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Month: February, 2016




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

Sunny: Grateful that my mother’s spirit lives on so strongly in her namesake.
Kaki: She can sense when I’m feeling sad or my mind is elsewhere. She responds by cradling my face in her palms and simply looking into my eyes until I refocus on the moment and her. The wisdom and tenderness of children is astounding.

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




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

Sunny: On Sunday, she spent hours in her bedroom coordinating a “surprise” for me. On the door, she hung a sign that read “CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT ENTER.” When she was finally finished, she let me inside to behold walls and surfaces covered in pictures and love notes and words all about me and Momar. I didn’t know my heart could possibly feel so full and broken simultaneously.
Kaki: She appeared in my room the other morning while I was still curled up in bed, with just a hint of sunlight streaming into the space and my hair swooped across my forehead, and whispered, “Hi, Mama. You look so much like Momar right now. I think she’s here with us.” Always, baby, always.

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


sun,marg OG

Night is the hardest part of the day. I’m alone and quiet with my thoughts. The mind races. The grief becomes all-consuming. I will have held it together all day. Socialized. Laughed. Felt happiness. Amidst all the shock and numbness that still lingers, it happens.

Life moves forward.

But as the sky darkens, I feel the crushing anxiety of confronting another dark evening and having to wake up to a new day without my mother. The sadness and gravity of this loss weighs heavily. The evening is when the nightmare becomes more of a reality.

But I try to find solace in these images of my mom as a new mother to quiet my thoughts.

The above is from a happy spring scene in 1983. My mother was my age. And I was a freshly minted Mohawk baby – paving the way for Sunny’s epic ‘hawk 26 years later.

The blissed out look on my mom’s face is everything. These are the scenes I hope to see in my dreams when I stop needing the support of Ambien to shut down my nightmares.

Loss is some suckfest. And while it feels so deeply personal and unique, it’s one of those devastating connections and universal experiences that tie us together. And there’s comfort that comes from shared humanity, both in life and death.

So tonight, I’ll focus on this beautiful new mother and the joy of her new baby. Here’s to sweet dreams and finding light when darkness is so often the more compelling path.

Happy Ashley baby

Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks since our lives changed forever. And it’s two weeks until they change further still.







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

A reflection of parenting through grief, and supporting young children through grief. Devastatingly, I feel this will be a theme of this space and this particular project for some time to come. But I want to hold on to these moments with my children and remember their clarity and sensitivity of thought. Their perspective on such loss. I am clinging to memories of my mother on their behalf and nurturing their own. The grief I feel is not just for myself, but more deeply for my children and all that they’ve been cheated of in the loss of their Momar who was the most loving, present, over-the-top grandparental figure in their lives. They have lost so much. And they’ll never fully understand the magnitude of that having never had the chance to know her in all the ways her adult loved ones did. In my darkest moments, I’m furious that it was her and not someone more insignificant in their lives. But when I see through the fog, I remember that she is everywhere. Always. Forever. In each of us. Especially them. And they are ever a reminder of that.

Sunny: On the night of her death, Sunny reflected that Momar was in heaven, which dwelled in her heart. She was thinking of Momar doing her favorite things: “She’s shopping for clothes and dolls for me and Kaki. And speaking French to her students.” I found her crying later that week and she told me that she was missing Momar’s “squishy hugs,” and that no one could hug her better than Momar. “I need a Momar hug now, but she’s gone.” So James piled some down pillows on his chest to semi-emulate my mother’s robust bosom and enveloped Sunny in an immense bear hug. We’ve been simulating “squishy hugs” ever since. They’re not the same. But the act of trying to replicate my mother’s warm, expansive embrace brings a smile to our faces.
Kaki: One night, she overheard me weeping about how my mother will never get to meet this baby. She plodded into the room and said, “But Momar did meet the baby. Because she loved the baby and bought clothes for the baby. And I’m going to tell the baby all about how much Momar loved her. All the time.”

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

Moment to Moment

James and my sister returned to work this week. February vacation ended, and so the girls are back to their regular school routines. My father is back east at his home in Cape Cod managing the logistics that come with loss of life.

And I’m here. Waiting. Waiting for this baby to arrive. Waiting to not feel cut with so much pain. Waiting for this to feel like reality and not some horrible nightmare. Waiting to not feel so overwhelmed. By everything. Waiting through the grief. Waiting through the final two weeks of pregnancy. Waiting.

When I’ve let myself fully absorb this loss, I find myself in a state that is so very primal, so visceral, that I can only compare it to the primacy and pain of the deepest stages of labor. But it’s a purely emotional pain. One I cannot control, or shake, or change. One that does not bring me new life, but forces me to confront the loss of it. My mother is dead. And I am now living in The After. Just as I felt I joined a unique “club” upon becoming a mother, I feel I’ve joined a devastating tribe of all those that are living daily in The After. And it feels hideous and unfair and like nothing for which anyone could prepare you.

I have to get by, moment to moment. Piece by piece. And the imminent arrival of this baby is forcing a pause, a purgatory, a waiting. I am simultaneously desperate for him/her to arrive to redirect my attention and provide comfort and love in a deeper capacity than I could have ever fathomed, and yet terrified of what it means to become a mother to this new life as I confront living without my own.

The shock is wearing off, and with it, the anger and the pain and the sadness and the desperation become more consuming and present. Yesterday, I was in such a state of rage and disbelief. Despite all those trying to lift me into the light, I found myself hiding under covers, screaming in outrage and pain, and not knowing how to pull myself from the grip of fear and despair.

But grief comes in waves, as with most cliches, it’s an apt and true metaphor. Tonight I was able to pull myself from the clutches of my bed to go to a hair appointment I’d scheduled over a month ago (knowing that my mother would give me grief over the state of my roots during the visit she had planned over her February school vacation). And I sat with the company of a friend and my stylist who provided laughter and conversation and relief for a few hours. I returned home to read bedtime stories and hold my children. And I felt momentarily at peace.

James has become the conduit and buffer to all those reaching out with so much love and support. He is managing all of our daily household logistics while riding the waves with me. Reacting and responding and adjusting and protecting and carrying when I simply cannot.

I hope one day to find the language to explain the depth of my love for him and the way he is anchoring our family and taking care of us all. I am experiencing an entirely new, although not unexpected, side of my partner. One that you trust will manifest when life throws such hideous shit your way, but you are grateful to not have had to test or experience. But now is the time, and now he is stepping up in a way that he promised and vowed seven years ago, and I could not feel more grateful or humbled that he is my family.

When people ask him how I am doing, he uses the word overwhelmed. Because that’s just it. It is all so deeply overwhelming. The loss. The pain. The sadness. The anger. The shock. But also, the gratitude. And the love. Above all else, the love.

I am so moved by all the messages of support our family has received. From our dearest, closet friends, to those with whom I am barely acquainted, to long lost friendships from childhood, to those with whom I’ve connected only over this virtual space. And I am so comforted during a time when I didn’t know that was possible. While I do not have the energy or bandwidth to properly respond, know that those unanswered words provide deep support. And are helping to carry me through this limbo as I await the heartbreakingly bittersweet arrival of this new life.

Moment to moment. Piece by piece. Breath by breath.

everything2016-1 copy

Allison Weeks Freeman Ulmer

Allison Weeks Freeman Ulmer (1952-2016)


Allison Weeks Freeman Ulmer, of East Sandwich, MA, died suddenly and unexpectedly in the arms of her husband of 42 years, Kevin Michael Ulmer, on Valentine’s Day morning (February 14, 2016) at their Cape Cod home for the past five years. She was only 63.

Allison was born on April 12, 1952 in Asunción, Paraguay, the first diplomatic posting with the U.S. State Department for her father, the late James Benjamin Freeman, and her mother, the late Elizabeth Weeks Freeman. Her maternal grandmother, the late Elizabeth Weeks Zollars, had given her daughter money to return to the U.S. to give birth, but instead she pocketed the money and gave birth to “Sunny”, as her family would come to call her, in a sanatorium complete with a dog that lifted its leg on the bedpost. Her family moved to Frankfurt, Germany where she attended kindergarten and her sister, Diana Freeman Dempster of Bethesda, MD, was born. A final posting took them to Jakarta, Indonesia where her brother, James Benjamin Freeman, Jr. of Wichita, KS was born, before they returned to the U.S. with memories of encountering water buffaloes, monkeys, and a very nasty cockatoo.

At the age of ten, Sunny’s family returned to settle in Bethesda, MD and her father moved from the State Department to work as a press spokesman at the Pentagon for the Department of Defense. Allison attended Leland Junior High School and Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. Her chorus teacher invited her to participate in a choir festival in Ocean Grove, NJ during the summer of 1967 where she, then 15, would meet her future husband, Kevin, then 16, whose family had summered there for generations. Two summers later she returned with three of her best friends to work at the North End Hotel on the boardwalk, where Kevin and his best friends were also working, and a “summer romance that lasted” would bloom.

Kevin went off to Williams College and took advantage of the free bus rides to Washington, DC that were organized to protest the Vietnam War, but did no marching – “Make Love, Not War”. Allison matriculated to Skidmore College the following fall and weekly road trips ensued between Saratoga Springs, NY, where the drinking age was still 18, and Williamstown, MA.

Allison majored in French and spent her junior year in Paris as part of Hamilton College’s program. Kevin visited often, which lead to ski trips in Zermatt and a most memorable drive in a Deux Chevaux from Paris through Provence to the Riviera, ending with a celebration of her 21st birthday in Monaco. Kevin proposed the Christmas of her senior year, and they were married in Chevy Chase, MD only weeks after her graduation in June of 1974.

The newlyweds moved into Kevin’s tiny cottage in West Falmouth, MA, which would become known as “The Love Shack”, where he worked on his Ph.D. in oceanography at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They bought their first sailboat, a 19’ Cape Dory Typhoon, which Kevin refurbished and christened the “Sunny One”, and Allison began her French teaching career at the Lawrence School in Falmouth. Two rescued dogs, Shannon and Kerry, and a black cat named Moscow completed the new family.

Impatient with Kevin’s slow progress towards his degree, Allison took a brief “sabbatical” in 1977 to obtain her Master’s Degree in French from Middlebury College’s Foreign Language School. This afforded her two summers in Vermont and the year in between back in Paris. Needing a Parisian accommodation for her time there, the couple sailed to France aboard the Queen Elizabeth II and found a charming apartment overlooking Place du Petit-Pont and Notre Dame.

The couple were awarded their respective graduate degrees the following summer and bought their first house in North Scituate, MA. Allison resumed teaching French in Norwood, MA while Kevin started a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. A serendipitous meeting the following spring would result in Kevin joining Genex Corporation, one of the first recombinant DNA companies, and a return to Bethesda, MD for the next eight years. Allison continued to teach French at Charles Woodward High School until the birth of Ashley Weeks Cart of Pownal, VT in 1983. Their second daughter, Kimberly Maxwell Ulmer of Woods Hole, MA followed shortly after in 1985.

The family returned to the South Shore of Massachusetts in the fall of 1987, moving into a 100 year old Victorian perched on ledge overlooking Cohasset Harbor, which became their home for 23 years. Wesley Allison Ulmer of Columbus, OH would complete the family in 1990. Never was there a more magical place to raise a family by the sea. Fully convinced of this fact, the self-described vagabond put down deep roots in the place she finally chose to call home. She delighted in her gardens and dirt under her fingernails and was a member of the Garden Club of America and the Cohasset Garden Club, as well as the Junior League. As soon as Ashley was old enough, they joined the Cohasset Yacht Club to instill a love of sailing that continues to this day in each of their children. The girls would both graduate from Cohasset High School and follow their father’s and grandfather’s footsteps at Williams College, graduating in 2005 and 2007. Wes would graduate from Thayer Academy in Braintree, MA in 2010 and then attend The College of Wooster in Ohio.

In her final 15 years, Allison returned to teaching French as well as Spanish, in a series of communities throughout the South Shore and Cape Cod, beginning with Norwell and Hull. Budget cuts and foreign language program changes resulted in her commuting back to Cape Cod to teach in Sandwich. Consequently, in 2010 the now empty-nesters moved back to the Cape, settling in Carleton Shores in East Sandwich where they were only a short walk from the beach on Cape Cod Bay. After teaching in Sandwich, Allison taught in Chatham before, ironically, commuting back over the bridge to teach at Cohasset Middle School for a year before Duxbury Middle School lured her away this past September. A Francophile to the core, she has imbued many hundreds of students throughout her career with her love of foreign languages and cultures, especially French, and leaves over 160 current students and many colleagues mourning their sudden and shocking loss.

Ashley married fellow Williams classmate, James Whaley Cart, during the height of Hurricane Hanna in September 2008 in what was supposed to have been an outdoor wedding overlooking the Purple Valley. Allison’s greatest joy was her role as “Momar” to her two granddaughters, Addison “Sunny” Weeks Cart (6) and Courtland “Kaki” Whaley Cart (4). She reveled in frequent trips to Williamstown where both Ashley and James work for the College, as well as their visits to the Cape where she was grooming the next generation of beach-lovers with the able assistance of “Auntie Kimmy”. The silver lining in this very black cloud is the imminent arrival of grandchild #3, due in early March 2016. Allison was bursting at the seams with the building excitement and her planned Valentine’s Day visit that has instead changed everything, forever.

Allison’s remains were cremated, fittingly, in Duxbury, MA. Kevin will undertake a pilgrimage over the coming year, accompanied at times by family members, to scatter her ashes in those places that held importance in their lives, beginning with Ocean Grove where it all began and ending in Paris, her favorite place on Earth after Cohasset.

A joyous celebration of her life following her 64th birthday will be held on Saturday, April 16th from 12-3 pm at the Atlantica restaurant, which looks over Cohasset Harbor at the former family homestead. Allison adored planning and hosting fabulous parties and the family intends to carry on her proud tradition.


My Mother

On Sunday morning, moments before loading up the car with a trunk full of Valentine’s Day presents and baby clothes, and driving out to Vermont to spend February vacation with our family, my mother died. Shockingly, unexpectedly, heartbreakingly, at the age of 63.

This beautiful woman, my mom, our Momar. She who loved boldly, unapologetically, excessively, like no other.

She was a force of nature and the thought of ever healing the massive void she leaves in my life and the lives of all who knew her is crippling.

I am living through my worst nightmare. Yet the light and love I have felt amidst such devastation is breathtaking in its depth and scope. And that is all a part of Momar’s legacy. She who made an impact wherever she went and lifted those around her. People are stepping up to do that for her children and grandchildren and beloved husband and best friend of over 40 years. And the juxtaposition of such love and loss takes my breath away. It’s primal. And indescribable.

All our focus is on celebrating the outrageous, wonderful, powerful woman she was, while preparing to welcome her third grandchild into the world. This is not something I could ever imagine doing without her, but I know that her fierce love for me and this baby will buoy me through those darkest, scariest moments.

Thank you to all those who knew her, and loved her, and are carrying her in your heart.

143, Mommy. Toujours.





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

Sunny: Blocks and that floor map are everything right now. I love the way the girls want to learn more about the world thanks to that piece of foam on the floor.
Kaki: Building a shelter for her Tsum Tsum Pluto with support of Hanna Banana and Auntie Kimmy. 

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

One Month (and counting)

35 weeks

One month from today is my official Guess Date for this little one’s arrival. While battling a hideous cold turned sinus infection, slash the onslaught of a particularly gross round of conjunctivitis, I’ve been spending my days in bed looking at old photos and videos of when the girls were first born. It makes me all the more excited to welcome that squishy, Mr. Magoo face into our family in a month or so.

The girls excitement is particularly wonderful. They attended a “Sibling Class” at the birthing suite of the hospital with a L&D nurse this weekend. They learned to diaper and swaddle and hold a newborn, and talked about life with an infant in the house. They also got a tour of the facility where Courtland was born and this little one will arrive. I think it helped Courtland, particularly, who has been rather nervous about what is going to happen when I go into labor.

Admittedly, they’re both curious. Sunny asked me after school yesterday if I was nervous to have this baby born. I explained that I wasn’t nervous, per se, but that there was always some anxiousness about birth, as I have absolutely no control of when baby decides s/he wants to arrive. It could be in two weeks or six. It could be in the middle of the night or the middle of the grocery store. It could be lightening fast or long and hard like her birth.

Birth has definitely been on my mind and I’ve been revisiting not only my own experiences but those I’ve witnessed since. I am wishing and willing for an experience more in line with Courtland’s than Sunny’s, but recognize that this babe and I will go through something entirely our own. And I do not get control or say over when or how it happens, only in how I respond and react in the moment. I’m trying to not overthink or dwell too much, as it does me no good. I’ve got a wonderful birth team assembled – complete with James, a doula, a birth photographer, and Kaki’s Fairy Godmother who is stepping up because in all likelihood my sister will not be able to be present for this baby’s arrival due to her teaching schedule. She was by my side for the girls’ births – and I know the comfort that I personally find in being surrounded and supported by people I love and trust during those vulnerable, powerful moments of birth. While I hope this one is speedy like her 2nd born sister, I’m preparing myself for whatever comes our way.

And I am so looking forward to those early hours where I first get a glimpse at the wide-eyed gaze of this new little life and person. Making all these months, and particularly these final weeks, of discomfort and inconvenience, well well worth it.

Here are the girls in their first hours of life when we got some legit face time with their sweet mugs and those wide eyes.