Just Like That

During a recent conversation with a 10-year-old, he let me know he’d spent the weekend at his cousin’s. When I asked if the two got along, the boy replied, “Well, no. He’s a butthole.”

That turn of phrase is the perfect descriptor for my current feelings about mortality. Mortality, you are a total butthole. In January, you took my Gaga. In May, you took my Libby. And in November, you (literally) messed with my mother’s head.

Two days before Thanksgiving, while mortality busily maneuvered a blood clot towards my mom’s brain, I asked my husband to take this photo:


We were vacationing on the Georgia coast, and I knew Mom would love the image, as she always says I’m not really on vacation until she sees a picture of me in a tree. Before I had the chance to show it to her, however, I got a call from my sister.

“Hello, Sister!” I answered cheerily. “How are you?”

“Um, I’m okay,” she said, but her tone was strained. I held my breath in anticipation of what would come next. “I need to tell you that Mom had a stroke.”

While awaiting post-surgery news with phone in hand, tears streaming down my face, I scrolled through saved texts, emails, voicemails, and photos from Mom. Just like that, the emotions associated with her contacts had shifted entirely. The same images that would have brought a smile to my face before my sister’s call now filled me with bitterness and heartache.

Twenty minutes later, I received word from Dad that Mom was out of surgery, wiggling her toes, talking, and laughing. The next day, I sent her this photo of my husband, taken that morning:

She sent back a series of happy faces and hearts.

Due to an amazing set of circumstances that some would call blessings and others would call luck, only two hours passed between my sister’s 911 call and the blood clot’s evacuation. Four days later, sitting with both of my parents in their car on our way to their home in Florida, I snapped this photo to share with Mom’s many admirers:

All crises leave lessons in their wake. From this one, I’ve been reminded that Mortality the Butthole does not mess around. It tears loved ones away without warning or apology. Even if no words are left unsaid, hugs withheld, or moments unsavored, the loss will hurt like hell. I suppose all we can do is recognize and cherish the precious, finite time we have with each other and let that be enough. Attachment inevitably leads to suffering, and I choose to attach. Grief is just part of the deal.

And my final, lingering lesson from the recent crisis is this: referring to mortality as a butthole kind of helps. I recommend it.

The Water that Surrounds

This is my mom:


She turns 70 today. This picture was taken back in the ’70s, and while many beautiful images have been captured of her over the years, this is one of my favorites, because it perfectly encapsulates her gentle, loving spirit. (Plus, she’s holding a kitten AND a puppy, so the cuteness level is unreal.)

As I’ve grown older, I’ve heard my peers speak with exasperation about how much they now look and sound like their mothers. But for me, those are my best moments. When I speak and hear my mother’s words, I know I’m on the right track. When I choose to face adversity with a calm, quiet dignity, I am channeling my mom. When I am at my most patient, thoughtful, and gracious, I look in the mirror and see her reflected.

DSC_0101Mom’s lesson on how to pose for pictures

If someone is woven into the very fabric of your being, how do you describe what she means to you? It’s like asking a fish to describe the water that surrounds it. My mom is in my voice, gestures, and actions. She’s there when I kick off my shoes the moment I enter the house, not due to a “no shoes in the house” rule, but to a general “no shoes in life” rule. She’s there whenever I catch myself standing in tree pose – her natural stance most of the time. She’s there when I make a little quip or silly face that causes kids to burst out laughing. She’s there when I’m able to soothe an anxious animal. She’s there when I send someone a cute card or little note just to lift their spirits.

(I’ve gotten dozens of these kinds of cards ⬆️ over the years, out of the blue. A sticky note with her signature smiley face is taped to my keyboard right now. By the time my wrist has rubbed the image away, I’m sure she’ll have sent another.)

But Mom isn’t only an incredibly creative and thoughtful card-sender and gift-giver (e.g., for our tiny beach wedding, she gave my husband and me flip-flops that left “Just Married” prints in the sand, and for my birthday this year, which is on 8/8, she sent an Anna’s 88 butterfly, which has 88 patterns on its wings). On a grander scale, she does an amazing job of accepting her kids and grandkids as we are, without guilt or pressure. She embraces our dreams, friends, interests, and choices without judgment. And the attachments that bloom from that kind of love are fierce and immeasurable.

20171124_150854This is what “I love my Grammy” looks like.

Mom’s role modeling is powerful, but delivered with a subtlety that makes her influence almost undetectable. I experienced this in the Grand Canyon, as we trekked up a steep trail to see Anasazi granaries on a brutally hot day. About halfway up, Mom sat on a rock and said, “I can’t do it.” I started to think, This doesn’t make sense; Mom would not say that, but my thoughts were cut short as she finished her sentence: “…without a break.” It occurred to me then that I couldn’t remember Mom ever specifically telling me never to give up, but her actions throughout my life had clearly sent that message. (Also, she made it to the top.)

Beyond all of that, my mom is hilarious. I once emailed her a photo I’d taken of a caterpillar eating a leaf and wrote that right after I’d snapped it, a gust of wind had whipped the leaf away. When I posted the picture online, she commented: All I can think of is the sad look on his little fuzzy face when the leaf blew away.  Years later, a friend posted a photo of me at a waterfall, and my expression was really angry for some reason. I commented Kelly glares at nature.  Mom replied: And nature cowers!

Currently, my parents are in Tanzania, celebrating their anniversary and Mom’s birthday with elephants, wildebeest, baboons, and zebras. Whenever they go on a trip, Mom sends her poor daughters horrible documents detailing what we’re supposed to do if they…ahem…”don’t come back.” We respond with the level of maturity one would expect from two women in their 40s: “I CAN’T SEE THIS MESSAGE LA LA LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!” The last time we replied to one of her “death emails” in this manner, Mom wrote back: “Ah, we’re in good hands!”

But the truth is I can’t think about a world that doesn’t include my parents. Such a thing would be, as the Sicilian oft repeated in The Princess Bride, inconceivable.


So the plan for now is to remain like this:

🙈 🙉 🙊

…and to treasure every moment, honor every milestone, and save every smiley face.

Happy birthday, Mom. You are so loved.