Friday, October 30, 2009

Nora's second birthday

We are not reopening this blog site to future posts (still putting any new reflections at: but recently felt like it would be nice to put a link on the last post to the posting where we shared a summary of our journey with Nora. For those just landing on this site, it may feel cumbersome to navigate around. Going to, a posting from about this time last year, is a good spot to start.

Today seemed like the right day to put just a few pictures up on this site again. Today is Nora's second birthday. Is it okay to say that overall it has been a "good" day? Full of emotion, but also full of hope and some celebrating and looking to the future as well as remembering the past and especially Nora's life.

I, Janelle, dealt with some intense feelings of disappointment yesterday to realize that a lingering cold was not going to go away fully in time for us to donate blood in Nora's memory this morning. Instead the time was spent with Jason, my dad and I going for a hike to the lake near our home. It was refreshing to walk in the cool air and mist. I realized that I had no idea what the weather was like on the day of Nora's birth.

While we were out my Mom and Kali were busy decorating the cake Mom had made (with some instructions from big sister, Kali, as to what cake was appropriate for the occasion). We were not allowed to watch or look at it before eating it, but Kali assured me it would include some orange for Nora. It was beautiful and probably one of the best activities Kali could engage in at her level today. It was a treasured moment later in the day for me when I heard her plinking out "happy birthday" on her keyboard. I asked her afterwards if she was playing "happy birthday" for Nora. She replied that it was for her but then admitted that she had not thought of that before I mentioned it - as if to admit that it would have been nice had that been her intention... Either way, I savored the song! I wasn't quite up for singing it myself, but it felt appropriate hearing Kali spontaneously, and with great focus, hit each note.

The gestures from friends and family were felt, some deeply. Most notably, was a poster of pictures and poems from my dad that helped bring on a morning surge of tears! I have so few pictures printed and longed for something to be able to feast my eyes upon (not on a computer screen). The collage of memories filled a void that I was feeling!

This evening Kali, Jason and I planted four dwarf laurel bushes given to us by a friend. Something about planting and tending something living felt like the right activity for today. Then as we watered them in, I suggested walking to Nora's memory garden. Kali quickly added that those plants needed water too, as the last time she and Jason took care of the chickens she thought they "looked sad." Most of the plants are entering "winter mode" but there were a few lingering splashes of color.

We will end the day by enjoying a fresh pie, made for us on this day by a friend and delivered by another friend. We are grateful for all those that remember Nora's life with us today and many days. Her life continues to shape ours in so many ways and for that we are grateful. As the moon peaked out of the clouds at us and as we went around gathering eggs and "going on a little explore" with Kali as our guide, she started singing, "I see the moon and the moon sees me..." She wanted me to continue and, as I sang the words "the moon sees somebody I'd like to see," it rang so true!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Final posting!

While our journey with Nora's presence in our lives is by no means complete, we are closing this blog to any future postings. We want this space to be maintained as a place that has focused primarily on our journey with Nora in life and death and in the year following her death. Future reflections can be found on our new blog "Encounters with Sustenance" at There is no doubt that our memories of Nora and the impact her life had on ours will also be woven into those pages.

Both Jason and I have been experiencing some variation of "post anniversary blues" or as Jason better articulated, the process of allowing Nora's death to sink in for the long term. I think all three of us felt a certain build up to the first anniversary. Once the activities surrounding June 4 came and went I found myself wondering "what's next?"

Last night the tears, which had been strangely absent the last number of weeks, finally relieved some of the built-up feelings inside. And I realized how scared I felt all over again about losing her - losing the memories, losing the lessons, losing the feeling of being her mommy, losing the sensations of holding her and the sounds she uttered. I no longer find myself feeling upset when people don't mention her. It's more that I want so badly for help in keeping her alive in my mind, heart, body and soul. But I imagine it is a journey I must also go deep inside for, which carries its own set of risks and fears and insecurities. I find myself craving like never before for rituals that remind me of her and also take me close to what her life meant to me.

Who would have ever thought that I would find my emotions plummeting with disappointment when I get a phone call from the American Red Cross (as we are literally in the car on the way to the blood drive) that due to unforeseen circumstances they had to cancel the Home Depot drive today? I had just told Jason last night how eager I was for 30 minutes or so by myself in a chair in that little bus thinking about Nora and our journey together. It spurred me on to make the call to RMH's blood center and Jason and I now have appointments for next Thursday afternoon (I did not even know it existed and am thrilled to have a place right here locally that uses the blood at RMH where Nora was several times and where we can make regular appointments and Kali can be with us). So I get one week off my "every 8 weeks goal" but also had a few extra moments at home this afternoon which is why this entry that has been sitting unfinished for weeks might actually get posted today.

I'll end with some words that my Dad shared with us recently, that were inspired while sitting on the bench by the little serviceberry tree my family planted in West Virginia at "the mountain house" in memory of Nora.

There are places special to us
Where she could not go
But she entered our hearts
and remains there.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Healing rituals

Who can say what the oldest human ritual might be? Certainly not I, but I feel confident that the pattern we and a largish group of our friends and family followed last evening must be among the earliest.

Here is what we did: Having been invited by us, somewhere in the range of 55 people arrived at our home place, divisions of ornamental perennial plants (in pots, bags, and boxes) in hand, and we planted them together, nearly filling the crescent-shaped garden we've established as a way of honoring and remembering Nora tangibly. Then we went to the house and ate with gusto from the cornucopia of scrumptious food our guests had brought. A number of folks were able to stay and sit with us late into the evening, around an open fire in the fire ring in the front yard, and together we recounted some of our "Nora stories" and sang a few songs.

The basic format--the work of planting, sharing our food, singing and telling stories of absent but remembered loved ones--cannot be an uncommon one in the history of humanity, although in ancient times the demands of survival would clearly have increased the immediacy and necessity of the elements of the ritual. I emphasize the commonality between the ancient past and the activities of last evening to illustrate the depth to which the event, which was created to commemorate the first anniversary of Nora's passing (June 4th was the exact date of her death) resonated with me. It was comforting to feel the reiterated support of so many of those whose encouragement and tangible help made such a difference to us during Nora's life. The benefits to us did not end when Nora's life did, however, because over the past year it has repeatedly come to our attention that the work of grief that we have had before us is rendered more manageable by the good fortune we have of remembering--when we remember the time of Nora's life with all its joys and heartaches--a time when we felt the caring support of our community. Many who pass through such agonizing circumstances do so with the added burdens of disappointment with their community and an acute loneliness.

My spirits were high this evening as I arranged a mulch layer of grass clippings around the new plants. To those who helped create this memorial oasis I wish to express the thanks I fear I failed to make known in the moments the plants changed hands; my mind was rather full at the time: please pardon me. The garden is beautiful, and will only grow more so with the passage of time (this is my fondest wish for the presence of Nora in my life). At one point this evening I stood back to look at the garden, and, experiencing a wave of pleasure, caught myself thinking, 'Well, what do you think, Nora?' It is the first time I have addressed her directly, even in my mind, since her death. Before that moment I had not been aware of having not addressed her, nor felt a need to. But it is striking to me that it felt so natural in that space. I feel hopeful that the Memory Garden will be a place where I can go to be with her. I also feel thankful to those who contributed financially to the garden bench and water feature we plan to place in the garden. I am eager to sit on the bench and watch the children and birds as they are drawn to the sounds and sight of moving water.

My good mood was not just from the aforementioned event. Spring is springing in grand form around here, which is just what this family needs. It was either the late evening of June 4 or the early morning of June 5 that the brood of Carolina Wrens that's been incubating in Kali's bicycle helmet on our front porch made their grand debut. The parents got down to the caterpillar-finding business right away (where and how do they come up with all those bugs?). Also, while weeding the spinach/lamb's quarter bed in preparation for its conversion to bean patch (yes, it's kind of late, but there's still time), I found a nest of baby cottontails in the turf of the garden path. Unfortunately, I found it with my heel, but despite some pitiful (and startling!) squeaking, no harm appears to have been done. Since I don't believe the assertion that touching a baby animal will cause its mother to abandon it on grounds of its smelling funny, I went and called Kali, Janelle, and my sister Emily, who is staying the weekend after the Friday event, and they each enjoyed holding a bunny for a few moments. However, despite the fact that I felt the potential risks were worth it for this one episode of cuddling, I do believe that handling wild animals is generally ill-advised for both parties. This was the only holding we'll do of these little ones, though I'm sure we'll go back for a peek or two.

I suppose there's a basic contradiction with gardeners cooing over the baby wild rabbits being raised in their garden, but my philosophy is generally to make garden preparations with the assumption that whatever creature could be around will be around. This allows us to live more peacefully with the other species that claim this place as home. The spinach and lamb's quarter were grown inside a wire enclosure, and the beans will benefit from the same structure.

Perhaps the above paragraph about garden philosophy and practice provides a reasonable context for giving notice that we are planning to redirect our web log energies towards a modest production (the same format as this blog, most likely) that explicitly expands its focus to accommodate reflections on a broader range of activities and topics, with a general emphasis on our family's attempts to live a joyful and responsible life in this place. We will leave the "Cascades of Light" blog available for perusal, but do not plan to spend time updating it. Writings about the experience of Nora's presence in our lives will be integrated into the broader perspective (this reflects the integration we seek and need).

Thank you for your interest in our family's story, especially as it relates to Nora's brief life. We can only hope that, in reading what is found here, you've gotten at least a taste of what it means to know our dear baby daughter and sister.

More pictures can be seen at

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One year ago...

A day of much remembering. A week of remembering. A spring of remembering. We have been so grateful for some moments set aside to be more present to our memories and our grieving. We spent several days in WV this past weekend with family and for Jason and I to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We visited Blackwater Falls twice and Jason and I spent two nights at Douglas Falls B&B (which is right near a river and several waterfalls). We also were able to enjoy the little tree my family planted on the knoll above the swing set at the Mountain House in WV.

Together as a family we spent time last evening listening to a tape recording we made of Nora (like we had created with Kali as a baby) that we had never listened to together. Hearing her almost laugh with Jason brought back memories of the best of times we savored together. It is good and sad to hear her voice.

Today was another day with time set apart, and once again near water. Jason and I spent the time during Kali's school day in a pavilion at Riven Rock Park along the Dry River. The sound of the rain and the water was soothing.

Among the hardest things on our minds were the memories and awareness of the impact of Nora's life and death on Kali. She has seemed very tender the last few days, and for a 5 year old this also means more prone to emotional "meltdowns" (prolonged outbursts). Last night while listening to the tape we were talking about missing Nora. She initially said she did not miss Nora, but then rephrased it to say that she does miss Nora but she doesn't think she misses her as much as I seem to.

Jason and I reflected today on wondering whether we will ever regret not having Kali with us at the time of Nora's death and right after. She did not know when she last held Nora that it was the last time she would hold her. That was hard for us to think about then and even now. Though we can't quite imagine navigating through that night and morning with our own emotions and all the decisions to be made with another little one whose needs are equally important and whose understanding of all that was unfolding would require our full presence with her. So we did our best with finding ourselves in a place we didn't wish to be and knowing Kali was in loving hands.

The rain is still coming down now and looks like it will until about the time we gather with some family and friends tomorrow evening. Several have reminded me that this weather seems fitting for a time of remembering Nora, who left us amidst rain and lightning and thunder.

Coming back home from being away today felt good, and so did receiving various phone calls, emails, notes from friends and family also remembering Nora on this day. Words aren't flowing very easily for me in clear sentences today; I'll end with a poem that Nora's Aunt Christie wrote. Christie shared this day with us last year and so was in our thoughts a lot today too as we relived many of those early moments after Nora's death.

The Death Economy

The other day on the radio, a grieving son said, simply,
Death is for the living.
And certainly, Nora’s thunderstorm departure,
a year ago today,
was crowded with rapt spectators.

But what do we do with our gift, death?
How do we spend it?
Display it? Preserve it?
How many times can we tell the death story?

She lived.
I thank the loving universe for that.
She lived straight through every constraint
her fragile body gathered to itself.

Her life was hers; her death, ours.
I cannot spend her life.
No morals pop up, no lessons about living--
I do not have the right to parse her life.

But her dying day, the structured collapse
of my hopes for her future,
the handfuls of sorrow, baskets leftover . . .
I am still sorting through all this,

arranging a rough parataxis, cluttered taxonomy
of her death
and of mine.

M. Christine Benner

Monday, May 25, 2009


Email sent today to all that received updates at any point before Nora was born, during her life or after her death:

If you are receiving this email, you are one of those who wished, at some point along the way, to be kept informed of the progress of our family through the journey of our daughter and sister Nora Lynne’s new life and illness (or you were on our annual letter list or are close family or friends and we didn't give you a choice!). Throughout that seven month period and especially around the time of her death, we were sustained in part by the meaningful expressions of support that many of you offered. It became clear that Nora’s life and spirit affected many who came to know her either in person or through our communications, the knowledge of which has been, in and of itself, one of our greatest comforts. Though we have not consistently remained in touch with all members of this electronically organized community, we suppose that that makes sense and is understandable from both sides of that communication equation.

June 4th marks exactly one year since Nora had to leave us. We are acknowledging this anniversary with various acts of remembrance, some personal and some rather more public: For those who wish to and are able, you are invited to our place in Keezletown on June 5th to gather with ourselves and others for a time of remembering Nora and our moments with her, and perhaps to reiterate some of what she and those moments have meant for us.

We realize that some of you receiving this email find yourselves on the other side of the globe! Please know that we send this mostly wishing to be in touch once more with the net of support that helped sustain us during Nora’s life and in her dying. We don’t expect persons to travel great distances to be with us physically but wished for you to know of this gathering and to know that you can join us in spirit in your own way even at a distance.

Below is a poem that I, Jason, have been developing over the past few days as I have been preparing the ground for planting in the memorial garden we’ve established for Nora.


A father’s love ignores the border
death presents. I worked for you in every way I knew, now
what to do with this: my aimless drive to help, my hoeing the abyss?
There’s nothing you could need from me; I’ll turn my hoe toward earth
and let the rocks and soil absorb my effort, and I'll wait for birth among the
blooming celebrations. I can work on these reiterations.

And so we put together what we can: we scrape
the weeds aside and mark a place where, when it needs to huddle
with the memories, a heart may hide. We’ve caught a hold on changes
in the calendar and seasons, have made spaces full of time: ad hoc
creations. We’ve established these reiterations.

I think it helps a little. Do I need to see reflections of my baby
girl out there exposed to wild, swirling air to keep me from forgetting? Maybe not, but
there is satisfaction in the knowledge that in moments when I need to whittle down
into the quick of loss, or glory in parental, proud elation, I can turn to these reiterations.

Thank you, child! You never read the clock to know the shame
of dallying too long. Your fingers never curled around a cent. When it was time
for you to go, you didn’t worry, you just went. Your heart and mind and palms were full
of room; your presence was a balm for wounds we couldn’t feel. How many repetitions
of your memory will be required for me to heal? What is my hurry? If I sit awhile in a
place, perhaps an insect sipping from a bloom will show the way to freedom from the
hectic expectations. I’ll depend on these reiterations.

I didn’t know I feared a fading of your presence, but I found that when I cleared
the soil space I knew relief, anticipating sprouting seeds. Your memory’s alive, and here
is how I know: I’ve seen it grow! How can this be: while thinking of the years ahead, a
smile? I’m eager to be watching all you were to us becoming what it is, what it will be,
and relishing your place within our family. Our love is strong, so time will find us
living out a leafy incarnation, still repeating these reiterations.

Jason Myers-Benner
May 24, 2009

Don’t let such lofty words mislead you…the Memorial Garden is far from a finished state. It still exists partly in the mind. However, by June 5 we will be ready for and do welcome any perennial divisions from your yard. For those who feel an urge to contribute to the endeavor but for whom distance or other factors preclude your making a gift of a perennial division, you are free to follow your own creative inclination (communication is always a welcome contribution) and there is also a monetary option: we are planning to place a stone bench and solar-powered fountain in her garden, and welcome contributions towards those purchases. We mention this possibility only for those who genuinely feel they wish to participate in this way. The placement of the bench and fountain do not depend on your financial participation.

Thank you all for your support all along this way!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Last night at our family meeting I put on the agenda to talk about ways we together as a family want to spend time together remembering and sharing about our time with Nora over the next number of weeks. It feels sometimes like the busyness created by the list of tasks to be done (even if many of them are to prepare for the event June 5th to commemorate her life and death), keeps us from being as intentional at creating spaces to be together with our memories. Kali wants to look at the few video clips we have, Jason is most interested in looking at pictures, and I'm eager to listen to the remainder of the one tape recording we have of the time she was with us and her little noises. Hopefully we'll do all of those things together. Kali's other idea that she initiated was for us to go and look for a baby outfit to buy for her dolls - not doll clothes but a real baby outfit, she clarified. When asked a bit more about this she said it would make her think of Nora as she picked out her outfits. We'll likely be making a trip to Gift and Thrift soon...

We haven't taken a lot of space here on this blog or in our various updates to share the ways that many other family and friends are finding ways to remember and help keep memories of Nora's little life alive. The ways are varied and yet the purpose seems shared - finding ways to both grieve and celebrate, to weave together significant things in their own lives to their remembering of Nora, and to share with us that they are remembering her with us. I could not list them all here but name a few (and happen to have pictures of one!).

Yesterday my sister Karen ran a race that went past our driveway. They dedicated the mile that went past our home to Nora. Kali was thrilled to be present and be the chosen one to take her aunt a water bottle and give an energy boost kiss for the final 2 miles. She also has been playing "party" ever since then with the purple and orange balloons that got to come home with us.

Other things include, but are not limited to, planting trees in her memory, naming a vitamin mix after Nora that will be used to help many children, lighting candles in her memory, and writing poems. What can't be summed up easily here are the times when someone has shared a memory with me or a story or a way that Nora's life has impacted theirs.

One of those emails came recently from a graduate student in our program. A student from a different country and from a faith tradition different from my own. Someone who I have watched with admiration. In an email correspondence about something completely different, she added, "I also learned many lessons from Nora. Whenever I feel weak and under pressure, I just remember her; her strength and patience. Then I feel strong and patient too. Her presence & her memory has helped me many times to overcome difficulties in my life in the US." We did our best in our final hours with Nora to tell her how strong and patient and loved and brave and beautiful of a little person she was. But I could not, at that time, know the ripple effects of her presence. In this case, this student would have seen Nora more than probably any of our family members did during the weeks I was taking Nora to work with me.

We've been working outside a lot these days. This is good for my unused muscles (that I'm feeling right now) and for the spirit. We are spending most of our time working to prepare the area around Nora's garden for additional plants. It is good to work together or at least side by side on various projects in the yard and garden. I find myself getting uptight about not having it "ready" for the event for Nora and feeling the need to have it be "perfect" (what is that?). Then when Jason asks for more detail I find the anxious feelings tend to be pretty nondescript and I can't pin down what needs to be done or fixed just right. He then gently reminds me that more likely these are "anniversary" feelings that aren't so easily pinned down, confined or easily described. And while I know that having things in a state of disarray would be more typical for what we experienced last year, somehow I want it to be right this time - what I have to challenge myself to look at is whether this is for me or for Nora or for whom?

We are also watching with great interest what is happening on our porch - a Carolina Wren chose Kali's bicycle helmet for her nest and is currently incubating 6 eggs on the nest. It is a reminder to me that at a time when my mind goes more easily to memories of loss and the end of a life precious to us, that there is new life springing up all around us.