Hi Mom,

It feels so strange and surreal to write this, and yet I’m hoping it will help me feel a closeness to you that I haven’t felt in a while. We are both in this world… mostly, and yet Alzheimer’s has put a wedge between us that is unreal in its pain, intensity, and confusion. We are in this together, and still not at all. Some days I think that we should be walking down Newbury Street, making dinner together, going to the aquarium, or simply just shopping at Target again. Other days, I’d be happy to call you and complain about how the deli got my lunch order wrong.

Tiger is doing well. I still remember how he was so sick when I first adopted him, and you said, “Don’t give up on him. He didn’t ask for any of this. Don’t give up on him.” It was the kindest, most compassionate thing you could had said and your advice has always stuck with me. I haven’t given up on him… even in the darkest moments when I think I’ve given up on everyone and everything (including myself), I am still happy to keep him well cared for, content, and healthy.

Work is going well… I love my colleagues, the work I do, and the families I work with. I’m really loving Boston and my apartment and friends. I wish you could meet them. They would think you are really smart and funny–just like a lot of my friends did in high school. I’m trying to work hard and make you proud and I hope you are. Some days I remember the intensity with which you pursued your career… my first time sitting in your chemistry class. I also remember all the extra hours you so diligently put in… both before school and during the summer. It seems not long ago when I remember your old lab, the musty summer mornings helping you sort beakers and flasks, thinking about what it would be like when I would someday go to high school.

And college. When you supported me through multiple major changes, and even a potential college transfer that I selfishly forgot to mention. You had to hear it through my guidance counselor when I needed a high school transcript sent. The thing is… I didn’t want you to know that I was unhappy. I remember your go-to phrase that somehow always only made me cry more. You would say, “Oh Ann Marie, don’t be sad.”

But I am sad. And worried and frustrated–and SO fucking angry. Because the most essential person was taken from me too early. We had years ahead of smiles and tears and shopping and arguments and laughter and memories that were taken from us. And no amount of fundraising or research or prayers will fix it. This broken, irreparable feeling of sadness… nothing will ever make it better.

Who will walk me through my next break up? Or help me plan my wedding? Or tell me my hair is too long or that skirt is too short or I’m driving too fast or reading too slow or sleeping too late? Who will tell me not to be sad when I am?

I don’t have the answers. And I know you don’t either but you always seemed like you did. You fought tooth and nail for our family and I’ll be damned if I won’t do the same for you. This… none of this is how it was supposed to be. Whoever dealt us this hand… I want to throw the cards back in their face, yell and scream and kick and punch. “You got the wrong mother-daughter duo, asshole!” And we would lock arms and run away and go out for margaritas. You would tell me boys are stupid and anyone who says otherwise can “blow it out their shorts.”

Nothing will ever be enough but here is what I can promise. I will always remember and honor you. I will garden with the flowers you taught me the names of. Petunias in the sun and impatiens in the shade. I will continue to write songs for you. I will do outreach for animals in need. I will be committed to making school better for the kids I work with. I will talk about you to anyone who will listen, and a few others who won’t.

And I will try not to be sad.

Love forever and ever,

Ann Marie

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here it is… august and everything after.

i got my new keys and the colors bled back into life again. my friends waded in the shallows of walden pond while i swam out to the middle and i was free. we stuck our feet in the sand and watched fireworks over the water at revere. i walked down newbury street, through the public garden and the common, and then up into charlestown to see old ironsides.

the radio plays dispatch and there is “no place to go but everywhere.”

at work, i adorn my office with paintings and plants. my supervisor is passionate and intense, but kind. she tells me “you are really good at this” and i might begin to believe it.

at home, i hole up in between trees and triple-deckahs. i listen to the city murmurs from the fire escape. i read for fun.

i am on my way.

“…This is Mrs. Kanter with a few words of wisdom. Make it a great day–or not–the choice is yours.”

when i started this job i was broke, directionless, and on the heels of a breakup. i took it thinking it might be something permanent. something to keep me in PA. something to bring us closer together. on the first day, it became apparent it was none of those things. i wondered how i would continue doing this job when it was already brimming with so many unpleasant memories of disappointment.

i worked hard. i problem solved. i was independent–although the staff was incredibly supportive and helpful at times.

and then…

over time, i began receiving positive feedback. i was a pleasure to work with. i made the transition seamlessly. i had a way when explaining things to professionals and parents. i had a way of working with the kids. (i had a way! it was my way!)

i rallied. and emerged a more confident clinician with a voice and a plan.

today was my last day of that job and i am forever grateful for that experience. over time it did evolve into something of its own. something that was independent of all the muck that i trudged through to get there. i became the main character in my own story again. i took a risk, did a thing, and did it well.

Me: The way things are shaking out, I’ll leave here at like 4 or 5am. I picture it just barely light out. And I will vanish while PA is still sleeping.

Chris: haha aw. Set some fireworks on a timer. And blast AC/DC when you’re leaving.

“She is your joy on wheels whose every experience is informed and altered by the fact that she lost the most essential, elemental, primal, and central person in her life too soon. I know this without knowing her. It will never be okay that she lost her mother. And the kindest, most loving thing you can do for her is to bear witness to that, to muster the strength, courage, and humility it takes to accept the enormous reality of its not okayness and be okay with it the same way she has to be. Get comfortable being the [person] who says Oh honey, I’m so sorry for your loss over and over again.

That’s what the people who’ve consoled me the most deeply in my sorrow have done. They’ve spoken those words or something like them every time I needed to hear it; they’ve plainly acknowledged what is invisible to them, but so very real to me. I know saying those clichéd and ordinary things makes you feel squirmy and lame. I feel that way too when I say such things to others who have lost someone they loved. We all do. It feels lame because we like to think we can solve things. It feels insufficient because there is nothing we can actually do to change what’s horribly true.

But compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got.”