Category Archives: Sarah

Around the Sun

Sarah would have turned 42 today.

Birthdays are milestones, a reminder to pop your head up like a gopher and look around to make sure you’re still on the right track. There have been a few big milestones around here lately. I’ll be 40 this year, Sandy will be 30, and my dad just turned 70. And it’s the start of a new decade. Meaningless, on paper, but it’s human nature to get excited when the odometer is about to tick over from 99,999 to 100,000 miles. My dad always liked to honk the horn every 10,000 miles, or whenever we drove across a state line. I find myself doing the same thing. Our lives are full of these little ceremonies.

So, on New Year’s Eve, I honked the horn, driving from New York to Massachusetts. Once we got home, we observed our family tradition of watching The Court Jester. Nate’s attention span is longer, and he gets more out of the movie, every year. We were all in bed before midnight.

When I woke up, it was 2011, rabbit rabbit, and I popped my head up like a gopher, to take inventory. Are we on track? For the basics, I think we are. Money is tight, but we have a roof over our heads and food to eat, and we’re happy, healthy, and together every night.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. 2011 is going to be the year to get rid of the clutter. Our house is full to bursting, with Nate’s stuff, with my stuff, with Sarah’s stuff; poor Sandy has no room for her stuff, and no one can ever find what they’re looking for. Sarah was a collector (or a hoarder, depending on whom you ask). I’ve been getting rid of stuff ever since she died. We’ve donated literally truckloads of clothing, and (so far) 471 books, but there’s still so much stuff left to go, whole rooms full, and so little time and energy left to work on it, at the end of each busy day.

So I am going to dedicate at least half of this year’s vacation days to de-cluttering. Wish me luck.

And think of Sarah, today. In honor of her birthday, please let me know if you would like a plush manatee. Or two.

A day in your celebration

Last year, Sandy was a bit taken aback by the sudden appearance of a birthday cake on Sarah’s birthday. This year, I made sure to ask her permission in advance. She said yes, and she also said that she was glad I had asked her first.

So last Saturday we ate chocolate cake, and thought about Sarah. I wasn’t going to sing “Happy Birthday,” but Nate knows you can’t eat the cake until you sing the song.

Our situation is hard for Sandy, sometimes. She is living in Sarah’s house, raising Sarah’s son, and in love with Sarah’s husband. Sandy celebrating Sarah’s birthday is weird, but at least you get cake.

When Sarah died, Nate was only two years old. He doesn’t remember her at all. There are a thousand stories I want to tell him about his mom; her favorite places, her favorite things. But Sandy is here now; she is here now, right now, sleeping next to me in our big warm bed. She has a thousand stories of her own to tell us, and the three of us have a thousand thousand new memories to make.

A little family

When I was in college, the theatre department put on a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author. The script called for a very young girl to play the part of The Child. Luckily, we had one handy. James, the auditorium manager, and Professor Jane, the costume designer, had three beautiful children: two boys and a girl. The girl, Nia, was six years old at the time, or thereabouts, and she was perfect.

I was in my early 20s at that time, and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I did not want children of my own.

I don’t remember having anything to do with Six Characters. I probably worked on the electrics crew or something. But I happened to catch the tail end of an evening dress rehearsal one night. James was there too, waiting to pick up his daughter. When the stage manager dismissed the actors, Nia spotted her father. She jumped off the stage and went tearing up the aisle, screaming, “Daddeeeeee!” She leaped into his arms and he spun her around into a big hug, The Child’s ghostly white dress fluttering behind her.

That instant of pure joy stabbed me right in the heart. That was the first moment in my life when I thought, “Maybe having kids wouldn’t be so bad.”

When Sarah and I started dating, we were in our late 20s. Sarah let me know early on that she wanted kids, and I knew that if I wanted to keep her around, I would have to get on board with that. When I met her nieces, all my resistance crumbled. I fell in love with them immediately. Watching Sarah with them, watching myself with them, I finally admitted that we would be good parents.

Taking care of a newborn is exhausting work. Being a single parent is exhausting work. Being Nate’s dad is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but there are a lot of nights when I am just tired, and I have a hard time being the sparky, energetic father he deserves. Some nights, when I go to pick him up at school, he is delighted to see me, but I am too tired and cranky to appreciate it fully. And other nights, when I am delighted to see him, he is busy playing or coloring and would really prefer if I just went away. Sometimes, he knows he’s been naughty at school, and is dreading my arrival. But in the back of my mind, I remember Nia and James, and I know that one of these days we will both be happy to see each other at the same time.

Sandy’s lease is up tomorrow. She packed up her apartment and moved in with me and Nate on Wednesday. She drove in to work with me on Thursday and spent the day cleaning the old apartment. We drove home together, and together we went to pick up Nate at school.

And Nate saw us across the crowded room.

And his face lit up, and he ran across the room, and he ran right by me and threw himself into Sandy’s arms, hugging her with all his might.

And I thought, Oh—that’s what I’ve been waiting for.

Welcome home, Sandy.

With the past and the present and the future

Sarah died three years ago today.

The hospital cafeteria sent breakfast to the ICU, for those of us who had spent most of the night keeping vigil. I remember thinking how strange that was, orange juice and a bagel, and the sun coming up, and Sarah gone.

I remember Beth driving me to the rehab hospital to pick up Sarah’s things, and the Irish nurse saying, “Och, and the little one!” (meaning Nate, of course).

And Beth snapping at her, “You’re not helping,” and muttering imprecations under her breath as we waited for the elevator, holding paper bags full of comfy clothes and get-well cards. I had to laugh, in spite of everything.

I can remember everything about that day, but I would rather not. I choose to remember Sarah laughing, standing at the wheel of her parents’ sailboat, holding Nate on her hip.

And I choose to look ahead, not back.

A lesson in motion

Sarah would have turned 40 today.

As her birthday comes right on the heels of Christmas, Sarah always felt that she had been cheated out of her due. The whole fam damily would come together for nearly everyone else’s birthday, but after the holidays, everyone was just too burned out to muster another celebration. So I always tried to make her birthday extra special. One year, I took her to see the Broadway touring production of Footloose. Man, that was a stinker, but she loved it. I can’t imagine what I would have done for her 40th. Chances are she would have talked me into going to Churchill, Alaska, to visit the polar bears.

I was born a couple of years after Sarah. I am now officially pushing 40, and it is a strange feeling indeed. My son is five already; I’m on my third car. I can get an e-mail from someone I went to high school with, and say with complete accuracy that I haven’t heard from them in twenty years. And our handsome cat, who shares Sarah’s birthday, moves from “mature” to “old” today.

Figaro is 13 years old, by my reckoning. I got him when he was two. My neighbor, Liz, banged on my apartment door and thrust him into my arms. “Congratulations, you just got yourself a cat. The little bastard keeps trying to kill my kitties.” It took a while to train him not to climb inside the Doritos bag whenever it was opened, but we quickly learned to understand each other. He and I have been together for eleven years now. He recently spent a few days in the hospital, having eaten a bit of ribbon. The Christmas Turd used up one of his nine lives and cost me a cool $1200. I hated being put in this position, but I had to decide just exactly how much money I was willing to spend to save his furry behind, before giving him the needle.

It seems he will recover, but it got me to thinking. 13 is pretty old, for a cat. He may have made it through this time, but eleven years have passed awfully quickly. It will not be nearly that long before I can expect him to start peeing in difficult-to-find places around the house. He’s had a good, long life, and I wouldn’t want to see him suffer. He wouldn’t understand chemotherapy, for instance. Cats live in the now.

Which is my point, as it turns out. I wasn’t sure I had one, but I do. Sarah’s life was cut short, but even a hundred years is really not that long… and once you make it over the top of the hill and start down the other side, it goes faster and faster.

Live in the now, at least once a year. Celebrate your birthday. Visit the polar bears.

And don’t eat any more ribbon.

All the time in the world

Sarah and I had only been dating for four months when she introduced me to her niece, Catherine. Catherine was three years old, and cute as a bug. She kept calling me Tim, and why not? She had known Tim her whole life. Sarah was embarrassed: Tim was Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. I tried to convince her that it didn’t bother me.

The night before Sarah and I got married, we had our rehearsal dinner on the waterfront, at a seafood restaurant called Finz. We had the second-story function room, and as our families laughed and told stories, Sarah pulled her dad away from the party, and brought him over to the window to show him the view. They looked down at the dock and the reflections on the dark water, and she thought, Right there is where I almost told Dad that Tim and I were engaged, years ago.

The first time Sarah heard the Rockapella song People Change, we were decorating the Christmas tree. She paused with a glass ball in her hand, listening to the lyrics, and quietly observed, “This is a really sad song.” It was obvious she was reminded of a bad breakup. It was hard for her to talk about, and I didn’t want to press her on the subject, but I tried to let her know that it was OK that she had been in love before. I was never jealous of her. I was grateful. All of our relationships change us; we learn so much from each other. I loved Sarah, and she would not have been who she was without her family, her friends, and her exes. I loved them all, because they were part of her.

The last time I saw Rockapella perform live was at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston. I brought Nate, who had been listening to a cappella music, and Rockapella in particular, since before he was born. And I brought Sandy. And of course Rockapella sang People Change.

I had to laugh through my tears: isn’t it funny how things change. Now I was the one with a Troubled Past. I squeezed Sandy’s hand, and hoped she would understand.

People change. Life changes. Sometimes people leave you.

But love never dies.

Happy anniversary, Sarah.

I’m walkin’

Sarah was a patient at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. They are, quite simply, the best. I am very grateful that we had that resource available to us.

But chemotherapy is damned expensive, let me tell you. Sarah’s six months of surgeries and treatment cost almost a million dollars. We had excellent health insurance. Many others are less fortunate.

On Sunday, September 21, Nathaniel and I will walk in the 2008 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. The Jimmy Fund helps pay for cancer research and care at Dana-Farber.

We are walking to raise money. We are walking to honor Sarah and remember her life. Most of all, we are walking because we believe we can make a difference. If everyone who reads this donates just $10, I will exceed my goal of $1,500.

We walked last year and it was a wonderful experience. I hope to walk again next year.

And I hope to live to see the day when we don’t have to walk any more.

Five Years

Five years ago tonight, Nathaniel was born.

Sarah had awakened me at five o’clock that morning. I had been up late the night before, assembling the crib, and I thought she was joking when she said it was time. I was not amused. But I quickly figured out that she was serious.

It was a long day. I took a few naps on the chair in her hospital room.

Nate arrived during the night shift change, so we had double the usual number of nurses on hand. The room was a flurry of activity. They bathed him, weighed him, squirted antibiotics into his eyes, and before we knew it, whisked him off to the nursery.

Suddenly we were alone. Sarah looked at me, and laughed. “Don’t you dare tell me you’re tired.”

I looked at the birth certificate. 11:11 PM.

Happy birthday, child. I love you.

Make a wish!

There’s no answer

Today is not exactly a special day.

We still celebrate Sarah’s birthday, and I make time to grieve on our wedding anniversary, but those are happy memories. I don’t really want to commemorate the day Sarah died, two years ago today. It’s not as if I’ll ever forget it. But I’d rather remember her the way she was, full of life and always smiling.

I’ve written before, briefly, about my friend Mike. Mike has lost several very close friends to cancer, and he has basically dedicated his life to raising money for the Jimmy Fund. He runs an annual golf tournament fundraiser called Par Fore The Cure. I don’t golf, but I sure as hell eat cheeseburgers, and baked beans, and the clambake that comes with the golf tournament is something I look forward to all year. Sarah loved the clambake too. She was crazy about lobster, and usually ate considerably more than was sensible, or even sane.

In 2006, Mike added another fundraising event: the Golf Ball, a black tie dinner in March. Sarah died a week before the event, and Mike dedicated the evening to her memory. I attended the Golf Ball in 2007, and I’ll be there this year as well.

You may also recall that Jess, Nate, Kirsten and I participated in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk last year. I fully intend to walk again this year. Thanks to all who sponsored us.

Cancer is many things. It’s senseless, it’s tragic. But right now, today, I feel as if it’s just… it’s so unnecessary. If you love lobster, or like to walk, or enjoy dressing up and eating filet mignon… you can make a difference.

Join us, won’t you?


My childhood bedroom, circa 1977. Late evening—definitely past my bedtime. My father’s woodwind quintet was playing downstairs. I could hear his bassoon calling me, through the gap under my door. I slid quietly out of bed and tiptoed across the room. Very, very slowly I turned the cut-glass knob, opened the door, and crept silently down the hall. I lay down on the floor at the top of the stairs, hung my sleepy head down onto the first step, and let the music wash over me.

Performing Arts School of Worcester, circa 1986. My trumpet lesson was over, and I was waiting for my sister’s clarinet lesson to end. I had already finished my homework, and I had about an hour to kill. My friend Amy invited me to keep her company while she practiced. I was never a great trumpet player, but Amy was the star of the school. We went upstairs to an empty recital room, and I lay on the floor under the piano, and it was glorious. I felt the sound in my bones, in my stomach. I felt as if I were part of the instrument, and the music flowed through me.

First Congregational Church, circa 1988. My friend Suzanne had somehow obtained the key to the church, and permission to play the newly-refurbished pipe organ. Maybe she was going to be standing in for the regular organist for some reason, and she needed to rehearse? I can’t remember. But I remember the organ. The first thing we did was climb the narrow wooden ladder into the organ loft and admire all the neat rows upon rows of pipes, metal and wood, all perfectly lined up from tiny to huge. Suzanne went back down the ladder to the console and started to play, and I stood inside the music and wept for joy.

Then a big wooden plank clouted me in the head, and I laughed and called down to her: “Could you please turn off the tremolo?”

Memorial Chapel, Northfield Mount Hermon School, December, 2004. Nathaniel was sixteen months, and old enough to attend Christmas Vespers at Sarah’s beloved prep school. We stood in the foyer at the back of the hall, because we knew he would eventually start to squawk, and one of us would have to take him outside for a walk.

The house lights went down, and the chapel was completely dark. The door in the back of the foyer opened, and the choir rustled up from the basement, jostling each other to get lined up just so. We were surrounded by robed angels, each holding a candle. Nate’s eyes shone as he stared at them.

A single note was struck on the bells, and the soloist began to sing from the chancel:

Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

And the whole choir, all around us, burst into song:

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

And as the music filled us up, Nathaniel’s eyes opened wide, and he gasped in awe and wonder, as if to say: You never told me—I never dreamed—that anything could be so beautiful.