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Live Like You Mean It

29 November 2010
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Jane and Kathleen: Rehearsal Dinner

I don't love this photo of me, but it's a good one of Mom. From the rehearsal dinner before Mr. Trask's and my wedding.

Looking for the results of the stash giveaway?  Don’t despair; I’ll post the winner’s name, and another giveaway, tomorrow.

Those of you who know me in real life, and some of you who read this blog regularly, know that my mother died a while ago – 3 years ago today, in fact.  Grief over losing a parent is different from grief over a grandparent, I find – with it comes a fear of one’s own mortality.  Parents are meant to die before children, and in that way the loss is not as piercing, I imagine, as that of losing a child or even a friend or lover.  But losing the people who showed us the world, who taught us how to live, puts us in a more adult role almost immediately.  Suddenly, we are to learn how to live on our own, without anyone else; suddenly, there is no generation that stands between us and death.  For me, anyway, the experience was one tinged with the sense that I could be next.

An unfortunate detail of her death is that it was almost exactly a year after Mr. Trask’s father’s sudden death.  Both Jane Lawton and Dick Trask were in their early 60s, and both deaths were sudden.  Mom and Dick were both larger-than-life personalities, friendly and generous and funny.  It’s odd, to say the least, when such a personality is suddenly gone; when two are gone in the space of a year life begins to feel eerie and dangerous.

Now, those of you who are here just for the knitting may be gone already, clicking over to some less maudlin blog for today, and I understand that completely.  Go!  Be free!  Read Yarn Harlot or Mason-Dixon or the fibre space blog!

…Okay, those of you who are still here, this is my point: knitting as a career (rather than a hobby) started for me after Mom died.  It’s not something I set out to do, but I did start just jumping into the ocean, rather than dipping in my toes, with a lot of things after she died.  Both Mr. Trask and I felt like we’d received a great big postcard from the universe that read, “Life Is Short.”  So – we both started leaning into career changes, creative challenges, taking on projects that we wouldn’t necessarily have considered before.  For me, this included writing knitting patterns and teaching people to knit. I never thought of knitting as becoming part of my livelihood, but it is now.

This isn’t to say that one should just barrel through life when faced with a scary moment like a parent’s death.  I had to slow down to grieve; I had to give myself space and time before I was ready to return to my regularly scheduled life.  But I am saying that her death made me a little less fearful; I feel I might not have time to be scared any more.  That’s been a good thing for me, because often in my life I have been paralyzed by fear and wishful thinking.  Today, I am trying to replace fear and dreaming with faith and slow, steady action.

At Mom’s memorial service, I told a story that I have thought about a lot between then and now.  The first time I went to England by myself, for an undergraduate semester abroad, I was terrified.  I was, in fact, tearful and positive that I couldn’t go.  “I’m just going to stay home,” I explained to Mom on the day of my flight.  “I won’t like it anyway, and I can’t do it.”

Now, there were lots of things I loved about England – theater, afternoon tea, the history of great writing – and Mom reminded me of that.  I was still pretty sure it wasn’t going to work out for me and England, and I told her so. “Well,” she said, “I can see you’re on the fence here.” [I was not.] “So we’ll just pack your bag while we talk about it, because I wouldn’t want you to decide you want to go and not be able to because you weren’t ready.”

We packed, and I cried, and explained in greater and greater detail how going to England would be the worst possible thing for me, and indeed might even be the death of me. [I was 20 years old. There was a lot of drama.]

Mom remained calm. “Well,” she said, “let’s just get in the car, and we’ll keep talking about it, and if you change your mind on the way then we’ll already be at the airport and you’ll be able to get on the plane.  I’d hate you to decide you want to go, but not be able to because you weren’t at the airport.”  I was so distracted and teary, thinking about how horrible England was, that this seemed reasonable to me.  We got in the car, and talked about England some more, and I cried a lot more, but I was still unconvinced by the time we got to the airport curbside check-in.

“Well,” she said, “just hop out and check your bag, and I’ll meet you at the gate and we’ll keep talking.”  Again, I complied.

When she met me at the gate (I bet you thought she was going to just drive off and leave me there, didn’t you?), I said, “I really don’t think I can go,” and she said, “But you have to go now – your bags are checked!”

That sneaky woman.

So – I went to England, and I was homesick sometimes, and I loved it sometimes, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if she hadn’t eased me along from my bags to the car to the airport.  I am so grateful to her for showing me that I could do something even if I was afraid of it.  That has been true for me in knitting and in writing and in so many other parts of my life.  Right now, with a huge deadline heading my way, there are days when I want to lie on the floor, cry, and/or hide from the world.  But instead I remember how she eased me along, and I just look at doing the next right thing, over and over.

As we move into the holiday season, think of some exciting challenge you can set for yourself.  Maybe the 29 Gifts in 29 Days idea appeals to you, or maybe you want to get Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac and follow her instructions for a pattern each month for a year.  Maybe you just want to learn to knit lace, or to knit a sweater.  Maybe you want to learn to design your own shawl or how to tech edit. Or maybe your goal is to unclutter your house or to learn to cook or to get a different job.  Whatever it is, post it in the comments!  Then break it into little pieces and just follow the path you need to take.  After all, I’d hate you to want to make a sweater and not be able to make one because you didn’t have the yarn.

If you made it this far – thanks for reading!  More yarny goodness tomorrow.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn permalink
    29 November 2010 3:45 pm

    I lost my Dad 8 years ago, but I still miss him, too. I have an awesome Christmas stocking that his sister made for each of us that I’d like to replicate for my son. I was indulged with gifts from generous knitters at a very young age! No wonder I’m hooked! I’ll show it to you in Jan. as I’ll be in your sock class.

  2. consuela permalink
    29 November 2010 3:59 pm

    Thanks for the lovely piece about your lovely mother. I figured out the checked bags part before I got to that part, so I like to think I am thinking like her! Your sentiments on going forward with new things, even with fear and trembling, is a good thing to think about. So thank you, Kathleen.

  3. 30 November 2010 11:35 am

    Someone who teaches us how to tackle scary things, how to live a fuller, richer life – what a wonderful person to know. I’m so glad your mother was able to do that for you.

    Thanks for the reminder that we should gear up for “exciting challenges” this holiday season; 29 Gifts in 29 Days looks particularly appealing.

  4. 30 November 2010 8:22 pm

    Dearest Kathleen,

    This is probably the most moving blog post I’ve ever read. I cried, but they weren’t sad tears — they were bittersweet tears laced with appreciation for all the wonderful things your mother gave you. What touched me the most is that, even in her death, she is still giving and encouraging you to go forward to do things you maybe didn’t think you could or would do.

    That’s what life is all about.

    Big hug,

  5. Jeannie permalink
    8 May 2012 5:50 pm

    Oh, I love what you’ve written about your mom. What a cool, albeit sneaky, mom and what wonderful memories you have.
    I’m so glad I fell into your blog.

    • Kathleen permalink*
      12 May 2012 5:35 am

      Thank you so much! She was an amazing (and, indeed, sneaky) woman.

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