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.
I’m not feeling great. I should probably just end this post right here. But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them. More to the point is that I’m struggling. My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions. I know I’ll get through it. I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible. That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.
Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving. And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief. It will be there waiting for me on the other side. It’s always there. Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center. Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight. Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task. But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do. And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.
All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said. It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference. He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation. He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today. I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours. Everyone in the audience was quiet. But it doesn’t work that way, he continued. If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.
How does grief fit into all of this? It doesn’t. It’s just there. All the time. And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.
But none of these various articles capture the impact my mother had on those she loved. My mother was a force. She was one of those women who was a beautiful blend of fierce intelligence, wit and passion.
My favorite story regarding my mother was when I was pregnant with my first child. I reached out to her asking for advice. She wrote back saying that she had given this a great deal of thought and then wrote, and I’m paraphrasing now, that the best any of us can do as parents is to love our children, tell them, yes, but more importantly show them, daily how much we love them and one day they will forgive us. Fierce, brilliant, funny, passionate, check, check, check and check. And wise. She was so very wise.
During covid my mother sent videos, articles, stories and photographs, often silly, usually funny, always interesting to help cheer her recipients of whom I was one. I often shared the things she sent me on this blog, using the title, Sh*t My Mother Sends Me. Often those posts were among the most popular and that made her, and me, happy.
In July of this year I went with my son to visit her. She was frail, but her fierceness was undiminished. When I arrived, having lost the ability to speak, she typed, “It’s been too long.” I promised her I would not allow that much time to pass again, unaware that it would be the last time I saw her. I told her about my upcoming trip to Africa that my husband and I were about to embark on mid-August to celebrate my 61st birthday. Africa held a special place for both my parents and the art and stories of their travels surrounded us when I was a child.
Richard and I left for Africa on August 13th. Shortly after, I was told she was failing. Complications related to aging and a life well lived, it became increasingly clear that she would not live much longer. I took to calling in the evening and my sister would hold the phone to her ear so that I could tell her of our African adventures. She died August 27th at 5:30am surrounded by love and her children at home, just as she wanted.
Mom, you showed me how to love and live life with courage, humor and compassion. You led by example and did exactly as you instructed me to do, so many years ago, when I sought your parenting advice. I grew up knowing I was loved. You showed and told me how much you loved me and as a result, no matter what challenges I have faced, every day was a little easier because of you.
In honor of International Women’s Day I am featuring four women in my life, who have influenced me the most. All four of these women are exceptional and I am deeply grateful to each of them.
The first – my grandmother, who, though I did not always have an easy relationship with, I greatly admired her joy for life, her dedication to the environment, her devotion of the arts and her philanthropy.
Second – My mother who once told me, when I asked for her advice regarding parenting, “Tell them they are loved, show them they are loved, and one day they will forgive you.” That statement embodies my mother, her sense of humor mixed with wisdom of a life well lived. My mother models generosity and a love of learning, two things I value to this day. I love her dearly and think of her every day.
Third – my sister, who also happens to be my best friend. She is one of the kindest, strongest and hardest working women I know. I admire her. I respect her. I am forever grateful for her presence in my life. Though we live far from each other, I carry her with me every single day.
And finally, my friend, Sue Spargo, mother, daughter, friend, artist & business woman extraordinaire. Sue’s kindness, generosity and support have meant more to me than I can express. Sue has transformed how people see “embroidery”. With her techniques and artistry she has paved the way for so many. Sue continuously strives to find new ways of approaching an art form. She has encouraged me to push beyond what I thought I was capable of, and her friendship is everything to me.
Welcome to my store!
Please browse and look at our patterns available. We also offer Workshops! ~Ariane