Monthly Archives: March 2017

Life’s Little Equations, in memory of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

On March 13, 2017 the beloved writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal died. I don’t know how many times we have read Little Pea, Little Oink, Cookies: Bite Sized Life Lessons, and her many other books that lift us up and help us be better people. You can watch Amy’s videos and see how delighted she was with this world on her website. Amy shines, and in doing small acts with great kindness she teaches us that we can light this world up too. I love the image of the tree where she hung one dollar bills and waited to see who found them. She left notes on ATM machines, according to one article. Her book for grown-ups, Textbook, is an interactive book where I texted her number and received a few different gifts. My most favorite was music for her closing pages. Through that book’s interactive feature I met two of her readers who live in different parts of the country. Her life and actions brought people together, and still do.

After I heard that Amy was dying through her viral Modern Love essay published earlier this month, I requested her books from the library again. It’s been an Amy Krouse Rosenthal festival in our house. I told my five-year old son that this writer was dying. We talked about why her books are so good. We talked about death. We talked about how people can make this planet a better place through their work, especially in community.

On the night that Amy died, my son and I were snuggled in his bed reading this plus that: Life’s Little Equations and her poetry book, The Wonder Book. I wonder if Amy can see all the people who are reading her books tonight, I whispered to my smiling son.

In this plus that she offers us some life equations:

yes + no = maybe

somersaults + somersaults + somersaults = dizzy

anything + sprinkles = better

chores + everyone = family

cozy + smell of pancakes – alarm clock = weekend

 

I recently learned of two stillbirths, both first children. People tell me these stories because they know that I understand pregnancy and infant loss. I offer a copy of my book. I pray. I hope that these families will be okay in the aftermath of their great grief. I write about grief and love and life more since my newborn daughter died, but grief was always there. Amy’s equations have me thinking. Could life be likened to a big pot of soup? If love is broth, what flavor is loss? Sausage or onion? Every life equation includes loss, but after great grief and loss, we can live and love more. Amy loved the word more. Who doesn’t appreciate the living more after one of our beloveds dies? Who doesn’t hold her breath, then breathe in the sweat and smell and noise and texture of the child who lives?

I’m writing my own equations these days:

love + loss + more love = grief

grief + sunlight through trees = joy

5 minutes of rain + first green grass in high desert = spring

breathing + holding hands + missing you every day = my life.

What is your equation? What makes your heart sing?

I leave you with one more equation from Amy’s picture book.

(every star in the sky + the sun + the moon) x my heart = love you to the infinite power.

 

How the Bereaved Celebrate the Living

Since my daughter died, we have celebrated birthdays and holidays, our son’s milestones and my husband’s retirement from the military. It is two and a half years later, and it still hurts. We feel the emptiness of the space where her body once was. How do the bereaved celebrate the living when our hearts are sometimes still heavy with grief?

In December we moved across the country to the Denver area. We left Mary Rose’s house. We left the place where our toddler became a boy, and now at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, we celebrated our son’s fifth birthday. We celebrate with an excavator cupcake truck at a party with his first cousins. But we miss Mary Rose. We continue to mourn, even as our love for her continues to grow.

How do we celebrate life after loss? My heart is a basket that feels hollow after my loved ones die. How can I fill my basket? How do we gather the courage to celebrate joyously for the living and the dead?

I cry almost every day, remembering Mary Rose and the others. But I also cook and write cards. I spend time outside walking and breathing, noticing my surroundings and the creatures that share my habitat. I breathe in the dry mountain air in wonder. I think of my bedridden aunt who died before Mary Rose, and I am grateful that I can walk. I am grateful for my living family. I bake. I read. I treasure my relationships, especially getting to know my sister again now that we live close to each other for the first time in 14 years. I do all this while I remember. I celebrate the living and the dead, because they are all in my heart.

I teared up when we sang Happy Birthday to our son because he is growing up, and because Mary Rose never did. I feel her close to us, but I still long to hold her in my arms. It is hard to be on this earth and be joyful after a death, but we can do it if we walk together in unity with all those we love, living and dead. It takes great courage to hold both grief and joy in our heart. I suspect that as the years go by, grief does not become easier. It feels like being in the ocean where you never know when there will be a big wave or calm sea. I still can’t predict a riptide that takes me back to the rawest grief.

I’ve been missing my aunt as much as Mary Rose through this move, the holidays and our son’s birthday. Tonight I told my son a story about her while we snuggled together at bedtime. I told him that our Thea Matina was a principal of an elementary school, and that the children had a hard time with her name, Cacomanolis. I told him that the kids sometimes called her Ms. Cacamanolis. There is no kaka in my name, she told her kids. They laughed, and they said her name correctly. My son laughed and laughed until no sound came out, and she was there with us in that moment.

This is how I choose to walk. I carry the ancestors into our future through our stories and memories, through prayers and love. Each new celebration and milestone includes them, as long as we remember, and give thanks. If our friends and family could join us in weaving our dead through our lives, we will be more whole and connected. Crying is just fine, because there is so much joy around us…