Monday, March 22, 2010

RIP Jette

My mother in law Jette passed away tonight, two days after a catastrophic heart attack. I never could have fathomed that Michael and I would lose our mothers within four months of one another. Both of our mothers could be difficult women, but they were our mothers, and they loved us, and we loved them, even in the midst of complicated relationships. When you have a mom, it's as if someone is standing between you and the cliff's edge; being a motherless child, you have a better view of the abyss. I am grateful we are here to shelter one another, to give each other the love and support and nurturing we need to turn away from the cliff, feel the sweet ground beneath our feet holding us up.

I have to admit, it took me a while to warm to Jette. I adore my former mother in law and miss her terribly, and Jette was nothing like Patricia. Jette could be cantankerous and opinionated and intolerant and fearful, and I often had to bite my tongue around her. But my heart started to open to her over time, especially recently. Jette had really turned a corner in the last couple of months, had started to be more positive and active in her life. She began an email correspondence with me about a month ago, and through those emails, I could see a side of her I hadn't seen before, a lively, thoughtful side--her humor really came through, and her love of language and literature, and her deep love for her family. I am so grateful I had that window into her spirit (although I did catch glimpses of it before. She always lit up around Asher, and he lit up around her, too--he always smiled and laughed when she shared Danish rhymes and songs. And of course she raised a beautiful, wise son.)

Michael has been amazing through this whole painful experience, strong and philosophical and tender, letting himself feel the whole gamut of emotions he needs to process. He feels some peace knowing his mom is at peace now, and knowing that her life ended on a high note. And like me, he is so grateful we have Asher to help us get through this time of grief. After my mom died, a friend told me that Asher was born to be a healer. It certainly feels that way now; he brings us so much joy, even in the midst of the most wrenching experiences. He was like that even before he was born--if I started to feel worried because I hadn't felt him kick for a while, he would give me a good jab, almost as if to let me know he was okay. Of course I don't want to saddle him with the burden of always being there to reassure us--he is here to walk his own path, not bolster ours. I hope it will take him to amazing, fulfilling places. He is four months old today, and has another cold, which is worrisome, but all in all, he is such a robust, thriving, happy, hilarious boy.

Michael said something today about how with our mothers gone, we have to really grow up, to become our fullest selves. A challenge I know we are up to, even though it feels a bit scary, and very sad.

Rest in peace, Jette.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

good thoughts, please

There is so much I've been wanting to blog about lately--my new book (out this past Tuesday), the work we're doing on our new house before we move in, etc.--but I've just been too busy to post. Now I am popping in to ask for your good thoughts. My husband Michael's mom Jette had a heart attack this morning and is on life support now. We are reeling and numb all at once. Thank you in advance for your support (or tak, I should say, in Jette's native Danish.)

Monday, March 15, 2010


Until I have a chance to post a real blog, let me leave you with this picture Hannah took of Asher today. :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My sister was just in town from Toronto for a few days; it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with her and my dad--our time together after my mom's death was so intense and profound, both painful and beautiful, and we all needed another dose of that communion.

Her last night here, she and Asher and I were driving back from dinner, and my car started to stutter and slow on the freeway. My gas light had been on for a while, so I figured I must have run out of gas (which made me feel like a dodo, especially since my sister had asked if we should stop to get gas at the start of the drive, but I assured her we had enough to get back.) I coasted to the shoulder of the off ramp where the car conked out completely. It was a long off ramp, and we were near the top, so cars were whizzing past us at freeway speeds as they exited, rattling the car, rattling my nerves. Asher was asleep in his car seat in the back, blissfully unaware, while I imagined cars smashing into us.

"We should probably stay in the car where we're strapped in, huh?" I said to my sister, who agreed. A seatbelt might not do a whole lot if a car going 70 hit us while were were parked, but it seemed better than being completely unprotected. I called Michael, who said he'd come get us. Then the hazard lights turned off, and the interior lights started to fade after I turned them on so drivers would be able to see us, and I realized we were dealing with issues beyond an empty tank; I was worried that people wouldn't be able to see the car, so we got out and stood on the edge of the shoulder, which probably made us even less safe. I asked my sister if we should climb down the embankment next to the ramp, but she wisely noted how steep it was, and that it probably wasn't a good idea to pick our way down it in the dark, carrying a baby. Asher had woken up, hysterical, before we got out of the car, but being out in the cool night air calmed him down (of course I worried about him getting too cold after getting over pneumonia--he's doing much better, by the way--but we had a little blanket to cover him up.) We eventually decided it would be safer to just get back in the car and put our seat belts back on, so we did, much to Asher's distress. I sat in the back with him and tried to stretch the seatbelt enough to be able to lean over and nurse him in his car seat, but unfortunately that didn't work.

Michael was taking a lot longer than I expected, and I was getting more and more rattled by the huge trucks barreling past us, so I gave him a call. He had stopped to put gas in a gas can, but something was wrong with the can so he had to get a new one and no one at the gas station was able to open it for quite some time. He was on his way, though, and would be there soon.

It was such a relief to get into his car after he pulled up, but as soon as we started to drive, gas fumes began to choke us. We cracked open the windows, but the smell kept getting stronger. "Do you think it spilled?" I asked; Michael pulled into the driveway of an apartment complex to check. Sure enough, the trunk of the car was full of gas. We got out of the car again and sat on the curb of the driveway as Michael tried to clean the gas out with a towel he happened to have in the trunk. I didn't feel right putting the baby back in the car with the fumes, so we called a cab company, which said they'd have someone pick us up in about twenty minutes. As I huddled on the curb nursing Asher, I imagined I looked like a refugee, but then Michael smiled and reminded me "This is a comedy, not a tragedy" and even though I had been laughing, mostly nervously, throughout the experience, it sunk in that he was right. We would be home soon, safe. This was just a comedy of errors (unless someone walked by with a match near all that spilled gas. I couldn't seem to get my worrying self to quiet down completely).

The cab showed up and my sister and I hooked Asher's car seat into the back and piled in on either side of him while Michael drove the fumy car home. The cab was warm and the driver was nice and my sister and I sunk back into the seats, laughing, and then crying about our mom a little, and soon we were at my house, safe and sound.

I realize how many times I've used the word "safe" above, and how scary it felt to think our safety was compromised. I think about my mom toward the end of her life, when she thought she was being followed, being poisoned, being drugged, being sabotaged, and it breaks my heart to think of how afraid she must have felt. Going through her house afterwards, I found a letter she had written to one of her neighbors when she thought another neighbor had installed some sort of surveillance equipment on their roof to monitor her. "I feel unsafe", she wrote toward the end, and that simple sentence has haunted me. It was awful to feel acutely unsafe for about an hour, but she had started to feel that way all the time. We'll never know exactly why she chose to end her life--her last note to us wasn't suicidal; in fact she was asking for more time to prove her allegations--but I have to take some comfort in the fact that she is no longer afraid.