This weekend we flew to Aspen for my mother’s “Celebration of Life.” I forgot to take photographs at the Celebration, but I did take a couple when we arrived or I should say, barely arrived. We were the last flight to get in. When we landed one of the guys unloading the bags said to me, “you are SO lucky!” I thought he was referring to our bags and said, “Really? You mean our bags almost didn’t make the flight?”
“No! Ten more minutes and the plane would have had to turn around and go back.”
Evidently the visibility was deteriorating by the minute. So yeah.
Arriving in Aspen
Herbert Bayer Sculpture outside the Aspen Institute
Surrounded by family and good friends, the Celebration of Life was a beautiful tribute to my mother with an outpouring of love, memories, laughter and sadness. But mostly joy. Joy that I am fortunate enough to have such a big, wonderful family, with lots of siblings, and extended family, all of whom I love and am close to. I was able to spend time with one of my nieces that I haven’t seen in ages, and spend time with cousins, distant cousins, extended family and many, many friends. And then, dancing around the edges of all of that was my mother. My beautiful, smart, complicated, funny mother.
Mom in her 30’s
Prior to flying out west I was feeling a bit grumbly about the whole thing. It’s not easy flying out, it’s expensive, I didn’t want to go, but lurking under all of that grumbling was the feeling that this was the final goodbye. By coming out to where she lived and having this very public “ceremony” we were closing a chapter. And that… that felt far too painful to contemplate, much less really feel and be acutely in touch with. That we also arrived in a snow storm, with flight delays and everything else that comes with traveling with four other people, it seemed to confirm my feelings that all of this should have been done via Zoom. And then something bizarre happened. On the final leg of our trip getting there, I was seated next to a young man who was going through a really, really difficult, as in life transformative, time. He kept apologizing to me for spilling his “guts” and reassured me that he never does this. He poured out his troubles during our 45 minute flight and told me what was going on with him and it made me realize how important rituals are. How ceremonies aren’t for any one person, but more for the collective group, the family, the community and in our recognition and attendance we heal individually, but also together.
My mother dressed in a Tweety Bird Costume during one of her many costume parties that we had up at the ranch.
Mom deadpanning while wearing her polar bear hat one Christmas on the ranch.
As it turned out, one of my brothers was quarantined in Brussels with Covid and so couldn’t get out and another of my brothers was unable to come, but attended via Zoom, as did a number of other people.
We started the ceremony with a pianist playing Mozart and ended with Ragtime, one of her favorite genres. Everyone who spoke, spoke eloquently about my mother and there was laughter and memories and sadness and connection. The following day I fell apart. It was as though I’d been holding things together up until that point, but then couldn’t keep it up. I felt exhausted and completely and utterly overwhelmed with feelings: grief, sadness, love, gratitude and everything in between. Thankfully I was with family. Family my mother was once the matriarch of. She is gone now and yet she resides in all of us. I can just hear her adding, “a dubious distinction…” I’m so, so grateful to her, and to all that she left behind.
During this bizarre time of Covid any gathering has the potential to be a superspreader event and while I am keeping my fingers crossed that this was not one of those events, I have already heard that 6 people who attended have now tested positive. My immediate family has not, at least not yet, but we will continue to monitor ourselves.
When COVID hit New York City over a year ago now, death was no longer an abstract idea. People we knew were getting really, really sick, a few of them died, a few are still not 100%. When the mobil morgue parked just blocks away from our building to handle the overflow of dead bodies, it marked a turning point for me. This wasn’t some bit of horrifying news that I read or heard about, this was happening and it was happening all around me. At the time I was just starting my YouTube Channel and it hadn’t occurred to me to video tape the empty streets, void of cars and humans. I wish I had, but I didn’t.
Once we had a vaccine and my entire family had been vaccinated, I decided it would be a good time to visit my mother and sister, neither of whom I’d seen in almost two years. It was wonderful to see them after so long. And of course there was the added benefit of being surrounded by dogs…
with lots of great places to take a little walk…
Death brings perspective. None of us are getting out of here alive. Our time is short and it seems to get shorter the closer to the end we get. All the more reason to enjoy things like this bee.
I’ve been traveling. Though I must say that though this trip to visit my mother and sister is a long one, involving connections and then an hour and a half drive, it was about as flawless and easy as traveling can be during these bizarre times.
First off, the La Guardia Airport has done an impressive job with its renovation, they even have a water feature with Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, playing. Hilarious.
We arrived to an almost empty airport and though the plane was packed, not a single seat left unoccupied, the airport was calm, clean, well staffed and easy to navigate; even the TSA line was easy to move through with no lines or delays.
With one brief stop and connecting flight we then picked up our rental car, also no line, and drove the hour and a half to my sister and mother’s. I’m always relieved when a rental car has a gear shift that isn’t a button under the radio. It’s the small things… so yeah, this was a breeze. My son drove, while I provided the navigation. There was only one “incident” involving a rotary, ambiguous signage and some panic on my part, but after the second or was it third go around, we made it out to the correct exit. Props to my son who took it all in stride and kept calm.
Once at my sister’s we were greeted with this.
The moon was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, glowing red and enormous by the time we arrived. It’s called a Buck’s Moon because it’s the time of year when the bucks grow their new antlers.
The quiet and beauty of the land is always striking when I come out here to visit. Because of COVID it’s been two years since I’ve been able to come out to visit. It’s wonderful to see my mother and sister again. And then of course there are the animals. Lots of dogs, chickens, horses, and those are just the animals that are raised here.
But what about your stitching? you might rightfully ask. Never fear. I brought three projects with me and my GoPro, which I’m hoping I will figure out how to use during this trip.
This piece is just about finished, I think. Though as I look at it now I am already thinking – well, what about that blue area in the upper left, I could add something there and then there’s that red/magenta bit to the right, maybe I should add somethingthere… For now though, I think I will move on and let this sit for awhile. One follower had some great ideas regarding the brown wool strip at the bottom, which I think I might experiment with. Right now it’s looking at bit like an “add on” and not really part of the rest. I’ll have to think more about it though before doing anything. Oh except I brought this thread that might be perfect for it and I could… and so it goes.
It’s lovely to see my mother and sister again after so long.
When I was young, on December 24th we had a special Christmas eve dinner and then we would open our Christmas presents under the Christmas tree. If we were visiting my grandmother at her house in Colorado, we did the same. The only difference was that she had live candles on her tree and no one was allowed into the study where the tree was set up and that she decorated the night before, at least this is what I remember. I remember asking why we couldn’t help decorate the tree. But this is the way it was, a tradition my mother thankfully did not continue. Nearby there was a long pole with a wet sponge attached to it. This was to snuff out the candles and I’m guessing there must have been a fire extinguisher close at hand as well, but I don’t remember that.
Later, once I lived in New York City, Christmas was often a time of enormous loneliness. My father was fragile and could not have any of us home for fear we would bring home some illness that he would catch, and so for many years I spent Christmas in New York city by myself. I remember one year taking one of my roommates, who was also spending Christmas in the city that year, to a Broadway show and afterwards standing out in the freezing cold, trying to hail a cab and wondering what we would do if we couldn’t get one. It’s funny, I cannot remember the show we went to, though I think it might have been A Chorus Line, the memory that stands out is how brutally cold it was. A decade later I spent another Christmas going to the movies and afterward ordered Chinese take out. I remember there were only three other people in the movie theater and one of those three was a homeless woman who brought a cart holding her possessions with her.
And then there were the Christmas’s spent with friends and boyfriends, but it wasn’t until I had my own family that we began our own Christmas traditions, which often meant traveling with our children to be with my sister and mother in Colorado. Those were festive Christmas’s filled with lots of extended family, and friends. This year because of the pandemic we are staying put in New York City. We have a beautiful tree covered in decorations I’ve collected from all over the world and that I’ve made. Each ornament brings back memories.
I made over a hundred origami ornaments when pregnant with my first child. Obsessiveness is a companion I’ve always welcomed.
And then there was the year that I decided to make some pretty elaborate ornaments like this Santa Claus.
Another year I made felt houses.
And another year I made these little wool birds.
This can be a difficult time in the best of times, but particularly now because of the pandemic, so many are unable to be with family and friends. I am so grateful for my little family here in New York City, but it wasn’t always like this. I know many people are feeling the bittersweet sadness that can come with Christmas whether you celebrate it or not, and so to all of you, I just want to offer some love.
Wherever you are, alone or with others, I am thinking of my fellow human beings and wishing you a pleasant and peaceful Christmas. ❤️
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