I wish I could be there to give you a very big hug.

It is easy to imagine the many layers of melancholy. I hope you find comfort in the tiniest things.

I sometimes feel that the way we parent is a mix of a lot of things, including both what we thought our parents got right, and what left room for improvement. If that is true, I know that your Mom saw the very best of herself in you, and the great Mom that you are to her grandson.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for allowing the rest of us to share in your journey—you shared in your mom's, we share in yours, and the cosmos of swirling spirits and glittery bangs touches us all.
May your happy memories of your mom buoy you in the days and weeks ahead.


my mother died 2 years ago and a light went out of her children's worlds that day
that next may on my brother's birthday and mother's day my niece gave birth to a baby girl named marian after my mother
and it is quite clear to all of us that my mother's spirit resides in this child without doubt
and life goes on . . . 


Just remember that, even long after the pain of the separation is gone, the beautiful and happy memories will still be there and remain with you forever.


The only perspective I can offer, having lost my mom three years ago this December, is that many Moms Never Leave.  The touches and hugs, the smiles, the laugh, the smells, the soothing sound of a voice talking, humming, whispering ... I experience those things all the time. I miss her physical presence but that really was only a fraction of her being.

And I do believe there is a very nifty group of stars out there in the cosmos ‘living’ it up. And we are lucky enough to get to wish on them and feel all that energy and brightness and promise they add to the night sky. I hope this can provide an antidote for your grief—it is just never easy to lose your mom.


Am very sorry for the loss of your mom—and thankful to have been able to read your warm and thoughtful posts about her over the years.

A bit of grace comes to us all when we can see the perfection of another imperfect being.  Loss and love are so connected in this world.  I’ll cherish the thought of your mom as an angel up.


Stories of the Black Ware Seed Jar

I have been through fire.
My form is fixed,
patterns of wing,
beak, thunder, and eye,
the storm of birds
chasing each other,
energies of life.
My small mouth
is starred,
cool and dry,
of potential.
with stone,
I recall patience
through winter,
through wind,
through the rains
that fill the arroyos.
I absorb, hold
what stirs, rattles
like prayers,
like snakes,
awaiting release until
they pour my gifts
into the field again,
what you imagine—
where I began,
seed after seed,
fire becoming
blossom and grain
and all of the voices

—Carter McKenzie

Photo by Stacey Sampson


harriette may shake

I suppose the easiest way to begin is by saying that my mom died Saturday night—somewhat unexpectedly and yet not—in my sister Caron’s and my brother Matt’s embrace. Just a week earlier, she'd taken a fall and had broken her femoral neck—something I doubt she’d have done except for Alzheimer’s and its decade’s decay of her mind and body. In a San Diego hospital she underwent emergency surgery to replace the ball of her hip. The operation went well, so she was transferred to a skilled-nursing facility for rehab, but she developed pneumonia. It was touch and go back in the ICU, her vitals fluctuating wildly, while my brother Matt lovingly called to inform me of any changes in her state.

Like she'd done so many times before, we thought maybe she’d dodge this bullet, thinking that perhaps her fighting spirit and sheer zest for life would pull her through. But in the end it was just too much for her to bear and so we let her go. Mom was just shy of eighty-six.

My sister crafted a beautiful note to family and friends. In it she wrote:

As all of you no doubt know my Mom was such an exceptional and special person. She was kind, funny, beautiful, smart, curious, adventuresome, and sweet beyond compare.

My Mom was a tough and strong woman all through her life and particularly late in life living with Alzheimer's and fighting to stay strong throughout.  

Caron finished by saying:

At this time I don't know what the next steps are regarding my Mom, but I would like her to be remembered for all her inspiring attributes and let you know that after death she did one last commendable act, she donated her brain to medical research for Alzheimer's in hopes of finding a cure.

My sister-in-law, Matt’s wife Stacey, posted a poem she wrote on Facebook, along with a gorgeous photo of a cloud-laden San Diego harbor sky opening up to a spray of sunbeams:

She's in those clouds somewhere
I know
I heard them say, "Angel up"
when she had taken her last breath
no longer tethered to this earth
nor gravity's captive
"Angel up" I heard them say
She is now the moon, the constellations
and these clouds
Angel up.

Several times throughout her life, my mother told me of her desire to one day have a Viking funeral, to be set out to sea on a flaming boat, and to have this poem read. I hope I can be there when she finally sets sail:

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am no religious person, not one who believes in the God of scripture. But I think of myself as spiritual. And so, I like to imagine my mom, and my dad who died nearly twenty years ago, as swirling around in the cosmos as stars or moons or comets, meeting no resistance in their space, just gliding along and perhaps colliding with each other in one big beautiful, glittery bang. No pain. No fear. No worry. No constraints.

Harriette May Shake, November 6, 1929 - October 3, 2015


love note from a fourth grader

Below is one of the many handmade cards sent home to me from Mr. Dwyer's fourth grade class, which I recently visited to talk to about Calvin and epilepsy. The love and compassion contained in the cards moved me to tears.


moon and mercury

There is the moon in a mackerel sky, staring down at me through gossamer clouds, the same moon illuminating the harbor masts not far from where my mother fell. It’s as chalky and round as the ball of a bone she broke, and the blood moon of the night before as full and red as her pain; perhaps its gravity brought her down. The surgeon cut below the break where he drove a metal spike, then fit a foreign ball into its joint. I wonder if she had an anesthesia dream.

As I glare skyward, I feel weary—all these years pocked with seizures, drugs and sleepless nights, counting them on calendars scarred with black and day-glo ink, splitting pills, pressing oils, weaning meds. My skull is full of woes of my mother's Alzheimer’s, my brother’s Parkinson’s, of friends’ children’s epilepsy and all the layers of senseless suffering in between for which no grand design exists, and if it does, it's sick.

The children, some huddled near my feet, ask after Calvin, tossing me epilepsy questions, pondering the mess of his pain and disability in classrooms mostly healthy, white and neat. Some of their faces are masked in fear and sorrow while others beam with enlightenment and hope. I tell them they can make a better world if only they'll embrace difference as much as things the same.

Dipping my lips in the sweet burn of bourbon, the moon and the mercury work their gravity sweeping my boy toward an epileptic fit. Outside, the storm rolls in, the mercury falls, its heavy chrome-like beads running into one thin strip. Finally, the sky swells and the rain thrums unrelenting, soaking withered leaves, quenching parched ground and bark. It reminds me of how, on the night of the blood red moon, I cried for the first time in weeks.

Photo by Michael Kolster


about time

We've been talking about it for years. This was going to be a first. All this time we've been reluctant—afraid we might disrupt the other diners. Nervous there might be spilled drinks. Doubtful we'd be able to stay seated long enough to finish our meals, and so we've never taken Calvin, who is eleven, out to dinner at a restaurant. Not once. We figured it was about time.

Yesterday, our boy was in relatively good spirits at the cafe and, later, enjoyed a decent stint at the agricultural fair where he walked without balking, sat without shrieking and even pet a few of the beasts. I'd brought enough of his pre-diced food plus his late afternoon cannabis oil dose so we didn't have to go straight home after the fair. In all of those things we saw opportunity, so we nabbed it.

For the most part, Sundays at four o'clock are quiet at our local watering hole. Instead of bellying up to the bar, though, we camped at a four-top near the windows overlooking the river. By all accounts it appeared that Calvin, who is now big and stable enough to sit relatively safely in his own chair, was having a good time. You can see for yourself, here—a little crazy, but not too out of the ordinary considering the antiepileptic drugs he's on, not to mention the active benzodiazepine withdrawal.

After we ordered and were served, then had a chance to put a good dent into a tasty heap of greasy fries, Calvin decided he was finished, so he pushed back his chair almost tipping the table over. I got up and led him around by the hand, carefully guiding him between obstacles. Eventually, he settled into a nice bright spot next to our table where the painted brick was rough and cool on his tongue and fun to pat. I stood with one eyeball on my precarious kid, the other on the disappearing mound of crispy goodness. From there, I simultaneously ate the fries, stole sips from Michael's beer and watched Calvin, and without causing some sort of ruckus—something we've been dreaming about for years.