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Hi, Mom,

I took Sunny to see the New York City Ballet perform at the ’62 Center this week. It felt so reminiscent of childhood adventures with you to watch the Boston Ballet perform. The “Swan Lake” pas de deux had be in tears. The female ballerina was so delicate and graceful. The perfect swan. I know how much you would have adored the performance.

Another female lead had the most beautiful hands. It reminded me of the way you always commented on Kimmy’s gorgeous hands when she danced. What a small detail, but what an enormous impact. We sat close to the stage so we could really watch the dancers sweat and work – another thing you taught us young. Ballet is both beautiful and athletic, and takes an immense about of strength and training. It’s a powerful sight to witness up close. To experience that kind of grace and power so intimately.

Although we live in the country, we took the opportunity to put on fancy dresses and don our dress coats. Sunny even carried my rabbit fur muff from when I was little. You taught us that some occasions just call for fancy, and the ballet is most certainly an opportunity to put on one’s finery. I’m endlessly grateful that I live in a small town community with such easy, affordable access to the arts – I recognize now what a gift (and effort) it was for you and dad to prioritize that for us during our childhoods. I want you to know that I am passing along that legacy.

Courtland, envious of Sunny’s trip to the ballet, asked if she could carry her red rabbit fur muff to school the next day. And why the hell not? You don’t need an excuse to be a fabulous.

This muff is extra special because it was in the Valentine’s Day gift bag you prepared for Courtland the morning of your sudden death. I understood instantly why you had purchased it for her. Ever committed to fairness and equality, your second grandchild needed her very own special muff to compliment her big sister’s. That muff carries extra weight and meaning given the circumstances. And while you never saw it in use, you’d be happy to know it brightened up an otherwise grey October Friday.

143 Your Ashley




Hi, Mom.

I really needed you today. It felt like no one was in my corner or had my back. I retreated to my bed room before the kids returned home from school and hid out under the covers. And I cried. Long and hard. For you. For myself. For your grandchildren.

I needed a cheerleader today. I needed someone checking in on me. I needed someone asking how I am doing with authenticity and time. I needed a long, rambling voicemail. I needed a voice on the other end of the line. I needed a mother.

During my hardest moments of grief, I need a mother’s love. And yet that is the very thing I am mourning.

143 Your Ashley


Hi, Mom.

In my office sits a framed photograph of you and Dad bedecked in purple and yellow on the sidelines of a Williams football game. It’s the fall of 2006, and you’re seated in the grass, shoulder to shoulder, hugging my Ursa close, and smiling up at the camera proudly.

When I returned to work just a few weeks ago, nearly 8 months to the day since you died, that image smacked me in the face upon entering my office. It sat casually on my desk, in the very place it was left when I closed up my office on Friday, February 12th, fully expecting to return the following Monday, the home stretch to baby’s arrival. And yet, just two days later, our lives changed forever. And I had forgotten about that photograph in the fog of life in The After.

But there it was, with you and Ursa side by side. And I felt myself grow angry and crushed at its sight. Two out of the three beings in that image are dead. Gone. I will never see them again. Never hold them again. Never feel their love firsthand. Ever again. I was gutted by that reality.

It wasn’t so long ago that we sat together on that patch of grass on that brisk November day. And as I stared at that image today at work, I found myself trying to recall what it felt like to hold your hand. I tried to recall the safety and love I experienced when pressing my face against the side of your cheek in a hug. Or the way stroking Ursa’s silky, black ears always brought such relaxation and calm.

And I fucking hate that I don’t ever get to experience those things again. Ever again. It is so horribly, painfully unfair.

143 Your Ashley


Hi, Mom.

Montauk Daisies are in full bloom in The Berkshires. I never would have taken the time to notice the way that flowers mark the months with their ephemeral beauty were it not for you. After we purchased Cartwheel Farm, you quickly got to work filling our land with vibrant blooms, instructing us about care and upkeep, and the beauty to anticipate year after year. It wasn’t until I became a homeowner that I fully appreciated the labor of love (and sweat) it was to maintain your perennial flower gardens at 30 Margin. The time, the expense, the knowledge required. How fortunate we were as children to grow up surrounded by such natural splendor, and how fortunate as an adult to benefit from all that experience (though I feel cheated of so much, as you had so much more to give, particularly on that front).

The first flowers you had us plant at Cartwheelm Farm were Montauk Daisies.

They’re wonderful, Ashley! They bloom in October. Just when the days start to get darker and grayer, they are a happy, sunny sight as the season cools.

You stood watch, sipping a frosty beverage no doubt, orchestrating James and I as we dug holes and planted and watered and pruned. And year after year, how those bushes grew and thrived and gave us that happy boost each October.

I drove up to the farm with the kids last weekend as I was in need of a smile and some sunshine from my mama. We picked an abundant bouquet of Montauk Daisies and they have been a happy sight on our dining room table for over a week.

I will always see you in the flowers.

143 Your Ashley



Hi, Mom.

This week’s episode of “The Longest Shortest Time” shared the story of a woman mothering without a mother. And, fuck, I stood frozen in the kitchen listening with my mouth agape (so much for cooking dinner while casually listening to my favorite podcasts). Moment after moment of this woman’s story found me nodding ardently with resonance and affirmation.

I’m not my biggest cheerleader, and I’m getting emotional because I think there is something about a mother that is your cheerleader. When my mom died, I felt so acutely like my personal cheerleader on the sidelines of my life is gone.

This thought runs through my head almost daily. I am forever without the person who loved me and championed me best in this life. And man, that never won’t suck.

143 Your Ashley


Hi, Mom.

Sunny has finally agreed, however begrudgingly, to wearing a swim cap during swim practice. Success! Finally! I know that you and I both pushed her on this last year during swim season – and she finally acquiesced now that she’s swimming on the team.

I have a much better understanding of how you must have felt during the peak of my competitive swimming years. Consumed and forever frustrated with the state of my chlorine-saturated hair. Sunny, like me, has unbelievably porous hair, so it turns that awful shade of green and gets all coarse and tinsley thanks to so much chlorine exposure. No amount of pre-swim rinse and conditioner followed by post-swim, anti-chlorine shampoo treatments has made much of a dent. When Sunny protests about the cumbersome, lengthy process to prep for swim practice, I’m reminded of my own annoyances with you when you’d insist that I step in a cold, fresh water shower before diving into the pool. It all comes full circle.

I caught a glimpse of her from across the pool at practice last week, standing in her racing suit, goggles on over her new blue cap, tall and lean, long-legged and lanky, and I reflected that you must have beheld a very comparable sight with me.  She shares my love of the life aquatic, and is such a strong, confident swimmer for her age. It’s clear that she is one of the strongest and fastest in her group. Her strokes are coming together beautifully, and holy shit, the girl can already nail an unbelievable racing dive. The team was practicing starts the other night, and when Sunny came off the block, both her coach and myself audibly gasped. Neither of us were expecting her to get such distance (and her coach actually thought she might land on the kid in front of her!). I wish you were around so I could brag about this to you, because who else but with my child’s grandmother can I be so over-the-top proud of a seven year old’s swim habits and not sound utterly ridiculous? I love watching her grow in this way, and, more importantly, I love seeing how much she has taken to this sport, how much she loves the water, the discipline, the practice. How happy it makes her to be in the pool. You and dad always called me your fish, and apparently it’s genetic.

143 Your Ashley


Hi, Mom.

Tonight, Courtland wailed for you. She wanted her Momar’s squishy hugs, and James and I were not sufficient. You were always her biggest champion, and even at the age of four, she could sense that. I hate knowing how much richer her life could be were you still with us.

While Courtland sobbed, Sunny mournfully whispered, “I wish Momar had taken care of herself as well as she took care of all of us.”

And in my angriest moments of grief, those very thoughts creep into my head. Why didn’t you love yourself as much as we all loved you? Why didn’t you care for your own health (physical, mental, emotional) in all the ways you supported and encouraged us to do? Why didn’t you want to take care of yourself enough to be around for all of us that need you so much?

I realize that even with the most vigilant self-care your body could have given out, suddenly, unexpectedly, in the way that it did. But I hate that I wonder. I hate that I resent that wonder, that possibility that this didn’t have to be. Had you just exercised more. Spent time with a therapist. Eaten less sweets and more leafy greens. Taken care of you, in mind, body, spirit.

It does me no good, but memories of standing in an ER in Albany, clutching your ashen hand, shaking with adrenaline and fear, pleading with you, race through my nightmares.

I need you to take care of yourself. I need you. I can’t have this happen again. We all need you.

That moment, less than three years before your death. That moment when death came so near, but I stopped it. I thought that would be the moment when you’d finally focus on you. Your health. Your happiness. And yet, I couldn’t stop death. I never could, I just never expected it to haunt us so soon after its first approach.

As a friend said in the aftermath of your death, “This wasn’t inevitable, but it wasn’t unforeseeable.” And that very fact shakes my core. Even your seven year old grandchild can sense it.

I’m angry that I couldn’t stop death. I’m angry that I have to exist in a world without you. Forever a world without you. And that these children of mine will never fully understand what a vibrant, rich world it was to have you in it. What it meant to be loved by their Momar.

I miss you so damn much.
143 Your Ashley



Hi, Mom.

Your grandson is seven months old as of last Friday, and he is all sweetness. I wish you could see how much I absolutely adore this boy of mine. He is such light. Such joy. You’d be so enchanted with him. I can picture you crooning, “Oh you beguiling little thing,” as he’d gaze at you with those big blue eyes, downy chick blonde hair and opened mouthed grin.

Just yesterday, he learned to clap. He is one of the happiest, smiliest babes I’ve ever encountered, and his face positively exploded with joy when he figured out how to repeatedly slap palm to palm as his sisters sang round after round of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”

Boy did he know it!

He’s going through some serious sleep regression thanks to runny noses, and coughs, and teething, and a deep interest in being vertical. I know you’d stress and worry that he is showing absolutely zero interest in crawling. Tummy time elicits screams of protest from an otherwise carefree babe, whereas he will stand for what feels like hours with utter pride and delight on his feet. Stick a mirror in front of him, and he could entertain himself all day. The bouncer is a huge hit as a result. His daycare teachers say that he is giving their arms quite a workout, as he so prefers to be held standing upright than down on his tummy. I’m not too concerned about the lack of crawling, but I can picture you worrying this fact over and over with me on the phone. “It’s important they crawl first! It’s a critical developmental milestone!”

As I navigate life on only two-three hour blocks of sleep before interruption, I wish I could call you to commiserate. You were always so good about letting me bitch and moan and whine, and pepping me up to take on another day. I’ll never forget sitting in a pool of tears in my bathroom in LA, while Addison screamed in my arms, with you, on the other end of the line, gently reminding me, “It feels like forever, sweetie. But it’s not. This will only last a short while. You can do it. You’re a wonderful mother.”

When I find myself at my wits end at three o’clock in the morning with a fussy baby in my arms, I call those words to mind, the gentleness and wisdom of your voice, and it helps me find calm.

“This will only last a short while.”

How painfully true.

You would be so taken with this boy. And while writing to you will never be sufficient, I’ve realized it brings to mind what is most pressing, most true, most salient because what comes flooding out of me is what I so wish I could share with you. Moments like the splendor of learning to clap.

You’d have been so proud of him, too.

143 Your Ashley




She awoke Tuesday morning with claims of a tummy ache. Our usual firecracker had lost her spark.

“My tummy just hurts. I think I have to stay in bed.”

“Do you think maybe you’re just nervous about your first day of Kindergarten?”

“NO! I’m sick! I have a tummy ache. I have to stay in bed. I’m not nervous, MOM.”

We informed her that she would be going to see her pediatrician if she chose not to attend her first day of school on account of the tummy woes. Frustrated with this predicament, she opted for school, though she was mopey and out of sorts until the bus arrived. Sunny took her by the hand, and encouragingly led her up the stairs of the bus. They sat side by side, and waved enthusiastically to me, James, and Sanderling as the bus pulled away.

She told me that she did not want me to meet her at the school to walk her from the bus to her classroom.

“My teacher will do that, Mama. I don’t need you to.”

Ah, and that pang of parenting pride and nostalgia struck so hard. To see your kid embrace her independence is both a beautiful and heart-wrenching thing. It’s hard not to hear, “I don’t need you,” when I know she simply means that she trusts me enough to have her back that she can take her own bold steps forward.

As we walked home from school that afternoon, she regaled me with expressive, excited tales of her first day. Her wild hand gestures reminding me so very much of her Momar.

“And we got a tour, and I got TWO recesses. I saw Sunny at lunch, and Ms. Dingman let me play in the block area, and she read us a funny story. This person was nervous about the first day of school and we thought it was a kid but then at the end of the book we found out it was a teacher. A grown up was nervous about the first day of school, Mama. Isn’t that silly? I guess I was nervous this morning and that’s why I had a tummy ache. Now I’m just excited. School is so so cool. The gardener is coming tomorrow and we get to pick carrots! FROM THE GROUND! And give them to the cafeteria to make our lunches!”

She has been all smiles and sunshine every morning since, and she expressed great dismay that today is Friday, which means she has to suffer through an entire weekend before her next day of Kindergarten. Momar was always her biggest fan and champion – she wouldn’t be surprised in the least to hear just how smoothly her second grandchild has made the transition, despite being one of the youngest in her grade. I am so proud of this passionate five year old of ours. She is ready to soar.











“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week sometimes, in 2016.”

Sunny: A portrait of friendship. She’s had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends from preschool at her new elementary school. And making some new buddies along the way.
Kaki: Diving into Kindergarten like the bold, brave kid that she is.
Sander: Our final dip in the pool this past weekend with our waterbaby.

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.