Carpe Diem Party!

In honor of the tradition that Margot started, you are invited to a Carpe Diem Party

Saturday, May 23rd
11am – 3pm
At the Token Creek Park shelter #5 (directions)

Pot luck, bring your favorite dish to share.

We’ll have Frisbees, balls, and stories from the past year, pictures from Maretta and Kyle’s wedding, the engaged couple Michael and Lisa, adorable Andrew and Sylvia, and more!

Let’s get together, remember those we love who are no longer with us, and enjoy a beautiful spring day together.

Carpe Diem!!!!

tulips, beautiful tulips

Mom’s birthday

heckedypeg.jpgApril 7: Today is my mom’s birthday.  She’d  be 57.  To celebrate her birthday, I had Dad, Terry, Tom, Michael, and Lisa over for dinner last night.  We ate Dutch babies (puffy pancakes with apples), sausage, and a rolled spinach omelet.  Then for dessert I made a chocolate sheet cake.  It used 3 3/4 sticks of butter.  It was….delicious.  Mom would have approved:)

This afternoon I read Andrew one of Mom’s favorite stories, Heckedy Peg by Dawn and Audrey Wood.  It was one of those times that as I was reading, I was crying so much I couldn’t really get the words out.  The story is about a mother who saves her seven children from a witch (Heckedy Peg) who had turned them into food.  Here’s my favorite part:

The witch pointed to the table.
“Here are your children,” she said.  “If you can’t guess them right the first time, I’ll eat them for my supper.”
Keeping her feet tucked beneath her, the mother crawled to the table.  How would she ever guess which food was which child?

“In despair, the mother looked in her basket.  Here are the things my children wanted, she thought, and now they will never have them.
“Hurry!” said the witch, “I’m hungry.”
The mother looked at the food on the table.
“Speak up!” said the witch.  “My supper grows cold!

Suddenly, the mother new what to do.  Taking the things from her basket, she said, “I know my children by what they want.”
“Bread wants butter.  That’s Monday.
“Pie wants knife.  That’s Tuesday.
“Milk wants pitcher.  That’s Wednesday.
“Porridge wants honey.  That’s Thursday.
“fish wants salt.  That’s Friday.
“Cheese wants crackers.  That’s Saturday.
“And roast rib wants egg pudding.  That’s Sunday.”

Quick as a wink, the children turned back into themselves.  They hugged and kissed their mother, then hugged and kissed each other.

Mom loved that the mother in the story saved her children because she knew them.  Boy did Mom know each of us kids.  It’s an amazing thing to be known so well by another person.  That’s one of the things I miss so much about having her gone.  I’d like to be able to call her to confirm what I think:)

Mom’s birthday today is a sunny day.  We picked up some flowers at the grocery store yesterday for her.  Happy birthday, Mom.

Mommy, you can depend on me

March 20: Yesterday I did a birthday card shopping run.  Andrew helped me pick out birthday cards for our late March and early April family birthdays…Michael, Joe, Melanie.  As I was in the card section, I scanned the “mom” birthday cards and had a hard spot in my chest as I contemplated that I would be getting my mom a birthday card (her birthday is April 7) if she were here to receive it.  As winter fades into spring, I’ve found myself thinking of Mom a lot.  And missing her.  Missing that she is missing all this life around us.

I had a song on this morning that pushed all the buttons I needed to have a little cry about missing Mom.  It’s a song from an album called Generations.  The mom/daughter team sang at Maretta’s elementary school, and we went to a concert together.
Here’s the lyrics from a song called “You Can Depend On Me” that get me going every time:

Just as that old river flows, as the sun comes up and the north wind blows, just as sure as these are guaranteed, Mommy you can depend on me.

(Daughter): Down in your heart you know that I’ll be there I’ll be with you if you’re here or anywhere.  And if you’re troubled, my song will lift you up so high, ’till happiness is shining in your eyes.

Just as that old river flows, as the sun comes up and the north wind
blows, just as sure as these are guaranteed, Mommy you can depend on me.

Together and never apart.
Forever you can bet your heart

(Mom): Deep down inside honey, you know that I’ll be here, I’ll be with you if you’re here or anywhere.  And if you’re troubled and feeling like you can’t go on, let my love for you give you strength to carry on.

Together and never apart.
Forever you can bet your heart

Just as long as that old river flows, as the sun comes up and the north wind blows, just as sure as these are guaranteed, honey, you can depend on me.  Together and forever in sweet harmony, Mommy you can depend on me.

The part where she sings “if you’re troubled, my song will lift you up so high, ’till happiness is shining in your eyes” makes me feel so sad because it reminds me how much I liked making Mom happy.  I loved to make her laugh, to do things that made her proud.  I liked the way her voice sounded when I surprised her with some little treat.  The little exclamation of delight.  The happiness that would shine in her eyes.  And it makes me so very sad that I can’t see those beautiful eyes again.  I don’t get to hear her say, “Oh, SWEETIE!” when I show her something I made.  It makes me weep.

When I’m listening to this song, and that verse makes me feel a moment of desperate sadness, then the mom’s verse sings, “Deep down inside, honey, you know that I’ll be here, I’ll be with you if you’re here or anywhere.  And if you’re troubled and feeling like you can’t go on, let my love for you give you the strength to carry on.”  And I know that my mom’s love for me, for Michael, Maretta, and Joe…for Dad and Terry and for Andrew and Sylvia…for our whole family is still alive inside of us.  I miss her but I feel her love all around me.  And I know that if I wasn’t here that my love would be left behind as well.  Because when you take away the body and distill our spirits down to their truest essence, you’ve got pure, fierce, unending love.  Andrew and Sylvia are going to be loved by me forever no matter what happens to any of us.

So we can be together forever.  Even when we’re apart.  But I do miss my sweet mommy even so.

Thoughts on grief

clamatis.JPGSept. 20: I am relaxing this evening by reading a book called Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott.  She’s one of my favorite authors.  For moms out there, her book Operating Instructions really kept me laughing in the weeks after Andrew was born.  Anne’s lifelong friend Pammy died of breast cancer at age 37, and she has written some really poignant things about what her grief felt like.
In fact, I thought one of her chapters was so right-on that I excerpted it below.

Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies


In May of 1992 I went to Ixtapa with Sam, who was then two and a half.  At the time, Pammy had been battling breast cancer for two years.  I also had a boyfriend with whom I spoke two or three times a day, whom I loved and who loved me.  Then in early November of that year, the big eraser came down and got Pammy, and it also got the boyfriend, from whom I parted by mutual agreement.  The grief was huge, monolithic.

All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately.  But what I’ve discovered since is that lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.  San Francisco is a city in grief, we are a world in grief, and it is at once intolerable and a great opportunity.  I’m pretty sure that it is only buy experiencing  that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed – which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.  I began to learn when Sam and I went back to the same resort three months after Pammy’s death.

Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan.  One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence. I was hoarse for the first six weeks after Pammy died and my romance ended, from shouting in the car and crying, and I had blisters on the palm of one hand from hitting the bed with my tennis racket, bellowing in pain and anger.
But on the first morning in Mexico, the lazy Susan stopped at feeling of homesickness, like when my parents sold the house where I grew up.

I woke before Sam and lay in my bed in the cool, white adobe room, filled with memories of my first day here the year before.  I remembered calling Pammy and my lover that first morning, how they gasped with pleasure to hear my voice.  I lay there thinking this time that I had made a dreadful mistake to return, that I was not ready to laugh or play or even relax, and I wondered whether or not God had yet another rabbit that he or she could pull out of the hat.  Then my Oedipal little son woke up and hopped over to my bed.  He patted my face for a while and said tenderly, “You’re a beautiful girl.”

On the third day in Mexico Tom told me that Jung, some time after his beloved wife died, said, “it cost me a great deal to regain my footing.  Now I am free to become who I truly am.”  And this is God’s own truth: the more often I cried in my room in Ixtapa and felt just generally wretched, the more often I started to have occasional moments of utter joy, of feeling aware of each moment shining for its own momentous sake.  I am no longer convinced that you’re supposed to get over the death of certain people, but little by little, pale and swollen around the eyes, I began to feel a sense of reception, that I was beginning to receive the fact of Pammy’s death, the finality.  I let it enter me.

I was terribly erratic: feeling so holy and serene some moments that I was sure I was going to end up dating the Dalai Lama.  Then the grief and craziness would hit again, and I would be in Broken Mind, back in the howl.

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.
After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes.  It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does.  Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.  Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible.  You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession.  Martyrdom can’t be beat.  While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t for me, but I have found that a stack of magazine can be numbing and even mood altering.  But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you.  A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart.  But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion.  You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.

Thinking back on August 31

Sept. 5: The first anniversary of my mom’s untimely demise passed with little fanfare.   I thought about calling my siblings, my dad, my mom’s siblings…but what to say?  “Hey, one year ago, these days were the worst of my life.  And it really feels cruddy to think about.  You?”  So I just enjoyed my vacation in DC and thought about things occasionally and knew that many others were also thinking of things.  If I’d had my computer on me, I probably would have posted something, but I didn’t have my computer, so no post commemorating the anniversary was made.
However, around the time of Aug. 31, as I was thinking back on those rather horrible days last August, Andrew and I had some really sweet conversations about my mom.

bablerfamily2005.jpgWhile we were staying at Heather and Michael’s house, Andrew found a Babler family photo and happily named off everyone.  When he got done, he said, “When is Grandma not died?”  Later he told me he missed her.  I told him that we could call Grandpa and tell him that we are missing Grandma because he is missing Grandma too.  But Andrew misunderstood me and thought I said we could call Grandma.  “Let’s call Grandma now!” he said.  I broke the news that we couldn’t call Grandma even though I really often wanted to.  But I told him that we could pretend to call Grandma.  “OK,” he said.  But as usual, he didn’t want to talk.  So I made a phone call to Mom.  It was a little cathartic, and this is about what I said:

“Hi Mom.  I miss you so very much.  It’s just an ache in my heart.  I wish we could all see you again.  Because you are a part of us all and it just doesn’t feel right to not have your presence here among us.  I’m really not used to the fact that you’re not here.  And I don’t want to get used to it.
That said, we’re doing alright, Mom.  It’s been a year, and I’m proud and relieved and hopeful about how we’re all coping.
Dad has a big, empty house now.  He had so much to deal with, to work through this past year, but his spirit seems to have good boyency.  He’s super busy with his political work, and we see him pretty regularly.  What a lot poor Dad has had to contend with this past year.  But I’d say he’s doing alright.  He sure does miss you, though.

Michael and Lisa are engaged, and they seem to be doing well together.  Michael is such a deep and solid and loving person.  He’s really been a great older brother for Joe, and just having him around makes me feel more like thinks are OK.  You know that he and Maretta both seem to feel things deeply, and this has all been really hard on him.  But you’d be so proud of how he carries himself, of his continued generous spirit.  The world is a much better place for having Michael in the world.

Maretta’s a married woman now.  It was tough planning her wedding without you, but the day of the wedding, we all felt so much joy.  It was wonderful.  Beautiful.  Maretta was (of course!) radiant, and she and Kyle seem so happy together.  She’s doing a lot of baking these days.  I know she’d really like to be calling you to get advice and to check in.  You know/knew us so well…it’s hard not to have you around to offer sage advice and to help remind us who we are.

Sometimes when I go shopping, I find myself suddenly really sad.  While wondering the aisles of Target, I’ll get a tightness in my chest, and it suddenly feels like all the air has been sucked out of the building.  Like there isn’t a way that I could possibly get enough air to fill my collapsed lungs.  Lights become too bright, the room starts to spin.  All because I was trying to figure out what kind of foundation to buy and I realized that you couldn’t help me…wouldn’t ever be able to help me…and you’ve always helped me pick out my makeup.  Sometimes it seems like the big stuff I can handle but the little details are what bring me panting to my knees.

Joe’s off at school now for his junior year.  He’s such a neat person.  When he was home this summer, I kind of felt like I couldn’t see him enough.  It seemed like every time we got together some sad part of me is healed or deeply comforted.  I love Joe so much, and I’ve so wished that I could make you not being here somewhat more OK for him.  But you know, really, I can’t.  He’s just got to find his own way to process and deal and find peace…just like all of us.  Joe is one amazing person.  He’s reaching out for life and for experiences, and I’m excited about all that he could experience.  Becky went off to Williams this fall.  She really wishes that she’d had more time to spend with you.  It’s an exciting time for those kids.  I feel lucky to know them both.

Terry is traveling out west this month.  He’s seeking out trains and beautiful scenery.  Excel Inns is now sold, and T has some big thinking and decompressing and train spotting to do.  He really misses your councel and your friendship.  Things just aren’t the same without you.

Mom, when I think back on why I’m sad that you’re not here, the one thing that always knots up my throat and makes tears spring to my eyes is the fact that you’re not here to know and love Andrew and Sylvia.  Last year, I was mostly really stoic until someone asked me how Michael, Maretta, and Joe were doing/would do.  Then I immediately started crying.  Over the last year, I’ve watched us all deal, and that pain doesn’t feel as raw.  We’re OK.  But it’s just so unfair that you didn’t get to know your grandkids more.  It’s terribly, terribly unfair for you, and it’s also a real loss for them.

I can’t believe you haven’t met Sylvia.  She’s so wonderful, Mom.  She’s got so much sparkle, dimples, a smile that just leaps forth from her beautiful face.  She radiates happiness.  Except when she doesn’t.  That girl has opinions and knows her mind.  She’s not easily re-directed:)  She loves people and is so very interested and engaged in the world around her.  Andrew can almost always get a delighted ripple of laughter, and she looks at him with such adoration.  Dressing that little girl is a tremendous joy.  She has clothes that you would love.  Details that you would admire…just so much fun stuff.

Sometimes when someone new meets her, I imagine it’s you meeting her.  You would oooo and ahhh over her toes (just like Andrew’s), her elbows, her belly button, her long fingers, her sweet lips, the little strawberry on her head.  You’d smile to see that she has long arms like your boys and that her eyes are blue like mine.  This girl is a special one, Mom.  She would have loved to know you.

Andrew is turning into such an amazing boy.  The things he says!  The tenderness of his heart.  The ernestness of his thoughts and actions.  He’s playing with other kids now, and having a great time.  He’s able to convey more complex thoughts and to carry on a conversation.  He still loves to be read to, he loves doing puzzles and playing memory, and he’s still crazy about animals of all types.  You’d know him well.  Andrew’s a year older, but to my eyes, he’s still very centered in who he has been.  And he remembers you, Mom.  He misses you and wishes you could come back home.  I’m so glad you have a grandchild who knew you.  I means a lot to me.

Well, I’m going to have to go.  Bryan’s been giving Andrew his bath, and it’s about my turn to do stories and bedtime.  It’s been nice talking to you.  I wish the conversation could be two-way:)

With all my heart,


Aug. 14: Just for the record, Tuesday (the 12th) was Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary.  Their 36th.  Last year Mom said they went to a park and sat on a bench near the water together.  I’m so sorry, Dad, that you had to spend your anniversary without your wife.  Last year this week, things were getting pretty bad…August 17, 2007 post.

Relay for Life 2008

acs1.gifMay 27: The last few years, my brother Joe has participated in Relay for Life to raise money for the American Cancer Society.  He’s working on it again this year, so if you’re interested in supporting cancer research, click below to see how you can help.

Hello all!   This is Joe, Althea’s youngest brother.  De Forest, the town I went to high school in, has an annual Relay For Life (an event organized by the American Cancer Society) every June.  It’s a pretty big event.  Team are made up of  10-15 people, and each person on the team agrees to try and raise at least $100.  Then, the day of the event rolls around and everyone comes together at the high school’s track.  The event runs from 6 in the evening until 7 or 8 the next day.  There is a candlelight ceremony and talks from cancer survivors.

The event has been running in De Forest for 10 years or so and has raised over a million dollars since its first year.  A friend I’ve had since first grade formed the team “Carpe Diem” and so I am raising money for the team.  If you’d like to donate, feel free to send any dollar amount ($10 or $25 as a suggestion) as a check made out to the American Cancer Society to:

Joe Babler
4575 Dennis Drive
Madison, WI 53704

You can also donate online directly to our team.

The event will be held on June 13th.

Furthermore, I can purchase luminarias that they line the track with at the event and write “In Honor/In Memory” of anyone that you would like.  It’s $5 per bag.  Just send along any names that you want.



Three years later

May 27: I’m glad Maretta and Kyle got married on Memorial Day weekend.  It gives us a new association with the weekend, and I think that’s a good thing.  The last several days, I keep finding my mind floating back to Memorial Day weekend 2005, when Mom was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

I no longer am stuck reliving and thinking through those last weeks of Mom’s life.  For almost six months after she was gone, my brain was doing some sort of a backward coping thing…I thought back each of her last weeks obsessively, most especially the really hard conversations, the gut wrenching shifts.  I think that at the time we just had to do what needed to be done and there wasn’t really the time or space to be sad or reflect too much.  So I reflected afterwards.  It was kind of a relief when my brain decided it had worked through, say the week of August 6 enough and we could move back to the week of July 30.  Then I got back to the end of June, and these days, I don’t think about last summer much at all.  I find I can think about the bigger picture much more. For quite a while, I couldn’t even really remember or focus on memories before Mom got sick.

On the Thursday before Memorial Day, 2005, Mom went into the doctor to check on what she thought was a bladder infection.  She called me from the hospital at work and said, “I’m in the hospital, but don’t worry…they’re just checking on what I think is a bladder infection.  You and Bryan can stop by this evening if you’d like.”  The next day (May 27, 2005) when they did a catscan, they started using the word “mass” to describe a blockage that they found in her pancreatic duct.

I remember climbing into bed next to her before one of her tests, and I asked if she was scared.  “Not scared,” she said.  “Just sad.”

Today three years ago, I was just beginning to read about pancreatic cancer.  It’s a horrible disease to learn about.  I remember thinking, “This can’t be happening,” over and over.  At one point, Bryan came over while I was reading, and I remember showing him some of the charts of median life expectancy.  He didn’t believe it.  It was just too terrible to comprehend.  I recall reading this exact passage:

Median survival from diagnosis is around 3 to 6 months; 5-year survival is much less than 5% With 32,180 new diagnoses in the United States every year, and 31,800 deaths, mortality approaches 99%, giving pancreatic cancer the highest fatality rate of all cancers and the fourth highest cancer killer in the United States
amongst both men and women.

The upside of our story is that Mom got over two good years after diagnosis.  I was eight months pregnant when she was diagnosed, and Mom lived long enough that her grandson remembers her.  We had so many good times in the last years, and I’m grateful that we all had time to say goodbye.  But it still just totally and completely sucks.  And this weekend, which I always think of as the turning point between spring and summer also became in our lives the turning point between “ordinary” and “coping with cancer.”

I’m glad that it’s now also the weekend that Maretta and Kyle got married.  It’s such a lovely time of year.

First Mother’s Day without my mom

mothersday.JPGMay 11: Days like today really make me address some of the sadness that I carry around now that Mom is gone.  It’s almost like I’ve found ways to store some of the hurts – nicely folded and put in printed hat boxes on a shelf in my heart.  Then a day like Mother’s Day comes along, and I need to open the boxes up and shake open the contents.  I felt really sad this morning that Mom couldn’t see her grandkids.  It’s a hurt I don’t think about all the time, but today it just felt newly sad and unfair and so so hard that my mom of all people doesn’t get to enjoy her grandchildren.  She would so love Andrew.  And she’s stroke Sylvie’s soft, firm cheeks, and her heart would be so happy.
So I’d just like to put out there again for the record that this all is just very unfair and not fun at all.

Growing up, Mom had us believe that Mother’s Day was about grandmothers.  When we were young, I don’t think we did much for our mom on Mother’s Day.  It was all a part of Mom not asking for acknowledgment for herself.  So I feel like she really, really deserved to get some payback for all her hard work in the upcoming years as she watched her kids flourish.

I think the things that make me the most sad about Mom not being her are

  • having her miss out on my kids – and on other potential grandkids in the future
  • having her miss Maretta’s wedding and watching her and Kyle start their life together
  • her not getting to finish raising Joe and (to a slightly lesser extent) Maretta

Yup.  Those are the points that are really hard for me to accept.  There are all sorts of reasons why I miss her and why I want her back for me, but those are the reasons that I want her back for her.

Bryan and I took the kids out to the cemetery today.  It was my first visit there since the burial.  Dad had been by earlier with some daisies.  On the way there, I told Andrew where we were going.

Me:  “We’re going to the cemetery where we buried Grandma in the ground after she died.  It’s a pretty place, and we wanted to go there to tell her we love her.”
Andrew: pause
Me: “How does that make you feel?”
Andrew: “A yiddle bit sad…  They buried grandma in the ground??  I miss my mommy.”

So we talked about it a little more…I mention that I miss my mom enough that I really think Andrew has a pretty good handle on what is going on.   And we went to the Windsor cemetery and stood near the bare earth on her grave site.  It is a nice place.  Mom talked about it in terms of being planted.  She’s planted in a nice place.  And we’re going to plant some trees for her.  I think a scarlet oak and a non-fruiting flowering crab apple.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  We wish you were here.