Archive for November, 2009

for sale or rent

About 3.5 years ago, we bought a cabin about two hours north of our house. The setting is rustic, green, backed by a river, nice.

You see, summers here are not just crazy hot, they are also crazy long. At that point, we’ve had enough of indoor play spaces and outdoor splash pads, and we desperately wanted the girls to grow up with a more intimate relationship to nature. So, we invested some time into looking for a cabin, not too far from our home (or we won’t spend enough time there, or go there often enough). We found a fixer-upper that we had to have, because there was a river behind it.

We loved it. We went up almost every weekend, and spent wonderful time there exploring the surrounds, hiking, seeking out water-holes, discovering the area’s inhabitants, making friends with bugs, picking apples from our yard… we made friends with our neighbors and we invited friends up to spend time with us.

Once we talked about moving away one day and what we ought to do with the cabin. And me, being the heartless one, said we ought to sell it, but R refused. He said it took us a long time to find this place. Even if there’s always a possibility that we one day move to another continent, we should keep it. We could come back and visit, use it as our vacation home or the girls could even inherit it one day. Just imagine them bringing their kids here one day and telling them about their childhood, R said.

But, we have been using the cabin less and less. And this past weekend, we visited the issue again. R lamented that we are not using the cabin enough, making it a $1000-per-use cabin based on what we pay for it. I got defensive. I said, “Well, when we got it, we used it a whole lot, almost every week. But… after some time, that stopped. I think life just got busy, the girls got more activities and maybe the novelty has worn off…”

R stopped me, and said, “You know what it was…”

I blinked.

“You know what it was- Ferdinand.”

Pause. Silence.

I blinked again, feeling moisture rushing out.

“We don’t need to talk around this, Janis. Ferdinand’s death just killed it for us.”


Since he died, I have been reluctant to go to the cabin. Too many memories. I still love it, for the quiet, for the nature, the beauty, the escape. Only the memories and the pain will never escape. R had been pushing me to go up. I will find excuses not to go, but he will drag us all up. But the length of stay got shorter and shorter. Two days used to be way too short for us, and we’ll make it a long weekend, or plans to stay a week when R managed to take time off. These days we usu drive up Saturday morning and come home Sunday after lunch.

Too many memories for us. Of course, it surprised me again. I know of course that Ferdinand’s death affected R deeply, but he was the one who kept pushing for us to go up to the cabin. Perhaps an attempt to overcome what had crippled us.

But it is just not working.

After a long, emotional talk, we decided we will be contacting a realtor to put our cabin on the market. If the realtor thinks we can rent it out in its current state, then we will. If not, we will sell it as is. (And I hope this happens fast, and soon.)

The yard was good enough for sledding when it snowed!

(This picture of me and S taken when I was pregnant with Ferdinand, by the creek behind our cabin.)


The thing is, even if we cut ties with this cabin that we so loved (and still do, but different), what had happened will not change. The memories remain with us. Perhaps one day the memories will blur out, perhaps not. The memories are not for sale or rent, the new owners will make their own memories, but oh, if walls could talk… …

I thought, another issued “solved” but we will forever walk around like this, flawed.

Have you sold or given away anything related to the memory of your loss??


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As minutes crawl past, I felt more and more my reply to my friend was just crap. It was all about me, me, me, what i think, what i feel, what i fear, my own total load of crap.

Then she wrote back, dropping the subject and asking instead, “What about YOUR life? What are your plans? Why not move back to Asia?”

I hope that’s a good sign.


The light now, it is golden. Beautiful.

But the shadow that cast over my heart just gets heavier, darker, longer.

I feel melancholic.

And chocolates did not help.

I want to cry, but the tears cannot sustain for long. I almost have to squeeze them out, wring them out of me because I felt saturated with them, like a dark, heavy cloud.

What do you do when you wanna cry but just can’t get the tears out?

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It’s funny, how, a few weeks ago, I was wondering if this blog dies a natural death or if i should bring the axe down on it myself, ending my virtual existence in this realm. I felt I have not much to say, but these last few days I seem to be bubbling over like a vile brew in a witch’s cauldron. Watch out for the eyeballs boiling over and rolling around on the floor.


I have a friend, a long-time friend, who is quite a bit older than I am. Now she is alone, with only a brother by blood relation, and though he lives close-by, does not call or visit her. She told me a while back she was so sick she laid in bed for two days, almost dying, no one to reach out to, no one reaching out, but now, she is alive again.

Some time back, she had asked me, Do you know of a beautiful snow mountain? A romantic one… in Europe, maybe?

Since R grew up in Europe I asked him and I sent off a few names to her.

Yesterday I asked her, were you planning a winter trip?

No, no, she said. I want to go die in the snow mountains. It will be cold, and clean. I have no one. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone either. I think it will be a dignified end this way, quiet, romantic, and alone. And I don’t want to wait till I am too sick or too old.


My heart ached. It broke.

I am this friend, oceans away. And, I am just useless.

Last night, after reading her email, I laid in bed and thought for a long time. Sadness swept over me. And strangely, also a sense of clarity.

This morning I wrote back.

We are all alone. We came into this world, alone and naked, and that is how we shall leave too. Alone. It does not matter that you build an empire of a family, with a dozen children and grandchildren multiplied. It does not matter that your address book is choked full with names of friends. On your death bed, you are alone. You have to leave alone, no matter what, even if heads bowl over you and tears drip on you, even if hands clasp your palms, attempting in vain to impart warmth.You will die, alone. Is that all there is to it? It does seem that way…  I went a couple days ago to find a condolence card to send to R’s uncle’s widow. And you know what? They all suck crap. Useless words about warmth and caring sent your way. About how love endures and how memories will warm and heal. It made me cranky to read all those words. And for the departed? She takes nothing with her as she leaves. In fact, you ought to let go, and let go of everything, from your worldly possessions to all your fears and concerns and vanities. And pain. And memories. Let it all go. In some strange way this gave me comfort to think. Whatever lashings we have to take in life, we can let go of it all. All good comes to an end, and so will all the bad. Whether you are accomplished, or just a bum, you die, and rot, no special treatment for anyone. It made me sad, as I laid next to my warm little baby, that one day I will no longer feel her warm body, and she will no longer feel mine. And I try to comfort myself with the thought that she will have love to cling onto, but is it really? She will only have the past love, the past loving memories, but I cannot continue to love her, or can I? I thought of Ferdinand, how he died, his decisions, our decisions, how life had taken such a strange turn, how I miss him terribly as the days get chilly. I think these days I am not afraid to die alone, as that is the only way to go, but I am afraid I will die a sudden and violent death, not having time to say my goodbye’s. I fill with greed when I think that, because I want to have A LOT of time with my children, my family and friends; I want A LOT of time to see and enjoy this world. Of course, I have been given a generous chunk of time, so I am thankful. But like I said, I feel greedy and want more. To know when to stop, to end it, perhaps is wisdom and grace. But who knows when is a good time? The journey after to the unknown, is it truly alone? Perhaps we step over the threshold of that mysterious door alone, but will soon be met by many others. I don’t know. I have no words of comfort for you. But I am your friend, even if oceans away, and whatever I can do to help, please let me know.


This morning I am full of tears. But it washes the windows of my soul clean. Live now. Live it fully, even if in pain. I bowed my head and thanked my friend, and hope we will have many more conversations to come.


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Today we snatched a chunk of time amidst the in-and-out’s going from one activity to another to read a book called How Big is a Foot?, which is a children’s book about how a king tried to have a new bed made for his queen, but since his foot was different from the carpenter’s apprentice, the bed did not quite work out. The girls had fun trying out different ways of measuring and we talked about why measurements are important, why standardized units are useful, all the different ways we could measure the myriad of things. But Sophia kept asking, “But how do you measure time?! How can you measure time?!”

I remembered another book we read a long while back, about a clock that had stopped working, but nevertheless time was still plotted, in kisses and fallen leaves, in moons and naps… something like that. I reminded them about the book and we agreed to find it and read it.

And then, out of nowhere, as if by clockwork, I said, “But some things just cannot be measured, you know? Like… love??”

They looked at me, and then big grins started to creep across their faces.

“Yeah! How can you measure love?! That is so silly!”

“And you also cannot measure sadness, or angriness, or hungriness, or silliness…”

They laughed.

But something caught in me.

How do you measure grief? I asked silently within.

A couple of hours later, driving home with S from her ballet class, noticing the darkness and glancing at the clock in the car, I thought, it wasn’t too long ago when it was still light when we drove home. Now it’s so dark.

And my mind went back to the question about measurements and about grief.

Oh, Grief. That elusive thing. Persistent. But, also elusive.

Sometimes a heavy cloak, other times an apparition I catch out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes it consumes me, sometimes it is me. Sometimes it is pounding in my head, sometimes oozing out of my eyes, warm and salty. Sometimes it wraps around my neck, many times over, strangling. Other times it weighs heavy in my heart. At times it buckles my knees and twists my intestines into knots.

Sometimes it seems I squeeze it in my palms, other times it feels like that powdery thing escaping through my fingers.

Hard to catch, but always there, like a shadow. Sometimes long, sometimes short; it deceives.

I live with it, but it is elusive. Catch me if you can, it says.

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in the case of death


Folk remedies have always fascinated me.

Like this one, found in M.F.K. Fisher’s A Cordiall Water: A garland of Odd and Old Recipes to Assuage the Ills of Man & Beast:

To break a fever, as in measles

Gather plenty of turds from the wild jackrabbit, and dry them in the oven to keep for the winter in a jar. when a fever will not break; make a very strong tea of the dung and hot water, strain it, and drink it every half-hour until the sweating starts. This never fails.

I am not through with the book yet, as this has been assigned my lavatory literature, but there was one “remedy” that had stayed with me for the past days. I just could not shake it off.

Fisher once met this old woman in Provence, no taller than half her height, teeth all gone, whom she was certain was very sound in her mind. This old woman saw two little kids trying to be naughty to toads and was appalled. After Fisher helped avert any harm intended towards the toads, the old woman, relieved, told of the story why toads were of importance to her…

When she was a little girl, she contacted typhoid fever and had died. For two days she laid on the bed, as people in her village, as was the custom in her village then, came and sat and wept and drank and talked, and sprinkled holy water on her head. And then the priest came in, for she was to be buried the following day. After he left, her mother shouted, “no, no!” and ran out of the house with a pillow case in her hand.

Her mother later returned, with a dozen live toads clumsily trying to hop in the pillowcase which she held in one hand. In the other hand was a live pigeon.

She tied the mouth of the pillowcase firmly and then placed that thumping, hopping case of toads at the feet of the little dead girl. The live pigeon she spilt and clapped upon her child’s head, letting the warm blood gush down her chilled skin.

And, that was how life returned to her and she lived to an ancient age, shriveled and shrunk, teeth all lost, to save the toads, whom she called her protector and friend. For she believed the toads had warmed her cold feet when she laid dead.


I thought to myself this:

Holy crap. You gave up too easily, you fool. What did you do? You wished against wish and you hoped against hope. You tried to wake up from a bad dream. You wished it was just a very big and stupid mistake. You hoped that you would miraculously hear a baby cry when he was born. You thought maybe the doctor will discover that the baby still had a faint breath of life in him… you stupid idiot. You should have read this book earlier and gone out to catch a dozen toads and a pigeon you could easily find and spilt in two. Can you imagine?! You could have saved your son… …

For a few days I was just twisted and warped. Modern doctors like to dismiss folk remedies as hocus-pocus, as unreliable and dangerous methods. They are not studied and has no scientific backing. I don’t care for scientific backing in this case. Really, if that could save my son, I would spilt a pigeon in half. I wondered if I would really run out and hunt down a dozen live toads and a pigeon if I had read this book before Ferdinand died. But if I read this, and I could not find a dozen toads, I think I would have killed myself. Either way, there is just no way out.


I am still reading and wonder if there will be a cure for a broken heart. There must be one? I will let you know if I come across it. Or perhaps a remedy for the heaviness in one’s bosom when the days begin to shorten and the air begin to chill.

My unrest too related to news of a sudden death on R’s side of the family. An uncle at age 58, lung emboly. A most healthy and fit man, who flew over twice from Germany to participate in the NY marathon. Just like that. He was in his home that Saturday morning, and by evening, his children called home from colleges, his widow preparing for his funeral, making the dreadful phone calls. Tears. One life forever ended. Three lives changed. My heart breaks to think of how his children shook to hear their mother’s voice breaking the news. Especially the son. He has curly hair like one of my girls and loved music and I still smile to recall him telling me he will come to the US and open an El.vis Pres.ley restaurant and hotel. My heart just breaks, breaks, breaks. I mourn deeply, even though I am not close to their family.


Before I came here I looked on my Reader quickly, which has some 198,763 unread posts, and saw Tash posting about the sui.cide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke. It brought me to my knees and I think it broke the dams too.

To choose death, is a big decision. It means one has no more desires (except to die), and even having loved ones cannot keep one going, from getting up every morning and putting one foot in-front of another. When after Ferdinand died and there were days when I felt like giving up, the thought of the girls going through the death of their mother always pulled me back from the edge. But some times, I guess, even the heart is not strong enough and something else just takes over. Being alive now, today, made me realize how close I was to death and it made me teared up.


Death may mean an end, but it hardly is an end for the survivors. Reminders pop up and as best as you can manage, there will be moments when you just keel over in disbelief.

In the case of death, there is no cure, there is no end.

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Some days I feel brave and new. I tell myself, “I can do this. I can take big strides now, and feel sure about it. I feel good. I can do it. I. Can. Do. This, Damn. It!” That special spot in my heart does not feel so sore and I almost can shake my mane and roar.

And then the weepy moments come: seeing photos of siblings in groups of four; hearing something about a two-year-old boy; over-hearing the girls saying something about Ferdinand; sometimes it is just some music, though nothing in particular. Not comprehending how I could still feel disbelief; not predicting when waves of memories come crashing through.

Some days seem so normal. Boring. Mundane. Nothing great, grand or tragic ever happened.

Some days I wonder how could I be having a normal day?

The other day I banged into something near to my elbow in a rush to get ourselves out of the door to someplace. It hurt but I had no time to look at it. When I took off my sweater in the evening I saw a 2-inch cut and the surrounding flesh swollen. Washed and cleaned it, dried it and slapped a rainbow-colored plaster on it (coz I never expect to be walking around with a brightly-colored plaster, those were for the kids, coz they are the ones who go get scraps and cuts and bruises, no??). Protected and padded by the plaster, the pain dulled. Only when I accidentally bumped against it did I remember there was an injury at that site. The grief for Ferdinand is kind of like that now. Periods of amnesia interspersed with jolts of memory. Dull pain that melds into the days.

I remember once I got a bad cut on my thumb (sliced off a part of it actually) and realized with a start the days after how much I needed my thumb for so many things I do on a daily basis. It seems you need to have it hurting or missing in order to realize how precious and how important it really is. Otherwise, it is just a part of your daily mundane landscape.

I started to think if I one day was careless again and cut off say, my little finger, I am sure it is going to hurt and for days I will mourn and swear about the loss of my little finger, and perhaps ruminate over why before did I not realize how important a little finger is for so many things that I do. Then the wound will heal over and yes people will look oddly at me but I will somehow figure out a way to live with four digits on one hand. It will slowly become natural to live with just four fingers on one hand- because there is no way of fixing that missing finger, period.

The only difference is, the missing baby was never taken for granted.

The only similarity is, you just gotta deal with it somehow and one day it actually can become a natural part of your life. And also, you will not get that missing finger back. Or the baby. And it is just futile to think about it.

Although, perhaps, in these days of advanced science, I am certain, if I need that little finger because I play the piano for a living, or something of that sort, with some connections and a sum of money I can get a robotic one attached and I have read the new things connect and interact with your body and everything moves as connected. So, at least I can find a very close replacement of that little finger and even say, “It’s just like the other one.”

I am pretty sure with a little baby the above scenario will never, ever be possible. This relationship I have with Ferdinand changes all the time. Sometimes he is still that little baby, but a few hours old (since exiting from the womb, cold); but he lives at the edge of time, just outside the door of this world where I live. Other times he is a shadow that grows over time, an apparition that I imagine and fantasize, guessing his height, his voice, his habits. Sometimes he is already grown up, an adult benign and wise, clasping my hands in his big, warm palms, telling me all is fine. Sometimes he is like a balloon that I feel I need to let go, because I can’t hold on all the time, and the balloon wishes to fly free.

Just live it. Some days that is what I tell myself. You just live it, and try to live it big.

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