Grief in translation

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish via the DuoLingo (DL) app. I began sometime last July, on a whim and as a distraction and because several friends were doing the same with various languages. To date I have an uninterrupted string of 231 days. This is particularly impressive (to me) as I never do anything every single day, apart from the mundane, nor do I aspire to. But I enjoy the challenge of learning, in spite of being far from achieving anything resembling fluency. So I persist.

DL will often require us, among other tasks, to translate sentences from English to Spanish, and vice versa.

The other day, the sentence was:

“Cuándo ves a tu madre otra vez?” [When do you see your mother again?]

It made me cry.

I relayed this information to my sisters via text, including the fact that I got all teary-eyed. It did not help matters at all when my older sister, who has been learning Spanish via DL far longer than I, replied in that language:

“Solo en fotos, solo en sueños.” [Only in photos, only in dreams.]

I know from experience that grief hits me hardest when it’s new or, years later, in moments when my guard is down and I’m not expecting it.

It has barely been three weeks. The loss is still fresh and tender and raw, my hastily constructed shields inadequate to the task. And I certainly was not expecting inadvertent evocation from a language-learning app.

But grief doesn’t care about your readiness or your expectations or your “this was inevitable and in many ways it’s a blessing” platitudes.

Grief strips you bare. Down to the breathless pain of stark white bone.

“Only in photos, only in dreams.”

I cried again.

No, that’s not accurate– I sobbed and keened and scared the cat.

And for the first time in three weeks — or in five years, or in what seems like an eternity since that cruel diagnosis — I felt myself begin to truly grieve, to attempt to measure and reconcile the depth and weight of this new void I now carry.

It will become familiar, soon enough. No translation needed.



Filed under deep thoughts

Ending the year on a high note

I have a piece of Very Good News that I haven’t yet shared over here, mostly because it happened at a time when the angst and tension here in the U.S. were running high — yes, the week of our election in November. It seemed odd and somehow inauspicious to announce the birth of my third grandchild, third granddaughter no less, into that environment.

But babies don’t care about any of that. They insist on being born when they’re ready (in this case, two weeks early), regardless of what’s happening in the outside-the-womb world. So this news is late but no less enthusiastic for it.

Please welcome baby Margaret to the world! Weighing in at 7 lbs 1 oz and measuring 21″ long, she’s petite and beautiful and so very huggable.

Baby is doing very well, as are my son and daughter-in-law who are delighted and thrilled to be first-time parents.

There have been countless pictures since then, of course, but these are the two I have permission to share.

Yes, I know, I just announced a new granddaughter in July. I am truly blessed. Please note that, recent blog posts to the contrary, this is not going to become a baby blog. Mainly because I think the kids are done having babies for the next little while.

I have no predictions about what the New Year will bring but I promise you, Margaret and Emily and Anna, my beautiful precious granddaughters, a whole lot of us are trying very hard to make this world a better place for you all to live in.



Filed under parenting

It’s another girl!

Welcome to the world, baby Emily!

My new granddaughter was born just before midnight yesterday, weighing 8 lb 7 oz.

Mom and baby (and dad) are all doing well. Emily reportedly has blue eyes and “quite a lot” of brown hair, but I don’t have a pic of that yet.

I’ve been told that her two-year-old big sister is excited to meet her. So am I.

My eyes have been leaking happiness at random moments all day.



Filed under parenting

A Collection of Thoughts

I keep telling myself I should write something about this coronavirus pandemic, offer up some words of perspective or advice or simply as a personal record. But just when I think I know what I want to say, things change. Suddenly. Drastically. Irrevocably. The world keeps shifting on a flooding tide of disease and death, incompetence and greed, and I don’t know what to say.

Tomorrow, next week, things will be different again.

With that in mind, the following is a montage of sorts, false starts and re-starts of a blog post that kept morphing over time into something else. It feels like it spans an eternity, but I started writing this just over two weeks ago.

Overload is a real thing. Turn away if you need to. Maybe no one needs to read this, and that’s fine.

Maybe I needed to write it.


March 12. It’s 8:09 AM and I’m standing at the back screen door, listening to the birds that have been relentlessly chirping their morning songs for over an hour, feeling the crisp cool air on my face. Watching the waning moon arc its way across the insufficient camouflage of a pale blue morning sky. I hear the distant drone of cars from a busy road several blocks away, not muffled by winter-bare branches. The relentless normalcy abruptly broken by the distant siren of someone’s commute gone wrong.

I haven’t yet gone to bed, night owl that I am, and I’m tired. No, more than that. I’m weary. News of a worldwide pandemic is horrifying, but it seems distant, almost unreal. It’s been a long week of stressful, unbelievable events. Even more so than the week before. And the week before that, the month, the year, before that.

And yet. Listening to the sounds of morning, both natural and man-made. I find hope. Life does go on.

People who don’t read the news, or who do and don’t care, or who care but can’t afford to change their lives. It all goes on.

We prepare, but are never ready.


March 14. I find out that a dear friend has died today of an aggressive form of cancer, mere weeks after being diagnosed, and I am gutted. I had taken on the role, voluntarily, of obtaining updates on her health from 2700 miles away and now must notify our group of mutual friends about this awful news. I am as humbled by their trust in me to do this as I am destroyed by the need for it.


March 16. Or so. I’m adding these dates in retrospect and my memory is suspect. I’ve lost track of time and days. I make note instead of numbers infected and dying, closures and restrictions. Early numbers say 26 confirmed cases, with only 100 people tested, in my state of 10 million people. All schools in NC are closed until at least mid-May.

We are advised but not required to stay inside now, in my county, due to the spread of this virus, and suddenly I feel compelled to go out. Me, the virtual hermit, who rarely goes anywhere.

Contrariness, sure. But also I think it’s a primal instinct for survival: we sense a threat and know there’s safety in numbers. We’re stronger together than alone. Band together or perish. A feeling reinforced by messages that we can get through this together if we all, as a group, follow guidelines. Except togetherness, in the physical sense, is not a strength in this case.

Not wanting to venture out, my normal state of mind, is an entirely different thing than not being allowed to. The primal urge to do something in the face of a threat is strong, yet we’re told to essentially do nothing.

“Surely there’s some prep to be done, some steps to take in advance, some action I can take. ”

“No, just stay home.”

“But what about—”

“No. Stay home.”

“I should stock up on ALL THE THINGS.”

“You’re making it worse. Just. Stay. Home.”

[Note: I picked up my usual online grocery order on the 12th and again on the 27th. Other than that, I haven’t been out of the house.]

I’m fortunate that I’m pretty well stocked up year-round. Living in the mid-Atlantic region, we’re vulnerable to hurricanes and winter snow/ice storms and spring/fall thunderstorms and tornadoes. I’m so used to being prepared for the worst, it seems oddly reassuring to realize this current disaster doesn’t come with roof repairs or the loss of electricity. I’ll still be able to cook, to use the A/C or heat, won’t have to worry about food going bad in a relentlessly thawing fridge or freezer.

It’s anti-climactic in very real and unsettling ways. And yet, this threat is far more deadly. How do I reconcile this dichotomy? This realization that what I’ve always prepared for is not, in fact, the worst-case scenario.


March 21. Days later, my worries have now coalesced from a general, “OMG, we’re all doomed,” to more specific fear for the people I love. I realize they all fall into categories of the most vulnerable.

My elderly mother who has dementia and lives in a care facility; two of my sisters whose immunity is compromised by various health conditions; another sister who is at risk due to her job in education; my son whose industry is considered essential and has daily contact with an assortment of people, his wife who works in education and even more exposure; my daughter who is five months pregnant, her daughter who is almost two, her husband who is a physician in a hospital; a niece and nephew and their spouses who live in large cities in the northeastern US (NYC and Boston); another niece and her family who live in a midwestern metropolitan area and have been exposed to the virus, some of whom are showing symptoms, but can’t get tested.

I watch the numbers of cases and deaths increasing in other areas of the country and wonder how long it will take to spread, what path it will take. Our numbers here are still low, but testing is pitifully insignificant.


March 25? I’m guessing at dates now. I read stories online, healthcare professionals telling of people dying alone, begging for a chance to say goodbye to loved ones who, for their own safety, aren’t allowed to be there. Tales of doctors and nurses using their own cellphones to facilitate unbearably wrenching goodbyes. I can’t help but think about how that would feel, if I were the one dying alone. Or how much worse it would be if I were not the one dying, but the one not allowed to be present and give comfort to a loved one in their final hours.

I cry, daily. Not sobbing, just random streams of tears running down my face without warning. Sorrow for people I don’t know. For things that haven’t happened and might not ever. For the sickness and death I feel certain will touch my life and leave an indelible mark before this is over. For the loss of innocence and sense of safety, experienced in past generations, newly revisited in ours.


March 27. My county has issued an official stay-at-home order, effective the 28th. The next day, our governor issues the same order state-wide, effective Monday the 30th. I feel relief and gratitude for this willingness to make tough, unpopular decisions.


March 30. We’re using the language of war. Interestingly, we’ve skipped back past decades of more “modern” warfare and are referencing experiences of WWII, an event most of us weren’t alive to witness. Sacrifices, shortages, rationing. Price controls, interrupted supply lines. Investors have turned to the bond market, albeit not officially War Bonds. What’s next, savings stamps? A no-strike pledge from essential labor?

I’m reminded of the letters my Great Aunt Mabel, an Army nurse, sent home from the Pacific theatre during WWII. From one dated June 12, 1943:

“We have a grand bunch of girls on nights and the five of us on this one ramp get together at three o’clock for coffee. We would perhaps perish without coffee to keep us stimulated so when you have to go without it sometimes just remember you are helping me keep vigil in the night.”

I hear friends talking about planting “Victory gardens.” Others are sewing surgical masks to donate, sharing patterns, comparing materials and techniques. It makes me think of women during WWI rolling bandages, back before we had the technology of machines to do the task.

But lack of technology is not our problem, now. Lack of leadership is.

This feels like war. For some of us, too many of us, the virus is the enemy. For more of us, the enemy is the indifference and cruelty and greed of petty-minded, ego-driven men.

I wonder how many more times we’ll be forced to fight that particular enemy, that underlying conflict of every war. How many more of us will die before we are wise enough to confer power solely on those people who don’t necessarily want it, who accept it only reluctantly as a means to effect change for the greater good.


March 31. As a marker, numbers as of this writing:


A local news site [] reports slightly higher numbers, as of 6 PM:

1,524 confirmed cases in NC
157 people hospitalized
10 deaths of NC residents
2 deaths of non-residents passing through

Again, in a state with 10 million residents, that number of tests completed is insufficient to the point of being criminal. Thanks entirely to lack of test kits provided by the federal government.


At times, my thoughts turn selfishly inward, as they tend to do. I look at my current writing, the work I have chosen, and wonder what’s the use. It all feels trite and worthless. At the same time, I acknowledge that I read and even depend on the writing of others, their lovely fictional escapist worlds, and recognize the incalculable value even during trying times when I can’t quite focus on the words. I know I’d be even more lost without those stories.

Dare I hope to provide that for someone else? Can I bear not to try?


We’re living in uncertain and changing times. Dangerous and unpredictable and infuriating times. Every day brings a shift and schism from what we thought we knew and once considered unshakably normal.

This pandemic will change us, the entire world of us, in ways we can’t yet possibly imagine. Intentions aside, the extent to which we might be able to direct or even influence that change is unknowable. I feel equal measures of regret and relief that my recently deceased friend won’t be witness to it, along with a sick sense of dread about who might, who will, join her in that stasis in coming days.

And yet, along with the fear of loss, I also wonder about possibilities. Given this rare opportunity of upheaval and chaos within which to either redeem ourselves or make things inextricably worse . . . will we?


I don’t know how to wrap this up with a tidy conclusion. I don’t have insight or wisdom to offer in the midst of this storm. I don’t know what comes next.

We’re currently witnessing both the best of us and the absolute worst of us, and I’m trying to believe the best will find a way to prevail. I despair, but I haven’t lost hope. I mourn, but I find strength in that which endures. I do what I can, knowing it’s not enough.

And I try to have faith that maybe — for the person waiting alone and scared and fearing the worst, for the person seeking a temporary respite from bleak reality — what I and countless other writers do and the stories we tell might possibly, in that dark moment, mean everything.

So I go back to work.


Filed under deep thoughts

Resignation and, well, resignation

I made a tough decision last week, but one that had been a long time coming, to be honest. After 16 years of membership, including two years serving on the board of my local chapter, I resigned my membership in both RWA and that chapter. This will not surprise those who have been following this debacle since the events that came to light on December 23. Those who don’t care and have not been following along . . . well, you won’t care about my reasons and, frankly, you’re better for not knowing.

But just in case there is some third group of people who do care and don’t know what I’m talking about, or in case you just want to see what I sound like when I’m being all stern and serious, here’s a link to the twitter thread where I posted a portion of my resignation letter.

I normally wouldn’t share something like that publicly, even though many other writers have done so. But part of the problem with RWA is the dearth of communication and lack of transparency about process and decisions. So it felt important to be clear and open about my decision and the reasons behind it. After 16 years, I figure I’ve earned the right to Say Some Things.

As I mentioned, this has been a long time coming, a response to deep-seated bigotry and discrimination in RWA that might never be resolved. I expected to feel some degree of loss or remorse or maybe have second thoughts. Interestingly, I don’t. It’s more a feeling of immense relief. RWA is not my problem anymore.

It’s a heavy toxic weight off my shoulders, a clearing of brain space, a freeing up of energy. Much needed.

*   *   *

And then there’s the other definition of resignation, which I also dealt with around the same time:

“2. the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.” – Dictionary online

I refer, of course, to my trees. Specifically, to my trees, and parts thereof, falling.

OK, here’s something you might not know about me: I have fears.

Everyone: We knew that.

Me: FEARS, I tell you.

Everyone: Yes, we’re aware.

Me: Good. Glad we cleared that up.

Mostly these fears involve storms, especially storms with high winds. I refuse to qualify these fears as phobias — which I also have, thanks brain — because they aren’t irrational. And they’re different from general anxiety — which I also have, thanks again brain — because they’re specific.

I’m trying to be less fearful and more resigned to the fact that if you have tall pines and massive oak trees in your yard, and I do, and you also live in an area where occasionally there are storms with strong winds, and I do, eventually those trees are going to fall. And they do.

Obviously, it just serves to reinforce my fears, rather than alleviate them, when this happens.

It’s always disorienting to look out the window and see a large piece of tree or a root ball in a place where it doesn’t belong. My poor flowering cherry tree, getting crushed like that. There’s a fraction of a second when your brain refuses to accept what it’s seeing. “How can that possibly be there?”

Followed swiftly by, “How much is it going to cost and how quickly can I get that mess cut up and hauled away before the city gives me a citation for blocking sidewalk traffic?”

Partial answer: Before noon the next day, for the cutting up part. Impressive response time, yard guys. And see how neatly they piled it up?

Still waiting for them to find time in their schedule to come back and haul it away. And send me the bill.

Luckily, as you can see if you look waaaaay up (I’m guessing that’s about 80 feet up, on a 110-foot-tall tree), losing a limb of that size didn’t damage or weaken the pine tree AT ALL.

Probably the rest of it won’t come crashing down with the next strong wind. Or heavy heaping of snow.

Did I mention tomorrow’s forecast is for some unknown description and quantity of wintry precipitation? It might be anything from some light cold rain to perhaps several inches of snow. Or maybe just sleet. Or freezing rain that clings to branches and weighs them down and . . .


So far, I’m one-for-two on achieving various definitions of resignation this month. Fingers crossed I don’t get the opportunity for more practice any time soon.



Filed under miscellaneous bits