Friday, December 30, 2016

#SOL16: Donate Now

Lung Cancer Research Foundation

I.

Some memories are less event-based and more the result of a recalled behavior. Early this morning I made a cup of coffee and as I went to sip it I realized that Rob who loved coffee would never taste it again. There's a pain to these simple truths, a pain that rushes to the heart. This is what grief feels like. A sudden stabbing,

A year ago I woke up ready to take my husband to chemo. This would have been Rob's second treatment and we were anxious to see it happen. Having known only delays because of staph infections, I was worried that the cancer was progressing. Nothing my son or I tried that morning could help Rob to stand. And we tried. He simply could not stand any longer. After 60 years of standing up, my husband could no longer do so and he would never again. Later at the hospital we would learn that the spinal lesions were compressing his spine.

It was still early morning when Rob was taken by ambulance to the hospital. As we waited he cried. I can't recall having seen Rob cry but on that morning he did. He told me he feared he would never come home again. It would be 50 more days before another ambulance would return my husband to our home where a few weeks later he would die. Four months earlier we were planning a trip to Maine unaware of the stage 4 lung cancer rioting through my husband's body.

Lung cancer devastates with its quickness, its exactness, its cruelty. By the time it reveals itself, it is so often too, too late.

II.

My son tells me that a cure for cancer is three years away. Upstairs in our home a dedicated computer runs 24 hours a day. This is a computer Dev built a few years ago and then set up so that medical researchers could use its power when joined with others to perform the massive calculations necessary to exacting a cure. He gets updates now and then as to the progress being made.  Our computer is dedicated to cancer research.

I take comfort in the idea of a cancer-free world. I take comfort in the thought that others will not need to go through the grief that so many of us know by heart and by name. At the turn of the last century when my grandmother was a young girl, 1 in 14 contracted cancer.  By mid century, the time my parents welcomed home my older brother, the odds were 1 in 10.  In this calendar year the odds have grow more deadly. Now, 1 in 3 will contract cancer.

1 in 3.

Before 2016 turns to 2017, I hope you will join me and donate to cancer research. This touches all of us. You can donate here

Thursday, December 29, 2016

#SOL16: Post Election Cleaning

House (M.A.Reilly, South Dakota, 2012)

I.

Lately, I have been thinking about the choices we make--the ones we must reconcile ourselves to having made. I was walking the other day, listening to Krista Tippett's On Being, when I heard Isabel Wilkerson compare our country to a really old house.

MS. ISABEL WILKERSON: Our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work. And the work is never done. And just when you think you’ve finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else. Something else has gone wrong. 
And that’s what our country is like. And you may not want to go into that basement, but if you really don’t go into that basement, it’s at your own peril. And I think that whatever you are ignoring is not going to go away. Whatever you’re ignoring is only going to get worse. Whatever you’re ignoring will be there to be reckoned with until you reckon with it. And I think that that’s what we’re called upon to do where we are right now. 
from here.
Although Wilkerson was speaking about the United States, I wondered then as I do now, how the metaphor might be personalized, fitted to one's life? What rests in the basement of my conscience? What lurks there? What peril do I flirt with by not getting to the bottom of things? And perhaps that last portion of the question is what resonates the most. Are these scary concerns just mine that I have buried? Do they affect you too? Am I even aware of what lurks in that basement? What do I act upon without conscious thought? What beliefs get built by what I have buried? What harm do I cause? 

II. 

If this election taught me anything it is that reality is often unshared, and yet for all of our distinct differences, there still remains love. Love for other. Love for self. Love for country. I was reminded of the power of love as I walked up my front steps this morning and thought about the kindness of my neighbors these last few months as they have watched out for Devon and for me. I don't know their politics. I don't inquire and they don't advertise their beliefs with lawn signs and the like. I have read posts recently by others who say they have ended friendships and/or ceased relationships with family members because of the way they voted. That feels extreme to me, even perilous.

Surely there are differences among us. There have always been. And yet, in times of need our neighbors and family are often who we count on to help us. In losing Rob this year it is has been hard for me to also be so vulnerable, so needy. I have never needed others in the small and large ways I do these days. There's much I am learning by being open to the kindness of others. I'd like to think that regardess of my political views my value remains.  The hope to understand other, to love other, requires each of us to remain open to what we are most not like.

I'm working to get my own house in order--my own basement cleaned up. That's what I am taking from this election. I am beginning at home. I am inventorying the stuff in my own basement and seeing what I need to understand differently and what I need to no longer keep.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#SOL16: A Snowy Day in Vermont

Zen (M.A. Reilly)


Lovers don't suddenly meet somewhere. They're inside  one another all along.  
                                                                                - Rumi

I.

from my art journal
26 years ago Rob and I were married in Vermont by a man named Dave. It was a brief civil ceremony that took place in the front parlor of Dave's home with his wife witnessing the marriage. That morning it snowed and would continue to do so for most of the day. Later we would find an abandoned road, unplowed. We left the jeep on the side as best we could and spent an hour playing in the deep snow. It seemed as if the whole world was kindly waiting beyond the borders of our day and only Rob and me existed in that late afternoon. I learned there to never get into a snowball fight with a guy from Brooklyn.

You gotta pack the snow. Pack it,  my husband of just a few hours advised as he lobbed snowball after snowball at me.

It was a day only the two of us would know.  It is these private moments that frame what a marriage rests upon.


II.

Rob and Max at home
Half of my life was spent with Rob. And though I have memories of times before Rob, they mostly pale and are more fragmented than whole. I learned through Rob how to be vulnerable; how to love and be loved. We spent 11 years together before adopting Devon and then another 17 years as a family with our son. And now Devon and I have spent this last year learning how to step back into the world and live.

I've been thinking about what made all those years feel so full and at first I began to note travels we had taken for we traveled often. But that's not it.  For what emerged were not scenes of Tuscany or the west of Ireland as lovely as each was, but rather ordinary days at home. Days not unlike today where clouds have rolled in and the air has turned bitter cold again. And when winter asserts itself the contrast between it and home is so grand. Inside, our home is warm--a place made for making art, for conjuring dreams, for becoming. Home has always been such a safe and lovely local place. It is here I learned the art of error.


III.

Rob in intensive care, reading.
This morning wanting to connect with Rob, I read some of his last journal entries. I felt compelled to know what he was thinking in those weeks before he stopped writing completely. I had not been able to read these before as such a connection would have been too painful after his death. This morning though I felt differently and found his last notebook on a shelf in our bedroom. I had kept it close. Curled up in bed early this morning, I read as if some secret messages might be revealed.

There were no secrets, save one. Rather, my husband, part jester, mostly stunning intellect could be read in the things he noted and pondered. I had forgotten that throughout most of January he continued to read  The New York Times and The Nation. He continued to read Walter Benjamin. He was working on a poem about a child caught between the repeating image of self in multiple mirrors. These were a set of mirrors that had been in his childhood home. He noted that he continued to be disappointed, even then in the weeks leading to his death, in his mother who could not commit to knit him a hat he could wear during the anticipated chemotherapy--a therapy he would not live to see.

Towards the end of the entries he asked if he was losing his mind. It was late January and what he could not know then but what his body seemed to be telling him was what we would learn 48 hours later. He was at the Kessler rehab and again at the hands of his doctors and nurses, he would contract another staph infection and this time he would not recover. As the infection rooted within him, his tether to reality loosened and the fever and shakes increased.

He was so lost and so alone.

For the 100 days Rob spent in hospitals during the 5 months of his illness I spent most every day with him--save only a few days. I had breakfast with Rob on that Friday morning before the only major snowfall we would have last winter. More than 2 feet of snow fell and I would not see him again until Sunday night when he was transported to Morristown Hospital where he would remain until mid-February. It would be my insistent phone calls to the nurses that would finally prompt the care Rob needed and the doctor's decision to transport Rob to the hospital. I knew something was wrong as he was so lethargic on the phone, in such a hurry to hang up. This was not like him and I was scared and frustrated that I could not be there and needed to rely on others.


IV.

Watching (M.A. Reilly)
A year ago Rob promised me that this year we would go away on holiday to celebrate our anniversary. We had planned to do so for our 25th anniversary and we could not. It was a promise made with only the best intention and it was a promise that could not be met.

What makes for a full and satisfying marriage, is less about destination and duration and more about the contentment felt when standing still. I could not see Rob's death then when we began together so many years ago. I could not see his end as I cannot see tomorrow. It is the living we do between now and then that defines who we are and who we want to be.

On that abandoned road deep with snow,  I knew I would love this man forever.


Pomengranate Banana Dairy-Free Smoothie

 

Here's a dairy free recipe for a slightly tart and delicious smoothie. Easy to make and satisfying. 
Ingredients
1 medium banana
2 tablespoons fresh pomegranate seeds
6 oz pomegranate juice (like POM Wonderful)
6 oz unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 tablespoon of sunflower seed butter
1 to 2 scoops of protein powder
Handful of ice cubes

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender, except the pomegranate seeds and process until smooth.
  2. Divide between two glasses and top each with the pomegranate seeds.
  3. Enjoy.

Monday, December 26, 2016

#SOL 16: The Unbanked River

House By the Tracks (M.A. Reilly, 2010)


Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.
                                   Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams
I.

It isn't only the absence that makes the holidays so difficult. It's how memories free flow like a river unbanked. Earlier my son rushed in to tell me he was testing the speed of a new router. Armed with an iPad he plopped down on the sofa and I took a second to study him in that unguarded moment. And as I looked, I glimpsed the toddler who approached most days with a similar curiosity.
Daddy? 
Umm. 
I fixed the wall good. 
What wall?    
The one by the steps. I fix it.  
Okay, good.                   
We  had just moved into a newly built home and as we got setttled that first night Devon was nonstop chatter about fixing a wall. We were so tired and excited and we told him how good that was that he fixed the wall and he smiled with a pride I can still recall. After we had put him to sleep, Rob would discover that our then three-year-old had used green and yellow markers to draw all over the stairwell wall. Those were Devon's Bob the Builder days and he was always fixing something. Even now 14 years later, there is a faint staining that remains.

Subtle.
Heart wrenching.

We always meant to repaint, but never found time or money to do so. And now, well now, those slight stains are reminders. What remains is of course of greater interest after a loved one has passed. How different might our lives have been had we known the little time Rob would have here on earth--would have with our son? Better, I imagine to not know such things.


II.

These days I rewrite so many private memories with the new knowledge of how much time Rob had left. 13 years after Devon fixed the wall, 13 years almost to the day, I would answer the house phone early one morning and then pass it to Rob who would learn he had cancer. Nothing would ever be the same again. And yet, nothing ever is.

There is a clarity that sorrow births that reshapes meaning. It's like at the end of Thornton Wilder's Our Town when Emily returns from the dead to glimpse a lived day.
I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back...up the    hill...to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.          
Looks left and then out past audience and then to the right 
Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good- by to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. 
And it is this knowledge of the present where we stand and so often look beyond that cuts us. We feel that sharp edge of that understanding borne from failing to notice. It is the seemingly unimportant and ordinary moments of living that best define us--that we miss the most. And when we realize that we have failed to love these moments as we lived, we share Emily's regrets. We share her pain until we forget again.

And we will forget.


III.

Life rushes on and our losses that feel so profound are hardly specks in the cosmos.  I marvel these days at the fierce pulsing of life. A river unbanked.


IV. 

The Stage Manager closes the Wilder's play by noting:
There are the stars doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven't settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk...or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain's so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.

And perhaps it is this straining that disrupts the sweet ebb and flow of the river. Perhaps it is this straining that reveals the mindlessness that lulls us to forget the necessary unbanking a river will claim, must claim. 

Memory is so fleeting and we forget the rush and spill of water beyond the pathways we have made. We forget how this alters the shape and look of the landscape we carry within.

The river finds what is has always been regardless of the many banks we have built to tame it.


V.

Grief gives us a new geography and a new lexicon of utterances and sighs that allow us to see and hear differently. The unbanked river transforms the familiar. There we hardly know the water--the once steady ebb and flow is now difficult to discern. We have waded far and buoyed by constraints and by absences, we feel a new meter beating through us, rising up. We will give it its way as we must.

When I look back, when I recall the nearly-30 years with Rob, what I see mostly is that we loved fearlessly. 



Sunday, December 25, 2016

#SOL16: Peace and Goodwill

Christmas Uptown (M.A. Reilly, 2012)
I.

When I got home Thursday afternoon I noticed our mailbox was broken as if a truck had run into it and smashed it to pieces.  I looked at it, lifting the heavy metal box out of a pile of hardened snow and realized that repair would be no simple matter. The post was in pieces. This would have been something Rob fixed and not having hime here was heightened by this mishap. There are so many things I now must attend to in a given day and as it was already dark and cold and I had no idea how to reassemble the mailbox so I left the mailbox sitting upright in a pile of snow with the hope the mail carrier would still deliver the mail. The one clear thing I have learned these last 18 months is what is important and what is just inconvenient.  Nonetheless, the mailbox situation weighed on me the next day as I left in the morning to run last minute errands and to see an ENT.

After 7 weeks with little improvement for  persistent cough no matter what I did, my doctor suggested and I agreed that it was time to see a specialist.  The ENT was efficient and quick and within less than an hour of arriving at the office I left with the knowledge that I had a chronic sinus infection and drove to get my medicine. (Aside: After two days of medicine I must say I am feeling better and coughing far, far less. ) After getting the medicine and few last minute grocery needs, I drove up the hill to our home and there in front of what was my mailbox was my next door neighbor Keith who was drilling screws into the top of the post.  I was so grateful and thanked him and he said it was no problem and that whenever I had something to fix I should ring his bell or Mike's (another neighbor) and they would take care of it.

I was overwhelmed and just carted the few bags into my kitchen before I burst into sobs. The kindness of others undoes me. The goodwill such kindness demonstrates reminds me how there are forces at work beyond our fingertips, beyond the borders of our bodies, that are and remain forces for good. Rob's death and the kindness of others have shown me this.


II.

Last night Dev and I had dinner with friends in Manhattan before seeing a performance by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.  To say the dance troupe moved me is to understate the sheer beauty of the narrative of the performance. We were all held enthralled.  And as I sat there in the near-dark theater watching the play of light and movement and music and speech--I realized that everything would turn out all right. I felt the power of the arts last night. How the arts refuse to lie down in defeat. I felt for sure--for the first time since early November and the election that peace and goodwill will overcome hate and the miserly politics of  privilege that Trump, his advisers, and many of his followers have displayed this last year. I thought about the many ways that hate and the forces of hate seem to forget or at least underestimate is how indomitable the human spirit is.

Indomitable.





It is what is common among us that makes us hold hope like we would an old friend. It's the surprising kindness of a neighbor, the spiritual practices of a people downtrodden, the small daily acts of touching that keeps us connected, loved, oriented on this moving human map.

All of this sees us through the troubled waters for it is not the waters we must calm, but our fear to cross.


III.

As a child I loved hearing the gospel read at church. Even then stories held my attention and though my mind surely drifted during mass, I was held captive by the Sunday story and even at times the homily that followed.  And at Christmas time, the Gospel of St. Luke filled me with wonder--that lovely proclamation of Jesus's birth by angels to the shepherds. And it was to the shepherds that the angels announced--not the wealthy, now the privileged--but rather the common folk--the ones who kept watch.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed...And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, see, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Good tidings of great joy.
Goodwill to all.

IV.

What I have learned during these last 18 months is that it is our need for each other that makes us strong. This human vulnerability gives rise to new language--to newer ways of expressing ourselves. Sorrow gives us new ways of being in the world if we open to it and allow others to take our hands.

It is our expressed desire for other that is the great joy we find in times of sadness. It is holding one another as we wade through those waters that allows us to find the goodwill we most often are seeking.  What pulses through us--this lifeline of hope--is greater than any sorrow we name.  Life is imbued by communal love and shows itself to be stronger than grief, stronger than troubled waters that we all will cross if we haven't already.

And perhaps that is one meaning of God troubling the waters. I know I have wanted the smooth, easy way and yet against the pain, the deep pockets of sorrow I have know, what has bloomed is most often more spectacular than what I could have hoped I might behold.

The troubled waters we wade protect us as they endanger us; lead us to name what we most have forgotten or had failed to learn.

I wish you and yours peace and goodwill this year and the next and the courage to step into those waters most troubled.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

#SOL16: What Grief Teaches

Rob in ICU last New Year's day. He would die two months later.


Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are. 
                                                 -José Ortega y Gasset
I.

In  the years I taught writing I did not know that it would save my life. I never imagined. I wish I could go back to those many students I taught and say, Listen carefully. Writing might save your life one day. Forget the assignments. Throw away the how-to books. Skip the tests. Write because you have something tugging at your sleeve and you cannot name it. Not yet.

But perhaps I overstate. My love for hyperbole has gotten the best of me. Writing never saved me.

Wrong verb.

Let me try again.


II.

What I did not know as my husband was dying was that writing would be a conduit for opening possibilities. In times of sickness and stress, space collapses. Orientation becomes confused. Last year we lived more like Edwin Abbott's Flatlanders. We were lost in this 3-dimensional world. In those dark days, light could not find us. It could not move up or down, for there was neither. We were more acted upon than acting.

Then, writing helped to reshape, rename, and illuminate the moment where I stood--showing me the top of my own two feet planted on terra firma. Giving me dimension. At first it was the compulsion to name what was happening as my husband's illness, hospital stays, and compounding medical issues gathered weight. Against the myriad of changes, writing helped me to say what I was often too frightened to hear. A lot of this writing I kept private as I did not want to share doubts with Rob. Hope is such a fragile thing. But as his illness grew graver and his touch with reality loosened, I began to record thoughts and share them here on this blog.

I so needed you and you heard me.

You listened when my own husband was too far removed from reality to bear witness. Rob was preparing himself for his own death. He was tinkering at an edge I could not see or visit. The distance between life and death begins well before the last breath is made. As he would later tell me, just a couple of days before his death, "I have figured out how to cross over."

And he did. 

Even now there are moments when his leaving, his death, catches me by surprise. 


III.

As winter edged into spring last year, I wrote because I could see no future. None. I had more energy than sense. Saying the impossible helped to rid my body of pain. In those days, I was more pain than flesh. I wrote to name what was just outside the reach of my fingers. Throughout the spring and summer I was unable to generate a single daydream of a possible life for myself. It was as if I was trapped inside a TV network that had signed off for the night. Instead of a random show playing, there was only a test pattern.

A holding pattern. 

Regularly scheduled life would resume sometime. Later.

I wrote to shatter that screen.


IV.

By fall I could imagine.  Perhaps the many months of painting and drawing and writing helped give shape to darkness. Perhaps the act of making, lit up the corners and bid me to be courageous enough to be present.  

And now with winter upon us I am coming almost full circle. 

The nights in late December are deeper and the wind more biting than I recall from a year ago. It is bracing. Lively. 

When a love dies, innocence dies too. I still write most days. I make marks with paint and pen, pencil, too. And I have learned that this pain I have named is not unique. Grief finds expression in our lives, as does joy and all that comes between. 

V. 

There is no future--just what we imagine and hold up, now and then as truths. And sometimes these truths become embodied. Each day there is a life to make. Each breath says, I am becoming. Like these digital marks I lay down with the press of my fingers, life is more about what we make and less about what gets made. This is what Rob's death has helped me to learn. I am what I make, what I do. 

Years ago, Thomas Merton explained that "[s]olitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it." 

VI. 

Mostly I write to deepen the present. I chose to live deeply, intentionally. Even at my saddest, I knew that running would ill serve me. 

Stand in the pain. Be the pain. Name it. 

On that cold February morning when we learned Rob was dying, he commanded me to not hide myself away. A year later, I am like Thoreau's understudy and I know Rob would approve. This year, I too went to the woods to live deliberately. I thought grief was the absence of a future. What I could not know then as I do now is that what we hold in our own hands is what is most essential--not for what it is and isn't, but rather because we claim it.

I am responsible for this life I am making.  

VII.

I wonder how it was possible that a mere hour after learning he would die in the matter of days, Rob knew the exact words I would most need to hear. Live brilliantly, he told me. For months these words shifted, took on new meaning as I emerged from the hold of grief. Now, I understand that living brilliantly is what I have been holding in the palm of my hand. 

To write is to savor the here--the now--to embrace the responsibility for your life. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

#SOL16: A Gift

from my art journal  (Nov., 2016)

Out here in the perimeter there are no stars              
                                                 - The Doors




I.

About three days before Rob died, he no longer was very present in what had been our life. He would resurface one time during those last days when friends came to visit, but he was no longer connected to me. I realize that now.

As he edged closer to death, he did so alone.

He spent his last 20 days preparing himself for his death. It was solitary in so many ways and I--at best--was privy to only a small part of that process.  We all enter and leave alone.

II.

Even now, months later, I still feel the sudden sick drop of my stomach when I think of Rob's last minutes alive.  I know that I held his right hand between both of mine and I think I spoke with him. More than likely I kept repeating something reassuring. Perhaps I told him how loved he was. How it was okay to let go and find peace.  Honestly, I cannot recall what words I spoke or if I spoke any words aloud or not. All the while, Devon sat on the other side of the bed, his father's left hand tucked between his two hands.  Beyond us were others: Jane and Robyn, my brother, Brendan. Perhaps others as well I can't recall.  I know that no one but Rob and Devon were in my field of sight.

What memory remains with a cutting clarity is how my son would not let go of his father's hand for nearly thirty minutes after Rob died. He just laid against his father's body and cried. Our son had just turned 17 a month earlier. I recall as I gathered all the medical supplies that were throughout the main floor of our home that I was worrying about how I might help Devon be able to leave his father's body.  I said nothing and found patience and Devon eased himself from what had been his dad.  We talked quietly about how quickly Rob was gone from the room, leaving behind the body that had been his for so long, but no more.

III.

When the man you love dies in front of you, the body you have know so long, so intimately reveals itself at death to be not the man at all. The man is gone even though the body remains. And so quickly that body begins to collapse in on itself--loosened jaw, sunken cheeks. It seems to disassemble before your eyes. Who knew the spirit was the source of life?

IV.

To care for my husband, the father of our child, and bear witness to his much too early death is to have the trajectory of my life altered. I will never be the same as I was before that morning when we received a phone call telling us that Rob had cancer.  In the space of 30 weeks my husband went from walking around seemingly fine to dead.

Carpe diem is no longer a catchy phrase, but rather an imperative I live with. Friends, we have now.


V.

Last week I reread some of what I had written on this blog during Rob's last three days of life. It was the first time I did so. Reading these few posts left me in tears. I had little to no memory of having written any of it and yet even though I was sad beyond description, I was also grateful that I have a record of those days--a record that is raw and honest and necessary.

To be able to to write and to have chosen to do so is more gift than I ever expected.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sweet Potato Soup



Sweet Potato Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 chopped onion
1/2 tsp. Ground cardamom
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of water
16 oz. chicken bone broth
2 large sweet potatoes
3 chopped carrots

1. In large stockpot, heat oil and then add onions, stir for about 5 minutes before adding cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add water and broth. Next add sweet potatoes and carrots.
3. Bring to a boil over high heat the. Reduce to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
4. Remove soup from heat and let cool slightly. Puree in small batches until smooth. Return to pot to heat. Serve warm.


Note: I adapted this recipe for my taste and to ensure there is no dairy. I also added the bone broth. This recipe was from the recent publication, Women's Health, Prevention Guide, December 6, 2016. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Morning Mocha Smoothie

A wonderful start to the day...


Morning Mocha Smoothie

1 cup chilled Americano (I use decaf)
4 tablespoons almond-cashew milk
1 scoop whey protein powder
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 frozen banana
1 cup ice

1. Blend until smooth.
2. Divide between two glasses.

Calories: 100 calories per serving. 2 servings.



Note: I adapted this recipe for my taste and to ensure there is no dairy and substituted decaf Americano for the coffee. This recipe was from the recent publication, Women's Health, Prevention Guide, December 6, 2016. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

#SOL16: 60 Triggers



Coming Undone  (M.A. Reilly, 2012)



The holidays brings so many memories of Rob, triggered by a list that doesn't seem to end. Even though each hurts at the surprising moment of encounter, the memories that linger are also soothing. Here's 60 -- one for every year Rob lived.
  1. an ad for a Tibetan singing bowl
  2. reading the Sunday Times and not having you to read to me
  3. finding in my wallet an old comic Rob gave me 
  4. using a hand warmer--knowing you introduced me to them
  5. the triangular box for an ornament that came in the mail
  6. everything in the attic I can't bear to bring down stairs for Christmas
  7. finding the menorah that Dev and Rob lit when Dev was a young child
  8. a man changing a flat tire on the side of the road
  9. finding the last message Rob left me on my phone
  10. latest issue of The Nation that arrived via the mail that still is addressed to Rob
  11. a solicitation call from the ACLU
  12. the spill of weak winter light through the back window 
  13. a radio ad announcing immunotherapy 
  14. an email from one of Rob's former students
  15. a photo from Loch Ness I found in a  drawer
  16. raking leaves
  17. a song on the radio
  18. the smell of pine from the Christmas tree
  19. any navy blue Pacifica I pass on the road
  20. a container of miso soup
  21. a sign for Brooklyn Tech
  22. Mo Anam Cara
  23. the notes Rob was working on that are still on his desktop 
  24. overhearing someone mention Grange (in Ireland)
  25. when I see someone writing with a fountain pen 
  26. At Bed Bath and Beyond seeing a new wooden back brush like the one I bought for Rob every year
  27. thinking about lineage makes me think of the morning Rob and I spent at the Joyce House in Dublin
  28. realizing that an entire football season has happened and I only recently heard mention of the Giants
  29. every time I pull my car into the garage and Rob's car is no longer there
  30. June 16, 1904
  31. a jar with loose tea leaves
  32. West Rutland, VT
  33. seeing a print from that art studio on the Isle of Sky
  34. seeing wine from Montepulciano on a menu
  35. finding Rob's now expired passport in the dresser
  36. the photo of the man I took on Grafton Street in Dublin and realizing now that Rob would live only 8 years after I took it
  37. the roll of a chair on the wooden floor above
  38. winter sunsets
  39. planning Christmas dinner this year
  40. selecting gifts for Dev and not having you here to discuss what to buy and make for our son
  41. the smell of snow
  42. a man with a small braid in his hair
  43. holiday shopping in Warwick, NY
  44. a flannel shirt left on the sofa
  45. the mention of finger painting
  46. seeing the New York Times on a wooden table
  47. finding an independent bookshop and realizing that Rob isn't here for me to buy a gift
  48. the sound of an espresso machine
  49. every time I pass a place I photographed 
  50. loose change
  51. the basket Rob always kept in the back of his car
  52. overhearing someone mention the Serenity Prayer
  53. the smell of a fire when I am out walking
  54. not signing Rob's name on the Christmas tags for Devon's gifts 
  55. seeing someone wearing a Black Dog Cafe t-shirt
  56. the first snowfall 
  57. preparing for a workshop and not having Rob to bounce off ideas
  58. realizing the 28th of this month will come and there is no anniversary now to celebrate
  59. putting on the heat for the car seat
  60. every lone cardinal 


Sunday, December 11, 2016

#SOL16: Encapsulated

Dreams Big Dreams (M.A. Reilly, October 2016)

I.

I equated Rob's death as the single source of my grief--as if grief might be encapsulated. For months I believed this to be a truth. I grieved because Rob died. Throughout this time, I moved in and out of denial about his death. It isn't that I thought he had not died, but rather I experienced what Joan Didion calls magical thinking. If I was good enough, kind enough, patient enough--our life would return to what it had been. Life as I knew it would be restored. I only needed to hold my breath and wait and then the miraculous would happen. Just wait and see. It's not as if I told myself this using words. Rather it was a bone deep knowing and regardless of how true it felt, it was false.

II.

Some mornings when I came downstairs and it was late spring or early summer and the light was falling so lovely through all the front windows, it felt as if I could step back into that world I knew so well like one might step from a platform onto a stopped train before being swept away. I expected that as I turned to go into the kitchen, I would find Rob seated at the table with his coffee cup at hand.

The emptiness of the chair--a chair he never sat in--was so acute. My memories of our shared everyday ordinariness are so visceral, so familiar.

III.

Those weeks right before his death, I craved the familiar as I stood in a landscape I hardly could name. Everything felt unfamiliar, changed, uneven, out of control. The hospital bed in the family room. The drone and click of the oxygen machine. The constant stream of people in and out of our home. Adult diapers. All I had to remember. The white liquid is Morphine. The pink liquid is Lorazepam. Fill the syringe with the green drug, haloperidol, if there is a psychotic incident.

One morning I realized that my husband could no longer say my name. He knew me, but his capacity to say my name was now gone. Every day something left us. Every day he inched towards death. I would learn later that at times of pain or fright, he would spontaneously call for me. He would yell, and only yell my name. In the middle all of this, there were lucid moments where I would glimpse my Rob again. But mostly he was not of this world those last three weeks of life.

IV.

In the weeks following his death, little made sense except the need to walk. I walked morning and late afternoon. I walked to try to distance myself from the awful, awful truth that my husband was dead. I walked because I could not sit still. I walked because Rob lost the capacity to walk. I walked because it reminded me that I was still living. I walked because I needed to commune with nature and I must have understood that it would be nature that would begin the healing. I walked to make a new ritual. I walked to see the cardinal darting in and out of the trees. I walked because it spent energy.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

#SOL16: The Costs of Healing

Winter (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

Healing comes at a cost. There is a loss of innocence when your husband of decades dies. The world is no longer quite so polished, quite so predictable, quite so generous as I might have thought. Healing requires not only this loss, but also the acknowledgement that grief is not sourced exclusively to the deceased. The loss of self in relationship to Rob as husband and father, and the loss of an imagined future are also sources of grief.

Who am I now that I am no longer Rob's wife? His lover? His best friend? Co-parent? His business partner? Co-traveler? Editor? Dinner partner? Co-pilot on road trips?  Who am I now that he is gone?

I thought healing meant I needed to come to terms with Rob's death and though this is true, it is only a partial truth. The death of your husband brings into focus all those partial truths you thought were whole.  Healing requires me to live with sudden sadness and acute loneliness, understanding that each offers insights that before now I could not know.

It is remembering what I love besides my husband that is so difficult, so unfamiliar.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

#SOL16: Coming Home


Woods (M.A. Reilly, 2013, Ringwood, NJ)
Woods II (M.A. Reilly, 2013, Ringwood, NJ)

                                                                    ...If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
                                                                    You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
                                                                    Where you are. You must let it find you.

                                                                              - David Wagoner, Lost (from here).

I.

Grief is less like a terrible thing that has happened and more like an unlocked room we can't seem to leave, until we do.
Grief is a reoccurring conversation we stumble into and out of across the distances that have formed in our heads.

II.

Grief is always present tense.

III.

Some days, when grace fails to find purchase among the raw remembrances that have grown bodies and wings, our first instinct will be to build a wall between us and our memories.

But don't.

Memory is liquid.
It seeps beneath time and intention and (sometimes) greets us with its sweetness.

IV.

Grief is more skin than cloth.
A sparse comfort we gather round us as seasons slip by.

And though this pain is caustic as it is beautiful--what smarts the most is how understanding does not right our world, regardless of how hard we wish it so.

V.

Grief forms us. It pulses, confirming our breath, our beating heart.

Pádraig Ó Tuama warns, "Don't let the terrible narrative be the thing that holds you...You may find your home in the very place you thought you'd have to leave."

VI.

Tell all the heart.
We are courageous.
We are staying.

Tell it now when we are most scared.

Say it with intention.

Say it here
                  among those
                  who stand so very still
                                                        knowing home will find us whole.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#SOL16: If Only We Had Been Talking with Cuba

I.

It's been several minutes that I have been staring at the same article, "20 Best medical Breakthroughs of 2016," in the recent issue of Prevention Magazine. Staring at the same words for breakthrough #3. Staring so hard, the words blur. The meaning however remains clear.


from December 2016 issue of Prevention Magazine, p. 51


2011.

A vaccine that "targets the cancer's fuel source" has been used in Cuba since 2011--well before Rob's cancer had either started or prior to it progressing. In 2012, Rob had a lung x-ray to diagnose pneumonia. It showed a small smudge. We learned about the x-ray when it was discovered that Rob had cancer in August 2015.  We know now that the smudge in the apex of his right lung would likely become a cancerous tumor if it was not already at that time. The cancerous tumor was found only in Rob's right lung (apex).  He never had another x-ray until August of 2015.

In another article (from here) I read:
CIMAvax triggers the immune system to produce antibodies that target and sequester EGF, or epidermal growth factor. Lung cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in particular, tend to overproduce receptors for the peptide growth factor.
II.

On March 14, 1958--before I was born--when Rob was just three, the United States imposed an arms embargo on Cuba.  This was followed two years later with economic and financial sanctions. These limitations remained in place until Congress ended the travel embargo in 2010 and when President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations in 2015.  These actions paved the way for U.S. researchers to make the trip to Cuba in April 2015--five months before Rob received the diagnosis of Stage 4 small cell lung cancer.  The result of that visit is that last month the U.S. approved clinical trials for CIMAvax.

The clinical studies will be conducted with patients having stage IIIB to stage IV non-small cell lung cancer and begin with a Phase 1 dose-escalation study to determine the best dose and injection frequency for the vaccine.
The vaccine is said to be more effective with those younger than 60. In 2012, Rob would have turned 57 at the end of the year. He was 60 when he was diagnosed. 

Rob taking a picture of a sculpture made from cigarettes in March, 2012 at MASS MOCA.

III.

So why didn't U.S. researchers have access to this breakthrough vaccine?  What did our embargo stop? Nell Patel in Wired, writes, 
The 55-year trade embargo led by the US made sure that Cuba was mostly where it stayed. 
Mostly where it stayed.
Borders and boundaries.

Tonight,  I am wishing we had open borders or at the very least, free scientific exchanges among researchers. Who knows how many lives, like Rob's, might have been prolonged, if not saved had we allowed scientists to learn from one another.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

#SOL16: What You Cannot Tell Yourself

I.

There are two times that stand out in my memory. These are from the time Rob was diagnosed and sick. The first date is December 9. It was the afternoon Rob had a chemo treatment--the second and last one he would ever have. But of course, we did not know that then. By December, he was unable to walk, but could still stand and take a step or two so long as there was a surface he could hold on to. I had brought him home from the hospital on November 19 and we lived a rather interior life my small family and me. Yes, people came to visit, but for the most part, we remained at home. Secluded. Making the very most of the time we had. And what I could not see then was that it was easier to pretend all would be okay, when I wasn't confronted with how sad our situation had become.


Rob at home last September. Who knew he would lose the capacity to walk, just 6 weeks later?

II. 

It wasn't until that day of chemo treatment that we ventured out beyond the walls of our home. Devon had come along with Rob and me to the treatment center and he was pushing his dad in a wheelchair when we entered the crowded waiting room. As I looked around, I noticed how much older everyone was and how no one, absolutely no one, was in a wheelchair except for Rob.

It was sobering.
Telling.
How could all of these older people be in such better shape than Rob?

There were quick looks of sadness made by those waiting as they took in Rob and our son, who was just 16 at the time. My husband's hair had just started to grey and Devon was still growing into his body. Sitting next to Rob that afternoon, I felt anxious as if there was something I should be fearing, yet I could not name what frightened me most.

At the end of that week, I took Rob to see his cardiologist--a man who was the same age as Rob--a man he thought of as a peer. I had left Rob in the car as I got a wheelchair from the office. I had parked in the lot below and needed to get Rob up the hill and into the building. It took most of my strength and I remember worrying that I would not be strong enough to get him up the hill. When we finally entered the office, bringing in the cold air with us, most everyone was solicitous, moving around so I could sit next to Rob. Here too I noticed that everyone was so much older than Rob and yet none were bound to a wheel chair.

III.

Why I remember these two dates is that they were the first time I saw such looks of sorrow on the faces of others. Looks of sorrow aimed at us---the family who would know such loss. I remember feeling sick and anxious and yet not knowing why. It was as if I could not distance myself from something I had to learn that would be so very painful.  Rob would remain home with Dev and me through Christmas and our anniversary before being rushed to the hospital the morning of December 30th. He would spend the next 50 days away from home before he would be able to return. By then death would be a matter of weeks.

Some truths are hard to learn, harder even to face. These are the  lessons that must be named by others first before we can find the strength to utter what we most fear to say. What I could not bare to tell myself was apparent on the faces of those we passed. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#SOL16: A Portrait

 And Still the Birds Came (M.A. Reilly, Leonia, NJ, 2012)

I.

Some memories steal upon us and feel embodied. This is no different and I wonder if I might have conjured my dead husband from a spell I have known by heart. Here in the still dark morning he has dimension, a scent I have tasted, have worn on my skin. Did I form him from the deep ache in my side--bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh?

No, he is not rib. More likely I have spun him from his own ashes, like the stardust God conjured Adam. And this sighting sends me back through the years to an ordinary afternoon where we each fit side by side.


II.

As I  enter through the front door, I see he is seated at the round table at the back of the house in our kitchen. He glances up, the newspaper spread before him, the off white mug with the image of a black lab sitting to his right. And I know without any testing that the coffee in the mug will be hours cold. The day has surely been foggy and I have been out walking through fields and woods for hours and have returned with the camera bag slung over my shoulder.

"You're back," he'll say. 

And I close the door, leaving the bag in the hallway and start towards him. The damp chill that has clung to the oversized sweatshirt--his Maine sweatshirt--unfurls like a banner, like a flag as I pull the sweatshirt over my head and drop it on a chair. Here it is warm even though the day beyond is not.

And I want to unwind this moment, to savor the very sight of him: the way his lips part as he grins, the way he looks at me over the rim of his glasses that rest on the bridge of his nose, the way his hair, that never grayed, is pulled back and tied with a leather strip. And I wonder now, was he always so pleased to see me home?

"So, did you get some good shots?" he'll ask.

"I think I got a couple of good ones," I'll say, rounding the table so I can lean down to kiss his perfect upturned mouth.


III.

This was us.
Just this.
Just.