Category Archives: sadness

Death and Taxes

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin, 1726

April 15th is known in the US as tax day, the day when tax returns for individuals are due. It is a date that leads to much crankiness and frustration.

The Boston Marathon is always held on the third Monday of April. Marathon Monday is traditionally festive occasion for the state of Massachusetts. Last year was a year when the two dates coincided: tax day and marathon day.


Flowers in Copley Square, from a late summer day several years ago.

With the anniversary the bombing of last year upon us, I find myself thinking back to that day, and the crazy week that followed. I wasn’t in Boston, but my close ties to the city, updates from my school, my colleagues, and my friends, kept me feeling tethered.

I was out with the kids that Marathon Monday, it being a state holiday and the first day of school vacation. Phoebe was recovering from a stomach bug, so we didn’t go far from home. We were parked at the music school before Phoebe’s and my violin lesson when I got text alerts from BU with notification of the explosions, and warnings to stay away from Copley. I couldn’t really process the news, and didn’t want to worry the kids. As the afternoon and evening wore on, I found more detailed reports of deaths and injuries. Like so many, I worried about the safety of my friends, and realized that my friends and family would worry about the safety of me and my family. It was very unsettling to learn that one of the dead was a BU grad student. (I, too, am a BU grad student.) I found myself wondering about the other BU grad students I know. Were they safe? The news that one of the people killed was a little kid left me feeling shattered. Even though I was many miles away, and my family and I were safe, it all just felt so horribly close and personal.


The view from Storrow Drive at dusk, from 2010.

That week, I remember reflecting on my fondness for the city, and spent probably too much time hunting for photos I’d taken there. (Naturally, I have hundreds of photos of Boston, if not thousands.) I am not a Boston native, but I have lived outside Boston for over 18 years. I spend a lot of time in the city. It feels like home.

Today I got caught up in memories, reading stories and articles of the many lives that were so deeply affected by the bombings. I was distracted and contemplative, and managed to get a time mixed up for something I’d committed to, which made me very cranky and off-kilter.

The day ended up rainy and stormy, which actually quite fit my melancholy mood. And probably also the cranky moods of so many faced with the frustrations of tax day.


Under my umbrella this afternoon, waiting to get the kids off the school bus.

the little gray hoodie on the hook

We wear hoodies in our family, all 4 of us. I am the mother of 2 young children, one a little boy. He probably has more hoodies than the rest of us, in a range of colors. He even has a gray hoodie, one that we got during our visit to my husband’s high school for a reunion a few months ago. Each day when we send him to his pre-K class, we have to send him in with a sweater or sweatshirt. Even on hot summer days, since New England weather can turn quickly, or the air conditioning inside can be excessive. This past week, I have found myself consciously avoiding that gray hoodie. I see it hanging there on the hook on the back of a door, along with the yellow hoodie and the blue one with the prints of cars.

I look at that little gray hoodie, and my heart hurts. I can’t even bear the thought of posting a photo of my little boy in his gray hoodie, because of the association with the vulnerability of being a target. Because of the association with a boy who lost his life, and a mother who lost her child.

One day my little boy will be the same age as Trayvon Martin was that night last year. He will be a teenage boy, with the range of moods and sometimes unpredictable behavior that come with that stage. He may be an honor student, or a rebel, or a little of each. He may choose to behave exactly as Trayvon did, buy the same candy and sugary drink. Want to walk out in the rain to get away from adult company. He may be the same height and build as Trayvon. He may choose to dress exactly as Trayvon did. And yet I also know that he will never be a target in the same way that Trayvon Martin was. The privilege of white skin will give him license to wear that hoodie, to walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, to shop in a store, without being profiled by default as a potential threat.

The discourse of the past 2 weeks reminds me of the privilege that I have and that my family has. The fact that I can be reminded of my privilege is itself a hallmark of privilege: I have the luxury to be able to regularly forget. Where I live, I can drive around my town, I can walk through my neighborhood, shop in any store, without once wondering if the color of my skin will attract negative attention. I know that I don’t entirely fit in where I live, and my hairstyle and clothes mark me as a bit different. But never in a threatening way. I can dress like a slob without worrying that it reflects badly on my heritage. I can drive a nice car without raising any eyebrows, or drive a beat-up car without people assuming that I am poor. As a white female, people make lots of assumptions about me, which may or may not in any way reflect who I am. But none of the assumptions put me at higher risk of being stopped by the police, or worse, someone like Zimmerman: highly armed but poorly trained, full of anger and self-righteousness and fear.

I have been feeling heartsick since Zimmerman’s acquittal. The messages I read from that verdict and some of the ensuing discourse just drive home to me how far our society has yet to go to achieve equality. I have the sense that this country is divided: those who see the systemic inequity and the harmful biases, and those who are unwilling or unable to see them. I know that I live in a society that continues to have systemic racism. I am ashamed to sometimes see evidence of that racism in my own thoughts, my own assumptions. Much as I sometimes find my thoughts reflecting sexism, ablism, agism, classism and so many of the other isms that are part of our society. But I call myself out. Sometimes I even have the courage to call out others when I see it.

I have had conversations with close friends and family members, and feel lucky that those closest to me see things much as I do. But I am realizing that these private conversations with like-minded people are not enough. I need to make a public stand, even if in my small way, by writing here. I know that people who are blind to what I see, to both systemic racism and the privilege that allows them that blindness, are not necessarily bad people. I know people, some of them even friends or family members, who fit into these categories. Even thinking about starting conversations with them about race and privilege exhausts me. But I am thinking about these things, and with this post, I am showing that I am willing to be part of this conversation.

I have been reading posts and articles every day since the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal. I have spent a lot of time reflecting. I have felt outrage and deep sadness, but also great hope that this conversation will continue, and will bring progress. I am busy and am protective of the time I need to spend on my work and family obligations. However, this conversation is too important to me. I need to be part of the conversation because I want my children to grow up in a world where no child’s life is cut short by others’ assumptions about race.

I want to live in a world where a mother’s worries about her son’s choice to wear a hoodie when he goes out on a walk will never be about anything more weighty than whether that hoodie will be warm enough.

I have recently read lots of post relating to the death of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s acquittal, and privilege. Here are some of the ones that have stuck with me:

If you have written things about these topics yourself, or read things that moved you, please feel free to share links in the comments.

I am weary

The past few weeks have knocked the wind out of me. I hardly know where to begin, there is so much to say. The biggest news, at least for my family, was that John’s father died. It was not unexpected. It was not fast. It was also not easy.

Just over 2 weeks ago, we got the call that John’s father was not expected to survive the night. As you might imagine, there was much travel, and rearranging of plans. John was able to travel to New York to be with his parents for his father’s last few days. I stayed home with the kids. Things were complicated by Theo having a fever one day, then getting pink eye the next, which meant missed school for him, missed work time for me, and more trauma than I would have expected dealing with the medication. (This was Theo’s first sick visit to the doctor, which itself was remarkable.) Phoebe managed to pick up her first case of poison ivy, a bad one, including welts on her face around both eyes. This led to a doctor’s trip and missed school for her, too. Then there was the funeral. Phoebe ended up missing a whole week of school. This week is her school vacation. And did I mention the stomach bug that hit Phoebe Sunday night?

These were the weeks that I was supposed to be working intensively to make a last push to try to finish my degree. Time is limited before my subject pool, the BU undergrads, is taken away by finals and the end of the term. I have now lost 2 full weeks of work time. The only day that was not taken up by sick kids or travel or memorial services and time with extended family was one that I spent shopping for something to wear to the funeral.

My days are eaten up. My energy is eaten up. My motivation and momentum for my research have all but left the building. I have been trying to push through, in the windows of time that open up here and there.

But next comes a terrorist attack in Boston, and the wind is knocked out of me again. I was not there, but I am shocked and grieving. 3 dead and over 170 injured in a blast at Copley Square, a place I know well. The news that one of the dead was a child of 8 hit hard. The news that another was a BU grad student hit hard again. The realization that my friends and family from far away might be worried about my family hit me again. We could have been there.

I am steady in times of crisis. Strong and reliable, I keep pushing through. I know that I have to keep going until the crisis time is over. But I am strained and drained. I am edgy and touchy. I am slipping.

This is not the worst crisis I can imagine. This is not even the worst crisis I or my family have lived through. I remind myself every day how lucky I am to have John and my children here with me, safe and (largely) healthy. My mother and my sister and her family are safe and well. I have financial stability, a home, and wonderful friends. I am very, very lucky. But I admit that I am tired, and I just wish I could have a few days to catch my breath. At this point, I’d settle for one.

The past tense, and other grammatical implications of death

One of the things that often strikes us, after someone’s death, is that we have to make a shift in how we speak of that person. It suddenly becomes an error to say “he loves popcorn.” Indpendent of the subject’s history of affinity for popcorn, there is that crossover point between loving popcorn, and having loved popcorn. Survivors undergo a transition where they find themselves using the wrong tense, and self-correcting. The realization that we have erred nags at our minds like the red ink marks of a high school English teacher urging consistency in an essay.

Then there is the loss of conjunction. For years, you go to visit Grammy and Grampa. The conjunction and serves to join two noun phrases [Grammy]NP and [Grampa]NP into a single noun phrase. That noun phrase can then serve in a variety of grammatical functions: subject, with nominative case ([Grammy and Grampa]NP called), or various object positions, with accusative (Let’s visit [Grammy and Grampa]NP), or genitive case (We need to remember to bring that book to [Grammy and Grampa]NP‘s house.) With the absence of one referent, the conjoined noun phrase loses both the conjunction and the second noun phrase. It is a simplification of structure that belies the complicated nature of the end of almost 6 decades of married life, a conjunction of law and love and life together that are only hinted at by the word and.

With this loss of the conjunction, too, comes a shift from the plural to the singular, which of course brings its own implications for subject-verb agreement. In the present tense, English requires a different verb inflection for most third person singular subjects than for plural ones. Grammy and Grampa love it when we visit must change to Grammy loves it when we visit, with the inflectional affix -s added to the verb to reflect that singularity. This, of course, reminds us once more that there is only one of the two members of that former conjoined phrase whose actions, affinities and attributes will, by and large, be discussed using the present tense.

We mustn’t forget, though, that we can hold onto the present tense, and even the future; A whole host of constructions are available to us by keeping Grampa in object positions. I miss Grampa. It’s okay to be sad about Grampa. We will hold onto Grampa’s memory.

Too close to home.

Today marks one month after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Below are some of the things that I wrote in the days following. I revisited this post several times over a couple of weeks, editing to update the time references, but ultimately still felt too raw each time to post. One month later, I am ready to try again.

It’s probably for the best for me that I learned the news in stages. The first reports I heard of Friday’s shooting were that there were several people injured. I saw murmurings on Facebook late morning, and the links I followed had no more information. I saw that photo, the one that seems to be everywhere, of young kids being walked away. Some with their eyes closed, some obviously crying. I quickly looked away, feeling pangs from seeing the troubled faces, and went about my business. From what I’d read, there had only been injuries. I had things to do to get ready for our planned weekend trip to my in-laws’.

A bit after noon, I talked to John. I don’t remember why I called him. Probably something about our trip. He asked if I knew about the shooting in Connecticut. I said I did, but as we spoke I realized that I didn’t really know. He mentioned that the town was one we’d recently driven through, and even stopped for dinner. A pretty town with a little river running through it that we had both admired. I hadn’t made the connection, hadn’t retained the name of the town. We got of the phone and I went back to my laptop, and learned more.

With every update, the news only worsened.

On Saturday morning I woke up in the uncomfortable monstrosity of a fold-out bed at my in-laws’, and I understood my body’s achiness. But my eyes were sore, too, with the soreness that I get when I have been crying. Instantly I remembered why I had been crying, and the tears and the heaviness in my heart began once more.

I can’t count the number of times I cried that week, especially over that weekend. At the same time, I was careful to hide my grief from Phoebe and Theo. I’d cry in the bathroom. Or in the car by myself. I felt glad that my recent cold would mean that my red eyes and nose would be unremarkable. I felt glad that I am liberal with my hugs and physical affection, so being held tight by Mommy is nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think that they could feel how deep my need was for those hugs.

That Sunday, we drove home from my in-laws’, but took a different route. Our usual route, the one that we take every month or so, goes right through Newtown on Route 84. We were concerned that there would be heavier traffic along the route, especially with the planned visit from the President that night. It felt right, too, to give them that extra space. But my thoughts and heart were there, and my eyes watched Sandy Hook on the map.

There have been other mass shootings, recently and in past years. Other tragedies. I have grieved many times before for those I’ve never met. But in my life as it is now, this feels like the worst possible tragedy. I can’t even begin to make sense of it. I can only compare my feelings to grief to the loss I’ve felt when someone close to me died, and to the shock I felt after September 11th.

I think of those parents in that little New England town, a town like my own in many ways, who sent their kids off to school that morning just as I had, never dreaming how the day would end. How could they? It was unimaginable. It should have been unimaginable.

Innocent people. Teachers. School administrators. The death of any one of them would have been felt as a great loss for the school and the community.

But children. Twenty little children. The loss is immeasurable.

First graders.

The same age as my Phoebe.

A week later, I felt the tension of grief ease, with a mixture of relief and guilt. I found myself laughing more and crying less. But I know that for those other parents, family members and friends, the healing will be a much slower process. I have lived through grief, the ordinary grief of losing a loved one, and it still can knock the wind out of me many months or years later. I use this familiar grief as an inadequate yardstick to measure the grief I imagine those others to be living through, and to have ahead of them.

I have felt so many strong emotions these past weeks. Horror. Anger. Immense gratitude that it was not my town, that my own children are safe.

I’ve sensed that there are those around the country and around the world who feel that enough energy has been spent on this tragedy, that we need to move forward and focus on change. But this is one of those events that has changed me. Like many the world over, I’ve still needed to process and to grieve.

Tidings of comfort and joy.

For the past several years, Neil of Citizen of the Month has put together a remarkable online concert to celebrate the many and varied holidays of the winter season, and he has graciously hosted once more. Please go check out the amazing musical and photographic stylings on exhibit at The Seventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert. As always, the entries are varied and wondrous.

I didn’t manage to get my act together this round, for a variety of reasons, but I hope to again next year. You can find me and my voice in several of the past concerts, but I’m too lazy to see which. Last year was one.

I have been in a dark place since Friday, but I’m not yet ready to share those thoughts. Too many thoughts. I wrote something on Monday, but it is still too raw to post. In the meantime, I have taken comfort in many things, including music. Most of all, I take comfort in having my little ones with me and holding them close.

May they remember only joy this holiday season.

the state of Israel mocks humanitarianism

Tonight I saw a photo that may haunt me for the rest of my life.

I was sitting on the couch, holding my nearly sleeping 4-month-old baby, while my husband was upstairs putting our 2-year-old daughter to bed. And jen directed me to a post at No Caption Needed. It featured an image, under which the first line of the following paragraph reads:

A child’s arm protrudes from the rubble of a building destroyed by an air strike.

The hand is tiny. A toddler’s hand. There is no hope that the child in the photo is alive.

My stomach turned. I found myself crying onto my baby’s footie pajamas, scooping him up and squeezing him tight. I found myself glad that it was not my daughter sitting on my lap, because she would have seen the photo. She would have seen my tears. She is not yet 3 years old, and I cannot yet explain these things to her.

I cannot explain these things to myself.

The International Rescue Committee, an organization that provides aid to refugees, describes the current crisis:

News reports today indicate that more than 570 Palestinians, many of them women and children, have been killed in the violence that began on December 27 following the breakdown of a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Thousands have fled to safety, but most of the 1.5 million people in Gaza have nowhere to go as both Israel and Egypt continue to restrict access to their territories.

The United Nations says the humanitarian crisis is growing as food supplies dwindle, access to clean water diminishes and hospitals fill up with the wounded and dead. More than a million people are said to be without electricity.

Let it not be said that Israel is completely oblivious to this growing humanitarian crisis. According to the New York Times:

Israel suspended its military operations in Gaza for three hours on Wednesday to allow humanitarian aid and fuel for power generation to reach Gazans, who used the afternoon break to shop.

You know what’s more humanitarian than allowing humanitarian aid?

Not bombing people.