died one year ago yesterday. A year seems like an impossibly long time for her to have been gone, and also impossibly short.  That’s the thing about death and the physical absence of the person — it can feel unreal, and so time gets distorted. Chris had been part of my entire life.  She was two years older than me, so she was here when I was born and somewhere in my sense of the world she is always here.

Except now she’s not.  Of course her absence feels much more acute for her husband and her boys — a life partner and a mother are gone, and I know how completely disorienting the loss of a spouse is.  The built-in companion on evenings at home, the warmth next to you in bed, the other parent to sort out worries about the kids — all gone. How to even make that work?

It was a great struggle for me and there are enough people in my life now who are living the same struggle that I know my experience wasn’t uncommon.  Others at the time who reached out to me, who’d lost a partner, confirmed it then.  “It’s like an out-of-body experience, isn’t it,” a colleague said to me at work one day.  His wife had died the year before.

It’s been ten years since Eric died and I’ve long since come back into my body.  But I remember being out of it, I remember being manic and obsessed with writing The Truth About Death, I remember drinking a lot and eating hardly at all, working out whenever I could and talking, talking, talking, as I tried to make sense of what my life was going to be. Losing a sister has been much less brutal — sad and disorienting in its own way, but not cry-myself-to-sleep-alone-in-bed sad.

There was a family trip to Chris’s memorial bench in Scituate, MA yesterday that I couldn’t be at, but I’m building a cairn for her in the woods, on the rock where I’ve built cairns for Eric.

My younger sister Meg texted me first thing yesterday and suggested we talk on the phone and read each other our letters — Chris wrote letters to her husband, to each of her boys, to each of us sisters and to our parents.  A common theme in her letters, and which she talked about at the end of her life, is her belief that she’ll always be with us.

“Know that I am not gone, only my physical presence is missing.  In the space I left is my love, energy, memories and shared history.  Things I would not trade for anything.  Enrich that space with new people, events and shared history.  I will be close by your side,” I read to Meg and she read similar words to me.  We cried.  We miss Chris, but she was right. Yesterday she was with us in her words and in the memories of her that Meg and I shared. She was with us as we talked about our commitment to being in the moment as much as we can, a lesson Chris worked hard to keep at the center of her own journey.

I just put another rock on her cairn, topped with a heart stone from the beach in Humarock, a favorite place for Chris.


Posthumous Guest Blogger — Peter Menard on 5FU

Screenshot 2016-04-28 07.09.38

I’ve never had a guest blogger, though many of you know I’ve curated my sister Chris’s blog since she died, posting mostly guest blogs.  One of the most popular guests was my good friend Peter Menard, who shared his own journey living with metastatic cancer.

Now, posthumously, Peter gets to be the first guest blogger here.  Peter wrote this in the spring intending it for my blog, but the tragic, untimely death of a much much too young friend made us decide it wasn’t the right time to put it up.

Peter died on August 23 and now it feels like the right time to share this post.  Peter was smart, brave, deeply curious and very funny — as you’ll see.

5FU — by Peter Menard

Are you worried about Zika virus? Lyme disease, mosquitos & ticks?
Want to keep up with your hipster friends on the body-piercing frontier?
Is your weight creeping up on you, even faster than the proverbial 10 lbs. a decade?
Do you have cravings for food that you shouldn’t indulge in?
Lastly, are you worried that you aren’t producing enough mucus to protect your digestive system?

You may want to consider 5FU, a strong medicinal agent developed for some other diseases, but found to have some very interesting side effects.

5FU has been found to kill ticks when they dare to latch onto you. And mosquitoes won’t even light on you, perhaps because they can smell the 5FU, and they want none of it.

Make your hipster friends envious when you flaunt your port, a body piercing that is a direct connection to your own heart.

5FU is a very effective appetite deterrent. You won’t be able to finish any restaurant servings at one sitting. You can live for weeks on doggie bag food. And not to mention the slimming down of your waist line (and your arms and legs too – gets rid of unsightly bulging muscles).

Please note that there are a few quibbling side effects, such as nausea, a lack of a will to live, and a reduced social and work life. Working with your physician, you may be able to effectively ameliorate these side effects.



Ask your doctors if 5FU might be right for you.

For those of you who’d like to know more about Peter, here’s his obituary, written, of course, by him.


Peter Menard (65) of Deerfield unlaced his skates for the last time on Tuesday August 23, 2016. He hopes to skate on the moat around St. Peter’s Pearly Gates when it freezes.

Peter was able to get himself and traveling companions into international incidents in several languages, though he preferred to be lost and confused in Italian, treasuring its penchant to sing.

Peter had the honor to pour libations invoking the ancestors at family weddings, beseeching the ancestors to bless the newly-weds, (and hoping for the ancestors’ welcome when he joins them).

He had great friends from Canton High School in NY, his Canadian brother Lanny from Brown University, West African Peace Corps compatriots, fellow hockey players, Crossfit buddies, and denizens of Deerfield. After marrying 33 years ago, Peter and Anne took a 12-month honeymoon trip around the world, quite an adventure.

Peter’s 5 years in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer/staff fostered his appreciation of small-town life, as well as his trek across the Sahara. He eased back into the States as a commercial fisherman on George’s Bank, then a carpenter for Don Booth in Canterbury, next joining the Deerfield family firm P. K. Lindsay Co. in national sales. His last work was as a real estate agent with his sister at Parade Properties.

Peter’s wife Anne Burnett helped him so much with his cancer; as did sons Michael and wife Carissa, and David. Likewise mother Frances Menard, sisters Anne Menard and Guy, Jeanne and Kevin, Carol and Carl, Cathy and Betsy, Mary and Larry, brother Matthew Menard and Wendy; nephews and nieces Nick, Lindsay, Wes, Cam, and Edie, stalwart Galoots all. Peter thanks extended family and friends for their care.

A service celebrating Peter’s life will take place on Saturday, September 10, at 11:00 a.m. at Deerfield Community Church, UCC, in Deerfield, NH. Afterward, a potluck reception will take place at the church. Continuing in the spirit of Peter’s generosity, you are invited to bring a dish to share.

In lieu of lowers, memorial donations may be made to Schools for Salone, PO Box 25314, Seattle, WA 98165 or Anne Burnett’s run of the Dana Farber half marathon on October 9.


IMG_5997 (1)

Lists help.  There’s evidence from brain research that writing down a list accumulating in your mind helps free up space for other thinking.  How else would we ever get anything done, or how would I, if I didn’t keep track somewhere other than my head?  It’s too busy in there, even though it’s slowed down a good bit from when I was younger, or maybe I’ve just learned to manage everything that comes up, partly with strategies like lists, so there’s room to keep moving along the circuitous path of one thought to the next.

Lists are also satisfying.  You get to cross things off, you get to keep track, if that’s your thing, which it is mine.  And apparently Emilio’s too.  I was on Long Island this week spending the days with Emilio and Ava to fill a summer-week gap between camp and school.  Monday and Wednesday I spent with Emilio and at this point in our lives together we have so many games we could play, so many things we could do together, choice and desire and time all competing, we decided to make a list first thing Wednesday morning so we could organize our day and make sure we did as many of the fun things we had in mind as possible.

The list included a lot of games and of course, keeping track of who won what was important.  By 6:30 a.m. we were playing Uno.  I lost twice in a row, the first time because of the “switch hands” card I had played on me, a card Emilio had made up himself as another tricky switch in the game.  Okay, 2-0 so far, Emilio to Mimi.

Out to the yard for a full nine innings of whiffle ball, during which we managed to keep track in our heads of the score, the inning and who had left runners on base — we switched field and batting teams after any number of runs, calculated on a complicated and constantly negotiated set of assumptions about what constituted a successful run to base, how far runners would advance, whether hitting the ball into the thickest of the backyard bushes constituted a foul because there was no way to find the ball in time to stop a home run, etc. etc.  I tied it up in the bottom of the ninth, but lost 26 to 25 in the tenth, a satisfyingly high scoring game.  (Love those runs!)

We made name badges for Adrienne and Matt (circles of thick paper with their name, place of birth and a “license plate” around all the writing) for their anniversary.  Eight years married and going strong.  We played more games, we went to the park to play mini-golf and then got lunch, we did laundry, we picked up Ava at daycare.

We crossed items off the list and added activities as they came up.  As we went upstairs after dinner for baths Emilio said, “Mimi!  We didn’t write down ‘bath.'”  So I wrote it on the list and checked it as done. Seeing Emilio and me at the paper Ava had to be part of it, “color? color?” as she took a pen and scribbled all over the page, squealing when I tried to give her a blank paper.  She wanted in on the list too.

It was a very busy day, including giving both kids dinner, a bath and getting them to bed by myself so Adrienne and Matt could go out to celebrate their anniversary.  At 21 months and 5 years, little people need a lot of help navigating the routines of daily life and it takes a lot of grown up energy to keep everything on track.

Yesterday I was with Ava for the morning before coming back to New Hampshire. By 11:00  a.m. I was ready to collapse and managed to keep myself up long enough to give Ava lunch and then lie down with her for a nap.  Two hours later we both woke up.

I don’t think I’ve taken a two hour nap since I was two myself.  And at the end of the day with Emilio?  Out of ten games played, Mimi 3, Emilio 7.  He’d want me to let you know that.