Counting: bday, death, haiku

This year on my birthday: 66. This year four days after my birthday: my mother will be gone for 27. It’s easy to keep track of her absence because she died a month before my younger son was born. I will always know how old he is.

Come a week in March, both boys will roll round one year older. THAT same week will mark my sister being gone four years.

The confluence of dates is not my doing. My mother died four days after my birthday and my sister died on one of my son’s birthdays.

Noticing is inescapable, in other words.

And it’s not morbid as it turns out. Listening to a conversation between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert while walking Finn this morning opened up some pockets of gladness or recognition or something. They talked about grief. How it’s a gift. Or rather, how still being alive is a gift. It’s more nuanced than that though, given how grief acts as a vessel for remembrance, celebration.

Both of them experienced devastating losses early. Cooper’s father died of heart disease when he was ten and then eleven years later his brother jumped off a building, killing himself (while their mother watched). Colbert also lost his father at age ten, but in an accident. That accident also claimed the lives of two of his brothers. Their conversation is really worth a listen.

I was born just after sunset in a hospital that no longer exists. Here’s a haiku I wrote last week.

Cooper is documenting cleaning out his mother’s apartment. She died in 2019 and apparently she left notes for him everywhere. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while.

Looking at this doll without a note, how would D know that I dyed the wool, cotton strips, and linen myself? Or that I knit the legs in the waiting room of Children’s Hospital while a surgeon put pins in his arm, all the while praying for his bones to knit (get it?) and heal. Or that the striped top came from a shirt I wore frequently when he was little, the collar from a cuff of a sweater of his dad’s?

PS it didn’t occur to me until after posting this that year zero for me would’ve been sixty-seven years ago. But the syllables don’t work for the haiku form!

22 thoughts on “Counting: bday, death, haiku

  1. Nancy

    I have or have considered leaving notes for years (sounds so morbid). My children live far, don’t have the day-to-day relationship and interactions…so how else could I communicate the stories, the family history? I do put certain things on the blog, but family does not read it with any regularity. I included 6 pages of notes on every book in the last two boxes of books sent.
    For me the thing about doing this (this storytelling) is not knowing how or if it matters to others. I have no answer.
    I consider what my mom did Not leave behind, what questions I have had – how would she know what things would interest me? It is so complicated.
    I remember read a memoir where the mother died and left all her journals on the shelf, rows and rows of them…all empty. I can never remember where I read this, but always remembered it, have been intrigued by it…have always questioned if these stories really matter and to who?
    A search to recall where I read this turned up a lifetime of reading!

    I will continue with the book stories because it is important ‘to me’ and it helps me move through the letting go process.
    I like your story doll 🙂 Very charming.
    I like your rock steps, but the long steps just make my knees hurt 😉
    I will check out the podcast, thanks. I’ve often joked that I could be a professional crier…that grief is easy for me…I know how to wallow. haha
    Thanks for this thought provoking post Dee.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I scanned that article and realized I have work to do. So many journals upstairs that are FOR MY EYES ONLY. I keep thinking about your mother’s writing and how fascinating her descriptions were — not just of your family but of early Los Angeles. That makes me want to extract some writing from those journals and in fact I started that but got quickly overwhelmed.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I will be in the car a bit tomorrow and will run these links down. I have a feeling they’re all incredibly well-timed! So glad you have your book project. It definitely feels generational.

  2. Marti

    Your haiku- so filled with a warm vision.

    Sixty six years. If your day has come, hope it was a good one. If it is yet to be, may your day be filled with all that brings you joy. An Irish birthday blessing from a little book of blessings sent to me by a fine young woman, many years ago ago, from Donegal, Ireland:

    May you live as long as you want,
    And never want as long as you live.
    For me, not confluences but coincidences as in the number 5:
    My mother was born on April 25.
    My Dad was born on June 5, 1905.
    Their anniversary was on January 25.
    My sister died in 2015.
    It has been 45 years since my Dad died.

  3. deb

    That first photo gave me such a pang. Granite steps. The spine of New England. Is there anything more real? These, Jude’s rock couch, Grace’s rock mother. I miss rocks that have moved or been moved to life.
    I have a Box where I put Things That Matter, but of course that’s my perspective. I know they will have to go through Everything anyway and decide what’s to be done with it all. It’s been almost ten years and we still haven’t gotten through all of Jim’s stuff… Numbers. For whatever reason, this morning I had to calculate how old he was when he passed. 58.

    1. deemallon Post author

      58 is so young! I’m like that with my father’s death. I know he was 54 and that he was born in 29 but I always have to do the math to get to the year and my age. I think loss can do that to your brain.

  4. Ginny

    Happy birthday Dee. May you have many more trips around the sun! I love the poem.

    I saw that interview with Anderson and Colbert. Grief is such a strange thing. Sometimes lack of real grief is worse. Grieving for what never was. But in any case put the sad away and celebrate the day. And may we have these same thoughts at 76,86…

  5. ravenandsparrow

    The interleaving births and deaths in your family in February and March seem akin to the granite steps in the first photo. It is an uncompromising path going both up and down. Joy and grief are mirror images of each other. I knew your birthday was imminent….was today the day? Happy Birthday! I’m sure it was a joyful one for your mother.

  6. debgorr

    This is on my mind right now, for a variety of reasons. Thinking about how the meaning we attach to something and what we value becomes so personal…

    1. deemallon Post author

      What we value is extremely personal, isn’t it? I know from talking to other parents of millennials and GenZers (my guys are right on the line), that a lot of things we prize, they do not. China, for instance. They could care less.

  7. Liz A

    Happy Birthday Season … may your memories turn to the happiest days …

    and the counting of years … how the events that are most consequential in our lives tend to cluster together … and how they are so often a mix of grief and joy

    and then there’s this … I’ve never kept paper journals, but when my parents were both gone my sister-in-law sent me the letters I had written to them over the years … I started to read them and it was absolutely painful … I threw most of them onto the burn pile unread … I think I still have the letters they wrote to me and really, they need to be trashed, too … I much prefer to stitch the good memories and put them on the blog

    1. deemallon Post author

      Thank you for the birthday wishes! I threw out all the letters my sister had saved from me. Couldn’t stand reading them. So different from reading journal entries from same times period. But I will eventually burn my journals too. There are pieces I want to extract for the kids and other pieces for other kinds of writing but they are mostly to do lists and complaining and not very interesting.

  8. Tina

    Happy Birthday .. why am I not surprised that this post has given me much to think about. I’ll be coming back to look up the links from Nancy. In the meantime I know it’s already late but I do hope you had a wonderful Birthday Day .. sending you lots of wonderful Blessings.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Thank you Tina. So much. For being such a bright light. It was a good birthday with a trip to the Berkshires (where both K and I were born). We got to go to an art museum and to see my mother-in-law. We ate out twice! Something I almost never do anymore. So it was nice.

  9. Marcia

    I’m a long-time reader but have never commented. Your recent post resonated. Grief has accompanied me for much of my life beginning in 1968 with the death of my first husband in Vietnam and most recently with the loss of my son from a drug overdose (11 years on Monday). Like you, Dee, my mother died just 6 weeks before my second child was born— in 1984.

    I’ve tried to stay outward-focused and socially involved which has been helpful. Like you, I have a love of needle arts and also writing. I’ve recently started a project to record elder stories at my local senior center. There’s a treasure trove out there! I’ve believed for a long time that this is important work.

    During the years of my marriage I’ve lived across the country from my parents. My dad died in 2007, but up until his death he saved all of the letters I wrote home. I usually wrote once a week and the letters were filled with many of the day-to-day details of my family’s life. I was in the process of compiling many of these tidbits into a book to leave for my children, but it came to a halt with the death of my son. I lost my mojo. I know I need to get back to it for the sake of my daughter. It will be bittersweet, but important for her to have.

    Thank you Dee for your work here. I appreciate everything you share.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Marcia thank you so much for sharing. I want to come back to things you say here because there is so much really. There is so much loss here and resilience and resources and creativity. I do know that writing can be therapeutic. Not perhaps the REASON to do it but a pretty reliable secondary benefit.

      Do you have a blog or anyway I can see your needle art?


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