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 



a son not going to prom brings back icky high school memories

Prom is this weekend, but my son isn’t going. prom

He’ll be the first of my four kids to not go to the annual senior dance that is somewhat of a rite of passage. He’s never been to a high school dance either, so it’s not like he’s had his fill of them, and I think he wants to go, but none of his friends is going and thinks it would be awkward if he went. His not going is bringing up feelings I had thirtysomething years ago when I too didn’t go to prom. And it’s unsettling.

I had wanted to go to prom. I grew up back East and moved out West with my family before the start of my junior year. It took me quite some time to get accustomed to the differences on the left coast, but by the end of senior year, I had made some friends, not many, but a few, including two guys I hung out with in Honors English. I was hoping at least one of them would ask me to the senior prom. But no, the invitation never came. In those days, only couples could go to the prom, no singles and no groups of friends. It was a male and a female couple. I’m guessing the rules do not hold up today, nor should they.

My other kids all went. My first daughter was asked by a handsome, popular young man. My second daughter went with a male friend who was actually a grade behind but was taking extra classes to finish out his senior year as a junior. My older son, the athlete, went with the cute cheerleading captain, and they then started dating. But my youngest, whom I’d always pictured as going, being that he’s well-liked and, having sisters, is pretty comfortable aroundthe opposite sex, is not. My husband and I as well as his brother and sisters have encouraged him to go, but here it is, four days away, and it’s become pretty evident that he’s not going.

I hope it’s not something he regrets, as I do. Difference is, as a senior, going was out of my control. I had to be asked. He, however, could have asked a girl or just gone with friends, but I guess it doesn’t mean that much to him. Fortunately, my kids aren’t ones to need to be with a member of the opposite sex to feel validated. Of the four kids, three of whom are adults,, only one is dating someone right now.

Come next week, I’m sure seniors will be buzzing and Ben will hear stories of how great prom was. I would guess he’ll feel a little let down that he didn’t go. And I know I will be. In fact, I started talking about prom to him and my friend’s daughter way back when they were in the second grade, joking that they would be going together one day. Trouble is, by senior year she had had a boyfriend, and it wasn’t my Ben. But he is OK with the way things are. He will find something fun to do, and I will reward him with some sort of treat, considering the great amount of money he’s saved me by not going. For a seventeen-year-old, he’s pretty mature. I wish I could say the same for myself.

my silver linings playbook for the new year


Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.


taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.



october mornings can make you feel this way


I heard that the simplest prayer is to say “thank you.” I like that.

Walking today on what is a fairly crisp fall morning (by Southern California standards, anyway), I took in long shadows, leaves falling from a sycamore tree, the smell of breakfast sausage wafting from a home or two, and a golden retriever by my side. I thought, “This is pretty nice. This is all I need.” The simple things in life, for sure.

I looked up to see the bare hills that pass for mountains here and a bright sun breaking through a distant marine layer. I said my thank-you prayer before my mind started drifting to things that are challenges in my life: the lack of a steady paycheck, the worries that parents of teens and young adults tend to have even when their kids are the “good” ones,  my deceased friend whose second anniversary of her death is next Sunday, and her teenaged daughters, one of whom turns sixteen the following day. Before I could hit up the rest of the list, like the fact that Donald Trump could possibly become our nation’s president in another month, I stopped myself, took a deep breath, looked into the distance, and said “thank you” again. I have a way of dwelling on the negative so much that the dwelling has turned into a permanent home, with a fierce dog chained in the yard and a “This Property Is Condemned” sign posted on the door.

But today is not for those thoughts. Actually, no day should be. I must look at the positive: I’ve a roof over my head that will be paid for in another so-many payments, I’ve enough money in savings to tide us over in case of emergency, and I’ve a loving family and a gaggle of friends to boost my spirits. I may not have granite countertops or memories of trips to the Bahamas, but I do have all I need.

I must remember that next time my mind wanders to the negative. A thank-you is all it takes.

missing my friend on her fiftieth birthday

I should be out to lunch, raising a glass, giving a toast, and celebrating one of my dearest friends’ fiftieth birthdays today, but she is no longer here. She passed away one year and nine months ago, leaving behind a husband and two darling teenaged daughters.

I miss Anna so much at times that my heart hurts. I’ve lost parents (both of them) and parents-in-law (both of them too), but nothing has wrenched my heart as much as losing my dear, dear friend. Not only do I lament the days I personally didn’t get to spend with her (and her fiftieth birthday would have been a big one, at that), I am saddened for the stuff she is missing, like seeing her daughters ace the SATs or watching them drive off for the first time on their own, brand-new driver’s licenses in their wallets. She’ll never get to see them collect their diplomas or their degrees, or walk them down the aisle for the last time as single ladies. She’ll never meet her grandchildren, call them by name, or see what color their eyes are or who they favor in appearance, their beautiful daughter or the putz she married. She’ll never get to spend her husband’s retirement traveling or doing the things one just can’t do when there’s a full-time worker in the household and he has a schedule to keep to. She’ll never get to age gracefully or die naturally.

I, of course, am especially sad for the girls. They’ll never get to do spa days with their mom or listen to lectures about boys and fast cars and what to not do on grad night. From October 2014 on they’ve been without the one woman they should have been able to rely on for advice, support, and love for the rest of their lives.

And I’m sad for her husband, my friend, who wakes up to an empty bed in the morning and sees the same image when laying down his head every night. He turns fifty tomorrow too, but since that fateful day in 2014, there has not been any celebrating on these two days in June that used to be so joyous.

I know if there is a heaven and if God lets in those good folks who are not card-carrying members, which I hope is the case, Anna’s up there watching her family and friends carrying on. She’s whipping up her magnificent eggrolls for the lord above and planning the day when we can all again sit around the table as she blows out candles.

I miss you and I love you, Anna.


having a friendship with a self-involved person takes patience

self-absorbedI have a single friend, no kids, whom I’ve known for more than 30 years. She’s funny, kind, and we think a lot alike. When we get together, we have plenty of laughs. She’d known me and my husband even before we were married and before we had our four kids. She takes a general interest in everyone’s welfare. So why then when we talk or text or see one another does the conversation go 80 percent in her favor and 20 percent in mine?

I’ve been wondering if my friend glosses over the news I have to share in favor of talking about her life because she’s single and she’s all she’s got. I started Googling self-centeredness in singlehood and there’s some scientific info to back it up but even more articles debunking it, mostly in editorials, often written by singles themselves. These editorials state how people can be self-absorbed and narcistic whether they are single or not. How true, and far be it from me to put all singles into a box and label it “self-involved,” but why does it seem that my single friends and relatives care more about themselves and what they have going on in their lives than what the rest of us are going through?

As I stated, my friend has a genuine concern for me, my husband, and our four children, but she rarely deeply questions how they’re doing or offers to lend support if I need it–and I’ve needed it quite a bit over the past few years. And when I bring up something going on with one or more of us (and there is a lot going on in a family of six), she gives short shrift to what I have to say. She just about never takes me up when I invite her to family functions or other events involving my family. Or she sounds enthusiastic in the moment, when I first bring it up, but when the day of the event arrives, she finds an excuse to not come by. I understand feeling out of place when being around a throng of people who share the same last name, but to events when there are other friends invited, single and married, she won’t show up to those either.

She is close to getting a new job and asked if we could get together spur of the moment today so she could have the big reveal on the name of the prospective company (she won’t tell me in a text) and fill me in on all the details. I was tempted to meet up with her for a walk, which I need to do daily anyway, and not hang out at a coffee shop she suggested, where she can sit across from me and talk a mile a minute while I nod agreeingly and try to interject conversation just to get cut off. But then I thought, why bother? I know it will be a one-sided conversation and I would have to put my own work aside at a time when I have to make some money to put food on the table, you know, the one with the six chairs around it?

She texted me about the new job earlier this week. During the texting conversation, I mentioned my youngest having to take the driving test tomorrow and my having just booked reservations for a summer vacation (we take trips just one week a year) and where we were going and why I had to work to make a little extra dough to help pay for everything, and then I asked for a few more details on the job sitch. And you can guess what issues in that text she only replied to. Yes, just the parts relating to herself.

My son graduated from college a couple weeks ago. Even though it’s kid/graduate number three for us, it’s still a pretty big deal. So the day before, when my son decided where he wanted to celebrate post commencement, I invited my friend, who loves impromptu plans, by the way, because her schedlule is much more open than mine. Attending the restaurant lunch would be just the six of us and two of my brothers, one sister-in-law, and my sister, all of whom she knows. What did she reply? No, she said, she didn’t want to waste gas driving the 30 miles round-trip to the restaurant and back home–even though the meal would have been comped by us and I wouldn’t have expected a gift. (She hasn’t bought my kids anything since the oldest was born, and she’s now 30!)

I said I understood, that I’d be paranoid about spending even gas money too if I were between jobs. But that was before I heard of her plans for the long weekend: she’s driving four hours each way to hang out with friends at a nice hotel she’ll have to pay for, along with the food and drink, of course, she’ll consume while there.

There are more examples of her not making the effort on our part, and I give her a lot of leeway and probably shouldn’t have all these years. So part of this may be my own fault. But after having lost a dear friend to cancer a year and a half ago and finding out that another wonderful, helpful friend is moving away, I value the friendships I still have, good or bad. For some reason I just do. She and I both consider each other family members. But if that were the case on her part, why wouldn’t she come around to my family events? (She has no relatives in town.) Why would she constantly make excuses and then turn around and look like a hypocrite? I can extend my family to an infinite number of people. With her, I guess I’m it and I only am considered family on her own terms.

If I were single too, though, I suppose I’d call the shots as well, but I’d like to think, single or not, I’d still be less self-absorbed.

Leave a reply if you can relate.