I am so sad today. But not for the reason you would assume. Or not just for that reason. Today is the one year anniversary of the death of my host mother. My sorrow over the 50 people dead in Orlando, members of my beautiful queer community, mingles with my grief over the death of my incandescent host mother, Susanne, grief so intense that I can only look at sideways. Every time I have thought of her in the past year, I have cried. Sobbing in the shower for days after I found out she had died. Walking down the street, something will remind me of her, and suddenly my eyes are full of tears and I’m trying to pull myself back together.

To call this grief feels melodramatic, like I am coopting someone else’s tragedy, but it is the only way I can describe this feeling. This desolate sadness that a 50 year old woman, a veterinarian, a Scrabble player, a lover of perfume and John Irving novels, a wife, a mother, an only daughter, a friend, a beautiful amazing wonderful human being is dead of cancer. She was the best and I cannot fathom that she is gone. I cannot make sense of it. There is no sense to cells, growing out of control. There is no sense to dead at 50.

It feels tragic. And unfair. And scary as hell. Your mind, selfish as ever, calculates. I am closer to 50 now than I am to 16, the age I was when I lived with her in Germany. If I were to die at 50, Frances would be 16. Not even out of high school yet.

Suse has amazing children, my host brother and sister, both in their 20s now. Early to mid. Not late. Not old enough to lose a mother. Are you ever old enough to lose a mother?

She has a husband. Had. I can’t, even on my most morbid melancholy days, imagine the death of my wife. How do you go on? My mind rejects it.

There is no sense to this.

At least a mass shooting makes some sort of sick sense. People call it senseless, but it follows a pattern: Man (and it is almost always a man) gets mad, has access to guns, takes that anger out on people he hates or resents (women, gay people, classmates, coworkers).

And here I go, back on the safer ground of national tragedy. How sad that a mass shooting is so common place to be “safer ground”. How privileged that I am so unfamiliar with this unrelenting personal grief.

With national tragedies, you can take strength in community, your anger has a place to go: public policy changes to support, money to donate. I have felt so alone in this grief. Unwilling to dump in to the circle of her family: husband, son and daughter whose grief eclipses my own, but with no one really to dump out to who knew her. Not really.

Is this how it always feels? That no one knew this person that you loved? Not really?

How scared I am that this is a preview. That this is my life now. As years go by, those that I love will keep dying. I will keep grieving. It will only get harder to shove that grief in a corner and look at it sideways. The seal has been broken.

How scary to love so much and hurt so much. How death can blindside you. You think it’s an ordinary day and then your wife says: “I got a Facebook message? From someone named Rabea?” “That’s my host cousin,” I say. “She says your host mom is dead.”

There is no solving this. No way but through.

She lived. She was loved. Not most by me, but most definitely not least either. She died. It makes no sense.


Life List #40. Do the 365 day photo project.

Long before I had a life list, I’ve wanted to do a 365 Photo Project. One day last summer, I just decided to start. It actually took me slightly longer than a year, because I occasionally missed a day, but I just kept on trucking. It’s fun to have these reminders of the past year. It’s going to be weird not to be taking a daily picture – but maybe it will help me have a little more distance from my phone as well!

Some of my favorites from the project are below. You can see the full project on Flickr.

Spinning with Grammie #365photoproject #day38Day 38. September 30, 2013.


Sharing her animal crackers with Mommy #365photoproject #day73
Day 73. November 7, 2013.

Thanksgiving is for friends. #365photoproject #day91
Day 91. November 29, 2013.

Elephant! Christmas has begun. #365photoproject #day114
Day 114. December 25, 2014.

Sunday #365photoproject #day125
Day 125. January 5, 2014.

Snow day! #365photoproject #day159
Day 159. February 13, 2014.

Pedicure. #365photoproject #day178 #goodday
Day 178. March 5, 2014.

At the playground with Pop Pop and Grandma #365photoproject #day221
Day 221. April 19, 2014.

Mother's Day at the zoo. #365photoproject #day243
Day 243. May 11, 2014.

Computing like Mommy. #365photoproject #day254
Day 254. May 22, 2014.

Sibling and significant other dinner! #365photoproject #day262
Day 262. May 30, 2014.

Happy Thursday everyone. #365photoproject #day281
Day 281. June 19, 2014.

Friday night at the spray park. #365photoproject #day303 #nofilter
Day 303. July 11, 2014

Water lilies in Rock Creek Cemetery. #nofilter #365photoproject #day319 #loveDC

Day 319. July 27, 2014.

"Say cheese,  little baby" #365photoproject #day336
Day 336. August 13, 2014.

Watch out, DC! There's a dinosaur on the loose. #365photoproject #day359
Day 359. September 6, 2014.

Life List #40. Do the 365 day photo project.

Men Explain Things to Me

This #fridayreads inspired by @lizfaw. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. #365photoproject #day344


Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume, just 7 essays comprising 130 pages, but it gave me a lot to think about. Although the book is decidedly feminist, the essays are not, for the most part, about the stereotypical feminist issues. Although I could certainly relate to the titular essay (in which Solnit writes about a time that a distinguished older gentleman spent a great deal of time telling her about a book on Muybridge that she really must read (although he clearly hadn’t), which turned out to be one she had written), the essays that resonated with me most were about activism and uncertainty and the space to think. About how activism is important and has an effect, even if it’s not the one we expected. Solnit spent several years protesting at a nuclear site in the U.S. The protests were unsuccessful, in that they didn’t achieve the goal of shutting the site down, but that protest inspired a protest in Kazakhstan that did manage to shut down a Soviet nuclear site. This week especially, as we all sit here with what has happened in Ferguson, with the knowledge that it is just one killing of an unarmed black man, in a long history of the killing of black men, that was good to read. That activism is important and worthwhile even if you can’t see the end point, that to stand up for beliefs is vital and beneficial, even if the benefit is not what you expect. Sort of the butterfly effect of activism, which is something I hadn’t considered. I tended to think, up to this point, that you protest and speak out and it’s futile and futile and futile, until the moment things changes. And that you keep doing things, because you are waiting for that moment. But maybe the earlier protests weren’t futile at all. Maybe we just didn’t see the way they built the broader web of justice. Such a hopeful thing to think.

“Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” was probably my favorite essay in the collection. It certainly made me want to read more by Woolf. The essay praises uncertainty, celebrates the unknown, reminds you that there a truths that you can only see sideways. Or that you glimpse for a second, and then they vanish, never to be seen again. Or perhaps they pop up again at some point in the future, in the words of an author or the image of artist that has managed to capture something so TRUE that it stops you in your tracks. As a librarian (and as a person – let’s be clear, my profession didn’t come from nowhere), I classify. I organize and arrange and make things fit. I write lists. But there are so many things that are amorphous. Hard to describe, hard to pin down. This essay reminded me to celebrate those. To give myself space to think, or more importantly to not think. To not fill up my time and my space and my brain and my life so much that there isn’t room for the unknown, for ruminating, for mysteries. It was a good essay. You should read it.

H/T to Liz for encouraging me to pick this book up!

Men Explain Things to Me