To Say Hello

My grandma (Phoofsy to Ella and Annie and many others) – always said that life was worth living so long as you were having fun. A little less than two weeks ago, unexpectedly and suddenly and to our stunned shock and heartbreak, Phoofsy stopped having fun.

You guys. I just… It’s simply not okay.

Living so near her these past eight years was one of the reasons that moving to Rochester was such a fantastic decision. My grandma was our guidepost, our touchstone, our sounding board and cheerleader, our adventure buddy, and our constant partner for dinner, games, and talking. We have never lived here without her and, honestly, I feel as though we’ve been cut adrift; Nick and I hadn’t realized how much she grounded us and made us whole.

I miss her so much, I cannot begin to put it into words.
We have spent every Easter with Phoofsy since we moved here.
This year was no different.

Losing Phoofsy has been difficult for Ella and Annie as well. Sadly, they are quite familiar with loss (most importantly, their Grandpa Bill, and to a much lesser extent – although fresh on their minds – our Madison), but never before have they had to say goodbye to someone who was an integral part of our daily lives, someone whose presence would be noticeably absent at soccer games, swim meets, birthdays, evenings beside the fireplace, Sunday brunch, Wednesday nights, and every day in between.

This is an active, different kind of grieving, for all of us.
Not better. Not worse. Not harder or easier. Just different.

My mom and stepdad drove up to the lake the day after my grandma passed away and immediately got to the business of sorting through Phoofsy’s affairs (and providing lots of hugs and memories and laughs); we loved getting the chance to see them, even under these circumstances. As our little family foursome was driving back from the lake last weekend – the first-ever we’d spent there without my grandma – the conversation naturally turned toward Phoofsy.
Playing The Lake Game on Memorial Day, my grandma was absolutely tickled that she managed to successfully flip her cup. We were absolutely tickled, too.

Things began simply enough, sharing stories and memories, but soon moved onto more metaphysical, abstract thinking. It started with Nick telling them that he was comforted by the idea that, one minute, Phoofsy was here and healthy, the next there was some brief confusion, and the very next, she was seeing Great‘s face as he said to her, “What took you so long?”

Annie and Ella were intrigued by this and wanted to hash things out, so we kept talking. “Where do you think Phoofsy is right now?” “If there’s heaven, do you stay the same age as you are when you die?” “Can people who have already died leave ‘messages’ for those of us who are still here?” 

As they discussed their conceptions of heaven, Nick and I grew more and more entranced. The girls’ ideas were absolutely fascinating and far more interesting and nuanced than anything I’ve imagined in my nearly-forty years. In fact, their thoughts were so lovely, so simultaneously comforting and thought-provoking, I asked if I could share them with you.
They graciously agreed.
Chuckling that her poker hand was better than Ella’s.
Even when you’re 84 years older than your great-granddaughter, victory is sweet. 


“In heaven, you can be any age you want, and you can change that age whenever you like. So, if you had a really great time when you were twelve, you get to be twelve. Then, if you want to feel what it was like to be fifty again, you can be fifty for a while. Oh! And the person you’re with – like, if Phoofsy is with Great – can be another age, too. ‘Cause you know how Great was 86 when he died but Phoofsy was almost 95? That might not be fair, for her to be older, just ’cause she got to live longer. They might want to be the same age again – so they can be, together.”

(I don’t know what age I want to be yet, but that sounds pretty much like the best idea ever.)

“I think, in heaven, you can live out a dream while you’re awake. Like, you know how when you wake up after you’ve had an awesome dream and you suddenly realize it was just a dream and you’re so sad? Well, in heaven, you actually get to do the dream while you’re awake – you never have to miss anything! So Phoofsy and Great and Grandpa Bill can live out all of their dreams, for real – not just dreaming – every single day.”


“But it’s okay to sometimes miss things. I think people in heaven might sometimes be sad. I mean, they’re mostly happy – it’s heaven after all, and they can see their friends and they can travel all around the world and have those dreams – but I think there’s a little sadness… Because life has sadness. We have to have some sadness to appreciate the happiness. Without a little, tiny bit of sadness, heaven wouldn’t be real.”

(Appreciation and perspective, even in heaven. Very cool.)

“When you’re in heaven, if you get to travel all around the world and be any age you want, I want to be a baby for a little while.” 

(Interject our incredulity. A baby?? But wouldn’t that be… boring?)

“Well, that’s the thing. We think it would be boring right now because we can’t see inside a baby’s mind and we don’t remember what it was like to be a baby. But if I could be a baby, but have my regular mind, I could see what life was like when I was a baby and actually remember it.”

(Scratch what I said before. THAT may be the best idea ever.)

“And I know that, once people are dead, they’re gone and all that. But I think they’re still with us, too — not just in our hearts, though, like people say. I think – and I know this is kind of weird – but I think that people can come and visit for a while. You can’t see them, you can’t feel them, you don’t even know they’re there… But they are. Maybe they walk with you to school. Maybe they sit next to you at dinner. Maybe they ride beside you in the car. Then, suddenly, you have a good memory of that person and it makes you feel better… and it’s because they were right there with you for just a little bit, visiting. Not all creepy like a ghost! Just a good feeling, because they came to say hello.”

Mother’s Day 2015

Ella and Annie don’t talk too much about being sad, but I know that Phoofsy is on their minds. Every day since she died, both girls, of their own accord, have made absolutely certain to keep something of hers with them; Ella now carries her books in one of Phoofsy’s old purses; Annie wears her hats around the house. Hardly a day has gone by when they haven’t worn one of her necklaces to school even though, normally, necklaces aren’t their thing.

Every time I see them toting her bags, donning her jewelry, adorned in her hats… a fleeting, glowing smile crosses my heart.

And I have no doubt Phoofsy has come to say hello.

All Shook Up

Annie’s fabulous Herb Brooks turkey was, in some ways, to be expected. See, although Herb may have been influenced by Nick, the desire to put her all into school project was definitely inherited from me. There was the school wide make-a-poster contest for the fall festival, where my brother and I — in our own respective grades — took first place each. There was the write-about-a-country project (my country: Saudi Arabia) for which I actually brought in a beautiful head scarf from Saudi Arabia, because my dad had gone there on business trips.

There was the See If White Carnations Still Turn Blue After Mixing Crap Like Sugar And Salt And Kool-Aid Into Their Blue Food Coloring-Tinted Water project, which was set up in the guest room for at least two weeks, threatening to turn the carpet aquamarine. There was the acid rain project one of my best friends and I did in 9th grade, where we asked friends and family to send us vials of water and soil collected from around the country (to analyze the acidity and then pore over actual library books to see, way before Google could help out, if there was a connection between soil content and acid rain), for which we filmed at 15-minute video, complete with several “commercials.”

If there was a project to be done, I was going to DO IT, by God, and DO IT WITH ALL MY MIGHT, especially if a tri-fold board was involved. Man, those boards were cool.

But then, as my mom reminded me last week after I posted about Annie’s turkey, there was the… ill-fated… Tsunami Project Disaster of ’87. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

No? Well, then this is your lucky day.

If memory serves, we had to do a project for science class about some kind of natural disaster. I was quite disappointed to be assigned the tsunami, first because I’d coveted the volcano (you got to blow things up in the classroom, rock on), but also because back then, no one in southwestern Connecticut had really even heard of tsunamis (again, back in the dark ages before Google and CNN and 24 hour news coverage even in the middle of record-breaking typhoons). After doing some research (more library time FTW!), I discovered that tsunamis were actually pretty awesome (in storm-chaser kind of way; work with me, people), and set out to make a project that would aptly demonstrate their awesomeness.

A decent-sized clear plastic bin was procured (undoubtedly by my mother, who had to navigate my ADHD-induced craziness for all of my school projects) – large enough to show what a tsunami was, but not so big I couldn’t carry it to school myself. One half of the bin contained the land, its shoreline and trees and whatever other structures were deemed necessary rendered with clay and things like popsicle sticks, while the other half contained water. By rattling the bin around and simulating an earthquake, the water would slosh ominously toward the land and – voilà – tsunami (or, at least, tsunami, 7th-grade-style), which would knock over some of the houses perched on the beach.

Now, causing the tremors by hand didn’t really work so well — I needed to show that the earthquake (or whatever had caused the disturbance) could happen anywhere, any time, and the displaced water would crest toward land; randomly jiggling the bin back and forth didn’t so much as simulate a tsunami so much as a broken washing machine. I needed something that could be placed just so, rattling, earth-quake like, and then we could all stand back and watch the water roll in. Enter the seemingly perfect solution: my family’s back massager.

We’d had it around for years, and I’d seen it in action many times — for knots just under your shoulders, aching hamstrings, or those extra-fun moments when you placed it on your head and tried to talk, your voice coming out sounding like a robot. You’ve probably seen them out and about; in fact, I just spotted some the other day in Target’s stocking stuffer section:
No, I didn’t buy one; the girls would probably just torture the dogs with them.

Awesome, right? Yeah… Except that my family’s back massager didn’t look like cute little robotic puppies. It looked more like…

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 2.34.58 PM
And now you can’t un-see this. IMAGINE HOW I FEEL.

I carefully described to the class what a tsunami was, how one was caused, and the damage one could render. I showed my little clay model. I added in the water (to many appreciative murmurs from my classmates). But when I pulled out the back massager to demonstrate just how a tsunami worked, giggles – mostly from the boys – began to erupt around the room.

I was stumped. What on earth could be so funny about a back massager?
And then the questions started.

“What the heck is that?”

It’s a back massager.

*snicker* “A WHAT?”

A back massager.

“Uh, yeah… Where’d you get it?”

I brought it from home.

*chuckle* “Where’d you find it?”

Find it? What do you mean? My mom and dad use it, and it was just lying around, so…

*giggle* “Have you ever used it?”

Of course. I use it all the time.

*barely-controlled-hysterics* “YOU DO? What do you do with it??”

(impatiently and a little exasperated at their obvious dim-witted-ness) You know – when I have a sore back, or I’ve gotten a charley horse…

*outright laughter* “Is it FUN???”

Well, I wouldn’t really say it’s fun, but it definitely works – you should try it sometime!

And then I turned the damn thing on and held it up to the bottom of the little plastic display and all hell broke loose — both in the form of the perfectly-formed little tsunami that had brewed in my lovingly constructed project — and amongst my fellow classmates.

The teacher eventually settled everyone down and I soon took my seat, wildly embarrassed but not really certain why. (To this day, I’m not sure how my instructor managed to keep a straight face. Then again, I held it together when my fifth grade general music students created a commercial jingle about an inflatable doll to the tune of “We Will Rock You”, the chorus of which went, “We will.. We will… BLOW YOU!” Teachers are AMAZING, y’all.)

It wasn’t until after class that one of my friends pulled me aside and explained that my innocent little back massager was less chiro and more porno.

If you look up the word “mortified” in the dictionary, you’ll see my name beside it. Use Google, even. It was that awful.

To this day, I’m not sure if my parents didn’t know I was bringing in this delightful device, didn’t realize that it would elicit such a reaction, or thought it would be damn hilarious to have their daughter tote what was essentially a vibrator to seventh grade science (nor, come to think of it, do I know if the “back massager” was ever used for anything beyond easing muscle aches… AND OMG I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW, EVER), but I can promise you that I will not allow my children to make a similarly mortifying mistake.

No, no. I will try my damnedest to prevent them from utterly humiliating themselves in front of their classmates. But if they do – if something slips through the cracks – I will hold their hands and comfort them and tell them that surely it will all be okay.

And then I’ll post about it on Facebook.

After all, they have to have SOMETHING to blog about when they get older.