Assignment – Who were you?

For reasons unknown, the writing class I am taking at the local college has shrunk from the six students who signed up to two of us who regularly make an appearance. It’s an observation, not a complaint. It makes for a wide-ranging, free form class that has become very engaging.

This week’s homework is to ask two friends to write a short paragraph about who you are. One friend/sibling that has known you since you were young and someone who has only known you as an adult.

jen and me

The stories my sister could tell you….but now is not the time.

kids first four

Any of these three knew quite a bit about that girl in the pig-tails.


I know exactly two people who can tell you anything  truly relevant about the heart of this woman.
The exercise is to give the writings to the teacher and see if he can guess who (I suppose which is better used in the case of only two students) the writing is about. You see, it came to light last week that I feel and am more myself now than I ever have been in my life, and think people who knew me before would be righteously scandalized. I care less about other’s opinions of myself than at any other point in my life. While the other student (who moved here a year before me, also from Pittsburgh) works hard every day to appear like she belongs with the people who live here. She takes steps to make herself disappear into the population here.

I’m going to ask a friend I grew up across the street from to write a quick description. He lives and works in NYC and we’ve only seen each other once or twice since high school. I’m going to ask a former co-worker to write the other one. She knows things about me, no one should probably know….

I’m curious, I admit it.

If I wanted to know one thing about you that only a sibling or your best friend would know, what would that be?


Good Grief


It shows up in the oddest moments, lighting the darkest corners.

A few days ago I sat in a funeral home with two of my sisters, listening to the endless litany of explanations regarding cremation. The writer in me perched on the edge of the couch in unfettered curiosity while the sister in me kept a careful eye and hand on my younger sibling as she nodded through each statement. At forty-seven, she is not quite two years younger than me. Sitting next to me, here in the funeral home, she is the indomitable woman, checking boxes to order the cremation her firstborn.

My niece, a vibrant, beautiful girl of unimaginable potential, overflowing with love, filled with laughter and blessed with a flair for the dramatic. She was a popular performer on the local stages, known for her wit, her compassion, her tiny five foot frame and that Ethel Merman voice.

Her mother scribbles her initials on the contract, the room solemnly silent, so unlike her daughter’s life. She hands the clipboard back to the funeral director who nervously clears his throat and moves to the next paragraph.

“This paragraph states that you understand that the cremation is irreversible.” He clears his throat again, handing over the pen and paper.

I glance at my youngest sister, sitting across from us, a quiver tickles at the corner of her mouth as she meets my eye. I swallow the giggle that threatens to erupt as I picture my niece’s reaction to that particular gem in her funeral planning.

The surprised flip of her fiery red hair, the quirk of her eyebrow and miffed moue of her lips. “Irreversible you say? This is just coming up now?”

Her infectious laughter at the absolute absurdity, echoes in my mind. A little sparkle of the good grief, the moments that make you smile through your tears. It happened again when her mother reluctantly declined to attend the cremation and take the opportunity to push the button.

Noting her hesitation, I whispered, “Are you sure you don’t want to?”

She scribbled her initials, “Nah, I’d like to, but she’d think it was gross. I’ve already taken a lock of her hair, she’d be like, MOM! That’s weird AND gross! Do NOT come push the button you sicko! ” It was a pitch perfect rendition of her daughter’s voice.

Youngest sister and I are caught picturing it and forced to look away from each other before the giggles escape. Another glimmer of good grief, like a rhinestone flashing in the spotlight. It reminded me of the lyric, there’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low.

The radiant memory of this beautiful girl will forever catch me unaware, reminding me to smile, laugh, and go, on with the show.








A Quiet Moment

Wednesday, March 16 


I’m sitting here on the couch at my sister’s house after four emotionally draining days. She’s finally settled into an exhausted sleep on the couch across from me. It’s taken a strong drink, a little pill and three sisters playing massage therapists. 

There’s been an endless run of concerned friends all day and I finally turned the porch light off. Grief is exhausting and so many people want the comfort of her voice and face. But for now, she sleeps, blessed forgetfulness in the midst of tragedy.

Sunday night I received a distraught phone call from my youngest sister. It took her three tries to finally tell me that our niece had been found dead earlier that day in her apartment. She was 26 years old and never could you have known a more loving, talented, hilarious, beautiful, life affirming, air headed girl. 

Yes, there are lots of questions we will have to wait more weeks for the answers to. Yes, it’s impossible to believe that life is going on out there without her. It is, at times, equal parts unimaginable and comforting that she left us so close to mom. So hard to see the world without her perennial light and song and laughter. So hard to say goodbye. 

I’m angry that this is the way four sisters who live in three different states are brought crashing together. I’m angry that we we didn’t do more for each other. I’m angry that we were all so hurt in different ways that we refuse to rely on anyone even each other. I’m angry that we have to hurt like this, that a mother has to go to a mortuary and say goodbye to her beautiful girl. I’m so angry at the loss of such a wonderful life. I’m so ashamed that I don’t know my sister better than her friends. I’m so thankful for the people who love and care for her, here where she lives. 

I vow to do better. I must do better, we must do better. Somehow we must overcome our mistrust and find the ways to take care of each other as family should. Be willing to let each other in, to share our blessings and our burdens, to accept without judgement what we are and love and lift each other when it’s easy and when it’s heart rending.

It sounds so simple, why does it bring to my mind the perilous and deadly routes on Everest? 

When Everything Changes

I haven’t posted for an abnormal amount of time, it seems to me. And even this little bit isn’t really a post, just a way to hold space. johann-strauss

In all the crazy business of life there are those happenings that make your world stand still while everyone else spins on around you in oblivious cacophony.

Tonight my world is crystallized in disbelief. Waiting for the reality to hit. I’ll go and hold her hand, offer my shoulder, and try and believe it will be enough.