dear anna . . . a letter to a friend who has passed away

the heavens


Dear Anna,

I can only guess at how things are where you are (either a heavenly paradise or a deep void or something else entirely that our small, living, human brains cannot even conjure up), but since you’re not here, I will fill you in on what’s been happening. I hope from wherever you are and whatever your reality now is that you can see what goes on in the life you left behind—well, the good things, anyway, not the cars we may have cut off, unkind words we may have spoken, or times we were doing . . . ahem, personal stuff. But if you can’t (and, yes, I think you can), let me fill you in.

Your two daughters have grown into amazing young women. When you left them, they were just fifteen and a day shy of fourteen years old. They were just beginning high school, a time no parent should miss, a time in which no daughter should be without her mother, but left you did by no fault of your own. No matter how hard you clawed at this world, grasping at branches that turned into twigs, reaching for crevices in boulders that crumbled at your fingertips, you could not stay here. A bigger mission, I’d like to think, awaited you on the other side, something so amazing that we could never quite understand the why of it, but it needed to happen even if it meant separating you from the only love you knew.

Your older girl is now in college. And a good one at that! She is a freshman at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo (or Cal Poly SLO, as we call it), in that school’s top-rated engineering program. She lives near campus (yep, she no longer is at home full time) and has made a bunch of friends. She plans to become a civil engineer, like her dad, and she has worked hard to do just what you expected of her: get into a good school and work toward a great career.

Your younger, more social and daring child, will be graduating high school in June already. She has high hopes of becoming a doctor, in part because of how helpless she felt not understanding what you were going through. Studying your illness gave her strength and opened her eyes to how difficult an end you endured. Her grades are excellent, and she should be on her way toward her career in a few short months.

Your husband is plugging away at work, missing you terribly, and looking forward to the day when the pain won’t be so bad. As hard as he fought to keep you here, he is trying at least that hard to forge a new life without you.

And the rest of us? I, for one, don’t go a single day without thinking of you. You were such a huge part of my life, and you continue to fill my thoughts. I think of the good times we had, like shooting the breeze while cracking crab legs at a buffet, and the difficult ones too, seeing you endure another demoralizing chemo treatment, listening to you describe how you could literally feel your life slipping away from you, “like my energy is leaving my body,” you’d say. And I knew just what you meant.

I think of you when the good times roll, like when the family and I are on vacation, or I am out with your girls celebrating a birthday lunch, and when life is not so spectacular. You actually help me get through the crappy stuff, you’ll be happy to know, because I always think, “Gosh, what Anna wouldn’t do to have to pay for a huge car repair or to have a migraine if it meant being here with her family one more day.” The small stuff is just that. But what you went through, my, that’s the big event we all fear.

I still work from home in my editing career, but now that I don’t have any minor children here needing me on daily, I took a job in a library, where I can be around some of the inanimate things I love, namely books. I don’t see my old gang of friends much at all any more. Also free of young children, they’ve gotten on with their lives and have taken jobs that have shrunk their free time but that give them a sense of purpose that had been on hold.

Time certainly moves, on and I have made some new friends at work. There are so many nice people at the library, and I’ve become quite close to a few of them, close enough, in fact, that I’ve told them about you. I wish you could meet them.  I still am too busy for my own good and would love to see things settle down  so I can just get to stuff I want to do instead of stuff I think I have to do. I’m bringing in a little more money (and I stress the little), but because I’m home less often, some of the household projects that we talked about my wanting to get to years ago, go unaccomplished. I still can’t seem to get the nerve to hire someone to come in and do some of the stuff I don’t have time to get to. Some things never change, I suppose—like the ratty living room furniture that I spend money on covering with slipcovers but should just replace.

So, as you can see, dear, Anna, life goes on pretty much as it was but in bigger and bolder ways. Life is pretty good for all of us, with one thing lacking. And I know you know what that is.  Love, Rose 



if you don’t see yourself in lady bird, you never were an american teenager…or her parent

lady bird and marion

                                  Lady Bird  (Saoirse Ronan) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf) 
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is impetuous, impressed by popularity, self-absorbed, and at times mean-spirited. In other words, she’s a typical modern-day American teen. If you don’t see yourself in Lady Bird, the nominal character in the Greta Gerwig-written and -directed movie, you may see yourself in her good-girl best friend Julie, or in mean-girl and popular Jenna, or pessimistic but privileged Kyle, or secretly gay Danny,  or as her parents…or all of the above. Because what Lady Girl doesn’t do is  people. What it does do–and wonderfully so–is take a pretty ordinary girl and view her struggles in her world and her family’s world and her school and give an accurate encapsulation of what life is like in these United States, circa the early 2000s, though it could be anytime in America.

When I was in school, I wasn’t a Lady Bird. I was a Julie, the nice girl, who’s a good student, well-behaved and shy, and not at all worldly. I was the sidekick. If Lady Bird characterized herself as living “on the wrong side of the tracks,” Julie lived even farther from the tracks as her friend and, unlike Lady Bird, who felt the world owed her something, Julie chose to accept the world, as unfair as it can be at times, and live within the boundaries set by it. Julie was a much better student than Lady Bird, but Julie ends up at the local community college, while Lady Bird sets her sights on an upper-scale East Coast liberal arts school.

As much as I can relate to Julie, the character I see myself as today, however, isn’t either of the two girls; it’s Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson. I am not sure there’s been a character in any movie I’ve ever seen who doesn’t resemble me more because she resembles many moms. And what’s really interesting is that my elder daughter, who was coming of age at about the same time as Lady Bird is in the movie, told me that she saw herself in Lady Bird and, equally so, me in Marion, whose name, by the way, I had to look up on IMDb because in the movie it’s rarely, if ever, spoken. Why? Presumably because Marion is above all else “Mom.”

Marion is the hardworking, loyal, and at-times angry and put-upon Everymom, handling double shifts to pick up the slack while her husband loses his job and the family struggles financially. She lives in a basic, boring, circa 1970s-furnished house, but has a hobby of checking out open houses just to ooh and aah at the beautiful homes that are within driving distance but still way out of reach for her. Teens, including Lady Bird, sometimes feel (maybe oftentimes feel?) as though their parents’ world–where they live, what they drive–is what it is because that’s who they are, that’s how they want it to be, that’s what they made it, not realizing that dreams become deferred and desires are put on hold when raising a family. Think back to your teenage-hood and tell me you didn’t feel that way about your parents, that they just didn’t get it. Now come into the modern world and tell me everything is exactly as you always wanted it to be. See? This movie hits a cord.

I love Marion. I am Marion, the martyr Marion who comes home from a double shift in the morning and slaves away to make her family a decent breakfast only to be told the eggs are too runny; the frank Marion who is honest with her daughter, letting her know that of course she deserves to have her (selfish) dreams, but at the same time should be more aware of her family’s circumstances; the victimized Marion who sends her daughter to a pricey Catholic school because the local public school is unsafe only to have her daughter pull a stunt that gets her expelled for a few days; the misunderstood Marion who has a good heart (we see it many times) but comes off as the bad guy and in a constant struggle to keep the family afloat.

This movie is not heavy-handed at all and it doesn’t dumb down. There aren’t good guys versus bad guys because there’s a little good and bad in all of us.