Letter #3: Happy Birthday, Gramma!

Dear Gramma,

Tomorrow would have been your birthday.  I had a dream of your birthday or maybe it was a memory of your last birthday.  I saw you blowing out the candles and laughing.  If only it were that easy to wish you back.  I’m afraid I’m going to forget your laugh, your scent, the particular bend of your fingers.

In the hospital, you were so sure you’d be home for your birthday.  I remember my eyes welling, threatening to spill over onto your bed.  I didn’t know how to tell you I didn’t think you’d be going home again.  Instead I swallowed the lump in my throat and kissed your hand, telling you I hoped you’d be home for your birthday, too.

And you are home.  Home among hosts of angels and saints.  Home with Grandpa.  Home with your mother who gets to be with you on your birthday for the first time in stacks of decades.

Yesterday I was deleting numbers from my phone.  Numbers no longer in service.  Numbers of friends who have faded into people I once knew.  I came to your number, my finger hovering above the red delete button.  I couldn’t press the button.  Silly, I know, but I couldn’t.

I’d like to call and wish you happy birthday tomorrow.  I’d tell you about riding my bike with Pete and how proud I was when he crossed the finish line.  I’d tell you how well Terry is doing.  You’d no doubt tell me that he just gets better and better looking.  I’d agree, smiling at your love for him.  I’d tell you crazy stories from this wild year of teaching and we’d laugh.

But tomorrow my finger will just hover over your phone number.  Tomorrow I will cry and plumb my memories for happy times, like when I sat on your lap on our trip together, my arms and legs sticking out all over.  You said I was never too big to sit on your lap.  Not to point out the obvious, Gramma, but I was too big, way too big for your small lap.  But I didn’t care.  And neither did you.  You always had room for me and for that I’m grateful.

Happy birthday, Gramma.  I wish we were celebrating together.  I miss you terribly and I love you.  I love you so much.



Letter #2: My Stone Face

Dear Gramma,

I wrote about you on Saturday during the writing workshop I was leading.  I write about you all the time actually.  On Saturday I wrote about sitting on the edge of your hospital bed, reading poetry to you.  You kissed a lipstick print onto my cheek and I wiped it away, a quick reflex, a careless gesture.  I wish I hadn’t wiped it away.  Had I known it would be the last time, I would have left the shape of your lips on my skin a little longer.

I’m sorry that my last words to you weren’t ‘I love you.’  I said it probably hundreds of times during your last days here and countless times during my life.  It’s not that I question whether or not you knew I loved you, love you still.  I know you knew, that you know right now.  And I know that you loved me.  I do.  Telling each other so was the period at the end of each of our conversations.  I’m sorry, then, that when I kissed your forehead and said goodnight that I didn’t say ‘I love you’ one more time.  I thought I’d see you the next morning, but you slipped into Heaven while I dreamed in your house.  I didn’t know.  I just didn’t know.

On Saturday one of the workshop participants wrote about her grandmother dying of cancer.  When snippets of her piece were read aloud, I froze thinking ‘Did I write that?  I had to have written that.  I don’t think I wrote that, but I must have written that, right?  How could someone else have written about my life like that?’  I listened to the lines and I tried to keep my composure.  Underneath the veneer of my face I could feel the blood seeping from my cheeks.  I felt pale.  And exposed.

Do you remember that castle we saw on our trip?  Not Dracula’s castle.  Not Kalemegdon.  The other castle.  The pretty one.

It was drizzly that day and I took this picture of a stone cherub.

Something about the cherub’s face moved me.  Like being exposed to the elements somehow peeled away the layers revealing a more honest face, a scarred face.  That’s how I felt on Saturday listening to another person’s words so accurately narrate my own life.  I was terrified that my face, still raw with all my missing you, would show.  And maybe it did.  I don’t know.  I stood there, an exposed statue, and said something to close the session.  I have no idea what I said.  I hope it was coherent.  Or at least real words and not just a mash of stuttered consonants.  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.

My mom wore your favorite turquoise shirt tonight.  It looks pretty on her.  For a moment tonight she was standing in front of your photo, the one from your birthday where you’re wearing the turquoise shirt.  I looked back and forth from my mom’s face to your face.  You are so much alike.  I wish you were still here finishing her sentences and laughing at the same things.

Mother’s Day and your birthday are just around the corner.  It doesn’t seem fair that I have my mother and she doesn’t have you.  The rows and rows of Mother’s Day cards in the stores are so unkind, so cruel to the motherless.  I wish you could tell me words to say to her that will make those days easier, words that would flush away some of the anguish.  I’m afraid that when the time comes, I will stutter consonants and cry and the right words will lodge in a lump in my throat.  I need those words.

I believe God speaks to me in dreams and I dream of you almost every night.  Sometimes they are dreams invented in my imagination, but other times they’re dreams pulled from the pages of my memories.  I hope I’ll dream a memory of your words tonight, that I dream of something to write, something to give my mom on Mother’s Day.



P.S-And just so it’s the last thing I say to you tonight, I love you, Gramma.


The powder blue heavens are streaked with white brushstrokes.

The skywriters are marking the sky from the cockpits of their enormous pens.

They are curt editors, slashing the horizon in front of me,

Crossing out erroneous clouds.


I press my forehead to the window, craning my neck to see how their story ends.

The mountains are tucked under green blankets and sun shushes them to sleep.

The skywriters turn back home for the night,

Their crisp lines relax, wisps loosening into the wind.


The motion of the car lulls me, rocking me into a dream.

It is a memory returning to me in the darkening sky.

I am jumping waves, my legs kicking up sand and saltwater

My chubby hands holding fast to the fingers of my grandfather.


I wake too quickly, my fisted hands gripping nothing tight.

I lift my face up, peering through the windshield.

The moon lifts its milky face to meet mine.

It pulls the tides, erasing today’s page for tomorrow’s story.



The famous LOVE statue in Philadelphia was not what I’d expected.  The fountain was dried up and the corners of its mouth overflowed with wads of garbage.  I went to see the love piece three different times during my stay in Philadelphia, hoping each time to glimpse the fountain fanning cool sheets of water behind the crimson letters, hoping my meager photographic skills would capture just the right angle, just the right light.

Each click of the camera left me struck by the clusters of homeless men and the occasional homeless woman living in the park so known for its proclamation of love.  They were huddled in masses of faded grays and browns on the park benches and against the corners of statues of somebody historic, I’m sure.  It was not the background I’d hoped for my storybook photo of love.  Some men zipped themselves into sleeping bag cocoons and others flung their words at each other, their anger knifing the air and making me quicken my pace as I walked by.

Writing those words I’m ashamed because that’s what I did.

I just walked by.

I, the pious seeker of the perfect picture of love, just walked by, sometimes with a prickle of fear shimmying down my spine and a look of pity angling down my nose.  Not once did I stop to offer my gloves, or the few dollars wrinkled in my wallet, or the coat that usually hangs stuffed amongst many in my closet.  I went looking for love and I missed it.  I missed it completely.

I dream about the LOVE statue and in my dreams I am the kinder, more compassionate version of myself, the version I wish I was in my waking hours.  In my dreams I cock my head at the same angle as the crooked O atop the E.  I tilt my head and ponder the statue, ponder what it means to really love.  I wake and my neck twinges with pain from all my dreaming.

I swing my legs over the side of the bed and desperately hope I don’t miss the opportunity to love again today.

The Dream Quilt

Asking for money is hard.  Asking for money for a good cause is only slightly less difficult.

My friend, Marie, has been a consistent supporter of my efforts to cycle and raise money for several worthy causes.  So about a month ago, when Marie told me her mother was doing the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, I was quick to donate.  My donation gave me a chance to win a quilt handmade by her mother.  I never win anything, so I didn’t really think about the quilt.

Last Thursday night I felt a cold plugging my head and I slept perched upright on the couch so I could do that whole breathing thing.  In the middle of the night I awoke from a dream, chilled by the crisp fall air brushing in through the windows, turning my exposed toes white.  I scrambled around for another blanket and as I lay waiting for sleep to descend, I thought about the dream.  I dreamt that I’d won the quilt and was sleeping snuggled under its story squares.

The next morning Marie beamed as she told me I’d won the quilt in real life.  I grinned from ear to ear as I recounted my dream.

The quilt arrives at my house later this month.  I can’t wait for frosty winter nights when I’ll pull it tight under my chin and dream some more.