The Happy Cup

June 25, 2012

This is a rendition I drew, on my app Procreate.  It was re-drawn just for fun. It makes me happy.  It is of a famous Joan Miró painting. I have it on a coffee cup I purchased at a museum somewhere. If he gave permission to have it on a coffee cup, then surely I have permission to bring a rendition of it to my blog.
I include it here in ”rawgrief’ for two reasons: 1) to let you know I remember how to have fun and 2) to illustrate the fact that many things make me happy.
You might not know that if you are always reading ‘rawgrief’.

The following is an email I wrote to my daughter, Kristin, on 8/6/2010, only 3 months after Katherine’s death.  This email was the first time I described the phoenomenon.  I have told its story many times since, but this is its freshest telling:

Then this morning, my 4:30 am alarm went off. I went to the bathroom and immediately began a phrase in my head that I knew to be a song.  I only had three words..….”dah-dah in the morning”.  It kept coming a little bit clearer, but I couldn’t get the first words.  I understood the cadence. I couldn’t get it to stop pushing to clear the threshold of understanding what it was.  It was so compelling.  I finally went online and searched for the words I did know, “…in the morning” and bingo: Diana Ross “Touch Me In The Morning”.  It was totally all-right-there—a full communication from beyond the veil.  It just made me so happy.  I’ve never “hummed” that song in my life.  Katie picked it out of the recesses of my mind and gave me a gift.  I had been asking for a “sign”.  I was looking for something about butterflies since I have been very attentive to butterflies lately, but I got this instead.  No need to figure out the mystery. It’s just all gift.

The humming of the melody of this song has remained a part of my morning routine for the last 2 years.  Right after the alarm goes off, usually at 4:30 am., unless I am distracted by some immediate nonsense about the upcoming days’ activities or worries, this tune comes right up out of my mind without my being conscious of it or even fully awake.  It must be pinned to my psyche’s inner ear.  Its occurrence  comforts me like nothing else has.

Watch utube and listen to:  Diana Ross “Touch Me In The Morning”

……here are the written lyrics—get ready for a power surge.

Touch Me In The Morning


Touch me in the morning
Then just walk away
We don’t have tomorrow
But we had yesterday
Wasn’t it me who said that
Nothing good’s gonna last forever?
And wasn’t it me who said
Let’s just be glad for the time together?
It must’ve been hard to tell me
That you’ve given all you had to give
I can understand you’re feeling that way
Everybody’s got their life to live
Well, I can say good-bye in the cold morning light
But I can’t watch love die in the warmth of the night
If I’ve got to be strong
Don’t you know I need to have tonight when you’re gone?
‘Till you go I need to lie here and think about
The last time that you’ll touch me in the morning
Then just close the door
Leave me as you found me, empty like before
Wasn’t it yesterday
We used to laugh at the wind behind us?
Didn’t we run away and hope
That time wouldn’t try to find us (Didn’t we run)

Didn’t we take each other
To a place where no one’s ever been?
Yeah, I really need you near me tonight
‘Cause you’ll never take me there again
Let me watch you go
With the sun in my eyes
We’ve seen how love can grow
Now we’ll see how it dies
If I’ve got to be strong
Don’t you know I need to have tonight when you’re gone?
‘Till you go I need to hold you until the time
Your hands reach out and touch me in the morning
(Mornings where blue and gold and we could feel one another living)
Then just walk away
(We walked with a dream to hold and we could take what the world was giving)
We don’t have tomorrow,
(There’s no tomorrow here, there’s only love and the time to chase it)
But we had yesterday
(But yesterday’s gone my love, there’s only now and it’s time to face it)
Touch me in the morning…

The Water Line

June 14, 2012

I went there again. Just this afternoon. Damn that place. Damn the feeling of emotional quicksand I get into when I am upended and thrown down and dragged there kicking and screaming.

It was inevitable. What kind of a mother would I be if it didn’t bring me pain? Katie’s husband Chris had called me to discuss the decision of where and how and what the price points are for the cemetery where we will soon bury her ashes. The vault, the interment, the gravestone marker.

I hate to feel the emotion, despair. That one is a killer. It murders, straight out annihilates, all comfort and mercy, all illusion that you might have been content, maybe even light-hearted and carefree just a few minutes before. Anyway, I hadn’t been lighthearted before he called, which of course allowed an immediate return of someplace even worse. Of course Chris didn’t call me up to hurt me on purpose. But those things had to be talked about this afternoon. This damn afternoon. He shouldn’t have to be alone with those decisions. After all, I am his mother-in-law. He already talked to her father. So now it’s my turn. Then I agreed he should call Kristin and Andrew and “run it by them”, too. It’s important to ruin their day too. (Oh, sorry.) Bless Chris’s heart, he’s moving forward on the “ashes”thing. We need him to. We asked him to. He’s got to share this grave reminder of her, because it’s real.

This all reminds me of a piece of writing that I found Monday on “the shelf”. I wrote it years ago in 2008 when Katie first learned that she had lost her “partial remission”, the ability to hold off the aggressive growth of her hundreds of tumors with the experimental chemo she traveled to Chicago every three weeks to receive. She was able to establish a plateau of slower growth for an entire 18 months of “normalcy”, even going to work again, to contribute this time. A whole 18 months for all of us to move away from the “fear and trembling” that accompanied our every day’s consciousness that she would be dead in 3 to 6 to 9 months’ time. We got acquainted with, accustomed to, quite fond of normalcy again. It looked terrific on us, we were a family again that could gather at the dining room table and argue politics and current events and growth points of other members of the family as they assailed their young adulthoods, their career highs and lows, the angst of boyfriend dilemmas—all the delicious price points of abundance that swell your heart with praise for life’s goodness. Routine set in, even boredom could return on occasion.

Then we had to f–k all that. She had another routine set of scans in Chicago and then the news that she was losing her fight with this cancer again, that this particular chemo was cratering. We all knew it would, we wanted it to be later. We knew the other chemos, the ones next in line, were much “lesser lights” in her oncologist’s arsenal of poisons.

The despair came swift and cut deep with the news. A tantrum feeling with a volcano under it. Desperate longings to be in denial were luxuries long since thrown out as defenses of any value. We knew too much. We had our little reprieve and it was bitterly over. You couldn’t even crawl inside a good victim’s whining episode. “Come on, get real, what did you think, that you could be happy? Don’t be a fool!” I knew better. We knew the drill.

So, at that juncture in the shifting tectonic plates of our realities in 2008, I wrote this, and last night found it on “the shelf”:

The Water Line

All this time
I thought it was
The air we breathe
Above the water
That is the
Way of life
To encourage.

I thought this
Was the goal,
What we work hard to enjoy,
The breathing easy,
Knowing our lungs
Have just what they need
To carry
Around inside us.

Then I sank
Below the water's surface.
Reluctant to go there
Yet again.
The darker, murkier,
Arena for
Where human suffering
Is the norm.
Where they laugh at you,
With all your misfortune,
You, thinking you
Could avoid

But while there is no
Bobbing up
And down,
In the water
Here at life's crucible,
That edge of sadness
And loss---and loss, and loss.
It is to create a way
To see them both
That is your task

To bob slowly
And settle
At the half way point
In the center
Of your eyes,
Where there is clear vision
Under the water, ugly,

To see it
At once as
The same reality.
Both bobs,
Up and
Before you dip below
Without the air
To hold you gently,
In grace.



….a precious moment in the Boundary Waters.


There’s nothing like climbing back on the “horse” of blog posts after being gone for a good 6 weeks. Ugh. (I didn’t have any horse photos….)

I don’t want to do it, I don’t want NOT to write again….it’s just that it sends me down a rabbit hole to look at Raw Grief again. But it has no less pressure, albeit a different rabbit hole, to have so much psychic time-space of non-thinking and non-writing about loving Katie go on in my day-to-day without her. I caught myself with a “rush” of missing her the other day that wasn’t at all connected with the blog and I was caught off guard. It didn’t feel like a prompting for something literary, it felt very very sad. And it reminded me of the difference between writing about sadness and feeling it raw. By building a blog that bridges to a legacy for Katie’s life, I have unwittingly constructed a wall against the natural mourning process. Any spontaneous eruption of grief has layers to move through now before it sees the light of honest emotion. And for a grateful recovering stoic, that is not a trend I want to encourage.

But there is only one linear continuum I have to work with. The clock ticks only forward, relentlessly moving us, me, downstream in time and I will never have this opportunity to tell my truth today in the fresh way that today would speak it, unless I just go ahead and write. Tomorrow would not speak it the same way. And I have only but my one voice, speaking of only my one perspective for this one “now” time. What a limited luxury, what a unique gift holding me hostage, what a pressure and responsibility. And that it would flow with joy when I finally get to it, at my great surprise, is the reason to get up tomorrow at 4:30 a.m. and do it all again.

I greet you as you read this today. I send blessings your way, that you may feel the precious weight of the moments ticking through your continuum. May you send love to those who need you to speak its truth now. There is no other time to do it, remember?

These are the ones you need to know.

Here we are in a 2006 photo, before it all began:  we who journeyed together as comrades-in-arms.  The family, the step-father, the husband, the best friend, the mom, the sister, the brother, a sweet heart and the doggies. From the top, to the right and around: Gordon, Chris, Beth, Kay (me), Kristin, Andrew, Sebastian, Jen, and of course, the center of our journey, our Katherine (holding Maggie).

If Katie is doing some “Angel-ing-’round-me”, I’d say she was very very good at it!

All joy comes from God….well let’s say that all joy and beauty and goodness come from the God space-time-continuum where that universe intersects this side of the veil and time stands still……it is the same place/time/space where the “aperture opens and closes quickly”… do not know where it comes from, what it is nor where it went when the aperture closes, but you know you have been blessed with something so sweet and delectable and precious that it’s essence remains. In fact it’s absence has more substance than that which is seen or known and clocked in “real time”. (Already you can see the conundrum of using language at all.)

And that essence of love intersected, that “angeling-around” or love-pierced-through-time is exactly where Katie-love is now. At least it is there where I look for her now days and keep finding her presence—unmistakably, un-known. Her impact is noted from behind time. “didn’t our hearts burn?” That is the language that best fits.

After Katie died, I was walking with Mary Adams along the St. Anthony-Main bridge area over the Minnesota River. It was early on after Katie’s death and early in my putting words together around the phenomenon of understanding my grief. It was easy to talk with Mary because she knows the language of the mystical, or the dynamic, the reality…….

While we were walking on the bridge, (I can see it specifically in my mind’s eye right now), I was trying to put words to my experience of feeling Katie’s presence in the short time since her death. I kept coming back around and around to use a language that centered around the concept of her presence-in-absence, at a palpable level of experience.

Knowing God is breath, the Breath of life….knowing that God’s love breathes through us, is in us, around us…I was declaring that I was experiencing a Presence of Katiness, a “Knowing” level of awareness, where Katie has been made One with God, or been absorbed, incorporated, mutually known of and by God, at the God-place-time intersection… Un-reality that is more real than reality itself…

I was trying to explain to Mary that I kept feeling Katie very very close at times and then not feeling her so close at other times…like God breathing-in and God breathing-out God’s Self, through Katherine….it was a palpable knowing, like God’s breath was breathing God’s breath where Katie now is. That she is able, somehow to come close and know and be known, but then go back into wherever her specificity absorbs into the Whole again….which of course is where she is most alive now, since her death.

At that time on the bridge, it was my best effort yet, in trying to articulate my experience. Using a kind of technical language the mystical writers in the 1300’s used to talk about experiencing God—called “apophatic” speech…..experiencing God through the un-knowing of God…..more powerfully knowing God-love through an un-knowing of God-love.

Meister Echkart prayed “I pray God to rid me of God”.

That’s all I can say for now. Or, better yet, that’s all I can not-say for now:

God breathing God’s-Self through the breathing of Katie-love….breath in and breath out….as I walk through life in her un-presence…..a powerfully real place to be. When I experience it, I can only know it after I look backwards and say, during that time,

“wasn’t my heart burning?”

Love: Frozen In Time

May 7, 2012

Yesterday I spent the day with my son-in-law, Chris.  We were at his house going through some of the many boxes of Katherine’s “stuff” that are still taking up valuable space in his basement—now 2 years after her death.  This second anniversary of her death is coming up on Wednesday.

I wanted to do something that was meaningful this year to commemorate this time besides crying all day, which is what happened last year.

I braced myself before heading over there.   I was bound and determined to make this time meaningful, not morose.

We started diving into the boxes that contained pictures taken from her camera—which means they were photos I had never seen before.  I was so delighted to be immersed in new material….and none of them was taken in her ‘”chemo” years—they were shot in healthy, vibrant, silly, frivolous natural growing up and young adult times.  They were of her travels and parties, school and family…..all mixed up, back and forth, and many many many of them.  There were photos of smoking in college trying to be a rebel, her pierced belly button, awful depressing days while studying abroad in Berlin during her junior year in college with four other dear but also depressed friends as they suffered the poverty of their pocketbooks and that city as it tried to rebuild its economy—and Berlin’s sun hard ever shined.

And then I found “The Box”.  A plastic Target storage see-through container, just loaded with what looked like a specially gathered collection of her favorite letters. I opened letter after letter from family members and dear friends.  I put the ones from others into special piles to give to them later.

But something very special happened.  I will never experience this ever again.  It was a place, a space, truly “frozen in time”.  It was an afternoon spent reading letter after letter from me to Katie.  There  were birthday cards, encouraging cheerleading letters before her first set of college finals, cartoon cut-out collages being silly and longing to connect with her when  she lived overseas for years at a time.

What I realize now is that I was watching/reading years of outpouring of Katie-love over time.  It was a fast forward deluge of affection and demonstrative descriptions of my sheer delight in who she was as she negotiated the teenage and young adult passages of her life.  I was sitting there in Chris’s livingroom in real time, but transported into sacred time—a special crevice of grace-filled “no-time”—watching me love her over and over again, letter after letter. It felt like a solid rock of mega-memory.  Yet the miraculous thing that was transpiring at a meta level was the specific deep articulation of another message—from her to me—a reaching back to me, from Katie, to whisper as loudly as she could:


I was immersed for hours in mother heaven. Ironically, as I sit down to write this, I am reminded of something else I haven’t been aware of until right now. Katie died on Mother’s Day 2010.  Yesterday in Chris’s livingroom she reached through to provide me a Mother’s Day present for this year.  It truly felt like  being with her. A beautiful space frozen in time, for all time, from beyond the veil.

I love you, sweetheart.

Anger’s necessity

April 22, 2012

“The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; 
the second is that it distorts your view of reality. 
If you think about this and come to understand 
that anger is really unhelpful, that it is only destructive, 
you can begin to distance yourself from anger.” 
Dalai Lama
But anger is arguably the most honest of all the emotions. At least it is the boldest. You can’t live an authentic life without having it in your emotional repertoire.  If you try to live the reality of a life surrounded by cancer, whether as the one diagnosed or as those who love them, and try to AVOID anger—you will live a life complicated by a shortened prognosis, heart disease, crohn’s disease, or a cancer diagnosis of your own. Cancer ignites ANGER into life like a match ignites dry kindling.  There is no escaping it. You wake up and it has been there waiting for you.  You go to bed exhausted from having to stuff it all day and then dream dark dreams all night.  Yet in a world full of cancer you deserve to spend a certain amount of time being angry. Yes. That emotion is handed to you with the diagnosis, it comes attached. Sometimes anger can feel b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l in its purity.  It is the single most obvious response to an interrupted life, being taken down a road no one would want to travel. But spend too much time feeling angry—pure or not, deserved or not—and you find it has mutated into bitterness—thick and morose—producing a slow drag against anything you try to do, sucking fresh air out of every breath you take. Stay angry for any length of time and it sucks life right out of you. Try to do a cancer journey without anger as a constant companion and you buy a ticket to a denial zone that can make you insane in no time.  The fresh air comes only while feeling the anger without letting it destroy you.  Living life within the reality of anger’s necessity.  It creates a depth of meaning, a maturity, a nimbleness of spirit where authentic life is born every day.  Learning to live life in a world of the absurd.  A “new normal” to be sure.

The very best thing about this sweetheart of a dog is that he doesn’t talk. To an introvert, that is a solid recommendation for partnership. His sweetness comes through unmasked, he’s happy almost all the time and he never requires that I explain life to him. He takes life on life’s terms. When Katherine was sick those last few years, Sebastian (that’s his name) would just “be there”for me. In ministry they have a name for that—“the ministry of presence”. It’s brilliant and I’ve seen it time after time be the closest thing to a balm outside of Gilead.

When Katie was first in the hospital at age 4 months, we had a lot of time to kill before surgery the next day. We had driven 6 hours out of state to the regional hospital in Iowa that had the most eye specialists around. What did we know, we just followed directions.

Right away we had an appointment with the head of the department. It was a bustling place, full of people walking fast going somewhere intentionally. We asked a nurse-looking woman if she could tell us where to find Dr. —-‘s office. She knew right away and said, “sure, I’ll go find him”. We sat down in the waiting area and in no time we were greeted by a man who called us “the couple with the baby from Nebraska”. He had a lab coat on, he looked old and distinguished, he knew us enough—it must be our doctor. No introduction. No ushering us into a small office with leather chairs. Right in the middle of the busy thoroughfare he pulled out a small flashlight from his white coat, quickly waved it over Katie’s eyes while I still held her in my arms with my purse, diaper bag and coat in tow and said “oh, that will have to come out. See my nurse, she will get you scheduled and tell you what to do”. And then he left.

It was all we could do to sit down in the waiting room. Our instincts were to flee. And fast. But as soon as I played that scenario out, we would be back in the parking lot with a baby and a tumor and no place to hide.

So we were checked into the hospital. A mere 24 hours before, we had a wide open future ahead of us filled with all its various dreams of young people building a family. Now we were a pitiful mess of wretchedness. Parents carrying a baby with cancer who would lose her eye in the next 24 hours. We were frozen full of dread and confusion, with anger all over it. The absurd irony was that we still had this normal happy bouncing baby to entertain in the meantime. She didn’t know the “news”. The only thing we could think of was to call an “older brother” long time friend in a nearby city. He had no more expertise than we did, but he became an important anchor in our new consciousness now full of shifting tectonic plates. Better than that, he was an anchor who could tell jokes. Garry was always inherently clever and as a graduate student in psychology, he always had a knack of making meaning out of chaos. But there was no meaning to be made here. This was Life of the Absurd. All we needed from him was to know us from before the insanity began and be a refuge in our storm. Not just any refuge. Garry’s whole demeanor had always been a walking standup comedy act. The balm he brought us that night before surgery was merely his presence. And the healing medicine he poured over us was laughter. Nothing of import, nothing to reconcile disaster and tragedy—he came and delivered us his “ministry of presence”. I’ll never forget him for what he did for us that night. He made us feel normal, he made us laugh.

All clean……

April 11, 2012


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